Irani Fundamentalism & Capitalism Crush
November 1, 2022
‘Zan, Zendegi, Azadi’
US Imperialism Obstacle in Emancipation of Iranian Women & Workers
‘Zan, Zendegi, Azadi’ (Woman, Life, Freedom)
‘No Mullah, No Shah, Just Democracy’
The ‘morality police’ of Iran arrested and brutally beat 22-year-old Kurd woman Zina Mahsa Amini in Tehran for not wearing a roosari or hijab in a correct manner. She died in hospital 3 days later on 16th September. The angry protests at her funeral in her hometown Saqqez on 17th September were fired upon by the police killing a 10-year-old girl shot in head leading to protests spreading all over Iran and being joined by hundreds of thousands of women, along with many men. Many women have removed their hijab in public and put these onto bonfires and cut their hair. Protests have spread from young and old women to college and school students.
Irani rulers have, on the one hand, tried to mobilise religious masses against the agitation by calling it a conspiracy of Islamophobic forces and evil alliance of US-Israel. On the other, they have used massive force to crush the angry uprising, deploying not only regular police but also the stormtrooper forces called Islamic Revolutionary Guards. More than 200 protesters are reported to have been killed in shootings, beatings and tear gassing, with thousands more under arrest. The Internet has been shut down. The repression has especially been severe in minority Kurd areas. However, the protests have not been easy to suppress as, along with hijab laws, the economic suffering and corruption have added to the explosion of pent-up anger and the demand of abolishing the so-called Islamic republic is also being raised. Many sections of the population from students to the working class have added their voice in solidarity to the protesting women.
We have mentioned above two of the many slogans raised in the protests. These slogans show that while the protests are definitely against the mandatory hijab laws but are not what the US-European imperialist media tries to depict these to be. It is definitely a rebellion against the Islamic Republic but not for the US stooge Shah regime. It is definitely a rebellion against a fundamentalist regime in favour of the right to life and democratic rights. But it is not for a ‘democracy’ that US-NATO imperialists have installed in many countries through the coups, military interventions, carpet bombings and genocides. It is still undecided who leads this rebellion, but it is definitely not the imperialist stooges sitting in US and Europe. But to understand the nature of this massive protest, let us have some historic perspective first.
In 1953, Iranian people revolted against British-US imperialism backed monarchy and established a national republic. A democratic government was formed under the leadership of Mohammed Mosaddeq, which started the process of freeing petroleum industry and other national resources from the clutches of the imperialist capital. However, as soon as the Anglo Iranian Petroleum Company was nationalized, imperialist powers instigated a military coup and absolute Pahlavi monarchy was reinstalled.
We see many pictures of a seemingly free and heavenly fashionable life in Tehran under the Pahlavi Shah rule being propagated over social media. However, that life belonged only to a few old feudal elite and comprador bourgeoisie working for US-UK imperialist capital. It is an attempt to show that Iran under Shah rule was a free, democratic, and progressive country with full freedom and equal rights for women. However, the fact remains that the then life for the overwhelming majority was not at all free and heavenly but one full of dire poverty, extreme hardships, intense exploitation and brutal repression by feudal elite and imperialist capital with no democratic rights for people. SAVAK, the secret police of the Pahlavi monarchy, were notorious for brutality. In the end, the working class and the common masses revolted. There were big general strikes in 1977 and 1978. Ultimately Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in 1979. Working class Tudeh party played a major role in this revolt but its ideological and organizational weaknesses deriving from its being under the influence of Soviet revisionism didn’t allow it to establish a working-class rule. Instead of mobilizing exploited oppressed people for a democratic revolution under the leadership of the working class, Tudeh and some other pro-USSR groups supported Khomeini in the name of ani-western imperialism.
It is quite well known that the imperialist-colonialist rulers backed and used all sorts of reactionary fundamentalist elements and tendencies to mislead masses and thwart the anti-colonial national democratic liberation struggles which rose up with increased vigour after first imperialist world war drawing inspiration from the 1917 Russian Proletarian Socialist Revolution. Zionists as well as fanatic Islamic Mullahs played their role in these imperialist machinations against the working class and democratic struggles in the West and Central Asian region. Iran also had an existing base of reactionary feudal values of religious fundamentalism. Moreover, decadent modernism of ruthless exploitative elite in Pahlavi rule also created a fertile ground for reactionary ideas based on Islamic fundamentalism. US-NATO imperialists had also been backing political Islam to counter USSR for long during so-called Cold War,
Ayatollah Khomeini, living in Paris as an insurance policy against any eventuality of a working class or democratic power in Iran replacing the Shah regime, moved quickly to utilize the opportunity. He was presented by the US-Europe media as the leader of anti-Shah resistance. Taking advantage of the weak ideological leadership of Tudeh and to make him acceptable to Irani working class, his interviews appeared in imperialist media saying that Islam is the true well-wisher of workers. He repeatedly quoted Prophet Mohammed saying that wages must be paid before the worker’s perspiration dries up. Huge numbers of posters came up with the slogan “Islam is the true friend of workers” with praying workers in background. Imperialist media propagated Khomeini saying that the Islamic rule will guarantee labour and democratic rights including forming unions, fair wages, social security and various welfare schemes.
“Workers in the Islamic Republic will have the right to gather and defend their trade union rights. The deprived workers of Iran, most of whom are pious, poor, and hungry farmers, have the right to fight in any possible and legitimate way to obtain their rights.”
However, after capturing power, his government did exactly the opposite. They started brutal repression of workers and those seeking democratic rights, many were killed, more put into prisons for long and many had to flee the country for safety. In the words of Sadegh Kargar, an Iranian labor activist:
“The oppressed did not become the rulers [after the revolution], they only became more oppressed. [The government has] abolished labor protection laws. . .. As soon as a worker protests, the repressive special forces deal with them. . .. Workers are now flogged, imprisoned, and sentenced to ten years in prison for union issues — for instance, a teacher or a worker who has formed a trade union or defended the rights of teachers or workers to form a union. The rulers now are fledgling capitalists who have followed in the footsteps of the previous ones and are treating the oppressed much worse, more violently, more ruthlessly, and more inhumanely. In fact, what the workers had gained after one hundred years of struggle and effort, they have lost in the Islamic Republic.” (ibid)
The combination of Irani capitalist exploitation under Islamic rule as well as the sanctions imposed by the US led imperialist combine has caused immense suffering in the lives of the working class and common masses. Half of the population is below the poverty line. Child labour is very prevalent. Most of the working people are unable to afford even the minimum necessities of life like bread, milk, eggs, meat, etc. Large number of homeless people are compelled to take refuge in alleys, on roads and even in bleak graveyards. On the other hand, the ruling elite enjoys a life of luxury, travels in Mercedes, parties long and hard, park their money in Swiss bank accounts, and their offspring live and study in countries not requiring mandatory hijab.
As usual women are the biggest victims of Islamic republic. Sharia laws restricting their freedom and the ‘morality police’ have forced them to a second-class existence in every sphere of life – home, school-college, public transport, workplaces, entertainment places, etc. Gender segregation policy has put many places beyond their reach. Many syllabi in higher education are proscribed for them and they are not allowed to take several jobs. Changes in personal – marriage, family and inheritance – laws have made their social position much inferior. The birth certificates record only the name of the father, effectively depriving women of rights on their own children. On top of all, the ‘morality police’ constantly monitors and controls their lives, often resulting in heinous oppressive crimes like the tragic case of Mahsa Amini.
It’s not the first-time that women have protested Islamic rightist oppression and hijab laws. However, these were earlier largely confined to Tehran and larger cities with participation of high- and middle-class women. This pro-west higher and middle class also formed the support base of the Green Movement after the 2009 elections. But things have changed in recent years and the main social base of the protest has moved to working classes. Since the protest movement against high petrol prices and corruption in 2019, in which more than a thousand were killed, it is the Irani Working Class which forms the backbone of protests. There were also big strikes in Khuzestan after that.
Mahsa Amini was Kurd. Like all capitalist countries Kurds being minorities face double oppression. Amini belonged to Saqqez, a city dominated by Kurd working class population which rose up in anger against her killing. However, this time several Irani working class organizations have come out in solidarity with the strong protest by women and Kurd working class in Saqqez against the dastardly killing of Mahsa Amini. The Coordination Council of Trade unions and teachers has twice called for strike action. Irani teachers who had faced severe repression in their own agitation of salary hike in December 2021, now stand with their own students especially female ones. The petroleum contract workers from Abadan at Caspian Sea coast too have warned of strike action if the regime doesn’t desist from repression. Students of 15 universities have also joined the protests against hijab laws and corruption.
The main slogans of the protest tell us that it is no longer confined to the hijab issue alone. It has now transformed into a broad mass resistance against the hardships of the majority of masses and for freedom, democratic and labour rights. A real democracy with democratic freedom of life for all instead of the Islamic Republic has become the clarion call of the protest. However, it must be understood it is neither an anti-Islam movement nor against just a particular piece of cloth. This is a fight for freedom and choice against compulsion and force. That is why many who are religious and practice hijab are also joining the protests. Videos have been seen where many religious people can be heard chanting a complaint to Hussein, a highly revered figure for Shia Muslims, “Hussein, Hussein! Yazid is now Revolutionary Guard!” (Yazid is one the most reviled figures in Islamic history for murdering Hussein and his family). Thus, the protest which began among the women and workers in Kurd minority areas has now become a broad secular resistance by all nationalities and communities – Kurds, Persians, Azeris, Rashtis, Arabs, Armenians, Balochs, Lurs, etc.
For the US-European imperialists, this protest is a pretext to intervene so that a ‘friendly’ government can be installed in this petroleum rich nation controlling the entrance to the Persian Gulf. The Biden administration was trying desperately to revive the annulled nuclear deal and to wean Iran away from the Russia-China camp. That has been abandoned now. Hence, the attempt to bring about a regime change now. However, the imperialist intervention, instead of helping in the emancipation of the Irani women, working people and oppressed masses, will be an unmitigated disaster as has been seen in many other countries. Neither the current theocratic rule nor US imperialism are friends of the Irani people.
The Imperialist powers are trying to utilize different reactionary forces as pawns to appropriate this brave struggle of the Irani women and working people for their own devious interests. This can be Reza Shah Pahlavi family residing in US or Maryam Razavi, currently in a feminist avatar but really belonging to Mujahideen-e-Khalq, an extremist organisation put up by CIA during Iran-Iraq war or ex-Irani Trump administration employee Masih Alinejad. However, these US pawns can be worse than the current dispensation for the Irani people.
Irani people are fighting for their freedom and democratic rights. The first and foremost responsibility of those who support and sympathize with this struggle from outside Iran is to oppose imperialist intervention and expose the lies of the imperialist media about the character of this struggle. We don’t yet know for sure where this struggle will lead to since there doesn’t seem to be, as yet, any strong unified and organised political force to lead it, though many working-class organisations and activists are engaged in their own ways in organising this protest. However, the reports till now say that the chief driving force of the resistance is spontaneous anger and dissatisfaction and the forces working in it are still highly scattered.
However, the Irani women and working class facing the repression of the fundamentalist Islamic Republic in their fight for the ‘Zan, Zendegi, Azadi’ must familiarize themselves with the century old history of the former Central Asian Soviet Socialist Republics situated in their neighbourhood – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, etc. to know how this very battle was won there in the 1920s. The condition of the women in this region at that time was almost that of slaves. They were deprived of education and couldn’t marry per their own choice. They had to wear long horsehair veils known as paranja while going out. Even suspicion of violation of these ‘rules’ led to severe punishment – beatings, maiming, murder, killing, etc. Landlords often forced marriages on women from poor families and rejection meant cruel oppression for the woman and her family. This feudal hierarchy was helped by Mullah theocracy in this brutal oppression of the serfs and working class.
After Soviet Socialist power was established in these republics, strict punishments started to be meted out to those who committed such heinous anti-women crimes. Women were encouraged to get educated and take decisions of their life as per their own will. Women in families with communist members started to get educated, work and unveil first. Ultimately, on 8th March 1928 a public campaign against veiling was taken up under which Tribunes were set up at various public places in cities like Bukhara, Samarkand, etc. to welcome the women who wanted to remove their veil. Many women gave up the veil on that day. That was the beginning of the end of the social pressure for mandatory veiling since the social system and power underlying this social pressure was abolished.
This shows that the question of veil and the secondary social status of women is inseparably linked with that of the exploitative social system based on private property and the structure of oppressive state power. To end secondary social status and win their ‘Zan, Zendegi, Azadi’ Irani women and working class have to free themselves from shackles of Irani capitalism and Mullah theocracy as well as give a powerful rebuff to the US imperialist intervention. An exploitation free socialist society will come into existence then in which the women will have the real effective right and freedom to live life of their own choice and have equal social status with their menfolk.