Mansoor Hekmat 1994
First published: in Persian in “International” No. 15, September 1994.
The People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (Mujahedeen) leadership seems peculiarly fascinated by governmental power and its rites, ceremonies and accessories. Obviously any serious political party strives after power as an instrument which allows it to put its goals and programme to practice. The Mujahedeen’s interest in political power, however, is not of the same metal. It is not earthly or political. It is a semi-religious, semi-infantile obsession. It is as if attaining the state of power is the final stage of the exaltation of the organisation or the fulfilment of the destiny of its leaders, or that the presidential palace is the earthly equivalent of heaven itself. Governmental power for the Mujahedeen is an enchanting dream. In their midst, words such as president, leader, prime minister, cabinet, minister, commander, and so on have an extraordinary ring. And just like kids who arrange their dolls and play out their dreams, the Mujahedeen are usually engaged in a ‘government game’; ‘now I am president’, ‘now you are prime minister’. The end of the game is not known. The recent round, in which ‘now Maryam’ is the president with a number of dolls in the form of artists, poets, writers, and athletes, playing guests in Europe, will certainly not be the last. The way these people pay tribute to their own surname the whole thing would probably end up in Tehran or in an oasis somewhere in southern Arabia, with a declaration of monarchy and a private coronation ceremony.
If this was a simple game, if it was entirely childish, we would all become its audience and amuse ourselves at the players’ gambols and stunts. But the stage is that of politics and a struggle for power, which in the world as it is has assumed horrendous undertones. It is serious, even if the Mujahedeen themselves are not. It has actual consequences for real people, even if the Mujahedeen themselves are rambling about in their dream world. The gist of the matter is that by virtue of the objective social and political conditions in Iran, by virtue of the characteristics of this specific period, and by nature of the attributes of the Mujahedeen organisation and its strategy for action, governmental power is a forbidden fruit for this organisation. Circumstances cancel out the possibility for the Mujahedeen and their ‘National Resistance Council’ to assume power. Let us see why.
Up until now, there has been a common and crucial assumption in the explications of all Iranian opposition forces concerning the future course of political events which must now unfortunately be questioned. All existing forces from Right to Left, irrespective of their policy and strategy in countering the Iranian regime, present the future course of events as one of a change of the central government in Iran, and the replacement of the Islamic regime with another government. One of them might regard this shift as the result of the people’s revolution, and the other as the outcome of a military coup or a gradual change in the existing regime. One visualises the future government as Leftist and free and the other as Rightist and autocratic. One anticipates a modern and secular political system, and the other an ethnic or religious one. At any rate, however, in all these ‘explications’ one government gives place to another. According to this explication, crisis, conflict, revolution and coup d’etat would be a link between two ‘non-critical’ and ‘ordinary’ state of affairs. At the end of this process, society, the government, and economic life are firmly in position. The government, the people, and Iran are as ever. In light of the political and economic situation in Iran, and the important ongoing international events, this assumption is increasingly turning out to be unjustifiable. Another course is becoming feasible according to which the process of the disintegration of the Islamic Republic of Iran would result in an extended, almost permanent state of conflict, a complicated mixture of military squirearchy, foreign invasion, and geographical, and to some extent ethnic disintegration of the country. The course of political events in various countries in the post Cold War period from Yugoslavia and Afghanistan to Rwanda, Somalia and the previous Soviet states, display the unbelievable dimensions of the hardships imposed on millions of people by the alternative scenario. If we call the first scenario ordinary or ‘white’, the second scenario can, charitably, be labelled ‘black’. This is a virtual nightmare which becomes more likely as time passes. The approach of various political forces to this second probability or more specifically, having a clear policy to prevent the black scenario in the course of the downfall of the Islamic Republic, is as important a criterion in judging various parties as their programmes and goals.
Moreover, a broad spectrum of political forces and currents, both in the government and among the opposition, each fit into one or the other scenario according to their political and organisational attributes, their social standing, their relation to social classes, and their strategy, goals, and methods – just as their existence and activities serve to fulfil one or the other scenario. Looked at carefully, the Mujahedeen can only become a personage, and a minor one at that, in the second, i.e. the black scenario.
The Mujahedeen’s own strategy to obtain power and form government is infantile and illusory. This strategy is predominantly inspired by the model of the coming to power of Khomeini – the only problem being that it seems to ignore the crucial differences between nearly all the factors involved in the downfall of the monarchy in Iran and present day circumstances.
The key concept for the Mujahedeen is the word ‘alternative’. The informing principle in the Mujahedeen’s strategy is to establish themselves in whatever suitable organisational wrapping such as the National Resistance Council, etc. as the practical and political alternative of the existing regime. ‘Alternative’ thus turns into a term which is contrived to replace discarded concepts and formulae such as ‘organisation and leadership of the Revolution’, ‘obtaining hegemony’, ‘military victory’, and so on. The Mujahedeen do not aim at starting a revolt, uprising, coup, etc. against the Islamic regime, as the means of assuming power. Their assumption is that the people themselves will get their fill of the Islamic regime, that the economic and political crisis will in time paralyse the Islamic Republic and cause its downfall. The Mujahedeen’s task in the interval is regarded as that of having to establish itself as the natural and obvious ‘alternative’ of the crumbling regime. The process of the downfall itself would put power at the disposal of the major opposition force. The Mujahedeen will not have to defeat anyone, but to become the first name in the list of candidates for the next government. This, of course, is similar to the process that brought Khomeini and the Islamic trend to power. The Muslims of the Khomeini faction were marginal to the entire anti-monarchic opposition up until a few months before the uprising. They did not play a substantial role in starting the 1979 revolution, and more specifically, in the political struggle in the previous period. But they managed, in a manner that we shall discuss a bit further down, to establish their slogans, personalities and political trend as the alternative to the Shah’s regime and even to lay hands on the outcome of the uprising that they themselves had tried to forestall.
But how to become an alternative? Which office bestows the title? Who is the authority that underwrites one’s credentials? The Mujahedeen’s answer is modelled on the Khomeini trend. The main political Mecca is the West and Western governments. It is these powers that have the propaganda, material, political and diplomatic capabilities to represent and display their trend as a political alternative. The Khomeini regime was the product of the Guadeloupe meeting. They transferred a relatively obscure Mullah (obscure in comparison with the reputation of the Fedaii and Mujahedeen guerrilla groups, the Tudeh Party, the National Front, Left liberal intellectuals, etc.) from Iraq to France, and under their projectors, they represented the revolution as Islamic and the Iranian people in their entirety as the disciples and followers of His Holiness, the Ayatollah. They declared, tacitly and explicitly, that they consent to the reign of this trend and regard it as the real alternative to the Shah’s government. They gave their self-concocted army and docile National Front to understand that they should fall in with them, and finally, they sent their people there to take power over from the Shah and hand it to the Islamists before the people’s onslaught. The Mujahedeen has similar hopes and expectations. From their point of view, becoming an alternative means receiving this go ahead from Western governments.
This Mujahedeen strategy, however, also has a dimension aimed at inside the country. To begin with, from their point of view, the Iranian people and their image of the place of political parties and trends in the future structure of power, also play some role. Further and more importantly, establishing oneself in Europe and the US involves being able to present oneself as an active opposition force inside the country, with an actual base among the people, and some leverage for political intervention there. By virtue of this fact, however, this ‘internal’ activity will have to be resounding, propagandistic, theatrical, and to the taste of the media. What the Iranian people themselves think of this organisation and to what extent they come in contact with its activities are secondary to what these very people might hear about the Mujahedeen from the Western media. According to the Mujahedeen, again as the Khomeini experience has supposedly proven, the approval of the US, France, and Britain is itself the most effective means of attracting public opinion in Iran itself. The Iran-directed activity of the Mujahedeen should therefore have an orientation and content facing abroad. Khomeini could for instance show that he had a base inside the country; and that there were still religious prejudices, a certain strata that could be provoked by religion or the existence of the widespread network of mosques, mullahs, and Friday prayer sessions, which could be used as a machinery for political activity. Moreover, the West had for long recognised the potential of Islam and the religious hierarchy in Middle Eastern countries in stirring up reactionary and anti-communist movements.
To become an alternative, the Mujahedeen must also prepare its credentials from inside the country. The Mujahedeen activities inside Iraq and its various military gestures are supposed to serve this purpose. The Mujahedeen Organisation itself knows that a number of units made up of relatives and sympathisers dispatched from Europe, with 13 borrowed helicopters and 11 tanks which cannot even be serviced would, in today’s world, not stand up to the forces loyal to the elder of the first village on the way. But the Mujahedeen also knows that this is the world of armed opposition at borders, and of the rhetoric of ‘occupation’, ‘aggression’, ‘cease-fire’, and so on, and such gestures are effective in obtaining appointments in European capitals and attracting scandal mongering and malleable journalists. This is the objective followed by the Mujahedeen in various periods resulting in the Rambo-like exclusion of Banisadr and its declaration of the Iranian army’s support for it, pretending to have the support of the Kurds who fight for self-determination, or that of various opposition parties in Iran, or engaging in ‘military operations’, and so on. These activities are in essence propagandistic-theatrical, and their purpose is to gain recognition for the Mujahedeen as the main opposition force and a ruling alternative by Western governments and public opinion.
The problems with the strategy of the Mujahedeen and its inconsistencies with objective reality are manifold. The fact is that this strategy is based on a schoolboy concept of politics. Let us list some of these contradictions:
1. The times have changed. Western governments that, maybe for the few middle decades of this century, had a relatively free hand in setting up political regimes in some dominated countries lack effective leverage in the political scene of even the most backward and dependant country at this moment in history. The very rise of the Islamic Republic and the Islamic trend in the Middle East and North Africa indicated the beginning of a change in the practical relations of superpowers with bourgeois states and trends on a local level. From the occupation of the American embassy in Iran to the recent events in Somalia, Iraq, and now Haiti, things point to the fact that Western powers do not command a considerable manoeuvring capability even as regards the chummiest, most dependant, and reactionary regimes in small countries. The post Cold War period maximised this trend. These days, particularly in the context of enormous convolutions and ambiguities, almost any governmental or non-governmental bourgeois centre and circle, is convinced that by applying pressure, persisting on one’s position, not giving in, at times even through adventurism and resorting to force, it can demand a larger share from the superpowers in the division of political and economic power on the global scene. The Mujahedeen, still wandering in the heyday of neo-colonialism and the teachings of the National Front and the Freedom Movement, takes its idea of politics from this period. The world, however, has changed.
The Shah’s regime was among the last US made to order, coup d’etat type governments in its area of influence, at least outside of Latin America. The very transfer of American support from the Shah to Khomeini sufficed to put an end to the monarchic regime. But the Islamic regime is not in that position and the people are not the same. Neither does the Islamic Republic fall into disarray by the Mujahedeen being hypothetically regarded as an alternative by the West, nor do the people nowadays regard the simple support of the US and the West for a party or trend as the basis for seeing it as an alternative. In particular, the experience of Nicaragua, Angola, Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Iran prove that the West is increasingly using this variety of ‘armed’ extra-territorial ‘alternative’ only to exert pressure, and draw reforms and modifications from existing situations and regimes. To put it in a nutshell, the Mujahedeen is a latecomer to the Western royal court. Even the recognition of the Mujahedeen as a Western alternative against the Islamic Republic, quite improbable as it is, does not bring them close enough to the formation of the next government.
2. The Mujahedeen lacks the qualities required for a political and governmental alternative. Even today (in distinction from the urban guerrilla days) the Mujahedeen is still purely a sect. It is not a trend with social roots, reflecting the protests, aspirations, and ideals of certain sectors and strata in society, even of archaic and marginal ones. Unlike religious splinter groups, for example, the doctrinal attributes of the Mujahedeen and reasons for its divergence from the official mainstream are not clear. The intellectual and political principles of this group are shifty and arbitrary, declared by its high priest in correspondence with the interests of the sect at each juncture. The Mujahedeen can appear on the scene as a religious trend with a portrait of Khomeini, or a liberal Islamic trend with a portrait of Mossadegh as needs be. The political and economic system, the cultural criteria and administrative regulations of a society run by the Mujahedeen is unpredictable for the Iranian people. They are not holding any specific banner, and do not represent a task, protest, or ideal within society itself. The only stable and observable dimensions of their political personality is that their leadership is fascinated by government power, and irrespective of how pale or colourful religion may be in their propaganda, they have Islamic origins and upbringing.
Even in the heyday of colonialism, it was impossible to put in power a sect devoid of political identity in a country of 60 million people. This is even more of an impossibility today. Only rooted social trends born in the context of a defined tradition of protest and struggle can appear as alternatives to society as a whole at historical turning points. Society is not a lunatic asylum; nor is it a boy scouts camp or a student dormitory. It has a historical memory; politics in it is linked to the class and economic foundations of society.
A comparison between the Khomeini and Mujahedeen currents can be telling. Khomeini rose within the matrix of rooted, though counterveiled, political traditions in Iran, such as Mashruism (demanding a return to Sharia or Islamic tradition) and pan-Islamism. That it found another historical chance to come to the fore was due to strategic global confrontations and Cold War equations. Khomeini’s Islam was implemented in a new capacity as a newly discovered weapon in the confrontation of the West with the Eastern bloc, and the growth of Leftism and working class communism. The Khomeini trend rose on the shoulders of the anti-modernism and anti-Western sentiments of the desperate petty bourgeoisie of a country dominated by the US. The Islamic model actually posed a recognisable model in economics and politics vis-à-vis the previous model. This model had important components such as economic self-sufficiency and non-aligned foreign policy, the attack on modernism and Western culture as well as the pursuit of regional hegemony, in common with the political platform of the bourgeois opposition of the Shah, from the Aryanist Right to the populist Left. That was why it practically carried this whole opposition along with it. In the guise of the Islamic Republic, society for a period of time and out of illusions, desperation, and eventually force, allowed an old political tradition to act as a governmental alternative in different circumstances and in a transformed image.
The Mujahedeen, however, is long removed from all this. It is a rootless, unsocial, and theatrical organisation. It lacks, not only a defined political countenance, but also any provisional desirability for social classes.
3. The Mujahedeen lacks the necessary doctrinal and programmatic features required for attaining power. Nor does it stop at this, for it also positively has an unsuitable and obtrusive ideology. It was imaginable that the people should for one reason or another try the Islamic alternative against the autocratic and pro-Western monarchy. It is not clear, however, how the people who will pull down the Islamic government will install another Islamic alternative. This means that the Mujahedeen cannot come to power alongside the people or through their revolution. It must, provided that it can and will do so, assume power in opposition to the revolution. The Islamicism of the Freedom Movement, for instance, is an advantage for this trend, because it turns it into a real candidate for power under circumstances of gradual change of the Islamic regime from within. But the Islamicism of the Mujahedeen is a liability, because it wants to come to power at a time when the people have managed to pull the regime down. Society will concede a continuation of Islam in government only to the extent that the overthrow of the Islamic regime may be beyond reach, and the people seek an improvement in conditions with the transformation of the existing regime. But the uprising and overthrow of the Islamic regime would mean the condemnation and isolation of any trend related to Islam and Islamicism in Iran. The Mujahedeen as an Islamic organisation outside the present government would not be a noteworthy alternative for the people, either in conditions of the transformation of the regime or in conditions of uprising and overthrow.
4. The practical process of the Mujahedeen’s coming to power and establishing itself is unclear. The Mujahedeen is completely silent on this issue. We do not know by which actual mechanism and as a result of which movements it would come to power and establish its legitimacy and legality in the country, given the considerable obstacles in the way. Suppose, for the sake of argument that the Mujahedeen has come to power and Mrs. Rajavi is now reigning in the presidential palace and Mr. Rajavi is reigning in the Mujahedeen headquarters a few blocks down the road. Let us pose a few simple questions:
- Through which specific process has the Mujahedeen assumed power – popular revolution, military coup, military occupation and the occupation of Tehran by external forces, or what? Considering the wide range of political forces, factions and parties, each of which would bid for their own power, it is difficult to see why each of these processes should favour the Mujahedeen in particular. Through which process have the people accepted the legitimacy of the Mujahedeen and the National Resistance Council? How have the leaders of strikes, street protests, sit ins and even mass uprising in a society which has already experienced the outcome of naïve optimism and the illusoriness of ‘let’s all stick together’ of 1979, recognised the legitimacy of a Mujahedeen government?
- The overthrow of the Islamic regime, unlike that of the Shah’s, would certainly not take place through its evaporation and a declaration of solidarity of its remnants with the new regime. The Islamic trend is alive in the region, and moreover, even in the European heartland today, it is a time for contending warlords. Various factions of the Islamic regime are already armed to the teeth, and operate as organised parties within a single government. The defeat of the Islamic Republic would leave behind a range of armed Islamic parties each of which should be neutralised and cancelled out. Even the weakest of these would far exceed the Mujahedeen forces in terms of numbers and armament. How has the Mujahedeen managed to abrogate these, prevail over them and spread the control of the Mujahedeen government or the National Resistance Council over the entire country?
- What has become of the Left, the communists, and all the trends which are already now saying that they will not succumb to an Islamic government, including that of the Mujahedeen? How have they been cancelled out or brought to accept the reign of Mr. and Mrs. Rajavi?
Ambiguities and contradictions are numerous in the Mujahedeen strategy for power. Some of these are felt by their leaders as well. They have, for instance, noticed that being Islamic is a serious drawback in Iranian politics and in society which is experiencing an immense wave of retreat from religion and religious government. The recent Mujahedeen manoeuvres to pose as modern and secular are meant to make up for this drawback. They have, for instance, guessed that it is not possible to lay claim to political power as a sect suspended in space, instead of being part of a protesting, struggling bedrock in society. The ‘red Alavi Shiism’, ‘monotheistic classless society’, and the economic and political ideals of the Tehran bazaar and its nationalist tradesmen definitely belong to the era previous to the historical flight and the transformation of the organisation. They cannot play a part in defining the current identity of the organisation, and even if they did, they certainly must be discarded. After extensive surveys and trials and errors they have come to the conclusion that they should present themselves as nationalist followers of Mossadegh. This is a rather naïve effort in which analysis has taken the place of reality. The Mujahedeen ethics and their view of the world, of society and of human beings, and even of themselves are distinctly religious. The organisation has had a religious origin, their activists and spokespersons have an Islamic appearance, and they still justify the behaviour of their leadership by referring to the ‘Prophet’s behaviour’. Up until a few days ago, they have had nothing to do with Mossadegh and the National Front. Society and the outside world would not mistake the Mujahedeen for Mossadegh and the National Front – which was secular, modernist, and imbedded in the liberal-nationalist tradition – simply because some woman in a headscarf poses for a picture under Mossadegh’s portrait. Even if national liberalism has a chance to come to power in Iran – which we shall not discuss here – it would be represented by forces which in reality have been part of this tradition by virtue of historical background. The ministers and MPs in question would come from this trend. The people will not take a masquerade for real life.
The illusions and self-deceptions, and the substitution of theatrical effects for real political work proves, independent of any other reasoning, that the Mujahedeen do not have a chance in the political future of Iran after the Islamic Republic.
If the Mujahedeen has no place in the first, ‘white’ scenario, how would it fare in the ‘black’ one? What are the possibilities of the Mujahedeen coming to power in the context of commotion, civil war, and the disintegration of Iran as a single political and administrative entity?
The truth is that it does not take much to have a place in the second scenario. Not only the Mujahedeen, and all political parties and groupings which exist today or can come out of the belly of the Islamic Republic in the event of its explosion, but any creature and adventurist who could afford to feed some one hundred mouths and fabricate a specific ethnic or religious identity for them, or simply intimidate them, could find themselves a place in the nightmare of the political future of Iran. In a country in crisis, in a defeated and deadlocked capitalism, under every stone, at the bottom of every slimy ditch, can be found a ‘president’, prime minister’, ‘leader’ and ‘Imam’.
The Mujahedeen has prepared some of the prerequisites for participating in the latter, the black scenario. It has learnt how to enlist the support of this or that government. It is familiar with the market for second hand arms. It is well versed in the art of sect-building. It enjoys a unique sectarianism and organisation-worship. It is a ‘survivor’ and has specifically shown that its capacity for flexibility and adaptability is immense. Nonetheless, even under such circumstances, the Mujahedeen will be a secondary player. At that time, the Mujahedeen can have its own president. Indeed, it is only under such conditions as part of the people’s nightmare, that their dream of presidency could be fulfilled. But ‘President Rajavi’ will then be one of the several self-appointed presidents, prime ministers, and leaders in the country who would be aiming at each other with rockets and artillery, and destroying people’s towns, homes, factories, hospitals and schools.
The Mujahedeen, even despite its conscious political preference, is an organisation that by nature belongs to this nightmare. One of the possibilities as a result of which this explosion can occur and this catastrophe can be set loose is if the West should try to put in power in Tehran the Mujahedeen or a similar group through pressure and political wheelings and dealing, and impose it on the people who have overthrown the Islamic regime. Society and its political forces would react vehemently to such a situation. From the point of view of progressivism in the country, any attempt to repeat the Khomeini scenario would be a call to continue the revolutionary struggle. From the viewpoint of the overthrown reactionary force and its various offshoots, the coming to power of a sectarian Mujahedeen government would signal the exhaustion of the people’s movement and revolution and give a green light to stay on the competitive scene for power. The Mujahedeen strategy to form government, maybe despite their own wishes, is only one of the possible detonators for the situation to explode, and for the nightmare of civil war and chaos in Iran to be unleashed.
Can the black scenario be avoided? Which forces can help society pass through this predicament, or in the event of civil war and turmoil, to put an end to it as quickly as possible? What is to be done? It is of paramount importance to draw the attention of all opposition political forces in Iran to this junction. Many things in the future Iran, including the very livelihood and survival of millions of people, depend upon how the serious trends in opposition regard this dilemma now, and to what extent their tactics hinge on avoiding the black scenario in the course of the downfall of the ominous Islamic regime. This should become the theme of an independent article in a later issue. Here, I would only like to make a few brief points:
1. The black scenario, even if quite probable given the present day realities, can still be avoided.
2. Any process through which ethnic, sectarian, religious, oppressive, non-secular, and non-modern forces get closer to power is a process leading to the enactment of the black scenario. The only guarantee against the nightmare that hangs over the Iranian people and Iranian society is a free, modern, secular government based on the recognition of the broadest social and welfare rights and against any form of discrimination in society, and committed to provide a free, legal, political framework for the contention between social movements and forces. Any streak of reaction and backwardness in the governmental alternative which is formed would directly contribute to the fulfilment of the black scenario.
3. Which forces can be the components of a ‘normal’ or ‘white’ process? The working class and the communists must be the pillar of such an alternative, but the social forces that benefit from such a process are far more. In fact, the real threat is from forces and parties which are not rooted in the political economy of the capitalism of present day Iran – fringe trends such as the Mujahedeen themselves which represent limited and often sectarian interests and have no roots in the social movement and the interests of the main working classes of a capitalist society. Real social trends that represent more lasting and basic issues and interests in the class struggle would all benefit from the course of events following a ‘normal’ process. Working class communism, liberalism, and Left reformism which include most traditional Leftist organisations are logically forces belonging to a ‘normal’ course of change. Moreover – and this is extremely important – a free, modern and secular political system is the demand of an extremely broad sector of the population. This is the most important lesson that the people have learnt from living under the Islamic Republic.
As I said, this should be discussed independently. As far as the Mujahedeen are concerned, I cannot say more than that they are irresponsible, immature, adventurists, and under-politicised. The gates of state and political power in Iran are not open to them. The people do not stand to gain from them. Like all similar trends, especially in the post Cold War period, they can cause serious damage. For someone who is even slightly concerned about the future, the show they are staging is definitely not amusing.