Nine months after the state murder of Jina (Mahsa) Amini on September 16th, 2022, an explosive stalemate continues in Iran. However, the death of the 22-year-old Kurdish woman was a watershed in the struggle against this reactionary regime, bringing women – particularly young women and girls – into the heart of all future radical social movements.
Given the absence of a revolutionary workers’ vanguard party, the Iranian regime has survived the most significant and sustained challenge to its rule – ever. The combined forces of all the protest movements were unable to overthrow it because of the crisis of the revolutionary leadership of the proletariat. And although the general level of activity, protests and strikes is still one of the highest since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the overall situation will not change significantly unless the crisis of revolutionary working-class leadership is resolved.
The main features of this relative, but explosive, stabilisation include:
1- The ongoing demonstrations by the Baluchi and Kurdish masses, pensioners, teachers and many other activists throughout the country; dozens of strikes and protests in many industries, notably the oil, gas and petrochemical sector in Khuzestan; and countless acts of individual defiance by women and the youth.
Despite these, the capitalist-clerical regime continues its blood-soaked existence. Of course, at any time, any small confrontation (or even interaction) between the security forces and workers, women, national minorities or students could escalate into another uprising.
2- Even though it faces multiple crises – inflation, industrial collapse, water and electricity shortages, lack of essential medicines, a crime wave, internal disagreements, and so on – the despotic regime is able to step up executions (at least 200 this year); routinely torture and abuse labour activists and political prisoners; and even threaten over 100 defence lawyers (sentencing Farzaneh Zilabi, the Haft Tappeh workers’ lawyer, to 18 months in jail)!
Its vindictive and vengeful poisonings of thousands of schoolgirls have shown the whole of Iranian society the depraved depths that a bankrupt regime and socio-economic system will sink to in order to survive.
3- In spite of the regime’s long-running disputes with US imperialism and its regional allies, since September 2022 American diplomats have met Khamenei’s representative several times (Financial Times, June 2, 2023). Prisoner exchange discussions are advancing and the US has already approved Iraq’s payment of $3bn of frozen Iranian funds. The regime is also mending fences with regional powers, most notably the Chinese-sponsored restoration of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.
The regime has also used the Ukraine war to deepen its military and diplomatic relationship with Russian imperialism and continues to develop its trade links with ‘socialist’ governments in Latin America (as clearly seen by Ebrahim Raisi’s current tour of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua).
All rightwing and so-called ‘leftwing’ oppositionists who hoped for the regime’s isolation, or even fantasised about its overthrow by US imperialism, have once again been disappointed.
Dire economic situation
Even though the dire economic situation continues to deteriorate, Iran’s capitalists and the regime’s officials in the state bureaucracy, military and clergy are not suffering. They have their luxury apartments, flashy cars and all the money they can steal.
Meanwhile workers are becoming poorer and their standard of living is sinking ever lower. Economic problems like poverty, unemployment, inflation, housing, unpaid wages and so on just keep growing. Even though official statistics always underestimate social problems by about a half, the authorities nevertheless have admitted that unemployment is over 10% in most provinces and youth unemployment is at around 24%.
As ever, the most vulnerable people in capitalist society pay the highest price for the system’s failures: around 15% of children (i.e., 800,000!) suffer from malnutrition and there are 70,000 child labourers just in Tehran!
Chronic low wages
Right now, tens of thousands of workers in over 100 companies and sites are on strike in Iran. They include workers in the oil, gas, petrochemical and steel industries, refineries and power plants. These nationwide strikes are the workers’ reaction to the unlimited greed of Iran’s capitalist class and its regime.
After nine months of severe repression, which has saved the regime and capitalism for now, the capitalists and their government expect the working class to pay the very high cost of saving their system. On March 21st, the start of the new Iranian year (1402), the regime increased the minimum wage by just 27%. However, since even its own massively underestimated official inflation rate is 53% – and some economists estimate it at around double that percentage – most workers see this paltry increase as unacceptable. The striking workers are demanding a 79% pay rise and improvements in their working conditions.
These strikes follow a call by the Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane workers for a campaign against the poverty wages offered by the regime. At a time when the poverty line is at 30 million tomans, the regime has said that a workers’ monthly income should be just 5 million. On April 25th, the Haft Tappeh workers called the new minimum wage a “gradual death sentence” and started their protests on that day. They urged other workers: “To join a resistance action campaign to oppose this wage and the miserable situation they have created for us.”
Since then, workers in many industries, particularly contract and temporary workers in the oil and gas industries, have been going on strike and protesting outside the regime’s ministries and official buildings. Every day the numbers of strikers and striking companies goes up.
As well as unlimited greed and ever-increasing exploitation of the working class, the Iranian regime has been brutally repressing the majority of the population for 44 years. But despite the ‘regular’ violence – and the new methods, like poisoning schoolgirls – the death of Jina (Mahsa) at the hands of the so-called ‘morality police’ changed Iran forever.
The bold and heroic action of Iran’s workers, youth, national minorities and many other layers were inspiring. But they were surpassed by the defiance and protests of women, particularly young women. Their brave and selfless struggles gave the latest uprising an exceptionally explosive and radical character. Iran’s fearless women, who took to the streets in unprecedented numbers, motivated millions of people from all classes and layers throughout the country to confront the capitalist dictatorship. In this latest uprising, women were the first to protest and had a central part in the street and university demonstrations. (Hence why the regime is once again considering tightening the enforcement of the hejab rules and is installing more CCTV cameras to control the public activities and even conduct of women and girls.) Tens of thousands of schoolgirls were also widely active inside their schools and in their neighbourhoods.
The regime’s response has always been to treat all critics or protesters as internal enemies. It has smashed workers’ struggles, and those of women, the youth, national minorities, the disabled, LGBT+ people, writers and artists, or anyone else who has protested against the unbearable exploitation and oppression.
It has justified banning trade unions and jailing labour activists under the pretext of endangering ‘national security’. A recent example took place on Friday, April 28th: the Intelligence Ministry attacked the home of a teacher and arrested many teachers and other labour and social activists. This was clearly aimed at limiting their May Day protests.
The way out
What is the way out from the current situation?
Four years ago, on November 8th, 2018, Esmail Bakhshi, a workers’ representative, said that the Haft Tappeh workers had two options: “One is that Haft Tappeh is run entirely by the workers. We will form a committee and run Haft Tappeh consultatively. Don’t worry. We have all the specialisms. Who else has managed Haft Tappeh so far? Have confidence. Have faith in yourself. We can manage Haft Tappeh ourselves.” The second option was that the state takes over: “… but the state must do [all] … things under the supervision of the workers’ council and under the general supervision of the workers.”
This is the choice that all Iranian workers face in their workplaces. Now that the second option – the capitalist state running the factories and infrastructure – has clearly failed, the demands for workers’ control and workers’ councils must be that of all workers. Workers, especially those in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries must occupy their factories and workshops, control production by the democratic decisions of their committees, and link their strikes with other workers in their area and other industries. That is the surest way of building towards a general strike. A general strike can also link the workers’ strikes and struggles to the mass protests of women, the national minorities, youth and students, LGBT+ people, writers and artists, and so on.
The decisive factor
Right from the beginning of the mass protests in September, the Iranian Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency maintained that the outcome of this latest uprising, as with all previous ones, depended on how working-class leadership developed.
Iran’s workers need to intervene in all struggles as a class: both for their own victory and to pose a revolutionary leadership for all other exploited classes and oppressed layers.
Only a revolutionary workers’ vanguard party – i.e., the party of the strike leaders and most militant and conscious workers – can organise and lead all classes and layers to overthrow capitalism.
Revolutionary working-class leadership is, and always will be, the decisive factor in any mass movement in Iran. Only a genuine Leninist party can overcome both the current stalemate and the recurring defeats of the mass movements and strikes.
There are currently many workers, women, teachers, national minorities and other political prisoners in Iran’s jails. Only international solidarity can support Iran’s resurgent workers and publicise issues like executions, political prisoners, detention without trial, torture and other abuses that sustain the capitalist dictatorship.
It is the duty of all radical labour activists and socialists to step up their solidarity work so that the political prisoners are freed and the struggles in Iran are successful. Each successful strike or protest will increase the workers’ self-confidence and tilt the balance of class forces in their favour, not just in Iran, but throughout the Middle East.
The Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign is focusing its activities on supporting the Khuzestan Socialist Vanguard Workers’ Cell in southern Iran and similar underground labour committees. Socialists anywhere in the world can help in mobilising solidarity for these vital struggles.