The project deals with the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The first sections considers such essential aspects as popular sentiments dominating the society, ideological groups taking part in the revolt, the unique nature of the Iranian Revolution that differentiated it from conventional European analogues, the factors of success, and rationales behind the revolt like corruption, repression, excessive westernization, economic reforms, and other reasons. The next sections give insight into the major achievements of the revolution and people who took part in the revolt and made accomplishments possible. The final chapter summarizes the focal points of the research.
Keywords: revolution, Iran, ideology, Khomeini, shah, Pahlavi, repression
Revolution is the culmination of popular discontent brewing for a certain amount of time. People may grow dissatisfied with sharp social contrasts, inequality, segregation, discrimination, and other blatant violations of their rights. Even conservative authoritarian Arabic societies like that of Iran can experience the rise of general discontent and indignation. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 is the revolt rationalized by a wide range of motives from corruption to excessive westernization adopted by Shah Mohammad Pahlavi. The unpreparedness of the ruling elite and its foreign patrons along with repressions sealed the fate of the Iranian leader signifying the historic shift of power and foreign vector. The point is that the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was the product of Shah Pahlavi’s repressive regime largely facilitated by regime’s weakness and unpreparedness, which culminated in crucial achievement and the establishment of a theocratic regime ruled by Ayatollah Khomeini over the following decade.
Popular Sentiments, Ideological Groups, the Unique Nature of the Iranian Revolution, Rationales behind the Revolt, the Factors of Success
Philosophy Doctor Homa Katouzian (n.d.) noted that the revolution of 1979 was the rebellion of the Iranian society against the political regime reigning supreme at the time of the event. Based on its underlying features, what happened in the country in the late 1970s did not match the norms of Western revolutions for a number of reasons. The state overthrown in the process was far from a conventional dictatorship. Rather, the Iranian regime was an absolute and despotic political system that was devoid of legitimacy and a requisite social base throughout the entire society (Katouzian, n.d.). Over the 38-year reign of Mohammed Pahlavi, the shah made one fateful decision that sealed his future and that of his country.
Eisenstadt (2011) claimed that the roots of the revolt were traceable to the developments preceding the event. The whole matter is that Shah Mohammad Pahlavi began the so-called “White Revolution,” a set of long-term reforms aimed at Westernizing and modernizing the country. Though the reform were responsible for a swift economic growth, they also resulted in rapid urbanization, social dislocation, and the adoption of Western lifestyles and customs by the power elites, which caused aversion in religious and traditional elements of the society. The reforms had the potential of alienating the clergy, weakening the influence of the clerical establishment, and unhinging the economic base of Iran. Worse, the plan of modernization necessitated the presence of a large overseas force, inclusive of 60.000 businesspersons and workers mostly from the USA and 9.000 advisors and military technicians.
Not only the presence of foreigners, but also higher salaries they received were what nurtured indignation and insulted the religious and nationalist sensibilities of certain Iranians. Political modernization was not in line with a swift economic growth. Plenty of populations, most notably, the middle class with a proper educational background enjoyed no political voice (Eisenstadt, 2011). Evans (2011) suggested that the programs of economic and agricultural modernization had benefitted common Iranians very poorly. The economic decline of the 1970s resulted in inflation cut governmental spending, a tighter job market, and a shrinking real income that intensified general popular discontent at a time when public expectations were high, which paved the way for the Iranian Revolution of 1979 against the authoritarian regime of Shah Pahlavi (Eisenstadt, 2011). Farber (2005) asserted that the secular regime of Reza Shah Pahlavi was not only repressive, but also corrupt. Evans (2011) stated that the shah went as far as to dissolve the parliament in 1961, strengthening his grip on the government in a typical authoritarian fashion.
Gürbüz (n.d.) stated that, conventionally, all political regimes in Iran seemed to be authoritarian in their essence. The strict authority was the instrument of cohesion bringing the society together. Generally obedient and loyal despite regime weakness, the silent society came to contest the regime of shah Pahlavi. The revolution of 1979 was fought by silent, albeit dissatisfied social groups that converged. Religious impulses restored the modernized from of the country, being an irreproachable way for social groups to show their discontent with the authority. Revolutionists ignored ideological distinctions temporarily. A new Islamic opposition rose to dispose of the surviving political system (Gürbüz, n.d.). Thus, dissatisfaction, religious impulses, and the weakness of the political regime all can be factored into the evaluation of the reasons for the success of the revolution.
This is not all there is to the factors that contributed to revolutionary successes. Eisenstadt (2011) both the Shah of Iran and senior American policymakers never saw it coming. Iran showed the signs of stability rather than revolution regardless of the instances of urban terrorism in the 1970s. In 1978, during the escalation phase, neither American officials nor the Iranian authorities could guess that the second most powerful armed forces in the Middle East will appear unable to handle the situation (Eisenstadt, 2011). Hence, one of key factors contributing to the success of the revolution was the unpreparedness of the authorities and their American patrons along with the inability of the armed forces, the chief pillar of the shah’s regime.
All of these factors enabled one of the most important civil revolutions in human history. Nayeri and Nasab (2006) noted that the revolution in Iran was the single biggest mass revolt since the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917 culminating in both the upheaval and regicide. Richard Cottam (1990) went further than Nayeri and Nasab (2006) did by claiming that the Iranian Revolution was one of the greatest populist explosions in the entire human history (Gürbüz, n.d.). According to Katouzian (n.d.), in the wake of the revolution, the Western hemisphere in part grew quite disillusioned and discontented with the results. The Western scientific elite referred to the revolution as deviant in the sense that it paved the way for the establishment of an Islamic republic. Judging by social-scientific rationales for the event, it should not have taken place.
Thus, a good number of Iranians turned disillusioned and went on to rest their sympathy with the Shah and what left of his political regime speculating on conspiracy theories, of which one of the most widespread linked the USA or even Britain to the subversion of the preceding regime. Both Europeans countries were alleged to have wished for the shah to forfeit his position before he could push the price for oil higher than it was. Some even came to claim that the West did what it did lest the economic progress under Shah Mohammad Pahlavi not deprive the West of its markets. What was happening in Iran in 1979 seemed to be eclipsing the Western world. Observers witnessed huge peaceful demonstrations marching; the saw social unanimity and solidarity to overturn the state showed by all. Especially eclipsing was the phenomenon of Ayatollah Khomeini. It was with great admiration that his followers, whether modern or traditional Iranians, perceived his words that had the aura of divine inspiration (Katouzian, n.d.).
Form a historical perspective, what differentiated the Western revolutions and its Iranian analogues was that Western societies were divided when once a revolution would erupt. The underprivileged or economically handicapped classes rebelled against those with substantial financial and territorial possessions or the upper tier of a society shaping the top line of command or power elites. Iranian revolutions, be they modern or traditional ones, have always brought all social strata against those on top (Katouzian, n.d.). The French Revolution from 1789 to 1799 or the Russian Revolution of 1917 were all anti-monarch class revolutions in part ignited by acute social contrasts. Though anti-monarch as well, the one conducted in Iran in 1979 was the conflict between classes. Doctor Vedat Gürbüz (n.d.) suggested that the 1979 Revolution in Iran also differed from the peasant-based revolutions that occurred in the third world countries. According to Katouzian (n.d.), from the Western standpoint, it would be senseless for the wealthiest social classes to organize and finance the movement, with other classes taking a neutral temporizing stance or fingering at the USA. By the Western criteria, it would be absurd for the whole state machine to go on what is an indefinite general strike, giving the most powerful weapon for the success of the revolution. It would also make no sense whatsoever for contemporary educated groups and nearly the whole intellectual community to support Khomeini and his appeal for Islamic government (Katouzian, n.d.).
According to Katouzian (n.d.), the revolution of 1979 was a typical Iranian revolt supported by the entire society against the regime represented by multiple ideological mainstreams like Islamic trends including Islamist, democratic-Islamic, and Marxist-Islamic tendencies and Marxist-Leninist trends incorporating Maoist, Trotskyist, Tudeh, and Fada’i tendencies. The rivalry between Marxist-Leninist and Islamic trends was about as strong as that within the two groups. The portion of population not attached to any of these ideologies were firmly behind the goal of deposing the Shah Pahlavi. Interestingly, popular sentiments were such that any proposal of a compromise amounted to betrayal. If any settlement had been achieved, without going so far as the overturning of the monarch, there would have emerged countless legends suggesting the liberal bourgeoisie turned its back on the revolutionary cause at the very order of British or American patrons.
Regardless of differences in ideological views and political platforms, the most common uni-party motto of the 1979 Revolution was “Let him go and let there be flood afterwards” (Katouzian, n.d.). The slogan reminding of the phrase “after us the deluge” possibly reflects how the society was willing and motivated to dispose of the shah by any means necessary, whatever political or economic ramifications. So strong was the desire to do so that it unified so opposite ideologies and parties in their common aspiration to introduce changes into the top administration. Their unity brought previously expelled Ayatollah Khomeini to power for the following decade.
Never the biggest supporter of the USSR, Khomeini, the leader of the revolution supported by many signified shifts in Iran’s orientation and the choice of a new political vector. The country may have become more conservative and theocratic rather than influenced by foreign powers. It is well-documented that the country used to have a pro-American stand during the era of monarchy, yet in the years following the revolution it entered a cooling-off period that has not become any warmer by now. Nayeri and Nasab (2006) showed the American support by stating that it was the CIA-provoked coup d’état that caused the democratically elected government of nationalist Mohammad Mossadegh to step down and let the shah mount the throne in 1953.
The Monumental Achievements of the Revolution
In rupturing the relationship with the USA, the revolt and upheaval came to the pleasure of the Soviet Union. Nayeri and Nasab (2006) suggested that the revolution changed the lineup of forces in the Middle East to the damage of imperialism. The Iranian Revolution was a very important landmark in the sense that it deposed what many Iranians believed the regional gendarme of imperialism, the supporter of South African apartheid, and the ally of the colonial-settler Israel (Nayeri and Nasab (2006). While the statement represents an unequivocal and biased anti-American rhetoric, it does indicate that the country was no longer a Western political satellite. Beyond the above-mentioned victories, the revolt, according to Nayeri and Nasab (2006), succeeded in eliminating CENTO, or the Central Treaty Organization, which was a local anti-Soviet military pact incorporating Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and the UK, yet there were further achievements.
After 1952, the regime of the later to-be-deposed shah started strengthening a capitalist regime based on autocracy and imperial Persian chauvinist ideology called Fars. The new doctrine denied nationalities oppressed by the regime their basic rights, taking political life by the throat. The 1979 revolution demolished the monarchy, the historical political form of the state, and destroyed its ideological and repressive mechanisms. The royal court, main bankers, industrialists, high-ranking bureaucrats, and top military command who avoided being caught by the revolutionary forces sought safety in flight, escaping mostly to the USA (Nayeri and Nasab, 2006). Achievements seem monumental, as the revolution brought the basic rights back to the once oppressed nationalities and conducted a political lustration or the purging of the power elite abandoned by regime’s loyalists. Those who had departed the country undoubtedly were the most notorious officials who had to relocate or else face people’s anger.
No Achievements without the Drivers of the Revolution: the Masses, Elites, and the Leader
These achievements would have remained beyond reach save that different social groups had participated in the hard-fought revolution. Nayeri and Nasab (2006) claimed that neither political nor individual was spearheading the revolution. Grassroots organizations in neighborhoods, universities, high schools, at the workplaces, oppressed nationalities, and peasants all united to contest the ultimate authority of Shah Mohammad Pahlavi in various ways. Peasants took the land they had cultivate for centuries, workers started exerting control over their workplaces, nationalities that used to suffer from political oppression started exercising autonomy and restoring their cultural legacy. Universities were quick to become the hubs of political discourse. Popular communities organized neighborhoods. Even political parties restored their functioning openly, the communist groups once declared outlawed by the shah included (Nayeri and Nasab, 2006).
It comes as no surprise that the shah abolished communist parties in his time, seeing that his political sympathy rested with the United States, the superpower and the major rival of the Soviet Union in the bipolar world during the Cold War era. It is not that these parties with Marxist-Leninist platforms and ideologies had any potential of dominating the political landscape of Iran. In all probability, they helped derail the political stability of the Pahlavi’s regime. According to Nayeri and Nasab (2006), to make matters significantly worse, discipline in the Iranian armed forces broke loose, with some fighters defecting to revolutionists while the population fetched firearms, which allowed tip the balance in favor of the protesters (Nayeri and Nasab, 2006).
Bayat (1987) also noted that revolution drew a wide popular support. It attracted bourgeoisie like bazaar merchants, conventional and new minor bourgeoisie, urban classes, tradesmen, civil servants, small manufacturers, and newly proletarianized and urbanized working classes (Gürbüz, n.d.). According to Katouzian (n.d.), people losing their lives in Iranian cities and towns during various phases of the civil revolt. It is only fair to admit that the outcome of the event of national proportions would have been different save for both financial and commercial classes, the economic engine of the revolution, profiting by the highly lucrative extractive industry.
There should be no forgetting the input of low- and mid-level civil servants, the employees of the National Iranian Oil Company, judges, attorneys, university professors, journalists, intellectuals, students, schoolteachers representing industrial, service, and educational sectors, all of whom took to the streets in the national strike (Katouzian, n.d.). All of these were in the vanguard of the revolution. The financial support provided by commercial classes shows the involvement of all social tiers, which is characteristic of a classical Iranian revolution. As with any other revolutions, money played their role that was anything but peripheral. Money is, by far, the sinews of any conflict, whether it be a war or a revolution. The commonplace adapt or perish mantra is possibly the reason for commercial elites to have joined the revolt back then.
Even though the participants played one of central roles in regime subversion, no revolution takes place without a leader and his unique vision. Nayeri and Nasab (2006) claimed that the country was at crossroads in 1979 since Iran could welcome the first workers’ government on Middle Eastern soil and step on the road of socialism. Rather than do so, the country opted for a political regime with a theocratic flavor. Ayatollah Khomeini took advantage of a golden opportunity by becoming the mouthpiece of the revolution. The ayatollah was known for having opposed the 1963 pro-imperialist program called REFORMS, whereupon he was banished into exile to Iraq (Nayeri and Nasab, 2006). Evans (2011) claimed that, while staying in France on the eve of the revolution, Khomeini was instigating conservative Shiite Muslims who wished Iran ruled by Islamic law.
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a revolt against an absolute and despotic political system devoid of legitimacy and a required social base. “White Revolution,” which was a set of reforms poised to westernize and modernize Iran eventually brought the regime to its end. Besides a quick economic growth, reforms also resulted in rapid urbanization, social dislocation, and the adoption of Western lifestyles and customs by the power elites, which could not but anger the population. The presence of a very large foreign force receiving higher salaries also did not do Shah Pahlavi any favor. The lack of political voice, inflation cut governmental spending, a tighter job market, and a shrinking real income, corruption, and the seizure of governmental powers all were chipping away at shah’s regime. Popular dissatisfaction, religious impulses, and the weakness of the political regime, the unpreparedness of the authorities and their American patrons, and the inability of the armed forces to crush the revolt became the chief factors facilitating the revolution.
Some Iranians speculated it was the US agents who might have undermined the regime, yet this presumption is far from logical. The revolution in Iran united all social classes irrespective of income or social standing, which differentiated it from its traditional Europeans analogues. Interestingly, Iranians united despite differences in ideologies and political platforms of parties since they had one common aspiration, which was deposing the notorious shah by any means necessary, whatever the consequences of doing so. Iranians claimed that one of the biggest achievements was the subversion of imperialist agent in the Middle East. The revolution did change the lineup of force in the region along with the vector of foreign policy that no longer allowed any cooperation with the USA, whose protégé Iran used to be prior to the revolt.
The revolution eliminated CENTO, or the Central Treaty Organization, and liberated nationalities from oppression of the shah’s regime. The Iranian revolution would have hardly secured important achievements if the whole society had not taken an active part in the event. Merchants, professors, teachers, students, and business elites all participated in the revolt. Commercial circles are said to have financed the revolution. Still, the key figure of the revolt is Ayatollah Khomeini who, while in France, was instigating conservative Shiite Muslims who wished Iran ruled by Islamic law. The mouthpiece of the revolution he returned from exile forced upon him for his views as to pro-imperialist program REFORMS, Khomeini established another authoritarian regime reversing westernization, trying and executing the members of the former regime, centralizing the role of religion, and going the road of capitalization. Overall, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was the event of a huge magnitude and the product of Shah Pahlavi’s political regime, which eventually brought to power Ayatollah Khomeini who started building the state uniting features like theocracy, capitalism, and authoritarianism.
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