The Antinomies of Kassioun: The History of a Communist Organization in Syria, 1999-2015

This paper is concerned with a relatively small Syrian communist organization called Kassioun. It traces the history and evolution of Kassioun from an unlicensed organization (1999-2012) into a legal party (2012-2015), as well as the changing relations between Kassioun and the Syrian regime, on the one hand, and between Kassioun’s leadership and its members, on the other. In the first section, I chronicle Kassioun’s role in the struggle for inner-party democracy within the Syrian Communist Party – Bakdash between 1999 and 2003, and its emergence as an unlicensed organization following its split from the party in 2003.

In the second section, I explore the variable forms and limits of political practice under the newly established Bashar regime in the context of economic liberalization and geopolitical instability, and examine the ways in which Kassioun strategically formulated its political program, couching demands for economic and political reform in nationalist terms, so as to circumvent state repression.

In the third section, I demonstrate Kassiouns role as a vehicle for political action and education between 2000 and 2011. I then investigate the discord that arose between the leadership and dissident members of Kassioun as the leadership implemented disciplinary measures against members who carried out ‘transgressive’ and ‘unauthorized’ political actions prior to and following the 2011 Syrian Uprising.

Finally, in the last section, I broadly delineate Kassiouns transformation into a legal party called the People’s Will Party, its incorporation into the state’s apparatus, and its participation in international peace processes as the ‘internal opposition’ following the 2011 mass movement.

I further trace contentious defections of Kassioun’s members who, as seasoned communist militants, renounced the organization and sought to march a broad leftist movement within the ranks of the opposition under the banners of the Syrian Left Coalition, an umbrella body of young communist and leftist cadres, and the Syrian Revolutionary Youth, a leftist mass organization that was considerably active during the uprising.