Interview with an Internationalist Communist from Turkey: the experience of a communist woman organising political work among working class women in Turkey

What are your experiences with political work among women in Turkey?

A: In 1973 the leadership of the TKP decided to organise the party underground. This was combined with the attempt to build legal mass movements, the trade unions, a youth organisation and also the working women's movement. In 1975 we built the Women's Association. Starting as a very small force we began to work in the suburbs and working-class districts. Soon we came into contact with women workers from different factories.

How did you establish these contacts?

A: Through the communist activists in the trade unions we got the membership lists from several union branches. We asked the organised workers to visit the working-class families in the suburbs and on this basis we went ahead. As a first step we offered these women courses where they could learn to read and write. Moreover we asked doctors and nurses, who were members or sympathisers of the communist movement, to give free health services to women and children in these suburbs.

Through such activities we were able to win the confidence of these women and thus, later on, start to develop political discussions with them, beginning with issues which are important for their own lives - such as women's rights.

How did their husbands react to this work?

Gradually, women invited us to their homes. They wanted us to discuss with them about all sorts of political problems. Often they asked us also to discuss with their husbands. In a society like Turkey at that time it was rather unusual for men to listen to women. However, by patiently explaining we managed to win their confidence. We also organised picnics for whole working-class families. These steps were a precondition for organising bigger meetings for women later. It is important to stress, however, that from our point of view the women's question is also a class question.

Can you tell us some concrete examples of your work?

For example, in 1977 there were big strikes in the metal factories. Outside the factory gates the workers had built camps to coordinate the picket-lines. Because the striking workers were not receiving any wages it was necessary to organise solidarity action for them. The families came to support the picket-lines, meals were cooked for the workers. In order to raise money for the strike funds we organised concerts and theatre shows. This solidarity was a great experience for all of us.

In our daily work the local branches of the Women's Association held seminars to raise the political level of the women. In the suburbs we therefore also used audiovisual means. And through the female shop stewards we also started to step up work in the factories. Already in 1975 we had started to publish a woman's magazine with a run of ten thousand copies every fortnight.

What about other tendencies in the Turkish women's movement?

Women are clearly divided along class lines. Unfortunately many women in the leading apparatus of the TKP began to move away from the working class movement and fell under the influence of petty-bourgeois feminism. Also among many ultra-left women there was a growing identification with feminist ideas. These feminists broke with Marxism and now openly support bourgeois women's organisations. In the elections they even campaign for bourgeois candidates, just because they are women!

After the rise of the labour movement in the 1970s there was a reactionary counteroffensive. How did this affect your work among women?

On Mayday 1977 there was a big demonstration in Istanbul with half a million of workers. During the demonstration an anti-Communist organisation killed 35 workers. This provocation was directly financed by the CIA. This was a turning point in the whole situation. After the Mayday massacre, the Fascists killed several communist teachers, shop stewards and youth.

In response to this we organised a special meeting called "Stop the mothers' pain for their children's death!". Nearly 50,000 women turned up at this meeting. The women were very furious and determined, so the police and the Fascist troops could not do anything.

What is the role of women in the class struggle?

I think that the working class movement cannot achieve victory without the active role of women in the class struggle. Once women get active they are very determined and can play a decisive role in the struggles.

I want to give you an example. I remember one big strike. We saw that it was becoming very difficult to keep the movement going. So we started to work among the wives of the strikers, mainly housewives. We told them how to support their husbands in their strike. Then I was invited to the picket-line. I was asked to give a speech representing the women's committee. The purpose was to encourage the strikers. After my speech they wanted to have a vote on whether to stay out on strike or go back to work. The workers had already become very demoralised because they risked running out of money. In my speech I gave the example of one of the strikers' wives. At the beginning of the strike she had not wanted her husband to participate in the struggle. Through our work in her suburb she had changed her mind. One day her husband decided he no longer wanted to go to the picket-line because he felt tired. But with a stick in her hands she told him to go, otherwise she would beat him in front of his work mates. So he went... After this speech the workers voted in favour of continuing their strike!

Just from this one example we can see how the women's question is an important part of the class struggle. As Marxists we must not treat this question as a secondary issue.