We translated this article by comrades from Wildcat. Please feel free to check out our previous articles on class struggle in Iran, for example on recent teachers’ strikes, on oil workers’ protests and their significance, on migrant workers in Iran and their connection to Black Lives Matters, on regional uprisings in Khuzestan, on the wider regional context of class movements or the significant protest wave in 2009

Since 2009 there have been frequent mass protests in Iran. Nevertheless, on the 11th of February 2023, the mullahs’ regime was able to celebrate the 44th anniversary of the “Islamic Revolution” and Rasi could declare that “the Iranian people” had also “neutralised” the most recent movement. We don’t see the movement as “neutralised” yet – but before we go into that, a brief review of the movements of the last 15 years.

Faced with the effects of the global crisis of 2007/2008 and the collapse of the oil price, a broad protest movement against miserable living conditions emerged in 2009. Many had high hopes that the regime could be reformed by a victory for Mussawi in the presidential elections in June. When the incumbent Ahmadinejad was surprisingly declared the winner, many students, women and members of the middle class mobilised against it. One million people took to the streets, mainly in Tehran and some other major cities. Towards the end, street battles broke out with special police squads and Basij militias; 72 people were killed and several thousand arrested; many activists went into exile afterwards. The events were a harbinger of the 2011 upheavals in North African countries – the so-called ‘Arab Spring’.

At the end of December 2017, it was mainly the lower classes who took to the streets; the unemployed, slum dwellers, poor youth. The trigger was a 50% increase in petrol prices and the cutting of many subsidies with falling real wages and rising unemployment. A new generation emerged on the scene. They no longer put their hopes in the “reformers”; they also no longer used the form of large-scale demonstrations, but acted in small groups. There were attacks on banks, mosques and holy symbols. The mass protests spread beyond Tehran to about a hundred cities in many parts of the country. The revolt had no spokespeople and died down in mid-January 2018.

In November 2019, it was again an increase in petrol prices that sparked a wave of protests. The background was economic problems exacerbated by US sanctions. There were strikes at schools, universities and bazaars. Government buildings, police stations, a large oil depot and many banks were set on fire, and public facilities, transport hubs and businesses were blocked. The movement was concentrated in the suburbs and poor neighbourhoods. The regime shut down mobile phone networks and the internet, killing over a thousand people.

2021/2022 saw several movements in Iran, e.g. retired workers achieved a 38% increase in pensions. In addition, teachers mobilised across the country; contract workers in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries also protested – as well as peasants because of the water shortage, especially in the southern provinces.

The death of the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on the 16th of September coincided with this situation.

The current movement

Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the morality police in Tehran. Her family, who were visiting Tehran, resisted threats and bribes from the police apparatus to keep quiet about the incident. Doctors and hospital staff showed solidarity and journalists made the public aware of the case. The evening after Mahsa’s death, hundreds of people spontaneously gathered outside the hospital. The first chants of “Down with the dictator!” were heard. Thousands of people came to her funeral and the funeral service in the province of Kurdistan, despite the fact that the regime had used all kinds of tricks to keep the funeral small. Here and at the following demonstrations in the city of Saqqez, women took off their headscarves and shouted the slogan, “Woman, Life, Freedom!” The burning of headscarves and police cars and the chanting of this slogan spread to the smallest towns. The uprising combined with protests for more wages, against poverty, for water, against oppression.

The movement shows the blatant division between state and society. This division cuts across classes, the majority of the demonstrators are young and come from the working class or the impoverished middle class. What is new is their persistence. Since mid-November 2022, the large street protests have been declining, but the unrest has not ended. More and more people see no other way out of their economic situation. According to official figures, inflation was over 50% in early 2023, closer to 70% for food, especially in rural areas; statutory wage increases lagged far behind. The average wage recently increased by around 40%.

The veiling of women

The first major social controversy after Khomeini came to power in 1979 was about the headscarf. Khomeini had threatened women working in the public sector with dismissal if they did not wear an Islamic veil (hijab). Their protests and demonstrations started on the 8th of March 1979 with slogans such as, “We didn’t make a revolution to go backwards!” At the time these mobilisations were crushed within six days and the repression had significant social backing. [1]

While until then, many women in conservative rural areas still wore face veils that left only one eye uncovered, urban workers or students rejected the veil; already during the Shah’s regime the veil had been considered as backward. When the revolution took a turn towards political Islam in 1979, even large sections of the left did not oppose the social obligation for women to wear a hijab that left the face uncovered. For anti-imperialist reasons, many revolutionaries supported a return to their own (religious) roots and sought a synthesis of Marxism and Shiite Islam. For many, this also included covering women’s hair and, for men, covering their arms.

Overall, 75% of Iranians were in favour of the hijab back then – today it is the other way round. According to a poll conducted in June 2020, 58% do not think much of the hijab. A survey by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance even found that 70% disapprove of the obligation to wear a hijab. Non-religiosity has proliferated over the past 44 years. Even surveys by the regime show that Iran is one of the least religious countries in the region. And this is after more than four decades of mullah regime, which claims to have carried out the first ever Islamic revolution. [2]

The introduction of compulsory hijab was one of the regime’s most important founding acts and also the class compromise of 1979, symbolising the state’s claim to impose comprehensive control over relations between the sexes, family and birth policies, and sexual rights. Using the power of the patriarchal order, the regime tries to enforce a division of labour between the sexes that has become socially untenable. Women today are more educated than ever before (more than 70% of women over 25 have a secondary education; for men it is 76%). More women than men study (with a high proportion of mathematics and science subjects), but they are not allowed to hold many professions or offices, including the position of a judge. Women’s participation in the formal labour market is only 15% because in times of high unemployment, men are given preference for recruitment. The overwhelming majority of women remain trapped in domestic work, in the parental home or in marriage, and/or work in the informal sector; many earn their livelihood through prostitution.

Women are mainly expected to have children to compensate for the drastic decline in the birth rate. In recent decades Iran has undergone a faster demographic change than China. During the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, the regime had encouraged births with state subsidies. Khomeini wanted a “twenty million man army”. When the birth rate rose to 6.5 after the war, the regime introduced a policy of birth control with counselling centres and free contraception. Within a few years, however, births dropped dramatically to just over 2. President Ahmadinejad made a u-turn and introduced lavish subsidies for large families in 2010, with Khamenei calling birth control a Western conspiracy and the earlier measures a “mistake”. In 2014, Iran ended free contraception and passed a law that bans sterilisation/vasectomy, continues to allow fathers and religious judges to marry off underaged girls and subsidises additional births (surrogacy is perfectly legal in Iran). Although Khamenei has repeatedly stressed the need to have children over the last ten years (over 40 times, a rare record among world leaders), in 2021 the average number of children per family in Iran was about 1.69. (Source: UN; in Germany it is 1.53).

In 1979, no one thought the mullahs were capable of running a state – the left-wing revolutionaries vastly underestimated them. The regime has always cracked down on its opponents. Hundreds were shot and thousands arrested during street protests. In 1981-1985, an estimated 7900 political prisoners were executed, almost 5000 under Prime Minister Mussawi alone in the “great massacre” of 1988; the judge in charge at the time was the current President Raisi.

The feminist dimension of the uprising

There is more to this upheaval than, “the special role of women in the protests” and it does not only concern women. The self-organised protests led by them have led to profound changes in society. Here are a few highlights.

Women students are desegregating university lecture halls and cafeterias. At Alzahra University, which only admits women [3], female students protested against President Raisi’s visit and renamed their university Al Mahsa University.

Gohar Eshghi [4], an older working class woman from the traditional section of the population that is strict about dress code, speaks on Youtube, the picture of her son murdered in prison ten years ago (worker-blogger) in front of her. For the first time she takes off her hijab on camera because, “we have nothing to lose”. She no longer wants to follow a religion that kills people.

A group of women from the poorest, predominantly Sunni province of Balochistan, called Dasgoharan (Sisterhood), have issued several statements with demands. In the first, they object to the rape of a 15-year-old during interrogation and the organised mass shooting of over 91 people in Balochistan protesting against it. Earlier, a raped woman would have been killed by her family for bringing shame on them. But after the nationwide protests following the murder of Mahsa Amini, Baloch society would no longer remain silent after a rape. In their next statement, they attacked Sunni senior cleric Molavi Abdul Hamid. They said he had collaborated with the Iranian regime and the Taliban, and was a sexist who would not allow families to send their daughters to school.

Many young women oppose tendencies within society that try to push the uprising in a nationalist direction with slogans like, “Man, Fatherland, Prosperity” (which also appears in the famous song “Baraye”!)

This list can be continued at will – it shows how much has changed in the minds (of women and men) in recent years. [5] Women’s emancipation in Iran is not an import from the West! The protests are based on the knowledge that without the liberation of women, the liberation of society is not possible.

The contradictory existence of the Mullah regime

From the onset, the coalition of mullahs, bazaar capitalists, the so-called national bourgeoisie and the Islamist intelligentsia was confronted with a capitalism in crisis and a demanding proletariat. Despite its claim to provide for the people’s basic needs, the Iranian economy since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988 has been a story of wage cuts and the removal of state subsidies. The regime switched from war economy to neoliberalism. Under the presidency of the “moderate” Rafsanjani (ayatollah and entrepreneur) 1989-1997, state property was privatised on a massive scale, catering mainly to his own clientele.

Iran is not the rule of a clerical-commercial complex [6], but a capitalist state with paramilitary protection and theocratic rule [7]. Characteristic is the existence of a dual structure at all levels: Military, political and economic.


Iran is a republic with a parliament and a president as head of government, elected by the people. The admission of only a few candidates and the veto power of religious institutions guarantee conservative politics. Society is divided into ‘one of ours’ khodi – loyal to the system – or ‘one of theirs’ qeyr-e khodi – enemy of the system. Essential power lies with the Waliye Faghih, the ‘Ruling Jurist’ Khamenei. Elected for life by the ‘Council of Experts’ in 1989 as Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor, he has succeeded in expanding his power considerably. He is not only the supreme religious and political leader, without whose consent no candidate is nominated for elections, but commander-in-chief of both the regular army and the Revolutionary Guard. Politically, he controls the country’s domestic and foreign policy with his Revolutionary Leader’s Office, a kind of ‘Politburo’.

The fact that this regime is still in power cannot be explained by its repressive severity alone. It has shown great flexibility in class alliances: it won the support of basaris, landowners, industrialists and bureaucrats of modern capitalism. The arch-conservative Khamenei also has the ability to make speeches about any kind of subject or social development. His leader’s office is always discussing the situation and balancing power between the different political currents. Islamic understanding includes welfare for the poor and oppressed as well as a certain protection and support of the masses. In line with this self-image, there is a kind of welfare state with a statutory wage system and regular wage increases. The education system has been massively expanded. Ahmadinejad even set up a kind of basic income. As long as the oil rent kept flowing, this could be financed and until 2009 it largely ensured political calm. Only the global economic crisis created a break with the status quo.


The mullahs learned from the experience of 1979, when the army declared itself neutral and some even actively supported the uprising. Therefore, on Khomeini’s orders, a separate Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran) was set up parallel to the army and the state police, committed to the goals of the Islamic revolution. In the Iran-Iraq war, they and especially their underage volunteers played an important role. While this guard initially had the character of a militia, it is now an elite unit for the defence of the regime. Like the regular army, the Pasdaran have an army, air force, navy, the Quds Brigade for foreign missions and intelligence services operating at home and abroad. Men over 19 can do their two-year military service with the army or apply to join the Pasdaran. It is said that only 50,000 out of 400,000 applicants are taken each year. Since it came out that large parts of the Pasdaran had supported the reform wing candidate in the 2009 elections, ideological schooling has been an essential part of the training.

The Pasdaran include the Basij militia, of which an estimated 90,000 are fully paid and another 300,000 form a network of informers in a wide variety of workplaces. When needed, they are summoned by the regime via SMS for missions.

In the mid-2000s, there were one million former Pasdaran. Many of them sit in parliament, run foundations or businesses. The Pasdaran is not a unified political body, but rather a network of personal relationships. The ‘brotherhood’ functions for elite recruitment and upward mobility.

Almost the entire leadership cadre of the country belongs to the generation that was imprisoned several times under the Shah or fought in the war against Iraq.

The ruling class consists of about 200,000 families who have amassed great fortunes as private entrepreneurs or administrators of foundations, who pass posts to each other, who have their children study abroad. Under the Shah’s regime, there were perhaps 200 families.

Economic structure

Under Ahmadinejad in particular, who had a Pasdaran majority in his government, the Pasdaran were able to build up their own economic empire, which today is second only to the Shah in terms of turnover. Their conglomerate of companies produces one to two thirds of the GDP; its approximately 800 companies are active in all key industrial sectors, build industrial plants and the Tehran metro, operate mines, control large parts of the infrastructure such as 60 ports and a dozen airports – and thus also the import and export of undeclared goods as well as the drug trade; the Iranian regime is the world champion in evading sanctions.

The USA has been sanctioning Iran for four decades. Paradoxically, the country is being marginalised and at the same time part of the world economic system. Even though the share of industrial production in GDP is increasing, revenues from oil sales still play the central role. The National Oil Company is the largest economic entity. Oil rents are distributed by the ruling elites through patronage networks and form the social basis of their power.

The private sector comes third; it generates a quarter to a third of the GDP, but provides four-fifths of the jobs. Capital-intensive industries are under government control, while labour-intensive production is privately organised.

The fourth most important economic unit is the clerical-commercial complex, a network of parastatal religious foundations (bonyad) loyal to the Supreme Leader. They control one-fifth of the GDP. They emerged from the confiscation of assets from the former ruling class and the Pahlavi family. The Bonyads pay no taxes and are subsidised by the state. In education, culture and the social sector, they form a parallel network to the state system.

No reliable figures are published on the economic and financial operations of the foundations or the Pasdaran complexes. The enormous informal sector is estimated to employ at least four million people. [8]


Economic development has stalled since 2011. Revenues from oil sales have declined massively. Due to US sanctions, Iran has lost $450 billion since 2012. Today, it sells a barrel of oil seven dollars cheaper than Russia.

In the joint gas field with Qatar, the main customer China is increasingly relying on Qatar as a partner because Iran is struggling to keep up with technological development. Governments have emptied pension funds and bank reserves, leaving little for productive state investment. To deal with the structural budget deficit, the money supply has been increased, setting off an inflationary spiral.

In his speeches for a “resistance economy”, Khamenei repeatedly calls for an increase in production and the necessary decoupling from the West. In fact, petrochemical capacity has been increased from 52 to 94 million tonnes in the last ten years. This has made the country less dependent on imports of refined products, which it can now export instead of crude oil. Almost one third of the refined products are consumed domestically, and more than 60 million tonnes are exported. Steel production has also been expanded: from January to November 2022, the country produced 27.9 million tonnes of steel, 8.5% more than the previous year.

The US sanctions, and with them the loss of important markets to Saudi Arabia or even Russia, have reduced the regime’s official revenues. A lack of foreign exchange reserves (the IMF put them at $122 billion in 2018 and $13 billion in 2020) and exclusion from the Swift international payments system have forced the country to barter.

In 2020, Gilbert Achcar called the conflict between Iran and the USA “a useful enmity”, resembling a sabre dance that on the one hand is a confrontation between supposed enemies, but on the other requires perfect interplay between the protagonists. Both sides benefit from the confrontation and both sides have an interest in its continuation. [9] However, this game of the USA can also tip over very quickly, as shown by the statements of US Secretary of State Blinken, who on the 30th of January 2023 did not rule out military action against Iran. [10] 

The explosion in the cost of living

Since 2018, the national currency, the Rial (ten Rials are one Toman), has fallen tenfold against the US Dollar. This is actually beneficial for the state and state-related capital because they earn Dollars from the export of petroleum and petrochemical products, but pay government expenses in Rial. For private companies and small traders, however, it is devastating. A more favourable exchange rate especially provided for small and medium-sized businesses was abolished by President Raisi. Many rich Iranians prefer to buy real estate, e.g. in Turkey, instead of investing the money productively. There is a continuous outflow of private capital (estimated at $15 billion annually), at the same time as an inability to attract foreign capital and inefficiency in state investment.

Food prices have risen an average of 7.5 times in the last five years. The annual poverty report shows an increase in poverty and unemployment. A strong increase in unemployment was registered especially among young people and university graduates. The middle class is also impoverished. In this situation, President Raisi wants to raise the retirement age. The explosion of the cost of living in Iran has led to an increase in the number of Iranian refugees.


One month after the start of the uprising, the phrase “Don’t call this a protest, it’s a revolution” – a word that had a very negative connotation after the “Islamic Revolution” – appeared en masse in slogans as well as in tweets. Even academic authorities like Asaf Bayat have switched to revolution. As late as 2010, he wrote that the question of revolution was now over, and came up with the new and soon forgotten neologism “refo-lution.” [11] In the Arab world, it is not uncommon for people to call their uprisings “revolution”: the 25th of January Revolution 2011 in Egypt, December Revolution 2018 in Sudan, October Revolution 2019 in Lebanon and Iraq…, but so far this did not happen in Iran. Meanwhile, people talk ad nauseam about “revolution”. Even ex-emperor Farah Diba-Pahlavi said on the German public television channel ZDF: “There’s a revolution going on there right now.” Obviously, not everyone means the same thing by the word.

The people on the street want to express that their patience (for reforms) is over and that it is not just about the headscarf, but about the whole system. But how can “the whole system” be changed? A mere political “revolution” (1989) or a mere economic upheaval (China, Cuba, Eastern bloc after 1945) is not enough. On the contrary, for the exploiting and oppressing class, the possibility of securing its rule lies in this separation of the political and the economic. 

However, the ‘political’ option is blocked for the regime in the current constellation and in today’s world situation: a constituent assembly like in Chile in 2021 is out of the question. It is not even possible for them to lift the headscarf law. Together with the anti-Israeli stance and anti-Americanism, it is one of the immovable pillars of the Islamic Republic. If these are shaken, there is a danger that the whole system will collapse. The regime does not want to show weakness – it has burnt into its memory that on the 5th of November 1978 the last Shah said on television, trembling slightly: “I have heard the message of your revolution, Iranian nation.” After that, his fall was unstoppable; he fled the country on the 16th of January 1979.

Despite the long duration of the protests, only a minority of the society participate in them so far. The hope that in the course of the movement a critical mass would emerge that would pose a real threat to the regime has not materialised. The regime’s strategy of attrition to gain time was directed against this hope. After its initial rigidity, it has used the tactic – whether voluntarily or forced – of letting things run their course at least to a certain degree. In Tehran today, many women no longer cover their hair. But they wear a scarf for safety, which they can quickly pull over their heads should the police check them. The vice squad has stopped patrolling. Nevertheless, women who do not drive covered up get a threatening text message on their phone, identified by the number plate.

The credo from the beginning was toughness. But the shooting of the 91 peaceful protesters on “Black Friday”, the 30th of September 2022 in Zahedan drew sharp criticism even from a section of the clergy. They feared for the first time that the protests taking place all over the country could get out of control.

The following is an overview given by a small leftist group: “So far, 575 people have been killed. Of these, 104 were children under 18, with an average age of 15. Of those killed over 18, the age of only half is known. The average age of these 236 people is 30. We do not have exact information about the average age of the participants or those arrested. According to the observations of comrades in the demos, it was around 35 years.”

The number of injured cannot be determined, estimates speak of over 5,000. Just over 20,000 people were arrested. In addition, 68 members of the repressive forces were killed, mostly Basiji. It is a characteristic of the current uprising that the demos defend themselves against the attacks of the cops. Basiji usually ride two-by-two on a motorbike through the crowd, and the man on the back seat thrashes the crowd with a baton. But they are also easily attacked. Many times people have brought down the motorbikes and set them on fire. The state responded with shots into the crowd, many arrests and had several young men executed after summary trials for “murder” or “war against God”.

The song “Baraye”, composed of tweets, became the soundtrack of the uprising. The tweets criticise the imprisonments, the collapsed houses, the polluted air, the poverty. They express everyday demands, the longing for light-heartedness, a better future and a “normal life”. But what is a normal life anyway? [12]

Working class

The idea of a possible revolution is linked to 1979, when the ongoing oil workers’ strikes finally led to the overthrow of the Shah. Every now and then the old ideas of workers’ councils flash up. But today’s society is different in many ways. Back then, Iran had 37.2 million inhabitants; today it has 87.9 million, 75% of whom live in cities. The number of wage earners has grown far more than the population as a whole. The importance of the working class and its composition have changed. This is also true of the oil workers: their numbers have grown significantly, but their organisations have been smashed. Only a third of them are still permanently employed by the oil ministry; two thirds are contract workers. In other industries, too, most work on temporary contracts or even ‘blank’ contracts that can be terminated at any time. The crushing of many attempts to organise, combined with layoffs and job insecurity, has led labour activists to speak of an “absolute disorganisation” of workers today.

Since the beginning of the protests, the hashtag “general strike” has been widely used on social media. In the first weeks, there were reports of strikes in the oil industry and of shopkeepers – especially in Kurdistan – in numerous bazaars. When the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers’ Unions called a nationwide strike on the 23rd and 24th of October, many were excited. Even before the uprising, the teachers’ movement had called on families, students and teachers to organise education outside of the control of the state. There were two other important strikes in Esfahan Steel Company – the largest producer of structural steel and rails in Iran with 16,000 workers – and a warning strike-like gathering and demonstration in the oil and gas industries (in at least 16 major factories and regions) – but all these strikes remained very limited. The oil and gas workers were protesting because a law on wage increases has not been implemented for ten years, “while the 20% increase in security forces’ salaries is approved by parliament within an hour.” So they were rather insisting on their particular rights. Production or service delivery was hardly affected by the strikes. Steelworkers in Isfahan went on strike and demonstrated outside their factory on the 15th of November – after days of preparations – but ended their action the next day after receiving a large one-off payment. Meanwhile, contractors are being asked by the authorities to pay wages that have been outstanding for months before any protests take place.

Gas and oil workers employed directly by the oil ministry earn five to ten times the minimum wage. Those who get a job here have not only been specially screened by employers, but also have many privileges. But it also seems that many low-paid and dissatisfied workers are pushing the skilled workers to use their power. The gas platform workers do not want to block gas deliveries to the population, but they refuse to document the quantities delivered.

Informal work

The following example illustrates how the situation of informal workers, as well as the workshops that employ them, has deteriorated over the last five years.

Many informal workshops are set up on the outskirts of cities. They exploit the cheap labour of women, especially single women living in poverty. Maryam is one of these women, she works as a day labourer in a vegetable cleaning workshop on the outskirts of Tehran. Her salary is less than five million Tomans a month (the official minimum wage for a worker with one child should be 6.3 million Tomans a month in 2022). There is no insurance, no work uniform, no food or transport services. She is an example of thousands of women in the country’s informal economy. She has had many temporary, seasonal jobs over the last five years. First in a sewing workshop for women, which she thought was one of the best jobs because the entrepreneur was also a woman and so better understood the conditions of working women; but the workshop closed because of bankruptcy and the import of cheap Chinese clothes. Then, in an agricultural workshop where the work was very hard, then in a fish farm which was closed after a few months, and now cleaning vegetables in Tehran.

“I leave the house at five in the morning by minibus. My food is usually bread and cheese, and by the time I get home it has gone dark. I have two children to feed. I am a single mother and live with my children in a 30-square-metre flat.” 

Women in the outskirts and more remote places are also constantly at risk of fatal road accidents on their way to work, even more than work accidents; road accidents that kill several women workers are commonplace in Iran.

(Parts of the report by Nasrin Hazare Moghadam, Source: ILNA, Iranian Labour News Agency.)

The Iranian Diaspora

The slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” has the broadest support among Iranians abroad. In the German left magazine Analyse und Kritik, an observer wrote enthusiastically about the “new progressive milieu” and the joint demonstration in Berlin: Kurds and monarchists, “all together”; the “Iranian opposition abroad” is “politically diverse, as in every society. (…) Of course, there are also political groups that can be classified as reactionary. You can’t expect people in Iran or in the diaspora to present a kind of political organisation that is easily digestible or easily understood by the Western public.” [13] A sea of national flags (dating back to before 1979), which no one uses in Iran, appeared at the demos. Anarchists ran together with monarchists – left-wing German newspapers cheered this too.

The diaspora in North America and Europe is not a reflection of Iranian society. The four million exiled Iranians – they like to put themselves at eight million – have a very different social composition. Before the 1979 revolution, the typical Iranians in Germany were students, carpet dealers and doctors; after 1979, political and left-wing refugees, workers and deserters from the Iran-Iraq war. Today, many have risen to the educated middle class or have become entrepreneurs through capital flight from Iran. Many are in the media or belong to the political class. And some are offering themselves as an alternative to the Iranian regime – currently the monarchists under Reza Pahlavi (with his slogan “reconquer Iran”), the People’s Mujahedin [14] and newer organisations – siding with foreign powers. Among the exiled Iranians, quite a few believe that only a military strike from outside can remove the hated regime. Very many want to see tougher action against Iran. This is where they meet the ambitions of Western governments. Even left-wing exiled Iranians are arguing about the demand to put the Revolutionary Guards on the terror list. Sure, the Pasdaran must be abolished, but to call for a tightening of Western sanctions policy is cynical of the people of Iran!

As someone who was in prison under the Shah, lived underground for years under the Mullah regime and had to leave the country, but has relatives and friends there, I feel much more threatened than before from two sides: the regime and the pro-Western opposition. It is no longer only the monarchists and the People’s Mujahideen who are arguing for US and Western interference, but also large parts of the groups that advocate for a secular republic. And now a significant part of the left-wing Iranians come up with the argument that “today no revolution is realistically possible without the USA or the West” – what kind of revolution is that, please?!

On the “44th anniversary of the 1979 revolution” [15], 20 “trade union and civil society organisations in Iran”, some of which have been publicly active for more than ten years and whose well-known spokesmen are almost all in prison, issued a “Charter of Minimum Demands”. These minimum demands range from the dissolution of repressive organs to the confiscation of the property of all state and semi-state institutions. The charter says little about the theoretical and practical challenges of the movement(s) in Iran, especially little about (further) practical steps such as organising the working class. Some important organisations like the bus drivers’ union are also missing. For the large mass of protestors and rebels, the charter does not have much meaning. What is important for many on the left is that it is directed against the monarchists.

The question of power

With the Chiapas uprising, the slogan “change the world without seizing power” (Holloway) became popular. Since then, many movements have described themselves as “leaderless”. However, in reality (e.g. in Egypt in 2011), old or new (often trade union) leaders were in charge in the background, and leaders (e.g. of the Muslim Brotherhood) came to power in the end. Today, the term ‘leaderless’ movements is used less and less; instead, people are talking about the question of organisation and the question of power again. The movements have cleared the way to think about class struggle and the formation of ‘proletarian power’ – from strike to insurrection, as the organisation of struggle and life.

What is happening in Iran is not isolated from what is happening in the rest of the world. To claim that it is only a struggle against the veil is not only simplistic but downright insulting – and reinforces the idea that “in the Western value system” women are free and Iran is a remote island. “I have the impression that young Iranians are protesting for the same reasons that we should take to the streets. … Maybe solidarity doesn’t mean cutting your hair, but doing something to destroy the existing world order. Until that happens, any change in Iran, now or in the future, will take place within the same system of oppression,” [16] wrote a woman from Italy after her visit to Iran in autumn 2022.

Currently, small demos are still taking place here and there, and larger ones in Balochistan. Likewise, other forms of protest continue, such as chanting slogans from windows after dark. The causes of the uprising have deepened, and the current lull may only be temporary.

Meanwhile, in some neighbourhoods – especially in Kurdistan – committees are forming with names like “Revolutionary Youth”, similar to the resistance committees in the current movement in Sudan. They present their activities in Telegram groups – and discuss, among other things, the “rule of the councils”.

All these are rays of hope and new hopes for an end to our defeat at the hands of the Islamic counterrevolution. They give us hope that someday not “normal” but real life will become possible. Overthrowing the government could facilitate this, but given the crisis of the Western liberal democratic system and the lessons from Tunisia to Afghanistan, overthrowing the regime would be far from the end of the story.



1978: Revolutionary movements in Iran

16th of January 1979: The Shah leaves the country 1.2: Khomeini returns 8.3: Women’s demo; mid-March referendum: Monarchy or Islamic Republic 4.11: Islamist students occupy the US Embassy and take 66 hostages (for 444 days) – to prevent US intervention and gain the upper hand against leftist hegemony in the revolutionary movement. New referendum confirming the new state order with extraordinary powers for Khomeini as ruling jurist. Clash with the independent workers’ organisations, Islamic councils are established against workers’ councils.

December 1979: Soviet troops invade Afghanistan against Islamists.

16th of July 1979: Resignation of Iraqi President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. Saddam Hussein is now sole ruler.

March 1980: Strikes are banned by law. Harsh repression against workers, women and ethnic minorities – they are the first victims of the revolution.

1980: Khomeini’s “revolution export policy”. He threatens to export the Islamic revolution to the other countries of the Middle East. On the 8th of April 1980, he calls for the overthrow of the regime in Iraq.

September 1980: The Iran-Iraq war begins after months of provocations and border clashes between the two sides with the invasion of Saddam Hussein, to which the Islamic Republic responds with mass mobilisation. Child soldiers and the cult of martyrs. When one side has the upper hand, it refuses to negotiate and focuses on conquest.

1981-1985: 23.9 billion dollars worth of weapons are delivered to Iraq, 6.4 billion dollars worth to Iran. 16 countries, including France, the USA, the USSR and the United Kingdom, deliver to both warring parties. Amongst other countries, Germany and Saudi Arabia exclusively deliver to Iraq. Greece and Israel, among other countries, supply weapons only to Iran. Israel was responsible for over 80 per cent of Iranian arms imports at the beginning of the war.

Expansion of the Revolutionary Guards from 7,000 to 200,000 plus militias.

20th of August 1988: End of the war. One million people have died. Javad Mansouri, the first commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said in October 2017: “If there had been no war, the Islamic Revolution would have been lost. … With the war, we were able to destroy the counter-revolution at home.”

29th of  July 1988: Start of mass execution of political prisoners in Iran on Khomeini’s instructions during the reign of Prime Minister Hossein Mussawi.

3rd of  June 1989: Death of Khomeini. He is succeeded as Supreme Leader by Khamenei.

1989-1997: Presidency of Rafsanjani (“moderate”). Neoliberal privatisation policy.

1997-2005: Presidency Khatami (“reformist”).

2005-2009: Presidency Ahmadinejad (“hardliner”).

Re-election 2009: “Green Movement” against electoral fraud  

It is worth reading the Iran articles since Wildcat 85 again! All collected in the dossier Iran on the Wildcat website.



[1] Thus the hijab became compulsory in government and public office. It was not until July 1981 that a decree making the hijab compulsory for all women in public was introduced, followed by an Islamic penal code in 1983.

[2] According to the June 2020 survey “Iranians’ Attitudes Towards Religion”, 78 percent of the population said they believed in God, but about half said they had lost their religion. About 60 percent said they do not pray, and only 27 percent pray at prescribed times. 68 percent believe that religious prescriptions should be excluded from state legislation, and only 14 percent want state laws to conform to religious prescriptions without exception.

[3] The originally private college for girls underwent several renamings: in 1975 to Farah Pahlavi University, after the revolution to Mahbubeh Motahedin University after a member of the People’s Mujahideen, in 1983 to Fātima al Zahra after the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.

[4] On English Wikipedia there is a detailed article on Gohar Eshghi.

[5] Unlike in the past, the people who have been killed, executed or arrested during the current protests hardly ever have religious names. From Navid to Mahsa-Jina, to name those who have become known around the globe, their names express hope, joy of life and refer to the future, instead of looking backwards.

[6] Ali Fatollah-Nejad: Iran in an Emerging New World Order, 2021.

[7] Cyrus Bina: Globalization and the Decline of American Power, 2022.

[8] Iran is missing from the latest ILO data on the informal sector – 61.2 percent of the world’s workforce work in the so-called informal sector.

[9] Gilbert Achcar: “USA und Iran – eine nuetzliche Feindschaft“, Le Monde diplomatique, 13th of February 2020. The article describes the various stages of indirect cooperation, especially under Republican administrations, such as arms supplies via Israel in 1981 to prolong the war with Iraq, in the course of the Iran-Contra affair in 1985/86, etc. This allowed Iran, with the help of its exported and local forces, to extend its control along a geopolitical axis from the Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean.

[10] Let us recall how the procedure with Saddam Hussein developed. First the USA drove him into the eight-year war against Iran with a total of one million dead; then they let him occupy Kuwait – only to destroy Iraq and kill Saddam Hussein. In the case of Iran, there are always provocations, such as the targeted killing of the commander of the Quds Brigades of the Pasdaran Soleimani three years ago. A provocation that the Iranian leadership did not act on.

[11] See the review of Leben als Politik in Wildcat 94.

[12] Millions of fans rightly see the song as an expression of the critical attitude of the majority of Iranian society, but from its content and even its form, it also reflects the liberal ideology that dominates Iranian society. It is fitting that it was awarded a Grammy.

[13] Mina Khani in: ak 687, 15.11.22.

[14] Currently, “3,000 Iranian People’s Mujahedin live with their families in a hermetically sealed camp near the port city of Durrös in Albania. After things had become too dicey in Iraq due to Tehran’s growing influence, Washington desperately sought a new exile for Iran’s largest foreign organisation. Until September 2016, the People’s Mujahedin were gradually settled in Albania. For the White House, and notably then-security adviser John Bolton, the group henceforth represented a kind of government-in-exile – the group of people from whom the government would be recruited once the Iranian regime was overthrown.” Le Monde diplomatique, February 2023.

[15] On the “Bahman uprising”, see Wildcat 87.

[16] Rosa Golestan, “Note di viaggio in Iran” (Travel Notes on Iran), in Lo stato delle Città No. 9. http://sdc.napolimonitor.it/numero-9/indice-n9/