Conditions of malnutrition, conflict, or a combination of both characterize many Arab countries, but this was not always so. As in much of the developing world, the immediate post-independence period represented an age of hope and relative prosperity. But imperialism did not sleep while these countries developed, and it soon intervened to destroy these post-independence achievements. The two principal defeats and losses of territory to Israel in 1967 and 1973, as well as the others that followed, left in their wake more than the destruction of assets and the loss of human lives: the Arab World lost its ideology of resistance. The Unmaking of Arab Socialism is an attempt to understand the reasons for Arab world's developmental descent from the pinnacle of Arab socialism to its present desolate conditions through an examination of the post-colonial histories of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.
About the Author
Ali Kadri is a Senior Fellow at the National University of Singapore and has been a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE) and Head of the Economic Analysis Section at the United Nations regional office for Western Asia.
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The Unmaking of Arab Socialism
By Ali Kadri
Wimbledon Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2016 Ali Kadri
All rights reserved.
ARAB SOCIALISM IN RETROSPECT
Early in the post-independence years, major socialist Arab states such as Iraq, Syria and Egypt undertook massive land reform measures, nationalised industry and financial institutions, provided universal healthcare and education and clamped down on the cycle of resource usurpation. This class of Arab states sought self-sufficiency in production, endorsed import-substituting industrialization and effected public investments in heavy industry while synchronizing the demands of a growing industry with adequate human skills. In social and economic dynamics, the Arab socialist model has outperformed the ongoing neo-liberal model, which began to be implemented in the early 1980s (see Annex to this chapter for tables on economic growth records and other economic indicators for three major Arab socialist countries: Egypt, Iraq and Syria). In popular culture, this period is dubbed Alzaman Aljamil: 'beautiful times'. Although standards of living are historically determined, the period 1960–1980 represented an epoch in which Arab countries exhibited dynamic performance in terms of real wages growth, more equal income distribution and improvements in infant mortality and life expectancy as well as many other social indicators. Arab socialist regimes in particular have not only outshone the rest of the Arab countries, but also scored high growth averages in social and economic indicators relative to the rest of the world. With the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011, nearly all the previous Arab socialist states experienced collapse, save Algeria, which staggers along depending more on oil revenues than on auto-development or an economy that grows and develops by relying on its own productive capabilities. The Arab socialist model may not have been super but, in comparison, neo-liberalism had stripped the working population of its previous social gains and raised the measure of repression.
Development outcomes depend on the commitment of the social class in power to real-resource mobilisation. This chapter addresses the issue of Arab socialism and investigates the structure of the class formation that shaped development in the post-independence years. The class of military officers and its adjunct ally, the intermediate stratum – composed of professionals, small capital holders, including sections of the small land-holding peasantry, which together formed the state bourgeois class (by virtue of their control over state resources) – assumed the role of agent of development during the Arab socialist phase.
As a social relationship, the intermediate stratum is codetermined by its relationship to other classes and to its sources of material and ideological reproduction. This stratum is not the middle class in the Weberian sense, or a categorisation by income, as opposed to being related to the mode of creation and appropriation of productive capital assets in their various forms. In its relationship with other classes, a social class historically acquires, in memories, symbols, institutions and forms of organisation. It is decisively defined by its forms of control over, and its property relationship with the means of production. In terms of structure, petty property owners without control, or those with access to smaller forms or amounts of productive capital, do not constitute capital. It is not theoretically sufficient to limit the definition of the working class to the absence of ownership of productive capitals or to working for capital owned by the capitalist class. It is also not sufficient to classify self-exploiting workers with petty ownership of capital as not 'working class'. Concretely, workers may be defined by their particular relationships with particular forms of capital. Moving back from the analytics of this, and seeing class as a historical relationship – one not determined by the inflated 'I' of mainstream social science realised in the ideologically slanted system of bourgeois democracy, but by the intermediated political agency arising from inherited forms of social organisations and the state of play in working-class ideology – would allow us to sufficiently grasp the real process that is intermediate class cum modern petty bourgeoisie. The weight of history cannot be written off; and it is not only the forms of property but also the systems of control via mediated political agency and ideology that make the appearance and evolutions of social classes the fluid historical moments that they are.
Both Poulantzas and Labica stress the difficulty of giving analytical shape – a structure – to the petty bourgeoisie. Poulantzas (1978) observes that there is no clear demarcation line between the old and the new forms of the petty bourgeoisie; their relationship in terms of the structure arising therefrom is intertwined and complex. Labica (1985) posits that petty bourgeoisie is a malleable concept, difficult to grapple with, but still one with bourgeois undertones that slot it within the tier with the least self-consciousness among the more definitive working social classes. This concept's variable identity, unlike the more stable proletariat or the peasantry, oscillates between the two words that compose it: petty and bourgeois (Labica 1985). The petty bourgeoisie's position in several disparate social groups is mediated as part of the contradiction between the working class and the ruling class. Meillassoux (1998) aptly uses the term 'social corps', those who are not significant proprietors but whose services are required for capital to rule. They are the service groups generated as functional to the forms of capital in question.
In an Arab context, modern class formation was born within the limping process of transformation to capitalism and under the colonial yoke; it retained many of the characteristics of the pre-capitalist class structure. However, it did so only in terms of appearance rather than essence (the dialectical category), for the latter is determined by the historically specific material and ideological circumstances underpinning the class. As neo-liberal openness began to take its toll, and the earnings of the intermediate class moved from relying on rents raised by national productivity growth to geopolitical or financial rents, the intermediate class, or the old 'corps social', ceased to exist. As aptly observed by Sourani (2015), these intermediate classes could have only survived under Arab socialist regimes and, indeed, vanished as soon as the nationalist economic system was exposed to the vagaries of the international market. For very practical reasons related to activism under occupation in Gaza, Sourani delineates the successor class as the new petty bourgeoisie composed, albeit in a socially engineered order, of three echelons: high, medium and low – ranging from professionals to shopkeepers to self-employed menial workers whose power in the state is negligible. This classification issues from broad quantified averages and aids to clarify the grounds for activism – Sourani is an activist in the Occupied Gaza Strip. To Sourani, the new petty bourgeois order is more befitting of lagging production conditions under openness that predisposes many who make ends meet to do so with their own meagre means of production or subsistence.
Taking Labica to an extreme, Sourani also extends the variability of the petty bourgeois class position to the development of its consciousness in a reflexive manner. Because of its oscillation between working and ruling classes, the petty bourgeoisie's position swings wildly and has never been able to attain a mature class consciousness of its own (Sourani 2015). In other words, there is some ideal consciousness that is only attainable through the definiteness of being engaged in socialised wage–labour activity. The value-creating working class as the totality of a multitude of social relationships incorporates the disengaged and the self-exploiting strata as well as the 'factory employed'. It (the working class) is an organic state of being and becoming mediated by the developments in working-class organisation and consciousness. Such consciousness, however, is rooted in the historically borne organisational power of global labour and its ideological counterweight to the neo-liberal doctrine of capital – obviously more so than the isolated development in national ideological conditions. The objective basis of repression attendant upon capitalist exploitation is the immutable condition of being (there is always repression and exploitation under capital), whereas the subjective sphere or the ideological development whose ideal end is realising the demise of the wage system is historically contingent upon the class struggle despite being necessary and emancipatory. These ideological developments cannot pertain to a pre-envisaged linear or nonlinear path; they are socio-historical and uncertain. Take, for instance, the recent crisis, the deaths and hunger culminating in the revolts known as the Arab Spring, in view of the uncontested avalanche of neo-liberalism: Arab misery elicited none of the measures that would even slightly dent the drudgery of the wage system.
In terms of structure, Petras (1976) points out that the intermediate stratum comprises skilled professionals – such as schoolteachers, university professors, civil servants, accountants, military officers, medical doctors, engineers and lawyers – whose status is not dependent on the ownership of property and wealth, but on their training and performance. The intermediate stratum refers to a differentiated relationship within the working class distinguished from the less-privileged working-class on the basis of salary, education, skill and, more decisively, by the degree of control over the means of production delegated to it by the military. Note that in a war context with weak institutions resulting from the potential insecurity of the state, the military emerged as the key player on the Arab political scene. The rise of the Arab bourgeoisie can be dated to European and, specifically, to early nineteenth-century Napoleonic changes to landholding laws empowering individual capitalists, but the embryonic formation of the intermediate stratum (the state bourgeois class) took hold as Arab industry in the early twentieth century grew under the shadow of European industry and war (Abdel-Malek 1968). The history of modern Arab states, like European history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is a history of national movements (Rodinson 1978). Alongside the national struggle for liberation, there existed a social struggle against a national bourgeoisie that had already become an appendage to Western colonial interests and industry (Abdel-Malek 1968).
Because of the underdeveloped capacities (lacking in finance and real capital) of the national bourgeoisie at the time of independence after World War II, the state bourgeois class assumed the role of a surrogate national bourgeoisie (Hussein 1971; Abdel-Malek 1971). Accounts of the detailed aspects of the interface between national policies and their developmental outcomes show that the broad determinants of the relative success of the Arab socialist regimes stem from the fact that they tackled security and developmental concerns jointly. In terms of definitions, development policies remain the resource-channelling mechanisms that direct wealth flows to the social class in command. Security is a totality that encompasses communal and national securities, knowledge-related productive capacity, including health and education, with working-class security being the backbone of national sovereignty.
In the Arab World (AW), US-led imperialist control of oil is pivotal to maintaining the global accumulation process. In this context, Arab autonomy with respect to territory, resources and policy becomes the sine qua non for development. Subsequently, the reverse development or lumpen development, as used by A. G. Frank (1972, 17) incurred by the AW in the ongoing neo-liberal phase can be mainly attributed to the structural terms of surrender to imperialism. The neo-liberal phase did not end with the beginning of the Arab Spring. If anything, failure to redistribute plundered assets through bourgeois power in the state and continuing adherence to 'free-market' policies indicate that many of the dispossessory tendencies of the past will gain momentum under the elected or unelected governments that have resulted.
As with state-socialist or dirigisme models elsewhere around the world, the turnaround from Arab socialism to neo-liberalism occurred as a result of the retreat of socialist ideology, peaking with the demise of the Soviet Union. With successive Arab military defeats and the sinking-in of defeatism, the ideological conditions developed for the state bourgeois class in power to manifest apostasy and lead the assault on working-class security. The end of the Arab socialist project had more to do with a shifting of class alliances that structurally absorbed the terms of surrender, and with the global ideological move away from socialism, than with mass dissatisfaction with socialist measures. Egypt succumbed first, as it signed the Camp David Accords; Syria followed, with its second phase of neo-liberal reform introduced in 2000; and in the case of Iraq, despite many concessions offered by the regime to avert war, the precipitous and wholesale destruction of the social formation was necessary to capital, as opposed to the gradual descent into the neo-liberal quagmire experienced by the other countries in this study. The metamorphosed ruling class, the disarticulation of hierarchically structured factions looting the national economy, which presided over the current neo-liberal social disaster has ceased to be a surrogate national bourgeoisie; it has become a proxy for the rule of the more aggressive facet of imperialism associated with international financial capital.
As already noted, strong state intervention and state-led investment during the 1960s characterised the path of Arab socialist development. The state bourgeois class supplanted the national entrepreneurial class, promoted investment in heavy industry and, in general, built productive capacity. The rise of this class is premised on the absence of a nationalist bourgeois class, which could have acted as an agent of development (Amin 1976; Petras 1976). Not that the case of the AW is peculiar: in most of Africa and the Middle East, the postcolonial capacity debacle and the inability of the entrepreneurial business class to promote development paved the way for the rise of a ruling class made up of an alliance of the military, small landholding peasantry and the middle class, or a state bourgeois class. This mishmash of alliances led by the military became the subject of the postcolonial development project in many of the newly independent Arab states.
To further clarify: in much of the immediate post-independence AW, an entrepreneurial class was not totally absent. In Iraq, Syria and Egypt, prior to independence, sections of the national bourgeoisie with limited ties to the colonialists took part in ferocious anticolonial struggles. Yet, as soon as independence was won, the social frailty of the national bourgeoisie became evident, especially as their umbilical cords with the colonialists (through merchandise trade) were severed. From the ashes of the old classes – such as the Wafd in Egypt and the national block in Syria – there arose a set of military dictatorships competing in populist and genuine anti-imperialist positions. The old, colonially reared sections of the bourgeois classes were politically subjugated in the process of strengthening national independence. In an ideological tidal wave of equity and national liberation, the social inequities of colonialism were scornfully rejected and egalitarian measures were implemented to redress what was perceived to be odious development under colonialism.
Whether it is a bourgeois class per se or a state bourgeois class, the common denominator of bourgeois implies a similar substance to both of these classes. In an oil-producing or geopolitical rent-driven context, given the pull of a cross-border class alliance, the state bourgeois class is innately predisposed to surrender under imperialist pressure. As a bourgeois class, it can offer concessions to the working classes but cannot provide them with the civil liberties that would undermine capital as a social relationship. Braverman (1959) foresaw the bifurcation in development lying ahead and warned that unless the working population politically participated in the making of socialism, that is it hegemonised the political process to ensure a growing share of the surplus product, the whole process of egalitarian distribution undertaken by Arab socialism could be easily reversed. The repression attendant upon the labour process implied that socialisation and egalitarian distribution could be easily overturned from above without much resistance from below once historical conditions were ripe. When frequent military routs (the 1948, 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel, to name a few) instilled a state of defeatism in the upper layers of society, and working class and civil society organisations remained appendages to one-party regimes, the class in power easily overturned the gains acquired by working people under Arab socialism. That it is impossible to militarily defy nuclear-powered imperialism was the thought that encapsulated the état d'esprit motivating the process of de-socialisation.
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Table of Contents
Introduction; Chapter 1: Arab socialism in retrospect; Chapter 2: The devastation of peace in Egypt; Chapter 3: The unfeasibility of revolution in Syria; Chapter 4: Iraq then and now; Chapter 5: The perverse transformation; Chapter 6: Permanent war in the Arab world