Whether this situation of neither war nor negotiation, or ‘a bit of war, a bit of truce’ is going to last for a long time or will be temporary, one thing is certain. Neither Trump nor Khamenei, despite their desires and intentions, will ever be able to bypass the impasse that the present crisis is creating.
When the leaders speak of peace
The common folk know
That war is coming
When the leaders curse war
The mobilisation order is already written out.
Bertolt Brecht in German War Primer (1937)
When does a war of words become the words of war? It’s always difficult to say, but if Brecht is right we should be very worried right now. Over the last few months the tension that has been building up between Iran and the US since the US pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear accord last year has erupted into the open.
In February not only did the Iranians launch the new Hoveizeh cruise missile with a range of 1350 kilometres but a few days later US bombers killed 200 Russian “advisors” working on a bridge to transport Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and their allies across, the Euphrates in Syria. This month the situation worsened with the US sending both the aircraft carrier strike group “Abraham Lincoln” to the Gulf and units of Marines from Jordan to three US bases in Iraq. At the same time two ships were attacked in the port of Fujairah. The United Arab Emirates have just constructed a pipeline to this port which is on the Indian Ocean so that its tankers would not have to pass through the Straits of Hormuz which Iran has threatened to close in the event of a further escalation of sanctions against its oil. The Iranian state has denied responsibility but it seems clear that this was the work of a marine unit of their Revolutionary Guards.
These events were accompanied by bellicose rhetoric but both sides then insisted there will be no war. Ali Khamenei, Supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, at the meeting with State officials on 24th May 2019, said:
"No war is going to be waged. By Allah’s favour, no war will be waged. We are not after a war, nor is it to their advantage to pursue a war. They know that it is not to their advantage."1
Officials in the United States have also repeatedly said that sending their aircraft carriers to the region is just to deter the war.
"Top officials in the Trump administration were dispatched to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to brief lawmakers about escalating tensions with Iran, saying afterward they are focused on trying to deter attacks and avoid war."2
Neither are of course, to be trusted. According to the Washington Post:
"In the 466 days since he took the oath of office, President Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims, according to The Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president."3
Khamenei’s credibility is no better. After striking workers were tortured he came out with this.
"Anyone who claims that he has been subject to pressure for criticising the government, is lying."4
Apparently telling a lie for these theocrats is a tactical necessity and you might even be rewarded for it in the next life!
War, the Continuation of Politics
However, as Lenin frequently states, parties and people cannot be judged on their own words, but by their actions. Here the key actor is the USA.
Under Obama US policy toward the Islamic Republic was to reach an agreement that could restrain the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions by lifting/suspending sanctions and accepting the key role of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the region, or as Obama suggested to Saudi Arabia to “share the neighbourhood” with Iran.5 Despite the obvious unhappiness of their regional allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and their lobbyists, the JCPOA agreement was signed in cooperation with European powers as well as Russia and China.
However, this policy was questioned by Trump in the Presidential campaign, and when he took office. His first foreign trip was to participate in a Riyadh summit, where leaders and representatives of 55 Arab and Muslim countries were in attendance. The final declaration, shambolic though it was, nevertheless showed its strong anti-Iran intention.6
Trump's basic but incoherent policy was exactly the opposite of Obama’s, i.e. co-operation with Russia and the isolation of Iran and Europe. Nevertheless, his two years in office, and his not-so-sober regional allies’ actions in pushing this general policy, not only lacked effective tactics, they were also stuck in strategic confusion. Mohamed bin Salman’s actions in connection with the Yemen war, the taking of the Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri hostage, the blockade of Qatar, the murder of the journalist Khashoggi and the hysterical and the ridiculous propaganda of Netanyahu not only did not help to advance this policy but only put Iran in a better position. Iran prevented the widely-predicted fall of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and at the same time extended its military presence to the Mediterranean coast.
Indeed all US threats and bluster against Iran have only strengthened the hardliners in the regime. With the failure to bring the Islamic Republic of Iran to the negotiating table, Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA agreement last year. Since then the policy of "maximum pressure" has been applied. All the sanctions that were suspended as part of the nuclear agreement have been revoked as the US attempts to choke off both investment and the export of goods. Even though these actions caused economic damage and put the Islamic Republic under great pressure the manoeuvre has not brought much joy for the Trump government either. The 12 preconditions for negotiation of Secretary of State Pompeo have simply been rejected and so in frustration the US named the Revolutionary Guards as yet another terrorist organisation. At the same time Trump asked the Iranian leadership to get in touch with him to talk – apparently his telephone number was passed to the Swiss Embassy that looks after US interests in Iran.
No further communication has been reported, but in the meantime, we have had the Fujairah incident which was followed by further missile attacks by Yemen's Houthis on Saudi Arabia.
Whether this situation of neither war nor negotiation, or ‘a bit of war, a bit of truce’ is going to last for a long time or will be temporary, one thing is certain. Neither Trump nor Khamenei, despite their desires and intentions, will ever be able to bypass the impasse that the present crisis is creating. If not today then tomorrow, if not in the Middle East, then elsewhere - but as the oil trade is central to dollar hegemony it remains the tensest region on the planet.
It is no accident that we can see a meltdown in capitalist cohesion everywhere. For 45 years, despite the claims of its defenders, the world capitalist system has been in a spiral of economic decline. Only state intervention has held the system together through all that period as the capitalists have tried a succession of dodges to keep the system going. From deficit financing (which only brought about hyper-inflation) in the 1970s, to wholesale restructuring of basic industries (and the shipment of jobs from the traditional centres of capitalism to the low wage economies of its periphery) and then on to globalisation and financialisation, the system has shown an incredible capacity for survival. However in 2007-8 the speculative bubble which resulted from financialisation finally burst and the system has been limping on for a decade without being able to confront the massive debt engendered in that speculative phase (one identified by Marx as the last resort of a system before the next crash).
In fact, far from getting better, the capitalist system is sicker than ever. Speculative activity abounds, and whatever measure is used, global debt is massively higher than it was in 2008. The world’s working class, the class which through its labour creates the value on which the system is based, has faced more and more austerity, wage cuts, and worsening conditions of work generally. At the other end of the scale, to those who have wealth, more has been given.7 Even some of the leading capitalists are voicing concern about the unsustainable social consequences of this growing class divide.
The system, it would seem, has finally run into an impasse from which it can only escape by devaluing capital. In the nineteenth century this was achieved relatively painlessly by the collapse of some firms whose capital was then bought up on the cheap by rivals. However by the end of that century the process had reached such a pitch of concentration that states were forced to intervene to prevent monopolies from choking the very system that had created them (see, for example, Theodore Roosevelt’s anti-trust laws). Alongside this competition between states each defending their national capital intensified – we had entered the epoch of imperialism, the epoch of “the parasitism and decay of capitalism” (Lenin). And in the imperialist epoch devaluation requires an altogether more drastic solution which is the destruction of actual capital values in wide ranging wars like that of World War One and World War Two.
Since 1945 we have had many wars, mainly of the “proxy” variety, where local powers act on behalf of one or other of the major imperialisms. These have no doubt helped to stimulate the capitalist economy though partial destruction and reconstruction, and there is no doubt they have created vast profits for arms manufacturers (even if they create no value for the overall system). But they have never achieved the kind of devaluation which would allow the system to go back to the period 1945-70 when we had the longest boom in capitalist history – a boom predicated on the massive devaluation of the bloodiest war in history.
Indeed so bloody was it that it has affected the consciousness of our ruling classes. The bourgeoisie in all countries knows the dangers of war. They would only embark on one with the intention to devalue their rivals’ capital whilst leaving their own untouched (this was the happy circumstance of the USA in both World Wars where its rival capitals were destroyed and it benefited from the global devaluation of capital). And recent adventures have not served the Great Powers well from Vietnam and the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in the seventies to the disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003. This does not though do away with the imperialist imperative, and this is becoming more acute the longer the crisis continues. As we wrote in our article, The Comintern Then and Now:
"The horrific consequences of imperialism cannot be willed away. As capitalism drags humanity closer and closer to destruction the warning in the Communist Manifesto becomes more and more valid. The motor force of history since the most primitive times has been the struggle between classes. The prognosis is stark, struggles between classes, such as that between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat end "either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes."
Iranian Imperialism’s Successes?
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been showing off its imperialist achievements. Bashar al-Assad's meeting with Khamenei in Tehran, as well as Rouhani's official three days visit to Iraq both got spectacular coverage in the media. During the Iraq visit deals worth billions of dollars were signed. Iran is trying to consolidate its gains, in particular in Syria, and impose itself as a regional power that is recognised as such in the imperialist order.
A newspaper, close to supreme leader Khamenei, ran a headline derisively comparing Rouhani's well-publicised visit to Iraq with Trump’s secret night sortie which only lasted for a couple of hours. These advances for Iranian imperialism came largely as the result of the US disastrous attack on Iraq and the stupidity of their opponents rather than the regime's performance. They are a real boost for the Islamic Republic of Iran, but the continuation of this baneful regime, for millions of Iranian workers and toilers, means only more attacks on their livelihoods, and has brought no benefit to them. Rather it has only boosted the police state as it carried out its suppression of the class struggle. All thanks to warmongering propaganda of the likes of John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu. In spite of nonsensical claims by the regime that the sanctions have not had much effect, the plight of the masses and toilers, and especially of the working class, has brought the internal situation to an explosive point.
These miserable conditions are accompanied by an unprecedented level of corruption that most of the officials of the country more or less acknowledge but in the report of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, called "The Second Step of the Revolution", this is either denied or considered as negligible.
"The proportion of corruption among the agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran is much lower than in many other countries, and especially with the previous regime of Shah that was full of corrupted people. And most of the time, thanks to god, the officials in Islamic Republic kept themselves clean, but even that which does exist is unacceptable."8
Or they carry on with the same old trick, which we have discussed in detail in our previous articles, of blaming the enemy as the source of misery.9
Intensification of Class Struggle
Despite ramping up the viciousness of the police state, the regime has not put a stop to the strikes and demonstrations of the workers. The actions of the Haft Tapeh sugar plant workers, with their magnificent strikes and demonstrations, and splendid speeches, attracted the attention of the general public and the media. Despite focusing on it and watching it closely, the regime could not prevent the protests or silence them. After re-arresting Ismail Bakhshi, Sepideh Ghaliyan and a few others, for revealing they had been tortured, the regime broadcast a so-called documentary called "Burned Design" on national television, desperately trying to make a link between the detainees and foreign elements. Only a few days after this malicious TV broadcast, the regime got egg on its face. A crowd of retired education and civil servant protesters gathered in front of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare on the morning of Tuesday 2 February, shouting the slogan "Torture! Documentaries! They no Longer Have Any Effect!"10
Capitalism will do anything in order to undermine the fundamental idea of May Day, like in the UK where it has been shifted from 1 May to a Monday bank holiday in order to make it just another holiday, or in Japan by extending the number of days off and calling it the "Golden Week" to achieve the same thing. Now Iran is following suit, calling it "Workers’ Week". In state managed gatherings of the workers at the Workers Week ceremony, Rouhani had the nerve to call on workers to increase non-oil exports, including agricultural products to counter the US sanctions, despite the fact that the crop production in 28 provinces of Iran have been damaged by the recent floods and many farm workers still live in tents.11
Despite all these and the arrest just a few days before May Day of ten worker activists who were gathered in a park in order to organise an independent May Day gathering in Tehran on Friday, independent May Day celebrations still took place in many cities and provinces.12
And more importantly, once again, Haft Tapeh workers, to everyone's amazement and surprise, began protests in the sugar plant on 18 May, this time the protest started against the newly established official Haft Tapeh Islamic Shoura (council). They went on strike, which resulted in the arrest of dozens of workers. It should be noted that Ismail Bakhshi, Sepideh Ghaliyan, Ali Nejati, and many more are still in prison.13
During the last year, hundreds of strikes and workers gatherings have taken place in protest at non-payment of wages and arrears, lay-offs, and privatisation. Labour activists and protesting workers, teachers, truck drivers, employees and workers of the municipalities, have participated in these strikes and campaigns every day and every week, despite the threats and intimidation and criminal proceedings against them under charges such as “action against national security" and “agitation against the State".
The Reformist Opposition
The story of the opposition, is, as we have repeatedly said, a pathetic one. For years, they cried out for reforms, but not the slightest reform was achieved in over two decades. Things in fact got worse. They encouraged people to vote a number of times, each time with a new trick. Once they thought foolishly, that pushing a wedge between Khamenei and Rafsanjani would benefit people. Another time, participating in the elections was considered as paving of the way to establish democratic institutions, and also was seen as useful tool for practising democracy! When the leader of the reformist movement, Khatami was ousted from the circle of state power and the other two Green Movement leaders, Mousavi and Karobi were put under the house arrest, they turned to vote for a cleric with a security background, Rouhani. Their aims were: 1. lifting the house arrest of Green Movement leaders; 2. making a deal with the west to avoid the war. There has been no progress on the first one. And for the second one, well in spite of all the fuss and street carnivals celebrating the nuclear agreement, and praising the foreign minister as a champion of diplomacy, in real life, as far as the working class is considered, absolutely nothing was achieved, except the currency lost its value several times over and shadow of war still haunts the country, perhaps more than before.
When communists argued that peace and prosperity in the capitalist system were impossible, and war, hunger, unemployment are the part and parcel of imperialist capitalism, it was dismissed as an unreal, utopian idea, and now, to our astonishment, the opposition is blaming the hard-liners for sabotage of the JCPOA agreement, mostly because of Revolutionary Guard's missile tests.14 This is a false argument since, first of all, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on numerous occasions has confirmed that the Iranian government has met all its nuclear deal obligations fully. And second, the same argument was used for Khatami, that hard-liners did not let him to carry out his reforms, now they repeating again the same excuse.
They do not want to see their own reactionary role in promoting elections as the only way forward.
At the time of the election, when it was argued that the real power does not lie in elections and parliament, but elsewhere, they dismissed it as a conspiracy theory and participation in the elections was considered the real activity whilst anything else was passivity, now that all election promises are up in the air, they bleat it is because that hard-liners did not let it happen! Perhaps the Iranian poet, Ahmad Shamlou's motto is the best description for these characters:
It's hard to get someone to understand something when they get paid for their incomprehension.
The memory of Iran-Iraq war must be still vivid in our minds. What a miserable and terrible time that we had. Hundreds of thousands were killed and disabled, many lives were ruined, prices were skyrocketing, coupons for shopping... having suffered so much, what did we get at the end? Was it a victory for us? Did we win the war? No we didn't, nor did the Iraqi workers, the victors of that war, were both the Iranian and the Iraqi ruling classes. They are still benefiting from that war. The heroes of that war are the commanders of the Revolutionary Guard whose corruption is known to everyone today.
It was the scourge of this army of capital that hit the gold miners of "Agh Darreh" in December 2014, just for demanding wage arrears to be paid. The present Revolutionary Guards, who today dominate the Iranian economy, established their economic base and corrupt practices at the very same time that they were “defending the country”. “Defending the country” has always been a cover for this or that governing body in this or that land, to justify exploitation. War has always been an excuse to extract more work with greater repression. We have not forgotten how during the war between Iran and Iraq, just how easily any protest was put down with bullets and executions. We have only one way against their belligerence, and that is the escalation of the class struggle. The spark has been made by workers of Haft Tapeh, the proposed soviet-style collective fight is to intensify the class struggle.
Workers have no country. Against their multi-national army forces, whether of the Saudis, Sudanese, Egyptians Emaraties, in Yemen or the Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis, in Syria,
Long live working class internationalism!
- 7In the year to March 2017 82% of the new wealth created went to the top 1% of the population whilst half the world (3.7 billion people) saw almost nothing of this wealth (which they played a great part in producing).
- 10This slogan had a similar rhyme to an old popular slogan from 1979 revolution; “Cannons, Tanks, Machine Guns, No Longer Have Any Effect!”
- 14Revolutionary guards tried to sabotage Iran's nuclear deal, says President theguardian.com