An Interview with Bina Darabzand of Salam Democrat
Against Bush, Against Ahmadinejad, For Oaxaca
by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT
On December 12, 2006, as the Holocaust revisionism conference called by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opened in Tehran, small but angry groups of students held protests—against both the conference and Ahmadinejad, burning his picture and chanting “down with the dictator.” Scores of students marched at the Amir Kabir University of Technology (formerly Tehran Polytechnic), Tehran University and Sanandaj University in Kordistan province.
Among the organizers of the protests was Bina Darabzand, a leftist thinker and longtime veteran of Iran’s student movement. Born into what he calls a “left-oriented political family” in Tehran in 1957, Darabzand was involved in protest movements against the Shah from his youth. In 1978, he returned home from studies in the US and UK—where he was a representative abroad of the Confederation of Iranian Students—to participate in the Iranian revolution. After Ayatollah Khomeini took power, he was forced into exile, but returned to Iran again in 1986, and has since been working to build a radical left opposition. Since 1997, when the election of President Mohammad Khatami brought a supposedly more open atmosphere, he has been arrested four times—most recently in July 2004, when he was imprisoned for two years on fabricated charges of slandering governmental officials and organizing underground cells.
By the time of his release six months ago, the hard-liner Ahmadinejad was in power for just over a year. But Darabzand has immediately resumed his political activities, creating the website Salam Democrat as a voice for radical left ideas and news from movements in the outside world in Farsi. It has recently launched a page with updates on the struggle in Oaxaca, Mexico.
On February 13, Bina Darabzand spoke by telephone from Tehran with WW4 REPORT Editor Bill Weinberg over the airwaves of New York’s WBAI Radio.
BW: Bina, welcome aboard. For starters, what’s the name of your organization?
BD: Well, actually, there are no organization right now, because of the repression that we are facing here. Since the so-called Revolution, which was really the victory of the anti-revolution forces in 1979, we’ve lost five or six thousand of our comrades—executed, or imprisoned, and thousands more who left the country. So we have had very little chance to organize ourselves. However, in the past couple of years the social movements have been arising again and we’ve been able to come out from the underground, slowly finding each other and trying to organize ourselves into groups. But, as you know, for the left movement it is not as easy as for the liberals to get together. Because we have to unite on a revolutionary agenda. And right now we are working towards that.
BW: Well, you have an organization called Salam Democrat…
BD: Salam Democrat actually is a website. A group of people have gathered together to facilitate expressing these ideas. Then we can formalize them as an agenda that our movement needs right now to unite around.
BW: You make reference on your website to the “Iranian radical-left young student movement”…
BD: As a tendency, made up of intellectuals and elements of the student movement, you can consider it the revolutionary left—as opposed to the social democratic way of working, or the reactionary so-called left such as Fidel, Chavez and so forth. We are faithful to the Marxist-Leninist line, we are for the revolutionary change of society into a government of direct democracy by the people. So there is a very young and energetic tendency within the student movement which calls itself the radical left, which is a part of this revolutionary current.
BW: What are the various points of unity and divergence within the general student movement?
BD: You have to consider that the student movement is a mass movement and there are few specific organizations or ideologies. But the parties and organizations influence the student unions. The most important influences right now on the student movement that did the action against Ahmadinejad at the Polytechnic University and Tehran University, and which continues to protest, are the radical left and the radical liberals, who are the followers of people like [Akbar] Ganji and [Ali] Afshari and so on, who want to change the structure of the government.
BW: Can you tell us more about these figures?
BD: Ganji was an imprisoned journalist who right now is travelling in Europe and the United States. And Afshari was a student until a couple of years ago, and he of course is also now in the United States.
BW: Does the radical left tendency also have visible leaders?
BD: As for the radical left movement, we don’t really have faces we can present. We are basically all at the same level of theoretical and organizational capabilities. Everybody right now is a leader and cadre. However, one of our most famous leaders is Dr. Naser Zarafshan, who has won many international prizes for his activities and writings. But he has been in prison for the last four years.
BW: On what charge?
BD: He was the lawyer in the Chain Murder case [series of assassinations and disappearances of dissident intellectuals]. He charged the Iranian security police with murders of the opposition in 1999, ’98. And since he was very serious in doing his job, they made up some charges, such as carrying a handgun illegally, spreading lies, releasing secret information, and things like that.
BW: So he is an attorney as well as a political thinker and theorist…
BD: Yes, he has a law degree.
BW: So is there any party or organization, even in exile, which you adhere to?
BD: No, there is no organization abroad that has our line. We are Marxist-Leninist, and we are trying to follow the Leninist line that was followed in the Russian Revolution. We are trying to follow models such as the Soviet government of the first decade before Stalin dissolved the soviets. This is basically our goal.
BW: How freely are you able to operate? I imagine its a pretty repressive atmosphere.
BD: There is no freedom whatsoever. Those of us who are known to the security forces are picked up from time to time, and imprisoned for months in solitary, or for years in political blocs. The last time I was picked up was July 2004, and I was released two years later, just last summer. I spent the first two months of my confinement in solitary, blindfolded. Every week, one of us is picked up, for no apparent reason, with no formal charges. You can say we are just kidnapped—beaten, tortured. But this is the cost that we have to pay.
BW: Well, when you were picked up in the summer of 2004, what was the ostensible charge? Was there any kind of formal legal process?
BD: The legal process is a sham. The judge is ordered by the security forces what judgement to make. There is no legal representation. Nothing. Five minutes in court, and you are convicted.
Of course, that is if they want to keep you more than a few months. If they just keep you a few months in solitary—which happens to one of us ever year—there are no formal charges. They let us go when they are tired of trying to get information out of us.
The last time, when they held me for two years, they charged me with organizing underground cells and publishing lies about the government. Of course, they were both fabricated.
BW: Is there much of a confluence between the student movement and the labor struggles, the fight for women’s rights and free expression generally?
BD: For the first 25 years after the 1979 fall of the revolution, social movements were at a stand-still. We were just a bunch of intellectuals fighting for freedom of expression and assembly and so on. But in the past two years, the student movement, the feminist movement and the labor movement are arising again, which has given us a chance to come out from the underground.
However, the labor movement right now is at the guild stages and not very political. We are present in the feminist movement, but the leadership of that movement is still in the hands of the liberals. We are most deeply rooted and have the most influence and positions of leadership in the student, youth and intellectual movements right now. And we have gained this position because of the historical credibility of the left and the martyrs that we have given for the emancipation of our people.
BW: How are you able to get your ideas across? Do you have your own newspapers, or access to the radio waves?
BD: We are not allowed to have newspapers. There is some student literature, but as soon as they cross the red line, they are closed down and the people involved thrown in prison. We have the Internet, and that’s just about it.
Some of the leaders abroad have good access to the international media, satellite TV and so forth, but they don’t share it with us. They just rely on us for us reports to give themselves some credibility and show they are linked to the student movement here. We do not want any connection with the liberal groups in exile, although with the leftists we do have connections. But they haven’t given us much help.
BW: I note that you make reference to the “fall of the revolution in 1979.” Do you believe there was a legitimate revolution which took place between the fall of the Shah and the establishment of the ayatollah state?
BD: Of course. There was a revolution that started in 1974 and continued on until 1979. Just a few days ago we had the ceremony for the 22nd of Bahman [Feb. 11], commemorating the Islamic Revolution, which was actually the victory of the counter-revolution. So we had five years of revolution before the reactionary forces, in agreement with the Americans an the other Western countries, suppressed the revolution.
BW: Well, certainly the perception is that Khomeini’s revolution, whatever else you want to say about it, was opposed to the West. There was the whole hostage crisis in 1979-80…
BD: Not at all, at first. At first, it wasn’t so. As you recall, at that time we had two blocs, the Soviet bloc and the American bloc, two imperialists ruling the world, “superpowers” as they were called then. The American government, and all the Western governments, met in Guadeloupe [emergency G7 summit, January 1979]. The liberals in Iran got the United States government and the Western powers to support the Khomeini forces, because the other option would have been the left movement, which was very strong. And, as they convinced the West, that would have meant Soviet influence in Iran. So at first there was cooperation between the Western powers and the Iranian liberals and the reactionary Islamists.
But after the take-over the embassy and the position that the Iranian government at that time took—because it had to, otherwise it would have lost the masses that it had gathered—went towards anti-Americanism. The atmosphere changed. I believe that Carter and Reagan made a hell of a mistake by making an enemy of these people and not understanding their position in this situation.
But their anti-Americanism wasn’t in the sense of wanting to keep America out—they just didn’t want to sell themselves too cheap. And this still is going on. The Iranian government is a capitalist government, very much interested in to get involved in the capitalist world and globalization. However, it does not want to sell itself as cheap as the Shah sold himself, and that’s the only problem. The Americans want a puppet government like the Shah, but these people want to be treated as equal partners. That is the only thing that is keeping them apart from each other.
BW: Let’s talk about the current situation and the showdown over the nuclear development issue. How do you view this whole crisis?
BD: Well, it was the United States government during the Shah’s time that allowed the Iranian nuclear facilities to be built. However, with the problems that they have with this government, the US and the West are worried that Iran will develop an atomic bomb.
As far as the left is concerned, we are for peace and against weapons of mass destruction. We believe that our people have more immediate needs than atomic bombs. And at the same time we believe in the “zero alternative” and global disarmament, rather than new countries getting nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.
However, we believe in the right of our people to gain the knowledge and techniques of nuclear physics and nuclear energy. And we don’t think that the US—which is the only government to have used an atomic bomb, twice, without any concern over the human lives that were lost, and still continues with all kinds of weapons of mass destruction programs, and has been continuously at war in different parts of the world since World War II—is in the place of ethical authority on this subject. We consider the anti-war movement of the United States more acceptable to us than the position of the United States government on this subject.
BW: Putting aside the question of weapons, how do you feel about the pursuit of nuclear power in Iran—or anywhere, for that matter?
BD: Nuclear power is our right. And definitely, if there is a leftist government, we will continue with the energy program.
BW: Well here in New York City, some of us have been struggling for many years to get our own local nuclear plant at a place called Indian Point closed down, because we consider that it poses an unacceptable risk—not only in terms of an accident, but the ongoing contamination from routine emissions, nuclear waste and so on. So I wonder if there’s a perception that maybe nuclear power just isn’t the way to go.
BD: We do understand that. But we have to gain the knowledge and techniques of nuclear physics. Because many other branches of science and technology arise from the knowledge of nuclear physics. As far as building the plants is concerned, we are for the environment, and we will not use nuclear energy unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. We don’t have that much hydro-electric power here because we don’t have that much water. Of course, we do have potential for wind power. But I am not right now in the position to know all the details about our capabilities, and whether we should continue with our few nuclear power plants.
BW: Let’s talk about the protests against Ahmadinejad’s conference on the Holocaust. Israel’s exploitation of the Holocaust for propaganda purposes makes this a complicated issue for many. I’d like to hear your perspective.
BD: The people of the United States should know that the government in Iran and the personalities of this government are not representing the Iranian people and their views. The Holocaust was a genocide that should be condemned by all humanity. And definitely it was an historical fact, and there is no doubt about it. This is the view of the majority—and, I would say, almost all—of the Iranian people who are at all familiar with the world and the history of World War II. Ahmadinejad’s position on the Holocaust is definitely not ours.
And meddling in the international political sphere such as the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon and other parts of the world—we don’t think this is our place. We think the Israel-Palestinian conflict is their own concern, and it seems that they will reach an agreement if the Iranian government doesn’t meddle by supporting Islamic Jihad and so on. It is not our position to tell them what to do and what not to do. The Israelis and Palestinians should work it out themselves. The same thing with Lebanon. The various sectors of Lebanese society have shown that they can live in peace. It seems that it is Iranian and Syrian agitation that is causing these conflicts that they have to flare up into armed conflicts.
We are for unity and peace in the Middle East and all over the world. This is not only the position of the left, but the position of the liberals as well and the position of the whole people of Iran. So the Iranian government is not actually representing the Iranian view on this matter.
BW: Moving the question much closer to the borders of your own country—what about the US occupation of Iraq? The White House is accusing Iran of supporting the insurgents in Iraq. And I certainly hope not, but there seems to be an imminent threat of armed US aggression against your country.
BD: We don’t believe there is much threat of armed US aggression, even though we have seen what they have done without the acceptance of their own people in other parts of the world. The rhetoric of “no options are out of consideration”—well, I heard that during Reagan’s time too. We do not think that the United States is in the position to do this.
The United States government is after political and economic domination in the region for the benefit of the US ruling class, and the Iranian government is also after a good share of the market of the area. But the Iranian government is not going to push the conflict to the point of actually having to face the American military. Eventually they will come to some understanding. And since the interest of the US government in the region is dominance and not democracy or terrorism, if the Iranian government shows some sign of actually trying to work it out with the United States, I don’t believe the United States will stick to its position…
BW: So you are optimistic…
BD: Following American politics, we see that even the most die-hard Republicans that were for the Iraqi war are actually disassociating themselves from that line. And from the Iranian government’s point of view, they know that any military confrontation with the United States will mean their fall. So they’re not going to take it to that point. Eventually, they’re going to come some agreement. That’s what we think.
If we believed that the United States government was really after the fight against terrorism and for democracy, we might not be so sure they will reach an agreement! But this is not the point. Anybody who has any understanding of the United States’ actions knows that this is only rhetoric.
BW: What are your views of the struggle which is underway in Iraq at the moment?
BD: Unfortunately, we don’t see a progressive line in Iraq. Of course, we oppose the war and we condemn aggression against any country. We do not think the United States should have attacked Iraq, or Afghanistan for that matter, and they should leave immediately. We have the same position as the American peace movement, and we hope the American peace movement will be effective enough to force a withdrawal on the United States ruling class.
BW: Do you see any progressive forces in Iraq at all that we can support?
BD: I don’t see any. I don’t see any progressive forces that have been able to be seriously counted.
BW: You are aware of the Iraq Freedom Congress and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq?
BD: I don’t believe they have the power of ruling. I don’t see the potential for that now. However, the Iraqi situation being so acute right now, its very dynamic. It is possible that some of the progressive forces will be able to come up the ranks and form an alternative for their country.
BW: I think on the left here in the United States there is some suspicion that the protest movements in Iran are co-opted by the CIA or State Department or George Soros. So I’m curious whether the tone in the anti-Ahmadinejad protests was generally anti-imperialist.
BD: As far as the Iranian revolutionary and radical left is concerned—the growing left movement in Iran which has organized anti-government and anti-Ahmadinejad protests—we are all anti-imperialist. We are opposed to the United States and all imperialism. We are against neoliberal policies—which, of course, the Iranian government is also following. They are actually implementing all the neoliberal policies of the IMF and the World Bank, which we are totally against. We see the result within Iranian society, so the working class is very much against these neoliberal polcies.
So I don’t consider the Iranian left to be co-opted. However, some of the radical liberals that were also involved in anti-Ahmadinejad protests are pro-American. Yet, since they know the mood of the people, they are not openly for America. For instance, we see Mr. Ganji, who is one of their leaders, comes to the United States but does not meet—openly, of course—with United States officials. Or Mr. Afshari—he’s living in the United States. When the Iranian opposition in the United States, mostly monarchists and Reza Pahlavi’s people, go to the meetings with the State Department, Afshari does not go. Simply because the mood in Iran is totally anti-imperialism. And if they are seen to be dealing with the United States, that would be political suicide. But they are after the peaceful revolutions or the “color” revolutions of the Yugoslavia model or the ex-Soviet republics model—which of course is impossible in Iran, because it is a military regime. There is a military force which is in the core of the ruling class in Iran, and they are not going to stand aside and allow a power change.
BW: So what strategy could work in Iran?
BD: Only a mass revolution. Which is what we are after. We are organizing in the feminist movement, the workers’ movements, the student movements, to that goal. It has to come from within.
BW: Let’s talk about yours views on Latin America. How did you find out about the struggle in Oaxaca?
BD: The Industrial Workers of the World sent a communique out, one of their members [Eric Larson] was surrounded in Oaxaca. So we supported them with a message on our website. But as we found out more about the situation in Oaxaca we became very much interested.
There are two important reasons that we are monitoring Oaxaca and all of Latin America. First of all, we believe that their fight is our fight. They are in the same boat as Iranians. Even though the Iranian regime does not want to sell itself cheap, it is a capitalist state and would like very much to be part of global capitalism. They are implementing all of the IMF and World Bank recommendations—privatization, no control over prices or wages, open borders for imports, and so on. So we are facing the same problems from the same sources. That is why we believe that we are fighting the same war on different fronts. This is the most important reason.
The second reason is that—whether the Oaxacan people are conscious of this fact or not—by creating APPO [the Popular People’s Assembly of Oaxaca], they have re-introduced the model of the Athens democratic republic of 2,500 years ago, as the Paris Commune did, and as the Russian soviets did in the first decade of the Revolution. We would like to study this carefully as a living model. The Paris Commune, the soviets and the Athens republic are to us only theoretical, we can only read about it and think about it. However, in Oaxaca we are actually monitoring a living model of the kind of alternative government that we are going to be proposing to our people. And we are learning a lot about it.
For instance, today we got the information that APPO has decided not to take sides with any political party in the Mexican electoral system. And they have decided that any representative of theirs who decides to run for office has to resign as a representative of APPO. Now we believe that if the soviets in 1917 Russia would have taken this same position, then the Stalin clique couldn’t have gained power within the soviets to dissolve them later on.
So we are trying to learn from the movement of popular assemblies in Oaxaca to inform our own proposals to the Iranian people.
BW: Well, there’s one very obvious contradiction as far as Latin America and the struggle against US dominance there is concerned for the struggle in Iran. And that is the very pro-Iran stance of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and the whole bloc which is emerging around him, which now also includes Evo Morales in Bolivia and so on…
BD: Well, this does give the liberals a good propaganda tool. However, for the revolutionary left in Iran and the radical left of the student movement, we consider people like Fidel Castro and Chavez and Morales as a reactionary force using Marxist ideology the same way the Iranian government uses Islam to fool the people and to gain control. We do not consider them as leftists or Marxist-Leninists in a revolutionary sense. And we disassociate ourselves from them. This is what we take to the Iranian people, and we explain to them, they understand.
If you actually look into what Chavez and Morales are doing, they are actually implementing the liberal course in their own countries. As far as the form of government is concerned, they are not going for assemblies, like the soviets, as Marxist-Leninists should. They are maintaining the form and hierarchy of a liberal government. We consider them as representatives of the capitalists, and not the working class.
BW: And yet they have made moves to nationalize resources and fund social programs…
BD: Nationalization is not Marxist-Leninist! Socialization is Marxist-Leninist. Nationalization, as under Stalin, will only end up in state capitalism, as we have in Iran. Only through assemblies becoming the government, and the sole government of the land, can nationalization be socialization. When the people of one country have control over their resources and the means of production—and not a few politicians in the liberal sense of government—only then can you have socialism.
BW: How have you been able to follow the struggle in Oaxaca? Is it covered at all in the newspapers in Iran?
BD: Not at all. The only source of information is the Salam Democrat site. Nobody is presenting information or analysis about Oaxaca except Salam Democrat and our group.
BW: I assume you are aware of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas.
BD: Of course. We think they have grown to be a very deep-rooted and effective force in Mexican politics. In their “Other Campaign,” they went all across the Mexican country trying to identify the different movements they can unite with, and this was very effective. We believe they had a lot to do with propagating the assembly model throughout Mexico.
Of course, it comes from the Indian culture, and they might think that they are actually trying to go back to the origins of their culture. However, this is the same thing that landlords of the 13th and 14th century in England thought—that they were trying to go back to the old feudal laws. But in actuality, they were pushing capitalism and the power of the bourgeoisie. Similarly, the indigenous people in Mexico—the Zapatistas and Oaxacans and the rest of them—they might think they are going back to their cultural origins through these assemblies, but in actuality they are moving towards socialism.
BW: I think they understand that it is actually a confluence of the two tendencies.
BD: That is perfect! Because what is lacking in all the world is the self-consciousness of the people, knowing what power they have and knowing that they can rule themselves—this is the main issue of the left all around the world. To bring this self-confidence and self-realization within the people.
BW: What kind of solidarity or unity would you like to build with radical left forces here in the United States?
BD: The unity of the international left comes from the unity of the working class of the world. We feel much closer to the United States left and progressive groups than we feel towards the Iranian capitalists and their organizations. However, we have been separated from our comrades in the American and international left for nearly the last 30 years. And we are not any where near the level of organization as when we had these close connections with the American left…
BW: You’re speaking about the 1970s, I assume…
BD: Yes, then we had the Confederation of Iranian Students, with very close ties to the American progressive groups. Right up until the Iranian Revolution.
BW: How can we begin to rebuild this sort of thing?
BD: That’s just what I was going to speak about. The first thing is, we need to re-familiarize ourselves with each other, with more dialogue and more cooperation in international issues such as the movement against globalization of capital, the anti-war movement, and support of peoples in struggle such as in Latin America, through groups such as the Oaxaca Study Action Group. Slowly, slowly, we can re-familiarize again and rebuild our ties.
Oaxaca Study Action Group (OSAG)
IWW statement on Eric Larson in Oaxaca
Iran: New government fails to address dire human rights situation
Amnesty International, February 2006
From our weblog:
Iranian solidarity with Oaxaca
WW4 REPORT, Jan. 20, 2007
Iran: protesters condemn Holocaust conference
WW4 REPORT, Dec. 12, 2006
Oil prices rise as Iran nuclear deadline passes
WW4 REPORT, Feb. 27, 2007
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution