The 100th year of a party pursuing revolution

Kemal Okuyan, TKP General Secretary

The social sciences too often define political parties as institutions seeking to obtain political power. This aspiration attributed to political parties is used to distinguish political parties from interest groups. Definitely, there are numerous traps hidden in this definition formulated by bourgeois ideology, which seeks to prevent the analysis of mass struggles by class contradictions and to blur the contradiction between labor and capital through distracting the focus from this main conflict to an endless number of new and separate categories.

In time, newer and ‘bolder’ approaches have been developed dealing with the content, tools, scope, and actors of politics. The ideologues of the bourgeoisie have recently managed to trivialize the very idea of ‘political party’, while preaching to refrain from grand narratives, to focus on minor realms of daily life, to aim at compromise in political struggles, to bound their expectations pragmatic political leaders, who dismiss political programs or principles, instead of taking part in a political activity based on collective will. In the same process, we have witnessed many on the left has started to hail retreating from political power as a virtue. 

This, at its root, is an attack on Marxism and an attempt to strip of the great prestige and gains of the working class that have become the nightmare of the capitalist class since the middle of the 19th century.

The Revolutions of 1848, which marked a significant rise in the impact of the working class on the social and political life of Europe, coincided with a historical moment of oscillation of the bourgeoisie between revolutionary and counterrevolutionary poles. At the time, the idea of revolution was legitimate in its entirety and had enormous public support as well. As the bourgeoisie tried to renounce this revolutionary position, which, in fact, had been inherited from the 1789 French Revolution, the proletariat immediately introduced itself as the candidate that would undertake the revolutionary role.

Soon aftermath of the 1789 revolution, the revolutionary bourgeoisie abandoned its radical line, lost its revolutionary energy, and, besides, the capital started to seek stability instead of revolution. But the revolutionary outbreaks were far from waning. In 1830 the revolution took the stage of history again, and in 1848 the situation was once again spiralling out of hand.

Despite the best efforts of the absolutists and the most reactionary segments of the bourgeoisie to defame the idea of revolution; revolutionism and the idea of ‘making a revolution’ preserved an incomparable legitimacy not only because of the collective will of the people behind it, but also because no authority or class could confront the principles of the great revolution: liberté, égalité, fraternité. 

The conclusion of the Revolutions of 1848 with the restoration of order was undoubtedly a negative outcome for the working class. Despite this, the right and expectation of the proletariat to establish a different order continued to be the reality of the age. In all developed capitalist states independent organizations struggling to build socialism were founded one after another and, in a short while, they turned into mass organizations representing a significant section of society. 

In the Age of Revolutions, the 1871 Paris Commune signified the betrayal of the bourgeoisie to revolutionary ideals and its moving to the counterrevolutionary camp, abandoning the proletariat to be the only actor left defending the idea of revolution. The tide had already been flowing in this direction. The capitalist class had been seeking stability and thinking on precautions to stop revolutionary change, which had been shaking the very foundations of bourgeois order. 

One of the precautions taken by the French bourgeoisie, who brought the Parisian proletariat to its knees by spilling the blood of its best members, was collaborating with the invading Prussians that had laid siege to the very gates of Paris. The end of the Commune also came to mean the replacement of France by Germany as the new centre of the workers’ movement.

Throughout the entire period when the revolutionary ideas were spreading from France to the continent, Germany was a stronghold of order and conservatism where the bourgeoisie was acting with extreme caution. Therefore, the replacement of France by Germany as the new centre of the workers’ movement was of course going to have serious consequences. In France, the legacy of 1789 was to a certain extent tying the hands of the bourgeoisie against the working class. That was because the idea of revolution was legitimate and it was not easy to change this fact. On the other hand, although Germany could not escape from the effects of revolutionary turmoil, it was still under the control of ‘the party of order’ symbolized by the personality of Bismarck. The German working class quickly became a political power organized on the platform of social democracy but this did not lead to the weakening of the authority of ‘the party of order’. It could even be said that the German working class movement developed alongside the maturation of the belated imperialist phase of German capitalism. Even, it can be argued that this development to some extent took place through feeding on the process of imperialist advancement.

Despite this, the German proletariat strengthened with an impetus that rendered Bismarck’s prohibitions irrelevant; and the idea of revolution gained immense popularity alongside the prospect for a radical change. By the beginning of the 20th century, there were millions of workers standing for a “socialist order” in Germany and the German Social Democratic Party that organized these workers virtually gained political immunity.

However, regarding the idea of radical change and of revolution, there was a significant difference in German experience that could not be dismissed just as a detail. Revolution in the 19th century France was a phenomenon that could not fit in any shell and would make itself felt with sudden outbursts. In Germany, however, it acquired a solemn, steady, and incredibly powerful character. The German labor movement obtained some of the features of the capitalist power, so to speak, and attempted to engage in a rivalry with the capitalist class over attaining power, stability, and, order.

The German state aimed at taming the idea of revolution and, thus, the social democracy and through its political organization the German working class movement. In 1914 it appeared to what extent the German state had made progress in achieving this task. By the First World War, the German social democracy was integrated into the established order to the extent that it was now unable to undertake the idea of revolution.

However, the First World War, which was the outcome of the deepening conflicts between imperialist centers, caused unprecedented destruction within such a short time that the poor masses, who had forgotten their aspirations for revolution and a humanly order, started to ask again: “Are we destined to these inhumane conditions?” In fact, the idea of revolution had not been entirely vanished, and the painful realities quickly revitalized the memories. Despite its initial glorification through nationalist propaganda, soon it became obvious that the war meant death, starvation, plague and unemployment for the millions, which infuriated the masses. Thus, the peoples of the world started to look for salvation again.

The Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Lenin, ushered the solution. In February 1917, just as the Russian revolutionary wave that overthrew the Tzar, who had dragged the already worn-out country into the world war in order to satisfy the greedy property-owning class of Russia and to strengthen his own impaired rule, was ebbing, the Bolsheviks managed to crown it by establishing a socialist power and gave fresh energy to the revolutionary zeal.

This revolutionary energy generated by the October Revolution immediately extended into the domain of the German bosses, whose arrogance, confidence, and established order was already sinking. In November 1918, the German people dethroned the Kaiser and declared a republic. Suddenly, the “Revolution” turned into a reality in Europe in front of which everyone without exception had to bend down with respect. Who could dare to beat a revolution that now regained prestige in countries such important as Germany and Russia!

The German working class was about to pull the rug from under the feet of order-obsessed German ruling classes. But the German Social Democracy came to their rescue; thus, demonstrated that they have no limit in their service to the German imperialism. The Social Democrats demonstrated their loyalty, but this remained short of saving the German exploiters who were in constant worry from 1919 to 1923. Not only in Germany but throughout Europe, and even across the globe ‘revolution’ and the promise of a ‘new order’ became the only hope for hundreds of millions.

It is enough to remember Anatolia. The notions of reform and revolution had been present in Anatolian history long ago but for it to leave a permanent and lasting mark upon this land, one had to wait until the years following the end of WWI. Because of this legacy, the bourgeoisie in Turkey could not render the idea of revolution irrevocably legitimate, despite all efforts of the subsequent governments in Turkish history including the 12 September 1980 counter-revolutionary military junta and the present-day AKP.

However, by 1924 when the revolutionary wave started to recede, the international capital grasped the opportunity to shroud the relevance of revolution.

The young Communist movement, which forged its international identity with the foundation of the Communist International in 1919, entered into this era of revolutionary movements with great expectations. It was a common belief among the revolutionaries that the Russian working class, having seized power, was going to be a shining example and there would be other revolutions to follow. But the expectations were not realized. Under these circumstances, Soviet Russia was forced to defend itself, to heal its own wounds, and to move forward towards building communism on its own, while fighting back against the hostilities of the entire imperialist world alone. This was not something predicted, and it was absolutely disappointing for the masses living outside the Soviet Union who were, in fact, ready to sacrifice their lives in the struggle to establish a new order; communism.

It was difficult to understand and explain the developments of this era solely with the help of class consciousness as a profound analysis of the era necessitated an understanding of history, which was rarely obtained by the members of the working class. The intellectuals, on the other hand, were easily driven by non-revolutionary ideas. Unfortunately, there were more than few “Marxists”, who espoused adventurist positions and within a few years began advocating reformist solutions or, even, evolved into mouthpieces of anti-communism.

The truth is that the international working class did not enter 1924 ready to confront the new challenges of the capitalist order. The capitalist system was gradually gaining stability and the working people were slowly going back to their daily lives. It can be confidently suggested that the fundamental problems of societies were still far from any type of humane and acceptable solution but the bourgeois governments were demonstrating a more proficient performance at saving the day or distracting people’s attention from the need for a real systemic change. 

In 1929 another capitalist crisis was erupted. This devastating crisis once again shook the fortresses of capitalism around the world, while the Soviet Union was making enormous progress in the process of formation of an egalitarian order. In countries like Germany, France, Austria, etc., the working classes are once again questing after a better life. But the capitalist classes of these countries were also prepared to face new threats coming from the poor masses. Thus, in 1922 the fascist dictatorship in Italy managed to suppress the working-class movement. In Germany, a similar fascist organization led by Hitler was building up under the wings of the German state and waiting for the days the German capitalist class would need them to act.

The German imperialism needed the Nazis both for settling its accounts with other powers at the international sphere and to eliminate the threat of the working-class movement at the domestic sphere. The Nazis, with the contribution of the social democrats, managed to take over the streets, then the ballot-boxes, and eventually, the government itself. As the fascists supported by big capital came to power in Germany in 1933, the idea of revolution suffered heavy damage. 

There emerged an urgent necessity of protecting the Soviet Union from the fascist war machine when it became clear that a new world war was approaching. As the working class retreated to a defensive position as well, this marked a historical opportunity for the capitalist classes to weaken the notion of revolutionary transformation. By the end of the world war, it was now beyond doubt that imperialism as a whole took advantage of the conjecture to invalidate the idea of revolution. 

In the aftermath of the 1848 revolutions, the international revolutionary workers' movement operated through adopting the notion of revolutionary transformation as the central claim of its struggle. By the 1930s, however, other priorities started to overshadow this revolutionary vision of the movement. Scrutinizing the objective historical conditions that lead to this shift or the role of the different sections of the international movement in bringing about this change in perspective is beyond the scope of this paper. 

However, in order to continue, I have to contend that the very post-WWII era, during which we witness a radical escalation in the Soviet influence at the international area, marked the beginning of the exploitation of this above-mentioned change in the priorities of the communist movement by the bourgeoisie. 

The imperialist strategy in its struggle against communism was based on capturing and monopolizing the initiative of setting the conditions and rules of the game. This strategy roughly had four elements:

First, to make the Soviet Union pay for the power and prestige it obtained during the war by establishing a constant threat of an extended war on this country and, thus, forcing it to remain on the defensive.

Second, to render the people’s republics founded in Central and Eastern Europe the Achilles’ heel of the Soviet Union in terms of economy, ideology, culture, and politics. Thus, to push the Socialist Bloc to defensive position in the debates regarding the status and problems of these socialist experiences.

Third, regarding the communist movements organized in the capitalist countries, to physically destroy these movements, or at least oppress them to the extent that would bound them to survive under the constant threat of physical destruction. 

Fourth, to open room in bourgeois politics for those communist parties or those intra-party elements, who are exhausted after years of harsh struggles and have started to move away from the fact that aiming at revolution is the reason for their existence. In line with this, it should be reminded that opportunist trends concretized in Eurocommunism and similar currents provide a very appropriate ground for imperialists.

We should admit that they have succeeded. After all, this strategy would fail if and only if it would have challenged by a counter-strategy coming from the revolutionary camp. It is obvious that after WWII, the Communist movement could not develop an extensive and elaborative strategy. The belief that time was working against imperialism was not only proven false but also contributed tremendously to the political-ideological decay that occurred inside the vanguard party of the Soviet Union.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, which symbolizes the pinnacle of the great revolutionary wave, for the first time since 1848 the capitalist class was freed from the pressure of ‘systemic change.’ The idea of revolution was weakened dramatically, while the counterrevolutions, supported by liberalism and social democracy, gained alarming legitimacy. Meanwhile, almost all arms of the international labour movement conceded that the only way to survive politically was to give up proposing the ‘actuality of revolution.’

Considering these developments, it appears how pointless it is to ask why the labouring classes are largely immobilized or why the demand for systemic change is not embraced by the masses. Back at the time, when the working class emerged on the stage of historical for the first time, Europe was experiencing revolutionary spasms and the idea of revolution was alive, actual, and natural. The interventions that would remove the clog blocking the bloodstream of the revolution in the 1930s came too late. Even, the incredible vitality generated by the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cuban revolutions remained short of solving the problem in the central geography of class struggles; that was Europe. After 1945, Europe gradually moved away from the idea of revolution, except for some local initiatives. 

Today the foundations of capitalism are not stronger than they were in the 1920s, despite the capitalist class has accumulated a great amount of experience. On the contrary, the problems accumulated recently are more destructive than ever. Neither can it be claimed that people are happier than they were in the past. In all societies, a lack of hope, the flare of anxieties and fear dominate the public mood.

The worst of all is that the belief in the possibility of daily gains and improvements within the capitalist system as well as the idea that struggle for reforms would ameliorate the system, all have lost credibility in the face of the bitter truth that for almost forty years workers around the world are working and living in worsening conditions. There has been a surrender to the myth of a “better capitalism”, abandoning the importance of daily struggles against capitalism, which should have been seized in a revolutionary perspective, such as the organization of the working class, that they serve as a school for them and that they transform the proletariat into a political force questioning the system. The direct outcome of this dreadful reality is that reformist positions, today, are not adopting a more leftist stance but on the contrary, they are now demanding even less, they content with the least, and they recommend the working classes to do the same. 

The idea that the exit from here, or rather, the liberation of humanity through re-embracing the revolutionary ideas will coincide with a historical moment where the current shocks of capitalism lead to mass unrest, is undoubtedly based on ‘scientific’ truth. However, considering the rise of racism and right-wing populism in the last few years, there is no reason to assume that the system does not have the necessary reactionary reserves ready to strangle any future revolutionary initiative.

This conviction may seem to contradict the idea that the capitalist system is going through a historical crisis, also in terms of its ability to generate a political and ideological response to its crisis. Yet, what we are trying to emphasize here is not that these reserves of reactionary political forces constitute a comprehensive model that will save the future of world capitalism in the short or the middle-run. Rather, we would like to take attention to the fact that these flourishing reactionary movements only prove that the capitalist system is trying to fill the political and ideological void created by the current crisis through deploying the most primitive instruments available. Furthermore, it is obvious that in the widest sense racism and right-wing populism deepens the current crisis. 

What we are pointing out here is that when the ‘historical moment’ is due, the communists will face a far more complicated situation than it is assumed and the revival of the notion of revolution will not be as natural as it is expected today.

Above all, the fact that today a political culture that appeals to ignorance, stupidity, and arbitrariness prevails over the public sentiment in the developed capitalist countries must be alarming for the communists as well. The masses that are beset and driven to despair by capitalism are seeking the easiest and the simplest solutions. Therefore, they go after even obviously unreasonable ‘authorities’ that claim they will bring solutions to the problems of societies by using money and power. An attempt to explain the public support for the anti-immigrant sentiments fuelled by Trump in the US only with racism or the eerie ‘anti-mask’ stance solely with ignorance, in fact, manifest failure in comprehending the spirit of this era.

We have to admit that the very plainness of the social reality that finds its expression in the ironic question, ‘there are two sides, which side are you on?’, asked by a revolutionary guard in John Reed’s famous Ten Days That Shook the World is observed today as well but this time in the vulnerability of the poor masses to the malicious influence of right-wing populism.

While this historical crisis of capitalism invites radicalism but the invited are not around yet or, rather, they choose to consider radicalism as unrealistic, the bourgeois politics is turned into a scene of surreal performances!

On the political plane, the specific weight of the ideas of revolution and system change should increase in each single country and such ideas should even have a hegemonic claim in the political sphere. This is not difficult but impossible in circumstances where the political sphere is narrowed down to elections and the parliament. Since the political sphere has priority over the social one in terms of the retreat of the idea of revolution, the actions to be taken in this sphere should be specified one by one. 

We are in a period where it is difficult but also possible to take a revolutionary position without resorting to an archaic or nostalgic positioning. In such period, the most critical issue is that the emphasis on the actuality of revolution and socialism in line with Marxist-Leninist principles goes beyond a programmatic-discursive level and turns into creative interventions that generate and foster a revolutionary perspective on daily matters in the political sphere. The programmatic level is no doubt a basis that we cannot renounce; yet, the idea of revolution as stands there is an external one, not a natural one, because of the historical developments that I try to account for in this article. 

So much so that, under the pressure of this externality or non-naturality, communists all over the world have either cleared their programs of revolutionism or intended to balance their revolutionary program with far too reformist daily efforts. Yet, it is the revolutionization of daily positions that will actually open space for the idea of revolution; rather than an abstract revolutionary program, it is these daily positions that the working masses will interact with. 

As a matter of fact, the communist movement should quickly enter into this sphere that is left today to right-wing populism and smash down the myth that revolutionary demands do not appeal to working masses. Factors such as using an appropriate language, being genuine, acting with conviction and making it felt by others, being consistent and persistent are of course important; yet, the more important is to secure new positions among social sectors -and also in the struggle against them-, mostly named as “opinion leaders” and coded as “political elites” in bourgeois sociology, that have an influence on the shaping of perceptions of popular masses. 

By 1917 in Russia, there had not remained any strong reservoir of intellectuals that would defend the historical interests of the bourgeois class vis-à-vis the Bolsheviks. This was one of the factors that facilitated the efforts of the working class in the process up to the October Revolution. The bourgeoisie was suffering from the lack of political and cultural cadres, which considerably relieved the Bolsheviks who had a weak vein of intellectuals except for the narrow but influential set of intellectuals clustered at the center of the Party. 

Today, however, in almost all countries, there is a collection of “intellectuals” positioned between revolutionary communists and the capitalist order who move around in a considerably large sphere from the academy to media, politics to arts. The distance between these intellectuals and communism and the level of hostility or friendship of the former to the latter change from country to country. These intellectuals also include actors that serve directly to the capitalist class and help them keep this sphere under their control. On the other hand, it would be stupid to think that those elements who defend a strong conscience in some cases, peace in some cases, an advanced art in some cases, justice in some cases, public interests in some cases, and socialism -though it is just emulation- in some cases all serve the bourgeoisie. 

A communist movement that does not interact with and give energy to these elements, who can make impressive moves even in the most “hopeless” countries, a communist movement that regards revolutionism to label them as defective petit bourgeois elements who aim to seduce social dynamics does not have any chance to succeed in any capitalist country. 

Yes, these elements may generally be in limbo in class terms, unreliable in ideological terms, protective in political terms; yet, without rendering a part of them as militants or friends of the communist movement, without neutralizing a part of them, and without offsetting a part of them, it is impossible to gain back the political weight we have lost.

Instead of treating all these elements as a single subject that blocks the working-class movement, it is healthier to consider them as variables of a sphere of struggle which should be intervened in either to embrace or to eliminate them.

Instead of acting with arrogance and overlook their own inadequacies and laziness and trivializing the unorganized reservoir in the sphere of culture and arts, communists should develop ideological and political moves, severe enough to disaggregate that reservoir. 

Here, the biggest defect is the communist movement’s weird habits that go back to decades. Following World War II, the communist movement withdrew its revolutionary claims and pushed “intellectuals” to the themes of struggle such as democracy and peace. The long-term outcome was that a large section, influential in political and ideological spheres, seemed left-wing, on the one hand, and served the continuity of the system, on the other. 

To tell the truth, the communist movement today should create its own organic intellectuals instead of treating intellectuals or opinion leaders as a subject-matter of articulation and should promptly increase the number of elements that disseminate the idea of revolution and system change on the wide plane mentioned before.

It is obvious why I paid special attention to this topic: the political and ideological struggle is waged through a tooth-and-nail fight in grey areas, not through burst-fire shootings between two antagonistic classes. If the communist movement does not boil down ideological struggle to the topics of peace, human rights, women, youth, secularism, independence, environmentalism, and democracy, each of which is very comprehensive and critical, and makes an intervention to make attractive the idea of revolution and a new order, it will open big holes in a sphere that functions on behalf of the system today. 

A movement that aims at political power cannot avoid this mission, especially in a country like Turkey; otherwise, this is cowardice. 

All these should walk hand in hand with opening a space for the idea of revolution in the social sphere. 

What is to open a space for the idea of revolution in the social sphere?

First of all, it is to link working class sections who have emotionally broken off with the current system to a revolutionary political project. Crisis, coronavirus, etc.… Capitalism not only causes despair but also creates rage in a vast section of the society. In many countries, people comprehend that they are face to face with a system that does not belong to them and they embark on radical quests. The rate of this section of society is increasing each day. Besides, in some cases, these sections may be much more energetic than other elements that had entered into the magnetic field of revolutionary struggle much before and with different reasons. The more we secure new positions among these sections and the more we keep them away from counterrevolutionary currents such as racism and even fascism, the higher will be our chances to take advantage of a revolutionary period. 

However, this alone will not give us the depth we need. For the communist movement to have an organized effect on working masses, the primary ground is workplace organization. Organization in living quarters and neighbourhoods should be noted just next to it. A hegemonic approach is needed to make the idea of revolution concrete and legitimate in both workplaces and neighbourhoods. 

However… The biggest handicap of a positioning that succeeds to set back the bourgeois domination at certain scales is that, if not taken care of properly, it rapidly generates reformism, on the one hand, and a constructive-founder tone erodes the revolutionary perspective, on the other hand.

In this respect, in the social sphere, in workplaces and neighbourhoods, the first condition of opening a space for the idea of revolution is to focus on the political break of social sections that have broken off their psychological link with the system. In the 20th century, many communist parties have re-established the working classes’ already-broken-off links with the system through a monotone and non-revolutionary organizational praxis. The same was experienced also in Turkey. 

However, for a communist party, it is a huge blessing to have a working-class rage that is reaching out a hand to the communists without a political impetus. The concern that the emphasis on system change will draw these sections away from organized struggle is an urban myth that reformism messed with our heads. It is well possible to open a space for the idea of revolution without resorting to deviations such as sharpness, tendency to cut corners, and adventurousness. 

The political and organizational initiatives on the agenda of TKP on her hundredth anniversary have been the fruit of this openness. The possibility of setbacks, inevitable mistakes or failures that we will consider as temporary, will never shake our commitment to our revolutionary strategy.