by Ali Rahnema

Peyman Vahabzadeh

Department of Sociology, University of Victoria, Canada

Ali Rahnema, (2021) Call to Arms: Iran’s Marxist Revolutionaries, London: OneWorld.

Call to Arms presents the latest addition to a trail of literature surrounding the People’s Fadai Guerrillas (PFG, in Persian: Cherikha-ye Fadai-ye Khalq, later the Organisation of Iranian People’s Fadai Guerrillas, OIPFG; ‘fadai’ in Persian means ‘self-sacrificing’) – a self-declared Marxist-Leninist urban-guerrilla group founded in 1971 that, despite its small size and limited operations against the dictatorship of the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, captured the political imagination of Iranian dissidents in the 1970s and had an impact on the events that led to the 1979 Revolution. Previous studies on the PFG included a lengthy, two-volume work of ‘research’,1 and selected security documents, both of which commissioned and published by the Islamic Republic Ministry of Intelligence2 (in Persian); a scholarly, analytical work on the PFG’s theories and history3 (in English); and a growing number of edited or authored memoirs and reflections on the part of PFG activists (in Persian). The subject remains fresh despite the attempts of the Islamic Republic’s appropriation of the existing literature to depict the guerrillas as violent gangsters.

            The PFG is not a ‘household’ name among those familiar with the guerrilla movements of the 1960s and ’70s – unlike, say, the RAF in Germany, Tupamaros (MLN-T) in Uruguay, MIR in Chile, or the Brigate Rosse in Italy. This is due to the neglect of the group, until the last decade or so, by Iranian activists and researchers alike. When discussing the PFG in the few existing short engagements (aside from this and the previously mentioned books), Iranian historians, having little interest in registering the PFG as an actor in a global movement, have mostly consigned study of the group to Orientalist ‘Iranian Studies’ frameworks, condemning it to a bygone past.

            The PFG was founded in April 1971 as two underground militant groups, having reached the conclusion that only armed struggle could challenge the monarchical dictatorship, merged in the aftermath of security raids. Arising from radical tendencies within the student movement, the two groups emerged from different experiences and influences, with a half-generation age difference between them. The key founders were Massoud Ahmadzadeh, Amir Parviz Pouyan, Abbas Meftahi – from the so-called Group Two, the newer founding group, formed circa 1969–70 –, and Hamid Ashraf – a survivor of the so-called Group One, the older founding group, formed circa 1964 and raided in 1968. Its leaders and theoreticians Bizhan Jazani and Hassan Zia Zarifi were in prison at this time.

            Prior to the PFG’s founding, having reorganised and recruited new members, survivors of Group One launched a daring attack on a gendarmerie post in the village of Siahkal in February 1971, declaring war on the regime. 13 members of the group were executed by March of that year. But their bold operation was celebrated by the Iranian opposition as the ‘Siahkal Resurgence’, thus bestowing it with historic importance, and the Siahkal event became a catalyst for more armed struggle. The PFG adopted Marxism-Leninism as its ideology but clearly leaned toward urban-guerrilla warfare, comparable to that of Latin American revolutionaries.

            By 1972, of the founding members only Hamid Ashraf had survived: an elusive and capable militant, a meticulous organiser, and beloved leader, he led the group for the next five years, becoming Iran’s most wanted man. Receiving considerable support from student movements inside and outside of Iran, and revolutionary movements and states across the Middle East, between 1971 and 1976 the PFG carried out a number of carefully selected and delivered assassinations, as well as bombings of powerlines and security, military, and police installations. Although it sustained heavy casualties (237 PFG members were killed between 1971 and 1979, while thousands were imprisoned for their connections with the group), the PFG permeated Iranian collective consciousness. Armed struggle gradually polarised Iranian society, contributing to the creation of a collective psychology that contributed to the overthrow of the Shah through a popular revolutionary process in 1978–9. After the revolution, the refashioned OIPFG, now having abandoned armed struggle, emerged as the largest leftist political party, able to hold rallies with as many as 300,000 attending. However, numerous schisms and brutal repression and executions by the Islamic Republic eradicated the group, forcing the remnant cliques of the once formidable Fadai Guerrillas into exile.

            There were other militant groups in the 1960s: several Maoist groups most drawn from the student movement abroad were quickly uncovered, and saw their activists jailed; in addition, a vast Kurdish insurgency was repressed in 1968. The PFG, however, must be credited as founder of sustained armed struggle in Iran. This was possible because of its organic relationship with the student movement. The PFG also emerged as a group that other (smaller) militant groups emulated. Appearances notwithstanding, the PFG was an internally diverse group. Under Ashraf’s astute but not ideologically-imposing leadership, it accommodated Marxist-Leninists and Maoists, activists with social-justice rather than ideological motivations, supporters of Ahmadzadeh’s theory, and advocates of Jazani’s theory. He encouraged intra-group discussions and inter-organisational debates, in which he also participated.

            The dual origins of the PFG led to the continued presence of two ideological currents. Ahmadzadeh’s theory was the founding and dominant one until around 1974. Influenced by Latin American guerrillas, Ahmadzadeh asserted that armed struggle would create the objective conditions for revolution and soon lead to a popular uprising against the regime. Critical of this view, Jazani produced theoretical works in prison, arguing that armed struggle could not lead to a popular movement without the guerrillas also organising non-militant support networks in factories, workplaces, and universities. By 1974, when many guerrillas could no longer envisage a simmering mass movement, they began questioning the optimism of Ahmadzadeh’s theory, and Ashraf began creating non-militant cells, but this plan fell apart following his death in 1976. When the PFG regrouped afterwards, it lost a significant portion of the organisation – those who rejected armed struggle – in a split. The new PFG adopted Jazani’s theory in 1977, but the revolution left no space for the realisation of Jazani’s ideas and the post-revolutionary OIPFG abandoned the ideas of its founders altogether.

            Ali Rahnema’s Call to Arms offers a 500-page history of the group’s formation, its internal debates and issues, and the group’s societal impact in rich detail. I believe that a historian has every right to choose their own approach, as I do not subscribe to ‘objectivist’ historiography and instead hold that history is open to interpretation. Thus, in this review-essay, I will speak of the merits of Call to Arms, while pointing out critical methodological and theoretical issues and problems caused by Rahnema’s approach.

            The book begins with this accurate snapshot:

The Iranian guerrilla movement, through its praxis established a frame of reference, an ethos and an archetype for Iranian political activists. It would be fair to say that its struggle and comportment established a code of conduct for the politicized youth. The battle conducted by the Iranian guerrilla movement captured the imagination of urban Iranians, especially its youth, and confronted them with important political questions on how to engage with authoritarian rule (p. 4).

The work commences with a chapter on the ‘why’ of political violence (pp. 7–16), followed by four chapters containing accounts of key PFG figures and explaining their turn to violence (pp. 7–65). Arguing that the repressive regime was unreformable, the author defends the intellectuals’ turn to armed struggle (p. 12), which he appropriately calls ‘counter-violence’ (p. 3), although surprisingly he wishes to present his defence from ‘the point of view of a rational individual’ (p. 7). This opening focus on the justification of violence in the works of the PFG’s theorists reduces their works to arguments in favour of armed struggle, largely ignoring their ideas pertaining to mobilisation and popular movements. This is how the study treats the works attributed to Zia Zarifi, Ahmadzadeh, and Pouyan favourably and without critical engagement (Chapters 2, 3, and 4), whereas its overview of Jazani’s theory (Chapter 5) takes a critical, at times dismissive, tone, pointing out Jazani’s reservations regarding armed struggle, which anticipates the upcoming chapters (Chapters 21–25; pp. 297–372). Jazani’s views are presented in order for the author to dismiss Jazani’s analyses and blame the downfall of the guerrillas primarily on the PFG’s adoption of his theory (see below).

            One merit of this mainly organisational historiography lies in its attending to the mostly neglected or overlooked, but nevertheless fascinating process of rebuilding Group One after the arrest of its founding members (Jazani and Zia Zarifi – totalling 14 individuals) in 1968. The book chronicles how the indefatigable work of three surviving members led to the organisation of more than twenty militants that made the Siahkal operation possible, after they were joined by Group One members returning from training in the Palestinian resistance. As an organisational historiography, this study also offers an excellent chronology of the events surrounding the PFG, in addition to a stellar chapter (Chapter 19) on the life and activities of Hamid Ashraf, the legendary and beloved Fadai commander. Rahnema also dedicates three chapters (Chapters 27–29) to showing the wider impact of the PFG, after 1976, on the student movement and the protest movement that led to the 1979 Revolution.

            Amazingly, though, as much as the book is rich in detail concerning the formative years of the PFG, especially in regard to the Siahkal operation, it rushes through the PFG’s life and operations, during the 1971–6 period, in Chapter 26 (pp. 372–405), by relying heavily on the censored reports of daily newspapers. Although the book offers useful statistics regarding the guerrillas’ appearance in Persian dailies, surprisingly the author refers to the ‘partial transparency’ (p. 377) of newspapers in reporting guerrilla activity (1971–3), and then to the news ‘blackout’ (p. 384) imposed on them. In the latter case, the author chooses to switch to US and UK reports on guerrilla activity in Iran, at times almost exclusively (for example, pp. 382–3).

            In my view, any work of this kind needs to follow an ‘inside out’ approach – starting from guerrilla publications containing the rationale for operations, and then triangulating the group’s reports on operations with newspapers and other sources. Clearly, a guerrilla group is nothing apart from its operations: these operations define the group’s political ontology and identity, as well as how the group presents itself to its potential publics. The author’s approach makes no connection between operations and the guiding theories, strategies, and tactics of the PFG. This is particularly problematic because, from their inception, the Fadai Guerrillas emphasised the role of ‘armed propaganda’, formulated by Jazani and Zia Zarifi. While there are abundant references to the PFG’s ‘armed propaganda’ in previous chapters, no reference to it is made in this particular chapter. This methodological issue arises from not connecting theory to praxis.

            A surprising tendency toward sensationalism also creates confusion for readers. Chapter 7 is titled: ‘Monarchists, Maoists, and the Tudeh Party in Unison: Armed Struggle is Counter-Revolutionary Adventurism’ (pp. 83–93). The picture this paints is far from accurate. These three groups cannot be lumped together in any way. The ‘monarchists’ ran the country, had the state’s repressive machinery at their disposal, and were intent upon suppressing the insurgents. By ‘Maoists’, in this particular chapter, the author means a small group, led by Parviz Nikkhah, that by the mid-1960s (and before any of the PFG’s founders) was planning armed struggle. Nikkhah and several of his comrades, following torture and heavy prison sentences, recanted, praised the Shah, and asked for clemency. The so-called ‘Maoist’ position in this chapter almost exclusively relies on Nikkhah’s and Kourosh Lashai’s recantations, which they articulated in theoretical language (pp. 85–92). The recantations constitute the bulk of this chapter. The reader here cannot but pause to reflect on the serious ethical issue arising from treating the statements of such a prisoner – who recants under duress, under the rule of a regime known for its rampant human-rights violations – as ones given freely, or as of any value. But, even apart from such considerations, attributing Nikkhah’s and Lashai’s praise for the Shah to Iranian Maoism risks distorting the facts. This reductionist and dismissive view of (recanting former) ‘Maoists’ ignores the tireless efforts of Iranian Maoists who, after the Nikkhah affair, tried to reconstitute, time and again, urban-guerrilla warfare groups. Honourable mention must go to the Maoist Liberation Army of the Iranian Peoples, which carried out armed operations immediately before Siahkal and was subsequently raided by the Iranian security services. In closing, Chapter 7 briefly discusses the Tudeh Party’s ideologically-driven position against guerrilla warfare. But Tudeh’s view was informed by the party subscribing to classic Leninist vanguard-party theory, which rejected armed struggle as petit-bourgeois adventurism and terrorism. The reader is therefore left to wonder how (ruling) monarchists, (recanting) ‘Maoists’, and the Tudeh Party could be said to have been in ‘unison’ at all.

            Speaking of recanting brings us to the study’s heavy reliance on the interrogation records of the guerrillas. Rahnema does acknowledge that the reconstruction of events in SAVAK files ‘may be incomplete, even flawed, as it relies on bits and pieces of disjointed information…’ (p. 243). However, the extensive use of these files by the author implies otherwise. These interrogation records were obtained through extensive torture and under duress. The prisoners systematically deceived their interrogators, falsified information, and revealed only that which they had figured out their interrogators already knew. The prisoners were able to conceal crucial information, which is how the PFG survived even after the arrests of its cadre and leaders. Interrogations are painful games of deception. Moreover, these interrogation records were released selectively by the Islamic Republic intelligence service in order to discredit the guerrillas. The ethics of using interrogation records is never discussed in the book.

            Throughout the book (in footnotes and closing references) cited titles and bibliographical information on Persian sources are not translated into English (even publication dates are not converted into the Gregorian calendar), thus effectively preventing English-speaking readers from understanding the relevance of the sources, let alone probing them. This suggests that although the book is written in English, it is intended primarily for a Persian-speaking audience (possibly through a future translation).

            Most importantly, as I suggested earlier, the book dwells in detail on advancing the thesis that it was Jazani’s theories that brought about the downfall of the PFG in 1976. It is as commendable as it is expected of a research work, especially on the PFG with its large trail of literature, to try and interpret history in an original way. That is the idea central to, and apparently the motivation behind, this book. However, Rahnema ends up reducing the PFG’s history, theories, and operations to a deep internal, irreconcilable organisational conflict that he largely constructs. Published evidence and activist memoirs do not support this picture. On the contrary, existing literature and memoirs point to a group dynamically searching, debating, and reflecting on its theory and praxis, and, to that end, willing to try new approaches. In the end, isolating, marginalising, and discrediting Jazani’s work ends up being the central theme that runs throughout this work. The author’s approach is characterised by sensationalism, conjecture, conspiracy theory, and selectively excluding that which does not support his thesis. Let me offer a few examples.

            One way to efface Jazani’s (future) influence is to erase his ‘authorship’ of Group One’s early treatise. This is done by assigning authorship of this treatise to Jazani’s comrade Zia Zarifi. Rahnema attributes the group’s foundational pamphlet The Jazani Group’s Thesis (written in 1965–7, published clandestinely in 1967, and publicly in 1972 by Group One member Manouchehr Kalantari, Bijan’s uncle, in London) to Zia Zarifi, based on this statement: ‘Before the 1979 revolution, Kalantari had confided in Heydar Tabrizi that the pamphlet in question “was primarily (ʿomdatan) written by Hasan Zia-Zarifi”’ (p. 18). Note: ‘primarily’, not ‘exclusively’. Because the aforesaid evidence is not solid, Rahnema also uses Houshang Keshavarz Sadr’s vague statement that around this time Zia Zarifi was busy working on a treatise about a new form of struggle. He also speaks of his ‘close textual comparison’ (p. 18) (with which other text?) that is supposed finally to prove that this work was not that of Jazani but Zia Zarifi.

            Those familiar with underground literature know that such treatises most often do not have single authorship but are summaries of internal discussions, penned by designated members. While Rahnema is absolutely correct that the title The Jazani Group’s Thesis is misleading (it should have been The Jazani–Zia Zarifi Group’s Thesis) (p. 18), it is not possible, in this case, to exclusively attribute this text to any one person. One of his own citations (p. 18), a statement by Kalantari, actually captures this point precisely and contradicts his earlier claim: ‘In late 1967, the group decided to write a summation of its positions. In this effort Hassan [Zia Zarifi] and Jazani played an active role.’4

            Needlessly counterposing Zia Zarifi and Jazani also allows the book to put ‘Zia-Zarifi, Pouyan, and Ahmadzadeh’ in the same camp (p. 302), thus further isolating Jazani. Interestingly, even by the book’s own admission, the author’s contrived separation of Jazani from Zia Zarifi falls short: ‘There is more than one testimony to the fact that Jazani’s old comrades-in-arms never voiced any objections to his later theoretical works’ (p. 335). In order to insist on the differences between these old comrades, the book relies on speculation. It states, for example:

To understand why Zia-Zarifi did not object to Jazani’s new ideas, one could hypothesise that he may have changed his mind, and was now in harmony with Jazani’s new formulations. Zia-Zarifi may have believed that Jazani’s formulation of ‘walking on two legs’ did not negate military operations. He may have thought that since the masses were not joining the movement, it was time to try the ‘second leg.’ Or he may have preferred to keep out of prison debates. Perhaps out of respect for Jazani, Zia-Zarifi had preferred to keep quiet…. Finally, he may not have read the same texts that are available to us today (p. 335; my emphases).

Are these speculations (repeating ‘may have’ five times in one paragraph) necessary? Rahnema never considers the fact that there is no evidence suggesting the two men had any major disagreements in the first place, and the so-called disagreements between them are the author’s own construct.

            Jazani’s own writings mention the dual origins of the PFG in terms of Group One and Group Two.5 Rahnema reworks these terms, offering instead the respective designations: HAS (Hassanpour, Ashraf, Safai-Farahani) and PAM (Pouyan, Ahmadzadeh, Meftahi). In sketching the formation and activities of these two formative groups, Rahnema does an excellent job. Yet, in order to show that HAS had nothing to do with Jazani, he erases Jazani’s connections (from prison and however precariously) with HAS and vice-versa. Eliminating indirectly Jazani’s influence (through his surviving comrades) on the PFG serves the author’s purpose of treating him as an outsider and a conspirator who wished to take over a popular guerrilla group. To disconnect Jazani from HAS, Rahnema selectively drops two important pieces of evidence in a source that he references: Mihan Jazani’s long memoir about her husband (Chapter 5; pp. 54–6).

            He cites Mihan Jazani to (correctly) establish Jazani’s authorship of What a Revolutionary Should Know. He leaves out of Mihan’s testimony, however, the story about Safai Farahani contacting, via Mihan, Jazani in prison in 1969 (during his trial), offering him an escape plan, which Jazani rejects.6 Jazani also planned his own escape from Qom prison in 1970, which involved Seyed Ahmadi (supposedly a member of the PAM group) and Hamid Ashraf. When Mihan reported to Jazani that Ashraf had not shown up to their rendezvous, Jazani was alarmed and abandoned the plan.7 Through coded cues, Jazani continuously instructed Mihan on how to contact the activists outside the prison.8Clearly, before the HAS group was entangled in the Siahkal operation, they regarded Jazani as their comrade, too precious a figure to be left in prison. Jazani also never lost contact with his comrades in other prisons.9

            But what really is at stake here? Rahnema is critical of Jazani envisioning armed struggle as a catalyst for a larger, organised popular movement that would eventually bring about the monarchy’s downfall. Jazani was in the same camp as Ahmadzadeh and Pouyan in believing that armed struggle alone could not overthrow the regime. But he questioned the strategic role of armed struggle and even its sustainability, in contrast to Pouyan and Ahmadzadeh, with whom Rahnema uncritically sides. Pouyan and Ahmadzadeh believed that armed struggle would release the pent-up rage of the deprived masses and lead to a popular uprising. The two figures produced the PFG’s founding ideas but unfortunately were captured and killed, and thus had no time to theorise how armed struggle would lead to a popular movement.

            In a nutshell, as a founder of armed struggle in Iran, Jazani held that armed struggle would produce the vanguard of the working class and people, and PFG should organise people into support and political-activity networks that would engage in public protest and activism, depending on the regime’s restricting or relaxing of repression. A review of armed movements around the world (instead of the cursory survey of literature by Mao, Che, Marighella, and Tupamaros given in Chapter 9) would show that many movements did engage in dual military–civilian activism, even under repressive regimes, although at times with considerable friction between the two wings. A prominent case is that of the African National Congress and uMkhonto we Sizwe in South Africa (ANC and MK, the political and military wings; Nelson Mandela was co-founder and head of MK). The Irish Republican Army and Sinn Féin (The Workers’ Party), with a looser connection between them, is another case. As is well known, the Cuban revolutionaries’ guerrilla warfare was accompanied by numerous workers’ strikes in the cities and countryside, as the movement proceeded to overthrow the Batista regime. In fact, the movement relied heavily on a general strike to bring down the regime. Other examples abound.10 Therefore, having military and political wings is not a ludicrous idea, as Rahnema seems to want us to think.

            Jazani expressly upheld the central or ‘pivotal role’ of armed struggle. Let me quickly reconstruct Jazani’s position circa 1973:

The strategy (mashy) of the revolutionary movement at this stage is a combination of military (nezami), political, and economic struggles in which the military form [of struggle] plays a pivotal and fundamental role. Armed struggle does not mean to treat militant (nezami) tactics as absolutes. Employing peaceful (mosalematamiz) tactics alongside militant tactics is not just important because they [peaceful methods] support militant tactics. These [peaceful] tactics play an important role in mobilising the masses and connecting them to the vanguard. Furthermore, militant tactics at this stage have an awareness-raising (agah sazandeh) and propaganda (tabliqi) essence.11

In short, armed struggle establishes the vanguard in society, while militant-guided peaceful activism enables the mobilisation of the people. Since Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), Marxists have been diligently working on linking the spontaneous movements of the masses with the planned and directing socialist movement. Here, Jazani provides a solution for how to do so, in this particular Iranian case. Ahmadzadeh did not have time to theorise popular mobilisation. For Rahnema, ‘Ahmadzadeh repeatedly spoke about the masses “gradually” joining the vanguard after “a lengthy armed struggle”’ (p. 323), but no evidence is provided to demonstrate to the reader how Ahmadzadeh formulated this position. This is not even done in Chapter 4, dedicated to Ahmadzadeh’s thought, other than through an assertion concerning Ahmadzadeh’s shortcomings: ‘Ahmadzadeh … believed that once the armed struggle began and became sustained, it would automatically generate momentum among the masses’ (p. 52).

            In any case, Jazani’s solution is unacceptable to Rahnema, which is certainly fine, but his disagreement with Jazani, as mentioned above, skews his view of the PFG’s history. Let me point out a few examples. Having realised that the PFG needed a change in direction around 1973, Ashraf began distributing Jazani’s prison writings among key cadres, and following Jazani’s recommendation, carefully and gradually planned to organise non-combatant units for organising factory-workers.

            Yet, the book intentionally distorts Jazani’s vision to depict it as absurd. Note how Rahnema’s reading appropriates a short statement of Jazani’s in order to misrepresent Jazani’s ideas in the following paragraph:

The guerrillas were instructed to become involved with and ‘serve the political and economic struggles of the people.’ In practical terms this meant that the guerrillas were to engage in trade union activities, student protests, and political agitation, as well as issuing and distributing declarations and samizdat (clandestine) literature. Jazani believed that guerrilla fighters in Iran could lead double lives of violent-peaceful, secret-public, soldier-civilian, and illegal-legal (p. 315; my emphases).

These false binaries, attributed to Jazani, make Jazani’s position sound absurd. Everyone knows that underground militants, who were continually hunted down by security forces, could not take part in open or civil-society activism. Yes, many militants were assigned to maintaining contacts with university students and other activists to supply them PFG publications and receive money and supplies from them, but is that the same as a ‘solider-civilian’?

            Moreover, the book conjures up claims without any references: ‘In practical terms, Jazani was instructing Hamid Ashraf…, to pull out an unspecified number of his guerrillas from active combat and to relocate them toward overt and legal activities’ (p. 304; my emphasis). The reader deserves to see evidence for this claim, which is not provided. In addition, Rahnema suggests that, ‘[i]n the context of Jazani’s “new forms of struggle,” armed struggle was in effect given an accessory role’ (p. 302). Again, the reader is not given any reference for this interpretation. Another unfounded claim, presented as if Jazani’s position were a cardinal sin, is made when the book states: ‘Jazani was coming very close to formally renouncing armed struggle without actually saying it’ (p. 326). In fact, the book tries to ridicule Jazani’s insistence that the movement should use every peaceful means under dictatorship by making it sound contradictory: ‘The logical outcome of Jazani’s formulation was that Iran was both undemocratic and democratic’ (p. 314).

            Not only does this book not provide a solid demonstration that Jazani was wrong in his theorisation, but the PFG’s turn toward Jazani’s ideas is portrayed as conspiratorial, a ‘secretive delinking’ (p. 337) of the PFG from Ahmadzadeh and Pouyan, thanks in part to Rahnema’s sensationalist language. Ahmadzadeh is portrayed as Jazani’s ‘unnamed nemesis’ (p. 321). For Rahnema, Jazani’s critiques of Ahmadzadeh are ‘attacks’ because they ‘were unfounded’ (p. 324). Sensationalist chapter titles, ‘softly disarming armed struggle’ (Chapter 22) and ‘Jazani’s ideological offensive in prison’ (Chapter 23) set the stage for a Jazani who is supposedly driven by ulterior motives: ‘Jazani was trying to reclaim the position of the senior and seasoned theoretical leader of the Marxist revolutionary struggle’ (p. 298) and ‘prove his theoretical supremacy’ (p. 299). To that end, to ‘cleanse the Fadai movement of Ahmadzadeh’s influence, and impose his own, Jazani was hoping to influence the Fadais fighting away from the battlefield’ (p. 326). By implementing Jazani’s ideas in the PFG, Ashraf proved to be a leading advocate of Jazani, but Rahnema still puts Ashraf in the same camp as his favourite theorists, and against a conspiratorial Jazani: ‘Outright collision with Pouyan, Ahmadzadeh, and Ashraf would have quickly resulted in him [Jazani] being ostracized from the community of revolutionary Marxists’ (pp. 299–300).

            To show that even the PFG itself did not recognise Jazani as a founder of the armed struggle, Rahnema refers to the PFG organ, Nabard-e Khalq (People’s Combat, № 6, May 1975), and he observes: ‘There was, however, no reference to Jazani as the pioneer or the theoretician of armed struggle or to the Jazani Group as the forerunner of the Siyahkal assault’ (p. 357; footnotes 10, 11 and 12 on that page reference pp. 107–8, 109–10 of Nabard-e Khalq, № 6). The omission is staggering. In the same issue of Nabard-e Khalq we read: ‘The Jazani group was among the most learned (agahtarin), honest (sadeqtarin), and outstanding (barjastehtarin) of Iranian communists. They were the first persons to arrive at the necessity of armed struggle in Iran and prepared for it truthfully (sadeqaneh).’12 Yet, Rahnema still claims: ‘People’s Combat softly criticized some of Jazani’s writings, attributing their shortcomings to prison conditions and limited communication with the Fadai Organization’ (p. 357; reference to p. 109 of Nabard-e Khalq, № 6). This is yet another distortion: immediately before this point, Nabard-e Khalq reads: ‘these works [of Jazani] were among the best books for theoretical training of our Organisation’s comrades.13 In fact, Nabard-e Khalq was already promoting Jazani’s idea of mobilising workers through armed propaganda in 1974.14

            Consistently, this book deploys Jazani as a strawman. Rahnema systematically avoids fully presenting Jazani’s arguments in order to strengthen his own arguments. The biased reading of Jazani’s work at times also yields mistranslations of his work. For example, in the book the following claim is made: ‘Jazani argued that “even if” yesterday the formation of revolutionary cells and the conduct of armed struggle “may have seemed overall correct,” today a repetition (dar ja zadan) of the experience “could seriously damage the working class and liberation movement”’ (p. 358). What Jazani actually wrote, however, is: ‘If yesterday this form of struggle [organising combatant units] seemed correct overall, repeating them today and at this stage can hurt the working class and liberation movement.’15 Jazani starts with the Persian ‘agar’ or ‘if’, but in Rahnema’s translation we have ‘even if’ (which would have been ‘hatta agar’ in Persian). The mistranslation is instructive: ‘even if’ introduces a hypothetical clause, meaning ‘regardless of’, which suggests that Jazani did not believe in armed struggle to begin with. Using ‘if’, however, Jazani is writing a conditional sentence, proposing that armed struggle was indeed correct previously, but things cannot continue in that manner any longer.

            The book needlessly reads the PFG’s history as a battleground between the cunning Jazani and pro-Ahmadzadeh militants, which is far from the truth. This approach does not serve Ahmadzadeh either: the book misrepresents Jazani, but by treating Ahmadzadeh’s theory as a static given, without life, it also misunderstands Ahmadzadeh. He tries to promote Ahmadzadeh’s work only by contrasting it to Jazani’s allegedly conspiratorial writings, when he should simply have shown the theoretical merits of Ahmadzadeh, which he never does. In any case, the author does not believe that PFG members could have re-evaluated their methods. That is why, while offering fascinating organisational details, Call to Arms reduces the PFG to their now-expired internal debates and condemns them to a bygone past. The book’s PFG is a group permeated with factionalism and conspiracy. There is no attempt to connect intra-organisational disagreements to debates within international Marxism or national-liberation movements. The valuable opportunity to bring the PFG’s history to light and to life in the transnational context of Marxism, national revolutions, and revolutionary theories is thus sadly missed.



Centre for Study of Historical Documents 2001, Chap dar Iran beh ravayat-e asnad-e SAVAK: Sazman-e Cherikha-ye Fadai Khalq [The Left in Iran according to SAVAK Documents: Organisation of People’s Fadai Guerrillas], Tehran: Centre for the Study of Historical Documents of the Ministry of Intelligence.

Gott, Richard 2008, Guerrilla Movements in Latin America, Kolkata: Seagull Books.

Jazani, Bijan 1975, ‘Vahdat va Naqsh-e Estratezhik-e Cherikha-ye Fadai-ye Khalq [Unity and the Strategic Role of People’s Fadai Guerrillas]’, Nabard-e Khalq, № 6, May 1975.

Jazani, Bijan 1978, Nabard ba Diktatori-ye Shah [War Against the Shah’s Dictatorship], n.p.: OIPFG.

Jazani, Mihan 1999, ‘Bijan: Ma’shuq, Rafiq, Hamsar [Bijan: Lover, Comrade, Spouse]’, in Jong-i darbareh-ye zendegi va asar-e Bizhan Jazani [On the Life and Works of Bijan Jazani], edited by the Centre for the Collection and Publication of Works of Bijan Jazani, Paris: Éditions Khavaran.

Naderi, Mahmoud 2008, Cherikha-ye Fadai-ye Khalq: az nokhostin konesh ta Bahman-e 1357, jeld-e avval [People’s Fadai Guerrillas: From their First Acts until February 1979, Volume 1], Tehran: Political Studies and Research Institutes.

Vahabzadeh, Peyman 2010, A Guerrilla Odyssey: Modernization, Secularism, Democracy, and the Fadai Period of National Liberation in Iran, 1971–1979, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.




  • 1. Naderi 2008.
  • 2. Centre for Study of Historical Documents 2001.
  • 3. Vahabzadeh 2010.
  • 4. Goruh-e Jazani-Zarifi: pishtaz-e jonbesh-e mosallahaneh-e Iran [The Jazani-Zarifi Group: Vanguard of the Armed Movement in Iran], 19 Bahman-e Teoric, № 4 (July 1975), p. 107. Although published anonymously, it is acknowledged that Jazani was the author of this text.
  • 5. These include: The Jazani-Zarifi Group (above) and the anonymously published Goruh-e Ahmadzadeh-Puyan-Meft ahi pishahang-e jonbesh-e mosalahaneh-ye Iran [The Ahmadzadeh-Puyan-Meftahi Group: Vanguard of the Armed Movement in Iran], 19 Bahman-e Teorik, № 7 (June 1976). These were both penned by Jazan in prison and published by Kalantari in London. He must have been the person in question who added the biographies to these histories.
  • 6. Jazani 1999, pp. 53–4.
  • 7. Jazani 1999, p. 71.
  • 8. Jazani 1999, pp. 68–9.
  • 9. Jazani 1999, p. 69.
  • 10. For a compelling survey of Latin American cases, see Gott 2008.
  • 11. Jazani 1978, p. 38.
  • 12. OIPFG, Nabard-e Khalq, № 6, May 1975, pp. 107–8.
  • 13. OIPFG, Nabard-e Khalq, № 6, May 1975, p. 109.
  • 14. OIPFG, Nabard-e Khalq, № 5, December 1974–January 1975, pp. 71–2.
  • 15. Jazani 1975, p. 118.
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