To the Editors: Your issue on the left forces in Iran (MERIP Reports 86) was interesting and informative, albeit somewhat dated. I found Ervand Abrahamian’s essay to be an altogether good description of the origins and development of the guerrilla movement in Iran. While I disagree with the important role he has relegated to the Guruhe Munsheb, and am somewhat surprised that he should use the class-less term “Islamic Revolution,” this letter focuses of his discussion of the Fedayi’s theory and practice of armed struggle. His article left out the important fact that there were two positions on armed struggle within the organization: those of Masoud Ahmadzadeh and Bijan Jazani, respectively. The former was dominant until 1976, when, following severe losses at the hands of the regime, the OIPFG took up Jazani’s line on armed struggle. The OIPFG’s rejection of the essentially guerrilla foco thesis of Ahmadzadeh, and its adoption of Jazani’s line, enabled it to emerge strong and well-organized enough to play a crucial, and perhaps decisive, role in the insurrection, to attract many supporters, and to become the leading left force in Iran.
After the massacre of June 5, 1963, the movement of the Iranian people entered a new period whose characteristic lay in the preparatory moves for the formation of new revolutionary organizations capable of coping with the new situation. The defeat of the democratic movement, the utter reformism and revisionism of the established political organizations, namely the National Front and the Tudeh Party, the total lack of the most basic human rights (speech, assembly and press), the illegality and non-existence of trade unions and workers’ syndicates, the severe terror exerted by SAVAK and the extreme level of repression — all these demanded in turn new forms of organization, political propaganda and methods of struggle. In the seven-year period following the events of June 1963, all those dedicated individuals who recognized the need for substantial change in the methods and content of the struggle, organized themselves in various underground groups along definite ideological and political lines. They all, however, shared the belief in the necessity of establishing political-military organizations. Thus was formed the Organization of Iranian People’s Fedayi Guerrillas.
The ideas of Latin American guerrilla theorists, and in particular, those of Regis Debray, found an eager audience among Iran’s radical intelligentsia. Such Marxists as Ahmadzadeh, Ali Akbar Safaee-Farahani, and Amir-Parviz Pouyan, accepted Debray’s position on the revolution, especially his argument for the necessity of the guerrilla force and the irrelevance of the Party. The reasoning was that only guerrilla warfare could liberate the masses from their feeling of helplessness vis-à-vis the regime. Ahmadzadeh took over Debray’s metaphor of the “little motor” and the “big motor” to describe the relations of the guerrilla force to the revolution. This was, of course, based on the assumption that the objective conditions for revolution were ripe and that there was neither the time nor the need to organize on a party basis.
For Amir-Parviz Pouyan, the armed force would be the embryo of the Party. Pouyan’s essay “On the Necessity for Armed Struggle and a Refutation of the Theory of Survival” is a powerful and beatifically written piece which was distributed widely among students and intellectuals and had a profound impact upon them. Nonetheless it too erred in the same way Comrade Ahmadzadeh’s thesis erred: it underestimated the potential of the Iranian working class and sectors of the petit bourgeoisie, overestimated the power of the repressive apparatus (which was truly formidable, but not so as to render political work impossible, as Comrade Pouyan maintains in his opening paragraphs, and assumed the cadre would be formed, and this party established, in the armed struggle alone, rather than in the political struggle, ideological struggle, and the armed struggle.
The personal heroism, sincerity and revolutionary commitment of Ahmadzadeh, Pouyan and the other comrades who upheld the primacy of the guerrilla strategy, is undeniable. That they were dedicated to making revolution, while the Tudeh functionaries were bent on negotiating to become a legal party, certainly attests to this. (Ahmadzadeh rightly called the Tudeh a caricature of a Marxist-Leninist party.) However, revolutions are not made on this basis, and the subordination of political tasks to military operations had its adverse effects, as the OIPFG acknowledges today.
In marked contrast to the thesis of Ahmadzadeh, Bijan Jazani provided a deeper analysis of the situation in Iran and the tasks of Marxists-Leninists, in his writings on dependent capitalism, class structure in Iran, social psychology, the role of armed struggle. Jazani wrote numerous essays on a host of issues that demonstrate his theoretical brilliance and versatility. He is widely regarded as one of Iran’s major Marxist theorists, and his works are de rigueur within the Iranian left.
Carefully studying the social and economic conditions in Iran, and cognizant of the need for the party to lead the revolution (in dependent capitalist Iran, people’s democratic revolution), Jazani addressed himself, in his book Armed Struggle: The Road to the Mobilization of the Masses, to the problem of “the transition from the present limited armed struggle to a mass armed movement.” While Ahmadzadeh saw armed struggle as a strategy for the whole liberation movement, Jazani clearly regarded it as an initial tactic subordinate to the primary task of organizing political movements of a mass character. The following lines from the above-mentioned book should illustrate his different position on armed struggle. (At the time, Jazani was in prison and the Ahmadzadeh thesis was dominant in the OIPFG.)
When there is an absence of the sort of movement that embraces the whole population and the total burden of fighting the enemy of the people falls upon groups of vanguards, there is a danger that these groups may fall prey to sectarianism and be deflected from the principles of the struggle. This will in turn create conditions in which people are apt to attach little importance to the masses and help create an atmosphere of avant-guardism. The present vacuum created by the absense of an extensive mass movement, therefore, provides suitable grounds for the growth of adventurism.
In his discussion of the main form of adventurism in the armed movement, Jazani writes:
To ignore the objective conditions which are relevant to the growth of the revolutionary movement; to consider the role of the vanguard out of its context; and to peddle the notion that the sensational sacrifice of some elements of the vanguard will immediately (or in a short time) attract the support of the masses, or even encourage their active participation in the struggle, is adventuristic. Such conceptions about armed struggle should be replaced by a Marxist understanding of the dynamics of society and of the revolutionary movement in general. Today, we live in conditions where all factors are combined against the revolution. To believe that all these factors are amenable to change by one single factor, namely, the role of the vanguard — a vanguard in its most elementary form, for that matter — is an unscientific approach to society and to the movement. To persist in such a theory is to deny the role of the masses in a movement. To deny the masses their role in the movement — although those guilty might deny this — is the main form of adventurism.
In his book, Iran: Dictatorship and Development, Fred Halliday claims that there is no fundamental difference between the positions of Ahmadzadeh and Jazani. In fact, Halliday rejects armed struggle altogether; hence he would regard any debates on armed struggle to be essentially the same — and equally incorrect. The differences between Ahmadzadeh and Jazani are not illusory but real: They led to a deep division within the pro-OIPFG student movement abroad in the year before the insurrection; they also resulted in the formation of a faction led by Ashraf Dehghani that eventually split from the OIPFG. Dehghani continues to maintain that the objective conditions for revolution were present in the early 1970s, and she still calls for military action as the main tactic.
The Ahmadzadeh line dominated the OIPFG for several years after its formation. However, through theoretical struggle and direct experience with the limitations of the guerrilla strategy, the organization announced in 1976, in its theoretical organ Nabard-e Khalq 6 and 7 (also in Payam-e Daneshjoo 3), the adoption of the Jazani line. The emphasis would now be on developing cadre through political and ideological struggle, forging ties with the masses leaders were refraining a call to jihad and, were in fact, calling upon the people to restrain themselves. But it was the change in the OIPFG’s line after 1976 that enabled the organization to emerge as a popular force during the revolution. The organization had learned painful lessons in this manner (as well as through armed struggle), strengthening the organization itself. The idea of guerrilla force was rejected.
While the theory and practice of armed struggle in Iran contains many serious mistakes, I would argue that it is precisely the armed struggle, as developed primarily by the OIPFG (as well as by the Mojahedin, whose theory was not so well developed), that can explain why the people took up arms against the regime at a time when the revolution’s leaders were refraining from a call to jihad and were, in fact, calling upon the people to restrain themselves. But it was the change in the OIPFG’s line after 1976 that enabled the organization to emerge as a popular force during our revolution. The organization had learned pain ful lessons in the previous years, and was nearly wiped out in 1976. Subsequently, it concentrated upon developing itself as a revolutionary communist organization. By the time the insurrection broke out, the years of military operations, theoretical struggle and political development enabled the OIPFG to emerge as a nationwide organization with branches and supporters in virtually every city in the country, as well as in the rural areas of Kurdistan and Turkoman-Sahra. The organization set about defending the objectives and achievements of the revolution — notably the workers’ and peasants’ soviets (which they helped organize), the emancipation of women, autonomy for the minority nationalities, nationalization of all industries, etc. For this, the Fedayi comrades have been the target of a virulent campaign waged by the bourgeoisie and reactionary religious elements — as well as by such pseudo-communists as the Ranjbar Party (formerly “Revolutionary” Organization).
As for the Guruhe Munsheb and the Tudeh Party, the former is hardly as important as Abrahamian makes it out to be. I should also point out that Abrahamian’s source, Keyhan, was at the time controlled by Tudeh sympathizers. At any rate, the opportunism of the Tudeh Party is almost beyond belief. Its distortion of Marxist-Leninist theory, subordination of the people’s interests to its own narrow organizational interests, its treacherous position on Iran’s nationalities — all these make it imperative to wage a vigorous ideological struggle against the Tudeh Party, as indeed the Fedayi are doing. At the same time, the bankruptcy of the various Maoist formations is also being exposed.
It is in this process of political and ideological struggle that a correct and revolutionary theory will emerge in Iran. It will form the basis for the general political line of a genuine communist party that will guide the Iranian people, led by the working class, to transform Iran into a truly democratic and independent society.
April 19, 1980