chapter  11
18 Pages

The Left and the struggle for democracy in Iran

BySAEED RAHNEMA

Democracy has remained an elusive concept and ideal for which countless Iranian intellectuals for over a century have unsuccessfully struggled. Different forces in different periods of contemporary Iranian history have hampered the attainment of this long-desired ideal. Authoritarian regimes, foreign powers, the domestic dominant classes and reactionary religious establishments, to varying degrees, have blocked the attainment of democracy. The twentieth century witnessed three waves or cycles of authoritarianism, each corresponding to the rise, consolidation and decline of despotic/dictatorial regimes, and each lasting for over two decades: Reza Shah, twenty years; Mohammad Reza Shah, twenty-six years; and the Islamic Republic, over twenty-five years and counting. The Iranian Left, more than any other political force, struggled against and suffered from the lack of democracy under these three regimes. Yet it never succeeded in clearly defining and developing its own notion of democracy. The Left has rightly pointed to the obstacles presented by the lack of democracy; however, it has failed to look critically at its own theories and practices and to consider the possibility of itself also being part of the problem.