Increasing tension between Turkey and the United States and attitudes of socialists about the S-400 issue have again shown how distorted the perception of imperialism is, and that it has bad political consequences for the left.Some pleased with the “disruption” of NATO alliance through the procurement of S-400 defense system, some talks about “national honor” against Trump’s statements and so on…
Our concern is to clarify the concept of imperialism, as well as to seek an answer for the question that how to locate Turkey in the imperialist hierarchy.
Marxist Theories of Imperialism
The perspective that locates Turkey in the bottom of the imperialist hierarchy and defines it as a colony or semi-colony is dominant in Turkish left. They claim that they follow the classical Marxist theories of imperialism, originally developed in the early 20th century; also this perspective has some references like Mahir Çayan. Of course, without understanding the essence of Lenin’s theory of imperialism: instead of adapting it to todays’ material conditions, they are turning it into a dogma with a mechanic understanding.
It is not a coincidence that classical Marxist theories of imperialism are developed during the times when international tensions peak on the eve of the First World War as the era of imperialism starts with the last quarter of the 19th century. This is a period in which colonialism still exists and colonies have a function for capitalism.
Those who wanted to come to the forefront of capitalist competition were deeply in need of plundering colonies (not only in terms of raw materials but also of human labor), which had been an important resource for primitive accumulation of countries such as Britain, France and Holland. This concrete need paved the way for the First World War. However, the relationship with the colonies did not remain the same, this relationship changed its form.
Croix, an important Marxist historian, says in his study of ancient Greek history that the distinction between the modes of production can be understood by asking how the surplus is drawn from producers by the ruling classes. In pre-capitalist class societies, exploitation was mainly realized by legal-judicial mechanisms, while capitalist exploitation is built on the economic mechanisms. That is to say, being a slave owner or a feudal lord arises from a legal-political position (such as being a Greek citizen, having the right to seigniorage); however, there is no legal “enforcement relationship” between the laborer and capitalist in capitalism. The so-called “free” labor essentially produces surplus value for the capitalist within the framework of an economic imperative (the necessity of working for survival and earning money). Because of this nature of the paid labor, for a country that had already completed its primitive accumulation (Germany for instance), there was no need for colonization of Asia or Africa and driving its people into slavery. The people of these regions who are already struggling to meet their vital needs would be ready to serve when a factory is opened.
Lenin defines imperialism as the monopolistic phase of capitalism. This phase also indicates that the concentration and centralization of capital has been completed and that capitalism has become a world system rather than solely reigning in a region of Europe. Since the monopolies of the advanced capitalist countries and the capital of the newly developing ones cannot compete – especially in the field of advanced technology – there is no need for colonies for the market, at least in the present form of capitalism. Companies like Apple/Samsung can acquire the other countries’ cell phone market on their own without a need for a military occupation. This is also a valid for monopolies like Coca Cola, Toyota etc. In fact, it is not in the interest of these monopolies that markets are shared by nation-states with isolated borders.
At this stage, colonialism is more like a burden than a necessity. It is costly both politically and economically. On the one hand, they cause loss of legitimacy; on the other hand, the expenses they incur, such as military troops to be settled in foreign lands, administrative costs… These are unnecessary costs for resources that can also be obtained in other ways. However, the capital wants to change countries in order to obtain cheaper labor-power and to enlarge its market to the world without limiting itself in national markets.
Is Turkey a Semi-Colonial Country?
Let’s talk about Turkey’s position… Imperialist relations are hierarchical. It is clear that Turkey is not at the top of this hierarchy, but is it at the bottom? Those who define the country as a semi-colony characterize its position in this way.
The category of colony or semi-colony refers to the delegation of some or all its rights of sovereignty. We might need to mention some actions of Turkish government: procurement of S-400 from the former-enemy Russia at the risk of being at odds with the US;engaging in hydrocarbon explorations in the Eastern Mediterranean despite the EU’s reactions; supporting Qatar against the Saudis which is one of the most important US allies in the region; maintaining the support for the Muslim Brotherhood (which has been declared as terrorist), while the US supports Sisi. So, would it be proper to define Turkey as a semi-colony which transferred its rights of sovereignty? This does not mean that Turkey has a free hand in the field of international relations. Of course there are limits to independent action, and these limits are too narrow to be compared to those of the great imperialist powers.
Yes, there is a relationship based on inequality between the US and Turkey. But this is not a unilateral relationship of domination. Turkey can make political, economic and military moves according to its interests without exceeding the limits, and it does. Turkey is a regional power, trying to behave similarly, with what powerful states do in world arena: it is a sub-imperialist state.
The concept of sub-imperialism refers to the regional powers, which lie below the greatest imperialist powers. With the approval and support of the super powers, the sub-imperialist countries – as defenders of those powers’ interests – are positioned as a regional power. Following the defeat of Vietnam, the United States pursued a policy of putting regional forces forward by supporting them to intervene in regional conflicts. According to the NixonDoctrine of 1969, the task of defending Western interests in the Third World had been given to regional powers in exchange for military and economic assistance. In a sense, sub-imperialist countries were able to play a regional role thanks to the support provided by the super powers. The sub-imperialist powers not only improved their military capacity to intervene in regional conflicts, but also advanced their economic power compared to other countries in the region. These countries have increased their capital accumulation considerably with the help of import substitution industrialization during the Cold War. For instance, sub-imperialist countries such as Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India and Mexico are the members of G-20 (assuming the EU as a whole) which aggregates world’s biggest 20 economy. Sub-imperialist countries are not simply voiceless puppets whose resources are completely looted by international monopolies. Even if their capital remains small compared to international monopolies, they look out for their own interests to expand their power in the region by getting into different partnerships, of course, with being aware of their own limits.
Here, there are no aggrieved states being oppressed by the yoke of imperialism. These are the states that have taken the imperialists as an example, following their way and are looking to climb in the imperialist hierarchy. It is inconceivable that the revolutionaries, those who favor equality and freedom, would support the expansionist policies of these sub-imperialist countries, which strive to realize their imperialist interests in a regional scale just as big imperialist forces do it in global scale. Supporting the strengthening and aggression of the nation-state in which we struggle, is nothing but supporting their aggression against other countries’ working class.