333. Memorandum From the Second Secretary of Embassy in Iran (Cuomo) to the First Secretary of Embassy in Iran (Melbourne)1


  • Suggested Program for Combatting Communism in Iran

General Considerations

To be effective, any program to combat communism in Iran must be based on the assumption that there is a sincere desire to do so. The events immediately preceding the August 19 uprising, the full-scale attack against the monarchy on the part of the communist organization, leave little doubt that the Shah, at least, is thoroughly aware of the danger and willing to cooperate in such effort.2 However, there is a constant danger in a country such as Iran that its governments sooner or later come to the conclusion that a little communism is a good thing in international affairs to help pry concessions from the Western powers. Mosadeq played this game and failed, and perhaps the policy is sufficiently discredited for it to remain so for some time to come.

On the assumption that there is a sincere desire at this time to institute and carry through a program designed to keep communism within manageable proportions, it seems logical to suggest that those in charge of such a program be familiar with the nature of the problem—the communist doctrine, its dynamics and its appeal. The education of the Government leadership, not excluding the Shah, might well be a first step. A program of this type in a setting such as Iran will require constant vigilance and prodding from above if it is not to be completely emasculated in administration. Consideration should be given to the strong likelihood that measures will be progressively weakened as action is taken on them by the lower echelons.

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There is a tendency in this country to be unusually lenient towards acquaintances and relatives. Those who are to take action are entirely too prone to regard their acquaintances and relatives as merely “misguided” persons of no real danger. Since nearly everyone is related to everyone else, and it is easy to find “a friend of a friend” we find that although the authorities agree that communists generally are dangerous, individual communists find ready advocates to prove them little black sheep who, if given another chance, will return quickly to the fold. For this reason as well, the Government leadership must be firm in its decisions or any program with the most minute safeguards is doomed to failure.

With regard to economic aid and economic development upon which most Iranian authorities rely for the elimination of communism, the comments appearing in an Embassy despatch may be pertinent:

“On the basis of the available information on the Tudeh Party—or more specifically communism in Iran—the pattern seems to follow the lines of communism in most, if not all, countries still this side of the Iron Curtain. Communism apparently does not spring from poverty. [Although the leadership may come from frustrated middle-class intellectuals, numerically the communist party in Iran is predominately composed of workers.]3 The greatest incidence of communism seems to be found among city, employed workers, not among the unemployed, and usually among the highest paid, literate workers. If relationship there is between communism and poverty and communism and unemployment it is a highly indirect one, and it would appear to be dangerous to assume that the mere elimination of poverty would cause its disappearance. That might and probably would occur in the long run, but in the early stages of raising the standard of living it is not inconceivable that the communist potential would rise perhaps in greater proportion than the rise in living standards.

“There is no doubt that an attempt must be made to improve the economic condition of the masses of Iran for humanitarian, if for no other reason, yet the danger involved might be constantly borne in mind until those masses have gained such substantive advantages as to give them a vested interest in the then existing social and economic order. Until that time they will probably be increasingly vulnerable to the communist organization and its methods.

“Any program designed to eliminate communism in Iran might well be one based on long-range methods, on the frank assumption that there is probably no panacea to cause its disappearance in the immediate future. The middle-class intellectuals who provide the leadership [Page 795] could be the first target and consideration might be given to the necessity of suppression for some time to come on the same principle that a broken leg is placed in a cast to prevent harmful movement until the fracture has been healthily rejoined. The notion that communism feeds on suppression may be accepted to be communist inspired. The documents of communist parties abound in revealing their fears of firm police action and above all of illegality.”4

The Judiciary

There is a law promulgated by Reza Shah which makes the advocacy of communism a criminal offense. This law is still in force and could easily be made into a spearhead of an anti-communist program.5 Arrangements could be made to have the law interpreted so as to render culpable “front” groups, as well as the underground communist party itself. If in prosecution the law is found to be weak, corrections could be made—if necessary even through legislation.

In countries under the shadow of the Soviet Union, tolerance of a communist party can be suicidal. It is elementary that communist parties or communist controlled parties be prohibited by law. Unfortunately this fact has been understood in the United States only during recent years. When governments of the countries of Eastern Europe before the second World War tried to save themselves by outlawing communist parties, they were almost unanimously condemned by the United States public press as “fascist.” Similarly after the war, public sentiment in the United States appeared to favor tolerance of communist parties in Eastern Europe, China, etc. Fortunately the western world is becoming enlightened in this respect. For this reason an anti-communist law, properly worded, is essential. Consideration might be given to the possibility of passing a new law rather than dependence on the present one. A new law might contain certain provisions which would make it more effective than existing legislation and, more important, it should not include provisions relating to agitation against the monarchial form of government, etc. These provisions could remain in existing legislation.

Security Measures

A centralized agency should be formed to deal solely and exclusively with this problem. As it is now there are several agencies dealing with it, at times at cross purposes—the G–2, the Shah’s office, the police [Page 796] and even the Prime Minister’s office. When everyone is responsible, it is certain no one is responsible.

The centralized agency should maintain a centralized file containing all pertinent information. If necessary, technical assistance might be given in this regard. A security clearance program could be instituted in connection with present employees and workers, as well as applicants. This program need not be complex, given the lack of effective administrative control in the government bureaucracy, but the minimum of a check against this file would produce adequate results.

Until the central file has been set up, the individual Ministers and chiefs of other organizations may have to be prodded into taking action on whatever information is now in the possession of the various security agencies. This information is sufficient to hunt out the most flagrant offenders. In this connection select committees in each government agency might be formed to draw up lists and see to it that action is taken on them.


This is a very sensitive field and should be given the highest consideration. In view of communist penetration of most labor organizations suppression of such organizations might for the moment be the only solution, but steps should be taken without delay to employ other means. An attempt might be made to establish a national union, perhaps encouraged by pro-Western elements, but definitely not government-sponsored. It would seem in the early stages that the union leadership will require financial support, and arrangements could be made to obtain a success or two in the union’s demands in order to gain the confidence of the rank-and-file, and to gain adherents. The union could carry the fight into the communist camp without, however, neglecting true union objectives.

Given communist methods in the field of labor and the head start the communists now have among organized labor in Iran, there seems to be no other way of diverting the small existing labor movement away from the communist groove except through some “encouraged” organization. There is no guaranty of success in such a delicate operation. It would seem dangerous, however, to let labor continue to drift in a northerly direction.6

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The Intellectuals

The intellectuals of Iran are few and most of them are either in the Government service and in the educational system or in some way connected with that system. Communism as such has never been openly a subject of study. It has been in fact a surreptitious study, giving it thereby an attraction far greater than it intrinsically possesses. If brought out into the open, it would be a relatively simple matter to expose its fundamentally fallacious premises, illogical deductions, and at times ludicrous conclusions. There need not be single courses in Marxism if that is thought inadvisable. The desired material could be inserted in economics, philosophy and political science courses on a comparative basis or wherever it is determined to be most effective after consultation with appropriate educationalists. In this connection there should be made available in translation studies on this subject, as cheaply as possible and for the widest possible distribution. These might include the works of Max Eastman, Bertrand Russell, Benedetto Croce, Arthur Koestler. The possibilities of inserting pro-democratic material in these courses correspondingly should be encouraged.

Other minor programs could be found in the field of education to demonstrate the fallacy of communist doctrines. One such has been suggested by the Imam Jumeh of Tehran, who would encourage short story and fable writing slanted to prove the absurdity of these doctrines or in some way to leave a pro-democratic impression upon the readers.

The Clergy

The Shi’a clergy have proven inept in the past in dealing with this problem. Therefore, any program intending to utilize the Shi’a clergy or the Moslem religion would have to be cautious. It might be possible to have leading clergymen give effective sermons, particularly on religious holidays or during the months of Moharram and Ramazan. Such sermons would have to be carefully worded, however, to avoid the appearance of political haranguing. Among certain elements of the country the opinion is making headway that the temporal and spiritual spheres should be kept separate and distinct. Thus, strenuous political action by the clergy could run the risk of having the opposite effect from that desired, particularly among the religious minorities of the country which constitute the most vulnerable sectors of the population.

A Word of Caution

Whereas firm, direct methods are necessary, they should not take such a form as to arouse sympathy for their victims. While application of power frequently obtains results in Iran, care should be taken in using it not to arouse the strong Iranian tendency to sympathize with the underdog. Pro-communists, as contrasted with known communist activists and leaders, who are removed from the state bureaucracy, for [Page 798] example, could be given whatever may be their due on the basis of existing regulations with regard to pension and terminal pay. Persons proved to be leaders of the communist conspiracy, however, should be recognized as dangerous, virtually incurable criminals, and should be treated as such within the framework of law. The number in this latter category may not be found to be too numerous and, the example of treatment to them, coupled with stern treatment to Tudeh smallfry who may be arrested for selling newspapers or creating street disturbances, would act as a very strong deterrent to any spread of the Tudeh organization.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 788.00/10–2153. Secret; Security Information. Drafted by Cuomo. The memorandum is an enclosure to a letter from Henderson to Richards, October 21, which reads in part: “In the past few weeks it seemed advisable to us here to attempt to put down on paper for our private use, and not for general distribution, an outline program for combating Communism in Iran which we could use in our day-to-day operations and in conversations with Iranians in a position to do something about the question. Roy Melbourne suggested to Cuomo, in view of Communism being his field of reporting, that he evolve an outline draft. After some amendment and rewriting, the attached memorandum of October 19 is the result.”
  2. See Embassy Despatch No. 155, dated September 11, 1953, entitled “Comment Upon Tudeh Party Prospects.” [Footnote is in the original. Despatch 155 from Tehran is ibid., 788.00/9–1153.]
  3. Brackets are in the original.
  4. Embassy Despatch 132, August 31, 1953, entitled “Estimate of Tudeh Party Numerical Strength”, pp. 5–6. [Footnote is in the original. Despatch 132 from Tehran is in National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 788.00/8–3153.]
  5. Text of law attached. [Footnote is in the original. Not printed.]
  6. Embassy Despatch No. 145, dated August 19, 1952, entitled, “Case for Interference in Labor Affairs in Iran.” [Footnote is in the original. Despatch 145 is in National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 888.062/8–1952.]