Mass protests and demonstrations have erupted in Iran in opposition to the apparent rigging of the Presidential elections by the Mahmoud Ahmedinejad regime. According to reports, the largest anti-government demonstration of over one million people took place in the capital Tehran. Reports coming out of Iran claim that over a dozen have been killed in clashes with the police and hated Basij militia. With heavy press censorship, much of the movement has been co-ordinated through the use of Twitter – Iran has the highest number of internet bloggers per head of population. Although the picture is unclear at the time of writing, reports of mass protest in other cities such as Shiraz are also emerging. Tehran University has been surrounded by armed police and brutal repression has been reported of students in their dormitories. Other reports speak of gunfire being heard throughout the capital during the night following the election. Ahmedinejad, who announced victory within a few hours of the polls, has apparently simply left the country and is in Russia attending diplomatic meetings.
These mass demonstrations against the regime in Tehran have taken place despite the threat by the regime to authorise the use of live ammunition against the protestors. Although the situation still remains unclear it appears that big sections of the urban population have lost their fear of the regime and are prepared to take to the streets to protest against it. This represents a crucial turning in the struggle against any dictatorship. BBC video footage of the protests shows protestors refusing to disperse when faced with attacks by the military police. To the forefront of these protests have been the students but clearly with the active support of older sections of the population – especially white-collar workers. There are divisions within the regime about how to deal with this mass movement. This, combined with the mass mobilisation of the middle class and students, clearly indicates that important elements of a pre-revolutionary crisis are developing. At this stage however, the working class has not yet decisively joined the struggle and there is confusion in the political consciousness of those involved reflected in some of the religious slogans which are also being chanted such as “God is great”. However, it should be remembered that the first demonstrations of the Russian revolution in 1905 were led by a priest, Father Gapon.
How this movement will now develop is not yet clear but it has already forced the regime into an abrupt about turn. The Guardian Council, in the face of this mass opposition, has been compelled to overturn its previous decision and allow a recount of contested votes. This is a clear attempt to calm the situation as the regime fears that the protests will erupt further and develop into an uprising against the regime itself.
Fuelled by rising mass unemployment and a yearning for democratic rights, especially amongst the youth – 60% of the Iranian population is under the age of thirty. The urban youth in particular are in revolt against the theocratic repression which they have suffered. An important feature of this movement have been the mobilisations of young women, demanding “equality”. This was reflected in the enormous popularity of Zahra Rahnavard, wife of the main opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, during the campaign. It is unprecedented in Iranian elections for women to play such a leading role. At the same time, while the mass opposition in the cities has rallied to Mousavi, he is no socialist or defender of the working class and the poor. A former Prime Minister, his pro-capitalist programme is limited to reform of the current theocratic state. However, the attempt to rig the election by Ahmedinejad has possibly opened the flood gates to a mass movement that could topple his regime and open a new era in Iran. At the same time there is an apparent division between the rural poor and some sections of the most down trodden and oppressed in some of the cities and urban centres who have tended to support Ahmedinejad because of his right-wing reactionary populist stance against corruption and the rich liberal elite and “anti-western imperialist” stance.
Iran has been transformed in recent years with nearly 70% of the population estimated to be living in the urban areas with a highly educated layer of young people.
The decisive question in the short term is if the working class now moves into action following reports of trade unions discussing calling a general strike which is the main fear of the regime. At the time of writing the opposition has called off a mass protest scheduled to take place in Tehran to avoid clashes with pro-government forces. This illustrates the fear reformist pro-capitalists like Mousavi have of unleashing mass mobilisations which can easily get out of their control and move in a more radical revolutionary direction. It is possible that Mousavi may try and reach a compromise with the existing regime to avoid bringing the masses onto the streets. Alternatively, the regime may be forced to accept Ahmedinejad’s defeat in order to try to maintain control of the situation. Attempts may also be made to wind down the protests for fear of their consequences. Mousavi has already called on protests planned for tomorrow to be cancelled.
However, the genie is now out of the bottle and a decisive new phase of the struggle has been opened in Iran. The struggle for genuine democratic rights, the right to strike, to hold free elections, form free trade unions, political parties and equality for women needs to be fought for by all workers, youth and socialists. The emergence of the working class into this movement can give it the necessary cohesion and power to defeat the regime. The formation of democratically elected committees of struggle from the workplaces and universities linking with the middle class and urban poor can form the basis of a united struggle. The calling of a general strike and forming a defence militia along with a class appeal to the rank and file of the army are steps which are necessary to take the movement forward to overthrow the regime. Such committees could also convene elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly to decide the future of Iran. The guarantee of democratic rights and a solution to the mass poverty and unemployment can only then be assured with the formation of a workers’ and peasants government on a revolutionary socialist programme to transform society in the interests of all working people.