[Marxism] Problems of the Iranian left in the early 80s

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 9 12:54:10 MDT 2009

The left made two strategic mistakes. The guerrilla strategy of the left 
organisations prevented them from building a national organisation 
rooted in the day to day struggles of workers, even though some of their 
activists tried to compensate for this after the revolution by creating 
“workers’ fronts” alongside “student” and “women” fronts. When Khomeini 
turned on the shoras and the workers’ movement he did not simply have to 
rely on the use of force; he could also look to the influence of his 
Islamist followers. The left lacked the organisational resources to 
counter these attacks, to link the shoras together and further their 

The other strategic mistake by the largest part of the left (Tudeh and 
the Fedayeen’s “majority” faction) was to support Khomeini 
unconditionally, seeing him as the representative of the 
“progressive”—ie anti-imperialist—bourgeoisie. Instead of organising the 
working class as an independent force, they encouraged it to follow 
Khomeini. This logic followed from the Stalinist “two stages” theory, 
according to which the national bourgeoisie must first complete the 
struggle for independence and democracy, and only then can the left 
launch the second stage of socialist revolution. Tudeh argued that the 
transition from the first to the second stages could proceed smoothly if 
the new state accepted the path of “non-capitalist development” by 
copying the Soviet Union’s state capitalism and joining its camp.

Tudeh and the guerrilla organisations were two sides of the same coin: 
they both substituted other forces for the working class, assigning 
class struggle to second place. Tudeh argued that the Islamic Republic 
should be supported because it was “anti-imperialist”; the rest of the 
left opposed it on the grounds that it was imperialism’s “puppet”.

While Tudeh recognised that Khomeini enjoyed popularity among the lower 
classes, it did nothing to challenge his leadership. This would have 
been possible only by building an independent workers’ movement with a 
revolutionary left at its core, which could pull the urban poor and the 
lower middle class away from the Khomeinists. The “Marxist” left 
underestimated Khomeini’s popularity and launched an open assault on the 
Islamic Republic from mid-1980 onwards and was subsequently crushed.

A historian of the Iranian Revolution [Maziar Behrooz, "Rebels with a 
Cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran"--an invaluable book] has put it 
this way:

     While a number of Marxist organisations (the Tudeh amongst others) 
interpreted the political independence of the Islamic Republic of Iran 
as a sign of a possible drift towards an understanding with the Soviet 
Union, the overwhelming majority denied the obvious and attempted to 
depict the new regime as a disguised puppet of imperialism. The Marxists 
were outmanoeuvred by the Islamists because they refused to accept the 
independent nature of the new leadership at face value, a factor which 
played an important role in the movement’s inability to cope, and 
ultimately led to its downfall.9

The left also lacked a strategy for connecting the struggle for 
democratic rights to socialist revolution (the strategy of permanent 
revolution). They had developed a view in which the two stood in 
opposition to one another. The disastrous consequences of this logic 
became first apparent when in March 1979 thousands of women protested 
against the new gender policies of Khomeini, in particular the decree 
that made wearing the hijab obligatory. The left gave lip-service to 
women’s rights, but did not take concrete steps to defend them and 
called on supporters to refrain from those protests because most of the 
participants were from the middle and upper classes. Finally, the left 
were seriously weakened by their fragmentation and sectarianism. Each 
organisation set up its own front organisations for students, women and 
workers instead of creating unity between revolutionaries and 
non-revolutionary workers, students and women to fight for common goals 
such as freedom of expression and organisation.

full: http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=585&issue=124

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