A few days ago I received an e-mail from a friend which contained a chain of discussion between himself and one of his political associates. At some point in our past the three of us were part of the same organization espousing Trotsky’s variation of Marxists views. Their discussion was very heated where the subject of discussion was lost among the personal attack on each other – a typical leftist exchange. A couple of decades earlier both of them were united in their opposition to me. I have noted my memories of that discussion in another web site (this link). I am not trying to revive the old disputes, but this e-mail brought to my attention the continuation of the fragmentation of our old organization. As a matter of fact, this fragmentation was not only our problem but the problem of the entire spectrum of leftists. They continuously fragmented.
Some even associate this fragmentation as the root cause of Khomeini’s consolidation of power and his successful suppression of the left in Iran. Some think that if the left in Iran were united, Khomeini could not have gained his central role. There is some evidence for that. The Shah's regime became isolated outside Iran because of the activities of the Iranian students and intellectuals studying and working abroad, exposing its atrocities. These activities were entirely dominated by the leftists and Islamists had very little to no role in it. The initial protests in Iran were ignited by the students and the intellectuals heavily influenced by the leftists. It was only through fragmentation of the left and their race to support Khomeini that he took the center stage. So one can imagine that if the left had acted differently, more in unison, then the story of the Iranian revolution could have been otherwise. This is a big if, more in the category of wishful thinking. But can one say anything about this continuous fragmentation?
A few observations: For one the left in Iran has been more ideological than political. At important junctures in its history it could not develop a leadership with an adequate political assessment of the relationship of forces, both at the national and international levels. Monolithic organizational structures were a barrier to discussions. Many with roots in the western countries would simply splinter. The Leninist democratic centralism could be implemented in the Soviet Union, China and Cuba with an iron fist. But it was not a tool for unity to the leftist organizations that had their roots and the bulk of their development in the west. The democratic traditions of the west proved to be a stronger force than the democratic centralism of Lenin. Once a question was raised in these organizations it would quickly turn into ideological squabbles to bolster the internal cliques. What was to prevent each clique from going its own way? These squabbles and the formation of tight knit cliques were not foreign to the members. These formations actually were in tune with the backward tribal traditions that they were coming from. Also illusions about the national and international events continuously undermined a sober assessment of the issues that could cut through these squabbles.