Ten months after a ‘revolution’ which accomplished the great feat of setting up an even more anachronistic regime than the one before it, the situation in Iran has forcefully returned to the centre of world affairs, giving rise to a tidal-wave of curses against the ‘barbarism’ of Iranians and Muslims, and of alarmist predictions about the threat of war or economic catastrophe. In the midst of all this noise and furor, so complacently spread around by the mass media, it’s necessary for revolutionaries to look at the situation clearly and in particular to answer the following questions:
1. What does the seizure of hostages in the American embassy tell us about the internal situation in Iran?
2. What impact does this operation and this situation have on the world situation, in particular:
*** -- what are the big powers playing at?
*** -- is there really a danger of an armed conflict?
3. What lessons can be drawn from it about the general perspectives facing society in the next decade?
1. The taking of diplomatic personnel as hostages by a legal government is a sort of ‘first’ even in the agitated world of contemporary capitalism. The taking of hostages in itself is a common occurrence in the convulsions of a decadent capitalism: in all inter-imperialist confrontations entire populations can fall victim to this without causing any anxiety to the international community of imperialist brigands. The particularity and ‘scandalous’ character of what’s been going on in Teheran resides in the fact that this has upset the elementary rules of etiquette which these brigands have established.
Just as it’s the golden rule in the world of gangsters to keep quiet in front of the police, so respect for diplomats is the golden rule of the leaders of capitalism. The fact that the leaders of Iran have adopted or sanctioned the kind of behavior that is generally reserved to ‘terrorists’ speaks volumes about the level of political decomposition in this country.
In fact, since the departure of the Shah, the ruling class of Iran has shown itself incapable of ensuring the most elementary level of political stability. The near-unanimity which was achieved by the forces of opposition against the bloody and corrupt dictatorship to the Shah has rapidly disintegrated, owing to:
*** -- the heterogeneous nature of the social forces fighting against the old regime;
*** -- the completely anachronistic character of the new regime, which bases itself on medieval ideological themes;
*** -- the inability of the regime to give any satisfaction to the economic demands of the poorest strata, in particular the working class;
*** -- the significant weakening of the armed forces, which were partly decapitated after the
fall of the Shah, and in which demoralization and desertion are becoming rife.
In just a few months, opposition to the government has developed to the point of totally undermining the cohesion and the economic base of the social edifice. This includes:
*** -- the opposition from the ‘liberal’ and modern sectors of the bourgeoisie;
*** -- the secession of the Kurdish provinces;
*** -- the resurgence of proletarian struggles which are more and more threatening what is almost the only source of the country’s wealth: the production and refining of oil.
Faced with the general decomposition of society, the leaders of the ‘Islamic Republic’ have gone back to the theme which managed to achieve an ephemeral unity ten months ago: hatred for the Shah and for the power which supported him until his overthrow and is now harboring him. Whether the occupation of the American embassy was ‘spontaneous’ or was wanted by the ‘hardline’ Iranian leaders (Khomeini, Bani-Sadr) doesn’t alter the fact that the bugbear of the Shah has -- like the fascist bugbear in other circumstances -- been used to re-establish a momentary ‘national unity’, expressed by:
*** -- the cease-fire of the Kurdish nationalists;
*** -- the banning of strikes by the ‘Council of the Revolution’.
But in the long run the remedy chosen by Khomeini and Co will make things worse than ever and show that the present ruling team is in an impasse: by choosing a political and economic confrontation with the USA, it can only end up by aggravating the internal situation, especially on the economic level.
2. The convulsions which are now shaking Iran are a new illustration of:
a. the gravity of the present crisis of world capitalism, expressing itself in increasingly profound and frequent political crises in the advanced countries, and, in the backward countries, in the almost total decomposition of the social body;
b. the impossibility of any real national independence for the under-developed countries: either they must align themselves tamely behind one bloc or the other, or they will be plunged into such instability and economic chaos that they will sooner or later be forced to tow the line in the same way: it’s impossible to see Iran under the Imam Khomeini succeeding where De Gaulle’s France and Mao’s China failed.
3. Contrary to all the alarmist rumors, the present convulsions in Iran are not giving rise to the immediate threat of a major military confrontation in the region. The essential reason for this is that, despite the whole anti-American campaign being conducted by Khomeini, there is no possibility today of Iran going over to the Russian bloc. As has been shown many times in the past, notably in the Cyprus affair of 1974, the difficulties and instability that may arise in a country within the US bloc, in so far as they weaken the cohesion of the bloc, may be a generally favorable factor for Russia, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Russians are in a position to really take advantage of the situation. At the present moment, the USSR, which is already having great difficulties with the Muslim guerillas in Afghanistan and which has to bear in mind the possible threat of nationalist agitation among its own Muslim populations, is not in a position to get its hands on a country which is being swept by the ‘Islamic wave’. This is all the more evident when we consider that there is no political force in Iran capable of leading the country into the Russian bloc (the CP is weak and the army is well controlled by the US bloc).
4. For some months the situation in Iran has been getting out of the US control. The US made the mistake of supporting for too long a regime that was completely discredited, even in the eyes of most of the ruling class; this led to the failure of its last-minute attempts to achieve a smooth transition to a more ‘democratic’ regime (in the person of Bakhtiar) capable of dampening down popular discontent. Once the army began to fall apart in February 1979, this transition took place in a heated atmosphere, in favor of a political force which was momentarily the most ‘popular’ but which in the long run is the least capable of managing Iranian capital in a lucid and effective manner. At the present time we are seeing a new stage in the US bloc’s efforts to regain control of the Iranian situation: after the failure of the ‘progressive’ solution represented by Bazargan, it’s now letting the local situation go to pieces. Like the declaration of war on the US and the European powers by the Venezuelan dictator Gomez in the 1930s, the Iranian decision to declare not just a ‘holy war’ but an economic war on the US is truly suicidal: the interruption of trade between Iran and the US may cause minor perturbations for the latter, but it will condemn Iran to economic strangulation. The US policy therefore boils down to letting the present regime stay in the impasse which its now reached, allowing it to isolate itself from the various sectors of society, so that it can pick the fruit when it’s ripe, replacing the Khomeini clique with another governmental team, which would have to have the following characteristics:
*** -- being more conciliatory towards the US;
*** -- being more capable of controlling the situation;
*** -- having the support of the army (if it’s not the army itself), seeing that the army is crucial to the political life of all third world countries.
Without pushing the analogy too far, it’s probable that Iran will go through a similar process as Portugal did. Here political instability and the preponderance of a party that was hostile to the USA (the PCP) -- the result of the late and brutal transition from a completely discredited dictatorship -- were eliminated following pressure from the US bloc on the diplomatic and economic level.
5. There is every reason to suppose that this trial of strength between Iran and the USA, far from representing a weakening of the American bloc, will serve to strengthen it. Apart from the fact that it will sooner or later allow the US to get a firmer grip on the Middle East situation, it will constrain the western powers (Europe, Japan) to strengthen their allegiance to the leading country of the bloc. This allegiance has been somewhat disturbed recently by the fact that these powers were (apart from the backward non-oil producing countries) the main victims of the oil price-rises underhandedly encouraged by the USA (cf. International Review, no.19). The present crisis highlights the fact that these powers are much more dependent on Iranian oil than America. This compels them to close ranks behind their leader and collaborate in its efforts to stabilize this part of the world. The relatively moderate way that these powers (notably France) have condemned Khomeini shouldn’t delude us: if they didn’t tie their hands straight away, it’s because this will leave them better placed to make a contribution -- especially on the diplomatic level -- to the US bloc regaining control of the situation. As we’ve already seen in Zaire, for example, one of the strengths of this bloc is its ability to have its less ‘compromised’ members intervene in situations where the dominant power itself is unable to act directly.
6. While one of America’s objectives in the present crisis is to strengthen the international cohesion of its bloc; another, even more important objective is to whip up a war psychosis. Never has the misfortune of fifty American citizens caused so much concern to the mass media, the politicians and the churches. A torrent of war hysteria like this hasn’t been seen for a long time; it’s even reached the point where the government, which orchestrated the campaign in the first place, is now playing the role of moderator. Faced with a population that has traditionally not been favorable to the idea of foreign intervention, a population which was only mobilized for world war by the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and which has been markedly cool towards adventures of this kind since the Vietnam war, the ‘barbarous’ acts of the ‘Islamic Republic’ have been an excellent theme for the war campaigns of the American bourgeoisie. Khomeini has found the Shah to be an excellent bugbear to use for re-forging the unity of the nation. Carter -- whether, as it would seem, he deliberately provoked the present crisis by letting the Shah into the States, or whether he’s merely using the situation -- has found Khomeini to be an equally useful bugbear in his efforts to reinforce national unity at home and get the American population used to the idea of foreign intervention, even if this doesn’t happen in Iran. The difference between these two maneuvers is the fact that the first is an act of desperation and is going to quickly rebound on its promoters, whereas the second is part of a much more lucid plan by American capital.
The USA isn’t the only country to use the present crisis to mobilize public opinion behind preparations for imperialist war. In Western Europe, with themes adapted to the local situation, the whole barrage about the ‘Arab’ or ‘Islamic’ peril (similar to the old ‘Yellow Peril’) being the source of the crisis, is part of the same kind of preparations, the same kind of war psychosis.
As for the USSR, even if, for the reasons that we’ve seen, it isn’t trying to exploit the situation from the outside, it is trying to respond to the western campaign about ‘human rights’ by denouncing the ‘imperialist threats’ of the USA and proclaiming its solidarity with the anti-American sentiments of the Iranian masses.
7. Even if it’s reached a caricatural level in Iran, as in all the under-developed countries, the decomposition of Iranian society is by no means a local phenomenon. On the contrary, the virulence of the ideological campaigns being waged by the main powers indicates that the bourgeoisie everywhere is up against the wall; that it’s more and more taking refuge in a headlong flight towards a new imperialist war; and that it feels the masses’ lack of enthusiasm for its warlike objectives as a major obstacle to its plans.
For revolutionaries, the task is once again:
*** -- to denounce all these ideological campaigns, wherever they come from, whatever mottoes they use (human rights, anti-imperialism, the Arab menace, etc.), and whoever their promoters are -- right or left, east or west;
*** -- to insist that humanity’s only alternative to a new holocaust, the only way to avoid its own destruction, is the intensification of the proletarian offensive and the overthrow of capitalism.
28 November, 1979, ICC.