Khomeini and the Renewed Opposition

Iran Table of Contents

KhomeiniIn the years that followed the riots of June 1963, there was little overt political opposition. The political parties that had been prominent in the 1950-63 period were weakened by arrests, exile, and internal splits. Political repression continued, and it proved more difficult to articulate a coherent policy of opposition in a period of economic prosperity, foreign policy successes, and such reform measures as land distribution. Nonetheless, opposition parties gradually reorganized, new groups committed to more violent forms of struggle were formed, and more radical Islamic ideologies were developed to revive and fuel the opposition movements. Both the Tudeh and the National Front underwent numerous splits and reorganizations. The Tudeh leadership remained abroad, and the party did not play a prominent role in Iran until after the Islamic Revolution. Of the National Front parties that managed to survive the post-1963 clampdown, the most prominent was the Nehzat-e Azadi-yi Iran, or the Iran Freedom Movement (IFM), led by Mehdi Bazargan. Bazargan worked to establish links between his movement and the moderate clerical opposition. Like others who looked to Islam as a vehicle for political mobilization, Bazargan was active in preaching the political pertinence of Islam to a younger generation of Iranians. Among the best known thinkers associated with the IFM was Ali Shariati, who argued for an Islam committed to political struggle, social justice, and the cause of the deprived classes.

Khomeini, in exile in Iraq, continued to issue antigovernment statements, to attack the shah personally, and to organize supporters. In a series of lectures delivered to his students in An Najaf in 1969 and 1970 and later published in book form under the title of Velayat-e Faqih (The Vice Regency of the Islamic Jurist), he argued that monarchy was a form of government abhorrent to Islam, that true Muslims must strive for the establishment of an Islamic state, and that the leadership of the state belonged by right to the faqih, or Islamic jurist. A network of clerics worked for Khomeini in Iran, returning from periods of imprisonment and exile to continue their activities. Increasing internal difficulties in the early 1970s gradually won Khomeini a growing number of followers.

In the meantime, some younger Iranians, disillusioned with what they perceived to be the ineffectiveness of legal opposition to the regime and attracted by the example of guerrilla movements in Cuba, Vietnam, and China, formed a number of underground groups committed to armed struggle. Most of these groups were uncovered and broken up by the security authorities, but two survived: the Fadayan (Cherikha-ye Fada- yan-e Khalq, or People's Guerrillas), and the Mojahedin (Mojahedin-e Khalq, or People's Struggle). The Fadayan were Marxist in orientation, whereas the Mojahedin sought to find in Islam the inspiration for an ideology of political struggle and economic radicalism. Nevertheless, both movements used similar tactics in attempting to overthrow the regime: attacks on police stations; bombing of United States, British, and Israeli commercial or diplomatic offices; and assassination of Iranian security officers and United States military personnel stationed in Iran. In February 1971, the Fadayan launched the first major guerrilla action against the state with an armed attack on an Imperial Iranian Gendarmerie (the internal security and border guard) post at Siahkal in the Caspian forests of northern Iran. Several similar actions followed. A total of 341 members of these guerrilla movements died between 1971 and 1979 in armed confrontations with security forces, by execution or suicide, or while in the hands of their jailers. Many more served long terms in prison.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress