On the Recent Situation in Turkey and the Tasks

From a geopolitical point of view Turkey has an important strategic position, not only for imperialism, but also for the world proletarian revolution. Quite significant economic and industrial development has been made particularly since the 60’s and this process has enormously strengthened the proletariat. Of course, in comparison to the big European countries, the basis of Turkish capitalism remains relatively weak and unstable. The rotten and corrupt Turkish bourgeoisie has not been able to solve any of the fundamental problems of society. This article looks at the current situation in Turkey, and the tasks facing Marxists.

Economic situation

From a geopolitical point of view Turkey has an important strategic position, not only for imperialism, but also for the world proletarian revolution. Quite significant economic and industrial development has been made particularly since the 60’s and this process has enormously strengthened the proletariat. Of course, in comparison to the big European countries, the basis of Turkish capitalism remains relatively weak and unstable. The rotten and corrupt Turkish bourgeoisie has not been able to solve any of the fundamental problems of society.

Turkey is now engulfed in an unprecedented economic crisis. Some aspects of the recent crisis aer peculiar to Turkey, but the source of the problem is essentially world capitalism. As a result of economic programs dictated by the imperialist organisations like the World Bank and IMF, the Turkish economy constantly resorts to devaluations and lives on loans. Turkey is now one of the eight most indebted countries of the world. The total amount of its debts is nearly $210 billion.

The burden of foreign debts is put on the shoulders of the working class and the toiling masses. The bourgeoisie and its state do not take their hands out of the pockets of the workers. The purchasing power of the workers have been reduced half as a result of economic crises. They are cutting the social rights of the working class and destroying the social security system. The figure of unemployment is constantly increasing. Over the recent period nearly 2 million workers were dismissed.

Turkey's population is now nearly 70 million and approximately 46.5 million are above 15 years of age. And 23.1 million represents the total workforce. Although the official figures indicate an increase of unemployment rate to around 10 percent the real figure was above 20 percent even before the last crisis. Now it is said to be around 30 percent. As a matter of fact, to understand the depth of the swamp into which the Turkish capitalism has drawn the working class and the toiling masses it would be quite sufficient to observe the massive amount of young unemployed people. They fill the teahouses every day both in rural areas and in the suburbs of towns. Having lost faith in finding a job as time passes, and with the influence of traditional moral values, one layer of these young people forms the mass support of the Islamist parties. And another layer turns its face either towards the fascist party, MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), with the false hope that they can find an outlet for their anger, or the so-called leftist populist currents. However, we must never forget the potential of this young population and that a significant section of them can be won over to a correct understanding of struggle and organisation in the case of a rise of the working class movement.

Last year the economists estimated that Turkish economy would shrink by 8%. But eventually it proved to be 10%. This is the greatest shrinkage of Turkish economy since the Second World War. The GDP dropped to $148 million with a loss of $53 million in comparison with the year 2000. And the GDP per capita dropped to $2160, a loss of $826. It means that there is a 27.2% impoverishment on average. It goes without saying that this is a misleading figure. Because when we consider the abyss between different sections of society, created by the capitalist system, the real economic situation of the toiling masses could be visualised in a more realistic way. Just to give an idea, we must remember that the minimum monthly wage in Turkey is $110.

According to the figures of the World Bank, which include 207 countries, Turkey stood in 22nd place with a $201 billion GDP by the end of 2000. However it dropped to 27th place by the end of 2001. The ratio of public debt to GDP rose to 98% by the end of 2001. Puzzled by this mess, desperate bourgeois economists say: “The plight of Turkey cannot be learned from the economics text-books.” They are quite right. Not only the crisis of Turkish capitalism, but also the crisis of world capitalism can only be analysed in the light of Marxism.

We know now that the world capitalist system is in a deep recession and its crises are becoming more severe. But we must not forget that capitalism does not break down automatically because of its crises. Unless the working class overthrows this system all over the world, capitalism will always find a way out of its crises. But at what expense? As Marx explained about one and a half centuries ago, capitalism could solve its crises only at the expense of preparing new and deeper crises. After a long period of boom world capitalism is in crisis now, confirming Marx for the hundredth time. 

Political situation

To describe the political atmosphere in Turkey in a very short way, we can say the following: uncertainty in everything. The coalition government built after the elections of 1999 under the leadership of Ecevit is now in its death agony. In the process of disintegration over the recent period 7 ministers from the leading party, DSP (Democratic Left Party), have resigned. The number of MPs who have resigned from the rapidly disintegrating DSP has already exceeded sixty. The DSP has dropped from the first place to the fourth in the parliament, and accordingly the MHP (the fascist party), which is one of the coalition parties in government, has risen from second place to first. Devlet Bahçeli, the MHP leader, put forward the idea of early elections on November 3. This proposal has been approved by the parliament. But it is said that the elections might be delayed to April 2003 because of the present political crisis.

In the recent period both the DSP and the MHP were reluctant on the issue of passing the laws for harmonising with the EU, though they did not openly oppose them. Opinion polls show that these parties might face a big loss of votes because of their attitude on this issue. Mesut Yilmaz, the leader of the other partner of coalition government, ANAP (Motherland Party), is trying to become the leader of the pro-EU capitalist circles. But in fact the Motherland Party, as well as all the coalition parties, is highly likely to fall below the official threshold of 10% in the elections. That is why, based on the anxiety of the MPs to be re-elected, we have seen defections from all parties, the pursuit of new formations and election alliances.

Since the possible results of early elections will lead to a greater chaos, the ruling bourgeoisie is trying to find a way out of the political crisis. They are trying to create a new leader out of the ex-foreign minister (allegedly a respected statesman in Europe) Ismail Cem who resigned from the DSP. The resigned MPs have established the YTP (New Turkey Party) under the leadership of Cem. Cem argues that this party should be like the European social democratic parties. But Kemal Dervis, who, as an ex-official of World Bank, had been promoted to a position of number one as the minister responsible for the economy of Turkey (he recently resigned from this post), seems to be in favour of a different kind of party capable of uniting broader political formations. The big business circles are also planning to create a new political leader in Kemal Dervis who recently announced that he was searching for a so-called Social-liberal political synthesis.

The attempt of the bourgeoisie to create a united party for the coming elections has not yielded a clear outcome yet. As a result of the political mess in Turkey, created by the 12 September military coup, now even big business is struggling to fill the gap that appeared in the political spectrum of bourgeois parties and leaders. The bourgeoisie is vacillating between the alternatives of opening the way for the CHP (Republican People's Party), which is not even represented in the parliament (the leader of which is Deniz Baykal) and of creating a new formation. Deniz Baykal appealed to the YTP for unity under the CHP, but this was refused by Ismail Cem. This development was interpreted in the bourgeois media as "the day that hope vanished". They said that the YTP might go in to an alliance with the DTP (Democratic Turkey Party), which seems to be a more centre-right party led by Mehmet Ali Bayar. As a result of a series of concerned attempts to eliminate the chaos in relation to the elections the balances are changing on a daily basis. For instance, while Cem appeared more left a week ago, now Kemal Dervis claims to be more social democratic than him. He says a YTP in alliance with DTP would appeal to the liberal right sections of society and that is why he cannot go along with them. Apart from his contacts with the CHP he continues his contacts with the representatives of the trade union confederations, Turk-Is and DISK.

The bourgeois organisations like TUSIAD are seeking to create a social-democratic alternative such as it existed in Spain, Portugal and Greece during the process of disintegration of the fascist dictatorships. Of course, this right wing bourgeois social democratic alternative is in effect expresses a policy that is indistinguishable from that of bourgeois liberalism. The most prominent example of this is the Labour Party under Blair leadership. As a matter of fact the so-called new leaders Ismail Cem and Kemal Dervis are busy with the advertisement of the same "merchandise", whatever you call it, whether "social democrat" or "social liberal synthesis".

There has never been a socialist or social democratic party of a West European type in Turkey with its different historical conditions. And there is still no other left party in Turkey capable of attracting the mass of working class. Having been established by Kurdish democrats and having gained 4% in the last elections, HADEP now announces that it is a party of the whole of Turkey. Clearly supporting the new laws of harmonising with the EU with a view to achieving minimum democratic rights for the Kurdish people, this party continues its pursuit of election alliances in the big cities as well.

It is obvious that the bourgeoisie is now trying to push back and reform the radical Islamic currents which are not needed at the moment. Radical Islam is not a real threat in today’s capitalist world. It is just presented like this by the US imperialism for its war adventures. In any case Turkey is not a Middle East country. It has now been chosen by the West as a model case of a “democratic, modern Moslem country” to the other eastern countries. Thus political Islam in Turkey has undergone a considerable change in the recent period.

The AKP (Justice and Development Party) now represents a considerably liberalised reformist political Islam accommodating to capitalism and it is riding high. It emerged out of the now banned Virtue Party which itself had emerged out of the banned Welfare Party. These Islamic forces are based on seemingly Islamic sections of the big business, and are completely different from, say, the anachronic politicians in Mullahs’ Iran, who were based on the bazaar. Accordingly, in its programme, AKP says that it is in favour of a market economy, and defends the structural reforms necessitated by the globalisation and the necessity of continuation of the relations with the EU, World Bank, IMF and other international organisations in line with the needs of the economy. Yet a section of big business which has adapted itself to Western secularism long ago can hardly put up with this kind of party. On the other hand some bourgeois ideologists suggest that the AKP should be accepted as one of the mainstream parties of the bourgeois parliamentary system as this party corresponds to the Christian democratic parties in the West. Opinion polls suggest that this party might get approximately 20% of the total vote in the coming early elections.

Turkish bourgeoisie is trying to find a remedy for Turkey’s economic and political crises in the middle of a crisis of the world capitalist system. The bourgeois of the big brother US and some European countries are busy giving different advice to Turkey. But a Turkish proverb explains their plight quite well: “if the bald man had the remedy he would apply it to himself.”

In the meantime, the US is now feverishly preparing for war in the Middle East in which it is closely linked with Turkey. The US wants a reliable support in its Iraq war in exchange for the promise of giving Turkey a share of the oil region of northern Iraq, Mosoul and Karkuk. This is very important. Some foreign commentators say that the reason for Ecevit’s downfall is his refusal to promise to give full support to the US. This is partly true. Fearing the prospect of the establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, the nationalist Ecevit is not in favour of this military operation. That is why Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy secretary, came to Turkey in the period of disintegration of Ecevit’s government. He exercised pressure in favour of Turkey’s direct involvement in the Iraq operation, playing cards like IMF credits and relations with the EU. Eventually, he preferred to appear as having made a concession to Turkish nationalists on the subject of establishment of a Kurdish state. And he was given the promise of conditional support for the Iraq operation at the summit held in the presidential house Çankaya, in the presence of the Chief of General Staff. From the preparations of the US and its allies it is clear that the Middle East will be turned to a hell.

The question of Cyprus is another big uncertainty at the moment. The military circles in Turkey who are directly involved in the matter threaten Europe that the accession of Greek Cyprus to the EU before Turkey’s accession would upset the peace and stability in the island and in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish ruling class is trying use its connections with the USA as a lever to put pressure on the EU and vice versa. The whole picture clearly shows that a profound process is developing that will shake Turkey to its foundations.

The question of European Union

The interesting point is that there is an abyss between the showcase and reality in Turkey. If you look at the showcase, the process of coming closer to the EU is advancing. But in reality, there are very severe problems in this process. On the one hand, in the industrialised western part of Turkey there is a feverish process of change in preparing for getting into the EU. But on the other hand there are enormous problems to be faced by the EU itself as a reasult of the crisis of world capitalism.

For a long time the Turkish bourgeoisie has been split into two wings. On the one side there are those who want to come closer to Europe and to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria in a short time. And on the other those who seem reluctant for the EU and especially do not want to accept the Copenhagen criteria. But the first wing is now gaining the upper hand.

Opinion polls indicate that nearly 70% of the people in Turkey are in favour of joining the EU. The reason for this cannot be explained solely by economic factors. The fundamental factor that inclines the Turkish public opinion to join the EU is the question of democracy. For example, the Kurdish people which suffered from the repression by the Turkish state for long years do not even want to imagine an isolation of Turkey from the EU. As Marxists we know what bourgeois democracy in the Western Europe really means. But even this much democracy is regarded as a big relief by the Turkish and Kurdish toiling masses who never before experienced a democracy in Turkey which almost throughout whole its history had an oppressive and authoritarian political structure.

The second wing which uses a very nationalistic propaganda is especially represented by the MHP. The MHP resisted the abolition of the death penalty, the right of the Kurdish people to receive education in their mother language, broadcasting in Kurdish, and is trying to hinder the legislative changes. But as a result of pressure from the pro-EU big business interests the parliament was called for an extraordinary meeting on August 3 and the above mentioned bills were passed overnight. But because of the incapacity of the bourgeois regime in Turkey again we have a process full of contradictions when it comes to practice. For instance, the Supreme Election Council announced the prohibition of the Kurdish language in relation to its use in the pre-election propaganda period. Moreover the MHP is now preparing to apply to the Constitutional Court for the repeal of the new laws passed in relation to the EU.

Another important fact is that Stalinist left in Turkey speaks nearly in the same nationalist language as the ultra right wing. On the other hand, the most important organisation of the big capitalists, TUSIAD, which played a direct role in the September 12 military regime, is now playing the “democrat”! They stand for joining the EU and want change. But on the other hand, they want to make Turkey a sub-imperialist power in the region with the aid of the American cowboys. Thus new conflicts are looming ahead.

A considerable section of the workers think that getting into EU might bring at least a relative improvement. They say that they would rather have a Turkey which at least accepts the ILO criteria and European standards of workers’ rights because of the extremely bad conditions they are in now. And given the realities of Turkey this situation must be acknowledged and the demand of improvement of workers’ rights must be supported.

But the defence of the real long term interests of the working class cannot be based on choosing between “a national capitalism” and “a capitalism integrated in world capitalism”. If a capitalist Turkey integrated into the EU is regarded as a salvation for the working class, then it is a gross distortion of reality. We are against this point of view. Our position cannot be limited to choosing between capitalist alternatives. We say on the one hand that integration is inherent in capitalism, and also that in a repressive country like Turkey isolation cannot be any better. And on the other hand we persistently stress that the emancipation of the working class depends on overthrowing capitalism altogether. 

The state of workers’ movement

As a result of the ever-deepening economic crises, the labouring masses are suffering the hell of unemployment and poverty. The trade unions are under pressure both from the workers and from the bourgeois state which does not want to tolerate even the smallest protests because of the explosive nature of the situation. The union top bureaucracy moves only reluctantly, and when it does so, tries to hold the workers back.

In Turkey the legal framework of union organisation is very tight. Thus they try to obstruct the initiatives of the working masses for economic struggle with a series of prohibitions at the very beginning. The labour laws in Turkey in relation to unions, collective bargaining and strikes are entirely different from those in European countries. Therefore, the workers in Spain, for instance, where even students can set up unions and affiliate to any federation of workers' unions they want, should have a detailed knowledge in order to understand the long chain of prohibitions their Turkish class brothers and sisters face. For example, it is forbidden by the labour laws to set up a workplace union. Without recruiting at least 10% of the workers in a sector a union does not have the right to represent the workers. Let's assume that a union has fulfilled these conditions and obtained the official right of collective bargaining in a certain workplace. But in order the workers in that workplace to be able to go on a strike when the negotiations end in disagreement, the decision of the union or workers to go on a strike is never enough. In order for the workers to be able to start the strike in effect they have to follow a long tedious legal procedure which takes nearly six months. Only if this procedure is followed step by step to the end can the strike be started, of course, if the workers are not exhausted. As for students, leave aside setting up a union and affiliating to workers' unions, they cannot even set up a decent student association. The unions of public employees, which have thousands of members, have neither the right to strike nor to bargain collectively.

In Turkey where the historical roots of statism is very strong, a section of the working class, which is deprived of its union rights since they are classified as "civil servants", has been waging a struggle for a long time under the Confederation of Public Employees' Unions (KESK). Having carried out various actions to obtain their full union rights (right to strike and collective bargaining) they started a march towards Ankara under the banner of "A March towards Ankara for a Decent Life". For there is a "collective negotiation" between the KESK officials and the government beginning on August 15 on the issues of wages and certain social rights. But the Governorship of Ankara banned any marches of public employees in Ankara. Coming up against the police blockage, Sami Evren, the president of KESK, said in the name of public employees: "No one can make us give up our determination to turn collective negotiation to a collective bargaining." The public employees are continuing their actions, and they are determined to conclude their march with a rally in Ankara on December 17.

The Turkish working class has been hit hard and heavily weakened since the 1980s because of the severe repressive conditions, which have not yet been overcome. While the rate of unionisation was 19.5% in 1998, the figure is 7% now because of the repressive measures taken to bring about de-unionisation. Thus, in this crucial period of capitalist crisis, which will radicalise the labouring masses, the labour movement in Turkey is unfortunately in a state of serious disorganisation. But we know that Turkey passed through periods of colossal class struggle and the working class has revolutionary traditions. Now, a new generation of class fighters is emerging and the Turkish working class will recover from the past defeats.

The importance of the work in trade unions

Given these circumstances it is necessary to break this narrow framework of the trade union movement. And it is necessary to follow an intelligent, planned and patient way of work. Otherwise there can never be a permanent success. Under such conditions, as is always the case, the petit-bourgeois style of work, involving unplanned, hasty activities aimed at getting “showy” appearances, will not yield any significant results.

It is a fundamental task to work within the working class movement and to organise the vanguard of the workers and create strong points of support. Thus the basic tasks can be expressed like this: Organise inside the working class! Go to the factories and trade union branches!

Two elementary duties now come to the fore concerning the work in union branches. First, to explain that Turkish working class must necessarily be in solidarity with the working classes of other countries and build an organized unity with them. Therefore, to educate the vanguard workers with an internationalist sprit. And secondly, to transform them into militants of organised political struggle.

Advance the struggle

We are passing through a decisive period of history. After a long boom, now the world capitalist system is undergoing a deep recession and economic crisis. Everything is beginning to change. It is not the end of history. On the contrary. It is a new beginning in the history of class struggle. On a daily basis we can see new uprisings in different parts of the world. The walls of the capitalist system are shaken by huge workers’ demos and strikes.

Thus, on an international scale, the subjective factor is becoming more and more decisive. In this context, the history of working class should be carefully examined and the necessary lessons be drawn from it. The working class built international organisations out of its past struggles under very difficult conditions. And it achieved great victories thanks to these organisations. That is the most important lesson to be understood.

Internationalist communists should direct the whole of their energy and their political efforts to fill the gap between the objective factor and subjective factor. We know that the world capitalist system, which moves through cycles of crises, tries to overcome big crises by means of wars, repression and reactionary regimes. All these things mean incredible suffering for the masses.

But we must add that the convulsive periods in world history have also been the womb of revolutions. Communists are determined people and look to the future with hope. They will manage to put the international vanguard of the working class together. They will succeed in organising it as a united army in order to be prepared for the next battles. We shall overcome capitalism!