Tudeh Party

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The main orthodox Communist organization in contemporary Iran.

The Tudeh Party (Hezb-e Tudeh-ye Iran; the Party of the Iranian Masses) was formed in 1941 in Iran by members of the famous Fifty-three, who had been arrested in 1937 but were released immediately on the British-Soviet occupation of Iran during World War II. The Fifty-three were predominantly young, university-educated Marxist intellectuals from middle-class and Persian-speaking families. The Tudeh Party quickly grew to become the organization of the masses in reality as well as in name. It did so in part because its labor unions mobilized a significant portion of the wage-earning population; in part because it attracted many civil servants, professionals, and intellectuals; and in part because it successfully portrayed itself as the champion of patriotism and constitutional liberties against foreign imperialism and the threat of royal dictatorship. By 1945, the list of Tudeh sympathizers read like a Who's Who of Iran's intelligentsia.

After 1945, however, the Tudeh suffered a series of setbacks. Its patriotic credentials were undermined when it supported the Soviet-sponsored revolt in Azerbaijan, echoed the demands of the Soviet Union's Josef Stalin for an oil concession, and failed to give full backing to Mohammad Mossadegh's campaign to nationalize the petroleum industry. Its constitutional and democratic credentials were brought into question once it declared itself a Marxist-Leninist party and became a formal member of the Soviet-led Communist movement. Moreover, its ability to function was drastically curtailedfirst in 1949, when the party was banned after an attempt was made on the life of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi; and second after the 1953 coup, when SAVAK, the secret police, helped by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, vigorously unearthed its underground network. Over forty Tudeh members were executed in the 1950s.

The Tudeh was further weakened by two major internal disputes. In the aftermath of the Azerbaijan revolt, a number of intellectuals left the party and in later years joined Mosaddegh's National Front (Jebhe-ye Melli). In the 1960s, at the height of the Sino-Soviet dispute, a number of younger activists, denouncing the Tudeh leadership as reformist and revisionist, formed their own pro-Chinese Sazman-e Engelab-e Hezb-e Tudeh-ye Iran (Revolutionary Organization of the Tudeh Party of Iran).

By the time of the Iranian Revolution (1979), little remained of the Tudeh within Iran. Despite this, the party tried a comeback; it instructed its cadres to return and elected as its first secretary Nur al-Din Kianuri, the proponent of an alliance with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The previous first secretary, Iraj Iskandari, had favored the secular liberals, especially the National Front. From 1978 until 1983, the Tudeh supported the Islamic Republic of Iran, even when much of the left denounced the regime as a medieval theocracy.

This support ended abruptly in 1983, in the midst of the IranIraq War, after Khomeini ordered Iranian troops to cross the border into Iraq. As soon as the Tudeh criticized this action, most of the party's leaders and cadres were arrested and tortured into confessing that they were "spies and traitors plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic." The most extensive recantation came from Ehsan Tabari, a member of the Fifty-three and the most important intellectual in the Tudeh leadership. Tabari died in prison from heart failure, but 163 of his colleagues were killedsome under torture, others by hanging. A few party leaders escaped to Western Europe, where they continue to be active. They publish a biweekly, Nameh-ye Mardom (People's newsletter) and a periodical, Donya (The world), and run a clandestine radio station. They held a party congress in 1998 in Germany and often send delegates to international communist meetings.

see alsoazerbaijan crisis; iranian revolution (1979);iraniraq war (19801988); khomeini, ruhollah; kianuri, nur al-din; mossadegh, mohammad; national front, iran; pahlavi, mohammad reza.


Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran between Two Revolutions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Raffat, Donné. The Prison Papers of Bozorg Alavi: A Literary Odyssey. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1985.

Zabih, Sepehr. The Communist Movement in Iran. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.

ervand abrahamian