- For the party which governed Iraq and governs Syria presently, see Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party – Iraq Region and Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party – Syria Region respectively
|Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party
حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي
|Founder||Michel Aflaq, Salah al-Din al-Bitar and Zaki al-Arsuzi (1947)
Aflaq, al-Bitar and Akram al-Hawrani (1952)
|Slogan||"Unity, liberty, socialism"
"One Nation, Bearing an Eternal Message"
|Founded||7 April 1947|
|Preceded by||Arab Ba'ath and Arab Ba'ath Movement (1947)
Arab Socialist Movement (1952)
|Succeeded by||Split into two factions: the Iraqi-dominated Ba'ath faction and the Syrian-dominated Ba'ath faction|
|Colors||Black, Red, White and Green (Pan-Arab colors)|
The Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party (Arabic: حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي Ḥizb Al-Ba‘ath Al-‘Arabī Al-Ishtirākī) was a political party founded in Syria by Michel Aflaq, Salah al-Din al-Bitar and associates of Zaki al-Arsuzi. The party espoused Ba'athism (from البعث Al-Ba'ath or Ba'ath meaning "renaissance" or "resurrection"), which is an ideology mixing Arab nationalist, pan-Arabism, Arab socialist and anti-imperialist interests. Ba'athism calls for unification of the Arab world into a single state. Its motto, "Unity, Liberty, Socialism", refers to Arab unity, and freedom from non-Arab control and interference.
The party was founded by the merger of the Arab Ba'ath Movement, led by Aflaq and al-Bitar, and the Arab Ba'ath, led by al-Arsuzi, on 7 April 1947 as the Arab Ba'ath Party. The party quickly established branches in other Arab countries, although it would only hold power in Iraq and Syria. The Arab Ba'ath Party merged with the Arab Socialist Party, led by Akram al-Hawrani, in 1952 to form the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party. The newly-formed party was a relative success, and became the second-largest party in the Syrian parliament in the 1954 election. This, coupled with the increasing strength of the Syrian Communist Party, led to the establishment of the United Arab Republic (UAR), a union of Egypt and Syria. The union would prove unsuccessful, and a Syrian coup in 1961 dissolved the union.
Following the break-up of the UAR, the Ba'ath Party was reconstituted. However, during the UAR, military activists had established the Military Committee to take control of the Ba'ath Party from civilian hands. In the meantime, in Iraq, the local Ba'ath Party branch had taken power by orchestrating and leading the Ramadan Revolution, only to lose power a couple of months later. The Military Committee, with Aflaq's consent, took power in Syria in the 8th of March Revolution of 1963.
A power struggle quickly developed between the civilian faction led by Aflaq, al-Bitar and Munif al-Razzaz and the Military Committee led by Salah Jadid and Hafez al-Assad. As relations between the two factions became worse, the Military Committee initiated the 1966 Syrian coup d'état which ousted the National Command led by al-Razzaz, Aflaq and their supporters. The 1966 coup split the Ba'ath Party between the Iraqi-dominated Ba'ath movement and the Syrian-dominated Ba'ath movement.
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The motto "Unity, Liberty, Socialism" (Arabic: وحدة، حرية، اشتراكية Waḥdah, Ḥurrīyah, Ishtirākīyah) was inspired by the French Jacobin political doctrine linking national unity and social equity. Unity refers to Arab unity, or Pan-Arabism; liberty emphasizes freedom from foreign control and interference (self-determination); socialism refers to Arab socialism, rather than to European socialism or communism. The idea that national freedom and the glory of the Arab Nation had been destroyed by Ottoman and Western imperialism was expounded in Michel Aflaq’s works On the Way of Resurrection and The Battle for One Destiny. Aflaq is commonly considered to be the father of Ba'athism.
Arab nationalism was influenced by 19th Century mainland European thinkers, notably conservative German philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte of the Königsberg University Kantian school, and French Positivists such as Auguste Comte and professor Ernest Renan of the Collège de France in Paris. Ba'ath party co-founders Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar both studied at the Sorbonne in the early 1930s when Positivism was still the dominant ideology among France’s academic elite.
The Kulturnation concept of Johann Gottfried Herder and the Grimm Brothers also had an impact. Kulturnation defines a nationality by its common cultural traditions and popular folklore, rather than by national, political, or religious boundaries. It was considered by some[who?] to be more suitable for German, Arab, Ottoman and Turkic countries.
Germany was seen as an anti-colonial power and friend of the Arab world; cultural and economic exchange and infrastructure projects such as the Baghdad Railway supported that impression. According to Paul Berman, early Arab nationalist thinker Sati' al-Husri was influenced by Fichte, a German philosopher famous for his conception of the nation-state and his influence on the German unification movement.
The Ba'ath party had a significant number of Christian Arabs among its founding members. For them, especially Aflaq, a resolutely nationalist and secular political framework was a way to evade faith-based Islamic orientation, prevent the marginalization of non-Muslims, and get full acknowledgment as citizens. During General Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's short-lived anti-British military coup in 1941, Iraq-based Arab nationalists (Sunni Muslims as well as Chaldean Christians) asked the Nazi German government to support them against British colonial rule.
|1st National Congress||4–6 April 1947|
|2nd National Congress||June 1954|
|3rd National Congress||27 August – 1 September 1959|
|4th National Congress||August 1960|
|5th National Congress||8 May 1962|
|6th National Congress||5–23 October 1963|
|7th National Congress||12–17 February 1964|
|8th National Congress||April 1965|
|9th National Congress||February 1968
25–29 September 1966
The Ba'ath Party was created at the Second National Congress as a cell-based organisation, with an emphasis on withstanding government repression and infiltration. Hierarchical lines of command ran from top to bottom, and members were forbidden to initiate contacts between groups on the same level of the organisation—all contacts had to pass through a higher command level. This made the party somewhat unwieldy, but helped prevent the formation of factions and cordoned off members from each other. The party was difficult to infiltrate, because members did not know the identity of many other Ba'athists.
From its lowest organizational level (the cell) to the highest (the National Command), the party was structured as follows:
- The Cell or Circle, composed of three to seven members, constituted the basic organisational unit of the Ba'ath Party. There were two sorts of Cells: Member Cells and Supporter Cells. The latter consisted of candidate members, who were being gradually introduced into Party work without being granted membership privileges or knowledge of the party apparatus. At the same time, they were expected to follow all orders passed down by the full member that acted as the contact for their Cell. This served to prevent infiltration and to train and screen Party cadres. Cells functioned at the neighborhood, workplace, or village level, where members met to discuss and execute party directives introduced from above.
- A Division comprised two to seven Cells, controlled by a Division Commander. Such Ba'athist groups occurred throughout the bureaucracy and the military. They functioned as the Party’s watchdog and were an effective form of covert surveillance within a public administration.
- A Section, which comprised two to five Divisions, functioned at the level of a large city quarter, a town, or a rural district.
- The Branch came above the Sections; it comprised at least two sections, and operated at the provincial level.
- The Regional Congress, which combined all the branches, was set up to elect the Regional Command as the core of the Party leadership and top decision-making mechanism. A "Region" (quṭr), in Ba'athist parlance, is an Arab state such as Syria, Iraq, or Lebanon. The term region reflected the Party's refusal to acknowledge them as separate nation-states.
- The National Command ranked over the Regional Commands. Until the 1960s, it formed the highest policy-making and coordinating council for the Ba'ath movement throughout the Arab world, in both theory and practice. However, since 1966 when the Iraqi and Syrian Regional Commands entered into conflict and set up puppet National Commands, there have existed two rival National Commands. These are largely ceremonial, and were formed in order to further their rival claims to represent the original party.
Founding and early years
The Ba'ath Party was founded in 7 April 1947 by Michel Aflaq (a Christian), Salah al-Din al-Bitar (a Sunni muslim) and Zaki al-Arsuzi (an Alawite). It was a merger of the Arab Ba'ath, founded and led by al-Arsuzi, and the Arab Ba'ath Movement, led by Aflaq and al-Bitar. The party initially worked as a vehicle for the national liberation movement against French rule of Syria and Lebanon. The Ba'ath Party established itself as a critic of what they considered to be the ideological inefficiencies of old Syrian nationalism.
Pan-Arabism became popular among Arabs after World War II. Aflaq, the father of ba'athist ideology and a Christian, drew heavily from Islam and its values. For example, he wrote that the time of Muhammed represented the ideal Arab community, and claimed the Arabs had "fallen" under the rule of the Ottomans and the Europeans. The name Ba'ath and the party's programme called for Arab restoration through modernisation. The most important influence which Alfaq and al-Bitar brought back from Europe was socialism, albeit a unique socialism with Arab characteristics.
The party was formally established at its founding congress under the name Arab Ba'ath Party. According to the congress, the party was "nationalist, populist, socialist, and revolutionary" and believed in the "unity and freedom of the Arab nation within its homeland". The party opposed the theory of class conflict, but supported the nationalisation of major industries, the unionisation of workers, land reform, and supported private inheritance and private property rights to some degree.
At first the party had about a hundred members, but that increased to 4,500 by the early 1950s. The majority of party members were either teachers or students. The Ba'ath Party merged with the Arab Socialist Party (ASP), led by Akram al-Hawrani, to establish the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party in Lebanon following Adib Shishakli's rise to power. The merger gave the ba'ath movement its first peasant constituency; the ASP's stronghold was Hama.
Most ASP members did not adhere to the merger and remained, according to George Alan, "passionately loyal to Hawrani's person". The merger was so weak that the ASP's original infrastructure remained intact. However, with the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt and Arab nationalism, the Ba'ath Party grew rapidly. In 1955, the party decided to support Nasser and his pan-Arab policies.
Branches by region
Following the Ba'ath Party's founding, cells were established in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The Yemenite Ba'ath movement has been active since the 1950s. The Saudi Ba'ath cell got one of its members, Ali Ghannäm, elected to the National Command in 1964 at the 7th National Congress. While its currently unknown which side the Saudi Ba'ath took after the 1966 split, it published a newspaper, Sawt al-Tal‘iyya, from 1973 to 1980. It was an ardent critic of the Saudi royal family and American imperialism. The majority of its members were Shia Muslims.
Fuad al-Rikabi founded the Iraqi-cell of the Ba'ath Party either in 1951 or 1952. There are even those who claim that the Iraqi-cell was established by Abd ar Rahman ad Damin and Abd al Khaliq al Khudayri in 1947, and not al-Rikabi, after their return from the founding congress of the Ba'ath Party held in Damascus, Syria in 1947. Another version states that al-Rikabi established the Iraqi-cell in 1948 with Sa'dun Hamadi, a Shia Muslim, but became Secretary of the Regional Command in 1952.
The Iraqi-cell was Arab nationalist and vague in its socialist orientation. Al-Rikabi, expelled from the party in 1961 for being a Nasserist, was an early follower of Michel Aflaq, the founder of Ba'athism. The party initially consisted of a majority of Shia muslims, as al-Rikabi recruited supporters mainly from his friends and family, but slowly became Sunni dominated. The Ba'ath Party, and others of pan-Arab orientation, had growing difficulties in increasing Shia membership within the party organisation. Most Shias saw pan-Arab thought as largely Sunni, since the majority of muslims in the Arab world were Sunnis.
In 1958, the year of the 14 July Revolution that overthrew the Hashemite monarchy, the Ba'ath Party had 300 members nationwide. General Abd al-Karim Qasim, the leader of the Free Officer movement which overthrew the king, supported joining the pan-Arab state (UAR) at first, but changed his position after he took power. Several members of the Free Officer movements were also members of the Ba'ath Party. The Ba'ath Party considered the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the leader of the pan-Arab movement, to be the leader most likely to succeed, and supported Iraq's joining the union. Of the sixteen members of Qasim's cabinet, 12 of them were Ba'ath Party members. However, the Ba'ath Party supported Qasim on the grounds that he would join Nasser's UAR.
Shortly after taking power, Qasim changed his position on joining the UAR and started campaigning for the "Iraq first policy". To strengthen his own position within the government, Qasim created an alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party, which was opposed to any notion of pan-Arabism. The change from the pan-Arab policy to the Iraq first policy displeased several pan-Arab organisations, especially the Ba'ath Party. Later that year, the Ba'ath Party leadership were planning to assassinate Qasim, and take power, to continue the policy of pan-Arabism which Qasim had discontinued. Saddam Hussein, the future President of Iraq and Secretary General of the Iraqi-based Ba'ath Party, was a leading member of the operation. At the time, the Ba'ath Party was more of an ideological experiment than a strong anti-government fighting machine.
The idea of assassinating Qasim may have been Nasser's, and there is speculation that some of those who participated in the operation received training in Damascus, which was then part of the UAR. The assassination attempt on Qasim failed. At the time of the attack the Ba'ath Party had fewer than 1,000 members. Qasim was overthrown in the February 1963 Iraqi coup d'état, a coup allegedly supported by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and led on the ground by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, a fellow Ba'athist.
Abdul Salam Arif became the President and Hassan al-Bakr became the Prime Minister. Ali Salih al-Sadi, Secretary General of the Iraqi Regional Command of the Ba'ath Party, became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior—a post he lost on 11 May. Despite not being Prime Minister, al-Sadi had effective control over party and government affairs. In the aftermath of the successful coup, the National Guard initiated an, according to Con Coughlin, "orgy of violence" against all communist elements and some left-wing forces.
The party was ousted from government in November 1963 due to factionalism. The question within the Ba'ath Party was whether or not it would pursue its ideological goal of establishing a union with Syria or Egypt, or both. al-Sadi supported a union with Syria, which was under the rule of the Ba'ath Party, while the more conservative military wing supported Qasim's "Iraq first policy". President Arif lost patience with the Ba'ath in September, and the Party was ousted from government on 18 November 1963. The 12 Ba'ath members of government were forced to resign, and the National Guard was dissolved, replaced by the Republican Guard. There are reasons to believe that Aflaq supported Arif's coup against the Ba'athist government in order to weaken al-Sadi's position within the party and strengthen his own.
Following the establishment of the Arab Ba'ath Party in Syria in 1947, Ba'athist ideas spread throughout the Arab world. In Jordan Ba'athist thought first spread to the East Bank in the late-1940s, most notably at universities. While the regional branch was not formed before 1951, several meetings took place at the universities where students and professors alike would discuss the ideology of the newly established Syrian Ba'athist party.
Several people expressed their support for Ba'athist ideology at this meetings, but the regional branch itself was not formed until 1951 in Al Karak by a group of teachers including Thuqan Hindawi. A clinic owned by Abd al-Rahman Shuqyar became a meeting place for Ba'athist in the organisations early days. In the West Bank the party was most active in the cities of Jerusalem and Ramallah. Bahjat Abu Gharbiyah was the West Bank Ba'ath member, and because of it, was responsible for building up the party organisation in this area.
The Ba'ath Party's first regional conference was held in 1951 at Abdullah Rimawi's home. At this meeting the party's first ideological programme was laid out, and a plan which mapped out the "future course of the party". The following year, in 1952, another meeting was held, this time in Abdallah Na'was' home. At this conference a Regional Command was elected with Rimawi as its General Secretary, while Shugyar, Gharbiyah and Na'was were elected to the Central Committee. Rimawi and Na'was would prove to be effective leaders, and their recruitment campaign proved successful in both Jordanian and Palestinian neighbourhoods and cities. The regional branch became a legalised party on 28 August 1956 by a decision of the Jordanian High Court.
Both Rimawi and Na'was were elected to Parliament during the 1950 and 1951 elections as independents (the Ba'ath Party was not a legalised party at this time). The party managed to get three ba'athists elected to Parliament in the 1951 election, however, during the 1954 election they lost all their seats. Rimawi was re-elected in the 1956 election to the Jordanian parliament, and retained his seat until the 1961 election. As voting patterns would prove, the largest concentrations of ba'athists lived in Irbid and Amman on the East Bank, and Jerusalem and Nablus on the West Bank. Shuqyar during his forced exile inside Jordan, was influenced by communist thought during his exile. When his exile ended, Shuqyar tried to form a National Front with the Jordanian Communist Party and the Ba'ath regional organisation as its leading members. However, his fellow ba'athist colleagues opposed this idea, and because of it, Shuqyar left the party.
The party was founded in the 1950s by Amr Taher Deghayes. Ba'athism was a major political force in Libya following the establishment of the United Arab Republic. Many intellectuals were attracted to ba'athist ideology during the later years of the Kingdom of Libya. However, with help from nasserist propaganda, several ba'athists changed affiliation and became nasserists instead.
The growth of these pan-Arab ideologies concerned the government, which led to the incarceration of several nasserist and ba'athist military officers in the early sixties. The ba'athist were accused of working to overthrow "the political, economic and social system" of the Kingdom; the sentences ranged from everything to eight months to two years.
Syrian politics took a dramatic turn in 1954 when the military government of Adib al-Shishakli was overthrown and the democratic system restored. The Ba'ath, now a large and popular organisation, won 15 out of 142 parliamentary seats in the Syrian election that year, becoming the second-largest party in parliament. Aside from the Syrian Communist Party (SCP), the Ba'ath Party was the only party able to organise mass protests among workers. The party was supported by the intelligentsia due to their pro-Egyptian and anti-imperialist stance along with their avocation of social reform.
The Ba'ath faced considerable competition from ideological enemies, notably the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), which supported the establishment of a Greater Syria. The Ba'ath Party's main adversary was the SCP, whose support for class struggle and internationalism was anathema to the Ba'ath. In addition to parliamentary-level competition, all these parties (as well as Islamists) competed in street-level activity and sought to recruit support among the military.
By the end of 1957, the SCP was able to weaken the Ba'ath Party to such an extent that the Ba'ath Party drafted a bill in December which called for a union with Egypt, a move that proved to be very popular. The Ba'ath Party was banned in the United Arab Republic (UAR), the union between Egypt and Syria, due to Gamal Abdel Nasser's hostility to parties other than his own. The Ba'ath leadership dissolved the party in 1958, gambling that the illegalisation of certain parties would hurt the SCP more than it would the Ba'ath.
A military coup in Damascus in 1961 brought the UAR to an end. Sixteen prominent politicians signed a statement supporting the coup, among them al-Hawrani and Salah al-Din al-Bitar (who later retracted his signature). Following the UAR's dissolution, the Ba'ath Party was reestablished at the 1962 congress. The Military Committee did not show itself to the civilian wing of the party at this congress. During the congress, Aflaq and the Military Committee, through Muhammad Umran, made contact for the first time; the committee asked for permission to initiate a coup d'état; Aflaq supported the conspiracy.
Following the success of the February 1963 Iraqi coup d'état, led by the Ba'ath Party's Iraqi cell, the Military Committee hastily convened to hatch a coup against Nazim al-Kudsi's presidency. The 8 March Revolution proved successful, and a Ba'athist government in Syria was established. The plotters first order was to establish the National Council of the Revolutionary Command (NCRC), consisting entirely of Ba'athists and Nasserists, and controlled by military personnel rather than civilians from the very beginning.
While the Ba'ath Party had attained power, there was a problem; internal infighting. The Military Committee which was itself a tiny minority of the already small Ba'ath Party membership was forced to rule by force. The Ba'ath Party had only 2,500 members by mid-1963, the party lacked a popular base. Even if membership expanded, the authoritarian way of ruling it had introduced when coming to power would get worse, not better. The period 1963–1970 was referred to as the "Transititional Ba'ath" by Hanna Batatu. His point being that the "Old Ba'ath" was removed, and replaced, by the "Neo Ba'ath" led by Salah Jadid and Hafez al-Assad in 1966.
Another problem was that the civilian wing was riven by infighting between the radical socialist and moderate faction, while the military stood more unified. Whatever the case, the Syrian Regional Command slowly amassed its powers by weakening the National Command. This all came to a head in the 1966 Syrian coup d'état (see "1966 split" section).
The 1966 split
The challenges of building a Ba'athist state led to considerable ideological discussion and internal struggle within the party. The Iraqi branch was increasingly dominated by Ali Salih al-Sadi, now a self-described Marxist, previously anti-communist as of the summer of 1963.  He was supported in his ideological reorientation by Hamoud el Choufi, the Secretary General of the Syrian Regional Command, Yasin al-Hafiz, one of the party’s few ideological theorists, and by certain members of the secret Military Committee.
The far-left tendency gained control at the party’s Sixth National Congress of 1963, where hardliners from the dominant Syrian and Iraqi regional parties joined forces to impose a hard left line, calling for "socialist planning", "collective farms run by peasants", "workers' democratic control of the means of production", a party based on workers and peasants, and other demands reflecting a certain emulation of Soviet-style socialism. In a [clarify] on Michel Aflaq, the congress also condemned "ideological notability" within the party. Aflaq, angry at this transformation of his party, retained a nominal leadership role, but the National Command as a whole came under the control of the radicals.
In 1963 the Ba'ath Party seized power, from then on the Ba'ath functioned as the only officially recognized Syrian political party, but factionalism and splintering within the party led to a succession of governments and new constitutions. On 23 February 1966, a bloody coup d'état led by a more left-wing, radical Ba'athist faction headed by Chief of Staff Salah Jadid, overthrew Aflaq and the Salah al-Din al-Bitar's Government. The coup sprung out of factional rivalry between Jadid's "regionalist" (qutri) camp of the Ba'ath Party, which promoted ambitions for a Greater Syria and the more traditionally pan-Arab, in power faction, called the "nationalist" (qawmi) faction.
Jadid's supporters were seen as radically left-wing then Aflaq and his peers. Many of Jadid's opponents managed to make their escape and fled to Beirut, Lebanon. Jadid moved the party in a more radical direction, although he and his supporters had not been supporters of the victorious far-left line at the Sixth Party Congress, they had now moved to adopt its positions The moderate faction, formerly led by Aflaq and al-Bitar, were purged from the party.
In the aftermath of the 1966 coup, the Ba'ath Party split in two; out of it a Damascus-based Ba'ath Party and a Baghdad-based Ba'ath Party were formed, with each maintaining that it was the genuine party and electing a separate National Command to take charge of the international Ba'ath movement. However, both in Iraq and Syria, the Regional Command became the real centre of party power, and the membership of the National Command became a largely honorary position, often the destination of figures being eased out of the leadership. A consequence of the split was that Zaki al-Arsuzi took Aflaq's place as the official father of ba'athist thought in the Damascus-based Ba'ath Party, while the Baghdad-based Ba'ath Party still considered Aflaq the de jure father of ba'athist thought.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Ba'athism|
- The Old Social Classes and New Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, Hanna Batatu, London, al-Saqi Books, 2000. ISBN 0-86356-520-4
- Al-Baath wa-Lubnân [Arabic only] ("The Baath and Lebanon"), NY Firzli, Beirut, Dar-al-Tali'a Books, 1973
- The Iraq-Iran Conflict, NY Firzli, Paris, EMA, 1981. ISBN 2-86584-002-6
- Al-Baath wal Watan Al-Arabi [Arabic, with French translation] ("The Baath and the Arab Homeland"), Qasim Sallam, Paris, EMA, 1980. ISBN 2-86584-003-4
- The Struggle for Power in Syria: Sectarianism, Regionalism and Tribalism in Politics, Nikolaos van Dam, London I B Tauris, 1979. (Reviewed in The Montreal Review)
- History of Syria Including Lebanon and Palestine, Vol. 2 Hitti Philip K. (2002) (ISBN 1-931956-61-8)
- Franzén, Johan. Red Star Over Iraq: Iraqi Communism Before Saddam, Columbia University Press, 2011. ISBN 0-231-70230-2 (Reviewed in The Montreal Review)
- The five volumes of Michel Aflaq’s On The Way Of Resurrection (Fi Sabil al Ba'th) (Arabic)
- The Constitution of the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party