The millions of Iranians demonstrating against the dictatorship have been an inspiration to socialists around the world.
It’s not about the rigging. It’s about the Iranian people moving onto the stage of history.
But those faltering steps have slowed.
The Iranian state has unleashed its thugs on peaceful demonstrators. Tear gas, beatings, and even live ammunition are their stock in trade.
The dictatorship has rounded up thousands and killed, to date, tens of people. They will kill more under the guise of defence of the Islamic revolution.
Clearly the ruling elite is split over the way forward both economically and politically.
All the leadership groups are committed to the regime.
They differ over its next steps. The splits are multilayered, but in essence I think it is debate between the state capitalists and the neoliberals and between the national capitalists and global capitalists.
In particular a major debate is what to do with oil revenue (about $50 bn).
Ahmadinejad wants to provide some of it to the poor in a cynical attempt to retain support. But the oil industry and other industries need major investment.
According to many reports the economy was the major focus of the election. Unemployment is 17 percent; inflation is over 20 percent; growth will fall this year to under 4 per cent (from a high of 8 per cent two years ago and not enough to absorb the 900,000 new job seekers entering the market every year.
Some of the demonstrators are opposed to Ahmadinejad on economic grounds – they want jobs, economic stability and improving living standards.
With the economy likely to worsen as the price of and demand for oil falls as a consequence of the Great Recession, neither major candidate has any approach that can deliver these to the demonstrators.
The state has systematically excluded even mild economic reformers from power and they in response have adopted the language of political and social reform within the context of support for the regime and, softly, softly, neoliberal policies aimed at destroying subsidies to the poor and directing them to the oil industry.
Taking a scarf off does not fill someone’s belly.
Given that Iran’s economy is dependent on oil revenue and that that industry needs modernising with major injections of capital, the victory of the merchant and local capitalists associated with the bazaars and the hard-right around Ahmadinejad will see a freeze of society both economically and politically.
But the split, especially the language of reform, has sparked millions of Iranians to dream of a new Iran. Those dreams will be different depending on the social status or class of the dreamer.
At its core for the Left must be a marrying of the demands for democracy with the demands for a economy run in the interests of the toilers. Concrete demands around wages and jobs, and the right to organise politically and industrially, can begin that process.
There are almost 30 million salaried workers in Iran, 20 percent of whom are women. It is workers who hold the key to the success or otherwise of this Iranian revolution.
The Left in Iran is weak and still captured by the stalinism and nationalism of the past. That is why most of it is now in the reformist camp.
It was that stalinism and nationalism in 1979 which rejected the working class as the agent of fundamental change and the idea that Iran was ready for socialism. This led to the defeat of the workers’ revolution in 1979.
Based on the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, Iranian workers have the power today to destroy the present dictatorship. The question is will they.
The voting rigging has inspired millions to push their dreams towards reality.
The first phase of the revolution – the demands of various classes for political freedom – has slowed under massive repression.
The Shah in 1978 did the same thing. It worked for a little while but the opposition to his rule was so massive that he could not contain the pressure for ever.
And when oil workers (about 30,000 of them) went on strike and cut off over $50 million a day to the regime, it destroyed the Shah’s rule.
The situation is different today in that it is undoubtedly true that the hard-right does have some support, including among workers and peasants.
But its real class base is the bazaaris whose interests are inimical to big capital and to workers and peasants. That is why Ahmadinejad, the supposed defender of the poor, has been attacking them through proposals to withdraw various subsidies, and seeking workers’ wages destroyed by inflation.
The ‘reformers’ would do the same, but mask their intentions in talk about political reform.
The working class as working class is the missing element in this revolution. Without it taking action as workers there can be no successful challenge to the regime that will deliver real change.
One part of this is the failure of the Iranian left to abandon stalinism and nationalism and reject the idea that the best that can happen is a bourgeois democratic revolution introducing some wider Parliamentary regime committed to some political reforms.
To slightly misquote and perhaps misuse Marx and Engels from the Communist Manifesto, the relations of production:
become no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they become so many fetters. They have to be burst asunder; they are burst asunder.
That appears to be the case in Iran – the ‘Islamic’ overlay on capitalist relations of production are a fetter on the future of both Iranian capitalism and any new society based on community.
But that doesn’t mean that they will be burst asunder – we could see the common ruination of the competing classes.
But it is early days. The revolution has not yet been born. It may be in vitro.
The revolutionary Iranian Left, small as it is, must be prepared to nurture the baby if it arrives soon.
Its task must be to argue for an independent workers’ movement to take the leading role in the struggle and to break with the pseudo-reforming ‘official’ opposition.
In doing that it has to make the argument that there needs to be a revolutionary challenge to the whole system of Iranian capitalism that has been propped up by the Islamic regime since it crushed the revolution 30 years ago.
The inspiring heritage of revolutionary working class struggle in Iran makes that an argument that has the potential to once again grip the minds of millions.