This document is an expansion of a draft presented to the Radical Women National Executive Committee (NEC) which met in New York City, May 1979. As Trotskyist socialist feminists, Radical Women’s analysis of the significance of the Iranian revolution is key to understanding the necessity of women’s leadership in world revolution. The NEC’s contributions have been critical to the development of this paper.
The author is also indebted to Murry Weiss, National Coordinator of the Committee for a Revolutionary Socialist Party (CRSP). He was invited to participate in the NEC’s discussions on the Iranian revolution, and his insights into the dual power character of Iran’s current relationship of forces, his application of Trotsky’s “middle caste” concept to the Khomeini power structure, and his suggestions on building a Bolshevik Party in Iran were invaluable.
This document was submitted to CRSP for their discussion in June 1980.
In the wake of the victorious Iranian insurrection of February 6, 1979, the Iranian women’s demand for emancipation, backed by demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of women, became the central rallying point for the unstoppable, continuing Iranian revolution and the springboard for radical opposition to the current Islamic bourgeois democratic regime. As revolutionary feminists, Radical Women is not startled by this inexorable process. We anticipated it, for it is searing verification of our own program for revolution. Said Trotsky in 1921:
In the progress of the world labor movement, women proletarians play a colossal role. . The woman worker stands closest precisely to.. the section of labor which is the most backward, the most oppressed, the lowliest of the lowly. And just because of this, in the years of the colossal world revolution this section of the proletarian can and must become the most active, the most revolutionary and the most initiative section of the working class.
As living expression of this powerful and prophetic idea, the women of Iran have said in words and actions, So Be It! Their demands were taken up by the workers and armed leftists and have played a central role in strengthening and inspiring the continuing struggle of the national minorities within Iran. When all the great Iranian social struggles are linked together, as they can be by the women of all nationalities’ demands for equality, the resulting alliance could topple the Bazargan government, expose the Compromisers who control the Revolutionary Council, and establish a workers’ Iran.
The roots of the women’s intense resistance lie in decades, indeed centuries of brutal oppression. Iranian women have toiled under the rankest social, legal and economic discrimination, duly sanctioned by Islamic law. Women were unable to marry, leave the country, or find a job without permission from male guardians. They were not allowed to testify in most courts, and automatically lost custody of their children in a divorce. Sons, by law, inherited twice as much as daughters. Husbands were legally permitted to murder their wives in defense of “male honor.” In some of the more backward parts of the Islamic world, women’s genitals were surgically mutilated to prevent sexual freedom. Women bore the brunt of Iran’s skyrocketing joblessness, predominating in the low-paying, most hazardous industries and earning two-thirds of men’s wages.
Despite-and because of-their super-exploitation and repression, Iranian women fought back heroically in the early 20th century, after the 1917 Russian Revolution, and after the Second World War. During the period of the most pervasive repression of the last Shah, only the women dared to demonstrate against him. And in March, 1979, they surged to the front ranks of the young revolution, spurring history onward to new citadels.
Women Take To The Streets
In the first days of massive demonstrations against the Shah, women were there in untold numbers. In the British publication Socialist Organizer, an Iranian socialist feminist revealed some telling facts about their role in hose cataclysmic September 1978 protest-facts assiduously avoided by the bourgeois press in this country and mentioned once-over-lightly, if at all, in most left papers. She was there, and describes it for us:
Considering the situation in Iran, that women do not come on the street in any circumstances, except for shopping or taking their kids to school, it was very important to see women-such a large number of women-in a massive demonstration.
When we passed one of the main squares, where there were masses of soldiers and tanks, they stopped, faced the soldiers, and chanted: ‘Brother soldier, why are you killing your brothers? Why don’t you stop supporting the Shah?’
According to Iran’s accepted standards, women in the poor areas-in the southern part of Tehran-are more backward. They are more oppressed and, as workers, doubly exploited. But they were the ones who were participating in the demonstration. They were the ones who had their meetings in the mosques, and their organization through the mosques and the localities. They had a network of information links and contacts, and organized support for single parents and prisoners’ families.
Women in the northern part of the city, where the bourgeoisie and well-off people live, must have had sympathies with the movement. But in comparison, they did very, very little.
The minute the shooting started on Black Friday, women poured into the streets. The first thing that came to everybody’s mind was to start a fire, to combat the tear gas. So women rushed into their houses, brought out wood and old furniture, put them in the street and set them alight.
The attitude of the men towards the women on the demonstration was very comradely. It was perhaps the only time I have seen men comradely towards women in the streets. The streets are men’s territory Women in the streets are usually molested, pinched, and bothered by men. But during the days the people were struggling, united for a political aim, the attitudes of men towards women were so comradely There was no hostility, even from men who were not demonstrating with us.
One of the first groups of workers who went on strike was the telecommunications workers. I was there when they went on strike for better wages, better opportunities, a better health service and better nursery facilities. A great number of people in telecommunications are women. My mother is: she went on strike, too, and she brought home news about their organizing.
Later on, one of their demands was ‘End the Martial Law.’ And teachers were one of the first groups of striking workers in Iran who made their main demand, ‘End the Martial Law.’ A great number of the teaching workforce in Iran is women.
Then the nurses came on strike. Their demands were really militant, too; they had had to nurse the people who had been beaten up and smashed and bruised by the soldiers, and one of their demands was that they couldn’t face any more repression.
There were strike committees among the telecommunications workers and teachers and nurses. Women were a very strong part of the strike committees among the telecommunications workers They went to the workplace, but they didn’t work. Nurses were the same. They had their own strike committee in the hospitals. Many hospitals in Iran at that time had really close links, and were giving out news and information-but not in a published form, because they didn’t want the police or the army to burst into the hospitals.
Teachers-not in Tehran so much, but in other towns-had very strong strike committees. Teachers I spoke to in a small town in the south of Iran were feeling very strong.
During the strike, the women realized that it was high time the nursery was run better. They began to demand that there should be a trained nurse During the nurses’ strike, cleaners and cooks joined them My sister is a qualified nurse. She told me how nurses (who in Iran are all women) began discussing their oppression as women during the strike. They were questioning male domination in hospitals and the way it affected them.
Today, militant women workers in the oil industry, in textiles, in banks and other places are raising the issue of equal wages and opportunity in the strike committees, and making demands.
Women in the Forefront
That dramatic narrative tells the real story of women engaged in battle during those early days of the Iranian revolution. As Khomeini moved to reverse their hard won victories, is it any wonder that the women once again swept into the streets, this time on International Women’s Day? Their action was a massive and graphic exposé of the fundamental contradiction between the new state and the aspirations of the women, national minorities and workers of Iran. Hospitals, banks, government offices, libraries and many companies with large numbers of women workers closed down during the succession of women’s marches throughout Iran. Their militant slogans included: “No limitations to our freedom,” “We have not made the revolution to have to start all over again,” “Those who attack women attack the revolution,” and “At the dawn of freedom, we have no freedom.” The West German biweekly Arbeiterkampf wrote in its March 19, 1978 issue, “These demands show that women are aware of their specific role within the revolutionary process. The question is not the chador, but the advancement of the revolution; today, women are on the forefront of the Iranian revolution.”
They were demonstrating against Khomeini who has betrayed the Iranian revolutionary masses. He is establishing a bourgeois republic and intensifying, day by day, the exploitation and oppression of the very workers who kicked out the Shah. His “Islamic Republic” has already stoned “adulterous” women and executed gays and prostitutes-all tried secretly, if at all, and permitted no appeal or defense. Khomeini opposes abortion, divorce rights and coeducation, and has instructed women to go back to the veil.
Will the women workers now stand by patiently for pretender revolutionaries to say they must wait until the socialist revolution, throughout the revolution, and long after the revolution before their oppression is truly lifted?
No! Why should those workers who were the first to strike, the first to confront the soldiers, and the first to challenge Khomeini’s Islamic state be the last to reap the benefits of their revolution!?
Will the poor and the working women from the southern part of Tehran acquiesce to the well-off women’s counsel for patience and familial obedience?
No! No more than radical, minority, gay and poorer working women in the United States have bowed to the pleas of the National Organization of Women’s leadership to temper our militance over abortion rights and shake hands with the enemy!
The patience-mongers are in essence like the Russian Mensheviks, people who believed that the working class must fuse with the capitalist liberal bourgeoisie to overthrow the monarchy. Observing revolution from a safe distance, the modern Mensheviks sagely pronounce that a revolution must go through each proper stage, in the proper order. First, they say, comes the bourgeois democratic revolution and then, way, way down the road, comes a socialist revolution. But we haven’t forgotten that it was the Mensheviks who betrayed the Russian Revolution when it surged forward ahead of their schedule. These are the same false Marxists who archly insisted before 1917 that socialist revolution must break out first in the most advanced capitalist countries with the most sophisticated workers’ organizations.
Historical events, however, rudely intruded upon this rigid, undialectical understanding of the motion of human social development. In 1917, the least organized, most oppressed women textile workers started the revolution, and it happened in economically backward Russia. Russian workers and peasants took a necessary historical leap-they got rid of the Czar and, after only a few short months, they dismissed the wrangling, ineffectual bourgeoisie and created the first workers state.
Among the most exploited of all groups in Iran are its national minorities, who constitute fully 60% of the country’s population. The struggles of these long-oppressed peoples is key to the outcome of the Iranian revolution for they intertwine with the struggle of the women, working class, peasantry and agricultural workers, and broaden the class demands of the most oppressed of each sector.
Not surprisingly, it was the women of these nations who first moved against counterrevolution in Iran. As soon as news of the International Women’s Day protests in Tehran leaked out, national minority women in the industrial center of Isfahan, the Azerbaijani city of Tabriz, the Kurdish city of Sanandaj, and the main Persian Gulf port, Bandar Abbas, called rallies, strikes and demonstrations. Sparked by the militance of their women, the oppressed nations launched their offensives for self-determination soon after International Women’s Day.
The Kurds were the first to challenge the post-Shah regime. In armed battle and at the cost of many lives, the people are still courageously defending their demand for independence. Turkmeni peasants and Baluchi agricultural workers in Turkineni Sahra, the key large-scale agricultural center, took over hundreds of estates and seized police stations and army bases. The highly proletarianized and heavily discriminated against Arab workers who predominate in Iran’s oil-producing province of Khuzestan have also waged fierce battle with the new regime. Their identification and collaboration with the Palestinian liberation struggles further enhance the internationalist character of revolution in Iran. The Azerbaijanis, Iran’s largest oppressed nationality, who make up a third of the country’s total population, have now begun to move in open opposition to the government. The combined power of these peoples, whose thrust for independence is supported by the majority of the Iranian masses, will spell disaster for the forces of counter-revolution.
As the Fourth International’s Intercontinental Press reports in its May 14, 1979 issue:
In the period following the insurrection that overthrew the old regime, the new authorities and their supporters tried hard to keep the masses of workers from returning to the streets to demonstrate for their demands.
With the exception of the International Women’s Day marches, (my emphasis-MH) no large street demonstrations not approved by the authorities took place in the Iranian capital in the two months after the fall of the dictatorship.
Active mass opposition to the government’s policies aimed at reestablishing capitalist rule was essentially confined to the centers of the oppressed nationalities. (p. 476)
Despite the author’s back-handed treatment of bold feminist initiative, the facts irrefutably verify the character of revolutionary leadership. The most oppressed-women and the national minorities-are in the vanguard of defending and extending the Iranian revolution!
History’s Lessons of “Dual Power”
Marxists, in order to understand, explain and anticipate the laws of social movement, have always taken great pains to dissect history, to dig deeper and deeper, peeling away what appears to be true from what is true. Key to this process of thinking is the tool of analogy, which can sharply illuminate a confusing present by referring to a more clarified past.
As Marxists we have a responsibility to grapple with the complexities of Iran’s revolution by referring to history’s first great proletarian revolution, the 1917 Russian Revolution. By so doing, we cannot fail to grasp a central element of both the Russian and the Iranian Revolutions-Dual Power.
First, what happened in the Russian Revolution? As the masses of workers finished off the Czarist monarchy by winning over the masses of soldiers in the streets during five days of armed struggle and revolutionary fraternization of workers and soldiers, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries were setting up the leadership structure-the Executive Committee-without the masses. Fearful of the masses, these false leaders were determined to weaken, disarm and pulverize the workers’ soviet type of state, represented by the Soviets of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies. The Executive Committee’s first act was to create the bourgeois-imperialist linked Provisional Government headed by Kerensky. This was the paradox of the first dual power during the Russian Revolution; the masses trusted the Menshevik leadership enough to hand over the power to them, but not enough to give up their arms, their councils and committees, their own ideas and their own demands.
Lenin, to define the class character of this paradox, referred by analogy to the Paris Commune, uncovering the “highly remarkable feature of dual power:”
What is this dual power? Alongside the Provisional Government, the government of the bourgeoisie, another government has arisen, so far weak and incipient, but undoubtedly a government that actually exists and is growing-the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
What is the class composition of this other government? It consists of the proletariat and the peasants (in soldiers’ uniforms). What is the political nature of this government? It is a revolutionary dictatorship, i.e., a power directly based on revolutionary seizure, on the direct initiative of the people from below, and not on a law enacted by a centralised state power. It is an entirely different kind of power from the one that generally exists in the parliamentary bourgeois-democratic republics of the usual type still prevailing in the advanced countries of Europe and America. This circumstance is often overlooked, often not given enough thought, yet it is the crux of the matter. This power is of the same type as the Paris Commune of 1871.
Should the Provisional-Government be overthrown immediately?
My answer is: (1) it should be overthrown, for it is an oligarchic, bourgeois, and not a people’s government, and is unable to provide peace, bread, or full freedom; (2) it cannot be overthrown just now, for it is being kept in power by a direct and indirect, a formal and actual agreement with the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, and primarily with the chief Soviet, the Petrograd Soviet; (3) generally, it cannot be “overthrown” in the ordinary way, for it rests on the “support” given to the bourgeoisie by the second government-the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, and that government is the only possible revolutionary government, which directly expresses the mind and will of the majority of the workers and peasants. Humanity has not yet evolved and we do not as yet know a type of government superior to and better than the Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’, Peasants’, and Soldiers’ Deputies.
To become a power the class-conscious workers must win the majority to their side. As long as no violence is used against the people there is no other road to power. We are not Blancists, we do not stand for the seizure of power by a minority. We are Marxists, we stand for proletarian class struggle against petty-bourgeois intoxication, against chauvinism-defencism, phrase-mongering and dependence on the bourgeoisie.
Lenin, Collected Works. Vol. 24, “Dual Power,” pp. 38 & 40
Trotsky, also applying the methodology of analogy-to the 17th-Century English Revolution, the 18th-Century French Revolution, and the 19th-Century German Revolution-expands on Lenin’s definition of dual power or “double sovereignty” and its capacity to advance, replace and further refine itself.
In the chapter entitled “Dual Power” in his History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky defines the class character of dual power:
The two-power regime arises only out of irreconcilable class conflicts-is possible therefore, only in a revolutionary epoch, and constitutes one of its fundamental elements The political mechanism of revolution consists of the transfer of power from one class to another. The forcible overturn is usually accomplished in a brief time. But no historic class lifts itself from a subject position to a position of rulership suddenly in one night, even though a night of revolution. It must already on the eve of the revolution have assumed a very independent attitude towards the official ruling class; moreover, it must have focused upon itself the hopes of intermediate classes and layers, dissatisfied with the existing state of affairs, but not capable of playing an independent role. The historic preparation of a revolution brings about, in the prerevolutionary period, a situation in which the class which is called to realise the new social system, although not yet master of the country, has actually concentrated in its hands a significant share of the state power, while the official apparatus of the government is still in the hands of the old lords. That is the initial dual power in every revolution.
But that is not its only form. If the new class, placed in power by a revolution which it did not want, is in essence an already old, historically belated, class; if it was already worn out before it was officially crowned; if on coming to power it encounters an antagonist already sufficiently mature and reaching out its hand toward the helm of state; then instead of one unstable two-power equilibrium, the political revolution produces another, still less stable. To overcome the “anarchy” of this two-fold sovereignty becomes at every new step the task of the revolution-or the counterrevolution.
Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, Sphere Books Limited, London, 1967. (p. 202, Vol. 1)
With piercing Marxist methodology, Trotsky shows how the initial dual power in the French Revolution-the Constituent Assembly versus the monarchy-is transformed into a new dual power between the Paris Commune and the Constituent Assembly. He concludes, “Each of the stages was characterized by a sharply marked double sovereignty, each wing of which was trying to establish a single and strong government-the right by a defensive struggle, the left by an offensive. Thus, characteristically-for both revolutions and counter-revolutions-the demand for a dictatorship results from the intolerable contradictions of the double sovereignty.” (Ibid. p. 206)
Dual Power in Iran
Trotsky’s analysis of the dual power between the Provisional Government and the Executive Committee in Russia in 1917 applies directly to the polarity between Iran’s Provisional Government under Bazargan and Khomeini’s Revolutionary Council. It also reveals a much deeper duality which clarifies the current relationship of class forces in Iran. Writes Trotsky:
If you look deeper, the twofold rule of the Provisional Government and the Executive Committee had the character of a mere reflection. Only the proletariat could advance a claim to the new power. Relying distrustfully upon the workers and soldiers, the Compromisers were compelled to continue the double bookkeeping-of the kings and the prophets. The twofold government of the liberals and the democrats only reflected the still concealed double sovereignty of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. When the Bolsheviks displace the Compromisers at the head of the Soviet-and this will happen within a few months -then that concealed double sovereignty will come to the surface, and this will be the eve of the October revolution. (Ibid. p. 208)
It is this deeper dual power-between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie-that was so quickly ignited in Iran during International Women’s Day demonstrations and is now vibrating among growing numbers of leftward-moving women, national minorities, workers and peasants as they mount their offense against Khomeini’s counterrevolution. The very fact that the Ayotallah turned dictator so quickly is a testament to the power of his revolutionary opponents!
The Fourth International, founded by Trotsky, has utterly failed to utilize Trotsky’s theoretical guidelines for understanding this revolutionary process. Its statement on the Iranian Revolution in Intercontinental Press, May 7, 1979, completely misses the polarity between the representatives of the Revolutionary Council on the one hand, and the capitalist Provisional Government on the other, and places dual power in the future!
The Fourth International’s failure to see the distinction between Khomeini and Bazargan is tantamount to saying that the AFL-CIO leadership is identical to the imperialist state. True, AFL-CIO leaders have a bourgeois program and surrender workers’ power to the bourgeoisie, just as Khomeini does. But rank and file unionists in the United States, just as the masses in Iran, are in struggle with their bourgeois-minded leaders who, in the last analysis, can do nothing if they lose their base of support.
As Marxists, it is our job to expose the misleaders by “patiently explaining,” as Lenin said, the class character of the struggle now raging in Iran. It is therefore a gross mistake for the Fourth International to instead identify the revolutionary masses with their false leaders. In effect, the International is ignoring the revolutionary power that installed these leaders-the same power that will dethrone them.
The “Middle Caste”
Many leftists ignore the applicability of analogy to the Russian Revolution because of the role of Islamic religious leaders in the Iranian revolution. But Trotsky, by describing the class character and intermediate role of Russia’s “middle caste,” provided a theoretical guide that is key to demystifying the mullahs’ role. He writes:
Only in this connection it must not be forgotten that the question is here of a new capitalist type of petty bourgeoisie of industrial, commercial and bank clerks, the functionaries of capital on one side, and the workers’ bureaucracy on the other-that is of that new middle caste, in whose name the well-known German social democrat Edward Bernstein undertook at the end of the last century a revision of the revolutionary conceptions of Marx. In order to answer the question how a revolution of workers and peasants came to surrender the power to the bourgeoisie, it is necessary to introduce into the political chain an intermediate link: the petty bourgeois democrats and socialists of the Sukhanov type, journalists and politicians of the new middle caste, who had taught the masses that the bourgeoisie is an enemy, but themselves feared more than anything else to release the masses from the control of that enemy. The contradiction between the character of the revolution and the character of the power that issued from it, is explained by the contradictory character of this new petty bourgeois partition-wall between the revolutionary masses and the capitalist bourgeoisie. (Ibid. pp. 166-7)
The appropriateness of this analogy cannot be missed. For despite the fact that the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries described themselves as “socialists” in 1917, whereas the Revolutionary Council representatives in Iran do not, they both play the same role-that of a “petty bourgeois partition-wall between the revolutionary masses and the capitalist bourgeoisie.” And their social base is the same-outraged workers, women, peasants and soldiers who overthrew a monarch and remain intransigent in their demands for extended democracy and their defense of the power already theirs.
As Murry Weiss, respected Trotskyist theoretician and teacher on the Russian Revolution puts it,
Today, Khomeini and his machine take the form of a wing of Islamic religious structure, but they play the same role as Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries in 1917 Russia-that of the Compromisers, the middle caste.
Because of his original intransigence to the Shah, Khomeini has great influence with the masses who are now beginning to grasp the deception and fraudulence of his revolutionary role. He established the bourgeois Provisional Government, just as the rightwing socialists in Russia did. Then he immediately called for the revolutionary masses to turn in their arms and go back to their jobs and leave to him the creation of the Islamic Republic. To his vague promise of an undefined Islamic Republic, the working masses replied: We who have bled for the revolution (at least 60,000 dead, 100,000 wounded) will keep our arms in our own hands!
Since then, the armed revolution looks at what its disarming, self-appointed Revolutionary Council has created-a bourgeois government, deeply and organically part of the old Shah-spawned military and capitalist and landowners bureaucracy. And the resistance of the masses deepens.
International Feminist Solidarity
Through our work in unions and in the civil rights feminist and gay movements, Radical Women has seen how the most oppressed can and have led some of the most militant struggles for social justice. Our theory and practice over the years has encompassed and been guided by this living reality. Now we are seeing it happen internationally. This verification, this victory for socialist feminism cannot be underestimated.
Attack from the Left
Of course, anti-feminists of both the left and right have been quick to do just that. On the left, there are the schematics who tell us that since Iranian women are not yet, in the majority, workers, they cannot possibly be leaders of a socialist revolution. Have they so quickly forgotten that the U.S.S.R. was composed of a minority of workers in 1917?
These same pinnacles of wisdom advise us that we are being premature in stating that the issue of women’s emancipation became the focus and rallying point for the radical opposition to reactionary forces in the Iranian revolution. Condescending so far as to say that the women’s resistance is “potentially” revolutionary, they meanwhile ignore the indisputable historical fact that Iranian women initiated the mass left struggle against Khomeini and thus against the post-Shah, Islamic capitalism. In so doing, these women, challenged not only the social relationship between capitalist and worker, but every social relationship and every institution-and were the first to do it. If this isn’t de facto revolutionary leadership, what is? Spare us, oh gentlemen of the left, your veiled, patronizing sexism.
Then there is the undisguised sexism of the Stalinists who denounce the March demonstrations of women and their supporters as bourgeois-feminist and CIA-inspired, and called simply to protest the chador. Their position is scarcely differentiated from bourgeois feminists in the United States who dismiss the Iranian women’s demonstrations because their movement, like every sector of resistance in Iran, is infiltrated by CIA agents and “feminists” from the Shah’s sister’s entourage. But rightwing spys do not define the character of any liberation struggle, nor do they dupe the militant oppressed masses!
What an insult to the thousands of women workers in Tehran (from banks, hospitals, auto factories, libraries, schools, several large businesses and the media) who took to the streets in March and, joined by leftist revolutionaries, defended themselves against rightist goons. “We have faced the tanks of the Shah,” they scathed at the thugs. “Do you think we can be stopped by boys with knives?” Their vehemence forced Khomeini to back down from his Islamic dictums, and Labor Minister Forouhar was obliged to declare that women workers are entitled to equal rights on the job, and the right to participate in trade union elections and hold office in the unions. No sane person could propose that these victorious demonstrations were the product of CIA leadership!
The April 14, 1979 issue of the Stalinist newspaper World Magazine scorns the women’s movement in Iran as “an international pawn to discredit the Khomeini/Bazargan government.” But world feminists will have none of this. When an international delegation of feminists was preparing to leave for Iran in early March to join the Iranian women’s celebration of International Women’s Day, they were told by an Iranian man, “Don’t go. This isn’t the time.” French feminist Simone de Beauvoir fired back, “I’ve seen many countries and I’ve seen many revolutions, and each time the question of defending women’s rights came up, I was told it wasn’t the time.” It was the time. And in their stunning, massive demonstrations to defend their revolution, Iranian women got the support they asked for from feminists around the world.
Predictably, the Stalinists, always willing to do the rightwing’s dirty work, castigated this international feminist solidarity by saying in effect, “Stay out of Iran. There is no need for ‘alien’ women calling the holy leader a male chauvinist.”
This notion of feminism-in-one-country, tied to that of socialism-in-one-country, is anti-internationalist, anti-Marxist, anti-Leninist-that is to say, Stalinist to the core. Internationalism is the essence of Trotskyism, it emphasizes the similarities of problems and issues in all revolutions, and expresses the grave obligation of all proletarian revolutionaries to unite across geographical boundaries. The working class is an international class, and the historic task of workers’ emancipation is an international one.
As Trotskyist socialist feminists, Radical Women has no intention of advocating boundaries for socialism or feminism.
Plague of Cultural Nationalism
Anti-Internationalism is frequently expressed in the demagogy of cultural nationalism which, under the guise of defending a legitimate national liberation struggle and progressive cultural traditions, more often reenforces some of the most regressive aspects of a culture-such as sexism and homophobia. This is particularly relevant not only to Iran but to the United States as well.
The cultural nationalism of Khomeini and his fundamentalist “defenders of the faith” bears a strong resemblance to the Maoist save-our-culture rhetoric directed against feminist women of color in the U.S. In both countries, these reactionary attacks are directed primarily against the most oppressed-women of color. And in both countries, they are echoed and reinforced by the Stalinist left and its outgrowth, Maoism.
In Iran, the self-proclaimed moralists storm liquor stores and movie theatres, and execute prostitutes, “adulterers” and homosexuals. All women are urged to reject these “Western-made atrocities,” don the veil as a symbol of sacrosanct male tradition, stop demanding their rights to abortion, childcare, divorce, education and equal pay, and cease their “unnatural” acts of political militance. Apparently, the primary product of Western imperialism in Iran is not capitalist-induced poverty and exploitation, but moral vice, especially on the part of women!
The Iranian Stalinists say nothing in defense of the women and, in fact, endorse this counterrevolutionary anti-feminism by uncritically supporting Khomeini and his Islamic Republic. The spectre of evil Eve in the Garden of Eden once again raises its ugly head. Would that the Stalinists could recognize the revolutionary leadership of women as easily as they seize on female “immorality” as the cause of all evil!
In the United States, women of color are subjected to the same barrage of sexist politics in their own movements, also under the guise of protecting their culture, and perfectly in keeping with fundamentalist religious injunctions.
Black women were railroaded out of the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, which they started, organized, and led. They were forced back to the hearth to have “revolutionary babies,” and ordered to stop intimidating Black men with their castrating “matriarchal” attitudes. Chicanas are constantly pressed to “respect their man,” reject birth control as a sin, and woe be unto her so brazen as to think that sexual freedom applies to both women and men. Native American women are expected to relinquish their age-old tribal leadership to dictatorial bureaucrats, and limelight misleaders who make a mockery of the natural and egalitarian life of the true Indian way.
In most cases, women of color are enjoined by minority men to stay away from the feminist movement because it’s “unwomanly and divisive,” to stay away from the gay movement because it’s “unnatural,” to buttress the leadership of men at their own expense, and to defend every aspect of their traditional culture, including the oppressive. Stalinists/Maoists lead the way in blurring class lines and touting false unity around this cultural nationalism, much to the glee of the capitalists who depend on these rightwing leftists to do their dividing and conquering for them.
But women of color are increasingly rejecting these politics and struggling against misleaders who malign independent women and redbait socialist feminists. As the most oppressed, these courageous women are the first to see that survival depends on unifying forces, not separating them, and on building their independent movements at the expense of no one. The women of Iran are doing no less. For they, too, have nothing to lose but their chains.
And Attack from the Right
On the right, the bourgeois press would have us believe that the fury of Iranian women is a short-lived fluke. One New York Times article covering the International Women’s Day demonstrations, ran the headline, “Iran’s Women Fought, Won and Dispersed.” The article maintained that the demonstrations were called by upper middleclass, foreign-educated women who are devout Moslems. These grandes dames of leisure apparently just pressed a button and women workers swarmed into the streets. They pressed another button, and the women meekly dispersed, becalmed by the equality these well-bred ladies insist is in the Koran-if you look hard enough.
One West German report described the women’s battle this way: “Embittered amazons are fighting against a soft thing like the veil. They were pretty, young women, who protested against the disappearance of their fashionable hair styles and clothing under the black body-covering veil.” Such ridicule harkens us back to the “bra-burning” characterization that the press used to ridicule the American women’s uprising.
Anyone who has ever organized a potluck knows that organizing massive demonstrations, self-defense guards, food brigades, workers strikes and sit-ins, neighborhood committees, blood donations for the wounded and massive, quick-moving communications networks can hardly be the product of “embittered amazons” or spontaneous, blindly-led mobs! The women of Iran will not easily relinquish the swiftly accumulated and greatest power there is-the power to intervene in their own destiny.
Forward—To A Bolshevik Party
In Iran today factories, hospitals, offices, oil fields and land are in the hands of the toilers. They have guns in hand to measure the meaning of this reality, the imperialists have been ousted, the Shah and his Imperial Guard and SAVAK are being destroyed as rivals to a workers’ state. The question is, which road now?
Trotsky posed the same question for an analogous stage in the Russian Revolution:
For the question stood thus: Either the bourgeoisie will actually dominate the old state apparatus, altering it a little for its purpose, in which case the soviets will come to nothing; or the soviets will form the foundation of a new state, liquidating not only the old governmental apparatus, but also the dominion of those classes which it served. The Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries were steering toward the first solution, the Bolsheviks toward the second. The oppressed classes, who, as Marat observed, did not possess in the past the knowledge, or skill, or leadership to carry through what they had begun, were armed in the Russian revolution of the twentieth century with all three. The Bolsheviks were victorious. (Ibid. p. 209)
Shall Khomeini and his hierarchical Revolutionary Council return the factories, the oil fields and the landless peasants to the Iranian capitalists with their ties to world imperialism and the Shah’s military bureaucracy? Or shall the workers take power confidently, systematically, democratically, and carry through their revolution to its socialist revolutionary culmination?
The answer to these questions depends on the molding of a Bolshevik Party in Iran which can make it clear to the masses they must wrest the legal power from their false leaders and take the real power, created in struggle and still existing, into their own hands.
Khomeini tried to dismiss this profound power as early as February 19 when, in response to the Peoples Fedayeen’s role in supporting and aiding the arming of the masses, the Ayotallah blustered:
It seems that a group of bandits and unlawful elements have been taking advantage of the situation and making efforts to pursue their evil objectives. If the united leadership is not accepted by all groups. I shall regard this as an uprising against the Islamic revolution, and I warn these bandits and unlawful elements that we were able to destroy the Shah and his evil regime, and we are strong enough to deal with them.” (New York Times, 2/20/79)
Sheer bluff and pretension. It was the masses, following the key leadership of the Peoples Fedayeen, who joined with the airmen at the Daslan Base of Tehran and crushed the treacherous Imperial Guard. The ensuing insurrection was fought for 48 hours, and arms were widely distributed to the workers. The revolutionary left was mobilized and armed by the Fedayeen who consciously played this leadership role. This was more than the Bolshevik Party was able to do in February, 1917 in Russia, when the few Bolshevik leaders in the country were to the right of the masses. This began to change when Lenin arrived in April, and Trotsky in May; and the party revised its grasp of the real events.
We are witnessing a crucial stage in Iran’s revolutionary process. Without a Bolshevik party, February’s titanic thrust will be devastated. And the revolutionary cadres of the Peoples Fedayeen will be an integral element in that Bolshevik Party.
But the Fourth International does not consider the Fedayeen to the central to the revolution, because the Fl thinks the Fedayeen gives critical support to the Bazargan government. Does it? Or does the Fl statement make a false assumption based on its own false equation of the Bazargan government and the Revolutionary Council, to which the Fedayeen seeks representation?
The Iranian Socialist Workers Party is underestimating the central role of the Fedayeen in the February insurrection by giving it scant mention in the press and by merely proposing a united front with the Fedayeen. The Iranian Trotskyists should call for a united front with Khomeini and/or Bazargan against a rightist counterrevolutionary invasion. But the approach to the Fedayeen should he be one of how to build together in fusion toward an Iranian Bolshevik party. This unification is all the more critical given the regime’s stepped-up arrests and executions of Iranian leftists who must come together in self defense.
The irrevocable process of the revolution in all its persuasiveness will pierce through all attempts at controlling or halting the basic demands: No more capitalists and imperialists! No more armed police, and SAVAK, and regular capitalist army! A militia of the working people! And the army of women is here to stay! For the freedom of political minorities and the democratization of the factory committees, neighborhood! councils, women’s committees, the trade unions and their organizing committees born during the general strike! All power to the democratic organizations of direct rule of the people!
Revolution Under Siege But Undefeated
Despite increasingly ferocious onslaughts by the government and its Compromiser allies, the evidence shows that the revolution is still moving forward. Workers have not given up the struggle to build their own unions and to run their workplaces through workers’ committees. Army ranks’ demands for decision making power and SAVAK purges are unquelled. Peasants and agricultural workers refuse to give up the seized estates of expropriated landlords. Oppressed nationalities, though periodically in retreat, have not pitched battles for independence. While the government and Revolutionary Council spokesmen nervously reassure Western imperialists that private property is a basic principle of Islam, the regime has been forced to nationalize most of the major industries-aircraft and ship building, metal production, automobile manufacturing, insurance and banks. The vital oil industry is also nationalized. Arrests, harassment and executions of leftist revolutionaries and other political militants, as well as press censorship, light new fires of fierce resistance which bind the hands of a regime that would launch an all-out, anti-communist offensive-if it could get away with it.
But the Islamic “morality” assault-primarily against women and gays-appears to have gone comparatively unchallenged. History has already shown that the forced dissolution of socialist feminist groups after the Paris Commune victories and Stalin’s smashing of militant Azerbaijani women’s organizations in the U.S.S.R., were among the first steps taken to snuff out or maim these great revolutionary thrusts. Iran reactionaries are following that same pattern. First, they went after the women, now they’re attacking the Left.
Iranian revolutionaries must recognize that women’s emancipation is not a side issue or a civil rights issue alone. It is pivotal to the revolution, and reverberates into the armed struggle of the national minorities who, along with the women, saw very early that in February’s “dawn of freedom,” there was still no freedom, and that the fight must go on.
They were right. The battle rages on as the women’s early challenge to counter-revolution predicted it must.
Khomeini continues to boast of his power against opposition. “When we want,” he declared in August, “we can throw them into the dustbin of death.”
He is still bluffing. Despite his brutal street gangs and revived U.S. arms imports, Khomeini’s dislocated and isolated forces are not only up against thousands of well-armed and trained guerrilla forces; they are up against the masses of women, national minorities, workers and peasants who are beginning to see what the “savior” Ayotallah really represents. Their determination to defend and extend their revolution was heralded by the women who have already demonstrated in life the inexorable ties between the struggle for women’s rights and the struggle for socialism.
Women all over the world stand with these courageous Iranian women. Their struggle is our struggle, for they are the vanguard of an international socialist uprising which will remake the world.