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  • Writer's picture Bandit Shirin شیرین راهزن

The Future-Forming Power of Slogans

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

It is said that slogans rarely convince the unconvinced. It is also claimed that slogans do not provide solutions. I disagree on both counts. The right slogan, in the right context can alter perceptions, enhance the general intellect, as well as offer solutions. Perhaps slogans can be even more. If the vision they espouse agrees with the aspirations of the people, slogans can also become ‘future-forming’ (a phrase popularised by Kenneth Gergen).

Slogans also provide a convenient measure of the movement’s radical credentials. Are the chants raised monologic or dialogic? Are they linking events up dialectically or not? Are they reductionist or multi-layered? Is there humour involved and, if so, what type of humour?

In general, today’s slogans against the Islamic Republic seem to be more enriched, passionate, audacious, subversive, and clear-sighted than previous waves of struggle. This bodes well for the future.

Below I have listed some of these slogans. I have discussed their meaning and occasionally I have criticised limitations and suggested improvements. I hope these recommendations are perceived not as negativity but in a spirit of constructive criticism. The categorisation used is merely for the sake of house-keeping and does not suggest any profound epistemological imperative.


Slogans attacking specific members of the ruling class

‘Death to Khamenei’ / مرگ بر خامنه‌ای which is a personalised version of ‘Death to the dictator’ / مرگ بر دیکتاتور

On the face of it, this slogan seems as monotonous and individualising as a similar battle-cry raised 44 years ago: ‘Death to the Shah’ / «مرگ بر شاه». After all, these types of slogans can be claimed by anyone, even reactionaries who wish to retain capitalism and Islam under new management. However, I would argue, it still represents an improvement on previous slogans that criticised ‘political’ leaders whilst refraining from offending the ‘spiritual’ leader. This chant rejects the false dichotomy between ‘political vs. spiritual’ leadership, and denounces both as illegitimate.

‘Khamenei is a butcher and his guardianship is null and void’ / «خامنه‌ای قاتله، ولایتش باطله»

This is a more radical version of the above since the individual-structure duality is actively overcome and the reformist agenda exposed as a sham. It is the entire guardianship system that must be abolished, not any one individual.

‘Death to Khamenei; damn Khomeini’/ مرگ بر خامنه‌ای، لعنت بر خمینی

A similar slogan which breaks a further taboo by directly criticising both Khamenei and his more illustrious predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini.

‘Mojtaba, may you sooner die than become the Leader’/ مجتبی بمیری، رهبری رو نبینی

It is rumoured that Khamenei is grooming his idiot son, Mojtaba, to succeed him as the Supreme Leader (even though the post is not hereditary). The nepotist aspect of the regime has become a constant source of irritation for Iranians. The slogan aims at exposing the wheeler-dealing that takes place behind closed doors and shows how slogans can become ‘future-forming’ (Gergen). Khamenei’s son will now find it that much harder to manoeuvre himself into a leadership position. As E. P. Thompson shows in The Making of the English working Class, rumour mongering, even when not based in reality, can undermine authority.

'Cannons, tanks and armoured personnel carriers; shove them up the Leader's ass'/ توپ تانک نفربر، هر سه تو کون رهبر

A firm favourite of mine since it annoys both Muslim reactionaries and pseudo-radical secularists who share with Muslims a disdain for cursing. The use of profanity and cussing is a wonderful illustration of a number of recent developments: the supersession of the intellect-emotion duality, taboo-breaking, and challenging the sacred. Most leftists, being of a middle class sensibility, still do not see the power of cussing, and denounce it as ‘lumpen’!

‘Our source of disgrace, is our freeloading Leader’/ ننگ ما، ننگ ما، رهبر الدنگ ما

This is perhaps the best of the lot because it infuses humour into the debate. The key term ‘aldang /الدنگ’ can be translated in a number of ways as: freeloader, blockhead, clown, cowardly, dickhead, scoundrel, hobo or dimwit. In short, it is a versatile and elastic term that covers all the bases. The element of humour accentuates (rather than dilute) the radicalism of the utterance in the same way the Situationist slogan ‘Down with the toad of Nazareth’/ سرنگون باد قورباغۀ ناصری (ناصره محل تولد عیسی است) shocked sensibilities back in 1968. A more contemporary equivalent would be the chant raised during anti-war demonstrations: ‘George Bush, we know you, daddy was a killer too’ / جورج بوش خوب می شناسیمت. باباجونت هم قصاب بود

Warning! Workers struggling here.

Slogans aimed at subverting Islamic values

‘Until the last cleric is not placed in a body-bag, this land won’t become a real country /تا آخوند کفن نشود، این وطنْ وطن نشود

Not quite as radical as the slogan that was widespread amongst the European working class until recently: ‘humanity will not be free until the day when the last bureaucrat is hung with the guts of the last capitalist’ / تا آخرین دیوانسالار با دل و رودۀ آخرین سرمایه دار حلق آویز نشده، بشریت آزاد نخواهد شد

The trans-national credentials of the Situationist slogan is here diluted through illusions in ‘freedom within one country’. We must never forget the mullah-bourgeoisie are not merely suppressing the class struggle at home but also abroad. It is therefore necessary to overthrow them not just for the sake of Iranians but the entire world.

‘Suleimani is a butcher, his master an ignorant fool’ / سلیمانی قاتله، رهبرشم جاهله

Suleimani (the general assassinated by the American forces during Trump’s administration) is not just an icon of Islamic values. He is also a martyr, making the chant doubly subversive. A reckoning with ‘martyrs’ who still control people’s hearts and minds from beyond the grave is a long overdue task of the revolution.

(We want) neither sheikhs, nor mullahs, curse be upon all ayatollahs/ نه شیخ می‌خوایْم نه ملا، لعنت به آیت‌الله The more plebeian version of the chant goes like this: neither akhund, nor mullah, fuck the ayatollahs/ نه آخوند، نه ملا، کیرم تو آیت‌الله

Once again it is the linkage between different groupings within the ruling class that comes through clearly. The only ambiguity is that for some it might mean being anticlerical without necessarily being antireligious.

(We want) rice with herbs and fish; fuck your mama, Pasdar bitch/ سبزی پلو با ماهی، کس ننه‌ ت سپاهی

An incongruent chant but the Persian version rhymes very well. Sabzi Polo is a simple dish of rice, herbs and fish served as the first meal of the Persian New Year and symbolising rebirth and renewal. This rather traditional ritual is here linked to a vulgar attack on the parenthood of all forces of oppression but chiefly ‘counterrevolutionary’ guards (Pasdaran).

We reject, we reject, the Islamic Republic / جمهوری اسلامی؛ نمی‌خوایم نمی‌خوایم

Rather self-explanatory and complete in its rejection of theocracy. We haven’t yet witnessed slogans directed against churches/mosques as in previous western protests: ‘How can you think freely in the shadow of a chapel?’ / چطور می شود زیر سایۀ کلیسا آزادانه تفکر کرد؟ or ‘We want a place to piss, not a place to pray’ / جایی میخوایم بشاشیم نه اینکه نماز بخوانیم

Greetings old nag, your grave awaits you!

Slogans subverting capitalist values

‘We're the children of workers, and will continue to stand by them’/ فرزند کارگرانیم، کنارشان می‌مانیم

There were a number of chants geared towards uniting different strands of the movement. This is one of them. It also consciously reduces the regime’s ability to play the younger generation against the older ones.

‘Freedom of thought cannot be attained by staring from the window’ / آزادی اندیشه، از پنجره نمی‌شه

This one is reminiscent of the Situationist critique of the spectacle and passive consumption political protest (for example, ‘Comrade, stop applauding, the spectacle is everywhere’ / کف نزن رفیق چون جامعۀ نمایشی می تونه به همه جا سرایت کنه It is saying, don’t just watch from the window, join us, or the spectacle will survive.

‘Poverty, corruption and high prices; (that’s why) we’ll fight till victory’/ فقر و فساد، گرونی، می‌ریم تا سرنگونی

Radicals provide a critique of the political economy, not ‘politics’ or ‘economics’ separately. Here economic grievances are linked to the political dismantling of the entire regime.

‘Bread, jobs, freedom; all power to the councils’ / نان، کار، آزادی، حکومت شورایی

A slightly contradictory chant that hovers between anti-capitalist bravado and reformist demands. But still, an interesting slogan.

‘We want neither a referendum nor reform; only, strikes and revolution’/ نه رفراندوم، نه اصلاح؛ اعتصاب، انقلاب

Another slogan that simultaneously analyses, informs and future-forms. It is closing various avenues of escape for the regime.

‘Mullah-bourgeois, return our money now’ /آخوند سرمایه‌ دار، پول ما رو پس بیار

A slogan that clearly states how a middle class clergy became the capitalist ruling class, stole people’s wealth and introduced graft and corruption to maintain their profits at the expense of the people.

‘Pensioners, shout for your rights from the rooftop’ / بازنشسته داد بزن، حقت رو فریاد بزن

One of the most active sections of the proletariat in recent years have been pensioners. This is understandable since one of the most shameless acts of larceny concerns the targeting of their pension funds.

'Our wages are in Rials; our cost of living in Dollars' / حقوق ما ریالی، هزینه ها دلاری

This slogan was raised by the Union of Workers' Veterans. It isn't just about pressures of cost of living and inflation, but also the corruption rampant in currency exchange policies.

‘Neither Kings, nor mullahs; Freedom, equality’ / نه سلطنت نه رهبری، آزادی، برابری

Of course, the exact meaning of 'freedom' and 'equality' is at the mercy of the interpreter, but still, I hope you agree, it is a pretty decent slogan that demands something better than theocracy and monarchy.

‘Sundis-drinking Basiji; your last days are near, so drink up your fill’ /بسیجی ساندیس خور، آخرشه خوب بخور

Well, somebody has been reading their Mayakovsky: ‘Eat your pineapple, munch your grouse; your last day is coming, bourgeois louse!’ The rent a mob pro-regime demonstrators and forces of oppression are known to have a liking for free Sundis drinks.

Slogans subverting hierarchy and patriarchy

‘No to the veil, no to violence; (we demand) liberty, equality’ / نه روسری، نه توسری، آزادی و برابری

Simple and to the point.

(addressing the security forces) ‘I am a free woman; You’re the perv, you’re the slut’ / هیز تویی، هرزه تویی، زن آزاده منم

Muslim incels routinely refer to free women as sluts. Here the chant reverses the target.

Unemployment, beggary, (go hand in hand with) forced veiling / بیکاری، بیگاری، حجاب اجباری

Class and gender are linked up and seen as dialectically interconnected.

‘We burned our veils and smashed our oppressors’ / مقنعه رو سوزوندیمش، سرکوب‌گَرو پوکوندیمش

I hope I have translated this correctly. If not, I am sure I will be corrected soon.

The sign says: Compliance with hijab laws is revering the divine.

Slogans aimed at uniting the people

These slogans are very direct and obvious. There is no need for analysis.

Emancipation is our right, unity is our strength / رهایی، حق ماست؛ قدرت ما جمع ماست

If we’re not united, they’ll pick us off one by one / اگه باهم یکی نشیم، یکی یکی کشته می‌شیم

Worker and student, shoulder to shoulder on the barricades /ایستاده‌ایم در سنگر، دانشجو و کارگر

Yes making a revolution is scary, yes this time things are different / آره انقلاب ترس داره؛ آره این دفعه فرق داره

And my absolute favourite:

Imagine the day we are armed / !وای به روزی که مسلح شویم

'The gun is good. The penis is evil.' Zardoz, 1974

Concluding remarks:

  1. During the ongoing protests, slogans have flowered. They have been transformed from previous lifeless, repetitive and monologic utterances to short bursts of analysis and creativity. This suggests a significant societal shift in values.

  2. Slogans have also become dialectical. This means they consciously attempt to overcome constructed dualities. In the process protesting men and women are united. Various sections of the people come to see the revolution as belonging to all of them.

  3. There is still some way to go before the new discourse becomes completely free of compromise and reformism. Studying previous radical slogans will help this process along. For example, how about?

'Be realistic, demand the impossible' / واقع بین باش، نشدنی را مطالبه کن

'Boredom is always counter-revolutionary' / کسل آوری همیشه ضدّ انقلاب است

'No replastering, the structure is rotten' / گچ کاری فایده نداره. ساختار از پایه فاسده

'Neither God nor master!' / !نه خدا، نه ارباب

'It is forbidden to forbid.' / ممنوع کردن، ممنوع است

'Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!' / سریع بدو رفیق، دنیای سنتی پشت سرته

'The more I make love, the more I want to make revolution. The more I make revolution, the more I want to make love.' /

هر چه بیشترعشق ورزی می کنم بیشتر می خوام انقلاب کنم و هر چه بیشتر انقلابی رفتار می کنم می خوام بیشترعشق

ورزی کنم.

'All that is sacred - there is the enemy.' / هر چیزی که مقدسه، دشمن ما همینه

'Can you believe that some people are still Muslims?' / باورت می شه بعضی ها هنوز که هنوزه مسلمانند؟

'Religion is the ultimate con.' / مذهب آخرین ترفند است

'If God existed it would be necessary to abolish him.' / اگر خدا جداً وجود داشت لازم می شد او را الغا کنیم


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