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   Vol. 69/No. 26           July 11, 2005  
Populist demagogue beats ‘reformer’ in Iran’s election
U.S. gov’t response muted
(News Analysis)
In a landslide victory June 24 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran in a run-off election against former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Ahmadinejad, the mayor of Tehran since 2003, is not a “conservative” or an Islamic “hard-line fundamentalist” as the bourgeois media have largely labeled him. He is capitalist politician who demagogically presents himself as a strong leader who stands above classes and can deal with the “corrupt elite”—that is, a Bonapartist figure.

In his election campaign Ahmadinejad used the populist rhetoric of the 1979 plebeian revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed regime of the shah. He appealed to the outrage of the toiling masses over rampant bourgeois corruption, the less and less hidden privileges of the bourgeoisie and middle-class layers, and the growing class differentiations in income, wealth, and health.

The only forces surprised by Ahmadinejad’s victory were the middle-class reformers who live in a different reality than the workers, farmers, and other exploited producers of Iran. They blamed the “unwashed masses” for choosing “reaction.” Capitalist politicians in imperialist countries that have courted the “reformers” in Iran were taken aback too. Middle-class liberals and their radical fellow travelers in the United States and other imperialist countries were stunned, reacting as if Iran’s version of a “Bush agenda” had won over there too.

The Tehran Times said the president-elect was not “affiliated to any well-known political party and was even expected to withdraw before the first round of the election.”

The People’s Weekly World, which reflects the views of the Communist Party USA, ran an article by a correspondent from Iran’s Tudeh (Communist) Party calling the first round of the vote a “rigged election [that] blocks Iran’s path to reform.” It said Ahmadinejad is allied with “fascistic forces.”

The response of Washington and its allies, however, has been muted. While public attacks by Bush administration officials on Iran’s election as illegitimate were very much in the news prior to the run-off vote, they have since been toned down. The imperialist governments see that the newly elected populist demagogue may have an easier time making a deal on the nuclear question, and on cutting aid to pro-Tehran armed groups abroad, than his opponents within the Iranian bourgeoisie who have lost whatever popular support they may have once had.

There are no differences between the Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani camps, or outgoing “reformist” president Mohammad Khatami, over nuclear power and weapons. All three support the ongoing negotiations over this issue with officials from the imperialist governments of Germany, France, and Britain, who in collaboration with Washington seek to block Tehran’s ability to develop and use nuclear power. This take place as the right to acquire nuclear energy is becoming generalized into a national aspiration in Iran, similar to the sentiment to nationalize the oil industry in the 1950s.

Ahmadinejad will be the first noncleric president of Iran in 24 years. He won 17.2 million votes to 10 million for Rafsanjani. Iranian state television reported a 60 percent turnout of eligible voters.

Like his predecessors, Ahmadinejad made it clear he is committed to advancing the bourgeois development of the country—including privatization of industry and greater foreign investment. He pitched his campaign, however, on populist promises. He won support for his presidential bid by vowing to raise wages, lower prices, and wipe out corruption. He said he would provide pensions, health insurance, and unemployment benefits to women, and zero-interest loans to farmers.

Pitching himself as an “Islamic Robin Hood,” he told reporters that he was Iran’s “little servant and street sweeper.” All this played into the growing dissatisfaction of working people, who currently face 15 percent inflation and an official unemployment rate of 12 percent. An Associated Press dispatch said that actual joblessness exceeds 30 percent. With some 40 percent of Iranians living under the government’s official poverty line, the differentiation between the living standard and job conditions of working people, on one hand, and middle-class professionals and the bourgeoisie, on the other, is growing.

Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric harked back to popular aspirations coming out of the 1979 revolution. Back then he participated in the student-led movement that seized the U.S. embassy, exposing it as a spy den for the CIA. In the absence of revolutionary working-class leadership, many of the gains the toiling masses made through that popular revolt were eroded and reversed to a large degree by the bourgeois leadership that took the helm since 1979.

Rafsanjani campaigned on his record as president between 1989 and 1997. He oriented his campaign more toward affluent layers, describing himself as one of the original “reformers.” At a June 21 rally at Tehran University, he told some 4,000 students, “I believe that I was the prime mover in establishing reforms, and Khatami’s government took further steps. Definitely it should go on.” With an eye toward making clear his willingness to mend relations with imperialist powers, he organized young supporters to distribute campaign stickers written in English, not Farsi.

“Some reports have explained Ahmadinejad’s victory as a populist backlash against Mr. Rafsanjani’s corrupt clericalism,” noted an editorial in the June 28 Wall Street Journal. While corruption is endemic to all capitalist regimes, railing against the sleaze of “reformers” and other capitalist politicians dressed in (increasingly elegant) clerical garb helped boost Ahmadinejad’s vote total, especially in contrast to Rafsanjani, a representative of the status quo in the eyes of many.

In the absence of a working-class alternative in Iran, the toilers’ desire for social justice and leveling of income distribution gets derailed by bourgeois demagogues into voting for a Bonapartist figure.  
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