More than a hundred years ago now, Iranians were as loudly
as now present in the streets demanding constitutional governance, freedom from
random harassment by the state and a legitimate representational system.
In 1906, as a result of that national surge, demanding true
legitimacy from the rulers, Iran established the first parliament on the Asian
continent, and forced an absolutist monarchy into accepting a constitutional
rule by a parliament chosen by the people.
That parliamentary system, by 1920, had been overthrown by
Reza Shah, and an absolutist dictatorship was reestablished, which in turn was
overturned by the people by the close of 1940s, and by 1951 the people had
regained their relative sovereignty. In 1953, that too was overthrown by a coup
carried out by the CIA against our popularly elected prime minister, Dr.
Mossadegh, and the second phase of the Palhavi dictatorship ensued, which
lasted until 1978.
Ever since the establishment of theocracy in 1979, we have
witnessed repeated occurrences of mass uprisings in Iran. The last major wave
was in 1999, led by university students, and swiftly crushed by the government
(at the time headed by a �reformist,� Khatami).
So, throughout the twentieth century, as a nation we did not
stop grappling with the hugely complex social problem of legitimacy of the
state, as different dictatorships arose and established themselves as newer,
more effective machineries of oppression, and as we struggled against them.
That fight continues today.
When reality happens in equally painful and delightful
leaps, such as we are witnessing now, and as it speeds right past rigid minds
standing by with gaping mouths, mouthing knee-jerk, reflexive thoughts not
considered at all, we salute reality!
And hope we can keep up.
* * * * *
One left-seeming analysis being presented about the election
results in Iran is the �class analysis,� epitomized by a few articles that have
appeared in recent days (no names necessary, since that makes things personal,
and I�m trying to keep it political here). I even heard the �class analysis�
[sic] used on BBC! BBC�s approach was actually not too different from those
presented by some on the U.S. left.
Real class analysis looks for and explains historical and materialist trends in a society (�materialist� meaning here,
containing real-social substance); all else is superficial journalism.
Not taking into account Iran�s complex social history at
all, and amazingly enough not even considering the very context of a theocratic
setup as relevant, superficial journalism�s entire argument is constructed on a
presupposition never examined: that Iran is just another regular country, with
a generally democratic-looking system, with its own peculiar way of holding
elections, which we must respect, run as best as they can (of course, they have
problems, but who doesn�t?); but, all in all, there�s regular opportunity for
people to express their choices, just like in the U.S. (and, God knows, they
have deep problems of their own with democracy). So, no matter how disappointed
the losers in the Iranian elections, they simply �should bite the bullet,� and
At least eight people (some
reports from inside Iran, claim 32) have indeed taken bullets. These are
peaceful, unarmed demonstrators, shot dead (and there are video clips to prove
this, thanks to the resourcefulness of our people) by sharp shooters from
windows overlooking streets where peaceful demonstrations were being attacked
by plainclothes government vigilantes breaking up massive spontaneous, again,
peaceful demonstrations expressing outrage at an excessively oppressive machine
that had just stolen their votes in broad daylight.
Why the need for attacking peaceful demonstrations, if the
elections were truly won cleanly? Why the need to arrest and detain hundreds of
people, of political leaders and intellectuals of the reformist camp? Why the need
to disrupt communications?
But, I am digressing.
Along with the �bite the bullet� attitude, some analysis
must be presented, of course, since we are writing a political piece. So, let�s
see what it is. It is claimed that, first of all, Ahmadinejad got exactly the
same proportion of votes as he did last time, in 2005, when he beat Hashemi
Rafsanjani. But, since that�s the only historical reference looked up by lazy
journalism, all the social changes that have happened between then and now lose
their significance in the accounts of superficial observers.
A crucial thing missed here is that back then, too, there
were loud claims of vote rigging against Ahmadinejad, who had been greatly
helped by the Revolutionary Guards and the Basijs disciplined mobilization for
vote getting. Those complaints died out eventually. But, from right after the
2005 elections, it became clear to Iran observers that major political
maneuvering had begun between, on the one hand, the elite siding with the
powerful Hashemi Rafsanjani and, on the other, those siding with the
conservatives aligned with Khamenei, whose front man is Ahmadinejad. In this
year�s elections, Hashemi Rafsanjani lent his political weight to the
reformists, who (just like the Democrats in the U.S.) are the only ones with
realistic, if not the best, chances of inspiring large participation in the
It was for these very reasons that the reformist factions
knew very well that major vote rigging would be tried again. If it could be
done twice in the U.S., it sure as hell could be done twice in Iran. And for
these very reasons, for months before the election day, the reformists had
studied well the procedures in place, looking for flaws, had found plenty, and
had proposed remedies aplenty, all of which had been turned down. So, going
into the ring, they knew they were stepping into a fixed match.
Ahmadinejad�s camp, sure enough, was prepared, both for the
ballot-casting day, and for the lead-up. They used the first-ever, live TV
debates between presidential candidates in Iran the same way a sensationalist
lawyer would in some courtroom scene in a TV series. Picture a closing
presented in a case looking bleakly headed south; lawyer strikes out by
throwing a complete and utter Hail Mary pass, espousing the most astonishing
stories, filled with accusations and innuendoes, muddying the water to the nth
degree, making it all sound like he really didn�t want to say any of this, but
was forced to reveal the truth, no matter how rude, for justice must be served.
And we saw how they conducted the actual �elections.� (For
those interested in facts: even Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, the most senior
cleric in Iran, a huge, lifelong fan of theocracy, came out in defense of the
opposition, stating that nobody in their right mind would believe the announced
To get back to the class analysis thing . . . For the �class�
part of the analysis, it is stated that Ahmadinejad�s constituency, beyond the
ideological armed forces of Revolutionary Guards and the Basijis, consists of
the working class, the peasantry and the poor; in short, the way more numerous
classes. In other words, in this highly simplistic picture, ALL the Iranian
working classes, all the peasants, and all the poor were unanimously behind
This is a very improbable claim. Its TV version was backed
by repeated loops of reportage by CNN and BBC type of news agencies, right
before the elections, when their film crews were sent to a few rural spots that
had benefited from the Ahmadinejad government�s handouts, displaying enthusiasm
for him. These scenes from a handful of villages, in a country whose rural
population adds up to about 33 percent of 70 million people, are definitely not
representative of the larger picture of rural Iran.
The real rural
Iran is beset by desperation, more than anything else, and most likely can�t be
bothered with any such niceties as �elections� (Iran�s rural population has
historically been very deeply apolitical). Due to government mismanagement,
consistent over the 30 years of this regime�s existence, farming infrastructure
has been deteriorating steadily, leading to a huge migration from the country
to the city. In the past 30-year period, the urban-to-rural ratios have exactly
During the same period, the population of Iran has grown
very rapidly also; it literally doubled from 35 million to 70 million. Yet,
another factor: all these demographic transformations were occurring in a
country, whose government relies on the sale of oil as a main source of revenue
(more than 50 percent of its income; I�ll explain why this is important,
Add another historical-transformational trend: with the rise
of theocracy by 1979, and considering that the mullahs are tightly allied with
the merchant (bazaari) classes, the
overall stewardship of the national economy was transferred from the hands of
the industrial to that of the commercial bourgeoisie. Consequently, commerce,
buying and selling, instead of production, has become the more significant
economic activity. Except for military (and related) industries, of course.
Successive governments have consistently invested well. But,
just about all other branches of industrial capital, mostly private, have not
had an easy time of developing; definitely not nearly as rapidly as the population growth coupled with rural-urban
migration would require, in order to maintain a stable employment level and to
have some, even if modest, economic growth rate.
Remember that oil, as an industry, is not labor intensive at
all; it is highly capital intensive. So, though it brings in the dough for the
state, as an industry it doesn�t employ a significant workforce. (In any event,
most oil workers in Iran enjoy a very healthy tradition of leftist thinking and
have proven their progressive mettle in many historical battles. You can bet
they are not deluded on a mass scale.)
The socio-historical trends mentioned above (the doubling of
the population, plus the mass migration from rural to urban areas, plus a much
lowered rate of development of labor-employing industries) all add up to a huge
number of buyers and sellers of lots of things, haggling constantly, hustling
endlessly; and, much more importantly, this has led to endemically excessive
rates of part-time employment and underemployment, creating a situation in
which millions of people must weave at least two, three (at times more) jobs,
just to keep their head above water, just to make a living. All of which
becomes much more painful under hellish inflation rates, which shot up rapidly
during Ahmadinejad�s rule.
Now add to that already socially heady mix the insults
thrown in by a highly intrusive dictatorship that claims to hold power and
authority over your most private acts, and what you get is a lot of very hard
working people who can get really pissed off very easily, and very quickly. Do
you see where this is going?
Now, let�s bring it back to the elections. The situation in
Iran has changed dramatically in the four years of Ahmadinejad�s presidency.
The world in general has changed dramatically in four years. The economic
situation in Iran has gotten far worse, not only because of Ahmadinejad�s
mismanagement (which has no doubt had its effects), but also intensified by all
the above-mentioned trends, plus the effects of the sanctions, and all of these
within a worldwide depression of the last two years.
But, and this is important, the economic deterioration
during Ahmadinejad�s first term occurred in a time of very high oil income for
the government, making it more difficult to explain away the economic troubles
as general results of the world depression. In the four years of Ahmadinejad�s presidency, Iranian state income was
nearly twice as much (in oil
revenues) as it was during Khatami�s eight
So, a majority of the Iranians were quite rightly very
disillusioned with Ahmadinejad�s mismanagement. No amount of radical sounding
rhetoric can hide these things. No wonder then that he felt compelled to hand
out potatoes to the abject poor, to avert starvation. But his sacks of potato,
or insurance for the rural poor, as welcome and necessary and popular as they
are (even if they didn�t cover everybody in need), are mere Band-Aids on a
shotgun wound after the horse is dead.
* * * * *
We come to the final element to be considered, when
providing a �class analysis� of the Iranian political life: The most
class-conscious, the most politically active of the Iranian working classes,
are by far the most anti-government. How do we know this? We know this because
they invariably end up in jail.
It is interesting that articles claiming to be presenting a �class
analysis� completely ignore the significance of all the jailed labor leaders in
Iran, and ignore the anti-labor posture consistently displayed by all
governments in Iran�s modern history: that the current government is
structurally anti-labor is well understood by those segments of Iran�s working
classes not ideologically in the service of the regime.
Why else would the government bother imprisoning a mere bus
driver, Mansoor Osanloo? (for his and others� info, see here) How much of
a political threat can a bus driver be? They are shaky foundations, indeed,
that tremble at the sight of organized bus drivers. Osanloo is the head of the
bus drivers� union in Tehran, and has been a political prisoner, in and out of
jail (currently in) for the past five years. That�s just one example. There are
lots more (and you can read about some of them, in Farsi, here, and here; if you can�t read
Farsi, find an Iranian friend).
The most organized of the working classes represent a
significant portion of the class of people affected most deeply and painfully
by a badly managed capitalist economy. This has political consequences. Vast
numbers of Iranian working people have turned apathetic, and simply do not
participate in the political machinations of the system. When they do participate
in significant numbers, as was the case in these last elections, it is because
they see a realistic chance for using the differences between the rulers, for
opposing the establishment candidate, and perhaps winning some concessions from
this oppressive system; demands that are likely to inspire participation among
the lower middle classes and the middle classes.
Incidentally, the so-called �middle classes� are working
classes. They are simply more likely to be the better educated, better paid part
of the working classes. That�s all. The fact that the word �middle class� was
invented by Americans to suppress the perception of actual existence of classes
in North America is something to be studied in its own place, but, as somebody
said once, �A rose is a rose by any name.�
So the most fundamental distinction to bear in mind is that
those segments of the working classes who do
participate in the electoral process in Iran are by no means representatives of
a homogenized class, and thankfully cannot automatically be assumed as
representing all the working classes, all the peasants and all the poor.
Just like all other classes in Iran, the working classes are
also divided in many ways: between believers (in theocracy) and secularists,
between supporters of the system and opponents of the system, between the
different camps of the system, and our working classes too contain large
segments of non-participants and non-believers who occasionally like to show up
and cast protest votes.
And another thing, just because somebody is from the working
class (in any country) does not mean they are universal angels, and whatever
they exhale is divine. Remember that the European fascists� most numerous
support-base was among the working classes. And the American leftists should be
well familiar with the phenomenon known as �Reagan Democrats�; i.e., white
working class people who voted against their class interest.
* * * * *
The one crucial thing to bear in mind is that these �elections�
would not be called elections by anybody in the American left, if those exact
electoral procedures -- complete with the allegiance to the Bible as the
requirement to participate -- were replicated in the U.S., overseen by a
government run by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell (yes, back from the dead) and
their amalgamated gang of the American televangelists, and their social support
networks and vigilantes. If you can do the mental switch and still find that
you have no problem participating in such Christian evangelist-conducted �elections,�
then go ahead and call the Iranian �elections� elections. Call it a horse, for
all I care.
The reality is that the situation in Iran has by now moved
beyond the technicalities of the electoral procedures; the people�s move has
forced the situation into one of a crisis of legitimacy for the regime.
The Iranian people sensed a deep fracture within the ruling
establishment -- something that was clearly expressed in astonishing language
and tone, in the televised-for-the-first time live debates between the
candidates -- and they have seized their chance to use the divide between their
rulers to their own advantage.
The people may have taken to the streets under the excuse of
the elections, and may have been encouraged by the rhetoric of the �reformist�
camp in favor of some breathing room in the suffocating political and cultural
atmosphere imposed on them, but they have forced the debate further. They are
openly, and in millions across the country, questioning the legitimacy of the
establishment, represented at the moment by Ahmadinejad. The people, in short,
have moved beyond Mousavi and the reformists, but are still willing to go along
with the tactics formulated by reformist leaders; for the moment.
We will see how things unfold. Most likely, a heavy hand is
just around the corner, trying on some spiked gloves. For the time being,
though, hundreds of thousands of people in Iran are opting not to �bite the
bullet� and move on, but to make a movement and, even, take bullets. A much
more courageous stand that generates a lot more inspiration!
Reza Fiyouzat can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He keeps a blog at: revolutionaryflowerpot.blogspot.com.