The Leadership Hegemony after the Ideological Revolution (1)

The article is compiled in two parts. It aims at reviewing the development of leadership in MKO from the beginning up to 1985. Next , the term ‘leadership’ in the context of ideological revolution would be defined and compared to the statements made by MKO’s ex-members concerning anti-democratic nature of Rajavi’s personal leadership and its role in the strategic failures of organization. As such, three relative topics will be discussed: leadership in MKO, leadership in ideological revolution, and the reasons of the ex-members’ opposition to hegemonic and ideological leadership of Rajavi.

Leadership constitutes one of the major issues of ideological revolution in MKO. In fact, the ideological revolution set up the meeting-point wherein the council leadership, referred to as the democratic centralism, was delegated to Massoud Rajavi. Although in the organization’s manifest the council leadership is considered to be a taken for granted and unalterable issue, many critics as well as MKO’s ex-members believe that the organization has been led under Rajavi’s hegemony.

Based on the resources of the organization itself, the significance of council leadership has been elaborated. Since the definition is derived out of Marxist doctrines and explicitly that of Mao’s viewpoints concerning collective leadership, of course it has its roots in dialectic Materialism which Mojahedin strongly believe to be instrumental for further comprehension of the council leadership. Elucidated on the structure and the best standards needed for conducting a revolutionary organization we read:

Centralism, as the highest decision-making organ, consists of the most qualified elements that in whole build up the most appropriately composed structure within an establishment. That is to say, the leading cadre is appointed based on the cadres’ prime qualifications that were manifested through a variety of revolutionary assignments. [1]

Also, in drawing a clear demarcation between democratic centralism and non-revolutionary, reactionary apparatus exploited by dictatorial and hegemonic controllers Mao is quoted:

In non-revolutionary (reactionary) systems (dictatorial administrations and military commanding echelon in reactionary armies) leadership is either hegemonic or simply a formality that have no logical conformity with the leader’s position and qualifications. Differently, in a revolutionary organization the most qualified elements in whole take the sensitive role of leadership upon themselves. [2]

In contrast to these statements, a brief look at the history of MKO from the beginning up to the ideological revolution, and also in two other critical phases of mass arrests in 1971 and the ideological schism in 1975, reveals the traces of hegemonic leadership. In an analysis of the chief reasons leading to tragic events of 1971, the charismatic leadership of Hanifnejad was concluded to be of significant impact which led to a decision on his intra-organizational execution. According to Lotfollah Meisami:

…Also indicated in the message was that because of his remiss, the leader had to be executed within the organization. They came to the conclusion that Hanifnejad, known to be the ideological symbol, had to commit suicide. [3]

However, Pahlavi’s regime executed Hanifnejad and the issue was totally forgotten. In the next phase, the schism, Mojahedin believe Shahram’s hegemony as well as the impact of Marxism and non-revolutionary traits led to the schism within the organization. Since then, Rajavi, inside the prison, gained a central status in the leadership to the point that in (30 Khordad) June 1981, he individually decided and declared the armed struggle phase. Rajavi has repeatedly acknowledged his full responsibility for the decision:

… he (Rajavi) individually made the serious ideological decision to get engaged in armed warfare, despite the probability of physical annihilation of organization. [4]

The interval between started from 1975 to 1985, when the first clause of ideological revolution of the organization was declared, may be considered as the process of theorizing personal leadership in the organization. Niyabati refers to this phase as follows:

For the first time in the history of contemporary revolutions an organization disclaimed its adopted principle of democratic centralism, a several hundred year-long achievement of the organized revolutionary struggle, and (correctly or incorrectly) hands over the leadership to a leader who is accountable only to God. [5]

Mojahedin substituted hegemonic leadership for their former and typical model of leadership, is referred to by Niabati as the Achilles’ heel. They denied democratic centralism openly, in their view of the matter imitating the model of Shiite leadership. The typical feature of this leadership mode is that the leader is in no way held responsible for whatever flaw. Above that, nobody is permitted to violate the sanctuary of leadership and he is immune of any challenge, and liable to be the cause for the insiders’ absolute self-devotion and blind obedience. As Niyabati describes

The sole solution to the issue which has long been the Achilles’ heel of all the contemporary movements and revolutions lies in the development and the maintenance of the theory of imamate in the organization. [6]

Taking such an approach, regardless of the historical background and ideological infrastructure of Mojahedin, was due to their encountered crises as a result of successive failures. It is a main reason the ex-members point to for their separation. Abrahamian expounding on Rajavi’s hegemony states:

In mid 1987, MKO possessed all the features of a cult. It had its own elevated leadership status formally known as leader but he was informally labeled as the existing imam. Mojahedin have established a rigid hierarchy with all the orders issued from the top and the prime duty of any common force is unquestionable and blind obedience. The organization has developed its own distinct ideology. [7]

The dissidents and critics interpret such adopted approach as explicit transformation into a cult that since long was the cause for the detachment of many members and fails to be limited to the declaration of the ideological revolution in 1985. For instance, a number of affiliated student associations in Europe issued a letter declaring their separation from MKO because their ideological and political viewpoints opposed the hegemony of Rajavi which, they believed, was steering the group toward cultist relations in the near future, a prediction that came true a few years later.

Reza Ra’isi Toosi, Hamid Noohi, and Hussein Rafi’i analyzed the process of hegemonism and violation of democratic centralism that transformed the organization into a cult:

If the leader (Rajavi) continues to disavow self-criticism and returns not to respect adopted principles, he will increasingly be mired. Depending on whether the organization will achieve political power or undergo complete isolation, the degree of deviations varies. [8]

Then, they predict the future of organization as follows:

In case the liberal move fails to assume political power, and specifically be contradicted roughly and face stalemate, it will inevitably transform into a cult due to its isolation and separation from the masses, many instances of which the history can recall. [9]


1. A Survey of the Possibility of Deviation of Democratic Centralism or the Difference between Scientific and Non-Scientific Suspicion in Organizational Affairs, MKO publications, Tehran, 1979, p. 6.

2. Ibid.

3. Meisami, L. (2003). Those Who Passed: The Memoirs of Lotfollah Meisami. Tehran. vol.2, 112.

4. Niyabati, Bijan; A Different Look at Mojahedin’s Ideological Revolution, Khavaran Publication, 22.

5. ibid, 35.

6. ibid, 90.

7. Abrahamian, Yervand; Radical Islam.

8. The Process of Separation, Mo’ud publication, 1980, 164.

9. ibid, 164. – June 14, 2007


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