- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 24, 2002

It may be an arguable proposition that V.I. Lenin was the greatest revolutionary strategist of the 20th century. Offhand, I don't think he had any real competition as a theorist except from Mao Tse-tung, who successfully adapted Lenin's strategy to Chinese traditions. All other communist revolutions followed from Lenin's fundamental premise: to make revolution you needed, first, a small band of revolutionaries, not part-timers, who would work at revolution on a 7/24 schedule.
Lenin also set up five preconditions that defined a revolutionary situation and that he said were needed to make a revolution. They are:
1. A faltering elite that has lost faith in its legitimacy, its right to rule.
2. Continuing failure of the government to meet the needs of the people.
3. Successful mobilization of the alienated masses of the population and focusing their anger against existing political institutions.
4. An effective revolutionary ideology;
5. As alluded to above, a party of professional revolutionaries, primarily members of the disaffected intelligentsia, capable of exploiting the above conditions to transform the revolutionary situation into the actual revolution.
How would these five preconditions apply to Iran with its teeming population of almost 66 million people? Is Iran in a revolutionary situation? Day after day, we read reports of mass street protests against the theocratic tyranny in Iran, a regime which the State Department calls the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism."
The ruling ayatollahs are themselves successful revolutionaries who, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979 by ousting Shah Reza Pahlavi. If ever a country fit Lenin's five preconditions it was the shah's Iran. But there was a sixth non-Leninist precondition that smoothed the way for Khomeini's triumph: The U.S. government advised the shah to flee to avoid bloodshed. Such stupid advice came from President Jimmy Carter who, just two years earlier on New Year's Eve 1977 at a state dinner in Tehran, had praised the shah as "an island of stability" in the Middle East.
By 1979, the shah represented a faltering elite with little sense of legitimacy, Precondition No. 1. Such a state is not the case of the present rulers of Iran, who have not lost their sense of Islamist legitimacy. Like the present regime, the shah's government was perceived as failing to meet the people's needs, Precondition No. 2. There has yet to be a successful mobilization of the Iranian masses (Precondition No. 3) as there was in 1979. What assured the Khomeini revolution's success was its "effective revolutionary ideology," Islamist fundamentalism, precondition No. 4. Tapes of Khomeini's sermons, recorded during the 1970s in his Paris exile headquarters, were shipped in and copied in the tens of thousands, played and replayed and amplified by the agitational power of Friday prayers and sermons in Iranian mosques. As for Precondition No. 5, the professional revolutionaries were the ayatollahs, who proved themselves "capable of exploiting the above conditions to transform the revolutionary situation into the actual revolution."
So now, applying Lenin's paradigm, the question is whether today's Iran is in a revolutionary condition 23 years later. Precondition No. 1 is out. The supposed reformer, moderate President Khatami, talks the talk but walks no walk. The real ruler is the unelected Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, bitterly anti-American. His regime backs Shi'ite terrorist groups like Hezbollah, which it helped found in the early 1980s, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Iran possesses weapons of mass destruction. Dissident voices, especially among university students and faculty, are heard occasionally within the country but not for long.
Precondition No. 2 is questionable. Although there is high unemployment, the Iranian people are not starving. Without close questioning, it is hard to tell at this distance how deep is the alienation of the masses from existing political institutions, Precondition No. 3. The election of President Khatami in 1997 with 70 percent of the popular vote supposedly showed disaffection with the Islamist rulership, but he has done little to resist Islamist power except to give mollifying interviews to Western media about his admiration for Alexis de Tocqueville. As for an effective revolutionary ideology by Iran's opposition-in-exile, holed up on the Iraq side of Iraqi-Iran border, that has yet to manifest itself.
There is another precondition for revolution, propounded by de Tocqueville:
"[I]t is not always when things are going from bad to worse that revolutions break out. On the contrary, it oftener happens that when a people which has just put up with an oppressive rule over a long period of time without protest suddenly finds the government relaxing its pressure, it takes up arms against it. Patiently endured so long as it seemed beyond redress, a grievance comes to appear intolerable once the possibility of removing it crosses men's minds. For the mere fact that certain abuses have been remedied draws attention to the others and they now appear more galling."
If one thing is clear, the ayatollahs are not "relaxing their pressure." On the contrary, they are executing and imprisoning mercilessly in the name of Islam all dissidents within Iran. They are permanently violators of human rights. The only hope for revolution, then, against the ayatollahs must come from within the ruling class. No Iranian Gorbachev is immediately visible.

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