What Motivated me to Establish the Syrian Social Nationalist Party

by Antoun Saadeh


This short letter was written by Sa'adeh during his first imprisonment in 1935, at the request of his lawyer Hamid Franjieh. It offers a valuable insight into the political and intellectual atmosphere in which the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) was established. The letter also sets out in a clear fashion the pattern of Saadeh's early political consciousness, his views on the fundamental national problems of Syria, and the factors which shaped the development of the SSNP during its formative stage. It is a moving account of a rising political thinker trying to break into a hostile political system against enormous odds.

I was only a child when the Great War broke out in 1914, but I had already begun to perceive and comprehend. The first thing that suddenly occurred to me, having witnessed, felt and actually experienced the affliction of my people, was this question: What was it that brought all this woe on my people?

Soon after the end of the war, I began to look for an answer to this question and a solution to this chronic political problem which seems to drive my people from one adversity into another, constantly delivering it from a lesser evil to make it an easy prey to a greater one. It then happened that I left the country in 1920 while dormant sectarian rancours were still widespread and the nation had not fully buried its corpses.

The situation in the diaspora was only a little better. Various tendentious movements had had their effects and badly factionalised the community. Although they were all Syrians, a sizeable group among them had yielded to extreme inter-sectarian hatred, so that, a Lebanese patriotism concept arose in turn, which is itself also an outgrowth of the leadership of religious institutions and of their authority and influence [in society].

Obviously, I was not seeking an answer to the above-stated question for the mere purpose of satisfying a scientific or intellectual curiosity. For a scientific knowledge which does not benefit is no better than a harmless ignorance. Rather I sought an answer to that question purely for the purpose of determining the most effective way to eradicate the causes of that woe. After a preliminary systematic inquiry I came to the conclusion that the loss of national sove-reignty was the primary cause of my nation's past and present woes. This led me to pursue the study of nationalism, the question of communities in general, and of the issue of social justice and its evolution. In the course of my inquiry and research I became keenly aware of the importance of the idea of a nation, its meaning, and the complexity of the factors from which it emanates. It was on this issue that my line of thinking became completely distinct from those of all others who became profoundly pre-occupied with the political life of my country and its national problems. They worked for freedom and independence in an abstract manner which took their pre-occupation outside the national endeavour in its correct sense, whereas I wanted the freedom of my country and the inde-pendence of my people in it. The difference between this better-focused conception and the previous ambiguous and highly abstract conception is clear. I tried with all the Syrian political parties and associations that I happened to join, or form, or have contact with, to direct their thinking towards the insights that I had myself gained, but I did not have too much success in this regard.

Even a contrast with the ideas of the political bosses would help make my own position clearer, in the sense that my position became more and more founded on a national basis, whereas their stances had been and continued to be determined by political pragmatism. Politics for the sake of politics could not possibly constitute a national act.

Accordingly, and in view of the fact that a comprehensive national endeavor dealing with the question of national sovereignty and the meaning of the nation, could not be emptied of its political contents, I decided to enter the political field by following the path of a new social nationalist renaissance that would guarantee the purification of the existing nationalist beliefs and their unification into a single ideology and would, in turn, foster the kind of solidarity (Esprit de Corps) which is essential for national co-operation, progress, and the protection of the national interest and rights.

After I was able to determine my nation on the basis of modern science, which forms the cornerstone of every national constr-uction, and to establish the social and political interest of this nation in the aspects of its internal situation and its external and internal problems through the social, political and economic inquiries which I undertook, I realized that I would then have to devise means that would protect the new social nationalist renaissance as it surged ahead. It was this that first suggested to me the idea of forming a secret political party that would initially incorporate those forces of our youth that stand out for their integrity and lack of affection for the corruptions of debased politics. So I founded the Syrian Social Natio-nalist Party and I unified the various nationalist beliefs into the one idea namely Syria is for the Syrians and the Syrians are one nation. I also laid down a number of reform principles, namely, the separation of religion from the state, turning production into an infrastructure for the distribution of wealth and labour, and the establishment of a strong army that can play an effective role in determining the destiny of the nation and the homeland. Furthermore, I adopted a clandestine formate for the party to shield it from the onslaught of the various factions in society which dreaded its creation and growth, and the authorities which would not desire such a party to exist. I then organized the party on a central hierarchical basis and in the fashion that focuses on the quality of each recruit in order to prevent internal confusion, and to avoid all forms of factionalism, destructive competition, and other social and political ailments, as well as to foster the virtues of discipline and duty.

I laid all of this down and went ahead with founding the party in total disregard of the existence or non-existence of the mandate. Thus, the party was not founded exclusively as a counterweight to the mandate, but to unify the Syrian nation into a sovereign state that has the will to determine its own destiny. Since the mandate was only a passing phase, calculating its position and the party's attitude toward it is a purely secondary political consideration. The party was not founded on the principle of foreigner hatred or chauvinism, but on the principle of social nationalism. The mandate may have temporarily boosted the popularity of the party and strengthened the motives to create it, but it remains a subordinate issue which has limited importance.

At any rate, the national question, by its very nature, would inevitably have to come to grip with the conflict of survival between national sovereignty and mandatory rule.