July 28, 2009
IRAN: The Class Composition of the Protest Movement
Iranian exile and librarian Frieda Afary's excellent web site, Iranian Progressives in Translation, has just published the following important document -- a July 14 report from inside Iran by a 19-year-old activist and blogger on the class composition of the protest movement against the Khameini-Ahmadinejad regime, which shows how, as the protest movement grew, it "consisted more and more of working class 'individuals' and the poor." It should be a must read as a companion piece to Hamid Dabashi's first-rate July 2 article in Cairo's Al Ahram on the middle-class nature of Ahmadinejad's base.
Translated by Frieda Afary
Translator’s note: Fuad is a nineteen-year-old activist/intellectual and blogger. In his recent blog entry, he objects to an older Iranian leftist intellectual who calls Ahmadinejad’s supporters the “youth of the lower depths.” Fuad describes his own view of the class and social composition of the protests that have taken place in Tehran after the fraudulent June 12, 2009 election. Excerpts follow:
. . . As against all the myths circulating among analysts of all persuasions, I dare say that the main body of this movement consists not of the upper-middle class and the bourgeoisie, but the lower-middle class and “working class individuals” and the poor. (Later, I will explain why I say working class “individuals.”)
I don’t deny that a middle class leadership initiated the protest movement. But the body of the movement consisted of working class “individuals” and the poor. And as time passed, the movement consisted more and more of working class “individuals” and the poor, and moved toward south Tehran neighborhoods.
To prove this claim, one only needed to be present at the recent protests. This fact could be clearly comprehended. That is why I would like to review the recent demonstrations briefly. . .
During the first two days (June 13 and June 14, 2009) there were sporadic protest in all of Tehran’s neighborhoods. All social and economic classes participated. Of course protests were mostly taking place in central and north side neighborhoods. The upper- middle class was present at these protests. But the youth of south Tehran were also demonstrating in central and north side squares, if not in their own neighborhoods. I dare say that it was the youth from Afsarieh, Nazee Abad, Javadieh . . . who started throwing stones at the anti-riot police at Vanak Square. . .
During subsequent days, the situation was different. On June 15, over a million attended the protest from Imam Hussein to Azadi Square. On June 16, a million attended the protest from Vanak Square to Iranian Television and Radio Station Headquarters. On June 17, a million attended the protest from 7th Tir Square to Revolution Square. On June 18, a million attended the protest from Imam Khomeini Square to Revolution Square. I dare say that these four protests that involved millions, were some of the wonders of the world of politics, wonders that are unique to Iran. These demonstrations reflected a popular movement which cut across classes. All classes participated. All economic and ethnic groups were present. There were equal numbers of women and men. All age groups were present. The interesting point was that although the protests were silent, all participants had the equal and unlimited right to write their slogans on placards which they carried. No one objected to anyone else’s slogan. This was the greatest practice of democracy on the streets.
But the main issue is that when these protests were met by attacks from pressure groups or what our so-called leftist intellectual interpreted as the “youth of the lower depths” –of course in “plainclothes” [reference to plainclothes policemen] — it was the poor youth of south Tehran who fought back. . .
At the June 16 demonstration at Vanak Square, when those same “plainclothesmen” or what the so called leftist intellectual likes to call “youth of the lower depths” attacked the people, I personally witnessed that it was once again the youth of south Tehran who faced the bullets in order to allow the elderly women and men to withdraw and not become victims of the axes, truncheons and bullets of the “youth of the lower depths” in “plainclothes.”
Luckily no violent episodes took place in the other two demonstrations that involved millions.
But the real story of the participation of the “working class and poor individuals” began on June 20. As we all know, that demonstration was of a different kind.
The commander in charge of those “youth of the lower depths” in “plainclothes” had issued the attack order. This time the issue was whether you were “present on the street or not.” Leaders of the upper class kind withdrew and took back their call to protest. They asked people to stay home or stay quiet. The ones who were willing to give up their lives in order to stay on the streets, were those who had nothing to lose but their chains. These were the youth of south Tehran and “working class individuals.” Of course I have to admit that the crowd included youth from north Tehran whom I salute for their honor.
After June 20, people’s presence on the street changed. The slogans became more radical and everything became more serious. Based on testimonies from those who were on the streets and in the areas where the major confrontations took place, this time the movement had moved to south Tehran. The main confrontations took place in Sattar Khan, Towhid, Navab, Jomhuri and . . . which are lower-middle class and lower class areas of town.
After June 20, those “youth of the lower depths” in “plainclothes” no longer dared to confront the protesters without being mounted on motorcycles and without support from forces that were armed from head to toe. Despite all the propaganda that the rulers’ media and ideological apparatus had drilled into their heads, they knew that they were not dealing with a bunch of weakling, rich, and westernized youth. They were faced with the “real youth of the lower depths.” . . .
The protesters are young women and men. They are “unemployed, students and wage earners.” They are middle-aged women and men who are breaking under the heavy weight of life expenses for themselves and their families. They are in pain and screaming to the heavens. Even if they “dress well, speak well, don’t have calloused hands, live a modern life, speak a foreign language, smell like perfume, are internet and media savvy, enjoy poetry and music, enjoy dancing, enjoy modern Western culture, enjoy Michael Jackson, Madonna and Sasy Mankan, etc . . .” they are part of the working class. They are either “wage earners” and thus workers or will be “wage earners” in the future because they are “unemployed” or “students” ! ! !
Our dear intellectuals who still act like “leftists,” have a problem. They have turned leftism into a religion. A religion that has certain rites. These rites begin with insulting the U.S. and the West. They include mythologizing the worker. These rites equate a modern lifestyle to being too westernized and Americanized and sissy. They classify anyone in this category as part of the “velvet revolution.” They ignore the fact that the youth who are screaming in the streets and demand an honorable modern life, are mostly from the lower-middle classes. The problem is not that the working class and the poor are supporters of Ahmadinejad and do not protest. The problem lies in the definition and typical outlook propounded by the so-called leftist intellectuals. These gentlemen still define a worker as someone who is “ugly, has calloused hands, is dishevelled, foul-mouthed, lumpen, backward, uncultured, unfamiliar with the internet and satellite T.V., sexist, listens to the music of Ahangaran [reference to Sadeq Ahangaran’s lyrics about war and mourning], rides a motorcycle, smells like alcohol, onions and rose water” . . .Therefore they have the illusion that truncheon bearing, motorcycle riding “plainclothesmen” are the “youth of the lower depths.” . . .
Unlike these friends, I do not want to have any illusions. Therefore, I have to confess that the “working class” has not yet entered the scene as a class. In reality, it is “working class individuals” who have entered the scene. That is why I have often used the term working class “individuals” in this text. The working class has not yet entered the scene with its own class perspective. . .