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France, Syrie et Liban 1918-1946

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Nadine Méouchy

Deuxième partie. Jeux de pouvoir et interactions sociales

Toward an analysis of class formation in Syria: Aleppo’s textile industrialists and workers during the mandate

Geoffrey D. Schad

Texte intégral

  • 1 These are summarized in Patrick Joyce, “Introduction,” in Class, edited by Patrick Joyce, Oxford, (...)

1One faces at least two major problems in attempting to apply class analysis to an Arab society such as Syria during the mandate. First, the general utility of the concept of social class has come under fire in recent years from a variety of perspectives.1 Second, there persists a widespread notion that, even if class is relevant to the European or North American experience, it is inapplicable to the Arab Middle East due to the different historical development and concepts of social stratification of that region. To these two problems may be added a third and, perhaps, more fundamental issue: even if one grants the utility to scholars of the notion of class, to what extent is it merely a heuristic tool of convenience and to what degree does it reflect a social reality recognizable to the objects of our inquiries?

2I am not in a position to furnish comprehensive solutions to these dilemmas. However, I would argue that despite all the changes in emphasis in recent historiography, class remains a useful, indeed necessary, category of analysis. Moreover, I also believe that social class as a concept is applicable to Arab societies, and that, if careful attention is paid to the sources at our disposal, an interpretation of the class structure of mandatory Syria can be elaborated which would be recognizable to the people living at that time in that place.

3I propose to elaborate such an interpretation based on my researches into the development of the Syrian textile industry, principally in Aleppo, during the course of the mandate and into the first decade of Syrian independence. But before entering into the specificities of that experience, we must examine, however briefly, the theoretical and conceptual problems I have indicated.

ON SOCIAL CLASS

4To start with, we must define just what we mean by “class,” and to take account of some of the criticisms that have been directed against it. As I have indicated, in recent years the utility of the concept has been questioned. First, there has been a growing emphasis on such other categories as gender, ethnicity, and religion, with class often dispensed with altogether. As well, especially in the United States, there has been a spread of post-structuralist analyses that also frequently dispense with such constructs as class. However, as I hope to indicate, these approaches need not compel us to eliminate social class from our repertoire of analytical tools; rather, by incorporating some of their implications into the notion of class itself, we can make the concept a richer and more useful vehicle for understanding the complexity of any given social situation.

  • 2 Hanna Batatu, “Class Analysis and Iraqi Society,” Arab Studies Quarterly 1/3, Summer 1979, p. 231.
  • 3 Mandell M. Bober, Karl Marx’s Interpretation of History, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Pres (...)
  • 4 “Stratification, Social: Social Class,” in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edit (...)

5That said, and emphasizing that class is a polyvalent concept, I must agree with Hanna Batatu and, ultimately, Karl Marx, that class is “in essence, an economically-based formation, though it ultimately refers to the social position of the constituent individuals or families in its varied aspects.”2 That is to say, in any given politico-economic formation, a “class” is composed of those persons and groups of people who share the same relationship to property and personal freedoms.3 In Marx’s own schema, a capitalist system includes three main classes: landlords, receiving rent; capitalists (the “bourgeoisie”), receiving profit; and workers (the “proletariat”), receiving wages.4

  • 5 Ibid., p. 300.

6Marx’s schema is useful, but limited. The utility is that the Marxist concept of class depends upon an objectively ascertainable variable, that of ownership (or control) of productive property. Its major limitation is that it restricts itself to the economic sphere; a subsidiary limitation is that it assumes that any given politico-economic formation is in effect frozen in time, thus eliding the fact that class positions do change and that there are a host of sub-classes possible. To make the concept of social class more useful, we must employ non-economic criteria in defining class in the abstract, and any given class or set of classes. Unfortunately, all that the Marxist tradition can give us in this respect is the knotty problem of “class consciousness.” This is the old shibboleth of the “class in itself/class for itself” dichotomy, in which a class “objectively” identifiable by economic criteria only acquires “subjective” political value when it realizes the commonality of its collective interests and attempts to articulate them, usually in the framework of competition with another class or classes, i.e., the “class struggle.”5 While useful, the idea of “class consciousness” is itself limited and insufficient for identifying what we really mean by “class.”

  • 6 Ira Katznelson, “Working-Class Formation: Constructing Class and Comparisons,” in Working Class Fo (...)
  • 7 Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875, New York, Vintage, 1996, ch. 13.
  • 8 Ibid., p. 245.
  • 9 Ibid., p. 223.

7If “class” is not solely economic, what else enters into the definition of a class? Various writers on both workers and capitalists, from Marxist and non-Marxist perspectives, have given us some criteria that might prove useful in our case. Ira Katznelson has suggested a rather complex hierarchy of “levels” of class formation,6 but I would prefer the somewhat more subjective criteria employed by Eric Hobsbawm in his discussion of the nineteenth-century European bourgeoisie.7 Hobsbawm specifies that, in addition to objective economic criteria, a class (in this case, the bourgeoisie) is characterized by common assumptions, beliefs, and forms of action,8 to which we should add, in development of the last criterion, a common style of life.9 These criteria are manifestly “cultural,” and thus can lend themselves to the sort of post-structuralist analysis so prevalent in American scholarship. They are also useful extensions of the economistic Marxist definition of class, and should prove useful in identifying particular classes at specific times in specific locations.

8In summary, then, what we mean by “social class” is this: a group of persons sharing the same relationship to productive property and also sharing such cultural and behavioral characteristics as to make them identifiable as a collective body. That they exhibit subjective “class consciousness” in a rigidly Marxist sense is not essential, but for our categorization to have historical validity there should be some evidence that the members of any given class had some comprehension that they belonged to it at some level.

  • 10 E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, New York, Vintage, 1966, p. 9.
  • 11 H. Batatu, “Class Analysis and Iraqi Society,” op. cit., p. 229.

9Before leaving the problem of class in the abstract, we should note, along with E.P. Thompson as well as Batatu, that class position is not something fixed by objective structures for all time (in a given system), but rather “something that happens... in human relationships,”10 and that “a class structure is in principle not characterized by fixity.”11 That is, fluidity characterizes class development, different individuals moving up or down the scale of classes over time, and different groups achieving higher or lower status as their economic, political, and social circumstances change. All we can do as historians is to select “snapshots” of a class structure at a particular point in time while realizing that we are in effect “freezing” a dynamic process. What one can say about the class structure of, say, Aleppo in 1934 may not obtain for a year earlier or later, much less a decade or two. But a series of such snapshots can give an indication, however partial, of the main trends of social and economic development during a given period.

SOCIAL STRATIFICATION AND CLASS IN THE ARAB MIDDLE EAST

  • 12 See, for example, Samirs Amin, The Arab Nation: Nationalism and Class Struggles, translated by Mic (...)

10With all this said about class in the abstract, just how applicable is this notion to an Arab society such as Syria during the mandate? It is a commonplace of Orientalist scholarship that Western concepts such as class, based as they are on an analysis of Europe’s evolution from feudalism to mercantile and industrial capitalism, are specific to the European experience and cannot be applied to the Muslim Middle East, at least not until the twentieth century. This line of thinking maintains that Arab-Muslim-Ottoman notions of social organization differ substantially from those prevalent in Europe, emphasizing such non-class status markers as noble lineage and other ascriptive traits rather than the criteria attached to “class,” and that the “politics of notables,” involving as it does vertical patron-client relationships, has been so pervasive until very recent times as to mask or nullify horizontal identifications such as class. A corollary to this view is the idea prevalent in some Marxist analyses, particularly those of the dependency theory and world-systems schools, that class development in the Arab countries has been skewed by these countries’ late capitalist development, their agrarian bases, and the compromised relationship of the Arab bourgeoisies to the West in both political and economic terms.12

  • 13 Abraham Marcus, The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century, New Yor (...)

11To be sure, there is a certain amount of truth in these views. Historically, the population of the Middle East viewed society in non-class terms: society was divided into the rulers (‘askar) and ruled (ra’aya, “flocks”); alternately, there was a more complex stratification with an elite made up of notables (a’yan) - those with high government, military, or religious offices - major import-export merchants (tujjar), descendants of noble lineages (ashraf), and high-ranking ‘ulama’ at the top; a middle range of other merchants, artisans, lower ‘ulama’, professionals, and government officials; and a lower class of “commoners” (‘amma) of those of lesser income and status, such as journeyman artisans, day-laborers, and the urban masses, often generically referred to as “the poor” (al-fuqara’). But while within this schema several criteria were operative, wealth was the sine qua none of high status. It was no accident that “the only element in the [Aleppine] business world to penetrate the city’s elite” was that of the major export-import merchants, who “happened to be engaged in the most lucrative of all pursuits.”13

12If wealth, or property, was a criterion of high status in what might be termed the “traditional” Middle Eastern understanding of social stratification - and, by extension, a justification for us to use “class” as a category to analyze Middle Eastern societies - what, then, are we to make of the neo-Marxist critique that class formation in the Middle East - as in all countries subject to Western imperialism - was somehow perverted, and therefore not a “real” or “true” development? Again, there is a certain amount of truth in this assertion, insofar as capitalist relations in the Middle East did develop late and in the context of, first, the informal European empire in the region and the massive influx of European manufactures and, later, the formal imposition of British and French rule. However, although certain fractions of the nascent Syrian bourgeoisie were bound into dependent relations with their European business partners and political patrons, others - as I hope to demonstrate - were able to exploit the contradictions of the mandatory relationship and the interstices of mandatory economic structures to carve out a more-or-less independent position. We cannot simply assume that the generally unequal and dependent character of the Syrian-French economic relationship meant that the Syrian bourgeoisie as a whole was a so-called “comprador” bourgeoisie, or that the structural position of this class wholly determined its political behavior. The reality was far more complicated.

  • 14 The archival sources, published and unpublished, used through this article are the following:
    1- Fr (...)

13Having made these preliminary comments, let us now turn to the concrete case at hand, the development of the textile industry in Aleppo during the mandate and the concurrent evolution of the Aleppine industrial bourgeoisie and working classes.14

THE ALEPPINE INDUSTRIAL BOURGEOISIE

  • 15 Edmond Rabbath, “Esquisse sur les populations syriennes”, Revue Internationale de Sociologie 46/9- (...)
  • 16 The CPSL party program of the mid-1940s explicitly recognized the existence, and encouraged the ac (...)

14During the course of the French mandate, the Syrian textile industry, centered on Aleppo, experienced a significant development. From an artisanal manufacturing sector, based on manual labor in scattered locations, it had evolved by Syrian independence into a highly centralized factory industry that provided the bulk of Syrian industrial production and gave birth to an industrial bourgeoisie that was to gain significant influence over the Syrian state during the early 1950s. I selected the Syrian textile industry as the focus of my researches for a variety of reasons, but for our purposes what is important about it is that it was a sector whose entrepreneurs formed a discernible class whose interests were arguably distinct from those of the mandatory state. That is to say that, on the one hand, the Aleppine (and Damascene) industrialists, whose direct economic interests were distinct from those of the landowning “notables,” increasingly differentiated themselves from that fraction; on the other hand, although mandatory economic policies had a certain impact on the industrialists, by and large they conducted their business activities without much reference to the mandate. This is largely because, as opposed to what we might assume, the mandatory state was not so much hostile to Syrian industrialization as it was indifferent to it. To be sure, certain mandatory policies either hindered or promoted Syrian industrialization, but the general economic policy of the French was to promote the growing of agricultural products that would serve as raw materials for French industry, and to maintain French access to Syrian markets. Within this general framework, French investors concentrated on public utilities - such as municipal electricity, gas, and water supplies - transportation infrastructure, and some concessionary companies, while leaving manufacturing industry as the province of local business. With the significant exception of the Lebanese silk industry, the creation and creature of French, especially Lyonnais, interests, Syrian manufacturing throughout the mandate was owned by native Syrians and directed at domestic and regional markets rather than European ones. Thus manufacturing industry, concentrated in textiles, food processing, and building materials, constituted an economic space in which Syrian entrepreneurs competed against each other rather than with European investors. Those Syrians who invested in this industrial development came, over the course of the mandate, to constitute an identifiable industrial bourgeoisie, one recognized by such contemporary observers as Edmond Rabbath,15 the Communist Party of Syria and Lebanon, French officials, and the industrialists themselves,16 who increasingly came to see themselves as a distinct group whose interests differed from those of the landlords on the one hand and the commercial bourgeoisie on the other.

15Based on an analysis of the membership of the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce, cross-referenced with contemporary business directories and French and Syrian official records, I have identified several common characteristics of this Aleppine industrial bourgeoisie:

  • First, a gradual functional differentiation of the industrialists from the merchant and landowning strata from which they arose;
  • Second, the exploitation by this group of such relatively new (to Syria) institutions as chambers of commerce and industry and joint-stock companies;
  • Third, an accommodation to, and cooperation with, the Syrian state, whether under the French Mandate or after independence;
  • Fourth, their espousal of an ideology of economic nationalism;
  • Fifth, their persistence in observing older forms of association and status markers, most notably family and local networks.
  • 17 Geoffrey D. Schad, “Class and Nationalism during the Mandate: the Development of the Aleppine Indu (...)

16I have gone into some detail about this group elsewhere,17 and as we have yet to discuss the Syrian working classes, I will here briefly survey the most important aspects of this class, with reference to both general notions of the bourgeoisie and to the specific economic, political, and social position of this group.

17The major sub-group that I have analyzed was that composed of the proprietors and corporate directors of the large, vertically integrated spinning and weaving factories founded between 1933 and 1954. These nine companies, in both Aleppo and Damascus, were all nationalized during the early 1960s and, in somewhat consolidated form, continue to dominate the Syrian textile sector. The leadership of these companies was a small group, made more compact by the fact that several of the most important industrialists held directorships in more than one company: even including all the shareholders in the family-owned firms, this sample includes only 122 individuals. Of this number, some 19 families were represented by at least two members. In a country whose total population was less than 3 million in 1938 or, to take another measure, where the entire merchant class of Aleppo totalled 413 firms in the same year, this is a stunning concentration of economic power. Even if one extends the sample to include the other shareholders in the “public” corporations - about 500 persons owned 20 or more shares in the Syrian Spinning and Weaving Company in 1934, giving them voting rights - the owners of the larger knitting factories, the gin owners, and the large wholesale cotton, wool, silk, yarn, and cloth merchants, we are still dealing with a group of probably fewer than 500 individuals, perhaps only 250 or so.

18With respect to the social origins of the top industrialists, broadly they came from two social strata: the merchants, and the landlords. Each of these sub-groups was, in turn, divided into component fractions. The merchant-industrialists were divided into, first, those whose previous principal activity had been as patrons of non-mechanized weaving or in trade in textile materials and products, and who stayed closely focused on the textile sector throughout their career; and, second, those merchants who started out in general trade but early on invested in mechanized weaving and who continued in it as a principal activity but also diversified their investments. In like fashion, the landlord-industrialists divided into two major segments, the first being those landlords like the Shabaraq family, who had early on added the processing of agricultural products (in their case, flour-milling, although later on cotton-ginning was widespread) to their activities and then branched off into textile production, where their interests increasingly concentrated. The second segment had had no prominent industrial experience, and helped found textile (and other) factories as strategic investments in association with other landlords as well as with merchant-industrialists. The principal associates of the Syrian Spinning and Weaving Company, notably Muhammad Khalil Mudarris, are the prime representatives of this group.

  • 18 E. Hobsbawm, op. cit., p. 236.

19Whatever their social origins, these industrialists tended to act in quite similar ways, ways that parallel those identified by Hobsbawm as characteristics of the nineteenth-century European bourgeoisie. For the Syrians as for the Europeans, “the ‘family’ was not merely the basic social unit of bourgeois society but its basic unit of property and business enterprise.”18 Even when these industrialists used the form of the joint-stock company (an issue addressed by Frank Peter), most often the content was familial: many of these companies had their stock entirely owned by the members of one or two families. For joint-stock companies with more diverse shareholder bases, like the Syrian Spinning and Weaving Company of Aleppo or the Damascus Spinning and Weaving Company, the control of the company rested in the hands of members of the same few families over decades.

  • 19 R. Bayly Winder, “Syrian Deputies and Cabinet Ministers, 1919-1959”, Part II, Middle East Journal (...)

20If the business behavior of these industrialists mirrored a familiar European pattern, so too did their political behavior. As in Europe, so in Syria the bourgeoisie did not so much seek to create policy as to influence it, through exploiting personal influence, informal networks, and pressure groups. Very few of the industrialists directly entered electoral politics - merchants and bankers represented only 5 percent of all Syrian parliamentary deputies between 1919 and 1954, and industrialists 2 percent, while rural landlords were the largest single occupational group represented, with 31 percent19 — and few served as leaders of political parties or cabinet ministers, such figures as Faris al-Khuri,’Abd al-Rahman al-Kayyali, Muhammad Khalil Mudarris, Wahbi al-Hariri, and Muhammad Sa’id al-Za’im being the major exceptions. Rather, they sought to influence the formation of policy by lobbying, through formal institutions like the Chambers of Commerce and Industry and through informal and family networks. Thus, in 1928 tariff exemptions for the import of industrial equipment were obtained after consultations between the Chambers of Commerce and the High Commission; in 1932 the handloom patrons of Aleppo successfully lobbied the High Commission for tariff increases to protect their businesses from stiff Japanese competition that had led to a major series of strikes; and, in the late 1940s, industrialists successfully obtained government-guaranteed loans and a series of legislative measures to protect and encourage local industry. But this last achievement came after independence and after industrial interests had formed their own political party, the People’s Party, which was strongly connected to the Shishakli regime and which incorporated a pro-business agenda into the Syrian Constitution of 1950. The bourgeoisie as a whole sought influence with whatever regime was in power to defend and further its interests, and confronted the government only when it perceived its collective interests to be threatened, as during the 1934-37 controversy over French attempts to restructure the Chambers of Commerce and Industry. This is not to say that all industrialists were without political convictions. Several prominent industrialists, such as Lutfi al-Haffar, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Kayyali, Sami Sa’im al-Dahr, and Muhammad Sa’id al-Za’im, were long-time leaders or supporters of the National Bloc, some of them going so far as to publicize their business enterprises as part of a wider effort to build a “national economy” in support of the political struggle for independence. Others were less committed, Muhammad Khalil Mudarris being perhaps the most noteworthy for his political flexibility. But, as a group - and unlike the silk industrialists of Lebanon, who were umbilically linked to the French industry -the interior Syrian textile industrialists operated in the context of domestic and regional (Arab) markets and were much more loosely linked to French private capital. Their group tendency was to support the independence movement and meanwhile to use whatever influence they could bring to bear to promote their collective economic interests.

  • 20 This much-vexed question is discussed in Alec Gordon, “The Theory of the ‘Progressive’ National Bo (...)
  • 21 Eric Davis, Challenging Colonialism: Bank Misr and Egyptian Industrialization, 1920-1941, Princeto (...)

21In closing this section, I would observe that if this rising industrial bourgeoisie did not meet all the criteria of a “progressive national bourgeoisie” in the Comintern sense,20 it was clearly not a mere “comprador” bourgeoisie dependent upon and the agent of foreign capital. Rather, it was a new class, linked by social origin and some common interests with the landowning notability and the larger merchants but distinct from them, with its own agenda. That it tended to express this agenda in a nationalist idiom is not surprising, given the time and place during which it developed. And, to a certain extent, the industrializing efforts of the Mandate-era bourgeoisie can be interpreted as a nationalist challenge to the constraints of the imperial relationship, much like the Bank Misr group in Egypt.21

22But this agenda would come into conflict with a competing agenda, that of the also-evolving Syrian working classes, a conflict that helped to shape the turmoil in Syria that dominated the post-1954 period.

THE ALEPPINE WORKING CLASS: ARTISANS, PROLETARIANS, AND THE PETITE BOURGEOISIE

  • 22 Joel Beinin and Zachary Lockman, Workers on the Nile: Nationalism, Communism, Islam, and the Egypt (...)
  • 23 ‘Abdallah Hanna, Al-Haraka al-’Ummaliyya fi Suriyya wa Lubnan 1900-1945, Damascus, Dar Dimashq, 19 (...)

23A vast literature exists on the working class as an abstract concept, on the various working classes of the Middle East, and on Syrian workers. Our general understanding of Middle Eastern working classes has to a great extent been made possible by the work of Joel Beinin, Ellis Goldberg, and Zachary Lockman, who have followed in part the tradition of E.P. Thompson.22 For Syria the seminal work is ‘Abdallah Hanna’s book, with significant subsequent contributions by Elisabeth Longuenesse, Jocelyne Cornand, and Sherry Vatter.23 I cannot go into any real detail into these authors’ works. But I would suggest that by reexamining what primary sources we have on Syrian labor with these authors’ insights in mind, we can come to a typology of the Syrian working classes that is much more complex and ambiguous than simple models of proletarianization would suggest. Such a new typology is necessary because most Syrian workers were not unskilled “proletarians” working in large factories; because the traditions of the old craft corporations, or guilds, persisted for a long time; and because many Syrian workers were and remain small proprietors of their own workshops. This mixed character of the Syrian industrial working force implies that rather than forcing it into a “proletarian” box, and searching, perhaps futilely, for subjective “class consciousness,” we look rather at how workers worked, organized, and expressed themselves for clues to categories that make more sense based on the evidence.

24During the Ottoman period a type of production and labor organization stabilized similar to medieval European guilds, known as the hirfa/hiraf and by several other names. In this system artisans worked their way up from apprentice to journeyman to master within a formal organization that enforced quality standards, regulated access to the trade, and allotted work to its members. The guild also acted as a means of state control, the body being the state tax farmer for the craft. Within the broad framework of the guild a variety of ways of organizing production existed. Artisans who owned their own looms might work on their own account or were supplied yarn by merchants who then took the cloth for sale under the putting-out system. Most often a few journeymen worked together in a shop with a master craftsman who owned the equipment. Production was localized in certain districts of the cities, and different areas specialized in products for local markets and for exportation to other parts of the empire. A dedication to skill and quality, as well as the journeymen’s expectation of eventually becoming a master, kept the system together.

  • 24 Sherry Vatter, “Militant Journeymen in Nineteenth-Century Damascus: Implications for the Middle Ea (...)

25By the later nineteenth century the weaving guilds were under great strain due to the intense competition from machine-made European fabrics. Unable to compete in terms of quantity, Syrian weavers exploited their knowledge of local tastes and their high skill levels to retain the higher-quality end of the market as well as a rural clientele that preferred traditional garments. As well, technological advances were made, such as the adoption of the Jacquard device to the handloom to make more complicated fabrics. But under the pressure of cheap foreign imports, merchants bypassed the guild system to set up weaving factories with non-guild workers, journeymen within the guilds lost faith in them as masters blocked their advancement and violated wage agreements. Labor conflicts arose, not because of “class” antagonisms between journeymen and masters but because the former felt the latter had betrayed their commitments under a system in which each had a share.24 While battered, enough of the guild idea remained, especially the value placed on skill, to affect the development of labor organizations later in the twentieth century.

  • 25 Jacques Couland, Le Mouvement Syndical au Liban (1919-1946): Son évolution pendant le mandat franç (...)
  • 26 Philip S. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920-1945, Princ (...)

26In 1912, during the “Young Turk” period the old guilds were formally disestablished, their place to be taken by new “associations” (jam‘iyyat) with written statutes that fixed the mode of election for the committees (niqabat) of these associations.25 While some guilds complied, others continued in their old mode of organization without official recognition. In either case, by the 1920s, in some locales at any rate, many of these organizations had acquired leaders from the local notability, who used them as part of their patron-client networks, while as institutions they entered a transitional phase between guilds and modern unions. This was the case at least in Hamah, where ‘Abd al-Hamid Qunbaz, a pharmacist from a local notable family and incidentally later a director of one of the major textile companies, helped create a score of “unions” (niqabat) between 1928 and 1931 grouped into a “Higher Council of Trade Unions” (majlis al-niqabat al-a’ala). These unions, which included both workers and owners, much like the old guilds, in part pressed labor interests and in part those of their notable patrons.26

27Similar developments were afoot in Aleppo, where the crisis of the handloom industry in the early 1930s brought about a series of strikes which were somewhat paradoxically solved by a joint front of patrons and workers against Japanese imports and the French tariff policies that allowed them in. These strikes appear to have been organized largely by city quarter, with strikers presenting petitions in the names of the weavers of Akyol or of Bab al-Nayrab, for example. But organization also spread throughout the weavers as a group, and their union (syndicat in the French sources) came to play a prominent role.

  • 27 Legislative Decree No. 152 of 18 September 1935. French text in Mandat 1546; Arabic text in Al-Jar (...)
  • 28 A. Aziz Allouni, “The Labor Movement in Syria” Middle East Journal 13/1, Winter 1959, p. 65.

28Heightened labor militancy and the role of nationalist notables in the numerous unrecognized workers’ organizations led the High Commission to attempt to regulate the growing movement. By a legislative decree of September 1935,27 the formation of associations professionnelles, grouping both patrons and workers, was regulated. There is a problem of terminology that indicates the hybrid nature of these organizations. The French text refers to associations, while the official Arabic text uses niqabat, which had become the ordinary Arabic term for “trade union” (in French, syndicat), rather than “jam ‘iyyat,” the preferred term for “association” and that used in the Ottoman legislation which the new law was to revise. This linguistic ambiguity is inexplicable in one sense, as it is clear from the context of the law’s enactment that syndicats were precisely what the French hoped to suppress. Many workers did join the new official “associations,” but others, especially those in more modern, mechanized manufacturing sectors, formed illegal syndicats, such as the “National Union of Laborers of the Textile and Knitting Industries,” founded in Damascus in 1925.28 While some of the new unions were communist-led, many others were not; regardless of party affiliation, all branches of the movement fought for recognition of the right to organize, the eight-hour day, the right to strike, and other workers’ rights by then more-or-less established in Europe and North America. These illegal unions formed a Federation in 1938, the ancestor of the current General Federation of Trade Unions. After gaining several legislative concessions during World War II, the organized labor movement finally won official recognition with the passage of a Labor Code shortly after independence in 1946.

  • 29 Aleppo textile workers, petitions of 3 August 1932, attached to Sûreté Générale, Information N° 3  (...)
  • 30 “La Commission des Ouvriers,” Avis N° 2, 29 Apr 41, French translation in Mandat 1 074.

29We should observe that the language employed by labor militants evolved along with the changing nature of their organizations and the structure of the industry in which they worked. To take only two examples, in 1932, during the great Aleppo weavers’ strike sparked by reductions in the piece-work wages paid to handloom weavers as a result of intense Japanese competition, the weavers presented petitions to the governor of Aleppo, the French assistant delegate at Aleppo, the Syrian president in Damascus, and the High Commissioner in Beirut. Among other things, the weavers appealed to France as the mandatory and the “protector of the poor and the support of the impoverished.”29 Nine years later, the factory workers of the Syrian Spinning and Weaving Company in Aleppo struck for a 40 percent wage increase. This time the workers addressed themselves directly to the company’s stockholders, posting tracts with their demands around the city. Such an approach would have been unthinkable a decade earlier. It was made possible by the public character of the company, the high profile it had acquired in the city’s common consciousness, and a realization by the workers of their changed circumstances.30

30The shifting characteristics of workers’ organizations is one aspect of the evolution of the Syrian working classes. But another is the widely ranging career experiences of workers even within one sector. In the Aleppine textile industry, it was not uncommon for a man to begin his career as a handloom weaver, tied into all the traditions that entailed; later, he would enter the new mechanized weaving factories of the later 1920s and 1930s and, often, become a foreman; at a later stage this same person would enter into business on his own, establishing a small workshop with one or two looms cast off as obsolete by the larger factories, which by the late 1940s had grown to considerable proportions. Thus in one life we have “traditional” artisanal experience, then a stage of “proletarian” factory experience, concluded by entry into the rank of small independent producers. It is perhaps in petty commodity production that the economic key to analyzing the Syrian working classes lies, for it represents a particular feature of their experience that gives them a certain independence from the big factories (be they private or public) and that links them to their pre-factory predecessors. This “petite bourgeoisie” or, as I prefer, “new artisanry” is perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Syrian working experience, and one that bears further analysis.

CONCLUSION

31What can we say in conclusion about class formation in Syria during the Mandate, as indicated by the examples we have looked at? First, I think it bears underlining that, despite their relatively small numbers, the rising industrial bourgeoisie and urban working classes demonstrated all the hallmarks of class development as ordinarily understood. While it is true that during the political turmoil of the 1950s the industrialists came to make common cause with the landowners, during the mandate period they had already established a distinct identity. We can no longer view industrialization as a post-independence phenomenon, or the industrialists merely as a fraction of a larger undifferentiated elite class.

32I think also that the evolution of the Syrian working classes, similar to that of other working classes in the Middle East and elsewhere, demonstrates the fallacy of the proletarianization model. To attempt to force this diverse group into a proletarian straitjacket does a disservice to the reality that they experienced. But at the same time, there is something that is common to the “traditional” artisan, the factory worker, and the independent small-commodity producer, if only because frequently they are one and the same person at different stages of his or her career. Unfortunately, I have not been able to investigate Syrian working-class culture more deeply. But I do believe that the urban working classes also form a discernable stratum of society, whatever label or labels we apply to them.

33Class, then, retains its utility. But we must always be careful that our empirical research guides our theory creation, even while a body of established theory helps us determine the questions we must ask of our sources.

16. Beyrouth, la Foire-Exposition de 1921 : le pavillon de Damas.

17. Beyrouth, la Foire-Exposition de 1921 : le pavillon de Beyrouth.

18. Beyrouth, la Foire-Exposition de 1921 : le pavillon d'Alep.

19. Une manufacture en Syrie dans les années vingt.

20. Manufacture de textile dans les années vingt (Alep ?).

21. Syrie, 1922 : des femmes lavant la laine dans le Qalamoun (sans doute dans la région de Yabroud).

22. Аleр, 1930 : la Société des tramways.

23. Antioche dans les années vingt : un épicier.

23. Antioche dans les années vingt : une mercerie.

24. Le comte Damien de Martel, Haut-Commissaire de 1933 à 1938, photographié à la fin de son exercice.

26. Damas, 1944 (de gauche à droite) : le général Beynet, Mme la générale, M. Jamil Mardam Bek et M. Saadallah al-Jabiri.

Notes

1 These are summarized in Patrick Joyce, “Introduction,” in Class, edited by Patrick Joyce, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 3-16.

2 Hanna Batatu, “Class Analysis and Iraqi Society,” Arab Studies Quarterly 1/3, Summer 1979, p. 231.

3 Mandell M. Bober, Karl Marx’s Interpretation of History, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1927; Harvard Economic Studies Vol. 31, p. 93, 96.

4 “Stratification, Social: Social Class,” in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by David L. Sills, New York, Macmillan/Free Press, 1968, vol. 15, p. 297.

5 Ibid., p. 300.

6 Ira Katznelson, “Working-Class Formation: Constructing Class and Comparisons,” in Working Class Formation: Nineteenth-Century Patterns in Western Europe and the United States, edited by Ira Katznelson and Aristide R. Zolberg, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1986, p. 3-41.

7 Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875, New York, Vintage, 1996, ch. 13.

8 Ibid., p. 245.

9 Ibid., p. 223.

10 E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, New York, Vintage, 1966, p. 9.

11 H. Batatu, “Class Analysis and Iraqi Society,” op. cit., p. 229.

12 See, for example, Samirs Amin, The Arab Nation: Nationalism and Class Struggles, translated by Michael Pallis, London: Zed Press, 1978.

13 Abraham Marcus, The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century, New York, Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 51, 64-69.

14 The archival sources, published and unpublished, used through this article are the following:
1- France, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, Direction des Archives et de la Documentation, Centre des Archives de Nantes, fonds Mandat Syrie-Liban (“Fonds Beyrouth”) : (listed in notes as “Mandat” with the carton number) ;
2- Syria, Ministry of Culture, General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums, Markaz al-Watha’iq al-Tarikhiyya (Center for Historical Documents) [Damascus], Qism watha’iq al-dawla ;
3- Aleppo Chamber of Commerce, Bulletin Economique de la Chambre de Commerce d’Alep, 1960-64, (al-Majmu’a al-Iqtisadiyya li-Ghurfa Tijara Halab), Economic Bulletin of the Chamber of Commerce, Aleppo (title varies), French-Arabic annual. Arabic quarterly and English annual, 1919-1959.

15 Edmond Rabbath, “Esquisse sur les populations syriennes”, Revue Internationale de Sociologie 46/9-10, Sep.-Oct. 1938, p. 443-525.

16 The CPSL party program of the mid-1940s explicitly recognized the existence, and encouraged the activities, of what it termed the “national” bourgeoisie.

17 Geoffrey D. Schad, “Class and Nationalism during the Mandate: the Development of the Aleppine Industrial Bourgeoisie, 1920-1946,” unpublished paper delivered to the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, Chicago, 111., 6 December 1998.

18 E. Hobsbawm, op. cit., p. 236.

19 R. Bayly Winder, “Syrian Deputies and Cabinet Ministers, 1919-1959”, Part II, Middle East Journal 17/1-2, Winter-Spring 1963, table 12 (p. 50).

20 This much-vexed question is discussed in Alec Gordon, “The Theory of the ‘Progressive’ National Bourgeoisie,” Journal of Contemporary Asia 3/2,1973, p. 192-203, and Jonathan Harris, Communist Strategy toward the ‘National Bourgeoisie’ in Asia and the Middle East: 1945-1961, Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1966.

21 Eric Davis, Challenging Colonialism: Bank Misr and Egyptian Industrialization, 1920-1941, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1983, discusses the Bank Misr experiment in detail. His interpretation of Bank Misr as a nationalist enterprise has been disputed by Robert Vitalis, whose When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt, Berkeley, Calif., University of California Press, 1995, contends that the behavior of Egyptian industrialists was rather motivated by a quest for state-provided rents. These interpretations are not, of course, mutually exclusive.

22 Joel Beinin and Zachary Lockman, Workers on the Nile: Nationalism, Communism, Islam, and the Egyptian Working Class, 1882-1954, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1987; Ellis GOLDBERG, Tinker, Tailor, and Textile Worker: Class and Politics in Egypt, 1930-1952, Berkeley, Calif., University of California Press, 1986; E. P. Thompson, op.cit. Beinin and Lockman have more recently reexamined their joint work, in their contributions to Workers and Working Classes in the Middle East: Struggles, Histories, Historiographies, edited by Zachary Lockman, Albany, N. Y., State University of New York Press, 1994.

23 ‘Abdallah Hanna, Al-Haraka al-’Ummaliyya fi Suriyya wa Lubnan 1900-1945, Damascus, Dar Dimashq, 1973; Elisabeth Longuenesse, La classe ouvrière en Syrie: une classe en formation, Ph.D. dissertation, EHESS, 1977, and many subsequent articles; Jocelyne Cornand, L’entrepreneur et l’État en Syrie : le secteur privé du textile à Alep, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1994; Sherry Vatter, “Journeymen Textile Weavers in Nineteenth-Century Damascus: A Collective Biography,” in Struggle and Survival in the Modem Middle East, edited by Edmund Burke, III, p. 75-90, Berkeley, Calif., University of California Press, 1993.

24 Sherry Vatter, “Militant Journeymen in Nineteenth-Century Damascus: Implications for the Middle Eastern Labor History Agenda,” in Workers and Working Classes in the Middle East, op. cit., edited by Zachary Lockman, Albany, N.Y., State University of New York Press, 1994, p. 8.

25 Jacques Couland, Le Mouvement Syndical au Liban (1919-1946): Son évolution pendant le mandat français de l’occupation à l’évacuation et au Code de travail, Paris, Editions Sociales, 1970, p. 61.

26 Philip S. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920-1945, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1987, p. 368; Jean Gaulmier, “Notes sur le mouvement syndicaliste a Hama,” Revue des Etudes Islamiques 6, 1932, p. 95-126.

27 Legislative Decree No. 152 of 18 September 1935. French text in Mandat 1546; Arabic text in Al-Jarida al-Rasmiyya li-l- Jumhuriyya al-Suriyya 20 (31 Oct 35), supplement.

28 A. Aziz Allouni, “The Labor Movement in Syria” Middle East Journal 13/1, Winter 1959, p. 65.

29 Aleppo textile workers, petitions of 3 August 1932, attached to Sûreté Générale, Information N° 3 617, 5 August 1932, Mandat 1545.

30 “La Commission des Ouvriers,” Avis N° 2, 29 Apr 41, French translation in Mandat 1 074.

Table des illustrations

Légende 17. Beyrouth, la Foire-Exposition de 1921 : le pavillon de Beyrouth.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3194/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 446k
Légende 18. Beyrouth, la Foire-Exposition de 1921 : le pavillon d'Alep.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3194/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 189k
Légende 19. Une manufacture en Syrie dans les années vingt.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3194/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 426k
Légende 20. Manufacture de textile dans les années vingt (Alep ?).
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3194/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 383k
Légende 21. Syrie, 1922 : des femmes lavant la laine dans le Qalamoun (sans doute dans la région de Yabroud).
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3194/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 335k
Légende 22. Аleр, 1930 : la Société des tramways.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3194/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 480k
Légende 23. Antioche dans les années vingt : un épicier.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3194/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 342k
Légende 23. Antioche dans les années vingt : une mercerie.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3194/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 283k
Légende 24. Le comte Damien de Martel, Haut-Commissaire de 1933 à 1938, photographié à la fin de son exercice.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3194/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 202k
Légende 26. Damas, 1944 (de gauche à droite) : le général Beynet, Mme la générale, M. Jamil Mardam Bek et M. Saadallah al-Jabiri.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3194/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 587k

Auteur

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA/IFEAD

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2002

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540