White Revolution (1961–1963)

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Program of reforms initiated by the shah of Iran in 1963.

Iran's ruler, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (r. 19411979), in January 1963 launched a series of reform policies that he called the White Revolution. The domestic aim was to undermine the political appeal of an influential but diffuse opposition movement by appropriating programs such as land tenure reform that it long had advocated. There also was an international objective: to win favor with Iran's principal foreign ally, the United States, which then was a major source of economic and military assistance. During the administration of John F. Kennedy (19611963), U.S. policy supported economic and social reforms in countries such as Iran as a means of undercutting the appeal of antiregime movements that were perceived as being allied with the Soviet Union. Thus the major element of the shah's White Revolution was a land reform program (actually begun a year earlier) that eventually would redistribute about one-half of private agricultural land to peasants holding traditional sharecropping rights (approximately one-half of all village families).

Five other programs also comprised the White Revolution at its outset. These included the nationalization of forests; sales of shares in (some) government-owned industries; plans for workers to share in profits of large factories; voting rights for women; and the formation within the army of a literacy corps of draftees assigned to villages as teachers. Later, the literacy corps model was extended to a health corps (for draftees who had college-level training in medicine) and a development corps (for college graduate draftees). By the mid-1970s the White Revolution comprised a total of eighteen programs.

The results of the White Revolution were mixed. On the positive side, about half a million peasants obtained adequate land under the land reform program to engage in profitable farming, primary schools were established in several hundred villages that previously had none, and small towns and rural areas benefited from various government development initiatives. On the negative side, perhaps the most serious deficiency of the White Revolution was the raising of popular expectations that remained unfulfilled. With respect to land reform, for example, one-half of all rural families received no land at all; among those obtaining land, about 73 percent got less than six hectares, an amount sufficient only for subsistence farming. The net result was the creation of widespread disillusionment in villages. This patternsome benefits accruing to a minority but overall disappointment for the majoritycharacterized many of the White Revolution programs by the early 1970s. At the same time, a class devoted to the White Revolution became part of the required curriculum in Iran's high schools. Criticism of the White Revolutionor any other policy of the shahcame to be regarded as a punishable political offense. As expressing praise for the White Revolution came to be associated with professing loyalty to the shah's regime, and, conversely, criticizing it came to be associated with opposition, any objective assessment of its actual achievements and failings in the years leading up to the 1979 Iranian Revolution became virtually impossible.

see also iranian revolution (1979); kennedy, john fitzgerald; land reform; pahlavi, mohammad reza.


Hooglund, Eric. Land and Revolution in Iran, 19601980. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982.

eric hooglund