Source: The Communist Review, August 1923, Vol. 4, No. 4.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
THE monotonous political life of Constantinople was recently brightened by an event of sufficiently thrilling and melodramatic to distract provisionally the attention of the bored populace.
This was nothing less than a Communist plot. About fourteen Communists were arrested, while half-a-dozen more managed to evade apprehension. Those arrested included Dr. Thefik Husni, leader of a small group of intellectual Marxists who had founded a journal Aïdinlik (Clarté), and also one or two, of the leaders of the “Union International de Travail,”—Greeks, Armenians, etc. The evidence in the hands of the police comprised various Communist tracts and leaflets printed for the first May demonstrations, and exhorting the workers to down tools as a protest against capitalism. Also, the very existence of the Communist Party (which had been formed recently by the amalgamation of different scattered revolutionary groups) was in itself declared to be an act constituting a menace to the security of the country. The local gutter-press naturally howled the usual clap-trap about subsidies from Moscow, the perpetual cry of Levantine speculators. When the process opened before the court-martial, it was already evident that the case for the prosecution was very weak. The accused were charged “under Article 12 of the Law on treason to the country for having wished to propagate the subversive ideas of Communism throughout the land, and modify the form of Government . . .” A counter-process against the prosecution for illegal arrest and detention, has alrady been lodged by the ex-prisoners who were all released after three days’ sitting of the court. The jury naturally declared that it was incompetent to pronounce a decision—the process being based solely on accusation of political activity; and so, with the release of the arrested Communists, the plot bubble exploded.
It might be remarked that the whole affair is so insignificant and farcical that it does not justify being written about, but it is necessary to illustrate how the Kemalists are prepared when the opportunity arrives, to suppress at the very root any revolutionary movement that may spring up.
In view of the very small number of industrial workers in Turkey, the bad organisation of the Unions, the meagre infusion of socialist ideas, and the inherent nationalist and religious prejudices, the workers movement is still only in its embryo form. It is far this reason that the Constantinople authorities realised on second thoughts that the local Communists were negligible and impotent, and that it would be better to release them, than to attract the attention of the workers by keeping them in prison. As soon as there are any signs of a compact and efficient revolutionary movement coming into being, there is no doubt that it will be immediately suppressed. The Communist Party at Angora was at least considered dangerous, and therefore the Kemalists did not hesitate to throw all its members (including deputies) into gaol. At least one result of the Constantinople “plot,” was the official suppression of the International Builders’ and Woodworkers’ Unions, as being “illegal organisations,”
Although the Allied Police had previously suppressed the revolutionary syndicalist movement among the Greek workers, including the paper Neos Anthropos, organ of the “Union International de Travail“—which adhered to the R.I.L.U.—there had been no methodical suppression of the Communist movement until the taking over of the administration by the Kemalists last autumn. This coincided with the carrying out of instructions from the Fourth Comintern Congress, aiming at the merging of all revolutionary elements in Constantinople and Anatolia into a united Communist Party.
Before there is any chance of successful propaganda of Communist ideas among the workers in Turkey, it is necssary that strong unions be built up. With the development of industry, after the signing of peace, and the full enjoyment of national independence, more and more petty street-traders, shopkeepers, market gardeners, peasants, etc., will be forced onto the labour market, and there will then be greater opportunities for Union organisation than at present, when workers of one nationality are patted against others on the competitive wage bourse. Increased national fanaticism following the Kemalist victories, naturally hinders Communist propaganda, and it is thus difficult at the present juncture to count on the proletarian solidarity between Turkish, Greek, and Armenian workers. The few Trade Unions that do exist are mostly led by reformist “Socialists” of the most reactionary and chauvinist type, but in spite of this, the fighting capacity of the Turkish workers has several times been disclosed by spontaneous strike movements (tobacco workers, tramway employees, etc.).
The dumping of surplus stocks prior to the Allied evacuation, and the increasing tendency of Constantinople trade to become that of a transit and transhipment centre, had even caused a slump in the few scattered industries that at present exist in Turkey—leather, cement, etc.—and therefore wages have again dropped m spite of the high prices resulting from the fluctuation of foreign exchange values. How far the abolition of the capitulations will remedy this state of affairs remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the Turkish workers are worse off now than they were even under the reign of Abdul-Hamid.
Like good Mussulmans the sweated toilers of Stamboul and Anatolia are all voting for Kemal Pasha (and Allah) at the current elections. The Committee of Union and Progress, being the only organisation running self-respecting opposition candidates, there is an open field for the worst reactionary and imperialist elements.
Meanwhile, the American concessionaires are employing cheap Russian labour (White emigrants) on their Anatolian enterprises, and Kemal’s revolutionary Beys and Pashas are flirting at Lausanne with the meretricious denizens of Standard Oil and Shell, at the expense of the blood and sweat of the Mosul toilers. When the Kemalists needed Bolshevik help against Lloyd George and his Basil Zaharoff, they posed as super-Communists. Now that they are enmeshed in the lobster-pots of the capitalist ramp, they are disclosing their capacity for exploitation by “mutual understanding.” Naturally, Marxists appreciate the value of revolutionary nationalist movements, but only up to a certain point.