Turkey: The sound of marching boots echoes across the Middle East

We received this article a few days ago from a Turkish Marxist, who looks at the reasons behind the failure of Turkey's parliament to pass a motion giving the US the right to move its troops across Turkish territory into Iraq. Now it seems the Turkish government is attempting to get a second motion authorising the US to use Turkish air space to bomb Iraq, and this is to be voted on tomorrow.

We received this article a few days ago from a Turkish Marxist, who looks at the reasons behind the failure of Turkey's parliament to pass a motion giving the US the right to move its troops across Turkish territory into Iraq. Now it seems the Turkish government is attempting to get a second motion authorising the US to use Turkish air space to bomb Iraq, and this is to be voted on tomorrow. The embarrassing situation the Turkish government finds itself in is directly linked to the growing antiwar movement in Turkey and the reawakening of the Turkish working class and youth.


On March 1 the AKP government attempted to get approval from parliament for its pro-war policies, but could not achieve the result it desired, at least for the moment. The government motion which would have allowed American troops on to Turkish soil and approved the sending of Turkish troops abroad did not receive the required votes in a secret session of parliament. There were 264 votes in favour, 250 against and 19 abstentions. With this result the motion could not pass, despite the number of yes votes being more than the number of no votes, for it could not reach the required simple majority of all those present, which was 267.

It turned out that the number of dissident MPs in the AKP, which has a total of 361 MPs, had reached 97, exceeding all predictions which had varied between 30 and 60. The bourgeois media, which had already taken a rabid pro-war stance, raged against this unexpected result. Those MPs who voted against war were attacked for their "irresponsibility", "romanticism", and "childishness".

The reasons behind this vote

How did this result come about? It indeed arouses more interest given the traditional obedient nature of the MPs of the bourgeois parties in Turkey when called on by their party leaderships. How could the MPs of the AKP deal such a surprise blow? Although some explanations are given in the bourgeois media that bear some relevance, these interpretations are made in general from a very narrow-minded perspective.

But this latest development, among others that are taking place in this period, is too complicated to be explained with such narrow-minded criteria. We have entered an extraordinary epoch all over the world and this extraordinary development in the Turkish parliament is just one example of its repercussions. The capitalist world economy has entered into a deep crisis, probably historically unprecedented. Although we are in the early stages of this crisis, it is almost certain that it will deepen. It is also provoking a crisis of hegemony among the imperialist powers, which inevitably brings forth wars of hegemony. The relative stability of the cold war no longer exists and the world has entered into a new epoch of wars and revolutions. This new epoch, as we have repeated many times, is an epoch in which there will be extraordinary convulsions on a world scale. There are indications of it in almost every field.

In this struggle for hegemony US imperialism is now preparing to embark on an imperialist aggression against Iraq, within the framework of its long-term strategy to re-impose its empire on a new level. But this unjust war has provoked an angry response from all the peoples of the world. Enormous antiwar demonstrations and activities are taking place on a scale never seen before in history, and this is creating big difficulties for the governments across the world. For instance, just a week before the parliamentary vote in Turkey, 121 Labour MPs in the British parliament voted against the pro-war Labour government.

Coupled with this huge public pressure, there is also a rift within the imperialist camp leaving the US (and Britain) almost isolated. Germany and France in the main and the other big powers are against the USA on this issue. And this factor, to some degree, also facilitates opposition to US aggression.

This general climate across the world has inevitably had an effect on Turkey. Added to this general climate there are also specific conditions within Turkey. In the first place Turkey is positioned directly on the front line of the war. It is one the chief countries which will be effected by all the burning consequences of this war. It is overwhelmingly a Muslim country, which is in a position to attack another neighbouring Muslim country. And the US is attempting to impose on Turkey this role! This situation has created a strong antiwar sentiment amongst the people (95 percent of the population is against war) despite all the warmongering propaganda of the bourgeois media. And, although lagging a bit behind in comparison to the movements across the world, an antiwar movement is also developing in Turkey, and its impact and self-confidence are growing. In general, all these developments against war are turning into an enormous pressure on the MPs. This pressure comes especially from the grass roots of the parties and constituencies.

There is also another important factor, which is the growing sensitivity of those MPs who represent the Kurdish provinces in parliament in response to the renewed, anti-Kurdish climate, which has been whipped-up. The most striking indication of this climate is the recent practice of placing Abdullah Öcalan in isolation, aggravating his prison conditions (he is not allowed to see his lawyers, relatives, or even communicate with them, etc.). Obviously the rulers of Turkey seek to harass and provoke the Kurdish movement. Moreover there is no doubt that when the war begins persecutions, particularly in the Kurdish provinces, will assume enormous dimensions. These possible developments make the people in the region and the MPs that represent these provinces (who are subject to the people's pressure) very nervous.

Another factor is the negative attitude of both the President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, and the speaker of parliament, Bulent Arinc, against the motion. Bulent Arinch is also an AKP MP who has a certain influence within the party. It is quite possible that the attitude of these two important figures had an impact on some of the MPs' decision. The attitude of the military also contributed in generating an atmosphere of uncertainty in parliament. Believing that the motion would pass anyway, and with the aim of putting all responsibility for war on the back of the government, the military did not publicly indicate its preference.

Probably the irresistible pressure of the US, which is increasingly taking on insolent forms, also had a negative impact on some MPs. The fact that some officials from the US embassy went as far as to arrogantly lobby in the corridors of the Turkish parliament for a yes vote amongst the MPs just prior to the vote, is an obvious indication of this.

Lastly, it is highly likely that some MPs abstained or voted no to save themselves from taking responsibility for the motion as individuals, not with the intention of defeating the motion, but just as a cynical calculation with the assumption that the motion would pass anyway.

As a result of all these factors the government in the end could not get the motion passed, although it did get a slight majority of just three votes. From the point of view of the government this result can be summarised as follows. The government was subjected to tremendous pressure because the US was rushing things to meet its own timetable. Thus the government had to go for a vote without having had sufficient time to prepare the public and the MPs and therefore it was defeated in this round.

What does all this mean?

What does this result mean? We must evaluate this from two different angles, which should not be mixed up. Firstly, whether this result will have an effect on the war drive in the given circumstances. And secondly, the meaning of all the factors that have given rise to this unexpected result.

The essential point from the point of view of the first consideration can be summarised as follows. This result alone cannot be a serious factor in stopping the war prepared by US imperialism. Nor can it stop Turkey, which has for a long time been preparing to play a sub-imperialist role within the region, from carrying out its military intervention against Iraq. Some bourgeois commentators have raised the nonsensical idea that war can be stopped should Turkey resist and reject being part of the process. In reality this is but an idiotic illusion, to say the least.

This war is inevitable unless the working class throughout the world, and above all the American working class, resists in a determined way and sets about launching a revolutionary fight against the ruling class in their countries. This war cannot be prevented by diplomatic manoeuvres, playacting at the theatre called the UN or with parliamentary motions. It is possible to resolve some disputes in international relations through diplomatic means and sometimes even avert or delay wars. However, in general such cases are possible when the world is under conditions of relative stability and equilibrium, when there is no severe crisis on the order of the day, and when the contradictions are not acute. Today we are not living in such a world. As we have repeated many times, we have entered into an epoch of convulsions, an epoch which will be characterised by wars and revolutions. The contradictions are being aggravated on a world scale and a severe crisis is opening up. Those who do not understand this deep multi-dimensional crisis of present day capitalism understand nothing. These are the causes which propel US imperialism to impose this war with an almost iron necessity.

That the government motion has not been approved in parliament can only have a possible effect in terms of war plans and preparations. Should the Turkish parliament decide to take a period of time over this issue, it could make it more difficult to open an effective northern front as planned by the US. All serious military commentators point to this conclusion. Of course, even in such a scenario the US would open a northern front anyway, but it would have to be done through an airlifting operation. But it is obvious that this will be more costly for the US in every respect. It is almost certain that the US argument that they have a "Plan B" should Turkey not get involved, is essentially a bluff. It was considered as an effective card in the hands of the US in the process of bargaining between the US and Turkey in the run up to the parliamentary vote. Almost everyone said that in the case of a negative vote the US would immediately go for this "Plan B", and send hundreds of ships anchored off the coast of Iskenderun to Basra, etc. In spite of all this after the vote the US ships did not move, nor did the US adopt a harsh tone against Turkey as had been expected.

Hence it is undoubtedly the case that a northern front as desired and planned by the US is essential for it to minimise its losses. On the other hand, there is also no reason to think that the US will not get any help from Turkey, despite the fact that the motion was not approved for the moment. In the first place, the US is in effect already using many bases in Turkey. That is because several weeks ago the Turkish parliament had already approved another government motion which allows the US to use these bases. Thus these bases will be used against Iraq anyway. But it is obvious that the use of these bases alone is not sufficient for the US. As we said before, such limited Turkish support makes a powerful northern front more and more difficult to achieve for the US. It is understood that the US needs a sound footing on Turkish soil with tens of thousands of troops and for an indefinite period of time.

Furthermore, one should not consider that the US demands to station tens of thousands of troops on Turkish soil is solely related to the aim of opening up an effective northern front in Iraq. US imperialism has a long-term grand strategic plan and its moves are determined by this big design. Within the framework of these plans we can see that the US intends to stay longer in the region and is preparing for subsequent moves reaching beyond the Middle East. One of the most striking indications of this is that the US is demanding naval bases on the eastern coast of the Black Sea region of Turkey. This coastal strip has nothing to do with Iraq. Some serious strategists state that this is considered for US plans in the Caucasus and that with these ports the US, which already has a foothold in Georgia, intends to further strengthen its position for its future operations aimed in this region.

As to whether Turkey will get involved in the war in Iraq, the fact that the motion was not approved cannot be considered an absolute obstacle. First of all, Turkey has in effect already had thousands of troops on Iraqi soil for years. In effect here is no real Turkish-Iraqi border. The Turkish army intervenes across the border as it wishes as if it were its own territory. There is already a lot of Turkish military deployment in the region and it is obvious that this will increase. When the war begins the Turkish army will try to enter Iraqi territory with all its might under the pretext of defending "national security", regardless of whether there is a parliament decision or not. Of course it would be good for appearance's sake to have a fresh approval from parliament, but in reality it is of no real importance. Moreover, there is no doubt that a new motion limited solely to this aim will be approved should it come before parliament. In conclusion, Turkey will be dragged into this imperialist war whatever may happen inside parliament.

Taking these facts into account we can certainly say that the Turkish bourgeoisie will bring a new motion before parliament. It is even possible that the rabid Turkish and American bourgeoisie can proceed in an insolent manner without parliament's approval. Of course that would create serious problems for the current political situation in Turkey. But one should not forget that, in such critical moments when everything is coming to a head, the establishment would not let such legal obstacles ruin everything. Undoubtedly, they will first try to follow the road of a new motion, but again we should not have any hopes that war would be ruled out if there were a new "surprise" in parliament.

Now the bourgeoisie is feverishly working to ensure a new motion is brought before parliament. The bourgeois media and government have been insisting that such an act (parliament's refusal) would incur a "cost", and they have been trying to intimidate the people. And, to show that all these words are not a mere bluff, the government has already shown its stick demonstrating what kind of "cost" is implied. They immediately announced a new package of extraordinary taxes and price hikes. The truth is that they already had this package in their drawers and they were to be implemented because of the current economic plight. They calculate that this will, to a certain extent, soften up the antiwar mood among the masses. The bourgeois media with its brain washing machine are saying that parliament's decision was an "irresponsible" one and that this will invite terrible calamities and therefore a new motion is absolutely essential.

There are other developments that have prepared the way for the new motion as well. Panicking in the face of this surprise development, the military declared that they supported the government on the issue of the motion. They had abstained from stating their position on the issue of the motion before the vote, as they wanted place the whole responsibility on the government. Also the speaker of parliament, Bulent Arinc, (who appears to have influenced some AKP MPs by taking a negative attitude against the motion), has hinted that he has changed his initial negative attitude towards a new motion. And the US played its part in all this by making mild and soothing statements saying that "they respect the democratic process in Turkey". They have learnt a lesson and have toned down their arrogant way of handling the issue, which had outraged the people and MPs in the run up to the first vote.

In conclusion, it is highly likely that now the government, after having forced parliament to a vote without taking the necessary time to prepare public opinion and the MPs beforehand due to the pressure of US imperialism, will take up this issue again in parliament by going for a second motion, but with a relatively stronger hand thanks to all these developments. Let's not forget that the government lost the vote with only a slight margin, three votes. Thus we can say that a northern front can be opened up in the way the US desired and war will be waged on this basis.

We have seen, in the light of these developments, that the fact that the first motion was not passed has hardly had any effect on the war process and in practice it is underway. There could have been a slight delay in the preparations of the US for war. But according to the latest news US military activity on Turkish soil has greatly increased despite the motion not being approved. Although the General Staff of the Turkish Army has declared that these activities are not going beyond the framework set by the previous agreement, even the bourgeois media has not been able to hide the fact that it is already well out of control. It is obvious that all preparations have been continuing as if the motion had already been approved.

The tide is turning

All this proves that the non-acceptance of the motion means almost nothing in terms of the war drive. The screams of joy of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois pacifists may sound nice but they remain hollow.

But from the point of view of the second aspect that we mentioned above, i.e. of the reasons that generated the refusal of the motion in parliament, there is an important development in the situation. We have already explained above how this result could come about. We should not forget that the main link in the chain of factors is the fact that the popular masses across the world have started a very serious struggle against this war. This shows that there is a radical change taking place in the mood of the masses across the world. It is inevitable that this change will begin to effect, in one way or another, the political developments in all countries. That 100,000 people were chanting angry slogans in a lively demonstration just a mile from the Turkish parliament and a petition signed by one million people was handed in to the parliament while the vote was taking place, shows that, although lagging a bit behind other countries, there is a growing antiwar movement in Turkey as well.

It is true that at this moment the movement across the world is to a great extent influenced by pacifist demands and it has some weaknesses. But nobody can close their eyes to the fact that what we have here is a huge and unprecedented movement. What we are witnessing is a big wave coming from very deep down. Only incurable petty-bourgeois sectarians can ignore this. The amazing breadth of the movement cannot be explained merely by antiwar sentiments. Although with some differences, there have been several imperialist interventions over the last decade or so and the masses have been massacred in these unjust wars. It was only a decade ago that the same Iraq was attacked in a similar manner. Neither then, nor during the subsequent decade, was there such a vast antiwar movement as the one we are witnessing today. Why is it that this time the masses have begun to rise in such a widespread manner?

The answer lies not only in the war itself, but also in the conditions imposed by capitalism on the working class and on other toiling classes over the last quarter of a century throughout the world. In the course of this process a lot of gains, won by the working class in the past, have been taken back by the bosses in a brutal manner and the workers have been pushed back step by step. The conditions of exploitation and oppression are aggravating and the sweat and blood of the working class are being squeezed to the last drop. It was clear that this series of attacks could not go on for ever and that someday they would lead to a backlash of the workers. In the consciousness of the masses a process of change has definitely begun. They have started to come out of their previously depressed, pessimistic and weary mood which characterised the previous period and are now flexing their muscles. The struggle against imperialist war is now acting merely as a channel for the expression of the pent up anger of the working masses. It comes from deep down and has now found a way of expressing itself under the current conjuncture.

As a matter of fact the worldwide anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation movement, which has started a couple of years ago, was a forerunner of this. It was not an accident that in Latin America the masses made a series of revolutionary leaps forward, revealing a high level of action that generated revolutionary situations in Ecuador, Argentina and Venezuela despite the fact that they did not have a decisive leadership. It is clear for anyone who has eyes to see that explosive dynamics are developing all over the world and that these dynamics are expressing themselves in one place or another, through one issue or another.

In this context the surprise outcome of the vote in the Turkish parliament is but a pale echo of the pressures that have been generated by the rise of the mass movement. There should be no doubt that these MPs are representatives of the bourgeoisie and that no illusions should be entertained in this respect. But what is important here is that the masses, who had been forgotten for a long time, have begun to become politicised and are now demonstrating that they are the real force on the political stage.

But it is precisely at this kind of crossroads that the crucial duty and responsibility of genuine communists come to the fore. It is their task to raise the unconscious or semi-conscious processes within the movement to the level of revolutionary consciousness and organisation, to turn the spontaneous struggle of the working class into an organised struggle for the overthrow of capitalism! And this can only be achieved through the creation of a revolutionary organisation capable of leading the working class on an international scale.