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Marxism and the Ideological Traditions of the Turkish Left

The period between 1960 and 1971 represents a very significant episode in the history of the left-wing movement in Turkey. Indeed, during this period, the socialist movement in Turkey opened itself to masses, leaving behind the protracted years that passed with silence and lack of organisation. Embracing intellectuals, youth and vanguard workers, it gained massive support for the first time in its history. In addition to the general upsurge of the left-wing movement, the 1960s also saw vigorous and intense debates on theoretical, political and organisational matters, to an extent unprecedented in the history of socialist movement in Turkey. In fact, theoretical and ideological foundations of various left-wing political organisations, which emerged throughout the period stretching from the 1960s to the collapse of the “socialist” system in the 1990s, can be traced back to the debates that took place between 1961 and 1971.

In subsequent years, numerous socialist circles and parties based their decision to organise separately on the ground that they had “different ideological and theoretical foundations.” It is true that these parties and circles had certain differences in terms of political tactics, notion of organisation and revolutionary activity. However, such differences were neither based on theoretical grounds nor ideologically irreconcilable. On the contrary, despite organisational differences, most of the left-wing political currents were sharing the same theoretical and ideological foundations to this or that extent, and they were well aware of this fact. The vast majority of the organisations, which described themselves as socialist, communist or revolutionary, were basing their political perspectives and future projections on the same “historical consciousness” and “conception of socialism”.

In general, this conception was based on the belief that “it is quite possible to establish a socialist society on national foundations”, as long as it is under the absolute authority of a state’s power just like in the Soviet Union and other “socialist” countries. Indeed, almost every socialist organisation that shared this belief envisioned more or less the same project for a socialist society: a world consisting of “socialist nation-states” separated by national borders. But on the other hand, it is plain that such a conception of “socialism” was not an original theory put forward by Turkey’s socialists. The original inventor of this conception was no one else than the Stalinist bureaucracy that ensconced itself at the top of the CPSU and the Soviet Union after Lenin’s death. In essence, the conception of “socialism within national borders” was a theoretical expression of the selfish interests of the bureaucracy, a rationalised formulation of the greed for power.

The TKP’s place in the history of the socialist movement

From 1920s until 1960s, the history of the left-wing movement in Turkey is essentially the history of the TKP (Communist Party of Turkey). For, the TKP was the only organised political representative of the left. For this reason, during this period, the left-wing movement imported Marxism through the TKP. Of course, this was a distorted, deformed “Marxism”. It was this “Marxism” that determined the ideological-theoretical foundations of the Turkey’s socialist movement until 1960s. From the very beginning, the minds of the cadres tending towards socialism were filled with dogmas of this “Marxism”. According to this dogmatic conception, “real socialism” was “completed and unchangeable”. Anyone daring to question such dogmas was being denounced as “the enemy of socialism”. Thus, Marxism was stripped of its revolutionary and critical essence, i.e. the source of its lifeblood. What took its place was a dead “Marxism” (official socialism) that had no tolerance for criticism.

For decades, Stalin was considered by the communist movement in Turkey as the only advocate and follower of the October Revolution and Bolshevism. In this sense, Stalinism was identified with Marxism-Leninism and sanctified. This identification continued until 1960s, without ever being questioned. All along this period, the communists of Turkey saw, or were taught to see, Stalin as “a great revolutionary”, “a principled leader” and “an orthodox follower of Leninism”. Could they ever believe that a person promoted in such a way was in fact an unprincipled realpolitiker who criminally revised Marxism? They were already inside a party, the TKP, which was isolated and withdrawn, miles away from realities, international relations. The cadres of TKP turned a deaf ear to the rumours that could shake their “faith”. Those who raised an opponent voice were denounced as “anti-Soviet”, “anti-communist” and, of course, “Trotskyite”, ending up as outcasts.

During this period, there were probably less than a handful of TKP cadres who had knowledge and understanding regarding the historical importance of the struggle waged by Leninist-Bolsheviks against Stalin’s faction in the USSR, the programme of Left Opposition or Trotsky’s ideas. The ideological sources of socialist cadres were probably limited to the official history, consisting of falsifications and slanders fabricated by Stalin, and the stereotyped and vulgar theories circulated by the Comintern. Furthermore, from 1937 to 1944, the TKP was organisationally liquidated with the decision of Moscow, which provides further inside into the grim outlook of the socialist movement in that period.

In the 1960s, when progressive-revolutionary youth tended towards left and desired to learn socialist ideas, there was only one channel through which they could acquire information and establish links with the history of socialism: senior TKP cadres, who had passed through the school of official communism, i.e. Stalinism, since the 1930s. The revolutionary socialist youth of 1960s would have to acquire their early theoretical knowledge and ideological education from this source.

Developments in the left-wing movement in 1960s

Having ruled Turkey since 1950, Democrat Party (DP) was overthrown by the military coup of 27 May 1960, carried out by young officers in the army. This opened up a new chapter in Turkey’s history. The new constitution that was ratified the following year foresaw unprecedented democratic rights and freedoms in the country’s history. Indeed, the liberal atmosphere created by the 1961 constitution set its stamp on the political environment in the first half of the 1960s. In this period, all layers of society, including the working class, entered into a cultural and political revitalisation.

On 13 February 1961, the Workers Party of Turkey (TİP) was founded. The founders of the TİP were trade unionists from the League of Istanbul Workers Trade Unions. They were describing the aim of the party as to defend the economic rights of the working class and to carry the struggle for legislations in favour of workers to the parliament. As indicated by this limited goal, the early TİP was not aiming for the rule of the working class and socialism. In exact accordance with the description of economism, it was founded in order to provide the economic struggle of workers with a political form. Not much later, it would become clear that this party had no chance without the support of socialist intellectuals.

The trade union leaders who founded the party soon realised this fact. On 1 February 1962, they decided to open its doors to socialist intellectuals and youth. On 9 February, Mehmet Ali Aybar, a socialist intellectual, was chosen as the new president of the party. With Aybar becoming its president, the TİP began to attract many intellectuals from different sections of the Turkish left. In the first congress of the party, convened in 1961, a party programme emerged. Having no reference to socialism, it was foreseeing democratic reforms within the framework of “non-capitalist way of development” and advocating an independent foreign policy. The programme was describing the party as “the political organisation of Turkey’s working class, and all toiling citizens gathering around its leadership, that marches towards power through legal means”. Following the congress, the TİP rapidly began to get organised all around the country. In the general election of 1965, it managed to enter parliament with 15 MPs.

As the only legal left-wing party, the TİP represented a “left front party” that contained within itself almost all socialists, communists, progressives, radicals and Kemalists. Therefore, the first seeds of the revolutionary and reformist socialist groups and parties, which would emerge in latter years, germinated in this party.

In the first half of the 1960s, two tendencies were at the forefront in the left-wing movement in Turkey. The first one was the parliamentarist-populist line of “socialism”, advocated mainly by Aybar within the TİP. The second one was a nationalist-revolutionary left-Kemalism, advocated by a circle around the political weekly YÖN (Direction) and its ideologue named Doğan Avcıoğlu. The ideological roots of this latter tendency had in fact been formed in 1930s, by the intellectuals who gathered around the magazine Kadro (Cadre) at the time. The contrast between the two lines was also a prelude to the conflict between the tendencies of socialist revolution and national democratic revolution that would set its stamp in the second half of the 1960s.

On the other hand, the TKP, the country’s oldest party which served as the only organised political representative of Turkey’s left-wing movement from 1920s until 1950s, was silent. The arrests of 1951 had dealt a heavy blow to the party, fomenting serious faction fights. As a result of these fights, there emerged three main factions: the group that gathered around Reşat Fuat and Mihri Belli, the Foreign Bureau led by Zeki Baştımar in Leipzig and Vatan Party (Homeland Party) led by Hikmet Kıvılcımlı. The TKP entered 1960s in such a divided, unorganised and weak state. Therefore, it was unable to carry out an independent organisational work and establish a political authority over left-wing movement. Thus, in the early 1960s, the TİP was the only place where the groups with TKP background could conduct political activity.

This period also saw a stream of young revolutionaries who were becoming acquainted with socialist ideas and joining the organised struggle for socialism. They would later come to be known as the ‘68ers. The 1960s saw a general upsurge in the left-wing movement and therefore represents a crucial juncture in the political history of Turkey. After a 40-year period of repression, the anti-democratic bans and restrictions on socialist ideas and organisations were being lifted, albeit to a certain extent. This was making it possible to organise in the legal sphere. In such an atmosphere, there were two organisations that the young revolutionaries tending towards socialism could join: The Workers Party of Turkey (TİP) and its youth affiliate, Federation of Clubs for Socialist Ideas (FKF).

Up until then, university students had usually gathered around official youth organisations (such as MTTB, TMTF, TMGT) that functioned within the corporative structure of the Kemalist state. However, following the 1965 general election, they rapidly began to join the TİP and the FKF. Among these new members were Mahir Çayan, Deniz Gezmiş, Doğu Perinçek and İbrahim Kaypakkaya, all of whom would later become leaders of different left-wing organisations.

Here, one should also point to the fact that it was not until 1968 that left-wing youth movement underwent a serious ideological and organisational split. Indeed, up until 1968, progressive-revolutionary youth were taking common actions which were usually led by the members of the TİP and the FKF. For instance, on the 20th anniversary of the foundation of NATO, the TİP launched a campaign titled “Turkey must leave NATO”. This campaign attracted great support from all factions of the left and the youth. Likewise, the progressive-revolutionary youth, including the present author, acted together during the university occupations in the summer of 1968 and the ensuing actions. The ideological splits and organisational confrontations took place following the university occupations in 1968. They developed, essentially, in line with the controversy within the TİP. (The controversy between the tendencies of Socialist Revolution and National Democratic Revolution)

In the early 1960s, as progressive-revolutionary youth who were just becoming acquainted with left-wing ideas and political life, we were unaware of the revolutionary Marxism and the history of international struggle of the proletariat. Therefore, at the time, our generation lacked the true knowledge on the character of the Stalinist bureaucracy and the destruction it inflicted on the world communist and workers’ movement. Our generation was deprived of the means and sources that could lead us to the genuine knowledge on Marxism. For instance, the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin had not yet been legally published in Turkey. Let alone Marxist classics, even the poems of Nazım Hikmet were yet to be published.

The first conflict in the left-wing movement (1965-67)

Prior to the 1965 general election, no conflict had arisen between the TİP and YÖN movement out of ideological-political disagreement. In fact, there was no significant difference between their views. The intellectuals who signed the introductory declaration of the YÖN journal were also the members of the TİP. It may even be said that, at the outset, these two political circles seemed to have a tacit “agreement” and a “division of labour”. Conducting propaganda through press and parliamentary rostrum along with nation-wide organisational work, the TİP was gathering support for the “anti-imperialist struggle” and “national socialism”. The circle around the YÖN journal, on the other hand, was conducting work in the upper level, (within “progressive” military-civilian bureaucracy) and inside the Republican People’s Party (CHP) with the aim of creating a leading force for the anti-imperialist, nationalist-revolutionary struggle! At least this was the way things seemed on the surface.

Winning 15 seats in the 1965 election, the TİP attracted enthusiastic interest and created sympathy among all progressive layers of the society and the left-wing press. After the party entered parliament, Mehmet Ali Aybar, the chairman of the party, began to use the word “socialism”, although there was no open reference to it in the party programme. He also began to share his views on the fundamental problems of Marxism such as revolution, power and class domination. In his public statements, Aybar was bringing forward a perspective for “socialist power” and stressing that the transition to socialist power would be achieved through parliamentary means by winning over a majority of the public.

During this period (1965-67), the first conflict within the left-wing movement broke out between Aybar’s TİP and Doğan Avcıoğlu’s YÖN movement. These two prominent left-wing movements began to dispute over issues such as the question of leadership, revolution and power. This dispute was a precursor to deeper conflicts and confrontations that were to come. Following the 1965 election, the TİP declared itself as the sole organisation of the socialist movement. The party also put forward that the working class was “the leader of the anti-imperialist struggle which must go hand in hand with the struggle for socialism.” This brought the wrath of the YÖN movement. For, this “impertinent” stance taken by the TİP could undermine the plans on which the YÖN movement worked so meticulously, i.e. the plans for a putschist takeover of the government for which they assigned important tasks to the military bureaucracy.

This conflict between the TİP and YÖN was also a conflict between two political views. The view adopted by the TİP was a general notion of socialism that referred to the takeover of power by workers, peasants and other toilers in a bottom-up manner. The stance taken by the circle around the YÖN journal, on the other hand, was based on “etatism” of the left-wing Kemalism that aimed at the top-down and elitist rule of traditional cadres of the state such as military-civilian bureaucracy and progressive intellectuals. “The socialist power” advocated by Aybar was based on parliamentarism and reformism. However, it also contained a strong emphasis on the political participation of workers and the toiling masses, making harsh criticism of YÖN’s top-down, putschist, bureaucratic and elitist notion of power that excluded the political initiative of the toiling masses. Furthermore, in his public statements, Aybar was arguing that the military-civilian bureaucracy was a continuation of the ruling elite of the Ottoman State that was disconnected from the ordinary people. In his view, the CHP was the political representative of the elite. These views infuriated the YÖN circle.

According to the YÖN, in an anti-imperialist struggle led by workers, “officers would have to walk behind workers”. How could one expect from “vigorous forces” (army officers) to go after civilians! Advocating the leadership of workers was unacceptable as it would disrupt the unity of “national forces”!

Kemalist nationalists around the YÖN journal were not alone in such views. As always in such cases, they gathered support from the ranks of the TKP, which was the official representative of the Stalinist notion of “national socialism”. The ally who jumped to Doğan Avcıoğlu’s defence was Mihri Belli. He was advocating similar views, albeit not exactly in the same way. The truth is that, there was nothing strange in this alliance. These views advocated by YÖN in 1960s had originally been put forward in 1930s by some petty-bourgeois intellectuals who were ex-TKP cadres.

In the 1930s, these intellectuals supported the one-party dictatorship of the CHP and took up the “historic” task of providing Kemalism with a “genuine” ideological-theoretical basis. Their movement was named after the journal they published, Kadro (Cadre). It was not an accident that the prominent figures of the Kadro movement were former TKP members. Among the founders of the magazine Kadro were petty-bourgeois intellectuals such as Vedat Nedim Tör and Şevket Süreyya Aydemir, both of whom were former members of the TKP. They had been members of the TKP’s central committee, before they left the party at the end of the 1920s. These intellectuals were portraying Kemalism as an “anti-imperialist”, “populist” and “revolutionary” movement, whereas, in fact, it was a movement led by military-civilian bureaucracy whose aim, from the outset, had been none other than to westernise (transform into capitalism) the country. They were also theorising the programme of “economic etatism”, put into practice by the CHP government in 1930s, as “a new path of development”.

According to this “theory”, under an administration headed by reformist intellectual cadres (in their words, “highbrows, technicians, experts, military-civilian bureaucrats etc.”) and through continuation of Kemalist national liberation reforms and etatist economy policies, it was possible to build a “peculiar” type of nation-society that was neither socialist, nor capitalist. The writers of Kadro were maintaining that this “new path”, opened up by the Kemalist reforms, would provide inspiration for national liberation struggles of all colonized and semi-colonized nations. In their view, Kemalist etatism would also serve as a “model” for the development of the newly independent nation-states.

As can be seen, this “theory”, put forward in 1930s by Kadro writers with TKP backgrounds, was nothing else than a delusion voiced by etatist intellectuals who had always regarded themselves as “saviours”. And although they had been influenced by socialism in an epoch marked by the October Revolution, they had failed to break ties with nationalism. This “hybrid” theory was in fact an early version of “Third Worldism”, i.e. the theses such as national revolutionary development, non-capitalist path and so on. Such theories were a reflection of the vacillating mood of nationalist petty-bourgeois intellectuals who were indignant at the imperialist domination, but also sceptical about the working class and its scientific ideology. They would again find favour within the left-wing movement in the 1960s. In sum, the nationalist and anti-imperialist theses advocated in the pages of YÖN by left-Kemalists such as Doğan Avcıoğlu and certain old communists with TKP backgrounds were nothing more than a new version of the theories produced by Kadro writers in the 1930s.

Doğan Avcıoğlu and a like-minded circle around Mihri Belli were attacking the TİP because it was voicing a perspective of “socialist power” and highlighting the leadership of the working class. Avcıoğlu denounced the TİP’s new line as left-wing deviation. In his view, the TİP was regarding the Union and Progress Party (İttihat ve Terakki Partisi)[1], the Kemalist Movement and the 27 May Movement as counter-revolutionary. Just like imperialist powers, the Democratic Party (DP) and its successor Justice Party (AP), it was siding against the traditional ruling cadre, i.e., Kemalist bureaucracy. He was accusing the TİP of dividing “the patriotic front”.

In reality, the TİP was neither advocating a genuinely Marxist socialism, nor standing in sharp contrast to the stance taken by the YÖN movement on that matter. As we stated above, until the 1965 election, the two factions had shared the same view that the state must be “anti-imperialist” national bourgeois in character. Therefore, they were both supporting the constitution and the form of state created by the 27 May Coup. They both thought that this new constitution was providing legal circumstances that were necessary to “reach socialism”. Furthermore, their view of the army were pretty much the same, as they were both attributing a progressive role to the army in terms of the development of the society. And finally, they were both regarding the US imperialism, the comprador bourgeoisie and big landowners as the enemies against society. Therefore, the conflict was arising out of a different matter. In reality, the conflict between these two factions developed out of the competition to gain political hegemony in the left-wing movement. The TİP was presenting itself as the party of workers, peasants, socialist intellectuals and progressive youth, while YÖN was acting as the voice of “vigorous forces”, i.e., military-civilian caste. Who was going to dominate the left-wing movement?

Disputes and splits between 1968 and 1971

The period between 1965 and 1971 witnessed probably the most intense and extensive theoretical debates within the leftist movement with Marxist background over the “character of the revolution in Turkey”. Yet, the debates were started by left-Kemalists, not socialists. Kemalists, who gathered around the YÖN, were presenting the question of revolution as a question of national independence and development. They had a significant influence on socialists, whose conception of socialism had historically been shaped on the basis of national socialism, confining them within the narrow boundaries of nationalism. During this period, even the TİP, which was supposedly advocating socialist revolution, addressed the questions of revolution and socialism within the limits of the question of “national development”.

The debate within the TİP broke out in 1967. It took place among socialists with Marxist background. Previously, following the second congress of the party in 1966, a faction fight had come to the surface, with those known as “democratic-revolution-proponents” around Reşat Fuat and Mihri Belli being expelled by the group led by Aybar, Aren and Boran. In the meantime, due to a dispute that broke out among intellectuals, YÖN had ceased its publication. Under such circumstances, democratic revolutionaries embarked on creating a platform outside the TİP by launching the journal Türk Solu (Turkish Left) in November 1967. The journal was claiming the mantle of the leftist tradition in Turkey and explaining the aim of its publication as building a platform that would help unify the left-wing forces. It was for this reason that, in the early stages, the Turkish Left would attract support from communists from older generations, such as Hikmet Kıvılcımlı, who had a certain degree of influence within the socialist movement and who also opposed the political line taken by the TİP.

During this period, the character and the stage of the revolution in Turkey constituted the main subject of controversy among socialist groups with Marxist backgrounds. In other words, the socialists from older generations were also confined within the boundaries of a debate that had been determined by the Kemalists. In this debate that broke out among socialists, there were two major poles. On one side were those advocating “National Democratic Revolution” (NDR). On the other side were those supporting “Socialist Revolution” (SR). There was also a third view, called “Democratic People’s Revolution”, which seemed to be in the middle of these two major poles, but which, in fact, was closer to the NDR thesis in terms of its theoretical grounds.

At the core of the debate on “the character of the revolution in Turkey” lay the disputes regarding the socio-economic structure of the country. Was the dominant socio-economic structure feudal, semi-feudal or capitalist? The answer to this question was shaping the theoretical theses regarding the question of “the character of revolution”. For those describing Turkey as a “semi-colonial country dominated by feudal relations and dependent on imperialism”, the necessary revolutionary strategy was an “anti-imperialist, anti-feudal and national democratic revolution (NDR) against imperialism, feudalism and comprador bourgeoisie”. Or as put forward in the centrist thesis of Hikmet Kıvılcımlı, the country was dominated by a coalition comprised of local finance-capital, feudal lords, usurer-merchants. Therefore, the necessary strategy had to be “Democratic People’s Revolution” which was also called “the second movement of the National Forces”, a reference to the Independence War.

The main theoretician of the NDR thesis was Mihri Belli. He was presenting the alliance with Kemalism as an indispensable necessity and putting the main emphasis on organising a “national revolutionary” movement under the “leadership” of military-civilian and intellectual cadres. For the supporters of the NDR, the primary objective was to form a national revolutionary government under the leadership of a “national front” comprised of the army, the youth, intellectuals and the national bourgeoisie. This would be followed by a leap forward for national development which would pave the way for the full independence of the country. According to NDR supporters, it was first necessary to ensure the victory of national democratic revolution and formation of a “fully independent, truly democratic Turkey”. Only then would it be possible to form the party of the working class and aim at socialist revolution! Until that time, no one had the right to put forward the slogan “Socialist Revolution!” To do so would mean “fomenting division within the national front”.

It was obvious that the views put forward by Mihri Belli were pretty much the same as those advocated in the pages of the YÖN. Just like Kemalists, Belli was attributing an anti-imperialist and revolutionary role to the military-civilian and intellectual stratum (so-called “vigorous forces”), giving priority to the alliance with those forces. His analyses regarding the “vigorous forces” and the army were entirely based on this priority.

On the other side stood Hikmet Kıvılcımlı who criticised YÖN and Mihri Belli regarding “the leadership of the vigorous forces” and “the national front”. He was putting forward his own thesis: People’s Democratic Revolution (PDR). According to this thesis, the revolution would be carried out through an alliance between workers and peasants and under the leadership of the working class. The PDR would serve as a first stage where anti-imperialist and democratic tasks were supposed to be fulfilled. Therefore, the working class had to ally with the so-called “vigorous forces” (anti-imperialist army officers, the student youth, intellectuals etc.) in order to form “people’s democratic front”. The conquest of power by the working class and the launching of the struggle for socialism would be the tasks of the second stage!

On the basis of such “theoretical analyses” made by the communists from older generations, one could draw the following conclusion: Although it had been 50 years since Lenin wrote the April Theses and the October Revolution produced valuable lessons, the fights and splits among the Marxist left in Turkey were taking place over “stages” and “minimum-maximum programs”! Conceptions formulated during Lenin’s lifetime in the light of the lessons of the October Revolution, such as “the continuity of proletarian revolution” and “unity and integrity of the transitional program of the proletariat”, seemed to have been erased from the memories of the socialists of Turkey. What produced this memory loss was none other than Stalinism that established its hegemony over world communist movement in 1930s and liquidated Bolshevik views.

On the other side were those advocating “socialist revolution” against the NDR within the TİP. According to this group, bourgeois revolution in Turkey had already been completed. The Republic of Turkey was neither a colony nor a semi-colony. The group advocating “socialist revolution” thesis within the TİP was spearheaded by Behice Boran, Sadun Aren and Nihat Sargın. They would later launch a journal called Emek (Labour). Their basic views can be summarised as follows:

 “The dominant mode of production in Turkey is capitalism, not feudalism. Capitalism in Turkey is an underdeveloped one, containing remnants of feudalism. The dominant class is the native big bourgeoisie. Although Turkey has become economically dependent on imperialism, this dependence did not arise out of an imperialist attack or occupation. Rather, it is the native bourgeoisie that invited imperialism to Turkey. In 1950s, native bourgeoisie willingly tied itself to imperialist capital. It joined the military and economic organisations of imperialism, making Turkey economically and militarily dependent on imperialism. In Turkey, there exists no such thing as “national bourgeoisie” that opposes integration with imperialist capital and that, consequently, can be characterised as anti-imperialist. The dominant system in Turkey is capitalism which is integrated with imperialism. For this reason, there is no way to put an end to dependence on imperialism without fighting against capitalism. The stage of revolution lying ahead for Turkey is an anti-capitalist one, that is, the stage of socialist revolution.”

In fact, the theses put forward by the TİP seemed to be based upon a more accurate –and Marxist– ground as compared to the NDR theses. However the political line and tactics followed by the TİP administration was at variance with the “socialist revolution” thesis that it advocated in theory. It would have been futile to expect consistency from opportunism. The historical lesson taught by the October Revolution was as follows: For the political victory of a proletarian socialist revolution, the revolutionary proletariat must gain the support of urban and rural poor, seize the power through a revolutionary insurrection, destroy the bourgeois state apparatus and replace it with its own organs of power, i.e. instruments of proletarian direct democracy in various forms such as soviets, councils and factory committees. Only through such a victorious proletarian revolution is it possible to launch the historic action to do away with capitalism and build socialism.

Yet, the TİP’s “socialist revolution” had nothing to do with such a perspective. For the TİP, socialist revolution had no other meaning than coming to power in the bourgeois parliament by gaining electoral majority. Supposedly, the TİP was going to gain the parliamentary majority, and by leaning on this majority, it would form the government and build the socialist Turkey! Surely, for such a victorious “socialist revolution”, there would be no need for a successful proletarian insurrection/uprising, or organs of the working class such as soviets and councils! After all, the MPs of the TİP were going to build socialism through their self-sacrificing efforts in the name of workers and toilers!

What the TİP put forward in the name of Socialism was nothing more than an etatist development project in favour of social justice and labourers—a model which has generally been accompanied by democratic reforms in its historical examples. In other words, the TİP was advocating what the German Social Democrats had advocated 50 years previously, that is, the parliamentarist-reformist “socialism”.

In that period, there was another interesting point worth noting. Following the arrest and interrogation of prominent TKP members in 1951, a conflict emerged within the central committee of the party in the prison. The first group was spearheaded by Zeki Baştımar, while the latter one included leading TKP figures such as Şefik Hüsnü, Reşat Fuat and Mihri Belli. A decade later and on a new platform, i.e. the TİP, the conflict was still going on. This conflict sets an interesting example in that it provides an insight into the Stalinist conception of politics and organisational culture. Zeki Baştımar had left Turkey for the USSR in early 1960s, becoming the head of the TKP’s Foreign Bureau which was a little “desk” subordinated to the CPSU bureaucracy. His views had no major difference from the NDR spearheaded by Mihri Belli and co. The only difference between the two groups lay in the fact that the former was using a more purified Turkish in their discourse. While Mihri Belli was talking about “Milli Demokratik Devrim” (National Democratic Revolution[2]), the TKP’s Foreign Bureau, led by Zeki Baştımar, was using the term “Ulusal Demokratik Devrim” (National Democratic Revolution[3]).

Indeed, it could not have been otherwise, as both groups were adhered to the Stalinist “stage theory” which had been developed in the Comintern in 1930s. And yet, although Zeki Baştımar was advocating the NDR thesis in his own writings in the same way as M. Belli, the faction he was supporting in the political arena was not the NDR supporters, but their opponents, i.e. those advocating “socialist revolution”. The reason for this sharp discrepancy was simple: the Foreign Bureau feared that their opponents could gain a dominant position in the TİP and eliminate its allies. Therefore, it was politically more convenient to support those advocating an opposing view, “socialist revolution”, i.e. the faction led by Aybar, Aren and Boran, rather than those supporting the NDR thesis, despite it was in line with their own views. Here is a highly “ethical behaviour” in politics! But, there is nothing strange about it, as it is just one example of a “political” behaviour which is prevalent in Stalinist culture.

The “Marxist” tradition inherited by the ‘68ers

While these discussions were going on in Turkey, there were also important developments within the international communist movement. Crimes committed by Stalin had already been revealed by Khrushchev in his speech delivered at the 20th congress of the CPSU. In fact, Khrushchev was far from offering a thoroughgoing criticism of the ideological foundations of Stalinism. He confined his speech to a criticism directed at “the cult of personality”, linking the crimes committed in the preceding period solely to Stalin’s personality. In other words, in order to mask its own sins and repair its reputation in the eyes of the public, the Soviet Bureaucracy was placing all the blame on its erstwhile chief —a chief whom it worshipped for years. The bureaucracy was continuing to deceive both the Soviet people and the world working class. However, even Khrushchev’s revelations were sufficient to cause turmoil and divisions within the international communist movement.

By 1960s, Moscow could no longer exercise absolute hegemony over the world Communist movement. The monocentric dominance of the CPSU was being replaced by a polycentric order. The League of Communists of Yugoslavia had already broken away. This was followed by the outbreak of the Sino-Soviet conflict, which represented a dramatic turning point in the official Communist movement. On the other hand, with the Brezhnev era, Stalinism regained its dominance in the Soviet Union, albeit in new disguise. During the Brezhnev era, Soviet tanks invaded another “socialist” country, Czechoslovakia, which further exacerbated controversies within the world Communist movement. Now, all over the world, most notably in Europe, the official communist parties and the bureaucratic dictatorships that presented themselves as “real socialism”, became a subject of controversy.

During this period, the disputes between the CPSU and the Chinese Communist Party became increasingly severe, with the parties taking opposite sides on every issue. This period saw an ever-growing number of splits and realignments within the international Communist movement. One of the major subjects of controversy was “the revolution strategy” in underdeveloped countries where struggles for national independence and democratic revolution were taking place. The most common disputes within this context revolved around theses put forward for this kind of countries such as “non-capitalist way of development”, “protracted people’s war”, “focoism” and so on.

These developments were also followed by socialists in Turkey. But unlike Europe, they did not address the issues in a thoroughgoing manner. Mehmet Ali Aybar was the only one among socialists who openly opposed the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the USSR and criticised the CPSU’s position on this matter. Neither the NDR supporters nor the socialist “revolutionary” clique of Aren and Boran within the TİP opposed the occupation. On the contrary, they both endorsed it. It was quite plain that, no matter how much they quarrel with each other, they were in no position to openly oppose the CPSU and its Stalinist policies. Up until the Czechoslovakian incident, the clique led by Aren and Boran had fought with Aybar against the NDR supporters within the TİP. Following this incident, obviously upon instruction given by the Foreign Bureau of the TKP, they parted ways with Aybar.

When it comes to the youth, the progressive-revolutionary youth of the 1960s, i.e. the ’68 generation, was trying to establish its position with regard to the ideological conflict between the NDR and SR. They were also under the profound influence of the developments across the world, where a new chapter was opening up in the second half of the 1960s. This period saw a rise in struggles for national independence and democratic revolutions in Asia, Africa and Latin America. These struggles were bourgeois democratic in character. They were starting in the form of guerrilla warfare led by minor guerrilla groups. Over time, they were turning into prolonged popular wars in which urban and rural petty bourgeoisie also took part. A major role in this transformation was played by the very existence of and the military, financial and political support provided by the USSR, the PRC and other “socialist” countries.

The international political landscape in 1960s was shaped by dramatic events. Following the victory of the Cuban Revolution, the guerrillas under the leadership of Castro proclaimed Cuba a “socialist” republic. The Vietnamese people waged a self-sacrificing struggle for national independence against U.S. imperialism. There were upsurges everywhere, from Palestine resistance movement to guerrilla warfares for national independence in Latin America and Africa. In such an environment, world public opinion was becoming increasingly anti-American as a result of the aggression and insolence displayed by U.S. imperialism. On the other hand, thanks to the support they provided to the national independence struggles across the world, the USSR, the PRC and other “socialist” countries were gaining prestige in the eyes of the left-wing youth.

In this sense, the year 1968 marked a real turning point in the left-wing movement in Turkey. Just like all over the world, the progressive-revolutionary youth in Turkey was deeply influenced by the chain of developments unleashed in 1968. There was a growing wave of sympathy for struggles for national independence and theories of guerrilla warfare. From 1968 on, both in Europe and Turkey, the working class and the youth tended more and more towards radical actions. It was during these years that the working class in Turkey went beyond the legal restrictions and took illegal actions. In summer 1968, students organized occupations and boycotts at the universities, which were followed by factory occupations by workers. There was an unprecedented rise in militancy and activism, most notably in the workers’ movement. The young generation was becoming more and more radical and moving sharply to the left as a result of the rise in the actions taken by the working class and the youth. However, although it was flourishing and becoming massive, the revolutionary movement was deprived of a genuinely Marxist and internationalist leadership that could offer political and ideological guidance.

Limiting itself to bourgeois legislation, the TİP was pursuing a parliamentarist and pacifist line. As a result, it became increasingly evident that the TİP could not offer political and organisational leadership for rising revolutionary activism. It lagged behind the radical activism of the working class and the youth. This led to the outbreak of an ideological crisis within the party, which would be followed by an organisational crisis. Young members of the TİP and its youth organisation, the FKF (Federation of Clubs for Socialist Ideas), began to oppose the parliamentarist and pacifist political line pursued by the TİP leadership. They increasingly became alienated from the party, engaging in new organisational pursuits.

There were 3 major tendencies within the ’68 generation, which would produce further splits and organisations in the subsequent period. The followers of the first tendency began to gather around the weekly journals such as Türk Solu (Turkish Left) and Aydınlık that pursued the NDR line. Their overriding slogans and arguments were revolving around national independence, rather than the necessities of the class struggle and anti-capitalism. This line was mainly appealing to petty-bourgeois intellectuals, students and Kemalist army officers. Youth leaders such as Deniz Gezmiş, Mahir Çayan and Doğu Perinçek were among the followers of this line. The second major tendency was the proletarian socialist line. Although it was far from a correct understanding of socialist revolution within the context of permanent revolution, it was advocating the leadership of the working class in the revolution, putting forward anti-capitalist slogans and laying the emphasis on proletarian socialism. This line was followed by the young revolutionaries around Hikmet Kıvılcımlı and youth circles engaged in revolutionary socialist activism on the basis of the working class and independent from the TİP leadership. The third tendency was the legalist petty-bourgeois socialism adopted by the TİP leadership. They were advocating socialist revolution in words, but pursuing a parliamentarist and reformist political line in practice.

No doubt, the first tendency, i.e. the NDR, was the one that attracted the biggest support from the youth. It was easily adopted by the vast majority of the university students, who had been schooled under the influence of Kemalist ideology for years. The NDR fitted to their petty-bourgeois and nationalist class character. Having become acquainted with Marxism only recently, these young revolutionaries were yet to develop a proper understanding of scientific socialism. After they fell under the influence of the NDR line, they became increasingly distant from the internationalist revolutionary path of the proletariat, exhausting themselves in the blind alleys of the petty-bourgeois radicalism. Their guidance came from none other than this or that version of Stalinism. (Maoism, Hoxhaism, Castroism etc.)

Many generations, including ours that joined the revolutionary and socialist movement in Turkey, had to learn the history of Bolshevism and October Revolution not from their original sources, but from the “official” Soviet history written and circulated by the Stalinist bureaucracy. Crucial information about important events was transmitted to us through the distorting prism of the official history shaped by the Stalinist bureaucracies. (Maoist, Castroist, Hoxhaist etc.) These included the struggle within the Bolshevik Party and the Comintern following Lenin’s death, the real causes for this confrontation and the origins of the challenges faced by the Great October Revolution as well as the revolutions in Eastern Europe, China, Cuba and elsewhere. As a consequence, from 1930s to 1980s, many revolutionaries, who joined the organised struggle for socialism in Turkey and took up tasks and responsibilities at different levels, embraced and adopted the ideological, theoretical and organisational theses of Stalinism as if they were part of the Bolshevism.

This period occupies a very long chapter in the history of the socialist movement in Turkey, where any idea in accordance with the official “socialism” imposed by Stalinism was welcome, whereas any critical and questioning thought was considered “sin”. This inevitably led to a deep ideological distortion and theoretical stagnation in the minds of the revolutionary and socialist cadres. The ideological distortions produced by Stalinism, and its falsifications of Marxism, affected every generation that took part in the organised struggle for socialism. Unfortunately, today’s generations are no exception. This ominous shadow of the past is yet to be vanished. Although Stalinism lost the objective ground upon which it based its dominance, its ideological and organisational remnants are yet to be wiped out. It is plain that this task can only be achieved through a long and tenacious struggle of organised forces that are determined to hoist the revolutionary flag of Marxism.


[1] The party that ruled Ottoman Empire during World War One

[2] “Milli” is originally an Arabic word.

[3] “Ulusal” is a Turkish word.