The economic contradictions of Syrian Baathism

Louis Proyect writes: One can’t help but feel that the pro-Assad left is in some kind of time-warp. They see Syria as it was in 1969, when it was on the leading edge of economic change in the Middle East—or so it would seem. You get the same thing with the Qaddafi or Mugabe fan club, mostly involving the same people. Of course, there are pro forma acknowledgements that such governments have adopted neoliberal measures, but you are left with the impression that if not for them, things would only get worse. In many ways, this is the same “lesser evil” politics that leads to supporting Obama over Romney, but transposed to the “anti-imperialist” realm. It is necessary to back Bashar al-Assad because his foes would be worse. The same line has been applied to Zimbabwe and Qaddafi’s Libya. Mostly, it is inspired by a kind of bastardized version of “Defend the USSR”, making no effort to really come to grips with the nature of the Syrian economy.

Part of the problem is the tendency for figures such as al-Assad senior and junior, Mugabe, and Qaddafi to use the term socialism in describing their governments. Baathist Socialism has ruled in Syria for over 50 years while Qaddafi’s “Green Socialism” was around for over 30. Mugabe, of course, had the authority of a successful Marxist guerrilla struggle behind him, even though his economic policies were not that different from what could be seen throughout the continent under the rubric of “African Socialism”.

What marked these experiments apart from Marx’s original vision was the utter lack of democracy. [Continue reading…]

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