Party and Political Power
A speech at the Second Congress of Worker-communist part of Iran
Apri1 15th 1998
Transcript of the speech
Comrades definitely have different expectations of this talk. However, my discussion is not about a step by step process of pelting eggs at regime’s oppressive forces until [armed] uprising. I don’t want to explain these different stages. I want to discuss my own observations and opinions on the relevant issues to the process of strengthening Worker-communism and its seizing political power; I want to discuss the factors involved.
I want to start with a few remarks which may seem like we’re asking ourselves blasphemous questions; blasphemy, because, apparently, existing theory rejects these questions.
However, I believe scrutinising the theory of communism and political power will demonstrate that these questions won’t create uncertainty; I have these questions and would like for you to also reflect on them.
The first point regarding political power is as follows:
Is the power of the party or the class? This is the first question that anyone who thinks about the outcome of this discussion will ask us. They will ask us why we are talking about the party and the political power. They will say that according to socialist theory, we were supposed to talk about class and political power [as opposed to the party.] “Communists are not supposed to talk about gaining power through their party.” Therefore, [according to them] the debate surrounding party and political power is contrary to socialist theory. They will say “the theory states that it’s the working class that takes the power from the bourgeoisie and organises itself as the ruling class; [so] it’s not clear what the relevance of the party is here and why you talk about party and political power.”
This ban on talking about party and political power is only on us. It’s only us communists who are warned against taking power, when we talk about it: “watch yourself!”; “you, according to your own theories, are not supposed to aim for power as a party; it’s the working class that should get close to power.” Both within the socialist movement and outside it we are faced with this position; we are advised against it. This is one of “our prohibitions.”¬
If five nationalists get together and create a new party, they immediately talk about taking power; and nobody criticises them; Nobody! It would be said that a new Iranian nationalist party has been founded, Mr. X is their leader and they’re aiming for power. They would even introduce their president and prime minister in waiting. Media would interview them. But if we state that the Worker-communist party is aiming for political power, the first who opposes us will be one of these left organisations, such as “communist union”. They would say: “what? It is the class that is supposed to take power; don’t you see the phenomenon of the Soviet Union?”
This reminds me of Groucho Marx, the American comedian, who said: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” The view of those who oppose us is similar to this. They are saying that they are ready to live in a society under a bourgeois liberal government, under conservatives, under liberals; but are not ready to live under a government which is made of people like themselves. This is one point and one aspect of the theoretical debate which should be dealt with. We have the right to talk about this issue in the way we are doing today. Then we follow our old debate about worker revolution, taking political power and armed uprising.
Mehdi Khan Baba Tehrani has said in an interview in Nimrouz journal that the problem with the opposition is that it has an eye for power! I don’t understand. What else is the opposition supposed to do? The problem, in his view, is not that the opposition has positive or negative views about the “civil society”; [according to him] the problem with the Iranian opposition is that it thinks about power!
The first point I want to say that might seem blasphemous is that this party has an eye for political power and wants to take power. This not only does not contradict [the concept of] seizing power by the working class, but this is essentially the only way for the working class to take political power, that is, to take power through its party. Indeed the fact that taking power by the party might not result in taking power by the class depends on the characteristics of the party. I’m talking about a Worker-communist party.
Another point that apparently and supposedly theory has passed on to us is that the process of gaining political power is similar to planting a tree; that is, communists begin work among the working class: propaganda, agitation, organisation; and spread their influence among the class. They gradually organise the class. Members of and circles among the class become communist. Step by step this power and influence will increase. They gain power of action, power to protest and in this process the relation between the party and the class will become so strong that it enables the party to take the class into an [armed] uprising, organise the revolution and seize power. This is the left’s theory and the general view of communist work/activity.
Here, I want to put forward another blasphemous question: [what] if this process takes more than 20 years? We begin organising among the workers, for example organise 20-22 year old workers, after 10-15 years some of them will have families and children, some of them become ill, and some will withdraw from political work. What are we faced with at the end of this process? We work and as a result workers become communist but then they retire and withdraw from politics.
Do socialist and communist education, organisation of workers, party and class relation pass on from one generation to another so that we work among workers of 60s and 70s in Iran and hope to take power with workers of 90s and 2000s? Is it possible that a communist party works for 50 years among the workers and gains power after 50 years?
For me, such expectation is not feasible; for, organisational legacy, ideological commitment, and the relation of party and class cannot easily pass on from one generation to another. We are witnessing this now. You work and for example gain influence among 20% of the workers, but workers after a while lose interest. How long can you do this for? We continue our political life, whereas the workers, whom we work with, leave. We see this in our own political experience.
This is the party that was involved in Sanandaj May 1st [activities]; had contacts with different worker circles who listened to our radio, who copied and distributed radio programmes, who travelled abroad [to meet up with us]. But, now, we ask ourselves, and others ask us, what happened to the influence we had [among the working class]? It is interesting that we gained that influence during and after the bloody repression of June 1981. We enjoyed a worker’s base and fabric; but we don’t have it now. What happened to these workers? It’s obvious; they lost interest. Not everyone waits for the revolution to take them on board. After a while they make other decisions for their lives. They probably come to the conclusion that this work is useless. Those worker activists or worker circles that used to work with us, we hear, are involved in different activities.
This political power, this party power does not pass on from one generation to another. Influence of political parties among workers is not saved. It is not like a saving account that you can pay to until a considerable sum is saved up. [A party] gains influence among the workers, and to my opinion, it either uses this influence to take power, or it has to start all over again. [The question is] do you use your influence to take political power or not? This has been the experience of European communist parties. It has been the experience of all left political parties in the world.
Parties which gain power through elections, in democratic countries participate every 4 years in elections and people vote for them; usually the left is never voted in. If you study the life story of the left and radical left in parliamentary systems, you realise that in some occasions Trotskyites came close and one of them was elected in local associations; But after 20 years in countries like England and France they have even failed to get voted in local elections. This is the success story of radical left parties regarding political power in parliamentary systems. And when comrade X is elected in local government, the issue of political power is all but forgotten.
We must ask this question: Can we achieve anything by such a theory, i.e. the theory of gradual evolution, going from point A to B, from zero to hundred, the readiness for [armed] uprising? And is communist uprising at the end of such process?
Another question and point: Can we take power anytime we want or we’re able to, or the society should have gone through certain developments?
Suppose that our influence among the workers has increased and 30-40% of workers have joined our party, like the Communist party of Italy or France in the 70s. Will you be ready for taking political power when you reach this point? Will this [taking power] be resolved in the relation between the party and the class? Will the revolution happen anytime the party has prepared the class for it?
Revolution is a phenomenon in the society. However, in the organisational and intellectual view of the left it is assumed that anytime they’re ready, they’ll move to take power. Whereas Marxist theory states that the society must enter a period of revolutionary developments, so that we can intervene to change society. In a society which does not want a revolution, the workers who move for taking power, regardless of the degree of their organisation, will be crushed. You can’t get up one morning and decide you’re ready for taking power; the society will not let you.
Revolutionary turbulence, political upheaval, the existence of a contradiction in the heart of society which draws different classes into struggle against each other and special moments when the power can be taken are important elements which influence the debate of party and political power. Can we take the power at any moment? If you think you are ready in terms of organisation, numbers, military preparedness and force, can you take power? Can power be taken at any moment, or only under certain conditions can one reach for power?
These are my answers to above questions:
I believe that crude theory always considers the party without the class and class without the party. When it talks about the party, this is an organisation of revolutionaries without any roots, a revolutionary association which is outside the class and incapable of bringing about any actions among the class. We have already discussed this issue in our literature. When it talks about the class, the class has no party organisation; there are only workers which are on strike or in sit-in; and they collectively gain power in this shape. If they take an organisational shape or a political organisation finds influence among them, their revolution is spoilt. In general, in the common crude theoretical expression, there is this dualism: Party on one side without workers and workers on the other side without the party.
We introduced this point that the worker characteristic of a communist party is in their worker programme, without necessarily all workers or a majority of them being with the party. In defining historic moments, a worker party, despite being a minority among the workers, can shape the movement of the majority of workers, rise up, seize power and keep it; after all it is this way that [the party] can become the majority. I believe this is feasible. It should be like this. If a professor who has studied socialism tells us this does not correspond with what he has studied; or any leftist who apparently learned a lesson from Stalinism tells us we are a special minority among the working class and have no rights to reach for power, I will answer that our theory has always been different.
I will answer, in the absence of a revolutionary movement, we can never attract the majority of the working class; we NEVER can. The revolutionary and communist minority of the class must take certain steps in the social struggle so that the majority of the class joins it. If you don’t have your foot anywhere, there is no reason for anyone to join you. No one has a reason to join a party which has no special programme for an important work. Masses join people who have a special programme to change the society. When you put the armed uprising in the agenda of the working class but are not able to organise it, the masses of the working class will join a reformist party which can at least realise a wage increase. The relation of the party and the class with revolution and reforms is a special and totally human relation: the steady improvement of living conditions.
If workers realise that you have no intention and are unable to objectively organise a movement which leads to an achievement, they will vote for the bourgeois left party which can at least stand up to the conservatives, defend the minimum living wage, or keep the health insurance free.
This is my response to this discussion:
A worker party which has a minority, a real force among the class; a worker party which has a real and significant force among the class which gives it the possibility of a revolutionary and radical action in society, can attract the rest of the class through this radical and revolutionary action. The mechanism for getting close to political power by the party in relation to the working class is this. The party is not a catalyst in which the class sees its internal metabolism. By the same token, in my opinion, it is this same minority and the party that must play a vital role in organising the power, immediately after taking it.
Therefore, we too, like bourgeois parties will move for power; that is, we too want to take power. When a bourgeois party states that it wants to take power, do we ask them as the party of the bourgeoisie, whether they have the whole bourgeoisie with them? Do we ask them to prove their influence among the bourgeoisie? They would reply that they organise an election to find out whether they have the necessary influence or not. Elections are the process in which they demonstrate their influence and strength among their own class.
If elections are not our programme and road to power, we will state that we organise a revolution and then will find out whether the workers support us or not. We, too, will put forward a social process. They will definitely respond that they don’t accept our revolution; we will, in turn, respond that we don’t accept their election. What I want to say is that these two have equal weight.
After the congress, when in an interview we state that we want to gain political power, the left outside us will scream: “they are a sect; they want to concentrate the power in their own hands.” I would reply: “what do you want? Are you like old German cars with their engines on the back and push the working class forward? What is your raison d’être?”
In my opinion, the relation between the party and the class moves in a cycle; from weak to strong and vice versa. It doesn’t gradually move up. It’s not saved up. As a political party, you have a certain opportunity to prepare the working class to spring to seize power. If you don’t take advantage of this opportunity, you have to start all over again. Power is not saved up. It might remain in the historical memory of the workers and society, or in the influence among the left; but political influence among the workers will not be saved up. Workers are with you for some time and then leave you. If the revolution is defeated, workers will leave your ranks in bulk. I would leave too. Anyone with common-sense will leave a communist party after a defeated revolution. The future life of a Communist party in such conditions depends on its programme and the plan that leads its actions; however, anyone with some distance will lose interest and leave.
People want to live happily, prosperous and socialise; they don’t want to follow a bizarre scenario for their lives. We are a group of people who, for different reasons, choose a different scenario for our lives; but the mass of people don’t do this. Therefore, there is a period when we work actively, we either succeed, or we have to start all over again.
Does taking power depend on the degree of our influence among the working class, that is, any time we reach a certain level, if we wish we can take power? My answer is: No. Only that party can gain power, which recognises the time when the power is up for grab and obtainable. If we are unable to recognise such moments, we can never gain power, even if we have a large majority of the workers with us.
There are quite a few cases in the history of left parties that had the sympathy of all workers on their side; if they had organised an [armed] uprising, they would have succeeded. They didn’t do it, all of the workers who were with them left and their leaders were executed. There are few cases of left parties, which were later reproached for not having tried to take power, when the question of power was open, considering their influence and power.
It might be said that workers would not leave our ranks under such conditions. But you must take into consideration that the bourgeoisie will not sit quite; it will begin propaganda, propose reforms and moderate the society. It will even ban picketing, never mind activities among workers for seizing power.
Considering the above factors, I would formulate the question as follows:
The Worker-communist Party will be able to take power, if it has a significant part of the working class, a minority, but an influential, powerful and active minority on its side; if it is a party that has a strong relation with the working class, a revolutionary programme and has achieved a degree of influence in the social and political sphere which has turned it into one of the major political players, and if it is able to recognise the situation when the question of political power opens up and becomes the subject of social struggle. Otherwise it cannot gain political power.
It is not an inevitable fate that with these blasphemous [statements] we will take power. And the very uncertainty of our fate makes it interesting. It depends on our activities, on our power of judgment and on our knowledgeable decision and willpower in those periods that the opportunity for taking power opens up to us. I have already stated that socialism is not inevitable.
Unfortunately, such situations occur in our life time once or twice. You must write your programme and think out your plans for such situations; [not with the view that] the evolutionary process of society is inevitable. This notion that after us workers, or some people under our names would finally take power is no consolation to me or this particular party. This particular party must state that it works to take power for us and workers in our time.
Therefore, seizing political power is a practical work. I should say that political power includes the followings:
1- To be transformed into a live political tradition in the society and among the working class. And it is this tradition that will not die out under any ups and downs. You should succeed to become a political tradition; to transform Worker-communism into an involved social force; an existing social force that in an election can win10% or 30% of the votes; it’s a force in the scene; it’s part of people’s lives; it is part of political life of the society. You can engage in this activity, regardless of whether there is a revolutionary situation or not; and regardless of [political] ups and downs. This way you can guarantee the continuation of this tradition.
2- As a party to know the situation and conditions for taking power and to work to create its prerequisites. Then you have the chance of taking power and becoming the party of the majority of the society. This is the mechanism by which [the party] can become the party of the majority not the other way round, i.e. to become the party of the majority and then take political power.
Seizing by the revolutionary class is the necessary condition to becoming the majority in the society, not the other way round. This is impossible. This is the framework that from each angle you look at it, shows our characteristics and the process of us becoming the majority. Not the gradual historical evolution and not at the end of a process of agitation and propaganda for attracting the majority of the class, which have always been the position of the left up to now.
I tried to talk about the necessary pre-conditions for becoming a live political tradition in the society. I mentioned certain theses for a particular party and a particular communist tendency; I did not discuss communist parties in general. The necessary conditions are as follows:
The first condition for our presence in the struggle over political power is that we become the flag-bearer of the extreme left, not the second or third. The flag of the extreme left and the worker left in the society must always be in our hands. We must be known as the representative of the future [armed] uprising, as “the spectre” that is flying over the society. We should be the ones whom all the defenders of the status quo want to condemn. It must be this party that holds the flag of workers’ radical protest, the flag of Marxism and the socialist critique; not one of the left, but the representative of Worker-communism. We can later discuss how much we have progressed in this direction or how far we are from that and where we stand.
We must enter this territory. Because if the society recognises us as the extreme left, when it decides to hand over the power to the extreme left, we find the opportunity to take power. But if the society recognises Toudeh Party, for example, as the extreme left, when it wishes to hand over the power to extreme left, it would give it to Toudeh party. If the society associates Marxism with Fadaaeis or their tradition, when it wants to see the socialists in power, it would give the power to Fadaaeis.
We must be flag-bearers of such demands, programme and social goals and the political critic in the society that people decide to try us; decide to mobilise behind us. You need to guarantee to be such a movement, otherwise there have been many who raise Marx’s picture and reached different results.
Second point is that we have to be the active and visible part of the opposition. I mentioned in the beginning of my talk that we have to move from margin of politics to the centre of society. We must be one of the few main actors in dividing the share of power and the political situation in the society. The issue of political power isn’t only whether or not we can take over the government, but also whether we are able to gather a considerable force in the society with which we can engage in the process of seizing power. If the other side has an army with which it suppresses people, we should be the representative of the oppressed. Even if we cannot take the whole power, we must be a force in the bourgeois society that is taken into account and seen as “a source of danger.” We need to be a real force; we must speak and be a real part of the opposition. Later we talk about how much WPI has got close to this image. I’m happy that we are getting close to both positions.
The third point is that we must be the party of the [working] class. It does happen at times that some rootless trends manage to grow roots in particular conditions and to take power without belonging to any traditions in the society; nevertheless, they need to base themselves on an existing social class and tradition. There are indeed social classes in a society. You cannot take power as “The Dirty Dozen” or “The Wild Bunch”. You must try to take power as the representative of a social class, a social faction and with its help. For us this class is the working class and the faction is the socialist and radical section of the working class, of which we have been talking for a long time. We have to really be integrated with this section. This is an aspect of our relation with political power, which is not provided at the moment. We don’t have a live, constructive relation and a feeling of mutual belonging with the radical, socialist and protesting section of the working class of Iran. This section of the class does not have much opportunity to express itself so that we can find out how it thinks and what inclination it has. The oppressive situation has deprived them of such an opportunity. However, we can objectively conclude that this is one of our weaknesses.
Fourth, we have to demonstrate a power of leadership. Parties which submit to the masses; parties which want to so-called “learn” from the masses; parties which want to echo the working class’s inclinations, don’t have the chance of achieving much. Because, under hardship, working class’s general inclinations regress; under prosperous conditions workers’ inclinations could very well be different. If there is a large reformist party, the working class may be inclined to support it.
We have to talk about matters that enable the class to move from where they are now to another point. We must facilitate this movement [in a way] that the workers are enabled to recognise that what we say makes sense and is feasible. This means the strength of taking your views to the class. This demands the ability to lead. This is not an issue of convincing, but a social relation.
Allow me to explain the 4 points mentioned a bit further:
- Regarding the relation with the class; to be part of the class is not only to be present and have a [so-called] face to face, one to one or micro relation. If the class sees you [the party] as a movement that is present in the scene, it will become interested in you [the party]. Therefore part of the relation between the class and the party is dependent on what the party does in the political scene. Another aspect is the relation with workers’ circles and presence in workers’ circles. [And finally,] the party must also be acknowledged as a real trend among the working class that reflects on these issues. All these demand a degree of political activism from us. The activism WPI demonstrates abroad does not only attract the public opinion but also the workers; it attracts the workers’ attention to our documents, to our personalities, to our discussions, arguments and our organisation. Thus, as I also mentioned in the first day, our internal work and work abroad are related and influence each other. We can then ponder in our discussion on why we engage in these actions [abroad]. Maybe the local factors don’t explain the necessity or justify the reasons for the action [protest]. But [this way] people in Iran will find out how to contact us, when and if they come abroad.
Regarding the question of becoming the flag-bearer of the left and communism, this is not only going to be limited to Iran or to Persian, Kurdish or Arabic languages. A party which is the flag-bearer of Marxism cannot not be the flag-bearer of Marxism in a more world-wide [arena]; nor at least one of the main participants of Marxist discussions worldwide. One of our shortcomings is that we don’t appear in this field, regardless of the fact that Marxist discourse is losing ground or is not fashionable. This is one of our main issues; we should only begin this work and move in this direction so that the worker is reassured we are the flag-bearer of Marxism. Now, the political groups have recognised this fact and some concede that we are the Marxists and some are trying to mock and question our Marxism.
There must be theoretical and political journals which demonstrate the theoretical and political power of this trend. The party’s programme is one of our strengths that others have to discuss and grasp; so are our other Marxist arguments and Marxist critiques of different issues. Now we are known as an anti-religion trend, everyone says they are a trend which doesn’t care for religion. Everyone says that our critique is radical. “They say religion should not exist at all. They have a reason for this. They are the Marxists. They are the left.” For once and for the first time in society, we have made it possible for a Communism to emerge that doesn’t feel obliged to compromise with the masses’ beliefs and society’s superstitions. They say: “you see them? They’re anti-religion.” Many are attracted to our ranks because of this [characteristic] and because of our position on religion. They are encouraged to go and find out what Marxism is about or what Marx says on this issue; [This goes for] our position on the veil and nationalism, our staunch opposition to nationalism, which some regard as negative, are theoretical strength of the party.
Let me say one more thing about religion. Raah e Kaargar has sent me 5 questions and asked whether I would reply; I answered yes. One of the questions was as follows: Relations with the USA, yes or no? I wrote, this is a very strange question; because both positive and negative replies are based on some assumptions. This is similar to asking Velayat-e faqih on the basis of law or outside it? Or legal Velayat-e faqih, yes or no? If you say no, it would mean that you accept Velayat-e faqih [but you don’t think it should be based on law.] If you say yes, you would still be accepting this concept. At the end of the interview I wrote Islamic regime’s relations with the US will not be faced with our opposition. As an anti-Islam socialist, Communist trend, the question, whether or not Islamic movements have relations with the US is not our concern.
I referred to Islamic movements from my own position as an anti-Islamist. Perhaps this is not stated in our programme, but I consider myself an anti-Islam activist. I want to eradicate Islam. Political Islam is a real trend in the 20th century and I know what it does to human beings. I’m anti-Islam. This is a theoretical position and not an emotional one or not because I was raised in a non-religious family. I’m anti-Islam and I can theoretically discuss why Islam is not “the opium of the masses” anymore. I wish it was! (Kourosh Modaresi has written in an article in International that it isn’t the opium any more.) If it were the opium, we would have left it alone. In our programme we are defending the decriminalisation of drugs and its free usage for addicts. We could have taken the same position vis-à-vis religion. Political Islam is a vile inhumane movement. It murders and bullies. It is a threat to freedom and human civility. In my opinion the centre of today’s civilisation is the West. If the Islamists carry out bomb threats in the west and ruin people’s homes, the first casualty would be the workers, who have made such progress. The bourgeoisie has had fascist rules and have no problems with it. If Algeria claims that the current killings are the work of Islamists, everyone believes it; because people have witnessed political Islam’s capacity for murder.
I want to say these are theoretical issues, provided we contextualise them theoretically. [That is, someone writes about Islam and] explains why it is not only the opium; but it is an Islamic movement in the 20th century with a special role to play.
In regards to becoming the active and the most visible part of the opposition, there are many factors to mention: Demonstrations, journals, personalities, activities, meetings, gatherings, strikes, etc. These are activities that convince people we are an active opposition party and are in the scene. [We have to] expand our agitation, propaganda and organisational activities as well as protest actions. These are the conditions for the party to become a main trend among the opposition. Now, everyone in Iran knows that there are different political parties in the society, which are partly situated in Iran and partly abroad, due to their position against the regime, repression and security reasons. However, one essential condition is that this opposition is formed inside Iran. Currently, this is one of our weaknesses, but we should not exaggerate. If the party becomes the main opposition force abroad, assigns 60-70 people to work in Iran and the rest [of the party] turn abroad upside down, people will hear about the party, and then we’ll be the active part of the opposition. Because it would be reported in one of the papers in the country that so and so from WPI refuted and discredited Farokh Negahdar in a meeting; or there would be reports that for example, Kahtami came to Europe to meet a European statesman, and WPI organised a demonstration with 3000 people to protest against this meeting. People gathered in such and such square and pelted eggs at his entourage.
How can we demonstrate that we are able to lead? First and foremost we must demonstrate that we have a leadership. People must recognise party’s leadership as leaders. A party which publishes communiqués in obscurity cannot become a leader of anyone. After all, people follow people, be it in a factory, in a town or in the society. We need to have posters with the pictures of our candidates for revolutionary councils, town halls, for the leadership of trade unions, etc. This is the time that comrades should prepare their best photos which we can publish, pictures that will be published in papers inside the country. Is it unwise from security point of view? But [we have to take into consideration that] there are new conditions. We were all ready to go to dangerous meetings during the 1979 revolution; we all have been on dangerous trips; some comrades have carried out dangerous military operations, participated in wars. Now, we’re in conditions that we have to publish our pictures. It’s self-evident that we don’t want to suffer causalities; we are not crazy; but our leadership must be accessible to the public.
They [the bourgeoisie] post their photos on walls with their “long live… and down with…” slogans; in return, we must post our photos and our “long live… down with…” slogans in many more numbers. If I hear that in a town people have shouted: “long live comrade X”, I’ll be happy. I will not pull the rug off their feet. I think that anywhere that we enjoy a degree of influence, people should say, “do you remember that person? He/she is alive and is the head of an organisation, a member of a committee, is an activist of this trend, if you go to London, you will see her/him.”
[There should be a situation where workers think] if they [our party] enter the scene, personalities, leaders and individuals, known social figures, who have the ability of coming to power, will take power; their looks, speech, political and social types [are familiar to the workers.] These are real people, not political organisations who behind secret names issue communiqués. Their names are real; you know the person behind the name; you know their behaviour and character. After all, real people must appear in front of the scene.
Party’s positions must be relevant and exact; they must respond to political questions. When something happens, we must take a position relevant to the struggle. I’m not going to discuss this issue, it’s the same old discussion regarding political leadership, same concepts we have talked about.
Finally, we have to be quick. The leadership cannot stay behind and lead from the back. The leadership must be in the front of the scene. We’re not quick enough.
I want to finish my talk with mentioning one point. What image of ourselves must we put forward to the people? We must offer a believable image of WPI and take it into people’s homes, factories and in the streets; image of party’s programme, its politics and positions. What features should this image have?
People should think of us as an extremely radical party that has its feet on the ground; that knows what it talks about, it’s not up in the air; they should think their aims are radical, but they’re ready to implement them. They should say: “they know what problems are involved in the real process of struggle; they are able to talk about most complex issues; they know how to go from point A to B, but at the same time they always say this is not their only aim and that they want to uproot the real causes. They’re extremely radical, but a social radicalism, not a sectarian one.” People should think of us as social radicals. We can think and find out what actions will strengthen our radicalism or will instead give a socially detached image of us; or we’re under the illusion that we are becoming involved and engage in the society, whereas we are compromising our radicalism. We must be aware that it is our radicalism that leads us towards power. People should say, with a sense of relief that, “if they take power, they’re going to ban certain things.”
For example, there must be a government which rules that girls must attend school; otherwise [some] families will not send their daughters to school when a Mullah is telling them what to do or what not to do. There must be a government that deals with a Mullah who interferes. This is extreme modernism both in thought and method. The methods of a modern trend for implementing its aims cannot be regressive, bland or weak. People must see that this Worker-communist Party is comprised of individuals who know how to work with today’s complex technology and work with the media; “if they want to lead a legal struggle they know how to and if they want to struggle in the street they are able to; if they want to contact the unions they are capable.” [You must be a Party] that knows the mechanism of organising mass organisations and building charity organisations. If you are a militant current in a society that relies on the government to run the pipe lines and you see your role only as [the agency] calling the government to do so, you haven’t got much chance of becoming such a capable phenomenon.
And finally, everything that I’ve discussed are the elements of worker- socialist movement. What I want to say is that these give an image of Worker-communism and how it applies Marxism. If we tell people we are Marxist, but we are unable to influence people’s lives, it will not lead to anything. Or in regards to Marxist theory, the fact that we are communists does not show on its own that we are a modern trend.
People must realise that our trend is extremely human; it doesn’t want to forcibly shove the society towards a certain direction; and nobody will be trampled by it. Its strength for gaining power is its humanity. How can we show this?
I believe we are weak in this respect. It’s true that we defend humanity in our writings and literature; but our real relation with people is not on this basis. This is how I see it. We behave in a way that people take distance from us; we put people under pressure; we are too hard towards ourselves and others. It often happens that we don’t respect each other’s civil rights or dignity. This is a weakness that is observable from outside. It’s all right to do this in a plenum, it would be said they’re annoying each other. But looking from outside, it’s not nice. I believe that our base is our humanity, our civility, respecting people’s rights even when they disagree with us.
Moreover, our relation with people must be on the basis of kindness. I said on the first day [of the congress] that if the world was in our hands, there would be a great deal of happiness. Not your and your families’ happiness ; but the happiness of people you don’t know; happiness of people who don’t like you very much, or who’ve had arguments with you; people who are of different colour, race or nationality and have even fought with the people of your nationality a couple of times; the happiness of people. And this commitment to happiness, to prosperity, wellbeing and the security of people’s lives should be seen in our everyday moves: when we participate in a meeting, organise a meeting, invite someone to the party’s house, involve in political polemics with someone, when we contact our opponents, in all of our activities. This party with all its grandeur cannot only fight, it must also help. The importance of the federation of refugees is in its human image. If the federation was going to only help its own people to get out of Turkey, then its image would have been different. Working for children’s rights, regardless of colour, race and family is very important. We defend the child and its rights. We really defend children’s rights; we are not using this struggle for other purposes. Children’s rights are our real cause.
- It is also important what kind of language we use in our journals.
Offering a human, likeable and palpable image of the party is the responsibility of all of us, not only the leadership. It’s our daily task. We have to be able to reach a point where friendship with a member of the party encourages positive feelings towards the whole party. This might seem like a moral preaching. However, [unfriendly] grumpy parties cannot go too far.
What did we say in our debate on “dark scenario”? We said that if a dark scenario is created and we manage to take control of an area, with all so-called hate that we feel toward “imperialism” or its “puppets”! Everyone from “Doctors without borders” to UNICEF who want to help the people in need, they can count on us that we allow them to pass. We will not take people’s livelihood hostage; even when we are certain that if we shell a residential area, we’d succeed to push the enemy to retreat, we won’t do it. This idea must be established. In great revolutions, people think of revolutionaries as decent honest people, they are the heroes of the society. If you are politically radical but don’t connect emotionally with people, you might win, but in the final analysis you won’t reach your goal and your success will die out.
In all the areas that were mentioned we have made certain advancements, so today we can expect the party to get a foothold in the debate over political power. The question of political power will reopen. When I talk about political power, I don’t mean the entire state power; I mean getting stuck into the fight over it. This has become a possibility. As an organisation, the Worker-communist party has reached a place where the public notices it. The WPI has the people capable of making a concrete impact. The WPI’s political positions have gained enough credibility that the people want to give them space.
We have some weaknesses which I mentioned on the first day and I’m not going to repeat them. We have to overcome these weaknesses. Nevertheless, we can play a role in keeping this tradition alive. If we can’t take power and the party is defeated, some others will continue. But the tradition must exist so it could bear fruit under certain conditions. Our objective in the present day and the constant aim of our movement is to keep these aims, ideals and thoughts alive. Our aim must be to establish our role in the political power struggle. We must at least stake our claim in this process. If someone asks me, I’ll say we want to seriously be involved in the fight over power in Iran. My conclusion is that this next couple of years have a defining role in the party’s relation to power.
It’s possible that figures and social parameters demonstrate that at present we are unable to take political power in its entirety. I’m not sure. It depends on what will happen to us in the near future. I don’t know with what energy and power the Bolsheviks entered the February revolution. But I know that they possessed these qualities in their leadership, fabric and relation with the Russian working class, thus they were able to play a role in the defining historic moment. We’re not deprived of these qualities. I’m not saying we can do it. I don’t want to inflate our situation, or fill your heads. But I’m saying to judge objectively. In all fairness whoever looks at us in this situation, would expect us to play a role in the political future of Iran. It seems that there has never been any party capable of this. The most left parties in Iran were not part of a social trend in society, and those who were, like the Toudeh party were not radical. Or, they were not Worker-communists, even if they were, a committee needs to be built to ascertain if they were Worker-communists or not?
This is our mission that we have to try to accomplish with awareness, unified and on the basis of an agreed political plan. We have to be focused and move with most efficiency. I hope we leave this congress in this spirit.
* The transcript was first published in Mansoor Hekmat, Selected Works, Worker-communist Party- Hekmatist publications
An explanation by the translator
It is necessary to make the following point. It should be taken into consideration that this is a speech delivered in a closed party congress, directed to the party cadres, and not a theoretical article on the subject. He later elaborated and expanded this topic in a party plenum under the title of “Party and the Society.” Therefore, the piece may not include detailed theoretical arguments.
It should also be mentioned that Mansoor Hekmat refused to publish the transcripts at the time. Instead he wrote a short article on party and political power and party and society in the party’s journal to introduce this topic. The reason he did not publish the transcript of this speech when he was alive, was that if he was going to write an article, he would definitely argue his points with more in depth theoretical arguments.
There was another case when he refused to have a transcript of a radio interview published. The interview was on woman’s question. When I, as the editor of Medusa (the journal of woman and socialism circle) and interviewer of this interview asked his permission to print the transcripts in Medusa journal, he did not give permission. He responded that if he was going to write on woman’s question, he would write differently and more theoretical than a short radio interview. However, after his death most of his interviews and speeches have been transcribed.
Having said that, it must be stated that this speech is an important contribution to Marxist debate on communism and political power. Especially, from strategic and practical point of view this speech is ground-breaking as it regards the left-communist tradition vis-a-vis political power after the October Revolution. Thus, I decided to translate it. But to do justice to Mansoor Hekmat and his respect for theoretical work and Marxism, I believe this explanation is essential.
In Persian many times the armed is dropped out and only the word uprising used. So, in this translation when uprising is understood as armed uprising, the word armed is added in brackets.
The brackets are added by the translator.
Vahdat komonisti, an Iranian left organisation.
An Iranian opposition figure who lives in Germany.
A Persian paper published in London.
At The time of the speech, Kahtami, a so-called reformist was the president of the Islamic regime. He said that he wanted to promote civil society; a concept that had come into fashion in the 90s. As a consequence, this concept was discussed a great deal among that part of the opposition who supported him and promoted the idea of reforming the Islamic regime. The WPI called this part of the opposition: “pro-regime”.
Sanandaj is the capital of Kurdistan province. Worker-communism has been rather strong in this city. Here, Mansoor Hekmat refers to May 1 demonstrations and activities in Sanandaj in the 80s, when he was in the leadership of the Communist Party of Iran.
Toudeh Party is the traditional pro-Soviet left party in Iran, which supported and still supports the Islamic regime and collaborated with it through the 80s when the regime organised a bloody repression in the society.
Farokh Negahdar is one of the leaders of Fadaaei Majority who openly collaborated with the regime and still vigorously supports the regime.
In April 1995 Mansoor Hekmat spoke in a party seminar about the threat of what he called a “dark scenario” in Iran. He referred to the situation in parts of the world where killing, murder and destroying people’s homes and livelihood have become a fact of life; a dark scenario had been inflicted on Rwanda, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, etc. In June of the same year he wrote an article entitled “the Dark Scenario, the White Scenario; a debate on the development of the political situation in Iran.” “…the main feature of a dark scenario is desperation People’s inability to understand why this situation has happened, how long it would continue and when it would end. … No historical development has progressed without sufferings. However, I use this term to describe a situation that it’s not about society’s development, but about destroying the civil framework of the society, against people’s will and in a context of people’s frustration and desperation.”He warned against the possibility that a dark scenario could occur in Iran and called on the WPI to be prepared for such a situation. He gave proposals for preventing such situation from happening or to dealing with if it takes place.
Translation: Azar Majedi