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Syrian Communist Party
الحزب الشيوعي السوري
Leader Wisal Farha Bakdash
Leader of Syrian Communist Party (Bakdash),
Yusuf Faisal
Leader of Syrian Communist Party (Faisal)
Founded Original founded in 1944, two competing parties since a split in 1986.
Headquarters Damascus, Syria
Ideology Communism,
International affiliation None
European affiliation None
Official colours Red
Politics of Syria
Political parties

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The Syrian Communist Party (Arabic: الحزب الشيوعي السوري, transliterated as Al-hizb ash-shuyū'ī as-sūrī) has been the name of a political party in Syria since 1944. Since a split in 1986, the name has been used by two competing parties. The party is part of the world communist movement, and historically had a pro-Soviet orientation. Since 1972, it has been a member of the National Progressive Front, which provides a legal framework for activity by parties supporting the Syrian government's socialist and Arab nationalist orientation and accepting the leadership of the Ba'th Party.



The party evolved out of the Communist Party of Syria and Lebanon, founded in Beirut in 1924. It was suppressed shortly afterwards, but was revived after an interlude of several years. In 1936, Khalid Bakdash, a Damascene who had been recruited to the party in 1930 and later studied at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East in Moscow, took control as secretary of the party, and set about building up its organisation.

Bakdash's leadership and organisational growth

The party was involved in opposition to the Vichy French presence in Syria, and when the Free French took control of the country it was legalised. In 1944, the Syrian and Lebanese parties became separate organisations. Bakdash sought to present the Syrian Communist Party as an essential part of the national movement, in the context of Syria's struggle against the French mandate. The party adopted a moderate programme and opened its ranks to all those accepting it, rather than functioning as a restricted Leninist vanguard organisation. It built up a significant support base among the working class, Kurds and intellectuals.

In 1954, after a series of military dictatorships that had lasted since 1949, Syria became a democracy, and in the elections held that year, Khalid Bakdash won a seat in parliament for the Damascus area, becoming the first communist elected to an Arab parliament. The party was cautious about proposals to unify Syria with Gamal Abdal Nasser's Egypt, the main political question of the 1950s in Syria. The Egyptian Communist Party was banned under Nasser, and communists and other leftists had been jailed in large numbers. However, popular desire for unity was such that the party felt it could not afford to oppose it outright.

Suppression under Nasser and the Ba'th, 1958-1970

The United Arab Republic (UAR) was formed in February 1958. Toward the end of 1958, a savage campaign of repression against the party began. Nasser was provoked to action by a harshly critical statement made by Bakdash, who called for transformation of the UAR into a loose federation. Communists were imprisoned and in some cases killed.

The union ended in 1961 when a coup led to Syria's secession. The Communist Party was strongly identified with the secessionist tendency and suffered a loss of popular support and membership as a result. Worse was to follow, when the pro-unification coup of 1963 brought a military-based government consisting largely of Ba'thists and Nasserists to power and the party was once again repressed.

Legal operation in the National Progressive Front from 1972

In 1970, Hafiz al-Asad came to power in Syria and announced his intention of allowing limited political pluralism in the context of popular democracy. This took the form of the National Progressive Front, established in 1972. Only parties participating in the Front would be allowed to operate: to join, they were required to accept the socialist and Arab nationalist orientation of the government. The Ba'th Party was guaranteed leadership of the Front and the new constitution, promulgated the same year, provided that it would "lead society and the state". Furthermore, only the Ba'th would be allowed operate in the armed forces and among university students.

Faced with the choice between accepting these restrictions and the prospect of illegal operation, Bakdash and the majority of the party chose to join the Front. The more radical elements in the party were unhappy about participation in the Front. However, the breaking point did not come until 1976 and the Syrian intervention in the Lebanese Civil War on the side of rightist, Maronite-led elements against the nationalist bloc and its allies in the Palestine Liberation Organization. This was too much for the radicals, and Riyad al-Turk led them into opposition. His faction was termed the Syrian Communist Party (Political Bureau) or Syrian Communist Party (Riyad al-Turk).

The 1980s: repression and split

During the early 1980s, the Syrian government clamped down on political activity and the Communist Party was subject to severe restrictions, despite its participation in the NPF. It was prevented from publishing its newspapers Nidhal ash-Sha'b ("The People's Struggle") and An-Nour ("The Light"), and its activities were closely monitored by the security services. It effectively operated underground throughout most of the 1980s, with membership lists a closely guarded secret.

In 1986, Bakdash and deputy secretary Yusuf Faisal differed over the policies of perestroika and glasnost adopted by Soviet Communist Party general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Faisal was supportive of Gorbachev's reforms, while Bakdash was opposed. This led to another split in the party, with many of the party's intellectuals leaving with Faisal while much of its Kurdish base remained supportive of Bakdash. Both factions retained the name "Syrian Communist Party" and continued to participate in the NPF.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and of so-called "really existing socialism" led to a considerable loss of support for the party. Apart from the obvious ideological problems that this posed, much of the attraction of communism had derived from the prestige of the Soviet Union as a major power which many in the Arab world saw as opposing United States imperialism and Israeli aggression in the Middle East.

Participation in current politics

SCP (Bakdash) 75th anniversary poster.

Khalid Bakdash died in 1995 and was succeeded as secretary of his party faction by his widow, Wisal Farha Bakdash. A separate faction later formed around Bakdash's son-in-law, Qadri Jamil, and his SCP newspaper, al-Qassioun. This group, called the National Committee for the Unity of the Syrian Communists, has no NPF participation, and does not portray itself as an independent political party.

Communists, especially of the banned SCP-Politbureau faction, played a prominent part in the Damascus Spring of 2000, and the Faysal and Bakdash parties were able to resume publishing the party newspapers Sawt al-Shaab (Bakdash) and al-Nour (Faisal). The two legal parties now follow a similar political line, harshly critical of United States policy in the Middle East and supportive of the government's foreign policy (this latter is effectively a requirement of NPF membership). At the same time, the Faisal faction in particular has called for democratic reforms and has strongly criticized maladministration and corruption as well as the liberal economic reforms implemented or proposed by the government in recent years. In the People's Council of Syria election on 22 April 2007, the two factions together were awarded 8 out of 250 seats in the parliament. (The elections are non-competitive, and the NPF allots seats on uncontested lists according to pre-election negotiations within the Front; in practice, the Baath Party has the final say over which parties will get which seats, since it has a constitutionally permanent majority within the NPF.)

In 2005, Riyad al-Turk's party, the SCP-Politbureau, changed its name to the Syrian Democratic People's Party (SDPP), marking its transition to democratic socialism rather than its previous old-line marxism-leninism; Turk also resigned as secretary-general, but remains the most well-known face of the party. The SDPP remains illegal, with members subject to monitoring and harassment, and sporadic arrests. It is active within the framework of the National Democratic Rally and the Damascus Declaration, two banned opposition coalitions.


  • 1924 Communist Party of Syria and Lebanon formed
  • 1954 Khalid Bakdash is the first communist to be elected to an Arab parliament.
  • 1973 "Political Bureau" group splits and forms separate party
  • 1986 Split led by Yusuf Faisal, forming third communist party
  • 1987 The CPS (Bagdash) is the second-largest legal political party in Syria [1].
  • 2004 The 80th anniversary of the foundation of the original CPS [2].

See also

External links



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