Over the past weeks tensions between Iran and the West have been moving towards a boiling point. The imposition of strict sanctions by the US and its allies is already being felt in Iran and threatens to cripple the economy. Alongside these sanctions, military excursions into the Gulf on both sides, Iran’s test firing of missiles, the assassination of Iranian scientists, the bringing down of an unmanned US drone by Iran, and a constant war of words is threatening to cause an armed clash between Israel and the United States on one side, and Iran on the other.
The Western imperialists — the US, the UK, and Canada, in particular — have led the charge to impose economic isolation on Iran. US president Barack Obama introduced sanctions on New Year’s Eve, imposing a ban on any corporation from doing trade in the US if they carry out business with Iran’s central bank. By cutting Iran off from significant export markets, they threaten to strangle an economy centred around the oil sector.
Alongside these measures, the business-backed politicians in the West have waged a campaign of war hysteria in the media over the supposed “threat” posed by Iran. Though Obama has not yet publicly suggested military strikes as an option, Dennis Ross, who served for two years on the president’s National Security Council, has argued that the president is willing to use military force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The issue of Iran has also loomed large in the recent Republican primaries. All the candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, have called for military action against Iran. Though they have stopped short of committing troops “on the ground”, the Republican candidates have called for a mix of covert operations and bombing strikes on Iran.
In a Calgary-based radio interview on 5th January, Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, said that Iran “is the world's most serious threat to international peace and security”. As the junior partner of US imperialism, Canada has shifted into a more aggressive stance to assert its economic interests around the world. The war in Afghanistan, the military and police role in Haiti, and its active support for the military coup against Mel Zelaya in Honduras have all been indicative of this.
Harper’s statement is indicative because of its boldness. In relation to Iran, he has made one of the most hostile statements of any head of state in the Western countries. This campaign is creating an atmosphere to justify aggression to a Western public that has grown skeptical and exhausted of war.
Regimes teetering on the edge
The West’s allies in the region, such as Israel and the Arab Gulf states, are pushing more and more towards conflict with Iran. These regimes are threatened by the growing regional strength of the Iranian regime. Through the failure of the “War on Terror”, Iran’s influence had increased dramatically in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and in particular, Iraq. Saddam’s regime once acted as a counterbalance to Iran, but with the collapse of the Iraqi army, Iran’s strength has grown. The US occupation forces in Iraq had become somewhat dependent on Iranian involvement to maintain stability in Iraq.
This growing strength has also provided the room for the Iranian regime to pursue a nuclear program that would further consolidate their position in the region. Israel and the Gulf states are desperately pursuing a militaristic path of pressuring the US to assist in curbing Iran’s influence while developing their own military forces. Curbing Iran’s regional power, and re-asserting their own, is a significant factor in the current tensions.
On the other side, these regimes are trembling under the pressure of the revolutionary wave in the Middle East that threatens their own regime. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, and Bahrain are extremely unstable at the present moment. Saudi Arabia, a US ally, was impelled to send military forces to brutally crush the uprisings in Bahrain. The strategic considerations of the Gulf States, in keeping the Iranian regime in check, are plunging it towards greater social unrest. In the event that an aggressive imperialist war of the US and Israel on Iran does occur, the Arab masses will correctly see their “leaders” as complicit with the imperialists. In the context of the continuing revolutionary wave in the region, this is a very dangerous line that the Arab Gulf States are pursuing.
During the summer of 2011, even Israel witnessed historic mass protests of youth and workers against austerity cuts and rising prices of basic goods and housing. The ruling clique is desperate to distract anger from the massive inequality in Israeli society and the austerity measures imposed as a result of the crisis in capitalism. It was significant that 87% of Israelis supported the protest movement that included hundreds of thousands protesting across Israel, with the Histadrut trade union federation threatening a one-day general strike.
The Israeli capitalist class is feeling the pressure at home. At the same time the Iranian regime’s growing strength, developing nuclear program, and open provocations against it are challenging Israel’s dominant position in the region. The Israeli politicians constantly rail against Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which is a totally hypocritical position. It is no secret that Israel carries a powerful nuclear arsenal itself, while carrying out the most aggressive military policy in the region.
Attempting to spur militarist and nationalist sentiment to cut across the mass movements, the ruling regime has tried to initiate clashes with the occupied Palestinian territories, Lebanon, and now, Iran. The external threat is being used to disguise the real enemy of the Israeli masses at home, the capitalist class. This ruse will not be effective for long with a population who are becoming numb to the Zionist demagogy that preaches “national unity” in the face of massive class inequalities.
Legacy of the “War on Terror”
Most Canadians have little stomach for war, especially given the complete bankruptcy of the supposed “war on terror”. Popular pressure prevented Canada from entering the military invasion of Iraq. Canada was plunged into the invasion and brutal occupation of Afghanistan under Paul Martin’s Liberal Party, and continued by the Stephen Harper Conservatives. This was despite the fact that the majority of Canadians opposed the war.
Similar sentiments are prevalent across the United States, forcing Obama to withdraw American forces from Iraq after much delay. Americans are angry at layoffs, foreclosures, and austerity cuts, while over a trillion dollars was spent on these wars. The majority of Americans have no stomach for war, especially at a time that governments are preaching restraint, austerity, and wage cuts.
The patriotic hysteria and racist demonization of the Middle East that followed the September 11th, 2001 attacks has gradually weakened in the public consciousness. Furthermore, the real intentions of the War on Terror are becoming obvious to many. It is Wall Street and other big transnational companies that have been the major winners in the recent conflict. War profiteers have made billions in profits through massive human suffering. As the US withdraws from Iraq, it leaves Iraq’s massive oil wealth in the hands of the multinational oil corporations such as Exxon (US), British Petroleum (UK), Shell Oil (Netherlands and UK), Total S.A. (France), Eni (Italy), and the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation.
Construction and exploration companies such as Halliburton (of former US vice-president Dick Cheney) got lucrative contracts rebuilding devastated Iraq. Arms manufacturers also made billions providing the weapons of mass destruction for the military forces. In total, estimates suggest that the US public is on the hook for almost $1.3-trillion in war expenses.
Meanwhile, these multinational corporations have engaged in fierce lobbying to privatize all the formerly nationalized oil resources in the country. This blatant robbery of Iraq’s oil wealth by Western corporations included the maintenance of a law from the Saddam Hussein regime that banned trade unions, and enforced by the US occupation forces. This law has been invoked by the current government to repress organizing efforts by oil workers and trade unions in other sectors of the economy.
The illusion that the imperialist armies could be a force for progress, democracy, and human rights has been shattered. In Afghanistan, a regime of warlords, drug traffickers, and Taliban elements have maintained the misogynist laws, while profiting from a lucrative opium trade. Iraq has spiralled into ethnic conflict, and war itself has caused civilian casualty estimates ranging between 100,000 up to 1,000,000. This massive human suffering is a product of both the violent and indiscriminate foreign occupation, and a factor of the massive destruction of infrastructure, services, healthcare, and the declining living standard of the masses.
The imperialist ambitions of the West have been deeply exposed over the last ten years. These are the same ambitions driving the current conflict with Iran, though the present conflict is of a different character to those in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US’ regional influence has been weakened and given the economic situation and the mood at home, it is very unlikely that a full war is on the table at the present moment. Iran is also a much more formidable force in the region and foreign occupation would be untenable.
It is clear, however, that the US, Britain, and Canada, and their regional allies, are preparing for a military conflict that could involve aerial bombardment and covert operations. This would be no easy affair, and would result in even greater instability in the region and in the world. We should not harbour a single illusion in supposed “progressive intentions” by Obama, Harper, Cameron, or Netanyahu. The legacy of imperialism in the region, and the broader economic and political crisis, threatens to drag the region into further conflict.
The rising tension and the imposition of sanctions on Iran, and the threats of military intervention by the West, are fuelled by profit and the geo-political considerations to maintain control of the region. Imperialist hands off Iran!
What will sanctions accomplish?
Naturally, many people respond with a genuine disgust at the Islamic regime in Iran, and have sympathies for the voices of opposition from Iran. This has become particularly reinforced since images flooded their televisions and web pages from the 2009 revolutionary movements in Iran.
While the majority of people, with the memory of the War on Terror fresh in mind, are opposed to military conflict in Iran, many do harbour illusions in imposing sanctions on Iran. Some liberal or left-wing minded people, who may oppose war, suggest sanctions as a positive step for intervention against Iran. This is a mistake.
Obama has been able to convince the EU and Japan to accept the sanctions against Iran. Unfortunately, strict sanctions will not benefit the Iranian masses or assist the people in overthrowing their regime. We, as Marxists, harbour no illusions in the reactionary Islamic regime. But international sanctions, and their continuation into a possible armed clash, will only serve to strengthen the Iranian regime, cut through the class struggle, and aggravate the already enormous suffering of the people.
In fact, this is the main intention behind the constant provocations by the Iranian regime against Israel and US. The regime is stuck in a contradiction. Although it is not interested in an armed clash, which would cause it great damage, it is forced to cause the provocations because it needs a foreign enemy to divert the attention of the masses and to blame for the plight of the Iranian people.
The sanctions imposed on Iraq after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and which remained in effect until 2003, illustrate this point. These sanctions devastated the lives of the majority of Iraqis. Life expectancy and quality of life declined with the spread of malnutrition, lack of medical supplies, unclean water, and a host of diseases. Average per capita income dropped from $3,510 to $450 in just six years. UNICEF’s director estimated that some 500,000 children under the age of five died as a result of the sanctions, often the result of easily preventable diseases. This served to strengthen the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Sanctions are an act of aggression against the Iranian people, already suffering under the capitalist regime of the mullahs. Already, the sanctions have caused massive inflation of the Iranian Rial. Imported goods have skyrocketed in costs, further aggravating the impoverished conditions of millions. As the squeeze on oil exports are felt, the Iranian economy will be further pushed down, resulting in mass layoffs and the increased cost of living. This will serve as a convenient distraction for the Iranian regime, who are facing massive social unrest at come, but can now point to the West as being at fault for the unbearable conditions of the people.
It is important to remember that massive movements in 2009 came close to bringing down the regime of the mullahs. It is true to say that the movement has been temporarily defeated, but in its wake and as a consequence of it, the Iranian regime has plunged into a political crisis that has led to deep divisions between rival factions of the ruling clique. At the same time, the regime has instituted its own form of austerity cuts, through eliminating subsidies on basic goods like food and fuel. These measures alone are guarantees of a revival of the movement at a later stage.
However, the current sanctions assist in cutting across, and weakening, any mass movements in Iran. They are a dead-end that serves to punish the masses. The ruling clique in Iran can use the convenient threat of sanction and foreign aggression to direct anger towards the outside. The declining standard of living of the Iranian people will justifiably be seen as the fault of the imperialists, and would strengthen the regime’s call for “national unity” against foreign aggression.
Many Iranians remember the plunder of their two neighbouring countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the role of imperialism in the whole region, not least in Iran. They will react to the aggression that threatens them. Our Iranian comrades, organized around the paper Mobareze Tabaqati, have explained that foreign intervention, including sanctions, is acting as a lifeline to the Islamic regime. Concretely, therefore, these measures represent a huge obstacle towards democracy, and the struggle for equality in Iran.
End sanctions on Iran!
The revolutionary path to democracy
Sanctions and war provide no solution to ending the brutal dictatorships and massive inequality in the Middle East. The War on Terror has only reinforced this lesson at a massive human and financial cost. Sanctions are a dead-end that punishes the masses, and actually serves to strengthen Iran’s regime.
There is another way.
2011 has already illustrated this decisively. Revolutionary struggle — the direct political participation of the working people and youth — is the most powerful force for social change in the Middle East. The masses are genuinely interested in bringing democracy and ending the economic inequality in those societies. They are the only force that can move the region forward.
This is the polar opposite of the vulture imperialists whose goals are profit and regional military control. In the current conflict with Iran, the idea that is promoted is that there is a dire necessity to curb Iranian aggression and its nuclear program. This is completely hypocritical given the brutal War on Terror, and the massive nuclear arsenal carried by governments in the West and their Israeli allies.
The West also cloaks their interventions under the supposed intent of promoting democracy as a means to justify their interventions and confuse the public. This is nothing more than a whitewashing of their financial and strategic interests in the region. Indeed, the US government and other imperialist countries were strong supporters of the Mubarak and Ben Ali dictatorial regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, respectively. The US gave billions in military aid to Egypt, and gave public support to both the Egyptian and Tunisian dictatorships. It continues to give support to other dictatorial regimes of the region, from Saudi Arabia to the Gulf sheikhdoms. Even after Mubarak fell, the US has continued to support the military dictatorship and provide arms to repress the ongoing mass movements. There is not a shred of honesty in the imperialist claim for desiring “democracy” in the region. In fact, the free and democratic will of the peoples is exactly what they fear in the region.
The only force in the region that can bring democracy, stability, and peace to the Middle East is the working class and broader masses. Imperialist meddling, as has been exemplified over the last decade, will only further destabilize the region, undermine the revolutionary movements in the Middle East, and aggravate the miserable conditions of the peoples of the region.
Capitalism is a dead end
The world capitalist crisis since 2008 has sent the world economy out of equilibrium. Brutal austerity measures have devastated the working masses across the region, with the capitalist class and its “brightest” thinkers and advisors being completely unable to solve the crisis. This had led the ruling elite to bounce from one political crisis to the next. This resulting social and political instability is creating the conditions for a blind charge towards militarism. As the Marxists have explained before, we are entering a period of wars, revolutions, and counter-revolutions.
Even the Economist magazine, in its predictions for 2012, gave a stark warning to this shift in the political situation: “Militarism, xenophobia, and protectionism will remain beguiling options for any politician under pressure. It could be a rocky year.” In this respect, there is no disagreement between the Economist and the Marxists. We differ in that it is our insistence that it is the decaying capitalist system that is at root of the crisis. Until this chaotic system is overthrown and replaced by one based on free and democratic control of the resources of society, i.e. socialism, this barbarism will continue and become more acute.
Imperialism and austerity
The public has little stomach for another military attack on the Middle East. The failure and the financial cost of the War on Terror over the last decade has even further strengthened anti-war sentiment. Many are angered at big business interests, who made billions of profit through war, and who are now putting forward austerity at home. It is also becoming clear that neither democracy nor human rights have been advanced in the region through Western intervention.
Furthermore, since the beginning of the Iranian revolutionary movements in 2009 and the Arab revolutions of 2011, hostility has been replaced by sympathy and solidarity. People in the advanced capitalist countries have become directly connected, through television and Internet, to the democratic yearnings of the people of the Middle East. The pro-imperialist propaganda in the West is today being met with skepticism from the public. People in the West are beginning to see through the façade of humanitarianism, promoted by pro-capitalist politicians, and understand its collaborative role in supporting the dictators in the Middle East.
This sentiment of solidarity has also served to energize the workers and youth in the West, exemplified by the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Wisconsin labour struggles. The methods used at Tahrir have been adopted among hundreds of thousands of North American youth. Wisconsin unions compared the right-wing state governor, Scott Walker, to Mubarak during their massive demonstrations and sit-in of the state Capitol. The growing opinion in the West is that revolution, not war, is the road forward for the Middle East. It is the task of the Iranian masses to depose of their own regime and not the task of anyone else.
Furthermore, at a time of capitalist crisis where massive austerity packages are being imposed on the working class, the contradiction of rising militarism is becoming painfully apparent. How can there be no money for good jobs, pensions, expanded public services, affordable housing, and free post-secondary education, when billions are being spent on war and military arms? Harper has already promised $60-billion to purchase fighter jets and fighter boats. He has spent billions in the brutal occupation of Afghanistan already. That money should be spent to address the pressing needs of workers and youth.
Organized labour and the NDP, as Canada’s labour party, must take a leading role in condemning the rising militarism against Iran. The hypocrisy of austerity at a time when Canada is expanding military spending is clear. We must challenge the imperialist agenda of Bay Street, and their friends in Ottawa.
We must also put forward the hand of solidarity to the Iranian workers, students and youth who are rising up against the regime of the mullahs. In this regard, we must stand firmly against sanctions, which will only drive the Iranian people into further deprivation, unemployment and poverty while strengthening the totalitarian regime.
Oppose imperialist hostilities against Iran! End sanctions now!
Support the revolutionary workers and youth of Iran!
Fund housing, education and childcare, not bombs and jets!