It has been long since first debates among Marxists over the question of imperialism took place at the beginning of twentieth century. But traces of different tendencies and some misconceptions that emerged in these debates can be felt even today despite the fact that so many events and important transformations took place in the meantime. For instance, a great majority of colonial countries that set the background for the debates on colonialism and national independence gained their national independence and established their own nation-states. However, no ideological and political clarity has been reached within Marxist ranks over these developments which occurred especially after the Second World War. The subject has been distorted in the sense that the kind of “dependence” based on unequal relationships of the imperialist system has been identified almost with the dependence of colonies to colonialist countries.
On 13 May capitalist system of exploitation has taken lives of around 300 workers in a coal mine “accident” in Soma, a town in western Turkey. There are unknown number of workers still trapped in the mine. This is the biggest massacre of workers in the form of “work accident” in the history of Turkey. The technical reason for the incident is still unknown. But for some reason a fire erupted in the mine and it is still ongoing, producing carbon monoxide with the fatal effect of poisoning the miners.
The leaders of Marxism emphasized that the emancipation of opressed and poor people is not a matter of an intelligence work but a matter of a historical struggle. For communists, the central issue is to change the world in a revolutionary way, rather than limiting themselves to interpretation of the current circumstances. The history of the world has already proved that such change can only be achieved by the revolutionary organisation and actions of the working class. In fact, successing a self-change by defeating one’s own weaknesses depends on the same conditions for all who want to join in revolutionary struggle. Without joining the organised life and action, nobody will be capable of overwhelming the petty-bourgeois inside!
The threat of destruction posed by capitalism arouses the crying need for a world without wars and exploitation, that is, socialism. Our struggle rises as an answer to this cry. And May Day is an opportunity for us to enthusiastically express our anger against capitalist system and aspiration for a socialist world.
The origins of the widely-used concept, “spirit of the age” go back to the German word “zeitgeist” which appeared in Hegel’s philosophical writings. The concept simply refers to a state of mind, feelings and mentality which characterize a particular period of time. Hegel took the period covering late 18th century and early 19th century as a new transition period and wrote that the distinctive characteristic of this era was essentially the “zeitgeist” initiated by the French Revolution of 1789. The Zeitgeist in those historical episodes pointed out by Hegel implies a transitional state of consciousness stretching from past to present. This state of consciousness is composed of a combination of existing social turmoil and future expectations.
The recent events erupted in Ukraine within the last months are simply one of the most blatant examples of ongoing processes in different parts of the world. These processes have a twofold character: Popular masses, having had enough with poverty, misery and corrupt regimes, rise as a result of their deep discontent against the situation they have been through, involve in protests and rebel. Nevertheless, bourgeois forces, taking advantage of the lack of any revolutionary alternatives seek to manipulate and make use of the tremendous energy of these masses for their own interests. This is a common feature of all developments from Libya to Syria, from Venezuela to Ukraine. While capitalist system, passing through a historical crisis and imperialist war, is unable to prevent the working classes from revolting, these social movements, on the other hand, cannot spontaneously develop into a socialist revolution.
Since the beginning he has become one of the symbols of the Gezi protests and news about his condition have always been of intense interest since he was hospitalized. News of his death has created a burst of anger causing numerous protests across the country. His funeral was a huge protest participated by hundreds of thousands of people. They expressed their anger at the AKP government and its police force. But the police did not hesitate to attack the funeral as well. Many people were wounded and arrested.
Turkey is shaken by a new political crisis. Ministers made resigned, sons of ministers imprisoned, state mechanism fragmented, disaccord between the government, judiciary and law enforcement, curses soaring from TV screens and public meetings, millions of dollars hidden in shoe boxes at homes, international money laundering traffic, Iranian connections, pro-government newspapers with stunning headlines saying “get off” to the US ambassador, etc. All this indicate a big political war in progress.
What should, then, Iranian, Turkish and Middle Eastern workers do? The working class should not be a part of the conflicts between the bourgeois, capitalist countries and imperialist powers and it also should not allow the polarization imposed by them to divide its own class ranks no matter in which country these workers inhabit. Workers of the Middle East and workers in the world in general, share the same destiny. The choice, here, for the workers of different countries is either to form independent class politics, unite on the basis of internationalism and take their destiny into their own hands or they will accept their fate and become the victims of imperial wars.
It is clear that the movement deserves detailed analyses from many respects and undoubtedly it will be done in the period ahead. We pointed out in the first days of the protests that what made a small scale resistance turn into a mass movement against the government was the reaction against impositions of the AKP, its authoritarianism and growing police terror. And we also pointed out in outlines the issues that we had examined in detail in our previous articles. Here we will point to the character of this movement that has become clearer as it developed, its vital deficiencies and illusions about it. We will undoubtedly examine in detail what the policy followed by AKP in general and Erdoğan in particular against the resistance points to and also basic issues such as the attempts of bourgeois opposition forces to make use of the movement in their own interests, the influences over the movement of the conflicts and rivalry within the bourgeoisie.
Within the context of debates on the national question, Lenin paid great attention to the distinction between just and unjust wars. It was indeed very important because of the war conditions of that period to make this distinction and a prerequisite for communists to take the right attitude against wars.
Now we have a big and dynamic mass that has been in a determined resistance action against state forces. Surely, there is the role played by socialist groups with various shades. But unless organised proletarian class movement gets in, this dynamic is faced with the danger of withering away or playing into the hands of nationalist powers like CHP which is the biggest anti-government political force around. In this context, advancing demands that directly concern the working class, involvement of trade-unions and workers in factories in an organised manner, organising strikes and other workplace actions etc. would be important steps forward. This kind of endeavour is also very important in terms of getting the broad masses that are still under AKP control involved in the process. One positive thing is the involvement of some religious people in Taksim actions, which is obviously not the case with the broad masses that are under AKP control. And the more Kemalists/nationalists are dominant the more it is difficult to accomplish this. Therefore it is very important to strengthen the proletarian class dynamic and not to let the toiling masses fall into the hands of Kemalists/nationalists.
Marxists like Bukharin and Pyatakov considered imperialism as “a system of foreign policy” and consequently took wrong political attitudes about national self-determination. In fact, they shared Lenin’s thought that the 20th century was the era of finance capital. But for Bukharin and Pyatakov, the concept of imperialism meant the “policy” pursued by finance capital.
From 1905 Lenin noticed that the Russian revolution gave an impetus to bourgeois democratic movements and national awakening in countries like Iran, Turkey and China. National awakening in colonial and semi-colonial countries was loaded with explosives for the world revolution. He considered the awakening in Asia and the rise in national liberation struggles in his articles at that time.
“Finance capital has created the epoch of monopolies, and monopolies introduce everywhere monopolist principles.” This is the briefest summary of 20th century. In imperialist epoch, it is possible neither to make a correct analysis of imperialism nor to develop an adequate anti-imperialism without taking into account the unequal but interdependent relations between countries at different levels of development. However, those Marxists who were carried away with the third-worldist tendency after The Second World War and especially in the 1960s sowed confusion about the inner laws of operation of the imperialist system.
Kautsky and the like who consider imperialism not as modern capitalism, but merely as one of the policies of it do not oppose imperialism as a system. For example Kautsky advocates a policy of opposing its annexation policy only, not imperialist economic process as a whole. This is a completely reformist and pacifist way of thinking and lays the ground for a false “anti-imperialism” understanding.
Because of capital’s need for overcoming national barriers in the imperialist epoch, monopolist competition has an international dimension. Major capitalist states compete with each other to establish their domination over sales markets, raw material markets and capital investment areas. Even if this competition is possible to carry on in a relatively peaceful manner in periods of boom, it becomes impossible in periods of big and deep crises. In such periods, struggle among imperialist states for hegemony over spheres of influence may turn into open wars for division. Imperialist wars are nothing more than continuation by military means of the policy of rivalry among imperialists.
To sum up; imperialism is the system of capitalist exploitation which is crowned by the domination of finance capital and is essentially embodied in the international expansionism of finance capital. The quality of imperialism has not been changed by the national liberation struggles that resulted in achievement of national independence in former colonial countries during the course of imperialist stage of capitalism. On the contrary, it indicates strikingly that what is crucial is the drive for economic hegemony in imperialist epoch.
One of the most striking characteristics of capitalism, as it was proceeding towards the imperialist stage, was the concentration of industrial capital in bigger companies with a high speed. Similarly, banking capital was also being concentrated in a small number of large-scale financial institutions.
The concept of colonial country refers to countries lacking political independence and directly depended on metropolitan country in political-legal terms. Metropolitan country has the complete right of sovereignty and the colonial country is absolutely dependent in politics, economy, diplomacy, military affairs, etc. And the concept semi-colony is only meaningful in comparison with the colonial status. It describes the countries which are in the middle of the road to being colonized, nearly at the point of losing political independence (for example, countries like Turkey, Iran, China at the beginning of 20th century).
Colonialism was the tendency to seize new lands, annex them in order to yoke them completely to the metropolitan country in both political and legal sense. So to say, this concept was used in the sense of appropriation of political rights, politic annexation, and elimination of political independence of the country which is under domination. But the world empire of finance capital, in fact means economic annexation; establishment of hegemony over weaker countries, and, on this basis, creation of spheres of influence under imperialist powers’ control.
The shift in the content of the export from developed capitalist countries to underdeveloped regions and colonies in Lenin’s period was very striking. It was inevitable that this new capitalist stage –which would become evident with the export of capital– would transform the colonialist relations of the former period. It is possible for the capital to squeeze more profits in backward countries compared to the developed capitalist countries.
Transformation of the tendency of capitalist expansionism from colonialism to imperialism involves a certain historical process. In the last period of this process a huge quantitative expansion in capitalist colonization is observed because of the reasons mentioned above. Thus, those years of formation of imperialist expansionism appear as if the peak of colonialist expansionism. This was just a transition period.
The word colony in European languages means place for settling in another country in order to tie it to the metropolitan country. And Colonialism means seizing new lands, colonialist expansion. Under capitalism, colonization was realized particularly in geographical discoveries and conquest of overseas lands in the period of commercial capitalism (mercantilism) between 16th and 18th century.
In From Colonialism to Imperialism Elif Çağlı examines the prevailing misconceptions of imperialism and their consequences which meant distortion of Marxism leading to crippling of proletarian revolutionary struggle. She demonstrates that this distortion starts with equating colonialism and imperialism and leads to separation of anti-imperialist struggle and struggle for proletarian revolution against capitalist system, to reduction of anti-imperialist struggle to a mere question of "national independence", to emergence of extremely false theories in the example of "neo-colonialism".
It is very important for the working class to support the oppressed Kurdish people to get the rightful demands of the strikers met, thus preventing any deaths as well, and help open a new page for a democratic-peaceful solution to the Kurdish question. The internationalist hand of the working class extended towards the Kurdish people will not only be an answer to the poisonous language of the rulers but also a great step for a genuine solution of this burning question that has claimed tens of thousands so far.