[Men with beards. Left: the Prophet Karl Marx. Right: Ayatollah Khomenie, who followed a prophet. Lesser men with lesser beards: Below: John Molyneux. Below that: John Rees.]
“... [t]he vast mass of workers will be liberated from their religious illusions not by arguments, pamphlets or books, but by participation in the revolutionary struggle, and beyond, in the building of socialism. In such a situation it is incumbent on the party to ensure that religious differences, or differences between the religious and the non-religious, do not obstruct the unity of working class struggle.” - John Molyneux, ex-SWP
"Where else can you sit down in a single evening and listen to senior people from Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, people from the revolutionary left and the antiwar movement from around the globe?" - John Rees at the Cairo Anti-War Conference, April 2007. He's ex-SWP, now Counterfire, Stop the War, the People's Assembly, CAGE, London University, etc.
Leftist Iran: Pre-1979
Iran was no different to many other countries in the world in the early 1970s - both Muslim and non-Muslim. As per usual, and as with every other country, Marxist hipness and intellectualism didn’t filter down to the Iranian workers they patronised so much.
However, that didn't stop the Marxists. Their uprising occurred in the early 1970s. It was brought about by a Marxist-Leninist Fedayeen. It attempted to fuse Maoist ideology with what went for Leftism in Iran. The uprising was a bloody failure.
In addition to the Marxist-Leninist Fedayeen there was also a "socialist Shiism". These socialist Shiites, of course, were mainly Iranian students. They were persecuted under the Shah and many left the country. Although they classed themselves as socialists; they also encompassed all brands of Leftism: from Maoism and Trotskyism to Stalinism (i.e., they were pro-Soviet Union). Of course, when the revolution come, these socialist Shiites returned to Iran.
It was the Communist Party which was to prove the most important Leftist group in revolutionary Iran.
At the beginning, the head of the Tudeh Communist Party officially accepted the ayatollah as his guide. After all, why should a communist have had any problem with Khomeini’s professed aim to establish "an Islamic Republic which would protect the independence and democracy of Iran"? That is, although the Tudeh Communist Party more or less ignored the Islamic element of this proclamation, they thoroughly accepted its establishment of a Republic, its commitment to democracy and the independence (from the US) which it promised to bring about. Then, as now, Leftists were impressed by the Islamists’ - and even Islamic fundamentalists’ - use of the buzzwords "Republic", "democracy"and "independence" (from America).
We've just mentioned how Khomeini spoke with forked tongue - or with taqiyya tongue - about democracy. That was in November 1978. Literally, only a few months later, Khomeini denounced democracy as "alien to Islam". The Leftists must have felt very foolish at the time for having trusted an Islamic reactionary and fundamentalist. Still, such things are still happening today, whether in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and even in here at home in the UK.
The Iranian Revolution Itself
Leftwing militants initially had a hand in controlling gangs of working-class youths; whom they ordered to take over the American "nest of spies" (amongst other things). All this Leftist violence led to trials, executions and confiscations of property. These Leftists were having a jolly good time doing the kinds of things they’d always wanted to do – kill people and confiscate property. However, on the sidelines the Islamists were very worried. Perhaps all this Marxist revolutionary stuff could get out of hand. That is, perhaps all these "revolutionary Iranians" will forget about Islam – or, more correctly, forget about Islamist ideology. In class terms, the holy middle class - being the good Muslims that they were - were also worried. And thus the Islamic clerics were worried because the devout middle class was worried.
It was then clear that the "Islamist left" - including the unlikely Shiite socialists with their working-class boot boys - began to threaten Khomeini’s power; if not directly or explicitly.
By this time, Leftist groups had already taken over university campuses. However, they were soon driven out by the pasdarans (Guardians of the Islamic Revolution). For example, the pasdarans closed the entire University of Tehran down in order to get rid of every Leftist and every Leftist remnant.
In early 1983, four years after the beginning of the Iranian Revolution, the leaders of the Tudeh (Communist) party were arrested by the Khomeini Islamic regime. They were the last Leftists to be arrested. They confessed on TV, Soviet-style, to spying for the Soviet Union. Finally, of course, they were forced to proclaim the truth that Islam is superior to communism, which they did.
Lessons the Left Hasn't learnt
In the end, then, Iranian Leftists - as well as the middle classes (though the Leftists too were, of course, primarily middle class) - put their faith in Khomeini and the Islamists quite simply because they knew (or thought) that only they could destroy the Shah and his state. In both the Leftist and middle class cases, they simply assumed that the Islamists commitment to, well, Islam, wasn't that important to the purpose of destroying the Shah. This is precisely what many Leftists still believe today.
The Left’s commitment to Islamism and Islamists today is primarily determined by the Islamists’ promise to destroy every Arab regime which is friendly to – or dependent upon - the West or the US. (Or even to destroy the UK or the US itself!) And if Islamists can help the Leftists out on this job of destruction, then such Leftists are willing to ignore - or even support - both the Islamists and even what they stand for (Islamically).
And, just as in Iran from 1979 to 1983, they too would be utterly destroyed by the Islamists if the Islamists were ever to achieve real power: Islamist power brought about with the help of gullible (or theory-intoxicated) Leftists.
To backtrack to 1979 again.
Because the Islamists - or at least the "leftist Islamists" - did indeed draw on the strength of the workers (or ‘the masses’) in 1979 Iran, Leftists, at that time also hoped that they could effectively turn these Islamists into bona fide "anti-imperialists" and "anti-capitalists"; who, like them, simply wanted to overthrow the capitalist state or the bourgeoisie.
The naivety of this Leftist position never fails to amaze me. Just as the Islamists are committed to Islam, so Leftists are committed to - and believe in – (Marxist) Theory. It's this theoretical approach to Islamists which makes Leftists believe that they can turn the Islamists around; or "tap into their revolutionary potential", as a SWP leader once put. Thus they indulge in what can only be seen as a kind of political or cultural racism. That is, they just can't bring themselves to believe that the Islamists in Egypt, Libya, Gaza, the West Bank, etc. - or even at home - really don’t think the way they think and really don't want the things they want. Surely they want a communist state just like us? Surely they only want to destroy capitalism just like us? Surely they just want Justice, Equality and Diversity?
In addition, the Islamists do want Justice and Freedom (if of their own kind). They also want much more than that. They want complete sharia law and an Islamic state. (If the two are distinguishable at all.) That something more is something the Left simply fails to grasp. Again, in a kind of Leftist racism, Leftists simply refuse to accept that the Islamists can be that different to themselves. A Leftist may say that it's an anti-racist position to believe - or state - that "all people are essentially the same" on these matters. However, isn’t it actually racist to believe – or state - that all Muslims, Islamists and Arab Muslims act just like (Trotskyist) lecturers and professors from London and the Home Counties act and believe the same kinds of things as lecturers and professors from London and the Home Counties believe?
History has shown us that Islamists, Arab Muslims, etc. are different from Leftists - and this applies to U.K. Islamists too! However, because Marxist theory is determining these positions on Islamists and Islamism, the Left obeys its theories. ("Marxist theory - right or wrong.") Thus Leftists also ignore all the historical and sociological evidence which clearly shows everyone else that these Islamists really do believe what they say they believe. They most certainly aren't Marxists or socialists in theological garb. To think that is quite frankly astonishing. Thus Leftists provide us with lots of entertainment with their gullibility vis-à-vis Muslims and Islamists; as well as astonishment with their theory-intoxication and all that these theories lead them to believe and hope for.
In other words, our very own Leftists are just like the Iranian Communist Party (the Tudeh) of 1979 Iran. The Tudeh rallied under the Islamist banner; just as the SWP, Stop the War, Corbyn, etc. rally under the Islamist Black Flag of War and in close earshot of the many cries of Allahu Akbar! (In Birmingham recently I saw an SWP/UAF stall which was strategically placed directly next to a Salafist stall.)
The Left grins and bears these Islamist exoticisms (if they see it as bearing at all) because it believes that it's fighting for the same things as the Islamists. In essence, the Left also thinks that the Islamists even believe the same things as it does. Such an attitude to the Brown Exotic is itself a kind of Leftist racism – that inability to accept the Other’s Difference (to use two terms from post-structuralism). Instead, the Left believes that the Islamists are simply Reds who wear black (as well as green).