The writer has previously been on assignment in Iran and writes on the area from his current base in Europe. Bijan Z. was arrested by Iranian authorities on April 27.
He was an active member of Iran's pro-Soviet, communist Tudeh Party and his arrest came in the course of Tehran's second major crackdown on communist militants. Five days later the party was outlawed. Bijan's family hasn't heard from him since.
Like the other estimated 1,500 Tudeh members officially arrested, Bijan is believed to be awaiting trial. Despite rumors, Iranian authorities claim that no Tudeh member has been executed so far. But observers in Tehran believe that after the recent public confession of high-ranking officials of their party, Tudeh militants will find it extremely difficult to have a credible defense.
''With the help of our members within the armed forces, we used to prepare reports for the Soviet government,'' said the secretary general of the party, Nourreddine Kianouri, in a television interview.
''I passed on information collected by the party to Soviet officials,'' added Badrik Avanessian, a member of the central committee. Other officials detailed at length the party's ''dirty scheming.''
Why longtime militants, some of whom had spent years in the Shah's jails, betrayed their ideals remains unknown. ''They had been tortured,'' an exiled militant says.
A diplomat who watched the televised interviews says, ''They looked in good shape and in full control of themselves.''
Few militants managed to flee before the Iranian roundup of the communists. The communists have few friends among the Iranian opposition. Having collaborated with the Islamic regime for several months, Iranian communists are hated by the opponents of the Islamic Republic and are now totally isolated.
Relations between Iran and the Soviet Union have deteriorated in recent months. In response to the expulsion in May of 20 of its diplomats from Tehran, the Soviet Union asked three Iranian envoys to leave Moscow. But in its Persian-language broadcasts, the Soviet's Radio Baku maintains that Tudeh members are true revolutionaries who would participate in an armed struggle against the Khomeini regime.
Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Akbar Vellayati denounces the presence in Kuwaiti ports of Soviet ships unloading arms for Iraq. But at the same time he stresses that his country wants to have normal relations with the Soviet Union: ''We have to separate the problem of the Tudeh from our relations with Moscow. We have to live in friendship and refrain from interfering in each other's domestic affairs,'' he said recently.
With the disbanding of the Tudeh Party, Islamic fundamentalists have become the only political force in the country. Aside from a very small and discreet group of moderate deputies led by former Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, they fully control the Parliament. The executive and the judiciary are also in their hands. All opposition has faded.
The People's Mujahideen, which led the armed struggle against the Khomeini government, is now in disarray. Hundreds of their members have been executed. Others are in jail or are in hiding. In Paris, the leftist National Council of Resistance headed by Massoud Rajavi is torn apart by differences between its members. The Kurdish Democratic Party is isolated in a council whose majority supports a new centralized revolutionary power in Tehran.
Former President Bani Sadr disapproves of the now regular contacts between the People's Mujahideen and the Iraqi government. Royalists, too, are split. Several rival exiled politicians have tried to rally those who believe that only a restoration of the monarchy could solve the Iranian political problems. But none of them has emerged as a strong and powerful leader so far.
The Shah's son, Cyrus Reza, regularly visits his supporters in New York, Paris, and London. ''After a period of wavering he is now willing to assume his responsibilities,'' says Houchang Nahavandi, a former official of the imperial regime. But observers seriously question his political ability. Monarchists seem to have lost their credibility. Within Iran, support for the reestablishment of a shah is at its lowest ebb.
When Iraq invaded Iran initiating the Gulf war, Iraqi-based radio stations announced that the Khomeini regime was crumbling and that leading mullahs were fleeing the country. Says one Iranian, ''They broadcasted the news of Khomeini's death a dozen times.''
Many Iranians who left their country after the revolution face financial hardship. This often drives them to join an opposition group. Says an exile in Paris, ''Hundreds of Iranians earn their livings by attending meetings and flattering their benefactors.'' Sources close to the opposition say it is kept afloat by money coming from conservative Arab governments. The breaking down of the opposition is also the result of the repression that followed the assassination of several high-ranking officials in the government.
After a period of unrestricted crackdown on dissidents, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a decree in December calling for respect of individual rights. Committees were set up to study the grievances of Iranian citizens against the judiciary. Says former President Bani Sadr: ''It didn't change anything. Conditions in jails are even worse now than a year ago.''