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Eyewitness Iran: What is the true character of the demonstrations

Imperialists do not embrace true revolutionary movements

The eyes of the world have focused on Iran since the June 12 presidential election. The turnout was exceptionally high, with 42 million people, 85 percent of the electorate, going to the polls. Incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner with 63 percent of the vote. Ahmadinejad's chief rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, declared himself the winner and called the announced results fraudulent. Iran has since been the scene of large daily protests.

A landslide victory by Ahmadinejad was not improbable. An op-ed piece by Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty published in the June 15 Washington Post states that the election results conform to their pre-election polling.

"Our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin—greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday's election," Ballen and Doherty asserted.

The survey of 1,001 respondents, conducted by phone between May 11 and May 20, had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. The study was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Neither the Fund nor the Washington Post could be accused of having a pro-Ahmadinejad bias.

Of course, we are not in a position to know if fraud took place and to what extent. Nor can one be sure whether one or both sides engaged in some level of voter fraud. Voter fraud is rather widespread in the United States and both the Democratic and Republican parties have engaged in it. If the allegations of the opposition in Iran were true, this would have had to be voter fraud on a huge and massive scale. Interestingly, the opposition only seeks an annulment of the election rather than a recount of the disputed votes.

Bourgeois elections

In bourgeois elections, the citizenry is offered a choice between candidates that are acceptable to ruling class interests. In Iran's elections, as in those of other countries, the candidates running for president were all acceptable options to the regime. All four had a long history of holding key posts. Ahmadinejad was the incumbent president; Mousavi was the prime minister of Iran in the first decade of the revolution; Mahdi Karroubi was a two-term head of Majliss (Iran's Parliament); and Mohsen Reza'i was a long-serving commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The array of the class forces lined up behind the candidates is far more important than the electoral details. Mousavi's social base is primarily among the upper and middle class elements, professionals, people with a higher education and students. Ahmadinejad's social base, on the other hand, is primarily among the lower sectors of the middle class, the urban poor and most people of all classes in the provinces and rural areas. A cursory glance at the photos of the demonstrators on both sides confirms this class composition.

The class character of the conflict is more obvious when we look at the key issues in the elections. Mousavi and the other candidates have accused Ahmadinejad of economic mismanagement and inflationary policiesbuying votes by giving "handouts" to poor and large state-funded projects in the provinces. These "handouts," ongoing during Ahmadinejad’s four-year tenure, consisted of substantial increases in state employees' salaries and pensions, cash benefits to the needy and other forms of benefits including expanding healthcare. In a May 15 speech Mousavi attacked these programs, saying: "Distribution of money and opportunities as alms is hardly an instrument of growth and development." (Irantracker.org, May 13)

Ahmadinejad's "adventurous" foreign policy has been another key election issue. His foreign policy has consisted of an uncompromising stance against the United States on the nuclear energy issue, outspoken opposition to the racist state of Israel, steadfast support for liberation movements in Palestine and Lebanon and expanding friendly relations with revolutionary and progressive governments around the globe, including those of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.

As noted in the June 21 Associated Press article titled "Israeli president [Peres] applauds Iran street protesters," the Israeli ruling establishment is openly hoping for the victory of what they call "the revolution" in Iran. The June 22 Jerusalem Post features an article on how the pro-U.S. regimes in the Arab world echo Peres sentiments, which begins: “Many Arab governments, including the Palestinian Authority, are quietly hoping that the latest crisis in Iran will mark the beginning of the end of the radical regime of the ayatollahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

Ahmadinejad is certainly no representative of the working class. The only true working-class orientation is a socialist orientation; moving in the direction of eliminating private ownership of the means of production by the capitalist class. But within the confines of capitalist relations, Ahmadinejad's political line represents more income and benefits for the poor.

Anti-government protests embraced by imperialism

The post-election events have made the stakes much higher than a simple presidential election and a choice between candidates. Between June 13 and June 19, hundreds of thousands, some reports say millions, have demonstrated in Tehran demanding the annulment of the June 12 elections. There were other smaller demonstrations during the week in other major cities. While people of all classes with various grievances have joined the demonstrations, the central political thrust of the protests has a righward trajectory, in regard to both domestic and international issues. The dominant composition of the protests has been middle class and the privileged sectors of society.

Imperialist media sources, to which many Iranians, particularly the more privileged sectors, have access through satellite TV, played a key organizing role. BBC Farsi and Voice of America, continuously broadcasting into Iran, did their part in announcing the time and place of planned demonstrations. They also provided live coverage by interviewing people who used their cell phones to call and transmit images.

The Islamic Republic has attempted to jam these broadcasts with some success. Still, demonstrators rely on many other sources, including counter-revolutionary monarchist channels based in Los Angeles that do their best to broadcast information, and misinformation, to increase the size and intensity of the demonstrations.

During some of the street protests, buses were burned, buildings were vandalized and destroyed, large fires were made in the streets and rocks were thrown at the police. The millions of dollars of U.S. funding for "promoting democracy" in Iran were put to use. Among the demonstrators were agents and provocateurs whose specific purpose was to wreak havoc and cause maximum destruction. Iranian TV channels aired interviews with captured agents of the MKO, the imperialist supported terrorist organization, who acknowledged having been instructed to set gas stations on fire and destroy buildings. During the first week, repression of the demonstrations was limited, as evident from the number of demonstrators and the relatively low instances of state violence.

On June 19, Ayatollah Khamenei, the central leader, made an important speech at the Friday prayers, attended by hundreds of thousands of supporters. Khamenei announced that the specific complaints of the three losing candidates would be fully reviewed and the ballots of the disputed boxes would be recounted. This was followed by a June 20 announcement that, as a confidence building measure, a randomly selected 10 percent of the ballots would be recounted and the results announced. Khamenei also warned that unpermitted demonstrations that had been allowed in the week following the elections would now be dealt with legally and forcefully.

On the next day, anti-government protesters attempted to demonstrate in central Tehran. Western sources put the number of people at 3,000. But this time, the police in riot gear met would-be demonstrators with force, using water cannons, tear gas and batons. This turned into a violent confrontation. Iranian TV showed police being beaten by demonstrators. Western media sources showed footage of the police attacking the demonstrators. The street clashes caused at least 10 deaths, bringing the total number of people killed since the elections to 17.

On the day of this writing, June 21, there were no reports of significant protests in Tehran or elsewhere.

With typical arrogance, imperialist powers have directly intervened in the internal affairs of Iran, a sovereign country. President Obama has called "on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people." On June 19, the U.S. House voted 405-1 to condemn the crackdown on protest rallies. The Senate passed a similar resolution. The House resolution openly backs anti-government demonstrators, supporting "all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties and rule of law."

Some imperialist leaders, including French President Sarkozy, have openly called the Iranian elections fraudulent, with no evidence to back their claim. George W. Bush stole the 2000 presidential elections after being fraudulently declared the winner in the state of Florida by five appointed-for-life millionaires who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Gore won the popular balloting by more than a half-million votes. But the great "Democracies" did not intervene. The U.S. elections were considered an internal matter.

Diplomatic norms of behavior like refraining from commenting on and interfering with other countries' internal matters do not apply to the relationship between imperialist and oppressed countries, particularly ones that take an independent course. Imperialists see it as their prerogative to preach democracy and human rights even while brutally occupying other countries against the will of the occupied people. Ironically, but not coincidentally, two of those coutries—Iraq and Afghanistan—share long borders with Iran.

Some liberal and progressive forces in the United States, as well as some that claim to be leftists, have echoed the U.S. Congress and the whole imperialist establishment, expressing full support for the demonstrators. Some have even declared the demonstrations as the start of a new revolution in Iran.

Not a new revolutionary movement

There are no examples in history when a true revolutionary movement has been embraced and supported by all the imperialist governments in the world. There have been occasions when an imperialist government temporarily forges an arrangement with a communist or national liberation movement or even a socialist government that is fighting the same "enemy." There are examples of this in both the first and second World Wars. When the entire imperialist world lines up to support a protest movement that seeks to topple a government that has already been targeted for "regime change," one can be sure that they know that this so-called revolution is in fact a movement to the right.

Imperialism is about subjugating the people around the globe to steal their resources. Why would all the imperialists defend a revolutionary movement? Are there any examples in history when a revolutionary movement has been led by privileged layers of society against the poor and working people? The point of a revolution is to eliminate inequitable social relations. How could the privileged classes in any society lead a "revolutionary" movement that seeks to reduce and cutback the benefits and services of poor and working people? That is Mousavi’s program! And that program has an appeal to the privileged classes who have been in the streets.

Street demonstrations do not constitute revolutionary movements. In today's imperialist-dominated world, the character of true revolutionary movements in oppressed countries is either socialist or nationalist, depending on whether the working class or the national bourgeoisie leads them. In either case, the revolutionary movement aspires to free the country of imperialist dominance, protect the country's resources and win independence.

Counter-revolutionary movements move in the opposite direction, aspiring to move the country towards an imperialist-friendly regime that implements neoliberal economic policies and restores or increases the privileges of the propertied classes.

Mousavi, the main losing candidate in Iran's elections, is no imperialist pawn. The demonstrations since the elections have not really been about Mousavi, as openly acknowledged by many demonstrators and their supporters. The demonstrations have become the rallying point for elements in Iranian society, mostly from the privileged classes, against the Islamic Republic regime and in favor of a pro-west, capitalist regime. If the demonstrations manage to destabilize and ultimately topple the Islamic Republic, the result will definitely not be a pro-worker, independent regime.

The political character of the anti-regime movement, no matter how many people have demonstrated, is not a left opposition to the Islamic Republic regime; it is a right opposition. U.S. and British imperialism hope that a victory of this movement would result in the counter-revolutionary overthrow of the anti-colonial 1979 revolution. That is why all the imperialist countries are unanimous in their support for the demonstrators, some stated overtly and some in more subtle ways. The character of the movement against the regime is similar to those of the U.S.-orchestrated color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, and the counter-revolutionary student protests against the progressive Chavez regime in Venezuela.

The task of revolutionaries and progressives in the United States is to condemn imperialist intervention in Iran and support the right of self determination for the Iranian people. U.S. Hands Off Iran!

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