Sunday, August 19, 2012

882. Book Review: The Party: The Socialist Workers Party: 1960-1988

By Kamran Nayeri, August 19, 2012

Can the Vanguard Party Emancipate Humanity?: A Review of The Party: Socialist Workers Party: 1960-1988

by Barry Sheppard

Volume 1: The Sixties, A Political Memoir, Australia: Resistance Books, 2005
Volume 2: Interregnum, Decline and Collapse, A Political Memoir, London: Resistance Books, 2012

When the first volume of The Party: The Sixties  (2005) came off the press, I enthusiastically contacted Barry Sheppard and asked for two copies, one for a friend.  I read the book immediately and with zest and recommended it to others.

After all, I belong to the “Sixties” generation in the U.S., to the youth who radicalized at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s with a minor twist. As a 1969 immigrant born and raised in Iran in political ignorance manufactured by the dictatorial regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi that was installed by the CIA-installed and sponsored by Washington, I radicalized as much by the “culture shock” of moving to an “open society” as by the cultural revolution that was sweeping the U.S. at that time.

After being won over to Trotskyism in the early 1970s, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) became the main source of my education in socialist theory, history and practice. To various degrees, this was also true of other Iranian students in the U.S. who became Trotskyists and organized themselves in the Sattar League, the Iranian section of the Fourth International. 

The SWP was so much at the center of my political life that when I returned to the U.S. in July 1982, there was no question in my mind of what I wanted to do politically. I contacted the New York branch in early August and joined its industrial jobs committee. Over the next decade and despite increasing doubts about the SWP and its leadership, I remained fully loyal and active. In October 1992, after months of intensifying harassment campaign direct by the party’s central leadership, I decided that the time has come to end my association with the SWP.[i]  A healthy relationship can only be based on mutual respect.

Given this experience, I naturally welcomed the much delayed second volume: The Party: Interregnum, Decline and Collapse, 1973-1988 (2012).  I read it with the same zest.  However, I found Sheppard’s treatment of the SWP’s demise problematic and his two chapters in volume 2 on the Iranian revolution and the Trotskyist movement marred with editorial errors and puzzling disregard for historical facts. In my reading of The Party, these two problems are interrelated by Sheppard’s treatment of the vanguard (Leninist) party—the focus of his book.[ii]  This review will focus on this aspect of the book.

In Part 1, I will argue that Sheppard fails to account for the crisis and degeneration of the SWP because he does not explore why the Barnes cult emerged in the SWP soon after he became the National Secretary in 1972.  I will also suggest that the rise of the Barnes cult could have been facilitated by the very structure and mode of functioning of the “healthy” SWP that gave much latitude to its “central leaders,” in particular the National Secretary.

This hypothesis is suggested by the observation that other parties of the Fourth International suffered similar crises.  In Part 2, I will demonstrate this for the case of the Iranian Trotskyist movement by reconstructing the major junctures of our movement from its beginning in the early 1970s to its demise by the end of 1982. This account will also provide enough information to show how Sheppard ’s treatment in chapters sixteen and twenty two in volume 2 is marred by puzzling disregard for historical facts.  Given that no written history of the Iranian Trotskyist movement exists, Part 2, hence this review, are of necessity rather long.

It is important to bear in mind that the account provided below is for the purpose of this review; it is not a history of our movement and does not and cannot deal with many aspects of our movement’s achievements and failures either descriptively or analytically. That task will remain for another occasion. Therefore, my discussion of participants in this history is of necessity incomplete. Those who I name and whose actions I recount are not fully appraised and individuals I criticize or strongly disagreed with also contributed positively to our common goals and also possessed good qualities. There are also participants who contributed in important ways to our movement who I do not even name—for example those who contributed to our technical apparatus, publications, who led our “turn to industry” who were mostly women, those who led our various campaigns, and finally a small number of working class women and men who joined in Iran and could have provided us with a toehold in the working class had our movement endured. Finally, although my account is based on documented evidence, it is ultimately a participant’s account—of necessity I write more of events that I participated in than those that I did not and I do not  know much about.

In final Part 3 of this review, I will place the crisis of the SWP and other sections of the Fourth International as exemplified by the case of the Iranian movement in the context of the original idea of the vanguard party proposed by Lenin and its metamorphosis.

Sheppard hopes that his political memoir will enable new generation of radicalized workers and youth with lessons for party building. My hope is to encourage the reader to engage in a deeper, more analytical, theoretical and historical inquiry into the problem of socialism and social and institutional agencies necessary for its realization in the twenty first century.  Given the anthropogenic crisis of nature that 10,000 years of class society and over two centuries of fossil fuel powered capitalist industrialization have caused, we are running out of time to affect a radical social change worldwide to bring harmony among ourselves and with nature of which we are nothing more than a small part. 


The book
As a political memoir of a former central leader of the SWP, The Party sheds some light on its history.  Written chronologically, Sheppard gives an account of his political career in the SWP.  He correctly provides ample room to highlight political events that framed policy response by the SWP and his own activities. He also recounts political inner life of the SWP and the Fourth International and his own role in them, passing judgment with the benefit of hindsight. 

Only in the much shorter second half of volume 2 the reader learns about events that in Sheppard’s view resulted in the decline and demise of the SWP as a revolutionary socialist party. 

The book’s long period of gestation (Sheppard left the SWP in 1988 and the first volume appeared in 2005) and the long pause to publish volume 2 (which has no publication date but was completed in September 2011 and distributed in early 2012)[iii], where Sheppard finally comes to deal with the more difficult questions, make it clear that writing it was not entirely an easy and pleasurable experience. That is understandable: Not only it is hard to see a revolutionary socialist party degenerate into an abstentionist cult of personality but also admitting some responsibility for its decline and degeneration can be personally devastating.

A book of this nature is also hard to write because of other reasons.  Writing a political memoir always risks subjectivity in recalling events and requires constant caution not to put one’s best foot forward or deny fairness to others.  Too much subjectivity in a memoir risks its credibility.  As for any memoir, it is often impossible for the reader to verify author’s claims based on memory-recall or judgment about others based on events not independently verifiable.

I applaud Sheppard’s hard work to write this book.  The chronology he offers and documentation he provides using the SWP and other sources highlight historical events that have become murky in the minds of the older generation and are entirely new to the younger generation.  In addition, I sometimes find some of Sheppard’s own political judgments (often offered as “what-if” scenarios) clever and agreeable.

Still, and in this context, I have two interrelated sets of criticism of the book. The first is theoretical and methodological related to how Sheppard deals with the decline and demise of the SWP as a revolutionary socialist organization and his notion of the theory of the vanguard (Leninist) party. The second has to do with Sheppard’s objectivity in the historical narrative itself. As a participant in the Iranian revolution and the Iranian Trotskyist movement, I find Sheppard’s account to include factual errors, misrepresentation and, I fear, a certain disregard for the truth. I will deal with these in turn.

The vanguard party: the book’s scope or its limit?
Sheppard’s stated purpose for writing his political memoir is to “…help preserve what was positive in that experience and warn against what was negative. I hope this book will help in rebuilding the revolutionary socialist party that is so needed today in the midst of the present catastrophe of wars and capitalist economic collapse.” (Vol. 2, p. 330, my emphasis).

Indeed, the vanguard party is the focus and the scope of Sheppard’s book. Let him speak for himself:

“I believe it was James P. Cannon who made the observation that the question of whether or not the working class will rise to its historical challenge and take power is the question of the revolutionary vanguard party, whether it will be up to snuff and built in time—and, the question of the party is the question of the leadership the party creates, whether it is healthy and capable (my emphasis, Vol. 2, p. 322).”[iv]

Sheppard proceeds to offer his explanation for the demise of the SWP.

“The formation of the Barnes cult began first in the Political Committee….I became aware of this in 1978… [W]hen I first raised my concerns with Jack Barnes privately, he threatened me, demonstrating his concept that the leadership must be loyal to him personally and centered on him personally—one of hallmarks of a cult leader.  The concept was gradually accepted, at least implicitly, within the Political Committee. From there it spread to the National Committee and the broader leadership in the branches. Consequently, the party leadership was destroyed.  The destruction of the party as a whole followed suit.

“It would be naïve to think that the membership itself could resist this juggernaut. It was up to the rest of us on the Political Committee itself. Jack couldn’t do it—he didn’t understand what he was fashioning. It was up to the rest of us on the Political Committee, but we failed.  The responsibility is primarily mine, since I was the first to understand it, and next to Jack I had the greatest leadership authority” (Vol. 2 pp 322-23).”

In these paragraphs Sheppard ’s conception of the SWP as the vanguard party and reasons for its crisis and degeneration are tied together.  Let’s examine this conception and his argument. 

In referring to James P. Cannon, Sheppard must have had in mind Cannon’s 1967 article The Revolutionary Party and Its Role in the Struggle for Socialism, first published in the International Socialist Review.[v]

Rereading the essay, it becomes clear that Cannon was not making an observation about the role of the vanguard party, as Sheppard seems to suggest. Rather, Cannon was making a proposition that he acknowledged is not universally accepted and he tried very consciously to defend.  He acknowledged that the idea of the vanguard party and its history was subject to debate and cited the New Left and “some disillusioned workers and ex-radicals” among those who questioned its necessity or desirability. Of course, Cannon could have also noted that prominent communist leaders including Marx, Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, and young Trotsky as well as communist currents such as libertarian Marxists (such as Council Communists) held alternative organizational forms for advancing to socialism and some explicitly criticized the idea of the vanguard party. 

If Sheppard had followed Cannon’s approach he would have included a brief chapter or perhaps an appendix on the theory and history of the vanguard party and why he still believes that it is, after the tragic experience of the SWP that he outlines and attempt to explain, the only way to socialism.  Of course, Sheppard knows that the idea of the vanguard party is subject to even more doubt and debate among the older generation of socialists (including former members of the SWP) and the newly radicalized workers and youth and for good reasons.

Further, if we admit that the idea of the vanguard party itself can be questioned then the search for an explanation for the crisis in the SWP could and should be broadened and deepened.  Could the very structure and function of the SWP as “the vanguard party,” in particular its conception of “democratic centralism,” its leadership structure and function, and membership participation level have contributed to its crisis?  After all, Sheppard himself paraphrases Cannon: “the question of the party is the question of the leadership the party creates, whether it is healthy and capable.” So, in Sheppard’s own view a leadership crisis is in fact the crisis of the way by which the party created the leadership.

In Chapter 34, volume 1,  “Farrell Dobbs and the Political Committee,” Sheppard very briefly discusses leadership transitions in the SWP: From the Cannon leadership in the pre-1953 period, to Dobbs-Cannon leadership in 1953, to Dobbs-Kerry leadership in 1959-60, and finally their replacement with the younger leadership with Jack Barnes as the National Secretary in 1972.   Sheppard’s account is essentially descriptive; he does not critically analyze the continuity and discontinuity in the SWP and transitions in the “central leaderships” that took place although he critically comments on some of the disagreements that ensued.  For example while he clearly knows that the role of the National Secretary (in a footnote he aptly calls it the Chief Executive Officer, CEO, of the party) is key, he does not critically assess it. Instead, Sheppard take the position of the National Secretary as a given and tries to contrast Dobbs’s style with Barnes’s.  Here is how he portrays Dobbs’ leadership style.

“Farrell’s main strength was shown in assembling a team. This team worked together, and no one was a star.  Farrell had authority earned through his leadership, but neither he nor anyone else on the PC or NC dominated discussion. Leadership discussions were discussions among people with different strengths and weaknesses, but discussions among equals. No one was humiliated or put down. The rule was to encourage everyone to do the best they could, not to discourage. Farrell also was a kind of watchdog over our program together with Tom [Kerry]. This helped us keep our Marxist bearings as we navigated new waters.” (Vol. 1, p. 221).

Just as important as the National Secretary in Sheppard’s account is the “central leadership” which is not a constitutional category of the SWP. Rather, it is a core group of leaders whose tenure on the Political Committee spans over the long period and wields authority among other leaders and the party ranks.  Historically, this core group centered round the National Secretary has exercised much power in the SWP.  Constitutionally, in every convention the Nominating Commission deliberates and draws a slate for the incoming National Committee for the consideration and vote of the convention delegates.   In the “democratic centralist” conception, candidates for leadership “bubble up” from the ranks in the branches or fractions and are recognized as such by the membership and by the Nominating Commission. In reality, however, often they are members of the party already “recognized” by the central leadership, in particular the National Secretary, to have “leadership potential” and/or possess qualities useful to the National Committee as a whole and placed in positions of responsibility that make them likely to be recognized as potential leaders for the party by the Nominating Commission. Thus, the National Secretary and the central leadership exert influence over the composition of the incoming National Committee. This is how the central leadership perpetuates itself over time. In theory, this is a good thing because it assures continuity and change in leadership in accordance to the evolving party and the environment it operates in.  I will turn to this later when I discuss the concept of “communist continuity.”  However, its proper functioning depends on the quality of the “central leadership” and the National Secretary and to a much lesser extent on the party membership and the wider layer of leadership that is transient. 

According to Sheppard’s account a group of 11 younger party leaders (Barry Sheppard, Jack Barnes, Peter Camejo, Betsy Stone, and in 1968, Lew Jones, Mary Alice Waters, Gus Horowitz, Doug Jenness, Larry Siegel, Charlie Bloduc, and Joel Britton) were brought into the National Committee, in good measure on Dobbs’ initiative, and by 1972, when Jack Barnes became the National Secretary, they assumed the “central leadership” functions of the party. 

Sheppard says that “there began an erosion of the collective leadership in the Political Committee in the mid-1970s.” (Vol. 2, p. 208)  And by early 1978, “[t]he Political Committee had turned into its opposite, from a collective leadership into a cult around an individual ‘star’” (ibid.)   By 1978, the cult was so entrenched in the Political Committee that Sheppard feared that he could be expelled by Barnes should he try to correct what he had characterized as the “star leadership” style of Barnes that had turned the Political Committee into a “one man band.”

Sheppard had also concluded and even today believes that it had become impossible for the National Committee or even the membership (through a convention) to effectively challenge this huge distortion of the democratic centralism in the SWP.  In his view, only the Political Committee could have corrected its own crisis.

But how did the “healthy” SWP of the 1972 turned into a party pregnant with a mortal crisis by 1978?  How was that possible? 

Sheppard does not speculate why Barnes, a widely praised young capable leader of the party who was a team builder, turned into a “star leader” and cult figure soon after he became the National Secretary. More importantly, Sheppard does not contemplate why the democratic centralist structure and norms of the SWP did not or could not stop this fateful turn of events. 

In Sheppard own account at least two other influential leaders of the SWP, Mary Alice Waters and Gus Horowitz, had noticed the problem.  Sheppard says when Waters visited him in Europe in early 1978 she agreed with him that Barnes was turning the PC into a “one-man band.” He also tells us how Horowitz characterized the problem in the PC as a cult in a conversation they had in a wine bar in Mexico in late 1978. Why these capable leaders did not organized together to confront Barnes?  After all, nothing less than the party’s future was at stake. Were they not followers of Trotsky who stood up against the rising bureaucracy in the Soviet Union despite clear danger to his position in the party and in fact to his life? Did not other SWP leaders and many members stand up against Barnes and his associates in the early 1980s at the risk of expulsion?

Or were they worried about losing their position of influence as central leaders of the party, a position they held by their close association with the central leader, Jack Barnes?

Two other oddities in Sheppard’s account need to be noted. Sheppard claims that Barnes could not have corrected his own course. What does that mean? We know that after his 1978 mysterious journey to California, he returned as a man on a mission to radically transform the SWP. How can he not have been conscious of the nature of this transformation and the means he was employing to achieve those ends?   Was Barnes unaware of the stark contrast between his own conduct and what in Sheppard’s account has been the team leadership culture in the SWP?  Did Barnes believe that his threatening Sheppard with expulsion was routine conduct under Cannon and Dobbs?

Sheppard also has convinced himself that only he could have stopped Barnes (but he did not).  This claim may be more interesting to a psychotherapist (obviously Sheppard carries feelings of guilt for his failure to stand up to Barnes) than to his reader who wants to draw lessons from the SWP experience for the fight for socialism.  Why would any radicalized worker or youth want to give his life to organizing a vanguard party if its future lays in the hands of a central leader or a second-in-authority central leader? 

Clearly, in Sheppard’s view of the vanguard party, the central leadership, in particular, the CEO of the party play decisive role.  But why does the vanguard party need “central leaders” and the CEO?

Whose communist continuity?
Sheppard uses a pre- and post-Barnes methodology in his narrative.  Most of the two volumes are given to the “healthy” SWP.  Thus, Sheppard’s method is to document deviation from the past policy and norms, by appealing to communist continuity.

The idea of “communist continuity” (or "revolutionary continuity") is so prevalent that seldom calls for reflection and questioning. Readers who are older can recall emblems the Stalinists used to indicate their political lineage. These emblems showed muscular depictions of Marx, Engels, Lenin (pro-Moscow parties) or Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao (pro-Beijing groups).  Present leaders appealed to historical leaders to justify their own policies. Of course, they picked and chose from their historic leaders’ “teachings” to fit their current requirements.

Trotskyists did not use emblems.  But we still had our own “communist continuity.”  In the SWP of the 1970s, founding fathers were Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Cannon (there was and is a contrast between Cannon and Dobbs among some. Sheppard dedicated his first volume to Dobbs).

Connected to these teachers was a certain interpretation of their teachings—what each one contributed to the theory and practice of the vanguard party.  In his essay on the vanguard party noted above, Cannon tells his readers that he differs from “most people” on the main contributions of Trotsky, which he says are his defense of the Bolshevik program and party principles, reconstituted as the Fourth International.[vi]  Thus, with every twist and turn of the socialist history we come with a number of interpretations of what constitutes the “communist continuity.”  Indeed, Barnes’ December 1982 Young Socialist Alliance convention speech, Their Trotsky and Ours, is a good example of how the SWP’s “communist continuity” was redefined by its central leader to suit his agenda.

Why do the proponents of the vanguard party need “communist continuity?”  It is because socialist theory and policy is not scientific.  Socialism after Marx became a doctrine.  When socialist theory or practice is in dispute appeal to theory, historical precedents and historic leaders is necessary in winning an argument and settling a dispute. 

That is why there is always a need for “central leaders” who are the watchdog of “communist continuity.” Thus, there is an inherent problem in the theory of the vanguard party because “central leaders” not critically minded empowered membership chart its course.

Trotskyism has suffered many splits and each branch has its own “communist continuity.”[vii] How would the newly radicalized workers and youth decide which “communist continuity” to choose from? They often choose it by default when they agree with a party on a single or limited set of issues and very broad idea of socialism and later get “educated” about their “communist continuity” through party literature, classes and other “educational” effort.  “Communist continuity” as the tool to forge and maintain an organization, breads long lasting factionalism among competing vanguard parties.

The problem with Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism and so on is that they require authorities to decide what constitutes their content and this runs counter to the libertarian core of Marx’s concept of socialism that stands contrary to the widespread belief that Sheppard also shares. For Marx, the goal is to to liberate humanity through the self-emancipation of the working class by its self-organization and self-activity to overcome class society: “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves,” proclaimed Marx. [viii]

It is well known that Marx himself objected to being called a Marxist by those who were interested to use this label for their own ends. Marx was acutely aware of the problem of subordinating the working class and socialist movements to this or that leader or organization. Lenin did not initiate Leninism and Trotskyism was a label cooked up by the troika of Stalin, Zinoviev and Komenev in an attempt to falsify Bolshevik legacy by creating a cult of Lenin after his death.

As soon as you have Marxism or Leninism or Trotskyism, the idea of a united struggle for emancipation of humanity (socialism) is reduced to the struggle to advance a given doctrine.  Praxis, the process of development of experience-based theory, the idea of learning from each other as we struggle together for radical social change is reduced to the struggle to prove our dogma something that is by definition the opposite of Marx’s conception of socialism.


The vanguard party: The case of Iran[ix]
Sheppard who spent a fair amount of time at the Fourth International Bureau should certainly recall crises similar to that of the SWP emerging in other sections.  For example, he alludes to the adventurism of Nahuel Moreno of the Argentine PRT (Revolutionary Workers Party) in the context of the Portuguese and Nicaraguan revolutions.  In this Part, I will draw attention to the Iranian revolution and the experience of the Iranian Trotskyist movement as a case study of the vanguard party. Sheppard devoted chapters sixteen and twenty two of volume 2 to this experience.  The Iranian case is especially of interest because we can see how the vanguard party functioned in one of the most massive urban revolutions of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, Sheppard’s historical account is deeply flawed in part because of its dubious methodology.[x] Being a memoir, Sheppard utilizes his personal experiences and memories. He places these in the context of selected information from the SWP sources. Finally, he benefits from two readers who happen to be a couple, Babak Zahraie and Kateh Vafadari, who he acknowledges for offering advice presumably also on its chapters on Iran. Sheppard praises Zahraie as “the central leader” of the Iranian Trotskyist movement and Vafadari as one of its leaders, dignifying them as “unsung heroes of the struggles of the world working class” (Vol. 2, p. 230).

Sheppard account glorifies a cult that Zahraie consciously built almost from the beginning of the Sattar League, the first Iranian Trotskyist organization formed in the United States in early 1970s.  Zaharie used his cult primarily to control the Sattar League—much the same way as Barnes used his to control the SWP. In both case, the desire for power was combined with get rich quick schemes that sacrificed socialist program and principles. To avoid this major fact of the Iranian Trotskyist movement’s history, Sheppard distorts the history of the revolution and the history of our movement to fit his narrative.

In what follows I will offer an outline of the major junctures of the history of the Iranian Trotskyist movement to achieve two goals simultaneously: to examine the actual functioning of our movement and how the theory of vanguard party played out in Iran and to demonstrate where and how Sheppard’s account is faulty.  The outline I provide is based on our publications, discussion bulletins, internal documents, discussions with participants, my own political diaries, and personal recollection that I tried to verify to the extent possible.[xi]  As I stated earlier what follows is not intended as a history of our movement. Given the lack of any written history of our movement, I have documented what I believe is necessary and sufficient for the purpose of this review.

Before I embark on the historical account of the Iranian Trotskyist movement, the reader should be warned about editorial problems in Sheppard’s account.

There are significant factual errors that reveal poor copy-editing.  One example suffice here: On the second line of the first paragraph of chapter sixteen, Sheppard mistakenly identifies “Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi,” the man that was brought back to power by the CIA coup of 1953 and was overthrown by the 1979 revolution, as “Shah Reza Pahlavi,” who was in fact his father.

Sheppard also does not double-check his sources for accuracy. For example, on page 222, “Chapter Twenty Two: Iran,” Volume 2, Sheppard offers a lengthily quote from the Militant of May 23, 1980 that gives a terse but wrong account of the opening phase of the so-called Cultural Revolution.  The article holds President Bani-Sadr responsible for the “ultra-right gangs that attacked the campuses in several cities in mid-April.” “They were attempting to back up government’s call for an end to the political activity on campuses. The attackers wanted to block the moves by the Islamic Student Organizations…to transform the universities into a base for arming the masses, spreading literacy, and deepening the revolution….”

In fact, the Islamic Student Associations (not Muslim Student Organizations) with support from the semi-fascist Hezb-ollah gangs organized by the currents associated with the Islamic Republican Party occupied the universities, physically attacking students belonging to other tendencies—mainly supporters of socialist parties and the Mujahedin—the day after Khomeini sermon that denounced the universities as being un-Islamic and corrupt.  There is no need to speculate how the Militant botched this story so badly—they were not obviously following Joe Hansen’s example. The point here is that three decades later, Sheppard should not simply quote the Militant about what happened in Iran or anywhere else without double-checking it for accuracy. There is simply much more information available about events of those days now, including from the participants.[xii]

The formation of the Sattar League in the U.S.
Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh was the first Iranian Trotskyist who joined the SWP in the early 1960s.  He came to the U.S. on a college scholarship just before the CIA 1953 coup that overthrew the democratically elected nationalist government of Mohammad Mossadegh.  An Azerbijani, he grew up in Tabriz during the revolutionary period that opened up with the occupation of Iran by the Allies armies in 1941 and closed with the CIA coup in 1953. The Red Army occupied Azerbaijan. In September 1946, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) (Firqah-I Dimukrat) established the autonomous Azerbaijan People’s Government that carried out important reforms. However, after the withdrawal of the Red Army the central government forces overthrew the People’s Government in November 1947.[xiii] The leaders of the DPA who escaped to the Soviet Union faced harassment and some were executed. These events left their mark on Sayrafizadeh.  He joined the emerging nationalist student movement in the U.S. and Europe that opposed the coup and the Shah’s regime in the late 1950s.  By 1960-61, they established the Confederation of Iranian Students that was based in Europe.  Soon, the National Front (a bourgeois nationalist formation) and Maoists took over the Confederation by expelling the pro-Moscow Tudeh Party and its followers. Despite its progressive function—thousands of radicalized Iranian students joined its campaigns through its history--the sectarian nature of the Confederation’s leadership resulted in its perpetual crisis. By the 1979 revolution it had fractured into a number of competing organizations each claiming to represent the Confederation.

The first Iranian Trotskyist organization was the Sattar League, named after the plebian revolutionary Sattar Khan of the 1906 Constitutional Revolution.   There is no written history of the formation of the Sattar League. From conversations with the “old timers,” I learned that a number of people, including Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh, Babak Zahraie, Siamak Zahraie and Nasser Khoshnevis (pen name), were among the founders of what was first known as the Nucleus (Haste). The last three were a generation younger and had radicalized as students in Northern California becoming Trotskyists through coming into contact with the Young Socialist Alliance during the successful campaign in Seattle to stop the deportation Babak Zahraie who was a student anti-Vietnam war activist.

In early 1970s, three geographic regions were the sources of early recruits to this movement. Sayrafizadeh recruited a few in the Northeast (Boston region and New York-New Jersey region).  The west coast--North California, and subsequently Seattle where Zahraie’s defense campaign was based—were another region. Here Babak Zahraie played a leading role because of his defense campaign but also because of his personal qualities. The third location, and with a time lag of a year or two, was the University of Texas at Austin, where a few radicalized Iranian students were won over to Trotskyism due to individual effort and coming in contact with the YSA, or coming in contact with Iranian Trotskyists from the east or west coast. They were then able to recruit significant number of others. Among these early Trotskyists were Nader Javadi, Farhad Nouri and Faaheem.[xiv]

Rapid early gains
Between 1972 and 1974, the Sattar League took shape by establishing three highly successful projects: a publishing house, an ongoing committee to defend political prisoners in Iran, and a magazine published quarterly, then monthly and for a brief period just before the February 1979 revolution weekly. Brief descriptions of these follow.

By 1972, the Fanus Publishers (Entesharat Fanus) was launched with the pamphlet Oppression of Women in Iran.  With a stunning cover page photo of an older woman in a scarf, the pamphlet included articles by the SWP feminist anthropologist Evelyn Reed, translated into Farsi by Azar Tabari (pen name), the first female Iranian Trotskyist, and an article criticizing anti-women Islamic laws under the Shah that Tabari co-authored with Forugh Rad (pen name), another early feminist Trotskyist. Soon, Fanus also published a Farsi translation of Dynamics of the World Revolution, the 1963 reunification document of the Fourth International, a translation of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, and Sayrafizadeh’s book Nationality and Revolution in Iran.  Sayrafizadeh’s book became an important recruitment and educational tool as it gave an account of the social movements, revolutions, and counter-revolutions in modern history of Iran using the theory of Permanent Revolution as its organizing principle.  Fanus published a number of key writings of Trotsky and SWP leaders such as Cannon and George Novack in Farsi. 

Iranian Trotskyists were the main leaders and activists of the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran (CAIFI). Formed in 1973 to defend Reza Baraheni, a prominent Iranian author, poet, and literary critic of Azeri origin, and a founder of the Writers Association of Iran. CAIFI challenged the ultra-left sectarian defense policy of the Confederation of Iranian Students by defending prominent political prisoners regardless of their ideological views while drawing attention to the plight of all political prisoners through building the broadest possible coalition using democratic organizational methods. CAIFI won over the support of some prominent liberal Americans, including Kay Boyle, Daniel Ellsberg and Ramsey Clark.  CAIFI got a boost when under international pressure Baraheni was released and was able to travel to the U.S. and agreed to be keynote speaker for CAIFI sponsored events attracting even more support for its campaigns.  In Just a few years, CAIFI became the most successful defender of the Shah’s political prisoners.  CAIFI’s mission was finally accomplished when the February 1979 freed all the Shah’s political prisoners. In the process, Sattar League activists learned a great deal about conducting defense campaigns, a skill proved much needed under the Islamic Republic regime that came to power after the February 1979 revolution.

In 1973, Sattar League began to publish a magazine named Payam-e Danshjoo (Student’s Message).  It originated as the organ of the Students for an Open and Democratic Iranian Student Association at the University of Texas at Austin.  In 1971, radicalized Iranian students took over the leadership of the Iranian Student Association at UT-Austin from a monarchist clique. However, it soon became clear that the new leadership was dominated by the Maoists who answered only to the U.S. Organization of the Iranian Students Associations (OISA or Saazmaan-e Amrika), affiliated with the Confederation of Iranian Students, that they controlled. Conflict erupted between the Maoists dominated ISA leadership and the Trotskyists and a large number of independents that wanted to initiate their own activities.[xv] The latter formed Students for an Open and Democratic ISA and began to publish Payam-e Daneshjoo as a newsletter.  In March 17, 1974, the conflict came to a head; the Maoists expelled more than 30 of ISA members who supported the Students for an Open and Democratic ISA. In June 1974, Payam-e Daneshjoo was published in a new more professional format as issue 1 of volume 2.[xvi] Soon Payam-e Daneshjoo began to publish in New York and recognized as the national magazine associated with the Iranian Trotskyists in the U.S.  Over time, its editorial and technical staff improved so did its content, form, frequency of publication and circulation. It ceased publication in January 1979 when the Sattar League members returned to Iran to participate in the revolution.

A small split that endured
Despite these impressive gains, in early 1974 the SL suffered a split. Political differences emerged in a written internal discussion that centered on a document Sayrafizadeh had written (dated May 23, 1973) about the nature of the Confederation of Iranian Students and the SL tasks.  The national question was the main issue of contention but two other issues were also raised, construction of Leninist parties in the “Third World” and how to organize defense campaigns. Those who left generally believed that in the “imperialist epoch” all nationalist movements are reactionary. Arash , who in January 1974 declared a tendency based on these three points argued that in the Third World, Leninist parties should provide military training to their members as means of self-defense against unrelenting repression. He also argued that defense campaigns should reflect “our program,” disagreeing with the CAIFI’s strategy explained above. Some of these ideas were popular in the Iranian student movement in the 1970s.  In terms of numbers, this was a small split of a few people. However, those who left eventually gravitated towards the (Fourth) International Majority Tendency (IMT) views while the SL remained in agreement with the Leninist Trotskyist Faction (LTF). The most significant among those who left was Azar Tabari, a self-confident, cerebral young feminist who quit graduate studies in nuclear physics for revolutionary work. Tabari moved to England and with others, including Hormuz Rahimian, formed the Iranian Supporters of the Fourth International in Europe and the Near East.

This group launched the Talli’a (Vanguard) Publishers, Kandokav (Search) magazine, and Committee Against Repression in Iran (CARI).  For simplicity, I will refer to them as the Kandokav group.  Talli’a published Farsi translations of pamphlet size works of Trotsky but also of Ernest Mandel. Compared to Payam-e daneshjoo, Kandokav had a more analytical, reflective articles dealing of with Iran. Rahimian begin to write a series on the Iranian political economy and industrialization that was left incomplete due to the 1979 revolution. However, only eight issues of Kandokav were published between fall of 1974 and fall of 1978.  CARI differed from CAIFI in that it did not focus on prominent political prisoners and did not building broad-based campaigns, instead it exposed broader forms of repression under the Shah regime.  The Kandokav group was more focused on the “mass vanguard,” that is mostly centrist groups, which at that time were the supporters or former supporters of armed struggle in Iran.

Crisis of the Sattar League leadership
On December 7, 1976, ten members of the Sattar League declared the Permanent Revolution Tendency (PRT).  In early June 1976, the majority of the Political Committee (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 that appeared to relegate resolution of national democratic tasks to the socialist revolution and some new ideas regarding tasks, including a proposal to train and send SL members to establish “illegal nucleuses” inside Iran. Subsequently, the document was circulated in the SL. On September 28, 1976, Sayrafizadeh, the sole member of the PC who had voted against that document wrote a critique of it entitled “Points of Disagreement in the Sattar League.” However, the Babak Zahraie led PC majority refused to circulate it among the membership and began a slander campaign against Sayrafizadeh—that he has a clique and is preparing a split and to form together with Baraheni a competing group.  Sayafizadeh decided to organize the PRT to ward off this slander campaign. 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, (4) to ensure a calm and democratic atmosphere for the internal discussion and a democratic convention.”  The initial singers were from SL branches in Berkeley, California, Portland, Oregon, New York, Los Angels, Boston, Austin, Texas, and Philadelphia.  

It is now necessary to give a picture of the SL in 1976. It had fewer than 50 members with no founding convention, program or constitution. Yet, it already had a National Committee and a Political Committee (five members) and Babak Zahraie as its National Secretary. Excluding Sayrafizadeh who was a generation older, the average member was probably less than 25 years old and was not in the SL more than 3 years. The SL was composed of Iranian (former or current) students mostly from rich families who never worked in their lives.

Given its youthfulness and lack of experience, it would seem obvious that our movement needed maximum democracy, to encourage maximum participation in a written discussion in a calm atmosphere.  However, the SL was a hyper-centralized organization with Babak Zahraie controlling all its institutions and functions. To preserve this status quo, Zahraie proved fearful of a democratic political discussion leading to a convention where the membership determined its leadership. Here are a few examples of how Zahraie and his associates reacted to Sayrafizadeh’s criticism and the PRT.

On the evening of November 20, 1976, Zahraie called me at home in Oakland, California, where I was part of a branch of four persons (soon when two of us signed the PRT declaration Zahraie sent in a fifth person  to ensure we remain in a minority). Sayrafizadeh was visiting our branch to talk to us about his suppressed document.  I had not yet met with Sayrafizadeh or knew of the discord in the PC and had proposed to the branch to organize a public meeting for him.  Zahraie wanted me to withdraw my proposal. He told me that Sayrafizadeh “has no political assignment to be there,” that “we have documents that show they have a secret faction,” that they are “collecting money for their work” and that they are “constantly in communication with each other” and “are preparing for a cold split.” Sayrafizadeh “wants to split from the Sattar League with his group in the Sattar League and Baraheni as soon as possible,” he said. (translated from my diary hand written in Farsi).”

Of course, I was shocked.  I asked Zahraie to publish the documents he possesses that prove these terrible charges. While doubtful about these allegations, I deferred to him by agreeing to withdraw my proposal to the branch for a public meeting for Sayrafizadeh. Needless to say, Zahraie never published any such documents—none existed.  Yet, he must have had similar conversation with other members of our branch and others in the Sattar League. Of course, he was using his authority as the National Secretary of the SL to conduct this smear campaign.

Another example: 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 had 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 (words in italics were spoken in English, the rest is my translation from the original Farsi. Source: Internal Discussion Bulletin, “Documents of the Expulsion of Comrades Hassan Hakimi and Heydar Gillani,” by Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh, March 7, 1977).”  Zahraie’s intervention followed an appeal by the accused for time to document their defense. Subsequent to these expulsions, the Permanent Revolution Tendency declared itself as the Permanent Revolution Faction (PRF). (Source: Internal Discussion Bulletin, “Declaration of the Permanent Revolution Faction,” February 7, 1977.)

Example 3: The PC majority sent a team of three SL members loyal to Zahraie to Portland, Organ, where Nader Javadi, a signer of the PRT declaration, was the organizer of a thriving branch, to organize a new branch.  Zahraie traveled to Portland soon after his trusted team arrived and began to initiate the split of the branch into those loyal to the PC majority and Javadi and others who might have supported the PRT. Zahraie and his advance team attacked Javadi and other members of the Portland branch, notably Azar Gillak, in the name of Iranian Trotskyist movement posing serious security risk to everyone involved. Zahraie also publicly declared: "You go your way, I'll go mine." (Source: Internal Discussion Bulletins. “Documents of the Sattar League’s Crisis in Portland,” by Nader Javadi, October 21, 1977. The last quotation from Zahraie that appear in italics was spoken in English in the public meeting).

SWP leadership intervenes
In his book, Sheppard claims that the SWP leadership did not intervene in internal affairs of sister organizations before its crisis.  This is certainly not true with regards to our movement.  I know Sayrafizadeh, who was part of the SWP before becoming a founder of the Iranian Trotskyist movement, kept in touch with the SWP leadership whenever he and I collaborated during our movement’s crises. For example, when I joined Sayrafizadeh and Khoshnevis in Brooklyn in spring of 1977 to help on the Steering Committee of the PRF, I accompanied Sayrafizadeh to meet with Doug Jenness, a member of the SWP PC, to discuss the status of the factional struggle in the SL. In the meeting, Sayrafizadeh provided updates of the factional struggle and Jenness asked questions, and sometimes offering words of advice.  Of course, the entire effort was to help the SL navigate its crisis with minimum damage. Jenness did not take sides but clearly he felt that by talking to us he could get a reasonably fair picture of how things were going and that we would be more likely listen to his advice.

Sheppard himself intervened in this faction fight.  In a report Sayrafizadeh wrote to the PRF he summarized a meeting the Political Committee of SL held with Sheppard on March 17, 1977. The immediate purpose of the meeting was for Sheppard to prepare a report on the factional situation in the SL for the LTF Steering Committee.

The meeting turned out as a negotiating session between Sayrafizadeh and the PC majority. At the beginning of the meeting Hassan Sabba spoke of a “de facto” split in the SL and Babak Zahraie said that he would not be opposed to two public factions each having its own paper. The presence of Sheppard helped reduce such factional attitudes. Eventually, some in the PC majority began to soften some of their earlier stance. 

Let me quote what Sayrafizadeh recorded as what Sheppard said: “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 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?”

Sattar League holds a convention, sort of
A combination of the PRF resilience and persistence and intervention by the SWP leadership convinced the PC majority to reverse its unprincipled split course.  The June 10-13, 1977, plenum of the SL reversed the expulsion of Hakimi and Gillani from the Austin branch.  The PC majority agreed to hold a convention and to submit a political resolution for it, stating that it will take the PRF political resolution submitted on May 1, 1977 as a starting point. At the same time, Sayrafizadeh reported to the PRF that the political differences have widened and spread to new issues. At the center of contention was the PC majority idea of developing “illegal nucleuses” inside Iran that was part of Zahraie’s report to the plenum. But there were differences ranging from the importance of the democratic tasks of the Iranian revolution to our defense policy at CAIFI (the PC majority had imposed a ban on inviting Baraheni to speak at CAIFI events This was party due to the reluctance of some American liberal supporters, like Kay Boyle and Daniel Ellsberg, who complained about Maoist attacks on CAIFI events targeting Baraheni). (Source: Internal Discussion Bulletins. “For Maintaining the Defense Principles of the Sattar League,” Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh and Nasser Khoshnevis, September 17, 1977).

The first and only SL convention was held, in Brooklyn, New York, on Oct. 29-Nov. 2, 1977.  The PC majority set the agenda as follows: 1) The Theory of Permanent Revolution[xvii], 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.  Although the PRF was given equal time to present under each report, the convention was not entirely democratic.  The PC majority resolutions were submitted late so there was little time for the membership and the PRF to read and discuss them in writing (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 on May 1, 1977).  The PC majority also held a tight grip over the convention proceedings. For example, the PRF was excluded from the Presiding Committee that was composed of Babak and Siamk Zahraie and Hassan Sabba. Sayrafizadeh’s proposal to add him to it was rejected. Under the point of organization of the convention, Ghazanfar, a PRF member from Philadelphia, asked for two minutes extension to discuss this but was opposed by Babak Zahraie without offering any reason and the request was denied. When Nader Javadi, the Portland branch organizer and PRF member, asked for speaking time to discuss the voting status of the members of his branch he was ruled out of order.

The invited guests included Hormuz Rahimian and Azar Tabari from the Kandokav group and Doug Jenness and Gus Horowitz from the SWP. The IMT self-criticism of its “strategic line” in Latin America in late 1976 had reduced tensions in the FI and the SL internal political discussion, as factional and convoluted as it was, proved attractive to the Kandokav group who had received some of these documents (the PRF produced most of the documents, including a political resolution and tasks an perspective document). As noted above, the SL had impressive early gains and the Kandokav group knew it could not by pass us. 

When Rahimian spoke at the convention, his view on the theory of Permanent Revolution was similar to the SL PC majority’s report as they both emphasized the socialist aspect of the process, disagreeing with the PRF’s emphasizing the historical democratic tasks such as the peasant/land question and the oppressed nationalities. The reports and discussion under the agenda item Political Report showed no convergence in the SL and did not clarify much except that the PC majority still insisted on working for planting “nucleuses” inside Iran. However, there was convergence on the women’s question and the RPF voted for the PC majority document subject to amendments that they accepted. The PC majority showed no interest in the peasant question but left the door open to work on the basis of the PRF document that Ghazanfar of Philadelphia had written. The PC majority’s view on the self-determination for Iranians was similar to the PRF but for the oppressed nationalities the PC majority seemed to support cultural autonomy (falling short of right to self-determination). 

On November 1, Sayrafizadeh reported to the PRF’s caucus meeting that the SWP representatives Doug Jenness and Gus Horowitz see no fundamental differences, see a desire for unity, think a split would be unprincipled and cannot be explained, saw responsibilities for both the majority and minority in healing the organizational rift, thought the PRF should dissolve itself and the written discussion be closed but oral discussion to continue in the incoming National Committee, and that they thought attention should now be focused on turning outwards.  After his report, Sayrafizadeh placed a motion to dissolve the PRF. While it was true that the PRF forced a discussion of theory, program, tasks and perspective and norms in the SL, it did not win over the big majority of the organization (all who were SL members by June 1976 were delegates at the convention with decisive vote and large majority of them, 49 persons, attended it.  Of these 13 persons voted for the PRF and 36 voted for the PC majority resolutions and reports. 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). At the same time, PRF members became more experienced and homogenous in their political outlook after an intensive period of studying, consulting, debating, writing theoretical, programmatic and political documents. Those present at the PRF caucus meeting voted to dissolve the faction.[xviii]

On the other hand, Babak Zahraie used the factional struggle to consolidate his personal control over the SL. He had managed to maintain a solid majority in the SL leadership and membership without providing a clear political program and perspective and by slandering Sayrafizadeh and anyone who agreed with him.  While almost all PRF members contributed to the written discussion, practically all criticism of the PRF and its draft resolutions came from Zahraie and his PC majority. Everything Sheppard says Barnes did that demonstrated he had a cult was true of Zahraie’s leadership. He was the “star leader” from the beginning and he turned the PC into a “one-man-band” over a short period of time. His entire political career was defined by the desire to keep his personal power over the organization and to remain its singular public face. 

It is also worth stating that the PRF was predominately members of the oppressed nationalities. It included almost all Azerbaijanis in the Sattar League, and most of its female members. Zahraie’s PC majority was all male and all Persian.

The February 1979 revolution and the merger of the Iranian Trotskyist groups
I agree with Sheppard that our movement was much better prepared for the February 1979 revolution than any other socialist current in Iran.  However, that was expected given the influence of Stalinism—almost all other currents held a two-stage view of the coming Iranian revolution. They ended up politically supporting the liberal Islamic leaders like Bani-Sadr or “anti-imperialist” leadership of Khomeini.

However, the revolution certainly caught us by surprise. No one at the SL convention (all Iranian Trotskyist currents and the SWP leadership) had any idea that the most massive urban insurrection in the twentieth century was about to happen in two years time.  Although we discussed and wrote about them, we did not understand the overall situation resulting from the combination of factors that made up for a pre-revolutionary situation--economic chaos, social dislocation and mass political discontent.  We failed to appreciate the meaning and potential of increasingly louder protests by the Iranian intellectuals (missing from Sheppard’s account entirely), the struggle of the shantytown dwellers in Tehran, and the rise of a section of the Shiite hierarchy aligned with Ayatollah Khomeini (which we again did not take seriously).[xix]  Most importantly, having no connection with or even a focused attention on the Iranian industrial working class, we failed to learn about the rise of a class struggle left current in the oil industry and elsewhere across Iran in the 1970s (This too is entirely missing from the Sheppard’s account of the 1979 revolution). This led to the historic oil workers general strike and the emergence of the workers shora (council) movement and other grassroots movements of similar forms across Iran.

Still, in January 1979 the Political Committee of SL drew up a good programmatic declaration entitled “The Manifesto of the Rights of Workers and Toilers.”  It was printed in a one-sheet four-page newspaper format. The SL membership was given short notice to leave for Iran in groups of three or four. 

Sheppard notes that one of the objectives of the British Trotskyist leader, Brian Grogan, and he in traveling to Tehran was “to facilitate the unification of two Iranian groups.” (Vol. 2, p. 150). However, for a political memoir, Sheppard says nothing about the substance of this process. He only tells us that negotiations continued for a number of days “with leaders of the two groups. A formula for unification was agreed upon. A person we knew as Hormuz became the national chairman of the unified group and Babak became the editor of the new newspaper. It was agreed to keep the name HKS. At my suggestion, the unified newspaper was called Kargar—The Worker…” (Vol. 2, p. 153). That is all!  Sheppard does not even correctly identify the National Secretary (not chairman) of the new HKS who was identified publicly as Hormuz Rahimian, “the central leader” of the Kandokav group.  He is equally evasive about the “formula for unification.”

Here is how I learned about the “unification” and its “formula.” One evening after the insurrection, I received a phone call informing me of “an important meeting” at the Industrial University auditorium. When I arrived there, I did not recognize many of those in attendance. We soon heard reports that the leaderships of four Trotskyist “currents” have decided to merge. The main groups were the Sattar League  (that had changed its name in a press conference at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran on January 24 to Hezb-e Kargaran-e Sosialist  or HKS-- Socialist Workers Party) and the Kandokav group that had started publishing its paper Che Bayad Kard (What Is To Be Done) in Tehran. Another “current” was a small group inside Iran that was aligned with the Kandokav group. Its leader was a man from Shiraz, in the south of Iran, named Farid. I later came to work closely with a number of high school youth in Nezam Abad, near Tehran Par where my parents lived, who belonged to this group.  The fourth “current” was a young woman named Ellaheh who had lived in France and worked with the Lutte Ouvrière.  It was announced that the name of the united organization will be HKS, it National Secretary will be Hormuz Rahimian, and its newspaper will be Kargar (Worker) with Babak Zahraie as its editor. There was no serious political discussion of the current situation or of our tasks and perspective. There also was not much of a discussion of the proposed “formula.” Those in attendance were generally happy—cautiously so perhaps—to see that we can all work together.  In brief, the “unification formula” was about power sharing between Zahraie and his group and Rahimian and his group. In that sense, it was more like a merger than a genuine reunification. It agreed upon by those on the top in late February and it came apart from the top by August.

HKS leadership splits
The period between the February 11, 1979, when the revolution overthrew the old regime, and August 18, 1979, when the Islamic Assembly of Experts began its work on the draft constitution, was characterized by three interacting processes: imperialist-backed counter–revolution regrouped and attempted coups, forces loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini began a campaign to co-opt or destroy the newly won power of grassroots movements and to lay the foundations of their clerical capitalist regime and outmaneuver or suppress their rivals, and social and political movements that had just emerged or were in the process of emerging out of the struggle against the Shah’s regime resisted attacks on their recent gains and in some cases, like industrial workers in large enterprises or peasants in some regions, organized themselves in Shoras (councils), and made significant advances. 

The unified HKS and its paper Kargar stood against the imperialist and monarchist conspiracies and sided with the resistance of the grassroots movements against the anti-working people offensive of the Khomeini-Bazargan government on their newly gained political space.  However, we remained largely unaware of the inner life of the industrial workers and peasantry during this period. 

As Sheppard notes, we had some spotlight moments, like the Bani-Sadr-Zahraie public debate. However, it is important to place these in context.  It was the revolutionary situation that offered us such opportunities. But it also posed serious challenges to our small propaganda group with no roots in the working class.

At the time of the merger, the HKS could not have had more than 200 members in a country with 35 million people and an industrial working class of 3 million.[xx] At the time of the split in August we had a membership of about 500. The 300 new recruits were mostly from the youth and the middle class. At the time of unification the HKS was essentially composed of men and women in our twenties who had the means to go to the U.S. or Western Europe for higher education. We were mostly from the well-to-do if not wealthy families and upon our return to Iran lived in the better off sections of north Tehran. Further, in the early post-insurrection months those coming from exile were mostly not employed.  Our branches were just established and most of their public activity was selling Kargar. Thus, this wave of new recruitments often came through family, friends, and neighborhood contacts. While the revolutionary period was itself a great learning opportunity, the new recruits were not generally familiar with the standard socialist literature and our educational effort took some time to organize and pay off.

The split occurred quickly and on a tactical question, participation in the elections for the Islamic Assembly of Experts (Majlis-e Khobregan) for the Constitution.  In a desperate act, the leadership agreed to open the internal discussion bulletin but did not provide contributions to argue for or against participation or on any other issues in dispute among the leadership. One exception was Azar Tabari, a leader of the united HKS, who wrote a piece arguing that we should boycott the elections.  Basing myself on Trotsky’s position on what appeared to me to be an analogous situation in the Chinese revolution of 1925-27, I responded to her that we are too small to consider a boycott (which requires a serious campaign to urge people not to participate in the election) and that we in fact should use the elections as an arena to popularize our program.  In retrospect, it is clear to me that I was right on the question of boycott but entirely wrong on the possibility of using this particular election to advance our program. Here is the background.

On June 15, Khomeini gave a speech attacking liberal and socialist groups as being against Islam and counter-revolutionary for their criticism of the draft constitution of the Islamic Republic that Hassan Habibi and others had prepared for the government. The HKS had consistently advocated the formation of a constituent assembly based on the grassroots movements that had emerged out of the February 1979 revolution, offering its own transitional program for consideration by such an assembly. Meanwhile, Khomeini and his supporters were institutionalizing their power. On March 30-31, they held an undemocratic referendum with a single choice: “Islamic Republic, yes or no”, publicizing that a “no” vote meant support for the old regime! We abstained from the referendum, calling for the formation of the constituent assembly to decide what kind of government Iranian working people want. 

In his June 15 speech Khomeini declared that there was no need for “westernized jurists” to write the constitution and that the Islamic clergy should write it.  It was clear that non-Islamic parties would be barred from such an election.

Meanwhile, the Khomeini-Bazargan government launched a summer military offensive against Kurdistan, to follow their inconclusive spring offensive. The fighting was intense.[xxi]

On August 7, Ayandegan, the daily paper with the highest circulation at the time, was banned because it had “agitated against Velayat-e faqih” (clerical rule).

On August 10, Khomeini denounced the opponents of the Assembly of Experts and defenders of Ayandegan calling them “wild animals,” stating: “We will not tolerate them any more…After every revolution several thousand of these corrupt elements are executed in public and burned…We will close all parties except the one, or a few which act in a proper manner…” (Bagher Moin, Khomeini: The Life of the Ayatollah, 2000, p. 217).

The National Democratic Front, a left-liberal formation headed by Hedayatollah Matin Daftari, a grandson of Mohammad Mossadegh, the prime minister that was deposed by the CIA coup in 1953, called a demonstration on August 12 to defend Ayandegan.   I was at that demonstration selling Kargar.  Hundreds of Hezbollah (Party of God) tugs with clubs, chains and knives attacked the unprepared crowd. The next day, 40 newspapers, including Kargar, were banned and headquarter of all opposition parties including the HKS were ransacked.  When I visited our East Tehran headquarters with Siamak Zahraie, who was the Tehran city organizer, pieces of Kargar were scattered some distance away from it. We could no longer hold public headquarters again.

New parties emerge: Rahimian’s HKS and Zahraie’s HKE
The blow from the mid-summer wave of repression combined with the crisis of the leadership of the united HKS, split our movement and demoralized some of its leaders and members. The merged leadership that was glued together by the optimism of the Spring of Liberty (Bahar-e Azadi), the end of factionalism of IMT-LTF in the Fourth International, and perhaps a genuine desire by some of those who were in the position of leadership came undone.  Meanwhile, the ranks who had no idea of political disagreement in the leadership and had no more than a few months to collaborate on a daily basis had little choice but to follow the old leaderships if they were not demoralized by the entire experience.

Azar Tabari and at least two other former Kandokav group leaders concluded that fascism had triumphed in Iran. In August 1979, it did look and feel to many in the liberal and socialist milieu that the revolution was dead. Subsequently, Tabari and others left Iran and pursued other goals. 

The split took the form of three of the eighteen declared candidates for the election to the Islamic Assembly of Experts who were aligned with Rahimian withdrawing their candidacy and declaring a “boycott” of the elections.  The Rahimian group effectively went “underground” identifying itself as the Militant Faction of the HKS and went on to publish Kargar Sosialist (Socialist Worker). In its first editorial they claimed that a dictatorship of the clerics (didtatori mollataria) has the country in its grip.  Their focus moved from industrial workers and mass work to the Kurdish rebels and Kurdistan, a region that  the Islamic Republic had not yet brought under full control, and debates within the new “mass vanguard,” that is, the Fedaian Khalgh (Minority) and similar centrist formations.  While the united HKS placed the resistance to the Islamic Republic counter-revolutionary course in the context of the struggle against imperialism, the Rahimian HKS began to see anti-imperialist struggle as an obstacle to fighting the Islamic Republic and an excuse for the clerics to consolidate their rule. They abandoned it.

Meanwhile, the former SL part of the united HKS leadership continued its effort to establish a legal organization and a legal paper. It scored a victory when Kargar received a temporary permit to publish and the first issue of volume two appeared after a 90-day ban on November 17, 1979 with 96 pages mostly on the Nicaraguan revolution.  In its issue number 4, a brief note declared that to avoid misunderstanding, the party is changing its name to the Revolutionary Workers Party (Hezb-e Kargaran-e Enghlabi or HKE).  At the same time, it said: “As Kargar issue number 11 (last issue of the first volume) declared the party considers this split as unprincipled because political differences do not justify it. The struggle against this unprincipled split would be part of the tasks of the HKE.” [xxii]

Zahraie expels Faction for Trotskyist Unification from the HKE
The Zahraie leadership was most disingenuous to declare that they intended to struggle against the unprincipled split in the united HKS.  Just as Rahimian and the rest of the central leadership of the new HKS were heading fast in an ultra-left sectarian direction, Zahraie his associates were moving fast in the direction of adaptation to the “grassroots Islamic currents” and eventually the Islamic Republic regime. 

Within a year, two factions comprised of leaders and members of the HKE, numbering over 50 persons (more than 40% of the organization), two of the founders of the Sattar League, all former Permanent Revolution Faction members, the entire Tabriz branch and its Young Socialist group, the only branch and YS chapter we had in a center of an oppressed nationality, and a layer of new recruits from the proletarian background were expelled over objection to this new course imposed from the top without any democratic discussion. 

This period opened up with the derailment of the summer offensive against the Kurds, emergence of workers shoras in large factories and major industries and organization of peasantry engaged in struggle for land in shoras. Occupation of the U.S. embassy by Muslim Students Followers of Imam’s Line (MSFIL) to protest Shah’s admission to the U.S., and the rift between the Islamic liberal forces around Bazargan on one hand and Khomeini and the Islamic Republic Party on the other hand over foreign policy resulted in the resignation of Bazargan and his cabinet two days after the embassy takeover.  Bazargan and his Liberation Movement went into parliamentary opposition.  After the embassy takeover in November, there were large street demonstration in which shoras participated and workers and peasant conferences demanding economic and political rights. During this period, workers shoras began to organize by geographic location (e.g. shoras of west Tehran and shoras of east Tehran), by industry, and by groups of factories and industries that formed an economic unit.  Khomeini and the Islamic Republic Party continued to develop or create institutions that served their interests, including the Islamic Associations in workplaces to co-opt or drive out the workers shoras (councils), and the Islamic Student Associations on college campuses. The 14 jailed socialists who were threatened with execution won their freedom after a sustained international campaign.

It is true that some of these Islamic groups were grassroots. However, even in such cases they were quickly co-opted by the Islamic Republic hierarchy and lost their independence. For example, the small group of Muslim students who planned the embassy take over (some proposed taking over the Soviet embassy but were outvoted) acted so on their own.  However, within 24 hours, they were represented by a mid-level cleric, Hojatoleslam Muhammad Mousavi-Khoeiniha, who directly reported to Khomeini.

The period ended with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran on September 22, 1980. The war initiated new mobilizations but at the same time the clerical capitalist regime used it as a pretext to attack grass roots movements, political opposition, and reduce the political space won in the struggle against monarchy.

During this period, HKE evolved in the direction of acting as a socialist advisor to the Islamic Republic. Kargar began to look like an entirely different weekly compared to its first period of publication in the united HKS.  Instead of holding the Islamic Republic regime responsible for the crisis in the country it criticized the “500 capitalist and landlord families.” It increasingly used selective phrases from Khomeini to justify positions it advocated: “As Imam said:….” Increasingly, it adapted to the Islamic currents from the MSFIL to the Islamic Associations in workplaces, to the Islamic Student Associations even when it was clear, as it was in the case of the Islamic Associations in the factories or the so-called Cultural Revolution spearheaded by the Islamic Student Associations, that their actions are anti-working class.

The Zahraie’s KHE not only did not hold an open and democratic discussion of these policy changes, it began to suppress and expel its critics.

In the winter of 1980, Farhad Nouri, one the early Trotskyists in Austin, Texas, a former Permanent Revolution Faction member, who had recently returned from a North American speaking tour organized by the SWP to defend the 14 jailed socialists in Ahwaz, was expelled from his cell (HKE organized its members in small cells of 6-8 members who met in residences pretending to be visiting friends or family) after questioning the party’s new orientation. Nouri wrote to the Political Committee asking reversal of this decision and wrote to the United Secretariat for its support.  Neither responded.

A while later when I raised similar concerns I received an offer by Zahraie to discuss these in a special Tehran citywide gathering. About 50 people attended the meeting. In my presentation, I expressed my agreement that (1) the revolution is still unfolding, (2) that anti-imperialist struggle is the context in which other struggles take place, (3) that we need to use defensive formulations (something we learned from Cannon and the SWP).  However, I insisted the Islamic Republic regime was the clerical capitalist 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 differs from this perspective and why. 

Zahraie’s presentation was more agitational that 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 calling the Islamic currents as Jacobians. He tired to paint my concerns about drifting away from our program and strategy as a resistance to the party getting more deeply inside the Iranian revolution, as being something like the orientation of the new HKS, the Rahmanian’s group.

At the end of the meeting, Zahraie moved to take a vote, something I did not expect. I had envisioned this meeting as a first step towards a written discussion period leading to a democratic convention.  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 to me as a shock to find Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh, Nasser Khoshnevis, and Nader Javadi, who were in the meeting, to vote for  Zahraie's report and  against mine.  I recall Sayrafizadeh’s intervention as particularly strong support of Zahraie views. 

Soon after that meeting, the difference between my view and Zahraie’s was in sharp display. On April 18, 1980, Khomeini in a sermon attacked the universities as corrupt and un-Islamic.  Historically, the Iranian universities had been the strongholds of secular and leftist forces. 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 supporting this action and calling those who opposed it, including groups that were attacked, counter-revolutionary. They proclaimed: “The action of the Islamic Student Association is revolutionary. Opposing it is counter-revolutionary.”  The statement itself was a combination of wishful thinking (that the Islamic Student Associations have 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 stand outside the “anti-imperialist barricades”), and calling for action against the “500 capitalist and landowner families.”

What actually followed was that Khomeini formed a Cultural Revolution Council that closed down all universities for three years. They purged students, faculty and staff who were identified by Islamic Student Associations or their fellow workers as belonging to the Mujahedin and socialist groups and revised curriculum to make it Islamic. 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 in the streets of Tehran and it was clear to me that ordinary Iranians 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 close associate 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 ringed the doorbell again. She had a similar note for Gillak. Within the next week 25 people were expelled from HKE including all of the old East Tehran members who were now in HKE, the entire Tabriz branch and its Young Socialists group, and Hassan Hakimi in Isfahan (Zahraie expelled him once before from the Austin branch in 1976).  Most 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 has publicly announced when adopting the new party name—that the united HKS split was not justified and they would do whatever they can 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 the big majority opposed the take over of the universities, there was no time to democratically prepare a common document that embraced those political issues.[xxiii]

Zahraie expels the Marxist Faction from the HKE
Within 10 days, the FTU held its first assembly in Tehran. After a daylong discussion, a Steering Committee was elected that included Ali Irvani, the Tabriz organizer, and Hassan Hakimi, who lived in Isfahan. I was elected as the organizer for the Steering Committee.  In collaboration with others, I carried the daily tasks of the FTU. We soon bought a typewriter and a stencil machine (from the black market as the government required a permit for printed matter media to stifle opposition) and set up our headquarters (as a detergent distribution company).  We established an informational bulletin we named Sazmandeh (The Organizer) and opened a written discussion bulletin.

The FTU gave us boost. Instead of demoralization, that was what Zahraie certainly hoped to happen, the expulsion energized us. We organized our political functioning. Those of us who worked in factories continued carrying on political work.

The bulletins flourished and FTU members fully expressed themselves. For example, Hassan Hakimi, who was aware that a big majority of the FTU did not agree with the HKE position on the occupation of the universities, wrote a document entitled “Why the Occupation of the Universities Was Revolutionary,” supporting the so-called Cultural Revolution.  I wrote a response “Why the Occupation of the Universities Was Not Revolutionary,” explaining the reactionary nature of what was happening. Today, it may seem amazing how revolutionary socialists could support any one ideological group’s purging of all others from colleges campus across an entire country as a step towards socialism. But that was simply a measure of how small propaganda groups can cave in to pressure from a demagogic clerical capitalist regime that mobilized street actions to advance it reactionary policies.

In the summer 1980, there was another offensive against Kurdistan. Kargar did not write a single article reporting it or an editorial opposing it as it had done before. I wrote a contribution in the discussion bulletin 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.  I was sent as the FTU representative to the USec meeting in Brussels in July 1980 to present our case. 

At the USec meeting, three other Iranians were present.  Siamak Zahraie was there as the HKE representative, Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh as a member of the International Executive Committee and, once again, as the HKE PC minority, and a leader of HKS named Fariborz. The USec heard my report as well as Siamak Zahraie’s.  Sayrafizadeh told the USec meeting that as an HKE PC member he opposed the expulsion of 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.

I held private discussions with Sayrafizadeh and Fariborz. Siamak Zahraie was too factional to approach for conversation and he soon left. Fariborz was friendly but did not seem interested in our proposal to hold the united convention—although he did not rule it out.  Sayrafizadeh and I held our first long political discussion since we returned to Iran a year and half earlier. We had worked together on daily basis during the PRF.  We had become close friends during the PRF faction fight. However, since our return to Iran he had been busy with his PC work and I was busy building the party from the ground up. We infrequently met. 

Although, Sayrafizadeh had voted against my political report and for Zahraie’s report only a couple of months earlier, I now found there was much common grounds in our political assessment of the revolution and how we should respond.  In particular, he also expressed alarm about Kargar’s silence on Kurdistan.  We agreed to continue meeting in Tehran.

Upon his return, Sayrafizadeh with Khoshnevis and Javadi organized the Marxist Faction in the HKE based on criticism of the unexplained HKE silence in the face of military attacks on Kurdistan and demand to reverse Nouri’s and FTU 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 closely with and I had 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 Sayrafizadeh and suggesting to him that we could work together in Tehran. There was deep resentment among most in the FTU about Sayrafizadeh’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 Sayrafizadeh. When Nouri was won over to the perspective of working with the MF he gave a report to a FTU assembly that unanimously supported the proposal to collaborate with the MF to prepare the united convention. I was assigned to collaborate with Sayrafizadeh to prepare a draft political resolution, which we called “Theses on the Iranian Revolution.”  The leadership of both factions agreed with the general line of that document. Sayrafizadeh gave a copy of it to the HKE PC on September 9, 1980.  Nouri then collaborated with Sayrafizadeh to write the task and perspective document entitled “Tasks of the Proletariat in the War and Revolution.”  Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran had just happened.

Meanwhile, Maryam and Roya from the HKS contacted me for a meeting. They had learned about the situation in HKE and our fight for a united democratic convention. Maryam explained how a small group of HKS leaders and members has been critical of the Rahimian’s leadership and HKS’s direction.  They decided to join in the pre-convention discussion for the united convention. Together with Mehran, a leader of HKS, they organized the Trotskyist Faction in the HKS with 6 members (five women and one man. The group originated as nine persons but three of them left within a couple of months). They joined the pre-convention discussion that had been opened by the FTU and MF with the publication of the Theses of 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 was declared. 

The day before the conference, FTU and MF prepared for distribution a two-page joint statement entitled  “To All Party Members: A Call for Convening the HKE Convention.”  It summarized the opportunities and challenges facing the HKE and the crisis that was imposed on it by the Zahraie leadership.  It said: “Political differences that is posed clearly, in the leadership and in the party, regarding the fratricide war in Kurdistan and the proletarian strategy to defend the revolution against imperialist attacks has expanded to the character of the present government and how to realize the perspective of workers and peasants government.”  It went on to explain how the Zahraie leadership has used organizational measures to obstruct political clarification: “It is necessary to remind you that the unprincipled decision to expel the Faction for Trotskyist Unification that followed expressions of political difference has not been reversed despite these comrades’ loyalty to the party during the past 8 months and despite the unanimous decision of the leadership of the Fourth International that these expulsions were not justified.”  The statement argued that given the failure of the HKE PC majority to organize the convention, FTU and MF are organizing it for January 22-24, 1981, based on the “Theses on the Iranian Revolution” and “Tasks of the Proletariat in the War and Revolution" (drafted in December 1980). 

Two members of the Marxist Faction Executive Committee, Khoshnevis and Javadi, were not allowed to participate in the conference under the false pretext that they have been inactive in the preceding few weeks. They were both on the staff of Kargar before they were dismissed and asked to find industrial jobs. The day before the conference Khoshnevis had given the PC an employment notice he had received from Arj, one the two large manufacturers of air conditioning and heating systems in Iran. At the conference itself, Sayrafizdeh was not given equal time to present his counter-report.  While 20 people spoke at the conference, only two members of the MF were allowed to speak. Zahraie and others took the floor to allege false charges against the MF and its leaders and members.  Rank-and-file supporters of Zahraie took the floor to give glowing account of their political work in industry and outside, that everything was just fine.  The opposition was painted as nagging, inactive good-for-nothings. At the end of the conference Zahraie declared that the HKE will hold its convention in 45 to 60 days and moved a motion to expel that MF from the HKE.  His wish was carried out. (Source: “What Happened in the December 5th Conference: Expulsion of the Marxist Faction from the Revolutionary Workers Party,” by Nasser Khoshnevis, no-date as the cover page is missing).

Among the twenty-five MF members expelled were two of the Sattar League founders, a number of former political prisoners of our movement, including 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 HKE’s membership. 

Workers Unity Party is formed
During January 22-24, 1981, some 60 enthusiastic Trotskyists from three factions (two from HKE and one from HKS) participated as voting delegates in the founding convention of the Hezb-e Vahdat Kargaran (Workers Unity Party), the first and only truly democratic convention in our movement.  The conference adopted the general line of the “Theses on the Iranian Revolution,” and “Tasks of the Proletariat in the War and Revolution.” One delegate, Davoud Moraadi, a young critical thinker who read Gramsci, did not agree with the perspective of winning over young activists in the Jihand Sazandegi (Reconstruction Crusade) and Bassij Mostazefin (Mobilization of the Poor) to our program.  He looked at these as consolidated organizations of the Islamic Republic regime, hence reactionary. Others saw them more as grassroots movement of Muslim youth who held illusions in Khomeini and the Islamic Republic.  Davoudi wrote about his views, spoke at the convention and proposed amendments to the relevant sections of the draft resolutions. HKE and HKS were invited to send their representatives to speak to the convention. Siamak Zahraie (HKE) attended and took up 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 (Trotskyist Faction), Javadi and Sayrafizadeh (Marxist Faction) and Nouri and myself (Faction for Trotskyist Unification).  After some discussion, the PC voted for Nouri as its organizer.  The bulk of HVK membership was in Tehran, but we had a branch of 12 people in Tabriz, two people in Isfahan (Hakimi recruited a soldier) and a few others as at-large members elsewhere in Iran. About half of our membership was in industry, and we immediately organized an effort to get more leaders and members in. I was assigned by the PC to help this effort by getting an industrial job.  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 editor, worked on our paper, Hemmat (Effort).[xxiv] When we applied for a permit for Hemmat, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance asked for three names and we identified, in addition to Sayrafizadeh who was named as the Managing Director (Modir-e Massoal) on Hemmat's masthead, Javadi and myself (I was also on the editorial staff).    

The demise of the Iranian Trotskyist movement
Despite our optimist outlook reflected in our documents, the convention discussion and the initial energy to launch the party and establish its institutions, within two years the leadership of the HVK decided to dissolve it under the pressure of yet another wave of repression unleashed at the end of 1982.  The HKE was also effectively dissolved as Babak Zahraie was imprisoned at about the same time.  The HKS was politically close to the armed groups targeted for repression in the summer of 1981 and its leaders and some members escaped Iran (although, I know much less about their experience). 

The period from the founding of HVK in December 1980 to its dissolution in December 1982 was marked by a stalemate in the war, until the Iranian forces began a wave of offensives that on May 24, 1982 liberated Khorramshahr, a major city in Khuzestan province that was in Iraqi hands since early in the war, October 26, 1980. The liberation of Khorramshahr was a turning point in the war.  By June 1982, the Iranians retook almost all lost territories.  For the next six years, Iran was on the offensive with the stated goal of “liberating Quds (Jerusalem)” through the "liberation of Karbala," the Shia’s holy site in Iraq, that is, through overthrowing the Saddam Hussein regime.  

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 (some armed) conflict with the regime, the Mujahadin Khalgh, Fedaian Minority and Peykar.  Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who Khomeini had appointed as the director of the Iranian national TV and radio to impose censorship the day after the revolution’s victory and was foreign minister after Bazargan cabinet resigned, was executed during this period accused of hatching a coup with Saudis’ help.  Another Khomeini aid, Abolhasan Bani-Sadr elected the first president of the Islamic Republic with 84% of the vote on February 4, 1980 was impeached by the Islamic Consultative Majles (parliament) on June 24, 1981 after a nasty factional struggle with the Islamic Republic Party leadership that enjoyed Khomeini’s support. Those in Islamic Republic hierarchy who sided with Bani-Sadr were purged. Fearing for his life, Bani-Sadr went into hiding a few days before his impeachment.  In the months leading to summer 1981, repression against Mujahedin Khalgh, that had a tense relationship with Khomeini from the days he was in exile in Iraq, increased as their sympathizers were systematically harassed, physically attacked, jailed or sometimes killed.

On June 20, the Mujahedin organized a mass demonstration in Tehran with some 200,000 people.  The government attacked the demonstration hurting and arresting many. The Mujahedin leadership concluded that peaceful protest is no longer possible and decided to resume “armed struggle.” Armed street clashed occurred between the Mujadehin fighters and the government forces. Some leaders of the Mujahdein died in these clashes.

The Islamic Republic regime unleashed a massive wave of repression that went beyond the Mujahedin to include socialist groups that has declared the regime their enemy, including Fedaian Minority and Peykar.

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

Meanwhile, the regime used the excuse of the war to move against all independent labor and peasant struggles.  In particular, the oil workers movement was decimated and their leaders tortured or executed. Yadullah Khosroshahi a central leader of the oil workers union and shoras who imprisoned and tortured five years under the Shah regime and five years in Islamic Republic regime, who died in exile in London two and half years ago, had complied 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 taking private property of the landowners was un-Islamic and threaten to march in the streets to oppose any land reform. Khomeini ordered a halt to further action on implementation of Article C (band-e jim), a provision to distribute land not under cultivation that Jihad for Reconstruction 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, staff, and transformed curriculum and purges campuses of anything it deemed as un-Islamic.

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, pressures of intense and multifaceted class struggle on our small organization limited our progress and wore us out.  When in the fall of 1981, we decide to run Sayrafizadeh 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 raised my concern about this, the PC agreed to give a report to the membership of our opposition to the war but it voted not included it in the platform as being too dangerous. I deferred knowing that they were right but sensing that a reassessment of the political situation may need to be done. What was wrong was our continued insistence that the revolution was advancing (Enghlab be pish miravad). Another example: I was assigned to cover the May Day 1982 activities in Tehran for Hemmat.  The article I wrote was in the framework of the view that the revolution was advancing but it accurately reported 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 turned the marches and the rally in Tehran University into an anti-communist event.  Gillak who was acting editor (Javadi was on leave to prepare a draft document on Afghanistan) in consultation with Nouri edited this characterization of the May Day events 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 was distributed.

The Political Committee meetings became tense and personality incompatibilities took the better part of some, resulting in shouting matches a number of times.  Hakimi, who was the organizer of the Isfahan branch that had two members, refused to “recognize” Nouri, the PC organizer, when Nouri wanted to visit them. Meanwhile, we lost Sammad Assari-Eskandari, a young man from Tabriz, at the war front. 

In March 1982, Kargar was declared illegal. We wrote an editorial in Hemmat defending its right to publish and noted the anti-working class character of this decision. In June, Sayrafizadeh was called in and told to cease publishing Hemmat. After a PC discussion, we decided to comply. In its place, from time to time we prepared an analysis of the political situation for the party that became increasingly politically as well as literary convoluted. These were typically in the form of “letter to the editor” to this or that mass circulation daily newspaper. The goal was to maintain the political cohesion of the HVK while minimizing the change of being caught with something considered illegal. We also gave up the HVK headquarters—the office we used for the Hemmat editorial staff, our technical department, and for the PC meetings.  Gillak and Nouri housed the technical apparatus in their rented apartment close to the occupied U.S. embassy and PC meetings were held there in an extra large room. 

Meanwhile, political difference began to creep into the PC discussion. Two examples. After the liberation of Khorramshahr on May 24, 1982, Saddam Hussein went on the defensive. After meeting with the Arab League, Saddam Hussein offered negotiation for peace, offering $70 billion in damages to Iran. 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 is overthrown and an Islamic Republic is established in Iraq.  The prevalent slogan was “The road to Quds (Jerusalem) is through Karbala.” 

We held a PC discussion of this question.  The majority sympathy’s was with the position that while the war was just as defense of the revolution against counter-revolutionary assault backed by imperialism, it is time to sue for peace now that the Iraqi army is pushed out of Iranian territory and the Iraqi regime is forced to negotiate. Sayrafizadeh disagreed arguing that Khomeini’s intransigency reflected the fervor of the Iranian working people and that the prospect of overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime was real because of the oppressed Shi’a majority in Iraq and that an Iranian victory will spread the revolution to the rest of the Middle East.

At the same PC meeting, Sayrafizadeh proposed that we begin a class series reading Lenin. The proposal came out of the blue, was not motivated, and did not jive with anything else we were saying and doing at the time.  A couple of years later, when I was sitting in the SWP’s Lenin classes in New York, I realized where that proposal might have come from.   It was part of the Barnes’ effort to fashion the new SWP and his “international tendency.”

Meanwhile, demoralization had begun among some members of the HVK. Before, we were forced to give up Hemmat I realized that a number of our members and even one National Committee member did not read it any longer. 

On July 2, 1982, I submitted my resignation from the HVK to the National Committee just before its July 3 NC meeting. On July 4, I left for Vienna on my way to New York. I arrived in New York on July 24.  In early August, I became a member of the SWP’s New York branch.  My decision to leave Iran was personal and planned.  My close political associates 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 exist visa was proceeding.  They were understanding and supportive.

By the end of 1982, a new wave of repression, this time against the socialist parties that had supported the Islamic Republic politically, like the Tudeh party and Fedaian Majority, critically, like the HKE, or materially only, like the HVK.

Sayrafizadeh was arrested and held at the notorious Evin prison for a short time. I do not know what might have transpired there, although there can be little doubt that they mistreated him.  They release him after they made sure he understands the consequences of not dissolving the HVK. The Political Committee of HVK heard a report from Sayrafizadeh and unanimously decided to dissolve the organization. I understand that there were different interpretations of what that meant and different views on how it was carried out.

Babak Zahraie was arrested on January 17, 1983.  He was held as a political prisoner from 1983-1988.  Siamak Zahraie reports that the HKE became dysfunctional after Babak Zahraie’s arrest. It already had lost its paper and some of its leaders and members had left. Siamak Zahraie describes the problems the HKE faced even before his brother’s arrest:

[D]ay by day fewer and fewer were listening to us and the government had a freer hand in suppressing the RWP [Revolutionary Workers Party or HKE in my abbreviation, KN].  Members were expelled from their jobs, imprisoned and membership was shrinking.  The circle of sympathizers, the source of party’s growth was shrinking even faster.  On March15, 1982 the last issue of Kargar was published, but before hitting the streets, government agents removed them from the newsstands.  This was the informal and total ban of Kargar.  The second to the last issue carried an interview with one of the newly freed members of the party.  This interview detailed the grim situation and treatment of the political prisoners in the infamous Evin prison and was quoted broadly in news media abroad.  Party saw no other option but to tell the truth, knowing well that the regime would retaliate; and indeed this infuriated the regime.  Without a public paper, for all practical purposes the RWP status was reduced to an underground organization.  But the party refused to act as an underground organization, maintained its offices and kept trying to regain the legal status of its paper.  At the same time we could not attract the slightest degree of support from the Islamic organizations that were the focus of our activities, let alone the society at large.” (Siamak Zahraie, “Our Background,” October 16, 2005).

A few months after Babak Zahraie’s imprisonment, what was left of the HKE experienced a split.  A group published a pamphlet entitled “In Defense of the Revolution and In Response to the Imperialist Military Threats, Let’s Built the ‘Say Yes to Khomeini’ Campaign.” On its cover, the pamphlet also raised a demand: “Free Babak Zahraie.”  Siamak Zahraie communicated to the authorities that this pamphlet was not issued by the HKE. He also published a pamphlet rebutting it entitled “The Leadership of the Revolution and the Islamic Republic: Critique of the HKE program” (“Rahbari-e Enghelab va Jomhori Eslami,” July 1983).  In this pamphlet, he puts forward a reassessment that he claims was based on discussions with Babak Zahraie two years earlier.  The re-assessment began with this critical statement:

“…[T]he longstanding position of the HKE on the unconditional defense of the Islamic Republic in the face of Iraqi aggression, U.S. imperialist threats and counter-revolution is no longer sufficient. For the class conscious workers should work to strengthen the Islamic Republic in order to fight imperialism. Therefore, our position should not be just an unconditional defense but strengthening of the Islamic Republic. Therefore, in light of these facts and their political implications, the slogan of ‘workers and peasants government’ has no independent basis and should be dropped.” (p. 29)

He continues:

“Facts show that after the February insurrection there has been advances in all fundamental points of the HKE program and, at least after the occupation of the Spy Den these advances have not been independent of the Islamic Republic government, but have more and more taken place under the leadership of Imam Khomeini. This issue becomes clear to us when what we saw in form of conflicts and fundamental contradictions between institutions (like Islamic shoras, Islamic Associations, Revolution Guards, Bassij, and Jihad for Reconstruction, etc.) and the Islamic republic government have not been born out.  Thus, in continuity with previous assessments, there is no more place for the slogan of ‘workers and peasants government’ as our principle axis.” (ibid.)

In the second essay in the same pamphlet that offers a reassessment of the HKE’s 1981  draft political resolution (which was never completed) Siamak Zahraie returns to the same issue:

“”Ministry of Revolution Guards and Ministry of Jihand for Reconstruction were organized and these institutions joined the cabinet and the crisis that we predicated would happen did not happen and this did not create obstacles to the advances in the war fronts or expansion of the rural shoras.

“It is natural to ask: where was our error? Either our positive assessment of these institutions was wrong and their class character, like the government, was ‘bourgeois,’ which is certainly is not consistent with rational thought, given the role they have played in the advancement of the revolution and war or our assessment of the [class character] of the government that it is a government under ‘domination of capitalist politicians’ is wrong so our position of the origin of the government is wrong.

“A review of the revolution will show that our view of the [class] nature of the government as a capitalist government that is fundamentally built on the remains of the bureaucracy of the old regime is wrong and was the origin of our political mistakes.” (p. 42)

Some time later, Siamak Zahraie went further to renounce Trotskyism and the Fourth International.

Siamak Zahraie overt political support for the Islamic Republic coincided not just with recent arrest of “his brother and comrade” but also with the arrest of thousands socialists who were almost routinely tortured, some of whom were forced to recant their ideology and politics on TV, and hundreds of whom were executed. While some from the former HKE leaders and members did not go as far as Siamak Zahraie, they simply shirked from drawing the obvious conclusion from the political trajectory of the HKE.

The above outline of the major conjunctures of the Iranian Trotskyist movement demonstrates that Babak Zahraie was in fact the “central leader” but not of our movement as a whole, not of the Sattar League as a whole, or the united HKS, or even the HKE until he expelled 40% of its leaders and members by December 1980.  He was since the early 1970s the “central leader” of a core group that exhibited characteristics that by Sheppard own criteria should be called a cult.

While Sheppard argues that the Barnes cult destroyed the SWP as a revolutionary socialist party, he claims that somehow Babak Zahraie who had a consolidated cult in the SL by 1976 continued to build a vanguard party for the Iranian revolution.

To do so, he had to forget about how Zahraie and his PC majority conducted itself during the 1976-77 SL faction fight even though as a “central leader” of the SWP he met with the SL PC in New York in March 1977 and went on record to characterize Zahraie’s expulsions of the two Permanent Revolution Tendency member in Austin, Texas, as wrong and organizational crisis caused by suppression of Sayrafizadeh and others as unjustifiable and damaging respectively. 

He also totally erases the crisis in the HKE in 1980 that was caused by Zahraie’s adaptation to the “grassroots Islamic currents” and the Khomeini leadership that prompted questioning and resistance by members and leaders of the HKE that resulted in the expulsion of some 50 members  (40% of the HKE) by December 1980.  Sheppard certainly knew about these expulsions as the July 1980 USec reviewed the relevant documents, heard reports from me, Siamak Zahraie and Sayrafizadeh about the expulsions of Nouri and Faction for Trotskyist Unification and unanimously voted that they were unjustified and asked for their reversal and for the HKE to hold a democratic convention.

Sheppard also erases from his account the first and only democratic convention of the Iranian Trotskyist movement that founded the HVK in January 1981.  The April 20, 1981 Intercontinental Press published the key documents of this convention with an introduction about how the HKV came about.  

While Sheppard elevates Kateh Vafadari to the position of a leader of the Iranian Trotskyist movement (she was not), he forgets Hormuz Rahimian’s last name, which was the “central leader” of Kandokav group, the National Secretary of the untied HKS, and the “central leader” of the HKS after the summer 1979 split. He only names Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh once, as the presidential candidate for the HKE—but does not recall that Sayrafizadeh joined the SWP at about the same time as he did, that he was a co-founder of the SL, that he was on the Political Committee of SL, the united HKS, HKE and HVK, that he was the co-author or author of almost all key political resolutions of our movement.  Sayrafizadeh was also the only “central leader” who was a member of an oppressed nationality in Iran.  He also talks of Siamak Zahraie as someone who drove him around Tehran. But Siamak Zahraie was another co-founder of the SL who was on the Political Committee of the SL, the united HKS and HKE, and, in my view, one of the two persons (the other was Hassan Sabba) in the Babak Zahraie’s cult who expressed independent views form time to time although he always deferred to his younger brother.

Sheppard also erases the role and name of other leaders of our movement that would undermine his story. For example, he writes about the SWP’s campaign in defense of the 14 socialists but he does not mention a highly successful North American tour for Farhad Nouri that capped this campaign.  How could he mention Nouri who was expelled by Zahraie a couple of months after returning from this tour and for questioning the manifestations of the HKE’s adaptationist course?

Sheppard distorts our history in other ways. For example, he dates the split in the leadership of the united HKS to some time after the occupation of the U.S. embassy when “The pressures of the mass mobilization against Washington and the struggle between revolution and counter revolution, led to a split in the [united] HKS. The minority comrades who had come back from Europe, had come to the conclusion that the revolution was in fact a fascist movement ” (Vol. 2, p 221).  But the split occurred in August in a period of massive repression and not mass mobilization and over the question of participation in the elections to the Assembly of Experts for the Constitution.  How does Sheppard know that those who split were in minority? It was an unprincipled split—we never had a full discussion much less a convention and a vote.  If Sheppard is right that the Rahmanian’s  group had decided that the “revolution was in fact a fascist movement” then why Zahraie wrote (disingenuously) in Kargar no. 11 (last issue before Kargar was banned in August 1979 as part of a large-scale government attack) and later again in Kargar no. 4 (second volume) in December 1979 that it was unprincipled and that he would fight to reverse it?

Now, some readers may wonder if Sheppard simply forgot or was confused.  That is certainly possible—I too forget and get confused and I am a generation junior to Sheppard.  But why then he decided to have Babak Zahraie and his companion Kate Vafadari as his readers? He must have known that they represented at best one view of what transpired.  Why did he not ask others?  I think at some point he did consider asking others to read his manuscript and comment. He did ask me once or twice when we ran into each other in demonstrations  (we lived half of an hour drive from one another).  He never followed up.

On May 15, 2009, I wrote a letter to Sheppard detailing my criticism of his essay entitled Why Washington Hates Iran: A Political Memoir of the Revolution that Shook the Middle East.” The essay was published in the Socialist Voice on September 8, 2008. John Riddell, an editor of the Socialist Voice, brought it to my attention in the spring of 2009.  I read the essay, which now looks to me as a first draft of the material that appears in the two chapters of The Party on Iran.  I was troubled by it so much that I wrote back to John Riddell notifying him of my general objections. He urged me to write directly to Sheppard, which I did in a nine-page letter and sent a copy to Riddell. Much of what appears in that letter has appeared in this review. Sheppard never responded to my letter. 

Why such disinterest in facts? It is true that I did not document my criticism in that letter—it was after all just a letter.  But would not an honest author write back and ask for further documentation or at least try to consult other participants in our movement?


Means and ends: Can the vanguard party emancipate humanity?
Both the SWP and the Iranian Trotskyist movements were derailed by cults that came to dominate them.  The question is why and how could they prevail? Sheppard does not even pose these questions. 

I have argued that the concept of the vanguard party and its specific implementation in the SWP with much latitude given to “central leaders” and “the central leader” (or the National Secretary or CEO as Sheppard aptly calls it) as guardians of “communist continuity” contributed to the perpetual dominance of the party by an elite group at the expense of an empowered and engaged membership.  This defect does not manifest itself if the central leaders are benevolent, as is the case with Dobbs-Kerry team in Sheppard’s account.  But what if they are not? What mechanisms are there to control them?  The SWP constitution gives the ultimate authority to the party convention. It is commonly assumed that the convention reflects that power of the membership. However, as Marx pointed out law cannot stand above society; constitutional guarantees require an empowered and engaged membership. In real life the vanguard party is generally a vertical organization where the central leaders set the course and the membership, focused on carrying out the practical daily activities of the party, generally follow. Over time, this division of labor is internalized by significant sections of the party membership.

It was in this context that Jack Barnes, a man with many good qualities but an outsize ego, decided on a get-rich-quick scheme that required cutting loose some of the old "communist continuity" baggage in order to join in a New International with the  Communist Party of Cuba, FSLN, and the New Jewel Movement that held state power, and others revolutionary currents such as the FMLN.  Despite much resistance by a significant number of leaders and members, a majority followed Barnes’ course, and as I personally saw the tail end of it in New York branch, passively.

In the case of the Iranian Trotskyist movement a similar pattern emerges with a fundamental difference. If the SWP “degenerated” as a socialist revolutionary movement, the Sattar League was born deformed.  The Zahraie cult arose soon after its formation as he took control of all institutions of the SL. In an organization with three dozen members or so, he became the National Secretary, editor of Payam-e Daneshjoo, and national spokesperson for CAIFI.  Of course, others loyal to him did much of the actual work these positions entailed. For example, Hossein Taghavi was the actual editor of Payam-e Daneshjoo when I was part of its staff.  This small organization of current or former college students with average membership age of less than 25 years and average membership time of less than 3 years had a National Committee and a Political Committee and a National Secretary, and, already a group of “central leaders!” Like Barnes, Zahraie had a number of good qualities. However, like Barnes he also suffered from a big ego.  And as I documented above, he proved much more susceptible to "alien class" pressures.    

When some of us resisted his policies similar results obtained as in the case of the SWP. In the 1976-77 factional struggle, the Permanent Revolution Faction provided a clear political platform, a draft program for the Sattar League and a task and perspective document and more. Zahraie’s PC majority provided none of these until just before the (undemocratic) convention that they held under pressure. Still, a two-third majority voted for their resolutions and reports at the convention. The same pattern repeated itself in Iran in summer of 1979 when the united HKS suffered an unprincipled split from the top: those who were not demoralized by this had no choice but to follow their respective “central leadership” without the benefit of a democratic discussion and convention, creating two new parties, Rahimian’s HKS and Zahraie’s HKE.  It never occurred to Rahimian or Zahraie to prepare political resolutions and submit them to a democratic discussion leading to a convention. And a majority of their parties followed them without question. This pattern was again repeated in 1980, when Zahraie initiated a radical political re-orientation for the HKE, an adaptionist course towards “grassroots Islamic movements” and to the clerical capitalist Islamic Republic regime. Zahraie never provided a political resolution that explained this course to the membership and organize a democratic discussion leading to a democratic convention.  And he was able to expel his critiques that put forward political platforms, a draft political resolution and a tasks and perspective document. Still, Zahraie walked away with 60% of the HKE membership and all of the party’s resources.

Our concept of the vanguard party originated with Lenin who a century ago proposed a “party of a new type” in his What Is To Be Done? (1902) and One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (1904). There is a large literature on Lenin’s theory and its history that I cannot even summarize here.[xxv] Instead I simply draw attention to several facts about it.

It was a proposal for the specific situation of the Russian social democracy and to prepare for the coming Russian revolution that Lenin considered would lead to the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.”[xxvi]

Lenin’s theory was predicated upon somewhat new propositions. It was proposed that the proletariat left to itself cannot attain anything more than a trade union consciousness, that “socialist consciousness” must be brought to the proletariat from the outside, that a centralized party composed of “professional revolutionaries” directed by a Central Committee is necessary for this purpose and for leading the proletariat not only to the conquest of the political power but also to socialism. Of course, others before Lenin had proposed some of these elements already. But Lenin pulled them together to make an altogether new proposition.

Thus, Lenin’s proposal was criticized by his contemporaries notably Plekhanov, Axelord and Martov, as well as Trotsky and Luxemburg. Luxemburg, for instance, argued that Lenin’s theory is both undemocratic and that it violates Marx’s theory of the proletariat that presumed it to have the capacity to develop socialist consciousness, hence the ability to contest for power and initiate the process of the socialist revolution that would emancipate humanity by generalizing self-organization and self-activity as the basis for a socialist mode of production.

For our propose, I note that like Sheppard's notion of central leaders, Lenin’s theory cannot offer an effective mechanism for the proletariat to control the “party of the new type” and for the membership of the party to control the conduct of the Central Committee despite formalized constitutional guarantees. The actual division of labor endures in each case. 

Can the proletariat be emancipated by a social agency from the outside? Can socialism be administrated? While undoubtedly the Bolshevik party played a decisive role in the victory of the October 1917 revolution, these questions were posed sharply almost immediately after the conquest of power. Lenin himself seems to retreat from his earlier positions about the centrality of the vanguard party in The State and Revolution (1917) where he focused attention on the Soviets not the party.  However, as the Russian working class retreated under the blows of the civil and imperialist wars, its organizations weakening, increasingly the party and its Central Committee assumed more power within the state apparatus.  There can be no doubt if the Bolshevik Central Committee did dominated the internal life of the party and if the party had not concentrated the state power in its hands, Stalin would not have been able to easily consolidate power to redefine “communist continuity” and purge his communist opponents within years after the October 1917 revolution. 

After the October 1917 revolution, Lenin’s specific organization theory for the Russian social democracy was generalized as applicable to all countries regardless of their degrees of cultural, economic, social and political development.

Upon founding of the Fourth International, Trotsky himself made the building of the vanguard parties its central task: “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.” (Trotsky 1938, The Dead Agony of Capitalism and the Task of the Proletariat).

The Fourth International and its parties did not grow as Trotsky had hoped. Thus, the theory of the vanguard party that was originally formulated for the Russian social democracy, that was in explicit contradiction to Marx’s libertarian socialist theory, that was later (over) generalized to be universally applicable went through yet another transformation. Small organization of revolutionary socialists with no organic link to the working class thought of themselves as vanguard parties.

However, Trotsky himself 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 had about 20,000 to 22,00 worker members. (Discussions with Trotsky on the Transitional Program, June 7, 1938). Compare this with the Fourth International sections in the 1970s, in terms of membership (class composition, links to proletarian mass organizations, and size), leadership quality (compare with the Russian social democracy and the Second International) and historical links to the struggles of the working class, and you have the ingredients for looming crises.

Marx’s theory of socialism is nothing less than a theory of human emancipation, emancipation from alienation of human beings from their fellow human beings and from nature, and therefore, from ourselves.[xxvii] Marx held a labor theory of alienation. Human alienation arose from alienation of labor and can only wither away by a process of de-alienation of labor.  That is why in Marx’s theory of socialism the industrial proletariat assumes the leading role and that is why Marx insisted the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. (Rules and Administrative Regulations of the International Workingmen’s Association, 1867.

Of course, no theory is sacrosanct and no theorist beyond reproach.  All theories and theorists are historical. Every generation needs to assess its own challenges and opportunity to confront the problems created by 10,000 years of class society that is oddly enough called “civilization.” Sheppard book’s offers some instance where the SWP played significant constructive role in social movements. However, Sheppard’s account remains a descriptive and does not penetrate deeper into the challenge we all face today with looming crises of nature (which he totally ignores) and society. And, in at least one case, the case of the Iranian revolution and the Iranian Trotskyist movement, it fails to tell the truth.

Related links:

Barry Sheppard and Gus Horowitz have a website that publishes some reviews of The Party. You can view it here

Learning From Our Mistakes: More on Barry Sheppard's Misrepresentation of the History of the Iranian Trotskyist Movement 

Barry Sheppard: In Response to a Criticism of My Chapters on Iran

[i] I set aside assessing my own experience in the SWP for another occasion. Here I just outline the circumstances that led to my resignation in October 1992. For more information about individuals or organizations names here refer to the body of the review.

For several years, I was asked to help the newly established  Iran Committee that was managed from the party center. Part of what I did for the Iran Committee was in collboration with Amir Jamali, another former HVK member (Hezb-e Vahdat Kargaran, Workers Unity Party), 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 among socialist minded Iranians in New York.   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. 

Oddly enough, we were never given a discussion of the mandate of the Iran Committee, who its members were or even who was heading it. Of course, I could guess that Mahmoud Sayrafizadeh, who was part of the SWP National Committee at the time, was probably leading it. And from what transpired it was easy to understand that Sayrafizadeh was working with a couple of former members of the HVK in Iran. 

In this context, a problem was the increasingly Third Worldist coverage of Iran in the Militant. It was moving from material support to the Islamic Republic in Iran-Iraq war and in the face of the imperialist attacks to manifestations of political support for it by leaving out 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 of 1988.

Part of this political slide was manifested in the Pathfinder participation in the annual Tehran International Book Fair. Each year, Sayrafizadeh went to the book fair and returned to give a rosy presentation at a New York Militant Labor Forum or/and write a rosy article in the Militant . For example, he would explain  a thirst for communist literature, that so many Pathfinder books were sold party because 60% of their costs was subsidized by the Islamic Republic to make them affordable.  Sayrafizadeh would not tell his audience that the 60% book subsidy was part of a policy to encourage development of science and technology knowledge-base inside Iran to foster capitalist development, not to encourage people to read communist literature!  The regime simply tolerated Pathfinder and a few small domestic publishers that offered socialist literature.  Also, Sayrafizadeh did not tell his audience that while Partfinder 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 with thousands of political prisoners being held in jails, often tortured and sometimes executed. When I did take these issues up with Sayrafizadeh, he maintained a grim silence. Meanwhile, Amir Jamali, Ali Irvani (Samad), 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 dissent. When I informed the SWP PC about my planned trip to Tehran on June 26, 1992, to visit my family and asked if they want me to do anything for the Iran Committee they sent Greg McCarten, the New York branch organizer and a PC member, and Sayrafizadeh 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 is distressed because my younger brother was imprisonment on non-political charges. I wanted to visit them and see my brother.

McCarten got to the real reason for the meeting. He said that the PC knows that the Iranian members of the party (except Sayrafizadeh, of course) are critical of the party’s Iran work, in particular participation in the Tehran International Book Fair. The discussion 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 leadership or not.  McCarten and Sayrafizadeh insisted that there is no difference between any other members of the SWP and Iranians who had participated in the revolution.  It is up to the party leadership to decided who it sees fit to carry its Iran work. Of course, this was a false assertion. Why then only the Iranian members of the SWP were asked to carry the work of the Iran Committee either in New York or LA or for developing Pathfinder literature in Farsi?  Should we not be part of the discussion and, as appropriate, decisions in carrying out this work as is the case with any other party fraction? Also, some of us (not me) had returned to the U.S 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 that inclusion of Sayrafizadeh in the Iran Committee while positive is one sided and limited.  I pointed out political differences, e.g. with 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 being accomplished by the 1979 revolution. 

McCarten forcefully pointed out that these are not Sayrafizadeh’s views but those of the SWP leadership.  Of course, this was a deliberation and assessment that I was not aware of.  If the SWP leadership had discussed these and taken a position on them, they never wrote it up either as an internal information bulletin, and internal discussion document, or a public article.  Furthermore, this was a highly suspect position. How could the peasant/land/agrarian question had been resolved if the amount of land distributed was significantly less than the Shah's land reform? When was this "resolution" happened and how?  How could the oppressed nationalities ever been given the 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 "solved" the historical democratic tasks of the Iranian revolution then was it not revolutionary as Siamak Zahraie later argued basing himself on the adaptationist course of Babak Zahraie and his party, HKE (see Part 2 of the review)? And if so, did not 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 is correct for SWP leadership to have an official view of the history of the Iranian Trtoskyist movement. He said yes.  McCarten 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!
Sayrafizadeh’s reponse 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?”  For a number of years, Sayrafizadeh was a friend of mine and we did talk freely as friends do.  I had shared my critical views of the Iranian culture with him—after all every culture is the culture of the ruling class.  But that was not the reason why I resigned from the HVK—as it turned out only a few months before it was dissolved on Sayrafizadeh's initiative.  I resigned for personal reasons that Sayrafizadeh was well aware of both as a friend and a member of the HVK Political Committee.  In my brief resignation note I had said: “I have been always 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 Sayrafizadeh as well as everyone else on the HVK PC and some outside of it knew this for a considerable length of time.

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 political observation of the situation in Iran would fall within the PC directive McCarten was evasive.

When I returned from Iran, I wrote a brief political report of my visit that I gave to Norton Sandler who was on the Political Committee during the Oberlin conference.  Aside from 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 of the former Iranian Trotskyists, including Babak Zahraie. 

Some time later, I was called into the National Office for a meeting. Norton Sandler, Doug Jenness and Steve Clark were waiting. Sandler who ran the meeting accused me of having an ongoing political relationship with Zahraie. When I asked where do they get 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 and my eyes!  I figured that if they can accuse me of hatching plots behind their backs with Babak Zahraie soley because I did report to them that I ran into him in Tehran they can fabricate anything they wish against me and there is no reason to believe they can accuse me of breaching their “cease and desist” order at will any time. 

I told Sandler and others that they have no evidence of any wrongdoing by me. What they have is political disagreement.  Clark told me that it is always possible to write in the pre-convention discussion bulletin.   I responded who would the membership believe in such a controversy, the PC or a member of the New York branch who is accused by the leadership of disloyalty.  The question was also the answer in light of what has transpired in my own case as well as more broadly for a decade. 

By the next branch meeting, I submitted my resignation as a member in good standing to the Executive Committee with an attachment that explained the political reasons for my decision to resign at some length. I learned later that my very brief resignation letter was read to the branch meeting but no mention was made of my lengthily explanation for that decision.  In the period that followed, I continued volunteering on Red Sunday mobilizations and took up other tasks for the SWP.  Meanwhile, I did not try to engage any party member in a discussion of my resignation. This did not stop the PC to continue its campaign against me. A few months later, after the New York branches was split 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 to be carried through the PC.

Over the next two years, all other Iranians in the SWP except Sayrafizadeh resigned citing political disagreements on Iran. Sayrafizadeh 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 was himself victimized by slander and smear campaigns now used these tactics to drive out his critique.  I was also deeply saddened to leave many individuals with whom I worked for a decade and come to realization that the SWP I once came to admire is no more. (source: my dairies)
[ii] The idea of the vanguard party encompasses political parties other than the Leninist type parties. For example, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela is a vanguard party that is not Leninist. In this review, by the vanguard party I mean parties based on a Leninist model, in particular those of the Fourth International.

[iii] Sheppard cites the tragic death of his companion Caroline Lund as part of the explanation for the long pause to write the second volume.

[iv]  The record of vanguard party building as the instrument for taking political power and leading the transition to socialism is highly questionable, as Cannon himself notes.  In fact, we know of only one partially “successful” example: The Bolshevik party.  It helped lead the Russian workers to power in October 1917 and initiated the process of socialist revolution.  However, the working class' direct exercise of power in Soviet Russia was rather brief due to the civil war and imperialist attack and in a few years the Bolshevik leaders substituted the party for the working class, something that the theory of the vanguard party does not see as a problem.  The substitution of the party for the class and of the party leadership for the party membership facilitated the bureaucratization and degeneration of the party into a Stalinist apparatus that suppressed communists and working people in the Svoiet Union and elsewhere for decades to come. 

On the other hand, Stalinist parties took state power in Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam and North Korea resulting in what we called “deformed workers states,” where, oddly enough, the power of the state has been used to hold down the working people.

In the exceptional case of Cuba, the current organized by Fidel Castro initiated the task of building the Communist Party of Cuba, after taking the state power, presumably to lead the transition to socialism. While the Communist Party of Cuba differs from the Leninist party model in significant ways it shares the same vanguardist charcter that substitute it for the working class.

In Nicaragua and Granada, the Sandinista National Liberation Front and the New Jewel Movement were not Leninists type organizations, although they both led revolutions that took the state power if only for limited time.

In his article, Cannon tries to address some of these anomalies. I accepted his arguments in the 1970s and 1980s. However, after the SWP’s demise I reconsidered and as I argue in this review, I think the concept of the vanguard party itself is flawed.  For more discussion of this see the rest of the review. 

[v] Here is what Cannon says about the leadership of the vanguard party:  “Just as the revolutionary class leads the nation forward, so the vanguard party leads the class. However, the role of leadership does not stop there. The party itself needs leadership. It is impossible for a revolutionary party to provide correct leadership without the right sort of leaders. This leadership performs the same functions within the vanguard party as that party does for the working class.”

[vi]Most people think that Trotsky’s genius was best displayed in his work as theorist of the permanent revolution, as the head of the October uprising, or as creator and commander of the Red Army. I believe that he exercised his powers of revolutionary Marxist leadership most eminently not during the rise but during the recession of the Russian and world revolutions, when, as leader of the Left Opposition, he undertook to save the program and perspectives of the Bolshevik Party against the Stalinist reaction, and then founded the Fourth International once the Comintern had decisively disclosed its bankruptcy in 1933. The purpose of the new International was to create and coordinate new revolutionary mass parties of the world working class.”

[vii] For a list of International Trotskyist currents see here and for the U.S. branches of Trotskyism click here.

[viii] Marx opened his draft of the provisional rules of the International Workingmen’s Association with this sentence: “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.”

[ix] I use pen names of participants everywhere except for the individuals Sheppard cites in his narrative and people who we lost in the war and revolution.

[x] Sheppard’s book is ultimately historical—it deals with historical events and dynamics of organizations and the role individuals played that matter to its narrative.  Its value depends on its accuracy and attention to historical facts, Sheppard’s disclaimer that “[t]he book is also not a history of world and national politics and the movements which we participated (Vol. 1, p. 9)” notwithstanding.  Take for example, Lynn Henderson’s critique of The Party that differs on facts and analysis of the Nicaraguan revolution.

[xi] I do not possess complete record of some of these, including internal discussion bulletins and parts of my diary in Iran that were destroyed because of repression.

[xii] One could begin with the Wikipedia’s entry on the Iranian Cultural Revolution. Of course, Wikipedia entries are not peer reviewed and always accurate. But in most cases, they offer a fair beginning for research into a subject matter and I use it freely in this review.  The point is that Sheppard simply did not bother to double check his sources.

[xiii] The main leader of the ADP was Jafar Pishevari, a surviving member of the Iranian Communist Party founded in 1920.  The Communist Party was destroyed by Reza Shah’s repression and Stalin purges.  Sayrafizadeh eventually came to believe that the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan government was in fact a workers and peasant government. In the 1980s, he gave classes in educational conferences of the SWP.  However, I am not aware of him ever documenting his claim in writing. In the light of documents now available from the Soviet archives it appears that the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan government was formed at least by Stalin’s consent and collapsed in November 1947 when the Red Army withdrew from Azerbiajan.

[xiv] Faaheem had the most influence on me personally. However, soon he developed a serious mental illness and had to withdraw from activities and returned to Iran. After the 1979 revolution, I visited him in Tehran. He was married and his illness was under control. And he was still interested in socialist politics.

[xv] For example, in the fall of 1973 I approached the ISA leadership to defend a group of twelve artists and intellectuals, including Khosrow Golsorkhi and Kermat Daneshian. The regime claimed the twelve were a group conspiring to kidnap members of the loyal family. After an attempt to convince me to wait for “instructions” from the “national leaders,” the Maoists in the ISA leadership declared that some of the twelve were liberals and “suspicious” and that it would be wrong to defend all of them as political prisoners.  I decided to call a meeting to invite any and all who wanted to help launch a defense campaign. The Trotskyists and some independents showed up. The Maoists came just to denounce me and the entire effort. Soon, the Maoist leadership expelled the Trostkyists and  critical independents including me from the ISA. We formed Students for an Open and Democratic ISA.

[xvi] By then, three photocopy issues of Payam-e Daneshjoo, the last issue dated December 1973, had been published.

[xvii] It is unusual and meaningless to have reports and vote on various interpretations of a political theory. Nevertheless, that is what we did.

[xviii]  Having a much needed new job, I was not present at the time of the vote.

[xix] In Sattar League’s meeting at the SWP conference in 1975 I reported about my study of the Muslim Student Association in the U.S. There was little interest in my report and I subsequently stopped following the Islamic currents.

[xx] On the eve of the February revolution, the Sattar League had no more than 100 members (some decided not to return to Iran). The Kandokav group was smaller (some of their of members did not return to Iran). The small group Farid had organized inside Iran had no more than 20 members.  In addition, a number of those who came to Iran returned almost immediately. Notably, Hassan Sabba, who was a Saatar League PC majority member, returned to the U.S. right after the merger.  So, it seems to me that 200 should be seen as an upper limit.

[xxi] A Kurdish construction worker who had joined the HKS soon after the insurrection when I met with him and others at their construction site came to the headquarters of the East Tehran branch one day asking for my “permission” to return to Kurdistan to fight (I was de facto organizer at the time). He told me he was also a pishmarge (guerrilla fighter) for the Kurdish Democratic Party, something he did not reveal before.  Such was the mobilization for the summer war in Kurdistan.

[xxii] In fact, the split was unprincipled.  Here is how it happened on the ground in the East Tehran branch of the united HKS. Just before the crisis, the East Tehran branch had about 90 members, a majority of them recruited since the February revolution.  The branch had a good mix of former SL members and former Kandokav members, except all former SL members used to belong to the Permanent Revolution Faction of 1977.  I am not sure how this happened—as an organizational maneuver by Zahraie and/or Rahmanian or just by accident. The organizer was a former Kandokav member named Babak who we called Babak of London.  He was very much liked by branch members, as he was easy to work with and allowed others take the lead when and where he felt he does not know enough or has less experience.  Soon, he and I worked as co-organizers.  Siamak Zahraie who was the city organizer visited the headquarters only twice or thrice and each time stayed briefly. Again, I do not know whether this was by design or he just had more important tasks. The branch included about 10 high school age former member of the group that was recruited to Trotskyism by Farid (who apparently dropped off soon after the merger).  This group of young men and one woman lived in the working class neighborhood of Nezam Abad in east Tehran. Although they were students, they all worked after school or during the summer in small workshops in the area.  There were a number of young women, some fresh out of high school and some in college who I helped recruit.  While the split was happening Babak of London and other former Kandokav members disappeared.  When the headquarter was attacked and we had to give it up, I began contacting individual members whose contact information I had and still wished to be active and met with them in parks in groups of two or three to discuss the political situation and to suggest that we should hang low until the leadership has a chance to regroup and the political situation improve.  Reports I got from our members who worked in factories of east Tehran indicated that the political atmosphere at work was not particularly repressive so it appeared to me that better time will come sooner or later.  I continued these meetings every few weeks.

[xxiii] Soon after the citywide meeting when Zahraie and I exchanged views on the political situation, our program and strategy and tactics, Siamak Zahraie called me for a meeting in his office—he was still the Tehran city organizer and a PC member.  During this brief and tense meeting, he said that “they know” that “our group” is gathering at Azar Gillak’s apartment. He instructed me to move out of Azar Gillak and Farhad Nouri apartment in central Tehran. 

Azar Gillak had rented this apartment when she decided to reside in Tehran upon arriving from the U.S. It had two bedrooms and a large living room with a sofa. At the beginning of the revolution, when I lived in a room in my parents’ house in Tehran Pars, one day I overheard their conversation. My father who was a retired police administrator was complaining to my mother: “I thought he had a degree in mathematics and computer science. Why is he now selling newspapers in the streets of Tehran? It is embarrassing!”  They could not understand what I was doing and I did not want to burden them if I did not have to. I was 29 years old but a professional revolutionary with no money and no job.  So, when Gillak kindly offered me to use the extra bedroom in her apartment I delightfully accepted.  At the time, my assignment was to work on the staff of the Fanusa Publishers with no subsistence! So, I told Siamak Zahraie that I could not move out of Gillak’s apartment and I see no reason that I should. 

The fact that the Zahraie leadership expelled me and two dozen others who disagreed with it politically demonstated that Siamak Zahraie’s instruction was simply to prepare the grounds for my expulsion, nothing more and nothing less.

[xxiv] Hemmat was the name of the first Iranian socialist group that was organized in the Baku oil fields before the Russian revolution of 1917.

[xxv] For a defense of Lenin’s theory see Ernest Mandel’s The Leninist Theory of Organization: Its Relevance for Today that first appeared as a pamphlet by the International Marxist Group in 1971.  I obviously disagree with key planks of Mandel’s exposition. But that is another topic to discuss at another opportunity.

[xxvii] I am well aware that others may not agree with my understanding of Marx’s theory. There are indeed many interpretations of Marx. But here is another example of why Marxism is neither a science nor an unambiguous category.


David Keil said...

Kamran, thank you for this detailed account of your experiences in the socialist movement. (We may have met in the 1970s. I knew Mahmoud, Babak, Kateh, and others mentioned.)

Thank you also for your reflections on the vanguard-party notion in light of your experiences. My experiences in the SWP have led me to challenge the degree of centralism practiced in all parties that look to the organizational principles of the early Communist International.

There is much evidence that an organization that is rooted in the diverse working class cannot be built on this model in countries where bourgeois democracy prevails. Your account provides evidence that the model is also incompatible with work in societies like the current Iran (or Iran since 1979). Therefore our task is to shape a revised model in order to move forward again.

I see Barry's book, despite any weaknesses, chiefly as evidence that significant errors can be acknowledged and significant lessons learned even by some people who were most at the center of the distorted organizational forms -- very, very positive news. I understand that Barry's errors are painful to read.


Steven said...

Kamran, as one of the relatively newly radicalized, I can attest to the disappointment of finding so much of the traditional left mired in personal and dogmatic disputes that impede the development of an up-to-date vision and strategy that would merit the support of the great numbers of people today who are beginning to question and oppose capitalism. Though I think there may be seeds of Leninist vanguardism in Marx, there are many other contrary seeds also present, and his own mindset was such as to readily contradict supposedly "Marxist" dogma when evidence and circumstances warranted. Somehow, if we are to remain relevant and effective, we must build a movement whose defining commitment is a greater loyalty to the process of rational and open inquiry itself than to the results of any particular iteration of it, even as we give utmost energetic expression, in activism, to the most enduring results that have survived to the latest iteration. The more I read of Marx himself, the more I am convinced that he embodied this habit of mind and action to a rare degree, at least when the whole course of his life is considered. But the sociology of groups which cite Marx or Trotsky or others virtually as holy scripture seems strikingly similar to that of many religious groups - mostly small, highly fractious, hopelessly ineffectual, and yet harboring starry-eyed ambitions of eventual universal expansion - that I have closely experienced over some decades of my life. They are, to too large a degree, guided not by the noble fusion of compassion and scientific spirit that guided Marx, but by, it sometimes seems, the petty desires of marginalized men who, unable to function as big fish in a big pond, seek satisfaction in luring those few who will allow themselves to be lured into their small pond, feeding their egos on the illusion that they have the right tradition, the right answers, without which the world cannot attain to a state of blessedness. The needs of this hour in history require larger minds and heart than that, and I think your discussion and observations serve to call us in that direction.

Kamran Nayeri said...

In an August 22 post on his blog, Siamak Zahraie has offered the following comment about this book review entitled "Trauma." (

The reader of my review has noted many references to him in Part 2. I re-post Zahraie's comment here assuming he meant it to reach my readers (I do not know why he did not post it here himself) and to give the reader a sense of his current attitude to political discussion.


"I was part of the Iranian Trotskyists and read the works which are related to my past looking for some illumination. Kamran Nayeri's attempt which I referred to it at the end of my last post did not shed any light. It is wrapped inside of his criticism of Barry Sheppard's book that I have referred to in the previous post. So if you want to find it you have to dig deep down in part 2 of his article. There you will find Nayeri's version of the history of the Trotskyism in Iran.

"Nayeri's endeavor at best seems to be mainly addressed to the good sense of those ex members of the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) who still mourn their expulsion. What one learns is that from Nayeri's point of view there were several factions among the Iranian Trotskyists. The good one he was a part of and the bad one was really a cult ruled by Babak Zahraie. The other factions were sort of tolerable. The whole diatribe seems to be about his complain that why Sheppard has praised Babak Zahraie in a sentence of his two volume work. One thing I learned which was illuminating is that expulsions in political parties can be truly traumatic and enduring on some people. I hope that Nayeri's article was at least therapeutic for him."

Anonymous said...

I waded through this Iranian comrade’s “Book Review: The Party: The Socialist Workers Party: 1960-1988” to the end, unfortunately. His history was completely void of any Marxist methodology consisting of mainly "I said, he said, she said, they said, I did, he did, she did, they did," etc. You need to make a flow chart to keep track of all the players, factions, and organizations, but even that would not have made this piece any more enlightening.

The one thing I did learn was that his political education as well as all those he mentioned came from the SWP. Every peek he gave into the political positions involved only proved how well he and the others had learned the reformist politics as well as the ruinous organizational methods of the SWP and the International. Like Barry Sheppard, whose book he was reviewing, he is superficial, mechanical, and has not the least understanding of Marxism, including the concept of the party, which, like Sheppard's concept, is a completely idealistic one. The struggle for the party is a struggle for revolutionary politics about which he and Sheppard have not the first clue. Without a revolutionary program, there is no party, regardless of size, history, etc. Capitalism is all-encompassing and corrupts everything to one degree or another, and the struggle for the party and the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is nothing more than the never-ending theoretical and political struggle against this corruption in the workers' movement.

The SWP and the International were not "healthy" politically or theoretically in “1972” but were already on a fast road to corruption in 1942, and you only need to know a little history and have a modicum of Marxist understanding to recognize this fact. Due to the influences and extreme pressures of capitalism, even the overwhelming majority of the most dedicated of cadres can lose their way politically, and revolutionary continuity may only be transferred by a few individuals possibly outside of organizational forms. There are no absolute safeguards to protect against the degeneration of any organization, but those who perceive any political missteps have an obligation and must have the right to correct the organization’s course as soon as possible to advance the working-class movement. The cadres of any working-class party can only be expected to defend the public line of the party if the membership has at all times the right to express their ideas inside the organization in an attempt to modify the party’s line and not be limited to an episodic ritualistic exercise every few years. The circulation of internal documents should be an ongoing function of the organization determined only by the membership and the political tasks to keep the party relevant and on the cutting edge of the political events. The dissemination of internal documents and discussion inside the party is just as important as the dissemination of the organization’s press to the public. Those who succumb to the sirens of capitalism cannot tolerate such freedom and will simply justify “their” political course with mechanical and organizational means to maintain their position and power. No amount of warnings, safeguards, ombudsmen, constitutions, or watchdogs can take the place of the unceasing fight for a revolutionary program in the organizations of the working class. Behind all the arbitrary machinations of any leader or clique in the working class are the politics of alien class forces. The struggle against these alien class forces is the constant duty of every revolutionary, and it is, first and foremost, a theoretical and political struggle.

to be continued david fender

Anonymous said...

The real reasons behind Sheppard’s esoteric writings have nothing to do with the politics of advancing the proletarian revolution—he has not the first clue in this regard either organizationally or politically—but rather an attempt—feeble as it is—to assuage his ego and dress up his imagined self-important historical role for posterity in the “revolutionary” movement. He is and has always been a political sycophant along with his longtime, quid pro quo, partner-in-crime, comrade Jack Barnes, who should be better known as the locomotor ataxia of the SWP. Posterity will not give a whit about either of them. There is not a political, theoretical, or historical lesson of any kind in any of their writings. Neither earned their "authority." They assumed their positions from the anointing by others due only to their own clever maneuverings, self-promotions, or obsequious behavior and the mistaken conviction of the anointers believing they, like the kings of old, had the right to appoint their successors. Both the anointed and the anointers have completely disgraced themselves in the workers' movement. The forces of capitalism that create classes, union bureaucracies, and privilege in general are the same forces that produced the likes of Mr. locomotor ataxia and his faithful lieutenant, Sheppard.

Of course, I am sure Sheppard would object that his work, as he has himself avowed, is a contribution to furthering the revolutionary cause by alerting, warning, putting en garde, and giving a heads-up to all future revolutionaries as to the dangers of too much authority falling into the hands of one person. Thereby, as he wishes he had done, they might nip in the bud a power-hungry egomaniac like his old comrade-in-arms Jack Barnes. We must take note, however, that the mea culpas in Sheppard’s opus are scarce as hens’ teeth for his own responsibility in his standing shoulder to shoulder with his bosom-comrade, Jack, knee deep in years of SWP organizational skullduggery, not to mention the political hocus-pocus that he and Jack passed off as a revolutionary program. Then again, Marxist politics is beyond him, and the organizational skullduggery was ALL Jack’s doing, according to Sheppard, and Sheppard’s only real failing, it seems, is not saying or doing anything—for several years—when he noticed Jack amassing all that power. He obviously did nothing out of fear of losing his prestige and privileged position in the SWP’s hierarchy—the dread of all apparatchiks. In other words, he had no backbone, and the primary ingredients of backbone are integrity, an unhesitating willingness to stand alone against the stream, and something more than a superficial understanding. Sheppard had—has—none of these, but had he called Jack to order, so we are led to believe, the SWP might still be the revolutionary Bolshevik party that he thinks it was back in 1972! Ah yes, and if Sheppard had only written these words at the time of the Bolshevik revolution, such a clarion warning might have saved us from the phenomenon of Stalinism. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Bukharin, et al. would have been forewarned! Wait a minute; did not both Lenin and Trotsky forewarn the Bolsheviks? If we believe Sheppard, we must conclude that the likes of Stalin and Barnes—and by all rights we must include Sheppard himself—are the result of personality quirk and have nothing to do with politics and the relationship of class forces. He obviously believes in the “bad ‘Hitler’ theory of history,” and thereby, he is in the idealist philosophy camp of Freud and not the dialectical materialism camp of Marx. As I said earlier, Sheppard has no understanding of Marxism.

to be continued david fender

Anonymous said...

The one thing that we can learn from such unprincipled elements as Sheppard and the many like him in capitalist society is that we must uncompromisingly guard our commitment to sincerity, openness, and the will to stand up and struggle, for without these one will crossover the threshold to whoredom. In the revolutionary movement, these qualities are obviously useless unless combined with a dedication to the theory and politics of Marxism. I would never accuse Sheppard or Mr. locomotor ataxia, however, of being political prostitutes in the revolutionary movement, since they never have been Marxists, and they ran the SWP like an inherited petty-bourgeois business.

david fender 8-22-12

Kamran Nayeri said...

The reader might not know who David Fender is. The following is taken from the Tamiment Library and Rober F. Wagner Labor Archives of New York University (

"U.S. Trotskyist David Fender was active in the Socialist Workers Party and a number of its political factions and offshoots; mainly the Communist Tendency, the Leninist Faction (later known as the Class Struggle League), the Vanguard Newsletter and the Spartacist League. Fender was also secretary to Peng Shu-tse and Chen Pi-len in Paris in the 1960s. Peng was one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party and the leader of the Trotskyist movement in China from the 1920s until the early 1950s when he and his wife, Chen Pi-len, also an active Trotskyist, were forced to flee the country with many of their followers after Mao Zedong's attack on the Chinese Trotskyists."