History of the SSNP

chronology.gif (7253 bytes)

 

EARLY HISTORY (1932 - 1949)

The history of the SSNP is best viewed as a series of phases each with distinctive characteristics. There are, however, several constants in this history the major one being the tendency for the Party not to digress substantially from its original nationalist direction and its ideological purity. While some phases are characterized by variation from the original direction, the strength of the ideological base has always pulled the Party back to its primordial path. The ideological strength of the SSNP has secured a devoted and committed constituency, a group ethos that is the guardian of the Party's political performance. Every time in the history of the SSNP when a confrontation between the ideological course and political expediency developed, the former supervened.

1. Clandestine Beginnings (1932-1935)
	Reasons for adopting secret format
2. Visibility and Widespread Involvement (1935-1938)
	French Mandate
	Alexandretta
3. Exile and Repression
	Independence
	Jewish Settlements
	Individualistic ideas arising from within
4. Saadeh's Return

   


Phase 1: Clandestine Beginnings (1932-1935).

In 1930, Saadeh returned from Brazil to Syria determined to initiate a movement of national revival. In South America, he had been involved in attempts to start political parties that were marred by the urgency of co-workers to seek immediate political gratifications that precluded any seriousness of intent or tangible achievements. Saadeh was determined not to allow political and personal expediencies to undermine the seriousness of the national revival plan he had in mind. He spent time familiarizing himself with the political, intellectual and social conditions of Syria and expressed his views in the local press in Damascus initially and then in Beirut. The political scene in both cities at the time was overrun with traditionalists, city notables, clergy, and cronies of the colonialists, and Saadeh found it difficult to attract serious public attention to the novel and sturdy national doctrine contained in his writings and lectures. He found the existing political forms of national militancy inadequate to carry the cause of Syrian revival. He therefore set his mind on creating a novel political form that would be appropriate to the national task at hand. He reasoned that the nucleus for the movement required a core of youthful, energetic, and educated individuals that would spearhead the growth of a national organized movement. The founding of the Party was thus in secret among university students in Beirut. Saadeh was not founding an elitist group. His initial choices reflected his belief that the future of Syria and the national revival movement required unadulterated minds and a new leadership. The energy, commitment, and vivid openness to a new way of looking at national issues characterized the new recruits, and proved important in shaping the rapid growth and effervescence that the SSNP knew before the Second World War. This youthfulness also brought vath it inexperience, volatility and blundering that Saadeh had to work hard to prevent and correct.

 Back To Top

 

Secret Format:

There were multiple reasons for adopting a secret format for the Party:

- To test the seriousness of intent of participants. The SSNP is not a political party in the usual sense as there are no immediate gratifications for participants as far as social visibility or prestige, and no planned limited political or electoral gains. The mission of the Party was to undertake a broad and radical social transformation of the Syrian nation. Such a gigantic task required a degree of commitment and militancy in Party members that was hitherto unaccustomed in a nation where modern political institutions and nationalist endeavors were nonexistent. Furthermore, a long history of subservience to foreign occupation and intellectual and economic decadence had left a population with no direction, no true self identity and no belief in self-worth. To combat the raging social ills and to prepare a militant organization capable of leading the struggle for the revival of the Syrian nation, it was essential to take the Party and its membership through a phase of formative indoctrination that will form the nucleus of the projected Syrian renaissance. This implied that SSNP members were to undergo a major individual transformation as far as defining their ideals, their commitments and their direction in life, an endeavor that was not for the labile and furtive. An extreme seriousness of intent was a prerequisite for Party membership.

- To protect the nascent organization from the dangers of premature confrontations with reactionary forces and the French Mandate before its internal structure had reached a defensive cohesiveness that will ensure its standing the turmoil of open militancy. At the time of the founding of the Party, the active political forces in Syria represented remnants of the traditional feudal system, the religious organizations and clergy, tribal lords, powerful city notables and a few maverick politicians from the western educated generation- Most of these operated within boundaries set by the Mandate authorities and pursued goals of self-preservation and partisan ascendancy. It was inevitable that these reactionary elements in the Syrian political system would be threatened by the emergence of a disciplined national movement aiming at eliminating the basis of their political power, and setting principles for the conducting of national policies and life that supersede partisan politics and abolish dissension and divisions within the Syrian Nation. The proclamation by the Party of the unity of the Syrian Nation eliminated the legal basis for the powers of politicians whose programs embraced regional separatism. The intent of the SSNP to abolish feudalism and separate religion and state was a challenge to politicians whose power was based on nurturing feudal, tribal, and confessional tendencies.

- To avoid the impact of political persecution on the platform of the Party. Since the ideology of the SSNP, deeply rooted in nationalism, has a natural and predictable tendency for antagonism with the concept of a foreign mandate, secrecy was essential to avoid compromising either the direction of the Party or the safety of its membership. Under the mandate law, the French authorities had the right to arrest any group of individuals meeting in a number of five or more if it suspected that the meeting had 'belligerent intentions'.

During this formative period, the emphasis of the SSNP was on the active recruitment of youthful and educated elements of the Syrian community in urban and rural areas alike. The spread of the Party was based on personal contact and was initially slow, but soon grew at a geometric rate to reach over one thousand members by the time Saadeh was apprehended by the French authorities in 1935.

An ideological high-point of this period is Saadeh's speech to the first assembly of Party members on the first of June 1935 in which he laid down the basic strategy of the Party's struggle and militancy. The primordial importance of this speech was emphasized repeatedly by Saadeh as he utilized the text of the speech as an illustration of the firm ideological basis of the policies of the SSNP since its inception and as an early embodiment of the Party's view on Syrian affairs. The importance of this speech, when it was made public during the first trial, did not escape the enemies of the Party for they utilized this document as a central target of their criticism.

The size and activity of the SSNP made it difficult for it to continue in secret. Its existence and the identity of its leadership were discovered by the French authorities through an informant and Saadeh and several of his lieutenants were arrested on the 16th of November 1935. Because the founding of the Party took place in the fall of 1932, but without a specific date, the 16th of November was subsequently adapted by the SSNP as its founding day.

During his trial on the 23rd of January 1936, Saadeh assumed responsibility for the founding of the Party and the formulation of the doctrine of Syrian Social Nationalism . He was sentenced to a six month term in prison during which he wrote his book 'The Genesis of Nations'.

 Back To Top

 

Phase ll: Visibility and widespread involvement (1935-1938)

As soon as the initial trial and prison sentences were dispensed with, Saadeh led the Party on a course of intense public involvement in national and social affairs unprecedented in the modern history of Syria. The SSNP and its leader addressed themselves to every aspect of Syrian life: the Zionist settlements in the south (Palestine), the Turkish expansionism in the north (the district of Alexandretta), the economic morass , the persecution of intellectuals (the feminist pioneer May Ziadeh), the incursion of clergy into the political scene, the reactionary parties in the mock national assemblies formed by the Mandate authorities, the rights of workers, the formation of trade unions, deforestation, the artistic directions of poets, painters and writers, the organization of SSNP branches in all the major cities of Syria, and the growth of the intellectual heritage of the Party by the writings of the leader and his young associates.

The views and positions expressed by Saadeh on a few key issues will serve to illustrate the difference in approach to national affairs between the SSNP and other political groups in Syria.

  Back To Top

 

French Mandate:

In the mid-1930's the French Mandate was faced with turbulence and resistance from several fronts. Political activists that had reached prominence through feudal standings, economic prominence in the cities, or clergy support, were clamoring for more political influence and a form of local autonomy. This was fuelled by parallel developments in the Syrian areas under British mandate. In the eastern part of the Fertile crescent (Iraq), the British Mandate had been transformed by the Anglo-Iraqi treaty of 1930 into an Alliance between the British government and the government of Iraq. To assuage political activists in Damascus and Beirut, the French government of Leon Blum's Popular Front entered in 1936 into negotiations with the governments of Beirut and Damascus that led to the drafting of two treaties modeled on the Anglo-Iraqi agreement and aimed, in principle, at providing local autonomy while maintaining important ties between France and the two states in western Syria. The treaties were eagerly ratified in both Beirut and Damascus parliaments but received no such expedient acceptance in the French parliament. When the government of Blum lost power, the colonialist officers and the French right assured the demise of those treaties.

Saadeh opposed the ideas of those treaties on the premise that they did not establish unequivocal and unblemished national sovereignty. He viewed these treaties as ploys by the Mandate to maintain a grip on Syrian affairs. Furthermore, these treaties were transforming a forcible mandate with no legal basis and which was not sanctioned by the Syrians into an arrangement that does not differ substantially from its precedent, but that is endowed with 'legality' having been accepted by the 'indigenous' population. Whereas Syrian politicians were seeking temporary political gains, Saadeh's strategy was guided by the primordial importance of national rights and absolute sovereignty.

  Back To Top

 

Alexanretta:

Another crisis that faced Syria during this period was the question of the district of Alexandretta. Emboldened by French weakness, the Turkish Republic was claiming rights to the Syrian district of Alexandretta and the city of Antioch. The fallacies of 'Arab solidarity' were apparent during this period. Indeed, Egypt looked favorably on the success of the Turks. The government of Damascus, eager to have the treaty with France go unscathed, and to avoid any conflicts with the Mandate and to insure political gain and ascendancy, faltered on the protection of national right in the northern borders and failed to mount any effective resistance to the advancing Turks. Saadeh publicly denounced the government's of Damascus defeatist attitude, the complicity of the Mandate, and the approbations by the Egyptian government. Having no military force and no access to arms, he proposed to enroll the entire membership of the SSNP in a national army that would defend the northern borders. He appealed to the League of Nations, to the French government and to the various Syrian governments to prevent the Turkish overtaking of Syrian land - His warnings and calls for action were unheeded and the District of Alexandretta was annexed by Turkey in 1939. To this day, the Party holds commemorations of the 'Day of the Northern Borders' and refuses to forsake that piece of Syrian homeland. Again, the question of Alexandretta illustrates the difference between the strategy of political expediency and personal gain followed by the various governments in Syria, and the strict safeguarding of national rights that characterizes the strategy of the SSNP.

The Party brought a vibrancy to the national scene and an intellectual impact that were unexpected for its numerical size. The main reasons for this phenomenon are the charismatic leadership of Saadeh and the infectious richness of his intellect, his ability to elicit impassioned commitment and response from his followers, and his detailed attention to the multiplicity of issues at hand. The fruits of the meticulous and laboriously slow founding phase were coming to bear. This phase of the history of the SSNP was also punctuated by the Mandate authorities repeatedly attempting to repress the growth of the Party by resorting alternatively to repetitive imprisonment of Saadeh, to encouragement of reactionary confessional parties to compete with the SSNP for the public appeal of political work among the young generation, to suppression of the freedom of the press and attempts at political assassination.

The impact of the SSNP is best illustrated by the flurry of attempts to limit its spread and curb its activities. The clergy and traditional politicians marshaled their press and pamphleteers to undermine the appeal of the Party in particular target groups. The Christian clergy attacked the Party as being anti-religious and anti-Lebanon. The French hastened to encourage the founding of political parties with distinct confessional appeal to compete with the SSNP. Members of the old regime felt understandably threatened by the new movement and the pressure on the Party mounted. The battle was ideological and political. On the former front the Party felt secure. Its teachings had been expounded in Saadeh's writings in pamphlets and the Party's daily newspaper 'Al-Nahda' (Renaissance), and bolstered by the publication of Saadeh's pivotal book 'The Genesis of Nations' in which he laid the scientific foundations of Syrian Social Nationalism. On the political front, the Party's resources were meager. Funds were limited and the growing political base was still not large enough to challenge the old order and the Mandate. If the national liberation was to definitively confront the Mandate, ft needed international support. On this basis, Saadeh embarked on a trip to Europe and the Americas to garner support from international sources and the support of Syrian emigrants.

 Back To Top

 

Phase Ill: Exile and repression (1938-1947)

After visiting Party branches in Italy and Germany, Saadeh was planning visits to centers of Syrian emigrants in the Americas. He originally intended to visit the United States where large Syrian communities lived and where his brother Arthur still resided. Delays of obtaining visas, however, fortuitously decided the order of the countries to visit. He headed first to South America. Earlier in the century, the Syrians in South America had shown a commitment to the Syrian cause particularly when nationalist thinkers like Saadeh's father Dr Khalil Saadeh were in their midst. Saadeh's hopes were to be both disappointed and fulfilled.

Dr Khalil Saadeh had died in 1934 and the flames of Syrian nationalism and militancy had weakened. The propaganda of the Mandate and separatist and confessional causes had reached the emigrants and awakened old hostilities and contradictions. The Mandate authorities had contrived with separatists to defame the cause of the SSNP and to raise suspicions in South American states against the activity of Saadeh. He was imprisoned in Brazil on false charges but was later vindicated and released. He founded a newspaper, Souria al-Jadida (The New Syria), and a branch of the SSNP before proceeding to Argentina. After his arrival to the Silver Republic, he faced the problem of limited ability to travel as his passport was not renewed by the French consulate, which still handled the affairs of the Syrians abroad, on the pretext that the war had started and that he was an agent provocateur. Because of the technical issue of his passport, Saadeh could not leave the confines of the Argentinean republic, and he could not return to Syria as the Mandate authorities had sentenced him in absentia for 20 years of jail and 20 years of exile. He had to cancel his plans to visit the Party branches and regions of Syrian emigrant concentrations in the United States and Mexico. The nascent branches of the SSNP in South America were still weak and required intense guidance and nurturing. In addition to the newspaper started in Brazil, Saadeh published one in Argentina, al-Zawba'ah (The Cyclone), to help spread the views of the Party. Constrained to remain in Argentina with no means for financial subsistence, Saadeh was forced to go into small trade to support himself, his family and the activities of the Party.

This avenue left him open to treachery by individuals that attempted, and sometimes succeeded, to defraud him of the fruits of his labor. In this murky environment, Saadeh had to supervise the publications of two Party newspapers, attend to the founding and detailed operations of the SSNP branches in Argentina, Brazil, Chili, Mexico, the USA and western Africa. In addition, he produced some of the highest intellectual works of modern Syrian history notably his books 'Intellectual Struggle in Syrian Literature' and the 'Folly of Immortality', the latter an in-depth analysis of religious thought and politics.

The resistance to Saadeh in South America was vicious, and he was subjected personally to repeated vindictive behavior by disgruntled reactionary politicians and pseudo-intellectuals. Despite this, the branches of the Party under his leadership grew into stable strongholds persisting in their militancy to the present day.

  Back To Top

 

Independence:

During this period grave events were taking place in Syria, in the SSNP, and among Syrian emigrants. The question of the independence of the Lebanon and the Syrian Republic was in the forefront of international intrigue in the affairs of the region. The fortunes of war were favoring the British and embarrassing the French. The British always eager to assume monopoly in imperial influence, found the conditions opportune to effect a swift exit of French influence in the Near East by encouraging and supporting movements for independence from France. This task was made easier by the defeat of the French Vichy forces and the occupation of the French Mandate regions of Syria by British and Free French troops. The influence of Free French troops was greatly compromised by the simultaneous presence of large numbers of British troops. It is this process of dispute and competition in imperialist prominence that favored the growth of 'independence movements' in Beirut and Damascus and gradually led to the culmination of a crisis that the British swiftly helped solve at the expense of the French. Saadeh followed very closely the details of international intrigue and carefully detailed in his writings of the period, the motives and significance of the developing events. The 'independence' of the Syrian states was not the result of a war of liberation or a struggle against imperialism, but the consequence of political machinations between various external powers competing for positions of influence. Such an incomplete independence was always bound to the influence of external forces, and thus carried with it a heavy cost of trade-offs that were not necessarily dictated by the interests of Syria, and indeed may be nefarious to such interests. While Saadeh acknowledged that this independence is a useful first step, he emphasized that consolidation of independence and movement toward Syrian unification remained tasks to be addressed urgently by the Syrian states. Furthermore, Saadeh must have sensed that independence of the arranged political entities will foster the separatist causes that favored dismantling of Syria into small states within which political prominence of select groups would be possible, and satisfaction of political ambitions guaranteed. Thus, while politicians in Syria worked for 'independence' under the mantle of the British and for limited and separatist ends, Saadeh's position was firmly directed at the attainment of true, complete, and unequivocal independence with a prominently and definitively unitarian direction.

 Back To Top

 

Jewish Settlements:

In southern Syria (Palestine), Jewish settlements were growing due to the massive exodus from Europe under the influence of Nazi persecution. Saadeh viewed with trepidation the advances in the Zionist cause, and warned against the continuing efforts of Zionists to colonialize southern Syria (Palestine) while Syrians displayed platitude and inactivity. He did not fail to recognize the facilitating role of the British towards Zionist incursions, and declared that the favorite attitude towards Britain generated by its intervention in Beirut and Damascus in favor of 'independence' from the French, should not be construed as forgiveness or oversight for the detrimental effects of British involvement in southern Syria (Palestine).

The misfortunes of war did not alter the attitude of the French imperialists vis--vis movements of national liberation. T,-,Ml SSNP was constantly the subject of persecution by the French authorities whether the Vichy French or the Free French. Following the outbreak of the war, the French authorities proclaimed martial law and banned the SSNP on October 7, 1939 and unleashed a campaign of persecution against its membership. Hundreds of SSNP members were arrested and held in detention camps for over a year without trial. The persecution continued unabated until June of 1941. The Party membership persisted in its militancy and struggle unabashed. However, after the proclamation of the independence of the Lebanese state, the leadership of the SSNP wavered in its adherence to Syrian nationalism and started to accommodate a 'Lebanese' cause. This defection from the purity of national allegiance was not adequately resisted by the constituency of the Party, and a regional direction was established under the leadership of Naameh Thabet, the president of the Higher Council. Thabet had become involved in the details and vicissitudes of Lebanese politics, and had supported the British backed political front in Lebanon against the pro-French government of Emille Eddeh. Indeed, the position of the Party was instrumental in the defeat of the pro-French group and the formation of a new government under the presidency of Bichara el-Khoury who acknowledged publicly, and on several occasions the important role of the Party in his ascendancy. Thus, the complicity of the leadership of the Party with the Lebanese separatists was only lightly covered. The involvement in domestic Lebanese politics rather than in the Syrian national cause became also manifest in the outward appearances of party activities. In April of 1944, the SSNP leadership applied for and obtained a license to operate under the name 'The National Party', a change signaling a radical deviation in policy, and the flag of the SSNP was changed.

 Back To Top

 

Individualistic Ideas:

Another development of equally far reaching consequences was the emergence within the leading corp of the SSNP of vigorous intellectuals that had developed in the absence of Saadeh and who had a less than solid understanding of the Party philosophy and basic ideological tenets. Having acceded to sensitive leadership positions through individual brilliance and literary ability, they started to expound within the framework of the Party an individualist doctrine derived particularly from the works of Kierkegaard and the Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdayev. These development did not come to Saadeh's attention until after the end of the war when contact with the Party in Syria was reestablished. Although he attempted to correct the ideological digression from his exile, the question was not settled until his return to Syria and represents the first instance of intellectual 'house-cleaning' in the history of the SSNP.

Among the Syrian emigrants, the ominous and dreadful revival of religious sectarianism was at hand. The flames of religious division were being fanned by pseudo-intellectuals and literary men who aimed to profit from divisiveness to gain acclaim and support in their respective religious communities. Saadeh led a fierce battle against the protagonists and in his writings of the period lay the foundations of a sociologic-historical understanding of the reasons for religious diversity in Syria, and the principles of religious coexistence within society. Furthermore, he coupled his refutation of the arguments of religious agitators with a sobering analysis of their true intellectual standings. Many of these agitators had gained prominence among the Syrian emigrants on the basis of some literary skin in poetry or journalism. Saadeh considered that a final defeat of sectarian propaganda required exposure of the true value of the propagandists and the flimsy basis for their prominence. This battle demanded a great deal of his time, and distracted him from other urgent political and intellectual pursuits. Yet he grasped this occasion to expound through example the principles of literary and philosophical revival in Syria. It is to this struggle against the pseudo-literary men of the Syrian emigrants that we owe his two books 'Intellectual Struggle in Syrian Literature' and the 'Folly of Immortality'.

 Back To Top

 

Phase iv: politicization vs Confrontation olutionary direction (1947-1949)

Upon his return to Syria on the 2 of March 1947, Saadeh was faced with consecutive incidences of internal crisis within the SSNP. The regional accommodations of Naameh Thabet had embroiled the Party in the morass of Lebanese politics and its shifting and unprincipled alliances and alienated Party branches outside the confines of the 'Lebanese Republic'. The consequences of this political regionalization were soon to become evident. Thabet, likely under the influence of Lebanese politicians leery of Saadeh's positions on national matters and his uncompromising attitude as concerns the interests of the Syrian nation, attempted to delay his return to Syria. Communications with Saadeh were unexplainably delayed and interrupted without due cause, and efforts to secure a passport for him to return to Beirut were meager and without zeal. Coupled with reluctance of the Lebanese authorities and bureaucratic excuses, more than a year elapsed between re-establishment of contact and the actual return of Saadeh to Syria. The purpose for the delay was obvious. The Lebanese parliamentary elections were imminent (May 25, 1947), and the return of Saadeh and his assumption of leadership of the SSNP would alter and disrupt the composition of the political alliances. On reaching Cairo, Saadeh found emissaries from the Party's High Council waiting for him and advising political compromise with the Lebanese government.

Saadeh was unperturbed by these attempts. He considered the political arrangement of the creation of a separatist state in Lebanon as a temporary measure necessitated by the ills of religious conflict in Syria, ills soon to be eliminated by the spread and victory of the principles of Syrian Social Nationalism.

On arriving to Beirut, Saadeh was met by the largest number of welcoming crowds ever assembled in the modern history of Syria. Party members from the remotest areas of Syria came to greet him in Beirut. The sight of these loyal members must have had a major impact on the decision of the Lebanese authorities to move swiftly to eliminate Saadeh's visibility and freedom of operation within the confines of the Lebanese Republic. The pretext that the authorities used to issue an arrest warrant was that Saadeh in his homecoming speech declared that the existence of the State of Lebanon as null. This was obviously a misinterpretation of the speech. In his speech, Saadeh defined for his welcoming followers, the real conditions of Syria, including Lebanon, the real nature of the political arrangements dividing the nation into several independent states, and he reaffirmed the determination of the SSNP to continue its struggle along the same principles on which it was founded. Saadeh was not blinded about the incomplete and ephemeral nature of the 'independence' gained by the various Syrian states nor did he want the Syrians to be unaware of their fate.

Saadeh fought during this period several battles. The confrontation with the Lebanese government necessitated clandestine activity on the part of Saadeh to assure his personal safety. It did, however, have other consequences that Saadeh did not fail to note. By making his alleged unacceptance of the existence of an independent Lebanese state the reason for the arrest warrant, the Lebanese government was aiming to put a wedge between the SSNP and the Lebanese population. Saadeh countered this tactic by addressing several public statement to the Lebanese people clarifying the dedication of the Party to the independence of Lebanon, but never failing to maintain that Lebanon remains a part of the Syrian nation. Furthermore, at the risk of his personal safety, he granted from his hideaway several interviews to journalists (who could easily have been Government informants) to utilize the interest of the public in the dramatic aspects of the affair as an opportunity to expound his political views.

An additional consequence of the government's action was to have internal repercussions within the SSNP. The tacit alliance between the separatist government and the 'lebanecized' leadership of the Party has been mentioned above. By concentrating the blame of the ongoing crisis on Saadeh's 'intemperance', the Government was giving SSNP politicians fodder for a power struggle within the Party. Thabet and his associates criticized Saadeh for leading them and the Party into this 'unnecessary' enmity with the 'Lebanese government and people'. They attempted to dissuade Saadeh from the course of action he had undertaken and to convince him to surrender to the authorities. They sabotaged the central administration of the Party by absenteeism, delays, contrariness, contention and cantankerousness. They spread vicious rumors about Saadeh within the ranks and attempted to undermine his authority and leadership. Simultaneously, they aggrandized their militancy and questioned maliciously Saadeh's wartime struggle.

This point in the history of the SSNP saw the emergence of a phenomenon that will subsequently be crucial to the Party's ideological integrity and survival. Saadeh loyalists that hastened to the side of their leader to shield him and struggle at his side. This phenomenon of loyalty to Saadeh alive and dead has been the saving element in the entire history of the SSNP from the events of 1947 to many turbulent times yet to come. Saadeh gave this loyalty reason to exist by his steadfast adherence to the principles he defined and espoused, his proud and selfless charismatic leadership, and his complete involvement body and soul in the militancy to save Syria. Though initially small in number, this core of loyalists under Saadeh's leadership won the internal battle.

Vivifying the Party required that Saadeh be visible while in clandestine existence. He had to be accessible to the SSNP and beyond the reach of the Government. He had to be heard by the people and unseen by the police. Over many months Saadeh waged a counter attack against the Government, its policies of repression and oppression, its falsification of elections, its economic and political favoritism and the unbridled growth of government sponsored capitalist power (54). Faced with the solidity of Saadeh's stand and disheartened by the defeat of its allies in the battle for power in the SSNP, the Government withdrew the arrest warrant and closed the official case against Saadeh on October 9, 1947. This initial protracted battle drew blood and defined the lines. The withdrawal of the arrest warrant was a temporary calm preceding a conflagration.

Rebuilding the SSNP was Saadeh's order of the day. The ideological fabric of the Party had been weakened by neglect of the study of its principles and philosophy, and foreign concepts were growing in its midst. The literature of the SSNP had been ignored and prominent intellectuals in leadership position were popularizing concepts in party publications divergent from the philosophy of Social Nationalism. Saadeh considered ideological deviance a great danger to the survival and success of the SSNP. He initiated a flurry of intellectual activity within the SSNP. This was highlighted by a series of lectures he gave in the first half of 1948 dedicated to the detailed study of the basic and reform principles of the SSNP, and the philosophy of Social Nationalism contained herein. These lectures published posthumously as 'The Ten Lectures' are one of the most influential ideological factors in the survival and growth of the SSNP. Generations of SSNP members learned the ideology of their Party from this book.

Saadeh gave great attention to the intellectual formation of Party thinkers. He conducted a series of closed seminars and workshops with select groups of SSNP writers, poets, and intellectuals dealing with various philosophical concepts and views varying from esthetics to ethics. He started a special publication that he called 'al-Nizam al-Jadid' (The New Order) dedicated to publishing studies dealing with the philosophical tenets of Social Nationalism, the history and heritage of Syria, and the poetry and literature of the Syrian renaissance.

In parallel with these manifestations of refined intellect, Saadeh continued to expound sharpened views on national and political issues in the press. Writing under an assumed name (Hani-Ba'l), he refuted the polemic outpouring of religious nationalism whether it was undefined sectarian Islamic Pan-Arabism or separatist Christian Lebanism.

Reviving the organizational structure of the SSNP was a more difficult task mostly because of the lack of resources and trained manpower. The years of separatist direction of the central administration of the Party located in Lebanon had led to a weakening of the structure of the SSNP in many Syrian cities and a good deal of its members had either joined other groups, retired from political work or sat idle awaiting direction. Saadeh undertook a tour of the branches of the SSNP in the various parts of Syria. His electrifying presence always drew old supporters to the fold and new ones followed.

Nothing pained Saadeh during this period as the developments in southern Syria and the gradual success of the Zionist cause. The SSNP attempted with all its means to prevent the loss of Palestine. These efforts were often resisted more by local government than by Jewish settlers. The meetings of the SSNP in Lebanon aimed at starting a popular awakening about the issue of Palestine were prohibited by the Lebanese government. The traditional political and religious leadership in southern Syria refused to allow the SSNP access to arms, and repeatedly refused offers by the SSNP to enroll its members in the military forces being prepared for the liberation of Palestine. Despite this, the branches of the SSNP in most cities of southern Syria fought assiduously against the Zionist forces. Saadeh's correspondence during this period reflects his concern with the SSNP members that have fallen prisoners in the struggle and his instructions to his lieutenants to attempt to gain their liberation at all cost. Following the loss of Palestine, Saadeh spared no effort in alerting the Syrians to the dangers of Zionist sentiments. He already diagnosed that the establishment of the Jewish state was only the beginning. The issue at hand was not restricted to southern regions, but was a struggle for all of Syria. His pain for the loss of southern regions and his staunch nationalism made him unforgiving of emerging alliances between religious and political Lebanese separatist groups and the Jewish state. He publicly chastised the Maronite Archbishop Mubarak and the Phalanges Party for their contacts and nascent secret alliance with Israel. The ongoing revival of the SSNP, the growing popular discontent with the Lebanese government practice of electoral fraud and usurpation of resources, made the rulers of Lebanon more determined to eliminate the SSNP and Saadeh from the Lebanese political scene. This they proceeded to do by harassment and tyranny. SSNP members were dismissed from government offices and pressured out of civil service posts. Party meetings and large gatherings were proscribed on flimsy excuses of 'maintaining order and tranquility'. Party publications were intermittently banned or confiscated (the SSNP newspaper Al-Jil Al-Jadid (The New Generation) was banned for one year starting April 1948), and armed police were frequently sent to forcibly disperse SSNP gatherings to hear speeches by Saadeh- This series of events culminated by the Government instigating the Phalanges party to attack the printing press of the SSNP daily paper on the evening of June 9, 1949, in an attempt to assassinate Saadeh, or at the very least create a pretext for his arrest . The transparency of the plan was betrayed by the Government moving swiftly to issue warrants of arrest for the victims of the incident (SSNP members and Saadeh) and no attempt at disciplining or even reprimanding the aggressor Phalanges. In effect, the Government had declared open war on the SSNP. Its members were arrested and jailed, its publications and offices confiscated and its leader pursued. The arrests of Party members were so massive that within a few days more than 2500 were either in prison or in detention camps. Saadeh went clandestinely to Damascus to organize and lead the fight against the Lebanese government. When the government's campaign against the SSNP did not abate, but rather continued gathering momentum, Saadeh declared a popular revolutionary uprising calling for the overthrow of the Lebanese government and the institution of a Social Nationalist order in Lebanon.

This first Social Nationalist revolution was declared on the 4th of July 1949. Members of the SSNP started organizing popular revolt and occupying government outposts in the villages and plains of Lebanon. Saadeh was leading the uprising from Damascus and he entered into negotiations with the newly established military regime of Husni Zaeem to guarantee that the government of Damascus would not intervene against the SSNP or prevent its members from acquiring arms and infiltrating into Lebanon. Initially, Zaeem proclaimed his sympathy to the cause of the SSNP and promised assistance, while providing intelligence to the Lebanese government on movement of SSNP combatants along the borders, who, infiltrating clandestinely into Lebanon, frequently found Lebanese army expecting them. On the sixth of July, Zaeem invited Saadeh to the presidential palace to meet with him, had him arrested and delivered to the Lebanese police. Saadeh had been warned about Zaeem's treachery. His visit to the presidential palace was determined by two factors: primarily, he wanted to face up to his responsibilities as a leader of a movement of national liberation and renaissance. In the face of danger, he was not going to seek personal safety while his follower were espousing death for the resurrection of the nation. Not appearing for his appointment would have meant inviting the scourge of a military dictator on the SSNP membership. Secondly, he hoped that he could still elicit some national fervor in Husni Zaeem. The latter's treachery and callous pursuit of personal glory were irremediable and Saadeh was surrendered to the Lebanese police by his host the President of the Syrian Republic.

Saadeh was taken to Beirut in the early hours of the 7th, summarily tried by a court that sat in camera and excluded at 3 am on the 8th of July. The lawyer appointed to his defense requested a recess to study the case. His motion was not granted and he withdrew. Thereupon Saadeh undertook his own defense, details of the court proceedings from observers and Saadeh's defense are, however, not available. The trial was obviously a sham for the sentence was decided before the trial was even convened. Saadeh was not allowed to see his wife or daughters nor was he allowed to write a will. At the execution site he refused to be blindfolded and thanked his executioners before they fired. The police hurried the clandestine burial fearing popular reaction to the execution, increased security measures and continued to pursue SSNP members with renewed ferocity. On the 22nd of July, six SSNP members were executed as well. Ironically, these six were chosen each from a different religious sects for the Government was weary of being labeled as indulging in sectarian genocide!

The aggressive urgency with which the Lebanese and Syrian governments handled the case have to be examined in the light of Saadeh's accusations that both governments had forfeited their legitimacy by their actions during the war that followed the proclamation of the State of Israel. Recently uncovered evidence of the connections between Husni Zaeem and Zionist leaders is enlightening. At the end of 1948 he had offered his services to Israeli Arab specialists for $1 million in return for which, he claimed, he would topple the government of the Syrian Republic and change its policies. The Syrian Republic began to negotiate an armistice with Israel two days after the March 1949 coup d'etat. Zaeem offered to meet with Ben-Gurion to negotiate a full fledged peace and proposed to resettle the Palestinian refugees in the Jazira district in the north of the Syrian Republic. The idea was enthusiastically received by the United States administration, which at the time was convinced that resettlement, with American financial and technical aid, would solve the refugee problem and strengthen the ties of the Near Eastern states to the West. The US recognized Zaeem's regime on April 26, 1949.

The martyrdom of Saadeh was a momentous event in the history of the SSNP. It created a new spirit in the Party and established militancy, self denial and self sacrifice as virtues to be embraced. Scores of SSNP members derived courage and spiritual sustenance from the example of their leader who remains the most towering symbol of Syria's will to life.

  Back To Top