Jan 8, 2018
Since December 28, the Iranian regime has been shaken by demonstrations that seem to be growing despite hundreds of arrests and 23 officially killed by repression so far. Starting in Mashhad, the second largest city of the country, the revolt rapidly spread to other cities and even small towns before reaching Tehran, the capital. As of January 2, the movement continued to deepen.
These demonstrations were sparked by the government’s announcement that it would increase the price of gas at the same time that it increased the pay of elected officials, during a period when unemployment has been skyrocketing. In reality, the population has been expressing its discontent for more than a year. Demonstrations have become increasingly common in different provincial cities. Workers and retirees have demonstrated in order to be paid their wages or pensions. People who lost their savings when a number of local banks failed have demonstrated to get their money back. And everyone has been denouncing the high cost of living and the shortage of basic necessities. The demonstrations finally converged on December 28, with slogans like “Death to the high cost of living,” or “while the people beg, the mullahs act like God,” or other explicit denunciations of Rouhani and Khamenei, the President of the Republic and the Guide of the Revolution.
While the inflation and shortage of goods are partially caused by the embargo the U.S. and its allies have imposed on Iran since 1979, they are also caused by the pillage of the economy by the rival families that share power. The control of religious institutions, the government ministries, the military, or the Revolutionary Guards, allows the Khamenei, Rouhani, and other clans to enrich themselves. They control imports, revenue from the sale of oil, and grab goods and lands from the state. The population’s exasperation has been aggravated by the fall in the price of oil and the lack of any improvement in the economy since the partial lifting of the embargo in 2015.
The struggles among the different cliques that fight for power are also perhaps playing a role. Ahmadinejad, the president until 2013, has tried to use the discontent of the population these last months against his rivals in the Rouhani clan that used the justice system they controlled to attack him for corruption. This helps explain the relative tolerance of the Revolutionary Guards, the main repressive force in the country, toward the first provincial demonstrations. But as the vice-president Jahangir declared: “Those who are behind the affair must also suffer the consequences of the fire they light ... if a social movement starts and the political movement descends into the streets, it will overtake them.” And despite the massive counter-demonstration organized in Tehran by the regime on December 30, this seems to be what’s happening.
The regime of the mullahs in Iran, despite many challenges in the past and despite the hostility of U.S. imperialism, has stayed in power for almost 40 years. Will repression stop the demonstrations, or, on the contrary, increase the level of anger? This question might well be answered in the coming days. Whatever the result, the workers descended into the streets for more than just a new equilibrium between the rival factions. This will not help the high cost of living, the unemployment, or the pillage of the economy by the powerful. And whoever controls it, the regime will remain a dictatorship against the working class and a prison for women.