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1979 – Or How “Revolution” Happens in Welfare?

The revolutions before 1979 had paved the way for growth and development so that society could no longer imagine anything but progress and improvement, it had become "accustomed" to improving the quality of life ...

Every February, the Islamic Republic becomes more revolutionary. Raves about the events of February 1979. About what it was before and after. As February arrives, the market for fake history brands – political history, economic history, culture, art, theory, etc. – also heats up in a variety of ideological packages. Much of the media production and propaganda network of the regime turns to the comparative method to answer the question: Why the 1979 generation started a revolution? In order to inject the belief that life in post-1979 Iran has become “better”, the Islamic Republic media are forced to make life in “Shah’s time” “worse”. The regime uses all its propaganda capacity to say that the “dissatisfaction” of people was based on the circumstances of the time, and the existing reality, and because the statistics and data, historical and undeniable documents prove otherwise, it resorts to forging statistics and documents. It makes up lies, “grades” the countries of the world:

In the face of the regime propaganda, every February, the people whose words have no place in the local media, and many of them either belong to the same generation that bears the burden of the 1979 events and are considered living witnesses or children of that generation, testify in cyberspace and social media against “various packages of propaganda”. They share their memories and experiences, share photos and documents – of welfare, comfort, security, individual and social freedoms, of economic growth and progress, of the status and value of Iranian passport, of women’s rights and the openness of society. They describe their entertainments, low cost of living, clean air, and so on. They talk about a “better” life that was destroyed after 1979; a life that got “worse” day by day. They cannot speak of “dissatisfaction” because they think that their living conditions compared to today do not allow them to do so. And when confronted with the question, “Then why did you participate in the revolution?” they resort to conspiracy theories – people have no roles, superpowers brought the mullahs – or deception theory, popular theory of culture class, (former) middle class, leftists and the remorseful Mujahedin (MEK): Awareness was not as great as it is today, there was no internet, the mullahs deceived everyone, we made a mistake, they stole the revolution, they broke their promises, we were deceived, we did not know – and other theoretical deviations. What both sides have in common is the use of the comparative method: before and after the “revolution”.

In addition, another point that emerges here as a common denominator and is at a more fundamental level of argument on both sides, is a false premise to assume that “dissatisfaction is the product of bad circumstances” – as if dissatisfaction is a special privilege of a particular social class. It seems that only those who live in bad conditions are allowed to be dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction is not an external phenomenon; It is a state of mind. It does not belong to one class or race. Humans in all walks of life and under any circumstances can be satisfied or dissatisfied. From a person’s living conditions, it cannot be directly concluded that he is satisfied or dissatisfied. The root of the assumption that external “conditions” are responsible for the dissatisfaction of people – and consequently revolutions – could be traced to the Karl Marx’s school of thought and his “theory of deprivation.”[1] Marx, whom Hannah Arendt called the “greatest theorist of revolutions,” believed “all history is the history of class struggles” as the main cause of all revolutions in the process of increasing poverty and the progressive deterioration of the economic conditions of the working class. Revolutions, in this theory, are the result of a forceful and historical necessity dictated by existing conditions. Marx saw revolutions not as the product of human’s will and action in freedom, but as the inevitable product of the existing conditions. But Marx, who was again, in Arendt’s words, “the greatest disciple Hegel had”, based his theory of revolution on the well-known “dialectical” principle derived from the concept of history in Hegel’s philosophy; The principle that, according to Arendt, has now “become perhaps the most terrifying and unbearable paradox in all of modern thought.”[2] Horrible because in the historical dialectic the two contradictory concepts of “freedom and necessity” are intertwined and have become the dual expression of a common concept.

Conditions, however, do not cause revolution. The output of their deterioration is not revolution. If that were the case, there would have been revolutions in North Korea several times a day, as well as in Iran, especially in recent years. Marx’s “theory of deprivation” was wrong: the industrial revolution in the capitalism conditions did not lead to a poorer working class and a reduction in wages. Professional revolutionaries – those who engage in revolution by occupation – have never been able to predict events by analyzing the situation. “No revolution will take place in Russia during my lifetime,” Lenin said before the February Revolution. A few weeks later there was a revolution. Even today, after four decades, the revolutionaries of 1979 are unable to understand the events of those days and their causes. Khomeini was so surprised by the windfall of wealth and power that for the rest of his life he believed the “revolution” had descended from the unseen and fallen on his lap, and that God had sent it to us: “There is no doubt that the Islamic Revolution of Iran is different from all other revolutions: In the origin, in the quality of the struggle and in the motivation of the revolution and uprising. There is no doubt that this is a divine gift and an unseen gift that has been provided by God Almighty to this oppressed and plundered nation.” Nevertheless, during the last 43 years, the Islamic Republic propaganda has resorted to the Marxist model of explaining the revolution in order to explain and understand the “revolution” in its “motive”, in its “quality of struggle” and in its “emergence”. And there is no trace of the origin, or of the quality of the struggle, or of the different motives in their theoretical productions of explaining the 1979 events.

The two decades of 1960s and 1970s, specifically the years between 1964 and 1979, can be categorically called “exceptional years” or, more commonly, the “golden age” in the contemporary history of Iran. An era in which Iran’s economy experienced steady and unprecedented growth. And the question that arises today on the horizon of this golden era is: So if not in the living conditions and public welfare of the people, if not in the level of social, cultural and political freedoms of the Iranian people, not in human dignity and their legal position in the government and the judiciary – a system that was completely secularized during the Pahlavi era and liberated from the clutches of the mullahs to be re-established as the 1979 courts of barbarism and sharia of the likes of Khalkhali and Raisi – which experienced significant improvement in the 1960s and 1970s compared to previous years. If not in areas such as social justice and poverty – then where should the cause of the “revolution” be sought?

Inverted J

During half a century, the Shah and his father Reza Shah made great and profound structural changes in Iran: Cutting the hands of the clergy and big landowners on the lives and property of farmers with land reforms and the abolition of the feudal property system, transforming the agricultural community into an industrial society, creating a standard education system and university institution – free education, adding the eliminated and absent half – women – to the body of Iranian civil society, granting women the right to vote, the secularization of the legal structure and the independence of the Bar Association, the establishment of a modern banking system, insurance and pensions, are just some of the developments that can each be called a revolution in itself, revolutions which happened in the first half of the last century. Eric Hoffer, an American philosopher, writes in The Temper of Our Time: “We used to think that revolutions are the cause of change. Actually, it is the other way around: change prepares the ground for revolution.” The revolutions before 1979 had laid the groundwork for growth and development in such a way that society could no longer imagine anything but progress and improvement. It had become “accustomed” to improving the quality of life; “crisis” had become an unknown event. This led to the fragility of Iranian civil society. So much so that when growth and development declined in the second half of the 1970s, this fragility, which had accumulated a great deal of fear and anxiety – the fear of losing its savings and achievements in the rapid and breathtaking course of the great revolutions, and it still did not have a clear understanding of them – it all showed its terrified face in the uprising. “Imagination” and “expectation” of the status quo, not the status quo, the gap between “expectation of reality” and reality and not “objective reality”, the process of changing conditions and not “cross-sectional conditions”, according to James Chowning Davies, sociologist and revolutionary theorist, are the main components of the mechanism for revolutions. “Revolutions,” Davies, in the preface to his 1962 paper, “Toward a Theory of Revolution,” writes: “Revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal. People then subjectively “fear” that ground gained with great effort will be quite lost; their mood becomes revolutionary.”

The origin of Davies’ thought on the way to a theory of revolution is ironically a paradoxical idea to ​​Karl Marx’s “theory of deprivation” which in the “Manifesto of the Communist Party” in the statement “Unite the workers of the world! You have nothing to lose but your chains” was crystallized as the engine of all revolutions. In “Wage Labour and Capital”, Marx in stark contrast to what he stated in the “Red Book” (Manifesto), no longer speaks of the growing poverty and destitution of the working class as capital grows, but of the growth and increase of the pleasures of life and the needs of this class which grow and develop relatively with capital. Davies quotes Marx at the beginning of his article: “A noticeable increase in wages presupposes a rapid growth of productive capital. The rapid growth of productive capital brings about an equally rapid growth of wealth, luxury, social wants, social enjoyments.”

This lesser-known Marx interpretation of the relation between poverty and revolution is found by Davies at the core of the research by French thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville, on the French Revolution. Where, after a detailed and careful review of the economic and social decline of the 17th century and the growth and development of France in the 18th century, Tocqueville concludes: “So it would appear that the French found their condition the more unsupportable in proportion to its improvement. . . . Revolutions are not always brought about by a gradual decline from “bad” to “worse.” Nations that have endured patiently and almost unconsciously the most overwhelming oppression often burst into rebellion against the yoke the moment it begins to grow lighter.”

From the synthesis of these two ideas, Davies then developed a binary relationship between “imagination” and “reality” in the famous diagram, later known as the ” Davies’ J-curve”, and calculated the time of revolution in terms of the gap between the two:

As we can see in the diagram, our knowledge and reality or mentality and perception of what is the current situation, plays a role in the emergence of revolutions more than the current situation in reality. In his paper, Davies uses this diagram, in which a curve between two axes of time and needs (satisfaction of needs) is shown like an inverted “J”, as a template to explain several revolutions, including the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and Dorrs’s Rebellion of 1842.

To these historical examples in Davies’ article, we now add the graph of Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the years leading up to 1979, as one of the main indicators of development:

Sustainable economic, social growth and development in almost two decades, along with profound revolutions in all layers of life – social and private – had made the souls and minds of the Iranian people more vulnerable than ever, to the point that relatively strong shocks in the short term caused widespread riots.
The rest is history.

As long as the real growth was on the rise at the same pace as the “needs and expectations” of the people, the gap between the two did not cause any tension. But as soon as the two changed course and expectations continued to grow, regardless of the reality, a rift opened up in which the 1979 uprising, with all its empty promises, empty slogans, turbans and freedom, madness of Republic in the Islamic robe, was formed and the “needy and expective” spirit of society, was put in confrontation with the vision of “free democracy and free water, electricity, free buses and humanity.”[3]

“Political Stability and Instability” – To conclude this article, a discussion that goes far beyond the scope of this post, we cite a part of Davies’ article “Toward a Theory of Revolution” as it contains a lesson for today, for overthrowers:

“Political stability and instability are ultimately dependent on a state of mind, a mood, in a society. Satisfied or apathetic people who are poor in goods, status, and power can remain politically quiet and their opposites can revolt, just as, correlatively and more probably, dissatisfied poor can revolt, and satisfied rich oppose revolution. It is the dissatisfied state of mind rather than the tangible provision of “adequate“ or “inadequate” supplies of food, equality, or liberty which produces the revolution. In actuality, there must be a joining of forces between dissatisfied, frustrated people who differ in their degree of objective, tangible welfare and status. Well-fed, well-educated, high-status individuals who rebel in the face of apathy among the objectively deprived can accomplish at most a coup d’état. The objectively deprived, when faced with solid opposition of people of wealth, status, and power, will be smashed in their rebellion.”


Translation of this article by Sahar.

[1]. Verelendungstheorie
[2]. Hannah Arendt, Über die Revolution
[3]. In a famous speech, Ruhollah Khomeini promised “free water, electricity,…” when he arrived in Iran.


Cover: David Burnett, 44 Days: The Iranian Revolution

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