By Chris Bambery
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State was born in revolution

This article is over 12 years, 7 months old
The Islamic Republic of Iran was created by a mighty, popular revolution 30 years ago that overthrew the Shah.
Issue 2156

The Islamic Republic of Iran was created by a mighty, popular revolution 30 years ago that overthrew the Shah.

This despotic monarch came to power in 1953 in a coup organised by the CIA and British intelligence.

That coup toppled Iran’s popular prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq.

British and US leaders were angry at Mossadeq for nationalising the oil industry, which was owned and run by Britain’s Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP).

The Shah became a key ally for the US and Britain.

Under his rule, abject poverty existed next to fabulous wealth. Political dissent was ruthlessly crushed.

In 1977 a fall in oil revenues and growing economic problems led to an uprising of the urban poor in south Tehran and a strike wave against wage cuts.

During 1978 protests against the Shah’s rule became a daily occurrence.

A strike by 30,000 oil workers was crucial to his downfall. It spread into a general strike, paralysing the economy.


Elected strike committees took over the running of workplaces and the distribution of food.

Sections of the armed forces joined the protests. In January 1979 an insurrection defeated those security forces still loyal to the Shah, forcing him to flee to the West.

Strike committees, or shora, ran the workplaces and peasants established their own shoras and began seizing land.

Power lay on the streets. But the powerful left believed that Iran was not ready for socialism and argued for alliances with “progressive” capitalists to modernise the country.

This was disastrous.

In February 1979 key opposition figure Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile and declared himself head of state.

The clergy began denouncing the Shoras as “un-Islamic”.

They combined demands for order with a vocal campaign against the US, culminating in the seizure of the US embassy.

As the new government gained confidence repression grew. When the US encouraged Iraq to go to war with Iran, Khomeini seized the opportunity to take full power.

The memory of 1979 – the mass strikes, popular insurrection and the Shoras – haunts Iran’s rulers.

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