Report on HOPOI conference
18 November 2008
Last Saturday (15th Nov) Hands of the People of Iran (HOPOI) held its first annual conference. It took place at the Teachers Club in Dublin and attracted around fifteen people; this number included two quests from Britain. The main focus of the conference was the adoption of a constitution and a discussion on how the organisation could move forward in the upcoming year. This was preceded by presentations by the two quests from HOPOI (Britain) on the situation in Iran and the Mid East in general.
First up was exiled Iranian opposition activist and HOPOI founding member Yassamine Mather. She started with the recent US presidential, arguing that the despite the election Barack Obama the threat of war had not receded. Yassamine reminded people that the confrontation between the US and Iran had been going on for over 30 years, and that the most immediate reasons for the tension between the two countries still existed. Iran was still intent on proceeding with its nuclear programme, and the US was intent on halting it. Indeed, the sanctions imposed on Iran by the US already constituted a form of warfare. Yassamine said that sanctions were affecting ordinary people in Iran, particularly the industrial sanctions which had hit the country’s manufacturing security and led to large-scale redundancies. Medical supplies had also been affected. This situation was being compounded by the regime’s own policies. The ending of subsides had led to an increase in the price of food and fuel. Privatisation had led to the closure of factories. These policies had served to encourage property speculation with land and housing becoming much more expensive. Overall, Iran was still dependent on oil with no development in other sectors of the economy. One feature of the Iranian economy and society that Yassamine noted was the growing role of military.
This deteriorating economic situation had provoked opposition from the population. There had been strikes ands protests by Iranians workers and students. Some of these had been against the regime’s nuclear programme, which is viewed as a waste of resources. Yassamine said that the student movement in Iran had lost many of its previous illusions in the west, and that this was largely down to the wars in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan.
She said that HOPOI couldn’t publicise the individual identities of opposition activists due to security concerns. While there were known trade union figures in Iran they were not part of the political opposition. Within the Iranian trade union movement there was ongoing debate between those who wanted to restrict activity to purely economic issues to and those who wanted to raise political questions. There was also fear of repression; opposition activists were particularly wary of building links with groups outside Iran. Yassamine concluded by claiming that, thirty years after the revolution, Iran was the one country in the Middle East where Islamism was in decline, though the regime did maintain some degree of support. She said that with the US trying to bring about regime change from above the threat of war still existed. This is why it was essential to build solidarity with the people of Iran.
The second quest speaker was Moshe Machover, an Israeli socialist and opponent of Zionism. His presentation concentrated on the role of Israel in the crisis over Iran. Moshe said that Israel had not abandoned the possibility of unilateral action against Iran, and that it preferred the option of a military strike to a diplomatic solution. Israel’s leaders hope that such military action would eliminate Iran and its allies as a threat. In this they are at one with the most right wing elements within the US ruling elite. Moshe cited the recent war in Georgia, where the government launched an attack on its rebellious provinces despite the disapproval of the US State Department, to highlight a scenario in which conflict could break out. However, it was unlikely that Israel would attack Iran without the support of the US.
Moshe moved on to speak about the position socialist activists should take towards Iran. He said that even though Iran was in a confrontation with US its regime should not get an easy ride for it was the enemy of the Iranian working class. He also warned of making the opposite mistake of seeing imperialism as more progressive than regime.
Moshe summed up by making a few remarks on the nuclear issue. He said that the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme was largely a pretext for the US and Israel to advance their wider strategy of reshaping the Middle East. However, socialists could not ignore the issue of nuclear weapons. Moshe said that there was no doubt that Iran had been developing nuclear technology, though the aim of this was acquire nuclear weapons capability rather than actual weapons. He claimed that the main problem was that Israel already had nuclear weapons and that this acted as a provocation to other countries. Moshe concluded by reiterating HOPOI’s call for non – nuclear Mid East
The next item of business after the introductory presentations was the adoption of a constitution. This was fairly non-contentious as it just set the aims of the organisation, membership criteria, finances and structures. The constitution was adopted with only a few amendments.
The most substantial discussion of the conference came in the debate on the Socialist Democracy motion on how the HOPOI campaign should proceed.
The SD motion in its original form it reproduced below:
SD has supported HOPI since the first meetings in Ireland. We were the first to argue that a conference would be the best way to build the campaign, to give it democratic legitimacy and to clarify the political basis on which we are uniting.
However, a long time has passed since the initial meetings. We can see from the activities that we have organised that there is only a tiny base on which to base a campaign and therefore the goals we set ourselves must be modest.
There is little prospect of a mass campaign. What we have found is that with a visiting speaker we can hold meetings with around 20 in attendance. Between these meetings we can rely on a small number of left groups to offer limited support. The slightly larger SP and SWP are on political trajectories that put them at some distance from the politics of HOPI. For all practical purposes the Irish anti-war movement no longer exists and there is little in the way of spontaneous self-organisation around which we could build a movement.
We should therefore take a step back towards a more propagandist and educational role.
This role would require us to sharpen our political agreement. When we first joined the campaign we were under the impression that HOPI was an explicitly socialist campaign and that we unconditionally defended Iran from imperialist attack.
We were informed at the Dublin seminar that this is not the case but we are unclear what the political basis of the campaign now is and we would propose that it be the classical Marxist position that we outlined above.
The policy of HOPI is the unconditional defence of Iran from imperialist attack.
The Islamic regime does not represent a genuine anti-imperialist opposition and viciously oppresses the Iranian working class. HOPI aims to provide political support to the workers in their struggles against imperialism and fundamentalism.
HOPI aims to build a specifically working class movement in Ireland. When we use sponsors in publicity they should reflect the working class nature of the campaign.
Central to the development of the campaign is our ability to make some connection, no matter how heavily disguised or constrained by security, with Iranian working class organisations.
The first of these proposals proved to be the most contentious as it went to the heart of our criticism of HOPOI – its position on imperialism. Most of the HOPOI baulked at the prospect of supporting Iran in a conflict with imperialism, arguing that this implied support for the regime. Our counter argument was that there is no equivalence between imperialism and the Iranian regime, and that in a military conflict between the two we would want to see only one outcome – a defeat for imperialism. We also argued that the tasks of socialists within imperialist counties and allied countries such as Ireland, and of socialists in Iran were not the same. In Ireland the primary task of HOPOI is to oppose the pro-imperialist policies of our own government. In Iran the primary task of socialists is to oppose the regime. We argued that there was an ambivalence about HOPOI’s current position that could be read as equating imperialism and the Iranian regime. However our arguments failed to win over anyone else and the proposal was voted down.
The other continuous proposal was the third one on sponsors. We argued that the people who sponsored HOPOI should genuinely support its aims. However, this was not the case with some of the current sponsors. We raised concern about the Sinn Fein sponsors, particularly as Sinn Fein was currently supporting a pro-imperialist settlement in the north and had been engaged to promote similar settlements for Palestine and Iraq. The counter to this argument was that while many of the sponsors did not support the aims of HOPOI this was a reflection of their own contradictions and not of the campaign. It was also argued that such endorsements would give HOPOI access to a wider audience. Again our proposal was voted down. Our other two proposals on the nature of the Iranian regime and building links with activists inside Iran proved less contentious and were accepted.
The HOPOI conference confirmed our view that currently there is little possibility of building a mass campaign on Iran, particularly as in the public mind the prospect of war has receded. The role of HOPOI will therefore be more propagandist and educational. Most of the people at the conference seemed to accept this with the modest objective holding a number of public meetings on the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution being set as the main activity for the coming year.