[Iran:] History Takes its Vengeance

SWP/USec Criminal Tailism

[Iran:] History Takes its Vengeance

[Originally published in Workers Vanguard No. No. 239, 14 September 1979, by the then revolutionary Spartacist League. Transcribed by Revolutionary Regroupment from the scanned version available in marxists.org.]


They booed to their executioners.

As Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power in Iran following the overthrow of the bloody shah, the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP) emblazoned a headline hailing this event across the front page of its newspaper, a headline which will be immortalized in the annals of class treachery: “VICTORY IN IRAN!” (Militant, 23 February). So, whose victory now, SWP?

Every day since the fall of the Peacock Throne events in Iran have confirmed that the spoils of this “victory” are the savage repression of minorities, the execution of strikers, homosexuals, adulterers and others accused of “crimes against god”; the stoning of unveiled women, the suppression of all opposition parties and press. The current slaughter of hundreds of Kurds in northwestern Iran is only the most recent repressive measure of this Shi’ite theocracy in consolidating its victory.

The international Spartacist tendency (iSt) was unique on the left in telling the truth which every day receives confirmation in Khomeini’s “Islamic Republic”: the mullahs’ victory means a regime just as reactionary as the shah’s. In contrast, the SWP and its co-thinkers in the Iranian HKS (Socialist Workers Party) disguised and obscured at every stage the reactionary character of Khomeini’s Islamic fundamentalist regime. Today the HKS is experiencing the consequences of the “victory” it cheered only six months ago as it, along with other left and secular groups, has had its offices sacked and closed., its press suppressed, its members beaten, jailed and threatened with execution.

Despite the fact that brutal Islamic repression against the left, women, national minorities and homosexuals began on Day 1 of the mullahs’ regime, the egregiously misnamed “United Secretariat of the Fourth International” (USec), to which both the American SWP and Iranian HKS are “fraternally” affiliated, characterized the ayatollah as “progressive” and “anti-imperialist”. Even Khomeini’s attack on their HKS comrades brought forth a desultory response. The one thing the SWP did energetically was to exclude Spartacists from defense of the threatened Iranian socialists. Only now that it has finally dawned on these inveterate tailists, blinded by their opportunism, that they may actually have to pay for their treachery, has the USec belatedly sprung to life and begun screaming from the pages of their newspapers, “Stop Execution of Socialists in Iran!”.

In time-honored reformist fashion they are trying to cover their tracks by playing up the threat hanging over the arrested HKSers. The Stalinists used the same ploy following the 1973 Pinochet coup, trying to focus protests on freeing imprisoned Communist leader CorvaIan. The iSt, which defended Corvalan, also pointed out that the Chilean CP’s call for confidence in the “constitutionalist” officer corps paved the way for bloody counterrevolution. Again today we point the finger of guilt. The HKS present plight was prepared by their own criminal policy. The real story is: their comrades are not just martyrs, they are sacrificial victims of the USec’s support for Khomeini.

But these gentlemen socialists don’t like to talk about responsibility for crimes. Speaking recently in the United States, USec leader Ernest Mandel reacted angrily to Spartacist accusations that he and his organization had betrayed the working class with its support to popular frontism in Chile, Portugal and elsewltere:

“I don’t see any workers struggles betrayed by the organization I stand for […] The word ‘betrayals’ is completely out of order […] You can say it was a wrong policy, or a political mistake. But to speak about betrayals – you can’t put in the same category people who are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands and millions of workers”.

For seminar socialists like Mandel, words do not have consequences. If the USec called for Latin American youth to go into the hills to follow Guevara’s bankrupt guerrilla strategy, if the SWP supported the counter revolutionary mobilization spearheaded by the ClA bankrolled Portuguese socialists – no matter, it’s just a “political mistake”.

No, it is a betrayal – of the proletariat, of Marxism, of anyone who follows your advice. And that is what has taken place in Iran. True, the USec is not influential enough to lead “hundreds of thousands and millions of workers to their deaths” – but at least 14 of its own supporters in the Iranian HKS are now facing life imprisonment or sitting on death row, jailed by the regime whose victory was greeted by these pseudo-Trotskyist tailists.

USec, SWP, HKS-Ernest Mandel, Jack Barnes and the rest: you have committed a crime, for which you will be held responsible before the court of history. You must live with it because your own comrades may die for it.



After working for months to disguise the reactionary character of Khomeini’s Islamic regime, the USec is now desperately trying to shift its line without anybody noticing. Today Socialist Challenge (30 August), newspaper of the British International Marxist Group (IMG), proclaims in bold letters across its back page, “White Terror in Iran”, and announces “Khomeini has become the Shah of Iran”. The IMG neglects to inform us how this reactionary regime came to replace Khomeini’s “progressive” rule which it applauded only yesterday. Similarly, Rouge (24-30August), newspaper of the French Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, goes so far as to speak of Khomeini’s “coup de force”. Against himself?

For its part, the U.S. Socialist Workers Party is also moving (albeit more slowly) to dissociate itself from the bloody ayatollah. Today they write:

“Khomeini’s moves against the Iranian working people – aimed to protect the ill-gotten gains of the landlords and capitalists – lead him toward subordination to U.S. imperialism, in spite of the anti-imperialist posture he has tried to adopt up to now”.

— Militant, 7 September 1979

But it was the SWP which was the foremost con man on the American left for “Khomeini’s anti-imperialist posture”. Less than one year ago the SWP hailed Khomeini in the Militant (17 November 1978) as “progressive”:

“Although Khomeini subscribes to a religious ideology, the basis of his appeal is not religious reaction. On the contrary, he has won broad support among the Iranian masses because his firm opposition to the Shah and the Shah’s ‘modernization’ is progressive”.

The SWP is so ensconced in its cocoon of bourgeois-democratic illusions that it does not recognize the burning importance of the separation of church and state for backward countries. Khomeini’s religious ideology is his political program: i.e., an Islamic fundamentalist theocracy based on Great Persian chauvinism and the moral codes of desert bedouins.

When the iSt told the truth about what the victory of Islamic reaction would mean and raised the slogan: “Down With the Shah! Down With the Mullahs!” the SWP claimed we were “blinded by sectarianism” and “chauvinist”. But the real chauvinists were those who refused to do their internationalist duty and warn the Iranian toiling masses that Khomeini’s “Islamic Revolution” would prove no more progressive than the shah’s “White Revolution”. For many sections of the oppressed (e.g., religious minorities and women), it has already proven more repressive. This is even acknowledged in the SWP’s own publications.

A recent issue of Intercontinental Press (10 September 1979) contains a translation from a report made by a prominent Algerian lawyer who visited prisoners held in Karoun Prison located in Khuzistan which contains Iran’s Arab minority. Arab prisoners are reported as explaining:

“[…] that the Iranian revolution meant no change as far as they were concerned. For them the exactions of the old regime, based on the local feudal rulers, continues oppressing them both economically and socially. The same feudal rulers today are allied with the officials of the new regime, creating a continuity of repression”.

Where is the “victory” for the Arab minority of Khuzistan, criminal opportunists of the SWP?


Theocratic Parliamentary Cretinism

The HKS tried to present its credentials as a loyal social-democratic opposition to the dictatorship of the mullahs by running in the August elections for the so-called Assembly of Experts. But in a theocracy, social democracy doesn’t pay, even for short-sighted, narrowminded opportunists. According to the election statement in the last issue of the HKS paper Kargar (Worker) printed before its suppression and dated 8August:

“Three days from now, elections will be held for the Assembly of Experts. This body is to ratify a new constitution for Iran […] This constitution must defend the gains of the revolution and extend them. […] The new constitution must pave the way for the establishment of such a government of the oppressed majority”.

In fact, the Assembly of Experts was bound by Khomeini’s phony referendum for an Islamic Republic, which explicitly ruled out a constituent assembly. The Assembly of Experts would only amend Khomeini’s draft constitution consistent with institutionalizing the Islamic Republic and the political and social hegemony of the mullahs. The Assembly of Experts was no more a consituent assembly than is the college of cardinals. Nor was it any more democratically “elected” than that appendage of the papacy.

Given the predetermined outcome of a Shi’ite clerical dictatorship, many political parties of secular groups and minorities boycotted the elections, including all the Arab parties. Even the main liberal bourgeois party, the National Democratic Front (NDF), refused to participate as “a protest in principle against the revolutionary regime’s lack of attention to basic human rights”. In Iranian Kurdistan less than ten percent of the eligible voters cast ballots. Thus, the HKS presented the ludicrous spectacle of self-proclaimed “Trotskyists” running for a seat in the Assembly of Experts next to mullahs who were arguing over whether this or that clause was consistent with the Koran.

The 10 September issue of Intercontinental Press quotes long passages from the last issue of Kargar enthusing over the HKS participation in the elections of Islamic “experts”. But the SWP suppresses the existence of an article in the same issue of Kargar entitled “Last Minute Before Publication”, which states that: “There is a very important discussion in the party whether to boycott or participate in the elections of the Assembly of Experts”. Apparently, participating in the elections for the rubber-stamp “assembly” of the Islamic Republic was so unsavory that even a significant section of the mullah-tailist HKS balked. The Kargar article reports: “As is well known, three of our 18 candidates boycotted the elections”.


Fruits of Betrayal

In covering up for Khomeini’s reactionary regime and their own record on Khomeini, it is the SWP that has been forced to resort to deliberate lying. A typical piece of slanderous rubbish about that “irrelevant sect”, the Spartacist League, that has come to fill so many pages of the Militant lately, is a piece in the 6 July issue entitled “Spartacists Foiled in Attempt to Sabotage Defense”. According to the article, the SL was excluded from a picket to protest the jailing of the HKS because it brought “provocative signs”. Through partial quotation the SWP distorts the slogans on the signs: “Overthrow Islamic Reaction” and “Down with Khomeini”, instead of “For Workers Revolution to Overthrow Islamic Reaction” and “Down with Khomeini, For Workers Revolution”.

According to the SWP, these slogans “were a clear echo of imperialist propaganda against the Iranian workers and peasants” – from which one can only deduce that the SWP believes that the Carter administration is calling for workers revolution in Iran. The article states that the SL was “told by picket organizers that the protest was not open to opponents of the Iranian revolution” – i.e., Khomeini’s “Islamic Revolution”. Appropriately enough, according to SWP methodology, in order to “defend” the jailed HKS militants one must simultaneously defend their torturers, jailers and potential executioners – or at least not attack them openly!

The SWP’s international bloc partners in the so-called United Secretariat do not have a better record. In a heated exchange with supporters of the SL and its youth section, the Spartacus Youth League, at Boston University on July 17, Mandel defended the SWP’s “Victory in Iran” headline by stating:

“So some of our comrades are in jail but our organization is legal. Our paper is legal; it is sold in tens of thousands of copies like all other leftwing papers in Iran. Were they legal under the Shah? So what you have is a step from a reactionary dictatorship, which was bourgeois, towards what you could call partial bourgeois democracy […] We said that it is the beginning  of the process of permanent revolution […]”.

WV No. 237, 3 August

One month later the HKS, along with all other left and secular organizations, was illegal, its press banned, its leaders in jail. Is that what you call the next stage in the “process of permanent revolution”, Professor Mandel?

The national secretary of the pro-Mandel IMG in England, Brian Grogan, was so swept up in the “process of permanent revolution” when he was in Teheran that he joined the chador-covered women and the men carrying icons of Khomeini and chanted “allah akbar” (“god is great”). At a recent demonstration against Khomeini’s terror in front of the Iranian embassy in London, called by a Kurdish student association and endorsed by the IMG, Grogan’s disgusting action was not forgotten. As the IMG supporters present – a small fraction of their local membership, in the midst of the USec’s supposed “emergency campaign” – stood by, the 50-strong contingent of the Spartacist League/Britain chanted: “2, 4, 6, 8 – Does Grogan still think god is great?”. Another SL chant was: “Last Autumn You Said Khomeini’s Fine, It’s Kind of Late to Change Your Line”. The central slogan carried on the SL/B placards was: “USec/IMG Line Kills Arabs, Kurds, Leftists”. Other Spartacist signs included: “You Cheered for Khomeini, But You’re Not Cheering Now”, “Free the HKS and Fedayeen Supporters” and “Khomeini’s Revolution Means Massacre of Kurds”. On several occasions, when SLers and the Kurdish students jointly chanted “Down with the new shah” and “Down with Khomeini, For workers revolution”, the IMG tried to drown this out with slogans which did not attack the ayatollah. Not only do these fake Trotskyists refuse to directly denounce the mullahs’ rule, but they have sabotaged the defense of their own imprisoned comrades in Iran. The IMG waited a month to call its first defense demonstration (on July 7), and then sent only a handful of supporters to the protest.

On the face of it, the USec “defense” of their comrades would seem sectarian and defeatist – if one supposes that their concern was to defend imprisoned leftists. But then the USec at most gave lip service to defense of the Fedayeen, a far larger irritant to the Khomeini regime, when they came under attack. The HKS also abandoned the demand for the Kurdish right of self-determination when things got hot. No, their central aim is to defend Khomeini. And the ultimate price of their betrayal has not been paid by them – as of yet – but by the oppressed masses of Iran. But now they appeal for support.

Last fall as the mullah-led opposition gained force, the iSt warned that the Islamic clerics were as reactionary as the butcher shah. But when we said “Down with the shah, Down with the mullahs”, the USec/SWP replied that this is imperialist propaganda, that we were apologists for the shah. In February, when we said “Mullahs Win” the SWP proclaimed “Victory in Iran” and denounced the iSt position as “counterrevolutionary”. We said “Your comrades may die, but you support Khomeini”, and the fake Trotskyists physically expelled us from “private” picket lines defending the HKS, refusing to march with anyone who doesn’t swear fealty to the “imam”. You bowed to Khomeini and while you were kneeling the executioner comes along and is about to cut off your heads. So now you want sympathy for your plight.

All those concerned for democratic rights must demand freedom for imprisoned Kurdish partisans, Arab oil workers, HKS members and other leftists, and all victims of Khomeini’s reactionary terror. But the working class must never forget those fake-lefts who claimed Khomeini as a “progressive” alternative to the shah, who hoped to ride to popularity or power on the coattails of Islamic reaction. They are covered with blood.

Even Stalin criticized Chiang Kai-shek after the Shanghai massacre. The USec’s sudden discovery that Khomeini is not so progressive after all outdoes Stalin himself in hypocrisy. Chiang Kai-shek claimed to be a revolutionary nationalist and friend of the Russian Revolution when he was courting Stalin’s support. But Khomeini stated from the very beginning that he was a reactionary Islamic fundamentalist and Great Persian chauvinist who sought to crush the “satanic communists”. The criminal opportunism of the Used over Iran cannot be buried beneath its present (still half-hearted) criticisms and cries for international solidarity for its own supporters in Iran who are as much victims of its own wretched line as they are of capitalist terror. The rebirth of the Fourth International depends upon burning this betray and its consequences into the collective memory of the Marxist movement.