Australasian Spartacist No. 238
Imperialist Sanctions Starve Iranian Masses
Down With U.S. War Moves Against Iran!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1156 (31 May), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S. Since then, the U.S. has continued its rapacious “maximum pressure” crusade against Iran. During this campaign the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow strip of sea off the coast of Iran through which some 21 percent of the world’s petroleum passes, has become a global flashpoint.
Six oil tankers have been damaged in the Strait, with Washington claiming Iran is responsible. Iran forthrightly denies these accusations. In response to Iranian Revolutionary Guards shooting down a U.S. drone spy plane over the waterways, the U.S. moved to launch military strikes on Iran, with President Donald Trump pulling back at the last minute. Meanwhile the British imperialist military seized an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, claiming it was en route to violate economic sanctions against Syria. In retaliation, Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
After a failed attempt to rally other European states for naval patrols against Iran, Britain joined the U.S. “mission” to police the Strait of Hormuz. Following lobbying by the U.S., Australia has eagerly agreed to provide a frigate and surveillance aircraft to aid this imperialist piracy. Workers internationally must oppose all economic sanctions against Iran and Syria and condemn any military attack by the U.S. and its allies against these neocolonial countries. As revolutionary Marxists who fight for international proletarian revolution, we say: Down with the U.S./Australia alliance! Australian and all imperialist forces get out of the Middle East, keep your bloody hands off Iran!
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In an ominous escalation of U.S. threats to attack Iran, the Trump administration has deployed an aircraft carrier strike group, nuclear-armed B-52 bombers and an amphibious assault warship to the Persian Gulf region. John Bolton, the national security adviser, warns of “unrelenting force,” the Pentagon has drawn up plans to send in 120,000 troops and the White House has declared the Revolutionary Guard, part of Iran’s armed forces, to be a “terrorist organization.” Trump raged on Twitter: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.” All this belligerence comes on top of ever-intensifying sanctions designed to cripple Iran’s economy by totally cutting off its oil exports.
Some 70,000 American troops are stationed in countries surrounding Iran, and the administration has recently announced the deployment of another 1,500. Yet the White House asserts, preposterously, that it is semicolonial Iran that is threatening the U.S. Claims of an impending Iranian attack have as much credibility as the U.S. rulers’ lies about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” the pretext for the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Democratic Party politicians and some Republicans are criticizing the war moves. But they share with the Trump administration the goal of “regime change” in Tehran, differing only over the approach. The Democrats prefer to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) brokered by the Obama White House in 2015, which compelled Iran to drastically curtail its nuclear program and submit to foreign inspectors in exchange for an easing of sanctions. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal last May.
The Republicans and Democrats alike are parties of imperialism and war, with a common class interest in maintaining U.S. supremacy in the oil-rich Near East. The purpose of Obama’s JCPOA was to ensure Iran’s disarmament in the face of unrelenting threats from the U.S. and its regional junior partners, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Tehran regime has always denied any intent to develop nuclear weapons. However, Iran needs such weapons to deter imperialist attack. The possession of nukes is no guarantee of security from a U.S. assault, but it does provide a measure of sovereignty against the marauders in Washington.
It takes chutzpah for the U.S. rulers, who possess enough nuclear firepower to destroy humanity many times over, to rail against Iran possibly getting its own nukes. The 1945 U.S. A-bombing of Japan, which incinerated some 200,000 people and served as a warning to the Soviet Union, shows what these nuclear madmen are capable of. And Washington’s Israeli allies, ruthless oppressors of the Palestinians, have a sizable nuclear arsenal of their own.
As part of what it calls “maximum pressure,” the White House has now imposed a complete embargo on sales of Iranian oil, including a threat to take action against any countries that continue to import it. Trump has canceled temporary waivers that exempted a number of countries, including China, from such provisions. Iran’s oil exports have already fallen by half in the past year. If a total embargo is enforced, it would cost Iran about $50 billion annually, 40 percent of its entire government revenue.
It is in the direct interest of the U.S. working class to demand an end to all sanctions against Iran and stand for its defense against any U.S. military attack. The same ruling class that threatens war on Iran wages savage attacks on workers and on black people, Latinos and other minorities at home. Defense of Iran against U.S. assault does not imply the least political support to the capitalist Islamic regime in Tehran, which brutally oppresses women, gays and national minorities while repressing labor struggles. But U.S. imperialism is the greatest danger to the working people and oppressed on this planet. Nothing short of the overthrow of the American capitalist ruling class through workers revolution will rid the world of this menace.
U.S. Sanctions Mean Hunger and Death
Imperialist sanctions are a modern version of siege warfare: a weapon designed to conquer through attrition. Sanctions against Hussein’s Iraq led to the deaths of some 1.5 million people while hollowing out that country in the lead-up to the U.S. occupation. It was the Democrats who took the lead in imposing the sanctions on Iran, starting under Jimmy Carter in 1979. The sanctions were expanded under Bill Clinton in the 1990s, and even more so by Obama. Among those signing on was imperialist “socialist” Bernie Sanders, who boasted in 2017, “I have voted for sanctions on Iran in the past, and I believe sanctions were an important tool for bringing Iran to the negotiating table.”
While Iran is more populous and powerful than Iraq, the sanctions, particularly those under Obama, have devastated its economy. As oil revenue plummeted, its currency was devalued by more than 450 percent. Industry was crippled by depriving Iran of replacement parts. Disease and death spread as medications became unavailable. Unemployment skyrocketed. A 2018 BBC report noted that the average consumption of food staples had decreased by 30 to 50 percent over the previous decade.
The 2015 deal, which was cosigned by Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China, eased the sanctions and gave Tehran access to $30 billion of its assets that had been seized and frozen abroad. Iran was able to increase oil exports, producing some economic growth. Trump’s scuttling of the JCPOA angered the European imperialists, who had expanded their dealings with Iran. For example, the French company Total had begun to develop a major Iranian gas field, but canceled this under U.S. pressure. Germany, France and Britain vowed to set up a special vehicle for barter-based trade with Iran that bypassed the American financial system, but it has proved stillborn.
The cruel effectiveness of sanctions is a result of the domination of world finance and trade by the U.S., the world’s chief imperialist power. Washington largely controls the international financial system through the supremacy of American banks and the dollar’s status as the global reserve currency. The position of the U.S. is enforced by military might, of which it continues to have an overwhelming preponderance, particularly since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state in 1991-92.
The rifts between the U.S. and European imperialists underline the inherent fissures among these powers as they pursue their own spheres of exploitation at the expense of their rivals and the oppressed masses. But the U.S. continues to hold the whip hand. As Patrick Cockburn noted in the London Independent (10 May), the European powers “have proved to be marginal players when it comes to the Iran deal.” “In the long term,” he adds, “they also want regime change in Tehran, though they oppose Trump’s methods of obtaining it as reckless.”
Iran, China and U.S. Imperialism
For its part, China, Iran’s main foreign oil market, condemned Trump’s latest edicts during a May 17 visit by Iran’s foreign minister. China has investments in Iran worth nearly $50 billion, mainly in energy and transportation, and Beijing has advanced lines of credit to Iranian banks in euros or Chinese yuan, rather than dollars, in order to bypass sanctions. Some Chinese oil refiners have stated that they will now comply with Trump’s edicts for fear of losing access to world financial markets. But there are reports that Beijing is continuing to import Iranian oil: a tanker owned by a Chinese state company recently left the Persian Gulf carrying two million barrels of Iranian crude.
The U.S. imperialists have their sights set on the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state, where capitalism was overthrown by the 1949 Revolution. In pursuit of this strategic goal, the Trump administration has combined military provocations against China with a growing trade war. Some of the bourgeois opposition to Trump’s moves against Iran is based on worries that the White House’s attention may be shifting away from China. Right-wing New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote in a 19 May op-ed titled “Don’t Fight Iran”:
“The president is now in the middle of a trade war with China that by his own logic is far more important to long-term American interests than some immediate breakthrough or regime breakdown in Tehran. So he should return to that campaign-season wisdom, and to the maxim it suggested: Whenever possible, one war at a time.”
As Marxists, we stand for the unconditional military defense of China against imperialism and counterrevolution, and oppose all the tariffs and other trade-war measures imposed by Washington. At the same time, we recognize that the nationalist policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Beijing, including its promotion of “peaceful coexistence” with the U.S. and other imperialist powers, undermine the defense of the workers state. A proletarian political revolution is needed to oust the parasitic bureaucracy, replacing it with the rule of workers and peasants councils committed to revolutionary internationalism.
U.S./Saudi/Israeli Axis of Evil
Both Sunni-fundamentalist Saudi Arabia and Zionist Israel are furious over the expanded influence of largely Shia Iran in the Near East—an unintended consequence of both U.S. imperialism’s overthrow of Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Hussein regime and, more recently, the gains made by the Iran-backed Assad regime in the Syrian civil war. Spokesmen for Tehran regularly denounce the “B-Team” that yearns to destroy Iran, including Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump adviser Bolton, who wrote a foam-flecked 2015 opinion piece for the New York Times titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”
It was against this backdrop that four years ago Saudi Arabia launched its brutal war in Yemen with the aid of the U.S. and other imperialist powers. At the time, the Saudi monarchs claimed, with no evidence, that Iran was funding and arming Houthi rebels based among Yemen’s Shia minority. Since early on, U.S. forces, as well as those of Britain and France, have directly backed the Saudi war effort, with Washington also supplying fighter jets and other military hardware. To date, some 80,000 Yemenis have been killed and over three million displaced in this savage war. A third of the population faces starvation. Thanks to Saudi destruction of infrastructure, one of the largest, fastest-spreading cholera outbreaks in history has raged uncontrollably.
Houthi forces recently staged drone strikes on a Saudi oil pipeline and a military base where U.S. forces have been deployed. The Saudi regime raged that Tehran had ordered the pipeline attack and an editorial in an English-language Saudi newspaper demanded retaliatory U.S. airstrikes on Iran. Marxists stand for the military defense of the Houthi forces and their allies against the imperialist-backed Saudi assault, without giving that movement any political support. All U.S. troops and bases out of the Near East now!
For a Proletarian Perspective
Iran’s clerical regime took power in 1979 amid a social upheaval against the despised, U.S.-backed autocrat Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Powerful strikes in the oil fields and elsewhere posed the potential for workers revolution. However, the then-sizable Iranian left criminally subordinated the working class to reactionary Islamist forces whose social base was among the priestly caste of mullahs and the traditional bazaari merchant class, which had been ground down by (uneven) modernization in the country.
While reformist pseudo-socialists internationally cheered on the Islamist movement, we warned that a victory for these forces under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini would be a disaster for workers and the oppressed. Uniquely, our international tendency raised the call: “Down with the Shah! Don’t bow to Khomeini! Workers to power in Iran!” The mullahs’ ascension to power led to the ferocious repression of Kurds and other minorities, the stoning of women who did not wear the oppressive veil, the mass slaughter of leftists and the execution of striking workers and others accused of “crimes against God.”
The British-based Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), whose American affiliate is Socialist Alternative, recently published an article titled “40 Years Since the Iranian Revolution: Learning the Lessons for Today’s New Working-Class Struggles” (socialistparty.org.uk, 6 February). This treatise laments that “the revolution did not end up as socialists expected” and that “many on the left were disoriented,” carefully avoiding any mention of the CWI’s own history. At the time, this outfit claimed that workers’ struggles were “forcing Khomeini in an anti-capitalist direction” and that the Islamic leader could well “complete the expropriation of capitalism” (Militant International Review, Autumn 1979)! This fantastical schema served to give a “left” cover to Islamist reaction.
The Iranian proletariat has still not recovered from the 1979 defeat. But the harrowing impact of sanctions and anger over poverty and the corruption of the ruling elite have fueled repeated working-class protest. Late last year, steel and sugar cane workers staged militant strikes against privatizations and unpaid wages.
The desperate conditions faced by Iran’s working and oppressed masses acutely pose the need for a revolutionary workers party. Such a party must be built in political opposition to all wings of the ruling class—religious or secular, hardliners or “reformists”—as well as implacable opposition to the U.S. and other imperialist powers, who will seek to manipulate the grievances of Iran’s masses to serve their own interests.
In Iran, as elsewhere in the semicolonial world, the bourgeoisie is too weak, fearful of the working class and dependent on the capitalist world market to break the chains of imperialist subjugation, overcome mass poverty and resolve other burning social issues. Thanks to its central role in production, the proletariat is the only class that can liberate the downtrodden urban and rural masses by smashing capitalist class rule through socialist revolution. There will be no end to ethnic and national oppression, no liberation of women, no end to the exploitation of working people short of shattering the capitalist order in Iran and throughout the region, laying the basis for a socialist federation of the Near East.
Success in this struggle crucially hinges on the international extension of proletarian revolution to the imperialist centers, including the U.S. Capitalist-imperialist rule in America is beset by contradictions. The rulers can send killer drones to take out today’s “enemy” from thousands of miles away, but at home basic infrastructure is collapsing, public education is starved of funds and much of industry is hollowed out. The multiracial working class must be imbued with the consciousness of its potential to overthrow the American capitalist order and create a new society organized to serve human needs. The Spartacist League is dedicated to forging the vanguard party necessary for this fight.