Bread, jobs, freedom! Capitalist mullahs, give us our money back! These angry slogans have blasted over the airways and highways throughout Iran for the last several months. Iranians are fed up with poverty and corruption, repression by a military theocracy, and war-making in the Middle East. Its diverse peoples are 87 percent literate, connected through global social media, and in open revolt.
Eight months ago, the largest uprising since the 1979 Iranian Revolution exploded in nearly 100 cities and towns. The Islamic Republic’s police forces attacked demonstrators, killing 25 and arresting nearly 5,000. On International Women’s Day, hundreds of women were arrested and jailed, and four were killed. But radicalized working people, students, women, and farmers are still resisting government forces, still demanding freedom for political prisoners. They are in desperate need of international solidarity against the Iranian dictatorship as well as U.S. sanctions and threats of war.
Poverty and corruption breed discontent. Iranians have a great deal to protest. Of the country’s 82 million people, the majority are under the age of 40. Ninety percent of the labor force lives under the poverty line. The unemployment rate is 61 percent and homeless people sleep in empty graves. The minimum wage is about $13 per day, when enforced, and workers are often unpaid for months.
In just a year, Iran’s currency — the rial — has lost 80 percent of its value, eliminating what little savings ordinary people have. The 200 percent inflation makes life’s very necessities unbuyable. Ninety-seven percent of the country faces water and electricity shortages. Property prices in Tehran have risen 41 percent and rents 51 percent.
Outrage at government corruption is also a prime mover of the protests. Billions of dollars are siphoned out of the budget each year to unaccountable, tax-exempt foundations controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s de facto military. The Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists reports that these foundations “hold more than 80 percent of the economy. In 2013, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, controlled 95 billion dollars [worth] … of shares in virtually every sector of the economy.” Massive amounts go to war expenditures in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza (for Hamas), and Yemen. Not to mention billions stolen and embezzled by “connected” banks and businesses.
Rebellion persists. In the months before the December-January uprising — and since then — teachers, nurses, mine and oil workers, civil servants, government employees, retirees, manufacturers, bus and truck drivers, sugar cane and steel workers have all demonstrated and gone on strike. Illegal, independent unions, such as the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Workers and Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association, organized a good many of these strikes.
Protests and strikes continue to erupt, especially in numerous smaller cities where repression is not as efficient. Women have a high level of employment in Iran and often take part in labor strikes. They also continue to fight wearing the required hijab (headscarf). Today they have more support from male activists and unionists than in the 1979 insurrection. Hundreds of women have been arrested this year for publicly removing their hijabs. Still, protesters leap onto utility boxes, wave their hijabs, and then disappear before the cops can get to them. Seattle bus driver Mohammed Bazargan sees hope for his home country in this rebellion: “Once the women taste of real freedom, there’s no stopping them. And that’s the foundation for toppling the Iranian state.”
These strikes and protests are a political leap from the Green Movement uprising in 2008. Government right-wing hardliners and reformist moderates have been discredited. An Iranian exile compares the anger with the United States: “It’s just like Americans’ outrage at both the Republicans and the Democrats.”
U.S. sanctions and war threats. Economic sanctions are by definition war on the civilian population. Imposed by the U.S. and Europe, they have been a primary cause of Iran’s economic woes for decades, even before the nuclear deal made under the Obama administration. Sanctions wipe out jobs and limit imports of food and medicine, causing starvation, disease, and death among the most vulnerable, especially women and children.
President Trump inflicted new sanctions in early August that put nearly half a million jobs in Iran’s auto parts industry at risk; two million pistachio industry workers are likely to lose their jobs too. On orders from the USA, foreign car companies and many other giant industries are leaving Iran. The bans effective on November 5 of this year target all foreign transactions of Iran’s Central Bank. This is aimed at strangling Iran’s pivotal oil trade.
The Trump administration is also threatening a military war against Iran. But there is little stomach in the U.S. for fighting foreign wars against a well-armed opponent, so this seems an unlikely choice. Starving Iranians into submission, while trying to maintain a more and more unstable peace in the oil-rich Middle East, is the cowardly, but better, option for U.S. imperialism.
Fake anti-imperialism. Some leftists, especially Stalinists and other reformists, support the Iranian regime. They consider it “anti-imperialist” because of its anti-U.S. rhetoric. But Iran and its many capitalist competitors in the Middle East are not anti-imperialist; they are regional sub-imperialists, practiced at stifling any mass democratic protest — be it in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, or Egypt. They compete among themselves while making tactical alliances with U.S. and European imperialism.
The anti-imperialist characterization of the Iranian and Syrian dictatorships has severely undermined efforts to build an international anti-war, solidarity movement with popular rebellions. Without support for the beleaguered peoples of these capitalist regimes, their struggles are a thousand times more difficult. If we in the U.S. want to help our sisters and brothers in the Middle East, we must take on the task of building a radical, antiwar movement here in the United States, the heart of imperialism.
In solidarity with dissidents fighting Iran’s military theocracy!
For a revolutionary movement against sanctions and war!