From Anti-Colonial Nationalism to Radical Internationalism: Iran's Communist Unity (Vaḥdat-i kumūnīstī) in the Arab World

Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi
Dr Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi
  Department of History, University of Manchester


Despite being a highly influential Iranian Marxist group, the National Front in the Middle East, also known as the Organisation of Communist Unity (Sāzmān-i vaḥdat-i kumūnīstī, henceforth SVK) has received scant scholarly attention. This article aims to describe the origins and development of Communist Unity and analyse its broader significance for the Iranian communist movement in the second half of the 20th century, while also shedding light on its transnational networks and practice of internationalist solidarity in coordination with likeminded organisations in the region. It will also show how this small, but important organisation played a crucial role in supporting the armed opposition inside Iran through its political, ideological and material support networks located within the Arab world.
The National Front in the Middle East was founded by members of the younger, more radical wing of the National Front (Jibhah-yi millī). In the aftermath of the MI6-CIA orchestrated coup which ousted nationalist premier Muḥammad Muṣaddiq, and a decade of lacklustre efforts on the part of the Second and Third National Fronts to achieve tangible reforms, a slew of individuals associated with this broad umbrella organisation found themselves politically radicalised in the period overlapping with Bandung (1955) and a decade later, the Tri-continental conference (1966). Despite initially stressing a sense of continuity with the past and Muṣaddiq’s nationalism and anti-imperialism, this new generation of activists had a very different set of ideological preoccupations to that of its predecessor.
Another notable characteristic of the nascent SVK was its anti-Stalinism and critique of the internal and organisational authoritarianism which had afflicted the Iranian left for over two decades. This came out clearly when in 1973 the so-called ‘process of homogenization’ (purusah-yi tajanus) was initiated and the SVK began to operate under the direction of the more established Organisation of the Iranian People’s Fadāʿī Guerrillas, which had already launched armed resistance inside Iran, most famously in its strike against the Siāhkal gendarmerie in February 1971.
During this period the two groups essentially operated as a single unit in the region and sought to provide financial and material support to sustain one another’s operations both within the wider region and inside Iran. The paper will examine their joint operations in the course of the liberation war in Dhufar, Oman, relationships with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, and armed activities during the Lebanese Civil War, as well as their broader implications for the Iranian opposition at the time.

Iran - Communism in Iran - Internationalism - Transnational solidarity - Radical Networks in the Middle East - Communism in the Global South - Anti-colonialism - Anti-colonial nationalism - Tricontinental Moment