The Constitutional Revolution in Iran from 1906-1911 was one of the first modern-age revolutions in a country of the global south and it happened under the impression of the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1905. It attempted a fundamental political, social and economic transformation of the country. This development wasn’t singularly a result of autochthonous national developments of Iranian society, but relied on multilayered transnational networks and contacts. In this context Iran experienced for the first time the development of organisations which had connections to the socialist movement in the Russian Caucasus and which based their politics in one way or another on the ideas of socialism and respectively social democracy. Some of these organisations came to exercise considerable influence over the political developments in Iran. One of the most relevant organisations was the “Social Democratic Party of Iran” (Firqah-ye Ejtama’iyun-e ‘Amiyun-e Iran – Mojahed, short FEAM). It succeeded in becoming one of the leading organised revolutionary forces in the first phase of the Constitutional Revolution (1906-1908). In this regard Iran was the first country of the Middle East which experienced the emergence of a relatively well anchored socialist movement. To understand the genesis and the prominent role of FEAM one needs to leave the singular focus on the national Iranian context. Only by shifting the analytical frame to the plain of transnational social, economic and political interactions we can adequately grasp the phenomenon of the early socialist movement within Iran.
This book analyses the transnational dimension of the early socialist movement in Iran, in particular of FEAM. For the analysis of its development of policy and strategy we must look at the context of its emergence as a transnational project. The tension between the crisis stricken Iranian social formation with strong pre-capitalist characteristics and a not less contradictory and dynamic social formation in the Russian Caucasus are part of this research focus.
To understand the developments which led up to the Constitutional Revolution in Iran the first part deals with the general economic and political changes since the 19th century in the context of fundamental changes on the global and transregional level. Those changes were mainly initiated by the military penetration of the European Great Powers (the Russian and British Empire) and the accompanied pressure of global capitalism on the socio-economic structures of the society. Precapitalist Iranian society was thrown into crisis leading to the weakening of state power, the destruction of traditional handicrafts, the competition for the traditional bazaar complex by European merchants and the transformation of subsistence farming. Furthermore this chapter also deals with an important aspect influencing the formation of the early socialist movement in Iran: the multilayered interaction between Iran and the Russian Caucasus. The focus here lies firstly on the intellectual contacts across the border. Azerbaijani intellectuals under the influence of European enlightenment had a strong impact on Iranian intellectuals and thereby contributed to the development of early liberal and nationalist ideas in the country. Those links were essential for the later radical political and intellectual eruption in the Context of the Constitutional Revolution. But the development of the early Iranian Social Democratic movement essentially became possible only through a second, socio-economic element in the interaction between the Caucasus and Iran: mass labour migration of impoverished Iranians to the Caucasus since the mid and increasingly the late 19th century, particularly to the rapidly industrializing centres such as the Baku oil belt. Therefore it can be argued that at the turn of the century despite the lack of industrialization in Iran a diasporic Iranian working class was being formed which had fundamental political repercussions on Iran. The eruption of the Russian Revolution of 1905 was a crucial catalyst for the following political developments in Iran.
In the second part of the book the focus lies on the immediate context of the emergence of FEAM, i.e. the organisational efforts by Russian Social Democrats against the backdrop of the specific class composition of the Caucasian working class. Accordingly, a crucial precursor organisation of FEAM is introduced, the Himmat group. Founded by some Azerbaijani members of the Social Democratic Workers Party of Russia together with independents its goal was to organise Muslim workers which were the least organised part of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Caucasian working class. Out of this effort some activists went further and recognized the necessity to deal with the issue of labour migrants from Iran. In relation to the Russian Muslim workers they represented an even bigger challenge to labour organisers. They lacked experience in labour organising and collective bargaining, due to their precarious situation as migrants they were highly vulnerable to arbitrary treatment by employers and Russian state officials, they were often times misused as strike breakers and they lowered the average income by representing a cheap and easily available labour pool. Azerbaijani labour organisers therefore came to the conclusion that they needed to react to this challenge on two levels. First, they started to specifically target Iranian workers for the organisation in separate Iranian groups. Secondly and in connection with the first, they realized, that any attempt to engage with the challenge of Iranian migrant workers needed to take the political and socio-economic realities in Iran itself into account. As long as Iranian society didn’t change, for example in regard to relations of production in agriculture, the pressures on the Russian labour market by migrant workers wouldn’t either. Therefore already before the outbreak of the Constitutional Revolution in Iran many activists looked at the political developments in Iran and oriented towards revolutionary change south of the border. When the revolution finally erupted in the summer of 1906, FEAM, founded the year before and up to this point still limited to the Russian Caucasus, started to expand its network and activities into Iran and became an integral and radical part of the Constitutionalist movement.
A task which is followed up throughout the book is the necessity to discuss the identity of the discussed organisations. Due to a lack of sources as well as a certain unclarity in the connections between different organisations, chapters, front organisations, etc. a general task of this research is to unearth the true affiliation of groups and individuals in the transnational field between Iran and the Caucasus. This starts with the connection between the Social Democratic Workers Party of Russia and the Himmat group and continues in the following chapter particularly with the discussion of the affiliation of the revolutionary front organisations called “Mojahed” and the Social Democratic Party of Iran.