58. Memorandum Prepared in the Office of National Estimates, Central Intelligence Agency1

Staff Memorandum No. 171


  • The Tudeh Problem in US Intelligence

1. The questions posed in NIE–462 have once again emphasized our lack of definite knowledge about the Tudeh Party. We know that the party exists as a disciplined and dedicated instrument of Soviet penetration of Iran, that it is the only political grouping in Iran which has any organizational coherence, and that it is steadily going ahead with the task of building up its strength to the point where it will be able to take over Iran. We do not, however, know the names of its present leaders, and we lack precise information regarding the size and character of its membership and following, its military capabilities vis-à-vis the government security forces, which it is attempting to penetrate, and its immediate objectives. Our current information about the party is largely confined to that obtained from observation of Tudeh demonstrations, from a scattering of captured documents and propaganda utterances, and from a limited number of low-level informants within the party recruited by SO contacts directly or by those of the Iranian police, the Iranian Army, [less than 1 line not declassified].

2. This is a highly unsatisfactory situation and one which would appear to warrant our putting strong pressure on SO, G–2 (whose representatives are primarily concerned with army loyalty) and other agencies to try to do something about it. In exerting such pressure, however, I think it is incumbent on us to do two things. The first is to recognize the nature of the problem we are up against. Tudeh is not a big legal Western-style Communist party which periodically registers its strength at the ballot box and generally operates on a big enough scale to afford plenty of opportunities for penetration. It is a relatively small conspiratorial party, by its own testimony highly concerned about security, which has applied the cell organization strictly to prevent individual members from knowing too much. If SO manages to place an agent at the center of one of the three of four important provincial headquarters of Tudeh or in the national Politbureau—and SO cer[Page 166]tainly should be trying—we should be able to get precise answers to our questions. Until that happy day, we shall have to rely, as we do in the case of the Soviet Politbureau, on imprecise secondary information.

3. The second task incumbent upon us is to take a closer look at the estimative value of the information about Tudeh that is available. We have a fairly complete picture of Tudeh’s early history as Iran’s first real political party, from the emergence of its leaders from Reza Shah’s prisons during the war up through 1946, when a Tudeh offshoot ruled in Azerbaijan, Tudeh leaders held the mayoralty of Tehran and seats in the cabinet, and Tudeh dominated the labor movement. We have documentary evidence as to the organizational and ideological travails the party underwent following the collapse of the Azerbaijan regime, the breaking of the oilfield strike, and Qavam’s violent campaign of suppression which followed. Signs of Tudeh revival were beginning to appear when the party was completely banned and a number of leaders arrested following the attempt on the Shah’s life in early 1949. Available party documents confirm the impression of another slow revival following a period of confusion and immobility after the 1949 ban on the party—first the careful reconstitution of a secure system of cadre cells, then a cautious recruitment of new members accompanied by a revival of key elements of the party’s clandestine press. This phase was completed in late 1950; with the emergence of the oil crisis in early 1951, Tudeh front organizations moved out into the streets to demonstrate for peace and oil nationalization. The Tudeh press output increased.

4. These demonstrations, which continued sporadically into the fall, apparently had the immediate purpose of building up popular support for Tudeh causes and keeping anti-Western feeling high. Although they provided valuable practice in militant tactics, as well as in testing Tudeh ability to get out a crowd, there is no indication that the drillmasters were ordered specifically to fight; such brawls as resulted appear to have been caused by the intervention of Nationalist Front supporters.

5. The impression that Tudeh is currently concentrating on building up popular confidence and support rather than on preparing for an imminent resort to force is borne out by recent reports. One possible signpost is provided by a Cominform Journal article of late August which describes Tudeh progress in glowing terms but points out that the movement still has a long way to go and indicates that establishment of a popular front government is the next step. There have been two or three reports, some quite specific, about Tudeh hopes of electing supporters to the new Majlis. Reports of cell meetings indicate preoccupation with such matters as collection of dues, education, sale of party publications, and tighter security in view of the recent police seizure of membership lists and other documents. The SO representative’s pre[Page 167]liminary analysis of the documents seized in the 27 October police raid on Tudeh’s Tehran provincial headquarters indicated that no Tudeh plans “of any significance” had been found. I have seen only one report of Tudeh military preparations, an unconfirmed SO report of some months back alleging that a terrorist group of 100 men was being organized in southern Iran. There have been two or three recent reports that Tudeh recognized that an opportunity to take power might come relatively soon but that it was still unprepared and did not desire a direct clash at this time with the relatively favorable Mossadeq government.

6. This picture of the development of the Tudeh Party is admittedly based on incomplete information, and our information regarding specific Tudeh capabilities is even less precise. Even there, I think we have enough information to reach some reasonably sound conclusions. Tudeh’s capability for assuming power eventually rests on three interrelated factors in various combinations: its ability to marshal popular support, either at the polls or in street demonstrations; its purely military strength vis-à-vis the security authorities; and its ability to cajole, bribe, or trick other politicians into giving it assistance. These factors are analyzed below.

a. Popular support. Actual strength of the party and its supporters is unknown, and existing estimates by US, British and Iranian officials in Iran range all the way from 4,000 (active membership) to 20–40,000 (possibly including sympathizers). A rough index is provided, however, by the size of Tudeh demonstrations, which have specifically been described in some reports as tests of strength. Tudeh demonstrations in Tehran this year have never had more than about 5,000 specifically pro-Tudeh participants and have been markedly smaller in the few provincial centers in which Tudeh demonstrations have taken place. These figures are markedly below those of 1946, the last occasion on which Tudeh had any real pretensions of being a mass party. Moreover, it is significant that Tudeh demonstrators have been not only outnumbered but actually defeated in street fighting by the National Front element. Tudeh mass support is unlikely to be a critical factor until the party can take over a significant portion of the floating support now aligned with the National Front.

b. Military strength vis-à-vis the security authorities. There have been no reports of the existence of Tudeh paramilitary organizations and only scattering reports of preparations for a military phase. This negative information is obviously inconclusive. There is some reason to believe, however, that if the party were preparing for imminent military operations some indications would show up in reports now being received. By way of comparison, there have been numerous reports over the last few years of Soviet agent activities and imminent revolts among the Kurds. None of these revolts has materialized. There have [Page 168] been various unsubstantiated reports of Tudeh penetration of the armed forces and equally categorical denials from strongly anti-Tudeh informants who also should be in a position to know. The question of armed forces loyalty has been under almost constant review by the US MA in Tehran this year but he has thus far failed to come up with specific data.

c. Political maneuverability. Tudeh’s ability to secure advantages through political deals and intrigue is unknown. It should be noted, however, that most Iranian political leaders are consummate intriguers (Qavam in particular, out-maneuvered both Tudeh and the Soviets in 1945–46) and that Tudeh’s political bargaining power will in large measure depend on the amount of popular support and ability to use violence that it possesses.

7. It is suggested that the intelligence problem raised in this memorandum be discussed with representatives of SO, OPC, G–2, and OIR at an early date.

R.L. Hewitt
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DDI Files, Job 79T00937A, Box 1, Folder 2, Staff Memoranda—1951. Top Secret; Security Information. The memorandum was probably prepared prior to December 12.
  2. An apparent reference to NIE–46 in draft form. NIE–46 was distributed in final form on February 4, 1952, and is printed as Document 63.