The end of the Nazi occupation in Paris saw freedom return to the city and the beginning of a new and prosperous cultural and political atmosphere. From within this atmosphere, emerged a well-educated young man, Jamal al-Atasi. Accompanied by his three wives, a young French woman and a PhD in psychology, socialist al-Atasi returned to his homeland, Syria . Upon his arrival, he immediately took an active interest in politics and became part of the established elite of nationalists known as the Baa”th Party, founded by Micheal Aflaq and Salah Al-Bitar in 1947. Al-Atasi also concentrated his efforts to the amalgamation of nationalism and socialism. He was quite right in his thinking that the Baa”th Party represented the second generation of nationalist thinkers, with an ideology that didn’t greatly differ from the emotional and enthusiastic patriotism of the first generation.
Aflaq”s nationalistic call was made up of idealistic rhetoric with Al-Atasi adding the socialist flavour to the Baa”th ideology.
One can argue that the merger of the Socialist Party under the leadership of Akram Al-Hourani with the Baa”th Party during the 1950s is what allowed Al-Atasi to provide the party with a clear leftist identity. While I do not wish to blame Al- Atasi and Hourani with ruining socialist politics, I feel somewhat guilty in saying that the concept of socialism became ambiguous with both of these men as there are many variants of socialism to contend with such as Marxism, democracy, ideal humanitarianism and socialism itself.
This leads to ask which kind of socialism Hourani, al-Atasi and the party opted to follow. I believe that the Baa”th Socialist Party decide on a socialism that is close to the Marxist ideology in that it gives priority to social justice over political justice and the freedom of the people rather than individual freedom.
If Hourani was a populist politician and an uneducated socialist, the educated al-Atasi was not a strong fan of socialist democracy which resulted from the dialogue that he’d encountered while in Paris . The Socialists in France chose to follow political democracy where a gradual and peaceful struggle would take place in order to obtain guarantees and social demands from the bourgeois and industrial capitalism.
Since the beginnings of the last century, the choice has been between the historical product of Marxist sociology which followed revolutionary and sometimes violent means and leftist labour socialism, including Fabian socialism. This is how British and French socialism have achieved success through assuming power over the years. The Syrian socialist experience, on the other hand, faltered as a result of al-Atasi”s ambiguous vision of socialism and Hourani”s decision to politicize the military, instead of resisting peacefully using democratic means. This militarization soon overshadowed the Baath’s intellectuals and politicians.
This prevailing ambiguity led to the emergence of a new generation of Baath followers, less interested in peaceful socialism and the semi democracy of Hourani and al-Atasi. The generation of Baathists in the 1960s preferred reading Marx and was also inclined towards Trotskyism and the contemporary Marxist Socialism both condemned by Lenin himself as models of political activity that had lost their nationalist and socialist identities. What made matters worse was that the Trotskyites and Marxist Baa”thi”s succeeded in toppling the Aflaq regime to establish militarily under the command of Salah Jadeed.
Despite the revolutionary fight against corruption, it is evident that Marxist and Trotskyite communism was disastrous for Syria . The country had never known in its history such restrictions and rigidity. This led to ongoing feuds with other Arab governments, allowing Syria to lose much of its prestige and role within the region. It was not long before Syria dragged Abdul Nasser”s Egypt into war with Israel in 1967 in which Egypt experienced a humiliating defeat. Syria then made the grave mistake of invading neighbouring Jordan .
The Trotsykists of Syria were not satisfied with abandoning the peaceful socialism founded by Dr Jamal al-Atasi, but rather they took matters further by imprisoning him despite the fact that his relative Dr Nouradeen al-Atasi was head of state!
I would like to describe a personal incident to demonstrate the narrow-mindedness of the tyrannical Marxists of Syria at that time. Recently, the name Hussein Al Udat had been mentioned following his arrest taking part in a meeting where the Muslim Brotherhood’s program to seize power was mentioned. I consulted my memory and remembered that I had met this man 38 years ago, shortly before the 1967 war, on my journey from Beirut to Damascus to join a delegation from the news agency for whom I worked for in the Syrian capital.
I was informed by delegation members that the Ministry of Information wanted to assign an “official correspondent” to work with the agency. Later, in a meeting between the delegation and Hussein Al Udat who, at the time, was the Director of the official Syrian news agency ( SANA ), I was threatened by Al Udat himself who said that if I distributed any leaflets or sent any news item not with the Ministry’s approval, I would be punished and exiled. I replied to his threats, saying “I am a Syrian citizen just like you, so you can put me in jail but you can’t make me leave my country." At that moment, I regretted having to divide my time between Damascus and Beirut .
Al Udat, who today supports democracy and freedom, continued to obstruct my work. He would frequently send his journalists to break into my office, with or without me being present. They would go through my cabinet to look for the alleged leaflets and newssheets that didn’t bear the stamp of rigorous censorship. I also had to visit numerous departments and branches of the intelligence services once a week to be investigated and interrogated about my work and my contacts.
It is widely known that the liberal journalist will continue to be a witness of history whereas journalists who are affiliated with officials and political parties will fall as soon as the position of their protector is endangered.
I lost contact with Hussein Al Udat as soon as I left my agency and migrated to France with other members of the Arab press. I never from him again until, thirty years later, his name was mentioned in the news. I then learned that Al Udat had left the party, set up a publishing house, which does not publish, and then joined the forum of the deceased Jamal al-Atasi. His presence leads me to ask, what is a retired Marxist doing here? He was running the meeting in which the main topic the increasing power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria ! How treacherous! How unfaithful are these Marxists and Trotskyites to Jamal al-Atasi! They have now turned to liberal democracy. They repressed al-Atasi during his lifetime and put him in jail and now that he is dead, they are promoting the Muslim Brotherhood!
Aloodat was released from prison a few days ago, bragging about his defense of the Muslim Brotherhood in the presence of investigators, saying that, the Muslim Brotherhood project is "reasonable". It is apparent that he has forgotten the regretful Marxists and the educated Iraqis who in their exile were calling for freedom, hoping that it would reach the Americans, only to find that when they returned home, the political arena had been occupied by professional politicians and fundamental sectarians.
The name of Aloodat almost succeeded in making me forget the name of Jamal al-Atasi, which is embedded in modern Syrian history. I have many journalistic stories to tell about Dr Jamal that demonstrate his lavish political life as well as joyful memories.