Attempt to damn Marxism backfires
Why has the Islamic regime released a book about the revolutionary Fedayeen? Yassamine Mather investigates
The Islamic Republic of Iran - or more precisely the Political Studies and Research Institute,1 associated with the regime’s infamous ministry of information - has recently published a book entitled People’s Fedayeen guerrillas Vol 1 (Cherikhaye Fedayi Khalgh az nakhostin konesh ha ta bahman 1357I).2
The author, called Naderi, is an unknown. A number of names, belonging to former agents of Savak, the shah’s intelligence service, have been suggested, but he remains anonymous - one of “the unknown soldiers of the 12th Imam” (the 10-year-old descendant of the prophet who Shias believe fell into a well 1,200 years ago and will one day reappear to save the world).
The book, based entirely on documents and reports of confessions gathered by Savak, is being heavily pushed by the government and its supporters as part of a concerted effort to attack Marxists and the left. In the words of Institute for Political Research, the book aims to eradicate “unnecessary and fictional myths” about the Fedayeen.
The author aims to prove a number of theses:
- Members of this organisation, who took up arms against the shah’s dictatorship, were irrational.
- Those who survived the repression were involved in gangster-type activities led by Hamid Ashraf.
- Fedayeen members arrested by Savak cooperated with the secret service.
- The movement was dependent on foreign countries.
- Well known leaders including Ahmadzadeh, Jazani and Hamid Ashraf were deranged.
- The organisation was irrelevant to the struggles of the Iranian people and played no role in the downfall of the shah.
Any superficial study of contemporary Iranian history will negate these claims. An underground group capable of maintaining its political and operational organisation for more than a decade under one of the most brutal dictatorships of the 20th century, a group with major following amongst youth, academics and some sections of the working class, a group that destroyed the Islamic leaders’ dream of a peaceful transfer of power in the fateful events of February 1979 and a group that subsequently became the largest secular organisation of the left cannot be considered irrelevant or inconsequential. Had it been so, the unknown soldiers of the 12th Imam would not have spent so much time and effort trying to defame it.
In the period covered by the new publication, the Fedayeen made serious mistakes regarding the role of armed struggle in awakening the revolutionary masses. However, contrary to the book’s claim, they were not involved in blind terrorist acts and throughout the period of armed struggle did not kill or injure a single bystander.
The author of the history of the Fedayeen keeps reminding the reader that the ideology of the Fedayeen was not indigenous to Iran (Marxism must have come from an alien planet!), denying over 100 years of communist history in Iran, including the setting up of the 1920-21 Gilan republic and the mass workers’ struggles since the 1950s.
The accusations about the collaboration of jailed members of the Fedayeen with the secret police are mainly speculation, based on notes left by Savak agents who administered torture in Iranian prisons. Anyone with a superficial knowledge of the Fedayeen is well aware that dozens of guerrillas - men and women - blew themselves up with hand grenades or committed suicide by using the compulsory cyanide tablet under their tongue the moment they were arrested, leaving very few prisoners in Savak hands. If they were captured, Fedayeen members were told to give what was termed ‘burnt information’ under torture, but the very survival of the organisation contradicts the claims of Iran’s ministry of information ‘researchers’. Indeed after making the claim that Fedayeen prisoners cooperated with Savak and willingly revealed the names and addresses of their comrades, the author(s) admit that very few of the secret houses were ever found and, whenever Savak did go to where they thought was a hideout, they found it had already been abandoned.
The problem for the Political Studies and Research Institute is that there are hundreds of survivors from the shah’s prisons, many belonging to other political organisations, and they have always been unanimous that Fedayeen prisoners showed unequal bravery under the torture inflicted by Savak (and later by Savama, the Islamic regime’s own secret police).
With an eye on the current situation and the shameful association of some Iranian opposition groups with US ‘regime change’ funds, the book’s other accusation is that the Fedayeen were agents of foreign powers. Yet one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Fedayeen - and indeed one of the reasons for their popularity - was their political and ideological independence from world powers, including China and the Soviet Union. The book names the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Dhofar Liberation Front and the Republic of South Yemen as the source of Fedayeen funds! Clearly none of the above was in any position to give financial support to the Fedayeen and in at least two cases - Palestine and Dhofar - it was Fedayeen members who joined these two armed struggles, not the reverse.
The book is full of factual mistakes (the Sino-Soviet split is attributed to a dispute between Mao and Stalin, and every page contains similar errors). The author(s) make wild accusations about the Fedayeen going much further than those made at the time (1968-79) by the Savak. However, the book has a clear theme - every chapter contains pages of vicious attack on communism and socialism, followed by unstinting praise for capitalism (with Islamic characteristics).
In an unprecedented show of solidarity, a large number of number of Iranian leftists from diverse political groups - from ex-Fedayeen to Rahe Kargar (Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran), from ‘line three’ Maoists to the ex-Mujahedin Peykar - have united in repudiating the regime’s allegations and exposing the ministry of information’s historical falsifications.
However, the main question, at a time of imperialist threats, sanctions and unprecedented recession, is why the Iranian government has invested so much time and effort in rewriting the history of what is, after all, a defunct organisation today. Of course, there are a couple of dozen little groups claiming the mantle of the Fedayeen Minority, and a harmless, pro-Islamic-reformist Fedayeen Majority in existence, but no-one takes either seriously these days. So what has prompted this ‘historical research project’?
The answer is simple. The ayatollahs of the Islamic regime, who have been telling Iranians since the late 1980s that Marxism is dead and buried, and the clerics who have competed with each other in quoting Fukuyama’s End of history and welcoming the new neoliberalism are panicking, as students set up socialist and communist groups on campuses across the country and workers on strike against closures take up once again the slogans against capitalism and for workers’ control used in the pre-revolutionary strikes of 1978-79. Clearly Iranians have a more accurate memory of the anti-dictatorship revolution of 30 years ago than the regime’s falsifiers and pay more attention to its demands than the mythology about the 10-year-old 12th Imam.
So the book, and the publicity surrounding it, is not just about the Fedayeen: it shows the regime’s desperation in trying to destroy collective revolutionary memory through an attack on part of the history of Iranian Marxism.
In the words of Mohamad Reza Shalgouni of Rahe Kargar, writing in the journal Arash (No102): “There are many reasons why the historic image of the Fedayeen guerrilla is engraved in the memory of the progressive layers of our society as a symbol of resistance against repression and inequality:
- because ordinary people suffered from injustice and repression of the shah’s regime;
- they admired any resistance against it;
- they had seen nothing but candid sacrifice and allegiance to the oppressed from men and women who called themselves Fedayeen of the People.
“Those who now see this name as a threat to themselves and call it ‘unnecessary and fictional myths’ fear their own reflection in the mirror and are determined to deprive a generation of young Iranians fighting for freedom and equality of their lineage.”3
Shalgouni rightly reminds us that the Islamic authority’s ministry of information and this particular ‘research institute’ are experts in this type of ‘historical’ misrepresentation. In similar style they produced a book about CIA activities following the occupation of the US embassy in Tehran. Heralded as ‘documents from the spy’s nest’, the book was a collection of the most open and least incriminating letters from and to embassy staff. Documents relating to CIA activity in Iran had either been censored by the Islamic government or destroyed by embassy staff in the first hours of the occupation. Agents of the shah’s Savak would have been as proud of that ‘exposé’ as they would be of this book, whose ‘revelations’ are almost entirely based on secrets agents’ reports of ‘confessions’ obtained under torture.
Some of us cannot wait for volume two of People’s Fedayeen guerrillas. Hopefully it will contain ‘historical research’ into the period we were active in the Fedayeen produced by the Islamic Republic’s secret police.
Ironically, contrary to the intentions of the Iranian government, the book has generated renewed interest amongst students and youth about the Fedayeen and the contemporary history of the Iranian left. At a time when capitalist economic crisis has destroyed the ayatollahs’ claims regarding the end of history, at a time when the ideas of Karl Marx are regaining support worldwide, the Islamic regime’s pathetic attempt at historic falsification is likely to haunt them for many years. The current downturn is not, contrary to the claims of the Islamic rulers, “the crisis of western capitalism” heralding a “new era of Islamic capitalism”: Iran’s battered economy is now in tatters.
The ignorant unknown ‘soldiers of the 12th Imam’ cannot rescue the corrupt Iranian Islamic version of neoliberal capitalism with their lies. Workers and students will recognise this disgusting book for what it is and continue their efforts to understand and learn from the mistakes of the Fedayeen and other Marxist groups.
1. Political Studies and Research Institute: www.ir-psri.com