Letter: Stalinism in the Turkish workers’ movement

Submitted by Matthew on 12 July, 2017 - 11:04 Author: John Cunningham

May I, as a non-expert on Turkish matters, add a few outsider’s comments to the excellent article by Marksist Tutum, From dictatorship to liberal capitalism, in Solidarity 443, 20 June 2017.

First, although I totally accept the critique of the Kemalist regime outlined in the article, it is probably worth stressing two aspects of Kemalist policy which were surely progressive: the secularism adopted by Turkey as state policy was, as far as I aware, unique in the region; likewise the policies adopted towards women despite, I am sure, numerous caveats and criticisms, were a major step forward, particularly when considering what had existed in the past. In 1937, the Turkish Parliament had 18 women delegates when some European countries still did not allow women the vote.

Whatever criticisms may be made of the Kemal regime, these were significant achievements. In 2007 and 2008 I made two trips to Turkey, speaking at three meetings in Istanbul, Eskiŝehir and Diyarbakır. The meeting in Istanbul took place the day after the May Day rally in Taksim Square. At both the massive May Day rally (which I attended) and at the meeting I was struck by the strong presence of Stalinism. In the west nowadays, it is rare to see banners with pictures of Stalin adorning them, but they were immediately apparent at the May Day rally. At the meeting the next day I was asked the question “What did I think of the Soviet Union?” My answer, “Not very much”, led to an immediate walkout by the questioner. Admittedly, a more nuanced reply was probably called for, but I suspect the response of my critic(s) would have been the same.

These are rather random observations — what I really wanted to mention is this: the writers of the article mention the “Workers Opposition” and the poet Nazim Hikmet. I would humbly suggest that any comrade who wishes to acquire a “feel” for Turkey and its history in the twentieth century should purchase a copy of Hikmet’s epic poem Human Landscapes from my Country (warning: it is epic in every sense, amounting to 463 pages in the English language version! I bought my copy from Foyles in Charing Cross Road, London. It is published by Persea Books, New York, 2002). Personally, I think this poem, despite its formidable length, is one of the most moving, interesting and inspirational pieces of writing I have ever come across. I can only urge comrades to read it. To conclude, I hope the second instalment of this article will mention the other artist from Turkey whose work I have found so important and inspirational — the film director Yılmaz Güney.