Mahir Çayan: The revolutionary line and revisionism


The left in the imperialist countries has from time to time paid lip-service to the great lessons to be learned from those struggling in the oppressed countries. Today, it is more vital than ever that Communists study and learn from the rich experience of revolutionary struggles of this century. An important part of this is for us to study the theoretical contributions made by the leaders of these struggles.

For this reason, we are reprinting here an extract from the Turkish Communist Mahir Çayan’s seminal book, Uninterrupted Revolution. Only the third, final section of this book is currently available in English, and our reprint here comes from this section. In future issues, we will be reprinted further extracts from this work, and we hope to be able to publish a full translation in due course.

Comrade Mahir Çayan’s work is not at all well known outside of Turkey, and this is a real loss to the revolutionary movement. As the leader of the THKP-C, comrade Mahir Çayan’s vision of revolutionary strategy lives on today. It is our aim to make his work more widely known, as well as to learn from his example.
We have described, in a few words, the characteristics of the 3rd period of general crisis and the differences with the other general periods of crisis of imperialism.

In this period revisionism and opportunism within the left have shown themselves in two forms. Because of the characteristic qualities of this period the former claimed that the universal theses of Leninism had lost their validity which will exist until the collapse of imperialism as a system. And so they dish up the theory of a peaceful and pacifist revolution.

However, the substance of imperialism has not changed. What changed are the forms of inner-imperialist relations and exploitation. Therefore the universal theses of Leninism, the Marxism of the imperialist area, remain valid until the collapse of imperialism as a system.

The second type, the social-reformist line, which does not reckon with the changing forms of relations and exploitation of imperialism, does not use the theory as a lead for action, but as a invariable dogma.

In their opinion the form of armed propaganda can not be the main method of struggle because such a form of propaganda does not appear in Leninism, they claim. Armed propaganda is supposedly not a organizing one. Holding to armed propaganda would mean seeing everything through the barrel of a gun… etc…

We want to go into this theme a little deeper. As is known, Marx and Engels in the second part of the 19th century said: for the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeois to reach a further phase, and to make the first proletarian revolution in the world a possibility, a world war between the imperialists will probably be necessary.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks carried out the first proletarian revolution in the world in the imperialist age, by making this analysis of genius their own. Lenin said already around 1900 (much earlier, before he wrote his book “Imperialism”), that the law of the uneven and jolting development of capitalism will compulsory lead to a war between the imperialists which will open the way to revolution for the weakest link in the chain of capitalism, Russia.

According to the leninist model of revolution, the conflicts between the imperialists will undoubtedly jump to the military platform. As we know, the world proletariat movement made a giant leap forward during the first inner-imperialist world war, during the turn over phase from top to bottom, and 1/6 of the world became socialist. During the turn over phase from top to bottom which was caused by the second inner-imperialist world war, already 1/3 of the world became socialist and socialism won prestige worldwide.

After the second world war capitalism slid into a new period of crisis. It is not possible that the inter-imperialist conflicts will inflame a war in this period. (For the reasons we already mentioned). The Cuban Revolution with its form of struggle, with the route they followed, is therefore a result of the particularities of this historical period, in other words, the result of applying Marxism-Leninism in practice in this historical period.

Apart from the proletarian Revolution in Cuba, all other revolutions were realised by the from-top-to-bottom turnovers of the two world wars. From the application of the universal marxist-leninist theses in the praxis of this concrete historical situation follows that armed propaganda is the basic form of struggle and the war of the avant-garde of the people constitutes the bolshevist line of the proletarian revolutionaries of all countries which are under the hegemony of imperialism.

Both the pacifists in our country, as well as those in other countries call the struggle of the revolutionary organisations which take armed propaganda as the basic form of struggle, who wage the avant-garde war, as a “duel of a handful of people with the ruling class”, as “the line of anarchism and Narodnisism”, and they say that “such a form of struggle does not exist with Lenin. This conception means to look at everything through the barrel of a gun…etc…” These claims, which are nothing more than a ideological veil to cover the capitulation, have a side which has to be taken seriously. We will only say this: In this period a revolution has taken place. And those who achieved this revolution, furthermore by taking armed propaganda as basis form of struggle, started with the avant-garde war.

The revolutionary movements who take the leninist working-method as basis for this historical situation, write the epic of liberation of these people in the rural parts of this world. However, the pacifists, a group of a handful, conduct a duel of words as prolonged left arm of imperialism and oligarchy in the world against those who write the epic of liberation with blood and fire.

Lenin gives the best answer to those pacifists who claim this form of struggle does not exist with Lenin: So lets give him the word: “Marxism requires a strict historical examination of the question of forms of struggle. To keep this question separated from the concrete historical situation would show that the principles of the dialectic materialism are not fully understood. In the different stages of the economic evolution, bound to the changing, political-national-cultural living circumstances, different forms of struggle arise, these mainly become forms of fighting; in relation to these, also the supplementary forms of struggle change, in the second grade”.

Those who do not regard the changes in the political, cultural and national conditions of the economical evolution (imperialism), who are disconnected from the lived concrete historical situation, (the 3rd period of crisis of imperialism) and practice, and those who are fixed on a mechanical working-method on the works from Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, can be good Marxologists, but they can never be proletarian revolutionaries.

The principle difference between all kinds of opportunism and the revolutionary line is shown in the choice of the basic form of struggle. As we know, the proletarian-revolutionary struggle, waged against the ruling classes, is versatile. This versatility is gathered under two headings in literature: a) Peaceful methods of struggle (does not mean reconciliation) b) Armed methods of action

How should the struggle against imperialism and the oligarchy be led in the countries under occupation of imperialism? With what form of struggle as basis should the artificial balance between the oligarchy and the discontent, the reaction, of the people be destroyed? Which method of struggle, as a basis, should be choosen to pull the people to the revolutionary ranks? Which form of struggle should be the basis for a campaign which reveals the political facts? It is exactly this which divides the revolutionary line from the opportunistic line, the revolutionary theory from the “orthodox” ideological drivel.

The international revisionists and pacifists who divide the stages of evolution and revolution of the revolutionary struggle in the present period with a sharp line, answer the above-mentioned questions (whatever the differences between them may be, from those who take the city as a basis to those who take the country as their basis) as follows: “Go to the masses, satisfy the most basic needs of the masses, politicise them, organise them on the basis of economic rights and the needs of the workers, directing them to the political goal”.

In all countries which are left behind, where the democratic rights and freedoms are not applied, are put aside, or better said, where the oligarchy does “not allow” the application, and a complete policy of submission is practised against the working masses with the help of the army, the police and other forces, these organisations who want to transform the economical and democratic struggle to a political struggle with classical “mass work”, will become weaker and weaker seeing the military superior forces and repression of the enemy and they will slide further to the right.

This way “will let survive the artificial balance, built between the dictatorship of the oligarchy and the pressure of the people, in stead of destroying it”. (Che)

Yes, it will survive when we go this way. Of course, there will seem to be progress. But those who defend this way will, although they might have had militant qualities in the beginning, loose this quality, they will get spoiled and become bureaucrats, more and more.

What will be lost will be the revolutionary substance, and therefore also some workers who were driven to pacifism. This is always the result. One will come to this conclusion when one interprets this view superficially. They take the view that the phase of evolution will be long and the phase of revolution will be short, as it was the case during the revolution in the Soviet Union where the urban proletariat played the key role.

Those organisations which take this basic form of struggle will get more and more under the wings of the revolutionary nationalists while they think they will achieve the democratic rights and freedoms in the country under their leadership and through that they will be able to organise the masses in the field of the economic and democratic struggle and create consciousness. For example, the group X comes together in the environs of a newspaper which reveals the political facts and it tries to get a foothold in factories and other places, it goes into economical-democratic mass organisations. While, starting from this point, they try to pull the masses to the side of the revolution, so while they take this form of struggle as their basis, they planned on the other hand one or two robberies to provide money for the organisation, and they may have undertaken one or two acts of sabotage and some attempted attacks. (But these achieved armed actions are not the same as armed propaganda). And this group which has taken this working-method has placed all its hopes on a revolutionary-nationalist junta Because this junta would practically realise the constitution of May 27, 1961 (a democratic-liberal constitution, tr.), the articles 141-142 (comparable to 129a in Germany) would be abolished and a order would be created according to the choosen method of struggle.

The revolutionary viewpoint is: Armed propaganda is the principle method of struggle to destroy the artificial balance between the oligarchy and the unconscious reaction and discontent of the people and for the mobilisation of the masses on the side of the revolution. In the countries where the economical and democratic struggle of the working masses is put down by the dictatorship of the oligarchy – albeit in its parliamentary institution -, where the central authority looks like a “giant” with its army, police etc., where the hidden occupation exists, in those countries armed propaganda is the principle method of struggle which establishes a contact with the masses and wins them to the ranks of the revolution by a broad campaign which spreads the political facts.

Armed propaganda is not a military struggle, it is a political one. It’s not a form of struggle for individuals, it’s a form of struggle for the masses. So, armed propaganda is in any case no terrorism (in spite of the allegations by the pacifists), it differs from individual terrorism in its aim and means. Armed propaganda takes the view of a certain revolutionary strategy which is recognizable for the masses in the material and concrete actions, and from this it develops its theory.

In the area of material events it reveals the political facts, brings consciousness to the masses and shows them the political goal. Armed propaganda agitates the discontent of the people against the order, liberates them in time from the effects of the imperialist brainwash. First it shakes the masses, and step by step it makes them conscious, shows them that the central authority is not as strong as it seems, that the force is in the first instance based on cries, intimidation and demagogy.

Armed propaganda at first leads particularly the view of the masses, who are taken by the imperialist media, who go under in the daily problems of subsistence, who put their hopes on one “party” of the order or the other, to the revolutionary movement and its creates a turmoil in the benumbed and pacified masses. At first the constraint and indecisiveness of the masses, caused by the dense rightwing propaganda (this also includes the opportunistic media), change more and more towards sympathy for the revolutionary movement. Towards the oligarchy however, which takes of its “mask of justice” towards the armed action and raises its terror against the people in a hitherto unknown measure, constraint and indecisiveness change to antipathy whereby the masses recognize the ugly face of the oligarchy.

The organisation which takes armed propaganda as a basis, becomes the only source of hope. While on the one side unemployment and inflation rise, and the discontent of the people borders on the unbearable, the oligarchy on the other side looses all its prestige, in the first place in the eyes of the intellectuals, and thus in the eyes of the people. Because of the armed propaganda they raise repression and terror immensely and all democratic rights of the people disappear into the cupboard.

The party, which wages the guerrilla war successfully, will clear the left of the parasites more and more, in the first place by rallying round the awakened parts of the people who came under the influence of the opportunistic factions of the left. The parts of the population who were confused by the pacifists, – workers, peasants, students – gather around the armed propaganda.

So, the armed propaganda will in the first place gather the left and the sincere elements which were at first under the influence of different tendencies, will rally round one single strategy. The armed propaganda includes the rural and urban guerrilla warfare, as well as the psychological warfare and the war of attrition.

Maintaining the basic form of struggle in this way does not mean that other forms of struggle are neglected. The organisation which takes armed propaganda as its basis will also take the other forms of struggle, compared to the possibilities, in its hands. However, the other forms of struggle are secondary. Armed propaganda is the basic form of struggle. This doesn’t mean that one remains inactive towards the economical and democratic mass movements. The organisation will try, in relation with its strength, to organize the masses in the area of their economical-democratic rights and desires. The organisation will try to lead all kinds of reactions against the oligarchy. However, in the beginning it will be impossible to run everywhere, the organisation will not take part in mass movements which exceed its strength and who are not secured with arms. Proportionately, according to its possibilities, the organisation will be engaged in political education, propaganda and organizing to achieve consciousness, outside the armed propaganda. The classical-political mass struggle and the armed propaganda take turns, stipulate each other, depend on each other, and influence each other. The other political, economical, democratic forms of struggle, outside the armed propaganda, are subjected to the armed propaganda and form according to it. (The subjected forms of struggle take form according to the basic form of struggle. So, they take form according to the methods of armed propaganda).

The revolutionary strategy which takes armed propaganda as its basis and the other economical, democratic forms of struggle as subjected to it, is called Politicized Strategy of Military Struggle. (PASS) For the organisation of this strategy the ideological struggle is not a polemic means, it leads to the political education of it cadres.

These are, in short, the views of the revolutionary and the revisionist line which exist in those countries under occupation of imperialism in the 3rd period of crisis.

Summary In these countries two deviations exist under the name of “proletarian revolutionaries”:

1) The revisionist, classical “orthodox” line: (The qualities) To look at the military side and the political side as opposed to each other, underestimates the military side. The political function of the urban proletariat in the light of the Soviet model, where the urban proletariat played a key role, is excessively valued. After the gain of prestige by the armed propaganda, these organisations lost prestige and they then opened a “branch” to build the guerrilla. Of course, this guerrilla remained idle drivel. The revisionists take the peaceful form of struggle as its basis, divide the phases of evolution and revolution with a sharp line, and reject the avant-garde war – although the country is in a national crisis -. This creates spontaneity.

2) As a result of a wrong analysis of the Cuban Revolution and as a reaction to the above-mentioned view, the militant left line arose; the Focus-view: in this view the relations between city and country, the armed propaganda and the other forms of struggle are not seen as a dialectical unity; it only uses totally the armed propaganda in the country, looks at the subjected role of the cities and the other forms of struggle as unimportant. At the basis of this view lies the thought that the peasants will take up the arms immediately through the struggle of the avant-garde and the war will transform to a people’s war in a very short time. In this aspect also this line represents a “left” “spontanity”. However, the defenders of this view have given up this view, recognizing the confrontation with the facts of live, where they have been far from reality. Nowadays, worldwide there are almost no more armed propaganda organisations with this focus-view.