Some quick, classifying thoughts on the recent wave of protests in Iran by Kian Zeytani
In the late 21st century, the restriction of mobility (prices for petrol or for local public transport) seems to be a global door opener for extensive system-critical revolts and uprisings by workers and the precarious. After Mexico, Haiti, France and Chile, another country is now joining this series: Iran.
A few days ago, President Hassan Rouhani made a fateful announcement: As of Friday midnight, the subsidies on gasoline prices will be cut nationwide, doubling the litre of gasoline and later tripling it.
A few hours after the announcement, militant protests were ignited in several cities. In the form of rallies, demonstrations, street blockades, attacks on petrol stations, government symbolism, banks, police stations and security forces, the many thousands of people in almost 50 cities* throughout the country expressed their displeasure. Today, the important and symbolic bazaar in Tehran has gone on strike in solidarity with the protests. Around 1000 people have been arrested, at least twenty killed. The Internet, the most important news and mobilization tool in the totalitarian country, especially in the form of social media, has virtually been shut down. The balance of the first 24 hours shows that Iran is currently experiencing the fiercest protests since the revolution in 1979 – some even claim that things are more cheerful than in 1979.
The slogans and the goals of the actions show quite clearly: the rising gasoline prices are only the drop that causes the boiling powder keg Iran to overflow again. For years, a sometimes radical protest cycle in Iran has been solidifying and intensifying, in which anger and frustration about living conditions that are difficult to endure become visible: economic recession, lack of wages, neoliberal cuts in social benefits, authoritarian access to everyday life, increasing repression, corruption, military sword rattling and simply no perspective at all – especially among the working class and the inflated precarious sector, but also among large sections of the middle class. All those are these days again the actors of the uprising, who themselves say they have nothing to lose, which is why they risk their lives and take to the streets against the oppressive life situation in the Islamic republic.
This is expressed in slogans like “Down with the dictator”, “We do not want an Islamic republic” and even “Death for Khamenei” (revolutionary leader and highest authority in the Islamic republic). In other slogans the demonstrators criticize the millions in state support for the regional ideological allies like in Lebanon, Syria or Palestine, while their own people starve to death and slip into more and more misery.
There are reports that the government wanted to reverse the petrol price increase because of the violence of the protests. After an address by the revolutionary leader, in which he acknowledged this step as a necessity against the economic recession and denounced the demonstrators as “hooligans” and “agents provocateurs”, this measure was carved in stone and thus remains intact for the time being. Therefore, a confrontational, repressive and (even more) murderous response by the state apparatus is to be expected again. But the power bloc is not as homogeneous as the supreme revolutionary leader would like it to be. There are even supposed to be anonymous statements of solidarity with the protests from circles of security forces and quite specifically from the political, economic and military power bloc in Iran, the Revolutionary Guards. However, these reports should be treated with caution, because the traditionally conservative Revolutionary Guards are in conflict with President Rouhani, who is regarded as a reformer, and each has its own interests. Nevertheless, if the otherwise violent government is not a threat.
But the power bloc is not as homogeneous as the supreme revolutionary leader would like it to be. There are even supposed to be anonymous statements of solidarity with the protests from circles of security forces and quite specifically from the political, economic and military power bloc in Iran, the Revolutionary Guards. However, these reports should be treated with caution, because the traditionally conservative Revolutionary Guards are in conflict with President Rouhani, who is regarded as a reformer, and each has its own interests. There are also very practical problems: Iran is mobilizing ideologically loyal Shiite militias from surrounding countries, such as Lebanon and Syria, to smash the protests. Due to the complex regional situation, however, these troops are involved. In addition, they cost money, which the state does not always have. All this could strengthen the dynamics of the protests and, above all, create the self-confidence needed in a totalitarian state to stand on the right side. After all, it takes patience, because the Islamic Republic has been tried and tested in insurrection and is firmly in the saddle despite all the problems. However, nothing is forever.
*A list of cities in Iran involved in the protests is circulating in telegram channels:
Tehran, Buschehr, Sarpol Zahab, Andimeshk, Orumieh, Jam, Gorgan, Shiraz, Tabriz, Kazeroon, Kermanshah, Behbahan, Shahriar, Babol, Isfahan, Kangan, Islamabad West, Rig Band, Karaj, Khorramabad, Tehranbars, Gajarsaran, Lorest , Sari, Neyshabur, Ghaemshahr, Shoosh, Salmas, Ghods, Jajrood, Rasht, Yazd, Rabat Karim, Qazvin, Khomein, Sanandaj, Kamyaran, Nikshahr, Saqez, Zahedan, Chabahar, Marivan, Rouden, Nikshahr, Marivan, Kermanshah Shah Abad, Roudehen, Nischapur…
The protests in different parts of the world are putting the question of social alternatives on the table, says Christopher Wimmer*. First published in German in neues deutschland.
The political has once again entered the stage. A worldwide class struggle is raging. Barricades are burning in Chile, Ecuador and Hong Kong, people are dying in social unrest in Iraq. In Lebanon people take to the streets and in Syria there is still a barbaric war raging in which the project of a grassroots democratic society in Rojava is trying to assert itself.
Everywhere, behind the clouds of smoke and the clouds of tear gas, young people and dependents come together to practice new connections with women, migrants and the militant parts of the working class in order to bring various forms of protest onto the streets. These protests have rarely been planned and developed in a coordinated manner, but have mostly arisen spontaneously and unexpectedly. At times they took on a progressive, rarely reactionary character.
The common ground of the movements consists precisely in the fact that the existing apparatuses of the parties and trade unions usually lag behind them or have been made completely superfluous. The protesters themselves know what is good for them and do not need leadership. The many revolts of all those excluded and exploited, who have nothing to say and no influence on the course of events, testify to the fact that these people no longer want to come to terms with the given conditions.
In the uprising they found their language and so strikes, revolts, mobilizations against the financial industry, occupations and clashes with the police are on the agenda. Supermarkets are being plundered, the Gilets jaunes have been moving through the luxury districts of Paris, devastating them. Such actions, together with district assemblies or direct actions, bring the question of social alternatives to the table. Activists and workers are becoming increasingly interested in these clashes. They are united by the desire for their own voice and a dignified life.
The protesters come from diverse (sub)proletarian milieus, resistant subcultures and the remains of the old workers’ movement. Thus they do not form a uniformity and uniqueness in the sense of an organization, but are a diverse mosaic. Its ambiguity must be endured, its productive side understood. The participation of all these people leads to the formation of different resistant subjectivities. Thus constructions by the state are being dissolved in the uprisings. For example, the question of citizenship does not count there. What counts is the presence of the people involved.
The protesters are demanding a new constitutional process. But this is not the same as the call for organisations or existing structures. The need of people to govern themselves from below and to build new structures should not be mixed up with a political power that pretends – from the existing or from outside – to implement the contents of the uprisings. For such a perspective remains far from the real class struggles.
Which possibilities there are for emancipatory forces in the uprisings can be found out by trying oneself in it. There is no doubt that political tactics are gaining in importance if one wants to achieve an egalitarian and rational shaping of society. This requires self-organization. Its core is to create the conditions under which people choose the path of collective resistance and radically challenge the ruling order. A political organization can only be “an order in the service of disorder,” as the French philosopher Alain Badiou puts it. For capitalism, this disorder is the class struggle from below, in which the participants ally themselves.
*Christopher Wimmer is a political activist and scientist. He lives in Berlin. At the beginning of next year his anthology “Where have all the Rebels gone?” on concepts of left-wing counter-power will be published by Unrast Verlag.
Comment by John Malamatinas – First published in German on neues deutschland
The right-wing conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, elected only last summer, does everything in its power to encourage protest movements. After having started to evacuate self-organized occupations of fugitives, declared war on the inhabitants and anarchists in the left-alternative district of Exarchia in Athens, it is now the turn of the students. The latter have been protesting since the summer against the repeal of a law banning the police from entering the university campus and protecting student protests. The law was a legacy of a student uprising on 17 November 1973 during the military dictatorship, when a tank rammed through the gates of the Athens Polytechnic. Dozens were killed that day.
Yesterday’s pictures of the attack of the Greek infamous Riot police MAT on the students of the Athens University of Economics ASOEE went around the world. Six days before the historic date, MAT units stormed the campus with the aim of preventing the political occupation – an incomprehensible provocation and, at the same time, a political demonstration of power that evoked memories of the dictatorship in the public debate. Actually, the action was intended to flatter right-wing voters – exactly the opposite was achieved: an occasion for a social movement! And this in a difficult phase for the organized left after the years of austerity and the related loss of trust of the people in social change.
When I opened Facebook this morning, a feeling filled me that I had been missing since the last big general strike in February 2012: real hope! Numerous Greek activists, but also ordinary people, shared the pictures and videos of yesterday evening’s demonstrations. There are thousands and thousands of young people who do not want to be intimidated by the police operation and take up the challenge to fight for another future – a future without right-wing police cowboys, racist barbecues to “protect the Greek tradition” against fugitives or homophobic and sexist attacks. It is a two-sided struggle against the re-emerging “Greek values” and the social disintegration forced by Mitsotakis through privatization and displacement.
It should be remembered that the cycle of crisis protests in Greece did not begin with Papandreou’s famous speech from a yacht near the island of Kastelorizo in April 2010, in which he announced “that we will not make it without the financial support of our international partners”, but the youth sounded the alarm much earlier: During the student protests 2006-07 against the neo-liberalization of the universities and in the uprising in December 2008 when the 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot by the police and the marginalized part of society laid the cards on the table. For weeks, school and university students together with precariously employed and unemployed people organized themselves in occupied universities and town halls and attacked police stations throughout the country. There is currently no lack of inspiration: in Greece, too, everyone is looking excitedly at the current uprisings in the world.
A context of accelerated exploitation, oppression and disorientation
In March 2018, the Beyond Europe platform met in Nicosia, Cyprus to reappraise the potential of anti-authoritarian struggle against global capitalism. At the present time, capital is tightening its repressive grip in order to continue destroying our communities, our human and other rights, and the earth itself. This was a rare opportunity for the members to meet face-to-face and have extremely constructive discussions. While exchanging thoughts and experiences, we became aware of the speed at which damage is being done globally, the confusion surrounding facts, events and motives, and the numbing effect that this constant turbulence seems to have for coordinated resistance. But while this increasingly intense storm has led to widespread disorientation and a debilitating sense of our collective incapacity to control the situation, we realise that reversing this is of the utmost urgency.
Following this meeting, we captured our vivid impressions of chaos, confusion and the inability to act in two statements (We won’t accept anything less and Let’s make this century wild (will be published in March 2019) which both aimed to highlight the pressing need for new approaches, strategies and direction. Almost a year after the meeting in Nicosia, repression has further intensified on multiple levels, again reaffirming the need to step up our own efforts, acting strategically and taking concrete actions. Indeed, there seems to be plenty of energy for new ideas and practices. An organisational turn to organising communities around housing struggles has slowly been gaining ground. New concepts and tactics are being explored in anti-fascist struggle with women and feminists crucially reconfiguring the terms of the game across the globe over the past year. Finally, more recently, the Gilets Jaunes who appear as a hub for every conceivable anti-capitalist demand, occupy the streets of France with impressive assertiveness and have become a major challenge for the French police and establishment. How does Beyond Europe come into this picture?
Beyond Europe’s position
Beyond Europe reiterates the need to scale up the fight, and develop new methods, tools and frameworks for anti-authoritarian politics.
Beyond Europe stresses that the present moment is ripe for this radical reconsideration of anti-authoritarian forces in the fight against global capitalism, as its desperate attempts to continue ruling the planet resort to increasingly oppressive means.
Beyond Europe proposes that we leave behind reactive forms of resistance and transition as quickly as possible to a different level which enables us to act pro-actively. Firefighting constantly on multiple fronts (which also proliferate exponentially) has become untenable. We have reached a stage in which we have to try to stop the emergence of new fires. And although firefighting against authoritarian attacks of all kinds will not end any time soon, our long-term aim should now be to find ways to stop conditions of oppression from becoming tougher, explore how to stop instances of oppression before they materialise rather than just confront them once they are in full swing.
Beyond Europe 2.0 programme
What tools, concepts and new techniques of organising do we need in order to be in a position to perform anti-authoritarian politics pro-actively?
The first step is to implement internal organisational changes, so that the anti-hierarchical principles of anti-authoritarianism apply more consistently to Beyond Europe itself. For more information about what is the anti-authoritarian, see Positions, Proposals, Framework of Antiauthoritarian Movement produced by Anti-Authoritarian Movement | Αντιεξουσιαστική Κίνηση (AK).
Beyond Europe remains an anti-authoritarian platform against capitalism. But rather than this being an alliance of national networks and organisations – which raises the expectations that entire countries are represented – individual city groups can now participate autonomously in the work of the platform. This means that we no longer must canvas the views of a whole organisation to move forward. Local city groups, rather than national networks or a few individuals, are now sovereign. Cities interested in common issues can join forces together without needing approval by “national” organisations. Beyond Europe is now properly defined as a platform among many, rather than the “international” wing of our respective organisations, which amounted to maintaining an unnecessary informal hierarchy and was enhancing engagement with internationalism. But this does not mean that it has any less reason to exist. Quite the opposite. We expect to produce more content, inspire more people to participate, and become more democratic in the process.
Building on transnational strengths
A new programme of work has been agreed which includes a comprehensive upgrade and sharing of best practice and skill in the following areas: media, outreach strategy, technology, security and an organisational structure driven by city-led initiatives as mentioned above. In broad terms, working groups have been formed with a decent geographic spread on the following areas: feminism; eco-social struggles; antifascism and the far right; labour digitalisation, technology and the future; housing, community and neighbourhood organising.
These groups will build on our transnational strengths in a variety of areas, including the women’s strike, reproductive rights, and trans rights; action against extractive industries and for sustainable de-growth strategies; attending and building for summit actions on European migration regimes and far right party conferences; action against local fascist groups; establishing a strike watchdog; drafting ten theses on technology; collaborating with the struggles of Amazon warehouse workers and workers in logistics; establishing and maintaining social centres, anti-eviction campaigns, tenants’ unions and opposing gentrification.
Anti-authoritarian information provider
We have also established a collaborative editorial group with the task of becoming the ‘beacon’ of anti-authoritarian struggles for Europe. The idea is not to be the ‘hegemonic’ anti-authoritarian media outlet within Europe, but to establish ourselves as the preferred source of information about anti-authoritarian struggles happening in Europe for the rest of the world. This link is desperately needed for building an anti-authoritarian internationalism that is simultaneously against globalisation and against nationalism. A user-friendly media strategy is being worked on to turn this into a reality in some years’ time.
The second step is to plan activities with an understanding of the skills, expertise and strengths of the current membership while aiming at expanding it by reaching out to other groups and initiatives interested in converging forces for the purposes of a strong anti-authoritarian movement in Europe (and beyond) which will overthrow global capitalism.
Current active members
… the German-speaking antinational and antifascist federation ums Ganze, with local groups across Germany and Austria. Ums Ganze hosts annual congresses attracting hundreds of militants, accompanying BE to the Hamburg G20 and bringing back riots to the streets of Germany on occasion of the inauguration of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. The building of an antifascist network called “Nationalism is no alternative” is a serious asset in the fight against the rise of the far right in Europe. In the next years ums Ganze will focus on (pro-)feminist interventions and the revival of social struggles.
… the anarchist/antiauthoritarian collective Syspirosi Atakton, is organised in Nicosia acting in both sides of the division line. For SA the struggle against nationalism is a daily struggle for survival as Cyprus is one of the most militarised areas on the planet, while trying to circulate the ideas of self-organisation, self-legislation and solidarity. Efforts also take under consideration the environmental crisis and gender social aspects.
… the Greek antiauthoritarian movement Alpha Kappa, who are responsible for much of the anti-authoritarian influence in Beyond Europe. With local groups in Athens, Thessaloniki, Komotini, Ioannina, Larissa and Piraeus – AK have hosted several of the defining moments of Beyond Europe: a camp against a gold mine in the Chalkidiki peninsula rooted in local communities; the No Border Camp in 2016; and a camp against the construction of a damn in Piraeus. AK have a fascinating political history coloured by resistance against dictatorship, severe repression against communism spanning several generations, fierce disagreements with other local anarchist groups, fearless street battles against fascists and the police, and the eviction of social centres. All this in a country where there are sizeable Stalinist and Fascist parties with electoral success, resurgent nationalism, and a left party in power.
… the UK-wide anti-capitalist organisation Plan C with similar interests in anti-authoritarian politics, focusing on feminist anti-fascism, the socialisation of strike, radical municipalism, and Rojava solidarity, and following direct democracy principles of organisation and decision making for city-led activities, which expand into UK wide projects when appropriate.
… the recently formed group from Prague Kolektiv 115. K115 brings non-dogmatic leftist politics and new forms of language and culture of protest into cold post eastern block region. Consisting of working groups focusing on topics such as the right to the city, feminism and antifascism, the group seeks progressive answers to massive reactionary wave rolling through Visegrád Four (V4) countries
The promising potential for expansion of the current Beyond Europe membership relates to a strong belief (shared across the European radical left) that capitalism is a system which must be fought, criticised and abolished systematically if we are to win. For this reason, the existence of a platform such as Beyond Europe adds coherence and a sense of purpose for anti-authoritarian politics where there is confusion and disorientation, additionally aggravated by the distraction of media propaganda.
Beyond Europe calls all organisations, groups and initiatives, who believe that anti-authoritarian politics leads to the end of global capitalism, to join us so that we can learn from each other and use our collective power and counter-power to trigger the necessary dynamic ruptures that will allow us to move to the next level.