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The Realm of Ideas and the Evolution of Programmatic Objectives


2/ The ideological Evolution of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation

In the introductory paragraph of the "General Theory" of the Program published in 1894, the Dashnaktsutiun expressed its confidence in the final victory of the socialist order, without actually using the word "socialism". Subsequently, through a brief historical-sociological retrospective, it concludes with the following thesis: "No model of social organization, however ideal it may be, can be realized at once", and "the only way to achieve this ideal society is through the transformation of existing conditions".7

The "general Theory" continues in the same realistic spirit: "We do not enter the arena as the followers of one or another utopian "dogma" with it attendant "doctrines"...8 Our aspiration is for our program to be viable; our attention, on the whole, is concentrated on the present situation of our country". An analysis follows, on the main features of the tyrannical Ottoman regime and the unbearable conditions of life for the Armenians, and stresses the necessity, through revolution, of "shaking off that infamous yoke; destroying the despotic, tyrannical regime; achieving a fraternity of nations, the right to work, and freedom of conscience, speech, and belief", and also, "struggling against the class of economic exploiters". Then, the objective of the Dashnaktsutiun is formulated: "To attain political and economic freedom in Turkish Armenia by means of insurrection", after which follow the practical demands and the sections on "Means" and "Organization".9

The first Program of the ARF, then, endowed the Party with an essentially democratic worldview enriched by a socialist perspective. Realistically based on the objective conditions of Western Armenians, the Program stressed the historical necessity of changing those conditions through armed struggle. Without using the terms "Independence", "Democracy", and "Socialism", the Program expresses the entire, multifaceted make-up of the Armenian revolutionary movement, including its national-liberation, political, and social-economic aspects.

Despite subsequent partial modifications, clarifications, and amendments, the above-mentioned principles and tendencies, in their fundamental outlines, continued to characterize the ideological world of the Dashnaktsutiun. Its realistic approach toward issues also remained unchanged. Never did the ARF fall prey to rigid, infallible dogma: nor did it adopt the phraseology of propaganda dear to the social-democrats and communists. Perhaps it concerned itself little with theoretical matters, yet it transformed the consciousness of the Armenian people and let the national-liberation struggle. And it remained, always, a party of action.

Its internal harmony was shaken for a time between 1904 and 1907, especially after Council of the Dashnaktsutiun10 in 1905 published its "Action Plan for the Caucasus". As a result of the growing severity of Tsarist oppression, the ARF, and especially its Caucasian Regions, deemed it necessary to take part in the expanding revolutionary movement in Russia. Convicted that the cause of Western Armenians was being abandoned or becoming secondary, some fieldworkers and members of the armed forces and Western Armenian intelligentsia for an instant rebelled. Both sides displayed extremist tendencies and intolerance. But in 1907 the Fourth World Congress reconciled the opposing viewpoints and established internal unity. It affirmed the willingness of the ARF to collectively wage a liberation struggle for all Armenians - the Western and Eastern segments - equally; and this time officially, it endowed that liberation struggle with the humanist vision of socialism.11

Thus, socialist ideology formed the basis of the section on theory in the new Program adopted by the Fourth World Congress. While Marxism in effect only considers economic factors as the prime movers of history (historical materialism), the socialism of the Dashnaktsutiun (similar perhaps to the worldview of the Russian social-revolutionaries) grants equal value to the subjective factors of history - reason, conscience, will. The ARF considers these subjective and objective factors to be mutually dependent. This historical-philosophical assessment of man, added to the essentially democratic conception of human freedoms, completes and enhances the socialism of the Dashnaktsutiun.

After 1907 this Dashnaktsutiun worldview remained unchanged, despite changes in the national and political conditions and the resulting evolution of the demands stated in the Program. Moreover, for long decades the Dashnaktsutiun had little time to dwell on ideological matters. At first it was engaged in a whirlwind of historic events while faithful to its role as the leader of a national liberation struggle; and in the Diaspora, it was engrossed in the exhausting day-t-day task of organizing the communities and pursuing the Armenian Cause while in exile. It was only in the last decades that an ideological re-assertion and reawakening were considered necessary, and the ARF reformulated the section in the Program entitled "General Theory", adapting it to the current conceptions of socialism and democracy, the nationalities question, the right of self-determination, and the legitimacy of national-liberation struggles.12


7 . See "DOCUMENTS FOR THE HISTORY OF THE ARF", II, 2nd Edition, Beirut, 1985, p. 11(*).

8 . Ibid. The allusion is ostensibly to the Hnchaks.

9 . Ibid., pp. 14-16, See also Chapter 1.

10 . By a decision of the Third World Congress, the "Body Representing the Will of the Dashnaktsutiun", was replaced by the "ARF Council". It was composed of the representatives of the Eastern and Western Bureaus and the Responsible Bodies. It was endowed with far-reaching powers of decision in lieu of the World Congress. For its 1905 sessions and the "Plan of Action for the Transcaucasus", see Ibid., pp. 226-236.

11 . See "PROGRAM OF THE ARF (ADOPTED BY THE FOURTH WORLD CONGRESS)", various Editions in the form of brochures; also "DOCUMENTS FOR THE HISTORY OF THE ARF", III, 2nd Edition, Beirut, 1985, pp. 315-328 (*).

12 . See "PROGRAM OF THE ARF (ADOPTED BY THE 22nd WORLD CONGRESS)", 1982(*), On the ideological views of the Dashnaktsutiun, see also Navasartian, Vahan, "The ideology of the ARF", in "CHRONICLES OF THE ARF DASHNAKTSUTIUN", Boston, 1950, pp. 167-259(*), under the following subdivisions: Socialism, independence, Democracy, Nation and Homeland, Federation, individual, Freedom and Organization.

(*) Armenian language texts

HRATCH DASNABEDIAN, History of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation - Dashnaktsutiun (1890-1924)
Translated by Bryan Fleming and Vahe Habeshian
1989 OEMME Edizioni, Italy

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