Iran’s theocratic government is not anti-imperialist
A paramilitary soldier carries a poster showing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, top right, during a rally in Tehran, Iran, April 29, 2022. Signs on head bands show support for Khamenei. | Vahid Salemi / AP

The world has well and truly entered a dangerous epoch, with humanity currently facing a series of interconnected existential threats. A sharply deteriorating situation around the world of poverty, exploitation, and social injustice; “forever” conflicts that could very easily escalate into nuclear war; a looming climate catastrophe by 2030; as well as the exponential increase in ultra-nationalism and ethno-sectarianism and the entailing rise once more of fascism—all of them together represent a mere snapshot of the multi-dimensional crisis which humanity now faces.

The sheer level of brutality waged against the defenseless, and indeed blameless and innocent, Palestinian civilians by Israel’s war machine, along with the propensity of various governments and institutions in the U.S., Britain, and the E.U., hand in glove with the narrative put out by mainstream media outlets in the West that has shamelessly attempted to justify or normalize Israel’s genocidal campaign, is the foremost example of the terrible threat posed to the future of humanity and the international rules and rights-based consensus that followed the end of the Second World War.

We bear witness, with alarm, to so-called liberal democratic governments and “free” media agencies consciously aligning themselves with ultra-right forces in Israel’s ruling circles that openly profess apartheid, even fascistic, politics.

The aforementioned threats are almost all rooted in the ever-deepening crisis of capitalism, compounded by four decades of imposed neoliberalism and its resounding failure, and the desperate attempts by U.S. imperialism to uphold its weakening hegemony, regardless of what this might portend for humanity.

Thus, it is now vital for the left and a wide spectrum of progressive forces domestically and internationally to form alliances that effectively mobilize to counter the threat posed by U.S. imperialism and its allies. Such alliances depend on the setting of clear and achievable progressive objectives based on class-conscious politics at local, national, and international levels.

Such a vital alliance cannot simply be comprised of an arbitrary and ad hoc collective of regimes, political forces, and paramilitary organizations united solely by their opportunistic—and often shallow—adversarialism to Washington. A glaring example of this flawed equation in process is the confusing of the forces of “political Islam” in the Middle East, which rail from a frighteningly reactionary perspective against Western culture and modernity, as principled anti-imperialist allies.

And foremost among these forces of “political Islam” falsely considered as anti-imperialist by some in left and progressive circles is the Islamic Republic regime in Iran. The reaching of this deeply flawed conclusion involves the convenient ignoring or pushing aside of that regime’s despotic material nature and horrific track record, while fundamentally misunderstanding or misrepresenting its destabilizing, malevolent, and sectarian posturing regionally and internationally.

It is important to note that Iran’s foreign policies in the Middle East region, and consequently its extraterritorial military proxy activities, are predicated on Shia sectarianism and Ayatollah Khomeini’s exhortation to “export the Islamic Revolution.” Aside from running wholly contrary to Iran’s national interests as well as wantonly endangering the Iranian people, this policy bent has proved deeply divisive and unpopular throughout the region and has always manifested to the major detriment of secular, particularly left and progressive, forces.

At every critical juncture in the region’s history over the past 40 years, the Islamic Republic has actively collaborated with U.S. imperialism—including in Afghanistan and Iraq. The theocratic regime’s empty posturing and crocodile tears shed for the plight of the Palestinians are exposed as just that when one considers how Iran has consistently worked to undermine the struggle of secular, left, and progressive Palestinian forces against Israel’s occupation.

Put simply, a truly anti-imperialist alliance cannot be crafted on the defunct logic that goes along the lines of “the enemy of my enemy is therefore my friend!”

From a left perspective, rooted in the works of Marx and Lenin on class analysis and imperialism, the Iranian regime does not even come close to classifying as anti-imperialist—unless one is happy to omit its ever dwindling social class base inside Iran, the exploitative neoliberal political economy over which it presides, its total disregard for basic human rights and freedom, along with its continuing track record of horrific human rights abuses and brutal oppression (directed not least against the various forces that make up the Iranian left).

The left forces in the Middle East, and especially in Iran, over the 40 years since the defeat of the popular anti-imperialist 1979 Revolution, have first-hand bitter experiences of “political Islam” and its devastating impact.

With heavy hearts, we recall how the popular 1979 Revolution was hijacked and derailed by the nascent theocracy and the people’s demands for true emancipation and social justice were scorned in favor of a parasitic capitalist class backed by the Islamist force.

We recall how women’s basic rights were trampled upon by the theocratic regime and how Iran’s women and girls were essentially consigned to, at best, second-class citizenry and placed at the mercy of crushing misogyny.

And we recall that while Ayatollah Khomeini declared the devastating Iran-Iraq War to be a “blessing,” the Tudeh Party of Iran opposed its continuation beyond Iran’s liberating of its sovereign territory as an imperialist ploy to subvert the Iranian Revolution. As punishment for this—and to display its anti-communist credentials for all to see—the regime launched an unprecedented bloody attack upon the party based on the false premise it had spied for the USSR as well as fabricated “evidence” supplied by the CIA, MI6, and Pakistan’s ISI. Khomeini later referred to this help as “a divine act.”


As it happened: The promise—and betrayal—of Iran’s 1979 revolution

By what warped logic can a viciously anti-communist theocratic dictatorship that crushed left-wing parties, banned trade unions, and brutally murdered and disappeared thousands of Iranian left partisans and activists—the true anti-imperialists of Iran—be possibly considered a bastion of anti-imperialism and resistance?

More than four decades of the dominance of “political Islam” under the absolute rule of the Supreme Leader (the supposed “representative of God on Earth”) along with three decades of neoliberal programs have shaped Iran’s economy in accordance with the Washington Consensus and the interests of Western imperialism.

This has meant that the balance of political forces in Iran has been tilted in favor of a powerful finance-commercial capitalist class whose interests are tied in with those of global capitalism, and it remains the regime’s crucial center of balance—the two being utterly co-dependent.

It is for these reasons that any ostensibly progressive act or alliance on the part of the Iranian regime—including its recent joining of what was the BRICS group—should be looked at through the prism of realpolitik as opposed to taken as somehow representing genuine anti-imperialist intent on its part.

To defend the Iranian state as a force for anti-imperialism is, at best, naive—and, at worst, deliberately relegates the brutal repression, crushing poverty, and socioeconomic misery suffered by the people of Iran as inconsequential or unworthy of consideration.

It is also an affront to Iran’s left and progressive forces who continue to struggle valiantly to bring about the transition of their country from a situation of dictatorship to one where a national democratic transformation is possible.

The struggles for democracy, human rights, social justice, and against dictatorship go hand in hand with those for peace, sovereignty, and against imperialism. They are interdependent and inseparable.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the views of its author.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


Navid Shomali
Navid Shomali

Navid Shomali is the International Secretary of the Tudeh Party of Iran. He campaigns for peace, progress, and socialism, and he supports the struggle for a national democratic revolution in Iran.