Syria: Society, Culture, and Polity

By Richard T. Antoun; Donald Quataert | Go to book overview

Two Class and State in Ba'thist Syria

Raymond A. Hinnebusch

This essay explores the role of class in Syria's politics and the effect of state policy under the Ba'th on its class structure. Some deny the relevance of class, viewing small groups, particularly sects, as the effective units of Syrian politics. 1 This is attributed to a mosaic society and particularistic culture, or an authoritarian state intolerant of open politics. Some, too, dismiss the effect of state action on the class structure, viewing the class ideologies of radical elites as mere facades for power struggles. 2

It is impossible to make sense of modern Syrian political development without resort to the class variable. This is not to dispute the importance of group politics in a mosaic society and kinship culture in which sect and family were the inherited "natural" units of political action. However, after a century of capitalist penetration and modernization, Syria is no longer a simple segmental society but a complex one in which "vertical" units coexist with classes. Political action has not typically taken the form of large class formations in open conflict. But the political conflicts of greatest consequence, those that have driven systemic change, have pitted coalitions, which, though heterogeneous (often including sectarian and occupation groups), were brought together by class interests in battles over class-related issues, such as the distribution of wealth arising from a certain mode of production and relations to the world capitalist centers.

No claim is made that the state is always an instrument of class power, for it may be an arena of conflict or autonomous of classes, but class origins have powerfully shaped the ideology of political elites and there have been periods when the state has been used as an instrument of class defense or, particularly under the radical Ba'th, of "revolution

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