Lessons Learnt in Iran

by Hamid Shahrabi, October 3, 2022

Rather than detailing crimes committed by illegitimate sanctions, the purpose of this modest contribution is to draw attention on lessons learnt, with emphasis on how to effectively confront such criminal policy. But before that, considering my Iranian nationality, let us have a look at the case of Iran.
Iran Sanctions

After the overthrow of Shah’s regime, a dictatorship installed and fully backed by the government of US, Iran has been a main target of imperialist sanctions. Although sanctions took place as a tool among a broader agenda of US aggressions against Iran — including but not limited to attempt on direct military intervention through Operation Tabas on 24 April 1980, support for military aggression of Iraq (1980-88) and providing support to terrorist acts through which thousands of innocent people were killed — however, sanctions have been used for more than 4 decades to bring immense suffering on the entire nation.

A 98 page report by “Congressional Research Service” (CRS), updated on 6 April 2021, details the account of Iran sanctions. In the report, we read:

During 2011-2015, in implementation of deliberate U.S. policy, global economic sanctions contributed to the shrinking of Iran’s economy as its crude oil exports fell by more than 50% and it could not access its foreign exchange assets abroad.

Summary of CRS report that provides the long list of sanctions on Iran, continues:

Trump Administration policy to apply ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran…caused Iran’s economy to fall into significant recession as a result, in part, of reduced sales of oil and isolation from the international financial system.

Another report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) dated 29 October 2019 recounts effects of sanctions on the health of Iranian people:

The consequences of redoubled US sanctions…pose a serious threat to Iranians’ right to health and access to essential medicines—and has almost certainly contributed to documented shortages—ranging from a lack of critical drugs for epilepsy patients to limited chemotherapy medications for Iranians with cancer.

As a result, Iranians’ access to essential medicine and their right to health is being negatively impacted, and may well worsen if the situation remains unchanged, thereby threatening the health of millions of Iranians.

The extent of suffering of Iranian people from “the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country,” as proudly labeled by President Trump, is of course not limited to what was hinted in the above-mentioned documents. While depriving Iran from 100s of billions of dollars of its income through free access to international trade, economic sanctions, along with banking and financial sanctions have contributed to high rates of unemployment and inflation that have in turn resulted to the deaths of thousands and impoverishment of 10s of millions of not only Iranian working class but also lower and middle classes as well.

A third of humanity suffers from US sanctions

Iran is just one of the 39 countries, encompassing a third of humanity, which are currently impacted by illegitimate and inhumane imperialist sanctions. The human casualties of sanctions are yet to be appreciated. The mass scale of genocide committed through sanctions will be better understood when you consider the deaths of millions of those who died during the past decades in countries such as Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Venezuela, the former Yugoslavia, Zimbabwe and Congo, among the other sanctioned countries.

If there is need for an example of mass murder by sanctions, here is one: The New York Times issue dated 1 Dec. 1995 reports “as many as 576,000 Iraqi children may have died since the end of the Persian Gulf war because of economic sanctions imposed by the Security Council, according to two scientists who surveyed the country for the Food and Agriculture Organization.” The reader may note that Food and Agriculture Organization is affiliated with the UN. It is also noted that such barbaric sanctions were imposed by not only US and its European allies but also backed by the Security Council of the UN, the main international body which according to its charter and declarations is supposed to safeguard peace and the right of people to life! And how do the imperialists view such atrocities? Madeleine Albright the former Secretary of State of the US replies: “It was worth it”! Quite clear: The mentality of arrogant imperialists on the value of human life versus their hegemonic interest could not be expressed better than that.

Yet, there remains the question that how can the hegemonic powers get away with genocidal sanctions?

Answering that question provides the first lesson learnt in confronting sanctions.

Lesson 1 – Lies and Deception and the need to Bring the Truth Out

Imperialist sanctions stem from and serve the hegemonic interests. To preserve their status for protection of their material interests, the imperialists cannot tolerate movements that resist and challenge their domination. Nations daring to do so are destined to be punished severely and ruthlessly. And the main two tools used for such punishments are wars and sanctions, which often complement each other.

Obviously, to carry out sanctions they cannot present the truth i.e. that they make hundreds of millions of people suffer, only to maintain and expand their hegemony. So, they utilize their powerful corporate media to spread lies and to deceive public opinion. In such a scenario, the governments of sanctioned countries, whose unforgivable crime is disobeying imperialist dictates, are demonized, are pictured as violators of human rights and opponents of democracy. They, those who have on their record numerous mass killings through wars and sanctions, engineering of 10s of military coups to overthrow elected governments and training of torturers and death squads, such merciless creatures are shameless enough to lecture us about democracy and human rights and justify their crimes under precious slogans such as democracy and human rights!

Therefore, to expose imperialists’ lies and deception there remains the one and the only tool and that is: to bring the truth out. To that end, we need to support, strengthen and expand the alternative media, to further utilize social media, to publish books and pamphlets and organize meetings, forums and seminars. We have to be constantly engaged in the “battle of ideas” as Fidel Castro, one of the greatest liberators of our era, used to characterize the main endeavor of freedom-fighters challenging the monstrous empire.

It is in that light that the launch of the Sanctions Kill campaign, as an ongoing activity to bring consciousness on sanctions and the need to stand up against it, is appreciated.

Lesson 2 – Broadest United Actions

United actions are indispensable in standing up against sanctions. There is no need for ideological or programmatic agreements on every issue among the forces which could join in united actions against sanctions. On the contrary, such actions that could take place in the forms of signing petitions or street demonstrations shall be all inclusive, as long as the participants agree on the single issue of “Stop Sanctions”.  In that sense, it is to the advantage of an effective campaign on sanctions to be heterogeneous rather than being homogeneous.

United actions in the imperialist countries, and especially the US, are of high importance, because it is the governments of such countries that are responsible for imposition of illegitimate sanctions. Hence, arises the urgency to mobilize public opinion in the United States and its European allies. Actions of that type have shown their effectiveness in the past but there is a greater potential and capacity in that regard that need yet to be utilized.

Taking into view the humanitarian, socioeconomic, political, environmental, psychological and cultural impacts of sanctions, a wide range of people and movements with a variety of motives and interests could join united actions on sanctions.

Lesson 3 – Sectarianism and factionalism, diseases that harm the fight against sanctions

It is really unfortunate to see that there are forces that would not join a united action on sanctions only because they are not the one who has initiated or is organizing that action. Such behavior should definitely be avoided, because it is quite harmful to any struggle, including the fight against sanctions.

Lesson 4 – Negotiations between the oppressed and oppressor

To press their victims of sanctions to give in to imperialist demands and submit to hegemonic objectives, the imperialists also use diplomacy or better said “gunboat” or “shotgun” diplomacy. The European imperialists used those tactics during the second half of the eighteenth through the end of the nineteenth century, and the US has been using the same during the process and ever since it became the dominant world power. That is how the imperialists, as oppressors, use negotiations as a tool to facilitate their domination of the oppressed nations. There are many historical examples which could be cited on that account and a more recent one is the negotiations with Iran on Iran’s nuclear program.

Although it is the absolute right of sanctioned nations to enter negotiations with their adversaries in order to protect their rights and pursue their demand for lifting sanctions, and it is also up to them to decide whether to give any concessions during the course of negotiations to secure their broader national interests, those who are witness to such negotiations should not only take sides with the sanctioned nation, but should also stand against any pressure that aims to gain further concessions from the victim of sanctions.

The slogan that shall be raised by peace activists in such circumstances is clear: stop sanctions immediately and unconditionally.

Lesson 5 – The wrong policy of passivity and least resistance

Then, there are others, even some with progressive political backgrounds who advocate the policy of least resistance. Their basic argument is that considering the “power theory” —a thesis highly praised in academic circles under the influence of capitalism— there shall be a limit to challenging the world hegemonic system! And what is that limit? They respond: Do not question the foundation of such a system and do not provide active support to liberation movements. Despite rhetoric, their remedy is simple: bring down the tensions— as if resistance movements have been the cause of or the source of those tensions, as if it is not the imperialist system that has constantly imposed all sorts of tensions on human society. They have other solutions as well among the same line of passivity: retreat wherever and whenever the imperialist pressures are dangerously high. The advocators of such policy totally ignore the fatality of trusting and retreating against imperialist aggressions. They prefer not to look at the recent experiences in Iraq, Libya or Egypt when the governments in those countries put their trust in imperialists and retreated under their undue pressures.

To be sure, passivity and least resistance pave the way for futility of just movements, including the fight against sanctions.

Lesson 6 – Support of the masses in the sanctioned countries

It is not a secret that imperialist sanctions are meant to bring mass unrest among the masses of people in the sanctioned countries, with the ultimate aim to overthrow the governments of such nations. That has been admitted on several occasions by US government officials from both Democrat as well as Republican parties. With that fact on the ground, the most sure path to confront sanctions is to strengthen ties among the government and people in the sanctioned country.

Once again, it is important to note that sanctions cause economic hardships and because of that create dissatisfaction among the masses of people. Facing such an unfavorable situation, the sanctioned governments cannot afford losing the trust of their people. If that happens as an ongoing dominant pattern, there remains no possibility to successfully challenge imperialist sanctions. Then, the downfall of the sanctioned government eventually becomes inevitable. With the same logic, the only effective way to deal with sanctions is to alleviate as much as possible the immense difficulties that people face in their daily lives because of sanctions. Securing basic social services for the people, like access to food, drinkable water, employment and a shelter for living, despite all inevitable shortages due to sanctions, becomes essential. That requires in turn, in regard to internal policies, the utmost economic planning, heavy reliance on the capacities of native economies, recognizing and encouraging mass organizations, and in regard to external policies, it demands expanding cooperation and economic ties with the countries that are more or less independent from imperialism.

Sanctions Kill! The World Stands Up to Sanctions!

Therefore, taking tangible measures to preserve the well-being of people, controlling the capitalist class which in its upper levels works hand in hand with imperialists and acts as their agent, fighting corruption that totally destroys the trust of people, and in a word, putting full trust and relying on the power and capabilities of masses of people is the only safe path to battle successfully imperialist hegemonic policies in general and the inhumane sanctions policy in particular. That, together with an effective public diplomacy at an international level —like the one exemplified by the Cuban government— shall be the model of how to stand up against sanctions.

Lesson 7 – Cooperation among the sanctioned countries

From a practical point of view, it is highly important to extend broadest cooperation in different fields of economy among the sanctioned countries. Realization of such perspective through an alliance between the sanctioned countries has been advocated since some time ago by the House of Latin America (HOLA) and we are extremely glad to witness that concrete measures have been taken in that line of action.
Recent cooperation between Iran and Venezuela through the shipment of fuel and oil diluents despite unlawful sanctions on both countries, which was furiously watched by the US, has shown the way forward.

Likewise, the shipment of oil from Iran to Lebanon through Syria, another sanctioned country urgently in need of fuel was a bold action demonstrating the will of sanctioned countries to expand economic cooperation to the benefit of their peoples. Such actions which could be expanded exponentially by encompassing further and broader cooperation among all sanctioned countries would certainly decrease the destructive effects of imperialist sanctions. The inclusion of countries like Russia and the decisive support of powerful China for such cooperation would bring a real breakthrough, signaling the light at the end of the dark tunnel of imperialist sanctions.

Our mission meanwhile: do everything in our capacity to oppose sanctions.

*Featured Image: Hamid Shahrabi at an Anti-Imperialist Conference in Havana in 2019. Src: Video on RATB CUBA on YouTube


Hamid Shahrabi works with House of Latin America (HOLA) in Tehran, Iran.  They are strong supporters of Cuba.

This article is featured from “Sanctions: A Wrecking Ball in a Global Economy“.  Various Authors discuss the effect of sanctions on local, regional and global economies.  You can pre-order the book on the International Action Center website: HERE.

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