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Mojahedin leadership before and after the ideological revolution

From the beginning (1965) up to the time being, the issue of leadership in MKO, in spite of stressing on democratic centralism, has actually faced sever challenges. During the early formation years, from 1965 to 1972 when Mohammad Hanifnejad was executed, Hanifnejad’s hegemonic political leadership was known to be the main cause behind the demise of almost 80 percent of the organization’s cadres. So crushing was the strike over the body of the organization that, as Meisami explains, he was held responsible and was inter-organizationally sentenced to death. Concurrently, a court martial sentenced him to death and it was all settled. In the second phase, 1972-75, following the first ideological revolution that led to the ideological schism of the organization, Taqi Shahram assumed Mojahedin leadership; it was due to a power vacuum and his personal potentialities that he could succeed to an autocratic leadership.

In the third phase, 1975 up to now, Rajavi has occasionally ignored the council leadership and developed his hegemonic leadership. Rajavi was regarded as the political leader of Mojahedin before the ideological revolution in 1985 but since then he has been appointed as both the political and the ideological leader of MKO. From the beginning, such a process in the internal relations of MKO has been criticized by the members. After the ideological revolution that started Rajavi’s autocratic political and ideological leadership, a greater number of MKO members, including Parviz Yaqubi and Saeed Shahsavandi, quitted the organization compared with the earlier two phases.

The aim here is, based on the organization’s own sources and acknowledgments made by defectors, to investigate the process of the appointment of the ideological leadership, the reasons behind members’ separation and the disposition of the ideological leadership. Democratic centralism was regarded as the best approach for leading MKO as asserted in the organization’s original documents and sources:

The complexity of social issues and the fundamental differences between a revolutionary organization and society necessitates a council leadership particularly when the organization aims at bringing about fundamental changes within social institutions. In such a situation, an individual can not resolve all the problems. Moreover, council leadership prevents the interference of an individual’s shortcomings to have any impact on the organization; in council leadership an individual’s weakness is thwarted by others’ talent which reduces any possible risks. [1]

As such, some factors such as the complexity of social and political conditions as well as individual features make council leadership to be the first priority. The internal ideological revolution within Mojahedin replaced council leadership, both theoretically and politically, with that of Rajavi’s autocratic ideological leadership. As admitted by a majority of defectors, it was modeled on the Soviet Union’s Communist Party in the reign of Stalin. As Saeid Shahsavandi elaborates:

The Ideological revolution began in 1985. As I said before, I worked in the political department up to 1986 coincident to the transitions made in the Soviet Union. Since I had lived in France for many years, I could read French books and be informed of the events. Then I found that the course of events in our organization was in fact a miniature model of Soviet Union’s communist party particularly during Stalinism reign following the war. Such a mental awareness got me into more problems since I began holding inter-organizational discourses and expressing limited oppositions and finding some other like-minded. [2]

Interestingly, Abrishamchi has the same opinion when justifying the ideological revolution:

It is a reality that in MKO Massoud’s thoughts is problem solving ideologically and determine the ideological boundary. It is not surprising since every ideology has its own ideologue. For all Marxists, there can be found a person’s name next to their ideology; then for Leninists, Maoists and much more. [3]

According to Niyabati and other MKO ex-members, such a leadership as well as the ideological revolution, in contrast to internal discourses that ideological and political leadership is sequel to an evolutionary course, were the outcome of Rajavi’s subsequent strategic failures and were aiming at thwarting probable organizational split. In such a system, leadership is deified. Niyabati considers ideological revolution and the issue of leadership as the upshot of the political and strategic failures of the organization. He believes that the solution to such failures is either retreating from armed warfare or, as he calls it, resorting to ultra-left and revolutionary radicalism:

We had to either submit to the existing conditions and resort to politics or, by embracing all internal, external, and international consequences of resorting to armed warfare and violent overthrow of the regime, lean to the left and yield to radicalism. [4]

According to him, leaning toward the left and radicalism before anything necessitates a fundamental change of mentality on the issue of the leadership. He believes that the status of the leader should be beyond the reach of any criticism and challenge:

In the ancient grasp, Hanif and Massoud are the first founders of the organization, but here Massoud is the connecting point. In the ancient grasp, leader is so accessible that could be easily challenged. But here the ideological leadership is out of reach and to access him, one needs passing through Maryam who is a warrant. [5]

Niyabati resorts to imamate theory in Shiite in order to justify the state of the leadership of Mojahedin:

The core of the ideological revolution was to resolve Massoud’s ideological leadership. The sole solution to the issue which has long been the Achilles’ heel of all the contemporary movements and revolutions lied in the development and the maintenance of the theory of imamate in the organization. [6]

Furthermore, he makes it clear that the leader is held only accountable to God:

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. [7]

Mehdi Abrishamchi expounds on the theory of leadership in much simpler words:

The leadership bears no accountability downward. His accountability is determined by the ideological-political principles of the organization. [8]

Unlike Niyabati, Abrishamchi denies Rajavi’s being even accountable to God:

Everybody in the organization is a subordinate except for the leader. Neither is Maryam who is not inferior to Massoud. Both of them are responsible for themselves and not accountable to anybody. They solve problems relying on ideology and their own power of reflection. [9]

All the statements made by MKO ex-members in addition to that of the theoreticians of the ideological revolution and Abrishamchi denote the same fact: denying the council leadership and democratic centralism and the acceptance of the ideological leadership of Rajavi as the symbol of the organizational, ideological and political legitimacy. In a nutshell, Shahsavandi describes the ideological

revolution and the ideological leadership of Rajavi in the following terms:

The ideological revolution aims at proving the fact that it makes no difference who you are, who you were, what you did, how long you spent in the prison, what torments you suffered, and how long you were active in the organization; if you are not connected to Mr. and Mrs. Rajavi and fail to be their believers and absolutely committed to them, whatever you have done is worth nothing. Thus, Massoud can easily demote or promote ranks overnight. [10]


1. Investigation of the possibility of deviation in democratic centralism (1979), Mojahedin Publication, p. 43.

2. Interview by Saeid Shahsavandi: Radio Voice of Iran.

3. The lecture delivered by Mehdi Abrishamchi on the internal ideological revolution within MKO. Taleqani Publication, 1985.

4. Niyabati, Bijan; A Different Look at Ideological Revolution within MKO, Khavaran Publication, 17.

5. Ibid, 57.

6. Ibid, 90.

7. Ibid, 35.

8. 3. The lecture delivered by Mehdi Abrishamchi on the internal ideological revolution within MKO. Taleqani Publication, 1985.

9. Ibid.

10. Interview by Saeid Shahsavandi: Radio Voice of Iran, session 123.


Bahar Irani – Mojahedin.ws – Sep. 30, 2007

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