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On Thursday 2nd April, Iran and the world’s most powerful nations signed a preliminary outline agreement about Iran's nuclear programme. This marks the beginning of the end of a 12 year standoff between the US and Iran. Hamid Alizadeh asks: what interests lie behind the negotiations and what does the deal mean?

On Thursday 2nd April, Iran and the world’s most powerful nations signed a preliminary outline agreement about Iran's nuclear programme. It also dealt with the various sanctions imposed on Iran by the US, UN and the European Union. This marks the beginning of the end of a 12 year standoff between the US and Iran. But what lies behind the negotiations and what does the deal mean?

[Note: This article should be read in conjunction with our article on Saudi war on Yemen: rising tensions in the Middle East and the crisis of Imperialism]

The outline agreement will span a period of fifteen years. In this period the Iranian nuclear programme will be severely scaled down, although all elements of it will remain. The US will have “unprecedented monitoring rights” within different Iranian nuclear facilities. In exchange, the US, the EU and the UN will lift all the sanctions imposed on Iran in relation to its nuclear programme.  That means that the severe sanctions clamping down on oil and other trade, shipping and banking will be lifted, basically allowing the Iranian economy to be reintegrated into the world economy.

The final details of the implementation of the deal have not been agreed to yet and many things could change before a final version is signed. However, the announcement of the outline of the agreement and the investing of political capital by both sides into it indicate that there are deep interests in finalising the agreement.

Humiliating sanctions

In Iran in the minutes after the announcement of the deal thousands of people took to the streets, singing, dancing and honking their horns in celebrations which lasted all night. Cars blocked major roads in Tehran and in many other places and chants praising foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani could be heard in many neighbourhoods until the early hours of the morning.

The celebrations were like a national sigh of relief as an end to years of humiliating sanctions, which have crippled the economy and pushed millions into a desperate situation, seems to be within reach.

The US-imposed sanctions have amounted to nothing less than a war on the Iranian people. The effects have been devastating. The crippled Iranian economy has seen unemployment rise dramatically to new highs, the Iranian Rial lose more than 80 percent of its value and inflation reaching 100 percent at one stage. A popular joke is that heroin is far cheaper than meat in Tehran.

In this situation, the working class has seen its meagre wages diminished to peanuts. The minimum wage, which has lost value to inflation every year, now stands at about a quarter of the poverty line for a family of four - and yet millions of workers work for less than the minimum wage. Hundreds of thousands of middle class people have been bankrupted as their savings have lost all value and their businesses have come to a grinding halt.

The prices of gas, water, electricity, cooking oil and bread have doubled, tripled or quadrupled and sometimes even more. The price of flour alone has gone up by 4,000%. All this, while wages remained stagnant or barely rising. In fact, being paid at all has become a luxury, as hundreds of thousands of workers have not received wages for months or sometimes even years.

Hospitals have also been hit badly as they could not get vital medicine and equipment. Tens of thousands of patients with cancer and 30 other serious illnesses have been practically barred from treatment. Parts for repairs of planes were impossible to get until recently and car parts have also been hit badly and are often replaced with makeshift parts which add to the alarming level of pollution.

The feeling of being under siege and humiliated by US imperialism, which has tried to impose its will on the Iranian masses so many times before, has been a source of bitterness and deep resentment. The reaching of a deal is therefore also seen as the restoration of national pride by many Iranians who feel that they have not given in to the pressures of imperialism.

Of course the final deal has not been reached, signed nor implemented. That means that nothing has fundamentally changed yet, but tensions have settled to a certain degree now that there is no more talk of war and attacks against Iran and when the masses can see an end of sanctions in sight.

Imperialists retreat

For the US ruling class the deal represents a significant retreat. It is a thinly veiled admission of the mess the United States has caused in the Middle East over the past fifteen years and also that it has failed to meet any of its objectives.

The imposition of the criminal sanctions on Iran was supposed to have beaten it into submission. The US demanded full capitulation and an end to Iran’s nuclear activities. But the deal they have presented has not gotten them an inch closer to this objective.

In fact, the deal that Barack Obama and John Kerry are now trying to sell to the US Congress as “a result of the sanctions bringing Iran to the negotiation table” is not any different from what they were offered seven years ago by the previous Iranian government - before the harshest regime of sanctions was imposed.

Behind the fog of technical details, which are there to confuse and obscure the real essence of the deal, its main achievement is to increase the ‘breakout time’ - i.e. the time Iran would need to build a nuclear bomb - from 3-4 months to 12 months.

Thus the threat of a nuclear armed Iran is not going to disappear. This means that the Iranian regime will be able to use its capability to produce nuclear arms in order to gain concessions, such as the ones it has won now, without actually having to maintain the full production cycle and other capabilities required to have a bomb. Under the agreement, Iran can also start expanding its nuclear infrastructure starting ten years from now. All of this amounts to a de factorecognition of Iran as a nuclear power.

Needless to say that no other option was really open to US imperialism. Once those capabilities had been built up nothing short of an invasion could stop Iran from retaining them - and that option is ruled out.

The limitations of the US ruling class

obamaThis highlights the limits of US imperialism. Brute force is not as effective - or even possible - as before when it comes to achieving its objectives and it is forced to increasingly lean on other methods.

This new "turn" in US foreign policy is now being dubbed the "Obama doctrine". This is an attempt to paint Obama as a peace loving man of reason and the nuclear deal as a result of his supposed idealism. But this is the same Obama administration which wanted to bomb Syria, which bombed Libya, which played a key role in preparing a sectarian war in Syria, which is now bombing Iraq and fighting the same sectarian forces it created by unleashing rabid Shia militias in Sunni Muslim areas and it is the same administration which is participating in the continuing barbaric bombing of the people of Yemen.

The “Obama doctrine” is not a doctrine of strength or democracy as it is being portrayed. It is a doctrine of weakness and retreat on the part of the US ruling class. The old “trusted methods” of wars, bullying and regime change do not have the same effect as in the past and US imperialism is forced to lean more on bribes and economic integration. In Iran it is clear that Obama would like to achieve some degree of control over the mullahs by integrating them into the western economy - an offer they will not refuse.

Through its military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan the US has managed to destabilise the whole region, and now it is forced to turn to Iran to impose some kind of stability. In Iraq and Syria, the plague of Islamic fundamentalism, which was created and nurtured by the imperialists themselves at every stage, has now spun out of control and risks destabilising the whole region. The same situation is developing in Lebanon where Sunni fundamentalism is a rising threat to the cohesion of the country.

However, the US is incapable of intervening itself directly. Two lost wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the mass opposition to war internally, the political crisis in the ruling elite, the demoralisation of the army, as well as the budget crisis and the general economic crisis limits its military capabilities. Another ground war and long occupation of Iraq is completely ruled out after the humiliating retreat which it brought to an end just a few years ago. Only two years ago Obama and Kerry had to publicly retreat from a bombing campaign of Syria. This clearly shows the limitations of US military might which is being weakened by the general crisis of capitalism.

Due to the destruction of Saddam’s state apparatus and army by the US during the occupation of the country, Iran was strengthened as a result of its influence among the oppressed Shia majority and its leaders. Today Iran exerts its influence in Iraq through a myriad of clerics as well as several Iraqi and Iranian militias. In Syria also, Iran was strengthened through its close ties with the Assad regime as well as through the Hezbollah militia from neighbouring Lebanon. Thus, for the US, Iran has become the only reliable local power with the forces on the ground to fight against the Islamic State and other Sunni fundamentalist outfits.

The battle of Tikrit

The character of the relationship of the two powers was clearly shown in last month's battle to take the Iraqi city of Tikrit from the Islamic State. This was an operation which the Iraqi government had been pushing for months. The US-led coalition, however, was not too keen. The US was coming under pressure from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan and Turkey. Although Iranian troops and Iranian backed militias had previously operated in Sunni areas of Iraq, this was different. Tikrit is Sunni heartland and an area where Iran's competitors in the region have had more influence. The entrance of Iranian troops into Tikrit was a direct threat to their interests in Iraq.

The problem is that the prospect of Shia militias ravaging Sunni homes, as they had done before, could become a major problem for the further campaign against the Islamic State. Therefore the US hesitated for months at the idea of embarking on a mission to take Tikrit.

However, on 2 March, after months of pushing, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, along with the Iraqi government, surprised everyone by announcing the beginning of an operation to take Tikrit. The Americans were taken completely off guard and a US official expressed “a little bit of surprise”. Tactically timed to fall just days before the latest round of the nuclear negotiations, this show of force was meant to signal that Iran does not need the US as much as the US needs Iran.

However, by going into Tikrit, the Iranian ground troops supported by tanks and heavy artillery of the Revolutionary Guards Corps were not received as heroes and saviours, but as an occupation force. The hostility of the population was a major obstacle and after weeks with little progress the forces had to retreat. In the end the Americans joined the operation with the promise that all Iranian troops and the troops of the Badr brigade, a Shia militia very close to Iran, would pull back. With the new constellation, IS was expelled from Tikrit (although not easily). The Iraqi president Abadi praised the operation and the fact that it had been done without Iranian troops.

However, in reality, while the troops most closely associated with Iran were pulled back, the majority of the troops still remained Shia militias controlled by Iran. According to a statement to a senate committee by the chairman of the US joint chiefs-of-staff, General Martin Dempsey, two thirds of the 30,000 troops who took Tikrit were Shia militias. Of these a significant amount would have been Iranians as could be seen from the farsi graffiti which covered the walls of Tikrit in the days after the city was taken.

The Los Angeles Times quoted a top Hezbollah Brigade official on the day the forces went into Tikrit. "As of 4 p.m. today, we have returned to the operations command of the Tikrit offensive". He said coalition airstrikes against Tikrit had ended, paving the way for the return of the militias. "The command of the operation is now completely in the hands of the [Shia] Popular Mobilization," he continued.

The truth is that the Iraqi army is not worthy of the name. The only thing which is stopping the disintegration of Iraq today are the Shia militias and the Iranian troops and paramilitaries who operate in the country. They are also the only forces that the US can rely on to fight against the Islamic State in the Sunni Arab areas.

This is a major strain on the relationship between the US and its traditional allies. The Saudis, the Turks and the Gulf states are worried about Iran’s economic, political and military entrenchment in Iraq. However, contrary to their wishes, the US is fighting with and supporting Iran in Iraq - all to the detriment of the influence of the traditional US allies in the country.

Syria and the strained alliances

obama redrawing middle eastIn Syria also, Iran and the US have moved closer together. In fact, it is clear that the Americans see the Assad regime as the only option through which the US can establish some kind of stability in the country. It is a fact that the US and the Assad regime have been coordinating their common fight against the Islamic State taking turns in bombing their targets and silently avoiding any conflict with each other. This has, however, also added to straining the ties of the US with its traditional allies in the region.

Turkey, a member of NATO and a country housing key US military facilities, has been pushing Obama to attack Assad as well. Erdogan, egged on by the US, invested heavily in the Islamist groups fighting in Syria. The majority of the Syrian opposition forces were housed and nurtured in Turkey before they ever got a real base on the ground in Syria. The Turks provided training, headquarters, transportation facilities, as well as funds and arms for the groups which were increasingly dominated by Islamic fundamentalists.

After failing to become a regional power in the wake of the Arab revolution, Syria was the last chance for Turkey to ‘save face’, in its foreign policy adventures. That is why Erdogan has constantly been pushing the US and NATO to intervene against Assad.

It is therefore not surprising to see his displeasure at the US u-turn, which is basically asking him to abandon his ‘investments’, give up his imperialist designs and support the opposite side instead. Erdogan, is a gangster politician who will not accept any public humiliation in what he perceives as his turf. Especially since he has been limping from one crisis after another in the past years.

At the top, his rule has been challenged by a never ending flow of corruption scandals and constant fallouts and attacks by many of his closest allies. At the same time, the deepening economic crisis and his totalitarian tendencies have antagonised big sections of the population.

The Gezi Park mass movement of 2013 was only a warning of the anger which is accumulating against him. In all of this his imperialist adventures, especially his policies in regards to Syria, have become a critical point of attack against him. Thus, far from retreating and following the US change in policy in the region, he has continued his intervention in the Islamist camp in Syria, only periodically giving in to heavy US pressure. In fact a few months ago, as if showing his own strength, he annexed a small part of Syria.

Israel is not following the Americans either. The rise of Iran is considered a major threat by Israel’s rulers to its role in the region. Israel would no longer be free to attack other countries and grab land, particularly not if Iran acquires a nuclear bomb which would be an “existential threat” to Israel, in military terms. That is why the Israelis have been sabotaging the negotiations at every step. Any deal to recognise Iran's power is a setback for the Israelis and Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu who immediately denounced the nuclear outline agreement as a 'historical mistake' by the US.

Another threat to Israel is Hezbollah's gains in Syria, especially near the Golan Heights which could give the Iranian proxy a new front towards Israel. For this reason Netanyahu has been quietly supporting the Al Qaeda affiliated Jabhat Al Nusra in the area, with air cover, and by providing intelligence and treating their wounded in Israeli hospitals.

This reveals the growing crisis in the US-Israeli relationship, which has reached its weakest point ever. Netanyahu recently visited the US in order to rally Congress and the Senate against the sitting president. In the same trip, during which he did not meet Obama, he played covertly recorded tapes of the nuclear negotiations obtained by Mossad for Republican politicians as a means to sow discord within the US political system. At each step the Israelis have openly sabotaged the negotiations at great costs to the US.

However, the fanatical attacks on Iran by Netanyahu are also rooted in the crisis of the Israeli ruling class. In the recent years this crisis has become more volatile as a new social movement took shape in the wake of the Arab spring. That movement, although it is no longer on the streets, has expressed itself in the rise of social issues such as jobs, housing, inflation and anti-corruption in Israeli politics. In these conditions, in order to stay in power, Netanyahu has had to move increasingly to the right increasing the gulf between left and right in Israeli society. In this context, the Iranian "existential threat” is conveniently used by Netanyahu to whip up fear and to remain in power.

For the Saudis and the Gulf States, Iran is already an “existential threat”. Their weak rulers have little legitimacy and their armies are unreliable and inefficient. In addition, they are terrified of Iranian populism and its potential influence over the Shia minority which inhabits many of the most oil rich areas of the Arab peninsula. The ruling classes of the Gulf see Iran as a serious threat to their privileges and positions. Of course a nuclear armed Iran would only add to this. Any recognition of Iran as a regional power is a blow to the Saudis who have repeatedly called for the US to attack Iran in order to stop its nuclear programme.

Before the Iraq war the Saudis were kept safe by the deadlock between the Iraqi and the Iranian armies. However, now there is nothing hindering the Iranian army - which is stationed only a few hundred kilometers away - from marching on the Kingdom, a leverage, no doubt, that the Iranians will not shy away from using at every opportunity.

Through their proxies, the Saudis are fighting Iran everywhere else but at home where they are weak. The irony of all this, however, is that by propping up Sunni sectarians in Syria and Iraq they are only making the US more dependent on Iran as a partner. Of course they would have nothing to gain from supporting the Assad regime but the further undermining of their own position.

The US has promised to support Saudi Arabia militarily and are guaranteeing that the deal with Iran will not change their alliance. The new Saudi king has decided to test this out by forcing the US into a war on Yemen which the US was not initially interested in. As the Shia militias prepare to possibly send volunteer troops to Yemen, the US could be in the ironic situation of fighting with some fighters in Iraq and bombing the exact same fighters in Yemen.

In the end the increased tensions in the region can be reduced to the severe weakness of all the regimes. It is their internal crisis which is sharpening the contradictions between them. The Americans on the other hand need all parties in the region. There can be no talk of breaking ties with the Saudis or the Israeli state, but at the same time they also need Iran.

Sensing the weakness of US imperialism, the individual Middle Eastern powers are all trying to bend it to their will and sabotaging its plans at every turn. They are also beginning to cultivate relations with other world powers. Benyamin Netanyahu has had meetings with Vladimir Putin and Turkey has made a major gas deal with Russia which would enable Russia to circumvent Ukraine when transporting gas to Europe. Egypt has also increased its cooperation with the Russians, while China has by far become the biggest trading partner of Saudi Arabia. Iran of course, has long standing relations with both China and Russia.

The Iranians are attempting to balance independently between the great powers. However, for now, the traditional US allies are mainly using their relations with China and Russia in order to press for more concessions from the US. At a certain stage however, this could develop its own logic.

This does not mean that the US will cut its ties to either Iran or its old allies in the near future. However, each time the US engages with one side it destabilises the relationship with the other and adds to the tensions in the region. At some point the contradictions which are piling up will have to be resolved.

A loyal opposition

In the face of the retreating Americans, the results of the negotiations up until now have been to the advantage of Iran. The Americans are promising to end hostilities without having gained any significant concessions, while Iran's role as a major power in the region has been formally recognised.

Immediately after the announcement of the outline deal a whole slate of top officials from all factions of the ruling elite, except the most hardline ones, have praised the negotiating team and the preliminary results they have achieved.

Hossein Shariatmadari, the reactionary editor of Kayhan, a mouthpiece for hardline factions of the Iranian regime, was one of the few to criticise the deal which he described as giving a “fully mounted horse” and getting a “broken tether in return”. He reflected the mood amongst hardline factions of the regime who stand to gain the least from this deal.

Recognising this, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also struck a defiant but measured tone and demanded more concessions on the lifting of sanctions on Iran. However, Khamenei was quick to follow this up with a more conciliatory tone, saying that, “If the other side avoids its amphibology [ambiguity] in the [nuclear] talks, it'll be an experience showing it's possible to negotiate with them on other issues.”

He was mainly referring to Syria, where the US has long wanted to strike a deal with Iran, Russia and Assad. This shows the real relationship between Iran and US imperialism. Behind all the anti-imperialist propaganda, the Islamic Republic has never had a problem working with the US. In fact, were it not for Iran, the defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been far heavier for the Americans, and a withdrawal from Iraq would have been at a far higher cost.

Being a regime partially based on the bazaar, they may raise their voices and bang their chests, but at the end of the day they are after a good deal which satisfies their needs. This particular deal was in their favour because they knew the “customer” did not have anywhere else to go. The Iranians want recognition of their new status and, most importantly, they want the economic benefits which it carries. They need access to western markets and investments in the oil and industrial infrastructure. In exchange for this they are willing to offer their services in stabilising the region.

However, it is also clear that they cannot openly befriend the US without consequences. The new direction marks a major change in the domestic strategy of the regime. For thirty years the clergy have used the threat of US imperialism to unite the nation behind it, to dilute the class contradictions and to hide the parasitic nature of its dictatorship. But the new detente with the US will anger many who had previously supported the regime against the “great satan”. Many who have staunchly supported the regime for decades are asking the question, “then why did we bother to ‘resist’ for so many years?”

The regime has no option but to change course. However, at each step it must tread very carefully in order not to upset the delicate domestic order. That is also one of the reasons why there have been so many extensions of the negotiations as the two sides have needed time to prepare their domestic base.

In fact, both sides are tied up in deep internal crises which has meant several postponements of the final agreement. The Iranians were publicly demanding  immediate relief from sanctions while the Americans were demanding immediate steps to scale down Iran’s capabilities. Neither side could afford to be seen as backtracking publicly. However, in a “temporary protocol” to last the duration of the negotiations both sides could heavily compromise on their demands without losing face at home. How long they can carry on with these tricks is another matter. Sudden and sharp turns in the situation can make the formal signing of the agreement difficult, even impossible for a period, but this does not change the material situation on the ground which is the basis of the agreement.

The Iranian Economy

The Iranian regime is counting on the economic relief that would flow from the lifting of the sanctions to stem the tide of internal opposition from within its own ranks. This development will be welcomed by all sides. Six years of deep economic crisis have had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy. The oil infrastructure alone is in need of hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of investments in order to reach pre-crisis levels and major companies in light and heavy industries have had to reduce their production drastically.

Iranian and foreign capitalists are already preparing in expectation of an economic boom as the sanctions are lifted. Major Western companies are already fighting over the lucrative oil and infrastructure contracts which will be up for grabs.

According to the The Economist, American companies are using local front men to seal deals in Iran. One source told the journal that “If there is a nuclear deal, you will find overnight that the Americans have signed one-year options on the best projects, (...) the Europeans will be queuing up, but they will end up negotiating with ExxonMobil and Chevron, just as happened in Libya.” A European business leader complaining about this state of affairs said: “We can’t help but think we have been played by the Americans.”

However, the regime, seeking to keep its options open, has also recently agreed a deal with China to boost trade to $200 billion. A 100-member delegation of Chinese investors recently travelled to Iran to further explore investment opportunities in the country.

The future of the regime

Internally the Islamic Republic will be strengthened by the effects of the nuclear deal. The restoration of national dignity and the image of the regime as a stabilising non-sectarian force in a region torn by far more barbaric and destructive forces will make the regime stand out favourably in the eyes of the masses. At the same time economic growth along with a slightly looser grip on the part of the regime will provide a certain breathing space for people.

This, however, does not mean that discontent would disappear. Decades of oppressive rule have antagonised large layers of the population, especially amongst the youth who have no memory of the revolution or the subsequent war years. For them the Islamic Republic is mainly an obstacle to their desires and aspirations for freedom, democracy and a better life.

On the night of the announcement of the preliminary deal one of the slogans raised was that the “next agreement will be [about] our civil rights!” Rouhani came to power on a wave of mass dissatisfaction demanding an end to the suffocating grip of the state on all affairs. His election campaign was hijacked by thousands of youth who were demanding civil liberties and the freeing of political prisoners.

“The winter is over,” read another widely shared text message referring to a popular leftist revolutionary song which became the more or less official song of the 2009 mass movement against election fraud. This is a clear sign of the level and frustration which has accumulated.

For many Iranians the nuclear agreement is not seen as just a blow against the US, but also against the far right wing of the regime which has long banked on the hostility towards the US to suppress any dissent internally. This was reflected in another slogan which has also been popular: “Kayhan [far right traditionalist newspaper], Israel, condolences, condolences.”

This also indicates the pressures on the hardline wing of the regime. They have clearly been weakened over the past period and this process will continue as the bourgeoisie prepares to enter the ‘established’ world market where their medieval methods will have to be toned down. Thus the crisis at the centre of the regime will continue.

President Hassan Rouhani has obviously emerged strengthened from the negotiations. On the one he is seen as the person dealing this blow to the hardliners and on the other hand he is seen to have defended the nation’s pride and hit back against the sanctions. However, this will not last. Rouhani came to power with the expectations that he would solve the economic problems of the masses and provide them with civil liberties. None of these promises have been carried out and as the deal is implemented those expectations will resurface.

The regime clearly understands that it must loosen its grip on society and allow for some steam to be let off. The 2009 Green Movement, as well as the Arab revolution, were warning signs that it learned from: if it wishes to stay in power, it must change course. However, any attempt to open up can can result in an explosion of all the pent up anger and frustration which is looking for an outlet.

The slightly looser approach of the Rouhani regime has already meant that last year saw the highest number of protests since the defeat of the Green Movement. Last autumn alone the regime was alarmed on at least three occasions. One was the thousands of people protesting against acid attacks on women, orchestrated by reactionary religious cliques. The other two were the defiance of the students on Students Day and another publicly televised protest at a speech of Hossein Shariatmadari in at Tehran University a few days later.

Workers begin to move

Even more importantly, the past year has seen the early phases of a revival of the workers’ movement which has otherwise been stagnant since 2009. This is in direct response to the policies of the regime over the past period.

The Rouhani government may appear as a friend of the people at the moment, but its real allegiance is to big capital. This year the government had initially budgeted $39 billion in  revenues from privatisations - the highest in the history of the Islamic Republic. In the end they had to retreat from this due to the extreme weakness of the economy, but  it gives an indication of the direction it is going in..

Under Rouhani subsidies on basic goods have been cut even further, while the cash handouts which were supposed to take their place have not been changed for the third year in a row - a period which has seen up to 175% inflation.

Over the past months the price of bread has already accelerated further upwards with a 30 percent rise. Petrol prices are also going to rise this year, initially by 5-10 percent, while the sale of petrol is being liberalised which will definitely mean further price hikes. The budget for education also has only been raised 14 percent, which is well below inflation. All of this while defence spending is going to go up by 33 percent.

Rouhani has also continued attacks on job security leading to 93 percent of contracted workers being on temporary (i.e quarterly, monthly, weekly or daily) contracts and more than 50 percent of all workers being employed on “blank contracts” which do not give them any rights whatsoever.

These conditions coupled with high unemployment have been the basis for an increase in workers’ struggles. Last year there were several large miners’ strikes against privatisation and attacks on working conditions. The biggest of these was in the city of Bafgh where 5000 miners, supported by thousands of Bafghees, waged a 39 day strike last year (the longest strike since the Iranian revolution) and several shorter strikes since then.

Thousands of mineworkers in Chadormalu also struck several times last year. However, as a sign of the limits of what the government will allow, five of their leaders have recently been sentenced to one year in prison each, as well as flogging. The same fate could await the workers of Bafgh, many of whom have been charged with serious offences.

Then in January, February and March thousands of teachers started a national movement against below-inflation wage increases and unequal bonuses. The  movement led to several strikes and several mass protests in major cities of Iran and smaller protests in dozens of other towns and villages. These are just the most important examples of workers’ struggles which are at their highest since 2009. This gives us a picture of what is to come in the future..

For years people have been told that dissent will weaken the nation against US imperialism and that they must settle for lower wages and lower living standards due to the sanctions. However, once the deal is made the people are going to ask for the money they are owed - literally. They will ask the bosses to compensate them for years of unpaid wages and bonuses and all the years of diminishing real wages.

The ruling class, on the other hand, will resist in order to defend its profits and in order to attract investments. Already, Ali Tayebnia, Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, has been trying to calm down expectations saying, “It is very simplistic to think that all of our problems will be resolved once the sanctions are lifted,”

In a situation of world crisis of capitalism, where all the major economies are either in decline or stagnating, sustained economic growth in Iran can only come by competing on the cost of labour and by increasing labour intensity, that is by exploiting the working class more and lowering wages.

In the early stages, this will be temporarily offset by a burst of investments and the restarting of economic activities after years of stagnation, but sooner rather than later life under capitalism will resume its never ending pressure on the working class. Under the weight of the  world economic crisis, these pressures will only increase further.

The class lines will thus become clearer as the regime will no longer be able to hide behind a fog of anti-imperialist demagogy. This will open up a new period of class struggle in Iran which would lay bare the hypocrisy of the millionaire mullahs on the one hand and the treachery of the Reformists on the other.

Bankruptcy of capitalism

All the chaos in the Middle East can be reduced to the inability of capitalism to solve even the most fundamental problems of the region. US imperialism has used the whole region as its private shooting range, attacking one country after another, killing millions of people and destabilising the foundations of civilised existence. Like an elephant in a china shop it has managed to destabilise the whole region and prepare the ground for what could possibly become a great regional war.

The rotten ruling cliques which it has installed in power are parasites on the back of the working peoples of the region.  In their desperate quest to remain in power these regimes are willing to drown the whole region in blood. In this inferno of barbarism, Iran stands out as the most stable force, but this is only due to the extreme levels of decay of the other rulers. The Islamic Republic, is built on the same class divisions as the rest.

As long as the mass revolutionary movements are temporarily at an ebb, the reactionary conspiracies of these regimes will dominate the agenda. However, this will change. All the regimes within the region are weak and lack legitimacy. Sooner or later the movement on the masses will rise again in one country after another. Only such a movement, on a class basis, can put an end to the chaos and anarchy which is ruling the region today.

Published on In Defence of Marxism

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