Turkey’s recent political crisis started with the arrest of the sons of three cabinet ministers over claims of bribery and the rigging of state tenders. This quickly developed into a state-wide crisis.
The events appear to be a cut-throat power struggle between the government and Gülen movement, a transnational religious and social movement. But the matter cannot be reduced to that.
During the 12 years of AKP [Justice and Development Party] rule Turkish capitalism has grown fast; both natural resources and labour have been exploited and plundered immeasurably. During this period, besides ordinary bribery and corruption, we have also seen corruption encouraged by the amending of laws and regulations. Especially through amendments to laws governing bids for public contracts and regulations. Also the state audit court has been stopped from making substantial inspection and audits.
What has been leaked to the press since 17 December is just the tip of the iceberg of the corruption that the AKP is involved in; yet even this has shaken the political stage.
What we need to do is to remember some basic facts. Bribery, corruption, and irregularities are natural phenomenon under capitalism, decaying capitalism in particular. Although there might be certain differences of the sort and scope, this is true of even the most developed and “regular” capitalist countries.
Even in Germany, which seems to epitomise the rule of law, the president had to resign because of corruption just a year ago. We should also remember the Enron scandal in the USA under Bush. Exposure of such cases happens when they grow to such big dimensions they cannot be concealed or they pose a risk to the whole system and some politicians and parties have to be pushed out of the political scene.
Corruption always exists in capitalism and this surely serves as a means to expose capitalism in the context of working class struggles. However any condemnation of corruption not based on a revolutionary exposition of capitalism feeds illusions in the so-called virtues of a “decent” capitalism. The winning party will always be the capitalist order. Bad boys are condemned, scapegoated and, if possible, got ride of; the system is given a “cleaning.”
We must also never forget that corruption issues are used as a trap when there are struggles inside the ruling class.
When one section of the rulers intends to push out or undermine another section, one of their most popular strategies is the disclosure of private lives and corruption issues.
The allegations are almost always true, but this is not the point. The masses are generally misled. The discredited order is cleaned and given a fresh start, and public support is gathered against those “bad” elements of the ruling order to get rid of them.
Beneath Turkey’s current corruption investigations lies a similar kind of political operation.On the one hand the masses are given propaganda that paints a picture of Erdogan and co. swelling their pockets; on the other side, Erdogan and co try to paint themselves as innocent victims. Allegations of corruption are certainly true. But if we want to understand the essence of matter we have to go deeper. We have to ask why the coalition between AKP and the Gülen movement has ended. Why is the Gülen movement trying to put an end to Erdogan’s political career?
Gülenists have been following a long-term organising strategy of infiltrating into the state. They have an enormous following in the judiciary and police.
Lacking such numbers of cadres within the state apparatus, the AKP formed a coalition with Gülenists in its struggle against pro-status quo Kemalist cadres who occupied critical positions in the state. When the Kemalist forces initiated efforts to get rid of the AKP, the AKP, in response, could fight back thanks to its alliance with Gülenists. This struggle essentially came to an end by the 2010 referendum liberalising the constitution. The elections that followed marked the beginning of a new period.
But after the victory against pro-status quo Kemalist forces there inevitably emerged conflicts between the winners over how to share the spoils. The influence of Gülenists within the state has not been welcomed by Erdogan. An organisation which is not under AKP’s control might well undermine it some day. Moreover this organisation was demanding a much greater say.
A more ambitious Erdogan, with a renewed sense of omnipotence and self-confidence, would not bear this situation forever. Moreover Erdogan had political hegemony which has been consolidated through various shifts within the state apparatus.
A settling of accounts with the Gülenists was inevitable. But the Gülenists had come up by a completely different route and stood on an independent ground. Far from bowing down to Erdogan, they apparently made high-handed demands. Apparently, the demands they made for more positions in the army and national intelligence service were not welcomed by Erdogan.
Up to a point these tensions were accommodated and brought to reconciliation. But the Rubicon was crossed and we are now on a new level with the investigations of corruption and the government attempt to abolish private teaching institutions which are the strongholds of the Gülenists educating their cadres. Yet these developments cannot be viewed as mere power struggle but fit into a bigger context.
Capitalist development in Turkey has reached the level of a sub-imperialism. The question now is what kind of policies is this stage to be reflected in on an international level.
On the basis of Turkey’s rapid capitalist development Erdogan is increasingly following a more ambitious and risky path in foreign policy.
What would be the place of a sub-imperialist Turkey, with its 17th biggest economy in the world, membership of G20, its international investments? Would it be a sub-imperialist Turkey obediently following the US policies in the region and getting its modest share, or a relatively more independent sub-imperialist Turkey with much more greed? That was the choice in front of Turkey’s rulers.
Erdogan has chosen the latter, more risky option.
Viewing himself as becoming a leader of the region, of the Muslim world, and a world leader, Erdogan seemed at first to be winning. But various conflicts with big imperialist powers and some other regional powers have began to grow rapidly. On many critical questions such as Iran, Palestine-Israel, Syria, Egypt, building nuclear power plants in Turkey and buying large weapon systems (such as missile shield), Erdogan took unwelcome positions which crossed the line for the US and the western imperialist powers. Breaking relations with Israel constituted an important turning point.
The political course pursued under Erdogan’s leadership has gone beyond the natural limits for a sub-imperialist power in the Middle East. And it is quite normal that such actions are punished. Although world capitalism is in a period of crisis, and there could be certain changes in the balance of forces within the system, as the law of uneven and combined development creates a certain room for manoeuvre, there are limits.
The US, the majority of the big groups of Turkish capitalism, and the Gülen movement are trying to reshape Turkish politics. They want to push out Erdogan, but not the AKP. The problem is his political course — a more independent and “adventurist” orientation for Turkish capitalism. All sections of capital are pleased with the new level of development, but are less so about conflicts with big imperialist powers.
Erdogan has turned into a “pain in the ass”.
With his zeal to suppress all kinds of opposition, Erdogan puts pressure on many big capitalists. It is not possible for Turkey, with all its contradictions, to tolerate his move to authoritarianism. Erdogan’s moves will only be accepted by his crony capitalists.
The Gülen movement seeks full accord with the US’s policies; its highly educated cadres are more deeply integrated into the international capitalist system. The Gülenists are much more acceptable as Islamist partners for the USA.
Any serious move against Erdogan within the framework of bourgeois politics has to be based on strong resistance within the state. Erdogan cannot be defeated through regular political means — elections and parliamentary mechanisms. This is the meaning of the corruption investigations.
The conflict we are witnessing today has a broader objective basis. It cannot overcome by a compromise between Gülenists and Erdoganists. The drive is to get rid of Erdogan and his ambitious policies.
New political alternatives being developed. President Abdullah Gul from the AKP and Mustafa Sarıgul (candidate for Istanbul mayor) from the CHP (Republican People’s Party) side are the most prominent figures. The Gülenists support Sarıgul in Istanbul. We can expect until the elections there will be many more leaks and scandals.
Islamist political cadres have lost their glamour, they can no longer pose as examples of decency and integrity. This too is a new phase in the political evolution of Turkey.
One immediate consequence is that Erdogan’s dreams for a presidential or semi-presidential system are collapsed. Under siege from all sides he might step up authoritarianism.
2014 will be a year of elections and the working class will once again be forced into polarisations outside its own class interests: tailing Sarıgul in the name of getting rid of Erdogan or rallying behind Erdogan. This trap needs to be avoided. All sides of this conflict are enemies of the working class and they all must be challenged. Moreover, we are living through a period in which the problem does not simply involve elections. We need to be prepared for much more complicated events on a greater scale.
Getting rid of this order in which exploitation, plunder, spoil, corruption, bribery, injustice have gone rampant, in which working masses are suffering in the grip of imperialist war and economic crisis will only be possible if the working class mounts the struggle on the basis of its own independent class politics.
• Abridged and adapted from here