• The regime is definitely shrewder than the people it governs, as well as the West's leaders who seek to isolate it.

Old Iran hands will tell you that the Islamic Republic's ruling mullahs learned much from having been imprisoned with their Communist Tudeh [Masses] Party contemporaries, as underscored by their masterful manipulation of the political scene in the recent presidential selection.

The Office of the Leader apparently instructed the Guardian Council to select several hard-line candidates and one with a less obnoxious public persona. This playbook guaranteed the election of the perceived more moderate candidate, Hassan Rouhani. That maneuver reduced the chances of another voters' revolt, which followed the discredited 2009 presidential results. Rouhani's victory also acted as a safety valve, releasing some of pent-up anti-regime sentiment. Some Rouhani voters believing they had scored a victory over the regime, foolishly celebrated after the results were announced. Moreover, this sordid process burnished a bit Iran's international image. The regime is definitely shrewder than the people it governs, as well as the West's leaders who seek to isolate it.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during an election campaign stop in Mashad, June 12, 2013. (Source: Morteza Ansari via Wikimedia Commons)

In the two decades before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the alliance between the United States and the Shah's government was viewed by Americans through the prism of the Cold War. Consequently, no tears were shed when the Shah's secret police swept up members of the pro-Moscow Communist Party of Iran, the Tudeh. However, like inhabitants of prisons everywhere, they impart to each other "the tools of the trade." Many of the most prominent clerics of the Islamic Republic spent years of cohabitation with Iran's Communists. Khomeini, Rafsanjani, and Khamenei are some, to name a few. The Shia revolutionaries now ruling Iran adopted many of Lenin's political tactics from their fellow Communist inmates inside the archipelago of the Shah's prison system.

In the years immediately preceding the 1979 revolt, the Islamic People's Revolutionary Party (IPRP) and the Tudeh were part of a "United Front From Below."[1] Communists in many countries employed this political vehicle to help remove a common "enemy of the people." In Iran, cooperation between these two political opposites was intimate and complex -- so much so, that following the Shah's overthrow, Khomeini named Rafsanjani the liaison to the Tudeh as part of a "United Front From Above".[2] However, in 1982, soon after their consolidation of power, IPRP leaders betrayed their erstwhile Communist allies in a "night of the long knives."

All other non-Islamic factions in Iran were eventually eliminated from the ruling coalition. The jettisoning of non-Islamic political groups accelerated following the population's approval of an Islamic Constitution -- an action analogous to the Bolsheviks' purge, once they had attained power, of all democratic and non-Communist socialist parties. The Shia Islamists, like the Bolsheviks, before them, created a "Popular Front"[3] government, which portrayed the illusion of a multiplicity of parties. These groups, however, were mere factions of the same party.

Another political lesson-learned from the Tudeh was the Islamic regime's checkmate of nationalist parties. Iran's mullocrats have been able to "capture the flag" by insisting on Iran's right to develop nuclear energy. They also have championed Iran's right of ownership of disputed islands in the Persian Gulf. The regime has taken a nationalist stance on the issue of the body of water sometimes referred to as "Arabian Gulf," insisting on the appellation, the "Persian Gulf." Additionally, there are indications that the regime is successfully exploiting existing international sanctions on Iran by referring to them as a conspiracy led by the "Great Satan" (USA) to punish the population of Iran. This policy is an adaptation of the Leninist tactic of forming a "Patriotic Front"[4] against Fascism.

Perhaps the most obvious similarity between Leninism and the Islamic regime is the parallel structure of government and party. Iran's external face to the world, like that of the Soviet Union before it, maintains an administrative structure of government that appears quite conventional. In reality, it is of superficial significance and has little influence over policy. What holds the real power is the ideological vehicle. In Soviet-style regimes, the Communist Party's Politburo and Central Committee dictated policy. In the Islamic Republic, it is the ménage of mullahs. Ironically, the former espoused atheistic materialism; the latter, Shia fundamentalism. Lenin's principle of "Democratic Centralism"[5] is another political concept that Iran's theocratic government appears to have adopted. The Leader's office permits various groups that are part of the regime to argue vociferously, even in public. The factions form fleeting alliances depending upon the issue and the latest whim of the clerical leadership. However, once the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Khamenei) makes a policy decision, all elements of the regime are expected to support it.

The prime directive of both totalitarian regimes is not to disturb the political equilibrium or provide counter-revolutionaries an opportunity to threaten the existing order -- the reason the Guardian Council permitted both Khatami and Rouhani to run for the presidency. Both are revolutionary clerics who support the regime leadership concept of "valiyat-e-faqih" -- the union of religious and political authority in the hands of one deserving Imam.

Iran's theocrats, similarly to Lenin, learned how to remain in power once the bloom dissipated: they muzzled the media. Lenin banned all publications except for the Party's revolutionary organ, Iskra.[6] The Islamic Republic's newspaper which reflects the Leader's policy directives is Kayhan.[7] Other independent publications have been banned.

Finally and perhaps most significant is the effective employment of terror to intimidate opposition into silence or grudging support. Lenin established the CHEKA [8], the acolytes of which struck a paralytic fear into the hearts of all. The Islamic Republic also has used terror against its population to divide and confuse the opposition, as well as to suppress the population of Iran. Like all totalitarian regimes, the Islamic Republic has created a surveillance network to monitor its population, a mission executed by Iran's Ministry of Information and Intelligence (MOIS).

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the Mullahs have sought counsel on the monitoring and suppression of their citizenry from other enduring totalitarian Communist regimes. They have dispatched delegations from their intelligence services to both China and North Korea.

Tehran's theological tyrants are not doing too badly. They already have lasted half as long as did the Bolsheviks of Moscow.

Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin is a Former Iran Desk Officer for the Secretary of Defense, and a Former Air Force Reserve Colonel to the U.S. Embassy in Israel.


[1] A United Front From Below was tactic used by the Bolsheviks to gain power in Russia. The Lenin-led Bolsheviks were a small minority. However, by joining a coalition of anti-Tsarist parties, they became an important part of the post- monarchial government in Russia. Lenin's political genius is revealed in his "State and Revolution."

[2] A United Front From Above assumes power immediately after the success of a revolution or political election. As a consequence of superior organization, deception, and ruthlessness, the Mullahs, like the Bolsheviks, were able to eclipse and eliminate all other political factions, a process Lenin describes in "What is to be Done?"

[3] Spain's Communists used the Leninist idea of a Popular Front in the1936 elections. The Communists submerged their identity within a winning coalition of leftist parties.

[4] Patriotic Front was artfully exploited by pro-Moscow parties all over Europe to mobilize maximum popular support against the Nazis and their fascist allies.

[5] Democratic Centralism was the phrase coined by Lenin that insured absolute obedience to the party line once a decision was made by the Communist leadership.

[6] Iskra (the Spark) was the official organ of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (Communist Party) managed by Lenin.

[7] Kayhan (the Universe) is the official media mouthpiece of the Office of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. The chief editor Hossein Shariatmadari is the most influential journalist in Iran.

[8] CHEKA is an acronym for the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage. It was the first of many terror organs which helped the Communists remain in power in the Soviet Union for over 70 years.

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