CHAMBER OF GUILDS (Oṭāq-e aṣnāf), a federation of various guilds formed in 1350 Š./1971 under the “guild-organization act” (Qānūn-e neẓām-e ṣenfī) in most urban centers. The purposes were to provide a single organization for managing the guilds’ affairs, to establish state control over numerous guilds, to collect information and statistics of guild activities, and to use its network as a vehicle to control inflation. Until the early 14th/20th century, though members of each craft in the bāzār were organized into a guild (ṣenf; see anāf), the guilds were not federated on either the local or the national level. During the Constitutional Revo­lution (1324-27/1906-09; see constitutional move­ment), the guilds of Tehran and a number of other cities for the first time formed political associations (anjomans) that functioned as effective instruments of mass mobilization. From then on Persian govern­ments and opposition groups repeatedly attempted to organize the guilds into larger units. Two distinct forms of organization evolved: first, voluntary local political associations and unions (etteḥādīyas) promoted by political parties and, second, mandatory administrative corporations created by the state, with names like “high council of guilds” (Šūrā-ye ʿālī-e aṣnāf, 1337-­49 Š./1958-70), “chamber of guilds” (Oṭāq-e aṣnāf, 1350-57 Š./1971-78), and “central council of guilds” (Šurā-ye markazī-e aṣnāf, 1358- Š./1979-).

The Constitutional revolution. The first associations of guilds for political purposes were formed in Tehran and other major cities during the Constitutional revolution. The central guilds associations (Anjoman-e markazī-e aṣnāf) of Tehran was a Constitutionalist organization of activists from a number of different guilds (Dawlatābādī, II, pp. 116-17). In 1325/1907-08 it published a weekly paper, Anjoman-e aṣnāf, edited by Sayyed Moṣṭafā Ṭehrānī, and in 1326/1908 it participated in the defense of the Majles during an attack by the troops of Moḥammad-ʿAlī Shah Qājār (Dawlatābādī, II, pp. 136-37, 296-97, 300-03). The guild association of Hamadān (Hayʾat-e Aṣnāf-e Hamadān) supported Ḥājj Moḥammad-Taqī Wakīl-al-Raʿāyāʾ, its representative in the Majles, in his struggle with large landowners, who often hoarded the wheat supply of the city for higher profit (Ādamīyat, pp. 462-68). The ʿAbbāsī associ­ation (Anjoman-e ʿAbbāsī) of Rašt was the most radical and militant such group of the period. Its members called for abolition of guild taxes (mālīyāt-e aṣnāf) and rural rents (māl al-ejāra) and were involved in several violent outbreaks, including encouraging peasants to rise against their landlords. In 1325/1907 Sayyed Jalāl-­al-Dīn Šahrāšūb, Mīrzā Raḥīm, Šīšabor, and other leaders of this group were imprisoned and bastinadoed (Rabino di Borgomale, pp. 30-35, 51-57; Ādamīyat, pp. 468-74). All the anjomans were dissolved by the government in 1327/1909 and their leaders dispersed, but they continued to serve as models for subsequent efforts at political organization. In 1299 Š./1920, for example, guild members in a number of major Persian cities established a general union of guilds in order to promote their political and occupational interests “along the lines of the earlier anjomans” (see anāf, p. 777).

The Pahlavi period. In 1304 Š./1925 a group of thirty-four guild leaders in Tehran organized a union of guilds (Hayʾat-e etteḥadīya-ye aṣnāf-e Tehrān) and issued a manifesto in support of Reżā Khan Sardār-e Sepah in his campaign for the throne (Amīr Ṭabmāsb, pp. 114-­17). In 1305 Š./1926, however, after he had established himself as Reżā Shah, the Majles abolished the mode of assessing taxes on each guild as a group and deprived the union of its status as a corporate body.

After the fall of Reżā Shah, in the period of 1320-32 Š./1941-53, both the central government and the oppo­sition attempted to mobilize guildsmen for their own political purposes. For example, in the early 1320s Š./1940s Sayyed Żīāʾ-al-Dīn Ṭabāṭabāʾī, founder of the conservative party Erāda-ye Mellī (National will), and his associate Asad-Allāh Rašīdīān founded an association of guild members to counter the rising popularity of the pro-Soviet Tudeh (Tūda) party (see communism), but they were unsuccessful in attracting broad-based support. In Tīr 1326 Š./June-July 1947, however, anticommunist bāzārīs who supported the shah formed the union of guilds in the Tehran bāzār (Etteḥādīya-ye aṣnāf-e bāzār-e Tehrān). Its leaders included ʿAlāʾ-al-­Dīn Naqawī, Ebrāhīm Ḥarīrī Ṭolūʿ, and Ḥājj Mortażā Āqāʾī, who collaborated actively with the chamber of commerce (Oṭāq-e bāzargānī) of Tehran and its president, ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Nīkpūr (see chamber of commerce, industries, and mines) in efforts to reform the assessment of guild taxes and to solve the problem of lease agreement and key money for shops (Majalla-ye oṭāq-e bāzargānī-e Tehrān 55, 1327 Š./1948, pp. 25-27). The union lapsed into inactivity in the early 1330s Š./1950s, when Moḥammad Moṣaddeq and his National Front (Jabha-ye mellī) won the support of the majority of bāzārīs.

Moṣaddeq’s followers in the bāzār of Tehran consist­ed mainly of middle-class merchants, master artisans, and shopkeepers, who organized themselves as the society of merchants, guildsmen, and craftsmen (Jāmeʿa-ye bāzargānān wa aṣnāf wa pīšavarān) in 1330 Š./1951 to support his nationalist ideals. Ḥājj Mo­ḥammad Rāseḵ Afšar, the leader of this society, was a cotton shoe shopkeeper (gīvaforūš) and one of the most popular elder guild patrons (risšafīd) in the bāzār and a nationalist political activist. Other leaders included such influential figures as Ḥājj Ḥasan Šamšīrī, a popular bāzārī guild leader and the owner of a well-known restaurant in the bāzār (Čelow-kabābī-e šamšīrī); Sayyed Aḥmad Ḥarīrī, an elder textile fabric seller (qomāšforūš), and an ardent pro-Moṣaddeq nationalist; Ḥājj Nowrūz-ʿAlī Lebāsčī, a garment seller and pro-­Moṣaddeq activist, whose son Ḥājj Qāsem Lebāsčī, an activist bāzārī leader of the National Front, has served as a secretary of the society; Ḥājj Ḥasan Qāsemīya, a merchant and petty industrialist; and Ebrāhīm Karīmā­bādī, the young leader (on behalf of his father) of the tea-house owners guild (Etteḥādīya-ye ṣenf-e qahvačī). When Moṣaddeq was dismissed as prime minister in the summer of 1331 Š./1952, they played an important role in organizing mass demonstrations and rallies; they effectively closed down the bāzār and forced the shah to reinstate him (Torkamān, pp. 53-54, 475, 489-90).

After the coup d’état of 1332 Š./1953, which was directed by the British MI 6 and the American Central Intelligence Agency, Moṣaddeq was ousted and the society of merchants, guildsmen, and craftsmen joined the pro-Moṣaddeq National Resistance Move­ment (Nahżat-e moqāwamat-e mellī) and closed down the Tehran bāzār on 21 Ābān 1332 Š./12 November 1953 as an act of protest against the new regime (Melbourne, pp. 3-4). The big merchants who had supported the coup then sought to organize guildsmen in support of the shah and his new government. In Āḏar 1332 Š./November-December 1953 the old union of Tehran merchants was revived, and subsequently a new union of merchants and guildsmen was formed (Melbourne, pp. 2-5; Eṭṭelāʿāt, 12 Āḏar 1332 Š./3 December 1953, p. 12). Neither of these groups enjoyed grass­roots support in the bāzār, however, and their activities were essentially limited to issuing occasional leaflets in favor of government policies and government candi­dates during elections. The influential guild leaders in the Tehran bāzār at that time included Ḥājj Āqā Bozorg Abū Ḥosayn, the leading Azerbaijani merchant and guild patron in Tehran, Ḥājj Ebrāhīm Zanjānī, ʿAbbās­qolī Eslāmī, Ḥājj Āqā Reżā Jaʿfarī, and Ḥājj Faraj Mowaḥḥedī. They organized religious processions and occasionally backed the shah on specific issues.

In Mehr 1336 Š./October-November 1957 a regu­lation (āʾīn-nāma) was promulgated to bring the guilds of each town into a federation supervised by the governor of district (farmāndār) and mayor (šahrdār; Binder, pp. 185-87). In Tehran such a federation, the high council of Tehran guilds (Šūrā-ye ʿālī-e aṣnāf), was established in 1337 Š./1958. Sayf-Allāh and Asad-Allāh Rašīdīān, who were active in the 1953 coup d’état (Najātī, p. 328), and their allies among guild leaders—particularly Ḥosayn-qolī Qobādīān, an attorney and head of the hoteliers’ guild (Etteḥādīya-ye ṣenf-e hotel­hā wa kāfa-rastūrānhā-ye Tehrān); Mahdī Kūšānfar, leader of the grocers’ guild (Etteḥādīya-ye ṣenf-e ḵᵛārbārforūš-e Tehrān wa tawābeʿ); and Māšā-Allāh Āḏarfar, head of the truckers’ guild (Etteḥādīya-ye ṣenf-e kāmīūndārān)—were instrumental in organiz­ing it. Kūšānfar was elected president, Qobādīān vice president, and Āḏarfar spokesman (Eṭṭelāʿāt-e sālāna, 1340 Š./1961-62, sec. 2, pp. 1-2). By 1340 Š./1961 the high council included eighty-six guilds (Eṭṭelāʿāt-e sālāna, 1341 Š./1962-63, sec. 2, pp. 35-38) and by 1347 Š./1968 110 guilds, with a total membership of about 120,000 (Iran Almanac 1969, p. 562). To increase their clout in manipulating guild affairs and to advance their commercial interest, in 1345 Š./1966, the Rašīdīān brothers, who had founded a credit bank (Bānk-e eʿtebārāt-e taʿāwonī wa tawzīʿ), attempted to organize within the guilds cooperative societies for distribution, to be financed by the bank (Eṭṭelāʿāt-e sālāna, 1345 Š./1966-67, pp. 162-71).

The main achievement of the high councils in this period was to persuade the government to pass a law resolving the controversial issue of key money (sarqoflī) for rented shops. They also mediated between tax collectors and guilds by assessing the collective tax for each guild (Eṭṭelāʿāt-e sālāna, 1341 Š./1962-63, sec. 2, p. 36). As instruments of the government, they wielded “considerable influence in politics, especially in local elections and in the elections of the two houses of Parliament. Most of the leading members of these High Councils [were] members of the [state-dominated] Īrān-­e Novīn Party” (Iran Almanac 1971, p. 579). Neverthe­less, the traditional patron-client relations still func­tioned, and many “old guard” politicians enjoyed power bases among the guilds. A clash between these tra­ditional leaders and the emerging class of state man­agers seeking to consolidate the state power was inevitable. In the summer of 1343 Š./1964 Kūšānfar was arrested on the charge of having murdered a peasant in his village; Qobādīān then became president of the council (Iran Almanac 1964, p. 534). In the late 1340s Š./1960s the conflict between the council and govern­ment authorities reached a climax when Qobādīān in 1347 Š./1968 publicly criticized the latter for establish­ing and promoting government sale centers in unfair competition with the guilds, i.e., selling at below-cost prices in order to control inflation (Iran Almanac 1969, pp. 562-63). In 1348 Š./1969 the mayor of Tehran dissolved the board of the council and appointed Moḥammad-Reżā Saʿādat-e Fard, president of the union of dairy products retailers (Etteḥādīya-ye ṣenf-e labanīyātforūš), president of the council (Iran Almanac 1969, p. 562; Eṭṭelāʿāt-e sālāna, 1349 Š./1970-71, pp. 461-67).

Under the guild-organization act (Qānūn-e neẓām-e ṣenfī) of 16 Ḵordād 1350 Š./6 June 1971 the high councils were officially dissolved and replaced by the chambers of guilds (Oṭāqhā-ye aṣnāf), a local federation of all guild unions (etteḥādīyahā-ye ṣenfī) established by craft members (wāḥed-e ṣenfī) in each town. The Tehran chamber was inaugurated with a message from the shah on 7 Āḏar 1351 Š./28 November 1972. All guild affairs, including the issuing of business permits (jawāz­-e kasb), assessment of taxes, and gathering of statistics, were under the supervision of the chambers (Majalla-ye oṭāq-e bāzargānī wa ṣanāyeʿ wa maʿāden-e Īrān, Āḏar 1351 Š./November-December 1972, p. 83; Iran Almanac 1973, p. 452). A supervisory board was established in the ministry of the interior (Wezārat-e kešvar) to coordinate the activities of all local chambers; it was transferred to the ministry of commerce (Wezārat-e bāzargānī) in 1353 Š./1974 (Iran Almanac 1975, p. 431). By that time there were ninety chambers in various cities, and fifty-nine more were being planned (Iran Almanac 1977, p. 437). All the local branches were under close supervision by the government, which used them to monitor consumption and distribution activ­ities and, under an amendment of 4 Āḏar 1351 Š./25 November 1972, to campaign against price gougers (gerānforūšān, businessmen who were accused of violat­ing price guidelines set by the ministry of commerce in order to control inflation; Rūz-nāma-ye rasmī, 20 Āḏar 1351 Š./11 December 1972, pp. 2-3).

The Tehran chamber, encompassing 124 guild unions with a total membership of approximately 200,000 (Iran Almanac 1972, p. 583), was headed by Amīr Ḥosayn Shaikh Bahāʾī, a former district governor (farmāndār) and head of the guild-affairs committee of the ruling party, Īrān-e novīn (Majalla-ye oṭāq-e bāzargānī wa ṣanāyeʿ wa maʿāden-e Īrān, Āḏar 1351 Š./November­-December 1972, p. 83). He was succeeded in turn by two police officers, Colonel Nūr-al-Dīn Ḥekmatī (1354-55 Š./1975-76) and Major Rasūl Raḥīmī (1355-57 Š./1976-­78). Government pressure on the chamber of guilds to control prices did not yield the expected results, and the ministry of commerce therefore dismissed the governing boards in most Persian cities in the summer of 1354 Š./1975 (Eṭṭelāʿāt, 18 Mordād 1354 Š./9 August 1975, p. 4; Rastāḵīz, 19 Mordād 1354 Š./10 August 1975, pp. 1, 13; 22 Mordād/13 August, pp. 23-24).

All these events further eroded the links between the government and guilds and paved the way for a return to the old alliance between guilds and mosque leaders against the government, which culminated in the Revo­lution of 1357 Š./1978-79 (see bāzār iii. political role of the bāzār).

After the Revolution of 1357 Š./1978-79. On 13 Tīr 1359 Š./4 July 1980, the revolutionary council (Šūrā-ye enqelāb) passed a new guild-organization act, dissolv­ing the unpopular chamber of guilds and replacing it with a central guilds council (Šūrā-ye markazī-e aṣnāf), which differed from its predecessor only in minor ways. It was controlled by a high supervisory commission (komīsīūn-e ʿālī) in the ministry of commerce, under the director general of guild affairs (Modīr-e koll-e omūr-e ṣenfī; “Qānūn-e neẓām,” pp. 257-98). After a delay of six years the Tehran central council was formed in 1365 Š./1986 at the initiative of a group of guild leaders with close links to the conservative faction of the regime, who managed to secure a decree from Ayatollah Khomeini to establish the council in spite of the resistance in the ministry of commerce to such a move (see, e.g., Resālat, 28 Ābān 1365 Š./19 November 1986, p. 11; Keyhān-e havāʾī, 7 Bahman 1366 Š./27 January 1988, p. 25; Keyhān, 12 Bahman 1367 Š./1 February 1989, p. 19). The Tehran council, led by Ḥājj Moḥsen Labbānī, was the most vocal and active in fighting for guild autonomy from state managers, especially on the issues of the power of the council to issue business permits to the guild members, which had been denied by the authorities, the actual monopolization of import by the state agencies, and the imposing of such punitive measures (taʿzīrāt-e ḥokūmatī; without trial) as fines, imprisonment, and closing of the business of those guild members who were accused of violating prices designated by the government (Iran Times, 17 February 1989, pp. 2, 11). Functioning as the political wing of the council was the society of Islamic associations of the bāzār and guilds (Jāmeʿa-ye anjomanhā-ye eslāmī-e bāzār wa aṣnāf-e Tehrān), a federation of Islamic anjomans formed by different guilds in the aftermath of the Revolution under the leadership of Ḥājj Saʿīd Amānī, secretary general of the society (Resālat, 13 Šahrīvar 1367 Š./4 September 1988, p. 10). Both guild corporate groups and Islamic political anjomans were supported by the conservative newspaper Resālat and the majority of the ʿolamāʾ in Qom and Tehran. Thus, a struggle between the central government and the central guild councils for control of guild affairs ensued (Abrār, 1 March 1365 Š./23 July 1986, p. 14; Keyhān, 24 Esfand 1367 Š./15 March 1989, p. 1; 20-26 Farvardīn 1368 Š./9-15 April 1989, a section on p. 5). For example, in Bahman 1367 Š./February 1988 the society organized a three-day national seminar in Tehran, at which leaders openly attacked the government and its policy of undermining the autonomy of the guilds (Resālat, 26 and 27 Bahman 1367 Š./15 and 16 February 1988, p. 11). It was also active in organizing meetings and demonstrations to promote guild interests in the face of persistent encroachment by the government (e.g., Re­sālat, 18 Ābān 1366 Š./9 November 1987, p. 7; 29 Bahman 1367 Š./18 February 1989, p. 7; 3 Farvardīn 1368 Š./23 April 1989, p. 2).



F. Ādamīyat, Īdeoložī-e nahżat-e mašrūṭīyat-e Īrān, Tehran, 2535 = 1355 Š./1976.

ʿA. Amīr Ṭahmāsb, Tārīḵ-ešāhanšāhī-e Reżā Šāh Pah­lavī, Tehran, 1305 Š./1926.

L. Binder, Iran. Political Development in a Changing Society, Berkeley, Calif., 1962.

Y. Dawlatābādī, Ḥayāt-e Yaḥyāʾ II, Tehran, 1328 Š./1950.

H.-L. Rabino di Borgomale, Mašrūṭa-­ye Gīlān, ed. M. Rowšan, Rašt, 1352 Š./1973.

Ḡ.-R. Najātī, Jonbeš-e mellī šodan-e ṣaṇʿat-e naft-e Īrān, Tehran,1364 Š./1985.

“Qānūn-e neẓām-e ṣenfī,” in M.-H. Waṭanī, ed., Majmūʿa-ye kāmel-e qawānīn wa moqarrarāt-e tejārī wa bāzargānī bā āḵerīn eṣlāḥāt-e 1364, Tehran, 1364 Š./1985, pp. 257-98.

M. Torka­mān, Qīām-e sīom-e Tīr, Tehran, 1361 Š./1982.

Interviews with Nāṣer-e Awlīāʾ Šīrāzī, former head of the Tehran drapers’ guild (Etteḥādīya-ye ṣenf-e bonakdār-e pāṛča) and vice president of the Tehran chamber of guilds; Ḥosayn Farhūdī, former president of the Tehran city council and secretary-general of the Tehran chamber of commerce (1334-40 Š./1955-61); Hūšang Kešāvarz Ṣadr, director, Centre de docu­mentation et recherche iraniennes, Paris; Ḥosayn Ḵodādād, former head of the union of ice makers’ guild (Etteḥādīya-ye ṣenf-e yaḵsāz), treasurer of the Tehran chamber of guilds, and director of the guilds’ cooperative fund (Ṣandūq-e taʿāwonī-e aṣnāf); and Ḥājj Qāsem Lebāsčī, former secretary in Jāmeʿa-ye bāzargānān wa aṣnāf wa pišavarān.

(Ahmad Ashraf)

Originally Published: December 15, 1991

Last Updated: October 13, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. V, Fasc. 4, pp. 358-361