nterview with Hashem Aghajari.
Interviewer: Hamshahri (Persian Morning Daily) Sunday, May 12, 2002.
Hamshahri: The left-wing of government has a heavy past which nobody has ever tried to deal with seriously, nor have the leftists been ready to defend the performance of their predecessors in a transparent manner or frankly. Many of the projects implemented in the 1980s by the left wing have had consequences that their successors have been forced to spend all their energy and efforts to remove them. The differences between the left’s economic and political outlooks and those of other groups have faded… Do you still defend the performance of the left wing of the government in the early years after the revolution?
AGHAJARI: Let me explain why the Iranian leftists, due to their justice seeking ideals and their emphasis on the redistribution of wealth in the society, practically advocated a kind of state economy while the right wing was supporting a kind of private economy, from 1980 onwards. However, after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the government saw itself in possession of huge wealth and our traditional capitalists and traders, in the absence of pseudo bourgeois who had escaped from Iran and whose assets had been confiscated, attempted to take possession of the capitals left in Iran. The supporters of the revolution and its ideals who were mostly composed of the deprived and low-income working class of society were looking forward to welfare, justice and an improvement in their living standards. Given the Constitution provisions which entrusted many tasks to the government such as providing free education, free health care, housing and so on, the left wing looked at the post-revolution government as an instrument to spend such capitals to serve the interests of the masses.
Hamshahri: So, the left wing was of the belief that taking possession of those capitals by the private sector not only could not help materialize the justice seeking ideals of the revolution but on the contrary could re-establish the capitalistic and colonial relationships in the worst possible form.
AGHAJARI: Yes, because our capitalists group in the 1970s was a new group whose ideology was to a large degree the same as modern capitalists coupled with a kind of exploitation and social services subject to a labor law which was the result of 200 years of struggles between workers and employers in Europe. If you look back to the pre-revolution era, you can realize that many capitalists of those eras such as Hojabr Yazdani, Khosro Shahi and other industrialists provided welfare and other social services for their workers to an extent that if you conduct an opinion poll today, the workers working in those factories both before and after the Islamic Revolution will speak highly of those eras and the facilities and bonuses they received at that time. But the group of traditional and trade bourgeois after the revolution had neither the new industrial ideas nor the foresight and long-term policies of their predecessors. This group actually wanted to make rich overnight and get involved in trade dealings and brokerage.
Hamshahri: Of course we should not forget that the revolutionary left wing seized and confiscated the assets of the same modern capitalists and industrialists and then you feared that the group of traditional bourgeois might steal those assets from you…
AGHAJARI: It is natural, because this section of capitalists were always after receiving advantages during the reign of the former regime mainly due to the nature of the Iranian economy which is based on rent seeking. At the time of the now-defunct Shah, this part of capitalism was regarded as an unnecessary projecting part of the royal court and the ruling political apparatus. In other words, this industrial section could not grow independently. If you study the contracts signed by Iran and foreign countries at the time of the Shah, you will realize that the then capitalists in order to establish a plant had to make the Shah, a member of the royal family or an influential political official their partners. Basically, we cannot find a powerful economic stratum independent from the political stratum in the pre-revolution era. The economy had to be dependent on the government or politics and as a result the youth, people and revolutionary forces had to be as pessimist about and as hostile to the capitalists and the private sector as they were to the ruling regime. That capitalists’ private sector was not separate from the despotic and repressive political sector and both were not separate from foreign imperialism. Therefore, all confiscations and nationalization programs originated from a revolutionary and ideological trend prevailing in the country.
Hamshahri: Let me read an indictment against the leftists after the passage of 20 years and that is the performance of the left wing at those times have entailed some consequences that now the left is trying to remove and to whitewash the wrong performance of their predecessors through the process of reformation. You spoke about rent seeking nature. The left promoted this nature through state economy and confiscations in the 1980s. You still defend confiscation of assets and prevention of the private sector’s growth, which in turn blocked civil freedoms from taking shape in Iran. After 20 years, you are now trying to make good on the outcome of those measures and to advance reform programs. Therefore, all of these somehow date back to the 1980s. In those times, intellectuals became independent, there were state ownerships and there was no possibility of attaining independence from the public sector, an independence, which would have led to freedom of people and their intellectual development. The left wing’s emphasis on justice and anti-imperialism struggle altogether served to sideline the demand for freedoms. Now, this indictment has been raised. I want to know whether the three aspects you mentioned are still the priorities of the left wing or not. Instead of hearing a historical report, I would like to enter into a theoretical discussion.
AGHAJARI: I would like to mention two points in connection with your remarks. The first point is that we should not forget historical situations and stages and that we should not generalize the rulings, which applies to our present situation to previous periods of time in a non-historical or diachronic manner. In my opinion, this is a basic error from methodological point of view. I do not accept that the conditions prevailing in Iran in the years 1979 and 1980 are similar to the present conditions and that it was possible for us to do the same things in those years as we can do now and get positive results. I have a basic criticism against your remarks. The claim raised by you originates from a theory, which basically assesses the issue of freedom within the framework of liberalism. In other words, one of the main parts of this theory is that freedom and its promotion in a society has a logical relationship with capitalistic economy while I by no means believe in it. I am of the belief that if our public sector is now facing some problems, our private sector has had problems too over the past 20 years. Our private sector was young, inexperienced and lacked any experimental or scientific experiences.
Hamshahri: But you instead of strengthening the private sector, struck at its foundations.
AGHAJARI: How could this sector be strengthened while it had a commercial look at the industry when the reconstruction era began in Iran and even many years before it. The private sector intended to buy a plant from the government at a very low rate and then sell it at a much higher price.
Hamshahri: The point in question is that as you said earlier everything should be compared within its own time limits. Therefore, we should notice that who brought about those conditions that our private sector’s focus was diverted from industry in the early years after the revolution to trade at the beginning of the 1990s.
AGHAJARI: First of all we should not forget that based on the experiences of all capitalist countries such as Britain and France and other countries involved in full-scale wars, the war time conditions automatically impose their own dictates. If during wartime, we had not had Economic Mobilization Headquarters and if our government had not had control on economy, our people would have faced numerous problems such as widespread famines and starvations as a result of their lack of access to their minimum needed basic goods. If we had a completely free economy before the war, wartime conditions would have automatically imposed a kind of centralism and state-controlled economy on the country, so that the government could find an opportunity to bring order to its war economy as well as social economy and to provide people with their minimum needed economic and social welfare. Of course, I do not believe that the government of Mr. Mousavi and other administrations coming to power between 1979 and 1989 were completely dominated by the left wing. As a matter of fact, our government until 1989 was a compound one from the point of view of social classes. The government had a mosaic nature. The composition of the government and the Majlis was subjected to fluctuation once in a while with one faction superseding the other faction. But we should remember that in the government of prime minister Hussein Mousavi we had ministers from the Islamic Coalition Front and business community (like some industrial sectors and the Commerce Ministry which was under control of businessmen). On the other hand we had the Guardians Council (in charge of deciding whether laws passed by the Majlis are in conformity with the constitution and Islamic Sharia) which with its specific inclination caused many bickering and problems for the Mousavi Administration during war years.
Hamshahri: How is that the left wing of the government now supports free market economy?
AGHAJARI: The realities of today’s world have drastically changed and world developments and international phenomena such as globalization, strengthening of civil and non-governmental institutions have brought about such conditions that we can by no means support a wartime state economy like the one we had in 1979-1989 period. But the point at issue is whether a market economy can form the structure of the Iranian economy and that we should completely liberalize the economy, or we should renovate our economy through a definite and wise strategy. I believe that given the ideals and specifications of our society, such values as protection of independence and justice will prevent us from completely liberalizing our economy because liberalism at our time cannot be a national one which allows us not to be incorporated in the world economy and shun undertaking a duty in world distribution of labor. We should open up our gates and allow our economy to confront foreign economy. If we want to get our economy liberalized quickly, we must forget such values as independence and justice.
Hamshahri: What will happen to freedom then?
AGHAJARI: In my opinion, the private sector and market economy do not necessarily bring about political and social freedoms. The private sector may pave the way for a kind of liberal or elitist freedom (freedom for the elite) but social freedom will be exposed to serious danger.
Hamshahri: Don’t you intend to propose direct democracy by bringing elitist freedom under question?
AGHAJARI: No. The middle economic classes can defend their interests on the scene of political competitions, thus creating some kinds of autonomous and freedom zones for themselves but this does not necessarily mean that the lower classes of society will attain freedom.
Hamshahri: But past experience has it that the state economy, which as you mentioned somehow negates liberal economy, has not been able to provide democracy.
AGHAJARI: We can transit from state economy to market economy. This means the transfer of parts of the state assets to certain strata of society. We have witnessed two models of transition from state economy to non-governmental economy over the past two decades. One is the Russian model and the other is Chinese model. The Russian model ended up in a crisis and the disintegration of the former Soviet Union but the Chinese model did not lead to its collapse but on the contrary the Chinese economy is now among those economies with highest growth rate in the world. In a very wise and prudent manner, the Chinese while trying to make use of the private sector, have been aware of this fact that a sudden opening up in their economy could lead to a very serious danger with potential to spread to the domain of politics and finally the whole society, thus pushing the government towards a deadlock.
Hamshahri: So, both the right and left wings share similar views on the Chinese model of reforms.
AGHAJARI: The difference the right wing particularly the ultra rightists have with the left wing is that they believe that economic development requires that political development should be stopped and people should be denied their rights. In other words, like liberals they see a kind of link between the domains of economy and politics. It seems that there is a reverse relationship between these two domains in Iran. In other words, if China can follow such a model, it is because it suppresses its student movement in Tien An Men on the one hand and maintains its economic growth on the other. The reason for this is that it has a highly disciplined party system with strong structures that can easily control the society. China is now a big power able to protect itself against pressures from the United States and other foreign powers. But in Iran the situation is just the opposite. We have a highly volatile bureaucracy and our political structure is not a disciplined one at all. We are not even like the Iraqi regime. Despite facing the enmity of the United States and other big powers, war, widespread poverty and immense backwardness, it can protect itself. The main reason for this is that Iraq is ruled by a single party namely Baath which enjoys a very powerful and efficient bureaucracy able to resist foreign pressures and domestic public discontent while in Iran this is not so at all. As a result, if a government in Iran wants to launch economic reforms without having popular support, this government will not score any success at home, not will it be able to resist foreign pressures. I am thinking about a model, which democratize freedom. A democratic freedom is one, which the majority of people from various walks of life can enjoy so that capital cannot have the final say in election campaigns. I am thinking about a kind of social economy and not state economy. The social economy means that we move in a direction where wealth is the result of accumulation of small but social capitals, managements, expertise, innovative job creation and the workforce of the entire society. In such a model, the prospect of our economy and politics can be a democratic one or in other words democracy in economy and democracy in politics.
Hamshahri: Economic democracy and transition from an state economy to a port state economy does not necessarily means transition to a free market economy or a liberal economy.
AGHAJARI: the post state economy does not necessarily mean free market economy or liberal economy.