Revisiting Arab Socialism

Ali Kadri


The class in charge of development under Arab socialism was an alliance of the military with intermediate classes. Intermediate classes are sections of the working class differentiated by skill, higher income or occupation. In this relationship, the army held sway, and insofar as it placated populist aspirations for more egalitarian distribution, its role was progressive. The army and the intermediate class form the state bourgeois class, and exercise a collective ownership of the state. Hussein and Abdel Malek characterised the Arab socialist state as a surrogate bourgeoisie. Under Arab socialism, the predominant relationships remained capitalist and the repression over the labour process necessary for value creation persisted. However, by creating the financial space for the expansion of state-led industrial investment, investing in social infrastructure and undertaking vast land reform and redistribution measures, the Arab socialist model had outperformed the ongoing neoliberal model. Under the neoliberal model, the military re-allied itself with merchant/rentier capital and global financial capital. Generals became merchants, weakened the national front considerably, and the old state bourgeois class transmuted into a fully fledged comprador class. In this new ruling class alliance, the army no longer held sway. Global financial capital became the dominant player to which generals prostrated. Prior to the ongoing revolutionary phase, the Arab neoliberal state compressed wages, lifted its protection of national industry, set single exchange and interest rates and opened up trade and capital accounts with the intention of readying cheapened national resources for transfer abroad. This essay traces the metamorphosis of the state bourgeois class in Arab socialist countries, namely Egypt, Iraq and Syria, into the neoliberal/comprador class. With the exception of Iraq, which collapsed from without by the force of outright occupation, the other states experienced gradual social erosion leading to massive uprisings from within. Under the weight of successive Arab defeats, the state bourgeois class structurally fulfilled the terms of surrender and underwent a transformation from surrogate national bourgeoisie to surrogate international financial bourgeoisie.

Published on 6th September, 2012, in World Social and Economic Review No 1, 2012