Which solidarity with the arrested workers of Haft Tapeh?

A contribution for discussion

The following article from the ‘Arbeidersstemmen’ blog presents some reflections on the actual resumption of proletarian struggles in Iran; on certain echoes to the regime’s persistent attempts at cruelly repressing their upsurge, and on some political lessons to take. It proposes a number of urgent questions for discussion among internationalists.

Since the arrests on Saturday 17 November of two spokesmen of the workers of the sugar cane plantation and factory at Haft Tapeh, Mohsen Armand  and Ismail Bakhshi (on the photo:  left and second from left in the front row), and two other people, including a female reporter, from all sides appeals for solidarity with the prisoners have been published, from petitions to the Ayatollah government of Iran for their release, (1) to appeals for human and trade union rights. Sources speak of the arrest of 20 people during a peaceful demonstration in the town of Shûsh by Haft Tapeh workers and their families on Sunday 18 November. Of those arrested, 15 persons are reported to have been released on bail. The five people still being held are four Haft Tapeh workers (including the two spokesmen mentioned above) and an activist from the nearby town of Ahvâz, Sepideh Ghaliyan (not on the photo). The latter had already been arrested in February 2017. Ismail Bakhshi and other spokesmen are known to have been attacked by “unidentified” persons during their commitment to the long struggle of the Haft Tapeh workers for months of non-payment of wages.

Initially, the last five detainees were also to be released on bail, pending suspicion of “disturbing public order”. But later, the authorities declared that they were kept in prison for“investigating” the accusation of “endangering national security”. (2) The fate of those arrested is unknown. In the courageous speeches to his fellow workers, especially his call for an independent grass-roots organization of the workers, which he explicitly named Soviet (Workers’ Council), Ismail Bakhshi knew that he not only risked his life, but also a horrible death by torture. Since the rise of the current wave of strikes and demonstrations on the streets against all political factions of the regime, and evermore clearly directed against the wars in the Middle East in which the regime participates, the Ayatollah regime has made use of mysterious armed gangs of “unidentified” persons who at night pick up hundreds of proletarians suspected of participating in the struggle to make them disappear without a trace, or to have them be found in the river or somewhere along the road, tortured to death. Ismail Bakhshi has stated during a demonstration:

“This is my will , if I am dead , no one should bury my dead body , just carry the empty coffins” (3)…back to the factory (according to other sources). With this he explicitly laid his fate, his dead body and the cowardly disappearance thereof, his mission for the liberation of the working class in the hands of the workers’ masses themselves. In doing so, he expressed explicitly, and in the best revolutionary traditions, what the working class of the Middle East spits in the face to their oppressors, their exploiters and imperialist warlords: We are dying from starvation and war, you have taught us to lose all fear for you!

Until now, the regime has not dared to kill militants so well-known to the workers of Iran and the whole world like Ismail Bakhshi. Historical experience teaches us that the state often keeps such persons under lock and key to bring them out as celebrated martyrs in a final attempt to stop the rising proletarian mass struggle. (4) Did Bakhshi feel this when he said “Our alternative is a Soviet, a collective alternative. We are not focused on individuals and; we do not want individualism”? (5) The workers of Shûsh, who protested in the street on Monday[November 19, 2018] against his arrest, expressed this insight by saying: “They arrested Ismail. But we are all Bakhshi”, “Away with the oppressor,long live the worker!” (6)

Solidarity through recourse to civil rights or by developing workers’ struggles?

The revolutionary martyrdom, as a form of bourgeois personal policy, does indeed give the opportunity to hide the proletarian class content that the victims previously expressed as a living expression of the workers’ struggle behind sacred indignation and emotional appeals. Without going into all the details, here are a few examples of the false paper solidarity proposed by the bourgeois left and what the workers’ struggles in the Middle East have actually put forward:

  • The fact that Haft Tapeh was founded by the state in the 1950s and later privatized, has led to discussions among workers about the best alternative. This is used by the Trotskyists of Lutte Ouvrière to put forward their state capitalist choice for workers’ control. Wisely Lutte Ouvrière is keeps silent about what Ismail Bhakshi has said about the alternative of private or state ownership of means of production: “If you have put your hopes on the state’s help, if your hope lies with the private sector, I do not know, but if you hope that someone else will come to rescue us, let me put your mind at rest. It’s going to be the same, it will be the same soup and the same bowl all over again. (…) Our alternative is a Soviet, a collective one.” (7)
  • Iran News Wire brings forward the trade union Haft Tapeh Sugar Mill Workers’ Union. (8) It is to be expected that the defense of trade union rights will soon be called for as a form of solidarity. This sound usually comes from both the state-recognized trade unions as well as from the smaller organizations that are ready to take over their role once the former have unmasked themselves in the eyes of the workers. However, the struggle at Haft Tapeh is characterized by the attempt of the workers to form an alternative form of organization for the expansion and deepening of their struggle, workers’ councils, as known from the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and from the German revolution of 1918. 
  • Finally, the solidarity in the form of petitions and demonstrations at the embassy, which Marxist-Humanists in the USA call for. As it happens to appear in the mass media – regardless of the intentions – the oppressors and exploiters, either those of Iran, or those of Iran’s great imperialist opponent, the Trump government, are called upon. It should also be noted that News and Letters recently went so far as to publish a “discussion article” by Anti-War Committees in Solidarity with the Struggles for Self-Determination without any further commentary, in which the author, after having twisted himself – very “dialectically” – in all sorts of ways, concludes: “Without humanitarian intervention, the fatal end could be provided for in one revolutionary stronghold after another.” (9)

 In Haft Tapeh’s struggle, by contrast, a completely different solidarity was expressed by the workers: that of unification with the struggle of the workers of the nearby steel industry, of the proletariat of the whole of Iran. When this happens and when the struggle is organized by workers’ councils, it will serve as a shining example for the workers in the Middle East to put an end to imperialist massacres going on for decades. What is happening in Iran, in Iraq, in Jordan, in the struggle against the crisis and the war, has the potential to grow into similar proletarian revolutions as those in Russia and Germany during and after the First World War. Proletarian solidarity only lies with the development of the workers’ struggle, in Iran,in the Middle East, all over the world. This also requires understanding other important issues that in 2018 emerged in the struggle itself.

Some clarifications that the struggle in Iran brought to issues that divide the communist Lefts

Firstly, the struggle in Iran has shown differences in the slogans put forward during the street demonstrations. This has made it clear that there are different views within the proletariat, and that in the course of “economic” struggles, ideas about the purpose and means of the struggle may evolve towards political class goals. Finally, it has also been shown that this development can take place in the absence of organized minorities on the basis of proletarian political positions. This is a refutation of certain Leninist (10) as well as of anarchist and certain council communist positions. (11)

Contrary to what some present council communists claim, following Otto Rühle, the positive role of these elements in the working class has demonstrated the importance of consciousness in the class. They are the beginning of a vanguard of the working class because of their daring and their keen understanding of the class struggle, which can persuade and encourage their more backward class members in discussions and in the struggle.

Today’s larger and smaller groups – sometimes rather sects – that rely on the positions of the historical Communist Left (12) are faced with the challenge of testing the different positions they have inherited from the past against the Praxis of the class struggle. This requires an open attitude in discussion, both internally and externally, an attitude that is totally alien to most of them. Yet their fate is decided by the development of the class struggle towards what may approach and hopefully exceed the level of the wave of proletarian revolutions of 1917 – 1923. Those positions that will not find a connection, a hearing in the emerging vanguard of the working class, and that are not useful for the whole class to expand and deepen its struggle, will be swept away in the struggle. (13)

The signs are not very hopeful. While signals are coming from the Middle East similar to those during World War I, the current groups and individuals are not even able to create a new Zimmerwald, let alone a new International. For example, there was the Call of Militants in Iraqi Kurdistan for a conference and the creation of a preliminary organization. However weak the formulations may have been, the appeal – from a group that nobody seems to know –responded to the rise of proletarian struggle in the Middle East, but remained almost without a response. (14)

Without answering here all the questions that arise, I will list issues that need to be discussed urgently, given the struggle in the Middle East:

  1. Is the working class of Western Europe and North America still the heart of the world proletariat, given the relocation of production and imperialist forces to Asia in particular?
  2. In the 1970s and 1980s, a development of the workers’ struggle seemed to be expected in response to the economic crisis. This in contrast to the revolutionary period 1917-1923. Now both crisis and war are the fate of the proletariat.
  3. In the Middle East, economic struggle easily turns into political struggle against the state. But how do we get from repeated revolt to a conscious insurrection that destroys the state?
  4. The working class in Iran has proven to start moving independently and is trying to maintain its independence from other classes. But also the ‘bazari’ and students are moving. What attitudes of the proletariat are possible towards the “intermediate classes” in different phases of the struggle? This partly in the light of the “peasant”- question in Russia.
  5. The workers’ struggle is also stirring up forms of oppression and resistance that are older than capitalism, especially of women and religion. What do we see in Iran and Iraq?
  6. The long-standing debate of the struggle on the streets versus that of the enterprises is emerging… and is being clarified by the rise of a workers’ council. (15)
  7. How will the armed struggle develop? Can the working class count on the support of groups and militias (‘Volksmarinedivision’ and Eichhorn’s police forces in the German Revolution, militants in Iraqi Kurdistan, Rojava, groups of fighters in the Syrian conflict)?

Fredo Corvo, November 25, 2018

Source: Nuevo Curso’: Arbeidersraden in Iran, is er een revolutie aan de gang?,Arbeidersstemmen’, November 23, 2018; https://arbeidersstemmen.wordpress.com/2018/11/23/nuevo-curso-arbeidersraden-in-iran-is-er-een-revolutie-aan-de-gang/

Translation: F.C., 25 November 27, 2018. Proofreading: H.C., November 29, 2018

‘Arbeidersstemmen’ would like to discuss these points. Participate by sending in your contribution.



1 Change.org, We Ask for the Immediate Release of Ismail Bakhshi and the Three Other Arrestees.

2 Voanews.com, 21-11-2018, Iran Accuses 5 Activists Held in Labor Protest of Security Offenses.

3 Iran Watch Canada, 19-11-2018, Video, Ismail Bakhshi Leader Of ” Haft Tapeh ” Workers in The City Of Shoosh ….. Speaks With Workers And Their Families In Front Of The Governor’s Building.

4 As happened just before the Shah regime fell, an event that is largely unknown to the younger generations in Iran itself.

5 Among others in Nuevo CursoSoviets en Irán: ¿Hay una revolución en marcha?

6 D. Mathieu, 21-11-2018, in Lutte Ouvrière, Iran: 5 700 ouvriers en grève.

7 Nuevo Curso, Idem.

8 A. Nima, Iran News Wire, 18-11-2018: 19 Iran sugarcane mill labor activists detained on 14th day of workers’ strike

9 David, Anti-War Committees in Solidarity with the Struggles for Self-Determination, From the September-October 2018 issue of News & Letters, Discussion article: The Left’s response to Syrian genocide.

10 F.C. The movement in Iran is a practical refutation of Leninism; a critique of the positions defended by some groups of the communist Left [https://afreeretriever.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/the-movement-in-iran-is-a-practical-refutation-of-leninism/]

11 “Politics” means in relation to the state and its destruction, and not the equation by Otto Rühle’s followers of any form of politics with bourgeois politics.

12 Communist Left, first within and later outside of the stalinized Communist Parties and the Trotskyist organizations, especially those of Italy, Spain/Mexico, Germany and the Netherlands.

13 For the question of the vanguard and the party see: Nuevo Curso, Qué es el partido.

14 Tridni Valka, Afterword – Once upon a time there was an appeal for an international meeting in Kurdistan…

15 Forum ICC, Street protests amid the barbarity of capitalism (Jordan, Iraq, Iran…).