What Is the Economy of Tawhid?

In 1977, Abolhassan Banisadr, Iran's first president, wrote a book introducing an alternative approach to economy based on the principle of Tawhid, which challenged the principle of dichotomy which are at the centre of both capitalist and socialist models of economy. Since then, when the book has been read at all it has been misunderstood as a book about 'Islamic' economy. So I decided to translate his last introduction to the book, written 25 years after its publication, as in it he combines the theory of such an economy with a consideration of its implementation. The principles of the economy of Tawhid guided many policies in the first two and half years after the Iranian revolution, but the approach came to an abrupt end after the June 1981 coup through which Banisadr was deposed.

In the introduction, one can see the falsity of the language of enclosure which is used by neo-liberal economists and politicians who argue that 'there is no alternative' in order to justify the domination of a system which has led us to the current economic and environmental disasters. They try to make people to believe that as "socialism" failed there is no alternative to capitalism. In this book is an alternative system. But to understand it we need to know what Banisadr means by 'Tawhid'. For Banisadr, Tawhid means the unification of humans with God, with each other and with nature. According to him, the concept also refers to all states of freedom and the absence of all types of power relations. Tawhid refers to a lack of separation between everything existing, a unity of self and other, individual and society, God and human, human and nature; it disrupts these dichotomies and makes them untrue. Consequently, Tawhid is the 'motion toward a great and multi-faceted revolution, which leads to the establishment of new social relations and new relations with nature and the individual self. In such relations, nature, society and the thinking mind are not factors that limit human freedom, but that expand them'.

When I reread the introduction to the second edition of this book that I wrote in 1977, I found it even more appropriate for the present time than before. At the time, 'economy' was defined as a science of struggle against scarcity, but also promised a future of plenty; beliefs in both liberalism and Marxism were still dominant and popular. Supporters of these competing theories then had no doubt that their respective guiding principle would be proven correct through bringing forth a period of plenty. Today's economy, however, is an economy which adds scarcity upon scarcity. As a result, young generations in all societies have become certain that their lives will be worse than their parents'. Even the danger of the extinction of the human race has become a subject for research. There are new theories of social justice, and despite globalization (which in contemporary society has become synonymous with the domination of multinationals over human beings on a global scale) one economic alternative - which we introduced during the 1979 Iranian revolution and have kept promoting since - is increasingly attracting attention. The proposal is to develop a global policy which can control the multinationals, put an end to the destruction of dynamic forces within society, use these forces to assist intergenerational development at the global level, and revivify (omraan) the environment.(1) Part of the research that informed this policy was published in 1977 as The Economy of Tawhid.

The Economy of Tawhid is a critique of two historical experiences which have been undertaken in different societies. The principles and the methods which are suggested in the book emerged from research into the history of Iran and a number of other countries. The 1979 Iranian revolution, in its initial phase, provided us with an opportunity to implement the policies discussed, and although we encountered various difficulties the results still verified the arguments set out in the book.

To modify the idea of economy with the adjective 'Tawhidi' - which is not to be conflated with the idea of an 'Islamic economy' as propagated by clergy throughout history - means a number of things.

First, whenever economy is based on contradiction, it serves only power, not people. Contemporary economies are based on the principle of contradiction: the contradiction of humans with nature, societies with each other, present with future; the contradiction between different social groups that have contradicting interests; the contradiction between the needs of people and nature with the needs of power. The last is primary.

Such contradiction leads to human alienation, and hence becomes an instrument of power to the extent that a person believes the needs of power to be her/his own natural needs. This is the most chronic form of 'dominant public opinion' (feker jami-ye jabaar),(2) which has been indoctrinated and which all societies have accepted. The Economy of Tawhid tries to liberate people from the determinism of 'dominant public opinion', makes power irrelevant and brings economy into the service of free people in the process of development while taking care of nature as well.

Second, my critical analysis of domination and of the relation between dominator and dominated appears for the first time in this work.(3) In the second chapter the emergence of two concentrated 'poles' of power and their mutual destruction are discussed. The destruction of one of these concentrating and multiplying centres of power (with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite republics), and the situation in which the US is now a sole superpower but also finds itself in a state of demise, verifies the arguments in this book. At present, some speak about the emergence of five or six powers. However, people should not concern themselves with such changes or the emergence of a multipolar world. They need to free their intellects from the principle of dichotomy itself as a guiding principle and replace it with Tawhid to guide thought and action, in order to create a world free of centres and poles of power. To create a global society based on three rights: the right to commonality (eshteraak) and to share in environment, resources, human rights, national rights and management of the world based on a principle of 'negative equilibrium'; the right to differ with regard to cultural variety (because culture is the product of the labour of a society in a homeland and because cultural differences enrich us all through the free flow of information and knowledge); and the right to friendship, which combines the rights to peace, free relations between societies, and free flow of ideas, information and scientific and technical discoveries and inventions at the global level.

Third, we attempted to change a number of things during the first two and a half years following the revolution: the structure of the state budget system and banking credit; the structure of import and the relationship between human beings with the means of production; the land and natural resources, and especially to direct human energy/ability towards activities that fulfill the needs of people in the process of development and take care of nature. These efforts were imperfect, but they also exposed two lies, which were (a) that Eastern countries, especially Islamic countries, are incapable of development, and (b) that the western path to development is the only one.

Fourth, this project became to a halt and this great experience was undermined when Khomeini intervened and prevented its continuation through making statements like: 'economy belongs to donkeys (fools)' or 'Banisadr is trying to turn Iran into another France and Switzerland while people made a revolution for Islam.' Throughout this time, however, social justice was not regarded as a goal to be achieved, but used as normative criterion of judgement against which to measure the economic plan in process. As a result, in a short time and for the first time in Iran's modern history, the average income of families in both urban and rural areas exceeded their expenditure. This was the result of three major changes.

A -- To solve the contradiction between power and humans in favour of the latter, we argued that human beings and her/his needs should form the basis for economic activities. In order to make this so, the plan should be implemented to diminish the economy of power. This meant shifting Iran's economy from the position of a dominated economy into an independent one. This was the first task. Therefore...

B -- After 60 years (apart from a short period in the early 1950s, during the nationalization of oil), production replaced consumption as the anchor/basis of the Iranian national economy. The direction of dynamic forces therefore shifted from a circuit of importconsumptionexport (of oil, capital and educated people to the dominated economy) to a circuit of productionconsumptionproduction. As a result...

C -- To change the relation of the state with people, a change in the state's budget resources made the democratisation of Iran possible. That became a criterion which was used as a compass for economic policy. At present, daily economic activities across the national society depend on the state budget. This is because the main resources of the state budget are external (coming through the sale of oil to foreign countries, taking custom's right from import, taking loans from foreign and domestic banks, and budget deficits). When the state's income is dependent on dominant economies and the people are dependent on state budget, then this not only increases the destruction of dynamic forces or their export (brain drain) into the dominant economies, and not only makes it impossible for the state to observe the law, but also turns society into a vehicle for exporting its dynamic forces, thus trapping people into ever-increasing poverty. This is why, in the past and present, Iran has become captivated by the dynamics of poverty, violence and inequality.

D -- When Economy of Tawhid was written, both socialist and liberal economies were promising plenty/plentiful. There was no sense that they are using the resources needed by future generations now, nor talks about pre-determining the future. But there were attempts to cover this up so people could not see these two realities. However, now the reality has become apparent to everyone. The question could be asked why no attention has been paid to Banisadr's warnings? Why did the Soviet state not have the foresight to use its resources for the future, and to see that making power into the pivot of economic planning would pre-determine its collapse? The same question should have been asked about the Shah's regime, and the current regime in Iran. Neither of the two systems which died away answered these questions, and the current regime is reading the warnings and answering the question. But the people who want to be freed and to free others should listen to the answers. These are as follows. First, there is no such thing as insightful power. It can never exist. Second, there is no power which does not become the author of its own death. No power can ever avoid this destiny. Any time people see that they have an economy which uses resources which are reserved for the future -- and at the moment, people everywhere can see that - they should know that the linchpin of their collective and individual life is power, that the pivot of their economy is consumption, and that hence their future is being predetermined. Is it possible to be freed from such a destiny? If there is a possibility of survival and for collective and individual intellects to become free; if there is a determination for hard work and change, then it is possible.

E -- In order for great changes (such as proper planning for economic reconstruction, especially for economies which are in a dominated position, like Iran's) to become possible, criteria should be used which transfer the bases of the economy of power (i.e., contradiction) to a grounding in Tawhid. In this way the economy serves the needs of people in the process of development and liberation, through organizing the dynamic forces discussed in this book. For example, the issue of unemployment, even in domineering economies, has become intricate and is undermining the stability of working people. It requires a change in the relation between an individual with her/his own labour, with the land and natural resources and tools of production, along with the careful observation of the regulations which prevent destructive activities and the exploitation of one by the other. Furthermore, as power is not only blind but also the digger of its own grave, power-oriented people might go to the end, which is the destruction of people in their entirety. Therefore it is up to the people to become conscious of their rights and turn their lives to the exercise of right, hence freeing themselves from a social system and relations which are created by power.

F -- 35 years ago, socio-economic development was defined by the west as the God of its time. It was a domineering collective public opinion which people had created, and it had become an instrument of this belief. Today, people in the west are writing about the 'death of the myth of development'. Development became a myth not because it was not true, but because by replacing power with human and to reduce development in concentration and multiplication of power, human and environment were getting destroyed so power could "develop". The mere announcement of the death of the myth of development does not solve this problem, which is why it has not been solved. Action always adds to itself. Dynamic forces are emerging. If free intellects use the dynamic forces for human development and ecological stewardship, the myth and realities of development will die.

It was in this book, that I first introduced the idea of being liberated from the myth of development, and an alternative kind of development based on the principle of negative equilibrium was introduced. I argued that when the guiding principle of development is dichotomy, and when it is based on contradiction, then development is nothing but deception, since in such situation it is not human beings but power which develops. The only time, development becomes a process of liberating human talents, making them creative as well as revivifying the nature, is when Tawhid becomes the basis for economic activity.

(1) I can't find the proper word for it. He uses the word 'OMRAAN', which means like turning a desert to a pasture/filed. Rebuilding the ruined villages/cities.

(2) I found it difficult to find a right phrase for it. By collective/deterministic? public opinion he means something which people will find it difficult to resist against it. Like during Bush and before invading Iraq, the American media provided such atmosphere that the majority of American believed that is a good thing to attack Saddam.

(3) 'Through ongoing study, the dynamism of system of dominator-dominated were found and gradually introduced.'