At the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, special courts known as "Cleansing Komitehs" were established to purge the armed forces in an attempt to achieve
"ideological purity" among the country's defenders.
It is common for revolutionary movements to consolidate their power by
expelling those elements of the previous ruling regime and their supporters. Yet the
pervasiveness and uniquely spiritual form of these efforts in the Chinese, Mexican,
and Iranian cases exhibited a distinctive, religiouslike quality representing an effort
to achieve true social catharsis rather than simply an expulsion of old enemies.
The suffering, disorientation, dislocation, and social stress engendered by foreign imperialism and domination created conditions in all three of these cases that
required a collective form of therapy, a mass cure for the problems encountered by
these societies. Millenarianism functioned as a mitigating factor in the capacity of
the peoples of these societies (1) to cope with the disastrous consequences of
Western imperialism by projecting their problems onto a broader screen that helped
to clarify and objectify their social problems, (2) to reestablish their collective
identity, and (3) to thoroughly purge and cleanse themselves of the burden of their
humiliations, frustrations, indignation, and personal guilt in an effective act of mass
Bruce Lincoln, ed., Religion, Rebellion, Revolution ( New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), 275; see also
Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels, 59.
John A. Honigmann, "Culture Patterns and Human Stress: A Study in Social
Psychiatry", Psychiatry 13 ( 1950): 31.
Fairbank, The Great Chinese Revolution, 229.
Mao Tse-tung, "Provisional Marriage Regulations", decrees of the First Session of
the Central Executive Committee of the Chinese Soviet Republic, January 28, 1931, in
Chesneaux, Peasant Revolt in China, 113.
Mao Tse-tung, "The Function of Dictatorship in the Transformation of Society", Selected Works, 4, 418-19.
Meisner, 120-21. The use of the term "ascetic" here intentionally takes on a religious
like character. "Ascetic values, however, are rarely ends unto themselves, but rather are
usually seen as means to serve higher interests and attain ultimate goals, as such goals may
be defined in a comprehensive, religious, or political ideology."
ascetic values to those of the Calvinist saints, who "understood as an ethical obligation to
serve the glory of God, for, according to Calvinist ideology, a transcendental and inscrutable
God had decreed that it was the duty of all men to labor to establish the Kingdom of God
on earth." Cf.
Michael Waltzer, The Revolution of the Saints ( Cambridge: Harvard University