Agent or Client: Who Instigated the White Revolution of the Shah and the People in Iran, 1963?

  • Michael Willcocks

Student thesis: Phd


The White Revolution was a set of six reform measures put to the Iranian people via referendum on 6 Bahman 1341 (26 January 1963), based on a plan for social justice linked with economic development, encased in the concept of a bloodless revolution from the top. This did not happen unexpectedly; it was the culmination of events spanning several years, which accelerated during the John F. Kennedy Presidency. Various plans and reforms paved the way for the White Revolution and certain events as well as political and economic developments encouraged reform. There were similarities between plans and some reforms influenced others, or were shaped to suit different agendas. All played a part in instigating the White Revolution. This included Prime Minister  ĽAli Amini's 15-point plan, the Shah's Royal Farman, the Third Development Plan, and the six-points of the White Revolution itself. The question this thesis seeks to answer is to what extent the Kennedy administration was responsible for instigating the White Revolution by influencing the various steps that paved the way for the 6 Bahman referendum?The United States had at its disposal various means by which it might apply pressure and influence development. This included, economic aid, military assistance, numerous advisers, agencies on the ground, plus support for the Shah and other Iranians. Given the Kennedy administration's association with modernisation and development, the existing historiography has portrayed this period in US-Iranian relations as one of increased pressure on the Shah to reform with the White Revolution being the result of such pressure. This thesis makes an original contribution to knowledge by challenging this portrayal by providing the first detailed, analysis of the period 1961-63, utilising a vast array of newly released documents. This is not the first study to conclude agency on the part of Iran for the White Revolution, but is the first to do so though a detailed, balanced approach, which doesn't ignore the significance of the US-Iranian relationship. Thus, this thesis is at the forefront of revisionist accounts of US-Iranian relations during the Cold War critiquing the portrayal of the Shah and others as mere tools of the US and reaching the conclusion that contrary to widely held beliefs it was Iranians rather than Americans who instigated the White Revolution by initiating and directing reform.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorOliver Bast (Supervisor) & Moshe Behar (Supervisor)


  • Land Reform
  • US-Iran Relationship
  • Modernisation
  • US Foreign Policy
  • Referendum
  • Muhammad Reza Shah
  • Economic Reform
  • White Revolution
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Arsanjani
  • Ali Amini
  • Shah
  • Cold War
  • Iran
  • United States
  • Kennedy

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