Forty Years of the 1979 Revolution and Iran Today
Below we publish the interview with Mohammad Omidvar, member of the Polit Bureau and Spokesperson of the Tudeh Party of Iran. He is the editor of Nameh Mardom, the party's central organ.
1. The February 1979 Revolution in Iran has been assessed as the most participative social revolution in the 20th century. What were the key factors in the final years of the Shah’s rule that led to the Revolution? Iran under the Shah had the appearance of a strong, pro-western state. Was this the case?
The 1979 Revolution in Iran was a National Democratic revolution, a classic example of social mass revolution in the special circumstances of the growth of capitalism in Iran. In the 1960s and 1970s, Iranian society faced a profound structural crisis due to the expansion of capitalist relations whereby representatives of comprador bourgeois class dominated the political and economic life of the country. The ever-increasing influence of Imperialist capital in the Iranian economy, with a police state that prevailed to safeguard the despotic client regime, resulted in the middle strata becoming ever more squeezed and mounting pressure on the petty bourgeoisie. This also led to the weakening of the economic positions of sections of the national bourgeoisie. It is also noteworthy that during the same period the working class was experiencing a modest growth due to the migration of a large number of people from rural areas into cities as a result of the pseudo land reforms enacted so as to eliminate the threat from large landowners towards the Shah’s regime. This gave the growing working class an important social weight within the class structure of our society. The 1979 Revolution therefore arose from serious socio-economic crises and class contradictions created by the dominating interests of comprador bourgeois and the despotic rule of a pro-western corrupt regime. It mobilised millions of people - from workers, peasants and the petty bourgeoisie to sections of the small and medium national bourgeoisie - against the Shah’s regime.
2. Iran’s popular revolution and the toppling of the Shah’s regime was supported by the vast majority of people; millions were in the streets calling for change. From the point of view of participation of the social classes and strata of Iranian society, the Revolution was unique. What were the key demands of these masses in the 1979 Revolution and was the establishment of a theocratic state one of them?
As mentioned before, a wide range of social forces - from the working class to the national bourgeoisie, the middle strata and the petty bourgeoisie, and the various socio-political forces representing their interests - participated in the revolution with different perspectives and programs. The people’s slogan was “Freedom, Independence and Social Justice”, very much supported by our party. The religious forces insisted in adding the “Islamic Republic” to the people’s demand and the slogan for the Revolution, without actually revealing what it would mean in practice or indeed its characteristics.
3. Why and how did the forces of political Islam manage to gain the upper hand? Wasn’t it possible for other revolutionary and / or secular forces to prevent this?
The ruling theocratic regime’s propaganda claims that the people of Iran came to the streets to topple the regime of the Shah in order to establish the “rule of Islam”. In reality the 1979 Revolution had a clear social and class context that was aimed at removing the destructive influence of imperialist monopolies from our country, securing Iran's economic and political independence, establishing justice and democratising the political and cultural life of our society. The 1979 Revolution ended up being led by religious forces for a number of critical reasons dating right back to the aftermath of the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup d’état in Iran, which re-established the Shah’s regime. Over the following 25 years, while the left forces - especially the Tudeh Party of Iran, the nationalist forces and, later on, the guerrilla movements, including the People’s Fadaian and People’s Mojahedin - were heavily suppressed by the security forces, the clergy were allowed to use their networks, mosques and religious events, to organise and promote their agenda (Political Islam). The Shah’s regime and its dreaded security force “SAVAK” saw the clergy as an important tool in countering the left and radical forces in Iran. Indeed, in letters exchanged between then-President Carter and Khomeini (now published in the memoires of Dr. Yazdi, Khomeini’s close confidante in Paris and Iran’s first post-revolutionary Foreign Minister), the USA was prepared to tolerate Khomeini’s regime provided they guaranteed to stop the influence of the Tudeh Party of Iran in Iran’s post revolution era.
4. In your publications your assessment is that, after its initial success in overthrowing the Shah’s regime and bringing about a number of political changes, the 1979 Revolution was halted and ultimately failed. What characterises it as a failed revolution and was this inevitable? Could other revolutionary forces, including the TPI, have acted differently in a manner that might have altered the direction of the Revolution?
The Iranian revolution successfully completed its political phase of overthrowing the Shah’s despotic regime. It was clear for our Party that for the Revolution to succeed it needed to evolve into its social phase replacing the socio-economic order it had inherited from the Shah’s regime into a new order. Much of our Party’s slogan and platform - including the nationalisation of banks and multinational companies as well as land reform - was carried out in the atmosphere that existed in the first year of the Revolution. However, constant US imperialism and reactionary interference in Iran, including the imposition of the imperialist-instigated Iraq-Iran War, stopped the Revolution in its tracks and provided the backdrop for Khomeini and his followers to stop these programmes and move towards the establishment of a theocratic regime.
At the time, conscious of challenges facing the Revolution, our Party called for the formation of a “People’s United Front” with other revolutionary forces to make sure that the revolutionary movement would not be derailed but this did not materialise due to significant political differences between those forces. Our Party, in its analysis of the early years of Revolution, concluded that in our policy of “critical unity” with Khomeini and his followers we were perhaps more concerned with “Unity” than being critical of some of the policies that clearly were not in line with revolutionary ideals and the people’s demands. It is clear that had the left-democratic forces managed to come together, it would have been possible to change the balance of forces politically in the country for a different outcome. The reactionary forces, in a matter of three years, were able to attack the left and democratic forces one-by-one and then establish their absolute rule in Iran.
5. The major slogans of the 1979 Revolution were for freedom, independence and the establishment of a republic, with democratic rights and structures, to replace the Shah’s dictatorship. What is the TPI’s assessment of the outcome of the Revolution, for democracy, gender equality, the rights of ethnic and religious minorities and trade union rights in Iran?
Iran, 40 years after the Revolution, is ruled by a despotic regime with no regard for human and democratic rights. Over past decades we have witnessed laws restricting women’s rights and their treatment as second-class citizens. This has included medieval laws permitting underage marriages of girls as young as 11, as well as enforcing gender segregation in places of education and even hospitals. The regime has also ruthlessly suppressed the basic rights of ethnic and national minorities, as well as religious minorities. Its record on trade union rights remains appalling. Many trade-unionists are imprisoned or exiled and trade union activity either restricted by the state or forced underground. The regime has never accepted the legal operation of trade unions. It only permits Islamic Labour Councils, tripartite bodies involving the employers, government representatives and employees, thus breaching ILO conventions 87 and 98, guaranteeing all workers the right to belong to a trade union of their choice and engage in trade union activities.
6. During the past forty years, many significant social movements have demanded, and continue to demand, change in Iran. Have these movements aimed to reform the political and socio-economic system in Iran or have they been directed towards a more fundamental change in the social order?
Over the past two decades powerful social movements have emerged in Iran, demanding change in the way Iran is ruled and rebelling against corruption and suppression. In 1997, Mr. Khatami became Iran’s president promising reform and the “rule of law”. There was a powerful social force, from women to youth and students, behind Mr. Khatami and he received over 20 million votes in the election. But his government’s promises were not realised due to their overriding belief that change could only take place if permitted by the “supreme religious leader” and could not cross the ‘red lines’ of the Islamic Republic. Over the 8 years of Khatami’s presidency, despite some respite in terms of the oppression, real changes to the Iran’s power structure never materialised and the regime was able to neutralise and gain initiative from the social movement.
With the worsening socio-economic conditions in Iran and with unprecedented levels of poverty in our country (with some estimating 40% of the population as being below the poverty line), while the regime has sold over 800 billion dollars’ worth of oil over the last three decades, we are witnessing a radicalisation of people’s demands amidst growing workers strikes and protests. In late 2017 and into 2018 we had sporadic protests in 80 Iranian cities which the regime supressed savagely. And over the past three months we have been witnessing prolonged workers strikes in key industries such as steel, automobile and sugarcane in the south of Iran. People are demanding an end to the current neoliberal policies of privatisation, economic hardship and the unprecedented levels of corruption.
7. One of the key characteristics of the 1979 Revolution was its clear anti-imperialist position, subsequently pursued by the theocratic leadership’s support of ‘Islamic revolution’ in the region. Outside Iran, this has been seen by sections of the left as a progressive act aimed at protecting Iran’s national sovereignty from imperialism. How do you assess the position of the IRI against the US and how has the IRI’s overall foreign policy during the last four decades benefited the Iranian people?
It is true that one of the key characteristics of our Revolution was anti-imperialist, and especially anti-USA due to their long-term interference in our country and plundering of our national resources including oil and gas. The religious leaders used these slogans, which were mainly viewed as left / Tudeh Party of Iran slogans, to consolidate their position in the revolutionary movement in Iran. Clearly, their anti-American slogans were not based on the same understanding as the anti-imperialist slogans of the left and our party, which reflected our view of the destructive role of monopoly capital on the world stage and our belief that anti-imperialist forces should unite and work together to build a different world. The Iranian regime’s ideal economic model was that of a Capitalist order wrapped up with empty Islamist slogans.
For the Iranian regime, its influence in the region and the building of an Islamic empire was a critical part of its foreign policy and, as such, clashed with that of reactionary and puppet regimes in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf region. It is also important to note that at the most critical points in our region’s recent history, including the imperialist aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Iranian regime - according to its own leaders - helped US plans by opening up the country’s airspace so that attacks could be carried out against the Saddam Hussein regime.
8. The US administration is now openly following a policy of regime change in Iran. What is the Party’s position on the possibility of such an external intervention? Can you elaborate with reference to the positions adopted by Donald Trump, the Israeli government, Saudi Arabia and their allies?
In a statement by our Central Committee on 1st May 2018, in response to the growing threat from the USA and its allies, our Party opined that: “In analysing the current developments in the Trump administration and the coordination - more than ever before - of the governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia with that administration, many of the world news agencies have commented that the risk of a military conflict between Israel and Iran is now higher than ever.
We further elaborated that: “Our country and the Persian Gulf region and the Middle East is once again faced with a very serious and urgent threat of catastrophic military conflicts which will have dire consequences for Iran and the entire region. Ignoring these threats and supporting the destructive and interfering policies of the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, contrary to the claims of some of the foreign-allied, anti-people, so-called opposition not only will not lead to the liberation of Iran from the claws of the current theocratic regime but, like the imperialism-inflicted war of Iraq with Iran [1980- 1988], will have very damaging consequences for our nation, and for the popular movement for freedom, sovereignty, and social justice. The struggle of the Iranian people to dispose of the theocratic rule and establish a national and democratic regime in Iran in order to secure freedom, democracy, independence and social justice is not achievable through the destructive military intervention of such reactionary forces as the Trump, Netanyahu and Bin Salman administrations. In such critical times, the most important task of all the national and democratic forces is to organise and mobilise all peace-seeking forces of the nation and the world to prevent another disastrous and destructive war in our region.”
9. What objectives is the Tudeh Party of Iran pursuing at this stage of the struggle for the transformation of your country?
Forty years after the victory of the 1979 Revolution, Iran is in need of fundamental and democratic changes. The future of our country should be determined by our people, without external interference, through the establishing of a democratic political system.
Iran has remained at the stage of National Democratic Revolution and the Tudeh Party of Iran is committed to our country realising the following objectives: safeguarding national sovereignty, rolling back and eliminating the neoliberal economic restructuring implemented by the Islamic Republic, limiting and directing the growth of capitalism towards growth and development productive forces within the national economy, the fair redistribution of materials and wealth, and the realisation of democratic freedoms and social justice.
The Tudeh Party of Iran continues to believe that such a change requires the formation of a united anti-dictatorship front by mobilising all social forces within our country, and the emergence of a strong union of left and progressive forces with effective participation of the working class. The Tudeh Party of Iran considers the most urgent goal of the progressive forces in Iran as being to work together to prepare the grounds to put an end to the absolute rule of the Supreme Religious Leader once and for all, in order to open the way for fundamental democratic and enduring change in our country.