Part I: The socio economic origins of the Ba’th rise and its hold on power.
We will have a special file for the following weeks concentrating on Syria and its dynamics. We hope you will enjoy these articles.
Syria is very often described as a country ruled by the Alawites sects in coalition with other minorities such as the Druzes, the Ismaelites or even the Christians against the Sunni majority. Syria’s internal or external dynamics are very often explained through sectarian analyzes that enable the foreign public to understand them more easily. This allows theories such as the Chiia Crescent, said to be starting from Iran passing through Syria and ending in Lebanon, to have a lot of publicity without any substantial evidence and credits. This narrowed “essentialist” explanation doesn’t enable readers to understand the reality of the field and to analyze the situation properly. This is why the concept of “state class” and socio economic class analysis has been neglected in many ways in these so-called reports on the region. The text will show how “state class” concept and class analysis can be an analytical tool to explain politics in the region and how relevant it is compare to “essentialist” explanation. The article will in the same time observe the way these “state classes” behaved in maintaining regimes in power.
Firstly we will start by defining the concept of “state class” to introduce the current subject. The notion of class in relation to politics is defined by Marx the following way “classes are the main contending forces in society and they provide the key to understanding of politics and to the identification of the forces promoting or resisting social change”(1). Goldthorpe’s non Marxist approach also emphasise the struggle of classes to understand social change. He adds that social mobility is important to allow group to form class identification and new tie’s solidarity(2). This two definitions share in common the understanding of society and politics through classes.
The concept of “state class” can be generally defined as the class produced by the new regime in power. In this text the “second stratum” concepts of Mosca will be used to identify the notion of “state class”. Mosca characterizes the “second stratum” as the “necessary mediating instrument without which the ruling class cannot rule. The political function of the second stratum extends from representation through expressive identification to the exercise of the authority”(3). The concept of “new class” introduced by Milovan Djilas as the “political bureaucracy”(4)will also be used to understand “state class” analysis.
Ba’th revolutionists in 1963 came from a rural middle or lower class, the new men in power had benefited from social mobility offered by the new State born after the independence in 1946 and especially from the army. The rise to power of the Ba’th stopped the economic and political domination of the urban bourgeoisie on the country. The structure of Syrian politics and economy was characterized by the dominance of the urban bourgeoisie on the rural. The 1963’s revolution in Syria may appeal in many ways as the answer to social crisis the country was facing, and as a reaction of the villages against domination by the urban notable class. It should be added that they also received the supports of some urban middle class intelligentsia(5). The Ba’th seize of power opened the way for revolutionary changes and it allowed opportunities to be widened up for the rural people as they were drawn into participation in the political process. This revolution made significant populist socioeconomic gains(6). Redistribution of wealth was made at the expense of patriarchal urban interests and urban class felt most deprived of opportunities for political participation. The public sector was increasingly expanded through nationalization, to the detriment of the private capital sector(7). In the rural sector, their policy has been to break the social and political power of the traditional urban elite by destroying its monopolistic control over land and markets. This tactic had many other aims, such as mobilize and organize a peasant base of support, to stimulate peasant participation and cooperation in regime efforts at reform and development. It also allowed to integrate the Syrian state by drawing the rural sector into political and social participation, create a set of modern social institutions and foster the emergence of socially independent peasantry in villages and finally to stimulate economic development in rural areas(8).
It is necessary, before continuing on the building phase of the “state class”, to go a bit further on this case study because of the strong representation of minorities in the Ba’th in the revolution of 1963, although this movement is analyzed on a class struggle, the social background must be considered. The Ba’th recruited mainly in rural areas, where the Arab religious minorities mainly concentrated for historical reasons and the bigger cities were principally Sunni, so it was only logical that minority members predominated among the Ba’thist. But if the socialist characteristic of the Ba’th ideology contributed only indirectly (because of an overlap between geographical and sectarian factors) to a proportionally strong representation of minority members in the Ba’th party, there was also a direct cause: the secular component of Ba’thist Arab nationalism(9).The Ba’th ideology appealed strongly to these minorities’ members who hoped that the Ba’th would help them to free themselves of their minority status and the narrow social frame of their sectarian, tribal and regional ties(10). Ba’th party leaders, from minority origin, have not pursued particularistic policies meant to favour their own sectarian group. They have not identified strongly religions and have not tried ideologically to turn the party into a sectarian ingroup. This is why the sectarian argument can be an element of comprehension in the Syrian context, but surely not more important than the class analysis, which enables a better understanding of the rise of the Ba’th to power and policy. Perthes in his book, argues in this direction in analyzing how the Syrian state in social and economic development policies didn’t favour one minority specially, but efforts were spent to bridge the urban rural gap, especially in Damascus and its surroundings composed of Sunni Muslims who represent the major religious group in the Syrian society(11).
1)Hindness B., Politics and Class Analysis (Oxford : Basil Blackwell 1987),, p3
2)Hindness B., Politics and Class Analysis , (Oxford : Basil Blackwell 1987), p3
3)Binder L., In am moment of enthusiasm, Political Power and the Second Statum, (University of Chicago Press1978) 12
4)Dijlas M., The New Class, (Unwin Books 1957), 48
5)Perthes, The political economy of Syria under Asad, (I.B. Tauris, 1995), 120
6)Crooper M., Egyptian State Capitalism in Crisis, in the Sociology of “developing societies” The Middle East, edited by Talal Asad and Roger Owen, (The Macmillan Press LTD 1983), 78
7)Binder L., In am moment of enthusiasm, Political Power and the Second Statum, (University of Chicago Press 1978) 2
8)Olson R, The Ba’th and Syria, 1947 to 1982, (The Kingston Press, 1982), 54
9)Van Dam. N., The struggle for power in Syria, (Croom Helm LTD Publishers 1996), 32
10)Van Dam. N., The struggle for power in Syria, (Croom Helm LTD Publishers 1996), 33
11)Perthes, The political economy of Syria under Asad, (I.B. Tauris, 1995), 184