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The Role of Strategic Stalemates in MKO ideological Shift

The ideological revolution within Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) that led the whole organization onto the precipice of being labeled as a notorious cult of personality was not the result of an abrupt and overnight decision. A look at a multitude of the crises the organization ran into following its declare of armed warfare after the initiation of the Islamic Republic in Iran well explain that the organization’s resort to ideological shift was the last option to surmount crises and guarantee the organization’s survival. However, the key role of Massoud Rajavi in the process of deviation is of great significance.

Majority of the organization’s theoreticians are unanimous that the ideological revolution was the byproduct of a strategic dilemma but none of them attempts to dig out the truth about the roots of successive defeats and crises. An investigation into the history of the organization since 1975 and following the great schism within it discloses indisputably critical role of Rajavi since his assuming the lead. His decisions, regardless of their grave impact on strategic, political and ideological deviation, were inventions of a deviant mind spoiled by power ambitions. That is true that power corrupts but his later ideological revolution to gain full hegemony over the organization is a proof that the absolute power corrupts absolutely; no better destiny could be destined for the organization with Rajavi atop but a cult of personality.

The intention here is to examine the roots of the ideological revolution and the causes behind its start with Rajavi behind the steer. The following is an outline of the factors to be studied in detail.

The failed strategy of armed warfare and the aftermath crises

Failure in overthrowing the regime

Gradual dwindling of MKO’s social prestige

Possible occurrence of schism within the organization

serious deterioration of NCRI

political bankruptcy and loss of external backing

The statements and accounts by other opposition groups, active members of the organization as well as the separated members are the best presented evidences throughout the study. Bijan Niyabaty’s A Different Look at the Ideological Revolution within MKO, since it is a source composed by an active left sympathizer of the organization, can give detailed accounts on the process.

The failed strategy of armed warfare and the aftermath crises

The failed strategy of overthrowing the newly established ruling system in Iran is rooted in the irrationally adopted tactic of armed warfare following the organization’s first mass movement on 20 June in 1981. The turning point that was broadly being propagated at the time an which was supposed to speed up the inevitable collapse of the regime could no more stand the heavy squash of defeats and crises. As a result, the tone of Rajavi changed in justifying his unreasonably taken decision saying that his decision abided by no political, ideological and organizational logic but was a move following the example of Ashura. [1]

Being a fallacy or anything else, his reasoning worked well in wining over a multitude of insiders who supposedly had to challenge him and his ineffectiveness. Publicized passionate speeches and writings could easily convince and hush up whoever presumed to criticize:

Khordad 30th (20 June 1981) is our ‘Ashura”. On that day we had to stand up and resist Khomeini’s bloodthirsty and reactionary regime, even if it meant sacrificing our lives and the whole of our organization. We had to take this road to Karbala to keep alive our tawhidi ideology, follow the example set by Imam Hosayn, fulfill our historic mission to the Iranian people, and fight the most bloodthirsty, most reactionary, and most savage regime in world history. [2]

It took at least two decades to be admitted by a left analyzer of the organization that what MKO anticipated being a supposed mass movement turned to be nothing but failed militia warfare:

The strategy of a widespread and national-wide armed struggle was nothing more than declining a massive public uprising into the level of a limited militia struggle with no prospect. [3]

Rajavi’s strategy of urban militia warfare expanded into much sophisticated tactics of resistance cells, suicidal and armed operations following the June 20 uprising. Niyabati assumes that even long before, Mojahedin had lost their hope in the utility of the so called ‘esistance cells’ and Mojahedin’s strategic tactic had proved to be nothing but a great failure:

Now after five years, the armed warfare is still immobilized in the first stage of preparing a mass uprising. Mojahedin have so far tried all the possible approaches, from the urban militia warfare to the formation of resistance cells and from the suicidal operations to guerrilla warfare launched in the mountains and woods. [4]

In his analysis of Mojahedin’s received heavy blow on 8 February 1982, the raid of Iranian police forces into a MKO’s safe-house in Tehran that resulted in the killing of 20 members of Mojahedin including Musa Khyabani, MKO commander inside Iran after Rajavi’s escape to France, and Ashraf Rabiee, Rajavi’s first wife, Niyabati once more questions the accuracy of Mojahedin’s strategy of armed struggle:

The strategic blow on 8 February 1982 was an end to the accuracy of the urban guerilla warfare. [5]

The consequent doubts and uncertainty raised among a portion of the rational minds though remained covered up, but in the eyes of the leaders were undeniable facts that could possibly intensify internal crises. A large number of separated members admit that it created the best opportunity to persuade an internal reconsideration of the organizational strategies, but instead, unfounded justification and excuses gave way to a rapid grow of internal challenges. The seriousness of the challenge even worsens when one comes across the fact that before facing the crises, unquestionable faith in armed struggle was an essential prerequisite for the recruits of the organization. It was a taboo nobody was permitted to touch upon and any criticism of the approach was absolutely illegitimate even if convincing explanation and facts were adduced beforehand:

Any criticism of the widespread strategy of armed warfare adopted by Mojahedin in the military phase, if made to disapprove the essentiality of the armed resistance, is definitely illegitimate. [6]

Rajavi’s frequent shift to adopt various unsound tactics more than anything indicates a telling indecisiveness in Mojahedin’s leadership. Not only it deepens the already existing crises but also makes the organization vulnerable to further crushing crises that can hardly be curbed. Depicting a much realistic view, an ex-member has said:

What can be done? Does it mean that we should again resort to urban militia warfare? This vicious circle is the work of Rajavi; from the urban militia to terror teams, then to war in fronts, then to an army, and then to cross the border operation teams to launch mortar attacks. It seems he cannot, or does not want, decide on any tactic but associated with arms. [7]

Rajavi’s egocentric decision making has exposed him to the criticism of the insiders to the core. Although he never desists from rejecting allegations of leading the organization to total decadence, his critics believe he lacked the needed political acumen and experience as well as mental aptitude to surmount the crises:

Of course, this guy [Rajavi] suffers a lack of mental aptitude, political experience and insight. If he were experienced and his studies were not restricted to those of Marxist texts or was not hampered by organizational enterprise, that is much a pseudo-security and clandestine activity than political, actually the 20 June incident would never happen. [8]


[1]. A historical incident when the third Shiit imam, Imam Hosayn, rose against the tyrant of the time and was martyred along with his 72 followers in Karbala in Iraq on 10 Moharram 61 A.H., publically called Ashura. Mojahedin from the very beginning argued that they were exemplifying the model of his uprising to justify their misdeeds. Mehdi Rezai, a member of Mojahedin, tried and executed by Pahlavi’s regime, in his court testimonies declared ‘each day should be turned into Ashura and each place into Karbala arguing that ‘history had taught the organization one clear lesson: that the only path to liberation is the armed struggle. (The court testimony of martyred mojahed Mehdi Rezai) (1973), pp. 90-3.

[2]. Mojahed, 129-31 (2-16 December 1982).

[3]. Niyabati, Bijan; A Different Look at the Ideological Revolution within MKO, Khavaran Publication, p. 14.

[4]. Ibid, 69.

[5]. Ibid, 14.

[6]. The statute of the National Council of Resistance

[7]. Soliloquies in solitude, a collection; interview with an ex-member of MKO.

[8]. Ibid.

 Bahar Irani,November 29, 2007


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