Protectionism or Liberal Capitalism?

A Black Hole for the Working Class

An Interview with Radio Partow

2010 Archive

Translated by Javad Aslani

Introduction: One aspect of the skirmishes within the ruling capitalist class in Iran is the issue of the opening up the domestic market to the cheap imported goods versus a protectionist policy to safeguard the national industries. Ahamdinezhad, the president of the Islamic Republic and his faction, belong to the economic liberalisation camp and some sections of the Green Movement, as well as the state run labour organizations like Khane Karegar (Labour House) advocate protectionist views.

The closure of many less profitable the national industries and the lay-off of huge number of the workers has generated a heated debate among circles and organisations within the working class in Iran and some are practically supporting a protectionist policy against foreign imports. This interview addresses this issue.

Radio Partow: I would like to have a conversation with you on the current economic crisis in Iran and its various consequences. First, in a purely economic sense what is this crisis about and what is its historical context, both globally and within Iran? And then let us look at the capitalist class and the ruling Islamic regime in Iran and take a closer look at the working class.

Let's start by a general observation. In the past four years $400 billions worth of goods have poured into Iran. Most of the imports have been detrimental to internal production and have directly undermined domestic producers. The imported goods are cheaper leaving internal producers unable to compete with them. They go out of business and the workers lose their jobs.

This seems to be a straight forward argument. It could be said that one can't object to imports as such but the government should be responsible enough to introduce restrictions and regulate imports. This argument seems to be pretty straight forward. What is your take on this?

Koorosh Modarresi: Export and import of cheap commodities in capitalist societies are as old as capitalism itself. This is how capitalism operates. The simple argument that you referred to is a red herring offered to the working class. It is used to gloss over nationalism instead of class unity and communism. Through this seemingly simple argument, a section of the bourgeoisie promotes its own interests under the guise of the whole society and the working class.

In one of the earliest works on capitalism- The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Angles- they highlighted this very fact that the production of cheaper commodities is the main characteristic of the capitalist society. They argued that mass production of cheap commodities in capitalism is more efficient than any armoured battalions in bringing down the Wall of China and any borders. This is the reality of the capitalist world. This is the "logic of capitalist system. If you oppose this logic you turn the society against yourself. The contemporary society craves for material means of subsistence and the capitalism provides in mass production by cheap commodities more than any of its predecessor systems. This is the power of the capitalist mode of production. People can have a better life than the previous modes of production.

The engine of capitalist societies is profit and higher rate of profits. The capitalist is not necessarily fond of production, import or export as such. If importing cheaper commodities yields a better rate of return (gives him or her a better share of the surplus value), the capitalist will import cheaper goods. This is given in the capitalist society.

Capitalism while is the source of generating wealth and means of comfort on an unprecedented scale, it is creating this wealth by the exploitation and misery of the working class.

In this system the rivalry within the ranks of bourgeoisie expresses itself more and more in terms of political and social arguments. Confrontations and socio-political movements .

As explained in the Capital and the Communist Manifesto, capitalism is the unity of two contradictory processes. The capitalist mass production is made possible by the combination of the exploitation, mass unemployment and hence cheap labour with the creation of vast amount of wealth. This is the reality of our world in the UK, USA, China and Iran.

The lack of a Marxist understanding of the capitalist system can lead workers stray. The lack of understanding of the function of capitalism is one of the reasons why the bourgeois mentality continues to survive amongst the working class.

RP: But at the same time the protection of domestic market and opposition to the flood of foreign goods is as old as capitalism itself and it could be argued that such measures have resulted in industrial developments and advancement in certain countries. Isn't this the case? Can't you see the logic of such an argument?

KM: Who has said that we are for the industrial development per se? There are different ways of industrial developments. We are for the well being of the people and against exploitation.

Industrial development in capitalist societies can not be achieved without creating an army of unemployed workers and without subjugation of the working class. Capitalism can only thrive on blood and sweat of the working class.

Industrial progress, for a bourgeois, who automatically benefits from it, is an aim in itself and desirable. On the other hand for the working class whose share of industrial progress is more exploitation can not be an aim in itself.

Furthermore no country has ever managed to build a wall around itself and protect its less productive industries for a considerable length of time. Wherever they have tried this, they have not had much success. The former eastern block countries and state capitalist models are cases in question.

You mentioned crisis. Although the capitalist crisis has different characteristics in the Islamic Republic than other countries lets say the USA; although there is the global crisis and then the crisis caused by the Islamic Republic in Iran, nevertheless these are all different faces of the capitalist crises.

We need to be clear about the nature of the capitalist crises and establish what is the common cause of all the capitalist crises? If we fail to establish this we end up falling into a moral judgement of capitalist mode of production or different sorts of capitalism and fall into the hole of shadowing the very nature of capitalism by the "good and bad","greedy and generous", "backward and progressive", "national and imperialist" capitalisms etc.

What constitutes capitalist crises is nothing more than the crisis of the fall in the rate of the profit of capital. What Karl Marx calls the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. This tendency itself is a combination of a number of very complicated and intertwining factors within capitalism. But the fall of the rate of profit is not materialised continuously. Capitalism has various mechanisms at its disposal to delay it. But inevitably, cyclically and apparently unexpectedly this tendency materialises and the rate of profit plummets. With the fall in the rate of profit, the production within the existing frameworks becomes unsustainable. Goods can not be sold at the current prices and hence can not generate the expected profit. Under such circumstance the prices of the bulk of the products fall beyond the reach of the majority of the population. They can not afford them. At the time when the market is awash with capital, access to capital and credit becomes increasingly restricted for sections of the bourgeoisie, repayment of the debts become more difficult for a big chunk of the capitalist establishment and the banks and hence the flow of financial capital get into trouble.

During the capitalist crises the problem is not that there are not enough people in need of foods, clothes and other means of subsistence, there are not enough commodities available in the market or industries are not in need of capital. The problem is not the shortages of goods or capital. The problem lies in the fact that the production and sale of these goods do not yield the necessary profit. As a result the capitalists stop producing bread or the bread that they produce is "expensive" and the capital fails to create the expected profit.

In one word, the essence of the capitalist crisis everywhere, is the crisis of profitability of capital. Although skirmishes over the share of the profits amongst the various sections of bourgeoisie is part and parcel of the capitalist systems, but during the crisis period these conflicts is exacerbated. Different sections of bourgeoisie try to draw a larger section of the population and especially the working class to its own policies.

Some sections of the bourgeoisie will try to put up barriers and introduce mechanism to protect their profit (secure higher rates of profit than the global market) and safeguard themselves.

One such mechanism is the so called protective measures in defence of "national industries". They want to limit imports to protect their own profit at the expense of the working class's sacrifices and their total submissions to the wishes of the employers. Such a policy would in inevitably reduces the share of the working class from the wealth of the society and will further plunge them into destitution.

The absolute freedom of the movement of capital around the world (globalisation) in the past quarter of century has weakened such tendencies. The capitalists are now realising that there is not much opportunity for them outside the global system. Bourgeoisie now, everywhere, are in need of capital. Export of capital has been the dominant feature of capitalism since the beginning of the twentieth century; the phenomena that Lenin explores in great details in his work on Imperialism.

Our world is dominated by financial capital. These days the owners of industrial enterprises can, within a few minutes, sell their share of the less profitable enterprises and invest their capital in a more profitable venture in the other side of the world. Capitalists, Iranian or otherwise, have no attachment to any particular industry, geography, or enterprise but to profit.

Different sections of capitalists, in line with heir particular interests, pursue different polices. Some sections favour opening up the market and other sections, belonging to the less profitable domestic industries, call for restriction on imports.

It is through such conflicts that bourgeoisie attempts to settle its own internal disputes over the distribution of the profits and surplus values. Those advocating cheaper mass produced commodities hide the fact that these cheap and plentiful goods are only possible at the cost of destitution and exploitation of the workers some where in the world. One side blames foreign imports and the others side argues that it is cheaper to import and makes commodities available to broader masses and hence increases the general wealth in the society.

Tackling this situation is impossible without a clear and deep understanding of Marxist analysis of the function of capitalism, its crises and ways to overcome them. Without such an outlook the workers will render defenceless against the capitalist onslaught and will fall victim to the systematic deceits of this or that section of bourgeoisie.

RP: What is your view on the current crisis ridden status of the Islamic Republic and the "unregulated imports"?

KM: I touched on this earlier on. You see, Iran is a capitalist country. Our subsistence and means of living is produced within the framework of the capitalist mode of production and through the market place. According to the logic of the market we all tend to procure things that are cheaper. As long as they meet our needs then the question of where they were made and who made them becomes irrelevant.

In a capitalist society everyone is inclined, according to their "best judgement" to buy commodities that are cheaper. Workers follow the same logic when they do their shopping to make their money go further. Such a mechanism, both within the confines of a single country or globally, constantly undermines those enterprises that fail to compete and lower their prices and throws them out of the market.

Of course with each closure a wave of unemployment hits the workers. Such redundancies and the resulting pressures on the working class itself is one of the ways through which capital increases its profitability and intensifies exploitation. For example during the nineteenth century most of the textile industries in Iran and India were destroyed by imports from England (Marx has dealt with this in depth). Nowadays it is the Chinese textile industry that is forcing the textile industries across the world out of business.

Here I want to reiterate that we, all of us, will buy the cheaper goods. This is the common rationale all over the world and we can not go against this "rationale". Defending price raises would turn the society, including the working class, against its proponents.

We should be clear that the discussion amongst the capitalists for and against the imports is not for the improvement in the livelihood of the working people. It is basically over their share of the profit. These conflicts are usually conducted under the pretext of other minor issues in the society with a view to mobilise the working class to buy into this or that capitalists' policy. We must distinguish political manoeuvring from the real political undercurrents.

It could easily and thoroughly be explained why opting for opposition to unregulated imports and defending domestic industries can render the working hapless and lead to further deterioration of their condition.

RP: Let us now turn to the Islamic Republic and dwell on these issues. A huge split has opened up within the Iranian regime. A section of the regime, the so called reformist and in particular Mr Mahjoob (head of the Labour House, the official labour organisation) has spoken out in support of the workers and toiling masses and has lashed out against unregulated imports and its devastating consequences on the lives of the ordinary people. A series of damning reports and articles, backed by facts and figures, have been posted on their website detailing the dire situation of the working class. In addition a wider group of commentators have linked these imports to those associated with the authorities and blame them for "auctioning off" domestic industries and lining their own pockets.

And recently 160 MPs issued a joint statement opposing unregulated imports. Opposition to unregulated imports and protecting jobs is gaining currency. Do these attempts represent workers' interests?

KM: None of these groups represent the workers' interests. These debates reflect their own internal wrangling. And as far as the "Green Movement" is concerned this is just a ploy to lure the working class to their cause.

"Auctioning off" is one of those cliches that are used by backward looking sections of the bourgeoisie who have lost out in the race to win a larger share of the profits. After all anything that is sold in the market place is priced according to its market value. If it is put on sale it is most probably because it is unprofitable.

It is worth asking these people to explain how come goods produced in China are cheaper than in Iran? More importantly how are you going to sell goods produced in Iran at their market prices? Or are you putting up the prices to make domestic industries viable?

Answers to these questions will clearly show that such policies will further undermine the condition of the working class and will bring about more miseries for them.

Restricting imports will undoubtedly benefit the section of the bourgeoisies engaged in those sectors and whose industries are less profitable. But this improvement will be achieved at the cost of deterioration of the already meagre income of the working class and furthermore it is not sustainable. It is a transitional period and a temporary measure to further subjugate the working class.

Such measures are unsustainable. One can not have a situation where, for example, rice is sold at $10 per kg in a neighbouring country and it cots $30 per kg in Iran. Cheaper commodities will destroy all barriers. Smuggling will flourish. Public unrest will erupt. You can't have a situation where sugar, and rice is sold at its world prices in Iraq, Pakistan, Dubai, Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkey and in Iran it is sold at higher prices. The working class itself will rise up against these price differentials. With such price rises sugar and rice and other goods will disappear from the shopping baskets of most workers. Domestic industries producing these commodities will probably survive but the working people's dinning table will get emptier.

The market "blind forces" will level off the prices. You can't fight capitalism with capitalism. This is the most important lesson that workers need to learn from Marx's teaching.

The consequence of such debates and policies is a recipe to further empty the pockets of the working and toiling masses. They are intended to force you to go and pay four times over the odds for your sugar. Those workers who work at sugar refineries or sugar cane farms will have to do the same. When the price of sugar and rice go up everything else goes up too. When the price of petrol goes up the price of everything else go up. Those workers who work on rice paddies apparently can hold on to their jobs but rice and many other essentials will disappear from their dinning tables.

It is the rice producers who pocket the price rises. The first group of people objecting to these high prices will be the workers themselves. And here that vicious cycle of attacks on their wages to bring down the cost of production starts by cutting wages and increasing working hours and on top of these they are expected to abandon demands for the health care, pension, education and other amenities. This is what is happening all over the world.

What I am trying to say is stopping or limiting imports not only will do nothing to alleviate the workers' problems but will kick off an onslaught on their living standard. And whatever they mange to earn will be fed back into the pockets of the capitalists in the form of artificial higher prices or subsidies to the this or that section of capitalists. More importantly, pursuing such a policy will curtail the scope of the workers' fight against the capitalists. Workers who call for the protection of less profitable enterprises will disarm themselves against the owners of the enterprises. Any demands raised by the workers will be met by the threat of closure and cries of not being "viable".

RP: It might not be that simple. For instance Mr Mahjoob talks about introducing import duties and asks for government subsidies for a range of other goods. One example is the latest government initiative to subsidies apple. It purchased apples from the producers at around $1 per kg and sold them to the public for 70 cents per kg. Simultaneously they banned imported cheap apples from South America. This might be a burden on the government and in a way a cost to people. But they argue that with this intervention 28,000 families were spared from unemployment in the Demavand (north of Tehran) region. Isn't this, at least on a humanitarian level, a useful thing to do, even if it is just to stop them from falling into poverty?

KM: No it is not. You can protect the livelihood of those people through adequate unemployment benefits. Plus where does government's money to subsidising apples come from? In Iran these monies are collected from indirect taxation. Therefore the government has to hit our pockets or cut those services that has been forced to provide for all, and in particular for the working class, such as health care, education and pension. The share of the working class from the wealth it generates is not his/her wage, the public spending on health, education, pension etc. are as important as the wages.

Furthermore, the situation of the apple growers (by nature of their ownership of the orchards are either bourgeois or petty bourgeois) differ from that of the working class. The government policy towards the apple growers is to subsidise their profit by cutting the income of the working people.

The government subsidies apples to support the small and large apple growers. It buys apple at higher prices to safeguard the income of apple growers. The subsidy is a ways of protecting the profit of domestic producers. These subsidies are not meant to pay the workers' wages or his/her share of the wealth.

Subsidies to the capitalists are a way of increasing the share of the capitalists from the overall wealth generated in the society. I have to emphasise again that It is important to recognise that the share of the working class from the wealth of the society is not only its wages. It consists of all the services and social services including social benefits, education, utilities and municipality services as well. The state cuts all these services in order to subsidize the capitalists and persuade them to invest their capital in certain branches of industry.

Subsidies as extended to bourgeois or petty-bourgeois does not work for the workers. Workers do not own the means of production. The relationship of bourgeoisie (both small and large) vis-a-vis the society is different from that of the workers and the society. Of course it is very prudent that people are delivered from destitution but we can not ask the sate to come and take from our meagre income to pay for the subsidies to the factory owners to enable them to make a profit. And in doing so keep our wages down and demand our subordination for keeping us employed. As though we are to blame for this situation.

Contrary to the general belief that the Iranian government's income comes from the oil revenue, a simple mathematics shows that it is the income from indirect taxation on goods and services that provides a big chunk of the government's income. Supporting less profitable enterprises is like asking the government to, instead of spending its income to pay for unemployment benefit, pension and thousands more needs of the working people, to pay into the pockets of the capitalist to keep them happy and help them exploit us.

I know these nationalistic argument may sound reasonable but why should the working class pay for these subsidies? This is a bourgeois tactic to present their own interest as that of the wider society and the working class.

On a different note, what wrong have the workers in China or South America done to us? Why should the workers in Iran side with the "national" capitalists against their class brethrens? Have not we learned that our class is an international one? Don't we, each year on May 1st , celebrate international workers day to remind ourselves of our international unity? Why should the workers in Iran side with the land owners and capitalists to attack the living standard of workers in China and South America? Isn't this argument more compelling than any other economic theories and the reasoning of bourgeois currents to question the bourgeois policies and realise that all these are in the service of the bourgeoisie?

RP: As far as the dominant faction at the head of the Islamic Republic is concerned we have Mahmood Ahmadinejad and his "anti-capitalist" rhetoric. On imports he is clear. He has been saying that "we can not prevent goods from entering Iran. The more we try to stop imports the more illegal and smuggled goods comes through. The more we try to stop smuggling the richer the profiteers. The toiling people will be better off if we could adjust our prices with the world market." Do you think this kind of populism offers a more effective reasoning on the issue on imports?

KM: Ahmadinejad comes up with lots of populist formulae. Like all other populists he thinks he can solve all the ills of the capitalism within the capitalist relationships. But his populism is more of a liberal or Thatcherite nature. The western conservatives and liberals take the same line. This is the kind of reasoning in the mould of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and other right wing bourgeois currents; the argument for opening up markets to encourage competition and for the prices to fall and people to enjoy the benefits of cheaper goods. It is precisely for this reason that sections of the working class in the west and elsewhere have fallen for such polices and votes for the right wing policies and/or parties and abandoned their fellow workers in other parts of the world.

My main argument is that whether you open up the borders or close them, the working class are going to suffer. The workers' solution lies outside these two approaches. To fight against unemployment and destitution is not to side with any of these two schools of thoughts. The workers approach is to bypass such arguments. These are debates and solutions within different sections of the bourgeoisie. Our world is the world of the competition between capitalists. Whoever can produce cheaper will push its competitors out of the market. This competition goes on both at national and global markets.

As a case in point, suppose an enterprise, in another part of Iran, manages to produce sugar cheaper than that of Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company and as a result it was deemed necessary to shut down Haft Tapeh. In the context of these bourgeois solutions where would Haft Tapeh workers stand? To close the other enterprise down, make its workers redundant and raise the price of our provision?

The fact is you can not treat workers like landowners and fruit producers. You can not treat Sugar Cane workers like landowners and fruit growers. You can't treat steel workers like farmers. Workers do not own Steel "farms" to receive subsidies.

RP: You are right. The main issue is the industry. The economic commentators and journalists are raising some issues that have attracted public attentions and have played into the conflicts between warring factions of the regime. They are arguing that our national and domestic industries and hence our industrial prospect have been obliterated. People are cynically saying that our tombstones and traditional religious paraphernalia are imported from China. Recently it was reported that the value of imported goods from Turkmenistan had reached $3B. Also it has been mentioned that Iranian traditional handicraft are being imported from China destroying the skills and dexterities of our craftsmen and artists. They moan the loss of the skills and warn of the doomed future for the country. What is your take on these views?

KM: I think I dealt with this question earlier on. This is just shedding tears for the bourgeois and petty bourgeois investors. What is wrong with tombstones and other religious paraphernalia coming from China? Who is going to get upset? The deceased? Or are any of the imported items malfunctioning?

This is a sort of argument advocated by a bourgeois loosing out in competition with national or international bourgeoisie in other countries. This is similar to the arguments propagated by the Kurdish and Turkish nationalists in Iran. They claim that the local industries, in Kurdistan or Azarbaijan, have been destroyed at the expense of the industries in other parts of the country. Such arguments are used to push Kurdish, Turkish, Balouchis, Arab and Persian workers to side with their own bourgeoisie against their fellow workers.

The craftsmen and the artisans from Isfahan whose works are being undermined by imports are isolated producers. This has got nothing to do with steel workers, oil workers, car workers and sugar cane workers who work collectively and this seems to be their only art.

I referred to the situation in Kurdistan where the nationalists keep saying that it is the fault of the Persians that we are in this situation. If we win our autonomy everything will be rosy. By doing so they mobilise the workers in Kurdistan to side with Kurdish bourgeoisie against the Persian workers. This is the way that nationalism infiltrates the ranks of the workers. Just as the Persian nationalism uses the same reasoning to win over the Persian workers against the Chinese and South American workers. Regrettably some workers buy into such nonsense.

The products that have been imported from Turkmenistan have been produced by Turkman workers who are being exploited just like Iranian workers and their livelihoods depends on producing such goods. And we buy and use them. I hope none of us need to buy tombstone but, if we had to, we most certainly buy the cheaper ones (and usually of better quality). This is the logic of capitalism. In capitalist societies subsidies are given to to the capitalists not to the workers. They are also prepared to offer subsidies to small producers and farmers with the condition that the big producers too benefit from them. Who is willing to pay out subsidies to the workers? Who is prepared to give unemployment benefit and other entitlements listed in the basic demands of the workers agreed by "the ten labour organisations"1?

Isn't it better just as demanded by workers from "the ten labour organisations" to call for affordable goods to be imported and instead of giving subsidies to local producers to provide adequate unemployment benefits and pensions to workers?; offer contract of employment to temporary contract workers and outlaw piecemeal works? They would not do such things simply because such measures will not benefit the capitalists. Their profit will drop.

The fact is that the artisan, who's era has passed, and that the farmer, who is struggling, do not represent our society and the way it produces its means of subsistence. The symbol of the contemporary society is the mass of the urban dwellers that have no specific art and no property. They spend all day working collectively and produce sophisticated goods like automobiles, aeroplanes and electronic goods that our ancestor could not have dreamt of. This is the talent and the artisan-ship of the workers in Iran and around the world that build our world. Why should we get bogged down with the offers of subsidies for this or that sections of bourgeoisie?

In my opinion, at the present time, the best way forward is to adopt the recent declaration of basic demands by "the ten labour organisations" as the law of the land. This will give the workers the opportunity to unite their rank and deal with the current problems arising from the capitalists' crisis.

We need to tell the bourgeoisie to fight their wars somewhere else. As far as we are concerned the prices of essential goods and services must be cheap and affordable. Use the subsidy to provide medical care and unemployment insurance. With the money you want to subsidise the capitalists, ban all contract and temporary works. These workers provide us with our means of living. The fact that a capitalist fails to compete in the market and produce its products cheaper is none of our business.

In short there is no end to these debates. The task of the Iranian Government's "House of Labour" and other official labour institutions is to drag the workers into these discussions. The "House of Labour" can never turn around and say that the demands raised by "the ten labour organisations" are the demands of the workers and we want them too.

RP: This question pops up that in the aftermath of seizure of political power by the working class you can not remain indifferent to the self-sufficiency and the independence of the domestic industries and agricultural production. Didn't Lenin do the same thing?

KM: No. absolutely not. Lenin did not do such a thing. If the working class seizes the political power it will abolish production for the sake of profit not the production itself.

Capitalism has convinced the society that the only way to produce the means of subsistence is through production for profit. Show me a capitalist from China to Britain, from Uruguay to Argentine from Iran to Israel and any Christian, Muslim and atheist who could forgo his or her profit for the sake of the society? It is like asking a person not to breathe. Capitalism means producing for profit. For the capitalist generating profit overrides any other considerations. A capital that does not yield profit or sufficient profit is like a living thing being deprived of oxygen. A capitalist that denies this is a liar; is definitely a charlatan.

An economy at the hands of the working class would be used to meet the needs of the population the "The Universal Bill of Rights" bill be declared as the unalienable rights of every one. Human beings are the source of generating wealth. The mere labour of human being is the source of wealth and welfare. For the bourgeoisie an individual can only be of any use when he or she is producing surplus value and profit and is exploited by the capital. For the capitalist the only useful thing is profit. The "physical" process of production is subsequent to the need to generate profit.

The workers' revolution will demolish the foundation of production for profit. The purpose of production will be to meet the needs of the society. We will produce whatever we need regardless of whether it is profitable or not. In our kind of economy there won't be money and profit. If need be we will produce "unprofitable" medication for cancer and hundreds of other illnesses. In our society everyone takes whatever they need and work as much as they can.

It is said that in South Africa nearly 20% of its population are HIV positive. But, building hospitals and producing medicine to treat this illness is not profitable, so the society does not engage in activities to deal with this illness to the extend that the previous Presidents of the Republic denied any links between AIDS and HIV virus. They invest their resources in building stadia and clubs and whatever that is profitable. It is imperative to understand that these are not questions of morality, greed or type of capitalism. If you and I had capital we would have invested in industries that would have a higher rate of return. This is the logic of our world. Anyone that attempts to criticise capitalism on issues of morality can not possibly be called a Marxist.

The most important thing for the working class to recognise is that its interests, both within the borders of Iran and globally, is opposed to that of bourgeoisie, both national and international. It is imperative that the working class understands that its approach and policies are different from those of the bourgeoisie and that the interest of the working class in Iran can not be in conflict with that of workers in China, Israel, Palestine or countries in Latin America. It is important to be mindful that anyone advocating anything other than this is a crook.

RP: You moved our discussion towards the working class and its demands. Now allow me to pose a few questions. You mentioned Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane enterprise, it is an interesting example. In 2004 it had produced 120,000 tonnes of sugar. In 2009 its production dropped to 11, 000 tonnes. During this time 5,000 workers lost their jobs. Over 4000 out of the remaining 5,500 are seasonal workers and the rest of the workforce, 1,500 workers, have not been paid for months. On top of this a number of associated industries like alcohol and paper manufacturing and paper mills have closed down. The most powerful workers syndicate in Iran has been formed in Haft Tapeh. Workers and their syndicate all call for actions against unregulated imports. It is high on their list of demands. This is a similar story affecting wheat, tea, metal, Kian Tyre, Shomal agriculture complex and many other sectors and industries

Allow me to read out a quote from a worker who has recently been made redundant. In a report from Aghlid sugar company, a worker, while distraught, states that "after seventeen years of continued service, I, together with forty other colleagues, were expelled". He goes on to say that he recons that his employer was a decent man and blames the imported sugar for the demise of his job. He says that we were getting on with our lives like "human beings" until a bunch of greedy and godless people came along and destroyed our livelihood. He lambasted the government and criticised it for awarding import licences to a group of capitalists to import sugar and line their big pockets without any thoughts for the unfortunate and hapless workers. What do you have to say to this worker?

KM: I would say to him: my dear comrade this is the logic of capitalism. This has nothing to do with the greed of this or that capitalist. The capitalists, while you were producing enough profit, allowed you to work as "human being". Once your profitability drops they treat you like a useless animal and send you to the slaughter house of unemployment. The commodity that is being sold at a lower price has been produced by workers in other parts of Iran or abroad where, at least for the time being, the capitalists allow them to be exploited like "human beings". Are we permitted to demand that instead of us the other workers be sent to the slaughter houses? The way out of this is not to side with one capitalist against the other.

I emphasise that the capitalists are only interested in maximising their profits. What they do, has nothing to do with their characters or "classless moral values". It does not make any difference if they "import", "export", "speculate" or actually "produce" things. The capitalists are not interested in moral values, as they do not have any values but maximizing their profit. By demanding a ban on the import of sugar, we are for the situation in which sugar is sold at a higher price in the marketplace. It means the government should guaranty that the capitalist is rewarded with sufficient profit so that refrains from investing in the shares of the sugar companies in Latin American states. This is plainly rewarding the capitalists to exploit us.

The only way the capitalist would invest in the unprofitable Aghlid sugar is to make up for his losses from our pockets. Besides what crime have the exploited workers in other parts of Iran or in Latin America committed that we want them to lose their jobs?

This can't be the way forward. We must unite and articulate demands that help build a trench against the unbridled attacks of the capitalism. We should support the demands put forward by "the ten labour organisations". Staying idle and inactive won't get us anywhere. Failing to act will force us- the wage slaves- into defenders of the capitalists' wage-slavery.

Why should we give in to the ransom demands of the capitalists, from our meagre incomes, who threaten to move their capital to other places where they can make more profits? Where does all this end? Next we will be asked to put in more unpaid hours. Or opt to voluntarily cut our wages. Or agree to government's plan to cut the health service and other public services to bail the capitalists out? Such measures are recipe for total submission of the workers to the bosses. Workers will be asked to work at half the pay rate and pay double the price for sugar, clothes and tombstone just to hold on to their jobs. This is not the way to deal with such problems and the slavery imposed on the working class. It only helps to prolong our enslavement.

The correct way of going on about it is to limit the capitalists' interference in our lives and get rid of wage slavery for good. This can not be done through talks and appeasements. We must fight and we must have power. We must unite. In my opinion, for the time being, the demands of "the ten labour organisations" is a good starting point. We need to organise the workers around these demands. There is no other way. We should tell the capitalists that you are free to invest your capital wherever you please but here are our demands. We must have secure and permanent jobs; we must have adequate unemployment benefits and we must not be forced to engage in piecemeal work. We must not be forced to do seasonal or contract works. All workers must have permanent contracts. Have pensions. And all workers, without any worries and trepidation be able to send their children to schools and universities; have access to free health care. These are our demands and you are free to go and produce sugar or build rockets. This is not our concerns now.

RP: A section of the official media and the pro-regime opposition very openly and directly allege that wages in Iran are high and this is a reason for the increase in import of foreign goods. They advocate reduction in the level of minimum wage. They claim if the government manages to bring down the wages it will help to reinvigorate the economy.

But let me enter into a different argument. Now we have the ongoing disputes of Sugar Cane workers, Kian Tyres and other enterprises. The question here is that if we relinquish these enterprises we will loose that focal point for struggle. After all, the Sugar Cane struggle can only take place when the company is operating. If we lose this trench we all become dispersed like unemployed workers and can not even stage the current level of defiance. Isn't this a valid point?

KM: No. It is absolutely not valid. It is obvious that factory is the most important bulwark of the workers. But this argument is built on several incorrect hypotheses.

First of all factory is not only a place where "people work" or a place where there are machineries and means of production. Factory is the place of capitalist production, that is, generation of profit. The reason the factory is important is that it is the place where workers could put down their tools and stop production and hence put pressure on the capitalist's throat, threatening its profit.

If the capitalist is to keep its business afloat with our intervention and at the cost of reduction in our livelihood what will be left to us to protect ourselves with? We would be totally disarmed. In the world of politics such an approach will completely remove all the means of waging an effective struggle away from the workers. It will be extremely difficult to take on an industrialist that keeps his or her industry in operation with the help of the workers and extortion from the society.

With the first hint of a dispute he/she will threaten to close down the business and will come up with the familiar pretexts such as the company is "unprofitable" or he/she shall "close the company down".

This situation is detrimental to the struggles of the workers. A worker that is not generating profit can not take on the capitalist at the workplace. At the sign of any dissent the bosses will remind them that they should be grateful and thank god that they still have a job to go to!

Secondly, such an argument will not help the workers' leaders. Workers and the workers' leaders enter disputes with a specific purpose of succeeding. Mobilising workers and brining them out to picket the head office, just for the sake of protest and without slightest chance of winning could only serve as a desperate actionism. It is only a petty bourgeois adventurer that would call for getting together, agitating, taking on the government, without the ability and possibility of victory and with the delusion of the workers becoming more united and more conscious as a result.

A worker that has called for subsidy for the capitalists has already submitted himself / herself to the bosses; is unwilling to come out and has no appetite for a fight. The petty bourgeois enters into a struggle for the thrill of its militancy and heroism. A worker on the other hands strikes for improving his or hers living condition, as a last resort and does so when he weighs up his chances of victory. Such reasoning is naive and alien to the interest of workers. Such reasoning is based on a petty bourgeois notion of workers' struggle.

Thirdly this argument advocates the thesis that since unemployed workers are unorganised therefore the employed workers must surrender to the bosses. This is based on the understanding that workers only exist in factories. And they can not be found in the neighbourhoods and outside workplaces. This could be one of the reasons for the lack of unity between the employed and unemployed workers. Why can't we bring out the Sugar Cane workers and picket the Labour ministry in Tehran? Why can't we organise the workers in hundreds of enterprises, facing similar issues, and bring the sky down on the government and capitalists? Believe me, this is much more practical and feasible than working with those workers who have given in to the capitalist policies and have called for subsidies for their company from their own pockets.

RP: Let me put my last question to you. I wanted to make a reference to the opposition currents, those claiming to empathise with the working class. For such currents standing against unregulated imports are given, or at best they keep quiet about it. There are other currents who consider relaxation of import barriers as a neo-liberalist policy espoused by the Islamic Republic and evoking heated debates about national and progressive bourgeoisie. I wanted to find out from you to what extend the anti-regime sentiments and hatred towards the Islamic Republic overshadows the capitalistic realities of the country.

KM: It is a fact that the Islamic Republic is a reactionary; misogynist; criminal and a despotic regime. And the working class is not the only group in the society that is suffering. There are other classes that while have a vested interest in the domination of the rule of capital and while do not have the same problems as the working class, are unhappy about certain aspects of life under the Islamic Republic and to a varying degree defy it. The working class too is present in this arena and needs to lead the struggles.

The mere presence of these bourgeois classes in this conflict allows them to impose or try to impose their own ideology on the struggles of the working class. Such groups, true to their class interests, continuously and consistently tend to "forget" the capitalist nature of the regime (in an attempt to suppress the profile of the working class) or prefer not to see it as such. For these people everyone is a "human" or an Iranian, and people constitute a uniform collective with similar demands engaged in a joint struggle against the Islamic Republic. They advocate that workers needs and demands must wait until after the fall of the Islamic Republic and will be fulfilled by the mere downfall of the Islamic Republic.

A large section of the Iranian left belong to this camp. To this end we describe them all as bourgeois-communists. What they call themselves is irrelevant. It is irrelevant if they proclaim to defend the working class and toiling masses. They are fighting the same battle that could be traced to debates inside the Iranian parliament, albeit with a leftist connotation.

If in the course of the 1979 revolution in Iran the main preoccupation of the bourgeois- communism was garbling with the myth of the national and progressive bourgeoisie, in today's Iran a large section of this communism refuses to recognise the Islamic Republic as a capitalist state. Their main criticism of the Islamic Republic is that it is not a fully fledged capitalist state and does not represent capitalism in Iran. It appears that they draw their revolutionary credential more from the shortcomings of the Islamic Republic than its capitalist nature.

The capitalist nature of the Islamic Republic has no bearing on the policies of these currents. For their world consists of good and evil; regime and anti-regime, and recently we have witnessed another division, "humans" and "non-humans" i.e., animals. For this group capitalism is an animalist state and socialism is humanist regime. Let alone Marxism, this is far more backward than most elementary bourgeois thinking.

I believe the working class should stand on its own feet and resort to Marx, Lenin and Mansoor Hekmat and turn away from these currents. The working class must view the world from its own class position. The way forward for the working class is to emphasise on its demands and do not dilute its demands with those of the peasants, landowners, shop owners, artisans etc. The working class, more than any other classes, needs and has vested interest in democratic changes and securing political freedom. But working class's interests in these developments differ from that of other classes. We need to digest this and turn it into the self-consciousness of the working class.

Declaration of Basic Demands of Workers in Iran *1

February 10, 2009

We are the creators of all wealth and providers of means of subsistence. We hold the cycle of production and life in our hands. We pride ourselves in the magnificent united strikes during the 1979 revolution in Iran. Thirty one years after the February revolution of 1979 and with reference to the humanitarian aspirations and demands of the people of Iran; and with the support of the millions strong ranks of the workers, we once again raise our basic and minimum demands and call for their immediate and unconditional delivery.

  1. Unconditional rights to form independent workers' organisations; rights to assemble, to protest, to strike; freedom of expression; media and the freedom to form political parties.

  2. The immediate abolition of capital punishment; immediate and unconditional release of all labour activists and other political activists.

  3. The immediate increase of the minimum wage approved by the representatives of the workers elected through workers general assemblies.

  4. Halt to removal of subsidies on essential goods and immediate and unconditional settlement of all unpaid wages.

  5. Security of employment for all workers and salaried staff; abolition of all temporary and blank contracts (zero hours); removal of all state apparatuses from workplaces; drawing up a new labour code with direct involvement of workers' representative elected directly through workers' general assemblies.

  6. Expulsion of workers and redundancies must stop immediately and all unemployed workers and those reaching the age of work must be offered adequate insurance to lead a humane and healthy life.

  7. Abolition of all discriminatory laws against women and guarantying equal rights and entitlements between women and men in all aspects of social, economic and political, cultural and family life.

  8. All citizens of pensionable age to enjoy a decent life free from trepidation of economic hardship and extension of all social benefits and health care to all pensioners.

  9. All children, regardless of their social, ethnic, gender and religious background must enjoy free and equal welfare, education and healthcare.

  10. To declare May 1 as official holiday in the official calendar and all restrictions on organising May Day assemblies and rallies abolished.

Signed by:

Tehran and Suburb bus Drivers Syndicate

Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Workers Syndicate

Free Union of Workers in Iran

Association of Electrical and Metal Workers in Kermanshah