By Kemal Okuyan
General Secretary, Turkish Communist Party (TKP)
Out of habit, we often tend to use the expression “world communist movement”. However, today we cannot speak of a phenomenon that deserves to be labeled as the world communist movement.
There are communists in almost every country in the world; parties or formations bearing the name of communists are active in many countries. Some of them are quite influential in their countries, some are in power. We can even say that the communist parties are much more wide-reaching today than they had been in 1919, when the Communist International was founded, and in the few years that followed.
But we still cannot speak of a movement.
Because a movement, despite all its internal contradictions, does have a trajectory. It is clear that the communist parties today do not have a common trajectory that we would expect from a movement.
Then we need to answer the question: Is it possible for communists today to be transformed to an international movement?
The “Communist Party” can be defined by its will and determination to lead humanity to a society free from classes and exploitation. While preserving the originality and richness of its components, a sum that is not characterized by this will and determination in its entire fabric cannot turn into a “world communist movement”.
This should not be taken as a criticism or a polemic, but as an objective assessment of the situation.
The struggle for democracy or peace, and being at the forefront of such a struggle, cannot replace the historical mission of communist parties. Similarly, while the struggle against US imperialism is an indispensable task for communist parties, it is not a distinctive feature for them.
We can benefit from the testimony of history to better understand what we mean.
We know that between 1933 and 1945, the world communist movement focused predominantly on the struggle against fascism, while other missions and goals were relegated to the background. But we still use the term “world communist movement” for that period. While explaining this with the existence of the USSR, what we should not forget is the fact that even during this period, the USSR maintained the central perspective of “a struggle for a world free from classes and exploitation”, and despite some mistakes, they kept their efforts in the name of seizing the opportunities that arose for a forward leap of the world revolutionary process.
If the Communist International could be reduced exclusively to the Popular Front politics, we could very well say that in the historical context the world communist movement was in decline starting from the 1930s.
It should be clear that this approach has nothing to do with denigrating the struggle against fascism or other similar tasks. It is only to remind us that the definition of the “world communist movement” requires a common trajectory in line with the historical mission of communism.
In fact, what we need to focus on is how to reach a moment in which this historical mission comes to the fore again, becoming a center of gravity that influences and shapes each of the communist parties with different paths and agendas.
It is obvious that for communism to reach such a level of influence and gravity in the international arena, there certainly is the matter of objective conditions. However, it would be a grave mistake to attribute the leap of the communist movement to some favorable conjuncture that will show up at some unknown moment, especially at our times when capitalism is facing an insurmountable economic, political and ideological deadlock in each and every country. Under the conditions where the rule of capital is tumbling from crisis to crisis and is unable to offer any hopes to humanity, even false hopes, it should be self- evident that communists need to prioritize the analysis of the subjective factor instead of complaining about those conditions.
We need to make bold debates.
The world revolutionary process had begun to have the necessary theoretical and political references for the difficult struggles ahead, following the few decades after the Manifesto of the Communist Party was penned with an unparalleled phrasing. Divergence and convergence always demand references. By the turn of the 20th century, Marxism had become the main reference for the working class movement, prevailing over its rival, anarchism. However, it did not take long for the Marxist movement to disintegrate. It was a split that even those who argued that “unity” was in any case something good considered as inevitable and necessary. Marxists had roughly taken two different courses, revolutionaries and reformists.
Over time it became clear that there could be no reformist interpretation of Marxism. Social democracy abandoned the revolutionary ranks, inflicting on the working class the worst betrayal in its history.
This also meant the launch of a period in which revolutionaries in the world, who now preferred the name “communist”, renewed and strengthened their references. The 21 conditions for joining the 1919-founded Communist International, could well be seen as the sharpest expression of these references.
As of 1924, when the revolutionary wave in the world retreated, a certain erosion in these theoretical and political references was inevitable. German fascism, and later on the Second World War accelerated this erosion.
In fact, the period between 1924 and 1945, contrary to the founding philosophy of the Comintern, confronted each of the young communist parties with their own realities and, in addition to that, imposed different responsibilities on each of them in terms of the general interests of the world revolutionary process.
Despite all these, the existence of the October Revolution and its most precious outcome, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as well as the will to establish socialism in those years, strengthened by the transition to a planned economy, industrialization and collectivization in agriculture, provided an immensely valuable historical framework for communist parties. Such will not only prevented deviations, but also served as the necessary ground for leaps forward. The defeat of fascism and the strengthening of socialism following the Second World War reinforced this.
However, the world communist movement was facing very serious internal problems that undermined the integrity it was able to preserve thanks to the prestige of the Soviet Union.
References waned, and “reformist Marxism”, which in some respects was assumed to have been abandoned, made itself vocal again.
The speech of Khrushchev, the then General Secretary of the CPSU, at the closing of the 20th Congress in 1956, cut the last strands anchoring the world communist movement in the safe harbors and, even more importantly, smashed down the optimism that prevailed since 1917.
What is interesting is that Khrushchev’s speech, full of distortions, did not lead to a sound debate and an accordingly split in the world communist movement.
However, the communist movement was expected to preserve and update the principles of 1919 and tie itself to more consolidated theoretical and political references. Instead, what has emerged is a disarray in which a large number of parties with no common ground had their individual relationship in their own way with the Soviet Union, which remained as the most important achievement of the world revolution.
The conflict between the People’s Republic of China and the USSR, which ended up in a violent split, also did not give way to a healthy partition. In the period that followed this split, the gap between the parties that maintained close relations with the CPSU continued to widen. As some of the ruling parties in the People’s Republics in Eastern and Central Europe tried to overcome their shortcomings during the period between 1944 and 1949 by ideological hybridization, the internal correlation of forces within the world communist movement became even more complicated. But the problem was much greater. For example, friendship with the Soviet Union was almost the only commonality between the Communist Party of Cuba -which in the 1960s brought a new dynamism to the communist movement not only on the small island where it came to power, but also throughout the Latin America and the world-, and some other parties that turned their faces to Euro-Communism. In the end, until the dissolution of the Soviet Union, no debate or split was realized that would push the world communist movement forward.
After 1991, neither the CPSU which held many, if not all, parties close to itself existed, nor was there an axis according to which the communist parties could adjust themselves.
By the very meaningful efforts by some parties, notably the Communist Party of Greece, it became a priority task to gather together whatever was left in the name of communism. The Communist and Workers’ Parties convened 22 times. This in itself has been extremely important. However, this period did not serve for the communist movement to rebuild its own references in the way it needed to.
And eventually, the view that the communist parties don’t actually need theoretical and political references, began to consolidate.
Today, we do not have a functional mechanism to examine the fundamental differences that can be observed when we look at not only the Solidnet member parties that participate in the International Meetings of Communist and Workers’ Parties, but all the parties that identify themselves as communist.
It would be a big mistake to rationalize this lack of communication by hiding behind the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, despite being a principle we think must strictly be preserved in the period ahead.
In the final analysis, the world revolutionary process is a whole, and how each party identifying itself as communist relates to that process does concern all the other actors that are part of that process.
This article can be regarded as a modest way of thinking aloud on the different forms the relationships between communist parties should take under the given circumstances.
It is worth emphasizing at this moment what we can say at the end. Despite the undeniable and wide divergences among the communist parties today, there is no ground for a healthy partition or split.
We need to organize a debate, a really bold debate.
This should not be understood as an appeal for the communist parties to engage in an ideological showdown within and between themselves. The extent of the decay of capitalism confronts the communist parties with the task of channeling a real alternative as soon as possible. At this moment, we cannot limit ourselves with an academic, theoretical debate.
What we need is the following: Establishing a clarification of the theoretical and political points of references from which each communist party acts. There is no sense in considering this as an internal problem of each party. Interaction is one of the most important privileges of a universal movement like Marxism.
Unfortunately, we are not passing through a healthy period for communist parties to listen to and understand each other.
What we need is for everyone to contribute to creating real grounds for discussion without labeling any other party.
Even if there are enough facts to label a party, the need to refrain from doing so is not a matter of political courtesy but is totally related to the particular conditions of today.
The process in which communist parties lost their points of reference has spanned almost over 70 years. The problem is too deep to be surpassed by premature attempts at splits or separations.
Undoubtedly, parties that have similar positions or those that consider forming strategic partnerships can and should establish bilateral, multiple, regional or international platforms to reinforce this. But the reality is that their contribution to the formation of these points references will be limited.
The organization of a healthy debate requires staying away from resorting to epithets such as reformist, sectarian, adventurist, or opportunist. As said above, political courtesy is not the decisive factor here. Indeed, in the past, much harsher and hurtful epithets have been used by Marxists. But each of these former conflicts matured over the points of references that were thought to exist and shared among them.
I suppose the point where we need to clarify what we understand by the word “reference”, is now reached.
We are talking about historical, theoretical and moral points of departure that have flourished in the bosom of Marxism and have been internationally endorsed.
For example, before the Second International was stained with the shame of 1914, categorically opposing imperialist war was a principled position that was unanimously endorsed. This principle was the outcome of Marxism acting upon common references, despite the differences on the issue were not yet fully crystallized by then.
Another well-known principle, not participating in bourgeois governments, was also stemming from the same references.
Such examples can be multiplied. What we need to keep in mind is that, what lies at the root of the conflicts and partitions among Marxists in the first quarter of the 20th century are these former common references.
This commonality was the reason behind Lenin blaming Kautsky and others as “renegades”.
As I have underlined above, the Third International developed codes that turned into new sources of reference for the communist movement after the deepening differences in 1914 that led to a split. While some parties were not brave enough to openly declare their distance to these references, some other parties sincerely advocated for and followed them. In any case, the world communist movement has moved within a theoretical and political framework.
I mentioned above that these references already began to lose their influence long before 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved, and besides, it is impossible today to establish a new framework that would be endorsed by all.
However, it is obvious that there will be grave consequences for the communist parties to act on a ground whose historical, theoretical and political boundaries are completely lost.
Debate and communication here should serve to establish a clarity on the set of principles that are binding for communist parties, without conceding to this lack of references.
Divergence (if it is inevitable) will serve for advancement only when it is the outcome of such a process.
It is of course possible and necessary in this process, despite all differences, to develop common positions and actions on international issues, such as war and peace, or the fight against racism, fascism and anti-communism. If we do not ignore and trivialize the differences, the positions taken can become more real and the joint actions more powerful.
The aim is certainly not division. The aim should be to help the communist movement, which claims to be the vanguard of the uneven and combined world revolutionary process, transform into a joint movement above and beyond the single elements.
What we mean by a joint movement is not of course to form a template not taking into account the particularities of struggles going on in different countries. On the other hand, we would all need to be preoccupied with the reason why the dichotomy of “internal issues” and “international relations” has turned into a comfort zone as never before in our 170-year-long history.
Debate, interaction and communication are important because of all these.
But how, and on what shall we debate?
At this point, there should be no room for “taboos” or untouched areas.
Of course, we will need to start from our own histories. TKP courageously made efforts to analyze a very critical turning point for itself, which is the complicated problem that arose right after its foundation, and included the murder of almost all of its founding leaders.
Relations with the Kemalist movement, which had an alliance with Soviet Russia yielding very important, albeit temporary outcomes, and the approach to the bourgeois revolution that led to the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, were among fundamental problems for TKP, which also had an impact in the following years. Our study on the history of the Party, whose first two volumes were published on the centenary of our foundation, proved that we can address such problems with a revolutionary responsibility.
We are trying to express the same courageous attitude in the face of breaks, splits, and liquidations in the history of TKP, and we are bearing the costs of an honest analysis of the party’s political and ideological preferences.
The issues we are discussing do not only concern Turkey. TKP’s struggle was never in an isolated country since its foundation in 1920. When we examine our entire history, we can see that the ground on which our party struggled interacted with Russia, Greece, Iran, India (and Pakistan), Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bulgaria, Germany, Cyprus, Iraq, Syria and many other countries.
Beyond this, we cannot speak of the international influence of the class struggle in Turkey as if it is concerning only TKP. In this sense, TKP will never resort to the simplistic approach of “We are the owners of our problems” and take seriously any criticism, suggestion or evaluation that is elaborate and respectful.
TKP also conducts debates and studies within itself on the not-widely-discussed issues pertaining to the history of the communist movement, yet without jumping to conclusions or attaching labels. It is not favorable for communist parties to remain silent on many issues, including the 7th Congress of the Comintern, the Popular Front policies, the Spanish Civil War, or Euro- communism, and to leave the field open to anti-communists and the “new left”.
There is no issue to be brushed aside for those who witnessed the tragic collapse of the Soviet Union. For us, the idea that discussing certain issues would threaten the values that link us to our own past, is unfounded. What really threatens our values is today’s lack of reference. If we can prevent some issues from turning into a taboo, we will clearly see that the common history of the communist movement is much richer than assumed.
The best example of what kind of adversities can arise when we move away from a healthy process of debate and evaluation, is the Stalin era, which after 1956, was turned into an obscured theme and eventually a taboo, and then into an object of either slander or glorification. It should not be forgotten that the years under Stalin’s leadership can turn into the most illustrative and honorable chapter of the world communist movement, when the fanaticism is left behind.
Communists should have no reservations about discussing any theme pertaining to the history of class struggles. However, more sophisticated mechanisms of debate are necessary if we are not to allow our discussions to be inhibited by our respect for the preferences of the communist parties struggling in each country.
It is worth elaborating a little more on the idea that the debates should not involve stigmatization. It is obvious that a communist party can label another, either explicitly or implicitly. Of course, we cannot consider all these as groundless. Today, it is no secret that there are some communist parties acquiring social democratic character. Identifying some parties that are practically and politically non-existent as “sloganist” or “sectarian” can also be taken as justified. However, we can observe that these labels do not serve the interaction and debate that we need most at the moment.
We already mentioned that common references in the international arena are lacking. Yet, another truth is that many parties bear within themselves the potential to change. We can characterize this change as positive or negative in each case. Nevertheless, we can also see that the aftershocks of the great earthquake which hit all communist parties in the second half of the 1980s still continue, and that many parties have not stabilized ideologically and politically.
It would be wrong to attribute a negative meaning to these pains of change, which sometimes lead to breaks and splits. What is wrong is actually that these internal conflicts often do not coincide with a tangible and perceivable process of debate or partition. The lack of “debate” among communist parties does play a role in this viciousness.
In this sense, we can argue that problems are caused by devaluation or denigration attempts disguised by politeness, rather than open accusations.
It is inevitable that relations will become unhealthier in the lack of a real platform of debate.
Until now, we elaborated on the consequences of the lack of theoretical and political references. Another problem arises in the criteria for evaluating communist parties. While evaluating a communist party, we pay attention to its program, ideology, organizational status, actions, its influence in the society, electoral performance, publications, and cadre standards. Some of these are purely qualitative, yet others can be measured quantitatively. However, leaving aside its ideological preferences, and not taking into account easy-put labels such as “reformist”, “sectarian”, “adventurous”, etc., we can judge a political party only by questioning if it is influential or not.
In this context, it is clear that the distinction of “big party-small party” is not a “revolutionary” criterion. In particular, there is no point in evaluating the magnitude of a party based primarily on electoral results.
There is no need to remind that we are making this emphasis not on behalf of a party lacking a parliamentary victory so far, but on the basis of the tradition that has been shaped since the beginning of the 20th century.
Since equality among communist parties is one of the most important and universally advocated principles, it is worth putting more emphasis on it.
The classification of “big party-small party” does not serve to encourage parties for advancement. But a real debate is absolutely beneficial. Today, any communist living in any country has the right, and the duty, to wonder how another communist party is reacting to the developments in that country, to ask questions, and to express opinions about it.
Whatever conditions it operates under, whatever opportunities it has, it is always possible for a communist party to act more, better and more revolutionary than before. So, the principles of mutual respect and non- interference in internal issues should not nullify critical approaches, and communist parties should not remain in a comfort zone where they are on their own.
Communist parties are not to grade each other, but they follow each other, discuss and look for ways of collaboration. The grounds for this can be created by evaluating communist parties with sound criteria.
Right at this moment it is worth addressing the situation of the communist parties in power today. All these parties are the bearers of immense historical legitimacy. Insofar as “revolution” and “political power” are of
central importance for the communist parties, there is no point in arguing about these parties having a weighted role in the world revolutionary process.
Today, we know that there is a wide range of assessments of the domestic policies of these parties, their ideological and class characters, and the role they play in the international arena. Of course, the historical legitimacy I just mentioned does not automatically create any impunity for criticism. All parties can freely make their own evaluations, given that a certain level of maturity and respect is preserved. It is also inevitable that part of these evaluations could be a bit hurtful. The ruling communist parties, to this or that extent, are also international actors that have influence on the class struggle in other countries.
Is it necessary for these parties to have a particular place among world communist parties, based on the abovementioned extent? We know that some parties struggling in capitalist countries are of this opinion. In some international meetings or bilaterals, we come across some proposals favoring the ruling communist parties to be at the forefront and to have a decisive, or at least a regulatory role.
Much can be said about the role of the CPSU within the international communist movement in the past, positive and negative. But today, the situation is widely different. The Soviet Union, at least until a certain point, tried to relate its own existence and its foreign policy with the world revolutionary process, even in the most difficult moments. The communist parties in power today clearly do not have such a positioning.
The reasons for this shall be the topic of another debate. In addition, the possibilities and conditions of each of the countries where communist parties are in power are quite different from each other. A totalist judgement has never been appreciated by TKP. Those who are responsible for the socialist struggle not being at an advanced position in capitalist countries are us, and our inadequacies as the communist parties in the capitalist countries.
Moreover, in today’s complex correlation of forces, it is obvious that for the agenda of the communist parties in power, other communist parties do not constitute a priority.
This alone puts the proposals that the ruling communist parties should play a more special role in question.
The outcome of the ruling communist parties today stepping forward in international meetings and in relations between communist parties would be
that communist parties would start to analyze class struggles from a geostrategic perspective. Once again, this is not based on our “subjective” opinions about the foreign policy priorities of the ruling communist parties.
Even though we don’t stress it as much, the geostrategic approach would be the most dangerous choice if communist parties are to position themselves within the world revolutionary process. Communist parties shall approach the international arena by trying to harmonize the interests of the revolutionary struggle in their own countries with the general interests of the world revolutionary process.
This harmony might be difficult or even impossible at times. Yet, for communist parties, it is a must to acknowledge the costs of alienation from the goal of revolution in their own countries and create this harmony as sound as possible.
Geostrategy could at best be a complementary analytical element for Marxism. It is not sound to replace the perspective in which concepts such as imperialism, state, revolution and class struggle play a central role, with power struggles that can anytime trivialize these concepts.
And here, another problem needs to be brought forward.
Soviet Russia and later the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics exerted a serious ideological and psychological influence “in favor of socialism” on the working people and oppressed nations in the capitalist countries. And this was achieved even during the most challenging moments for the Soviet Union. This was achieved because hundreds of millions of people in the rest of the world felt that in the USSR the struggle for the “construction of an egalitarian society” continued.
Over time this influence waned. The Soviet Union disintegrated. This article is composed of reflections expressed aloud and pays attention to not highlighting negative examples. But I feel the need to move on with a positive example. We need to think about why Cuba, despite all the extraordinarily difficult circumstances in which the country finds itself, can still be a center of attraction for people in search of “another world”. This is possible because the Cuban Revolution, despite a series of setbacks, continues to defend a strong value system.
The boundlessly implemented realpolitik, which is the inevitable result of geostrategic thinking, may excite some strategists, intellectuals and politicians, but it does not serve as a center of attraction for the working masses.
Communist parties are obliged to turn both the ideal of an egalitarian society and a value system compatible with this ideal into their banner. Even today’s indisputable and pervasive task of defeating or pushing back the U.S. imperialism, should not become a pretext to overshadow this ideal and value system.
The ruling communist parties should maintain their important roles within the family of communist parties with their historical legitimacy and prestige, but calls to give them a decisive role should not be insisted upon. Such insistence, should be kept in mind, could lead to a very harsh break within the communist parties.
After all, the principle of equality and non-interference, which is perhaps the most commonly recognized principle among communist parties today, does not allow for such an internal hierarchy.
Right at this moment, we can be more specific about what we mean by a “real debate”. What is behind the need of not leaving a single point in our own history unilluminated or not honestly assessed is certainly not academic rigor. When we examine carefully, we see that the “identification of the priority tasks” had been at the center of all debates, starting from the 1st International to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It is this simple question that determines the debates and divisions within Marxism.
The priority tasks were once defined as the overthrow of monarchy and feudalism, at other times the expansion of the working class’s right to organize and engage in politics, and in some other cases, the neutralization of the threat of fascism or war.
Now too, communist parties have different views on what is the priority task of the world revolutionary process, of which they constitute elements themselves.
The needs of the world revolutionary process are determining.
Naturally, each communist party evaluates these needs from the point of view of their own country and the interests of the struggle in their own country. The distance between the general needs of the world revolutionary process and the interests within one country is one of the most serious problems that communists have to solve or manage. Sometimes this distance can turn into a conflict. Here, too, the communist parties have a major role to play.
We must admit that today, the differences among the communist parties are yielded by the different responses to the question of what is the priority task of the world revolution.
A very widespread and long-standing approach states that expanding the space for democracy and freedoms is the priority task for the world revolutionary process.
Again, we are more and more hearing descriptions of tasks such as “pushing back the US imperialism” and “repelling the danger of fascism and war”.
It is obvious that these tasks cannot be neglected. However, such definitions of tasks can eventually turn into defending the foreign policy initiatives and moves of this or that country.
It is also a choice to define the urgent task with regards to the interests of the world revolution today as rendering socialism an timely option. This approach, which we also adopt, should be seen as the product of the determination to reject and put an end to the status in which socialism, the only alternative to capitalism, is going through its least influential and assertive moment over a period of 170 years.
Determining the main task on the basis of the timeliness of socialism, and therefore of the revolution, also means eliminating the adversities that can be caused by other approaches that limit or pacify the working class.
Realistically speaking, it is impossible for the working class in its present form to be the main force capable of pushing back US imperialism or neutralizing the threat of fascism and war. For communists to exert weight in these historical tasks, they need to have the will to fulfill their main mission.
The communist movement will have no future by imitating other forces, by fitting into a broader definition of the left. This is not even a kamikaze dive because it will not do any harm to the enemy. It is also not a harakiri because it will not lead to an “honorable” end.
As a growth strategy, the abovementioned priorities will not help the communist movement to flourish and develop.
Of course, we cannot speak of a sincerity test here. History is the fairest judge. But we all know that communism has red lines.
If these lines have become ambiguous, this can be a starting point for us. Without falling into repetition, without exhausting each other with slogans, quotations or parroting.
The great work of Marx and Lenin is in the totality of their thoughts and action. If what defines Marx’s life was his infinite hatred of capitalism, it is revolution and seizing the political power for Lenin.
In the previous years, at every moment when the communist parties forgot about their own raison d’être, they went through some troubles which today can be judged as “mistakes”.
For this reason, if instead of chaotic and unfruitful quarrels, communist parties can contribute to the debates by giving clear responses to how they relate to the world revolutionary process and by demonstrating appropriate ideological and political references, a collectively meaningful outcome will emerge for each of the communist parties. In this way, common positions, joint actions or separations will take place on a much more solid ground.