Turkey: It is not elections and calls for peace, but the class war which alone can put an end to exploitation, oppression and repression!
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 12; Autumn - Winter 2015)
On Saturday, October 10th, a terrible bombing attack struck the event organized by the «pro-Kurdish» HDP opposition party as a part of the election campaign, and including various formations of the left (such as the DISK trade union, , the Union of Doctors, the Union of Architects, a union of civil servants etc.), for democracy, employment security and «peace» – that is to say the resumption of negotiations between the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Kurdish nationalist organization engaged for years in guerrilla actions in Turkish Kurdistan), and government authorities. The outrage left about a hundred dead and over 240 injured. The organizers have denounced the government’s responsibility in the attack.
And it certainly fits in a growing climate of political tension; last June there was an attack in Diyarbakir in Kudistan, against an electoral meeting of the HDP, leaving 4 dead and 400 injured; on July 20 a suicide bombing by a young Kurdish jihadist in Suruc a town on the border with Syria, killed 33 people at a rally of young Maoists who were close to the HDP. If the liability of the «Islamic State» appears proven in both cases, the long-term support of the ruling power toward this organization and its hostility to the Syrian Kurdish fighters in Kobanî, certainly leaves plenty of room for suspicions about the involvement of the authorities.
The AKP, the Islamic-conservative ruling party and President Erdogan, have repeatedly accused not only the PKK which has ended the lull in the fighting after the bombing of Suruc, but the HDP itself and its leader Demirtas of «terrorism». In recent weeks, dozens of public meeting places of this party were attacked and sometimes even torched by thugs linked to the AKP without the police stopping them; on the contrary a criminal investigation has opened against Demirtas for «insulting the Turkish people, institutions and organs of the State, the President», «incitement to commit crimes and terrorism» after in a press conference he had denounced the culpable passivity of the police! The government has also stepped up intimidation against the media and opposition journalists; the headquarters of the main opposition daily Hurryet was attacked by demonstrators who were led by a member of the AKP, opposition TV stations were forced to close, etc.
On November 1 parliamentary elections will take place in Turkey, barely five months after the previous June which saw the AKP finish clearly in the lead (40.9% of votes). Although it was its fourth consecutive victory in the elections, the AKP, losing nearly 9% of the vote, missed the absolute majority that would allow it to achieve its objective of reforming the constitution to introduce a presidential system. The electoral thrust of the HDP, finishing for the first time with more than 10% of the votes at the national level is seen as the cause of the relative defeat of the AKP. In late August, following the failure of negotiations to form a coalition government, the legislative assembly was dissolved and the holding of new elections announced.
Numerous political analysts attribute the renewed clashes with PKK fighters and the «anti-terrorist» campaign to a maneuver by the government to stimulate a reflex of fear that would increase the electoral chances of the AKP. And moreover Erdogan and other official dignitaries were not reticent in declaring that if the AKP had obtained 400 deputies (that is to say an absolute majority in Parliament), there would not have been this outbreak of violence...
However Turkish events cannot be reduced to mere electoral motifs, let alone the ambition of a man dreaming of becoming a new sultan. Turkey is facing growing problems and contradictions; and it is these that have had the effect of increasingly destabilizing the existing political equilibrium in the country since the early 2000s under the hegemony of the AKP.
CAPITALIST EXPLOITATION AND PROLETARIAN STRUGGLES IN TURKEY
Paradise for the capitalists (Istanbul has more billionaires than Paris), Turkey is a hell for the workers. It ranks second among OECD countries for income inequality, just ahead of Mexico. But there are also regional inequalities: in the Kurdish regions, which are less developed, the average family income is only 29% of family income in the capital Ankara.
Unemployment is rising, passing above 10% since the end of 2014. This figure may seem not very high, but it does not reflect reality because much of the workforce is employed in the «informal» sector; if this sector is mostly predominant in agriculture (90% of jobs are informal), it is widespread in all branches of the economy; in industry, according to official statistics (Turkstat), nearly a third of all jobs are informal, and this percentage is much higher in the textile industry.
The proletarians who have informal jobs have virtually no social protection, they receive lower salaries and they can be laid off practically overnight. Employees usually work in small or very small firms that make up the majority of the country’s businesses (55% of workers are employed in businesses with fewer than 10 employees), they bear the brunt of all of the economic uncertainties of which these companies are the first victims.
Generally Turkish salaries are low, including in the formal sector and in large companies. The average salary was estimated at 590 euros per month in 2014 (compared to 2597 in the United Kingdom, 2220 in France, 1615 in Spain, 1092 in Greece). The minimum wage has been set for 2015 at 424 euros per month (it is 1458 in France, 757 in Spain, 684 in Greece), but this is the gross salary; take-home pay is lower by about 30% due to the amount gobbled up by social charges; but on top of this a significant portion of workers are paid below the minimum wage: over 16% of men and over 25% of women putting in a normal working day (at least 8 hours ) receive a salary 30% lower on average than the net minimum wage!
The working day is very long: the legal working time is 45 hours per week, but in 2011 more than 6 million people (more than 40% of the workforce) worked from 50 to 70 hours or more. Although the employment of children under 14 is prohibited, in 2012 there were almost 300 000 children 6-14 years working, particularly in agriculture where at harvest time children 10 years old work up to 11 hours a day. But even in industry those under the age of 18 are numerous: the proportion of those 14-18 years old has even increased from 16% to 28% between 1994 and 2006. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO, UN organization), the average working hours of children is among the highest in the world at 51 hours a week on average. Consequently, the number of children killed in the workplace was 38 in 2012.
Moreover, Turkey is the leading country in Europe for the number of work-place accidents, third worldwide, after Algeria and El Salvador, according to the ILO: on average three workers are killed and 172 are injured every day. Miners are the most numerous among the victims of Turkish capitalism between 1955 and 2012, more than 3,000 miners died and over 360,000 were injured.
In May 2014 an explosion at a mine in Soma left 301 dead. Following this tragedy, clashes occurred in the city, especially when 10,000 demonstrators protesting against the lack of safety measures in the mine chanting «Erdogan resign!» clashed with police forces; the Ministry of Labor had stated that a recent inspection tour had found everything in order… A year later nine surviving children have been indicted by the court for having organized a protest and the blocking of a road in violation of the law; they face up to six years in prison...
In total in 2014 there were 1886 deaths in accidents at work, and these figures are official figures which probably leave out many of the accidents in the informal sector. They call them accidents, but it is rather a real bloody class war waged by the capitalists against the workers!
Inherited from the military regime, anti-strike laws are still in force; they enabled the suspension for 60 days of a strike by steelworkers at the beginning of this year and a strike in the ceramics industry in June, in the name of «national security»…
But this anti-worker legislation could not prevent the wave of wildcat strikes that hit the automobile industry in May and that originated in the Bursa agglomeration. The movement was started at the Renault plant by agitation against the collective contract signed by the official union Turk Metal and for an alignment with the contract signed at Bosch (a 20% wage increase) after a few days of striking; thugs of this yellow union went so far as to attack a gathering of workers, provoking the wrath of all workers.
Starting off from Renault, the strike spread to other automotive companies and other cities; Fiat, Ford, Tofas, Valeo, etc., more than 15,000 workers came into struggle despite the opposition of Turk Metal and the agitation even won over other sectors. Despite threats and repression (47 workers arrested by police and hauled up to justice for organizing an illegal strike), the workers stood firm and finally with the threat of widespread conflict, the bosses and the government yielded. After 2 weeks of striking, Renault workers obtained wage increases, the abandonment of prosecutions, and especially the right to join the union of their choice. A vivid demonstration that resolute workers’ struggle is capable of facing down the capitalists and their State, as repressive as it might be!
The growing economic difficulties in Turkey are felt not only by the proletariat, but also by large sectors of the population, even with real estate speculation in full swing and corruption scandals spilling over on to the president’s family. This is what explains the importance assumed in 2013 by the protests against the products of destruction of Gezi Park in Istanbul: this movement, of a clearly petty-bourgeois orientation has been able to garner hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country like the «outraged» movement that took place in many countries. The HDP has undoubtedly managed to capitalize electorally on some of this discontent.
THE KURDISH QUESTION
The Kurdish question is an important factor in domestic politics but also outside Turkey. Always suspected of separatism, subject to political and social discrimination reinforced by the military after the 1980 coup, according to estimates the Kurds constitute 15-20% of the population of the country. The Kurdish regions are the poorest and least economically developed in Turkey, causing a strong emigration to other regions and abroad: an important part of the Turkish proletariat, including those emigrating to Europe are Kurds. The «Kurdish question» has become a central question of the proletarian struggle: the resolute struggle against all discriminations and repressions against Kurds, for the full equality of rights, is essential to weld the ranks of the Turkish proletariat. For their part the bourgeois obviously inflame divisions, sparking and fueling nationalism and patriotism and leading repeated Turkish campaigns against «terrorism», to weaken the working class by creating a gap between Kurdish and non-Kurdish proletarians.
Based on the real national oppression of the Kurds, the PKK began a guerrilla campaign in 1984 for the independence of the region. The conflict has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths; more than 3,000 villages have been destroyed by the army, causing, according to official figures, the «displacement» of more than 375,000 people driven from their homes and reduced to the status of homeless. This brutal and constant repression by the police, military and judges against any Kurdish expression, even the most reformist, pushed many Kurds to sympathize with the PKK.
Although it calls itself a workers’ party and claims to want socialism, the PKK embodies a bourgeois nationalist response to oppression, which had been aggravated by the 1980 coup. Its «socialism» was a version of the state capitalism existing in China or the USSR, and for a time it sought support from Moscow; but after the fall of the USSR, the PKK soon abandoned its pseudo-socialist discourse to swear its respect for Islamic values.
Then it bartered the demand for independence down to that of a simple autonomy of the Kurdish regions in Turkey as part of a cantonal organization of the country: the «democratic confederalism»: a pure bourgeois perspective!
Breaking with the usual policy of Turkish governments, and despite the hostility of nationalist circles, the military and even some of his supporters, the AKP ended some discrimination against the Kurds and the police and judicial harassment which were common before; it entered into negotiations with the PKK which, despite not having reached a final agreement, had led to the end of guerrilla actions.
But in recent months the Erdogan government had again taken up the traditional anti-Kurdish rhetoric. This was not for electoral considerations, because the AKP has lost its Kurdish supporters in this affair without gaining nationalist voters.
In reality what the Turkish ruling class fears most is any creation of an autonomous Kurdish state entity on the Syrian border because it might fuel separatist outbreaks among the disinherited Kurdish masses of Turkey. The defense not only of the unity of the country, but above all of the undisturbed rule of capitalist order not only in the poor southern peripheral regions, but in the big cities and factories of Anatolia or the Bosporus, requires, in the Turkish bourgeois view, that Syrian Kurds fail to conquer actual or juridical independence.
That is why the Turkish government did everything it could to leave Kurdish fighters of the YPG (related PKK) in Kobanî isolated against those of the Islamic State (IS), thus bloodily repressing solidarity demonstrations in October 2014 (more than 30 dead). It has long refused to engage militarily against the IS and when it finally officially resolved to do so under US pressure and authorized the use of its airfields by the anti-IS coalition it actually directed most of its strikes against PKK positions in Iraq and Turkey, also in Syria.
According to the Turkish authorities by mid-October the balance sheet of the resumption of fighting with the PKK in July resulted in over 150 dead among the police and military, while more than 2,000 «terrorists» were killed.
THE HDP, TURKISH SYRIZA
The HDP (People’s Democratic Party) is a party of mainly Kurdish origin, close to the PKK, often described as the legal front of the party. But in fact it gathers within itself various small groups and leftist parties, environmentalists, Maoists, Trotskyists, etc. which allowed it to have a national audience and made for comparisons with the Greek Syriza party. Garnering 13% of the vote in parliamentary elections in June it for the first time crossed the 10% barrier, which allowed it obtain parliamentary deputies (80). The European «left of the left» hailed the electoral success with almost as much enthusiasm as it had done for the electoral victories of Syriza...
The HDP practices a strict parity and quota policy: it has two «co-presidents», a man and a woman, its candidates for election are 50% male and 50% female, and it reserves 10% of its candidate positions for LGBT people (Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans-sexual). It does not hesitate to speak of self-management, the fight against the exploitation of workers and to sometimes make anti-capitalist speeches, etc...
But it’s basically an inter-classist, reformist party. Officially associated with the «Party of European Socialists» (a grouping of Social Democratic MEPs), it wants to democratize Turkey by introducing a new constitution that would guarantee the rights of minorities. The HDP has served as an intermediary in the negotiations that took place in 2013 between the PKK and the government, and it has long believed in the possibility of resuming negotiations. Therefore, even though the government had resumed the war with the PKK, and the AKP and Erdogan has multiplied the denunciations of «Kurdish terrorism,» with the Prime Minister openly accusing the HDP of complicity, and although it had denounced the «criminal actions of the AKP», the HDP did not hesitate to enter the interim government formed by the AKP to run the country until new elections!
This does not spare it from the accusations of media close to the AKP and Erdogan himself of supporting terrorism, nor has it avoided the attacks against its public meeting places; its ministers and deputies were prevented by police from visiting the town of Cizre subject to a military blockade, etc. Cornered in an increasingly untenable position, the HDP was finally forced to withdraw from the government, just weeks after its formation.
This experience speaks volumes about what can be expected from this party, not only by the workers, but the poor masses in general, including Kurds: just like Syriza and like all reformist parties, the HDP can ultimately only prostrate itself to bourgeois demands and to defend national capitalism.
The reformist, collaborationist parties, who have only the watchwords of peace and democracy on their lips, are adversaries of proletarian emancipation; they are not on the workers’ side, but on the side of the exploiters even when they are the target of reactionary bourgeois forces as in Chile yesterday or today in Turkey. The proletarians cannot rely on these false friends who always betray to defend them. In Turkey as elsewhere, they can only rely on their own class struggle, on their independent class organization in terms of the immediate defense struggle as well as on the political level.
The situation of Turkish proletariat is not easy, they are confronted with a particularly brutal state, which to ensure the smooth functioning of capitalism, uses all means, legal and illegal, passing alternately and in parallel from the democratic method to the dictatorial method of government.
The horrible massacre of Ankara, coming after previous attacks and atrocities, again demonstrates that calls for peace are only window dressing and the electoral circus a deadly impasse. Faced with the contradictions that rend capitalist Turkey and, to an even greater degree, the neighboring Middle Eastern countries, if they do not want to remain the eternal victims of the capitalists and their State, the workers have no other choice but to fight, and on an independent class basis.
Faced with the social war carried on by the bourgeois, they will need to engage, under the leadership of their internationalist and international class party, the class war against capitalism that, overcoming all ethnic, religious and national divisions, goes beyond national borders to engulf the entire region.
The social weight that the very development of capitalism in recent years has given the proletariat of Turkey is the guarantee that it has the potential strength to accomplish this great future task, in conjunction with the proletarians of all countries.
Down with capitalism!
Long live the class war!
Long live the international communist revolution!
International Communist Party