EKS Speech to the 17th ICC Congress: Problems of decadent capitalism in Turkey

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In the last five months, many troubling events occurred in Turkey. Following the assassination of Hrant Dink in January, there have been extremely brutal attacks on foreigners, there have been several massive nationalist demonstrations, there have been bombs in major cities and of course the bloody war between armed Kurdish nationalists and the Turkish army kept going on. The situation seems to be getting worse and worse. The last bomb of the bourgeoisie exploded in Ankara several days ago, killing about six people and wounding more than a hundred. The prime minister, in turn, called for national unity against terrorism, and even the most left wing organizations of the bourgeoisie soon joined the calls of the prime minister.

Turkey has been drawn into an artificial polarization between the secularist bureaucratic opposition and the supporters of the liberal Islamist government recently, especially in major cities. The press organs of the secularist bureaucratic opposition, taking themselves too seriously, started claiming that ‘the regime was in danger' and started organizing mass demonstrations against their political opponents. Although the secularist-nationalist bourgeois media claimed that this was a ‘grassroots' movement, it was obvious that those who went to demonstrations went there comfortably, as they had the support of a strong faction of the bourgeoisie behind them. Perhaps the most significant aspect of these demonstrations was, however, the left-nationalist slogans raised. What those slogans showed was the misery of the ossified state bourgeoisie caused by the decomposition of the old Kemalist state ideology. The problems of the ideology are not limited to such slogans: tiny fascist sects, founded by retired generals, swear to kill and die in order to save the country, old leftist groups which seem to have turned to the extreme right write slogans in the walls, calling for the invasion of Northern Iraq and middle, and sometimes even high ranking cadres of the army are calling for the ‘liberation' of Iraqi Turkmens. The army bureaucracy is still one of the strongest powers in Turkey. However not everything is as it used to be; the propaganda against the current government is a proof of this. Never before has this faction of the bourgeois had to make such a massive propaganda to make it appear as if they gained massive support. Despite the fact that they managed to get hundreds of thousands marching in the streets, this is a sign of desperation. The more desperate the bourgeoisie is, the more vicious it will be.

As for the other wing of the bourgeoisie, they seem to be experiencing problems as well. When Tayyip Erdoğan's government was elected with the support of the major faction of the capitalist class, the plan was to succeed with the old dream of being the bridge between oil coming from Baku to Europe thus entering the European Union. Until most recently, the dream seemed to have a chance to be fulfilled; however when Russia managed to be what Turkey dreamed to be, the imperialist ambitions of the Turkish bourgeoisie in Central Asia were mostly destroyed and the possibility of joining the European Union decreased. Although Erdoğan's government is still very strong, it seems highly unlikely that they will be as strong as they are now following the elections which are coming up. Erdoğan's government did not seem to be interested in entering Iraq when the United States invited Turkey; they too wanted to pursue imperialist interests in Northern Iraq but they did not want to go to where the United States wanted them to go, which was certainly not Northern Iraq at that point. It is also important to note that the social conditions were not really suitable for mass mobilization for war at that time because of the massive anti-war wave. However, right now, there are hundreds of thousands mobilized for nationalism and filled with anti-Kurdish feelings. The question here is whether the invasion of Northern Iraq is a fantasy of tiny fascist sects or an actual possibility. Would American imperialism prefer Turkish imperialism to the Kurdish bourgeois factions who have not been successful enough in controlling the area? Could the Turkish bourgeoisie turn its imperialist ambitions to the control of the oil in Northern Iraq? A new imperialist war in the Middle East might happen sooner than expected. Major television channels in Turkey, including the infamous Fox television network which had just recently started broadcasting in Turkey, has already started debating whether Turkey should enter Northern Iraq or not. While the leftists in Turkey are busy running as independent candidates in the upcoming elections in order to turn the bourgeois assembly into a warm and joyful place; the elections might end up with the creation of a war government, with the support of those who had been mobilized to defend secularism and Kemalism. It is a possibility: perhaps not the most likely possibility, but a very significant and dangerous possibility. What this possibility demonstrates is the mentality of the bourgeoisie in regards to imperialist wars. In decadent capitalism, imperialist wars are waged for the sake of waging wars.

In 1974, when the Turkish army invaded Cyprus, tanks and soldiers were sent to the Greek border by the army commanders. Had the situation been suitable, they would not have hesitated to start a bloody war with Greece. Today, if the conditions are suitable for the Turkish bourgeoisie, they will not hesitate to attack Northern Iraq, ignoring the endless conflict, destruction, violence and pain such war would bring. The bourgeoisie in Turkey is having serious problems: there are serious clashes between different factions of the bourgeoisie, the social state is withdrawing, the old bourgeois concept of citizenship fading away, the Turkish bourgeoisie has failed in regards to its relationships with the Kurdish bourgeoisie and the old Kemalist political and ideological structures, which are the foundations of the regime in Turkey, are now proving to be too heavy for the bourgeoisie. Yet the destruction of those old structures means risking the entire regime as the political justification of the bourgeois regime is based on Kemalism. The Turkish bourgeoisie is walking on thin ice. The only solution it is capable of offering to its problems is a new imperialist war. If it doesn't happen now in Northern Iraq, it will happen tomorrow, perhaps somewhere else: but it will happen. As the Manifesto of the Communist Left to the Workers of Europe, written in June 1944 by the Gauche Communiste de France and Revolutionären Kommunisten Deutschlands declared "As long as there are exploiters and exploited, capitalism is war, war is capitalism", and when we look at all different endless local wars, explosions in cities, brutal murders going on in the world, we can clearly see that capitalism is leading humanity into barbarism.

World Proletarian Revolution is the Only Alternative to Capitalist Barbarism

This brings the question on the situation of the proletariat in Turkey. Following the defeat of the massive wave of proletarian struggle in Turkey which was opened in 1989 with public worker's strikes, quickly spreading to unionized and non-unionized workers in private sectors and leading to the formation of independent factory committees and which ended in 1995 after the public worker's occupation of Kızılay Square in Ankara where the administrative centres of the Turkish government were, the unions managed to gain a very high influence on the proletariat. In the last years, there has been a noticeable increase in the class struggles going on. Especially in the last months, there have been several quite large workers' demonstrations, there has been a significant wave of factory occupations and there have been numerous strikes in quite a number of different industries. However, almost none of the struggles managed to achieve any kind of significant success, mostly due to the fact that although quite numerous, those struggles were limited to single sectors or even single workplaces and did not manage to spread. As there wasn't a united struggle; the bourgeoisie did not have a hard time defeating the struggles of the working class easily. It is also very important to note that most of those struggles were actively sabotaged by the unions; during one factory occupation, for example, the union's method of making the workers stop their struggle was giving them a Turkish flag to hang on the factory. In fact, in a great majority of those struggles, workers themselves made remarks about their discontent about unions. Indeed, the unions in Turkey do not work actively for the Turkish bourgeoisie in sabotaging workers militancy but they play an active part in mobilizing the proletariat for nationalist causes. Even the left-wing unions actively participated in lining up workers behind a section of the bourgeoisie in the secularist demonstrations.

The role of the unions was visible even better during the last May Day in İstanbul. The major left nationalist trade union had declared that it wanted to celebrate May Day in a ‘banned' area in İstanbul, Taksim Square, because this year was the thirtieth anniversary of the infamous Bloody May Day where around a million demonstrators had gathered and were fired at by unknown gunmen from two buildings and a car nearby. The İstanbul city governor, who is known with his sympathies towards Erdoğan's party was determined to prevent such a demonstration; however many leftist groups and parties had already declared that they would be joining the union in the demonstration. Soon, the event got out of union leaders' and legal leftist groups' control. The May Day in İstanbul was quite brutal: İstanbul city government had ordered police to be ruthless, and so they were. Whenever workers gathered to enter Taksim, they were attacked by the police. Many were beaten up, around a thousand were arrested and one old person died in his home because of the tear gas police were throwing around. While the right wing bourgeois media presented the policeman as heroes, liberal nationalists and leftists blamed the governor because of the problems which occurred in traffic, and the union leaders, who were allowed to enter the square by the police and then disappeared, only to declare to televisions later on that this was a victory, were celebrated as heroes. However, as it would be expected from them, the unions had done nothing in regards to class struggle. Simply a threat of a one-day strike would probably be enough to save many from being beaten up or arrested, however the union proved once again that it did not have anything to give to the working class. Instead, union called this May Day a fight for democracy, and the union leader went as far as describing police's attack on the proletariat as the revenge of the last secular nationalist demonstrations.

When we look at the situation of the proletariat in Turkey, we see that the proletariat is living in very bad conditions. The conditions of the industrial and agricultural proletariat are unimaginable in some parts of Turkey. Very huge parts of the university graduates, even doctors and engineers are highly proletarianized and are extremely exploited, if they have a job. There is massive unemployment, especially among young people and with the decomposition of the state ideology and in the absence of a strong communist voice, most of the unemployed are drawn into bourgeois ideologies such as Islamism, nationalism and national liberationism. There are very militant parts of the working class, but the domination of the unions and the influence of bourgeois ideologies on the workers are preventing the workers from uniting on a class basis. The only solution to the problems of the proletariat, the only cure to the harm done to proletarian struggle by bourgeois ideologies, is proletarian internationalism and international class solidarity.

The bourgeoisie is leading the proletariat into more pain, more misery and more deaths. Communism is the only realistic alternative to sinking into barbarism. Under these circumstances, we think that it is extremely important for different proletarian groups to engage in regular discussion and international solidarity.

This was also published on http://eks.internationalist-forum.org/en/node/51 and on libcom.

July 2007.