Wednesday, August 7, 2019

3267. Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh: The Father of Iranian Trotskyism

By Kamran Nayeri, August 8, 2019 (for a PDF version click here)

Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh (L) with his son Said Sayrafizadeh
Preamble

This long critical tribute to Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh is also my response to a key question: why the Iranian Trotskyists adapted to the Islamic Republic to such an extent that we did not recognize the counter-revolution unfolding before our eyes.  Both the Revolutionary Workers Party (HKE) that gave political support to the Islamic Republic and the Workers Unity Party (HVK) that materially supported it against imperialism and Saddam Hussein's counter-revolutionary invasion of Iran adapted to the clerical capitalist regime and continued to insist that "the revolution was advancing" until they were both forced to dissolve. The same can be said of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party which remained blind to the counter-revolution. In fact, the first time the SWP
publicly spoke of the Islamic Republic counter-revolution was in 2006. It took another 12 years before it dated it to 1983.

In the initial years of the Iranian Trotskyist movement, Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh was the key figure for reasons that I will explain below. At two critical periods in the development of the Iranian Trotskyist movement, Mahmoud and I collaborated closely—from the late spring to November 1977 in Brooklyn, New York, and from September 1980 to July 1982, in Tehran, Iran.  In the earlier period, three of us, Mahmoud, Nasser Khoshnevis, and I, collaborated daily as part of the Steering Committee of the Permanent Revolution Faction (PRF) of the Sattar League (SL), the Iranian section of the Fourth International (FI). We operated out of the apartments of Mahmoud and Nasser who put me up for the duration because I had been called in from Oakland, California, and had no financial means to have support myself.  Thus, we also spent our limited rest time befriending each other.  

I also collaborated with Mahmoud in the late 1980s and early 1990s when we were both in the U.S. SWP.  Upon returning to New York in August 1982, I had joined the New York branch of the SWP. When Mahmoud arrived in New York in the early part of 1986, he too immediately joined the SWP.  In his case, however, it must have been part of a decision-making process between Mahmoud and the SWP leadership, as he was quickly co-opted onto it.  Soon an Iran Committee was formed that operated under the direct oversight of the SWP Political Committee. Although nothing was ever disclosed to me about its mission, composition, and decision-making process, I was asked, like other Iranian members of the SWP, to undertake assignments for it.  Thus, my political relationship with Mahmoud during this period was limited to occasions when our work for the Iran Committee coincided.  Although, Mahmoud was a member of the New York branch, like many others in the branch who were on national assignment he was not a branch activist.  Our social relations were also infrequent.  During this period, I increasingly felt uncomfortable with Mahmoud’s and the SWP’s approach to the Islamic Republic regime which at times was clearly adaptationist as I will discuss below.  When I raised these concerns, the SWP leadership initially ignored me (and other Iranian members who raised similar issues) and in 1992 it became openly hostile to me which resulted in their fantastic charge that I was collaborating with Babak Zahraie, the former leader of the long-defunct Revolutionary Workers Party (HKE),  who was living in Iran.  Anyone familiar with the history of the Iranian Trotskyist movement would know that Zahraie and I were on the opposite side on every key political juncture and that he had expelled me from the HKE.  I figured if the SWP Political Committee can literarily fabricate such lies against me, it can do so again at any time.  I lost any trust in them and I resigned within a week in October 1992.  Some months later, I learned that the SWP leadership had blacklisted me as “an enemy of the party” barring the membership from any contact with me unless those allowed by the Political Committee. Therefore, I have not seen Mahmoud or heard from him since October 1992. 

Thus, this essay covers in some detail three distinct periods in Mahmoud’s political life and my relationship to him.
 

This essay is part of an ongoing critical reflection on my/our political history. I already have written two long essays for this purpose. The first is an outline of the Iranian Trotskyist movement that I included in my critical review of Barry Sheppard’s two-volume book about the history of the SWP (Nayeri, August 2012). The second (Nayeri, November 2012) is a critical review of one of the three parties affiliated with the Fourth International in Iran, Hezb-e Kargaran-e Enghelabi (HKE, Revolutionary Workers Party. In this essay, I will provide a critical assessment of Hezb-e Vahdat-e Kargaran (HVK, Workers Unity Party) that Mahmoud and I both helped co-found in January 1981 and was dissolved due to severe repression by December 1982.  I have also written other long and short topical essays dealing with the history of Iranian labor and the socialist movement and the 1979 revolution. Thus, there is a cumulative quality in my writing. I sometimes feel necessary to include some of my already published passages but more frequently make references to my already published writings.  Thus, the reader will find a large number of references to my earlier work. 

Thus, the essay will be a chronological account that weaves together an outline of Mahmoud’s political and, to a much lesser extent, personal life, with key historical events, and, with a discussion of socialist theories.

Of course, my account is neither complete nor “objective.” I have been an active part of it in crucial junctures. However, I have tried to keep to the facts when I know them and set aside aspects that I do not know about.  Whatever criticism the reader will find is political and directed at our movement in which Mahmoud sometimes played a significant part.  In my view, Mahmoud has dedicated his life to what he believed would be building a Leninist party.  Alas, it has never worked out that way.  None of the parties Mahmoud joined or helped found were ever anything more than a prototype of the party of Lenin. We must also recall that even the party of Lenin did not last more than two decades before being transformed into the party of the rising bureaucracy in the state and society of the young Soviet Russia that oversaw a counter-revolution of its own; that is, it turned into its opposite.   Never again in history, we find another party like the Bolshevik Party and all micro-Leninist parties have been consumed with crises and failures despite the best intention of their ranks and leaders.  I will try to suggest why this has been the case.


This critical conclusion should not be construed as giving up on “the revolution.” As some of my readers are well aware, for the better part of the last two decades I have developed an argument that we need to redefine the statement of the problem Marx and Engels faced in the nineteenth century. Today, humanity is facing three existential crisis that lay outside the scope of their materialist conception of history: Catastrophic climate change, the Sixth Extinction, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust.  Today’s radical youth and working people need to develop our own methodology, theory of history, program, and strategy. (see, Nayeri, 2018, for an outline of my own view) Marx and Engels considered the socialist revolution to be on the horizon.  Accordingly, they did not factor time in their calculations. Unfortunately, we cannot share a similar optimism about the future ecological socialist revolution. In the present historical conjuncture, the choices before us are ecological socialism or extinction.


The Formative Years

The Father of Iranian Trotskyism
A generation older than the rest of the Trotskyists who were organized in the Sattar League, Mahmoud influenced us in three important ways. As part of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and its youth organization, the Young Socialist Association (YSA), in the 1960s, for a time he became a link to the Trotskyist movement in the United States. We had learned to view the SWP as an institutional link to the Bolshevik program, strategy, and norms, and the heritage of the Russian revolutions of 1917.  The question of what happened to the Bolshevik party of Lenin and the Russian revolution were key to my generation of Iranian socialist youth.  There were broadly speaking two narratives available.  The currents that supported Moscow or Beijing as the center of the world socialist movement held that the Russian revolution continued under Stalin that adopted an orientation or “theory” of “socialism in one country” and class collaborationist policies that flowed from it such as popular front, peaceful coexistence (between the Soviet Union and Western imperialism), and the two-stage of revolution in the colonial and semi-colonial countries (in this essay, I will call them “latecomers” to the capitalist world economy) which entailed political support for the “national bourgeoisie” in the coming revolution.

After Stalin’s death in 1953, the extent of his criminal rule became public and the leadership of the Communist Party of U.S.S.R. repudiated “Stalin’s cult of personality” as responsible for such massive crimes. However, the same leaders who were part of Stalin’s inner circles did not repudiate the Stalinist political course and still claimed that socialism was well and advancing in the Soviet Union.  The Chinese Communist Party leadership did not follow this narrative t because the old one served Mao’s policies well.  They called the Communist Party of U.S.S.R. “revisionist” and the Soviet Union “social-imperialist” while essentially following similar domestic and international policies.

The Trotskyist movement offered us a refreshing alternative. We learned about the world-historic significance of the Russian revolutions of 1917 through Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution (1930). Trotsky offered a Marxist explanation of how this massive revolution degenerated under the conditions of economic and cultural backwardness and the isolation of the revolution giving rise to a conservative bureaucratic caste in the party and the state in his The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? (1936). Moreover, Trotsky developed incisive criticism of Stalin’s “theory of socialism in one country” and its disastrous application in the Chinese revolution of 1925-27, as published in The Third International After Lenin (1928).   Trotsky also founded the Fourth International in 1938 on the basis of a program that he developed using the experience of the Russian revolutions and the program and strategy of the Bolshevik Party as well as the lessons drawn by the first four congresses of the revolutionary Communist International, widely know as published in The Transitional Program (Trotsky, 1938), that urged the formation of Fourth Internationalist parties following the model of the Bolshevik party.

The SWP/YSA and Mahmoud brought this insight to the growing layer of radicalizing Iranian students in the late 1960s and early 1970s who were willing to consider Leon Trotsky who was shunned and slandered by both Moscow and Beijing that between them held sway over a third of humanity at the time.

Second, Mahmoud was part of the early generation of radicalized Iranian students in the U.S. who formed the Iranian Student Associations in the United States (ISA-U.S.), Sazmaneh Amrika) in 1960, the same year that in Europe the Confederation of the Iranian Students (CIS) was formed.  The leadership of these two organizations came from the Tudeh Party and the National Front. These organizations were, respectively, the pro-Moscow Stalinist party and the bourgeois nationalist party, that shared the responsibility for not mobilizing and organizing the Iranian working people against the August 1953 CIA coup.  However, as the split in the world Stalinist movement caused a crisis in the Tudeh party, three Maoist factions split from it, and in 1968 the Maoist currents in the CIS and ISA-US with support from the National Front expelled the Tudeh Party from these organizations.  It was Mahmoud who provided the early Sattar League with the revolutionary socialist orientation towards the student movement as a national democratic movement that can thrive only as a democratic, that is multi-current, movement. This analysis jibed with the experience of the early wave of Iranian students who were attracted to Trotskyism as we were also expelled by the ISA-US for our political views.  

Finally, it was Mahmoud who provided the Sattar League and the Fourth International with a novel rendering of the modern history of Iran with his Nationality and Revolution in Iran (1973) that used Trotsky’s theories of uneven and combined development, Permanent Revolution, and Stalinism to make sense of the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-11 and what some have called the Second Revolution (1941-53)  (see, endnote 2).  This narrative deeply influenced our movement and became the subject of the disagreement that emerged in the Sattar League in 1976.

Thus, it would not be inaccurate to call Mahmoud the Father of Iranian Trotskyism. It was in recognition of these unique contributions that he was elected and re-elected to the leadership of the Fourth International (FI), the International Executive Committee (IEC).



Early Life

Mahmoud was born in Tabriz, the seat of the province of Azerbaijan in northwestern Iran, in 1935. He was 11 years old when the autonomous People’s Government in Azerbaijan came to power and a year later was overthrown and he was 18 years old when the CIA overthrew the nationalist government of Mohammad Mossadegh.  As his future political life demonstrated, the adolescent Mahmoud was deeply affected by these historic events.  Yet, he did not seem to show it at the time as he excelled in his studies.  Before the CIA coup in August of 1953, the young Mahmoud left for the U.S. with a scholarship to study mathematics at the Colgate University, a private college in the small town of Hamilton, New York.  He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (B. A.) degree in 1957 and enrolled in the graduate program in mathematics at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis.  He received his doctoral degree in 1969 with a dissertation in convex and discrete geometry entitled “Compactness Properties of Families of Convex Sets.”

The relatively long time for Mahmoud’s graduate education was probably due to his decision to start a family and to his political radicalization. In 1957, Mahmoud met Martha Harris, an undergraduate in English literature, on campus. The two fell in love and married and eventually had three children: Jacob, Jamileh, and Said.  I do not know when the couple moved to Brooklyn where they lived together until 1968 when they separated. In 1976, Martha moved with Said to Pittsburgh.  Mahmoud and Diane Feeley, a feminist and labor activist and a leader of the SWP, lived with Jacob and Jamileh in a two-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of 95 Eastern Parkway, in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Mahmoud found a teaching job at Rutgers University in New Jersey. However, his political preoccupations conflicted with the demands of a professorial job in a research university. Eventually, he relocated to a teaching job at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, part of City University of New York (CUNY), which did not require research of its faculty. The college is named after Medgar Wiley Evers (1925-1963), the Afro-American civil rights leader who was assassinated on June 12, 1963. Mahmoud told me how much he preferred teaching there.  Another major benefit of his new job was that he did not have to commute to New Jersey for which he relied on a rusty Volkswagen Squareback.  Mahmoud was liked by his colleagues and students at Medgar Evers College. When he returned to the U.S. in 1986 after being away in Iran for seven years, the department welcomed him back. He continued teaching there until he was too old to teach. 



 “Nationality and Revolution in Iran”

 
For key theoretical and political reasons to which I will return, Mahmoud’s 98-page historical account, “Nationality and Revolution in Iran,” (see, endnote 3) deserves a central place in any political assessment of him as well as any history of the Iranian Trotskyism. The book draws on a relatively few secondary scholarly sources that deal with some key historical events in modern Iranian history to offer a reinterpretation of  “stylized historical facts.” (see, endnote 4) Through the lens of socialist theories, in particular, Trotsky’s theory of Stalinism, the law of uneven and combined development, and the theory of Permanent Revolution, Mahmoud constructs a narrative in which imperialism has been the decisive counter-revolutionary force, and the national democratic revolution is betrayed by the Iranian bourgeoisie and Stalinism, that is, the Tudeh party and the Kremlin.  


Front cover of Nationality and Revolution in Iran (1973)

The narrative covers the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-11 and the Second Revolution, that is, the wave of mass movements that began after the occupation of Iran by the Allied forces in August 1941, who exiled the pro-fascist dictator Reza Shah Pahlavi to Madagascar where he died.  The youthful prince, Mohammad Reza Shah, was crowned. Thus, the weakened central government provided an opening for the mass movement. This revolutionary period ended with the CIA coup of August 1953 that overthrew the nationalist government of Mohammad Mossadegh and reinstated Mohammad Reza Shah in power. 

The two key historical events in the 1941-53 period were the establishment of short-lived autonomous governments in Azerbaijan and in Kurdistan (roughly November 1945-November 1946) and the movement to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company that began in 1951 and forced the Shah to offer prime ministership to the nationalist leader Mohammad Mossadegh, that in turn set off a power struggle between monarchists and nationalists. 

The rise and fall of the Azerbaijan People’s government that was centered in Tabriz must have had a vague but lifelong influence on Mahmoud, who was eleven years old at the time.  The rise in the Iranian nationalist movement when he was 17 years old and the CIA coup a year later must have had a similar impact on him.  Aside from its political function, Nationality and Revolution in Iran must also have been a way for Mahmoud to revisit the adolescent emotions that were stirred by these momentous events. The narrative includes emotionally charged vocabulary absent from scholarly history books. 

The reader cannot help but notice that the author of Nationality and Revolution in Iran identifies with the oppressed nationalities, in particular, Azerbaijanis, and not without justification. In the Constitutional Revolution, it fell to Tabriz and the plebeian Azerbaijani movement led by Sattar Khan (hence, the name Sattar League) and Bagher Khan, to revive the revolution when it was almost suppressed.  However, Mahmoud identifies most with the Firqah-i Dimukrat
(Azerbaijani Democratic Party—ADP) and its central leader Ja’far Pishevari.  Taking advantage of the occupation of Azerbaijan by the Red Army, a group of veteran socialists headed by Ja'far Pishevari, established Firqah-i Dimukrat on September 3.  On November 21, 1945, Firqah-i Dimukrat captured without significant resistance all government institutions and declared a People’s Government.  Three weeks later, on December 15, Qazi Muhammad, the Kurdish nationalist leader, led a campaign to establish a Kurdish People's Government, and on January 22, 1946, he announced the formation of the Mahabad Republic, as the town became the seat of the People’s government.

Mahmoud does not entertain the possibility of the influence of the people’s governments that came to power in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of World War II, particularly where the Red Army was in control and with encouragement from the Kremlin, on events in Azerbaijan.  But he does cite information from Firqah-i Dimukrat sources in the Nationality and Revolution in Iran that he later used in classes he gave at the SWP conferences in the late 1980s and early 1990s (I cannot remember the exact dates) to argue that the people’s government in Azerbaijan was a workers and peasants government, at the time a politically expedient conclusion from old "facts."  However, he still was unable to explain why this government collapsed after a year in power when the Red Army pulled out and the Shah’s army advanced into Azerbaijan facing no resistance.  As far as I know, Mahmoud did not attempt, as historians of the period have, to use sources that became available to researchers after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Historians are still divided about the degree of autonomy of the Azerbaijan people’s government from the Kremlin.

The rise of the people’s governments in the Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan coincided with the start of the Cold War. The United States exerted intense pressure on the Kremlin to withdraw the Red Army from Iran.  The conservative Ahmad Qavam, who became prime minister in January 1946 to deal with the crisis, filed a complaint with the Security Council while opening a diplomatic channel with the Kremlin. Qavam himself went to Moscow to meet with Stalin where he promised to ask the parliament for an oil concession in northern Iran to the Soviet Union after the Red Army was withdrawn.  Stalin ordered the Red Army to withdraw.  In the wake of Soviet withdrawal, the Shah’s army retook Azerbaijan without a fight.  The leaders of the Firqah-i Dimukrat sought refuge in Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. However, the leaders of the Kurdish Republic were captured, tried and sentenced to death. They were hanged in Chwarchira Square in the center of Mahabad in 1947.  Some of the leaders of the Firqah-i Dimukrat did not fare well in the Soviet Union. Pishevari was reported killed in a traffic accident, which Mahmoud suggests in his book was a Kremlin ordered assassination. 

As for Qavam’s promise of oil concession to Stalin, he did as promised, knowing full well that the parliament promptly would reject it, which it did. Thus, in bourgeois political circles in Iran Qavam won the title of the Old Fox.

The Iran-wide nationalist movement revived after a bill to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) was proposed on March 7, 1951, and was ratified by the Majles (parliament) on March 17.  Under immense pressure from the Majles, the Shah asked Mossadegh to become the prime minister.  A power struggle ensued between the Shah and Mossadegh who favored a constitutional monarchy. Mass mobilizations ensued in support of nationalization and Mossadegh and the Shah left Iran. Soon, however, the CIA and MI6 plotted the August 1953 coups.  The first coup attempt on August 15 failed but Mossadegh refused to mobilize the Iranian masses against the follow-up coup. The Tudeh party also did not mobilize against it.  On August 19, the second coup attempt succeeded.  The price Iranian people paid was 25 years of an increasingly brutal dictatorial regime which enforced the interests of imperialism, including by supporting the colonial-settler Zionist State and the South African Apartheid.


Theoretical Errors

To those of us who radicalized as young Iranian Trotskyists, Nationality and Revolution in Iran was a feat as it seemed to have demonstrated both the analytical power of Trotsky’s theories as well as providing a path towards a solution of the burning questions of the program and strategy for the coming Iranian revolution.  Nobody among us questioned its methodological and theoretical underpinnings. But with the benefit of hindsight, these are considerable and the key to the understanding of the adaptationist course Mahmoud and the part of the Iranian Trotskyism that was educated in Nationality and Revolution in Iran followed.  As I will discuss below, Nationality and Revolution in Iran replace the materialist conception of history, that focuses the attention of the mode of production and class struggle in explaining history, with a Third Worldist view that focuses the attention of imperialism and Stalinism while relegating internal class and state actors to a secondary role.  The Iranian revolution of 1979 and the Islamic Republic counter-revolution proved this methodology wrong.

Aside from drawing on Trotsky’s theoretical contributions, Nationality and Revolution in Iran also is heavily influenced by the Dependency School, itself an intellectual response to the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements after World War II. 

Mahmoud opens the first chapter of his book with this challenge: “[W] e must understand the revolutionary history of Iran and the epoch in which these movements occur.” (p. 1, my emphasis)  He then provides a very familiar narrative drawing on the Dependency School, albeit in an awkward language (see, endnote 5) that stresses the role of imperialism in the backwardness of latecomers to the capitalist world market.  Dependency School refers to the cluster of explanations for the “development and underdevelopment” of what used to be called the Third World and became prominent after the collapse of the British,  French,  Dutch,  Japanese,  Portuguese, Belgian and Italian colonial empires and the rise of post-Wold War II anti-colonial revolutions that ebbed by the 1970s. However, it is still prominent in the Old Left groups, including those from the Trotskyist tradition.

Lenin’s theory of imperialism
The gist of the theoretical framework Mahmoud utilizes is as follows. He divides the history of capitalism into two epochs: competitive capitalism and monopoly capitalism (imperialism). In his narrative, the bourgeoisie played a historically progressive role in the competitive phase as it completed the transition from feudalism to capitalism and undertook industrialization resulting in a rapid and vast development of productive forces. However, by the late nineteenth century, it claims, capitalism enters its monopolistic phase signified by the export of capital. This is the epoch of monopoly capitalism. In Mahmoud’s own words

“Now, not only the capitalist system of the West is unable to industrialize the backward regions, it also is blocking their internal growth and is a barrier to the formation of capitalist nation-states in the East and elsewhere. This uneven process of development has brought about the national movements of Asia, including Iran, at the end of last [nineteenth] century. The oppressed masses who are condemned to low levels of economic and cultural life have moved into the road of freedom.” (p. 2)

There are multiple problems with this narrative. First, it directly contradicts Lenin’s own view on the effect of export of capital on the recipient countries. Contrary to Mahmoud claim, Lenin clearly states the opposite:

The export of capital influences and greatly accelerates the development of capitalism in those countries to which it is exported. While, therefore, the export of capital may tend to a certain extent to arrest development in the capital-exporting countries, it can only do so by expanding and deepening the further development of capitalism throughout the world.” (Lenin, 1916, my emphasis)
The Dependency School
Second, Dependency School theories are methodologically different from Marxist theories as they focus their analysis on the sphere of circulation not the sphere of production. Elizabeth Dore summarizes a Marxist critique of them:

“While the theory encompasses a large body of literature which incorporates many concepts and methods, the distinguishing feature of all dependency writers is that they treat social and economic development as being conditioned by external forces: namely domination of these countries by other, more powerful countries. This leads dependency theorists to adopt a circulationist approach. They posit that underdevelopment can be explained in terms of relations of domination in exchange, almost to the exclusion of an analysis of forces of production and relations of production.” (Dore, 1983, p. 183, my emphasis)

In fact, a major shortcoming of Nationality and Revolution in Iran is its lack of attention to the existing modes of production in Iran and to the role of Shiite clergy in the process of class and state formation in Iran.  That proved to be a costly weakness of the book and our movement.

Shiism and the process of class and state formation in Iran
The ascendance of Shi’ism as the official religion of Iran originated in the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) which also inaugurated the modern Iranian nation-state.  Thus, Shiism became the state-sponsored religion and had remained so until the rise of the Islamic Republic which has reversed the relationship, it is now the state that is sponsored by the Shi’ite hierarchy.

For over 2,000 years, Iran was an agrarian economy based on the village (deh). Under the Safavids, there were three primary forms of private landholdings (amlāk) that include at least one but typically many villages. These were (1) private estates of large landlords; (2) the private estates of the reigning Shah considered separately from the estates owned by the crown and called amlāk-e ḵāṣṣa or amlāk-e ḵāleṣa; and (3) private estates set aside in special trusts by owners for the permanent benefit of heirs and descendants in accordance with Shi'ite legal principles and known as waqf-e ḵāṣṣ.  Thus, the Shi'ite clergy has been tied to land ownership and the royal court for centuries.  However, in the late nineteenth century, European ideas of Enlightenment and modernity penetrated Iran which laid the intellectual basis for the Constitutional Revolution (1906-11). In the twentieth century, this landownership system became an impediment to the development of capitalism in Iran and increasingly questionable politically.  To facilitate the former and to undermine his enemies on the right and the left, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi carried out a program of land reform.

"By 1962 a land reform law was enacted. This law, which was implemented in stages over a decade, effectively abolished amlāk by making it unlawful for a single landowner to possess agricultural property in excess of one village. Landlords were required to sell all surplus villages to the government, which in turn arranged for their resale to the peasants who held cultivating rights. A by-product of this program was the virtual disappearance of all the traditional dues and servitude the peasants had rendered to landlords. As a consequence of the land reform program, amlāk, which had been a characteristic feature of Iranian land tenure patterns for more than two thousand years, virtually ceased to exist." (Hooglund, 1989).

The Shi’ite clergy also has been closely tied with the bazaar merchants who in turn were linked with their suppliers both artisans and agricultural producers in Iran and those abroad.

“The bāzār was and is a social institution, comprising religious, commercial, political, and social elements. The bāzār is the center par excellence of personal transactions, commerce, and communication in urban life; thus one needs to under­stand the bāzār’s function within its context, the city. In Iran, the city forms a political, commercial, cultural, and religious center for its hinterland. The bāzār has played a very important role in this relationship, reflecting the character of the Muslim city.” (Floor, 1989)

The bazaar also had a political function:

“The Friday mosque—the main religious and political center of the city—and the bāzār are always found together. In the mosque the population prayed in congregation, came to hear proclamations of its rulers, and gave vent to feelings about the ruler’s policies.” (ibid.)

The merchant class had had a tense relationship with the royal court and some prominent merchant have supported mass protests in the 20th century, yet they have consistently served as a conservative force.  Thus, while the bazaar merchants participated in the Constitution Revolution, they did so in a sit-in at the British embassy. It was not unusual for big merchants to have dual Russian citizenship as it helped with their overseas trading practices and offered them a measure of protection against the royal court.

Thus, the Shah’s modernization programs, which included the extension of the right to vote to women and land reform, directly threatened the interests of the Shi’ite hierarchy and its landowning and merchant allies resulting in the June 1963 revolt organized by Khomeini and other clerics. The revolt was crushed and Khomeini imprisoned. His life was spared and he was exiled to Iraq only after key Shi’ite clerics conferred him the title of Ayatollah raising the risk of any harm to him by the government.  Ayatollah Khomeini who had already positioned himself as an anti-American and anti-Israeli politician who wanted to “protect” society from “decadence” went on to become the leader of a section of Shi’ite clergy that opposed the Shah and played a key role in the mass movement that overthrew him in the 1979 revolution.

There is nothing in Nationality and Revolution in Iran about any of this, nor is anything in any political resolution our movement ever adopted.  We were not prepared for the 1979 revolution that brought Khomeini to power and established the Islamic Republic.

Marx’s law of value or monopoly capitalism?
Third, Mahmoud’s adoption of the prevalent narrative of two stages of capitalism—competitive and monopolistic—is based on Lenin’s pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916).  While Lenin himself modestly called it “A Popular Outline,” it has become the bible of the socialist movement to explain modern capitalism. But is it a tested theory and how does it square with Marx’s law of value as analyzed in his critique of political economy, in particular, the three-volume book, Capital?

As it is well known, Lenin extensively drew on the work of the British liberal economist John Atkinson Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (1902).  Lenin was also was heavily influenced by the foundational work of Rudolf Hilferding, Finance Capital (1910). Hilferding is the Marxist originator of the periodization of the history of capitalism into competitive and monopolistic stages. 

However, Hobson’s work has been discredited by Michael Edelstein’s highly regarded research Overseas Investment in the Age of High Imperialism: The United Kingdom, 1850-1914 (1982).  And, as I have discussed elsewhere (Nayeri, August 2018), Hilferding’s theory is based on a crucially mistaken view of Marx’s theory of free competition which he assumed to be the same as the neoclassical theory of perfect competition.  The neoclassical theory of perfect competition idealizes the capitalist market whereas Marx’s theory deals with real processes of competition. In fact, modern-day capitalism can be best understood by Marx’s theory (Shaikh, 2016)

Working on the basis of the neoclassical theory of perfect competition (not Marx’s free competition), Hilferding, argued that the dynamics of capitalist development has undermined capitalist competition for two reasons. First, capital concentration created larger firms and the sparse number of large firms in some industries seemed to make collusion and cooperation among them possible.  Second, the centralization of capital through the merger movement tended to produce cartels and trusts. The capitalist competition also seemed unstable due to barriers to entry and exit that hampered capital mobility across industries. Concentration and centralization of capital led to barriers to equalization of profit rates. For Hilferding, differential profits rates implied a two-sector economy: one competitive and the other monopolistic.  He expected the monopolistic sector eventually to take over the entire economy: “The ultimate outcome of this process would be the formation of a general cartel.”  (Hilferding, 1910, p. 234).  Taking his argument to its logical conclusion, Hilferding admitted that Marx’s labor theory of value would cease to operate

“Classical economics conceives price as the expression of the anarchic character of social production, and the price level as depending upon the social productivity of labour. But the objective law of price can operate only through competition. If monopolistic combinations abolish competition, they eliminate at the same time the only means through which an objective law of price can actually prevail. Price ceases to be an objectively determined magnitude and becomes an accounting exercise for those who decide what it shall be by fiat, a presupposition instead of a result, subjective rather than objective, something arbitrary and accidental rather than a necessity which is independent of the will and consciousness of the parties concerned. It seems that the monopolistic combine, while it confirms Marx's theory of concentration, at the same time tends to undermine his theory of value.” (ibid., p. 228; my emphasis)

Thus, if Mahmoud holds that capitalism has entered a stage where monopolies dominate the economic activities then he cannot hold that the labor theory of value still operates.

But if the law of value cease to operate then what would replace Marx’s laws of motion of the capitalist system in finance (monopoly) capital theory? Hilferding believed there would be a fusion of the general cartel with the capitalist state which would result in “organized capitalism” and argued for a reformist course for Social Democracy:

“Organized capitalism means replacing free competition by the social principle of planned production. The task of the present Social Democratic generation is to invoke state aid in translating this economy, organized and directed by the capitalists, into an economy directed by the democratic state. (Hilferding quoted in Green, 1990, p. 203)

Zoninsein (1990) who has systematically analyzed Hilferding’s theory argues that the misunderstanding of Marx’s theory of competition is fundamental to it.

Politically, those who accepted this key argument in Finance Capital have in turn been divided between reformists and revolutionary socialists. The former include Hildferding and Kautsky (Ultra-imperialism, 1914) have argued for a tendency for organized capitalism that can then be utilized by socialists through some form of democratization of the capitalist state.  The revolutionaries, who include Lenin and Bukharin, have stressed “monopolistic competition” without clarifying what will replace Marx’s labor theory of value as the law of motion in monopoly capitalism. Like Hilferding and Kautsky, they replaced Marx’s focus on the processes of capitalist accumulation and competition that is governed by the labor theory of value (law of value) with power relations between monopolies and monopoly capitalist states (imperialist conflicts).  While this interpretation served their political purpose in their struggle with the dominant reformist current in the Second International, it still begged theoretical and methodological questions about how the capitalist world economy functions.

Moreover, their position led to methodological indeterminism. Lenin opposed Kautsky’s vision of a world trust (ultra-imperialism) that would replace the national rivalry of finance capital with an internationally united finance capital, as “abstract, simplified, and incorrect.” (Lenin, 1915, p. 11) Still, as an honest writer he added:

“Can one, however, deny that in the abstract a new phase of imperialism, namely, a phase of ultra-imperialism, is ‘unthinkable’? No…There is no doubt that the development is going in the direction of a single world trust that will swallow up all enterprises and all states without exception.” (Lenin, 1915, p. 13-14, my emphasis)

Thus, Lenin opposed Kautsky’s ultra-imperialism and reformism only on extra-economic grounds, not on the basis of the operation of the law of value or any other economic law. He pointed to “stress…tempo…contradictions, conflicts, and convulsions—not only economical but also political, national, etc. ” in the world economy (ibid, p. 14)  However, all these are part of Marx’s theory of capitalist competition or compatible with it, hence consistent with his labor theory of value.  There is no need for monopoly capital theory to explain them to explain the history of capitalism since the nineteenth century.

To sum up, Lenin’s imperialism lacks empirical verification and it, as well as all monopoly capitalism theories, in effect deny the operation of Marx’s law of value since the end of the nineteenth century. What follows is the single-minded focus on imperialism as an explanation for economic and cultural backwardness of latecomers as in Nationality and Revolution in Iran.  This has opened the door to varieties of Third Worldism. Prevalent among nationalist and socialist currents, Third Worldism focuses on relations and conflicts among states and leads to political support for national bourgeois regimes in latecomers when they come into conflict with the early industrializers (imperialism).  While the theoretical basis of Third Worldism is different from the Stalinist “theory” of two-stage revolution, which was formulated to justify Stalin’s alliances with bourgeois currents and states, the resulting policies are similar.  The Workers World Party in the United States is a good example of Third Worldism. But the Fourth International (see, endnote 6) has not been immune to it: Barnes’s SWP, and, more recently Social Action (Baker, July 2019) have taken Third Worldist positions (see, endnote 7). 

These unacknowledged methodological and theoretical problems in Nationality and Revolution in Iran influenced the political course of the Iranian Trotskyist movement in the 1979 revolution.


Anjoman-e Sattar
(Sattar League)

Between 1972 and 1976, the Sattar League grew rapidly by establishing three highly successful projects. Fanus, our publishing house, quickly put out two books and two pamphlets: Nationality and Revolution in Iran, a Farsi translation of Trotsky’s The Permanent Revolution (1929) and Results and Prospects (1906), a translation of the Fourth International’s “Dynamic of the World Revolution Today (1963),” and “On the Oppression of Women in Iran,” which in addition to the translation of an essay by Evelyn Reed, the American feminist socialist and anthropologist, included an article by two of the early female Iranian Trotskyists on the anti-woman Islamic influenced civil code in Iran.  

The Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran (CAIFI) was established which quickly won the freedom of Reza Baraheni, a well-known literary critic and poet who was jailed and tortured. Baraheni was an Azerbaijani. Subsequently, Baraheni was invited to the U.S. for a teaching job and became a keynote speaker at CAIFI events.

Payam-e Daneshjoo (Student’s Message), which began as the voice of students for a democratic Iranian Student Association at University of Texas at Austin who were resisting the eventually successful Maoists takeover, became the voice of the Sattar League after its original publishers were won to the Sattar League.  Initially published quarterly, Payam-e Daneshjoo became monthly and for a brief period just before the February 1979 revolution, weekly.

But, then unexpectedly the Sattar League sank into a deep crisis. In early June 1976, four out of the five Political Committee (PC) members, Babak and Siamak Zahraie, Hassan Sabba and Hussein Taghavi, submitted a document to the National Committee plenum entitled “Our Tasks in the Present Situation.” The document included some new theoretical views that appeared to relegate the resolution of national democratic tasks to the socialist revolution. In some respect, it seemed to represent a diminishing of the weight assigned to the oppressed nationalities in the Nationality and Revolution in Iran without acknowledging it. It also included an orientation away from the Sattar League’s focus on the accumulation of cadre to establishing “illegal nuclei” inside Iran. With repression at its height, this reorientation seemed unjustified and counter-productive. 

Subsequently, this document was circulated in the Sattar League.  On September 28, 1976, Mahmoud wrote a critique of it entitled “Points of Disagreement in the Sattar League.” However, the Babak Zahraie-led PC majority refused to circulate it and began a slander campaign against Mahmoud. An informal campaign was underway that claimed Mahmoud had a clique and was preparing to split to form the SL to form a competing group together with Reza Baraheni.  To confront this slander campaign and to promote a healthy discussion of the points of political disagreements, Mahmoud decided to organize the Permanent Revolution Tendency (PRT).  The PRT declared its goals as follow: “(1) to correct theoretical and programmatic errors of the ‘Our Tasks in the Present Situation,’ (2) to draft the program of the Sattar League, (3) to assess and determine our tasks and perspective in the present situation, and, (4) to ensure a calm and democratic atmosphere for the internal discussion and a democratic convention.”  The PRT declaration was signed by Sattar League members in branches in Berkeley, California; Portland, Oregon; New York; Los Angeles; Boston; Austin, Texas; and Philadelphia. 

In 1976, the SL had fewer than 50 members with no founding convention, program or constitution. Yet, it already had a National Committee and a Political Committee, and Babak Zahraie as its National Secretary. Excluding Mahmoud, the average member of the SL was probably less than 25 years old with a political tenure of fewer than 3 years. The SL was entirely composed of former or current students in the U.S., mostly from rich or well-to-do families, who had never worked in their lives.

When I met Mahmoud in Berkeley in late November 1976, he discussed in detail the political crisis in the Political Committee.  He was a larger than average middle-aged man with long arms and legs and long pointy fingers that he moved like a conductor’s baton, with a softening middle and receding hairline and prescription glasses. He spoke Farsi in a formal style with a carefully chosen vocabulary that often was from a generation or two ago with a slight Azerbaijani accent. At first glance, Mahmoud looked awkward and almost shy. Unlike the rest of us impatient younger revolutionaries, he was more measured and refreshingly interested in a conversation rather than pushing his own ideas and beliefs in a monologue.  As I learned later, he tried to practice a Socratic method in his substantive communication which served him well as a college professor but would be priceless in building a socialist movement.

By contrast, Babak Zahraie was a dynamic, stylish skinny young man with an intense gaze and big dark eyes that were framed by heavy set black eyebrows that sat above his rimless young-Trotsky style thick prescription glasses. He was a fast talker, a good improviser and popularizer, and a very good public speaker.  The only other person in our movement who came close to Zahraie’s public speaking abilities was Bahram Attai whom I thought was equally as charismatic. But somehow soon, Attai faded in stature as Zahraie became the undisputed dominant leader of the Sattar League, a role he unabashedly cherished. 

And that became a big part of our problems. Zahraie not only had had helpful talents, but he also had a huge ego, a lust for the limelight, and a desire to control every aspect of Sattar League's life. While he had a “nose for power,” it was ultimately all about his own personal power, not the power of the working class. In Marx, power relations are alienated relations, and working-class power is the means to end all power relations in human affairs. In these, Zahraie’s personality negated this central aspect of Marx’s theory that had attracted me to socialism. Unfortunately, this aspect of Marx’s theory has been lost to almost all socialist currents I have come to know in my life.

While the PRT was organized in the hope of clarifying political differences, in retrospect, the crisis of 1976 was in reality caused by Zahraie’s attempt to consolidate his personal leadership, that is, his cult of personality, if necessary by getting rid of Mahmoud and cutting loose anyone else who stood in his way.  As such, the “political differences” were secondary to Zahraie as he easily and sharply changed his views (I have detailed these in  Nayeri, August 2012; and Nayeri, November 2012. In this essay, I will draw on these earlier writings without giving references for the specific cases I discuss here). 

I got a taste of such conduct in November 1976 when I was part of the Berkeley branch of the Sattar League.  Having learned that Mahmoud was in town, I naively proposed to our branch of four people that we organize a public meeting for him.  That night, I received a phone call from Zahraie from New York who asked me to withdraw my proposal. When I asked why he responded that Mahmoud “has no political assignment to be there” …“we have documents that show they have a secret faction” … that they are “collecting money for their work” and are “constantly in communication with each other”… and “preparing for a cold split.” He concluded that Mahmoud “wants to split from the Sattar League with his group and Baraheni.”

While doubtful about these allegations, I deferred to him by agreeing to withdraw my proposal—he was the National Secretary after all!  Needless to say, Zahraie never documented these charges against Mahmoud. As I learned later, there was no “secret faction” except his own and if anybody was preparing for a split it was Zahraie himself.  


On January 22, 1977, two members of the Austin, Texas, branch who had joined the PRT, Hassan Hakimi and Heydar Gillani, were expelled on charges they denied. Babak Zahraie was present as the PC observer at the branch meeting that expelled them. Before the vote, he took the floor to speak for the branch leadership: “The leadership of the Austin branch has a specific proposal, a specific solution, for dealing with this problem by getting the goddamn ax out and chopping a few people.” He also tried to get rid of the pro-PRT branch in Portland, Oregon, by sending in Sattar League members loyal to him to start a new, separate branch.  Zahraie traveled to direct the split operation. In a public meeting that his advance team had organized for him, Zahraie attacked the leadership of the existing branch demanding: "You go your way, I'll go mine.”

However, the disciplined work of the PRF and SWP’s intervention forced Zahraie to back down and eventually hold the first and only convention of the Sattar League in Brooklyn, New York, on Oct. 29-Nov. 2, 1977.


The Steering Committee of the Permanent Revolution Faction 
Sometimes in early spring of 1977, Mahmoud called to propose to me to join him and Nasser Khoshnevis in Brooklyn, New York, to work on the tasks of the Steering Committee of the PRF.  Like  Mahmoud, Nasser was a cofounder of the Sattar League. He was also the only one in the Sattar League who had worked in the Pathfinder shop.  He was fluent in Azerbaijani, Farsi, and English and our best translator and editor. He typed in Farsi and in English, a great asset for preparing discussion and information bulletin articles. 

I accepted immediately and moved there soon.

Both Mahmoud and Nasser lived in a large apartment complex at 95 Eastern Parkway in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, just a short walk from the Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park.  Mahmoud lived with Diane Feeley and his teenaged son and daughter, Jacob and Jamileh, in a two bedrooms apartment on the third floor, and Nasser with Marsha Gallo, who worked in the SWP’s print shop, in a small one-bedroom on the fifth floor facing Eastern Parkway.  Marilyn Vogt, another SWPer, lived with her teenaged daughter on the same floor. At the time, Marilyn was working on the translation from Russian for Pathfinder and she had collaborated with George Saunders who had translated the material for the Pathfinder book Samizdat: Voices of Soviet Opposition (1974). Blanca, a middle-aged Argentinian anarchist and SWP sympathizer, lived with her daughter Selva, who was in the SWP/YSA, on the second floor. I became friends with Blanca whose choice of bright colors in her paintings I liked.  Gerry Foley who was a staff writer for Intercontinental Press lived in another building a few doors down.  Two Sattar League PC members, Babak Zahraie and Hassan Sabba, lived in a more up-scale apartment complex at 135 Eastern Parkway.  Towards the end of my work on the Steering Committee, the SWP National Office provided me with an almost empty basement apartment except for an old mattress and an old spring box that provided two beds which I shared with a young leader of the small Puerto Rican Trotskyist movement named Alexis.  Alexis and I quickly became a friend. A wonderful, small-framed, and kind young man, Alexis was gay and an early victim of the AIDS epidemic. 

The Steering Committee had no office space and only Nasser was a “full-timer” receiving SWP-scale subsistence. We used Mahmoud’s and Nasser’s living room and kitchen tables to work.  Mahmoud and Nasser were in touch with the PRF organizers and at-large members.  We were responsible for editing and publishing PRF discussion material, circulating them in the SL as best as we could given the highly tense factional atmosphere.  We also translated all such material into English to share with the SWP and FI leaderships. We also occasionally held formal meetings to discuss an unfolding crisis or to organize the workflow or discuss priorities and assignments.  Soon after I arrived, we began to collect material to draft a program for the Iranian revolution which Mahmoud undertook and a tasks and perspectives document.  I was assigned to draft a critique of the tasks and perspective section of the aforementioned PC-majority document “Our Tasks in the Present Situation” that centered on building “illegal nuclei” inside Iran.  I argued that the proposal was of voluntaristic, thus, idealist in nature, as I characterized it as a “Where there is a will, there is a way” proposal. I counterposed it to the current reality of the Sattar League and the central task of developing a program and to the accumulation of cadre on the basis of that program so we would be ready politically and organizationally for the coming revolution.

After I wrote a draft I gave it to Mahmoud for comment. He was most encouraging but suggested I tone it down and make some rigid statements more flexible.  I understood and appreciated his comments and have benefited from the general spirit of his advice since.

However, the centerpiece of the PRF documents submitted for pre-convention discussion was the draft Political Resolution which Mahmoud drafted with considerable input by others. Most significant was Ghazanfar’s summary of the agrarian situation in Iran after Shah’s land reform in the 1960s which he drafted using existing research as was available to us. He was another Iranian Azerbaijani turned mathematician who was also from a peasant background from Zanjan.  Mahmoud had organized the Political Resolution around the question of how the Iranian proletariat could lead the coming revolution by championing the fight for democracy and for the resolution of the historical national democratic tasks. Key among them were national independence, land reform, and self-determination for the oppressed nationalities. 

Being a small, isolated group in exile at a time when repression stifled all forms of public protests in Iran, Mahmoud’s methodology was to rely on the historical lessons drawn in his book and on socialist theories discussed earlier, and his own imagination. Thus, the most novel part of the Draft Political Resolution was the section on oppressed nationalities that supported their self-determination while advocating a United Independent Socialist Azerbaijan, a United Independent Kurdistan (encompassing the Kurdish regions in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey,) and a United Independent Baluchistan (joining Iranian and Pakistani Baluchistan) and the more distant vision of a United Socialist the Middle East.  Surprisingly, there was no questioning of these grand formulations in the PRF or even by the Zahraie-led PC majority.

The key problem was that these demands had never been raised by any of these oppressed nationalities in the past. Mahmoud’s formulations were at best a prognosis of the future course of the dynamics of the struggle for self-determination gleaned from a rear mirror methodology framed by theories that he had barely seriously examined.  The rest of us, not only in the Sattar League but also in the Fourth International, were not any more enlightened to question these.

Unsurprisingly, the 1979 revolution did not confirm this vision.  Most importantly the role that the Azerbaijanis played in the revolution was far from what Mahmoud expected.  It is true that the demonstration of one million Azerbaijanis in Tabriz in February 1978 was the opening gun for the mass movement that overthrew the Shah’s regime a year later in February 1979. However, Azerbaijan sat outside of the waves of the struggle for self-determination waged by the Kurds, Turkmens by the Caspian Sea, Arabs in Khuzestan,  and Baluchis.  The Kurdish struggle which became a burning issue of the revolution well into the 1980s never raised the demand for independence from Tehran, not to mention a demand for a United Independent Kurdistan. The Baluchi struggle came about much later after the Islamic Republic counter-revolution had consolidated and was dominated by a rightist, pro-imperialist leadership.  Similarly, Arab nationalist sentiment fell victim to Saddam Hussein’s occupation of the oil-rich Khuzestan.

Another key problem exposed in Mahmoud’s call for a United Independent Socialist Azerbaijan was the theory of “degenerated workers state.”  The Fourth International as a whole still hung on to this theory, which Trotsky formulated in The Revolution Betrayed (1936). While there was some basis for his argument that the Soviet Union was a workers state in 1936, albeit a degenerated one, it was a mistake to detach this characterization from any form of working-class power, especially over the state.  In 1936, there were still millions of working people in the Soviet Union who had a memory of the October 1917 revolution. But Trotsky himself detailed how and why the working class had been driven out of politics and had become again a class-in-itself, a class that had given up its power to its exploiters and oppressors.  However one would characterize the remaining economy and society if the state is not controlled by the working class it cannot be a workers state, even a “degenerated” or a “deformed” one.  I think the history of the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European states as well as the strategic decision to take the capitalist road in China and Vietnam—all without any significant working-class resistance—supports this view.

Still, the SWP and FI parties continued to hold on to the idea that Russia, China, and Vietnam remained workers states, long time after they actually carried capitalist restorationist policies.  Mahmoud’s call for a United Independent Socialist Azerbaijan assumed that the Azeri proletariat on the Soviet side was socialist and inspiring for its own workers state; it was not.

Another theoretical deficiency in Mahmouds’ Nationality and Revolution is a lack of any theory of the formation of national identity and its subsequent development as it, like all social categories, is subject to historical development and change.  The development of capitalism in Iran which assumed a feverish pace in the 1960s and 1970s because of the agrarian reform, rapid urbanization and industrialization, and in the early 1970s, the quadrupling of oil prices, integrated the more urbanized sections of the oppressed nationalities into “Iranian nationhood” as their historical heritage became a secondary cultural identity issue.  Many have come to identify themselves as Iranian as well as Azeri or Kurd, etc.  After the 1979 revolution, the use of their languages also became acceptable while Farsi continued to be the language used in the general discourse of Iranians of all nationalities and religious background without any evidence of resentment.


Becoming friends with Mahmoud
Mahmoud and I became friends during those months that we collaborated on the Steering Committee of the PRF (as Nasser and I did as well).  We found common interests as we freely talked when we found time to talk. Once I saw Mahmoud reading a tripled-spaced typed English document and writing on it with a blue editing pencil.  He volunteered that he had been asked by the “comrades,” that is, some leadership body of the SWP, to comment on Dick Roberts’ critical article about Ernest Mandel’s newly minted theory of sub-imperialism, which was his characterization of the “petrodollar” states like Iran in the mid-1970s.  Knowing about my interest in political economy, he asked me if I wanted to read it and gave me a copy.  I began reading it but found my own knowledge of the subject matter insufficient to express an opinion.  Mahmoud did not like Mandel much and was critical of his characterization of Iran as sub-imperialist. (As I will discuss at the end of this article, today’s SWP characterizes the Islamic Republic is something of regional imperialism but without any theoretical justification).
 

We also shared an interest in psychoanalysis. We talked about Freud and Mahmoud who had also read some Jung told me about his theory. When we were talking about Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Mahmoud told me he was undergoing psychoanalysis and that suffered from a recurrent nightmare of being beaten by Babak Zahraie.  

To me, this at least in part might have been occasioned by the depth of the repression in the Sattar League imposed by Zahraie on his critics. I felt sorry for Mahmoud who had been the sole dissenter in the Political Committee of five dominated by Zahraie.  If Zahraie had unleashed all that slander against Mahmoud in his phone call to me, how, I asked myself, would he and others treat him in the Political Committee meetings held in their private apartments? 

When in Tehran in 1981, I also learned that Mahmoud was seeing a psychoanalyst. It appeared that he was in therapy off and on for the long term.

Mahmoud also liked T. S. Eliot and Shakespeare and recited some of Eliot’s poetry for me. He loved Alice in Wonderland, and once read to me Alice’s dialogue with the Cheshire-Cat, perhaps alluding to the situation in the Sattar League.

It was during this period of forging our friendship that Mahmoud cooked up a nickname for me—he began calling me “ullama," Arabic for “the learned ones.” In Iran ullama referred to the higher levels of the Shiite clergy (such as ayatollahs). I do not think Mahmoud realized or cared that he was using the plural to name an individual. He kept calling me ullama until our personal and political relations ended in 1992.

The Sattar League convention  

In his political memoir (2005, 2012), Barry Sheppard, a long-time SWP leader, has asserted that it did not intervene in internal affairs of sister organizations before its degeneration in the 1980s. That is certainly not true in the case of the Iranian Trotskyist movement as the reader can verify from my outline of the history of our movement or from the rest of this essay.

As noted earlier, the PRF was formed in the face of imminent threat of a split in the Sattar League by the Zahraie-led PC majority.  It was only due to the intervention of the SWP leadership that this outcome was averted.  Whether this was a good or a bad thing will become evident in the course of this essay.

On March 17, 1977, Barry Sheppard who was an SWP Political Committee member, met with the Political Committee of the Sattar League. The immediate purpose of the meeting was for Sheppard to prepare a report on the crisis in the Sattar League for the Leninist-Trotskyist Faction Steering Committee (LTF). The LTF was formed to correct the International Majority Tendency’s (IMT) “strategic line” of guerrilla warfare in Latin America.  Mahmoud wrote the following report for the PRF about the meeting:

“Barry said that in his report to the LTF leadership he will say the [SL] PC has not yet made a decision about the expulsion of comrades Hakimi and Gillani [in the Austin branch] and that beside comrade Sayrafizadeh, two other PC members agree that the expelled comrades should be brought back in. … Barry also emphasized the importance of the internal discussion [of the SL] and translation of its documents for the entire International…. He said the objective conditions of exile and also the youthfulness of the organization are part of the reasons for the crisis of our organization.  And that political differences exist but are not clearly stated. He said that without being familiar with specific facts it seems to him that the expulsion of the comrades [in Austin] was wrong because the SL as a whole is unclear about what happened and this organizational measure sacrifices political clarity.  He said it is the duty of the entire PC to reverse this process and it is necessary that political views be discussed openly and clearly and to advice branches to return to a calm atmosphere. He said that split based on organizational issues is justified in two cases. First, if there is no democracy in the organization. Second, when [some] comrades are not loyal to the organization. Barry said it is possible that the SL will split. In that case, the SWP would have to take a position. Would the split be justified? Would the SWP work with both groups? Which group would SWP work with?”

Clearly, there was an implicit threat in Sheppard’s remark that if the Zahraie-led PC majority did not reverse the Austin branch expulsions or continued with more expulsions, the SWP leadership would be forced to take a position that may not be favorable to them. 

Consequently, the Zahraie-led PC-majority changed course. The expulsions in Austin were reversed. The campaign against the Portland branch subsided.  Zahraie backed off of immediate measures to undermine CAIFI’s work with Baraheni, the PRF documents began to circulate in branches, a date for the convention was set, and the PC majority announced that it would provide its key documents for the convention to be held in Brooklyn, New York, on Oct. 29-Nov. 2, 1977.

The agenda for SL convention was 1) The Theory of Permanent Revolution, 2) Political Report, 3) The Nationalities Question, 4) The Women Question, 5) Tasks and Perspective, 6) The Organization Report, 7) Nomination Commission Report and Election of the National Committee.

The entire process of the organization of the convention was undemocratic, setting aside the damage done already with over a year-long slandering of Mahmoud and then the PRF. The PC majority resolutions were submitted so late that there was no time for the membership and the PRF to read and discuss them in writing or in branches!  Notably, the Draft Political Resolution of the PC majority bears the date October 27, 1977, two days before the convention! By contrast, the PRF draft political resolution was submitted six months earlier, on May 1, 1977.  The Presiding Committee was composed of Babak and Siamak Zahraie and Hassan Sabba (three out of four PC-majority members) and excluded Mahmoud or anyone else from the PRF. Mahmoud’s proposal to include him was rejected.  There was no serious engagement with contributions by the PRF and its members, including its political resolution.  The Zahraie-led PC majority did submit a multi-volume discussion article but it was not about addressing the issues of contention but to attack Mahmoud and the PRF—he was labeled the “fifth wheel” of the Political Committee belittling his contributions to the Sattar League. All these would have met Barry Sheppard’s criteria for a justifiable split by the PRF.

The SWP intervenes again
At the convention, the SWP leadership changed course to avert a possible principled split by the PRF that had faced year-long repression and an undemocratic convention that resulted in a three to one vote along factional lines in support of the Zahraie majority. 

On the last day of the convention, November 1, Mahmoud reported to the PRF caucus that the SWP representatives, Doug Jenness and Gus Horowitz, saw no fundamental differences and perceived a desire for unity.  They considered a split as unprincipled because it could not be explained and found responsibilities for both the majority and minority to heal the organizational rift. They urged the PRF to dissolve itself and written discussion to be closed but the oral discussion to continue in the coming National Committee.

The reader might immediately notice that Jenness’ and Horowitz’s assessment is quite different from those stated by Barry Sheppard six month earlier. Sheppard had stated there were political differences but not clear ones. He also believed that a split would be justified on the purely organizational basis if there was no democracy in the organization.  The Sattar League convention was a sham. It was undemocratically organized. If Jenness and Horowitz saw “no fundamental differences,” how could they as Marxists explain the year-long crisis of the Sattar League that threatened the expulsion of the PRF by the PC-majority averted only by the earlier SWP intervention? 

No doubt this proposal was the result of Jenness’ and Horowitz’ mediation between Mahmoud and Babak Zahrie.  When I was working as part of the Steering Committee, Mahmoud met a couple of times with Doug Jenness to report on the situation in the Sattar League. Once he asked me to accompany him. Thus, Mahmoud kept an open channel with the SWP leadership and he deliberated how to proceed with the factional struggle. A problem with Mahmoud’s “open channel” to the SWP leadership was that the PRF leadership was not a party to such mediation and deliberations. When I accompanied Mahmoud to meet Jenness over dinner, it was Mahmoud and Jenness who did the talking.  As the reader will find, Mahmoud’s “open channel” to the SWP Political Committee was a constant feature of his political life and how he conducted himself in various parties he was a leader.

After his report, Mahmoud placed a motion before the caucus to dissolve the PRF. Those present at the PRF caucus meeting voted to dissolve the faction (I was not present due to work as I had just landed a job to pay off the debt I had accumulated during my time on the Steering Committee).

Mahmoud and the PRF had characterized Zahraie’s majority in the Sattar League as a “secret faction” because it acted as an organized group without having a political platform. The group was organized around the cult of personality of Zahraie and gradually on the basis of an intense dislike of the leaders and members of the PRF.  Of course, it is futile to demand a cult of personality to dissolve itself.  Thus, the SWP leadership’s intervention dissolved the minority faction but left Zahraie’s cult of personality in a consolidated state. What followed was an extended period of siloing off of former PRF members in the Sattar League and later in Iran in the Zahraie’s HKE (Revolutionary Workers Party).  By the end of 1980, he had expelled all of us and anyone we had recruited in Iran who happened to agree with us on this or that political issue of contention. I will detail these later. The point I like to stress here is that the SWP’s and later the FI’s interventions to forge organizational unity of the Iranian Trotskyist movement never worked as intended and in fact set back our movement.

While it was true that the PRF forced a limited discussion of theory, program, tasks and perspective and norms in the Sattar League, it failed to win over the big majority of the organization on any of the issues in contention. (see, endnote 8) It is also true that PRF members became more experienced and homogeneous in our political outlook after an intensive period of studying, consulting, collaborating, and writing theoretical, programmatic and political documents. Still, neither the PR
F nor the convention, prepared us nearly enough for the coming Iranian revolution.

 Hezb-e Kargaran-e Sosialist (HKS)
(united HKS, Socialist Workers Party)

The Jenness' and Horowitz's assertion of a desire for unity at the SL convention was perhaps more motivated by the presence at the convention of Hormuz Rahimian and Azar Tabbari, two key leaders of the Iranian Supporters of the Fourth International in Europe and the Near East. The founders of the group were politically close to Ernest Mandel and other leaders of the IMT.  When in late 1976 the IMT issued a self-criticism of its “strategic line” of guerrilla warfare in Latin America, it reduced factional tensions in the Fourth International and once again set in motion a desire for the unity of its supporters.

Accordingly, after the Sattar League convention, there was some collaborative effort by the leadership of both Iranian Trotskyist groups.   However, the real impetus for unity came with the February 1979 revolution.  Both organizations moved their membership to Iran. Perhaps thanks to the recent convention, the Sattar League Political Committee agreed on “The Manifesto of the Rights of Workers and Toilers of Iran,” a very good programmatic document that outlined a series of democratic, immediate, and transitional demands capped with a call for a workers and peasants government. Many thousands of copies of it were printed and distributed in Iran (my suitcase was full of it when I relocated from New York to Tehran).

The FI sent its representatives, Barry Sheppard and Brian Grogan (of the British Internationalist Marxist Group), to hammer out a united organization. However, like the SWP intervention at the Sattar League convention, their desire for organizational unity sacrificed the larger questions of political cohesion that only the Iranian movement itself could have tackled and perhaps achieved.  History has shown the futility of the SWP/FI methods at least in the Iranian case as I will elaborate further. 

I do not know anything about the negotiations of Sheppard and Grogan with the key players—Zahraie and Rahimian. I suppose Mahmoud perhaps played a role as the member of the Sattar League Political Committee or as the member of the International Executive Committee, and almost certainly in informal communications with Sheppard and the SWP leadership. But the agreement they reached was essentially organizational, designed to merge the two groups through a mutually agreed-upon division of leadership positions in the new organization. (see, endnote 9) This was underscored by the method the “ranks” were included in the process of the merger of the two groups.  One night, I received a call at my parents' house where I was staying since my arrival to attend a meeting at the Industrial University. The meeting was set up in an auditorium.  When I arrived I noticed that I did not know some of the attendees and when the meeting was called to order I noticed Zahraie and Rahimian among those sitting along with the large table facing the audience.  It was there that the merger was announced with rosy motivations for it. We were told the new organization would be called Hezb-e Kargaran-e Sosialist (HKS, Socialist Workers Party) and Hormuz Rahimian would be its National Secretary. The National Committee and the Political Committee were similarly decided.  The incoming leadership had decided that the organ of the new party would be Kargar (Worker; Sheppard says it was his suggestion) and Babak Zahraie as its editor.  We were also told that a geographical structure for the new party has been decided, including branch leaderships.  We were told we would be contacted for our first branch meeting by our branch organizer. There was a discussion period but it was brief. What could anyone ask or say? We were all happy about pulling our forces together. The revolution united millions of Iranians as displayed in a year-long mass mobilization and self-organized and self-mobilized committees around the country. The ranks of the Trotskyist movement were similarly felt we must work together to make it succeed. Alas, the sharpening class struggle divided the working people in Iran and it did divide the ranks of the united HKS within six months by a split on the top among the leaders of the two groups.

At the time of the merger, the united HKS could not have had more than 200 members in a country with 35 million people and an industrial working class of 3 million.  However, the newly awakened working people and youth seemed to provide us with endless opportunity for party building.  At the same times, the Khomeini-Bazargan government began attacking the newly won political and democratic rights the day after it came to power.

Still, our movement moved quickly to the center stage.  We were the first political party to publish its paper and sell it in the streets. The attention we drew created an effect much larger than our size (we had no roots in any section of the Iranian society).  On April 10, Abolhassan Banisadr, an aide to Ayatollah Khomeini who later became the first President of the Islamic Republic, debated Babak Zahraie on how to resolve the problems facing the revolution. The debate was televised live and watched by millions. As a sign of the repression to come, a subsequent scheduled debate between them in Tabriz was canceled due to a gang attack by the semi-fascist Hezbollah.  When the Islamic Republic’s hold on power was more secure, it was disclosed that these semi-fascist gangs were organized by certain factions in the government, including by Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who served as an aid to Khomeini, imposed Islamic censorship on the state television and radio stations (there were and there are no private ones), and later served as the foreign minister, and by Hadi Ghafari, a cleric who became a member of parliament (the Islamic Consultive Assembly, Majles).  Ghotbzadeh was eventually executed on the charge of participation in a Saudi sponsored coup plot, and Ghafari eventually retired from politics. However, the use of the semi-fascist Hezbollah gangs continued against dissent.

The united KHS and Kargar were the first to characterize the Bazargan-Khomeini government as capitalist and to oppose its repressive measures at every turn.  Stalinist and centrist currents, most importantly, the Tudeh Party and the Fedayeen, as well as the Mujaheddin, either supported the Khomeini-backed government politically or politically supported opposition factions within the Islamic Republic such as Banisadr.  The Stalinist theory of two-stage revolution was generally accepted in one version or another among the left, which required supporting a nationalist/anti-imperialist bourgeois leadership. No other socialist current offered an independent political program leading to a workers and peasants government. 

At the same time, workers, peasants, oppressed nationalities, and students were organizing.  The strike committees formed during the struggle against the monarchy transformed into shoras (employees councils) in larger workplaces. The shora movement spread, without any organized leadership to the peasantry, the oppressed nationalities, and the student movement, and briefly to the soldiers. The outlines of a country-wide dual power were emerging despite illusions in the Khomeini leadership.

Meanwhile, U.S. imperialism and the monarchist forces, as well as reactionary regional powers (e.,g., Saudi Arabia), were hatching counter-revolutionary plots. 

The problem was how to chart a course for the working people to educate, organize, and mobilize ourselves against the counter-revolutionary plots of imperialism and the power of capitalists and landowners and their clerical capitalist government while moving forward towards a workers and peasants government.

The United HKS splits
The organizational merger Sheppard and Grogan helped to forge in late February 1979 unraveled by August along the old party lines. The former Sattar League members were on one side and the former members of the Supporters of the Fourth International in Europe and the Near East were on the other. Of those who we recruited in this period some left in confusion and those that remained stayed with those whom they happened to know and trust in the united HKS. 

The immediate cause for the split was a tactical question: whether to participate in the elections for the Islamic Constitutional Assembly.  I have discussed this split elsewhere (Nayeri, August 2012).  What I would like to stress for the purpose of this essay is the futility of the organizational measures used by the SWP and FI leaderships, which Mahmoud also supported, to help build sections of the FI, in this case, in the midst of a deep-going revolution in Iran. The real cause of the split was much deeper political differences that were never mentioned, let alone, discussed.  The Rahimian group was formed under the influence of the IMT and was educated in the IMT’s orientation to the “New Mass Vanguard.” This orientation was first articulated by the Portuguese section of the FI to characterize its turn towards toward the “far-left” milieu of the centrist and Maoist groups in the Carnation Revolution of 1974.  As members of the united HKS, the pressure of this milieu was upon us and the Rahimian wing was influenced by it.  The political groups that made up this milieu had a long line of makeshift bookstalls on the south sidewalk of Enghelab  (Revolution) Avenue that cuts across northern and southern Tehran and runs on the southern side of Tehran University. Across from the campus, there has always been a number of bookstores carrying textbooks and other books but also, sometimes clandestine leftwing literature. Supporters of various leftist parties gathered there from the early morning until late in the day in the early months of the revolution to debate issues of contention among their respective currents. The wave of repression of the summer of 1979 that targeted freedom of the press and political parties destroyed this venue for the distribution of the leftist press and the lively ongoing debate they were having.  This led some of these groups to conclude that fascism had triumphed in Iran. It happened that some members and leaders of the united HKS from the Rahmanian wing reached the same conclusion. Perhaps under their influence, two National Committee member from the Rahimian wing,  Azar Tabbari, Babak A. (not Zahraie), reached the same conclusion and quit the party. Tabari promptly left Iran to become a highly successful feminist scholar in the United States.  Babak A. became a well-regarded translator of socialist literature and wrote a book on Marx and modern politics.

Rahimian who was the National Secretary of the united HKS, took the name HKS for his reconstituted old group and began republishing Kargar Sosialist (Socialist Worker) as an illegal paper to differentiate it from new Kargar which became the organ of Babak Zahraie’s reconstituted Sattar League and whoever came along with us from the united HKS as Hezb-e Kargaran-e Enghlabi (HKE, Revolutionary Workers Party).

The Rahimian’s HKS soon claimed that there was a  “dictatorship of the mullateria” (dictatorship of the mullas) in Iran. They gave up on an orientation towards the mass movement that betrayed any degree of illusion in the Khomeini leadership including the workers shoras and instead increasingly saw the Kurdish struggle as the last surviving flame of the February 1979 revolution.  Unsurprisingly, so did the centrist and Maoist groups they oriented towards.  Soon, they all moved most of their forces to Kurdistan as the last hold out against the Islamic Republic dictatorship.
 

Zahraie’s HKE of which Mahmoud was a Political Committee member went in the opposite direction as it began public activity after the takeover of the U.S. embassy and Kargar receiving a permit to legally publish.  The HKE gradually followed an adaptationist course towards the “Islamic grassroots currents,” and their leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.  It began at first with viewing the Muslim Students Followers of Imam’s Line, who took over the U.S. embassy, as an anti-imperialist revolutionary current, but soon included the Islamic Student Associations, Muslim Student Organizations (sometimes translated as Islamic Student Organizations),  the Jihad for Reconstruction, the Guards of the Islamic Revolution Corp. (commonly mistranslated as the “Revolutionary Guards”), and the Mobilization of the Poor (Bassij-e Mostazafan).

As Zahraie’s HKE increasingly viewed the revolution in terms of the struggle between the Iranian people led by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic, and imperialism, the HKS of Rahimian increasingly saw the imperialist and later the Iraqi attacks as excuses for Khomeini and the Islamic Republic to attack the Kurds, the “far left,” and more generally the working people.

During this period of crisis, which saw the united HKS split into the HKE and HKS, I saw Mahmoud only occasionally and I am not aware of what role he played as a leader of our movement.  It was not a remarkable period in his political life as he wielded no influence on either Zahraie or Rahimian, the two key players. One thing I know for sure.  Both Zahraie and Rahimian wanted a divorce. Although the leadership of the united HKS did open the internal discussion bulletin at the onset of the crisis, it was short-lived as the split followed quickly and from the top.  Only Azar Tabbari wrote a contribution against participation in the election to the Islamic Constituent Assembly.  I wrote a scholastic critique of her contribution that relied on a quotation from Trotsky about elections in China under undemocratic circumstances. But there was no much else that I can recall.  Mahmoud also was kept silent.  The split occurred at the top by the same actors who six month earlier had agreed to a merger of the two groups. The ranks were surprised both with the merger and then with the split.




Hezb-e Kargaran-e Enghelabi (HKE)
(Revolutionary Workers Party)


In the winter of 1980, Farhad Nouri, one of the early Trotskyists in Austin, Texas, and a former Permanent Revolution Faction member returned from a North American speaking tour organized by the SWP to defend the 14 jailed socialists in Ahwaz. The 14 were members of the united HKS who were arrested because of their socialist propaganda activity among the oil workers. Ayatollah Janati had secretly sentenced the 12 men to death and the two women to life imprisonment falsely accusing them of planning to sabotage oil pipelines.  They were finally released after an international campaign in the fall of 1979.

Nouri was expelled from his cell after questioning the HKE’s foot-dragging in defense of democratic rights. After the Islamic Republic’s summer wave of repression, political parties had lost their ability to have headquarters and the HKE organized its members in small cells of 6-8 members who met in residences pretending to be visiting friends or family.  Nouri wrote to the HKE Political Committee asking for a reversal of this decision and to the United Secretariat of the Fourth International for its support.  Neither responded.

A while later when I questioned the new adaptationist course of the HKE I received a surprising offer from Babak Zahraie to debate the issue in a special Tehran citywide gathering.  About 50 people attended the meeting. In my presentation, I expressed my agreement that (1) the revolution was still unfolding, (2) that anti-imperialist struggle was the context in which other struggles were taking place, (3) that we needed to use defensive formulations in our press and in public statements (something we learned from James P. Cannon and the SWP).  However, I insisted that the clerical capitalist Islamic Republic was the enemy of the Iranian working people and the unfolding revolution.  I then outlined our common transitional program for the Iranian revolution that was the basis of our approach to these questions in the united HKS with its perspective of a workers and peasants government based on the shoras and other grassroots organizations of the working people and the oppressed.  My aim was to discover how Zahraie differed from this perspective which we all seemed to share and why.

Zahraie’s presentation was more agitational than expositional and educational. However, he did hint at some new ideas. For the first time, he compared the Iranian revolution to the French revolution of 1789 by labeling the Islamic currents as Jacobian, that is revolutionary currents within the unfolding revolution. He tried to paint my concerns about drifting away from our program and strategy as resistance to the party getting more deeply inside the Iranian revolution, as being something like the orientation of the Rahimian’s HKS.

At the end of the meeting, Zahraie moved to take a vote, something I did not expect. I had envisioned this meeting to be the first step toward a written discussion period leading to a democratic convention. After the split in the united HKS we had no convention organized around political documents, a period of written discussion, or an election of the leadership of the new party. Although a majority voted for Zahraie’s report and against mine, some in attendance who had worked closely with me in the East Tehran Branch voted for my report and against his.  However, it came as a shock to me that Mahmoud, Nasser Khoshnevis, and Nader Javadi  (a leader of the former PRF and one of the 14 socialists who was recently freed) voting for Zahraie's report and against mine.  Mahmoud’s intervention was particularly strong support of Zahraie’s views. (see, endnote 10)

Soon after that meeting, the difference between my view and Zahraie’s was in sharp contrast. On April 18, 1980, in a sermon, Khomeini attacked the universities as corrupt and unIslamic.  Historically, the Iranian universities had been the strongholds of secular and leftist forces opposing the monarchy and imperialism. The next day Islamic Student Associations supported by semi-fascist Hezbollah gangs ransacked the offices of all other student organizations and took over campuses in Tehran and elsewhere.  Kargar (number 22, April 23, 1980) ran a full-page statement by the HKE and Young Socialists HKE's youth group) supporting this action and calling those who opposed it, including the groups that were attacked, counter-revolutionary. They proclaimed: “The action of the Islamic Student Associations is revolutionary. Opposing it is counter-revolutionary.”  The statement itself was a combination of wishful thinking (that the Islamic Student Associations had taken this action to turn the universities into the centers of anti-imperialist struggle), unjustified attack on political organizations whose offices were ransacked (stating that they stood outside the “anti-imperialist barricades”), and calling for action against the unspecified “500 capitalist and landowner families.” After the 1979 revolution, much of the economy was nationalized and was in the hands of the Islamic Republic regime which was by far the largest employer.  Blaming the victims of repression, supporting the grassroots Islamic currents, and pointing a finger away from the Islamic Republic at the vague “500 capitalist and landowner families” became the standard HKE propaganda until its dissolution after it came under blows of the Islamic Republic.

What actually followed the occupation of the universities was the exact opposite of what a Marxist would call anti-imperialist measure.  Khomeini formed an Islamic Cultural Revolution Council that closed down all universities for three years while purging them of students, faculty, and staff who were identified by the Islamic Student Associations or the Islamic Employees Associations on campus as belonging to the Mujaheddin or various socialist groups, and revised the curriculum to make it Islamic, that is, purged of anything the authorities did not like. Years later, some of the leaders of the Islamic Student Associations and even those on the Cultural Revolution Council renounced their own action as a reactionary. But one did not have to wait years to learn why this was a reactionary anti-working class action. I was selling the same issue of Kargar supporting the takeover of the universities in the streets of Tehran (even though I opposed its position) and it was clear to me that those who I talked with did not think that it had anything to do either with anti-imperialist struggle or deepening of the revolution--quite the contrary! 

A couple of days later, Parvin Najafi, a lieutenant of Zahraie, delivered a typed notice of my expulsion from the HKE to the door of Azar Gillak’s apartment where I lived at the time. When I got back upstairs, she rang the doorbell again. She had a similar note for Gillak. Within a week, 25 people were expelled from HKE including all of the East Tehran branch members of the former united HKS who were now in the HKE and had voted for my report at the conference! The entire Tabriz branch and its Young Socialists group and Hassan Hakimi in Isfahan who Zahraie had expelled once before from the Austin branch in 1976 were also expelled.  Most of these members were expelled because they endorsed the platform of the Faction for Trotskyist Unification (FTU).  Anticipating my expulsion, I spearheaded the formation of this faction. The FTU platform focused on the lack of party democracy in the HKE in the context of sharpening political disagreements and the need to convene a united convention of all Iranian Trotskyists. In this, we simply reiterated what the HKE leadership itself had publicly announced in the first issue of the new Kargar announcing the new party—that the united HKS split was not justified and they would do whatever they could to overcome it.  Except they did not mean what they said and we did.  Although some of the FTU members had voted for my oral report in the debate with Zahraie and all except one opposed the takeover of the universities, there was no time to democratically prepare a common document that included those political issues.


Hezb-e Vahdateh Kargarn (HVK)
Workers Unity Party

Within 10 days, the FTU held its first assembly in Tehran. After a day-long discussion a Steering Committee of five persons was elected and I was elected as its organizer responsible for the daily work of the faction.  We soon bought a typewriter and a stencil machine from the black market as the government required a permit for these to stifle opposition and we rented spacious office space and set up our headquarters (as a detergent distribution company).  We established an informational bulletin, Sazmandeh (The Organizer), and opened a written discussion bulletin. We carried political work in factories where some of us worked.

The FTU assembly decided to include in the Steering Committee Ali Irvani, organizer of the Tabriz branch, and, quite consciously, Hassan Hakimi, the lone member from Isfahan, to ensure geographical representation. I noticed that whenever we had a Steering Committee meeting, Hakimi arrived in Mahmoud’s apartment the day before. There was no doubt the two politically collaborating.  Soon, Hakimi wrote a short discussion article that put forward his view that the occupation of the universities was revolutionary, that is, he supported Mahmoud and the HKE’s position in the FTU.  I wrote a short response entitled “Why Occupation of Universities Was Not Revolutionary.” Hakimi remained the only one in the FTU who supported HKE’s view on this question.  As it happened, Hakimi became Mahmoud’s collaborator when he moved to the United States and became part of the SWP leadership in 1986, that is, part of international current led by Jack Barnes. I will return to this later.

In the summer of 1980, there was another offensive against Kurdistan. Kargar did not write a single article reporting on it or a short editorial opposing it as we had done before in the united HKS. I wrote a short contribution in the discussion bulletin of the FTU entitled “Why Kargar Is Silent on the War in Kurdistan?”  

We translated and mailed all our documents with cover letters to the United Secretariat (USec) of the Fourth International.  In July 1980, I was tasked by the FTU to represent it at the USec meeting in Brussels.  Three other Iranians were present.  Siamak Zahraie represented the HKE; Mahmoud participated as a member of the International Executive Committee and the minority of one in the HKE Political Committee; a leader of the HKS named Fariborz also participated. The USec heard my report as well as Siamak Zahraie’s.  Mahmoud told the USec meeting that as an HKE PC member he opposed the expulsions of the FTU and Farhad Nouri.  After some discussion, the USec voted unanimously that the expulsions were unjustified and urged the HKE leadership to take us back and work towards a convention. Doug Jenness represented the SWP.

It was clear to me that while Mahmoud politically was in broad agreement with Babak Zahrie his adaptationist course, he felt that Zahraie had gone too far (e.g. Kurdish question) and he was against the expulsions, presumably because there was not a democratic discussion of our differences but perhaps under pressure from former Permanent Revolution Faction leaders such as Nader Javadi and Nasser Khoshnevis. 

Mahmoud asked me to have lunch with him and Doug Jenness before the Usec’s vote in the afternoon.  Jenness asked me a number of questions to see whether we had been a loyal expelled faction of the HKE.  After the Usec meeting was over, Mahmoud and I had a long discussion about the political situation in Iran and the crisis of the HKE. In broad outline, he was assured that I did not oppose reaching out to the Islamic grassroots currents and I was assured that he is breaking with Zahraie’s adaptionist course as evidenced by Kargar’s silence in the face of the Islamic Republic attack on Kurdistan.
Mahmoud, he told me he had expressed his concern about Kargar’s silence in the face of war in Kurdistan to the HKE Political Committee.

This was our first long political discussion since we returned to Iran a year and a half earlier.  Mahmoud had been busy with his PC meetings. I was working as the de facto organizer for the united HKS branch in East Tehran. (see, endnote 11) After the formation of the HKE, I was assigned to work full time (without a subsistence) as a translator in a small cluttered office with no window with two of Zahraie’s close associates.  They largely ignored me and took breaks together without inviting me. 
 

We agreed to continue meeting in Tehran. With his vote against our expulsion from the HKE at the Usec meeting, Mahmoud himself was now a target of Zahraie’s wrath and his future was uncertain.

Upon his return, with some prodding by Nader Javadi and Nasser Khoshnevis (that is, at least this what Javadi latter disclosed in one of his back-and-forth arguments with Mahmoud in the HVK Political Committee) Mahmoud helped organize the Marxist Faction (MF) in the HKE based on the criticism of the unexplained HKE’s silence in the face of the war against Kurdistan and the demand to reverse Nouri’s and the FTU’s expulsions, and to work towards a democratic convention to decide on key documents for the HKE.

When I returned to Tehran, Nouri and Gillak, who I had worked with closely and were informed of the events in Brussels, organized a grueling meeting of the FTU to remove me from my function as the FTU Steering Committee organizer based on the charge that I had overstepped my authority by holding political discussion with Mahmoud and suggesting to him that we could work together in Tehran. There was deep resentment among in the FTU about Mahmoud’s apparent silence in the face of Zahraie’s mistreatment of us.

Nouri became the new organizer of the Steering Committee and he and I held a couple of meetings with Mahmoud. When Nouri was won over to the perspective of working with the Marxist Faction (MF), he gave a report to an FTU assembly that unanimously supported the proposal to collaborate with the MF to prepare for a united convention. I was assigned to collaborate with Mahmoud to prepare a draft political resolution, which we called the “Theses on the Iranian Revolution.”  The leaderships of both factions agreed with the general line of that document and it was submitted to the pre-convention discussion bulletin. Mahmoud gave a copy of it to the HKE PC on September 9, 1980.  Nouri then collaborated with Mahmoud to draft the task and perspective document entitled “War and the New Stage in the Iranian Revolution.”  Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran had just begun.

Meanwhile, Maryam and Roya from the HKS contacted me for a meeting. They had learned about the situation in the HKE and the FTU’s fight for a united democratic convention. Maryam explained how a small group of HKS leaders and members who had been critical of Rahimian’s leadership and HKS’s direction has decided to join in the pre-convention discussion for the united convention. Together with Mehran, a leader of HKS, they organized the Trotskyist Faction (TF) in the HKS with 6 members (five women and one man). They joined the pre-convention discussion that had been opened with the publication of the "Theses on the Iranian Revolution" in early September.

On December 5, 1980, Babak Zahraie organized an HKE conference that expelled the Marxist Faction, three months after it had been declared.

Among the twenty-five MF members expelled were two of the Sattar League founders, one of the 14 socialists, half the membership of the newly formed Young Socialists and most of its founders. Together with the FTU members, about 50 persons were expelled from the HKE, about 40% of its total membership (including the expellees).  What is remarkable is that all former Permanent Revolution Faction members were part of the FTU or the MF and by expelling these, Babak Zahraie had finally achieved what he began to do in the 1976 factional struggle in the Sattar League but was stopped due to the SWP’s intervention. 

Thus, both the SWP’s and FI leadership’s methods in trying to glue together an Iranian Trotskyist movement rife with factionalism proved futile. The social composition, conditions of exile, and lack of any connection with the working class or roots in the Iranian society, as well as intense pressure of class struggle certainly contributed to this failure. But the SWP’s and FI’s methods of pressuring us to maintain organizational unity where there was no valid political basis for it also contributed to the unfolding crisis.
 

“Theses on the Iranian Revolution”
During January 22-24, 1981, some 60 enthusiastic Trotskyists from three factions (two from HKE and one from HKS) participated in the founding convention of the Hezb-e Vahdat Kargaran (Workers Unity Party), the first and only truly democratic convention of our movement (The Sattar League’s convention was undemocratic and there were no others).  The convention adopted the general line of  “Theses on the Iranian Revolution,” and “War and the New Stage in the Iranian Revolution.” (see, endnote 12) One delegate, Davoud Moraadi, a young critical thinker who read Gramsci, did not agree with the potential for winning over young activists in the Islamic grassroots currents such as the Jihad Sazandegi (Construction Crusade) and Bassij-e Mostazefin (Mobilization of the Poor) to our program.  He looked at these as consolidated reactionary organizations of the Islamic Republic regime. While the two documents of the convention did not have an orientation towards these currents, we saw them as young Muslim working people with illusions in Khomeini and the Islamic Republic that were active in the struggle against imperialism and the defensive war effort with whom we needed to collaborate.  We did not want to preclude the possibility of winning them over to our program and perspective. Davoudi wrote about his views, spoke at the convention, and proposed amendments to the relevant sections of the draft resolutions. They were voted on and were not adopted.  He remained a valuable member of the HVK for the duration of its short life. The HKE and HKS were invited to send their representatives to speak to the convention. Siamak Zahraie (HKE) attended and took the opportunity to address the convention by denouncing it and the new party.

After the January 1981 convention, we immediately began to organize the institutions of the party. The convention elected a National Committee and it elected a Political Committee of five persons: Mehran (former Trotskyist Faction), Nader Javadi and Mahmoud (former Marxist Faction) and Nouri and myself (former Faction for Trotskyist Unification).  After some discussion, the PC voted for Nouri as its organizer.  For the first time, we did not have an outsized “National Secretary” that formally or in fact wielded power over the entire party.  The bulk of the HVK membership was in Tehran, but we had a branch of 12 people in Tabriz, two people in Isfahan (Hakimi had recruited an army
Sergeant) and a few at-large members elsewhere in Iran. About half of our membership was in the industry, and we immediately organized an effort to get more leaders and members into industry and I was tasked to lead that effort by the PC by getting an industrial job myself.  We rented an office near Vali-e Assar Square in central Tehran for our headquarters under the cover of being an educational institution, tutoring college students. A five-person editorial staff, with Javadi as the editor, worked on our paper, Hemmat (Effort). When we applied for a permit for Hemmat to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance that asked for three names. We identified, in addition to Mahmoud whose name was indicated as the Managing Director (Modir-e Massoal) on Hemmat's masthead, Javadi and myself (I was also on the editorial staff).   Mahmoud was a public figure of our movement as he was the low key HKE candidate for president of the Islamic Republic in spring of 1980 (he was interviewed on the Tabriz TV station) and was the HVK’s very low key candidate for the parliament (repression was so severe that his only campaign activity was an interview with Hemmat).

Still, by December 1982 the Political Committee of the HVK decided on its dissolution.  In fact, for all practical purposes, all political parties outside of Kurdistan except the ruling Islamic Republic Party and its public factions either were forced to disband or operated clandestinely at great risk to their membership.

Another wave of repression
Here are some key events that led to this situation.  The stalemate at the war fronts finally broke in favor of Iran after a wave of offensives liberated Khorramshahr, a major city in oil-rich Khuzestan province, on May 24, 1982.  The city had been under Iraqi occupation since October 26, 1980. By June 1982, the Iranians retook almost all the lost territories.  This forced Saddam Hussein to go on a diplomatic offensive offering to withdraw to the internationally recognized borders.  Despite some support for negotiation within the Islamic Republic regime, Khomeini rejected this offer. Instead, he decided that the war should continue until Saddam Hussein was overthrown and the Islamic Republic was established in Iraq.  Thus began the Islamic Republic slogans: “The road to Quds (Jerusalem) is through Karbala (the Shiite holy city in Iraq)” and “War, War, Until Victory!”

This was also a period of intense factional struggle within the Islamic Republic regime and severe repression of all political parties, especially those that came into sharp (sometimes armed) conflict with the regime, the Mujahedin Khalgh, Fedayeen Minority, and Peykar.  All non-clerical allies of Khomeini were purged or sidelined, including Abolhasan Bani-Sadr who was elected the first president of the Islamic Republic with 84% of the vote on February 4, 1980. He was impeached by the Islamic Consultative Majles (parliament) on June 24, 1981 and had to flee to France. Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, another aid to Khomeini, was executed during this period accused of hatching a coup plot with the Saudis. In the spring of 1981, repression against Mujahedin Khalgh, intensified as their sympathizers were systematically harassed, physically attacked, jailed or sometimes killed.  On June 20 the Mujahedin organized a mass demonstration of 200,000 in Tehran that was attacked by Islamic Republic armed forces injuring some and arresting many. The Mujahedin leadership concluded that peaceful protest was no longer possible and decided to resume “armed struggle” (It was an anti-imperialist, anti-Shah guerrilla movement in the 1970s).  Armed street clashes occurred between the Mujahedin fighters and the government forces. Some leaders of the Mujahedin died in gun battles when their homes came under attack. The Islamic Republic regime unleashed a massive wave of repression that went beyond the Mujahedin to include socialist groups that had declared the regime their enemy, including Fedayeen Minority and Peykar.

On June 28, 1981, the Mujahedin bombed the offices of the Islamic Republic Party (IRP) killing 70 high-ranking officials, including the Chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti who was its leader. Two months later, on August 30, another Mujahedin bomb killed President Mohammad Ali Rajai and Prime Minister Hojatoleslam Mohammad Javad Bahonar.  Thousands were arrested and many hundreds were executed, mostly young sympathizers of these groups.

Meanwhile, the regime used the war as an excuse to move against all independent labor and peasant struggles.  In particular, the oil workers movement was decimated and their leaders arrested, tortured, or executed. Yadullah Khosroshahi a central leader of the oil workers union and Shora who had been imprisoned for five years and tortured by the Shah’s regime, was arrested in the summer of 1982, tortured and jailed for close to five years and when released but had to seek exile in London. Khosroshahi who continued organizing and defending Iranian labor movement in exile and in Iran had compiled a list of 500 oil workers who were killed by the Islamic Republic.

Grand Ayatollahs Golpaigani and Marashi declared at the onset of the war that it is unIslamic to take landowners private property and threatened to march in the streets to oppose any land reform. Khomeini ordered a halt to further action on the implementation of Article C (band-e jim), a legal provision to distribute uncultivated land that Jihad for Construction activists and peasant shoras were demanding.  Capitalists and big landowners used the pretext of the war to press against workers and peasants and their supporters in towns and the countryside. A new military offensive against the Kurds took place under the guise of the need to move armed forces to the fronts. The universities remained closed while the Cultural Revolution Council purged students, faculty, and staff, and transformed curricula and eliminated anything from the campuses it deemed as unIslamic.

The crisis of HVK
The HVK responded to these events as best as we could and in many ways in an exemplary manner. In the early months, we even recruited a few people.  However, the repression was intense undermining our progress and wearing us out. When in the fall of 1981, we decide to run Mahmoud as our parliamentary candidate our election platform did not include a demand for the end of the war against the Kurds—it was silent on this question. When I questioned this, the PC agreed to give a report to the membership on our opposition to the war and our support for the unconditional right of the Kurdish people to self-determination but also to inform the membership that the PC deemed it as too dangerous to include it in the election platform (which has a very limited circulation because of intense repression). I deferred, knowing that they were right but thinking that a reassessment of the political situation was needed. Soon the Ministry of Islamic Guidance (the censor) that was supposedly reviewing our application for a permit to publish Hemmat told Mahmoud, who dutifully hand-delivered every new issue of Hemmat, to stop publication.  We held a discussion and decided to comply. What choice did we have? A group of some 60 people without any influence in society? 

From then on, we provided only occasional political analysis of the key political issues facing the revolution in the form of a long “letter to the editor” to this or that mass-circulation government-run daily a way to communicate with the membership and our sympathizers without endangering them as people on foot or in cars were subject to spot check by the Islamic Revolution Committees and anyone with any critical literature could have risked landing in the notorious Evin prison.

Despite these developments, we in the HVK leadership continued to maintain that “the revolution is advancing.” (Enghlab be pish miravad).  Sometimes, it was hard to hold onto this dogma and report on the reality of what was going on.  For example, when I was assigned to cover the May Day 1982 activities in Tehran for Hemmat  (before it ceased publication) my report was in “the revolution is advancing.”  It accurately noted that the leadership of these mobilizations was in the hands of the Workers House (Khaneh Kargar), an IRP affiliated group that was responsible for dismantling workers shoras, and that they had turned the march and the rally in Tehran University into an anti-communist event.  Azar Gillak who was the acting editor (as Javadi , the editor, was on leave to prepare a draft report on Afghanistan which never happened) in consultation with Farhad Nouri, edited my reporting to make it sound as if it was largely a militant action in support of the war effort.  I learned about this change after Hemmat had already been published and distributed.  Clearly, we were on a slippery slope of adaptation to the Islamic Republic in our reporting and analysis in Hemmat before it ceased to exist. Why?


Problems with the “Theses on the Iranian Revolution”
Theoretical problems I outlined earlier in my discussion of Nationality and Revolution in Iran were repeated in the "Theses on the Iranian Revolution."  As Mahmoud and I met in his apartment on Kargar Street, near Laleh (Tulips) Park in central Tehran, to draft what we called "Theses on the Iranian Revolution," we still shared a common theoretical/political framework in which imperialism was the real cause of the economic and cultural backwardness of Iran, hence the central enemy of the revolution. We also shared the perspective of Permanent Revolution as outlined both in the PRF’s Political Resolution and in the "Manifesto of the Rights of Workers and Toilers."

However, we did have different assessments of the Islamic Republic and the Islamic grassroots currents that supported it, as was in display in my “debate” with Babak Zahraie and the occupation of the universities just several months earlier.  Neither Zahraie nor Mahmoud ever explained what they meant when they said that these currents were the “Jacobins” of the Iranian revolution, either in the theoretical/analytical sense or in practical terms. It was clear that this represented a shift in focus away from the secular, that is, non-exclusive, grassroots movements that arose out of the struggle against the Shah’s regime and in the months after the February 1979 revolution towards the Islamic currents rallying around Khomeini.  To my mind, those secular grassroots movements, especially the workers shoras, were the heart of the revolution.  This difference was deep-going as it had put Mahmoud and I on the opposite sides during the occupation of the universities by the Islamic Student Associations. Mahmoud supported the occupation as an anti-imperialist act of great importance (like May 1968 students occupation of universities in France?) and I opposed it as the takeover of the universities by forces supportive of Ayatollah Khomeini and an attack on academic freedom and freedom of association and political activity. 

Still, Mahmoud and I were both eager to heal the political rift and reunite our movement as much as possible by finding a principled common ground.  A bridge to such a common ground was provided when Mahmoud agreed to include in some detail in the "Theses on the Iranian Revolution" the Islamic Republic’s counter-revolutionary frontal attacks against the working people and political gains of the February 1979 revolution in the context of the “centrality of imperialism” as the enemy of the revolution.

A reading of the "Theses on the Iranian Revolution" today easily reveals the back-and-forth formulations in which Mahmoud’s and my own views were reconciled.  The workers shoras are called “the heart of the revolution” and it is declared that “[t]he central danger threatening the Iranian revolution is world imperialism…” (emphasis in original)  And it is added that: “The fundamental conflict in this revolution is between the Iranian working class and U.S. imperialism acting directly or through its social bases within the country.” Meanwhile, the "Theses" details how the Islamic Republic has been attacking the working class and toilers and the gains of the February 1979 revolution.

How is it that the "Theses" holds imperialism to be the central danger threatening the revolution but in reality, it received its death-blow by the Islamic Republic which is still locked in a four-decades-long conflict with imperialism?  The theoretical framework of Nationality and Revolution in Iran (1973) and the "Theses on the Iranian Revolution" (1980) cannot provide us with an answer.  From a Marxian perspective, of course, the answer is clear: a deep-going revolution is an intense struggle of social classes, not just within the boundaries of nation-states but worldwide.  The domestic exploiting classes aim to destroy the independent organization and mobilization of the working people just as much as the international capitalist classes (regional powers and imperialism).  A social revolution is not about the struggle among states, between the latecomer (Iran) and early industrializers (imperialism), but between social classes both within the country and across the world. Thus, from a Marxist point of view it was easy to see that the clerical capitalist Islamic Republic and its chief architect, Ayatollah Khomeini, was more immediately a threat to the revolution than imperialism which would be a more lasting threat to any revolution that overthrows the domestic exploiting ruling classes, as in Russia in 1917 and in Cuba in 1959-61.  For Marx capital is self-expanding value and in the history of the rise and expansion of the capitalist mode of production, capital has always exceeded national boundaries giving it an international scope. Colonialism and internationalization of primitive accumulation is part of the process of internationalization of the circuits of capital (ongoing accumulation). Thus, the process of expansion of the capitalist mode of production on the global scale combines the process of primitive accumulation (which uses naked force) with the process of capital accumulation especially after the rise of the first industrialized capitalist economies in the latter part of the nineteenth century, which wrongly was theorized as a qualitatively different capitalism, as in theories of monopoly capitalism (imperialism) (Nayeri, 1991, Chapter IX)

Adaptation to the Islamic Republic as the internalization of repression
Uncritical acceptance of the theories of imperialism and the Dependency School (see, endnote, 13) can explain why the HKE and Mahmoud misidentified the revolution with the anti-imperialist struggle. But they do not explain how they began to adapt to the Islamic grassroots currents around Khomeini and through them to the Islamic RepublicThe explanation for that lies in the internalization of the ongoing repression which intensified in waves. This process impacted the entire society, including those of us in the HVK.  But it went much further with the HKE and Mahmoud even after he became a leader of the HVK.  After all, the appeal of the Islamic grassroots currents as an increasingly central “anti-imperialist” force itself was a byproduct of the growing repression of the secular (non-exclusive) grassroots movements by the regime.  As the secular grassroots movements were destroyed or weakened and sidelined by these attacks, the Islamic grassroots currents, protected and promoted by the Islamic Republic, moved onto center stage.  


Let's recall what happened to the labor movement. On May Day 1979, 500,000 working people marched in two separate groups in Tehran: one march was secular, non-exclusive, and organized by the socialist currents, and the other was Islamic organized by supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini and his as yet to be defined the Islamic Republic.  By May Day 1982, three years later, only thousands marched and there was a rally of only 5,000 at Tehran University.  The events were organized by the Worker House, taken over by the Islamic Republic Party supporters in the first year of the revolution, and used to destroy secular workers shoras. The slogans at the march and the speeches at the rally were predominantly anticommunist. 

As we know, there was a massive wave of repression in the summer of 1979 against freedom of the press (40 newspapers were banned), liberal and socialist parties (their headquarters ransacked), and the Kurds (a new military offensive) before the election to the Islamic Experts Assembly (Islamic Constituent Assembly) to draft the constitution of the Islamic Republic.  The goal was to essentially drive the secular, socialist, and dissident Islamic movements out of the political arena. It was this wave of repression that drove some activists, including two leaders of the united HKS, to conclude that fascism had triumphed and resigned.

However, on November 4, 1979, a group of university students who subsequently called themselves Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and for the next 444 days became the focus of the anti-imperialist fervor of the Iranian working people.  Khomeini and the Islamic Republic regime benefitted in two ways. First, they consolidated the repression of the liberal and socialist currents which they had attacked in the summer of 1979.  Some of these disbanded. Others, like Rahimian’s HKS, became illegal and in conflict with the anti-imperialist sentiment a large section of the working people. Most importantly, it forced the remaining liberal and socialist groups, and even the existing secular shora movement, to begin accepting the hegemony of Islamic Republic in the anti-imperialist struggle and more broadly in the revolution.

To understand the significance of this stifling of the political space won by the February 1979 revolution let us remember that one of the first acts of the newly empowered Khomeini regime (soon to be called the Islamic Republic) was to bring the liberated national radio and TV stations under its control.  In his memoir, Hojatollah Rafsanjani, a long-time lieutenant of Khomeini, recalls how he intervened in the television station to bring it under the control of forces loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini because he wanted it to speak of the “Islamic Revolution” instead of the Iranian revolution (Nayeri, January 15, 2017)

Thus, the new Kargar published by the HKE that initially used what supposed to be “defensive formulations” soon began to speak of the Islamic revolution and came to unconditionally support the anti-imperialist movement as identified with the Islamic grassroots currents beginning with the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line. A few months later, the HKE extended its political support to the Islamic currents that occupied the universities on a cue from Khomeini.  Somewhat, later, on July 1981, the HKE critically supported the candidacy of Hussein Kamali, the leader of the anti-workers shora Worker House which was controlled by the Islamic Republic party! 

It is important to note that the HKE’s and Mahmoud’s adaptation to the Islamic Republic was different from that of the Stalinists currents like the Tudeh Party and Fedayeen Majority who were following Moscow’s “non-capitalist road to development” policy. Also, the HKE leadership did not go as far as a complete surrender to the Islamic Republic regime (that is the step Simak Zahraie took when his brother was taken political prisoner and the HKE fizzled out. See, Nayeri, November 2012)  Still,  before the banning of Kargar and the imprisonment of Babak Zahraie, the HKE had gone quite a political distance towards capitulation to the Islamic Republic (ibid.) The pressure exerted on Mahmoud with the formation the Faction for Trotskyist Unification (FTU) in April 1980 and then inside the HKE by former Sattar League Permanent Revolution Faction leaders like Nader Javadi and Nasser Khoshnevis resulted in his decision to form the Marxist Faction. His expulsion from the HKE and his subsequent work to forge the HVK saved his from the tragedy that the HKE faced. 

The last act for the HKE came with the arrest of Bahram Attai, a Political Committee member while distributing an appeal to the Tehran Friday Prayer crowd on behalf of an HKE member who had been fired from his industrial job after being expelled for his socialist views from the war front.  For some time, the HKE had focused on the Friday Prayers as an arena for its activities including by writing an occasional column in Kargar entitled “Friday Prayer Tribune.” This was simply another case of "reaching out" to the “grassroots Islamic currents.” Attai was taken to the notorious Evin prison held for 82 days, interrogated about the internal life of the HKE, and tortured.

Upon his release, Kargar published a multi-page “interview” with Attai that has an amazing schizophrenic quality. He refers to his interrogators, jailers, and tortures as “brothers” and speaks of “our Islamic Revolution.” He related in this interview that when asked in prison why he did not become a Khomeini disciple, he had responded that he had no access to his ideas. He tells his jailers in his own recollection:

“[As] the Islamic Revolution drew closer our collaboration with Islamic militants and Islamic Student Associations abroad that had just formed increased and after the revolution it has become widespread. Today, we want strategic collaboration with Islamic institutions like the Islamic Revolution Guards Corp [aka. Revolutionary Guards Corp.] and Jihad for Construction, and others.” (Kargar, March 8, 1982)
It is news to me that the Sattar League had anything to do with "Islamic militants and Islamic Student Associations abroad." It never happened. He made it up.  Still, after this interview, the authorities confiscated the next issue of Kargar from the newsstands, banned the paper, and jailed its editor, Babak Zahraie, until 1988. In the same year, thousands of political prisoners were massacred across Iran. Zahraie was spared his life.

Mahmoud’s adaptation to Khomeini
Even as a leader of the HVK Mahmoud continued to take an adaptationist position towards the Islamic Republic. At the end of May 1982, when the Political Committee discussed the new stage in the war after the Iraqi army had been driven out of the country almost completely, the majority's thinking was that while the war was still just because it continued to be a defense against counter-revolutionary assault backed by imperialism, it was time to sue for peace as the Iraqi regime was forced to negotiate from a position of weakness.  Mahmoud disagreed arguing that Khomeini’s “The Road to Jerusalem Is Through Karbala” and “War, War, Until Victory!” policy reflected the fervor of the Iranian working people and that the prospect of overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime was real and desirable because the oppressed Shiite majority in Iraq would welcome an Iranian victory, which would in turn spread the revolution to the rest of the Middle East! 

It is easy to see now how wrong Mahmoud’s argument was. But the argument was fallacious even as at it was made. On the basis of what evidence did Mahmoud believe Khomeini’s intransigence reflected the fervor of the Iranian working people? On what basis did he believe that the Iraqi Shiite majority would welcome an invasion of Iraq by the Islamic Republic?  How about the large population of Arab Sunnis and Kurdish Iraqis? And on what basis did he think that the Islamic Republic in Iraq modeled after the one in Iran could have been attractive to the working people of Iraq and the rest of the Middle East?

Mahmoud had no evidence to back up his position. His argument simply reflected his own illusions in the revolutionary potential of the Islamic grassroots currents and in this case, their leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, and certainly entailed viewing the Islamic Republic locked in a war with Arab reactionary regimes and imperialism as progressive in some undefined sense.  Furthermore, the clerical capitalist Islamic Republic had been using the excuse of the war to attack the revolution. In fact, the oil workers shoras, the crown jewel of the workers shora movement, had been largely destroyed by the time of our May 1982 PC meeting, and its central leader, Yadullah Khosroshahi, was arrested in the same summer, tortured and given a five-year prison term. The Islamic Republic had used the excuse of the war to destroy the workers shora movement, “the heart of the revolution,” according to the "Theses on the Iranian Revolution." The counter-revolution was completed by the end of the year!

Of course, the HVK or the HKE were not aware of these developments due to the fact that we had no organic connection to the Iranian working class and there was no press coverage of such assaults in the government controlled media.  The Stalinist press of the Tudeh Party and Fedayeen Majority did not report them either because both groups were collaborating with the authorities by identifying labor and socialist activists. These resulted in their arrest as “counter-revolutionaries" and subsequent torture and executions! In 1994, when I met the leader of the Tudeh Party in the U.S. and Canada in New York, I asked him about their shameful role as the informers for the Islamic Republic.  His answer was disarmingly simple. To paraphrase, he said: “We simply followed with our political position that the Islamic Republic was leading the revolution and these activists were fighting it. We felt it was our duty to inform on them with the authorities.” Such is the logic of adaptation to the class enemy.


Where did the SWP stand?
During this period, the SWP’s policy was to give some coverage to all the three Trotskyist parties in Iran. But a review of The Militant and the Intercontinental Press shows that the SWP leadership favored the Zahraie’s HKE over the Rahimian’s HKS, and after the founding of the HVK, the SWP gave increasing coverage to it.  After 1982 and the dissolution of the three parties, and at least up the end of 1992, the SWP and its press continued to view developments in Iran through what might be called “Mahmoud’s lens.” (see, endnote 14) Let me illustrate, beginning with the SWP’s position on the occupation of the universities in April 1980.

Fred Feldman, writing in The Militant of May 23, 1980, provides a convoluted account of the occupation of the universities without citing any sources.  He portrayed the widespread reactionary armed assault on the universities that began on April 19, 1980, as the work of “ultra-rightist gangs” encouraged by President Banisadr. Feldman writes:

“The attackers waned to  block and disrupt moves by Islamic Students Organizations (ISO, often called the Students Following [sic.] Imam’s Line) to transform the universities into a base for arming the masses, spreading literacy, and deepening the revolution. The ISOs are linked to the students occupying the U.S. embassy.”

Everything in this account is factually wrong. In reality, those attacks were directed against the socialist groups and the Mujahedin. They were not encouraged by Banisadr but by Khomeini.  It was not some unnamed “ultra-rightist gangs’ that attacked the universities but the semi-fascist Hezbollah goons organized by factions in the Islamic republic regime that served as shock troopers backing up the occupation of the universities by the Islamic student Associations and Muslim Student Organizations who were fired up by Khomeini’s call to deal with the “corrupt and unIslamic” universities.

Feldman’s account suggests that it must have been reported by someone in the HKE as it follows the narrative in the HKE statement published in Kargar. Could it have been Mahmoud, either on assignment from the HKE Political Committee or simply in his usual capacity as the confidant of the SWP leadership in the Iranian movement? What Feldman reports was an important event with significant consequences for class struggle in Iran: Feldman portrays it as an advance in the anti-imperialist movement.  But it was really an attack on college students, oppositionist political parties, academic freedom, as well as the Iranian working class.

Why do I suspect a role for Mahmoud in the SWP's position on the occupation of the universities? Consider this: Two years later, in the same May 1982 HVK Political Committee meeting in Tehran that Mahmoud supported Khomeini’s decision to drive into Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime, he also proposed that the HVK begin a class series reading Lenin.

The proposal came out of the blue, was not motivated, and did not jibe with anything that was happening in the country or what we were doing at the time.  None of us thought much about this proposal, except to raise our eyebrows! Who could object to reading Lenin in general? But why now? The proposal went nowhere.  A couple of years later, when I was sitting in the SWP’s Lenin classes in the New York branch, I realized where that proposal might have come from.   It was part of Barnes’s effort to fashion a new SWP and his “international tendency.” The SWP’s attitude towards the war and the Islamic Republic in the years that followed made me suspect—although I have no direct proof—that Mahmoud’s position in support of Khomeini’s war drive was also made in consultation with the Barnes leadership. More on the SWP’s political approach to the Islamic Republic in a moment.

The dissolution of the HVK
Meanwhile, demoralization had set in among some members of the HVK. I knew some of our members, including a National Committee member, who no longer read Hemmat. In 1982, PC meetings sometimes became chaotic as Mehran’s mental health deteriorated and frictions increased between Nader Javadi and Mahmoud resulting in a shouting match initiated by the Javadi who was the louder of the two.

On July 23, 1982, I submitted my resignation from the HVK to the National Committee. The next day, I left for Vienna on my way to New York.  In August, I applied to and became a member of the SWP’s New York branch.  My decision to leave Iran was personal and planned.  My close political associates, including Mahmoud, knew for a long time that I was contemplating leaving Iran and why.  A year earlier, I had formally discussed this with Nouri and others on the Political Committee and kept them abreast of how my application for an exit visa was proceeding.  They were understanding and supportive. (see, endnote 15)

By the end of 1982, a new wave of repression commenced, this time against the socialist parties that had supported the Islamic Republic, unconditionally, like the Tudeh party and Fedayeen Majority, or critically, like the HKE, or materially against imperialism and Iraqi war of aggression only, like the HVK.

Mahmoud was called in by the authorities and was held at the notorious Evin prison for a short time. I do not know what transpired there, although there can be little doubt that they mistreated him.  It seems like Mahmoud did not relate what happened at Evin to the Political Committee either.  However, he did report about their threat that there would be severe consequences for not dissolving the HVK. The Political Committee of HVK unanimously decided to dissolve the organization. I understand that there were different interpretations of what that meant and different views on how it was supposed to be carried out.  However, the crisis was so deep and the shock so sharp that after the HVK dissolved none of the Political Committee members were on friendly terms.  They all went their own separate ways.




The Socialist Workers Party (United States)


Mahmoud relocated to New York from Tehran in early 1986 followed by his recently wedded wife, Fatemeh, joined the SWP, and was incorporated into its leadership. 

The ease by which Mahmoud, who founded the Permanent Revolution Faction in the Sattar League, was integrated into Jack Barnes’s SWP soon after longtime SWP leaders and members who had resisted his campaign against the theory of Permanent Revolution (for a discussion of these issues, see, Henderson, 2012) should be taken as further evidence that Mahmoud must have been informed of the internal struggle in the SWP even when he was a leader of the HVK.  Yet, he never brought up the subject in the HVK Political Committee even when he proposed in May 1982 that the HVK should start a Lenin class series.

To Mahmoud, Barnes’ claim of sectarianism on the part of his opponents may have been an easy claim to accept.  As we know, he himself had gone a fair distance to accommodate himself to the Islamic grassroots currents and the Islamic Republic and viewed his critics as sectarian. On a personal basis, he also identified with Barnes’s group of younger leaders who increasingly took control of the SWP after the leadership change in 1972.  They are of the same generation and joined the YSA and SWP at about the same time.  As Barnes quickly established his star leadership and began to remake the party in his own image, Mahmoud fell in line, as did most of his cohort in the SWP National Committee.

Over the course of my decade in the SWP, I came to the conclusion that Barnes’s decision to discard the theory of Permanent Revolution and diminish Trotsky’s political standing in his “Their Trotsky and Ours” was more a political maneuver than a recalibration of the class alliance in the course of the coming revolution or a thoughtful revision of socialist history and theory. It was a way to get rid of the “political baggage” he felt stood between the SWP and the leadership of the mass anti-imperialist movements and revolutionary currents, especially in relation to the “three giants,” the Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Grenadian revolutions, which he hoped would be critical in building a “New Leninist International” as the SWP cut its relations with the Fourth International. The task of demonstrating this claim is outside of the scope of this essay. However, in the course of the rest of this essay, I will demonstrate how Barnes’ leadership’s approach to the Iranian revolution and the Islamic Republic changed due to political expediency.

The SWP and the 1979 Iranian Revolution
Mahmoud found a receptive audience in Barnes’s SWP for his long-held view that imperialism was the central danger facing the Iranian revolution, and in this context, the view that the revolution was ongoing despite the increasingly bloody waves of repression that practically wiped out all independent political activities in Iran.  In some 162 articles about Iran that The Militant published between January 1982 and December 1992 (approximately the period I was in the SWP), this view is maintained while some instances of capitalist attacks and repression are reported as well. Most of these articles are short news reports or principled articulation of the right to self-determination of Iranians against imperialist attacks and Saddam Hussein’s initiated war, and terrorist attacks. However, despite articles that documented bloody repression of the working people and socialist parties, The Militant continued to identify the revolution with anti-imperialist struggle, including the mobilizations for the war front, and therefore, continued to hold that the revolution is alive if not advancing.

The SWP’s attitude towards the Iranian revolution was similar to its attitude towards other anti-imperialist movements around the world and uncritical embracing of the policies of the leadership of the Cuban revolution and political currents around it in Nicaragua, Granada, El Salvador, as well as of the ANC in South Africa.  To be clear, I also favored and still favor embracing movements against imperialism and non-Stalinist leaderships of revolutionary movements and governments, but not unconditionally, that is, at the expense of giving up the Marxian policy of promoting self-organization and self-mobilization of the working people, as without them, no social revolution is possible.  The fallacy of Barnes’s leadership approach has been proven in practice in almost 40 years of historical experience.  Let me continue to show it in the case of Iran.

Part of the problem with the SWP’s attitude towards the Iranian revolution originated with its reliance on the Iranian Trotskyists’ reports as I noted earlier.  Despite our best effort, our view of the Iranian revolution was distorted because of our faulty theoretical lens, our small size, class composition, meager political experience, lack of any roots in any section of the working people's struggle. These made us especially vulnerable to the pressure of alien classes. 

To give you a sense of how our mistaken political position might have influenced the SWP let me use my own contribution to the international discussion about the Iranian revolution.  In the fall of 1980 as we were preparing for the founding convention of the HVK, on Mahmoud’s initiative I was asked to write a critique of an early “Draft Resolution on Iran” of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International entitled “The Evolution of the Iranian Revolution” (the final version, approved by a majority vote of the USec, was published in Intercontinental Press, December 1, 1980).  The result was “The Third Iranian Revolution and the Fourth International” submitted in November of 1980 but published in the FI Discussion Bulletin two years later in December of 1982.   While I still stand by the general thrust of my argument in that critical essay, in retrospect I find the following assertion about the Islamic Republic shocking wrong:

“This is not a puppet government brought to power by imperialism. Under the pressure of the masses, and in self-defense, it does take anti-imperialist steps. However reactionary its intentions and deeds are, this government is incapable of imposing a bloody defeat on the working class. This regime cannot stop the workers from moving forward and it is unable to roll back the revolution. This regime is an obstacle— although an unstable and shaky one—to imperialism. All these are reason enough for imperialists antagonism towards this government.”  (Nayeri, November 18, 1980, published in the International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Vol. XVIII, No. 7, December 1982, italics are added for emphasis)

When this bulletin was distributed in the SWP, I was complimented by some of the SWP leaders such as Cindy Jaquith with who I collaborated on issues related to Iran during the first year of my arrival from Iran. But no one ever questioned the above passage in my critique.  Let us recall that the timing of the distribution of my essay coincided with the last wave of repression that shut down all three FI parties in Iran and coincided with the final blow to the revolution by the Islamic Republic!   This “soft attitude” towards the clerical capitalist Islamic Republic continued until at least 1992 when I was forced out of the SWP.  In the interim, I had become aware of my own mistake and tried to correct the SWP’s position regarding the revolution and the government that destroyed it to no avail.  (see, endnote 16)

The Islamic Republic and counter-revolution in Iran
In the "Theses on the Iranian Revolution," we wrote that the shora movement was the heart of the revolution. That heart stopped beating by the end of 1982 because of the Islamic Republic bloody repression. Yet Mahmoud and The Militant continued to hold that the Iranian revolution was ongoing.  The difference between my view and Mahmoud’s and Barnes’s leadership was that I truly identified the revolution with the all-inclusive secular grassroots movements, especially the shora movement, and when these movements were weakened or destroyed, Mahmoud and Barnes’s leadership identified the revolution with the Islamic grassroots movements that looked to Khomeini who was locked into a struggle with imperialism and the Iraqi-initiated war. That is, in essence, what you find in The Militant at least until December 1992, well after the Iraq-Iran war had ended and President Rafsanjani had initiated his structural adjustment programs and embraced neoliberal policies.  That is why I and other Iranians (all but one were former HVKers) in the SWP became critical of its “line” on Iran and were alienated from Mahmoud and the Barnes leadership.  Not only they ignored our questioning of various political manifestation of their adaptationist approach, but they also began to frame me up as a way to silence such criticism. Like Zahraie before him, Barnes wanted to cut loose anyone who stood in the path of his impulsive political course. 

While Mahmoud made peace with the clash of his own theoretical framework and the reality of the Islamic counter-revolution unfolding before his very eyes, from 1983-1992 I scrutinized these same theories and analysis by going back to Marx and our theoretical heritage.  In this, I had an advantage over Mahmoud. While Mahmoud spent his political life, especially in the Iranian revolution, in meetings of this or that Political Committee, I (and other activists) had the opportunity to be where the action was, during the revolution on the streets of Tehran and directly touched by the unfolding historic events.  Therefore, I was able to feel and touch the Islamic Republic counter-revolution as it unfolded the day after Khomeini came to power.  Let me explain an early experience of mine that showcases what Khomeini did to the grassroots organization of the working people who were the Iranian revolution in body and soul.

Upon my return to Tehran on February 1, 1979, when Bakhtiar caretaker government was still in power, I settled in my parents' house in Tehran Pars, a 1960s development in the northeast of Tehran.  Within a day or two, I was part of the neighborhood committee composed of two or three dozen young men—mostly younger than me (I was 28 years old at the time). Neighborhood committees were an important part of the secular grassroots movements that originated in the struggle against the Shah’s dictatorship.  During various strikes, especially the oil workers strike that began on October 21, 1978, there was a need to acquire and distribute goods and services in neighborhoods.  While stopping oil exports and oil flow to the Shah’s regime, oil workers delivered gasoline and cooking and heating oil and gas to the population to ensure they did not suffer in the cold fall/winter months. Neighborhood committees rationed and distributed these and other needed supplies equitably.  The need for the neighborhood committees became acute when the martial law was declared on November 6, 1978.

After the Shah fled and with him some of those too close to his rule to feel safe any longer, our neighborhood committee “expropriated” a house on the street where my parents lived. The owner with close ties to the Shah’s repressive apparatus had gone into hiding or fled the country. The house provided a rent-free headquarters for the group where an assembly of up to a few dozens were held daily to discuss various issues, define tasks, get volunteers to carry them out, and so on.  After the February 11 insurrection, the committee had in its possession 30 J3 battle rifles and a lot of ammunition.  I wrote a one-page manifesto that defined the political function of the neighborhood committee and gave it a name, Defense Committee of Southwestern Tehran Pars. With help from Kaveh, a young Trotskyist who had recently arrived from England and lived nearby, we found a young woman in the neighborhood who typed it up. The assembly discussed and approved this initiative and we distributed copies to each household. Kaveh who had been in military service, and a few others, took up the task of training volunteers to guard barricades that the committee had erected on the main road to ensure that former SAVAK (secret police) and other counter-revolutionary agents would not drive through the neighborhood shooting at random to terrorize the population.

One of the first public appeals of Khomeini was to return the arms confiscated in the insurrections across Iran to the mosques. The youth and working people had armed themselves after decades of being ruled by arms.  Khomeini feared an armed population. In our neighborhood, the cleric from the nearby mosque came to one of our assembly meetings, spoke highly of our effort, but reiterated Khomeini’s call to turn all arms to the mosques. He invited us to function from the mosque under his supervision and then left.  We did not follow. A few days later a uniformed military man came to our assembly and urged us to do obey Khomeini’s appeal.  After he left we had a discussion. The assembly was divided by these interventions.  Those who harbored religious feelings felt compelled to honor Khomeini’s orders and decided to continue their volunteer defense work from the mosque under the cleric’s supervision. Those who were secular or had a leftist political orientation remained.  But we all knew that the future of the Defense Committee of the Southwestern Tehran Pars was in question.  We did not think two defense committees in the same neighborhood vying for authority was in anyone’s interest. The committee operating from the mosque had the advantage of support from Khomeini and the new government.  We had no source of support.  Soon, our all-inclusive democratically run grassroots neighborhood committee was dissolved. Those who joined the mosque were quickly reorganized as the Islamic Revolution Committee with their allegiance to Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic he demanded and instituted.  It did not take a long for these committees to begin stopping and detaining their former friends who led a secular way of life or held socialist aspirations.

As soon as Kargar began publishing, I was one its street salespersons who were repeatedly harassed and then detained by the Islamic Revolution Committee in Imam Hossein square in east Tehran, a busy crossroad to the south, east, and west of Tehran.  In the beginning, I was politely asked by individuals whose affiliation was not clear to stop selling Kargar. When I engaged them in conversation and asked why the young men offered various excuses and went away.  Soon, however, others who identified themselves as the Islamic Revolution Committee members asked me to accompany them to the mosque. There I had to wait for the cleric to show up and politely tell me: “We made this revolution in the name of Islam, not communism. Please don’t distribute communist literature.” He was entirely friendly and even asked me to stay to have lunch with him which I politely declined. 

When I persisted in selling Kargar, they kept detaining and keeping me for longer periods. Their hope was to keep me in the mosque long enough to make my effort to sells the paper waste of time.  When I chose a new location some blocks away from the square to sell Kargar, a large man who looked like a street hustler from the time of the old regime started an argument with me with anti-communist slurs.  When I stood my ground he pulled out a handgun and put it to my temple yelling out loud that the blood of a communist is halal (that is, it is no sin to kill a communist).  It was thanks to Ensieh, a lioness of a young woman whom I had recently helped recruit, that a small crowd assembled that took the goon aside and let us leave with our papers.  This way I became one of the two members of the united HKS whose harassment while selling Kargar was reported in Kargar.

Given such personal experiences, it was easier for me than it was for Mahmoud to understand that the Islamic Republic regime was the counter-revolution threatening the revolution. Still, it took me years to shed the theoretical mindset that made me consider the Islamic Republic as merely an “obstacle” to the working class and the revolution. 

The Iran Committee

Let me provide a little detail about how I was forced out of the by the Barnes’ leadership that included Mahmoud.  For several years, I was asked to help the newly established Iran Committee that worked under the direction of the Political Committee. Part of what I did for the Iran Committee was in collaboration with Amir Jamali, a former HVK member who was also part of the New York branch. We carried systematic work in the Iranian community. This was a smaller and more focused part of the branch activity carried in Farsi especially among socialist-minded Iranians in New York.  For instance, we organized a showing of the Cuban documentary about the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale.  I was also asked to take on national projects such as editing the Farsi translation of Ernesto Che Guevara’s Socialism and Man in Cuba (which was subsequently published with Mahmoud listed as its editor).

Oddly enough, we were never given any insight into the mandate of the Iran Committee, who its members were, or even who was organizing it.  I guessed it was probably Mahmoud leading it because he was the person who would contact me about such national assignments.  And from what eventually transpired it was easy to assume that Mahmoud was working with one or two former members of the HVK in Iran.  Two persons came to my mind, Hassan Hakimi, who in April 1980 had joined the expelled Faction for Trotskyist Unification (FTU) of the HKE but was in political agreement with the HKE and Mahmoud in their support for the occupation of the universities by Muslim students.  At the time, Hakimi was married to another HVK member. This team of two probably constituted the Barnes’ current in Iran (subsequently, the couple separated and only Hakimi remained in Iran. Whether he recruited others, I do not know).

In this context, the Third Worldist coverage of Iran in The Militant became a problem for me and other Iranians in the SWP.  It appeared to us that the SWP was moving from material support for the Islamic Republic in the war and against imperialism to manifestations of political support for it by leaving out the class analysis of the developments inside Iran.  It also meant that The Militant did not cover widespread repression, including the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in the summer and fall 1988.  There is only a “World News in Brief” report in the December 30, 1988, issue that includes this sentence: “More than 300 political activists have been executed by the Iranian government since July, according to a report released December 12 by Amnesty International.” There was no follow up.  However, Amnesty International later published a list the names of 4,482 political prisoners who “disappeared” from July to December 1988. There is still no accounting of how many other political prisoners were executed in this period as the Amnesty International list was constructed from family and friends reports. Political prisoners whose families did not report or were not contacted are not included.  But this massacre of thousands of political activists was left out of The Militant.

Part of this political slide was manifested in the Pathfinder’s participation in the annual Tehran International Book Fair. Each year, Mahmoud went to the book fair and returned to give a rosy presentation at the New York Militant Labor Forum. In his 1992 report in the New York Militant Labor Forum, he reported a thirst for communist literature, that so many Pathfinder books were sold, and he credited the Islamic Republic for the 60% subsidy that made Pathfinder books affordable!  He did not tell his audience that the 60% book subsidy was part of a general policy of the book fair to encourage the purchase of technical, scientific, and medical books deemed necessary for the development of capitalism in Iran, not to encourage the reading of socialist literature! The regime simply tolerated Pathfinder and a few small domestic publishers that offered a few translated socialist titles (I cannot prove it but it was not beyond reason to suspect that tolerating the sale of socialist literature was in part to identify the few who still showed an interest in socialism). At any rate, the regime’s policy was and still is: “Let them publish a few books but never let them organize even a tiny group.” Also, Mahmoud did not tell his audience that while Pathfinder was allowed in the book fair and its books subsidized, all independent labor and socialist currents in Iran, including the Trotskyist parties, had been suppressed, and thousands of political prisoners had been tortured and executed and the clerical capitalist repression of the youth and working people continued. When I did take these issues up with him, Mahmoud maintained a grim silence. Meanwhile, Amir Jamali, Ali Irvani (Sammad), (both former HVKers) and another Iranian immigrant in L.A. branch, Albert, raised similar concerns.

Apparently, my critical views irritated the SWP leadership and somehow they saw me as hatching a dissent around the Iran question. When I informed the Political Committee about my planned trip to Tehran on June 26, 1992, to visit my family and asked if they wanted me to do anything for the Iran Committee, they sent Greg McCarten, the New York branch organizer and a PC member and Mahmoud to meet with me over dinner on June 23 to persuade me that it was not safe and I should not go.  I knew enough about the Iranian political situation that I did not consider it a particularly unsafe time to go. I also explained to them that my family was distressed because my younger brother's imprisonment on non-political charges (he eventually died at age 39 of thyroid cancer at that went undiagnosed in prison. When he could no longer swallow, they let him go home to die. The tumor had become impossible to remove safely). I wanted to visit them and see my brother.

McCarten got to the real reason for the meeting. He said that the Political Committee knows that the Iranian members of the party (except Mahmoud, of course) are critical of the party’s Iran work, in particular participation in the Tehran International Book Fair. The discussion that followed went long and wide. But the major point of contention in this discussion was whether the SWP leadership should involve Iranian members of the party in discussions of forging an Iranian socialist current or not.  McCarten and Mahmoud insisted that there was no difference between any member of the SWP and the Iranians who had participated in the revolution.  It was up to the party leadership to decide who it saw fit to carry out its Iran work. Of course, this was a formal and false assertion. Why then were only the Iranian members of the SWP asked to carry out the work of the Iran Committee either in New York or LA among Iranians or develop Pathfinder literature in Farsi?  Should we not be a part of the discussion and, as appropriate, decisions making, in carrying out this work as was the case with any other party fraction? Also, some of us (not me) left Iran because of political repression and hoped to return to Iran. Amir Jamali actually went back to Iran in the mid-1990s. Would it not be better to have these individuals contribute to this work?

In this context, I argued, the inclusion of Mahmoud in the Iran Committee while positive was one-sided and limited.  I pointed out political differences we had in more recent conversations including his account of the history of Iranian Trotskyist movement during the revolution and his characterization of the bourgeois-democratic tasks of the Iranian revolution as having been accomplished by the 1979 revolution.

McCarten forcefully pointed out that these were not Mahmoud’s views but those of the SWP leadership.  Of course, this was a leadership deliberation and assessment that I had not been not aware of before.  If the SWP leadership had discussed these and taken a position on them, they never wrote it up either as an internal information bulletin, or internal discussion document, or a public article.  Furthermore, this was a highly suspect position. How could the peasant/land/agrarian question have been resolved if the amount of land distributed was significantly less than the Shah's land reform? When did this “resolution” of bourgeois-democratic tasks happen and how? How had the oppressed nationalities won their right to self-determination when they were constantly under pressure and from time to time under military attack?  If the Islamic Republic regime, in fact, had "solved" the historical democratic tasks of the Iranian revolution then was it not revolutionary as Siamak Zahraie had argued earlier following up on the logic of the adaptationist course of Babak Zahraie and the HKE (see Nayeri, August 2012, Part 2)? And if so, did not the regime deserve political support at least during the "democratic phase" of a two-stage Iranian revolution with the socialist revolution being relegated to some future time?

I asked if it was correct for the SWP leadership to have an official view of the history of the Iranian Trotskyist movement. McCarten responded in the affirmative.  He contended that I should have written in the discussion bulletins about my views on these issues. It did not occur to him that the SWP leadership should have written about its evolving political views on the Iranian revolution and the history of the Iranian Trotskyist movement. When I pointed out to McCarten that I had written to The Militant about its questionable coverage, including a recent article by Fred Feldman, and never received a response, he said: "we get a lot of these." So, much for the invitation to write in the discussion bulletin!

Mahmoud’s reaction was worse. Instead of responding to my political arguments he resorted to character assassination: “Did you not resign from the National Committee of HVK because you said you hated the Iranian culture?”  Of course, I did not resign from the HVK because of my “hatred for the Iranian culture” and Mahmoud who was a confidant of mine knew that quite well.  As friends, we spoke freely and I had shared with him my criticisms of the Iranian cultural mores which I continue to hold today.  Is it odd for someone who thinks about culture in a Marxian way to be critical of cultures in class societies?  Is not the dominant culture in every society the culture of its ruling class?  In my brief resignation note to the HVK National Committee, I had written: “I always have been part of the solution. I do not wish to be part of our problems now.”  I left Iran because I had to sort out my own personal life and Mahmoud, as well as everyone else on the HVK Political Committee and some outside of it, knew this for a considerable length of time and were supportive of me.

At the close of the meeting, McCarten instructed me that I should refrain from doing “anything political” while in Iran. When I asked if making a political observation of the situation in Iran would fall within his directive, McCarten was evasive.

When I returned from Iran, I wrote a brief political report of my visit that I gave to the Political Committee member Norton Sandler during the SWP conference at Oberlin college.  Aside from the general and specific aspects of the political situation in Iran that I had observed and were in sharp variance to the rosy reports in The Militant and Militant Labor Forums, I noted I had run into a few former Iranian Trotskyists, including Babak Zahraie.

Sometime later, I was called to the National Office for a meeting. Norton Sandler, Doug Jenness, and Steve Clark, all Political Committee members, were waiting. Sandler, who ran the meeting, accused me of having an ongoing political relationship with Zahraie. When I asked where they got their information from, Sandler showed me my own Iran trip report!  He then gave me a “cease and desist order,” that is, a threat of expulsion. I could not believe my ears!  I figured that if they can accuse me of hatching plots behind their backs with Babak Zahraie solely because I reported to them that I ran into him in Tehran they can fabricate anything they wished against me and there is no reason to believe they would not accuse me of breaching their “cease and desist” order at any time!

I told Sandler and others that they had no evidence of any wrongdoing on my part. There is political disagreement, however. Clark told me that it was always possible to write in the pre-convention discussion bulletin.   That did sound like McCarten’s suggestion, not entirely sincere.  Leadership that sees no reason to explain itself to the membership would not engage in a good-faith discussion with them either. The very experience of recent months had made it clear to me that the Barnes’s leadership likes to get rid of me as it had gotten rid of all dissent over the past decade through administrative means in the names of Leninist democratic centralism.

By the next branch meeting, I had submitted my resignation as a member in good standing to the Executive Committee with an attachment that explained the political reasons for my resignation at some length. I learned later that my very brief resignation letter had read to the branch meeting but no mention was made of my lengthy explanation for that decision.  Thus, the branch leadership became complicit in the Political Committee’s plan to drive out a twenty-year veteran of the movement who had served the New York branch as a consistent activist for a decade without telling the membership about its real reasons.  After my resignation, I continued volunteering on Red Sunday mobilizations at the Pathfinder building and took up other tasks for the SWP.  Meanwhile, I refrained from engaging any party member in a discussion of my resignation. This did not stop the Political Committee from continuing its campaign against me. A few months later, after the New York branch had been divided into two, a report was given to the Brooklyn branch (I lived in Brooklyn) that characterized me as an enemy of the party and required that all contacts with me be carried through the Political Committee.  I have no idea why Barnes’ leadership took this step months after my resignation and despite my continued voluntary work.

Over the next two years, all other Iranians in the SWP except Mahmoud resigned citing political disagreements on Iran. Mahmoud as part of the SWP leadership participated in the campaign to drive me out of the SWP.  I was deeply saddened to see my former mentor, collaborator, and friend, who had himself been victimized by slander and smear campaigns, now using these same tactics to drive out his critic.  I was also deeply saddened to leave many individuals with whom I had collaborated for a decade and came to the realization that the SWP that I once admired was no more. 


Mahmoud and the rightward drift of the SWP

In his 47-year career so far as the National Secretary of the SWP, Jack Banes has turned a vibrant party of about two thousand with a similarly sized youth group, the Young Socialist Alliance, into a tiny sect of Barnes-idolizing old men and women without any influence in the labor movement or the larger society, traveling along a torturous path that increasingly veers in a rightist direction. As part of this rightward drift that has accommodated Zionism and imperialism, the Barnes leadership’s view of the Islamic Republic has also changed from adaptation to it to see it today as a central counter-revolutionary power in the Middle East. These are highlighted in two “correction” articles in The Militant.

Jack Barnes corrects Mahmoud
In a letter to Mahmoud dated August 17, 2006, that was published in The Militant (September 4, 2006), Barnes makes a welcome correction to Mahmoud’s longstanding favorable view of the "Islamic grassroots currents."  As the speaker at The Militant Labor Forum in Washington D. C. on August 12, 2006, Mahmoud apparently had spoken favorably of the Lebanese Hezbollah.  In his letter, Barnes correctly states: “Hezbollah's goal is to establish an ‘Islamic Republic’ in Lebanon, that is, a capitalist regime modeled on the one that emerged from the bourgeois and Bonapartist counterrevolution in Iran.” (My emphasis)  There is no evidence for Barnes’s characterization of the Islamic Republic as “Bonapartist.” But let’s set that aside.  What is much more important is his admission that the Iranian revolution was destroyed, not by imperialism, but by the Islamic Republic.

But then Barnes follows with a number of assertions that admit a truth but fudge the facts: “(1) that communist workers in Iran, and our world movement, gave no political support to the capitalist government in Tehran; and (2) that the bourgeois political and military course of the reactionary Iranian regime resulted in untold needless deaths of soldiers and civilians, both Iranian and Iraqi.”

Thus, Barnes correctly but belatedly condemns Khomeini’s war policy to drive into Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime as reactionary.  

Here is how Barnes fudges the facts.  First, it is not true, as I have shown earlier, that “communist workers” in Iran gave no political supports to the Islamic Republic.  Setting aside Barnes’s self-serving phraseology, he must be referring to the Iranian Trotskyist parties that had no organic connection to the Iranian working class that the SWP leadership agreed with politically.  It is true that the united HKS during its short life never politically supported the Islamic Republic and, in fact, criticized it for its waves of anti-working class repression. But that party ceased to exist in August 1979.  Of the two parties that emerged from the split in the united HKS, the SWP leadership was supportive of Zahraie’s HKE from the last quarter of 1979 to the end of 1980. But that party and the SWP both gave political support to the Islamic Republic during this period as I detailed already (remember HKE’s and SWP’s support for the Islamic students’ occupation of the universities?)  From the founding of the HVK in January 1981 to its dissolution at the end of 1982, the Barnes leadership seemed to favor it. As I demonstrated above, it was Mahmoud whom they kept in touch with as part of their effort to build Barnes’s international current during this two year period. Mahmoud supported the occupation of the universities and Khomeini’s continuation of the war that Barnes now criticizes as reactionary. The SWP leadership and Mahmoud saw eye-to-eye throughout the 1980s and in early 1990s as reflected in The Militant and Intercontinental Press articles that view the Iranian revolution as alive because of the ongoing anti-imperialist struggle and mobilization for the war with Iraq. Even more, did not Greg McCarten, a Political Committee member who together with Mahmoud met with me  in 1992, tell me that the SWP leadership considered the historical democratic tasks in Iran accomplished, presumably by the Islamic Republic?  This was also Mahmoud’s position in our private talks.  How else would you characterize such a regime except as revolutionary? Of course, I know of no written document by the SWP leadership that supported Mahmoud’s and later McCarten’s assertion. But both Mahmoud and MacCarten were Political Committee members when they told me this was the leadership’s view. Whether Mahmoud was initiating these assessments and characterization of the Islamic Republic or Barnes, I do not know.  But it is preposterous for Barnes to claim “communist workers” (that is, those he favored) in Iran never supported the Islamic Republic.  In fact, Barnes and the SWP did as well, and if Mahmoud and MacCarten were correct, they supported the Islamic Republic as the political force that carried out the “democratic revolution” in Iran!

It is also preposterous for Barnes to blame it all on Mahmoud.  While he criticizes Mahmoud for lacking a concrete analysis, Barnes himself fails to speak clearly and take responsibility for the SWP’s adaptationist line towards the Islamic republic as the National Secretary of the party. But that is how cult leaders operate.

Finally, Barnes is silent on the timing of the Islamic Republic’s counter-revolution.

Steve Clark dates the "
completion" of the counter-revolution
It took another 12 years until a date for the counter-revolution Barnes had referred to appeared in an article in The Militant in an article by Steve Clark (April 2018). This article also is written as a correction to an earlier article by Terry Williams about the widespread protests in some 80 towns and villages across Iran (for my take on these protests, see, Nayeri , January 2018).  Clark sets the date for “the completion” of the Islamic Republic’s counter-revolution in mid-1983, essentially the same as what I have indicated in various writings for a long time (see, for example, Nayeri and Nassab, 2006). As we know, in 1988 the Islamic Republic massacred thousands of political prisoners across Iran in cold blood starting on July 19 and presumably ending after five months. Amnesty International published the names of 4,482 political prisoners who “disappeared” during this period. Why did the Barnes leadership keep silent about this colossal humanitarian and anti-working class horror when it happened, by writing an editorial to condemn it, and consider its implications for the dogma that the revolution was ongoing?  Why admit to the counter-revolution a quarter of a century later? The answer appears at the concluding section of Clark’s long article:

“The programmatic and strategic course of the Socialist Workers Party in response to the tumultuous and shifting political situation in Iran and across the Gulf region is presented in the closing paragraphs of the Dec. 11, 2017, SWP statement, ‘For Recognition of a Palestinian State and of Israel.’" (Clark, April 2018)

The answer is the SWP’s accommodation to Zionism and the Trump administration that see the Islamic Republic as their “number one enemy” in the Middle East.  The rightward drift of the SWP in the intervening 12 years since Barnes’s letter to Mahmoud is evidenced by The Militant editor’s preface to Barnes’ letter to Mahmoud in 2006. The editor wrote: “Shirvani [Mahmoud], along with others attending the forum, had taken part in a march of 10,000 in Washington to oppose the U.S.-backed Israeli assault on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.”  In 2006, the SWP still supported protests against the terrors of the colonial-settlers Israeli state and still supported a democratic secular Palestine to replace the Jewish State, where Jews, Palestinians, and others could live together as co-equals, including the right to return of Palestinians refugees and others who were forced out of their homeland.  By the end of 2017, the SWP is calling for the recognition of Israel and a Palestinian “homeland,” which Clark insists has to be a continuous territory no matter how small!  The SWP’s position is now no different from what liberal Zionists have been calling for a long time and what the Obama administration was working towards.  While the SWP is silent on the Palestinians right of return to their homeland, it is quite vocal about the “right of return of Jew” to “their homeland!,” a fundamental Zionist position. 
(see, endnote 17)
 
In brief, Marxist and communist phraseology aside, the SWP has adapted to Zionism and imperialism. (for the full text of the SWP statement, see, Clark, December 2017).   On this burning issue of world politics as on others, today’s SWP bears no relation to the SWP of the 1970s, and in important ways is its polar opposite.  The SWP today is a tiny insular sect of old men and women that have accommodated to imperialism, Zionism, and Trumpism (for more discussion of these issues, see, Young, 2014; Leslie, 2016; Nayeri, February 2017).  Because it has embraced the colonial-settler Jewish State, the SWP now is hostile to the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement against Israel (Young, 2010). 

Today’s SWP shuns mass movements because by their very nature they start with illusions of all kinds.  Thus, the SWP criticized the historic women marches of early 2017 as “bourgeois” (Nayeri, March 2017) .  It boycotted the mass antiwar movement when there was one (e.g., the 2003 march of 300,000 in San Francisco against the impending threat of G. W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq). When these days it does shows up for much smaller ones, like it did last February in Oakland, California, to protest Washington’s unfolding coup plot against the government of Venezuela, it remained on the sidelines to sell “the communist press.”  The SWP today pay no attention to the ecological crisis, including the unfolding climate catastrophe and the ongoing Six Extinction that threaten much of life on Earth.  When it does pay attention to ecological concerns, like the movement against the widespread use of genetically modified organisms, including in food, the SWP position is consistent with that of the agribusiness industry.  It attacks those in the climate justice movement who support the Green New Deal instead of joining in conversation with them because it has no viable alternative of its own. (for my own approach see, Nayeri, March 2019; Nayeri, January 2019; Nayeri, July 2017).



Farewell to Mahmoud

Through each twist and turn in his political life, a constant feature has been Mahmoud’s goal of building a Leninist party.  That is how I came to know him. The theory, program, and history he viewed as means to one end: To overcome “a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat,” as Trotsky put it.  

The tragedy of Mahmoud’s life, as it has been for an untold number of other revolutionaries, is that he has confused various prototypes with the actual party of Lenin. The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party originated with a coming together of Marxist intellectuals of unequaled quality with the rapidly growing industrial working class freshly driven off the land therefore not yet settled in a particular way of life that organized itself in the soviets in the 1905 revolution.  How else would a young Marxist intellectual like Trotsky could become a working-class leader of the 1905 soviets?  Trotsky estimated that when Lenin proposed his theory of the vanguard party, the Bolsheviks had 10,000 proletarian members, and, with the Mensheviks, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) had about 20,000 to 22,000 members who were workers. (Discussions with Trotsky on the Transitional Program, June 7, 1938). With the defeat of the 1905 revolution, some members of the RSDLP left. Paul Le Blanc (1990, pp. 190-198) suggests that the intelligentsia were highly represented among those who left the party, leaving the smaller party more proletarian in composition in the 1907-1912 period.

It is true that the workers in the Bolshevik party were schooled in revolutionary socialism thanks to Lenin’s strategic view of the coming Russian revolution and his advocacy for a “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” to carry forward the historical democratic tasks while the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries (SRs) preached an alliance with the Russian bourgeoisie who they saw as the natural leader of the comping bourgeois-democratic revolution. Between February and October, Bolshevik party’s influence in the working class and among soldiers increased while those of the Mensheviks and SRs declined.  By the end of 1917, the Bolsheviks had 300,000 members, heavily working class (Service, in Acton, et.al., 1997, p. 235).   This was a significant portion of the Russian working class which numbered between 4.2 to 4.4 million. The Bolshevik party also exerted much influence among soldiers and had some influence even among the peasantry.  How did this happen?

It happened through a process of convergence of the soviets and the Bolshevik party. It is almost routine to focus attention on the Bolshevik party in any discussion of the Russian revolutions of 1917.  When discussing the February revolution, Trotsky wrote:

“In the party of the Bolsheviks the insurrection had its nearest organization, but a headless organization with a scattered staff and with weak illegal nuclei. And nevertheless the revolution, which nobody in those days was expecting, unfolded, and just when it seemed from above as though the movement was already dying down, with an abrupt revival, a mighty convulsion, it seized the victory.”  (Trotsky, 1930, chapter 8, “Who Led the February Insurrection”)

Trotsky’s narrative rests on the proposition that the vanguard of the Russian working class was trained in the school of Bolshevism.  Elsewhere (Nayeri, December 2017), I have argued that there are reasons to doubt crediting the workers-Bolsheviks as the decisive force in the leadership of the February revolution and instead in the February revolution we can find confirmation of the revolutionary potentials of the working class itself.  Did not the Russian working class organized the soviets in the 1905 revolution?  Why not credit the same working-class to revive the soviets 12 year later in the February 1917 revolution? The difference is the weight we can assign to the revolutionary potential of the working class to self-organize and self-mobilize and its role in the revolutionary transfer of power.

The Iranian revolution of 1979 confirms the revolutionary potential of the working class (and working people more generally) as evidenced in their self-organization and self-mobilization from the neighborhood committees to the strike committees and after the overthrow of the monarchy in the emergence and development of the shora (councils) movement.

Could the October revolution have been possible without the soviets or the rising influence of the Bolsheviks in them and in broader masses of working people? It was the dialectic of the emerging, developing, and maturing of the revolutionary proletariat and the Bolshevik party that made the October revolution possible. Thus, the "party of Lenin" would not have been possible without a rapid and massive wave of radicalization of the working class and working people more generally.

It has been a perversion of Lenin’s concept of the vanguard party to reduce it to a prototype regardless of program, class composition, degree influence in the woking class (hence size), to mimic “democratic centralism” as a set of rules but not an interplay between the revolutionary section of the working class and the leadership that emanates from it.  That is what Marx and Engels meant by the “communist movement” in The Manifesto of the Communist Party (which Jack Barnes has bastardized). Let's recall


“That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves, that the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule.”  (Marx, 1864). 
This opening proclamation in the “General Rules of the International Workingmen’s Association" was realized between February and October 1917 and in the subsequent few years when the power of the Bolshevik party directly emanated from the power of the self-organized and self-mobilized working people. 

Marx’s theory of socialism identifies it with human emancipation from alienation to allow for self-development and self-realization.  But Marx understood that like the state and the market, politics is also an expression of social alienation.  In fact, politics is struggling for power and the central goal of Marxian politics is the elimination of all power relations in society.  Marx’s theory of the proletariat as the universal class and the agency for socialist revolution relies on the assumption that the conquest of power by the working class will lead to an end to social classes and all power relations.  Like the market and the state, all forms of power must wither away in the process of transition to communism.  Thus, the very concept of democratic centralism if interpreted as some form of lasting hierarchal relations among socialist workers is anti-Marxian.

Why Mahmoud and the rest of us submit to prototype micro-Leninist parties even those ruled by an egomaniac and those that follow an adaptationist course?

Detour of the world revolution and vanguardism
The answer lies in the detour of the world revolution caused by the rise of the aristocracy of labor in the early capitalist industrializers—the imperialist countries.  Marx and Engles noticed this phenomenon and the problem it posed for their theory of the proletariat and socialist revolution. But the “Marxists” after them by and large set aside the problem and its dire implication for socialism.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Eduard Bernstein (1899) had formulated a reformist theory of socialism suitable for the aristocracy of labor, a gradualist theory of arriving at socialism by reforming the capitalist state through parliamentarism.

The rise and prominence of the reformist wing of Social Democracy resulted in accommodation to colonialism by some (Stuttgart conference, 1907), and with the onset of the World War I, a majority sided with “their own bourgeoisie.”  As part of the internationalist current in the Second International, the Bolshevik leaders tied the rise of labor aristocracy to the rise of imperialism, the war, and the rise of reformism in the Second International. (Bukharin 1915; Lenin, 1916; Zinoviev 1916).

The detour of the world revolution originated with the Russian socialist revolution as the "weakest link” of imperialism, that was quickly destroyed (not degenerated), precisely because the European proletariat did not rise up, or when it did, proved unable to take and hold power.  Despite the focus on “a lack of the subjective condition,” the Marxian method requires us also to examine the objective conditions for the lack of revolutionary proletarian leadership in the imperialist countries for well over a century.  While in some European countries mass working-class parties were organized these have been reformist Social Democratic and Stalinist parties primarily based on the aristocracy and bureaucracy of labor. In these countries, the working classes have never formed lasting revolutionary parties of their own (e.g., the pre-World War I Socialist Party of Eugene Debs was a short term exception) and micro-Leninist parties with a program for a workers government and socialism never found a base in the working class. The rise of Stalinism in the Soviet Russia, itself caused by the economic and cultural backwardness of the great majority of the Russian population and the political isolation of the socialist revolution, and its subsequent spread across the world through what used to be the revolutionary Communist International, was also occasioned by the pressure of better-off sections of the working class and non-proletarian sectors of the population in the host countries.  Thus, Stalinism also was a break on the world revolution, not only through its class-collaborationist policy but perhaps more importantly by presenting itself as a model of socialism.

With the end of the post-World War II long-cycle of capitalist prosperity, signaled by the 1973-75 world recession, revolutionary socialists believed that the long detour of the world revolution will come to an end, a promise that has not yet been realized. The working class in the imperialist countries has remained largely passive and contained within the framework of bourgeois politics. Revolutions that broke out in Iran, Nicaragua, Grenada, South Africa, and more recently, the Pink Tide in Latin America which has been a revolt against neoliberal policies, all have failed to go beyond capitalism because of the failure of a working-class alternative to materialize. 

Thus, the long detour for over a century has fanned various vanguardist theories. Of particular interest to us is the micro-Leninist parties of the Fourth International.  These have never become proletarian party of a significant size (The largest ever, Argentinian Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores, PST, had about 10,000 members in the 1970s) The U.S. Socialist Workers Party, which claimed a direct political continuity with the Bolsheviks through Trotsky, began as a small proletarian party but as it grew, also suffered splits that kept it small and mostly isolated. When the wave of radicalization arrived in the 1960s and early 1970s it was not a working-class radicalization (except for the black and Chicano liberation movements from which the SWP did recruit). The growth of the SWP was largely from the radicalized student milieu as reflected in the leadership around Jack Barnes that took the SWP’s helm in 1972. 

Oddly enough, the Barnes SWP and other groups that were formed in opposition to it have not paid any attention to this well over a century old central problem: why the industrial working class in the advanced capitalist countries has not come to the center stage of politics and what does it mean for them?

Learning from our mistakes
Steve Clark who now dates the “completion” of the Islamic Republic’s counter-revolution in mid-1983 does not discuss his criteria. But the HVK’s "Theses on the Iranian Revolution" is quite clear about it: the shora movement was the heart of the revolution.  The oil workers movement and their nationally organized Shora was the most prominent in the revolution’s shora movement.

After I was forced out of the SWP, I began to explore some of the questions I could have not explored working as a rank-and-filer in the New York branch for a decade.  One was to visit Cuba and learn about the revolution first hand.  Another was to get to know more about the shora movement in Iran. Oddly enough, none of the Trotskyist parties in Iran ever tried to meet, interview, get know, and learn from the leaders of workers shoras! 

I had the good fortune to get know Yadullah Khosroshahi in 1995 through a common friend and forge a friendship with him that led to our collaboration that lasted until his death from a massive stroke in exile in London on February 4, 2010. He was 67 years old.  Yadullah’s life differed from all of us in the Iranian Trotskyist movement. He was born in 1942 in Shahr-e Kurd, a small town at the time and the seat of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province.  Yadullah’s family moved to Abadan in search of work. Because of his family’s poverty, Yadullah was forced to quit school after the sixth grade in order to work.  When in exile in Britain, Yadullah wrote about his life as a child in Abadan where the major employer was the London-based Anglo-Iranian Oil Company that paid a flat royalty to the Iranian government for its exploitation of Iranian oil. Yaddulah characterized the conditions in Abadan as a form of apartheid. Workers could not go to neighborhoods where the British employees of the oil company lived. Violators were arrested and jailed.  While the British had air-conditioning, swimming pools, and golf courses, Iranian workers lived in shacks with no running water or sewage system and children had to bathe in the water collected in gutters.  At work, there was a similar hierarchy with Iranian employees being ranked below the Indian employees.  Thus, Yadullah learned about imperialism in an empirical way.

At age 14, Yadullah took an unpaid apprenticeship position at the oil refinery in Abadan in 1956.  After two years, he was hired as a maintenance worker.  He became a labor activist by helping to establish a mutual assistance labor fund in the refinery. In 1968, he was elected as a workers’ representative (there were no unions).  That same year, the Tehran refinery became operational and Yadullah was part of the workforce that was relocated there. In 1970, he was elected as a delegate of Tehran refinery workers and in 1971 they were able to establish the Oil Workers Union of the North (of Iran). Yadullah was elected as its first Secretary. In 1973, he helped lead a two-week strike during a major repair of the refinery. After the SAVAK found some socialist literature in the refinery and traced it to Yadullah, he was arrested for the third time, tortured, and sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Yadullah Khosroshahi (facing camera) at a rally in support of the Iranian labor movement in London that he helped organize. (date unknown)

However, Yadullah was freed after four and a half years because of the international campaign to free political prisoners and the mounting mass movement of millions that led to the February 1979 revolution. Immediately after his release, Yadullah joined the underground strike committee that helped prepare the October 21, 1978, oil workers general strike that served as the backbone of the national general strike that paralyzed the Shah's regime, paving the way to the February 11, 1979 revolution. As the monarchist managers fled, workers councils spread in the oil industry, and the National Shora (Council) of the Oil Industry was organized. Yadullah was elected to it. The Shora developed and enforced policies for health and safety in the workplace, workers medical care, transportation, cafeterias, home mortgages without interest, college scholarships for workers with high school diploma and for oil workers' children, increased vacation time, subsidies for travel, annual bonuses, establishing credit cooperatives, etc. But like other national workers shoras in major industries, it also had to take on national and international questions.

As part of its counter-revolutionary assault, the Islamic Republic Party that had taken over the Worker House, created under the old regime for its own purpose but was taken over by Paykar, a Maoist guerrilla group after the February revolution, organized the Islamic Associations in workplaces to undermine and destroy the workers shoras by pitting Muslim workers who supported Ayatollah Khomeini against non-Muslim, secular, and sometimes socialist workers. In the Tehran refinery where Yadullah worked and elsewhere in the oil industry, Islamic Associations helped the government to harass, intimidate and arrest labor and socialist activists. The Islamic Republic regime followed the same tactic to undermine and destroy all independent grassroots movements.

The critical blow to the workers' council movement in the oil industry came when Saddam Hussein's army invaded Iran on September 22, 1980. The Iraqi forces destroyed or seriously damaged oil industry installations in Khuzestan. A large section of oil workers were forced out of their jobs almost overnight. Those who did not lose their life fighting Iraqi invaders were scattered around the country by the Islamic Republic regime and when they were able to take a job it was in other economic sectors. Khomeini who had called the Iraqi invasion a "gift from God" supported repressive policies in workplaces in the name of increasing production for the war effort. Independent workers organizations were forced to suspend activity and many were dissolved.

Yadullah was arrested in the summer of 1982 and tortured. He spent four years and three months in jail. Soon after his release from prison in 1987, he was targeted for arrest again because he had contacted a group of oil workers who were under surveillance. He had to flee to Pakistan.  Yadullah became an asylee living in London where his family eventually joined him.  Until his death on February 4, 2010, Yadullah remained a tireless organizer of the Iranian workers in exile and inside Iran and helped direct their resistance to the anti-labor policies of the Islamic Republic. While the Iranian working class was crushed, pockets of resistance have remained, including the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company and the workers of Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company, who have been fighting for the right to an independent workers organization for years despite management’s harassment and government repression.

Yadullah Khosroshai and dozens of other worker shoras leaders like him will be part of the history of the Iranian labor movement. If and when this movement revives, and certainly, if and when the next revolution comes, the Iranian working people in all likelihood will revive the shora movement and follow in the footsteps of leaders like Yadullah.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of Mahmoud and the Iranian Trotskyist movement. We did not leave any mark on the course of the Iranian revolution and some of us adapted to the Islamic Republic’s counter-revolutionary course while others adapted to imperialism. Although, in the 1970s the Iranian Trotskyist movement was notable among the Iranian socialist currents for being better educated in Marxist theory, as I have demonstrated in this essay even "The Father of Iranian Trotskyism" was not versed in socialist theory.  Mahmoud and the rest of us did not critically study theories of imperialism and the Dependency School theories that we simply adopted and that left the door open to Third Worldist adaptations.  As a small study I carried out about the reception of the Farsi translation Marx’s Grundrisse that was published in two volumes in Iran in 1985 and 1987 (Nayeri, 2008) showed although 11,000 copies of the book were sold in Iran and abroad, I found no evidence of any study groups formed either in the academia or in socialist quarters even outside of Iran. Moreover, even the 1970s SWP and the Fourth International suffered from the same problems.

In his last decade of life, Yadullah who made the struggle for the workers in the oil industry the centerpiece of his life was increasingly cognizant of the dangers posed by the fossil fuel emissions to humanity, although he never became an active environmentalist. Still, the vanguard of the world working class today, Marx’s universal class that would help lead the struggle to emancipate humanity, cannot exist without the recognition of three existential threats of climate catastrophe, the Sixth Extinction, and the danger of a nuclear holocaust.  There is no “national” solution to any of them.  The only solution is a world ecological socialist revolution. The enemy is not “capitalism” but the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization that has spawned the ecosocial crisis. Nineteenth-century and early 20th century theories are insufficient to deal with the existential ecosocial crisis of the twenty-first century.  The radicalized youth and working people need to critically re-examine and re-develop the materialist conception of history in light of what we know about our past and the new problems the world faces today. (for my own thinking on these issues, see, Nayeri, 2018).   Marx and Engels did not consider time as a factor in their theory of socialism as they believed socialism was on the horizon. Today, if we are to believe the scientific consensus, humanity may not last into the 22nd century unless radical ecosocial change happens soon.  


Dedication: I would like to dedicate this essay to Samad Asari Eskandari (1961-1981), the young HVK militant from Tabriz who wore a beautiful smile who died defending the revolution at the war front, and to Saeedeh and Ensieh, two wonderful militant young women, who I had the good forune to introduce to socialism, who became leading members of the united HKS in the East Tehran branch, and later of the Faction for Trotskyist Unification of the HKE, and the HVK. I would also like to dedicate the essay to the leaders and leading member of Iranian labor movement in the 1979 revolution, including Albert Sohrabian (1928-2004) socialist and union organizer in the shoe-makers trade; Mostafa Aabkaashk (death 1989), plumber and cofounder of the syndicate of 14,000 contract workers in the oil industry in Khuszestan in 1979; Mohammad Safavi, leading activist of the syndicate of contract workers and labor journalist and activist in Canada; Morteza Afshari, printers union activist and co-organizer of workers strike in Tehran in 1979; and, to Mohammad Shams, printshop worker and autoworker in Iran National auto factory (now Iran Khodro), and labor activist. 

Acknowledgment: I am much grateful to John Beadle who carefully read the entire first draft and patiently corrected it for grammar and style as well as suggesting improvements to the text.  Without him, the text would have included many more errors. I am also grateful to Andrew Pollack for reading the first draft and suggesting ideas to improve it that required me to rewrite the entire preamble.  A reader of my essays on the Iranian revolution and our participation in it, Andrew has been a constant source of encouragement.  Thank you, Andrew!  John Beadle also helped me find the “correction” articles by Jack Barnes and Steve Clark referred to in the essay. David Walters kindly located and shared with me a PDF copy of the International Discussion Bulletin that included my contribution referred to in the essay. Thank you, David!  Needless to say, I alone bear responsibility for the essay and any remaining errors. 


A note about names used in this essay:  Except for those publicly known individuals, all names of Iranian socialists that appear in this essay are "movement names" or "pen names" or I use only their first name, etc.

Endnotes:
1. The terminology of Third Worldism originated as nationalist and later Maoist campist view of the world politics that aim to stake a political position separate from the United States or the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, in socialist politics, it also refers to currents that politically have supported bourgeois regimes of the Global South (Third World) against imperialism. The U.S. Workers World Party that originated from a split from the SWP in 1958 over a series of difference, that included support for the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungry in 1956, charted a course that can best be described as Third Worldist. 

2. On the eve of the February 1979 revolution, Intercontinental Press published a section of a longer article that the editorial note said first appeared in the SWP Internal Discussion Bulletins of 1973, with the title “Nationalism and Revolution in Iran.” The article is co-authored by Ahmad Heydari and Cyrus Paydar, pen names for Mahmoud and Babak Zahraie. I was unable to locate the longer version of the article in the SWP Discussion Bulletin. But the reader may want to read the IP article to get a better sense of the original book by Mahmoud that I discuss in this essay. See, Sayrafizadeh and Zahraie, 1979. 

3. The book is actually 124 pages. But the last 28 pages is a polemical appendix against the idea that there is no other nationality in Iran besides the Persian (Fars) nationality. 

4. Not all the historical “facts” he cites are agreed upon by scholars of Iranian history. A case in point is the short history of the People’s Government in Azerbaijan.  

5. In Mahmoud’s telling, the rise of national movements coincided with the rise of the bourgeoisie that “struggled against feudalism and other decaying social systems that were barriers to the development of forces of production.” Then paraphrasing Lenin he writes that in the West the bourgeoisie created “national bourgeois governments on the basis of a common language and seized the internal market to expand commodity production and to develop their languages.” He goes on: “Language, this most fundamental means of human interaction, facilitated the development of productive forces and this is how the Western countries industrialized.” (ibid.).  Of course, reducing the problem of industrialization to the language question is quite far fetched and the bourgeoisie did not seize “ the internal market,” but as Lenin explained created it. Then Mahmoud contrasts the historical record of the East to his idealized view of the development of Western capitalism. “At the beginning, Western capitalists worked to accumulate and centralize capital and then to export [commodities] and opening new markets, especially in the imperialist epoch to export capital, turned to the backward regions of the world and thus began the colonization of the masses in these regions which day by day took various more intensive forms. Therefore, the economic growth of these regions was blocked, their economies were disrupted and traditional forces of production were subordinated to Western capitalism or were entirely destroyed or became subservient to foreign masters of capital.  Capitalism which played a decisive role in the advancement of the West had reached a dead-end in its development. The framework of nation-states that had created the best conditions for the development of forces of production had turned into iron bars to contain the development of forces of production.  Capitalism has passed its epoch of growth and has entered the epoch of its demise.  Now, not only the capitalist system of the West is unable to industrialize the backward regions, but it also is blocking their internal growth and is a barrier to the formation of capitalist nation-states in the East and elsewhere. This uneven process of development has brought about the national movements of Asia, including Iran, at the end of the last [nineteenth] century. The oppressed masses who are condemned to low levels of economic and cultural life have moved into the road of freedom.” (pp. 1-2)
 

6. The monopoly capital theory and the Dependency Theory have been influential in the Fourth International and the SWP.  The SWP economics writer Dick Roberts in the bibliography section of his book “Capitalism in Crisis’ (1975) respond to the question he is often asked: “What should I read to understand Marxist economics.” He responds that the answer is “Capital, by Karl Marx, especially, the first volume.” But then he suggests that because of “its deep complexities…It is necessary to read towards this book.” He then offers a list of over two dozen books to read before tackling Marx’s Capital.  Included in his list are authors who subscribe to the monopoly capital theory which as we know undermines Marx’s labor theory of value which is the basis of Capital. Thus, Roberts displays an astonishing lack of awareness of the difference between such authors as Baran and Sweezy and their influential Monopoly Capital (1966) and Marx’s Capital. Ernest Mandel who was far more knowledgeable about “Marxist economics” also held a monopoly capital theory and the labor theory of value at the same time, apparently unaware of their essential contradiction—you can have either one but not both (see, Nayeri, 1991, chapter VIII)


7. The front-page article of the just-published July 2019 issue of Socialist Action “U.S. Takes Aim At Iran, Threatens Military Action,” takes a clear Third Worldist position. While I salute the “Hand-Off Iran” spirit of the article, there is little else in it that I can support, in particular, its interpretation of the Leninist right of self-determination: “Of course, Iran has every right to build a nuclear weapon as a matter of self-determination in a world in which it is constantly threatened by imperialist powers with nuclear weapons…” But this is not a revolutionary socialist standpoint. First, standing up to imperialism armed with nuclear weapons does not require nuclear weapons, it requires a socialist revolution. Consider how revolutionary Cuba, a far smaller country 90 miles away from the United States and with far fewer resources than Iran, has stood up to imperialism since 1959. Second, the right to self-determination does not mean support for the policies of the ruling classes and regimes of the latecomers (such as the Islamic Republic of Iran) in their conflict with imperialism. In fact, Iranian revolutionary socialists stood up firmly for the right to self-determination of the Kurdish oppressed nationality when they were under armed attack by the Islamic Republic while materially supporting the latter against imperialist and Saddam Hussein’s army. A central issue of contention between the HVK which I belonged to and Zahraie’s HKE was the latter’s support for the Islamic Republic reactionary policies such as closing down on the universities for Islamic Cultural Revolution allegedly to fight imperialism. That was because the right to self-determination of the Iranian people does not extend to support for bourgeois policies of the Islamic Republic even when it still enjoyed considerable popular support as it was attacking the Kurds. Nuclear power and nuclear arms threaten life on Earth. It is simply not an anti-working class (who is supposed to represent universal values such as protection of life on Earth) to support any regime’s “right” to have nuclear weapons, including those under attack by imperialist powers. To possess nuclear weapons entailed their potential use. Would any sane socialist support, for the sake of argument, possession and use of nuclear weapons by the government of Cuba in the name of socialism? We must, as Socialist Action has been, play a leading role to build the broadest possible anti-war movement to stop the U.S. war machine and its economic warfare including the use of sanction as a way to work to disarm the imperialists by the only way they can be disarmed, a worldwide (eco)socialist revolution.  For more discussion of these issues see, Nayeri, August 2015) 

8. All who were Sattar League members by June 1976 were delegates at the convention with decisive vote and large majority of them, 49 persons, attended it.  Of these only 13 persons voted for the PRF and 36 voted for the PC majority resolutions and reports, a ration of one to three. Nine people who had joined after June 1977 and had consultative votes, voted for the PC majority resolutions and reports. Several recent members of the Portland branch who adhered to the PRF were not seated at the convention for factional reasons and could not vote. 

9. Formally, there were two other groups. A son of a landowning family in Shiraz, named Farid, somehow had a small group of a half a dozen teenage followers in Nezam Abad working-class neighborhood in East Tehran. This “group” was affiliated with the Rahimian wing.  And there was a young woman, Ellahe, who had arrived from France and was a follower of the Lutte Ouvrière. She also disappeared soon.  

10. Most surprising was Nader Javadi’s vote. Javadi was one of the 14 socialists imprisoned in Ahvaz. Upon his release in the fall of 1979, he used to visit Azar Gilak’s apartment where Farhad Nouri and I also lived (Farhad and Azar were a couple at the time and married in January 1980). Of course, we talked politics all the time and what I presented in the debate with Zahraie was no news to Javadi who seemed to hold and argue the same perspective.  Somehow, he changed his mind at that assembly.

11. The person who was assigned to be the organizer, Babak of London as we called him, a very gentle young man with little organizing experience who simply pulled back as he and I collaborated for an initial period of organizing the branch of over 100 members.  He returned to Britain after the summer split in the united HKS.  

12. The English translation of the “New Stage in the Iran-Iraq War” that appeared in Intercontinental Press pp. 747-52. October 4, 1982, including references to the “Islamic revolution” instead of the “revolution.”  This was not the language we used at that time.  I do not have a copy of the original Farsi text to verify this.  But it appears that there must have been an error by the translator. The editor of Intercontinental Press notes that the translation was done by the HVK. I do not recall who translated it--perhaps one of the two authors: Mahmoud or Farhad Nouri.  Regardless, it is true that gradually the HVK under intense repression began to adapt to some degree to the Islamic Republic’s hegemony and such change in our language, as well as our analysis, began to happen as I have discussed in the essay.

13. There is no evidence that this was an outcome of any serious study, rather these "theories" were probably absorption as they were widely in currency in the socialist movement including the SWP and the Fourth International.  Even Mandel subscribed to these theories in his Late Capitalism, see, Nayeri, 1991, chapter VIII).

14. For the SWP assessment of the Iranian revolution at the time Steve Clark now says the counter-revolution was "complete," see, Ernest Harsch, March 28, 1983. For longer analytical articles from the same period, see Fred Murphy, March 5, 1982; Ernest Hasch, April 1, April 8, and April 15, 1982. 

15.  After the HVK convention, I fell into a deep depression. It was Mahmoud, who as my friend and confidant suggested that I see a cousin of his who was a Freudian psychoanalyst in Tehran.  Later, he told me to also see a Jungian psychoanalyst whom he was seeing himself.  I saw both men for talk therapy and within four months the fog of depression lifted just as it had arrived.  It was also a result of this psychoanalytical treatment that I made the decision to return to the United States, which I had been debating for some time. I still had an affair of the heart with Mary whom I had known since 1970, when we were both students at UT Austin, and whom I had left behind in New York when I returned to Iran. Mary had joined the SWP when we lived in Berkeley in 1976 after hearing Peter Camejo’s speech as the SWP presidential candidate.  After I left for Iran, she became the Brooklyn branch organizer.  She remained in the SWP until 1983.  I informed Farhad Nouri and the Political Committee of my decision as I filed papers for an exit visa. They were supportive of my decision.

16. For this essay, I limited my review of The Militant coverage of Iran to the 1982-1992 period because these coincided with my own tenure in the party.  I was forced out of the SWP by its Political Committee in the October of 1992 precisely because I had changed my mind on the counter-revolutionary potential of bourgeois nationalist regimes, including the Islamic Republic, based on an almost decade long study of the underlying theories as I have explained in this essay and my earlier writings.

17. Is this a coincidence that the SWP's rightward drift to accommodate imperialism and Zionism is also mirrored in Babak Zahraie June 12, 2019 blog post entitled “Iran:1979-2019." (in Farsi) Only a decade earlier, in the contentious 2009 presidential elections in Iran where factional struggle in the Islamic Republic regime had heated up with tens of thousands in daily protests in streets of Tehran, Zahraie wrote another blogpost calling upon both factions of the Islamic Republic to unite against imperialism.  He has gone from political support for the Islamic Republic to viewing it as cancer in the Middle East!  


References 
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