With less than forty days to the 13th presidential election in Iran, its architects and promoters are finding that the harsh social climate is making it difficult to "heat up" the political atmosphere. Their previous tricks are not so effective, but this has not stopped them continuing to do whatever it takes to stir up interest. It seems that this time the option of not participating in the election has been added to the gamut of choices by the policy-makers of the ruling class political factions and the zealous lovers of the ballot box.
The whole spectrum of both major factions, albeit each faction in its own way and according to its own interests, is trying hard to pursue this policy. The authoritarian faction, which is backed by the Guardian Council's approving oversight, can control this by loosening or tightening the oversight filter, as it sees fit.(1) Thus the administrative path for the reformists is not as easy as that of the authoritarians. Nonetheless, they are more sophisticated in their deception and hypocrisy. This time, a spectrum of parties within this faction are changing their tune. All their usual arguments in favour of participating in elections are being abandoned in the most opportunistic way. In the rapidly sharpening political situation they are giving themselves more room for manoeuvre. At first glance, such a shift may seem paradoxical or self-defeating, but by looking more closely at their statements and evaluating their reasoning, the most generous interpretation would be to simply put it down to naivety though a more realistic assessment must be that this is nothing but hypocrisy and deception.
Does the regime need another landslide election victory at all?
In the last elections, despite the close competition between the fundamentalists and the reformists, from the perspective of the regime of the Islamic Republic as a whole, a high participation rate by the people was not only desirable but vital. So vital that the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic was forced to ask even the opponents of the Islamic Republic to participate in the elections of 2013 and 2017.(2) For the entire regime, being able to hold up an election legitimacy card, was all about raising its international bargaining power for its place in the imperialist order. Equally, it also meant consolidation of its internal position. The high turnout, which was the case in both previous elections, made it easy to achieve both. In the international arena, it brought the success of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the nuclear deal. In the domestic arena, it took the sharp edge off labour and popular protests.
But today, from the point of view of the regime as a whole, a high turn out for the upcoming elections does not seem to have the same importance and high priority as before. Thanks to Trump, the Islamic Republic, although economically weakened, has nevertheless found itself in not so desperate a position as predicted. By flexing its muscles and showing its determination to confront asymmetric military action by any means should it become necessary, even threatening to drag the whole region into chaos, the regime has survived the Trump administration’s policy of maximum pressure. Furthermore, expanding its ties with China, in a newly signed 25-year agreement(3) has boosted the regime's confidence to the extent that it may no longer be concerned about the election turn out during its negotiations to resume the nuclear deal. The tendency of some reformist factions and individuals to boycott the elections or to be indifferent towards the election should be assessed only in this context. In other words, these currents or individuals adopting a boycotting policy is to some extent in line with the general policy of the regime, preferring a “normal” election to one with a high turn out. As such, the regime has put up no serious challenge to propaganda for a boycott. On the contrary, to some degree it has even been encouraged. Of course all these options are available to the extent that the whole electoral process can be managed and controlled.
The reformists desperate for their share of power
With the loss of their social base, in particular after the November 2019 protests, there has been unprecedented turmoil in the ranks of the reformist spectrum: so much so that it seems they no longer have much bargaining weight within the power circles even in a minimal sense. The reformist, former President, Khatami's apologetic letter to Khamenei, the content of which was never made public(4), was completely ignored. Efforts by Sadegh Kharazi(5) to bring the two closer, ended with no tangible results while the Supreme Leader's sharp criticism of foreign minister Zarif (after the leak of his audio file), who had seemed to be a favourable candidate amongst moderates and reformists, has caused attention to focus on the lower echelons of this spectrum. Thus, attention is being drawn towards individuals who can ‘boast’ of their protesting background and who preferably include imprisonment in their political resumé. Of course not just any protester is suitable, but in particular ex-officials who were pushed aside during the rigged election of 2009 seem to think, or perhaps have the illusion, that they stand a better chance of being elected. Mostafa Tajzadeh, former deputy interior minister in the Khatami government and Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, daughter of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, are only two of many such individuals.
Faezeh Rafsanjanii's suggestion for a live debate with the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic — who, during his 30 years of leadership, has never had any live debate with anyone, not even submitting to a simple interview — could only be considered as a joke and that is what it became. But Tajzadeh, who was jailed in 2009 for protesting against the election results, who opposes candidates being vetted and knowing that he will definitely be disqualified by the Guardian Council, despite all this, has decided to nominate himself for the presidency. He claims that he wants to be:
"The Voice of the Oppressed people of 2018 and 2019 protests, the Victims of the Plane Crash Disaster, the Marginalized and the Ignored."(6)
This gentleman seems to be detached from reality or else he is just playing the fool. What characterised the 2018 and 2019 protests was the slogan of "Reformist, Fundamentalist, the Whole Thing is Over", which was nothing but the voice of hatred against both factions. Now he says he want to be their voice! He goes on to say:
"... I am standing to reform the constitution with the cooperation of the Supreme Leader; to have the leadership periodically elected ... to establish the independence and impartiality of the judiciary ... parallel institutions should be integrated into the legal institutions and guarantee the freedom of elections. ... The military should only perform its inherent duties in defence of public and national security and avoid matters unrelated to the honourable occupation of the military."(7)
These are claims by a person who was Deputy Minister of the Interior, who is well aware of all the internal administrative functions of state institutions and knows what is and what is not possible. Furthermore, he was imprisoned for protesting against the Guardian Council’s policy of filtering candidates, and yet he comes up with such a statement. If it is not a sign of deception, then it is nothing but a childish and naive illusion. We can only repeat what Ismail Bakhshi, a protesting worker of Haft Tappeh, recently said about this gentleman's candidacy:
"... Mr. Tajzadeh himself knows better than the rest of the world that his credentials are not going to be approved and his presence is for other purposes which only he himself knows. Yet, suppose the candidacy of this gentleman was approved and this gentleman himself became the president and keeps his sharp opinions. Mr. Tajzadeh! You are a disciple of Mr. Khatami. When Mr. Khatami’s presidency ended, he said that he was powerless: just a messenger. Someone who has the experience of the presidency in this system and then comes and says, “Don't ask me, I was powerless” and then comes again and says, “Vote and support another candidate”, then this person, and anyone who thinks in the same way, is not honest. Since you realise that nothing was achieved through your experience, if you come back and try to repeat that experience with other people, this is pure deception. This is not progress it is regression."(8)
As mentioned above, in this period, a high turn out in the election may not be a vital issue for the regime. Former Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has implicitly mentioned this in his recent speech. In his statement he wrote:
"… Under the pretext of an escalating pandemic, one faction seeks to postpone the election in order to find an opportunity to change the situation in its favour. The other faction is seeking to ensure that the shadow of the pandemic and a low turnout will bring victory for its candidate at the ballot box. Both seek to exclude people from the decision-making arena. They’ve bought themselves the island to flee to if the nation's anger boils over!"(9)
Now, if such a claim were made by an ordinary citizen, he would certainly be arrested and sent to prison in less than 24 hours, but the world of the Islamic rulers of capital is a world full of lies, deceit and insolence. The person who was himself in charge as president for 8 years is now acting as an opposition figure, even as a die-hard type, because of the desperate situation. He now demagogically presents himself as a hero of the anti-aristocracy, whilst in the 2009 conflict between the two reactionary factions of the government (between Khamenei and Rafsanjani) he acted as a poodle of Khamenei and helped him to marginalise Rafsanjani. Now that he has been pushed out of the faction fighting and his closest ministers have been imprisoned, he is desperately trying to find a place for himself within the system, if not for today, then for tomorrow when the regime has collapsed. All the activities of this spectrum, which seems to believe in the imminent collapse of the regime, are evidence of how deep the crisis is biting.
In the coming days and weeks, the voices of those jumping on the boycott bandwagon, with or without a political agenda, are likely to increase. In this situation it is vital that communists defend an abstentionist position against the murky boycotting policy that is promoted by the reformists.
In previous elections, where participation was encouraged, all pro-ballot box arguments were primarily based on the “logic” of "lesser of two evils" coupled with maintaining the nation's security. Spurious arguments such as “a landslide victory will lift the shadow of war”, or as the pundits loved to say: “it will save Iran from Yugoslavisation”. These sentiments have not disappeared amongst reformists; they are alive and kicking; they will be opportunistically rejuvenated eventually once the new government emerges. This is inevitable, as their boycotting policy, along their factional interest, is a tactical policy within this system. This is not a biased statement. For years, reformists blamed any problem from high unemployment to high inflation on the low turn-out that resulted in the fundamentalist victory in the 2003 parliamentary election.
Communist abstentionism is not just about the Council of Guardians’ filtering of candidates, nor about the regime's authoritarianism or even about the leader's absolute power. Even without such restrictions and with the possibility of a "democratic" election, we consider parliamentary elections to be futile since they are not an effective means to pursue working class interests. They are designed to protect ruling class interests and preserve the status quo.
Parliaments everywhere have long since lost their historical usefulness to the working class and must be by-passed. Events that have taken place over the issue of elections, in particular over the last decade, have highlighted that they do not function in any meaningful way. All over the world more and more elections are accompanied by claims of "fraud" or at least "doubt" over the integrity of their conduct. The most recent example was the US election, a magnification of absurdity and madness. It should be enough for workers and toilers, in fact any fellow citizen, to look at the disastrous and harmful divisions that parliamentary elections create amongst people who are taken in by one or other reactionary element who then disengages themselves from the whole process.
But workers and toilers cannot afford such passive disengagement as the middle and upper classes may afford to do. The existing status quo is in the latter’s favour, so they can afford to be indifferent. But workers cannot afford the luxury of indifference about their own future. Nowhere is passive boycotting the working class political argument against elections. On the contrary, along with their abstentionist policy, any political contender for the ear of the working class must explain the way forward, in a clear, tangible way, the way Haft Tappeh workers demonstrated clearly with their slogan of "Bread, Jobs, Freedom – Soviet Power!"(10)
All the ongoing suggests that the future undoubtedly belongs to a society run according to a system of workers’ councils, or whatever they may be called in the future. The power that can remove the shadow of war and prevent the collapse of society lies only in the hands of the working class. Workers' strikes and demonstrations in recent years have shown that the only real and humane alternative is in our hands. In the face of the fragmentation that the ruling class election offers, anyone who desires a humane future, away from war and hunger, without a viral epidemic, without destroying the environment ... would do well to take up the "Bread, Jobs, Freedom – Soviet Power" slogan. This slogan encapsulates the unity of the workers and toilers. More generally, in any electoral discourse, the desirability of the soviet organisation as opposed to the parliamentary system must be clearly and confidently expressed with reference to the recent experience of the workers in organizing their own struggles, of which the Haft Tappeh struggles were exemplary.
As we indicated in our previous article,
"In the bourgeois parliamentary system, being a representative just means passing power to one individual for many years, during which the elected representative is not bound to fulfil any obligations to voters. By contrast, in the workers movement, in the concept of soviet democracy, the delegate only has the authority for a specific action and practice, and is re-callable at any time, by those who elected them."(11)
The deep economic crisis, exacerbated by the Corona epidemic, has forced all factions of capital to justify the consequences of unemployment, poverty and misery. As always, opportunists and reformers seize this opportunity and try to give any label but the profits’ system to its roots and causes. Thus, overcoming capitalism and abolishing wage slavery must be at the centre of any political discourse.
Our most urgent task, which we will not stop repeating and writing about, is to make an immediate effort to unite the scattered forces of all those who understand that this system has nothing left to offer. This means the creation of a working class party of a new type: a party that is international and internationalist, whose programme has taken on board the lessons of the past and is ready to settle accounts with the counter-revolutionary role of the reformist organisations. The bare political bones of this new vanguard already exist in the shape of the Internationalist Communist Tendency. We are not a government in waiting but an independent reference point for a working class revolution from below – the only kind that can have any hope of building society on entirely new foundations. We are confident that we will not remain alone. Capitalism’s global crisis, which is increasing the rift between the ruling minorities who produce nothing and the impoverished vast majority, is also sowing the seeds of revolutionary class consciousness, as recent struggles in Iran indicate.
Taking a small step today means travelling miles tomorrow, if you agree with this, contact us! Its time is today and now!
17 May 2021