Battle of the factions: How populists triumphed in Iran’s IRGC

Karl Marx famously complemented Hegel’s idea on the repetition of history: first as tragedy then as farce. Earlier in June, Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, reaffirmed Marx.

In a public speech commemorating the anniversary of the 1981 terror attack against the then dominant political party the Islamic Republic Party, which led to the deaths of dozens of senior politicians, including the head of the judiciary, several cabinet ministers, and dozens of MPs, Khamenei compared Iran’s critical internal and external situation now with that in the 1980s.

“The God of the 1980s is the same God of now,” he declared, “and all the divine rules are still in place.”

There are, in fact, many parallels between present day Iran and Iran in the 1980s, such as the dire economy, rising inequality, cultural fanaticism, the ‘brain drain’, international isolation, and internal suppression. But only a closer look can test Marx’s thesis.

Iran in the 1980s was led by an ailing yet hyper-charismatic Ayatollah Khomeini, whose popularity far exceeded the limits of conventional politicians.

He was more akin to a saint, who was followed by hearts rather than minds of the Iranians at the time.

The people who governed Iran were mostly Western-educated religious technocrats in their early thirties, who had abandoned their cosy lives in the US or Europe to return to Iran and serve the revolution.

As staunch revolutionaries with close ties to the Khomeini’s clerical disciples, they quickly dominated the Iranian political scene after Ayatollah Khomeini purged all their rivals, including the moderate nationalists and the radical leftists who were deemed insufficiently loyal to him.

The purge consequently opened cracks within the young revolutionaries, splitting them into centre-left and the centre-right, a split which, for the next three decades, shaped the internal and external dynamics of the Islamic Republic.

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