Revolt in Iran sparks debate at Seattle forum

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“Protests of last summer’s election fraud quickly grew to defiant uprisings, beginning a new revolutionary period in Iran,” declared Kamran Sharifi, an Iranian social justice activist and Marxist analyst. Sharifi was joined by Monica Hill, a feminist and journalist on Middle Eastern affairs, speaking at a sometimes raucous forum in Seattle on Jan. 29.

Both described how the heightening repression by Ahmadinejad’s hard-line regime is radicalizing the people of Iran, bringing closer the day when revolution replaces the theocracy with a secular socialist state.

The event began with a riveting video of street demonstrators after Iranian elections last June. Women, especially teachers and nurses, filled the ranks of protesters. Hill explained the Freedom Socialist Party’s position that in any resistance movement, women are pivotal, because as workers, as youth, students, socialists, intellectuals, sexual and national minorities, they represent and bring together the most oppressed sectors in society. She called for support of Iranian women such as the Mourning Mothers who, in spite of beatings and arrests, stand in protest every week for their disappeared, imprisoned and murdered families.

Sharifi narrated video clips of massive street protests by Iranians suffering from “oppression at all levels” — including 25 percent unemployment and extreme lack of political and personal freedom. Millions poured into the streets in December — faces bravely unmasked — to battle the police at barricades.

Many street demonstrators wore green and waved green flags, the color of Iran’s reform movement. Sharifi described the Green Movement, however, as “having a short shelf life because 30 years of repression have taught people that reforms are not enough.” Reformist leaders have already conceded the election to Ahmadinejad, exposing their willingness to compromise with the hard-liners. Sharifi drew vigorous applause when he said, “this brutal religious regime is not reformable!”

He reminded the crowd that the execution of thousands of leftists in 1988 took place under then Prime Minister Mousavi, a leader of the current reform movement. Those who escaped are in exile, still organizing and communicating with the resistance in Iran. Labor unions are controlled by the government and independent unionists must organize underground. Women and students have bravely demonstrated throughout the years for reforms, against brutal government reaction.

Sharifi called for labor and leftists to provide socialist leadership and clear goals for the spontaneous uprisings sweeping through the country. General political strikes armed for self-defense will be necessary. The regime will intensify its harsh repression and the U.S. will try to interfere, but Sharifi firmly believes that eventually and inevitably Iran will become a secular socialist state.

Hot discussion. An Ahmadinejad supporter countered that things are better now in Iran than ever, and that force is necessary to keep order. He accused the United States and its CIA of orchestrating the opposition movement. Another Iranian man jumped up to say, “These are lies!”

Sharifi and Hill replied that the CIA no doubt attempts to manipulate the political situation, but insisted that this defiant revolt comes from the people themselves. Said Sharifi, “It’s an insult to the courageous women and men fighting this regime to suggest that this revolt is instigated by the U.S.” Both also think that the sword-rattling between the U.S. and Iran over nuclear materials is “a mock battle,” and that Ahmadinejad only poses as an anti-imperialist.

A young Iranian man asked if things weren’t better for women under the Shah. A young Iranian woman responded that it might have appeared better because the Shah had a secular, capitalist Western-looking regime, but that his rule was good for only an elite, wealthy few. A Seattle woman said that the U.S. has used suppression of women’s rights as an excuse to bomb and occupy countries in the past and we should do every¬thing we can to keep the U.S. from meddling in Iran.

An Iranian Green Movement supporter called for patience, saying the way to improve things is through a liberal movement making reforms and compromises. He cautioned against the demands of Marxist activists. Hill responded that everyone has a responsibility, especially Marxists, to study and discuss what’s happening and to help other liberation struggles.

A Seattle woman with a group of other bus drivers promised to take a resolution to their transit union supporting a militant bus driver leader imprisoned in Iran. They did. And it won! Said another woman in the audience, “It’s time to follow the lead of Iranian women and have some uprisings in the U.S., because of the cutbacks and attacks on women, immigrants and gays here at home!”

Postscript on revolt. Since the January forum, the Iranian government tried to stifle further protest with brutal police crackdowns before Revolution Anniversary actions on Feb. 11 and ongoing press blackouts. Instead, it provoked prison uprisings, demonstrations by families on behalf of their jailed sons and daughters, and further outrage at government forces using chains, daggers, knives, billy clubs, tear gas and rape to suppress dissent.

Despite all this, some news manages to get out to the rest of the world. And on March 8, International Women’s Day, women of Iran defiantly spoke out. They proved once again that the revolutionary leaders and party so necessary to carry out Iran’s revolution will rise out of the social and political movements that stubbornly refuse to go away.

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