In Memoriam: Com. Amir Hassanpour (November 17, 1943 – June 24, 2017)

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On June 24, 2017 I came to learn through Facebook that my teacher, friend and comrade, Amir Hassanpour, had passed away. It is difficult for me to even begin to explain the influence he had on me, my politics and my academic work. The first time I took a course with him was in the Winter 2003 semester as an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto on social movements in the Middle East. It was in his classes that I educated myself on the history and politics of the Middle East, especially about the struggle for national liberation in Palestine and Kurdistan, and the Iranian Revolution. Com. Amir would regularly allow me to skip class so that I could organize rallies against the war on Iraq. He regarded it as an organic expression of what he was teaching in his class. Indeed, Amir never saw a wide gulf between academic scholarship and politics. It was not uncommon for Com. Amir to be speaking somewhere in Toronto about the issues that plagued the Middle East. He was especially active in providing political clarity about the Iranian Green Movement in 2009-2010.

I would stay in touch with Amir over the years and we would discuss a wide variety of topics, especially my own political development. He was never judgemental, even when we disagreed, and he was always encouraging and loving. I will miss the touch of his hand on my shoulders and the smile on his face, when he would greet me after a chance encounter on the street. He never tried to impose his own beliefs on me and we often had vigorous discussions about the issues that plagued the Maoist movement, and of course Avakian’s New Synthesis.  We may not have agreed about how to solve the crisis of Maoism, but we both agreed that it existed and that no victory was possible without a suitable resolution. Never was there a comrade so untouched by vanity, and so full of love, integrity and human kindness. I have attached below the memorial statements from A World to Win News Service and the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist).

So let me end by saying the words that I know Com. Amir would understand the value of better than anyone else: Comrade Amir Hassanpour died for the people, and his death is indeed weightier than Mount Tai.

1 August 2017. A World to Win News Service. 
On 24 June 2017 Amir Hassanpour, renowned revolutionary intellectual and revolutionary communist with long connections to the struggle in Kurdistan, Iran and elsewhere, passed away in Toronto, Canada.

On 22 July, 250 people of many nationalities gathered at the University of Toronto to honour and learn from Amir’s life. Memorials are planned in other cities as well.

The intellectual and political life of comrade Hassanpour was intertwined with events in the international communist movement and the Iranian revolutionary and leftist movements. Amir was born in 1943 in Mahabad in Kurdistan of Iran where he spent his childhood and teenage years. It is a region whose people, especially the poor peasants, were oppressed by feudal and reactionary patriarchal social relations and also suffered national discrimination.

The first-hand experience of national oppression and the political environment of Mahabad drove Amir to join a nationalist movement in his youth (Kurdiati), but in his own words, after he got to know about Marxism, his view on things changed. He saw the reality of human exploitation and national oppression in the light of Marxist theories, which helped him go beyond the confines of nationalist theories and views. Amir was a theorist on the national question in Kurdistan and the Middle East and a prominent scholar and researcher in the fields of the culture, language, literature and history of Kurdistan, with many academic publications. But above all he always tried to understand and analyze problems of human society by applying the science of communism. “I do not have any identity,” he stated frankly. “If I have to choose an identity, I must say that I am an internationalist.”

Amir joined the Iranian student movement in Tehran in the 1960s. This connection continued in the 1970s with his participation in the Union of Iranian Students in the United States. On 1 May 1968, during a student trip to the U.S., he landed in Paris and immediately joined the youth rallies in the Latin Quarter and their fighting with police. This period of activism connected him to the future Communist Party of Iran (MLM) and the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCPUSA).

Amir was, on one level, typical of the revolutionary intellectuals who were active in the 1960s. He was an enthusiastic participant in and advocate of the revolutionary national struggle then sweeping the world, from Kurdistan and Palestine to Vietnam and Brazil. As a student he jumped into the rebellion and intellectual ferment of those days in the United States and other countries of the imperialist world.

All of this was heightened and put on a scientific footing by Mao Tsetung and his leadership of the earth-shaking Cultural Revolution in China, which was showing in vivid colour the possibility of advancing toward the final goal of a a society that finally surpasses all class divisions and all of the rotten relations and ideas that correspond to exploitation. Amir was also deeply concerned over the emancipation of women. He became a communist, a Maoist, and devoted his considerable talents and energies to the struggle to bring about a communist world.

He was one of the many communists and revolutionary intellectuals who threw themselves into the struggle in Iran as the Shah’s regime crumbled in the later 1970s. Amir was one of the founders of the Toilers Peshmerga organization in Kurdistan in 1981, affiliated with the Union of Iran Communists (UIC).

For the communists in Iran, the overthrow of the Chinese revolution after the death of Mao Tsetung in 1976 was accompanied by the defeat of the Iranian revolution and the rise of the reactionary Islamist movements in Iran, the Middle East and North Africa. This was followed by the emergence of the conflict between the two historically outmoded pillars: Islamic fundamentalism and imperialism. For those in the Iranian movement determined to carry forward the cause of revolution, the need for the fresh breeze of new communism and its scientific and political leaps was greatly felt. Amir, who was surrounded by many remorseful former left-wing intellectuals and ex-communist leaders from the 1980s and 1990s, never gave up on the cause of communist revolution and the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed. The new communism brought forward by Bob Avakian once again gave him the opportunity to challenge his thinking and engage with the advances in theoretical and political developments in the communist movement.

Amir knew that science is not a static, frozen phenomenon, but was marked by twists and turns, corrections of previous mistakes and new developments. This view on science helped him to became very involved with the new communism, which Amir struggled to dig into, grasp and actively promote.

At the memorial meeting in Toronto, Amir’s broad influence on revolutionary and progressive people from the Middle East and in the academic sphere was reflected by diverse statements and messages and cultural performances. The meeting began with a short drum performance and a talk by Salah Hassanpour, his son. After discussing Amir’s personal and political qualities, Salah pointed out, “My father was an optimist but not an idealist” – that Amir based his hopes and struggle for a better future for humanity on dialectical materialism and the science of communism.

A powerful tribute entitled “A Statement on the Passion of a Rebel” from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Iran (MLM) was read. This statement celebrated Amir’s passionate and rebellious spirit, as well as his uncompromising fight against the oppressors and his lifetime search for truth. A fearless search which in the last years of his life made him a close adherent of the new synthesis of communism developed by Bob Avakian.

A short tribute by faculty members from Palestine hailed Amir’s contributions and invited people to continue on his path fighting for the liberation of Palestine.

A statement by KJA, a contributor to Demarcations, the theoretical journal of the RCPUSA, was read by a comrade from the US. It pointed out, “Confronting the process of ‘Maoism dividing into two’, learning to sift out what was essential and correct in our previous understanding and to reject the wrong, the harmful, the non-scientific thinking, has not been so easy for most of us who lived that shared experience, even with Avakian shining light on this very contradiction. In this perspective, the power and importance of Amir’s firm adoption of a political position in favour of the new synthesis, despite having to wage a protracted battle against a cruel disease, stands out all the more sharply.”

Some of Amir’s former students also spoke at the memorial, praising his lively teaching, his encouraging pedagogical approach that emphasised learning through criticism. Another activist and sociology student mentioned that for him, Amir’s special characteristic was the role he played in exposing the Persian chauvinism that is so strong in contemporary Iran.

Activists and leaders of other parties and movements, including the Kurdish Satar Awehang (Communist Party of Iran-Komala) and Fatih Sheikh (Worker Communist Party-Hekmatist) sent video massages, while others like the linguist Jafar Sheykholislami and Farid Partovi personally read their statements. Though the speakers represented different political lines, they all agreed that as a revolutionary communist Amir tirelessly fought against all sorts of oppression, including national oppression, the oppression of women and class divisions. In addition to his undeniable role in the Kurdish liberation movement, Amir’s contributions to the study of Kurdish history, language and culture were emphasized.

Sharyar Jamshidi performed deep and sad music, bringing many of the people in the room to tears.

The hall was decorated by several insightful quotations from Amir. One read: “Yes, I am for grand narratives… I wish they were even grander… we have no interests in one human being over another one. … We want this kind of world and this kind of relations and this kind of ‘grand narrative’. And science gives us this, and on the basis of this scientific truth we must aim to leap and achieve this horizon that humanity has been able to explore.”

Professor Shahrzad Mojab, Amir’s lifelong partner, colleague and comrade gave a strong and emotional talk. Shahrzad’s voice broke several times from sadness, but very soon she would remember one of Amir’s humorous moments and make the audience smile along with her in sharing lively memories. Shahrzad talked about Amir always standing on the right side, with the oppressed and against the oppressors. From boycotting Israeli products to regularly going to the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto to talk to people and make them aware of the oppression of the Palestinians. Sharzad stressed that Amir was filled with passion for learning, life and humanity. She concluded her speech with a quote from one of Amir’s favorites, the early 20th century US poet and singer Joe Hill – “Don’t mourn! Organize!”

The message from the Communist Party of Iran (MLM) concluded: “The world cries out the need for communist revolution. Without revolutionary communists there will never be a communist revolution. It is time to decide and scale the heights again. Riding the new waves of communism, Amir’s victorious smile will be with us.”

The ceremony also was live streamed on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/yadmanamir).

CPI(MLM) on the death of Amir Hassanpour: “A Statement on the Passion of a Rebel”

1 August 2017. A World to Win News Service. The following statement by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) was issued on 22 July, 2017.

Losing someone like Amir is heavy. Especially in a world that dishes out unbearable misery for the majority of human beings every second.

When you think of Amir, you can hear his warm voice saying: How can you not agonize over what is being done to people all over the world? How can you not get angry at the unnecessary and senseless deprivation of the very basic needs of human life suffered by billions of people? How can you not fume over ongoing imperial wars, the horrendous spread of religious bigotry and slave/patriarchal relations among people, and worst of all, the rise to power of Christian fascists – and not ask why? What is the root cause of all this and the real solution?

Amir had a big heart for humanity and a burning desire for a better world.

In the beginning he was a young nationalist who grieved over the feudal exploitation of peasants, the national oppression of Kurds and the patriarchal relations that squeezed the life out of women. Then he discovered communist theory, which illuminated the root causes of this situation and proved that actually there is a real potential in human society to go beyond this ruthless way of life, this outmoded hierarchical social organization, and usher in a new epoch of communist society.

As an individual, Amir had a lot of loving qualities. But he represented more than himself. He was part of the 1960s generation. Revolutionaries of that generation had big dreams and deeds – aiming for the emancipation of humanity from class divisions, exploitation, oppression and old ideas corresponding to these relations and divisions.

Those in power called them a “lost generation” because a very big portion of those students and intellectuals who had been trained to become cogs and wheels in their system instead chose to use their skills in the service of the oppressed and the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Right in the belly of the beast, they worked for the defeat of the US and its allies in the Vietnam war; they exposed the reactionary/imperialist nature of the state of Israel and defended the right of Palestinians to Palestine; they became voices of the rebellion of the United States’ African slaves; and they turned universities into hubs of scientific truth against religious and non-religious obscurantism. Right in the heart of capitalism they dared to call on people to see the necessity, possibility and desirability of building a communist society on the ashes of ruthless and destructive capitalism.

For trained intellectuals, there is always a fundamental contradiction to solve: What are you going to do with the privileged status that capitalism has given you? For whom and for what are you going to use your intellectual abilities and skills and the know-how that the oppressed and exploited are normally deprived of obtaining while they direly need it in order to break their chains? Are you going to use your abilities as trained intellectuals to carve out a niche for yourself in this system and in the final analysis justify and validate the existing order, or are you going to use this in the service of opening the way to overthrow the system and radically transform the world in the interests of humanity and the Earth? In other words: Which side are you on? This is the point of departure for a rebellious intellectual. But to stay on this road will necessarily require more and higher ruptures.

For us to remain rebels and stay on the revolutionary path was not smooth and easy, as we faced some major crushing defeats. Revolutionary China was lost, and the first wave of communist revolution that started with the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871 came to an end. Within this framework, a big revolutionary opportunity in Iran turned into a sour and bitter counter-revolution that spread its dark clouds all over the Middle East.

After these defeats, many revolutionary communists became demoralized, and the system was able to “recycle” some of them. Those in power did this by applying harsh means of terror and suppression as well as “soft” means. For example, incredible efforts and investment were made to distort and bury the real history of communism. Relativist, instrumentalist and positivist thinking became dominant in academia and in fact were institutionalized as the normal and acceptable world outlook in the academic world.

All of us, including Amir, grappled with the challenge of not giving up in the face of this massive reactionary campaign.

It was hard to respond to the challenge of why we were defeated. Revolutionary communists had to get their heads clear. To this end, they had to critically review history and draw lessons. Big summations were made to understand the achievements and errors in theory and practice by the first wave of communist revolution. This process finally led to a radical leap in understanding, a revolution in the mind, a new synthesis of communism, and the person who carried out this process was Bob Avakian, whom our party has called the greatest revolutionary of our time.

Amir closely followed and engaged in this process. Some might think Amir’s adherence to the new synthesis was just a reflection of a nostalgic attachment to his revolutionary communist past. This is very far from reality! In fact, it was a result of his passionate attachment to the goal of radically transforming the world as well as his unwavering scientific outlook in searching for and recognizing the truth. In making judgements, he consciously avoided instrumentalism. He did not calculate the personal consequences of declaring hard and unpopular truths. In his view, truth is truth and nonsense is nonsense, and one must dare to make this distinction.

As he wrote in the preface to the Kurdish language book The Real History of Communism:

We cannot achieve a communist future by relying on the previous communism, and without the new communism one can neither correctly understand the past nor build the future. Making a communist synthesis of the previous communism and developing the new communism was the colossal work accomplished by Bob Avakian in the process of carrying out vast theoretical, political and ideological struggles over the past three decades. He succeeded in doing this. If communists want to be a vanguard of the future and not a residue of the past, they should take up the new synthesis of communism and seriously look into it and see its actual place in history and in the world today.

We will miss Amir so much. The voice of this dear comrade will always echo with us:

Yes, I am for grand narratives … I wish they were even grander … we have no interests in one human being over another. … We want this kind of world and this kind of relations and this kind of “grand narrative”. And science gives us this, and on the basis of this scientific truth we must aim to leap and achieve this horizon that humanity has been able to explore.

In memory of Amir, please allow us to bring our words to an end in the following manner.

Friends from the old times: it’s never too late to become a revolutionary rebel again! One can always make daring and inspiring choices.

And dear younger friends: the world cries out the need for a communist revolution. Without revolutionary communists there will never be a communist revolution. It is time to decide and scale the heights again. Riding the new waves of communism, Amir’s victorious smile will be with us.

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