The Coming Iranian Class Wars by Rosa Faiz
The particular shape of the ruling classes in Iran has, for the past one thousand and one years at least, consisted of two major components. In Iran they are referred to as the ‘Shah’ and the ‘Shaykh’; the King and the Cleric.
For those less familiar with the history of Iran, it is instructive to know that the clergy were a most integral part of the ruling classes all the way until 1920s, when the founder of the Pahlavi Dynasty, Reza Shah, summarily stripped the mullahs of almost all their social institutions of power.
From that point on the clergy had to stay content with running the mosques for the most part. Even large land holdings of the organized clergy were confiscated.
As Reza Shah’s liking grew for Germans, who built the first railway system in Iran, his occupancy of the Peacock Throne eventually became too intolerable for the British and the Soviets, who jointly invaded Iran in 1941; the British occupying the southern regions and the Soviets occupying the northern regions. So, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had to watch his father sent to exile, and was himself installed as the king.
Seeing how his father had been hated and feared so fiercely, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi decided to at least start out as a nicer, gentler Pahlavi King, and so, “To assure the public that the dictatorship would not be re-imposed, the new shah granted amnesty to all political prisoners,… and decreed a return of ecclesiastical lands to the religious foundations,…” (Abrahamian). 1
In time, there would shortly come a big turn to the right, big crackdowns would follow, and a huge new wave of dissidents would be created, consisting mostly of the communist sympathizers of the Tudeh Party and the left-nationalist supporters of the National Front led by Dr.Mohammad Mossadegh.
So, for the most part, the second King of the Pahlavi ‘dynasty’ set his priorities in line with the Cold War-dictated aims and goals of his enablers in the West, and participated wholeheartedly in pursuing the leftists and making them into public enemy number one.
A most telling episode of a Pahlavi-era union between the Shah and the Shaykh, harkening back to the good old days when the two ruled harmoniously together, came in the wake of the social struggles of 1951-1953, which pit different factions of Iranian bourgeoisie against each other: the monarchist-comprador bourgeoisie and the feudal landowners against the nationalist factions, led by Mossadegh, the Prime Minister who successfully nationalized the Iranian oil industry. The struggle between these two factions naturally opened up the political arena to a wider participation on the part of other segments of society with other political inclinations, most significantly other nationalist-democrats as well as leftists.
It is instructive to see how Khomeini’s mentor, Ayatollah Kashani, acted in the fight between the nationalist and the comprador (i.e. imperialist lackey) factions of the Iranian bourgeoisie. At the height of the struggle, Ayatollah Kashani, a leading clergy of that time, openly sided with the absolutist monarch, inciting his followers to oppose Mossadegh, who, according to Ayatollah Kashani, was clearly a communist/atheist lover; which he was not.
We must take a slight detour here, in connection with the coup organized by the CIA to overthrow Mossadegh, a pleasing event not only to the monarchist-comprador factions, but also the clergy. The point of the detour being to show how thoroughly the imperialists plan when it comes to clearly marking their strategic friends and their strategic enemies.
According to documents released by the National Security Archives, in June 2004, there were plans drawn up by the CIA in late 1952, early 1953 to train and arm a guerilla army in southern Iran, as a contingency backup in case of the failure of Operation AJAX, which was the covert coup carried out by the CIA and the British intelligence, in August 1953, securing Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s installment as an absolute monarch servile to the U.K. and the U.S. interests.
At the time the coup organizers were planning, one point of anxiety was the possibility of failure; in which case, they calculated, the communists (Tudeh Party), utilizing their popularity and influence among the rank and file of the National Front (Mossadegh’s party), plus using their own sizable social support, would gain the upper hand and seize some or all state power. For this contingency, the coup organizers needed a guerilla army (death squads) that would literally target communists. Although this back-up plan was eventually shelved (the coup was successful enough), it served as a clear prototype for what the U.S. later did in Guatemala, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Contras attacks against Nicaragua, and other death squads funded, trained and sustained in Central America throughout the 1980s.
Kermit Roosevelt, the operations-manager for Operation AJAX, in his book, Counter Coup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran, recounts that after the completion of the coup, and as he was giving his oral report to John Foster Dulles, he noticed something eerie, “Despite his posture [leaning back in his chair], he was anything but sleepy. His eyes were gleaming; he seemed to be purring like a giant cat. Clearly, he was not only enjoying what he was hearing, but my instincts told me that he was planning as well.” And sure enough, “Within weeks I was offered command of a Guatemalan undertaking already in preparation … ,” (Counter Coup, p. 209-210).
Then Came the White Revolution
So, the relations between the Shah and Shaykh were somewhat smoothed out during the reign of our second Pahlavi so-called king. Until, that is, the White Revolution, which was a package of social reforms instigated by the Kennedy administration and implemented by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Chief among these reforms was a land redistribution law, as well as laws recognizing suffrage for women, along with other measures such as health and education corps to be sent to all rural areas of Iran. These reform measures either took the mullahs’ and their traditional social allies’ lands, which alone caused extreme alarm, or else cut into areas such as education in rural areas where they had enjoyed a de facto position of hegemony. The mullahs were also voicing a loud opposition to those parts of the reforms that gave women some rights previously denied them.
So, by modernizing the performance of all social functions that the clergy might have had a traditional role in, the White Revolution would codify into law the cutting of the hands of the clergy from essential spheres of social control outside the actual running of the mosques. Naturally, the mullahs were not going to take this sitting down, and though a sizeable segment manning the state-sponsored mosques dared not enter the fray, others such as Ayatollah Khomeini did come out in open rebellion against the so-called White Revolution.
As a result of this package of reforms, therefore, large sections of the traditional classes (the feudal landlords, as well as significant segments of the clergy) became the enemies of the state. The enemies of the monarchist bourgeois state, therefore, consisted not only of those on the left, but also of those solidly on the reactionary side of the fence.
And strange as it may sound, the Iranian bourgeois ‘liberals’ have historically been able to work with both factions of the ruling classes, whether the immediate rulers came in the uniforms of the monarchists or the robes of the clergy, or a combination of both. And this, better than anything else, proves the incapacity of the Iranian liberals for consistency and adherence to their own supposed ideals when it comes to two of the most fundamental cornerstones of bourgeois liberalism: 1) commitment to the separation of religion from governance (an absolute minimum), neglected by the ‘liberals’ who comfortably work inside the clerical regime; and 2) commitment to democracy, neglected by the ‘liberals’ who find it unproblematic to work with the monarchists.
So, in effect, any true nationalist, or any true liberal in Iran has no place left to go, politically speaking, but to the socialists!! It is only a socialist program that can satisfy the most basic social demands of both the liberal and democratic segments of the so-called middle classes (the professional class), as well as liberate the rest of the working classes in Iran.
The Next Round of History
The monarchists who are now lining up again for another ride on Uncle Sam’s Magic Bus Ride, have adopted a new slogan, a ‘democratic’ one in which, the Newly Improved Reza Pahlavi, has been espousing a funny neo-monarchist slogan: I want to be the King of all Iranians! Implying, inadvertently of course, that his father was a bit of a despot who chose to be the king of only a few!!
It is more-than-slightly embarrassing, of course, to enunciate such a position at all. Does not every king worthy of the title take it for granted that he is the king of all his subjects?
We must repeat that with or without the imperialist invasion by the US-British-Israeli axis, the liberation of the Iranian peoples of all nationalities remains in our own hands.
As such, those of us the people of Iran who will yield neither to the Shah nor to the Shaykh, will have to make an unambiguous stance:
Anybody who, for the purpose of taking the state power, is collaborating with the imperialists including U.S., U.K. or Israeli colonialists, you are a traitor to the country, and as such, a pimp who is selling the future of generations of your fellow country men and women, for the price of a temporary taste of political power; meaning, you have earned yourselves an eternal entry into the large ledger of historical traitors to community, and will forever be placed in Lower Hell, on the ninth circle to be exact, on the lake of ice called Cocytus, on the inner circle Antenora, where the Traitors to Their Country are housed, if Dante’s map constructed from his memory, after his journey with Virgil, is to be trusted. 2
Weapons of Mass Destruction or not, next on the agenda for another century of barbarity is if and when and how to attack Iran. The ‘if’ relates to whether or not the imperialists can get ‘their man’ at the helm of the power in Iran. That man is said to be Akbar Rafsanjani, aka Akbar shah. He is well known to have very cordial relations with institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF, and is the author of a ‘privatization’ plan very popular with Western investors. He is known as a ‘pragmatist’ for very good reasons. And if the imperialists can subjugate a nation and make it crawl, by finding compliant national leaders who like to live on their knees and beg for dependency, then why go through all the mess of a war to get what they want?
But, again, imperialists are thorough. All contingencies must be accounted for and a plan A and a plan B for all such contingencies must be drawn up.
Times are strange indeed. There are some Iranians, who would like to lend a hand to occupying rapists. Such Iranians both inside and outside Iran are rubbing their miserable and well-manicured hands together, salivating over the prospects of the rewards for being a U.S. poodle dog. Count in this group Reza Pahlavi and his allies.
There are other types of Iranians, too, some of whom we can safely and accurately call fools, who think that the U.S. will fire a few shots allowing them to storm the streets and overthrow the tyrannical regime, and once the Iranian tyrants are overthrown, the U.S. tyrants too will go back home, only to send postcards from afar. These Iranian, much like first-time gangsters, with shaky fingers, filled with nervous adrenaline, can’t wait to get some action going.
Then there are, of course, those Iranians inside and outside Iran who constitute the business classes, and they are nervous too. But only to a degree. They are mostly busy counting these days. Counting their assets, that is. They are also counting the possibilities, and counting the costs of each possibility.
Not least, we have the Iranian tyrants running the state apparatuses, who are very nervous right now. They know that their particular political leaning, religious orientation, or actual plans or possible actions are not at issue, and that is why they are very nervous. Because they know very well how they got to be the current rulers in the first place: Like the Pahlavis, they are imperialist assisted too with an expiration date!
Yet, in all their nervousness, the current tyrants are uplifted as well. Partly because they can once again puff up their chests, brandish their armor, get the public to tighten up their lips and shut up, and sing macho songs of war in defense of “Dear Islam.” Back in 1980, when Iraq invaded Iran, Khomeini is well known to have called it a blessing, for it provided the perfect opportunity for him to advocate a march all the way to Basra, Najaf, Karbala, and Baghdad, and beyond that, to Jerusalem, to bring about a more powerful Islamic Republic (he may yet achieve this posthumously thanks to the Yanks). Expansionism was writ large into the spirit of Khomeini’s designs, and here was a genuine chance for actual international gains. In the cause of heavens what matter that people die in unimaginable numbers?
Does this not sound like the ‘moral’ calculations espoused by the Bush administration? The two are made for each other, and in fact are from the same cloth. And both are taking all of us for a vicious ride.
The other reason for the more frequent smiles on the mullahs’ faces these days is more sinister, and involves the same calculative immorality that gives Bush and his gangster fellows their biggest satisfaction. Some of the more adventurous indeed calculate:
About 70 million people live in Iran. Most people simply wish to be left alone and not harassed, therefore a politically unknown factor. We do know, however, that about 15-20% of the population is solidly with the regime; as in, their status, privileges, petty-powers and income — hence physical and social survival — depends on this theocratic state apparatus. A further 10-15% may also be bought or coerced into cooperation through a carefully designed regime of carrots and sticks.
So, what does that come to? To about 10 million people whose lives physically and socially depend on the existence of this regime; no mere conscripts. And then, there is also the regular army. So, as pertains to the mere quantitative side of things, on top of all the military equipment, the Iranian regime can count on at least a few million hardcore supporters to cushion the blows dealt by Uncle Sam. For the mullahs therefore the question is very crude yet basic: How many millions of its citizens is Uncle Sam willing to stake on this bet?
And it will be a bet. No guarantees for anybody.
Some Iranian mullahs may look even gleefully at the American soldiers in Iraq trembling at the thought of another patrol, another foray into the chaotic hell that they themselves (at the order of their superiors) have created. They see the American soldiers already fatigued, breaking down at the mere thought of going back to Iraq for another tour of duty, or even for another day. The adventurous see this and think, “Bring it on then! We’ll make things into such a hell that they will wish they had never left their mama’s home!”
And the truly scary part is that the U.S. administration of George Bush and his gang of high-stake rapists count on this kind of thinking. Hence the open talk of attacks on Iran, which have only been toned down while waiting for the election results. And hence the handy leaks for Seymour Hersh’s article, The Coming Wars: What the Pentagon Can Now Do in Secret, in The New Yorker (Jan 24, 2005), which constituted the opening salvo in the psychological phase of the ‘Iranian campaign’.
Should the US imperial planners fail to get their man in the seat of power, we can expect an attack on Iran, either directly by the U.S. or, as Vice President, Dick Cheney, has remarked, “Israelis might well decide to act first and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards.” Or is the U.S. trying to convince Pakistan to start a war with Iran, ‘inviting’ the Americans to fight along with them?
Oh, the possibilities! The possibilities and their cost-benefit studies must be delectable to consider and mull over!
The Possibilities not Endless
In the fog of the current ‘war on terror’ it is easy to forget that Khomeini, the cunning master politician that he was, knowing the imperialists’ liking for abundance of possibilities, benefited from the favors rendered him by imperialists, who, in turn, saw in Khomeini a great anti-communist like they would not see too frequently, a person whom Zbigniew Brzezinski called a ‘strategic ally’. 3
This should not come as a surprise in view of the historical landscape of the Iranian ruling classes’ particular components as shown above. The mullahs, in their latest occupancy of what they consider their rightful place in the seat of power have been extremely helpful to the imperialists, by wiping out at least two generations’ worth of leftist achievements in Iran, sending an entire social movement into exile, into jails, or executed in thousands.
In spite of all the belligerent talk by the Bush and his Gang against the Iranian Islamic regime, pursuing all alternatives is a must-follow element of the proven protocols of the U.S. ruling classes.
And so it is that in following protocol, the imperialists’ choice among the mullahs for Iranian President, Rafsanjani, is getting a lot of positive media attention in the Western capitals, especially in Washington, DC. Item: as reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat of Feb 24, 2005, Rafsanjani had communicated with the White House, as well as with European and Arab leaders, to seek out their views on the possibility of his running for president. And consider, if you will, International Crisis Group, a Soros/CIA front, which, before Rafsanjani even announced his candidacy, was calling for him to run for president, and has been advertising for him ever since.
The Iraqi population in general and the Iraqi resistance in particular continue to consider the presence in their country of some 160,000 foreign soldiers and paid mercenaries, who do not take their orders from Iraqis, as nothing but a foreign occupation. Their resistance is only likely to continue and grow.
One option open to an aggressor wielding substantial military superiority coupled with moral and ethical bankruptcy has historically been to widen the conflict. Should the need arise at any point, the necessary pretexts will be manufactured as required, and the rape-n-plunder show will continue leaving its blood-drenched trail in our neighborhood.
Considering that the ruling classes in the U.S. are confronting very little opposition of any significance, they can strategize with relative ease of mind. And as messy as the occupation and its reality might be, the business of the occupation seems to have been a profitable production. Simply look at the graft racked up by merely three US companies; Bechtel, Carlyle Group, and, Dick Cheney’s current benefactor (he has millions in stocks), Halliburton. And for the foreseeable future, the looting will remain sweet. The non-handover of authority to the “elected” government, includes a series of edicts, one hundred in total, signed by Paul Bremer and (until a new constitution arrives) still standing that, among other things, give U.S. soldiers and military contractors immunity from Iraqi laws, provide for 100% repatriation of profits, and cap the taxes at 15% (Ibrahim Warde, Le Monde Diplomatique, May 2004, English edition). So, lacking a willing Islamist servile leader taking the helms in Iran, an eventual military attack will be fully activated as the track to follow.
* * *
Many lessons can and should be learned from the U.S. general elections of 2004; in particular from the political behavior of some on the U.S. left who advocated voting for the lesser of two evils, i.e. the Democrat presidential candidate, in a race in which both candidates were pro-war. A key lesson is that radical democrats, socialists and left social democrats must create their own autonomous political institutions.
As long as we stay minimalist and attend only to the minimum necessities, and as long as we do not create the necessary political structures to channel people’s demands, most people who could otherwise be in our camp will in fact very easily fall for the sweet talk handed out by the Democratic Party USA, or, in the context of Iran, fall for a “moderate” or a “reformist” mullah, or a “pragmatist leader” all of whom will present themselves as the only alternative to the status quo, or, conversely, as the only alternative to doing nothing. It is not for no reason that the corporate- or state-owned media all over the world work so hard to turn citizens into well-behaved, TV-conditioned participants when acting politically, merely casting ballots and returning home joyously, feeling good that they delivered on all the democratic duties required of them. In short, no matter how many books we may have read or even written about the futility of supporting “reform” movements that in reality buttress the existing order, the world will not change for the better unless we on the left act collectively and consciously in the interests of the working classes, the oppressed, and the poor.
In the case of Iran, it is therefore the duty of leftists to insist on a social order and governance that represents and reinforces the true will of the people, who are the true source of all sovereignty, and the only legitimating base for any state. As progressives in Iran and the leftists worldwide, we must recognize and expose Rafsanjani as the face of U.S./U.K. intervention in Iran. It is wise to note that the same Belgian court which reviewed the cases brought against “pragmatists” such as Pinochet and Henry Kissinger, has reviewed a similar case against Rafsanjani. To support a reactionary system in the name of anti-imperialism is as naive as Reza Shah’s support for the Germans which ultimately compromised Iran’s independence for more than thirty years. As Samir Amin has characterized it, Islamic Fundamentalism is the ‘Dream of the Past’, something highly appreciated by the CIA as a ready-to-use weapon against the progressive forces of the Muslim countries. 4
We demand that imperialists stay out of our country, and allow us to settle our accounts with the barbaric regime that is choking us and keeping us all down, to the ultimate delight of the imperialists. An imperialist power that has some thousand of nuclear warheads at the ready, and who daily uses uranium-enriched munitions in Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby exposing all the biological life of the region to radioactive poisoning for the next four billion years (half life of uranium), has no moral authority espousing concern over the offensive capabilities of a nation whose military budget is a mere drop in the ocean that represents the U.S. military expenditure, and who is completely surrounded by the U.S. military presence.
We further demand that the Islamic Republic regime respect the safety and health of the Iranian people and cease its pursuing of nuclear plans for the foreseeable future, until a government is established that exhibits thoroughness of modus operandi. In a country where the government cannot, yet, publicly account for the serial killings of the most prominent intellectuals and writers; in a country where thousands of political prisoners have vanished without any culpability; in a country where the government manifestly lacks any accountability for its methods and means when it comes to providing for its people (except when it comes to pursuing, terrorizing and killing dissidents); in a resourceful country that almost half of the population lives in poverty, the government that has thus thoroughly proven its incompetence has no right exposing the public to the enormously poisonous hazards of activities as dangerous as nuclear activities.
And for those who believe mistakenly, or advocate maliciously, that nuclear activities bring prosperity, prestige and respect, they need only look at two examples: the case of Chernobyl nuclear accident and the deserted, ghost communities that spread in all directions from it today; and the case of Pakistan, a country that in spite of its nuclear weaponry is still a slave to the designs of the imperialists.
Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, known to some in Iran as Akbar Shah, and Reza ‘Everybody’s’ Shah are in fact the two faces of the same coin that constitutes the Iranian ruling classes, with one twist; Akbar Shah is also a U.S.-approved alternative to their junior Pahlavi.
Rosa Faiz is an independent writer, researcher and analyst.
1 Ervand Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, Princeton, 1982.
2 For map, see, Dante, The Divine Comedy, Vol. 1: Inferno, trans. Mark Musa, Penguin, 1971 Indiana University Press edition, p. 352.
3 In an excellent 1991 article, titled, Iran: Unholy Alliances, Holy Terror, in CAQ # 37, an impressive inventory is listed of favors exchanged between both the U.S. and the Israelis with Iran’s Islamic Republic. This, just in case the mere mention of the phrase ‘Iran-Contra Affair’ is not enough to jog the memory of the reader regarding such behind the scenes collaborations between Khomeini’s regime and the imperialists.
4 Samir Amin, Political Islam, CAQ # 71.