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Proletarian issue 31 (August 2009)
The Iranian election
US and British attempt to overthrow the Iranian regime from within.
The hullabaloo that has followed President Ahmadinejad’s clear victory in the Iranian elections in June has “Made in the USA” stamped all over it. The methodology used by counter-revolutionary elements acting on guidance and training from the US is a textbook example of Peter Ackerman’s civil disobedience strategy developed under the aegis of the CIA to undermine regimes that stand in the way of US imperialism’s plans for their country.

Stephen Gowans explains: “As the head of Freedom House, a CIA-interlocked think-tank that promotes free markets, free enterprise and free trade, Peter Ackerman has been at the forefront of efforts to topple foreign governments that place more emphasis on promoting the welfare of their citizens (and often their own bourgeoisie) than providing export and investment opportunities to US corporations, banks, and investors.

An ex-Wall Street investment banker who was once junk bond trader Michael Milken’s right-hand man, Ackerman’s speciality these days is regime change civil disobedience – training activists in the use of civil disobedience destabilisation techniques to bring down foreign governments. ” (‘The role and aims of US democracy promotion in the attempted colour revolution in Iran’ by Stephen Gowans, What’s Left, 4 July 2009)

The Ackerman expertise has been brought to bear on Iran, whose regime US imperialism has been determined to overthrow since it first established itself by overthrowing the Shah of Iran, who had been the loyal puppet of imperialism. Millions of dollars have been spent for the purpose.

After Bush’s second inauguration in January 2005, the National Security Council had an intense internal debate regarding Iran. The conflict did not centre on whether there should be a regime change in Iran, but rather, whether to employ soft or hard power to achieve it. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld advocated a series of escalating military strikes, while former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for the use of soft power. Eventually, the president’s military advisors ended the debate when they cautioned Bush that with the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, engaging Iran militarily would be highly risky and draining for the US armed forces.

Between 2005-2009, the US Congress appropriated more than $400m for State Department programmes designed to ‘promote democracy’, among other means of employing soft power in Iran. This was implemented, in part, by funding the activities of Iranian dissident groups. ” (‘Iran and Washington’s hidden hand’ by Esam Al-Amin, Counterpunch, 30 June 2009)

Obviously, the ‘non-military’ strategy for overthrowing the Iranian regime requires a fifth column within the country – which imperialism has had no trouble identifying amongst its traditional allies, namely, feudal relics and comprador capitalists. Iran’s parliamentary reformists represented wealthy, western-educated Iranians, whom we are asked to believe represent Iranian society as a whole.

Looking ahead, Ahmadi [Ramin Ahmadi, co-founder of the US State Department-funded Iran Human Rights Document Center] and his Freedom House co-author, pointed to ‘a grass-roots movement ... waiting to be roused in Iran’, that would ‘demand real economic reform’, so long as ‘its cadres’ were provided ‘a clear strategic vision and leadership’. ‘Grass-roots’ by Ackerman’s and Ahmadi’s restrictive definition, was anyone targeted by Ahmadinejad’s redistribution and capitalist-curbing programme. ‘Economic reform’ was giving capital free rein.

The model for overthrowing the income-redistributing, capitalist-curbing Ahmadinejad, they wrote, would be the Polish trade union Solidarity ... ” (Stephen Gowans, ibid)

To help Iran’s disgruntled budding comprador class, the pair urged ‘nongovernmental organisations around the world’ to ‘expand their efforts to assist Iranian civil society, women’s groups, unions and journalists. And the global news media,’ they wrote, should ‘cover the steady stream of strikes, protests, and other acts of opposition’. In other words, the media should play a role by depicting the Iranian government as deeply unpopular to justify its overthrow.

Significantly, organisations like Freedom House, ICNC, and the Soros Open Society Institute, operating on grants from western governments, parliaments and corporate foundations – all of which were opposed to Ahmadinejad for his asserting Iran’s right to a self-reliant civilian nuclear power industry and refusal to accelerate the sale of Iran’s state-owned economy to private investors – would provide the strategic vision, leadership, as well as the money and training, for Ackerman’s and Ahmadi’s slumbering grass-roots movement. ” (Ibid)

The propaganda war

What all this shows is that the current threat to the Iranian regime has been under preparation for years at the cost of millions of dollars, and that it is an effort for which people have been trained as well as financed, while the imperialist press is expected to play a key role.

Apart from the Washington Post (which published the information that an independent opinion poll conducted in Iran three weeks before the election had predicted that Ahmadinejad would win by an even greater majority), the bourgeois media are fulfilling their Goebbelsian tasks with shameless efficiency. For example, when dealing with the fact that in some districts more votes were cast than there were registered voters:

The biased performance of the mainstream media in reporting the Iranian elections can be illustrated through the coverage of the over-votes. Soon after the elections, it was reported that a major proof of fraud was that the participation rate exceeded 100 percent in many districts. The clear implication was that the authorities were so sloppy in their election tampering that they simply stuffed the ballot boxes.

Had media outlets consulted any experts on Iranian elections, they would have discovered the simple explanation. In Iran, there is no requirement to vote in a designated district. People do not carry a voter registration card like American citizens. Each voter has a voting book allowing him or her to vote anywhere in the country. After voting, the book is stamped and the index finger is inked to ensure that no-one can vote more than once. This fact was not unique to this election. In many previous elections, many districts had a high turnout when compared to the number of registered voters in that district because many Iranians had voted there while travelling or during their summer vacations.

The example of the over-votes not only demonstrates gross negligence by the media, but also deliberate deception. On 22 June, Abbas Kadkhodaei, a spokesperson for Iran’s Guidance Council (GC), the official body in charge of investigating all 646 complaints filed by the defeated candidates, held a press conference. He gave details about the complaints under investigation by the Council.

Kadkhodaei explained that the main complaint filed by Mousavi related to the elections was that the number of over-votes existed in as many as 170 cities, potentially affecting more votes than the margin between the top two candidates. Kadkhodaei then presented the GC’s preliminary findings, which showed that such over-votes existed (as they had existed in previous elections), but in no more than 50 cities across Iran, affecting no more than three million votes. In other words, there were no more than three million voters who had voted outside their districts. He emphasized that, with 11 million votes between the top two candidates, even if all three million votes were to be excluded (although there is no valid reason to do that), clearly the outcome of the elections would not be affected.

But within minutes the German News Agency followed by Reuters, reported that the GC ‘admitted’ that there were an excess of three million votes in 50 cities, leaving the listener and reader with the impression that these were fraudulent votes, rather than valid votes for people voting outside their districts like the spokesman explained. This report was instantly placed on the front pages of every major western news media website. The deception continued and made the front page of every major western paper the following day. ” (Esam Al-Amin, ibid)

Support for Ahmadinejad among the masses

Among supporters of imperialism’s aim of bringing about regime change in Iran is the Iranian Tudeh Party, which claims to be communist, but has totally failed to understand the class nature of the opposition to Ahmadinejad and is, as a result, finding itself on the side of Iranian feudalism, comprador capitalism and, above all, imperialism.

Iranian best-selling author, Farhad Jafari, however, points out that, despite his defence of theocracy, “between four candidates, he [Ahmadinejad] was my first option because unlike the others, he isn’t representing ‘the past of the Islamic Republic’, rather he is representing the future of it. Three other candidates come from the past and in fact they make attempts to guide us back to the past which ... we find fault with ... In contrast, Ahmadinejad promises a future in which citizens will not be divided into two types: insiders and non-insiders. Citizens have been robbed of their rights because they are not insiders. Those wrong acts during the first 26 years of Republic of Islamic have something to do with governors of that time and the three other candidates.

The Tudeh Party has such a short memory that it does not recall the repression and corruption that characterised all the other three candidates during their time in power.

The political movement known as the ‘Reform Movement’ doesn’t have a good record. Most of the offences and faults happened during periods when the movement dominated. In fact they are to blame for extensive violations of civil rights in the past. As a result of their governments, all ‘cruel and discriminating laws’ were enacted and implemented. ” (Interview by Weiai Xu, english.ohmynews.com, 6 July 2009)

In Mr Jafari’s view, this is why the Iranian voters turned out to vote for Ahmadinejad. He went on to say that, in his opinion, it was wrong to describe Ahmadinejad as a ‘conservative’.

Thinking of Mr Ahmadinejad as a conservative is not a correct way of addressing him. He was backed by some conservatives during [the] ninth election campaign. But to [a] certain extent in the recent election, his policies and actions taken during the last four years were so interesting that [they] made me, as a liberal democrat, support him. As a liberal democrat, I agree with his policies on: ‘omission of fuel subsidies’, ‘collecting VAT on energy sources such as power and gas’ and ‘battling against money laundering’ and the like. I consider these measures as steps towards Iran’s economic and financial transparency, and a fairer financial status. I voted for him because what he did during the past four years can be described [as the actions of] a classical liberal. As matter of fact, I just considered his liberal action not his anti-liberal mottos.

It is true that many conservatives didn’t support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this time around. It is the result of implementing a kind of policy that solved previous problems and actually this is what make[s] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad popular in public.

Of course, as communists one would prefer to see a secular regime rather than a theocratic one, and it is no doubt frustrating that the communist movement for the moment lacks sufficient influence among the broad masses of the people to bring about a thoroughgoing, national-democratic revolution, that could, in turn, open the door to socialism. It is wrong, however, to imagine that the cause of socialism in an oppressed country such as Iran will be advanced by assisting imperialism in overthrowing a bourgeois-nationalist regime so that a feudal/comprador one can be instituted in its place!

On all the issues on which imperialism opposes Ahmadinejad, communists should be only too happy to support his government. If not, they should not be surprised that Ahmadinejad, who for all his religious beliefs is happy to have good relations with China, Cuba and Venezuela, treats them as enemies.

Ahmadinejad’s progressive policies

In an article published on 1 July, Stephen Gowans ably set out all the reasons why Ahmadinejad has the support of the popular masses, and why he should in our view also have the support of all progressive people.

[W]e should be clear on what policies Mousavi favours, and how they differ from those advocated by Ahmadinejad. Mousavi, like the US State Department, Wall Street, and right-wing groups in the West, leans strongly toward free trade, free markets, and free enterprise. He is aligned with Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who won the approval of western politicians and the Wall Street Journal for taking the first tentative steps toward dismantling Iran’s largely state-controlled economy. Rafsanjani is among the richest people in Iran.

While hardly a socialist, Ahmadinejad, who is opposed by the US State Department, Wall Street and right-wing groups in the West, has promoted economic policies that clash with the free market, pro-privatisation and pro-foreign investment stances taken by the business elite, both in Iran and in the United States.

The commanding heights of Iran’s economy – the oil, gas, transportation, banking and telecommunications sectors – are state controlled. Private sector activity is limited ‘to small-scale workshops, farming, and services’. This denies US banks and investors – and Iran’s business elite – major investment opportunities. Mousavi wants to dismantle Iran’s state-controlled economy, and the subsidies, tariffs and price controls that go along with it. Ahmadinejad tends to favour their retention, or at least, is in less of a hurry to get rid of them.

US capital despises Ahmadinejad for multiple reasons. He is opposed politically because he asserts Iran’s right to a self-reliant civilian nuclear power industry. The United States and Europe are willing to allow Iran to have nuclear energy for civilian use, so long as they control Iran’s access to the enriched uranium needed to power it. This would put the West in the position of being able to extract concessions from Iran by threatening to turn off the tap, and provide western capital with a lucrative investment opportunity. From Iran’s perspective, the offer is unacceptable, because it would place Iran in a dependent position, and because Iran has its own rich sources of uranium it can exploit to its own advantage.

Ahmadinejad is also opposed politically because he backs Hamas and Hezbollah, opponents of Washington’s attack dog in the Middle East, Israel. Both organisations are portrayed as terrorist groups that threaten Israel’s existence, but neither are anywhere near large or strong enough or have sufficient backing to pose an existential military threat to Israel. They do, however, pose the threat of self-defense, which is to say they are capable of inflicting some retaliatory harm on Israel and are therefore seen as impediments to Israel’s free movement in asserting US interests on Washington’s behalf.

Economically, Ahmadinejad earns Wall Street’s disapproval for maintaining Iran’s ‘high tariff rates and non-tariff barriers’, failing to dismantle ‘import bans’ and leaving ‘restrictive sanitary and phytosanitary regulations’ in place. Neither does his ‘weak enforcement of intellectual property rights’, ‘resistance to privatisation’, and insistence on keeping the oil sector entirely within state hands earn him friends among Wall Street investors and bankers.

In Wall Street’s view, Ahmadinejad’s sins against the profit-making interests of foreign banks and corporations are legion. He ‘halted tentative efforts to reform the state-dominated economy’ – begun by Rafsanjani and favored by Mousavi – ‘and has greatly expanded government spending’. He maintains an income tax rate that, in Wall Street’s opinion, is too high, and controls ‘the prices of petroleum products, electricity, water and wheat for the production of bread’, provides ‘economic subsidies’, and influences ‘prices through regulation of Iran’s many state-owned enterprises’.

Equally troubling to Wall Street is that on Ahmadinejad’s watch, foreign investment has faced ‘considerable hostility’. ‘The state remains the dominant factor in the economy.’ That means US capital is denied profitable investment opportunities. ‘Foreign investment is restricted or banned in many activities, including banking, telecommunications, transport, oil and gas.’ And when foreign investors are allowed in, ceilings are placed on their share of market.

Banking is another sore spot for Wall Street’s deal-makers. The government keeps banks under tight rein and the insurance sector is dominated by five state-owned companies. Plus, under Ahmadinejad’s administration, Iranian workers have enjoyed considerable rights within their jobs. The state imposes strict limits on the number of hours an employee can work in a single week, and firing a worker isn’t left to the discretion of capital, to meet its profit-making needs. It ‘requires approval of the Islamic Labor Council’.

With people like Ahmadinejad in power, how is US capital to roam the globe, fattening its bottom line? ” (‘A sober view of Iran’ by Stephen Gowans, What’s Left, 1 July 2009)

The danger of war against Iran

Of course, the alternative to overthrowing a regime by destabilising it from within is war.

Dr Kissinger said, ‘If it turns out that it is not possible for a government to emerge in Iran that can deal with itself as a nation rather than as a cause, then we have a different situation.’ Translation: if our preferred candidate did not emerge a winner after using all our soft power ... He continued, ‘Then we may conclude that we must work for regime change in Iran from the outside.’ Translation: then the US (or perhaps Israel) may have to resort to hard power, meaning military strikes. ” (Esam Al-Amin, op cit)

While it would be lunatic for imperialism to launch a war against Iran, the US is quite desperate to overthrow the Iranian regime, and its desperation may overcome common sense. It may be at this very moment convincing itself that it has (a) brought about sufficient internal division and (b) created sufficient public opinion in its favour actually to win such a war.

There are signs that Israel is limbering up to attack Iran, and rumours of horse-trading to the effect that if Israel accepts the two-state solution and dismantles some of its settlements in Palestinian territory, then the US would back it to attack Iran. Actually, there can be very little doubt that the US would back a military assault on Iran by Israel in any event and without preconditions!

According to Sheera Frenkel, writing in The Times, “Two Israeli missile class warships have sailed through the Suez Canal ten days after a submarine capable of launching a nuclear missile strike, in preparation for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The deployment into the Red Sea, confirmed by Israeli officials, was a clear signal that Israel was able to put its strike force within range of Iran at short notice. It came before long-range exercises by the Israeli air force in America later this month and the test of a missile defence shield at a US missile range in the Pacific Ocean. ” (‘Israeli Navy in Suez Canal prepares for potential attack on Iran’, 16 July 2009)

While the above-quoted article is only talking about knocking out nuclear facilities and does not suggest regime change, nobody should doubt any attack’s true purpose. Furthermore, it must be clear to anyone with the least sense that an attack on Iran would carry serious dangers for imperialism, as Iran is in a very strong position to inflict crippling damage on imperialism and its allies.

With Iranian weight added to the resistance movement throughout the Middle East and South Asia, imperialism would find itself in even more dire straits in the region than it already is. An attack on Iran could endanger the very existence of the US’s allies in the region, from the autocratic Saudi monarchy to the theocratic and fascistic Israeli state – in other words, a result just the opposite to that intended.
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