Third World War Theses and Elif Çağlı


As early as 2002, while the USA was preparing for the invasion of Iraq, and following the invasion in 2003, Elif Çağlı explained in her articles that, with the end of the bipolar world conditions, the imperialist system was facing a new power struggle for re-division of the world. She pointed out that the USA embarked on a number of invasions in the name of “war against terrorism” for the purpose of retaining its hegemonic position, which it had gained in the aftermath of the Second World War but could no longer maintain with the same ease.



Following the atrocities in Paris, Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, used the term “Third World War” in his statement about the event. Since last year, the Pope has stated on multiple occasions that there is an ongoing Third World War. Within the ranks of the bourgeoisie, the Pope is not alone in calling the ongoing process “Third World War”. An increasing number of bourgeois politicians, writers and scholars recognise that there is an ongoing Third World War. Similarly, an ever-growing number of people among socialist circles and the Kurdish national movement speak of an ongoing Third World War. Abdullah Öcalan and Selahattin Demirtaş, the former in recent years and the latter in recent months, pointed to an ongoing Third World War on several occasions, joining the ranks of those using the term.

As early as 2002, while the USA was preparing for the invasion of Iraq, and following the invasion in 2003, Elif Çağlı explained in her articles that, with the end of the bipolar world conditions, the imperialist system was facing a new power struggle for re-division of the world. She pointed out that the USA embarked on a number of invasions in the name of “war against terrorism” for the purpose of retaining its hegemonic position, which it had gained in the aftermath of the Second World War but could no longer maintain with the same ease.

In her analyses following Al Qaeda’s bomb attacks in Istanbul and European cities in 2003 and 2004, she remarked that these atrocities were more than mere “terror attacks” as they could not be abstracted from the process of imperialist war for re-division of the world, anticipating, rightly, that such bombings would become an increasingly widespread instrument in the imperialist war. History vindicated the analyses and the predictions made by Çağlı regarding atrocities that started with the September 11 attacks and continued with sensational bombings in 2003.

Çağlı also anticipated that the struggle for re-division, which had begun with the civil war in Yugoslavia, could spread to Middle-Eastern countries such as Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Libya. Analysing the reason underlying the need for structural transformation of the Middle East on the part of imperialist system, Çağlı used cautious language in her articles written in those years using the expression “virtually a Third World War”. However, in her articles written in 2005 and 2007, years before those who have recently come to the same conclusion, she explained that the Third World War was proceeding in its peculiar forms.

Dating back to 13 years ago and vindicated by history, Çağlı’s analyses owe their insights to nothing else than the illuminating beacon and the powerful scientific guidance provided by Marxism. Before going on with Çağlı’s analyses, it may be relevant and worthwhile to examine the term “World War”.

What does “World War” mean?

Since the Second World War, there have been countless local wars, military coups, national revolts, and civil wars. All these conflicts became battlegrounds where global powers vie for dominance in the background. Under conditions of bipolar world order, with the USSR standing on one side, such power struggles were of significance in terms of shaping of the spheres of influence. But, throughout this “cold war”, based on a nuclear stalemate, such struggles for hegemony were never called “world war”.

At first sight, the most important common characteristic of world wars seems to be the high number of belligerents, which, in fact, is illusive. What turns the war into a “world war” is not the number of belligerents or casualties. For instance, in the case of the Korean War (1950-53), leaving 3 million people dead, 16 countries took part in the war directly with their armed forces, with the USA and the UK being at the forefront on the side of South Korea, while another 11 involved indirectly by providing logistic support. On the other side, China and the USSR took sides with North Korea with their armed forces, supported by another 7 countries that involved indirectly. During the Korean War, belligerent countries did not declare war directly against one another, refraining from spreading the war outside of Korea. Thus, this war, involving major powers along with many other states that they dragged, was not defined as “world war”.

The First and the Second Imperialist Wars of Re-division, on the other hand, were defined as “world war”, as the course and the results of each war would affect all countries, no matter they were belligerent or neutral. In other words, they were to shape the future of the world. Indeed, world wars led to redrawing of maps in some regions, regime changes in many countries, reshaping of spheres of influence by imperialist powers, and restructuring of international relations on the basis of balance of power.

The most important common feature that characterised two world wars was the presence of a crisis of hegemony in the imperialist hierarchy. As pointed out by Lenin, by the beginning of the 20th century, the territorial partitioning of the world among imperialist powers was complete. England and France, with their long-standing colonial empires, were not the absolute hegemonic powers of the imperialist system. Rising at an accelerating speed, German and American capitals were in pursuit of bigger slices from world’s natural resources, markets and areas of investment. There was no question of English and French capital standing aside from the colonies they exploited. Nor was it acceptable for German capital to content itself with the existing markets at its disposal. A war was inevitable for both re-division and bringing a solution to the crisis of hegemony.

Under the pressure of the October Revolution of 1917, imperialist powers were forced to put an end to the First World War. The hope for a world free of war and exploitation was finding an echo amongst deprived masses. Toiling masses, sent to the front to fall victim to the slaughter, were gathering under the banner of world revolution in ever-increasing numbers. The imperialist war was, thus, no longer “sustainable”. Indeed, in the aftermath of the war, capitalist states would find themselves facing the blazing flames of proletarian revolts. Although the crisis of hegemony within the imperialist system remained unsolved, capitalists halted their infighting so that they could have a free hand to crush workers’ revolutions. In a number of countries, proletarian revolutions ended in defeat. The revolutionary storm that started in 1917 and swayed Europe and the world calmed down completely with the suppression of the Spanish Revolution in 1936, removing the final barrier standing on the road to the Second World War. Preparations for war were gathering speed, accompanied by a monstrous reactionary political climate. With all global powers taking their sides, the Spanish Civil War, fought until 1939 between the fascist and republican fronts, turned into a dress rehearsal for the Second World War.

Following the Second World War, the crisis of hegemony within the imperialist-capitalist system was resolved. The true victor of the war was the USA which exerted its authority towards the end of the war. It became the indisputable hegemonic power of the capitalist world owing to its production capacity, financial strength, and nuclear weapons. US capital now accounted for nearly half of world’s production. Deterrence of atom bombs and the financial and political support provided by the USA for the reconstruction of war-ravaged Europe and against the “threat of communism” led most of the capitalist states to submission to US hegemony.

Another major victor was the USSR. In the aftermath of the Second World War, as had been seen following the First World War, the masses were filled with a righteous indignation against capitalism. Taking up arms and joining the Partisan resistance in the areas invaded by Germany, toiling masses created a revolutionary situation across Europe. The victors of the war, on the other side, were confronted with the problem of preventing workers’ revolutions and disarming the workers and peasants who took up arms against fascism. The role to be played by the USSR under the rule of Stalinist bureaucracy was to put an end to the revolutionary situation in the countries to the east of Berlin, saved from Hitler’s armies by Red Army, to disarm the population and to form bureaucratic regimes like the one in Russia. Stalinist bureaucracy also instructed the communist parties in the countries to the west of Berlin, which were entered by British and US armies, to convince the population to lay down their arms. The capitalist regimes in the countries to the west of Berlin were assisted by the USA to regain stability.   

With the capitalist bloc led by the USA and the so-called “socialist” bloc led by the USSR under the rule of bureaucracies, bipolar world conditions determined the course of history since the end of the Second World War until 1990. The USA remained the indisputable hegemonic power in the capitalist world until the USSR ceased to be a potential threat in 1990s. With the turn of the ruling bureaucracies of the USSR, China and the other Eastern European countries toward capitalist restoration, “the bogey of communism” evaporated and the role of the USA and NATO began to be questioned. Even though the USA was still the world’s largest economy in the early 1990s, the law of combined and uneven development had done its work. Once lagging behind the USA, the other capitalist economies made enormous progress, showing much higher growth rates as compared to that of the US capitalism. The USA, accounting for almost half of total global output in 1945, was now reduced to 20%. The imperialist powers such as Germany and France, the motor forces of the European Union, were now speaking out more loudly against a unipolar world led by the USA and for a multipolar one where they would have more say. After the turn of the century, Russia, leaving behind the period of collapse and disintegration in 1990s, entered upon the stage of the imperialist struggle for hegemony as a powerful player. In the mean time, new powerful rivals with fast growing economies, the leading ones being China, India and Brasil, and including Turkey, joined the game. 

Under capitalism any given equilibrium has a temporary character, with instability turning into stability and vice versa. Now the equilibrium established after the Second World War has long disappeared. On the part of the imperialist-capitalist system, the 21st century turned out to be a chaotic era characterised by the crisis of hegemony, economic recession and collapse, exacerbating competition, and struggle for re-division. With its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq aimed at maintaining its hegemony, the USA, perceived not as an omnipotent power anymore, started a new age of wars. Notions such as “struggle against international terrorism”, “preventive war”, “clash of civilizations” have become the ideological arguments of the imperialist war. Now, the same pretexts are used by both Russia and the USA, with the former carrying out operations in Ukraine, annexing Crimea or involving in the war in Syria, while the latter bombs Afghanistan or invades Iraq. And the same applies to others such as France carrying out operations in Libya.

The distinctive features of the Third World War

Military technology directly determines the way in which wars are fought. The First World War was essentially a series of battles fought on fronts, primarily with rifles and artillery in the form of trench warfare. Naval vessels were mainly used to land troops on shore and to open artillery fire from batteries mounted on vessels. Planes, few in number and carrying only light weapons, were mostly used for scouting purposes. Putting aside the casualties due to indirect effects of the war including hunger, famine and epidemics, the vast majority of casualties of the First World War occurred in the trenches, on battlegrounds and fronts.

What determined the way in which the Second World War was fought were tank, aircraft and submarine technologies. German tanks, assisted by bombing-planes, invaded almost the whole of Europe by the end of the first year of the war. For the troops based behind the trenches, it was impossible to resist the attacks of bombing planes and tanks equipped with heavy weapons. They were rather confronting each other in narrow streets of cities where tanks had difficulty in manoeuvring. As examples of this, one can mention the Partisan resistance in European cities invaded by Germany or the Battle of Stalingrad where the armies of Germany and Russia fought street-to-street. Cities, industrial plants and other civilian targets were subjected to heavy bombardments by enemy aircrafts. Therefore, the number of civilian casualties in the Second World War far exceeded those in the First World War. Furthermore, the atomic bombs that the USA dropped on Japan marked the beginning of a new phase in military technology. In the early years after the war, major powers, with USA and USSR being at the forefront, developed nuclear weapons. These were a thousand-fold more powerful than atomic bombs which had already had the capacity to raze a city to the ground. It was for this reason that the equilibrium established between the opposite poles during the “Cold War” was called “balance of terror”.

Any direct war between the countries armed with nuclear weapons involves the danger of nuclear war, which is not preferable to the capitalist class. The potential consequences of a small-scale use of nuclear weapons are terrifying even to capitalists. No traces of workforce or of investment and market would remain in an area destroyed by nuclear bombs. Moreover, radioactive fallout would make it impossible to re-enter the area subjected to nuclear attack and even to use natural resources. A potential nuclear war between global powers has the capacity to annihilate not only the human life but also the total environment on the planet. Therefore, since 1945, imperialist states have always avoided using their nuclear weapons directly against each other and entering into a total war after an open declaration of war against each other. Instead, they used their nuclear weapons as an instrument of deterrence by means of shows of strength in the form of nuclear weapon tests. But, although the nuclear war remains the “last option” for imperialists, there is no guarantee that it will never happen.

Briefly stated, imperialist rivals have so far refrained from declaring open war against each other, largely due to the fact that in the event of a nuclear war, there would remain no world ready to be re-divided by them. However, struggle for hegemony and re-division among imperialist powers continues full steam ahead. One needs no crystal ball to foresee that the Third World War, which has a prolonged character, will continue for many more years. The process of the Third World War is the combined total of a series of wars and conflicts continuing in different countries in an interrelated manner, military operations, bombing atrocities in the heartlands of imperialist powers, military coups, political assassinations, and so on. The picture of the Third World War appears more clearly if we list the most remarkable and outstanding examples as follows:

·                     Countries divided along ethnic lines through imperialist interventions, as seen in the cases of Yugoslavia and Ukraine,

·                     Imperialist interventions in different countries under the guise of “coloured revolutions”,

·                     Attempts to form regimes in tune with imperialist interests through imperialist occupations and military operations as seen in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya,

·                     Civil wars in countries such as Libya which are de facto partitioned between local forces that act as proxies of imperialist powers,

·                     Restoration of the old regime in Egypt via a military coup (rival imperialist power centres involved in this process in different forms),

·                     The military intervention in Yemen by the Gulf states around the Saudi-axis (the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia led to a civil war in Yemen, fought on sectarian lines, followed by the imperialist intervention by the coalition of the Gulf states around the Saudi-axis),

·                     The attacks carried out by jihadist organisations such as Al Qaeda, which are fabricated under the control of imperialist power centres, but after a while, claimed to have become “uncontrollable”, and whose actions are unpredictable, for one never knows whom they will serve under whose influence and guidance,

·                     The utilisation of tens of jihadist gangs, large and small, as hitmen by regional powers such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia and some Arab capitalist circles,

·                     The battlefield of Syria, where the imperialist war has reached its highest level of intensity with 14 different countries conducting military operations.                       

·                     Involvement of Iran in the conflicts in Syria and Lebanon via Hezbollah,

·                     Atrocities committed by ISIS and its derivatives in many countries, stretching from Caucasus to Nigeria, that play into the hands of imperialists who seek to prepare the ground for military interventions, destabilise this or that region and bring the local powers under their control.

·                     Explosions and bombings in tens of cities, from New York to Madrid, Istanbul and Paris, starting with September 11, along with downing of passenger planes,

·                     Downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey near the Turkish-Syrian border and the subsequent escalation of tension followed by sanctions,

·                     War governments in many countries stretching from Turkey to France, which become increasingly authoritarian, militaristic, putting democracy on ice,

·                     The tragedy of refugees numbering tens of millions, and the blackmailing and horse-trading conducted on their backs,

When one looks at the most outstanding items on the extraordinarily intense domestic and international agenda, it would be seen that they are all, in one way or another, related to the process of the Third World War. Furthermore, the questions inherited from the past, such as the ones in Cyprus and Palestine or the Kurdish question, having become jointed to the process of imperialist war, are getting part of the rivalries among global and regional imperialist powers. Precisely for this reason, the dynamics of any of these conflicts cannot be properly analysed, unless they are put in their right places in the general picture of the Third World War. Failure in properly grasping the reality of the Third World War may lead to a failure in placing the Paris atrocities in the context of the imperialist war, and even giving credence to bourgeois propaganda which presents the incidence as “assault on freedom and democracy”. Unfortunately, interpretations of this kind are widespread among the socialist movement as well.

Scientific analysis is indispensable in order to produce the revolutionary policy of the working class. It cannot be produced by those who fail to grasp the true nature of the state-led war against the Kurds in their attempt to confine it to the narrow context of Erdoğan’s electoral ambitions. Nor can it be developed by those who explain Turkey’s imperialist ambitions towards Syria with Erdoğan’s supposed “Islamism”, lacking a clear perspective to categorically confront these ambitions. To be able to pursue the revolutionary policy of the working class, one needs, above all, to be illuminated by the light of Marxism. 

Extracts from Elif Çağlı’s analyses of the process of imperialist war

It is of particular importance to analyse the characteristic features of an ongoing historical period by using Marxism’s method of scientific analysis and to undertake political tasks necessitated by proletarian revolutionary struggle, without getting lost in the details of day-to-day events. Unfortunately, not many communist leaders undertook this task thoroughly in the history of socialist struggle.

Possessing historical importance, Elif Çağlı’s analyses also contain remarks on the process of imperialist war.

“After the collapse of the Soviet Union the imperialist powers gave the impression that they could resolve disputes between themselves on the diplomatic table and thus give a new shape to the world. As a matter of fact this was nothing more than hollow propaganda which is contrary to the nature of the imperialist system. The US had already started to prepare the way for big clashes following the collapse of the Soviet Union and other bureaucratic regimes. These countries, including China, took to the road of capitalism. This meant preparing for a new division of spheres of influence that had been shaped according to old power balances, above all by the existence of the Soviet Union. Once again Marxism, which the bourgeois ideologues were at great pains to bury, foretold what was to come: on the basis of imperialism, there is no other future than imperialist wars for re-division!” (E.Çağlı, Mobilise Against Imperialist War and Capitalism!, 25 March 2003)

“While the reformists and pacifists were comforting themselves with the illusion of a «peaceful imperialism» during those years, US imperialism was working on «horror» scenarios to give a new shape to the post-cold war world under its own hegemony. US imperialism is preparing to drag the whole world into a long period of wars, repression and darkness. Thus it is not for nothing that a leading ideologue of American imperialism like Richard Perle is called «prince of darkness». While the end of cold war made all philistines, who could not understand the nature of the imperialist system, dizzy with dreams of «peace», the US was taking the first steps into a new period of hot wars. And this Iraq war is not the first example of this. Shall we forget the wars staged by imperialist powers since the beginning of the 1990s? The first Gulf War, a series of wars in the Balkans and throughout different countries of Africa which trampled underfoot the poor masses and caused the deaths of millions of people.” (E.Çağlı, Ibid.)

“Although after the collapse of the Soviet Union the US appeared to be the only super power with no rivals, this «honeymoon» has now come to an end. The USA, which is on the top of the world capitalist system, is obsessed with making this declining system grow once more and with not losing its supremacy in a world that is to be rearranged by means of bombs.

(...) Although there is no power as yet looming large in front of us which will confront the US (thus she is now called a «hyper power» rather than a super power), it is apparent that the new conjuncture we have entered is pregnant with big convulsions. To maintain its hegemony in such a world necessitates taking hold of new strategic points with a prompt attack before any rivals of the new period get prepared. The new period of aggression proclaimed by American imperialism particularly after September 11 is the beginning of a brutal and bloody re-division war that will shape the “new world order”. In this way it resembles the beginning of a third world war.” (E.Çağlı, Ibid.)

In a series of articles written in 2002 and 2003, Çağlı anticipated correctly that the new world order would be characterised by prolonged structural crises, economic crises, imperialist wars and regional conflicts for hegemony. In her 2007 article Capitalism in Decay, she underlined that the ongoing Third World War would be different from the previous two world wars.

“When the flames of the hell of imperialist war burned European countries, these periods were named as the First and the Second World Wars. Today, however, imperialist powers confront each other through setting fire to the regions that are being carved up into spheres of influence. This is the current form of the Third World War, which has been long begun. We cannot foretell how the battlefield would expand. But one point is clear: today’s rising imperialist powers, Russia and China, will become more and more involved in conflicts in the regions subjected to re-division. In pursuit of hegemony, rivalries between competing powers will bring about emergence of new imperialist blocs, accompanied by conflicts with escalating levels of tension between these blocs.”

“It is common knowledge that the means and methods of warfare have changed in the course of history. Therefore, it is clear that the new world war will not be a replica of any of the two previous imperialist re-division wars. This is a point of utmost importance. Either out of falling into error or perhaps in an attempt to make deliberate distortion, some view the hell of war as a temporary phenomenon, despite the fact that it is happening right in front of their eyes and showing a clear tendency to expand. Yet, the world has already entered in a period of a multilateral global confrontation involving the old imperialist powers such as the USA, the EU and Japan, and the rising imperialist powers like Russia and China. As may be remembered, the period covering the First and the Second World Wars witnessed the meteoric rise of the US imperialism, while European countries were fighting one another for hegemony. What put an end to this period was the emergence of the USA as the indisputable hegemon of the imperialist-capitalist system.”

“However, under the altered conditions of today, the ending of global-scale hegemonic wars will not be a simple repetition of the past. Stalemates, unending disputes may lead to a chaotic situation which may last long. However, it should not be the primary concern of workers to preoccupy themselves with the question of which imperialist power would prevail at the end of this chaotic situation. The fundamental point is to overthrow imperialist-capitalist system once and for all, not to debate over in which forms it will continue its existence. Only workers’ revolutions can offer the way out of the chaotic atmosphere of the period of imperialist wars which show a tendency to expand.” (E.Çağlı, Çürüyen Kapitalizm [Capitalism in Decay], 29 November 2007)

As the way out of the current and potential disasters caused by the Third World War, Elif Çağlı points to the revolutionary potential of the world working class and its historic mission to emancipate humankind, calling on vanguard workers to join the ranks of the organised struggle:  

“It appears that the Third World War will be the final link in the chain of imperialist wars; for either capitalism will lead to the total destruction of mankind, or the organised revolutionary proletariat will emancipate humanity by sweeping capitalism away. Due to the ongoing tumult and pessimism caused by the unorganised state of the masses the possibility of a positive solution to burning problems is yet to be clearly perceived. However, one must know that history has set before us problems whose solutions are pretty much possible as long as one wishes. The world working class has the historical capacity to defeat this all-out attack of imperialist-capitalism that drags the humanity into the abyss. This monumental potential awaits transformation into actual force through revolutionary consciousness and organising, which will change the fate of the world in favour of its poor and innocent masses.” (E. Çağlı, Kapitalizmin Hal ve Gidişatı [Current State and Prospects of Capitalism], 25 March 2008)