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Grenzgänger des Sozialismus: Die transnationale Dimension der frühen sozialistischen Bewegung im Iran (1905-1911) (1/2)

The Constitutional Revolution in Iran from 1906-1911 was one of the first modern-age revolutions in a country of the global south and it happened under the impression of the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1905. It attempted a fundamental political, social and economic transformation of the country. This development wasn’t singularly a result of autochthonous national developments of Iranian society, but relied on multilayered transnational networks and contacts. In this context Iran experienced for the first time the development of organisations which had connections to the socialist movement in the Russian Caucasus and which based their politics in one way or another on the ideas of socialism and respectively social democracy. Some of these organisations came to exercise considerable influence over the political developments in Iran. One of the most relevant organisations was the “Social Democratic Party of Iran” (Firqah-ye Ejtama’iyun-e ‘Amiyun-e Iran – Mojahed, short FEAM). It succeeded in becoming one of the leading organised revolutionary forces in the first phase of the Constitutional Revolution (1906-1908). In this regard Iran was the first country of the Middle East which experienced the emergence of a relatively well anchored socialist movement. To understand the genesis and the prominent role of FEAM one needs to leave the singular focus on the national Iranian context. Only by shifting the analytical frame to the plain of transnational social, economic and political interactions we can adequately grasp the phenomenon of the early socialist movement within Iran.

This book analyses the transnational dimension of the early socialist movement in Iran, in particular of FEAM. For the analysis of its development of policy and strategy we must look at the context of its emergence as a transnational project. The tension between the crisis stricken Iranian social formation with strong pre-capitalist characteristics and a not less contradictory and dynamic social formation in the Russian Caucasus are part of this research focus.

To understand the developments which led up to the Constitutional Revolution in Iran the first part deals with the general economic and political changes since the 19th century in the context of fundamental changes on the global and transregional level. Those changes were mainly initiated by the military penetration of the European Great Powers (the Russian and British Empire) and the accompanied pressure of global capitalism on the socio-economic structures of the society. Precapitalist Iranian society was thrown into crisis leading to the weakening of state power, the destruction of traditional handicrafts, the competition for the traditional bazaar complex by European merchants and the transformation of subsistence farming. Furthermore this chapter also deals with an important aspect influencing the formation of the early socialist movement in Iran: the multilayered interaction between Iran and the Russian Caucasus. The focus here lies firstly on the intellectual contacts across the border. Azerbaijani intellectuals under the influence of European enlightenment had a strong impact on Iranian intellectuals and thereby contributed to the development of early liberal and nationalist ideas in the country. Those links were essential for the later radical political and intellectual eruption in the Context of the Constitutional Revolution. But the development of the early Iranian Social Democratic movement essentially became possible only through a second, socio-economic element in the interaction between the Caucasus and Iran: mass labour migration of impoverished Iranians to the Caucasus since the mid and increasingly the late 19th century, particularly to the rapidly industrializing centres such as the Baku oil belt. Therefore it can be argued that at the turn of the century despite the lack of industrialization in Iran a diasporic Iranian working class was being formed which had fundamental political repercussions on Iran. The eruption of the Russian Revolution of 1905 was a crucial catalyst for the following political developments in Iran.

In the second part of the book the focus lies on the immediate context of the emergence of FEAM, i.e. the organisational efforts by Russian Social Democrats against the backdrop of the specific class composition of the Caucasian working class. Accordingly, a crucial precursor organisation of FEAM is introduced, the Himmat group. Founded by some Azerbaijani members of the Social Democratic Workers Party of Russia together with independents its goal was to organise Muslim workers which were the least organised part of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Caucasian working class. Out of this effort some activists went further and recognized the necessity to deal with the issue of labour migrants from Iran. In relation to the Russian Muslim workers they represented an even bigger challenge to labour organisers. They lacked experience in labour organising and collective bargaining, due to their precarious situation as migrants they were highly vulnerable to arbitrary treatment by employers and Russian state officials, they were often times misused as strike breakers and they lowered the average income by representing a cheap and easily available labour pool. Azerbaijani labour organisers therefore came to the conclusion that they needed to react to this challenge on two levels. First, they started to specifically target Iranian workers for the organisation in separate Iranian groups. Secondly and in connection with the first, they realized, that any attempt to engage with the challenge of Iranian migrant workers needed to take the political and socio-economic realities in Iran itself into account. As long as Iranian society didn’t change, for example in regard to relations of production in agriculture, the pressures on the Russian labour market by migrant workers wouldn’t either. Therefore already before the outbreak of the Constitutional Revolution in Iran many activists looked at the political developments in Iran and oriented towards revolutionary change south of the border. When the revolution finally erupted in the summer of 1906, FEAM, founded the year before and up to this point still limited to the Russian Caucasus, started to expand its network and activities into Iran and became an integral and radical part of the Constitutionalist movement.

A task which is followed up throughout the book is the necessity to discuss the identity of the discussed organisations. Due to a lack of sources as well as a certain unclarity in the connections between different organisations, chapters, front organisations, etc. a general task of this research is to unearth the true affiliation of groups and individuals in the transnational field between Iran and the Caucasus. This starts with the connection between the Social Democratic Workers Party of Russia and the Himmat group and continues in the following chapter particularly with the discussion of the affiliation of the revolutionary front organisations called “Mojahed” and the Social Democratic Party of Iran.

Ramin Taghian

L’émergence du socialisme musulmans / turc et de la classe ouvrière musulmane de la fin de l’Empire ottoman au début de la République Turque (1908-1925)

Le mouvement de la classe ouvrière dans l’Empire ottoman a fait un bond sans précédent après la révolution de 1908. Quand bien même il y eu des points de ruptures et paroxystiques, la mobilisation des ouvriers a persisté jusqu’à l’ère du Parti unique dans la République Turque. La mobilisation des travailleurs turcs et leurs actions ont coïncidées avec l’émergence du socialisme turc et musulman et des organisations socialistes. En contraste avec l’historiographie turque, mes recherches vont s’attarder sur les liens entre les émergences de ces phénomènes dans le premier quart du XXe Siècle. Traditionnellement ces deux cas sont examinés séparément comme s’ils n’étaient pas connectés. Mes recherches ne vont pas seulement considérer le socialisme comme composante de l’histoire intellectuelle mais couvrir les effets du mouvement ouvriériste sur ces idéologies et organisations politiques. L’étude se concentre sur différents groupes de travailleurs au sein de la classe ouvrière musulmane et turque ayant perdu le contrôle de leurs moyens de productions : artisans, femmes, ouvriers aussi bien dans le secteur formel qu’informel et se focalise également, non pas sur le niveau d’industrialisation mais sur le développement des relations capitalistes dans l’empire ottoman et la Turquie afin d’évaluer et analyser les classes sociales.

Etats de l’art

L’historiographie turque a longtemps fait une distinction nette entre la classe ouvrière et les artisans ou les corporations et a longtemps tenue pour égale le capitalisme et la Révolution industrielle. La faible définition de la classe laborieuse dans l’historiographie turque est étroitement liée à la faiblesse du socialisme en tant que mouvement politique. A l’inverse du nationalisme, constitutionalisme, islamisme ou du libéralisme, le socialisme demeure un sujet peu étudié dans l’historiographie ottomane malgré de solides contributions à l’histoire du mouvement ouvrier turc dans la dernière décennie, principalement due à l’investissement d’historiens amateurs, de journalistes ou de militants politiques. A noter toutefois, que l’intérêt porté au sujet a émergé dès les années 60 et 70 à mesure que les mouvements de gauche ont pris une importance sur la scène politique. Cependant, ces études furent majoritairement le fait d’une vision idéologique où la classe laborieuse furent le résultat du progrès historique. L’historiographie turque a longtemps vu la classe travailleuse uniquement sous le prisme de l’industrialisation. Le secteur tertiaire n’était par conséquent pas inclus dans leurs études.


La littérature existante portant sur l’émergence du socialisme en Turquie s’est surtout focalisée sur l’étude des grandes figures et personnalités du mouvement marquant la prédominance de l’histoire intellectuelle sur l’histoire sociale ou culturelle. La traduction occupe de plus en plus l’historiographie considérant l’impact majeur des langues occidentales sur l’Empire ottoman. Il s’agit d’ailleurs de l’un des traits dominants de la littérature scientifique revendiquant que le socialisme ottoman et dans la République Turque alors naissante fut un produit importé par les étrangers. L’étude de M. Doğan Çetinkaya tend donc à démontrer qu’il ne s’agissait pas uniquement de cela mais également d’une prise en compte pleine et entière par le mouvement ouvrier.

Contexte politique et social

La composition démographique de l’Empire ottoman été divisée en plusieurs communautés. Séparant la classe ouvrière et les socialistes entre leurs communautés respectives. Néanmoins Doğan Çetinkaya observe une porosité évidente entre ces différentes communautés. L’intégration de l’Empire ottoman à l’économie mondiale a stimulé les investissements et échanges étrangers. Ces mutations profondes ont entraîné une nécessité de communiquer avec leurs camarades européens par l’intermédiaires d’organisations transnationales comme l’Internationale ou le Parti Bolchevique.

L’avenir de la recherche

M. Doğan Çetinkaya a publié plusieurs articles et ouvrages et a soutenu sa thèse en mai 2010 à l’Université de Leiden qui fut par la suite publiée chez IB Tauris en 2014. A l’occasion de l’écriture de sa thèse, l’historien a été amené à croiser de nombreuses sources aussi bien chez les grandes figures du socialisme que parmi les ouvriers eux-mêmes. L’une des principales organisations durant cette période est le Parti socialiste ottoman (devenu Parti socialiste de Turquie après 1918). Ce parti, sous l’influence notamment de son leader Hilmi, a tenté de renforcé les liens avec ses pairs européens tels que Jean Jaurès. Depuis, Doğan Çetinkaya travaille sur les archives de la Seconde Internationale afin de retrouver les traces de ces interactions. Les activités des socialistes Turcs dans le Caucase après 1918 jouent un rôle crucial dans l’histoire du socialisme turc. Le Parti communiste Turc (TKP) prend racine dans cette région où de nombreux intellectuels russes ont joué un rôle signifiant dans le mouvement. Les différentes collections du Parti socialiste ottoman, du Parti Communiste Turc lié au Kommintern, des partis communistes Iraniens et Turc dans les fonds Azerbaïdjanais  vont également être explorées tout en ne négligeant pas la presse, les formes brèves et la littérature grise.

Doğan Çetinkaya
Istanbul University

The Emergence of Muslim/Turkish Socialism and the Muslim Working-Class in the late Ottoman Empire and Early Turkish Republic 1908-1925 (2/2)


The existing literature on the emergence of socialism in Turkey to a great extent concentrates on intellectual history, prominent personalities and political organizations. Intellectual history is one of the most developed areas in the historiography on Turkey, compared to social and cultural studies. The translations from French and other Western languages constitutes also a significant part of the literature in the Ottoman Empire. That is why, one should also compare these translations with the original European texts. Yet, Ideologies are taken into account as if they were only intellectual products. Historians and social scientists do not see any link in between the emergence of leftist ideas and organization and the movement of labouring classes. However, ideologies and political organizations are also social phenomena. The literature on intellectual and political history argue that the Ottoman Empire lacked an industrial revolution which was a base for a full-fledge working class movement and socialist thought. Historians claim that Socialism in the Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic was a foreign import. It is a general assertion in Turkish historiography that Turkish socialists did not really know the philosophical and ideological content of socialism. Therefore, for them, Turkish socialism should be considered to be a part of other branches of ideologies such as liberalism and nationalism. My research will first contribute to the existing literature by revealing the ideological content of the Muslim/Turkish socialism and uncovering the link between them and the workers’ movement.

I argue that the emergence of socialist thought in the Ottoman Empire was indicative of a vibrant working class. Surely, socialism was not the only influential ideology on working class discourse and identity during this particular period. Like any other socialist movement in history, Ottoman socialism was also influenced by social and historical context. Thus, Muslim/Turkish socialists made use of national, ethnic, religious, communal elements in their political discourse. Turkish historiography considers socialist movement as a part of Turkish nationalist movement, particularly in the Armistice Period. In contrast to mainstream Turkish historiography which denounces of the socialist identity of Muslim/Turkish socialists due to their ethno-religious discourse, I explore the articulation of these discourses as an indispensible aspect of class formations and class experience within the context of a multi-ethnic empire.

Social and Political Context

The demographic composition of the Ottoman Empire was comprised of different ethnic and religious communities. Both the working class and the socialist were squeezed in between their own religious/ethnic communal identities and the notion of a common Ottoman citizenship. Drawing on communal compartmentalization of the empire, national historiographies subsume working class movements and socialists under ethnic and religious movements. Yet a non-national perspective regards ethno-religious bonds as building blocks of socialist discourse in the Ottoman Empire. The international connections of Ottoman socialists attest to their political autonomy from ethno-religious movements. The integration of the Ottoman Empire into the world economy within the course of 19th century stimulated an influx of foreign investment and trade, international corporations, and European workers and professionals. These global transactions transformed Ottoman economy and society. In this context, the working class movement and the socialists established ties to international organizations. As a significant number of socialists migrated in and out of the country, Ottoman socialists learned a great deal from their French, German and Russian comrades. They communicated with socialist organizations such as the International and the Bolshevik Party. The Ottoman public followed news regarding the movements of workers, strikes and socialists in different countries as evident in the press coverage in this particular period.

Why this study?

I decided on this research topic following my earlier studies on social movement in the Ottoman Empire. I published several articles and a book on the boycott movements during the Second Constitutional Period. In my PhD studies I concentrated on the mobilization of Muslim merchants and working classes in the anti-non-Muslim nationalist movement. I defended my dissertation in May 2010 at Leiden University and published by IB Tauris in 2014. As a historian of social movements I came across with the vibrant socialist publications and convivial working class movements during my PhD researches.

This research will pave the way for a comparative analysis of working-class movements and socialism and try to build up a critique of the essentialist and exceptionalist tendencies in Turkish historiography. Therefore my research will not only try to contribute to the existing knowledge on working class movement and Muslim/Turkish socialism in early 20th century but also will try to trace a theoretical path out of traditional Turkish historiography. The latest contribution to the Ottoman and Republican Turkish Labour History in this vein has come from the IISH by the publication of the 17th Supplement of the International Review of Social History. Besides these theoretical approaches and interest on Turkey, I am also looking forward to find relevant archival material within the collection of IISH such as Ottoman and Turkish socialist periodicals and personal and institutional donations about the early Ottoman/Turkish labour movements.

One of the significant organizations that came out during this particular era is the Ottoman Socialist Party (Socialist Party of Turkey after 1918). Party and its leader Socialist Hilmi also tried to construct a relationship with their counterparts in Europe such as Jean Jaurès and the Second International. Therefore, I will work on the Second International Archives to find traces of Ottoman and Turkish socialists. The activities of Turkish socialists in Caucasia after 1918 have also a crucial place in the history Socialism Turkey. Turkish Communist Party (TKP) had its roots in Caucasia. The intellectuals coming from Russia played significant roles in the socialist movement. I will study on the Turkey-Transcaucasus Relations Collection 1908-1920 to find relevant information about my subject. The collections such as the Ottoman Socialist Party Collection, Komintern-TKP Collection, and Iran and Turkey Communist Parties of Azerbaijan Archives are directly related to my investigation. I am also looking forward to find some issues of socialist journals in Turkish such as İştirak and Beşeriyet in the library of IISH which are not available in Turkish libraries.

Doğan Çetinkaya
Istanbul University