Many fear that the people’s uprising in Iran will not result in a change that goes in the interests of the people and the working class; but in a pro-imperialist regime. That is why we need to familiarize ourselves with the bourgeois opposition in Iran.
The theocratic tyranny in Iran eliminated its opposition one by one after solidifying its grip on power in the wake of the 1979 revolution. Anyone who had the tiniest conflict with the Islamic Republic was forced to withdraw from the political sphere. At first, the larger parties and organizations were disbanded, and later it spread its own organizations so that even the smallest cells of the society were dominated. For example, the infamous Basij forces were founded by Khomeini’s government in 1980. Today Basij forces, the so-called ”20 million strong army”, recruit everywhere from neighbourhoods to universities.
The list of regime’s organizations goes from the small communities of village mosques to bigger ones like the “workers’ houses”. The student organizations were all but eliminated under harsh repression. Hence the opposition was reduced to disorganized, scattered groups and individuals. Such individuals often had to leave the country after ending up in regime courts.
Shah Muhammed Reza Pahlavi and a big group of the bourgeoisie opposing the new regime left the country in the aftermath of the revolution and moved to the US, Europe, or Canada. This scattered group lived in the nostalgia of the “good old days” for some time. Furthermore, the political assassinations carried out by the Iranian intelligence pushed many people away from active politics. The primary vehicle for the survival of the pro-shah sections abroad has been radio stations run by Western imperialism, such as the BBC and the Voice of America. They spread the propaganda of an imagined “golden age” under Shah’s rule, telling the listeners “how glorious everything used to be”. “The prestigious Iranian passport” (that a tiny minority possessed), “the time when the Iranian oil was the most valuable”, “a secular state” (in form, but not in essence), and other such propagandistic expressions were effective against younger generations that lived in an environment of theocratic tyranny that got harsher and the class divisions that got sharper by the day, especially since these generations did not experience the period before the revolution.
Those who stand under the umbrella of Persian nationalism view the monarchy culturally and historically as the most appropriate regime for Iran and defend a “balanced” constitutional, parliamentary monarchy similar to Scandinavian countries. An important issue where the opinions of the Shah supporters and Persian nationalists coincide with those of the regime is national unity. They both ignore the national struggles of oppressed people in Iran and defend the necessity of their violent suppression. Shah supporters do not consider the Kurds, Turks, Balochis, Arabs, and other oppressed nationalities at all in their political agendas (but gay rights do take their part, mostly to appease the western audience). And precisely for these reasons, and their historic experience, the most militant elements in the uprising, Kurds and Balochis, know very well that a Shah regime would be even worse for their national rights than the Islamic Republic.
A failed revolution
Among the indicators of the failure of the 1979 revolution was the immense luxury under which the exiled opposition lived. The revolution failed to confiscate the properties and the money of the bourgeoisie who had free reign during the shah period. Today the bourgeois opposition media abroad tries to keep the memory of monarchy fresh and its prestige intact through regular interviews with the members of the monarchy, calling them with their obsolete titles (“shahzadeh”, “my queen”). Media institutions like Independent Farsi, Kayhan London, and Manoto TV all receive financial support from the shah royalty. And of course, a popular Saudi-financed media institution like Iran International would never miss the opportunity to praise the monarchy!
Among the so-called “left” opposition in Iran, the People’s Mojahedin possesses the strongest organizational capacity. They believe that no secular regime is possible in Iran. For long years they survived under the protection of Saddam in Iraq. After the US invasion of Iraq, they shed their anti-imperialist skin and based themselves in Albania under the sponsorship of the US. They carried out many assassinations against the Islamic Republic officials during the 1980s per their programme of armed struggle. They are viewed as a terrorist organization by many, but they make up a significant part of the opposition against the Islamic Republic, not to be underestimated especially with respect to their influence on the youth.
A group that used to whitewash the Islamic Republic abroad and who later got separated from the reformist wing of the regime have become “radical” opposition figures today. Among them is Masih Alinejad. Despite wearing her headscarf voluntarily for years after her emigration, she suddenly opened up and turned into a “feminist”, declaring herself as the leader of the revolution spearheaded by women in Iran. Yet for a long time, she openly advocated passive resistance against mandatory hijab, with her campaign called “stealthy freedoms”. Nowadays she visits any anti-woman politician she can find in the West, seeking their goodwill and support, from the ex-CIA director Pompeo to the despised president of France, Macron. She openly declares her strategy: Western imperialists should intervene in Iran. Another leading figure is Iranian-British Hollywood actor Nazanin Boniadi. She is a member of the executive committee of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, and a celebrity “ambassador” for Amnesty International since 2009. She also calls for economic sanctions as well as intervention by imperialist countries in Iran.
The march of hundreds of thousands abroad
Hamed Esmaeilion, a Canadian-Iranian author and dentist, is the lead organizer of the campaign for justice for the victims of the Ukraine-bound civilian airplane that was accidentally shot down by Iran in 2019. His family was among the victims. He was responsible for organizing the most massive demonstrations abroad in the last 43 years. An entire spectrum of groups participated in these demonstrations. From those who fight for the independence of Iranian Kurdistan to the South Azerbaijan movement, from monarchists to leftists, everyone attended these gatherings with their own flags, chanting their own slogans. Of course conflicts happened, but very rarely a group ever rejected to participate at all. It is in such demonstrations, the political affiliations and tendencies within the Iranian diaspora were clearly expressed.
The monarchy supporters have managed to attract some of the leading figures coming out of the revolts going on today. A striking example is the recent incident where, in addition to the aforementioned Masih Alinejad, Nazanin Boniadi and Hamed Esmaeilion, Ali Kerimi, a retired football player and a very influential public figure in Iran, all sent the exact same new year celebration message to the letter as that by shah Reza Pahlavi. (The photograph at the beginning of this article shows precisely that)
The opposition abroad as seen by Iranian people
The largely unorganized masses that fill the streets are well aware that there is no saviour but themselves. This is learned directly through the struggle in the streets. The pro-western media tries to deviate the uprising to a more passive stance, by pushing for diplomatic sanctions and declaring “political sponsorships” against executions, glossing over the militant actions of the people in the streets. But one fact is naked to the eye: the only power to stop these executions is the power of the people themselves. That is why, those who crawl from UN meetings to the parliaments of imperialist countries, whose sole purpose is to beg for military intervention, have no bearing in the minds of the people.
This is why Iranian people strive to build their own organizations, however small and local, in their neighbourhoods, workplaces, factories and schools.