By R. Arun Kumar
A demonstrator dressed as the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei participates a rally across from the White House in Washington, on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in solidarity with anti-government demonstrators in Iran. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
Iran has witnessed unprecedented protest demonstrations over the past several days. Hundreds of thousands of people are on the streets demanding a better life. This is the first time in eight years, since the protests against alleged electoral fraud in 2009, that Iran is once again witnessing such unrest.
According to official statistics released by the government, more than 20 people have died and hundreds injured. The number of arrests stands officially at 450, but activists estimate thousands have actually been detained by the security forces. The Iranian interior ministry states that the average age of most the detainees is between 20 and 25 years, making this a largely youth-led revolt.
There are some vital differences between the protests that shook Iran in 2009 and those taking place now. In 2009, demonstrations were mostly only seen in the important cities of Iran, whereas now, they are much more extensive, engulfing regions across the country.
In 2009, protesters were demanding a vote recount after alleged electoral fraud. The protests this time, however—nearly 40 years after the 1979 revolution—are marked by basic economic demands.
Unemployment in Iran is above 12 percent, and more than double that among young people, at 28.8 percent. Spiraling poverty, deprivation, high prices, and chronic unemployment have ruined the lives of a large portion of the population, particularly the young. International sanctions imposed on Iran, too, have had a catastrophic impact on the economy and created an explosive situation.
Recently, prices of essential commodities have risen astronomically. The price of eggs, for example, has more than doubled in less than a year.
The accumulated discontent among the people is now spilling out onto the streets, connecting the economic and the political. People are publicly questioning and challenging the oppressive policies of various state agencies, such as the Islamic Guards Corps, the Supreme Religious Leadership, the Majlis (parliament), and even the judiciary, which is essentially appointed by the Supreme Leader.
The growing frustration among the people can be understood from the reactions of the protesters. One demonstrator in the city of Mashhad, one of the first places that saw mass actions in this round of protests, stated: “We’ve had enough of life without jobs, life without money.”
Economic hardships are driving people to question the very legitimacy of the present regime. Even highly political slogans such as “Death to the dictator!” and “Down with the Islamic Republic!” have been heard in the streets.
The difference in the lifestyles of the elite are also accentuating popular anger. The ruling classes, despite the sanctions and other problems in the economy, are living a life of plenty, while the middle classes and the poor are struggling for survival. The rich natural resources of the country, like oil, are being exploited to serve the interests of these ruling classes, while the working class involved in the extraction of those resources are virtually starving.
The Tudeh Party of Iran, banned in the country because of its adherence to Marxism-Leninism and socialism, immediately plunged into these popular protest demonstrations. In a series of statements and appeals issued to the people of Iran, the party has called all the “progressive and freedom-loving forces of Iran to increase their presence in the protest movement of the masses more than ever before.” The party has endorsed “the legitimate demands of the masses for abolishing the existing suppressive regime and ending the economic deprivation, oppression, injustice, and plundering of the natural and human resources of the nation.”
The Tudeh Party, which has a rich historical legacy of struggle in Iran stretching back long before the revolution of 1979, warned the people to be vigilant. “We should not let the past repeat itself whereby the heroic struggle of the nation for freedom, democracy, and social justice is hijacked by a bunch of reactionary opportunists who do not believe in the people’s rights or democratic freedoms.”
The U.S. and Israel have immediately jumped to opportunistically express support for the protests. Donald Trump has rejoiced publicly at the developments in Iran, using the chance to threaten the government in Tehran, warning that “The U.S. is watching.”
The Trump administration is desperately trying to wreck the nuclear deal signed with Iran under former President Barack Obama and is seeking to destabilize the country. Trump and his allies in the region want to use the protests to ensure these objectives are achieved.
Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also voiced his support for the protests. He stated: “Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades.” This is the same Netanyahu who continues curtailing the freedom and liberties of Palestinians—a situation that has prevailed for decades.
The Tudeh Party is also warning against allowing the protests to become a weapon of external imperialist forces. The party stated: “We deeply believe that the hypocritical support of such racist reactionaries as Trump, Netanyahu, and the criminal and reactionary regime of Saudi Arabia for the struggle of the people of our nation is not because of their belief in the need to improve the situation in our country, or for the realization of the people’s demands for freedom, democracy, and justice in Iran. University students attend a protest inside Tehran University while anti-riot police prevent them from joining other protestors
“Instead, its sole purpose is to destabilize the situation in the Middle East region and the Persian Gulf area in accordance with their strategic interests. The support of these anti-people governments for likewise reactionary forces, such as the monarchists or those who have already ‘elected’ a president and government for our people and who have repeatedly asked for foreign military intervention in Iran, is an indication of the dangerous game that is seriously threatening the movement for freedom in our nation and will serve only to help the regional reaction and the plots of the suppressive forces inside Iran.”
The recent history and the experiences of “support” and intervention of imperialist forces for what started as expressions of popular anger, particularly in countries like Egypt and Syria in the region, is too blatant to ignore.
The protests in Iran are yet another reflection of the building anger among the people against the policies pursued by many oppressive governments as they tighten their authoritarian grip on power and pursue the advance of neoliberal economic policies. The ruling classes are finding it hard to come out of the global economic crisis and are imposing ever increasing burdens on people.
These internal class struggles are overlapping with the international disputes and imperialist posturing to create dangerous situations.