Some notes regarding the recent traders demonstrations and the general political situation in Turkey

We received this letter from some Turkish comrades, who have sent us some notes on the situation in Turkey, and we are publishing it for the interest of our readers.

Dear Comrades,

Here are some remarks regarding events taking place in Turkey and the general political situation in the country. We are sending you these two notes, one of them is about the workers' demonstrations in Turkey on 14th April.

Note A

1. In many cities and towns including the biggest cities such as Istanbul and Ankara there were demonstrations, the biggest of which saw 70.000 people taking part. The demonstrators were tradesmen, farmers and small-scale producers rather than workers or students. The majority of the demonstrations were unauthorised and sometimes they assumed aggressive forms including clashes with police. The media which usually does not pay much attention to such events, this time covered them closely from the very beginning.

2. The slogans on these demonstrations were aimed against the government. Everybody wants it to resign. There were also slogans against the IMF.

3. Why have these normally passive layers of society in general, and the petty-bourgeoisie in particular, stood up? The answer is very clear: the deep economic crisis has finally hit them as well. These layers have been suffering a serious deterioration of their economic position. Bankruptcies and suicides have growing among them.

4. This normally conservative petty-bourgeoisie is now being deprived of the foundations upon which their economic well-being was based. This is the result of the general economic development of Turkey and its increasing integration with the capitalist world economy and, in a more direct sense, it is the result of the economic programme applied by the IMF and the government on the other.

These layers, in normal conditions, represent the most reactionary and most conservative sections of society. They are the social base of the existing order.

With the help of primitive subsidy policies, that have been in force for years, together with the general effects of the relative economic prosperity created by the huge foreign loans that Turkey has taken out during last 10-20 years, they were able to stand on their own feet. But when these dried up as a consequence of the economic programme of the government and the crisis, they found themselves facing what was simply a delayed destruction.

Also there are two other important consequences flowing from the crisis that have seriously affected these layers: the huge increases in interest rates applied by the banks to these traders and the collapse in demand due to the diminishing purchasing power of the broad masses.

5. But we should also take note of the particular conjuncture in which these demonstrations have been breaking out! The most important factor in the present conjuncture is that the big bourgeoisie has given up supporting the government and now wants to get rid of it. That is, the government which had already lost the support of the masses has now also lost the support of the big bourgeoisie. The reason for this is that the government has not managed to carry out the structural economic and political transformations that the international bourgeoisie and Turkish bourgeoisie has been demanding for some time.

The three-party coalition government (one of which is the fascist party) has postponed carrying out these policies, making vain excuses etc. This means it has committed suicide by exhausting the patience of bourgeoisie. Now the bourgeoisie with all its media is putting pressure on the government and is seeking ways of getting rid of it.

Thus the bourgeoisie utilises such mass protests (although this is a risky game to play) to step up the pressure on the government. It is not clear whether these demonstrations are manipulated or not, but some of the slogans on the demonstrations, such as "We want the military to come!" or "For a government of technocrats!" reveal a reactionary content. These are precisely some of the demands the bourgeoisie has been raising. Thus, it is quite possible that these demonstrations could be the means by which the ruling class could overthrow the government. On the other hand these demonstrations could get out of control. To utilise the masses is always a risky business.

6. The most influential members of the big bourgeoisie have been holding special meetings. The most significant meeting was the one where George Bush senior (the ex-President of the United States and father of George W. Bush) was present. He made a surprise visit to Turkey. The meeting was hosted by the chairman of the biggest monopoly of Turkey, the Koç family which can be described as Turkey's Rockefellers. A few prominent bourgeois, the Minister of the Economy, Kemal Dervish, (who after leaving his post as vice president of the World Bank came back to Turkey to take office in the government from without), and some important retired generals took part in the meeting. The real content of such meetings are not disclosed to the public. However, it is clear that the big bourgeoisie has been discussing what their strategy should be and has been taking some critical decisions. We will see what these sinister meetings have in store for the workers and people of Turkey in the coming period.

7. However, the government, which is engulfed in corruption and has almost completely lost its authority has been resisting these pressures by clinging on to its peculiar interests and has been refusing to resign. By reminding everyone that there is no alternatives and by pretending to speed up the reforms, it is trying to gain time. It is true that within the present political set up (in this parliament, even if there were new elections) in general there is no alternative. The government also calculates that the international conjuncture is not favourable for a military coup against it. And yet the whole course of events is running against the government. It is certain that it will not last long.

In fact, the government has already received a certain blow. Immediately after the February crisis a minister was co-opted to the Cabinet who does not belong to any of the parties and is not a member of parliament, and the administration of the economy was handed over to him. This minister is Kemal Dervish who was working at the World Bank just before the crisis in Turkey erupted. He behaves as if he were a separate government and receives the support of the bourgeoisie and its media. If a cabinet of technocrats is to be set up in one way or another, it is highly probable that Dervish will be part of it, and he may even be the prime minister.

8. As to the working class: there has been an intensive wave of redundancies as a result of the deepening crisis, wage cuts, an incredibly high increase in the cost of living, cuts in social spending, attacks on union rights. Unfortunately as yet there has been no serious movement on the part of working class. It has been weakened to such a degree that it has not reacted like the South Korean or the Indonesian proletariat, even though it has much more severe problems.

There is no doubt that this will not last for long. But the recovery will be very painful. Contrary to the lies in the official statistics the unemployment figures are around 30% in Turkey. Total union membership among the proletariat is below the level of one million workers. At least four million workers are totally casualised so they have no social security. The minimum wage is now under $90. Because the union leaders are almost entirely the lackeys of the bourgeoisie and its state, the union bureaucracy has hardly raised its fingers against any of this.

As a result of increasing class pressure, the Labour Platform, a body recently formed by some union confederations and the union of chambers of engineers and architects, has at last begun to organise some demonstrations and it seems that this will continue. It must also be remembered that there isn't (and never has been) any Social-Democratic party in Turkey.

Note B

There were a series of mass workers' rallies all over Turkey on 14th April organised by the Labour Platform, which is mainly formed by workers' unions and civil servants' unions. In more than 50 towns, around 300,000 workers, civil servants and some tradesmen took part in the mass rallies. The biggest were in Istanbul, Izmir and Gaziantep with a participation of around 30,000 each. Although the participation was lower than expected, the numbers were pretty good, considering that the government and the media mounted a big campaign against the demonstrations and intimidated the broad masses during the three days prior to the action.

On 11th April there was a big tradesmen's demonstration in Ankara with a participation of 70,000 people. On this demonstration, due to a provocation, there were violent clashes with the police throughout the day and over 100 people, including many policemen, were injured. Following this, the governor of Ankara and the governors of another 20 cities banned all demonstrations for a month. But the media deliberately spread misleading news to give the idea that the ban on the demonstrations was a general one for the whole Turkey.

Before 11th April the Labour Platform had worked fairly well for a bigger participation, but after the 11th April provocation they retreated and generally (though there were exceptions) tried to reduce the levels of participation. In many places they disbanded the demonstrations early, almost three hours before the declared end. This was, in particular, the case in Istanbul. Also all the intimidation campaigns and blackmail overshadowed the demonstration in Istanbul. But in the industrial zones around Istanbul and in some other cities the demonstrations were very big and lively. Demonstrations even took place in cities where they were banned.

The workers marched along the roads to the squares carrying banners and shouting slogans, mainly against the government, the IMF and their new economic programme. They called for unity and solidarity. In some trade union sections of the demonstrations there were also internationalist slogans and banners. There were numerous political parties and groups, including Kurdish parties with the usual big participation. There weren't any major violent actions or clashes with police during the demonstrations, although there were some minor skirmishes and some people were arrested especially in those cities where the demonstrations had been banned.

We will see how the May Day demonstrations go. The most important factor at this stage is the attitude of the labour unions. Because there is no working class party, even a social-democratic one, the unions play a crucial role for the time being. They could change the whole mood because there is a fertile soil now. The last crisis and the devaluation have cut the living standards of the working class by 50%, and the government has only offered a 10% increase in wages for the public workers. The negotiations between unions and the government are now underway. But the union leaders are corrupt and extremely collaborationist. A sell-out is highly probable. Whatever happens, one thing is certain: the anger of the working class is growing and a new period is opening up.

All the best,

Your Turkish comrades, 23.4.01

Postscript: 3.5.01

May Day was celebrated in many cities in Turkey. The biggest rally was in Istanbul where nearly 80,000 people participated, even though it was a working day (remember that May Day is not a holiday in Turkey and no union has demanded or struggles for it to be made a holiday).

The political balance frequently changes in Turkey these days. It seems that the "reform" process (regarding entry to the EU) which the Turkish government has been forced to implement is under way. The Minister for the Economy, Kemal Dervish, who was catapulted into the government from the World Bank, has been creating an atmosphere such that a process of this kind must necessarily work.

As you know, Turkey needs urgent foreign loans due to the crisis. Kemal Dervish makes this contingent on structural reforms. The so-called "optimistic" atmosphere created in general by himself is also shared by the unions. This is the situation despite the government's shameless offer of "Zero wage increase" in the collective bargaining process which is now under way and which affects hundreds of thousands of workers.

This was the situation as it had developed before May Day, and thus the state forces didn't raise the level of tension and did not orchestrate any provocation. Therefore the demonstrations on this year's May Day were able to be organised peacefully and with great enthusiasm, and without any clashes.