the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist
“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx
Jan 31, 1982
It has been almost 3 years since the Shah of Iran was overthrown, but the fight for power
in Iran is far from over. In June and August 1981 key members of the ruling Iranian Republican Party were assassinated, including the head of the party, Mohammed Beheshti, President Mohammed Ali Rajai, and Prime Minister Mohammed Bahonar. The Khomeini regime has answered these assassinations with a stepped-up wave of executions and arrests. Between June and December 1981, 4,000 people were executed and 7,000 were imprisoned. The assassinations, which were a threat to the power of the Khomeini regime, were also answered by the regime’s demonstrations that it had support from a great mass of the Iranian people. Following the assassinations, huge demonstrations including one demonstration of 2 million people, were held.
The Khomeini regime’s hold on power has not yet been consolidated. What forces are engaged in this struggle for power, and where will this fight lead? In order to answer this, we must first examine the social forces and specific features of the Iranian Revolution.
The Iranian Revolution was the act of the urban masses from the shanty-towns, the workers, the small shopkeepers and the students. Despite severe repression by the Shah’s army, and despite massacres and executions, the strikes and demonstrations opposing the Shah grew for more than a year. Finally it was the masses who took the initiative and succeeded in forcing the army off the streets, who stormed the police stations and the SAVAK headquarters.
At the head of this revolution was an important section of the Islamic clergy, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The goal of their party was to get rid of the Shah. The Westernization process that the Shah had been trying to carry out was undercutting the clergy’s role and influence. The Shah was the representative of imperialism, and the interests of imperialism in Iran were opposed to the traditional society of the Mullahs. The corruption of Iranian society that the Mullahs denounced in fact was connected with the fact that imperialist investment was destroying the livelihoods of the poor in the countryside and the cities. It forced millions of peasants off the land into the shanty towns of the cities, and millions more in the cities were lumpenized with no means to make a living. When the Mullahs called for a return to the old ways of life, in fact they were denouncing imperialism. When the clergy opposed the Shah they also opposed imperialism, whether they had at first intended to or not.
When the Mullahs came to power, they carried out a series of measures which questioned the close ties between Iran and U.S. imperialism: they cancelled oil distribution agreements and armament contracts, nationalized some American banks, and withdrew from the U.S. military alliance CENTO.
Beyond this, the revolution had posed a very real problem for imperialism, that is the Shah and his army had played an integral role in enforcing imperialism’s interests in that area of the world. Once that army was pushed to the side, threatened as it was by the Iranian masses, it was not a useful.
All this brought the Khomeini regime into a head-on confrontation with imperialism. Imperialism quickly moved to isolate, weaken, and if possible, to overthrow the regime. Tens of billions of dollars in capital, both of the Pahlavi family and foreign investments were withdrawn from the country. Eventually the U.S. initiated a trade embargo. And certainly the CIA moved in to probe for weaknesses to overthrow the government.
To counter against the attacks of imperialism, the Khomeini regime has not been afraid to mobilize the masses of Iranians. During the confrontation with imperialism over the hostage crisis, after the assassination of the IRP leaders, the millions of Iranians in the streets made it clear that to take on the regime meant to take them on as well.
But while the Khomeini regime swept into power by the masses of Iranians, and their mobilized support has kept the regime in power, it is a regime which did not represent – and did not intend to represent the interests of those masses. The Mullahs, the social caste that leads the regime, came from the landlord class. Their regime still upholds the private ownership of property. When peasants in Kurdistan tried to take over land, the regime sent in troops to stop them. When Teheran bus drivers went on strike over their New Year bonuses, the IRP labeled them as counter-revolutionaries, and threatened to bring drivers from the Iraqi war front as scabs. And when the oppressed nationalities, the Kurds, the Turkomans, and Azerbaijanis demanded national autonomy, the regime sent troops to crush them. The Mullahs, whose role in society is based on traditions dating back to the Middle Ages, use the Koran to justify carrying out very reactionary measures. It is, for example, very oppressive to women. The regime has executed women accused of being prostitutes or adulteresses. And it tries to force women to wear the chador, or veil.
It is a regime whose interests are different from those of the masses. Moreover, given the poverty of Iran, it does not have the possibility even to find a compromise with them. Accordingly, the regime cannot afford to grant any democracy to the population. Instead it needs a state apparatus that stands above the masses, out of their control, in order to impose the will of the regime against the masses.
The Khomeini forces, without a real army of their own, chose to look to the old state apparatus of the Shah. The proof of this was that even before they took power, they showed they did not intend to smash the old state apparatus. During the revolution, the Mullahs who led the revolution did not appeal to the soldiers of the Shah’s army to turn against their officers. They did not encourage the masses to take weapons and confront the army in an armed way. When the army was in danger of disintegrating under the pressure of the masses, it was withdrawn from the streets. The Khomeini forces were very careful to avoid pushing the revolution to destroy the army. The Shah’s power fell and Khomeini assumed power. But the army, the police, and the SAVAK remained intact. After assuming power Khomeini carried out a series of very limited purges. However, even many of the SAVAK who were imprisoned were released after a certain time. Basically, Khomeini preserved as much of the state apparatus as he could.
The problem for Khomeini is that this state apparatus cannot be trusted. It was built up by the Shah and imperialism. While a section of the state apparatus was ready to support the new regime, another section has not yet been won over. Proof of this are the two bombings last year that wiped out many of the leaders of the Khomeini regime. These bombings could not have happened in the way they did, in the places they did, without the complicity of at least some of the police and the army.
The contradiction of Khomeini’s regime is that it has to rely on a state apparatus that it cannot completely trust. It cannot destroy this apparatus because it needs it. But in order to make use of the apparatus, it must keep it in line. To do this, it must resort to a mass mobilization when it feels that the state apparatus is getting out of line. But in doing so, Khomeini sets in motion a force he cannot entirely trust. For when the masses are mobilized there is always the danger that they begin to take up their own demands, demands that are not necessarily those of the regime. This is why even the smallest expression of dissent can be a threat to the regime. It is why the Mullahs move to crush all tendencies that diverge or question the regime’s authority. This includes the Kurds and the other nationalities who have pushed for national autonomy. It includes those political groups, such as the Mujahedeen, which openly broke with Khomeini and is outlawed with many of its militants executed. But it also includes those parties that say that they support Khomeini, such as the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party; or even those like the Tudeh, which support the regime 100 per cent. These groups are harassed, their militants and sympathizers are imprisoned and their newspapers banned.
Of course, in order for the regime to carry out this political repression, it must rely on the state apparatus, the police, the army and the political police. The policy of the regime consists of using one force against another, the police against the masses and the masses against the police.
What will be the result of these clashes? This is an open question that depends on many
The Mullahs’ goal is to keep the state apparatus under control long enough to consolidate it, to win the army and the rest of the state apparatus completely over to the regime. Certainly there is a good possibility that the Khomeini regime could pull this off.
But it is not the only possibility. In order for Khomeini to control the state apparatus he needs the possibility to be able to mobilize the masses. But how long will the masses support a regime that mobilizes them to defend the regime, but not to address their own concerns; a regime which in fact tries to prevent the masses from mobilizing in their own interests? This is not to say that the Iranian masses are necessarily ready to oppose the regime, but even if they simply become demoralized, or just tired, a section of the army could attempt a coup.
In this case the army could succeed and it could replace Khomeini in its own name, or it could install a politician like Bani Sadr whom it feels it could control more easily.
The fight over who controls the state apparatus could be upset by the active intervention of the masses themselves in Iran. Just as the masses unseated the Shah when that also didn’t seem likely and installed Khomeini in power, so too they could act again. And this time they could act in their own interests in an independent way. Unfortunately, today there is no organization which proposes this course to the masses, and the lack of such an organization makes this the least likely possibility.