Who Are the Offspring of the Liberation Movement of Iran?

"Mojahedin-e Khalq! You are the offspring of the Liberation Movement, you were born in 1964 while we were in prison and you went your own way, without running away from home or being expelled." This is one of the most well-known statements of Mahdi Bazargan in May 1981 addressing Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO); a statement that was intended to pacify them.

Even though this quotation from Bazargan is generally used to pinpoint the origin of Mojahedin-e Khalq i.e., the Liberation Movement, inspection of history demonstrates that the relationship between the two groups had many ups and downs.

Accordingly, in this article, we seek to examine the relationship between the MKO and the Liberation Movement before the Islamic Revolution.

The MKO was founded in September 1965 by three members of the Liberation Movement of Iran namely Mohammad Hanifnejad, Saeed Mohsen and Abdolreza Nikbin.

Hanifnejad was born in 1938 in Tabriz and belonged to a middle-class family. Saeed Mohsen was born in 19390in a religious family in Zanjan. In the Technical College from 1960to 1963, he was active in the National Front and the Liberation Movement.

Badiezadegan was born in 1938 in Isfahan and studied chemistry at the Technical College. He was in contact with the Liberation Movement as well as the Second National Front during its activity (1).

According to the MKO members’ memoirs, at the time of their establishment, written works of the Liberation Movement members such as Bazargan, Ayatollah Taleghani and Sahabi were among the most important sources of their studies.

Hossein Ahmadi Rouhani, one of the early members of the MKO, regarding the sources that defined this group’s identity, says: “Generally, the books studied were: The Path Taken, God in Society, Love and Worship, The Issue of Revelation, Islam: the School of Fight and Generation by Bazargan; Jihad and Martyrdom, and A Shining Ray from Quran by Ayatollah Taleghani; and Creation of Man and Quran and Evolution by Dr. Yadollah Sahabi” (2).

Mohsen Nejat Hosseini also says: “Educational books in the field of ideology include Quran and Nahj al-Balaghah; A Shining Ray from Quran by Ayatollah Taleghani; Quran and Evolution by Dr. Sahabi; and God in Society, The Infinitesimals, Love and worship and Work and Islam by Bazargan” (3).

Given that the books written by the members of the Liberation Movement were among the important sources of the MKO, this question is raised as to what effect these sources had on Mojahedin’s way of thought. One of the most significant impacts of Bazargan on the founders of the MKO is his idea regarding compatibility of religion and science.

Bazargan points out in his book The Path Taken that contrary to the beliefs many people hold, either religious or non-religious, human beings from the beginning have never taken a path other than that of the prophets. He believes that the prophet’s path and the path that man is following through secularism will eventually reach the same endpoint (4).

Although Bazargan put forward this theory in response to non-religious people who did not consider religion to meet the needs of the day while emphasizing that what man learns through science does not contradict the teachings of the prophets and that eventually human scientific achievements reach a point where they realize what prophets said was accurate, the early members of the MKO made use of this theory to study non-religious texts to establish their identity and therefore began to study Marxist sources.

Posing the question ‘Why are the Marxists far ahead of Muslims in terms of fighting?’, founder of the MKO Mohammad Hanifnejad replied that science is the main reason for the progress of the fighting Marxists.

Hanifnejad believed that as westerners are superior in natural sciences, they have the upper hand in social sciences too. He used to cite a Hadith by the Prophet about the importance of seeking knowledge even from the farthest places such as China, to explain why Mojahedin should obtain the knowledge of fighting from Marxists (5).

Yadollah Sahabi, another member of the Liberation Movement, also greatly influenced the early members of the MKO by promoting an idea on the compatibility of religion and evolution. Sahabi, to reconcile Darwin's theory of evolution with religion, brought a great shock to popular beliefs at the time by stating that Adam was not the first man. He said, “Human life has two eras: a primitive era belonging to millions of years ago and an era that began by the assignment of Adam”. From the commencement of this era, human got involved in evolution and gradually the thoughtful human emerged (6).

Acceptance of the theory of evolution by Mojahedin made them attempt to clarify this issue in their book entitled Cognition. Discussing the creation of man and universe, the book explains that all changes, even those that look qualitative on the surface, are in fact a part of quantitative changes and they will gradually set the grounds for immense qualitative changes i.e., resurrection.

It is emphasized in this book that the world is dynamic and the assumption that phenomena are still signifies their non-existence. (7) Following Cognition, the book Evolution was compiled by Ali Mihandust, which was based on Dr. Sahabi's book of Creation of Man. In the book, Sahabi does not consider the theory of evolution to be contrary to religious teachings. Consequently, the MKO accepted the principle of evolution (8).

The Liberation Movement’s support of Mojahedin was not only intellectual, but also political and to some extent financial. Bazargan was always worried about his former disciples and would never hesitate to help them. Sahabi described this concern, quoting that: “One night, Bazargan said that he was worried that MKO members might become exposed and that they would not be able to continue their fight and if necessary, he was going to sell his house and give them the money."

Although at first, members of the MKO had a strong intellectual connection with the Liberation Movement, but it gradually faded away as their Marxist thoughts became more prominent. For instance, Mojahedin thought of Ayatollah Taleghani as a progressive cleric with a petty-bourgeois base who, by accepting private property and criticizing Marxists, was part of the petty-bourgeois strata of society. Therefore, in their view, Ayatollah Taleghani was theoretically behind Mao and Ho Chi Minh (11).

Bazargan also wrote the book "Scientific Nature of Marxism" after members of the MKO had converted to Marxism in 1975.  In this book, he describes the return to a communal society as a kind of regression and negation of evolution. He also explicitly defends property and believes that property is so old that it is seen in animals earlier than humans. This way, Bazargan has denied, in his book, what Mojahedin call a classless monotheistic society.

Overall, a review of the relationship between the MKO and the Liberation Movement indicates that although Mojahedin had intellectual roots in the Liberation Movement, their affiliation with them gradually diminished as the secular aspects of the organization gained prominence. They became a closed independent Stalinist organization and started criticizing leaders of the Liberation Movement leaders which eventually led to removing from their educational sources all the doctrines of the Liberation Movement.

(1)     Twenty-five-year Political History of Iran (from coup to revolution), Gholamreza Nejati, 1998, pp 393-394
(2)     Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), Hossein Ahmadi Rouhani, 2011, p 43
(3)     Over the Persian Gulf, Mohsen Nejat Hosseini, 2011, p 419
(4)     Collection of Works Vol 1, Mahdi Bazargan, 2012, pp 125-130
(5)     Talks, Memoirs and Analytical Articles about the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, Bahman Bazargani, p 116
(6)     Talks, Memoirs and Analytical Articles about the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, Bahman Bazargani, p 112
(7)     People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, 1972, pp 28 & 85
(8)     Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization Arising & the End (1965-2005(, A group of authors, p 323
(9)     Iran’s Liberation Movement from its Establishment to its Split, Abbas Ali Gholi Tayefe Abbas, p126
(10)    Memories and Reflections in Shah Prison, Mohammad Mohammadi Gorgani, 2017, p 361
(11)    Iran’s Liberation Movement from its Establishment to its Split, Abbas Ali Gholi Tayefe Abbas, p 136

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