What a Revolution! Thirty Years of Social Class Reshuffling in Iran

S. Behdad, F. Nomani
2009 Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East  
C o m p a r a t i v e S t u d i e s o f S o u t h A s i a , A f r i c a a n d t h e M i d d l e E a s t V o l . 2 9 , N o . 1 , 2 0 0 9 d o i 1 0 .1 2 1 5 / 1 0 8 9 2 0 1 x -2 0 0 8 -0 4 6 © 2 0 0 9 b y D u k e U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s 8 4 he 1979 revolution in Iran overturned the existing political order. It ruptured the existing social relations and institutions to reconstruct them in a new mold. It was an idealized expression for social change and progress. Its slogans, deliberate or
more » ... ntaneous, were epitomes of the expected orientation of the revolutionary movement by the mass of its participants and its leaders. Yet a revolution, like a forest fire or a tornado, once it takes shape, its form, direction, and extent have more to do with the internal dynamics of the interaction of its forceful momentum with the social landscape in which it traverses than with its origin or initial orientation. Such is the story of the Iranian revolution, seeking to establish the rule of the oppressed; to eradicate poverty, exploitation, and "excessive" wealth; to do away with "imperialism of East and West"; and to replace Iran's "dependent capitalism" with a hitherto undefined utopian Islamic economic order, under a petty-bourgeois-oriented Shi'i clergy, in the deeply polarized Iranian society. Soon after the revolutionary surge, the Islamic government nationalized large manufacturing and financial enterprises. Revolutionary Islamic courts confiscated the property of those who were found "corrupt on earth." Land-hungry peasants took over rural land. The urban poor occupied vacant apartments, and workers' councils captured control of many enterprises. Owners of capital and property rushed to liquidify and ran for cover in the safe havens of foreign banks and currencies. The state was entangled in its internal dispute over the orientation of the postrevolutionary reconstruction. The definition and establishment of a new "Islamic economic order" became the subject of an intense political struggle among contending social forces and within the state. 1 The Iranian economy was entrapped in an economic crisis of the postrevolutionary type 2 -that is, a crisis in the production process resulting from the postrevolutionary political upheaval -and the open social contestation in choosing the path of postrevolutionary reconstruction. A postrevolutionary economic crisis will end when the transition toward a new social order (or the return to the disrupted order) reaches a steady state. In Iran, the absence of a clear revolutionary program with a definition of the economic order that was expected
doi:10.1215/1089201x-2008-046 fatcat:ovfezddx5navpe5nf2oulrkucy