The Iranian Revolution - Past, Present and Future

Chapter Three - The Communist Party of Iran

The emergence of the communist movement and ideas in Iran, in its real sense, began in the Baku oil fields of Russia before the 1917 Revolution. Thousands of Iranian immigrant workers had been employed by the tsarist regime in the oilfields where they worked shoulder to shoulder with Russian, Azeri and Armenian workers and came into contact with Bolshevik propaganda and agitation. These workers played a significant role in the development of the Communist Party of Iran. Nearly 50 percent of the workers in the Baku oilfields were Iranians many of whom were in contact with the Bolsheviks who were working in the oilworkers’ unions.[1] Official figures show that 190,000 Iranians went to Russia in 1911, and 16,0000 returned home in the same year.[2] But unofficial estimates show that no fewer than 300,000 Iranian workers migrated to Russia every year. These workers were mainly from Azerbaijan and Gilan, but were also drawn from other parts of Iran. Iranian workers were so influenced by the Bolsheviks that whenever they came back to Iran, they brought the tradition and ideas of the Russian Marxists with them. For the first time in the history of Iran they chanted the famous slogan of the Communist Manifesto: Kargaran-e-Jahan Mottahad Shaweed ("Workers of all Countries Unite!")

Iranian revolutionaries were linked with the activities of the Russia Social Democratic Party from the very beginning. When Iskra (the "Spark") began publication in December 1900, the Iranian revolutionaries used to transport copies to Baku through Persia. These revolutionaries came to be known as Social Democrats.[3] Regarding the affairs of Iskra Krupskaya once wrote to Torkhan, asking him whether she could send it to Russia through Tabriz. In a letter to L.Y. Galperin, Lenin also wrote of a further shipment to Persia via Vienna, which he said was only a recent experiment, so it was "premature to talk of failure; it may be successful."[4] Galperin was in charge of sending Iskra to Baku (by Russian Social Democrats) in the Spring of 1901. He organised the Baku Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). The Committee’s function was to manage the secret printing and transportation of illegal literature from abroad, and its distribution inside Russia.

Many Bolsheviks even participated in the Mashrutiat (Constitutional) movement between 1905 and 1911 and lost their lives along with Iranian revolutionaries. Gartovk, the Tsar’s ambassador in Iran, wrote to the Russian government on 2 October 1908, that the artillery commander Sattar Khan (The leader of the Tabriz revolt) was a sailor of the famous Battleship Potemkin, who had fled to Romania but later returned to Iran, where he joined the revolutionaries. The ambassador further wrote that revolutionary literature was being shipped from Tabriz by Russian revolutionaries.[5]

About that time parts of the Communist Manifesto were translated into Persian when a group of Russian revolutionaries led by Sergo Orjonikidze came to Iran in 1909 in order to carry out revolutionary activities. His wife wrote about this in her book The Path of the Bolsheviks. Lenin himself was in touch with some of the Transcaucasian Bolsheviks, who were in Iran during the period of reaction after the defeat of the 1905 Revolution. The Transcaucasian Bolsheviks played an important role in spreading the ideas of Marxism in Iran during the Constitutional Movement against the Qajar dynasty.[6]

However, initially the Iranian Social Democratic movement was dominated, not by Marxism, but by trends akin to Russian Narodnism. Alan Woods in his recent book Bolshevism, the Road to Revolution writes: "The Narodniks were motivated by revolutionary voluntarism: the idea that the success of the revolution can be guaranteed by the iron will and determination of a small group of dedicated men and women. The subjective factor of course is decisive in human history. Karl Marx explained that men and women make their own history, but added that they do not make it out side of the context of social and economic relationships established independently of their will."[7]

Terrorism is basically a petit-bourgeois tendency, completely alien to the working class tradition. That the movement should resort to such methods in the early days is merely a reflection of the underdeveloped phase of the struggle. It was the direct result of the low level of socio-economic development in Iran. The slow, sluggish development of the productive forces found its reflection in the undeveloped class structure of Iranian society at a time when the working class was still in its infancy. To the young progressive students and intellectuals, it seemed that society was in a state of complete stagnation. In their impatience they concluded that there was no way out of the crisis of society other than by means of the gun and the bomb. Although this was incorrect even at that time, it was at least understandable at a time when the capitalist mode of production was still in a primitive stage of development. The working class was still in an embryonic phase. So the students sought a base among the discontented peasantry. The latter was really very oppressed in the clutches of feudal landlords and occasionally launched desperate attacks on the feudal landlords and nobility. But the prevailing backwardness of the village masses, their ignorance and illiteracy, and the scattered and unorganised nature of the peasantry, meant that, on their own, they could offer no way out. Only by finding a powerful revolutionary ally in the towns could the peasantry rise to the heights demanded for a real revolutionary transformation of society.

These early revolutionaries were brave and sincere people, dedicated to the cause of the people’s freedom. They thought that through these methods they would bring about a change in society and put an end to oppression and exploitation. But despite their courage, they lacked the necessary theoretical understanding to lead the revolution. They spent a lot of their time in discussions about how to kill the Shah and the hated aristocrats and feudal lords. On one occasion they sent a gift parcel to the governor of Marand City on behalf of his close friends who lived in countryside. When the Governor opened the parcel, the bomb exploded and he was killed. But usually they were not so successful.

The aim of these young people was to target only the cruel officials and despotic rulers. The majority of their organisational activity revolved around acts of individual terrorism against feudal landowners and members of the nobility. For a time, living in fear of assassination, the government officials were in a constant state of panic. Among the revolutionaries was one outstanding figure, Hyder Khan Amougly, who, on the instruction of the Central Revolutionary Council, attempted to kill the King, Mohd Ali Shah. On 15 February 1908, having failed in his first attempt, he made a second attempt, when he planted a bomb under the rostrum where the king and his officials were expected to stand. However, the second effort was no more successful than the first.

Even if they had succeeded, such actions did not have the slightest effect in weakening the regime, let alone overthrowing it. The mistake of the terrorists is to imagine that the state rests upon individuals. But that is not the case. One reactionary governor is replaced with another, and the state is reinforced with new repressive measures and powers. The Iranian monarchy could not be overthrown by terrorist bombs but only by the revolutionary movement of the masses. The primitive methods of individual terrorism, as we have observed, corresponded to the relatively undeveloped nature of class relations in Iran at this time. The proletariat was as yet in its infancy. The revolutionaries succeeded to some extent in getting a base in the youth, in the peasantry and among weak and oppressed tribes. They were very devoted to the cause of the poor people, and went to the villages where they worked with the peasantry, attempting to convince them to struggle, but, like the Russian Narodniks before them, they got no serious response from them. Sometimes they were so frustrated with their lack of progress that they abused the peasants, with still less of a result than before.

To the degree that they attempted to get a base in the masses, they were not really terrorists. They were really searching for the way to end the system by revolutionary means. They were certainly not like the terrorists of today who play an entirely negative role in the revolutionary struggle. At a time when the power of the proletariat is clear to all, and when no-one can seriously dispute the leading role of the working class in the revolution, these people try to drag the movement back to its prehistory, resorting to the method of individual terrorism which was condemned by Lenin and all the Russian Marxists. Such methods can only sow confusion, weaken the revolutionary movement and lower the self-consciousness of the proletariat, while strengthening reaction and the state apparatus which they claim to be fighting against. Such methods do not further the cause of socialist revolution and the working class but, on the contrary, they help the agents and mercenaries of imperialists to prolong their rule by sabotaging the movements of the working class and detracting the real path of revolutionary struggle.

These outmoded and primitive methods of struggle were only a transitory phase which to a great extent were rendered obsolete once the infant workers entered the political arena. One of the first examples of this was the movement of the printworkers and the leather factory workers in Teheran, who presented an ultimatum to the majilis that if their demands were not met, they would stop work. The government reacted to this threat by launching repression against workers, who replied by going on strike. This was the first strike launched by the workers in the history of Iran, and this first strike succeeded in winning a reduction in working hours from 14 to 10 hours a day. This was their first experience of how power can be achieved by the joint action of the working class. The strike’s impact was so great, that in every revolutionary circle debates started on the role of workers and their potential. This strike changed the attitude of all serious revolutionaries. As the strength and cohesion of the working class grew, and its social role became increasingly clear, the old revolutionaries modified their old methods of struggle, and began to look seriously towards the workers.

A whole series of newspapers appeared in this period, and a growing number of articles on Marxism began to be published. The Soviet scholar Ivanov has uncovered a number of polemics between Iranian revolutionaries with Kautsky and Plekhanov.[8] According to those documents, on 16 October 1908, a meeting was held in which one group of Social Democrats expressed the opinion that Iran had reached the stage of capitalism. In their view, the revolutionaries should not give any support to the bourgeoisie, who would merely exploit the situation for their own benefit, as they had done in the French revolution. The bourgeoisie was incapable of playing a progressive role, but would harm the working class movement and the revolution.

There were, in fact, many different tendencies within the Hemmat ("ambition") group which was formed by exiled Iranians in Baku in 1904 in co-ordination with the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). The Hemmat group was actively involved in the Mashrutiat ("constitutional") movement in Iran. This group went through many splits, during which one splinter group formed the Mujahideen (fighter) group. The main demand of this group included the setting up of a majilis (parliament), the right to vote, freedom of the press and land distribution. In 1916 they entered into collaboration with the Bolshevik Party. The old exiled Iranian revolutionaries, together with the Mujahideen (a split-off from the Hemmat organisation) formed a new origination, the Hezb-e-adalat ("Justice Party"), which became the backbone of the future Communist Party of Iran. One year later, an event occured that changed the entire course of world history.

The 1917 October Revolution in Russia was an inspiration for Iran. The Iranian revolutionaries performed their proletarian international duty, fighting in the ranks of the world working class against the counter-revolutionary forces during the civil war in the Soviet Union. Between 1907 to 1915 two secret pacts were concluded between the Tsar and British imperialism which would have meant partitioning Iran into spheres of influence. The October revolution immediately published the secret treaties and abolished all the tsarist colonial expansionist policies. Iran was a prime example or the cruel colonial policy pursued by Russian tsarism in collaboration with the so-called western democracies in which the national rights of colonial peoples were treated like so much small change. The October revolution proved to be a practical bulwark against all sorts of national oppression. For the first time in modern history oppressed nationalities found a firm protector in the shape of the Workers’ State under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. Inspired by the October revolution, the Iranian masses even used to sing revolutionary songs like khosh khabar badai nasim shomal keh bema mirasad zaman vesal ("A new of joy is being carried to us by the north wind, It reached us in to the form of mingling of two sweet hearts.")[9]

The inspiration and energy which the Iranian masses drew from the October revolution also found a more practical expression in a series of uprisings. After the war Iran was in a state of great instability. In April 1920 revolutionaries in Azerbaijan established their own national government; later in Gilan and Khorasan insurgencies flared up against the weak, fragile and unstable regime in Teheran. The insurgents set up their own independent republics. In the cities the population, radicalised by the experience of foreign occupation and the victory of the October 1917 Revolution in Russia, was also in a state of revolutionary ferment. The industrial working class led a new wave of struggle in the major cities. By 1921 the unions claimed 20,000 members in the oil industry alone. By November 1921 the workers’ movement had gained such strength that, under the influence of the newly-formed Communist Party of Iran, a Central Union Council was formed which was affiliated to the Red International of Labour Unions established by the Communist International.[10] In 1921 the printers, postal workers, teachers, oil workers and dockers went on strike. Despite the small size of the working class the level of struggle was high. A message of revolutionary greeting was sent to Trotsky, which reads:

"The Revolutionary War Council of the Persian Red Army, organised by the decision of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars of Persia, sends its red greetings to the Red Army and Red Navy. After passing through great hardships and undergoing all kinds of privations, we succeeded in crushing our internal counter-revolution which was merely an agent of imperialism. By the will of the toiling masses, the Red Army in Persia was organised with the purpose of destroying the enslavement of the Persian people."

The message ends with the slogan: "Long live the fraternal union between the Russian Red Army and young Persian Red Army!" The message was signed by the chairman of the Revolutionary War Council Mirza Kuchk Khan, Commander of the armed forces Ehsan Ullah and member of the Revolutionary War Council Muzaffar Zadeh. In reply to this message Trotsky wrote that the news of the formation of the Persian Red Army "has filled our hearts with joy".[11]

The Adalat party was established and started two newspapers Hormat ("Respect") in Persian and Yoldash ("Comrade") in Azerbaijan. By the end of 1919 some leading revolutionaries of this group joined up with another revolutionary organisation The Train of the Red East, which was very close to the Bolsheviks and fought against the counter-revolution in Central Asia. The Communist Party of Iran was formed in June 1920, but at the very beginning there were differences of opinion among the members. Some maintained the line of the Bolsheviks, while some held the line defended by the Old Bolsheviks prior to Lenin’s April theses. Others were still on the Menshevik position. These differences surfaced in the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East, which was held over seven days in 1920, with the participation of 204 delegates. The Iranian delegatation held a series of meetings to discuss the problems of the revolution but could not arrive at any clear conclusion.

The defeat of the Gilan Soviet Republic had produced frustration and confusion and people started blaming each other for the defeat. Owing to the sharpness of the internal differences, the Party actually established two separate Central Committees. This was clearly untenable. On 25th January 1922 the Communist Party of Iran held a meeting in which the representatives of the Comintern also took part, most probably on Lenin’s insistence. Prior to that the Party’s Central Committee wrote many letters to Lenin regarding the situation in Iran and the Party’s position. At the end of the meeting, the existence of two Central Committee in the Party was rejected. In order to maintain unity, a united Central Committee was organised, made up of 20 members. The former local committees and Central Committee were dissolved. Finally, it was decided to hold the next Plenum of the Central Committee on 1 May 1922.

However, at this meeting the differences on Iranian perspectives and methods were not properly resolved. A large number of newspapers emerged in that period and different political views were expressed in the pages of these magazines and newspapers. Among these were: Kommunist ("Communist"), Enkelabee-e-Sorkh ("Red Revolution"), Haqeqat ("Truth"), Kar ("Work"), Reykan ("Arrow"), Khalq ("People"), Javagheh ("Spark"), Peyak ("Ambassador"), Nassihat ("Advice"), Edalat ("Justice"), Iran-e-Sorkh ("Red Iran"), Eqhtesadeh Iran ("Iranian Economy"), Peykar ("Struggle"), Nohzat ("Movement"), Satareh Sorkh ("Red Star"), etc.

The Communist Party of Iran experienced many twists and turns throughout the decades after its formation in June 1920. Those decades were marked by major historical events in Iran: the rise and fall of the Gilan Soviet Republic, the collapse of Qajar dynasty and the formation of the new despotic Pahlavi dynasty, militancy of the urban masses especially the working class, waves of strikes etc. The Communist Party of Iran was very active; it started work among women and formed different organisations, such as the Society for Evolution, the Awakening of Women and Patriotic Women. These organisations not only educated women, but also provided technical knowledge for the handicraft industries. The Party had also organised a cultural wing which played a very important role in spreading ideas to the masses in a simple way. Plays and dramas played a significant role in the development of the organisation among broader layers of the masses. The most popular and famous ones were Shah Abbas Darbaray Mobaraza, Enkalab-e-Murdom-e-Tabraiz and Nadir Shah Afshar.

In the Sixth and Seventh Plenums of the Comintern (February 1926 to November-December 1926), the Iranian Communist Party general secretary appealed to the Comintern for help in dealing with the Iranian Party’s internal crisis. In the Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern—a special meeting held to discuss the Iranian Party’s problems and perspectives—it was decided that the next (second) congress would be held on September 1927, where they would discuss the matter further. The second congress of the Iranian Communist Party was duly held in underground conditions in September 1927. Twenty delegates took part, and on the agenda was the international situation, the characterisation of the Reza Khan regime, the national question, organisational problems, the constitution of the Communist Party of Iran, the activity of the Komsomol (youth) and work on the women’s front.

The most important item on the agenda was the characterisation of Reza Khan who had proclaimed himself king under the newly- established Pahlavi dynasty on 12 December 1925. Besides the other issues, this was the centre of conflict in the Party. Different opinions were put forward, with some defending the view that the coup d’etat of Reza Khan meant the abolition of feudalism and the domination of the bourgeoisie, while others maintained that the coup was a just a palace revolution, and had no effect on property relations. Some argued that to fight against imperialism, the Party should ally itself with Reza Khan, while the other section characterised him as an agent of imperialism.

Once again the Party did not reach a conclusion and the differences remained inside the organisation. In reality, what had happened was that after the October revolution in Russia, the crisis of the Qajar dynasty had reached an acute stage. There was a split at the top between the monarchy, the nobility and the aristocratic section of the Bureaucracy, which was the spinal column of the central government. They were past masters of the art of conspiracy and intrigue inseparable from tribal politics. On the other hand, the army was split, and there were uprisings of the oppressed nationalities. The workers were militant, infuriated by the presence of foreign troops and affected by the impact of the October Revolution.

A civil war-like situation prevailed in society. In his autobiography, Muhammad Reza Shah Pahalvi has given some interesting information about the situation at that time. He wrote that the soldiers did not receive regular salaries because the government was too weak to collect taxes. One day when the foreign secretary was hosting a dinner for foreign visitors, it was found that there were no funds available, so they were compelled to shop around in the bazaar and borrow money to pay for the banquet. Social and economic disintegration was undermining the fabric of society. In Teheran people would not came out of doors at night for fear of cut-throats. Iran’s once famed roads had deteriorated to the extent that to go from Teheran to Meshad one had to travel via Russia, and to travel from Teheran to Khuzistan in the north-west one had to go via Turkey and Iraq.[12]

Reza Khan, who was an army officer, manoeuvred in different units of the army to build up support, and finally led a coup d’�tat on 21 February 1921. Balancing in Bonapartist fashion between the different classes and between the conflicting sections at the top, he seized power. At first he leaned on the bazaaris defending them against foreign goods, and also won the support of nationalists and workers. But once having consolidating himself in power, he launched an attack on the workers and on the Communist Party.

After 1928 the workers participated in new waves of struggle; they were in a strong fighting mood. On 4 May 1929 the oil refinery workers gathered to present their economic demands, and this gathering turned into an anti-government political demonstration. They shouted anti-regime slogans and demanded the resignation of the government. Other factory workers joined the demonstration with revolutionary enthusiasm. The armed forced arrived and brutally attacked the workers with their swords and the workers replied with sticks and bricks. Many workers were arrested and the movement spread to other cities. In Abdan a 20,000-strong demonstration came out in protest against the armed forces’ brutal attack on the workers. Again skirmishes took place between the army and the workers. This situation lasted for three months. More than three hundred workers were arrested, and ultimately the government was forced to support the movement. But again in 1931 the workers organised a big strike. This took place in the Vatan textile factory at Isfahan where the workers forced the management to increase their pay by 40 percent and accept a reduction in working hours from 12 to 9 hours a day. In the north, 800 underground trade union workers went on strike.

In that period the Communist Party of Iran made considerable headway in different areas. But as far as the political differences and ideological problems were concerned, they remained unresolved. In the meantime, events in Russia took a sharp turn which had far-reaching effects in all the Communist parties of the world. In order to defeat Trotsky and the Left Opposition, Stalin had leant on the right wing section of the Russian Communist Party. This led to the rise of the kulaks (rich peasants) which by 1928 threatened the very existence of the Soviet state. In his book Russia from revolution to counter-revolution Ted Grant explains how Stalin had burned his fingers badly in his attempts to lean on the capitalist elements in Russia (the kulaks and Nepmen). This had its reflection in the sphere of foreign policy and the work of the Communist International. In China, the attempt to conciliate the national bourgeoisie led to the subordination of the Communist Party to Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang, with catastrophic results. In Britain, the attempt to conciliate the Trade Union bureaucracy led to the defeat of the general strike and the undermining of the British Communist Party. Now Stalin turned the Comintern sharply in the opposite direction. He carried out a "left" u-turn, which was immediately adopted by all the sections of the Comintern. Ted Grant writes:

"In violation of its statutes the international had not held a conference for four years. A new congress was called in 1928 which for the first time officially introduced into the programme of the International the anti-Leninist theory of ‘socialism in one country’. It also proclaimed the end of capitalist stability and the beginning of what was termed the ‘Third Period’. In contrast to the period of revolutionary upheavals following 1917 (the ‘First period’) and the period of relative capitalist stability after 1923 (the ‘Second Period’), this so-called ‘Third Period’ was supposed to usher in the final collapse of world capitalism. At the same time, according to the once-famous (but now buried) theory invented by Stalin, Social Democracy was supposed to have transformed itself into ‘social fascism’."[13]

This turn of the Communist International directly affected the Iranian Party. At the Sixth congress of the Comintern, which was held in July-August 1928 in Moscow, the problem of internal differences in the Communist party of Iran surfaced again. Up to that period the Party was dominated by the right-wing line, but it now abruptly adopted an extreme ultra-left position, following the latest zig-zag of its Stalinist masters in Moscow. This did not happen only with the Iranian Communist Party but was a world-wide development. For a number of years, all the Communist parties pursued this ultra-left madness, which, by splitting the powerful German working class, directly led to the victory of Hitler in 1933.

Thus, practically overnight, the Communist Party of Iran stumbled from the rightist position of supporting Reza Khan Pahlavi to an ultra-left position. They consistently fought against democratic forces and argued that there was no difference between democracy and fascism. This had disastrous results. The growing militancy of the workers’ movement in those days was turned by the CP into adventurism. The many blunders that flowed from this incorrect policy provided the basis for the dictator Reza Khan’s repressive regime. He easily got the majilis to pass the anti-Communist Act of 1 June 1931. He banned the Communist Party and started a massive campaign of executions directed against Party workers and trade union activists. He executed many of the best workers and youth and the best revolutionary poets. More then two thousand workers were arrested.

After such severe repression and defeat, despair, frustration and factionalism prevailed in the rank and file of the Party. Many workers left the Party, which once again found itself isolated. The Party went underground and was based mainly on intellectual and student circles. They started a new magazine Doniya ("World"), the readership of which was limited to these circles. The regime banned the magazine, and the members of this circle were arrested and put on trial. This trial was popularly known as "the group of fifty-three". All were given sentences of three to fifteen years’ imprisonment, but the group’s leader Dr. Taghi Arnai was killed in jail in 1940.

One year after the catastrophe of Hitler coming to power in Germany, Stalin ordered the Comintern to perform another somersault, lurching to the right with the so-called policy of the Popular Front, that is, a policy of uniting with the "liberal" bourgeois (whom they had earlier denounced as "radical fascists") against fascism. In 1939, Stalin changed the line once again, after having signed a pact with Nazi Germany. The Popular Front was hastily abandoned. When Stalin signed the non-aggression treaty with Hitler, Trotsky declared the signing of the Treaty with Hitler supplied one extra gauge with which to measure the degree of degeneration of Soviet Bureaucracy and its contempt for the international working class, including the Comintern.[14]

Right up to the moment when Hitler attacked the USSR, the master of the Kremlin imagined that he had outmanoeuvred him. Having supposedly secured his rear by signing the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Stalin was looking forward to the spectacle of Germany and Britain slugging it out while he looked on from the sidelines. As Trotsky pointed out, Stalin was effectively acting as Hitler’s quartermaster. From the outbreak of Second World War right up until June 1941, when Hitler attacked Russia, Nazi Germany received a large increase in exports from the USSR. Between 1938 and 1940 exports to Germany rose from Rbs 85.9 million to Rbs 736.5 million which greatly assisted Hitler’s war efforts.[15] Having abandoned every trace of a revolutionary internationalist perspective, the Stalinists were drunk with illusions, while Hitler was preparing a devastating blow against them. This is what disarmed the Soviet Union in the face of its most terrible enemy. However, all this was cut across in 1941 when Hitler launched his attack on the USSR. As early as 1931 Trotsky had predicted that if Hitler came to power, then Germany would declare war against the Soviet Union. Now this perspective was shown to be correct.

The political situation in Iran took a serious turn in 1941 when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union on June 22. Seeing the danger of German activities in Iran, British imperialism and Stalinist Russia suddenly sprang into action and addressed a memorandum to the Iranian government demanding:

1. The breaking off of diplomatic relations with Germany and Italy.

2. That the Iranian government facilitate transportation of allied war material by road, rail or air routes.

3. That Teheran must allow the deployment of allied troop in Iranian territory.

Reza Khan rejected those conditions and was forced to resign in favour of his son. Mohammed Reza Khan, the obedient tame watch dog of imperialism, who became king on 16 September 1941. His first action was to expel all Germans and Italians from Iran. His second was to release all political prisoners, including the group of 53 (Doniya). The majority of that group supported the new regime, and proclaimed it as "anti-fascist" in character. With incredible alacrity, the Tudeh Party performed a 180 degree somersault, just like their master Stalin, and switched to a policy of support for the Allies against Germany. Under these circumstances, the switch on foreign policy was immediately reflected in an equally violent turn in domestic policy. Without a word of explanation, the Party dropped its anti-British line and switched to a policy of complete support for the "democratic" Allies against Germany.

Slavishly following the Moscow Line, the CP even decided to change its name. Their first priority was to form an "anti-fascist" front and publish a newspaper Mardom ("The People"). The Hezb-e-Tudeh Iran (i.e. the Tudeh or "masses’ party of Iran") came into being on the second of October 1941. The first conference of the Tudeh Party took place on 9 October 1942 with 120 delegates present. They emphasised the defence of Soviet Russia and decided to give "critical support" to the Reza Khan regime. These sudden turns plunged the Party into an internal crisis. A section of anti-British elements left the Party. Some of these joined the ranks of German fascism, some of these formed their own "patriotic front" and adopted a "wait and see" policy. They had their social basis in the petit bourgeoisie: the merchants and among a small section of bourgeoisie. None of them had anything like a Leninist class position.

In this period the workers in many factories, oil refineries and railways went on strike in protest against hard labour and excessive overtime in wartime conditions. At the same time, the Tudeh Party was carrying on propaganda, calling on the workers not to take part in strikes, and denouncing those who were backing the strikes as "fascists". They argued that, since workers were producing goods for the allied forces, any strike was harmful for the allied cause and gave strength to the fascist forces internationally. In fact, they acted as the worst strike-breakers.

During the war private industry expanded to some extent and the Iranian capitalists made some profit. But after the war the failure of the Imperialist powers to deliver the promised aid for development had a negative effect. The end of the War signalled a new period of upheavals in Iran. On 22 January 1946, Azerbaijan and Kurdistan declared for home rule and set up an autonomous government. The number of strikes rose to over one hundred, compared to sixty in 1944. The key industrial centres joined in the movement. In Tabriz, for example, workers in sixteen of the city’s eighteen major plants joined the strikes.

Many militant disputes took place at this time, mainly in oil, textiles and on construction sites. In 1946 there were two big mass strikes of the Khuzistan oil workers. The period after the First World War had seen the rapid development of the unions, and the period following the Second World War now saw a similar re-emergence but on a far greater scale. But Stalinist Russia did not want any revolutionary change in Iran. The degenerate Comintern had been dissolved by Stalin as early as 1943 to please the imperialist powers. Instead of supporting the revolutionary overthrow of the King, the Stalin bureaucracy preferred to cultivate good relations with Reza Shah. Despite its false policies, the Tudeh was again gaining ground as the only mass workers’ party in Iran. In the elections for the 14th majilis (parliament) in the winter of 1943. The Tudeh Party used the opportunity to contest thirty seats, of which it won ten. After the election, the Tudeh Party called its first congress in August 1944. However, at the congress differences surfaced on the question of participation in the election, on the tactic of the anti-fascist front after the Second World War and once again the Iranian regime. Divided over these issues, the Party went into acute crisis.

After the Second World War the sweep of the strike movement was so great that it cut across all barriers, showing the tremendous class solidarity of the workers. A new union federation controlled by the Tudeh party claimed a membership of 275,000 and by 1946 when there was 186 affiliated unions with 335,000 members. A three-day strike was held in 1946 in which 65,000 oil workers took part. The workers won their basic demands, such as increased salaries and better hygienic conditions. In that strike the oil workers in Khuzistan and the textile workers, even in the most remote sectors of the economy, were involved. The government was weak and there was continuous pressure from below from the workers, so the Tudeh Party in parliament put forward a number of reformist demands for workers. These included union rights, the abolition of overtime, a 48-hour working week and a minimum wage. All these demands were conceded.

The British imperialists, as always, used their old tactic of divide and rule and started to support tribal forces near Khuzistan, financing the mullahs and landlords against workers, unions and the Communist Party of Iran. The Soviet Union initially backed both autonomous republics in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, but the Russian army left Iran on the ninth of May 1946 and the latter were crushed by the central government army. In this bloodbath, thousands of Tudeh members and supporters were butchered.

The withdrawal of the allied armed forces affected many sectors of industry which depended on production for the war. The resulting unemployment affected the morale of the workers and reduced trade union activities. The growth of trade union membership was halted and began to decline. After the defeats in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, the Party workers were demoralised and Tudeh membership was reduced drastically. The regime launched an offensive against workers. From 1947 to 1949, working class, activities fell to their lowest ebb.

On 4 February 1947, the Shah went to attend the foundation anniversary of Teheran university, when a news photographer fired five bullets at him. The Shah’s body was slightly scratched, but when he addressed the nation by radio from hospital, the Shah accused the Tudeh of being behind the attack. This was entirely false but provided the regime with an excuse to launch a state of emergency which was announced at 7.30 pm on the same day. The next day the Tudeh leadership was arrested, the Party was made illegal, and supporters were expelled from government services. Special military courts were set up for the trial of leaders of the Communist Party, which became known in Iran as the Trial of the Fourteen. On 15 December 1950, with the help of the Tudeh army section, ten leaders of the Party escaped from prison and once again started underground activities. Thus, the policy of collaborating with the so-called progressive bourgeoisie had led to catastrophe.


The Mossadeq affair

In this period nationalist and fundamentalist tendencies filled the vacuum to some extent. After the war a strong anti-British mood had developed. The nationalist Mossadeq established a National Front of parties representing professional people, bazaaris and some religious elements. Mossadeq was appointed as a new prime minister on 28 April 1951. After closing the British owned oil refineries in April, in a deliberate act of sabotage, British imperialism took the case to the United Nations. In the meantime, Mossadeq broke off diplomatic relations with Britain. This process reached its highest point when Mossadeq implemented his nationalisation policy, when the majilis passed a resolution in favour of the nationalisation of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company.

Naively, Mossadeq thought that America would help Iran in this crisis. He even went to the United States to get economic aid, but came back with empty hands. After the Second World War the balance of power between the capitalist countries changed in favour of American imperialism. Trotsky had explained this even before the war, when he predicted that the United States would emerge victorious from the forthcoming war, but as a result would have dynamite built into its foundation. During this crisis President Truman sent his foreign policy advisor Harriman to Teheran on 16 July 1951 to exploit the situation in favour of American interests. When Harriman arrived in Teheran the Tudeh party organised a big demonstration opposing American imperialism. Fighting between demonstrators and police led to 20 people being killed and injured in front of the majilis building.

Unlike the national bourgeoisie, the workers showed that they were prepared to fight. Big strikes erupted in the oil fields. In response to cuts in wages, trade union mobilisations grew steadily. By April, 45,000 workers were on strike. The government declared martial law but the strikes spread like a torrent. The oil company promised to restore the wage levels, and the strikes were postponed for a while, but the company was only using delaying tactics. Once again the strikes burst forth with the support of thousands of non-oil workers in other industrial centres. Pressure was building up from below to force Mossadeq to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian oil company. Of course, Tudeh Party members played a pivotal role in the workers’ movement from 1951 to 1953. The number of major strikes again increased, as did the numbers of trade unions membership.

Trade union demands included higher wages and trade union rights. But the movement was coming up against the state itself. A series of confrontations with police occurred with every new turn of the workers’ movement. Class solidarity was spreading among the workers from different layers, areas and professions. The movement was rapidly increasing in strength and acquiring a political character. Intense pressure was building up from below on the government, which was forced to offer more concessions than even in 1946. As a result, the workers’ self confidence grew by leaps and bounds. The question of power was being posed point blank.

The main beneficiary was naturally the Tudeh Party. They now came out openly with a strong position in the working class. The momentum of the movement was becoming irresistible, and inevitably was directed radically against the monarchical institutions. The bourgeois and the petty bourgeois politicians were terrified by the pressure of the working class. Under extreme pressure, the National Front ruptured and they withdraw their support from the Front.

On 2 May 1953 Mossadeq wrote a letter to President Eisenhower in which he expressed the hope that the Iranian nation, with the help and assistance of the American government, would overcome the obstacles placed in the way of the sale of Iranian oil, and that if the American government was not able to effect the removal of such obstacles, it would render effective economic assistance to enable Iran to utilise her other resources. In conclusion he invited His Excellency’s sympathetic and responsive attention to the present dangerous situation of Iran and trusted that he would ascribe to all the points contained in this message: "Please accept, Mr. President, the assurances of my highest consideration," the message ended pathetically.[16] These lines accurately reveal the cowardly nature of the so-called Iranian national bourgeoisie. However, notwithstanding their rivalry with Britain, the US imperialists could not tolerate the nationalisation of oil in Iran because of the dangerous precedent it set. In his reply to Mossadeq, the Americans wrote that no US aid would be given to Iran until the Anglo Iranian oil conflict was resolved. In addition, Washington expressed serious concern over the degree of freedom given by the Iranian government to the Tudeh party.[17]

The American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles expressed his concerns in a press statement about the growing activities of the illegal Communist Party (the Tudeh Party) and accused the Iranian government of being simply a spectator to those activities. This situation was causing "serious concern" in Washington and made it more difficult for the United States to grant assistance to Iran.[18] Even prior to this statement Dulles had already threatened (on 13 July 1953) that he would tolerate Mossadeq no longer. The CIA ordered Kernit Roosevelt the grandson of ex-President Roosevelt to engineer a coup against Mossadeq. General Zahedi and colonel Nasire were instructed by the Shah to co-operate with the CIA. However, an attempted coup on the 16 August 1953 failed and general Nasire was arrested. The brutal attitude of the imperialists provoked a crisis in Iran with a sharp polarisation to the right and left. A sharp battle started at the top in Teheran. Mossadeq told the Shah to surrender and the imperial guard was disbanded. Regarding this situation the Shah wrote in his autobiography that Mossadeq had reduced the number of tanks guarding his Sadabad palace. Only four tanks were then left which were even insufficient to face a sudden attack by the Tudeh Party.

Iran was in the grip of a pre-revolutionary situation. The masses were aroused. Pictures of the Shah were torn down in Teheran shops, cinemas and government offices. The possibility existed of defeating the coup if Mossadeq had been prepared to appeal to the masses, but this bourgeois politician was a thousand times more afraid of the masses than of the reaction. In the moment of truth, Mossadeq failed to act and allowed the plotters to rally and seize power. Noorudin Kianouri wrote: "We got information that army units were openly supporting the coup efforts. We contacted Mossadeq for the second time. He replied: ‘Oh sir everybody has betrayed me, now you are free to carry out your responsibility in any manner you wish.’ I asked him again to broadcast the message, but unfortunately instead of getting any answer I heard the voice of someone disconnecting the telephone."[19]

In spite of everything, Mossadeq was still desperately looking towards American imperialism for salvation. For its part, the Moscow Bureaucracy was not interested in revolutionary developments in Iran. As a result, the entire movement was aborted. The Shah was soon restored. After that a process of arrests and killings started. The Tudeh party was again divided. Some of its members argued that the National Front was a progressive alliance which represented the struggle of the national bourgeoisie against British imperialism. Other sections argued that Mossadeq represented a section of the bourgeoisie which was itself attached to western interests. Iraj Eskandri a top party leader wrote: "We have made not a few mistakes, just because we have not had a sufficiently clear concept of the role and character of the national bourgeoisie." He further said that during the struggle for the nationalisation of Iranian oil industry, the Tudeh leaders did not support Mossadeq, who undoubtedly represented the interests of the national bourgeoisie. The Party’s thinking was approximately this: Mossadeq is fighting for the nationalisation of Iranian oil. At the same time, the American imperialists are backing this movement. This means they are guiding it. Thus, the Party drew the incorrect conclusion that the Communists should not support the nationalisation movement. The Party thus cut itself off the masses who followed the bourgeoisie on this issue, and not the Party.[20]

E. A. Bayne says that about four year after coup the Party’s top leadership could not adopt any policy, because there were serious unresolved problems, including the question of the national bourgeoisie before the Party. For the first time, this question was brought under discussion in the Fourth Plenum of the Central Committee, held in underground conditions (possibly in the German Democratic Republic) on 17 July 1957. The Third Plenum had taken place long ago, back in 1948.[21] Kianouri wrote: "During my stay in Iran we tried to contact the National Front and other groups, including some tribals in the South who claimed to be the supporters of Mossadeq, but none could pay any attention to the struggle against the Shah regime. We even sent some of our comrades like Roozbeh and Col Chalipa as military experts to train the tribes who were ready for armed struggle against the Shah. We wanted to stage a big demonstration in Teheran, but at the last movement the National Front of Mossadeq (then led by Dr. Moazami) refused to co-operate with us and thus we failed to organise it on our own. It was really political suicide for us. After the coup we also tried to set up an armed base in the North of Iran, but this attempt was betrayed by those who were in gaol. They disclosed this plan to the police. After this failure we tried once again to launch an armed struggle in 1961, but failed due to non co-operation of the National Front and supporters of Mossadeq."[22]

Noorudin Kianouri was the Secretary of the Party during the 1979 revolution. The Fifth Plenum in February 1958 also analysed the coup d’�tat of 1953. The Party declared that the success of the reaction in the August 1953 coup was due to the absence of close co-operation between the forces opposing the Tudeh Party and the national bourgeoisie. The natural distrust with which the national bourgeoisie looked at the working class party had been aggravated by the Party’s failure to understand the nature of the national bourgeoisie and its anti-imperialist potential. It resulted in the Party’s adopting wrong tactics in relation to the Mossadeq government."[23]

The only conclusion one can draw from this is that the Tudeh Party hoped for a national democratic revolution before moving towards the socialist revolution in Iran. Basing themselves on that false perspective, they always subordinated the worker’s movement to the national bourgeoisie. Again and again, they ran after one or another section of bourgeoisie to form an "alliance for the democratic revolution", always with disastrous consequences. The leaders of the Tudeh Party drew all the wrong conclusions from the 1953 revolutionary movement, which not only showed the potential of working class but also exposed the cowardly and limited nature of the bourgeoisie and its counter-revolutionary role.

Trotsky explained long ago that the weak colonial bourgeoisie was incapable of leading society out of the impasse. The belated development of the so-called national bourgeoisie meant that it was tied hand and foot to the interest of imperialism. The conduct of Mossadeq in 1953 clearly demonstrates this fact. The potential of the working class to overthrow the Iranian regime was vividly expressed by their magnificent mass movement and solidarity actions. But due to the lack of the subjective factor—the revolutionary Party and leadership—the movement was doomed to defeat. The Tudeh Party, with its false policy of "two stages" threw away the revolutionary opportunity and paid a heavy price for its failure.

During the whole period of the Shah’s reign, the Tudeh "played dead". In 1963, it played no role in the movement against the shah’s White Revolution Programme. That is why that movement was led by Khomeini to some extent. But it compromised again with the monarchy. During the Shah period the Tudeh Party put forward no independent policies whatsoever. This can only be explained by the foreign policy of the Russian Bureaucracy. Moscow wanted no conflicts with American imperialism in Iran because of Iran’s enormous importance as an oil producer. In truth, the Stalinist Bureaucracy of the Soviet Union had long since given up any thought of revolutionary policy, which would have threatened the vital interests of imperialism, especially of the major powers of American imperialism. The policy of so-called peaceful co-existence was merely the expression of the division of the world into two antagonistic blocs, in which both sides tacitly accepted the spheres of influence of the other.

Moscow had no interest in worsening relations between Russia and America which would inevitably flow from a socialist revolution in Iran. On the contrary, the Russian Bureaucracy was interested in propping up the Shah, with whom they enjoyed excellent relations. They engaged in trade with Iran, arranged for enormous quantities of natural gas to be exported from Iran to the Soviet Union and generally endeavoured to maintain friendly relations with the Shah. That was one of the main reasons why the Tudeh Party was very passive in relation to the Shah. Only when the Shah was shaken by the movement of the masses did the Tudeh Party perform a new somersault of 180 degrees and call for an armed struggle during the peak of the movement in 1979. But the party’s policy went from bad to worse when the Tudeh leaders declared their support for ayatollah Khomeini on 1 January 1979.[24]

How did this come about? After the February 1979 revolution, the leadership of the Tudeh Party argued as follows: As the character of Iran revolution is anti-imperialist, we must accept the fact that the regime which came to power after the February 1979 Revolution is progressive in nature. It has constantly been waging war against US imperialism, which is actively conspiring against the Iranian people to drag them back to the hell of CIA-Savak era. Therefore, the primary task of the Iranian people in such situation is not to "build socialism at once", but to "consolidate the anti-imperialist gains", so that the shadow of NATO may not eclipse Iran once again. "In this regard," they explained, "it is quite obvious that anti-imperialist forces are active under the leadership of Khomeini. That is why the most important left forces Tudeh of Iran and the organisation of Iranian peoples Fedaeen (Majority) are behind Khomeini." (Our emphasis.)[25]

The attitude of the Tudeh Party towards the Iranian revolution is here very well expressed: a total lack of confidence in the working class and socialism and the complete subordination of the workers’ movement to the bourgeoisie and so-called anti-imperialist forces—including Khomeini! This is the complete opposite of the position of Lenin, who always stood for a policy of complete class independence and sharply criticised and exposed the counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeois liberals in Russia even in the period of the bourgeois democratic revolution. The position of the Tudeh Party was not that of Lenin but of the Russian Mensheviks who also advocated the subordination of the workers’ movement to the bourgeois liberals, alleging the need to unite all "progressive forces".

The Tudeh’s Sixth Plenum which took place in February-March 1980 in Iran set the seal on the Party’s support for Khomeini, and put forward the following points:

"The foremost duty of the Party in the political field is to co-operate with genuine revolutionary forces, the Party clearly supports those who are behind ayatollah Khomeini. The Party also decided to take part in the coming election for the majilis and the referendum.

"The plenum also decided to hold the long awaited Third Party Congress in near future." (The Second Party Congress had been held in 1948.)

Earlier, when Iran was declared an Islamic Republic on April 1 1979 through a country-wide referendum, the Tudeh Party supported it, saying in a statement: "the policy of the Tudeh Party is to establish unity against imperialism. Therefore, the referendum means for us the burial of the regime of the Shah…because we want unity with the people, we wholeheartedly support the referendum. (Our emphasis.)[26]

After the declaration of an Islamic Republic, Islamic Courts, which had already been in action, punishing hundreds of Savak agents, using the same pretext, started to carry out executions of worker militants. Workers were faced with naked reaction in the form of repression and executions. Yet the Tudeh, to its eternal shame, pilloried those who criticised Khomeini’s counter-revolutionary "Islamic Courts" and even accused them of being agents of the Savak and the CIA.

For their part, the Fedayeen and Mujahedin organisations had an ultra-left position. They played a very negative role, as did those organisations who were backed by so-called Trotskyist sects who were somehow connected with groups of revolutionary students in Iran. Unfortunately, the revolutionary students in Iran were not oriented towards the working class and did not formulate a programme for working class action. On the contrary, they were advised by the sects to turn to the methods of individual terrorism. As always, the sects regarded the working class as impotent, ignorant, and utterly powerless to change the relationship of forces which existed in Iran. Their conceptions were reinforced by the fact that the working class was completely unorganised.

The ultra-lefts’ entire perspectives were wrong from start to finish. They began by a pessimistic assessment of the situation prior to 1979. In effect, they wrote off the working class and denied the possibility of revolution in Iran. The argument of the sects and those who later turned towards individual terrorism was that the Shah was industrialising and all the cards were therefore in his hands. The Shah had raised the standard of living of the working class, they argued, the Shah had made enormous concessions to the working class and also to the peasantry. This, they concluded, would lead to stability for the regime. They declared that the Shah could maintain himself for decades as a consequence of the "white revolution" and the development of industry. Incidentally, this idea was also swallowed by the imperialists. For example, the CIA issued a report as late as September 1978, saying that the Shah had a stable regime and would continue to hold power for at least the next ten to fifteen years.

The tactic of individual terrorism, as always proved to be disastrous. According to the facts available so far, after six years of the armed struggle against the government forces, 600 guerrillas were killed and 2000 arrested, as against a mere 200 deaths among the government forces.[27] As a result of the infantile activities of the guerrillas during that period the Savak was able to make a comeback and the state strengthened itself with all manner of repressive policies and laws. The contemptuous attitude of the terrorists towards the working class was clearly conveyed by Amir Parviz Pouyan, who, in his booklet Zaroorat-e-Mobarzeh Mosalhaneh ("The need for armed struggle"), could write: "Through our experience we can say that the working class people are simply lumpens. They are not a politically aware class and often indulge in studying reactionary literature."[28] Such are the pessimistic and thoroughly reactionary conclusions these people have drawn. Not being prepared to make an honest self-criticism of their own failure, they blame everything on the working class—the only genuinely revolutionary class in society, and the only class, as Marx explained long ago, that can carry out the socialist transformation of society.



1. Tulsiram, The History of Communist Movement in Iran, p. 2.

2. Abdus Samad Kambakash, The brief survey of workers and Communist Movement of Iran 1972, p. 14.

3. Ibid., p. 13.

4. V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, volume 34, p. 72. Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1969.

5. Ehsan Tabari, Impact of 1905 Revolution on Constitutional Movement of Iran, p. 53.

6. B.G. Gafurov and G.F. Kim, Lenin and the National Liberation in the East, p. 307-8. Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1978.

7. Alan Woods, Bolshevism, the Road to Revolution, p. 38.

8. Abdus Samad Kambakash, A Brief Survey of Workers and Communist Movement of Iran, p. 3.

9. Memoirs of Reza Rusta Literary Association, Farhang No 3, 1965, p. 82.

10. E. Abra Hamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, p. 15.

11. Tulsi Ram, The History of Communist Movement in Iran, p. 42.

12. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Mission for my Country, pp. 36-8, Hutchinson, London, 1961.

13. Ted Grant, Russia, from Revolution to Counter-revolution, p. 153.

14. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, pp. 4-5, New York, 1970.

15. Ted Grant, Russia, from Revolution to Counter-revolution, p. 231.

16. The Department of State Bulletin USA, July 20 1953. p. 76.

17. S. Yinam, The Middle East in 1953, Annual Political Survey Middle East Affairs, p. 11, New York January, 1954.

18. The Department of State Bulletin USA, August 10 1953, p. 178.

19. F.M. Jawan Shir, Experience of 28 mordad (19 August) Entesharat Hezbe-Tudeh Iran 1980, pp. 312-3.

20. Iraj Eskandari, What Do We Mean by the National Bourgeoisie, World Marxist Review, London, September 1959, p. 72.

21. E.A. Bee Bayne, Persian Kingship in Transition, p. 92, New York, 1968.

22. Nurredin Kianuri, Some Points Related to the History of Tudeh Party publication Teheran 1980, pp. 40-1.

23. Abdus Samad Kambakash, Iran at Cross Road, p. 40.

24. Mardom Tudeh Organ Teheran, p. 4, 22 June 1979.

25. History of Communist Movement in Iran, pp. 157-8.

26. Murdom, Once Again We and Referendum, March 28, 1974, p. 24.

27. Donya, About Six Years of Armed Struggle in Iran, November-December, 1976, p. 22.

28. O Jawan Cheri Kha Khalaq Chee Megoyadan ("What the Guerrilla says"), September 1972, p. 2.


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