Excerpted from Iran: Dictatorship and Democracy (1979), pp. 227-234:

The Tudeh Party was, in contrast to the National Front, an organized political party, indeed, the most organized political force ever seen in Iranian politics. The earlier Communist Party (founded 1921) had been crushed by Reza Khan, and under a 1931 law it became illegal for any organization to profess communist, or ‘collectivist,’ views. Hence when it became possible to form a party again after the Allied invasion in 1941, it was decided to call the party the Masses (Tudeh) Party; the Tudeh was, however, in practice the orthodox pro-Russian Iranian communist party and remains so to this day.

The Tudeh’s following in the 1940s was an enormous one — it had at most 25,000 members, but its trades union affiliates had up to 400,000 members. While its leadership was mostly of professional and aristocratic origins, its membership was mainly from urban workers and its following remained a predominantly urban one. The Tudeh never made any significant inroads into the rural areas. In terms of nationalities, it seems to have been restricted to the Persians, except for Tabriz where the Azerbaijani movement was based. Moreover, the party was unable to retain the initiative it had won during the war and the immediate post-war period and, after the defeat of the republics in Kurdistan and Azerbaijan, it was forced onto the defensive. In 1949 it was banned on a pretext, and during Mossadeq’s period in office the Tudeh remained until far too late in a position of opposition. After the coup it was forced underground and in time its members were tracked down: An estimated 3,000 Tudeh militants were arrested, and the network inside the officer corps, numbering over 500, was uncovered in 1954. Tudeh enjoyed a brief revival in the early 1960s when, although unable to act openly, it aligned itself with the National Front opposition to the regime. But, with the imposition of the ban on political activities in 1963, it lost even this room for maneuver. Since that time Tudeh’s activities have been in exile. Anti-communist sources give its membership at 2,000 or under, and the last occasion on which it was claimed by the regime or the Tudeh that members of the organization had been on trial was in 1966, when two leading officials, Parviz Hekmatjoo and Ali Khavar, and a number of others were sentenced to jail. It is believed that a number of Tudeh members have been kept in jail despite the fact that their sentences have ended, and in 1974 Hekmatjoo himself was murdered in captivity. But there have been few or no other signs of its overt existence inside Iran, and all those arrested after the mid-1960s have come from other political tendencies. The US State Department claims that 90 percent of those arrested after 1953 are now supporters of the regime, and a number of former members are now in influential positions within the government — in the Plan Organization, in SAVAK and as licensed exponents of a confusionist left ideology. One recent cabinet has contained two ministers who were former members of the Tudeh….

There have been a number of divisions in Tudeh’s history, the product of its policies, and in particular of its unswerving loyalty to the Soviet Union. The first split was in 1948, when a group of members, led by Khalil Maleki, left the party. At that time, Maleki’s main public criticism was that the party was too loyal to the Soviet Union; he later founded a group called the Third Force and through it pioneered an attempt to found an independent socialist position in Iran. Colloquially referred to as a ‘Titoist,’ Maleki, who died in 1969, was unable to develop this position in a coherent programmatic form, let alone in any practical manner, and he ended up a victim of the regime’s manipulations, alternately licensed and then silenced by it. However, Maleki’s break with the Tudeh now seems to have involved other reasons, and in particular a belated recognition on his part of the importance of the national and specifically Azerbaijani questions, a topic on which the Tudeh was at that time unwilling to adopt a clear position. During Mossadeq’s period, a second division occurred within the party, between a group around Kianuri and one around Radmanesh. The former advocated a less sectarian approach to the National Front, while the latter maintained the prevailing hostile attitude until the latter part of 1952. This division did not produce an actual split in the party, but the defeat of 1953 forced it to review its position, as did the general shift in Soviet policy towards alliances with nationalist states in the Third World that occurred around that time. In 1957, at the Tudeh’s Fourth Plenum, it officially criticized ‘the party’s failure to understand the nature of bourgeois nationalism and its anti-imperialist potential.’ Instead, it called for a broad democratic front of all those opposed to the Shah’s dictatorship, and this paved the way for its policies in the early 1960s: first, the reunification with the Azerbaijani Democratic League in 1960, and then the attempt to ally with the National Front in the period up to 1963.

In later versions of its program, the Tudeh has spread its alliance even wider. An article by Kianuri in 1976 called for an alliance with the intermediate strata, i.e. the petty bourgeoisie and white-collar workers, and also with peasants, the clergy, the national bourgeoisie and even some of what he regarded as the ‘big bourgeoisie,’ i.e., those working with international capital. Kianuri also referred to ‘patriotic and progressive tendencies’ in the armed forces and argued that ‘though the army is the power base of the regime today, we can count in favourable conditions on part of the armed forces siding with the working class.’ In sum, Kianuri argued that ‘the revolution in Iran is at its initial, i.e. anti-imperialist and democratic stage,’ and that Tudeh should include in its alliance ‘social forces in Iran which, though far removed from the left, even from anything democratic, are eager to see the present regime done away with.’

This adoption of a less sectarian approach was in part a response to events inside Iran but also corresponded to changes in the policies of many communist parties in the 1960s and 1970s….

The Tudeh’s record is a tragic one of sectarianism and missed opportunities. And its current attempts to rectify this are themselves flawed. The most extreme instance of this is Tudeh’s expectations from progressive sections within the armed forces — an illusion fostered, to its tragic cost, by the Chilean Communist Party prior to the military coup of September 1973, and, in a different way, by the Palestinian resistance in Jordan, prior to King Hussein’s successful attack on it in September 1970. Such elements may exist, but they are in no position to alter the army’s political direction. However, the underlying problem with the Fourth Plenum revisions, and Kianuri’s analysis of 1976, is that these leave untouched the problem of the Tudeh’s relations with the Soviet Union. It is this which has hamstrung the Tudeh Party since its foundation — forcing it to endorse Soviet demands for an oil concession in 1944, or to condone Soviet arms shipments to the Shah in 1967. All pro-Moscow communist parties face this problem, but it is an especially acute one in a country such as Iran which has experienced Russian military occupation and pressures in the past. In addition, Tudeh has been weakened by the destructive effects of following current Russian policies at a time when these did not accord with the situation in Iran: This was true during the left sectarian phase up to the latter part of 1952, when the Tudeh would not cooperate with Mossadeq, and with the rightist policies pursued since the mid-1960s, which have alienated the younger generation and thereby fostered the militarist illusions of the period.

Excerpt from Tudeh leader Kianuri’s interview with Le Matin (Paris), November 27, 1979:

What role does the Tudeh Party now play among political forces?

It can be said that it was touch and go with us. Under the Shah, in the 1970s, for instance, the entire party apparatus was destroyed. We started again underground in 1972. After the revolution, some 30 “cadres” who were abroad were returned. It was at that time that I returned as well.

Until then I was in Berlin. Our reception in Tehran has been favorable, especially among students. In factories, our task is more difficult. We want to create trade unions, but this is not easy. Following a wave of strikes and in view of unemployment the workers have adopted a hostile attitude — they want to enjoy the fruits of the revolution immediately, and this is why they do not quite understand the meaning of trade unionism. I believe, however, that we have got over the worst obstacles. At the elections for a constituent assembly three months ago 50,000 people voted for us in Tehran…. The left? There are the Fedayi.

They represent an Iranian version of your leftism, that infantile complaint. They are causing ferment in Kurdistan and have even finally more or less gone underground. There are also the Mojahedin. They are the people closest to us. However, we do not engage in joint action except occasionally…. The authorities? They are divided into two groups — the liberal bourgeois group of Bazargan and the National Front and Khomeini’s revolutionary democratic group. So far, the Khomeini clan has won.

How to cite this article:

Fred Halliday "The Tudeh Party in Iranian Politics," Middle East Report 86 (March/April 1980).
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