- Translated by “A Friend of the Movement” The purpose of this note is to point out some of the obstacles to the expansion of the Iranian communists’ activities.
The current movement is a new sequence of the revolutionary process that started in 1978. The internal conflicts of the ruling factions, the machinery of oppression and the forms that people’s struggle take, their slogans and demands, all these are parts of a historical period that started with the Iranian Revolution in 1978.
We should perceive the present popular movement in such a broader context, and discard any prevalent sort of sociological analysis, even those that in appearance seem class-based. We will explain this. This means that the movement that started on June 15  is a continuation of the people’s struggle in answering questions, which they themselves had posed in the society through the overthrow of Shah’s regime: How can we establish freedom, independence and a people’s republic in Iran? How can we run the society based on people’s sovereignty, and without relying on any of the pre-capitalistic institutions, without the royal court and its allies?
The first answer, the Islamic Republic, has failed that test. It was not the Iranian revolution that failed the test; such a statement is meaningless. Those political alternatives pertaining to the first sequence failed.
The revolution itself, however, is still young. This is not to say that the course of the events, forms of the struggle and the behavior of the forces in this sequence are a repetition of what happened between 1977 and 1980. Quite the contrary, this movement is different in form and content, and its enemy is not the classic dictatorship of the Shah, but an Islamic regime, which emerged from the same revolutionary process and claims to have inherited the demand for republicanism, freedom and the independence of the Iranian people (this is a reference to the emblematic tripartite central slogan during winter 1978-79, trans.note).
In the historical events of June 15 , this claim was unambiguously taken back from the ruling regime. When Moussavi and the Participation Front [jebhey-e mosharekat] end up in opposition to the main symbol of the Islamic Republic, i.e., velayat-e faqih [rule of religious jurists], and in effect stand alongside the people (not just in words, but in social objectivity), this is indicative of the fact that the Islamic Republic separated its path from that of the revolution, which amounts to the political suicide of the regime. From this point on, the 1979 revolution will anew seek its own identity and fate, is no longer an Islamic revolution as this regime called it; what it is will be determined by this very movement in its references to that revolutionary memory.
The easiest example is the ‘Allah-o Akbar’ slogan. The slogan was first used during the uprising in 1978-1979. Today, it is employed against the regime that once had transformed that symbol of protest to an ideological alibi for establishing political Islam. By employing the same phrase, people indicate the radical level of their demand that goes beyond the phrase. People are employing the religious Arabic wording ‘Allah-o Akbar’ as a metaphor for something else in Persian: Death to the dictator. Here the content goes beyond the phrase. If we don’t see this difference, we will misunderstand people’s slogans and, worst of all, we will move away from the people and leave the initiative to others. Therefore, in the first instance, any radical political force in Iran must synchronize its behavior, position and outlook with the calendar and sequences of the Iranian Revolution.
This means: Don’t interpret! Don’t make up slogans that seem revolutionary! Be the thought for an action. (The word employed in the title of the article in Persian is “eqdam” which means the initial, commencing phase of an action, the intentional component of an undertaking. The title of the text reads “fekr-e eqdam”, thought of/for an action, which is deliberately ambiguous; it both means a thought or idea discernable through action and the deliberations before an action.) An idea that pertains to such an action is the articulation of the very people’s demands. Its point of departure is the people’s — all the people’s — pain and suffering, their capabilities as well as shortcomings.
The Iranian people, when they take the initiative to wrest back the political cause from their rulers, are not Muslims, nor idolaters, nor liberals or royalists, nor demanding the overthrow of anything, nor a sect wishing to establish a socialist republic based on premeditated plans. No people have ever been like that. If a people have overthrown any system, it has been because that system blocked the collective movement of the people; if a people in some places transformed their councils/soviets into a new form of republic, this was because in the course of their struggles, they achieved all-encompassing and universal goals, for which that form (the councils, soviets, etc.) was found to be optimal; if they rose to do away with private property in a factory, some neighborhood, this city, a given country, this was because in their daily battles they realized that this form of property was an obstacle to the realization of a humane life. We must think of communism as an equivalent to these conditioned propositions, which means we must free our ideals from burdensome clichés. Anyone who wants to stage the last scene of another revolution as the first act of a revolution here is not thinking of any concrete measures for action. He is, at best, a plagiarist.
2. In the writings of leftist activists in Iran, we see two burdensome concepts, which have caused the scattered, oppressed and wounded figure of the left to turn even more scattered. One is the seemingly unproblematic concept of the ‘middle class’. Interesting that this concept is seen precisely in such analyses that most certainly contain class in their titles, and in which quotations from Marx or Lenin abound. However, Marx has never used anything called middle class, with the particular meaning envisioned by these writers, in his historical analyses. On the contrary, this is a contemporary sociological concept.
‘Middle class’ is a deeply vague and ideological concept. Middle of what, and how did this middle become a class? In the present misery, hospital workers and staff, our school teachers, the factory workers and the youth who have been deprived of employment and who live in dormitories are not middle class. In the midst of the summer solstice in the third world, what middle class?
These are laboring forces, the very thing you have been looking for, and right in front of your eyes, in the streets of self-representation and in the alleys of common interests. They have, at least momentarily, felt their capacity to impose their presence in the public arena of our cities and from now on nothing will remain the same as before, including the meaning of democracy. The ashes of petty-bourgeois academism is incapable of understanding the simple fact that people who, reliant on solidarity, claim a common objective for all are no longer the same as a formless mass.
Besides this, this movement has as yet not benefited fully from the independent presence of the organized poor. The current presence of a section of the rulers alongside the movement has also caused some confusion. The most wrongheaded policy in the current situation is to busy ourselves with polemics with this segment of the rulers to prove that they cannot be our fellow travelers. From the people’s point of view, such arguments, no matter how brimming with revolutionary phrases, resemble the arguments of the two factions of the rulers. Such is not communist activity.
Expansion of people’s movement means helping to build popular organizations amongst those people whose voice is not counted, not recognized by the state. Joining of the poor alongside presence of the laboring forces will show any petty-bourgeois ideological illusion to be what they are: moralistic speech making. It is at such a [historical] moment, but not earlier, that those few journalists advocating neo-liberalism will be forgotten. Do you see how the difference between people and their enemies is cognizable?
It suffices that people organize themselves around all-encompassing demands and grasp their own representation in a common cause. Slogans such as “Give me back my vote!” has, neither immediately nor necessarily, anything to do with acceptance of the elections game or parliamentarianism. We see that many people who had boycotted the elections participated in the rallies. It does not even relate immediately to Ahmadinejad and the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, but goes farther and deeper than these things.
This lack of immediate relation must be taken as our point of departure. The important point is the collective uprising to claim our crushed rights; this readiness to rise up for the right to have a vote must be understood the way it actually is, beyond ideological imageries about elections, and must be expanded to include other rights of the people.
3. The second reason for lack of cohesion, I think, relates to a mistake by the communists about who the addressee is.
One component of such a mistake concerns the concept of ‘enemy’. In short, it is simplistic to think that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and, vice versa, to consider those who are not friends of the people as the enemy. Enemy and friend are asymmetrical terms. We don’t determine the enemy by their beliefs and speech, but the criterion is their objective behavior in concrete conditions.
The enemies are those who take up arms against the expansion of the people’s movement and are destroying their organizations. ‘Enemy’ is a concept, whose use is akin to that of a weapon, which must be pointed in a particular direction and at a certain target. Friends who are fond of Marx should believe that this is exactly what Marx says. Running hurriedly into the arena, and without any popular backing calling the people whose flags are not our desired colors ‘the enemy’, is akin to firing an empty gun in the darkness. Let us reach some conclusions from these three points:
A. If the communists are on the side of revolution, and are capable of discerning the historical demands of the Iranian Revolution, and are able to understand the logic of its development, then they must welcome the disintegration of the governmental coalition called Islamic Republic, and must welcome the joining with their ranks of segments of a republican system that claimed to have answers to the demands of the Iranian Revolution.
They must not forget that this split among the different factions of rulers was caused by the very movement of the people, and not by the infighting of the two factions, as declared in sociological analyses. No! Any infighting within the ruling system occurs against the background of a revolutionary society, and always has three sides.
If we look at the behavior of the people from this angle, we can easily see how the people in effect are constantly pushing forward this segment of rulers [that has joined them] with all its resources, and at least for the short-term. Once, a while ago, it was possible for Khatami to avoid such a position, but for Moussavi any retreat is tantamount to political suicide or even a threat to his life. Intellectual friends, militant comrades!
Abandon exposing every inconsistency in their statements; in doing such things, you are actually looking at the whole thing from the top, and staring wide-eyed only at the surface appearance of their infighting, and by necessity you will be limited to playing the role of the permanent pen-wielding critic of the policies of those upstairs, without giving any space or chance to communism as a positive idea to be constructed.
From the point of view of the people’s movement and its inventiveness, the separation of a segment of the rulers and its alignment alongside the people’s demands is a non-negligible victory.
Without having any illusions about this segment or its historical background, this victory should be protected. Otherwise, and by proposing ideas about the class nature of this segment and by repeating hasty misreadings of the separating line between ‘proletariat’ and ‘bourgeois’, you would be underestimating the present force of the people’s movement.
Instead of this petty-bourgeois incredulity, turn to organizing the labor forces, turn to expanding the struggle among the poor and the workers, disseminate awareness among the people based on tangible given demands, get to work alongside them for formulating concrete and relevant demands, and thereby acknowledge yourself as part of a common cause.
B. The relationship between the people and the communist activists and intellectuals is not one of a passive ‘addressee’ and an active ‘agent’. A lot of friends in the Iranian left seem unable to inspire confidence. They are trapped in intellectual labyrinths, in which workers or poor people can not recognize themselves, and at times they produce road maps such as would befit those by parties boasting millions of members. For communists, the dialectic of addressing is a complex one.
If an intellectual or an activist has more time to read and think, this does not make them a popular movement’s engineer or an expert on budgeting and planning for the people’s movement. This type of engineer-like thinking among the left has its own reasons. But, what is important here is that, the people, when in a struggle or when voicing slogans in a demonstration, are both ‘addressees’ and ‘agents’.
Every time we address the people, it is because we want to make their own voices heard, and to make possible their right to address all.
This important fact must be present in the very first words that we utter publicly. This means that if we voice a slogan, it must express a demand that is achievable even though it appears for now impossible, and is based on a responsible examination of reality and real capacities of social forces; meaning, our slogans are consistently a minimal expression that can embrace a maximum of imaginable objectives, not a blind maximalism that bears no relation to the real conditions.
This means that our slogans are part of the collective understanding and our enthusiasm a co-conspirator in the plans that the people, before us, have forged against the dominant grammar of power. “Do not fear, do not fear; We are all together here!” This slogan engages in no exaggerations, nor does it encourage any singular voice, and is not vague, either. It is effective and encouraging, and paves the way.
This togetherness of all for a common claim beyond the governmental powers and the media discourse is a thousand times more radical and revolutionary than using worn out clichés. This inventiveness of the people is the source of strength for the communists. Please do not say that you would separate out and arrange two camps facing each other, and that “co-presence of all” is a bourgeois slogan. That is not the case.
In its best form, capitalism can only guarantee the wellbeing of a minority among the millions of people deprived of their rights. ‘All’ is both the ‘addressee’ and the ‘addresser’, a historical moment that extends beyond the limits of capitalism; class struggle signifies that a certaingroup, as a social class, stands on the way of this progression.
To misread Marx, Lenin and others is worse than not reading them at all. That which is encouraging for our young forces, is their objectively better possibility of success, compared to the period of 1978-1981. The weakness and the scatteredness of the leftist militants from the 1978 revolution, at this moment can be a positive point for the creation of new communist forces that have learned from the past, and stand alongside the people to solve crucial problems of the movement, using their ideas and without concepts that are estranged from our lived experience.
I will end this note with a reminder: one of the best articles about the conditions of realization of historical demands of the 1978 revolution was written by the reformist thinker Sa’eed Hajjarian, published a few days before the [June 12, 2009] elections.
Hajjarian’s thesis, in a reference to Rosa Luxembourg’s slogan, ‘Socialism or Barbarity’, was that in today’s Iran, the choice is between barbarity and civility. We must read this thesis correctly, meaning with the opposite intention of the writer. You have the best chance of success, because the Iranian Revolution at each new phase, each time clearer than before, shows that socialism, or better to say communism, is the only possible civility for the future of a free Iran.
If we do not act thoughtfully and intelligently, tomorrow we will end up looking blindly for the spent shells after shooting those bullet-less guns; something that some left-leaning friends have been busy doing for too many years.