2011 was marked by a huge wave of social revolts which spread from Tunisia and Egypt to other countries of the Middle East – including Israel – and to mainland Europe, in particular Greece and Spain, and the US with the ‘Occupy’ movement. These movements all had their own particular features depending on local conditions, and all of them suffered from strong illusions in ‘democracy’ as the answer to all social ills. But what was most important about them was what they expressed at the most profound level: the response of a new generation of proletarians to the deepening world crisis of the capitalist system; and for all their illusions, all their difficulties in understanding their own origins and nature, they belong to the working class and its halting, painful effort to recover an awareness of its real methods and goals.
The revolts in Turkey and Brazil in 2013 are proof that the dynamic created by these movements has not exhausted itself. Although the media puzzle over the fact that these rebellions have broken out in countries which have been through a phase of ‘growth’ in recent years, they have given vent to the same ‘indignation’ of the mass of the population against the way this system operates: growing social inequality, the greed and corruption of the ruling class, the brutality of state repression, a collapsing infrastructure, environmental destruction. And above all, the inability of the system to offer the younger generation a future.
A particular significance of the revolt in Turkey is its proximity with the murderous war in Syria. The war in Syria was also presaged by popular demonstrations against the regime in place, but the weakness of the proletariat in that country, the existence of deep ethnic and religious divisions within the population, enabled the regime to respond with the most ruthless violence. Fissures within the bourgeoisie widened and the popular revolt was – as in Libya in 2011 – drowned in a ‘civil’ war which has in fact become a proxy war between rival imperialist powers. Syria today has become a showcase of barbarism, a chilling reminder of the ‘alternative’ capitalism holds in store for the whole of humanity. Turkey on the other hand, like Brazil and the other social revolts, points to the other road opening up in front of humanity: the road towards the refusal of capitalism, towards the proletarian revolution and the construction of a new society based on solidarity and human need.
The article that follows was written by the comrades of our section in Turkey – a young section, both in the history of the ICC and in the age of its members. Both as revolutionaries and as part of the generation that has led the revolt, these comrades have been actively involved in the movement on the streets and this represents a first report ‘on the spot’ and a first attempt to analyse the significance of the movement.
On the “Chapullers”1 movement: The cure for state terror isn't democracy
“We made a general strike out of our tears to a friend today,
We took down his smiling corpse from a tree
How hard he'd hugged it, how he'd know his duty, how he'd given branches...”2
The movement that began against the cutting of the trees as a part of the plans to tear down Gezi Park in Taksim, Istanbul, and assumed a massiveness unseen in the history of Turkey so far, is still ongoing. Analyzing this movement is of vital importance for class struggle. For this reason, it is necessary for us to base ourselves on a class perspective while defining and politically understanding this movement. Also, there is a need to draw the balance sheet of the process so far. When analyzing the movement and drawing its balance sheet, despite the indignation we feel against the state terror applied against it, and the massacre of three demonstrators, we do not have the luxury to let go of caution and cool-headedness. For getting too caught up in the atmosphere created by the movement and making hasty analyses would risk making serious mistakes in regards to the positions of the class struggle.
Without doubt, since this is an ongoing movement, what we are doing is, in essence, a primary evaluation. Besides, we have to point out that we are continuing our discussions on the movement among ourselves.
The background to the movement
The ruling AKP party and its government had been preventing demonstrations from taking place in Taksim Square, using the urban development projects launched in this area as an excuse. Another intense discussion which occurred on these projects was on the demolition of the Labour Movie Theater, also in the Taksim area. During this process, the police had provoked reactions from popular cultural icons as a result of the attacks made on the protesters who were trying to prevent the demolition of the movie theater. The rearrangement of Gezi Park as a shopping mall, the rebuilding of the historic Gunner Barracks demolished decades ago and the cutting down of the trees was also on the agenda during this process. On these grounds, certain dissident neighborhood associations, non-government organizations, trade-unions and leftist parties had formed the Taksim Solidarity Platform with the slogan “Taksim is Ours”. The desire to hold May Day demonstrations in Taksim was also to start a discussion focused on Taksim.
In this framework, the officials of the bourgeois state were to declare that Taksim wasn't suited for May Day demonstrations and they would not allow such demonstrators to take place in there, claiming that the excavation works in the area would risk the safety of the people who would participate. The May Day demonstration in Taksim was prevented with the state terror used by the riot police. The 'area and demonstration' problem used by the bourgeois left as a policy of finding a way out of its political dead-end once again dominated the agenda after 2007. The insistence on holding May Day demonstrations in Taksim instead of any other area had assumed a highly symbolic character, given the memory of the famous May Day demonstration held in this square in 1977 where 34 people were massacred. Additionally, new regulations introduced by the AKP against abortion legislation and the ban on alcohol sales between 10pm and 6pm also continued to provoke reactions. Also the approach of the current government on art and history followed a similar course, with the demolition of the 'freakish statue' in Kars, the opening of Hagia Sophia to services and similar policies dominating the public mind. Especially in Istanbul, the construction plans made as a part of urban transformation policies, demolitions and the intent to name the Third Bridge planned to be built on the Bosphorus after Yavuz Sultan Selim, an Ottoman Sultan notorious for the massacres of the members of the Alevi sect in Turkey, caused a lot of anger. Additionally, the anti-war feeling against the Syria policies of Erdogan and his government had become increasingly wide-spread, especially after the bombings in Reyhanli and the collapse of the AKP government’s line of blaming the Syrian government about it. And lastly, the 'disproportionality', as the common saying in Turkey goes, of state terror and police violence had started to cause enormous indignation. Furthermore, the youth described as the 90's generation, as apolitical and not wanting to get involved in anything until these demonstrations, had started feeling they didn't have a future as the part of society most affected by the impact of the international economic crisis in Turkey.
The emergence of the movement
On May 28th, a group of about fifty environmentalists started demonstrating in order to prevent earth movers from entering Gezi Park to cut down trees. The response of the police to the demonstrators was violent from the beginning. Especially after the police burnt down the tents of the demonstrators on the morning of May 30th, a serious reaction started to develop. By May 31st, the demonstrations organized against the violent police terror using social media had assumed a generally anti-government quality transcending the question of trees. It had spread out to virtually all the large cities in the country and was getting more and more massive. With the protests in many cities involving large scale clashes with state forces, the slogan “Everywhere is Taksim, resistance everywhere” assumed a real meaning for the first time. When Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “Where the opposition gather a hundred thousand, we can gather a million people” on June 1st, a mass of two million people was to take over Taksim Square, forcing the police to back off. Aside from state terror, the arrogant attitude of Prime Minister Erdogan and the censorship of bourgeois media also caused serious indignation among the masses. In the following days, demonstrations were to take place in 78 of 81 Turkish provinces and solidarity demonstrations were to be organized in every corner of the world. Furthermore, soon the movement which emerged in Brazil against the increase in transportation prices and also assumed an anti-government character was to express the inspiration it took from the demonstrators in Turkey with the slogan “Love is over, Turkey has arrived”. The movement in Turkey was not to remain limited to the squares and demonstrations, with demonstrations of thousands, even tens of thousands and people supporting them making a noise by hitting pots and pans. The movement that begun in Istanbul was to express itself as a reaction against the massacre following the bombings in Reyhanli in Antakya. In Izmir the demonstrations took place under the domination of a nationalist tendency. In Ankara, due to the fact that this city is the bureaucratic and administrative center of the bourgeois state, militant clashes of the masses subjected to intense state terror took place. The expression, “chapullers” used by Erdogan to describe the demonstrators was widely welcomed by them. Without a doubt, one of the most colorful scenes of the clashes throughout the country took place when football fans demonstrating took over a bulldozer and for hours chased the police IVSEs (Intervention Vehicles to Social Events) which had been terrorizing the masses. The demonstrators meaningfully gave the bulldozer they had captured the name IVPE (Intervention Vehicle to Police Events).
Another important factor which influenced the course and slogans of the movement was the fact that police and state terror claimed the lives of three demonstrators. On June 1st, Ethem Sarisuluk, an industrial worker, was shot in the head by the police with a real bullet in Ankara. Ethem was to pass away in the hospital he was taken to in the following days. On June 3rd, in the May Day neighborhood in Istanbul, a young worker called Mehmet Ayvalitas was to be killed as a result of a vehicle deliberately hitting the demonstrators. Again on the night of June 3rd, a student, Abdullah Comert, was also shot and murdered by the police with a real bullet. These three demonstrators massacred by the state were claimed by the movement as a whole and were seen as martyrs of the struggle. The ten thousand demonstrators who shouted “Mother, do not weep, your children are here” in front of Ethem's mothers house after his funeral in Ankara, who chanted “The murderous state will pay” during Mehmet's funeral in Istanbul and who decided to leave gillyflowers where Abdullah was murdered in Antakya, saying “We won't forget, we won't let anyone forget”, proved this. Aside from the murders of Ethem, Mehmet and Abdullah, over ten demonstrators lost their eyes as a result of the police aiming pepper gas canisters and plastic bullets at the faces of the demonstrators. Tens of thousands of people were wounded, dozens of whom are still in a critical condition. Thousands were taken in custody.
The 5th of June strike
After the masses took over Taksim Square from the police on June 1st, the question of what the course of the movement will be started being asked within the movement itself. The prominent question, as expressed in social media, was 'Will we go to work tomorrow after all these events?' Also, aside from those asking the question, a significant portion had started to feel the need for a stronger force than street demonstrations against the state terror still practiced in cities such as Ankara, Antakya, İzmir, Adana, Muğla, Mersin, Eskişehir and Dersim as well as some parts of Istanbul, although police presence had ceased in the Taksim area. These two factors met in the spontaneous call for a general strike which emerged and especially on June 2nd rapidly expanded on social media. As the first impact of this call, the university employees in Ankara and Istanbul declared that they will be going on strike on the 3rd of June. Also in Ankara where the clashes continued intensely, doctors and nurses in some hospitals declared that they would only be treating emergencies and demonstrators. On the same day, Istanbul Stock Market dropped by 10,47 %, the largest drop in the last ten years, and the Taksim Solidarity Platform put forward certain demands. These were democratic demands such as asking for Gezi Park to be preserved as a park, the governors and police chiefs being replaced, the use of tear gas and similar materials to be banned , the release of those taken into custody and the obstacles to the freedom of expression to be diminished.
Eventually the leftist KESK union reorganized its previously planned public sector workers’ strike for June 5th to take place on the 4th and the 5th of June due to the pressure of the workers who are members. On June 4th, DISK, TMMOB and TTB declared that they too were to support the strike on the 5th of June. The strike on the 5th of June took place with a significant participation of public sector workers. In Istanbul alone, 150,000 workers marched to Taksim and about 200,000 workers went out. It is estimated that between 400,000 and 500,000 workers participated in the strike throughout the country. On the other hand, the atmosphere of the strike was under the control of the unions, and the democratic demands of the Taksim Solidarity Platform blurred the workers’ perspective, overshadowing demands such as “No to the performance law” and “Right to strike with collective bargaining”. At this point, it would be appropriate to give the details of an incident which took place in Ankara during the 5th of June strike and exposed the true colors of KESK. During the demonstration in Kizilay Square in Ankara KESK had made an agreement with the police that the police wouldn't attack the demonstrators as long as KESK was there, and had got a permit to demonstrate until six o'clock in the morning. Nevertheless, at around six thirty in the evening, KESK, fearing losing control due to the interaction of the workers in the area with the wide masses who would have come to the square after work, suddenly withdrew from the area without informing anyone. A violent police attack took place right after KESK withdrew. KESK had subjected the masses who'd come to demonstrate for the strike to the violence of the police.
The attitude of the government
As the movement reached a serious scale, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan went to a visit to North African countries after giving the riot police the directive “End this business by the time I return”. When Erdogan was abroad, President Abdullah Gül stated “We got the message” about the protests and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the environmentalists were right, and agreed to meet the Taksim Solidarity Platform, giving the signals of a different approach compared to Erdogan's strict and arrogant attitude. Violent police attacks against the protesters kept occurring in many cities, above all in Ankara as the Taksim Solidarity Platform met with Arinc, and Sirri Sureyya Onder, an MP from BDP and one of the supposed 'symbolic' names of the movement met with Gül in the capital. A significant tendency among the demonstrators had no trust in the sincerity of figures such as Gül and Arinc and had had the impression that the government was applying 'good cop, bad cop' tactics.
Regardless, before the negotiation process caused a significant loss of momentum within the movement, Erdogan who continued his harsh remarks from North Africa, subtly criticizing even President Gül, returned to the country. With the return of the Prime Minister, the attitude of the government was to get stricter. Moreover, in the light of Erdogan's remark “We are only just holding back fifty percent of the people in their homes”, his supporters in the AKP started organizing welcome demonstrations which were meant to appear as spontaneous. However the fact that the welcome demonstrations took place with the participation of a few thousand people, organized in quite an amateur manner was to show that half the population had no real difficulty staying home. In the welcome demonstrations, Erdogan was to announce that they were to organize two large meetings on the 15th and 16th of June in Ankara and Istanbul respectively. Yet, despite the rather outrageous claims of the government officials, the number of people in the meeting in Sincan, Ankara was to be below 40,000 and in Kazlicesme, Istanbul below 295,000.
At this point, the question of whether there is a crack within the government would be in order. Despite the fact that we can't really talk about a crack, taking into consideration that the AKP is actually a coalition made up of different interest groups, factions, sects and cults, it can be said that this social movement created the potential of a crack for the first time within the AKP. Tayyip Erdogan gave order after order for police attacks against a movement which could die out, be absorbed or at least prevented from radicalizing, risking losing the 2020 Olympics from being given to Istanbul, which is so important to the AKP government, and becoming the target of mockery throughout the world, including that of the Syrian state which warned its citizens not to go to Turkey because it is dangerous! This attitude, which seems irrational, can't be explained by looking at Erdogan's character alone. Erdogan had been able to hold the AKP together so far with his authoritarian attitude of never backing down and if retreating, retreating aggressively, and with the appearance of invincibility created by this attitude. If he was now seen to taking back the words he spat out in the face of such a movement and appeared to have bowed down to the demonstrators, he would lose his invincibility as well. The result of this failure would sooner or later lead to his demise within the AKP. This is why Erdogan doesn’t dare to back down: Not because he is certain that he will defeat the movement he keeps pressing, but because he is certain that if he backs down, sooner or later he will lose.
Negotiations, attacks and the work stoppage action of June 17th
During the week prior to the AKP's 15th-16th June meetings, Erdogan declared that he was to talk to a delegation of demonstrators while he continued to issue harsh messages. At the same time, attacks against Taksim were re-launched in Istanbul in line with the government’s attempts to sow seeds of division among the protesters by claiming there are 'outside provocateurs' among them. The fact that among the people who first met Erdogan about the demonstrations were celebrities such as Necati Sasmaz and Hulya Avsar, who had nothing to do with what was going on, as well as people known for their pro-government stance, caused a serious reaction and eventually forced Erdogan to meet with representatives from the Taksim Solidarity Platform. Although this was a tough meeting, afterwards Taksim Solidarity Platform and a majority of its components began working towards making the protesters go back to their homes, 'continuing' the struggle in Gezi Park symbolically, with a single tent. However, these efforts were rejected by the masses. Thus Erdogan declared in his June 15th demonstration in Ankara that, if the demonstrators do not leave Gezi Park, the police will attack and evacuate them, using his own demonstration in Istanbul the next day as an excuse. At the night of the same day, Gezi Park was attacked and dispersed again with a horrible police terror. This time, the military police was also mobilized to give open support to the police.
Especially after the prospect of a police attack on Gezi Park came back to the agenda, the calls for a general strike, as well as a reaction to the insufficiency of the 5th of June strike and against the unions, were reignited. Eventually this reaction forced KESK to declare that they would have another general strike if there is an attack on Gezi Park. After the evacuation of the park on June 15th, this reaction increased further and KESK, DISK, TMMOB, TTB and TDHB declared that they were going to go do a work stoppage action on the 17th of June. However, BDP admirably served the AKP government with which it had entered a peace process by forcing its members in KESK to break the strike. Thus, participation in the work stoppage action on June 17th was considerably lower compared to the 5th of June strike. Another significant incident was that this time in Istanbul also, the police attacked the demonstrators after the union representatives left the area.
The protests which involved millions of people throughout the country as well as police violence and state terror against the demonstrators still continue.
The class character of the movement
When analyzing the Taksim Gezi Park movement, without a doubt the first question that needs to be asked is how we can define this movement, what its class character is.
At first sight, this looks like a heterogeneous social movement, made up of different classes. Within the movement are people from a lot of sections of the population discontented about the latest policies of the government from the petty bourgeoisie such as shopkeepers to lumpen elements such as neighborhood roughnecks, from people from non-exploiting strata who aren't directly exploited such as artisans and street vendors to administrators with high incomes. Moreover, there are certain bourgeois elements among the supporters of the movement, such as Cem Boyner who posed with a banner saying “I am neither rightist nor leftist, I'm a chapuller”, and Ali Koc who owns Divan Hotel in Taksim where the demonstrators took refuge. Although he later denied it, Koc allegedly said “If the doors of the hotel are closed; if the police is allowed in the hotel and the help given is stopped, I will fire everyone working there”.
Nevertheless, we can only understand the real character of this movement by placing it in its international context. And viewed in this light, it becomes clear that the movement in Turkey is in direct continuity not only with the revolts in the Middle East in 2011 – the most important of which (Tunisia, Egypt, Israel) had a very strong imprint of the working class – but in particular the movement of the Indignados in Spain and Occupy in the US, where the working class makes up a large majority not only of the population as a whole but also of the participants in the movements. The same applies to the current rebellion in Brazil and it is equally applicable to the movement in Turkey, where the immense majority of the movement’s components belonged to the working class, above all the proletarian youth.3 Women had a visible numerical significance as well as a symbolic importance in the protests. Both in the clashes and in the local pot and pan demonstrations, women were in the front lines. The widest participation was shown by the strata called the 90's generation. Being apolitical was a label imposed on the demonstrators produced by this generation, some of whom couldn't remember the period before the AKP government. This generation, who were told not to get involved in the events and to look to save themselves, had noticed that they had no salvation alone and were tired of the government telling them what they should be and how they should live. Students, especially high school students, participated in the demonstrators in massive numbers. Young workers and unemployed were widely a part of the movement. Educated workers and unemployed were also present. In certain areas of the economy where mostly young people work under precarious conditions and it is difficult to struggle under normal conditions – especially in the service sector – the employees organized on a workplace-based way which transcended single workplaces, and participated in the protests together. The examples of such participation were delivery boys in kebab shops, bar employees, call center, office and plaza workers. On the other hand, the fact that workplace-based participation didn't outweigh the tendency of workers to go to the demonstrations individually was among the significant weaknesses of the movement. But this too was typical of the movements in other countries, where the primacy of the revolt on the street has been a practical expression of the need to overcome the social dispersal created by the existing conditions of capitalist production and crisis – in particular, the weight of unemployment and precarious employment. But these same conditions, coupled with the immense ideological assaults of the ruling class, have also made it difficult for the working class to see itself as a class and tends to reinforce the protesters’ notion that they are essentially a mass of individual citizens, legitimate members of the ‘national’ community, and not a class. Such is the contradictory path towards the proletariat re-constituting itself as a class, but there is no doubt that these movements are a step along this path.
One of the main reasons behind the fact that such a significant mass of proletarians discontented about their current living conditions organized protests with such a great determination was the indignation and the feeling of solidarity against police violence and state terror. Despite this, various bourgeois political tendencies were active, trying to influence the movement from within in order to keep it within the boundaries of the current order, to prevent it from radicalizing and to keep the proletarian masses who'd taken to the streets against state terror from developing class demands around their own living conditions. Thus while it isn't possible for us to talk of a single demand the movement has agreed on without question, what commonly dominated the movement were democratic demands. The line calling for 'More Democracy' which was formed on an anti-AKP and in fact an anti-Tayyip Erdogan position in essence expressed nothing other than the reorganization of Turkish capitalism in a more democratic fashion. The effect of democratic demands on the movement constituted its greatest ideological weakness. For Prime Minister Erdogan himself built all his ideological attacks against the movement around the axis of democracy and elections; the government authorities, though with loads of lies and manipulations, often repeated the argument that even in the countries considered most democratic, the police use violence against lawless demonstrations – on which they were not wrong. Moreover the line of trying to get democratic rights tied the hands of the masses when faced with police attacks and state terror and pacified the resistance.
Organized tendencies within the movement
As we have said, the Gezi struggle included many different tendencies from the beginning. It would be in order to shortly go through the substance, weight and effects of the different organized tendencies within the movement, which of course at some point overlapped among themselves, as well as the tendencies among the unorganized masses.
First of all, we need to mention the democratic tendency which for the most part managed dominate the movement with its slogans. This tendency, embodied in Taksim Solidarity Platform and BDP MP Sirri Sureyya Onder, unites trade union confederations, leftist, social democratic and nationalist political parties, radical leftist magazine circles, non-government organizations, professional unions, neighborhood associations, environmentalists and similar foundations and organizations. Currently, among the components of Taksim Solidarity Platform are, aside from organizations such as KESK, DISK and the Syndical Power Unity Platform, parties such as CHP, BDP, the Workers’ Party and nearly all leftist parties and magazine circles. However the most active element within the democratic tendency which seems to have taken control of the Taksim Solidarity Platform is left-wing trade-union confederations such as KESK and DISK. Of course, this unity made up at the top levels of bourgeois parties and foundations has serious cracks at their bases. The true base of the democratic tendency is not made up of its component organizations but of the pro-civil society, pro- passive resistance and liberal sections of the movement. Taksim Solidarity Platform and thus the democratic tendency, due to the fact that it was made up of the representatives of all sorts of foundations and organizations, drew its strength not from its organic connection with the demonstrators but from the bourgeois legitimacy, mobilized resources and support of its components. This being said, the democratic tendency has a weakness, namely that of being cut off from the masses due to lacking an organic connection with the demonstrators, even its own base among them. Nevertheless the fact that there is a significant spontaneous dynamic expressed by the slogan “Tayyip resign!” among the masses, strengthens the democratic tendencies’ hand, despite the fact that Taksim Solidarity Platform never put forward such a demand.
Secondly, we need to mention the nationalist tendency which got very excited when the movement first began but whose expectations weren't met and who remained a side tendency. Among this tendency, the CHP should be evaluated separately from the Workers’ Party and the TGB. The CHP's efforts to orient the movement when it begun remained fruitless and later on, Kilicdaroglu's call for the protesters to disperse didn't result in the CHP's own base withdrawing from the area. In fact, there were protesters who expressed anger towards CHP deputies in Istanbul. As for the radical nationalists such as the Workers’ Party and the TGB, their attempts to turn the movement into ‘Republican’ demonstrations, despite having an effect in some localities, didn't bear significant results. A separate effort of the nationalists was to separate the police from the AKP government with lines such as “There are youths of the same age in both sides”, trying to portray the police in a sympathetic fashion. Yet the sheer brutality of the police violence prevented this line from being accepted for the most part. The most common slogan of the nationalists was “We're Mustafa Kemal's soldiers”, and they tried to get Kemalist anthems sung by the demonstrators. Nationalists, whose attempts to react against the Kurdish demonstrators and the general line they tried to impose on the demonstrations were disliked by the masses, owed the limited influence they enjoyed to the Kemalist education system the newly politicized generation came out of.
The bourgeois left is another tendency worth mentioning. The base of the leftist parties who we can also describe as the legal bourgeois left was for the large part cut off from the masses. Generally they tailed the democratic tendency. BDP, while appearing to support the democratic tendency, also tried to prevent Kurds from participating in the movement, though not so successfully in the big cities, giving covert support for the government with which it is involved in a peace process. Stalinist and Trotskyist magazine circles, or the radical bourgeois left, was also for the large part cut off from the masses. They were influential in the neighborhoods where they were traditionally strong. While they opposed the democratic tendency at the moment it tried to disperse the movement, they generally supported it. The analyses of the bourgeois left was, for the most part limited to expressing how happy they were about the 'popular uprising' and trying to present themselves as the leaders of the movement. Even the calls for a general strike, a traditionally memorized line of the left, wasn't really felt among the left due to the atmosphere of blind happiness. Their most widely accepted slogan among the masses was “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism”.
The tendency which had the most impact and enjoyed the most sympathy among the base of the movement was the football fans. Although the administrators of the football ultras did not act separately from the democratic tendency, the effect of these administrators on their own base was limited. Football fans who have gained an experience not weaker than that of the leftists when it comes to acting together, going to demonstrations and even clashing with the police, were the only more or less organized tendency which wasn't cut off from and acted comfortably among the general mass of protesters. They were prominent especially in the clashes. In a way, it was meaningful that the football fans were the part of the movement the protesting masses who'd been apolitical until the day the demonstrations began felt closest to. Turkey is a country where the line 'I am neither a rightist nor a leftist, but a footballist' is quite popular. Their most memorable slogan was “Spray it, spray it, spray your tear gas! Take off your helmet, leave aside your baton, let us see who are the real roughnecks!”.
The proletarian tendency and the movement’s relationship to the class
In addition to the tendencies mentioned above, it is possible to talk about a proletarian tendency or proletarian tendencies within the current movement. We are saying tendency or tendencies, for the proletarian tendency was unorganized and scattered as opposed to the tendencies we've defined above. The proletarian tendency put forward slogans such as “We are not anyone’s soldiers” and also “We are Mustafa Keser's soldiers” and “We are Turgut Uyar's soldiers” against the slogan of the nationalist tendency, “We are Mustafa Kemal's soldiers”. Slogans from the days of the Tekel struggle such as “We are resisting with the stubbornness of the Kurd, the enthusiasm of the Laz and the patience of the Turk” came back. The trees in Gezi Park were named after the Kurdish victims of the Roboski massacre and the Turkish and Arab victims of the bombing in Reyhanli. Moreover, many defended standing up to state terror against the passive resistance line of the democratic tendency. Against attitudes trying to portray the police in a sympathetic fashion, there was the slogan “Police be honorable, sell pastries”. The legitimacy of the demands put forward by the Taksim Solidarity Platform was questioned. The tendency towards vandalism common among the protesters was opposed, not by being declared as the action of provocateurs as the democratic tendency did, but by being reminded that they shouldn't harm the means of living of the poor, by trying to convince. In general, a significant amount of demonstrators defended the idea that the movement should create a self-organization which would enable it to determine its own future.
The section of the protesters who wanted the movement to get together with the working class was made up of elements who were aware of the importance and strength of the class, who were against nationalism yet who lacked a clear political stance. They were the ones who initiated the calls for a general strike. Essentially, although this expressed an awareness of the importance of the participation of the working section of the proletariat, it also carried democratic illusions. For the experience of June 5th was to demonstrate that pressuring the unions for a general strike wasn't a very effective strategy. On the other hand, one of the most important gains of the movement was the fact that this section of the protesters drew the lessons of their experience. In the calls made after the 5th of June, the idea that showpiece strikes for one or two days weren't sufficient had become quite common, and calls for an indefinite general strike had widened. Moreover, the number of people who said that unions such as KESK and DISK who were supposed to be 'militant' were no different from the government was far from negligible. Lastly, against the standing still actions which emerged recently and was pushed forward by the media and the democratic tendency alike to imprison the movement in an individualistic and passive ground, the idea that these actions can only be meaningful if they are done in the workplace emerged.
A certain part of the working section of the proletariat also participated in the movement and constituted the main body of the proletarian tendency within the movement. The THY strike in Istanbul tried to join with the Gezi struggle. Especially in the textile sector where heavy working conditions are common, certain local voices were raised. One of these protests took place in Bagcilar – Gunesli in Istanbul where textile workers wanted to express their class demands as well as come out in solidarity with the struggle in Gezi Park. The textile workers, forced to live under harsh conditions of exploitation, held a demonstration with banners saying “Greetings from Bagcilar to Gezi!” and “Saturdays should be holidays!” In Alibeykoy, Istanbul, thousands of workers had a march with banners saying “General strike, general resistance”. The plaza and office workers who came to Taksim together carried banners saying “Not to work, to the struggle”. In addition to all these, the movement created a will to struggle among workers who are union members. Without a doubt, KESK, DISK and the other organizations that went out on strike had to take such decisions not just due to social media but because of the pressure coming from their own membership, as perfunctory as these decisions were. Lastly, the Platform of Branches of Turk-Is in Istanbul, made up of all the union branches of Turk-Is in Istanbul, called for Turk-Is and all the other unions to declare an all-out strike against state terror from the Monday after the attack on Gezi Park took place, and it would be a mistake to think that these calls were made without a serious indignation among the workers at the base about what was going on.
Despite all this, it is difficult to say that the current movement has widely recognized its own class interests and headed in the direction of a fusion with the general struggle of the working class. . The fact that the proletarian tendency among the movement couldn't express itself enough was mainly a result of the emphasis made on democracy in opposition to government policies. As this axis dominated the movement, the tendency of the worker elements became a backup and its channels of maturation were blocked. Thus, the democratic tendency managed to keep the movement within its own framework. Besides, despite the fact that a majority of the movement was made up of proletarians, they only constituted a part of the class – not its entirety. What brought this section on the streets was state terror and the same state terror is causing a stir among other sections of the working class. On the other hand, the fact that the demands and slogans the democratic tendency put forward to dominate the movement, as well as the fact that the proletarians tendency hasn't been able to develop class demands with a focus on living and working conditions, poses a serious obstacle to the movement to form strong bonds with masses of workers.
The movement’s means of mass discussion
The common weakness of the demonstrations all across Turkey is the difficulty of creating mass discussion and gaining control over the movement through forms of self-organization on the bases of these discussions. The mass discussion that has manifested itself in similar movements throughout the world was notably absent in the first days of the movement. Limited experience of mass discussion, meeting, mass assemblies and alike and the weakness of a culture of debate in Turkey were undoubtedly influential in this weakness. On the other hand, the movement felt the necessity for discussion and the means for such a discussion started to emerge.
The first expression of the feeling of necessity of discussion was the formation of an open tribune in the Gezi Park. The open tribune in Gezi Park did not attract a great deal of attention or continue for long, but still the experience of the open tribune had a certain effect. In July 5th strike, university workers that are members of Eğitim-Sen suggested setting up an open tribune. However, the KESK leadership not only rejected the proposal for an open tribune in favor of a May-day style, leftist trade-union tribune whose speeches were not even listened to, it also isolated the Eğitim-sen Branch No 5 to which the university workers belong. Thereupon, the Eğitim-sen Branch No 5 attempted to set up an open tribune but it did not work out. Again, taking inspiration from the open tribune, popular tribunes have been formed in Gazi, Okmeydanı and Sarıyer that are in the neighborhoods of Istanbul, Güvenpark and Keçiören in Ankara, Gündoğdu square and Çiğli in İzmir, in Mersin, Antalya, Samsun and Trabzon. Even though in some of these popular tribunes, the participants mentioned their problems about 4+4+4, the minimum wage and health system and proposed the formation of a resistance assembly, the formation of these tribunes by the bourgeois left constituted a significant limitation.
Apart from the experiences of open and popular tribunes, other experiences that have emerged in the succeeding days were forums that have been organized and held by mass participation. These forums that were set up with the purpose of discussing the future course of movement were planned to be held from the beginning of the week until June 15 – the day of the attack on Gezi Park. Indeed, the call for these forums were made by Taksim Solidarity, whose intention was to employ these forums as a means for convincing people to ‘include’ the resistance within a single symbolic tent; that would be another way of convincing people to end the struggle. The forums did not assume or claim any decision-making authority; their function was envisaged as a means for Taksim Solidarity Platform to hold the pulse of the masses. This case paved the way for the masses getting stuck with the practical questions, especially what to do in case of police intervention. Nevertheless, in the discussions, there emerged some participants proposing that the masses should take charge of the movement via the setting up of assemblies, sharing experiences from the movement in Barcelona, and stating the need to spread the movement to the poor neighborhoods. More significantly, by stating the will to maintain the demonstrations, the masses spoiled the game of Taksim Solidarity aimed at phasing out the movement.
On the other hand, if we have a look at the movements countrywide, the most crucial experience was provided by the demonstrators in Eskişehir. Through a general meeting in Eskişehir Resistance Square, committees were set up in order to arrange and coordinate demonstrations. These committees were the Demonstration Committee for choosing and determining routes and slogans of demos; the University and Education Committee for arranging meetings, briefings, and discussions in the square; the Proposal and Opinion Committee for generating suggestions and ideas for the resistance; the Cleaning and Environment Committee for cleaning and tidying up of tent settlements; the Press Committee for shooting videos, publishing online photos and news, and submitting their news to the mass media; the Coordination and Communication Committee for coordinating between committees; the Security Committee for protecting the square from the attacks within and outside; and the Emergency Committee set up by medicine students and medical experts for medical aid to those injured. What is more significant is that it was decided that a general meeting would be held every day for monitoring and discussing the practices of these committees. With these experience, the masses in Eskişehir were able to assume the control of the movement by establishing their self-organization. In a similar vein, in Antakya, the popular meeting took its own decisions concerning the trajectory of the movements in June 17.
Finally, from June 17 onwards, in various neighborhood parks in Istanbul, masses of people inspired by the forums in Gezi Park set up mass assemblies under the name of forums. Among those neighborhoods setting up forums, there were Beşiktaş, Elmadağ, Harbiye, Nişantaşı, Kadıköy, Cihangir, Ümraniye, Okmeydanı, Göztepe, Rumelihisarüstü, Etiler, Akatlar, Maslak, Bakırköy, Fatih, Bahçelievler, Sarıyer, Yeniköy, Sarıgazi, Ataköy and Alibeyköy. In the forthcoming days, others would be held in Ankara and various other cities. Thereby, in order not to lose control over these initiatives, Taksim Solidarity Platform began to make calls for these forums itself. Nevertheless, it is a strong possibility that these forums may assume more serious roles in the near future. Furthermore, there are some ideas expressed in these forums about the setting up of workplace and neighborhood committees. The call to avoid racist, sexist, and homophobic discourse, and to commemorate the Roboski and Reyhanlı massacres, and the water treatment workers of Muğla who died from inhaling methane gas, has been expressed widely within the forums.
Similarities, differences, and relations with other social movements
Although in many ways, the Gezi Park resistance is in continuity with the Occupy movement in the USA, the Indignados in Spain, and the protest movements that overthrew Mubarak in Egypt and Bin Ali in Tunisia, it also carries its own peculiarities. As with all these movements, in Turkey, there is a vital weight of the young proletariat. Egypt, Tunisia and Gezi Park resistance have in common the will to get rid of a regime which is perceived as a ‘dictatorship’. As in Egypt, protesters circled around those engaged in Muslim prayers to protect them from attacks; at the same time, the most active participants in Turkey have, as in Egypt, expressed a strong opposition to the interference of clerics and fundamentalists in their daily lives. On the other hand, whereas Tunisia experienced massive strikes with thousands of workers, and Egypt experienced the Mahalla and other strikes, Turkey has only gone through a couple of work stoppage protests...On the more positive side, whereas in Egypt, as the movement gained strength they turned towards to the army for help, in Turkey there has been a reaction against the image of this key state institution.
Contrary to the movement in Tunisia that organized local committees, and in Spain and the USA in which masses generally assumed the responsibility of the movement through general assemblies, in the beginning in Turkey this dynamic has remained highly limited. In Spain, amidst the crisis of capitalism, with the impact of rising unemployment, the Indignados movement was able to affect the orientation of discussions. However, in Turkey, rather than problems about living and working conditions, the practical questions of the movement have occupied a dominant place. The pre-eminent questions were the practical and technical problems of the clashes with the police. Besides, although in Spain the proletarian tendency raised class demands against the democratic tendency in the movement, in Turkey this process has been seriously lacking. The similarity with Occupy in the USA was that an actual occupation occurred; yet in Turkey the occupations were seriously outnumbered by its massive participation compared to the USA. Likewise, both in Turkey and the USA, there is a tendency within the demonstrators that understands the significance of involving the working part of the proletariat into the struggle. The movement in the USA did not succeed in involving the working proletariat despite its face-to-face calls to dock workers in Oakland – as well as calls via social media – to go out to strike in the Western shores of the country. In spite of this, despite the movement in Turkey failing to establish a serious bond with the whole working class, even the calls for strikes via social media were met with more work stoppages than in the USA experience.
But despite these particularities, there can be no doubt that the ‘Çapulers’ movement was a part of the chain of international social movements. Although it did not attract attention in the beginning, this dynamic would become evident in the succeeding days. It turned out that though these movements seemingly had not attracted any attention when they took place, they left strong traces among the masses in Turkey. This movement too, similar to other international waves of struggle, is directly related with the crisis that capitalism has been going through worldwide. One of the fundamental reasons that have held the AKP government in power for 10 years is that it has conducted the process of restructuring capitalism in Turkey. The reaction against this pressure began as a reaction to the AKP’s practices. One of the best indicators that reveal the movement to be part of the international wave was its inspiring of Brazilian protesters. The Turkish protesters saluted the response from the other shore of the world with the slogans of “We are together, Brazil + Turkey!” and “Resist Brazil!” (in Turkish). And since the movement inspired protests with class-based demands in Brazil, in the forthcoming process it may positively affect the flourishing of class demands in Turkey.
The experience gained by the movement
The Taksim Gezi Park movement corresponds to the anger against state terror, police violence and the repressive and prohibitive policies of the AKP government and prime minister Tayyip Erdoğan. Within this time period, masses that have perhaps never participated in a demonstration or walked together with people that share their views, and participated a struggle that was defined as apolitical, have been politicized. Masses of people have experienced solidarity, taken up their own agenda, talked about the lives they want in Gezi Park and other occupied parks. The movement made a difference with the foundation of free soup kitchens, free libraries, treatment centers for the injured by voluntary health workers and common living space in which anyone could come and stay. It was one of the most of the important reasons for the maintenance of support for the movement in the forthcoming days of the movement. They also experienced how to fight against the police tear gas.
People became aware of the power of a massive movement through the will to resist the physical power of the state. It can stated that social media have been effectively utilized for the organization of gatherings and demonstrations. Social networks were also used to prevent the arrest of demonstrations and to provide accommodation for them. To make up for the street lamps being turned off during the clashes, people turned on the lamps of the houses; there was free provision of medication by the pharmacies: these were important details of the movement. The young generation of participants that clashed with police responded to the attacks by using the language of music and humor. This resulted in attracting people’s sympathy. Named in the state’s language as marginal the ‘chapulers’ have been embraced even by people that did not get involved directly with the movement.
Even though contrary to similar movements there are no illusions among the masses that this movement is a revolution, the most excited participants of the movement identify the protests as a revolutionary situation. The first thing to recall when responding to such ideas is the insistence by revolutionaries of the past, such as Lenin or the Italian communist left, that a revolutionary situation can only be the product of a maturation of objective and subjective conditions at the international level. And despite the clearly international dynamic of the revolts of 2011 and 2013, which are in turn a response to the deepening of the global crisis of the capitalist system, they still don’t add up to a revolutionary situation. At this point, it is important to remember what Lenin said: “What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms: (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes”, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time”, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.”4
The movements in the Middle East, Spain, Turkey, Brazil and elsewhere do not contain any of these three characteristics. Yes, the ruled do not want to be ruled but the rulers can maintain their rule qualitatively in the way they used to. The poverty and misery of the oppressed classes do not come up the accustomed levels. One of the greatest trumps of the government in Turkey is to refer to the ‘promising’ development of the Turkish economy in the last few years..
Perhaps most significant of all is the fact that in none of these struggles have the masses become independent of the bourgeois democrats In this dead end of capitalism when social oppression is rising, workers’ living and working conditions are getting increasingly worse, wars are getting chronic, peoples’ living spaces are being destroyed, the problem of shelter is common, bourgeois democracy can only be bourgeois dictatorship. Regardless of whether right wing or left wing governments are in power, in this period where it is getting increasingly difficult for state capitalism to obtain capital and get a share of the pie, all governments will practice such policies against the masses. Democracy is pepper gas, democracy is police batons, democracy is IVSEs, Scorpion vehicles. Democracy is bourgeois terror massacring three children of our class without blinking. The democratic tendency dominant within the movement and the political quality of its demands correspond to the democracy which is merely a tool to develop the rule of the bourgeoisie and the lie of development. Behind the slogan “Tayyip resign” chanted during the demonstration, the illusion that many ills will be made up for by any bourgeois power which will replace Erdogan if he resigns. Yet we know that no such thing is possible today.
What is more, the democratic tendency within the movement as well as certain bourgeois writers and journalists describe the movement as a democratic reaction to what is not going right in the country, and intend the movement to take a parliamentary road. Indeed, when we look at Taksim Solidarity Platform, it reminds us of the Olive Branch coalition which came to power opposing Berlusconi. Without a doubt, such a course of events would be a tragic end for the movement, meaning it is dead for the working class. In the coming period, this may well prove to be a greater danger to the movement than state terror.
And yet, despite all the weaknesses and dangers facing this movement, if the masses in Turkey had not succeeded in becoming a link in the chain of social revolts shaking the capitalist world, the result would be a far greater feeling of powerlessness. The outbreak of a social movement on a scale not seen in this country since 1908 is thus of historical importance.
The future of the movement depends on whether the proletarian part of it which form its majority will be able to express class demands arising from its own living and working conditions and on whether it can take the control of the movement in its own hands with mass discussions and spread the movement to the whole class on a workplace basis rather than by trying to pressure the unions into it.
Dünya Devrimi, ICC Section in Turkey
1A neologism that originated from the protesters’ adoption of the Turkish expression “çapulcu”, originally used by the Turkish PM to describe the demonstrators. The term has a meaning roughly similar to sans-culottes or rabble.
2 These lines were taken from the poem called Milk in Turkish, written by a protestor named Ozan Durmaz in memory of Abdullah Cömert, Ethem Sarısülük and Mehmet Ayvalıtaş. The full version can be found from the following address in Turkey: http://www.tuhaftemaslar.com/sut/
3 According to the polls, 58% of the demonstrators in Gezi Park were wage workers, 10% were unemployed and 24% were students. In total, 92% were workers or future workers.
4 Lenin, The Collapse of the Second International