* The rise of the socialist and popular
movement in Iran
Fariborz Pooya's interview with Azar Majedi
Fariborz Pooya: Over the past year, there have
been strong, vocal strikes and demonstrations in Iran. We want to
explore different aspects of this and the socialist movement's role
within this popular, progressive movement. First tell us, what is
taking place in Iran?
Azar Majedi: The socio-political climate in Iran
is rapidly changing. We are witnessing an increasingly vocal and
dynamic protest movement which extends over to different social,
political and economic areas. There are different important movements
which are active and vibrant: the workers’ movement over wages and
rights, the movement for women’s equality, the student-youth movement,
and the movement for cultural freedom. We are witnessing a rapid
polarisation in society as well. The so-called reformist movement
is being side-lined. The society is moving towards the left. There
are different elements we could analyse in this regard.
Since September 2004, significant events or protests and demonstrations
have taken place, which have changed the socio-political scene in
Iran, some more radically and some less apparent. However, when
we turn back to one year ago and look at the society as a whole,
it is unrecognisable. I believe Iran is at a pre-revolutionary stage.
The revolutionary climate and mood is simmering; it is taking shape,
and it is in the process of becoming.
Our generation has experienced a great revolution. We have seen
how popular movements turn to something greater, become continuous
and ever increasingly more uncompromising and radical. We have experienced
the sense of unity among the people. You never think of a revolution
when it is taking shape; it is only after that you name it as such.
Let us examine some of the most significant recent events which
have been a turning point or had an important impact on the general
A large demonstration took place in Tehran on September 10, 2004.
A right-wing figure, more of a lunatic and demagogue than a leader,
had called upon people via satellite TV to take to the streets.
(He had promised to come and conquer the country with 400 planes;
he had told people that I would be on the plane with him along with
some other political figures or leaders.) The demonstration was
called by a right wing, fanatic nationalist. One would expect a
crowd with nationalist and right wing sentiments marching on the
streets, but to every observer’s surprise, we heard socialist slogans
for the first time in a mass demonstration. ”Rise up socialism to
abolish discrimination”, “Socialism is our way; it’s the answer
to our problems”. These slogans were shouted on the streets of Tehran.
(The actual slogan in Farsi is rhythmic.) The fact that in a mass
demonstration for a first time socialism was raised as a political
solution and alternative in the form of a slogan is very significant
and it clearly indicates a move towards the left.
Another important demonstration, which, in my view, was a turning
point, was the commemoration of Student day on 6th of December 2004.
Traditionally this day had been marked with protests and clashes
with the army or police both during the monarchy and more recently
under the Islamic Republic of Iran. At the time of the old regime
it had an anti-government and anti imperialist, nationalist populist
characteristic, a traditional left protest.
Under the Islamic Republic, it has turned politically critical of
the regime in the past few years. However, until 2 years ago the
so-called reformist student organisations were prominent on this
day – those who are the followers of Khatami. Since last year, though,
the general mood in the student movement has turned to the left.
Last year we witnessed a totally different kind of demonstration
and meetings. Some of the slogans were as follows: `Liberty and
equality,” “bread and freedom for all,” “women’s freedom is everyone’s
The dominant mood was very radical and uncompromising vis-à-vis
the Islamic Republic. It was actually so left-wing that it triggered
some very interesting comments from the Islamic Republic’s leadership,
such as Khatami, the previous president and Rafsanjani, who compared
this day’s protest with the student movement at the time of 1979
revolution which was very much leftwing. Khatami was shouting at
the University of Tehran students and the students were booing him.
He started to threaten the audience, reminding them of what the
regime did to left organisations 24 years ago. I believe that was
a turning point.
In the past two years there have been many worker’s protests, in
the form of strikes, sit ins, and road blockages. According to the
government, in the three month period between April to July 2005
around 2000 workers’ protests took place. And I must add that this
is a conservative estimate. The main demands have been for the payment
of unpaid wages and job security. Teachers and nurses have also
been protesting over and over again with similar demands. The number
of protests has multiplied in the past year. The form and nature
of the protests have changed considerably as well. The move towards
calling for solidarity actions from other sections of the working
class, and the society in general is a new phenomenon. Two protests
in Sanandaj textile and Shahoo factories were good examples of this.
Increasingly, workers refuse to restrict themselves to the boundaries
of the work place and address their immediate community and society
as a whole.
The recent strike in early 2006 by 17000 bus drivers of Tehran changed
the scene completely. A protest which was going on for months, with
demands for recognition of a workers’ union, pay rise, collective
bargaining and dismantling of Islamic councils formed by the state,
culminated in a one day strike which led to the brutal arrest of
more than 1000 workers, a few of the workers’ spouses and their
kids. This strike has attracted considerable sympathy from the general
public and was publicised widely, both domestically as well as internationally.
In my opinion, the strike by the bus company workers has begun a
new chapter in the Iranian working class movement. It has brought
the working class to the forefront of the people’s movement against
the Islamic Republic. The brutal assault by the government shows
the political importance and significance of this protest action.
The national move for raising the minimum wage to 4 times that of
the official figure, which is still gathering support from different
sections of workers, is also a new phenomenon. By doing this, for
the first time, the working class has come to the fore as the leader
and spokesperson of the whole impoverished masses and working people.
At present, the minimum wage for workers is determined separately
from other sections of the working population.
A few other important events that must be mentioned which demonstrate
the change in balance of power between the regime and the people
are the cancellation of the execution orders for Afsaneh Nourozi
and Leila Mafi and the stoning order for Hadjie Esmailvand.
Afsaneh Nourozi is a woman who was in prison for 7 years for killing,
in self-defence, a security agent who attempted to rape her. Even
though the court knew that the killing had happened as an act of
self-defence, it had sentenced Afsaneh to hanging. This sentence
caused an outcry in the society; the case got into the papers; the
women’s movement began to object; and international solidarity was
mobilised behind her case. Finally, after a few trials and retrials
she was freed. This was a clear victory for the people and the movement
for the defence of women’s rights.
We were also able to stop the stoning of Hadjieh Esmailvand, a woman
in Azerbaijan, who had spent a few years in jail, and was going
to be stoned for having sex outside of marriage. A very intense
campaign by the Worker-communist Party of Iran, the International
Committee against Stoning and the Organisation for Women’s Liberation
succeeded in stopping this brutal sentence.
An event which marked a great cultural and social change in the
society was the 'Festival of the Snowman' in the cities of Kurdistan
in defence of children’s rights, for the promotion of the status
of a child in society, in defence of the rights and well-being of
homeless children, for the abolition of child labour and child execution,
and in defence of the right of a child to a happy and safe life.
8th of March was another big day. In most cities and towns there
were some sort of commemoration of the day, from rallies to meetings
and small gatherings. In the last few years, 8th of March has been
observed particularly in Tehran and Sanandaj. But this year, even
though security forces were present everywhere and cancelled some
events, 8th of March was commemorated on a massive scale.
1st of May also brought big rallies into the streets of some cities;
in every town there were gatherings and meetings with clearly announced
workers’ demands. Workers turned an official May Day meeting in
Tehran, which was to launch Rafsanjani’s presidential campaign,
into an anti government meeting, shouting slogans against Rafsanjani,
and forcing him to cancel his speech and turn back mid-way from
the stadium. Resolutions distributed at many meetings had a clear
anti-capitalism character and demanded the right to organise and
strike. This year, a working class aware of its class identity presented
itself and objected and protested against the anti-worker character
of the regime. We could witness a significant transformation in
the class identity and manifestation of the Iranian working class
at this past May Day.
In the weeks before the presidential election too, there were many
demonstrations - the most important one being 8 June when thousands
took to street to celebrate the Iranian victory in a football match,
and this turned into an anti government demonstration where many
women took off their veils and some set them alight. Slogans against
the government and the election, the tearing down of election campaign
posters, clashes with security forces, and breaking gender apartheid
laws were the obvious manifestations of these protests.
The large meeting and rally of 12 June in defence of women’s rights
was a historical event. An anti government, anti election rally
demanded “freedom and equality are our undeniable rights” and “freedom
and equality and the abolition of sexual discrimination.” Condemnation
of misogynist laws, sexual discrimination, and the desire for freedom
and equality were on banners everywhere.
And last but not least, were the demonstrations calling for the
release of political prisoners which went on for days. The sit-
ins at Evin prison were called for by families of political prisoners.
Clashes ensued with the regime's security police.
From the time Ahmadinejad has taken office as the president of the
Islamic Republic, we have witnessed constant clashes between women
and youth with the security forces over dress code, the veil, gender
apartheid and so on. In fact 3 student girls were killed by the
Islamic thugs over veiling and as an intimidation tool to force
girls back into their homes.
The student protests of last November, took place under heavy security,
in a smaller scale but very radical and with apparent left-socialist
characteristics. The resolution of this event was very significant.
Here, we must also point to the socialist or worker-communist movement
which is apparent in all these demonstrations and protests. Be they
workers’ protests, women’s rights meetings, the student movement,
we clearly see the worker-communist movement present, with its demands
and slogans, influencing the general movement.
I tried to mention briefly some of the most important events of
the past one and a half years. There have been many more significant
protests. I just tried to draw a picture of the radical and protest
movement in Iran which is aiming to overthrow the regime, which
seeks freedom, equality, justice and prosperity. It is secular,
anti poverty, anti oppression and censorship, anti discrimination,
and anti misogynist. It is left and modern.
I must point here to the important role played by the New Channel
in promoting these protests and movements, leading it to acquire
different and new dimensions, increasing their political and social
impact - an unknown phenomenon before this.
Fariborz Pooya: The dimensions of the popular,
progressive, left, socialist movement are very strong. We see this
actually coming to the fore. I want to first explore the possibilities
of how this movement actually presents itself as a unified force
and is able to shape the future of the society of Iran. Before we
discuss that, what’s been the role of the International TV and the
New Channel TV? How successful and influential has that been?
Azar Majedi: The role of both International TV
and New Channel in general has been tremendous. It is the first
time that such a radically left TV channel has existed in Iran -
I actually think even in the world. This is a satellite TV broadcasting
into Iran, the Middle East and Europe. It has many viewers - I believe
millions. Over the past 2 years of its existence it has become very
popular. When I have live programmes, I get many calls from Iran;
the youth, women, and workers phone in and express their grievances
and their hatred for the Islamic Republic. It is very exciting.
New Channel has had a great impact on the socio-political climate
and movements. This is a New Channel not only because it is new
in the scene of satellite TV or media outlets, but also as a new
concept. It is new in every sense of the word. It is new because
it portrays a whole new picture, a whole different perspective,
a new vision of the society. It represents libertarian and egalitarian
values; it represents the atheist and secular movement and aspirations;
it is very modern. It gives voice to workers demands and struggle,
a phenomenon previously unknown to a 24 hour TV and a mass media
with so many viewers. It is opposed to so-called Easternism as a
framework of cultural values and traditions. It promotes women’s
rights and equality. It promotes abolition of capital punishment.
It challenges any and all taboos.
The role of the media is incredibly important. A media can make
or break news. This is what we are doing. Protest and left movements
have always been censored in Iran and also internationally. They
never get into the Guardian or BBC - not even in the BBC Persian
service that gives so much coverage to any minute action of the
so-called reformist movement, and the national-Islamist movement.
For example, BBC produced a false report of the Election Day in
Iran saying it was warmly received by people. A young woman phoned
me on the live programme, outraged by the BBC, crying out against
their lies. Workers’ demands and struggle, the protests organised
by the left and communists never found their way into the international
media. New Channel tries to fill this gap, this large hole created
by the international and the state run media.
This is the first time a radical communist party has access to a
24 hour TV channel which has so many viewers. There is total censorship
in national and local press and media in Iran. New Channel broadcasts
10 hours of news and views, social, political and cultural programmes
and 14 hours of film, music and entertainment. It broadcasts debates
and live programmes about different issues. These new and challenging
views and the truth about the society find their way to the living
rooms of the people. According to the Islamic Republic’s own statistics,
half the population of Iran have access to satellite TV which is
broadcast from the US or Europe. It is said that New Channel has
gained a position of being among the top 3-4 Satellite TVs that
are watched in Iran and is attracting more and more viewers every
As soon as there is a strike somewhere, there is a protest somewhere,
there is an execution order in another place, there is abuse here,
abuse there, the news is broadcast on New Channel. People hear of
it; millions watch it.
Fariborz Pooya: This is the first time in the history
of the left in Iran and possibly internationally that the left and
progressive movement is actually in contact with millions of people
without compromising its positions. It is breaking the walls of
silence and censorship imposed by the Islamic government and actually
having a real influence on what is going on politically in Iran.
For example, the live programmes you mentioned. I know that people
engaged in various struggles have actually been in contact; they
have aired their views live on the programme. That is significant.
So, this is shifting the left from the margin to the mainstream
of Iranian society. How do you see this progressing?
Azar Majedi: We owe this to Mansoor Hekmat. One
of the most important contributions of Mansoor Hekmat to Marxism
and communist theory was to find, explore and expound social mechanisms
that allow a communist movement and party to move to the centre
of the society (I do not mean political centre) and lead the class
struggle vis-à-vis the bourgeois state as well as mainstream bourgeois
trends and movements. To be always present and manifest the worker-communist
views and traditions and to engage in actual struggle for both improving
the conditions of the working class and people in general, and to
organise the social revolution. To be accessible to the population
at large, to gain leadership of the social movements for progress
and equality is a part and parcel of such theory and approach. Having
access to a mass media, in the contemporary world is a must. He,
himself, worked hard and tirelessly for this aim.
Mansoor Hekmat once said people and society seek its left and glorifies
its left because they seek justice. That’s exactly what’s happening.
People in Iran want justice; they want freedom, they want equality,
they are sick and tired of Islamic despotism that has lead millions
into sheer poverty, misery and despair. Worker-communism as a movement
and as a party is becoming more and more popular among the people
because of its stand on social, political and economic issues, because
of its uncompromising stand against the Islamic Republic of Iran
and reactionary movements and trends, because of its relentless
struggle for people’s rights, freedom and equality. However, the
role of the TV has been explosive. It has changed the whole scene.
It has influenced the mood of the society and the climate of unrest.
Many people talk about New Channel, about worker-communism or International
TV as their saviours. I think never in world history has communism
in opposition and in such a large society like Iran, enjoyed the
status that worker-communism now enjoys. Even Bolshevism did not
acquire a similar status in Russian society before the Russian revolution.
We are standing in a very good position to become the real leader
of the next revolution that is taking shape. The ball is in our
court now. It is up to us to move, to be aware of the whole situation.
Not to lose any opportunity that arises.
Fariborz Pooya: The election process late last
year and Ahmadinejad's election as president has been taken as a
turning point according to many commentators. What impact has it
had and will it have on the development of the popular socialist
movement in Iran?
Azar Majedi: As every serious observer of the Iranian political
scene knows, the election in Iran is not an election in the proper
sense of the word. Ahmadinejad is the choice of the so-called right
wing faction of the Islamic Republic (the regime is so right wing
that to call one faction of it right seems inappropriate, as though
there is a left wing too. However, I am using the term rightwing
as opposed to the so-called reformists). The election was boycotted
by many. There were many irregularities, fraud and so on.
Since 1997 when Khatami became the president there have been two
factions in the Islamic Republic, one is known as the reformists
and the other as the rightwing or hardliners. The socio-political
changes in the society and the rise of a new generation which expressed
its aspirations for a freer society, freer social, political and
cultural norms, has resulted in the growth of a tendency in the
regime inclined to so-called liberalisation of the restrictive codes
imposed by the state. The aim of both factions was to maintain and
preserve the Islamic state. But one believed that the restrictive
codes for the Islamisation of the society would lead to the deepening
of discontentment and opposition, and the other faction maintained
that any loosening of restrictions would lead to the dismantling
of the Islamic state altogether. All through these years these two
factions have continuously collided with each other and made compromises.
Finally, in the face of the rising popular protest movement, the
hardliners took the upper hand and put their man in the presidential
It is as a result of this process that Ahmadinejad came to power.
The push to further Islamicise the society, carry out harsher suppression,
and silence the society to an even greater extent is the aims of
Ahmadinejad and those he represents. This policy has not been very
successful. People have resisted and waves of protests have continued.
The choice of Ahmadinejad by the state shows the desperation of
the Islamic Republic vis-à-vis the opposition movement in the country.
As for the Socialist movement, we are witnessing a continuous growth
of this movement. The society is polarising and the left is becoming
more popular and gaining more strength. The strike by the Vahed
Bus workers is a great show of strength by the working class, and
manifests the fact that despite the brutal attacks by the regime,
the popular and workers' movements are forging ahead.
Fariborz Pooya: I want to ask you to lead the discussion
to more important point. There is a strong popular, progressive
movement in Iran. There is a difference between having a popular
movement in opposition and being able to actually achieve political
power and organise the society differently. How ready is the worker-communist
movement to take power? What are the in-between actions you need
to take? Clearly, the Worker-communist movement has influence in
the political scene in Iran. But, are you as a movement ready to
change the society to the extent that it could be irreversible?
What are the conditions for that?
Azar Majedi: I think we are ready. Whether our
future achievements will go so deep that they become irreversible,
it is difficult to predict. The main point is that we have all the
tools necessary to move in that direction. We have a solid, comprehensive
and guiding programme, strategy, the theoretical means, the vision,
and a large party with dedicated cadres, and experienced leadership
who are well-known political figures in the society and even in
the international arena. We are becoming increasingly popular. We
have a strong and far reaching mass media.
We are talking about a movement that has been very active and always
pushing forward, always finding new ways for the past 27 years.
We are the same age of the Islamic Republic, as our movement came
into being along with the revolution of 1979. We moved forward.
We have developed in many different ways. Our left movement is very
different. This is thanks to Mansoor Hekmat as the theoretical and
political leader of this movement and party which has actually put
many aspects of our struggle into perspective as our programme “A
Better World”, our tactics and strategies for gaining power. Furthermore,
the socio-political conditions are maturing for a social revolution.
The Islamic Republic is getting increasingly weaker.
It is an immense task before us. We are aware of that. We are ready
to take the responsibility.
In 1978, nobody in Iran or the whole world imagined that one day
the Iranian people would be able to topple the monarchy with its
incredible machinery of suppression and dictatorship. No one could
even, in their wildest dreams, imagine that an Islamic state would
come to power in Iran and stay in power for 27 years. The 1979 revolution
did take place, did topple one of the most oppressive dictatorships.
However, it was defeated in its aims, aspirations and dreams, and
an Islamic dictatorship came to power.
Now the situation is so much more ripe and ready for a revolution
to topple the Islamic Republic, and worker-communism is in a much
better and favourable situation to lead this revolution to victory,
to build a better world, to establish freedom and equality for the
people, to create a Socialist Republic. I am optimistic.
Fariborz Pooya: This is an exciting time for the
socialist movement, workers' movement and progressive movement in
the Middle East. There is a movement which actually has an immediate
impact on the day-to-day lives of the people and has influence on
the political scene in Iran. People are gaining confidence in this
movement as the only solution to bring about positive change. We
see how US intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East
has brought misery. We know that the political Islamic movement
actually as soon as its gets power or is in opposition creates the
most barbaric and backward environment and imposes the most reactionary
conditions. In this situation, we have a progressive movement, socialist
movement becoming the hopes of millions of people in Iran and in
Middle East to create a just society with peace and prosperity.
The above is adapted from a International TV English interview.
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Mansoor Hekmat Foundation