chapter
16 Pages

Introduction

BySTEPHANIE C RO NIN

The Left has never held power in Iran, has never come close to holding power, even for a brief historical moment. Yet its impact on the political and intellectual history of the country has been profound. From the constitutional period, through the oil nationalization crisis, to the Islamic revolution, leftist forces have played a significant and even, sometimes, a determining role. Their influence, in both organizational and ideological terms, on the evolution of Islamist trends, including on Khomeini himself, has been profound. The leftist forces in Iran, furthermore, have been historically among the most advanced in the non-European world. At the very beginning of the twentieth century social democratic ideas made rapid headway, first among Iranians in emigration in the Caucasus of the late Russian empire and then in Iran itself, and the first social democratic organization in the Middle East was established in Tabriz in 1905-06. In 1920 the Iranian Communist Party, the first communist party in Asia, was founded and local communists joined with the Jangali movement to produce in Gilan the first declaration of a Soviet republic in the Middle East, while, in prerevolutionary 1978, an extraordinary wave of working-class action swept the country, the massive economic and political strikes erupting between June and December of that year constituting a phenomenon rare, if not unique, in the experience of the Middle East.