This came through the mail. Many thanks to the author!
The Unbearable Loneliness of the Iranian People
by A. Abadani
A Republic Without a Nation
It has been more than seven months since the beginning of the Iranian people's movement, which instantly took advantage of the overt fraud of election results and gradually gained a steady rise in its momentum and demands. An electoral coup that was designed to send people back to their homes after a heated election campaign triggered a movement, whose trajectory passed through the initial demands for fair elections and proceeded to the open and impatient negation of the whole ruling system.
The limited participation of the Iranian people in the I.R. political system, as envisioned by its founder and documented in its constitution, was designed to give only a pretence of a representative system in the overall structure of power, not a real one. It was also designed to mask the true principle of power in the so-called republic. After all, this political mongrel was envisioned after an anti-dictatorial uprising. Besides, after many decades of Pahlavi autocracy, the ideals of the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 were still not fulfilled by 1979.
In actuality, the popular vote in the Theocratic Republic was to be conditioned by the divine power of the Supreme Leader, which constitutes the first and ultimate principle of power in the Islamic republic political system: the rule of the Vali-Faghih, the King-Philosopher as Plato noted, whose sole and lonesome decree would set the country’s direction in all matters and undo the ignorant mistakes of the masses. Institutionally, if all goals had materialized according to plan, election results were supposed to express the will of the Supreme Leader; notably an electoral choice as expressed by the Islam’s ‘Ommat’ (1) -- the popular body of the Faithful already under the guidance and control of the clerics -- and not an independent factor referred to as the Iranian Nation. In theory, the will of the Ommat was to be nothing but the extension of the will of the Supreme Leader, and its vast clerical organization rooted in society. The modern concept of Nation was never thought out when this Republic was instituted.
Thirty years on, this Republic remains the only one without a Nation, based on which to constitute itself. It has been a mongrel system that has thus been in permanent warfare against the real body politic, the Nation, for the last thirty years. Alas, the Ommat never showed up in the June elections, but the Nation, impatient with playing the role of Ommat, finally decided to call the political system for what it is: a Mongrel Republic, a lie, a non-Republic.
Elections in the Islamic Republic were designed to mask the real role of the Supreme Leader, not to throw him in the midst of the most extensive and broadcasted political crisis of the I.R. history. The charade of a Republic is forever finished in Iran, but the Iranian Nation has just begun.
The Reformists’ Dilemma
Since the popular uprisings of June 2009, the people have been charting their own course, and the reformist leadership while trying to manage its extreme tendencies and republican tendencies, has occasionally had to adapt to the people's moves, all the while trying to interpret and present it in a certain tone and posture, a compromising, limited and corrective one. This attitude comes from their own reformist political agenda and vested interests in the survival of the Islamic republic, and has more than once come into conflict with the actual expressions of the opposition movement, as materialized in the streets, and as evident in media clips from universities and neighborhoods. It is now a known fact that large segments of the opposition masses are utilizing the reformists’ shield as a buffer, while articulating and raising more fundamental questions and voicing more radical social and political demands.
If at the beginning people's slogans reflected the question, 'Where's my vote?', the slogans rapidly developed into calls for justice addressed to the highest state organs, and calls for the removal of top figures of the ruling regime, while more radical elements within the movement, especially among women and the university students, have had no illusions and have been calling for a complete overhaul of the system.
In the midst of this radicalization of the people's demands, and in the face of the resilience of the movement, the reformist leaders such as Moussavi, Karroubi and Khatami have become more cautious in guiding the opposition to the government; fearful of its potential to rapidly become a movement questioning the fundamental structures of power in Iran; while it is true that these political figures have become louder in their demands as a result of the leap made by the people and as a consequence of the collective social push for more accountability, freedom and justice. The reformists know well that their political faith is dependent both on the existence of the structures of power and the presence of people in the political scene. The former is required to allow for a reformist change of the Islamic republic, and the latter is necessary to temper the dictatorial tendencies of the actual leaders of the regime.
This is the basis that explains why the reformist leadership suffers from deep contradictions. Having been a part of the regime for the last thirty years has political consequences for the reformist leaders. On the one hand, they are being systematically driven out of power by the Khamenei-Ahmadi faction --the overt manifestation of which started with the rigged elections -- but the cleansing process started during Ahmadinejad’s 1st term. The reformist opposition, thus, has no choice but to side with the people's movement as the only path to their political survival. On the other hand, the reformists do not have any strategic solutions for the current political crisis other than to channel the popular pressure into a compromise with the dominant power. And this possibility does not go beyond the ruling regime with its limited political inclusiveness. The reformists are therefore stuck with making demands that are to be addressed by the institutions of this very system, while catering to the popular movement. Hence, Moussavi's Statement #17, in which (repeating some of the demands he had raised in his Statement #13), he proposes five steps to be taken by the government that can restore calm and law and order, plus very limited accountability.
Other well known reformists have issued similar statements/demands (see, for example, the statement by five religious intellectuals, Soroush, Ganji, Kadivar, et. al.). These demands, however, are being put to a government that has already declared its open-ended war against the people and their movement for social justice, freedom and accountability. In other words, to an absolutist state holding absolute power that is incapable of (even if there were a will for) compromise. Much like its European prototypes, the Iranian fascism of the existing kind exists precisely because the constituent parts of a historical ruling block could no longer get along with each other peacefully. So, the repressive organs of the I.R. State along with the security-industrial complex have taken over militarily and are forcing a new rearrangement within the power block. Such a formation is not much prone to compromise.
Limits on a Total Solution
The Khamenei-Ahmadi’s regime and government, not prepared for such a massive uprising post June election, has to consider prudence in dispensing violence at this stage. A great number of reformists still hold prominent positions in the power structure or are public figures that still walk the streets and publish their newspapers and websites freely and can still be a voice against total and permanent shutdown of oppositional political activities in the society at large. In addition, the political reformists have the support of a large segment of the Shiite clerical establishment with them. Large sections and a number of major clerical leaders in Qom and other religious cities such as Shiraz and Mashhad, are openly against the brutal and extreme violence of the regime against peaceful but angry and impatient protesters. It can be said that there are at least two Qom's in Iran, at the moment; one is drunk and giddy on promises held by an absolutist hold on state, while the other Qom trembles, frightened not merely for their personal future, but more so for the permanent damage being done to their organized faith and its future by the Islamic Republic’s latest electoral adventures and the consequent lapse into a naked military dictatorial system.
It must be difficult for the regime to gauge the current balance of political power, and to assess the depth and breadth of the opposition in the society; it has so far, avoided an all-out bloody crackdown. There is also another major factor as to why the regime has not applied total force against the reformists and the mass movement that supports its demands and beyond: as stated by a number of observers and analysts, a systematically excessive use of violence against the people and the reformists could cause division among the body of the Revolutionary Guards and the Basijis, a split that could spill into armed clashes if savage crackdowns were to commence. The ruling regime cannot afford that kind of split.
Therefore, the cautious and tentative politics of the reformists has provided the best crackdown strategy for the ruling regime: to conduct a slow and methodic campaign of arrest/elimination of the reformists' leadership, journalistic personnel, organizers and activists; continuous repression in the universities and arrests of the student movements’ leaders; imposition of unannounced martial law on the streets; and imprisonment and occasional execution of ordinary people arrested in the streets to spread fear and terror in the heart of the masses to pacify them permanently (2).
Despite all the repressive measures taken by the ruling regime, and despite the legalistic mode of opposition of the reformist leaders, as the world witnessed, the Iranian people have shown that they have an impatiently negative image of this theocratic system with a variety of outlooks, and they have developed a political attitude autonomous of the reformist leadership of the movement. Even in the manner the street protesters managed the Police-Guard-Basiji violence during the Tasu'a & Ashura weekend of December 27-28, they showed that even in the matter of tactics they pick and choose what is required to push back the regime; irrespective of how many times the I.R. reformers have warned that violent tactics or ‘anti-structural’ slogans are against the interests of the opposition and serve the repressive goals of the regime. When and where necessary, people took the offensive against the security forces, questioned the very nature of the regime and shook the foundations of the existing power structure. This last development has been worrying the reformist leaders immensely ever since, and the above-mentioned Statement #17 by Moussavi did in part try to place limits on the demands of the movement, just as much as it tried to 'cool down' the over-agitated atmosphere of the Ashura protests. The I.R. reformers have been emphasizing that any turn to a violent confrontation between the people and the regime will only give the regime more excuses to resort to more extreme measures. As a result, statements and commentaries by reformists have been pouring out in defense of the benefits of non-violence and its superiority over all other methods.
They need to know, however, the more they push the people back, the more they have set the path for a total and bloody crackdown. The reformist leadership should know that it is exactly events like Ashura that is forcing the regime to back off from massive crackdown: massive out-pouring of fearless people and occasional use of violence against the Islamic state-troopers is one of the major ways that can prolong the legalistic phase of the opposition and the anti-dictatorial movement. Measured, spotty and high-impact violent and even armed tactics by vanguard groups aligned with the people and protesters is a necessary approach in prolonging this semi-legalistic state of affairs at this stage of the political struggle. The preferred target would naturally be the Basiji plain-cloths men, military attacks against which as a Para-military force, would not imply a strategic call to civil war and total destruction of the regime, but as a defensive measure to secure more persistent popular protests, which would imply the same goal, but in a tactical manner. Pacification of the social base of the ruling regime is and should be the first act in inauguration of the toppling process of the whole theocratic system. The Basij remain the most hated institution in the popular mind, and sabotaging their thuggish spirit, is the surest way to instill fear and doubt in the most violent social base of the Islamic republic.
Next battle day will be the 31st anniversary of the Revolution, February 11 (22 Bahman).
Where do the People Go from Here?
Given the wide spectrum of social classes and strata that are present in the anti-dictatorial movement, the long-term goals of the current opposition block vary depending on the social class/class fraction raising those demands. Clearly the demands of the oil workers, or autoworkers or bus drivers, nurses, teachers or the unemployed are different from those of the small-to-medium sized merchants and/or nationalist industrialists. Based on the intended and actual policies of the Khatami’s government during his 8 years in power, it is safe to state that the reformist leadership is more aligned with the interests of the latter than with the working classes.
The real dilemma, then, remains the representation of the working classes (3). For democratic socialists and authentic communists, the formation of leadership structures that represent long term interests of the working classes is a matter to be resolved and worked out through a long, protracted struggle, during which organic leaders and leadership structures of the working people emerge naturally in the course of their struggle.
This process of organizing can occur during a protracted span of time and has a much better chance of success in a semi-legalistic environment. Under the circumstances, then, it is to the benefit of the working classes organizing efforts that the reformist leaders stay in powerful positions for as long as possible. In other words, the longer the internal conflicts of the ruling factions continue, the longer will the people have time and space to create their independent organizations, to defend themselves against any state structure and/or any coalition government that does not take their rights and lives seriously.
It is thus beneficial to the interests of a real democratization process of the society to pursue and extend the legalistic mode of struggle led by the reformists. Exposing the reformists in the abstract or shedding doubt on legalistic forms of struggle, or non-violent tactics, is not to the advantage of republican Iranians, be it secular liberals, democratic socialists or authentic communists, but will help weaken the anti-dictatorial struggle of the people. The Nation’s interests dictates a long-term battle on all fronts, inside and abroad, to eliminate the Islamic Republic, rather than a sudden push that topples the regime in an imaginary scenario. In the absence of well-developed popular structures of economic and political networks -- comprised of local neighborhood and workplace committees, out of which increasingly higher levels of regional and national structures emerge – abstract slogans towards any sudden toppling of the regime (if it is possible at all) will lead to a political vacuum that could be filled by those who have been part of the regime for the last thirty years and are still desperately trying to salvage this mongrel republic; a regime change without any counterbalance on the part of the people from below. In such a situation, the only thing the people can do is to continue their street protests, again without concrete economic and political organizations that could give substance to their demands and achieve real results that could empower them in the overall political structure.
All the difficult work to eliminate this regime will have to be done by the Iranian people or the outcome would be either a rampant and out of control capitalism of the peripheral flavor, or national disintegration fuelled by foreign interventions and schemes. The Iranian people have no strategic friends in this fight except themselves and other ordinary people in the world, whom they have inspired immensely in the last year. No 'international community' or a foreign state will ever look out for their interests; nor should the support of any foreign government be sought. The people's movement in Iran has gained the solidarity of many progressive, liberal, socialist and working class organizations from around the world, and that is where it will have to seek its international support.
(1) An Arabic-religious term signifying the body of the faithful, as organized and defined by their subaltern adherence to various religious authorities institutionalized by Shiite Islam.
(2) This de facto martial law on the streets is one of the main reasons for the 'event-driven' pulse of the movement. Official holidays and days of public rallies -- wherein normally, and for the past thirty years, people have taken to the streets to protest, celebrate, etc. some officially-announced occasion -- have now turned into battle days.
(3) We consider the term middle class to be a myth; an ideological construct by advanced capitalist countries to draw a wedge between different segments of wage earning, working people. The people that are commonly subject to unemployment, inflation and all the consequences of the rule of finance capital in advanced capitalist countries.