The book is divided into four parts, each with three chapters.
The Introduction provides a general historical overview of the development of Syrian nationalism and the idea of Greater Syria, contextualizing the formation of Saʿadeh’s political thought and the establishment of the SSNP within this discourse. It also addresses the popular discourse on the SSNP in Lebanon and Syria during the period studied and, briefly, the book’s sources, methodology, and structure.
Part One, A New Generation (Chapters 1-3), examines Saʿadeh’s first attempts at political organization and activism in the South American mahjar until his return to Lebanon in 1930, the party’s pre-history. It then analyzes the first six years of the SSNP’s existence, from its inception as a clandestine movement in 1932 through its discovery by French authorities in 1935 and its open political activities until Saʿadeh’s exile in 1938. Significantly, it details the party’s growth, shedding light on its recruitment methods, ideological and organizational development, and its geographic expansion in the urban and rural centers of Lebanon and Syria.
Part Two, The War Years (Chapters 4-6), details the party’s activity in the mahjar and Syria and Lebanon from the beginning of Saʿadeh’s de facto exile in 1938 until the end of World War II. The first five years of this period were characterized by an intense confrontation with the French that would take a heavy toll on the party. The beleaguered party would find respite in an alliance forged with leading Lebanese politicians in 1943, but it came at a price: shunning the party’s ideological commitment to Greater Syria. The decision of the party leadership to shun Syrian nationalism would bring it into conflict with Saʿadeh and others who viewed it as a deviation that needed to be corrected and put to an end.
Part Three, The Road to a Failed Revolution and Its Aftermath (Chapters 7-9), analyzes the tumultuous period in the party’s history that preceded and then intensified Saʿadeh’s return to Lebanon in March 1947. This period was characterized by internal party strife and renewed confrontation with Lebanese authorities as the party under Saʿadeh reasserted its Syrian nationalist creed, which directly challenged the idea of Lebanese independence. The confrontation reached its apogee in the SSNP’s failed “social nationalist revolution” and Saʿadeh’s subsequent execution in the summer of 1949, after which the party was outlawed in Lebanon and forced to move the center of its activities to Damascus and bide its time in Lebanon.
Part Four, Advance and Retreat (Chapters 10-12), examines the ways in which the SSNP acted to shape the emerging regional and domestic orders in accordance with its ideological vision in the 1950s. Its good relations with Chamoun and his government in Lebanon and Shishakli and his regime in Syria enabled the party to develop its strength and expand its influence in both countries. However, a lack of broad popular appeal and poor decision making would lead the SSNP into open conflict with its increasingly powerful rivals the Baʿth and the communists, who succeeded in defeating the party and forcing it to retreat from the Syrian public sphere. In Lebanon, the party would fight to preserve Lebanon’s independence against Communist and Arab nationalist designs but would reap little reward for its efforts following the events of 1958.
The Epilogue, The Rise of Factionalism, examines the party’s journey to its present, fractured state, demonstrating how the seeds of factionalism planted in the party’s early years bore their bitter fruit over time. It addresses the party’s activities during the Lebanese Civil War and the Syrian Civil War, its alliance with Hezbollah, and the party’s major splits and their sources. Finally, it provides an assessment of why the SSNP has failed to transform into a mass political movement and obtain significant, lasting political power, and will likely never do so.
Carl C. Yonker is a lecturer in the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Tel Aviv University. He also works as an independent researcher and consultant.