Turkey and the Growing Tensions in Eastern Mediterranean


Theses on the complex contradictions between imperialist and regional powers, the Arab Revolution and the consequential tactics of Marxists


Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 28 August 2020, www.thecommunists.net




1.             Tensions between imperialist and regional powers in Eastern Mediterranean are accelerating to such a degree that war in this region has become a realistic possibility for the first time since nearly half a century. The background of this development is a complex conglomeration of economic interests, the aggravating rivalry between various states and the ongoing process of the Arab Revolution.


2.             The recent developments have been basically triggered by two important and concatenated developments. First, nearly all states in the region – Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and Libya – are interested in exploring and exploiting new oil and gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. Related to this are the interests of various imperialist Great Powers – particularly in the European Union – to secure access to these critical raw materials. The states’ drive to control such new oil and gas reserves has undoubtedly been hastened by the depression of the capitalist world economy which started in late 2019.


3.             The second reason for the growing tensions in Eastern Mediterranean is of political nature. The general decline of capitalism since the beginning of the current historic period in 2008 has resulted in the acceleration of contradictions not only between the imperialist Great Powers – U.S., China, EU, Russia and Japan – but also between regional powers in the Middle East. This development has become even more explosive since the beginning of the Arab Revolution in early 2011. This revolutionary process has seen partial victories (e.g. the fall of Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gaddafi and Saleh), severe defeats (most importantly the military coup in Egypt in July 2013) and ongoing liberation struggles (in particular the Syrian Revolution against the Russian-Iranian-Assadist occupation; also in Yemen against the Saudi/UAE invasion and in Libya against General Haftar’s counterrevolution). Furthermore, the Arab Revolution has experienced a second wave of popular uprisings since early 2019 (e.g. Sudan, Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon). Likewise, there have been repeated mass protests in Iran against the capitalist Mullah regime. In addition, the Zionist state has continued its barbaric oppression of the Palestinian people, however without being able to crush their heroic resistance.


4.             Against the background of the Arab Spring two counterrevolutionary “Holy Alliances” have been formed. One is the axis of Russian imperialism, Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad dictatorship; the other consists of Saudi-Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt with the full support of US and Israeli imperialism. The interests of these alliances are in conflict with each other on some issues (e.g. Iran and control over the Persian Gulf; the civil war in Yemen) and concur on others. In particular they share the desire to crush the revolutionary process in Syria as well as in Libya. They all are driven by their determination to re-impose the pre-2011 tomblike silence in the Arab world dominated by relatively stable pro-imperialist dictatorships.


5.             In Libya, the ruling class of Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia together with French and Russian imperialism are jointly supporting General Haftar – a corrupted warlord who worked first for Gaddafi and later for the CIA. Haftar has tried to overthrow the Libyan GNA government since 2014 and to impose totalitarian conditions like that existing in the Gulf monarchies or in Egypt since 2013. His opponent – the GNA government led by Fayez al-Sarraj – is a bourgeoisified remnant of the revolutionary process which began in 2011.


6.             In contrast to these two counterrevolutionary “Holy Alliances”, some states hope to advance their interests by exploiting and materially aiding various liberation struggles. This is particularly the case with Turkey which lends limited support for the remaining liberation forces in Idlib (e.g. its brief military offensive in March this year) as well as for the Libyan GNA government (Turkey’s drones played an important role in repelling Haftar’s offensive in the last few months). Another example is Turkey’s tacit support for exiled Muslim Brotherhood leaders who face persecution by the Egypt dictatorship. Qatar, an ally of Turkey, plays a similar role albeit to a more limited degree. One example of such support is Qatar’s financial aid for Gaza dominated by Hamas. In reaction to the recent UAE-Israel deal, Turkey and Qatar signed a military pact on 17 August that provides for the deployment of their military personnel to Libya.


7.             Naturally, Turkey’s support is a tainted gift. In exchange for its material (including military) support, Ankara tries to get advantageous business deals. In addition, it attempts to increase its control over the Syrian liberation forces resp. the Libyan government. This is not only dangerous in itself as it liquidates the popular influence over the liberation forces. It is also harmful as the Erdoğan regime tries to advance its political and economic interests by striking deals with Russian as well as with American imperialism. A particularly dangerous trap, as the RCIT has repeatedly pointed out, is the so-called Astana/Sochi process which aims to liquidate the Syrian Revolution.


8.             Tensions in Eastern Mediterranean have increased in recent months when, on one hand, Turkey increased its military aid for the Libyan GNA government and helped to successfully drive back the counter-revolutionary forces of General Haftar. This has caused alarm among the latter’s allies Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, France and Russia. General Sisi has even threatened to invade Libya. On the other hand, Turkey pushed the GNA government to sign a Maritime Boundary Treaty in November 2019 in order to establish an Exclusive Economic Zone. This deal – part of Ankara’s “Mavi Vatan” doctrine (“Blue Homeland” in Turkish) – has caused massive protests and provoked Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, France and the UAE to issue a joint declaration on 11 May 2020. Israel also strongly opposes this deal. Recently, Greece and Egypt signed a maritime delimitation treaty. This deal cuts across the region staked out by the Libya-Turkey deal and has triggered a rapid acceleration of tensions. It also reflects the growing ties between Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel with the backing of various European Great Powers (in particular France). In order to support its allies, France announced its plan to increase its military presence in the region. As a first step it sent Rafale fighter jets and the naval frigate 'Lafayette' to the Eastern Mediterranean. The UAE also sent some F-16 warplanes to Greece.


9.             Athens, Paris and Brussels protest against the Turkish-Libyan deal by referring to the fact that the designated zone cuts through an area of the sea long claimed by Greece. While this is formally true, one has to take into account that these claims are based on the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. This treaty was forced upon Turkey by the imperialist Great Powers which at that time supported Greece and tried to keep the young republic in check. Hence, the treaty has been extremely unfair to Turkey as it gave almost all the islands of the Aegean Sea – the northeast extension of the Eastern Mediterranean – to Greece. Many of these islands, however, lie very close to Turkey’s shore. As a result, these islands serve to extend Greece’s maritime boundaries right up to and around the Turkish coast, leaving Ankara with little access to its surrounding waters.


10.          In summary, all Mediterranean states try to advance their economic interests by exploring and exploiting new oil and gas fields. However, these interests do not exist in a vacuum but are imbedded in the concrete political conditions of the Middle East characterized by the process of the Arab Revolution and the formation of two counterrevolutionary “Holy Alliances”. Under such conditions, the conflicts between states are not determined solely by “abstract” capitalist interests. They are also relevant for the outcome of various legitimate democratic struggles. Hence, in defining the correct tactic of revolutionaries, all these calculations have to be taken into account.


11.          The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) has stated its support for the Arab Revolution from its very beginning in 2011 until today. Hence, we continue to support the ongoing liberation struggle against the Russian-Iranian-Assadist occupation. Likewise, we side with the Libyan GNA government – despite its character as a bourgeoisified remnant of the Libyan Revolution – against General Haftar’s counterrevolution. We support any material (including military) aid to the progressive forces in these struggles. However, we oppose any political conditions linked to such support. Concretely, we welcome any military aid by Turkey to the Syrian rebels as well as to the Libyan GNA government but we reject the political conditions attached to this.


12.          The conflict in Eastern Mediterranean between Turkey on one hand and Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, France and the UAE on the other hand has a multiple character. To a certain degree it represents sheer rivalry of states which all want to grab as much oil and gas resources as possible. However, this rivalry is intertwined with a) the desire of European imperialists as well as Israel to control the Eastern Mediterranean and b) the process of the Arab Revolution and the attempts of the two counterrevolutionary “Holy Alliances” to smash the ongoing liberation struggles in the whole region. In addition, public hostility against Turkey plays an important role for EU governments to advocate their Islamophobia – a crucial ideological element for the national and religious oppression of millions of Muslim migrants in Europe.


13.          As the RCIT has explained in various documents, Turkey is an industrially advanced semi-colony, i.e. a capitalist state which takes a subordinated position in a world dominated by imperialist monopolies and Great Powers. Contrary to claims by various pseudo-leftists it is neither an imperialist nor a “sub-imperialist” state. However, the Erdoğan regime tries to exploit the accelerating rivalry between the Great Powers – in particular between the U.S., the EU, Russia and China – to have space to manoeuvre and to advance its own capitalist interests. We have pointed out these complex factors in past documents: “Given the semi-colonial character of the bourgeoisie of such countries, they are dependent on and subordinated to the imperialist powers. However, while they can not act independently of imperialist powers in the long run, this does not necessarily mean that they have no independent interests at all or that they would have no limited independent room for manoeuvre at all. The capitalist class of the given state often attempts to utilize the conflict between the imperialist powers and to create a space to expand their influence. The Erdoğan regime in Turkey is an example for this as it tries to play off Russia, the U.S. and the EU.” (RCIT: World Perspectives 2018, Thesis 23)


14.          In terms of domestic politics, the Erdoğan regime is a government based on a bourgeois-parliamentary system which increasingly takes bonapartist features. However, calling it “fascist” as many Stalinists are doing is a silly caricature of the very term. Furthermore, another important feature of Erdoğan’s domestic policy is the intensified national oppression of the Kurdish minority. Revolutionaries in Turkey fight for a workers and poor peasant republic and the unconditional right of national self-determination for the Kurdish people.


15.          As we have shown above, Turkey’s foreign policy – driven by political and economic capitalist interests of its own bourgeoisie – comes into conflict with the interests of the imperialist EU as well as of the two counterrevolutionary “Holy Alliances”. This has been the case in Syria, in Libya as well as in the current maritime conflict. So while the governments of most states advance their interests by aiding the Arab counterrevolution, Turkey is sometimes obligated – out of their own capitalist interests – to obstruct these counter-revolutionary forces and to objectively aid (in a very limited and treacherous way) forces involved in liberation struggles.


16.          In the case of a conflict of Turkey with an imperialist enemy (e.g. Russia, France or Israel) it is self-explaining that revolutionaries support the former. In the case of conflicts between semi-colonial states, Marxists have to analyze the concrete circumstances as we have elaborated above. However, for reasons explained above, in confrontations between Turkey on one side and Greece, Egypt or UAE on the other side, it is quite possible that revolutionaries might be obligated to take the side of Turkey and to advocate the defeat of its opponents. Likewise, as the RCIT explained repeatedly, revolutionaries will have to side with Iran – despite the reactionary nature of its regime – in conflicts with Israel or with Arab allies of U.S. imperialism (e.g. Saudi Arabia and UAE).


17.          There was a similar situation three years ago when Saudi Arabia and UAE launched an aggression against Qatar. At that time, the RCIT sided with Qatar as we explained at that time: For example in the case of the Saudi/UAE aggression against Qatar since summer 2017, we defended the later despite the fact that formally all sides are semi-colonial states. However, as we explained in our literature, under the concrete circumstances the Saudi aggression had a thoroughly reactionary character since it was attacking Qatar because of the later support for legitimate resistance movement fighting against imperialist occupation and dictatorship (e.g. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian Hamas, Syrian rebels or the Afghan Taliban), because of its support of the TV channel Al-Jazeera as well as because of its opposition to the US, Israeli and Saudi war drive against Iran. In short, the Saudi aggression against Qatar was part of Riyadh’s efforts to completely liquidate all obstacles for the establishment of a stable and thoroughly pro-US and pro-Israeli counter-revolutionary order in the region.” (RCIT: World Perspectives 2018, Thesis 27)


18.          The military tactics of Marx and Engels in Europe in the second half of the 19th century are highly instructive for the issue under discussion, i.e. for wars between semi-colonial countries. At that time they identified Tsarist Russia (which together with the monarchies of Prussia and Austria-Hungary constituted the “Holy Alliance”) as the main enemy of the liberation struggle of the European working class and oppressed people. Hence they advocated a “revolutionary people's war” against Russia during the 1848/49 Revolution as a kind of foreign policy equivalent to the strategy of permanent revolution in domestic affairs. If the Prussians ally themselves with the Russians, the Germans will ally themselves with the French and united they will wage the war of the West against the East, of civilisation against barbarism, of the republic against autocracy. We want the unification of Germany. Only as the result of the disintegration of the large German monarchies, however, can the elements of this unity crystallise. They will be welded together only by the stress of war and revolution.“ (Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels: Threat of the Gervinus Zeitung (1848); in: MECW Vol. 7, p. 116) While the revolution was defeated, Marx and Engels continued to view the Holy Alliance as the main obstacle for the liberation struggle in Europe. Hence, they took the side of the enemies of Tsarist Russia in subsequent wars and even urged these countries to wage the war against Russia more energetically (e.g. of England and France in the Crimean War 1853-56 or of Turkey in 1877-78).


19.          Similarly, the RCIT supports the Arab Revolution and calls for its transformation into a process of permanent revolution until the workers and poor peasants overthrow the regimes and take power, expropriate the bourgeoisie and expel the imperialist powers from the whole region. We call for a single Intifada in the entire Middle East – from Baghdad and Beirut, Idlib, Tripoli, Sanaʽa, Gaza, Cairo, Algiers, Khartoum to Teheran – as the way forward to the Socialist Federation of the Middle East! Such a process will also include “revolutionary people's wars” against imperialist forces, the Zionist state and against Arab dictatorships. In fact, solving the democratic and social tasks of the permanent revolution necessitates not only a civil war against the domestic bourgeoisie but, equally, also wars against counterrevolutionary forces and imperialist states abroad. The whole conception of permanent revolution – as it was fully elaborated by Leon Trotsky – is based on the notion that there exists no Chinese Wall between the domestic and the foreign tasks of the liberation struggle but that they are rather an integrated part of the totality of the revolutionary program. “The second aspect of the ‘permanent’ theory has to do with the socialist revolution as such. For an indefinitely long time and in constant internal struggle, all social relations undergo transformation. (…). Outbreaks of civil war and foreign wars alternate with periods of ‘peaceful’ reform. (…) Therein lies the permanent character of the socialist revolution as such.” (Leon Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution (1929), Pathfinder Press, New York 1969, pp. 132-133) Attacking, weakening and overthrowing the enemy at home can help to defeat the enemy abroad. And attacking, weakening and defeating the enemy abroad can help to overthrow the enemy at home. This is also, we note in passing, the ultimate logic behind the Bolshevik’s famous strategy of the conversion of the imperialist war into a civil war“.


20.          As long as the workers and oppressed have not yet taken power – i.e. as long as the bourgeoisie is still the ruling class – Marxists have to analyze each conflict between semi-colonial countries concretely in order to elaborate their tactics. They are obligated to judge if the defeat of this or that side is advantageous for the interests of the revolution, if it is the lesser evil from the point of view of the international working class – or if the oppressed have no side to choose and must oppose all war parties equally. Revolutionaries also need to derive from such an analysis if they call a state to enter a war. Likewise, such an analysis will inform them if they shall advocate such tactics as a “slogan of the day” or if they shall limit themselves to make general propaganda for such tactics. By the way, such differentiation – between advocating a tactic as a “slogan of the day” or rather educating the vanguard via general propaganda – is always necessary; not only in the case of war but also when it comes to other tactics like mass demonstrations, general strike, armed uprising, etc.


21.          It is an integral component of the process of building the Revolutionary World Party – the most important instrument of the proletariat in its liberation struggle – to combine theoretical analysis and revolutionary principles with a concrete assessment of each and every situation in its totality and derive the resulting tactics from it. Marxists can provide the vanguard with a correct orientation in stormy periods of wars and revolutions only if they proof capable in applying such a dialectical approach concretely in each and every situation. This is even more relevant in the current phase where revolutionary Marxists are still in the stage of building nuclei of revolutionary parties and where they must build roots among the vanguard of the working class and the oppressed.




International Secretariat of the RCIT




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The RCIT has published a number of documents on the second wave of the Arab Revolution that can be accessed on a special sub-section of this website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/collection-of-articles-on-2nd-wave-of-great-arab-revolution/.


In particularly we refer to:


RCIT: Egypt’s Dictator Sisi Threatens to Invade Libya. Defeat the counterrevolutionary bandit Haftar and the powers behind him! 24 June 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/egypt-s-dictator-sisi-threatens-to-invade-libya/


Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, RCIT Books, February 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2018/


See also the compilation of our documents on the Syrian Revolution here: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/collection-of-articles-on-the-syrian-revolution/