Revolution #146, October 26, 2008

From A World to Win News Service

Iran: 20th Anniversary of the Massacre of Political Prisoners

September 29, 2008. A World to Win News Service. "August 27, 10 am: I was talking to one of my fellow inmates in section 5. As we were exchanging the latest prison news, the Pasdar (a member of the Khomeini regime's so-called Revolutionary Guards, the Pasdaran) responsible for our section came in and called out the names of 50 to 60 prisoners... It seemed that now it was the turn of the communist prisoners... With the exception of two men, all those who were called were executed that day... After trials presided over by Judge Eshraghi that consisted of nothing more than a few questions and answers, many of our fellow prisoners in cellblock 7 were executed. Of the approximately 85 to 90 prisoners, only 30 survived. The rest were executed." (Translated from An Unfair Battle, the memoirs of former political prisoner Nima Parvaresh)

This account describes only two days in August and September 1988, in only one of the Iranian prisons holding communists and other revolutionary political prisoners. It is simply what this particular prisoner could observe when the authorities cut off all connections between each jail and the rest of the world. Many of the thousands of prisoners killed that summer were young and even very young. A large number were women. They represented a concentration of years of struggle, first against the Shah and then the backward Islamic forces determined to rob the people of the fruit of the revolution that toppled him. The Islamic regime saw that its survival depended on shedding the blood of the country's most conscious sons and daughters.  They murdered these prisoners without trial or after phony trials that took not more than a few minutes. They buried them in mass graves in the middle of the night, so as to keep the numbers and identity of prisoners and the location of their graves a secret as long as possible. Some families did not find out that their loved one had been executed for months, and many were never told where they were buried. The Islamic Republic of Iran still maintains the greatest secrecy about the details of what happened in those days, including the number of men and women executed.

Every year in September people in Iran honor their memory. They cannot forget the brutal crime that the reactionary Islamic regime committed against a revolutionary generation that had learned to fight for right against wrong, and especially to stand up to the thieves stealing the revolution, the Islamic rulers who presented themselves as revolutionaries and anti-imperialists but in fact served world imperialism. Instead of making people forget, these past 20 years have only deepened the wounds. The people and revolutionary movement in Iran are increasingly drawing lessons and feeling the dimensions and depth of these horrible crimes that were hard to absorb all at once in the first few years.

The massacres in 1988 coincided with the Iranian regime's decision to accept a ceasefire and end the war with Iraq. This agreement came after eight years of a war that had cost the lives of many hundreds of thousands of people on both sides. Even when the Iraqi army was driven back behind its own borders, the Iranian Islamic regime saw that its interest lay in continuing the war into Iraqi territory. They had suppressed any voice of protest and even criticisms of shortcomings under the pretext of unity against "the foreign invaders." They considered this war a gift, allowing them to suppress the revolution and the revolutionaries and consolidate their blood-sucking regime. The regime felt that agreeing to end the war in these conditions of weakness in relation to Iraq was scandalous. Khomeini called it a cup of poison he was forced to swallow. After so much harm to two or three generations on both sides of the border, they knew they would not escape punishment if they showed weakness in relation to the Iranian people. They could feel the danger, and so they hurried to finish their efforts to cut off potential revolt against them, a mission they had embarked upon after taking and consolidating power in the early 1980s.

Some Background

In a well-planned move plotted in secret, only two years after the revolution, in June 1981, the Islamic regime decided to eliminate all the revolutionary and progressive forces, members and supporters alike and everyone associated with them. The plan was immense and horrible, but they were determined to kill off the revolution once and for all. They began with mass arrests of communists and other revolutionary activists whose organizations were gaining ground and growing fast. They executed the majority of them and sentenced the rest to long prison terms. Among those murdered were hundreds if not thousands of veteran communists and revolutionaries who had taken an active part in the revolution after long years fighting the Shah's regime and its U.S. imperialist masters. Many had spent years in the Shah's prisons and withstood the tortures administered by the Savak (the Shah's intelligence service). The Islamic authorities also did not spare teenagers who might have done nothing more than give out the leaflets of a revolutionary organization or might have been caught with one of those leaflets in their possession.

At that time, all the signs indicated that the regime was determined to totally annihilate any source and any voice of revolution and progressive resistance. In response, the Union of Iranian Communists, the predecessor to the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) founded in May 2001, initiated an armed organization called Sarbedaran, and subsequently launched an armed uprising in the northern city of Amol in January 1982. However, this uprising was defeated when the regime flooded the area with massive security forces brought from Tehran and other cities.

The majority of leaders, members and supporters of Sarbedaran and the UIC were arrested and executed, most of them within a year of the uprising. The limitations in their ideological and political line did not allow those revolutionaries to adopt the right strategy: to launch a protracted people's war in that situation. But the rebellion led by these revolutionary communists was seen as a ray of light in the dark days of terror, a source of hope in the hearts of many people. Its impact was so immense that even after nearly three decades the Islamic regime is still trying to counter its influence on the people.

The reign of terror continued all throughout the ’80s. Tens of thousands of communists and revolutionaries were executed or killed in battles. Tens of thousands more were held in prison; an even greater number were driven into exile. But this did not ensure the regime's grip on power. After the ceasefire with Iraq, Khomeini and his ilk felt in real danger once again. So they started another massacre, even though the wave of earlier massacres had hardly come to an end. By that time, the only political prisoners left alive were those serving long sentences. Some had completed the five to seven year terms to which they had been condemned, but nevertheless had not been freed.

The Massacre That Followed and Why

 "Suddenly visits for the prisoners were blocked 'until further notice'. Previously, sometimes an inmate or even a whole section of the prison was denied visitors, but never before had the authorities cut off all visitors for the whole prison—and, as we later learned, all the other places where political prisoners were held. What really awaited us? We were not given newspapers any more. One night, they came and took the television as well. In this way, all our contacts with the world were cut off. Even inmates who fell sick were no longer taken to the prison medical centre located in the old building... Before visits were cut off, we had heard the news of the execution of several leftist (communist) prisoners. Once, in the middle of night, we heard shots fired. Then I heard three single shots...

"One night three supporters of the Mujahedeen organization were taken. This was the first group to be taken and they never came back.... a few days later another group..." (From A Simple Truth, the memoir of a woman political prisoner, Monireh Baradaran)

In fact the widely discredited regime was desperate to keep the country under its control and ensure its own survival. The regime wanted to show its strength and brutal determination. They also wanted to eliminate anything that was associated with revolution, especially these living symbols.

At the same time, the regime was retaliating against the prisoners. The majority of prisoners did not abandon the struggle despite eight years of incredible brutality and viciousness. It is true that the suppression of the revolution on a nation-wide scale spread despair, and that inevitably had an impact on the prisoners, or at least a section of them. But those who even in the bloom of youth valued the revolution over their own lives, who remained strong under torture while their torturers were shaking, who continued to struggle as best they could through collective hunger strikes and other means even in the most difficult circumstances, were a tremendous source of inspiration to all revolutionaries and the people as a whole. In the face of this situation, the regime sought an opportunity to take revenge.

In the few minutes-long trials, the killer judges asked the prisoners if they were prepared to repudiate their past, inform on and testify against their comrades and their organization and give TV interviews to confirm their capitulation. The majority refused. Many preferred to go before a firing squad. But some prisoners were influenced to different degrees by the general mood created by the violent setback of the revolution. The Islamic Republic tried to make a big deal of a minority who, under the pressure of despair under these circumstances and under immense psychological and physical torture, decided not to defend the revolution, and a much smaller number who betrayed their comrades. But in fact more than anything else this phenomenon revealed the regime's extreme viciousness. The martyrdom of tens of thousands of communists and other revolutionaries in the ’80s and the witness borne by thousands who survived is evidence that the vast majority of prisoners withstood severe brutality and gave their lives to defend the people and the revolution.

During those months and all throughout the 1980s the imperialists turned a blind eye on what was happening. The Western ruling classes who love to talk about human rights if and when it serves their political interests remained silent. But the Iranian people got the message and understood it well. The deafening silence was a resounding message of support to the Islamic regime of Iran and a license to kill and kill and kill. Most of the human rights institutions in the Western countries chose to keep quite and ignore these crimes. Amnesty International was the first to acknowledge this massacre in a report, but not until two years later, in 1990. 

The Iranian regime and the imperialists have at least one thing in common: a desire to crush the spirit of a people who had risen up in revolution.

But they have not been successful. Since that decade people stood up against the Islamic regime and its thugs in various ways, though usually unorganized. Not long after that decade the political scene was marked by the rebellious movement of a new generation of students—a generation that was meant to be trained in Islamic values. This refreshed people's hopes and helped bring a new mood. There have been significant spontaneous struggles among women, workers and others, and new opportunities for revolutionary communist work.

Since then every year in September Iranians inside and outside the country commemorate the memory of their martyred. Family, friends and supporters hold memorials, including in Khavaran, near Tehran, where many of the prisoners are buried in mass graves. So far this year, commemorations and other events have been held in the U.S., Canada and Europe, including Finland, Sweden, France and the UK. This year one of the panels during a four-day Iranian studies seminar in Toronto was devoted to Iranian political prisoners.

Other actions to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the massacre of political prisoners are planned on October 11 in London, Paris, Hague in the Netherlands, Bremen and Dusseldorf in Germany, and Finland. They are initiated by the March 8 Women's Organization (Iran/Afghanistan). For more information: (in Farsi—click on "other languages" for English, German and French).

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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