From Behind Bars:
Analyzing Past Revolution to Shape a Revolutionary Future
The artwork from Houshang Pezeshknia, Iranian artist. 1969.
Shahrokh Zamani, a revolutionary socialist (born in 1964 in Kaleybar – died on September 13, 2015, in Karaj) was a house painter and labor activist. He was a member of the board of the Committee for the Formation of Independent Labor Organizations and a member of the reopening committee of the Painters and Construction Workers’ Syndicate.
Shahrokh Zamani was first arrested in 1993 on charges of clandestine activities in the Painters’ Syndicate and spent about 18 months in prison. He was again arrested in Tabriz in June 2011 and spent 36 days in solitary confinement. In court, he was sentenced to 11 years for ‘propaganda against the regime’, ‘insulting the leadership’, and ‘forming a group intending to disrupt national security’. While serving his sentence in Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, he was deprived of basic rights. His requests to attend his daughter’s wedding and his mother’s funeral were denied. Due to his protest against his conditions, he was kept in solitary confinement and went on hunger strikes.
He persisted in his writing and activist efforts while in prison and underwent frequent transfers between different facilities while being restrained with handcuffs and shackles. He protested these unlawful transfers multiple times through hunger strikes. Tragically, he met his demise in prison on September 13, 2015. The prison authorities asserted that he passed away due to a stroke, a claim refuted by his fellow inmates and family.
In this note, written in prison in 2014, Shahrokh Zamani analyzes the events of the 1979 revolution and the conditions that led to the suppression of the revolution. He discusses the importance of organizing the working class.
We will not allow the repetition of the defeat of the ‘1979 revolution
36 years have passed since Khomeini’s promise to the people that he would give them oil money and provide free water and electricity. Not only were these promises not fulfilled, but from the day they came to power, they began to suppress and kill workers and revolutionaries. All worker and people’s organizations that could stand against injustice and oppression and defend the rights and achievements of the revolution were destroyed. They still use all their power to prevent the formation of worker and people’s organizations. Among these, workers have been the most suppressed and are under the most pressure. The lesson to be learned from this situation is that capitalism and its government are afraid of the organization of workers and the people. Therefore, the creation of independent organizations is the only way to achieve freedom and demands. Considering the last 36 years of Iran’s history, it is once again proven beyond doubt that: The only solution for the working class is unity and organization.
36 years ago, on these very days, the monarchial dictatorship, which considered itself the shadow of God and the people as its born subjects, and the country as its patrimonial inheritance, was thrown into the dustbin of history by a people’s revolution. But why did a revolution as great as the ‘1979 revolution fail and not achieve its goals of freedom, equality, and social justice? We know that the monarchial dictatorship had deprived the masses of radical political leadership by suppressing, executing, and destroying revolutionary organizations, parties, and any form of people’s awareness and organization. At the same time, by giving space to traditional reactionary forces of the bazaar and the clergy, a situation was created where, during the height of the revolution, these reactionary forces had extensive cohesion and organization (just like now, where capitalism heavily suppresses revolutionary forces but fattens reactionary forces like ISIS, Taliban, etc.).
Therefore, the revolutionary masses were intellectually dominated by the fascist old-guard, akin to ISIS. When in ‘1979, the leaders of four capitalist countries – the USA, England, Germany, and France, led by the then French president, concluded at a meeting in the French island of Guadeloupe that they could not stop the revolution from overthrowing the Shah, they faced three options for the future: the Fada’iyan organization, the National Front, and Khomeini’s group (i.e., the clergy). To defeat the revolution, they invested in the clergy (just as today they invest in ISIS, etc.), and through negotiations of Beheshti and Bazargan with General Huyser in Algeria with four conditions, they supported reactionary and regressive forces under the false name of the Islamic revolution against the democratic people’s revolution.
The implementation of the aforementioned four conditions was in fact the real death blow to the revolution. It meant through suppression and destruction of all organizations, syndicates, and worker councils that had been formed during the revolution, which were vital tools for the people’s revolutionary struggle towards continuing the revolution and achieving a direct democratic council governance from the grassroots. They made the victory and continuation of the revolution impossible.
By accepting these conditions, Bazargan, representing the brokers and sycophants of the religious liberal Freedom Movement, and Beheshti, representing the ultra-religious, counter-revolutionary, and reactionary, the revolutionary masses’ uprising in Tehran was fundamentally successful, defeating the army. However, before the masses could initiate armed uprisings in other cities, the counter-revolution, proclaiming that the revolution had succeeded and ended, prevented its continuation. With the mediation of global capitalism between the remnants of the Shah’s regime and the religious reactionaries to save capitalism, an agreement was reached.
Consequently, the army, on orders from the joint chiefs of staff, General Qarani, and based on prior Western instructions and one of the agreed-upon conditions, withdrew to the barracks everywhere, leaving SAVAK untouched, to be used by the new government against the revolution. Immediately, the new counter-revolutionary regime, the illegitimate child of the failed Iranian revolution, the product of the union of the clergy and the West (global capitalism), under the guise of religion and revolution, disarmed the revolutionaries on February 17, 1979, who were the real guarantee for the continuation of the revolution by the revolutionary class. With a mix of delusion and populism among traditional segments and ruffians, under the leadership of various dominant reactionary currents, along with the cooperation and servitude of opportunists and revisionists, using the army, SAVAK, and private armed bands and the new feudal mafia, launched a comprehensive and widespread attack against all revolutionary strongholds and achievements.
Exposing and Rejecting Counter-Revolutionary Forces
The counter-revolution, by murdering revolutionaries and destroying all democratic freedoms, independent mass organizations, and bloodshed in Kurdistan and Turkmen Sahra, proved their betrayal to the Iranian people and their service to capitalism, which continues to this day. After the initial suppressions, Iranian capitalism accelerated its integration with global capital under Rafsanjani’s government and the Islamic Republic’s counter-revolutionary regime prepared to implement the neoliberal plans dictated by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. Since then, the Islamic Republic’s governments have continuously rolled back the revolutionary achievements of workers and the masses in favor of domestic and global capitalism.
Among the reclaimed achievements, always accompanied by bloody suppression, are the elimination and censorship of various freedoms, the abolition of official employment, the establishment of temporary and blank-signed contracts, imposition of wages five times below the poverty line, employers’ freedom in mass and individual layoffs, elimination of subsidies and uncontrolled price increases, making necessities increasingly expensive, privatization of hospitals, schools, universities, healthcare, legalization of child labor, exclusion of workshops with fewer than ten workers from legal protection, imposition of unpaid labor through trial work programs, master-apprentice schemes, unpaid work dependent on customer tips, suppression of worker organizations and preventing their formation, various harassments and pressures against students, pupils, and workers at work and study places, and imposing anti-human ruffians in the form of Islamic associations, Islamic councils, Basij, etc., and expanding arrests, physical and psychological tortures, imprisonments, executions, and suspicious killings.
All these were imposed on the working class after they had previously suppressed and dismantled worker and revolutionary organizations of the revolutionary era with various excuses and policies. Now, in recent years, after the subsiding of the wave of conciliatory thoughts and right-wing philosophies internationally and domestically against socialism and revolutionary thought, revolutionaries and workers have begun to rebuild their ideology and self-confidence, seeking a way out, resulting in socialism becoming clearer and brighter every day. Therefore, the Islamic Republic, fearing that the working class might organize itself under socialist ideas again, wants to prevent such organization by implementing plans, schemes, and widespread propaganda, while advancing repressive measures.
According to the analysis and conclusions of domestic and global capitalist intelligence organizations, which are based on statistical and scientific data, they know that if they hesitate for a moment, they will soon melt away under the bright rays of worker and socialist ideas like ice in the July sun. In line with such analysis, high-ranking officials of the new government, in coordination with global capitalism, have begun to prepare public opinion for accepting more extensive and comprehensive suppressions, including new lawsuits by employers in complete coordination with agents and the judiciary against striking workers, dragging them to court under the pretense of private complainants, thus suppressing and preventing worker organization through fear and intimidation.
Despite the movements and plans to change labor laws and insurance in the Ministry of Labor, Social Security Organization, Parliament, and the government, which are all anti-worker and anti-people, clearly demonstrate the dominant anti-worker ideology in the Islamic system. Considering that the social situation of the country, especially the condition of the working class, has become so impoverished, with unemployment, high prices and inflation, and the increasing devaluation of wages, that there is no hope for tomorrow in finding work or having bread and surviving. Workers, with all their strength, are standing up against the continual attacks of capitalists and their government, striking daily in several factories, workshops, and institutions. Capitalists and their government, in turn, continue their comprehensive and successive attacks, so much so that the battle between labor and capital is clearly and openly expanding in all aspects of society, which could spark a rise at any moment. On the other hand, such a situation cannot continue for long, and if workers and revolutionaries cannot organize themselves into unions, federations, and a political organization, capitalism will win the battle, and the working class will suffer another defeat. This would be a repetition of the ‘1979 revolution’s failure in a different form.
Learning from Past Revolution
The fundamental issue is what lessons can be drawn from all these movements, experiences, and failures for use in an upcoming uprising or revolution.
First, the volcanic struggle of the masses can only take the form of a revolution and the destruction of tyranny and exploitation through strikes and nationwide political demonstrations. Without organizations, a political program, and revolutionary leadership of the working class through parties, organizations, and combat groups representing the class interests of the masses, and hence without understanding the goals and direction of the revolution, the revolution is bound to fail completely.
Second, only by destroying all the organs of suppression and tyranny and replacing them with organs of the working class and the people emerging from the heart of the revolution, such as councils, committees, and armed worker militias, unions, and syndicates as tools for exercising direct governance of the masses and direct democracy in the economic, military, and political management of society, can a revolution be fruitful and sustain its achievements.
Third, without the rejection and exposure of the conspiracies, betrayals, and populist deceptions of liberal reformists, opportunists, and revisionists, who act as assistants to tyranny and masks for false supporters of freedom, democracy, and free elections, the result of such counter-revolutionary collaborations will continue to be the dominance of exploitation and dictatorship. If these groups are not exposed and rejected, no revolution has a real chance of success, and any change will be merely superficial and a mere reshuffling of the pieces. The role of liberals in collusion with the clergy (like Bazargan, Bani-Sadr, Yazdi, Sanjabi, etc.) in deceiving the people in the ‘1979 revolution, and their role along with the conciliatory parts of the reformists in alliance with reaction during the Khatami era and in 2009, proves this point and indicates the inevitability of their rejection and exposure.
Fourth, despite the fact that revolutions under authoritarian regimes are characterized by being widespread, populist, and involving everyone, any mixing of class interests of different social groups such as workers, middle layers, and capitalists in the name of religion, nation, or race generally leads to the charismatic exploitation by anti-people movements and the destruction of democratic freedoms and diverse class interests. The best selection is the organized and lawful grouping of social groups based on their class interests, which is manifested in the tools of struggle, i.e., organizations, parties, and political groups. These tools are crucial in revolutionary struggles, depending on their condition and role in the revolution and the existing socio-political structures. They emerge from and will have a specific place in the ascending phases of the revolution. Undoubtedly, now, the formation of founding committees for syndicates to create workers’ organizations, establishing a national federation by uniting existing organizations and founding committees, as well as creating a political organization of workers, is a vital necessity for the working class.
Fifth, the revolution is the work of the masses, and the people’s freedom can only be achieved by their own hands.
Sixth, political groups and revolutionary intellectuals, without a living and organized connection with the people’s struggles and without understanding their role as the conscious, advanced, disciplined, and brave part of the working class, are tasked with organizing and elevating the struggle of workers and people against tyranny and exploitation. This requires recognizing forms of struggle and designing and planning the appropriate forms of combative organizations for the above battle. In summary, political groups and revolutionary intellectuals, without a close connection with the working class, are like fish out of water, doomed to perish.
Seventh, the basis of fundamental changes in any country is formed only and solely from within the country through revolution and the struggles of the masses. External factors play a secondary role. Any dismissal of the role of foreign support in the formation of a revolution and the fighting power and national self-belief diminishes it and aids the continuation of dictatorship.
Eighth, the people who saw Khomeini’s face in the moon, and those who had sanctified the Ayatollahs, even imitating them in going to the bathroom, have come to realize that the ruling clergy, along with their commanders, use God, the Prophet, the Imam, and their faith to serve capitalism for the exploitation of the working class and the looting of billions in national wealth, at the cost of unemployment, hunger, addiction, prostitution, organ selling, and homelessness of the people.
In response to the movements, propaganda, and plans of capitalist agents for more severe suppression, the duty of labor and revolutionary political activists is to create founding committees for labor organizations, strengthen existing organizations, lay the groundwork for a national federation, and build a political organization for workers, especially unifying the numerous existing protests and strikes. They are responsible for organizing themselves and workers as soon as possible and in unity with their organizations, revolutionary parties, and global allies to confront the developing attack. Otherwise, once again, the uprising of workers and people will fail and another severe suppression will push us to the margins for years.
In this battle, workers and people, learning from the bitter experiences of the revolution’s failure, must be vigilant not to fall from the frying pan into the fire. The secret of the masses’ success in revolutionizing their struggles lies in their increasing awareness of their class interests and in their organized and structured form in their nationwide and political organizations.
Antonio Gramsci is one of the greatest theorists of modern politics and culture, but he spent 11 years of his life in the prisons of Mussolini’s fascist government in Italy. He believed that great ideas are not only the domain of intellectuals and emphasized that workers should be the leaders of their organizations themselves.
Perhaps Gramsci’s theory of hegemony can be considered his most important contribution to the workers’ movement. In it, he explains how the capitalist class initially maintains its power not through violence and overt suppression, but through ideology and cultural dominance. Based on this, the task of “organic intellectuals” becomes to radically identify the roots of problems such as war, unemployment, inflation, sexual and ethnic discrimination. They should convey these to the working class and free them from the bonds of false religious and non-religious ideologies.
From this perspective, we can truly appreciate the significance of Shahrokh’s perspective.
My journey in creating this space was deeply inspired by James Baldwin’s powerful work, “The Fire Next Time”. Like Baldwin, who eloquently addressed themes of identity, race, and the human condition, this blog aims to be a beacon for open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable discussions on similar issues.
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