[Marxism] Shi'ite ideology and the Iranian revolution

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 20 11:16:24 MDT 2006

Much has been made of the presumed centrality of ideology (Shi'a Islam) in 
the Iranian Revolution. On the contrary, Shia ideology did not cause the 
Shah's fall. Instead, it was used as a tool for popular mobilization by 
groups already in conflict with the Shah over an economic policy that 
discriminated against the bazaar merchants and traditional manufacture, and 
over state corruption and centralization that excluded the professional and 
middle classes from effective participation in governance. The chronic 
inability of the Pahlavi state to establish legitimation, and the 
repression of liberal and socialist thought and organizations meant that 
the more effective mobilizing ideology would be the one with the longest 
tradition, established institutions and organizational resources: Shiism, 
especially the radical-populist variant that had been developing since the 
1960s. While socialist and secular thought in Iran can be traced back to 
the turn of the century, it has been too discontinuous and constantly under 
siege to have been able to have widespread impact. By contrast, Islamic 
thought in Iran has enjoyed continuity, institutions, and long-standing 
legitimacy (though clerics have not always been so well regarded, and there 
is also a popular tradition of anti-clericalism). Still, to reiterate, 
ideology is not what caused the Revolution. Rather, a number of social, 
economic, and political factors converged to create a revolutionary 
situation in which the dominated classes were unwilling to go on as before 
and the ruling class was unable to rule as before. A populist collectivity 
emerged which sought to end the Shah's autocracy and Iran's ties to the 
U.S., and to establish republican and constitutional rule. As noted by Marx 
and Engels, revolutions and social processes are above all carried out by 
people: 'Ideas can never lead beyond an old world system but only beyond 
the ideas of the old world system. Ideas cannot carry anything out at all. 
In order to carry out ideas men [sic.] are needed who dispose of a certain 
practical force.'




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