IMT on Iran, Yesterday & Today

‘Revolutionary Process’ & Rose-Tinted Glasses

The following letter was sent to the International Marxist Tendency (IMT).

20 June 2009


In assessing the recent mass demonstrations in Iran against perceived electoral fraud, Alan Woods observed:

“Like a heavy rock thrown into a still lake, [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s coup has stirred up Iranian society to the depths. Nobody can say where events will end. But one thing is certain: Iran will never be the same again. The masses are starting to move, and the movement will not easily be halted. We are entitled to say with confidence: the Iranian Revolution has begun!”
—, 15 June 2009

Your website features as an accompanying article Fred Weston’s 11 February [2009] piece marking the 30th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution:

“The truth is that the 1979 revolution in Iran was a workers’ revolution. Had it not been for the mobilisations of the working class, the Ayatollah and his friends would have remained in exile in France waiting for better days. Instead on February 1, 1979 Khomeini was able to return to Iran to be welcomed by a huge crowd of millions. Are we really to believe that this one man provoked and led the revolution?”

The article contains a link to a 9 February 1979 piece by Ted Grant that essentially answers Weston’s question:

“Because of the failures of the Communist Party and radicals, even to attempt to organise opposition within the ranks of the working class, discontent surfaced at the mosques. Radical sermons were preached, which though cloudy and nebulous, were interpreted by the masses in their own fashion.”
·     ·     ·
“The masses interpreted the sermons of the mullahs as really standing for a struggle against the totalitarian and authoritarian regime of the Shah.”
—“The Iranian Revolution”

Khomeini’s success was guaranteed when Iran’s powerful leftist organizations backed him with the expectation that the ascension of the Shiite theocrats would represent a brief “anti-imperialist” stage in an inevitably unfolding process of socialist revolution. But in reality, as the then-Trotskyist international Spartacist tendency noted, the mullahs’ movement posed a deadly danger to the working class and all of the oppressed. This assessment was codified in the slogan “Down with the Shah! No Support to the Mullahs!,” which virtually every other ostensibly Trotskyist organization, including your own, considered wildly sectarian. In the article cited above, Ted Grant endorsed the popular delusion that the victory of the Islamic reactionaries would be short-lived:

“Support for Khomeini will melt away after he forms a government. The failure of his programme of a Muslim theocratic republic to solve the problems of the Iranian people will become apparent.”

What is apparent today is the failure of Grant et al to foresee the consequences of political capitulation to the forces of Islamic reaction. The delusion that the victory of the Khomeiniites was somehow part of an “objectively revolutionary” process paved the way for the wholesale liquidation of the Iranian left. It is grotesque that, 30 years later, the IMT continues to insist that “the 1979 revolution in Iran was a workers’ revolution.”

The IMT’s inclination to see a “revolution” whenever large numbers of people take to the streets is not restricted to Iran. A decade of bourgeois-populist rule is, for you, the “Venezuelan Revolution”—despite the fact that the capitalist state remains intact and there is no sign of dual power. Your faith in the “revolutionary process” leads you to fantasize about the day when “comrade President Chávez,” the Bolivarian bonapartist who heads a bourgeois state, will, through some “dialectical” process, lead the masses to socialism (for our assessment, see “Venezuela & the Left,” 1917 No. 30).

We note that Chávez’s view of the “Iranian Revolution” today is sharply counterposed to your own. The Venezuelan president, who promptly telephoned his Iranian counterpart to congratulate him when his electoral victory was announced, declared: “The victory of Dr. Ahmadinejad in the recent election is a win for all people in the world and free nations against global arrogance.” Chávez lauded Ahmadinejad as “a courageous fighter for the Islamic Revolution, the defense of the Third World, and in the struggle against imperialism” (, 13 June).

Alan Woods suggests that, “like the Russian Cadets [in 1917], the liberal reformers in Iran are terrified of revolution” (op. cit.). But if Iran’s defeated presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, and his supporters are analogous to the Cadets, then Ahmadinejad is playing the role of Prince Golytsin (the Tsarist premier). IMT members should be asking themselves why their hero Chávez is so enthusiastic about supporting the candidate of the status quo.

Leninist Greetings,

Josh Decker

for the International Bolshevik Tendency