Why the Iranian Revolution was nonviolent : internationalized social change and the iron cage of liberalism
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From angry torch-swinging Parisians attacking the Bastille and Russian workers rising up against the Tsar to outraged Chinese peasants exacting revenge on their landlords and Cuban guerrillas battling Batista’s army, revolutions without violence have in the past been near inconceivable. But when unarmed Iranians after an extended popular struggle forced Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, the last king of Iran, to flee Tehran on January 16, 1979, they had gifted the world a new and seemingly paradoxical phenomenon: a nonviolent revolution. Far from a historical oddity, such revolutions have since occurred on almost every continent. Over the past thirty years the function of guerrilla tactics, military coups, and civil war has increasingly been replaced by demonstrations, boycotts, and strikes. How can social scientists account for this “evolution of revolution” that have so altered the appearance of the phenomenon that by Arendt’s definition events in places like Iran, the Philippines, Chile, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine may not even qualify as revolutions? Yet, the popular overthrows of authoritarian regimes in each and every one of those countries were nothing less than revolutionary. The dissertation seeks to understand this recent development in the nature of revolutions by historically examining the phenomenon’s signal case, the Iranian Revolution. The core question asked is: what are the structural and historical forces that caused the Iranian Revolution to be the world’s first nonviolent revolution? The central argument is that both the emergence and success of the nonviolent Iranian Revolution can be explained by its internationalization. In other words, the Iranian Revolution turned out to be successfully nonviolent because, unlike previous revolutions, it was a global affair in which the revolutionaries intentionally and strategically sought to bring the world into their struggle against the state. Indirectly, the aim of this study is to generate the genesis of a theoretical framework that can explain more broadly the emergence and success of nonviolent revolutions in the late 1970s and beyond.