Wednesday, June 24, 2020

100 years of Iran's communist movement — A discussion with Tudeh Party leader Ali Khavari

The 23rd June 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Communist Party of Iran (CPI) and the holding of the first and founding Congress of the Party in the northern city of Bandar-e Anzali. 

On this occasion, the periodical Nameh Mardom [People’s Paper], the central publication of the Tudeh Party of Iran (TPI), talked to Comrade Ali Khavari, a distinguished leader of the TPI, about the struggle and the contribution of the communists in the popular movement in Iran over the last 100 years. Featured below are excerpts of this conversation:

On the importance and role of the labour and communist movement in Iran over the past century…

“Over the past 8 decades, the TPI has published extensively about the labour movement in Iran, including the well-researched works by our martyred comrade, Agāhi; and, before that, the book on the topic by our late comrade, Kambakhsh; and, later on, the book The Unfinished Revolution by our martyred comrade, Rahman Hatefi, about the Constitutional Revolution. These are invaluable resources for the younger generation who crave to learn about the history of the labour and communist movement in Iran.

“The background of Marxist ideas goes back to before the establishment of the Communist Party of Iran, when capitalist relations were shaping and developing, the working class was forming, and the social-democratic movement was taking shape in Iran. As Comrade Agāhi wrote in the History of Parties in Iran, ‘The social-democrat party’ was the first relatively organised party in Iran which played a significant role in the Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911). Also, much has been written about Heydar Khan Amou-Oghli and his special and distinctive role in the victory of the Constitutional Revolution. Besides him, there were other brilliant figures like Ali Müsyo, Kamran Aghazadeh, Avetis Soltanzadeh, Siroos Bahrām, Karim Nikbin, and Asadollah Ghaffarzadeh, who had outstanding roles in organising the labour and communist movement in Iran. It is important to note that these events took place in Iran as the Great October Socialist Revolution, led by Lenin, was taking shape in our northern neighbour and the Russian Bolsheviks had a significant role in providing political-theoretical material to the Iranian militant activists.

“In fact, the founding of the CPI in June 1920 was the result of the joining together of various revolutionary social-democrat movements in Iran, including the Edalat [Justice] and Hemmat [Endeavour] groups. The establishment of the CPI 100 years ago opened up a new chapter in the national liberation movement of Iran and in the struggle of the working class and the working people of Iran whose contribution was vital in the changes and developments of social and political relations in Iran. The support and assistance of the communists in the formation of labour unions in Tehran and other cities across the country, and in organising the struggle of the working class of Iran, soon scared the ruling reaction. After the Reza Khan [later Shah] dictatorship was established and stabilised in 1925, pressure on the CPI and its activities intensified. After the first massive strike of the country’s oil workers was organised against British imperialism and the rule of Reza Shah in 1929, the reaction was determined to stop the activities of the CPI. The passing of the anti-communist law, dubbed as the “Black Law”, by the Rezā Shah regime in late-May 1931 led to the banning of the CPI in Iran, a broad assault on the leadership of the CPI, and the subsequent detention of a large number of communists, including Comrade Dr. Taqi Arani. He was later murdered in prison.”

On the Group of 53 and the founding of the Tudeh Party of Iran…

Shortly after Reza Shah was removed from power in the late-summer of 1941 by the allied forces, and primarily the British, the imprisoned communists - known as the Group of 53 - were released from jail. It was then that the Tudeh Party of Iran was founded on October 2nd, 1941.

“The Tudeh Party of Iran was founded thanks to the freed political prisoners as well as freedom-lovers such as Soleymān Mirza Eskandari. However, I have to mention that not all of the 53 released prisoners joined the TPI immediately. For instance, you can read in the memoirs of Anvar Khāmeei that he joined the Party in 1943, i.e. two years after its founding.

“I was born in 1923 [in the north-eastern province of Khorāsān], so when the TPI was founded I was a youngster deeply inspired by progressive ideas. I was active in the city of Mashad. As far as I remember, after the TPI was formed, a few of the Group of 53 were dispatched to the various provinces of Iran - because of their political knowledge and experience - to organise the Party’s activities across the country. Mahmoud Boghrāti, who was one of the Group of 53, was sent to Khorāsān province to set up the provincial committee there [where I was]. I remember that in the beginning, the Tudeh activists had set up a very small store for Boghrāti where he lived and managed party’s activities. My brother, Abdulrasool, who was one of the members and cadres of the CPI, later on joined the provincial committee of the TPI. It was through him that I could go and see Boghrāti and talk to him about my activities in the field of youth matters. Once, Boghrāti asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was active at my school and that a large number of the youngsters there were our sympathisers. This made him happy and he told me to bring all of them to the Party’s office. Later on, even though I was very young, Comrade Boghrati wrote a letter to the Party’s secretary and recommended me to him for Party membership. I got my membership card in 1943. Later, I became responsible for the youth in Mashad.”

On the activities of the Tudeh Party of Iran during its early years up until the 1953 coup d’état…

“The founding of the TPI made a real impact on Iran’s society and changed it. The emergence of the TPI in the arena of the political and class struggle in Iran is not comparable to the emersion of any other political group or party in terms of importance and impact on the society. Within a short period of time, the Party was rooted so deeply in the society that wherever you went, you would hear about our Party. From the various workplaces - and activities to form trade and labour unions or peasant unions - to the universities, activities were under the influence of our Party. More importantly, for the first time since the CPI’s formation, the women of our nation heard a powerful voice in the society that was defending their rights. During those times - what with the backward conditions that Iranian society was under, owing to the reactionary and superstitious notions of religion - our Party was able to paly a special role in the awakening of Iranian women. This influence of the TPI made deep changes to the social relations and culture of the nation, the impacts of which remain keenly felt today. Many of the most prominent social and cultural figures of those days took to the progressive ideas of the Party and became either members or sympathisers. Over the past 8 decades, even a number of our opponents, people like Mehdi Bāzargān [the first Prime Minster after the 1979 Revolution] and Yadollah Sāhābi [a member of the Council of Islamic Revolution and advisor to PM] deeply believed that partisan activity in its modern sense in Iranian society was the product of the Tudeh Party’s activities.

“There had been nothing in the society like the first programme of the TPI, ratified at its first Congress in 1944, and its progressive ideas that were published by the Party’s periodical Rahbar [Leader]. As such, our party could mobilise and organise a large social force around these advanced and progressive ideas. The hostility of the reaction and imperialism to our Party and their resolve, through any possible means, to crush our Party was because of our progressive ideas and their deep diffusion into the wider society. As the historic files of the British and American governments now show, 67 years later, one of the main objectives of the 1953 coup d’état was to put a stop to the growth and propagation of the Tudeh’s progressive ideas in the society and to wipe out the TPI. Both Britain and the US feared that Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh [Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister, 1951-53] could not stop the growth of our Party in the society. Thus, with the collaboration of the domestic reactionary forces - such as those centred around Ayatollah Kāshāni and a number of the people close to Dr. Mossadegh himself - they put their efforts together and organised the notorious 1953 coup that saw the overthrow of the legitimate government of Dr. Mossadegh and led to the detention of a large number of members and supporters of our Party and, later on, the execution of Dr. Hossein Fātemi [Mossadegh’s leftist Minister of Foreign Affairs] and a number of Tudeh comrades such as Morteza Keyvan, and the brave and brilliant military officers Ezzatollah Siamak, Mohammad Ali Mobasheri, Atārod, to name but a few, and a few years later, Khosrow Rouzbeh.”

On the aftermath of the 1953 coup…

“The TPI made a great effort to clandestinely continue its activities and struggle inside Iran after the coup. The heroic struggle of the Tudeh students in collaboration with the supporters of Dr. Mossadegh in the universities led to the epic event of “16 Azar” [which later became “Student Day” in Iran] after the coup. The Party’s activities in exposing the coup regime continued until 1957 when Comrade Rouzbeh and a number of other comrades were arrested. I have to mention that the disagreement amongst the Party leadership in Iran and in exile over the assessment of issues like the national bourgeoisie, Dr. Mossadegh, as well as how to continue the struggle after the coup, debilitated and impaired the re-organisation of the Party and its developing of a clear struggle strategy. These issues were brought up and reflected upon in the broad meeting of the Central Committee in 1957 which was the Party’s first such meeting in 9 years. The Party’s leadership was seriously criticised for its performance. Thus, the Party went through some very hard years until it was once again able to continue its organized struggle.”

On the Iranian Revolution of 1979…

25 years after the 1953 coup, the Great Revolution of the People of Iran [the 1979/Bahman Revolution] bore fruit and overthrew the 2nd Pahlavi monarchical dictatorship. Comrade Khavari was asked to explain the relationship at that time of the TPI with other political parties and organisations as well as with Khomeini’s supporters.

“Regarding the supporters of Khomeini, I remember that I, on behalf of the Party, went to meet with Hashemi Rafsanjani shortly after the Revolution. At the time, he was the supervisor of the Interior Ministry. After I entered his office, he dismissed the guard and stood up from his chair and came and sat in front of me. In that meeting, he told me that the country needed a left party that is loyal to the Revolution, and that they [i.e. the Islamists] believed that the Tudeh was defending the Revolution very well. Anyway, we had a long talk. I reported the content of this meeting to the meeting of the political bureau of the Party and Comrade Kianoori [the then General Secretary of the Party] welcomed it. In response to this welcome gesture, I added that I had seen the flash of a viper’s eye in his [Rafsanjani’s] eyes - to which Comrade Kianoori objected and stated; ‘Now that is idealistic.’”

Comrade Khavari was asked whether everyone in the Party’s leadership was in agreement with the strategy and policies of the Party after the Revolution.

“The fact of the matter is that in the beginning, all of us [in the leadership of the Party] were in agreement regarding defending the Revolution in general. Considering the class struggle that was going on in the society, we deemed the Party’s objective as being to deepen the revolutionary process and realise the socio-economic mantras in favour of the interests of the working people. I believe that the statement of the Central Committee after the attack of the Islamic Republic’s (IRI) forces on Kordestan in 1980, when Bāzargān was the Prime Minister, which condemned that attack and warned of the increasingly rightwards tilt of the regime, was the correct position. However, the Party did not follow such positions persistently and would change its positions subsequently. Only a small number of comrades in the leadership of the Party - including Raf’at Mohamadzadeh (Akhgar), Hamid Safari, Ehsan Tabari, and I - were unhappy with the Party’s position. The late Comrade Tabari was a very humble and calm person and avoided confrontation. Amidst the intensification of pressures on the Party and the atmosphere of suppression in the country into the 1980’s, agreeing with the Party’s position was not easy anymore.”

On the attack on the Party…

Tudeh leader Ali Khavari.
Comrade Khavari was asked to comment about the attack on the Party [in the early-1980s] and the role played by Vladimir Kuzichkin [a Soviet KGB officer who defected to the Tehran Station of the British MI6 intelligence agency in 1982] and the collaboration of the governments of Britain and the USA with the Islamic Republic regime.

“I was not in Iran at the time, so I don’t know about the discussions in the political bureau and the reaction of the Party’s leadership to Kuzichkin’s defection to West. It is important to note that the Party members, particularly the leadership, were already known to the regime. So, this notion that Kuzichkin must have given important files about the Party members to anyone cannot be a very valid point. However, one thing is certain; the Western intelligence agencies, those [intelligence agencies] of the Iranian regime, and of the Guard Corps, in collaboration with each other and taking advantage of this fact [the Kuzichkin defection] organised the attack on the Party. There is one more point worth noting here; at the time, the Guard Corps, under the command of Mohsen Rezāei, had suffered heavy defeats in the Iran-Iraq war and was being heavily criticised. The leadership of the Guard Corps needed this “domestic victory” in order to conceal its incompetence on the war fronts.

“And about imperialism’s attempt to obliterate our Party, I have to state that this is not a new matter. Since the Party’s foundation, i.e. close to 80 years ago, this has been the case. We are certain that even today the Western intelligence agencies would closely collaborate with their counterparts in the Iranian regime to hurt our Party and other progressive forces. It should also be noted that considering the documents that were recently made public by the US and British governments, it has become clear that right from the beginning (i.e. during the Jimmy Carter administration), Khomeini had established close contacts with both governments and had made promises to them about curbing the activities of communists in Iran. Also, you might remember that Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North along with Robert McFarlane, both of whom were security advisors to President Reagan, secretly came to Iran in 1986 to meet with high-ranking figures in the Iranian authorities. Rafsanjāni mentioned this in one of his Friday prayer sermons. What has become clear today is that Oliver North had come to Tehran with a bible that was signed by Reagan, a pistol, and a cake as a gift. The purposes of this secret trip included to obtain help from the IRI by selling some of the armaments that the IRI needed and using the proceeds of those arms sales to finance the Contra forces in Nicaragua, who were fighting to overthrow the revolutionary government of that country. This affair was later dubbed as the “Iran-Contra Scandal” after the investigation by the US Congress. As we know, and as stated in the memoirs of Rafsanjāni, Hassan Rouhani [the current IRI President] had a major role in these negotiations.

“I would like to add one more point about the slogans of the regime and their actions in reality. After the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa, a few of our comrades in the leadership of the Party participated in the first convention of the South African Communist Party in that country, where Nelson Mandela was also present. At that convention, the South African comrades informed us - with the government files they had obtained - that the Khomeini regime had secret close relations with the apartheid regime during the P. W. Botha presidency [1984-1989] and had purchased arms with Petro-Dollars; i.e. from a regime that was under economic sanctions because of its racist and anti-human policies.”

On the situation of the Party after the regime’s attacks, and its relations with the Soviet and Afghan comrades…

“[Despite] the harsh conditions in which the Party was in during those days, the 18th meeting of the Central Committee of the Party was able to work out a proper course for the Party’s activities and was able to raise the banner of the struggle once again… About the Afghan comrades; the fact is that they made every effort in supporting our Party [during those tough times] as well as helping the Organisation of the Iranian People's Fadaian (Majority) and provided us with all they could so we could continue our struggle against the theocratic regime of Iran. Radio Zahmatkeshan [the working people] was launched with the help of our Afghan comrades. Comrade Babrak Karmal and other comrades in the leadership of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) had high regards for our Party, including esteemed comrades like Tabari and Nāmvar, as well as the Party’s significant cultural-theoretical work in spreading progressive ideas in Afghanistan. I had several warm and friendly meetings with the leadership of the PDPA, particularly with comrades Karmal [Babrak Karmal, co-founder of the PDPA, President of Afghanistan 1979-1986] and Dr. Najib [Mohammad Najib, President of Afghanistan 1987-1992].

“Our Party has always had very friendly relations, based on mutual respect, with the workers and communist parties of the world. In the years after the regime’s raid on our Party, our relations with the Soviet comrades and other comrades in other socialist countries, particularly in Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic, were very close and comradely. However, after Gorbachev came to power, and especially in the final years of his government, our relationship was tarnished. They were trying to interfere in the internal affairs of our Party and in choosing the leadership comrades. Even during the time when Yeltsin was in charge of the Moscow organisation of the CPSU, they were promising to hand the official office of our Party over to certain individuals, that triggered our firm opposition which I conveyed to them during my meeting with the heads of the international relations department of the CPSU. The issue was dead after that.”

On the current situation of the Party…

Ali Khavari with Babrak Karmal.
“The 80-year-old history of our Party, the oldest political party of the nation, is a history with a lot of ups and downs and, more importantly, is a history that is inextricably tied with the struggles of our nation - particularly those of the workers and working people, for freedom and social justice. Over the past 40 years, since the victory of the February 1979 Revolution, our Party has weathered many deadly storms… From the dreadful raids of the regime on the Party [in the 1980s] and the detention of thousands of Tudeh members and supporters; through the televised shows of confessions forced under torture to discredit the Party; the narrating of a false history [books and articles] overseen by the Ministry of Intelligence; [and later] the massacre of hundreds of the Party’s leaders, cadres, members, and supporters who were the intellectual treasures of Iran’s labour and communist movement; the planned separations, splits, and then collapse of the socialist governments in East Europe; to the casting of doubt upon the theoretical foundations of Marxism-Leninism that saw a large part of the world’s left forces dragged to the by-way of the “third way” and European social-democracy. These were all exceptional hardships that our Party was faced with, but Tudeh members and supporters were able to hold the flag of their Party waving high with their sacrifices and awareness.

“The fact that the leaders of the Iranian regime keep attacking our Party left, right and centre, is a sign of the powerful virtual presence of our Party in the daily struggle in Iran. If our Party was non-existent, as claimed by the regime’s leaders, their spending this much on propaganda to counter it would not be necessary. Of course, this does not mean that our Party has been able to overcome all of its problems. We have a long way ahead of us which we have to go through with patience and consciousness. The security apparatus of the Iranian regime pursues a new plot against us every day.

“One of the important tasks of our party over the past 4 decades has been to consciously and seriously concentrate on the collective leadership of the Party. With all the challenges that our Party has been facing, as I mentioned so far, the III Congress of the Party was successfully held amidst the most difficult times in 1991 - after close to 43 years [since the II Congress in 1948] - and we are now planning to hold the VII Congress of the Party.”

In conclusion…

“The fact is that our Party was able to organise a massive social force in the 1940s because it was advancing progressive and modern ideas responding to the demands of the workers and working people, the youth and women, and the students of the country. Today, we have the same task in hand; promoting progressive ideas and practical solutions to fight the theocratic regime of Iran, and in the meantime trying to mobilise, equip and organise social forces in preparation for the day of the downfall of the ruling dictatorship which will happen sooner or later. I strongly believe in the arrival of that day and the realisation of the demands of the overwhelming majority of the people of our country for liberation from the shackles of dictatorship and oppression, and for freedom, democracy, and social justice.”