On Dec. 4, the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign held a forum on the revolution in Iran, with socialist feminist Frieda Afary presenting. Here is a video of the entire forum plus, below it the transcript of Frieda’s comments.
Welcome to Frieda Afary, who is the author of recent book, “Socialist Feminism”, and has been active in the socialist movement for many years.
Thank you so much for this opportunity, really glad to be here. I know some of you; I am looking at the names and so happy to see you. And those that I don’t know in person, some of you I know by by name, and I know what types of articles you’ve written. So I’m delighted by this audience. So I’m going to be looking at another screen of my notes while I’m talking…. I’m basically going through the questions that were posed in the invitation to this meeting. And I will go through them one by one, and answer the questions and hope that this will give you all the basics and then we can discuss the rest in the in the conversation.
So the first question was what led up to the present uprising? And so, I would say the short term, it has to be answered on both on the short term and on the long term. Short term what led up to it was that of course, the forced hijab, and the and the very stringent enforcement of the of the hijab rule on women. That has been a rule in Iran since the Iranian revolution in 1979 was taken over by Islamic fundamentalists. And hijab was made mandatory. But over the summer, the so called morality police, and anti anti vice police were taught to enforce the restrictions much more stringently. And so they would arrest women for wearing a hijab, I mean the headscarf, loosely. Basically, women in Iran since the Islamic fundamentalists versus Islamic Republic, in 1979 and beyond have been forced to cover their hair, and their clothing has to have long sleeves, long pants, you’re not supposed to see their ankles, you’re not supposed to see their arms you’re not supposed to see even one strand of hair. And so that was the immediate reason that led to the uprising.
And some very basic facts about the uprising, although most of you know the basics. So Mahsa Amini, who is a Kurdish Iranian woman, was visiting Teheran from Kurdistan. A young woman, 22 year old woman was arrested in Tehran after her visit, for loosely wearing her hijab. She was arrested on September 13. And then on September 16, the authorities announced that she had died from a stroke. But she was very healthy and she had no history of prior issues that would lead to a stroke, and there were there were signs of mass bleeding on her body. And so that led to protests both in in Kurdistan and in Teheran. And and that set off the uprising that has actually now led to 18,000 arrests. Over 450 People have died, and over 450 people have died. And people have been currently indicted as having committed crimes against God. They’re called enemy combatants and the sentence for that is death. Of the 80,000 people who have have been arrested, only over 3000 of them have been identified. So there are many, many more in prison that we don’t even have names for. But according to the Iranian human rights organization, Harana that offers pretty accurate numbers, there are about 18,000. And the protests have had been nationwide. They’ve involved even rural areas, small cities, and mostly youth. The average age of the protesters has been 15 – women, young women have been in the forefront burning their hijabs dancing in the street. And they’ve been joined by by men. So the protests, while they’re starting in Kurdistan, they’ve spread to other parts for instance, in the south of Iran, with an Arab national minority. Then they’re also the Baluchistan area, which is in the south east of Iran bordering on Pakistan. And further north and near the Caspian Sea, and of course in Azerbaijan, which has an Azeri or Turkic population. And of course in Teheran. So they’ve been nationwide. I can’t say that millions have participated but definitely, it seems by estimates that several 100,000 have participated nationwide. And the youth have been in the forefront, have been high school students and college students, but the labor participation has been pretty good. And of course, labor participation doesn’t necessarily mean that there have been strikes at the workplace, although there have been strikes, and I’ll talk about that, too. But I would say most of the young people who are participating in this nationwide protest are working class or middle class who have had such a decline in their standard of living that they’re practically working class right now. Some of the youth that have been murdered have been tailors and butchers and carpenters and, you know… So they do working class jobs, and, and young women too. So in that sense, we’ve had a very good working class population in this protest.
Some other basic facts. We’ve had the participation of teachers, and some efforts to have strikes by teachers. And the repression has been severe. As I mentioned, the arrests and the sharpshooters, who aim for the eyes of the protesters — at least 500 people have been either blinded or have had massive injuries to their eyes. So in that sense, this is similar to what the police did in Syria in the 2018 uprising. And some of the women who have been killed, the police claimed that they either died from strokes, or that they threw themselves off of rooftops. And so that has also been another common reason given for the deaths of some of the women who were killed by the Security Police. But the police are now using military grade weapons, especially in Kurdistan. There has been a major transfer of military forces to the Kurdish region. And live ammunition is used on protesters and the Iranian government has also attacked Kurdish the bases of the Kurdish opposition in in Iraq, which which borders Iran, and they’ve killed at least dozens of Kurdish activists in Iraq. And those is also continuing. So I think those were some of the basics in terms of the facts. Now, let’s get to the next question. Which is the long term what led to led up to the present uprising.
The long term is that the since the 1979 revolution was transformed into its opposite, we have had the police state, which has dominated all aspects of the lives of Iranians. And especially since 2009, there have been uprisings in Iran to first try to reform the Islamic Republic. And that was in 2009, the green movement that involved millions of people, but that focused on demand for the reinstatement of two people who were frontrunners in the presidential election, and the opposition to the fraudulent election results. But it did not ask for the complete overthrow of the Islamic Republic. But since 2017, there have been uprisings in Iran that have demanded the end to the Islamic Republic itself. There was one in December of 2017. There was one in November of 2019. And both involve active participation of women. And then the one that we’ve just witnessed is the one that has been the most sustained, and has had the most nationwide participation in terms of location and class, and working class participation. And it has also lasted the longest. It has slowed down a bit in the past week. So it remains to be seen where it will go.
And then I also wanted to give you a few facts about context. And again, some of you probably know that these already economically, Iran is in shambles. Mainly because the Iranian government has been spending most of the profits from the sale of oil, for militaristic reasons for its military participation in, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Yemen, and now in Ukraine, helping Russia with its destruction of of Ukrainian population. Partly because of the sanctions, but mainly because of the militaristic spending, and also the spending on the nuclear and drone programs. Iran has really become bankrupt. And, of course, there’s a lot of corruption within the regime, no doubt about that. They they pocket a lot of money. But it’s really not the corruption itself as such, it’s really the militaristic spending and the nuclear and missile production and the drones that is just taking away all the funds that should be spent on infrastructure development and helping the population. So that’s part of the context. The other part of it is that during the COVID pandemic, which really has not ended, there was massive numbers of deaths. And the government kept COVID a secret in the beginning. And so a lot of people got sick, a lot of people died. And we don’t even have accurate figures. And the vaccine, they were using the vaccine, sinovac vaccine from China that was not effective. And that is when they even did get the vaccine (at all). So COVID has had a major impact.
Then there’s the issue of environmental degradation. That because of the building of dams and the massive construction and destruction of agricultural lands, destruction of forests, and the production of oil and gas, without any type of serious regulation and in environmental restrictions has led to massive pollution of the air to the point that people in major cities practically cannot breathe. When they go outside, a lot of them have to wear masks. And there are many days when people have to stay home because the pollution is just unbearable. So there’s the economic issue, there’s COVID, there’s environmental degradation and a lack of water, the entire water resources that Iran had in his aquifers have been depleted. Again, because of overuse, and, and then there have been floods, and fires. So it’s a nightmare in that respect.
And then, of course, I mentioned the militarism and all the all the funds that have gone into militaristic purposes. So the result has been that of a population of about 85 million plus, 65 million live under the poverty line. And I mean, both Absolute and Relative poverty line, the absolute poverty line in Iran is really the World Bank standard, which is $2 a day. So that’s $60 a month for a person and 240 a month for a family of four, that a minimum wage in Iran for worker is an assist, if it’s enforced, it’s not enforced. It’s about 150. And so that’s nowhere near what is needed even to live on over the absolute poverty line, much less than a relative poverty line, relative poverty line is about anywhere from 550 to $600 per month for a family of four. And so you can see why 65 million out of a population of 85 to 88 million are now living under the poverty line. And the population of Iran is still very young. 50% are under age 30. And something like 60% are under age 40. But at the same time, the population is literate. And we have have have anywhere from two to 3 million university students right now. Unfortunately, I could not find accurate figures because government figures are not accurate. 60% of university graduates have been women. Because in a contradictory way, the Iranian government, while it did enforce strict regulation concerning the hijab, and took away many of the rights that women had under the limited rights that women had under the monarchy. Before 1979. It did it at least after the Iran Iraq War. In the 1990s, it did do some massive spending on infrastructure. And they built some universities, and they did allow women to go to universities, although universities are segregated. So that in a contradictory way led to the greater participation of women in education. And then as a result, over 60% of Iran’s university graduates are women.
I want to say a little more about the role of women. And I’ve written an article about this. So hopefully, that will get published soon. But one of the one of the questions that has been raised is, “is this a Feminist Revolution?” And I would say there are feminist elements. Although certainly the fact that women are in the forefront and young women, school girls practically, is really, really significant. The fact that they’re taking off their hijabs and burning them and dancing in the streets is really tremendous. In a country that has had a religious fundamentalist and misogynist theocracy for an authoritarian system for over 40 years. So, but I would say we have feminist elements. Some feminists inside the Iran themselves saying, “well, in order to have a Feminist Revolution, we really need to have a much deeper feminist content for the uprising.” But I would say some of the really strong feminist elements, or feminist components have been, for instance, the fact that at universities, there’s been a persistent effort by students to desegregate cafeterias to desegregate universities. And that’s really significant. It’s really in some ways similar to the effort of African American youth in the civil rights movement, and actually not only African American youth but also the non African American youth who joined them in the civil rights movement to desegregate have materials and other places that were black and white people had to sit and dine separately. So that’s very significant development. And then another, I would say, feminist element has been that a Gohar Eshghi actually who’s a working class woman is the mother of a young worker blogger was killed by the regime in prison. A few years ago, she went on, she publicly took off her her hijab in front of the camera, holding a picture of her son and said, I’m taking off I have hijab, and I’m not going to accept a religion and that’s forced on me. So that was very significant. I would consider that the most feminist expression.
Women in Baluchestan
So far, it has been a series of statements by Baluch women from the province of Sistan, and Baluchestan, which is which borders Pakistan, which is the most marginalized, the most impoverished, the most oppressed, really part of Iran. And its women are even more oppressed have absolutely no rights. They live on under a system that’s really similar to the Taliban. And so some of a group of feminists women and Baluch women have named [unclear] has been issuing some statements. And they’ve been specifically targeting the issue of rape, and how 15 year old Baluch woman was raped by an army general. And that led to a protest by a huge part of the Baluch population, which in turn was assaulted by the regime. And in that action, over 100 Baluch protesters who were actually part of the Friday Prayer were killed. This took place two weeks after the protests against the murder of Mahsa Hamimi, the young Kurdish woman who was murdered set off the uprising. And this was also documented by various sources, including the New York Times. And the feminist, the Dusko Heron (?) group that has been issuing these statements, they had discussed this issue and they want to make issues one of the main points that they made was that up until now, if a woman was raped in Baluchistan, the family would hide the rape, they would kill the woman, and they will not talk about it, but after the uprising, with the protests against the murder of Mahsa Amini, as you know, many that the families of the Baloche population mostly would not do that anymore. They would not hide the fact that a woman was raped, they would not stay silent about it. And women are now demanding the rights by which women are not the same. And they argue that in fact, the whole Baluch population is undergoing major change. And they also oppose the religious leader of Baluchistan. His name is Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi, he has been issuing some statements recently saying that Iran needs a referendum to determine a popular referendum to determine its next form of government. And the feminist women, in their statements say, “Do not be fooled by this man. He has collaborated with the regime for many years. He’s a follower of a friend of the Taliban. He’s no friend of women. He doesn’t even support women’s education. And so when he talks about a referendum, you need to ask him what goals he has in mind for this referendum.” And so they argue that instead you should listen to us in we oppose any type of oppression. And they even talk about the rights of LGBT, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people. So I would say that these statements by the Baluch women are truly the most significant feminist expression of the revolt that we’ve seen in Iran since September 16.
And then one more statement that has been issued by a group of women has been there was issued shortly before the 40th day commemoration of the murder of Amini. And in that statement, women said, “we just want to say that we are against all types of oppression, whether it’s a person or women or workers or the national minorities, we are for the right to self determination. And we are not going to allow you to do that here. There are priorities that one group comes first, and then women come second or third, no, we’re not going to allow this type of prioritization. If our protests are going to succeed, they have to address all these issues at the same time.” So I would say that’s another really significant feminist expression of support [?]. But at the same time, there have been articles and statements by Iranian feminist inside Iran saying that we need to be really wary of some of the nationalist slogans that are being spread around. And, for instance, there has been a tendency to use a slogan that rhymes with woman life freedom in Persian. Some of the nationalists have created another slogan that rhymes with what it means “man, country, rebuilding,” but in Persian, it rhymes with woman life freedom. So there are some some feminists and women have issued statements saying, this is really problematic. This is nationalistic, this is patriarchal, and we shouldn’t we shouldn’t be throwing around slogans. And in fact, they’ve also criticized some other slogans that they consider to be vulgar and even the use of the word honor and some slogans, which is very problematic because the in Iran we’ve had many honor killings in the name of honor their family, femicide has been justified defending men’s honor. So they’re saying beware of the patriarchy, beware of the nationalism, beware of the use of the word honor.
So that’s why I wanted to clarify that while there have been some very important feminist elements in in a surprising within Iran itself, some women, in fact, many women are saying that we still have a long way to go, before we can call this a feminist struggle.
Okay. So let’s just cover the rest of the questions in the remaining time. What is the situation for national minorities? What is the role of Iranian labor unions? That’s a lot to cover. So, I’ll cover this more quickly. As far as the national minorities are concerned. I think I said a bit about each, especially the Kurds and the Baluchis. And really the question is that Iran is not homogeneous; it does not have a homogeneous population. It has a Persian population, a Persian speaking population. But it also has a Kurdish population, abut 5 million in the north. But Kurds also live in other parts of Iran. But that’s where the concentration is. We have an Arab population in the south of the border of Iraq. We have the Baluch population in Sistan, and Baluchestan, which borders Pakistan, we have the Azeri population in North, which borders Azerbaijan, and in some cases, theAzeri and the Kurdish population are really in the same area. But they identify as two different national minorities, and sometimes they have competed and fought. So, the fact has been, though, that in Iran, we’ve had at least a couple of centuries if not more of a very centralized the government, in which the national minorities are considered second class citizens, and they have no rights, they have no control over the resources or the land they live on, they are not allowed to use their language as the language of instruction. And they are also humiliated. And their identity is degraded in jokes that are said, by Persians, and they’re, you know, each national minority has a certain label put on it. And so it’s it’s a real issue that Iranians need to answer if they want to have a successful uprising, and create a democratic society. The issue of the rights of National Minorities is a major issue.
Now, as far as labor is concerned: we have had some strikes in the past two and a half months, the, there have been two efforts by oil workers to go on strike. The most radical of the oil workers are the ones who who don’t have permanent contracts they don’t have permanent jobs. And they are really the bulk of the oil workers. And they’ve issued two very powerful statements, saying that they support women’s rights, that they’re opposed to tyranny, that their struggle is not only for economic rights, but for social rights. And so they call for a strike. In early October, they had two attempts to call for strikes in early and late October. And both cases they were crushed. The first time they went on strike in early October, immediately 250 of them were arrested, and most of them are still in prison. The second time they didn’t even have a chance to go on strike. Before they could do that they were arrested. So that now the permanent workers, and they’re really much fewer a number, have also issued a statement opposing the repression, but they didn’t say anything about women in their statement as far as though I know. But I might be mistaken if anyone here has seen another statement by them that specifically mentions the rights of women, I would really appreciate your mentioning. And then there have been strikes — there is a strike going on by truck drivers in some cities, and that’s significant because as you know, transportation is a major issue for the continuation of any economy. And there have been strikes by city workers, by teachers, by some of the other industrial workers, but again, part of the problem is that Iranian economy is in such such a shambles and so many people don’t have any kind of permanent or any kind of reliable job, that it’s difficult to go on strike because you have no rights to begin with. And they could just easily get rid of you. And in fact, most workers there, they haven’t even received the pay that they’re supposed to receive. They’re the employees, and it’s mostly the state, that’s the employer. The employers are often several months behind in paying the wages. So it makes it very difficult to have a very effective strike.
The next question was, what is the role of the Revolutionary Guard Corps in promoting state repression and military intervention in the region and in Ukraine? Okay. I think most of you know that Iran has been heavily involved in Syria, and it was Iran’s participation, both with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other militia groups in Syria, to back the Assad regime that allowed the Assad regime to stay in power, and it was the Iran the head of the IRGC. So I’m gonna say IRGC instead of Islamic Revolution Guard Corps. It was when, in 2015, when the Syrian uprising seemed like it was really going to overthrow the Assad regime. In the summer of 2015, the head of the IRGC at that time or the head of the Quds Brigade of the IRGC, Qasem Soleimani , went to Moscow and met with Putin and said, “Look, Assad is going to fall, if you don’t come in and help.” So it was at that point that Russia agreed to start an aerial bombardment of the of what was considered the moderate opposition in Syria, and their holdouts. And so Russia started this aerial bombardment in September, end of September of 2015. And that’s when we in the in the name of attacking ISIS, but of course, they were they were really aiming at, at the opposition. And they that’s what decimated what was left of the Syrian uprising. So Iran has been heavily involved in, in Syria on putting in money and forces and arms, helping Assad regime in every way possible at the expense of the Iranian population. Of course, Iran has been heavily involved in Iraq. Once the Saddam Hussein regime fell after US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran actually was helped by that because Iran was able to go in and build on its ties with the Shia population of Iran [Iraq?] or the Shia clergy and, and it created this very sectarian Shia ruled government, that then started to really take away the rights of Sunnis, who had themselves been the majority in control before that. And I’m not saying that they hadn’t committed crimes, and they hadn’t discriminated against Shia, but then it became the opposite. Now, it became the Shia discriminating against the Sunni and it really created so much sectarianism and disorder in Iraq. And they also impose strict rules on women taking away even basic rights that women had under the Saddam Hussein government, which was pretty horrible, murderous regime to begin with.
Iranian Foreign Intervention
So so there’s Syria, there’s Iraq of course Lebanon — Iran has been involved in Lebanon since the Iranian Revolution was transformed into the Islamic Republic. Iran has had ties with forces in Lebanon it sends militias to Lebanon. Iran created the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is the party of God. So Iran has been very involved in determining the course of politics in Lebanon for four decades. And then, of course, Ukraine. This is the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign [that I’m speaking to here]. Iran has been selling drones and ballistic ballistic missiles to Russia. And Russia has been using the drones and ballistic missiles to destroy the infrastructure of Ukraine. And so although the Ukrainian struggle for self determination has been making some important gains, pushing the Russian invaders back, the Russia’s strategy of destroying infrastructure is basically destroying the population and destroying the civilian population. They’re taking away water, power, everything, They’re starving the population. They’re using the same strategy that they used in Syria. Now they’re doing it in Ukraine, but they’re using Iranian drones and Iranian ballistic missiles. And it turns out, the Ukrainians are finding a way to fight the Iranian drones, but they haven’t figured out a way to fight Iranian ballistic missiles. Because apparently, even the arms that the US gives the Ukrainians are not able to neutralize the ballistic missiles because of the range ballistic missiles have. So that’s a real serious issue. And so that that’s how Iran is, you can say, directly involved in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Okay, final two questions. Can Iranian uprising overthrow the ruling regime? And if so, what might follow? The Iranian uprising has a lot of potential, although, as I mentioned, during the past week, it has kind of slowed down. And that’s understandable because people are getting killed, the repression is intensifying. People are exhausted. And they’ve been, you know, the protesters have been protesting for two and a half months. So that’s understandable. Now, it has a great deal of potential it can continue. If, as I mentioned, there is a strong development of the feminist content, to make sure that nationalism and patriarchy doesn’t take over. It can continue if the rights of national and religious minorities are addressed and by religious minorities. I mean, the Baha’i and the Sunni, who are discriminated against, the Baha’i, especially because they are not considered even a valid religion under Islam. They’re considered enemies of Islam, because they’re a group that emerged from within Islam. And so for them, they’re for the Islamic Republic, they’re considered direct competition. They’re a group that offers ideas that for them are, for the most part, very humanitarian, and defend women’s rights and education. So in order for the uprising to move forward there has to be a way of addressing the rights of national and religious minorities with national minorities. I mean, most of them have for the past, for the recent past, suggested a Federalist alternative in which the groups like Kurds, Azeris, Arabs, Baluch, they have control over the resources in the region, and of course, come together in a federal system and coordinate everything, and that they also would have the right to use their language, whether it’s Kurdish or Arabic, or Turkish, the Turkish that the other is speak, which is different from the Turkish in Turkey. And they their right to speak their language, to use their language as the language of instruction. These are the basics that they’re asking for. They’re not asking for separation from Iran. But even those basics are usually dismissed by the majority of the Persian population. And the uprising can move forward if labor struggles are addressed, if the right to strike there is the addresses, if the militarism ends, so that the resources of the country can be directed towards the population and infrastructure instead of building arms and drones and missiles and building a nuclear program that’s both dangerous and also not needed in any way by Iran.Then there can be funds that could be directed towards the population in a very immediate way. And of course, if the Islamic Republic itself is overthrown so that there’s no theocracy, so that there is a popular, there is a possibility for a true referendum, a true popular referendum to have a more democratic government. I mean, the group that is here today, they consider themselves socialist, I assume all of you consider yourself socialist. So of course, for us, it’s not enough to just have a referendum and call for bourgeois democracy. But immediately, that’s really what the only option that seems to be available in order to create a space for people in Iran to then have the freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly to discuss socialist ideas. And again, as I speak as the socialists who clearly think that what existed in the USSR and Mao’s China and Venezuela, for that matter, Cuba’s socialist state capitalist is totalitarian, it’s authoritarian. So, we don’t even have a chance to discuss these things, except in small websites, and blogs, and books that are published in small numbers, and, you know, majority of population doesn’t have access to them. So, if these issues are addressed, then you know, there is a possibility for moving forward. And of course, we need a great deal of international solidarity, in order to in order to get rid of this republic in order to create the possibility for something a democratic existence that allows us to then move forward and have further international dialogue about the vision of the future.
How to support Iran revolution
And finally, how can feminist anti racist labor and socialist activists around the world help they run an uprising and each other, which are their struggles? I think, in relationship to Iran, the most immediate thing is that international solidarity needs to demand the immediate release of the political prisoners, because so many of our of the people who can be leaders in the current uprising are in prison, or if they’re not in prison, they’re under house arrest, or they have have had to put up their family’s home up as bail money in order to stay out of prison. And if they do anything, or say anything, then the house or whatever they put up ill be confiscated. So that’s the most immediate thing to allow these political prisoners to come out. And that includes a lot of feminist leaders to be able to speak out to help the movement go forward. So I would say that is the most immediate way in which international solidarity with Iran can help Iranians. And then on the part of the Iranians, I would say that this uprising really needs to be have a lot more of an anti military content in the sense of speaking out against the Iran’s intervention in Syria and Ukraine and Iraq. They have been mentioning Syria and Iraq and Lebanon, they have been mentioning that, but I haven’t really heard much, except within the diaspora demonstrations, calling for solidarity with Ukraine. When it comes to the demonstrations and protests inside Iran, I haven’t heard much about Ukraine, but maybe I’m wrong. If there’s anyone here who says otherwise, please let me know. But yeah, Ukraine needs to be a major issue within the Iranian protests and solidarity with Ukraine. I’ve tried to do my part by having a panel of solidarity with Ukrainian feminists, Ukrainian Russian feminists and African American women. And the Ukrainian women also issued a statement in solidarity with the Iranian women. That statement came out about three weeks ago. It’s powerful statement and draws connections between the struggles in both countries and I would like to go ahead and write an article in preparation for the first anniversary of the Russian invasion and you know, say something about how we need to be a lot more vocal about solidarity with Ukraine inside Iran. I think, would be a real immediate issue on the part of Iranians. And then one more point that I wanted to single out in terms of international solidarity is that of the protests in China against the lock downs, the COVID lock downs, that made references to Iran, there were slogans about how we’re in solidarity with Iran. There were also references to Ukraine, and an opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But it really struck me that some of the young people who were involved in the protests in China against the lockdowns are drawing connections to Iran and saying, you know, we support the Iranian us. We too want freedom. So it’s, it’s really wonderful to see and Iranians need to build on that.
More on National Minorities
What about the others? Yes, the others have also been involved, and not as not in as huge a number as the Kurds and the Arabs and Baluchis. But the others have also been involved and there have been protests in Azerbaijan, for sure.
The left in Iran
Then what is left of the left in Iran? And what have been their statements? Well, as you know, some of you might not know, after the 1979 revolution. In the beginning, a large part of the left suggested being silent about the dangers of the Islamists, because they thought the main enemies was US imperialism. And so when there were women’s protests on March 8 1979, opposing the Khomeini’s declaration that the hijab should be mandatory or whether when there were protests by the Kurds, there was really a mini uprising by the Kurds in a summer, fall, spring and summer of 1979. Those were crushed, the women’s protests were silenced. The leftist suggested that women go back home and not make a big deal about the hijab rule, because they thought that the threat of US imperialism was greater. Or they also thought that they could use the Islamic fundamentalists to gain support to get and to get rid of the monarchic influence. And then they could take over themselves, but of course, they were the ones who were taken over, because that whole strategies really unprincipled and unethical. Not to mention counter revolutionary.
And then of course, the leftists were arrested en masse in the summer of 1981. And then that’s when the repression in Iran really got to be full blown by the Islamic fundamentalists. And then, in 1988, there was at least several 1000 leftists, and also some, including, and also a large number of the followers of the Mujahideen were, were executed in Iranian prisons. In the period after the revolution, as the repression intensified, many leftists had to flee, they went into exile. And so the left in Iran is small, but it does exist. And it has, for the most part in the past 20 years. The best thing it’s done has been to translate some works on Marx and Marxism that that are not Stalinist, and that have exposed the Iranian young population to a different conception of socialism.
There are of course, Iranian leftists abroad, who have been able to issue statements who for the most part supports the uprising currently. And then within Iran, another important fact is that there are connections between the leftist and labor activists. So for instance, the Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers or some oil workers, they they are in connection they are they have some communication with leftist activists. And so they do, they are definitely interested in, in socialist ideas, I can’t deny that. But the left’s population itself is small, and it also has some traction within universities and with the impoverishment of the population, and with the complete collapse of any possibility of of liberal democracy in Iran, which some hoped for, under the as a reformist possibility, the idea that they could reform the existing regime and turn it into a liberal democracy, that I think that ideal has pretty much collapsed.
And so the majority of young people now are demanding a revolutionary change now, but that they don’t necessarily mean socialism. But they do really want a revolution. They want the complete change of the existing regime. And they want something that’s democratic, that’s for women’s rights and the rights of minorities. As far as statements are concerned, yes, so the leftist groups are the ones that are abroad have issued various statements. And inside Iran to there’s still some websites that are active, they’re writing articles, including by women, women who are leftist, and some have been really very good in support of the uprising. And it’s amazing that some of them even can still write on these websites. And if you look at my website, Iranian progressives and translation, I try to offer quotations from some of the statements that have been made, especially by the feminists. Then, yes, the Berlin protests were large, and they were organized mainly by an Iranian dentist and writer in Canada, whose wife and son, wife and daughter were killed when the IRGC shut down a Ukrainian plane. Iranian air that when it was trying to take revenge against the US’s assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC that happened in in January of 2020, when shortly after arson Soleimani, who himself was a butcher, and as I mentioned, he was directly involved in Russia’s involvement in bringing Russia in to arrest us missile strikes into Syria. After Soleimani was assassinated by the US through a missile strike, Iran took revenge, but in the course of the revenge, they actually shot down a Ukrainian plane carrying mostly Iranian passengers. And so the wife and daughter of this Iranian dentist slash writer in Canada we’re on that plane. So he became very involved in opposition to the regime from exile. As his name is Hamid Ismail Leone, and he’s been the one mainly organizing those large protests abroad. And the Berlin protests he helped organize.
Iranian left and war in Ukraine and other issues
Unfortunately, within the Iranian left, I have to tell you that the majority are repeating the line that the global left is repeating that the war in Ukraine is a war started by NATO. And that Ukrainians are are doing NATO’s work for it. I’m very ashamed to say that, but unfortunately, that has been the case. So it’s the minority of Iranian leftists who really understand that what’s going on in Ukraine is a struggle for self determination. And hopefully we can fight that and change the position but for now, that’s that’s where it stands.
Linda said, is the Iranian regime bombing course something new bombing Kurds something no new? Or is that a common occurrence? Yes, it’s a common occurrence. The Iranian regime has, on many occasions bombed your Kurdish opposition forces in Iraq and with the help of the Iraqi regime, which as I mentioned, is the Shia sectarian regime that is highly backed by the Iranian government. And although it has received some opposition from the Kurdish Regional, government, but that is where the Kurdish opposition forces are, they’re part of that in the region that’s considered the Kurdish Regional Government. And so there’s the Kurdish Democratic Party and also the Kurdish Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK. That’s connected to the ideas of Abdullah.
The next question by Mudassar, was what is the real flag of Iran? Real, I don’t know what you mean, by real but before the Islamic Republic, it was the three colors with the picture of the of the, the lion and the sun on it. But without the, (something like) a knife, I don’t know what they’re holding. It’s something like a knife. The Mujahideen flag is the lion, but holding a knife. And the Iranians (government) currently has the same colors, but has an image of a symbol of the Islamic Republic, in the middle. So So those are the three that I have seen. So the real flag, hopefully they will hopefully there will be a new flag when this regime is overthrown.
Then: are we going to see one one autocracy replacing another? And will there be an anti religious government? Okay. I don’t know to tell you. I know that the majority of the Iranian population really hates to have religion for standard at this point. They’ve lived under an Islamic fundamentalist government for over 40 years. The majority of them are still believers, and they still consider themselves Muslim believers. So they’re not against Islam, and they believe in God. But they, the majority don’t want a religious government, they want the separation of religion and state. Now, whether we might end up with a secular state that’s autocratic: I don’t know if it’s possible if we don’t address the issues of feminism and the rights of minorities and labor rights. And you have the basics of free speech and free expression and free press, then yeah, we could possibly end up with an a secularist authoritarian regime. I mean, look at what existed under Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he supposedly was secular, but he was completely authoritarian. But I hope that there will be. I mean, of course, religious, people who want to practice their religion should have the right, so long as those practices of that religion does not involve promoting racism and sexism, misogyny, and opposition to civil rights. So that’s really the red line, as far as I’m concerned. And certainly the Bahai should have the right to practice their religion. They’ve been the most oppressed religious minority in Iran.
Iranian protests in U.S.
The next question was about the fact that the rally of Iranians abroad had the most left feel. Yes, because especially in the Bay Area, we have a lot of Iranians who come from a leftist background. And so they’re they’re much more democratic and more sympathetic to socialist ideas. But yes, so a lot of there are a lot of Iranians prior to fled because they were left as not all of them. But you know, there are quite a few.
Then the next question was about the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is similar to the Burmese military, that’s very pivot privilege, and he said, “Can you break off a layer of it?” Okay. I think that first of all, the IRGC is similar to the Burmese military in terms of you know, that is the privileged elite. And now, it’s possible that within the IRGC, the sector, the section that’s called the Basij, or the volunteers, mobilize but it really means supposedly volunteers, but they’re really the more working class sector that get less pay, but they’re still under the pay of the government to promote repression and kill and beat protesters. It’s possible that because the uprising has been so widespread, that some of them might be under pressure by their family members to to not not kill or beat protesters. But I have not seen any evidence to tell you the truth that the IRGC is going to have a sector or section of it broken off and join the protests, the IRGC remains a really reactionary, military’s organization. Now it has, it has a lot of employees in the in the companies that it owns. Because the IRGC and the Iranian state are really one and the same. The Iranian state owns the bulk of the economy, and the IRGC is really the Iranian state. So it’s possible that the employees of the companies that it owns some of them when they lose their jobs, and they lose their privileges, they will join the movement. But for now, the IRGC still remains quite strong (?), and it still has quite a following.
And I’ll end with this: there was a was an online referendum conducted by an Iranian Persian language website in Holland Zamani, which has a lot of readers inside Iran. And it mostly has very leftist bent, human rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights. They put out this question saying, “What do you want from future of Iran? Do you want a monarchy? Do you want the Islamic Republic? Or do you want something a democratic secular state?” So the responses they got was 10%, for the continuation of the Islamic Republic, and 25% for monarchy, five either and 60% Democratic Republic, and I think that’s a pretty good estimate of where the population is in Iran. So 60% of Iranians want a democratic secular Republic?
[In reply to final comments and questions.] I think it’s great that you’re trying to connect Iranian and Ukrainian activists together. It’s wonderful. And please keep me posted. I’m trying to do that, too. So we can help each other. And the question from Walter and Stanley, I think those are interconnected. [Regarding DSA International Committee] I did see the statement by DSA International. Yes, I would say that the majority of Iranian protesters are opposed to both the Islamic Republic and they don’t want any imperialist intervention. And that’s been evident in the slogans. And as I mentioned, you know, based on the referendum done, I know, maybe 25% of the population wants monarchy back, but that’s certainly not the majority. And what as far as Code Pink, saying that the only thing you can do is to get rid of the sanctions on Iran. The DSA statement made it seem like the Iran’s ills are all related to the US sanctions, and that’s really incorrect. Now, I did not I think the sanctions have been really harmful for Iranians, unfortunately, because so much of the Iranian economy is is run by the IRGC. And also because the IRGC has been using the sanctions to then promote its own trafficking and its own ways of bringing in goods and selling them at high prices. But Iran’s economy, as I mentioned, is in shambles because the bulk of the oil revenue has been spent on military purposes. And on the nuclear program, the missile program, a drone program. That’s why Iran’s economy is in shambles. And Iran is in major trouble because this rapacious capitalist development over the past 40 years has totally damaged the environment and, and really decimated its aquifers, its water resources and polluted air to the point that it’s not breathing. So those are the major reasons for Iran’s troubles. And to say that it’s all because of sanctions, and I think they [Code Pink] had also mentioned, you know, the history of US imperialism, and that’s why Iran is still suffering. Okay, Iran did suffer from US imperialism, no doubt about it, but also British imperialism and Russian imperialism. Russian imperialism had great influence in Iran. 1906-11 Constitutional Revolution was partly against Russian and British colonialism. They don’t mention that. But I think that at this point, the there are differences among Iranian opposition on the question of the sanctions, some still believe that the sanctions should be removed. Some believe that if the sanctions are removed now, I mean, the sanctions on the IRGC, basically, because that’s really what the bulk of the sanctions are at that. Some believe that if if the US government refuses, removes the sanctions that will strengthen the IRGC that will open its hands for further repression.
Frankly, you know, I can understand both views. I think that I wish there was a way to remove the sanctions and help and help the Iranian people but also keep the sanctions on the IRGC. So that’s what I would advocate. I think that we should have more sanctions on IRGC members, and people that are known criminals, and war criminals. But I think that we should find ways of removing the sanctions that are that whose removal would actually help the Iranian population, for instance, making access to internet more possible for his allowing for more food and medicine to be sent to Iran? what has happening right now is that food and medicine is not under sanction. But because all the bank transactions with Iran are under control. A lot of a lot of other transactions are affected as well because of fear that it will be considered related to the IRGC. So it’s not so much the sanctions themselves as the consequences. And as far as banking is concerned, and its impact on the import of food and medicine. So I think we should have a selective approach to the sanctions and find ways to to promote the sanctions that are stopping the IRGC, but remove the ones that are possible to remove to help the population. And I think I sent a link this Iranian organization, human rights organization that had a list that gave some guidelines….
And then finally, the question about the Iranian military police IRGC: I would say that among the conscripts, the people who are forced those who are drafted. Yes, yes. So they are not with the IRGC. They are basically Iranians who to have to perform military service. And of course, many of them, if they already don’t have sympathies for the movement, they will. So it’s really we’re talking really about the IRGC and the police that are directly benefited by the state that are part of the elite. And when I say benefited by the state, they don’t just get economic benefits. What the Iranian government did with Islamic Republic did was once it came to power in 1979 it started putting all the leftist in prison. It claimed that if a woman has been arrested and is about to be executed for being an enemy of God, and that’s the label they use, the woman should not be executed as a virgin, because if she’s a virgin, she will go to heaven. So the guards would do do Islam an honor if they raped a woman before she’s executed, to make sure she doesn’t go to heaven. So they gave sexual benefits to prison guards to rape women. That was a really important way in which they gained support for themselves among men. They also changed the rules, the some of the basic rules that we had, even under the monarchy, the reforms that have given women rights, for instance, protecting a woman against the man taking on more wives without her permission or they also really made the secret or temporary marriage, which can last anywhere from an hour to months, they, they made that much more available much more possible. So they gave all these sexual benefits to men. They gave the right to guardianship; they said that a woman cannot travel without male guardian’s permission, a woman cannot gain employment without a male guardian’s permission that could be brother or father or husband, a male A woman cannot get a divorce. Without the husband’s permission, the woman can never gain custody of her children without husband’s or her husband’s family’s permission. So they took away all these rights, basic rights, they gave them to men, and they gained support from men. So when you were talking about the elite, the IRGC being an elite, the police having privileges, sexual favors have been part of those privileges. Now, you’re Ted said that the traditional left is basically the remnants of the old Stalinist Yes, the traditional left is basically the remnants of the old Stalinist, the pro USSR pro Mao’s China. But even within some of the traditional leftist, you know, some of them still support the current uprising because they don’t want the Islamic Republic. But you’re right, that the ones that this Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign, can be in dialogue with are the ones who are not Stalinist who don’t support Putin or Xi Jinping and does support US imperialism either. And then there are these are the people that we can be in dialogue with.
Unfortunately, within the Iranian population abroad. The leftists are much older because they they’ve come here from Iran a long time ago. It’s really within Iran that I think the greatest potential lies among the young people. And so I think possibility the work of translation is very important. That’s something that I’ve been doing, translating articles translating books, to create communication with youth in Iran about new ideas on my book, socialist feminism, a new approach is very much an effort to to restate a concept of us liberatory socialism, humanist Marxism, on the basis of a real understanding of what’s different about gender relations in the world today. The 21st century was different about authoritarianism in the 21st century, and revolts against it, I take up four different theories of gender oppression, I discuss socialist feminist use of alternatives to capitalism, both economically and philosophically in terms of overcoming domination. And I could not have written that book had I not had I had not been an Iranian feminist had I not seen what happened to the Iranian Revolution, how was transformed into its opposite, had I not had the work of international had not been engaged in the work of international solidarity over the past four decades. So that’s the kind of work that we need to do to build new connections to develop the vision of socialism. To not it’s good to criticize the other left Just because of some of the horrible positions they’ve taken on Ukraine on, you know, China, I’m with you on that. But it’s not enough. We need to offer the affirmative vision. And that’s what, what young people want. They want an affirmative feminist human rights, vision that defends the rights of first minorities, including sexual minorities. labor rights, not only in the sense of economic rights, but a sense of overcoming alienation. These are the issues that we need to address and thank you so much for giving me this opportunity.