State of paralysis
Tudeh factionalism and the 1953 coup
By Maziar Behrooz
November 2, 2001
The August 19, 1953 toppling of Muhammad Musaddiq's government in Iran
was an important historical event from various perspectives, many of which
are being discussed by Middle East observers to this date. First, it was
the first covert post World War II operation by the United States government,
in cooperation with Britain, to topple the constitutional government of
a sovereign nation.
Operation AJAX, as the coup d'etat came to be called by the CIA, was
implemented at the height of the Cold War, and, as such, was accompanied
by many of familiar justifications. The most important of these were the
improbability of any resolution to the oil nationalization crisis between
Iran and Britain as long as Musaddiq remained in power, and the communist
threat posed by the Tudeh Party of Iran and its Soviet sponsor. The long
term consequence of this intervention can partially explain the 1979 revolution
in Iran and the ongoing crisis in Iran-U.S. relations.
Second, the coup overthrew Musaddiq's government at a time when the nation
was in the midst of an historic struggle with Britain over the nationalization
of the Anglo-Iranian oil company in 1951. The coup not only arrested Iran's
gradual development toward asserting its national independence under a nationalist
leadership, it also put an end to constitutional processes in Iran as Shah
Muhammad Riza Pahlavi (r.1941-1979) was brought back to power and moved
to consolidate power under his own autocratic rule with clear disregard
for Iran's monarchical constitution.
Third, the coup signaled the beginning of a major rout of Iran's communist
movement, probably the largest in the Middle East. The Tudeh Party of Iran
(Iran's version of pro-Soviet communist party) was a clear loser as a result
of the coup. By 1958 the Tudeh network in Iran was decimated and many of
its cadres were arrested , executed or forced to flee the country. The perceived
threat of the Tudeh and the possibility of Iran going to the communist camp
was part of the rational behind the coup.
Prior to the coup some Western observers viewed the Tudeh as the country's
only real political organization. The party's organization was strong and
had a large number of mostly urban based, disciplined members and supporters.
It was popular among the working class and played a leading role in the
country's biggest labor organization, the Central Council of the United
Trade Unions of Iranian Workers and Toilers. According to a CIA estimate
in 1952 the party had 20,000 hard-core members, 8,000 of whom were in Tihran
and that the party rank and file were predominantly proletarian.
Although outlawed in the late 1940s, the party had managed to reorganize
and once more function effectively by the time of the movement for nationalization
of oil. The party had a network of loyal supporters among the officers corps
of the imperial armed forces and was well aware of the impending coup. The
party used this information to warn Musaddiq resulting in the defeat of
the first coup attempt on August 16, 1953.
The decimation of the Tudeh's Military Organization, in 1954, eliminated
the party's offensive capability and the discovery and decimation of its
Intelligence Organization removed the party's defensive shield. All these
translated into a disaster of historic proportions for the Tudeh. In less
than five years, in the midst of the Cold War, one of the largest communist
movements in the Middle East was removed from the scene without much resistance.
While the Tudeh never recovered from this ordeal, the discussion over
the whys and hows has been going on ever since. How is it, therefore, that
the Tudeh was so utterly out maneuvered and uprooted by the perpetrators
of the coup? Why was the party unable to react to the coup in any effective
manner? Even if the Tudeh was unable to stage a counter-coup, in order to
either save the nationalist government or secure political power for itself,
why was it unable to resist the coup and prolong its own existence?
An answer to the above questions has haunted Iran's political culture
since 1953 mainly because the fate of the Tudeh, the defeat of the nationalist
movement, and the success of the coup are closely linked. Hence, no real
general conclusion on the 1953 coup seems possible until a definitive one
can be drawn as to why the Tudeh remained inactive during this period. Time
and again various political activists (Marxists, Nationalists, and Islamists)
opposed to the imperial regime would revisit this period and attempt to
provide a satisfactory answer.
When asked why the Tudeh did not resist the coup while it had the ability
to do so, Nur al-Din Kianuri, the party's former first secretary and an
influential figure throughout the party's history, responded angrily:"why
did we have to resist? Where were these gentleman officers of the National
Front? It was Musaddiq who had to defend his government." There is
some truth to this assertion. After all, what would have happened if Musaddiq
disassociated himself from any Tudeh led attempt of counter-coup? And he
had good reason to suspect the Tudeh.
The party had spent a good part of Musaddiq's tenure attacking him as
an agent of American imperialism. Musaddiq's immobility remains an enigma
and there are no serious studies as to why, as the head of government, his
government remained immobile. But, there are other aspects to the problem
of the Tudeh's role. As will be shown, the Tudeh was aware of the impending
coup and claimed it would resist it. Even if the party's immobility during
the coup can be explained away, the question of its immobility after the
coup and its subsequent rout with relative ease remains in question.
This paper revisits the Tudeh on the eve of the coup and answers the
above questions based on new analysis of old information and the newly available
data. The study will show that, due to intense intra-party factionalism,
the party had reached a state of paralysis on the eve of the coup and was
unable to correct the situation during the following years. Violent state
repression and the party's reliance on the Soviet Union, the two often mentioned
causes of the defeat, were clearly important factors but seem to make sense
only when the first factor is fully comprehended (since neither of the two
factors seem to explain the party's passive reaction).
There are four categories of sources available on the performance of
the Tudeh during and immediately after the 1953 coup. First is the official
account of the imperial regime on the necessity of the coup and the dismantling
of the Tudeh or memoirs of active members of the coup which are mostly repetition
of the former. The imperial regime's account is, of course, self-serving
and must be viewed within the context of the time. For example no mention
is made of foreign involvement in directing the coup while the Tudeh is
depicted as an agent of international communism ready to deliver Iran to
the Soviet camp. These accounts are very detailed when it comes to exposing
the organization of the Tudeh which can only mean that they were written
with close cooperation of one or more Tudeh leaders.
The second category of sources is the Tudeh account of the coup. These
include both official resolutions of Tudeh's ruling bodies (notably central
committee plenums), and official or unofficial books published to present
Tudeh's views on the events. These documents and books include limited self-criticism
by the party as to why and how the coup was successful and the Tudeh was
defeated. But for the most part, they represent a concerted attempt by the
Tudeh to repel its critics and, in a self-serving manner, to suggest that
the party's ability to resist the coup was limited and that the victory
of the coup was inevitable. Much blame is put on Musaddiq's leadership and
the inability of the National Front to coordinate its efforts with the Tudeh.
Tudeh's relationship with the Soviet Union, the party's violent attacks
on Musaddiq during 1951-1952, the party's loss of initiative during 1952-1953,
and the strength of the Military Organization are either ignored or played
The third category of sources are those by academics trying to sort out
the course of events and analyze the 1953 coup based on sources available
at the time of publication. Sepehr Zabih's work is the earliest one and
is a well researched book based on information available on the coup and
the Tudeh in the 1950s and early 1960s. The author's conclusion as to why
the Tudeh remained passive against the coup emphasizes the party's relationship
with the Soviet Union. While acknowledging such elements as repression and
a lack of resolution on the part of the party leadership, Zabih's assessment
of Tudeh's capabilities is that the party could have mounted resistance
but it did not because of misunderstanding general Soviet guidelines.
Ervand Abrahamian's work is based on the author's dissertation work on
the Tudeh and the information available to the him until 1982. His answer
to the question of Tudeh's passive reaction to the coup emphasizes two factors,
first, the divisions between the party and the National Front, thus making
coordinated reaction much harder if not impossible, and, second, the location
and specialization of pro-Tudeh military officers. Abrahamian sees the second
factor as the more significant one and suggests that expectations and assessments
of the pro-Tudeh officers had been exaggerated, and that they were in no
position to stage a counter-coup. Significantly, he suggests that these
Tudeh affiliated officers could have distributed weapons to party members
and influenced rank-and-file troops. Abrahamian also makes a mention of
different factions within the Tudeh and in reaction to the oil nationalization
movement, but does not develop the theme and does not seem to view it as
a major factor in this regard.
Mark Gasiorowski's studies of the 1953 events emphasizes the overall
U.S. role in the coup, and provides a detailed and technical account of
CIA operation in Iran. The importance of Gasiorowski's studies in this regard
is the extent of CIA involvement in vilifying the Tudeh, the role it played
in staging fake pro-republican demonstrations during crucial August 16 to
August 19, 1953 (which pulled in Tudeh supporters and resulted into Musaddiq
sending in the army and asking the Tudeh to demobilize), and the extent
of CIA penetration of the Tudeh. The last observation is significant in
that, according to Gasiorowski, the CIA had penetrated the Tudeh at a very
high level which can partially explain the party's defeat.
The forth category of sources on this subject is memoirs published by
Tudeh leaders in the 1970s and 1980s. These should be divided in to three
groups, namely those which were written while the author was a free person,
those that were written while the author was in captivity, and those that
were published by the Islamic government of Iran based on Tudeh leadership's
confessions provided after their arrest in 1982. More scrutiny and caution
and must be used when the second and the third groups are utilized.
THE TUDEH ON THE EVE OF THE COUP
Established in 1941, the Tudeh grew to become a popular political organization
by the late 1940s. It had survived three major crises by the time of the
oil nationalization movement. First, the party had survived the 1945-1946
Azarbaijan crisis when its sister party, the Azarbaijan Democratic Party,
which had attempted to establish an autonomous government in the north-western
Iran, was crushed by the central government. Second in 1948, and as a result
of the Azarbaijan crisis, the party was challenged by a large split led
by Khalil Maliki which later came to be called the Third Force. Third, following
an unsuccessful attempt on the shah's life in 1949 the party was declared
illegal and had to go underground.
With many of its leadership members arrested and with little experience
in underground activity this crisis was the most serious challenge to the
party and one which it may not have survived. But, state repression at this
point was not very severe and systematic (it was certainly less severe than
the 1953 coup) and the nation still enjoyed many constitutional rights.
Therefore the party's activities in this period became semi-legal and it
soon managed to reorganize by creating a number of front organizations and
publications in order to fill the vacuum left by the party's inability to
Furthermore, in December 1950, and in a spectacular operation, the Military
Organization of the party managed to arrange for the escape of key members
of the party leadership in jail since early 1949. By 1951 nationwide Tudeh
organization seems to have adapted and was once more fully functional under
the new semi-legal political atmosphere.
The third crisis may have had an overall direct negative influence on
the party's performance during the 1953 coup some three years later and
help to partially explain the party leadership's failure to move decisively
against the coup. As Bizhan Jazani puts it, in 1953 the part leadership
believed that, similar to the 1949 crisis, the can survive the coup. In
retrospect, therefore, the party's survival of the relatively light repression
of 1949 may have given its leadership delusionary confidence in the party's
ability to survive under repression. Kianuri notes that the party leadership
after 1949 became self-assured and arrogant in regard to its ability to
analyze and understand social problems.
If the Tudeh was to put up a meaningful and organized resistance against
the coup, its military organization had to play an important and leading
role. Created in 1944, the Military Organization of the Tudeh Party of Iran
(sazman-e nizami-yi hizb-i Tudeh-ye Iran), sometimes called The Officers
Organization (sazman-i afsaran), was a network of military officers supporting
the party. The military personnel which came to create the Military Organization
had established their cells in the defeated imperial Iranian armed forces
a year after the allied occupation of Iran in 1941. Prominent among these
officers were Col. Ezatallah Siyamak, one of the few communist officers
who was not exposed to the police during Riza Shah's rule; Col. Muhammad
Ali Azar, Major Ali Akbar Eskandani and Captain Khusruw Ruzbih. During 1942-1944
these officers operated without direct contact with the Tudeh.
In 1944, through Siyamak's contacts with Abdul Samad Kambakhsh, an influential
party leader, the cells were put in touch with the party and the Military
Organization was created with Kambakhsh as its party liaison officer. During
1944-1946, the Military Organization was involved in two episodes which
led to an attempt at its disbanding and the Tudeh's severing of ties. First,
in August 1944, around twenty army personnel in the Khurasan division of
the army rebelled and attempted to reach the Turkman areas of west Khurasan
and east Mazandaran in order to stage war against the central government.
The rebellion was led by Major Eskandani and Col. Azar. Many of the personnel
involved in this venture, including Eskandani, were killed before they reached
their destination and others, such as Azar fled to the Soviet Union.
Second, the Military Organization sent aid and officers to Azarbaijan
at a time when the province was rebelling against the central government.
The defeat of the Azarbaijan movement caused the party's leadership to attempt
to disband the Organization and, at any rate, cut all contacts with it.
The Military Organization was not disbanded as the party desired and officers
such as Ruzbih resigned their party membership in order to keep the Military
Organization alive. The party asked the Organization back into its ranks
in 1948, as a result of active Soviet pressure, and the reunion was finalized
the following year.
The Military Organization has generally been considered the party's strongest
card in the years preceding the coup. Estimates on the number of officers
involved in the Military Organization vary from 700 to 466. All the estimates
on the number of the Organization's personnel were provided by the coup
organizers as the party did not have clear estimates of its own. The official
Tudeh estimate of 466 members suggests that 429 people were arrested after
the coup and 37 managed to flee the country.
On August 19, 1953, 243 officers were stationed in Tihran and only three
or four were serving in the Imperial Guard Division, the principal military
unit counted on to execute the coup. Most of these personnel were in non-combat
positions. The low estimate provided by the Tudeh has been used by the party
to argue the party could not have made any meaningful use of the Military
Organization. But the Tudeh estimate is contradicted by the fact that 466
military personnel had been brought to trial by 1958, not counting the ones
who had fled.
The leaders of the Military Organization had suggested to the party leaders
that they would be ready to take immediate military action against the coup.
According to Kianuri's estimates, had the party chosen to take action during
or immediately after the coup, the Military Organization had some six thousand
party and Youth Organization members at its deposal in Tihran alone. During
1952-1953 the Military Organization, through its intelligence network in
the armed forces, helped to uncover plots against the nationalist government.
The Organization was well aware of the coup plot and had given the party
leaders a warning to this effect which was subsequently passed on to Musaddiq.
Fireidun Azarnur, a high ranking officer in the Military Organization,
has described the important military posts the Tudeh officers occupied during
the coup, and suggests that his estimate of 491 Tudeh military personnel
had the capability to aid the party in defeating the coup. According to
Kianuri, an officer in charge of a battalion from Hamadan, which was brought
to Tihran to take part in the coup, and another in charge of a company in
Chalus both were party members and were able to distribute weapons to the
party. While the bulk of the Military Organization was decimated in the
summer of 1954, its remnant came under Khusruw Ruzbih who headed its intelligence
branch. He attempted to revive the party but his arrest and execution in
1958 put an end to organized Tudeh activity.
The fact that the Military Organization could not have pulled off a coup,
and the Tudeh assertion that the Military Organization's abilities were
limited, still does not answer the question of why the party did not take
any action at all, or why did it simply wait for the coup perpetrators to
dismantle its organization. Why did not the party take action even with
the limited resources available? The party could have taken action and be
defeated in the field rather than being dismantled without resistance. It
seems that the answer to this question is rooted in the state of paralysis
that had taken over the Tudeh leadership. Under the new repressive circumstances,
the Military Organization would not have made a move without the consent
of the party leadership and the party was simply unable to make a move.
Future Marxists would blame the party for inaction by pointing to the
Military Organization as an example. They would point out that even if the
Military Organization and the party were defeated in action and while resisting
the coup this would still have been preferable to the party's destruction
through inaction. The Military Organization was a major element which sought
to protect the party-something it managed to do during the year after the
coup. But the government's uncovering and decimation of the Organization
in 1954 cleared the path to the uprooting of the Tudeh.
The party's assessment of Iran's situation from the summer of 1952 was
that a coup attempt was probable. As early as March 1953, through information
received by its intelligence network, the Tudeh clearly suspected that preparations
were being made for a coup. This suspicion became undeniable fact eight
days before the first coup attempt on August 16. Therefore, the party's
reaction to the coup should be divided into four time periods, first Summer
1952 to March 1953 when it deemed a coup probable. Second, March to August
1953, when the party suspected a coup. Third, August 16-19 when the coup
was pending, and, forth, August 19, 1953 to August 1954 when the process
of discovery of the Military Organization began. After the dismantling of
the Military Organization the Tudeh was more or less doomed.
As early as the Winter of 1953 the Tudeh leadership ordered the creation
of vanguard cells made up of experienced party members working closely with
the Military Organization. According to an officer's memoirs, the Military
Organization had identified key military installations, army depots, and
command and control centers in the capital. The vanguard cells, equipped
with the intelligence provided by the Military Organization, were to react
violently to any coup attempt. The cells, however, were dismissed by the
leadership before the coup and the military Organization remained passive
as the coup consumed the nationalist government.
It is clear that the Tudeh passed its intelligence on the pending coup
to the prime-minister on August 15, 1953. The period August 16-19, 1953
was a short and crucial one and needed a quick, focused, and determined
reaction by the Tudeh leadership if the situation was to be turned around.
Instead, chaos and lack of determination prevailed. While on his own initiative,
one Tudeh officer, Lt. Ali Ashraf Shoja'iyan, helped Musaddiq's guards arrest
Col. Ne'matollah Nasiri the courier of the royal decree dismissing Musaddiq,
the rest of the Military Organization did not take any action. On the seventeenth,
the party began to call for abolition of the monarchy and establishment
of a democratic republic. Tudeh members were instructed to join demonstrations
for the new cause.
This happened simultaneously with CIA operatives in Tihran organizing
their paid street agents to demonstrate against the monarchy, for a democratic
republic, and beginning to pull down the shah's statues around the city.
This fake Tudeh crowd was joined by Tudeh supporters and added to the panic
of the nationalist government which did not really intend to create such
radical reaction. The government, therefore, ordered the military into the
streets resulting into arrest of many Tudeh activists, withdrawal of pro-government
supporters, and a hostile military in control of streets. Tudeh leadership
does not seem to have been aware of fake Tudeh activities and was not able
to react to them.
It was only after Musaddiq's overthrow that the Tudeh leadership began
to take a number of steps to prepare the party for armed resistance. These
included the creation, in September 1953, of a center for resisting the
coup. Three members of the party's executive committee and three members
of the Military Organization were assigned to command the center. The idea
was for the Military Organization to train and arm some two thousand party
members and for contacts to be made with the Qashqa'i tribe's leadership
so that in coordination with them guerrilla warfare could be waged in the
north and the center of the country. None of these resulted into any concrete
action. The Qashqa'i chiefs ultimately refused to cooperate and the Military
Organization was unable to access adequate arms due to the repressive atmosphere
of the post-coup period.
The official Tudeh reaction to the issue of the causes of the party failure
came during the party's historic fourth plenum, held in Moscow in July 1957.
The plenum criticized the party for its policy toward the National Front
and for not recognizing the progressive nature of the oil nationalization
movement. Calling its policies toward the nationalist government sectarian
and leftist, the party also suggested that its policy between August 16
and 19, 1953 was incorrect when party demonstrations pulled the shah's statues
down and asked for a people's democratic republic. The party admitted to
its state of paralysis and blamed it on the leadership inside Iran while
suggesting that the leadership abroad had failed to provide help and guidelines.
The party blamed the leadership's weakness on the lack of internal democracy
in the party, the lack of close bonds between the leadership and the party
members, and the low level of theoretical knowledge of the leadership and
the existence of deep differences among party leaders.
THE TUDEH AND FACTIONALISM
Factional infighting had been a part of the Tudeh existence from its
inception and continued to play an important role in the party's paralysis
in face of the coup. According to one of the party's former leaders, "The
existence of two factions in the leadership of the Tudeh Party of Iran can
be seen like a red line in the 38 year history of the Tudeh Party in Iran
and in exile." Different names could be used to identify the two factions.
Sources published by the coup leaders called them the old guard and corrupted
faction vs. the critical and compromising faction. This characterization
as well as the whole analysis of factionalism in the Tudeh by the imperial
regime is utterly inadequate and only served the regime's counter-propaganda
The imperial regime's analysis of factionalism in the Tudeh also attempts
to over simplify the problem and to present it as purely a problem between
leaders who were more interested in occupying key party positions and that
there were no real political differences between them. A better name for
the factions is perhaps moderate vs. hard-liner or right vs. left. Both
factions shared an admiration for the Soviet Union, adhered to the Soviet
version of Marxism-Leninism, and were united against the 1948 splinter group
led by Khalil Maliki (which in the 1950s came to be called the Third Force).
The party's 1948 second congress gave more definite shape to the factions.
The oil nationalization movement brought the two factions farther into conflict.
The hard-line faction's principal members were young activists such as
Nur al-Din Kianuri, Ehsanallah Tabari (a party theorist), Amanallah Quraishi,
Ahmad Qasimi, Maryam Firouz and Gholam Husain Furutan as well as older members
such as Ardishir (Ardashis) Avanissian and Abdul Samad Kambakhsh. The hard-line
faction, presented a more dogmatic perception of Marxism and was more insistent
on the leadership of the working class and on party rules and was generally
against the nationalist government of Dr. Musaddiq. The policy of confronting
the Musaddiq cabinet, which lasted until July 1952, was largely a result
of this faction gaining the upper hand. The hard-line faction considered
Musaddiq and the National Front as part of the Iranian bourgeoisie who enjoyed
close ties with the Americans, in contradiction to the imperial court and
the landowning class which maintained close ties with the British.
Because of this two sided understanding of international and domestic
alliances, the hard-line faction viewed the dispute between the National
Front and the British as being in reality one between British and U.S. policy
in Iran. When the party proposed a united front policy, the hard-line faction
insisted that any such front with non-communist forces should come under
party leadership. This faction considered the Tudeh to be the working class
party and this perception became a major point of dispute with the moderate
faction. The hard-line faction used their considerable organizational might
within the party to win many converts to their cause. Leftist and extremist
policies against the nationalist government were mostly, but not all, the
result of this faction's policies which changed only after the tide began
to turn against them following the July 1952 uprising when Musaddiq resigned
in a dispute with the shah and was reinstated after a bloody uprising in
The moderate faction's principal members were Murtiza Yazdi, Iraj Eskandari
(both veterans of pre-1941 communist activities) and Riza Radmanish, Fireidun
Kishawarz, Husain Judat and Nadir Sharmini, the head of the party's Youth
Organization. This faction, although initially against Musaddiq, gradually
came to accept his leadership. The moderates de-emphasized the leadership
role of the working class and the party, and believed that a united front
with non-communist forces did not necessitate party leadership. They had
a more populist view of Marxism and considered the Tudeh not as the party
of the working class, but as a toiler's party which included other deprived
classes. The policy of supporting the nationalists to the point of making
the Tudeh simply a follower of nationalist policies after July 1952, was
the result of this faction gaining the upper hand.
The gradual control of party leadership by the moderate faction, from
July 1952 onward, may partially explain the party's unprepared reaction
to the coup. While much attention has been paid to the Tudeh's hostile reaction
to Musaddiq until July 1952, not much has been told about the consequences
of gradual shift in Tudeh's policy, under the moderate faction, in support
of Dr. Musaddiq. Under the moderate faction, particularly after March 1953,
the Tudeh in effect delegated all initiative to the Musaddiq government
to the point where it was left with none of its own. When asked why the
party had stored no weapons before the coup, Kianuri suggested that the
party did not want to be seen as attempting to overthrow Musaddiq.
Recently published correspondence between the party's executive committee
inside Iran and party leadership abroad sheds more light on this subject.
According to these documents, on the morning of August 19 suggestions on
holding demonstrations and a national strike to resist the coup were rejected
and postponed until Musaddiq's approval could be secured. By that afternoon,
of course, Musaddiq's government was no more.
Among the above mentioned names the case of Sharmini and Kianuri has
baffled some scholars. Sharmini, whose power base was the Youth Organization
and who was its head until 1952 but maintained his influence through the
coup, proposed the most radical slogans while at the same time, siding with
the moderate faction on most issues. Sharmini personified radicalism with
his side arm (making a point of showing it off in mass meetings), fiery
oratory, and good command of Russian (his mother was born in Russia and
he pronounced Russian names with impeccable Russian accent which must have
added to his prestige).
Under him the Youth Organization became a vehicle for undermining the
authority of key personalities of the hard-line faction and their appointees
as this faction was attacked as being soft and Menshivik. As the Youth Organization
attacked principal leaders of the hard-line faction for being too moderate,
it presented an even more radical alternative at party gatherings while
Sharmini worked closely with the moderate faction on strategic party policies.
Hence, Sharmini, who was maverick of a sort, played a crucial role for the
moderate faction in disarming the hard-line faction by undermining its radical
Throughout his memoirs Kianuri claims he was a proponent of Musaddiq
after July 1952 uprising although he does admit he, along with the other
member of the leadership, opposed the oil nationalization movement before
July 1952. Indeed he suggests that, through his wife's connection with Musaddiq's
family, he was the one who warned the prime-minister of the pending coup.
Kianuri's claim is only partially true. Among key hard-line faction personalities
he was number three, after Kambakhsh and Qasimi. Kambakhsh was not a theorist
but a party functionary with strong personal connections to the Soviets.
Qasimi was a staunch Stalinist and a dogmatic theorist who was the main
force behind the party's anti-Musaddiq policies during 1951-52.
Both of these two had to leave the country by mid-1952. Hence, during
the year before the coup Kianuri was the only member of the hard-line faction
left in the party's five man executive committee. The key to understanding
Kinuri's role is to note his theoretical difference with Qasimi. Kianuri
believed in the hegemony of the proletariat in any coalition with non-proletariat
forces while Qasimi did not envision any coalition with a bourgeoisie which
he deemed as having betrayed the anti-imperialist movement. Qasimi's view
was closer to Stalin while Kianuri's was more moderate and closer to Mao
Zedong, but both were at odds with the moderate advocates who proposed closer
cooperation with Musaddiq after July 1952 with or without party leadership.
To the above political differences between the two factions must be added
personal differences which helped fuel factionalism within the Tudeh. Jealousy
of individual leadership figures was among the most significant of these
factors. Indeed, some former Tudeh leaders, similar to the imperial regime
sources, have claimed that the existence of factions were more personal
and organizational in nature rather than ideological. Although hard to pin
point and support with empirical data it seems that in general, personal
animosity played a role in the Iranian politics of this period and continues
to do so to this day. Personal differences among key historical actors is
an under studied subject, but based on available data it is possible to
conclude that it played a major role in the case of the Tudeh party.
Documents related to the party's tenth plenum makes a mention of the
factions and personal differences between individual party leaders. On differences
within the central committee, the plenum identified two factions, one dominant
and centered around Eskandari and Radmanish and the other in opposition
around Kianuri and Qasimi, but suggested that the differences were mostly
personal and due to character flaws. Nevertheless, the plenum put the general
responsibility for the party's failure collectively on the executive committee
of the time. After attempt on the shah's life in February 1949, many Tudeh
leaders had to flee the country in order to avoid arrest while many others
This development split the Tudeh leadership (i.e. its central committee)
into two groups, namely those who were abroad and those who resided inside
the country. There was no strong and systematic contact between the two
groups until after the Tudeh moved abroad after the coup. After the jail
break of Tudeh leaders, in December 1950, an executive committee was created
in order to run the party's day to day affairs and to coordinate operations
with the leadership abroad. Between 1950 and 1952, the eight member executive
committee showed a clear hegemony of the hard-line faction with Nur al-Din
Kianuri, Ahmad Qasimi, Ghulam Husain Furutan, and Mahmud Buqrati in one
united block against Husain Judat, Muhammad Bahrami (the party's first secretary),
and Murtiza Yazdi. Ali Oluwi, the last member of the executive committee
seems to have had his own independent line and often wavered between the
In 1952, Qasimi, Buqrati, and Furutan were sent abroad to represent the
Tudeh's leadership inside Iran in CPSU's nineteenth party congress. This
development changed the balance in the executive committee in favor of the
moderate faction. The party's misjudging of the oil nationalization movement
and the events of summer of 1952 may have helped removing the hard-line
members of the executive committee. At any rate, as the 1953 events approached,
the hard-line position within the executive committee was weakened considerably
with only Kianuri as the faction's representative.
The two factions had control of various party organs which added to disorganization
and wastage as factional competition grew more intense. While in a minority
in the executive committee, Kianuri and supporters had a controlling presence
in the Tihran Provincial Committee, the nerve center of the party network
led by Amanallah Quraishi, in many of the neighborhood committees, and they
had the ear of Military Organization's leadership which meant effective
control. Kianuri was the overall person in charge of party organization,
but the party liaison with the Military Organization was with Judat, a member
of the moderate faction. Abdul Samad Kambakhsh and Ahmad Qasimi were the
previous party liaisons respectively which suggest the hard-line faction
had control up to 1952. Nevertheless, it seems that the Military Organization
kept its ties with Kianuri and bypassed Judat as he was accused by Kianuri,
and later by the tenth plenum, for his incompetency in this regard.
It is clear that the moderate faction's control of the executive committee
did not translate into overall control of the party. Nevertheless, the moderates
did determine the party's general policy (e.g. policy toward Musaddiq).
It seems that much of the factional conflict during 1951-1953 period was
focused on which faction presented the more radical and left view. It did
not really matter what the real policy was as long as a left posture could
be maintained to satisfy many young party cadres. The hard-line faction
systematically attacked the moderates as being too soft, rightist, and too
willing to compromise with the enemies of the party and the working class.
In this context, the moderate faction's control of the party's Youth Organization
was important and came in handy.
Headed by Nadir Sharmini until 1952 and after his dismissal still under
his influence, the Youth Organization played a pivotal role in balancing
the hard-line attack on the moderates. The tenth plenum made a point of
criticizing the Youth Organization and Sharmini. Perhaps the most revealing
document to date on the issue of factionalism and its role in hampering
party activity during and immediately after the coup, is the mentioned correspondence
between the party leadership abroad and the executive committee inside Iran.
These letters, four in all and undated, were written after the coup and
depict the state of internal situation of the party in 1953-1954 and the
relationship between the executive committee members and represented a request
for mediation by the leadership abroad. They show the extent of factional
infighting and clearly manifest the state of paralysis of the party.
The first letter, signed jointly by Bahrami, Yazdi, and Judat, blamed
the party's failures on Kianuri and his faction. It suggests that current
factional problems in the party were a continuation of problems existed
before the departure of some party leaders and that the eight member executive
committee, chosen in 1951, was an odd mix. That from the start, Furutan
and Quraishi were intent on removing Bahrami as first secretary of the party.
It accuses Kianuri and Qasimi of wanting to turn party organization into
their own tuyul (Turkish term for medieval land grant also known by the
Arabic term iqta'). The usage of this term is very interesting in that it
suggests a type of total control of the party organization based on Islamic
The letter points to the executive committee's approval of Sharmini's
removal from the leadership of the Youth Organization (as noted the Organization
was a power base of the moderate faction and Sharmini's removal did not
really alter the situation) but adds that the same corrective step could
not be taken on the Women's Organization another important party affiliated
organization, due to Kianuri's disapproval. The Women's Organization was
led by Maryam Firouz, Kianuri's wife. This letter, therefore, makes the
point that while the moderate faction was willing to compromise by removing
Sharmini, the hard-line faction was not willing to match the good will in
kind. With the departure of Qasimi, Furutan, and Buqrati, according to the
letter, and with Kianuri in a minority, more tension was added to an already
tense situation. It accuses Kianuri of sectarian, bureaucratic, and opportunistic
acts and suggests that the nation-wide party organization was in a sorry
The letter then turns to personal aspects of the leadership's relationship.
It suggested that the executive committee had observed morally corrupt (fasad-i
akhlaq) behavior on the part of Maryam Firouz, Quraishi and Hisam Lankarani,
a party activist, and had given written evidence of this to Kianuri but
of no avail. The term 'morally corrupt behavior' used in this context has
strong sexual connotation to it and suggests infidelity on the part of Firouz
and two of Kianuri's lieutenants. Iranian political culture is not known
for its openness in sexual and marital issues, and for such issues finding
their way in underground correspondence of a communist political party points
to the degree of deterioration of personal relationship between individual
leadership members. The letter points to executive committee meetings and
calls them intolerable due to Kianuri's behavior. He is accused of openly
calling his comrades by such names as 'dishonorable thief and spy of imperialism,'
Yazdi is said to be referred to by Kianuri as 'if you are not a spy then
your brother is,' to Judat, 'your wife is a spy,' and to Sharmini, 'your
mother is a spy.'
The second letter, written by Ali Oluwi who generally sympathized with
the moderate faction but who on some issues maintained his own independent
analysis, suggested that the party was in fact paralyzed by internal factionalism.
He views factional differences as having some ultimate political causes
but primarily being due to the intent of some to secure power for themselves,
personal vanity and the autonomous functioning of some party institutions.
He makes a point of criticizing both Sharmini and Kianuri.
The third letter, written by Kianuri who at this point was the only hard-line
faction member in the executive committee, confirmed the scope of differences
and suggested that the party could not continue as it had done and serious
changes must be implemented. He suggests that the nature of differences
were not simply personal and that the other group was trying to hide its
own past mistakes by attacking him and calling him an agent of imperialism.
That ordinary party cadres new about the differences in the executive committee
and that the only way out is for some leadership members abroad to return
to Iran. Kianuri makes an important observation by suggesting that between
summer 1952 and summer 1953, while the party had unprecedented opportunities
for expanding the movement Awithout exaggeration 90% of the executive committee's
time was spent on petty personal matters, on avenging acts, on scoring points,
and on creating a situation whereby one group could be ousted and another
group could take its positions.According to him, the party had the strength
to withstand the coup while the other faction tried to show that the course
of events were inevitable.
The last letter was written jointly by all five members of the executive
committee. It points to steps taken to remedy the situation in the executive
committee, that the party has acquired some ten thousand grenades and other
fire arms, and requested guideline as to future actions.
The content of these letters, when put next to other available information,
shows the sorry state of Tudeh's leadership and the extent of the state
of paralysis. In view of this information it is surprising the party lasted
as long as it did. One episode regarding the Military Organization and the
impact of factionalism is very telling. The names and identities of the
Organization were kept in two special booklets and arranged in trigonometric
codes devised by Col. Muhammad Ali Mubashiri one of the three men in charge
of the Military Organization (the other two were Col. Ezatallah Siyamak
and ex-Cap. Khusruw Ruzbih). The sequence of events that led to the uncovering
of the Military Organization were as follows: on August 12, 1954, ex-Cap.
Abul Hasan Abbasi, a prominent member of the Organization was arrested
while carrying a suitcase full of documents. Abbasi was one of the older
members of the Military Organization and as such had much knowledge about
its operations and key personnel. This should have worried, and indeed did
worry, the leadership of the Organization and the party. Interestingly,
Ruzbih's insistence that Abbasi would not break under torture seems to have
been instrumental in the Organization making the fatal decision not to take
any decisive action in order to prevent Abbasi's knowledge of the Organization
revealed. Abbasi resisted savage torture until August 24, while the party
and the Organization were aware of his deteriorating situation. After breaking,
he gave away names and addresses of key Military Organization leaders after
which Col. Mubashiri was arrested and the booklets confiscated. Mubashiri
eventually gave the Military Governor of Tehran, the command center of the
coup, the key to decode the booklets and decimation of the Military Organization
After Abbasi's arrest, Judat, the party liaison, took delivery of the
coded booklets on behalf of the executive committee. But the booklets were
returned to the Military Organization just before arrests began. According
to Lt. Amu'i, this was due to factionalism within the executive committee.
He suggests that holding the booklets and other information regarding the
Military Organization added to the prestige and position of the faction
which possessed them. Hence, the return of the booklets so that no one faction
would hold too much power. Both, the acceptance of Ruzbih's fatal recommendation,
not taking any steps to protect the party and the Organization after Abbasi's
arrest, and the return of the booklets to the Military Organization suggests
that factionalism in the party had translated into lack of resolute leadership
at a time when such leadership was a determining factor.
TUDEH FACTIONS AND THE SOVIETS
The relationship between the Tudeh and the Soviet Union finds a new meaning
when put in the factional context. The relationship between the two has
always been a major point of controversy in the history of the Iranian communist
movement, and a part of any evaluation of the Tudeh throughout its existence
particularly during the 1953 coup.
The Soviets exerted considerable influence in Iran while occupying the
country during the Second World War and as such they had some influence
on the Tudeh at its inception. During the 1940s Rustam Aliev, a Soviet diplomat,
had many contacts with the party and influenced its development. Aliev was
a close ally of Ja'far Baqirov the chief of the Soviet Azarbaijan communist
party who in turn was close to Lavrenti P. Beria, the head of G.P.U under
Stalin. Baqirov played an important role during the Iranian Azarbaijan crisis
of 1945-46; he met his demise after Beria's arrest following Stalin's death.
In terms of factionalism in the Tudeh, it is clear that both the hard-
line and the moderate factions had great admiration for the October revolution
and the Soviet Union as the citadel of victorious proletarian revolution.
Members of both factions submitted to Soviet policy throughout the 1940s.
Both factions believed that the party had to observe and respect its internationalist
duties by coordinating the party's policies with those of the Soviet Union.
It should also be noted that as long as Stalin was alive, the CPSU demanded
discipline and obedience from fraternal parties around the world.
Within the context of general support for Soviet policies in Iran and
around the world, the two Tudeh factions had different perceptions and relations
with the Soviets. Members of the moderate faction have accused the hard-line
faction, especially Kambakhsh and Kianuri, of being outright KGB associates
or operatives. Kishawarz has accused the Soviets of misusing the trust and
admiration the Tudeh had for the October revolution and the Soviet Union.
According to him, A...by misusing the belief we and the majority of party
members honestly had in internationalism, the CPSU forced its operatives
and spies on its "fraternal party".
Kishawarz suggested that through Soviet support these operatives rose
in party ranks Auntil they reached high party posts and gradually changed
the Tudeh party of Iran to a tool of the Soviet Union's policy in Iran.
Here, Kishawarz was criticizing the Soviet conduct in promoting Kambakhsh
and Kianuri in the Tudeh. He suggested that both men, heads of the hard-line
faction, had ties to the G.P.U and were closely supported by Beria and Baqirov
as long as Stalin was alive.
Another aspect of the Soviet influence on Tudeh was in policy making
sphere. As noted, Zabih notes how the party leadership misread the CPSU's
general guidelines on the international situation and views this as one
of the contributing elements in the party's demise. The party's anti-Musaddiq
policy during 1951-1952, promoted mainly by the hard-line faction but which
was also initially supported by some moderates, although not exactly similar
to the Soviet policy toward Musaddiq, was partially based on misinterpretation
of a CPSU policy. This policy, which eventually manifested itself in the
resolutions of the nineteenth congress of the CPSU, held in October 1952,
suggested that the bourgeoisie had let down the cause of democracy on the
international scale and that now it was the duty of the international proletariat
to pick up the banner of democracy. The hard-line faction took this observation
too literally and attacked Iranian nationalists as the manifestation of
the Iranian national bourgeoisie.
Furthermore, the 1953 coup occurred at a time when the Soviet Union was
going through profound internal change. The Tudeh's relationship with the
Soviet Union during this crucial period may help to explain the state of
paralysis the party leadership reached in confronting the 1953 coup. Joseph
Stalin died in March 1953, about five months before the August coup in Iran.
This was the beginning of de-Stalinization of the CPSU. During this period
the CPSU was engaged in a struggle for consolidation of power between two
groups, one around Beria and the other around Georgy M. Malenkov and Nikita
S. Khrushchev. Beria was arrested in June and executed in December 1953.
Khrushchev became the first secretary of the CPSU in September 1953 signaling
his dominant role vis-a-vis Malenkov and the beginning of the second round
of party leadership struggle which was to last until 1958.
This struggle forced the Soviet leadership to spend more time and energy
on its domestic affairs and less on international issues. Such an opening
provided an excellent opportunity for the proponents of the coup in Iran,
both Iranian and foreign, and allowed them to take advantage of the Soviet
Union's temporary preoccupation. But, the same event may have been disadvantageous
to the Tudeh which depended on and expected Soviet leadership and support
at this historical point. It seems that a lack of Soviet influence and support,
more than anything else, is how Tudeh's relationship with the Soviet Union
can be defined in the critical period 1953-1954.
The 1953 coup in Iran succeeded in overthrowing the nationalist government
of Dr. Musaddiq with minimum expenditure and allocation of man power and
material. Recent information on the coup shows that the coup succeeded with
the narrowest margin possible, that the perpetrators of the coup were about
to leave Iran after the initial failure of August 16, 1953. One of the rationales
behind the coup was the communist threat, itself a product of the Cold War
mentality prevalent at the time. The Tudeh and its capabilities were counted
on, or feared by, both the proponents and opponents of the coup.
While there is nothing to suggest that the party had any plan for immediate
takeover of political power, or that there was any Soviet plan involving
a Tudeh takeover with Soviet support, it is clear that the party suspected
an attempt to overthrow the nationalist government as early as the summer
of 1952, and that it became aware of foreign involvement in an attempt to
topple the Musaddiq government in August 1953. The Tudeh had said repeatedly
that it would react to the any coup attempt. The main question is not whether
the Tudeh would have been successful if it had taken action against the
coup when it came, but why it did not take any action.
One overall explanation is that the five members of the party's executive
committee, at some point, may have come to the conclusion that the party
could survive the storm, as it did in 1949. Jazani, some twenty years later,
makes the following important observation: "The leadership of the party
thought that the 1953 [coup] was only a defeat for the nationalist movement...
and that the party, and its underground organizations, could continue underground
activities." This, however, only partially answers the problem of lack
of resolve and coherent policy among the party leadership. Factionalism
and a state of paralysis completes the picture.
The party leadership collectively was suspicious of Dr. Musaddiq but
as noted a group of them began to change policy after the summer of 1952.
The hegemony of the moderate faction contributed to the party's loss of
initiative vis-a-vis the nationalist government particularly after March
1953. As if wanting to compensate for its attacks upon Musaddiq during 1951-1952,
the party leadership refused to prepare for the coming showdown and left
all initiatives to the nationalists. While the moderate faction's control
over the party was not absolute, it could and did initiate general policy.
Thus, while the Military Organization was prepared to take steps preparing
the party and the Youth Organization in the months preceding the coup, in
came the order to stop activities so that the Musaddiq government would
not be alienated. Another example of the loss of initiative is the party's
conduct during the crucial days of August 16-19, 1953. Here, the need to
take action only after Musaddiq's approval was secured doomed any plausible
hope of success. The moderate faction's policy did not mean that had the
radical faction been in charge the situation would have been much different.
The radical faction was responsible for the party's hostile posture toward
Dr. Musaddiq during 1951-52.
Factional bickering compounded the problem by wasting time and energy
on petty issues particularly in the period between the coup in 1953 and
the beginning of decimation of the party one year later. The party clearly
had the man power and the necessary intelligence to make a difference but
only if the state of paralysis did not exist. As noted, a state existed
whereby, beside factional fight within the executive committee, the overall
organizational network, the Tehran Provincial Committee, and the Women's
Organization sided with Kianuri against the rest of the executive committee.
This was while the Military Organization maintained its own liaison with
Kianuri over the head of its official party liaison official Judat, and
it is not clear who controlled the Youth Organization during 1952-1954.
Thus, the fiasco of Cap. Abbasi's arrest and the fate of Military Organization's
Between August 1953 and August 1954, the Tudeh was left without the Musaddiq
factor to consider and should have been able to organize resistance on its
own or at least protect itself. But, intense factional infighting, a state
of paralysis, and unpreparedness of the previous year led to a clear lack
of resolution and indecisive decision making by the party leadership. It
seems while the party had the ability to mobilize and interfere in the coup,
this could happen only if the party leadership showed resolution and determination.
Only a focused and concerted effort by the party leadership could have made
a difference, and this a Tudeh leadership in a state of paralysis could
* A slightly different version of this paper was published in International
Journal of Middle East Studies, no.33 (2001).
Maziar Behrooz is an assistant professor of history at Bridgewater
State College in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He is the author of Rebels
with a cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran (I.B. Tauris, 2000).