Reflections on Nazim Hikmet

Asim Bezirci,
Can Yucel
Aydin Cubukcu

Asim Bezirci:

Nazim Hikmet is one of the classic poets of Turkey, a contemporary classic. His work is not only of a national value but also an international one. In terms of content and form he contributed to the world poetry as well as Turkish poetry.

His poetry has been translated into more than 60 languages. Peoples of the world who are acquainted with Nazim Hikmet's poems see in them the defence of their class interest, and a successful definition of their sorrow, their happiness and their aspirations. Against oppression, exploitation and inequalities, they see the praise of the ideals of freedom, justice and brotherhood. They hear the deep voice of peace, independence and democracy against fascism, imperialism and war. For all these reasons, they understand his poetry and they love it.

Because Nazim Hikmet was committed to the science of the working class and its party, and he was active in organisational actions as well as publishing for the emancipation of poor people, he was punished heavily by the ruling circles: He spent 15 years in prison. He had to escape abroad to save his life. He lived away from his beloved wife, son and his motherland. At the age of 61 he died in Moscow in 1963, in pain and longing.

From the 13th Century until Nazim Hikmet, there was no revolution or any kind of radical change in a real sense in Turkish poetry. We can confidently say that Nazim Hikmet was the one who made big revolutionary changes in Turkish poetry. This revolution was embodied in his personality, not only in a political sense but also in an aesthetical sense.

However, by making all these changes he did not turn his back on our past culture. He reviewed it with a critical approach, searched for the useful and live parts, utilised them with contemporary understanding and applied them to his own poetry. Therefore, his poetry contains both modernity and syntheses in form.

The broad revolution he made in literature was not only in form but also in substance. He brought a new understanding to human nature and a new world concept.

He analysed popular/folk culture which is the basis of national culture with a revolutionary and critisizing eye and used it in his poetry. We see that in the 'Epic of Sheikh Bedrettin' and the other poems after that he benefited from folk poetry.

On the other hand, Nazim Hikmet was not only open to folk poetry and classical Turkish poetry, but he also took some elements from world poetry, of Western and Eastern poetry. Especially in his verse that he wrote after 1921 we can see influences of the left wing of Russian futurists and of constructivists. However, Nazim Hikmet was able to rid himself of these influences in his creative crucible of strong personality. In the same way he also made use of Western poetry. He crystallised the sources which he found useful and could be taken as a sample with a critical eye and injected this into his poetry.

One of the characteristics of Nazim Hikmet's poetry is humanism and universalism. Not only did he express the individual and social life of people in Turkey, but also he managed to include humanist and universal elements in this realist telling. The basic concerns of all people on earth like death, pain of separation, joy of life, love of parents and of country, hope, flight, longing, sadness, getting old, etc. were used with a strong opinion, beautiful form and language that can be understood by anyone. In his poetry, alongside with these humanistic themes, we can also see the universal problems of the peoples of the world such as peace, freedom, equality, brotherhood, justice, independence, and an end to oppression, exploitation and tyranny.

Time could not wear off his poems. This is proven by the fact the he saw things not with the eye of the past but with the eye of the present (in other words the future), and that he managed to catch the future in the present and the permanent in the temporary.

Can Yucel:

Every poet, when he dies, becomes a good man. His daily struggles are left to one side. In the name of discussing permanent and universal values, poets are being whitewashed. For instance, Rimbaud is no longer a pederast or a gun smuggler; he becomes a different poet. What lies behind this whitewashing is the need to tie this prominent poet to the ideology of the ruling class. No one knows that he fought for the Commune. This does not mean that permanent values are completely eradicated. In Nazim's case, as expressed by Aydin Cubukcu, this policy of taming and purifying does not work. Nazim's poetry and partisanship are not two different things. He wrote his poetry as a partisan, and he joined the innovations he brought to his poetry with his partisanship. I oppose a poet like Nazim being treated in a Turkish bath.

Nazim Hikmet is a person who lived in a triangle of class struggle, party and poetry; and he suffered the ordeal of this on behalf of the peoples of Turkey. To break this person from this triangle is to kill him - who could not be killed when he was alive - after he is dead.

When we were reading Nazim's poetry printed on onion-skin paper, we have learnt from Nazim how beautiful art and poetry is, as well as scientific socialism, anti-fascism and anti-imperialism. For us Nazim has been a great fighter and a hero who devoted his life to the struggle, as well as a good poet and a great philosopher.

Aydin Cubukcu:

The purpose of the state campaign to lay claim on Nazim Hikmet can be detected from how the concepts of Nazim Hikmet and state are being used: is it an implication of a change in the state's approach to Nazim Hikmet or is it a product of a more general ideological and political campaign? In this campaign Nazim Hikmet is no longer the name of a person, it has become a concept reflecting a relationship and a struggle. There is no doubt that the content of this concept has openly become the subject of a struggle.

First of all, we must see how empty the concept of 'State' is in terms of the hopes it implied for a group of intellectuals and in terms of the actual situation. All facts about the State are being turned upside down; its class character, its actual meaning and the facts about its stance on all the values attached to Nazim Hikmet are tried to be forgotten; a positive and functional image is being given to the state. A similar distortion of identity also takes place for Nazim Hikmet. He is turned into a person to whom the state can apologise: an ordinary patriot, a person who realised his mistakes and an old revolutionary who stated his 'regret'. An empty, meaningless and completely imaginative 'State' and a Nazim Hikmet who has been softened and who has disappointments about Communism are being brought face to face. However, in this coming face to face, while the state maintains its fundamental characteristics, Nazim Hikmet is being turned into something different from the Communist poet.

The main reason behind all those commemorations and meetings about Nazim Hikmet lies in the ideological and political characteristics of the period we live in and the requirements brought forward by the class struggle going on in these fields. These are ideological and political requirements which have the same level of importance for both of the main antagonistic classes.

Following the official announcement of the end of socialism in the Soviet Union, the bourgeoisie, on an international scale, claimed with audacity its universal and eternal hegemony. Capitalism was the final social organisation that humanity could reach. The bourgeoisie was presenting itself as the final representative of this completed development and of the universal human type that could not be surpassed. In order to make all these arguments acceptable the bourgeoisie has launched an open and many-sided attack. Even though different weapons and methods of propaganda are being used in this campaign, the main theme is always the same: While the bourgeoisie claimed to be the universal human type, it presented all other identities different from individualism, submission, disorganised, alienated and depressed as a diversion and an abnormality, something that should be corrected. This type was also symbolising the personality ready to be ruled and controlled. In this general scheme, a Communist is presented as an alien who personified all symptoms of abnormalities, and sometimes as a romantic who runs after an impossible utopia. Especially this second method has a more dangerous and insidious content than other propaganda methods which overtly are full of enmity. According to this propaganda, all Communists are in fact people in a childish spirit, half-sleeping people who are based more on belief than science, and more on feelings than logic. They are not aware of the real lives of the workers; they just have pity on them, but they don't approach them. They supposedly defend workers' rights, but live in wealth, etc. With this propaganda the bourgeoisie wants to present the Communists to the workers as non-trustable adventurists.

The bourgeoisie also creates the following scenario around this character: Those whom call themselves Communists become either well-behaved in the course of time, when they get older, or realising 'what has happened in the communist countries' they see no way out, and come back to the system with remorse. Because Communism is an individual disease, a mistake and an illusion of youth.

We see some reflections of this caricature of the Communists being presented in the commemorations organised for Nazim Hikmet and in the writings about him. Nazim Hikmet, equalised with this caricature, is wanted for the fight against Communism. He has entered the agenda of class struggle in Turkey as part of this propaganda. He will either be one of the most significant symbols of the reintroduction of Communism and the Communists in every field, or will be a symbol of the fight against Communism as a hero of this Communist caricature created by the bourgeoisie. Therefore, he has become a subject of ideological struggle, one of the main forms of class struggle, and he will take part in this struggle on one side.

How and to what extent can Nazim Hikmet play his part in this fight? We believe that, whatever the bourgeoisie does, he will wage this fight courageously with his poems, every one of which is a reflection of the iron power of the working class and which work like a hammer shaping the spirits of revolutionaries, so long as there are masses echoing his voice 'calling people to melt lead', and callers adding their voices to his voice.

Nazim Hikmet is such a person who, before the Military Court, said: 'Yes, I am a Communist, it is certain; I am a Communist poet trying to become a better Communist'. But on the other hand, he wrote letters to (Mustafa Kemal) Ataturk swearing on Ataturk's head that 'he has never encouraged the army of revolution for an uprising'; and he made fun of Stalin whom he defined rightly as one of the main political and ideological forces that created him. Therefore, with his contradictions and weaknesses Nazim Hikmet stands on a platform that we cannot say 'yes, he was definitely a Communist', a platform under the influence of the reformist and tailist policies of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) of which he was a member. But on the other hand, he, with his characteristics of being a party militant, a fighter, a stubborn and talented communist propagandist not hesitating to defend his beliefs in every occasions, can find his real value with us. We should never forget that alongside his poems such as 'The Epic of National Forces' reflecting the line of a bourgeois democrat patriot, he has poems with high aesthetic value and with a sound revolutionary content presenting openly the Communist ideals and devotion to the proletariat, to the world revolution and to the great teachers of the world proletariat, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.

The bourgeoisie will obviously make use of his weaknesses and ideological wavering in order to tame him and use it to blacken the Communists. However, Nazim Hikmet has got a very powerful heart which cannot fit into the decorated cage prepared for him by the bourgeoisie. He comes from a combative background which makes it impossible to present him as a remorseful utopian, and he has a record which successfully ensures that he remains as a part of the world of the working class and the labourers. Those who try to turn Nazim into an ordinary petty bourgeois patriot, and into a homesick melancholic by placing him against the ideal of Communism he believed in and fought for, should encounter Nazim himself before everyone and everything else. But before this Nazim needs to feel united with a serious and revolutionary Communist politics, and confront storms in the struggle determined by this politics.

In the class struggle including Nazim Hikmet, he will take part in the fight in our ranks, and he will win the battle waged on his behalf, together with us. What is important here is the political framework that the laying claim on Nazim is placed on, and what other forms and fields of struggle it is unified. It is only then that his unique poetry about human loneliness, love and death, and 'The Epic of National Forces' which needs to unite with anti-capitalism in order to be waved as an anti-imperialist flag, will be able to unite as a whole attacking the enemy in the form of a song of the same revolutionary spirit.

If we can go forward hand in hand with him with the warmth of a comradely criticism on the soil that created him and in the hot season of class struggle, if we can successfully use his great works knitted with the ideals of revolutionary Communism as a weapon of the hot struggle of the present day, he will always be with us with the words of farewell he once said to his friends:

We will see each other again my friends
We will see each other again
We will smile together at the sun
We will fight together.

Asim Bezirci along with 36 other intellectuals was burnt alive when their hotel was set on fire in 1993 while participating in a festival. Can Yucel is a Turkish poet and Aydin Cubukcu a philosopher. These thoughts have been translated from the monthly Turkish journal Evrensel Kultur (Universal Culture) in the issues of February 1992 and August 1993.

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