The following is an excerpt from the transcript of an interview, in Farsi, conducted by Mostafa Asadpour, the host of the Parto TV Programme broadcast on November 4, 2005. It has been translated into English by KOMONIST
Mostafa Asadpour: The workers’ protests have, both in terms of numbers and extend, become a characteristic of the Iranian society. In dealing with these protests various commentators on the labour movement point out that these strikes and protests are defensive and disjointed. They also tend to prescribe the familiar solution of advocating the setting up of independent workers organisations and adoption of common and unifying demands and slogans. Let us start by hearing your general view on this subject.
Koorosh Modarresi: The spread and deepening of poverty and destitution is a real threat. We have been saying this for sometime now and it is now acknowledge and experienced by the wider population in the country. Under the rule of the present regime the condition of working class has always been bad and it will worsen even further. Despite ad hoc and temporary measures such as injection of oil revenue into the economy, settlement of some of the unpaid wages and silencing this or that section of the working class, there is no prospect, even in the short term, of improvement in the situation of the workers and the wider toiling masses. Not only there is no prospect of improvement but the deepening of destitution under the Islamic regime’s rule is eminent. Unemployment, high prices, lower standard of living and ultimately hunger are the components of this destitution. This is the doomed fate of all the working people and all those who live off their own labour. The question however is what is to be done?
The answer to this situation can not be found from the economic struggles of the working class and specially the actions of certain sections of workers here and there. The answer to this question rests within the domain of politics and the mobilisation of the working class. And this lack of political aspect of workers struggle seems to be their weakness. The working class fails to recognise its struggle within the overall political struggle in the country and also incapable of engaging a sizable section of its class in the war against the bourgeoisie. It has not mobilised its forces for this decisive battle.
This situation is the product of the inherent division within the working class in one hand, and on the other hand it is influenced by a distinct movement and tradition, i.e. trade unionism. And regrettably the communists who are supposed to “bring consciousness to the working class” are themselves handicapped by this tradition.
To those who stress that the working class is disunited and seek an answer as to what to do, we must redirect a question and ask them what exactly they mean by the “working class movement”? Do they mean the economic struggles of the working class? If so this movement has a narrow horizon and scope and a limited potential. But if by the “working class movement”, the entire social struggle of the working is meant, then, we must incorporate the social and political struggles and political organisation into this movement. This movement would have an entirely different perspective, scope and potential.
In the context of the current struggles, both within the working class and the leftist groups, when reference is made to the working class movement, they mean economic protests and struggles. When we talk about the working class movement, the struggles for higher wages, shorter working hours and improved working condition and in a word the struggle to sell the labour power at a better rate is meant. Such a struggle is a vital element of the working class’s existence but at the same time it is limited in its scope, disjointed and presupposes the dominance of the capitalist relationships. Look at the condition of the workers in Europe where they are allowed to organise and there are trade unions. These unions are incapable of even offering the workers a meaningful support. Suppression alone is not the only culprit.
When a movement defines the workers movement only in terms of its economic demands and struggles, and when a movement not only fails to show the link between the daily struggles of the workers with political struggles and bourgeois ownership of the means of production, but divides the workers into different sectors and trades, and for each branch of trade sets up a union, is curtailing the workers struggles within the confines of the capitalist system. It is obvious that the workers should in their confrontation with bourgeoisie set up whatever organisations they need. But workers must be conscious of what they are doing and where they are heading. Equating the economic struggles of the working class with the worker’s movement as such will prevent the working class from entering the main arena of struggle in the society i.e. the political struggle and will deny it of its main weapons in the fight against the bourgeoisie. No matter how much you and I praise socialism unless we manage to link the daily struggles of the workers to a conscious attempt to accomplish socialism, such a praise would be just another semi-religious hymn. The fact is such a linkage can only be established in the social and political arena.
Workers in their daily life, in their struggle to protect themselves and their families against the constant aggression of the bourgeoisie, have no choice but to defend themselves. The working class is compelled to defend its own subsistence and to do so it needs to form various organisations such as unions, syndicates and general assemblies. And it is precisely for this reason that the capitalists try to stop them. Therefore economic struggle is an essential element of the workers movement and for us communists, intervention and organising these economic struggles, are part and parcel of our communist identity. Economic struggle is a battlefield and a school where the working class educate itself and learns about its own powers. It learns to unite. Workers realise their existence as workers in the context of these struggles and class confrontations. But, I wish the working class did not need this “school”. I wish the workers were aware of their existence as a class and knew that its fate is decided in the political arena and it had to lead the entire population. Then the bourgeois oppression would have been very ineffective and short lived. It is this class immaturity which manifests itself in disunity and weaknesses in their daily struggles. This is what is wrong with “the movement that equates economic struggles to workers movement”.
The notion of “economic struggle equates to workers movement” leads to a conclusion that the salvation of the workers comes about through the economic struggles alone. In this frame of mind search for an answer is restricted to one aspect of the workers’ struggles. Political struggle is excluded from the workers movement. The lack of interest in political activities and organised communist activities is the logical extension of this attitude and “misunderstanding”. For many, the economic struggle of workers and representing them in this area of struggle, is an end in itself. If the economic struggle is a school for the working class, then trade unionism tries to keep the working class in school for ever and prevents it form joining the real battle which takes place in the political arena and is centred around capturing the political power for a socialist revolution. Furthermore, within this tradition and in its backward form, the leadership is confined to leading the economic struggles at a local level. The workers and their might are only mobilised for this purpose. This approach serves to keep workers away from communism and also keep communism away from workers.
Workers movement in the tradition of Marx’s communism, in contrast to all other communisms and socialisms, is a social entity with clear political and social characteristics. The political and social aspects of the workers movement have relevant implications in the daily struggles of the workers and not a matter of concern in the “future”. The communist manifesto is all about this political and social character. If our understanding of the workers is one that it is a movement with a distinct perspective, tradition and values, then when we talk of the workers movement we must talk of the entire movement with all its different elements and their impacts on each other.
The country is on the verge of a political crisis and the threat of destitution is looming. The bourgeoisie is busy preparing for political changes. Today workers and people in general, are facing another threat, as devastating as the threat of economic destitution. And that is the treat of disintegration of the country in the process and after the overthrow of the Islamic Regime at the hands of the tribal and religious groups and the political gangsters. If you ask me what the workers can do I will answer by saying that the working class must take this treat seriously. If such a scenario is materialised there can not be any talk of us and our families let alone our wages. In this context, isolated struggles for economic demands within a bankrupt country would not get us anywhere. Today is the time for the workers to view themselves and the society from the point of view of a class and not members of a particular trade. The working class should start viewing itself and the society from Marx’s communism and the working class’s communism and enter the battle to topple bourgeoisie’s power and set off to establish its own rule. There is no other solution. Any progress in this direction will directly get reflected in the increased ability of the working class to pursue its economic struggles.
Why is it that the students recognise the importance of politics and political freedom and the workers apparently do not? Are the workers unable to comprehend the importance politics in improving their own plight and the society’s in general? Could it be that the political freedom and such issues are not relevant to the workers? Isn’t women’s question relevant to the working class? Isn’t it the case that half of the working class are women? The truth is that there is a backward tradition that feeds such ideas to the working class. Under such circumstances we are obliged to saw the seeds of the unity amongst the workers and as Lenin has put it we must make workers aware of the importance of unity, organisation and political struggle in their day to day experiences. This lack of awareness is not a positive attribute it is a weakness.
The economic struggle is inventible. But this struggle could either be carried out within the frame work of a syndicalist movement or within the frame work of communist tradition. The outcomes of these two approaches are widely different. Just like political freedom. People can pursue this via 2nd Khordad movement (the so called reformist Islamic movement within the ruling establishment in Iran headed by the former President, Khatami) or through the communist movement. The 2nd Khordad presupposes the existence of the Islamic Republic. Syndicalism too presupposes the existence of capitalism. When the 2nd Khotdadists talks about political struggles they mean their own political activities and when they talk about political prisoners they mean prisoners belonging to their own movement. This approach applies to the syndicalist movement as well. When there is the talk of workers’ movement they have the economic struggles of the workers in mind and when there is the talk of labour leaders they refer only to the leaders of the economic struggles. If you knock on the door of any trade unions or leftist groups they will offer this definition of the workers movement. And this is the real problem.
In short my point is that within the confines of economic struggles this situation can not be tackled. The way out can only be found if the workers movement is viewed in the context of its social and class position. The working class is obliged to fight for economic demands; it is obliged to form syndicates and councils. But if a worker thinks that, under the current circumstances, only through hers/his economic struggle and hers/his union, can safeguard his/her wages is badly mistaken.
We must distinguish union or syndicates from trade unionism or syndicalism. Syndicate is one of the means with which workers protect their livelihoods. Syndicalism is tantamount to preventing workers, as a class, from intervening in socialist politics. This is what syndicalism is about. The workers movement is reduced to economic struggles and consequently deprives the working class from seeing and utilising the means to successfully lead their daily struggles.
I believe we should put the big picture before the working class and emphasis that we should set up unions, syndicates, councils, associations, institutions and whatever that is possible. But we should not lose sight of the fact that whatever we build is to help us to unite as a class and mobilise our forces for a socialist revolution. We build these organs to, in the first instance, to overthrow the Islamic Republic and use this as a springboard to liberate the entire population from capitalism and wage slavery. I believe the time has come to confront the working class sincerely and openly. Today, regrettably, the working class, in the main, sees its salvation through struggles within the frameworks of syndicalism. This attitude is also fanned by the left out of their benevolence for the helpless people.
Mostafa Asadpour: Workers in Iran have been hurt and are not organised. In such a situation unorganised workers; hungry workers, workers that still endure the pain of the Islamic regime’s blows, have no recourse, in their attempts to carry out what you have been talking about, but to start from basic steps and basic forms of organisations. These workers must tread this path and produce their own competent leaders in order to launch bigger assaults. Don’t you agree?
Koorosh Modarresi: I do not subscribe to this doomed slow, gradual and linear cycle of progression that the working class, apparently, must go through. In the Islamic Republic and indeed in capitalist systems, strikes in key industries are political events even when they pursue an economic demand. If oil workers strike for higher wages, and if bus drivers or car manufacturing workers go on strike for higher wages or similar demands these would be political events. I am not suggesting that we should not fight for economic demands. The working class will not struggle in the same way as students do or based on a cultural or a political platform. The working class enters the arena with economic demands. What I am trying to ascertain here is that anyone who defines the economic struggles of the workers as purely economic consequently limits the “workers movement” to this aspect of the struggle and hence gives a wrong message to the workers and the public in general. The working class must see its movement within the wider social and political context. The workers movement is not of the same character as the women’s movement or the student movement. The workers movement is a social movement with solutions for all of these issues and problems.
Your question, if directed to a communist as a “specialist” question, is understandable. I would answer by saying that the other movements are busy harming the working class and we are obliged to, from this aspect as well, to participate in the economic struggles. We must endeavour to alert the working class to its weaknesses. I am trying to say that you present one of the shortcomings of the working class as a natural phenomenon. If our audience is the working class then we must put all of our solutions, straightforward and sincerely, to them. The problem with your question is that it is not clear whether we are talking amongst ourselves or we are addressing the workers that are engaged in struggles for their living condition. If we are addressing a worker we must directly and openly explain why he/she is isolated? Where hers/his forces are? And how can it be mobilised?
I am fully aware of the effects of factors such as suppression. But I believe the current situation of the working class stems from their conservatism and the lack of understanding to appear as a united force. To emerge from this cycle of defeat and weakness, we need to redefine our notion of the workers movement. In my opinion there is an element of opportunism within the working class. Oil workers are being opportunist, are fearful and firmly holding on to their own self-interest without showing any consideration in what happens to the Iran Khodro (a car manufacturing plant in Iran) workers. Similarly Iran Khodro workers are indifferent to the plight of the textile workers in the city of Sanandaj. The workers of these sectors must be reminded that no one is spared when a worker is attacked.
Mostafa Asadpour: What are the practical implications of your views? One implication would be that you are inviting the workers to a dangerous confrontation with the Islamic Republic when they are not yet ready for it. Isn’t this a fair conclusion? How do you respond to this?
Koorosh Modarresi: It is not me who is pushing the working class towards a dangerous confrontation. The society has placed the working class in such a position. I am not sure what you mean by “dangerous confrontation”? Tomorrow they might drop an atomic bomb over our heads, which one is more dangerous? There is not anything more dangerous than this. Something should be done.
You are asking me what we should do. My answer is we must unite. And the workers’ leaders must recognise that the workers movement encompasses economic, social and political struggles; must recognise that the fight for economic demands is not just a struggle to defend its living condition but also, specially, to enter the world of politics to sort out the society. Unless the workers’ leaders realise that they should assume the leadership of the society (the general population and not only their class) in fight for equality and freedom none of us, more so the working class, will not get anywhere.
Mostafa Asadpour: For my last question I would like to invite you to an imaginary meeting of the workers’ leaders. Imagine the miners at Western Alborez Mines in pursuit of their demands have picketed most of the government offices. They are being pushed from post to pillar. What will you be saying to these leaders at their next meeting?
Koorosh Modarresi: My input will be to tell them let us, instead of picketing the Labour Office and the Parliament, go and gather in front of the oil refineries. Let us go and bring our fellow workers to our ranks. The Western Alborz Mine is bankrupt and the government and the bosses have no problem with the strike and the refusal of the miners to return to work. Our strength does not lie only with our ability to assemble in the streets. Our strength primarily lies with our ability to stop the production. We should go after our levers of power. Go after the workers in oil, electricity, water and other key industries. We should approach them and tell them that we have been battered. Let us stop work and do something.
This is the force that is capable of strangling the regime and push it back. Against this government and a bankrupt capitalist company, strikes in small work places can not succeed. The working class’s power is in the factory. But if these protests are not backed up by stoppages in production their influence will be less than that of the students’ protests. Students could protest every day but workers can’t do that. I would say the only way before the Western Alborz Miners is to bring out the forces of its class, the workers from key industries. We should mobilise workers from other sectors as well as ordinary people.