The upcoming 18 June presidential elections in Iran are turning into an even greater farce than usual. In the past, the regime would have at least projected the appearance of competition, approving competing candidates from its various factions. This year, however, it has only approved seven candidates: all from the hardline, conservative faction. This move comes from a position of weakness, exposing the crisis of the regime.
As opposed to previous elections, where the regime attempted to draw in the masses in order to build up its legitimacy, this year it is afraid that mass participation could risk igniting a movement on the same scale or even larger than the 2009 Green Movement. But removing the last pretensions of a real election could backfire, pushing even broader layers into open opposition. Without an electoral outlet, the dissatisfaction of the masses could spill over into the streets. There have been at least 100 strikes and protests ongoing in this month alone, and the situation is rapidly accelerating.
Every section of Iranian society is being drawn into the class struggle today: industrial workers, students, nurses, bazaaris and farmers. Since February, there have been weekly protests for social security and livable pensions across the country. With the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic passing through the population, nurses have resumed continuous protests outside their hospitals.
Anticipating the elections, many protesters have raised the slogan: “We will not vote anymore, we hear only lies!” On 30 May, oil workers held protests across Iran. The more radical layers of oil workers in Assaluyeh and Mahshahr have called for national strikes. The workers of Haft Tappeh, the Transverse railway construction company, and Hepco continue their struggle for months of unpaid wages, despite these companies having been renationalised. Whether private or public, the same breed of crony capitalists control the economy.
These movements are the continuation of the wave of strikes and protests that have raged since 2018, and have persisted despite repression, COVID-19 restrictions and sabotage from the leadership of the regime-led workers’ organisations. The number of strikes and protests is comparatively low compared to previous periods, such as the autumn strike wave last year. Still, the situation remains extremely tense, especially regarding the elections.
Trade unions and workers’ organisations have denounced the election, including the militant Haft Tappeh union, which made a statement including the following:
“The presidential election and the ballot box have nothing to do with us. We are proud that we are still the voice of the workers of Haft Tappeh and we still believe that the working class will be liberated by its own force and we do not have the slightest illusion of any person, organization or faction [belonging to the regime]”.
Spontaneous public speeches by young people have erupted across the country. In every major city, including Teheran, Ahvaz, Qom (the centre of important clerical seminaries, and home to many important religious institutions), Mashhad, and Tabriz speakers have denounced the elections and the candidates. In Teheran, a young worker said: “whoever votes has wronged the memory of 1,500 people killed in November”, referring to the November 2018 uprising. He continued, “No one can tell the difference on TV between the election candidates, there is no difference. All of them are thieves”.
In Ahwaz, another speaker stated: “I am a young man who cannot make ends meet. Why should we vote? We will not vote at all.” This was followed by an oil worker, who said: “Other countries are taking my oil and enriching themselves. We do not know where they are taking the money [oil profits]. As long as they are in power, Iran will get worse.”
A regime in crisis
Iranian capitalism is in a deep crisis. The regime is completely incapable in addressing the demands of the masses and continuous class struggle has generated simmering anger across society. Sanctions and decades of capitalist mismanagement are bringing the country’s infrastructure and production to the point of collapse. Water and power shortages are common, especially in the countryside where there are growing protests by farmers. Inflation and poverty are at their highest level since the Second World War. Even the regime admits that 70-80 percent of the population lives in poverty. The state’s cash grants and subsidies are worthless in the face of inflation. Price controls and subsidies on essential goods like bread are meaningless, with rampant corruption and a massive black market.
Since 2018, there has been constant in-fighting within the regime, in which its various wings have demagogically attempted to appeal to the masses. The main factions within it – the liberal Reformists, and the conservative Principalists – have demagogically used corruption scandals as a political weapon against one another. This has led to a record number of arrests, and investigations into the state apparatus, including the judiciary, parliament, and privatised companies. Even high-profile members of the state machinery have been targeted, such as the previous deputy chief justice, Akbar Tabari, although he was quickly released.
The current government of president Rouhani, a so-called “moderate” – meaning that he deals with both factions – has worsened these divisions in the regime. The government has hastened economic liberationisation, expanding free-trade zones and increasing privatisations. In other words, placing the burden of the crisis on the masses. This not only led to an inevitable conflict with the workers but also with the Principlist faction, which is tied up with the religious establishment and the state apparatus. This political crisis has worsened following the 2020 parliamentary elections. With a Principalist majority in parliament, the government has been completely paralysed.
The Principalists are only opposed to privatisations because it would weaken their hold on the formally state-held companies, which are in fact treated as their own private property, with corruption and nepotism rampant. They have attempted to demagogically support the workers’ struggles, often through state workers’ organisations, derailing and limiting the struggle within the confines delineated by the regime.
For decades, the regime used elections as a safety valve, switching between hardline, principalist and more moderate, liberal governments. But now the class struggle has plunged the entire system into crisis. They are unable to suppress or divide the masses as before. The suppression of one section of the workers leads to another section coming into struggle. Already as of the 2018 uprising, a popular slogan was “Reformists or Principalists, it never ends”. Since then, more and more people have come to see the truth that both factions only represent rotten Iranian capitalism. Opposition to the regime is growing amongst all layers, even those who were formerly sympathetic to it.
In December 2017 and in November 2019 we saw two uprisings amongst the workers and dispossessed youth. Since then radicalisation has only increased. It is clear that matters are headed for a major social explosion. This is causing a division within the regime. One wing, the hardline faction which controls large parts of the state apparatus, is calling for clamping down and increased state repression as the means to avert revolution. That is why they have clamped down on the election, which they think could risk leading to a mass movement along the lines of the 2009 Green Movement.
“Reformists or Principalists, it never ends”
The liberal wing of the regime on the other hand believes that the regime needs to open up more in order to avert a revolution. In the past, by creating the impression of a genuine contest, the regime could expect a high turnout of 70-80 percent in elections, which would lend it legitimacy. But the situation is changing. In the parliamentary elections, the regime already saw its lowest turnout ever. And now the regime’s newspapers are expecting an even-lower turnout of 35 to 45 percent. This is evidence of the dismal and declining, support the regime enjoys from the population.
Terrified by the lack of legitimacy resulting from a very low turnout, sections of the regime have suggested criminalising boycotting the elections. This suggestion would only provoke the workers and poor even more. For the masses, it is clear that the elections are completely rigged. The regime has had one candidate in mind from the outset: the infamous Ebrahim Raisi – the current chief justice and an ultra-conservative known for being responsible for the executions of protestors following the November 2018 uprising, and the mass execution of Iranian leftists and activists in 1988. The other candidates are political outsiders and never had a chance in the polls.
A Principlist hardline government would not change much for most Iranians. It would mean a continuation of the status quo, with its rampant corruption, profiteering in the public sector, and repression against the strikes and protests. Ebrahim Raisi has attempted to appeal to the masses with empty promises of an anti-corruption campaign and more worthless subsidies and cash grants. But the workers aren’t fooled. The Haft Tappeh union, for example, responded to a planned visit in a statement:
“Mr. Raisi, why are you coming to Haft Tappeh now? Why didn't you cut off the hands of your members in the judiciary, who were all in the service of Asad Beigi and against the workers? We will tell you why: because you are a representative of capital like all the others. You are not welcome in Khuzistan.”
The former Deputy Minister of Interior, Ashraf Boroujerdi, said in an interview for the Reformist website: “the people that are patient today will one day come to the conclusion that this country belongs to them. And when the people get their hands on us, the issue of Sheikh Fazlullah Nouri [a reactionary mullah executed in the constitutional revolution] will be repeated for all of us”.
That day is much closer than the regime thinks. This is the voice of the liberal wing of the regime, warning that if there remain no democratic channels, a revolutionary explosion could be on the order of the day. Growing layers of the working class are taking political conclusions from class struggle. Every faction of the crisis-ridden regime is impotent in the face of the class struggle.
Boycott the election! Down with the Islamic Republic!
The recent years of struggle have led to an enormous shift in Iranian society. Gamaan, a Netherlands-based independent research organisation, conducted an online survey about Iranians’ attitudes towards the elections. According to their poll, 75 percent of the electorate will not vote; with 70.9 percent answering that this is due to “the unfree and ineffective nature of elections in Islamic Republic”. Within the same survey, a poll was conducted showing only 21 percent support the Islamic Republic.
But despite the growing class struggle, and the earlier uprisings of 2018 and 2019, the regime remains in power because of a lack of leadership of the masses. Only the working class can provide this leadership. Already, even in the face of repression, independent workers’ organisations have developed through the class struggle. Many of these organisations have united, despite widespread suppression, and are conducting joint campaigns for the release of their arrested members, and other common demands.
While this represents an enormous step forward, it is necessary to strengthen these demands with a common programme, on the basis of which the Iranian working class and poor can wage a united struggle against the capitalists and the regime. Among its demands, this programme should include: the reversal of austerity measures; living wages and pensions that increase according to inflation; an extensive programme of public works to repair the country’s crumbling infrastructure; the renationalisation of all privatised companies under workers’ control, and the introduction of workers’ control throughout the state-owned economy. There must also be political demands such as the right to strike, protest and assemble; a call to boycott the upcoming elections; and for the abolition of the Islamic Republic through the election of a constituent assembly.
With widespread discontent across Iran, such a programme would find wide support from the various sections of workers in struggle. At the head of the middle classes, students and farmers, the workers would galvanise a formidable united movement. Such an alternative would provide a crushing blow against any persisting illusions in the regime. When such a movement develops, it will be capable of bringing an end to the hated Islamic Republic.