This interview with TKP General Secretary Kemal Okuyan by the Russian journalist Salimov in September continues to be published in different countries.
November 1, 2023
The interview, which includes questions on the situation of the socialist movement in the world and in Turkey, the different attitudes within the world communist movement regarding Russia’s role in the ongoing war in Ukraine, and the increasing influence of the Communist Party of Turkey in the international arena, has now been published on the website of the Centre for Geostrategic Studies, a Serbia-based publication, following the Italian newspaper L’antiDiplomatico.
– Comrade Okuyan, now the left movement in the world is going through hard times. The Social Democrats in Germany are losing support, Die Linke is split ideologically and organizationally. In Poland, left-wing parties and activists are marginalized; in Ukraine, they are banned. In Italy, the left has long been divided into several competing parties, as in Russia. In France, spontaneous social protests were used not by the left, but by the right. How do you assess the development and prospects of the global left movement at the moment?
The left is generally in decline all over the world. But why? Could it be that the left is regressing because it is no longer the left? In our opinion, this is true.
For example, I do not consider German Social Democracy to be leftist, although many perceive it as such. Moreover, the TKP uses the concept of “left” less and less.
Of course, in reality it is impossible to separate political actors with clear boundaries, there is a gray area, but in order to separate the wheat from the chaff, we will have to get rid of the ambiguity around the concept of “left”. Either we will fight for hegemony in the “left” and explain to the public that such bourgeois movements and ideologies are not left, or we will not use the concept of “left”. We are communists, and this is quite indicative and characteristic.
Capitalism constantly generates crises of various kinds. Poverty, unemployment, injustice, police brutality, immigrants… If you can’t offer radical and revolutionary answers to all these problems, are you on the left?
The Communists bear the greatest responsibility here. The struggle against liberal and social democratic tendencies was underestimated. The relevance of socialism and revolution was pushed aside due to the prevailing balance of power, and the struggle for positions within the system became a fetish. Moreover, the criteria for success began to be determined by bourgeois politics. From this follows the right, not the left. This is why the far right is gaining ground in the streets.
– What is the current situation of the left, without quotes, in Turkey?
The parliamentary elections in Turkey provide some interesting data in terms of what we are mentioning here. TKP received an absurd number of vote in a ridiculous, meaningless election that captured the society with desperation and blackmail. Anyone who follows Turkey a little realises that TKP had an impact far beyond the number of votes we received. As a matter of fact, after the elections, TKP was quoted and discussed more, and the recruitment of new members accelerated. Therefore, we observe that the bourgeois parliament has lost its importance and prestige in the social sphere. TKP continues its struggle. Undoubtedly, we evaluated the election results, we discussed the reasons why our political influence did not turn into votes. TKP is not a party that will brazenly say “elections are not important”. However, we are also not a party that will question ourselves based on the election results. Our party continues to defend its principles and programm with self-confidence.
– Movements for social justice are divided geographically and ideologically, concentrated on local problems. Many movements have turned into “closed clubs”, into “things in themselves”. What can communists, Marxists, left-wing activists in different countries of the world do to establish communication and interethnic dialogue?
Discussion and dialogue alone is not a solution, of course. In fact, there is no point if we are talking about vicious and fruitless discussions that cause revolutionaries to close in on themselves. However, if we organise a discussion that encourages each other, forces us to be honest, encourages us to engage in real political struggles, this will be different.
The way to do this is to stay away from impositions and templates. And we must not repeat the mistake of sidestepping our points of division and ignoring them in the name of “unity and diplomacy”. There is no “unity” at the moment. For there to be unity, there must be a commonality of direction. On the contrary, there is disorientation.
I miss the atmosphere of lively debates when I entered the political struggle almost as a child. I have to say that I even miss the coherent expression of certain views with which I disagree. But the issue is not our personal needs.
Political parties and circles that are in contact with each other for various reasons need to encourage a real, lively and creative debate, for a healthy understanding of differences and commonalities. Without this, healthy partnerships and unities cannot be established, nor can there be a healthy separation. After all that has happened, it is useless to speak by rote and to cowardly say “let’s unite, we are all leftists”. At least for communists… We need to be brave, understanding, respectful, open and creative. The TKP is making efforts for the creation of such an atmosphere while maintaining its own accumulation.
– The events in Ukraine split the left movement even within the borders of individual countries, the factions began to take “geopolitical” rather than class positions – “pro-Russian” or “pro-Ukrainian.” Let’s talk about these positions.
I think those who follow a pro-Russian line also know that Russia is a capitalist country. If the problem was deciding on the socio-economic character of Russia, our job would be easy. But the issue is more complicated.
Some people believe, or pretend to believe, that for objective and subjective reasons the current government in Russia will gradually take a socialist turn. I feel too much of a Marxist to believe that socialism can be realised in a country like Russia, a developed country with great resources, just by politicians changing their minds.
Look, in Russia, welfare state practices may come to the fore or may regress over time. The share of the state sector in the economy may increase or decrease. These do not change the class character of the state. I don’t mean that such changes are unimportant. We follow, analyse and evaluate them closely. But we do not expect that Putin or his circle will simply come to the conclusion that “socialism is good”. The class struggle does not take place that way. What we are really looking at is the Russian working class.
Some people say that “Russia is capitalist, even imperialist, yet we must side with Russia in the war in Ukraine”. There are those who say that this is a war of defence, those who say that this is an anti-imperialist war, and those who consider the issue from the point of view of the struggle against fascism. Our main point of departure is not to approach any capitalist country or class with empathy. Communists cannot postpone the struggle against the bourgeois class in their own country. If this principle is ignored, we can find countless excuses for taking sides in the imperialist world, for supporting this or that bourgeois party.
For example, today we consider it wrong to take sides in the war between Ukraine and Russia. But not because we identify or equate the two sides, or because we are avoiding the fight against NATO, the real power behind Ukraine. No, no, no. I am very clear, if it was a matter of preference, it is obvious who we would prefer.
Turkey is a member of NATO and all humanity has suffered a lot from NATO, from US imperialism. In Russia, the capitalist class does not pose such a threat for us today. But it is not really a question of who we would prefer. The issue is to make revolutionary moves in the capitalist world.
Today, the working masses in Russia or Ukraine or in other countries need to take a position that questions capitalist exploitation and tries to overthrow it. This applies to Iran as well as Turkey. Otherwise, we will endlessly continue to choose between “who is better and who is worse”.
– The current Ukrainian government has banned opposition political parties, including 11 communist parties, as well as the Left Opposition, the Union of Left Forces, the Socialist Party of Ukraine and the Party of Socialists. The Security Service of Ukraine has repeatedly published photographs of “evidence of a crime” – busts of Lenin, red flags and books of Marx found during searches. Decommunization is the official policy of Ukraine. Even the UN Security Council was informed about the repressions against communists, socialists and trade unionists.
But why do supporters of Ukraine among the European left “not notice” this? What is the role of the Ukrainian authorities in the formation of such a “left lobby”?
See, here is a difference. Today, a pro-Russian attitude is wrong, at least for the time being we can consider it as such. But a pro-Ukrainian position is clearly counter-revolutionary.
Without going into the debate on whether the government in Ukraine is fascist or not, it is nonsense to say that Ukraine is fighting for freedom. It is a betrayal, just as it was a betrayal to support the bloody military operations against Yugoslavia. Yes, there is an occupation and communists fight against occupation. But what we are going through cannot be simplified to an occupation.
The issue has a long history that includes the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, what should be emphasised is the 1991 counter-revolution. The thesis that “Ukraine was fine until 2014, then a pro-NATO coup took place” is not correct. The roots of the 2014 coup must be traced back to 1991. Each of the “independent states” that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union has a legitimacy problem, which is valid not only from our perspective.
Ukraine is a stronghold of fascist movements, anti-communism, racism, pro-NATOism and militarism. The Putin regime must be “congratulated” for allowing such a dark Ukrainian leadership to play the role of “heroes of freedom”!
So where should we look? We should focus not on which forces are supporting the bourgeois governments in Kiev and Moscow, but on which forces are building a revolutionary and independent strategy.
With this regard, while I strongly protest against the hysterical campaigns against communism and its symbols in Ukraine today, I must remind you that such campaigns have been waged in Russia since 1991. The coat of arms with the hammer and sickle that the Ukrainian reactionaries dismantled does not represent today’s Russia, but the world communist movement and the USSR. Let us not forget that the biggest blow against that coat of arms came from Russia.
– What would be the right strategy for the left regarding Russia?
It is a great mistake to move away from the idea of the actuality of the socialist revolution because the balances of forces does not allow it today. The imperialist system is experiencing an enormous impasse, a deep political-ideological crisis, and we are still engaged in a meaningless debate about whether Trump or Biden is preferable, whether Erdoğan is really anti-imperialist or not, whether Russian capitalism will evolve for the better or not.
Today, even if communism is represented by a single person in a single country, that person’s task is to focus on the overthrow of capitalism. This must be patiently explained to the working masses, organised and fought for, and preparations must be made to seize the opportunities that will arise.
It must be recognised that goals such as first establishing democracy, first obtaining some rights, first entering the parliament, first putting fascism aside, etc. are self-deception. The greatest achievement of the Bolsheviks was that even in their weakest moments they were thinking of revolution, of seizing political power. And their greatest chance was that until 1917 there were no mechanisms in Russia to seduce them, to attract them to bourgeois politics. In February 1917, when a situation arose that confused all Russian revolutionaries, Lenin made a unique intervention. The April Theses should be read with this in mind. Had this intervention been delayed by a few months, the October Revolution might not have taken place.
– The President of Turkey regularly comes up with international initiatives. Turkish communists, on the other hand, concentrate on domestic problems. Isn’t it time for the Turkish communists to broaden their horizons and come up with international initiatives? Maybe even become an international platform for communication between the left forces of the whole world?
We are an ambitious party, but we cannot move away from reality. We truly believe in the importance of modesty, in the idea of equality between communists. We don’t overestimate anyone, we don’t boast, nor we look down on anyone, or stay under the shadow of anyone. We learn from others, yet we do not imitate anyone. It is useless. If others benefit from our experience, that is also a good thing.
In recent years, Turkish capitalism has gained more weight in the international arena. This is a clear fact. Therefore, our responsibility increases. Because we cannot wait while Turkish capitalism increases its influence both economically, politically and ideologically. We are communists, we love our country, we would never betray our country and our people. In this sense we are patriots. However, it is our internationalist responsibility to stand against the foreign policy practice determined by the interests of the capitalist class in Turkey. This is one thing.
Secondly, we think that what has happened in Turkey, especially in the last 20 years, constitutes interesting lessons for the whole world. We want to share these lessons and our conclusions more. We do not have a strange claim such as Turkey is asked from us. We also try to follow and understand the evaluations of communists in other countries about our country. TKP will do everything to discuss and dialogue in a constructive, friendly and productive way. We do this not for “mental exercise”, but to pave the way for the world revolution, which is our common cause.
In the international arena, our relations are developing. We are trying to develop a frank, mutually respectful and sincere approach. When we unintentionally go beyond this, we would like to be fed back about it. Coming back to your question, TKP will do its best to revive Marxist-Leninist thought and practice.