Tue May 21, 2024
May 21, 2024

Iranian revolution: the struggle for power after the revolution

After the fall of the Shah’s regime, Ayatollah Khomeini and his alliance with the Ulama (Shiite clergy), the Bazaaris (traditional bourgeoisie and petty commercial bourgeoisie), and the liberal bourgeoisie emerge as the favorites to assume power. There were two obstacles. The first was that this alliance encompasses different projects. The second was that outside this alliance, the subaltern social classes, encouraged by the left, expected that the banners of the revolution, particularly broad democratic freedoms and social equality, would be heeded.

Read the first article in this series, “Here is the voice of Tehran, the voice of the real Iran, the voice of the revolution!”, available at: https://litci.org/en/here-is-the-voice-of-tehran-the-true-voice-of-iran-the-voice-of-the-revolution/

By: Fábio Bosco

Ayatollah Khomeini advocated a theocracy based on the concept of Velayat-e Faqih (Guardian of Jurisprudence), in which the ultimate power is vested in the Supreme Leader, necessarily a religious person with solid knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence.

The liberal bourgeoisie led by the Prime Minister of the provisional government, Mehdi Bazargan, defended a Western constitution inspired by the Fifth French Republic of Charles De Gaulle, but with religious language. In content, it was bourgeois democracy but in the form of an Islamic democracy. She had the support of an important part of the Ulama such as the popular ayatollahs Talekani and Shariatmadari.

Outside the alliance were the leftist forces that defended the content of a people’s republic with diverse formulations. This included representatives of the oppressed nationalities (Azerbaijanis, Turkmen, Kurds, Balochis and Arabs) who defended autonomy for their provinces.

The extent and depth of the workers’ and popular revolution was such that any alternative, however strong, could be overthrown in a matter of days. However, the decisive factor was that both the liberal bourgeois forces and the leftist organizations capitulated to Khomeini’s leadership.

The march to power

In the last days of the revolution, Khomeini appointed Mehdi Bazargan as interim prime minister to prevent the further dismantling of the state. At the same time he was setting up a parallel power and eliminating dissidents. With the honorable exception of the small Trotskyist organization HKS, all political forces, whether bourgeois or leftist, supported the nomination.

“Khomeini’s decade of command was marked by the growing power of his followers and by the elimination frequently by violence and in spite of resistance, and by the increasing application of ideological and customary controls over the population” [1].

“Khomeini implanted in Tehran a revolutionary council and a central Komiteh. The former supervised the provisional government. Finally he brought under its wings the local Komiteh and their pasdars (guards) that flourished in the many mosques scattered throughout the country. He also banished from these units the clerics associated with other religious leaders-especially Shariatmadari. Immediately after the fall of the Shah, Khomeini established in Tehran a Revolutionary Court to look after all the ad hoc courts that sprang up all over the country; and in Qom, a central mosque office, whose task was to indicate the imams jumehs for the provincial capitals. For the first time, a central religious institution took control over the provincial imam jumehs” [2].

Ayatollah Khomeini

Among the first revolutionary sectors whose rights were not respected were those of women. The participation of women in the revolution, whether in the guerrillas of the years 1971 to 1976, or in the street mobilizations and strikes of 1978 and 1979, was outstanding. In many marches, women were at the front to demoralize the Shah’s forces of repression. This did not prevent Ayatollah Khomeini from making the wearing of the hijab (veil) compulsory in the first days after the revolution. The reaction came in the form of a demonstration on March 8 in Tehran, with the participation of one hundred thousand women. Even so, the daily action of the forces, including Khomeini-linked militias, eventually prevailed over women’s right. This is one more mistake by the forces of the left who did not put their weight to defend the democratic right of women, facilitating Khomeini’s offensive. Subsequently, with a new Constitution, new attacks on women’s rights were consolidated.

The dispute in the shoras, workers’ councils

Another strategic revolutionary sector was the workers organized in shoras.

“The shoras, or factory councils, were a particular form of workers’ organization that emerged in Iranian industry immediately after the fall of the Shah’s dictatorship in 1979. These were grassroots organizations whose elected executive committee represented all employees of a factory, including management, regardless of function, qualification or gender.

Their main objective was to increase workers’ control. This offensive objective of the shoras for control is what differentiates them from shop stewards and also from trade unionism that fights a political battle to change the social structure through actions in production. The shoras had no clear political objective. Unlike the factory committees of the 1917 Russian revolution, the shoras were not influenced by external left political trends and did not act as a means for social change. They restricted themselves to demanding workers’ control and the transformation of power relations in the arena of production” [3].

From February to August 1979, shoras proliferated. In most of the factories, the bosses and managers fled leaving the way clear for the workers, who developed a strong sense of ownership of the factory as part of the wealth of the population. In this period the government was forced to nationalize 483 production units. The various strikes revolved around wages and employment, but there were political demands such as punishment for SAVAK agents and capitalists and demands for the dismissal of managers. With the exception of the network of shoras in Gilan province (by the Caspian Sea) and the oil workers, the struggle was factory-based.

In March, the resistance of the oil workers to maintain the strike for their demands forced Khomeini to resort to threats through the press:

“Any disobedience or sabotage in the implementation of the plans of the provisional government will be seen as opposition against the genuine Islamic revolution. The provocateurs and agents will be presented to the people as counterrevolutionary elements so that the nation will decide about them, just as it did with the counterrevolution of the Shah” (Ettelaat newspaper, 3/15/1979).

After this threat, the government succeeded in getting strikers to resume work in at least 118 factories.

“During this period (February to August 1979), the workers controlled the factories. The Bazargan government later expressed direct opposition to the shoras, saying that the triumph of the revolution eliminated their tasks. Until the end of this period, Bazargan reintroduced the one-manager system by appointing liberal professional managers. This period ended with the first extensive wave of repression, in August 1979, coming mainly from the ruling clergy. Leftist organizations were attacked and their headquarters ransacked. The government banned progressive newspapers, monopolized the official media and launched extensive military attacks in Kurdistan. These events were followed by increasing attacks on the trade union movement and by the exclusion of shoras and dissident workers.

The liquidation of the independent shoras was accelerated after the second wave of suppression simultaneous with the closure of universities. Among the closed shoras are: Tool Production Factory, Left-Track; Pompiran and Kompidro in Tabriz; Gilan Workers’ Shoras Union (representing 300,000 workers); West Tehran Workers’ Shoras Union; all oil workers’ shoras in Ahwaz, and railway workers’ shoras. The Khane-i Kargar (Trade Union House), formerly a venue for workers’ assemblies, became a center of the shoras linked to the Islamic Republican Party and Islamic Associations.”[4]

By mid-1982, the shoras were formally banned.

On the role of the leftist forces regarding the shoras, Asaf Bayat writes:

“There was a tendency among most leftist groups to scorn the shoras as a spontaneous working class activity, even though their emergence may have astonished the left because it created a ground for justifying the relevance and rhetoric of the left. For these groups, theoretically, the shora concept hardly went beyond a-historical citations of Lenin, for whom the political role of such organizations, in confronting the bourgeois state, was of the highest relevance. The traditional left saw the shoras in terms of their role in opposing the employers or the government head-on, a role that any radical workers’ organization, including trade unions, could fulfill under certain circumstances. Little attention was given to the more significant and distinct character of the shora as an organization for workers’ control that seeks to challenge the division of labor in production (the division between management and execution). Left groups defined the success or failure of shoras by their militancy and categorized them into three types: yellow shoras, led by pro-Khomeini or fanatical Islamic workers; genuine shoras, directly elected by the workers, who might or might not serve the interests of rank-and-file workers (if they did not they were seen as ignorant); and, finally, revolutionary shoras, whose members were sympathetic to leftist organizations. The political tendency of the members of a shora then became the criterion for its success or failure. Its extent and depth, areas, and under what conditions it exercised control became irrelevant. Moreover, such a view was unable to explain the antagonism between the yellow shoras and the liberal managers” [5].

Once again, most leftist organizations failed to intervene and defend the shoras.

The conflict over the new Constitution and the seizure of the Embassy

The debate on the new constitution was preceded by a plebiscite on monarchy or Islamic Republic. Prime Minister Bazargan wanted to introduce a third option: Democratic Islamic Republic, but Ayatollah Khomeini did not allow it. Against this, a more radical wing of the liberal bourgeoisie (National Democratic Front, led by Mossadeq’s grandson – Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari), the fedayeen [Palestinian fighters in guerrilla operations, ndt] and the Kurdistan Democratic Party boycotted the plebiscite. Still, on April 1, 20 out of 21 million eligible to vote participated, and 99% voted for the Islamic Republic.

Immediately, elections for a Council of Specialists were called for August. Part of the liberal bourgeoisie (the old National Front and the National Democratic Front) and various groups of the left and the oppressed nationalities boycotted the elections. Khomeini’s party, the Islamic Republican Party, won the elections and from the beginning did not allow the leader of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan -Abdol Rahamn Qasemlu- to take office.

“The elected council of specialists wrote a constitution much more favorable to the clergy and potentially more authoritarian than the first version (drafted by the interim government). This one included the concept of Velayat-e Faqih, which grants unimaginable powers to Khomeini. Article 4 states that the faqih has divine authority to rule and answers only to God. Other articles list his powers, which include control of the army and the Pasdaran (militias created by Khomeini in March 1979 from the militias formed by the regional Komitehs), the right to veto candidates for the presidency and to dismiss the president if the high court or majles (parliament) should declare him incompetent. The power of the Majles (parliament) is limited by the Guardian Council, which can veto any legislation if it deems it incompatible with Islam or the Constitution. The Guardian Council has twelve members, six Ulama appointed by the Faqih, and six others selected by the Majles, from a list prepared by the supreme judicial council, the majority of whose members were appointed by the Faqih. Based on its interpretation of sharia (Islamic law), the supreme judicial council prepares laws on all judicial matters and elects, dismisses, promotes and removes the commission of all judges. Khomeini was elected perpetual Faqih” [6].

The Majles and the president elected by popular vote were maintained and several social rights were generically inserted, such as the right to free primary and secondary education; health; decent housing; retirement; unemployment assistance; alleviation of poverty; freedom of expression, press, organization, demonstration, and religion; the right not to be watched; against arbitrary imprisonment, and the right to be brought before a judge within 24 hours.

Under the pressure of demonstrations called by the Mujahideen [Islamic fundamentalists, advocates of jihad or Muslim holy war in defense of the Islamic faith, ndt] and the Fedayeen in front of the place where the Assembly of Specialists was meeting, regional and local councils to assist governors and prefects in the administration, called shoras, were included in the Constitution.

“The complete change of the first version [of the Constitution] made by Bazargan brought consternation not only among secular groups but also with the provisional government and Shariatmadari, who always maintained strong reservations about the concept of Velayat-e Faqih made by Khomeini. Bazargan and seven members of the provisional government sent a petition to Khomeini asking him to dissolve the Assembly of Specialists as the proposed Constitution violated popular sovereignty and put the nation at risk due to clericalism; transformed the Ulama into a ‘ruling class’ and undermined religion, as future generations would place the blame for all problems on Islam. Claiming that the actions of the Assembly of Specialists constituted “a revolution against the revolution” they threatened to go public with their original version of the Constitution. It is entirely possible that if the country had a choice, Bazargan’s version would have been the one chosen” [7].

Hostages at the U.S. embassy

In the midst of this crisis, the Carter administration accepted the entry of Shah Reza Pahlevi into the United States for medical treatment. On November 4, a group of 400 students invaded the American embassy. They alleged that, as in 1953, the United States was preparing a coup to make the Shah sovereign of the country once again. Seeking to resume regular diplomatic relations with the United States, the provisional government demanded the immediate withdrawal of the students. But Khomeini supported the students and took advantage of this to discredit Bazargan and the provisional government by publishing embassy memoranda containing negotiations between the provisional government and the Americans (of course the memoranda with negotiations between the Ulama and the Americans were not disclosed).

The majority of the left supported Khomeini in this move. Bazargan resigned from the provisional government and Khomeini, amidst a widespread feeling of national unity, called for a referendum on the proposed constitution on December 2 and 3, 1979. The National Front, the mujahideen, the fedayeen, and various Kurdish and Azerbaijani organizations boycotted the referendum. Only 16 million voted, a reduction of 17% from the previous vote. Abstention was particularly high in the provinces of the oppressed nationalities.

The struggle of the oppressed nationalities

The reaction against the new constitution, before and after the referendum, was particularly strong in Azerbaijan. Ayatollah Shariatmadari issued a fatwa [legal pronouncement in Islam, ndt] against the constitution, and the Islamic People’s Republican Party (MPRP) led an uprising in Tabriz with the seizure of the radio and TV center. Khomeini promised more autonomy for the province and sent in the Pasdaran militias, which occupied MPRP headquarters, executed some participants of the protests, and disbanded the party.

The same kind of treatment was given to the other oppressed nationalities, such as the Arabs, the Balochis, the Turkmen and, particularly, the Kurds, who had been in rebellion since April 1979 and whose province was invaded by the Pasdaran in 1982. All areas were retaken and the Kurdish democratic party had to take refuge in Iraq in 1984.

Rise and fall of Bani-Sadr

In January, presidential elections were held and Bani-Sadr won with 10.7 million votes. In second place was Admiral Madani, of the National Front. In third place was the candidate of the Islamic Republican Party of Ayatollah Khomeini, who was also supported by the Tudeh (communist party).

In April 1980, the Islamic Revolutionary Council, at Khomeini’s request, gave an ultimatum for all leftist organizations to leave the universities. Its militias invade the universities and expelled or executed leftist students. Bani-Sadr announced the beginning of a cultural revolution, thus strengthening the repression of students.

In the same month, the American government made an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the hostages held inside the American embassy, which once again strengthened Khomeini and his allies.

In June and July, purges and executions of armed forces officers and civil servants took place. The Hezbollah militia, also allied with Khomeini, attacked the headquarters of the National Front party and closed its newspaper.

On September 22, 1980, the Iraqi government, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded Iran with the allegation of Iranian intervention in its internal affairs. In reality, Saddam Hussein never accepted the borders established at the strategic Shatt El-Arab River in 1975, and still gambled that the oil-rich and mostly Arab population of Cuzistan would support him, which did not happen. On the contrary, Khomeini used the war to exploit the feeling of national unity and eliminate all remaining dissent.

At that time, the most important thing was to get rid of the popular president-elect Bani-Sadr. He was critical of a number of policies of Khomeini and his allies, such as:

  1. the agreement with the United States over the hostages in the American embassy, which was very favorable to the Americans (but which opened the door for the clandestine sale of American weapons to Iran during the war against Iraq);
  2. support for Hezbollah when it invaded an event at which Bani-Sadr was a speaker;
  3. support for Prime Minister Rajai, accused by Bani-Sadr of human rights violations, torture and censorship.

Finally, on July 21, the parliament voted for his impeachment, which was confirmed by Khomeini the following day. On July 28, Bani-Sadr fled to France on a clandestine flight of the Iranian air force assisted by the Mujahideen.

The elimination of left-wing forces

The Mujahideen launched an armed struggle against the regime. Since 1979, the Mujahideen had been the target of attacks by Khomeini’s supporters, who called them hypocrites. Hezbollah had attacked and closed its headquarters as early as 1979. At a rally against the impeachment of Bani-Sadr in June 1981, Hezbollah assassinated mujahideen militants present.

Its most important military action was a bomb blast at the site of an Islamic Republican Party conference, which killed more than 70 people, including Ayatollah Behesti, four ministers and twenty-five deputies. In other operations President Rajai, Prime Minister Bahonar, and the police chief were killed. But the popular uprising expected by the Mujahideen did not occur and thousands of their militants were executed.

“In the 28 months between February 1979 and June 1980, the revolutionary courts executed 497 political opponents as ‘counterrevolutionaries’ and ‘cultivators of corruption on Earth’.”[8] Most of these were sympathizers of the old regime.

“In the next four years, from June 1980 to June 1985 [sic.], the revolutionary courts executed more than 8,000 opponents. Although their target was mainly the Mujahideen, they also persecuted others and even those who opposed the Mujahideen. Victims included Fedayeen and Kurds as well as Tudeh, National Front, Shariatmadari supporters. Many, including Shariatmadari, Bazargan sympathizers and Tudeh leaders, were forced to appear on TV and revise their opinions. So, the numbers of executions of those who participated in the revolution are much higher than among the Shah’s supporters” [9].

“A final bloodshed in 1988, immediately after Khomeini agreed to a UN-mediated cease-fire and an end to the war (…) In four weeks, special courts set up in the main prisons hanged more than 2,800 prisoners. Amnesty International described them as ‘prisoners of conscience’. Former Mujahideen were executed on suspicion of nurturing secret sympathies for the organization. Leftists were executed for ‘apostasy’, for turning their backs on God, the Prophet, the Koran, and the Islamic Republic” [10].

The winds of a new revolution

The main conditions that led to the powerful workers’ and popular revolution of 1979 were not resolved.

Repression and lack of democratic freedoms continued, and social inequality increased particularly after a series of privatizations.

Several protests have taken place since then. In July 1979 there were six days of student protests for democratic freedoms, which were violently repressed.

In June 2009, the largest protests took place inside Iran since the 1979 revolution. The demonstrators were protesting against electoral fraud. The demonstrations continued until 2010. This movement was dubbed the “green revolution”.

In February 2011, new protests began in the cities of Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Mashhad and Kermanshah (Kurdistan). In April, protests took place in Ahwas, an Arab-majority region with large oil production.

In December 2017, protests began in Mashhad over economic issues. In the following days, protests took place in several cities and the movement moved on to combine demands for democratic freedoms and better living conditions.

The movement that in 2010 became known as the “green revolution”

The relationship with US imperialism has had moments of collaboration, such as the release of the embassy hostages, the purchase of weapons during the war against Iraq, the support for the puppet government in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the nuclear agreement. But it has also had its moments of tension, such as the economic sanctions in 1979, 1987, 2006 and, recently in 2018, under the Trump administration.

The fact is that only the working class and oppressed sectors have an interest in wresting democratic freedoms, having a decent standard of living, and maintaining a coherent anti-imperialist position.

The great weakness is the absence of a revolutionary organization, which will have to be forged in the struggles to come.

[1] KEDDIE, Nikki, “Modern Iran – Roots and Results of Revolution”, Yale University, 2003.

[2] ABRAHAMIAN, Ervand, “History of Modern Iran”, Cambridge University Press, 2008.

[3] BAYAT, Asef, “Workers and Revolution in Iran: A Third World Experience of Workers’ Control”, Zed Books, 1987.

[4] Ídem.

[5] Ídem.

[6] KEDDIE, Nikki, “Modern Iran – Roots and Results of Revolution”, Yale University, 2003.

[7] ABRAHAMIAN, Ervand, “History of Modern Iran”, Cambridge University Press, 2008.

[8] Ídem.

[9] Ídem.

[10] Ídem.

Article originally published in Portuguese on www.pstu.org.br

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