Theses on the 2018 proletarian struggles in the Near and Middle East and their prospects

An article summary
The following theses give an introductory summary to the article Iran: What after the repression of the Haft Tapeh workers and the steelworkers in Ahvaz? published in full length on the author’s Libcom blog.

Submitted by Blesk on January 7, 2019

The struggle of Haft Tapeh in Shûsh and of the steelworkers in Ahvâz (Iran) seems to have come to an end. This is a moment to learn the lessons of the five waves of proletarian struggles that shook the Middle East in 2018. In the next wave of struggles the previous steps will be repeated. When their lessons are learned – and integrated with those of the revolutionary wave of 1917-1923; the next steps will be accomplished with a heightened mass consciousness, with an improved mass organization and for higher class goals. The proletarians in the Middle East have not yet become conscious of it, but the struggle to defend their livelihood, turning itself against the imperialist war, is developing towards a revolution compared to which the overthrow of the Shah regime in 1979 was only child’s play.

Waves of mobilizations

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. This movement has spread internationally across the borders of states. From the start, this has been an important characteristic that will be reinstated in the next waves of struggles. It will be of enormous significance if workers on strike and demonstrations also would explicitly indicate, with slogans and on banners or signs, that they have taken over the struggles of workers in other countries.

2. Street demonstrations by the young unemployed; the succession of slogans against war

The slogans against imperialist war succeed each other in ever higher consciousness and against all factions of the Ayatollah Regime. We have seen strikes in the factories move on to street demonstrations, in which workers from other enterprises, unemployed proletarians and other non-capitalist sections of the population can join. This results in an (ultimately revolutionary) dynamic that is completely different from workers joining a movement of “the people”. In the latter case the middle classes prevail with their bourgeois struggle for “democracy” and participation in elections or other changes at the top, in practice. This was the case with the movement of the “yellow jackets” in France and Belgium in 2018; the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, and with the 1978/1979 movement in Iran, when the ‘opposition’ of the National Front and the ayatollahs drowned the workers’ movement in a “people’s movement” and restricted it to driving out the Shah, with the state and the army being left in power.

These first two waves reached their limits by lack of organization, other than by social media. It is only in the fifth wave, 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

Endemic unemployment is a characteristic of present capitalism in crisis, with especially devastating effects in the Middle East, whose demographic pyramid is characterized by a high percentage of the young. 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 in southern Iraq’s oil region bordering on Iran.

4. The movement crosses borders to South Iraq

Some characteristics of this movement and the underlying motives of the proletarians deserve special attention:

1. It took simultaneously place in Iran and Iraq and was directed against the same conditions: unemployment, a 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;
2. It targeted religious authorities;
3. Proletarians in uniform and demobilized soldiers were present and have actively participated;
4. Like in Tunisia, in southern Iraq unemployed workers went to the enterprises and claimed to be hired.

5. Khuzestan: workers at Haft Tapeh (Shûsh) and INSIG steel (Ahvâz) unite their struggle

The strikes by sugar cane and steelworkers in Khuzestan attracted attention with video footage of mass meetings and publicly acting spokespersons shared via the Internet. One of them, Ismail Bakhshi, brought forward the perspective of a “Shora”. This has been hailed by revolutionary groups in Europe and North America as a Workers’ Council, and even as a Soviet in the image of the revolutionary councils in the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917. In fact, workers in Iran were far from this. Their organization in General Assemblies (GA) and a strike committee has been encouraging, but does not suffice. Whereas being on strike in two ‘nearby’ cities simultaneously (at a distance of about 100 km) is positive, the organization of the workers was limited to the workplace. In the future their organization should cover larger geographical areas. Secondly, the search for active solidarity must have a wider scope than a focus on ‘similar problems with management’, i.e. the non-payment of wages, 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 slogan “Bread, Work, Freedom and Workers Council” has played an important role in focusing the workers’ struggle on common goals. Of course, when the struggle develops, new demands will reflect higher goals. Already missing is a demand to involve oil workers. Should that succeed, no concession will be too much for the rulers to regain the power that the working class, forged into a fighting unity, actually holds.

1. For revolutionary workers’ councils

As far as we know, Ismail Bakhshi’s proposal to establish a “Shora” was intended to be an organization of workers of an enterprise to influence the its policy, regardless of whether it is in the hands of private entrepreneurs or of the state, as was the case before the so-called privatization. He didn’t intend more than an innocent works’ council, like those that legally exist in almost all industrialized countries to promote the cooperation of capital and labor. 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 – been placed under house arrest? Because Shoras founded by workers themselves, struggling for their own interests, apart from existing parties and other interests, can develop from innocent institutions for controlling what happens in the enterprise and from harmless participatory bodies into organizations for expanding and coordinating the proletarian struggle. Ultimately, in this 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.

2. Towards a way of production and distribution without profit, market, capital and money

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 in 1980) 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.

3. Unemployed and employed workers should unite

The working proletarians can open up their occupied enterprises to unemployed proletarians to allow them participating in joint general assemblies, possibly including them in production. After a takeover of power by the workers’ councils, the latter will take place on a large scale.

4. To end the imperialist wars, turn your weapons against the class enemy in your own country

The First World War only ended as not only the workers and soldiers in Russia rebelled with their councils and took over power, but as sailors, soldiers and workers in Germany began to follow this example. The same way the present wars between regional imperialist powers and between the superpowers will only stop when the proletarians in uniform turn their weapons against their own rulers.

F.C., January 2, 2019

Proofreading: H.C., January 2, 2019

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Illustration: “Be afraid, we are all united” – Demonstration of 3,000 retirees from different sectors and locations in front of the Iranian parliament (December 18, 2018), putting forward economic demands and the release of imprisoned workers in the country “from Ahvâz to Tehran”. Source: