Thursday, November 2, 2023

Turkey and the Socialist Revolution: Are We Chasing a Dream?

By Kemal Okuyan, TKP General Secretary 

October 2023 

The question “Do you really believe in revolution?” is probably not asked only to Turkish communists. 

It has been 32 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. We labeled the 20th century the era of transition from capitalism to socialism. In the last decade of that century and in the period that followed, we did not encounter even a single example that could mean “transition to socialism”. 

Class struggles continued and sometimes took very sharp forms in some countries; streets, factories, poor neighbourhoods were mobilised; there were exciting developments in Latin America; but when we look at the whole picture, there has not been a socialist breakthrough to which billions of people in the world who suffer from the current system turn with hope.

Therefore, the question “Do you really believe in revolution and socialism?” is a perfectly legitimate question, unless it is the product of the cynical insinuation of a liberal or a renegade.

What is even more interesting is that communists from different countries have started to ask this question to each other. I can say that I have personally received this question several times.

“Do you really think there will be a socialist revolution in Turkey?”

The emphasis on Turkey is undoubtedly important here. This question means, “Why do you pursue a goal that may be possible elsewhere, but impossible in Turkey as your main strategy?”

After all, Turkey is a NATO member that has been an outpost of the USA for years. It is a conservative society, which increases the degree of difficulty for socialism, on top of the serious weight of political Islam. We are talking about a system that has made a habit of suppressing the revolutionary movement through military coups, political murders and massacres. Despite all its efforts, the communist party cannot even reach 1 percent of the votes in the elections.

In such a country, why does TKP not set more realistic goals, but insistently talks about the actuality of the socialist revolution?

I will try to answer this question, but first I will make a moral point which I think is at least as valuable as a theoretical and political explanation.

“Do we seem like liars or hypocrites?…”

When working people in our own country ask us, with good intentions, whether we believe in revolution, we answer them with this counter-question.

This is extremely important because, in our opinion, if we did not believe in the actuality of the socialist revolution, the communist party would have become redundant. As we always say, the struggle for peace, for democracy, for human rights is very important, but there is no need for a communist party or to be a communist only for these.

Yes, we do believe in socialist revolution. Or we do believe in the socialist revolution in Turkey.

There is a moral aspect to it, but that’s not all.

Let us first talk a little about the objective conditions. When the Turkish Republic was first founded, one of the problems of our country was the underdevelopment of capitalism. The working class was small in number, and although we were next to Soviet Russia, the material conditions for an organisation that would bring the war of liberation against imperialist occupation to socialism were very weak. It was almost impossible for the communists to become the hegemonic force in the 1920s, despite their rapidly growing popularity in Anatolia.

However, for a long time now, the main problem of Turkey has become the capitalism itself. In other words, the problem is no longer that capitalism is not developing, but that it has developed too much.

It is absurd to consider Turkey as a backward country, especially to place Turkey in a position between the third and second group in that triadic classification which sometimes caused serious mistakes in the Comintern.

In any case, it is now more useful to avoid such classifications. Capitalism has ruled the world for too long. Yes, we can still use the adjective “backward” for some countries, but we cannot evaluate the world with the criteria of the 1930s. As for Turkey, certainly never…

There are enough proletarians in Turkey to lead a revolutionary transformation. We can say that the working classes have a balanced structure in terms of manual and mental labour and in terms of basic sectors.

Turkey has left behind a serious industrialisation process and has an infrastructure that cannot be underestimated. In addition to the deep-rooted problems stemming from capitalism, the Turkish economy, which has self-sufficient resources in agriculture, has only one problem of energy dependency. Nevertheless, it is a fact that there are resources that can reduce the severity of this problem which are not being utilised today.

Therefore, from a purely objective point of view, Turkey has the class base necessary for a revolution and the material and human resources necessary for a socialist foundation.

And Turkey is an extremely unstable country. Stability is a relative concept. But we know that stability is a great guarantee for the bourgeoisie in the capitalist world. Economic and political stability means the continuation of the ability of capital to rule the working people. In this sense, the bourgeois dictatorship in Turkey has no chance. The country is built on fault lines that cannot be repaired economically, politically and ideologically.

In this sense, it would be highly misleading to reduce Turkey solely to a strong state and a society shaped by religion.

In Turkey, serious social contradictions and partisanships, which also affect the state itself, have never been absent.

We know that socialist revolutions do not arise from the labour-capital contradiction in the simple sense. Moreover, no revolutionary upsurge bears a “socialist” character from the very beginning. The underlying cause is of course always class contradictions, but they are triggered either by a war, a major legal scandal or corruption. Sometimes a political murder leads to the opposite result and a popular movement emerges while the rulers would never expect.

Turkey is a country that always bears surprises in this respect. The possibility of sudden developments, often unpleasant but sometimes exciting and hopeful, is of course a possibility from a revolutionary perspective.

We can easily say that Turkey, with its population, economy, proletariat, intellectuals, geographical position and of course its endless contradictions, is objectively prone to a revolutionary upheaval.

Maybe this concept has been forgotten, but Turkey is one of the weak links in the imperialist chain.

Then, we can move on to answering the question “whether we believe in socialist revolution in Turkey” in terms of the subjective factor.

From our point of view, the main issue is simply this: In the case of a revolutionary upsurge in Turkey, what should we be doing today in order not to miss such a historical opportunity?

Firstly, it is necessary to avoid the fantasy that revolutions can be the result of the linear growth of the working class movement and its vanguard, the communists. This is a fantasy because it is based on the assumption that the struggle for socialism consists of successive and predictable steps.

In reality, however, the struggle for socialism means preparing with a realistic and revolutionary perspective for sudden developments that cannot be known in advance. We cannot predict the developments in all their dimensions in advance, but we can determine at which points the contradictions will accumulate in each country, which sections of the society have which ideological-political sensitivities and we can position ourselves accordingly.

The indispensable thing here is to organise and take root in the working class. However, we should be careful to ensure that so-called organisation and rooting does not have the character of binding the masses of workers to the status quo, as we saw most tragically in Germany before 1914.

This is not as easy as it seems. It should be very clear that the ongoing struggles and organisations around the current needs and demands of the working class, especially wages, do not necessarily mean a school for revolution. On the contrary, we have painfully seen in more than one example that current gains can in fact immobilise both the working masses and its vanguard party in the conditions of a revolutionary objectivity.

Communist parties should not enter a conjuncture in which the revolution is on the rise with burdens that will make it cumbersome. Although TKP attaches great importance to electoral success and the strength in the trade union, it acts without forgetting the fact that the positions obtained here, when the necessary ideological-political rigour is not shown, bind the workers’ movement (often without being aware of it) to the system.

We do not act with the simplicity of hiding behind the Bolshevik experiment. It is true that the Bolsheviks increased their influence from the end of 1916 to October 1917 with a speed that no one expected. In this sense the proposition “the Bolsheviks were also a small party…” is of course based on a historical fact. However, as long as it stands alone, this proposition leads us into error. Smallness and greatness are relative concepts. The Bolsheviks were rapidly increasing their influence not only in 1917 but also before the beginning of the war. Not to mention the tremendous political and organisational work after 1903, with its ups and downs.

Therefore, to remain inactive for years and say “the Bolsheviks were small” is self-deception.

But this is also a fact: The Bolsheviks never tested themselves within the institutions of the existing social system. They had their own criteria. Some elements of the preparatory period have been very prominent in historiography, others have been downplayed. But we know that while all other political movements were concerned with “small” calculations in the “big” world of the bourgeoisie, the Bolshevik Party had its own agenda, and in this sense they were playing a “game” that looked childish from the outside.

Then that great politics rolled into the dustbin of history, it became apparent that the Bolsheviks were not playing a game, on the contrary, they attempted a very big job and succeeded.

The TKP has no intention of imitating the Bolsheviks. But it is important for us to understand the Bolsheviks and the successful or near successful examples that came after them.

The revolutionary movement in Turkey has no chance of achieving success by making one two, two three, with a linear growth, with an arithmetical increase. Despite its conservative appearance, Turkey is a country where political and ideological balances can change very, very quickly. In this country, what is more valuable than numbers and quantities is to settle at the right points of intervention and make interventions in the right direction.

TKP is striving for this.

Undoubtedly, TKP feels the pressure of the criteria of success that is valid in bourgeois politics, under conditions in which a revolutionary uprising does not make itself felt at all and the broad masses are far from the political and ideological energy necessary to change this social order. There is a very well-intentioned expectation among those who appeal to us for the sake of popularity, visibility, parliamentary representation and for the expectation that we could exist on the same plane with bourgeois politics. They want to see concretely the success of the party they believe in and embrace.

The problem here is not only the possibility that bourgeois institutions, if not vigilant enough, can lead a communist party away from revolutionary values. What is more dangerous is the possibility that a communist party that begins to appeal to the average expectation in society will be determined by that average and take on an ideological and political character in accordance with it.

It is important to remember that each country has a different political climate in this respect. In Turkey, where class consciousness follows an extremely fluctuating course, we must not forget that only a very limited section of the working class has a permanent, unchanging revolutionary position. Knowing that early massification processes can harm our historical missions does not mean being afraid of organising and growing. But we can still say that we can make adjustments by utilising the accumulation of Marxism-Leninism to determine the most appropriate scale according to the situation of social dynamics.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about those who put the “democratic revolution” or a democratisation process that will be spread over a long period of time as a revolutionary stage before the socialist revolution in Turkey.

The debate on “national democratic revolution” and “socialist revolution” had been the most important issue in the Turkish left for almost the entire 1960s and 70s. The trivialisation of this debate over time was the result of a significant part of the left explicitly or implicitly abandoning the idea of “revolution”. Today, there are very few people in Turkey who openly pursue a strategy of “democratic revolution”.

TKP defended the “socialist revolution strategy” very decisively in these debates. We have defended for years that labelling the perspective of socialist revolution with “Trotskyism” ultimately means servicing Trotskyism. In fact, as a party “representing the Stalin tradition”, this position of ours was considered quite interesting until recently.

As I said, nowadays this debate has lost its former importance. But the idea that Turkey must first achieve “democracy” has never changed.

There are also those who think that Turkey must be “independent” before socialism.

We know that those who say democracy first often appeal to Lenin. I don’t want to go into details here, but the following is forgotten: Lenin’s writings on the “democratic revolution” were written when bourgeois revolutions were still an objective reality in Russia and in many other countries. As an objective fact, independent from the strategy of the Bolsheviks, bourgeois revolutions were a reality. 

This period is completely closed. In Lenin’s thought, the strategic task of building bourgeois democracy had never existed, but the processes of bourgeois revolution complicated the issue and the labour movement had to relate to these processes. After the period of bourgeois revolutions has closed, the relation of the communist parties to the building of democracy can only be considered in the context of socialist democracy.

The idea of an independent Turkey prioritising socialism poses an even bigger problem. The demand for independence in Turkey has always been on the agenda of communists. TKP not only emphasised the difference between working class patriotism and nationalism, but also made theoretical interventions that deepened this difference.

However, in today’s world, under capitalism, it is not possible for a country to be “independent”. By “independent”, of course, we do not mean “isolated”. “Independence” is the ability of a country to determine its political, economic and cultural preferences and decisions in line with its own internal dynamics. In this sense, independence should be considered together with the concept of sovereignty.

While the domination of the international monopolies prevails, all capitalist countries produce dependence on this international system, and this is in fact an all-encompassing dependence. It is obvious that the goal of becoming “independent” without overthrowing capitalism will serve no other purpose than for that country to climb up the imperialist hierarchy. It is unthinkable for communists to be part of such a goal.

What remains is the idea of Turkey’s democratisation, if not a revolutionary stage. For a while this was identified with Turkey’s membership of the European Union. TKP opposed this idea very strongly, almost alone on the left. “We know what the EU is, but even the freedoms within the EU are very valuable for us,” the liberal leftists were saying.

What they did not get was that there was no better, or more tolerant capitalist class in Europe. The continent was characterised by strong democratic mass movements and the historical emergence of the working class. Add to this the privileged position of the main European countries in the imperialist system, and it was not surprising that the working masses enjoyed relatively greater rights.

However, recent history has shown how fragile these rights are. The slightest hitch in the bourgeoisie’s ability to rule and the deepening of the economic crises would shatter all the gilding of “European democracy”. It is natural that the first thing that comes to mind is German fascism, but we all know that Germany of 1933-45 is only a chapter in a bloody history.

Today, the bourgeois democracies in North America and Europe are the countries where bourgeois dictatorships have been the most fortified. Not only because they use the carrot well; but in these countries the stick in the hands of the capitalist class is also very strong.

Those who think that the transition from the carrot to the stick is the product of the excesses of communists or other revolutionaries are seriously mistaken. It is akin to attributing Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 to the “left” policies of the KPD. Of course, the KPD can be criticised not because it acted with revolutionary aims, but because it was not sufficiently prepared and could not be effective.

Fascism is anti-communism in any case, and in this sense every revolutionary upsurge carries the risk of a counter-revolution within. However, a tangible threat of socialism is not at all necessary for the bourgeoisie to restrict freedoms. Phenomena such as increased repression, wars and fascism are the product of the crisis dynamics of capitalism. In this context, in order to manage social discontent (even in the absence of a revolutionary tendency), it is possible for them to narrow the scope of bourgeois democracy, or even to want to abolish it altogether.

In any case, communists cannot act with the strategy of not frightening the bourgeoisie! Timing, not making early and empty moves, calculating the balance of forces well are important, but we will not give up the revolution to save “democracy”.

In any case, a revolutionary upsurge cannot be our strategic choice. It is an objective fact. It is our choice and duty to carry that rise to socialism. Avoiding this mission means not only missing a historical opportunity, but it can also mean paving the way for fascism.

TKP rejects the approach “let democracy come to Turkey first”. Which democracy? What is democracy? We retain the right to ask questions such as these. And more importantly, we think that the struggle for democracy will only have meaning when it is dependent on the goal of socialism and is an extension of it. We never give up our thesis that a developed and stable “bourgeois democracy” will not serve the liberation of Turkey from the hell of capitalism, on the contrary, it will make the capitalist system more fortified. 

Fortunately, this is impossible. Fortunately, the barbarism called capitalism cannot normalise in Turkey and it is constantly in trouble. 

This is our approach. Therefore, comrades, do not ask us “Do you really believe in the socialist revolution in Turkey?”. The question “What are you doing today for the socialist revolution?” will excite us more, and we will learn more from each other in the discussions we will have on this axis.