The role of communist parties and movements in the Middle East and in Muslim territories outside the USSR has been a subject of indifference in regional studies during recent years. This is an understandable outcome of the end of Russian communism and the rise of radical Islam. In The Left in Iran, the first of a projected two-volume, English-language study, Iranian historian Chaqueri sets out to remedy this lacuna, making use of the wealth of documentary resources on communism increasingly available for analysis. He has assembled an impressive collection of materials translated from Persian and Russian, as well as from other languages used by the international Left, to create an authoritative work on the subject.
Chaqueri makes it clear that the trajectory of modern-day Iran has been significantly influenced at different times by Iranian communists and Marxists. They were prominently involved in the partition of Iran by the British and Russians during World War II, the Mossadegh prime ministries of the early 1950s, and in the events surrounding the Islamic revolution of 1979. The Iranian Left remains actively opposed to the clerical regime both in émigré communities and underground in the Islamic Republic.
The author also highlights the role played by the Russian communist party alongside domestic supporters. Early on, Lenin himself had decided to sacrifice the cause of world revolution in such neighboring eastern countries as Turkey and Iran for the interests of the Soviet state. In February 1921, an Irano-Soviet friendship treaty was signed with Reza Khan, the military leader who took control of the Iranian government and who proclaimed himself shah in 1925. But "the republic, on which both the Soviet authorities and the [Iranian communists] had counted" never materialized. Chaqueri indicates that a republican outcome was a conception based on Russian and Iranian communist theories about the presumptive course of political development in the eastern nations rather than any evidence derived from Reza Khan's own actions.
Chaqueri's work shows that the Iranian communist movement remained marginal within the country's internal politics before World War II for two main reasons. First, many of the Iranian communists were ethnic Armenians and other non-Persians. Second, Soviet Russia viewed Iran as an economic colony of Britain and subordinated Moscow's strategy in Iran to the larger context of Soviet confrontation with Western influence, rather than addressing Iranian social conditions. The latter disposition would remain historically consistent for the Soviet-subsidized component of the Iranian Left.