Fedaʾiyan-e Khalq

views updated


The main Marxist guerrilla movement in contemporary Iran.

Fedaʾiyan-e Khalq (The People's Devotees) was created during the early 1970s by young dissidents from both the Tudeh Party and Mohammad Mossadegh's National Front who felt that their parent organizations, with their conventional political strategies, would never succeed in overthrowing the Pahlavi regime. These young activists were inspired by Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and, most important of all, Che Guevara. A few of them received guerrilla training from the Palestinians in Lebanon. Their first military exploit was to assault a gendarmerie station in the Caspian village of Siyahkal in February l971. This attack, famous later as the Siyahkal incident, acted as a catalyst for the whole revolutionary movement in Iran. It prompted others, especially religious radicals such as the Mojahedin-e Khalq, to follow their example. Even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's disciples have admitted that Siyahkal left a "deep impression" on the Iranian population.

In the years following Siyahkal, the Fedaʾiyan lost all its original leaders and most of its rank and fileeither in shoot-outs, under torture, or by firing squads. Most of these martyrs came from the ranks of the intelligentsiathey were teachers, engineers, and university students. By the time of the Iranian revolution, the Fedaʾiyan enjoyed a widespread mystique of revolutionary heroism and martyrdom, but little remained of its armed organization. This little, however, did play a part in delivering the old regime its coup de grace in the dramatic days of February 1979.

After the revolution, the Fedaʾiyan grew quickly to become the main Marxist organization in Iran, far outshadowing the older Tudeh Party. By early 1981, it had a nationwide structure, its Tehran rallies attracted over 100,000 participants and, with the Mojahedin, its armed cells posed a serious threat to the clerical Islamic Republic. After 1981, however, the Fedaʾiyan went into sharp decline in part because of a massive government repression and in part because of constant internal fragmentation. Government repression took more than 600 Fedaʾiyan lives. The backgrounds of these martyrs were similar to those before the revolution, with one minor variationthe new ones included many more high school students.

The main split came over how to deal with the clerical state. One faction, known as the Aksariyat (Majority), viewed the Khomeini regime as intrinsically anti-imperialist and, therefore, potentially progressive. In this respect, it followed a policy similar to the Tudeh. But the other faction, labeled the Aqalliyat (Minority), saw the regime as the executive committee of the petty bourgeoisie, and, therefore, inherently conservative and even reactionary. The two factions published newspapers with the same title of Kar (Work). Both, however, soon experienced their own splits over such issues as the Tudeh Party, the Mojahedin, the Iraqi war, the Kurdish revolt, and the fall of the Soviet Union. By the early 1990s, there were at least six groups in exile, each with its own newspaper, each tracing its origins to Siyahkal, and each incorporating into its formal name a variation of the term Fedaʾyi. By the early 2000s, these had withered down to twoboth based in Germany.

See also Mojahedin; National Front, Iran; Tudeh Party.


Behrooz, Maziar. Rebels with a Cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran. New York and London: I. B. Tauris, l999.

Matin-Asgari, Afshin. Iranian Student Opposition to the Shah. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, 2002.

ervand abrahamian