Opening Speech by TKP [Communist Party of Turkey] General Secretary Kemal Okuyan at European Communist Action Conference

February 17, 2024, Istanbul

 

Dear comrades,

On behalf of the Central Committee of Communist Party of Turkey, I want to welcome you in Istanbul and wish all of us a productive conference. I also greet the comrades who could not be present here for various reasons but attend the meeting online.

The war in Ukraine has been going on for two years. In fact, this war is not so different from the wars and conflicts going on in other parts of the world with different intensities, while containing many peculiarities. Although they may have various forms, the armed conflicts in the Caucasus, the Middle East and Africa are all related to the rivalries and contradictions within the imperialist system. Even the Israeli barbarism against Gaza, which can be seen as a new phase of the decades-long aggression against the Palestinian people, inevitably becomes part of these contradictions and makes the events in Gaza part of the complex struggle within the imperialist system.

Unlike those who evaluate all these conflicts independently of each other and only in terms of their visible, current dimensions, communists have an obligation to address the issues by situating them in their class basis. This obligation does not mean ignoring the peculiarities of the events and stuffing all tensions into the same sack. But we need to know that the working class movement, in the past and today, has made countless mistakes by absolutizing the peculiarities of the concrete agenda it confronts, and has created excuses for reformist stances, that were often thought to be very brilliant and clever.

The shameful betrayal of the vast majority of socialist parties in Europe during the First World War is a cautionary example of this. Each of the parties that sided with its own bourgeoisie during the imperialist war, especially those in Germany and France, created excuses for their chauvinist policies by citing the peculiarities of their own country and the country they were at war against. From today’s point of view and taking into account the historical consequences, all these excuses may seem absurd. But we must remember that at that time these arguments were quite convincing.

It would not be correct to say that the German Social Democrats’ emphasis on “Russian barbarism” and “the threat to the historical gains of the German working class” were entirely delusional. This discourse, which convinced hundreds of thousands of organized German proletarians to endorse the imperialist war, cannot be described simply as a lie. Because this discourse also benefited from the realities and, so to speak, exploited those realities.

Similarly, the French Socialists had convincing evidence when they pointed to the enslavement of the nations in Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire and called the imperialist war, “a war of liberation.” The evidence was convincing as well as poisonous.

We are experiencing the same thing today. The excuses are numerous.

In the period leading up to the invasion of Iraq, implicit or explicit cooperation with US imperialism was justified by Saddam’s brutality and human rights violations in the country. A lot of lies were told in this context, such as the example of weapons of mass destruction, but nobody claimed that the working people in Iraq had a wide space of freedom. We encountered a similar attitude even before, in the war in Yugoslavia. This time Milosevic was in Saddam’s place. No reasonable person would say that Milosevic was innocent, or that he had not committed crimes in Bosnia or elsewhere. But to stand behind the imperialist aggression that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia with these one-sided assessments is a source of shame for many “socialist parties,” from which they will never recover.

The US-NATO aggression in Yugoslavia and Iraq was not fundamentally the product of contradictions within the imperialist system. Rather, these invasions and wars should be seen as moves by US imperialism to exploit the gaps created by the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Today, however, the hegemony of US imperialism is under threat, even if it has not yet ended. And there is a struggle going on within the imperialist world that directly affects the internal dynamics of bourgeois rule in individual countries. Therefore, we have to say that every tension, conflict and war, wherever it is in the world today, is somehow either directly born out of inter-imperialist contradictions or is rapidly reshaped through the prism of the polarization created by those contradictions.

The most prominent feature of all these tensions, conflicts and wars today is the absence of the working class as a significant social-political force. However, like all other problems created by capitalism, the greatest burden of wars falls on the working masses. Workers die in wars, workers are impoverished, the oppression of workers increases. At the same time, wars are a period when attacks on the minds of the working people intensify and take on sophisticated forms. Therefore, we can say that the fact that the working class is not a significant social-political force in today’s conditions of successive economic and political crises is mainly due to the failure of communists and revolutionaries for decades to respond to the political and ideological manipulations of the bourgeoisie.

In fact, the purpose of meetings like today’s conference is to facilitate a bold and coherent resurgence of the communist movement.

Comrades,

I mentioned earlier that those who collaborate with their own bourgeois classes during inter-imperialist contradictions and wars, cling to excuses, most of which seem realistic. In this respect, there is an abundance of material in the Ukrainian war. Those who argue that Russia should be supported in this war have a list of justifications that seem quite plausible, acceptable and justified.

No one can dispute the fact that NATO is expanding eastwards and the aggression of NATO is escalating.

It is a clear fact that the US and its allies are encircling Russia.

It is a fact that in Ukraine neo-Nazis are settling in the state institutions and racist-fascist political movements are fully legitimized.

It is a fact that Ukraine is being provoked, armed and turned into a gigantic base against Russia.

It is a fact that a war of extermination has begun against the people in the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine and massacres are being committed.

How can we avoid drawing wrong political conclusions from all these facts?

Conceptual rigor is extremely important. It is necessary to constantly keep in mind the fact that imperialism cannot be reduced to the US or to a foreign policy practice, that imperialism is the inevitable result of the monopolistic stage of capitalism, that one can never speak of a monolithic imperialism free of contradictions and conflicts, that imperialism is always a hierarchical structure with stronger and weaker elements.

But this is not enough. Because supporting one’s own bourgeois government or a particular capitalist country or bloc of countries in a war or in general is often the product not of a theoretical error or ignorance, but of giving up on putting the conquest of political power at the center of the struggle for socialism, of losing faith in revolution and socialism, and of drawing pessimistic conclusions based on the given balance of forces. This renunciation undoubtedly has theoretical, political and ideological sources. However, it is still necessary to insist that the distortion of the concept of imperialism is the result of the weakening of the idea of the actuality of a revolution.

During the Second International, the defense of colonialism as good, legitimate and progressive in some cases was the product of a lack of faith in revolution. Theoretical justification followed afterwards. The same can be argued about the betrayal in 1914. As a result of an evolution with theoretical, political and organizational sources, these parties had lost their revolutionary character and lacked the energy and will to stand up against their bourgeois rulers. Let us not forget that not long before this historical betrayal, these parties were distributing leaflets and organizing rallies saying “no to the imperialist war.” As I said, complex, intertwined dynamics plagued these parties, sweeping them away from revolutionary positions and threw them into the ranks of the bourgeoisie.

The fact that Lenin began to work on Imperialism immediately after the great crisis of 1914 was due not only to the need to scientifically expose the imperialist character and causes of the war, but also to expose the political economy of the diversion of working class parties in advanced capitalist countries.

We know that Lenin benefited from other writers and researchers in his solid analysis of imperialism. However, what always distinguished Lenin was that he always considered theory in conjunction with a revolutionary strategy. In this sense, Lenin’s study of imperialism and the strategy he developed under conditions of war complement each other.

Why is this important for our discussion?

Today, the definition of imperialism, the debate on whether this or that country is imperialist or not is of course important, but it cannot solve the issue on its own. One can say “as there is not a strong banking system in Russia, how can it be imperialist?” while referring a passage taken from Lenin’s Imperialism or another article, one can argue that one can distinguish between “good imperialism” and “bad imperialism” with some examples from history, one can even develop concepts such as “anti-fascist imperialism”.

It is necessary to discuss all these, to defend Lenin’s theory of imperialism and to demonstrate its historical meaning. But as I mentioned, this is not enough.

In order to unlock the problem, it is necessary to ask what kind of strategies those who are taking the side of the bourgeois governments in the war in Ukraine or in other tensions have.

Today, it is obvious that there is no revolutionary strategic calculation behind the discourses such as “stopping fascism” and “pushing back US imperialism.” If there is no revolutionary strategy, there is no Marxist theory! When we look from Marx to Lenin and then to Stalin, all the theoretical depth and practical positions we inherited, make sense as part of a revolutionary strategy. Even Marx’s thesis that “capitalism is a historical step forward” only makes sense if you have a revolutionary perspective.

From the principle of the right of nations to self-determination to the Leninist theory of the party, from the dictatorship of the proletariat to imperialism, it is the linking of all concepts to a revolutionary and contemporary strategy that frees them from becoming frozen clichés.

Today there are fewer so-called revolutionaries who rely on the US or the European Union for freedom and democracy. The voices of those who argue that the oppressed must follow the new “rising stars” in the international arena are louder.

But do those who today say that Russia must be supported in the war in Ukraine, or that US imperialism must be opposed by a vast array of countries that are difficult to bring together, from China to Iran, from Brazil to India, even from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, have any strategy, let alone a revolutionary one?

At this point I will remind you of the concept of proxy wars that is so often used in today’s conflicts. 175 years after the Communist Manifesto, we have to stand up against attempts to ruin a glorious legacy but more importantly the future of the working class by turning it into another element of these proxy wars. Today the number of countries where it is proposed to stop the struggle against capitalist exploitation is growing rapidly. Even in Turkey, where we must not tolerate another day of the bourgeoisie’s rule, there are those who suggest abandoning the goal of socialism because of Erdogan’s tensions with the US in foreign policy or his relatively close relations with Russia, Iran and Latin American countries.

What we are being asked to do is to grant consent to certain governments, which are extremely cruel to the working class and based on inequalities, in the name of the struggle against US imperialism. This is precisely what needs to be asked and questioned. How bold they are!

Those who do not believe in revolution, those who are involved in the calculations of the bourgeois system instead of pursuing a revolutionary strategy, the only result of the consent given to this or that bourgeois government is to be driven to the front in the name of that bourgeois government. No to those so-called “communists” who politically poison the working class by doing exactly what the jihadist organizations, mercenaries and private armies operating in many parts of the world today are doing in the fields of conflict!

The struggle against US imperialism and NATO is nothing if it is not based on a revolutionary strategy. When a class movement is not organized around a consistent and revolutionary program against exploitation, the struggle against US imperialism or NATO is left to the mercy of the maneuvers of this or that bourgeois power in the war or at the bargaining table.

Nothing positive will come out of this, neither for humanity, nor on behalf of the working class.