The Iranian revolution – a Marxist perspective

1979 saw the overthrow of the Shah and his absolutist monarchy in Iran. A very vibrant array of left-wing parties from liberal to Marxist played a leading role but the middle class swung behind Ayatollah Khomeini and the mullahs. So, we end up with forty years of a theocratic state the combines a degree of democracy with a lot of repression. Not what the revolution had hoped for.

In 1981, when I bought this pamphlet, the position of most Marxists was one of complete opposition to the intervention of the mullahs. This was seen as a hijacking of a workers’ revolution. Since then, I’ve read some priceless tripe (from some on the Left) claiming the revolutionary Left should have supported Khomeini after all.

The argument normally goes along the lines that Marx failed to understand religion as a revolutionary force and – in one excuse for an analysis – that in 1979 there was no “bourgeoisie, capitalism or class conflict” in Iran. The presenting of the Iranian regime as anti-imperialist is largely aided by the animosity between it and the United States. My enemy’s enemy is basically the logic.

But it’s worth looking at the grim fate of Iran’s Communists to understand the true nature of the theocrats in charge. Because back at the turn of the 1980s, in the aftermath of the revolution, the Tudeh Party (the Iranian Communists) propped up Khomeini. He used them for as long as he had to before choosing his moment to snuff them out in an orgy of executions, torture and imprisonment.

The Soviet Union had hoped to get on the right side of Khomeini having previously – as the above pamphlet details – given support to the deposed Shah. Up until 1983, Tudeh politicians acquiesced in the crushing of other left-wing parties. But then they found themselves isolated and it was easy for Khomeini to wipe them out.

In this pamphlet, Ted Grant argues that the ultra-Left in the 1970s did the revolutionary movement within Iran no favours by supporting terrorist acts. There was a failure to orientate towards the working class, which was often viewed as having been bought off by the Shah. And increasingly the middle class and radicals were forced to meet in the country’s mosques.

The mosques were increasingly radicalised in response to moves by the Shah – such as the expropriation of their property – that made the mullahs more hostile to the Shah.

However, Grant argued – in the lead up to the revolution – that while Khomeini would probably overthrow the monarchy and establish an Islamic Republic, it would fail to satisfy the demands of workers and students. Simply abolishing interest on religious grounds was no substitute for getting rid of capitalism.

This led Grant into a rather optimistic scenario where he thought the Tudeh Party would then grow massively but then experience a split between working class and middle class factions. The latter would support the theocracy – which isn’t far from what actually happened. But Grant’s prediction that popular support for Khomeini would “melt away” didn’t happen. Or at least, a wave of repression in the early 1980s kept the mullahs in place.

Categories: History

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: