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Adib-Moghaddam, Arshin (2014) 'Radicalism or revolution? Power and resistance in Iran.' In: Anceschi, Luca and Gervasio, Gennaro and Teti, Andrea, (eds.), Informal Power in the Greater Middle East: Hidden Geographies. Abingdon; New York: Routledge, pp. 87-101. (Routledge Studies in Middle Eastern Democratization and Government)

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Abstract

In European political theory, radicalism has long been associated with leftist ideas and socialist theories. ‘To be a “radical”’, Anthony Giddens writes, ‘was to have a certain view of the possibilities inherent in history – radicalism meant breaking away from the hold of the past’ (Giddens 1994: 1). Some radicals were immersed in the idea of revolution and many were fascinated by the possibility of bringing about an entirely ‘new’ historical sequence. ‘History was there to be seized hold of, to be moulded to human purposes’, Giddens argues, ‘such that the advantages which in previous eras seemed given by God, and the prerogative of the few, could be developed and organized for the benefit of all’ (ibid.). This definition of radical politics as a revolt against the status quo is also emphasized by Fred Halliday (1999: 36). He focused on revolutions more specifically when he conceptualized them as ‘a break with the constraints of the past, the traditional or established society’. Revolutions made it possible to imagine ‘a new society, even a new world, to be constructed. This emphasis upon breaking with the past, the creation of something new’, he continues, ‘was to become a prominent strain in the appeals and self-justification of revolutions’. Both Giddens and Halliday point to an important object of radical politics:the negation of the prevalent order. Lenin’s emphasis on theory, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s attention to explain the motives, ends and methods of revolution, and Marx’s analysis of class struggle all alluded to the necessity of systematic confrontation to achieve a transcendent order. Yet in their many pamphlets and writings, as much as in the scholarly treatment of radical politics and revolutionary action presented by Halliday and Giddens, it is not entirely clear what the difference between ‘radical politics’ and ‘revolution’ is. Both radicals and revolutionaries attempt to overcome injustices. However, whilst radicals would be satisfied with transformation, albeit substantial, revolutionaries aim at overthrowing every political, socio-economic and cultural determination, all the way ‘down’ to individual consciousness and all the way ‘up’ to the constitution of History. In Giddens’s words, ‘[R]adicalism, taking things by the roots, meant not just bringing about change but controlling such change so as to drive history onwards’ (Giddens 1994: 1). From this perspective, the radical subject remains linked with – and dependent upon – theprevalent order, and in some sense still complicit. In Gramsci’s terms, s/he is a ‘passive revolutionary’, an agent of trasformismo, merely superficial change (Gramsci 1971: 58 ff.). Conversely, such relative interdependence with the status quo is unacceptable to revolutionaries for whom the ‘vision of revolutionary change is that of a world restructured and regenerated in all its aspects – social, political, economic, cultural, and familial’ (Kraminick 1972: 30-31). In this sense, one of the primary differences between revolutionary and radical politics, in their contemporary conceptualization, is the degree of transformation envisaged and implemented. This is a difference between radical reform and a total break with the past, between agonistic and antagonistic politics, between a revolt and a mass movement, between a molar digression from the temporal order and imagining a parallel universe (see also Arendt 1990: 34). In this sense, radicalism is ‘second’ to revolution in the typology of demands for political change. It is followed by ‘reform’, which Halliday (1999: 38) defines as ‘change that is more cautious or limited, and “evolution,” suggesting change that does not involve a radical break with the past’. In the following paragraphs, I will explore the two types of politicsespoused by radicals and revolutionaries with two principle digressions – one empirical, the other theoretical – by taking the contemporary emergence of radical and revolutionary politics in Iran as my empirical departure point. This is partly in order to contribute to a comparative conceptualization of theories of power and resistance. The Iranian case has been largely ignored by both historiographers and critical theorists despite the international tremors that Iranian politics continue to provoke. The recent unrest after the controversial Presidential elections of 2009 and the ongoing crackdown on the opposition ‘Green Movement’ reveal the resilience of radical political subjectivity in Iran. Thus, delving into the dialectics between state and society promises to provide fertile theoretical terrain. In many ways, Iranians have never really ceased to believe in ‘making history’, and many theoreticians of politics and comparative historiography have failed to ask why. In order to address this shortcoming and to position the Iranian case more firmly in those fields, I will discuss how the contemporary radical subject in Iran emerged out of the dialectics between state and society in the late nineteenth century, sketching, moreover, how out of the depth of disillusionment with the monarchy, political radicalism turned to revolutionary action yielding the Islamic Republic in 1979. Throughout the following paragraphs, I will attempt to identify aspects of the Iranian case that merit theoretical deduction.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Politics & International Studies
Legacy Departments > Faculty of Law and Social Sciences > Department of Politics and International Studies
ISBN: 9780415624367
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315818306
Date Deposited: 02 Sep 2016 10:34
URI: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/22877

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