The Iranian Revolution and women’s rights

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With stunning force and searing intensity, the Iranian revolution continues to ascend to ever higher peaks of proletarian consciousness, socialist aspiration, and revolutionary feminism.

After 38 years of subjection under the hated, U.S.-installed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the masses of oil-rich Iran are swiftly accumulating in their grasp the greatest power there is — the power to intervene in their own destiny.

And it is no wonder that the vital principle, the paramount social issue that is impelling the awesome revolutionary tide to the left, is the explosive question of women’s rights.

The slogan of the liberation of women has become the focus and the rallying point for the radical opposition. Once again, female revolutionaries are the catalysts spurring history onward to new citadels.

Death to the Shah!

For 15 months the people have waged a determined war for liberation in the streets, schools and factories. In the final months preceding the overthrow of the Shah, demonstrators numbering in the millions — one-quarter of them women — emerged in all the major cities, testing their strength and gaining experience. And nothing could stop their dynamic, not guns, tanks, troops, or police.

Brief retreats turned into renewed and stronger offensives against the monarchical regime, and the collective courage and insistence on victory of a truly revolutionary populace proved irresistible. Army and air force mutinies erupted with regularity, peasants seized land, and long-oppressed nationalities mobilized for independence. The momentum of insurrection was dizzying.

Oil workers were in the forefront of a general strike that paralyzed the economy and cemented an alliance of all the popular masses. Confronted with relentlessly insurrectionary masses ready to die for their cause, the monarchist loyalties of the armed forces eroded and then crumbled.

Like their Russian predecessors in 1917, Iranian women were the first demonstrators to meet the soldiers head on and persuade them not to shoot and to solidarize with the people. The ranks of the military went over to the people.

Virtually the entire population moved as one body toward their goal. Monarchist officers were executed, and the Shah fled when it became evident that the army could not stop the mass movement.

Death to Bakhtiar!

The Shah fled under heavy guard to Morocco for a “vacation.” He left with all the pomp and ceremony his pride required but not before he and his family had transferred millions of dollars out of the country.

In a last desperate gesture, the Shah attempted to form a “civilian” government headed by former oppositionist Shapour Bakhtiar. But this doomed move was greeted by intensified strikes and a new slogan for street demonstrations: cries of “Death to Bakhtiar!” mingled with “Death to the Shah!”

Enter the Ayatollah

Without nationally recognized and organized leadership from the left, a vacuum existed into which stepped the Moslem religious leaders whose mosques and communication network were available vehicles for organizing.

The popular symbol of opposition’ to the Shah, exiled Moslem leader Ayatollah Khomeini, proved to be equally intransigent to Bakhtiar. Khomeini, still in exile, refused to meet with Bakhtiar unless Bakhtiar resigned. Khomeini’s uncompromising opposition to the puppet prime minister greatly increased his stature and influence, in the revolution. And Bakhtiar was forced to allow Khomeini to return to Iran, where he was greeted by a crowd estimated at four million people.

Khomeini immediately announced the names of key figures to comprise a rival regime, and a short-lived dual power situation developed. After days of demonstrations, culminating in fierce street fighting, the armed forces transferred their loyalty to the Ayatollah, and the Bakhtiar regime was finished.

Leadership, Soviets, Dual Power

The U.S. media has portrayed Iran as a country running amok under mob rule. Khomeini is variously portrayed as a despot or as a focus of order amidst chaos. But beneath the apparently disordered surface of revolution always lies organization and logic.

The truth is that the Iranian working class and the radicals organized extensively to overthrow the Shah and then Bakhtiar.

Before Bakhtiar’s exit, government workers refused entry to his ministers. Los Angeles Times reporter Joe Alex Morris, Jr. wrote, “In the Foreign Ministry, an action committee formulated a new foreign policy for Iran calling for a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union and a diplomatic break with Israel and South Africa. ‘It’s the first time in history that doormen and tea servers are making foreign policy,’ commented a Western ambassador.”

Workers councils, i.e. soviets, sprung up in such key industries as oil and railroads, evincing their independence by protesting the negotiations for domestic oil transport conducted by Khomeini-appointed Prime Minister Bazargan. Workers stopped a trainload of oil destined for the army.

In factories outside the capital city, Tehran, workers won two hours off work daily for political seminars. During the Shah’s last bloody days, power station workers blacked out the city just before the military-controlled evening news came on. Telephone workers instituted a daily cut in service. A committee at the Central Bank stopped the supply of money to local banks and published an expose of the millions stolen by the Shah and his entourage.

Inconveniences like power blackouts, gasoline shortages, market closures, and transportation shutdowns were greeted with joy by the populace as dramatic manifestations of the power of the revolution.

Neighborhood committees took care of people’s needs during the. strikes, and whole towns were administered by representatives of the people who simply dismissed Bakhtiar’s functionaries.

The level of organization has been tremendously high, linking virtually every sector of society. And the huge network of soviets, committees, and revolutionary tribunals of all kinds shows no signs of dissolving and turning over power to the government appointed by Khomeini. Nothing can be done by the government without the agreement of the councils; Bazargan can act effectively only with the approval of the particular council affected.

Dual power, shared between the organizations of the working class and the government of the bourgeoisie, is a reality in Iran today.

Permanent Revolution

The historic task in Iran is to complete the revolution against the Shah by inaugurating a workers state and transforming capitalist productive relations into a socialist system.

Khomeini is scrambling to halt this inexorable process of swift revolutionary development from lower to higher planes. In concert with the generals, domestic capitalists, and U.S. imperialism, he is desperately trying to reestablish “order” in Iran.

But the revolution has a life of its own, and it will not easily stop short of its own intrinsic destination — the complete and fundamental economic, social and political transformation of Iranian society.

Khomeini demanded that the armed populace turn in their weapons. No more than a trickle of guns was surrendered.

He demanded an end to strikes and a swift return to production. The workers, particularly in the oil fields, rejected capitalist business-as-usual and kept oil production in their own hands. They are not about to give up their control to anybody.

Khomeini calls for establishing an “Islamic Republic” based on the religious teachings of Islam. Already, homosexuals have been executed, “adulterous” women stoned, and thieves mutilated. He is running into ferocious opposition. In class terms, he is forming a bourgeois republic, and the workers and radical students and intellectuals know that capitalism — replete with labor exploitation, close ties to world imperialism, subjugation of women, and political powerlessness of those who chased away the Shah — cannot fulfill the aspirations of the Iranian masses for independence, justice, economic security and democracy.

Women to the Fore

Nothing in Iran expresses this sharp dividing line between the classes more clearly than the movement for women’s emancipation.

Despite the Shah’s much touted advocacy of women’s rights, Iranian women 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 court, and automatically lost custody of their children in a divorce case. Sons, by law, inherited twice as much as daughters.

Women bore the brunt of Iran’s skyrocketing joblessness, predominated in the low-paying hazardous industries; and earned two-thirds of men’s wages.

Despite — and because of — such exploitation and repression, Iranian women fought back heroically in the early 20th century, after the 1917 Russian Revolution, and after the Second World War.

Today they have surged to the front ranks of the revolution, insisting on their demands and their right to be in on decisions.

Women activists were dealt with brutally by the sexist police of the Shah and by right wing Moslems. In one instance, a group of university professors were fired on and beaten by police, who singled out six women professors for punishment, shouting “harlot” and “prostitute” at them.

The controversial veil (chador), a full-length garment worn by many women in the early demonstrations, did not necessarily mean female submission. Iranian women reported that the veil was worn as a symbol of mourning and of resistance to the Shah. Many women wore veils for the first time during the revolution, vowing not to remove them until the Shah was gone. The veils also come in handy for concealing weapons and leaflets!

In Iran, as in all revolutionary movements of this epoch, the question of women’s emancipation plays a pivotal role in the unfolding of the permanent revolution. Terrible oppression under the Shah impelled women to join the opposition movement en masse, and Khomeini’s double-talk on women’s rights insure his fall from grace in their eyes.

Khomeini says the new Islamic Republic will not discriminate against women, but he quotes Islamic law to oppose abortion and says that divorce will only be allowed under “certain circumstances.” He also instructed women to go back to the veil, and reinstituted a wide range of regulations that are oppressive and demeaning to women.

Iranian women, however, did not help depose the Shah just to be thrust back into the Middle Ages.

On International Women’s Day, March 8, 100,000 women rallied at Tehran University, a center of radicalism. Twenty thousand women dressed in Western clothes marched through the city demanding the right to wear whatever they choose, the reinstitution of laws protecting women, which Khomeini had scrapped, and an equal voice in government.

Khomeini had abolished equal property and divorce rights for women, richly deserving the “male chauvinist” epithet hurled at him by Kate Millett, the American feminist author of Sexual Politics who was expelled from Iran.

Millett had joined the mass march of women who chanted, “At the dawn of freedom, we have no freedom,” “Death to the Dictatorship,” and “We will not be slaves.” Troops loyal to Khomeini dispersed the demonstration by firing rifles into the air.

The demonstrations continued for several days as the women clashed with pro-Khomeini men who hurled rocks, fired rifles, and brandished knives. At least four women were stabbed. The world watched in awe as the endless phalanxes of intrepid women defied the Ayatollah’s feudal decrees.

“The experience of all liberation movements,” said Lenin in 1918, “has shown that the success of a revolution depends on how much the woman takes part in it.” Iranian women are making sure that this revolution succeeds; their struggle is a key component of the general yearning for a workers democracy, and if the male Left gives full and unstinting support to the women, the victory of socialism in Iran is assured.

If radical male workers fail to solidarize with the women, the revolution will flounder and degenerate sooner or later. For the women workers of Iran are currently the vanguard of the upsurge, and to halt their momentum is to betray the revolutionary essence and dynamic.

The Left Wing

The socialist movement in Iran is engaged in deep-going theoretical debate. Handicapped by decades of repression and by widespread distrust of communism because of Stalinist betrayals, radicals are striving to develop a program, a party, and a leadership that will carry the revolution through to a workers democracy.

The debate centers around the classic polarity between Bolshevism and Menshevism.

The Stalinist Tudeh Party is traditionally Menshevik, claiming that the revolution must go through prolonged and orderly consecutive stages and must therefore merge with bourgeois forces at this time.

It is one thing to ally temporarily with the bourgeoisie to get rid of a monarch. It is quite something else to submerge the revolution in the camp of the capitalist class.

The Tudeh has no argument with Khomeini’s Islamic Republic, even though he has not lifted the Shah’s ban on them!

Several radical organizations, fortunately, adopt the Bolshevik position that the revolution must not stop at the stage of a bourgeois republic but must drive forward to socialism and a workers state.

Throughout the early weeks of Khomeini’s rule, the newly-formed Iranian SWP (affiliated with the Trotskyist Fourth International) called for a constituent assembly to decide the future social order, and for a workers and peasants government. Later, according to the March 9 issue of the Militant (the organ of the American SWP), the Iranian Trotskyists advocated “the development, extension, and coordination of the democratic committees of the toiling masses in the factories and offices, in the armed forces and the neighborhoods.”

But these demands do not go far enough. The constituent assembly is a key demand for a democratic institution that will provide an arena for the political fight ahead. However, a constituent assembly is a multi-class institution with the exclusive function of writing a constitution.

On the other hand, a national and truly representative assembly, which includes only representatives of the popular councils — factory councils, soldiers’ and airmen’s councils, special councils of women workers, neighborhood councils, all the councils born in the revolution — must be created. Only such a national body, a national congress of soviets, could present a unified proletarian voice in a constituent assembly.

“The development, extension, and coordination” of these committees is one thing, but the organization of a definitive system of local representatives to. regional councils, and regional representatives to a national revolutionary council, is quite another.

This task is on the top of the agenda in Iran today, and is absolutely essential to the consolidation of revolutionary gains and the sharpening of the struggle for socialism.

Two other Marxist organizations have played key roles in Iran, the Fedayeen and the Mojahedeen.

The Fedayeen split from the Tudeh in 1970 over the Tudeh’s attempted collaboration with the Shah, and it has operated as an underground guerrilla force. The Mojahedeen, which describes itself as “Islamic-Marxist,” is an outgrowth of the Islamic opposition movement.

The Feyadeen and Mojahedeen, often working in alliance, represent the leading left forces in Iran. They have a mass following and stand opposed to an Islamic Republic.

These two organizations have played an exemplary role as highly conscious revolutionary cadres throughout the insurrectionary period. At the moment when the fall of Bakhtiar depended on the arming of the workers, the Fedayeen and Mojahedeen provided the arms and the military leadership to challenge the regime.

The Fedayeen issued instructions by radio to the people, instructing them in how to handle the firearms, set up communications networks, build barricades, conduct street fighting, and arrest “enemies of the people.”

They continue to exhibit an excellent sense of revolutionary strategy as they build their forces and extend their influence more and more deeply among the masses.

The Fedayeen, however, despite its advanced program for a workers and peasants government, does not call for a national body of soviets.

(Such a body may be in the process of formation, but no news of such a development has yet emerged.)

Toward a Workers State

Now that the first stage of the revolution has been attained and the Shah and Bakhtiar have fallen, the internal political differences within the revolution have attained key significance.

Even bourgeois analysts say that “the revolution is not over” and warn of a leftwing bid for power.

As Khomeini attempts to build a bourgeois state, he condemns the radicals. “Anyone opposed to Islam is our enemy,” he says, and those opposed to an Islamic Republic are “counterrevolutionaries.” But he dares not use substantial force against the growing left opposition.

On February 23, a rally in Tehran of 150,000, led by the Fedayeen, demanded a workers state, distribution of all arable land, nationalization of banks and foreign investments, and cancellation of contracts with foreign oil companies. Since then, many smaller rallies and demonstrations have opposed Khomeini’s Islamic Republic from the left.

In early March, reports appeared in the American press of gun battles between Khomeini’s forces and the left wing. And then the feminist fury erupted against Khomeini.

These struggles between the radical workers and the bourgeoisie are the heart of the revolution; they fuel the total movement and all other developments must be weighed and measured against them.

The Yankee Presence

U.S. interference in Iran was a major cause of the revolution.

The Iranian masses will never forget that the Shah would have fallen after World War II without CIA help, and that Wall Street and the White House have propped him up ever since.

In return, U.S. capital was free to systematically rob Iran of its wealth through special oil deals, to use the country as a base for spying on the USSR, to sell Iran billions of dollars of U.S.-manufactured weapons, and to advise and train the hated secret police, SAVAK.

As a result, revolutionary rage against the U.S. government presence in Iran reached volcanic proportions, and Khomeini rushed to take advantage of this fury. But now he’s making oil deals with the U.S. and trying to send oil workers back to their jobs to produce oil for export.

Khomeini is seeking a way to contain the vast contradictions of the situation so that Iranian capitalism can be reconstituted. Can he build a viable capitalist state without U.S. trade? Will the workers allow export to the U.S.? Will the workers allow the renewed presence of American advisors in Iran? The Khomeini compromisers and the revolutionary workers are heading for an historic showdown over these and many other unresolved questions.

Social Democratic Complicity

Yankee plunder of Iran and brutalization of its people were only possible given the tacit approval of the cynical opportunists who comprise the social democracy in the U.S.

The labor bureaucracy, National Organization for Women, the moderates who control most minority and gay civil rights groups, and all liberals who preach adaptation to the Democratic Party for “practical” reasons bear a definite responsibility for the ravages of U.S. imperialism in Iran.

A Democratic president, with the full support of his party, denounced the Iranian revolution from the beginning. Carter supported and feted the Shah. When the Shah was chased out, Carter supported his clone, Bakhtiar. And now Carter calls for order under the Khomeini regime, as Khomeini repays him by negotiating for continued purchase of Iranian oil and for U.S. technical advisors.

All this treachery against the will and needs of the Iranian people is promoted by the Democratic Party, the party of American imperialism, and political support to it is a betrayal of the Iranian revolution and its sisters, brothers and comrades in the American working class.

Iranians in the U.S.

Washington is callously using the Iranian revolution as a ploy to contrive another oil crisis and foment anticommunist xenophobia. But Iranian students in the U.S. have countered with effective demonstrations of the links of their revolution with the world proletariat. Their protests have exposed U.S. hypocrisy on “human rights.”

Many of these students, and many Iranian political exiles from all over the world, are currently returning to their homeland to help fight for the persisting revolution.

The Continuing Revolution

Iran is a cauldron of revolutionary fires, stoked by round-the-clock debates, demonstrations, and hammering out of political programs.

Crisis rocks the government at every turn. Bazargan, claiming an inability to govern due to the counter-authority of the revolutionary councils, has attempted to resign. But Khomeini will not let him. If the government were to fall, Khomeini’s personal reign would be sorely endangered by face-to-face confrontation with the democratic workers councils.

Bazargan also demanded that the executions of generals and SAVAK torturers be stopped, and Khomeini has obliged him, mandating that all verdicts of revolutionary courts must be reviewed.

The blazing march to freedom of the Iranian people has left the world breathless.

When the Iranian rebellion started, many sage observers predicted that in a decade or so the Shah would be deposed. As usual, they underestimated the fervor, audacity, persistence, resilience, and raw purpose of the Iranian people, who would not settle for a mere casting out of a detested monarchy, and who will not rest content with the formal democracy and continued exploitation imposed by a limited, bourgeois revolution.

Their gigantic leap toward the apex of revolutionary power furnishes a living lesson to workers of the world on the anatomy and dynamic of the permanent, unstoppable revolution.

For Permanent Revolution in Iran!

For Workers Democracy!

For Revolutionary Feminism!

For a Socialist Iran!

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