The significance of the American raid on Iran
When society is in crisis, history seems to accelerate. In a few weeks, events which, when they took place, shook you to the core, seem like small and distant ephemera. After two months, the American raid on Iran of 24 April already seems to have been half-forgotten. However, the problems which it brought to light or underlined remain as important as ever:
-- the crucial role Iran plays in the strategic options of the US bloc;
-- the chaos which continues to reign in Iran: the inability of the legal authorities to solve the problem of the hostages is only one aspect of this chaos, which in turn expresses the general chaos the whole world is descending into;
-- the intensification of war preparations on the part of the imperialist blocs, notably the USA, whose raid on Iran had a significance that goes well beyond the events that are shaking that particular country: as a warning to the other bloc, as a way of tightening up the western bloc around its top nation, as a way of pursuing and intensifying the ideological barrage directed at the American population.
To the extent that it tries to shed light on these different problems, this statement adopted by the ICC following the American raid, retains its contemporary interest despite the fact that it is somewhat ‘dated' on certain events, notably concerning what is happening in Iran.
With the US raid on 24 April into Iran, this country was once more placed at the centre of the international political game, as was the threat of world war. Leaving aside all the foggy campaigns put about by the bourgeoisie and its mass media, it is important that revolutionaries and the working class have a clear idea of:
-- the true objectives of the US bourgeoisie;
-- the situation which led to the event, both in Iran and internationally.
A. The US campaign in Iran wasn't a fiasco. On the contrary, it was a success. You could speak of a fiasco if the objectives envisaged hadn't been achieved, but they were. These objectives were the following:
1. To point out to the Iranian bourgeoisie that the US wasn't inclined to put up with the anarchy reigning in its country for a long time.
2. To point out to the other countries in the bloc that an active solidarity was expected from them, not only as regards Iran, but as regards all the problems which confront the USA and its bloc on the international scene.
3. To point out to Russia that faced with this country's attempt to profit from the situation in order to enlarge its zone of influence, the US was determined not to tolerate another Kabul.
4. To reactivate at home the campaign of ‘national solidarity' already put into gear by the ‘discovery' of Russian troops in Cuba and considerably broadened by the taking of the hostages in Tehran and the invasion of Afghanistan.
Clearly if the objective of the US had been to free the hostages, then one could speak of a fiasco. On the other hand if the objectives had been those listed above, then we must speak of a success:
-- the Iranian bourgeoisie hasn't profited in any way from the raid to strengthen its anti-American campaign; on the contrary, the moderation of its response, leaving aside the mistakes made by the most fanatical and stupid elements of the clergy, indicated that they had received the message;
-- the governments of the major countries of the US bloc have all, without fail, given support to Carter after the American operation: it is interesting to note that it was the only point of agreement coming out of the recent summit of EEC countries in Luxemburg;
-- Russia, too, has shown great moderation in its condemnation of American ‘intrigues', contenting itself with denouncing Carter's irresponsibility, thus indicating that it had understood the warning which had been addressed to it;
-- a majority of the American population and the whole US political apparatus gave their support to Carter in spite of the official failure of the operation.
B. What are the reasons that make it necessary to consider these as the main objectives of the US bourgeoisie?
1. Iran constitutes an essential part of the strategic apparatus of the US bloc. First of all its importance as a producer of oil, one of the crucial factors of modern war, goes without saying. But it isn't the essential reason for its importance. The US bloc has considerable oil stocks at its disposal in Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Iraq (without taking into account that the Iranian oil-fields could, if necessary, be kept for the west by the intervention of Iraq). In fact, more important is the geographic position of this country:
-- which controls the Straits of Hormuz, the route for oil tankers;
-- which has a border of several thousand kilometers with Russia;
-- which constitutes an obstacle against Russia's progression towards the ‘warm seas', towards which taking control of Afghanistan was an important step.
All this gives Iran an exceptional importance to the US bloc and was the motive for providing it, at the time of the Shah, with one of the most powerful armies in the world.
The most important sectors of the Iranian bourgeoisie have always been conscious of this fact and of the interest they have in keeping their country within the US bloc rather than letting it become a satellite of Russia. Even at the most intense moments of anti-Americanism over these last months, the Iranian bourgeoisie hasn't given rise to any major political force favoring the Russian bloc. That is why the events in Iran and the conflict between this country and the US haven't constituted at any time an expression of the conflict between the major blocs; they have always been an internal affair of the US bloc. That, above all, is why the US hasn't intervened militarily up to now, preferring to make the greatest effort to take things in hand in a gradual, and therefore, more effective manner.
However, Iran can only assume its role as an essential pawn of America if it maintains a minimum of internal stability and a strong political power: its incapacity to play its role as policeman of the region was certainly not ignored in Russia's decision to invade Afghanistan.
But, since the fall of the Shah more than a year ago, Iran has been in a state of anarchy; since that date, it hasn't found any political force within it to take the situation in hand, to constitute a real power. Moreover it was because the US foresaw such a situation -- and not through blindness -- that it supported, practically right up to the last minute, a regime which was unanimously hated. Successively, Bakhtiar and then Bazargan failed in their attempts to put the country into order by taking into account both the national capital and the US bloc. In fact, the considerable weakening of the army because of is too-close ties with the Shah's regime -- the army being in general the only force that can exercise power in an underdeveloped country deprived Iranian capital of a political alternative. The Church has played its role as a force of mystification very well, but hasn't the competence to assume political power.
Me taking of the Tehran hostages:
-- by reforging a national unity badly threatened by nationalist revolts and class struggle,
-- by pointing out the impasse into which the most backward and fanatical sectors of the ruling class had dragged the country, and thus isolating them, could have marked the beginning of the situation being taken in hand to the benefit of the US. Bani-Sadr, representing after Bakhtiar and Bazargan, the most modern and lucid sectors of the national bourgeoisie but playing to a larger ‘popular' audience than his predecessors, was able to regain some order for the Americans. His election to the Presidency of the Republic constituted the first step in such a process, but it quickly became apparent that he was incapable of exercising a real authority over the whole of the ruling class, above all over the ecclesiastical sector. For the moment no real power exists in Iran: the legal, state apparatus is paralyzed as much by internal dissensions as by the actions of the numerous social and political forces which do not accept its authority:
-- the working class
-- national minorities
-- the Church
-- ‘Islamic' paramilitary forces (the ‘guardians the revolution') or the ‘Islamic' left (the modjahedin).
The working class has played a decisive role in the overthrow of the Shah's regime: it was its strikes in the Autumn of 1978 which by paralyzing the economic apparatus of the country gave the signal that it was time for the last forces supporting the Shah (namely the USA) to ‘release' him. Since then the different governments which have succeeded each other to head the ‘Islamic Republic' has not really managed to control the working class.
In the same way, national minorities, the Baluchis, the Arabs and especially the Kurds, have profited from the upheavals in Tehran in order to secede. So far successive efforts by the army and the ‘guardians of the revolution' haven't managed to liquidate the secession, despite repeated massacres.
Faced with these two forces of disintegration in the country, Iranian capital has found active support in the Shi'ite church and the ‘guardians of the revolution', who have excelled themselves in repression. But at the same time these forces have profited from their role in this repression in order to act on their own account over and above the legal power, of which the army, despite its disorganization and its internal tensions, would seem to be the only pillar. These divisions between the different sectors of the political apparatus of the country, ideological and military, have only, at the end of the day, encouraged the revolts of the national minorities and the class struggle. Setting the country in order on behalf of the national capital and of the US bloc requires first of all setting this apparatus in order, and that finally has to take place around the army and the industrial bourgeoisie.
Thus the message the US sent to the Iranian bourgeoisie through their operation is clear: "put your house in order, or else we will come and do it". And it seems that this message has begun to be understood, notably by Khomeini who has just authorized Bani-Sadr to nominate a new ministry as well as to take supreme command of all the ‘forces of order' and control of all the means of information (even if at the same time he is continuing to put a spoke in the wheel with his slogan of "Vote Islam"). Apparently weakened by the US raid, Bani-Sadr has come out, in fact, as one of its beneficiaries: that was one of the US' objectives.
2. Globally, since the beginning of the worsening of the economic contradictions of capitalism at the end of the sixties and of the worsening of inter-imperialist tensions which have come as a result of that, the US bloc has shown a good cohesion, tending to strengthen itself as the tensions became more sharp, and not to crumble, as some groups like the PIC (Pour Une Intervention Communiste) thought. If it has appeared to hold within it different diplomatic or military orientations, this was a result of the fact that:
-- the existence of blocs doesn't eliminate antagonistic interests, above all commercial ones, between the countries which comprise a bloc;
-- it is often easier for the bloc to carry out certain tasks through apparently ‘independent' countries (for example, the military and diplomatic interventions by France in Africa and the Middle East).
However, this ‘suppleness' of the US bloc, even though relative and limited, is less possible as inter-imperialist tensions worsen, with this exacerbation:
-- national interests must give way more and more to the general interests of the bloc, which to a large extent are identified with the national interests of the leader of the bloc. For example, the ‘bad temper' shown by some allies of the US when they saw that the US was in favor of oil price rises had to give way to a greater ‘discipline';
-- the use for the bloc of an apparent ‘independence' of some of its constituents, particularly effective on the diplomatic level, lessens and tends to become a handicap when the language of arms becomes necessary, to the degree that such an ‘independence' risks being seen, on the international level, as a lack of cohesion, a weakness of the bloc; on an internal level, such manifestations of ‘independence' can get in the way of the bloc's ideological campaigns.
This need for a greater cohesion of the bloc around its leader is necessitated by the new facts of the international situation, but wasn't, as far as the US was concerned, sufficiently perceived by all its allies, especially those who had to be coaxed into associating themselves with the commercial restrictions towards Russia and the boycott of the Olympic Games. This has been confirmed with the fracas of the American raid of 24 April. This operation underlined and concretized the determination of the US to assure a greater solidarity on the part of its allies, a determination which was expressed by Carter's declarations to four European television networks on 13 April. These were received with reticence by some European countries. The operation on 24 April, which contradicted America's assurance that it would not intervene militarily before mid-May, forced the allies up against the wall: on 28 April, at the Luxemburg summit, the nine "reaffirmed their solidarity with the government and the people of the United States". The second objective of the American raid was achieved.
3. When Russia invaded Afghanistan, it did so with the certainty that it wouldn't come up against the armed forces of the western bloc, a certainty which was above all based on the fact that the local policeman of this bloc, Iran, was paralyzed by internal convulsions. The US was obliged to place Afghanistan in the ‘losses' column of their balance-sheet but it was very important that this misadventure wasn't repeated. They had, therefore, to point out very clearly to Russia that they were also capable of carrying out military actions outside their borders, a thing they haven't done since the Vietnam war. In particular, they had to warn Russia very clearly that they wouldn't accept Russia abandoning the prudence it had shown up to now regarding Iran, and use the instability of this country to advance its own pawns. And this warning if it was to be taken seriously, had to be emphasized by a concrete demonstration of American determination: the intervention in Iran equally fulfilled this function. When on 9 May, Carter recalled his words of 23 January: "Any external attempt to take control of the area of the Gulf would be considered as an attack against the vital interests of the US and would be answered by any means, including arms" he was better placed to point out that his determination wasn't only verbal, that it wasn't a matter of impulse, but of a deliberate and resolute political and military choice.
4. Since November 1979, the American population has been subjected to a daily torrent of propaganda designed to prepare it for the military needs of its bourgeoisie, and in particular for the idea of a foreign intervention, an idea which has not been very popular since the Vietnam war. On the whole this operation has born fruit, but there were some discords when it came to playing the symphony composed by the maestro Carter:
-- reactions against registration for the draft;
-- persistence of workers' strikes.
In reality, the intensive propaganda put out by the whole media can't be effectively kept up for long, just as it can't make people permanently forget the harsh consequences of the crisis which is hitting the working class. However, the bourgeoisie will continue to relaunch these campaigns at regular intervals whenever there is a spectacular event.
After the hostages affair the American bourgeoisie exploited the invasion of Afghanistan up to the hilt (even if the importance of the stakes of this latter event goes much further than a simple ideological campaign) and deliberately cultivated anti-Russian feeling, notably through going on about the Olympic Games. But it was useful to flesh out this bellicose campaign by adding ‘deeds to words'. The American raid on Iran was advantageous in three ways:
-- to satisfy the sectors of the population who were demanding that ‘something be tried' to free the hostages;
-- to test how much the population would accept the idea of a foreign intervention;
-- to prepare the population not only in words but in practice for future, more important, interventions.
Although this operation looked like a pitiful fiasco, one can't hide from the fact that the principle behind it has, in the main, received the approval of the US population. Besides, this operation has provided the occasion to demonstrate and further strengthen the unity which exists within the US bourgeoisie on the problems of foreign policy. For example, none of Carter's presidential competitors have tried to gain from the ‘fiasco' by attacking it. On the contrary, we have seen a wonderful unanimity. So we should not see Cyrus Vance's resignation as a manifestation of political crisis. In reality, it is to do with the rigidity of US foreign policy as it moves towards a more and more bellicose and military orientation which isn't put into question by any major sector of the bourgeoisie. Vance, who is a certain type of political man, of a more diplomatic make-up couldn't personally carry that policy out.
C. In relation to the objectives which appear to be essential for the US and its bloc, the US raid of 24 April would therefore seem to be a remarkable success. However this operation is presented, almost unanimously as a ‘fiasco' to the extent that:
1. It didn't achieve its official objective: the freeing of the hostages.
2. It displays a weakness of the US army, both in its equipment and in its personnel, which affects the credibility of US military might in the eyes of the world.
3. It reinforces the image of Carter as a ‘loser', and this puts his re-election at risk.
1. It must be said that the US bourgeoisie cares nothing for the fate of the fifty hostages. On the contrary, up until now the taking of the hostages has served its purposes admirably (cf International Review, nos.20 & 21). For it, the question of the restitution of the hostages (insofar as it is at all interested) has the unique value of indicating the capacity of the official Iranian government to take control of the situation and of its policies towards the US: the day the hostages are returned, it would mean that the US could once more count on Iran as a part of its military game. In this sense, the freeing by force of the hostages would not only have deprived it of one of its most useful themes in its ideological campaign, it would equally have deprived the US government of this indicator. Further, if the expedition had reached Tehran, it would only have been able to free the hostages (those that were still alive that is) at the cost of a murderous slaughter, in particular of Iranians; and this wouldn't have made the regulation of the contentious relations between the US and Iran any easier. In any case, Carter in his spectacular declaration announcing the ‘failure' of the operation was insistent that Iranian blood would not have been spilt and that the intention of the operation was ‘simply humanitarian' and not aggressive towards Iran: the door .was thus left open for an amicable solution to the conflict. Thus the ‘failure' of the US raid was more profitable regarding the regaining of control over Iran by the US, than any ‘success' would have been.
2. Regarding the present ideological campaign of the US bloc, the ‘failure' of the raid was a very positive element: it totally reinforced the false argument that says that the US bloc is weaker than the Russian bloc. To feed a myth there must be a semblance of reality in it: on this level the US ‘fiasco' was a wonderful success. As for the ideas which the governments of the major countries of the world (allies as well as enemies) may form of the real power of the US, they are based on more serious elements than this event.
Thus even where it would appear as a failure, the operation mounted by the US government can be shown to be a success: even if one must be suspicious of a too Machiavellian interpretation of the gestures and deeds of the bourgeoisie, one can still say that the whole operation, which has been described as a failure, looks very much like a gigantic stage production. This is corroborated by:
-- the unconvincing nature of technical explanations for the ‘failure',knowing as we do the degree of perfection in American armaments;
-- the spectacular and dramatic aspect of the announcement of this ‘failure'.
As for the argument about Carter's image as a ‘loser', the facts don't bear it out:
-- in the first place, this image doesn't seem to have been really affected by this ‘fiasco', nor even have his chances of re-election;
-- in the second place, such an argument spreads the illusion that the policies of the bourgeoisie are still influenced by universal suffrage: when the US bourgeoisie decided to withdraw from Vietnam, it cheerfully sacrificed Johnson's re-election in 1968.
In fact, the US bourgeoisie is already familiar with this kind of ‘catastrophe' which is turned into a success. Just as it has been established that Roosevelt wanted the destruction of the US fleet in the Pacific in 1941 in order to entice the population and reticent sectors of the bourgeoisie into the war against Japan, perhaps one day we will learn that Jimmy Carter's little ‘Pearl Harbor' was a trick.
Whatever the degree of authenticity of the US operation on Iran, it is important to underline that it reveals the following facts about the present international situation:
-- a very clear new sharpening of the bellicose orientation of American politics: if Carter was shown from the very beginning as the man for preparing for war with his ‘preachings' and ‘human rights', today he has amply confirmed this orientation; from now on Russia will no longer have the quasi-monopoly of military expeditions. After having essentially based itself on its economic power, US imperialism will more and more base itself on its military power;
-- a further worsening of inter-imperialist tensions (even if Iran isn't today a direct focus for them) .
More than ever revolutionaries must highlight and denounce these war preparations and make it an element of propaganda in their task of participating in the development of class consciousness.
 The recent freeing by the British SAS of the Iranian diplomats taken hostage in their Embassy in London, which got the British government the thanks of Bani-Sadr, constitutes the ‘positive' aspect of this message, an expression of the ‘good will' of the western bloc.