Date: Wed, 22 Mar 1995 00:05:07 -0500 (EST)
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Imperialism and Struggle in Iran

By Ali Azad, in Workers World, 22 March, 1995

Feb. 11 is the 16th anniversary of the 1979 revolution in Iran. Iranians know it as the revolution of Bahmans, the Iranian equivalent to February.

What was the class nature of the Bahmans revolution? Is the revolution completely defeated? And at what stage is the struggle in Iran today?

FROM 1953 TO 1979

The February 1979 revolution was first and foremost the continuation of a bourgeois-democratic revolution that had been abruptly interrupted and discontinued on July 19, 1953. The direct intervention of the U.S. government played a big part in the 1953 events.

At that time, Norman Schwarzkopf Sr.-- "Desert Storm" commander Norman Schwarzkopf Jr.'s father--was sent to Tehran with two suitcases full of U.S. dollar notes. CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt accompanied him.

Their assignment, in coordination with sections of the Iranian military, was to carry out a coup against the democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh--and to bring back the shah, who had been booted out by the Iranian masses.

The U.S. succeeded. The shah was back on his throne.

Mossadegh was put under house arrest. Iran became once again safe for U.S. companies to rob its oil and take advantage of its vast and untapped markets.

Iranian oil had been nationalized under Mossadegh. Now, once again, it was for all practical purposes back under the giant U.S. oil companies' control.

For 26 years after that, Iran was a virtual colony of U.S. corporations and the Pentagon. During these 26 years the process of Iran's integration into the global capitalist market dominated by the U.S. was consolidated.

Iran's role in the capitalist food chain, along with many other countries in the region, was to deliver cheap oil and receive mostly finished consumer commodities.

Iran became what Saudi Arabia is for U.S. capitalist monopolies today.

At the same time, a repressive police apparatus silenced all voices of opposition. The shah became the symbol of repression--much like Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the U.S.-backed military ruler who replaced Chile's popularly elected President Salvador Allende and had him killed.

Today, to better understand recent developments in Iran--and Washington's role--it is important to appreciate the peculiarities of the 1979 revolution.

The Iranian revolution resulted from the convergence of many different struggles that united to overthrow the shah, with the goal of establishing an independent and democratic country.

Above all, the revolution was made possible by the work of thousands of communists and progressive revolutionaries. In the course of 26 years--from 1953 to 1979--they never wavered for a moment in their irreconcilable resistance to the shah's fascist police apparatus.

Iranian communists held many differing views. Some believed in the tactic of armed struggle. Others advised patiently explaining the issues to the masses. In the course of the struggle to oust the shah, hundreds from all these currents lost their lives in CIA-built torture chambers.

Thousands of Iranian workers and students outside the country and in exile also contributed to making life intolerable for the shah and his U.S. masters.

Progressive Iranian Islamic forces--comparable to the liberation theologists of Latin America--also played a very important role at this stage. The most prominent of these was the People's Mujahedeen Organization. In the last 10 years, however, the PMO has gone through many significant changes so that it is now almost indistinguishable from a pro-U.S. bourgeois organization.

It was only toward the end of 1978 that Khomeini--who had been exiled to Iraq in 1964--was heard more often. He had moved from Iraq to France, which was home to hundreds of Western-educated and pro-capitalist Iranian technocrats. They formed Khomeini's entourage and became part of his permanent staff. Among them were Abulhassan Bani Sadr, Ghotzbadeh and Ibrahim Yazdi.

These forces established a headquarters in Paris from which Khomeini was to lead the revolution. But what was really in the mind of Ghotzbadeh, who was later accused of a conspiracy to overthrow Khomeini?

His idea was to divert the revolutionary upsurge of the masses away from a thorough revolution--to put a brake on it so that it overthrew the shah but not the capitalist system.

The participation and leadership of communists and other progressive forces was key. It was actually the pro-Fedayeen and Mujahedeen units that battled and defeated the last resistance from the shah's military in the final days before the revolution.

These forces dealt the final blow against the U.S.-trained army, which had disintegrated as its own rank and file joined the revolution.


Khomeini didn't start his reactionary attack against the left until a few months later. He was held back in part by the popularity and reputation of the left, the most determined section of the opposition against the shah.

The primary difference between the Islamic movement in Iran and some other countries in the Middle East lies in this fact: The Islamic movement led by Khomeini joined an already-strong and all-encompassing anti-imperialist movement in the latter phases of its development, acting as a brake on its further radicalization.

In Egypt, by contrast, in the absence of a genuinely anti-imperialist and working-class opposition, Islamic fundamentalism has developed as the main opposition to President Hosni Mubarak's humiliating and pro-imperialist policies.

Khomeini saved the Iranian bourgeoisie while at the same time leading the revolution against the U.S. and for national independence.

Consciously or not, Khomeini played the part of a class collaborationist--the Bonaparte of the Iranian revolution--while he expressed in part the political vision of the already-defeated feudal class. As such he was a political anachronism, out of his proper time in Iranian history.


In 1979 the Iranian economy was a capitalist economy. Sixteen years later, despite many religious edicts, that is still its essence. Like Mexico and other Third World countries, Iran is dominated by the multinational corporations and the banks.

The main peculiarity of the Iranian economy is its heavy dependence on the production of oil. Oil sales constitute 80 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

The Iranian economy is part of a chain in the system of global capitalist production and distribution controlled by a few hundred corporations--mostly based in the U.S., Europe and Japan, each with billions of dollars in assets. This monopoly control of the means of production and distribution, coupled with the military muscle of the Pentagon and NATO, cannot allow a new-born capitalist country to develop.

These imperialist monopolies would suffocate any independent Third World economy with the ultimate goal of completely taking it over. The only solution is completely cutting off the lifeline that sustains and breeds this kind of uneven and unjust relationship--the system of imperialist exploitation.

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