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The Iranian Revolution 1979

Iranian Revolution Essay

May 22, 2020 at History Essays

The Iranian revolution that occurred in the year 1979 can be considered one of the most epochal events of the 20th century. The revolution represented the first instance of the rising global wave of Muslim fundamentalism, as a result of which military conflicts arose in Iraq and Afghanistan. Besides, the revolution occurred in an era of global communications; the mass media conveyed the details of the revolution to homes all over the world. In addition, Iran was ruled by an extremely unpopular governor among his people.

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The revolution has seen several theorists attempt to analyze the reasons for its occurrence, as well as its success. Among the most prominent philosophers on this matter is James DeFronzo, according to whom there are five factors required for the success of this revolution. To begin with, DeFronzo suggests that there was significant frustration among the masses, which led to uprisings and unrest in both the rural areas and the cities. He further notes that the Iranian revolution resulted from political movements whose leaders had access to more power and wealth, higher levels of education, and enhanced skill sets as compared to the average population (De Fronzo, 2015).

Defronzo goes on to state that the Iranian subjects needed to unify the major classes cutting across class distinctions, which resulted in a coup d’?tat. Moreover, the political situation at that moment fueled the revolution by paralyzing the administrative authority of the state, allowing the revolutionary movement to flourish. Finally, DeFronzo emphasizes the role played by the rest of the world in terms of active and passive support of the revolution. Most of the other countries were evidently reluctant to interfere with the revolution (DeFronzo, 2015, p. 23).

In my opinion, DeFronzo’s argument that Iran’s revolution arose because of the presence of imbalanced class communities is factual to a significant extent. Iran encompassed the capitalist and the ancient class. Capitalist Iran was gaining considerable strength concentrated in the comparably smaller oligarchy. The majority of the Iranian people lived in an era characterized by the devotion to traditional religious ethics, self-exploitation, as well as political processes based on consensus building.

There was an unspoken understanding that as long as the boundaries of these two communities did not intersect, peace would prevail as there would be insufficient tension in the society capable of provoking a revolutionary crisis. However, the presence of the monarchist regime that created internecine strife among capitalist Iran while fuelling the growth of oligarchic capitalism threatened the survival of ancient world, which was a critical catalyst towards the 1979 revolution. Moreover, the continued class struggles encouraged widespread discontent with the monarchist regime. The ability of the monarchist regime to mobilize masses of people while failing to consider the class consequences of its actions proved fatal (Goldstone, 1986, p. 240).

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Two opposing forces in the form of Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini ignited the Iranian revolution. These powerful people competed with each other, which made Shah initiate reforms referred to as the White Revolution. The White Revolution led to multiple socio-cultural changes, which were criticized immensely by Iranian society. The revolution principally stemmed from the Iranians, who were opposed to Shah from nearly every political perspective. For instance, some people questioned his religious beliefs, asserting that he was not much of a believer. Others thought that his policies were exceedingly oppressive, while the majority of subjects were agitated that he was rapidly modernizing the community without preserving the vital aspects of Iran’s cultural heritage. From the precedent, it is apparent that DeFronzo’s theory that frustration among the masses was a major contributor to the Iranian revolution is correct.

While further justifying DeFronzo’s philosophy, it is important to note that there was profound wealth inequality between the nobility and the ordinary citizens. The level of poverty that spread throughout the country was alarming. For example, there was an elevated level of unemployment, insufficient remunerations, underdevelopment as well as inadequate protection of the workers (Green, 1982, p. 11). To add salt to injury, Shah was incapable of fulfilling his promises of enhancing the wellbeing of the country and increasing wealth, which further infuriated the masses.


Further agitation among the population was brought about by Shah’s attempts to rapidly introduce reforms. Contrary to the prevalent assumption, transformations are not always necessary for enhancing a country’s stability. Shah erroneously believed that his reforms would automatically stabilize Iran while fostering a more open society that would diminish the residual opposition to his government. However, there is evidence demonstrating that those reforms contributed substantially to Shah’s downfall. Shah failed by rejecting to develop a definite strategy to meet the problems facilitated by political activities stimulated by his failure to allow more freedom.

Besides, it was apparent that most of Shah’s reforms were superficial. Rather than being aimed at changing the Iranian government and society, they were directed towards appeasing both his domestic and international critics. Shah would inevitably lose popularity because the land reforms that he instituted were fundamentally unfair. For instance, he redistributed the agricultural land to the sharecroppers in an attempt to buy their loyalty, persuading them to assist him with modernizing the Iranian agricultural system. However, the sharecroppers complained that the plots of land they received from Shah were inadequate and did not allow them to make a living. Consequently, there was a massive migration of farmers to the cities, as a result of which a large number of people lived in squalid conditions. For instance, the cities were not sufficiently equipped to sustain a massive influx of populaces. Worse still, these people did not have the requisite skills to live in a city as they lacked skills beyond farming. Living in miserable conditions in town inevitably resulted in dissent and unrest among the displaced population (Abrahamian, 2008, p. 123).

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Moreover, Shah’s unpopularity was explained by his use of force in cracking down on his opposition. For instance, he employed SAVAK against the dissenters, expelling them from their homes. However, this did not deter the dissents, who engaged in actual bombing among other acts of opposition to the regime. Consequently, Shah decided to take stricter measures in repressing these dissident movements, which resulted in greater dissent and repression in one vicious cycle. Shah further attempted to retain his popularity by rewarding close and extended members of his family as well as his strong supporters. Massive looting occurred as various parties competed in stealing from the people of Iran. Shah’s system of reward resulted in extreme class stratification, which saw Iran being dominated by a small class of people comprising of Shah’s extended family and his favored few. The rest of the population was henceforth left to scrape a living while Shah and his elevated upper class lived in opulence. Shah used the oil revenues to sustain his regime because Iran was incapable of producing sufficient food to feed the population. However, after the 1976 OPEC oil embargo, the US and other developed countries significantly reduced their oil consumption. Since oil was a prime source of revenue, Iran fell into massive foreign debt. Consequently, Iran could no longer pay for imported goods without difficulties, which resulted in massive inflation. The country’s purchasing power was reduced significantly, giving rise to a large population who lacked sufficient funds for purchasing basic commodities. The mediocre life to which Shah subjected the Iranians fueled the bitterness that originally emanated from being cut off from meaningful participation in the governmental affairs, as well as being displaced from their homes and having their normal way of life disrupted. Out of frustration, the masses started looking for a different leader to achieve the kind of change they desired.

DeFronzo was also right in his assertion that the Iranian revolution resulted from the political conditions prevailing at that time. It is no secret that calls for democracy saw the onset of the revolution. It is obvious that the Iranian subjects were not happy with the government as it had absolute authority that was detrimental to individual freedom. Shah was notorious as an authoritarian who often prevented his subjects from expressing their opinions, which was against the Iranian people’s wishes as they wanted to be able to control their own affairs. What they desired was some form of democracy or self-government. The fact that most Iranian citizens saw Shah as a western puppet aggravated the situation. The Iranian subjects were convinced that Americans prevented Iran from getting profit from its own petroleum.

The fact that Shah had a close relationship with the U.S significantly undermined the political stability of Iran. The reason is that the majority of the Iranian citizens perceived Shah as a leader who borrowed too much from the western culture, which disillusioned his subjects about both his supposed masters and himself. The Iranian citizens regarded the Americans in Tehran with disdain as they appeared to despise the Iranian culture and history. Consequently, there was tangible tension between the Iranians and the Americans, which was contrary to Shah’s hopes of creating mutual understanding and toleration. Indeed, the Iranians developed an intense sense that Shah was imposing the Americans upon them, which inflamed his unpopularity as the Iranians were convinced that the Americans did not respect them. Khomeini further aggravated the situation by arguing that a status of forces agreement that granted immunity to the U.S citizens necessarily trampled on Iran’s sovereignty.

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Defronzo’s assertion that the other country’s active and passive support fueled the Iranian revolution can be justified. For instance, while the United States was seemingly silent during the revolution in Iran, it is evident that the U.S. used Khomeini to remove Shah from power. The U.S. was infuriated by Shah’s attempts to deal with Americans as an independent partner. However, Shah’s intentions were to build an influential empire, to which end he purchased modern and sophisticated weapons. His decision annoyed the U.S. as it could create an imbalance between Iran and its neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the U.S. was angry with Iranian arms buildup as it would compel Iraq to make allies with the Soviet Union in order to gain both protection and armaments. It would also lead to an increased rise in arms in the region, which would jeopardize the efforts of the U.S. in garnering Baghdad as an ally. Moreover, the U.S. was greatly concerned with Shah's attitude regarding the oil policies that were significantly different from the American point of view. This point was stressed in the seized documents from the American Embassy located in Tehran.

DeFronzo (2015) also emphasizes the role of socio-cultural conditions in fueling the Iranian revolution. For instance, he notes that religion was a key igniter as there were numerous groups with a religious foundation in Iran, whose crashes shaped the revolution to a great extent. The most notable groups were the religious fundamentalists and those practicing religious conservatism. Those Iranians who were religiously conservative resented Shah’s secularization and westernization movements, and they openly resisted them. They also raised concerns over Shah’s confession that he did not adhere to any religion; that religion was not a vital aspect to him as a ruler. The fundamentalists were not any more supportive to Shah than their conservative counterparts. Shah’s contribution towards summarizing western culture’s greed and materialism greatly repelled the fundamentalists. Moreover, his establishment of a more secular government did not please the fundamentalists. Ayatollah Khomeini strengthened these religious movements; he facilitated them by supporting the requirements of Islamic law. He also rendered Shah’s attempts to suppress these political dissents. Ayatollah achieved this by establishing an Islamic Religious Government that made the revolution inevitable.

While DeFronzos arguments on the causes of the Iranian revolution are almost sufficient, there are evident loopholes that require some improvement. For instance, DeFronzo fails to indicate the effects of the prolonged periods of expectations, followed by a period of reversal, as a result of which the gap between expectations and reversal widened tremendously to become intolerable. The people of Iran had to put up with the oppressive rule of Shah for an extended period of time without protesting. Therefore, when an opportunity presented itself and the government relaxed its pressure a little, the dissenting groups quickly took arms against it. The recession coupled with the weakening of the regime due to Shah's battle with cancer and international pressure for liberalization was a perfect opportunity for the working class, who was well-placed for a revolution.

DeFronzo should also have emphasized the role of Khomeini in fueling the revolution. While Khomeini often displayed his intentions to overthrow the government as a Godly affair, it was apparent that he had a political upper hand as opposed to theological advantages, which enabled him to lead the revolution. Khomeini further took advantage of Shah’s decision to exile him; in an ironic twist of events, Khomeini was capable of continuing his opposition without retaliating from Shah. Perhaps, if he stayed, he would have faced the same kind of repression inflicted upon the National Front and the Tudeh party. Besides, Khomeini heavily relied on the support of the 90,000 mosques as well as madrassas all over the country, which offered help in spreading his message. This advantage was not available to any other opposition leader; Khomeini stood as the only credible opposition leader.

DeFronzo should not have undermined the role of the revolutionary opposition in Iran that existed in the form of political parties. While these parties had different ideologies, their common goal was to remove Shah from power. While most of the members of these parties were imprisoned, tortured, and even exiled, they remained determined and their mission was made possible through the support of high school graduates who did not find a place in the university, as well as college students who were unable to find employment. In 1978, these parties in collaboration with the displaced merchants from the bazaars as well as the unemployed migrants from the rural areas started organizing demonstrations against Shah. Consequently, the situation in Tehran became extremely volatile.

There is no doubt that the Iranian Revolution was one of the seminal events of the late 20th century. While three decades have passed since the Iranian coup d’etat, it would be wrong to dismiss this episode as mere history. This revolution is full of meaningful lessons for today’s leadership, especially regarding both useful and dangerous ways of addressing challenges. The Iranian revolution was a bright example of poor governance, which would help to prevent future lack of preparation for dramatic change.

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