Just over a week ago, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sent a special mission from his French exile to Iran's oil fields with urgent instructions to get striking workers there to produce enough to meet domestic needs.
Less than a month before, the very mention of Khomeini, the shah's archrival and the Shiite Moslem leader who has come to symbolize Iramizn opposition, would have brought instant execution of his wishes.
But the mission, led by Mehdi Bazargan, a former head of the National Iranian Oil Co. and a much-respected religious opposition leader in his own right, is still in the south.
Production is still less than half domestic requirements and the lines of Iranians waiting for gasoline and kerosene for cooking and heating grow longer by the day.
As Bazargan is reported to have explained in an urgent message to Khomeini after being booed at meetings of strikers: "They do not respect religion."
Despite government accusations that Communist terrorists are to blame, a more reasoned explanation for Bazargan's problems is that he is dealing with the consequences of emerging freedom.
Men long cowed by political repression, suddenly aware of their own strength, have often in similar circumstances gone through a process of radicalization. The oil field case and other similar examples testity to the opposition's growing grass-roots radicalization, which some observers fear may prove unprofitable even if Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi leaves the country and thus satisfies one of the opposition's key demands.
Even optimists are convinced that the relative restraine in the streets is at best a short-lived respite accorded to see whether Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar can indeed succeed in his promise to persuade the shah to leave.
From its beginnings just a year ageo, some thoughtful Iranians have questioned the religious movement,s which provides the soldiers of Khomeini's revolution but also is a convenient cloak for radicals of other persuasions.
The thoughtful observers have questioned the movement largely because it is directed from abroad by a man who has lived in exile, first in Iraq, now in France, for the last 15 years.
"Is Khomeini in control or is he leading from behind, and increashingly so, as the effort to impeach the shah drage on and on and encourages radicals?" asked one confused Tehran intellectual.
This opposition to the shah has glued together middle-class professionals, right-wing religious zealots, liberals, social democrats, leftists, communists and extemist guerrilla groups drawn from student ranks. Now, perhaps too easily, it is credited as being the catalyst for escalating the violence.
However, even some middle-class Iranians come lately to opposition ranks, now claim they feel let down by Khomeini. They look more favorably on radical solutions.
"After Ashura," the Moslem day of mourning on Dec. 12 when more than a million Iranians marched demanding the shah's ouster, "Khomeini eased off just when, if he had given a push, the shah would have toppled," an economist said.
"Khomeini is wrong. He is losing his authority over people," the economist said, explaining his growing fury over what he describes as army atrocities in such provincial cities as Mashad and Quzvin.
"If someone gave me a machine gun now, I'd use it," he said. "We know the shah will never change his thoughts and he cannot be trusted."
The economist conceded he had traveled from fence-sitting to militant approval of violence in less than two months. He said he had been horrified by army repression such as attacks on hospitals and doctors.
"If Khomeini has nothing to tell the people, they will listen to the radicals," he said.
Some observers insist that armed insurrection has already begun in the provinces. And in some cases sticks and shovels have given way to pistols, rifles, Molotov cocktails and homemade bombs in demonstrators' hands.
Conservatives are worried by the number of radical leftists released from prison as part of the shah's continuing liberation of political prisoners.
Still others are concerned with Tudeh, the Iranian Communist Party, which was thought by most analysts to have been reduced to virtual nothingness over the years by SAVAK, the secret police.
Even less suspicious Iranians are shocked by reports of atrocities perpetrated by civilians against toops, and, on occasion, vice versa.
Conservatives are convinced radicals are disguised as religious students. Opposition lawyers worry about a society where people increasingly are taking justice into their own hands, expecially since such behavior provides the perfect cover for SAVAK assassination squads.
Rumors that a right-wing generals' coup designed to abort the Bakhtiar government was only narrowly averted last week did little to quiet that fear.
Nor, for that matter, should knowledge that booklets on urban guerrilla tactics, manufacturing molotov cocktails or knocking out tanks are readily available in clandestine shops in Tehran. For those unable or too lazy to read, there are lectures on the same subjects almost every day at Beheszt Zahra Cemetery in south Tehran.
A Western diplomat well known for his consistently disproved hoipes that somehow Iranians will stand up and defend the established order -- or what's left of it -- told a visitor this week, "This is a society on the edge of total disintagration and enough people are afraid of that."