FROM THE PREFACE
As the director of the Plan and Budget Organization during the last five
years of the Shah’s rule, Abdolmadjid Madjidi was one of the more significant
ministers in the cabinet of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. His position put him in
daily contact with the prime minister and enabled him to have frequent audiences
with the Shah. He was not only an ex officio member of most of the important
high councils of state, but his close friendship with Prime Minister Hoveida
helped keep him informed of other events in which he was not directly a
In short, Madjidi’s position gave him a wide perspective and awareness of the
political, economic and social events of Iran, broader than that of most of his
colleagues. His recollections of the period offer us a unique perspective to
events and decisions that led to the downfall of the monarchy.
Madjidi grew up in a political setting. Born in Tehran in 1928, he was the
son of a lawyer who had been politically active in his early years and who had
been imprisoned twice as a consequence. Although he had withdrawn from politics
to protect his family, Madjidi’s father nevertheless maintained his interest in
public policy and influenced his children likewise.
Madjidi’s teenage years also coincided with a politically turbulent period in
Iran, when politics permeated the life of the people, particularly the youth.
During high school he became familiar with the main political philosophies of
the day, especially that of the left.
As a university student in the 1940s, he participated in political debates
and mass demonstrations. In his own words, "While we studied and school was our
major endeavor, we engaged in political activity both in and out of school. We
attended meetings and discussion groups with our friends.
Upon receiving a bachelor’s degree from the Tehran University Faculty of Law,
Madjidi, then twenty-one years old, left for Paris where he continued his
political activism in the Iranian Student Association and became familiar with
the leftist ideologies popular in Europe.
After earning a doctorate from the University of Paris, Madjidi returned to
Iran in the winter of 1953, only five months before the overthrow of Dr.
Mossadegh. The coup of August 1953 made a deep impression on Madjidi who states,
"At that time I thought Mossadegh was doing the right thing and moving in the
right direction. Today, however, I see that Mossadegh should have adopted a more
long-term perspective. For example, Mossadegh was partly — in large part
responsible for the rift that developed between him and the Shah. If at the time
the sovereign of the country and Mossadegh, who enjoyed the support of the
majority of people, had sat together and thought of the nation and its future,
our country would not have fallen into its present predicament.
After a short period spent as a trainee in his father’s law firm, Madjidi
joined the Export Promotion Bank and when Abolhassan Ebtehaj activated the Plan
Organization, he joined that institution as an assistant economist in 1956. Four
years later, Madjidi was sent to Harvard University in the United States, where
he earned a masters degree in public administration.
Soon after his return to Iran, Madjidi was appointed assistant to the prime
minister and head of the Budget Bureau in 1965. Two years later he joined the
cabinet of Amir Abbas Hoveida as minister of agricultural products and consumer
goods. In 1968 he was appointed minister of labor and social services and served
in this position for four and a half years. In January 1973, he returned to the
Plan and Budget Organization as its director. There, he took charge of revising
the Fifth Development Plan — a responsibility that grew in complexity as the
problems arising from the increases in oil prices rapidly surfaced.
Inflation, decreasing oil revenues, shortages of manpower, goods and
services, power blackouts, political turmoil including assassinations and
executions, led to vocal public dissatisfaction with the status quo. In August
1977 the cabinet of Amir Abbas Hoveida was forced to resign, foreshadowing the
Islamic Revolution. Subsequently, Madjidi was appointed director general of the
Queen Farah Foundation.
On February 2, 1979, the day after the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini in
Tehran, Madjidi was arrested on the orders of Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar,
the Shah’s last prime minister, and detained for nine days. On the eve of the
Revolution, when prisons were stormed, Madjidi escaped and after three and a
half months of hiding made his way to Paris, where he now lives in exile.
As is evident from his memoirs, Madjidi speaks frankly of the last decade of
the Shah’s reign. He speaks with pride of the successes achieved, while noting
the mistakes that eventually led to the demise of the government and the
monarchy. Madjidi believes strongly that the Hoveida era accomplished remarkable
feats. "I believe that Iran’s economic miracle occurred between 1963 and 1973 —
in fact before the increase in oil revenues. We achieved extraordinary growth."
According to Madjidi, Iran’s annual rate of growth during this period was 11.2
percent, while inflation was only 1.25 percent.
Madjidi speaks openly both of the Shah’s attributes and weaknesses. "His
Majesty had a comprehensive vision for the future of Iran which he wanted to be
realized at any price and at great speed ..... His Majesty wished very much for
the country to be renewed, modernized, industrialized and mechanized. Projects
that incorporated these features were very much favored by him and were
naturally assigned the highest priority. At the same time, he attended to social
issues — the basic needs of the people. But, principally he wanted Iran to
become modernized quickly, for Iran to become industrialized, for everything to
become mechanized and computerized.
Madjidi asserts, "his Majesty was generally a very logical decision-maker.
But sometimes he tended to quickly pass over critical issues exclaiming, ‘No. My
decision is final.’"
Moreover, the Shah had a tendency to keep information from key people in
responsible positions, resulting in chaotic and haphazard decision-making. For
example, even though Madjidi was positioned at the highest level of government,
he was not always given the information to make informed decisions. He describes
his experience as the director of the Plan and Budget Organization, "We often
worked, developed plans, and prepared budgets in the dark and with guesswork.
Before we knew that oil revenues were going up, we were told to factor in large
numbers of major financial commitments, such as the purchase of the Concord
airplanes and military hardware. These were all decisions that had already been
made. [Later on] we would be instructed to include these commitments in the
budget. This was [the pattern] in the military sector. In the nonmilitary area
it worked the same way, like commitments for the steel mill and the
petrochemical expansion. Unfortunately, we were not involved in the
decision-making [process]. These [decisions] would normally be passed down to us
as orders for implementation.
In 1962 the Shah launched a six-point program of reforms referred to as the
"White Revolution." During the next fifteen years additional "principles" were
added the initial set. Madjidi, though minister of labor at the time, had no
role or knowledge of a major initiative, the sale of stock of private industrial
enterprises to the workers. When asked his opinion on the program, Madjidi
responded, "Unfortunately I was not involved in that decision. I was not even
consulted on the subject. When [the program] was approved, it was announced as
one of the principles of the Revolution. I was, of course, involved in its
Madjidi’s explanation of why he and his colleagues were not informed or
involved in certain decisions relating to their duties follows: "[His Majesty]
basically did not like to discuss his fundamental ideas and programs, although
on other issues he had the necessary flexibility. But, on issues that were very
fundamental to him, he did not allow discussion or expression of doubt. Now, how
did he come up with this idea? Who was working for him? [I don’t know], for
example, the idea of the formation of the Rastakhiz Party. Where did such an
idea suddenly come from? Who had suggested it? It is really a big question for
Obviously, when a cabinet minister (or any other executive] has to operate
without information or participation in decisions relating to his duties,
disorder ensues. Madjidi considers this question and says, "The other problem
was lack of coordination at cabinet level.... If the prime minister, who was the
head of the executive branch, had been allowed to coordinate among the various
ministries and agencies then decisions would have been implemented in an
organized manner. Instead the prime minister was prime minister in name only and
in practice all critical decisions were made at a higher level [when] that
higher level had no official responsibility. You see, it can’t be, in other
words we had a fundamental problem."
In Madjidi’s view, another problem of the former regime was the way it
related to the people. "You see, the problem is that you can [only] have a
sensible policy and make proper, correct and logical decisions when you have the
power to tell the people the truth and [to tell them that they] have no other
choice than to accept [the one offered by the government]. We would neither go
to the people and tell them the truth, nor did we risk putting them under
pressure. All we wanted was that they be content.
Moreover, in the eyes of the people, the government grew increasingly
incompatible with them culturally during the last years of the monarchy. From
the perspective of many people, says Madjidi, "All of a sudden the government
fell into the hands of a group that was ‘Westoxicated.’
[This] created a chasm that became wider each day. By the end [of the former
regime], the majority of the people believed that this governing group was
composed of individuals who neither understood religion, nor the people’s
problems. They paid no attention to the poverty of the people. Those who had
come to govern over us were either usurpers, or I don’t know — Western agents."
Following on the same theme, Madjidi asserts that the Islamic Revolution
succeeded because people had lost faith in their government. "During the whole
period, all [our] efforts were directed toward improving the material conditions
and the welfare of the people. In these areas, we achieved extraordinary success
from the point of view of material gains, changes in the form of living and
expansion of modern education. From the perspective of welfare, people’s
conditions got much better. They ate better food, had a better life and better
housing. However, that which was needed to unite them and give them the [sense
of] obligation to support the government, defend their regime, their country and
their system was not there, because they did not believe [in the system]. In
other words, the middle class — which had reaped the greatest benefit from
Iran’s progress and should have stood firm, should have defended itself and its
own interest, defended the country’s interest and maintained the system — let
go. They gave up and ran off, or stayed in Iran and joined the mullahs and the
On the issue of the multiparty system, Madjidi states that the establishment
of a government based on political parties was impossible in Iran at the time
because the demands of the people and the country’s interests were at odds. "The
problem is that in Iran, political action could take place with great difficulty
because if you really wanted to rely on the masses of the people, you were
obliged to talk according to their sentiments and to fulfill their needs. Their
needs, expectations and demands, [however,] were in total contradiction with the
fundamental economic and social goals of the country. In other words, if you
wished to attract more votes from the people, you had to forego much of the
economic ambitions and material changes that needed to be made in the country."
Madjidi is openly critical of the arrest of his colleagues during the last
months of the monarchy. On this point he states, "In that system and in that way
of doing things, the group that was imprisoned was composed of the best
servants. These were individuals who in all respects had done their best and
with good intentions and honor. I admit that they were not all on the same
level. It is possible that criticism applied to some of them. Some were at fault
from the financial point of view. However, [to arrest members of the cabinet] in
the way that was done was paramount to self-indictment by the regime. [This] was
a very big mistake."
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Biography of Abdolmadjid Madjidi
- Note on the Interview with Madjidi
- Editor’s Notes
- Memoirs of Abdolmadjid Madjidi
- Father’s Family
- Primary School & High School
- Mother’s Family
- Political Activity While in High School
- Political Activity While at University
- Graduate Studies & Activities Abroad
- Return to Iran during Mossadegh’s Tenure
- Student Days in France
- Employment at the Export Promotion Bank
- Service in the Plan Organization
- Reaction to the Events of August 1953
- The Cabinet of Dr. Ali Amini
- Appointment of Inexperienced Ministers
- The Iran Novin Party
- The People and the State: Conflict of Interests?
- Formation of the Rastakhiz Party
- Highlights of Government Career
- Time of the Islamic Revolution
- Arrest & Escape from Prison
- Assessing the Ebtehaj Years at the Plan Organization
- Role of the Majles in the Planning Process
- Role of the Shah in the Planning Process
- Plan Organization and the Information Gap
- The Shah — Amini Dispute
- Cabinet of Asadollah Alam
- Formation of Kanoun-e Moteraqi
- Experience at the Ministry of Labor
- Role of the SAVAK in Labor Affairs
- Relations with the Ministry of Industries & Mines and the Employers
- Workers’ Profit Sharing
- Wider Share Ownership Program
- Policy Making Process at the Top
- Origins of the Rastakhiz Party
- Shah’s Speech at the I.L.O. Conference
- Sending Workers Abroad
- Directorship of the Plan and Budget Organization
- Financial Planning versus Government Commitments
- Decision Making Process — Military Budget
- Decision Making Process — Nonmilitary Budget
- Multishift High Schools in Tehran
- Revision of the Fifth Plan and Inflation
- Fundamental Problem of Government
- Formation of the Imperial Commission
- Evaluation of Prime Minister Hoveida’s Tenure
- The "Action" Committee
- The Arrest of Amir Abbas Hoveida
- Madjidi’s Arrest
Habib Ladjevardi has been the director of the Iranian Oral History Project
at Harvard University since 1981. Born in Tehran, he grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y.,
and was educated at the Yale Engineering School and the Harvard Business School.
Dr. Ladjevardi returned to Iran in 1963 and began work as personnel manager
in his family's business. Subsequently he was responsible for founding the Iran
Center for Management Studies in Tehran, where he taught until 1976. He also
served on a number of boards and councils in the private and public sectors.
Dr. Ladjevardi received his Ph.D. from the University of Oxford in 1981.