Development of Anti-communism in Turkey during the “Foundation” period

Kemal Okuyan, member of the PB of the CC of TKP

“Enjoy what is granted to you. Your work accomplished, remain in the circle of your family, with your parents, your wife and children, and think upon household matters and education. That should be your policy and you will spend many happy hours. As for the high politics of the country, do not waste your breath. Higher politics requires more time and greater insight into conditions than are given to the workers. You are doing your duty if you elect candidates recommended to you by those whom you can trust. You will do nothing but damage if you try to interfere with the helm of the legal order. And, incidentally, to talk politics in the pub is a very expensive pastime; with the same money you can do better at home.” [1]

Alfred Krupp, one of the leading industrialists of Germany, must have been unsatisfied with the oppressive practices of Bismarck administration to rein back the German working class movement, he was advising his workers to “stay away from politics” in a rather threatening tone. Indisputably, Krupp was neither the first nor the last bourgeois to imitate a preacher; the capitalists have tried various ways, which are evidently generated by a mostly crude but sometimes creative mind, to keep their workers away from organized struggle.

Obviously, the attempts to tame the working class with the notion, “politics is not for you, you do your job and leave the rest to us” have added a lot to the baggage of anti-communism. Haven’t they pictured communism as a system in which the riffraff becomes the ruler, as a system in which the government of the country is transferred to a bunch of ignorant people acting upon bestial instincts? Hasn’t the thesis that says “people are not equal” been one of the most important predicates of the crusade against communism? And most importantly, hasn’t the ethical values listed quite arbitrarily by the bourgeoisie in defining “the good citizen” provided the bases for the accusation of “immorality” against communists?

Of course, nor is this all. As the class struggles sharpened in each and every country, anti-communism has been fostered with newer and newer elements; as the working class got organized and the socialist choice against the order of exploitation got materialized, but besides all, as the first working class power that emerged in the Russian land with the October Revolution had become the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and as other countries followed the path of building socialism, anti-communism has diversified its arguments. It fed itself with nationalism, with religious fanaticism, but it mostly relied on lies and falsification. The main objective was to prevent working masses from being attracted to the socialist ideology, and in order to accomplish this, they had to eliminate the social legitimacy of communism.

Being a country where the working class has never come close to taking the political power, but the class struggles have sometimes become quite sharp and the capitalist class have almost never ease its measures against socialism, Turkey has made serious “contributions” to anti-communism. The prolificacy of the ruling class in Turkey in anti-communism, which had always been proud of being at the “outpost of the struggle against communism”, certainly started neither in 1952 with the ominous NATO membership nor in 1945 when the Cold War started to become revealed. The ruling class, even in an implicit way due to the need to be careful as it required the support of the young Soviet government, reinforced its anti-communist identity against Bolshevism which it considered as a great threat, even during the years of “the war of independence” that led to the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, and gained significant experience in the ideological struggle against communism.

The specificities and the gradual evolution of this experience require special attention.

The Bourgeois Revolution: The dialectics of “friendship” and hostility

The bourgeois revolution of Turkey does not merely consist of the occupation and the struggle against occupation after World War I. In some respects, the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 can be regarded as a profounder attempt than the developments in 1920s. Nevertheless, 1908 Revolution does not provide much clue as regards our topic. Yes, like other countries, the Ottoman Empire was also influenced by 1905 Russian Revolution; even though it is not possible to speak of a remarkable industry in the country, the initial forms of working class organizations had made themselves evident particularly in Istanbul and Thessaloniki; revolutionary-nationalist ideas getting spread among Armenian, Greek and Bulgarian laborers had started to affect the Turkish poor as well, yet it is impossible to say that socialism started to take root among the muslim population of the Ottoman Empire back then. It is not quite possible to argue that the Young Turks, who urged a bourgeois revolution from above based on military and civilian bureaucracy and the intelligentsia rather than enforcing its popular bases, were inspired by Marxism or more generally by socialist ideology. We know that during the early stages of the revolution, the Turkish bourgeois revolutionaries tried to suppress the working class that started to show signs of mobilization along with the Armenian, Greek and Bulgarian nationalists, with whom they got closer in the struggle against Sultan Abdülhamit, as they were afraid both of their popular bases and the ability of imperialist countries to manipulate nationalist movements. These precautions were rationalized by the concerns about preventing the Empire from collapse rather than the hostility against socialism.

The reason why the Young Turk bourgeoisie started to take socialism seriously was, evidently, the 1917 October Revolution that took place at its elbow.

When the Revolution happened, the ruling classes of the Ottoman Empire were busy with trying to prevent the collapse of the Empire as well as playing their role in World War I motivated by taking new initiatives towards certain regions under the tutelage and with the permission of the allied German Empire. The Ottoman Empire was in a decline, experienced severe defeats in several critical fronts, and its soldiers were suffering from disease and starvation apart from enemy attacks.

As the Socialist Revolution took place in a country with which the Ottoman Empire waged utterly difficult wars for decades and which were among the enemy camp during World War I, this naturally served as an extremely fertile ground for anti-communism in Turkey. Historically speaking, if there is another nation that may compete with the Polish in the hostility against the Russians, it is the Turks.

It is true that the Revolution created sympathy towards Bolshevism at the outset. The Bolsheviks, who created great problems at the rear guard of the enemy and spoke of “peace” as soon as they got the political power, were welcomed by the Ottoman ruling circles, which acted upon the motto, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. They believed that, coming out of the war, the Soviet Russia dealt a hard blow to the British-French axis. And as Lenin and his comrades immediately launched the peace negotiations with Germans, Istanbul press started to “praise the Bolsheviks”. Moreover, when the Bolsheviks published the secret agreements between the ruling classes of Britain, France, Italy and Russia about their plans on how to part the Ottoman Empire among themselves, the intensity of these praises increased even further. For instance, one of the prominent newspapers of the day, İkdam, gave the headline “Well done Bolsheviks!” [2]

Although they knew very little about Bolshevism and socialism in general, the Ottoman elite was contempt when the proceedings between Ottomans and the revolutionary government in Moscow started and as the Bolsheviks acted quite constructively in order to achieve the peace as soon as possible. In a nutshell, contrary to the capitalists who were terrified about the possibility of the revolution to expand towards the west and hence trying to fence off the revolutionary wave that was growing stronger, the Ottoman ruling classes had more contradictory emotions towards the Soviet power.

Of course, there was no question that many characteristics attributed to the communists all along, either right or wrong, were a source of concern for the Ottomans. Hostility to property, family and religion were indispensable elements for a crude and rough anti-communist stance. On top of that, we may add the “elitist” approaches which mark “the ignorant mujiki and vagabonds who seized the heritage of a monumental empire, and expend it extravagantly”.

Nevertheless, until the end of the war, in other words, when Turkey was forced by the British and the French to sign a dismal agreement, a vigilant optimism about Bolshevik Russia had prevailed among the commanding circles of the Ottoman Empire. The fear from the toiling masses seizing power was, in turn, suppressed by the confidence in the role of religious ideology in the social life in Turkey. Many Ottoman intellectuals and statesmen gave utterance to the notion, “there is no need to be afraid of Bolshevism, since it cannot bush out in a muslim body”.

Despite all these kindly views, the Ottoman ruling classes and their ideologists started to produce lies immediately about communism in the person of Lenin and his comrades. The initial examples of deceitfulness and distortions, which were refined and enriched through the utilization of vast intellectual resources by anti-communism and its synonym anti-Sovietism in the following years not only in Turkey but all over the world, could be found in the pages of Istanbul press of the day.

Interestingly enough, as we will elaborate on further later, the seemingly “left” challenges which have been one of the most hypocritical ways of slandering the Soviet Union in later years and especially today were put into words by certain Ottomans even at an early date as 1918:

“I am afraid that even if the founding father of socialism Marx had come out of his tomb, the Bolsheviks would have executed him as well.” [3]

This was an interesting period as, apart from those who claim that the idea of socialism is good but Bolshevism is bad, it was possible to see practical Ottoman intellectuals who argue that Bolsheviks were not communists; hence there would be no harm in establishing close connections with them.

The picture started to change as the war ended with the defeat of Germany and her allies. The Ottoman Empire was getting confined in a quite narrow scope with the conditions imposed by Mondros (October 30, 1918) and then by Sevres (August 10, 1920) treaties, which in turn rendered a solution based on Turkish nationality the only possible option in the territories that were utterly limited for “Ottoman” ideals.

The leading cadres of this option and Mustafa Kemal, who soon became the leader of this movement, did not have fundamental problems with Western nations. However, as the future projected after the imperialist war by the side of the winners, particularly by Britain, for Anatolia did not provide Turkish nationalism the right to live; the Kemalist movement would need to convince them somehow.

Having succeeded in imposing preposterous conditions to the Germans with the Versailles Treaty, it was clear that British imperialism would have no interest in giving the right to speak to the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. As soon as Mustafa Kemal and his companions started the “war of independence” during which they cautiously avoided any open armed clashes with the British, they were compelled to make historical decisions about their relations with the Soviet Union.

The Bolsheviks, due to understandable reasons, tested whether a revolution overreaching the limits of a bourgeois revolution was possible in Anatolia. We know that in 1919 Soviet officials and diplomats carried out investigations both to establish the first contact with the Kemalist cadres and to come up with an answer to the this question. Having recognized that the increasing popularity of Bolshevism could not be enough at all to ignite a strong and pro-socialist upsurge in Turkey, the “realists” among the Bolshevik cadres of the day decided to draw Mustafa Kemal and his companions away from the British as far as possible and support them in their struggle for independence and national sovereignty. In 1920, when the march of the revolution towards the West was stopped in Poland and the Bolsheviks turned their face to the East, these developments had major outcomes for the struggle in Anatolia. Although the Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku (1-7 September 1920) was quite optimistic about the ideological character of the revolutionary forces in the East, it gradually became more important for the Bolsheviks to establish intimacy with the national movement in Anatolia based on “mutual interests” rather than initiating “revolutionary adventures”. [4]

Even though the relations between the Bolsheviks and the Kemalists were multidimensional and were going with ups and downs, they had an indisputable historical value in many respects:

  1. The weapons and the monetary aid provided by the Bolsheviks was a vital support for the independence movement in Anatolia to maintain itself in military and political terms, and to become successful.
  2. In a strategically sensitive territory, the Soviet government could manage to isolate a certain region from the threat against itself.
  3. The Kemalists helped other muslim peoples in the East, such as those in India, to tend towards a fight against imperialism.
  4. The Kemalists played a great role in enabling the Bolsheviks to acquire control over the Caucasus, particularly over Azerbaijan, and eliminate pro-British political powers and political forces in this region.
  5. Ankara government utilized its relations with the Soviet Union effectively in its negotiations with the British and the French, which in due course created disadvantages for the Bolsheviks.
  6. The Kemalist movement prevented Moscow from providing an effective support to the communist movement in Anatolia at an utterly critical period.

Evidently, the rapprochement between the Bolsheviks and the Kemalists had positive and negative outcomes for the world revolutionary process. However, in the last instance, when we take into account that a strong workers’ movement did not exist in Anatolia in that period, we may say that the “close” collaboration were to the interests of the “revolutionary” front. In any case, this was what generated a regional legitimacy to the Turkish bourgeois revolution, whose anti-imperialist character was weak.

Anti-communism is gaining power

As the occupation in Anatolia ended, some of the factors that compelled the Kemalists to build close relations with Soviet Russia became obsolete. Yet, Mustafa Kemal did not challenge the Soviet Union completely when the Soviet card to force the British and the French to recognize his government lost its former significance; neither he was that superficial, nor the conditions of the day provided such a space of maneuvering for the young Republic of Turkey. The relationships between Turkey and the Soviet Union lost the warmness it used to have during the period of “armed struggle”, but they carried on to have a “friendly” character. However, as the rapidly strengthening capitalist power established itself due to the great political authority of the founding cadres and as the relations with the Western states got normalized, the gates of anti-communism started to be opened widely in due course.

All over the world, anti-communism and anti-Sovietism overlap to a great extent. But in Turkey this is even more so; apart from overlapping, anti-communism and anti-Sovietism are almost identical in this country.

The attitude of Ankara government against the Soviet Union during Lausanne negotiations, which started in a period when the military episode of the war was over, but the Republic of Turkey was not yet declared, in between November 1922 and July 1923, proved well how the new rulers of Anatolia were nursing a grudge for the fight against communism.

Turkey helped surprisingly a lot to the Western powers in order to keep the Bolsheviks, the only great force that stood by her side during the war, away from the diplomatic negotiations. During the negotiations, it was the Bolsheviks who decided to make all sorts of sacrifices to strengthen Turkey’s hand against imperialists. They did this despite the fact that the triumphant Kemalists started to wage a widespread campaign to suppress and wipe out the communists during September and October 1922!

The voice of Soviet Russia was muted in Lausanne. Only when the situation of the straits was discussed, what voice of the communists could be heard. They were taking a stance contrary to their interests and demanding an authority over the position of the straits that Turkey was not actually entitled (and even did not want!). That was why the British diplomat Lord Curzon was saying for the Soviet diplomat Chicherin, “Even more Turkish than the Turks”. [5]

On the contrary, the Turkish delegation headed by İsmet İnönü was busy showing how eager Turkey was in taking a role in confining communism, i.e. the Soviet Union. They preferred to support the impositions of imperialism rather than the proposals of the Soviet delegates that were to the advantage of Turkey. While the mechanisms which were deployed in massacring Mustafa Suphi in 1920 started to be utilized again in order to do away with the communists in the country, the friendship with the Soviet Union started to cease from being the main axis of the foreign policy. This time, Turkey was using its relations with Western countries in order to confine the Soviet Union into a relationship with herself. Moscow could not find any solution but to act cautiously so as not to push Turkey into the arms of imperialism completely. Yet, the interests of the bourgeoisie, which were gradually pulling itself round, has already been orienting the country towards a new route.

The anti-communist discourse that we will witness in the entire history of the Republic of Turkey was given a start.

The most prominent and the strongest argument of anti-communism in Turkey has been that communism was an “alien factor”. I already mentioned how this argument was put in place in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. It was Mustafa Kemal, who was delivering the speeches in the same vein in TBMM of the War of Independence, while putting the argument in a “friendly” context this time:

“Gentlemen, there might be two kinds of precautions. The first: To crush those who talk about Communism immediately, to utilize fierce, destructive measures such as not allowing any man coming from Russia to step on the land if he is coming by ship or expelling him directly if he is coming by road. We have recognized such precautions as useless in two respects: Firstly, the Russian Republic which we deem good political relations as a necessity is entirely communist. If we have taken such radical measures, under no circumstances we should have any relation with and had any interest in the Russians. (…) Therefore, we considered the most effective remedy as explaining our people, as enlightening the public opinion of the nation that Communism is unacceptable for our country in view of our religious requirements.” [6]

Nearly one week after this speech was delivered; Mustafa Suphi and his comrades were killed.

The argument claiming that communism could not be valid for Turkey has always been predicated on three pretexts:

  1. There is no capitalist class in Turkey.
  2. Turkey is a muslim country.
  3. Communism is not an indigenous thought.

While the Kemalists were expressing heartily the thesis that “there is no capitalist class in Turkey”, at the same time, they were working passionately to create a capitalist class by utilizing the means of the state. Even when Turkish bourgeoisie became so large that it was impossible to be hidden behind the lie “we are a nation without privileges and classes”, they were still shameless enough to claim that “Bolshevism relies on class struggles, but we do not have classes”.

In due course, this side of the story was forgotten, but the argument about communism being an “alien” factor has not been abandoned at all. They were so sure that this argument worked so well, hence they went all lengths in order not to allow the communists to exist in the Turkish territory. They prepared the evidences to support the argument, “the roots of communism lies outside”, by making the communist movement in Turkey dependent upon the Soviet Union and afterwards to other socialist countries.

In other words, the oppression and terror against communists during the history of the republic have not only aimed to suppress and eliminate them, but also to win an ideological superiority over the communists by rendering them soilless. We will touch upon another aspect of this issue below.

In order to make Islam, in turn, an effective element of anti-communism, there were three requirements: To make communists’ approach to religion look coarse, to modify the accusations of reactionary ideologies in the West in this context into the language of Islam, and to recognize that religious fanaticism can be as effective as nationalism in the counter-revolutionary struggle. Nevertheless, the Kemalist cadres were not so willing to give a dominant role, even in ideological terms, to religious circles which they tried to keep under control persistently during the years of foundation and settlement. For them, religion was like a water dam that should not lose its force by being overused, and they contented themselves with remembering this point. It is obvious that the Kemalist cadres, who allowed religion to maintain the position it has in social life due to several reasons while purging it from the administrative structure, were planning to break the influence of Soviet Russia, which was getting stronger day by day just beside Turkey, by means of the sterile social sphere created by religion.

However, anti-communism in Turkey has always benefited the most from the traditional “hostility to Russians”. Undoubtedly, there were historical causes for such hostility. It was impossible that the formidable wars between Ottoman and Russian empires not to leave any marks over the people. Just as the competition and conflicts over regions such as Crimea, which had been within the sovereign base area and then within the area of interest of the Ottoman Empire, deeply affected the Slavs living in these territories and eventually turned into an unbridled “hostility to Turks”, it was impossible for Turkish nationalism to ignore the explicit role played by Russia in the contraction of the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, when we add the passion for Istanbul that Russian Orthodoxy never tried to hide, one can say that the image of “the Russian bear that would like to reach the warm seas” had become one of the constant elements in the world view of the Ottomans in 20th century.

I have already emphasized that during the last years of the Ottoman Empire the October Revolution drew this image away to a certain extent, but could not eliminate it completely. Although it seems that the hostility to Russia was replaced by sympathy to the Bolsheviks under the heat of the War of Independence, sincerity never existed between two countries even at the time when rapprochement was at the top, since some of the leading Kemalist cadres were genuinely cadres of Britain or France, Mustafa Kemal and his close associates were utterly concerned about the sympathy towards Soviet Russia in poor Anatolia and even the most willing cadres about developing the relations with the Soviet Union were, in the last instance, aiming an integration with the West.

While the Bolsheviks usually made realistic assessments about the leadership in Anatolia and develop a sound understanding about its class bases, they were paying attention to give assurance to this new ruling class of Turkey and keep their promises. In return, in many occasions, they experienced an “evasive” approach “keeping his cards close to his chest”.

The obvious reason of such behavior was that the Kemalist cadres were seeing the Soviet Union as the heir of Russia, so they never thought of a permanent friendship with this country and wanted to use “the hostility against Russia” as a precaution against Bolshevism when they need to.

Kemalists were so conditioned to see the occupying imperialist states as their prospective friends that they were quite arrogant about the backwardness of Soviet Russia and the rudeness of the Bolsheviks without taking the backward social relations in Anatolia into account. They considered the re-emerging Turkey as “part of the developed Western civilization” and Russia as a temporary ally!

One can think of this view of Kemalists as one of the reasons why hostility to Russia could be utilized so effectively in the bourgeois order’s fight against communism. Communism is an alien factor to Turkey, and moreover, it belongs to Russia who is “hostile” to the Turkish land!

We need to note that the first communists of Turkey strived really a lot to break this conception and in this endeavor, they never developed pragmatic approaches that would overshadow the Soviet Union or the comradeship with its ruling party. On the other hand, of course, certain problems that arose in time in the relationships between CPSU and other parties in the world put a strain on TKP as well and provided new arguments for “the roots of the communists lies outside” discourse of anti-communism.

Concluding Remarks

It is clear that the role played by the Kemalist cadres in establishing and shaping the anti-communist ideology should not be underestimated. For the “appendage” to the elements we mentioned above were only made in 1980s through neoliberalism, which launched a quite sharp battle against the working class. With this appendage, attempts to condemn socialism over “liberties” and “democracy” gained a rather effective paradigm. On top of hostility against Russia, the religious factor, the specificity of Turkey etc. anti-communism dealt a hard blow on especially middle classes and the intellectuals with its “libertarian” discourse, the effects of which was aggravated by the defencist and timid stance of the Soviet Union that was getting under way of a demise.

Nevertheless, despite this latest appendage, those who drew the framework of anti-communism in Turkey were the founding cadres of the Republic of Turkey, and in their graves, they are probably making fun of the foolish attempts of certain “leftist” intellectuals who are trying to calumniate the later bourgeois powers for this responsibility.

[1] The speech of German industrialist Alfredd Krupp addressed to his workers in 1877. GREBING Helga; History of the German Labour Movement, Berg Publishers, 1985, p.53.

[2] KOCABAŞOĞLU Uygur - BERGE Metin, Bolşevik İhtilali ve Osmanlılar (The Bolshevik Revolution and the Ottomans), Kebikeç Yayınları, 1994.

[3] Ataullah Bahaeddin, Rusya Müslümanları ve Bolşevikler (Russian Muslims and the Bolsheviks), Sebilürreşad, October1918. Quoted in KOCABAŞOĞLU - BERGE, p.163.

[4] Some developments during 1919 and 1920 listed below would help us to understand better how the course of events affected each other:

  1. August 15, 1919: Greek army occupied Izmir and took part in the partitioning of Anatolia with the direction of the British – May 19, 1919: Mustafa Kemal travelled from Istanbul to Samsun in order to build contacts for National Liberation. Although the official Kemalist thesis hides the truth about this trip to a certain extent, one shall pay attention to the fact that significant steps to initiate a “resistance against the occupation” started only after the Greek came into the picture.
  2. March 16, 1920: The British occupied Istanbul – April 23, 1920: The Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) that was asking for “independence” started to function in Ankara as an alternative to Istanbul government whose hands were tied.
  3. August 10, 1920: The Sevres Treaty imposed by imperialist countries on Istanbul government was signed – September 1, 1920: The Congress of the Peoples of the East got together in Baku with the participation of many Kemalist delegates along with Turkish communists as well – September 10, 1920: Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) was established in Baku.
  4. January 28, 1921:The leader of TKP, Mustafa Suphi, and his 15 comrades were killed by Ankara government, and the party had a hard blow – March 16, 1921: A treaty of amity between Soviet Russia and Ankara government was signed.

[5] Bülent GÖKAY Bolşevizm İle Emperyalizm Arasında Türkiye (Turkey between Bolshevism and Imperialism), Yurt Yayınları, 1997, translated by Sermet Yalçın, p. 191.

[6] Quoted from the speech delivered by Mustafa Kemal in January 22, 1921 at TBMM by Rasih Nuri İLERİ, Atatürk ve Komünizm (Atatürk and Communism), Scala Yayınları, 1999, p. 280.