The role and demands of the proletariat in the recent revolution in Iran

For more than three years, Iran has been the scene of the most popular revolution in history, but abroad it seems that no one is aware of the nature of this revolution, and for good reason: the propaganda of the mass media of the international capitalists has been set in motion in an attempt to conceal the popular and massive character of this revolution from the peoples and masses of other countries.

For an Iranian who is familiar with the revolution that is shaking his country, it is very unfortunate that the most authorized European intellectuals, when asked about the Iranian revolution, brandish a speech that is undoubtedly eloquent and well prepared, but which, on the whole, begins with the role of religion and religious fanaticism and ends with the analysis of the personality of the ayatollahs… As if the Iranian revolution could be reduced to this, and the stupid fable that the popular masses took to the streets at the behest of the mullahs to be shot at with machine guns, driven as they were by a foolish hope, still dominates their consciousness.

Even those European intellectuals who hold the example of the communards as a model of working-class courage cannot conceive that those in Iran who expose themselves to machine guns can be animated by the same courage and enjoy a class consciousness that is not inferior to that of the communards. Do these intellectuals not ask themselves, if the people’s demands were limited to a religious state, why, more than a year and a half after the establishment of such a state, not only has the country not regained calm but the religious government is waging an all-out civil war? Why again, on June 20, 1980, before the Friday prayer, a religious leader said to the workers: «the strike and the work-to-rule have caused a significant drop in production and do you know that if you do it consciously, you are enemies of Islam?» Or why, three weeks ago, two unemployed workers in Ahvaz (capital of South Khuzestan province) were shot for «organizing and taking part in most of the sit-ins and workers’ strikes»?

In any case, the Iranian revolution has, in my opinion, like other revolutions — and even more than these — material and earthly causes.

The task of intellectuals is to discover and make known these material causes and not to unconsciously rely on the propaganda of the capitalists in the analysis of the Iranian revolution.

Today, the Shah accuses Carter’s «human rights» policy of having led to the granting of freedoms whose «abuse» has caused the existing situation. He does not go any further and is careful not to reveal what factors forced Carter to adopt this «human rights» policy.

Carter and his entourage criticize the Shah by saying that his excesses in the exercise of power were the cause of the situation. They do not go further and say why the Shah was forced to use power with excessive rigor. Finally, Iran’s current rulers attribute the entirety of the post-revolutionary unrest to the «imperialists of the West and East». But none of them want to allude to the main factor of this unrest, which is the Iranian people and the socio-economic system of Iran.

In my opinion, if you want to look at the social forces involved in the Iranian revolution, you should start with the working class, but obviously you should not stop there.

It is a fact that in the Iranian revolution, especially under the Shah when the great street massacres took place, at least eight out of ten bodies were those of workers, especially seasonal workers who came to the city to find work. Workers’ issues are still among the greatest concerns of the present government. The existence of more than three and a half million unemployed workers in Iran may not be an accurate statistic, but it is a figure that is repeated every day in Iran without being denied by anyone.

During the past year, hardly a day has passed without being fired at rallies of the unemployed, and on June 20, President Bani Sadr said to a gathering of workers, «If you continue to strike, one day in the morning you will see that we too are on strike!» And to explain the meaning of his words, he declared that he intended «to refrain from making available to the workers any means of comfort and subsistence.»

And it is because of this that I consider the workers’ issue to be the most important issue of the Iranian revolution.

But in order to know about this most important question of the Iranian revolution, it is necessary to know the composition of the working class in Iran and this in order to understand why the class that constitutes the essential force of this revolution could not take the lead, but at the same time, played the main role in its essential extension.

What today presents itself as the working class is composed of very different strata. Only a small part of this class comes from previous generations of workers. The vast majority of these workers are children of peasants or were themselves peasants. Some of them even cultivate a piece of land in addition to their work as laborers. The majority of these workers are the result of the «agrarian reforms» that began fifteen years ago in Iranian villages and gradually broke down the traditional framework of the rural economy, turned the village into a place for bourgeois investments and pushed the villagers’ labor force onto the labor market, to be sold there.

At the same time, the creation of military industries and certain heavy industries, especially construction, absorbed the labor force freed from the villagers in the form of unskilled seasonal workers, and the multi-year permanence of these jobs gradually diminished the interest of these workers in their villages.

In addition, by «nationalizing the pastures, waters, and forests» around the villages and hindering the villagers’ use of these resources, the government has made life there unbearable for a majority of them.

It is obvious that this large and growing mass of entry-level laborers, assigned to construction and temporary work, was without any guarantee of work.

With the start of a construction project in a region, a large number of villagers went there to work and at the end of the project, all were left to their fate and had to return to their villages or remain lost in the cities in search of other work. This precarious situation seemed normal to a peasant who knew nothing about working life: the work is finished and the worker must leave! But if this situation seemed normal to the eyes of this ignorant worker, it was quite abnormal for the economy of a country and looked like a time bomb whose explosion was expected at every moment and which, finally, exploded.

The excessive and unproductive investments in construction caused first a galloping inflation and then a crippling depression and above all caused the misery of these workers. Complete unemployment, lack of any means of livelihood, these were the factors that undermined the Shah’s throne. And it was these workers who carried the flame of the revolution from the big cities to the farthest villages and back again, and finally set the whole country ablaze.

The interesting thing about the Iranian revolution is that the experienced part of the working class, who worked more in the spinning and oil industries, entered the battlefield later than the beginning workers. This layer of the working class enjoyed a certain security in life. In addition, the government had gradually built up a strong organization to control the workers by creating security guards, government unions and a relatively strong network of informers, while the workers, for their part, lacked a real workers’ organization. The majority of these workers in the factories only joined the strikers when the bosses themselves, due to the economic depression, were no longer willing to continue production, but when they did, they had a decisive impact on the fate of the Shah. If the recent stratum of the working class lacked class consciousness and organizational spirit and was unable, despite the many casualties it suffered every day in the streets, to organize itself independently to pursue a given goal, the more experienced stratum, after finally managing to free itself more or less from the clutches of the repressive apparatus, was able to emerge with excellent practical organization and perfect unity, the best manifestation of which was the strike of the oil workers with the complete stoppage of oil exports abroad.

This stratum of the working class is today also ahead of other sections of our society and is trying to organize the whole class, and in this respect is leading its struggle with the demand for the formation of workers’ councils.

In most factories, these councils were established before the new regime was in place and took over the organization of workers’ struggles. The new regime initially expressed its opposition to the idea that the council was a communist and anti-Islamic body, but this religious discourse failed to tarnish the appeal of the councils’ slogans among the workers. Therefore, after the creation of an armed force in the factories called «special forces» and the establishment of relative control of the government committees over the factories, the new regime decided to take the initiative to form the councils itself. At this point, the government’s propaganda on the councils changed and it proclaimed that not only were the councils not communist bodies, but also that in the Qur’an there is a verse dedicated to their formation. Therefore, it was only necessary to create «Islamic councils» and Islamic councils meant purely and simply governmental councils. But in practice, a number of workers did not abandon the previous councils and the Islamic councils formed did not please the capitalists so much that Bani Sadr, in his speech on the occasion of the anniversary of the Islamic republic proposed the following deal to the workers: that they would give up the formation of the councils and in return the government would meet all their needs. It was in this speech that Bani Sadr uttered his famous phrase: «Councils: no way!» But the workers didn’t care about these words and Bani Sadr, in his speech of June 20, 1980, had to backtrack and ask the workers’ councils not to intervene, at least, in the management of the factories.

In any case, the details of these problems are beyond the scope of this article. In conclusion, I would like to allude to two peculiarities of the Iranian workers’ movement:

The first is that in this movement women workers participated together with men in the revolution and manifested their presence in revolutionary actions everywhere, and this may have seemed singular in a society still more or less bound by restrictive traditions of women’s role and participation in social activities. This showed that the severity of the pressure in the relations of production was such that the resistance force of the oldest traditions was broken. But after the revolution, the government intends to separate women from men as much as possible in the workplace, in the canteens and also in individual relations under the pretext of observance of religious principles. However, its success in this area is currently limited.

The second peculiarity is that the workers entered the scene from the very beginning with well-defined political slogans, not with economic slogans, especially until the overthrow of the Shah. The most conscious workers proclaimed that they would make their economic demands known after the fall of the Shah. From the beginning of the revolution, demands such as the release of political prisoners were among the most important demands of the workers, and after the establishment of the new regime, they put the breaking of economic relations with the imperialist countries at the top of their demands.