By Sacha Ismail
As the US and Iranian governments wage a war of words, the struggle for democracy in Iran is continuing despite enormous repression.
In June, vigilantes linked to the right wing of the regime attacked the non-violent student demonstrations against university privatisation and for democracy which were sweeping Iran, charging the students on motorcycles and assaulting them with batons, chains and knives. Reluctant to punish its own thugs, the Iranian government instead arrested more than 4,000 students and others connected to the demonstrations. A new round of protests set for early July was prevented by a ban on meetings, the closing of university dormitories and the kidnapping of prominent student leaders (see below).
The wave of anger and militancy sweeping Iran's universities seems to have dissipated, at least temporarily, under the force of repression. At the same time, the US is using the crisis to step up its pressure on the Iranian government, combining condemnation of Iran's nuclear energy programme with opportunistic support for the student demonstrators.
While more mainstream Republican politicians such as Colin Powell favour support for the "reformist" faction of the regime, radical neoconservatives, jubilant after their victory in Iraq, are arguing for regime change by any means necessary, whether through a pro-American revolution or direct intervention by the US army.
The impact of this pressure inside Iran is difficult to judge. Bush's endorsement of the demonstrations may have helped the clerical ultra-reactionaries legitimate their acts of violence as a necessary defence against "imperialism". On the other hand, fear of US intervention may be serving as a constraint on repression. During the June demonstrations, for instance, Iranian "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared on state television to "call on the pious and the [right-wing cadres] not to intervene whenever they see riots". At the start of August, the regime released a handful of student prisoners after Khamenei urged leniency for "those who have made it clear that they have not been part of any conspiracy".
Calculations about what the US and Iranian governments will do next cannot be allowed to define socialists' attitude to what is taking place in Iran. To look to either Bush (who talks about "freedom" in Iran while his troops censor the media and shoot down demonstrators in Iraq) or to the mullahs would be a betrayal of internationalism. The international left and labour movement need to build solidarity with Iranian workers and students against both US imperialism and the Islamic Republic.
Free Saeed Razavi-Faqih!
Saeed Razavi-Faqih is a student at Tarbiat-Modarres University in Tehran and a member of the steering committee of Iran's main student union, the Office for the Consolidation of Unity (OCU). He played a major role in the student demonstrations against censorship in December 2002 and in this year's June demonstrations. He was arrested by the regime on 10 July.
Unlike an earlier generation of student leaders, Razavi-Faqih has aimed his fire at all factions of the Islamic Republic regime, condemning so-called "reformist" President Mohammed Khatami as well as far-right clerical opponents. Under his leadership, the OCU wrote a letter to Khatami calling on him to resign. In an interview shortly before his arrest, Razavi-Faqih described this as the student movement's "farewell" to "reformist" sections of the regime and argued that "students have lost any illusion that working for reforms within the system can bring [democracy] about. We believe now that the core of this regime is fundamentally authoritarian, and that this despotic core should be attacked."
Nothing has been heard of Rhazavi-Faqih since his arrest. The Middle East Research and Information Project has launched a petition to demand his freedom.
- Saeed Rhazavi-Faqih interview
- More on Iran, US imperialism and the left
- More on the situation in Iran, Workers' Left Unity-Iran
Iranian journalists strike against repression
On Friday August 8, hundreds of Iranian journalists struck in protest at the Iranian regime's clampdown on Iran's "reformist" press and at the murder by Iranian police of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. The strikers, who downed pens from 4pm to 10pm in order to cause the maximum disruption to Saturday morning editions, are demanding an independent enquiry into Kazemi's death, and the release of political prisoners and the removal of Tehran chief prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, a hardline right-winger who has overseen the closure of nearly 100 dissident publications and the jailing of dozens of journalists.
Outrage at the Islamic Republic's increasingly brutal treatment of dissidents has started to affect even organisations with links to sections of the regime. Friday's strike was organised by the Iranian Centre for the Protection of Journalists, a journalists' association with links to "reformist" members of the Iranian parliament.
Solidarity between the Iranian workers and the pro-democracy movement is vital-but to be effective it will have to chart a democratic and working-class course independent of all the theocrats, whether "reformist" or conservative.