51: PAN-ARABIC - OR PAN-ISLAMIC "SOCIALISM"
December 2002; based on an article of 1996
THE SYRIAN NATIONAL REVOLUTION
- THE ROLE OF KHALED BAKDASH OR BAGDASH
- Pan-Arabism in the Middle East
(i) Syria – The place, peoples
(ii) Early History of Syria to the Ottoman Empire
(iii) The End of the Ottoman Empire and the French
(iv) The Post-Independence Economy
(v) What Were The Class Forces
(vi) The Ba'th Party and the Ba'th Arab Socialist
(vii) The Egyptian Modification of Ba'th Ideology
(viii) The Syrian Communist Party
(ix) The Syrian CP, the Ba'th and the United
(x) The Syrian CP and the Khruschevite Revisionists
Introduction - Pan-Arabism in the Middle East
As Comrade Bland pointed out in his analysis of Sultan-Galiyev,
the dubious attractions of "Muslim Nationalism", were a pit-fall for communists
in Muslim dominated countries. Bakdash - from his initial revolutionary
phase to his later revisionist phases, was closely involved with the question
of the relationship between bourgeois nationalism in the Middle East, and
The English historian Patrick Seale writes:
"The prophet of Syrian (In fact "greater Syrian" ) nationalism was
Antun Sa'ada... His bitterest opponent was the Communist leader
Khalid Bakdash, an eloquent Kurd who had steered the chequered fortunes
of the Syrian party since 1930."
Seale, Patrick, "Asad. The Struggle For the Middle East"; London; 1988;
However, Marxist-Leninists examining Bakdash's views,
would have to concede that he was the engineer of the revisionist disembowelment
of the most advanced Arab communist party.
Sa'da was the founder of the Syrian National Party,
and represented the regional Syrian based bourgeoisie who wanted an un-divided
Greater Syria, rather than the more ambitious Pan-Arabists.
"Pan-Arabism" swept the Middle East, partly
in response to the rising Zionist tide. As early as June 1913, the First
Arab Congress was held in Paris (Walter Laquer A History of Zionism";
New York; 1972; p.224). later at the Pan Arab Congress of Jerusalem December,
1931, held simultaneously with the General Islamic Congress, an 'Arab
Covenant' was proclaimed. Hourani uses this as a "standard definition
of the aims of the nationalists":
"(i) The Arab lands are a complete and indivisible whole, and the divisions
of whatever nature to which they have been subjected are not approved or
recognized by the Arab nation.
The main tenets of this proclamation were to live on,
in the form of the Ba'th Party, and in Nasserism and the
Wahd movement. An increasingly urgent problem played a role in side-tracking
the main goal of Arab liberation. This was the Zionist presence in Palestine.
In September, 1937, the Pan-Arab Congress of Bludan in Syria, organized
by the Syrian Committee for the Defence of Palestine, which passed:
(ii) All efforts in every Arab country are to be directed towards the
single goal of their complete independence, in their entirety and unified
; and every idea which aims at limitation to work for local and regional
politics must be fought against.
(iii) Since colonization is, in all its forms and manifestations, wholly
incompatible with the dignity and highest aims of the Arab nation, the
Arab nation rejects it and will combat it with all its forces."
Hourani A.K. "Syria and Lebanon. A Political Essay"; London 1968; p.
"a number of resolutions in regard to the solution of the Palestinian
problem and stated that the adoption of the policy embodied in these resolutions
would be regarded as a condition of friendly relations between the Arab
peoples and the British Empire":
However the establishment of the state of Israel continued
a destruction of bourgeois nationalist dreams. It became increasingly likely
that only lesser goals would be achieved. This article examines the narrowing
focus of Arab nationalism, as it played out in Syria.
Hourani Ibid; p.114-5.
Following the enforced departure of France as an
overt occupying imperialist presence in 1946, the French adopted a pattern
of disguised neo-colonial relations. France took over Syria at a time when
the British dominance over the Middle East was adequate to push France
into a subordinate imperialist position, while Britain waited to see how
it would fight off the USA interests in the area.
(i) Syria – The place, peoples and religion
The ancient idea of a 'bilad al-Sham' - The
"Lands of Damascus", was built on the premise that there was
a distinct Syrian entity. The so-called "Natural Syria" was vast
- extending from Taurus mountains in the North, to the Western Mediterranean
shores, the Eastern Euphrates, and the Arabian Southern deserts. As such,
it was frequently divided up during the centuries.
Later, Syria was known under the French Mandate
rule, as both Syria and Lebanon being part of one administrative area
(with Latakia and Jebel Druze) from 1925 to 1936. Syria as a term, refers
to the Syrian Republic formed in 1936, from Syria, Jebel Druze and
Laakia (also known as the State of the Alawis).
Syria ranks fourth in population in the 15 countries
usually considered to be a part of the "Middle East" extending between
Libya and Afghanistan (excluding these two countries); eighth in gross
domestic product, fourth in size of military force, and sixth in rate of
growth of GDP. (Ramet, Pedro "The Soviet-Syrian Relationship Since 1955-
A Troubled Alliance"; Boulder USA; 1990; p. 6).
The population is largely of the Muslim religious
faith, and Arab speakers formed 85% of the population in 1946. Although
a Christian Maronite minority (taking its name from a 5th Century
Syrian hermit) was always significant in number, as were other minorities.
The population by the time of the French Mandate 1920-1946 was made up
"Islam as an expansionist ideology began during the lifetime of Mohamed,
who made several unimportant expeditions outside the desert of the Arabian
peninsula, The real expansion and invasions were to come after the death
of Mohammed from the caliphs, or his "representatives", the heads of or
leaders of Moslem communities."
Sunnis (60% of the total population); ‘Alawis 11.5%; Druze 3.0 %; Ismaílis
1.5%; Christians 9.9%; Non-Arabs (Kurds 8.5%; Armenians 4.2%; plus small
numbers of Circassians and Jews etc;
(See Malik Mufti: "Sovereign Creations- Pan-Arabism & Political
Order in Syria & Iraq"; Cornell; 1966; p.45).
When Mohammed died (632 BC), as the
head - supposedly appointed by God - of both temporal and religious parts
of the Muslim world, a crisis of leadership was precipitated. This engulfed
all the expansionist desert Arabs who had embraced Islam. They solved it
be appointing a temporal and religious head of the Muslim world, as a "deputy"
- the Caliph, or Khalif:
"Hoxha Enver, "The Glorious past of Peoples Cannot be Ignored";
Written 1983; In "Reflections On the Middle East"; Tirana 1984; Toronto
N.D.; p. 469.
"The death of Mohammed … (led to).. a constitutional crisis….. The crisis
was met by the resolute action of three men: Abu Bakr, Úmar, and
Abu Ubaida who by a kind of coup d'état imposed Abu Bakr on the
community as the sole successor of the prophet… with the title of Khalifa
or "Deputy", and his election marks the inauguration of the great historic
institution of the Caliphate";
Sunni are adherents of the sunnah (practice)
of Mohammed alone whose sayings (hadith) form the Holy Words.
They are the largest grouping of Muslims, and are themselves divided into
sects. The most important of these is the Wahhabi sect largely
based in Central Arabia, and headed by the Ibn-Saud dynasty of what
is now Saudi Arabia. The Wahabis are named after a jurist of the area of
Najd, called Ábd al-Wahhab (1703-1791). During the period
of Ottoman expansion, he founded a sect that:
Lewis Bernard, "The Arabs in History"; New York 1966; p. 50-1.
"Was based on a rigid anti-mystical Puritanism. In the name of a pure
primitive Islam of the first entry he denounced all subsequent accretions
of belief and ritual as superstitious innovation", alien to pure Islam.
… The conversion to the Wahhabi doctrine of the Najdi emir Muhammed ibn
Su-ud gave the sect a military and political focus.. spreading by conquest
over most of central Arabia wresting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina
from the Sharifs who ruled them in the Ottoman name… (till-Ed) 1918, when
an invading Turco-Egyptian army sent by Muhammad Ali the pasha of Egypt
broke the power of the Wahhabi Empire and confined them to its native Najd":
The 'Alawis [meaning followers of 'Ali] are members
of the Shi'i (Or Shi'ia) Muslim sect; as indeed are the Druzes
(originating from Egypt) and the Isma'ilis. The Shi'ia trace their
roots to the 8th century, when 'Ali the Prophet Mohammed's cousin
and son-in-law - was - as the claim goes - robbed of his inheritance
by the first three Caliphs. The Shi'ites also claim that 'Ali was granted
a divine essence, making them 'infidels' to the Sunni Muslim orthodoxy.
The materialist reality underlying the Shiía sect was a factional
grouping based on the claims of Ali to the Caliphate.
Lewis Bernard, "The Arabs in History"; New York 1966; p. 161.
In present day Syria, the Alawi are concentrated
in the mountainous areas. Previously, they tended to be dominated by the
Sunni or the Christian-Maronites.
"In Turkish times the Sunni Muslim had been the privileged community,
growing rich on 'Alawi labour.... (who) could be expected to be ground
down by the Sunni or Christian merchant, money-lender or landowner.....
The various divisions of sects played a role in
preventing a united 'national' identity. Colonising powers used the
minorities in a divide and rule strategy. The Sunnis were closely linked
to the Turkish rulers of the Ottoman Empire, and oppressed the ‘Alawis
and the other minorities. The French reversed the preferences:
But ....... in the early 1920's the French gave the 'Alawi privileges
Seale P: "Asad - The Struggle for the Middle East"; Ibid; p.17.
"France tried to pit all of Syria’s minority communities against the
Sunni Arabs, who constituted the core of its traditional political elites;"
(ii) Early History of Syria - To the Ottoman Empire
Being at the intersection of the Mediterranean and India
and the Far East - Syria was always subject to international influences
and trade. Its peoples were initially Arabs from the South, who brought
with them Semitic influence - but they then intermingled with invaders
from central Asia and Anatolia (Hourani A.H.: "Syria & Lebanon- A Political
Essay"; London 1968; pp.11-13).
Malik Mufti; "Sovereign Creations- Pan-Arabism & Political Order
in Syria & Iraq"; Cornell; 1966; p. 45.
Historic Syria was dominated first by the Semitic
tribes such as the Phoenicians. Later waves of invaders included
the Egyptians, Assyrians, the Hittites, Persians, under Alexander the Great
- the Greeks and later by the First Century BC - the Roman Empire. The
Roman Empire introduced Christianity. But Christianity gave way to Islam
in Syria, during the course of the Persian-Roman wars in the 3rd Century
Although the Byzantine Empire tried to hold onto
Syrian territories, by 633 the Arabs from the Egyptian peninsula took it
by war. A Moslem Government was established. It became a central part of
the Moslem empire, under the Umayyad Caliphate of Mu'awiya
in 661. Till the 8th century, the Caliphate territories extended from Spain
to Morocco to Central Asia. As the Abbassi Dynasty took control of Syria,
its fortunes waned under the pressure of repeated wars with the Byzantine
Ultimately this allowed the Mameluke Sultans
of Egypt - led initially by Baibars to dominate Syria. By 1516,
Syria was ruled as a single unit by Egypt, from the seat of Damascus. This
was the first modern time that this had occurred since the rule of the
Umayyad caliphs 1200 years earlier. However the Ottoman Turks easily
displaced the waning Egyptian Mamelukes in 1516, and the Osmani Sultans
became the Caliphs.
Upon the end of Egyptian rule, bilad al-Sham (Syria)
reverted to the Ottoman Empire, and became sub-divided into provinces.
These were not ‘national divisions'; or even 'natural division' but administrative
divisions facilitating rule over the provinces. As the Ottoman Empire
was challenged by Ibrahim Pasha (son of Muhammed Ali a vassal
to the Ottoman Sultan) of Egypt, a modernisation began in Syria. A central
government was formed with a measure of modern progress such as education.
But Ibrahim Pasha then attempted to invade Constantinople in 1839, and
the Great Powers intervened. They 'propped up the Sick Man of Europe' -
the Sultanate of Constantinople.
The Ottoman Empire was an Oriental Despotic
form of state; broadly speaking it was the equivalent of feudalism in the
West. Its characteristic was the almost complete absence of private property
in land. As Marx characterised it:
"Bernier rightly considered the basis of all phenomena in the East
– he refers to Turkey, Persia, and Hindustan – to be the absence of private
property in land. This is the real key to the Oriental heaven";
Letter Marx to Engels; 2 June 1853; In Collected Works; Volume 39;
Moscow; 1983; p.334 (See Appendix 1 to this article).
"The absence of landed property is indeed the key to the whole of the
East. Therein lies its political and religious history. But how to explain
the fact that oriental never reached the stage of landed property not even
the feudal kind? This is I think largely due to the climate, combined with
the nature of the lands more especially the great stretches of desert extending
from the Sahara right across Arabia, Persia, India and Tartary to the highest
of the Asiatic uplands. Here artificial irrigation is the first prerequisite
for agriculture, and this is the responsibility either of the communes,
the provinces or the central government. In the East, the government has
always consisted of 3 departments only; Finance (pillage at home); War
(pillage at home and abroad); and travaux (i.e. works –Ed) publics, provisions
Letter Engels to Marx; 6 June 1853; In Collected Works; Volume 39;
Moscow; 1983; p.339.
(iii) The End of the Ottoman Empire and the
French Colonial Yoke
By the end of the 19th Century, the break-up
of the Ottoman Empire was eagerly expected by the imperialists. After several
secret organizations had struggled for years, in 1908, some young reformers
led by a small bourgeoisie forced a parliamentary system. In 1913 the Committee
of Union and Progress, led by the army officer Enver Pasha,
took power in the seat of the Ottoman Empire at Constantinople, finally
un-seating the Sultanate.
The Sultanate of the Ottoman Empire, a dictatorship
based on Oriental Despotism was forced into a democratic reform. At the
opening phases of the First World War, Enver Pasha led Turkey into an alliance
with Germany. This was sealed in the secret Treaty of Berlin
July 28. By its provisions, the Ottoman Empire would observe strict neutrality
and Germany would defend Ottoman territory in case of external threats.
Within a few months, Turkey’s secret dealings with
Germany had been revealed. Following incidents where German cruisers evaded
British ships to obtain safe berths in Turkish waters, Britain declared
war on Turkey. As the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill
initiated war actions against Turkey on November 1 1914 War was formally
declared by Britain only on November 5th. Churchill noted that
with the Ottoman Empire as an enemy, its territories were free to being
divided up much easier.
As the war progressed, the Allied forces blundered
into the defeat at Gallipoli. This invasion between 25 April 1915,
to 17 November 1915, left half a million dead. British command had led
an Allied force with a large Australian contingent, was defeated by the
Turkish forces commanded by Mustapha Kemal – later to be known as
Naturally at the end of the First World War, the
victorious super powers led then by the Allied powers, in particular Britain
and France - took the opportunity to divide up the Ottoman territories.
"At the end of a fevered expansionist movement that was rooted in the
1880’s, France had built the second largest colonial empire in the world,
an empire of more than 10 million square kilometers, with nearly 50 million
France had up to then, no significant colony
in the Middle East. This did not deter its pretensions in the area, based
on the rather tenuous, and distant history of the Crusades:
Thobie J, Meynier G, Coquery-Vidrovitch C, Ageron C-R: "Histoire de
La France Coloniale 1914-1990"; 1990; p.7.
"During the Crusades, French knights won kingdoms and built castles
in Syria…. In 1914… there were still Frenchmen who regarded Syria as properly
part of France. France maintained close contacts with one of the Christian
communities along the Mount Lebanon coast of Syria, and French shipping,
silk, and other interests eyed commercial possibilities…… The moment that
the Ottoman Empire entered the war, French officials in the Middle East
therefore formulated plans to annex Turkey’s Syrian provinces. Frances'
Minster in Cairo and Consul General in Beirut immediately joined in urging
their government to invade the Lebanese coast"; Fromkin, David: "A Peace
to End All Peace. The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the
Modern Middle East"; New York; 1989; p. 94.
Meanwhile, in Britain manoeuvring had also begun. The
De Bunsen Committee was appointed by Prime Minister Asquith
to advise on polices post-war in the Middle East; the proceedings were
dominated by Sir Mark Sykes a Tory MP. It reported five autonomous
provinces should be created in the decentralised Ottoman Empire: Syria,
Palestine, Armenia, Anatolia and Jazirah-Iraq.
During the war, Lord Kitchener Minister of
War in the British Cabinet, proposed a pact to the Sherif of Mecca -
Hussein. Kitchener’s plan was to make the Sherif Caliph, thereby displacing
both religious and temporal power away from Constantinople to Mecca – Arabia
proper. This would appeal to the majority of the Ottoman Empire who were
Arabs, yet ruled by the 40% of Turkish speakers – by the Ottoman Empire.
In return Hussein was to assist with the overthrow of Turkish rule:
"Kitchener’s telegram … sent by Grey at the Foreign Office, told the
British Agency (in Cairo-Ed) that Storr should reply to Abdullah Hussein
that (son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca-Ed):
This promisory note was to lead to serious future conflicts.
Apart from anything else, British calculations that the Mecca Sharif
Hussein dynasty (the Hashemites) would be given the allegiance of all
Arabs was mistaken. It ignored the ambition of the Wahabi sect led by the
Sunni Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, based in Central Arabia.
" If the Arab nation should assist England in this war that has been
forced upon us by Turkey, England will guarantee that no internal intervention
take place in Arabia, and will give the Arabs every assistance again foreign
In other words if the Arabian leaders freed their peninsula from the Sultan
and declared their independence, Britain would help to protect them against
any invasion from abroad."
"Fromkin Ibid; p. 102-3.
Nonetheless, the illusions of Britain’s backing took
hold of Sharif Hussein somewhat. An illustration of this was in the demands
he made, in what came to be known as the Damascus Protocol. This
demanded an independent Arab kingdom under his rule. This was presented
by Hussein to the British command at Cairo in summer 1915. The British
High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon – was pressurised
by Kitchener to write accepting the demands of Hussein (See Fromkin Ibid;
p. 178). This led to the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence. In these
McMahon used duplicitous wording, to the effect that Hussein should understand
a British commitment towards Palestine. The British imperialist had understood
that they would have to:
"pay a price… to obtain France’s consent to the making of promises
Accordingly McMahon forced Hussein to relinquish claim
to Syria, Lebanon, Basra and Baghdad, leaving only Arabia. This would mean
negotiation with other contenders such as Ibn Suad (See Fromkin; Ibid;
p.183). Hussein explicitly rejected this "offer" – stating that:
Fromkin Ibid; p. 182.
"Any concession designed to give France or any other Power possession
of a single square foot of territory in those parts is quite out of the
In reality he had little other choice, as the Ottoman
Empire Young Turks were about to depose him. The British Foreign Secretary
Sir Edward Grey gave the signal:
Fromkin, Ibid; p. 185.
""Not to worry about the offers being made by Cairo as "the whole thing
was a castle in the air which would never materialise";
Hussein then insisted that there could be no Arab uprising
against the Ottomans without an Allied landing on the Syrian coast. This
spurred an imperialist presence in the Middle East.
Cited Fromkin Ibid; p. 185.
This frames the talks between imperialist France
and Britain. France, represented by the son of an African French colonist
- Francois Georges Picot and Britain - represented by Tory M.P.
Sir Mark Sykes. These two simply secretly divided Syria up, under
the secret provisions of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of February 1916.
Partition kept the Allies united. Palestine was to be "placed under an
international regime"- to be determined after "consultation" with all parties
involved – including (sic) other interested allies such as Russia and Italy!
Such negotiations between "Allies" were un-trustworthy.
In the meantime a secret French-Russian pact between the French Prime Minister
Aristide Briand, and the Russian foreign ministry, it was "decided"
that the post-war administration of Palestine was to be French controlled.
Hussein tried for as long as possible to temporise,
but when the Ottoman Young Turks discovered his plots, they mobilised.
To circumvent this, Hussein "declared" war, leading to the pathetic Arab
Uprising in June 1916. It did not ignite any reaction, and the Arab
tribes largely ignored the call. Simmering continued. However, in 1920,
Thus ensued the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
The United Nations "awarded" the French the Mandate over Syrian
and Lebanon. France 'took’ the North , which became the republics of Syria
and Lebanon. Meanwhile in the South, Britain seized Palestine and Transjordan.
This, occurred despite the fact that the population itself, had made
clear its own desire for independence:
"The inhabitants of the whole region made it clear that they wanted
natural Syria to be independent and undivided: In July 1919
an elected body calling itself the Syrian National Congress repudiated
the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration and demanded sovereignty
status for a united Syria-Palestine".
In the interim, an Arab administration led by Amir
Faysal established itself in Damascus. The contradictions between the
European waning imperialisms of France and Britain were set against the
rising imperialism of the USA. Even the USA led King-Crane Commission
visited the area and confirmed the popular view. But the USA was as yet
unable to effectively challenge the hegemony of the USA in the area. Thus
in 1920, the European powers were given Mandates over the new states
carved out of the former Ottoman provinces. Although Faysal fought against
this both politically and then in armed struggle, the troops of French
General Geraud entered Damascus in 1920. At the Battle of Maisaloun,
they decisively defeated Faisal.
Seale; Ibid; p. 15.
The French dismissed Faysal and set up a classic
colonial state. Their Mandate, made the French Government
the 'intermediate' between its High Commissioner and the League of Nations.
On the principle of divide and rule, they quickly proceeded to create new
states, and to foster the remaining divisions between people of the former
"The French fully understood that Syrian nationalist sentiment would
be opposed to their rule. This in effect meant the that the Sunnis were
their principal antagonists and they thus proceeded to capitalise on the
.. Christians, their oldest friends, by creating a new state that stripped
Tyre, Sidon, Tripoli, the Baaka valley & Beirut itself from Syria and
added them to the Ottoman sanjak (administrative district) of Mount Lebanon
the very backbone of Maronite Christianity. Syria was cut off from its
finest ports and Damascus - ... was weakened at the expense of Beirut and
the new Christian dominated regime":
They created out of Syria a newly detached State
of Greater Lebanon; by detaching Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Tripoli, the
Baqa' Valley and the Sh'i region of North Palestine. These were attached
to Mount Lebanon - the fief of Maronite compradors of France.
Then in 1921, France yielded to Turkey, large parts
of Aleppo, and Alexandretta-Antioch.
A further administrative manoeuvre divided Syria
into four parts: These were the mini-states of Damascus, Aleppo, and the
"independent" Alawi mountains and the Druze mountains.
Finally the Northern part of Syria was colonized
and further division fostered by encouraging settling by Christians and
Kurds. Of course the purpose of all this sub-division of Syria was to 'ensure'
Fisk R; "Pity the Nation - The Abduction of Lebanon"; London 1990;
Political parties were only allowed a legal existence
in January 1925. At that time, the Peoples Party launched armed
struggle. This party had been the first that the French had legalised
( Ismael T & Ismael J: The Communist Movement in Syria & Lebanon,
Gainsville; 1998 p. 12). Within 2 years it was crushed. But, the French
remained aware of the depth of feeling, and allowed a national assembly
to convene in 1928. But it was soon dissolved, in 1930, by the French.
Large popular protests erupted by 1936. This compelled the French Government,
under the leadership of the Popular Front Government to enter negotiations
with the Syrian nationalists. The Franco-Syrian Treaty of September
1936, called for a Syrian [neo-colonial] 'independence' in return for French
privilege in trading and military status. The National Bloc
was elected to power, but the Second World War supervened. The French suspended
the 1930 Constitution by the imposition of martial law (Dilip Hiro: "Inside
The Middle East", London; 1982; p. 42).
The National Bloc, had been formed in 1928. But
"was not a unitary party so much as a working alliance of individuals
and groups. It including leading members of important land-owning families..
like Hashim al-Atasi, the President.. individuals.."
In 1943, the British pushed Vichy France, to hold elections
in Syria. The National bloc was again elected. Syria declared war
on Germany in February 1945, thereby winning a seat at the Founding Conference
of the United Nations. France was clearly a faltering imperialist nation.
Britain, at that time was still struggling hard to keep the upper hand,
against a new insurgent USA imperialism. However, it still had could browbeat
the French out of Syria. Britain had foreseen that unless the Syrians were
allowed a nominal 'independence', the whole Middle East was threatened
from the perspective of imperialism.
Hourani A.H. "Syria and Lebanon. A Political Essay"; 1968; Beirut;
It was only in April 1946, that the French left
Syria as an occupying colonial military power. As the History of Colonial
France puts it:
"The Syrian Affair had ushered in decolonisation at the worst possible
time for France. It was under the very powerful menace of the British,
and suffering from the injuries inflicted by the Arab League, these forced
it to abandon its mandate without contradiction."
Thobie J, Meynier G, Coquery-Vidrovitch C, Ageron C-R: "Histoire de
La France Coloniale 1914-1990"; 1990; p.360 (Tr Kumar H).
The Syrian Parliament of the 1943 elections, was deposed
by a military coup led by Husni al-Za'im in March 1949. This
was assisted by the debacle of the first Arab-Israali war of 1948 and the
defeat of the Syrian army. It was only in 1954, that his successor (Colonel
Adib al-Shisakli) was overthrown by a further military coup.
This was precipitated by the United Front
meeting at Homs in July 1953, where the National Party, the People's Party,
the Arab-Socialist party, the Ba'th party and the Communist party signed
a National Pact to overthrow the Shishakli dictatorship.
At this time, parliamentary democracy was restored.
The ensuing poll in September 1954 was the first in the Middle East with
full women's suffrage, and was generally free.
Syria by the time of the French withdrawal in 1946
had been whittled down to 185,190 square kilometers from 300,000 square
kilometers in Ottoman times. (See Seale; Ibid; pp14-16). Open colonialism
was to be replaced by a neo-colonialism.
(iv) The Post-Independence Economy
The class character of Syria after the war, was that
of a neo-colony dominated by French and British interests, with
major feudal remnants. The economy was largely based on peasant based,
raw material production, with oppression from the landowners.
The French had developed a comprador base.
Since industry was weak in the area, both from previous Oriental Despotism,
and the depredations of Ottoman oppression followed by European imperialism,
the representatives of the national bourgeoisie were initially weak.
The French had created a large comprador class
by fostering various sections of the 'Alawis (eg. The Kinj Brothers;
the Abbas family); and in Mount Lebanon from 1860 onwards the Maronite
Christians; and other landowners throughout the former bilad
Previously, a collective type of farming , known
as musha' had enabled the peasantry to each gain a subsistence living.
The plots were periodically re-distributed in order that each family would
have turns on the better plots. But following the previous example by the
Ottomans from the 1858 Ottoman Land Code, the French drew up a land
register. This meant that local notables and tribal shayks were enabled
to seize property by legal title.
"Syria was a predominantly agricultural country, its backbone being
two million peasants out of a then population of about 3.5 million, inhabiting
some 5,500 villages built mostly of mud and mostly lacking piped water
sewerage electricity tarred roads or any other amenity of modern life..
The population was ravaged by disease.. In 1951-3, 36% of registered deaths
occurred among children under five. National income per head was a mere
440 Syrian lire (US$157), although socials disparities were such that most
Syrians earned even less. Outside the two main cities of Damascus and Aleppo
electricity was rare, serving fewer than three-quarters of a million people
in the whole country. There were only some 13,000 motor vehicles a single
port Latakia, and three small railways all Ottoman built and of different
Under this pillage, comprador owned latifundia
were built up. Monied merchants and moneylenders in the cities also became
Latifundists. In the process the peasantry was of course expropriated and
impoverished to the status of being share-croppers. This meant that
they obtained between 25-75% of the crop they worked, depending upon how
much they provided in money for seed, and water.
Since as Seale puts it, Syria was a "predominantly
agricultural country", the solution of the misery of the peasant was a
major goal for the country's development. This required a national
democratic revolution. The extent of the poor development of industry,
and the misery of the people can be seen from the following statistics:
Seale; Ibid; p. 44.
By the Second World War and immediately after, a small
industrialist class, and its corollary a working class had
arisen in cotton and rayon cloth, soap, cement, glass, and matches; and
some industrial penetration into the countryside latifundia had also occurred.
(Seale Ibid; p. 46).
The French had created several divisions in the area,
or had deliberately stoked up older, historic division - these were at
the minimum the following:
Divisions of land into arbitrary areas with peasant expropriations;
But, the class divisions
overlay - but sometimes depended upon the above divisions.
(v) What Were The Class Forces of Syria?
These can be characterized with respect to their relations
to the ownership of the means of production; and to their relations to
the democratic revolution and a subsequent second socialist stage:
1. Those Forces Interested in the Social Revolution
Divisions of territory between potentially hostile 'religious' divisions
(Sunni versus Shi'i Muslim sects - of the latter being Druzes, 'Alawis,
i) The predominant class was the peasant class, the majority
of whom were actually share- croppers;
Initially they were led by the Arab Socialist Party (ASP) of
Akram al-Hawrani, formed in 1950.
ii) A small working class based mainly in Damascus and Aleppo;
These were initially led and represented by the Communist Party
Syria and Lebanon (founded October 1924, admitted Comintern 1928),
who ultimately, also gained the leadership of the peasantry. After Syrian
territory was divided into Syria and Lebanon, the two parties formed separate
organisations in 1930, leaving in Syria the Syrian Communist Party (SCP).
2. The Class Forces Implacably opposed to any phase of National or
i) The feudal-type latifundia land owners; who were comprador bourgeoisie;
these were led and represented by the French imperialists;
and then later by the so-called pro-"Pan-Syrian" nationalists; Syrian
Social Nationalist Party (SSNP - or Parti Populaire Syrien) established
by Antun Sa'ada. The Pan-Syrians only wished that the territory
of Syria and Lebanon not be divided, and allowed a diversion to offer against
the Pan-Arabists. They had established a management hold over the tobacco
growers of the mountains, and had a monopoly with the French 'regie de
tabacs'. They were known to be pro-West and anti-communist (See Seale Ibid;
3. Forces interested in "national democratic" revolution -
but wished to abort the second stage, the socialist revolution.
The petit bourgeoisie, and the peasantry, and at a later stage the
small but potentially important national industrialist capitalist class,
was represented by the Ba'th Party at first and then by the Arab
Socialist Ba'th Party (ASBP).
The industrialists were as always frightened of the arousal of the workers
and peasantry. They were at best then 'vacillating' allies of the national
(vi) The Ba'th Party and the Ba'th Arab
Welding Arab nationalism into a movement
that could make strides against imperialism in reality needs Marxism-Leninism.
But nationalists who shied away from revolution, tried to find a different
solution. They tried to ignite Arab pride. This involved a mystical
The formation of the Ba'th Party (or Baath)
in Syria took place in 1947, led by Michel 'Aflaq, Salh al-Din Bitar
and Wahib al-Ghanim. The concept originated in Syrian intellectuals
who upon return to Syria from the Sorbonne in Paris, were dismayed to find
themselves treated as ‘colonials’:
"The party was ... founded...
by two rival schoolmasters, the 'Alawi from Antioch, Zaki al-Arsuzi, and
the Damascene Christian, Michel 'Aflaq……..
was a Syrian intellectual from a modest background who in the late 1920s,
won a place at the Sorbonne from which he emerged four years later with
a philosophy degree and a boundless enthusiasm for French poetry, painting
.. .......gathered a circle of young followers to whom he explained that
the 'renaissance' of the Arabs - that is what the word 'ba'th' means -
was in their grasp.. (but-ed) he came to suffer from delusions"........
Hama Akram al-Hawrani led a youth movement and ..... a lawyer, jalal at-Sayyid,
started a boys' club with a strong nationalist flavour which was to be
the first Ba'th party branch in eastern Syria. But
of all these youth groups, the most significant for the future was that
of Michel 'Aflaq and Salah al-Din Bitar who, like Arsuzi graduates of the
Sorbonne, on their return home to Damascus in 1934 became teachers …..By
1940 'Aflaq and Bitar had set up their own study circle ... At the start
they called their group the Movement of Arab Revival (barakat al-ibya'al-arabi),"
Seale P; Ibid; p. 27
These intellectuals repudiated Marxism, and were explicitly
anti-communist. Although the Ba'th movement built on prior sentiments of
Syrian nationalism, these had been close to a religious interpretation
dominated by the Sunni sect. This alienated other parts of the Muslim Arabs,
who consequently did not join in with the national movement:
"In the past, the Arab nationalist movement had always been interwoven
with a kind of Sunni Islamism. And the Sunni Arabs, who usually played
first fiddle in this movement, assigned in their Arabism such an
important and central role to (Sunni) Islam that heterodox
Muslims, let alone Christians, were allotted a secondary place: 'timid
subordinates' tolerate by (Sunni Arab) 'superiors.' In fact, many Sunni
Arab nationalists tended to regard members of the Arabic speaking religious
minorities as 'imperfect Arabs' because they were
heterodox Muslims or not Muslims at all. Equally, the religious minorities
tended to suspect Arab nationalism as a disguise for unrestrained Sunni
ascendancy, similar to the situation that pertained during the Ottoman
Empire, the only difference being that Arab rather than
Turkish Sunnis now held power."
Van Dam Nicholas: "The Struggle for power in Syria. Politics &
Society Under Asad & the Ba’th party"; London 1997; p. 17.
The Ba'th ideology was supposed to be secular and it
based itself on all Arabs irrespective of sect of Islam, or even of Islam
itself. Ba'th means "re-birth" and took the notion as central, to
mean the renaissance of the Arab movement, also holding out a promise of
"socialism" to "all Arabs":
"Ba'th ideology had a quite different basis. The Ba'th wanted a united
secular Arab society with a socialist system, i.e. a society in which all
Arabs would be equal, irrespective of their religion. This did not imply
that Islam was of secondary importance to Ba'thist Arabism. In the Ba'thist
view Islam constituted an essential and inseparable part of Arab national
culture. Other than the Sunni variants of Arabism, however, the Ba'th considered
Islam to be not so much an Arab national religion as an important Arab
national cultural heritage, to which all Arabs, whether Muslim or Christian,
were equal heirs apparent. In the opinion of Michel 'Aflaq, the Ba'th Party's
ideologist, Christian Arabs therefore need feel in no way hindered from
being Arab nationalists:
"When their nationalism awakens in them completely and they regain
their original nature, the Christian Arabs will realise that Islam is their
national culture with which they should satiate themselves, in order that
they may understand and love it and covet it as the most precious thing
in their Arabism.'
Van Dam Nicholas: "The Struggle for power in Syria. Politics & Society
Under Asad & the Ba’th party"; London 1997; p. 17.
However, they slipped frequently into defense of the
religious aspects - of Islam, stressing the social and progressive aspects,
as preached by its religious leaders. To get the full flavour of mystic
philosophy of Ba'th philosophy, a portion of their words are in Appendix
Two , which contains a short extract from a 1955 speech by a leader
An appeal to the entire Arab peoples should
have instantly appealed to the nascent bourgeoisie. But its more immediate
appeal was to the petit-bourgeois intellectuals, and only to a limited
extent to the peasant masses. Intellectuals who were already breaking away
from tribal and narrowing holds, saw its potential:
"It was thus only natural that the Ba'th ideology appealed strongly
to Arabic-speaking religious minority members, who may have hoped that
the Ba'th would help them to free themselves of their minority status and
the narrow social frame of their sectarian, regional and tribal ties.'
Finally, the minority members must have been attracted by the idea
that the traditional Sunni-urban domination of Syrian political
life might be broken by the establishment of a secular socialist political
system as envisaged by the Ba'th, in which there would be no political
and socio-economic discrimination against non-Sunnis or, more particularly,
against members of heterodox Islamic communities.
After the take-over of Hafiz al-Asad in 1970, membership of the struggle
for party apparatus was opened to all Syrians, including non-Arabs such
as (Arabised) Kurds, Circassians and Armenians." The number of non-Arabs
in an Arab nationalist party like the Ba'th was bound to remain small,
Van Dam Nicholas: "The Struggle for power in Syria. Politics
& Society Under Asad & the Ba’th party"; London 1997; p. 17-8.
The Pan-Arabic vision, was illustrated by the
Constitution of the Arab Ba'th Socialist Party, which officially
"The Arab nation constitutes a cultural unity. Any differences existing
among its sons are accidental and unimportant. They will disappear with
the awakening of the Arab consciousness ... The national bond will be the
only bond existing in the Arab state. It ensures harmony among the citizens
by melting them in the crucible of a single nation, and combats all other
forms of factional solidarity such as religious, sectarian, tribal, racial
and regional factionalism."
Bashir al-Da’uq ed; Nidal al-Ba’th; Volume 1; Beirut 1970; pp172-6;
Van Dam Nicholas: "The Struggle for power in Syria. Politics &
Society Under Asad & the Ba’th party"; London 1997; ; p. 15.
Michel Aflaq and Zaki Arsouzi, in 1943,
at first formed the Arab Ba'th Party, in secret out of two small
groups. But the legal establishment of the party: had to wait till the
French military left in 1946 (Dilip Hiro; " Inside The Middle East"; London
1982; p. 130).
From its formal beginning in 1947, the Ba'th Party
intended to cover all countries where Arabs were predominant. It was not
restricted to Syria. Its' programme called for land reform
and nationalisation of major parts of the economy, and a constitutional
"At its first pan-Arab congress in Damascus in April 1947, delegates
from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Morocco adopted a constitution
and a programme. The party's basic principles were described as: the unity
and freedom of the Arab nation within its homeland; and a belief in the
'special mission of the Arab nation', the mission being to end colonialism
and promote humanitarianism. To accomplish it the party had to be 'nationalist,
populist, socialist and revolutionary'. While the party rejected the concept
of class conflict, it favoured land reform; public ownership of natural
resources, transport, and large-scale industry and financial institutions;
trade unions of workers and peasants; the cooption of workers into management,
and acceptance of 'non-exploitative private ownership and inheritance'."
It stood for a representative and constitutional form of government, and
for freedom of speech and association, within the bounds of Arab nationalism."
The main social base for the Ba'th was not initially
the larger sections of the bourgeoisie. They were not yet convinced that
the Ba'th would serve their interests. Later, these were to follow the
lead of President Nasser of Egypt:
Dilip Hiro; " Inside The Middle East"; London 1982; p. 130.
"In Syria the party drew its initial support either from the urban
Sunni (Muslim) and Orthodox (Christian) petty bourgeoisie, or the rural
notables, particularly those in the Alawi and Druze areas of Latakia.
A related party was the Arab Socialist Party. This
party had a mass peasant base, which was to become vital to the
'The party's social base remained the petit bourgeoisie of the cities,
and in the countryside middle landlords with local social prestige,' notes
Tabitha Petran. 'However, the Baath did not develop much in the cities.
Most of the Sunni petit bourgeoisie, even in Damascus, was influenced by
the Muslim Brotherhood and later also by President Nasser. But the Ba'th
won a following among students and military cadets: future intellectuals
and army officers."
Dilip Hiro; " Inside The Middle East"; London 1982; p. 130.
"The other party to draw support from the military cadets was the Arab
Socialist Party, founded in January 1950 by Akram Hourani, a lawyer
from Hama. .. At his suggestion the Syrian government had instituted the
egalitarian policy of disregarding the social background of the applicants
to the only military academy at Horns. Since a military career was the
only way a son of a poor or middle peasant could raise his social status,
the Horns academy attracted many applicants from this section of society.
Given the ASP's commitment to ending feudalism and distributing government
land to the landless, and its leadership of peasant agitations, it was
not surprising that it enjoyed considerable following among young cadets
Soon the ASP and the Ba'th Party came together, forming
the Arab Socialist Ba'th party (ASBP) in 1953. Its' leaders, who
later forced into exile, were Michel 'Aflaq, Salh al-Din Bitar, and
Hiro; Ibid; p. 131.
As discussed they represented the "middle ground"
elements consisted of representatives of the petit bourgeoisie who having
become educated, were cognizant of the need for progressive modern change.
But most of these elements (white-collar urban workers school-teachers,
government employees, large sections of the army and the air force etc;)
were not of communist mentality. The Ba'th Socialist Party now
restated the Ba'th's founding aims:
"Drawn together by their opposition to the dictatorial regime of Colonel
Adib Shishkali, the leaders of the Baath and the ASP decided in September
1953 to form the Arab Baath Socialist Party: this was formally done six
months later. The new party re-stressed the Baath's central slogan: 'Freedom,
Hiro, Ibid p.131.
What did "socialism" mean for the Arab Ba'th
Socialist Party? It was a very vague and imprecise ideology:
" Socialism, which comes last in the Baath trinity, is less a set
of socio-economic principles than a rather vague means of national moral
improvement. . . . All they [Ba'thist leaders] said was that socialism
was a means of abolishing poverty, ignorance, and disease, and achieving
progress towards an advanced industrial society capable of dealing on equal
terms with other nations."
Hiro Ibid; p.131.
The ASP's peasant base gave the new party a mass
"The infusion of the ASP's predominantly peasant following into the
new party gave it the militant mass base that the old urban-based party
had lacked. Winning sixteen parliamentary seats in Hama, the ASP's stronghold,
in the general election of September, strengthened the hands of the leftists
in the party, and softened its anti-Communist stance, associated with the
founders of the pre-merger Arab Ba'th Party."
Hiro Ibid; p.131.
(vii) The Egyptian Modification of Ba'th Ideology
Nasserism was a specific form
of Pan-Arabism, led by Gamel Abdul Nasser. Starting in the context
of a nationalist movement in Egypt alone, Nasser struck a renewed hope
for liberation from imperialism throughout large sections of the Middle
East, using instead of Ba'th - the notion of Wahda, to mean ultimately
the same. Wahda (Arabic for union) was to be a renewal of Arabic
"culture", under a twentieth century guise of nationalism.
As a strategy of the national bourgeoisie in the
Middle East, both these ideologies aimed to contain the mass movement,
emphasising the notions of an Arab peoples, denying any class content.
Revisionism in the parties of the entire Middle
East had deprived the working class of capable leadership. Nasserism was
only able to consolidate itself because the Egyptian Workers Party,
the Communist Party, was itself under the influence of the now Soviet-revisionist
Wahda called for unity of several different struggling
national bourgeoisies against imperialism. It hoped to be able to avoid
the social revolution, by using nationalistic demagogic slogans. Effectively
a class coalition was to be created, of all the national bourgeoisies,
and the working classes of the different countries, led by the national
That way it was to be hoped, that the singly weak
national bourgeoisie together would be strong enough to fight imperialism,
and yet still be able to contain the social revolution.
Ultimately Pan-Arabism failed, as there was a single
dominant national bourgeoisie, which itself tried to create "comprador"
relations with the other weaker national bourgeoisie. This dominant national
bourgeoisie was Egyptian and it was led by Nasser. It was successful for
a time, as evidenced by the short lived creation of the UNITED ARAB
REPUBLIC- consisting of Egypt and Syria. However the dominant Egyptian
bourgeoisie, could not suppress the Syrian national bourgeoisie of the
coalition. The experiment thus failed.
(viii) The Syrian Communist Party
The party was founded by Yusuf Ibrahim Yazbak,
who used the paper al-Sahafi al-T'eh (The Wandering Journalist) to form
a base; and Fouad al-Shamli, who after expulsion from Egypt, formed
a base for the Lebanese Communist party. The two groups united
to form the first Arab communist party:
“After two meetings were held in October 1924 at al-Hadath (a suburb
of Beirut), a communist party in Syria and Lebanon was formed on 24 October
1924 by five Arabs (four workers and one intellectual): Yazbak, al-Shamali,
Farid Toma, Ilyas Qashami, and Butros Hishimah. They selected Yazbak as
secretary general and called the party the Lebanese People's Party (LPP)
as a public front for the communist party. The Supreme Committee of Syndi-cates
constituted the main membership of the communist party and its front organization,
the Lebanese People's Party. This was the first organized and constituted
communist party in the Arab world."
They contacted the Comintern in 1924, who sent them
Joseph Berger of the Palestine Communist Party (PCP). This
was only established in 1923, but it was a member of the Communist International
(Degras J: Volume 2; p. 95). Berger was assigned the responsibility of
"setting up the Lebanese CP". But problems rapidly surfaced as he
insisted on a PCP hegemony:
Tareq Ismael and Jacqueline Ismael: "The Communist Movement in Syria
And Lebanon"; Gainsville Florida, 1998; p. 8.
" Almost since the very beginning there were signs of major disagreement
between the representative of the Palestinian Communist Party, Joseph Berger,
and the Lebanese communists in connection with the rejection by those present
of the Palestinian guardianship of the Lebanese party. It was obvious that
the Palestinian Communist Party wanted the Lebanese party to be a branch,
whereas the Lebanese insisted on maintaining their inde-pendence. This
occurred in spite of the coordination that was going on between members
of the party and their counterparts in Palestine during the party's first
decade. The Communist Party of Palestine, which was then almost exclusively
Jewish, was at that time the most ideologically mature, organizationally
coherent, and genuine communist outpost in the Middle East. Its leaders
believed the party to be "the only communist front in the Arab Orient"
and considered it their duty "to pay attention to every question ... in
relation to the revolution ... to look into matters relating to Syria,
Egypt, and Islamic Congresses in Cairo, Mecca, and elsewhere."" However,
their aspirations were soon curtailed by the Secretariat for Oriental Affairs
of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, which in December
1926 "censured" the Palestinian communists for their "ambitious demand
to monopolize work in contiguous countries" and considered it to be a malady,
harmful for the further expansion of communist influence in the region."
This attitude of the Palestine CP persisted, as seen
in the 1929 Comintern discussion on the revolution in Arabistan. This forms
Appendix 3 (See: Comintern
Ismael and Ismael; Ibid; p. 8.
The party put forward a short term programme including
labour demands, and "promotion of Lebanese industry agriculture and trade"
and nationalisation; and control of religious endowments by public agencies
(Ismaels Ibid; p. 10-11).
In 1925, an Armenian organisation (Spartacus
League) initiated contacts, and they fused on May Day to form the Communist
Party of Syria and Lebanon (CPSL). The first Central Committee also
included a representative of the Palestine CP - Jacob Tepper (Heikal M;
"The Sphinx and the Commissar"; New York; 1978; p. 41).
In 1926 however, the Oriental Secretariat Executive
Committee of the Communist International, placed the party under the supervision
of the Palestine CP, countermanding the prior Lebanese decision (Ismael
and Ismael; Ibid; p.14). At the 6th Congress of the Communist International
in September 1928, the CPSL took part.
During the French mandate, the Syrian CP (SCP) legally
functioned, though suffered harassment such as the banning of its paper
- al-Insaniya (Mankind - or Humanity).
At the time of partition of Greater Syria, the CPSL
strongly objected. In 1930, it emerged from secrecy to become public (Ismaels
Ibid; p.17). Its first full programme was published in 1931.
The programme called for the national liberation
of Syria and Lebanon and a democratic revolution to include land reform
and abolition of feudalism.
Khalid Bakdash joined the party in
1930, recruited by al-Shamali. Promoted to the Central Committee in mid-1931,
he was sponsored by Artin Madoyan. Within six months he had ensured
al_Shamali's expulsion - on:
"unsubstantiated and specious allegations that he had connections with
Six months later, Bakdash became the party Secretary-general
in early 1932, and went on to translate the Communist Manifesto in 1933
into Arabic. He was given further training in Moscow, and there, was made
the permanent representative of Arab communist parties in 1934. Although
the COmintern rejected the formation of a federation of Arab communist
parties, on the grounds of security, the CPCL was accorded in effect the
guardianship of the region.
Ismaels Ibid; p.20.
The CPSL supported the French Popular Front
government and hoped this would led to the independence of Syria.
During this time, the first legal organ of the Syrian CP was allowed -
Sawt-al-Sha'b (People's voice). However the SCP remained small,
in the range of 200 members, rising to 2000 by 1939. In the mid-1930's
an internal purge was undertaken of those calling for collaboration with
Arab Nationalists (Ramet, Pedro: "The Soviet Syrian Relationship Since
1955 - A Troubled Alliance"; Boulder; 1990; p.65.).
On the declaration of war on the USSR, the
CPSL came to the aid of the Allied efforts against fascism. But during
the war, significant steps towards downplaying the revolution were taken.
In the elections of August 1943, the CPSL declared:
"We assure the national capitalist , the national factory owner, that
we do no look with envy or malice on his national enterprise. On the contrary,
we desire his progress and vigorous growth. All that we ask is the improvement
of the conditions of the national worker. We assure the owner of land that
we do not and shall not demand the confiscation of his property.. All that
we ask is kindness towards the peasant and the alleviation of his misery";
Ismaels Ibid; p. 32.
While it is correct to fight for a national democratic
revolution - such promises violate the meaning of a principled united front.
Similarly, Bakdash was prepared to accept the leadership of the National
Bloc. Bakdash went so far as to state that the CPSL was 'a party of national
"above all, and before ever consideration, a party of national liberation,
a party of freedom and independence.";
And he traced the attraction to the USSR to a nationalist
Ismaels Ibid; p. 33.
"We approach this [issue of relation with the USSR] as patriots and
as Arabs... not because the Soviet Union has a particular social system";
It can be concluded that already as early as 1945, Bakdash
was a revisionist.
Ismaels Ibid; p. 33.
In 1943, Bakdash reversed the whole prior policy
of the CPSL and assisted the goals of the French colonists and future neo-colonists
by splitting the party into separate organisations for Syria and for Lebanon.
This decision took place at the national Congress of 1943 held in Beirut.
Its grounds were contradictory - arguing that firstly the "national movement
in Lebanon was less developed than in Syria", and that "democracy is more
deeply rooted in Lebanon than in Syrian. where the feudal landlords still
continue to rule" (Ismaels Ibid; p.35).
The relations with the French CP were one of close
liaison - if not instruction. Since, in the post Independence year of 1947
- the new Syrian government again banned the CP - the two sections of Lebanon
and Syria amalgamated again, until 1958.
Since its inception the Syrian CP had been anti-Zionist.
However with the revisionist inspired support of the diplomatic corps of
the USSR, the USSR vote at the United Nations for the creation of Israel,
led the Syrian CP to reverse itself. (The revisionist manoeuvres underlying
this are described in Alliance 30). As a result of this the party rapidly
lost public support (Ismaels Ibid; p.39). Bakdash refused to tolerate criticism
of this within the party, which was purged. At the Central Committee meeting
of 1951, he reasserted control. At this juncture, Bakdash re-discovered
the injunction of Stalin to maintain a "complete freedom to carry out its
political and organisational activity" within a United Front" (Ismaels
Ibid; p.43). He also correctly reasserted that the strategic aim at that
time, was the democratic national liberation. As a result of these steps,
party support ws re-built.
1954 general election, in Damascus Khalid Bakdash became the first
Communist deputy to be elected, his margin was 11,000 votes. This indicated
a popular respect for the Communist Party. (Mohamed Heikal "The Sphinx
and the Commissar"; New York; 1978; p. 48).
This suggests that the Syrian CP was following correct
strategy and tactics at this stage. Indeed Bakdash declared in 1955, in
parliament, an unequivocally Marxist-Leninist viewpoint:
"We, the communists, always announced, and repeat today, that the center
of our policy is to find meeting points, not disagreements, with all true
nationalists.... Our program in this national democratic lib-eration stage
that our country is now experiencing is crystal clear: to strengthen the
foundations of independence and sovereignty ... ; to participate in strengthening
world peace; and to challenge imperialist conspiracies;... to spread democracy
and strengthen it; to liberate our economy and work to improve it; to reform
our agriculture; to raise the standard of living of workers, peasants and
all toilers. After the achievement of national democratic liberation, we
open the door to a higher stage of socialism ... scientific socialism admits
that the road of each nation toward socialism must be consistent with the
character-istics of each nation and with its historic evolution, economic
conditions and the other national specificities of the society ... this
is our program, and these are our grand aims. Show me where these conflict
with the interests of Syria."
At the same elections, the Arab Ba'th Party also won
several seats. They were cooperating with the Syrian CP in the control
of the streets (Hiro Ibid; p. 131).
(Ismaels Ibid; p.47).
The correct policy, was indeed to move from the
first stage towards the second stage of the National democratic liberation
struggle - for socialism. Yet one year after, after the USSR 1956 20th
Party Congress, Bakdash again steered the party towards a more total emphasis
on purely national goals rather than a conscious movement to the second
(ix) The Syrian CP (SCP), the Ba'th and
the United Arab Republic
By 1957, the Syrian party was one of the
strongest in the Middle East. At the same time, the alliance with
the Ba'ath party, was stronger than it had ever been. The coalition between
the SCP and the Ba'ath, proceeded to expel American diplomats, sign arms
agreements with Moscow, and appoint a member of the Syrian CP (General
Afif el-Bizri) as Chief of staff - all in August 1957 (Mohammed
Heikal; "The Sphinx and the Commissar - The Rise and Fall of Soviet Influence
in the Middle East"; New York; 1978; p.76-78).
This precipitated anti-Syrian moves by the USA imperialists
- who arranged that an Iraqi and Turkish troop amassment took place on
the borders with Syria. In September 1957, Kermit Roosevelt
of the CIA was sent to Egypt to warn Nasser not to proceed with an arms
agreement with the USSR. Nasser pre-empted the USA by a public announcement
of the impending arms. This transformed the Middle East from a pure "Western"
preserve into a free-for-all.
When the Suez incident led to the subsequent humiliation
of the British and French, the USA was using the episode as a further breach
through which their imperialism would dominate. (This is discussed in more
detail at: Three
Tactics of the Nationalists in the Middle East).
This led to further USA attempts to destabilise
Syria. A coup they sponsored had already failed in August (Hiro Ibid p.132).
Under pressure a polarisation took place, and it appeared that the Syrian
CP was likely to gain further control of the leading positions in the coalition
government with the Ba'thists. The Ba'thist leaders called for Nasser's
aid in fighting off the communists.
A situation analogous to the Shanghai massacre of
the peasants and workers during the 1928 Chinese Revolution - was in the
making. (See Notes on "Stalin & the 1928 Chinese Revolution" at Stalin
& China). Stalin had repeatedly urged the CCP, through 1926 and
early 1927 to break the
bloc with the right KMT and move to a militant revolutionary struggle.
The CCP did not heed this.
of the revolution cannot be achieved unless this bloc is
in order to smash this bloc, fire must be concentrated on
national bourgeoisie, its treachery exposed, the toiling
from its influence, and the conditions necessary of the
the proletariat systematically prepared. ... the independence
of the Communist
Party must be, the chief slogan of the advanced
of the hegemony of the proletariat can be prepared
about by the Communist party. But the communist party
can and must
enter into an open bloc with the revolutionary part of the
in order, after isolating the compromising national
to lead the vast masses of the urban and rural petty
in the struggle against imperialism."
J.V.Stalin "Stalin's Letters to Molotov"; Edited Lars T.Lih; Oleg V. Naumov;
and Oleg V.
1995; p.318-9." at: Stalin
The situation of the Syrian Ba'th and the Syrian
CP - was very much the same. The Ba'th were preparing to renege. The Syrian
CP was refusing to take the struggle forward, using the guise of preserving
the united front. The Ba'th flew emissaries to Egypt offering Nasser an
immediate military and political union of Syrian and Egypt. It was well
understood that Nasser had brutally suppressed Egyptian communists. The
Syrian army was strongly in support of this offer of the Ba'th leadership.
" Khalid Bakdash the veteran leader of the Syrian Communist Party
was allowed home after eight years of exile, while for the first time in
Syrian History a Communist - Samih 'Atiyya entered the government
as Minister of Communications...
As the Syrian CP refused to go beyond their 'national
front", they were dragged further backwards. Rather than oppose Nasser
- the 'hero' of Suez - they abandoned their prior insistence on a loose
federal formula with Egypt. They now outdid the Ba'th, and insisted on
a "total union" with Egypt (Ismaels; Ibid; p. 50). Belatedly they again
changed tack, but it was now too late.
Nasser had seized the opportunity to accept the
disastrous (For Syrian workers and peasants, and national bourgeoisie)
formation of the United Arab Republic
(UAR) in February 1958. This was the formal amalgamation of Syria and Egypt,
and represented an expansionist phase of Egyptian national capital under
Nasser. After the UAR was formed, the Arab Socialist Ba'th party was
completely dissolved by its leaders on Nasser's insistence. (Seale Ibid;
p. 60). The Syrian CP refused to dissolve. Nasser was never a whole-hearted
supporter of the USSR, as evidenced by his treatment of Egyptian communists.
The Egyptian suppression of both Ba'thists and communists
proceeded apace. Syria's rule was transferred to Nassers' aide, Marshall
'Amer (Seale Ibid; p. 59).
But when the Iraqi monarchist regime was toppled
by the USSR supported military coup of General Abdul Karim Qasssem,
the UAR relations became tense with Iraq. Iraq was now a client state of
the USSR. Matters became worse for Syrian communists, whose Syrian CP supported
Qassem. Qassem refused Nasser's offer to join in the UAR.
But by 1961, the suppression of native Syrian capital
had been so blatant, that the Syrian nationalists allied to the army,
launched a coup that separated the states of Egypt and Syria once mere.
Strongly supported by Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and Syrian business-men.
Another wing of discontents were led by Hafiz al-Asad in a
"Military Committee". Because the Ba'th leading politicians had first asked
for the Union with Egypt, and then reneged on it - they were discredited.
The Military Committee members were jailed. This situation allowed the
former comprador notables to take control of the state, led by Dr Ma'ruf
al-Dawalibi, then Dr Bashir al-'Azmah, and finally, Khalid al-'Azm (Seale
Ibid p. 72).
The Military Committee now united with the Ba'thists
under Michel 'Aflaq. In the coup of March 1963, the Military Committee
took power in a complex coalition with both the Ba'thists and elements
of ex-Nasserites. Asad was very much in the background at this stage. When
the Nasserites were prompted by Egypt, they tried to seize power. In a
pitched battle on 18 July 1963, the Ba'thist loyalists of the army won.
In the ensuing years, Asad took control of the Ba'th Party. By 1966 the
leading lights of the Ba'th were dealt with - Amin al-Fafiz was
arrested; and Michel Aflaq & Salah al-Bitar were expelled (Seale
Bakdash had been previously
expelled from Syria. When he was now allowed back to Syria in 1966, it
was only under severe conditions:
Bakdash came home on stringent terms forbidden to hold meetings or
make speeches.. " Seale; Ibid; p. 108-109.
In fact, Bakdash had only been
allowed back as a quid pro quo - the Khruschevites had demanded his return
in lieu of payment for the construction of the Euphrates dam - only able
to be constructed with the Khruschevite "aid". The other two conditions
included the Cabinet post named above to Atiyya - and the permission to
publish a CP paper in Damascus. (Ramet Pedro: Ibid; p. 38).
The Syrian state was now fast becoming a client state of neo-USSR
There were two primary vehicles for the USSR- the Syrian
CP - but now increasingly important - and over-taking the SCP was the
(x) The Syrian CP and the Khruschevite Revisionists
Over the very same period, counter-revolutionary events
were taking place inside the USSR. Khrushchev was eliminating the
Marxist-Leninists from any state positions. Shepilov, Molotov, Kaganovich,
were all removed from any control in the party of the USSR by July 1957.
The positions of the Syrian Communist Party (SCP),
were unlikely to recieve revolutionary clarification from the Khruschevites.
In particular, a correct approach to the question of United Front in alliance
with bourgeois democracy was jeopardised. We have detailed the switches
and turns engineered by the revisionists following Stalin's death, on this
question (See Alliance 25: Khruschev
Revisionism On The Colonial Question). Bakdash was to launch open polemics
with the Khruschevite forces.
As Egypt was an important new semi-colony of the
revisionist USSR, the Middle East merited special attention. R.A.Ulianovsky
who specialised in national liberation struggles, was an aide to the revisionist
Boris Ponomarev, himself an aide to Mikhail Suslov chief
party ideologist. Ulianovsky was assigned a special role in the Middle
East. Nasser and Ulianovsky came to an understanding over what would supposedly
constitute the Arab Socialist Union.
1) Bakdash asserted the independence in united fronts of the Communist
parties: In his article he denied that:
The debate first opened in its new form at the 23rd
Congress of the CPSU, in Moscow between 29 March and April 8 1966. Already
Khrushchev had denounced Stalin at the 20th Party Congress (February 1956).
The issue erupted as to how Communists interacted with bourgeois nationalists
in the Middle East.
Bakdash took yet another turn, and now took
a correct Marxist-Leninist line, against the Russian revisionists led by
Ulianovsky. We believe that it is likely that Bakdash was
now becoming concerned that the USSR revisionists were favouring the Ba'th
Party as their "vehicle of choice". He therefore tacked back towards a
more correct Marist-Leninist viewpoint on the question.
Bakdash opened the subsequent printed debate in
the Cominform monthly "Problems of Peace and Socialism", called the "National
Liberation Movement and the Communists" (December 1965). Here:
"Even though the Soviet Union and other socialist countries pursued
a policy of alliance with some of the newly free countries in Asia and
Africa," this does not mean that the communist parties and the democratic
forces generally must under all circumstances support their governments
and renounce the fight for democratic freedoms".
(Heikal Ibid; pp 157-161).
2) Bakdash asserted that the communists should hold the hegemony
in the united front on behalf of the working class:
In fact Bakdash insisted that:
"No other social group, no class and no individual leader could take
over the historic mission of the working class.. Though he admitted that
situations might arise in which another social group of individual leader
was "carried to the fore on the tide of struggle against fascism, imperialism,
feudalism and in some cases, also against the big bourgeoisie."
3) Bakdash asserted that bourgeois nationalists should be critically
Bakdash stated that:
"They should be supported, "But we must be on our guard against attempts
to justify such alliances by spurious theories repudiating the role of
the working class." Bakdash insisted the proletariat must be the leaders
of socialist transformation and the "future depends on the struggle between
the classes and the outcome of this struggle."
4) Bakdash rejected any "populist" variants on Scientific socialism,
such as "Arabic socialism":
"He cast doubts on the argument that those who have come to Marxism
partially, can be induced to accept it completely at some future stage-
"there are those who say that the supporters of the so-called "Arab"; "African";
or "Islamic" socialism will ultimately discover that the only real socialism
is scientific socialism.. Experience shows that this is not the case."
5) Bakdash asserted that socialism required a centralized mass Communist
party; that took power; and was not the same as the enactment of simple
He argued that reforms undertaken in state were NOT the same
as establishing socialism, and that the latter is dependent upon the working
class being the leaders of the revolution and of the government:
"He rejected the idea that the superstructure in a country always reflected
the base: "On the contrary internal and domestic factors can cause sudden
changes in the superstructure capable of influencing the base"; Referring
to land reforms in countries like Algeria and The U.A.R., and Syria, he
said that the machinery of state alone, with army and police, was not sufficient
to deal with the problems involved:
"What is needed is an influential authoritative revolutionary mass
party enjoying the confidence of the people"..
"At the same time there are no grounds for saying that the given country
has taken the socialist way. To take this view would be tantamount to saying
that the leading role in establishing socialism no longer belongs to the
working class but has passed over to the nationalist groupings and the
6) Finally he rejected the Egyptian variant of Liquidationism.
He openly criticized the Egyptian communist party for dissolving itself,
in April 1965. This had been on the advice of the Khruschevites.
Its members were advised to join the Arab Socialist Union - as individuals.
(see Heikal Ibid; p. 140-1)
In return the USSR Revisionists, in their turn now chastised Bakdash.
As Heikal says, the official answer to Bakdash came
in an article by R.A.Ulianovsky entitled: "Some problems of the Non-Capitalist
Development of liberated Countries" - which appeared in the Soviet monthly
magazine "Kommunist" for January 1966. Here Ulianovsky repudiated on behalf
of Khruschevite revisionism - all these points. (Heikal Ibid; pp.158-161).
There, Ulianovsky wrote:
"Life demands the creation of a left-wing bloc in wihhc the more conscious
and better equipped Marxist-Leninist elements would play the role of friend
and helper of the national democrats....If the Marxist-Leninists undertake
this mission in a left-wing bloc they will help the progressives to avoid
making mistakes and will thus exert a beneficial influence at critical
moments of development";
Unfortunately, even now, to the best of our knowledge,
Bakdash did not yet openly and fully repudiate Khruschevite revisionism.
Cited heikal; Ibid; pp. 158-159.
Later on during the post 1967 Egyptian/Arab war
with Israel, after the collusion of the Russians revisionists, with the
USA and the state of Israel, in the destruction of the Arab forces, (See
Heikal, Ibid; pp 178-183) various attempts were made to enforce a so called
During this period, Bakdash was asked to comment
upon the two rival plans being floated for this "negotiated settlement".
One emanated from Gromyko and the Russian revisionists; one
came from the USA imperialists. His comment was revealing:
"After reading the Russian version.. He was shown the American proposals.
He could not help noticing the similarities, and admitted that there was
no Arab Communist who could defend the Gromyko Plan - and no Arab nationalists
who could defend it either. Bakdash's explanation of what had happened
was.. That the Russians wanted to demonstrate to the Americans that it
was the Arabs who were being negative...
Bakdash confessed that he was disappointed at the
other communist parties over Palestine. "We have to admit it," he said,
"That there is a lot of Jewish influence in European Communist parties,
and that if it had not been for Soviet influence the resolution on the
Middle East at the Moscow Conference would have been weaker. Over Zionism
the Rumanians showed themselves more royalist than the king- the Israeli
communists were prepared to recognize the rights of the Palestinian people,
but the Rumanians refused."
Heikal Ibid; p. 195-196.
By 1971 when the Russians formally left Egypt, Khaled
Bakdash was again in Moscow, now able to argue that the policy of an un-principled
support - to the point of jettisoning the independence of the Communist
party - had been proven again to be wrong. But the revisionists had by
now created huge damage already in the Middle East (Heikal; Ibid; p. 253).
The later career of Bakdash was however a renewed
slide into revisionism.
We believe that Bakdash tried to fight the Soviet revisionist
distortions of the revolutionary line in colonial and semi-colonial countries,
but ultimately, due to the disintegration of the world communist movement
led by revisionism, Bakdash was unable to overcome the world propagation
of the new revisionist line, pushed by Moscow. As Heikal puts it:
"There was a considerable contrast between the views of Khaled Bakdash
and Ulianovsky - Khaled Bakdash wanted each local party to be an
individual entity ....whereas Ulianovsky was trying to keep them inside
the national organizations."
(Heikal; Ibid; p.160).
There can be no solution to the problems of Syria's people until the
formation of a new Marxist-Leninist party there.
The "solutions" of Pan-Arabism - have been shown to be false.