Iran elections – disaster for imperialism

Elections in Iran

On 25 June 2005 the winner of Iran’s presidential election was announced. It was a contest that had been followed with keen interest by the bourgeois media since there were very important differences between the two candidates. Although the picture we are generally given of Iran is that all politics has been hijacked by Muslim fundamentalists, all of whom are as bad as each other, and we are constantly being told that elections in Iran are unfair because all candidates have to be approved by Iran’s fundamentalist clerical elite, the reality could not have been more different. Anthony Loyd in The Times of 24 June (‘Cautious reformer v working-class hero’) very pithily depicted the very real choice that the Iranian electorate were being offered:

“In one corner stands Hojatoleslam Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, 70, the former President, who espouses privatisation, cautious liberal reforms, negotiations over the nuclear programme and overtures to America.

“In the other is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 49, the Mayor of Tehran and the soldier son of a blacksmith, who advocates state control of the economy with subsidies and handouts, a reversal of cultural reforms, the continuation of uranium enrichment and a stand off with America”.

Much to the surprise of the world, the winner of the election was Ahmadinejad. He won by 61.7% of the vote to 35.9%, far too wide a margin to be credibly attributed to ballot rigging. Imperialism was gob-smacked. According to the Guardian of 27 June (‘UK fears return to the bad old days in Iran’), “there was dismay in the Foreign Office at the election of Mr Ahmadinejad and a fear that the British policy of engagement with Iran, in contrast with the US which has opted for continued isolation, could be jeopardised.

“Responses within the Foreign Office ranged from a depiction of Mr Ahmadinejad’s victory as a retrograde step to an uncharacteristically blunt and undiplomatic description of him as ‘a headcase’ …”

Iran to change course

The undiplomatic language is to be explained by the depth of the disappointment felt by imperialism at the result of this election. They had been confident of a Rafsanjani victory, which would have meant further liberal ‘reforms’ such as a thoroughgoing privatisation of Iran’s public sector, further increases in Iranian imports from imperialist countries and a willingness to restrict nuclear development. Instead the outcome of the Iranian election “was an unpleasant surprise for everyone who saw the arrival of a new president as a chance for improved relations between Iran and the outside world (The Independent, 27 June 2005, ‘Iran – a surprise result that bodes ill for the region’).

Anthony Loyd in The Times (op. cit.) is quite clear that Ahmadinejad’s victory is due not so much to “support for his religious conservatism or foreign policy, but for his social status and honesty.

“Iran’s burgeoning working class sees little reward from Iran’s oil assets which are currently selling at $59 (£32.50) a barrel.

“The money disappears into a sump of corruption and mismanagement [as to which, see below] opening a huge social schism between the small urban elite and the majority poor.”

In other words, the Iranian masses are asking the same question that they have been asking for more than 60 years – if there is so much money being made from the sale of our oil, why are we not able to provide a decent standard of living for our working class and peasant masses? Why today if Iran is exporting 2.5 million barrels of oil a day at a price of $59 a barrel is there 30% unemployment, and why is the gap between rich and poor rapidly widening?

The Iranian bourgeoisie blames imperialism and imperialism blames the corruption and incompetence of the Iranian bourgeoisie. But what is the truth of the matter? The fact is that like other third world economies that are heavily dependent on export of commodities, Iran has been afflicted by what is now known as Dutch disease. This occurs when export income is used to a considerable extent to purchase goods that could have been produced at home. This undermines local production and severely hampers the growth of local industries capable of providing employment to the working masses. This phenomenon explains, for instance, why a country rich in all kinds of resources, such as Nigeria, has seen poverty escalate in proportion to the increase in its oil export earnings. In this scenario, the local bourgeoisies are certainly corrupt – taking large backhanders from imperialism in return for contracts to import and their facilitation – but this corruption is only a side effect of the disease, not its cause. Its cause is most definitely imperialism.

The Iranian bourgeois revolution aimed at putting a stop to this exploitative relationship between imperialist powers and Iran in order to enable the Iranian bourgeoisie to develop, freed from imperialist competition. The Iranian revolution, through the overthrow of the regime of the Shah who had been the most trusted lackey of US imperialism, constituted a major upset to the system put in place for the neo-colonial exploitation of the Gulf Region. This created a massive contradiction between the new regime, on the one hand, and imperialism, especially US imperialism, on the other. However, the apparent Islamic unity of the Iranian ruling class should not blind us to the fact that there are two factions within Iranian ruling circles – one which wants to continue the fight against imperialism, strengthen national independence and the national economy, maintain a strong public sector and improve the living conditions of the masses through public service provision and subsidisation of essential commodities, and the other which wants to compromise with imperialism, indulge in wholesale privatisation, open the Iranian market to unhindered imperialist access and let market mechanisms decide the level of all prices, including those of essential items. In effect the recent presidential election was between Rafsanjani, the representative of the compromisers, trying to reach an accommodation with imperialism, and Ahmadinejad representing the hardliners whose sentiments are decidedly anti-imperialist. Besides, the hardliners are determined to develop local private enterprise, which can become the basis of economic construction and increased opportunities for working people.

Reformist backsliding

The Iranian revolution failed to deliver to the working masses the just and fair society which they had believed the application of Islam to the running of the state would be bound to achieve. Therefore disillusionment with its principles, including certain aspects of Islamic fundamentalism with which it was associated, did begin to spread and the Iranian masses initially began to look to “reformists” (in effect, compromise with imperialism) for their salvation. Rafsanjani became president in 1989 on the death of Khomeini and was re-elected in 1993. He began to prepare the way extremely cautiously towards restoring Iran’s relations with imperialism and when Khatami was elected to the presidency in 1997, and re-elected by an even larger majority in 2001 it was on a wave of disillusion with the revolution. True to form, Khatami, according to Colin Freeman in The Telegraph of 26 June 2005 “prised the country open to foreign trade”.

This foreign trade began to escalate, especially with EU countries, Switzerland, China and Japan, so that imports reached $13.8 bn in 1998 (exports $12.2 billion), $15 bn in 2000 (exports $25 billion),.$21.8 bn in 2002 (exports $24.8 bn), $25.26 bn in 2003 (exports $29.88 bn) and $31.3 bn in 2004 (exports 38.79 billion). The effect on the internal Iranian economy of losing so much of export earnings to foreign markets can be imagined. Under the sway of the reformists, the lives of working class people became worse and not better.

US strategy for regime change

However, the ability of the ‘reformist’ element to sell the Iranian economy to imperialism outright was considerably reduced by US imperialism’s flat refusal to buy. US imperialism was deeply offended by the clerical regime having taken steps to forestall its ouster by a US inspired coup such as the one that had overthrown the anti-imperialist Mossadeq regime in 1953. That coup had been managed from the US embassy in Tehran. To prevent the same thing happening again, and in support of the demand that the Shah of Iran be returned from the US to Iran to stand trial, students backed by the Khomeini regime had simply taken all the US embassy staff hostage, and kept them for 444 days. They might have been released sooner but for the fact that US imperialism not only rejected the students’ demands but also counterattacked by freezing Iranian assets and refusing to hand over the Shah’s wealth which the Iranian people considered as having been filched from them. As a result the hostages were held for as long as it took to secure the defeat of the then US President Jimmy Carter in the US presidential elections. Revolutionary Iran was also a major support for all Islamic Middle Eastern movements opposed to US imperialism, including Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. It was consistent in waging war against US domination of the Middle East, and was very successful in causing considerable damage to US interests in the region. For this reason US imperialism understandably thoroughly hates the Iranian Islamic regime, in a manner which to this day makes it quite unable to distinguish between the hardliners and the reformists. Thus Walid Charara (op. cit) says that “on some policy issues, Iran’s desire for an accommodation with the US has led it to take steps that would once have been unimaginable. In 2001 it backed the US war against Afghanistan; and in 2003 it demonstrated its willingness to cooperate by encouraging some Shia groups in Iraq to support the US invasion. [He might also have added that in 1998 Iran agreed to stop Iraq exporting some half a million barrels of oil a day through Iran in breach of sanctions.] Unfortunately [!] these overtures did not significantly soften US hostility. During and after the invasion of Iraq, leading US neo-conservatives and the secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, proclaimed that ‘democratic contagion’ must soon overwhelm Iran and precipitate the fall of its regime”. Thus while “if Iran gave up its military nuclear ambitions, Europe would be prepared to normalise relations, the US believes that such a climbdown should actually strengthen the determination of the international community to hasten the fall of the current regime [and at the time of writing the reformists were to all appearances firmly ensconced in the Iranian government] in Tehran.”

Thus the election of the nationalist Ahmadinejad is a blow not only to the policy of the Europeans who had hoped to subdue Iran by methods of peaceful commerce, but also to the US which had hoped that the laws of capitalism, by making the rich richer and the poor poorer, helped along by a trade embargo engineered by the US, would very soon lead to the overthrow of the clerical regime. By electing Ahmadinejad to continue the anti-imperialist stance of Iranian foreign policy, the people of Iran have caused recriminations to escalate between US and European imperialism, with the former accusing the Europeans of having given the Iranian regime a lease of life by sabotaging its embargo, and the latter accusing the Americans of failing to support the reformist elements and thereby driving the people into the arms of the hardliners.

Ahmadinejad for his part is quite clear that “Our nation is continuing on the path of progress and on this path has no significant need for the United States”. Moreover, during his period of office as Mayor of Tehran, Ahmadinejad adamantly refused to meet the British ambassador. None of this augurs well for US imperialism and its allies.

Religion and the place of women in Iran

In the imperialist campaign against Ahmadinejad, much is made of his religious conservatism, and crocodile tears are shed for the plight of Iranian women who are allegedly groaning under the unbearable oppression of the hijab, which is about to get worse with more rigorous enforcement of a medieval dress code more likely under Ahmadinejad than his predecessors. All this is of course nonsense. The return to Iranian tradition was a perfectly natural response to the betrayal felt by Iranians when US imperialism which they had believed was their friend turned out to be their deadly enemy. In rejecting US imperialism they also rejected the cultural changes that had come about because of its influence, as a result of which men grew beards and donned turbans while women dusted off their hijabs.

But covering up did not imply that women were confined to kinder, küche and kirche. As Bernard Hourcade points out in Monde Diplomatique of February 2004, “Women have become even more effective players than the young in social and political life. Statistics show that this change is irreversible and has unpredictable consequences. More than 62% of new university entrants are women; 62% of women in rural communities can read and write (compared with 17% in 1976); in 1980 an Iranian woman had an average of 6.8 children, now the figure is fewer than 2.” (‘Iran: a spring of change’). Thus Iranian women have made tremendous progress since the revolution, notwithstanding the return to an Islamic dress code.

The emphasis on Islam and Islamic culture served to keep at bay the influence of enemy imperialism and its cultural fifth column. However, the development of Iranian society itself, its advance out of feudalism into capitalism, does undermine a religion designed to serve feudal interests, so that even among the most anti-imperialist of Iranians enthusiasm for an excess of Islamic zeal is bound to be waning. It would seem that Ahmadinejad has understood that this may have contributed to the success of reformists in earlier elections, since he has said, according to the Sunday Times of 26 June 2005 (‘Iran’s man of iron vows to turn back the clock’) that “People think that a return to revolutionary values is only a matter of wearing the headscarf … The country’s true problem is employment and housing, not what to wear.”

Present tasks of the revolution

Ahmadinejad then faces two main problems: (1) the economy, and (2) the imperialist military encirclement and especially US imperialism’s determination to annihilate the independent Iranian regime in order to be able to substitute a puppet responsive to its demands.

As far as the economy is concerned, Martin Woollacott in the Guardian of 27 June (‘Ali Shah’s last stand’), says that Ahmadinejad’s “diatribes against corruption and his pledge that oil wealth would be used to improve the lives of ordinary people had an impact. Yet this is precisely the field in which he cannot deliver.” Can he not? Iraq under Saddam Hussein was able to manage a relatively equitable distribution of its oil money, so why not Iran? If Ahmadinejad can cause home production to replace imports, which is what he says he intends, he may in fact be able to achieve substantial improvements in the lives of working people. At the moment, as we have seen, Iran’s imports take a huge slice out of its export earnings, but that need not necessarily continue to be the case, particularly if Iran strengthens its already-expanding trading links on a more equitable footing with countries such as India and China.

In the past the US embargo on Iran might have interfered with Iran’s ability to sell oil to whoever it pleased, but today things are different, as is admitted by Jeffrey Bader and Flynt Leverett in ‘Oil politics, the Middle East and the Middle Kingdom’, Financial Times 17 August 2005:

“The rapid, almost unfathomable growth in China’s energy demand is a key element in Beijing’s growing interest in exclusive deals with Middle Eastern energy producers for oil and gas. The recent, ultimately unsuccessful bid by CNOOC to acquire Unocal has reinforced perceptions in Beijing that China cannot rely solely on the global energy market to meet its energy needs because US policy will not allow China reliable access to that market…

“… China now purchases from abroad close to 3 m barrels per day …

“To meet this demand, China has been working to expand ties with Middle Eastern oil-producing states, including Iran and Sudan, which have problematic relations with the US. China is seeking to secure its access to Middle Eastern oil by concluding exclusive supply and equity deals and by expanding its political influence in the region.

“Middle Eastern energy producers, meanwhile, are looking to China as an alternative to unchallenged US hegemony in the region… and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the newly inaugurated Iranian president, has expressed interest in forging strategic partnerships with China and India…

“In the past, China responded to high-level representations about US security concerns and reined in some of its troublesome activities in the Middle East – for example, terminating its controversial nuclear co-operation with Iran in the 1990s. Now, however, China’s escalating energy needs and sense of its own rising economic power may make it harder for Washington to influence Beijing’s Middle East Policy. Already, China’s Middle Eastern push is colliding with US policy goals in the region …”

Aggressive US response

Of course, there is no way that Iran can find solutions to its domestic economic problems without further enraging US imperialism and possibly European imperialism as well if it finds itself losing out on exports to Iran, which cannot but force Iran to look to its defences. And it is on the question of these defences that US imperialism is trying to whip up sufficient hysteria in the so-called international community, i.e., among imperialist powers in general, to put together a coalition that will destroy Iran as a regional power, much as Iraq has for the time being been destroyed, even though its people are causing imperialism more problems now than ever it had from Iraq before.

Even before Ahmadinejad’s victory in the presidential elections, i.e., in the days when the reformists were in power, America depicted Iran as part of an ‘axis of evil’ along with Iraq and North Korea. These were countries against which US imperialism was declaring it had the right to commit unprovoked aggression to bring about regime change. The fact that such aggression has not yet taken place can be explained by the fact that the US took on far more than it could chew when it invaded Iraq, but in no way has its intention to deal with Iran subsided.

However, US imperialism has now stepped up its aggressive diplomacy against Iran by challenging its right to develop its nuclear industry on the pretext that Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction (even though there is absolutely no evidence that Iran is doing anything of the sort, but on the contrary is allowing inspectors to verify that it is not). Of course, Iran has every right to develop nuclear weapons in any event should it wish to do so, yet President Bush is stating that he is prepared to take military action to prevent this, and it is even possible that Israel will be encouraged to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations in the same way that it destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in June 1981. US imperialism and Israel must be very sorely tempted to go ahead with an adventure of the sort. To the argument that the US is still too bogged down in Iraq to contemplate action against Iran, Bush and his hatchet men are likely to respond, as Dan Plesch suggests in the Guardian of 15 August (‘How Bush would gain from war with Iran’), that “America’s devastating air power is not committed in Iraq. Just 120 B52, B1 and B2 bombers could hit 5,000 targets in a single mission. Thousands of other warplanes and missiles are available. The army and marines are heavily committed in Iraq, but enough forces could be found to secure [steal] coastal oilfields and to conduct raids into Iran.

And, Plesch continues, “a US attack is unlikely to be confined to the suspected WMD locations or to involve a ground invasion to occupy the country. The strikes would probably be intended to destroy military, political and (oil excepted) economic infrastructure. A disabled Iran could be further paralysed by civil war. Tehran alleges US support for separatists in the large Azeri population of the north-west, and fighting is increasing in Iranian Kurdistan.”

Iran has a right to defend itself against US and Israeli aggression

Knowing that this is the future that America would like to bring to Iran, is it any wonder that America refuses to believe Iran when it says that it only wants to develop its nuclear programme for civil purposes? In these circumstances, anybody has to accept that Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons would be the only way of securing peace in the region. Possession of nuclear weapons by Iran would put US and Israeli aggression on ice. As Patrick J Buchanan, former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and Reform Party candidate in 2000, has written in an article posted on the web on 15 August 2005 (‘Is this Iran crisis for real’), “If or when Iran goes nuclear, she has a deterrent to intimidation. US freedom of action in the Persian Gulf comes to an end. We would have to behave as gingerly with the mullahs as we do with Kim Jong Il, something intolerable to our neo conservatives and President Bush.

“For the Israelis, an Iranian bomb would have the same impact as Stalin’s explosion of a bomb had on us in 1949. Israel’s invulnerability would come to an end. …”

So although US imperialist and Israeli interests would appear to lie in pulverizing Iran’s infant nuclear facilities, and the sooner the better, this is not something that even Buchanan would recommend:

“…Iran’s response to any US strike is unlikely to be to go limp like a peacenik demonstrator. … Iran’s best strategy might be to lash out in retaliation.

“What could Iran do? Plenty. Send Revolutionary Guards into Iraq to make that country a worse hell for the 135,000 US troops. Incite Hezbollah to launch rockets on Israel to widen the war. Attack US allies in the Gulf. Encourage the Shias in Iraq and Saudi Arabia to attack Americans. Mine the Strait of Hormuz. Activate Islamic loyalists to bring terror home to the United States.

“In short, a US attack on Iran could lead to war across the region and interruption of the 15 million barrels of oil a day that comes from the Gulf, which would drive the world economy into cardiac arrest …

“President Bush should think long and hard before yielding to the War Party a second time. Iran is a nation three times the size of Iraq and with three times the population. This would be no cakewalk.”

All this does not mean, however, that there is any guarantee that Bush will not launch a war against Iran, dragging Britain into war alongside him, for as Dan Plesch (op. cit.) points out: “The rise in oil prices and subsequent recession are reasons some doubt that an attack would take place. However, Iran’s supplies are destined for China – perceived as the US’s main long-term rival. And the Bush team are experienced enough to remember that Ronald Reagan rode out the recession of the early 1980s on a wave of rhetoric about ‘evil empire’…

“It is hard to see Britain uninvolved in US actions. … Blair is probably aware that the US is unlikely to supply him with the prized successor to the Trident submarine if Britain refuses to continue to pay the blood sacrifice of standing with the US. Tory votes might provide sufficient ‘national unity’ to see off Labour dissenters.” Besides which, one assumes that British Petroleum would be delighted to see Iranian oil fields back in its portfolio where it no doubt believes they have all along belonged, and that could not possibly happen unless Britain joined in the war against Iran.

The British working class has a duty to prevent war against Iran

For Britain this would mean thousands of young men being sent to Iran to die for oil, plus an unavoidable backlash of fury among sympathisers with Iran and Islam which are likely to lead to retaliatory attacks against civilians in this country. It is as ever the working class which pays the cost in blood of ‘their’ imperialist rulers’ wars. Besides, any victory for imperialism would only serve further to weaken the working class movement in Britain and the US – if that is possible – and put off its revival into the distant future.

Should there be any question of such a war, the British working class needs to stand firmly against it, using all means necessary to prevent aggression against Iran. There is no point in going limp like a peacenik demonstrator. We must stand up and fight for what is right.

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