Shiva Tabari, 23 December 2019

The Internal Dynamics of Iran’s Ruling Class Projects

When the Mullahs under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979, in order to resolve the unending struggle between the Pahlavi Dynasty, the bourgeoisie and the mass of workers and peasants, the bourgeoisie and most of the political parties thought that the Mullahs would stay on as political, religious figures mediating between ruling class and other class projects. However, what actually happened over the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic is that they expropriated/seized lands, factories and corporations and transformed themselves into an elite bourgeoisie, which is now the dominant part of the ruling class. In fact, it is now the families of Mullahs and their loyal servants who are the owners of the economic sector.

After the start of Israel-Lebanon war in 1982, a faction of the Islamic Republic, in the Supreme Council of Defense – the leading figure in the council at that moment was Ayatollah Khamenei – decided to send more than 1,000 troops to Lebanon in order to help the Shia forces. It was the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic that a faction of the ruling class decided to project its military power outside of its borders. Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution, was not happy with this decision. He thought that sending troops to any battle other than the war against Iraq would be a huge mistake, so the troops were returned to Iran immediately. Less than a decade later, Ayatollah Khamenei came to power as the leader of revolution, and this time there was nobody who could stop him and his group from carrying through their strategy of projecting the revolution and exporting wars outside of Iran’s borders. This section of the Islamic republic is still the dominant sector in the ruling class of Iran.

The history of Iran’s ruling class project is a tug of war between two main sections which want to capture more wealth and power for their own goals. I would call these two sections the revolutionary section vs. the normalizing section, or the section which is the leader and main player of Resistance axis (Iran-Syria-Lebanon-Yemen-Hamas) and the section which wants to be the leader of Compromise axis (the future governments of Iran-Syria-Yemen-Lebanon). The revolutionary section is trying to resist the pressure of USA-Europe-Israel-Saudi Arabia coming from outside, and beat down the normalizing section, which is getting powerful under the presidency of Hasan Rouhani, and their allied westernized middle class and poor middle class. However, this section, which is the dominant section since the start of Ayatollah Khamenei’s leadership, has been faced with the threat of dissolution of the kind which happened to the Soviet Union. At the same time, the normalizing section is trying to prepare the conditions for a Chinese-like transition into a productive state capitalism, opening the gates for foreign capital, revising the cultural norms and eliminating Islamic prohibitions in society. The revolutionary section is pro-East, and has good relation with China and Russia. The normalizing sector is pro-West and has the dream of creating good relations with USA and Europe. Describing the history of the tug of war between these two sections from 40 years ago would require a huge amount of historiography. However, after the passage of 40 years, at the start of so-called ‘second step of Islamic Revolution’, based on the current internally and externally critical situation of Iran, these two sections are preparing themselves for the final battle.

The revolutionary section is controlling more than 40 percent of Iran’s economy. Most of their companies and corporations do not pay tax to the state and their financial activity is not transparent. Primary political players of this section, beside Ayatollah Khamenei and members of his apparatus, are generals of Revolutionary Guard Corps, conservative MPs and major Mullahs in cities of Mashhad and Qom. An important agenda of this section is to build an Islamic Middle East with Iran as the hegemonic actor and with the dominant geopolitical influence in the region. It is their dream to capture the markets of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon in future. It has become clear for the poor middle class that this section of the ruling class spends most of the Iranian’s money in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon in order to establish its presence there. The revolutionary section has the advantage of having guns, multiple armies, para-military organizations and many of the political-governmental organizations like the Guardian Council (which has the power to accept or reject parliamentary laws and selects the people who are allowed to become candidate for parliament or presidency), the Assembly of Experts, the Expediency Discernment Council, the Parliament, the Judicial system of Iran, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, Law Enforcement Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran and many other major institutions.

On the other hand, the normalizing sector has weaker position. President Hasan Rouhani and his centrist, technocrat team which has accumulated experience in the intelligence services and security issues, along with reformists are struggling to provide more money and power for their campaign. Beside their facilities inside Iran, they have strong bonds with some of the opposition groups outside Iran. Some of the opposition groups are deeply involved in creating satellite channels, news agencies and promoting social campaigns. By looking at these channels one can see what is their dream of Iran’s future middle class: a non-Islamic, sentimental, apolitical, hedonistic life which the middle class can easily buy alcoholic liquors, have parties and have no concern about the Hijab. Putting the middle class aside, it is clear that they have no dream for the poor subaltern people. Four years ago, the daily wage of an unskilled worker was almost 15 dollars. Right now, it is less than 5 dollars. There are millions of unemployed workers who are desperate for a job. The normalizing section has the dream of taking the power from the revolutionary section, and with the help of western capital and cheap labor power, accumulate huge amount of value. Would President Rouhani become Iran’s ‘Deng Xiaoping'? or would Iran continue its Islamic revolutionary road in order to defeat Israel, Saudi Arabia and their allies? Would Iran’s ruling class project find a way to collaborate effectively with different class projects? Or are we going to witness a period of chaos and mutual destruction of various class projects? Let us again take a look at the November Massacre. This time from the standpoint of the ruling class and their rivalry.

Birth of the ‘Council of Heads of Powers’

It has become completely clear for the normalizing section and Hasan Rouhani that the revolutionary section is resisting any law or change in the political structure that leads to transformation of revolutionary Islamic Republic. For example, president Rouhani is insisting on the acceptance of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which will connect our financial institutions to world, but the revolutionary section has no interest in showing the world where they are spending their money. President Rouhani is insisting on restarting negotiations with USA but the revolutionary section is completely aware that negotiations in the current situation would lead to their defeat to West and pro-West internal section. In this situation, President Rouhani saw no positive perspective, and made a risky decision: Bypassing the Parliament and all the legislative regulations, tripling the price of fuel. For an experienced person like Rouhani, who has been an important member of Supreme Council of National Security, it was predictable that such a decision would create huge amount of anger and protest from the people and also among members of the ruling class. But he made that decision. It is clear that all the economic arguments about the importance of income of fuel for state budget deficiency are just excuses. Also, president Rouhani is not a person that would sacrifice his reputation for fixing these kinds of problems.

Why then was it important for the normalizing sector to impose such a decision on the whole of the ruling class and people? After the start of the mass protests, among people, many MPs, Mullahs in Qom and members of Expediency Discernment Council began to criticize Hasan Rouhani. In the same day that the Parliament was preparing for an emergency session to repeal Rouhani’s decision, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei made a speech and said that this decision has been made by the ‘Council of the Heads of Powers’, which consist of Head of State, head of Judicial system and head of Parliament. He told that we have to obey decisions of this Council and unite against the riots that are destroying public buildings.

After that, Parliament stopped their emergency session and other ruling class members made no more criticism of the decision. The creation of the Council of Heads of Powers and providing credit for its decisions was a great victory for Hasan Rouhani and the normalizing sector. Now it is possible for them to impose other decisions (like accepting FATF, or renegotiation with USA) from this channel. It seems that final destiny of Iran’s ruling class would be created in that Council, which now acts above the legal institutions. Is this council the germ-cell of a kind of ‘Politburo’ of the Chinese Communist Party that would make the biggest structural changes in Iran? Or will the autonomous subaltern class project, with the help of poor middle class, destroy the ruling class projects? In order to further clarify the situation, it is necessary to explain the particularities of modes of collaboration within and between these projects, the bigger global conflict between eastern and western blocs of capital, and accordingly, their proxy war in Iran.