Between The Centralization of Oppression and Conciliation, and The Decentralization of Chaos and People’s Power
Although the discussion of the two terms of centralization and decentralization in the new Syria has taken a back seat a little, and is no longer as hot of a topic as it was years ago (and perhaps this is better so discussions move in more objective and sustainable directions), the topic in its essence is still hot and important. One could even say that the time for serious preparations to discuss it and reach understandings about it is dwindling, given the amount and speed of the ongoing changes.
Over the last few years, Kassioun published a number of articles and ideas on the issue, in parallel with the official position of the People’s Will Party (PWP), expressed in Kassioun’s editorials, press conferences, and other. We are not trying here to cover all aspects of the issue in, or to express the complete and detailed position thereon of the PWP. Rather, we seek to put forth a few methodical ideas into the public debate.
First things first!
First, it must be emphasized that a complete and detailed sketch of the new Syria, particularly the aspect relating to the relationship between centralization and decentralization, can be only drawn with a comprehensive dialogue among all Syrian political siddes, with wide participation of Syrian society inside and outside the country, and with Syrians who are specialists in various fields. The issue is more complex and larger than a purely political or purely legal aspect, and a group, party, or person cannot decide it, not only because of everyone’s right to participate, but also because the issue is too broad to be encompassed without broad if not comprehensive participation.
One part of a whole
In discussing centralization and decentralization, it should be emphasized that there is no meaning for any theoretical centralized, decentralized, or composite conceptualization without it being part of a comprehensive conceptualization of the shape of the new Syria, within which this conceptualization is linked to all other main lines.
In other words, completing a conceptualization of centralization-decentralization cannot be correct without defining the required state model and its governance method:
- Will the system be presidential, parliamentary, or mixed?
- What are the election laws in the country? Are they proportional or majority laws? What is the size of the voting districts? How will the media role in elections be controlled to ensure equal opportunity? How are the state agencies prevented from influencing elections? How is political money prevented from influencing elections? Etc.
- What is the economic identity of the country and what is the objective of the economic process? What roles will each of the center and the periphery play within this process?
- What are the laws governing political parties and the media?
- What is he nature and degree of political, union, and cultural freedoms?
Of course, the abovementioned determinants are not all of them, but they are perhaps the most basic of them. It is clear that the choice agreed upon in any of them will radically affect any conceptualization of centralization and decentralization. In a word, a viable conceptualization of the issue can only be built as part of a whole system of conceptualizations of all the fundamental issues related to the shape of the state and governance thereof.
This does not mean in any way that the issue of centralization and decentralization can never be discussed separately, nor does it enjoy relative independence from other issues. It certainly has its relative independence, and this is evident, but fixing the point of the issue’s relative independence before starting to discuss it, and that it is part of a whole, seems necessary in the face of the attempts to transform the slogans of centralization and decentralization into two complete, all-inclusive, and exclusive political slogans.
After these necessary introductions, let’s move on to proposing some general ideas about centralization and decentralization.
Contradiction in unity
The PWP has used in its literature and documents since around 2005 the phrase “illusory dichotomies”, which is based mainly on the dialectical understanding and classifications of contradictions, especially between a primary, major, and secondary contradictions. Without further ado, “illusory dichotomy” is a contemporaneous political use of secondary contradictions in an attempt to present them as primary contradictions.
To make matters clearer, we remind of the well-known and understandable example, which is the illusory dichotomy of “loyalist / opponents” or “regime / opposition”, as well as illusory dichotomies that depict the conflict as sectarian or ethnic one, etc. What is common among these illusory dichotomies is that they seek to cover up the reality of the conflict between the plundered, i.e., the Syrian people, and the plunderers, i.e., the corrupt and extremist elites in both the regime and the opposition alike.
The contradiction between centralization and decentralization is certainly not an illusory dichotomy, but rather a contradiction within a unity, and it has one of two solutions: either solve it through accord between the two contradictions or through the destruction of that unity (that is through destruction of the state / country / homeland). We will clarify that more next, but first, the sides that propose centralization and decentralization as contradictions that cannot be reconciled, are seeking to create an illusory dichotomy that benefits political alignments that do not serve Syrians’ interest, but exactly against it. Holding up the slogan of centralization or decentralization as a first political slogan, in isolation from a comprehensive conceptualization of the rest of the abovementioned major influencing factors, is in itself a misleading of the people, and an illusion to them that the mere achievement of centralization or decentralization, is the solution and the cure, even though both slogans can be applied in a thousand different ways based to the values that the rest of the determinants will take within the overall sketch.
If we put aside the contemporaneous political use of slogans about centralization and decentralization, then the real relationship between them is not at all an illusory dichotomic relationship. Rather, it is a relationship of two opposites within a unity (the unity of the country and the unity of its people), working according to the law of unity and conflict of contradictions, and neither of them can exist without the other. Thus, centralization without decentralization in the Syrian conditions means a state without a people (in concrete terms it means the ongoing massive erosion of the Syrian people from their country), and decentralization without centralization, means a people without a state (which is what is tangibly being worked towards partitioning the country).
Thus, centralization and decentralization are a contradiction within a unity, and severing one from the other means destroying that unity, whether through emptying the state of its people or through partitioning the state.
“The legal unilateralism”
It is common for centralization and decentralization to be classified as two opposites, from which people and countries must choose one, or at best to choose a balance point between them, where either that point is closer to centralization, so the system is centralized, or closer to decentralization, so the system is decentralized. That is, the picture appears closer to a one-dimensional line that has two ends, on one end is centralization and on the other end is decentralization, and the choice is limited to this line.
Whenever a discussion of details begins with those who hold this or that view, advocates centralization admit that they agree with the assertion that there is some degree of decentralization, and advocates of decentralization admit that they definitely agree there is there is a center with some degree of authority.
That is, both groups, away from the slogan they raise, do acknowledge in the practical framework that there is no centralization without some degree of decentralization, and there is no decentralization without some degree of centralization. The dispute and discussion then become about the nature of the proportionality between them, and in concrete “legal” terms: the nature and distribution of authorities.
This discussion may seem practical and sound from a purely legal point of view, but looking at it from a broader political and socioeconomic perspective reveals its unilateralism and its inability to read and deal with reality in depth.
To get closer to reality, some concrete descriptions of both centralization and decentralization should be added.
Centralization of oppression and decentralization of chaos
By “centralization of oppression” or excessive centralization, we mean the concentration of powers and authorities within a state, the strings of which are all in the hands of the central authority regardless of the people’s consent, and against it. Various tools of oppression are used to affix this centralization, starting with hard oppression tools (security, prisons, detentions, and brute force in general), economic oppression tools (corruption, nepotism, and the absorption of wealth towards the center, etc.), and soft oppression tools (media, culture, ideology, etc.).
Seemingly, centralization of oppression or excessive centralization looks like the absolute opposite of decentralization. However, the reality of things is that centralization of oppression, and the longer it lasts, establishes and perpetuates chaotic decentralization that grows in parallel with the growth of centralization.
As a concrete example, the decades-long excessive centralization in Syria has established the appropriate conditions for alienation of the peripheries from the center at the first opportunity. This became clear and tangible over the past ten years, as the unity of the country became constantly threatened, and it appeared that national cohesion under the authority of the centralization of oppression was nothing more than a superficial cohesion under which a chaotic decentralization was growing, ready to go uncontrollable at the first appropriate opportunity. Since the correlation between centralization and oppression in the centralization of oppression, it is depicted to people that getting rid of oppression passes through getting rid of centralization.
If the above describes to some extent the Syrian situation over the past decades, it shows that the perceived or imagined absolute contradiction between centralization and decentralization does not exist in reality; The centralization of oppression and the decentralization of chaos exist simultaneously and continuously feed each other.
In dealing with this mating between the centralization of oppression and the decentralization of chaos, it should be noted that one of its most important foundations is the operations of economic plundering and their management; in other words, the process of redistributing wealth for the benefit of an economic minority at the expense of everyone. That is, this arrangement and this mating is designed primarily to perpetuate plundering from the periphery towards the center, through the high control of various forms of economic operations, and all the hard and soft tools of oppression serve this form of the unjust distribution of wealth.
In addition, the centralization of oppression, although it is excessive centralization, is necessarily a fragile centralization, because it is obligatorily imposed and against the interests of the governed. Thus, it hides in its folds excessive decentralization as well, but it is chaotic and fragile. The Syrian example is not the only example in this context, there is also the Iraqi example and many other examples that appeared formally as a strong centralization, but it became clear at the first serious battle that it is a fragile centralization, which as it grew with it grew a chaotic and fragile decentralization as well.
Centralization of conciliation and decentralization of the people’s power
In contrast to the centralization of oppression, the centralization of conciliation is based on the general satisfaction of the governed. That is, it is based on representing them a real representation through a center that meets their interests and works to serve them, and in essence works on developing public wealth and distributing it equitably, and devotes the tools of oppression the state possesses to serve this distribution.
Centralization of this kind is necessarily a strong centralization, because it truly unites the people, and not by using hard or soft oppression. Centralization of this kind necessarily exists in conjunction with a strong decentralization based on the power of the people in the regions, because the people cannot have a central power over their state without having real power in the regions where they live; and vice versa, the people cannot have power in the regions, without having power in the center. In a word, the centralization of conciliation necessarily presupposes decentralization of the people’s power in the regions.
The center is stronger when the peripheries are more involved in determining the state’s policies and the stronger their representation within the center is. The peripheries and decentralization will be stronger when the center is stronger and has real powers stemming from the general public’s satisfaction and their interest.
Escape from the center or control it?
The prolongation of the centralization of oppression era prompts the peripheries to think of one of the two following ways, which we will discuss:
First: Trying to escape from the center
Whatever slogans this escape is wrapped in, its content remains in essence as follows: We do not want anything from you, just leave us alone and have mercy and spare us the plundering and control process and its tools. In the Syrian case, this type of thinking reflects a form of losing hope for a process of comprehensive radical change, and this type of thinking is reinforced the longer the crisis continues and the longer the comprehensive political solution is obstructed.
Apart from the danger of this type of approach to the unity of the country and the Syrian people, the fact of the matter is that even if we deal with this approach away from the interest of the country and the people as a whole, in an attempt to serve the interests of the people within one of the regions of the country, we will find ourselves before a reality that makes this approach one of the most dangerous delusions.
Syria is made up of all border regions, and Syria in its entirety is the subject of a regional and international conflict. Any region that tries to escape from the center will necessarily fall under the domination and subjugation of other regional and international centers, starting from economic control to political and military control, and will not be able in any way, in isolation, to meet the interests of its residents.
Second: Controlling the center
The only possible solution is for the peripheries to control the center, that is, for the Syrian people to truly and effectively control power in all regions of their country. This can only be achieved through a comprehensive political solution according to UNSC Resolution 2254, and through cooperation among Syrians in all regions and away from the illusions of military decisiveness and toppling, and away from the illusions of escaping from the center.
By the Syrian people’s control over the center, that is, over the authority, that is, over the regime and the opposition together, a strong centralization of conciliation can be built, integrated with a strong decentralization of the people’s power in the regions.
The danger of the geographic understanding of the issue
Among the major risks in dealing with centralization and decentralization is reducing it to a geographical dimension, where Damascus, or Damascus and Aleppo, become the center, and the rest of the provinces are the peripheries.
Can the millions of poor and marginalized people who live in Damascus and Aleppo, and the belts of misery around those two cities in particular, be considered a center? This kind of consideration is a kind of dark comedy.
The truth of the matter is that the peripheries are all Syrian regions and all the Syrian people, and the center is not one of the Syrian cities, but rather a center above all cities and above the entire country.
If there is a real and realistic disparity between the volume of services and opportunities in the two cities (Damascus and Aleppo) and their volume in the rest of the country, then this disparity is in itself one of the means of controlling the distribution of wealth at the level of the country as a whole, and in the interest of the profit-holders against the wage-earners, and not in the interest of the residents of Damascus or Aleppo.
In this sense, understanding the center and the peripheries based on economic realities, is indispensable in building a new Syria according to a formula composed of strong centralization and strong decentralization, integrating the centralization of conciliation and the decentralization of the people’s power in the regions.