Christian Rakovsky

The Turkish Revolution

(August 1908)

Written: 1 August 1908.
Source: From Le Socialisme [Paris], No. 37, 1 August 1908, pp. 1–2.
From the archives of Revolutionary History.
Translated: Harry Ratner.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Ted Crawford and David Walters, September 2006.
Proofread: Alvaro Miranda (April 2021).
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

After Russia and Persia, Turkey now enters the revolutionary movement. But what characterises the Turkish Revolution is its rapid evolution and swift success – at least in appearance. In the space of two weeks the rebellious army has become the master of Macedonia. The terrified Sultan has been forced to agree to a constitution or rather to reinstate that of 1876. Thus the last European autocracy is overthrown. The statement of General Ignatief, the Russian Ambassador at Constantinople at the time when the first Turkish constitution was proclaimed “We will not allow Russia to remain the only country in Europe without a constitution” has now no basis. Theoretically at least the whole of Europe is constitutional.

But if the changes in Turkey have a more general interest it is in relation to the famous “Eastern Question”.

Are we at the start of solving this and thus the eliminating of one of the greatest causes of war?

Undoubtedly, if any one, apart from the populations of the Turkish East themselves, has an interest in the complete solution to this question it is the proletariat. Turkey today is an open field for capitalist and imperialist conspiracies of all countries. All of them, while awaiting the collapse of the empire to take some of its territories, seek at present to get greater influence in it and more financial concessions and privileges. It has to be said that dividing up the goods of “sick man” before he is dead, has been done with great success.

Thanks to a Sultan who is only concerned with self-preservation and a despotic, ignorant and corrupt bureaucracy, the vultures from every country, the agents of triumphant capitalism, have succeeded in building their nest in every corner of this vast Empire. On every hand a motley crowd, the nationalist propagandists, Bulgarian, Roumanian, Serb, Greek and so on, seek by fire, sword and money to increase their sphere of influence.

All this is at the expense of the people of Turkey, abandoned by everyone, struggling with despair and powerless against the Sultan’s tyranny, the intrigues of their fellow nationals in other countries and the insatiable appetites of the so-called protecting powers.

A revolution which gave the initiative to the peoples of Turkey by suppressing or reducing the influence of all these harmful factors would, by that alone, solve the Eastern question.

Only a regenerated, democratic and strong Turkey can repeat with success the famous “Hands off” of Gladstone and then cut short all the appetites which its state of decomposition have provoked among its neighbours near and far.

The consequences for peace and for the cause of the working class that this change will bring are incalculable. In general it must be said that – and here is the great historic importance of the awakening of all the people of the East and Far East – the repulse of the aggressive and greedy imperialism of the capitalist Empire will make absolutely clear the necessity of finding a solution to the difficulties of over-production and capitalist anarchy in another organisation of national work.

The colonial safety valve no longer existing, willy nilly a real socially just solution must be found.

But outside of this general and broad consequence the Turkish Revolution will have other more immediate and more practical consequences from the point of view of the foreign policy of all Balkan and Western groups whose life is bound up with that of Turkey. That will be a general lowering of tension and perhaps grounds for some disarmament.

That is why, we repeat, the working class must greet the Turkish revolution with enthusiasm.

But are we seeing a revolution or a military coup without major consequences? The immediate future will tell. However, it seems that from its start the Turkish Revolution shows a very dangerous tendency to go off the rails.

It is incontrovertible that the only way of pacifying Turkey, torn by so many passions, is the greatest possible liberty. It is that which by satisfying the just claims of the different peoples of the empire, can unite them in a spirit of common solidarity. Unfortunately the power of the Young Turks is, from this point of view, totally inadequate. The 1876 constitution which they have demanded and got leaves a lot to be desired. It leaves the autocratic power of the Sultan almost intact.

On the other hand the Young Turks, doubtless struck by the state of decay in which they find the Empire, have only one thing in mind: to strengthen the central power as much as possible. Instead of an autocratic Sultan there would be a no less autocratic oligarchy. And yet there is no country which less lends itself to such a regime than Turkey with its diversity of languages, customs and economic and social conditions in its different provinces. And it is precisely this pitfall that the Young Turks do not wish to see. They do not wish to understand this historical truth that it is only in a federation of all the peoples of the Empire that they can find their salvation and that the old slogan of “autonomy or anatomy” – that is to say federation or partition – is today truer than ever.

In fact at present, after so many bloody struggles, the peoples of Turkey will submit even less than they did thirty-two years ago to the tyranny of a half absolutist central government which was promised in the Constitution of 1876. We do not ignore the difficulties which stand in the way of the progress of the Turkish Revolution but the Young Turks make things worse themselves by being eager to negotiate with Abdul-Hamid. This is a pact with the devil which, we believe, will be fatal to the movement. There is only one way that the Turkish revolution will succeed which is to unite all the common peoples of Turkey, without distinction of race or creed, around a truly revolutionary and democratic programme.

But is the Young Turk Party capable of accomplishing this union?

Indeed what is the social character of the Young Turk movement? The Turkish workers and the country people are still under the influence of the clergy. The Muslim bourgeoisie, among which the Young Turks have some sympathy, does not have much importance. A long historical evolution has transformed the Turkish bourgeoisie into a military and civil service caste while the Christian bourgeoisie deals with industry and commerce.

Thus the only milieu in which the Young Turks are popular is that of the army and bureaucracy. These two elements can guarantee to a revolution a success as swift as it is short-lived. But a clever manoeuvre of the Sultan, calling to power the greatest possible number of Young Turks, can disorganise and compromise the whole movement.

The Young Turks could find solid support in the Christian bourgeoisie and proletariat but will they have the foresight and moral courage to do so?

At the same time they could carry the Muslim masses with them by a promise of serious reforms. The future will show us if they are capable of this. On their attitude will depend whether the Turkish revolution will be a papering over of the cracks or a movement filled with political and social consequences for the whole of humanity.

Last updated on 26 May 2021