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Rah-e-Kargar[1] and the "Socialist Priests"

Following the crisis and the total bankruptcy of the Tudeh Party[2], the crucial task of keeping revisionist traditions alive, of distorting the aims and ideals of the working class, appears to have become entirely the responsibility of Rah-e-Kargar. These spirited youths go about their new responsibility with such keenness that even their old friends from Fedaees (Minority)[3] organisation raise their voice against the "right inclinations" of Rah-e-Kargar. When the revolution was at its peak, they were asking the communists to adopt the "guise of impartiality" in the conflict between the workers and the bourgeoisie. With the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war they did not hesitate to run headlong to take part alongside the Tudeh Party, the Mojahedin, and the Fedaees (Majority) in the "great patriotic war" of Khomeini and Bani-Sadr. Under the banner of forming a "workers' front" they are now advising the communists against carrying Marxist ideology into the ranks of workers and their future mass organisations, for fear of Marxism disuniting the workers! Most interesting of all, particularly in recent months, precisely at time when the last act of the "sole alternative" puppet-show of Mr. Rajavi & co. is drawing to a close in the midst of the audience's roar of laughter, Rah-e-Kargar is looking for a ticket to the National Council of Resistance in the black market.

The latest masterpiece, however, is Rah-e-Kargar sticking out its neck once more in defence of the so-called "progressive" religious currents - this time, of course, not in Iran, but in Latin America and under the rubric of defence of the "Liberation Theology"!

One would naturally expect that after six years of experiencing religious government in Iran and the exposure of the anti-democratic capacity of the religious currents, both in government and in opposition, the term "progressive religion" should enrage anyone even slightly subjected to this formidable six-year experience. Not Rah-e-Kargar as may be expected! Rah-e-Kargar is so overcome by revisionist considerations that even after the rule of scores like the Islamic Republic, it would lose control with the first hypocritical, supposedly "anti imperialist" grumbling of this or that mullah or religious current, and open up the gates of its "popular front" to them.

the article "the Catholic Church and the Liberation Theology" (Rah-e-Kargar, No. 13) opens with a spirited statement directed at the "higher strata" of the Catholic Church. As always, in the Tudeh-ist tradition, an attack on the "higher strata" of a phenomenon is an introduction to laying it on thick for the "lower strata". The "higher strata" of the bourgeoisie are attacked because they have settled on the policy of forming a united front with the middle and the petty bourgeoisie. The "higher strata" of the army are attacked because they have pinned their hopes on the "younger officers". The "higher strata of the clergy" are attacked because they are intending to attract the minor clergymen. It does not take Rah-e-Kargar very long to come to the point:

"In the midst of all this the lower strata of the Catholic Church revolted (!) against the reactionary bishops and cardinals. The most radical among them who were in a position to observe at close hand the daily suffering and pain of the people and are themselves mostly entangled in poverty, stood in the camp of the masses and cooperated closely with the popular and socialist movements in this unequal fight."

How familiar the story is. The experience of the "religious opposition" of the Shah's time is being repeated - this time in Latin America.

Had the spectacle of the ultimate end of this religious opposition not been in front of Rah-e-Kargar today, one could criticize it perhaps only for its illusions on religion. But Rah-e-Kargar deliberately ignores the experience, and conceals it from the Latin American toilers, and has no qualms about praising the novel and presumably "progressive" Christianity, in the same fashion as one of the faithful students of Father Gustavo Gutiérrez in the pulpit, and to preach:

"The ideological line of this catholic movement is a new interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Somehow they give a class-oriented interpretation of the teachings of Christ. They regard the toiling masses as followers of the line of Jesus Christ, and believe that the humanity, to liberate which Christ Sacrificed himself, are not those who open fire on the toilers and who are enjoying themselves at the cost of their labour, but the masses of producers who are deprived of the fruit of their labour."

Supposing that "they" try to attach Christianity, exactly like Islam, to the toilers or the "Mostaz'afin"[4]. Supposing that they endeavour, like their predecessors in Iran over the last decade, to give some class-oriented interpretation of religion, of which a phenomenon such as the present-day Mojahedin is anyway the best possible product. But why do "these" who call themselves communists ululate, recommending the same future to Latin American people that the Iranian people are at the moment living through at a high cost?

Rah-e-Kargar is not just anxious to spread the moral influence of this "progressive Christianity" but more important than this, it eagerly supports the efforts of these currents for the religious organisation of the toilers:

"Some of the followers of this school, which has taken on the name of "Liberation Theology" have, in discipline and practice, had a truly radical course of action, and gone beyond Gutiérrez in this respect. They set out to organise the Church from below, and started their activity by forming open or semi-open basic cells among the toiling masses, particularly the peasants and slum-dwellers, and intervening in various economic and political activities."

Not only does Rah-e-Kargar remain unperturbed by this religious organising of the toilers, and in other words the extension of organisation on the basis of religious belief among the workers, which is the equivalent of their real division and the inversion of their political consciousness, it even sanctifies it. Thus writes Rah-e-Kargar about the advantages of the religious form of organisation of the masses:

"Under conditions of brute suppression, the religious peculiarity of these cells to some extent maintained their immunity against the attacks of dictatorial regimes, so that despite a decrease in their activity, their move continued."

Then long live the "religious peculiarity" of these cells! Rah-e-Kargar does not concern itself with the question as to why the organisations with "religious peculiarity", in Iran or in Latin America, in South Africa or in Poland enjoy - and have enjoyed-greater immunity against the aggression of dictatorial regimes. The truth is that religious superstitions and the religious "organisation" of the masses means, exactly, their distancing from revolutionary and communist aims, ideals, and organisation; the bourgeoisie, therefore, as it has proved in Iran, is itself willing to have the inevitable dissatisfaction of the toiling masses channelled into religious outlets. The dissatisfaction would thus either be neutralized and castrated, or even, should it escalate and overthrow the existing despotism, it would be suppressed and harnessed by the same formerly oppositionist religious currents. Rah-e-Kargar obscures the class content of religion in our time, denies the divisive character of religion, ignores the venom injected by religious superstitions in the masses of the people and in their protest movements, and instead harangues on the security benefits of "organisation" through mosques and church cells. This superficial "anti-regime" oppositionism, this anamorphous "anti-imperialism" has no kinship either with Marxism which stands for the theoretical and practical independence of the working class and for workers' revolution, or even with the democratism which today is common sense to the masses. The lesson Rah-e-Kargar has not learnt from the Iranian Revolution, it learns, in an inverted version, from the Latin American situation:

"The relations of the Marxists with this group of priests who should rightly be called 'Socialist priests' (!) has been based on close cooperation in the task of advancing the organisation of economic and political activities among the masses. These relations were not based on an ideological demarcation; rather they hinged on class alignments. The Marxists and the socialist priests fought in the same front against military dictators and their bishop allies."

This constitutes the entire problem of Rah-e-Kargar at present. Latin America has been called witness to justify the opportunistic policy of the "Marxists" abandoning ideology, and the prohibition of disseminating communism within the ranks of the working class, i.e., the axis of the policy of Rah-e-Kargar today. According to Rah-e-Kargar, such an attempt, i.e., disseminating the revolutionary ideology of the working class, creates divisions in the ranks of the "anti-dictatorship" front; it endangers "anti-American" unanimity with class-oriented "impurities". The efforts of the Marxists to make the anti-imperialist movement reliant upon the class movement of the workers, to put the workers (rather than "socialist" priests, rabbis, mullahs, mubids) in the leadership of this movement, and their struggle to disengage the workers from religious superstitions and organisation under the banner of religion, weakens the all-popular front against "Yankee" imperialism. "Arguments after the Shah's death"[5] - this is the real slogan of Rah-e-Kargar, which is presented, apparently on the occasion of the Pope's trip to Latin America, without any shame.

In the usual revisionist fashion, Lenin also should be brought in. Notwithstanding the fact that religion carries more immunity, "Lenin's confirmation" apparently seals the credentials of any claimant of revolutionism. Rah-e-Kargar, therefore, in good old revisionist fashion, i.e., irrelevant and out of context quotes, turns Lenin into a supporter of "progressive religion":

"Latin American Marxists, following the teachings of Lenin(!), in numerous cases (!) joined hands with religious figures who 'were prepared to struggle to build a paradise on earth' (Lenin, Socialism and Religion)."

This is an obvious distortion of Lenin's stand on religion and religious currents. Lenin speaks of individual religious figures, whereas Rah-e-Kargar is a defender and advocate of the religious organisation of the masses, and the dissemination of the superstitious ideas of "New Christianity". (It is interesting to note that Rah-e-Kargar formulates its phrases in such a way as to keep its own "ideological" views on this Christianity concealed, for fear of Latin American clergymen being frightened off!)

What Lenin has actually said is that communists may cooperate with religious individuals who are prepared, despite their religion and religious beliefs, to struggle against despotism and for social justice. Rah-e-Kargar, instead, makes up a certain new "progressive religion", and hails the organising of the masses in religious and "church cells" as a "step forward". If Lenin symbolizes the effort to purge socialism of all non-socialist and opportunistic phenomena, Rah-e-Kargar generously decorates the "priests" with a "socialist" badge!

This is not Leninism; it is the old story of the "Afghan Emir". This is ingratiating oneself to the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois opposition. This is one more call to the bourgeoisie to take part in organising the workers.

The moralistic conclusion of these discussions is clear:

"The positive experience of Nicaragua in bringing about unity between various forces irrespective of ideology and religion and based on the class interests and revolutionary demands of the masses, is a worthwhile example for our country and for the progressive and revolutionary forces."

But is this not the same policy which the "progressive and revolutionary forces", of the kind of Rah-e-Kargar, followed in the 1979 Revolution? This, then, is exactly what is not to be done. The Iranian working class has paid the high penalty of these illusions.

The workers and toilers of Latin America are entitled to learn from the living experience of the Iranian religious opposition now and in the past, and from Lebanon, Afghanistan and Poland, as living instances of the functioning of religion. If the Iranian communist has anything to say to the revolutionary workers of Latin America, it is exactly the opposite of what Rah-e-Kargar would have them believe. Religious opposition in our time is a bourgeois reserve force and current to fracture the revolutionary movement and perpetuate the suppression of the toilers in the wake of the downfall of the existing despotic regimes. "Progressive religion" and "Liberation Theology" is an illusion and a contradiction in terms. Progressiveness is incompatible with religion. The cause of decisive emancipation requires the freedom, at least, of the vanguard section of the workers from the grips of "theology". Movements are drawn closer to revolution exactly to the extent that they liberate themselves from religious hindrances. While it is true that the Christian Church today is divided over policy, this reflects, first and foremost, how alarmed the bourgeoisie is by the working-class and communist opposition. This reflects the far-sightedness of sections of the bourgeoisie, and their efforts to prepare politically for the aftermath of the culmination of workers' revolutions.

The conduct of the Islamists in Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon and North Africa need not be elaborated. In order to maintain the status quo, part of the church in Britain (the very "higher" ranks!) is prepared to make a gesture of apparently defending the miners and protesting about unemployment. In Poland the very bishops are doing their utmost to taint the workers' movement with religion, to mediate between the workers and the revisionist state, and ultimately to harness the workers' movements according to the wishes of both the ruling military government and the competing western powers. In Southern Africa, reformist clergymen are, under the auspices of the government, already at the head of the protests of the black workers, and even receive medals from the international institutions. In Latin America, where poverty is running amock and the U.S. imperialism is engaged, in the most open and rabid manner, in exploiting large masses and suppressing and stamping out revolutions and the revolutionaries, the church cannot but turn to the "left". To speak of the revolution when the waves of revolution are sweeping over an entire society is no credit for the "lower ranked" church of "Rah-e-Kargar". No one will be praised for not being anti-revolutionary and for submitting to the will of the people. In Latin America religion has rubbed along with the revolution of the masses of toilers (which itself is mostly limited within an anti-despotic framework) specifically because it dreads its own isolation. The communists must make the masses aware of the nature of the future of this religion and of its real aim. The myth of progressive religion in Iran has cracked and fallen to the ground. Latin America too must learn the lesson. Unlike Rah-e-Kargar, communists must precisely try to separate the workers from religious currents and to organise them in their class organisations, and above all, in communist organisations which "carry their ideology". For, the sole criterion of the advancement of any revolutionary movement in our time is the strengthening of the independent and communist rank of the workers, and the isolation of all those currents which harness the workers' and revolutionary movements within the bounds of bourgeois (including religious) aims and policies.

Nader Behnam [Mansoor Hekmat]

First published in Communist No. 19-20, June 4, 1985.
English translation: Bolshevik Message, No. 3, January 1986


[1] "Workers' Path". A pro-Russian reformist organisation.-BM.
[2] The main pro-Russian party in Iran, officially recognized by Moscow.-BM.
[3] A radical leftist pro-Russian organisation.-BM.
[4] "The poor and the weak" (An Islamic term).-BM.
[5] Reference to a slogan by the hezbollahis in the early days of the revolution, that the disputes among the people should be carried out only after the Shah's overthrow.-BM. #0470en