Sam Ghandchiسام قندچي A Short Note about Dr. Sanjabi & Iranian Liberals

Sam Ghandchi

یاداشتی کوتاه درباره دکتر سنجابی و لیبرالهای ایران






I want to explain at the beginning of this article that my goal is not to discuss about the monarchist opposition of Iran but my goal is to review a topic of Iranís recent history.  The reason of writing this note is because 10 days ago I had a technical interview about Internet filtering in Iran which had no relation with monarchy or the monarchists of Iran, and suddenly one monarchist site with the mention of my interview started a personal attack on me [].  I ignored it although some of my friends could not tolerate and responded [].  As a result, now that I am writing this historical article, I want to say in advance that I am not trying to start a series of discussions with the monarchists. 


For a few years, I have avoided to discuss the monarchist and mojAhedin groups of Iranian opposition. Nonetheless when during the last 20 years they have attacked me and my family a thousand times, when I have reacted once, they come back and talk as if I owe them a thousand times of apology whereas but they do not even own me one apology.  My relation to others in the political movement is not a personal relation and it is about political and theoretical topics, and those who make the discussions personal obviously do not have anything to say on the theoretical and political issues.  It is regretful that every time there is a perception that United Stated is going to attack Iran, a group of monarchists immediately attack the rest of the opposition and forget all their advices about unity because in their imagination think that tomorrow the U.S. is going to bring them to power in Iran and want to make sure that other not to even think that they will share power with anybody else.


Let me emphasize that  my goal is not to view Shah's era in an unfair way.  There is no doubt that the intellectuals were not in power during the Shah's time and the monarchist functionaries were in power, thus it is obvious that for the failures, basically the intellectuals or people of Iran cannot be responsible, when Shah's regime did not let them participate in power, for us today to see responsible for failures or successes or to condemn them.  Nonetheless I should note that this legal reality of opposition or the people does not make them clear of all faults in general.  To be a democrat, when a force is in opposition and not in power, is not a big deal, whether then or now.


For example, religious intellectuals of Iran during the Shah's time were in opposition and talked a lot about democracy, but when with the start of Islamic Republic they rose to power, they did not act democratically.  I mean if we are going to be fair, we should say that if the leftist or nationalist or futurist intellectuals had come to power, the outcome might not have been much better.  Even in my own experience with a limited number of leftist, nationalist and futurist web sites outside Iran, those who were able to control the publishing facilities, even in web sites that I had played a role in founding them or in their development, when they do not even hold political power, they censored me, and pretended their action as an editorial issue.


Thus my critique of monarchy does not mean that I imagine the other political ideological currents as angels.  In fact, one good result of decades of activities of various Iranian political forces during the times of Islamic Republic at various international enterprises is the fact that various political forces have shown themselves as to ho for the sake of political and ideological differences even in the area of professional work, and even outside Iran, they discriminate, instead of being professional, and this issue impacts the judgment of opinion leaders about various forces, regardless of how much verbal compliments of unity and friendship is talked about.  People are much smarter than thought to think of these *political* practices as personal or trade related issues and not to see that because of political and ideological discriminations that still weighs like an evil ghost devouring the Iranian spirit and imprisons the freedom of expression even outside Iran where it is not the filtering of Islamic Republic as the cause of all censorship and animosity with the freedom of expressing political and ideological thoughts.


But the issue of monarchy is not equal to the discussion of how the intellectuals and various shades of ideological leanings abide by democracy, rather the issue is about restoring a specific system of government for Iran.  The reality is that even in Cambodia, with a king like Norodom Sihanouk in the opposition, who had been overthrown by a coup and not by a revolution, and although always being a democrat and supporting social justice, still today the restoring of monarchy in that country is a failure for democracy and not a success, and his son is not a bad person, but because of the system of monarchy itself in a backward country with all its entourage, monarchy is not able to be any better in practice, and has become the symbol of failure of all the endeavors of Cambodia to reach a free and modern society.


In other words, in the best case today the endeavors to restore monarchy in the forms of constitutionalism and democracy, in backward countries, the result is not like the European Spain, in a continent where democracy has been dominant for centuries, rather it is a negative experience of another defeat for democracy in Asia where in most parts of its the presence of dictatorship is weighing heavily all over that continent.  The activists working to achieve democracy in Iran, cannot spend their energy and strength in the futile attempts to change the system of republic back to monarchy in Iran, rather the endeavors to overthrow the religious and dictatorial existing state and creating a secular, democratic and futurist system where even the framework of classical republics is not sufficient to express it let alone the restoration of the 50 year monarchy of Pahlavi which is miles behind the needs of our times, although any individual has a right in the opposition to still pursue the restoration of monarchy or constitutional monarchy, or like mojAhedin still to pursue another form of Islamic government.


To acknowledge this right and to respect it means democracy, and I respect the right of monarchists and mojAhedin to freedom of thought, and I hope they also respect my right to have an opposite view, and not to want to force me by personal attacks to spend my time with issues, that in my opinion no longer have any importance for the political discourse of the future change of Iran.  In advance, I thank democratic-minded monarchist individuals like Daryous Homayoun and Dr. Shaheen Fatemi who in practice have respected the views of others all these years and have distanced themselves from suppression and distressing the other parts of Iranian opposition.


As a result it is clear that my issue is not personal or else I would not mention these two monarchist opposition personalities of Iranian political arena with such praises.  What in my opinion about moanrchy and mojAhedin in the present movement of Iran has any significance from a theoretical standpoint, I had written three years ago []  and since then did not write anything else and repeating the personal quarrels will not resolve the theoretical issues.  At any rate, the discussion in this article is not about monarchy and my request is not to confuse the goal of this article which is to clear a specific issue of rent history of Iran, by distracting the discussion.




About Dr. Sanjabi's Position at the Time of 1979 Revolution



I see some of the people in our new youth movement blame a lot of the failures of 1979 Revolution on Dr. Sanjabi's decision for going with Bazargan's  provisional government and working with Khomeini rather than taking the path that Shahpour Bakhtiar took which was standing up to the flood of Islamism that later took over Iran and wiped out the last vestiges of modernism from Iran.


In 1983, Dr. Sanjabi was in Northern California staying with family and I went with late Ghasem Lebaschi to pay him a visit.  He had broken his back after falling from a horse while escaping from Iran and he could hardly move around.  Yet he was very cordial to us and we stayed there for lunch.  It was just a friendly visit with him and his family.  Even though being very old, he still kept abreast of all the events and his mind was very bright.  I asked him why Jebhe Melli did not have much following at the time of the 1979 Revolution.  He said to me that the reason was two movements among the youth in the years following the 15th of khordad of 1342.  One being the Shariati movement of Hosseinieh ErshAd and the other being the cheriki movement. 


At the time, I introduced him to Alvin Toffler's book "The Third Wave" and he introduced me to a book called "The True Believers" by Eric Hoffer. Since then, I read Eric Hoffer's book and found it to be one of the best descriptions of the fundamentalist fanatic movements such as Hitler's fascism, Stalinism, and Khomeinism.  I also found his concise description of why Jebhe did not have much following to be real accurate.


The reality is that the Iranian intellectuals basically were leftists ever since the rise of Reza Khan to power.  The rise of Reza Khan meant the defeat of the melli forces who in cooperation with part of the clergy were running the state ever since the defeat of Mohammad Ali Shah's bombardment of majles.  At the time, Mossadegh resisted the Reza Shah's taking the three branches of power in his hand.  It was the time, when Reza Khan would take the representatives of majles and threaten them to support his plan.  At any rate, the defeat of the nationalists and liberals at that time shifted the main body of Iranian intellectuals towards the left.  This reality can be best seen after the fall of Reza Khan in 1320 when a melli figure like Soleiman Mirza Eskandari became a founder of the main leftist party of Iran, namely hezbe tudeh.  During the whole years of 1320-1332, the main political forces in Iran, contrary to the time of Mashrootiat, were *not* the melli forces.  They were the leftists.


The fall of Mossadegh's government in the 1332 coup was another blow to the melli forces of Iran and the Iranian intellectuals moved more towards the left and finally in 15th of Khordad of 1342, when the partial allowance of some Jebhe figures in power failed, the last hopes of Iranian intellectuals for a liberal path faded for good.  The liberals of Jebhe Melli lost any appeal among the youth.  The youth were going after Shariati or were going after the cheriki movement and both these movements emphasized the opposition to the West as the main issue of freedom in Iran of the Shah.


On the eve of Iranian 1979 Revolution, the Jebhe Melli hardly had any following.  I remember that even months after the 1979 Revolution, when Dr. Sanjabi had resigned from his post as a foreign minister of Bazargan's Provisional Government, there was an interview and gathering in the headquarters of Jebhe Melli in meydAne enghelAb.  I was personally there and I did not see even 200 people there.  In other words, the support of Jebhe was not really anything in the years prior to 1979 and even in the first two years after the Revolution it had not picked up and the more radical groups like Khomeinists and Cheriks had most of the following.  Although MojAhdein had lost their following on the eve of the 1979, because of the Taghi Shahram and Sharif Vaghefi ordeal, in the first two years after 1979, Mojahedin grew very quickly.  But Jebhe Melli or liberal groups still did not get much following. 


Only after the 1981 massacres of the left and mojAhedin, and failure of the path that majority of the Left had taken in their cooperation with Khomeini during the hostage-taking, many people started to question leftist positions of cooperation with Islamists under the so-called banner of anti-imperialism, and more and more intellectuals started to appreciate the liberal thought which meant more sympathy for Jebhe Melli. 


Frankly even to this day, I think the majority of Iranian political intellectuals are still the leftists. Even inside Jebhe Melli, the portion of activists who are leftist in their leaning is the most.  One can easily see it on the way they address Israel where their position is mostly the standard Islamist and leftist position of seeing it from the angle of Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and to side with the Palestinians in that conflict []


Even when some of the leftists are calling for modernism today, they still talk like the religious reformers who want to reform their Marxist religion rather than going out of the leftist shell altogether.  The same is true about the way they address the United States and the West in general [].  It is not just because of the 1953 coup and opposing that action of the U.S.  There is a lot of leftist anti-Americanism that one can see even among the many in Jebhe today.  In the past, the Islamic members of Jebhe were also the cause of such positions but I can say that today, all of it comes from the leftist-oriented members.


Jebhe Melli is not a party and it is made of individuals who basically are united around the issue of *independence* of Iran, rather than being united on the basis of a liberal ideology, and this is why they are called *melli* and not* liberal*, although fortunately the leadership of it has been mostly in the hands of the liberal factions such as Dr. Sanjabi whom I would consider a social-democrat. 


Blanket condemnation of Jebhe Melli for all that has gone wrong in 1979 may put one in the same position as those who did the same after the 15th of Khordad of 1342, when they condemned the liberals for all the failures of democratic opposition to the Shah and chose the path of Shariati and cheriki extremist movements.


In short, the Iranian intellectuals on the eve of 1979 Revolution hardly sided with the liberal politics and they were mainly siding with Shariati Islamic ideas or with the leftist cheriki ideas.


Now in a situation like this, what were the choices for Dr. Sanjabi and Jebhe Melli on the eve of 1979 Revolution?  I think if he had seen the real danger of Islamism which we see now, I am sure he would have joined Bakhtiar and not sided with Khomeini.  I think he soon found out that the Islamic Republic was not going to be a democracy and this is why he resigned from Bazargan's Provisional Government.  Was he a traitor or just a politician who made a mistake?  I think the latter and many others made the same mistake by supporting Khomeini and Islamists.  I myself was attacked a few years before 1979 by the Islamist forces because of opposing Islamism and was advised by many to keep the unity of opposition and not focus on an internal contradiction.  So in that generation, not all took the same position.


Moreover, as far as Dr. Sanjabi and Jebhe, would it make a real difference if he had sided with Bakhtiar.  My answer is "no".  The Iranian intellectuals really hardly cared about what he or other Jebhe leaders were saying at that time.  The only reason that Shah was trying to make deals with Jebhe was because Shah knew that they had some connections with Khomeini and also because Shah had the illusion that Jebhe had much following among the Iranian intellectuals.  Shah did not know that because of the oppression of his own government and closing of every political association inside Iran, he had made the Jebhe Melli and similar groups irrelevant and had paved the way for success of the Islamists who had the traditional organization of masjed to use and had no other political organization of the opposition to compete with them, thanks to Savak.  And the truth was that the Iranian secular intellectuals were leftists and not liberal at that time and hardly listened to anything Jebhe would say.


So it is a false analysis on one side to assume Jebhe Melli as a powerful force on the eve of 1979 revolution and then to blame them for the failures of that revolution.  How did the mindset of Iranian intellectuals develop in those years? The Islamists were allowed to make their propaganda freely at Hosseinieh ErshAd, because Shah thought they can eliminate the leftists, and in the underground, the secular intellectuals became more and more leftists, and as time has passed, the former has faded but the latter is still prominent and leftism is like a religion among the Iranian intellectuals and even talk of modernism for them is in the way of the likes of Manuel Castells trying to reform this Marxist religion rather than being like Alvin Toffler's and Daniel Bell's, dropping the leftist religion and thinking beyond the left.


Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist republic in Iran,


Sam Ghandchi

February 24, 2007



Related Book

FUTURIST IRAN: Futurism vs Terrorism
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متون برگزیده سام قندچی



For a Secular Democratic & Futurist Republican Party in Iran