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Parties and Ideas that Don’t Die or Change

Parties and Ideas that Don’t Die or Change

Wednesday, 7 April, 2021 - 10:00

The Lebanese Kataeb Party has recently decided to amend its name. The party founded in 1936 highlighted its other name the Social Democratic Party at the expense of the name it has historically been associated with.

According to observers, two factors compelled this change: the need to be present in civil society and take part in its activities, and the need to take distance from Francoist connotations of the name adopted in the thirties and the militant orientation imposed on the party in the seventies. This change is a brave step forward, but only through the interpretation of its indications and a revision of its history and its reasons is the mission accomplished and this step complete.

Concepts and the terms that refer to them, like other living things, are born, develop and die or change. Those that don’t die, don’t change and are described as immortal are of little vigor, if not totally lifeless, in the first place. This is the case, for example, with the famous “immortal mission” articulated by the founder of the Arab Socialist Baath Party, Michel Aflaq, who considered it the “one Arab nation’s” most important commodity.

However, though this “mission” became the subject of others’ ridicule and the butt of their jokes, the Baath, in both Syria and Iraq, has not gone over this phrase’s fate. Baathists didn’t notice that reality had gone past it. They didn’t notice the Baathist mission is nothing more than prison cells of torture and death, be they as large as a country or as small as a grave. The word “Baath” itself has become like a wanderer roaming around and searching for meaning.

There are examples more flagrant than the myth of the “eternal mission,” which has been neither reviewed nor discussed by those aligned with it. For example, in Lebanon and Syria, there is a party that had been large and became small called the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. Founded in 1932, this party’s literature is brimming with talk of ethnicities, skulls, and racist pseudoscience, and it calls, before and after espousing this rhetoric, for the emergence of what it terms “the Syrian nation,” which, according to the same source, has existed since “before recorded history;” its territory includes, among other places, the island of Cyprus. But the Syrian nationalists, despite their many differences, agree on one thing: what had been written nearly a century ago by their leader and their party’s founder, Antoun Saadeh, has not lost an iota of relevance or utility.

The same applies, though to a less scandalous extent, to terms like “Arabism,” “Arab nationalism” and “the Arab nation.” Between the fifties and the eighties, these terms adorned all the political rhetoric articulated in articles, broadcasts, statements, and speeches. Gamal Abdel Nasser alone used to mention “Arab nationalism” ten times in a single speech. Now, using these terms has come to resemble mourning late forefathers. With the rise of political Islam, some advocates of “Arabism” solved the actual problem verbally: instead of “the Arab nation” they started using: “the Arab and Islamic nation.” A difference of hundreds of millions of people and hundreds of thousands of square kilometers was not given a second thought.

The “liberation of Palestine” has also been shredded by the passage of time. In 1967, when the slogan of “retrieving the land occupied by Israel” was put forward, the older slogan began taking its last breaths. After that, with the call for a “Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza”, then “a Palestinian state established by Israel’s side”, “the liberation of Palestine” became identical with sad and distant memories. However, this major transformation, in turn, did not compel reexaminations of corresponding magnitude that explain the reasons for it and its implications. The small minority that continued to call for “liberating Palestine from the river to the sea” labeled others treacherous and raised doubts about their motives; as for the others, they went about their way as though nothing had happened.

In contrast to the communist parties in Europe that transformed from communism to social democracy, discussing and debating their transformations, things were different here. Our communist parties kept their names and continued to carry the hammer and sickle that had no room left for them, neither in industrial nor agricultural production, without being impeded by their loss of popular support. On these parties’ margins, names of small parties with the word “communist” in them began proliferating in the sixties and seventies: “Communist Action Organization,” “Communist Action Party,” “Arab Communist Movement”… However, after the Soviet bloc’s collapse in the early 1990s, no one would establish “communist” organizations any longer. The term has disappeared. The word that came to the fore: leftist. Nevertheless, the new term seemed like it had been smuggled through, and no one emerged to explain why the transformation had taken place, what the difference is between communism and leftism, how the latter is an extension of the former, and how it diverges from it. The issue seemed more like a natural trajectory that did not warrant an explanation.

This is how our parties live- though shallowly- longer than they are actually alive. Their lives become long on paper, but lifeless in reality.

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