International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International (1987): Documents of the Third Plenum of the ICFI

Healy renounces the Permanent Revolution

This article was published in the Bulletin in two installments on March 20 and 24, 1987.

Gerry Healy and his wing of the renegade Workers Revolutionary Party have now renounced the permanent revolution as definitively as did the Socialist Workers Party in 1982.

Like the provocateur Jack Barnes, Healy has come to the conclusion that Leon Trotsky was wrong, and that J.V. Stalin and his Menshevik attorney, A. Martinov, were right in the struggle over the perspectives and tasks of the Communist movement in the East.

But while Barnes and the SWP openly declare their opposition to permanent revolution and to Trotskyism, Healy and his followers have the audacity to claim that they are the authentic voice of the International Committee of the Fourth International, i.e., of the world Trotskyist movement.

The base nature of the Healy group—its readiness to trade principles for cash—has been exposed by the International Committee, most recently in Comrade Martin McLaughlin’s article, “Healy: Press Agent for the Iranian Bourgeoisie.” (Bulletin, December 12, 1986)

“The bourgeoisie can still play a revolutionary role in the East, in Iran it most certainly has,” proclaims one Colin Stevens in the November-December 1986 issue of the Healy group’s magazine, the ludicrously misnamed Marxist Review.

No matter that Trotsky taught the exact opposite. “It is not for nothing,” said Trotsky to those like Stalin who were infatuated with the “revolutionary” Kuomintang, the party of the Chinese bourgeoisie, “that the very first manifesto issued by our party proclaimed that the further East we go, the lower and viler becomes the bourgeoisie, the greater are the tasks that fall upon the proletariat. This historical ‘law’ fully applies to China as well.” (Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, New Park Publications, p. 136)

Stevens’s article, “Trotskyism and the Iranian Revolution,” was commissioned by Healy as a reply to the IC statement Halt the Iran-Iraq War. Adopted by the very first plenum the IC held following the completion of the split with all factions of the revisionist WRP, this statement repudiated Healy’s policy of supporting the predatory war aims of the Khomeini regime. It showed the Iran-Iraq war to be a reactionary conflict between two bourgeois national regimes, which, unable to overcome imperialist domination, have sought to compensate for their organic weakness through a reckless policy of military conquest. It warned that imperialism, which instigated this bloody inferno, is now warming its hands over the fire, and called on the Iranian and Iraqi working classes to overthrow both Khomeini and Saddam Hussein and to fight for a Socialist Federation of the Middle East.

The reply of Healy and his supporters to the IC’s principled stand is so feeble that were it not for the gratuitous denunciations of David North, the national secretary of the US Workers League, one would not know to whom it is addressed. (The Workers League is barred from membership in the ICFI by the reactionary Voorhis Act, but is in political solidarity with it.) Stevens does not even attempt to refute the historical materialist analysis of the war made by the IC. In fact, Healy’s mouthpiece manages not to mention the war once in his entire article.

This is a remarkable feat, even if we overlook the fact Stevens is supposed to be answering the statement issued by the “philistine sectarian propagandist(s)” of the IC. The war has raged for 6½ years and has wrought untold suffering on the workers and peasants of Iran and Iraq. Moreover, the government in Tehran, which Healy’s WRP so fervently supports, has made the prosecution of the war its principal objective.

Nor does Stevens say a word about the domestic policies of “the revolutionary bourgeoisie of the Khomeini regime.” This is not altogether surprising. It is difficult to give a revolutionary hue to a regime which, in the interests of Iran’s capitalists and bazaar merchants, has ruthlessly suppressed all working-class parties and organizations, trodden on the country’s national minorities and whipped up religious intolerance.

What then does Healy give us in an article entitled “Trotskyism and the Iranian Revolution”? A potted version of an important chapter in Iranian history, and the one thousand and first attempt to counterpose Lenin’s conception of the relation of the national-democratic and socialist revolutions in the imperialist epoch to that championed by Trotsky—and by the International Committee today—the permanent revolution.

We will, in due course, reply to the most glaring of the distortions and outright falsifications of Iranian history presented by Marxist Review. For now it will suffice to state that their purpose is transparent and deeply reactionary. Stevens has rewritten history to “prove” the Healy group’s contention that the Iranian bourgeoisie is revolutionary and to justify the Khomeini regime’s savage repression of the Tudeh Party, the Iranian Communist Party.


In 1984, the Workers League charged that the Workers Revolutionary Party was abandoning the theory of permanent revolution and the strategy of world socialist revolution in favor of opportunist relations with bourgeois national movements and governments. In his report to the February 1984 IC meeting, David North demonstrated the identity between the practice of what was then the IC’s British section and the SWP’s open repudiation of the permanent revolution.

Healy and the WRPs other principal leaders, M. Banda and C. Slaughter, responded by threatening to sever all relations between the IC and the Workers League. They had no answer to the critique made by the Workers League because every word of it was true.

The damning indictment brought against the WRP leadership by Comrade North three years ago has since been voluminously substantiated, especially the critique of its unprincipled dealings with bourgeois nationalist regimes in the Middle East. (IC Statement, “How the Workers Revolutionary Party Betrayed Trotskyism, 1973-1985.” Fourth International, Summer 1986, pp. 45-72)

Now, little more than a year after being expelled from the IC, Healy has proclaimed that the bourgeoisie of the East “can still play a revolutionary role.” This proposition was advanced at least 80 years ago by Martinov, whom Trotsky called “the most consistent, and consequently the most stupid theoretician of Menshevism,” and embraced enthusiastically by Stalin some 60 years ago, during the debate over the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27.

With this proposition, Healy and his supporters have broken with the Trotskyist conception of the permanent revolution as completely as has Barnes and the neo-Stalinist SWP.

The permanent revolution is a unified revolutionary doctrine embracing the central problems of the epoch of the transition from capitalism to socialism. With regard to countries having a belated capitalist development, i.e., the East, it signifies that the complete and genuine solution of the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution is possible only under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Furthermore, it explains that having risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution (of the peasant masses), the working class of an underdeveloped country will soon have to begin implementing socialist measures to safeguard its own class interests. In so doing, it links its fate with that of the world working class and the world socialist revolution.

The task of completing the democratic revolution falls to the working class in the East precisely because the stunted national bourgeoisies in countries with a belated capitalist development cannot play the revolutionary role that the bourgeoisie in Europe and North America did in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Trotsky wrote:

Historical backwardness does not imply a simple reproduction of the development of the advanced countries, England or France, with a delay of one, two or three centuries. It engenders an entirely new “combined” social formation in which the latest conquests of capitalist technique and structure root themselves into relations of feudal or pre-feudal barbarism, transforming and subjecting them and creating a peculiar relation of classes.

Not a single one of the tasks of the “bourgeois” revolution can be solved in these backward countries under the leadership of the “national” bourgeoisie, because the latter emerges at once with foreign support as a class alien or hostile to the people. Every stage in its development binds it only the more closely to the foreign finance capital of which it is essentially the agency.... The peasantry, the largest class numerically and the most atomized, backward, and oppressed class, is capable of local uprisings and partisan warfare, but requires the leadership of a more advanced class in order for this struggle to be elevated to an all-national level. The task of such leadership falls in the nature of things upon the colonial proletariat, which from the very first steps, stands opposed not only to the foreign but also to its own national bourgeoisie. (Leon Trotsky on China, Monad Press, p. 583)

The impotency of the national bourgeoisie—its dependence on imperialism on the one hand and fear of the working class on the other—opens the road for the working class in a backward country, such as Russia was in 1917 or Iran and India are today, to take the leadership of the national revolution, rally the peasantry behind it and establish its own dictatorship.

“Only because,” explains Trotsky in his monumental History of the Russian Revolution, “the Russian petty bourgeois democracy was unable to carry out that historic work performed by its older sister in the West, did the Russian proletariat gain access to power before the Western proletariat.... In 1917 the dictatorship of the proletariat grew out of the non-achievement of the democratic tasks.” (Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Pluto Press, p. 1224)

To say, as does Healy, that the national bourgeoisie can play a revolutionary role today is quite simply to take the socialist revolution off the agenda in the East. While the expansion of capitalism has given birth to a modern and increasingly large working class in many Asian countries, Iran included, the peasantry remains enormous. If the national bourgeoisie in the East could play a revolutionary role, i.e., if it could truly emancipate the peasantry and throw off the yoke of imperialism, then the working class would be isolated, forced to renounce any prospect of contending for power for the indefinite future, and the possibility of fusing the struggles for national liberation in the East with the socialist struggle of the proletariat in the West would be nonexistent.

Healy has now renounced the entire theory of the permanent revolution. All that remains is the name.

To throw dust in the eyes of any worker or intellectual unfortunate enough to have obtained a copy of Marxist Review, Stevens solidarizes himself with the permanent revolution insofar as it pertains to the events in Russia in 1917. Whereas Stalin trumpeted the reactionary doctrine of “socialism in one country,” Healy’s brainchild is an equally self-contradictory conception, “permanent revolution in one country.”

Saddam Hussein: “Bourgeois Revolutionary” or “Imperialist Agent”

The thesis that the national bourgeoisie in the East is revolutionary has a corollary: the Menshevik-Stalinist conception of the two-stage revolution. This “theory” asserts that the working class must follow the “revolutionary bourgeoisie” until the democratic revolution is completed, until the bourgeoisie fulfills its revolutionary mission; only then is the working class allowed to unfurl its own banner and to fight for socialist demands.

Healy has been carrying out this wretched political line for many years now. With the full support of Banda and Slaughter, he sought to impose it on the IC. From the mid-1970s on, the WRP adulated one bourgeois nationalist leader after another, hailing them as anti-imperialists and echoing their pretentious claims to be the true leaders of the people. Amongst those regimes singled out for the most servile praise by the WRP were those headed by Saddam Hussein and Khomeini.

Rejected outright was the need for the working class in the Middle East to act as a class, to organize itself independently of the bourgeois nationalists, to build its own proletarian parties, i.e., sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International.

“Modern philistines and revisionists such as D. North,” writes Stevens, “reject Lenin and Trotsky completely and equate the revolutionary bourgeoisie of the Khomeini regime in Iran with the imperialist agent—Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and call for the bringing down of the Khomeini regime. This position is one which leads the philistine sectarian propagandist North into the same attitude to the Khomeini regime as R. Reagan and M. Thatcher. Not a pretty sight.”

There are no limits to the dishonesty of Healy and his followers. It was Healy who equated Hussein and Khomeini. Up until the Iran-Iraq War was two years old, he had them both on his honor roll of “revolutionary bourgeois leaders.”

Before Healy became a press agent for the Khomeini regime, he had contracted to provide the Iraqi Ba’athists with a similar service. Beginning in 1978, articles extolling the Iraqi regime appeared ever more frequently in the pages of the News Line, the WRP’s newspaper. In the summer of 1980, just weeks before the Iraqi Army invaded Iran, the WRP published a glossy pamphlet trumpeting the “achievements” of the Iraqi “revolution.” It included a chapter entirely devoted to hailing Saddam Hussein.

Eighteen months earlier, the WRP had broken with the most elementary principles of proletarian internationalism when it defended the execution of Iraqi Communist Party members on the grounds that “the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party of Iraq had played a hundredfold more progressive role in the Middle East than Stalinism.”

In erasing Hussein’s name from his honor roll of bourgeois revolutionaries and adding it, without explanation, to a list of imperialist agents, Healy has invented nothing new. Stalin and Martinov tried to cover up for their policy of chaining the Chinese proletariat to the Kuomintang, by declaring, following the bloody suppression of the 1927 revolution, that the Chinese bourgeoisie had now “definitively gone over to the counterrevolutionary camp.”

As for the slander that the IC “has the same attitude to the Khomeini regime as R. Reagan and M. Thatcher” because it calls on the working class to overthrow Iran’s bourgeois government, this only demonstrates that Healy has become incapable of even recognizing, let alone upholding, a proletarian standpoint.

He issued this slander just as it was being revealed that Reagan had been arming the Iranian military, with the assistance of Israel, to assure the slaughter in the gulf could continue. Healy’s criminal support for the war aims of the Iranian bourgeoisie has landed him in the same dungheap as Reagan.

Of all the revelations about the intimate ties which have been forged between the “revolutionary bourgeoisie of the Khomeini regime” and US imperialism, the most important is the Washington Post report that the Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s MI5 provided Tehran with the names of members of the Tudeh Party, and other left-wing and working-class organizations. The information was promptly used by the Khomeini regime to carry out mass arrests and executions. While the Workers League condemned the attack on the Tudeh Party, the WRP hailed it as another blow against Stalinism. Savas Michael, Healy’s personal agent in Greece, appeared on Iranian television at the height of the attack on the Tudeh and solidarized himself with the government. Michael has since been elevated by Healy to the post of “international secretary.”

The sordid fate of Healy and Michael illustrates once again that those who chain themselves to the national bourgeoisie in the East are also tying themselves to imperialism, for the colonial bourgeoisie is, in the final analysis, nothing more than an agency of imperialism.

Cribbing from the Stalin School of Falsification

In an attempt to give his attack on permanent revolution a learned bent, Stevens fills his article with lengthy quotes from speeches Lenin and Zinoviev gave to the Second Congress of the Communist International and to the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East. Cribbing a page from the Stalin school of falsification handbook, Marxist Review is clearly trying to use Lenin to attack Trotsky and the theory of permanent revolution.

Significantly, Stevens does not cite the “Draft Theses on the National and the Colonial Questions” Lenin presented to the Second Congress of the Comintern. In his theses, the architect of the Bolshevik revolution denounced Pan-Islamism, the ideology espoused by Iran’s present-day rulers, as “an attempt to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the position of the khans, landowners, mullahs, etc.” Even more importantly, Lenin called “for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist coloring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations. The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if it is in its most embryonic form.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 31, Progress Publishers, pp. 149-150)

In attempting to conscript Lenin into his campaign to prove the existence of a “revolutionary bourgeoisie,” Stevens reveals that he considers the readers of Marxist Review to be political illiterates. The Bolshevik Party was built and theoretically armed in a ruthless struggle against the Mensheviks, those who from the sociological characterization of the coming revolution in Russia as bourgeois deduced that the working class had to tail-end the liberal bourgeoisie. Lenin was as convinced as Trotsky that the Russian bourgeoisie was utterly incapable of leading the bourgeois-democratic revolution. To the Menshevik conception of an alliance between the working class and the liberal bourgeoisie, Lenin and the Bolsheviks counterposed the idea of an alliance between the working class and the peasantry. The Menshevik conception in practice meant subordinating the working class to the bourgeoisie, by curbing the class struggle so as to avoid driving the liberals into the embrace of reaction.

The difference between the pre-1917 conceptions of Lenin and Trotsky was that the latter said that a revolutionary alliance could be led only by the working class and only concretized through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin had not yet been wholly convinced that the peasantry could not form an independent revolutionary party, independent both of the working class and of the bourgeoisie.

Zinoviev initially opposed the October Revolution, claiming it was suicidal for the Bolsheviks to break from the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, i.e., from those who had subordinated the soviets to the bourgeois Provisional Government. He spearheaded the attack on Trotsky and the permanent revolution in the crucial 1923-24 period. Zinoviev criticized Stalin’s position on the Chinese revolution while a leader of the Joint Opposition of 1926-27, but continued to defend the directive, issued by the Comintern in 1923 when it was under his leadership, ordering the Chinese CP to merge with the Kuomintang. Even the introduction to the WRP’s own edition of the minutes of the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East said Zinoviev “never understood or supported the theory of the permanent revolution and thus the connection between the tasks of the Communist International and the colonial revolution.”

Imperialist Oppression and the Class Struggle

The obligation of the proletariat to support, an not just in words but in deeds, the struggles for nartional liberation was certainly a major question at the second and all other congresses of the Comintern while Lenin lived. At issue here, however, was not the revolutionary capacities of the national bourgeoisie of the East, but the difference between an oppressed and an oppressor nation.

Arguing just as Martinov, Bukharin and Stalin did 60 years ago, Stevens tries to claim that imperialist oppression makes the bourgeoisie of the colonial and semi-colonial countries revolutionary.

Trotsky wrote:

“For a communist, a war of a colonial nation against an imperialist nation is a bourgeois revolutionary war. Lenin thus RAISED the national liberation movements, the colonial insurrections, and wars of the oppressed nations, to the level of the bourgeois democratic revolutions, in particular, to that of the Russian revolution of 1905.... But Lenin nowhere raised and never could raise the question as if the bourgeoisie of a colonial or semicolonial country in an epoch of struggle for national liberation must be more progressive and more revolutionary than the bourgeoisie of a noncolonial country in the epoch of the democratic revolution…

To present matters as if there must inevitably flow from the fact of colonial oppression the revolutionary character of a national bourgeoisie is to reproduce inside out the fundamental error of Menshevism, which held that the revolutionary nature of the Russian bourgeoisie must flow from the oppression of feudalism and the autocracy. (Trotsky, Third International After Lenin, New Park Publications, p. 130)

But did not, Marxist Review will no doubt object, Khomeini and the mullahs lead the Iranian people in overthrowing the Shah?

Only metaphysicians in the Healy-Stalin mold believe that if you affirm, as Trotsky did, that the national bourgeoisie of the East cannot play a revolutionary role, you are denying that the national bourgeoisie conflicts with imperialism altogether.

The national bourgeoisie in the East is forced to struggle with imperialism, sometimes arms in hand. But a really serious struggle against imperialism requires an upheaval of the masses such as would soon become a threat to the national bourgeoisie itself.

The contradictory nature of the colonial bourgeoisie was analyzed at great length by Trotsky in his critique of the draft program presented by Stalin and Bukharin to the Sixth Congress of the Comintern.

The question of the nature and the policy of the bourgeoisie is settled by the entire internal class structure of a nation waging the revolutionary struggle; by the historical epoch in which that struggle develops; by the degree of economic, political and military dependence of the national bourgeoisie upon world imperialism as a whole or a particular section of it; finally, and this is most important, by the degree of class activity of the native proletariat, and by the state of its connections with the international revolutionary movement.

A democratic or national liberation movement may offer the bourgeoisie an opportunity to deepen and broaden its possibilities for exploitation. Independent intervention of the proletariat on the revolutionary arena threatens to deprive the bourgeoisie of the possibility to exploit altogether. (Ibid., p. 131)

As for the claim that Khomeini led the February 1979 revolution, it is a fraud. Undoubtedly the Ayatollah’s calls for the Shah’s overthrow had a powerful impact on the masses, but we can say without the slightest fear of contradiction that had there not been a complete vacuum of working class leadership, Khomeini and the bazaar merchants would have come into open and fierce conflict with the revolution before the Shah had fled, and not just after his overthrow. As it was, Khomeini worked might and main to prevent the masses from attacking the Shah’s army, the bulwark of the Iranian bourgeois state, because he feared it would disintegrate, and instead sought to induce a section of the officer corps into defecting to his camp. In late December 1978, he urged the oil workers, whose strike eventually broke the back of the Shah’s regime, to return to work.

While Healy-Stevens maintain that imperialist oppression welds the classes together in an oppressed country, the exact opposite is the case. If in Iran, the bourgeoisie has only been able to rule through either a Shah or a fundamentalist dictatorship, it is because it fears the explosive consequences of allowing the working class any form of political self-expression. “The class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the masses of workers and peasants is not weakened, but on the contrary, it is sharpened by imperialist oppression, to the point of civil war at every serious conflict,” declared Trotsky. (Leon Trotsky on China, p. 161)

If we have gone to such lengths to refute Healy’s claim that the bourgeoisie in the East can play a revolutionary role, it is because nothing has proved more fatal for the working class of Africa, Asia and Latin America than the quest for the nonexistent revolutionary national bourgeoisie.

The classic example of course is China, where in the 1920s, the Communist Party was ordered to renounce any independent existence and join the “revolutionary” Kuomintang. Having used the support of the CP in its campaign against the militarists backed by Japanese imperialism, the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek turned on it and massacred as many as 50,000 Shanghai workers in 1927. As a consequence, the Chinese revolution was delayed more than 20 years.

But what took place in China has, thanks to Stalinism, been repeated in virtually every part of the colonial world. Time and again, the working class has been bound hand and foot to the national bourgeoisie on the grounds that the working class has to follow its leadership in the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The results have been as disastrous as they have been predictable. Having used the masses to wring concessions from imperialism, the colonial bourgeoisie sells out the struggle for national liberation and consolidates its rule at the expense of the working class and peasant masses.

The Iranian working class has paid a particularly heavy price for the fact it has been led by parties that have looked to the national bourgeoisie to lead the struggle against imperialism.


At the Tenth Congress of the International Committee, Healy, Slaughter and Banda proclaimed that there was a worldwide and undifferentiated revolutionary situation. All discussion of the development of the class struggle and the strategical experiences of the IC’s sections was suppressed on the grounds that “from the proletariat of the capitalist countries of Europe to the workers in the United States, from the Latin American masses to those of South-East Asia” there exists a “common level of revolutionary class struggle.”

However, when it comes to Iran, Healy rediscovers particularity.

“Marxists do not reject or ignore the peculiarities and particulars of historical development like North does,” writes Stevens. But in his article he never mentions or investigates a single one of Iran’s national particularities: its multinational character, the connection between Persian nationalism and Shiism, or the relation between its oil-based economy and the world capitalist market, to cite just three.

The “particularity” of Iran is apparently that it has a revolutionary bourgeoisie and mullahs who can act as surrogates for a Trotskyist party.

If Healy’s WRP had a shred of revolutionary integrity, it would state outright that it considers Trotsky’s conception of the permanent revolution inappropriate for this period. Instead Stevens, following in the path of his mentor Healy, seeks to smuggle in a wholesale renunciation of Trotskyism by reference to a philosophical category, in this case, an entirely abstract particular, one without any attributes.

To say that the bourgeoisie “can still play a revolutionary role in the East” is to say that it can complete the tasks of the democratic revolution. In Iran these tasks are: the wiping out of the latifundia; the granting of the right to self-determination to the nations that make up Iran; the separation of the church from the state; and, most importantly, the freeing of Iran from the yoke of imperialism. Which of these tasks has been resolved by the 1979 revolution, Messrs. Healy and Stevens? To ask the question is to answer it.

The land reform launched after the revolution has steadily shrunk as the new regime has grown more entrenched. Eight years after the Shah’s overthrow, 80% of the arable land remains in the hands of wealthy landowners. Some peasants have been able to hang onto the plots they seized at the height of the revolution, but many others have been forcibly expelled from the lands they confiscated from the feudal landlords.

Iran’s oppressed nationalities came forward immediately following the 1979 revolution with their demands, just as the oppressed nationalities in Russia had in the wake of the 1917 revolution and in Turkey following the revolution of 1908-1909. Having played an important role in the Shah’s overthrow, the Kurds, Baluchis and others expected the new government in Tehran would grant them their national rights. Instead, Khomeini, like the Shah before him, called on the army to uphold the privileged position of the Persian nation.

Under Iran’s Islamic constitution, the Kurds are denied self-government or autonomy, and they are also excluded from holding leading posts in the government because they are Sunni, not Shia Muslims.

In the Islamic Republic, the clergy, which is recruited mainly from the sons of the bazaar merchants, staffs the state apparatus and governs in the interests of the Iranian bourgeoisie as a whole. The mullahs’ rule has been accompanied by increased religious intolerance and oppression of women. But the strengthened bond between the church and state has above all been directed against the working class, at denying it any form of independent political organization. While the Shah justified his monopoly of power on the basis of the “divine right of kings,” Khomeini and the mullahs cite the Koran to back their claim that the clergy is the only group fit to decide matters of state in Iran.

They have consolidated their rule by ruthlessly suppressing every left-wing and working-class political organization, from the Mujahedin and Fedayeen to the Tudeh Party. The army, on the other hand, after suffering some exemplary executions in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection which toppled the Peacock Throne, has seen its ranks and power increase. Khomeini employed the army first against the left and oppressed nationalities within Iran, and then in the predatory war against Iraq. SAVAK, the Shah’s notorious secret police, was disbanded, but many of its former employees are reportedly working for its successor, SAVAMA.

And what of freeing Iran from the yoke of imperialism, the most important task of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Iran?

The anti-imperialist demagogy of the Iranian regime has been exposed by the Iran-contra crisis. While Khomeini and the Islamic Revolutionary Party leaders were denouncing the US as the “Great Satan,” and claiming the war against Iraq was the “road to Jerusalem,” behind the scenes they were obtaining arms from the Reagan administration and the Zionists and negotiating a rapprochement with US imperialism.

Certainly the renewal of the Tehran-Washington-Tel Aviv axis, which was, during the days of the Shah, the centerpiece of US imperialism’s Middle East strategy, represents an important shift to the right. It, however, is consistent with the policy pursued by the Khomeini regime since the Shah’s overthrow.

Trotsky’s injunction to Marxists to consider the attitude of a bourgeois nationalist regime to imperialism as a whole, and not just toward a particular imperialist power, is as important today as when he made it some 60 years ago.

The almost seven-year-old Iran-Iraq war provides the starkest proof of the inability of the Iranian bourgeoisie to win real independence from imperialism. Under the cloak of Shia fundamentalism, the Khomeini regime is continuing the Shah’s policy of trying to make Iran into the strongman of the Persian Gulf region to strengthen the Iranian bourgeoisie’s hand in bargaining with imperialism.

The Iraqi invasion of Iran in September 1980, in the midst of the hostage crisis, was a blatant attempt by the Ba’athist regime to ingratiate itself with imperialism and to grab an oil-rich chunk of Iranian territory. It was rightly denounced by the International Committee as an imperialist-inspired act of aggression.

However, once Iran gained the upper hand in the fighting in 1982, the Khomeini regime outlined its own predatory war aims: the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of a Shiite puppet regime in Baghdad, Iranian domination of the Sh’at al-Arab waterway and the payment of punitive war reparations by Iraq.

Unable to break the yoke of imperialist oppression and develop its country’s economy, the Iranian bourgeoisie, like the Iraqi, is seeking to compensate for its organic weakness through military conquest, by grabbing loot and territory. This reckless policy has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Iranian workers and peasants, the devastation of countless cities and villages, and the squandering of a large part of the wealth and increased independence both countries gained with the rise in oil prices in the 1970s.

After 6½ years of bloody fighting, neither side has been able to obtain a decisive military victory. But the war has strengthened imperialism immeasurably.

No proletarian revolutionary party could support either bourgeoisie in this reactionary conflict, but Healy and his WRP have joined the “revolutionary Iranian bourgeoisie” in exhorting Iranian workers and peasants to kill their Iraqi class brothers.

Even were it true that Iran was waging a progressive war, which we will not grant for a moment, Healy’s call for the working class to abandon its class opposition to Khomeini’s bourgeois regime would be totally impermissible for a revolutionist. Marx and Engels applauded Bebel and Liebknecht when they refused to vote for war credits in the Reichstag at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War, which Lenin always cited as the “classic example” of a just or defensive war. The German Marxists refused to abandon their opposition to the Prussian government because, as Trotsky explained, “It was necessary, if the centralization of state power arising out of the war was to prove useful to the Social-Democratic cause, that the working class should from the very beginning oppose the dynastic-Junker centralization with their own class-centralization filled with revolutionary distrust of the rulers.” (War and the International)

Having stumbled into a policy of mutual extermination, both the Hussein and Khomeini regimes appear intent on continuing this ruinous war. They fear that with the cessation of hostilities, the attention of the masses would once again focus on the great social problems for which neither the Iranian nor Iraqi bourgeoisie have solutions and which have only been intensified by the years of savage fighting.

Due to the absence of a revolutionary proletarian leadership, the Iranian bourgeoisie has been able to channel the powerful nationalist upsurge that shook the world in 1979 into the blind alley of Persian chauvinism—but only by unleashing ferocious repression against the working class.

Khomeini and the IRP did not lead the Iranian Revolution, they beheaded it. Many of the most advanced workers and youth have perished in the IRP’s prisons, while much of the enormous social power unleashed by the revolution has been expended in the fratricidal war with Iraq.

The events in Iran since 1978 are a bloody lesson for the international working class. The bourgeois-democratic revolution in countries with a belated capitalist development can only be completed when the working class wrests the leadership of the national revolution from the bourgeoisie, and, in alliance with the peasantry, establishes its own dictatorship. Almost 50 years after his death, Trotsky remains the great revolutionary teacher of the oppressed masses of the East.


Marxist Review begins its excursion into Iranian history with the year 1941 and ends it in 1953.

In the Healy-Stevens version of history, there is no room for an Iranian proletariat. Not once in “Trotskyism and the Iranian Revolution” do they allude to the existence of an Iranian working class or make any assessment of its struggles. But the working class in Iran emerged for the first time as a real contender for power in the 1941 to 1953 period.

To fill in the gaps that Marxist Review has left in the history of modern Iran is a task well beyond the scope of this article. But if one were to recount the history of Iran’s long struggle to free itself from imperialist domination, the starting point would be the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, not 1941.

Fueled largely by the 1905 uprising of the Russian working class against the czarist autocracy, the Constitutional Revolution was a mighty progressive movement. The Iranian working class, although figuratively still in its swaddling clothes, played a significant role in the revolution, as did the newly founded Social Democratic Party of Iran.

However, the tasks objectively posed before the revolution—to liberate Iran from the yoke of British and Russian imperialism and to wipe out feudal relations in the countryside—went far beyond the revolutionary capacities of the tiny Iranian bourgeoisie. From 1906 to 1921, Iran went through a series of upheavals as first the czar and then British imperialism intervened directly to keep the tottering Qajar dynasty in power. In 1921, fearing the impact of the Russian Revolution and a series of rebellions by Iran’s national minorities, the Persian bourgeoisie joined with the feudal landlords and British to support a coup d’etat by a general in the Shah’s cossack battalion, Reza Khan. Having established a modem army and the rudiments of a bourgeois state, Khan overthrew the Shah in 1925 and placed himself on the Peacock Throne. The Pahlevi dynasty was thus itself a product of the impotency of the Iranian bourgeoisie.

Healy-Stevens’ starting point is the 1941 invasion of Iran by the Soviet Union and Britain, undertaken to assure Allied supply lines to Russia on the one hand, and oil for British imperialism’s war machine on the other. The Shah, who, the Soviets and British believed, had pro-German sympathies, was forced out, and his son placed on the throne.

Healy-Stevens have chosen to begin their investigation of Iranian history there, not because they want to make a serious critique of the Stalinist bureaucracy’s attitude to the struggles of the oppressed peoples—that would be a scathing indictment of their own policy of subordinating the working class to the revolutionary national bourgeoisie. Rather their aim, although it is not expressly stated, is to build up the case that the Tudeh Party is not a legitimate working-class party and that the Iranian national bourgeoisie is by comparison progressive: in short, to justify the murder of Tudeh Party leaders by the IRP.

“The Soviet and British armies entered Tehran on December 7,” declares Marxist Review. “Eventually they made an agreement to leave Iran within six months of the war. The Tudeh Party, the Iranian Communist Party, came into being at this time following the release of some communists from prison under the auspices of the Soviet army.”

While the Tudeh Party was founded in 1941, it was not the first Iranian communist party. Significantly, Stevens says nothing about what happened to the original Communist Party.

Iran was one of the first countries in the East in which a Communist Party was born. Thousands of Iranians from Azerbaijan had worked in the oil fields of Baku in the years prior to the October Revolution and many of them had been won to socialism by the Bolsheviks. The CP took the initiative in forming the first trade union confederation in Iran’s history in 1921. However, under the influence of the Stalinist bureaucracy’s mounting offensive against the permanent revolution, the Iranian CP gave its support to Reza Khan as a “representative of the national bourgeoisie,” and, even after he had assumed the throne, advanced the perspective of pressuring his regime to make democratic reforms. The Shah ignored the CP’s pleas and savagely suppressed the working class, banning all trade unions in 1928 and all organizations advocating “collectivism” three years later.

The Stalinists of course learned nothing from this experience. The Tudeh Party was founded in 1941 on the Menshevik-Stalinist perspective of the two-stage revolution, i.e., to work as the faithful ally of the national bourgeoisie.

“Is the Tudeh Party communist?” asked an editorial in 1944 in the party’s daily newspaper Rahbar (Leader). “Our enemies ... smear us with the label to frighten the capitalists and the traders. The Tudeh Party is fully committed to the fundamental laws [the bourgeois constitution promulgated as a result of the 1906 Revolution]. Why? Because we believe that communism is an ideology suitable for social conditions that do not exist in Iran. A communist party will not find roots in our environment. We know that our immediate task is to unite the majority against the exploiting oligarchy and to strengthen the forces of democracy. We support, therefore, the constitution.” (Quoted from Ervand Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, p. 285)

Stevens equates the Soviet occupation of the north of Iran with the occupation of the south by British imperialism. He omits to tell his readers one thing: the Red Army’s occupation of the north had a powerful impact on the working class. Freed from the bloody dictatorship of Reza Khan., the workers formed trade unions. Within four years: the Tudeh-led trade union confederation had 400,000 members. Stevens also implies that the Soviet bureaucracy’s and the Tudeh Party’s unprincipled relations with Kurdish and Azerbaijani nationalists were part of a plot to dismember the Iranian nation. He is simply parroting the Persian chauvinists of the WRP who maintain that Iran is a state that is comprised of only their nation.

Undoubtedly the heavy hand of the Stalinist bureaucracy did antagonize national feelings in Iran, especially when the Kremlin conscripted the Tudeh Party into campaigning for a massive oil concession for the Soviet Union in northern Iran. During the war and in its immediate aftermath, the Tudeh Party was forbidden to press for the expropriation of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Corporation because that would have threatened Stalin’s alliance with the British bourgeoisie. So when the British sought to enlarge their influence in Iran by expanding their oil concession in the south, the Soviet Union asked Tehran to give it similar rights in the north.

Such was the support for the Tudeh Party that it was able to organize mass demonstrations in favor of the oil concession for the Soviet Union. No one demonstrated in support of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

When the Tudeh Party was allowed by Moscow to organize the oil workers in southern Iran, it won a massive response. On May Day 1946, 80,000 marched under Tudeh banners in Abadan. In July, it organized a general strike of over 65,000 workers in Khuzistan, the largest industrial strike that had ever been seen in the Middle East.

The Mass Movement of the Working Class

There is no mention of this or any of the other explosive struggles of the working class during this period in the Healy-Stevens version of Iranian history. All they tell us about the Tudeh Party is that the Soviet bureaucracy used it “to agitate for its concession, organizing demonstrations in Tehran and Tabriz in the north where the Soviet army was in sole occupation.”

The essential question is: What did the Tudeh Party do with the mass movement whose leadership had fallen into its hands? The answer to this is necessary to understand all of the subsequent developments in the class struggle in Iran, including why the Islamic fundamentalists emerged as such an important force in 1978-79. This cannot be raised by Marxist Review, since they deny such a movement ever existed.

Faithful to the Stalinist two-stage revolution theory and to the Kremlin, which was anxious to placate world imperialism, the Tudeh Party leadership engaged in parliamentary maneuvers aimed at pushing the Iranian bourgeoisie to introduce democratic reforms. Social revolution was emphatically ruled out.

But the “anti-Shah” majority in the fourteenth Majlis crumbled in the spring of 1944 and the Stalinist-sponsored alliance of “progressives,” the “Freedom Front” splintered when the Tudeh Party was forced to organize a general strike in Isfahan after impoverished striking mill workers broke through army barricades to seize grain.

At the height of its power in August 1946, Tudeh Party representatives were given the ministries of Health, Education, and Trade and Industry under Premier Qavam. But just three months later, under pressure from British imperialism (which had started to arm the tribal chiefs), from the military, and from the bourgeoisie (which had been terrified by the combativity of the young Iranian proletariat), Qavam sacked the Tudeh ministers and moved decisively to the right. Martial law was soon declared in large parts of the country, leftist papers suppressed, and Tudeh Party offices occupied. Plans for land and labor reform were scrapped. In December, the army was sent in to topple the autonomous governments that had been set up in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan.

Qavam had found himself “in the midst of a dangerous dilemma,” wrote Abrahamian. “He could continue on his leftward course, arm the trade unions, and seek military assistance from the Russians, but this might spark social revolution, if not a bloody civil war. Or he could take a sharp turn to the right, end the alliance with the Tudeh, compromise with the tribes and the officers; but this would postpone the constitutional struggle against the Shah. He chose the latter course.” (Iran Between Two Revolutions, p. 237)

With the Majlis deputies in a panic before the movement of the working class, the army, the Shah’s principal pillar of support, suddenly found more funding.

The Tudeh Party, which had seen its fortunes rise and fall so rapidly, was completely taken aback by Qavam’s sudden shift to the right. Once again the “revolutionary bourgeoisie” had proven hostile to revolution.

This of course is all censored from the Marxist Review account of Iranian history. There we read:

The Soviet army left Iran in May 1946 convinced by Prime Minister Qavam that when the Majlis reconvened after the elections, which could not take place until all foreign troops had left, a vote in favor of the Soviet exploration and concession was a certainty. Qavam then declared the Tabriz (Azerbaijan) government illegal and it fell when the Shah’s army went in during December 1946. The British left under intense pressure from the United Nations. The elections took place in October 1947 and the new Majlis voted by 102 to 2 against the Soviet Union’s proposal. In this way, the plans of Stalinism, to extend their sphere of influence south into Iran as they had done in Poland, etc., were smashed and the conspiracies they had organized in the army proved no substitute for the revolutionary mobilization of masses [led no doubt by Qavam!].

By 1949, the Shah felt strong enough to attempt a coup d’etat. Following an assassination attempt, he declared martial law throughout the country, outlawed the Tudeh Party, convened a Constituent Assembly to increase his powers substantially and rammed a law through the Majlis returning to him the title over the royal estates he had been forced to cede to the state in 1941.

But the Shah overplayed his hand. A new crisis erupted when the pro-royalist government submitted a plan to revise the 1933 concession with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. This concession, essentially an Iranian “unequal treaty,” had long been the focus of the anti-imperialist struggle. The Shah’s readiness to accept a new agreement giving Iran only a pittance more in royalties, provoked a nationwide outcry.

The Role of Mossadeq

The Tudeh Party having been driven underground, and, far more importantly, into political crisis as a result of the fiasco of 1946, the leadership of the struggle against the oil accord fell by default to the National Front of Dr. Mossadeq. But it was the movement of the working class in large measure that propelled Mossadeq, who headed only a tiny delegation in the Majlis, into the premiership in 1951.

The mounting opposition to the oil accord among the urban masses struck fear in all sections of the ruling class. But when the ‘Tudeh Party once again revealed its strength by organizing a general strike in Khuzistan and then sympathy strikes and demonstrations in Tehran and other cities to protest the killing of six protesters during the general strike, the Majlis asked Mossadeq to become premier.

Mossadeq pushed through a bill nationalizing the British oil holdings. He resigned in July 1952 after conflicting with the Shah, but was called back to power after five days of strikes, demonstrations and bloody clashes across the country.

Marxist Review eulogizes Mossadeq as the forerunner of the “revolutionary bourgeoisie” of Iran today: “The Shah dismissed Mossadeq, but the prime minister refused to go. The Shah appointed a new prime minister, but Mossadeq stood his ground.” In fact, as Britain began to exert more and more pressure on his government, Mossadeq openly solicited the support of US imperialism. Even though the Tudeh Party played the principal role in mobilizing people to attend the National Front’s demonstrations, and even though the Stalinists made clear they were not going to challenge Mossadeq for leadership of the struggle against British imperialism, the Tudeh Party remained illegal throughout his tenure as premier.

While Healy has often pointed to the fact that the Tudeh Party, on orders from the Soviet bureaucracy which hoped to use British imperialism as a counterweight to the growing US influence in the Middle East, at first stood aside from the movement for the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, he always omits to mention that Mossadeq, fearful of upsetting Washington, spurned all the Stalinists’ subsequent appeals for a “united front” against imperialism.

So determined is Stevens to give Mossadeq a revolutionary gloss that he engages in outright fabrications. He tells us, “Peasants undoubtedly inspired by the whole struggle against imperialism, rose up against landlords throughout the country, killing some and driving others off the land.” Unfortunately, this did not happen. There was not a major peasant uprising in Iran in the early 1950s. As for the land reform passed by Mossadeq, it was exceptionally timid.

The events surrounding the CIA coup of August 1953 most graphically demonstrate that Mossadeq, while quite willing to use the working class to pressure imperialism, was terrified of the type of revolutionary struggle needed to free Iran from imperialist oppression.

On August 16, 1953 a group of Royalist officers moved to overthrow Mossadeq. But the premier, having been tipped off by the Tudeh Party’s contacts in the military, had them arrested. The following day, the Shah fled the country. “The National Front set up a committee to decide the fate of the monarchy and Tudeh crowds poured into the streets, destroying royalist statues. In some provincial towns, such as Rasht and Enzeli, the Tudeh took over the municipal buildings. The next morning, Mossadeq, after a fateful interview with the American ambassador, who promised aid if law and order was reestablished, instructed the army to clear the streets of all demonstrators. Ironically Mossadeq was trying to use the military, his past enemy, to crush the crowd, his main bulwark.

“Not surprisingly, the military used this opportunity to strike back against Mossadeq. On August 19, while the Tudeh was taken aback by Mossadeq’s blow against them, [General] Zahedi, commanding thirty-five Sherman tanks, surrounded the premier’s residence, and after a nine-hour battle captured Mossadeq.” (Iran Between Two Revolutions, p. 280)

Needless to say, this does not appear in the Healy-Stevens account of the events surrounding the Shah’s return to power. Nor is there any critique of the Iranian Stalinists, who by their tailing after the “revolutionary bourgeoisie” of the National Front, opened the door to the defeat of the anti-imperialist movement.

This is readily admitted even by opponents of Trotskyism like Bizhan Jarzani, the theoretician of the Stalinist-influenced Fedayin Khalq: “The [Tudeh] Party failed to pursue an active role ... it lost its former fighting quality and confined itself to merely criticizing Mossadeq.... In other words, the Tudeh Party was following the lead shown by the national bourgeoisie and Mossadeq; it failed to take seriously the danger of the now wounded enemy and refrained from performing its revolutionary task of filling the vacuum left by the national bourgeoisie.” (Capitalism and Revolution in Iran, Zed Press, pp. 29-30)

In 1953, as in 1946, the Tudeh Party was propelled by the working class into the leadership of the national revolution, but rather than fighting for power, the Stalinists ceded leadership to the “revolutionary national bourgeoisie.” When Mossadeq betrayed the anti-imperialist struggle and turned on them, the Stalinists concluded that since the bourgeoisie had deserted its “own” revolution, further struggle was futile. They made no effort to mobilize the working class and, through it, all the oppressed masses to oppose the Shah’s counterrevolutionary coup.

There is one final distortion in Stevens’s account. He writes: “The army took bloody vengeance against both [Mossadeq’s] supporters and the Tudeh Party.” But the repression carried out against the leaders of the National Front pales when compared with the savage treatment meted out to the Tudeh. One cabinet minister was executed, but most National Front leaders, including Mossadeq, were given prison terms of less than five years. On the other hand, over the next four years, 40 Tudeh members were executed, another 14 were tortured to death by security forces, 200 were jailed for life and another 3,000 arrested.

What lessons do Healy-Stevens draw for the working class from the downfall of Mossadeq’s regime? None. But Marxist Review assures us vital lessons were drawn ... by the mullahs: “Although the experience of the anti-imperialist, anti-Shah struggle was a failure in the immediate sense, it proved to be the beginning, the dress rehearsal [shades of 1905!] for 1978-79. Many of those who escaped the Shah’s prisons, who supported the struggle, moved to the holy city of Qom, where discussion began on the lessons of the failure. One of those who took part in the discussions ... was Ruhollah Khomeini.”

A Trotskyist assessment however was made in 1953 by those fighting against Pabloite revisionism within the Fourth International. “As the pressures from imperialism mount, the Kremlin’s disposition is to gain time for itself at the expense of the world working class and the struggles of the colonial peoples,” wrote the SWP National Committee. “This explains the conduct of the Tudeh Party in Iran which refrained from launching a fight for power at the peak of its mass support and thereby permitted the coup d’etat which overthrew Mossadeq and restored the Shah. The Kremlin’s anxiety to prevent the upsetting of the equilibrium in this sensitive spot and avert the risk of precipitating war accounted for this triumph of counterrevolution in Iran.” (Trotskyism versus Revisionism, Vol. One, New Park Publications, p. 205)

As for the Iranian Stalinists, in the aftermath of 1953, they moved even further to the right. The Tudeh Party proved unable to carry out serious underground work in Iran, while its leaders in exile tail-ended the remnants of the National Front. In the late 1960s, it even flirted with General Bakhtiar, who in addition to being a former head of SAVAK had personally led the crusade against Tudeh members while military governor of Tehran between 1953 and 1957.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union and later the Chinese Stalinists established warm relations with the Shah’s regime.

Caught completely off guard by the revolution of 1978-79, the Tudeh leadership tried to compensate by being among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Khomeini regime. The Stalinists reportedly provided the IRP with intelligence on various petty bourgeois radical groups, which having become politically unhinged in the face of clerical reaction, launched terrorist attacks against the government. Subsequently, the IRP fell on the Stalinists themselves.


Not content with having renounced the permanent revolution and having crudely rewritten Iranian history to serve Healy’s mercenary purposes, Stevens concludes his article with an ignorant attack on the whole history of Trotskyism.

Stevens writes:

North began by rejecting the dialectic in favor of mechanical rational materialism. Now he rejects materialism outright as his yet unfinished “answer to Banda” shows. He analyses not history, but the opinions of history—he begins from the consciousness of men not from the material conditions that give rise to the consciousness. This is the philosophic source of the nature of his group—in the beginning was the word—Trotsky said this, Lenin said that, etc.—this is idealism.

Stevens is referring to “The Heritage We Defend,” Comrade North’s reply to “27 Reasons Why the International Committee Should Be Buried Forthwith,” the libel M. Banda issued against the Fourth International in January 1985. Banda, who functioned as Healy’s right arm for so many years, has since declared his open support for Stalinism.

To establish that, contrary to Banda’s claims, the Trotskyist movement has alone fought to resolve the crisis of working class leadership through the building of revolutionary proletarian parties, North has authored a virtual history of the Fourth International. It is a measure of the miseducation of the cadre of the International Committee carried out under the leadership of Healy, Banda and Slaughter that Comrade North’s article has taken on the appearance of a historical excavation.

Stevens accuses North of considering only “the opinions of history.” North has in fact throughout “The Heritage We Defend” demonstrated the correlation between the struggle against revisionism within the Fourth International and the development of the class struggle as a whole. In dismissing such an analysis as “idealist,” Marxist Review is saying that the struggle waged by the Fourth International to defend and develop the principles of Trotskyism is of no objective significance.

One thing you can say about Healy, he doesn’t mince words. What Banda said in four pages of subjective rantings and ravings, he says in a paragraph: “let’s renounce the whole of Trotskyism.”

To the chagrin of Healy and Stevens, we will conclude with yet another quote, for nothing need be added to the characterization made by Trotsky in 1929 of all those who glorify the colonial bourgeoisie:

The Chinese Opposition declares that all who support, or spread, or defend in relation to the past, the legend that the “national” bourgeoisie is able to lead the masses to a revolutionary struggle are traitors. The tasks of the Chinese revolution can really be solved only on condition that the Chinese proletariat, at the head of the oppressed masses, throws off bourgeois political leadership and seizes power. There is no other way. (Leon Trotsky on China, p. 404)