Proletarian internationalism as a weapon of the working class against nationalism and chauvinism

Ekin Sönmez, Member of the CC of the Communist Party of Turkey

The cooperation of the workers from different countries towards a common goal started together with the emergence of capitalism, the creation of the modern working class and its confrontation with the bourgeoisie. As a mode of production, in which the production became socialized, the exchange became universalized, and capital became internationalized and increasingly concentrated, the end of capitalism will come with the elimination of the basic contradiction that characterizes it.

The basic plane of the struggle of revolutionary organizations for seizing the power in the name of the working class is the countries where they are born and belong to. However, the capitalist class diversified the mechanisms of its attacks in the era of imperialism, and challenged the future of humanity in the international level along with its harms and devastation in the national level. Organizing an international counterattack against this threat does not contradict with struggling against the bourgeois classes of each country, it is an indispensable necessity. Proletarian internationalism is extremely contemporary in this manner.

This is not the only reason why internationalism is contemporary. Nearly thirty years have passed since the collapse of real socialism. We clearly see today that these thirty years stood for losses and declines not only for the peoples of the former Soviet lands but also for the whole peoples of the world. We better understand the gains and values of socialism as the contradiction between the increasing richness of a handful property owners and the tragic life stories of billions of poor workers deepen. The importance of this struggle for an egalitarian social order based on the fraternity of the peoples on the class basis is becoming more clear today.

The temporary dissolution of the socialist system has had a corrosive effect upon the communist parties in terms of class consciousness. The weaknesses of a large number of parties to observe and analyze the objective dynamics from a revolutionary perspective and to take the lead in the struggle of the peoples in order to transform the society, makes itself evident extremely intensive; mass uprisings remain "unowned" or wither away. It is necessary to revive an internationalist interaction between the working class parties to put an end to this weakness.

Based upon all these requirements, this article aims to remember the definition of internationalism and to discuss some concrete cases regarding the Communist Party of Turkey's defense of internationalism.

Is internationalism only a call for solidarity and fraternity?

Internationalism is one of the indispensable values of class struggle. Reducing it to a so-called international solidarity just with slogans would be unfair to the working class' 150-year accumulation in the name of internationalism, and would stand for the withdrawal of this struggle. The working class parties' task is neither to “make do with” nor to have apolitical and insincere shows of friendship without any content. Unfortunately, the number of such cases reducing internationalism to this level is not very few, and it is very sad to see that such cases sometimes can turn into caricatures dancing to anti-communism's tune.

This suggestion does definitely not mean the denial of being heirs to a universal history among the working class parties, nor of a comradely bond as we struggle for a common ideal, nor of the importance of sharing a common spirit.

Internationalism charges vanguard parties with some tasks for the struggle for establishing a society based on the equality of the worldwide proletariat as the fulfilment of these tasks become its reason of being.

The argument of the Bolsheviks to turn their weapons not to their class fellows but to their own bourgeoisie during the First World War served this task. Turning the imperialist war into a civil war with the goal of seizing the power became one of the key decisions leading to the Bolshevik Revolution, the hitherto greatest step to abolish the order of exploitation around the world. This was one of the arguments that would pave the way for the establishment of the Comintern that emerged to become a world-party just after the October Revolution; therefore, Lenin was talking about the new international in this manner even before its establishment.[1] Organized within the frame of a revolutionary programme, the Comintern sections found their common resolution to have a fight in their own countries against opportunism, social democracy and social-chauvinism and the betrayal of the Second International. As we celebrate the centenary of the establishment of the Comintern, we, the parties seeking for the revolution, need to review again for what and against what this establishment was conducted.

Of course, such many factors as the specific conditions of every countries, the general politicization level of the working class, the tempo and concrete conditions of the struggle, the bourgeoisie's tendencies in the country and in the imperialist order, and whether there is any revolutionary uprising will determine the political strategy and tactics of the communist party struggling in that country. The fact that all these do not completely coincide with each other does not necessarily mean that the revolutionary parties will not act in internationalist solidarity; such a thing would not be anticipated. Proficiently discussing what internationalism was or not within the context of the First World War, Lenin noted that in this respect, the autonomy of the various parties is beyond dispute.[2] Likewise, the differences of scale or the physical distances between them cannot be justified to exclude internationalism.

However, internationalism cannot exist with a so-called union of parties that lost their revolutionary characteristics, of whose analyses somehow indicate to pro-establishment solutions, of whose programmes contradict with each other in terms of outlines, let alone the details. If the imperialist stage is the highest stage of capitalism, if it is the age of crises and socialist revolutions, internationalism should have anti-imperialist characteristics; and such a time in the future may not be too far for us to need to act in a fast pace that we cannot lose time with unrealistic unions. Of course, one should not draw a conclusion here like omitting the historically developed bonds and links; in contrary, we need to push the limits to fill such unions with real, tangible content.

The following issues are among the actual tasks of the TKP, some guiding issues directly related with internationalism.

Fraternity in both sides of the Aegean

We don’t need to go far away for the first example. A common declaration undersigned by the KKE and the TKP addressing the working classes of both countries shows that internationalism is the only weapon against the Turkish and Greek nationalisms and against the hostile sentiments of the peoples against each other, which have both proven their usefulness as an instrument of imperialism in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. It is the promise of the communists in order "not to turn their weapons to their class fellows" in both capitalist countries where the governments have collaborated with the Western imperialism and have competed with each other to be the closest ally of it; the two countries which became members of NATO, the war machine of imperialism. Rather than an ordinary sign of solidarity, it is a programmatic call to abolish the capitalist barbarity. It is an international action plan undersigned by the parties that interpret the developments in the region and the world in light of Marxism-Leninism.

Our parties address the peoples of the two countries, the peoples of the region, and we call upon them to strengthen the struggle against the exploitative system which generates crises, unemployment, poverty, refugees, educational-cultural degradation, interventions and imperialist wars. To strengthen the efforts for the class unity of the working class, the social alliance with the oppressed by the monopoly popular strata, to develop the class struggle, the struggle for the workers' power, for socialism, which in our day is more timely and necessary than ever.

The lines of this declaration echo the communists who were calling for refusing to fire against their brother workers at the expense of losing the war among the Greek troops who were dragged into the other side of the Aegean Sea to occupy Anatolia under the pressure of the Great Britain, the leading imperialist power in 1920. Refusing to fire on a foreign ground against other people also stands for advocating for the defeat of the bourgeoisie of one's own country, and instead for the interests of the working peoples of every country. This is itself of the Bolsheviks' understanding of proletarian internationalism. Although the communists paid the price with their lives, they left a revolutionary legacy for the later hundred years.

The propaganda of the declaration is a political and ideological struggle against the hegemonic nationalist ideology that aims to weaken the workers and push back the class consciousness. The declaration directly targeted the nationalist sentiments of bourgeoisie, and on top of that, it offered a solution.

Internationalism for the class solution to the Cyprus problem

The history of Cyprus is full of imperialist provocations because of the island's location, its resources and strategic importance in commercial and military terms. The interests of international monopolies have provoked ethnic and national differences against each other in Cyprus, leading to so many devastations including bloody actions, military coups and interventions until today. The Cyprus issue has become "the permanent raw material of nationalist policies"[3] both in Turkey and Greece, this discourse has turned the peoples against each other, and always become a useful pacifier for the bourgeoisie to subjugate the working class.

Looking from today, analysing an approach that had inadequacies in terms of internationalism could give an idea about the attitude that the communist parties should develop. The approaches in Turkey’s left which argued for adopting anti-imperialism and patriotism in the 1960s while advocating for an intervention in the sovereign state of Cyprus is an example in which nationalism outweighed internationalism. This temporary coincidence with the nationalist theses of the bourgeoisie became a disputable attitude with regards to the struggle for peace and to proletarian internationalism even though it relied on an anti-Western approach.

What played a role in this case, as the national interests became a basic thesis of a socialist revolutionary party, can be the lack of a class approach in such analyses in this period. The increasing legitimacy of the anti-colonialist movements, the struggles for national liberation and independence in the 1960s during the Cold War sometimes overshadowed the class antagonisms. In the Left, defending anti-imperialism and patriotism within the struggle for the emancipation of Turkey against the imperialist oppression meant the use of the Turkish bourgeoisie's nationalist tongue in terms of the Cyprus issue. That same period has left us the legacy of one of the most important political experiences in the history of the Turkish working class. Although the issue of Cyprus is only a part of it, when considered from today, one can suggest that a that a different approach could have been developed.

Today, the Eastern Mediterranean is more pregnant to provocations than ever. We are going through a period, in which the energy monopolies seek for shaping the use of newly discovered resources for their interests, and the imperialist states make plans for division swinging between alliances and competitions. It is possible to see even today that these plans stand for great dangers for the peoples of the region. Following an unprincipled foreign policy by playing to the contradictions between the imperialist states while acting extremely pragmatically for its expansionist goals, the Turkish bourgeoisie finds support for these goals in the nationalist ideology that it applies in the country by means of its "guarantor" role in Cyprus. There is no apparent reason for any conflict not to spread to Turkey; and in such a conflict, the blood of the working people, which the hegemonic forces try to convince with the illusion of "great power" through nationalist theses, will be shed, unless they organize a strong resistance against this conflict.

We need to put it clearly with the courage of the Bolsheviks a century ago: For the Communist Party of Turkey, the defense of the independency and integrity of Cyprus and the socialist power of the working people of Cyprus is a core responsibility. As an organisation that is fighting against the dirty hands of imperialism in all the region including Cyprus and against the Turkish bourgeoisie that is chasing for its own share, this responsibility is much more than showing solidarity from abroad or simply supporting a demand. Internationalism must be a key element to the Turkish and Cypriot peoples' struggle against their common enemy; it should definitely rely on a class basis, and reject all the proposals of solution that involves the inclusion of bourgeoisie, more or less, in any respect. This thesis does not contradict patriotism as imperialism continues to be threat to both peoples in the two countries. Of course, this struggle should involve the end of the occupation of Cyprus under the tag of “guarantor state” and abolishing the social system that allows it. It should involve kicking out imperialism from the island, with its all extensions, higher administrative organs, military bases and forces including those of the United Nations.

The Kurdish workers and TKP

The Turkish government's pro-Western shift in foreign policy and its relations with imperialism in the aftermath of the Second World War stood for new adjustments in internal affairs as well. The bourgeoisie paradoxically resorted to the instrument of nationalism while reinforcing this engagement; not only the right-wing parties and the government but also social democracy and the pro-establishment opposition used nationalism. One aspect of this is the nationalist propaganda against the Kurds, Armenians and Greeks. Another aspect is the heavier exploitation of the Kurdish workers as this fact has always remained stable independently of the bourgeoisie's conjunctural tendencies. Yet another aspect led to the suppression of the Left that was going through a new awakening, and anticommunism that has permanently remained even after the Soviet Union ceased to be a "threat".

We cannot argue that Turkey is a completely specific case in this respect. In many countries, nationalism is being fostered by imperialism, the organizations bearing nationalist/fascist ideologies are financially supported, trained, manipulated and armed. The paramilitary structures of nationalism are unexceptionally counter-revolutionary, and their first targets are always the left-wing people of that country. In this respect, nationalism weakens the working class by not only separating the peoples from each other but also by undermining the intellectual sources of the socialist struggle.[4] However, what should be underlined in the case of Turkey is that nationalism goes along with Islamism, and that these two reactionary ideologies foster each other, jointly leading to a greater destruction in the country.

On the other hand, the Kurdish political movement also uses another version of nationalism as it became one of the permanent elements of the Turkish politics, as a consequence of both internal dynamics of Turkey and of the rise of identity politics around the world as of the 1980s. It should be described as a bourgeois movement with the policies it follows in Turkey and the region. Its distance from the June Resistance, that was the greatest popular uprising against the rule of AKP in 2013, its desire to include the US in the solution process, its willingness to carry on the role of a “tongs” in order for US imperialism to operate in the region, its interaction with the representative organizations of the Turkish capitalist class, and its capability of repressing the left-leaning elements within itself are the usual examples of nationalism, which are indeed consistent in itself.

The TKP advocates that the Kurdish working people's struggle for equality and liberty could be achieved not on the basis of identity but class. From this point of view, it should not be forgotten that any internationalist solidarity in the name of the Left with the Kurdish people, who are oppressed in economic, social and cultural terms, should be realized by supporting the independent struggle of the working class in Turkey rather than the movements that are contaminated with nationalism.

Immigrant workers and internationalism

Forced by imperialism to leave their homelands, forced to immigrate under the shadow of guns or in the absence of financial alternatives, starting to sell their labour in another country with a formal or informal status, the immigrant workers consist one percent of the world population today.

Turkey has been one of the countries that received the highest number of immigrants in recent years; furthermore, it is argued that the biggest number of immigrants live in Turkey. Apart from its geographical location, the government has a blame in this fact as being primarily responsible for the displacement of the peoples in the Middle East with the authorization it obtained from the Turkish capitalist class. Today, at least 80 percent of the immigrant people over 4 million are living in the cities. The women, men and children are forced to work under grave and precarious conditions in mostly manual-labour sectors with almost no bargaining power. The bourgeoisie is extremely consistent as it provides no projection for the integration of these people; because otherwise, it would be very painful to deal with the conclusions if this most frustrated, most suffering strata of the society emancipates and attempts to seek for their rights. In this respect, the exploitation of immigrant labour is one of the indispensable surplus value sources of the 21st century capitalism. Although they are living in ghettos and defined areas, and although emigrating from the same country and sharing a common national identity provides an initial cohesion, a temporary basis for them to protect each other, the fates of the immigrant bosses and immigrant workers rapidly diverge from eachother. As the Syrian workers constitute the poorest strata of our country while being exposed to the hatred of the citizens who are seized with fear "we will lose our jobs because of them"; according to a report by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 2018, 70 percent of the Syrian bosses are pleased with their profits, they do not want to return to their county.

Now in the eighth year of the imperialism-led war in Syria, we can surely note that the immigrant workers are part of the Turkish working class. Internationalism requires cooperating and struggling together with the immigrant workers, keeping in mind that they were displaced due to a war in which the Turkish bourgeoisie had played a direct role, and that they are consequently subject to the exploitation of the same bourgeoisie.

The fact that the bourgeois class was the leading force for creating the national unity during the initial stage of capitalism had concrete grounds in accordance with its class interests. In the hands of the bourgeoisie it lost its progressive characteristics in a short time. Nationalism became an instrument of dividing the working class in ethnic and national terms, assimilating the minority groups with stereotypes while provoking enmity in the majority, and deepening the exploitation. In foreign policies, it was used to colonize the other peoples, and to convince the middle class of its oppressive and expansionist policies. Nationalism has always been a reactionary and anti-communist ideology with its all versions without exception, which corrupts the working class, making it afraid of its own shadow as long as it becomes the enemy of other people.

Most importantly, as emphasized by the examples given above, nationalism is class collaborationism. No matter under which pretext, may that be peace, independence, development or so forth it is set, nationalism should not be given credit. Loving one’s homeland should not be the excuse of making compromises that would in the end be in favour of bourgeoisie. Communists make politics to transform their homeland where they were born, live and produce, and to liberate it from the power of bourgeoisie. This is what defines their love for their homeland, this is what defines their patriotism.

Today, nation as an element of superstructure cannot succeed in what it did two centuries ago, it falls short of providing the unity despite the class antagonisms. Internationalism is one of the strongest and contemporary instruments of us in order to prevent the further destruction of the workers, a considerable part of whom are displaced, left without a home/land or feel "heimatlos" as the superstructure of nation defined under the power of bourgeoisie cannot contain them, or of the masses that are perplexed with nationalist demagogies who become the foot soldiers for unreal and unscientific antagonisms.

Imperialism is going through a crisis. The bourgeois class and its national/international political representatives wish to abandon the impact of the crisis by laying the burden on the working class, by force or by other means. It is, and only is, in the hands of the working class and its revolutionary vanguard to counteract against the influence of bourgeois parties on the working people and not to allow this crisis to turn into a total crisis of humanity. The communist parties should get prepared this very day on an internationalist basis for gathering strength altogether for the upcoming final battle, for more efficient strikes in the geographical areas where the crisis may lead to revolutionary situations. Being an internationalist should be part of the communist identity. All the experience we have gained in the name of internationalism since the establishment of the Comintern should become the arsenal of today's Bolshevik parties.

[1] Social-Chauvinists and Internationalists, Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 24, pages 324-325.

[2] On the Struggle Against Social-Chauvinism, Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 21, pages 199-204.

[3] Ahmet An, Kıbrıs’ta Üç Dönem Üç Aydın, Yazılama Yayınları, s 9.

[4] The recent history of Turkey is carries the stain of the murders of socialist intellectuals and trade-union leaders and even mass murders. Those that defend the fraternity of peoples without being socialists themselves were also subject to the ruthlessness of nationalism.