The Mostadha’fin’s Confusing Journey from Sharia’ti’s Revolutionary Utopianism to Khomeini’s Dystopian Reality 1976-1982

by Ronen A. Cohen (Author)
©2019 Monographs XVI, 138 Pages


Among the players in the Iranian Revolution were tens of groups, including the Mojahedin-e Khalq, the Forqan Group, the Hojjatiyeh, and the Tudeh, among others. Yet, one was not so well-known and, unlike others that embarked on revolutionary paths, this group was not big or active enough to do any serious damage to anybody, except perhaps to themselves, by scratching out their own innovative brand of ideological revolution. Sharia’ti’s ideology and revolutionary thought was on the front lines of the Revolution playing its modest part. Moreover, on second, third, or even fourth look, the Islamic Revolution could not have gone on without them. Though their contribution may have been modest and not easily detected, their role was nonetheless very important and must be understood to fully comprehend the main theme of the Revolution.
This book speaks to the Arman-e Mostadha’fin’s story. Confused and frustrated, this group tried to make its contribution to the Revolution’s spirit, in particular how to understand Sharia’ti’s ideological path. At the end of the day, their impact was too little to influence the wave of the Revolution; however, their existence within it helped to serve Sharia’ti’s ideology in a way that changed the shape of the Islamic Revolution’s first days.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1. The Historical Background of the Growth of the Arman-e Mostadha’fin Organization
  • The 1970s—Iran and the world powers—between acceptance and rejection and its influence upon the Cold War
  • The map of the internal opposition to the Pahlavi monarchy
  • Notes
  • Chapter 2. The Emergence of the Arman-e Mostadha’fin under Unfair Circumstances and Terms
  • Doing the impossible and emerging despite the Shah’s awareness by inventing the existence of yet another revolutionary group
  • A revolutionary leadership without a targeted population
  • Solving the puzzle
  • Emerging from the point of maturity-naivety and establishing an ideological vision and aims
  • The name and emblem of the group—Mostadha’fin
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • Chapter 3. Ali Sharia’ti—The Rise and Fall of a Revolutionary Ideologue
  • Sharia’ti’s revolutionary writings about the complex relationships between religion and secularism and Shia and Marxism
  • Sharia’ti’s activities in Hosseniyyeh Ershad
  • Between traditionalism and religious activism in Sharia’ti’s philosophy
  • Iranian nationalism in Sharia’ti’s philosophy
  • Sharia’ti and the Islamic Revolution
  • The influence of Khomeini’s revolutionary philosophy
  • The influence of the revolutionary philosophies of the revolutionary organizations
  • Violence and terror in Sharia’ti’s philosophy
  • The fading of Sharia’ti, his voluntary exile and his mysterious death
  • Notes
  • Chapter 4. A Just Ideology, Justification and Fiction
  • The AeM’s ideology—a triangle of realities
  • Nationalism, Iranianism and religion—the AeM’s national-religious approach
  • Ijtihad—Yes, Mojtahed—No?
  • Ruhaniyat vs. Mostadha’fin and vice versa
  • Ayatollah Taleqani—the real revolutionary leader
  • Notes
  • Chapter 5. Elimination and Dissolution
  • The oppositionist movements after the Islamic revolution
  • Elimination and dissolution—the inevitable end of the AeM
  • Notes
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Books in English
  • Articles in English
  • CIA Documents
  • WikiLeaks Documents
  • USA Department of State Files
  • Israel State Archives: Ginzach Hamedina
  • Books and Articles in Arabic
  • Books and Articles in Persian
  • Archive—Book collection in the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam)
  • Books in Hebrew
  • General Documents
  • Index

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During the last few years of his regime Mohammad Reza Shah, the last Shah of Iran, tried to create new realities in Iranian society mainly through the reforms and ideology of the White Revolution. Considering his tyrannical ways this attempt to create a modern so-called liberal democracy was, however, an example of his naivety and blindness. Since he was aware that his recent reforms and policies had reached a dead-end and, with the American president and administration breathing down his neck – especially in matters of human rights and political freedom, the Shah decided that he had to act and, because of pressure and despair, his reactions resulted in nothing being wisely calculated or organized.

The Shah’s reactions were motivated by his desire to allay the word-wide discomfort over and disbelief in his policies of modernization rather than by any basic preference for a particular ideology. Since both world opinion and his own people assumed that it was the Shah himself who had led to the deterioration of events into this ‘political game’ he was apparently unable to anticipate that the game would have its own dynamics. Since he was torn between his own desire and ambition to build up his country and the desire of both the West and the Iranian people to realize their own liberal visions for the country there was no chance that he would win this battle – and it is here that his free-fall began. ← ix | x →

Added to the abovementioned fundamental problems in Iran and, especially because the Shah was trying to appease the liberal forces both within and outside the country, was the fact that this was the time chosen by the revolutionary forces to find the courage to emerge from the underground and renew their activities. The emergence of some of the revolutionary groups and movements was based on a variety of specific agendas and ideologies in which there were some groups which saw themselves working under the Shah’s future liberal government and politics while others, the Ayatollah Khomeini among them, that saw themselves toppling the Shah and establishing a new political order on the ruins of the Shah’s monarchy.

In general those who saw the monarchy as part and parcel of the Iranian identity and history belonged to those groups and movements that were against the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Velayat-e-Faqih agenda. Yet, most of those who supported the replacement of the monarchy with another political framework, and who were technically on Khomeini’s side, were still neither his great advocates nor fully aware of his new religious-political agenda.

Nevertheless, the history of the revolution belongs to the winner and, as the famous ABBA song says: “the winner takes it all” – and the Ayatollah Khomeini took it all, leaving nothing to the other groups. Their fall was abrupt, obvious and total. No one had any chance of gaining anything related to power, influence over the media or political or religious consciousness. The absolute victor was the Ayatollah Khomeini and all the rest of the revolutionary groups were humiliated, stunned, disoriented, disconnected, disunited, and exposed in their naivety.

This picture has become so engraved in global consciousness that they believe that a revolution, any revolution can have only one clear winner with no place for the also-rans. As many know such a clear, sharp and absolute picture is not always the whole picture and when one takes a closer look one can find things hidden in the shadows that at first sight did not seem to belong to the overall picture. Upon taking a second look, however, one may arrive at a more fundamental, even striking, understanding that the initial, perhaps misleading picture cannot be looked at again without taking these seemingly obscure elements into consideration.

The real story of the Islamic Revolution in Iran has been told in many ways, perhaps too many ways, but all of them have taken the same approach which gives the stage to the winners and have convinced everybody that the revolution could only be interpreted in one way as a triumph for Khomeini while other voices were doomed to silence. As in a concert, however, when ← x | xi → we hear the final chords and everybody stands up to applaud all eyes are on the conductor, not on the violinists or the timpanist. Everybody may have enjoyed the team effort but they forget about all those who worked for years practicing their professions to produce the present musical enjoyment.

Among the players in the Iranian revolution were tens of groups, each of which took part and all of which were being directed by the major guide (or to continue the metaphor – the conductor). All took part in the concerted effort to follow Khomeini’s lead but some of them were actually unaware that Khomeini’s real intention was to topple the Shah and replace him, and, even though some of these groups and movements were not followers of Khomeini, they still followed his general orchestration which was to replace the political order, either with another Shah or by taking the monarchy down.

Among these groups were the Mojahedin-e Khalq, the Forqan Group, the Hojjatiyeh, the Tudeh and others. One of these groups was actually not so well-known and, unlike the others that embarked on revolutionary paths, this group was not big enough nor active enough to do any serious damage to anybody, except perhaps to themselves, by scratching out their own innovative brand of ideological revolution. This group, like the anonymous ‘musicians’ that we hardly notice in the orchestra, was actually there on the front lines of the revolution playing its modest part. Moreover, when we take a second, third or even fourth look at it, we finally realize that the show probably could not have gone on without this player. Perhaps its contribution was modest and not easily detected but the role they played was very important and needs to be understood if one wishes to understand the main theme of the revolution.

The Arman-e Mostadha’fin – or to use its full name Sazman-e Razmandegan-e Pishgam Mostadha’fin-e IranThe Organization of the Vanguard Fighters of the Oppressed People in Iran was an Iranian organization that was founded in summer 1976 and was active in Iran until February 1982. Its founder Mohammad Baqer Hossein Borzuee was an Islamist activist especially involved in matters of religion and Islamic culture together with the Forqan Group, in the mosques of suburban Tehran. The organization, like many others during the Islamic Revolution, did not gain any place within the new politics after the revolution which is no wonder since they were against the clerics playing any role in politics. With the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war, many of its members joined in the war but many others chose to leave Iran and rejoined the groups in exile opposed to the new Islamic Republic of Iran;1 and this is attested to by its name being allegedly associated with the regrouping of anti-regime forces in 2000. ← xi | xii →

The organization’s ideology could probably have been assimilated into the Forqan Group’s ideology2 since it was mainly based on the ideas of Ali Sharia’ti who was one of the most influential Islamic theoreticians during the Islamic revolution in Iran. According to the organization the ideology that Sharia’ti offered was the right path for the Iranian people to follow and not the ideology being propounded by the clergy. They believed that the uniqueness of Sharia’ti’s ideology was based on an innovative and modern interpretation of the Shi’a Islamic texts that he combined together with the ideas of western philosophers and theoreticians. This ideology was referred to as Ravesh Sharia’ti – “Sharia’ti’s Path” and it claimed to offer the real way people should follow but the leaders of the group believed that this path should be embraced by people of their own free will and not through being recruited by Sharia’ti’s followers. In other words, a major principle (one of many) of the organization was that its members should join their ranks because they had developed this consciousness by themselves, since this was what represented the real way of Sharia’ti.3 Either way, members of the organization had to be familiar with Sharia’ti’s principles which would lead them to adopting his ideological way.

In its efforts to accomplish this mission, and in spite of its small size and the fact that it was unfamiliar to many Iranians, the organization played a real role during the Islamic revolution. It was this organization that actually nurtured and encouraged the revolutionary ideology of Sharia’ti which, together with Khomeini’s ideology, ignited the flames of revolution. What the Ayatollah Khomeini did among his followers the revolutionary groups that followed Sharia’ti did among the religious and conservative people who were seeking a way that was different from Khomeini’s. The organization’s fate and demise, however, was like that of other opposition groups – with their leadership being arrested, tortured, forced to confess crimes they had not committed and finally being executed in groups.

The purpose of this research is to shed some light on this unknown Iranian revolutionary organization and to reveal yet another aspect of the Islamic Revolution’s bloody history. To achieve this, we will be asking how far the Arman-e Mostadha’fin took Sharia’ti’s ideology and how they brought it to reality, what their real contribution to the revolution was and why they were doomed by Khomeini’s supporters. Finally we will deal with the question of why this organization’s history is important to an understanding of the pulsating heart of the Islamic Revolution, then and even now. ← xii | xiii →


XVI, 138
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVI, 138 pp.

Biographical notes

Ronen A. Cohen (Author)

Ronen A. Cohen is Senior Lecturer and Chairman of the Department of Middle Eastern and Political Science Studies. He is also Chair of the Middle East & Central Asia Research Center (MECARC) at Ariel University in Israel, as well as Editor-in-Chief of the recently established Journal for Interdisciplinary Middle Eastern Studies. Cohen’s research focuses on Iranian Studies and regional politics. He has published several monographs and edited books in addition to numerous academic and commentary articles, and has been interviewed on radio shows and in newspapers.


Title: The Mostadha’fin’s Confusing Journey from Sharia’ti’s Revolutionary Utopianism to Khomeini’s Dystopian Reality 1976-1982