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The political left in Iran has long played an active though not very effective role in Iranian politics, through such organizations as the Tudeh party (in the 1940s and 1950s), the Fadaiyan and Mujahidin groups (in the 1970s), or more recent Marxist splinter groups.

Behrooz chronicles the rise and fall of groups often operating in the shadows of Iranian society and analyzes the reasons for its failure to achieve lasting power. Relying on an array of Persian and English sources, his valuable book documents the revival of the left in the wake of the coup against Muhammad Mussadiq in 1953, the anti-shah movement, and the early years of the Islamic Revolution. While Soviet sources may yet shed new light on this subject, Rebels With A Cause contains an account worth reading.

Why did the left always find itself shut out of power? Behrooz provides useful insights about the internal failings: personal rivalries hampered political goals, Marxists failed to create a strong base, and leftists did not recognize that the Islamists' anti-Western orientation did not imply pro-Soviet leanings. He also points out external factors leading to their defeat: Iranians' distaste for the Tudeh's subservience to Moscow and, later, Gorbachev's reforms (which undercut the Soviet model). Generally, though, the author finds the roots of failure in the left's strategic mistakes and its being outmaneuvered by the Islamists. In other words, he pays too little attention to the larger question: Could it be that, despite the problems of uneven development of the Pahlavi regime, Marxism just did not have relevance for many Iranians? In the end, Marxism proved to be just another foreign ideology which most Iranians, even the poor, saw as unnatural and irrelevant to their needs.