A Really Cool Blog

… about science & space, people & politics, various musings & other cool things too.

Tag: revolution Page 1 of 2

Saudi Arabia’s Shia Youth: A Crisis in the Making

Though Saudi Arabia is today the Gulf’s major regional and economic power, its regime is struggling with internal dynamics which have the potential to seriously threaten continued security and stability. One major factor underpinning the government’s domestic challenges is the sectarian nature of Sunni-Shia relations. Saudi Shia are subject to significant government-sponsored policies of discrimination and repression that are buoyed by the monarchy’s support for ultra-conservative Wahhabism and sectarian concerns. Treated and regarded as second-class citizens, Saudi Shia feel an increasing resentment towards the Saudi Monarchy and state. As Saudi Arabia’s Shia live predominantly in the oil-rich areas of the Eastern Province, this resentment, should it continue to grow, could become a considerable economic and security issue for the Saudi regime. Of particular importance are the attitudes of Saudi Arabia’s Shia youth, who are more politically perceptive and active than earlier generations and who constitute the future of Saudi Sunni-Shia sectarianism. This paper details the nature of Sunni-Shia relations in Saudi Arabia, with a particular emphasis on the perceptions and activities of the Shia youth. Through examination of the government’s history of sectarianism and policies of discrimination, a significant security threat to the Saudi Monarchy is identified and described. The paper furthers analyzes the ramifications of future scenarios of government engagement versus non-engagement in reforms aimed at redressing Shia grievances.

Around 15 percent of Saudi Arabia’s 27 million inhabitants is Shia, making them a distinct minority in the otherwise overwhelmingly Sunni state. They live predominantly in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province, with the largest concentrations in the area around Qatif and Al-Hasa.[i] There is also a small Shia community in Medina, and about half a million Ismaili Shia and several thousand Zaydi Shia reside in the province of Najran along the border with Yemen.[ii] Saudi Shia are mostly adherents to the Twelver Branch of Shi’ism, drawing concern from the Saudi regime about their loyalty to Iran, which also follows the Twelver school.[iii]

In terms of population and political activity, Saudi Arabia has a considerable youth problem; more than half of the country’s population is under 21 years old. Frustrated with their political and economic marginalization and highly internet-savvy, the youth have found ways to mobilize and protest against the government in ways that undermine the regime’s political suppression.[iv] The Shia youth are no different and, with the added grievances of discrimination and sectarianism, present an even greater challenge to the Saudi state.

Shia dissent is the product of unequal distribution of political capital and economic resources. Though these inequalities affect many of Saudi Arabia’s provinces and a great number of Saudi Sunni, they are particularly felt in the Eastern Province, where most Shia reside. The eastern areas of Saudi Arabia have remained a lesser priority to the regime than the center and west in political power, economic development, and importance in the narratives and character of the state.[v] It is there that the regime’s policies of exclusion and discrimination are most deeply rooted and most heavily pronounced. Widespread unemployment and exclusion from the state’s patronage system is growing, and acutely affects the Shia youth. Infrastructure and services are being strained and the public sector is growing increasingly bloated.[vi] It would be an oversimplification to frame Saudi Shia dissent as purely a sectarian matter: economic hardship and political marginalization are largely the motivating factors behind Shia protests against the regime. However, discrimination and repression based on sectarian lines abets and amplifies the resentment Saudi Shia feel and further exacerbates their feelings of marginalization.[vii]

Easterners lack the ability to provide input into municipal budgets and to influence the administration of the province, creating significant political frustration. While this also affects eastern Sunni, other policies of discrimination are further imposed on the Shia. They are barred from senior positions in the government and central government agencies, such as the Ministry of Interior, the diplomatic corps, the National Guard, and the Ministry of Defense.[viii] At present there is no single Shia cabinet member or deputy minister.[ix] While at the local level Shia are better represented in the municipal councils, real power in the province lies instead at the governorate level, which is firmly controlled by the royal family.[x]

Shia grievances extend beyond the political sphere and into daily-life confrontations. Police forces in the Eastern Province are usually staffed by Sunnis from other parts of country, creating tension between local Shia communities and law enforcement officers. Shia are often subject to arbitrary arrests, searches, and seizures.[xi] Saudi education is framed in an anti-Shia manner, with school textbooks frequently containing derogatory allusions to the Shia and occasionally arguments for socially excluding or even killing them.[xii] Shia also face obstacles towards working in the education system; currently there is no Shia head of a university or girls school professor.[xiii] Shia treatment under the Saudi judicial system, which is governed by the Sunni Hanbali school of jurisprudence, has been source of dissent. Only in limited, Shia-majority areas such as Qatif and al-Hasa has the government allowed Shia courts, and even there the Ministry of Justice often appoints judges without consultation with the local communities.[xiv] The power of these Shia courts is also restricted by Sunni courts, which have veto power over the Shia courts’ rulings.[xv] Meanwhile, Shia in other parts of the country, including areas of the Eastern Province and Shia areas of Medina, have access to only Sunni courts.

Saudi Shia are also subject to religious discrimination, a reflection of the sectarian nature of Shia-Sunni relations in the country. Government-sponsored Salafi clerics are generally united in the view that Shia deviate from Salafi orthodoxy, consequently branding them ‘rejectionists.’ Senior Sunni clerics who have made statements that Shia are heretics and infidels have not been silenced by the regime, indicating at the least an official toleration of such views.[xvi] Though the regime permits them private religious gatherings, Saudi Shia face bureaucratic and legal obstacles when licensing mosques and mourning houses. Shia are not allowed to build mosques or run places of worship in cities with mixed Sunni-Shia populations.[xvii] There are no Shia representatives in the Senior Ulema Council, the country’s highest religious body that issues religious edicts affecting nearly every aspect of political and social life in Saudi Arabia.[xviii]

Underlying this discrimination is the alliance between the ruling family and the Wahhabi/Salafi religious establishment, an alliance that has existed since the beginnings of the Saudi state. The religious establishment is given a prominent place in Saudi Arabia’s political and social discourse, and in return legitimizes and buttresses the royal family’s rule.[xix] For many clerics, their continued access to political power is ensured by promoting sectarianism. Any recognition or support of the Shia identity would effectively undermine Salafi primacy in the country’s religious and social affairs.[xx] In order to manage demands for reforms and prevent any cross-sectarian cooperation among activists, the regime has tried to portray Eastern Province protests as exclusively Shia in character. Sectarianism has proven to be an effective tactic for the regime to dispel popular dissent. The regime has allowed the proliferation of anti-Shia sermons and rhetoric, which serve as a way to placate potential critics in the Salafi establishment and further deflect popular dissent.[xxi]

Sectarianism is also borne out of Saudi geopolitical concerns. Saudi Arabia has been suspicious of potential transnational ties between its Shia and Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. A particular source of suspicions arises from the Shia institution of the ‘marj taqlid,’ the practice of senior Shia clerics giving transnational spiritual, social, and juridical edicts. There is concern about the extent to which the edicts are directive versus consultative and whether they extend into political matters.[xxii] Ties between Saudi Shia and Iran have been a particular source of inflated regime suspicion. Saudi Arabia and Iran have had tense relations since the 1979 Revolution, and events such as the 1982 and 1987 clashes between Saudi security forces and Iranian pilgrims have further strained their relationship. Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s condemnations of Saudi Arabia resulted in a Saudi regime wary of Iranian meddling in its domestic affairs. Iranian subversion, the regime reasons, would come about through Saudi Arabia’s Shia population.[xxiii] Saudi Shia acknowledge their longstanding ties with Shia clerics in Iraq and Iran; concurrently, they assert that their religious alliance does not amount to loyalty to foreign governments.[xxiv] Furthermore, while there is historical precedent of Saudi Shia supporting subversive groups with Iranian connections, they now overwhelmingly eschew political ties with Iran and reject its theocratic governance.[xxv]

The Saudi regime has found political capital out of its policies that politically marginalize Shia and Sunni citizens alike. By stifling political freedoms and participation, the regime is able to suppress reform movements that would undermine the status quo. The royal family has supported this political environment through its narrative that the country’s citizens are prone to Islamist and tribal passions and are therefore not ready for democracy or civil society. The monarchy legitimizes itself by arguing that it fulfills the role of a mediator that binds the fractious citizenry together.[xxvi] Of course, activists point out that it is the lack of civil society and participatory government that support the existence of sectarianism and tribalism in Saudi society.[xxvii]

The historical development of sectarianism accounts for the growing involvement of aggressive, activist Shia youth in contemporary protest movements. The prevalent sectarianism that has been a pervasive element in the country’s internal dynamics can be traced to the early time of the Kingdom’s formation. The Emirate of Diriyah, an early Saudi state formed through an alliance between Muhammad Ibn Saud and the ultra-conservative imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, had clashed with the Shia of the Arabian peninsula. In 1913, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, founder of modern Saudi Arabia, seized al-Hasa. Wahhabi clerics ordered the demolition of several Shia mosques and took over preaching duties of remaining mosques in order to convert the population. Al Saud’s radical ‘Ikhwan’ army conducted a vicious anti-Shia rampage, calling on the king to either convert or permit the killing of Shia. Despite the King’s refusal, the army acted unilaterally, and in 1926 massacred large numbers of Shia.[xxviii] In the decades which followed, Saudi Shia continued to be treated as second class citizens, having religious freedoms and civil liberties strongly curtailed through regime policies.

The late 1970s saw increasing dissatisfaction among the Shia at the government’s failure to deliver on promises to improve living conditions in the Eastern Province.[xxix] The Iranian Revolution of 1979 further spurred heightened activism among Shia in the Eastern Province and signaled a shift of power from quietist Shia leaders to revolutionary-minded, younger activists. In November 1979, Shia protesters defied a government ban on Muharram rituals and staged demonstrations, calling on the government to end discrimination. The regime responded with repressive measures, arresting hundreds of activists and killing at least two dozen Shia protesters.[xxx] Meanwhile, leaders of the uprising founded a protest group known as the ‘Organization for the Islamic Revolution,’ who developed close ties with the revolutionary Iranian government. Saudi clerical and lay activists soon became instrumental in supporting this group.[xxxi]

Eventually, Iran became dissatisfied with its inability to control the Organization for the Islamic Revolution, leading it to form a more militant group in Saudi Arabia known as the ‘Hezbollah al-Hejaz.’[xxxii] This group launched a series of terrorist attacks within Saudi, including a 1987 attack at a gas plant and a 1988 bombing of petrochemical installations in the Eastern Province. In response, the Saudi government accused the Shia of sabotage, executing several and placing further restrictions on their civil and economic freedoms.[xxxiii] By the end of the 1980s, a growing number of Saudi Shia activists recognized the limits of revolution. They viewed accommodation with the government as a more realistic approach for achieving reforms. As such, in 1993 a number of Shia leaders of the Organization for the Islamic Revolution made a deal with the Saudi government, promising to abandon violence in exchange for assurances regarding political reform and the redress of grievances.[xxxiv] This marked the beginning of a period of peaceful activism by clerics and activists known now as the ‘Reformists,’ or ‘Islahiyyin.’ Following this reconciliation, Saudi Shia political activity consisted largely of grassroots civil society work, participation in local council elections, dialogue with like-minded reformists, and petitions to the royal family.[xxxv]

King Abdullah’s accession to the throne in 2005 brought Eastern Province Shia the hope that reform could be actualized through the political process. Abdullah sponsored a number of initiatives aimed at reducing sectarian divisions and increasing public involvement in political life and dialogue. Yet these reforms, more cosmetic than tangible, ultimately failed to live up their promises, as power over local budgets, personnel appointments, and administration remained in the hands of the Ministry of Interior instead of local communities. Meanwhile, cross-sectarian dialogue became undone due to rising sectarian tensions in Saudi society and government obstacles to such efforts.[xxxvi]

Conflict broke out in 2009, when clashes erupted between Shia pilgrims visiting the cemetery of Shia imams in Medina and members of the regime’s morality police. Security forces moved into Medina’s Shia neighborhoods, arresting and injuring numbers of residents. The regime’s response to the riots indicated to the Shia in the Eastern Province that the royal family’s outreach efforts had ended. Soon after, the most intense of demonstration of Shia dissent since 1979 occurred as protests erupted in Qatif, al-Safwa, and al-Awamiya.[xxxvii] On March 13th, as the protests in al-Awamiya continued around him, an outspoken Shia cleric named Nimr al-Nimr gave a sermon lambasting the regime and suggesting the East secede. Nimr al-Nimr’s brazen statements and outright rejection of the Islahiyyin’s participatory approach quickly won him support and fame among frustrated young Shia men. The Saudi regime soon arrested al-Nimr and a number of his supporters.[xxxviii] However, far from stifling dissent, al-Nimr’s arrest bolstered his support and further galvanized the Shia youth’s resentment of the regime.

The 2009 protests and al-Nimr’s arrest marked a turning point in Saudi Shia dissent, with a younger, more activist, and more aggressive cohort of Shia activists coming to play prominent roles. Disagreements about protest strategies and methods for reform began to fall along generational lines, with the younger Shia seeing the Islahiyyin as having been co-opted by the regime.[xxxix] For many, outright opposition seemed like the only means to achieve reform.[xl]

This current came to a head in the wake of the 2011 Arab Uprisings. Youthful Sunni and Shia activists, inspired by the crowds of Tahrir Square and Benghazi, planned nationwide demonstrations scheduled for March 11th. In early March youth groups across the country formed a cross-sectarian movement called the ‘Free Youth Coalition,’ which issued a lengthy list of political and economic demands. Yet this effort was thwarted by fundamental disagreements and distrust among coalition members. The Shia wanted to focus more on reforms specific to discrimination in the Eastern Province rather than overarching, national reforms.[xli] The Shia preempted the planned March 11th protest with protests of their own, the first of which occurred on March 3rd and 4th. The regime responded with the arrest of dozens of protesters in Qatif.[xlii] In the face of increased security presence around Riyadh and Jeddah, the March 11th cross-sectarian protest, dubbed the ‘Day of Rage,’ came and went without mass protest.[xliii]

The Saudi regime’s counteroffensive against took several forms – the King announced a package of twenty economic gifts to the people worth an estimated $93 billion.[xliv] A media campaign was launched to discredit the protests, emphasizing their destructive nature and portraying them as serving subversive Shia interests.[xlv] Anti-Shia sentiment was mobilized through Salafi religious scholars who issued fatwas against the protests and warned of an Iranian-Shia conspiracy.

The regime also relied on local supporters among the Shia clergy to dampen the protests. This served to bring the clerics into direct conflict with the frustrated, activist youth and did very little to lessen their protest fervor. [xlvi] Throughout the year, demonstrations continued and were met with security crackdowns. On August 3rd, eight months after the first protests, the popular cleric Tawfiq al-Amir was arrested, sparking further activity. On October 3rd, security forces clashed with armed protests in al-Awamiya, resulting in numbers of wounded police officers and civilians. In November, a 19-year-old was shot and killed at a checkpoint near Qatif, galvanizing the youth to take to the streets en mass. By the end of the protests, five people had been killed and others wounded. In response to the protests, the regime tried to link the opposition and violence to Iranian subversion. Instances of armed assaults by Shia youth on police vehicles, drive-by shootings, street marches, and police raids soon became near-nightly occurrences.[xlvii]

Nimr al-Nimr issued a sermon demanding the end of the monarchy on February 10th, 2012. Protesters made their way through al-Awamiya, shouting demands for the release of prisoners and reforms. In the ensuing chaos, a 21-year-old protester was killed.[xlviii] In late June, Nimr al-Nimr delivered a tirade against the rousing family, praising the death of Saudi crown prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz. Saudi security forces soon after arrested him following a car chase and shootout. His arrest was met with intense and popular anger.[xlix] The summer and fall of 2012 were accordingly marked with sustained protests in the east.[l]

There were encouraging signs that the government was ready to take steps to redress grievances in early 2013. Some television networks that spouted anti-Shia rhetoric were shut down, an additional Shia member was appointed to the Majlis al-Shura, and the longtime governor of the Eastern Province was removed from his post. Many activists remained pessimistic about real change, and by mid-year government policy was again portraying Shia activism as Iranian subversion.[li] It was during this time that the country’s state prosecutor called for the crucifixion of Nimr al-Nimr.[lii] In August of 2014, protests broke out across the Eastern Province calling for the release of Nimr al-Nimr and other political prisoners.[liii] In turn, the government announced in mid-September that Nimr al-Nimr’s sentencing would be postponed, likely recognizing that a harsh verdict could spark another round of intense unrest and renewed protests.[liv]

On October 15th, Nimr al-Nimr was sentenced to death, having been found guilty of “not obeying King Abdullah, not pledging allegiance to him or the state, incitement of vandalism and sectarian strife, demonizing Saudi rulers, calling for the collapse of the state and insulting relatives and companions of the Prophet Muhammad.”[lv] The verdict has raised fears of renewed protests and dissent.[lvi] If anything, the sentencing will further alienate Shia youth from the government and will inhibit any peaceful movement toward both addressing dissent and reconciling the surmounting issues that feed frustration and discontent. In fact, as recently as October 18th, small-scale protests against the sentence have begun to break out in the east.[lvii]

The history of marginalization provides ample context of Shia dissent in Saudi Arabia. Discrimination, limited reforms, and repression have frustrated Saudi Shia, pushing them to release their resentment through violent protests. The younger generation has grown progressively more impatient and dissatisfied with the older generation’s inability to end discriminatory policies and bring about tangible improvements in living conditions and jobs. The failure of the Islahiyyin’s moderate, pro-dialogue approach for addressing grievances has suggested to the youth that a more aggressive, violent style of dissent is necessary.[lviii] The youth further view many of the Shia clergy and members of the Islahiyyin as being co-opted by the Saudi government, further contributing to a generational divide.[lix]

Youth protest networks across the Eastern Province have grown significantly in recent years, with cellular groups such as the ‘Free Youth Coalition,’ ‘Free Men of Sayhat,’ ‘Supporters of al-Qatif,’ and ‘Eastern Region Revolution’ gaining popular support. Several of these networks merged during the 2012 protests to form the ‘Freedom and Justice Coalition,’ which now plays a leading role in organizing demonstrations across the region.[lx] While these organizations are similar to older networks in their demands for equality and constitutional monarchy, they are more active and aggressive in their protests. As the prominent Islahiyyin leader Hassan al-Saffar noted in a 2012 sermon, “Previous generations tolerated and adapted to problems, the current generation is different.”[lxi] A marked difference and generational divide exists in how Shia resentment is being expressed, readily demonstrated by the violence which has broken out over the last few years, and which is the worst seen since the late 1970s.

These youth networks make skillful use of social media to coordinate street protests and to disseminate criticism of the regime. Through the many different platform of social media, they have launched a renewed effort at dialogue with Sunnis across the country. This represents a departure from dialogue efforts that historically took place in the regime’s officially sanctioned forums, which activists see as a means to circumscribe any true coordination on reform.[lxii] Social media has also contributed to the growing split between Shia youth activists and the older generation; the Shia clergy, who have largely attempted to moderate and minimize protest violence, appear increasingly out of touch.[lxiii] Social media, not the sermon, has become the primary channel of political communication in the east, passing the initiative in planning protests and protest strategies from older activists to the internet-savvy youth. The Saudi government attempts to limit online dissent and protest coordination by blocking websites, monitoring facebook posts, and shutting down blogs which criticize the regime.[lxiv] Yet the nature of the internet is such that the government cannot fully succeed in quelling the online activity. As the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ and 2014 Hong Kong protests amply demonstrate, internet-savvy protest organizers can find new technologies or websites to use for their purposes, always staying one step ahead of the regime.[lxv]

Significantly, many of these youth organizations have shown a clear deference to and support for the teachings of clerics such as Nimr al-Nimr and Tawfiq al-Amir. Although their rhetoric is unapologetically inflammatory against the Saudi monarchy, they profoundly advocate for Shia dignity and justice. The themes of their sermons and speeches, which call for redressing grievances, strongly resonate among the endemically underemployed and underprivileged youth. Nimr al-Nimr and others have been instrumental in mobilizing activity the streets.[lxvi] It is this connection, between those in need and those who advocate, that presents a distinct challenge for the government. Allowing individuals such as Nimr al-Nimr to deliver scathing critiques of the Saudi government could make the regime appear weak, which in turn could invigorate and energize opposition movements and lead to more demands. However, as history has shown, arresting and silencing these clerics has pushed protests into the streets, with demands for releasing the clerics catapulting into full-fledged demonstrations.[lxvii]

The undertow of sectarianism throughout Saudi Arabia’s Shia population, pulling on its youth, provides the fodder for a crisis in the making for the regime. The government faces a hotbed of simmering dissent in its Eastern Province, dissent that has been brought about by inequitable and discriminatory policies that diminish economic, social, and educational opportunities. The reluctance to address Shia grievances and a fear-driven approach towards ending demonstrations have not only perpetuated Shia dissatisfaction, but have convinced the youth that more aggressive forms of opposition are a viable option. The root causes of protest – numerous long-standing government policies and historic circumstances that have left the Shia feeling oppressed – are systemic and entrenched.

If the Saudi government wishes to effectively deal with its Shia opposition, it should actually address and resolve these issues. Its other approaches to handling the problem have proven ineffective, if not counter-productive. However, ‘cosmetic’ or palliative attempts at reform would be ineffective, exemplified by King Abdullah’s early attempts at dialogue and reform, which were followed years later by the “Day of Rage” and further protests. One set of tangible solutions has been provided by a 125-page document commissioned by the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in 2012 that investigated the protests in the Eastern Province. It objectively identified the roots of eastern dissent as entrenched political, social, and economic problems rather than criminal or Iranian subversion.[lxviii] It suggested a series of reforms which include, among others, ending sectarianism in the media, releasing all political prisoners, reforming the local police station in al-Awamiya, and boosting the development of the east through housing projects, youth sports facilities, and better schools. It further suggested that a commission be established to investigate the Ministry of Interior’s actions in al-Awamiya.[lxix]

Ending sectarian tensions would necessitate shifts in social and media attitudes, education, and local judicial processes. Reforms which would be key steps in these changes include implementing Shia representation in the Senior Ulema Council and Supreme Judicial Council, permitting Shia wider freedoms to worship, and formally recognizing the Shia Ja’fari school of jurisprudence. Resolving underlying economic issues such as unemployment and discrimination for Shia will be a long-term challenge. Changes in Saudi business practices and bureaucratic reforms, such as integrating Shia into local police forces and the Ministry of Interior, would be first steps in that process.[lxx] Empowering local municipal councils and giving broader oversight to community organizations will enable Shia leaders in the east to bolster local infrastructure, diversify the local economy, and improve educational and sports facilities. Doing so is vital to staving off youth-driven opposition and dissent.

To ease and eventually end protest movements and oppositional tensions, the Saudi government should end sweeping laws against “sedition,” censorship, and arbitrary arrests. These standing policies have aggravated youth dissent in the east and have been the cause of other protests across the country. The government should recognize internal dissent as a step towards building a stronger, unified country, rather than portray dissent as evidence of foreign subversion. Not doing so will perpetuate the communication barriers that limit open political dialogue and contribute to further alienation of the younger generation. While much of the youth has little sympathy for Iran, an increasingly gloomy future could push them towards radicalization. With traces of the Iranian-backed militant group ‘Hezbollah al-Hejaz’ still found in the east, the government’s denouncing of activists as foreign agents could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.[lxxi] In reality, reform in the east could be seen as supportive of the regime’s strategic aim of blunting Iranian influence; Saudi Shia would have little desire for a pro-Iranian orientation if they were treated fairly by their government.

 Implementing comprehensive reforms to conciliate its Shia minority is easier said than done. Policies of discrimination are in place because of historical circumstances and political arraignments hat have brought the royal family into power and sustain its power. Cultural and religious biases and prejudices, ubiquitous throughout the world, are most difficult to alter. Letting go of the status-quo and becoming vulnerable to the financial, political, and social risk that comes with change is anathema to most leaders. The regime has evidently calculated that it is easier or more beneficial to stave off calls for reform, crush dissent, and continue its current policies than to deal with the social and political ramifications of sweeping reform. Yet while Shia protests and dissent are not currently an imminent threat to the Saudi government, their persistence and increasingly violent nature show that the status quo cannot continue. Ignoring long-standing grievances is only aggravating the very situation the regime would like to diffuse.

Shia youth represent the future of anti-government opposition in Saudi Arabia and should therefore be of enormous concern for the Saudi government. Frustrated and disillusioned with the failed moderate approach of past reformers, the younger generation has proven to be increasingly willing to take to the streets in aggressive, violent protests. The government’s attempts to deal with the opposition through security crackdowns, censorship, and arrests have only intensified resentment and galvanized people to protest. For the endemically underemployed and underprivileged youth, facing police lines and arrest may be preferable to living under present circumstances. Unless they see tangible improvements in their living conditions, this unrest is likely to continue indefinitely. As protests over Nimr al-Nimr’s sentencing continue to break out and deepen the tensions between the Shia and the government, the perceptions, attitudes, and grievances of Saudi Arabia’s Shia youth are a serious crisis in the making. The only long-term solution is substantial and comprehensive reform that counterbalances the inequities of inherent discrimination.

Works Cited and Notes

[i] Estimates of Saudi Arabia’s Shia population range between 10 and 25 percent of the population. Michael Izady, “Persian Gulf Region: Religious Composition,” Columbia University, gulf2000.columbia.edu/images/maps/GulfReligionGeneral_lg.png (accessed October 4, 2014). For the lower-range estimate, see also: Toby Matthiesen, “Saudi Arabia’s Shiite Problem,” Foreign Policy, http://mideastafrica.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/07/saudi_arabia_s_shiite_problem?wp_login_redirect=0 (accessed October 4, 2014).

[ii] Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring,” American Enterprise Institute, http://www.aei.org/outlook/foreign-and-defense-policy/regional/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabias-forgotten-shiite-spring/ (accessed October 3, 2014).

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] For age demographics, see: Caryle Murphey, “Saudi Arabia’s Youth and the Kingdom’s Future,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Middle East Program (2011): 3. http://issuu.com/ecspwwc/docs/saudi_arabia_s_youth_and_the_kingdom_s_future_fina/1?e=0 (accessed October 3, 2014). A deeper analysis of internet use by Saudi youths can be found in: Nadav Samin, “Dynamics of Internet Use: Saudi Youth, Religious Minorities and Tribal Communities,” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 1 (2008): 197-215.

[v] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/06/14/forgotten-uprising-in-eastern-saudi-arabia# (accessed October 4,, 2014).

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid. See also: Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[ix] Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[x] U.S. Department of State, 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom – Saudi Arabia.

[xi] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[xiv] U.S. Department of State, 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom – Saudi Arabia.

[xv] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xvi] Simon Henderson, “Prospects for Saudi democratization,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, https://jime.ieej.or.jp/htm/english/2007/0330.htm (accessed October 5, 2014).

[xvii] Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring”

[xviii] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xix] David Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia (I.B. Tauris: 2009)

[xx] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] David Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia, 170-211.

[xxix] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xxx] Ibid. For background context analyzing Iranian involvement in the protests, see also: Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Ahamd K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[xxxiii] Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future (W. W. Norton & Company, 2007): 236.

[xxxiv] Fouad Ibrahim, The Shi’is of Saudi Arabia (London: Saqi Books, 2006), 140-177.

[xxxv] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.” For a broader analysis of the Islahiyyin period, see also: Frederic Wehrey, Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings (Columbia University Press, 2013).

[xxxvi] Ibid.

[xxxvii] Christopher Wilcke, Denied Dignity: Systematic Discrimination and Hostility Toward Saudi Shia Citizens (Human Rights Watch, 2009): 1-2. See also: Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xxxviii] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Ahamad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[xli] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xlii] Ibid.

[xliii] Madawi Al-Rasheed, “No Saudi Spring,” Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net/madawi-al-rasheed-arab-spring-saudi-arabia (accessed October 6, 2014).

[xliv] Ibid.

[xlv] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xlvi] Ibid.

[xlvii] Ibid.

[xlviii] Ibid.

[xlix] Madawi Al-Rasheed, “No Saudi Spring.”

[l] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[li] Ibid.

[lii] “Saudi: Sheikh Nimr’s Crucified Fate,” Al-Akhbar English, http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/15395 (accessed October 7, 2014).

[liii] “Saudis demand release of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr,” PressTV, http://www.presstv.com/detail/2014/08/24/376410/saudis-call-for-shia-clerics-release/ (accessed October 7, 2014).

[liv] Aya Batrawy, “Verdict postponed on Saudi Shiite cleric,” Associated Press, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/verdict-postponed-saudi-shiite-cleric (accessed October 7, 2014).

[lv] Aya Batrawy, “Saudi Arabia Just Sentenced A Prominent Shia Scholar to Death,” Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/saudi-arabia-al-nimr-death-sentence-2014-10 (accessed October 16, 2014).

[lvi] “Saudi Arabia sentences Sheikh Nimr to death,” Al-Akhbar English, http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/saudi-arabia-sentences-sheikh-nimr-death (accessed October 17, 2014).

[lvii] Leila Fadel, “Saudi Cleric’s Death Sentence Focuses Shia Anger on Ruling Family,” NPR, http://www.npr.org/2014/10/18/357108117/saudi-clerics-death-sentence-focuses-shia-anger-on-ruling-family (accessed October 18, 2014).

[lviii] Frederic Wehrey, “Shia Days of Rage,” Foreign Affairs, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/138498/frederic-wehrey/shia-days-of-rage (accessed October 17, 2014).

[lix] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid.

[lxiii] Frederic Wehrey, “Shia Days of Rage.”

[lxiv] “Saudi Arabia,” Freedom House, http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2013/saudi-arabia#.VELiqxavEXU (accessed October 16, 2014).

[lxv] For an analysis of the use of ‘Twitter’ in the 2011 ‘Arab Spring,’ see: Catherine O’Donnell, “New study quantifies use of social media in Arab Spring,” University of Washington, http://www.washington.edu/news/2011/09/12/new-study-quantifies-use-of-social-media-in-arab-spring/ (accessed October 17, 2014). For an analysis of the use of social media in the 2014 Hong Kong protests, which demonstrates how activists can circumvent online censorship, see also: Emily Parker, “Social Media and the Hong Kong Protests,” The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/social-media-hong-kong-protests (accessed October 17, 2014).

[lxvi] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[lxvii] “The Arrest Of A Shiite Cleric Could Be The Spark That Ignites Saudi Arabia,” Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/saudi-arabia-arrest-turmoil-cleric-2011-3 (accessed October 17, 2014).

[lxviii] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forogtten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.” The full report, “ʿAbd al-Rahman Muhammad ʿAmr al-ʿAqil, “Ahdath al-ʿAwamiya wa al-Qatif,” (The Events of al-Awamiya and al-Qatif), can be found at http://t.co/wltovJtn

[lxix] Ibid.

[lxx] Ibid.

[lxxi] Ibid.

The Iranian Revolution: A Brief History and Analysis

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a pivotal moment in revolutionary history. A multiclass opposition overthrew an autocratic ruler, leading to the establishment of a theocratic state. This outcome contrasts sharply with other modern revolutionary movements, which have been fought in the name of nationalism or socialism and which have concluded with the transfer of power to a secular, modernizing intelligentsia. The causes of the Iranian Revolution are numerous, with many different groups in the opposition claiming different grievances and hoping for different outcomes. However, by the height of the revolution, they had all mobilized behind the calls for freedom, justice, and liberty espoused by the cleric Ayatollah Khomeini. ‘Fourth Generation’ theories are effective in explaining the sources of revolutionary grievances held by the Iranian people and how the opposition successfully mobilized. One theory in particular, George Katsiaficas’s “Eros Effect,” explains why and how an opposition of such diverse groups with varied claims managed to consolidate, mobilize, and enable the establishment of a theocratic regime.

The Iranian Revolution has been called a “revolution for every theory”, and indeed many scholars have tried to analyze it through various theoretical lens (Parsa 3). It featured an organized alliance of opposition groups, each with their own distinct grievances and revolutionary goals. That revolutionary discontent was incited by numerous factors  makes it difficult to pinpoint a single root cause, thereby limiting the capacity for ‘Third Generation’ revolution theories to adequately analyze it. However, elements of the ‘Fourth Generation’ of theories help provide context to the revolutionary discontent which erupted between 1977 and 1979. Of particular importance are critiques of state intervention and consolidation in the economy and theories about solidarity movements. These theories help explain why so much of Iranian society became dissatisfied with the Shah’s regime, and how the collective organization and action which toppled his regime came into being.

One particular theory of the ‘Fourth Generation,’ George Katsiaficas’s “Eros Effect,” lends itself well to an analysis of the Iranian Revolution. The “Eros Effect” refers to the transcendental qualities of social movements. As basic assumptions about the nature and structure of government and society begin to vanish, a new way of life and imagining politics begins (Katsiaficas 1). As more people begin to recognize the collapse of the old ways of life and the possibility for new ways emerges, they initiatively mobilize for action (Katsiaficas 8). Between 1977 and 1979, as the Shah’s state began to collapse under the pressure of the opposition, a growing number of Iranians began to associate with the calls for a re-imagined political and social reality being put forth by revolutionary leaders such as Ayatollah Khomeini. Recognizing the possibility for a new way of life, the masses mobilized and joined the opposition, eventually providing enough revolutionary momentum to topple the Shah.

The Iranian Revolution occurred between 1977 and 1979, beginning with a series of demonstrations and ending with the overthrow of the Shah. However, the causes of revolutionary discontent can be traced back decades, and must first be analyzed. Poor living conditions during the Shah’s rule and events such as the 1963 rebellion contributed heavily to the widespread disillusionment which would erupt in 1977. Serious issues such as abject poverty, wealth inequality, high taxes, and rising interest rates plagued most in Iran following World War Two and were already a source of discontent (Keddie 120) In 1953, a coup d’état backed by the United States deposed the democratically elected, nationalist government of Mohammad Mosaddegh. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose father ruled Iran leading up to World War Two but was deposed by the Soviets, was instated as Shah.

Quickly, the Shah and those around him were determined to ally with the West and try to develop the Iranian economy along Western lines (Keddie 135). Mosaddegh’s overthrown was a source of much opposition throughout Iran. When overthrown, he was in the process of nationalizing the oil industry, a highly popular and heavily supported move, and was beginning to address structural issues within Iranian society. The coup organized against him and the Shah’s subsequent courting of the West drew nationalistic ire from many. The government was seen as being a pawn of the West, which was unfairly exploiting Iran (Keddie 135). Throughout the early 1960s, elections to the parliament were rigged, stirring popular discontent. In 1961, strikes were threatened across Iran, and in Tehran schoolteachers demonstrated in front of the parliament building demanding higher pay. Violence broke out during the strike, and two teachers were killed. As the situation intensified, rumors began circulating of a possible military coup or serious royal concessions. To stabilize the situation, the Shah asked Ali Amini, a member of the independent opposition, to form a government. Amini agreed, but only if parliament was suspended (Keddie 142).

Amini’s opposition to past governments under the Shah gave him some credibility with opposition groups, and the suspension of parliament at first pleased the opposition. However, he felt that strong government and the seriously needed land reform was only possible during a period of rule without elections, and the Shah agreed.  When new elections weren’t called, Amini began to be seen as ruling by decree, dissipating most support he controlled. Demonstrations were held, and in July 1961 a demonstration resulted in the arrest of several leaders of an oppositional group called the National Front, and strong restrictions were placed on National Front political activities (Keddie 144). In November, a royal decree allowing the government to legislate by decree without a parliament brought further pro-election agitation. In January 1962, a major riot by Tehran University students, using National Front slogans, was brutally suppressed by the police and the army. The government arrested numerous rightist opposition figures in response (Keddie 144).

In January, Amini devoted himself seriously to implementing a land-reform decree. However, he resigned in July when the Shah refused to reduce the army budget. The new prime minister, an old time friend of the Shah, met with National Front leaders. Their requests for free elections and other freedoms were refused. In response, the National Front created a new unified central council December of 1962 and began open attacks on the shah. Most of the council and many National Front leaders were arrested shortly thereafter. The Shah announced the major land reform in 1963, calling for a national plebiscite on a combined six-point reform program. It included land reform, sale of government-owned factories to finance the land reform, a new election law including woman suffrage, the nationalization of forests, a national literacy corps, and a plan to give workers a share of industrial profits. The program, called the “White Revolution,” was passed overwhelmingly by the public in January, though rumors circulated about vote rigging (Keddie 145).

A large opposition movement led by the ulama rose in response to the “White Revolution”.  The ulama is the religious establishment in Iran, a group of clerics with great influence over society and which had  historically been tied to the landowning elite class. While leading ulama in Iran had been relatively pro-Shah since Mosaddeq’s overthrow because they feared the rise in secularist and communist power under Mosaddeq, the economic and political crisis of the past years had increased open opposition to the regime and to its subservience to Western groups (Keddie 146). Most of the clergy opposed the reforms.  The majority opposed land reform, as land belonging to mosques and religious institutions was slated to be confiscated. Others opposed the vote for women (Parsa 192). Among the ulama opposition, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeinin had emerged as a key antigovernment spokesman. From his pulpit in Qum he expressed uncompromising opposition to the Shah’s absolutism and foreign influence, denouncing the United States as “an enemy of Islam in all its policies, this hostility being particularly apparent in its support for Israel and the nature of its influence in Iran” (Esposito 20). He denounced the reform as an attack on Islam and the clergy.

The “White Revolution” became a source of dissent for other groups, as well. Land reform undercut landlord political power to benefit the central government but produced large numbers of independent farmers and landless laborers with no feelings of loyalty to the Shah. While their support towards the increasingly corrupt government withered, their loyalty to the clergy, seen as more concerned about the fate of the people, increased. The reform’s economic ‘trickle-down’ strategy further concentrated money in the hands of the top elites instead of distributing it throughout society, thereby exacerbating the wealth inequalities in Iran. The government reduced credit to the bazaars, which had been experiencing bankruptcy on a widening-scale (Parsa 50). Instead of increasing stability and class loyalty to the Shah, the “White Revolution” united the people against him.

In March of 1963, Khomeini’s madrasa was attacked by government forces and he was arrested. Released after a short period of detention, he resumed his denunciations of the government and its policies. He was arrested again on June 4th, an important Shiite holiday, after delivering a scathing criticism of the regime. Upon hearing the news, religious processions in Tehran turned into violent demonstrations (Keddie 147). These demonstrations spread to the university and to other cities around Tehran and were only suppressed after several days, with loss of life in the hundreds. Khomeini was released in August, but later circulated pamphlets strongly denunciating the parliament when it passed a bill granting diplomatic immunity to American military personnel and advisers and agreed to a $200 million loan from the US for military purchases. As a result, Khomeini was exiled to Turkey in 1964 and went to Iraq in 1965. It was from here that he taught and spoke, with his words being distributed and spread into Iran through writings or cassettes (Keddie 148).

The rebellion in 1963 failed because of the weakness of opposition organizations from the repression that followed the 1953 coup. Participants in the action consisted primarily of segments of bazaars, or marketplaces, and the urban poor. Students did not join the demonstrators, and, more importantly, white-collar employees, professionals, and industrial workers did not go on strike. In the face of a weak and disorganized opposition, the regime was able to crush it and demobilize the regime’s opponents (Parsa 51). Still, the rebellion was an important harbinger of things to come. It demonstrated that collective action could be taken against the Shah, and that serious discontent was beginning to surface in parts of Iranian society. It revealed to members of the opposition that more effort needed to be placed on solidarity and the consolidation of their movements. After these riots, there was to be deeper cooperation between religious and nationalist opponents of the Shah both within Iran and among students and exiles abroad (Parsa 50). However, the rebellion also increased repression within Iran, and many oppositional groups were driven underground or into exile. This would be of enormous importance later, because it left the mosques and bazaars as the only organizations through which the opposition could organize and mobilize in the Iranian Revolution.

Of greater importance, however, is that the rebellion began Khomeini’s unwavering criticism of the regime. Exile rendered Khomeini more invulnerable to repression. Throughout his time in exile, he continued to issue political statements and give speeches on political matters. He began sending great numbers of letter to the clergy and Iranian students which attacked the Shah’s dictatorship, the government’s violation of Islamic principles, and the imperialist pillage of Iranian national resources. He refused to accept the inevitability of the existing situation and consistently called for the monarchy’s overthrow (Parsa 217). This would propel him to a position of prominence and leadership during the Revolution. He successful projected himself as a progressive and open-minded revolutionary during exile, making him attractive to sections and groups in Iranian society who might otherwise equate him with reactionary clergymen (Irfani 162). As he represented popular unity, members of the opposition began to align and organize themselves behind his movement. This would have vital importance during the mobilization and collective actions of the revolution.

Through the analytical lens of Katsiaficas’s “Eros Effect” theory, the rebellion of 1963 also has significant importance. Katsiaficas writes that, “the eros effect postulates that popular movements spontaneously internalize new levels of activity which previous episodes of revolutionary struggle already developed, thereby explaining why newly emergent movements have continually identified with their predecessors” (Katsiaficas 8). The revolution in 1979 continued the struggle that began in 1963, drawing largely off the same popular grievances which had incited it. The movement in 1979 drew from organizational alliances that formed during the 1963 rebellion between the secular and religious opposition, and put into practice revolutionary methods such as protests, demonstrations, and religious processions that were unsuccessfully attempted in 1963. Participants in the 1979 revolution saw themselves continuing the struggle which had failed a decade earlier.

In the years between 1963 and 1977, the regime embarked upon a policy of rapid economic development through state intervention in capital allocation and accumulation. While Iran’s GDP grew at impressive rates, housing shortages and considerable social and economic equalities grew because of rushed development programs (Parsa 54). Agriculture was neglected, resulting in a deterioration of conditions for the peasantry. Inflation threatened portions of the working and middle classes dependent on fixed income. Housing policies jeopardized the working class and shantytown dwellers. Allocation policies paid little attention to less developed regions and regional inequalities were magnified as a result. Meanwhile, the upper class controlled a disproportionate amount of the state’s wealth (Parsa 85). Opponents of the regime proclaimed that the Shah’s reforms and economic policies benefited mainly the rich without making necessary structural changes to Iranian society (Keddie 149).

State intervention into the economy was a major cause of the 1979 revolution, and has thus been a focus of scholarly analysis. States with control over the economy become the primary vehicle for distributing wealth, and are often the major wealth holder. As such, they affect all aspects of social and economic life. In the case of Iran, state-sponsored development policies adversely affected the working classes and eventually polarized the population (Parsa 21). The state limited and politicized market and economic issues, making it vulnerable to attack by adversely affected classes and groups that have consolidated their forces and that are able to seize state power (Parsa 13). Given the subordination of market forces and the entire private sector to the state, the Shah could not avoid being blamed for adverse policies and conditions. The contradictions in Iranian society and the poor conditions most Iranians lived in were seen as his fault. As such, the wide array of grievances held by different sections of the Iranian population could be consolidated and targeted against the state. Meanwhile, economic organizations and actors, such as the bazaars, could mobilize against the state and the Shah as a response to their economic policies. This would later set in motion the widespread mobilization that would eventually topple the Shah.

Other events during these years also contributed to growing popular discontent. Using oil revenue brought in by the oil boom, the Shah began purchasing massive amounts of up-to-date and sophisticated military equipment from abroad. The allocation of these funds towards the military, instead of towards resolving the problems in Iranian society, was a source of opposition to the regime (Keddie 164). Foreign contractors took over key positions in the economy, further contributing to the opposition’s nationalist sentiments. To celebrate the mythical 2,5000th anniversary of the Persian monarchy, the Shah put on a massive and opulent celebration. The discrepancy between the seemingly unlimited wealth of the Shah and the poverty of most of his subjects revealed to most the contradictions in Iranian society (Keddie 167). In 1975, the Shah announced that all legal political parties would be merged into a single party. Membership was required of most government and university employees. This greatly disturbed the liberal bourgeois elements of society, which saw it as a further erosion of political liberties (Keddie 166). Also in 1975, a Family Protection Law was passed which introduced a number of reforms in marriage, divorce, and family law, which had until then been strictly based on Islamic law. This greatly upset the religious community, and alienated much of the moderate ulama which had still supported the regime (Keddie 167).

Long years of economic malaise and repressed desires for political freedom had set the stage for potential turmoil. In early 1977, spurred by Jimmy Carter’s campaign promises of championing the cause of universal human rights and cutting back arms sales to Third World countries, members of the old opposition began to speak out against the regime’s alleged wrongdoings (Amuzegar 242). Throughout the spring, opposition voices became louder and more poignant. Still, until the end of 1977, the opposition’s campaigns against the regime took a largely nonviolent format. (Amuzegar 245).

The impact of the international environment on a country’s domestic conditions, and revolutionary movements, has often been studied by scholars of revolution. The interaction between the international environment and a country experiencing a revolutionary moment may spark, impede, or assist the outcome of that moment. Jack Goldstone, in his analysis on ‘Fourth Generation’ theories, noted that often “it is the absence of intervention or the withdrawal (or threatened withdrawal) of ongoing support for a regime that allows a revolutionary movement to grow” (Goldstone 7). This was clearly the case in the beginning stages of the Iranian Revolution. Carter’s concern for global human rights spread the perception that support for the Shah was diminishing and inspired intellectuals and other members of the opposition to begin calling into question the Shah’s regime. Though the opposition was at this stage peaceful and limited, it brought again to the surface the discontent and grievances harbored by the Iranian people for decades. The stage was being set for a more violent and widespread uprising.

In mid-1977, to combat growing inflation, the Shah appointed Jamshid Amuzegar as prime minister, and a deflationary program was launched immediately (Keddie 164). As part of the program, bazaaris faced fines, banishment, and prison sentences for profiteering and price violations. This measure did much damage to private entrepreneur’s confidence, the country’s investment climate, and the bazaars waning loyalty to the regime. The deflationary program also brought a sudden growth in unemployment, especially among the unskilled and skilled. The combination of inflation, shortages, large income-distribution inequalities, and other sources of dissent contributed to an ever growing popular discontent (Keddie 164).

The deflationary program set in motion the mobilization of Iranian society which would eventually topple the Shah. At this point, the theory of collective action must be addressed, as it lends itself well to an analysis of the build up towards revolution. Collective action such as mobilization, demonstrations, and protests result from the pursuit of common interests by adversely affected groups (Parsa 13). For such action to take place, victimized groups must identify an entity responsible for their suffering. In the case of Iran, the Shah became that target. Groups seek out organizations in existence for mobilization, as they can provide ready-made networks and channels of communication to coordinate various protest activities.  Conflict is likely to escalate when a group has appropriate resources for broadcasting the government’s use of violence and sustaining mobilization and collective action (Parsa 24). In countries were high levels of social and economic inequalities exist, such as pre-revolution Iran, the majority of the population experiences a common condition of exploitation and injustice. They thus find it easier to form alliances and consolidate against the ruling minority (Parsa 25).

The policies instituted in the deflationary program set the stage for intense conflict between the state and the bazaars. They reduced divisions in the bazaar and, combined with a slight reduction in repression, allowed mobilization to occur. After all, most bazaaris were free of ties to the government, which might have made them hesitate to join a really revolutionary movement (Keddie 227). The bazaars began to mobilize in late 1977. As a more traditional segment of society, members of the bazaar were closely tied to the ulama, and their struggles were soon channeled through the mosque because government repression left no other option for mobilization (Parsa 29). From this point forth, the bazaars and the mosques provided key organizational and financial support to the anti-regime demonstrations and strikes which would occur through 1978 and 1979. Regime suppression against the nationalist and leftist opposition had made those groups ineffective and unable to mobilize the population (Parsa 216). As Parsa noted, groups turn to organizations that are able to provide ready-made networks and channels of communication. This was available in the form of the bazaar and the mosque. Mosques provided a national network for mobilization and a safe place for gathering and, through sermons and religious processions, communication. That the opposition coordinated and mobilized through these organizations would have a serious influence on the character and outcome of the revolution.

In early 1978, an article was posted in the newspaper Ettela’at entitled “Iran and Red and Black Colonialism,” which called into question Ayatollah Khomeini’s nationality, character, and patriotism.  The article angered the militant clergy and leftist armed guerrilla supporters, and in response they organized street demonstrations set to occur in Qum on January 8th through their mosques and the bazaars. These demonstrations turned violent, with security forces shooting into the crowd, and several people were killed. Condemnations of the Qum killings came from the entire Shiite hierarchy, including much of the silent, moderate majority of clergy. In no previous political rebellion against the government was the religious establishment so closely unified. The Qum incident thus began to unify the fragmented clerical factions, preventing potential splits which might have undermined the consolidation of opposition (Amuzegar 248). For followers of Khomeinin, it provided a magnificent opportunity to unify city and village mullahs across the country in defense of Islam. For university students, intellectuals, and the secular opposition, Qum demonstrated the people’s readiness to risk their lives in opposition to the Shah’s rule. For undecided moderates, the incident demonstrated the regime’s vulnerability to a nationwide rebellion and undermined the Shah’s legitimacy (Amuzegar 249). However, the incident at Qum and mobilization through the mosques and bazaars also swung the initiative in protest movements from the secular forces to the religious led opposition. By this point, the religious opposition appealed to far larger numbers than did the secular liberals (Keddie 225).

According to the Shiite customs, memorial services are held forty days after a person’s death. The ulama and bazaar leadership, sensing their new power and the grievances of their constituency, used the forty-day ritual to organize massive demonstrations. The forty-day interval gave the organizations a much-needed hiatus to regroup forces, spread the word orally, bring people together almost automatically without the need to argue about date and place, and to utilize ritual emotion to intensify opposition to the regime (Keddie 226). On February 18, memorial services began in various different cities throughout the country and quickly turned into protests against the Shah and in support of Khomeini. In most cities the protests were peaceful and ended by police, but in the city Tabriz, a full riot broke out after a protester was shot dead. Crowds rampaged through the city setting on fire anything considered un-Islamic, and attacked and burned state buildings, banks, and a Rastakhiz party hall (Amuzegar 248).  The Tabriz incident was the first well-planned and efficient defiance of the regime, demonstrating the government’s total lack of preparation to face a hostile crowd. The opposition, by attacking symbols of affluence as sinful and immoral, added a crucial religious motive to its objectives of fairness, justice, and freedom. A firm alliance was forged between the clergy and the radical left for the first time (Amuzegar 248). The incident also demonstrated the growing role of young males, especially students organized by the ulama, in the opposition.

As mentioned, the incident at Qum and popular mobilization through the bazaars and mosques gave the revolutionary initiative to the religious opposition. In turn, Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence and popularity grew. For the urban poor, Khomeini and his words were supreme guides, and his lectures were widely distributed through the bazaars of the major cities. As revolutionary enthusiasm and activity grew, Khomeini’s refusal to make any compromise with the monarchy and his implication that problems could be solved by a return to Islamic ways had increasing appeal to the masses (Keddie 232). Members of the moderate clergy who argued for reform began to align with him, as they were bound to lose influence to his more uncompromising positions during a revolutionary moment (Irfani 162).  With the rapid pace that the revolutionary movement was undertaking action, no political organization was capable of assuming leadership. Only the clergymen, given their national organizational networks, direct contact with people, and the uncompromising leadership of Khomeini, appeared to present the only possible avenue for leading the movement.

As such, Khomeini soon took on the character of a national revolutionary leader. His successful blending of politics and religion in an anti-imperialist and anti-dictatorial framework made his leadership attractive and acceptable to the various sections of society. His calls for a new society built around Islamic principles coupled with “freedom, liberty, and justice” became the new way of life many Iranians imagined would emerge from the revolution. Goldstone pointed out numerous methods through which elites could become associated with the character of a revolution. He stated that elites must create a protest identity and protest grievances, which need to be seen “not merely as miserable conditions but as a direct result of the injustice and the moral and political failings of the state, in sharp contrast to the virtue and justice of the opposition” (Goldstone 15). Khomeini succeeded in this through his persistent and unwavering attacks on the Shah and his calls for a just Islamic state brought about by the opposition’s efforts. Additionally, elites must link up with popular mobilization through the organizations coordinating and supporting that mobilization (Goldstone 13). Khomeini succeeded in this because of his ties to the mosque and its ties to the bazaar, which allowed his rhetoric and ideas to be spread throughout the dissatisfied and oppositional elements of Iranian society.

On August 19th, in the city of Abadan, four arsonists barred the door of the Cinema Rex movie theater and set it ablaze. Khomeini immediately blamed the Shah and SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, for setting the fire in an attempt to frame the opposition. The protest movement immediately expanded in size, and tens of thousands of people from all parts of Iranian society took to the streets shouting “Burn the Shah!” and “The Shah is the guilty one!” Anger over the fire reinvigorated the revolutionary movement, and created a massive anti-Shah sentiment among the protesters (Amuzegar 251).  In the face of vast protests, the Shah replaced Amuzegar as prime minister with Jafar Sharif-Emami. His government then began instituting a series of concessions, abolishing the hated Rastakhiz Party, legalizing political parties and releasing hundreds of political prisoners, increasing freedom of expression, curtailing SAVAK’s powers, closing down casinos and nightclubs, and abolishing the imperial calendar. Still, these concessions failed to appease the opposition, and slogans shouted by demonstrators became openly political and pointedly anti-shah (Keddie 231).

Sharif-Emami’s proclamation of reform and reduced repression greatly expanded popular mobilization and collective action. The liberalization policy allowed the Pahlavi’s’ three traditional enemies – the liberal intellectuals, the fundamentalist Shiite clergy, and the radical left – to openly lambast the regime from their own vantage points, and unite in opposition. The partial lifting of restrictions on public speeches, and reduced censorship on printed materials, allowed both religious and secular dissenters to gradually step up their activities. The mosque network of distribution and communication began to openly pass cassettes of Khomeini’s anti-Shah sermons to the people and to mobilize the bazaars’ source of manpower and wealth. The opening of prisons and release of Marxist guerillas gave the freed dissidents a chance to regroup and lead the mass movements. Guerillas played a key role in bullying members of the bazaar into supporting the revolution, and old communist party members freed began to reorganize labor strikes and in the capitals industrial work places (Parsa 225).

On September 8th, the Shah adopted a hard line approach to the demonstrations. He declared martial law in Tehran and other major cities throughout the country. Street demonstrations were banned, arrest warrants were issued for prominent opposition leaders, and a night-time curfew was established. During a massive demonstration in Tehran, a crowd that reached Jaleh Square was gunned down by security forces. In other parts of the capital, protesters set up barricades and threw Molotov cocktails at troops (Keddie 232). The incident, which would be known as “Black Friday,” gave Islamic fundamentalists a new opportunity to call for nationwide sympathy and support. Khomeini called for strikes and work stoppages in the public and private sectors. From this point on,  urban industrial workers, white-collar professionals, and civil servants gradually filled the oppositions ranks. By now, the mosque had become the revolution’s domestic rallying point. Demonstrations, marches, strikes, and other activities were planned and supervised by the clergy (Amuzegar 252).

The role repression plays in exacerbating or suppressing a revolutionary movement is enormous. Goldstone writes that “repression that is not strong enough to suppress opponents, or that is so diffuse and erratic that innocents are persecuted, or that is aimed at groups that the public considers representative and justified in their protest, can quickly undermine perceptions of the regime’s effectiveness and justice” (Goldstone 23). The SAVAK’s repression of opposition movements throughout the Shah’s reign undermined the regime’s legitimacy and eroded popular support. As the revolution picked up, the military’s inability to repress the growing demonstrations revealed a weakness in the regime, inciting more segments of the population to mobilize. Acts of repression, such as the “Black Friday” and the Cinema Rex fire, allowed the opposition to paint the regime as unjust and gave a greater moral legitimacy to the opposition. After all, as Goldstone points out, “when the regime is judged to be losing support and capable of being overthrown, protestors may bear great risks, and great regime violence may simply further persuade people that the regime has got to go” (Goldstone 23). Violence against protestors failed to suppress further mobilization; if anything, it persuaded more people to join the opposition.

Throughout the fall the industrial and salaried working classes entered into the mass protest movement. These groups had little choice but to join forces with Khomeini, who had taken on a role as a revolutionary leader (Keddie 232). By November, the vast majority of Iranians had mobilized and developed at least some degree of organization and networks to bring about social change. Encouraged by the scale of the opposition, students and the younger generation began to organize to counter government-supported assaults. As people became increasingly fearless, enthusiastic, and aroused, even in the face of death in demonstrations, and as total opposition to the regime spread to new classes of people, massive political-economic strikes began against the Shah. On September 9th, 700 workers at Tehran’s main oil refinery went on strike, and on September 11th the same occurred when refineries in 5 other cities joined the strike. The economy was paralyzed, and leftist, liberal, and religious groups encouraged the strikes. The return of members of the opposition from abroad and the revival of protest encouraged open activity by guerilla groups. Meanwhile, grassroots organizations of Khomeini supporters began to grow, publishing newspapers, pamphlets, and posters that helped spread his revolutionary ideas (Keddie 233).

On November 6th, the Shah sacked Sharif-Emami and appointed a military government headed by General Azhari, imposing martial law throughout the country. In response, workers in major factories remained on strike or returned to work to organize and coordinate their striking efforts. The mobilization of the bazaars, industrial workers, and white-collar employees and the disruption of important social functions indicated the existence of broad-based opposition. Protests and demonstrations grew in size and frequency across the country (Parsa 224). In December, oil workers went on strike, declaring their opposition to the monarchy and support for Ayatollah Khomeini. The bazaars went into indefinite shutdown to protest the imposition of martial law. Neighborhood self-defense groups formed in many cities to fight off hooligans and strike back at armed forces. During this period, numerous actions were directed specifically against agents of state repression, with the result that many military personnel and police officers were assassinated (Parsa 232). On some occasions, groups of protestors challenged the army in direct confrontations. Young people and students, often organized by the clergy, took control of many cities, forming governments of their own (Parsa 236).

By late December and into early January of 1979, the vast majority of Iranian society had mobilized against the Shah. As a result, the economic and political institutions which had sustained the state were completely immobilized. On December 11th over a million people filled the streets of to demand the removal of the Shah and the return of Khomeini. The Shah desperately searched for members of the liberal opposition to fill the role of prime minister, hoping that a final attempt at reform and conciliation would save his regime (Keddie 237). Dr. Shapour Bakhtair, a long time opposition leader, accepted the post on the condition that the Shah leaves Iran indefinitely. He promptly dissolved SAVAK, freed political prisoners, ordered the army to allow mass demonstrations, promised free elections, and invited Khomeini and other revolutionaries into a government of “national unity”. However, Bakhtair was expelled by opposition groups as a ‘traitor’ to the revolution (Keddie 238). Meanwhile, on January 16, 1979, the Shah and the empress left Iran.

On February 1, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini was greeted back into Iran by a crowd of several million Iranians. He immediately made clear his fierce rejection of Bakhtiar’s government and, on February 4th, appointed Mehdi Bazargan as the “real” prime minister. As Khomeini’s movement gained momentum, soldiers began to defect to his side. On the evening of February 9th, units of the elite Imperial Guard tried to suppress a Tehran rebellion of pro-revolutionary air force cadets. Revolutionaries and rebel soldiers gained the upper hand and began to take over police stations and military installations, distributing arms to the public. The final collapse of the provisional non-Islamist government came on February 11th when the Supreme Military Council declared itself neutral in the political crisis. Without the armed forces support, the Bakhtair government collapsed, and Khomeini forces took the reins of power (Amuzegar 291).

Revolutionary scholars have long pointed to the actions of the armed forces as playing a key role in the success or failure of a revolution, and this is decidedly true in the case of Iran. The downfall of the Shah’s regime was sealed when top military commanders caved in (Amuzegar 292). Had they more forcefully repressed the demonstrations, or had played a heavier hand during the political struggle between Bakhtair and Khomeini, the outcome of the revolution may have been different. The dissolution of the armed forces can be attributed to the formation of the broad national coalition and disruption of the social order, which paralyzed the military (Parsa 247). The violence targeted against the regime by self-defense groups and other oppositional groups weakened the military, undermining its ability to keep order. The military came into close contact with the popular movement through 1978, and revolutionary ideas began to spread throughout its ranks. Soldiers became increasingly unreliable and insubordinate as a result, with widespread desertions and organized groups of soldiers making attacks against their commanding officers (Parsa 248). The desertion of the Shah shattered army moral and cohesion, and as overwhelming popular attacks against personnel, buildings, and munitions grew the army was rendered ineffective (Parsa 248). Various factors thus played into the weakening of the armed forces, resulting in their ineffectiveness as a tool of repression or stability. There is enormous importance to the military’s impotence in the final months of the revolution. It was not until opposition centrists were absolutely assured that the Shah was not prepared to use force, and that military was ineffective, that they openly supported Khomeini’s movement (Amuzegar 294).

The Iranian Revolution lends itself well to analysis by Katsiaficas’s “Eros Effect” theory.  The theory postulates that, as basic assumptions about the nature and structure of government and society begin to vanish, a new way of life and imagining politics begins. People are intuitively driven to mobilize. The revolution began in 1977 with criticisms aimed against the Shah. The discontent harbored by the Iranian people for decades was therefore brought to the surface, but the limited scale of the opposition meant that the “basic assumptions about the nature and structure of government” did not disappear. As such, participation in the rebellion was limited. When the bazaars mobilized, however, their deep connection to the mosque meant that Khomeini’s calls for freedom, justice, liberty, and an Islamic state were widely spread and accepted. He presented a new way to imagine life and politics for the people of Iran, an integral part of Katsiaficas’s theory. The free and just society he proposed was, for most Iranians, a far better alternative than the status quo. As such, the scale of the opposition and demonstrations grew and the stability of the state began to collapse. As Katsiaficas’s theory describes, basic assumptions about society and government began to vanish as more and more people joined the opposition and the regime began to crumble. By the end of the revolution, most sectors of Iranian society had mobilized. They represented a diverse array of backgrounds, held a wide array of different ideologies and beliefs, and had different grievances against the Shah’s regime. However, they were all unified in their mobilization against the Shah because the possibility of a reimagined way of life and politics seemed attainable. Furthermore, when the revolution succeeded, they accepted Khomeini’s leadership because of their hopes that his reimagining of politics might come true.

Goldstone writes that “the state itself may create or reinforce a sense of oppositional identity by labeling a group as its enemies or by acting against the group, thus demonstrating that the group is now outside the protection and justice of the state. Members then are forced to look to the group for justice and protection. The protest group, in other words, gains commitment through manifesting the same qualities that are expected from the state, namely justice and effectiveness” (Goldstone 27). This analysis also plays into the “Eros Effect” theory. The opposition represented the potential for a new way of life and politics for the people of Iran, but became targeted by the regime. People either had the option to mobilize and face repression, or passively wait the revolution out and risk continuing the status quo. As Katsiaficas points out, people were driven to mobilize because of the promise of a reimagined way of life. As they joined the opposition, they needed to look to it for protection and justice. This is what enabled such a broad coalition of diverse groups with diverse grievances to become a single, unified opposition. This, in turn, further supported Khomeini’s movement, as Khomeini had become the spokesperson for justice in the opposition.

The decade of Khomeini’s rule was marked by the ever-growing power of his followers and the elimination, often by violence despite resistance, of opposition groups. Enforcement of ideological and behavioral controls on the population were increased, and widespread desires for greater freedom and social equality were not fulfilled (Keddie 241). In the years following the revolution, Khomeini built up powerful clerical institutions, despite the initial appointment of a secular government. In effect, his movement took power away from what had been a multiparty revolution and led to the establishment of a theocratic state.  Conflicts continued after the revolution with the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Various groups and classes mobilized to advance their interests and gain what they had demanded during the revolutionary conflict. However, they failed to consolidate their opposition because of divergent interests (Parsa 312). Divisions erupted within every social class and among political organizations, further preventing the formation of coalitions and the consolidation of opposition. They lacked access to channels of communication and support, such as the mosque, which had been so vital to the mobilization against the Shah. Unlike the struggle against the monarchy, repression on the part of Khomeini’s Islamic Republic Party, the main Islamist political party formed by Khomeini after the revolution, did not lead to the escalation of conflict. Instead, in the absence of consolidation, it was able to defeat its opponents (Parsa 313).

Goldstone notes that “after a revolution, its supporters often divide and fall out among themselves, and once they attain absolute power, many leaders are blinded by it. Thus it is no surprise that revolutions often fail to achieve their prerevolutionary aims” (Goldstone 19). This was decidedly the case in Iran, and the consolidation of power by Khomeini can also be analyzed by the  “Eros Effect” theory. The Shah was toppled because of a unified opposition imagining a new way of life espoused by Khomeini, one of liberty, justice, and freedom. However, once Khomeini attained power, these ‘new ways of life’ were manifested in a conservative, Islamic regime, something that many groups in the opposition did not want. For many who supported Khomeini, their revolutionary aims were not achieved. However, there was no alternative way of imagining life or politics that emerged like what happened against the Shah. No single group or individual was able to convey such a reimagining as effectively as Khomeini had. As a result, the opposition failed to consolidate and many segments of the population, despite their opposition to the new regime, were not intuitively driven to mobilize. Khomeini was therefore allowed to consolidate his rule without impediment.

The Iranian Revolution succeeded because various groups from all parts of Iranian society, including but not limited to the ulama, the bazaars, the urban poor, the working class, and white-collar professionals, mobilized in widespread opposition to the Shahs rule. As more people mobilized, the state was immobilized and began to waver and then crumble. Ayatollah Khomeini, having become the leader of the revolution, was propelled into a position of power and presided over the creation of a theocratic state. These events can be well explained by the “Eros Effect” theory. Decades of malaise and repression had bred discontent among the people of Iran, and they hoped for a new way of life and politics. They found this in Khomeini’s attacks on the Shah, his calls for the overthrow of monarchy, and the establishment of a new state based on the principles of justice, freedom, and liberty. As Katsiaficas theorized, once mobilization began in 1977 through the mosque and bazaar, people intuitively joined the opposition. The possibility for a reimagined way of life became realistically attainable. As the state began to crumble under the weight of the opposition, previously held assumptions about society and government vanished. More people joined the revolution. By 1979, the opposition was too heavy for the regime, and the Shah fled Iran. The revolution had succeeded, and the people called to Khomeini to institute the reimagined way of life and politics they had fought for. He was now in the perfect position to establish the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Revolutionary Forces Impact Revolution Outcomes

The Russian and Chinese models of revolution offer two different approaches to structuring a revolution. Russia’s model involved a highly centralized, highly hierarchical vanguard party while the Chinese model involved a disciplined, peasant-based guerilla force. Guerilla warfare is widely applicable, and because of this the Chinese model of revolution has become more influential than the Soviet model. Indeed, Mao’s tactics of guerilla warfare have become the typical mode of revolution around the world. The organization and structure of these revolutions’ forces have also had important effects upon what was created following the attainment of power. The Russian model, with its ‘democratic centralist’ formula, led to a state ruled by an elite bureaucracy and enabled the rise of authoritarianism. The Chinese model of an organized guerilla force, buoyed by popular support, led to a state operating under mass-line principles.

The Chinese model was characterized by an organized guerilla force operating with peasant support that engaged in the revolutionary struggle. The model involved hierarchy in command and demanded high discipline of its fighters, who needed to be able to withstand the stresses of guerilla warfare. However, because of China’s territorial size and because of the relatively impromptu nature of guerilla warfare, such a force couldn’t be as centralized as the Soviet model. Mao’s strategy relied closely upon peasant support, and as a result his revolution became structured around the peasantry. A populist, mass-line outlook among the guerilla fighters was the result. The Soviet model involved an elite vanguard party which would spread consciousness to the Soviet people, guide the state to socialism, and which hoped to realize society’s common interest in its policies. Under threat from the civil war and opposing capitalist powers, Lenin created the doctrine of ‘democratic centralism’ to create unity within the party when it was at its weakest. Under this doctrine, Political factions were banned, party democracy and debate stifled, and orders were to be carried out from above without question. This created a highly disciplined, highly hierarchical party, where decision-making power resided at the highest levels of office.

As a strategic model, the Chinese model is more influential than the Soviet model. This is because Mao’s tactics of guerilla warfare and the conditions he deemed necessary for revolution are more widely applicable to other revolutionaries. The Soviet revolution relied upon the industrial proletariat and a vanguard party to lead the revolution whereas the Chinese revolution relied upon the peasantry and a politicized guerilla force. In many places, such as the post-colonial third world, an industrial proletariat or intellectual elite do not exist and revolutionaries must thus rely upon the support of local peasants to wage revolution. They must also rely upon the peasants to become agents of political change as well. In this way, the Chinese model is more applicable than the Soviet model, as it directly lays out the strategy needed to engage in such a revolution. Additionally, creating a highly structured, highly organized vanguard party such as that created by the Bolsheviks is impossible for many revolutionaries who are operating with limited numbers of forces or without good networks of communication. Mao’s model, involving a more decentralized force, can thus be more easily utilized in such a situation. Guerilla warfare is also a better method of fighting for revolutionaries who are numerically or strategically disadvantaged compared to the front-on, full-scale warfare seen during the Soviet revolution. Most revolutionaries around the world are were a disadvantage in forces, and thus made use of the guerilla warfare strategies Mao developed in order to succeed militarily. It is because of these factors that the Chinese revolution has been more influential than the Soviet revolution as a strategic model.

The structure of the Chinese and Russian revolutionary models had important effects upon what political systems were produced following the obtainment of power. In China, the mass-line structure of the guerilla force led to the belief that party policy and policy implementation must come from the people and be based on popular support. Like how his military force had been intimately connected with the peasantry, Mao wanted members of his government to take part in manual labor alongside the peasantry, while also submitting themselves to regular public criticism. Furthermore, as the Chinese guerilla force had relied so heavily upon the peasantry, Mao believed that “all correct leadership comes from the masses, to the masses.” His revolutionary government would thus find out what the peasants wanted and provide it, thereby improving the plight of the peasants while breeding further support for the government. This model of governance continued the strategies which defined his guerilla war and allowed for its success.

This contrasted with the structure of the Soviet model, which produced a centralized, elitist state. The Bolshevik vanguard party, which led the revolution, saw its authority stemming from its ability to manage Soviet society. Flowing the revolution’s success, a party-state apparatus developed where members of the party oversaw the economy, production and distribution, maintenance of order, and education and cultural policies. As a result of this, the state witnessed enormous expansion during the early years of the Soviet Union, as new institutions were created to manage all aspects of society. In order to control such a bureaucracy and create unity among party ranks, discipline was imposed by ‘democratic centralism,’ where orders were carried out from the very top without criticism. This led to an emphasis being placed on putting the “right people in the right place,” as failure was seen as the fault of an individual instead of as a problem with the order. As a result, a system of appointments, which had begun during the civil war, led to the emergence of massive patronage networks. Coupled with a ban on factions within the party, imposed by Lenin as part of the party’s focus on unity, party members increasingly associated and aligned themselves with individuals. It was through the manipulation of these systems that Stalin, the party secretariat with control over appointments and party member’s personal information, was able to amass enough support and backing to rise to power. Once in power, the structure of the Soviet system, which relied upon the unquestioned carrying out of orders from above, enabled him to rule in an authoritarian manner. The structure of the Soviet model, with its all-powerful vanguard party controlling society and disciplined through the doctrine of ‘democratic centralism,’ thus led to the creation of a massive bureaucratic state ruled from the highest offices.

The structure of the two revolutionary models also had important implications for the economic transitions which followed after power was obtained. The Soviet Union’s centralized and hierarchical vanguard party produced a bureaucratized economic system. The Party, organized to guide the Soviet Union into socialism and communism, was to oversee the distribution of society’s needs. As state command of the economy grew, an enormous economic bureaucracy run by a technocratic elite grew along with it. Mirroring the Soviet model’s emphasis on control and centralization, the economy was managed hierarchically, with commands being issued from the center to the producing units. The party-centric structure of the Russian revolution and its need to guide the state into socialism thus led to the creation of a massive, highly-organized, state-run economic bureaucracy.

The Chinese implemented a peasant-based strategy of industrialization, breaking from the Soviet model of development. This involved a decentralization of authority to release the forces of peasant creativity and to provide greater popular participation in policymaking. The peasants would also use and manufacture industry themselves in village foundries and factories. Such policies were further continuations of the populist, peasant-based strategies Mao had formed his guerilla strategy around. In this way, the revolutionary experience and organization of the revolutionary forces continued to influence the way the Chinese governed their state. However, the ‘Great Leap Forward,’ under which these policies were implemented, was a major economic failure. To bring about economy recovery, the Communist government had to increase reliance on centralized economic planning and power began to be concentrated in party bureaucracies. This change in the model of governance was made to bring about economic recovery, however, and not to diminish or change Mao’s model of revolution.

The Russian and Chinese models of revolution offered two different structures and approaches to revolution. As a model, the Chinese revolution is more influential because of the more widespread applicability of guerilla warfare and its reliance on peasants instead of an industrial proletariat. The two models created two different kinds of states following their success. The Chinese guerilla strategy, structured around the peasants, created a mass-line state. The hierarchical Russian ‘vanguard party,’ operating under the doctrine of democratic centralism, produced a bureaucratic, patronage-driven state. The structures of the revolutionary forces in Russia and China thus impacted the way the Russian and Chinese states were structured and operated following the attainment of power. These governments were modeled after, and therefore operated similarly to, the forces which had fought in the revolution.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén