Protest movement in Turkey: The Only Perspective is Class Struggle!
For days now, Turkey has been gripped by a wave of protest against the AKP government’s autocratic style of rule. Starting from a protest camp in Gezi Park, demonstrations have spread like wildfire to all the bigger Turkish towns and provinces. In the meantime, a movement with an impressive but contradictory dynamic has emerged. At the start, when people spontaneously went to the street, newspapers and TV stations close to the regime belittled this action and scarcely reported it. But information about it spread rapidly across Twitter and the internet, causing Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan to describe social media as the "greatest threat to the country". Many people have been held for "spreading appeals on Twitter“. In other cities the protests became more and more forceful, in Ankara the police threw tear-gas grenades from helicopters and killed at least one demonstrator in attempting to drive protestors from a central square. In other important cities too, there were large demonstrations with a least one further death in Antakya. There is also a rumour that a demonstrator has been killed in Tunceli. In Izmir and other cities, the party offices of the AKP have been set alight.
How did this situation emerge in a less than a week? How did a small demonstration against development in a park in İstanbul become a blaze that has burnt across the whole country, and brought in such a huge amount of people. To understand it is necessary to look at some of the background detail. Of course, it is not the building of one supermarket that has inflamed the whole country. The events in Gezi Park have acted more like a spark to an already existing tinderbox. There are five main causes behind the current conflagration.
• Police Brutality: Probably the most immediate cause was the brutality used by the police in evicting the anti-development protestors in Taksim. The Turkish police have a long history of brutally attacking demonstrators, and of launching into incredibly violent attacks even on tiny peaceful demonstrations. Over the last few years, this seems to have become even worse with gas and water cannon now being the preferred method of dealing with situations as different as huge Mayday marches, unruly football fans, and small environmentalist protests. It is the reaction to this sort of violence that seems to be the thing that ignited the situation.
• Taksim: Taksim square itself has a special place in the history of the working class and the left in Turkey. It is the centre of İstanbul, the traditional location for Mayday marches, and it was here in 1977 that 42 people were shot dead, and 220 injured on Mayday. In recent years, with one notable exception marches have been banned from the square, and there have been large scale street battles as people attempted to reach it. Taksim has its place at the heart of the Turkish left, and perhaps even worse than the building of a supermarket there is the government’s intention to construct a mosque.
• Creeping Islamicisation: The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is the direct descendent of the Welfare Party (RP), which was forced out of office in 1997, in what is known in Turkey as a post modern coup. The following year, the party was banned for violating the constitutional principles of secularism. It has been in power, increasing its majority in each election since 2002, and in the 2011 elections, it scored an overwhelming 49.8% of the vote. Over this period, it has slowly whittled away at the secular system. The most well know example has been headscarves in universities, but recent examples including restrictions on the advertising of alcohol, and its sale in shops, lowering the age of admittance to religious schools, and announcements on the Ankara metro warning couples about kissing in public. There is widespread feeling across the country that the government wants to turn Turkey into another Iran. Another thing that has deeply upset members of Turkey's largest religious minority, the Alevis is the name that has been chosen by the state for the new Bosphorus bridge. The name of the new bridge, which is so controversial that even the company building the bridge has been reluctant to use it, calling it merely 'the third bridge' is to be the Sultan Selim bridge. Sultan Selim, was responsible for widespread massacres against Alevis and other Shia Muslims. It is almost the equivalent of naming a bridge in Iraqi Kurdistan the Saddam Hussein Memorial Bridge.
• Regional Policy: Probably the two most important facets of Turkish policy have been the peace deal with the PKK, and the support for the Syrian rebels. Of course secularists are unhappy with the governments support for an Islamicist opposition against a secular state, and stray missile, bombs, and masses of refuges have brought this home. The government's peace deal with the Kurdish nationalists has also brought disquiet to Turkish nationalists of both the left and the right wing varieties. The Turkish Communist Party's Central Committee statement of June 4th makes it clear that the Turkish national flag is 'in the hands of the people', that the Kurdish nationalists shouldn't make a deal with the AKP, and that they should become a part of a 'united, patriotic, and enlightened people's labour movement' presumably waving this blood soaked flag as they do.
• Workers' Struggles: the last few years have been relatively peaceful since the large movement centred around the TEKEL struggle in winter/spring 2010. However, recently there has been a marked increase in militancy, which has seen important strikes in the textile sector and south coast ports. Turkish Airlines have been on strike for two weeks, and even before these events exploded, KESK's 240,000 members were due to strike today anyway. In addition to this the 110,000 strong metal workers union is due to hold a strike towards the end of the month.
When all of these things are wrapped together in Tayip's autocratic abrasive style of semi-imperial rule, it is not a surprise that things erupted as they did. The protests in their present form are an all-class movement of everyone who is angry with the regime and this represents all possible political groupings from the far left to the far right. In Taksim square banners with pictures of imprisoned Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) leader, Abdullah Öcelan have been unfurled as well as people waving Turkish flags, and even making the Grey Wolf (Turkish ultra-nationalists) salute.
Of course, a mass movement like this cannot go forward without the power of the working class. On Twitter and Facebook appeals for a general strike have been circulating since Sunday night. If and to what extent these will be heeded remains to be seen. Until now, a few universities in Ankara and Istanbul along with a few hospitals in Ankara have gone on strike. The striking hospitals have declared that they will only treat emergencies and demonstrators. The occupation of squares, rallies and demonstrations in the cities disturb the ruling class. At the same time, these forms of action have their limits. This should be sufficiently clear from the experience of the Indignados movement, and, not least, of the "Arab Spring“. Things are very different with collective strike action. In the final analysis, only the collective strengths of the working class will resist state repression and force the bourgeoisie to make concessions. Such a dynamic would also favour the strengthening of communist forces. In Turkey and elsewhere it is necessary to develop a revolutionary organisation, which can unite struggles and give a political orientation in times of social crisis. Otherwise, the movement on the streets and squares will be reduced to a mere safety valve for the widespread anger and outrage, without being able to open up a comprehensive class perspective for the overthrow of the system of exploitation and social impoverishment.
For the stateless and classless society!
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