The History of the Undefeated
A few words in commemoration of the 1979 Revolution
It is said that in recent years, a process of 'review' has been taking place among revolutionaries and the leftist opposition of Iran. A glance at the numerous publications, which this grouping publishes particularly outside of Iran, confirms this, though it is seriously doubtful whether the term 'review' is suitable to describe this development. In solitude - when pronouncing the truth does not harm anyone - one could call this a process of repentance. But publicly where political correctness holds sway especially during these days, perhaps the term 'new thinking' is a more suitable equivalent. The concept of revolution and revolutionism in general and the 1979 Iranian revolution in particular have been the first victims of this 'new thinking'.
Every month, mountains of materials are published by individuals, circles and groups made up of remnants and aged revolutionaries of the 1979 revolution. To read and follow all these and share in the preoccupations and illusory worlds of their writers is both extremely difficult and futile. It is not difficult, however, to see the development of this 'new thinking'. One can use the association method used by psychologists to check the reaction of this literature to key words such as the very concept of 'revolution'. The picture that emerges leaves no room for ambiguity. Revolution: excess, revolution: violence, revolution: oppression, revolution: destruction.
And why not? Who of these survivors of the 1979 revolution can shut their eyes for a moment, think about the past 17 [now 24] years and have one pleasant recollection? Millions of people have been condemned to life under the most reactionary and brutal social system, a society based on terror, poverty, and lies in which happiness is forbidden, being a woman is a crime, living is torment and escape impossible. An entire generation, perhaps more than half the population, has been born in this hell and has no other recollection than this. And for many others, the most living memory is that of the unforgettable faces of admirable human beings who were slaughtered. Wasn't 1979 - the year of the revolution - the beginning of this nightmare?
Perhaps for some, the tragic fate of the 1979 revolution plays a role in the development of this 'new thinking'. Neither the extent of this repentance nor the bitter tone and hysteria of today's 'new thinkers', however, can be explained by the defeat of the 1979 revolution. It is as if you are sitting by a bridge and witnessing the return of a defeated army. It isn't unexpected to find them melancholy, bewildered, silent, and depressed. This crowd, however, has clenched their fists. When you listen more carefully, it's as if they are whispering an anthem. Yes, you are not mistaken; they are going to war - a war on their own 'land' and 'camp' and 'fortress' or whatever they previously called it. They are returning to take revenge on 'themselves' and yesterday's 'insiders'. For someone who looks out from within the fortress, this is definitely a dreadful scene.
Few unsuccessful revolutions and defeated movements have so bitterly been bidden farewell by their former enthusiasts. The constitutional revolution, the movement for the nationalisation of the oil industry, the period during Allende's rule, the Portuguese revolution and the miners' strike in Britain, for example, have always received the greatest respect from their own veterans and participants. The reason for today's 'new thinking' by yesterday's revolutionaries must be sought elsewhere. The reality is that these years, the years after the 1979 revolution, coincided with a much more important development on a global scale. The fall of the Eastern Bloc - only lately called the 'socialist camp' by the propaganda of the most deceptive spokespersons of the Warsaw and NATO pacts and their idiotic supporters - was a political and social earthquake which shook the entire world. The elimination of one pole from a bipolar world was in itself earth-shattering enough - a world in which for many decades, everything from economics and production to science and art took shape based on the confrontation between these two poles. However, what was decisive in the realm of ideas and thoughts was the fact that the rulers of the world and their vast herds of spokespersons and scrounging propagandists in the universities and media were able to portray the fall of the East as the fall of communism and the end of socialism and Marxism. All these theatricals did not last more than six years, and all indications today suggest that this period of deceit has reached its end. These six years, however, shook the world. This was not the end of socialism, but was a glimpse of what a nightmare the end of socialism could really be and what a swamp the world could become without the herald of socialism, the hope of socialism and the 'dangers' of socialism. It became clear that the world - both ruler and the ruled - identified socialism with change. The end of socialism was called the end of history. It became clear that the end of socialism is the end of the expectation for equality and prosperity, of free thinking and progressiveness and of hope for a better life for humanity. They interpreted the end of socialism as the unchallenged rule of the laws of the jungle and the right of might in economics, politics and culture. And immediately fascism, racism, chauvinism, ethnocentrism, religion, and bullying spilled out of every crack in society.
The wave of 'new thinking' that followed on a global scale was a spectacle. In an international race of repentance and ingratiation, yesterday's virtues were disdained, principals were scorned at and ideals were ridiculed. Contemptuousness and submission became the meaning of life. In the repentant culture of the new world order's intellectuals, anyone who wanted a better life for human beings, believed that the current situation could and must change, believed in people's equality and called them to a better life, spoke of the necessity for people's collective efforts to influence their fate and share in the world, and held the state and society responsible for the individual and their peace of mind and freedom was labelled idealist, old fashioned, naïve and dim-witted from a thousand and one corners. Despair became the symbol of wisdom. Forsaking high human ideals was seen as a sign of realism and insight. It suddenly became evident that any newly appointed journalist and assistant lecturer or any recently retired general had ready-made answers to the intellectual giants of the modern world from Voltaire and Rousseau to Marx and Lenin and that the entire complexities of freedom and equality seeking and the efforts of hundreds of millions of people in recent centuries, was nothing more than a complete waste of time on the road to the grand monument of the 'end of history' that must be forgotten ever so quickly.
It is within this international environment that yesterday's revolutionaries are engaged in the 'review' of the 1979 revolution and revolutionism in general. Rather than being the result of the defeat of the 1979 revolution, their conclusions owe themselves to global trends, which mocked ideals and principals, and became fashionable for some years.
It is said that history is written by the victors. It must be added, however, that history, which is written by the defeated is ever more false and venomous, since this latter is nothing but the former dressed in mourning, surrender and self-deceit. If history is the story of change, then real history is the history of the undefeated - the history of the movement and people who still want and are struggling for change, the history of those who are not willing to bury their ideals and hopes of a human society, the history of people and movements that are not at liberty of choosing their principles and aims and have no choice but to strive for improvements. In the history of both the victors and defeated, the 1979 revolution is a step for the rise of Islam and Islamism and the cause of the current situation in Iran. In real history, however, the 1979 revolution was a movement for freedom and prosperity, which was smashed.
The calamities of the period after the revolution in Iran must be attributed to those responsible. People were right to reject the monarchy and the discrimination, inequality, oppression and degradation that went with it and rise up in protest. People were right to not want a king, SAVAK [the secret police], torturers and torture chambers at the end of the 20th century. People were right to take up arms against an army, which massacred them at the earliest manifestations of their protests. The 1979 revolution was an act for freedom, justice and human dignity. The Islamic movement and the Islamic government were not only not the result of this revolution, but were rather a deliberate means of suppressing the revolution, and brought to the fore when the fall and failure of the Shah's regime was confirmed. Contrary to commonly held views, the Islamic Republic did not primarily owe its existence to the network of mosques and the swarm of petty mullahs. The source of this regime was not religion's power among the people; it was not Shiism's power, people's lack of interest in modernism and their hatred of Western culture, excessively accelerated urbanisation and lack of 'practicing democracy', etc. This nonsense might be useful for the career of half-wit 'Orientalists' or media commentators, but it does not have the slightest relation to the truth. The very forces that were supporting the Shah's regime and training the SAVAK until the day before brought the Islamic current to the fore of the 1979 revolution - those who recognised the radicalisation and left leaning potential of the Iranian revolution and had learnt their lesson from the oil workers' strike; those who needed a green belt for Cold War rivalries. Money was spent for the 'Islamisation' of the Iranian revolution; plans were drawn up, meetings were organised. Thousands of people - from Western diplomats and military attachés, to the ever honourable journalists of the world of democracy - worked intensely for months until a backward, marginal, rotten and isolated tradition in the political history of Iran was turned into the 'revolution's leadership' and a ruling alternative for the urbanised and newly industrialised society of Iran in 1979. Mr. Khomeini did not come from Najaf and Qom and as the head of a swarm of donkey-riding mullahs from en-route villages but from Paris via air. The 1979 revolution was a manifestation of the genuine protests of the deprived people of Iran but the 'Islamic revolution' and the Islamic regime were the result of the Cold War, the result of the most modern political dealings of the world at the time. The architects of this regime were the strategists and policy makers of Western powers, the very same ones who today, from within the swamps of cultural relativism, once again legitimise the very monster they created as the natural product of 'Islamic and eastern society' and worthy of the people of the 'Islamic World'. The entire West's economic, political and propaganda resources were pulled together for months before and after February 1979 in order to establish and maintain this regime.
The very fact that this social engineering became possible in Iran, however, owes itself to the situation and condition of the political and social forces within Iran. There was enough material available for this task. Islamic currents existed in all countries of the region. Until the events in Iran, however, this movement did not at any point become a notable political force and a main player on the political scene of these countries. The Islamic (counter) revolution was not constructed on the insignificant force of the Islamic current, but rather on primary political traditions of the Iranian opposition. The Islamic counter-revolution was built on the nationalist and so-called liberal tradition of the 'National Front', which more than anything else feared workers and communists and had spent its entire life biting its nails under the monarchy's cape and religion's robe. It was a tradition, which in its entire history had been unable to organise even a semi-secular offensive against religion in Iran's politics and culture. It was a tradition in which its leaders and personalities were among the first to swear allegiance to the Islamic movement. The Islamic counter-revolution was built on the Tudeh Party's tradition in which anti-Americanism and strengthening its international camp at any price, made up the philosophy of its existence and which saw the Islamic regime, irrespective of its consequences for the people and freedom, as a playground for manoeuvre and manipulation. The Islamic counter-revolution was built on a corrupt anti-modernist, anti 'westernisation', xenophobic and Islam-ridden tradition dominant in a majority of the intellectual and cultural segments of society in Iran, which shaped the initial environment of the youth and student protests. Khomeini triumphed not because superstitious people saw his reflection on the moon, but rather because the traditional opposition and this corrupt nationalist and regressive culture saw him - who was the most imported and manufactured personage of Iranian contemporary political history - as 'made in Iran', anti-Western and one of their own and thus rose to praise him. The Islamic counter-revolution was the result of the fact that the modernist-socialist oil industry and big industries' workers lost the initiative in the protest scene to the traditional opposition of Iran. It was they who received Khomeini's personage and the Islamic revolution scenario from the West and sold it to the protesting masses of people.
Despite all this, the Islamic theatrics only created a delay in the development of the 1979 revolution. The events immediately following the February uprising showed that the dynamics of the revolution was still there. Irrespective of what was said, it showed that people had nevertheless come to and remained at the fore for freedom and social prosperity not for Islam. Eventually, the 1979 revolution, like most revolutions, was defeated not by deceit and lies, but by an extremely bloody suppression. During February 11, 1979(1) and June 20, 1981(2) was all the opportunity Islam and the Islamic movement managed to obtain for the guardians of the Shah's regime. And of course, that's all they needed. In the real history of Iran, June 20, 1981 is joined to September 8, 1978(3) and is the next link in the chain. Khomeini, Bazargan, Sanjabi, Madani, Forouhar, Yazdi, Banisadr, Rajaie and Beheshti are the names which must follow Mohamad Reza Pahlavi, Amouzgar, Sharif Emami, Bakhtiar, Oveisi, Azhari, and Rahimi as characters that came to the fore one after the other to block the revolution and people's protests. The continuous blows of the protest movement defeated the monarchist regime and its various characters. In contrast, the Islamic government managed to buy time, restore the forces of reaction and smash the people's revolution in the bloodiest form. The agenda of both regimes was one and the same.
More than half of the people of Iran are too young to hold even a vague recollection of the 1979 revolution. Their connection to the events of that period is not unlike the connection of the 1979 revolutionary generation with events during the Mossadegh period and 1953 coup - a spent and inaccessible period, which is only in the minds of and regarded as important by its own contemporary generation. Interpretations of that period are many and numerous, but more than saying anything about an historical truth, they pass judgement on the narrator and their place in today's world. Human beings always look at the past from a contemporary perspective and seek justifications for their current will and deeds. In looking at the 1979 revolution, our 'new thinkers' are looking to raise a banner in today's Iran. This banner, however, has always existed. Each time, who, and through which ceremony, and by reciting which verses assembles under this banner is secondary.
First published in Persian in 1995. The English version is a reprint from WPI Briefin
1. February 11, 1979: the date of the Iranian revolution - Ed. Back
2. June 20, 1981: the eventual juncture that the Islamic regime's suppression took place. - Ed. Back
3.September 8, 1978: the date when the Shah's army massacred demonstrators in Jaleh Square in Tehran. - Ed. Back
Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya