The proletarians in the Middle East have not yet realized it, but the struggle to defend their living situation and against the imperialist war is developing towards a revolution in which the overthrow of the Shah regime was only child's play.
In a tweet of 18 December 2018, Robert J. Palladino, the Deputy Spokesman for the Bureaus of Public Affairs, reported: "Yesterday, #Iran’s regime arrested steelworkers who simply asked to get paid for their work. Sadly, this is how the regime has always mistreated the Iranian people. The U.S. supports their rightful demands. Iranians deserve to live in peace and dignity. # کارگران #betheirvoice". (More than 40 Ahvaz steel workers detained in midnight raid)
The Trump government is well aware that the Ayatollah regime uses such statements to suggest that workers on strike have been manipulated by foreign agents. The USA is seeing with increasing discomfort how the workers' struggles in the Middle East expand further and set ever higher goals since December 2017. The American capitalists obviously do not want their desired 'regime change' to be carried out by victorious Workers' Councils! Just as when in October 1917 the Russian workers conquered all power with their Workers' Councils to end Russia's participation in World War I, a victory of the Workers' Councils over the Ayatollah regime would become an example to follow for workers all over the world. When the German workers and soldiers followed the example of their Russian comrades in November 1918 and turned their weapons against their own exploiters and rulers, the First World War came to a definitive end. The proletarians in the Middle East have not yet realized it, but the struggle to defend their living situation and against the imperialist war is developing towards a revolution in which the overthrow of the Shah regime was only child's play.
THE END OF THE STRIKE OF THE WORKERS OF THE HAFT TAPEH SUGAR CANE PLANTATION AND FACTORY
On Thursday 29 November, the workers had already been on strike for 23 days against months of non-payment of wages. The next day, the company's Board of Directors announced that the strike had ended. This was after the notorious religious police had ensured that retired workers could enter the company as strike breakers and restarted production. At the same time, the Ministry of Labour announced that the workers had received two months unpaid wage in their bank accounts. However, this did not prevent the workers from continuing their protests. They demanded the rest of their wages, an end to the privatization of the company and the release of the imprisoned labour activist Ismail Bakhshi, who was arrested on 18 November along with 18 other workers. "The arrested worker must be released," the workers in Shush said. They also shouted: 'we are workers, not troublemakers' in response to the way the government has treated the protests of the workers in Iran. (Iran's worker protests continue for third week despite threats)
After previously releasing all the arrested Haft Tapeh workers on bail, their main spokesman, Ismail Bakhshi, who was accused of endangering state security, was finally released from prison, seriously injured and severely traumatized after severe torture that almost cost him his life. He is now under house arrest and is not allowed to have any contact with the outside world or even to distribute a photograph of his condition.(1) Video footage of Ismael Bakshi's earlier speeches have gone through Iran and around the world. He represented the trend among workers in favor of a Workers' Council ('Shora' in Farsi). In Iran, an evaluation text is circulating that indicates that the authorities have deliberately eliminated Ismael Bakshi in order to weaken those who want a Workers' Council, and to strengthen the trade union trend. (2) This would have had the effect that the workers would be satisfied with the payment of two months wages. As far as known, work has indeed been resumed and the slogan "Bread, Work, Freedom and Workers Council" has lost its power for the moment.
The above mentioned evaluation text mentions isolation as an important reason for ending the strike at Haft Tapeh. It should not be forgotten that the workers have consciously sought solidarity. During the street demonstrations, the workers called for "solidarity and unity with other workplaces and cities that are facing similar issues with the management. In particular with the current dispute and strike that is taking place in the Foolad steel factory in the nearby city of Ahvaz. The slogan 'Long live the unity of Foolad and Haft Tapeh', broke the barriers to class unity and solidarity. This was well received by Foolad's workers and the next day they responded with the same slogans in their demonstration". (The crisis and the rise of the workers' struggle in Iran).
We can draw two conclusions from this:
First, that being on strike in two 'near' (100 km) cities at the same time is not enough, but that the organization of the workers should not be limited to the workplace, but should also cover larger geographical areas.
Secondly, the search for active solidarity must be more broadly focused than 'similar problems with management', i.e., the non-payment of wages, often against the background of a state-manipulated 'privatization' of state-owned enterprises. At the time, the Shah's regime only really began to falter when the relatively privileged oil workers went on strike.
THE END OF THE STEELWORKERS' STRIKE IN AHVAZ?
On 29 November, when the strike at Haft Tapeh began its the 23rd day, the steel workers in Ahvaz (3) were on strike for 18 days. Three weeks later, on December 17th, the first reports of arrests of striking steelworkers appeared. In the night from Sunday to Monday, 15 steelworkers were arrested at home plus some bystanders. Iran News Wire gave details about the arrested workers, and mentioned that a few escaped by spending the night on the street. These arrests followed on the 37th strike day of the steelworkers (on Sunday). On 18 December it was announced that security forces had arrested even more striking workers at home during the night while their families were being intimidated.
Both demonstrations of the steelworkers in Ahvaz are reported to be reigned by "anger" among the steelworkers, and a threat of a demonstration in Tehran if their demands were not met. Iran News Wire reported various manifestations of different social categories, spread throughout the country. People all over Iran have expressed their support for the detained workers and demanded their release. During a demonstration in Tehran in front of the Iranian Parliament in demand of an increase of pensions, pensioners have expressed their support for the steel workers and called "Prisoned workers must be released". (Iran arrests dozens of striking steel workers in Ahvaz)
LESSONS FROM THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE WORKERS' STRUGGLE SINCE DECEMBER 2017
Since the turn of the year 2017-2018, we have seen that the proletarian struggle in the Middle East is developing in movement of rise and downturns, in which every emerging wave encounters certain obstacles and then abruptly stops or slowly fades away. The masses of workers have always incorporated the limitations of their struggle into a higher consciousness and a correspondingly better mass organization. As a result, these limitations could be overcome in the next wave of struggles. Extension over ever larger parts of the proletariat and even other parts of the population not belonging to the 'high' bourgeoisie, have made it possible to set the goals of the struggle ever higher. Now that the struggle of Haft Tapeh in Shush and of the steelworkers in Ahvaz seems to have come to an end, an important moment has come to learn the lessons. It is like a toddler learning to walk. In the next wave of struggle — regardless of whether it takes place immediately or later — the previous steps are repeated, from being able to turn around and crawl through standing up and walking, to learn the lessons from previous movements in a practical way.
1) FROM STRIKES BY OIL WORKERS IN IRAQI KURDISTAN TO STRIKES IN IRAN
It is promising that the current movement started at the end of 2017 in Iraq and spread from there to Iran:
"First there were spontaneous mobilizations of the oil workers which were joined by unemployed and public workers whom the government – deprived of the oil revenues – had left unpaid. The resignation of the prime minister could not stop an already growing anger. The demonstrations soon turned against the political apparatus of the Kurdish bourgeoisie as a whole: the seats of the five Kurdish parties were burned by the crowd. Hereupon a cruel repression followed.
The images [on YouTube] show a demonstration on December 30 in Shiraz. The demonstrators are shouting: “Dictatorship, you should be ashamed and piss off.” There have also been shouts of “Down with the Guards” and the photograph of the highest ranking military officer of the ‘Revolutionary Guards’ (Gjadem Seimani, he had been engaged in Syria) was burned. They have called upon the forces of order to join them and demand their solidarity with the demonstrators.
We do not know more from the course of the mobilizations after the first waves of repression because since the 19th [of December] we have not found any news in the international media. But on the 28th, only two weeks later, videos started to sip through on YouTube like the following one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OFz8ikphnU&w=762&h=425
At the other side of the border, in Kermanshah, Iranian Kurdistan, spontaneous demonstrations had started against rising prices, unemployment and corruption (6) that spread almost immediately to Mashhad and Tehran. Whereas the Iranian state opted at first for a mild repression, the case is that they have gained strength for two days now, going from the streets to the enterprises and factories, converting into a wave of political strikes outside and against official syndicalism.". (Nuevo Curso Mobilizations of workers in the Middle East)
So we see a movement that is spreading internationally across the borders of states. From the beginning, this has been an important feature that will be reinstated in the next waves of battle. It will be of enormous significance if workers on strike and demonstrations also indicate explicitly with slogans and on banners or signs that they have taken over the struggles of workers in other countries.
In addition, we have seen strikes in the factories move on to street demonstrations where workers from other companies, unemployed proletarians and other non-capitalist sections of the population can join. This gives a completely different, ultimately revolutionary dynamic than when, conversely, workers join a movement of "the people", in which in practice the middle classes and their bourgeois struggle for "democracy" and participation in elections or other changes at the top prevail, as with the yellow jackets in France and Belgium. In 1978/1979, the 'opposition' of the National Front and the ayatollahs drowned the workers' movement in Iran in that of 'the people' and restricted it to driving out the Shah, with the state and the army holding power.
2) STREET DEMONSTRATIONS YOUNG UNEMPLOYED, SUCCESSION OF SLOGANS AGAINST WAR
Indeed we saw that while the movement of workers in the factories came to an end (the reasons for which have yet to be investigated), mainly young unemployed proletarians took to the streets with slogans against the regime and against the wars it is waging in the Middle East. They played cat-and-mouse with the religious fanatics of the paramilitary police force Basij on their motorcycles. These Basij are more complementary to the arsenal of state repression against the population, whose main power is formed by the army and elite units of the Pasdaran (Islamic "Revolutionary Guard" or "guardians of the revolution".
Nuevo Curso summarized the situation at the end of 2017 as follows, explaining why this wave of struggle had to end:
"We do not know whether there have been attempts to organize independently, whether strikes and demonstrations have some kind of coordination or are just street movements. It is possible that there have been such attempts, but the information cannot come in more lamely or filtered. In any case, it looks like the working class is beginning to awaken and to show a tendency to act politically independent of the state and the bourgeoisie, beyond national, linguistic and ethnic borders. And in a place that is, at this precise moment, the center of global imperialist conflict. And this, although it does not advance more at the moment, constitutes already a most important qualitative leap. A force capable of changing everything begins to emerge". (Nuevo Curso Mobilizations of workers in the Middle East)
On 3-1-2018 Nuevo Curso will go into more detail on the decline of the street demonstrations around the turn of the year:
"The key is not so much in the threats of Khamenei and the development of the repression, which already amounts to a dozen dead and more than 1000 detainees, “soft” so far in terms of the regime. The key is the failure of the call for strikes last Tuesday. (...) The attempt to replace the organization by the call for a national strike from nothing, using simply the ‘Telegram’ app and the Internet could only lead to failure. The 'techno-insurrectionalism' is not a valid alternative to class organization. (....) The reasons for the movement’s staving in are much deeper than the fear of repression. The repression now comes to liquidate a movement in retreat, it did not cause its recession. As we saw in the first days of the mobilizations, when the movement is strong enough, the repression keeps at distance and proves to be impotent. It is the recession of the mobilization, its inability to move forward and take an organizational form that favors the repression". (Nuevo Curso Why is the movement in Iran in reflux?)
It is only later, in the struggle of the workers of Haft Tapeh, that an organization is formed.
3) DESPITE REPRESSION STRIKES AND DEMONSTRATIONS EVERYWHERE IN IRAN, TUNISIA AND JORDAN
The repression took other forms. No longer the imprisonment of publicly known militant workers, because there were no such workers by lack of an organization that entered the public domain. Mainly at night 'unknown' alleged rioters were arrested, who simply disappeared or were left behind in the river or along the road, their dead bodies severely mutilated by tortures as a deterrent example. This state terror could not prevent strikes from continuing to break out and demonstrations of all sorts of categories, the best known of which was that of women who publicly cast off their veils.
Since January 2018, the demonstrations of young unemployed people in Tunisia have also flared up again. It all started with a hashtag: #fechnestannew: What are we waiting for? (La Tunisie entre révolte sociale et promesses politiques). "In three days' time, it is clear that one person has died and dozens have been injured, while, according to figures provided yesterday by the Ministry of the Interior in Tunis, some 600 people have been arrested. Tension does not seem to have eased and new demonstrations, including sit-ins, are still planned in several major cities throughout the country, including the capital'. (Vent de révolte de la jeunesse en Tunisie)
It was very striking that in Jordan in May 2018 there was "simultaneously a wave of strikes and protests by workers and the unemployed ... against tax increases, price increases and state corruption. In fact, this movement of low-paid workers against the rise in gas and electricity prices began a few months earlier in the countryside and grew into massive protests in the capital Amman that lasted more than a week, and which the unions had difficulty containing and controlling'. (Baboon Class struggle in Jordan’s war economy). By injecting billions into the Jordanian economy, capital was able to prevent the workers' struggle in Jordan from rising as high as in Iran.
The movement still seems to rely mainly on anonymity and social media and the lack of organization has not been overcome. The last 'spontaneous' movement takes place immediately on the border with Iran.
4) THE MOVEMENT CROSSES BORDERS TO SOUTH IRAK
"Starting on July 8 a number of spontaneous protests broke out in central and southern Iraq involving thousands of demonstrators. It spread through eight southern provinces very quickly and, about a fortnight later, onto the streets of Baghdad. These followed significant protests in Jordan and Iran on exactly the same issues. The movement in Iraq would have been aware of these protests and inspired by them given the basic similarities (...) Not only have government and municipal buildings been the target of demonstrators’ attacks but so have the Shia institutions belying their hypocritical "support" for the wave of protests. The "radical" populist al-Sadr had his delegation to the protesters attacked and seen off – this was shown in footage on social media. Every major Shia institution has been rejected and their offices attacked and what makes this even more important is that the attacks have come from their own constituents in the Shia heartlands, with the protesters ironically using the term Safavids to describe their leaders, an expression referring to past Shia dynasties by often used by Sunnis as a term of abuse. Iranian planes were ransacked at the airport of the Shia holy city of Najaf and the HQ's of pro-Iranian militia including the Popular Mobilization Units have been targeted and burnt along with government offices". (Baboon Iraq: marching against the war machine )
Some characteristics of this movement and the underlying motives of the proletarians deserve special attention:
a) They took place simultaneously in Iran and Iraq and were directed against the same situation: unemployment, lack of basic services such as electricity (partly from Iran, but cut off for lack of payment), drinking water and water for agriculture (tapped for nuclear power plants in Iran), health care, high rents, non-payment of wages, the total implausibility of politicians by corruption, favoritism and electoral fraud. (Baboon Iraq: advance against the war economy). Given that the situation in Iran and Iran has not substantially changed, it is possible to move from tacit simultaneity to deliberate and explicit expansion and organizational unification across national borders.
b "In fact, because of the absence of the Shiite authorities in Baghdad, the local religious [authorities] assume state functions, which explains why they have been particularly targeted." (‘Échanges et Mouvement’ on this summer’s mass revolt in Iraq). "According to Kurdistan News 24, 14-7-18, regular Iraqi army units joined the protests in at least one province. When the protests took a step forward and hit Baghdad, Middle-East Eye, 19-7-18, reports the slogan 'Not Sunni, not Shia, secular, secular!' coming from large crowds." (Baboon Iraq: marching against the war machin )
c) "The adherence to the Shiite religion in combination with the social misery among youngsters (60% of the population is under the age of 24) explains why more than 60,000 of them have voluntarily entered the army to combat Daesh. 1,580 have been killed and 3,000 have at least lost a leg. All have hoped to gain some advantage from this engagement, but once returned home they have been totally abandoned, undergo the common situation and are all the more frustrated." (‘Échanges et Mouvement’ on this summer’s mass revolt in Iraq) The presence of uniformed proletarians and demobilized soldiers has been decisive in every proletarian revolution in defending striking and demonstrating workers against state repression. Now repression is already an issue that will have to be resolved in one of the coming waves of struggle.
d) "The general situation has become all the more explosive because, whereas oil activities develop, the inhabitants have almost no chance of finding a job, as the multinationals who exploit the oil prefer to hire migrants all the way from South-East Asia, who are particularly docile and underpaid." (‘Échanges et Mouvement’ on this summer’s mass revolt in Iraq https://afreeretriever.wordpress.com/2018/10/26/iraq-the-sequels-of-the-war-against-daesh/ ). As noted earlier, the workers in the Middle East oil industry are probably the last to participate in what has then grown from insurrection or revolt into a rebellious movement. The strikes by oil workers in Iraqi Kurdistan (or Kurdish Iraq), which started the first wave of fighting, was an exception in this respect: the Iraqi state no longer paid their wages. Capital and the state bind oil workers to themselves by offering them privileges in terms of wages, working conditions, facilities and protecting them from the rest of the working class (housing in special districts or even on company premises) or by using language barriers (migrants). But when it is clear that in the past, the strike of oil workers turned the balance of power upside down, workers can investigate which possibilities exist in each concrete situation to involve the oil workers in their struggle.
In southern Iraq there is another fact, also known from the workers' struggle in Tunisia: unemployed workers go to the companies and demand to be hired. Mass unemployment "... explains the events that have broken out, starting with a simple blockage of a refinery’s entrance on July 8 by youngsters who were determined to obtain a job. The brutal repression of this picket has been the spark that has inflamed the whole region in a vast protest movement against the local Shiite power, in which thousands demonstrated every Friday against the degradation of their living conditions, corruption, unemployment and repression". (‘Échanges et Mouvement’ on this summer’s mass revolt in Iraq). Striking workers can therefore consider fusing their struggle with that of the unemployed, for example by opening the company gates to them when repression threatens or to facilitate active participation in mass meetings. This step also points the way forward to the future in which repression has been eliminated, i.e., the state has been destroyed, and companies no longer produce for profit but to meet social needs. At that moment, the unemployed are massively included in the production so that the workers can control production together by the Councils and working time can be drastically reduced.
5) THE STRUGGLE AT HAFT TAPEH IN SHUSH AND OF AHVAZ STEEL WORKERS AT HAFT TAPEH
It is likely that the struggle of these two large companies in southwestern Iran in the last months of 2018 was inspired by the movements of workers in the summer, especially in southern Iraq, who faced the same miserable conditions as those in Iran. Within Iran, strikes by sugar and steel workers attracted attention with video footage of mass meetings of strikers and openly acting spokespersons shared via the Internet, of which Ismail Bakhshi brought forward the perspective of a Shora. By revolutionary groups in Europe and America this has been hailed as a Workers' Council and even Soviet, as the revolutionary councils were called in the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917. Nuevo Curso predicted a situation with 'double power' and gave the impression of seeing a 'pre-revolutionary situation' in Iran. In any case, what was true was that the dilemma of expansion via the Internet without further organization had been broken with Haft Tapeh and INSIG: there were general strikers' meetings in the factories, and also street demonstrations, which workers from other factories, unemployed and parts of the non-capitalist population had joined. There were spokesmen who were at least tolerated, perhaps even elected by the strikers' meetings. The size of both companies, each time hundreds, perhaps thousands of workers, provided the critical mass that offered protection against repression.
Both companies faced the same problem that exists in all regions of Iran: a state-owned company is so-called privatized and then state capitalism hides behind 'private' managers in order to lower activities and have wages paid late or no longer at all. In other cases, it is municipal or state companies that do not pay wages. This isolated the sugar and steel workers from both workers who are paid and the unemployed proletarians, especially the huge masses of young people without work. It has to be said that the common slogan 'Bread, Work, Freedom and Workers Council' was too general, too vague in its demands for these parts of the proletariat to be able to identify. In addition — and related to this — there was a lack of organizational coordination of the actions of the steel and sugar workers. A Workers' Council can solve this deadlock, but in a different sense than was probably intended by Haft Tapeh.
AN ASIDE: RELIGION AND WOMEN
An important point that deserves separate mentioning is because it plays at all stages of the struggle, is that of religion and the position of women. Both the existence of different religions, their mutual struggles, and the issues of the division of roles between men and women are issues that are older than capitalism. Capitalism has not been able to solve the resulting problems — whatever the left-wing liberal democrats would have us believe — but has often exacerbated them by promoting divide and rule by religion, gender, language, nation, etc. Capital is very much capable in dividing the working class into powerless 'identities'. In the Middle East (but not only there) religious arguments are used for the oppression of women. Thus, women and their oppression are central to the ideologies that hold the working class in the grip of capitalism, from religious fundamentalism to bourgeois feminism. If the working class succeeds in putting an end to capitalism, these issues can be definitively resolved. The way in which these issues are dealt with here and now makes clear the great outlines of what will the best way to deal with them in a future society.
The traditional division of roles between men and women stems from a past in which the needs of society were met in a different way than now: through agriculture, crafts and trade. In essence, this division of roles between the sexes no longer applies to wage labourers. In the worst case scenario, the woman is deprived of the productive tasks in family and production that previously gave her prestige and power. Religiously tinted ideas give an idealized picture of the role of women in the past, which can be mistaken as criticism of what are seen as disadvantages of modern capitalism. The same can apply to farmers, traders and craftsmen — or workers from these strata — who wish to disguise their dependence on wages, or on the grace of banks for loans or subsidies and state benefits, with a rule of conduct from the past that is no longer effective.
The best way in which militant workers can respond to religious arguments is to bring the discussion to the current situation of dependence on capital and/or the state. It is generally counter-effective to respond to religious arguments, just as suppressing religion and anti-religious agitation only makes it stronger. And further: one person may not force the other into a certain lifestyle, not in one direction, not in the other. "Do you want to wear a headscarf, OK. Don't you want that, OK, too". That is not the same as a secular state or lay state, because with this slogan one usually means a bourgeois state of which France is the classic example. A lay state also exercises the dictatorship of capital, and under the guise of 'democracy' or not, it attacks the workers just as much when they fight for their own interests.
The working class advances by organizing itself en masse into a fighting unit, regardless of religion, language, nation, gender or any other bourgeois division. The experience of the proletarian struggle in both Iran and Iraq shows that the exploiters and oppressors are seen through by the masses, despite their religious masks. The women who took off their veils understood that the rise of the workers' struggle in Iran gave them an opening to freedom. During the strike movements, women explicitly took the floor — veiled or not, that did not matter — to express their ideas from their experiences as colleagues, family members and as women.
The slogan "Bread, Work, Freedom and Workers Council" has played an important role in focusing the workers' struggle on common goals. As the workers' movement spreads across regions and industries, — and even across national borders — as it carries more and more parts of the non-capitalist population behind it, new demands emerge, some of which refer to higher goals. The masses feel that more can be achieved. The individual goals mentioned in this slogan can therefore also become an obstacle to the further development of the struggle. It is important that the most conscious and militant workers already realize this. The following text therefore addresses each of these demands in more detail.
1. WHICH WORKERS' COUNCIL?
As far as is known, Ismail Bakhshi's proposal to establish a Shora was intended to be an organization of workers of a company to influence the policy of their company, regardless of whether it is in the hands of private entrepreneurs, or in state hands, as was the case before the so-called privatization.
In almost all industrialized countries, including openly dictatorially governed states, such employee representation exists in companies of a certain size. For the sake of clarity, I would mention these 'works councils' such as the 'Betriebsräte' in Germany or the German-style 'ondernemingsraden' in the Netherlands. These works councils are imposed by law on companies and are generally linked to the legally recognized trade union movement, in other words, in fact, to the state trade unions. Their task is to monitor compliance with labour laws and collective agreements, as far as they have been ratified by the state. They may only promote the cooperation of capital and labour. And they always do. In the very exceptional situations where these councils, or members of them, play a positive role in workers' struggles, they do so not as councils, but as individual workers. If, in elections to such legal councils, workers are able to elect militant colleagues as members, they find out that at best they no longer mean anything to them. They usually even turn against the workers' struggle after being indoctrinated in the acceptance of capital as inevitable through training and education, and they see class collaboration as the key to the best of all possible worlds. Opportunities for promotion in the hierachy of he company and all kinds of advantages, including illegal ones, from free football tickets (the Netherlands) to brothel visits (Germany), do the rest. Once they have been elected by the employees, these representatives act as they like, just like members of a parliament.
So why are the Iranian rulers afraid of what doesn't have to be more than an innocent works council, and what most probably wasn't meant to be something else? So why has Ismail Bakhshi been accused of endangering the security of the state, why has he been imprisoned, abused, tortured and finally — in an attempt to appease the angry workers — placed under house arrest? Because Shoras founded by workers themselves, in struggle for their own interests, apart from existing parties and other interests, can develop from innocent institutions to control what happens in the company and from harmless participatory bodies into organizations for expanding, coordinating the proletarian struggle. Ultimately, in the struggle, they can grow into an organization of workers' power, more or less equivalent to the power of capital, state and army, and overthrow it. I call the latter workers' councils, to distinguish it from the legal works councils.
Let us not forget that the Iranian bourgeoisie is currently the only one in the world that owes its power to a relatively recent workers' movement, that in 1978/1979. It knows from its own direct experience that when workers come into motion, it is not so much their initial intentions that are important, but that to which they are driven by circumstances and of which they gradually become aware.
It is no coincidence that the 'Betriebsräte' were established in Germany after the November Revolution of 1918 when part of the 'Arbeiter- und Soldatenräte' challenged the power of capital, the state and the army, and after the Soviets of Workers and Soldiers in Russia had not only expelled the Tsar from power (like the Shah in 1979), but had conquered the entire political power and eliminated that of capital, state and army.
These revolutionary perspectives make it interesting to look at the organizational characteristics of such workers' councils. We then get a picture of what the toddler who is still crawling and walking learns, is capable of as an adult human being who determines his own destiny.
What emerges from the video footage of the struggle at Haft Tapeh and of the steel workers in Ahvaz is the existence of meetings of struggling workers' masses, known from history as general assemblies (GAs), the basis on which an organization of workers' councils can develop. In these mass meetings, workers can think out loud by speaking, discussing different views on how to move the struggle forward, and jointly decide on mass actions. In this way, workers forge themselves from a collection of powerless individuals who only carry out what another has determined, into a fighting unity that stands up for class-own interests. Thinking and acting, plan and execution become one.
The size of these general assemblies (GAs) varies, depending on circumstances, from all workers in a department or small business, to several hundreds in the open air or, for example, in a factory hall or theatre. Sometimes a check must be put in place to deny internal and external spies and provocateurs access to the GAs and to allow trusted speakers from outside. In determining the size of the GAs and the access, the liveliness of the GAs is decisive: what is the best to enable workers to express themselves and exchange opinions as widely as possible?
It is therefore the mass thinking and doing that is at the forefront of the organization that leads to workers' councils. Some tasks, however, cannot be carried out en masse in certain circumstances. For example, it is preferable to swarm massively to other companies in order to persuade their workers to participate in the struggle. But sometimes a smaller delegation is better. Negotiations with representatives of the authorities or company management are best conducted in front of mass meetings, so that the masses can decide on the proposals on the spot. But the GAs can also choose representatives after mass discussion who are given a well-defined mandate by the GAs to make contact with workers from other companies or to enter into negotiations. These representatives of the GAs therefore do not receive a mandate to act according to their own insights and interests, as parliamentarians, works council members or trade union representatives do. These representatives never operate alone, but in committee, and they check each other on the accurate execution of the mandate they have received from the GAs. The representatives are accountable to the GAs by any change in the situation and the GAs are free at any time to call representatives to account, dismiss them and elect new representatives. In this way, the representation reflects the development of consciousness, of the means of struggle chosen and of goals set in the struggling masses of workers.
In the struggle of both the sugar workers and the steel workers we have seen spokesmen, who acted at least with the passive consent of the GAs. Little or nothing is known about discussions in the GAs, clear votes by the GAs when taking decisions or about the election of representatives with well-defined tasks. This is therefore for the future.
The composition of representations, regardless of whether it concerns a local or a departmental committee, or at a higher level the workers' councils still to be explained, raises the question of the relationship with other organizations such as trade unions or parties. Sometimes workers themselves insist on appointing representatives from different workers' organizations that, to their regret, disagree with each other. By representing these different views proportionally in a committee or council, unity is supposed be created. Regardless of whether elections take place on the base of lists composed by parties and trade unions, or whether representatives are even appointed directly by these organizations, in both cases it is ignored that the different views must be expressed in the GAs, that the discussion takes place in the GAs and that the GAs takes the decisions on the basis of the discussion, and not the party and trade union leaders! The representatives elected by the GAs are elected as workers and not as members of a party or union and they act on the basis of the assignments they received from the GAs and not on the instructions of the party or union. Only in this way can unity of action of the masses develop.
With regard to the failure of the battle at Haft Tapeh and Ahvaz steel, it has already been pointed out here that being on strike in two 'near' (100 km) cities at the same time is not enough, but that the organization of the workers must also extend over larger areas. A representation from the GAs of both companies can offer a solution in similar cases in the future. This is generally called a workers' council, i.e., a representation of workers in a geographical area, from a city or industrial zone to an area within national borders, or beyond, in which struggling GAs develop power that defies or defeats state power and then exercises all power. The way of representation is exactly the same as in a committee. (4)
Until now we have only looked at the form of the organization. But if the choice of the right form ensures notably that the representation by varying composition can follow the development of consciousness, of the means of struggle and the increasingly higher choice of goals of the struggle by the masses themselves, the form in itself offers no guarantee. Water cannot be fetched with a sieve, but with a bucket. But there still has to be water in the bucket. Therefore let's turn to the content of the separate demands in the slogan "Bread, Work, Freedom and Workers Council".
2. WE DON'T WANT (ONLY) BREAD. WE WANT THE WHOLE BAKERY!
Demanding bread makes sense as long as hunger reigns while the exploiters and oppressors have power over production and distribution. It is typical of the rottenness of those in power in Iran and their contempt for their own people that they are starving large parts of them by failing to provide benefits for the unemployed and even pay for working prletarians. Weeks of long strikes in isolated companies have not been enough to force concessions from power. Two of the months of Haft Tapeh's wage arrears were only paid out when the workers' struggle threatened to spread throughout the country again, and not only in street demonstrations such as around the turn of the year 2017-2018. This time there were also threats of strikes in several companies, so that eventually the oil industry, which is vital for exports and foreign exchange, could also be paralyzed.
But workers in companies of vital importance still receive wages, are not directly forced to sell their homes, such as some of the steel workers. It is therefore important to formulate demands that involve both oil workers and unemployed proletarians in the fight. If that succeeds, no concession is too much for the rulers to regain the power that the working class forged into a fighting unity actually holds.
When they have all the power in their hands, the workers' councils are able to initiate production and services and use them for their own class purposes. Even in anticipation of such a revolutionary situation, this can already be done (as the strike committees in Poland did) by supplying electricity to working-class and popular neighborhoods, by making public transport free, but boycotting government districts and bourgeois neighborhoods. In doing so, the struggling workers show that, as a productive class, they offer society the prospect of production and distribution for social needs, not dependent on profit, the market, capital and money. (5)
This proposal is quite different from 'access to the company administration' by legal works councils to 'control' capitalist company management. In the end, this can only show what we already know today, namely that when the world market dominates, steel, sugar and paper, for example, can be imported more cheaply from abroad.
This proposal is also quite different from the call made by Khomeiny in 1978/1979 to the striking oil workers to resume production for the benefit of 'the people', that is to say, while maintaining the power of capital, the state and the army. (6) The same can be said of the so-called 'revolutions' of the Arab Spring, which behind some cosmetic changes maintained the power structures of the oppressors and exploiters (Egypt, Tunisia), or which brought the population under the terror of armed militias (Syria) which was remotely controlled by imperialist regional and superpowers.
3. GIVE US WORK? WE WANT TO ABOLISH WAGE LABOUR!
The demand for work, both by company and by state employment, is a logical demand for unemployed proletarians who, due to a lack of means of production (such as farmers and craftsmen posess), depend on wage labour for their existence. Just like the demand for bread, the demand for work will only be met by capital in the event of an enormous development of the workers' struggles, and only temporarily. Current capital is less and less able to absorb into production the masses it has deprived of their means of existence worldwide. Similarly, capital is not prepared to provide the proletarian masses with the means for living produced by working proletarians. As explained above, the working proletarians can open their occupied companies to unemployed proletarians to allow them to participate in joint general assemblies, possibly to include them in production. After a takeover of power by the workers' councils, the latter will take place on a large scale.
4. WHAT FREEDOM? WHAT KIND OF PEACE?
WE WANT THE WORKERS' REVOLUTION!
The demand for freedom and the demand for peace (which is also often heard in Iran) are in fact closely linked issues.
At the moment, freedom means free from state repression, especially from the paramilitary fanatics who form the Basij gangs. These act as the state vice and riot police. Their big brother, the Pasdaran, the elite soldiers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, are kept in reserve in the event of civil war. In addition, there is the regular army that operates in the background after the fall of the Shah. The Pasdaran are actively involved in the wars in Syria and in southern Yemen. In Lebanon, the Pasdaran support Hezbollah. Iranian imperialism — together with Turkey for the time being — stands as a regional power against the imperialism of Saudi Arabia. Russia and China support Iran as superpowers in the background. The United States supports Saudi Arabia. In a war zone like the oil- and gas-rich Middle East, on the border between Europe, Asia and Africa, peace is only a pause between imperialist wars. For America, the Middle East is not important for its own energy supply, but as a means to control its allies and enemies (which has changed quite a lot since the collapse of the Russian bloc) in the rest of the world. Trump may now want to withdraw, the US keeps the possibility to block the oil supply over land and over sea by military means.
A change of regime in Iran to 'democracy' and 'liberalization' will not end the imperialist wars in the region either, in the same way the fall of the Shah and his supporters and his replacement by Khomeiny and his mollah supporters have not. Corruption, the self-enrichment of the ruling cliques fighting each other, state terror and the exploitation of the workers, peasants and other non-capitalist classes and strata have only increased under the pressure of the global crisis of capitalism and the ever more bloody imperialist wars.
Just as the First World War only ended when not only the workers and soldiers in Russia rebelled with their councils and took over power, but also sailors, soldiers, workers in Germany began to follow this example, the wars between regional imperialist powers and between the superpowers will only stop when the proletarians in uniform turn their weapons against their own rulers. Few readers will think it possible that fighters of such ideologically diverse militias, from Islamic State to Kurds, will mute and turn their weapons against their officers, that army units fall apart and soldiers return home with their weapons, that others will operate as rebellious units organized in soldiers' councils.
The beginning of this end of the imperialist war may be that manifesting young unemployed people reverse the cat-and-mouse game with Basij on their motorcycles and in more and more cases will not flee but strike and rob the police of their weapons. Or perhaps striking workers open their occupied companies to ex-soldiers who can handle weapons and teach this to the workers. In factories arms depots will be hidden and the arms depots of barracks and police stations will be stormed, in other cases they will be taken over when revolutionary workers and soldiers are let in.
In this situation it is of the utmost importance that only the workers organized in councils will be armed and that the workers will not rely on any protection promised by insurgent army units such as the military police COPCON in the Portuguese Carnation 'revolution', by 'socialist' police forces such as those of Commissioner Eichhorn and the 'People's Marine Division' in the failed German Revolution of 1918-1923. Iranians who have experienced 1978/1979 can tell the younger generation how, after the fall of the Shah, the Pasdaran took off the quantities of weapons present among civilians, often by night and by force, and then filled the prisons with anyone who was against them or might become against them. Never again!
It is clear from the foregoing that the proletarian revolution and its expansion is not just a question of violence or military power. What we see before us is the self-emancipating rise of the masses of workers who want to put an end to their oppression and exploitation. Therefore, the proletarian revolution can also put an end to any exploitation and oppression of one person by another.
Fredo Corvo, 23 December 2018
Translation from Dutch into English by a non-native English speaker. Please send your remarks on contents or translation to [email protected].
2 Remarkable in this respect is the news of 29 November that security forces on that day visited the house of a leading trade unionist of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Factory Trade Union to arrest him. Ali Nejati, was not at home. Earlier, he was detained and served a prison sentence for union activities. (Iran's worker protests continue for third week despite threats). According to other reports Ali Netaji was violently arrested the same day, despite the fact that the man has heart and kidney problems. (Iranian labor activist charged with "disrupting public order" and "spreading propaganda'). Meanwhile Netaji has been transferred to the hospital.
3 In the reports the company in Ahvaz is referred to in different ways: simply as Foolad (Farsi for 'steel'), or the abbreviation INSIG, which stands for the factory in Ahvaz of the 'Iran National Steel Industry Group'. For an impression of the size of this factory, see its website INSIG.
4 For further explanation, see for example Anton Pannekoek "De arbeidersraden" (1946), published in several languages. See An inventory of the writings of Antonie Pannekoek (1873-1960).
5 See also F.C. The G.I.C. and the Economy of the Transition Period.
6 M.G. Iran, crisis, workers' strikes.