The Role of U.S. and European Imperialists in Creating the Islamic Republic of Iran

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زمان مطالعه: ۴ دقیقه

Learn From Experience: Cast Away Illusions, Prepare For A Real Revolution!

February 13, 2023

By Kaveh Ardalan

Editors’ note: This article was excerpted and translated from Farsi and edited by revcom volunteers.

For 25 years [1953-1978], under the direct protection of the U.S. and in partnership with European imperialists, the Shah’s regime was woven into the economic, security and military network of American rule in the Middle East.

But in 1978, as people rose up against the Shah’s regime, the U.S. and European imperialists came to the conclusion that the Shah’s regime was in a crisis of legitimacy and was no longer able to control the country and secure their interests. They decided to solve the crisis by interfering from above with “regime change” methods in order to preserve the overall socioeconomic system and the military-security backbone of the state they had formed in Iran. They prevented those at the “bottom” (i.e., the masses of the people and the revolutionary communist forces) from taking the initiative. In addition to preventing a real revolution, their goal was to establish a bulwark against the Soviet Union’s influence in Iran.

September 8, 1978, hundreds of protesters were killed or wounded by the Shah’s U.S.-backed military in Jaleh Square in Tehran. They were among the thousands killed by the Shah in cities around Iran that day.   

In January 1979, at a summit on the island of Guadeloupe, the U.S., Britain, West Germany, and France decided to open the way for the Khomeini-led power of Islamic fundamentalists.۱ This was not the first time they had carried out “regime-change” in Iran. Before that, the U.S. and British imperialists had organized [the 1953] coup d’etat against Dr. Mossadegh’s government through a covert operation known as “Ajax” and returned the Shah’s regime to the throne.۲

In December 1978, the U.S. Department of State decided to establish direct contact with Shapour Bakhtiar [the last Prime Minister of the Shah’s regime] and [Ayatollah] Khomeini to ensure a “peaceful transition” to a new government.۳ With Khomeini and company ensconced in France, the U.S. president’s envoys began the first of several meetings with Khomeini’s advisers.۴ Ebrahim Yazdi, a liaison between Khomeini and the western countries, writes that on January 8, 1979, “representatives of then-French President Giscard d’Estaing met with Khomeini… and presented a message to Khomeini from the U.S. president.”۵

Ebrahim Yazdi [later] wrote: “… Brzezinski’s theory [then National Security Advisor] was that in the absence of the Shah, the only force that could prevent the threat of communism in Iran was coordination and coalition between the military and the clerics.”۶ [Yazdi had said] “Brzezinski’s plan was to build a coalition of the army and the clergy, and Washington viewed the clergy as an alternative.”

Hoover Institution۷ researcher Abbas Milani writes, “Yes, as a force that can fill the void of political power after the Shah and prevent communists from seizing power. Let me put it this way, that the United States saw the rule of the clergy and cooperation with the military as necessary to ward off the threat of communism.”۸ In the end, U.S. Ambassador Sullivan concluded that the Islamic movement under Khomeini’s leadership was highly organized and capable of confronting communism.

Ultimately the outcome of this series of meetings can be summarized as: Khomeini demanded that the U.S. encourage the Shah’s military to support Khomeini. The U.S. and European allies [in turn] demanded that the new regime observe a number of key principles: 1) ensure the security of foreign investments in Iran; 2) the continuation of oil sales to the West; 3) abstain from alliance with the Soviet Union or against U.S. military-security structures; and 4) crack down on the communists, and the labor, student and peasant movements.

The U.S. representative emphasized that acting on the basis of [Iran’s] “constitution and keeping the country calm” had two aspects: that the military should comply with those who take over the regime, and that the insurgency against the government must become “illegal” and must be suppressed by the military. The U.S. envoy told Khomeini’s representatives that the U.S. wants “the military force to have the technical equipment that the Iranian government needs to defend itself.” The two sides agreed on these terms, and the U.S. and its allies concluded the Guadeloupe Conference (January 4-7,1979), which opened the way for the Khomeini-led Islamic fundamentalists to take power.

In this way, the backbone of the state—the military forces—came under control of the Khomeini-led Islamic fundamentalists… and Iran’s economic infrastructure and dependence on the global capitalist system (in particular, the exclusive capital network of NATO countries as well as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) remained intact.

The question is: Will we once again allow the tragedy of 1979, but this time “in reverse”? Or we will establish a movement whose voice loudly and powerfully proclaims that we will overthrow the Islamic Republic instead, and establish a new socialist republic to lay the foundation for a new economy and eliminate poverty and class and social divides…. We need a society in which oppression of women, national oppression, culture of subordination and submission are eliminated, and millions of people governing society who are free and rebelling against any form of injustice, and whose hearts burn for every agony that human beings suffer in every corner of the world, against the destruction of the environment, and who are deeply determined to eradicate capitalism from all over the world.


۱. “The agenda [at the Guadaloupe Conference] concerned the world situation and the political crisis in Iran, where a popular revolutionary upsurge was about to topple the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi…. As a result of the discussions at this summit, the Western imperialists agreed to put an end to the Shah’s reign and transfer power to the mullahs headed by Khomeini. It was only after this conference that the U.S. media began to refer to the increasing people’s opposition to the Shah’s rule and also the possibility that the U.S. might not support the Shah…. The dimensions of the agreements achieved before and after the conference have been kept secret from the people inside and outside Iran. In the contexts of both those times and today, the Western imperialists have had every interest in hiding their role in bringing Khomeini to power.” A World to Win News Service, “The Guadaloupe Conference, The Collapse of the Shah, and Khomeini’s seizure of power,” June 28, 2008. [back]

۲. Mohammad Pahlavi became Shah in 1941, but was essentially stripped of his powers in 1953. The coup reinstalled him, now as an absolute monarch. [back]

۳. U.S. Foreign Policy and the Iranian Revolution: The Cold War Dynamics of Engagement and Strategic Alliance, Christian Emery. [back]

۴. See official U.S. documents: Two Weeks in January: America’s secret engagement with Khomeini, BBC Persian Service, 3 June 2016. [back]

۵. Ebrahim Yazdi on Carter’s message to Khomeini. [back]

۶. Ebrahim Yazdi, Islamic Revolution and Guadeloupe Meeting. Pajhwok Azadi [Freedom’s Echo]. [back]

۷. The Hoover Institution is an imperialist think tank and research center at Stanford University which has historically been associated with right-wing politicians and causes. [back]

۸. Abbas Milani, The Shah (Macmillan 2011), p. 494. [back]

By Kaveh Ardalan