The Iranian marathon to freedom

From the March-April 2011 issue of News & Letters:

The Iranian marathon to freedom

After nearly 14 months of apparent “quiescence,” once again Iranian cities erupted into street demonstrations, shocking the powers that be who had imagined, in their false consciousness, that the movement is all but dead!

Thus on Feb. 14 hundreds of thousands in cities throughout Iran came out to express their solidarity with the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions in the only meaningful way possible: mass opposition against our own despotic rulers. Clearly, the revolutionary transformations engulfing the entire Middle East served as an impetus to re-energize Iranian people, especially the women and the youth.

Because Iran’s equivalent of the “Day of Rage” was announced in advance, the riot police, the Basij and the Guards were out in full force. In anticipation of mass occupation of city squares, as in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, these security forces were stationed in all major squares. Using tear gas, batons and even live ammunition, they went on the offensive to prevent the people from coalescing in any one location. After hours of street battles, two people lay dead, hundreds were arrested, and thousands beaten and injured.

One must bear in mind the awful might of Iran’s ruthless security apparatus to fully appreciate the resilience, the bravery and the determination of the masses and their creativity in the way they mobilized themselves without any access to traditional media, even as the state’s cyber army shut down the internet, disrupted SMS, and sent text messages en masse calling off the demonstrations.

Unmistakable in the demands and creative slogans of demonstrators was the call for outright revolution. By naming Iran’s Ali Khamenei as the next tyrant to go after Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak, they brought forth a new stage in Iran’s popular revolt for freedom. Faded in the background now is Ahmadinejad as a mere caretaker president, as well as initial demands for counting their votes after the mock elections of 2009.

As I wrote in the January-February 2010 N&L (see “Iran: Ashura revolt shakes regime“), the ‘Ashura’ uprisings of Dec. 27, 2009, signified a turning point because on that day the masses found, once more, the Spirit of Revolution, thereby surprising even themselves! Its ruthless and bloody suppression only managed to drive it “underground.”

Thus the “interlude” between then and now, far from pacifying the opposition, or displaying fear of the state’s shameless rule by the sword, proved to be a period of collective recollection during which society discovered a new content for itself. What appeared as society’s “retreat” behind that turning point, was in truth the moment when its thinking spirit was engaged in creating for itself a new revolutionary point of departure.

As Karl Marx defined it so magnificently: “proletarian revolutions constantly criticize themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished in order to begin anew… they recoil from the indefinite colossalness of their own goal, until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out: Hic Rhodus, hic Salta!

The new Iranian Revolution is thoroughgoing; it is not a sprint but a marathon!

–Raha

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