Protests to stop capitalism’s attempt to plunder Taksim Gezi Park have swiftly spread across the whole country and turned into an anti-government revolt.
From the Turkish revolutionary socialist group Marksist Tutum, http://en.marksist.net/marksist_tutum/turkey_revolt_against_capitalist_plunder_and_police_terror.htm.
Anti-government demonstrations are being held every day in many cities — Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir in particular. In Istanbul demonstrations have spread over many neighbourhoods. Hundreds of thousands have been taking part in the mobilisation. Thousands of people have been arrested, injured and two people have been killed. [As we go to press on 11 June, police have entered Taksim Square and fired teargas and rubber bullets at protesters. Bulldozers and rubbish trucks have been sent in to clear up barricades.]
This rapidly spreading mobilisation signifies an important turning point. For the first time the government of the Freedom and Justice Party (AKP) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has received a big blow. The discord in the statements of various AKP spokespersons shows their disarray.
It is very significant that an action to stop digging up trees and constructing a shopping mall in Taksim Gezi Park triggered such a wide-reaching process. The problem is not simply trees and urban sensitivity. The demands on Gezi Park are just the means by which broad masses are expressing their anger against the AKP’s imposition of more control over society. The fact that even such modest and obviously rightful demands are treated with extreme brutality and violence, a show of arbitrary, authoritarian, overbearing, oppressive attitudes became the last straw. That is why the protest has immediately leapt to the level of a direct anti-government challenge, without passing through any intervening stages.
In fact this attitude of the AKP, characterised by the arrogance of power (“my way or the highway”), has been stirring up anger for two years in an ever-growing section of society. The hundreds of thousands of people who are on the streets, who bang pots and pans from their windows, do not aim their protest, at say, the police chief or governor or mayor of Istanbul but directly at the government and Erdogan. And this is happening with a blackout by the mainstream bourgeois media.
After it won the power struggle against the military-civilian bureaucracy, AKP took a more reckless and aggressive road in its steps to consolidate power.
Previously, it could play “the victim” — not completely baselessly — to consolidate its power. It was helped by a lack of a powerful democratic alternative and the fact that the economy had a relatively favourable conjuncture.
Since the military-civilian bureaucracy was defeated there has been no centre of opposition (with the exception of Kurdish question) to check the power of the AKP. One by-product was that the AKP’s alliance with liberals lost its importance.
The AKP turned to consolidating its base, eliminating any dynamics of social opposition and feeding its cronies in a more efficient way. They attacked the workers’ movement, socialist opposition, street actions with a boundless police terror. They took bolder steps in interfering with peoples’ lifestyles, making moves to create an obedient and servile society, taking bolder initiatives to plunder cities and put its own ideological stamp on cities, and brutally crush everyone who raises a voice against the arrogance of power.
The fact that a May Day demonstration in Taksim Square was arbitrarily banned this year, despite the fact it was allowed for the last three years, is a typical manifestation of this evolution.
So the AKP has been triggering discontent in different sections of society. It has to be noted that these sections were already outside the electoral base of the AKP.
They were not very politically active and organised so the AKP was not concerned. On the other hand, to a certain extent, a kind of unease has also begun to develop among AKP voters. A symbolic manifestation of this was the emergence of critical and democratic movements such as Anti-Capitalist Muslims. Also the [religious-educational] Fethullah Gulen Movement, which has been a serious ally of the AKP, has gradually reduced its struggle to share power with them, and has also contributed to the discontent with the AKP. This situation has led to widening rifts within the AKP.
The effect of the AKP’s bankrupt Syrian policy has also to be noted. As a leader of an imperialist capital, with Bonapartist aspirations, Erdogan is becoming more and more nervous, aggressive and reckless, as his dreams for the presidency and aspirations for the Middle East are dashed.
The AKP’s rhetoric and style is becoming worse as criticism mounts from inside Turkey and abroad. This power-arrogance is partly encouraged by its electoral support staying at the same level. Polls have given AKP chiefs over-confidence — “nothing happens whatever we do, voters still support us”.
However a host of developments — the attempt to prohibit abortion; restrictions on alcohol sale and consumption; bombing of Reyhanlı [a Turkish town near the Syrian border, hit in May 2013 by car bombs blamed variously on the Syrian opposition and the Syrian government] caused by the government’s Syrian policy and resulting in 52 deaths; bans on May Day demonstrations; police terror; a record number of imprisoned journalists; pressure on media leading to subservience; greedy pillaging of nature particularly by constructing dams on every single river in Turkey; driving the poor out to the fringes of cities; and the top-down attitude taken throughout — all have driven a relatively large mass of people to the point of “enough is enough”.
Diverse sections of society, from environmentalists to football fans, from artists to students (university and high school), from Kemalists to socialists, aided by the unquestionable legitimacy of defending Gezi Park, have swiftly gone into anti-government action.
The government eventually had to step back and order the police to evacuate Gezi Park and over a hundred thousand people victoriously entered the park.
This resistance has not started and developed in an organised way. It does not bear an overtly proletarian class character. At present there is no organised working class involvement in the process; but workers are involved as individuals.
The dominant elements are “white-collar” workers, university and high-school students and the “middle class” which has strong Kemalist prejudices. The dominant motive is hatred against the AKP and Erdogan. But the political composition is quite mixed.
For instance it includes Türk Solu, a fascist group, and IP (so-called Workers’ Party, which is strongly nationalist and Kemalist) and the putschist-chauvinist wing of the CHP (Republican People’s Party), and they are trying to bring the movement to an anti-Kurdish chauvinist line. However, at present, the movement by and large has a democratic dynamic dominated by the stand against state terror, interference in daily life and art, plundering of cities and nature, and the authoritarian practices of the government.
This broad movement has already created a serious crisis. For the first time the AKP and Erdogan are in an embarrassing state. The different statements coming from the government circles clearly reveal this.
More importantly, there is change in political climate in Turkey; at least for a broad section of society the wall of fear is being torn down. The democratic dynamic creates an atmosphere of freedom, the government and police are on the retreat and losing ground. This is all positive.
The broad mass movement has already thrown up useful experiences, as in other similar situations in different parts of the world. There are numerous lessons to be drawn. We must also note that this is the first time there has been such a general spontaneous revolt in Turkey.
The biggest problem is the weakness of the organised workers’ movement. We will see whether the decisions taken by DISK and KESK to strike will have an impact or not. Unfortunately DISK and KESK do not have strong workplace organisations and adequate authority over their members. Experience will show if the general atmosphere of social mobilisation will be enough to overcome this weakness.
Now we have a big and dynamic mass that is in a determined resistance action against state forces. There is a role for socialist groups of various shades. But unless the organised proletarian class movement gets involved, this movement is in danger of withering away or playing into the hands of nationalist powers like CHP, the biggest anti-government political force around. In this context, advancing demands that directly concern the working class, involvement of trade-unions and workers in factories in an organised manner, organising strikes and other workplace actions etc. would be important steps forward.
This kind of work is also very important in terms of getting the broad masses that are still under AKP control involved. It is positive that some religious people have been involved in Taksim actions, which is obviously not the case with the broad masses that are under AKP control. The more Kemalists/nationalists are dominant the more difficult it is to accomplish this.
It is very important to strengthen the proletarian class dynamic and not to let the toiling masses fall into the hands of Kemalists/nationalists.
From the 15th century to 1922: what is now Turkey is part of the Ottoman Empire, centred in Constantinople (Istanbul).
19th century: the Ottoman Empire declines under blows from three quarters. More and more of its European territories (Serbia, etc.) split off, winning independence or falling under Russian control; more and more of its western Arab territories (Algeria, etc.) are annexed by European powers; European financiers gain effective control over its tax revenues (Ottoman Debt Administration, 1881).
1908: “Young Turk” revolution attempts modernisation under the continuing rule of the Sultan.
1914-18: In World War One, Ottoman Empire allies with Germany. From 1915, genocide of Armenians.
1919-23: Turkish war of independence, led by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), against the plans of the victors of World War One to chop up not only the disparate territories of the rump Ottoman Empire but Turkey (large chunks were to be ceded to Greece, and Constantinople-Istanbul was to be put under international control).
After 1923: Kemal institutes forced-march modernisation, secularisation, a one-party state, and a statised economy. During World War One, in order to supply the capital city and the army, the Ottoman government has already instituted allocation mechanisms which totally bypassed the market. Muslim businessmen had been brought together to found “national” companies for the financing and carrying out of trade. Between 1915 and 1924, probably 90% of the pre-war bourgeoisie, Greeks and Armenians, are pushed out of Turkey or killed. In the 1920s, the government undertakes large-scale investments, and nationalises most foreign companies; in 1934 it introduces a Five Year Plan. State is used to nurture a Turkish bourgeoisie. In 74.2% of all firms established between 1931 and 1940 (and still surviving in 1968) the founding entrepreneurs are bureaucrats.
After World War Two: Turkey becomes the major US military ally in the region. Limited legalisation of opposition parties. One of them, the Democratic Party, wins power in 1950 elections, and rules until 1960, becoming increasingly right-wing and repressive.
1960: Military coup, led by young officers, against Democratic Party government. The officers, however, restore parliamentary rule from 1961; conditions become more liberal; trade-union activity expands. Turkish Workers’ Party (shaped but not monopolised by underground Communist Party) formed in 1961, and gains strength.
1971: Military coup led by army top command to suppress rising working-class militancy. However, after civilian rule is re-established in 1973, working-class militancy expands again.
1980: Army top command makes another, bloodier and more brutal, coup. Turgut Özal, put in charge of the economy by the army, and then prime minister after restoration of civilian rule in 1983, pushes through a “Thatcherite” policy, with many privatisations.
1996-7: Islamist “Welfare Party” briefly leads government, in coalition with successor of 1950s Democratic Party. “Welfare Party” is subsequently banned by the courts.
2002: AKP, formed in 2001 by a split from a successor of the “Welfare Party” designed to produce a less-Islamist force, wins power. Continues neo-liberal policies, with some economic success; seeks unsuccessfully to take Turkey into EU; carries out some liberalising reforms; cautious about Islamising measures.
The countours of Turkish capitalism
The Turkish revolutionary socialist group Marksist Tutum has analysed the special features of Turkey’s development in an article on “A Brief History of Capitalist Development and Working Class Movement in Turkey”. We reproduce extracts below.
The fundamental weakness of the great majority of the left in Turkey is a conception of anti-imperialism without an anti-capitalist content. That is why the left in Turkey considered Kemal’s movement as really anti-imperialist for years, and even today there is sympathy for Kemalism among the left.
Another misconception of the left is to equate, more or less, the state capitalism of Kemalism with socialism. So the left movement in general considered as its duty to look after that statism, which nurtured capitalism in Turkey and provided the native bourgeoisie with capital accumulation.
Until 1950, banking, big industrial institutions, mining, energy, chemistry, transportation, communication, textile, alcoholic drinks, cigarette (tobacco) etc. were run by the state. The basic and long term aim of this practice of statism and “state capitalism” was to create the ground for the development of a native capitalist industry and a “national bourgeois” class, by means of a rapid capital accumulation, through overexploitation of labour inside the nation.
Only in 1947 did the workers win the right to set up unions. Even strikes and collective bargaining were made illegal. Trade union rights were achieved only in 1963, 40 years after the proclamation of a Republic... The bourgeois state did not permit any legal socialist parties until 1960. The articles that prohibited “communist propaganda”, taken from Mussolini’s fascist penal code in 1936, were not abolished until 1990...
[After 1945] The Turkish bourgeoisie was desperate for economic aid from Western capitalism, and especially keen to approach American imperialism.
However, appreciating that a one-party dictatorship could not be continued in this new world conjuncture, in 1946 Turkey was compelled to accept the establishment of new political parties.
The big landowners and merchants left the CHP [the old Kemalist state-party] and formed the Democratic Party (DP). The creation of the DP was an essential step by the big landowners and merchants to free themselves from the political patronage of the Kemalist bureaucracy. And in 1950, with the coming to power of the Democrat Party, the one-party dictatorship of the CHP, that had lasted almost 30 years, came to an end.
Yet quite soon after its victory the DP proved that it was as capable of being as cruel an enemy of the working class and the left in general, as was the CHP during its long dictatorship.
The DP continued to pump finance from state funds and banks to the big landowners, despite the economic crisis, yet it did not support the industrial capitalists adequately. Naturally this caused a reaction among the industrial bourgeoisie. [In 1960 junior officers overthrew the DP through a military coup]. In the opinion of these officers, they had carried out a revolution to defend and protect the liberties and institutions of the Republic, introduced by Ataturk, and against the undemocratic practices of the DP.
A new constitution had been launched as a result of the military coup. A new period was opened, with a relative democratisation in both political and social life.
During the first 40 years of the republic, the native bourgeoisie flourished thanks to the capital accumulation supplied by state capitalism. And it started private industrial investments. The private capitalist industry developed by leaps and bounds in this period. And parallel with this, the working class began to grow rapidly and stir as well.
In the 60s the whole society showed a tendency to prosper politically and culturally. All sections of the society began to set up its organisations, associations, co-operatives, etc. For the first time for 40 years the prohibited and suppressed leftist books began to be published publicly. Socialist ideas attracted attention of the broad intellectual sections...
In 1961 a legal socialist party TIP (Workers’ Party of Turkey) was founded, which would become the first mass party in the history of the republic. It was founded by trade unionists at first and then joined by socialist intellectuals...
Four unions (Maden-Is, Lastik-Is, Basın-Is, Gıda-Is) were expelled from Turk-Is and founded a new confederation, the DISK (Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions) in February 1967. These unions had always been in the forefront of the struggles and organised particularly in the private sector. [Then came the military coup of 12 March 1971]. In this period of extraordinarily oppressive, semi-military regimes, between 1971 and 1974, both the workers’ movement and the developing socialist movement received a harsh blow. The only legal party of the working class, TIP [the Turkish Workers’ Party], was closed down. The activities of the trade unions that were DISK affiliates, and the youth associations, were banned.
This period of the second military dictatorship lasted three years and it was the rehearsal of the bourgeoisie for the military fascist regime of September 12, 1980.
[Left movements revived after 1974, but on 12 September 1980 came another military coup]. The Constitution and the parliament was abolished, all parties, including also the bourgeois parties, were closed. The party leaders were arrested, the DISK was shut down, unionists were arrested, and all the collective agreements signed by unions were cancelled, and then the workers’ wages were frozen...
[This military regime was not broken by an impulse from below, but only gradually softened from above]. Although the bloody military dictatorship of September 12 — which was portrayed as a mild military regime in the West — has begun to dissolve with time, its legacy continues today. For example, the code of laws installed by the military junta is still basically in force, although some amendments to the constitution have been made.
[In 1983 the military set up a parliamentary regime under the leadership of Turgut Özal]. The Ozalist line (the Turkish version of Thatcherism) that overturned all obstacles to restructuring, has taken many serious steps towards the integration of Turkey to imperialism. One of these steps is the question of membership to the EU, which is still a big problem.
Problems such as the liquidation of the military tutelage regime and democratisation of the Turkish political landscape have become items on the agenda of big capital. Likewise, to find a solution to the Kurdish question and Cyprus question has become the agenda of the big capital due to factors like Turkey’s drive to join the EU or undertake new missions in the Middle East in collaboration with the USA....The first and second terms of AKP governments seem to constitute a new period in which these problems have started to be solved...
AKP is not the representative or protector of the working masses but a bourgeois party proper. And a genuine party of big capital voicing the interests of nascent groups of capital thrived on the basis of a wild exploitation of the working class...
AKP and its milieu are now proud of the process of Turkey’s transformation into a sub-imperialist power, ceasing to be a peripheral country. As a matter of fact this process has actually begun in Özal period.
The new war of division stretching out from Balkans to the Middle East and Turkic republics that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union coincided with the now sub-imperialist Turkey’s plans for expansion...