The articles you wrote about Mustafa Kemal many years ago were discussed a lot, and there were even those who accused you of being a Kemalist. What was your purpose when you wrote these articles?
I wrote about him also recently, not years ago. Obviously, we wouldn’t remain silent about a historical person who led important transformations in a critical junction for Turkey. Following 1919, the most significant stage of the bourgeois revolution process unfolded in Turkey. The earlier 1908 period had evolved into a great tragedy both due to the inconsistencies of the leaders of the Young Turk movement, domestic and foreign conditions, and the systematic efforts of the imperialist countries. Under the devastating effect of the First World War and the ensuing occupation conditions, a whole revolutionary experience, from the Tanzimat (1) intellectuals to the Young Ottomans, from the Young Turks to the Unionists (2) could have been wasted. The resistance in Anatolia undoubtedly benefited from this experience and succeeded. Much can be said about Mustafa Kemal’s role here, but I care most about him staying away from the ideological and institutional legacy of the Ottoman Empire.
You have covered this subject a lot lately, and you have emphasized that the War of Independence was successful not only against the occupation, but also against the Ottoman Palace. I have two questions regarding this. First, was Mustafa Kemal really against the Palace, or was he compelled to be? My other question is, what do you attribute to the fact that only the dimension of the struggle against the occupation of the historical period after 1919 is highlighted?
I don’t know if the first question matters. Let’s say it was his realization of necessity. I don’t think everyone realized this. If we look carefully, we see that Mustafa Kemal closed all the channels that could connect the Istanbul government with the National Struggle. It is also obvious that the Palace under the auspices of the British was not a friend of the movement in Anatolia. My main focus is that Mustafa Kemal, unlike many actors of the resistance, was fundamentally opposed to the idea of somehow getting the empire back on its feet. The answer to your second question, on the other hand, is of great importance. The effort carried out today to reduce the movement in Anatolia to the struggle against the “foreigner” cannot be reduced to the Neo-Ottomanist mentality of the AKP in its narrow sense. Getting rid of all the revolutionary content of the period of 1919-1923 is the common desire of all elements of today’s bourgeois politics. They are trying to tell the following story: Everyone was against the occupation, everyone did their best, but the Kemalists somehow went through, established their authority and consolidated their own power. This is turning reality upside down. First of all, it is not true that everyone was against the occupation. Sure, the Palace was also uncomfortable, representing an Empire, which had a great past, and given the opportunity, even the most collaborative mind would not want to stay in power with the help of foreign forces. However, during that period, there was an internal struggle, a civil war, to be clear. Here one of the parties was getting help from the occupation forces. However, this civil war was not just about the occupation. The destruction of outdated institutions, the establishment of new ones in their place… and that is exactly what they want the people to forget. Reconciliation with the Ottoman Empire is on the agenda of all bourgeois opposition from CHP to İYİP.
TKP PARTICIPATED IN THE STRUGGLE IN ANATOLIA WITH ITS OWN PERSPECTIVE
Let’s go back to the beginning, to the accusation of “Kemalism”… I know that the adjectives that people attribute to one and other in Turkey’s left should not be taken seriously, but what can you say about this?
So they say Communist Party of Turkey is Kemalist? Since when does one become a Kemalist by emphasizing the historical achievements of the Republic and saying that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a “great revolutionary”? We are Marxists, and one of our most important characteristics is that we have a historicist point of view. Are we going to turn our backs on a perıod when the most important revolutionary transformation in Turkey’s history so far took place? That was progress then. Kemalism, on the other hand, means thinking that today’s Turkey can be saved with 1923 references. That has no meaning. Today, Turkey suffers not from the underdevelopment of capitalism, but from its very existence. With the Republic, a significant part of the roadblocks to the development of capitalism in Turkey was removed and the labor-capital contradiction, which had been overshadowed by both the occupation and the backward socio-political structure in 1919-1920, started to come to the fore. The Communist Party of Turkey was founded at that time for the voice of labor, the organization and liberation of the working class. TKP participated in the struggle in Anatolia with its own perspective, faced the hostile attitude of the leadership of the struggle, but never turned its back on the historical importance of the period.
Today, the labor-capital conflict is at the forefront of everything in Turkey and the liberation of the country will be achieved by defeating the capitalist class and the bosses. How sad that those who belittle and insult the bourgeois revolutionary leaders 100 years ago expect democracy and freedom from the Turkish bourgeoisie today! Just like the AKP, they want to go back a hundred years ago. We, on the other hand, know our position and our allies in the realignment of 100 years ago. We know who was on the revolutionary side and who was on the counter-revolutionary side…
What does it mean that some liberals, who have the most aggressive style about the Republic and Mustafa Kemal in Turkey, are back-pedalling? Are they correcting their mistake?
They do not make mistakes, their whole ideological-political existence is a big mistake; they are talking and writing about a big mistake. It is not that they were deceived in the past, and they do not regret it now. Wherever the capital orders them, wherever international monopolies go, that is also where they go… Now they are moving away from the AKP, they were excited for an AKP rule without the AKP. They now have to connect with the segments of the population with secular sensitivities who are excited for other reasons. Unfortunately, the majority of those with secular sensitivities are far from grasping the class dimension of the issues. Together, they will take a “pro-Western” position and get rid of Erdogan’s excesses. That’s their intention. Liberals realized how low the expectations of these segments of the population were, so they’re relieved. Some liberals, who were insulting Mustafa Kemal until yesterday, started to show respect. They are two-faced and unprincipled.
Would you agree with the idea that the problems in Turkey began after 1938? (Note: 1938 is the year Mustafa Kemal died)
I would not agree. Despite knowing the major differences between Atatürk and İnönü, especially in terms of capability, I would not agree. We have to look at things from a class point of view. As capitalism developed in Turkey, social inequalities deepened and at some point began to rot away the basic principles of the Republic. On the other hand, to say that nothing would have changed if Mustafa Kemal had lived longer would mean an overly mechanical understanding of history. All I am saying is that we can’t accept the “it was good till here, bad after that” point of view. Dialectical thinking demands it. All bourgeois revolutions in history have also included their self-denial, ours was no exception.
Do you think Mustafa Kemal’s personal role in the National Liberation Struggle is exaggerated?
Who is exaggerating? For years, the governments in this country used the image of Atatürk against the people. We all witnessed how a Kemalism purged of its revolutionary content was utilized by the September 12 1980 coup. First, the spirit of the period (1919-1923) must be grasped. The period was a period when the revolution and the counter-revolution were confronting each other. This was true for the whole world, but especially for our region. Mustafa Kemal played a major role in positioning Anatolia on the revolutionary front during that period. The role of the social forces, class forces and popular organizations behind the National Liberation Struggle cannot be opposed to this “personal” role.
I don’t know if you watched the November 10 video released by the Koç group, it quoted a poem by Nâzım Hikmet…
These kinds of commercials, where the corporations pour a ton of money, only increase our rage. They’re disgusting. What right do you people have to use Nâzım Hikmet for your greed for profit! Be a little decent, know your place a little bit. I watched the video, it’s nonsense with no content and that is no surprise. What can the capitalist bosses do, be anti-imperialist or Republican?
Recently, on the anniversary of the October Revolution, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality celebrated the independence day of some former Soviet Republics. What do you make of this?
It was almost impossible for the War of Independence to be successful without the military-financial and most importantly political assistance of Soviet Russia. The Soviet government, the child of the October Revolution, and the resistance in Ankara recognized each other, looked after each other, and saw allies in one another, albeit temporarily. If there had been no revolution, the fight for regional control between Russia and the Ottoman Empire would have continued after the World War. If there was no alliance between Ankara and Moscow, perhaps the Caucasus would have come under the control of England. Independence day huh? After the collapse of the Soviet Union, we all witnessed how the former Soviet Republics such as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan turned into family states. A tiny wealthy clique plundered the public wealth while the people got poor instantly. Many of these countries had US bases operating for many years. People from these countries had to leave their countries to work in very difficult conditions; Among them were many university graduates. We should also congratulate Ekrem İmamoğlu (3), who hosted a meeting with its dominant message being “Turan” (4) on the anniversary of the October Revolution. He managed to become the hope of leftists, secular groups, Alevis and Kurds, without ever pulling back, never hiding his Ottomanism, Islamism, Turkism and patronage, kudos to him!
Note 1: The Tanzimat, meaning reorganization, reordering, was a period of reform in the Ottoman Empire lasting from 1839 to 1871
Note 2: Unionist means members of the Committee of Union and Progress movement
Note 3: Ekrem İmamoğlu is the latest mayor of Istanbul, elected on the CHP ticket, the Kemalist, social democratic and main opposition party
Note 4: Turan is a right-wing, nationalist ideology from the early 20th century that aimed to unite all Turkic peoples