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Homa Katouzian on Khalil Maleki | Part 1: Nonalignment and the 'Third Force'


12 Apr 2012 16:47Comments
Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi is a doctoral student in modern Middle East studies at Queens College, University of Oxford. IDÉ is where ideas are discussed in the magazine.
[ IDÉ ] Dr. Homa Katouzian was born in Iran and teaches Iranian history and literature at St. Antony's College and the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford. He is the editor of the journal Iranian Studies and author most recently of The Persians: Ancient, Medieval and Modern Iran (2009).

In this interview, Katouzian discusses the life and work of Khalil Maleki (1901-69), one of 20th-century Iran's most interesting and original political and intellectual figures, whose historical importance and profound insights have come to be appreciated only decades after his death.

This outline of Maleki's political activities and intellectual contribution provides an introduction to a figure who played a decisive role in the evolution and transformation of the Iranian left, and who very much against the current of his time forged a social democratic alternative in the context of the Cold War against and between Soviet totalitarianism and Western imperial machinations. When placed in their appropriate context, his critique of Soviet communism and advocacy of nonalignment are clearly exceptional for their time. Furthermore, the alternative he offered has retained its appeal for many to this day, with its basis in a call for national independence and transformative sociopolitical reform on the domestic front. His progressive cultural criticism and stances vis-à-vis women's rights and a host of other issues make Maleki of abiding relevance to Iranians and their destiny in the 21st century. The many democratic-egalitarian ideals he espoused passionately during turbulent times remain to be realized in his homeland over 40 years since his passing, giving good reason for a review of his contributions and legacy.

Though the literature in English on Maleki remains very sparse, Katouzian has written several essays about him and has been pivotal, as well, in the republication of his writings in Farsi. Katouzian is supremely qualified, then, to provide an accessible introduction in English to an Iranian thinker, political strategist, and statesman whose name is rarely, if ever, heard in contemporary debates about the future of Iranian democratic and egalitarian politics -- a man who symbolizes not only Iran's rich legacy of social democratic politics, but also a political order Iranians may well strive to realize in the future.

mal.jpgDr. Katouzian, prior to addressing the life and work of Maleki specifically, could you please explain something of the history of the term "intellectual" ("rowshanfekr," or "monavvar al-fekr") and its role in Iranian intellectual life?

It was during the constitutionalist movement of the late 19th century that the modern intellectual elite emerged -- that is, the growing body of people who were then known as monavvar al-fekran, and, since the 1940s, rowshanfekran. There were two principal outside models for this new elite, even though there were important differences between them. One was the contemporary Russian intelligentsia, whose ideas and attitudes had made a large impact on the thinking and aspirations of monavvar al-fekran. The other -- less obvious, but in certain respects more important and more enduring -- model was the French intellectual tradition.

In effect, the French are the inventors of modern intellectualism and the intellectual elite in the narrow and specialized senses of these terms employed here. The first discernible body of modern intellectuals in history, although they were not then so called, were the 18th-century philosophes, such men and women as Voltaire, Diderot, D'Alembert, Helvétius, D'Holbach, Émilie (Marquise) du Châtelet, and Madame de Staël, most of whom were otherwise known as encyclopédistes. The term "intellectual" -- as a noun (rather than an adjective), and in the sense meant here -- was first used towards the closing years of the 19th century, especially in the wake of the campaign led by Émile Zola and his supporters in the Dreyfus affair. It was applied by Georges Clemenceau -- later to become French war leader and nicknamed "The Tiger" -- to the men of letters and knowledge such as Anatole France who had signed the manifesto in support of Zola's campaign against the top French military leaders' terrible injustice to Captain Dreyfus.

Since then, les intellectuels referred to a fairly well defined elite subject to controversy from various viewpoints. Julien's Benda's La Trahison des Clercs (1927) and Raymond Aron's L'Opium des Intellectuels (1955) are two of the most celebrated critical essays on French intellectuals. It is not unlikely that [Jalal] Al-e Ahmad was aware of Benda's essay when he first wrote the article "Dar Khiyanat-e Rowshanfekran," since Benda's essay also castigates French intellectuals. However, Al-e Ahmad's critique of Iranian intellectuals (in that article and his later book, Dar Khedmat va Khiyanat-e Rowshanfekran) entirely refers to the Iranian experience.

Like its 18th-century counterpart, the Iranian intellectual elite also were and remained an essentially dissident movement. Hence, in its usage in France, the appellation "intellectual" usually excluded academics and other intellectuals who were either establishmentarian or quietist. When Raymond Aron, the distinguished French sociologist and erstwhile fellow-student of Jean-Paul Sartre at the École Normale, described Marxism as the "opium of intellectuals," he was obviously excluding himself from the group in the special sense that the term was normally used in that country. In Iran, likewise, the term was used in that sense, and usually excluded nondissident academics and intellectuals. At the risk of overemphasizing the point, it should be stressed that the distinction described here is not intended as anything except to comply with the normal usage of the term at the time and in the countries concerned: it is not based on a definition or a value judgment by me.

Thus the French and the Russians provided the main background for modern Iranian intellectuals, monavvar al-fekran and rowshanfekran. Yet the phenomenon was not unfamiliar from Iranian history, and had a counterpart in various forms throughout the ages. It had existed in the form of thinkers and intellectual critics like Farabi, Ibn Sina, and Razi, or radical poets and campaigners such as Naser Khosrow, or countless mystic thinkers, leaders, and poets such as Bayazid, Abu Said, Attar, Sohravardi, Rumi, and others. Such men and ideas had been traditional vehicles for social and political (including religious) protest and dissent.

One of their obligatory codes of practice was to shun the state and state-related power. It is well known that Shia theory did not regard the state as legitimate unless ordained by God for the anointed Imams, despite the fact that in practice the ulema coexisted with it and some of them drew privileges from it. But the ongoing conflict of state and society in Iran was a familiar phenomenon from much earlier -- in fact, since ancient times, arising from the arbitrary nature of government and (corresponding) chaotic trends of the society. Thus, the society saw the state as an alien force, and so did the dissident thinkers, mystics, and poets who expressed, and sometimes articulated, the society's sentiments.

In the 1940s, the Tudeh Party was formed mainly by Marxist intellectuals, some of whom had just been released from jail. It was not yet a communist party either in name or politics, or in outlook and method. It resembled more closely a popular or democratic front, which was run by Marxist intellectuals and activists, just like those in occupied Europe to resist Nazi rule. In fact, it was from about 1949 that it became a solid communist party in language, ideas, and international allegiance, having put behind it three crucial stages: the Azerbaijan crisis of 1945-46, the ensuing party split of January 1948 (which was led by Khalil Maleki), and the official banning of the party in February 1949.

The story of Iranian intellectuals in the 1940s and '50s is largely the story of the Tudeh Party, including those who remained faithful to it, those who led its splinter group and founded other left-wing movements, and those who left it quietly and gave up political activism. It would be difficult to find any leading [dissident] intellectual of the 1940s and '50s, other than Ahmad Kasravi, who had not been a Tudeh member or fellow traveler in the early 1940s, although many of them were later disillusioned with it and some actively opposed it.

Thus, in the '40s and '50s, the approach and language of the main body of Iranian intellectuals -- whether Tudeh or non-Tudeh -- was leftist, though not necessarily communist. There were sometimes major differences among them, for example, over their attitude towards Mosaddegh's government and towards the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. But, in various degrees, they were anti-imperialist, secular, and modernist. They were poets, writers, critics, essayists, journalists, and translators, though hardly any of them made his or her living from these activities. They either taught, or had lower- or middle-ranking jobs in a public office or institution.

Could you give us some background on Maleki's childhood and adolescence and how it shaped his worldview? Though he was born in 1901, did the legacy of the Constitutional Revolution have an impact upon his formative years growing up in Tabriz and then Arak?

Maleki was born in Tabriz in 1901 and died in Tehran in 1969. His father -- Hajj Mirza Fath'ali -- was a well-to-do merchant and supporter of the constitutional movement. As a boy he witnessed the siege of Tabriz after Mohammad Ali Shah's coup, during which their home was more than once looted by the government forces. The death of his father and subsequent remarriage of his mother found the young Maleki in Soltan-Abad (later Arak) where he went to the traditional schools, maktab and madreseh. In the early 1920s, he attended the German Technical College in Tehran and following that succeeded in winning a highly competitive state scholarship to study in Europe. He had already been attracted to politics and socialism in Tehran and cites, in a series of unfinished autobiographical essays, his somewhat disillusioning meeting with Soleiman Mirza, the then parliamentary socialist leader. This interest was to be widened as well as deepened because of the rising political conflict in Europe (which at the time was probably at its height in Berlin, where he studied chemistry), the reemergence of arbitrary rule in Iran, and his contact with other radical students, notably Taghi Arani.

The highly prized state scholarship was withdrawn after a student committed suicide and Maleki insisted on a full investigation, which the Iranian Embassy staff were trying to avoid. They branded him as a communist (which he was not) and sent him back to Tehran where he studied philosophy and education (falsafeh va olum-e tarbiyati) to become a secondary-school teacher in chemistry.

In 1937, Maleki was arrested as a member of the famous Group of Fifty-Three. What effect did this have on his ideological predilections and political affiliation?

Early in 1937, he was arrested, tried, and convicted as one of the Fifty-Three. Like most of them, he was not yet a Marxist but became one in prison. By all accounts, notably that of Bozorg Alavi's Panjah o seh Nafar, he behaved with exceptional courage and dignity while in jail. This included his clash with prison authorities over the prisoners' rights, which led to his being whipped, sent to the common criminals' ward, and -- after he began to deliver a speech to them -- held in a toilet cell for months.

Maleki had had social democratic leanings without being a member of any organization. Ironically, however, once in jail he and most of the other 52 prisoners became Marxist. They even managed to smuggle a German copy of Das Kapital, read it, and translate it for other prisoners.

But, as he later explained in numerous places, he was disillusioned and disappointed with many of his comrades because he regarded the attitude of many of them as amoral, opportunistic, unprincipled, or undignified. He therefore decided not to join them if and when they were released and launched a political party.

What was Maleki's relationship to the Tudeh Party, and why did he decide to part ways with many of his erstwhile colleagues in January 1948? What role did the Azerbaijani crisis and the Tudeh's proximity to the USSR play in provoking the party split?

That was why he refused to become a founding member of the Tudeh Party in 1941, when Reza Shah abdicated in the wake of the Allied occupation of the country. But within a year or so, some of the party's leading young intellectuals persuaded him to join the party with the express purpose of helping them to reform its leadership and program. It must be emphasized that it was not yet a communist party but a reformist popular front committed to democracy and constitutional monarchy.

The party opposition thus became known as the Reformist Wing (Jenah-e Eslah-talab). They had growing complaints, which they summarized as (a) the leadership's bureaucratic attitude within, and conservative policy without, the party and (b) its submissive attitude toward the Soviet Embassy in Tehran. The party somehow managed to survive its ongoing internal conflicts, notably those over the first party congress and the unsuccessful Soviet demand for an oil concession.

But the Azerbaijan crisis brought matters to a head. As the head of the provincial Tudeh Party in Azerbaijan, Maleki had been critical of the attitude and behavior both of the Soviet occupying forces and of Pishevari's Democrats. He opposed both the Tudeh Party's formal affiliation with the Democrats in Azerbaijan and its very short-lived participation in Ahmad Qavam's coalition government -- in the latter case, simply because he thought Qavam would ditch them at the first opportunity, as in fact he did.

The catastrophic failure of these policies, and the internal party struggles which followed, heightened the conflict within less than a year of the collapse of the Azerbaijan Democrats. The young reformist intellectuals -- led by Jalal Al-e Ahamad -- were in contact both with the young and fiery theorist Eprime Eshag and the "elder" statesman of the party opposition, Khalil Maleki. It was they who persuaded Maleki to lead the famous split of January 1948.

The Soviet Union immediately denounced the split and branded its leaders as agents of British imperialism. They therefore abandoned the idea of launching another party and decided to lie low for a time. The time for reflection enabled Maleki to discover the roots of the problem in Soviet Stalinism, on the one hand, and Marxist-Leninist ideology, on the other. He openly denounced the former and grew out of the latter by making it clear that he was no longer a Leninist nor did he subscribe to the Marxist ideology, although he still used Marxian concepts wherever suitable.

What was his relationship with other left-leaning intellectuals and political activists after the split, for instance, Iraj Eskandari or Bozorg Alavi? These were, after all, men with whom he had become acquainted in jail, engendering something of a bond between them. Moreover, his critique of both Stalinism and Marxist-Leninism were indeed very novel for their time; very few even in the West had dared to openly question such pieties in the early stages of the Cold War. What impact did this have upon Maleki's relationship to the Iranian left, but also the USSR, which had denounced the Tudeh split as a deviationist current and plot hatched by British imperialism?

Originally much of the conflict in the party had been with men like that because of their bureaucratic attitude in the party leadership and submissive position vis-à-vis the Soviet Embassy. They were to be joined by others such as Abdossamad Kambakhsh, Nureddin Kiyanuri, and Ehsan Tabari. Immediately after the split, they joined the chorus of condemnation and signed the statement castigating Maleki and the others. Eprime Eshag told me that he did not join the split, anticipating the hysteria that they would face. Soon after, however, Dr. Fereydun Keshavarz went and asked him to sign a condemnation letter against his splitting colleagues. He told Keshavarz that he would write a statement detailing their grievances and saying they were absolutely right but ending by saying that the split was a mistake. "No, this is unacceptable," said Keshavarz, to which I replied, "If this is unacceptable, that too is unacceptable." The pressure was so high that after a few days he resigned from the party.

You must imagine the extreme Soviet popularity three years after winning the war, especially in a third-world country neighbor like Iran, to be able to gauge the amount of courage that it took to clash with it. This was before Marshal Tito's split with Stalin, as a result of which the entire world communist movement gave him the title Marshal of Traitors. As it happened, Maleki had been the official Tudeh Party contact with the Yugoslav embassy in Tehran, which immediately after the split denounced him.

What was Maleki's main intellectual contribution? Is it correct to see him as one of the prominent intellectual progenitors of the nonaligned movement?

He certainly was one of the earliest theorists of nonalignment. He coined the term Third Force (as distinct from the first -- Western -- and the second -- Eastern -- blocs), long before the term "third world" came into existence. Not only did he create the concept but he also based a theory on it. He introduced two principal concepts: "The Third Force in General" and "The Third Force in Particular." The "general" concept referred to the desire and/or efforts to break free from the two (Western and Eastern) stereotypes everywhere in the world, outside the U.S. and USSR. The "Third World in Particular" referred, in addition, to anticolonial and social democratic aspirations and campaigns in the third-world countries, such as the Popular Movement of Iran. These were countries which "neither feel free in Mr. Truman's free world, nor do they see any sign of socialism in in the Soviet Union's socialist camp." It was clear at the outset that the Third Force theory went well beyond a mere articulation of the foreign policy of nonalignment, though this itself was quite an original idea at the time and formed a small part of Maleki's theory. I have discussed the Third Force theory at length in my introduction to Maleki's political memoirs, which I edited and published in 1981.

What led to Maleki's founding of the Toilers Party of the People of Iran (Hezb-e Zahmatkeshan-e Mellat-e Iran) with the political activist and newspaper editor Mozaffar Baghaei?

The campaign, at the close of the 15th Majles, against the Supplemental Oil Agreement (better known as the Gass-Golshaiyan agreement) quickly widened into a movement for free elections and democratic government, shortly to be known as the Popular Movement (Nehzat-e Melli). This happened almost at the same time as the banning of the Tudeh Party after the attempt on the Shah's life in February 1949. The popular democratic forces closed rank and began to form a broadly based coalition. Mosaddegh, who was not a 15th Majlis deputy, was brought out of his self-imposed "political retirement" to lead the movement. The National Front was formed during the struggles for free elections in Tehran. Baghaei was leading his very effective Action Group for Free Elections (Sazman-e Nezarat bar Azadi-ye Entekhabat) when, in September 1949, he launched his weekly newspaper Shahed.

Shortly afterwards, Jalal Al-e Ahmad joined its voluntary staff and persuaded Maleki to write for the newspaper. The immediate result was the series of articles later published in a volume entitled The Clash of Views and Ideas. The cooperation with Shahed continued until May 1951, when -- in the wake of Mosaddegh's assumption of office -- Maleki and the remnants of the Tudeh splinter group and Baghaei and his Action Group formed Hezb-e Zahmatkeshan-e Mellat-e Iran, or the Toilers Party ("mellat," incidentally, here meant "people," not "nation"). This was to become a serious rival for the Tudeh Party in attracting students, youths, and working people -- especially after Baghaei's split and the creation of the Third Force Party -- although it was inevitably a considerably smaller organization.

What provoked the break with Baghaei and the emergence of Maleki's party, Niru-ye Sevvom?

The relationship between Baghaei and Mosaddegh began to run into difficulty within the first year of Mosaddegh's premiership. But their public cooperation was to endure until after the successful revolt of July 1952 against Ahmad Qavam's short-lived ministry. Baghaei's view at that time that the Toilers Party should declare war on Mosaddegh's government was rejected by Maleki's wing of the party, whereupon Baghaei arranged the party split of October 1952, and the Maleki wing continued under the Third Force title. They were the only Popular Movement party that discussed government policy critically but, unlike Baghaei, they would not enter a destructive opposition against Mosaddegh's government.

Afterward, the Third Force grew at a rapid rate, while the government's position tended to weaken, not least because of the split within the movement's leadership, with Baghaei, Kashani, and a few others attacking it. The conflict came to a head on February 28, 1953, when the movement's splinter group supported the riots against Mosaddegh upon the Shah's announcement that he intended to go on a trip to Europe. In the event, the Third Force played a visible role in saving the situation, and Mosaddegh formally thanked them by inviting Maleki and 30 of the party activists to his home.

When, in July of that year, Mosaddegh decided to hold a referendum to close the 17th Majles and hold fresh elections, Maleki and his party tried to dissuade him from it on the ground that the recess would offer a golden opportunity for the openly anticipated coup attempt. Many other Popular Movement leaders also thought that it was an unwise move. Mosaddegh disagreed, so that -- in a meeting witnessed by Karim Sanjabi -- Maleki spoke the now famous, prophetic words, "The path which you are treading will lead straight to Hell; but we shall accompany you to it, nonetheless."

End of Part 1 | Part 2: Katouzian describes Maleki's advocacy of woman's rights and opposition to conspiracy-theory politics

see also | The Persians: An Interview with Homa Katouzian (Part One) | The Persians: An Interview with Homa Katouzian (Part Two)

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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