The Iranian Revolution
Iran is a country located in the Middle East. The main source
of income for the country is oil, the one object that had greatly
influenced its history. Iran's present government is run as an Islamic
Republic. A president, cabinet, judicial branch, and Majilesor or
legislative branch, makes up the governmental positions. A revolution
that overthrew the monarch, which was set in 1930, lasted over 15
years. Crane Brinton's book, An Anatomy of a Revolution, explains set
of four steps a country experiences when a revolution occurs.
Symptoms, rising fever, crisis, and convalescence are the steps that
occur. The Iranian Revolution followed the four steps in Crane
Brinton's theory, symptoms, rising fever, crisis, and convalescence
Numerous symptoms led to the crumbling downfall of Reza Shah
Pahlavi, ruler of Iran until 1978. One of these symptoms is rising
expectations which can be seen during the 1960's and 70's. The rich
Shah cleared the way for the land reform law, enacted in 1962. The
land minority had to give up its land to the government, and among
those stripped of land, were the Shi'ah Muslims. Iran's power
structure was radically changed in a program termed the "White
Revolution". On January 26, 1963, the White Revolution was endorsed by
the nation. By 1971, when land distribution ended, about 2,500,000
families of the farm population benefited from the reforms. From
1960-72 the percentage of owner occupied farmland in Iran rose from
26 to 78 percent. Per capita income rose from $176 in 1960 to $2,500
in 1978. From 1970-77 the gross national product was reported to
increase to an annual rate of 7.8% ("Iran" 896). As a result of this
thriving economy, the income gap rapidly widened. Exclusive homes,
extravagant restaurants, and night clubs and streets loaded with
expensive automobiles served as daily reminders of a growing income
spread. This created a perfect environment for many conflicts to arise
between the classes.
Iran's elite class consisted of wealthy land owners,
intelligencia, military leaders, politicians, and diplomats. The Elite
continued to support the monarchy and the Shah. The peasants were
victim of unfulfilled political expectations, surveillance by the
secret police, and the severe social and economic problems that
resulted from modernization. The middle class favored socialism over
capitalism, because capitalism in their view supported the elite, and
does not benefit the lower classes. The middle class was the most
changeable element in the group, because they enjoyed some of the
privileges of the elite, which they would like to protect. At the same
time, they believed that they had been cheated by the elite out of
their share of the industrialization wealth (Orwin 43).
About this time, the middle class, which included students,
technocrats, and modernist professionals, became discontent with
the economy. The key event should have further stabilized the royal
dictatorship, but the increase in oil prices and oil income beginning
in 1974 caused extreme inflation. This was due to the investment
strategy followed by the Shah, which led to a spectacular 42% growth
rate in 1974. (Cottam 14). And because of the Shah's support structure
which enabled the new rich to benefit from inflation, the government
effort to deal with inflation was aimless. Poor Iranians and Iranians
with a fixed income suffered major losses in real income. Better
standards of living were no longer visible. Thus, the majority of the
Iranian people developed a revolutionary predisposition.
As the middle class became discontent in Iran throughout the
1970's, the desertion of intellectuals could be found in great excess.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini represented much of the discontent of the
religious sector of Iran. For speaking out against the Shah's
autocratic rule, Khomeini was exiled to Turkey in 1963. In 1965,
Khomeini moved to Iraq where he became the central spokesperson for
expatriate opposition to the Shah. On October 6, 1978, Khomeini was
expelled from Iraq and moved to Paris, where he was accessible to a
larger body of opposition forces. He was also accessible to the
Western Press. Khomeini preached that he would displace the Shah and
expel the foreigners. He also said he would enforce religious and
traditional values, and redirect Iran's wealth away from large
industrialization schemes and toward reforms needed by the common
Throughout the 1970's, Khomeini gained tremendous popularity
with the masses, and he became the symbol of the opposition towards
the Shah. As Khomeini gained popularity, many religious groups grew in
numbers and in status. In the early 1950's, the technocrats had
showed core support for Mohammad Mossedeq and Iran's national
movement. They saw Mossadeq's overthrow as the removal of the symbolic
leader of the Iranian nation by an American directed coup d'etat. Many
of his followers formed groups in opposition to the Shah. Leaders of
the Freedom Front, one of the groups that grew out of the Mossadeq
movement, were a group composed of intellectuals who tended to be
centrist in philosophy, more religious, anti-Marxist, and militant
They recognized Khomeini's large and potentially enormous
following, and associated themselves with him. The rise of religious
opposition groups and Khomeini proved to be a great test for the Shah.
As time progressed the weakness of the Shah became apparent. Waves of
opposition began building after 1975, due to the formation of the
Rastakhiz , the legal political party in Iran, and the banning of
opposition political parties. It also became clear that the increased
oil revenues following oil price increases, were spent on arms and
industrialization. In mid-1977 the religious leaders began
demonstrating against the modernization brought on by the Shah. In
November, several people were killed when police broke up
demonstrations. As time went on, protests became more radical. To try
and quiet dissent, the Shah became more of a dictator. As a result,
those who had been moderate in demands for reform became more radical.
In the fall of 1978, strikes against the oil industry, the post
office, government factories, and banks demolished the economy. This
pattern continued throughout most of 1978 (Orwin 45). As these
protests became more frequent there were more and more people killed.
This reflects the Shah's loss of power over his government and his
In late 1978, the Shah came to the conclusion that he would
and could not rule a country in which he had to stand in the flowing
blood of his people. In short, he understood that he could not
militarily occupy his own country. The Shah's early mistakes had
been devastating as the years went on. His forceful actions did not
work and it's no wonder that his grip weakened and his mid wavered.
These events all led to the march against the government of the Shah,
in which eight million Iranians protested on December 10, 1978 (Bill
25). One-fifth of the Iranian government was willing to join in a
massive and nonviolent manifestation of opposition even though most of
them knew that thousands of their countrymen had been shot in previous
demonstrations. The banners and slogans made clear the religious and
political essence of the revolutionary movement. This massive
demonstration was the turning point from symptoms to rising fever. It
clearly reflected the weakness of the Shah, and the inevitability of
revolution in Iran.
After a year of public demonstrations against him, the Shah of
Iran left Tehran on January 16, 1979, for an "extended vacation"
(Orwin 46). He left the country in the hands of a regency council and
Prime Minister Shahpur Bakhtiar, who was a former member of the
National Front. The opposition leader, Khomeini, was to become the new
ruler, and he returned to Iran on February 1, 1979. Khomeini occupied
preeminent positions among Iran's most respected religious scholars,
the Mujahedin-e Khalq.. Although Khomeini wanted a stable government
that could cope with the problems of reconstruction, he wanted to
eradicate the evil roots of the old system, which he describes as
satanic. He denounced the materialism of the recent past and called
for a climate in which social justice would prevail.
On April 1, 1979, after a landslide victory in a national
referendum, Khomeini declared an Islamic republic. This republic
consisted of a new constitution reflecting Khomeini's ideals of
Islamic government. He was named Iran's political and religious
leader for life. Khomeini tapped the deep-seated conservatism of the
Muslim fundamentalists by making moderate changes in the law. Women
were required to wear the veil, Western music and alcohol were banned,
and the punishments described by Islamic law were reinstated.
Political vengeance was taken, executing hundreds of people who had
worked with the Shah's regime ("Iran" 897).
The large moderate center composed of the professional and
bourgeois middle class had proved to be ineffective in their
leadership abilities. Moderate Bakhtiar, the last prime minister under
Pahlavi rule, was very unpopular, and he was unable to compromise with
his former National Front colleagues or with Khomeini. He was then
forced to flee to France. On April 1, 1979, his replacement, Mehdi
Bazergan was appointed by Khomeini (Cottam 15). This 73-year-old
engineer was a leader of the Freedom Front, and president of the
committee of human rights. The middle and upper middle classes looked
to Bazergan to provide stability so the economy would recover and the
government services could be restored. Bazergan appointed a cabinet,
mainly, from the ranks of the Freedom Front, the National Front, and
the religious bureaucracy. Bazergan's position was weak, however, and
he steadily lost ground to the due to the attacks from the far right
and left. As their base of support narrowed, their dependence on
During this time, Iran's relation with the US went downhill.
It reached a stage of outright confrontation, when, on November 4,
1979, 500 extremist students seized the US embassy in Tehran. They
took hostage 66 citizens at the embassy and the foreign ministry ("The
Iranian Revolution" 835). The takeover seemingly sanctioned by
Khomeini, continued for the next 444 days, and American-Iranian
relations sunk to an all-time low. This led to trade conflicts with
the United States and its allies, causing economic problems.
During the rising fever stage there is a presence of a dual
government. During Bazergan's rule, it became difficult to administer
justice with a court system that had been particularly lenient to the
royal will. To deal with these problems on a temporary basis. Khomeini
set up a system of revolutionary committees presided over by a
revolutionary council. Religious leaders clearly predominated in the
revolutionary council- committee-courts system, which came to be
almost a parallel government.
In November, 1979, Bazergan resigned, and in his place
Khomeini appointed Abol Hassan Bani Sadr. Bani Sadr was an idealist, a
bookworm, and most personally ambitious of all the liberal
revolutionaries. Like the other moderates, he was a representative of
the professional middle class, who had little skill or patience to
build political organizations. Bani Sadr's efforts were fruitless in
dealing with the hostage releases. After being elected Iran's first
president in January 1980, he and his followers, out of self defense
and desperation, formed an alliance with the Mujahedin-e Khalq ("Iran"
897). He also attempted to work hard to establish close relations with
the military leaders. He ineffectively tried to appeal to the Iranian
people, who had little in common with a Paris trained intellectual.
One can see that during this stage of rising fever, moderate control
is losing power. The people of Iran became upset with the little
change that was taking place, and wanted more extreme measures
In mid-1981, leaders of the Islamic Republican Party (IRP)
convinced Khomeini that Bani Sadr was plotting against them, and
suggested evidence indicating that he was a threat to the revolution.
This led to his dismissal on June 20, of position of
commander-in-chief of the armed forces. His presidency lasted 17
months. He was arrested and dismissed as president on June 22. Forced
into hiding, he fled Iran on July 29, 1981, and was granted political
asylum in Paris. On July 24, extremist Muhammad Ali Rajai with
substantial IRP backing, won the electoral victory over the moderates.
Thus, the period of rising fever ended, and the period of crisis
In 1981, Khomeini took complete control over Iran and took
many extremist measures. He made sure the government completely
controlled the media, as well as newspapers, television broadcasts,
and radio programs. He had strict control of everything, including the
treasury and flow of money to religious leaders. Those who disagreed
with him faced severe economic retribution. The crisis had begun and
radicals had taken over.
Under Khomeini's rule (1981-1989) came a great period of reign
of terror. For example, after a speech the Ayatollah made, right wing
revolutionary guards fired into a rally of approximately one hundred
thousand Muslim leftists outside the U.S. Embassy in Teheran. Five
people were killed and more than 300 were wounded. Supporters held
food riots in Tunisia, and others held six car bombings in Kuwait. The
Islamic Jihad held suicide bombings that killed two hundred-forty one
U.S. Servicemen, and fifty-eight French troops in Beirut. These acts
were not looked at as being bad acts of terrorism, but rather as acts
of patriotic heroes. The reign of terror, the next step in the crisis,
brought extremists into complete control.
The people of Iran in the early 1980's, had just about enough
of all these laws and regulations, and were outraged at their standard
of living. People were finally starting to revolt against the way that
they have been treated. This period according to Crane Brinton, is
known as the civil war. Civil war started in Iran with the conflict
with the Kurds. These people were pushed out of their homes, religious
temples, and places of business, because of the overpowering radicals.
An entire religious group was almost completely annihilated because of
the savage behavior of the radicals. It was later found that the
Kurdish problem was merely a pretext on Iran's part to engage in
meetings and collaborations with two influential middle eastern
states, Turkey and Syria. People suffered so that government could
gain allies. The poor treatment of the Kurds led to confusion in the
Because of all of the chaos in the country, due to different
public demonstrations and mass rioting, government groups were
forming. The IRP, one of these groups, was in support of a
nationalistic movement. Opposed to it was the Hojatieh, and a third
party, which represented the Mullahs and the high ayatollahs. This
third group thought Khomeini was reckless, so there was great
hostility towards the IRP. These groups formed different factions
among the people of Iran, and led to a divided nation.
In the early 1980's, patriotic fever was bordering on
hysteria, and the nationalism was incredible. This patriotic fever
fits in to the next part of the revolution, the republic of virtue.
Iran's people had a great sense of nationalism inside of them. People
held many parades and marches to express their nationalism. During
this time, women were forced to wear veils in public, modern
divorce laws were repealed, and harsh courts were set up, which set
strict laws and harsh penalties.
The colliding views of the Iranian groups, as well as the
republic of virtue, made it hard for Iran to deal with other
countries. During this period, Iran's relationship with Iraq became
troubled. The war began with a fight for land and oil and as a result
of the personalities of the two leaders. Both Hussein, the leader of
Iraq, and Khomeini are headstrong. In addition, they disliked
each other (Orwin 42).
All of the circumstances that resulted from the war may have
contributed in some measure to the outbreak and continuation of the
conflict between Iran and Iraq (Iran-Iraq War 77-78). The situation
worsened in September of 1980 when Iraq launched an attack on Iran to
take control of the waterway that divided the two countries ("Iranian
Revolution" p. 835).
During the war, industry suffered. Chemical, steel, and iron
plants in the war zone were heavily shelled. There have been
shortages in electricity, fuel, and spare parts. The available pool of
workers has diminished as thousands of men marched off to the front
lines to fight. This caused great economic problems throughout the
mid-1980's. Iraq attempted to devastate oil economy even further.
Tankers and ships 50 miles off the oil terminal were struck. Iran
would be deprived of a major source of income (Orwin 41).
By 1984 it was reported that there were one million refuges in
the Iranian province of Khuzestan. Some 300,000 Iranian soldiers and
250,000 Iraqi troops had been killed, or wounded. Among the injured
were Iranian soldiers who sustained burns, blisters, and lung damage
from Iraqi chemical weapons (Orwin 47). The war lasted about 8 years
and Iran suffered casualties, not only in people, but in economy and
leadership as well. Because of the war with Iraq, and the purges going
on in Iran, the economy was severely depressed. Besides the enormous
human cost, economic losses from the war exceed $200 billion.
Agricultural growth has declined as a result of war, also (Orwin 34).
During the crisis and during the war with Iraq, industry is
plagued by poor labor management, a lack of competent technical
and managerial personnel, and shortages of raw material and spare
parts. Agricultural suffers from shortage of capital, raw materials,
and equipment, and as a result, food production has declined. Also,
out of an estimated work force of 12 million, unemployment is up to
3-4 million (Orwin 16). Iran's economy was desperate. In connection
with the devastating economy with the war, there was economic
suffering through purges, the next step in crisis. Extensive purges
were carried out in the army, in the school and university systems,
and in some of the departments of government although the Ministries
of Justice and Commerce proved significantly more resistant because of
the entrenched power of conservative elements there). Additionally,
new institutions were created, like the Revolutionary Guards -
including the creation of a ministry for them - and the counsel of
Guardians, along with a string of other judicial bodies (Akhavi 53).
Purges eliminated many qualified personnel, and lowered the morale of
the Iranian people.
Finally, after about 9 years of crisis and fighting among
different groups, there was a breakthrough in the revolution, with the
return of conservatives. The Ayatollah Khomeini died in May of 1989,
and a new leader by the name of Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected and
came to power two months later. This would start the convalescence
stage of Crane Brinton's revolution. Rafsanjani has not actually
called for a reversal of strict Islamic injunctions, but in oblique
ways he is signaling that he favors a more relaxed approach,
especially in the enforcement of the hijab (Ramazani 7).
Under Rafsanjani, the return of the church has been allowed to
occur, which is another step in the theory of a revolution. On August
2, 1991, Iran resumed diplomatic relations with Iraq and had also
resolved the issue over the pilgrimage of Iranian Muslims to Mecca,
which has been suspended for three years. Inside Iran, the most
significant development in the last few months took place in October,
when several Iranian leaders teamed up in a maneuver to marginalize
opponents (Igram A-10).
Twelve years after Khomeini came to power, Iran's Islamic
revolution has finally softened around the edges. The signs of fitful
change are everywhere. On Tehran's streets women still observe hijab
(the veil), the Islamic injunction that women keep themselves covered
except for their faces and hands. But some have exchanged their
shapeless black chedors for slightly fitted raincoats in colors like
green and purple. Women's fingernails are starting to sport glosses,
too (Ramazani 32). Obviously, the republic of virtue has been
eliminated, which is the next part in the convalescence.
After Khomeini's death, many radical groups were weakened.
This led to the elimination of radicals. President Rafsanjani, with
the support of Khomeini, swiftly eliminated four of his most hard-line
adversaries from the political scene by challenging their right to
re-election. With Rafsanjani in control, Iranians took a new look at
crisis. His pragmatic policies were firmly established, replacing
militancy and isolation. Rafsanjani campaigned to decrease the
influence of important opponents, therefore improving ties with the
western world. As well as attracting foreign trade. The radicals were
finally eliminated, and Iran could return to the way it was.
Economic problems after a revolution are good. Iran had been
in debt from the time the revolution started, and an economic recovery
was needed. There was an increase in oil revenue in 1990, since ties
with non-oil bearing countries had been replaced. There was also and
increase in oil price, as well as other raw materials. Iran did have
ten billion dollars froze in American banks, which still partly remain
there today. The country's economic problems were starting to be
resolved. The return of status quo, is the final step in the
convalescence stage. Iran has returned to the status quo. They have
many ties, including ties with North Korea, Libya, Syria, and Europe.
Trade and friendliness has increased with Russia, as well. Russia
currently want to build nuclear reactors in Iran. Commerce opened with
Japan, Pakistan, Turkey, and even some allies of Iraq. Rafsanjani
wants to end Iran's pariah status in the world community and gain
desperately needed aid. He thinks they are in a period of
reconstruction (Desmond 32).
The Iranian Revolution is over, and the country is back on its
feet. Rafasanjani was an incredible help to the economy and the
government, and remains in power today. Iran has a great number of
allies, which improves its ties with the west. Iran's oil industry is
booming, and the country's economy remains stable. Americans are again
allowed to be seen on the streets of Tehran, and the foreign debt has
reduced. The U.S. still has their problems with Iran (the money in the
banks), but these problems are still in the process of being resolved.
Iran is progressing steadily, and has recovered from the revolution.
The Iranian Revolution follows Crane Brinton's theory on a revolution
because the revolution included symptoms, rising fever, crisis,
and convalescence, just as the theory states.
Akhavi, Shahrough. "Institutionalizing New Order in Iran." Current
History. Feb. 1987: 53-56, 83.
Bill, James A. "The Shah, The Ayatollah, and the U.S." The Economist.
June 1987: 24-26.
Cottam, Richard W. "Revolutionary Iran." Current History. Jan. 1980:
Ibram, Youssef. "Standoff in the Gulf: Testing the Waters in Tehran."
The New York Times.
"Iran." The New Encyclopedia Britanica. Vol. 21 1992: 860-861,
Orwin, George. Iran Iraq: Nations at War. New York: Shirmer Books,
Ramazani, R.K. "Iran's Islamic Revolution and the Persian Gulf."
Current History. Jan. 1985: 5-8, 32.
"The Iranian Revolution." People and Nations. Austin: Holt, Rinehart
and Winston, Inc. 1993.