History Used and Abused
We owe everything to the clergy. History shows that in the past millennium it was always the clergy who led the popular and revolutionary movements. It was the clergy who always produced the first martyrs. It was the clergy who always defended the oppressed against the money worshipers.
Ayatollah Khomeini, speech, Ettelac at, 1 March 1989
While in prison in the last few months I have had the opportunity to study history, especially that of the Iranian Left. . . . I would like to share my conclusion with the public, particularly the youth, so that they will not be led astray.
First secretary of the Tudeh party, television confession, Ettelac at, 28 August 1983
On the eve of May Day 1983, Iranian television sprung a surprise on its viewers. It paraded veteran Tudeh leaders confessing to a host of major crimes, including that of advocating an "alien ideology." Public confessions in themselves were nothing new. Ever since 1981 a diverse array of political dissidents — Maoists, Mosaddeqists, former Khomeinists, royalists, and Mojahedin acti-
vists — had admitted to hatching "sinister conspiracies" and establishing "treasonable ties with foreign powers." Nor was the content of the Tudeh confessions entirely novel, for the Left had long been accused of "conspiring" to destroy the nation, disseminating "alien" concepts, and, most frequently of all, "spying" for the Soviet Union.
The surprise in these 1983 confessions, which continued intermittently for over ten months, was the prominence given to history. History featured in the recantations made by the three most important Tudeh figures: Nuraldin Kianuri, the seventy-one-year-old first secretary of the party; Ehsan Tabari, the organization's main theoretician since the mid-1940s; and Mahmud Behazin, a well-known author and fellow-traveler since the early 1940s. Behazin kicked off the first show with a lesson on the Islamic clergy's true understanding of the past, Marxism's misinterpretation of the course of history, and secular radicals' betrayal of the people of Iran through their "alien" ideology.
The three Tudeh leaders followed similar scripts. They began by greeting "Imam Khomeini, the Great Leader of the Revolution and Founder of the Islamic Republic." They stressed that their brief confinement in prison had provided them with the opportunity to study the past. Kianuri concluded his second long recantation by stressing that the Left needed to examine in great detail Iran's history and society. Tabari exclaimed that he had realized that his whole life's work was "spurious" as soon as the prison authorities introduced him to Islamic authors, notably Ayatollah Motahhari. Tabari explained that his own publications were useless because they had relied on foreign sources (Europeans, Zionists, Freemasons, and Soviet Marxists) and on Kasravi and Sangalaji, whose errors he recognized in prison as soon as he read Imam Khomeini's Kashf al-Asrar. A less important Tudeh leader, before being executed, limited his defense to thanking his jailers for turning the prison into a "university."
The Tudeh leaders all declared they wished to reveal their mistakes so that the younger generation would learn from them. Tabari, for instance, warned the youth that Marxism would inevitably cut them off from their own people, history, and culture.
The Tudeh leaders praised the clergy for having heroically led the people throughout history, Behazin claiming that the clergy had enjoyed close links with the oppressed for over one thousand years. Kianuri stated that Marxism had no chance against the clergy since the latter were armed not only with "militant Islam" but also with age-old popular support. Moreover, they all argued that their "foreign ideology" had led them to "depend" on the Soviets, hatch conspiracies, misunderstand their own society, worship the intelligentsia, and disrespect the country's religious culture. In his first television appearance, Kianuri traced the source of "all our mistakes to our foreign ideology." In his later appearances, he no longer spoke of "mistakes" but of "illnesses," "sins," and "high treason."
Even more significant, the Tudeh leaders each cited the same four decisive points in history in which the Left had supposedly betrayed Iran: the Constitutional Revolution, especially the government's forceful disarming of Sattar Khan's fighters in 1910; the Jangali (Jungle) Resistance of 1915-21, ending with the death of its leader, Mirza Kuchek Khan, in the wooded mountains of
Gilan; the rise of Reza Shah in 1921-25, particularly the opposition to his coronation mustered by Ayatollah Modarres; and Mosaddeq's 1951-53 administration, terminating with his overthrow in the notorious August 19 coup. Since the 1983 television confessions, these four crises have featured prominently in government propaganda: in newspapers, radio broadcasts, Friday sermons, school textbooks, and even intellectual journals. Government officials sometimes cite these Tudeh recantations to prove their case. The Islamic Republic has certainly not treated history as bunk. Indeed, it has gone to considerable trouble — with somewhat unconventional means — to obtain the "historical truth."
This chapter has three interconnected aims. The first is to describe how the regime has used these four crises as "defining moments" in which the Left "betrayed" the nation whereas the clergy valiantly resisted imperialism, feudalism, and despotism. It will therefore explore which aspects of the crises are highlighted, minimized, or even totally overlooked.
The second aim is to show how the regime tries to use history
to give itself populistic as well as religious legitimacy. Whereas Khomeini (at least, in his theological treatises) used holy texts to support the clergy's right to rule, the Islamic Republic claims the same right on the grounds that the clergy have valiantly saved the country from imperialism, feudalism, and despotism. This is legitimacy based not so much on divine right as on the secular function of preserving national independence.
The third aim is to demonstrate that the regime's propaganda is designed not only to marginalize leftists but also to co-opt non-religious nationalists — namely, the Mosaddeqists. In Iranian historiography, these four landmark crises are highly controversial precisely because they have appeared to separate prominent "nationalists" from equally prominent "leftists": Sattar Khan, the "savior" of the Constitutional Revolution, from the secular Social Democrats and Yeprem Khan, the Armenian guerrilla turned police chief; Kuchek Khan, the Jangali, from Haydar Khan, the Communist party head; Ayatollah Modarres from Suleyman Iskandari, the Socialist party founder; and, of course, Mosaddeq from Kianuri and the other Tudeh leaders. It should also be noted that the Islamic Republic — like most governments that appeal to the lowest common denominator — does its best to reduce complex ideological issues to simple personality conflicts in which one side epitomizes goodness, the other wickedness.
The Constitutional Revolution (1905-10)
The Constitutional Revolution began in 1905 as a broad-based urban movement led by the three most important senior clerics in Tehran: Sayyid Abdollah Behbehani, Sayyid Mohammad Tabatabai, and Shaykh Fazlollah Nuri. But the movement eventually broke apart. First, Shaykh Nuri defected to the royalists in 1908, enabling the shah to bomb Parliament and execute some of the revolutionaries. This triggered off the civil war of 1908-9. In changing sides, Shaykh Nuri accused his former colleagues of imitating foreigners, subverting the sacred law, being secret Babis (forerunners of Bahais) and Freemasons, and introducing hereti-
cal notions such as liberty, equality, anarchism, nihilism, socialism, and "naturalism" (the supremacy of natural law over divine law). He excommunicated the leading constitutionalists on the grounds they were apostates and "sowers of corruption on earth" — both capital offenses according to the sacred law. After the civil war, Shaykh Nuri himself was hanged for "sowing corruption on earth."
A further split occurred in 1910 when a group of guerrilla fighters headed by Sattar Khan, a hero of the civil war, refused to obey a government order to disarm. After a brief but violent confrontation at Atabek Park in Tehran, Yeprem Khan, the recently appointed police chief, succeeded in disarming them. Yeprem Khan used Bakhtiyari tribesmen as well as fellow Armenian veterans of the civil war. He also received the support of a radical named Haydar Khan, who had recently helped found the secular Democrat party. After the Atabek Park incident, Sattar Khan, who was wounded in the confrontation, was pensioned off, and his supporters were disbanded. Some hail Sattar Khan as the real hero of the Constitutional Revolution, crediting him with saving Tabriz during the civil war and trying to prevent the revolutionary movement from being disarmed. They also describe him as a "martyr," claiming that his death, four years later, was caused by wounds sustained at Atabek Park.
The Khomeinists, including Khomeini himself, have not always been consistent in their evaluations of the Constitutional Revolution. At times, especially in their prepopulist days, they depicted the revolution, from its very inception, as a wholly British "plot" hatched in their legation, carried out by their "agents" (cummal ), and designed to undermine the sacred law. At other times, especially at the height of their populist rhetoric, they have praised the revolution as a mass anti-imperialist struggle that had initially been led by the clergy but had later been taken over by scheming secular radicals. "The constitutional movement," Khomeini argued, "started well, but in time corrupt individuals took it over and thereby alienated the public." One of Khomeini's close advisers claimed that leftists began to betray the country as early as 1909 when troublemakers from the Caucasus sowed dissension
among the clergy, causing Shaykh Nuri's martyrdom and Ayatollah Behbehani's assassination.
In the prepopulist interpretation, Shaykh Nuri was the true hero. Al-Ahmad, in his famous pamphlet Gharbzadegi (The plague from the West), claimed that Shaykh Nuri was martyred in front of a large jeering crowd in Cannon Square because he tried to protect Islam from the likes of "Malkum Khan, the Armenian, and Taliboff, the Caucasian Social Democrat." "To my mind," proclaimed al-Ahmad, "the corpse of that great man dangling on the gallows is like a flag raised to signify the triumph of this deadly disease." Feraydun Adamiyat, the leading historian of the Constitutional Revolution, retorted that al-Ahmad's praise for traditional culture and denunciation of Western ideas would inevitably lead to the conclusion that Iran should never free itself of its traditional institutions, including that of oriental despotism.
Khomeini was equally admiring of Shaykh Nuri. He claimed that "enemies of Islam" executed him by cleverly fooling the public as well as the other grand ayatollahs. Khomeini's disciples have praised Shaykh Nuri as the "Islamic movement's first martyr in contemporary Iran." They have argued that Orientalists as well as Iranian secularists conspired to smear him as a "reactionary mulla" and have said that he was executed by Armenians, Freemasons, and others contaminated with the Western plague. One newspaper article went so far as to claim that the orders for his execution had come directly from the British Foreign Office. It is significant that postage stamps issued by the Islamic Republic have honored Shaykh Nuri but not Behbehani and Tabatabai.
By accepting in his television recantation the official version of Shaykh Nuri, Kianuri added a personal dimension to the historic crisis: Shaykh Nuri was Kianuri's grandfather. However, Kianuri's father, Shaykh Mahdi, Nuri's eldest son, had been a staunch revolutionary; it was even rumored that Shaykh Mahdi had been a member of the jeering crowd at his father's execution. These rumors, however, are highly suspect, for their source was an extremely conservative British commentator who not only sided with the tsar and the Qajars but was also eager to prove that most Iranians, especially the constitutional liberals, were devoid
In the more populistic interpretation of the Constitutional Revolution, the Islamic Republic claims the real heroes of the revolution to be Ayatollahs Behbehani and Tabatabai and their ally among the armed volunteers Sattar Khan. According to this view, all was well until 1909-10, when the secular radicals of the Democrat party pushed the two grand ayatollahs aside, assassinated Behbehani, and forcefully disarmed the more devout guerrillas. This view incorporates the Constitutional Revolution into a larger picture depicting the whole of modern Iranian history — from the 1891 Tobacco Crisis to the 1979 Islamic Revolution — as a people's anti-imperialist struggle led entirely by the "freedom-loving" clergy.
Both interpretations distort the Constitutional Revolution by ignoring the contributions of the other social groups: the merchants who sparked off the whole crisis, the bazaar guilds that provided the revolution with its popular base, the intellectuals whose secret societies helped coordinate the movement, the reform-minded aristocrats who weakened the establishment from within, and the Bakhtiyari tribesmen who, together with the Armenian and Georgian volunteers, did much of the decisive fighting.
The mythology surrounding Shaykh Nuri obscures several awkward facts about him. Shaykh Nuri had been on good terms with the Russians since the turn of the century. He had refused to support the early bazaar protests against the Europeans in charge of collecting customs dues. He had caused a major scandal in 1905 by endorsing the sale of a cemetery to the Russians for the construction of their bank — the inadvertent exhuming of bodies had triggered street protests. He had organized an anticonstitutionalist rally in June 1907 after obtaining funds from the same Russian bank. In breaking with Parliament, Shaykh Nuri become the main court ideologue. He praised the shah as the guardian of Islam, arguing that representative government contradicted Islam and that obedience to the monarchy was a divine
obligation incumbent on all, including the clergy. What is more, he endangered the lives of the leading constitutionalists by denouncing them as atheists, heretics, apostates, and secret Babis — charges designed to incite the devout to violence. In fact, Shaykh Nuri was finally condemned to death by a fellow ayatollah not so much for supporting the shah as for being responsible for the murder of leading constitutionalists. In describing Shaykh Nuri's execution, school textbooks now cite al-Ahmad's eulogy and add that the presiding judge had sold himself to the West. They also make the preposterous claim that Yeprem Khan — an Armenian with little education and absolutely no legal training — had sat on the high court that had condemned the grand ayatollah to death.
Khomeini's treatment of Shaykh Nuri and the constitutionalists is somewhat disingenuous. He denounced the constitutionalists for not demanding the abolition of the monarchy but at the same time praised Shaykh Nuri for opposing the same reformers, leaving the impression that Shaykh Nuri opposed kingship. In actual fact, the constitutionalists had wanted limited monarchy whereas Shaykh Nuri had argued in favor of kingship unfettered by elected assemblies. To claim Shaykh Nuri as the forerunner of the antimonarchical movement is to turn history inside out.
The religious-populist mythology surrounding Tabatabai, Behbehani, and Sattar Khan is equally distorting. Tabatabai not only admired European liberalism but was also a not-so-secret member of the Freemason Lodge in Tehran. Behbehani had kept silent during the 1891 Tobacco Crisis, and again in 1902 when the British obtained an oil concession — probably because the British had given him some "expense money."
While some hailed Sattar Khan as the savior of Tabriz and the "Garibaldi" of Iran, many fellow revolutionaries saw him as a "drunkard," "brigand," and "plunderer." The government disarmed Sattar Khan not because he was a radical determined to push the revolution further — as latter-day populists would like to believe — but because it feared, with good reason, that the continued fighting between rival gangs would tax the patience of the public. Sattar Khan made his last stand not over any principle but over the monetary compensation offered for his weapons.
Many of his final supporters were Georgians who could not return home and whose employment prospects in Iran were bleak. He himself was affiliated with the conservative Moderate party, which was led by wealthy politicians, even former royalists. This party opposed the Democrats over social issues such as land reform, child labor, progressive income tax, women's education, and equality before the law. Finally, the description of Sattar Khan as the savior of Tabriz and the revolution conveniently overlooks the fact that Bakhtiyaris, Armenians, and Georgians did much of the decisive fighting and that Tabriz was saved from the royalist siege thanks to the timely intervention of the Tsarist army, which Sattar Khan himself welcomed as the only alternative to famine and defeat.
The Jangali Resistance (1915-21)
Mirza Kuchek Khan, the famous Sardar-e Jangal (Jungle Commander), has attracted more attention than any other personality in the history of early twentieth-century Iran. Nationalists see him as an "unyielding patriot," an "incorruptible leader," and an "indefatigable fighter" who took to the mountains of northern Iran with the burning "ambition of ridding the country" of Russian and British troops. According to this interpretation, his revolution would have succeeded but for Lenin's willingness to sacrifice Iran to reach a compromise with Britain. For local reformers, Kuchek Khan fought for regional autonomy as well as against feudal landlords and corrupt tribal chiefs. For some leftists, he was a Che Guevara, the forests of Gilan were the Sierra Maestra, his bearded followers were revolutionary peasants, and his short-lived Soviet Socialist Republic was a forerunner of revolutionary Cuba.
For Khomeinists, Kuchek Khan was a turbaned martyr who raised the banner of Islam against the West and died fighting both the monarchists and the Communists. He froze to death in the Gilan highlands because of "Communist intrigues" and because his principles would not permit him to seek asylum in the Soviet
Union. The Islamic Republic has honored him with postage stamps and posters, as well as articles, books, and full chapters in school textbooks. It has also funded a fourteen-hour television epic entitled Kuchek-e Jangal.
Even his opponents pay grudging respect to Kuchek Khan. A British officer in the military expedition sent to the Caucasus via Gilan described him as the Robin Hood of the Caspian Marches, taking from the rich to give to the poor. He also described him as endowed with "courage, personal magnetism, and great force of character." The governor of Gilan in the aftermath of the revolt praised him as a "brave" and "altruistic patriot." Meanwhile, historians in the Soviet Union have depicted him as a well-intentioned nationalist misled into killing Haydar Khan by "reactionary advisers." Kuchek Khan's admirers retort that this dramatic killing occurred either without his knowledge or as a defensive measure against a Communist plot.
The Islamic Republic's portrayal of the Jangalis is incomplete. For one thing, it overlooks the fact that Kuchek Khan was a social conservative. He fought in the constitutional movement in the entourage of a wealthy northern landlord and joined the conservative Moderate party. At times, he collaborated with the Qajars; the title of Sardar-e Jangal as well as the governorship of the Fuman district in Gilan were given to him by Ahmad Shah. At other times, he negotiated with Britain, Colonel Reza Khan, and even archconservative ministers in Tehran — though his supporters have tried to argue that he was really negotiating with more progressive members of the government. In 1919 he was even willing to support the notorious Anglo-Persian Agreement. If Kuchek Khan was a rebel, it was in the tradition of Robin Hood and other "primitive" rebels.
The Islamic Republic's portrayal also blows the Jangalis completely out of proportion. The movement — if it can be called that — was launched in 1915 with the assistance of the Central Powers. At its height in the midst of World War I, it totaled no more than 2,000 armed men, and by 1919 it was as good as dead, able to muster no more than 500 armed men. Kuchek Khan's foreign assistance dried up, and his bookkeeper absconded with
the remaining funds. His right-hand man, Dr. Heshmat (Taleqani), withdrew from politics and fell into government hands. Vossugh al-Dawleh, the pro-British premier, promptly hanged him. Kuchek Khan himself was quietly negotiating with the same premier. What revived the movement briefly in 1920 was not the controversial Anglo-Persian Agreement, as official histories claim, but the sudden arrival of the Red Army in Enzeli. The Red Army intervened not so much to help the Jangalis as to chase the White Russians and their British patrons out of the Caspian area.
The Jangali forces remained modest, and divided, even when the Red Army helped them establish the Soviet Socialist Republic of Iran in Gilan. Khomeinists refer to this government simply as the "republican government." In the Soviet Socialist Republic, Kuchek Khan probably had no more than 300 armed guerrillas, many of them sons of the local gentry. Ehsanallah Khan, a militant Democrat, had about 200, most of them radical intellectuals from Tehran. Khalu Qurban, a Kurd from Kermanshah, had less than 150, all of them Kurds and Lurs from his home region. The Iranian Communist party had 300, many of them Turkish-speaking Iranians from Baku. Meanwhile, the Red Army in Gilan had over 1,000. According to Gregor Yeqikian, Kuchek Khan's trusted translator, some of the Red soldiers were Armenians from Baku who had volunteered to serve in Iran because the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbayjan had spread rumors that Muslims in Gilan were massacring Christians. Yeqikian, who was Armenian himself, categorically denied these rumors. However, relations between other ethnic groups were tense. Numerous memoirs describe how there were bad feelings between Gilanis and outsiders and between Tehranis, Kurds, and Turkish-speakers from Baku.
Although Khomeinists, nationalists, and some leftists have depicted the Jangalis as a "peasant movement," none of the many primary sources provide evidence for such a claim. The rural population may have provided money and shelter, but few fighters. This is not surprising. Kuchek Khan's main financial supporters, such as Mirza Hosayn Kasma'i, were local merchants and
landlords. Fuman, Kuchek Khan's base, was inhabited by Kurds and Taleshi villagers tied strongly to their feudal patron, who was hostile to Kuchek Khan and controlled more armed men than the Jangalis. A 1920 Red Army report concluded that there was no such thing as a "revolutionary peasantry" in Iran.
The fate of the Soviet Socialist Republic was sealed as early as the summer of 1921. Ehsanallah Khan, without consulting his colleagues, launched an ill-prepared and consequently disastrous march on Tehran. Khalu Qurban and many of Kuchek Khan's own fighters made their own peace with Reza Khan — some became his ardent henchmen. When the Red Army began to evacuate once the British agreed to withdraw from Iran, Kuchek Khan went to Enzeli to persuade the Red Army to delay the withdrawal. It is paradoxical that nationalists both denounce the Soviets for interfering in Iranian affairs and, at the same time, fault them for failing to provide Kuchek Khan with greater assistance. Presumably the Red Army should have continued to interfere until the central government had fallen.
The Islamic Republic's portrayal also simplifies Kuchek Khan's complex relationship with the Left. Kuchek Khan welcomed the October Revolution, adopted the socialist label, obtained arms from the Soviets, and welcomed the Red Army with the "Marseillaise" and the "Internationale." He also sought Lenin's support to the very end, especially against Ehsanallah Khan, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbayjan, and the Turkish-speaking Communists from Baku, whom he contemptuously referred to as "British agents," "ignoramuses," and "nonentities" masquerading as Iranian Communists. His final clash with the Left came over neither religion, the veil, nor the sanctity of the family — as claimed by the Islamic Republic — but over land reform. Haydar Khan, who took over the Iranian Communist party in October 1920 with Lenin's support, was willing to drop every radical demand for the sake of a united front with Kuchek Khan except the demand for land reform. In September 1921, only fifteen months after the establishment of the Soviet Socialist Republic in Gilan, Kuchek Khan ordered Haydar Khan's assassination. Three months later, Kuchek Khan himself froze to death in the Gilan
highlands. The only person who remained with him to the bitter end was a Russian revolutionary adventurer named Gauk. Official historians tend to ignore Gauk or refer to him only by his Persian nom de guerre, Houshang.
The Opposition to Reza Shah (1921-41)
The Islamic Republic portrays the clergy as the main bulwark of resistance to Reza Shah, claiming that the senior clerics not only resisted his seizure of power in 1921 but also tried to stop his coronation in 1926 and consequently bore the brunt of his dictatorial reign. It argues that the Left helped Reza Shah in his machinations of 1921-25 and collaborated with his dictatorship. In drawing this picture, the Islamic Republic focuses on Ayatollah Sayyid Hasan Modarres. According to Khomeini, "Modarres remains alive as long as history is alive." According to Ettela cat, Modarres is the epitome of the clergy's "struggle against despotism and imperialism." And according to Ibrahim Fakhrai — Kuchek Khan's main hagiographer — Modarres is an eternal symbol of the clergy's "revolutionary" war against despotism, imperialism, and feudalism.
Modarres's credentials seem impeccable. He came from a clerical family in Ardakan, graduated from an Isfahan seminary, studied with prominent senior clerics in Najaf, and taught law and theology in Isfahan. He supported the Constitutional Revolution and presided over the Provincial Assembly in Isfahan. He was prominent in the Moderate party in the second and third Parliaments; in the former he spoke on behalf of the Najaf clergy, and in the latter he represented Tehran and presided over the House. He served as justice minister in the National Government of Resistance formed during World War I to oppose the Anglo-Russian occupation. He denounced the 1919 Anglo-Persian Agreement and urged others, notably Kuchek Khan, to do the same. What is more, he was imprisoned following the 1921 coup.
From 1921 until 1925, Modarres was again prominent in Parliament, heading the Moderate party and, in the final session of the
fifth Parliament, leading the opposition to the change of dynasty. Forced out of politics in 1925, he survived an assassination attempt, was banished to Khorasan, and in 1938 was strangled to death on the direct orders of Reza Shah. The British legation, which had no reason to like him, described him as a man much "revered by the lower classes" on account of his "simple life" and "fearless" criticism of the high and mighty, even the shah. Malek al-Shuc ara Bahar, the famous poet and author of Tarikh-e Mukhtasar-e Ahzab-e Siyasi-ye Iran (Short history of Iranian political parties), esteemed him as the "greatest statesman" Iran has produced in the last six hundred years.
While praising Modarres, the Islamic Republic heaps scorn on Suleyman Iskandari, the founder of the Socialist party — the heir of the early Democrats and the main parliamentary counterweight to the Moderates. It depicts Iskandari as a corrupt old-time politician with foreign connections who survived the dictatorship to chair the Tudeh party. It also dwells on the fact that he was a Qajar prince — even though this aristocratic lineage had not stopped him from taking part in the Constitutional Revolution and leading the 1924 republican movement against the Qajars. In fact, during the 1909 coup his elder brother had been murdered by the royalists and pure chance had saved him from the same fate.
The official picture of 1921-25 grossly oversimplifies both the opposition to Reza Shah and Modarres's complex career. Modarres, despite his martyrdom, was a master craftsman in the art of political expediency. His Moderate party included mainly large landlords, tribal chiefs, wealthy merchants, and titled bureaucrats. He formed alliances not only with Ahmad Shah but also with old-time politicos such as Qavam al-Mulk, Qavam al-Saltaneh, Vossugh al-Dawleh, Prince Farmanfarma, and Sardar Asad Bakhtiyar — exemplars of what the Islamic Republic likes to denounce as "corrupt feudalists spreading the Western plague."
Modarres even made crucial deals with Reza Khan. In 1922 he supported Reza Khan's bid to become war minister; in return, Reza Khan exiled Sayyid Ziya, his coconspirator in the 1921 coup. In 1924 he was instrumental in electing Reza Khan premier as part of a bargain in which the latter dropped Iskandari from the
cabinet and ended Iskandari's campaign to establish a republic. The British legation reported that Modarres and the Right thought that they had tied Reza Khan to their "chariot wheels." The legation went on to predict that it was really Reza Khan who had tied them to his own chariot wheels.
Moreover, Modarres — despite his clerical position — spoke a secular, rather than a religious, language. He based his arguments against the 1909 and 1921 coups, the 1919 Anglo-Persian Agreement, the 1924 republican movement, the 1925 change of dynasty, and even the periodic discussions of women's suffrage not so much on Islam as on the 1906-9 constitutional laws, the sovereignty of the people, and the rights of elected parliaments. His arguments had more in common with secular liberalism than religious populism. He often drew a distinction between religion and politics, a major transgression as far as the Khomeinists are concerned. He also helped Reza Shah's minister of justice draft a new legal code — Khomeini's bête noire. Bahar, in explaining his own defection from the Democrats to the Moderates, praised Modarres for resisting the temptation to exploit religion against his opponents. He added that many of Modarres's supporters in the later parliaments were like himself secularists who wanted to keep religion out of politics. The Islamic Republic often quotes Bahar's praise for Modarres without mentioning the reasons why Bahar admired him so much. Nor does it mention that Bahar entered politics in 1909 as a secular Democrat and died in 1951 as the head of the Peace Partisans, a Tudeh front organization.
Even more distorting is the Islamic Republic's overall picture of the opposition to Reza Shah. Modarres's opposition to extinguishing the Qajar monarchy was by no means typical of the religious establishment. The others senior clerics either tacitly or openly supported the change of dynasty. Some participated in Reza Shah's Napoleonic-like coronation and even hoped to place the crown on his head. Nor was Modarres's martyrdom typical; he was the only senior cleric to fall victim to Reza Shah. It was the Left that provided many of the political prisoners who lost their lives in these years. What is more, Iskandari and his two Socialist colleagues were the only delegates in the 1925 Constituent Assem-
bly not to vote for the establishment of the Pahlavi monarchy. They were promptly banned from politics.
The Islamic Republic, while detailing Modarres's activities in the final session of the fifth Parliament, prefers to ignore completely the Constituent Assembly. It does so both because of Iskandari's vote and because many clerical delegates cast their ballot in favor of Reza Shah. Among them was a certain Ayatollah Abul Qasem Kashani, who later became prominent in Mosaddeq's movement and is now hailed as Khomeini's immediate "precursor." The fact that Kashani supported the new dynasty provides food for thought as to how Khomeini would have acted if he had been senior enough to attend the Constituent Assembly.
Mosaddeq's Administration (1951-53)
Mosaddeq, although deceased since 1967, haunts the Islamic Republic. He does so because he embodied many political features the Islamic Republic admires, but few of the social ingredients it considers essential. He had an impeccable anti-Pahlavi record. He opposed the 1925 change of dynasty and, consequently, was cast out of politics for sixteen years; it was rumored that he came close to meeting the same fate as Modarres. During 1941-53, he persistently criticized the new shah's unconstitutional powers. After Mosaddeq's overthrow in the 1953 coup, he was imprisoned, released, and then once again forced into house imprisonment, where he eventually died.
Mosaddeq had an equally impeccable anti-imperialist record. He denounced the 1919 Anglo-Persian Agreement and the 1921 coup. He opposed economic capitulations in any shape or form as well as military alliances with the Great Powers. He led the 1944-45 opposition to the granting of an oil concession to the Soviet Union, and, of course, he launched the 1951 campaign to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In fact, he was one of the world's very first nonaligned leaders. What is more, he challenged the British and the shah with public support. He appealed directly to the masses, often bypassing Parliament, which he de-
nounced at one point as a "den of thieves." A prominent royalist deputy exclaimed in exasperation:
Is our premier a statesman or a mob leader? What type of premier says "I will speak to the people" every time he faces a political problem? I always considered this man to be unsuitable for high office. But I never imagined, even in my worst nightmares, that a seventy-year-old would turn into a rabble-rouser. A man who surrounds Parliament with thugs is nothing less than a public menace.
Mosaddeq was no cleric nor was he willing to use religion against his opponents. On the contrary, he was a secular humanist and a typical offspring of the French Enlightenment. His thesis, written for a law degree at Lausanne, argued in favor of fully secularizing the legal system in Iran. His speeches used imagery from Iranian history and the Constitutional Revolution, not from Shii Islam. His closest advisers were young secular nationalists, some of whom — especially those from the Iran party — could be described as militantly anticlerical. His administration contained no clerics and few technocrats with clerical connections. He was reluctant to appoint Mahdi Bazargan as minister of education, suspecting that Bazargan would bring too much religion into the schools. What is more, a small group of religious fanatics known as the Fedayan-e Islam tried to assassinate Mosaddeq and wounded Hosayn Fatemi, his foreign minister.
Unable to exorcise Mosaddeq's ghost, the Islamic Republic has tried to contain it. High school textbooks allocate twelve pages to Kuchek Khan, four pages to Modarres, another four to Shaykh Nuri, and less than two to Mosaddeq — about the same as given to Navab Safavi, the Fedayan-e Islam leader. Meanwhile, the mass media elevate Ayatollah Kashani as the real leader of the oil nationalization campaign, depicting Mosaddeq as merely the ayatollah's hanger-on. Even more significant, the regime portrays the 1951-53 period as yet another example of leftist betrayal, arguing that the nationalist movement failed because it was stabbed in the back by the Tudeh.
This last theme plays well in nationalist circles precisely be-
cause it repeats the arguments the National Front has used ever since the 1953 coup. According to the National Front, Mosaddeq would have survived if the Tudeh had given him greater support, would have been able to counter the West if the Soviets had offered assistance, and would have been able to resist the coup if the Tudeh had been willing to mobilize its clandestine military network. These arguments, now Mosaddeqist catechisms, contain only half-truths. It is true that the Tudeh did not support the National Front initially, but by 1953 it had moved close to Mosaddeq. The Tudeh participated in pro-Mosaddeq demonstrations, helped scotch an attempted royalist coup, and called for the establishment of a republic. It was the only large organization to support Mosaddeq's highly controversial referendum of July 1953 proposing to dissolve Parliament. By then, ten of the original twenty founding members of the National Front had defected to the royalist camp. Khomeini, like many other clerics, opposed the 1953 referendum on the avowed grounds that it violated the fundamental laws of the 1906 constitution.
It is true that the Soviets did not go out of their way to help Mosaddeq, but this was as much due to the latter as the former. Mosaddeq's whole strategy was designed to obtain American support against the British. At the height of the Cold War he knew perfectly well that if he moved closer to the Soviets, he would automatically alienate the Americans. Even after the coup, he kept up the pretense that he had been overthrown not by the Americans but by the British.
It is also true that the Tudeh did not mobilize its military network to stop the coup, but again this had much to do with Mosaddeq's own decisions. On August 14, Kianuri, who was then the head of the Tudeh military network, informed Mosaddeq that a coup was in the making and provided him with a list of conspirators. Mosaddeq took no notice, saying that he had appointed most of these senior officers. On August 16, the same officers seized three cabinet ministers who were most in favor of an alliance with the Tudeh. On August 18, Mosaddeq, at the urging of the American ambassador, ordered the martial law authorities to clear the streets of all demonstrators. About six hundred Tudeh supporters
were arrested. Finally, on August 19, when the coup was in progress, Kianuri phoned Mosaddeq to offer help, but Mosaddeq declined the offer on the grounds that "he did not want bloodshed" and that "events were now beyond his control." It is also significant that on the eve of the coup one of the main National Front papers pronounced the royalist danger to be dead and warned that the main threat now came from the Tudeh.
If Mosaddeq fell because of a "stab in the back," the stab came not so much from the Left as from the religious Right. From the very beginning, the clerical establishment had arrayed itself against the National Front. Ayatollah Behbehani, the senior cleric in Tehran and the grandson of the famous constitutional leader, had openly sided with the shah. The substantial influx of CIA money into the Tehran bazaar on the eve of the 1953 coup became known as "Behbehani dollars." Even more important, Ayatollah Borujerdi — a staunch royalist and the leading marjac -e taqlid from 1944 until his death in 1961 — had tried to stem Mosaddeq's popularity by issuing an edict forbidding the clergy from participating in politics. He epitomized the conservative clergy, who claimed to be apolitical but in fact bolstered the royalist regime. Ruhani, Khomeini's main biographer, tries to explain Borujerdi's behavior by claiming that the "imperialists" had planted "agents" around him to isolate him from society.
Ayatollah Kashani was one of the few prominent clerics to ignore Borujerdi's ban and support Mosaddeq. The Islamic Republic makes much of Kashani's forthright rejection of the ban but takes care not to mention who issued the edict nor that Borujerdi was Khomeini's main mentor for nearly two decades. Even though Kashani publicly supported Mosaddeq, their relations were problematic from the very beginning. As early as November 1951, the British Embassy reported that Kashani was so disgruntled with Mosaddeq that he had put out "feelers" in many directions, including the royal court and the U.S. Embassy. "The Americans," reported the British Embassy, "have told us in the strictest confidence that he [Kashani] has been in touch with them. His main thesis is the danger of communism and the need for immediate American aid." Similarly, in May 1952 the head
of the British intelligence service in Tehran reported that a prominent royalist had boasted to him that the "shah's astute policies" had detached Kashani from Mosaddeq. He added, "I did not dispute this but would put on record that the detaching of Kashani was due to quite other factors, and that these factors were created and directed by the brothers Rashidian." (The Rashidian brothers were the main conduit of British intelligence service money into Iran.)
Kashani's opposition to Mosaddeq came into the open by mid-1953 once the latter issued a referendum to dissolve Parliament, drafted an electoral bill enfranchising women, tended to favor state enterprises over the bazaar, refused to ban alcohol, and declined amnesty to assassins from the Fedayan-e Islam. More mundane matters, such as the awarding of government contracts, also played a role. According to British intelligence, Kashani's two sons had set up a lucrative business buying and selling import licenses for prohibited goods using their father's threats. At this time Kashani also suddenly discovered that Mosaddeq's thesis, written thirty-five years earlier, had been anti-Islamic.
By mid-1953, Kashani was urging the bazaars to support General Zahedi, the nominal leader of the prospective coup. He also praised the shah for being "young," "kindhearted," and highly "popular." Kashani's closest supporters in Parliament, especially Shams Qanatabadi, Mozaffar Baqai, and Hosayn Makki (Modarres's biographer), denounced Mosaddeq as a dictator worse than Hitler and a Socialist more extreme than Stalin. They also accused Mosaddeq of being anti-Islamic on the grounds that he endangered private property. Hojjat al-Islam Mohammad Falsafi, a preacher who later became prominent in the Islamic Republic, actively participated in the coup by telling street audiences that Mosaddeq was intentionally paving the way for communism. The Fedayan-e Islam announced that they would cleanse Iran of such undesirable elements as Mosaddeq.
On the shah's triumphant return home on August 22, the Fedayan-e Islam newspaper hailed the coup as a "holy uprising," demanding Mosaddeq's execution and praising the shah as the world's Muslim hero. Not surprisingly, Navab Safavi, their leader, was promptly released from prison and permitted to go on a world tour. Meanwhile, Kashani told a foreign correspondent that Mosaddeq had fallen because he had forgotten that the shah enjoyed extensive popular support. A month later, he went even further and declared that Mosaddeq deserved to be executed because he had committed the ultimate offense: rebelling against the shah, "betraying" the country, and repeatedly violating the sacred law. Presumably this was Kashani's way of continuing the "crusade against imperialism and the Pahlavis."
Years later, when the Islamic Republic had been established, Falsafi praised Ayatollah Kashani as the real crusader against imperialism and the genuine precursor of Imam Khomeini. He also denounced Mosaddeq as a rabid secularist out to uproot religion from Iran. Similarly, Hasan Ayat — who began his political career in Baqai's entourage and ended life as the most vocal lay proponent of theocracy — argued that Mosaddeq, despite his image, was really an "agent" of Anglo-American imperialism. The evidence, according to him, was "overwhelming." Mosaddeq was an aristocrat who had joined the Freemasons in his youth, studied in Europe, and held numerous cabinet posts in the 1920s,
which would have been impossible, so Ayat claimed, without British intrigue.
For his part, Khomeini often praised Kashani but rarely mentioned Mosaddeq. On one occasion, Khomeini claimed that unscrupulous secularists had so tarnished Kashani's reputation — as they had done to Shaykh Nuri earlier — that after 1953 this "great anti-imperialist fighter" had been too embarrassed to leave home. "People in the streets," Khomeini recounted, "would dress dogs as Ayatollah Kashani. Even fellow clerics lacked the courtesy to stand up when he entered a room." Khomeini ended this speech by stressing the need for a proper understanding of history to undo the damage done by the unscrupulous secularists. But nowhere in this speech nor at any other public occasion did Khomeini explain why he had been conspiculously absent from politics in the turbulent years of 1951-53. Was this due to Borujerdi's ban or because he disliked Mosaddeq's secularism as much as that of the Pahlavis? He took the secret to his mausoleum.