White Revolution
The White Revolution ( Enghelāb-e Sefid) was a far-reaching series of reforms in Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

 launched in 1963 by the Shah
Pahlavi dynasty
The Pahlavi dynasty consisted of two Iranian/Persian monarchs, father and son Reza Shah Pahlavi and Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi The Pahlavi dynasty consisted of two Iranian/Persian monarchs, father and son Reza Shah Pahlavi (reg. 1925–1941) and Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi The Pahlavi dynasty ...

 Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, Shah of Persia , ruled Iran from 16 September 1941 until his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979...

. Mohammad Reza Shah’s reform program was built especially to strengthen those classes that supported the traditional system. The Shah advertised the White Revolution as a step towards modernization, but there is little doubt that the Shah also had political motives: the White Revolution (a name attributed to the fact it was bloodless) was a way for him to legitimize the Pahlavi dynasty. Part of the reason for launching the White Revolution was that the Shah hoped to get rid of the landlords' influence and create a new base of support among the peasants and working class. The bulk of the program was aimed at Iran’s peasantry, a class the Shah hoped to gain as an ally to thwart the threat of the increasingly hostile middle class. Thus the White Revolution in Iran represented a new attempt to introduce reform from above and preserve traditional power patterns. Through land reform, the essence of the White Revolution, the Shah hoped to ally himself with the peasantry in the countryside, and hoped to sever their ties with the aristocracy in the city.

In order to legitimize the White Revolution, the Shah called for a national referendum in early 1963 in which 5,598,711 people voted for the reforms, and 4,115 voted against the reforms. Although this figure seems to suggest that a vast majority of the country was in favor of the reforms, there was plenty of controversy over its accuracy and success.


The Shah had intended it to be a non-violent regeneration of Iranian society through economic and social reforms
Reform movement
A reform movement is a kind of social movement that aims to make gradual change, or change in certain aspects of society, rather than rapid or fundamental changes...

, with the ultimate long-term aim of transforming Iran into a global economic and industrial power. The Shah introduced novel economic concepts such as profit-sharing for workers and initiated massive government-financed heavy industry projects, as well as the nationalization of forests and pastureland. Most important, however, were the land reform
Land reform
[Image:Jakarta farmers protest23.jpg|300px|thumb|right|Farmers protesting for Land Reform in Indonesia]Land reform involves the changing of laws, regulations or customs regarding land ownership. Land reform may consist of a government-initiated or government-backed property redistribution,...

 programs which saw the traditional landed elites of Iran lose much of their influence and power. Nearly 90% of Iranian share-croppers became landowners as a result.

Socially, the platform granted women more rights and poured money into education
Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts...

, especially in the rural
Rural areas or the country or countryside are areas that are not urbanized, though when large areas are described, country towns and smaller cities will be included. They have a low population density, and typically much of the land is devoted to agriculture...

 areas. The Literacy Corps was also established, which allowed young men to fulfill their compulsory military service by working as village literacy teachers.

The White Revolution consisted of 19 elements that were introduced over a period of 15 years, with the first 6 introduced in 1962 and put to a national referendum on January 26, 1963.
  1. Land Reforms Program and Abolishing "Feudalism": The government bought the land from the feudal land lords at what was considered to be a fair price and sold it to the peasants at 30% below the market value, with the loan being payable over 25 years at very low interest rates. This made it possible for 1.5 million peasant families, who had once been little more than slaves, to own the lands that they had been cultivating all their lives. Given that average size of a peasant family was 5, land reforms program brought freedom to approximately 9 million people, or 40% of Iran's population.
  2. Nationalization of Forests and Pasturelands: Introduced many measures, not only to protect the national resources and stop the destruction of forests and pasturelands, but also to further develop and cultivate them. More than 9 million trees were planted in 26 regions, creating 70,000 acres (280 km²) of "green belts" around cities and on the borders of the major highways.
  3. Privatization of the Government Owned Enterprises, manufacturing plants and factories by selling their shares to the public and the old feudal lords, thus creating a whole new class of factory owners who could now help to industrialize the country.
  4. Profit Sharing for industrial workers in private sector enterprises, giving the factory workers and employees 20% share of the net profits of the places where they worked and securing bonuses based on higher productivity or reductions in costs.
  5. Extending the Right to Vote to Women, who previously did not enjoy suffrage. This measure was criticised by some of the clergy.
  6. Formation of the Literacy Corps, so that those who had a high school diploma and were required to serve their country as soldiers could do so in fighting illiteracy in the villages. In 1963 aprox. 2/3 of the population was illiterate, with 1/3 found mainly in the capital city of Tehran.
  7. Formation of the Health Corps to extend public health care throughout the villages and rural regions of Iran. In 3 years, almost 4,500 medical groups were trained; nearly 10 million cases were treated by the Corps.
  8. Formation of the Reconstruction and Development Corps to teach the villagers the modern methods and techniques of farming and keeping livestock. Agricultural production between 1964 and 1970 increased by 80% in tonnage and 67% in value.
  9. Formation of the Houses of Equity where 5 village elders would be elected by the villagers, for a period of 3 years, to act as arbitrators in order to help settle minor offences and disputes. By 1977 there were 10,358 Houses of Equity serving over 10 million people living in over 19,000 villages across the country.
  10. Nationalization of all Water Resources, introduction of projects and policies in order to conserve and benefit from Iran's limited water resources. Many dams were constructed and five more were under construction in 1978. It was as a result of these measures that the area of land under irrigation increased from 2 million acres (8,000 km²), in 1968, to 5.6 million in 1977.
  11. Urban and Rural Modernization and Reconstruction with the help of the Reconstruction and Development Corps. Building of public baths, schools and libraries; installing water pumps and power generators for running water and electricity.
  12. Didactic Reforms that improved the quality of education by diversifying the curriculum in order to adapt to the necessities of life in the modern world.
  13. Workers' Right to Own Shares in the Industrial Complexes where they worked by turning Industrial units, with 5 years history and over, into public companies, where up to 99% of the shares in the state-owned enterprises and 49% of the shares of the private companies would be offered for sale to the workers of the establishment at first and then to the general public.
  14. Price Stabilization and campaign against unreasonable profiteering (1975). Owners of factories and large chain stores were heavily fined, with some being imprisoned and other's licenses being revoked. Sanctions were imposed on multi-national foreign companies and tons of merchandise stored for speculative purposes were confiscated and sold to consumers at fixed prices.
  15. Free and Compulsory Education and a daily free meal for all children from kindergarten to 14 years of age. In 1978, 25% of Iranians were enrolled in public schools alone. In that same year there were 185,000 students of both sexes studying in Iran's universities. In addition to the above there were over 100,000 students pursuing their studies abroad, of which 50,000 were enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States.
  16. Free Food for Needy Mothers and for all newborn babies up to the age of two.
  17. Introduction of Social Security and National Insurance for all Iranians. National Insurance system provided for up to 100% of the wages during retirement.
  18. Stable and Reasonable Cost of Renting or Buying of Residential Properties (1977). Controls were placed on land prices and various forms of land speculation.
  19. Introduction of Measures to Fight against Corruption within the bureaucracy. Imperial Inspection Commission was founded, consisting of representatives from administrative bodies and people of proven integrity.

Aftermath and unintended consequences

There was a minor industrial revolution during this period of reform. Port facilities were improved, the Trans-Iranian Railway was expanded, and the main roads connecting Tehran and provincial capitals were asphalted. Many small factories opened up specializing in clothing, food processing, cement, tiles, paper, and home appliances. Larger factories for textiles, machine tools, and car assembly were also opened.9 Educational institutions also grew after the launching of the White Revolution. Enrollment in kindergarten increased from 13,300 to 221,990, elementary schools from 1,640,000 to 4,080,000, secondary schools from 370,000 to 741,000 and colleges from 24,885 to 145,210. Not only were new schools opening, but they were also instituting new educational policies designed to undercut clerical control over education and religious education. The Literacy Corps also helped raised the literacy rate from 26 to 42 percent. The White Revolution also included certain reforms on women’s rights. Women gained the right to vote, to run for elected office and to serve as lawyers and later judges. The marriageable age for women was also raised to fifteen.

What the Shah did not expect was that the White Revolution lead to new social tensions that helped create many of the problems the Shah had been trying to avoid. The Shah's reforms more than quadrupled the combined size of the two classes that had posed the most challenges to his monarchy in the past—the intelligentsia and the urban working class. Their resentment towards the Shah also grew since they were now stripped of organizations that had represented them in the past, such as political parties, professional associations, trade unions, and independent newspapers. Land reform, instead of allying the peasants with the government, produced large numbers of independent farmers and landless laborers who became loose political cannons, with no feeling of loyalty to the Shah. Many of the masses felt resentment towards the increasingly corrupt government; their loyalty to the clergy, who were seen as more concerned with the fate of the populace, remained consistent or increased. As Ervand Abrahamian points out, “The White Revolution had been designed to preempt a Red Revolution. Instead, it paved the way for an Islamic Revolution.

The White Revolution’s economic “trickle-down” strategy also did not work as intended. In theory, oil money funneled to the elite was supposed to be used to create jobs and factories, eventually distributing the money, but instead the wealth tended to get stuck at the top and concentrated in the hands of the very few.

It was true that Iran has made progress with various social programs from the White Revolution, but it was equally true that Iran still had one of the worst infant mortality rates, and doctor-patient rates in the Middle East. It also had one of the lowest percentages of people who were receiving a higher education. For example, 68 percent of the adult population still remained illiterate, and 60 percent of children did not complete primary school.13 This resentment and anger towards the Shah’s failed reforms seems to unite the people against the Shah, and certainly did not increase any class loyalty towards the Shah, as he had intended.

The most important and relevant consequence of the White Revolution and the reforms it brought was the rising popularity of Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini started out as a member of the clergy who followed the practice of “quietism”, not getting involved with the government or political affairs. With the growing corruption of the Shah and the implementation of reforms through the White Revolution, Khomeini grew to be an outspoken political enemy of the Shah. The White Revolution was the catalyst for Khomeini’s change in thought. Once Khomeini, as a respected member of the clergy, started to openly oppose the Shah and call for his overthrow, people of all different professions and economic status began to see him as a figure to rally behind.

Though the White Revolution contributed towards the economic and technological advancement of Iran, the failures of some of the land reform
Land reform
[Image:Jakarta farmers protest23.jpg|300px|thumb|right|Farmers protesting for Land Reform in Indonesia]Land reform involves the changing of laws, regulations or customs regarding land ownership. Land reform may consist of a government-initiated or government-backed property redistribution,...

 programs and the partial lack of democratic reforms, as well as severe antagonism towards the White Revolution from the clergy and landed elites, would ultimately contribute to the Shah's downfall and the Iranian Revolution
Iranian Revolution
The Iranian Revolution refers to events involving the overthrow of Iran's monarchy under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and its replacement with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the...

 in 1979.

Problems With Land Reform

Land reform, which was the focus of the White Revolution, did what it was intended to do, weaken the notables and landlords. In their place, though, emerged a new group of commercial farmers, and many previously large landowning families, such as the Pahlavi family, managed to renovate themselves into these commercial farmers.6 A rapid expansion of small landowners did occur, but the peasantry as a whole did not acquire land. Only roughly half of the rural population received any land, and many of the people who did receive land did not receive enough to sustain themselves.7 The result of the White Revolution was that the rural population could be separated into three groups: prosperous farmers, small landowners, and village laborers. The first group was the only group to really benefit from the land reforms, and this group consisted of former village headmen, bailiffs, and some former landlords. The second group consisted of sharecroppers who received no more than 10 hectares of land—the minimum amount of land needed in most regions to sustain oneself. Most of these people ended up trading their land in for shares in state cooperatives since it was pointless to try to survive on the amount of land they were given. The last group received no land at all, and survived as farm hands, laborers, or shepherds. Many of them migrated to urban centers for work. Thus, it can be concluded that the land reforms really did not provide land to the people it was designed for, the rural population and it created a new urban unemployed or semi-unemployed underclass.8


The White Revolution received most of its criticism from two main groups: the clergy, and the landlords. The landlords were angry about the land reforms because their land was taken and redistributed. They also did not appreciate the government undercutting their authority when it came to dealing with peasants or land laborers.

The powerful Shī‘ah clergy
Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. A clergyman, churchman or cleric is a member of the clergy, especially one who is a priest, preacher, pastor, or other religious professional....

 were also angered at the reforms that removed much of their traditional powers in the realms of education and family law
Family law
Family law is an area of the law that deals with family-related issues and domestic relations including:*the nature of marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships;...

, as well as lessening their previously strong influence in the rural areas. A "large percentage of the upper echelon of the clergy came from landowning families" deeply affected by the reform and much absentee rent income went directly to the clergy and their institutions. The rents from an estimated 10,000 villages whose rents helped finance the clerical establishment were eligible for redistribution.

The group, or more appropriately, the man who most openly opposed the White Revolution and the Shah himself was Ruhollah Khomeini. Although the clergy in Iran were not happy about many aspects of the White Revolution, such as granting suffrage to women, and the secular local election bill as well as land reforms, the clergy as a whole were not actively protesting. Khomeini, on the other hand, seemed to undergo a serious change of thought from the traditional role and practices of Shi’i clergy, and actively spoke out against the new reforms and the Shah. Khomeini’s famous speech at Qom in June 1963 spoke out against the Shah’s brutality towards student protests, and for the first time, it was speech attacking the Shah as a person. This speech did lead to Khomeini’s exile, but being outside of Iran did not stop Khomeini’s protests, nor did it weaken his influence inside Iran.

Khomeini also attacked provisions of the reforms that would allow members of Iran's non-Muslim minority to be elected or appointed to local offices:
A couple months later on Ashura
Day of Ashura
The Day of Ashura is on the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar and marks the climax of the Remembrance of Muharram.It is commemorated by Shia Muslims as a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala on 10...

, Khomeini gave an angry speech attacking the Shah as a "wretched miserable man" and asking whether the Shah was an "infidel" Jew. Two days later, on June 5, Khomeini was arrested. This sparked three days of rioting and left several hundred dead. The riots were remembered in speeches and writings as the time when the army "slaughtered no less than 15,000". Khomeini was released from house arrest in April 1964 but sent into exile that November.

A recent book published by a parastatal organization in the Islamic Republic make no mention of non-Muslims deciding on affairs concerning the honor of Muslims, but claims that "the right of women to be elected was a cover to conceal other plots," specifically allowing Bahais
Persecution of Bahá'ís
The persecution of Bahá'ís is the religious persecution of Bahá'ís in various countries, especially in Iran, where the Bahá'í Faith originated and the location of one of the largest Bahá'í populations in the world...

 to hold office and relations with Israel. A bill unsuccessfully introduced before the referendum but with similar measures
However, there is no proof of those statements, and accusations of conspiracy theories
Allegations of Bahá'í involvement with other powers
Opponents of the Bahá'í Faith, especially certain Iranians, have accused the faith's followers of dual loyalty and of being involved with foreign or hostile powers. These accusations are used to justify persecution of this religious minority....

 against the Bahá'ís have continually existed from the 20th century to draw public attention away from the government. These accusations helped define a new 'other' and reaffirmed a threatened Shi'i self. Chehabi suggests that the accusations and prejudices of secular Iranians against the Bahá'ís arise from the anti-cosmopolitan outlook of Iranian nationalism; while the Bahá'í Faith affirms the unity of humanity
Bahá'í Faith and the unity of humanity
The Bahá'í Faith and the unity of humanity is one of the central teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. The Bahá'í teachings state that since all humans have been created in the image of God, God does not make any distinction between people regardless of race or colour. Thus, because all humans have been...

, Iranian nationalism has contained strong xenophobic elements.


1 Sussan Siavoshi, Liberal Nationalism in Iran. Westview Press, 1990, p. 23
2 James A. Bill, “Modernization and Reform from Above: The Case of Iran”. The Journal of Politics, Volume 32, No.1 Feb. 1970, p. 33
3 Bill, p. 33
4 Moshen M. Milani, The Making of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Westview Press, 1988, p. 85
5 Bill, p. 34
6 Ervand Abrahamian, A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge University Press 2008 p. 131-132
7 Siavoshi, p. 28
8 Abrahamian, p. 139
9 Abrahamian, p. 133
10 Abrahamian, p. 134
11 Abrahamian, p. 139-140
12 Abrahamian, p. 140
13 Abrahamian, p. 141-142
14 Milani, p. 151
15 Milani, p. 91
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