Academic journal article Hemispheres

The State and the Rise of the Middle Class in Iran

Academic journal article Hemispheres

The State and the Rise of the Middle Class in Iran

Article excerpt


The Iranian middle class have failed to achieve political reform and democracy despite making several efforts. Thus, the question that will rise is: why was the middle class in Iran not successful? The present study is an attempt to analyze the rise of the middle class in Iran. This is because democracy requires a large middle class of people whose economic position is independent of those who hold power. However, the relationship between the middle class and the state in Iran is influenced by the role of state in the economy. This is because Iran can be regarded as a rentier state, the emergence of which has prevented the country from having a strong and independent middle class.

The reason is inferred from the theory of rentier states, a concept that is applicable to most Middle Eastern states, who receive substantial amounts of 'petrodollars' or other types of revenues from the outside world on a regular basis. At the same time the rentier state is supposedly autonomous from society and unaccountable to its citizens, that means - autocratic. In addition, internal rents (in the form of taxation) are in most cases low while citizens are also less demanding in terms of political participation. Thus, the government does not really rely on taxation as a main form of revenue. Instead, they rely on the huge oil revenues they acquire to support their government.* 1

Moreover, the ruling elites keep oil and natural gas firmly in their own hands as state monopolies. This offers more mechanisms for keeping any independent-minded middle class at bay. In addition, payments through citizenship have helped to breakdown tribal loyalties. Free healthcare, education and strong state infrastructure have silenced the masses for a time; however this is not sustainable. Governments have provided jobs to appease citizens but this has destroyed the work ethic. A rentier state also creates a public-sector middle class that is loyal to the system. At the same time, it puts at a disadvantage anyone who tries to succeed in business privately. Such independent-minded people are easily pushed aside by those with connections.2

It seems that the middle class which exists in Iran needs to be changed and transferred from a dependent middle class to a productive and independent middle class. Thus, the present research will review the emergence of the middle class in Iran, and in addition will be a short discussion on the rise of middle class in Iran after the Islamic Revolution.

What is the middle class?

Although there are different opinions among sociologists about the number of social classes, generally speaking three major social classes have been recognized by the most of liberal sociologists in the capitalist system. They include: an Upper Class, a Middle Class and a «Lower» Class (the «working» class has been considered as part of the «lower» class or sometimes as a «third» class by itself and the «lower» class designated as a fourth class). Based on this dominant definition, the ruling class is the one that owns and controls the predominant part of the means of production, as well as controlling the labor power of others. It also exercises control over the state apparatus. This class is also regarded as the capitalist class, basically the bourgeoisie, or, the bosses and rulers. Regarding the lower class, it can be argued that this class neither owns nor controls the means of production. As a result it is forced to work for the ruling class for wages, and without real control over the work process (or society). The poor such as the unemployed, the alienated youth, and many of the self-employed who are marginalized by the capitalist system are also included in the lower class. These groups are sometimes called the "lumpen-proletariat". Other terms for the working class: the proletariat or the "workers and the poor".3

Based on the Marxist ideology the third class is defined as a middle class. Although the middle class has been stuck in the middle of the lower class/ ruling class, nowadays there are different views towards its definition but the two most important include:

Consumption and income level approach: Some social scientists and economists, especially in the United States, tend to focus on the volume of consumption and income levels. …

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