In late 1978, just prior to the fall of the Pahlavi regime, you published your book Iran: Dictatorship and Development. Much has happened since then to challenge and modify your analysis. How would you assess subsequent political and economic developments in Iran? footnote

In one sentence, I would say that the revolution was a product of the contradictions that I tried to analyse, but that it has failed to resolve almost any of them, and has, in addition, created new problems for Iran. It is a fundamentally false answer. Let me set the arguments of my book in their political and intellectual context. It was written during the years 1976 and 1977 and reflects, above all, questions that were being posed at that time. It is not a work about the revolution, and I certainly do not claim to have predicted the shape or outcome of the revolution. It is a book about the particular policies and international dimensions of the Pahlavi regime, locating these within an overall analysis of the political and socioeconomic system. It also presented an argument against right-wing analyses of Iran—and some left-wing ones too—that were current at that time. Conventional academic and press coverage was stressing the positive achievements of the White Revolution and echoing the Shah’s claim that Iran could become a second Japan. The predominant strand in left-wing analysis reflected the opposite view, phrased in dependency theory or in Maoist theories about ‘semi-feudalism’, that no significant socio-economic development was possible under capitalism in the third world. More specifically, it was claimed that Iran in the mid-1970s remained much as it had been in the 1950s and was still under the domination of imperialism, which prevented it from developing. My own view, formed by the debate on imperialism taking place at that time and in particular by the work of Bill Warren and related critiques of dependency theory, sought to identify the ways in which capitalist development had transformed Iran while, simultaneously, identifying the weaknesses, economic, social and political, of that development. In this sense Warren, and those like myself who were influenced by him, returned to the classical Marxist position, of the contradictory effects of capitalist development. The failings of the White Revolution were evident in agriculture, industry and urban social conditions, but this did not imply that Iran remained a ‘semi-feudal’ country or that the Shah had not transformed it to some degree. Indeed, it was precisely the substantial but contradictory character of this transformation that provided the objective, socio-economic, context for the revolution.

My own analysis, then, was partly the product of theoretical debates within the socialist movement about imperialism, about the new ‘subimperial’ role of countries like Iran and Brazil, and about the contradictory role of the ussr with regard to the third world revolutionary movement. In attempting to identify the specific characteristics of the Pahlavi state, I was also encouraged by contemporary discussion of Poulantzas’s research on the state and its relation to classes and of the work of such writers as Hamza Alavi on the ‘post-colonial’ state.

I had visited Iran as a student and had had continuous contact with the Iranian Left from the mid-1960s onwards, both around issues relating to dictatorship in Iran and, later, in solidarity work with the revolutionary movement in Oman. The book was a product of that relationship—in part a reflection of opposition views, in part a debate with them. Many things in the book offended Iranian readers—not least my refusal to portray the Mosadeq period as entirely successful, and my assessment of the Tudeh Party, which, while critical of its policies, refused to categorize them simply as traitorous or opportunist. One Iranian exile, Ahmad Faroughy, attacked me for not giving sufficient attention to the role of British imperialism. But, as anyone who has read the book carefully would know, the purpose of the discussion on imperialism was not to dismiss its importance, but rather to specify more precisely what its role had been. The subsequent history of Iran has shown that not all the problems of the Iranian people stem from imperialism.

There were, however, deficiencies in the book that subsequent events were to bring out. First of all, while the analysis was correct in stressing capitalist development in Iran, it understated the degree to which this was uneven. In particular, it failed to appreciate the extent to which pre-capitalist sectors and ideologies, represented by the Bazaar, had survived and flourished and could play a significant oppositional role. Secondly, in its discussion of the traditions and significance of political forces in Iran, the book placed too much emphasis on the secular opposition of the late 1940s and early 1950s, and underestimated the clerical forces of 1963. I knew about Khomeini from Iranian associates, but shared with many of them the view that he was a man of the past. I am happy to say that I have never held illusions about Khomeini and have never said anything positive about him. But I did not fully grasp the degree to which he would be able to consolidate his own clerical power after the revolution. Thirdly, the book underestimated the fragility of the Pahlavi state and the possibility of its rapid demise. Looking at events in Chile and other repressive capitalist countries, I could not see how the Shah’s military dictatorship could be overthrown in the near future by popular mobilization alone.

The Islamic revolutionary forces were able to take power in February 1979, and their success in consolidating their position is impressive. In this sense, the analysis of my book is of historical interest: the political situation in Iran in 1987 is quite different. But in another sense, the questions raised remain relevant, because, despite their monopoly of state power and their great popular following, the clerical forces have done little to resolve the underlying problems of Iran, the ones I identified in my book a decade ago. The great achievement of the revolution has been its ability to mobilize people—the entering of politics by millions of urban and rural inhabitants is an immense change that marks a break with the whole pattern of past periods. But this mobilization has been misled and deceived. First of all, there has been no resolution of the problem of democracy: the population lacks elementary political freedoms and is subject to manipulation, terror and enticement by the state as it was under the Pahlavis: the mullahs have shown as much contempt for the people as did the Shah. The whole revolutionary process has enabled the Iranian people to learn little about democracy. Secondly, it has provided no solution to the problem of the nationalities. The armed resistance movements of the Kurds, Arabs and Baluch have been crushed, and the Azerbaijanis appear to remain, as before, tolerant of the regime. Pahlavi centralism has been replaced with Islamic dictatorship and the creation of an ethnically diverse state remains as remote as ever. Thirdly, there has been no solution to the cultural and ideological problems of the Iranian people. The Shah offered one solution—the import of Western values, plus the fabrication of a pre-Islamic imperial tradition. Khomeini’s solution is equally unproductive and artificial, in that it imposes a recently confected strand of Islam alien to the Iranian people.

Social and economic problems constitute a fourth major area of failure. Iran remains as dependent as ever on oil exports for its foreign exchange (non-oil exports accounting for a mere one or two per cent of the total), agricultural output is still stagnant, industrial production is inefficient and capacity underutilized, there is mass unemployment and there has been no literacy campaign. While the upper social groups are not as rich or influential as they were, a bourgeoisie remains and the mass of the population have seen no increase in their standard of living. For women, the revolution has entailed a net retreat from the limited advances of the Pahlavi period, despite or rather partly because of the fact that, as in European fascist movements, large numbers have been mobilized behind authoritarian and traditionalist banners. Finally, Iran’s international position remains highly unstable—demagogic conflicts with the usa and ussr, coupled with the murderous war with Iraq, have caused the Iranian people great damage and diverted it from a resolution of its own problems. These foreign policies have, at the same time, prevented the Iranian revolution from playing the positive international role that it could potentially have fulfilled, particularly vis-`-vis the revolution in neighbouring Afghanistan. An independent revolutionary Iran could have provided economic and political assistance to Kabul and mitigated its reliance on the ussr.