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Revolutionary Results of the Great October Revolution in Turkey

MLKP Turkey/Kurdistan, July 2018


The Great October Revolution did not only propagate through Europe for revolutionary movement to jump forward, but it also made striking effects on the countries which were still on the capitalist road. Unlike European countries, communist agglomerations lack of political experiences and tradition, immediately undertook the leadership of struggles of toiling masses and intellectuals who were getting to be revolutionary with the atmosphere of the October. Beside the many countries in Asia, Africa and even Latin America, Turkey took its share from this turbulence. In all these countries, alongside the burning issues such as land reforms, national questions, question of democratic rights and freedoms, struggles of working class against national capitalists were developing for this democratic revolution.

To better understand the direct effects of the Great October Revolution in Turkey, a broad background information of the historical conditions of this period is needed. Especially, the October itself caused the closing down the eastern front of Turkey in the First Imperialist Re-division War and this turning point became decisive on the process heading towards the foundation of Turkish Republic. Also, with communist propaganda among Greek soldiers after the Bolshevik revolution, a campaign agitating ‘fighting in Anatolia means rising to the bait of imperialists’ was waged and many incidents of fraternization occurred. But beyond that, of course, how the communist idea spread over Anatolia during this long war years and how the Kemalist founding cadres, which were raised upon the national trade bourgeoisie and big landowners, embarked on a liquidation attack against this rising struggle have never been mentioned in the “official” history writing of Turkish state. By following some concrete examples, we can have a look at how the specter of communism which turned into a vivid giant after the October rambled on Anatolia.

After the revolution, the first activity of the Bolshevik power was trying to create the conditions of a democratic peace. As one of the parts of the Brest-Litovsk Agreement, Ottoman Empire, although it is on the defeated side, regained Kars, Ardahan and Dogubeyazit. The Russian Army, which now organized itself as “Red Guards”, was immediately retreating from the areas it occupied during the war. Ottoman soldiers who fell hostage to Russian Army, started to be released back as may of them were impressed by the revolution in the first hand and got some eduction before they left about socialism. In the following process, there were even units in Turkish Army constitute by communist soldiers wearing red starred hats and calling each other “comrade”. And the first newspapers started to publish in Istanbul and Ankara delivered the Bolshevik activities and the developments in this socialist countries very enthusiastically.

Tsarist Russia won the war in the Caucasian front against Ottomans, however heavy losses, famine and indiscipline in the army gave the Bolsheviks organizing chance in the army there. With the October, Tsarist officers got arrested by the Bolshevik Red Guards, and they announced they would retreat in three months. During these days, they waged organizational activities to recruit local people and spread the communist ideas especially in Dersim, Bayburt and Erzincan regions. While they were retreating, they leave the administration of the region to the delegates from Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian peoples. This first peoples assembly of the region declared the Erzincan Soviet at the end of 1917. Erzincan Soviet wrote its name to the history as the first socialism experience in Ottoman Empire. It lived until 1921 when the reactionary Ottoman army leftovers and newly built Turkish army units demolished the resistance of peoples. This soviet, of course, carried the weaknesses of the region and the tensions due to being multi-national. Yet, peoples of the region still resisted to uphold its value when under attack. Other important aspect of Erzincan Soviet is that the socialism idea reached the rural areas even before the cities. Poor rural masses who didn’t even have newspaper or any kind of communication with the world, embraced socialist administration and proved that peoples of this region can live together under the banner of socialism.

Second direct interaction was the practice of Ethem the Circassian who were the leader of partisan units composed of poor peasants and of the Green Army Association (Yeşil Ordu Derneği) which he later joined. Kuvva-i Seyyare (Mobile Forces) units led by Ethem, first fought against the Greek occupation, then during the following process of the national liberation war which was converted into a civil war, fought against the reactionary caliphate’s armies organized from Istanbul by the Ottoman leftovers. Ethem succeeded to suppress the riots and stood by the new Ankara regime. New Kemalist regime had neither military nor social base to organize resistance against this occupations and riots. Thats why guerrilla units composed of poor peasants formed the main force of national resistance. Ethem the Circassian was influenced by the socialism ideas spread over Anatolia after the October and propagandized among the peasants. Aegean peasants’ embracing the communism idea was reflected in the words of Celal Bayar who later became the third president of Turkish Republic: “They asked me what is Bolshevism. And I told them what I know about the land reform. I noticed that their eyes sparkled. Then they immediately started to account who will gain what according to the size of village.”

Ethem, later, joined the Green Army Association among whose founders were also some Kemalists. But this association got out of control of Kemalists and inverted into a structure where the October revolution was adored and spread. They published a newspaper in Eskişehir called Seyyane New World with a subtitle “Islam Bolshevik newspaper”. According to this, they aimed to spread th socialism ideas among the Muslim communities. Ethem’s partisan units which were active for all these, then got defeated by the liquidation attack of new regime; but this short experiment also demonstrated that the echoes of October did not only stay in the border regions to Soviets but even reached the western part of Turkey.

The October’s third concrete reflection and may be the most distinctive one, was the foundation of Communist Party of Turkey (TKP). Communist groups from three different areas were in contact before the foundation of TKP. First one was the group centered in Istanbul and led by Şefik Hüsnü. This group were ideologically shaped by the influence of German Spartakists and German social democrats. Second group was constituted of communists who came together with the influence of Soviets, participated in the national liberation struggle in Anatolia, worked at the Green Army Association and were represented in the national assembly in Ankara. And the third group was Mustafa Suphi and his comrades who were shaped though living the revolution directly in Russia and undertook the founding leadership of TKP. These three groups affected the foundation of Komintern member TKP on September 10th 1920 in Baku and made an organizational preparation to get active in the whole country. After a while, Mustafa Suphi and his 14 comrades entered the country together with a Soviet committee, and were assassinated by the direct order of Mustafa Kemal. Though massacring of TKP leadership and following arrests of communist cadres inside the country, new regime aimed a physical break of young communist movement and through founding a new “official and legal” TKP, they aimed an ideological break. In 1922, Komintern got in contact again with the some cadres left in Istanbul, however ideologically dragged into chauvinism and revisionism, TKP lost its energy to organize again and caused a long silence within the Turkish revolutionary communist movement until the revolutionary leap of 1971.

Other than revolutionary results of the October, it affected the founding codes of Turkish state. While the national liberation struggle was going on, the Soviets sent more than 37 thousand rifles, more than 300 heavy machine guns, 44 thousand cases of bullets and 66 cannonballs to the new regime which were facing with imperialism directly or indirectly in this struggle. Yet, based on a weak bourgeoisie and big feudal landowners, the new regime did not perpetuate the struggle until a people’s revolution, on contrary made sure that people stayed out of politics after national liberation. It used its relation with Soviets pragmatically as a sole trump card when they sit on the table with imperialists. Even, during the negotiations of Lausanne Agreement, which is seen as the founding document of Turkish Republic on the international level, they caused the Soviet representatives to be kept out of the negotiations with the request of imperialists in order to hold on a concession to give.

As Lenin wrote “Common enemy of both Turks and Russia is the colonialist countries of the day”, he emphasized two things: the self-determination right for nations as the embodiment of ideological rupture of Komintern from the Second International and the shift of the World revolution from European countries whose revolutions got defeated one by one to the colony countries. However, the reflection of this among the Turkish ruling classes was the placement of monist state ideology against the danger of Kurdish, Armenian and Greek nations’ tending for self-determination, which the Turkish ruling classes robbed, massacred, and colonized in the first place as its primary accumulation. In 1922 when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed, Turkey found a socialist world giant next to itself. This conditioned the anticommunist formation of it throughout its own history as it didn’t solve any of its inside conflicts through a peoples revolution. In the phase of monopoly capitalism in which bourgeoisie lost its progressive force, the Turkish bourgeoisie took on a path of capitalization through building a bourgeois dictatorship while peasantry tired of poverty and thirsty for freedom, and th emerging working class followed the communism idea and formed it core base for future struggles.

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