Thursday, February 8, 2018

Darwin's Ecocentrism

By Kamran Nayeri, Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism, August 7, 2009
Charles Darwin
The intellectual roots of Deep Ecology are found in ecocentrism and social criticism of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, D. H. Lawrence, Robinson Jeffers, Aldous Huxley as well as George Orwell, Theodore Roszak, and Lewis Mumford. The cultural history of primal peoples, ecocentric religions such as Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and writings of Saint Francis of Assisi also influenced it. However, there is a curious lack of attention to Darwin’s ecocentrism. And yet, Darwin’s evolutionary theory is truly revolutionary in that it has provided a solid materialist and scientific basis for ecocentrism.

For centuries, religious belief and philosophical reasoning had placed Earth at the center of the universe. It also took more than 150 years of controversy and confrontation spanning most of the 16th and 17th centuries, from Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in 1543 to Newton’s Principia in 1687, to revolutionize cosmology. These efforts led to the present-day view of an expanding universe that may have millions of life-supporting planets in our galaxy alone.

Darwin’s evolutionary theory laid the groundwork for overcoming centuries of anthropocentric views of life on Earth preached by organized religions and influential philosophers. Naturalists had conceptualized evolution for centuries before Darwin. Greek philosopher Anaximander had suggested that all life-forms evolved from fish in the seas and went through a process of modification once they were established on land. Carl Linnaeus published the first volume of Systema Naturae (1735), which laid the foundation for taxonomy. He later suggested that plants descend from a common source.Darwin’s contemporary evolutionary thinkers believed that evolution unfolded like an ascending ladder in which each lineage of plant or animal arose by spontaneous generation from an inanimate matter and then progressed inexorably toward greater complexity and perfection.

Darwin rejected this linear progression in favor of what is now known as branching evolution, in which some species diverge from a common ancestor along separate pathways with no prior limits to how far this process can go. Darwin sketched a “tree of life” to illustrate this in his book Origin of Species (1859).But how this evolutionary change unfolded? Darwin’s great insight was the theory of natural selection.Taking a cue from Thomas Malthus, Darwin recognized that populations tend to grow quickly thereby exhausting natural resources. From the vast hereditary diversity within a given species, natural selection blindly weeds out those individuals with less favorable traits. That is a design without a designer. In fact, if two populations of one species remain isolated from each other in different environments they may evolve over a very long period into two different species.[i]

The modern version of Darwin theory benefits from the field of genetics that Gregory Mendel’s research on inheritance (published in 1865) founded, and the discovery of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953.

Thus, Darwin provided us with a materialist ecocentrist view of life. The prominent evolutionary biologist Ernest Mayr offers a good summary of Darwin’s contributions to modern thought:

“… [H]e established a philosophy of biology by introducing the time factor, by demonstrating the importance of chance and contingency, and by showing that theories in evolutionary biology are based on concepts rather than laws. But furthermore - and this is perhaps Darwin's greatest contribution - he developed a set of new principles that influence the thinking of every person: the living world, through evolution, can be explained without recourse to supernaturalism; essentialism or typology is invalid, and we must adopt population thinking, in which all individuals are unique (vital for education and the refutation of racism); natural selection, applied to social groups, is indeed sufficient to account for the origin and maintenance of altruistic ethical systems; cosmic teleology, an intrinsic process leading life automatically to ever greater perfection, is fallacious, with all seemingly teleological phenomena explicable by purely material processes; and determinism is thus repudiated, which places our fate squarely in our own evolved hands.” (Mayr, “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought”, 1999).

The benefit of Darwin’s contributions to Deep Ecology and Marxian theory is immense.

[i] This paragraph is a summary taken from “Darwin’s Living Legacy” by Gary Stix, Scientific American, Volume 300, Number 1, January 2009.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Workers and Students in Iran Resist Attacks on Their Rights

By Kamran Nayeri, Socialist Action, June 2000
Workers protest unpaid wages in Abadan, Iran.  It is not rare for Iranian workers to have unpaid wages.
In the aftermath of the Feb. 18 elections, when the political forces that promised political and social reform of the most repressive aspects of the Islamic Republic won a decisive majority in the Sixth Parliament, the anti-reform forces within the regime have launched a broad series of legal and extra-legal attacks on the Iranian people.
Accounts in the bourgeois media have analyzed these attacks in terms of a factional struggle within the Islamic Republic regime. Yet nothing less than the political confidence and legitimacy won by the Iranian working people not only through the 1979 revolution but also in recent years is at stake.
While some of these recent attacks are in fact directed against the pro-reform politicians within the regime itself, they have a direct bearing on the rights Iranian working people have tried to win throughout their modern history, including through three periods of revolutionary mass upsurge.
In other instances that affect immediate interests of the capitalist class, the attacks are waged and sustained by groups in both factions.
The recent attacks include:
  • The Council of Guardians, a conservative un-elected body that answers only to the unelected Supreme Leader, began a review of the election procedures and cancelled the results for 11 reformist candidates. In each instance, there were protests, including street protests that sometimes turned against the government property.
  • Saeed Hajjarian, an elected vice president of Tehran’s city council and a former vice president to Iranian President Khatami, was shot from close range in front of his office. Hajjarian was involved in setting up the intelligence apparatus of the Islamic Republic in the 1980s and recently blew the whistle on a death squad organized from the Ministry of Information (intelligence).
In the fall of 1998, the death squad hacked to death the leader of a small bourgeois nationalist organization and his wife at their home and kidnapped and strangled three well-respected Iranian writers, two of them involved in the fight to obtain official recognition for the Writers Association.
Eventually, eight persons were arrested in the assassination attempt on Hajjarian. The gunman, Saeed Asgar, disclosed that he had accepted the assignment to kill Hajjarian after a network of collaborators argued that he is an enemy of Islam.
However, the judge decided to treat the proceedings as a criminal rather than political case. Hajjarian’s lawyer provided evidence that the group has been involved in a series of other similar attacks. Evidence such as the type of motorcycle used in the attack linked the assassins to the armed government forces.
  • In a major attack on the freedom of the press, since April 23 the government has closed down 19 prominent dailies, weeklies, and other journals viewed as pro-reform-reducing the space for public dissent in the media. Saeed Mortazavi, the judge who has issued these orders, stated that his aim was to stop the press from “affecting society’s opinions and arousing concern among the people” and to “dispel the worries of the people, of the Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and of the clergy.”
  • A number of journalists, such as Akbar Ganji, Mashallah Shamsolvazin, and Latif Safari, and feminist writers such as Mehrangiz Kar and Shahla Laheeji, have been arrested and others have been summoned before the court.
  • The outgoing Fifth Parliament hurried through a bill that will remove 2.8 million workers-those who work in establishments with five or fewer employees, or just under half the workforce-from the protection of the labor law and social security system for the next six years. The bill was introduced last summer with support from the Iranian chamber of commerce.
  • It also passed a press law imposing further restrictions on the press, by making it dependent on approval from the Ministry of Information (intelligence service), the courts, and the police. All these repressive apparatuses were the subjects of criticism by the papers recently shut down.
Imperialists intervene
These attacks have opened the way for the imperialist powers to step up their intervention in Iranian affairs.
In the aftermath of the February elections, the U.S. State Department lifted the ban on importation of Iranian pistachios, caviar, and rugs to display its approval of the reformists’ electoral victory. The reformists tend to favor bourgeois normalization of social, economic, and political life in Iran and abroad, including a willingness to drop Iran’s opposition to the Oslo “peace accord,” and re-establishment of relations with Washington.
At the same time, Washington has pressed Moscow to discontinue training Iranian engineering students in its universities because it claims such training will enable Iran to deploy long-range missiles that will pose a danger to Israel.
Most recently, Washington again intervened to postpone for the third time a vote at the World Bank on a loan for upgrading Tehran’s sewage system. An alleged reason is U.S. displeasure with the trial of 13 Iranian Jews from the southern city of Shiraz.
While the mass media and capitalist politicians abroad have generally turned a blind eye to the attack on the workers, and have attributed the attacks on the freedom of the press to the realm of faction fights within the regime, they have given prominent attention to the trial of the Jews.
As the trial opened up behind closed doors, the government paraded a majority of the defendants on state-run TV to “confess” that they had been spies for Israel.
Israeli involvement in Iran dates back to the late 1950s, when the Mossad joined the CIA to organize the hated Iranian secret police to prop up Washington installed dictatorship of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. And the Israeli regime has ceaselessly campaigned against the Iranian revolution, which changed the political balance in the Middle East in favor of the Arab and Palestinian people.
However, the trial of the 13 Iranian Jews is blatantly undemocratic. In fact, during the past 21 years, the Islamic Republic regime has similarly paraded dozens of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience on national TV, who usually “confessed” to some political “crime” and endorsed repressive measures taken against the working people.
The Jewish defendants, who are small businessmen, teachers, and students, were arrested over a year ago without any specific public charge against them. Just before the recent wave of attacks, it seemed that the government was searching for a solution to drop the spying charges against the 13 Jews. But when the wave of new attacks began, it decided to proceed with the trial.
Only shortly before the trial were they allowed a lawyer, who promptly denied the spy charges. The trial was held behind closed doors, citing “national security” concerns, even though the defendants’ lawyer argued that none of the accused could have had access to sensitive information and that there could be no security risks involved.
The reformist response
The reformist leadership was initially silent to the recent wave of attacks on the democratic rights of the Iranian people. In each instance, they called for calm and the “rule of law.” Some of the reform politicians actually found merit in the use of the legal system to crack down on the media.
However, as the scope of the attacks widened, the rumor of an unfolding coup began to circulate, backed by no other than the minister of interior, Mussavi-e-Laari. According to these accounts, the intent of the coup was to block the opening of the Sixth Parliament-which has a reformist majority-and eventually to drive out President Khatami. The reformist response, however, remained the same: to urge the Iranian people to stay calm and support the “rule of law.”
Meanwhile, Ayatollah Khamenei initiated the repression with a call for “Islamic violence” against the press that had become “the bases for enemies of Islam.” This was followed by calls to shut down the Tehran bazaar and Islamic seminaries in Qum.
Street graffiti appeared in Tehran accusing the press not controlled by the anti-reform coalition of housing anti-Islamic elements. The state-run TV and radio joined in this campaign.
All factions in the Islamic Republic regime share full responsibility for the attacks on the workers’ rights and standard of living. President Khatami’s economic plan aims to make working people sacrifice even more to solve the ongoing economic crisis.
Pro-reform ideologues preach how Iranian workers must accept painful choices today so the Iranian industrialists can compete in the world market. They even ask workers to bear repressive measures since, they insist, the Islamic Republic regime is their ally in their national struggle against the imperialists and workers in the West.
Students and workers take to the streets
Despite calls for calm issued by the leaders of the reform coalition, students from a number of Tehran universities began to protest the press crackdown. While the initial protests were small and limited-and in some instances, such as at the Beheshti University, the police and Ansar-e Hezbollah (a semi-fascist force) attacked the students-thousands across Iran joined the protests.
The universities have become centers of campaigning against the government crackdown on democratic rights. Meanwhile, Iran has witnessed a surge in organized workers’ protests.
For years, the assault on the standard of living of working people has produced local workplace resistance. Workers across Iran have organized factory meetings, work stoppages, and factory takeovers. They have blocked streets and roads and demonstrated in front of governmental agencies.
Iranian workers are fighting for their very survival. Under President Khatami, a new and ambitious wave of privatization is underway. This offers the Iranian capitalists a boon.
Karam Ali Sayed Abadi, a worker, describes a typical process of privatization underway in Iran in the first issue of Karmozd (Wage-Labor): State-owned factory managers drive their enterprises to bankruptcy by sabotaging production; then they and their partners purchase the factory from the state at bargain prices.
The new owners and managers then proceed to lay off or “buy back” all or most of the workers, only to hire some back at much lower wages and worse working conditions. Less profitable operations are sub-contracted to outfits that can exploit their workers even more.
With high unemployment-and lacking independent trade unions, the right to collective bargaining, and the right to strike-the workers face an uphill battle. As a result, a large section of the Iranian workers have to live with no earnings for months without any viable safety net.
There is a powerful undercurrent in workplaces to organize against this situation. It was in this context that Khaneh Kargar (Workers’ House, the national pro-government labor bureaucracy) and the leadership of the Islamic Shoras (factory councils) that secured their positions by collaborating with the Islamic Republic regime against militant workers and independent workers’ organizations backed an effort to issue a call for the right to strike on April 3.
They also gave their blessing to a street protest in Tehran by several thousand against the passage of legislation depriving 2.8 million workers of protection by the labor law. During that demonstration, the workers disclosed their plans for a national action on May Day to press for their demands.
Given the scope of the anti-democratic attacks in April, it was not clear if a May Day demonstration by the workers would actually take place in Tehran. However, over 20,000 workers, mostly from Tehran industrial regions, participated. The main target of the workers’ anger was Ali-naghi Khamushi, the chairman of the chamber and the outgoing parliament. The workers demanded that the incoming parliamentary assembly, dominated by those who promised political and social reforms, reverse the anti-labor legislation.
Workers also demanded jobs for all. A demand was put to the government to fight unemployment and to inspect the factories claiming bankruptcy. Hossein Kamali, who was part of the pro-government forces within the labor movement that took over Khaneh Kargar in 1979 and has been the minister of labor for the past several administrations, called for the expulsion of over 2 million immigrant workers, mostly from Afghanistan, to create jobs for “our youth [who] aimlessly walk the streets and take drugs because they neither have jobs nor a future.”
The Islamic Labor Party, formed by these very same forces last year to campaign for pro-reform candidates, urged the new parliament to legalize strikes. While strikes are not legal, work stoppages are frequent. The leadership of Khaneh Kargar and the Islamic Shoras tried to steer the demonstration into a support rally for Khatami and the reformist coalition.
Struggles are intertwined
The factional struggles within the Islamic Republic reflect the crisis of a regime run by the clergy on the basis of on-going capitalist development in Iran and the world. Ahmad Moollazadeh, whose journal, Farhang-e Tousse’e (Culture of Development) has favored the reform coalition, describes the current divide in the sphere of public policy in Iran in the following terms:
“On one side of this divide stand the clergy who know what is right today [for the religious establishment], modern thinking religious and non-religious intellectuals, the modern middle class, and the industrialists. These are known as the reformists.
“On the other side of the divide are those who want violence, conservative traditionalists, and new conservative rationalists. The bulk of the social basis for these favor social justice but their lack of engagement in class conflict, their unemployment, and lack of a clear perspective for future draw them to the main organizers of violence [in society].”
Moollazadeh points to those who benefit from “political rent” and “economic rent”-that is, those who control the state apparatus and those who benefit from control of government held economic assets-as forces that stand to benefit from the existing order, which opposes reforms.
However, it is the Iranian workers and students who have stood up against the current crackdown by the Islamic Republic regime. In fact, the fundamental lesson of Iranian modern history is that the fight for freedom of the press and democratic and human rights are closely intertwined with the struggle of the workers and toilers to form their own independent organizations and to press their own demands.
These struggles include those of workers to form unions and build international ties to resist massive onslaught by the employers and the government, of women to unite to resist Islamic and class oppression, and of writers and journalists to forge their own organization to defend their rights against the censorship.
They also point to the need for united organization and action of the students and youth, who have a stake in shaping the future of the country and still have the task of fighting for the freedom of hundreds of their comrades jailed in the aftermath of protests last July that captured the imagination of the world.
The recent crackdown comes in this context; it is part of a larger campaign to roll back the greater space for political expression won in recent years by the Iranian people and to suppress their desire for social and political change. The Iranian people are resisting the repression, and it should be opposed by working people everywhere.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Islamic Republic's Endgame: On the Recent Protests in Iran

By Kamran Nayeri, January 12, 2018
Protesters in Mashhad on December 28, 2017.
Street protests that began in the northeastern city of Mashhad (pop. 2.8 million) in Iran (pop. 80 million) on December 28 and spread to some 80 cities, towns, and some villages, have been suppressed or otherwise ended by January 3 when the Revolution Guards (incorrectly translated as the Revolutionary Guards) were sent to the remaining trouble spots in IsfahanHamadan, and Lorestan to quell any protest.  At least 21 protestors were killed and according to a member of parliament, more than 3,500 have been jailed. On January 3, the government also organized demonstrations of tens of thousands of supporters of the Islamic Republic to politically isolate the protesters.  Meanwhile, Internet access for selected regions was disrupted and access of the social messing site Telegraph with 40 million subscribers in Iran was cut off. Still, the protests have captured the imagination of many Iranians and the international community.  

In what follows, I will outline some basic facts about these protests in section 1. These are collected from news articles and commentaries about the protests. However, much of these fails to place the protests in their historical context which includes the rise and demise of the 1979 revolution and the role of Shi'ite clergy in it.  Sections 2 will deal with the historical context, including the role of the Shi'ite clergy.  Section 3, will outline the counter-revolutionary role of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic that destroyed the 1979 revolution against Shah's autocracy by imposing a theocratic capitalist regime in its place, now opposed even in the urban poor and some rural population.  In section 4, I will argue that the recent protest marks the beginning of the end of the theocratic capitalist regime and suggest a way forward for the radicalizing youth and working people in Iran drawing on the historical experience of Iranian people as well as the current social and ecological crisis in Iran and the world.  

1. Some facts about the recent protests

Governmental factional struggle sparked the protests
According to the New York Times reporter in Iran, Thomas Erdbrink, in November President Hassan Rouhani had leaked the draft government budget that including its traditionally secret portion which showed how much money is being allocated to the religious institutions. For the first time, the public learned that “billions of dollars were going to hard-line organizations, the military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and religious foundations that enrich the clerical elite. At the same time, the budget proposed to end cash subsidies for millions of citizens, increase fuel prices and privatize public schools.” As the public learned about it resentment began to build up. A young man told Erdbrink: “There were all these religious organs that received high budgets, while we struggle with constant unemployment.”

In a maneuver to turn the public anger away from the “hardliners” towards the President and the “reformist” wing of the Islamic Republic, a demonstration was organized in the city of Mashhad that blamed the economic problems on the Rouhani government (I will explain what these factions represent later). But the genuinely angry protestors chanted not only “death of Rouhani” but also “death to the dictator” (that is the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei).  According to Erdbrink, the prominent hardliner Friday prayer leader of Mashhad, Ahmad Alamolhoda, was summoned by Iran’s National Security Council to explain his role in the demonstration.  In a subsequent article, Erdbrink cites Iran’s Prosecutor General, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, who on a television appearance included the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad among the international and domestic forces behind the unrest.  In his second term as president, Ahmadinejad, a hardliner, came into conflict with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and in the last presidential election, he was disqualified as a candidate.  Ahmadinejad is a religious disciple of the extremist cleric Mohammad Taghi Meshbah-Yazdi, who openly opposes the democratic rule, whose Islamic foundation was to receive eight times more funds in the proposed government budget than a decade ago.

Thus, the Mashhad protest that was probably organized by the hardliners to target the reformists got out of control, denouncing the Supreme Leader, hence the Islamic Republic.  The news of this protest provoked sympathy protests across the country where similar resentments of the Islamic Republic are widespread.  

Mostly poor young working people in small towns protested
Reports confirm that the bulk of the protestors were young low-income working people in smaller cities, towns and some villages.  At the time of the 1979 revolution, two-thirds of the population of 35 million was rural. Today, two-thirds of the 80 million population lives in urban settings defined as municipalities with 5,000 or more.   The traditional rural population has historically been the bedrock of Shi’ite clergy.  Thus, urbanization has loosened the religious influence on the current generation that has either migrated into nearby town or have been part of the urbanization of the old villages.  Of course, some urban working class youth, as well as university students and unemployed college graduates, also participated in the protests.  Young people make up half the Iran’s population and those arrested have an average age of under 25.  Most analysts believe that unemployment among youth runs at about 40% while inflation is about 15%. Reza Fiyouzat cites a report by the head of Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation, Parviz Fattah, that said (link in Farsi) that between 10 to 12 million Iranians live in absolute poverty. He also draws attention to a World Bank 2016 report that praises Iran’s implementation of its structural adjustment program.  Of course, neoliberal policies and structural adjustment programs have been central to government economic policies since the presidency of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997).  Promoted by the IMF and the World Bank, these programs have been widely criticized for their adverse impact of the working people, including by increasing poverty (for brief accessible review see, Anup Shah, 2013, for more detailed studies, see Joseph E. Stiglitz).  

The politics of the protests
The revolt against the Islamic Republic is not surprising in a theocracy where political protest is routinely discouraged and suppressed.  There is no legal political party operating in Iran; even the Islamic Republic party organized by Khomeini’s lieutenants was dissolved in the late 1980s. Thus, economic, social, cultural, and political grievances cannot be aired by the population in a systematic and organized fashion much less democratically discussed.  When people protest they risk arrest, prison, torture, and even execution. The Islamic Republic’s 38 year history includes coup attempts by various highly placed individuals, sharp conflicts resulting in imprisonment or house arrest of its statesmen (a former prime minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and a former speaker of the parliament, Mehdi Karroubi, who were presidential candidates in the disputed 2009 elections have been under house arrest since).  Thus, protests in Iran tend to be explosive.  In addition, the recent protests were mostly spontaneous, small (a few hundred to a few thousand), and scattered as they did not gain active support from the middle-class Iranians in larger cities.  They included political demands such as freedom for political prisoners and demands for economic equality.  One slogan that was repeated in a number of protests was “work, bread, freedom,” (kaar, naan, aazaadi). Mina Khanlarzadeh cites a statement by a coalition of some of the small but independent labor groups that is worth noting:

“Today, we see the eruption of the accumulation of working class people’s rage due to, on the one hand, looting and defalcation of milliards by highest officials, people, and financial institutions that are related to the government and, on the other hand, poverty and misery of millions of people, unemployment of millions of workers and youths, the beatings of street vendors and the killings of Kurdish koolbars [porters who carry commodities on their backs commuting between Iran and Iraq border], the imposition of wages several times below poverty level on workers, and the  imprisonment and torture in response to any demands of social justice and freedom.”

Intervention by the imperialist and rightists forces
Ayatollah Khamenei has placed the blame for the protests on foreign powers without naming anyone. Montazeri in his TV appearance names the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, longtime enemies of the Iranian revolution of 1979 who have worked for decades to replace the Islamic Republic with a regime friendly to them. The Trump administration has used the protests to push its goal of derailing the nuclear agreement which Israel and Saudi regime also oppose without any success (for a discussion of the nuclear agreement, see, Nayeri, 2015). Their Iranian cronies, Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed Shah who lives in the Washington area, and the Mujahedin who are based in France and funded by the Saudis, joined the fray.  Although these reactionary forces are a shadow of their former selves, the defeat of the Iranian revolution by the Islamic Republic, and its oppressive theocratic capitalist policies continue to make some Iranian vulnerable to the imperialist and rightist campaigns.  Thus, in the Green Movement of 2009 as well as the recent protests there were slogans that counterposed the aid given to Palestinians and other Arabs to the economic needs of the Iranian people.  Thus, I find Fiyouzat’s argument unconvincing that the slogan “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon; I give my life for Iran!” chanted in a few protests is actually a criticism of the Islamic Republic policy that like the Arab regimes uses Palestinian, Lebanese, and Syrian peoples’ crisis for its own end.  He has no way to verify this claim and anti-Arab prejudice in Iran is as prevalent as the well-documented anti-Afghani prejudice.  These are both the leftover from the Fars (Persian) chauvinism of the Shah’s time. Similarly, I think Fiyouzat is mistaken to dismiss the calls for the return of “Reza Shah.” 

Fiyouzat, like all other commentators I have read, does not place the recent protests in the context of the 1979 revolution and its defeat. But before I take that up it is necessary to briefly recall what Shi’ite Islam represents in the Iranian society and history.

2. Placing the protests in the historical context

Shi’ite Islam in the class and state formations
To understand the clerical capitalist Islamic Republic regime, it is necessary to understand the role of Shi’ite Islam in class and state formations in Iran.  The ascendence of Shi’ism to the official religion of Iran originated in the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) that also inaugurated the modern Iranian nation-state.  Thus, Shi’ism became the state-sponsored religion and remained so until the rise of the Islamic Republic in which the relationship was reversed, it is now the state that is sponsored by the Shi’ite hierarchy. I will get back to this soon.  

For over 2,000 years, Iran was an agrarian economy based on the village (deh). Under the Safavids, there were three primary forms of private landholdings (amlāk) that include at least one but typically many villages. These were (1) private estates of large landlords; (2) the private estates of the reigning Shah considered separately from the estates owned by the crown and called amlāk-e ḵāṣṣa or amlāk-e ḵāleṣa; and (3) private estates set aside in special trusts by owners for the permanent benefit of heirs and descendants in accordance with Shi'ite legal principles and known as waqf-e ḵāṣṣ.  Thus, the Shi'ite clergy has been tied to land ownership and the royal court for centuries.  However, in the late nineteenth century, European ideas of Enlightenment and modernity penetrated Iran which laid the intellectual basis for the Constitutional Revolution (1906-11). In the twentieth century, this landownership system became an impediment to the development of capitalism in Iran and increasingly questionable politically.  To facilitate the former and to undermine his enemies on the right and the left, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi carried out a program of land reform. 
"By 1962 a land reform law was enacted. This law, which was implemented in stages over a decade, effectively abolished amlāk by making it unlawful for a single landowner to possess agricultural property in excess of one village. Landlords were required to sell all surplus villages to the government, which in turn arranged for their resale to the peasants who held cultivating rights. A by-product of this program was the virtual disappearance of all the traditional dues and servitudes the peasants had rendered to landlords. As a consequence of the land reform program, amlāk, which had been a characteristic feature of Iranian land tenure patterns for more than two thousand years, virtually ceased to exist." (Hooglund, 1989). 
The Shi’ite clergy has been closely tied with the bazaar merchants who in turn were linked with their supplier both artisans and agricultural producers in Iran and abroad.
“The bāzār was and is a social institution, comprising religious, commercial, political, and social elements. The bāzār is the center par excellence of personal transactions, commerce, and communication in urban life; thus one needs to under­stand the bāzār’s function within its context, the city. In Iran, the city forms a political, commercial, cultural, and religious center for its hinterland. The bāzār has played a very important role in this relationship, reflecting the character of the Muslim city.” (Floor, 1989)
The bazaar also had had a political function:
The Friday mosque—the main religious and political center of the city—and the bāzār are always found together. In the mosque the population prayed in congregation, came to hear proclamations of its rulers, and gave vent to feelings about the ruler’s policies.” (ibid.)
The merchant class has had a tense relationship with the royal court and some prominent merchant have supported mass protests in the 20th century, yet they have consistently served as a conservative force.  Thus, while the bazaar merchants participated in the Constitution Revolution, they did so in sit-in at the British embassy. It was not unusual for big merchants to have dual Russian citizenship as it helped with their overseas trading practices and offered them a measure of protection against the royal court. 

Thus, the Shah’s modernization programs, which included the extension of the right to vote to women and land reform, directly threatened the interests of the Shi’ite hierarchy and its landowning and merchant allies resulting in the June 1963 revolt organized by Khomeini and other clerics. The revolt was crushed and Khomeini imprisoned. His life was spared and he was exiled to Iraq only after key Shi’ite clerics conferred him the title of Ayatollah raising the risk of any harm to him by the government.  Ayatollah Khomeini who had already positioned himself as an anti-American and anti-Israeli politician who wants to “protect” society from “decadence” went on be become the leader of a section of Shi’ite clergy that opposed the Shah and played a key role in the mass movement that overthrew him in the 1979 revolution. 

The social function of the Shi’ite clergy
It is also important to understand how the organizational form of the Shi'ite clergy and its social function. The current organizational form of Shi’ite clergy and its social function is through Marja or the system of emulation of a religious authority.  This was founded in the 1830s when Mohammed Hassan Najafi became the first transnational Shi’ite religious authority (marja) in Najaf, Iraq. Najafi created a universal patronage network through which he received religious taxes and endowment incomes, and appointed religious representatives from Shi’ite cities from Iraq to India.  
“In the 16th Century, Shi’ite jurists [mujtahids] had established a new conceptual theory describing the relationship between [Shi’ite] community leaders and Shi’ite worshipers. According to the theory, each worshiper should either reach the highest educational level in Shi’ite jurisprudence (ijtihad) or follow a living person who has attained such a level. The theory of ‘following’ (taqlid) was intertwined with another significant theory, which permitted Shi’ite jurists to receive religious taxes on behalf of the infallible and hidden twelfth Shi’ite Imam. It is believed that this Imam will return at the end of time to establish a just global government. Thereafter, a new form of Shi’ite leadership emerged that both provided the monarchy with legitimacy and was protected by it, but was also financially independent from it.” (Khalaji, no date)
Thus, in addition to their waqf landholding (described above), the Shi’ite mujtahids also benefitted from taxes they collected. There are two forms of such taxes. Khums (Arabic for a fifth) is a tax paid equal to a fifth of the surplus from the income left after annual expenses of a Muslim’s that is paid to a mujtahid.  Zakat is a tax on income-generating property or asset paid to a mujtahid.  The mujtahid is supposed to spend such revenue for the welfare of the Shi’ite community such as orphaned children and for religious affairs, such as scholarships for a new crop of talabeh (seminary students) recruited from adolescent boys usually from the villages.

The Islamic Republic added to these sources of revenue for the Shi’ite clergy portions of the state’s revenue which is given to the religious institutions as part of the secret annual government budgets. 

3. The Islamic Republic as the counter-revolution
We can now understand the counter-revolutionary role played by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic in crushing of the February 1979 revolution that overthrow the U.S.-installed and U.S.-backed dictatorship of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.  Alireza Nassab and I have outlined this elsewhere (Nayeri and Nassab, 2006).  Here it is helpful to outline the major junctures in the rise and fall of the February 1979 revolution.

The revolution had a humble beginning in the clash between Tehran shantytown dwellers who were defending their homes from demolishment with the police in the summer of 1977.  Like todays’ protestors, they had come to the cities, many to Tehran, in search of work because of the Shah’s land reform that had improvised large sections of the peasantry who were deprived of any access to land or had lost their land due to inadequate support for small family farmers.  Despite the defeat of the shantytown dwellers, social protests continued and by February 1978 a million people marched in the city of Tabriz chanting anti-Shah slogans. Despite much brutality by the regime, by October 1978 the oil workers had capped a national wave of strikes with their own general strike that shut off the flow of oil to the Shah’s regime while distributing it to the population.  By November 1978, many millions of Iranian (one account put it at 17 million out of the population of 35 million) took to the streets of major cities.  On January 16, 1979, the Shah and his family fled the country leaving behind a caretaker government headed by the bourgeois nationalist Shahpour Bakhtiar. By February 1, Ayatollah Khomeini who enjoyed massive support because of his opposition to the Shah’s regime since 1963 returned and appointed a Muslim nationalist, Mehdi Bazargan, the head of the Freedom Movement (Nehzat-e Azadi), to form a provisional government.  On February 11, the youth and armed urban guerrillas joined a garrison of air force technicians in east Tehran who had just pledged their support for the revolution to ward off an attack on the technicians by the elite Imperial Guard.  Almost all of Tehran mobilized and the youth and working people laid siege to the Shah’s armed forces, police, and prisons.  By the end of the day, the Shah’s caretaker government had collapsed. In the next two days, all of the Shah’s army, police, gendarmerie, and secret police were crushed in the entire country. Political prisoners who were still in jail were freed. National television and radio stations were in the hands of the people as were all newspapers.  The Iranian working people had armed themselves and taken control of every lever of power. The capitalist and landlord classes with ties to the regime as well as the top brass and state bureaucrats had left the country or were in hiding, or have been detained.  A lion share of the economy and social and cultural affairs were in the hands of the working people who began a council movement in workplaces, schools, and universities, in villages, among the oppressed nationalities, in neighborhoods,  and even in what was left of the armed forces.  Given the anti-capitalist dynamics of the revolution, workers and peasants could have moved towards forming their own government.  

Instead, they handed over the power to Ayatollah Khomeini. But Ayatollah Khomeini opposed the Shah from the standpoint of the Shi’ite clergy, not from the standpoint of the interests of the working people.  What followed made this abundantly clear.  Within 48 hours, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani headed a group of armed supporters to take over the national TV and Radio stations from its employees to impose an Islamic censorship on the news and programming (Rafsanjani says in his memoir that he wanted to make sure the national radio and TV spoke of the ISLAMIC revolution, not revolution).  As the International Women’s Day was approaching, Ayatollah Khomeini issued an edict that required women to wear the Islamic hijab.   When women opposed this and protested, their gatherings and march were attacked by semi-fascist Hezbollah gangs armed with stick, knives, and chains. A few years later, a cleric member of the Islamic Consultive Assembly (parliament) revealed that he had organized the Hezbollah goons. By Iranian New Year (March 21) the air force was bombing Turkmen Sahra on the Caspian sea where the oppressed Turkmen nationality lives and they had organized peasants shoras (councils) to take over the land they cultivated. On March 30 and 31, Khomeini staged an undemocratic referendum in which the population was given the choice of continuing with the monarchy which they had just overthrown or the undefined Islamic Republic. The voters rejected the monarchy by over 98% majority giving Khomeini and his allies the opportunity to claim that such huge majority actually wanted a theocracy in place of autocracy!  By the summer, instead of a constituent assembly organized by the grassroots movements of the working people, Khomeini organized an Islamic Constitutional Assembly of the clergy that drafted a constitution that was crowned by Vilayat-e Faqih(Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist) which gave absolute power to one man (or group of them) over the affairs of the country. Before the year’s end, this theocratic capitalist constitution was put to a vote and approved. Meanwhile, all freedoms that were won by the people in the February revolution such as freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and protest were suppressed. In April, a mass-circulation daily, Ayandegan, which was critical of Khomeini, was shut down. This was followed by a war waged against the Kurdish people who have been struggling for self-determination for decades. At the same time, armed Hezbollah gangs were used to ransack headquarters of socialist parties and 40 newspapers were shut down. 

It took until the end of 1982 to co-opt or crush all grassroots movements, opposition parties (liberal and socialist) and consolidate the Islamic Republic.  By the summer of 1988, Khomeini decided to purge the prisons of the remaining socialist and Mujahedin supporters.  A wave of mass execution followed. Amnesty International estimated “over 4,482 disappeared prisoners during this time.” This crime of the Islamic Republic was so horrendous that Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri who was picked by Khomeini himself as his successor publicly condemned it. Khomeini was outraged and placed Montazeri under house arrest where he remained until his death. 

Hardliners and reformists
Clever politicians, Khomeini, and his lieutenants began to build a new state structure instead of relying on those left by the Shah.  They also created their own party, the Islamic Republic party.  By the end of the 1980s the Islamic Republic party was dissolved and in effect, Iran became a country without any well-known and mass-based political party.  But the clergy was far from united in their views of the best policies to pursue and many factions emerge, united, split, and disappeared in the past 38 years of theocracy. What has become consistent is a two-camp political system where “hardliners” and “reformists’ (sometimes called “moderates”) vie for power.  The roots of this division go back at least to the Constitutional Revolution when the clergy was split between the Mašrūṭa and mašrūʿfactions. 

From the outset, the ʿolamāʾ [Shi’ite hierarchy, KN] had stressed the necessity for compatibility between constitutional demands and Islamic principles. There was a consensus that restraining the ruler’s power and creating a consultative council would preserve the “substance of Islam” (bayża-ye Eslām) against domestic tyranny and European domination. What remained in dispute, however, was the role of the ʿolamāʾ. Islamic constitutionalists claimed a leading role for the clergy in the new order. As early as 1324/1906 Ḥājī Mīrzā Ebrāhīm Šīrāzī had defended the authority of the ʿolamāʾ against the secular intellectuals. Addressing Moḥammad-ʿAlī Mīrzā, then crown prince, he declared: “Up to now our opinion was that the government consists of the men of the state and learned politicians, and not of unripened Westernizers, rotten materialists, and dried-up newspaper readers who [only] learned [to criticize] the despotic absolutist government. Yet Persia is an Islamic republic (jomhūrī-e eslāmī), for from earlier times to the present the ʿolamāʾ of every people and every city rebelled against the provincial governors, and the [central] government dismissed the governors with the blessing of the [leaders] of the public . . . Therefore, our republic is the envy of France and America” (Tārīḵ-e bīdārī I, pp. 395-97). On the other hand, Shaikh Fażl-Allāh Nūrī saw the mašrūṭa, the growth of secularism in the Majles, and anti-ʿolamāʾ sentiments in the anjomans and in the press as detrimental to the Šarīʿa and the supremacy of its representatives. Many ʿolamāʾ agreed. Nūrī’s opposition to mašrūṭa was also provoked by the influence and popularity of his chief rival, Behbahānī. (Amanat, 1992)

Of course, today’s “hardliners” and “reformists” articulate their policies in the context of a much different world than that in the late nineteenth century and early 20th century.  Still, it is not difficult to trace their conceptions of the Islamic Republic to those held by Shaikh Fażl-Allāh Nūrī or Ḥājī Mīrzā Ebrāhīm Šīrāzī.  Add to this ideological differences, the fact that the “hardliners” have controlled the Revolution Guard Corp  (Revolutionary Guards Corp), and the Bassij Mobilization Corp ( The Organization for Mobilization of the Oppressed), the judiciary, and the national TV and radio stations where their ideological views are expressed and implemented daily. Given that the Revolution Guard Corp and some religious foundations controlled by “hardliners” hold a significant part of the economic and financial assets, they are somewhat less willing to support neoliberal policies that the “reformists” typically embrace.  Still, both camps by and large have agreed to implement structural adjustment programs that has shifted the social base of the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, the economy and the state remain, 38 years after the revolution, still dependent on revenue from oil and gas.  

Where the two camps differ most clearly is with their relation to the civil society and relations with the West.  The “reformists” are willing to tolerate secular Iranians and enter into agreements with the West as long as they do not pose a threat to the Islamic Republic. The “hardliners” view secularists and Western values as dangerous to the Islamic Republic.  Needless to say, their anti-Western views are not anti-imperialism.  Khomeini’s slogan was “Neither the West nor the East, Islamic Republic.” 

4. The road forward
The sociopolitical base of the Islamic Republic narrows  
Let’ recall that the recent protests were largely by the young low-income working people who live in smaller towns and some villages with a recent or still some ties to the land.  While relatively small, scattered, disorganized, and proved easily repressed, this wave of protests has signaled an important shift in politics in Iran.  Let me explain why. 

Because of its anti-democratic and anti-working class nature, the Islamic Republic quickly lost its support among the more class-conscious workers, especially the industrial working class, and among much of the modern, but not traditional, middle class.  Still, when the counter-revolutionary Iraqi invasion of Iran began on September 22, 1980, the population rallied in support of the defensive war effort.  In 18 months, Khorramshahr, the last city that was still occupied by the Iraqi forces, was liberated at the expense of the lives of 30,000 Iranians, the Saddam Hussein’s army was cleared off the Iranian territory except for a few narrow bands along the border. It was high time to sue for peace and negotiate for an end to the hostilities.  As Fidel Castro put it, it was a fratricidal war; it instigated by the megalomanic Saddam Hussein who was supported by imperialism as well as the Soviet Union that provided it with military hardware. Instead, Khomeini campaigned for the “liberation of Karbala,” the Shi’ite holy site in Iraq, with the slogan of “The road to Jerusalem goes through Karbala.”  The revolutionary defensive war degenerated into a Shi’ite Iran vs. Sunni Arabs struggle. The Islamic Republic used imagery of the Hidden Imam to urge World War I human wave attacks by Iranian volunteers resulting in massive human losses. The war quickly lost its popular backing in Tehran and other larger cities and among the working class and middle classes, especially as the Islamic Republic used the war to militarize workplaces and society to suppress the grassroots movement and its political opponents. What enabled Khomeini to pursue his repressive anti-democratic and anti-working class policies was the backing of the traditional middle class in the urban centers and rural and small-town population.  Thus the war dragged on until August 1988 when Khomeini finally accepted a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement. Over one million Iraqis and Iranians had fallen victim to the policies of Saddam Hussein and Ayatollah Khomeini, with untold economic and social devastation for both countries.  

The recent protests showed that at least a section of Iran’s rural population who have moved into the smaller towns no longer support the Islamic Republic and some actively oppose it.  This spells trouble for the future of the Islamic Republic. Its social base has been narrowing.  The Shah’s autocracy was toppled despite his military might, and large-scale use of the police, secret police (SAVAK), prisons, and torture and executions, because its political base narrowed sufficiently by the fall of 1978.  A similar process may be at work in Iran today.  

A new radicalization, a new generation
The Islamic Republic counter-revolution demoralized the generation that made the 1979 revolution.  It took until the July 1999 student protests in Tehran and other cities demanding basic democratic that a new generation began to radicalize (Nayeri, 1999; Nayeri, 2000).  This was followed by a resurgence of the labor movement that demanded independent workers’ organizations spearheaded by the Syndicate of Workers of the United Bus Company of Tehran and Suburbs (UBCTS) with 17,000 employees, including some 10,000 bus drivers. Although the Islamic Republic labor law does not provide for the right to strike the bus drivers staged a strike for their union in December 2005 (Nayeri and Khosroshahi, 2006).  Other union organizing efforts followed such as the strike by the Haft-Tapeh sugar cane workersin southern Iran in 2007.  

In 2010, up to three million supporters of the “reformists” candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, protested the outcome of the presidential election that declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the “hardliner’ incumbent the winner.  Becoming known as the Green Movement, these protests shook the Islamic Republic regime because of the split it caused between the “hardliners” and “reformists” in the streets. Yet, it differed dramatically with the student and workers struggles preceding it because the latter strived for universal democratic and labor rights without giving political support to any section of the theocratic capitalist Islamic Republic. Those who joined the Green Movement politically supported Mousavi who was Khomeini’s prime minister (1981-89) when the decisive blows to the revolution were delivered or Karoubi was the Speaker of the parliament (2000-04) and both still supported and continued to support the Islamic Republic.  Significantly, the recent protests not only did not appeal to the Green Movement but equally protested “hardliners” and “reformists” by taking a position against the Islamic Republic.  Further, while some of the former Green Movement spokespersons (such as Behzad Nabavi) have belittled the recent protests, the independent labor movement organizations have stood up in solidarity with them (see, the statement by the Bus workers’ syndicate of Tehran and sugarcane workers’ syndicate of Haft Tapeh). Similarly, some university students joined the protests or supported them and a list of 50 college students arrested has been published. 

For an ecocentric ecological socialist Iran
A recent statement about the Iranian protests recalled Karl Marx’s motto in Class Struggle in France: “The revolution is dead! Long live the revolution!” The new generation of radicalized youth and working people could similarly exclaim: “The 1979 Revolution was betrayed! Long live the coming revolution!”  It is hard to imagine that the coming Iranian revolution will not build on the lessons of the February 1979 revolution, in particular, the grassroots mass organizations, the shora (council) movement, the only leadership that could guarantee both democracy and socialism. Both theory and history have proved that neither is possible and sustainable without self-organization and self-activity of the working people.  

However, at least some in the new generation also know something the generation who made the 1979 revolution did not know—the ecological crisis that has been simmering in Iran and worldwide.  A seldom noticed part of Thomas Erdbrink report in the January 2 issue of the New York Times tells us:
“For decades, those living in Iran’s provincial towns and villages were regarded as the backbone of the country’s Islamic regime. They tended to be conservative, averse to change and pious followers of the sober Islamic lifestyle promoted by the state.
“In less than a decade, all that has changed. A 14-year drought has emptied villages, with residents moving to nearby cities where they often struggle to find jobs. Access to satellite television and, more important, the mobile internet has widened their world.”
In his excellent article, “The Role of Water Crisis in the Recent Iran Protests,” Louis Proyect  discusses how the drought, capitalist agriculture, and state mismanagement have contributed to the water crisis in Iran which has in turn added to the socioeconomic crisis in rural regions which as Edrbrink and I noted has been the bedrock of support for the Islamic Republic. 

As Proyect notes the water crisis also contributed to a similar political crisis in Syria and the brutal war the followed.  The Israeli occupation of increasing regions of Palestine also is motivated in part by the water crisis.  In fact, the water crisis is a world phenomenon.  Here are some United Nations figures:

  • 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services. (WHO/UNICEF 2017)
  • 4.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services. (WHO/UNICEF 2017)
  • 340,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases. (WHO/UNICEF 2015)
  • Water scarcity already affects four out of every 10 people. (WHO)
  • 90% of all natural disasters are water-related. (UNISDR)
  • 80% of wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused (UNESCO, 2017).
  • Around two-thirds of the world’s transboundary rivers do not have a cooperative management framework. (SIWI)
  • Agriculture accounts for 70% of global water withdrawal. (FAO)
  • Roughly 75% of all industrial water withdrawals are used for energy production. (UNESCO, 2014)
    But the world water crisis is part of an integrated social and planetary crisis caused by the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization that includes three existential threats to the humanity and much of life on Earth: climate change, the Sixth Extinction, and nuclear war now being threatened against North Korea by the United States.  Thus, the challenge the new generation of radicalized youth and working people in Iran face is not simply to replace the Islamic Republic with a democratic republic of working people but one that can join others across the globe to replace the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization with an ecocentric ecological socialist mode of production that will ensure social harmony as well as ecological harmony with the rest of nature.  As a part of a growing ecological socialist movement, I have discussed our current predicament and the possible road forward (Nayeri 2013A; Nayeri 2013B; Nayeri 2017).  The interested reader may find convincing evidence and argument for a truly radical change in society, economy, and culture.  Needless to say, given the existential threat we face time is of the essence.  The future of the world depends on the youth and working people of Iran and the world. 

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