It is said that on 18 October 1967, nine days after Che was killed, Castro delivered a eulogy for Che, to a million people gathered in the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana, and, among other things, this too he said, “They who sing victory over his death are mistaken. They are mistaken who believe that his death is the defeat of his ideas, the defeat of his tactics, the defeat of his guerrilla concepts … If you want to know how we want our children to be, we should say, with all our revolutionary heart and mind: We want them to be like Che.”
Naturally, a lot of us pesky Iranian socialists got a good giggle back in October when the Iranian government, just before the fortieth anniversary of Ernesto Che Guevara’s assassination in Bolivia, organized a conference with the title, ‘Che like Chamran’, intended to emphasize the similarities between Iran’s Islamic revolution and the socialist revolution in Cuba. Che’s daughter Aleida and his son Camillo were the highlighted guests at the conference.
As reported in a 3 October IPS article from Tehran, the ‘Chamran’ part of the conference’s title refers to, “[Mostafa] Chamran, a United States-educated engineer and Islamist, who helped Mousa Sadr found the Amal Movement in southern Lebanon and fought alongside Amal guerrillas in the late 1970s. Appointed the young Islamic Republic’s defense minister by Ayatollah Khomeini, Chamran organized and led paramilitary forces during the early phase of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and was killed in battle in the Khuzistan province in 1981.”
According to a conference participant, who wrote a report for the Farsi language site, Gozareshgaran, the opening statements by Haaj Sa’eed Ghasemi stated that if Che were alive today, he would be fighting in Lebanon alongside the Hezbollah. The speaker pointed out, “Today, Communism, as predicted by [Ayatollah Khomeini], has joined history’s dustbin, and the only path to salvation lies alongside the justice-seeking unitarian religious movements.”
The IPS report explained, “Ghasemi, who is associated with Iran’s Esteshhadiyoun (volunteers of suicide operations) … referring to a translated version of a Che Guevara book that he held in his hand, said Che Guevara was religious and believed in God. ‘The people of Cuba, Fidel (Castro) and Che Guevara were never socialists or communists. Fidel has several times admitted that he and Che and the people of Cuba hated the Soviets for all they had done.'”
When it was Che’s daughter who came to speak, the scenario painted by the organizers started to come undone quickly.
Aleida Guevara opened her address thus, “In the name of the people of Cuba”, and swiftly went onto, “We are a socialist nation.” No mincing words for her!
According to the report for Gozareshgaraan, Alieda emphasized explicitly her father’s, as well as Fidel Castro’s, belief in communism and socialism, making sure to mention that the people of Cuba were grateful to the Soviet Union and, as to the suggestion of a drift between their two countries, she stated that there never was any discord between them, as mentioned by Ghasemi. She advised that if he really wanted to find out about Che Guevara’s beliefs, Ghasemi had better study the sources in the original language; she also suggested checking the authenticity of the translation in the book Ghasemi was holding.
As these words were being translated, there had apparently been chuckling noises heard around the hall, causing the Basiji hardliners (attending in large numbers) to look around to identify the chucklers.
The conference, which was to last four days, was summarily wrapped up, and Che’s children must have been sent packing, not having respected the effects required by the organizers of the conference.
So, we smile! Che’s spirit lives on, is alive, is full of life, and still shows up in the least likely places. at an early point in the life of the Islamic Republic, people could have been arrested, imprisoned and likely tortured merely based on suspicions aroused by the possession of a picture of Che Guevara; possessing his writings was most definitely out. This fact must surely not have been mentioned to Che’s children when they were being invited to attend the conference. But, I guess, Che got the last laugh.
What gives in Iran?
In a country rich with resources stolen, misspent incompetently or misallocated pathetically, Iranian people’s living conditions are so dire that between a third and a half of the population live under or around the poverty line. Addiction to Class-A drugs, according to conservative estimates, affects four to five million people (in a country of nearly 70 million), and increases in drug addictions are three times the population growth rate.
Iran’s infant mortality rates (38.1/1000) are worse than in India (34.6), Egypt (30.1), Honduras (25.2), and more than twice as bad as in Jamaica (15.7), just to mention a few reference points. By contrast, Cuba’s infant mortality is 6.1/1000, while that of the U.S. is 6.4.
Prostitution, another ‘index’ of healthfulness of social conditions, is rampant, and, in a new survival trend, younger women are finding alternative sources of economic relief in presenting themselves in Gulf countries such as UAE as ‘temporary brides’ (Siqhe), which is legal in Shiite Islam.
Harsh socio-economic conditions in Iran are intertwined with a theocratic dictatorship that monopolizes all political realms and all public spaces. In this context, it is quite natural that different forms of social resistance grow organically within the society, as has been the case since the inception of the Islamic Republic regime.
As has historically been the case, one of the more radicalized segments of the Iranian society, the university students, especially in Tehran universities such as Amirkabir University of Technology and Tehran University, have refused to stay quiet about their political demands and persist in pursuing social justice and freedom of expression and assembly. In a recent display of a spirited fight, Tehran University students, at the annual speech given by the country’s president at that university (this year, on October 8, 2007), started to shout down Ahmadinejad, calling him a dictator and yelling slogans such as, “Death to the dictator!” Naturally, many students have been imprisoned, and perish in Evin and Gohardasht prisons.
On the labor front, a bus drivers’ union led by a vocal leader, the now-imprisoned Mansour Osanlou, has been organizing Tehran’s bus drivers and other transport workers. An international campaign has been working to bring about Osanlou’s release from prison. Interestingly, Tehran’s bus drivers’ union sent a message of solidarity to the transport workers of France who started their strike on 13 November this year. Goes to show that international working class solidarity is not a mere dream from some long-gone prehistoric past. For a lot of people, it remains a daily affair.
Women are also organizing along a variety of axes. The daily skirmishes with the ‘Hejab police’ is only the tip of the iceberg of this particular struggle. Among the more recent forms of battle is a current campaign to collect one million signatures for a petition demanding equal legal rights for women and men (for information in English).
There are also organizing efforts along different lines. As reported by Iran Dokht, a newly formed Association of Mothers for Peace, issued a statement on November 4 this year, indicating their opposition to any imperialist attacks on the people of Iran, as well as calling for the release of all Iranian political prisoners from students and workers to women’s rights activists, saying, “We, Mothers for Peace, believe that the inexcusable arrest and imprisonment of those seeking justice and assaults against teachers, university students, nurses, journalists, writers, the clergy, and workers, as well as against activists in the women’s movement, are in fact the kinds of excuses that foreign powers use to attack our country or to impose economic sanctions; while claiming to defend human rights, the foreign powers’ actual goal is the looting of our wealth.”
Alongside the internal struggles of the Iranian people, a helpful sort of organizing of the international kind is beginning to take shape.
On November 20, 2007, student groups in Cuba and Italy held demonstrations to oppose imperialist threats against the people of Iran, and also to protest the conditions of the social rights of the Iranian people, from individual to civil rights, and from workers’ to women’s rights.
This kind of principled solidarity and active international support is the sort that empowers the people in Iran and in the greater Middle East. This kind of solidarity also happens to be what American and European anti-imperialist and peace activists and organizers need more of.
What gives in America?
Why should we not turn the tables on the way things ought to be framed and fought?
Along these same lines, in the U.S. we have the struggle put up at the port of Olympia, WA, attempting to hold up the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction on route to Iraq, for as long as possible, or for as frequently as possible. Of course, the trafficking continues, of course. The impact of an act, though, if well placed and timed, can go much farther than the immediate accomplishment. The total population of the student body in Amirkabir University in Tehran, for example, is under 10,000, yet their fighting spirit has always been a beam of hope for other people in Iran and a thorn in the side of both the monarchists in bygone times and the ruling clergymen today.
Along the same lines, imagine how the political scenery would change almost over night if networks of frequent mutinies were spreading visibly and more rapidly among the military service people, based on the same logic that Lt. Ehren Watada has been applying; namely, that the occupation of Iraq under the guise of ‘war on terror’ is a war crime and a crime against humanity, so any participation in it amounts to complicity with a war crime.
Or, how about based on the fact that, as a service person, even if you survive uninjured and undead, you will come back home so broken that hundreds of you will commit suicide weekly, and hundreds of thousands of you will remain broken daily for decades, due to the trauma of having had to commit deep-structure insanity; years will go by on benches in waiting rooms at hospitals not equipped to deal with your kind of pain; and nobody’s going to mention the unmentionable noxious uranium munitions you were spraying all around Iraq and Afghanistan, which may cause your kids, like those of the Iraqis’, to be born with no arms, half a brain missing, and holes in the wrong places; while you come down with leukemia, bone marrow and other cancers; and while the government doctors say you’re just stressed.
Did not Malcolm X say it before? Something like, you have better odds of winning here if you lay down your arms now and return home immediately! Refuse to fight the wrong war!
The ruling classes in the U.S. like to call it War on Terror. Did the United States government, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995, go on a bombing and razing campaign destroying all the states the terrorists had resided in or passed through the previous decade or two, in the process killing directly or causing the eventual death of nearly 14 million Americans, maiming and crippling another 15-20 million and displacing nearly 60 million (half of them to Mexico and Canada), while guaranteeing a medium-term future of diseases (long eradicated) spread atrociously due to the total destruction of all infrastructure in all those states? Would the American people put up with such a response by their government? So, why do they put up with its equivalent when it happens in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Part of the answer is that they don’t ‘put up’ with it. The voting public did try in 2006 (but made the mistake of trying politely) to force their government to change course. But, unfortunately, there are other parts to the answer, which is the big problem.
A problematic, yet productive, part of the answer: people ‘put up’ with the ongoing war of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan because there are no political vehicles capable of, or willing to, convert people’s political wishes into reality.
The left therefore needs to launch a clear and unambiguous attack on the ‘two party’ ruling system in the U.S. by creating a real party of the people. An absolute majority of the American people have not only no interest in the current system they get swindled by it and they know this. For things to change, they need a real political vehicle to channel their demands for social justice, for re-appropriation of taxation and representation, and for a just allocation of social goods. Without that political organization with clear strategic goals, people will inevitably be disenfranchised and neutralized as political subjects by refusing to participate in the political life of their country; or, if they chose to participate in the official setup, they are eaten up and digested by the ‘two party’ machine, which is the status quo. A political organism that can really rock the boat is one of the first steps of the only way forward.