“We were asking for rain instead we got flood…” “What has the ruling elite done… besides bringing death and destruction, packing the prisons and the cemeteries in every city, creating long queues, shortage, high prices, unemployment, poverty, homeless people, repetitious slogans and a dark future?” Mehdi Bazargan (the provisional Prime Minister of Iran)
By: Mahmoud Kashefi
The 1979 Iranian Revolution revisited
A sociological explanation for its astonishing outcomes
This paper is a case study of the 1979 Iranian Revolution to explain why the outcomes of the Revolution were basically at variance with the original demands of the initial uprising. During the last twenty-nine years, enough evidence has been published to substantiate the unexpected outcomes of the Revolution while minimal effort has been made to develop a sociological context within which the problem can be explained (e.g., Abrahamian 1993; Ahmad 1982; Arjomand 1988; Bakhash 1990). To that end, this paper illuminates the major demands of social classes at the initial uprising and compares them with the outcomes. To explain the variation, the paper revives the sociological theories whether a revolution “comes” or “happens.” If a revolution happens, that is, different social classes pursue their own demands the outcomes of a revolution can be different from the primary demands of individual social groups. In contrast, if a revolution is made, the outcomes should be predictable based on the intentions of the vanguard groups which launched the revolution in the first place. More specifically, the paper argues that the Iranian Revolution was not made by Khomeini’s “charismatic leadership.” Rather, it was originally started by popular uprising of social classes, especially the new middle class, who were under structural strains for decades, without having a clear image of the upcoming alternative socio-political system.
Following Goldstone’s (1993) “developing process” of social revolutions, the paper differentiates three phases in the Revolution. Goldstone says revolution is a “developing process” in which the preconditions or causes, orientation and organization, and the outcomes of the uprising should be separately analyzed. First, the factors affecting each phase are not necessarily the same. Objective demands rather than subjective values normally stimulate popular uprising. However, the existence of objective demands does not necessarily result in a social revolution unless the people have their own explanation for the conditions, as well as organization to challenge the system causing their hardships. This is the second phase in which the leaders and vanguard organizations can play a significant role in the success or failure of a social revolution. Finally, the outcome of revolution has its own dynamic caused by new factors, such as conflicts and power struggles among formerly coalitional groups. Separating these phases highlights the spontaneous and architectonic aspects of social revolutions. The paper applies this model to the 1979 Iranian Revolution to explain and substantiate the proposition that Iranian upheaval originally resulted from structural strains. It was only during the second phase of the uprising that Khomeini’s leadership emerged–who skillfully lead the movement toward the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” After a theoretical discussion on the process of social revolutions, the paper covers the pre-revolutionary socio-economic conditions within which the Revolution started. Then, it elaborates on the weaknesses of popular political organizations, especially the leadership vacuum, to explain why Khomeini emerged as the leader in the second phase of the Revolution. The last part covers the outcomes, with an emphasis on their variations with the initial demands. The paper ends with a short conclusion, including the theoretical and substantive significance of the findings.
Theories of Social revolutions
Revolutions are not made, Skocpol (1979) says, they happen, i.e., revolutions are not begun by revolutionary elites, with or without an organized and ideologically imputed mass followers. Rather, in certain structural crises, masses start revolting for concrete demands different from the ideology of the “marginal elite.” In this sense, social revolutions are not “rationally orchestrated and engineered” social changes. Rather, they are more or less emotional reactions to structural strains imposed by a regime and cannot be substituted by social reforms. In contrast to Skocpol’s structural theory, modernization theory (Tilly 1978; Green 1982) gives a prime role to counter-elites who mobilize people against the existing social and political system–counter-mobilization. Consistent with the modernization theory, Milani says “making revolutions are artistic action.” Revolutions do not come as some structuralists believe, rather, they “are made by the deliberate policies and heroic actions of committed revolutionaries” (1985: 34). Or, they are made by the “unlimited creativity of the human mind” (Najmabodi 1993: 199). Therefore, the modernization perspective, unlike Skocpol’s structural theory, connotes a consciously designed process of revolution in which the elites and their ideology play a significant role in the success of social revolutions. So does the Marxian perspective, in which revolutions are made by the social classes who have gained their class consciousness and have been mobilized by the vanguard parties against the dominant classes and the preexisting mode of production. Meanwhile some experts refuse to generalize and prefer to make a typology of revolutions. Huntington’s (1968) Eastern and Western type of revolutions, Arjomand’s typology (1993) of “Tocquevillian and Aristotelian-Paretian models,” and Dix’s (1983) “Varieties of Revolution,” are samples of work which try to make distinction between various revolutions.
The Iranian Revolution in 1979 stimulated the preceding debates by challenging some of the primary propositions on which most theories of revolution are based. Examining the socio-economic realities of Iran, Skocpol pointed that “[i]n Iran, uniquely, the revolution was ‘made’… through a set of cultural and organizational forms thoroughly socially embedded in the urban communal enclaves” (1982: 275). However, she fails to explain why the outcomes of a “self-consciously” made-revolution become at variance with its initial popular demands. Ahmad (1982) criticizes Skocpol and says that “emphasis on Iran’s Islamic avocation and the Ulama’s [clergies] key role in Iranian politics is exaggerated and misleading” (1982: 295). He adds that, in fact, all revolutions have had a combination of both spontaneous and architectural actions. The Iranian Revolution, however, comes closer to the “revolutions-that-come” than any other third world revolutions (1982: 299). Ahmad, however, does not specify how and in what phase of its evolving the Iranian Revolution was made or happened. Milani challenges both Skocpol’s and Ahmad’s theory on the nature of Iranian upheaval. He says “making revolution is a creative art” (1985:179) and it was the “Khomeini’s charismatic leadership” that made possible “the Islamic revolution of Iran.” Milani’s focus is apparently on the second phase of the Revolution. His discussion basically ignores the initial popular demands and the unexpected outcomes of the Revolution. Therefore, the Iranian Revolution provides a new opportunity to expand prevailing theories of social revolutions. The following section, applying Goldstone’s “developing process” combined with Skocpol’s view, elaborates on the initial demands of the Iranian uprising to contrast them with its astonishing outcomes to substantiate the spontaneity of the Revolution.
The preconditions of the Iranian Revolution
The initial demands of modern middle class: Most Iranian scholars fairly believe that the 1979 upraising was initially started by the modern middle class who were suffering from socio-political strains for decades. “Among the contending forces, the middle class was [the] most prepared to lead the Iranian revolution: It had not only quantitative superiority but also qualitative advantage over both the upper and lower classes” (Amirahmadi 1988: 225). The Iranian modern middle class was developed as a direct result of modernization. Their subculture had been deeply shaped by the Westernization of the country’s infrastructure since the 1905 Constitutional Revolution. Therefore, their general focus was on democracy, freedom, and civil rights, rather than religion, which was considered as a private matter of life. In May 1977, fifty-three lawyers, taking advantage of the Shah’s sudden liberalization, signed an open letter in which he was accused of being an authoritarian ruler and asked for political reforms and reviving people’s rights.1 In June 1978, three popular figures of the National Front wrote a letter accusing the regime of devastating the economy and violating international law, human rights, and the Iranian constitution. In the same month poets, novelists, and intellectuals denounced the regime for violating the constitution and demanded an end to the censorship. Since June 1978, numerous movements, open letters, public lectures, strikes, and demonstrations were launched by the modern middle class demanding political and social reforms, including free elections, respect for the constitution, improving economic conditions, and an end to corruption. Based on observations and evidence, the initial uprising demands were basically reformist yet deeply structural, the actions were generally spontaneous yet carefully measured, and the movements were originally secular and socio-political rather than religious or ideological (Tehranian 1979). The modern middle class, understanding the historical significance of the situation and the crises, started to move for their social and political demands. Neither Khomeini nor any other leader made them to raise their voice or arms for an Islamic or any other forms of government.
The initial demands of the merchant capitalists (bazaaries): As the Shah’s regime followed industrialization, and spurred a strategy of development without political reforms, the bazaars’ power started to diminish. The bazaars’ prosperity mainly depended upon the flow of foreign imports and investments. The increasing role of modern economic organizations (banks, supermarkets, etc.) hurt bazaaries and caused their economic strains (Green 1982; Amjad 1989). The Shah made the following remark: “the bazaaries are a fanatic lot, highly resistant to changes.” “I could not stop building supermarkets. I wanted a modern country. Moving against the bazaar was typical of the political and social risks I had to take in the drive to modernization (Pahlavi 1980: 156). Experiencing economic hardships caused by the Shah’s modernization’s efforts, the bazaaries started a life-and-death struggle against the regime and actively participated in the Revolution. Their alliance with religious leaders and their financial support of the Revolution effectively damaged the Shah’s regime. The merchant capitalists, thus, were motivated to fight against the Shah’s regime and his modernization policies because of their social and economic interests rather than merely for the dismissal of Islamic values.2
The initial demand of the working class: With the ascendancy of modernization and the economic boom of the early 1970s, the industrial working class emerged as the largest urban class in the seventies. The total labor force was 10.6 million in 1977. Out of this number 2.5 million, or 23.5%, worked in the industrial sector (Amjad 1989: 111). Despite the increasing proportion of the working class, they did not pose any serious threat to the Shah’s regime for a few reasons. The working class was a heterogeneous group without any working class culture or “collective consciousness.” Furthermore, the workers were only allowed to enter the labor unions created by the state. Such unions were created as a support base for the regime rather than to deal with the grievances of workers against their employers. Finally, the government followed some labor policies that benefited the workers, such as insurance for workers, numerous housing projects, and the minimum wage standards (Milani 1985: 111). The regime’s policy paid off as the workers were among the last groups who joined the uprising. Their demands were originally economic in nature, but later gradually changed to political, such as removal of martial law and the freedom of all political prisoners. By October 1978, 45% of their demands were political, reaching to 80% in November and 100% in February 1979 (Bayat 1988). Of the many strikes, those by the electrical workers created periodic power blackouts in Tehran and “forced many factories to shut down and layoff their workers” while the oil workers “deprived the government of much needed oil in the cold winter” (Milani1985: 204). The working class protests were precipitated by the economic recession starting in the late 1975. By the mid summer 1978, the real wage of workers started to fall, unemployment rose from “almost nothing to nearly 400,000 and take home pay in construction industries slumped as much as 30%” (Abrahamian 1982: 511). None of those three major social classes thus wanted to establish a theocracy. Their demands were structural reforms or removal of the Shah as the main obstacle to the reforms. Their respect for religion “was drawn out and nourished as an idiom within which the Shah could be opposed” (Green 1982: 89). Furthermore, the ethnic minorities, like Azerbaijanis, Arabs, and Kurds became Khomeini’s supporters not because they were crying for an Islamic Republic or “religious symbols and ideals” as Skocpol says. Rather, they were willing to support any effective anti-Shah political groups with the power to stimulate widespread social changes, including greater cultural autonomy for the ethnic minorities. “Their commitment to Khomeini was to a force capable of stimulating political change rather than to a religious leader” (Green, 1982: 89). Finally, when Khomeini established his undisputed leadership and offered his Islamic Republic, yet not officially taken the leadership of the state, portrayed the Islamic State as a progressive and civilian system within which basic human rights are guaranteed for all people. The massive demonstration of Ashura (December 11, 1978), organized and supported by Khomeini’s followers, declared a seventeen-point resolution substantiate the preceding proposition. The resolution included: “The social, political and legal rights of all members of the society, religious minorities and other nationals living in Iran;” “true freedom, honor and human dignity of women, as granted by Islam, as well as social rights and the opportunity for the full development of all their capacities should be provided and secured;” “guarding of our national independence and integrity, and provision of individual and social freedom;” “enforcement of social justice and security of the rights of workers and peasants, and provision of the opportunity for their full enjoyment of the fruits of their labor;” and many more (OIMS 1979: 42).
The popular demands intertwined with economic-political crises: The existence of the preceding popular demands and the socio-political strains did not lead to the Revolution until a few other conditions emerged. The popular demands intertwined with several economic and political crises, on the one hand, the development of public perception that the Shah is the cause of the strains and the Islamic Republic is the trusty alternative, on the other hand. Crises in the Shah’s political system began as the result of pressures exerted by the Carter administration. However, it is naive to assume that the massive upheaval of various social classes was the direct result of President Carter’s human rights policy without understanding the interactions of structural strains and the pressures from abroad. James Davies’ theory of the J-curve and social revolution contends that “revolution is most likely to take place when a prolonged period of rising expectations and rising gratifications is followed by a short period of sharp reversal, during which the gap between expectations and gratifications quickly widens and becomes intolerable” (1979: 415). The economic conditions in Iran during 1970-1978 firmly substantiate this thesis. Non-oil GDP increased from $16.3 billion to $30.5 billion (adjusted dollars) from 1970-1976. Per capita income rose from $550 to $1600 during the same period. The previous deficit gave away to an impressive $2 billion surplus in 1975 and the net foreign assets of the government exceeded $7.7 billion (Milani 1985: 166). The oil boom of the early1970s provided a golden opportunity for Iran’s economic expansion. Between 1964 and 1974, Iran’s cumulative oil revenue came to $13 billion and topped $38 billion during 1974 to 1977 (Abrahamian 1982). The oil boom, however, was short and there was a sharp drop in oil prices in the international oil market during 1977-1978. As a result, the surplus of $2 billion in 1974 was turned into a $7 billion deficit in 1978. State expenditures dropped $6.9 billion in 1977 and $10.2 billion in 1978, leading to a huge increase in unemployment. The wholesale and retail trades’ annual growth rate declined from 13.5% in 1975 to only 7% in 1976-77 (Milani 1985: 172). Despite the problems the Shah pursued his policies of “toward great civilization.” To spur these policies he increased the salaried middle class’ taxes, establishing price stabilization, and extending the policy of “private-public ownership” which, in turn, deepened the economic crises and expanded it into social and political crises.3
Finally and more importantly, the privatizing policy which required the sale of privately-owned shares up to 49% and publicly-owned shares up to 99% created a sense of insecurity among the upper class who had been the government’s allies (Kamerava 1989). The policy divided the upper class and marked the beginning of the capital flight out of the country.
In the midst of economic crises came political pressures from the Carter administration and Amnesty International for greater liberalization and political freedom which intensified the unrest. In response to the international criticism of his regime, the Shah initiated a liberalization policy in early 1977. The state-controlled media freely published materials deemed treasonous only a year earlier. The Shah declared that political prisoners would not be tortured and ordered security forces to be tolerant toward dissidents. Western observers were allowed to attend the trials of dissidents (Abrahamian 1982; Milani 1985) The reforms, however, were too late and the strains, accumulated for decades, have already provided “fertile soil for discontent and radical challenges to the regime” (McDaniel 1991: 218) within which the modern middle class “sparked off the revolution, fueled it, and struck the final blows” (Abrahamian 1982:533). Merchant capitalists, the working class, and the ethnic and religious minorities later joined the movement and finally brought the upheaval to a successful social revolution.
Phase 2: Leadership organization and orientation: This period is the most critical phase of a revolution. Not only the success or failure of a revolution depends on the dynamic of this conjuncture but also the outcomes of a successful revolution as determined by the goals and ideals of the person/organization which emerges as the leader. In the Iranian Revolution this phase (1978-1979) emerged when the people realized that the Shah’s decision-making ability had been paralyzed. Changing prime ministers one after another, arresting and sacrificing many former friends (including Prime Minister Hovida and General Nasiri the head of Secret Services) not only did not save the Shah, but instead helped the opposition groups to understand the significance of the conjuncture for a profound structural social change. Furthermore, President Carter’s human rights policy not only disintegrated the regime but psychologically promoted the opposition. The people perceived that the USA’s unconditional support of the Shah had changed and that the Shah was being pressured by the Carter administration to reform the system. Such perception gave the modern middle class a new lease on life, strengthening the spirit of defiance among them. Finally, the Shah received contradictory signals from the USA’s State Department and from the National Security Council (NSC). The former was for a peaceful resolution of the crises and the latter for an iron-fist approach. Facing this new revolutionary situation–but mostly unprepared–neither the National Front nor the Left were able to establish their leadership status and thus Khomeini became the undisputed leader of the Revolution.
How Khomeini’s leadership did emerge: The National Front was the only major political organization with a nationwide network, managerial skills, and political legitimacy to govern the state. Representing the aspirations of the modern middle class, they had the greatest potential to emerge as the vanguard of the Revolution but failed for a few reasons. First, their leaders were unable to upgrade and harmonize their slogans with the public demands. Their agenda for revolutionary Iran was the constitution, with limited authority for Shah’s and more political freedom for the people. This advocacy of reforms diminished their ability to cross classes and expand beyond their constituency. The same reform rhetoric was offered by the Freedom Movement headed by Bazargan, peaceful campaigns through constitutional means. Bazargan, speaking to a huge crowd at Tehran University, admitted their weakness in that revolutionary situation: “Don’t expect me to act in the manner of [Khomeini] who, head down, moves ahead like a bulldozer, crushing rocks, roots and stones in his path. I am a delicate passenger car and must ride on a smooth, asphalted road” (Bakhash 1990: 54). Unlike the reformist demands of the National Front, the Left was asking for a revolution. However, despite their uncompromising position and dedication, especially Fadaiyan-e-Khalq and Mojahedin-e-Khalq, the Left failed to organize and to orient the masses and thus to emerge as the leader for several reasons. Their brutal suppression by the regime cost them heavily. More than 90 percent of their founders and the original members were executed or killed by the Shah’s regime by 1976 (Amjad 1989). They were obsessed with guerilla activities instead of working among the masses to prepare them for a popular uprising. As a result, when the Revolution started they were not in a position to mobilize or organize the people. They lacked nationally recognized and experienced leaders while Iranian culture always demanded an individual figure rather than a vanguard party or organization. Finally, and probably the most importantly, the Left suffered from cultural alienation. They used political languages developed in the Bolshevik revolution or in Latin American Marxism, not attractive for the people who had been socialized with Islamic values for many centuries. Consequently, the Left’s supporters were mostly limited to high school and college students, some intellectuals, and a small percentage of the modern middle class and working class. Khomeini’s leadership had emerged as a popular alternative at this conjuncture for several reasons. It bears keeping in mind that Khomeini and his followers fearlessly tried to make a revolution in 1963, but they failed (Arjomand 1988). In the 1977 uprising, however, Khomeini “seized power by riding on the waves of a successful mass revolution” (Dorraj 1990: 24) since young urban Iranians, who started and fueled the Revolution, knew so little about him. During the socio-political crises of 1977-1979, while the masses were testing and looking for a trusted leader, two precipitating factors significantly helped Khomeini’s leadership. First, Khomeini’s oldest son died in Iraq of a heart attack. When the news spread throughout Iran, it was popularly perceived to be the work of Shah’s Secret Services. The people who were fed up with the regime wanted to blame it for any unpleasant events. This perception portrayed Khomeini as a crusader who was determined to end the Shah’s regime regardless of the costs involved.4 Second, a letter appeared in the Tehran daily (Etela’at) attacking Khomeini in a vicious manner. The regime, by unsubstantiated charges against Khomeini, in fact, “inadvertently recognized, formalized, and legitimized him as the opposition leader” (Green 1982: 85). In this context, the Shah significantly contributed to Khomeini’s eventual leadership. Rather than ignoring him, the regime unwittingly elevated him to the status of a hero while contributing to his legitimacy. According to Green, by publishing the letter, the “regime itself helped to convert reformist protest into outright revolution” (1982: 85).
In addition to those precipitating factors, several other factors helped Khomeini to gain leadership status of the Revolution. Unlike his street followers, he acted rationally and crossed class lines which made him a skillful populist rather than a fundamentalist. He avoided making public announcements that would alienate some of the oppositions–issues like vice-regency of Islamic jurist (Velayat-e-faqih). Instead, he attacked the regime on topics that outraged all segments of the opposition, such as corruption, the decay of agriculture, the increasing cost of living, the suppression of newspapers and political parties (Abrahamian, 1982: 532). Furthermore, he was able to gain the support of radical intellectuals and students by stressing such themes as exploitation and anti-imperialism. He promised to “liberate the country from foreign domination,” to extend “freedom to all political parties, even atheistic ones,” to guarantee the rights of all religious minorities, and to bring social justice to all” (Abrahamian, 1993). These promises, especially through informal channels and with ordinary language, were familiar for the masses. They were “designed in terms of archetypical legends of Persian historical memory” (Tehranian 1979:10). Therefore, the populist themes of the promises expressed in the people’s language and culture succeeded in winning over a wide range of social classes and characterized the Revolution as essentially multi-class populism. Consequently, Khomeini emerged as the legitimate leader of the Revolution and started to orient the masses toward his utopian Islamic Republic.
Phase 3: Outcomes of the Revolution
The modern middle class aspirations suppressed: Ironically, democracy, freedom, and civil rights that were the focus of the modern middle class, as the pioneer of the Revolution, have not been invoked but suppressed. During the1990s, Iran was ranked number one among nations in terms of holding and torturing political prisoners. More recently, The Economist reported “the number of executions nearly doubled last years  to 177, bringing Iran the unsavory distinction of being the world heaviest user of capital punishment per head population” (Aug. 25, 2007). At least 13 juvenile offenders were executed in the last five years, more than any other nations (Human Rights Word Reports: January 2007). Amnesty International reported that more than five thousand people were executed in Iran during 1987-1990 and more than 50% of them were activist modern middle class and students (Iran Times: December 1990). Suppression of the new middle class made Iran number one in “brain drain” in the world (Iran Times: January 2003). Human Rights Watch Report’s of Iran in 2006 declared that Iranian authorities, under the leadership of Supreme Leader Ali Khamaenei, “systematically suppress freedom of expression and opinion by closing newspapers and imprisoning journalists and editors.” Because of suppression many “writers and intellectuals have left the country, are in prison, or have ceased to be critical.” The Islamic Government “systematically blocks websites inside Iran and abroad that carry political news and analysis.” Since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, the authorities have used “prolonged solitary confinement, often in small basement cells, to coerce confessions and gain information regarding associates.” During 2006 “the authorities intensified their harassment of independent human rights defenders and lawyers in an attempt to prevent them from publicizing and pursing human right violations.” Ethnic and religious minorities have been subject to discrimination and persecution. For example, the regime denies “Iran’s Baha’i community permission to publicly worship or pursue religious activities.” In May 2006, “Iranian Azeris in the northwestern provinces of East and West Azerbaijan and Ardebil demonstrated against government restrictions on Azari language and cultural and political activities. Security services forcibly disrupted public protests and engulfed the region…four people died in clashes in the city of Naghadeh on May 25.” (Human Rights World Report, January 2007). The same suppression documented in Freedom House reports: “The Iranian government continues to violate the civil liberties of its citizens. In July 2005 Iran’s judiciary officially acknowledged widespread violations of prisons’ rights,…solitary confinement, imprisonment without charge, and torture continues to be reported.” “On university campuses, students’ demonstrations are often attacked by student members of the paramilitary Basij organization or by outside vigilantes” (Countries at the Crossroad 2007, Iran). To silence Shirin Ebadi (the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate), the Iranian interior ministry recently announced that the CDHR (Center for Defense of Human Rights; co-funded by Ebadi) is illegal and any “activity by this center is illegal, and violators of this decision will be prosecuted.” According to Human Rights Watch reports, “if Ebadi is threatened for defending human rights, then no one who works for human rights can feel safe from government prosecution” (Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2006).
The triumph of merchant capitalists (bazaaries): The Shah’s White Revolution in 1962 witnessed the demise of the merchant economy and formation of industrial capitalism in which the old class structure of Iran was dismantled. The overthrow of the Shah’s regime in 1979 again brought merchant capitalists back into power. The statistics given by the Islamic Republic indicated that most industrial firms collapsed or were operating under 50% of their capacities after the Revolution. More than seven thousand industrial projects were blocked by the new bureaucracy as the result of the bazaaries’ influence in the government (Iran Times: November 1990). By taking advantage of the government subsidies and cheap currency (up to 20 times lower than the market value) the bazaaries gained billions of dollars each year and, consequently, many industrial factories were shut down (Iran Times: October 1992). According to Zamani’s fact-based reports, the average industrial investment rate dropped from 15% (during 1959-1977) to 1% (during 1977-2000). On the other hand, the ratio of liquidity to real GDP, reflecting the growing rate of short-term investments, increased from 15.8% in 1979 to 244.4% in 1991 and to 573.3 in 2001 (Zamani 2004). More importantly, the percent of GDP invested by foreign nations dropped to less than half a percent during 1993-2004, compared to the average 14% for the other underdeveloped nations and 28% for the developed countries (Zamani 2004).
Mafia type of economy emerged: The economic outcomes of the Revolution were not limited to the collapse of the industrial investments; rather the system provided opportunities for an underground/Mafia-type of economy that benefited the coalition of Ulama-bazaaries and their children (Agazadeh ha). Amuzegar (2003), the former member of the IMF Executive Board, reported that non-transparent and secretive financial transactions after the Revolution have allowed “the formation of private mafia” economy. Friedman’s (2002) report substantiates the same conclusion: The Iranian system includes “vast monopolies awarded to their allies- the bazaar merchants,clerics and children of the clergy- as well as Islamic charities that serve as frontorganizations for huge business conglomerates that pay no taxes and import everythingfrom cigarettes to cars, duty-free.” (New York Times: June 24). The report adds that Iran cannot attract industrial investors without some transparent rule of law, which means “curbing the arbitrary rule of the Guardian Council of clerics and the judges they appoint, who sit atop the system” (June 22, 2002). Such a Mafia-type of economy is labeled “clientelism” in Alamdari’s (2005) research; a mode of economy organizes “people into rival groups and clique- or clan-types of relations” (P. 1289). The system is based on patron-client interests which is also the source of the political power structure of the society. “Financially, patron-client organizations are self-sufficient because they either have Charity and endowment incomes or officially receive allocated budgets from thegovernment, or both. Easy access to allocate oil revenue and unchecked trade activities have provided some religiously privileged groups with unique opportunities to form autonomous politico-economic bounds. More than 60% of Iran’s foreign trade takes place outside government administrative rules. Some of these groups have beeninvolved directly in foreign trades owning their own ships and ports that bypass the customs department and that are guarded by their own armed men” (2005: 1291).
The working class is the main losers: The Islamic system drastically worsened the working class’ conditions. The International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI) reported that the “country faces a major crisis of unprecedented dimensions. Not only the wages of 1998 have not been paid in full, many workers have received no wages for 1999.” “The government itself admits that in more than 500 factories’ salaries have not been paid for over a year and in some cases for more than two years.” “Inflation is such that even if three time current wages were paid in full and on time, workers would still find it difficult to feed of a family of three.” Minimum monthly wages were set a 36,500 Toomans (approximately $50), while even based on the government’s own estimates a family of three requires an income of 120,000 Toomans ($170) a month in order to cover basic needs. “Labour protests rose from 188 in previous year to 244 episodes [major protests only],” “more than 70% of the protests were concerned mainly with the demand for payment of wages (124 episodes).” “Frustration in their fight for trade union rights and economic demands, forcing the workers to recognize that the normal forms of economic struggle are unlikely to bearfruit” (Abkhun and Yekta 2007). Osanloo, the executive committee of the
1. This open letter is addressed to a person who, a few years ago at Harvard University, declared, “[t]he outcome of the violation of individual freedoms and disrespect for the spiritual needs of human beings is frustration. And frustrated individuals will follow the path of rejection to cut themselves off from all social rules and traditions. The only way to eliminate these frustrations is to respect individual freedoms and to believe in the truth that the people are not the slaves of government, but government the servant of the people…” “Therefore, the only way to restore and nurture the personality of individual, to establish national cooperation, and to escape from the problems that threaten Iran’s future, is to abandon authoritarian rule, to submit completely to constitutional principles, to revive people’s rights, to respect the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to abandon the single party system, to permit freedom of the press and freedom of associations, and to establish a popularly elected government based on the majority will” (Siavoshi 1990: 135). 2. The bazaars’ financial well-beings had direct effects on Ulama (clergies). Bazaaries were traditional and paid their religious taxes and other contributions directly to Ulama. Therefore, Ulama started battling against the Shah’s regime because they were losing both their economic resources and their social status. Ulama, in fact, started suffering from the gradual demise of two economic resources– the demise of Bazaaries payments and the cuts of the regime’s religious subsidies from $80 million to $30 million, thus increasing their motives to turn against the Shah’s regime (Benard and Khalilzad 1984: 203). 3. Taxes for the salaried middle class increased from $2.02 billion in 1975 to $5.86 billion in 1978 and more than 17,000 merchants and shopkeepers were arrested and taken to the courts because of price violations (Milani 1985) 4. People gradually stared acting emotionally; e.g., a widespread rumor started that “Khomeini’s picture had been seen in the moon!”