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imperialism & war

The imperial infiltration of Iran and the repeating of history

In retrospect, the impact of the rise of Reza Shah to power and the renewal of imperialist competition on the nature and direction of Iran's internal development had fourfold results. First, the historic role of Iran as a buffer state was reasserted by the military regime. The ideological justification for the re-establishment of the buffer position was formulated under the heading of "nationalism", which was an integral part of Reza Shah's reign of terror (1921-1941). The proponents of this line (i.e., Reza Shah and his lieutenants) argued that since the critical geopolitical position of Iran made her vulnerable to the irresistible pressures of the imperialist powers, then the internal stability of the regime, the survival of the ruling monarchy, the preservation of British interests, and the containment of Bolshevism required a tilt in Iran's relationship with Nazi Germany, obtained through offering her "a share of the pie". Both Nazi Germany and Britain were pleased by Reza Shah's dictatorial control of Iran's internal affairs. Their real objective in Iran was the kind of stability and order that would not upset the international power balance in the Middle East and would not draw Iran into anti-imperialist orbit of the Soviets. In fact, the re-establishment by the British of Iran as a bastion against the Soviets granted Reza Shah an opportunity to move fast against the remaining constitutional forces and establish his military rule at the expense of the democratic institutions.
The same exact events are taking place today. In one hand, you have an Iranian dictator who is less popular than GWB and uses extreme brutality in order to preserve the theocracy. In the other hand you have two huge world powers in the US and EU who want nothing more than to get their paws on Iran's vast oil, gas, mineral and agricultural wealth. Halliburton already holds 10 billion dollars in contracts to develop Iran's natural gas infrastructure. Obama has to be careful not to be the next Jimmy Carter.
A conflict with Iran could be used to destroy another popular US president and would keep the regime in Iran solidly in tact.

The origin and development of imperialist contention in Iran; 1884-1921: part III

A case study in under development and dependency

By: Younes Parsa Benab


IV

Reza Shah, who reigned and rule Iran for twenty years (1921-1941), became the biggest land-lord-monarch in Iran's modern history. The available sources today indicate that Iran actually lost more then she gained from Reza's Shah regime. To be sure, his rule accomplished a lot of "reforms" in his "modernisation" of Iran [100]. Nevertheless, most of Reza Shah's accomplishments were but a bright veneer. His regime's "modernisation" projects and his concept of development seem to vindicate the belief that economic development was a scheme to get rich quick, and, hence, opulence was considered an indication that was developing economically. Thus his regime used the early funds of Iran's economic resources for development projects, monuments, and large military establishments, rather than plowing them back into enterprises which could introduce and maintain a self-generating economic system. These project termed "show projects", were "bricks and mortar" projects. Reza Shah's mania for building every-thing with brick and mortar was termed by some, the

"Iranian Edifice Complex". This flippant parody on Freud's Oedipus Complex sums up accurately his regime's conception that a building program was equivalent to an economic development program and that a sufficient amount of natural real estate, covered with brick and mortar projects, would transform Iran into a "modern" and "advanced" country [101].

The military in Iran was the first bureaucratic machinery to be exposed to the process of such modernisation. To revitalise and expand the traditional power of the institution of absolute monarchy, Reza Shah was determined to reorganise the armed forces and create a large military sector. Thus, the main resources of modernisation were channelled in the direction of strengthening the Iranian military apparatus to protect the absolute monarchy. In fact, the implementation of so-called reforms in the educational, administrative, and economic fields under the leadership of the army was mainly oriented to the establishment of the military power elite. As a result of Reza Shah's efforts, a semi-Westernized army of approximately 90,000 men was organised in two decades [102]. Although the military coup d' etat of 1921 opened up a new era under the supervision of the military power elite, the need for the legitimisation of absolute monarchy compelled Reza Shah to assuming the role of a ruling monarch and undermine the role of the army. Consequently, the whole processes modernisation in this period was marked by the revitalisation of the institution of absolute monarchy and the creation of a modern, but submissive military elite. To guarantee its subordination to the king, the potentially dissident elements with in the army were pampered and totally controlled by the Shah. Thus, the possibility of any military revolt or coup d' etat was effectively minimised. As a result, the military apparatus, which drained a considerable portion of Iran's national resources during the 1921-1940 period, did not resist the Allied invasion of 1941 and totally capitulated.

Despite its pretentions to keep Iran "non-aligned" in the international scene, Reza Shah's military regime protected the interests of the great power in Iran. In fact, the military coup d' etat of 1921 was designed to reassert the "historic" role of Iran as a pro-British bastion against Russia. But British support of the new regime and Reza Shah's well-calculated policies were carried to the point where it did not arouse the suspicion of the Soviet Union. Reza Khan, assured of British aid, paid much attention to gaining the confidence and favour of the Soviet leaders. By organising a committee to aid the famine-stricken areas of Russia, by trying to establish closer relations with the pro-Soviet representatives in the Fourth Majlis, and by admitting two pro-Soviet socialists to his cabinet, Reza Khan succeeded in representing himself as a "bourgeois leader" opposed to feudalism. Therefore the military elite, subordinated to absolute monarchy was consolidated in Iran through the strong backing of Britain without any major opposition by the Soviets. The military regime was further bolstered by the material and ideological support from Nazi Germany in the 1930's.

The impact of imperialist penetration on the historical developments of post-1921 Iran, however, was not confined to the question of British interests in Iran and the establishing of a military regime. The economic and political activities of Great Britain in Iran, as well as her relations with the absolute monarchy and certain socio-political forces, also created far-reaching consequences in the nature and trend of the socio economic development in contemporary Iran [103].

The most important British economic interst was the emerging oil industry. In the post coup period, the Iranian oil emerged as a primary source of energy and naturally attracted Great Britain and the US. to Iran. Consequently, Iranian oil, by becoming the main target of foreign interests in this period, played a decisive role in the development of political events during the post-war era.

The implementation of Reza Shah's "modernisation" also opened up the Iranian economy to the penetration of Britain and other newly-emerging imperialist powers. As a result, these great powers, especially Great Britain, gained certain monopolies in Persian trade as well as major concessions for industrial and economic activities. For instance, the British, aided by the complete collaboration of tribal Khans and large landowners, monopolised the Iranian oil industry in the south and, thus, interfered in Iran's internal affair [104]. Furthermore, Nazi Germany monopolised the militia industries as well as the expanding transportation and communication networks in Iran.

The penetration of the imperialist power in this period also produced a network of connections and relationships between certain influential socio-economic forces and foreign powers. While the Soviets appealed to the emerging forces of industrial workers and Iranian intelligentsia, the British perpetuated their control and connections with their traditional allies: large landowners, high-ranking civilian bureaucrats, big merchants, and tribal chiefs. Finally Nazi Germany, taking full advantage of Reza Shah's anti-communism, appealed to the ruler (the Shah), high-ranking military bureaucrats, and a minority of the German educated elite.

In fact, Nazi Germany provided Reza Shah's military regime with a general model for establishing a full authoritarian monarchy and for launching Iran's "modernisation" program. Although the tradition of autocracy had a historical foundation in Iran, the examples of the rising bureaucratic regimes in Italy and Germany further strengthened and justified the interventionist policies of the Iranian regime in the everyday life of the Iranian people. To be sure, due to its anti-democratic system and its ideology of racist "Aryanism", Nazi Germany was taken more seriously by the Shah and his high-ranking military personnel in Iran. The Nazi philosophy of "Aryanism" and "pure racism" provided a guideline for the rewriting of Iranian history and for justifying the existence of Reza Shah's autocratic monarchy-fascism. The concept of "Iranian superiority", based on this ideology, assisted Reza Shah in glorifying the legitimacy of the absolute monarchy and in fostering an ideological drive for the modernisation of the army, implementation of "edifice" projects, and intervention in the cultural and traditional ethos of the Iranian people.

While his regime boasted of reviving past heritage and "national independence", Reza Shah's interventionist policies damaged the nation-quality of many Iranian institutions, the characteristics of which the Iranians were once proud. Iranian dress was forced to give way to the European clothes. Attempts were made to westernise art and literature. The consequence was certainly, the pulverisation of Iran's native music and poetry. The government even interfered with Farsi, the official language, setting up bureaucratic academy, the Farhangistan, to invent new irrelevant idioms of its own, incorporating them into the collections of Hafiz and Umar Khayam.

In politics, the Shah imposed a strict form of censorship, which eliminated both freedom of speech and press. Of more importance was his ambitious aim of creating a "rubber stamp" out of that flourishing and promising institution called Majlis. After centuries of despotism in Iran, the Majlis had been established, and since its beginning in 1906, it had come to be regarded by a growing number of Persians with the same respect and love as their holy shrines. But after the rise Reza Shah to power, the Majlis was manipulated and downgraded, finally dwindling to the position of mere stooge in the hands of the dictator. Due to this development, no new leaders of progressive ideas and political courage were permitted to appear on the Iranian scene. And by end of 1930's, since the secret police had eliminated most of the old leaders, Iran was practically in a state of "political bankruptcy".

In retrospect, the impact of the rise of Reza Shah to power and the renewal of imperialist competition on the nature and direction of Iran's internal development had fourfold results. First, the historic role of Iran as a buffer state was reasserted by the military regime. The ideological justification for the re-establishment of the buffer position was formulated under the heading of "nationalism", which was an integral part of Reza Shah's reign of terror (1921-1941). The proponents of this line (i.e., Reza Shah and his lieutenants) argued that since the critical geopolitical position of Iran made her vulnerable to the irresistible pressures of the imperialist powers, then the internal stability of the regime, the survival of the ruling monarchy, the preservation of British interests, and the containment of Bolshevism required a tilt in Iran's relationship with Nazi Germany, obtained through offering her "a share of the pie". Both Nazi Germany and Britain were pleased by Reza Shah's dictatorial control of Iran's internal affairs. Their real objective in Iran was the kind of stability and order that would not upset the international power balance in the Middle East and would not draw Iran into anti-imperialist orbit of the Soviets. In fact, the re-establishment by the British of Iran as a bastion against the Soviets granted Reza Shah an opportunity to move fast against the remaining constitutional forces and establish his military rule at the expense of the democratic institutions.

Second, the revitalization of the total arbitrary rule of the monarchy and the exclusion of the great majority of people from political participation created obstacles to any break- through toward genuine modernization and social stability. The political community was maintained by coercive measures, and pseudo-stability was achieved through the military apparatus under the direct and personal rule of the King. True, Reza Shah's rise to power was preceded by periods of political disorders, national humiliation, and economic crises, which spawned problems imposing for the young Iranian democracy to cope with without vigorous leadership. However, once in total control, Reza Shah offered Iran's glory and greatness as a substitute for the satisfaction of the social and material needs of the Iranians. In a word, the policies of Reza Shah's modernisation, the army and his gross intervention in the daily life of the people did not create the cohesive economic and social basis required for any drastic change and breakthrough toward genuine modernisation.

Third, the modernization of the army with ensuing structural changes and the rise of military bureaucracy brought about a rearrangement in the affiliation of social classes to different ideological centers. While the emerging assertive ruling elements, the dependent bourgeoisie, and the military power elite became British allies, the emerging working class and intelligentsia were attracted to the Soviet Union.

Fourth, the most significant economic consequence of the imperialist competition was the development of the oil industry and the discovery of vast oil reserves in Iran. The emergence of Iran as a major oil-producing country in this period exposed her to the forthcoming Anglo-American rivalry in the post-war era. Iran became a strategic, oil-producing country-highly important for the global strategies of the US.

In a last summation, while Reza Shah's "modernisation" brought about rises in the indices of national productivity, literacy, transportation, and slightly monuments and edifices, his regime's concept of "modernisation" and "nationalism" did not create an integrated social, political, and economic development in Iran. On the contrary, his regime created a "modern" Iran - one that qualitatively lost her charm, gentleness, and intellectual refinement: the historical specificities and traditional ethos which had made her famous for centuries throughout the world [105].

Parsa Bonab

Footnotes

100. A. Millspaugh, The Americans in Persia. Washington, D C: The Brookings Institution, 1946, P. 30. H. Farmanfarmaian, "Fall of the Qajar Dynasty", unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, Georgetown University, 1954.

101. N. Jacobs, The Sociology of development; Iran as an Asia Case Study. New York: Praeger special studies in International Economics and Developments, 1966, pp 12- 44

102. P. Avery, Modern Iran. London: Earnest Benn Limited, 1965, pp 259, 272 and 305.

103. For example, see E. R. Lingerman, Report on the Finance and commerce of Persia, 1925-1927. London: H. M. S. O. ,1928).

104. For an analytical examination of these interactions, see G. McGhee, "Economic Development and the Near East" in R. Frye, ed. The Near East and the Great Powers. Port Washington, N.Y: Kennicot press, 1969.

105. On Persian Characteristics and traditional specificity's, see H. masses, Persia Beliefs and Customs. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files, 1954.