Coup d’État or Revolutionary Situation? Revisiting the 1953 Coup in Iran

Matthew Toro, University of Washington

Conventional explanations of the 1953 coup in Iran emphasize external forces as the main drivers of the case. This paper, instead, reanalyzes the case as a revolutionary situation. Drawing on selectorate theory, I argue that the basis of the revolutionary challenge came from both expelling international actors from winning coalitions and expanding the selectorate beyond the traditional domestic elite. I analyze the processes of the episode through a relational model that emphasizes the groups involved in challenger and incumbent coalitions, their incentives—both ideological and material—and the private and public goods Mosaddeq allocated towards maintaining his own political survival. Drawing on the secondary English language literature, I trace the relationships towards Mosaddeq from groups and actors involved in the episode across social and temporal space. I argue that the critical element of the case is not Mosaddeq’s failure to procure an oil deal as most accounts argue but rather Mosaddeq’s failure to provide traditional coercive and legitimating agents their own incentives for a stake in his desired future polity. I conclude with tentative hypotheses regarding political survival in revolutionary situations.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 180. Assessing Revolutionary Situations and Outcomes