The Iranian Mojahedin – by Ervand Abrahimian

The Iranian Mojahedin – by Ervand Abrahimian


The Iranian Mojahedin


Publisher: Yale University Press




Being established and active for more than forty years, Mojahedin Khalq Organization MKO suffers the lack of a well depicted history of its past. The book The Iranian Mojahedin is written, as the author states, “to piece together the history of the organization and to answer a number of basic questions”. It is a well developed record of the organization’s background, founders, formation, ideology, social and political status and more. The organization has deliberately avoided presenting a detailed account of its past and history but the book’s records and analyses well depicts the facts about the Mojahedin underground organization.

It has always been a big question why Mojahedin, claiming to play a key role in Iranian social and political context, have refrained to present a complete and well developed sketch of its own past. In spite of its many publications, the organization has issued only a brief booklet entitled “An account of the formation and short history of the people’s Mojahedin Organization of from 1965 to 1975”. Mr. Abrahamian commenting on the booklet states that:

This pamphlet provides no more than a series of short hagiographies of its founding members. The organization, being a political one, naturally tends to mystify and romanticize its past, as well as to gloss over such embarrassments as shifts in day-to-day policy and modifications in general ideology. What is more, the organization, being an underground one, has no choice but to remain silent on many questions of importance to the historian-questions such as the exact composition of the present leadership, as well as the identities of former leaders who, for one reason or another, have fallen by the wayside. Page 2

Going deep into the roots of Mojahedin Khalq, chapter 3 of the Iranian Mojahedin gives a complete description its origins:

The roots of the Mojahedin reach back to the Liberation Movement of Iran (Nehzat-e Azadi-ye ): the nationalistic, liberal and lay-religious party formed in the early 1960s by Mehdi Bazargan. The early members of the Liberation Movement were, like Bazargan staunch supporters of Mosaddeq who felt concerned that secular outlook of his National Front had alienated the clerical establishment and the Liberation Movement were, again like Bazargan, Western-educated professionals from wealthy mercantile families. Page 81

In founding the Liberation Movement, Bazargan was greatly helped by Ayatollah Mahmud Taleghani-the maverick clergyman who had consistently supported Mosaddeq. Taleghani was a remarkable cleric in many respects. The son of a provincial mulla who had preferred to work as a watch maker rather than live off religious contributions, he had grown up in a household proud of its poverty. Born in 1911, Taleghani was old enough to remember both the era when senior ulama had openly justified “feudalism” and Reza Shah era of royal despotism. Taleghani himself had been imprisoned in the late 1930s for refusing to carry an identity card. His lively intellect and inquisitiveness allowed him to tolerate political diversity and explore new concepts: while in goal he had been impressed by the novel ideas of Marxist prisoners. Page 82

However, the Uprising of 5 June 1963 was one of the most important events in Iranian history; for the first time people, led by the clerical leaders, formed a nationwide struggle and protested against the imperialism-backed reign of Pahlavi’s monarchy. Although it was suppressed by the regime, the uprising brought into being a new “Political Generation”. The Liberation Movement did not escape the crushing wave the new generation was creating:

The uprising of June 1963 caused a generational split in the Liberation Movement as well as in other political organizations. Within a few months of the event, three younger members formed a small discussion group to explore new ways of fighting the regime, and, in a secret letter addressed to leaders of the parent party, blamed them for the “disaster” and for failing to muster a “more effective challenge to the Shah. This discussion group later formed the nucleus of the Mojahedin. As one of the early members of the Mojahedin later described, the Shah’s “barbaric crime” of mowing down thousands of defenceless citizens forced many younger members of the Liberation Movement, like himself, to seek new ways of fighting the regime. “The question, he believed “was no longer whether but when and hoe one should take up arms. Page 85

After three full years of intense study, the group set up a Central Committee to work out a revolutionary strategy and an Ideological Team to provide the organization with its own theoretical handbooks. The Central Committee included, besides Hanifnezhad, Mohsen and Badizadegan, nine others: Mahmud, Asgharizadeh, Abdul-Rasul Meshkinfam, Ali Mihandust, Ahmad Rezai, Naser Sadeq, Ali Bakeri, Mohammad Bazargani, Bahman Bazargani, and Masud Rajavi. Page 89

Most of the early leaders of the Mojahedin were young; they were university educated, particularly in engineering colleges within ; and they were the sons of the traditional, the provincial and the religious-minded bazaari middle class. Of the fifteen in the Central Committee and the Ideological Team, all were born between 1938 and 1948, and most between 1943 and 1946. Many of them had therefore been in their late teens at the time of the 1963 Uprising and in their early twenties when the discussion group first formed. Page 91

In the following part of the book under the title “ideology”, Mr. Abrahamian fully explains the ideological development of Mojahedin:

The Ideological Team prepared as a series of pamphlets designed both to provide the basis for further discussion and to translate their general aspirations into a more systematic world-outlook. The series was formed of the following: Takamol (Evolution) and Shenakht (Epistemology), two philosophical works written predominantly by Hanifnezhad; Eqtesad Bezaban-e sadeh (Economics in a simple language), a free translation of Marx’s Wage Labour and Capital done chiefly by Asgharizadeh; Motaleat-e Marksisti (Studies on Marxism), a brief summary of the materialist conception of history and society compiled chiefly by Mohsen; Cheguneh Quran biamuzim (How to study the Koran), a two-volume introduction to Islam; Rah-e anbya rah-e basher (The way of the prophets: the way of humanity);and, most important of all, Simaye yek Musalman (The portrait of Muslim), or, as it was later known, Nehzat-e Hosayni (Hosayn’s movement). This last work, which was written mostly under the supervision of Rajavi and Ahmad Rezai, is probably the first book in Persian to interpret systematically early Shiism as a protest movement against class exploitation and state oppression. These handbooks were circulated in handwritten Xeroxed editions in the late 1960s, but were not published until after 1972. Together they encapsulated the essential themes of the Mojahedin ideology. Page 92

This ideology can be described best as a combination of Islam and Marxism. As Ruhani and Haqshenas stated years later, “our original aim was to synthesize the religious values of Islam with the scientific thought of Marxism…for we were convinced that true Islam was compatible with the theories of social evolution, historical determinism, and the class struggle. Similarly, a Mojahedin handbook published on the eve of the Islamic Revolution declared: “We say “no” to Marxist philosophy, especially to atheism. But we say “yes” to Marxist social thought, particularly to its analysis of feudalism, and imperialism. The same theme was further elaborated in a Mojahedin pamphlet published immediately after the revolution. Beginning with the premise that Marxism is a “complex ideology: containing a “scientific” as well as a “philosophical” component, the pamphlet stressed that the Mojahedin organization from its very inception had accepted much of its science-of course, in an “undogmatic manner”- but had rejected most of its philosophy, its denial of the soul and the afterlife, and dismissal of all religious as the opiate of the masses. The pamphlet concluded by declaring that “scientific” Marxism was compatible with true Islam and that it had inspired many intellectuals in Iran as well as progressive working-class movements in other parts of the world. Pages 92-3

Coming to understand that it was impossible to synthesize Marxism with Islam, the origination suffered a great organizational schism in 1975:

By mid-1975 the Mojahedin had won a nation-wide reputation for organizational efficiency, revolutionary fervour, and religious martyrdom. Together with the Fedaiyan, it had become the idol of the opposition and the scourge of the regime. It was in the midst of this apparent success that the Mojahedin, suddenly and without visible warning, shook the whole opposition, secular as well as religious, by publishing a vehemently anti-Islamic tract entitled Bayanieh-e elam-e idelozhik-e Sazman-e Mojahedin-e Khalq-e (Manifesto explaining the ideological position of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran). Without mincing words, the Manifesto declared that the organization was henceforth discarding Islam in favour of Marxism-Leninism because Islam was “mass opiate” and at best a “petit bourgeois, utopian ideology”, whereas Marxism-Leninism was the real “scientific philosophy” of the working class and the true road for the liberation of mankind. From then on there were two rival Mojahedin organizations. One was the Muslim Mojahedin which refused to relinquish the original name and accused its opponents of gaining control through a bloody coup d’etat; after the Islamic Revolution it managed to regain fully the original title. The other was Marxist Mojahedin which initially took the full name of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. Page 145

There are many unsought dark corners about the organization and the more one reads through its history, the more questions may form in the mind. Once following an armed struggle strategy to end the reign of Pahlavi’s monarchy and to free the Iranian masses, suddenly, after the Islamic revolution won and the nation felt free, the organization turned its arms against their own people and killed as many people as they could never have dreamed. Being considered now as a terrorist group than a liberation movement, they are only recognized and protected by the enemies of not having the least repute among Iranian people. The organization has undergone an amazing metamorphosis from a mass movement to a religio-political sect in a struggle to breathe a new life into its already half-dying structure through an inner revolution: “As the New Revolution took on the shape of the Second Coming, the Mojahedin became increasingly a world onto itself.” Page 261