Emphasizing the interaction between political organizations and social forces, Ervand Abrahamian discusses Iranian society and politics during the period between the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909 and the Islamic Revolution of 1977-1979. Presented here is a study of the emergence of horizontal divisions, or socio-economic classes, in a country with strong vertical divisions based on ethnicity, religious ideology, and regional particularism. Professor Abrahamian focuses on the class and ethnic roots of the major radical movements in the modem era, particularly the constitutional movement of the 1900s, the communist Tudeh party of the 1940s, the nationalist struggle of the early 1950s, and the Islamic upsurgence of the 1970s.
In this examination of the social bases of Iranian politics, Professor Abrahamian draws on archives of the British Foreign Office and India Office that have only recently been opened; newspaper, memoirs, and biographies published in Tehran between 1906 and 1980; proceedings of the Iranian Majles and Senate; interviews with retired and active politicians; and pamphlets, books, and periodicals distributed by exiled groups in Europe and North America in the period between 1953 and 1980.
Professor Abrahamian explores the impact of socio-economic change on the political structure, especially under the reigns of Reza Shah and Muhammad Reza Shah, and throws fresh light on the significance of the Tudeh party and the failure of the Shah's regime from 1953 to 1978.
To understand recent Iranian events, most commentators focus on the interplay between traditional forces, especially the clergy, and the newly-emerged middle and working classes. Baruch College (CUNY) historian Abrahamian, following this same path, emphasizes what he sees as a paradox: Iran's Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909, which overthrew the Qajar dynasty, was led by the intelligentsia - who organized Western-style political parties around secular ideologies of socialism, nationalism, and liberalism; the revolution of 1977-79, on the other hand, was led by the traditional clergy using an ideology of Islamic fundamentalism. To explain this paradox, Abrahamian recounts the history of Iran between the two revolutions, with a lot of detail on political parties and politicians, on social stratification and class formation. The communist, or Tudeh party gets the most attention. (The book started as a study of the Tudeh, Abrahamian notes - counseling uninterested readers to skim the chapters devoted solely to it.) We discover, not surprisingly, that the Tudeh was a class-based party from its inception - supported by the intellectuals, but grounded in the industrial working class (mill and oil workers) and wage-earners in the bazaars. It also made headway among Christian and national minorities in the country, but had little success among the rural masses. The Tudeh, however, did not make the revolution of 1977-1979; and when Abrahamian gets around to solving his paradox, the solution turns out to have hardly been worth the effort. After chronicling the various oppositions to the Shah and their sources, his best explanation for why the bazaar merchants, "modern" middle class, working class, slum dwellers, et al. wound up together under Khomeini's banner is that he promised everything to everyone and had the charisma to pull it off. Abrahamian holds out the hope that the Tudeh's past success in organizing a secular movement could bode well for the post-Khomeini future when the conflicts between traditional and modern forces re-emerge. But without an analysis of changes presently underway (if any), there is no assurance that the future will repeat the past. For Iran scholars, a helpful study; others will find this a traditional scholarly work dressed up to be relevant. (Kirkus Reviews)