The Islamic Anti-Imperialist Revolution of Iran
A key actor in the construction of a pluripolar world
On February 12, the International Manifesto Group sponsored a Webinar, “Iran & Cuba Promoting Pluripolarity,” in commemoration of the 43rd anniversary of the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and in celebration of the Farsi translation of Arnold August’s Cuba-US Relations. The event was co-sponsored by The Black Alliance for Peace, the U.S. Peace Council, and The Canada Files.
The webinar was introduced by Radhika Desai, convener of the International Manifesto Group; and Professor of Political Studies and Director of the Geopolitical Economy Research Group, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. The International Manifesto Group, she noted, focuses on the global battle between imperialism and anti-imperialism, in a historic moment in which imperialism is slipping, as is seen by the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan. But even though declining, the USA uses high-decibel rhetoric against Russia, ignoring Russia’s insistence that it has no interest in invading any country. Even Ukraine has asked the USA to cease in its bellicose rhetoric. In this context, NATO is showing signs of disintegration, as leaders of NATO nations are in dialogue with Russia, acting independently of NATO. These developments indicate that a declining imperialism is possibly more dangerous than imperialism as the height of its power, as its leaders become increasingly desperate.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran, Desai observed, has played a central role in the decline of imperialism. The revolution broke U.S. control of the Middle East, and in doing so, enabled the emergence of socialist and progressive governments in Latin America. Iran today is part of an anti-imperialist alliance that includes not only China and Russia but also Latin American countries like Cuba and Venezuela.
An Islamic and anti-imperialist revolution
The first speaker was Mohammad Ghorbani, a translator of books from English to Farci who has written many articles on progressive Latin American countries. He is a peace, justice, and anti-war activist against imperialism and in defense of the independence of nations. He supports the Iranian Revolution because of its progressive Islamic characteristics and its anti-imperialist role in the region.
Ghorbani observed that, prior to 1979, tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel were stationed in Iran, in what constituted a U.S. anti-Soviet military base. And Iran had been an important member of the region anti-Soviet military alliance, the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). But in the wake of the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, Iran joined the Non-Aligned Movement, and CENTO was dissolved. Under the influence of Shia Islam and led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Revolution embraced a struggle in defense of the oppressed anywhere in the world, a principle that was expressed in its Constitution.
Ghorbani maintains that the imperialist powers impose sanctions on Iran and demonize its leaders, not because it is Islamic, but because it has forged an Islamic anti-imperialist resistance.
In response to questions concerning class differences and class struggles in Iran, Ghorbani maintained that the priority for Khomeini was social justice. But by the late 1980s, Iran had fallen to the neoliberal ideology. Since that time, there has been struggle between the interest of the capitalist class in neoliberal policies, and the interest of the people in social justice. In recent years, the government has been oriented to developing the economy in a form that benefits the people, returning toward the vision of Khomeini.
Ali Abutalebi was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1977; and he has been Executive Director of Mazmoon Books since 2005. Since 2017, he has lived in the USA, where he founded the Iranian Campaign for Solidarity with Cuba. He has written several articles for the Iranian press and political websites, mostly focused on Latin America progressive movements.
Abutalebi declared that forty-three years ago, an important U.S. military base in the Middle East was converted by the people into a sovereign nation, ending a puppet regime. The triumph of the Islamic Revolution inspired the Palestinian Revolution, and it has profoundly affected the geopolitics of the region. Like Cuba, Iran has inspired anti-imperialist movements around the world.
Ali Yerevani is political editor of Fire This Time newspaper and Battle of Ideas Press in Canada. As a high school student in Iran in the 1970s, he was an activist in opposition to the despotic regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi; and he was a participant in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Since 1984 he has been organizing for social justice causes in Europe, the USA, and Canada, especially organizations in solidarity with Cuba.
Yerevani maintained that the Iranian Islamic Revolution is based in a continuous anti-colonial revolution that was initiated in 1891, and that had several historic moments, including 1905-1911, the 1921-1935, and 1951 to 1953. He declared that the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 shook the world.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran, Yerevani maintained, was a classic revolution, a battle between the antagonistic forces of revolution and counterrevolution, continually expressing itself. By the 1970s, a mass popular revolution stood against a broken regime. The bringing down of the monarchy was a historic task long overdue.
Yerevani observed that the Iranian Revolution and its aftershocks have changed the balance of forces in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. And it still resonates. For this reason, it is under constant attack by imperialism. It stands for the independence and self-determination of the nations of the world. At the same time, U.S. imperialism is in decline and has lost its capacity to impose its interests on the Middle East and North Africa, as is seen in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bahman Azad is an Iranian-American peace activist who has been involved in the struggle for peace and justice in the USA and around the world since the 1970s. He is a retired professor of Sociology and Economics, and a representative of the World Peace Council at the United Nations. He has served as Coordinator of the Coalition Against U.S. Foreign Military Bases, and the Global Campaign Against US/NATO Military Bases. He has published articles on the political economy of capitalism and socialism. He is the author of Heroic Struggle, Bitter Defeat: Factors Contributing to the Dismantling of the Socialist State in the USSR, published by International Publishers, New York.
Azad maintained that the Iranian revolution came to power as an Islamic Revolution, led by Ayatollah Khomeini. But it was more than an Islamic Revolution. It also was a popular anti-imperialist revolution seeking social justice, guided by Islamic ideology. In Iran, political forces beyond Islamic forces supported Ayatollah Khomeini.
Khomeini emerged as the undisputed leader of the Revolution, Azad maintains, because of his correct decision in the face of U.S. maneuvers. Responding to the mass uprising, the imperialist plan was to arrange for the Shah’s departure from the country and the elimination of the hated secret police, two of the principal demands that had been put forth, thereby giving the appearance that the people had won, yet maintaining U.S. control. The maneuver confused many of the people, but Khomeini understood the intentions of the U.S tactic. He declared that the movement must go beyond “the Shah must go” to “the monarchy must go.” He led the people toward the creation not of an Islamic State, but an Islamic Republic, something without precedent in Islamic tradition.
Led by Khomeini, the Islamic Republic of Iran nationalized properties, acting in support of all workers, not only Muslims. And it developed a broad-based agrarian reform program, which had to be abandoned because of the U.S. provoked war with Iraq.
There were forces that were opposed to Khomeini, Azad maintains, and some were pro-Western and favored adoption of IMF recipes. The pro-Western forces were able to detour the direction of the Revolution for a period. But the anti-imperialist forces were able to regain control and return the Revolution to its historic source in anti-imperialism, in according with the direction of Khomeini.
In response to the questions concerning class struggles in Iran, Azad maintained that the struggle against the Shah was an anti-imperialist struggle. Therefore, any defenses of the rights of workers or any manifestation of class struggle must express itself in the context of the anti-imperialist thrust of the nation. Iran has a very advanced Constitution, the most advanced in the world, so Azad advocates for the anti-imperialist struggle of the nation, and at the same time addresses issues of class by calling for the full implementation of the Constitution.
Abdolhamid Shahrabi was a political activist in exile during the 1970s, fighting against the Shah’s repressive regime. From 1984 to 1990, he was Manager of Solidarity Publications, which published speeches and interviews of Fidel, Chávez, and the Sandinistas, among others. From 2007 to present, he has been Co-founder and Research Director at the House of Latin America (HOLA) based in Iran. HOLA has been involved in activities aimed at deepening solidarity between the peoples of Latin America and Iran, and it promotes the achievements of the countries of ALBA.
Shahrabi began his presentation by declaring that he fully endorsed Azad’s presentation concerning the dynamics of the Iranian Revolution as a revolution both Islamic and anti-imperialist. And he supported Azad’s strategy of full support for Iran’s anti-imperialist struggle and for full implementation of the nation’s progressive Constitution. Elaborating on the point, Shahrabi declared that to effectively combat imperialism, you cannot put the power of the nation in the hands of capitalism. You must control the capitalists, utilizing the wide anti-capitalist forces that exist in the nation. In formulating a strategy, we must keep in mind that the Revolution in Iran triumphed as an Islamic revolution, and not a socialist revolution; therefore, the best strategy is to limit the capitalists, utilizing the social justice ideology of Islam.
Shahrabi’s commentary on controlling the capitalists troubled one of the participants in the Webinar, who asked, must the capitalist class be controlled, or overthrown, as has been done in Cuba? Shahrabi responded that he is no sense of reformist, for reform has never successfully changed a society. But revolutionary processes involve a transition, a process of change from where the society is and to where it has to go. A process of change that confronts concrete problems that do not have immediate solutions. In this transitional process, a revolutionary government, a government of and for the people, is capable of controlling the capitalists.
In this interchange on the question of controlling or overthrowing the capitalist class, I found myself in agreement with Shahrabi and Azad. It is true that the Cuban Revolution resulted in the liquidation of the capitalists as a class, through the nationalization of properties and the emigration of the capitalists. But this process occurred over a period of three years; and initially, the Revolutionary Government proposed the incorporation of Cuban national industry and the national industrial bourgeoisie in a project of autonomous economic development, directed by the state. The national industrial bourgeoisie, however, being totally subordinate to U.S. capital, did not have the necessary economic and ideological conditions that would enable its participation in a sovereign project of national economic development, and thus it decided to abandon the country.
But the flight of the Cuban national industrial bourgeoisie, although it had evident political advantages for the revolution, was damaging to the economic development and the productive capacity of socialist Cuba. The economic loss was partially compensated through economic cooperation with the Soviet Union and the Eastern European social bloc. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has been developing agreements with foreign capital, with terms beneficial to the interests of the socialist state; and it has been stimulating small and medium scale national private enterprises. The revolution, therefore, seeks to harness the productive capacity of capitalist enterprises without losing political power to the capitalists, by drawing upon the political, economic, and ideological structures and resources that have been developed by the socialist revolution; drawing upon them to block the potential anti-national exercise of power by capitalists, domestic and foreign. The Cuban theory and practice of socialism, therefore, can be seen as consistent with the containment of the capitalist class strategy outlined by Shahrabi and Azad.
Cuba and Iran
Arnold August is a Montreal-based writer and journalist who has written three books on Cuba. His groundbreaking Democracy in Cuba and the 1997-98 Elections, based in a participant-observation methodology, describes the Cuban practice of democracy as a form of democracy more advanced than that of the representative democracies of the advanced capitalist economies. His book Cuba-US Relations was originally published in English in 1917 and updated for a Cuban edition in Spanish in 2018; it describes the continuous imperialist policy of the United States with respect to Cuba, momentarily camouflaged by the Obama opening. It was translated into Farsi for the Iranian edition of 2021.
Mohammad Ghorbani observed that when he read August’s book on Cuban-US relations, he could see many similarities between U.S. treatment of Cuba and its policies toward Iran. He therefore decided to translate it into Farsi for publication in Iran. Ali Yerevani reiterated that the book has much value for Farsi readers, enabling them to see many similarities between Iran and Cuba, even though one is guided by an Islamic ideology and the other by a socialist ideology. They both have endured long blockades and economic sanctions; and both have resisted, not only surviving, but advancing. And both have influenced their respective regions, playing a central role in the resistance by anti-imperialist nations in their regions.
Ali Abutalebi confirms that both Cuba and Iran have played key roles in anti-imperialist movements throughout the world. However, there are, he maintains, many potential opportunities for trade between Cuba and Iran that have not been exploited. There are different reasons for this, including a certain level of mismanagement and negligence by the Iranian state. Moreover, the potential for trade between the two nations has been sabotaged by “progressives” and “revolutionaries” who actually are imperialist ideologues disseminating the false notion that the two nations are fundamentally different. But in reality, greater collaboration is both possible and necessary, and it is beginning to express itself with respect to recent agreements in the fields of oil and medicine, occurring in the context of the intensification of imperialist sanctions and the impact of the pandemic.
Bahman Azad recalled Fidel’s visit to Iran in 2001, during which Fidel praised the Islamic revolutionary project and expressed how much he felt at home in Iran. The vision of Fidel, Yerevani noted, of cooperation and the strengthening of ties needs to be more fully implemented in practice.
Similarly, Abdolhamid Shahrabi stressed that both Cuba and Iran have been successful in resisting imperialism and in overcoming historic neocolonial domination. But trade between the two nations should be more advanced. Cooperation and trade are the road to advancing anti-imperialist resistance. The recent agreements with respect to Iranian oil and Cuban medicine are indications of the possibilities.
The concurrence of Islamic and socialist ideologies
During the question-and-answer period of the webinar, I offered a commentary on the concurrence of Islamic and socialist ideologies. I noted that socialism, particularly in Latin America, is rooted in the social justice conceptualizations of Judaism and Christianity, which attained their clearest expression in Latin American liberation theology of the 1960s and 1970s. At the same time, social justice is a core belief in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, even though religious beliefs and practices often have been corrupted by ties to political establishments. I suggested that socialism and a religion belief system oriented to the practice of social justice are potential political allies, because they possess an ideological concurrence that would be a central weapon in the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggle, especially in the current phase of imperialist and capitalist decadence.
Azad observed that it depends on which Islam we are speaking, and the distinction between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam is relevant. The former has a tendency to see all according to the Koran, whereas the latter adapts scripture to the challenges and the needs of the time.
Shahrabi recalled Fidel’s observations in Fidel and Religion, in which he spoke of religion as a tool of the oppressed. And the Iranian Revolution has proceeded on the basis of a concept of a religion that defends the oppressed. Shahrabi spoke of the possibility of the unity of action of religious persons and socialist activists. He suggested the possibility of a Webinar on the theme.
World geopolitical reconfiguration
Azad observed that there is in the present historic moment a global struggle between a world order based on the UN Charter, which respects the sovereignty of nations; and an imperialist world order that advances the interests of the imperialist nations, implemented through NATO. In a similar vein, Arnold August maintains that the world is going through a geopolitical reconfiguration, which is indicated by trade between Venezuela and Iran; by the declaration of Nicolás Maduro of a global revolutionary anti-imperialist alliance; and by China’s Belt and Road Initiative, in which twenty-one Latin America countries are participating. August noted that China is playing a central role in the emergence of an alternative non-imperialist world order.
The U.N. Charter was developed under the lead of the USA when it was as the height of its hegemony, and it was designed to construct a façade of democracy, with the intention legitimating the post-World War II neocolonial world order under U.S. direction. In the 1960s, the Non-Aligned Movement was the first force on a global level to declare for the full implementation of UN Charter principles, a process that reached its culmination in the 1970s. Beginning in the 1980s, when imperialism entered its decadent phase, the United States abandoned the UN Charter principles, and began its imposition of an order based on “free trade,” which means in actuality unlimited access by the imperialist nations to the natural resources, labor, and markets of the world. At the turn of the twenty-first century, responding to the new stage of imperialist aggression, China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua, and Bolivia have been developing in theory and practice an alternative non-imperialist world order. The USA, in full decadence, discards the principles of the UN Charter to impose sanctions on more than forty nations of the world, seeking to block the emergence of the alternative world order led by China and other nations that have declared for the construction of socialism
It is a question, as Azad and August suggest, of a world geopolitical reconfiguration. In concluding the webinar, Radhika Desai declared that we should push for an international order based on the principles of the United Nations.
Sign the new socialist manifesto
The International Manifesto Group was convened at the beginning of the pandemic to bring together intellectuals and activists from around the world to discuss the broader contradictions and problems that the pandemic intensifies. They have issued a socialist manifesto, “Through Pluripolarity to Socialism,” which sees the emergence of global pluripolarity as the best hope for peace and prosperity for humanity. The Group invites all who agree with its broad thrust to sign it, to encourage colleagues and comrades to sign, and to encourage progressive organizations to discuss it. You can find the manifesto here.
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