Power, Democracy, and Iran



The Iranian people's call for democracy in the last two decades is not only a new milestone in the Iranian history, it also compares to some of the major pro-Democracy movements in Europe and other parts of the world, and definitely its scope is exceptional in comparison to other countries of the Middle East, and interestingly enough every time there is the perception that this movement has been killed, it surprises the observers by coming back with another new wave, even stronger than before.


Iran's pro-Democracy movement has been rightly resembled to the successful pro-Democracy movements in Soviet Union and Eastern Block and also has been compared to the suppressed Tien An Men Square movement in China, although one should note that contrary to the claims of half-Islamists, the Iranian movement is a lot more modernist than all those similar movements, thanks to IRI, which is not only setting new records in dictatorship, but has been making records in backwardness, superstition, and retrogression.


Other than those who have vested interest in the IRI regime, one can hardly find any Iranian supporting IRI and Islamism.  This is why the main question for the Iranian people is not whether IRI should go or not.  Rather the main question is about the details of the democracy which we intend to replace IRI with.  Iranians have paid dearly when overthrowing the Shah's regime, and although people do not regret the loss of despotic monarchy, but we regret the fact that we did not ask the hard questions at the time of 1979, about the system we wanted to replace the overthrown regime with!


Iranians have come to the conclusion that a thorough Lockean separation of power is needed and people commonly refer to Islamic Republic as Islamic monarchy and call its VF (Valie Faghih) Supreme Leader Khamenei as the new Shah.  Moreover people are calling for a *full* separation of religion and state, a secularism which was never achieved  even under the monarchy.




All the above are pretty well known.  What is a dilemma is that with a Lockean  separation of power, and even with full separation of religion and state, still people know experiences of Shah's separation of three branches of government and partial secularism and even Turkey's republic that have not ushered in real modern democracies, like one would see in Europe or Japan.  I believe, still the question of what power is, needs to be answered, to find out why there is such a drastic difference in the exercise of power between different countries, when all proclaim to exercise separation of power and the separation of religion and state.


Let's ask the question of what is power.  In my inquiry into what is power in my past writings, I have drawn on the great contribution of Kenneth Galbraith's "Anatomy of Power", with some minor differences which I will note along the way..


What is power?  Well, power can be three things.  First kind of power is *condign power*.  That means power thru physical force.  For example, if a teacher uses a stick to get the student to listen, s/he is using a condign power.  In more backward societies and more backward areas of advanced societies, this kind of power has been the most commonplace.  The ones who had more swords or guns were more powerful.


Second kind of power is *compensatory power*.  For example, when parents tell their kid that if the child does not finish homework on time, they will take away 10 percent of the kid's allowance, they are using a compensatory kind of power.  This kind of power is the way power has been exercised in the more modern societies.


Third kind of power is *organizational power*.  For example, when a manager gets to lay-off employees, during business downturns, his power is resulting from his position in the company’s organization.  The organizational status gives him that authority.  The same can be said about the status of grandparents in a traditional society.  Their power to make some decisions for the whole family results from their status in the family hierarchy.


If the kind of power used in a particular society has been mostly condign power, the society by its history knows this form of power more.  Now even if it is a democratic government with the division of power and checks and balances, it still would mostly gravitate towards condign force, than using compensatory or organizational approachm when conducting itself, and also when policing itself.


In countries that had more history of compensatory kind of power, like United Kingdom and the United States, fascists had a harder time to use the police apparatus, although the separation of state was almost the same,  even though *how* power was exercised, was not much different in Germany versus the U.S.


This is why Dr. Mossadegh tried his best to reduce the coercion of state police, when he was leading Iran's short-lived democracy in 1950's and as we know the CIA and Shah used the thugs and overthrew his government in 1953.  Thus although Mossadegh was very effective in exercising democracy, he was not effective to *protect democracy*, because as I noted, both the policing and conducting of the people is tilted towards condign power, and thus the vigilantes were easily used against Mossadegh, conducting themselves with condign power although outside of state,  to overthrow Iran's democratic state.  


The above is the major issue on the minds of Iranian people, that if we are successful to establish a democratic secular republic in Iran, and even keep the condign power of state and police in check, how can we ensure to  *protect democracy*, and not fall prey to thugs and other extra-judiciary fascist forces that are abundant outside the main state apparatus in Iran?  To answer the above dilemma, let's go back to Galbraith's analysis again, and in the following section I review Galbraith's work and will also examine the Iranian state in light of this theory, and then in the subsequent section, will return to the question of *protecting democracy*.




Let me first  note that Galbraith’s model is a bit different from my model above.  He calls the third form of power *conditioned power* (which for him means more like *conditioning power*) and he includes power thru media, public opinion,  and modern communications in this form of power, which has grown tremendously in the modern societies.  For him *conditioned power* is similar to what authors like Richard Dawkins call *memes*, memes which control the social psyche and are mostly hidden in contrast to *condign*  and *compensatory* kinds of power. 


Galbraith sees a close relationship between sources of power, which he defines as Personality, Property, and Organization; with the forms or instruments of power, which he defines as Condign, Compensatory, and Conditioned Power. In my opinion, one can view (like Sun Tsu) that “knowledge is power” and even regard it more significant than Personality and Property. I think at the end of the day, Personality, Property, Knowledge, and the work of Public Relations will have to be effective in a condign, compensatory, or organizational form, to effect the result intended by the one exercising power and this is why I consider the three kinds of power as *condign*, *compensatory*, and *organizational* and I think this fully explains the anatomy of power. 


 The authors like Max Weber noted by Galbraith himself, had defined power as "the possibility of imposing one’s will upon the behavior of others” and power as such has been known long before Galbraith and contrary to claims of some authors, this is not what is new in Galbraith.  I believe what is new in Galbraith is his separating power into categories, which helps one to analyze the difference in the  type of power used in different societies, and this is what I have drawn from his work.


Some monarchists claim condign power was basically absent in Iran of the Shah and they claim all power of Islamic Republic now is conditioned power. As far as the falseness of the former claim, one should just remember the atrocities of Shah’s Savak to know  how much condign power was used by Shah’s regime.  And the latter statement, if true, would actually legitimize the Islamic Republic of Iran, but as I will explain below, it is totally false.

The reality of Islamic Republic is that it started with what Galbraith calls *conditioned power*, which means more like *conditioning power*, where one can see the cult-type repetition of Khomeini's tapes in mosques, passed like memes, and that *conditioning* had a strong significance in Khomeini winning *organizational power* in Iran.  Also people believed in Khomeini, as the alternative of unity for Iran, and this is why he did not need much of condign power at the beginning.  But as time passed, IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) has been staying in power more and more by its condign force, commonly referred to as  the rule of the sword. To say their organizational power today is based on conditioning, is to give IRI a lot of credit:)

Of course IRI uses conditioned power today, just as Shah used TV and radio, but all of it has a lot *less* effect today than it did in early days after the revolution.  The tapes of Khomeini smuggled, going from hand to hand, at the time of the Shah, had more effect on Iranian people, than all the TV and radio programs that IRI has at its disposal today.  Why? Because in Iran, nobody believes anything the state radio says, and this is what some analysts miss when looking at dictatorial societies.  The  big difference of the view of American people about their media and their state, and that of the Iranians, and our view of Iranian government media, is not hard to see.  Iranians in Iran listen to so many foreign radios every night, for real news.  How many Americans would one see listening to news broadcasts of other countries to decipher the true news?  Almost none.

Moreover, as I noted, the power in Iran has been more condign power, both before and after Khomeini, although Khomeini used conditioned power of his smuggled tapes very well and in fact Khomeini relied more on conditioned power in the beginning, when he did not even need Vevak secret service, and inthose early days of revolution, people would catch the opposition and hand to IRI out of their belief in IRI.  But as time has passed, Islamic Republic has relied more and more on its Vevak,  just like its predecessor, the Shah's regime, which used Savak to rule.

Finally both Khomeini and the Shah used *compensatory power* too. Iran's clergy has always had khoms and zakAt and moghoofAt as strong financial resources,  which high-level clergy  used to pay for their own private guards.  Shi'a clergy of Iran has had its own tavalAii and tabarAiis long before the Islamic Republic, even at the time of Safavids, and they were paid by khoms and zakAt money.  The clergy continued to have these semi military armed guards in one form or another, in different eras, long before IRI. The properties of AstAn-e ghods-e Razavi of Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad are worth billions of dollars and have always been very significant in supporting the power of Shi'a clergy in Iran.

So the whole complex of power in Iran has existed with condign power at the top, torturing  and murdering opponents like Bakhtiar and  Forouhars, freethinking writers like Mokhtari and Pooyandeh, and even journalists like Zahra Kazemi.  The threats outside of Iran to people like Salman Rushdie is another vivid example of the strong presence of condign force in the Iranian state.  A threat which was and *is* to scare the nonbelievers of consequences, including losing their life, if they leave the state religion. Why Khomeini issued the fatwa is now clear, because it was when he no longer could have his organizational power by conditioning, and as I have shown, and ever since then, IRI has been relying more and more on *condign power*, with the police and vigilantes running the show, and although IRI has increased its propaganda in TV and radio, but as noted the conditioning of IRI has become less and less effective, and is replaced with the condign force which has become more brutal and heinous, being the main form of IRI rule in Iran.




Acknowledging the fact that *condign power* is the main kind of power in Iran means that regardless of who holds power, this will be the most effective kind of power for some time.  As I have previously written about what is modern democracy, anybody defining democracy as rule of the people, or rule of any group of people viewed as the most human to rule, should know that the question of *who* rules, will make a little difference to *how*  power will be exercised,  and the result will end up the same way no matter *who* rules, as long as the *how* of ruling does not change, and if the state apparatus remains the same, as it remained the same from Shah's regime to IRI, the future may not be so bright.


Western governments are called democracies.  The Greek meant rule of people when they talked of democracy.  But in reality, whenever there has been a democracy or its lack of,  it has not been the rule of “who”which really has mattered, .  For example, in the Modern Times, the Communists cared the most about figuring out the best “who” to rule, and they talked of rule of workers, that were the majority of the industrial society, to achieve a true democracy, and regardless of how their representation mechanism worked, even when that majority supported them, the result  was obviously not a democracy.


One of the first people who theoretically explained this problem was Karl Popper in his book “The Open Society and Its Enemies” around the time of WWII, where he showed that modern democracy was not about *who* rules, but it is about *how* a state rules.  In other words, the mechanism of checks and balances is the crux of what separates a modern democracy from a dictatorship.  In other words, more search to find the best *who* to rule, the attempt from Plato to Marx, is a futile attempt in creating an ideal government.  Whether the rule of Philosopher-kings of Plato, clerics of Khomeini, or proletarian representatives of Marx, the result is the same tyranny, if the *how* of state control lacks extensive checks and balances.


The above is an important reality to understand when reviewing modern democracies.  Even the rule of law,  which is so central to modern democracies, because of protecting individuals from all other rules, as I have explained elsewhere about rule of law in details, is effective to the end of democracy, only when it is in the context of full checks and balances between branches of the government, and when the organs of *Judgment by the People* are not absent or curtailed. 


Karl Popper in his later works on democracy  [e.g. see his “Lessons of this Century”, published in 1997] emphasizes the problem of the government being able to be removed without bloodshed, and he  reminded us of governments that could not be removed, even with bloodshed, in contrast to Nixon’s government that was removed by impeachment without bloodshed.  In short regardless of the ones making the laws of the state in representational democracies, ordinary people are able to be the judge of the consequences, and in a true democracy they can even remove the government without bloodshed. 


And of course, focused on Western states, Popper does not refer as much to religious states that have been basically gone in the West for centuries.  So the precedence of civil society over religious order is a given for him.  For countries like Iran, these are also live debates and action topics, and this is why democracy is so much emphasized by the popular movement, as the encounter of people’s rule with God’s rule spreads, nonetheless, one should go a step further, and note that a secular state is a modern democracy, depending on how far it goes in implementing the checks and balances.


Even being a constitutional republic does not make a republic a real guarantor of freedom, unless it has strong mechanisms of checks and balances between different branches of power instilled in its constitution and government practices, including legal mechanisms such as constitutional Bill of Rights, protecting the minority rights.  Mechanisms such as the new ballot initiatives, make the real difference in avoiding tyranny and safeguarding a modern democracy.  The more vehicles of checks and balances in law and institutions of the society, the more a society is safeguarded against tyranny, that is by ensuring the continuity of *judgment by the people*


Therefore as Karl Popper notes, the real issue is *how* and not *who*, when one wants to define the modern democracies.  Even the *who* being the whole people, or the largest class of the population, makes little difference.   It is *how* the state rules which makes the real difference at the end. 


Now to *protect democracy*, nothing is more important than ensuring in the constitution, and in the real policing of society, to keep the institutions of *judgment by the people* intact from any attack by the state or by the extra-judicial forces of vigilantes.  Whether the state burns the institutions of judgment by the people, like Hitler burned Reichstag, or thugs do it, like those vigilantes in CIA 1953 coup of 28-Mordad against Dr. Mossadegh, the result is the same.  That is  undermining the institutions of *judgment by the people* which paves the way for losing democracy to fascism.  This is the important lesson to learn about *protecting democracy* in Iran and elsewhere.  It is not about *who* rules. It is about *how*.


Hoping for a Futurist,  Federal, Democratic, and Secular Republic in Iran,


Sam Ghandchi, Publisher/Editor
August 2, 2003









Iran news and Iranian culture on Iranscope Iranian site