Revolution, like death, seems to concentrate the mind wonderfully—at least the minds of publishers. Since the Iranian upheaval, both commercial and university presses have run off a spate of books on Iran, a country not previously the object of much publishing attention. In a short time, we have had at least two books on aspects of the Iranian economy,1 two more on the Iranian clerical establishment and its relations to the state,2 and several on the special relationship between Iran and the United States.3
There have been at least two collections of essays.4 Three or more accounts have appeared on the American hostage crisis, all of them the work of newspapermen or television reporters.5 The first of the hostages has meantime produced an account of his days in captivity.6 More books are forthcoming. It is therefore pertinent to ask whether the addition of any new book to this growing heap contributes significantly to our knowledge of the country, or provides a fresh interpretation of the already known facts.
Nikki Keddie, the author of Roots of Revolution, has devoted many years to the study of modern Iran. Her work in the 1960s on nineteenth-century political and religious movements resulted in two books, one on the tobacco protest movement of 1891-1892 and one on the Islamic reformer Jamal ad-Din Asadabadi (Afghani). In the 1970s, Professor Keddie worked, and wrote a number of essays, on socioeconomic developments in Iran in the twentieth century.7 Roots of Revolution brings together the results of her earlier and more recent research.
The book, a survey of Iranian history over the last two centuries, does not avoid all the pitfalls of this difficult form of historical writing. It is sometimes repetitious. Although her approach is largely interpretative and concerned with long-term trends, the sections covering the 1890-1921 and the 1951-1963 periods tend to straightforward narrative history. For a book of interpretative history, there is surprisingly little on the institutional changes brought about by the revolution of 1906, when the Shah was forced to accept a constitution establishing a parliament.
But Professor Keddie has a strong grasp of historical material. She displays a characteristically impressive capacity for compression and consolidation of recent historical research. Her opening discussion on Shi’ism is highly competent, emphasizing how “from 1501 until this century Iranism and Shi’ism were for many people parts of a single blend.” On these matters, it is to hers rather than to the two other books under review that we must turn. John Stempel and William Sullivan, in their own much briefer comments on recent Iranian history and religion, are less sure-footed and less reliable.
Professor Keddie’s book bears very much the stamp of the particular moment in which it is published. She has, for example, revised her earlier and more positive assessment of the impact on Iran of land reform. Writing at a time of revolution, she seeks to emphasize the previous history of social unrest, calling attention to earlier instances of peasant revolt (of which she is able to cite few examples) and other movements for social reform. Writing also when the Pahlavi dynasty was having a bad press, she has little favorable to say about either of the two Pahlavi reigns.
The Pahlavi period had its own, often intense, internal politics.8 But Professor Keddie’s book devotes relatively little space to the political history of that period. Instead, she concentrates on economic development, land tenure, trade and demographic patterns, and the impact of these on class and social structure. When dealing with the Iranian economy during the 1960s and 1970s, she is concerned more with agriculture than with industry; and when she deals with industry, she seems more concerned with private business than with the larger public sector, where heavy industry was concentrated.
In discussing these long-term social and economic developments, Professor Keddie speaks as a participant in a nascent debate among writers on Iran concerning the interpretation of recent Iranian history. It is therefore necessary to describe where she places herself in this discussion.
Work by Charles Issawi, amplified by studies by younger scholars like Gad Gilbar and Mostafa Ansari, has in recent years led to a revision of the generally held view regarding the Iranian economy in the late nineteenth century. Rather than as a period of economic decline, it has been portrayed, even if on a modest scale, as a period of expanding trade, expansion and commercialization of agriculture, improvement of standards of living for some classes, and the growth of a merchant and middle class.
These developments were linked to the increase of trade with Europe. Professor Keddie is of course aware of these findings; but she tends on the whole to discount them. She writes:
Based on existing evidence it seems unlikely that the gains compensated for the losses—that carpets, for example, compensated for the decline in a great variety of crafts for internal and external consumption. While many imported consumer goods could be bought more cheaply than their local counterparts, this did not necessarily bring a better life to most Iranians. More sugar, tea, tobacco, and especially opium were consumed, which was detrimental to health, while prices of basic foodstuffs rose.
For the Reza Shah period between 1921 and 1941, Professor Keddie’s assessment does not differ markedly from other serious studies of the period. But she tends to attach less importance than others to the development of finance, banking, and communications, the strengthening of the “infrastructure,” including roads, technical facilities, and schools, and the expansion of the middle class.
The gap between the incomes of rich and poor, she notes, widened. Ownership of agricultural land grew more concentrated and the position of the peasant deteriorated. “Under Reza Shah,” she concludes, “the social structure continued essentially to be one where a small minority lived off the labors of the rest. The Reza Shah program of modernization, and the growth of the privileged classes, were largely financed by exactions from the majority.” These trends continued in the postwar period.
Her assessment of social and economic developments during the reign of Mohammed Reza Shah (1941-1979) focuses primarily on the period between 1963 and 1978. The policies of the Shah’s regime during this period, she argues, “may be seen as contributing to a capitalist style of agriculture and of industrial growth, with a natural emphasis phasis on state capitalism, given the autocratic nature of the regime and its monopoly control of the ever-growing oil income.”
Seeing the 1963-1978 period as a unit, she provides a catalogue of the economic and social ills and dislocations that have been described by Robert Graham and others and have become standard analyses of the causes of the Iranian revolution. Land reform, for example, she considers to have been largely a failure and large-scale agro-industrial projects and state-run agricultural corporations a disaster. She finds the policy of emphasizing mechanized agriculture and the concentration on “Western-style” industries and the production of consumer durables to have been a mistake.
Credit policies, she says, favored the large commercial farmers and industrialists. Policies for developing new industry benefited primarily the already rich. There was an improvement in living standards, but to her the widening gap in incomes is more striking. Agricultural and industrial policies encouraged migration to cities, producing housing shortages, shantytowns, and social dislocation. Too much money was spent on arms and spectacular projects. Corruption was all-pervasive.
This view is by now familiar, and Professor Keddie’s specific criticisms are for the most part convincing. But her general assessment, and the picture she gives of the structure of the economy and society, strike me as unbalanced. They lead to an explanation of the social and economic basis for the revolution that is not altogether adequate. Land reform, despite its limitations, was a considerable achievement, displacing a large number of very rich and inefficient private owners. The “equalization of landholding” among all peasants, including the landless khoshneshin, which Professor Keddie advocates, was simply not feasible and would have produced uneconomically small units.
The structure of the Iranian economy in the 1970s was more sophisticated than the book suggests. Despite a common belief to the contrary, large sections of the bazaar and the shopkeeper class benefited from the economic boom. Many small industries and workshops flourished. There was considerable social mobility, particularly among the families of merchants and technocrats, some of whose children went on to receive advanced education in Western countries. The implications of these changes are not adequately discussed in Professor Keddie’s book.
By treating the entire 1963-1978 period as a unit, moreover, Professor Keddie lays insufficient emphasis on the disruptive effects of the sudden explosion in oil revenues in 1973-1974. She notes that there was a period of impressive political stability between 1963 and 1975, but she does not comment on it. To explain it, she would have had to give more consideration to the facts that living standards improved, that reasonably progressive social policies were adopted, and that the level of political suppression, for all its brutality to some dissidents, was widely seen as tolerable.
Professor Keddie says little about the expansion in this period of transport, telecommunications, electric power generation, and heavy industry. The public sector, in fact, she largely ignores despite its economic importance. She rightly speaks of a growing form of state capitalism. But there is surprisingly little in her book on the ways by which the state began to encroach on private industry, trade, and even the distribution of consumer goods, a development that helps to explain why the prosperous merchants of the bazaar went over to the opposition, in collaboration with the clerical leaders. Indeed, if she had concentrated more precisely on the dramatic change in economic policy following the sharp rise in oil revenues in 1974, she would have done more to explain the revolution that followed.
Professor Keddie’s analysis would on the whole tend to suggest that the revolution occurred as a result of economic deprivation; but she seems to attach relatively little importance to the expansion throughout the 1963-1978 period of the middle classes. Crane Brinton’s observation, in The Anatomy of Revolution, that revolutions are often the work of upwardly mobile groups, and that the moneyed classes are often the most vocal in demanding change, might have served her as a corrective here.
The perspective from which Professor Keddie views these developments is reflected to a degree in the recommendations that she makes. Her retrospective prescriptions range from the reasonable (more assistance to small farmers) to the unobjectionable but elusive (“modification of traditional [agricultural] methods rather than straight borrowing from the West”) to the simply puzzling (“Lowered tariffs could rationalize production by reducing the production of complex goods requiring many imported elements and encouraging production of simpler, more popular goods, which should need less tariff protection as their manufacture is relatively less expensive”).
Many of these prescriptions are untested hypotheses and appear to spring partly from a more general distaste for and disillusion with economic planning, and partly—dare one say it?—from a neoromantic belief in the benefits to be derived by developing countries from a return to traditional crafts, simple industries, and the small peasant farmer, happily cultivating his fifteen hectares.
Such attitudes are, interestingly enough, widespread among the revolutionaries in Iran today and form part of the ideology of various political thinkers. Professor Keddie surveys certain aspects of Iranian political thought over the last century in a useful and competently written chapter. She concludes that until very recently the main direction of Iranian political thinking has been secularist, anticlerical, and even Westernizing.
What, then, of the Islamic revolutionary thought that has been so prominent in the revolution? We learn much about this from the second half of the chapter, by Yann Richard, which summarizes the ideas of leading exponents of contemporary Shi’ite political thought, including the work of two clerical thinkers, Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Mahmud Taleqani, and three lay writers, Mehdi Bazargan, Ali Shariati, and Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. Mr. Richard is succinct, precise, and intelligent. In fewer than thirty pages he covers a great deal of ground, and much of what he has to say will be new to American readers. Three of his comments seem worth quoting, to give the flavor of his analysis. The first is on Ali Shariati, who died in 1977 and whose revolutionary Islamic ideas have been immensely influential among many young Iranians, including the Mujahedin-e Khalq who now are engaged in a violent struggle with Khomeini’s Muslim forces.
The really political thought of Shariati is not very developed in published texts, even though everything leads to it. His stress on the community following the imamate suggests that Shariati, while making implacable criticisms of totalitarianism, dreamed of an Islamic totalitarianism, the only one he saw as respecting completely the individual, not enslaving him to anyone but God, and not reducing his autonomy to that of an economic producer. Islam is, besides, he says, the only basis for an ideology of permanent progress and revolution—halting any attempt at a return to tyrannical powers and any degradation of political relationships.
Shariati sees Western democracy as rotten, because the power of money and not electors dominates politics. It is also rotten in principle, as universal suffrage, while claiming to create equality, in fact ensures the crushing of the progressive minority by the conservative majority….
Despite the importance Shariati gave in his lectures to a critique of Western society and his insistence on saving a humanism threatened by decadent Christianity and materialism (both capitalist and communist), his knowledge of the West was schematic. Understandably, he did not expand before his audience his portrait of the Christian mystic Massignon, or expatiate on the democratic ideals of many Western countries, but some of his polemics indicate that Shariati was not interested enough in the systems he combatted to study them closely.
Shariati also neglects the history of Iran; he admits that in his studies he disliked history, perhaps because of the use made of it. He refers very little to it; what interests him is an ideal original Islam, not its historic compromises. Hence, his analysis of the relations of Shi’ism with the government since Safavid times lacks references to accessible texts and documents.
Two tendencies seem to dominate the writings of Bani Sadr; on the one hand a certain anarchist tendency, which pushes him toward rejecting any domination of man by man under any pretext, and toward rendering possible the installation of what he calls “organized spontaneity;” on the other hand a tendency to make (in his Persian more than his French writings) all analyses, even in the social or economic domain, enter the traditional theological categories of Shi’ism. These two features give Bani Sadr’s thought a contradictory quality, but it is also thanks to these tendencies that he attracts numerous partisans, who are trying to reconcile a desire for liberty with the rigors of Islamic law.
On recent Shi’ite political thought generally:
…most modern Shi’i political thinkers have assumed that solutions to Iran’s problems are essentially simple. They have tended to think that freeing Iran from foreign control and influence and setting up new and fairly simple political and economic institutions, for which they find an Islamic base, will solve Iran’s problems, but this has not turned out to be case. In essence, the new Islamic thought became a potent weapon in making a revolution, but had far less success in building up new institutions. The various books and pamphlets on Islamic politics and economics written in the past twenty years do not, even had they been followed in detail, provide an adequate basis for setting up a polity that could meet the widely recognized needs for social justice, mass participation in political and economic life, rights for minorities and women, a truly functioning economy, and so forth.
One last comment on the book. Professor Keddie sees fit, in three separate instances, to repeat the vague assertion that the religious minorities in Iran, and particularly the Bahais, have “ties to Western powers,” or “ties to foreigners.” Iranians from minority groups such as the Bahais, and Muslims as well, are being executed in Iran today on the basis of precisely such unsubstantiated allegations. It need hardly be said that they have no place in a work with claims to scholarly objectivity, or in one published by a reputable university press.
John Stempel, in Inside the Iranian Revolution, focuses not on the long historical view of Iranian developments but on the revolution itself, which he observed as a political officer in the US embassy. He writes briefly on the immediate causes of the revolution; at much greater length on the months preceding the fall of the Shah and the seizure of power by the revolutionaries in February 1979; and again briefly on events following the revolution. He provides a detailed, factual, narrative account of these developments, but he does not view them from any particular historical or social perspective.
In looking at the causes of the revolution or the American failure in Iran, or the twists and turns of crises as the revolutionary fever spread, Mr. Stempel offers a wide variety of explanations, but we do not learn what weight he attaches to these various factors. At every crucial point, he suggests, the revolution might have taken another direction had one of the major actors made a different choice or had a crucial event been differently fitted into the jigsaw puzzle. One such moment occurred, he tells us, when the National Front leader, Karim Sanjabi, joined hands with Khomeini in November 1978, another in December when the Shah rejected proposals for a regency council. “Often,” he tells us, “a choice with broad consequences is narrowly made, based on nothing more than a personality quirk or even random accident.” The author’s perspective thus works like a prism rather than a lens. It has the advantage of projecting the rich panoply of events and of reflecting the difficulty of getting a period of social and political upheaval straight; but his account becomes blurred.
The book is over-long; one yearns for the knife of a suitably merciless editor. The author uses flippant language which at best irritates and more often makes for fuzziness where precision is required. We are thus told that the leading religious figure in Iran is a “super” ayatollah; that the revolutionaries who moved to seize power in various Iranian cities in January 1979 were practicing “their own version of ‘throw the rascals out”‘; and that the Marxist Fadayan guerrilla group, making a bid for power, was seeking to “capture all the marbles.” The clerics around Ayatollahs Beheshti and Taleqani, we learn, unhelpfully, “had no use at all for the United States.”
More careful editing would have weeded out numerous small errors and might have clarified the confusion the author sows on the question of the “Mujahedin.” Mr. Stempel seems to believe that the left-wing Islamic Mujahedin-e Khalq, who are now busy trying to overthrow Khomeini, and the revolutionary guards, who are now fighting them on the streets of Tehran, are all part of the same general group.
Mr. Stempel provides a vivid description of a night-of-the-long-knives on February 14, when “Mujahedin” (by which he appears to mean members of the revolutionary guard) and the members of the Marxist Fadayan guerrilla movement fought it out on the streets of Tehran and “went from house to house…seeking their counterparts and shooting at their rivals.” The killing is supposed to have continued for another three days. The only difficulty with this dramatic affair is that it never took place. Revolutionary guards and the Fadayan did fight each other, but that was later and took place not in Tehran, but in Kurdistan and in the Turkoman region.
On the other hand, when Mr. Stempel is discussing matters with which he is directly familiar, he is interesting and informative. Like William Sullivan, the former American ambassador to Iran, Mr. Stempel is able to provide valuable details on the political negotiations that took place on the eve of the fall of the monarchy and involved the Shah, Iranian elder statesmen, members of the opposition close to Khomeini, and, indirectly, American diplomats in Tehran.
The question raised by both Mr. Stempel and Mr. Sullivan is a dramatic one. Was there a good possibility that a more intelligent US policy might have helped to bring about the peaceful removal of the Shah from office and the installation of a more stable revolutionary regime? It is clear from their accounts that the participants, including the Shah, sought from the negotiations a moderate solution to the Iranian crisis. The negotiators for the opposition hoped through these talks to achieve a peaceful transfer of power from the monarchy to its revolutionary successors. Both parties sought to involve the United States in the discussions: the Shah because he hoped the United States would use a leverage it did not have to temper the demands of the opposition; the opposition negotiators because they wanted the Americans to persuade the Shah to leave the country, turn over to them control of the army, and make possible a nonviolent transfer of power. Both Mr. Stempel and Mr. Sullivan make it clear that by early November 1978, the US embassy strongly doubted that the Shah could survive. Ambassador Sullivan himself attempted to use American good offices to ensure that the army remained intact and to facilitate the transfer of power to the moderate wing of the Khomeini camp.
The revolutionary position, Mr. Stempel tells us, was explained to American diplomats primarily by two leading opposition figures, Mehdi Bazargan and Nasser Minatchi. Both were closely associated with the Iranian Committee for the Defense of Human Rights. Bazargan was the leader of the Freedom of Iran movement and was to become the first prime minister of the Islamic republic. Minatchi would become minister of information. Both were moderate nationalists who were eventually swept from office. Although their contacts with the “Great Satan” were later decried by the hard-line clerics around Khomeini, there is little doubt that Khomeini and his advisers in Paris were fully aware of their discussions with the embassy.
Bazargan himself spent time with Khomeini in Paris. He was in close touch with one of Khomeini’s trusted lieutenants in Tehran, Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, and with one of his advisers in Paris, Ebrahim Yazdi. Another leading cleric and close Khomeini aide, Ayatollah Musavi-Ardabili, participated in the January 1979 meeting that Sullivan held in Tehran with Mehdi Bazargan.
The story of these discussions as set out by Mr. Stempel and Mr. Sullivan is intriguing. The two accounts allow us to see how the United States came to act as unsuccessful midwife in critical negotiations between Iranians, because the Shah and the representatives of his rebelling subjects would not talk to one another. They show the strong inclination of some members of the revolutionary party, particularly Bazargan, to work for a “bloodless” revolution and how the chances for a peaceful understanding slipped through their fingers. When the Paris end of these negotiations is better known, we will no doubt also learn how Khomeini’s intransigence was reinforced by certain advisers, some now themselves exiles in Paris, who believed that revolution was preferable to a negotiated settlement as a means of coming to power.
Bits of this story have already emerged in statements made in Iran by Bazargan, and Sullivan’s account confirms what we know of Bazargan’s version of the discussions. Other parts of the story emerged in the documents released by the militants who seized the American embassy in Tehran. But Mr. Stempel’s account is marred by a failure to distinguish between what he knows firsthand and what he picked up from the many unconfirmed versions of the negotiations circulating in Tehran at the time; and he provides few identifiable sources for his account.
As a State Department officer, he no doubt wished to protect Iranian sources. But Mr. Stempel was hearing one or another version of the negotiations, and he does not tell us which. Sullivan’s account is cautionary here. Both he and Stempel tell us, for example, that the Shah called out of the political wilderness the elder statesman Ali Amini to talk with opposition leaders. Both Ali Amini and the Shah told Sullivan these talks were taking place. But only Ali Amini was willing to tell Sullivan of his report to the Shah: that the monarch’s concessions were rejected as quite inadequate.
This is only one of many instances in which Sullivan provides a clearer account of the negotiations. He has a firmer grasp of the position taken by the Shah and the opposition on critical questions and of the issues that continued to divide them. He is more precise on the attitude of the opposition to the army and provides insight into the degree to which the officer corps had begun, secretly, to make its peace with the opposition in the weeks before the Shah’s fall. In the course of negotiations with Bazargan’s group and senior officers, he writes,
it became apparent that a significant number of senior officers in various strategic positions within the military-command structure were not only sympathetic with the aims of the liberation movement but also closely in touch with its leaders on a regular basis. From this circumstance, it developed that the liberation movement knew quite explicitly the attitudes and operations of the various military officials.
Sullivan’s account is also valuable because it underlines the readiness, even eagerness, of the opposition to maintain good relations with the United States after the overthrow of the Shah. Bazargan told Ambassador Sullivan in Ayatollah Musavi’s presence that the opposition wished to preserve the army intact and continue to make use of the US military mission to Iran, and other religious leaders were for a time helpful to the US. When American soldiers were caught in the revolutionary crossfire on February 11, it was Ayatollah Beheshti who helped to rescue them and to drive them to the embassy. When the embassy was seized for the first time on February 14, Khomeini himself sent a clerical emissary to apologize to Sullivan.
Mr. Sullivan’s Mission to Iran is cast in the form of an ambassador’s journal. We follow him as he receives his assignment to Tehran while serving in the Philippines and then conducts a round of meetings in Washington and New York to inform himself on Iranian affairs. We learn of his apprehension at being appointed to a country and a region of which he knew nothing. He was told that the US needed a diplomat used to dealing with “authoritarian governments and leaders who were forceful personalities,” only to discover in Tehran that the Shah “certainly did not fit into that [latter] category.” Sullivan soon became worried over the size of Iran’s arms purchases, the reckless pace of the Shah’s overambitious industrial program, and the absence of embassy contacts with the clerical and the bazaar communities. But what he says about the Iranian oil industry, the arms transfer program, and the Iranian university system seems aimed at the reader with only a rudimentary knowledge of the country.
The last part of Mission to Iran is more interesting and not only for its account of the negotiations between the various Iranian parties I have mentioned. Mr. Sullivan has been criticized for grasping too late the seriousness of the threat that eventually engulfed the Shah; for deciding to go away on leave in the late spring and summer of 1978 as the revolutionary crisis was mounting; and for failing to appreciate the implications of the radical Islamic ideology Khomeini represented. The book is in part a defense of his record.
As he makes clear, he often disagreed with the State Department, the White House, and particularly the national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, over Iranian policy. By his own account, Ambassador Sullivan began to feel in November that the revolution was going to succeed and that the Shah would probably not survive. He believed that the United States must prepare for that eventuality and the possible disintegration of the country and Soviet dominance of Iran by ensuring that the army remain intact and encouraging an understanding between the army and the revolutionaries. He believed that Khomeini would come to power; he saw in Bazargan and his moderate colleagues a ray of hope.
It was in these circumstances that he sent to Washington on November 9 his cable, “Thinking the Unthinkable,” urging that the American government begin to prepare for such an eventuality. He repeated his case forcefully on January 12, four days before the Shah’s departure, again urging that steps be taken to encourage “a modus vivendi between the military and the religious” elements, and adding: “We must put the Shah behind us and look to our own national interests as foremost in Iran.” But he gives the impression that he found the White House blindly committed to the Shah.
In the meantime, he cultivated contacts in both the army and among the opposition and he proposed that Washington send a high-level emissary to Khomeini in Paris to try to get his agreement to an arrangement that would keep the military intact. As it turned out, this mission to Khomeini, although it was initially approved, was canceled, apparently at the urging of Brzezinski, who, Sullivan implies, consistently advised Carter that the Shah could continue in power. The Shah left Iran on January 16. Sullivan did not believe the man he named as prime minister, Shahpur Bakhtiar, could hold on. He continued to urge steps to transfer the army’s loyalty to Bazargan. But Washington decided that Bakhtiar must be supported and the army must be kept firmly behind him.
Mr. Sullivan believes that the chance to preserve the Iranian armed forces in one piece, to ensure a peaceful transition to those who would have come to power anyway, and to prevent the collapse that followed the fall of the Shah was thus inevitably lost. Mr. Sullivan’s version of these events will no doubt be challenged by other officials, who were then in the State Department and the White House; but he has made a forceful indictment of wishful thinking in Carter’s administration.
These three books address issues that remain central to the eventual outcome of the Iranian revolution. On the eve of the revolution, the attitude of the army was considered critical by the United States, the Shah, and the opposition. Today, nearly three years later, the army is once again a potentially important factor in the internal struggle for power. The army in 1979 became a prime target of postrevolutionary vengeance. Hundreds of officers were executed. Thousands were purged. The structure of command was shaken to its foundations. The Fadayan and the Mujahedin guerrilla groups called for complete dissolution of the “imperial” army and the establishment of a citizens’ army.
Yet the army somehow survived. It was able to regain self-respect and to restore its reputation in the war against Iraq. The army put up a creditable defense against the Iraqi attack. The air force inflicted severe damage on Iraqi oil installations. In September this year Iranian troops were even able to break Iraq’s year-long siege of Abadan.
Ironically, the once denigrated army is now being courted by virtually all the Iranian factions. When Bani-Sadr was ousted as commander in chief of the armed forces and as head of state in June this year, Ayatollah Khomeini took great care to ensure the loyalty of the army. Bani-Sadr, in exile in Paris, pretends the army is on his side and following his advice in pursuing the war against Iraq instead of staging a revolt against Khomeini on his behalf. The Mujahedin have stopped calling for the dissolution of the army; and their leader, Masud Rajavi, also in Paris, takes pride in the fact that an American-trained pilot of the Shah’s air force flew him out of Iran to the French capital. He claims this is a sign of military support for the Mujahedin. Royalist exiles look to the army to engineer a restoration. The Iranian middle classes, wearied by three years of revolutionary upheaval and turmoil, are said increasingly to hope a “benevolent strong man” from the army will emerge to restore order and moderation.
When Bani-Sadr was ousted, the army reaffirmed its loyalty to Khomeini and to the Islamic republic. In fact the army chose, as it had done in the very final stage of the struggle between the Shah and the revolutionaries, to remain neutral in the domestic political struggle. It has no stomach for commitments that would lead to further killing of civilians by its troops. The army too is ridden by faction; and a nascent, nationally recognized military leadership was virtually wiped out when a military transport plane crashed in September, killing all the leading military commanders. Yet the army remains a potential claimant to power; that is why factions within the revolutionary group now in power continue to eye the army with suspicion.
The ideological currents and the prerevolutionary intellectual ferment discussed by Nikki Keddie and Yann Richard will also exert an important influence on future developments. Such ideologies share a concern with social justice and the welfare of the common people. But there are also sharp conflicts: between a strong, secularist, and anticlerical tradition and the present reversion to Islam; between the radical, populist third-world ideologies of groups like the Mujahedin and moderate advocates of parliamentary democracy; between the clerical advocates of a fully Islamized society and clerics who make more modest claims for religion.
Although a certain weariness of ideological conflict has set in, radicalism has not yet lost its attraction. Part of the reason is that class and economic conflict underlie the present turmoil. The Iranian merchant community and the middle classes helped stage what they believed was a revolt against royal autocracy and the privileges of a small ruling group. The country seems now to be undergoing a revolt by the lower middle classes and the urban poor against the privileges of the middle classes.
Under the Shah, it was believed that the benefits of a broad-based economic development, with a dose of welfare and social services, would eventually filter down to the mass of the people. The impulse of the revolutionaries in power and those waiting in the wings has been to reject such policies for reasons described in Professor Keddie’s own criticism of them. But so far, although populist ideas regarding new forms of distributive justice are common, no rigorous alternative strategy of development has been worked out. Thus the country flounders in its search for economic as well as political and ideological solutions.
December 3, 1981
Homa Katouzian, The Political Economy of Modern Iran: Despotism and Pseudo-Modernism, 1926-1979 (New York University Press, 1981); and Farhad Kazemi, Poverty and Revolution in Iran: The Migrant Poor, Urban Marginality and Politics (New York University Press, 1981). ↩
Shahrough Akhavi, Religion and Politics in Contemporary Iran: Clergy-State Relations in the Pahlavi Period (State University of New York Press, 1980); and Michael Fischer, Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution (Harvard University Press, 1980). ↩
Barry Rubin, Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran (Oxford University Press, 1980); and Michael Ledeen and William Lewis, Debacle: The American Failure in Iran (Knopf, 1981). ↩
Ahmad Jabbari and Robert Olson, eds., Iran: Essays on a Revolution in the Making (Mazda Publishers, Lexington, Kentucky, 1981); Iran in der Krise (Verlag Neue Gesselschaft, Bonn, 1981), which contains several articles in English; and also several relevant articles in Elie Kedourie and Sylvia Haim, eds., Towards a Modern Iran: Studies in Thought, Politics and Society (Frank Cass, 1980). ↩
Robert McFadden, et al., No Hiding Place: The New York Times Inside Report on the Hostage Crisis (Times Books, 1981); Pierre Salinger, America Held Hostage: The Secret Negotiations (Doubleday, 1981); and Doyle McManus, Free at Last! (New American Library, 1981). ↩
Richard Queen, with Patricia Haas, Inside and Out: Hostage to Iran, Hostage to Myself (Putnam, 1981). ↩
These and earlier essays appear in Nikki Keddie, Iran: Religion, Politics and Society (Frank Cass, 1980) and form in part the basis for the present book. ↩
The politics of the Pahlavi period are described in Ervand Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions (Princeton University Press, forthcoming). ↩