Radicalization of the Pre-Revolution Student Movement Abroad

It is crucial to remember that in these early years, the activities of these Iranian students were not unknown to the Iranian embassies abroad. Furthermore the Cold War atmosphere in Europe made it impossible for these groups to openly declare their allegiance to the communist cause. Thus, the Tudeh activists who helped create and lead these early groups went out of their way to deny any connection to the communist party. At the same time, along with the line then advocated by the Tudeh Party, these organizations concentrated on student issues, and tried as much as possible to stay clear of political battles. Fighting for peace and disarmament was often their only foray into the field of politics.

When Mossadeq came to power in the Spring of 1952, a rumor that had been long festering amongst the Iranian students turned out to be true. The government of Mossadeq, faced with serious financial crisis, and a shortage of foreign currencies, decided to cut the special currency allotment for students studying in Europe. No sooner was the announcement made that a vast movement of protest, of angry letters to authorities in Iran , of sit-ins and hunger strikes began. In France, a “Committee to Defend Student Rights” was formed. In other cities across Europe, other “Currency Committee” sprang into existence. The culmination of these struggles came in the Summer of 1952, when Iranian students organized a sit-in in the Consulate office in Geneva.

Ironically, the 1953 coup brought a sudden halt to all Iranian student radicalism in Europe. It took another five years before students began any activity. It was during Eqbal’s tenure as the prime minister when students in France organized what they called a kind of “Committed Syndacalist” organization. Inspired by the French student movement of the time, “committed syndicalism” implied that a student organization can not only defend the academic rights of its members, but it can also engage in political battles, only so far as it would not become an outright political party. Along this line, the Iranian students began to organize, and one of their first acts was to commence publishing a journal they called Nameyh Parsi.

These groups still did not have an altogether adversarial relationship with Iranian embassies in Europe. In fact, in many of the meetings, representatives of the Iranian government were invited to participate in the student gatherings. The demands articulated in this period by the students were, in political terms, limited in nature. They wanted insurance coverage and more importantly, they demanded that returning graduates, instead of serving as simple conscripts, should be allowed to teach in the Iranian countryside. It is important to remember that years later, the very same policy became part of the elements of the White Revolution.