Iran's Islamic Republic at Breaking Point
— Ali Javadi
IN VIEW OF the explosive internal situation in Iran as well as the tensions between the United States and the “Islamic Republic,” Against the Current interviewed Ali Javadi, a member of leadership of the Worker-communist Party of Iran who lives in Los Angeles. The interview was conducted by David Finkel. Ali Javadi can be reached at email@example.com and http://www.alijavadi.com/.
Against the Current: It's obvious that the Islamic Republic of Iran is facing multiple interconnected crises. There's an internal revolt that seems to be spearheaded by students, women and middle-class people who are sick of abusive clerical rule. We have also heard a little bit about working-class action over economic issues.
There are the divisions between what are called “hard-line” and “moderate” religious leaders, whatever that means. And of course Iran has become the target of U.S. threats for the next “regime change” campaign.
Before we go into details on these specific issues, can you tell us whether the ruling forces in Iran today feel themselves under a serious threat, and whether you think this regime is still fairly stable in its hold on power?
Ali Javadi: The Islamic regime is under tremendous pressure from all corners. This would include the pressure of masses of people trying to overthrow the regime, the youth, the women, the working class and the threat of U.S. “regime change” policy.
However, the most serious threat that the Islamic regime is facing is the threat of the people. The recent social movements in Iran, in my opinion, mark the beginning of a new era of revolution in Iran. The people have their own “regime change” policy, which they are actively pursuing.
The Islamic regime is not a stable system at all. Economically, it is a defeated project. The Islamists could never come up with a viable economic plan to run the country. Various economic models were implemented. From the “statist,” “protectionist” economic policies of Mir Hossein Mousavi during the Iran-Iraq war to the “neoliberal” policies of Rafsanjani and to no economic policy under Khatami, the results were the same.
There is poverty--80% of the population lives under the poverty line--and high inflation, 20% to 40%.
In addition to these economic factors are the social factors that contribute to the economic failure, such as the four million hard-core drug addicts. Drug addiction is rampant even among teenagers. There is also the high unemployment rate: Six million are unemployed; every year a million youth join the ranks of the unemployed.
To this picture, one must add the surge of prostitution. Prostitution is increasingly becoming a means for low-income families to supplement their income.
These disastrous conditions are the basis of economic crisis of the Islamic regime. This regime has no economic solution; the political structure of those in power in Islam is even an obstacle to the accumulation of capital in this era. It is not the suitable political infrastructure for capital. To run the economy, the Islamic regime has to be defeated.
If the economic crisis defines the fate of the Islamic regime, then the political crisis is determining the timing of the fall of the regime. People are protesting in the streets, demanding the overthrow of the regime.
The regime's policy of direct and savage suppression has lost its intimidating “power” over the people. The regime is trapped. Further use of force would only intensify the hatred within the population. At the same time, any “softening” in its confrontation with the people would give them courage to walk over the “body” of the regime.
To the economic and political crisis facing the Islamic regime, I have to add the cultural and ideological crisis that it is facing. The Islamic regime is facing a population that is anti-Islamist. Youth are the most active segment of the population fighting the Islamic regime.
Youths constitute more than 70% of the population. This segment of the population is young. It is energetic. It is anti-religious. It is a major force for modernism and secularism, for freedom and equality. And its aspirations are completely opposite to the cultural and ideological characteristics of the Islamic regime.
The fall of the regime is an inevitable outcome of these situations. This is the ruling of the people. The people have handed their verdict. The Islamic regime has got to go.
The leaders of the regime are completely aware of the critical situation that they are in. Many of them have started transferring “their wealth” out of Iran.
To summarize, Iran is on the verge of a social revolution.
ATC: Let's look more closely at the recent anti-regime demonstrations. What is the importance of young women, in particular, in these protests? Who has organized the rallies? Why are they demanding the resignation of Khatami? Is this an avowedly secular movement?
A.J.: In addition to many other things, the Islamic regime is the regime of gender apartheid. It is the regime of forced Islamic veils, the regime of stoning. From its bloody inception, it was against the basic rights of women in all shapes and forms.
Therefore it is quite natural for the women and their demands to be at the forefront of the social movement against the Islamic regime. In some sense, the current revolution in Iran could be a “female” revolution and, in fact, has all the signs of being one.
In many of the demonstrations, young women were the leaders of the crowd. Many times, women were burning their Islamic veils, holding hands with young men and breaking the gender apartheid laws.
In response to your other question, I should say to some extent the demonstrations have been spontaneous. However, you find various political groups active in them.
The present balance of political forces does not allow the political parties to openly participate in these demonstrations. However, the two major political camps are the nationalists and the communists.
The left is quite active with students, youth and women. More and more, the younger generation finds the left as the only viable alternative and identify themselves with it. The left will be a major force in the battles to come.
Some demonstrators have called for the resignation of Khatami. But the majority is calling for the overthrow of the regime. The call for Khatami's resignation indicates that even those who had any illusions about the role and aims of Khatami have changed their minds.
They have seen the reality that Khatami's objective was the same as those of Khamenei and Rafsanjani, to prolong the life of the Islamic regime, with different methods and tactics. The call for Khatami's resignation at the same time is a clear indication that the Islamic regime cannot be reformed.
Even if it could be, no one wants a “reformed” Islamic regime. The people have figured out that there are much better things in life than an Islamic regime. One of the characteristics of the current movement in Iran is that it is a secular movement. Separating religion and state is a major demand.
In addition, there is strong anti-religious sentiment among the population. Iran, unlike what the Western mainstream media have portrayed, is not an Islamic society. The anti-human, Islamic jihad to make an Islamic society has not succeeded and is being defeated every day in the streets of Iran.
Breaking the gender apartheid laws, throwing away and burning the Islamic veils are part of a tradition in these street protests.
ATC: Have satellite TV broadcasts from pro-monarchist forces in the United States played an influential role? What forces, if any, are being encouraged by the U.S. administration?
A.J.: One can't deny or ignore the influence that the satellite TV broadcasts have had on the political scene of Iran. I have a weekly program called “For a Better World,” which is widely seen and received in Iran. It is particularly popular among the youth, women and workers.
The nationalists, however-->monarchists who have the monopoly over the satellite airwaves--are out of touch with the reality of today's life in Iran. They are backward, reactionary, semi-religious and whole-heartedly anti-revolutionary.
Furthermore, they tied their political fate to the “regime change” policy of the United States. Defending the U.S. policies during the euphoria of the war propaganda gave them some push forward. Later on, as the results of the war on Iraq became clear with the collapse of the civil society and disintegration of the society in Iraq, they lost a lot of political ground.
We made sure that the people would see their true nature. I should also mention that the antiwar movement, which has been on a scale not previously seen, has had great influence in changing the public opinion in Iran.
But the monarchists have had some advantages, one of them being that during their time in power (prior to the 1979 revolution--ed.) people were less restricted than in the present. Islamists have created such a hell on earth that the monarchists seem somewhat “moderate” in the eyes of the people.
But people are not in the mood to choose bad over worse. They want freedom. They want equality. They are fed up with poverty. They want to be happy and prosperous. They want a secular state. Monarchists and pro-West nationalist forces are not what people want.
The New U.S. Policy
U.S. policy toward Iran has changed in recent years. Prior to the “regime change” and the inclusion of the Islamic regime in the axis of evil, the policy of “dual containment” was being pursued. During the Clinton era, the policy of defending the so-called “moderates” against the “hard-liners” was the core of the U.S. policy.
With Bush-Cheney in power, U.S. policy has shifted its policy to a more hostile aim of “regime change,” which was an element and continuation of the New World Order policy of the first Bush.
This policy also reflected the new reality of the social movement in Iran. The U.S. government encourages the movement to overthrow the Islamic regime. It smells the changes in Iran. The people are in the streets. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that a social explosion is on the corner.
Given these realities, the question for the West is how to deal with the new phenomenon that is taking place is Iran? How to stop the left, the socialists, from coming to power? How to empower the reactionary, pro-U.S. forces to take the upper hand?
These concerns and the international politics of the United States were the driving force for adopting the “regime change” policy toward Iran. Obviously this policy does not reflect any of the concern of the people of Iran. Quite the opposite in fact, it is a policy designed to stop the radical social movement from getting the upper hand.
The imperialists' solution is to work toward regime change before the people overthrow the regime by their own revolution. They have contemplated changing the regime by their cruise missiles from 30,000 feet high before the revolution gains momentum.
In these conditions, the monarchists and the nationalists are the natural U.S. allies. At the same time some circles in the administration are trying to imitate the model that they cooked for Iraq. They are planning to form an Iranian National Congress; Reza Pahlavi (son of the former Shah) is their man to give legitimacy to this reactionary “regime change” policy.
They have had to rethink these policies, however.
ATC: In your opinion, what strategic goals are being pursued by the Bush administration for Iran? My impression is that their difficulties in occupying Iraq will force them to be more cautious, but this may be wrong. Are U.S. objectives today limited to securing “cooperation” from Iran in U.S. control of Iraq, and stopping Iran's nuclear development; or is the U.S. administration laying the grounds for a real confrontation?
A.J.: U.S. strategic policy is to see the Islamic regime gone. The policy of reforming the Islamic monster, which is being pursued by the European Union, does not constitute the core of U.S. policy.
The question, however, is the means and timing for achieving this objective. The “regime change” policy, and the calls from some monarchists to repeat Iraq's scenario in Iran, was being contemplated for some time. Many factors, in addition to what you mentioned, have pushed this disastrous policy aside.
Iran is a much larger country than Iraq. The Islamic regime is facing a population that is involved in active social struggle to overthrow it. The United States does not have even the dismal international “coalition of willing” that it did during the war on Iraq.
I think the worldwide antiwar movement is a major additional obstacle to the United States engaging in another “regime change.” Finally, it has not been able to organize a political body, such as the Iraqi National Congress, as the replacement provisional government to the Islamic regime.
The U.S. “regime change” policy, however, has not been abandoned. It is being pursued with different means, by supporting and promoting the monarchists and the nationalists to get the upper hand in future developments in Iran. It is amazing how many pro-west, right-wing nationalists have lined up in Washington to sell themselves to the United States and get their paychecks.
At the same time, the U.S. administration follows a pragmatic policy, and tries to limit and secure concessions from the Islamic regime--limiting the influence of the Islamic regime in the Middle East peace process, stopping the regime from nuclear weapons development and mitigating its influence in Iraq.
These objectives are not contradictory. U.S. policy does not have all of its eggs in one basket.
ATC: What are the Iranian regime's own strategic objectives in Iraq? Do they want to build up political influence through the Shia organizations, basically as an insurance policy against U.S. pressure on Iran--or do they actually envision some kind of Islamic theocracy coming to power in Iraq?
A.J.: The Islamic regime is facing a strong social movement internally. They know they don't have much chance in this confrontation. The regime is going through its last phase of existence. The protests that have rocked many cities in Iran are the beginning of the end of the regime. It is a matter of when and not if.
The Islamists could have many items on their wish lists. Establishing an Islamic state in Iraq is a probable item on their agenda, but is highly unlikely. Making it difficult for the United States to control and shape the situation in Iraq is what they strive for. This could be their leverage in dealing with the U.S. and to buy some time.
But these maneuvers and policies would not help the Islamic regime. The threats that will determine the fate of the Islamic regime come from the masses of people in the form of the threat of a social revolution.
ATC: We have heard very little about working class protests and strike activity in Iran. What can you tell us about this--and are there any connections between student and worker organizations?
A.J.: There have been many workers' protests and strikes recently. They are mainly focused on economic demands, fighting for back wages, fighting against downsizing and for higher and better economic and wages.
The most recent one was the struggle of the Behshahr workers, which developed into a general protest in one of the northern cities in Iran. People joined the workers' sit-in, which snowballed into mass protests. The Islamic regime had to meet part of the workers' demands immediately.
Some other recent workers' protests are as follows:
* 600 workers of a textile factory, Chitt e Bafkar, went on strike to protest workers' expulsion. The security forces attacked the workers and some were arrested.
* Some of the Southern oil workers on July 24th protested and demanded the return of those who were laid off.
* The cement workers of Simaan e Shomal went on a two-day strike demanding better wages and work related insurances.
* The workers of Paakris in the city of Semnan went on one-day strike demanding their back wages.
* The workers of Sepana factory in the city of Saave closed the main highway to demand their back wages.
The working class is in a state of economic despair. Hundreds of thousands of workers have not been paid for months. These are great obstacles for the working class to play an active political role. But the scene is changing.
During the recent mass street protest, there was some talk of an oil and gas workers' strike. However, it did not materialize. The Islamic regime is scared to death of the oil workers.
ATC: The Islamic police have obviously acted with great brutality against the protest movement. How can socialist, trade unionist and feminist movements publicize the cases and promote solidarity? At the same time, how can we support a democratic struggle in Iran while opposing imperialist intervention?
A.J.: They must frankly and openly defend the Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI). Support it. Let all freedom-loving people in the United States, the socialists and the workers know about it.
WPI represents women's demand for equality, freedom and abolishing the gender apartheid. WPI represents the demand of the people for unconditional freedom of expression, freedom to strike and freedom to organize. WPI represents the popular demand for the separation of state from religion. The WPI struggles for the abolishment of the death penalty and freedom of all political prisoners.
WPI is a socialist force and sees humans as the basis of socialism. It strives for a socialist republic in Iran, wants to get rid of the rule of capital, to create a society in which the productive activities are geared toward the satisfaction of diverse needs of the citizens and not toward the accumulation of capital. WPI represents the bright future for the people.
Today in Iran two camps, the right and the left, the pro-western nationalists and the socialists have put forward their perspectives for the Iran's future. Two paths are possible: an Iran which is the bedrock of freedom, openness, equality, secularism and socialism; or an Iran where another form of dictatorship and suppression replaces the present one, another link in world capitalism, where people are subjected to harsh economic conditions such as what we see in Egypt, Jordan or at best in Mexico or Argentina.
Both social perspectives are possible. The right wing in its reactionary fight relies on the United States and western governments and forces to aid them. They rely on the U.S. “regime change” policy.
On the other hand, the left depends on the solidarity of the progressive and socialist movements of the world. WPI represents the left, the future and civility. It has fought hard to win the hearts and minds of the people.
At no other time in the history of the social movements in Iran have the left's ideals have gained so much popularity. The left is not a marginal force. It is a major fighting force and the current changes are providing the grounds for its emergence as the leader of change in Iran.
ATC: Obviously the Kurdish struggle is critically important in shaping the future of Iraq. Is there a connection with the Kurdish minority in Iran, and what is the view of Iranian Kurds about the Islamic Republic?
A.J.: The Kurdish nationalist forces support each other. Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani (leaders of the two main Iraqi Kurdish factions--ed.) have their allies and friends in Iran, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran.
On the other hand, the left has its allies too. The Worker-communist Party of Iraq is a close ally of the WPI. The division is not based on so-called nationality, it is class based. It is a political division.
Regarding the second part of your question, the people in Kurdistan don't have a single uniform view of the events in Iran, the Islamic regime or the future of the society. Like any class-based society, the people in Kurdistan are divided along the social and class line.
The nationalist forces in Kurdistan supported Khatami and defended one faction of the Islamic regime against the will of the people, which was the overthrow of the Islamic regime. The Worker-communist Party of Iran has fought hard against the entirety of the Islamic regime.
I should also add that nationalism is a reactionary force today. The divisions, the animosity and the prejudice that they cause among the people are poisonous to the society. In the struggle for the future of Iran the Kurdish nationalists are in one camp with the “Iranian” nationalists.
ATC: What are the organizations of the Iranian left today, inside and outside the country? What do you think are its prospects for becoming a significant force?
A.J.: The Worker-communist Party of Iran, as I mentioned earlier, represents the left in this era in the history of Iran. Socialism, equality and social justice are identified with the WPI.
There are some other small left organizations, but they are marginal and don't constitute a noticeable force. As a social movement, they are filled with nationalistic sentiments and policies. Also they were partly supporting the Khatami's project.
The chances for the left to lead a social revolution in Iran are noticeable. In fact, there is a window of opportunity and that is the excitement of the events today. What is pushing the left forward and providing the social basis for its success is the revolutionary movement in Iran.
However, I should also add that the success is not guaranteed. The victory is not written on our forehead. We have many challenges to confront. Many things have to be done.
ATC: At one time, before its alliance with Saddam Hussein, the Peoples Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) was a significant opposition force. Does it retain any support or is it a relic of the past?
A.J.: At no time in the past twenty years has the Mojahedin have been a social force. Yes, they were organized. Yes, they have or had lots of resources. But no, they have not been a social force.
The Mojahedin are in my opinion a religious-political sect. They don't have any root in any social movement in Iran. They don't represent any social movement, right or left, reactionary or progressive. They are a religious sect. The society in its developments and changes does not resort to these religious antisocial sects or permit them to gain an upper hand.
Furthermore, one of the characteristics of the social movement in Iran is its anti-religious character. The people who are trying to get rid of an Islamic regime would not grant any chance to any religious grouping.
Mojahedin have no future in Iran's developments. The end of the Islamic regime would also mean the demise of political Islam. This would change the political scene in the Middle East.
ATC 106, September-October 2003