Notes on the coup attempt of July 15 and its aftermath

The military coup attempt of July 15 is a crucial turning point setting a new framework for politics in Turkey. In a sense, it can be likened to Reichstag Fire in German history. Like Reichstag fire it plays a key role in suppressing the last remnants of bourgeois democracy and establishing an authoritarian regime based on state of emergency and legislative decrees. As these conditions bring forth a harder framework for the working class struggle, it is of crucial importance to have a correct understanding of the coup and its aftermath.

The military coup attempt of July 15 is a crucial turning point setting a new framework for politics in Turkey. In a sense, it can be likened to Reichstag Fire in German history. Like Reichstag fire it plays a key role in suppressing the last remnants of bourgeois democracy and establishing an authoritarian regime based on state of emergency and legislative decrees. As these conditions bring forth a harder framework for the working class struggle, it is of crucial importance to have a correct understanding of the coup and its aftermath.

* The coup attempt did not come out of the blue sky, it was an explosion of the accumulated domestic and foreign contradictions since at least 2011. While the ambitious foreign policy moves of the AKP and Erdogan to achieve a more independent position in the Middle East caused an increasing resentment on the part of the Western imperialist powers, Erdogan’s moves to monopolise the power in his hands, accompanied by successive purges, and his growing authoritarianism with a religious tone, etc. all have been sources of a pressure build-up.

* The coup attempt was not an insignificant rebellion of a tiny group of desperate officers. It appeared that many officers with some of the detachments under their command are involved in the coup plot. The involvement of generals and officers at large reaches to the level of 40%. It is also clear that many officers remained in a wait-and-see position during critical hours that night and the early hours of the following day. This is a very considerable level of involvement such that they were able to seize the main public broadcasting channel, TRT, bomb the parliament and presidential premises, and a nearly successful military operation to detain or kill president Erdoğan who was on his holiday at a seaside resort on Aegean coast.

* Though it is a serious coup attempt, with deaths reaching nearly 300 and the injured around 1500, it has to be admitted that it was a sloppy one progressing with weird moves ending up in a gross failure. This ultimately shows that the putchists are not well-prepared in their attempt. What happened exactly at that night is not known. The information so far is insufficient, full of inconsistencies, and misleading in many ways. But it seems that the putchists were betrayed at an early stage.

* The AKP’s propaganda argument that the coup was defeated by the movement of popular masses is not true. The level of mass involvement at that night taking to the streets is very limited and it started at a very late hour when Erdogan made a call, which was a sign for the AKP activists showing the weakness of the attempt. More importantly, this limited mass was not motivated by saving democracy, but by saving Erdogan and the AKP. In any case it was not the mass action that defeated the coup, but the balance of forces within the state, particularly the army. On balance, the putchists were weaker than the other side.

* Most of the active elements in streets that night were unofficial paramilitary groups of the AKP sided by various shades of elements from “traditional” fascist movement in Turkey, that is, the Grey Wolves. And in most of the cases they were led by the police forces. So, what happened was not a clash between the putchists and the people, but one between military putshcists and the AKP militants together with a kind of paramilitary fascistic mob in support of the AKP.

* They tortured, killed brutally and lynched some of the foot soldiers who were just obediently following the orders of their putchist officers. In the following days AKP tried hard to make bigger masses flock to the streets. The situation with the bigger masses that were led and organised by the AKP and its municipalities later days and weeks is different. They were just passive masses with no independent initiative, taking part only in the big mass rallies organised and forced by the state. What is more important with the couple of weeks after the coup was that those militant fascistic mobs carried out a terror campaign in the form of car convoys running up and down the neighbourhoods of cities across the country. They looked much more massive than they were as they were mobile groups. And during their convoy passages they intimidated and in some cases beat those people who did not cheer them. In a few cases these fascist gangs attempted to attack some Alevi neighbourhoods. During the street mobilisation and rallies the only demand shouted out was “Bring back death penalty!”

* The putchists are not consisted only of Gulenists (now so-called FETO, i.e. Fethullah Gulen Terror Organisation). There are certainly other elements, including some Kemalists, and simply careerists. It is also clear that many elements in the army took a wait-and-see position, so they simply stood by to watch the course of events. Some of them later joined forces with the government.

* It is not sensible that the US imperialism, or at least a faction within it, is unaware of the plot. In fact there many signs indicating that the US is sympathetic with the putchists and linked with them in one way or another. First of all, it is not a secret that Gulen himself is closely linked with the CIA. His official references for his stay on the US soil were provided by the CIA. He is a veteran anti-communist warrior of the cold war era.

* This is essentially a power struggle between reactionary bourgeois forces within the state with no progressive aspect. The zeal to portray Gulenists as an ominous religious sect is very misleading. Gulenists make up a huge fraction of capital with enormous international ties. They are one of the 3 big groupings of capital in Turkey, gathered around 3 different bosses’ associations, namely TUSIAD, MUSIAD and TUSKON, the latter being the Gulenist one. And they are not something outside the state apparatus seeking to invade the state. Like all bourgeois fractions they have their own loyal forces within the bourgeois state competing for supremacy.

* Until a few years ago, Erdoğan and AKP had allied themselves with Gulenists against Kemalists within the state apparatus as Kemalists particularly had a strong position in the army. With their strong ties with the US imperialism, their strong presence in the police, Gulenists were a perfect candidate for an alliance for the AKP and Erdogan, whose footholds within the state were weak. In one instance after the final break-up in 2012 of the “holy” alliance, Erdogan said in an angry tone, “we have given them everything they wanted,” implying that it is unreasonable and inexplicable for the Gulenists to attack the AKP. Indeed during days of holy alliance Gulenists made enormous gains in every field amounting to a great leap forward in terms of their influence.

* A war has been going on since at least 2011 between these two bourgeois factions on many fronts ranging from key state institutions to media, education, international relations, economy and so on. Many private schools and those private teaching institutions to prepare students for university entrance exams, which are key for Gulenists in their organising work particularly in terms of high level cadres, came under government attack in various ways. Many national and local TV channels, newspapers, magazines were taken over along with financial institutions.

* Before and after the coup those corporations that are supposedly owned or controlled by Gulenists are being taken over and confiscated as well. A government minister declared Sept. 1 that $4 billion worth of “FETO real estate was seized and transferred to the state.” The number of companies taken over by the state fund (The Saving Deposit Insurance Fund) has reached to 200 as of September 26 and it is expected to increase more.


* What Erdogan has been doing since the failed coup attempt is just what the putschists were expected to do. The so-called struggle against coup and putchists has proved itself to be a coup against almost all democratic traces left in Turkey. Erdogan capitalizes on the failed coup and turns it into a golden opportunity to realise his authoritarian ambitions. Later that very night of the coup attempt Erdogan was reckless enough to say, “this [the coup attempt] is a blessing of the god for us.” In a similar vein, 2 months after the coup attempt, he said, “thanks to the coup attempt of July 15 we can now do things that we could not do before.”

* Actually the coup attempt of July 15 came on a background of authoritarianisation process in progress which was particularly boosted in the run up to the elections on June 7, 2015. The AKP government took a harsh turn against the Kurdish movement at large.

* But despite all these attacks to intimidate the public in general, HDP managed to get a record vote, i.e. 13%, which foiled all calculations and expectations of the AKP and Erdogan. Angered at this result which left the AKP unable to set up even a single-party government, Erdogan did two things. First, he simply blocked any attempt to build a coalition government in an unconstitutional way and forced the whole political stage to an early election. Second, he pushed the button of war against Kurds, which opened the way for a renewed feeling of national unity under a strong nationalist language, particularly aimed at the Kurds. This rise of nationalism backed by funerals of dead soldiers changed the whole political climate. Around 200 offices of HDP across Turkey came under attack by government-led fascistic mobs. Some of the offices were set on fire, and many key offices had to be closed after these attacks which amounted to a serious blow to HDP’s election campaign. And the early elections held five months later, on November 1, gave what Erdogan wanted. Before the elections, he was able to make major changes in the list of AKP candidates for parliamentary seats, which meant a big liquidation within the party ranks, brushing aside almost all possible elements who might have a potential to lead any opposition within the party. With the higher vote the AKP got in the early elections, now it became possible to form a singe-party government with much more loyal elements.

* The less than five-month period between the two elections changed the whole political climate of the country into a climate of rabid nationalism, warmongering, and authoritarianism. This is the main determinant of political arena in Turkey since the spring of 2015.

* To materialise his ambitions, Erdogan had been pushing hard until the failed coup for an overall constitutional change to presidential system, with the president enjoying enormous powers like Putin (or the presidents in central Asian republics). He employed every means to achieve his goal including warmongering, stigmatizing, polarisation, demonization, liquidation, purges etc. Although he managed to make gains in his march, ultimately he was not successful in making such a formal constitutional change.

* Until the coup attempt of July 15 he succeeded in making serious breeches of the constitution. In the framework of the Turkish political system president is required and put under oath that he/she ceases any political allegiance and behave without political/party bias. But he continued to act as if he is the leader of AKP. One of his latest interventions of this sort was to force the prime-minister Davutoglu to step down and form a new cabinet according to his taste. He decides everything with the party affairs.

* His ambitious moves to suppress opponents from various walks of life have, to monopolise power in his hands, to insist on pursuing a kind of independent agenda in the Middle East and particularly in Syria caused tensions to grow everywhere, which ultimately ended up in the coup attempt.

* Since the failed military coup, a new type of regime based on the state of emergency and legislative decrees has been in the making. With the announcement of state of emergency, the role of parliament is reduced almost to the level of non-existence as one of the fundamental forces in bourgeois state structure. Accordingly, the role of executive power increased enormously. This is mainly due to the extraordinary powers given to the government, particularly the power of issuing decrees with power of law (legislative decrees). Now the government is freed from any parliamentary check in doing as they wish. The decrees are practically immune from constitutional check as well. All these add up to the fact that Erdogan now rules supreme with no challenging domestic force around. After the failed coup a state of emergency was declared and the government won the golden opportunity to rule based on legislative decrees, which is practically what Erdogan has been looking for: an unchecked, arbitrary rule by one-man. This picture resembles very much what happened in Germany in the immediate aftermath of the Reichstag Fire. The legislative decrees of the government are very similar to the Reichstag Fire Decree. It was “communists” then in Germany and “terrorists” (Gulenists, Kurds, leftists etc.) now in Turkey.

Witch hunt, massive purges, and confiscation

* A witch hunt is going on a massive scale. Finger-pointing is all-pervasive.

* Purges are being carried out on a massive scale. As of now, around 100.000 public servants have been either suspended or discharged.

* The purge should not be understood as carried out only against Gulenists. Using Gulenism as cover the government is purging many left-wing, democrat, Kurd, and other opponent public servants. The scale of the purge is particularly enormous in the public education system.

* By legislative decrees under state of emergency, which amount to by-passing the parliament, more than 100,000 public servants have been suspended and some 30,000 people arrested. With the decree issued on September 2 51,000 public servants were fired. Around 30,000 of them were teachers and academics. By decree they were denied any trial and claims. With a second decree on September 8 some other 11,000 teachers were fired. They were mainly from Kurdish areas and members of the union Egitim-Sen, which is the only progressive one around.

* The war in Turkish Kurdistan keeps on. News of deaths keep coming on a daily basis. Since the break-up of so-called peace process in 2015 summer there have been more than 1,500 deaths in this war.

* Immunity of Kurdish MPs has been lifted and they are now being tried with the charge of terrorism.

* Mayors and municipal councils elected by their local population, particularly in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey, are being deposed with the pretext that they help terrorism. The Mayors are not even replaced by their elected deputies, instead the government appoints state functionaries from the interior ministry. This is in itself certain type of coup against the elected representatives of Kurdish people.

* Hundreds of journalists are in prison. Many newspapers, magazines, TV and radio channels, news agencies have been closed, confiscated, banned, restricted, etc. Though there are many Gulenists related media outlets among them, quite a number of them are Kurdish media outlets and other leftwing ones.

AKP and the attacks against the working class

* Since the start of the AKP rule we have seen the 8-hour working day removed legally; doing overtime work has become a standard for workers in order them to compensate low level of monthly pay; with overtime work becoming a rule the working day in real practice has become 12-14 hours; sub-contracted work has become all-pervasive, including public sector; deaths caused by work accidents have reached to the annual level of 1500, which is a massacre in itself. The latest move (May 2016) by the AKP government was to legalize agency work. Now it is legally possible to set up private employment bureaus for them to hire out workers to other companies, which in practice means an end to almost all union work and rights which are already weak. Hired workers are not allowed to unionise where they work, for example in a metal factory, since they are not considered to be employed in that particular industry (Unions are permitted on industry basis and there are certain threshold levels of membership calculated both on the basis of the total number of workers working in that particular industry and of the total number of workers working in that particular workplace. Without meeting these criteria a union is not legally entitled to negotiate with the boss).

* And there is another attack against the working class in the pipeline which is to abolish the right to severance pay. Under Turkey’s circumstances severance pay is considered by workers a job security issue in the sense that bosses have difficulty in giving large sums of severance pay to dismissed workers. It’s been a long time various bosses’ organisations demand lifting of severance pay. The AKP government has already made several attempts for this, but had to back down every time. But this time political climate is favourable for both bosses and the government. And unfortunately trade-unions are in a very bad shape in fighting back this attack.

* Another attack the implementation of which is to start soon (1 January 2017) is to make all workers under age 45 be part of a private pension system alongside the existing public pension system. This is compulsory. The bill was passed in August in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt. This means a considerable cut (%3) from workers’ wages. With the Turkish economy on the verge of crisis and struggling to float mainly on the basis of big construction works, the government is aware of possible political consequences of a foreign economic shock and it is intent on raising some saving funds to keep afloat. Although the government had to back down from its original plan and soften the attack by bringing the right of exiting the plan after 2 months, it is still unknown what will be the experience of workers when they wish to leave the plan. Whatever the details of this new practice, it is certain that the bourgeoisie is heading for a general privatisation of the public pension system, and this just a beginning step along this road.

* In general the government tries to impose the idea that under state of emergency there can be no strikes or any other sort of mass actions (marches, rallies and so on). The authorities have so far denied permission for many mass meetings. Their pretext is always “security”.