Ted Grant

Syria – A Reply to Kumar

Source: The Colonial Revolution and Syria, Discussion document (Summer, 1978)
Transcription: Francesco 2013
Proofread: Fred 2013
Markup: Francesco 2013

Unfortunately, the document of Comrade Kumar shows traces of, or even has been methodologically influenced by, the bourgeois writers whom he studied for the purpose of finding material on Syria. Any analysis of an army, a state, a party, or even of a tendency, in painting or literature, would have to be done from the point of view of its class roots, its class origins and its class meaning.

As the general document on the question of the Colonial Revolution and the nature of the states which issued from it shows, this is the most disturbed period in the whole history of the colonial world, in fact in the entire history of humanity. This disturbance is due to the impasse of society, particularly in the backward areas of the world, where the bourgeoisie grafted onto semi-feudal land ownership regimes which have been utterly incapable of developing productive forces in a consistent and systematic fashion.

The army is always a mirror of society. It reflects the relations within society itself. Only under an unstable regime can the army gain an independent role, separate and apart from the role of the ruling class. In circumstances where the army is the only organisation which could prevent society from disintegrating, the state is given a certain independence from the ruling class. But because the army is not separate and apart from society, all the tensions, antagonisms and conflicts that exist within society are reflected within the army itself.

Under “normal” conditions of a bourgeois society, these antagonisms are muffled, they do not assume a decisive or dominating role. But even in the most developed of capitalist countries, once the regime shows itself incapable of developing productive forces further, which would mean falling living standards, crisis in society, the development of unemployment and so on then the army also reflects the processes that are taking place within the society, usually in the form of a split.

The officer caste, educated and selected by the ruling class, would obviously support them, while on the other hand, the rank and file would move in the direction of support for the working class. This of course only applies when the working class manifests leadership and a capacity to change society, showing the possibility of a new system developing on new lines.

Even in developed countries, in the metropolitan countries of Europe, the army only plays the role of a nominally-independent force at a time when the relations in society are completely stable, when there is no great conflict between the classes which would inevitably have its effect on the army. A situation where the army is playing an independent role is proof of the impasse of society. It reveals the impossibility of solving the problems in the way in which they were solved in the West in the past.

The fact that Kumar states that the army was the only integrated organisation capable of holding society together, means, in reality, that society was riven with such terrible contradictions, with such manifestations of class antagonism and of class struggle that the only way out was through the army. The independent role that the army played, while remaining on a bourgeois basis, of attempting to mediate between the classes, is repeated in the case of bourgeois Bonapartism even in developed countries, and even more so in the case of ex-colonial countries.

Syria had 22 coups or counter-coups in 22 years before the development of the present regime. That hardly fits the bill of “holding the country together”. On the contrary it is an indication of the sheer instability of class relations and of the weakness of the Syrian state. The crisis of Syrian society dragged on for decades. There were movements of the working class, movements of the peasants, a ferment amongst the middle class, dissatisfaction within the bourgeoisie, the merchants and landowners, and no solution to the problems that faced the Syrian people and the Syrian economy.

The bourgeoisie and the petit-bourgeoisie tried all sorts of combinations for the purpose of solving the problems of the regime. They had tried bourgeois democracy, they tried army dictatorships, they had tried the rule of the landowners, of the reactionary parties, they tried a combination of coalition governments and in every case these broke down, preparing the way for a new coup on the part of the army.

The army itself, reflecting the divisions within society, was divided from top to bottom. Only a thin thread of military discipline held it together. But within the officer caste, which, as in every army, had control over the armed forces, the processes in the society resulted in splits and the movement of officers in different class directions as a consequence of the agony of Syrian society itself.

Army intervention

So it is not surprising that the army despaired of the bourgeoisie solving any of the problems of the Syrian people. Given the rotten corrupt role of the Syrian bourgeoisie, in the end, the army, or a section of the army, led by officers dominated by the Ba’ath Party, predictably moved in the direction which Syria has taken.

The fact that the Syrian bourgeoisie and the landowners sent the surplus that they gained from the labour of the workers, peasants and agricultural workers to foreign countries rather than invest in Syria was a powerful factor in the revolution.

On the other hand, this was perfectly natural given the instability of Syrian society – the perpetual coups, the clashes which had taken place between the classes and the incapacity to develop a big market or to develop the productive forces in Syria. Even in the developed countries, like France, Italy and Spain, under conditions of social crisis, the bourgeoisie have taken the precaution of sending large sums to Switzerland and other countries for the purpose of protecting their funds.

But this had a particularly baleful effect on the Syrian economy and the development of Syrian society. With the small surplus being exported in this way, Syrian society was bound to decay and therefore the crisis was exacerbated. The effects, as this news percolated through to the working class, the peasants and the middle layers of society, particularly the army officers, could not but provoke a hatred and a disgust at the role, the selfish and ignoble role, which was played by the Syrian bourgeoisie.

Thus the ground was ploughed by the bourgeoisie itself for the action which was taken by the army – a section of the lower, middle and even some of the top officers – to take over the economy and the greater part of the land. This decisive change in the situation in Syria was actually provoked by the merchants, the bourgeoisie and the landowners attempt at an immediate counter-coup when the first measures of nationalisation were announced by the Ba’ath regime under Salah Jahid in January 1965. If they were not to be overthrown by a combination of reactionary army officers with the landlords, the merchants and the bourgeoisie in a counter-coup, the only thing that the officers could do was to appeal to the working class and the peasantry.

They armed 100,000 workers and peasants who crushed the attempt at a coup on the part of the counter-revolution. This in its turn gave a decisive push to the situation. It is possible that things would not have reached the stage they did without this move on the part of the counter-revolution.

The bourgeoisie of the West, particularly the bourgeoisie of Britain, had a very accurate understanding of the process that took place in Syria. Though helpless to avert it, helpless to intervene, the imperialists could ruefully chart the course of the revolution in the most accurate way possible, from the point of view of their own class.

It is always necessary to examine processes in their development, in their changing and contradictory character. The analysis of the parties by Kumar does not take into account the dialectic of the development of society and the conditions of society in Syria at that time. Of course had the Communist Party, which was based on the working class, been a Marxist party, they could have led the struggle and fought for a workers’ democracy as in the struggle of the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin and Trotsky in Russia 1917.

But as in most of the countries of Africa and Latin America, the communist parties, which had been in the past slavishly dependent on Moscow, have been utterly incapable of developing an independent understanding of the processes that took place in these countries. They preferred to deal with the bourgeoisie. They had the illusion of a so-called bourgeois-democratic development of the revolution. The “two-stages” theory was what dominated the ideas of the Stalinists in most of these countries, in all the colonial countries of Latin America and of Africa and also in some of the countries of Asia as well.

It was only the development of the movement of the peasants and the working class in Vietnam and the movement of the peasants in China which gave a different impetus to the development of the events in those countries. By a curious dialectical contradiction, in the other countries where the CP based itself on the working class, it showed itself utterly incapable of carrying through the revolution.

This is shown very clearly by the development of events in Cuba. In Cuba the Communist Party played the role of lackey to the Batista regime, and even played a counter-revolutionary role as far as the development of the guerrilla war in Cuba was concerned.

Though nominally a party of the working class, in actual fact they were a party of the bureaucracy, so rotten and corrupted that they were utterly incapable of playing a revolutionary role, as in the other countries of Latin America.

As a consequence the revolution developed through the bourgeois-democratic Castro movement, the movement of July 26th. This was a petit-bourgeois movement without any basis in the ideas of Marxism or in the strategy and tactics of Marxism. It had semi-peasant, semi-agricultural workers, lumpens, with a sprinkling of proletarians and a large number of students as the basis of the movement. The “party” and the army were largely fused together as one.

Comrade Kumar accepts that Cuba is a deformed workers’ state although it began as a bourgeois-democratic movement in the early stages, led by Fidel Castro, which then moved on to carry through some of the basic tasks of the proletarian revolution. This stage was precipitated by American imperialism’s blockade. Castro broke with imperialism and capitalism.

From the reports of discussions which took place between Brezhnev and representatives of Nasser in Russia 1967 it would appear that, in the aftermath of the defeat in the Arab-Israeli war, Nasser was quite prepared to go the whole hog and transform Egypt and join the Soviet bloc. The opposition expressed by Brezhnev was one of the factors which prevented the carrying through to a conclusion of the revolution that had begun in Egypt. The failure to carry through this revolution to the end, on the other hand, resulted inevitably in a movement in the opposite direction, towards counter-revolution.

Sadat carried Egypt in the direction of an agreement with imperialism and the reactionary semi-feudal regimes of Saudi Arabia and the other oil states. But it is quite clear that in doing so, none of the problems of the modernisation and development of Egypt have been solved. In a maimed way this or that development will take place as far as the infrastructure is concerned, but the rotten Egyptian bourgeoisie cannot carry through the bourgeois-democratic revolution to a conclusion. Sadat attempted to move in the direction of liberal-bourgeois democracy, but because of the contradictions in Egyptian society has not been able to do so.

Very rapidly the reforms were countermanded by counter-reforms, using the Bonapartist instrument of the referendum. Then Sadat had to turn in the opposite direction, oppression of the opposition, ostensibly of the so-called right-wing opposition, but serving as window dressing for the suppression of workers’ and peasants’ opposition. Sadat had to take the path of suppression as a result of not being able to fundamentally change the conditions of the Egyptian masses, to develop industry or to get the necessary investment from America and the countries of the West.

Sadat’s policies

He has angled for foreign investment in Egypt to speed development and change the shaky situation which exists in the country itself. But this very situation he plays on frightens the Western capitalists with the spectre of losing their investments, especially after their experiences in Africa, the Middle East and Asia during the course of the last decades. Therefore, the aim which Sadat has set himself cannot be achieved, there cannot be a marked industrialisation to the maximum extent possible. What developments there will be will aggravate all the contradictions and tensions within Egyptian society. The rich are flaunting their wealth while the standards of living of the workers and peasants sink further. This in its turn will exacerbate the contradictions.

The road to war seems to be blocked by the fact that at the moment the Israelis have a crushing superiority. If there is a war between Egypt and the other Arab states and Israel, the most likely result would be a defeat for Egypt and the Arab states. But this in its turn would open up new possibilities in relation to Egypt.

A defeat for Sadat would have entirely different consequences than the defeat for Nasser, who was enormously popular and had the support of the overwhelming majority of the people in Egypt. In fact, such a defeat was averted in 1973 only by the intervention of America. After first re-arming Israel, the USA prevented the destruction of three to six hundred thousand Egyptian troops or their surrender to the Israelis after they were surrounded by the Israeli troops’ pincer movement across the Suez Canal, which cut them off from Egypt. The reason for the American intervention was obviously the social consequences which would have ensued in Egypt, resulting in the fall of Sadat and a development in the direction of revolution, and also probably affecting the other countries of the Middle East as well.

Sadat could not have withstood a defeat of that magnitude, nor would he be able to stand a similar defeat if there were a war with Israel in the future. A war is not absolutely excluded – launched in sheer desperation because of the mounting social complications within Egyptian society and the mounting opposition, the enormous explosive force of which was revealed in the January 1977 food riots. But even before a war could take place, it is quite possible there could be an eruption of the tensions in Egyptian society, due to the aggravation of the social conflicts and class contradictions. As a consequence of the measures of Sadat, an enormously wealthy ruling class has developed, a class which engages in conspicuous wasteful expenditure at a time when the masses are living under conditions of penury and hunger.

The inflation which is eating into the living standards of the mass of the people, of the workers and of the peasants; the cutting down of the very low standard of living of the Egyptian fellahin and of the Egyptian masses in general, cannot but provoke movements such as that of 1977.

If we have spoken about sharp turns and sudden changes in the situation on a world scale and in most of the countries of the world, then this certainly applies to Egypt.

Under such conditions it is entirely possible that a section of the officer caste, in desperation, can seize control and turn the regime in a leftward direction. When there is absolutely no way out for the masses, when there is no way forward for Egyptian society, where a period of instability would follow the fall of Sadat (either through resignation or a coup), it is entirely possible that the successor to Sadat would follow the path that has been traced at first by Nasser, and then try to take the plunge in the same direction as Syria.

We would then have a movement in the direction of the setting up of a deformed workers’ state, a movement which would begin with the expropriation of the landowners in order to pacify the peasants and end with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie – especially of the hated new bourgeoisie, the nouveau riche, which has developed in the course of the last ten or twenty years. The army officers would see no other way than to take this road of setting up a Bonapartist workers’ state. Of course this could only be accomplished with the support, active or passive, of the workers and peasants.

Distorted revolution

For the reasons explained in the general material, the officers looking for a role and looking for a purpose could find it in so-called “socialism”, i.e. in a regime where they would be a dominating caste, together with the civil bureaucracy and the party bureaucracy – a regime they would dominate, brushing aside the degenerate and diseased bourgeoisie and landowners of Egypt itself.

No doubt, as in all the countries of the Stalinist world, large sections of the landowners and even of the bourgeoisie would not find it difficult to convert themselves into bureaucrats and fasten themselves on the state for the purpose of ensuring their own position in society, but this would no longer be based on their ownership of the means of production, but on the basis of the state ownership of the means of production.

Of course, as explained in the first section, the whole course of events in Egypt and other third world countries would be entirely changed if there were a Marxist party of any great size. In addition, events in the industrialised West or the Stalinist East will have an enormous effect throughout the colonial world. One revolutionary victory in an important industrial country would transform the situation in the colonial world.

The analysis of the parties which is made by our comrade does not take into account the development of the social forces in Syria itself. In Ethiopia we have seen the movement towards a deformed workers’ state without the existence not only of a working class party, but even of a petit-bourgeois party directed nominally towards the ideas of socialism.

The fact that undoubtedly the Ba’ath Party was a petit-bourgeois idealist or utopian party is of no real significance in relation to the development of Syrian society and the development of events. They have gone further than they had wished under the impetus of the crisis itself. Trotsky has explained that even in the countries of the West it is theoretically possible that the Stalinist and socialist parties under pressure of social crisis would go further than they intended as a result of the movement of the masses and of the development of the revolution.

Even in Western Europe (and this indicates the degree of capitalism’s obsolescence in France, Belgium, Holland and Britain) we have had a large measure of nationalisation taking place because of the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to solve the problems of these industries and the impossibility of society’s development without such measures. How much more would a petit-bourgeois party like the Ba’ath Party, which had intimate relations with the state machine through its control of large numbers if not the majority of officers in the army, behave in the way we have seen?

The fact that the minorities played a great part in the change of regimes in Syria fits in with this pattern. The minority officers hated the rule of the bourgeoisie and the majority traditional religious groupings who regarded them with condescension and disdain. They were not as tied to the landowners and the bourgeoisie as perhaps the majority officers might have been. But the fact that minorities played a big role among the army officers and in the rank and file of the army also, was one of the factors in the situation which reacted unfavourably as far as the bourgeoisie is concerned.

The basic mistake of Kumar is to compare the developments in Syria with what would happen in a revolution, even in a backward colonial country, led by a Marxist party leading the working class, which in turn would lead the nation to the change of society. Under such conditions the whole process would be entirely different; the workers would lead the peasants and petit-bourgeoisie, they would establish workers’ democracy, and the possibility would be there for the development of society along the lines of the development of Russia between 1917 and 1923. Of course, that could not be long lasting unless it had the support of some advanced economy.

Socialism requires a material basis, and a material basis for socialism does not exist in any of the underdeveloped countries of the world. It only exists on an international scale. Even for workers’ democracy, as the experience of the USSR demonstrates, a majority of workers is necessary. A regime of workers’ democracy with a small minority of workers could not last for any lengthy period. It would inevitably succumb and degenerate unless it had the direct assistance of the workers in some advanced economy taking power. If therefore, revolutions are taking place in backward countries, this can only be understood on the basis of the international development of events, of the environment of these countries and particularly the changed world balance of forces. It is also a symptom of the fact that productive forces on a world scale are ripe for socialism.

The Russian revolution and the Chinese revolution were decisive for the colonial world in this respect. Also as decisive, of course, have been the effects of the degeneration of the Russian revolution, and the development of proletarian Bonapartism in Russia itself. Thus the description of the Ba’ath Socialist Party is entirely scholastic. We can accept all the arguments of Kumar on this question – that the Ba’ath was a petit-bourgeois party, that it was only nominally a “socialist” party and so on – but this does not in any way detract from the developments that took place. The Ba’ath itself, undoubtedly, would have been utterly incapable of developing an insurrection on the lines of October 1917 in Russia. It would have been utterly incapable of leading the proletariat, the peasants and petit-bourgeoisie in the towns to a victory over capitalism and landlordism with its own resources and basing itself on the mass of the population. But the events in Syria were determined by the fact that the Ba’ath was intimately linked with a section of the officers. The officers in turn, as explained in the previous section, were affected by the crisis of society, as we have shown in relation to the developments in Portugal.

In fact all the material quoted by him actually counts against Kumar, if he would review it in a dialectical way. For example, he says “Hourani was Shishakli’s defence minister, until the latter’s ruthless repression of the peasant uprisings and unremitting suppression of parliamentary and democratic liberties forced him to break with his life-long friend” (page 36). That was the background to the development of events in Syria – peasants’ and workers’ uprisings, constant ferment and breakdown of class relations in society. In Burma, the unending wars, and the complete breakdown of society under bourgeois and landlord control led to the anti-fascist People’s Freedom League and a section of the officers who composed the Burmese Army, in the end taking control into their own hands. So in the same way, the process was prepared in Syria.

Kumar shows the instability of relations and the fact that the army in Syria was not the classical “fixed” organised army of the bourgeoisie as it was in the past. He says for example: “It is estimated that the CP had established the popular force of 100,000 armed citizens with the assistance of army chief of staff Bizri, a Communist fellow traveller” (page 36). In what army in the world could there be a chief of staff who was a fellow traveller of the Communist Party? That in itself shows the relations that existed in the country as a whole.

Kumar proceeds, “Finally, the tensions in the army were reaching crisis proportions, and the Ba’ath, whose real source of power was the Ba’ath wing of the officer corps, could hope that the authority of Nasser and Field Marshall Amir could be a remedy for this dangerous factionalism” (page 37). The fact that tensions in the army were leading to a split in the army, was caused by the tensions within society – within and between the classes. The fact that the Ba’ath tried union with Egypt as a solution to the problems of Syrian society with all the consequences Kumar describes, in itself is an indication of the rottenness of Syrian society and of the crisis of the regime.

Break with Egypt

Union with Egypt was an attempt to by-pass the influence of the Communist Party at that time and the danger of a proletarian revolution in Syria. It was pushed by the Syrian bourgeoisie as an attempt to try and escape from the contradictions of society in Syria itself. It was this fear of revolution in Syria and the overthrow of landlordism and capitalism which led to the Ba’ath trying to find a solution to this problem in a union with Egypt. The union, of course, as well related by Kumar, was an absolute disaster, and under these conditions could not be long lasting. With the inevitable conspiracy on the part of the officers we had the movement in the direction of once again re-establishing the Syrian state. Nasser, in order to get some sort of base amongst the Syrian masses, took measures which Kumar points out were enormously popular, that is to say, an attempt at nationalisations and agrarian reform. However, as always in these cases, where there is not a complete expropriation of the bourgeoisie and of the landlords, and where this was done by foreign hands, the Egyptians, rather than by the instrumentation of the Syrians themselves, it inevitably fell short of what was required. Kumar, for instance remarks: “in practise, Syrian land reform during the United Arab Republic period was a dismal failure. Only one-twentieth of the land earmarked for expropriation was actually distributed” (page 37). Even most of this fell back into the hands of the landlords.

Kumar says: “The ’socialised decrees’ of July 1961 as applied to Syria, nationalised banks, insurance, three industrial firms and part nationalised 24 other industrial companies. Workers were allocated a 25% share in company profits and represented on boards. The nationalisation affected at most 10% of the workers engaged in manufacturing in Syria, and in any case, the prevailing mood of anti-Egyptianism minimised their possible favourable impact. Nationalisation was, however, an adequate reason for the Syrian bourgeoisie to redouble their efforts to secede from the union and terminate the nightmare” (page 37). He makes it clear that it was the bourgeois wing, or rather, the wing that was linked with the Syrian bourgeoisie and landlords, which carried through the coup against the union with Egypt and for independence from Egypt. This is very significant. The only reason why the bourgeoisie could not win by relying on those sections of the officers who had been willing to support a counter-revolution after the measures of nationalisation and the expropriations of the landowners was, of course, the fact that the Ba’ath wing of the army appealed to the masses, to the workers and peasants. In Syria far more than in the revolution in China or Cuba for example, the workers played a big part in the crushing of the attempt of the counter-revolution at the time of later events.

As Kumar says: “Sarraj resigned in protest, and the resulting conflicts in the military and the intelligence establishment gave the disgruntled army officers and right wing officers the opportunity to act in conjunction with the bourgeois politicians” (page 37). With this there can be no disagreement but here clearly it is a question of the social forces that are involved in the process – the army officers working in conjunction with the representatives of the bourgeoisie in order to establish a bourgeois government. Resting on the peasants and the petit-bourgeois, who always go with the strongest force, the officers were able to accomplish the break with Egypt.

As Kumar comments, the victory of the counter-revolution resulted in the attempt to stem the tide of ’socialist’ measures: “The new government abolished the nationalisation measures, and curtailed the land reforms, like a man attempting to make the Euphrates flow backwards again” (page 38). This is a very significant admission on the part of the comrade because it indicates the weakness of the bourgeoisie and of the counter-revolutionary forces in Syria. As he shows, the whole process was one of unending instability and, with the clash of classes, the interests of the classes were being reflected in clashes within the army which itself was not at all a stable, monolithic force, even so far as the officer caste itself was concerned:

“The parliamentary period that commenced with the end of the union with Egypt was short-lived, lasting less than 18 months. Even in its brief lifetime it was rocked by an abortive military coup and a change of government.

“Under the leadership of Azm and Hourani a powerful movement for the realisation of the promised return of democratic rights was under way by early 1962. The bourgeois government, unable to resist the pressure from the left was beginning to retreat when Nahlawi’s second abortive coup at the end of March interrupted it... The coup failed and in the resulting confusion, the military once again convened a congress at Horns... Nahlawi was exiled and a civilian government reinstated with a general consensus of the assembly.

“The new government restored the land reform with the peasants obtaining title deeds at once, not forty years hence, nationalised all foreign banks and acquired a 25% share of all Syrian banks. The lower middle class origins of the officer corps was asserting itself.” (page 38)

Class reflections

The comrade doesn’t notice that all the factions within the army rested on the classes within society itself. The struggle between the factions was a reflection of the class struggle in the country and outside the army. The army cannot be separate and independent from the processes that are taking place within the country. That is clearly established by the material put forward by Kumar himself.

Kumar continues to contrast the position of the Ba’ath and the situation in Syria with the position of what a revolutionary party in a backward country resting on the proletariat would base itself on and would accomplish. For example, after detailing many of the intrigues, and the development of the factions and the struggle within the army, he goes on to say:

“It was characteristic of the Ba’ath political leaders that they drew their real strength from the army and not the party’s mass organisations and the conspiracy of intrigue was their style.”

He continues:

“Mobilisation of the mass movement would have been oblivious to the pitfalls of fusing with petty-fogging political manoeuvrers, but they appear to have been oblivious to the pitfalls of fusing with an autonomous cabal of this nature!”

He goes on to say:

“the Ba’ath could mobilise little mass activity on its own behalf but the alliance with the major political parties was a decisive advantage in the Ba’ath military factions favour. This despite the fact that the Syrian Ba’ath had a paucity of experience in mass politics and was unable to conceive of the revolution as an activity of the workers and peasants moving en masse on the basis of their own demands.” (page 39)

The question that immediately arises is why the military faction had to lean on a party with support amongst the masses if the developments in the army were entirely independent of the processes that were taking place in the country and among the workers and peasants? If the processes in the army were independent of the struggle between landlords and bourgeois on the one hand, and the mass of the workers and peasants on the other, why did the faction of officers with links with and membership of the Ba’ath succeed in coming out on top? This could only be on the basis of the support of the workers and peasants, if not the active participation of the workers and peasants in the struggles that were taking place.

The same mistake is made by Kumar in his analysis of the politics of the Ba’ath. He has not understood that in a backward country, where there is no genuine revolutionary current – and as he himself points out, no Marxist current – given the historical background nationally and internationally, events of the sort that are taking place in Syria will undoubtedly take place in other countries as well. As explained in the first part of this document on the colonial revolution, it is impossible to understand these processes without understanding the complete impasse of capitalism and landlordism in the third world, the complete bankruptcy of capitalism under modern conditions.

The crisis of capitalism in the metropolitan areas will be a protracted crisis. This means that the crisis in the colonial world will become even more grave.

Under these conditions, events such as those in Ethiopia and in other countries will inevitably take place in many countries of the “underdeveloped” world. The whole essence of the problem is that without any perspectives whatsoever, on the basis of landlordism and capitalism it is possible for a section of the middle class elite, of the officer caste, to look towards a new solution to the problems.

The leaders of Ghana have made an important point, that in Ghana they tried every form of regime without any success. They tried a parliamentary regime – that could not solve their problems. They tried the dictatorship of Nkrumah – that did not solve their problems. The spokesman himself said, “we’ve tried everything except communism, and maybe we’ll have to try that if there is no other way out of the situation we find ourselves in!”

Economic transformation

Thus it is entirely misconceived on the part of comrade Kumar when he points out: “It is a fact of Syrian politics in the entire period under study that political participation was always limited to a small core of military and civilian participants; it is true that even relatively moderate alterations in the balance of power in that group significantly affects the dispositions of the regime, but such alterations inevitably fall short of the transformation of the class nature of the state and regime” (page 39/40). That is precisely the point – whether there was or was not a change of regime.

The fact that in most of the period under discussion there was not a big movement of the masses does not argue against the process of revolution that has taken place. Each movement of the “participants” over a period of 20 to 30 years, each change of regime, was dictated by the dispositions that had taken place among the masses, by the pressure of the masses, the discontent of the masses and the movement of the population itself. It would be entirely against all the ideas of Marxism to imagine that the political manoeuvres of the army on the one hand, and the civilian politicians on the other had no relationship to the struggle of the masses that was taking place at that time. Only with the support of the masses would it be possible to make the changes that have taken place.

In the decisive transformation of the regime that took place it was because of the attempt of the counter-revolution to re-establish itself that a qualitatively different regime emerged in Syria.

We saw the intervention of the armed masses, of the 100,000 armed workers and peasants in order to crush the active attempts at counter-revolution on the part of the merchants, shopkeepers, the landowners and the bourgeoisie itself. This was decisively crushed with hardly any action at all on the part of the masses. All they had to do now was show their power in the demonstrations that took place in Damascus and sweep aside, with hardly any resistance whatsoever, within the space of 24 hours, the relics of the old regime.

Even in a healthy workers’ revolution, as Trotsky pointed out, at the point of insurrection only a minority of the class will actively participate but they have the support and sympathy of the overwhelming majority. An active movement of 100,000 workers and peasants, with a country which has as small a population as Syria (7.350,000 in 1975), undoubtedly represents the support of the overwhelming majority of the population.

In fact comrades who argue this way will admit that in Ethiopia, for example, because of the civil war and the struggles that have taken place there was this fundamental change. But in reality it was because the movement in Syria was far more based on the masses of workers and peasants that it succeeded without a civil war, crushing the resistance of the merchants and the landowners without any great casualties.

This document contradicts itself over and over again. For example:

“Each time the workers’ militia was mobilised it was quickly disarmed, once the specific function required of it was completed. It did not throw up an indigenous leadership that participated and influenced the higher power struggle nor were the independent and spontaneous movements of the working class one of the major pressures that the Ba’ath leadership had to take serious account of during its crucial power struggles.”

He then goes on to contradict himself completely in his next sentence by saying:

“It is of course quite true that the Ba’ath and CP did succeed in generating support and even a degree of heat in the working class at the time of the Hama revolt and again in January 1965 at the time of the nationalisation decrees but it would be quite erroneous to exaggerate its political significance...

“On January 1st, 1965, the left and military dominated government launched the sweeping nationalisation programme known as the Ramadan Decrees. In part the measures were intended to undermine the Aflaq-Bitar right-wing which, together with the rightist officer Umran of the Military Committee was praying for a last ditch struggle against the Regionalists and the Military Committee. In part the decrees were a political, economic necessity. Faced with a massive flight of capital and a crisis in industry this group of officers found it necessary to consolidate economic power in their own hands as a necessary adjunct to political power.

“The January 1965 decrees ended the economic domination of the city and industrial bourgeoisie and put all modern industry into state hands... Companies 25% nationalised in 1964 were taken over 75 to 100%; altogether 106 companies with assets valued at $243 million were taken over. A number of artisan workshops which were taken over because of the hasty and ill-prepared manner of nationalisation were subsequently returned to private ownership. Continuing nationalisation throughout 1965 put 70% of the import-export trade and some non-industrial sectors of the economy also in state hands.” (pages 41/42)

Thus in fact what was taken control of by the Ba’ath army officers was greater than in the Russian revolution in its first phase in 1917! In fact the economic basis of a transitional economy was established in Syria.

Movement of classes

The document then goes on to say that there was an attempt at reaction on the part of the expropriated classes:

“At the end of January a civil disobedience campaign broke out amongst sections of the urban population incited by reactionary religious organisations and the expropriated class and merchants. It was broken by the Ba’ath Workers’ Militia and the CP militants under the watchful eye of the army.” (page 42, my emphasis)

It’s perfectly true that the revolution did not take place in the classical manner, and therefore could only result in creating a monstrously deformed and distorted Bonapartist workers’ state. But neither in China, Cuba, Eastern Europe or in any of the developments that have taken place in the backward countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, did the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism take place in the classical form. It took place because of the world relationship of forces – the impasse of capitalism in the underdeveloped world in this epoch and because of the need to break through to modernity. It occurred in this distorted form because of the weakness of Marxism in the developed countries of the world as well as in the under-developed countries.

It is unfortunate that, following in the footsteps of the bourgeois writers he has studied, our comrade keeps on pointing to the personal, clique and caste struggles that took place, without understanding what these personal and clique struggles actually represented.

In the same way, the bourgeoisie have represented the struggle between Stalin and Trotsky as a personal struggle, as a clique struggle for power on the part of both proponents. Here, they have missed the point completely, not understanding that Stalin represented the bureaucracy on the one hand and Trotsky represented the working class on the other. It is true that in this case it was on the basis of a relatively healthy workers’ state that all the manoeuvres and the struggle actually took place. But this doesn’t alter anything in fundamentals.

All the bourgeoisie could see were clique struggles, personal struggles, factional struggles and so on, trying to avoid the Marxist method of explaining that all these factional and clique struggles represent the pressure and the movement within society, the movement of different classes within society. In the case of the Soviet Union, that would be the relations of workers, peasants, and the ruling elite, the bureaucratic caste which had taken control of the state out of the hands of the workers and peasants, and into its own hands.

So, similarly, in Syria, where Kumar can see only a personal struggle between cliques of the Ba’ath, between different sections of the officer caste and so on, one has to see behind the ambitions of this or that individual, or this or that clique in the army, or this or that clique in the Ba’ath or this or that faction, to see the forces they represented in the relations of the classes in the country.

He goes on to say:

“It was also the last stage in a civilian-military conflict by which the army brought the Ba’ath Party in Syria under its absolute control. The Military Committee had simultaneously purged the army of rival factions, penetrated all the strategic command posts and assumed total control of the Syrian army too. This narrowing of the focal point of political power was the historical device through which a new rising petit-bourgeoisie, whose aspirations could not find fulfilment in the regime of the old city bourgeois-landlord alliance, took political power into its own hands.” (page 42)

This must be something new in the history of Marxism – the idea that a rural petit-bourgeoisie can take power into its own hands! Never in history has that been possible and never in history will it take place. The fact that most of the army officers came from the rural petit-bourgeoisie, the lower, and the middle petit-bourgeoisie, was significant in that they were subject to the enormous pressures of the crisis in Syrian society. But to suggest that they took power for the purposes of the petit-bourgeoise can only be described as completely false from beginning to end.

“State capitalism”?

Where the landlords’ and the capitalists’ power is broken, where nationalisation takes place, and the land divided, how else can one refer to this except as a transitional regime of a deformed workers’ state? It would make nonsense of all the ideas of Marxism, all the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky to imagine that the rural petit-bourgeoisie could expropriate the capitalist class. That goes against all their teachings on the role of the peasantry in the revolution under modern conditions. The peasantry by its very nature, cannot play an independent role. It must support one of the basic classes in society. Thus it is not accidental, as Kumar himself has explained, that the nationalisations received the overwhelming support of the working class in Syria. It is only because of the nationalisations and because of the division of the land gaining support of the workers and peasants, that the regime in Syria has been able to maintain itself during the last seven or eight years.

The document then goes on to say:

“It has been an over-hasty generalisation to conclude from the nationalisation of the industrial sector of the economy and the undoubted destruction of the political and economic power of the old bourgeoisie and the big landowners that a Proletarian Bonapartist state has emerged in Syria. The destruction of the old order does not necessarily imply that the new order that emerged has laid down the basic structures of a socialist economy.

“The error in concluding that Syria is socio-economically similar to say, the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe or China or Cuba arises from inadequate attention to two crucial aspects viz:

“1. The limited and unfinished nature of the state control of the economy, the continuity and now the growth of capitalist relations in agriculture and trade, and the accelerating growth of the private sector in several modern branches after Asad came to power.

“2. The continuity of political power manifested in the army, the extreme weakness of popular participation throughout the political and power struggles in the decisive years and the final resolution of the struggles in favour of a new middle class based on a wider social spectrum than the old possessing classes.

“Undoubtedly the reforms and the nationalisation made possible a rapid economic rebuilding. The experiences show that the state is capable of harnessing the necessary resources for laying the foundations of economic modernisation, something the old possessing classes were too impotent to achieve.

“In a very real sense the old regime in Syria was pre-bourgeois. Syria after 1966 was essentially state capitalist. State ownership of major industry existed side by side with bourgeois relations in commerce, small enterprises and agriculture. The old traditional social relations existed in several spheres. However, what really underlines the class nature of the state is the direction in which the state capitalist economy evolves. State capitalism is only a transitional phase and either evolves towards ordinary capitalist relations or moves towards increasing socialisation of the whole economy, depending on the character of the political regime. In Syria, the evolution of the economy in a capitalist direction since 1970 is hardly disputable.” (my emphasis, page 42)

This is an entirely undialectical view of the processes that have taken place on a world scale and in the country itself. In fact the regime went too far in the nationalising of the small shops, small industry and so on, particularly in a backward country like Syria! Even in a country like Britain, in the first stage of the socialist revolution it is clear that only the big monopolies, the banks and insurance companies would be nationalised, possibly all industry employing over 30-100 would be nationalised. Only in the course of the participation of the masses, of the development of the revolution, would the rest of industry gradually be taken over by the state. In the first phase, full support would be given to the small shopkeepers, small businessmen and small farmers in an endeavour to expand the social base of the regime. Only voluntarily, and through experience would the small businessmen, shopkeepers and small farmers be convinced that in the collective running of the economy they would gain a better standard of living and a better regime, than in their own control of a tiny segment of the economy. No force, no action would be taken against the small capitalists, as all the great teachers have laid down, but they would be convinced by their own experience and by the propaganda of the regime that it is better for themselves, for their families and of course for society as a whole to act collectively together. Thus in Burma also, there were stupid actions on the part of the regime, nationalising even the smallest shops and the smallest businesses, as in Syria.

Had there been a Marxist proletarian regime in Syria which had made this mistake, they would have been compelled by the economic circumstances themselves to beat a retreat and allow the development of small business, to allow the development of small enterprises as a stage in the development of the economy. That was the position of the NEP in Russia. Not until Syria had a modernised economy would it be possible to dispense with these elements of petit-bourgeois economy, of capitalism if you like, within the framework of the general state ownership of industry itself.

Land reform

The whole conception is based on a cloudy understanding of what state capitalism is. Within a capitalist regime state capitalism is the nationalisation of bankrupt and rotting elements of the economy, or those such as railways, post, telecommunications and so on, where it is necessary for the functioning of bourgeois society that these should be under the control of the state itself. But decisively the main elements in manufacturing and the main sectors in the economy are left untouched, as for instance in Britain where nine-tenths of manufacturing industry, perhaps at least 80% of the decisive elements in manufacturing are in the hands of private enterprise. The 20% or so of state ownership caters for the benefit of the entrepreneurs, giving them cheap services and raw materials. In the case of Britain for example giving them cheap coal, railways, cheap steel, cheap gas and cheap electricity.

It was necessary to nationalise these parts of the economy because the capitalists themselves were not prepared to lay out the enormous sums that were necessary for the modernisation of these industries, and without it, even Britain’s weakened position on the world market would have become absolutely impossible. Under a capitalist regime, this is state capitalism because only a minor, even if important section of the economy remains within the hands of the state, and the economy as a whole is based entirely on private enterprise itself.

This means that there cannot be a plane there cannot he an organisation of production, the regime still proceeds on the basis of the laws of the market as they have in all the Western countries where (as in Italy, France, Britain and other countries of Europe) nationalisation took place in the world revolutionary upsurge that followed the Second World War.

State capitalism in the Soviet Union (under a workers’ state) as defined by Lenin, on the other hand is something entirely different, it is where the major industries and so on were in the control of the state, a workers’ state, which would allow concessions to foreign capital, concessions which Lenin intended to be enormously widespread but which were not taken up by foreign capital, because they did not intend to prop up and strengthen the workers’ state in Russia. It is an economy where the major part of industry is in the hands of the workers’ state and where some sections of industry would be under private ownership – that is what Lenin meant by state capitalism under a workers’ state. The situation in Syria is entirely different, even according to the arguments of Kumar himself,

“The agrarian reform, which was only 17% completed between 1958 and 1963, was energetically carried forward under agrarian reform minister Jundi after 1965, and was 85% complete by 1970.” (page 42)

Thus they have taken a decisive step in the nationalisation of industry and in the division of the land.

What Kumar doesn’t seem to understand is that in Russia, for example, the basis of the land reform lasted from 1917 until 1929 and elements of capitalism in the countryside and in the towns were created as a consequence of the New Economic Policy which the Bolsheviks were forced to introduce. But Kumar argues:

“The basis of Syrian land reform is capitalist in another sense too. Its basic unit is the peasant cultivator and it does does not anticipate collectivisation; a large class of agricultural labourers find employment in the reduced holding of the landlords. Even by 1972, only 7% of the cultivated area was in state farms which are mainly intended as centres of specialisation and research to service the needs of agricultural producers in the different districts.” (page 43)

But in reality, this was no different even in Russia in the first period of the revolution, and right up until 1929-31, when collectivisation was introduced as a consequence of the incipient revolt and actual revolt on the part of the rich peasants and the rich elements in the countryside (Kulaks) and of course the differentiation in the countryside itself. The fact that only 7% of the land is in state hands is not an argument.

State and economic forces

In the Soviet Union the basic form of farming still remains the collective farms, even 60 years after the revolution. In Poland, 20 to 25 years after the transformation of society, the immense majority of the land is in private hands. The compulsory collectivisation collapsed in the events of 1956. For nearly a quarter of a century the land has remained under the control mainly of individual peasants. The Church is enormously influential. Does this mean that capitalism is being restored in Poland? There is not a single comrade who would dare to argue that.

Of course, it is not excluded that if the division of the land remains as it is for a whole historical period, that there may he a new attempt on the part of the Kulak elements in the Syrian countryside to try and reverse the situation in the country. The Muslim religion will be used, of course, along with the reactionary Mullahs and the contradictions between the national minorities and the Sunni majority, all these could be used by reaction under these conditions.

But with the power of the state itself, and the state is an enormous economic force in and of itself as the whole history of the last seventy years has demonstrated, it is far more likely that any attempt at counter-revolution will he met with further measures on the part of the regime, of collectivisation and of further shoring up of the state structure.

One has only to quote Kumar to show the realities of society in Syria:

“nationalisation, which in 1965 put about 80% of big enterprises in state hands, gave coherence to an economic condition that had become chaotic as a result of the political conflicts of the previous years. The state set about the business of industrial diversification and infrastructure development. The important new developments were in new railways and roads, modernisation of the industrial sector to the national income rose from 12% in 1965 to about 25% in 1975, mostly however, due to the discovery of oil during the decade. It must be emphasised that the role of the state has been mainly in infrastructure development. The star project of the Ba’ath regime was the Euphrates dam that rivals Aswan in splendour.” (p 43)

Role of the trade unions

This speaks for itself and is the complete justification of the changeover that took place in Syria. Without it such changes would have been absolutely impossible. Kumar points out that in Syria, 75% of foreign trade at its height was in the hands of the state, and he claims that restrictions on foreign trade have been steadily relaxed and the private sector has been allowed to import raw materials, spare parts and even luxury goods. But as the private sector is a secondary part of industry in Syria it would not amount to very much. Thus in effect, the state monopoly of trade, on which Lenin and Trotsky laid such great stress in Russia as an absolutely essential component of a socialist policy, exists in Syria at the present time. This is particularly important for a backward country, because of the pressure of the more developed industry of the metropolitan capitalist countries of the West. It is a safeguard for the nationalised industry that exists in Syria at the present time. Therefore, it would be entirely false to conclude from the economic analysis that Syria could be anything else but a deformed workers’ state.

Kumar then refers to the fact that the trade unions are a puppet of the Ba’ath Party and of the regime of the Generals in Syria. But the trade unions in all the Stalinist countries do not preserve an independent role. In every case they are an arm of the state, whether it is in China, Russia, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Burma, South Yemen or any of the countries where proletarian Bonapartism has been established. Only in a healthy workers’ state would the trade unions preserve an independent role, as Lenin explained, of defending the state on the one hand, and defending the workers against the state on the other hand.

If Syria is not a workers’ state because the trade unions are not independent, then it would mean there are no workers’ states anywhere in the world! Especially in Russia the trade unions, as with the party itself, are creatures of the bureaucracy, the trade union leaders are actually a part of the bureaucratic set-up within the Soviet Union and the regime brooks no independent organisation of the working class whatsoever.

In fact there would be little difference, as far as the state is concerned, between the Arbeitfront of Hitler, the trade unions under Mussolini in Italy or the sindicatos in Spain under Franco and the alleged trade unions, the caricatures of trade unions, in the Soviet Union and the other Bonapartist workers’ states at the present time.

Kumar seems to think that the fact that the Muslim religion plays a big role in Syria is of decisive significance.

But we see that in Poland also, the Catholic church there plays an enormously important role and in fact that the Bureaucracy, for the purpose of stabilising the regime, has made enormous concessions to the church in the recent period. But that does not detract from the fact that Poland is a deformed workers’ state.

The position of women is another factor which is taken up by comrade Kumar. But Trotsky devoted a whole section in the Revolution Betrayed, written in 1936, to the complete betrayal by Stalinism of all that has been achieved by the revolution in the emancipation of women in Russia. The subservience of women is quite clear.

Kumar tries to argue that the achievements in Syria are merely an extension of the October revolution in the sense that without the aid of the Soviet Union, without the aid of the Soviet bureaucracy, it would not have been possible to make the enormous advances that there have been. He tries to make a differentiation with the situation in Cuba which also depended to an even greater extent on Soviet aid during the course of the last 15 years by arguing that the Soviet Union has “replicated”, in his own words, the situation that exists in Russia at the present time in the sphere of the party, the state and so on. But here Kumar is merely repeating the mistake of Mandel, Pablo and Healy in the discussion that took place in 1945 to 1948 on the question of the nature of the regimes in Eastern Europe. They all tried to argue that Eastern Europe was a “glacis”, as they expressed it, a merely defensive region on the part of the Soviet Union, and all that we had in Eastern Europe was “state capitalism”. While in Russia a workers’ state continued to exist.

Comrade Kumar makes the same mistake as was made by Mandel, Pablo, Hansen, Healy and those other gentlemen who, in the period 1945 to 1948, incapable of understanding or explaining the developments in Eastern Europe, tried to cover it up by saying that Eastern Europe was merely an extension of the Soviet Union. They argued that as no revolution had taken place in the classical way, with the direct intervention of the proletariat, it was not possible for there to have been a change in regime.

That meant that all that was happening was an extension of the revolution in Russia. Of course, there is a grain of truth in that, in the sense that the advance of the Red Army destroyed the state machine of the bourgeoisie of Eastern Europe. This was especially so as the state machine had collaborated with the Nazis, and therefore most of the key officials had fled to East Germany as the Red Army had advanced into Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, that meant that the state machine had been smashed by the movement of the Red Army, but it was only the movement of the working class and of the peasants which allowed the erection of a Bonapartist workers’ state in these countries. That is explained in the document Against the Theory of State Capitalism and The Marxist Theory of the State, which we are now republishing and will be available for all comrades to study.

World crisis

In this document, the whole process is sketched out clearly, and had comrades throughout the movement studied the document, then the errors which are creeping in could not have been made. Undoubtedly, the bureaucracy regarded as an enormous gift the fact that the revolution was taking place in these backward countries, where the revolution could begin and develop in a distorted way as a consequence, in the image of Moscow which in its turn, strengthened the Moscow bureaucracy.

As we have explained in the case of Egypt, it is possible that as early as 1967, there could have been a transformation of the social relations in Egypt, but the Moscow bureaucracy, afraid of the impact that this would have on American imperialism and imperialists of the West, in effect prevented and sabotaged a development on these lines.

Had they been consulted in relation to Syria, there is no doubt that the answer would have been exactly the same at the time of the Syrian events. But since then the weakening of the power of imperialism, with the enormous power and strength that the Soviet bureaucracy has gained in the intervening decade and with the paralysis of American imperialism’s policy due to the opposition of the American workers and people, it was not possible for the American imperialists to intervene directly in the events of Mozambique and Angola. Therefore the Moscow bureaucracy gave their blessing to these processes and even assisted in a sense by giving arms, supplies and so on, and undoubtedly actively encouraged [by] the intervention of Cuba, and by this means assisted in the transformation of both Mozambique and Angola.

There is fear on the part of the imperialists that with the aid that the Moscow bureaucracy is giving the Rhodesian liberation movements that the same process will take place there and also in Namibia, unless the imperialists can find a way of achieving some sort of compromise. That explains the change of line as far as the imperialists are concerned, in Africa.

Now, French imperialism – seeing that they no longer have the luxury of American imperialism being the world’s policeman and doing the dirty work – tried, for a short period, the role of policeman in Africa, in the Sahara, in Chad and of course with the intervention in Zaire. But they had to immediately retreat from Zaire because of the pressure of the masses in France, because of the pressure of even the Communist Party and Socialist Party and also of the Gaullists, who understand very well that a role of open exploitation and intervention in Africa in its turn would have enormous consequences for Western Europe and also for the United States.

Under these circumstances the imperialists cannot intervene directly in Africa, but are faced with a dilemma. They are incapable of really developing the productive forces in these countries especially when the development of productive forces in their own countries is slowing down and there is the possibility of a slump. On the other hand under the present circumstances without aid and without succour there would inevitably result in Zaire, the former Belgian Congo, a collapse of the regime. Other regimes in Africa would follow suit. That merely indicates the insoluble problems which imperialism faces at the present time.

It is the same world crisis of the productive forces of the underdeveloped countries, the absolute impossibility on a capitalist basis of hoping to compete with the giant powers, particularly under conditions of slump and crisis, which makes it possible that what has happened in Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, South Yemen and other countries, can also take place in still further countries in Africa and possibly the process could extend still further to Asia, as it already has done in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Marxists are very careful in using terms. The loose way in which the term “state capitalism” has been used shows that the comrades are not used to the discipline of Marxism in writing their material. In the same way, the talk of “dual power” even in inverted commas, and inverted commas are not used in this particular context, between the two different factions in the army and in the government is entirely false. For example, the document says:

“After this a condition of Dual Power existed within the regime. The two factions shared power in cabinet and in government and based themselves on the army or the party cadre as the case may be, published their own papers and battled it out. Assad also drew strength from the city bourgeoisie and mercantile class outside of the regime because of his more conservative orientation and promises of economic concessions.” (p 46)


That is to use the term dual power in an entirely false sense. It is true that in any capitalist regime, or any regime of proletarian Bonapartism, there can be a struggle between different factions for the control of power and for control of the spoils. There can be quarrels between the “trade union” faction and the “party” faction, between the “army” faction and the “state” faction, and so on, but all these are not conditions of dual power, but a struggle between different groupings within one particular class or caste, in this case, the caste of the ruling bureaucracy itself. Because of the peculiar way in which the process took place in Syria, undoubtedly the military caste had a stronger position than they ever had in the Soviet Union, even after the development of the Stalinist counter-revolution.

In the same way, taking the process that is taking place in Syria or in other countries, it is entirely false to take into account this or that concession to the forces of capitalism, any more than it would have been correct to deduce that the Soviet Union was a capitalist state, just because of the concessions Lenin intended to make to the foreign businessmen, or Brezhnev’s attempt to make the same concessions for the joint exploration of Siberia with the European capitalists, the Japanese capitalists and the American capitalists. In all these cases the bourgeoisie refused to participate in the development of the economy of the Soviet Union, because they understood perfectly that power would reman in the hand of the bureaucracy. In addition they could see that the Soviet Union would get the better of the bargain in the sense that there would be a development of the economy at a greater pace than formerly, and it would be an enormous advantage to the Soviet Union and only of secondary advantage to the businessmen themselves in the sense of access to raw materials, possibly to oil and the other riches of Siberia.

But as they already have access to these raw materials in other parts of the world, they were reluctant further to develop the Soviet Union and increase its enormous power and strength. In the same way, Burma offered enormous concessions to foreign capital to try and entice them into setting up industry in Burma. But because the control of the state remained in the hands of the Burmese bureaucracy and army – and they had no intention whatsoever of relinquishing this control – the bourgeoisie refused the very generous concessions which were offered by the Burmese bureaucracy.

Similarly, in relation to the concessions which have been offered by the Syrian bureaucracy. These concessions are in no way different to those that were offered by the Burmese, by the Eastern European regimes and that have also been offered by the Soviet Union, both when, under Lenin, it was a relatively healthy workers’ state with merely bureaucratic deformations, and by the Soviet bureaucracy. Even though it is enormously degenerate, nevertheless, because the basic system remains that of state ownership, a plan and the monopoly of foreign trade – because, in other words, this is an entirely anti-capitalist system – the capitalists have not taken any of the concessions which have been offered. They had thought that the stakes were not worth it. In spite of the lavish profits which they would make out of it, the risks were too great.

The quotation that is given from Tabitha Petran merely proves this point, when he shows that in order to gain foreign reserves, Assad offered inducements for emigrants to repatriate their capital, although it has been estimated that anything from 2,000 million dollars to 5,000 million dollars had been stashed away by the landowners and big business because of the uncertainties of the regime. Kumar himself gives the figure of 1,000 million dollars, out of the 3,000 to 5,000 million, has actually been reinvested in Syria. This was just a drop in the ocean and utterly incapable of transforming the situation in Syria. In any event, as the document itself explains, “The domains open to private investments were construction, transport and tourism. Investment in industry required special authorisation.” (p 46). This speaks for itself. It is clear that the Syrian bureaucracy, the military bureaucracy, and civilian bureaucracy of the Ba’ath Party, have no intention whatsoever of returning to any form of capitalism in Syria.

Bureaucratic reaction

The concessions that were offered were entirely negligible, in comparison with the control of the economy which exists in the state sector and which has had such enormous consequences in comparison with similar countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The same thing can be said about Syria’s conduct of foreign affairs. In this regard, the comrade makes the same mistakes as the sects, who imagined that China was a healthy workers’ state in the past, and whose foreign policy was almost that of a Leninist government. We have already explained how every reactionary regime which wished to have good relations with it was backed by the Chinese bureaucracy. Now the Chinese bureaucracy has gone even further, in the most repulsive and disgusting fashion possible, they have tried to cement together the EEC (which collectively exploits Africa) and have even extended credits to the monstrous dictatorial regime in Chile. They incite the imperialists to take action against Russia. They supported the FNLA, together with South Africa and American imperialism, in Angola against the MPLA. Together with French imperialism they try to shore up Mobutu in Zaire.

They even accept a delegation of footballers as a mark of friendship to Chile, just at a time when Chile is regarded as a leper by the bourgeois democrats as well as, of course, the proletarian militants in different parts of the world. When even the United States has to conduct its relations with Chile very gingerly, we see the welcome that is given by the Chinese bureaucracy. In the same way, they gave a welcome to all the reactionary elements in Britain represented by Edward Heath after he was in conflict with the working class in Britain, and Margaret Thatcher, who is one of the most vicious reactionary leaders the Tory Party has had during the course of the last hundred years.

This is entirely gratuitous, because there is absolutely no necessity for the Chinese bureaucracy to have other than formal official relations with any of the countries that are mentioned, and yet they went out of their way to greet Heath while he was in opposition; to welcome his successor, Thatcher, who is also in opposition and even the discredited Nixon was given a red carpet welcome when he went to Peking, despite the Watergate scandal. Does one therefore deduce from these facts that China has ceased to be a workers’ state? Does this mean that capitalism is restored in China? Or that the Chinese have the least intention of restoring capitalism.

Thus the fact that Syria has relations with all the reactionary regimes mentioned, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, is of entirely secondary importance. The bureaucracy in Syria, no more than the bureaucracies of all other countries, does not desire to see revolutionary developments and is utterly incapable of assisting in healthy revolutionary developments in other countries. Of course they would assist in the same way that the Cuban and Russian bureaucracies assist movements with arms, supplies, training, when it suits their own purposes, but they themselves would never initiate and never assist in the development of a revolution, particularly if that revolution were to take healthy lines, because of the effect that this would have in all these countries of proletarian Bonapartism.

Tendency towards statification

The fact that nominally, there was an accord reached between the Egyptian and Syrian leaders for the union of their countries is of no real importance. At the time that this union was first projected in the newspapers, interestingly enough, we had a discussion with some of the IMG in Britain. They triumphantly pointed to this union and said: how can Syria be a workers’ state, if they are going to have a union with Egypt? At that time we pointed out that there was no serious intention on either side for such a union, that it was purely demagogic, and that the union would never be consummated.

This was so, particularly because of the previous union with Egypt, as Kumar himself explains in the material in his document. This was not to be taken seriously and, as events have demonstrated, our prediction has been borne out. It is clear that the union was merely for propaganda purposes and was not intended to be carried out. It is true that we have a curious relation between Zanzibar and Tanzania, where Zanzibar has carried out a complete nationalisation of the economy and is nominally linked to Tanzania, although the Tanzanian writ does not run in Zanzibar. That is a very peculiar hybrid which would be very difficult to explain according to Marxist “norms”.

Kumar finishes describing all these various aspects of the reactionary policies of the regime in Syria, although as already explained in the case of every one of the bureaucratic regimes, similar material could be compiled which would indicate that none of these states, including the Soviet Union, are workers’ states, if this would be the only term of reference which would decide how we characterise a regime. Kumar concludes:

“Any one of the several trends described above could perhaps be discounted as an aberration. The confluence of all these trends however is in itself the raw material which defines the very nature of the regime and where it is going. The tasks facing the Syrian working class are vastly larger than the tasks to which Trotsky applied the brief epithet ’political revolution’ in connection with the unfinished transition to socialism in the Soviet Union.” (page 46)

Here we have the heart of the matter. Every one of the things he has described are not of decisive significance in the characterisation of a regime. Long ago, Trotsky explained what determines the nature of a regime. First of all, it is the direction in which it is moving, secondly, the main component of the regime is the material basis of the system itself. To give a quotation from Trotsky:

“Marx, who in distinction from Darwin is a conscious dialectician, discovered a basis for the scientific classification of human societies in the development of their productive forces and the structure of the relations of ownership which constitute the anatomy of society.”

In fundamentals, the anatomy of society in Syria is no way different from the anatomy of society in Burma, China, Cuba, Russia, Eastern Europe, Mozambique, Angola or in any of the countries which we would now declare are countries of proletarian Bonapartism.

Further, in the same work, that is A petty-bourgeois opposition in the SWP, written in 1939 and published in In Defence of Marxism, Trotsky continues to explain:

“Dialectical training of the mind is as necessary to a revolutionary fighter as finger exercise is to a pianist, it demands approaching all problems as processes and not as motionless categories.”

He goes on in the same work to declare:

“probably forms of the class character of the state are a matter of indifference to him [that is Burnham – GE] in analysing the policy of a government. The state itself appears to him as an animal of indiscriminate sex.”

Here we have the essence of the problem. The length to which bureaucratic regimes can go was shown by the fighting between Russia and China when tens of thousands were killed a few years ago. Now, there is a struggle between Cambodia and Vietnam. Then again there has been a war between Somalia and Eritrea on the one hand and the national bureaucracy of Ethiopia on the other hand. Would this mean that Ethiopia, as is argued by the Hansenites, is therefore a fascist state and not a Bonapartist workers’ state? Clearly the comrades would argue this is absolute nonsense. This shows that we cannot take episodic things, even though they are important and indicate the depth of degeneration of the bureaucracy in control of these countries, as a decisive index of the processes taking place and of the characterisation of the state that exists.

Long ago, Trotsky had shown that what determines is the process itself. For example, he explained that in Russia in 1917 when the Bolsheviks took over, apart from the nationalisation of the national banks of Russia and the press, no other nationalisation actually took place, and therefore we had a contradiction. There was a workers’ state with capitalist relations of production still being dominant. Of course, if this had remained for any period of time, then inevitably, there would have been a transformation, the workers’ state would have been overthrown and capitalism would have been restored in the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, Trotsky then goes on to say that if there were a counter-revolution in Russia and the bourgeoisie succeeded in gaining power in Russia (something that is now ruled out by the development of history), in the beginning you could have 100% nationalisation with a bourgeois state, though, of course, this could not endure for any period of time. Inevitably, the bourgeois state would be overthrown, if they did not change the relations of production. He then went on to point out that what would happen in that case is that the bourgeoisie would start with the denationalisation of the light industries, and then go on to dismantle the state ownership of the heavy industries.

However, so great has been the decomposition of the capitalist system on a world scale since those words were written that the bourgeoisie even in such countries as France, Britain or Italy, find it extremely difficult to denationalise any parts of the economy that have been nationalised because of the effect this would have on the working class and the relations of classes within those countries, as well as the disastrous economic consequences which would flow from such a denationalisation.

This in itself indicates the tendency towards statification of the productive forces that is present now on a world scale. The events in the countries where proletarian Bonapartism has taken power are a testimony to this process. According to the evidence which is provided by Kumar himself, the bureaucracy in Syria has clearly no intention of dismantling the decisive sectors of state ownership in manufacturing industry. On the contrary, they are standing guard over this ownership and have no intention of returning it to private ownership. It is possible that concessions might be made to the bourgeoisie as were made in Yugoslavia. These concessions, again in an impressionistic way, were understood by Mandel to mean that capitalism was being restored in Yugoslavia. We laughed at this particular idea it the time it was put forward a few years ago.

Political revolution

Obviously, we predicted, on the basis of the decisive control of the state by the bureaucracy, on the basis of the nationalisation of the productive forces, such a position could not easily be reversed. It was only a zig-zag, because of the complete incapacity of the Yugoslav bureaucracy to solve the problems of the economy on a bureaucratic basis. As we predicted, when the danger of the elements of capitalism which has been established manifested themselves in Yugoslavia, Tito reversed course and smashed these elements as easily as one crushes a fly with a fly-swatter.

The tasks of the bourgeoisie in Syria would be to dismantle the nationalised regime and give free play to landlordism in the countryside and to the bourgeoisie in the cities. They could only do this by means of a counter revolution. All the tasks which are so painfully explained by comrade Kumar exist in all the workers’ states without exception, but that does not mean to say that the revolution in these countries will be social, because the fundamental task has already been carried out, and the same consideration applies also to the situation as it exists in Syria.

In Syria, as in the Soviet Union, all the tasks are piling up and they could only be solved by a political revolution in Syria. What determines whether a political revolution is needed, or a social revolution?

A social revolution is a fundamental change in property relations as the quotation that we have given from Trotsky indicates. A political revolution is merely a change of regime. Of course, a political revolution would have enormous social consequences; of this there is no doubt. But nevertheless, in spite of national oppression in the Soviet Union, in spite of the privileges of the bureaucracy, in spite of all the concessions which possibly could have been made to foreign capital, none of these things constitute a fundamental change in the class nature of these societies. In Vietnam also, in spite of the existence in the South of Vietnam of small property, of small shopkeepers and even middle layers of the bourgeoisie in the towns and in the countryside, the main task there still, is that of political revolution.

Of course it is true that given a more conscious role on the part of the leading layers of the bureaucracy in Vietnam, then inevitably the bureaucracy would clear up capitalism in the South in a far faster fashion than may be done in Syria.

The moment that political crisis develops in Syria, as a result of the pressures of these capitalist elements, we can predict the consequences it would have on the military and the political bureaucracy in Syria and on the Ba’ath Party, which has transformed itself from a party of the petit-bourgeoisie into a party of the leading layers, into a party of the bureaucracy. In Syria under these conditions at the first sign of an attempt at counter revolution, they would be compelled to appeal to the masses of the workers and peasants to take action.

Even this may not be necessary. Purely with the reaction of the state with the sympathy and support of the population as a whole they could crush any attempt to organise a capitalist regime in Syria. Therefore, the basic situation that exists in Syria is exactly the same as in all the other countries of proletarian Bonapartism. The decisive similarities are far more important than the significant differences that exist between all of these regimes.

The conclusion that Kumar draws shows the complete inconsistency of the position that he is putting forward in the course of the argument:

“Syria, which prior to 1946 had no previous existence as a nation state, emerged as a country with weak state structures, little consensus about governmental forms and little traditionally cultivated political practices.” (page 38)

In other words, precisely the conditions of instability which made the development of proletarian Bonapartism such a possibility. He goes on to explain that:

“The bourgeois-landlord alliance that inherited power was a weak, inept class, unable to modernise the country, lead economic growth, the Middle Eastern war effort, or provide some small succour to the expectations of the urban or rural poor or the aspirations of the middle classes. The working class too, was exceptionally weak, reflecting the country’s meagre industrial development. Compared to Russia on the eve of 1917, the working class in Syria was much smaller and less concentrated relative to the rest of the population, less organised politically or trade union wise, and had no comparable history of struggle.” (page 47)

Had the Communist Party in Syria been a genuine Bolshevik Party then undoubtedly, as is also the case with Iraq, Sudan, and the other countries in the Middle East, a proletarian revolution on the lines of what happened in Russia would have been entirely possible. The proletariat could have carried through the bourgeois democratic revolution to a conclusion and then led on to carrying out the socialist tasks. The peculiarity of the situation in this epoch is that because of the impasse of the productive forces under capitalism, the peasantry, influenced by the revolution in China and the revolution in Russia, now look towards “socialism” as the solution to the insoluble problems that face them under a regime of capitalism-landlordism. That would have made it entirely easy for a transformation of all the countries of the third world.

But with the degeneration of the communist parties that of course was not possible. It was not the numbers of the working class that dictated its impotent role in Syria but precisely the role of the leadership in Syria. The rank and file of the Communist Party would undoubtedly have been prepared to carry through the revolution on the lines that we have sketched out, but in all these countries, as also in Cuba, the latter preferred to try and make agreements with the so-called national bourgeoisie. This because of the Stalinist-Bukharinist two-stage theory of the development of the revolution.

Unstable regimes

This is the explanation of the process that is taking place in these countries. But where there was no other way out on the basis of capitalism, as was explained at the beginning of this document, then it was entirely possible for proletarian Bonapartism to develop. For the same reasons that it developed in Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, and in other countries so a similar process could and did undoubtedly take place in Syria. Given the complete bankruptcy of the bourgeois-landlord alliance, the army officers leaning on the workers and peasants, as events irrefutably demonstrate, carried through the transition on the lines that we have sketched out.

In the modern world, a petit-bourgeois regime cannot possibly survive. There are only two classes which in one form or another can have control of the state under modern conditions, that is the bourgeoisie on the one side, or the proletariat on the other. So-called petit-bourgeois regimes reveal themselves to be agencies of the bourgeoisie in the one case, or agencies of the proletariat in the other – either bourgeois or proletarian Bonapartism. Nowhere in the colonial world has a stable bourgeois democratic regime been erected. We see in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and in other countries which had bourgeois democracy (which are in fact only a small number of all the countries of the third world) that at the present time these regimes cannot survive. A petit-bourgeois regime is a contradiction in terms. There can only he regimes either of bourgeois or proletarian Bonapartism, or bourgeois or proletarian democracy.

Of course, that doesn’t mean to say that in these countries another way out is impossible. If there was the organisation of a mass revolutionary party as has begun in Sri Lanka, for example, then the development of events could take an entirely different turn. Leading the petit-bourgeois in the cities, the peasantry in the countryside, rallying the declassed youth from the universities, the lumpen proletariat and so on, it would be entirely possible for the proletariat to succeed in establishing a regime of workers’ democracy in Sri Lanka.

Of course, such a regime would not be long-lasting unless there would be an extension of the revolution to neighbouring countries such as India, or to the advanced countries of industrialised capitalism, or political revolution in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union. Similar processes could take place in India, if there was a mass revolutionary party of the proletariat. In India, then, undoubtedly, it would be entirely possible for the development of the revolution on classical Marxist lines. As in the case of Russia in 1917 the proletariat, carrying through all the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution which the bourgeoisie has been utterly incapable of doing, and then turning to the socialist tasks and nationalising the economy.

Of course, in India too, because of the backwardness of the country, it would he impossible to maintain power under these conditions for a lengthy period of time, although it is possible, given the historical lessons, that power might be maintained for five or ten years or so. In any event, the development of a healthy revolution in a country like India in its turn would undoubtedly provoke an explosion against the bureaucracy of China and against the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union in the form of political revolutions.

On the other hand, there are a large number of possibilities as far, for example, as India is concerned if the proletariat should fail to show a way out. It is not excluded that there could be a movement in despair on the part of the peasants, particularly in relation to a new slump which would actually mean starvation and probably famine for large sections of the peasant population. They could move towards a peasant war, as took place in China. But this does not seem likely because the bourgeoisie and imperialism would be prepared to throw every effort into destroying this in the germ, not allowing the acorn to develop into a tree, not allowing “foci” to be established in the countryside without immediately eliminating them. In that sense, the bourgeoisie has learnt the painful lessons from the experience of China and Cuba, painful lessons that they have put into effect very successfully in Latin America. But of course such a development cannot be theoretically excluded.

Role of officer caste

Kumar states in his fifth paragraph of conclusions:

“Briefly, the radical petit-bourgeois stood before the masses draped in the guise of being its liberator. History is replete with examples, even from the ancient times, of aspirant classes that have donned this false mantle. The reality of things more sharply contradicted this presence in Syria than has usually been the case elsewhere. The masses were persistently excluded from politics. Even in the temporary heat of the battle the independent movement of the masses was absent. Coups and intrigues were the instrument of change; elite coteries and officer cabals were the partisans of change.” (page 47)

Events in Syria are a complete answer to this argument. The actual events have led to a regime which has now been in control for more than twelve years. The movement of the masses is adequately charted in the article by PJ so I don’t think it is necessary to repeat it here. But the whole essence of the matter is that our comrade turns things upside down. Instead of seeing the movement of the petit-bourgeois officers as a reflection of the struggle of the classes, a struggle among the masses and among the classes for a division of the spoils, he sees rather the masses as an adjunct to the officers.

He does not see that to remove a mountain requires enormous effort, but to remove a rotted tree requires just a simple push. As he himself sketches out, the complete rottenness, the complete corruption, the complete degeneracy and the complete incapacity of the bourgeois-landlord alliance in Syria (the two were intimately linked together as in all colonial countries) gave the possibility, on the basis of leaning on the workers and peasants, of an independent or semi-independent role on the part of the army officer caste. It is no accident that this fraction of the officer caste took the road of “Socialism”.

Paragraph 8 sums up the whole position as far as the comrade is concerned:

“The politics of the successive Ba’ath regimes issued from the ’geo-political’ insurmountables, the ideological drives deriving from the social origins of the regime’s leading elements, and the inescapable imperatives of the immediate struggle. The most decisive of the immediate imperatives was the defensive actions that had to be taken against the flight of capital and the breakdown of the economy due to years of political unrest. The land reform and the nationalisation measures, the core of the neo-Ba’ath’s radical reform, issued from these interactions of internal and external factors.” (page 47)

This is a rather confused way of saying that on the road of capitalism there was no way out for Syria and therefore the radical elements of the officer caste, because of the chaos, because of the insurmountable obstacles presented by landlordism and capitalism, decided on the road of the abolition of the latter, on the basis of the upheavals, unrest and the international framework in which Syria found itself. Wars with Israel, the whole situation in Syria, the situation in the Middle East and the world relationship of forces, all had an enormous effect on the internal politics in Syria itself.

The fact that it was the petit-bourgeois officer caste that played this role, leaning on the workers and peasants, fits in completely with our conception of proletarian Bonapartism. Merely to point to the social origin of the leading elements in Syria is to make the same mistake as was made by the Healyites in relation to Cuba. Ideological drives, from the point of view of Marxism, in the last analysis are always determined by the material interests of classes, of castes and groups within classes in society. As Kumar explains in the first part of his document, it was the impasse of the country and the fact that inevitably the leading elements of the army identified the interests of the country with their own interests, which laid the basis for proletarian Bonapartism in Syria. This whole development of course would have been entirely impossible had it not been for the lagging behind of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, the extended period of domination of the bureaucracy in Russia and of course for the developments in China.

All the factors explained in the main document interacted on each other; these are the conditions that lay the basis for proletarian Bonapartism.

State ownership

“These same reasons explain why, nevertheless these radical reforms did not amount to the revolutionary transformation; why the economic reforms were limited and ’unfinished’ and why the socio-cultural changes in relation to law, religion, women, minorities, etc., are quite minimal.

“Capitalism and mercantilism were allowed to and did function in the middle and lower levels of the economy and participated in foreign trade. The land reform has in practice been a stimulant to peasant farming and small to medium capitalist agriculture. The national basis of capitalism has in fact been broadened and the state of foreign assistance has borne the brunt of infrastructure investment. Apparently in the political sphere the focus of power has been narrowed to a small junta. In reality, in the economic sphere, the basis for development of capitalism has been expanded.” (page 47, my emphasis – GE)

These remarks of Comrade Kumar are in entire contradiction with his previous paragraph. The development of capitalism is not assisted by the development of state ownership in this particular fashion. It is true that at the dawn of capitalism, when the transition from medievalism was taking place, that the state itself – no longer directly representing the class of the feudal lords – raised itself to a degree above the struggling classes of the bourgeoisie and of the feudal lords, only in the last analysis representing the feudal lords. At that time the state, establishing the absolute monarchy, acted as a hothouse for the development of capitalism in its early stages. But for senile capitalism that is entirely incorrect. It is true that in the case of the developed countries also, because of the sickness of capitalism and because the productive forces can no longer be encompassed even in these countries within the framework of private ownership, that the bourgeoisie has been compelled to allow a larger measure of state ownership if their system is not to collapse completely.

In that sense, state ownership, “state capitalism”, caters for the needs of the rest of the private sector of society. That is what Engels meant when he spoke of “the invading socialist society”. It is important to understand that if in the developed countries of capitalism, even in America, there is a possibility of state ownership as a means of trying to stabilise the bourgeois system, then of course, such developments can take place as well.

But Marxism has always explained that quantity changes into quality. Where you have a society such as Syria, where 70-80% of the economy is state-owned, where the bourgeoisie and the landowners have been expropriated, either without or with minimum compensation then the whole situation has changed completely.

If on a bourgeois basis, there could be the possibility of the development of society in the backward colonial countries, then this schema put forward by comrade Kumar could have some relevance and could have some effect. The tendency on a world scale is towards statification, and whenever this has been achieved, nowhere has the bourgeoisie succeeded in throwing it back. That is why, already in 1945 it was explained by the leadership of the RCP that there is no possibility of counter-revolution in that sense in the Soviet Union, of the restoration of the bourgeoisie by internal means alone. That could only be accomplished by intervention on the part of the bourgeoisie from abroad and that is now ruled out by the enormous power and strength of the Soviet Union, so it is quite impossible for a bourgeois counter-revolution to take place in the Soviet Union. Our tendency explained that only military intervention could restore capitalism in the countries where it has been overthrown.

Now it is true that in the case of Portugal, we have put a question mark over what is happening with the possibility of a counter-revolution, and this has to be clear in our own minds, a counter-revolution which could denationalise large sections of industry. The Soares government attempted to carry through denationalisation of the land and industry but has failed utterly so far, to do so.

Only a fascist counter-revolution or a Bonapartist seizure of power by the army could succeed in doing this in Portugal. But even we cannot stress sufficiently the enormous power of the working class and the difficulty of moving towards counter revolution without civil war. Similar considerations also apply to Syria. In order for the bourgeoisie to restore itself, and to denationalise the industries that have been nationalised it would require a counter revolution to achieve the purposes of the bourgeoisie.

Tasks of the revolution

Kumar himself has given an indication of this, when he showed the reaction of the working class to the attempt to denationalise the industries that had been nationalised by Nasser, in spite of the fact that he was viewed as a foreign oppressor by the Syrian masses. This was after the breakaway of Syria from the United Arab Republic, and the establishment of the complete domination of the Syrian landlords and of the capitalists.

To conduct a similar operation in Syria today after all that has taken place in the last decade, would be absolutely impossible without crushing the resistance of the working class and of the peasantry. The peasantry would understand clearly that the handing over of industry would be but a step before handing over of the land, also, to the landowners. Under these conditions the peasantry would be implacably opposed to an attempt to re-establish “private property” in industry as is the working class itself. Thus the coming to power of the bourgeoisie again would require a counter-revolution.

On the other hand, what would be necessary for the establishment of a workers’ democracy in Syria? The basic tasks would be similar to those in China, Cuba and Eastern Europe. The nationalisation of industry would remain, and would be extended of course, to those sectors where private ownership still plays a role. But the decisive sections of industry and the banks are nationalised, and would be kept that way by the working class.

What would be necessary is to establish workers’ control and management of industry, the state and of society. But these are precisely the tasks that remain for the political revolution of all the countries of proletarian Bonapartism. They are no different and therefore the fundamental tasks of the revolution in these countries are no different to the tasks which we outline for the political revolution in Russia. The decisive sections of industry and of finance are in the hands of the state, or to put it in a different way, the commanding heights of the economy are in the hands of the state and it would not be necessary to change that.

Even if one grants, that there would be more private industry in Syria than in Poland, Romania or Yugoslavia, and this is by no means certain, this would not alter the fundamental tasks of the revolution itself. It is true that we would have to, at one stage or another, nationalise the commerce that is in the hands of the merchants, small shop-keepers, small business people, Kulaks, rich peasants and small landowners that remain in the countryside at the present time. But this would not be done immediately by a healthy workers’ state which came to power in Syria. It would be entirely wrong to make the same mistake that was made by the regimes in Burma and in Syria, of nationalising everything, because that would be disastrous in a backward country.

Therefore, if a healthy workers’ state remained isolated to Syria, for any length of time, it would only be by very gradual means and over a fairly protracted period that the change would be made to 100% state ownership; and this only on the basis of industrialisation and the development of all those processes under the control of the proletariat and of the peasantry.

The productive forces in Syria, despite the giant strides that have been made in the course of the last twelve years, are still inadequate for a movement in the direction of socialism. Even a healthy workers’ state would have the task of building up the productive forces and therefore it would not be possible, as it would not be possible in Sri Lanka or in any of the other colonial or neo-colonial countries, to immediately set about building socialism. On the contrary, there would be an extended period in which the Syrian workers and peasants, under the leadership of a Marxist party, would appeal to the working class of the more developed countries and in particular, to the working class of Egypt and of Israel for the setting up of a Socialist Federation of the Middle East.

Thus economically, apart from the ending of the corruption, apart from the ending of nepotism, apart from the ending of the privileges of the officer caste and of the bureaucracy, not much fundamentally would be changed in the situation that exists in Syria at the present time. Of course the economic power of the bourgeoisie would be held in check by workers’ control in the factories and sections of commerce still dominated by private ownership, as a preparation to move on to workers’ management of the entire economy.

In order to maintain the conceptions that he is putting forward, comrade Kumar has to invent terms that are entirely foreign to Marxism. For example, in the next couple of paragraphs, he says:

“The private sector is openly increasing its specific gravity in the nation’s economic activity. The most privileged section of the once rising rural petit bourgeoisie and certainly a whole minority of the whole of that class has now transformed itself into a new middle class based on the private sector and state bureaucracy. The bureaucratic bourgeoisie, that had previously evolved out of this petit-bourgeoisie, and once monopolised state power, is spilling over fusing and sharing with the newly rising ’private’ bourgeoisie.” (page 47)

Conditions different

While the dominant sections of the economy are nationalised, this is to give an exaggerated picture of the power of the private sector, which even according to Kumar himself, is limited strictly to certain spheres where small businessmen can function very well. The spheres are mentioned in the document by Kumar and have been referred to above and therefore there is no need to go into it in any further detail.

But this conception of a petit-bourgeoisie that becomes a bureaucratic bourgeoisie, is not completely clear. In no way has Kumar explained how the social processes will develop. It is true that in the period from 1923 to 1929 under the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia there was the growth of the rural bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie in the towns, as a consequence of the New Economic Policy that had been established by Lenin and Trotsky themselves. Trotsky saw in this a danger of the restoration of capitalism. But that is more than half a century ago and conditions on a world and on a national scale are entirely different.

The whole world relationship of forces has changed. The bourgeoisie find it impossible to intervene directly with military intervention. Even the most powerful of all – the American bourgeoisie – burned their fingers in Vietnam over a period of fifteen years and found that it was impossible, even in this area, to defeat the movement of national and social liberation of the masses of the workers and above all the peasantry in the colonial countries.

It might be said that the intervention in Zaire showed that the bourgeoisie is prepared to take action. But this represents foreign intervention in the first place, for the same reason as we explained that the possibility of restoration of capitalism in Russia could only rest on foreign intervention; and in the second place, it was for preventive purposes, in order to prevent the consummation, or the possible consummation of the revolution in Zaire – the possible development of the movement of the mass of the peasants and the workers in Zaire in the direction of establishing, not a healthy workers’ state, but again a proletarian Bonapartist state.

In fact, the whole policy of the American and British bourgeoisie of Anglo-American imperialism in relation to Rhodesia, Namibia and South Africa is dictated by this fear. They have learned after the experience of Mozambique and Angola that if the African guerrillas are victorious in this war it would be a question of “winner take all”. It would empty out not only white rule in these countries but would mean the end of capitalism and landlordism also.

That is the reason why they have suddenly become interested in trying to gain reforms also in South Africa because they see the enormous power, or the enormous potential power, of the black proletariat in South Africa and also of the inevitable movement on the part of the masses there. They realise that once this movement begins, or is victorious, then intervention will be absolutely useless. That is why they are trying to intervene in order to prevent this process taking place.

Even in Zaire, having intervened for only a few weeks, the French imperialists had to withdraw, and it will not be long before the Belgian Imperialists also withdraw from Zaire, because of fear of repercussions in the rest of Africa and repercussions in the whole of the “Third World”.

It is clear that no more than in China, or Eastern Europe, or Cuba, or Burma has the commanding stratum that rules in these countries of proletarian Bonapartism any interest in handing over power to a new bourgeoisie. They would lose the power that they control and with the loss of power, would also go the loss of privileges, the perks, the untrammelled power and the legal and illegal income, that are possessed by these strata. They would lose power. They would be in tow to the bourgeoisie, and therefore under these conditions it is extremely unlikely that they would hand over power to the bourgeoisie without a counter-revolution on the part of the bourgeoisie itself. In fact it would be virtually impossible for this process to take place, just as in Portugal, where it would probably require a political counter-revolution and the destruction of the organisations of the working class for denationalisations to take place on a massive scale. It is true that in Portugal many of the elements of workers’ democracy still exist, in the sense of the existence of trade unions, in the existence of political parties and the new rights that have been gained by the struggle of the working class during the course of the revolution itself. These rights do not exist in Syria at the present time, no more than they exist in any of the countries of proletarian Bonapartism. But on the other hand it is clear that the working class would never tolerate such a change, such a transformation of social relations in Syria without taking to arms.

Under these conditions for the bourgeoisie to re-establish itself in Syria, would require a civil war, and it is not possible for the bureaucracy to be unaware of the fact and of the upheaval that would follow any attempt to restore capitalism in Syria.

In any event from the reports in the London Financial Times, for instance (9th June 1978) it is clear that while the government is prepared to allow foreign investments in Syria in exactly the same way as Russia, China, Cuba or Romania would be prepared under certain conditions, they would not allow a tampering with the basis of the regime, with the nationalisation of the commanding heights that has taken place as a consequence of the transformation of Syria due to the movement of 1964-65.

Trade and investment

Thus all the attempts to reassure the bourgeoisie of the West and the ex-bourgeoisie that fled from Syria after the revolution had been accomplished and of trying to persuade them to invest in Syria have failed completely. The only investment that has taken place has been in the field of oil. This would be correct given the circumstances in Syria. They have not sufficient resources for the purpose of developing oil and therefore, it would be correct to make some sort of agreement with the western capitalist countries to do so as the Soviet Union’s technical capacity is almost taken up completely with the need to develop the oil resources of Russia itself in Eastern Siberia. This is apart for the fact that probably the technique of the West in relation to the Middle East would probably be better because of the experience of the American companies, in particular, in establishing oil wells in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

Even the Financial Times comments on the stability of the regime in comparison with the instability of all previous Syrian regimes. This stability is no accident. It arises from the social change that has taken place, the social revolution that has taken place, it is true, without the necessary control on the part of the working class. This is what makes it inevitable that the political revolution will take place in Syria, in common with other workers’ states.

The final point that we must comment on is that in relation to foreign trade,

“there is a steady rightward shift in foreign policy and new patterns of foreign trade. Today Syria’s main trading partner is the European Economic Community which accounts for more than 35% of exports.” (page 47)

The trouble with isolated arguments of this character is that exactly the same thing can be pointed out for Yugoslavia, for all the countries of Eastern Europe and of course for China itself. They all have enormously increased their trade with the West during the course of the last decade or so.

China for example has shifted from the situation where the bulk of her trade was with Russia and Eastern Europe to the position where today the bulk of her trade is with the Western capitalist powers. More than 50% of the trade of Hungary is with the West. With Romania we have not the figures to hand but it is probably much higher than the 35% that is mentioned by comrade Kumar in relation to Syria’s trading partner, the EEC. Poland too has enormous trade with the West at the present time, at least up to the figure that is given. Of course comrade Kumar can say that the main trading partners of these countries apart from China and Yugoslavia is the Soviet bloc itself. But nothing fundamental is changed by references of this particular character.

It is always necessary, first to get the fundamental movement of the social forces that is taking place, and to base ourselves on that, not on the episodic and secondary things, movements of trade, development of private industry, as for instance in Poland, or in Yugoslavia, the development of small businesses as in Hungary, or the development of small peasants in Yugoslavia and so on.

These are not fundamental, they can be more or less reactionary, but in fact in these particular areas, paradoxically, as with the New Economic Policy in Russia, although they are not so far reaching, these mark steps forward in the sense that it was entirely premature, entirely false, entirely bureaucratic to nationalise all the economy of relatively backward countries, squeezing out 100% the small businessmen, small shopkeepers and small peasants even that are necessary in the interests of state ownership, given that the productive forces are not sufficiently developed in any of these countries as yet to begin the movement in the direction of socialism, apart now, of course, from the Soviet Union itself and Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Of course in these latter countries this could only begin with a political revolution.

The last point that is raised by comrade Kumar is that “Official ideology is moving in conservative and obscurantist directions” (page 48). What would he say of the obscurantist policy of the regime in China in relation to foreign policy, particularly now that Mao has died, and the “radical” “gang of four” has been defeated?

Policy towards the nationalities, the minorities in Russia, China and all those countries where minorities exist, is of similar oppressive character as that in bourgeois countries. In fact it is similar to the countries of bourgeois oligarchy and far worse than that of countries with bourgeois democracy, where at least there is a certain check on the bourgeoisie by the labour movement and the rights that the labour movement possesses.

The obscurantist and conservative directions are not quoted by Kumar. No examples are given of this, and in any event, they could not be more reactionary than the attempt on the part of the Polish bureaucracy to arrive at some compromise with the Catholic Church in order to assure its rule, now that the pressure of a political revolution is developing in Poland.

All these factors are of secondary consideration in relation to the decisive way in which we decide in categorising one regime or another regime. First the direction in which the regime is moving, secondly, the fundamental economic structure of the regime – that is to say the property relations – and in Syria they are those of state ownership – a stable ownership that has maintained itself for twelve years, which is quite a large period of time, and before there could be a move away from this, it would require such upheavals and such movements, that the bureaucracy would be afraid of taking steps in this direction if they so wished and of course the bureaucracy has no wish whatsoever to give up the commanding role that it plays in society, the commanding role it possesses by controlling the state machine.

It is entirely significant that the only regime in the Middle East which was prepared to arm the masses in the event of an Israeli advance in the war of 1967, and again in the war of 1973 was the Syrian regime, which did not fear to arm hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants had the Israelis tried a dash towards Damascus. None of the other regimes could have risked the possibility of organising a popular militia on this basis. That shows the confidence of the ruling bureaucracy, of the ruling elite, in Syria, that they had complete control of the situation. They were not afraid, at least for a limited period before they would disarm them again, to put arms into the hands of the masses. Cuba also disarmed the workers’ militia after a certain time. The arms that existed in Cuba for the workers’ militia are under lock and key held firmly by the bureaucratic controllers of Cuba.

So it is not surprising that they have armed the masses for a period and used them to destroy the power of the landlords and capitalists. Here Kumar contradicts himself completely. He points to the disarming of the masses that has taken place once the “Moor has done his duty”, in effect. But what he does not see, is that even in Britain, during the course of the Second World War, the bourgeoisie was not prepared to arm the masses, in the same way as the French bourgeoisie preferred a capitulation to Hitler when they could have armed the Parisian masses and held Paris. But the cities of Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad were held by the Russian bureaucracy in the Second World War because they were prepared to arm the masses. The Syrians are prepared to do that, whereas the bourgeoisie, even of the developed democracies, were not prepared to risk for a single moment that arms should be in the hands of the population without control on the part of the bourgeoisie itself.

George Edwards [Ted Grant]