The Myth of the White Revolution: Mohammad Reza Shah, `Modernization' and the Consolidation of Power

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Author: ALI M. ANSARI
Date: July 2001
From: Middle Eastern Studies(Vol. 37, Issue 3)
Publisher: Frank Cass & Company Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 8,322 words
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... He [the Shah] often grew impatient when American diplomats urged him to modernize at a pace faster than his careful crawl. I can start a revolution for you,' he apparently told an American diplomat, `but you won't like the end result.'(1)

This article is an analysis of the ideological construction of the White Revolution in Iran, which was formulated between 1958 and 1963. Situating itself within Iranian political discourse, the concept retained an essential ambiguity until its explicit adoption and promotion by Mohammad Reza Shah in 1963, which was to continue until 1978. In focusing on ideology, this article does not pretend to be a comprehensive analysis of the programme of the White Revolution, although aspects of its implementation are alluded to where relevant to the discussion of ideological development.(2)

There are many differing definitions of ideology and political myth. For the purposes here, ideology is defined as a systematic collection of ideas which serve to support and sustain a particular conception of relations of domination.(3) Ideologies are inherently ambiguous, providing a matrix for interpretation, and relating both to social reality and to other competing ideologies.

While they may distort reality, they are not inherently `false', nor are they necessarily limited to a particular group or class. Modern political myth is the use of traditional social myths for political purposes through the prism of a particular ideology. It is an aspect of ideological construction which seeks to transform a system of thought into a system of belief, and therefore can be regarded as the legitimating agent of an ideology.(4) Political myth becomes increasingly relevant and explicit in the political use of history and in the attempt by leaders to identify themselves with a `principle'.(5) The dominating `principle' or ideology in this period is that of `nationalism', but as will be seen this is temporarily eclipsed in this period by the demands of `modernism' which itself conflicts with the `tradition' of monarchy. The `White Revolution' can be interpreted as an attempt by the Shah and his supporters to provide a legitimating myth for the Pahlavi monarchy by reconciling the contradictions implicit in these various ideologies in the person of the monarch. Revolutionizing the monarch, and the person of the Shah was not unproblematic and indeed would in time generate difficulties of their own, not least because the message was constructed from symbols and values unfamiliar to most of his domestic constituents. In short, the White Revolution not only undermined the structural foundations of the Pahlavi monarchy, but also crucially contributed to its ideological destabilization.

The `White Revolution' was intended to be a bloodless revolution from above aimed at fulfilling the expectations of an increasingly politically aware general public as well as an ambitious and growing professional socio-economic group, and as such anticipating and preventing what many considered to be the danger of a bloody revolution from below.(6) Although many were looking to heal the socio-economic problems of the country, this was fundamentally a political programme conceived by members of the political...

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Source Citation
ANSARI, ALI M. "The Myth of the White Revolution: Mohammad Reza Shah, `Modernization' and the Consolidation of Power." Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 37, no. 3, 2001, p. 1. Accessed 2 July 2020.
  

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