Despite the critical role that economics play in the ongoing power struggle in Iran, that vital role does not usually receive the attention it deserves in the analyses of the country’s socio-political developments. Instead, most observers of those developments tend to attribute them to purely religious, ideological, or political factors. Yet, it can demonstrably be argued that, for example, Ayatollah Khamenaei, the “supreme religious leader” and his conservative cohorts derive their power more from real vested economic interests than from pure or abstract Islamic principles.
U.S.-Iranian relations of the recent past have been marked by unique and somewhat contradictory developments. While economic interactions between the two countries have been steadily expanding, political relations seem to have deteriorated as the so-called “battle of words” between Washington and Tehran has escalated since Bill Clinton’s arrival to the White House. Such conflicting developments in the areas of economics and politics have, understandably, been quite confusing to observers of the relations between the two countries, and have therefore led to rather divergent, sometimes even diametrically opposed, judgments regarding the future of these relations.
On 3 December 1979, almost one year after Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi left Iran, the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran replaced the monarchical constitution of 1906. The new constitution was to guarantee that the monarchy was abolished and the Islamic Republic system of government was enforced in its place. The constitution was to observe the Islamic and the nationalistic aims of the revolution with regard to the demands of a public that came from various social, religious, ethnic, and political backgrounds. Thus the 1979 constitution included differing components, which necessitated the amendments and the modifications that were added to the constitution in 1989.
During July and August 1979 I visited a number of Iranian factories. There I held discussions and interviews with militants and activists of different political hues, and with ordinary working people, about the workers’ councils that have appeared in Iranian factories since the February 1979 revolution. My distinct impression is that large numbers of Iranian industrial workers have been through an extraordinary experience, which no outsider, even the most sympathetic, can record or convey. As far as I can gather, there has been little effort to institutionalize this experience, to generalize from it, or to coordinate activities among the councils of different factories. There seem to have been as many different instances of “workers’ control” as there are factories in Iran. This article cannot substitute for a proper record of these events, now perhaps irretrievably lost, but I hope it can convey a sense of the variety of these experiences, which may be regained at some uncertain point by a successful renewal of the struggle.