Mossadegh Madness: Oil and Sovereignty in the Anticolonial Community

The emerging literature on the New International Economic Order (NIEO) has the spare conventions of a new topic in contemporary history. The narrative typically begins by identifying its origins as a historical intermingling of national and international, political and economic, and social and cultural factors. A sketch beginning at some point in the twentieth century follows, delving into some combination of these elements, their tensions sometimes fecund but, most likely, ultimately harmful. Then the story flows on in a more or less chronological fashion, finally assessing the success or, more likely, the failure to achieve its goals.

This essay follows that plan with an emphasis on two themes. The first is the rendezvous of elites from the oil-producing nations with anticolonial thought. The second, more broadly, is the transnational alliance formed between anticolonial elites that permitted their ideas a prominent place in the political world of decolonization. The aim here is less to narrate that history through an oily lens than to illuminate these linkages. But the fact that the 1973–74 energy crisis was the tripwire for the NIEO is undoubtedly important. Thus, this essay is also a study in the creation of a political movement and some of the conditions that made for its international influence among a particular group of actors in the earliest days of the energy crisis.

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