Fereidun Keshavarz was elected to the Tudeh politburo at the Party’s first congress in 1942. He was elected to the Iranian parliament in 1944 and in 1946 served as minister of in the short-lived government of Prime Minister Qavam. In 1958 he resigned from the Tudeh politburo and central committee. He met with Fred Halliday in Geneva on March 14, 1980 for this interview.
How do you evaluate the strength of the Tudeh Party in the 1940s, and how do you account for its popularity at that time?
The core of the Tudeh Party, when it was formed in 1941, came from the group of 53 intellectuals who had been imprisoned by Reza Shah some years before. Although the founder of this group, Erani, had died in prison, a number of leading members survived and helped establish the Tudeh. In the legal period of the 1940s, i.e., from the Anglo-Soviet intervention of 1941 until the banning of the party in 1949, we built up a membership of around 100,000, and through our control of the main workers’ organization we had a following of around 300,000 people. The popularity of the party owed a lot to the fact that it championed the cause of democracy against the court and the imperialists. But it also gained ground because it called for friendship with the Soviet Union and this was, at that time, a popular demand, given the fact that the USSR had not been implicated in Iran’s political affairs over the previous two decades of Pahlavi dictatorship.
I come from the generation of intellectuals who had little experience of organized politics and who were not well informed about the nature of Soviet society and policy. It was only later that we learned to take a critical stance on the Soviet Union and its role in Iran. In general terms, one can say that from the beginning the Tudeh Party was divided into two fractions: one group, including myself, Iskandari, who was secretary-general until 1978, and Radmanesh, the secretary-general before him, wanted to pursue a relatively independent revolutionary strategy. But we were unable to prevail over the group that acted under Soviet dictates, led by Kianuri, the present secretary-general, and Kambakhsh, his brother-in-law, who died in 1971. The history of the Tudeh Party is to a considerable extent the history of how Kianuri and his collaborators gained control of the party in the mid-1940s, with Soviet support, and have retained it with varying degrees of overtness since that time.
In 1946 the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Iran and left the field open for the Shah’s army, even then advised by the Americans, to crush the autonomous republics of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. Do you think that Stalin was mistaken in withdrawing his troops and thereby abandoning the Azerbaijani revolutionaries?
The Soviet Union had no choice. Truman was brandishing the atom bomb at them, so I do not criticize Stalin for retreating.
And what about the Soviet demand for an oil concession in the north of Iran? Do you think that was justified?
No, I do not. Socialist states should not make demands of that kind.
In 1949 the Tudeh Party was banned, following an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the Shah in which the Party was allegedly implicated. You were sentenced to death in absentia and took refuge in the Soviet Union. There then followed the period of Mossadeq’s premiership, from 1951 until the coup of August 1953. How do you consider the Tudeh Party conducted its affairs in this period? The West claimed that Mossadeq had become increasingly reliant on the Tudeh Party, while Mossadeq’s supporters now charge that the Tudeh Party never really lent its backing to him.
The party never gave proper support to Mossadeq. After the pro-Mossadeq demonstrations of July 1952, when the masses defeated the Shah’s first attempt to oust him, the Tudeh Party supported Mossadeq. But in early 1953, when Mossadeq launched a program of national bonds in order to generate government revenue and thereby offset the effects of the oil boycott, the Tudeh Party prohibited its members from subscribing to them. Then came the coup of August 1953, in which the Tudeh Party could have intervened. We had a secret military organization of over 600 officers, and one of our members was in the very jeep that drove Gen. Zahedi to the radio station to announce Mossadeq’s overthrow. He could easily have shot Zahedi if the party had given him instructions. The Party could also have mounted massive demonstrations to rout the collection of thugs and prostitutes mobilized by the counterrevolutionaries on August 19 in order to give a spurious sense of legitimacy to their action. But we did nothing. My own perception of events was restricted by the fact that in the Soviet Union we had very little direct news of what was happening in Iran, and I was only able to reconstruct events much later on. Kianuri was inside Iran at that time. He did not come out until 1955, and he coordinated Party policy in association with the Russians.
You attended the fourth plenum of the Tudeh Party in 1957 at which the errors of the previous period were discussed. What was the balance of forces at the plenum and how were issues resolved?
There were about 90 people at the plenum, including the 19 members of the central committee and within them the 11 members of the politburo. The two fractions were divided almost equally, with the group of myself, Iskandari and Radmanesh having three or four more votes than the others, led by Kianuri. But after some days of discussion the representative of the CPSU, Anisimov, came to us, and he talked with both groups, suggesting that we elect a politburo that balanced the two fractions. This we then did.
You discussed the previous policies of the Tudeh Party, but did this include the northern oil affair?
Certainly not. The plenum took place in the Soviet Union. lt was impossible to discuss this issue, since it bore upon Soviet policy.
What was the Party’s membership in the exile period?
There were about 500 Tudeh Party members in exile, and there were also another three to five thousand refugees from Azerbaijan, many of them peasants. Although the Democratic League of Azerbaijan did not reunite with the Tudeh Party until 1960 they were normally included in the Party’s membership figures. Inside Iran we had somewhat less than 300 members until the period of the mid-1960s when Shahriyar-Islami, the SAVAK agent, infiltrated the organization. After that, there was virtually no Tudeh Party membership inside Iran itself.
How was radio Peik-e Iran estalished and why was it closed down in 1975?
It was first of all sited in Baku and later, in the 1960s, moved to Sofia. Then when the Bulgarian Minister visited Iran and told the Shah that Bulgaria wanted good relations with the Shah, he was told that the price of such relations was the closure of Peik-e Iran. And so it happened.
Why did you decide to resign from the party leadership in 1958?
It was after the fourth plenum that I began to oppose the Party’s line. I never organized a faction but I demanded a frank self-criticism of all that had occurred and the expulsion of those whom I considered to be Soviet agents — Kianuri, Kambakhsh and their associates. By 1958 I decided that I had failed and I therefore left the Party and the USSR, stating in a letter that I was ashamed to remain a member of the central committee.
The Tudeh Party itself denies that it had any contact with former SAVAK chief Teimur Bakhtiar. What is you view of this?
The secretary-general at that time, Radmanesh, was accused of having had contacts with Bakhtiar on his own account; but this was just used as a reason for discrediting him. If Radmanesh did have such contacts, it would have been with the agreement of the whole Party leadership. Bakhtiar twice tried to make contact with me and on one occasion sent Col. Haqiqi, the chief SAVAK officer for Switzerland who was officially a cultural attache at the Iranian Embassy. I told Bakhtiar that his hands were bathed in blood and that the only place I was prepared to see him was across the bench of a people’s court.
How do you evaluate the Tudeh Party’s current policy in Iran?
I think it is aberrant, opportunistic and a betrayal of the working class. I have a high estimation of Khomeini, who has done a lot for the people of Iran and has their interests at heart. But I am a historical materialist and there are points of disagreement. The Tudeh Party should above all distance itself from the Islamic Republican Party and from the conservative sections of the Islamic constitution, lt should criticize the powers given in the constitution to the religious leader termed the faqih. He is entitled to dismiss the president, veto laws, declare war, etc. Such a Constitution is unacceptable to any socialist or democrat. The Tudeh Party should also be much more outspoken on the inequality of men and women under the new Islamic system. Why do they not attack the policies of the Islamic Republican Party, allowing a man to have four wives? Some aspects of this Constitution are more backward than the policies of the Shah. In my view, the Tudeh Party has discredited itself by its past and present policies. With all its experience and traditions, it has not been able to reestablish the policies and position it had in the very first years after it was established. Its policy of defending the Soviet Union has completely discredited it.
You are extremely critical of Soviet policy in Iran. What do you think Moscow’s approach should have been?
The Soviet Union should have openly made itself the defender of the interests of the Iranian people and of all the progressive forces in Iran. During the 15 years prior to the fall of the Shah it never opposed the Shah and it acted against our people. I can read Russian and I follow the Soviet press. In the months prior to the Shah’s fall there was nothing in it about the popular resistance and street fighting. Even Le Figaro told us more than the Soviet papers.
I notice that on your desk you have the photographs of two men: Erani, the leader of the Marxist grouping in the 1930s, and Mossadeq.
It was Erani’s followers who, as I said, formed the core members of the Tudeh Party in the 1940s and who tried to uphold a position somewhat independent of the Soviet Union. Mossadeq I had known since the 1930s because, a a young pediatrician, I had looked after his granddaughter Leila. Later we were in Parliament together, but I was already in exile in the Soviet Union when he became prime minister. He as a very modest and far-sighted politician and no one in the last hundred years had done as much for the Iranian people. When Khomeini dies I shall put his picture on my desk, too, whatever my disagreements with some aspects of his policies.