Islamic Republic without Khatami
Ali Javadi: In his speech to the Islamic Parliament, Khatami, while barely criticising the Right, clearly and decisively insisted on the necessity to confront the forces seeking the overthrow of the regime. How do you assess the policies he announced in the Islamic parliament? Is he construing the end of the 2nd Khordad [also known as the "reformists"]? Has he planned a new manifesto for the 2nd Khordad?
Mansoor Hekmat: In my opinion, Khatami's move in parliament was to be expected in light of his personal style and past record and the current factional balance. Segments of the Right as well as reformers had assumed and anxiously expected that Khatami would confront the Right, air his criticisms and or present preconditions for his candidacy in the upcoming elections. But he remained silent, as he had done in many more critical moments. In my opinion, Khatami's speech in parliament was not more mild than usual. He was himself. This is Khatami. Minus the epics and hype, Khatami has always been like this. The 2nd Khordad camp's attempts to push Khatami into an open and direct confrontation with Khamenei have proved futile. Even if there were to be a confrontation between the reformists and the opposing faction, Khatami would not be the personality to do so; this is the main dilemma of the reformist faction. The concept of "transcending Khatami" within the National-Islamic movement is fundamentally rooted here, in Khatami's reluctance to make a stance against the Right.
In my opinion, Khatami does not have a new plan for the reformist camp. At most, he has a plan for himself - to co-exist with Khamenei and the Right if they are prepared to move closer to the stance of the so-called "new-thinkers" within the Right itself. If Khatami manages to reach an understanding, this may effectively become an agenda for the top layers of the 2nd Khordad (reformist) movement. Khatami rarely enters into a dialogue with the 2nd Khordad faction, though he is its supposed leader, nor does he address or appear alongside its other leaders. He has even shied away from officially associating himself with this faction. It is the 2nd Khordad camp which has declared Khatami as its symbol and leading personality, though Khatami have never presented himself as such. He has only talked about reform and reformism in general. He does not name his opponents and pays more homage to the "Grand Leader" Khamenei than Rightist figures themselves. In my opinion, from the start, Khatami's agenda has been distinct from what the 2nd Khordad camp and the larger National-Islamic movement attributed to him. Khatami will step aside if the factional fighting intensifies. He does not want to lead the so-called reformists in such a confrontation. I do not believe that, four years ago, Khatami had the intention or saw the prospect of a wide-ranging political confrontation with the Velayat-e-Faqih (the Supreme Power of the Chief Ayatollah - the centrepiece of the political dictatorship in Islamic Republic). He thought that the Right, Khamenei and the 'establishment' would accept his overall policy after some initial resistance, because he thought he could improve the general economic condition of the country by improving relations with the West. I think Khatami saw himself as a continuation of Rafsanjani's period. However, factions supporting Khatami transformed him into something he is not. Poor man, he had managed up until now to survive with his silence and coquettish smiles for journalists and avoid a decisive resolution; but the time is up and he must decide. Khatami will not define the reformists' agenda but merely his own personal position. If he stands as a candidate for the Right after all this chastisement, he will lose his position in the Islamic reformists' camp.
Ali Javadi: How do these policies effect the 2nd Khordad movement? How do you assess the reaction of the reformist camp?
Mansoor Hekmat: If Khatami becomes president, by somehow succumbing to the Right, the top layers of the 2nd Khordad will have to concur. Yet, this will eventually lead to the disintegration of 2nd Khordad. Even now, in my opinion, the 2nd Khordad has lost its influence in the wider reformist movement. Its lower ranks have separated and left. Without a serious and decisive confrontation with the Velayat-e-Faqih and the judiciary, it is impossible for the reformists to keep some kind of mass base. In the current situation, Khatami's election will lead to the disintegration of the top layers of this movement. Initially, they will keep up pretences and attempt to remain in the political scene as a formality. It does not need much intelligence to realise that they have lost and must think of something else.
Ali Javadi: Khatami's candidacy is still not a forgone conclusion. Mohsen Rezai [Ex-military chief close to Rafsanjani] has recently been quoted as saying: "It is better if Khatami does not become a candidate." In his New Year message, Khatami also revealed signs that he was to leave the stage. How do you assess the personal situation of Khatami under these conditions?
Mansoor Hekmat: Of course, Mohsen Rezai later corrected himself. Apparently, he was privy to the private conversations of Khamenei and Rafsanjani and spoke out rashly. In the recent weeks, the Right has been hinting that it is better if Khatami does not become a candidate in the upcoming elections. Others have discussed this as well. Recent widespread arrests and the suppression of his supporters after Khatami's speech in parliament can also be perceived as a clear indication of Khatami's devaluation for the Right and an attempt to discourage him from standing for re-election. There are still many on the Right who prefer the presidency of a more obedient and chastised Khatami (rather than a Right candidate) for the sake of the regime's stability and prevention of future political upheavals. In recent weeks, however, it seems that the idea of putting Khatami aside had been seriously considered. I too think that there is some sort "farewell" feel to Khatami's New Year message. From his speech to the Majlis (Islamic parliament) to his New Year message two important incidents occurred. First were the widespread arrests and the imposition of an official ban on National-Islamic (reformist) groups. This was a slap in the face for Khatami. He was seeking concessions for agreeing to stay. Now, it was the Right that was demanding concessions to let him stay. This is a disheartening situation for someone who is unable and unwilling to fight. His speech in the Islamic parliament is a candidate's speech, but his New Year message is the reverse. The second factor is the cultural-political confrontation of the people with the government on the ancient Persian Wednesday Night of Fire celebrations. I think that night both Khatami and the Right saw the prelude of the people's movement in the upcoming year. This frightens the Right. To confront this oppositional environment, they need a more cohesive government. They are concerned that the government's bi-factional structure will make them vulnerable in the face of people's protests; consequently, even a tame Khatami is unacceptable to them. They see that the 2nd Khordad movement is unable to silence the emerging protest movement. Under these circumstances, why share power with the reformers? As far as the Right is concerned, the stock value of Khatami and Co Ltd. in the Iranian political market has severely diminished; thus, they are revising their strategy. So is Khatami. If in upcoming months, the political scene of Iran is to be shaped by an open confrontation between the people and government, and if the 2nd Khordad is unable to ride the wave of the people's movement and turn it into an appendage of its own reformism, then the Right will carry out a coup d'etat and sacrifice Khatami. Why should he voluntarily step inside this ring? I think that in his New Year message, Khatami is leaning towards leaving office. Of course, there are a few weeks left. In this period, even days are decisive. Everything could change again.
Ali Javadi: Have the Right and Khamenei lost faith in Khatami and are they trying to make the government cohesive in order to face people's opposition without Khatami as a buffer?
Mansoor Hekmat: They have not yet "lost faith," but it seems to me that they are seriously thinking of an Islamic Republic without Khatami. They either have to let go of him now or six month from now when the people have taken over the streets.
Ali Javadi: With this in mind (the possibility of Khatami not being a candidate in the next presidential elections), what is to become of the Islamic Republic's elections?
Mansoor Hekmat: I think if Khatami stands for president, he will be given the post. If he does not stand for re-election, it is highly probable that the elections will not take place and Khamenei will temporarily make some other arrangements. If Khatami does not stand and the elections take place, the Right will obstruct 2nd Khordad candidates and pull out their own person from the ballot box. There will not be enough time for the factions to reach a general compromise. The reformists will condemn the elections and the government crisis will deepen with haste. That is why I think that the elections will probably be postponed and Khamenei will move to the fore of the political scene in the event of Khatami's non-candidature.
Ali Javadi: Recently, Mohebian, a Rightist strategist, has written about the "necessity to change the game's strategy" and that the factional in-fighting had led to the strengthening of a third force." He has concluded that Khatami must remain in the game and that "strategic rationale dictates that there is a move towards a more rational and stable relationship between the two factions. Is "a more stable solution" possible?
Mansoor Hekmat: Mohebian, (who curiously seems to be fascinated with "game theory" in these hectic times), says that the two factions must find a formula that will minimise damage to the totality of the system. He says that it need not be a zero-sum game, where the win of one faction is the loss of the other. Both factions could be winners if they do not expect total victory over the other. In effect, he is calling for the creation of a new Centre comprising of the "wise" and moderate elements of both factions, excluding the extremists on both sides. I think this is a serious trend in the ruling circles. At any rate, if the government's situation requires that the Right compromise with its opponents, this would certainly not lead to the acceptance of the 2nd Khordad platform, but rather most probably, the formation of a new Centre closer to the Right. However, this will only be a passing phase in the Islamic regime's regression. This Centre will also not provide a long-term equilibrium.
Ali Javadi: There are rumours about the "leader's" intervention in the 'executive management of the system,' that he has "entrusted" some of his "authority" to Rafsanjani and that Shahroodi has been chosen as Khamenei's successor. How do you see the situation?
Mansoor Hekmat: One cannot rely on such rumours. Undoubtedly, Khamenei is obligated to move to the fore in order to form a new Centre of unity - albeit a forced and artificial one. As I said earlier, if Khatami does not stand for re-election, Khamenei's intervention and the indefinite postponement of the elections are most probable.
Ali Javadi: The situation of 2nd Khordad abroad is turning into a comedy. The Fedaian Majority and Tudeh party currents are beseeching Khatami to stand for re-election promising to back him. What is the future of this current?
Mansoor Hekmat: The life span of this reactionary opposition current is spent. They are merely fan clubs for Hajjarian [former intelligence official-turned reformist strategist] abroad. Their fortunes are tied to that of the official opposition. As the balance of power turns in favour of the people and against the various factions in the Islamic government, these currents will be further marginalised. That is why, like Khatami and Khamenei, they display such rabid enmity towards opponents and organisations, which want the Islamic regime's ouster. They have voluntarily become mouthpieces of the Islamic Ministry of Intelligence abroad. Not a day passes without their calling on the leaders of the Islamic regime to suppress and eliminate the radical opposition. This year is the final year for them too. With the people's radicalisation and the disintegration of the regime, they may attempt to switch sides once again, but it will be to no avail. They are too disgraced for this. This year, we will have a more active policy towards them.
Ali Javadi: You said in your new year message to the people that you hoped this would be last year of this twenty three year old Islamic nightmare. What are the main elements needed to reach this end?
Mansoor Hekmat: The WPI's strengthened relationship with the people in general and the working class in particular is one key to victory. People have risen against the Islamic government. This fact is now beyond question. Going any further will depend on the emergence of a revolutionary leadership and vision. Everything depends on an important political decision by the people of Iran. Which vision will guide the struggle to overthrow the regime? Which leadership will emerge? This is where the relationship between the party and the class, the party and society becomes decisive. I believe that today, the only hope of a Left vision leading the people's struggle is the WPI. A Left victory is only possible with this party. Without a Left victory, even the overthrow of the Islamic regime will mean another historical defeat for the cause of freedom and equality in Iran. If people choose the Left and the WPI as the movement's leadership, then we can talk about a bright future. This year must be the year that this choice is made. If this happens the political victory over the Islamic Republic is not far.
First published in Farsi in International Weekly No. 46 dated March 23, 2001.
The English version is a reprint from WPI Briefing.
Translators: Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya