Autopsy of an Ideological Drift
By Antoine Gessler
(Translated from French)
(Contact Iran-Interlink for hard copies)
On Tuesday, 17 June 2003, more than a thousand police officers carried out a huge raid in the Paris suburbs. The French Government was thus dismantling the infrastructure of Massoud Rajavi’s People’s Mojahedin of Iran, an Iranian opposition group recognised as terrorist in nature.
The Islamic Republic of Iran welcomed this action with relief: it had almost fallen to a coup d’etat orchestrated by the PMOI. The aim of the coup would have been-the creation of a “people’s democracy” in which the social aims of the current Government would have been revised and redirected on the basis of a reformed Islam: an Islamic Democratic Republic of Iran…
But much remains unknown. Was the United States, after its military conquest of Iraq, tempted to use these very same People’s Mojahedin of Iran (recognised officially by the US as a terrorist group) for the destabilisation of the Teheran government?
In 1981, two attacks decapitated the revolutionary institutions that, in 1979, had taken down the Shah. The major leaders of the Party of the Islamic Revolution (PIR) and the team around Prime Minister Ali Radja’i were assassinated by bombs, each killing separated from the other by only a few weeks. Did the PMOI really have all the tools for a putsch which would have changed the course of history?
The clerical party was still intact and solidly in place. The supporters of their government executed thousands of opposition militants, forcing their leaders into exile.
Classified as a terrorist group by the United States and by the European Union, the PMOI is largely discredited today. It was based in Iraq since 1986 and faces the full impact of Saddam ‘Hussein’s fall from power.
Founded in Iran under the Shah’s regime, they took up armed Combat against the monarchy’s police. The PMOI claims to follow an “Islamic-Progressive” ideology and continues to carry out terrorist actions against the Teheran Government.
Massoud Rajavi is their leader and his wife, Maryam, has been designated by the PMOI as the “President-elect” of Iran. They claim to be the only official opposition to President Khatami and his eventual successors. They have created their own syncretic political thought, one that reflects their personal interests. This “radjavism” must be accepted and spread by all members of their organisation.
Having participated in the movement that overthrew Reza Shah, the People’s Mojahedin broke with the supporters of the Islamic Republic in a life and death struggle for victory.
Massoud Rajavi found refuge first in France and then in Iraq. He owes everything to Saddam: the funding of the PMOI, arms and their training camps in Iraq, including their Headquarters in Camp Ashraf. The three to five thousand Iranian militants in PMOI, operating from Iraqi territory, helped maintain a high level of tension with Iran. This destabilising factor could only help Saddam Hussein, who never forgot his failure to win the war between the countries. From 1980 until 1988, Iraq and Iran were aflame with war.
On several occasions, Massoud Rajavi sent his partisans against Iran, hoping that a victory, even a modest one, would lead to a popular uprising against the clerics in power. Literally hundreds of inexperienced young men and women lost their lives due to the analytic errors of their leadership. In fact, far from a triumphal welcome for the PMOI’s militia, they were confronted by a reflex of national self-preservation. The Iranian Army was in a position to tear these amateur militia units to pieces.
Since these defeats, the PMOI had to settle for periodically infiltrating small units ordered to carry out terrorist actions in Iran’s big cities. The PMOI was also providing, inside Iraq, support forces for a dictatorship which ruled its people with a bloody, iron hand. This was the case right up until the intervention of the American-British forces.
Operating as a political-military sect, based on a cult of personality, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran require total obedience from their true believers. The hierarchy is very structured and very strict, demanding blind obedience to the leadership. Their methods are reminiscent of Stalin’s. They include the notorious model of the Moscow show trials: overwhelming their internal critics with insults, mud slinging lies, accusations of treason, selling out or being enemy agents.
Yet, after almost thirty years of struggle, the PMOI and its National Liberation Army have little to show for their efforts. They have squandered all their achievements of the Seventies and Eighties largely through their alliance with Saddam Hussein. During the last two decades, Mr Rajavi and his friends have only succeeded in cutting themselves off from the very people who want change in Iran, but will not follow the PMOI. They have never been able to lay the foundations of that “Islamic, Democratic Republic of Iran” which is their principal aim.
Even worse, now that their protector is gone, the PMOI had no alternative but that of letting the American Army disarm their troops and close down their military bases. Perhaps they will be able to smuggle some of their members out through Turkey, Jordan or Syria. However; if they win political exile status in Europe or America, their freedom of action will be reduced to zero.
Without their sanctuary in Iraq, the organisation’s leadership will have to limit their ambitions. Like their political wing, they will have to look everywhere for petitions supporting the movement. They will be fighting for a legitimacy which is disappearing with each passing day.
Since 1975-1981, all the givens have changed. Groups like the People’s Mojahedin of Iran have become mere relics of the Cold War/ this particular relic is poorly understood in the West, where it is still trying to maintain its ability to cause problems for Iran.
Research is necessary to analyse hidden circles of the PMOI. We hope that this thesis, based on a wide range of sources published over the years will help advance our understanding of the PMOI.
CHAPTER 1 – The end of tolerance
The People’s Mojahedin were struck a mortal blow when their European headquarters was dismantled by the French in June 2003. They had already been neutralised as a force in May 2003 when the Anglo-American Coalition took over Iraq and threw out Saddam Hussein’s regime. These events mark the end of an investigation that had gone on for several years and led to the end of any tolerance for the movement.
“French police questioned more than 160 members of the People’s Mojahedin (the main Iranian opposition movement) last Tuesday near Paris. The police claim to have dismantled the group, which the French judicial system suspects of planning and funding terrorist operations. On 11 May, the People’s Mojahedin, which numbers about 4 to 5,000 troops in Iraq (although there were once more than 15,000), agreed to turn over their heavy weapons and put their troops under the control of the American Army occupying Iraq…
While no one is certain as to the whereabouts of Mojahedin leader Massoud Rajavi, the police confirm that they questioned his wife, Maryam, aged 50. This symbolic figure of the Islamist-Marxist movement had been named “Future President of Iran” by the PMOI…
In the complex of houses in Auvers-sur-Oise, headquarters of the National Council of the Iranian Resistance (NCRI, the political name used by the Mojahedin) there were more than 100 satellite dishes and ‘an enormous amount of computer equipment’.
According to an Interior Ministry source, Auvers-sur-Oise had been turned into the Mojahedin’s “International HQ”. Up until March-April , their command structure was in Iraq and only moved with the outbreak of war.
The same source, asked about the results of this police raid, announced that the operation had successfully dismantled the organization in France…”.
According to the police, this raid was “one of the biggest undertaken by the DST (French Counter-intelligence) in the last 30 years”. International press agencies reported that it was the result of more than three years of investigation. (1)
France thus became the first Western country to take seriously the danger posed by the PMOI.
The Associated Press underlined the significant means deployed by the French police authorities. This shows that the French security services did not take this raid lightly: even bringing in aerial surveillance helicopters.
The operation was aimed according to the Ministry, above all, “at the leaders of an organisation which threatens public order and is planning or preparing to finance terrorist acts”.
During the raid, it was necessary to use explosive charges to break open “blocked doors”, the police stated.
“The People’s Mojahedin are the military wing of Massoud Rajavi’s National Resistance Council, based in the Paris suburbs…
The raid, carried out under a search warrant issued by the Paris-based anti-terrorism investigative magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, mobilised more than 1200 officials, including 80 members of the elite GIGN: France’s SWAT team.
It was carried out by the Directorate for National Internal Security (DST or French counter-intelligence) with the support of the Central Command of the Judiciary Police and under the technical direction of the RAID (France’s specialised unit for hostage and terrorist incidents).
Thirteen targets were surrounded in the Val d’Oise and Yvelines departments, with a particular focus on the Auvers-sur-Oise camp which was suspected to be a refuge for many active PMOI members…
‘Since May 2002, this organisation has been on the list of terrorist movements denounced by the European Union’, according to an Interior Ministry press release. ‘Its bases in the Paris region are considered to be used for questionable organisational, logistical and financial purposes’, added the Ministry…”. (2)
Right away, the PMOI mobilised its supporters throughout Europe. They set off a well rehearsed series of actions which deeply shocked a European public opinion with little exposure to such extreme methods.
“The protest actions against the arrest of the People’s Mojahedin leadership continued Thursday. New demonstrations took place in Paris… In Rome, two men poured petrol over themselves and set themselves on fire this Thursday morning. They did this during a demonstration of several dozen people in front of the French Embassy. Firemen intervened quickly to put out the burning clothes. The lives of the two men do not seem to be at risk.
At the same moment, another Iranian did the same thing in front of the Berne Railway Station in Switzerland. Despite the rapid response of the police, he suffered extensive bums and, according to the Berne Police, remains in critical condition.
The day before, three Iranian women tried to bum themselves alive in Paris. Two are hospitalised, while the third died of her wounds Thursday afternoon at the Percy Military Hospital in suburban Clamart. She was nearly dead on arrival, but survived for one day.
Also on that Wednesday, two other Iranians tried to do the same in London and in Berne. The Berne police prevented him from setting himself on fire.” (3)
French Government spokesperson, Jean-Francois Cope, considered these self immolations as “obviously, extremely dramatic”. He added, “Alas! It also tells us a great deal about the mindset of their leadership”. Following these demonstrations, the Paris Prefect of Police barred all Mojahedin gatherings “until further orders”. Moreover, a police order banned the sale, transport and use of all inflammable products in certain parts of central Paris… In an interview published in Le Monde, on Thursday, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin declared that the police operations were aimed, “at the central nervous system of a terrorist organisation”. He made clear that “It is in our national interest to make sure that all structures sheltering terrorists on our soil be dismantled.”
During an interministerial meeting at the Prime Minister’s office, Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior, emphasised that the materials seized at Auvers-sur-Oise justified the operation, M. Cope reported.
More than eight million dollars in cash and 150,000 Euros were taken, as well as computer equipment and dozens of satellite dishes. Neither weapons nor false papers were found.
The Quai d’Orsay (the French Foreign Ministry) let it be known on Thursday that “there was no question” of extraditing these opposition figures to Iran, despite the request of Iranian President Mohammed Khatami.
The protests showed that the outright fanaticism of the PMOI was true: that the denunciations of former Mojahedin who had escaped the Organisation’s clutches were reliable. These men and women had been speaking out for years about the internal practices of the PMOI, yet they had been stigmatised by the leadership and their sympathisers as Teheran’s agent
Yet, reality shows that they were right all along. The accusation of terrorism is now accepted at the most authoritative international levels.
“The People’s Mojahedin planned to attack Iranian diplomatic missions in Europe, except in France”, stated the Director of French Counter-Terrorism during a press conference.
According to information gathered by this service (the DST), the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) ‘was preparing for murder attacks outside Iran, including in Europe’, stated the Director, Pierre de Bousquet de Florian…
During the police search at Auvers-sur-Oise, ‘eight to nine million dollars in cash’ was found, added the DST Director, before going on to state that the full accounting was still under way.
M. Bousquet de Florian confirmed that many PMOI leaders had returned to France since the American intervention in Iraq, including Maryam Rajavi. ‘They had turned Auvers-sur-Oise into an operational headquarters for terrorism’, he stated. The US intervention had ‘taken away the PMOI’s Baghdad Headquarters’ as well as the financial support of Saddam’s regime.
The DST chief underscored how dangerous the PMOI was. It was more like a sect, a cult of personality for Massoud Rajavi and his wife. In 2001, the PMOI had claimed responsibility for more than 195 terrorist attacks on Iran from its base in Auvers-sur-Oise.
Police sources stated that since 1999, the PMOI’s periodical, Mojahed, was banned in France by Ministerial order.” (4)
An Uncertain Future
While the French are tracking down the People’s Mojahedin, m, despite its ups and downs, continues a policy of change. Will Tehran, with its powerful position in the region, become a priority for American diplomatic initiatives? After all, on 7 May 2003, 153 the 290 members of the Majlis, the Iranian parliament, voted for normalisation of international relations and more internal reform. an open letter, cited by Agence France Presse (AFP) they were looking for greater support at home and abroad. Contacts have actually taken place to find common ground. “These meetings could lead the way to a rapprochement between the two countries, whose diplomatic ties have been broken since 1980…A new meeting seems to have been held in early May to discuss the transfer of Al Qaida members to the United States in exchange for the neutralization of the People’s Mojahedin, an armed organization based in Iraq which opposes the Islamic regime in Tehran. The US forces began disarming this group last week”, sited the Geneva newspaper, Le Temps. (5)
In Washington, the possibility of a closer cooperation with the Islamic Republic no longer seems so crazy. It could come about, even if the process will be long and if threats are sometimes brandished in the midst of an initial dialogue.
In this context the PMOI could become an indirect form of blackmail, one that is extremely dangerous. After all, the United States is playing a very acrobatic game which could become unbalanced and destabilize the region even further.
But, the White House, in its security extremism could also set off a scenario approaching chaos. This would be using the People’s Mojahedin with the end in view of destabilising today’s Iran.
Would the Bush Administration go so far as to commit the irreversible? The French press agency, AFP, cites in this context an article in the Washington Post. If things remain only in the realm of conjecture, the fact remains that nothing prevents us from imagining that the United States could take the fatal step. “The Pentagon suggests fomenting a popular uprising to bring down the Iranian Government,” the Washington Post continues. State Department could adopt this approach if Iran does not take measures against the Al-Qaida terrorist network by Tuesday,” adds the daily.
Iran has denied giving shelter to terrorists. But a responsible American official, quoted by the Post, states that around ten Al-Qaida agents are hiding in Northeastern Iran, an isolated region which he admits is controlled very tenuously by Teheran. (6)
Rumours are circulating and accusations are becoming pointed. The whole world already understands that the will of President George W. Bush is the law of the land. He can decide whatever he wants in the absence of any opposition from international opinion. In the West, reactions have remained strictly verbal and indicate a deep apathy.
And this is without taking into consideration the American domestic scene. The most extremist elements are pushing the White House to intervene.
“The Iranian Government, accused by Washington of harbouring Al-Qaida members and of developing arms of mass destruction, is a major problem for the United States. It should be replaced, in the view of American Congressmen… Jane Harman, Representative of California and member of the House Intelligence Committee, thus stated that she considered Iran as ‘a more clear and present danger than was Iraq last year'”. However she hopes for a peaceful solution.
The Senator and candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Joseph Liebermann, believed, from his perspective, that “regime change” in Iran was the solution to the threat posed by Teheran to Washington.
He, nonetheless, excluded a military operation in order to avoid provoking an anti-American reaction by those Iranians who support the United States.
Jay Rockefeller, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee seemed to be equally prudent. He told CNN that he thought good news would be heard from Iran. He went on to state that it would be “extremely reckless to try to destabilise the regime in Teheran based on any prediction of popular support for such a move”, reported the Associated Press at the end of May 2003. (7)
From his side, Mr. Kamal Kharazi, the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran gave an interview at the same time to reporters from the French daily Le Figaro, setting the stage for the raids in France in June, 2003.
“…Does the Iraqi issue justify the development of Iranian-American contacts?
-We have had contacts with the Americans concerning Afghanistan and, today, we continue them on the subject of Iraq.
They cannot reach any conclusions if they do not take place in a climate of equality and a spirit of cooperation.
However the Americans make promises but do not keep them…
– Since the Americans have disarmed the People’s Mojahedin in Iraq, this opposition movement’s leaders have exiled themselves in France. What is your reaction to this?
– In fact, this represents a complex problem for France. The Mojahedin are included on the list of terrorist organisations created by the European Union. France, therefore, cannot give them political asylum….”. (8)
Which way out?
Why did France choose the tough line to neutralise the PMOI? Paris fears, quite logically, that Rajavi’s supporters will use its territory to mount terrorist operations against Iran, claiming authorship from Europe. After all, since America took control of Iraq, the Mojahedin have lost their support bases, close to their targets.
In any case, in tomorrow’s Iraq, there is no place for the People’s Mojahedin of Iran. Massoud Rajavi and his followers must find new geographic strong points and new strategies. Their paramilitary arm, the “National Liberation Army of Iran” has lost direct access to the Iranian border. This brings a dramatic halt to their incursions on the ground: a genuine catastrophe for these forces who believe:
“The military arm of the resistance is the best guarantee of the fall of the clerical dictatorship “. (9)
From now on, the leadership of the PMOI knows that Turkey (their ideal base) will provide them with no help at all.
“The resistance has repeatedly requested that the Turkish Government provide bases and support for its fighters in Turkey’s frontier provinces to facilitate their comings and goings toward Iran. But Ankara has refused this request”. (10)
This is a stance which will not change. Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan’s Government fears, above all, that the Kurds in northern Iraq would not be tempted to take their fate in their own hands and establish their own State as an outcome of the Second Gulf War. This would spread the contagion to Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Ankara has, therefore, locked its eastern flank. The People’s Mojahedin of Iran have hardly any choice but to begin moving their activities to Europe. To do this, they can count on active support from a certain “Progressive International” which has hoped for years to weaken the West. This ultra-Left has no roots in the traditional political currents of thought, even using the idea of “democracy” as bait to lead the unsuspecting into the maze of a kind of instinctive socialism.
Understanding the different forces which are allying to impose on humanity a future which will be no better for us, but very much so for its handful of elites requires a strange journey indeed. In the image of Dante’s circles of Inferno, we must advance through the different prophets of these “nomenklaturas” who, from the tears and suffering of their base, grab all the profits of violence. This includes artificially creating a counterfeit setting to provide violence with a comfortable context.
1.- “Coup de filet centre les Moudjahidin du peuple iranien” – dispatches of Agence France Presse (AFP) and Reuters, 17 June 2003
2.- “Operation de grande envergure centre les Moudjahidin du peuple en region parisienne” – Associated Press (AP) -17 June 2003
3.- “Coup de filet des Moudjahidin du peuple – Nouvelles tentatives d’immolations a Rome et Berne” -AFP and Reuters, 20 June 2003
4.- “Les Moudjahidin du peuple s’appretaient a commettre des attentats, selon la DST” -Associated Press (AP) -10 June 2003
5.- “Ennemis irreductibles, I’lran et les Etats-Unis esquissent leur rapprochement a Geneve” – by Sylvain Besson – Le Temps, 13 May 2003
6.- “Washington envisage des actions pour destabiliser I’lran” AFP, 25 May 2003
7.- “Les parlementaires americains souhaitent un changement de regime en Iran” – Associated Press, 26 May 2003
8.- “Kharazi: “L’Amerique ne tient pas ses promesses” – interview by Claude Lorieux and Pierre Rousselin -Le Figaro, 26 May 2003
9.- “Democracy Betrayed – une reponse au Rapport du Depar-tement d’Etat americain” – published by the Foreign Affairs Commission of the NCIR, 1993
10.-Ibid, note 51.
The Sixties, the time of the PMOI’s birth, are defined in black and white. Perhaps the colours red and white would be more accurate since the East-West conflict deeply divided the mid-20th Century world. On one side, the Soviet bloc under Moscow’s command gathered in the Warsaw Pact. It was held together by a rigid Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy. On the other, stood the western countries inside the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) led by the United States. They were bound together by their belief in the triumph of capitalism. Yet, this bipolarization of the planet never led to any big armed conflict, nuclear or conventional, between the two blocs.
However, right up until 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and Communism as a governing system began to recede rapidly, many crises threatened world peace: like the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Happily, the two super powers, equal in force, always avoided using their nuclear arsenals other than as strategic dissuasion. A direct clash between the Soviet Union and America would have inevitably led to the destruction of whole populations.
Moscow and Washington, on the other hand, set off local points of conflict which opened the way for their bids to control strategic regions. Whether it was in Asia, Latin America, or Africa, these centripetal forces led back to the Kremlin or the White House. It was basically in the Middle East that the East-West rivalry found its most serious field of action: the key to access to extraordinary oil reserves.
It is in this basic paradigm that it is best to understand the birth of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran. Like many similar organisations, the PMOI was not born ex nihilo. It comes right out of our contemporary history. This was a period of chances and changes which shed light on the triple political nature of the PMOI: political, religious and social. Like his “colleagues” elsewhere, Massoud Rajavi invented nothing new.
Today, the movement harshly denies its references to Marxism:
“The label of Islamist Marxist was used by the Shah’s SAVAK and imitated by Khomeini’s regime to be used as an attempt to subvert the Mojahedin ‘s social base.” (11)
The organisation is not fully wrong in its denials. In 2003, it is true; the movement is no longer Marxist or even Islamist in the traditional sense of the term. Having adapted progressive political ideas and Koranic interpretations, the Great Leader has forged a personal syncretism which owes little to Das Kapital, the bible of pure socialism, or to a Koran of unbreakable laws. Rajavism has clearly eclipsed all other references.
Coming on stage
Despite a rhetoric which today seeks political correctness behind many invocations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the PMOI is deeply marked by the revolutionary principles adopted at birth.
As Ahmad Goreishi and Dariush Zahedi have analysed it, the revolutionary process follows a very precise cursus, one which is applicable as a common model for all movements regardless of peoples and borders.
“Revolution is a process which sets off basic political, socio-economic and ideological changes. The revolutionary end to an existing regime is brought about by the meeting of two sets of correlating variables: the internal defects of the regime and its vulnerability and the coordinated action of social groups and individuals who oppose it. The achievement of a successful revolution requires a conscious effort of the revolutionaries aimed at the fall of the existing order. Finally, the relation between popular discontent and the fall of the regime depends on the skills of the revolutionary leaders and (in)competence of those in power”. (12)
Iran, by its geographical position and richness beneath its ground, is at the point of conflict between the Americans and the Soviets. Having organised the fall of Dr Mossadegh in 1953 and restoring Reza Shah to the throne, the United States won the first round. They moved into Iran like a conquered country, overarming the sovereign’s troops. The Shah himself reigned as an absolute monarch in Teheran to play the policeman of the Persian Gulf. But, in the Sixties the hopes of the popular majority formed the base for the demands of groups who, concluding that legal and non-violent political struggle was impossible, chose armed struggle.
In Iran, as the authors of Iran in the 20th Century emphasise, ‘”the new generation was still fascinated by the Mossadegh experience and had other models taken from revolutionary and independence movements in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and Latin America. For these young militants, ideological barriers did not exist. They no longer rejected Marxism, which they knew well, without, at the same time, turning away automatically from Islam. Less fascinated than their elders by the technical and economic success of Europe, they were more aware of the violence caused by imperialism”. (13)
Like the Red Brigades and Prima Linea in Italy, the Rote Armee Faktion of Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhoff in Germany, the Red Army of Japan and Action Direct from France, guerrilla movements inspired by Marxism-Leninism broke out around the world.
These were groups that cultivated their knowledge with readings of Leon Trotsky, Fidel Castro and, above all, the movement bestseller, Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book.
They included combat cells that took Che Guevara and General Giap as their models.
“Rigid, violent and doctrinaire, these groups seemed more Stalinist than Stalin. Iron discipline, a reflex for secrecy, self criticism, and private life sacrificed to the organisation: a sect syndrome”, suggested Jean Sevilla. (14)
Young Iranians crossed the Rubicon and organised resistance combat groups. Moved by the ideology of the Ultra-Left, they aimed to install proletarian rule by terrorist attacks.
“Many of the young intellectuals who saw the repression of June 1963, who had seen the hopes for political representation held by the National Front for the Liberation of Iran and even Tudeh swept away, turned to more radical solutions, often close to despair”, according to historians. (15)
“Who are these people? Sons of merchants, civil servants students and engineers. With no hope of being followed by the people, they chose violence because the old nationalist and revolutionary forces of the Fifties had had their day and decomposed. They also saw that all the hopes of the Opposition were used against them by the regime. Thus they think only defiance and sacrifice can provide the examples to keep youth from submitting,” reports the French weekly L ‘Express. (16)
The first, the People’s Fedayeen took action. They were led by Bijan Jazani (executed in 1975) who had learned his craft in the Tudeh (the Iranian Communist Party). After bloody skirmishes with the army and police, they took terrible losses and were contained. But the example had been given. The Sazeman-e-Mojahedin-e-Khalq, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran was created on 6 September 1965 by Mohammad Hanifnejad, as well as Sa’id Mohsen and Ali-Asghar Badi’zadegan, two other young intellectuals. It was about to enter on the scene.
“Mohammad Hanifnejad, the founder of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran was an agricultural engineer and a Moslem intellectual. Born in 1938 in Tabriz, capital of Azerbaijan province, he was an anti-Shah activist. ” (17)
Condemned to death by a court martial, he was executed on 25 May 1972.
Soon others would join and together they would decide to act. Analysts point out that “The founders of the People’s Mojahedin born between 1938 and 1940 came to the same conclusion as the People’s Fedayeen about the impossibility of a parliamentary solution… They met each other at the University of Teheran and, beginning in 1965, they formed study groups inspired by Marxist models and by Shi’ism in several cities. Some of them joined Palestinian training camps in Jordan and Lebanon after the Six Day War of 1967. This helped radicalise the organisation”. (18)
12.- “Prospects for regime change in Iran (Islam and Democratization)” – Vol. 5 – Middle East Policy – by Ahmad Ghoreishi and Dariush Zahedi -January 1997
13.- L ‘Iran au XXs siecle – by Jean-Pierre Digard, Bernard Hour-cade and Yann Richard – Paris, 1996
14.- Le terrorisms intellectuel – de 1945 a nos jours – by Jean Sevilla – Paris, 2000
15.- Digard, Hourcade and Richard, op. cit.
16.- “Les victimes de la Revolution blanche” -L’Express, 28-5 march 1972
17.- “Democracy Betrayed”, op. cit.
18.- Digard, Hourcade and Richard, op. cit.
CHAPTER 3 – From joining up to prison
In 1971, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran decided to do battle with the regime in order to avoid leaving only the Fedayeen involved. They undertook attacks, sabotaging electric lines in order to disrupt the prestigious festivities organised by the Shah to mark 2500 years of the Persian Empire.
They were betrayed by a police informer who had infiltrated them. Sixty-nine of the highest leaders were arrested.
Tried in 1972, eleven of them, including Massoud Rajavi, were condemned to death. Two, including Massoud Rajavi, escaped execution due to a campaign to mobilise Western public opinion. Confronted with foreign pressure, the Shah retreated, but claimed that those pardoned had cooperated with the imperial regime’s secret police.
How had the current supreme leader of the PMOI gotten to that point? One of his anonymous, but authorised biographers has this to say:
“Massoud Rajavi was born in 1948 in the city of Tabas in the Northeastern province of Khorassan. The youngest of five brothers, he has a law degree from the University of Teheran… In secondary school, Mr Rajavi was a sympathiser of Ayatollah Teleghani and of Mehdi Bazargan ‘s Freedom Movement. He encountered the Mojahedin at University and join up in 1967. He was in direct contact with the movement’s founder, Mohammad Hanifnejad, and was later promoted to the Central Committee… “. (19)
After his arrest, Massoud Rajavi led the fight from his jail cell. He rose to the highest positions of the movement, due to the execution of the chiefs of the PMOI.
“Like the People’s Fedayeen, the PMOI organised ‘communes’ in the prisons. These functioned as support groups, sharing meals and common cells. Above all, they developed as study groups and for spectacular actions reported outside including hunger strikes. An important split took place during this prison period -in 1975 – between the “religious faction” of the Mojahedin. They kept the same name. But another current of thought clung only to the Marxist school and changed its name later to Peykar. Contemporary historians conclude that this split led not only to bloody fights inside the prisons, but to a decline in the PMOI’s image among the clerics. This loss of prestige included those who remained within an Islamic point of view. (20)
His long imprisonment would not be without effect on the political thought of the PMOI as defined by its main leader. Only the most abstract theories can take form in a cell, cut off from the real world. Programmes developed in such a setting will be limited to a “virtual reality” belonging only to their author. It is worthwhile remembering that it was during his imprisonment after the failed 1923 putsch that Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf.
Without any other guidance than those learned during their careers of revolutionary struggle, the ideologues of today’s Proletarian Left never thought that their analyses had nothing to do with the hopes and realities of the people they presumed to lead. This was because they were so steeped in the underlying doctrines of the International Progressive “Movement” of the Seventies.
It has taken only two decades for history to refute the illusions of those who believed that humanity would welcome them as saviours. Having been convinced of the absolute truth of their faith, these small groups – Trotskyist, neo-charismatic or simply “revolutionary” – continue to repeat their mantra without seeing that no one is listening out there in the desert.
From Prison to the revolution
The People’s Mojahedin continued their guerrilla actions while their leaders re-imagined the world and settled scores with “deviationists” in jail. Bombs went off in May 1972 during American President Richard Nixon’s visit to Teheran. Others struck at symbols of Western power in the country, including the offices Pan Am airlines and Shell oil. It was part of a strategy to provoke a hardening of the Shah’s regime. But it failed.
Simultaneously, throughout the world, similar organisations were following the same path.
Visiting Professor at Harvard, Berkeley and UCLA, professor at France’s elite ENA, specialist in geopolitics and strategy, Gerard Chaliand is, without question, the author of the best analytical works available today on the subject of terrorism.
In his classification of terrorist movements, he devotes an entire chapter to “anti-imperialist or revolutionary groups without a mass base, usually committed to class struggle and armed struggle – almost exclusively in the form of urban guerrilla warfare – in non-democratic countries. This type of movement took root first in Latin America, like the Marighella group in Brazil, Uruguay’s Tupamaros, and the Argentinean Monteneros. Within this category, we also find, with small variations, the small Turkish extreme left groups, [and] the Fedayeen and the People’s Mojahedin of Iran. The efforts of these groups, given the weakness of their social support, usually lead to failure, the hardening of the State and the rise to power of the most repressive elements”. (21)
The Tupamaros who turned Montevideo into a bloody arena were crushed by the forces of order after nine years of battle. Founded in 1963, the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement, named after Tupac Amaru, the rebel Inca chief (whose name would later be used in Peru in the Nineties) carried out waves of attacks in Uruguay. They killed an American diplomatic counselor and kidnapped the British Ambassador. It was not until 1972 that the Uruguayan Government finally ended this urban guerrilla warfare.
In Iran, as well, the Shah’s police gave back blow for blow and struck hard against those carrying out guerrilla actions. Yet, despite its losses and the thinning of its ranks, the PMOI was never able to reach the masses: the force it needed to create radical change in the pre-determined “historical sense”.
On the other hand the fight carried out by the group against the monarchy gave it a particular aura and attracted to it an overexcited, romantic youth. This is did not take place until 1978, when we see all the different elements of the country go into the street and risk their lives to overthrow the Shah. The Iranian Revolution had nothing to do with class struggle, however: “It did not involve, in any form, the movement of the poor to throw out the rich, or of the Proletarian against the possessing classes”. (22)
19.- “Democracy Betrayed, op. cit.
20.- Digard, Hourcade and Richard, op. cit.
21.- “Terrorismes et guerillas” – by Gerard Chaliand – Paris, 1988
22.- Les revolutions iraniefines – Histoire et sociologie – by Rouzbeh Sabouri, 1996