An Analysis of Class In the Gulf

The success of the New World Order depends upon crushing all eruptions of working class uprisings in the Gulf region, most visibly in Iran and Iraq, keeping them from spreading to other countries, breaking up the increasingly organized oil proletariat and replacing them with workers from even more desperate and unorganized areas of the world.

In 1991 within Iraq — as had been the case in Iran eleven years earlier — leftist-led uprisings were threatening to destabilize the centralized nation-state itself, with the potential to launch a powerful communist push throughout the region. Crushing those uprisings became a priority for the US and a main reason for the U.S. government’s promotion, funding and arming of Iraq in its long war with Iran.

In 1978 and 1979 the Iranian revolution had bubbled up from the grassroots and ejected the Shah — the main supporter of Israel in the region and the U.S. government’s military strongman in the Arab and Western Asian oil-producing world. One of the key features of the Iranian revolution — one not shown on American TV, which focused solely on the student takeovers in Iran’s capital city, Teheran, and the taking of 52 hostages — was the rebellion of the oil workers, some 80,000 strong.

With the involvement of two million people living in oil towns, striking workers shut down the massive Iranian petroleum industry. “The U.S. engineered an attempt to get oil flowing again by staffing the fields and refineries with 10,000 naval cadets trained for this purpose. The strikebreaking effort failed. The striking workers refused to send oil to Israel and South Africa. Yet through a strong and intricate network of peoples’ committees called Shura in Pharsi, oil products were distributed throughout Iran, though not to the Shah’s military.” (Terisa Turner in “The 1991 Gulf War and Popular Struggles.”)

The Iranian oilworkers were irreplaceable in the dangerous and highly technical operations of the oil system. They immediately coordinated amongst themselves a national operation, using the organization and communications technology of the industry itself.

Iranian society during the revolutionary period was democratically run from the grassroots by decentralized popular committees (Komitehs or Shuraá) for approximately two years. These Shura formed in late 1978 in all sectors of society: the schools, the military and media, the oil industry, among the rural Kurds and in the civil service as well as in local neighborhoods. Garbage collection, bread baking and distribution, education and publishing, munitions manufacture and international relations were some of the social activities that these radical democratic committees carried out. (Turner)

The Ayatollah Khomeini’s aim in returning to Iran after the upsurge from his exile in Paris, was to reassert the power of the bazaari, the mullahs and the national bourgeoisie in Iran — the basis for his authority. In this way, the situation in Iran 24 years ago is very similar to that in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Even while declaring the United States to be “the Great Satan,” the Islamic fundamentalist Khomeini crushed the neighborhood and workers’ councils that were serving to democratize the society as well as the oil industry (to the consternation of the oil companies) by reactivating the Shah’s SAVAK — the savage secret police that had been trained a generation earlier by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s father. To gain the upper hand over the Shura, Khomeini needed a means for galvanizing the country. This was accomplished by the war with neighboring Iraq which lasted for 8 long years, killing more than 1 million Iranian and Iraqi people.

From Khomeini’s position, the war between Iran and Iraq served as a means to defeat an insurgent working class movement at home. It enabled Khomeini to concentrate the power of the State in the hands of ultra-religious fanatics (an outcome welcomed by the U.S. government as the lesser of two evils, representing the longterm interests of the oilgarchy); and, from Saddam Hussein’s position, the war served as a means to reap the material benefits of doing the U.S.’s bidding in the region and, similarly, to crush rising working class movements in Iraq, particularly around Basra, Nasria and Hilah where, for decades, there had been strong Stalinist as well as council communist movements, and among the Kurds in the North. The ruling clique in Iraq used U.S. aid to consolidate the power of Iraq’s fascist state through the terror of Saddam’s brownshirts — the Republican Guards.

For more backround on the 1991 Iraq uprising see “Ten Days that Shook Iraq” at: