On the 75th anniversary of the Tudeh Party, Navid Shomali speaks with MOHAMMAD OMIDVAR about the party, Iran’s current regime and the working-class struggle there
ON October 2 the Tudeh Party of Iran (TPI) celebrated its 75th anniversary. During this period what would you describe as the main focus of TPI’s struggle in Iran?
The party of the Iranian working class was established by communist political prisoners freed from Reza Shah’s jails and other National Democratic personalities.
At the time Iran was struggling with social underdevelopment, the widespread interference of colonial powers and the rule of internal reaction. The emergence of our party on Iran’s political stage was a great event that resulted in significant social, political and cultural developments in our country.
Within a short period of time, the party became a mass party, organising tens of thousands of workers, establishing trade unions, women’s democratic organisations, organising youth and students, as well as a mass peace movement across the country.
Clearly this created significant challenges for imperialism and internal reaction. They feared, and still fear, the ideological and political foundations of the party, and its ability to organise workers and oppressed people.
Our party sees itself as the party of the Iranian working class, which for the past 75 years has been struggling against imperialist intervention in Iran, for the democratic rights and freedom of our people and for socialism.
Even the political critiques of our party admit that ideas such as “labour law,” workers’ rights to establish syndicates and trade unions, equal rights for women, women’s right to vote and participate in the socio-economic and political life of the country, as well as ideas such as free health and education and land reform in favour of the peasants were first introduced into Iran by the Tudeh Party and that they transformed our society.
It is no accident that our party has been subjected to numerous attempts to suppress and destroy it, in which thousands of our members have been exiled, imprisoned and killed. During the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran, the overwhelming majority of our party’s Politburo, Central Committee and hundreds of party cadres, members and supporters were killed by Khomeini’s regime.
What is your party’s assessment of President Rouhani’s government, which is widely considered to be the architect of successful negotiations with the UN security council in settling the nuclear dispute and ending of the sanctions? Have the Iranian people seen any improvements?
Firstly, it is important to note that the foreign policy of Iran’s theocratic regime under the direction and leadership of Ali Khamenei during the past two decades has been nothing but disastrous, resulting in dangerous tensions within the region and devastating economic sanctions imposed by imperialism, which broke the back of the country’s economy and made life unbearably hard for millions of Iranians.
While Mr Rouhani’s government can claim responsibility for the successful conclusion of these negotiations, the reality is that the Iranian regime started its secret negotiations with the US more than two years before Rouhani was elected as president, at the time of the Ahmadinejad government.
Despite the almost daily political skirmishes played out in front of the world media, to strengthen the negotiation team’s hand, the hard fact, as recently stated by the head of the negotiating team, is that the agreement with the West was closely orchestrated and directed by Iran’s leader and it was with his full approval that the agreement was signed.
Our party welcomed the negotiations as the only way of resolving the disputes with the US and Europe concerning Iran’s nuclear policy and of reaching a comprehensive agreement that protects the national interests of Iran. But we also warned against the other aspects of the negotiations which aimed at integrating Iran into the US plan for the “New Middle East.”
Despite the ending of the sanctions, Iran’s economic situation has not improved. This is due to the neoliberal policies of the regime. Even according to official statistics the economy is stagnant, Iran’s national industry is declining fast, millions of people are living below the regime’s defined poverty line, over 3,000,000 people are out of work (in some provinces this comprises more than 60 per cent of the population) and there is rampant corruption and growing inflation.
In June the Morning Star reported the case of the hunger strike of trade unionist Ja’far Azimzadeh. What is the state of human rights in Iran, especially with respect to political and trade union activities?
The successful worldwide campaign to save Mr Azimzadeh — in which the Morning Star and the working-class movement in Britain and Europe, and especially the trade union movement, played a major role — once again highlighted the plight of the Iranian working class.
Savage suppression of trade union rights, which over the past six months has included public lashing of protesting workers as well as the arrest and torture of trade union activists, is part and parcel of the regime’s response to a growing protest movement.
The establishment of trade unions, just salaries, wage rises that keep pace with the rate of inflation, receipt of timely payment (there are cases where workers have not any salaries paid to them for the past year) and protection against zero-hours contracts are among the workers’ immediate demands.
In recent weeks the government has announced its intention to “reform” the labour law to “help” businesses and economic development.
Of course the aim of the so called reforms is the removal of basic protections for workers’ rights which was achieved following the 1979 revolution.
Our party believes that this will be a huge battleground for the working-class movement and that only through organised and co-ordinated struggle we can defeat the regime’s plans.
How would you describe the present power structure within the Islamic Republic of Iran? The Western mainstream media has portrayed the recent parliamentary elections in February 2016 as an important landmark victory by reformist forces allied to Rouhani. Can the reformists change the nature of the regime’s power structure?
We have a theocratic regime, which is known as the “Regime the Supreme Religious Leader” (regime of of Velayat Fagieh).
This is a religious dictatorship serving the interests of the big mercantile and bureaucratic bourgeoisie in Iran.
While the power structure includes a “government” led by the president, a parliament and the judiciary, the reality is that all these are directly or indirectly controlled by the Supreme Religious Leader, being answerable only to him.
In fact the head of the judiciary — which forms an important part of the security and suppressive apparatus in Iran — is appointed directly by Khamenei. Also important to note is that during the past two decades we have seen a significant rise in the profile and power of the “revolutionary guards” — the Basij — and other paramilitary and security structures in Iran. It is no exaggeration to say that a significant part of our country’s economy is now controlled by the revolutionary guards’ leadership who report to Khamenei and are appointed by him. Also of significance is the fact that the leaders of the revolutionary guard are openly involved in determining the regime’s strategic policies.
Everything, from relationships with various countries and organising widespread vote-rigging in elections to the savage suppression of people’s protest (for example following the 2009 presidential elections in which millions of votes were rigged to appoint Ahmadinejad as the president for the second time) are part of the growing and very dangerous role of the revolutionary guard and its leadership in Iran. According to various documents released over the past couple of years, while ordinary people suffered tremendously, the revolutionary guards’ leaders have benefited to the tune of billions of dollars from US-imposed economic sanctions.
The political developments in Iran are closely related and reflect the events in the Middle East. What is the TPI’s assessment of the developments in Syria and the current impasse in reaching a negotiated solution to that conflict? It is clear that the policy-makers in key global capitalist institutions have tried to shift the burden of the systemic crisis of capitalism onto the shoulders of workers and the poor.
Neoliberal policies dominate Europe and North America. Inequality has become more institutionalised in the capitalist countries. Dictatorial states are employing every tactic to crush people’s resistance.
The Middle East is the focus of carefully orchestrated attempts by US-led world imperialism to consolidate its hegemony and to ensure unrivalled control of the flow of oil, the ability to freely plunder the region’s resources and to exploit its markets.
Right-wing and reactionary forces in the Middle East — backed by the US and EU — are working to ensure that no substantial challenge ever upsets the US “New Middle East plan.”
They have been able to dictate the course of events in the region by engineering crises, wars and conflicts.
Syria, Iraq and Yemen are burning. Libya has been reduced to a place where tribes vie for power and Islamic terror rules.
The reality is that the emergence and growth of “Islamic terrorism” has been mainly due to the disastrous policies of the US, its European allies and its regional accomplices such as Saudi Arabia and their financial and military support for various extremist forces, including the mercenaries of al-Qaida and Isis. Obviously, the continuance of the hegemonic and warmongering policies of the imperialist states in the Middle East and North Africa during the past three decades — particularly the aggressive invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and the fuelling of the civil war in Syria — has caused bloodshed and devastation affecting millions of ordinary people in these countries and creating a refugee crisis, particularly in Europe, not seen since the end of the second world war.
The situation in Syria is a human catastrophe of unimaginable proportion that is continuing mainly due to the desires of Western powers to remove the government of Asad.
The forces currently backed by the US, Britain and the EU are of the same fundamentalist and terroristic ilk as Isis and whose aims are the establishment of a medieval, religious dictatorship in Syria.
The fact that the Western media and governments are presenting these forces as “freedom fighters,” just as they did with al-Qaida, Osama bil-Laden in the 1980s and the proxy war in Afghanistan demonstrates the destructive policies pursued by the West in the region.
In our view it should be the Syrian people who determine their future government and not external forces.
The immediate end to this destructive war must be the first step before genuine national political forces can negotiate on how to best to implement a long-lasting plan for peace and start the rebuilding of the country.
Your party was banned in 1983 and forced to operate in clandestine conditions. How can the TPI effect changes in the country under these conditions?
During the 1983 attack on our party, the regime’s chief prosecutor announced that they had arrested more than 10,000 of our members and supporters. The aim was to destroy the party in Iran once and for all.
Today, 33 years later, following the execution of almost all of our party’s leadership and after the collapse of Soviet Union and the socialist countries in eastern Europe in the 1990s, we have successfully rebuilt the party and play an important role in the political struggle in Iran against the despotic regime.
It is interesting that over the past 12 months, the regime has started a significant propaganda campaign against the party. Fars News Agency — which belongs to the “revolutionary guards” — ran a six-part series of interviews and events about the regime’s attack on the party and how party leaders “confessed” to being Soviet spies aiming to topple the regime.
Following this series on July 11 2015, Khamenei expressed significant worries against the rise of Marxism, attacked our party and asked Iran’s media to re-run the TV “confessions” of our former party leaders mostly now executed by the regime.
Today our members and supporters are an integral part of the workers’, women’s, youth and students’ movements in the country. We work closely with the reform movement in Iran and believe that there is a growing consensus that unless all democratic and freedom-loving forces work together, we will not be able to force the dictatorial regime into retreat.
We are very conscious that the best cover for a party that is banned and working under the most difficult conditions is to be part of the mass movement and able to influence the direction of the struggle.
In short, some of our key slogans and views are reflected in the slogans of the peoples’ movement to end the dictatorship in Iran. That is the strength of the work done by our comrades and supporters all over the world and why the Iranian leadership is seriously concerned about the influence of the party.
The past 30 years of rebuilding the party has been successful thanks to the tireless work of our members and supporters all over the world, especially in Iran, and the support and solidarity we have received from the working-class and communist movements everywhere.
Navid Shomali is international secretary of the Tudeh Party of Iran.
Mohammad Omidvar is the spokesperson of the leadership of the Tudeh Party of Iran and a member of the party’s Politburo.