Three years ago, the Iranian Government declared that the country would undergo a White Revolution, the purpose of which would be to modernize Iran and render any revolution from below unnecessary. Of the revolutionary measures proclaimed, land reform figured as the most important.
To appreciate the significance of land reform and the circumstances that led to this abrupt change of posture on the part of the régime in Iran, we must look back briefly on the last decade or so. When the Shah decided to participate in the overthrow of the national government of Dr. Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1953, he could hardly have underestimated the risks involved in challenging the most popular government Iran had known in its recent history. The underlying malaise, characteristic of the period of the Shah's personal rule which followed, stems from the difficulty of "normalizing" a political situation which does not originate in the consent of the majority of the governed and whose legitimacy is being continuously challenged by the nationalist forces loyal to Mosaddeq.
The opposition forces so far have been concentrated mainly in cities and towns, which comprise about 30 percent of Iran's 22,000,000 people. A small ruling oligarchy, which had supported the Shah in the overthrow of Mosaddeq, had to rely heavily on the army and the security police (Savak) to control a rapidly increasing middle- and lower-class urban population. Merchants, shopkeepers, civil servants, intellectuals, students and workers comprise the bulk of those who, under the leadership of the National Front,[i] have presented and continue to present a formidable opposition to the régime.
The real significance of land reform in Iran must be appraised as a political measure on the part of the government to gain the allegiance of the "neutral" and still inarticulate peasantry to offset the growing opposition in urban areas. At the time of the reform, Iran was not faced with any particular agricultural difficulties, nor had the inherent peasant problem come into the open. In fact the government's Third
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