Iran in Revolution: Opposition Forces

This article, found on JSTOR here, was written by Ervand Abrahamian  in 1979 as the Revolution in Iran was unfolding. It takes a look at the people on the ground and discusses who the “opposition forces” that spearheaded the revolution really were. Abrahamanian states that the revolution was directly caused by the failure of the Shah to influence or appease class formations in Iran. He identifies five groups as particularly responsible for rallying their discontent and spreading revolutionary fever throughout the country:

  • Religious Conservatives
  • Religious Radicals
  • Religious Reactionaries
  • Secular Reformers
  • Secular Radicals

These groups were all fighting for the removal of Shah and the installation of a new government, yet they all obviously have different ideas of what the post-revolution government should be. So if so many secularists, communists, and students were participating in the revolution, why did it end with an Islamic Republic? According to Abrahamian, religious groups were most successful in mobilizing the masses, especially when it came to the bazaar population, shanty-town poor, and industrial proletariat who all together made up a very large portion of the movement. As for the large amount of secular participants, the Shah’s regime crushed almost all of the grass-roots organizations belonging to secular opposition and had many of them arrested by the SAVAK. However, he left bazaar guilds, clergy, seminaries and local mosques to function where much of the revolutionary moment began to fester without harassment from the Shah’s regime. Public opposition to the state began to primarily converge in mosque which then led to a religious revivalist movement sweeping the country, especially among the lower middle class and shanty-town poor. Lower clergy and Shari’ati supporters also encouraged higher wages for the poor during a time when they were suffering under the Shah’s economic reforms, which would simultaneously bankrupt the state and lead to the installation of a new government. These broad gestures appealed greatly to the masses whether they were religious or not, and many disregarded the conservative religious undertones while caught up in the revolutionary fever. As for the Marxists and communist Tudeh party, their mass appeal was hurt by the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China’s support for the Shah. With the SAVAK having arrested and killed many secular opposition forces, and their appeal to the masses dwindling, religious conservatism took center stage and the 1979 Iran Revolution birthed an Islamic Republic.


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Filed under History, Iran Revolt

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