What was the background to the formation of the Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI)? Why build a new party just after the collapse of the Eastern bloc? Why was it called worker-communist? Patty Debonitas talks to WPI leader Hamid Taqvaee on these and other questions on the 22nd anniversary of the party.
What was the background to the formation of the party?
All of the leadership and rank and file of the Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI), when it was formed in November 1991, had been members or cadres of the Communist Party of Iran (CPI) which had been founded in 1983.
The formation of the WPI was certainly not the starting point of our political activities. It was a separation from the old party, the CPI, and forming a new one.
And what is certainly true for myself as well as many others who are in the leadership now of the WPI is that our political activities started way back before 1983. Most of us started our activities in the 1979 revolution in Iran and some of us even before that. We were politically active, we were Marxist activists.
The best way perhaps of looking at the WPI is not as a party that took shape from scratch but as a turning point in a form of communism that started with Iran’s revolution more than three decades ago and which was shaped mainly by Mansoor Hekmat at that time.
Why did you establish a new party?
The WPI was formed at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. That event was the cause and start of many new issues and challenges.
We needed to answer these challenges of the New World Order as it was named by George Bush (the elder) and the US. And the CPI was not ready for this. There was a nationalist trend in the old party that got stronger after the collapse of the Soviet Union and after the invasion of Iraq by the US under George Bush. Nationalism was gaining power and getting stronger in the Middle East and it had its effect on the old communist party as well - we were facing a new rise of nationalism in the party too.
One trend in the party wanted to get ready for these new challenges and the other trend was influenced by nationalism. There were long deliberations and debates within the party and during the course of these debates a worker-communism fraction formed which eventually led to the formation of a new party.
But this was just the inner-party manifestation of a more general and universal issue. The real issue wasn’t the opposition between communism and nationalism as has always been in different eras in history. It was the reflection of a bigger issue - the collapse of the Soviet Union and with that the collapse of the old type of communism being in the mainstream.
With the name worker-communism we wanted to explain its difference with that mainstream communism. That was the bigger issue. In the WPI’s manifesto we declared that this is a communism that has nothing to do with the mainstream communism of the whole Soviet era and that therefore the collapse of the Soviet Union is not our crisis, that this isn’t the collapse of worker-communism. On the contrary it is the collapse of non-worker-communism, the Soviet-type communism. We were establishing a party to get ready for the new challenges of the Post Cold War era.
Why did you call it worker-communism?
We think that communism is a social movement, and not an ideology.
Communism we think is a real existing movement within the working class all over the world. Sometimes it might be weaker or stronger, it might not be dominant in the labour movement, but whatever it is we think that we always have this sort of movement within the working class or labour movement every day and we call it communism.
It is not the only communism that exists. There are different branches of communism, like Soviet-style communism, Chinese communism, Trotskyism, Euro-communism, we have so many different trends of communism. With the name of worker-communism we wanted to show that we are different. Mansoor Hekmat gave a very profound and comprehensive interview about this which was published as a pamphlet called ‘Our differences’. It explains very clearly what our differences are theoretically, politically, and socially.
Let me just mention one of the differences. One such communism that was very powerful in the Soviet Union and China had replaced the essence of socialism, which means the abolishment of wage labour, with a new concept of industrialisation of their country mixed with some sort of state control of the economy, which was nothing but state capitalism. These have nothing to do with worker-communism.
Worker-communism was not about industrialisation or economic and political independence from Imperialism or state economy. These were the hallmark of other movements that called themselves communism.
You can look at Euro-communism, Maoism, communism of the Eastern Bloc, and many groups in Third World countries with the banner of ‘African socialism’, ‘Arabic socialism’ and so on. All of those used the word of socialism or communism but their content had nothing to do with the abolishment of wage labour. For them socialism or communism meant some sort of independence from the US or other colonial powers. Getting their country industrialized and making the national bourgeoisie stronger - these were the objectives of those movements.
Worker-communism as opposed to all those movements identified itself with getting rid of capitalism all together. Abolishing wage labour and establishing common control of the means of production by the society. Those are the goals of worker-communism. You cannot find those sorts of goals in any other branches of communism that we had in the cold war era other than as a very faint spiritual concept.
That is the reason for the name of worker-communism as opposed to the other branches of communism.
How was the formation of your party perceived when in the public sphere there was talk about the end of communism?
That was exactly one of the challenges I was talking about earlier. The collapse of the Soviet Union was the collapse of state capitalism, of planned economy. It was not the end of our type of communism, it was the start or the coming back of our own communism.
Worker-communism came to power after the October revolution in 1917 but couldn’t stay in power for long and was replaced with another movement that we had in Russia at that time, the bourgeois-liberals who wanted a powerful Russia, who wanted to change the situation of Russia from the most backward country in Europe to the most advanced one. And they did that. As a result we had a superpower which was called the Soviet Union and the very success of that industrialisation movement of Russia and the formation of state capitalism under the name of socialism was a blow to worker-communism.
When you look at it in this way then the collapse of the Soviet Union was a new opportunity, an opening for worker-communism to come back and reclaim its position. In fact we are raising that banner again and declare that the collapse of the Soviet Union has nothing to do with us. We had been defeated 60 years before the collapse of the Berlin wall - with the formation of State capitalism in the Soviet Union and the rise of the Eastern Bloc.
In turn their defeat underlines our credibility and our critique of the whole type of Soviet-style communism.
When we formed the CPI some 30 years ago one of our main points was that with the rise of the Soviet Union we had a new type of capitalism and not socialism.
We radically criticised the experience of the Soviet Union. So we had that banner already when the Soviet Union collapsed. Theoretically we knew what was happening, but politically it was a way of showing our credibility; it confirmed that our views were correct. So in this sense this was a new beginning of worker-communism.
How was the formation of the WPI received by the people, governments and the media?
When the WPI was established communism was on the retreat according to the media and the governments and also in the public sphere. The public doesn’t necessarily differentiate between the different types of communism like we do. To them the Soviet Union was the core and the base of mainstream communism. And when the Soviet Union collapsed public opinion was convinced that communism is done. It’s gone. And of course everything was controlled by the bourgeois media and governments all over the world. At that time we didn’t have social media. So the whole media was enforcing the view that communism is done. So in that sense establishing a worker-communist party was not very popular with the people.
We had a lot to do to change that image and we have been doing it for the last 22 years and still today that is one of the big challenges - to change the idea that what the Soviet Union and the whole Eastern Bloc created was communism, and advocate and propagate what we think real communism, real socialism is.
When we established the WPI it wasn't very popular even within the left because many parties and organisations were busy changing their names at that time. For them it was the end as well. Even some leftist groups, like Trotskyists, who were identified by anti-Stalinism - criticising the Soviet Union for lack of democracy – found themselves in a difficult position. When the Soviet Union as such was finished this sort of anti-Sovietism was finished as well. Organisations and parties changed their names and their goals, they went for what they had wanted right from the beginning, so then they went for nationalism, for industrialisation, for human rights or democracy so to speak. Many of them concluded from the collapse of the Soviet Union that what was missing in their communism recipe was democracy!
So now they had become fighters for democracy and fought under that banner. And they were criticising Marxism and communism and they based their explanation on what was happening at the time on the collapse of communism.
In this atmosphere worker-communism was an against the current movement, it was going in the opposite direction. We declared that everything that was happening wasn’t the end of communism but rather a new opening for worker-communism to come back to the mainstream of the political events in the world. And that is what we have been doing.
The last two decades have been the history of fighting for establishing worker-communism as the mainstream communism in the world. That was the new challenge in front of us.
Do you think if the events back then hadn’t happened you would still be with the same party?
In history you can’t ask that sort of question. It’s very hard to speculate about that sort of thing.
We didn’t wait for the collapse of the Soviet Union to come to the conclusion that the Soviet-style wasn’t our brand of communism. Quite the opposite. From the beginning of our activities 30 years ago in the late 70s and with the revolution in Iran in 79 we knew that communism and socialism are not represented by the Soviet Union. And we already had it in our old party programme that what was happening in China and Russia had nothing to do with socialism or communism. We didn’t need the collapse of the Soviet Union to find out that the way we saw the world, the way we identified our party with socialism and communism had nothing to do with the Soviet Union.
The collapse became a major political factor all over the world. As a result everything changed. Not only in the Eastern Bloc but also in the Western Bloc because they were opposing a bloc that didn’t exist anymore. So with that comes the crisis of the US which had to prove its hegemony, its leadership.
This was the basis of the New World Order, the basis for the invasion of Iraq, and the second war in Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan. It was the basis for the rise of political Islam in the Middle East and all over the world. The war between the two camps of terrorism, the neo-conservatism in the West and political Islam on the other front. The whole situation in the world was changing.
All of these were new challenges that had to be analysed and with worker-communism you could explain them from the workers point of view, from the masses of the world’s point of view. So worker-communism is not only explaining its differences with the old type of communism but especially explaining the New World Order, and its causes. What was the cause and the reason for what happened in the previous Yugoslavia, what happened in the Middle East. The reason for the First Gulf War. The reason for September 11. What is the reason for having political Islam all over the world. We were and still are at the forefront of fighting against those reactionary, backward forces that were released by the New World Order and are active all over the world especially in the Middle East.
The WPI emerged in this environment.
How many formed the core of the new party and where were you?
When we formed our party Mansoor Hekmat and most of the members of the leadership of the new party were in Europe but the majority of the cadres were in Kurdistan. We were a few hundred cadres and members of the old party, the CPI.
Even when we started we were one of the biggest parties in Iran and the Middle East because at that time with the collapse of the Soviet Union you couldn’t find any longer many communist parties at all - most of them were soul searching and sitting and explaining and reassessing the position of their party and what they should do. So in this context the WPI even at the very beginning was one of the most powerful and biggest communist parties in the Middle East and all over the world.
But of course we weren’t satisfied with what we were. We were very active and started to grow in numbers.
We were very active right from the very beginning, not only from a political and theoretical but also from a practical aspect. We had many new ways of practice, new areas for our fights.
We had different aspects of activities in Iran that we were organising against the Islamic Republic, against political Islam, against women’s situation in Iran, against the Islamic forces who were becoming active in the Middle East and its extension as a global movement which we called Political Islam. We had to organise and fight for secularism and organise internationally against capital punishment and stoning. We were leading a movement in defence of children’s rights, for refugee rights, a labour movement against Islamic labour laws, against Islamic-police organs in working places, advocating general assembly and genuine worker councils, in defence of women rights and against gender apartheid, and so on.
So from the very beginning the WPI was very active, involved in fights for the rights of different groups of people, not only in Iran but all over the world in fact. And then of course criticising and explaining what is happening with the New World Order. But we were going for the new challenges from the point of view of the working class, the masses of people. That was the difference.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union everyone said how nice and civilised and peaceful the world would become as if the source of all the problems in the world was the Soviet Union. And now the Soviet Union was gone and everything was nice and good and there wouldn’t be any more problems. That was the view they wanted to sell to the world.
At that time of the so-called victory of the free market, the victory of the liberal democracy of the West, many of the so-called leftist or communist groups and parties were thinking somehow to join this universal celebration.
But we explained right from the beginning that the carnival for democracy and free market is not going to last long. We foresaw that the world is going to be much worse than what they were saying. Mansoor Hekmat in ‘The Gory Dawn of the New World Order’ explained that this celebration of the victory of the West is not going to last and the whole Western Bloc is going to collapse because it has no meaning anymore. And in this New World Order we will see the rise of the most backward and most reactionary forces that are coming to the fore and going to rule. And that is exactly what happened. And in this sense the party that had a real and thoughtful explanation of the new world and was ready and was involved in the day to day struggle on different fronts, in Iran and abroad, against capitalism and its New World Order was the WPI.
How do you think being an exile and opposition party has influenced your politics?
Being an exile party is nothing new for revolutionary communist parties.
In almost every revolution you see that the revolutionary forces are mainly in exile. For obvious reasons - as you have mainly dictatorships in those countries that wouldn’t let you be active inside the country.
The same thing happened to us. We were very active in Iran, then three years after the toppling of the Shah's regime we had to flee to Kurdistan which was mainly free at that time. We had to retreat there and establish the party there. And after that the Islamic Republic’s forces that we were fighting got the upper hand in Kurdistan as well. The Islamic Republic of Iran was established in the whole country even Kurdistan so we had to leave Kurdistan as well and go into exile. That is nothing new in the communist movement. It’s not the exception but the rule.
But nowadays with the new technology, social media and new ways of international communication, it is not a decisive factor whether you are outside or inside Iran. Of course we have our activists and our organisation in Iran, it is mainly our leadership that is outside of Iran - for obvious reasons as we are not allowed to be active in Iran. We are not even allowed to be alive in Iran! Radical communist parties have to be active in exile – that’s the political reality of our time.