Hung upside down. That’s how Queen Elizabeth’s portrait was displayed by militant Iranians on Britain’s embassy in Tehran. This image became a symbol of opposition and shows the increasingly strained relations between British and American imperialism and the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran.

In late November, in reaction to the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by British imperialism, a group of Iranians stormed the British embassy and forced Britain to withdraw its diplomatic personnel. The Iranian government’s refusal to abandon its nuclear program is intensifying imperialist pressures.

The imperialist pressures

The Iranian government refuses to bow to Israeli pressure, in contrast to the servility to imperialism by other countries. The US supports Israel maintaining its monopoly of nuclear weapons in the region so as to put pressure on Arab and Muslim countries. Iran’s position is to stand firm on its nuclear program. Tensions were heightened when an unmanned US stealth plane landed in Iran and Iran accused the US of spying, which they denied. But the fact remains that stealth planes are used for spying.

Iran is key to imperialist policy in the region, and since the revolution of 1979, imperialism is opposed to any independence of the Iranian regime. G.W. Bush’s “war on terror” pushed the US deeper into the mire in the Middle East and Afghanistan, leaving the Obama administration to attempt negotiations with the region’s governments.

The US wants a partner who has no bargaining power and needs Zionism with undisputed military superiority. However, Iran’s refusal to abandon its nuclear program presents a real threat to these plans. So far imperialism has been unable to prove any violation of international standards including the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But the US is using diplomatic pressure against Iran in order to calm the Israelis and to maintain control and surveillance on Iran.

Despite this strategy Israel is unhappy and wants a tougher stance to be taken so to intensify the siege they argue that the Iranian nuclear program is for purposes of war and challenges the Iranian government to prove otherwise. Earlier this month Leon Panetta, US Secretary of Defense, attended a meeting of the Saban Forum, an organization formed by American and Israeli officials, to discuss the common interests of both countries. The theme of this year’s forum was “Strategic Challenges in the New Middle East”. Robert Grenier, who worked many years for the CIA, wrote in an article published by Al Jazeera’s website that the US defense secretary said at this forum that the Obama administration’s determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons was one of the pillars of US policy in the region. He emphasized the importance and effectiveness of diplomatic and economic sanctions against Iran, and warned that the use of military force was possible but was not the first option.

Where is the real nuclear threat?

This is the key question, who is threatening whom in the Middle East today? The United States has a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the world and Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East and has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty of which Iran is a signatory and so far has not proven to be in violation of any clauses.

One cannot ignore the fact that the Israeli nuclear program receives millions from the Americans, which contradicts talk of “peace” by Obama and the US military. The ability of Iranians to have any nuclear weapons is minimal compared to the real nuclear threat from Israel; a country that does not hesitate to bomb Gaza, murder children and treat the Palestinians as pariahs. That is the real danger to humanity, a country with 300 nuclear bombs and built on the basis of hatred against the Palestinians and Arabs.

The world already knows what the United States is capable of when they feel threatened or need to assert their domination as with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of World War II despite Japan being already defeated.

Amid the revolutionary situation throughout the Middle East and North Africa, sanctions against Iran only increase anti-imperialist sentiment among the Iranian masses as was expressed by the invasion of the British Embassy. However Ahmadinejad’s contradictory policies represent an obstacle to the great anti-imperialist struggles and prevent Iran from joining the revolutionary upsurge that touches many countries in the region.

Ahmadinejad is increasingly becoming a servant of imperialism. He is open to all kinds of   negotiation and is willing to support the most proimperialist governments in the region.

He was complicit in the occupation of Iraq, helping to support the puppet government of al-Maliki, and advised the radical Shiite sectors, such as those led by Moqtada al-Sadr, to submit to the occupier. Once discussion on the withdrawal of US troops began Iran offered, despite all that imperialism did in Iraq, to give support to the government sponsored by Obama in order to gain even a little of the plunder of Iraq’s immense wealth.

To seek a peaceful coexistence with imperialism while suppressing the mass movement ultimately weakens the struggle against imperialism. Whilst Iran has the right of self-defence and to develop its nuclear program to defend itself against a possible military strike by the United States and Israel, we warn the masses against trusting Ahmadinejad’s leadership in a struggle against imperialism.

Iran must be understood in relation to 1979 when the working class staged one of the most amazing revolutions of the twentieth century and bought down the government of Reza Pahlavi. However, the lack of a revolutionary party to lead the masses to seize power and establish a workers’ government, saw the rise of the bourgeoisie headed by a reactionary Islamic clergy. This bourgeoisie, purportedly populist and anti-imperialist, nationalised oil and foreign trade, but at the same time unleashed violent repression against the masses in order to remain in government and rebuild bourgeois power, stabilise capitalism and to put a nail in the coffin of the revolutionary situation.

The great revolution that overthrew the Shah showed the high quality of the Iranian labour movement and its ability to fight under severe repression. It is part of the historic memory of the working class and provided a great experience in organisation. Workers’ union committees (Shoras) were formed during the 1979 revolution and the workers’ organisations were so strong and combative that they continued for a year after the revolution.

Since the end of the 1990s workers have continued their struggle and built independent organisations. Among them are the bus drivers of Tehran and workers at the car factory Khodro [largest vehicle manufacturer in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa, editor], who have always been very combative sectors. The tradition of holding huge May Day demonstrations was resumed and in 2009 there were several strikes because of unpaid wages in the textile industries and starvation wages for teachers, 80% of whom are women. Massive demonstrations have been held against the regime despite the repression and prejudice that exists against women.

The Ahmadinejad government has risen in the midst of huge opposition and now uses the conflict with imperialism to improve its prestige among the population and stay in power. But the Iranian workers cannot trust any measure which is not consistently against the imperialist aggressors. The fight against the government must continue and at the same time there must be a demand that imperialism and its companies withdraw immediately. Only the working class, with its organisations can defend the country’s independence and decide on the nuclear program, without any interference by the imperialist countries, the bourgeoisie and the Ayatollahs of Iran.

Cecilia Toledo is a member of the PSTU, Brazilian section of the IWL