January 27, 2022

An Introduction to “Armed Struggle, Both A Strategy And A Tactic”

Note: The book titled “Armed Struggle, Both A Strategy And A Tactic, a brilliant master-piece by comrade Massoud Ahmad-Zadeh was re-printed in English, Recently.  Below is an introduction by Comrade Ashraf Dehghani, an “Iranian People’s Fadaee Guerrillas” (IPFG) activist, written specifically for the above book.

Ashraf Dehghani

I am pleased to have an opportunity to write an introduction to a book from which some of the most revolutionary activities in Iran germinated under the guidance of revolutionary theory and teachings embedded in it.  It was precisely due to the implementation of the teachings of this book that around the end of the 1960’s throughout the 1970’s (from 1969 until 1979) the Iranian dedicated communists, i.e., the Iranian People’s Fadaee Guerrillas, shone as Fadaee communists and penetrated into the people’s heart so much so that the name of communism was revived in Iran and found a great credibility among the oppressed masses.  The reprint of the English translation of this book in Italy now, which was translated into a number of languages including English during the 1970’s, reminds us once again of its importance.

The full title of this book is “An analysis of the conditions of Iranian Society, and Armed Struggle Both A strategy and a tactic” which later on was known and referred to as “Armed Struggle Both A Strategy and a tactic”. The author of the book is comrade Massoud Ahmad-Zadeh; a great Iranian Marxist-Leninist theoretician who played an immense role in the organization of the first urban guerrilla brigade and who led a number of urban guerrilla combats in which he himself participated.  Comrade Massoud was captured by SAVAK (the political police of the Shah’s regime) in the first half of 1970 and was subject to some of the most barbaric acts of torture to which he demonstrated an incredible resistance.  During his trial, he was so brave that he exposed the Shah’s regime by exhibiting the burn marks on his tortured body in front of the foreign journalists there. Comrade Massoud who, as a courageous communist, had heroically accepted death, was executed by the henchmen of the Shah’s regime on March 1st 1972.

Comrade Massoud Ahmad-Zadeh wrote this book when stagnancy and lethargy overshadowed the people’s struggles in Iran, and despite poverty and all sorts of social and political afflictions, there were no signs of any mass spontaneous movement. In other words, there were no significant actions on the people’s part. As comrade Massoud explains in this book, the unbridled dictatorship of the ruling regime casting a constant strangulation upon society, the failures of the past political struggles due to their bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leadership and subsequently the frailty and betrayal of those leaderships, accompanied with the regime’s hellish propaganda spreading the seeds of hopelessness and despair among the masses, and also the absence of a communist party- or any other revolutionary organization- that could expose the regime, that could establish a lasting connection between workers and other oppressed masses, and that could demonstrate in practice that it was possible to fight, etc., were the major factors creating the above conditions. It must especially be stressed that the enemy’s propaganda against the background of the incompetence and ineffectiveness of past leaderships, including “The National Front” and especially “The Tudeh Party”, had created an abysmal distrust among workers and other oppressed people towards intellectuals, which became a major barrier for the proletarian intellectuals to establish a relationship with their own class. In this situation, many of the intellectuals had hid in their own shells and, while declaring the fact that the people’s struggles had reached a dead end, saw no way out.

In the early 1960’s, however, the failure of legal and peaceful methods of struggle had gradually posed the necessity of armed struggle in confronting the ruling dictatorial regime.  And the realization of such a necessity was being amplified as the result of successful revolutions and armed liberation movements around the globe to the extent that the necessity of armed struggle was reflected in the literature of those days. And even some activists started working towards initiating armed struggle in Iran, of course, without having theorized their understanding of such a method. Under these circumstances, the question for comrade Massoud and his group members posed itself as: 

“How can we crack the colossal barrier of suppressive power; a colossal barrier created by the constant repression, by the lagging of the people‘s leadership, by the inability of the vanguard to fulfill its role, and finally by the hellish propaganda waged by a regime that relies on the force of the bayonet; a barrier separating the people from their intellectuals, separating the masses from themselves and separating the necessity of mass struggle from the existence of mass struggle itself? How can we crack this barrier and mobilize the sonorous surge of people’s struggle?” This was a fundamental question which the theory of armed struggle formulated by comrade Massoud Ahmad-Zadeh in this book was able to answer. It should be noted here that the ideas laid out in this book are in direct relation with a pamphlet titled “The necessity of armed struggle and the refutation of the theory of survival” written by comrade Amir-Parviez Pouyan (one of the leading founders of the IPFG) in which the necessity of revolutionary intellectuals engaging in armed struggle was analyzed and explained for the first time. In fact, this book is the conclusion of that valuable pamphlet.

Emphasizing upon Lenin’s famous statement that “without revolutionary theory there could be no revolutionary movement”, one can realize the fact that if the necessity of armed struggle had not been theorized in these two works, the armed movement in Iran could not have played the great revolutionary role that it did in Iranian society. In fact, aside from the IPFG, other Marxist groups that engaged in armed movement after the initiation of armed struggle by the IPFG, would always explain their resorting to the tactic of armed struggle against the Shah’s regime by reference to the views of both comrade Massoud Ahmad-Zadeh and Amir-Parviez Pouyan both of whom were among leaders of the IPFG. Even “The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran” which back then was a revolutionary but non-marxist organization would do so. This reveals with ever more clarity the importance of this book and its astonishing and extensive influence.

Needless to say that a part of this book is devoted to explaining the conditions of Iranian society at the time of its publication, as well as providing theoretical analysis and necessary directives as to how to change the existing situation during those days towards the mobilization of socio-political movements in society and the role that the revolutionary intellectuals could play in this regard. This must be taken into consideration and the invaluable lessons latent in it must be underscored when reading the book. In fact, the implementation of this part of the theoretical teachings of the book, while proving its validity, brought about a number of brilliant outcomes in advancing the people’s struggles.*

However, from the strategic point of view of armed struggle, one must  understand that a fundamental part of the book is based upon an analysis of the economic and social substructure of Iranian society; a socio-economic system that has remained intact to this day. Therefore, its general analyses as well as its practical suggestions concerning the necessary path of struggle towards a successful revolution in Iran, are all still valid.

The first fundamental issue pointed out in “An analysis of the conditions of the Iranian Society, and Armed Struggle Both A strategy and a tactic” is that Iran is under the domination of imperialism, therefore a neo-colonial society. Comrade Massoud has elaborated on this issue from different angles. Having a deep understanding of Marxism-Leninism and of the nature of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism which is the age of its decay, as well as having a broad knowledge of Iran’s contemporary history, he states: “Reliance on force and anti-revolutionary violence has always been an integral part of imperialist domination. Imperialism initiated its invasion of the East relying on its political and military force, which stems from its worldwide economic power.” And he adds in the West, the bourgeoisie in its fight against feudalism first had consolidated its economic power and then was able to seize political power, whereas here, imperialism (imperialist bourgeoisie), on the contrary, began its conquest of the East through its political and military might and then imposed its economic domination. In the East, in order to maintain its domination, and to challenge the national bourgeoisie as well as other sectors within the people’s camp, imperialism had to suppress the democratic and progressive layers of society. Therefore, the domination of imperialist bourgeoisie in the East has always been accompanied by anti-revolutionary violence while the rule of the same bourgeoisie in the West has been collocated with democratic freedoms.

Two main imperialist powers that played an important role in the defeat of Iran’s bourgeois-democratic revolution (The Constitutional Revolution of Iran, 1905-1911) were the Russian and the British imperialists. After the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia when the Bolsheviks exposed the disgraceful agreements of Russian imperialism with other imperialist powers, as well as exposing and nullifying the imperialist infamous treaties of the Tsarist regime imposed on Iran, British imperialism, which now had become the unrivalled power, was able to consolidate its political rule in Iran and turn this country into a neo-colonial society by staging a coup and then handing the political power, in appearance only of course, to Reza Shah Pahlavi. This form of dependency to imperialism, which was a new phenomenon, fooled even some of the progressive forces. However, Reza Shah’s regime, though appearing to be independent, in reality was but a full fledged servant to British imperialism, and was brought to power in order to safeguard the interests of its master in Iran and to pave the road to further the expansion of imperialist capital in Iran. Since then, this form of dependency (maintaining imperialist rule through a native government) still continues in Iran, despite all the events and changes that have taken place, including the fall of Reza Shah and the instalment of his son Mohammad Reza Shah, the rise of the rule of American imperialism in Iran and its partnership with the British, and later on, the instalment of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran which was laid out by American, British, French and German imperialists during the 1979 Guadeloupe Conference in order to deceitfully suppress the people’s revolution in the name of revolution, and to preserve imperialist interests.

Comrade Massoud believes that with the establishment of imperialist domination in Iran, all the internal contradictions of our society were overshadowed by the contradiction between the people (which in his view consisted of workers and the petty-bourgeoisie in both country and town) and imperialism. Therefore, while emphasizing this point, he states that “The problem of imperialist domination must be regarded not as an extraneous factor that plays some role, but rather organically as the basis for any analysis and elucidation.” This correct dictum results in the conclusion that workers and other oppressed masses of Irancould achieve their rights only through a revolution against the ruling political regime and the complete eradication of imperialist domination in Iran.

One of the most important chapters in this book is where comrade Massoud presents his analysis on the Shah’s so-called land reform and other reforms referred to as “The White Revolution” by the Shah (an analysis which the passage of time has further proven its correctness and perceptivity). In this analysis which was based on actual studies and personal observations conducted by comrade Massoud himself and the members of his group from a Marxist point of view, unlike some intellectuals who perceived those reforms in the interest of peasants and workers and other sectors of people and concluded that the reforms had reduced the intensity of the existing contradiction in our society thus the objective conditions for revolution did not exist, comrade Massoud proved that the objective of those reforms was but “the expansion of imperialist infiltration into both country and town”, and categorically argued that with those reforms the main contradiction in our society which is the contradiction between the people and imperialism had, on the contrary, grown deeper and greater, thus the objective conditions for revolution indeed existed. Therefore, the question of a social revolution was always on the agenda for comrade Massoud and his group. And, in fact, they considered the preparation for a revolution as their main task in hand as communist intellectuals.

With deep conviction to the fact that it is the people who carry out a revolution, comrade Massoud argues that,  nonetheless, revolutionary intellectuals have a number of responsibilities towards the people which they must fulfill. Accordingly, a section of the book is devoted to the task of communist intellectuals- or in other words the revolutionary vanguard- towards the people. Comrade Massoud poses this task as follows: “Is not the historical task of the revolutionary vanguard to make use of conscious revolutionary practice in order to establish links with the masses so as to tap into the historic power of the masses and to bring that power, which is the determining factor, onto the actual and decisive battlefield of the struggle? The more complicated the conditions, the more powerful the suppressive forces of the enemy, the more urgently the question of the revolution is posed, and naturally the more difficult will be this “tapping.” Bearing this in mind, and following Lenin’s teachings in regards to the necessity of bringing socialist awareness to the working class, and the necessity of forming an organization made up of professional revolutionaries, as well as other essential considerations on the question of revolution made by Lenin in his works including “What Is To Be Done?”, comrade Massoud emphasizes on the difference between the conditions of Russian society during Lenin’s time and that of Iran. He then points out that in Iran where dictatorship and anti-revolutionary violence originating from imperialist rule has prevented workers to even form their own trade organizations, and as described in detail by comrade Pouyan in his pamphlet; where under a violent dictatorship, revolutionary intellectuals are not even able to retain their own association through peaceful means let alone establish links with the masses and bring them into the arena, therefore, the way to “tap into the historic power of the masses” via peaceful preparation for a revolution and then at a particular moment mobilizing a mass uprising- as was the case in Russia- cannot be the path of revolution in Iran. Of course, comrade Massoud forewent the fact that even though the October revolution of 1917 overthrew the old regime through a mass uprising organized by the Bolsheviks at a unique moment, however, as we know, the Russian bourgeoisie with the aid of the British and other imperialist powers imposed a bloody civil war on the Russian workers and the oppressed masses that lasted several years, and indeed, it was after winning the civil war that the Russian proletariat under the leadership of the Bolsheviks was able to consolidate and maintain its political power. That was why, in “Lecture on the 1905 revolution”, Lenin confirmed the view that:

“…the impending revolution … will be less like a spontaneous uprising against the government and more like a protracted civil war.”

While rejecting any attempt to copy the paths of previous revolutions- be it the Russian revolution or Chinese, Vietnamese or Cuban revolution- comrade Massoud demonstrates in this book how dynamically he approaches and draws lessons from the experiences produced in those revolutions. He writes: “… since revolution in all societies occurs under a series of general laws … all the past revolutionary experiences provide lessons which should be learned…”. He then emphasizes that, the revolutionaries in any given country, however, must find the path to the revolution in their country by discovering the specificity of the objective conditions of their society and theorize it. That is why, while stressing the importance of revolutionary theory (addressing Régis Debray and those who, with an incorrect take on the Cuban experience, undermine the importance of revolutionary theory), he argues: “…borrowed political theory cannot become the proper guideline for revolutionary action.”

The ingenuity and and the ability of comrade Massoud in presenting a creative application of Marxism-Leninism applicable to the conditions of Iranian society resulted in his theorizing and demonstrating the fact that the path of revolution in Iran is a popular armed struggle which is initiated by politico-military cells consisting of the most class conscious revolutionaries; workers and intellectuals alike. A political group that organizes these cells, as a guerrilla or partisan force begins its fight against the enemy by resorting to armed struggle as a tactic, its aim being to mobilize and organize the masses. As a result, a guerrilla movement develops, within its process, into a popular armed movement, and by the might of the masses succeeds in seizing political power. Of course, the essential point stressed in the theory presented by comrade Massoud is that revolution in Iran can be achieved only through the leadership of the working class (a class that is equipped with its own ideology, I.e., Marxism-Leninism), and that no other class is capable of carrying out such a task.

In this book, the reader can observe comrade Massoud’s profound understanding of Marxist concepts on the question of seizing political power. By referring to Lenin’s statements “The basic question of every revolution is that of state power” (The Dual Power, Lenin) or “let us not forget that the issue of power is the fundamental issue of every revolution”(On Slogans, Lenin), comrade Massoud, while stressing that political power in Iran is in the hands of imperialism ruling through its puppet regime, I.e., the Shah’s regime (and nowadays, the Islamic Republic), emphasizes that the army and other armed forces are the most essential instruments for the survival of imperialist rule in Iran, and that only by the destruction of this army and its auxiliary forces can the working class smash the state apparatus and seize political power. This is a fact that every state, as the instrument of organization of this or that social class, is capable of ruling mainly by relying on its armed forces. That is why Lenin states: “What does this power mainly consist of? It consists of special bodies of armed men having prisons, etc., at their command. (State And Revolution, Lenin). With this knowledge, comrade Massoud criticizes the view that merely focuses on seizing political power without determining as to with what form of action and organization as the principal form of action and organization it can be achieved. He writes: “In a situation where one must precisely determine what form of action and organization ought to be selected, is not evading the definition of the principal form of action a type of reformism?” And he adds: “Seizure of political power is a definite goal and its necessity is a universal fact. The question is that in seizing political power, what is the decisive factor? Now, if instead of responding to this need and determining the concrete path of action and the main method of struggle, we come forth to say that the goal is the seizure of political power and not the destruction of the army, that one should comprehensively intervene on all levels, that one should use all forms of struggle, etc., then we will have uttered generalities behind which lie hidden our incapability, our lack of courage, and our political ignorance.” (Underlines are mine)

In the theory of armed struggle formulated by comrade Massoud it is clearly stated: “To defeat Reaction, the reactionary army must be smashed. To smash the reactionary army, a people’s army must exist .” It is also delineated in this theory as to what path can lead to building a people’s army, where we read: “The only way to smash the reactionary army and to build the people’s army is prolonged guerrilla struggle…”. From the view point of this theory, guerrilla warfare which begins its process by forming politico-military cells, does not engage solely in military operations but rather carries out both political and military tasks simultaneously. In other word, they are intertwined. Therefore, it is emphasized that, “a guerrilla war is necessary not only in terms of military strategy for smashing the powerful army, but also in terms of political strategy for mobilizing the masses.” And that, “… the people’s army also becomes the “armed propaganda” force. Basically, bringing political awareness to the working class and other oppressed masses, mobilizing and organizing them, building a communist party as well as people’s army are all achievable through this process. Therefore, we read: “The political and military factors are fused together in an inevitable and organic way. On the one hand, the mobilization of the masses is the condition for the victory of armed struggle both militarily and politically.  Yet, on the other hand, mobilization of the masses is not possible without armed struggle”.

There are several other theoretical issues posed in this book which illustrate the communists’ tasks towards the working class and other oppressed masses. For example, there are profound and educational points made in response to those who consider the revolutionary intellectuals resorting to armed struggle before the masses themselves commit to it as a non-Marxist-Leninist approach. We read, for instance: “The necessity for the conscious role and active practice of the revolutionary vanguard has not been weakened but rather strengthened precisely due to the increasing role of the counter-revolution in the equation.” Or in regards to the conditions in Russia- where the form of struggle was merely political before the eruption of the mass uprising- while giving an elucidative explanation suggesting that the Iranian communists, too, must act upon all the tasks regraded by Lenin as the tasks of communist revolutionaries, comrade Massoud argues: “The truth is that if the struggle against despotism, at that time, was fundamentally political, now the struggle against despotism is basically political-military”. Or in particular, regarding the way by which the organization of professional revolutionaries as suggested by Lenin can be created, he writes: “If in Russia the true vanguard came to the fore as a result of a series of economic, political and ideological struggles, now in Iran, solely a political-military struggle is able to create the true vanguard.”

In general, the point stressed in this book is the fact that, “armed struggle is that form of struggle which constitutes the groundwork of an all encompassing struggle, and only on such a basis do other various forms of struggle become necessary and useful.”

Also, while drawing lessons from the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban revolutions in this book, the author deciphers both the similarities and the differences between the path of those revolutions and that of Iran.

And lastly I must say that a careful study of “An analysis of the conditions of Iranian Society, and Armed Struggle Both A strategy and a tactic”, will without a doubt prove as to how coherent the theory presented in this book is because it is based on irrefutable facts. Moreover, it will prove that because of its solid constitution, opportunists, as they have shown up to now, are not able to respond without resorting to misrepresentation and distortion. Furthermore, no unbiased reader will hesitate, after reading this book, to profess to comrade Massoud’s vast knowledge not only of Iran’s contemporary history, the history of the French, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban revolutions as well as the polemics within the revolutionary movement in Latin America, but also of the classic works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao some of which are discussed in this book with a thorough examination. In fact, it would be difficult not to be amazed by comrade Massoud’s profound Marxist understanding and his ability to formulate an adaptation of Marxism-Leninism applicable to the specific conditions of Iranian society.

It must also be noted that as the result of the breakthrough that this brilliant essay made in Iran’s New Communist Movement, and considering its luminous practical impacts, The Organization of The Iranian People’s Fadaee Guerrillas received broad support and international unity from revolutionary movements around the world especially in the Middle East. In other words, this book and its influence reached those movements as well.

* Unfortunately, from around the end of 1974, a series of non-proletarian views deviant from Marxism worked their way into The Organization of The Iranian People’s Fadaee Guerrillas. As the result, while a vast number of people were drawn to it, when it had the necessary possibilities to expand armed struggle towards the strategic instructions recommended in “An Analysis of the Conditions of Iranian Society, and Armed Struggle Both A Strategy And A Tactic”, this organization fell behind and was unable to materialize that strategy and took a different direction. However, a few years later with the masses’ revolution (the democratic, anti-imperialist revolution of the people in 1979 which was defeated), and the subsequent opening of the political atmosphere, it became obvious that people across the country had a striking readiness and revolutionary energy to engage in armed struggle and to support and strengthen its course. Among other things, the popular armed revolt in both Turkmen Sahra (a region in the northeast of Iran near the Caspian Sea) as well as in Kurdistan (a region in the northwest of Iran), i.e., two regions with major agrarian issues, revealed more than any theoretical justification that, had it not been for the deviance from the path proposed by The organization of Iranian People’s Fadaee Guerrillas, there were completely favorable grounds for guerrilla armed struggle evolving into a mass armed movement and toward the establishment of a people’s army.

Iranian People’s Fadaee Guerrilla (IPFG)

28 July, 2017

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