There’s been a lot of buzz in the mainstream media and the moribund neoliberal establishment over the hope for disintegration in the opposing camp. They pour all of their hopes and project all their fantasies onto the protests in Iran, and make international shows of support for movements they seem to know very little about. What else is new? Unfortunately, they are not the only ones projecting fantasies. Some leftists are also quick to jump on board, spitballing about the possibilities for people’s war and socialist revolution in Iran. These organizations are, of course, western, as not even the Tudeh Party has made such overblown and incredible remarks. This amounts to nothing more than lying to ourselves and others, something which does not serve our interests, but could indeed serve the interests of the imperialists.
That said, there are others who wish to dismiss all complaints of the Iranian people as simply western conspiracy. This too is going out on a limb without much hard evidence. Certainly the west is involved in giving support, both open and secret, to institutions that hope to lead the further destabilization of Iran. They have used their various loyal propaganda outlets to spew near constant lies about the size and intensity of the protests, which are contradicted by the array of angles offered by the wide presence of smartphones and handheld cameras in the country, and encourage an intensification of violence. Amad News and the National Council for Resistance in Iran are two fine examples of this. Despite this, the notion of western conspiracy being behind it all is lazy and paints the imperialists as all-powerful, erasing the complexity of contradiction at the national and international level.
So if not conspiracy, then what? The protests first began in Mashhad, in the eastern half of the country, and were initially provoked by the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) liquidating the assets of Mizan, a semi-official private creditor in the country, after it declared bankruptcy. Among the assets seized by the CBI were the savings and pensions of many citizens who were given nothing in return. Righteous outrage ensued, not only over the loss of their pensions and savings, but over general economic anxieties fed by the changing state economy, due mostly to ongoing privatization in the banking system that started in the early 2000’s. As the protests expanded, foundationless groups seized on the opportunity to attempt to build a social base. Monarchists and pro-western liberals, who made up a minority of those involved, attempted to agitate for regime change. These are the likely candidates for western backing, but their ineptitude prevents them from really growing in size to challenge the state.
Then came western backing through the UN and proposed sanctions on the country in the midst of public outcry. This, along with the participation by Monarchists and western liberals, alienated many of the people who were deeply concerned about economic conditions, especially since western sanctions mean even tougher times for Iranian workers. Despite the daily western media coverage of the protests, and the violence that has resulted from them, they have remained rather small, at least in comparison to prior protests. In 2009 during the election crisis, millions of people flooded the streets to protest, and videos could be seen of streets swollen with agitators. Yet now the protests seem typically to involve protesters ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand. Ironically, videos shared widely on social media of great crowds of marchers were actually of Bahraini protesters, agitating against the Sunni dictatorship in the country. Again, the fantasies of westerners have gotten the better of them.
So what should our position on all this be? Any position by western communists must be anchored to our political responsibilities, and to anti-imperialism. It does not serve us nor does it serve the international communist movement to engage in this kind of flippant exaggeration. Iran is not on the cusp of a people’s war, nor are they looking at the immediate threat of insurrection and regime change, although this could change in time. These protests are nowhere near the intensity of the protests which occured in 2009, and so we can conclude that the Iranian government has weathered worse storms than the present paltry demonstrations.
Iran has been a great ally to the people’s movements of the world, and has contributed greatly to the struggle against western imperialism. However, we understand that the reactionary state is far from good for the proletariat of Iran. In addition to reactionary, conservative rule, the working class has suffered the brunt of greater reforms under Rouhani, privatizing institutions and slashing public wealth for the sake of investment. There are legitimate reasons to struggle against the Iranian state. The recklessness of neoliberal reformers like Rouhani are likely to create many more legitimate reasons to struggle against the state, as more people find themselves in economically precarious positions due to the downward pressure placed on their livelihoods. To write this all off as imperialist conspiracy is ridiculous. So long as there is capitalism, there will always be a legitimate reason to struggle.
That said, we have no power to leverage against the Iranian state, and no vanguard party with which to forge formal ties with Iranian comrades. Even so, our obligations are anti-imperialist. The amerikan state presents the greatest danger to the world proletariat at this moment, and that is something we certainly do have power to leverage against. Therefore we should set 2 principal objectives regarding the Iran protests:
(1) Oppose western yellow journalism and disinformation regarding the Iran protests. Their dishonesty and alarmism has done nothing but promote reactionary intervention against the Iranian state, including sanctions and destructive warmongering policies, which pose an immense threat to the Iranian proletariat. We must cut through the lies and propaganda to expose what is really happening.
(2) Agitate against imperialist intervention. The united $tates has prepared a series of sanction proposals in the UN and has been attempting to whip up the amerikan people into supporting further aggressive action against the Iranian state. This is part of a longstanding strategy, intensified by Trump, which has the aim of reconquering the country and dominating it through neocolonial policies. No matter the angle, we must oppose all attempts by the united $tates to insert itself into Iranian affairs.
The deadly cabal of amerikan imperialists and the propagandists in the media have already cost too many lives in Iran. Our policy toward this situation should be uniform with our regular policy on the amerikan state: imperialist hands off the Third World! Communists are, or at least should be, the advanced guard of the resistance to amerikan imperialism. Our primary focus is not the defeat of the Iranian state, but the amerikan state, and all other policies should stem from that. In the tradition of Lenin on revolutionary defeatism, our mission is to transform the international struggle into a national one, the imperialist war into a revolutionary civil war. We cannot do that if we continue to backhandedly endorse the legitimacy of amerikan action internationally, and to sing the same tune as the imperialists. We must remain critical, and opposed in every way to their activities as our principal enemy.
On this note, we invoke a common Iranian saying: “death to amerika!” Sound good?