The Real Situation in Iran: Moving Fast

In the fog of the swift repression that followed the Iranian elections, and intensified in some American ‘leftist’ corners by commentaries about a CIA-led coup by the Mousavi camp (whereas the real coup, as described by Sahimi among others, was going the other way), a very elementary question has been completely lost sight of:

Since the Iranian authorities are so wonderfully efficient and super speedy at vote counting — so much so that they could announce the full results of tens of millions of votes in less than two hours after the closing of polling stations, then surely they could have just taken one more, day and counted all the votes one more time, just to make sure; with different campaigns’ representatives present, etc., no?

Yeah, I know. That’s just an insane idea! Better to just attack peaceful demonstrators in the streets, shoot and kill people and precipitate a huge and uncontrollable crisis of legitimacy.

Here’s another good one. The Press TV’s(Iran) man was being grilled by a BBC anchorman about the report of irregularities (in more than 50 cities) that the Interior Ministry had just released, and the Press TV man was adamant that these were not ‘irregularities’ but rather, in the language of the ministry, ‘statistical miscalculations.’ Interesting choice of words. For, you see, vote counting falls within the realm of arithmetic, and mostly one function of it only: you know, adding up (the votes). Statistics, on the other hand, fall within the realm of predictions (of trends). So, they are actually saying that the announced results were basically predictions they made, and very optimistically wishful ones at that, of how the voters in different localities could have, would have, or might have voted!

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Getting back to reality, the situation on the streets of Iran has moved far beyond bean counting, and increasingly more radical slogans are being raised on the streets. This has got the system seriously worried, hence their extreme crackdown.

The larger political questions are enormous. Most essentially, how clear is the strategic vision here and how portentous can this spontaneously erupted movement be? Let us not lose sight of the fact that the people took to the streets as a result of an unexpected insult of an ‘outcome’ of a sham election they willingly participated in. That makes for a highly contradictory movement. These contradictions cannot last long without some serious consequences. The more radical and more clear-sighted of the Iranian working classes have harbored very few illusions regarding this system’s capability for being reformed in any meaningful way.

So, the spark for the movement came from a politically ambiguous place; but the insult was great enough to spark a big reaction. And when people who have been enduring a harsh dictatorship finally take to the streets, there are a whole lot of stored-up-in-pressure-cooker grievances that will come pouring out. Hence, the dynamic situation.

As I have said before, here were the people in their millions willing to play along with the fantasy that the system could be reformed, ever so slightly, all of it within the theocratic setup. All they were asking for was that the government take its own propaganda seriously and respect the “Republic” part of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and additionally give them some slack on the “Islamic” part. They were even willing to use the system’s own tools (the fraudulent voting procedures), with all their faults, in order to very politely request some minor changes. No radical demands at all. Quite conservative, in fact.

And when even that was not only withheld, but an actual electoral coup was organized and carried out in broad daylight in order to forever block any idea of the possibility of ANY change, or any talk of change . . . well, the people had to see things clearly since there was no other way of seeing things.

And still, in case it was unclear, came the final nail in the head from Khamenei, in the now-infamous address in his first post-elections Friday prayer sermon, where he defended the election results as absolutely fair, claiming that the ‘nation’ had a perfect electoral system which, he claimed in no uncertain terms, “it is absolutely impossible to cheat.”

[As mentioned above, The Interior Ministry did later admit to “some irregularities,” to the tune of three million votes.]

Khamenei did a lot in that address: by putting a stamp of absolute approval on the electoral coup, he practically changed the ruling system. But also, he reminded the “nation”, in case they had forgotten, that he himself was in fact the absolute ruler, the final arbiter of all matters personal and political, and that was that. His speech, mannerism and general rhetorical posture were replete with indications that Ahmadinejad is actually nothing but his puppet. And, of course, Khamenei also cleared the way for the brutal crackdown by the shock troopers and all the other “legal” means at the disposal of the Iranian state’s machinery of oppression.

That made things boldly and doubly unambiguous, which helped people to see the ball, not just in their court, but coming fast at them, only a few feet away now, and it was a canon ball or a bomb, not a ball. As a result, the more radical voices are coming out and raising sharper slogans.

Most significantly, the Iranian people have not been shaken or intimidated too much by the vicious and cowardly attacks by the state’s machinery of oppression: a methodical intimidation machine with knife wielding thugs to disrupt peaceful mass demonstrations and create chaos and mayhem (the first round of deaths were mostly by knife wounds), with snipers shooting at people in the streets below, with black uniformed, stick wielding motorcycle gangs running at people, with government goons ransacking university student dorms, killing scores and taking countless students to secret prisons, with government-provided ambulances delivering the dead and the injured to unknown locations.

Most of the ‘reformist’ ‘leaders’ are absent, silenced, cowed, or else cutting deals behind the scenes, yet people are moving on their own. Which is a good development. People en masse have to come to see that the ‘reformists’ are actually part of their problems, if we are to have some fundamental changes in the long term.

More increasingly, there are people raising the slogan of “Death to Khamenei,” indicating the emergence of more radical segments of the population — as opposed to “Death to the dictator,” which Mousavi supporters voice, maintaining their ambiguity toward the ‘Dear Leader’ Khamenei, at least for now. And, as a result, we have seen reports — from the streets of Iran, as well as from demonstrations abroad in London and Paris, for example — of Mousavi’s people trying to put a leash (preferably a heavy lid) on any alternative, more radical opposition voices.

Meanwhile, more militant labor unions, having struggled for their most basic rights for the entirety of the life of the Islamic “Republic”, were quick to come out in support of the people’s movement and in defense of people’s rights, even though most of them had boycotted the elections. These unionists, throughout the years, have consistently and correctly characterized any participation in sham elections as legitimizing the system. But, as true radicals throughout history have done, they understand deeply the necessity of solidarity and they are standing with the people, supporting their demands for fairness, and in absolute and unambiguous opposition to the criminal state violence.

The Iranian people’s movement is also creating its own publications in abundance. We have already seen how an entire generation has turned into street journalists using the electronic means at their disposal. But, traditional platforms for political news and analysis such as newspapers (in hard copy and cyber forms) are also spreading fast. One of the more inspiring ones is Khiaban (The Street), which has already had (I think) five issues published and distributed, both online and hard copies on the streets. It has a definite left wing approach, with connections to the labor, the students and the women’s movements.

Another innovative publication is dedicated to identifying (and spreading news of the identities of) the plainclothes undercover thugs who have been attacking the people. These thugs have been knifing people, using chains and brass knuckles, separating individuals from the demonstrations, taking them to back alleys and doing their business, in the most cowardly fashion. And now people are coming up with their own defense.

But, if this is to remain a mass movement, the immediate task is to respond to the state oppressive crackdown in creative ways that further the political struggle by changing the dynamic of the unfolding events. I think a general, nationwide strike is the most appropriate tactic now. Since the security forces are occupying the streets in huge numbers, by simply refusing to come out at all, by staying home, by not going to work, to classes, by making the streets look ghost-like, by bringing the country to a virtual halt and preventing business-as-usual to get back on track, such a move can be a most effective psychological, as well as a political, tactical victory.

But, of course, going by the increasing number of lines of demarcation emerging, on the one hand between the secularists and the system’s supporters, and on the other between the two factions of the ruling elite and their respective followers among the people, it will be anybody’s guess what the next move will be.

But one thing is for sure, the Islamic Republic of Iran, in its current militaristic-repressive formation and at this historical moment, has very little if any legitimacy for an absolute majority of the Iranian people. That is a fact now and will not change. And that is thanks to the daring move made by a people who took to the streets, even though they were misled and delusional about the possibilities for real change within the existing system. Just goes to show how quickly political dynamics can change as soon as the people rise up and enter the political arena. They had had it up to their ears with oppression, with arbitrary intrusions of the state and their murderous ways, and they decided to pave their own way out of that hell.

On June 26, people around the world will be standing in solidarity with the Iranian people’s movement for justice. Please join them and show your brotherly and sisterly love.