Iranian Revolution of 1979

A Historical Analysis

Lectures at the Marx-Hekmat Society London
Koorosh Modarresi

These are my personal notes for the first lecture in these series. These notes are not polished and has been written for my own reference during the lectures. However, I am making these note available based on the request by some of my non-Farsi speaking audience. I have aslo included some of the data charts and tables referenced to in this lecture

It should be noted that I was not able to cover all the material summarized here in the first lecture. Specially, the part regarding the political transformation of the Iranian society between two revolutions, i.e., the constitutional revolution of 1907 and the 1979 revolution. This subject will be covered in the second lecture.

I hope these notes would be a help to my friends to follow the subject, at least schematically.

Koorosh Modarresi
September 13, 2011

Charts and Tables

General Outline:

  1. Lecture I: Preliminaries
  2. Lecture II: From the onset of the revolution to the Feb. 1979 uprising.
  3. Lecture III:
    1. From Feb. 1979 uprising to the end of the revolution.
    2. Review of the Marxist theoretical and political issues raised in this revolution.

Lecture I

September 11, 2012


  1. 1 - Introduction
  2. 2 – Method
  3. 3 – From where should we start?
  4. 4 - Iranian economic transformation between two revolutions (1907-1978)
  5. 5 - Iranian political transformation between two revolutions (1907-1978) [Will be covered in Lec. 2]
  1. Introduction

    1. The importance of the Iranian revolution:
      1. Changing relation between individuals and society vis a vi state inIran:
        1. Revolutionary spirit,
        2. Seeking some sort of popular support by the state,
      2. The role of the modern proletariat in the revolution and its consequences for the any future revolution in Iran
      3. Changing the political map of the Middle East
      4. The dynamics of the revolution in a modern society
      5. A non-socialist revolution in a capitalist country, realities and illusions
      6. The experience of the revolution for the working class: “lessons to be learned”
      7. Working class and bourgeois movements relations and interactions, specially in a revolutionary period
      8. Marxist theoretical issues raised by the revolution:
        1. Class character of the society
        2. Class character of the revolution
        3. Revolution in stages or permanent revolution?
        4. Workers’ control of the factories
        5. Unions and Councils
        6. The role of the proletariat in a non-socialist revolution
        7. Sate and politics in the revolutionary periods
        8. ... many others which we will cover in the third lecture
    2. The focus of this analysis:
      1. Like all scientific analysis, is what, how, and why?,
      2. Is there a general law or rule behind these events which make it possible to intervene in a future revolution and prevent it from the outcome of this revolution?
      3. What happened? And why and how did happen whatever happened?
      4. What kind of revolution was it? Leftist? Islamic? Democratic? Socialist? A revolution without a class character? A Political revolution? …
      5. Was the revolution defeated? Who or what exactly was defeated? [A window to the Hekmat’s “The history of undefeated”]
      6. Was the revolution betrayed?
      7. Let me comment on these last 3 questions which these lectures will try to prove:
        1. The “Iranian 1979 Revolution” was not defeated, was not high jacked and was not betrayed. It ended in one of its feasible results.
        2. We, including I, have used such statements in different contexts, but with the current domination of populism in thoughts of the all who call themselves communist, I believe these statement, as such, and without any explanation may result in a “populist” conclusion rather than a Marxist analysis.
        3. When we say the revolution was defeated or betrayed or high jacked we give the revolution and all the revolutionaries a single definite class or “movemental” identity, at least its denomenator. Hence, these staements should mean that this given or definate identity is defeated, betrayed or high jacked.
        4. The ABC of the Marxism tells us that popular revolutions (as opposed to a socialist ones) are the amalgam of different movements and class, which interpret the ambiguous slogans of the revolution differently. We do not have a characterless revolution, revolution as such etc.
        5. Revolutions have “movemental” class characteristic and hence different plausible outcome with the domination of one of these characteristics: For example, the French Revolution: Was it high jacked by Jacobeans? Was it betrayed by Napoleon or …? What about the American or Russian Revolutions?
        6. These kinds of explanations are very “hazardous”.
          1. First You will not be able to see the different movements in a single revolution and hence its possible outcomes
          2. Second to fight betrayal and high jacking you end up with witch hunt, constant ideological revolutions, Maoist –Stalinist criticism and self- criticism.
          3. In any case we end up with no way to show a map or rules or laws through which one can influence the outcome of a revolution.
        7. This study will focus on the dynamics of socio-political movements or trends in the Iranian society, they way they influenced the events and form political parties or alliances, as will be elaborate upon in the section on the method.
      8. This analysis will not be
        1. The chronology of the events, though important events will be mentioned
        2. The analysis will not simply follow the events but tries to show the dynamics of these events, why they happened the way they happened.
        3. It is not the history of political parties nor is it the history of political and social thoughts as such.
    3. Remarks on the existing literature
      1. Literature produced by the Islamic Republic, its institutions and affiliates: "This is a divine revolution" materialized by the Islam: A complete and typical non-scientific, arbitrary and scholastic argument. No reference to the material status of the society, a religious explanation.
      2. Literature produced by the pro-west nationalist movements (monarchists and liberals)
        1. Uneven development of capitalism
        2. Rapid development
        3. Lack of attention to the backward aspects of the society by Shah’s government
        4. Excess in despotism or corruption etc.
        5. Again this is subjective analysis of any major social events only to defend and justify the basics of the class system in power prior to the revolution
      3. Literature produced by academia
        1. Just explaining what happened without being able to draw a general law or conclusion. Pure empiricist method. Which, definitely does not work in the study of social dynamics?
      4. Literature produced by the left and the semi-left
        1. Most of the leftist organizations have not produced a comprehensive analysis of the 1979 revolution. Mostly short essays with scattered remarks written either during the revolution or afterwards.
        2. Most of the academic literature in English is produces by the ex-left activists or their affiliates.
        3. Left theories are characterized by the effort to give some sort of class explanation of the revolution. However, they are not, in my judgement, Marxist.
        4. Basically they reflect on the one or many of the following lines:
          1. They draft a "play" in which political parties and characters move and there is no explanation as why they move the way they did.
          2. A simple class reference can not explain the numerous class parties and characters with opposite policies and behaviours. Parties and individuals, obviously belonging to the same class, but in death and life struggle with each other, as will be elaborated upon later.
          3. “The revolution was high jacked “or “The revolution was betrayed”: Kind of conspiracy theory which will end up in a witch hunt as a remedy. I do not believe a revolution can be high jacked or betrayed. A revolution represents the intersection of different social movements which give their own meaning to the vague general slogans. The result of the revolution is the result of the struggle between these movements or trends to take over, usually after the triumph of the revolution. Revolutions can be and are in many cases defeated. But the defeat of a revolution is evaluated in regard to the state or government. If the government goes down, an anti-regime revolution is succeeded no mater what faction takes over later. The success of a revolution always opens up all the craks and divisions inside the revolutionary camp.
          4. They reflect a history without a general rule or law to be used in the next revolution
        5. Bibliography :
          1. Assaf Bayat, “Workers and Revolution in Iran”, Zed Books Ltd., 1987
          2. “Contemporary Iran, Economy, Society Politics” Ed by Ali Gheissari, Oxford University Press, 2009
          3. Jahangir Amuzegar, “Iran’s Economy Under the Islamic Republic”, I.B. Taurs & Co, 1993
          4. Ervand Abrahamian, “Iran Between Two Revolutions”, Princeton University Press, 1982
          5. David Menashri, “Education and the Making of Modern Iran” Cornell University Press, 1992
          6. Andreas Malm and Shora Esmailian, “Iran on the Brink, workers & Threats of War”, Pluto Press, 2007
          7. “Reformers and Revolutionaries in Modern Iran, New perspective on the Iranian Left”, RoutledgeCurzon, 2004
          8. محمد حسین؛ یک قرن مبارزه طبقاتی در ایران – جلد اول – انتشارات رودابه ۲۰۰۸
          9. The Iranian Revolution at 30, The Middle East Institute, Viewpoints Special Edition, Wahington DC, 2009
          10. Mansoor Hekmat, Selected Works
          11. Litrature of the Iranian Left
          12. خاطرات یدالله خسروشاهی – تلویزیون پرتو
          13. Cosroe Chaqueri, "The Russo-Caucasian Origins of the Iranian Left", Curzon, 2001
          14. Homa Katouzian, State and Society in Iran, The Eclipse of the Qajars and the Emnergence of the Pahlavis", I.B. Tauris, 2006
  2. Method

    1. Clarification on some concepts used here:
      1. Movement
      2. Revolutionary upheaval or conditions
      3. Revolution
      4. Uprising
    2. Our method is a Marxist method. But not in its “traditional way” which short circuits political parties or movements to a class without medium of the society and its superstructure.
    3. Class Struggle:
      1. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
      2. But this class struggle does not manifest itself around bare bone class interests. No capitalist movement or party only talks about or champagnes around the necessity of the exploitation of the working class!! Nor does any working class party is a single issue party for “no private property”. Life is more complicated!!
      3. All class interests will manifest and have manifested itself as a part of the solution to the malaise of the society and a bright future for all for a “better world” for all
      4. Movements and parties have to address the problems of the society in whole and portrait a vision, a horizon for the future for all and not only a single part of the society.
      5. This fact reflects on the general nature of humans to create a “better world”, whatever it means. This is the common denominator of all social-political movements throughout the history. This is the starting point of the Hekmat's “A Better World”
      6. The class character of any “better world” or any movement is set by its relation to the existing or the future class relation in the society. For example
        1. Will anyone be a slave in this “better world”?
        2. Will anyone be a peasant and pay rent in this “better world”?
        3. Will anyone be a worker and live on wage in this “better world”?
        4. Will anyone be able to profit from private property or capital in this “better world”?
        5. Is there money and possibility of accumulation in this “better world”?
      7. The answers to these questions determine the basic class nature or class character of these socio-political movements or trends.
      8. However, the answers to these questions are not unique even among the same class character.
        1. In the framework of a capitalist or bourgeois class you get many different set of answers: Liberalism, Fascism, Social Democracy, Nationalism, Populism, Conservatism, etc.
        2. Each provide a set of answers which defines a “better world” and each set of answers creates a socio-political movement or trend.
        3. Obviously, these movements have a clear class character; nevertheless, they form different movements within the same class framework.
        4. Although these movements see the capitalist system in different ways, they guard the basic mode of production, i.e., capitalist system.
        5. All capitalist movements, at the end, are against the worker’s movements who want to abolish the capitalist mode of production.
        6. Among different movements within a class there are conflicts and fighting. They struggle and revolt against each other even they slaughter each other. They get the supports of different parts of the capitalists based on circumstances.
        7. Only simple minded think that because of the common class character of these movements their fights are not real. Examples: Relation between Fascism and liberalism, between different nationalisms, Conservatives and Social democrats, etc. They reflect the ever infighting in the capitalists.
        8. A movement will attract the support of the class majority which is more appropriate under the given conditions. Sometimes (outside the parliamentary system) the dispute simply is set by shear force.
      9. Each socio-political movement usually creates more than one political party, which reflects the differences in tactics or minor issues inside that movement. (social reformism have many parties, or Iranian National liberals of The National Front, Kurdish nationalism etc)
      10. Hence we have multitude of political parties.
      11. The point is you can not understand the dynamics of a social changes or revolutions simply by the history of political parties or the behaviour of individuals. This will mask the movements (the main force behind parties and individuals) and class character of movements. Then you will not be able to explain the why the political parties behave the way they behave? Why they change into something else or change their attitudes? Why there are affiliations and common causes among different political parties, especially during the revolutionary periods? Then you end up explaining what Hitler or Stalin did was based on their personality or at most an evil party.
      12. The question will remain why the society did not explode under these parties or individuals? Why Germans accepted the Nazism? Can anyone do whatever he/she wishes to do? Can any political party do whatever that party wishes to do? Where these wishes orginate from? Where are the boundaries of these wishes?
    4. The line of influence can be roughly sketched as follows:
      1. The mode of the production and the class struggle sets the stage for what is possible or plausible and what is not possible or not plausible in general terms; no one can start slavery or feudalism in the capitalist society. This is not a plausible outlook.
      2. Based on this mode of production and possible or plausible out looks, socio-political movements are formed to “treat” the malaise of the society.
      3. These movements are bound to express themselves through the superstructure of the given society: political structure, history, culture, etc.
      4. These movements, although have common denominator with the similar movements everywhere else, they have the trait of the superstructure of the society in study.
      5. Hence this socio-econo-historical frame sets the boundaries of what is available to these movements in each country at a given period in time.
      6. These movements produce political parties. These parties again are bound by the same constrictions or frame work plus the boundaries of the movemet which they belong to.
      7. The same is valid or the individuals. An individual can play a role within the boundaries of their movement, party and his/her capabilities.
      8. The mode of production in a society creates socio-political movements, these movements create different institutions and political parties, These political parties create individuals.
      9. Then you can see that with all these variables,in the German society of 1920's Fascism and Hitler, as scientists might say, were a viable solution to the German conditions, as Rosa Luxembourg and the communists were. The condition in Germany (economical, historical, political, cultural etc.) was not the same for Britain. So for Britain, you get another viable solutions, which communism was not one of them. Same for Stalin and the Soviet Union.
      10. For further study one has to refer to the Marx and Engels, specially the German Ideology and Mansoor Hekmat’s writings in this regard.
      11. I have used this method in an analisys of the Russian Revolution of 1917 in 2001-2002
    5. From where should we start?: Based on what was said, if we want to understand what (content wise) happened in the Iranian revolution and why and how it happened we need to know both the material condition of the society and its superstructure as a whole. All the movements and individuals and classes who played their role in this revolution were the children of the history of this society. So we nee to start from a brief introduction to the economic and political history of the modern Iranian society. From the previous revolution (constitutional revolution of 1907) to the 1979 revolution: Iran between two revolutions.
  3. Iranian economic transformation between two rvolutions

    (See Economic Charts)
    1. Constitutional Revolution:
      1. Constitutional Movement started about 1890 (Tobacco Rebellions 1892)
      2. Constitutional Revolution (1903-1921), they got the constitutional monarchy and a constitution, based on the French constitution 1907
      3. The revolution ended by it being taken over by the pro-west nationalist movement and the rise of Reza Shah (Pahlavi dynasty) to power, ca 1920.
      4. By the time of the Constitutional Revolution, Iran had an agricultural economy based on feudalism
    2. Pre World War II
      1. During 1930s Reza Shah tried to rebuild Iranian economy in a western model (capitalism and industrialization)
      2. By the end of 30s 64 factories
      3. 20% of the state budget to industrialisation
      4. The number of industrial plants (excluding oil) rose from 20 (in 1925) to 346 (1941)
      5. Workers in modern industries (oil, mines, factories, fisheries, railways, docks, construction) rose to 170000 (4% of the total labour force).
      6. 11.35 millions work force was engaged in pre-capitalist relations.
    3. Post WWII
      1. before 1952 (Shah's coup)
        1. Shortage of foreign currency and rise in prices triggered a sudden expansion in local based factories and manufacturing.
        2. Between 1948-1952 10000 factories were established
      2. After the coup
        1. During the next 4 years, after 1952, 20000 new factories were established
        2. Before the coup the foreign investment outside oil was minute
        3. After the coup it developed rapidly in subsidiaries of multinationals in partnership with the state or local capital.
        4. By the end of 60s it reached 90 foreign firms
        5. By the end of 1974 reached 183
        6. By the end of the fifth Program (1978) it formed 3.7% still small proportion of the total capital in action.
      3. After Radical bourgeois reforms of 1963 (The so called “The White Revolution”)
        1. State put over $9.5 billion into economy
        2. GNP grew ate the rate of 8% (1962-70), 14% (1972-3) and 30% (1973-74)
        3. During 1963-78 the share of manufacturing in GNP increased from 11% to 17%
        4. During this period annual industrial growth rose from 5% to 20%
        5. During this period the value of total industrial output rose 12 folds (1200%) average rate of 72% per annum See Economic Charts
        6. The highest rates belong to water & power (104.2%) and construction (78.2%) mostly in the areas of: hydroelectric dams, power stations, ports, nuclear power stations, roads, schools, hospitals. Public and private housing, offices and factories.
        7. The economic role of state was to build the infrastructure of capital development.
        8. Dams increased the electric output from 0.5 billion to 15.5 billion Kwh (1963-1977)
        9. In 1977 60% of the investment was coming from oil
    4. The Growth of the working class See Economic Charts
      1. In 1977 about 54% 0f the total economically active population (EAP) of 8.8 million were subsisting through wage-labouring.
      2. The rest of the working population were divided between:
        1. Landed peasants using family labour (2.3 million, 26% of EAP)
        2. Non-agricultural self-employed (1.1 million 12.5%)
        3. Non-agricultural family workers (0.43 millions, 4.9%)
        4. employers
      3. Most wage-earners were directly involved in industrial activities (2.38 million)
        1. Manufacturing
        2. Mining
        3. Construction
        4. Utility / transport
        5. Communications.
      4. Over 6600 workers were engaged in agricultural (mechanised farms and collective agri-industrial farm factories
      5. Service workers : 1.25 million
        1. teachers
        2. clerical workers
        3. health workers
      6. Total number of working class about 4 million well over 50% of the economically active population(EAP), one of the largest in the third world
      7. Proletarianization:
        1. Vast majority of the working class were first generation of the rural dwellers (mainly peasantry)
        2. Oil sector in Khoozestan (South-west of Iran) was an exception.
        3. Some small workshop manufacuring workers like print shops and clothing (bafande soozani)
    5. Education
      1. Boom, Social base for the Dissident Graduates = see Chart 4 & 5
    6. Economic Crises of 1977 = See Chart 6