Response to Internationalist Voice on strikes in Iran

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This article, written by a close sympathiser, examines a contribution by the group Internationalist Voice on the strengths and weaknesses of recent workers’ struggles in Iran. While these struggles are extremely important, we think that there has been a tendency among certain parts of the proletarian milieu to overestimate the level of self-organisation in this movement, even implying that soviets were on the immediate agenda. We will return to this question in other articles. Meanwhile, Internationalist Voice has also produced a long polemic with the ICC in response to articles we have published on the street protests erupted in Iran, Iraq and Jordan in 2017-18. This text can be found on our discussion forum We will reply to this in due course.


On the ICC's discussion page website there's a text from the proletarian political group Internationalist Voice in the slot dated January 29, titled "Lessons from strikes, labour struggles and internationalist tasks"[1]. The main focus of this text is the class struggle in Iran over the last few decades and particularly over the last year or two. But as the title suggests the text poses wider and deeper issues and questions. It is a text we welcome as a contribution to a discussion on the current necessities of the class struggle.

Internationalist Voice defends a proletarian perspective

Before we go onto the specifics of Iran it's important to say that the whole of the text uses a communist analysis in which to frame those specifics: the irresolvable and fundamental economic crisis of capitalism (and not its "... imperfect and corrupt expressions") necessitating its revolutionary overthrow; the vanguard role of revolutionaries preparing for the revolutionary party - an absolute necessity for a revolution; a crystal clear analysis of the trade unions, once bodies and expressions of the working class in the rise of capitalism, now organisations that are firmly the expressions of state capitalism. No equivocation here about the unions being "negotiators" between capital and labour, but a concrete demonstration of how what were once workers' organisations were turned by the bourgeoisie after World War I into very effective organs of ideological and material state repression against the workers. This is what they have been ever since and it's the strength of IV's analysis of capitalist decadence that gives them their strong theoretical basis for its development. And also from this basis there are further positions on the role of imperialism in the Middle East and globally that we would have no hesitation in agreeing with.

On Iran itself, the text lays out some of the developments in the Iranian state since the mass workers' strikes of 1978, the fall of the Shah and the taking of power by an Islamic theocracy in 1979, directly leading to the subsequent defeat of the wave of struggles. It details the capitalist nature of the Mullah's regime, its inability to provide jobs or adequate living conditions, its imperialist nature and its utter ruthlessness and Machiavellianism when faced with workers' independent struggles. IV rightly emphasise the developing intensity of the workers' struggles over the past couple of years, the tendencies for self-organisation, the simultaneity of struggles, the will for extension and solidarity between different enterprises in struggle (even if they remained largely symbolic), the waning influence of the religious leaders (a phenomenon across the Middle East in workers' struggles), the involvement of women in the struggle and the protests, the involvement of students in following the workers' strikes, and the way the strikes and the bourgeoisie's ugly reaction to them brought workers, their comrades and families onto the streets in protest[2]. IV make the interesting point that it is this very class struggle and its development that has helped to hold  back  Iran’s war drive  and has at least contributed to Iran not suffering the same fate as Syria, which at one time seemed a distinct possibility. Faced with a permanent war economy, with all its consequences, both material (scarcity of goods, inflation, repression etc) and ideological (incessant nationalist campaigns) it is extremely important that the resistance of the proletariat in Iran continues. With the sharpening of imperialist tensions between Iran and the USA, this capacity of the workers to resist will face even bigger challenges in the coming period. 

Some questions on the class struggle

 We do however have some questions about IV's analyses of some important elements of class struggle as it's unfolding in Iran. Among its long list of workers involved in escalating strikes, teachers, truckers, steelworkers, miners, etc., are the bus workers and their “workers' syndicate” which IV assesses is an independent workers' organisation ("with all its ups and downs"). There’s no doubt that its members have  been involved in the struggle for better conditions, for the release of arrested workers and against repression, but its "semi-legal" position does not make it a dynamic, independent force for the struggle and we think it's important to be clear about this. The syndicate has existed for a number of years, originally from the self-organisation and assemblies of the class; but its dubious position as a functioning trade union opens it up to getting involved in such mystifications as the International Labour Organisation. Its delegates have had "worthwhile meetings" with ILO officials in Paris 2018 (they were allowed to leave Iran) which were fronted by the French trade unions, the CGT and CDFT, "with a view to meeting class demands in Iran". None of this gives any indication of a genuine independent, autonomous organisation of the workers from and for the struggle. What there seems to be here is a familiar story - what was once a workers' committee, or the remnants of it, which can't see a way forward and thus gets trapped in a semi-legal union framework.

We have similar reservations about the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company Workers' Council, which has received a lot of international publicity, even giving rise to speculations about the existence of “soviets” in Iran today.  We think that more research is needed about the origins of this organ – was it initially a spontaneous factory committee on the model of the “shuras” that arose in the massive struggles of 1978-9, or was it essentially a creation of another union type body? In any case, we know that it has also been around for several years and that, even more so than the bus syndicate, it now seems to be propagating illusions in self-management. One of its leaders, Ismail Bakhshi, writes in November 2018: "Have confidence, believe in yourself. We can manage the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company. It is my wish that, one day, we can manage the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company”. Bakhshi gives two options to the workers: "the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company is completely manned by the workers. We will set up a committee and run the company on a consultative basis. Do not be worried. We have all the skills. Until today, who has run the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company? Have confidence, believe in yourself. We can manage the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company. It is my wish that, one day, we can manage the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company." The second option that Bakhshi gives is that the government takes over the company and should "work under the supervision of the workers' council". In sum, he says, "this plan (the setting-up of the council) looks like a supervisory organization, and it monitors the performance and durability of these managers. We can then decide on the company’s management. Haft Tappeh is a small symbol of Iran".

Elsewhere in its text Internationalist Voice puts forward a clear position on the trap that self-management presents for the workers, saying that it was "utopian during the infancy of the working class" and is now economically and politically destructive to it. But it should really be applying its analysis more consistently to the current situation. Self-management is a dangerous dead-end, not only because it can only offer workers the chance to manage their own exploitation, but, more importantly, because it has in the past been used during massive upsurges of the class struggle to trap the workers in their factories and prevent them from creating real soviets – organs which can unify the whole class across sectional divisions and establish a “dual power” against the capitalist state. This was precisely the critique that Bordiga made of Gramsci’s Ordino Nuovo group in Italy in 1920, which played the role of cheerleader for the factory occupations in Turin and other industrial centres. .

At the same time,  Bakhshi offers us a corrective to some of the more extravagant claims made about soviets already being formed in Iran: "When we say that the independent workers’ council was formed in the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company, some think that this council is the same as the final council, which has reached the highest level. No! We are just beginning and it takes time for even the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company workers themselves to understand what the work of the council is...".

The problem here is that Bakhshi, who unquestionably emerged as a very courageous militant of the class and has suffered the most brutal repression at the hands of the Iranian police and hired thugs, is now contributing to the general confusion about what workers’ councils are and what they are not, in particular by putting forward the idea that the future soviets can be the next stage in the life of a permanent and trade unionist organ. To fight against this confusion demands a particular kind of courage – the courage that goes along with swimming against the stream to defend a clear proletarian position, which in the end can only mean adopting a revolutionary political standpoint. It would be far better for the most militant and class conscious workers in Iran to regroup around such positions rather than trying to artificially maintain “mass” organisations which no longer serve the needs of the struggle.

Workers' committees, factory committees, workers' councils, all attempts at the self-organisation of the working class, will make mistakes, misjudgements, etc., and this is entirely natural - a necessity even. But what we see here with the Bus Workers' Syndicate and the Haft Tappeh Workers' Council are  - at best – former workers' organisations that have both existed for many years and, in the face of the struggles dying away, their dynamic has been lost, leaving accommodation with structures of capitalism as the only way they see to keep going. 

This text of Internationalist Voice on the class struggle in Iran is important for the whole revolutionary milieu, important for the whole region of the Middle East and for workers' struggle globally. That is why we want to point out what we think are the current weaknesses in the struggles of the working class, so that the struggle can go forward in the future.



Baboon, 4.4.2018



[2]               We discussed with IV recently over what we thought were its underestimation of street protest as part of the class struggle,, but there's no question of that here.



Middle East