The rise of power-hungry monarchists and the necessity of anti-hegemonic struggles in Iran

This article is a translated adaptation of two pieces written by Amin Hosouri which were first published in Farsi here and here.

The common perception is that in the Jina uprising, two major forces have faced each other: one is the protesting, dissatisfied and oppressed people; the other is the autocratic and tyrannical political system that has left no possibility for change except revolution. As the established Islamic state has rejected the people’s demands and suppressed their protests with crude repression during the 40 years of its existence, it may seem reasonable to assume that the only split is between the homogeneous protesting people and the authoritarian political system. The breathtaking events of the four months of the Jina uprising have also clearly shown that there is an antagonistic gap between the government and the majority of society, which will inevitably push the current struggle to its final limit, which is the revolution. But the basic issue that we are dealing with here is the nature of the Jina uprising and the multitude of struggles that take place within this uprising between different political forces against the authoritarian state. The importance of a fight against some of these tendencies is no less important than the general struggle against the state. This article tries to show that the vitality of Jina’s uprising – apart from the necessity of standing up and advancing against the oppressive apparatus – is dependent on the quality of its content (in defence of liberating horizons). From this point of view, the present article emphasizes the necessity of the active participation of revolutionary left forces inside and outside the country in defending its liberating horizons, and enumerates some of its political and practical implications.

Parallel to the general struggles against the ruling regime, acute struggles are also going on within the heterogeneous front of the fighters of the Jina uprising. The conscious or implicit goal of these internal struggles is to try to determine (or influence) the content of this revolutionary process. The first and most public manifestation of these internal struggles were observed in the confrontation of slogans in street protests. For example, the conflict between the slogan “Man, Homeland, Development” and the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” (a short context is needed – the slogan of “Man, Homeland, Development” was created and supported by the right-wing opposition, in contrast to the progressive slogan of  “Woman, Life, Freedom”, in order to advocate for masculinity and reactionary nationalism), or the slogan “Reza Shah, bless your soul” against the slogan “Death to the oppressors, be they Shah or supreme leader”. Each pair of slogans, which mostly originated abroad and in cyberspace, became codenames for two conflicting political horizons in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement.

The emergence of such conflicts in the movement is not accidental, nor can they be ignored, contrary to the efforts of the right opposition to ignore conflicts under the pretense of national unity and solidarity to fight against the oppressive government of the Islamic Republic. The emergence and persistence of these internal tensions reflect the differences within the oppressed front and manifest the direction of certain political tendencies that are trying to make their mark on the uprising. As the Jina uprising was built on existing historical realities, it inevitably carries some shortcomings. The political life of modern society is formed in the process of conflicting political interests and movements. The outcome of these confrontations will ultimately determine the political fate of the society (until the next profound change). In other words, the content of the current revolutionary process, in all its fluid ups and downs, is the result of the conflict between antagonistic internal currents with each other and with external forces (the I.R. and the world powers). The current revolutionary process is constantly forming and evolving. The problem is the macro direction of the uprising and how to consciously and progressively intervene in the development of its content.

The first step for a dynamic (progressive) understanding of and intervention in the content and fate of the Jina uprising is to understand the fact that there are severe and decisive battles among the government’s opponents. From this point of view, first of all, one should doubt the honesty and wisdom of people and currents that invite everyone to stay silent about the existing differences under the name of “solidarity” (a perverse understanding of solidarity, of course, in the sense of eliminating differences). This call for “unity of the word” is accompanied by the claim that the only common goal of “us” is to overthrow the established Islamic system. However, loyalty to the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” requires confronting the oppressive foundations of the system, not merely overthrowing the government as a figurehead, a mediator, or a tool for imposing oppression. 

The call for the “unity of the word” is generally raised by currents that, according to the existing objective possibilities, are in a superior position to disperse their voices. As a result, such a call, with its repressive nature (imposing silence), is a measure to maintain and strengthen their superior position. By focusing on the overthrow of the regime, the Iranian nationalists, pan-Iranists, monarchists, and their pragmatic companions (from other political trends of the right-wing opposition) try to marginalize the public and critical discussion about the plan for the alternative, which is the goal of the revolution. This is because the expansion of the latter makes it clear to everyone that the political model in their mind is closely related to the foundations of the current system.

What this current demands can be summed up in the “overthrow of the mullahs’ regime”. If demands are centered around regime change, the oppressive relations represented and preserved by the current rulers would be untouched in the event of a transfer of power. If such a tendency (regime change) becomes hegemonic, the result of the uprising would be reduced to the change of the main elites of the ruling system and also some formal changes (without eradicating the power relations). In this case, as seen in the 1979 Revolution and the ’Arab Spring’ revolution in Egypt, we will witness the protestors being told: “Go back to your homes; The revolution is over!” However, according to history, overthrowing and changing the ruling system alone is not enough to get rid of the relations of domination, oppression, and exploitation. On the contrary, by changing the arrangement in the sphere of power, the same relations can be reproduced in a stronger form. If we consider the revolution not as an event (a quick turn in the situation), but as a dynamic process, the main goal of the revolution is to remove the foundations of domination, oppression, and exploitation: a goal that can only be realized by empowering the oppressed people to engage in real participation in politics which can manage/guide their collective life. This doctrine can be a compass to evaluate the current (or future) situation of the Jina uprising and to recognize the revolutionary/reactionary nature of the forces who want to guide it toward regime change. Let’s use this compass to criticize and judge the performance of the dominant part of the opposition forces (the rightists), especially in the current situation where they speak more clearly than ever about their privileged competence to lead the movement and mobilize Western governments to support the regime change campaign. 

The right-wing opposition is not united and includes different groups with different demands. But what is clear is that these different groups have at this moment achieved an alliance, albeit a successful one. What has made this heterogeneous spectrum of the right sing in harmony to the same tune is their consensus about the main goal of this uprising- in their opinion, regime change. Of course, many of them are more intelligent than to sum up their political goals and the prospects of the Jina uprising explicitly in this stock phrase; Rather, they talk about the necessity of the “Iranian nation” achieving freedom, human rights and even social justice, as well as eliminating oppression and discrimination against women and social minorities. To show the contradiction between the claims about, and the real approach to, the Jina uprising by the right-wing opposition, it suffices to cover three points:

1- In an environment where the uprising has entered a long-term struggle phase (which should be taken as a good omen), the right-wing opposition forces publicly or implicitly introduced the lack of success of the uprising as a result of the lack of coherent leadership, and consider their political presence as a response to this lack. Despite highlighting some of the tactical reasons, their special emphasis on the issue of leadership is rooted in the long-standing belief of the rightists that the decisive issue in politics is the structure and composition of the ruling state. So, up to this point, their elitist approach to the uprising is a confirmation that they do not believe in the political efficacy of the oppressed people (apart from the usual compliments); At best, the oppressed are prone to play the role of victims or foot soldiers – instruments of regime change. As a result, their desired democracy cannot be anything more than a formal parliamentary system centered on the principle of representation (where the authority of representation is in the hands of the elite). Their emphasis on the necessity of solidarity between different political groups is actually an attempt to impose unity on the uprising, in order to prepare the conditions for the emergence of “proper” leadership, which is a condition for victory. The latest example being the media unveiling of those claiming to be leaders of the movement, which saw the symbolic union of some media figures such as Masih Alinejad, Hamed Esmailiyoun, Reza Pahlavi, Nazanin Fanadi, etc.

2- All these elites welcomed with open arms the companionship and intervention of foreign powers as a condition for the victory of the popular uprising. Therefore, in their opinion, the evil of the Islamic Republic should be found in the evil nature of its rulers, which itself has no connection with the rampant nature of world power relations and its autocratic character. The demand of these elites from the western governments is to recognize them as the representatives of the people and support them to reach political power. That is, they take advantage of the struggles of the oppressed people (from below) and especially the unorganized nature of these struggles to negotiate (from above) with the global powers about their fate. Naturally, the oppressed people will not be aware of the costs of this support-deal, but they will pay the bill later (just as we paid the costs of the historical agreement between the West and Khomeini). The difference is that the Islamic Republic is still dependent on the governments of Russia and China for the continuation of its power, while the right-wing opposition has involved Western governments in order to gain power as an alternative to the current regime.

3- So far, none of these elites has spoken about how to realize “prosperity” and “social justice” and the like, let alone present a specific plan and program as an alternative path. It is as if in their opinion, the sphere of economy is of secondary importance in the set of factors that create oppression, dissatisfaction, and people’s demands. It reminds us of the famous saying of Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Revolution: “Economics is for the stupid!” At best, the right-wing opposition thinks that the problems and economic-livelihood crises of the people are caused by the corruption and inefficiency of the current ruling elites in Iran. As a result, with the emergence of efficient and healthy elites in a conventional democratic system, the economy will be “free” and with the joining of the national economy to the world economy (free market), economic problems will be solved. In fact, these self-proclaimed leaders consider the solution to Iran’s crisis-stricken economy to be the “correct” implementation of the neoliberal economic vision. The same magic formula that, in their opinion, has not been realized in Iranian society for at least two reasons: one is the corruption of the rulers; the other is cutting of ties with the “free world”. They claim that by solving these two problems, Iran’s economy will flourish by itself.

The common base of these three issues, which has become the most important connecting link among the right opposition, is the approach, according to which the overthrow of the Islamic regime is the only alternative to the current situation. Another significant base for this approach is the belief in the separation of the sphere of politics from the economy; also the disbelief in the transformative ability of the oppressed and their capability to take over their collective lives.

These critical points are enough to shed light on the central point, according to which this opposition is in fact the logical continuation of the current state, but in a different guise; since it has more in common with the structural bases of the current ruling regime than the differences. While the Islamic regime oppresses the agency of the Jina uprising and tries to block the path towards the realization of its potentials, this opposition tries to usurp and eradicate these potentials through accessing the media and with financial help from the US State Department & the EU. The problem is that the more oppression and brutality of the regime increases, the easier it would be for this opposition to reduce the goals of the uprising to “overthrow”. It is therefore essential to comprehend that although the continuation of the uprising (even invisible or in forms of repeated interim uprisings) creates some opportunities, it cannot necessarily guarantee victory by itself. One should admit that the revolutionary left accompanying the uprising requires a simultaneous struggle on two fronts: one, the outward struggle against the Islamic regime as the actual evil, or the guardian of the relations of domination and oppression; and second, the inward struggle against the forces which, while opposing the regime and claiming solidarity with the uprising (and even claiming loyalty to Woman, Life, Liberty’), pave the path in practice to protect these relations of domination in the post-Islamic regime era. 

However, these two struggles are not of the same nature. Although the current arrangement of forces in the internal sphere of the uprising is in favor of the right-wing opposition, the inward struggle is an anti-hegemonic one to bring along the oppressed, most of whom are at the same time exposed to the ideology and the media propagandas of the right-wing. Undoubtedly, the right-wing front – being supported by foreign powers – owns a strong media infrastructure. However, the crucial strength of leftist forces for an effective connection with the uprising is that the perspective emerging from the leftist system of values is much closer to the real needs and demands of the oppressed.

All Farsi mainstream media outside of Iran purposely present a distorted image of the Jina uprising and its perspectives. It means that the leading elites and dominant powers of these media present a homogeneous image of the uprising, ask others to keep silent and to passively accompany them (under the pretext of solidarity), while they actively promote their own political discourse. The strategic approach of the mainstream media is not aimed to empower the oppressed and deepen the revolutionary process, but rather to develop a special (adapted) political alternative for the current situation. For instance, Reza Pahlavi does not hesitate to reveal his political goal, which is turning this revolutionary uprising into a “controlled collapse” and then establishing “national reconciliation”. The transformation of this revolutionary uprising into a “controlled collapse” of the regime requires the creation of measures to restrain and control its revolutionary aspects. This, in its turn, requires harmony with the global powers, who seek their interests in the uprising, and with the economic-political-military dominant power in Iran, which means the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). This fact explains why Reza Pahlavi carefully maintains his relationship with the IRGC. 

Undoubtedly, the strategic solution on how the leftist forces could run an anti-hegemonic intervention in the Jina uprising is a crucial topic for discussions and strategic thinking among leftists in Iran. However, reflecting on forms and possibilities of mass political education and taking practical steps to realize this goal, seems to be one of the immediate needs to effectively advance the anti-hegemonic struggles. In this regard, among other solutions, one should think about how to create and support thousands of alternative media against the mainstream media.

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