The 14th Majles was the first Majles elected during the era often referred to as Iran’s democratic interlude. This label refers to the period from 1941 to 1953 before Mohammad Reza was able to consolidate his authority.
During this period, the constitution concentrated power in the legislative branch at the expense of the executive. While the shah was given command of the armed forces, the legislature was to annually approve all military expenses. Moreover, his sovereignty was derived not from God, but from the people.
The young shah’s powers were hotly and bluntly contested.
The opening session of the 1944 Majles turned into a sharp attack on royalty and its relationship with the military, a chief pillar of both Pahlavi regimes.
Historically, the creation of Iran’s modern army and Reza Shah’s political power had become tightly interwoven with the first shah relying on the modern army to be the backbone of his rule.
Reza Shah . . . systematically linked the military elite to his regime. He wore military uniforms for all public occasions, gave career officers a standard of living above that of other salaried employees, sold them state lands at discount prices, built for them an impressive club in Tehran, and sent the top graduates of the military academies to St. Cyr in France. He promoted loyal colleagues from the old Cossack Division to head the new army divisions, dealt harshly with any signs of disloyalty, and built an efficient chain of command from his military office within the royal court through the chiefs of staff to the field commanders. Finally, he raised his sons, especially the Crown Prince Reza, to be first and foremost active officers in the armed forces.
The young shah had inherited the relationship between the crown and the military, a connection which he continued to support and strengthen.
Thus, when members of the new Majles called for reform, they were, in fact, mounting a direct attack on the shah, arguing:
For twenty years we have wasted scarce resources on an inefficient . . . and despotic army. This army has terrorized the public, persecuted innocent citizens, and betrayed the nation. It is high time we reduced the defense budget, placed the military under parliamentary supervision and, most important of all, cut the ties between the field commanders and the shah.
The attempt to restructure and downsize the armed forces soon turned into a full-scale attack on the army.
Outside the Majles, the position of antiroyalist deputies was bolstered by support received from the American financial mission.
Millspaugh, the mission’s head, wanted to balance the budget by increasing state revenues. (For more information on Millspaugh see our previous post on Pre Cold War Iran: The 1940s.) His plan was to take over all of Reza Shah’s wealth, end armed campaigns against the tribes, and reduce the period of military service, changes which would end the effectiveness of the military.
Just as reform forces were coalescing and a constitutional crisis seemed inevitable, a workers’ disturbance in Isfahan shifted attention away from anti-shah sentiment.
With over 600 rumored casualties, disorder in Isfahan necessarily overshadowed constitutional issues.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe.