Heard on the news this morning that “Big Business is Betting on Iran.” I was surprised to hear it, and to hear that CNBC has been reporting on the country and its business potential. And watch for their special report called The Forbidden Zone. I’ll keep you updated on their findings. Meanwhile, today seems like a good day for Cold War Studies to talk about the history of industrial development in Isfahan.
Industrial development in Isfahan dates from the onset of Reza Shah’s regime (1925-1941) as does the emergence of a modern working class.
In 1920, there was no up-to-date manufacturing.
By 1935 there were five large textile factories with new German equipment and German managers. These mills, for the first time, used imported wool from Australia, and artificial fibers from Germany, Italy, and Russia as well as cotton from Khorrasan and the Caspian for production of fabrics. Soon there were nine large textile mills, employing 11,000 workers.
Textiles were predominant and Isfahan was known as the Manchester of Iran.
There were also other industries such as flour milling, cement and brick-making, paper, vegetable oil, and matches. Consequently, the city’s population increased from 120,000 inhabitants in 1930 to 180,000 in 1940.
Both Isfahan’s socioeconomic differences and its activist work force contributed to the city’s dynamic political life.
The campaign for the Fourteenth Majles elections which took place in 1943-1944 provides a good example of the city’s dynamic political environoment since it represents the interaction of domestic and external forces as well as the organization of rival political factions and parties.
The voting brought internal divisions and competitive political groupings to the fore just as the US was gaining a voice in Iran’s affairs.
The Iranian Majles (parliament) had been an important element of Iranian politics since the Constitutional Revolution of 1906. While under Reza Shah its power was often limited, it served symbolically as a reminder of the country’s nationalistic and democratic constituencies.
When political activity increased beginning in 1941, Majles elections aroused great interest. Several factors were contributory.
As Keddie relates, the war period saw a growth of economic problems in Iran’s cities, widening
the already yawning gulf between the staggering poverty of the long-suffering masses and the wealth of the privileged few.
Concurrently, the relative weakness of the young shah provided an opportunity for various groups and classes to mobilize.
As urbanization increased, tribal factions and religious leaders gained in importance, and both nationalist and communist movements experienced unprecedented growth. In Isfahan, for example, the Tudeh (communist) party was particularly strong, contributing to a political situation which the British consul in Isfahan described as follows:
Under Reza Shah, the land and mill owners–who are mostly ignorant, believing that money can do everything, reactionary to a degree, and solely interested in making as much money as possible–reigned supreme…with the help of the central Government. But with the change of regime in 1941 and removal of the ban on communist propaganda, the Russian-backed Tudeh…began to develop by taking advantage of this struggle between labour and capital. At present Isfahan is the center of this struggle because of the existence of an easily organized body of uneducated opinion among the millhands.
The strongest candidate in Isfahan’s elections was a young lawyer from the Tudeh party named Taqi Fedakar.
The leader of the Union of Workers of Isfahan (UWI), Fedakar garnered his support from recently unionized mill workers and, to a lesser extent, from bazaar wage earners. His chief opponent was a local politician, Sayyid Hashem al-din Dawlatabadi, the son of a prominent religious leader.
Dawlatabadi represented the traditional middle class in Isfahan and was supported by guild elders and bazaar merchants who feared both “Bakhtiari ‘vengeance’ and…the workers’ delegates who were flocking to their villages to agitate among the peasants.”
Dawlatabadi was also supported by the National Union party which was willing to forget the shah’s antireligious policies and cooperate with the royalists to assure order.
A third major candidate was a wealthy merchant turned industrialist, Haydar ‘Ali Emami. He was supported by fellow millowners, by old landed families, by police officers (“who, according to the British consul, were receiving generous bribes”), and by the Fatherland party “which was trying to organize conservative trade unions to counter the Tudeh labor movement.”
There were two other strong candidates but both withdrew before the election.
One of these, a major landowner who was also legal advisor to the Bakhtiari chiefs, was considered by many to be a ‘British candidate’ even though the British consul gave him little support.
The final candidate was the patriarch of the Bakhtiari family who had persuaded the military, including the gendarmerie, to withdraw from Bakhtiari regions.
In the end, the Tudeh candidate placed first “to provide a necessary ‘safety valve’ for working-class discontent.” Since the city had three seats, however, all three of the top contenders won election, traveling to Tehran to deliberate in a lively debate over the role of the executive in postwar Iran.