Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford
Constitutionalism, Popular Politics, and State-Building in early Pahlavi Iran
The decades of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were pre-eminently an era of constitutionalism, especially in the Middle East, and the Iranian constitutional revolution (1905-1911) took place amidst a flurry of such upheavals across the world. Yet the Iranian experience, although best comprehended when located within a wider global context, had its own precise character, with regard to the social forces it mobilized, its leadership, and its agenda, all conditioned by the specific circumstances of Iranian historical development. This paper looks at the legacy bequeathed to early Pahlavi Iran by the constitutional revolution. In particular, it focuses on the tension within Iranian constitutionalism between two quite distinct political traditions. The first was a tradition of popular politics with a strong subaltern dimension which had begun to acquire a modern agenda and a national character in the late nineteenth century and which achieved its greatest success in the tactics of mass protest that won the constitution. The second was an elite tradition of state-building, which found its purest expression in uniform and on the parade ground. This tension appeared during the revolution itself, was submerged in the struggle for survival during decade between 1911 and the coup of 1921, re-emerged to shape the contest between Riza Khan and his opponents in the early 1920s, and was only resolved when the newly consolidated Pahlavi dynasty succeeded in winning support for an authoritarian state-building project by promising the implementation of reform in return for political submission.
Stephanie Cronin is lecturer in Iranian history in the Faculty of Oriental Studies, and a member of St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. She has also held an Iran Heritage Foundation fellowship for many years. She is the author of Shahs, Soldiers and Subalterns in Iran: Opposition, Protest and Revolt, 1921-1941 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Tribal Politics in Iran: Rural Conflict and the New State, 1921-1941 (Routledge, 2006); and The Army and the Creation of the Pahlavi State in Iran, 1910-1926 (I. B. Tauris, 1997). She is the editor of Subalterns and Social Protest: History from Below in the Middle East and North Africa (Routledge, 2007); Reformers and Revolutionaries in Modern Iran: New Perspectives on the Iranian Left (Routledge, 2004); and The Making of Modern Iran; State and Society under Riza Shah, 1921-1941 (Routledge, 2003). She is currently working on a comparative study of Middle Eastern state building.