Part II: The socio economic origins of the Ba’th rise and its hold on power
The “state class” that we have identified as the second stratum without which the rulers cannot rule was the creation of these new regimes arrivals to power. Milovan Dijlas explains in his text the concept of new class, defined as the political bureaucracy(1), which can be directly linked to the concept of “state class” and help to understand the origins of it in Syria. The rural notability, which characterized the origin of the new ruling elite in 1963, provided the pool of qualified persons from among whom the officials were chosen, the Command’s members of the Ba’th showed no representation at all of people from the major cities of Damascus and Aleppo, but were mainly from rural regions where the support came from(2).The social composition of the party bases until the 1980’s retained its historical character composed of lower social class, up to 70%(3), principally peasants and workers. This also confirms Mosca’s theory, the second stratum shares with the holders of power membership in the political class and social origins(4).
Milovan Djilas next argument is the diminishing role of the party as the new class becomes stronger and is able to attain a considerable structure(5). In Syria, as Raymond Hinnebusch affirms it, the party has been vulnerable to a “stultifying bureaucratization”(6)through the military dominated centre recreation from above, the subordination to a dominant Presidency, and the dominance of an apparatus by paid party officials dependent on the top elite(7). On the other hand the members of the Ba’th Party increased significantly from 100 000 membership in the beginning of the 1970’s to 375 000 by the early 1980’s(8). The party was transformed into a mere framework for clientelism(9), ideology was substituted for patronage as the dominant cement of the regime and make the party a major font of it.
The “state class” enabled the ruler to rule and to stay in power even with many obstacles as observed in Syria, the regime was able to resist to the 1967 defeat and to the upheaval of a strong opposition, the Muslim Brethren, during the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties. How can this be explained? The “state class” played a major role in acting as the second stratum to enable these regimes to survive. The rural middle class was loyal to the rulers which shared their same cultural values. This segment of the population had acquired education and professional or technical qualifications, what are the instruments by which the ruler could carry out his power. Access to education became more equalised as between the cities and rural provinces. For example in Syria enrolment had grown from 25,600 in 1964 to 100,900 in 1983, plus another 30 000 enrolled abroad(10). They have therefore been more widely admitted to professional, technical, and functionary leadership positions compare to other strata’s of the population and their agricultural interests remained intact. They have been beneficiaries of the political process which have developed as a means of realizing the goals of the regime.
In the Syrian case the social policies among the rural lower classes and petite bourgeoisie, which included many Sunni, have been favourably accepted and allowed the regime to withstand the largely middle and upper class religiously oriented opposition which began to emerge in the latter 1970’s. There is evidence that the religious opposition has failed to gather significant support from the poorer urban dwelling and rural Sunnis, who were part of the second stratum of the regime. Al Assad policy has been successful in bridging many of the rural urban cleavages which impeded the country wide expansion of the Ba’th in the 1960’s.
The beginning of the 1970’s was the period of economic liberalization or “infitah” for both regimes. This open door policy could have undermined the second stratum importance through the public sector where it was mainly represented, but it wasn’t the case. The “infitah” in fact consolidated and reinforced the rulers and the second stratum in their power.
In Syria the depth and the rapidity of economic liberalisation were constrained by the interest of its core constituencies in maintaining a major role for the state in economy. The political elite knew that liberalisation would mean undermining their supporters such as public employees and workers. On the other side the beneficiaries would be the bourgeoisie who was a historical rival on which the state could not afford to become excessively dependent. There was a pragmatic consensus that liberalisation had to be selective and carefully employed. The private sector was believed to be mostly interested in short term, low risk, high profit enterprise; the public sector had to continue to invest in strategic industries. Partnership was developed between the private sector and children of the political elite, who increasingly felt part of the bourgeoisie, as their fathers never had(11). The public sector on the other side would not be privatised but it had to be reformed and made more profit driven. This strategy would diversify the country’s economic base, minimise risk and enable the top elite to continue balancing between the bourgeoisie and the regime bureaucratic and plebeian constituencies(12), in other words the second stratum.
To conclude, this article has shown how “state class” analysis can be an analytical tool to understand the politics in the Middle East using conventional socio economic class analysis. The concept of “state class” helps overcome the problems that arise from a classical socio-economic class analysis in the sense that it eradicates the traditional dichotomy of Rulers’elite vs proletariat. The rise to power of a specific class in Syria of the rural middle class, and how they implemented policy benefiting their social class primarily, but not only as it was shown in the text other class such as the proletariat and the low urban class. The system of education was greatly increased, allowing more social mobility. These policies enabled the regime to build a strong base of support in the country and in many ways integrate the state to the society through a general process of institutionalization, particularly in the country. The State class analysis in observing the way the regime of Syria shaped new policies in regard to their social origins and to break the political power of the traditional elite give us an element of analysis to understand the politics of the Arab Middle East. It is definitely a useful tool to the explanation in certain politics features, but on the other side it is certainly not enough to the comprehension of the region. It neglects the dynamic of Arab Nationalism, sectarianism, foreign affairs and many other factors. The state class analysis must be taken with all these other factors to have a clear analysis of the situation in this region.
Finally socio-economic analysis should be taken into account more often to explain political discourses and events, even though many of these latter have sectarian coloration, what is just the façade. The real meaning is often to be found the socio economic ground and not on essentialism’s.
1)Dijlas. M., The New Class, (London, Unwin Books 1957), 48
2)Van Dam N., The Struggle for power in Syria, (I.B Tauris, 1996),
3)Hinnebusch R., Authoritarian power and state formation in Ba’thist Syria : army, party, and peasant, (Westview Press 1990) 179
4)Binder L., In am moment of enthusiasm, Political Power and the Second Statum, (University of Chicago Press 1978) 13
5)Dijlas. M., The New Class, (London, Unwin Books 1957), 48
6)Hinnebusch R., Authoritarian power and state formation in Ba’thist Syria : army, party, and peasant, (Westview Press 1990)166
7)Hinnebusch R., Authoritarian power and state formation in Ba’thist Syria : army, party, and peasant, (Westview Press 1990) 166
8)Hinnebusch R., Authoritarian power and state formation in Ba’thist Syria : army, party, and peasant, (Westview Press 1990)179
9)Hinnebusch R., Authoritarian power and state formation in Ba’thist Syria : army, party, and peasant, (Westview Press 1990)166
10)Hinnebush.R, Syria revolution from above,(Routledge, 2001) 56
11)Hinnebush.R, Syria revolution from above,(Routledge, 2001) 133
12)Hinnebush.R, Syria revolution from above,(Routledge, 2001) 133