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Mediterranean Quarterly 13.4 (2002) 122-125
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Maziar Behrooz: Rebels with a Cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran. London: I. B. Tauris, 2001. 368 pages. ISBN 964-311-263-2. $12.
In dedicating his book to the memory of Bizhan Jazani, the founder of the leftist organization Fadaiyan, Maziar Behrooz essentially belies his sympathy for the Fadaiyan, one of the many Marxist organizations that fought to bring down the shah of Iran. In the view of Behrooz and some other scholars, these organizations fought, and many of their members died, only to see their efforts hijacked by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the Islamic revolution he and his clerical disciples engineered. Behrooz's work contains [End Page 122] an undertone of bitterness at the success of Khomeini and his inner circle in progressively excluding and ultimately conquering the leftist groups. Several of the major leftist groups had mistakenly decided to back the new Khomeini regime, trusting that they would ultimately earn a place in it as part of a governing coalition. Behrooz is particularly critical of the pro-Moscow Tudeh Party—a major rival of the Fadaiyan for the support of the Iranian Marxist Left—for pursuing a strategy of accommodation with the clerics.
Yet Behrooz is evenhanded, critical of the groups he appears to support, and reasonably objective in his analysis. He places the blame for the failure of the Left in Iran squarely on the divisions within the leftist camp and the inability of these groups to adjust ideologically to changing moods and conditions inside the country. As Behrooz explains, the seeds of the failure of the Left were sown decades before, in their inability to prevent the restoration of the shah in the context of the 1953 overthrow of Mossadeq and in the ambivalence of these leftist parties toward Mossadeq. Behrooz discusses, often in numbing detail, the differences not only among the various Marxist groups but within each of the groups.
His book contains exhaustive citations of revolutionary tracts, pamphlets, documents, and party conference proceedings that could have been obtained only by an active participant—or a close associate of an active participant—in the revolutionary leftist movement. The detail on the different leftist revolutionary parties and their leaders and key figures is the unique value of Behrooz's book. Precious little work has been done on many of the groups analyzed in this book, and the work fills an important gap in the literature on the Islamic revolution. With this book, Behrooz clearly establishes himself as an authoritative expert on this subject, and his work adds texture to our understanding of the Islamic revolution by shedding light on anti-shah groups that have received little attention elsewhere.
However, this strength is also a major weakness of the work. It can be argued that Behrooz has devoted an entire book to groups and movements whose impact on the direction of the revolution, and on the current political structure of Iran, was marginal. Behrooz's obvious devotion to Jazani and his faction of the Fadaiyan leads him to exaggerate, perhaps, the Fadaiyan's importance and its impact on the revolution.
Many scholars would likely agree that, even had the leftist groups been unified, and even had they implemented optimal revolutionary strategies, their prospects for success in Iran were inevitably limited. The Middle East is rife with examples of left-wing movements that tried but failed to install or impose Marxist ideologies. The reasons for these failures could be the subject of extended debate, and scholars might never reach a consensus, but there is little argument that Marxism did not take hold anywhere in the Arab and Muslim world, and Iran is no exception. A communist regime in Afghanistan quickly collapsed after its Soviet protectors withdrew in 1989. A self- [End Page 123] described Marxist regime in South Yemen was pro-Soviet but Marxist in little more than name. It eventually merged with the more traditionally authoritarian nationalist North Yemen in 1990. Communist parties in Syria and Iraq remained small, never took power alone, and...