Perinçek, Preve and the Shadows of Reactionary Opportunism: A(n) (Auto) Critique
As per the title, this critique is also an auto-critique which aims to clarify the extent of reactionary opportunism among the communists and former communists in the two countries I know best by using two prominent representatives that eventually ended up in the same current.
First, a brief auto-critique is in order. As you may know, I used to defend both of these men. I used to defend Perinçek because I thought I owed one to him, due to the fact that he was an imprisoned socialist. He was among the political prisoners in the Ergenekon Trials, which were held to put an end to the remnants of the so-called “First Republic” – that is those who opposed the Islamic transformation orchestrated by the US and its local and European allies. So, despite his prior support of NATO and “fling” with the European-backed PKK, I decided to join his party and eventually rose up in the ranks before I quit. I had my personal reasons as well, but the main reasons behind my decision to quit were ideological, as the leadership had refused to stop collaborating with ambiguous Russian imperial fetishists like Alexander Dugin, developed a completely absurd economic theory, given de facto support to the reactionary presidential candidate of the Grey Wolves and the centre-left, and recruited former neo-liberals, right-wing nationalists and NATO officers.
What I couldn’t see in Perinçek was his dogmatic devotion to the Maoist notion of “principal contradiction” to the extent that he had no qualms in demonizing his former allies and siding with all his former adversaries to quell the former with absolutist rhetoric. It is ironic that even “Chairman Mao” had theorized a limit to the “principal contradiction”, i.e. “antagonistic contradiction”, despite the fact that, in practice, he could justify his negotiations with the Nixon administration in order to “counter Soviet revisionism”. At any rate, while Perinçek was correct in his last analysis regarding the PKK, trying to counter the PKK’s influence by supporting the very army that allowed the regime to purge anti-American officers has been a rather desperate act.
As for Preve, well, I got the chance to read his works thanks to an Italian friend of mine who, prior to Preve’s passing, used to be his pupil/close friend (I do have to thank him for the fact that Preve started reading my articles before I, a youngling, started reading his). At a time when certain Italian “communists” organized flash mobs against the Libyan Jamahiriya while others chose to remain idle, Preve’s relatively correct and radical approach led me to read more of his works. It was then that I found out about his past interest in Western revisionists such as French structuralists. Given his “Western” roots and sympathy for a liberal like Norberto Bobbio; I couldn’t understand how he could collaborate with outright cultural conservatives like Alain De Benoist.
Then I realized that it wasn’t a big coincidence after all: it was a matter of principles. Those who had actual political principles wouldn’t try to bend them in order to enforce unnecessary and contradictory fusions. Both Western Marxists and Eurasianists / New Rightists lacked a principled class perspective and were therefore able to justify their constant side switching by referring to cultural phenomena or geopolitical interests. Their lack of principled class perspective was due to the simple fact that they were unfamiliar with the political notion of “principle”.
And Preve was surely one of them. I had failed to see that.
After this introductory note I’d like to analyze the fallacies of these two prominent figures more thoroughly.
Perinçek: a man with dynamic red lines
Doğu Perinçek has always been one of the most intriguing figures in Turkish politics, and not always in a positive way. Son of a centre-right MP, Perinçek started out as a youth leader when he was a graduate student at the University of Ankara. At first he identified himself as a “scientific socialist”; however he subsequently became a prominent promotor of the “National Democratic Revolution Theory” (which foresaw an alliance with the petty bourgeoisie to counter imperialist influence and was popular among Turkish communists until the globalization era) with a bold Maoist slant. His unstable leadership began at this very point, when he fully embraced Maoism.
As a leading figure of the socialist magazine Aydınlık, Perinçek founded the clandestine Revolutionary Workers’ and Peasants’ Party of Turkey. Contrary to Perinçek’s present-day Kemalist rhetoric, the RWPPT was critical of Mustafa Kemal and the Republican Revolution and didn’t exclude secession as a “solution” to the Kurdish question. The party was also critical of Turkey’s involvement in Cyprus and had a very aggressive stance towards the “revisionist” Warsaw Pact and Soviet allies in general (such as Cuba).
After several years of clandestine activity, Perinçek founded the legal Workers’ and Peasants’ Party of Turkey. This legal party had inherited the Maoist stance of its predecessor (in terms of lashing out at Soviet allies) but had changed its stance towards Mustafa Kemal and the Kurdish question. It eventually became one of the first adversaries of a newly founded PKK in Eastern Anatolia, and the clandestine organization assassinated several regional leaders of the WPPT. Beyond its conflict with the PKK, the party had “unique” stances on increasing military pressure in the countryside and the role of NATO, in that it supported extraordinary measures against the so-called “fifth column” represented by the Communist Party of Turkey and backed Turkey’s membership to NATO “as a defensive measure against the Red Tsars”. It is worthy of note that the party initially supported the coup d’état in 1980, as it was of the opinion that the US was in regression and the USSR was the “main imperialist threat”.
In spite of the party’s initial support, the putschist authorities banned the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party of Turkey along with dozens of other socialist organizations. In the following years Perinçek’s circle founded the Socialist Party which was initially led by Ferit İlsever, a close associate of Perinçek. In the same period, Perinçek and his followers published a news magazine called “2000’e Doğru” (“Towards 2000”) that realized groundbreaking interviews with Kurdish militia leaders loyal to both Abdullah Öcalan (i.e. the PKK) and Massoud Barzani. Not surprisingly, Perinçek and his followers changed their stance on the Kurdish question yet again by supporting the PKK and opposing the Turkish Armed Forces with similar absolutist rhetoric. Perinçek even accused the famous left-wing Kemalist journalist (and martyr) Uğur Mumcu of collaborationism because of the latter’s criticism of Barzani’s militia and the PKK.
The following years saw yet another transformation in Perinçek’s political stance as he founded the pro-Kemalist Workers’ Party. Needless to say, he broke his ties with the PKK and embraced a nationalist approach. He slowly began to “recognize” the “overcoming” of the traditional political concepts of “left-wing” and “right-wing” and theorized that the current struggle was between “national” and “non-national” or “global” forces. His separation of capital accumulation from the notion of globalization led him to seek “non-socialist” solutions both home and abroad, which resulted in ambiguous alliances with Russian Eurasianists and former Grey Wolves.
Perinçek’s popularity reached its peak when he was imprisoned along with tens of anti-NATO military personnel, journalists, academics and politicians during the Ergenekon Trials. At first he and his comrades tried to disassociate themselves from the rest of the prisoners but eventually came to solidarize with them. As the trials proceeded, Perinçek, despite the despicable and illegitimate accusations he faced, enjoyed the “myth of the imprisoned leader”, much like Abdullah Öcalan. His actions were deemed excusable no matter what he did, as his ideas continued to shift to the right.
Nonetheless, the last couple of years saw the destruction of that myth. After he was released from prison, Perinçek enthusiastically joined Erdoğan’s crusade against the Gülen sect. Despite the fact that Gülen and Erdoğan were equally responsible for his imprisonment, Perinçek considered Gülen “the primary foe” and went as far as supporting Erdoğan’s candidates for the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors. He also didn’t refrain from supporting the introduction of Ottoman “Turkish” to high school curricula, effectively backing down from his “Kemalist” stance.
As a result, Perinçek decided that it would no longer be appropriate to maintain a “left-wing name” like “the Workers’ Party” and, after a ludicrous congress, changed the party’s name to “the Patriotic Party”. In spite of its small electoral base (around 0.3 %), the party boldly declared itself “a unitary front” (thus substantially renouncing the role of the “vanguard party” as theorized by Lenin) and welcomed the sort of people I mentioned in the introduction to its ranks.
The rest of the story takes place in the present day. Perinçek continues to support Erdoğan’s illegitimate incursions in Syria “as long as the army strikes the PKK”, avoids commenting on Erdoğan’s blatant violations of the Constitution “in force”, and continues to purge the “disobedient” socialists (or rather, actual socialists) from his party.
And how does Perinçek justify his actions? He is convinced that “yesterday is yesterday and today is today”, that is, he has no qualms in allying even with Erdoğan as long as he fights against the current “primary foe”. He lacks any sort of political principle; or rather, his only political principle is realpolitik. Such vices don’t necessarily make him a “typical politician in bad faith” but simply an untrustworthy leader and as such, he deserves to be isolated.
Preve: a confused Marxist
Without a doubt, criticizing an academic or a philosopher is much more onerous than criticizing a politician as you have to focus more on the idea than the act. Nevertheless, I shall try to keep it as brief and direct as possible.
Of partial Armenian descent (to the Turkish reader: Preve was quite fluent in Turkish), Costanzo Preve started his academic career after dispassionately studying law and political sciences in Turin. He pursued his philosophical interests after winning a scholarship at the University of Sorbonne in France, where he got the chance to attend the lectures of noteworthy Marxists of the era, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Louis Althusser. In the meantime he met another influential figure, Roger Garaudy, when Garaudy was still the editor-in-chief of Cahiers du Communisme, the monthly magazine of the French Communist Party. Afterwards he attended the Free University of Berlin where he studied Greek, which allowed him to pass on to the University of Athens where he furthered his studies on Greek culture and history.
When he returned to Italy he started teaching and at the same time got involved in political activism. He became an official member of the Italian Communist Party in 1973 and tried to spread a “philosophical approach” to communism. In 1978 he founded the Centro Studi di Materialismo Storico, which allowed him to explore other major contributors to Western Marxism such as György Lukács and abandon Althusser. In this period Preve examined various Italian left-wing currents like operaismo and autonomismo, and heavily criticized the “historical compromise” (that is, the rapprochement between the Italian Communist Party and Christian Democrats), eventually joining the Trotskyist-oriented Proletarian Democracy where he sided with the “neo-communist” current.
After the dissolution of the Italian Communist Party and the adherence of Proletarian Democracy to the newly founded Communist Refoundation Party, Preve slowly began to distance himself from the Italian left. Irritated by the “useless conflicts among Marxists”, he likened various Marxist schools to “churches” and, although he continued to espouse Marxism, he declared (similarly to Thomas Kuhn) that Marxism was “in a scientific crisis” which could be solved by overcoming “ideological fundamentalism” represented mostly by “professional” party (or, as Preve used to put it, “sect”) leaders.
This disassociation led him to think that the “left-right dichotomy” was finally overcome and the “anti-fascist” rhetoric of the Italian left was highly superficial, as “such an adversary no longer existed”. He also criticized Lenin’s interpretation of Marxism with specific regard to the Leninist notion of “imperialism”, boldly stating that “[such an interpretation] lacks any sort of scientific basis, and therefore it hasn’t ‘corrected’ Marxian thought – it has effectively buried it” adding that “[Lenin’s thought] doesn’t need any sort of ex post contortions as it is based solely on a Russian perspective and (superficial) anti-imperialism”.
Thus, Preve’s anamorphosis allowed him to seek alliances elsewhere: not only did he embark upon a “critical” cooperation with the abovementioned reactionary “thinker” Alain De Benoist, but he also got in touch with one of the zealots that Perinçek also befriended: Alexander Dugin. Despite trying to maintain an independent Marxist approach, he was nevertheless influenced by the fetishisms of these two individuals as he focused more on geopolitics and national identity in his later years.
Preve’s new perspective and influences eventually morphed into a political stance, which he referred to as “communitarian communism”. In spite of the fact that the word “communism” was still present in this self-description, the key word was “communitarian” as the ideas that he proposed were more communitarian in essence, and “communism” was simply a point of reference, an inspiration for his arguments. Furthermore, the fact that “communitarianism” was a term that the Italian far-right was accustomed to allowed Preve to reach out to them in order to “unite against” the “common foe” represented by liberal individualism.
It is only saddening that he didn’t get to see the recent rise of the far-right in Europe; perhaps he could have admitted his mistakes, something that he wasn’t afraid to do. That would have definitely changed the attitude of his younger and not-so-bright associates like Diego Fusaro who try to talk about Marx to the militants of openly fascist organizations like CasaPound.
To sum up, the reason why Preve embraced such an opportunist approach in his later life was, ironically, the “classical” opportunism of the Italian left. In my humble opinion, his hatred towards “tifoseria” politics and indecent leaders resulted in a new form of opportunism which sought refuge in the far-right.
Differences and the common ground
It goes without saying that, despite their common point of arrival, Perinçek and Preve had very different perspectives. Perinçek is a politician who is used to using a simple language to form his arguments; Preve, on the other hand, was a philosopher and used a complex language and well-defined logical links to convince the reader. While Perinçek thrives on sectarianism and a not-so-impressive cult of personality, the main reason behind Preve’s disassociation from the left was this very concept of “leadership”. Appositely, in Perinçek’s opinion organizing is a fundamental norm, while Preve thought that “intellectual integrity” came before political activism (conversely, Perinçek states that “our integrity has no value in the fight for the Motherland!”). It is only a coincidence that these two figures met in Turkey in the 70’s.
However, they ended up on the same ground by denouncing the political principles of the left, albeit for different reasons. They both held onto vague antagonisms and eventually lost sight of clarity. They both tried to unite with controversial figures against what they perceived as “a common foe” but failed to see the irreconcilable contradictions. They both harmed their followers, although it is clear that the damage caused by Preve is significantly less than that which was caused by Perinçek.
At this point I must admit that the works of Preve deserve a separate and more detailed critique, which I’m planning to undertake in the following months. After all, he was an intellectual who valued integrity and wasn’t afraid to admit that he was wrong. He had a relatively scientific approach; unfortunately, though, not all scientific works yield correct results.
As for Perinçek, his works don’t deserve such criticism. His veneration of realpolitik and dogmatic approach to geopolitics are well-entrenched, therefore his ideas aren’t invaluable. Nevertheless, it is a moral and political duty to tell the truth about Perinçek and his ideas in order to tread a scientific path towards socialism.
After all, the fight against reactionism goes on!