Turkey and the imperialist free-for-all

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The region now occupied by the modern Turkish state has always been a crossroads of the world, an area where all roads, peoples and influences collide. This has, in general, been very positive for the development of humanity. Today however many global influences and collisions are taking place in and around Turkey that are not at all positive and rather express the impasse of capitalism and the threat that it poses not just for the population of Turkey and the region but for the whole of humanity. Although the putrescence of a decomposing capitalism is today clearly visible in the major powers, it is a global phenomenon that exists within and applies to all states. In fact, it is particularly expressed in Turkey today which has now become a collision point for all the contradictions of a dying capitalism; a place where the expressions of decomposition show an innate tendency for a self-destruction which is affecting and will affect every country on earth. The general tendencies presently at work in Turkey are the same as those in every capitalist state and these can only intensify given the ineluctable development of the insoluble economic crisis of capitalism. The chaos, militarism and instability hitting Turkey are harbingers for the future of capitalism and, right now, very dangerous for the Middle Eastern cauldron that Turkey is a part of.

The Turkish economy is bankrupt and its prospects dire; it is desperate for foreign investment and, with weakened prospects of attracting it, anxious to avoid accepting it from China. The living conditions of the working class, including the health system it relies on, are being constantly attacked in an atmosphere where many expressions of unease are met with brutal force and repression. Turkey is highly militarised and its imperialist ambitions, its external military forays wider afield, have more than a touch of insanity about them, reflecting the grandiose "vision" of the Turkish ruling clique, its pretensions to being a major player on the world stage. The adventures of Turkish imperialism near and far, pining for a glorious past which never existed, can only bring more problems as Turkey makes more enemies abroad, while at home its involvement in increasingly senseless wars demand greater sacrifices from the working class. The Turkish state appears superficially strong, but its whole edifice is built on sand; undermined by its weakening economy, growing political divisions, and a certain loss of control by the previously relatively strong ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party), have forced it to rely on the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to win the crucial 2017 election, the 2018 referendum and to keep it in power today. A further element in growing instability - a world-wide phenomenon but particularly expressed in Turkey and the Middle East - has been the dramatic rise of refugees and displaced peoples due to the spread of war and militarism in the region. But the Turkish state has instrumentalised this abject misery to its advantage by using these masses not only for cheap and precarious labour within Turkey - particularly the Syrian refugees - but also as threat against Europe in order to extort money, from Germany mainly: the threat being that it will unleash this flood of refugees on western Europe if it doesn’t get its way.

Like everywhere else the Turkish state is actively involved in the destruction of the environment, underlined by schemes to fuel growth by using up natural resources, extensive mining and de-forestation for example, or vanity/imperialist projects such as the proposal to build a canal from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara (a project first put forward 500 years ago by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent), a proposal which President Erdogan himself called "crazy" in 2011[1]. The projected cost of the canal is at least ten billion dollars, and there are also plans fora new ten billion dollar airport and cargo hub along with a new motorway. These are in part projects to celebrate the Turkish Republic's hundred-year anniversary in 2023 in a frenzy of nationalism. There's not only massive de-forestation but real threats to Turkey's water supply coming from the Istanbul canal project, as pointed out by the government's own assessors.

These are just some of the elements expressing how Turkey is an illustration of the decomposition of capitalism. For decades now Turkey has been particularly buffeted by the economic, military, political and social turbulence unleashed by the collapse of the relatively stable imperialist blocs in 1989, opening up a new and more dangerous era of capitalist dog-eat-dog; and now the latest scourge of decomposing capitalism - the Covid-19 pandemic - this way comes.

The Covid-19 pandemic

All the existing negative elements, particularly the economy, are exacerbated by this long-predicted pandemic, and many new problems and troubles have been created. The ruling class has also shown its contempt for "unprofitable" human life, particularly when it thought at first that there was a "silver-lining" to this passing "flu-like illness" in that many of the old and sick would be eliminated, freeing the state from the expensive burden of caring for those who were beyond exploitation[2]; in some of the major capitals of the world, the wealthiest countries on Earth, this tendency of getting rid of useless human liabilities was generously encouraged by states through their criminal negligence and not least through their nationally-adapted ideology of "herd immunity" long before there was any sign of a vaccine. And then, as the pandemic took its natural course, it dawned on the bourgeoisie and its states - something that had been flagged up before by various agencies, including the US intelligence services - that a pandemic of this kind not only severely disrupts the capitalist economy but can easily become an existential threat to it.

In the first months of the pandemic, it appeared that Turkey was doing quite well, closing schools, universities and the leisure industries quickly; congregational prayers were banned in mosques and its testing system seemed to be working efficiently. But much of this was carefully orchestrated propaganda by the Erdogan regime, arguing that the world was jealous of Turkey's achievements. But even in the early period of the pandemic, the New York Times was finding deaths far higher than the official figures[3]. The Wikipedia entry for "Covid-19 pandemic in Turkey" looks like it was written by a committee of AKP hacks with a gun to their heads: everything has been just great; Turkey's robust health system has coped outstandingly - much better than others - and it remains on top of the situation. Other countries (some of its closest imperialist rivals) are castigated for not acting quickly enough, unlike Turkey. The entry is dotted with examples of how Turkey is one of those countries at the leading edge of the fight against the virus. None of its figures can be believed and the entry looks like a textbook example of Stalinist propaganda.

The reality is that Turkey concealed the true extent of this crisis for months in order to protect the economy, and the blatant lies of the state (like everywhere else) encouraged the spread of the virus. The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) said, just before the year's end, that the government had in reality "lost control of the situation"[4].

Doctors in Turkey have been directly threatened by the state for disputing its virus figures and pointing out the parlous state of its hospitals and health services, along with the lack of protective equipment. Erdogan's governmental coalition partner, Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), called for the Turkish Medical Association to be outlawed and its leadership arrested[5]. Like everywhere else, Turkey is using the pandemic in order to strengthen the repressive apparatus of the state and bear down on the working class in particular. Contrary to the nauseating Wikipedia report, the London-based Totalanalysis has been monitoring cases of Covid-19 from many countries and published its Covid Data Transparency Index, in which Turkey is ranked 97th out of a 100, followed by Serbia, Turkmenistan and North Korea. A final obscenity relating to the pandemic (with surely many more to follow) and the weaponising of vaccinations is the way that, in common with profiting from the misery of refugees, the Turkish state looks to have laid the grounds for exchanging some of its Uighur refugees for doses of the Chinese Sinovac treatment - three million doses up front with more to follow if all goes to plan[6]. To date, daily infection rates are rising along with daily deaths and the overall death rate is currently something over 30,000.

The war economy, militarism and Turkish imperialism

Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a braggart and rabble-rouser who is well-suited to his role as leader of the Turkish state. He has been going on for years about Turkish achievements, Turkey's glorious past and its future destiny as a great power[7] and this will only intensify coming up to the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Turkish republic by Ataturk. Erdogan has posed as the defender of Muslims everywhere, playing a religious card that's a cover for Turkey's imperialist ambitions[8]. It's quite possible that with the end of the bloc system, the weakening of the US in the Middle East, and the intensified tendency towards each against all, Erdogan feels that Turkey's time has finally come. During the last couple of decades of greater chaos and instability on the world arena, Erdogan - a master of the forked-tongue - has played all sorts of games with the Americans, the EU and Russians, using his cards to optimum effect. But in the past, Erdogan has also been batted around the imperialist chessboard by the major powers: his "vision" for Turkish imperialism plays into a feeling of "Turkish resentment" and has hardened accordingly. This resentment was all the more real for the Turkish state when its leader narrowly escaped a death squad and was chased by missile-laden F-16's in the failed 2016 coup. But the imperialist grievances and appetites of the Turkish state can’t be reduced to the reactions of one man, and Erdogan's "vision" is turning into a devastating material reality of militarism and war generating militarism and war wider afield.

Turkey is a prime example of capitalist decomposition, expressing itself in particular at the imperialist level. Its old ambitions have been revived by the turn in capitalism's crisis and it has developed a policy of stretching its tentacles near and far. Underlining the problematic nature of its relationship with Russia, it has made recent agreements with Ukraine, including the sales of arms, such as the successful Bayraktar TB2 combat drone that it has used to confront Russian forces in Libya. Turkey has supported Ukraine against Russia's annexation in the Crimea[9]. Turkish-Ukrainian relations have been warming for several years but have reached a new high at a time of tensions over the Russian-Ukraine border. Erdogan has modestly put himself forward as "peacemaker" but this could lead to a major increase in tensions and militarism around the Black Sea.

Ankara at the centre of its "Afro-Eurasian" vision

Turkey has moved into Africa militarily after using its no less imperialist "soft power” in order to pave its way. It has extended its influence in the Persian Gulf with the establishment of a large military base in Qatar, while maintaining a balancing act with the other Gulf powers of Saudi and the UAE. Ankara has recently made overtures towards the latter two countries - including going into joint production of drones with the Saudi regime - as well as talking about restoring diplomatic and intelligence ties with Egypt[10]. While some warm words have also recently gone back and forth with Tel Aviv, Turkey's balancing act can only become more problematic as instability and each for themselves dominates further.

Turkey has spread and strengthened its influence to the republics of Central Asia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, where it sees China as a direct threat and rival. And it rushed to provide arms to its ally Azerbaijan prior to its 44-day war with Armenia last year, particularly its armed drones which overwhelmed the Armenian forces and which it has itself used in military operations in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Israel was also involved in supporting Azerbaijan, which it sees as a buffer against Iran, but it was Turkish weaponry and proxy fighters, supplied to its "antagonistic" Shia partner, that routed the Armenian forces. Turkey's "Asia Anew Initiative", one of the indicators of Turkish imperialist interests, aims to reinforce relations with the Turkic states of Asia. Since 2003, Turkey has established 17 new missions, five embassies and 12 consulates in Asian countries. China, for its part, is interested in, but also wary of, Turkey and has tended to be more open to the other counties in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. But because of Turkey's geo-strategic position, its influence on the Turkic states and China's "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI), Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister, had warm words for Turkey on his recent early April trip around the Middle East.

Over the last decade Turkey has become much more implanted in Africa, particularly East Africa, leading it to describe itself as an "Afro-Eurasian state", completing a potential three-pronged military expansion. From 12 embassies scattered across the continent in 2009, it has risen to 42 a decade later, with more in the offing, and sub-Saharan trade increased from one billion dollars to nearly eight times that roughly over the same period[11]. Ankara's largest military base is in Somalia where its forces train local troops; other recipients of Turkey's "bilateral" assistance are Sudan, Niger, Djibouti (where China's first overseas military base was established 3 years ago), Chad and Guinea. Turkey has played up the idea that its intentions are not colonial but "brotherly" towards Africa. There has been some neo-Ottoman rhetoric to its propaganda, given the links between the old empire and East Africa, but Turkish "aid" and projects have been generally welcomed by the local bourgeoisies. Despite France’s problems in the region, and China’s efforts to take advantage, Turkey is also rivalling countries like Iran, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as China, in this burgeoning imperialist arena.

Turkey’s move into Africa directly confronts the diplomatic, business and educational enterprises of US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, once ally and now arch-enemy of Erdogan. Gulen's Hizmet educational system is global but particularly strong in Africa where it tends to provide a cheaper alternative to French schools for the children of the elites. Turkey's "brotherly" mask has tended to give way to its rank authoritarianism when demanding that African states close down the Gulen "terrorist" network. Like military bases and "boots on the ground", the ongoing investment in the “soft power” surge of Turkey in Africa and elsewhere, involving schools, health facilities, NGO's, etc., greatly adds to the cost of an unsustainable war economy.

It's in the central Mediterranean however, NATO's southern flank, that the imperialist free-for-all, with Turkey at the centre, really hots up, posing sharper dangers from increasing tensions and conflicts, exacerbated by Ankara's push to be a greater regional power. Fighting over war-torn Libya like vultures, Turkey and Qatar backed the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) while the opposing faction, the Libyan National Army (LNA) has been militarily and financially backed by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and actively supported by France. Since the shaky cease-fire October last, many thousands of foreign troops and mercenaries remain in the country including pro-Ankara Syrian forces, threatening the fragile "peace" and the UN's "transition" programme. Turkey's support for the GNA, with arms (particularly drones) and fighters, helped shift the balance in Libya and allowed the GNA to take control of key areas. Its agreement with the GNA included Turkey's access to "demarcated" waters in the Eastern Mediterranean for exploration and drilling[12] for oil and gas, but these waters are disputed by Greece, Egypt and Cyprus (in fact Crete and Cyprus sit inside Turkish-claimed waters); and the above countries, as well as Israel, have excluded Turkey from their East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF). This in turn has prompted Turkey to label them - along with France - an "alliance of evil" which was damaging Libya's "hope for democracy". While these pipeline schemes are cheaper than shipping oil and gas, they look very dodgy propositions economically and are prone to the political instability that haunts the Middle East. But Turkey is fighting for the right to access what it calls its "blue homeland" in order to gain more energy autonomy, and for this reason it is in Libya for the long haul, using it as a springboard for access to the waters of the central Mediterranean and a stronger implantation in this vital area. Turkey and the head of the new interim Libyan government, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, have just (April 13) re-affirmed the 2019 maritime agreement[13] that has angered other states, while Turkey has promised the Libyan government 150,000 Covid-19 vaccines, a Covid-19 hospital in Tripoli and Ankara's support for a reconstruction of the Libyan military.

The Russian/Turkish gas pipeline, Turkstream, was opened by presidents Putin and Erdogan in January 2020 but it relies on this heavily qualified "partnership". The project was halted by Putin following the shooting down of a Russian Su-24 fighter jet by Turkey on the Turkish-Syrian border in 2014 and reinstated after Ankara's effusive apology. The EU's reliance on Turkey regarding refugees means that its diplomatic efforts in regulating the issues over these waters, and the relationship between NATO members Turkey and Greece, look to be extremely difficult. There is a real risk here for Turkey in that in over-stretching itself it gets out of its depth and provokes more serious confrontations; being active on so many fronts and making so many enemies reveals an irrationality that is typical of capitalist decomposition.

Difficult relations with NATO and Russia bring further dangers and destabilisation

Up to 1989 Turkey, with its large and modern army, was a pillar of the Western Bloc, despite a confrontation with fellow NATO member Greece in 1974 that presaged some of the problems that emerged on a far greater scale with the implosion of the Warsaw Pact at the end of the 80's. Up until this time Turkey was a lynchpin of US Middle Eastern, Eurasian and Eastern European policies. But the opening of Pandora's Box in 1989 changed the situation dramatically for the worse for all major and secondary powers in the Middle East and beyond. The discipline that kept the Western Bloc together shattered as the cement that held the bloc together, never having a durable quality, turned to dust with the "New World Order" of the early 90's. Turkey was immediately at odds with the US over the first Gulf War, the USA's failed attempt to cohere the fragmenting ex-bloc under its auspices. The purchase by NATO member Turkey of the Russian air defence system, the S-400 in 2019, laid the rupture bare because the system cannot be integrated into NATO's military framework. In response the US forbade the transfer of its F-35 fighter jet, the details of which could be available to Turkish-based Russian trainers of the S-400 system. The situation is further complicated by the fact that 937 separate parts of the F-35 have started to be manufactured in Turkey[14] with at least one plane already delivered.

Turkey is thus riven between Russia and a crisis-ridden NATO, with a certain antagonism towards the "West" and moving onto a dangerous field of cooperation with Russia. All the old contradictions and ambitions of Turkey were re-ignited by the 89 collapse and have been flaring up ever since, posing more intractable problems in a situation of increasing centrifugal tendencies. Turkey's present relations with Russia, as some of the examples above show, are neither straightforward or definitive, but are based upon contingent common interests which are wide open to disputes and conflicts. And while Trump threatened to destroy the Turkish economy if it went "off-limits" in Syria, Putin also threatened it after its SU-24 jet was shot down over Syria in November 2015, adding that it was "a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists". Some of the coming problems in the relationship with Russia are mentioned above: the existing threat of closing the Bosphorus straits to the Russian navy and the potential threat of allowing US warships to use its proposed new canal which would, with a warming of relations with Ukraine, be a significant threat to Russia. In Syria, Russia has also hit Turkish-supported militias in their fight against Russian-backed Syrian forces in north-west Syria: in October 2020 a military training camp was hit by Russian forces, killing dozens of militia and wounding many. More recently Turkish-backed forces in the same area were hit by a barrage of missiles loaded with cluster bombs, reportedly fired by a Russian warship in the Black Sea. The devastation was widespread, adding to the ongoing grief of the civilian population.

The "Kurdish question"

If the whole Middle East is a can of worms, then there is another formidable can of worms inside the can:  the question of the Kurds. Apart from the half-hearted conciliatory moves of Turkey towards the Kurds last decade, the real fear of Turkey is focused on the autonomous Kurdish zones operating in Syria and Iraq. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK - recognised by the US as a "terrorist organisation") and its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party with its YPG Peoples' Protection Units, are, in part, consolidating themselves on Syrian territory. This provoked the 2019 Turkish military operation "Peace Spring" crossing into Syria with allied Syrian factions in order to push them back. The US arming of the Kurds with sophisticated and sensitive weaponry[15] in order to fight Isis went beyond the Kurdish "cannon-fodder" used by both the Iranians and the Americans against Isis. Kurdish YPG commando units (Yekineyen) were kitted out with the same high-tech equipment used by US Special Forces (the Pentagon is not allowed to transfer this equipment to any other forces, but the CIA can and did).

In mid-October 2019, Trump gave the order for US troops to stand aside, effectively allowing Turkish forces to enter north-east Syria and take on the Kurdish forces that went from prized and primed US allies to hunted "terrorists" from one day to the next in yet another Kurdish "betrayal" by the West. What's important about the original arming of the Kurds by the US is that first of all it immediately exposes the weakness and desperation of Uncle Sam, which is part of a long-term weakening of US leadership resulting from decomposition. It infuriated the Turks and compelled them to take advantage of this weakness, adding to the general tendencies of chaos, instability and war in the region. At the same time the fragmentation and re-disposition of Kurdish forces led to some of the YPG units and their Yekineyen fighters joining the Syrian army, probably complete with their "sensitive " equipment, and providing the butcher Assad with more up-to-date tools of his trade.

Turkey's war in Iraq has ramped up against the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan in and around the Zagros mountain range, where Turkish combat drones and fighter jets have caused further devastation in relentless attacks. Kurdish nationalism has always been part of imperialism[16] and after decades of being used as cannon-fodder by both global and regional powers, and constantly "betrayed" by them, the Kurds developed a saying that "only the mountains are our friends". But here in their redoubts, along with the civilian population, the mountains have turned into their prison and tombs. The general instability provoked by the deteriorating situation has also led to inter-Kurdish fighting in northern Iraq.

When the leaders talk of peace…

Since the beginning of the year, in what seems to be a change of emphasis, Turkey has been making overtures to its rivals, with Erdogan calling himself and President Macron "peace-makers" (there's never been so much talk about "peace" amid so many wars); it has opened diplomatic talks with Egypt, had warm words for the UAE and opened up joint military developments with Saudi Arabia. It has boosted its existing military agreements with Ukraine with its "Black Sea Shield" programme which covers a broad range of operations including aerospace engines and missile technology[17]. On April 9 the Turkish Ministry of Defence posted its congratulations on NATO's 72nd anniversary saying that "we are stronger together". In January Erdogan, addressing EU ambassadors, said "we are ready to put our relations back on track"; in February, directly to the US, Erdogan emphasised "our common interests". And on March 24, he told the AKP Congress, closer to reality, "we will continue to shape our relations with every country". There can be no predictions about what this means for the future, but it is clear that Turkey is advancing on many fronts into very dangerous territories in a situation of growing imperialist tensions and instability which the actions of Turkey will only aggravate. "... it is clear that Ankara's policy is a major contributor to the spread of militarism and chaos and a major factor in extending instability and conflict to a region that stretches from the Sahel to Afghanistan. In short, the idea of stabilising the region, curbing imperialist ambitions across the board is a pure figment of the imagination and the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic, which is hitting the region hard, will only add fuel to the war, barbarism and chaos"[18].

Economic crisis, militarism and war is the only perspective for decomposing capitalism

On the economy, the main global finance bodies are united in seeing the prospects for the Turkish economy as grim and Erdogan's handling of it as "unorthodox"[19]. He has just sacked his third Central Bank governor in 2 years while trying to manipulate the dollar/lira relationship through a form of trickery. At the moment Turkey's Central Bank owes tens of billions of dollars to Turkey's banks, leaving the former with a big hole in its balance-sheet (in the recent past Turkish banks have been heavily involved in sanction-busting, particularly its Halkbank). The lira fell 15% after the third Central Bank governor was sacked and replaced with an AKP appointee, leaving Turkish companies with dollar debts struggling. Orthodox economics says that higher interest rates are needed to combat inflation, but Erdogan has set his face against this, partly because "... the Anatolian export-oriented manufacturers who are an increasingly important part of (Erdogan's) political base" (Borzou Daragahi, Independent, March 24, 1921) are adversely affected by them; so Erdogan's short-term irrationality prevails over the general health of the Turkish economy. Once again the "risk-taker" Erdogan's latest "crazy" scheme has blown up in his face, leaving his country's economy in very serious trouble. Inflation, which has risen for the sixth consecutive month and now officially stands at just under 16%, means that workers and the poor will pay more for daily, basic items, while official unemployment rose to 13.4% in January and youth unemployment (15-24) was up to nearly 27%, with both figures likely being underestimations. Turkey's foreign currency reserves are low and falling. After the misery left by the 2008 economic crisis and new economic misery from the pandemic, there is more suffering to come for the working class, particularly as the war economy, which is already draining the coffers of state, intensifies.

Desperate political manoeuvres show the weakness of the ruling clique as attacks on the working class intensify

Despite the appearance and trappings of a strong state, the ruling AKP is weakening under the pressures. Around the end of 2019 there were splits in the party as the economic miracle was fading and unpopularity was setting in even among its supporters. Former Prime Minister and AKP chairman, Ahmet Davutoglu, was a major resignation; Ali Babacan, former head of economics and credited with presiding over Turkey's unparalleled growth also left the governing body. These are small numbers but under the AKP's new system (designed to strengthen the AKP) every vote is essential. Erdogan's margin of political manoeuvre is thus becoming more limited and it is a weakness of the ruling class that it has to rely on the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in its "popular alliance" to win elections and stay in power. Discontent with the AKP is growing generally but particularly within its voting core and support in the polls for Erdogan. is falling. The second-largest party in the country, the Republican People's Party (CHP), the main opposition since 2002, has also been losing support, not least due to its complicity with the AKP's manoeuvres and repression.

The same day in March that the AKP removed its latest Central Bank governor, the Turkish authorities began a lawsuit to disband the leftist, Kurdish-led People's Democratic Party (HDP - the third largest party), accusing it of being linked to the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). Just a few days later, showing the frenetic and desperate nature of the continuing campaign, Ankara announced that it would withdraw from the 2011 Istanbul Convention on violence against women, saying that the scheme looked to "normalise homosexuality" and didn't fit in with Turkey's "social and family values". It was a ploy against what was an empty declaration, a diversion to prop up the AKP's hard core, but like some eastern European and many African countries, it also shows the incitement to violence and the baseness and brutality of bourgeois thought. The withdrawal inevitably gave rise to a number of counter demonstrations which had the effect of hardening support for the AKP from the faithful and which were also a lesson in division, containing no proletarian perspective.

The deterioration of the living conditions of the working class and the necessity for its response

Suffering from the war economy, the proletariat is hit from all sides. We've seen the chasm between the state's propaganda and the reality of a health service that was already deteriorating before the appearance of the pandemic. Like many other countries, health tourism is on the up in Turkey but like many other countries this is no indication of the availability and robustness of the healthcare system; on the contrary it is a sign of its restriction, increasing privatisations and up-front payments, making it a further concern for the working class and the great majority who are denied services and sent to the back of an ever-lengthening queue. And that's those that are eligible which many are not; graduating students, for example, have no health insurance.

A further brutal and frontal attack on the workers comes with the sinister-sounding workplace Code-29. Code-29 has been used a legal get-out from the ban on dismissing workers during the pandemic. But again, these attacks on the working class predate the pandemic and the latter will be an excuse for further attacks. Code-29 has existed since 2018 and it says that a worker can be sacked for showing "behaviours that do not comply with the rules and ethics and goodwill". It has been used extensively by the bosses and the workers hit by it are not entitled to severance pay, notice and unemployment benefit; their access to healthcare could also be problematic. Women workers face added problems from Code-29, being subjected to enquiries "about what they get up to at work", while the Code talks unashamedly about "immoral conduct"; it’s a repressive and humiliating form of pressure. This particular attack on women workers again panders to the AKP's conservative base; it is a sop to it, in a similar way to the rejection on the Convention against violence against women. But nearly half-a-million workers have been sacked under Code-29 in the last three years[20] and, as the state knows, more important than the numbers is the fear factor that it spreads. Shifts have been increased from 8 to 12 hours, overtime made compulsory (if it's paid at all), while bosses have cancelled buses picking up workers, making them virtual prisoners in the factories. But fighting Code-29 alone or trying to make it more palatable is a game that the trade unions play with their campaigns fixating on particular issues.

Despite some very targeted welfare "reforms", implemented more for propaganda purposes than anything else, the working class is being attacked from all sides. Inflation and unemployment are rampant and the state has nothing but an illusory nationalism and brutal repression to offer the proletariat. Given the closeness of the official trade unions to the ruling party, it's not surprising that workers are turning towards independent unions in order to protect themselves, but this is an error as far as the needs of their struggle go. With the official unions being discredited, the function of independent unions is to contain the struggle within the union framework and then undermine it. Whether or not these unions are outlawed by the state, and whether or not elements of the state attack them, the function of these union structures remains precisely the same: to keep the union framework alive and keep the class struggle within the boundaries of the state and illusory reform[21]. In recent years we've seen the appearance of independent unions in China, Vietnam, South Africa, Egypt and Iran, and it was the independent union Solidarnosc in Poland 1981 that turned a significant struggle of the working class into a movement to restructure Polish capital.

Times were tough for the working class before the pandemic and now they are even tougher. Prior to Covid-19 the working class was tentatively beginning a response to the gathering assaults on its living conditions by capitalism, but this was halted by a pandemic that constituted a direct challenge to the health and life of the working class. Nevertheless, even in these circumstances, there have been expressions of struggles in defence of proletarian conditions across the globe. But the conditions for struggle are not propitious in the circumstances of the virus, given the needs for workers to come together and organise. What this re-emphasises is the need for divisions played up by the state, like those set up between Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian workers, to be overcome and for trade union control, "independent" or not, to be replaced by self-organisation and workers' assemblies taking control of their own struggles. The ubiquitous lock-downs of the present only add to the difficulties of the class struggle alongside the inhibiting factor of further attacks, no less in Turkey than anywhere else. But "... the capacity of the working class to respond to the crisis of the system has by no means disappeared; and this implies that sooner or later we will see significant reactions to the onslaught of capital. In the meantime, revolutionaries have a great deal of work to do in fertilising the fragile green shoots of consciousness already visible in small minorities across the world - products of a deeper undercurrent of awareness that the present system of production is profoundly and irreversibly bankrupt"[22].


Baboon, 18.4.21


[1] Bloomberg, 10.12.2019. Environmental issues have caused clashes with the state and played a big part in the 2013 Gezi Park protests. There is now a Green Party of the Future in Turkey linked to the left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Congress whose aim is "to protect the taxpayers". The Green movement is a useful adjunct to the capitalist state and in Germany we see it supporting the interests of German imperialism to the hilt. Turkey is the only country out of the G20 which has not ratified the Paris Climate Change Accords. Ten retired Turkish admirals have been arrested by the state after criticising the canal project for abrogating the Montreux 1936 Convention (MCRRS) restricting naval movements. This reaction shows the paranoia of the state within an increasing general tendency for breaking treaties as well as pointing to the importance of the Bosphorus Straits for Turkey. But this new canal could increase tensions around the Black Sea, militarising the Russian-dominated waters and giving Turkey a substantial card to play while increasing risks of confrontation with Russia.

[2] The British Treasury, in drawing up a balance-sheet of the cost of the pandemic, has included the money saved by the state in pension and other payments to the elderly "culled" by the disease.

[4] Deutsche Welle, 15.12.20

[5] British Medical Journal (BMJ), 29.9.20. It's no idle threat. The entire Central Committee was arrested in 2018 when it criticised a Turkish military incursion into Syria. And more than 3000 doctors were forced out of their jobs by decree after the 2016 failed coup.

[6] "Why Erdogan has abandoned the Uighurs", Foreign Policy, 3.2.21

[8] These religious appellations are reactionary; the fascist-like Grey Wolves paramilitary group calls itself "Muslim" in places.

[10] Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, recently told the Arab News (16.3.21) that Egypt was "the brain of the Arab World, the heart of the Arab world". See also https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/03/19/will-page-turn-on-turkish-egypt...

[11] Deutsche Welle, 4.2.21

[12] Ahmed Helal, Atlantic Council, October 28, 2020

[15] "Syrian Kurds are now armed with sensitive US weaponry and the Pentagon denies supplying it" (Military Times, 7.5.17)


Imperialism and decomposition