Thursday, November 27, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 9: 1927 to 1935 Period

Michael Provence’s The Great Syrian Revolt and The Rise of Arab Nationalism indicated how the crushing of the anti-imperialist Great Revolt of Syrian nationalists by French occupation troops affected the post-Great Revolt political situation within French-ruled Syria after June 1927:

“With the effective elimination of the revolt’s militant leadership, the traditional elite were free to hammer out a working accommodation with the clear and now unchallenged rulers of Syria: the French government…Damascus’ leading politicians and the mandate power was able to ignore the exiled insurgents…for more than a decade…”

Inside French imperialist-controlled Syria and Lebanon, however, an underground Communist Party of Syria and Lebanon, whose “first provisional Central Committee consisted of Yusuf Yazbek, Fu’ad al-Shamali, Artin Madoyan, Hetazon Bayadjian and Elias Abut Nadir,” according to Patrick Seale’s The Struggle For Syria: A Study of Post-War Arab Politics 1945-1958, had been founded in 1925. But “in 1926 the French mandatory authorities…arrested Yusuf Yazbek and Artin Madoyan” and “all party activity” had been “frozen until their release in 1928,” according to the same book.

Under the leadership of Fu’ad al-Shamali after 1928, however, the still legally-banned “party extended its activities to Damascus as well as to some country towns” in Syria, according to The Struggle For Syria. But by 1932, with the support of Artin Madoyan, “a…young…law student from Damascus called Khalid Bakdash,” who had been “expelled from the university for political activity,” replaced Fu’ad al-Shamali as the Communist Party of Syria and Lebanon’s leader; and “for the next 25 years” Khalid Bakdash “was one of the leading Communists of the Arab world,” according to the same book.

According to Philip Khoury’s Syria and The French Mandate, “the scale of Syrian industrialization by the Second World War was” still “not very large.”  But after 1928 “modern industries” had begun “to spring up in Damascus” and “by 1934, there were reportedly 63 modern factories in Damascus and 71 in Aleppo;” and as early as 1925 “the Union of Weavers, the first modern Syrian union,” had already been established, with a membership of 52 workers from 4 different Syrian factories, according to the same book.

So, not surprisingly, when colonized Syria’s economy began to feel the impact of the global economic depression in 1930 and the unemployment rate in Syria increased dramatically at the same time real wages for many Syrian workers fell, Syrian workers began to respond to their increased economic hardship by going out on strikes. As Syria and The French Mandate recalled:

“The Summer of 1930 was marked by strikes…In Hama…the town literally closed down on June 19 [1930] to protest a new bread tax. In Aleppo, workers in the traditional sector of the textile industry struck for higher wages at the very end of July [1930]. Later, in Homs where…wages in the textile industry had been cut 3 times in as many months, 600 recently organized textile workers struck on September 20 [1930]. Meanwhile, Damascus was in the midst of a strike that had begun in mid-July [1930] among thousands of textile workers led by the activist Union of Weavers…”

In a July 30, 1935 speech at the Comintern’s 7th congress, a leader of the underground Syrian Communist Party also reported:

“…During the general strike that broke out in January 1935 in Zahle, a major agricultural center, against the taxes and the despotism of the administrative authorities, more than 15,000 demonstrators were engaged in street battles for five days and disarmed the police and held the town and the town governor’s residence for an entire day…Among the thirty arrested there were seventeen Communists….

“…Just during the years 1933 and 1934, in the 45 strikes which involved 50,000 strikers, we were able entirely to lead the 15 most important strikes, while participating in all the others through our orators, our militants and our trade-union groups...

“In 1933 we organized and led the typographers’ strike for trade-union rights…For ten days the country was deprived of its largest daily newspapers, and in this way all public attention was concentrated on the strike. The destruction of the printing office of the newspaper L'Orient by the strikers, a newspaper which wanted to break the strike and which was, because of this, unable to operate for 15 days, set a shining example of the revolutionary manner in which the advanced proletariat defends its actions against strike-breakers. The sympathy strikes which broke out among the typographers of several places, the refusal of newspaper hawkers to distribute newspapers of companies that were able to operate because of police protection, the sending by the tobacco workers of cigarettes to the strikers, the telegrams of solidarity from several villages, all this showed popular support which had gathered around this strike…

“During the last strike of the 10,000 taxi drivers in April 1935, which lasted 13 days and took on such a violent character that the country was almost in a state of siege and in which the drivers burned and destroyed dozens of cabs belonging to strikebreakers, we participated very actively in the action…In the course of the struggle against the scabs, we had one death, a Communist taxi driver, to whose funeral drivers from distant places came on foot so as not to violate the strike. The funeral turned into a major demonstration and clashes with the police…The strike continued undiminished for two more days…and did not end until after the reopening of the taxi drivers’ trade-union, closed by the authorities during the strike, and the acceptance of a major part of their demands.”

Yet in 1933, with 150,000 Syrian workers unemployed under French imperialist rule, the official unemployment rate in Syria was still 15 percent. But in that same year, a new generation of anti-imperialist Syrian nationalist youth formed the League of National Action.

(end of part 9)

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