Turkey has been in a state of political turmoil for the last few weeks due to the process of electing a new president by the parliament. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), a split from an earlier moderate Islamist party (the Virtue Party) about six years ago as one of the consequences of the military intervention in 1997, sought to elect one of its leading members as president, which is fiercely opposed by the Kemalist-nationalist establishment spearheaded by the military and the main bourgeois opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The AKP has a great majority in parliament thanks to the national 10% threshold (they have two thirds of the seats by one third of the vote) and they are technically able to elect whoever they wish. But they are demonstrated once again that political power is something more than electoral support and parliamentary majority though an overwhelming one.
As the AKP government resisted, and insisted on electing a president, the pressure exerted mainly by the military has been concentrated on forcing it to resign and declare early elections –which is normally due in November this year- before the legal process of presidential election started in April. The pressure upon the government has been especially increasing for the last one year by various means including some sensational assassinations. As part of this, big mass demonstrations were underhandedly organised by the military-civilian putschist forces, reflecting also the unfavourable domestic and international political conditions for a direct military coup. And the Western media seems to be amazed by these demos which were presented as a kind of secularist challenge of masses against “the Islamist government”. And amid these mass demonstrations the crucial blow came on the 27th of April from the military which was an open threat of a military coup against the government. The mass demonstrations kept being held until this day and they will keep being held until at least the coming elections.
The government pushed ahead to elect the foreign minister as president, but opposition parties boycotted the election. This was a manoeuvre by the opposition to reduce the attendance below two thirds of the seats and then open the way for a cancellation of the first round by the constitutional court. The CHP applied to the court right after the first round and the threatening statement of the military came that night. Although there is no credible constitutional basis for the argument that the attendance must be more than the two thirds, the court cancelled the first round in an outrageous infringement of the constitution, opening the way for early elections. At the end of the day the government had to give up and declare early elections due on 22nd of July, which means that the Kemalist-military pressure (especially the open putschist memorandum of the military) supported by manipulated mass demonstrations has achieved its immediate targets, and the limited and fragile Turkish bourgeois democracy has been dealt a serious blow. This is despite the mildly defiant counter statement of the government, which, by the way, happens for the first time on the part of governments in the face of similar interventions in Turkey.
During the whole campaign the Kemalist-nationalist bourgeois forces have argued that the government has a hidden Islamic agenda of bringing Sharia, that they wanted to conquer the almost whole state structure by electing their own president and that “secularity is in danger!” or “the Republic is in danger!”. This argument has been hammered especially into the brains of the middle class layers in mainly western parts of Turkey to drive them into a frenzy and manipulate them against the government. Hence the rude picture in the West that Turkish politics is divided into two camps, i.e. Islamists and secularists. This is not the reality but what is precisely intended by the military-led Kemalist-nationalist forces.
All the heated talk about Islamism and secularism raised mainly by the so-called secularists is mostly a demagogical rhetoric to conceal the real power struggle within the ruling class, which must absolutely be termed as a political trap aimed at dividing the working masses along fake lines. One section of the ruling class –most of the big capital- is for an extensive integration with global capitalism and a “normalisation” in the political structure in line with the prospect of joining the EU. This “normalisation” means above all limiting the power of traditional Kemalist-nationalist establishment, especially the military, on political sphere. The AKP government essentially acts on the basis of the big capital’s programme of “reform”. The Kemalist-nationalist establishment tries to maintain its privileged role within the system and resists any attempts to “reform” the traditional state structure and policies. This is the real material basis of the power struggle. And this power struggle has its real political issues such as the attitude towards the Kurdish question, the Cyprus question, military budged, military courts, the laws that give enormous powers to the military, etc.
As for the alleged Islamism of the AKP, it is not an Islamist party but more like a counterpart of conservative Christian democratic parties in the West. Surely their core cadres come from a political Islamist tradition. But they have changed a lot in the way to become a Christian democrat-like conservative party. And it is also true that some of their cadres sometimes exhibit excesses on religious, cultural, educational, moral and daily life issues. But they are in no way fundamentally different from the traditional Turkish conservative bourgeois parties. After all there is not a significant ground both within society and the ruling class for Sharia.
The picture in the Western media that popular masses are rising against the government is utterly wrong. On the contrary, AKP’s electoral support is growing everybody knows that they will be the winner in the coming elections, perhaps with a greater vote than the last elections. The big demonstrations organised against the government are actually of middle class character and reactionary in their essence. They are full of chauvinism which is simply reflected by the sea of Turkish national flags. This is not an unimportant detail because Turkish national flag has increasingly become a chauvinist, racist reactionary symbol for the last few years. Apart from the class character and the symbols of the demonstrations, the general mood, slogans, central theme of the speeches, speakers and most importantly the character of real organisers make no room for any doubts about the reactionary character of these demonstrations. The main organiser of these rallies is the ADD (Kemalist Thought Association) which is chaired by a recently retired general from the General Staff. The recent revelations in the press show that he is the main leader of serious preparations for a military coup in 2004, which did not come true and has remained a secret until recently. Among the revelations is the plan of the military to speed up efforts to use civil organisations like the ADD to create a public opinion against the government in paving the way to topple it in some way.
Some international reporters say these rallies are characterised with the slogan “Neither military coup nor Sharia”. This is also not true. This slogan was neither widespread nor characteristic, rather it was a trick for media purposes for the organisers not to be labelled as plain putschists. A similar language was also used before the Istanbul rally to deceive the working class and the left to secure their support. The truth is that most of the participants support the military memorandum given against the government. Even the journalistic reports are clear that those demonstrators who say “Neither military coup nor Sharia” are at least implicitly in favour of the military memorandum. For them, “Republic” and “secular way of life” is much more important than democracy.
The wrong picture is somewhat added by the May Day demonstrations in Istanbul with clashes in many places. Looking from outside the pictures of May Day clashes are easily lumped up with the so-called “Republican rallies”. But the issue of May Day demonstrations is almost completely a different story. First of all, these clashes are not a mass confrontation of workers with state forces. Rather they are clashes of mostly revolutionary young militants from relatively small left groups. The reason for these clashes is the official ban on holding a rally in Taksim Square, which is a historical symbol for the working class struggle. Against this ban and official warnings some unions (basically DISK) and left groups declared they would conquer Taksim despite everything. But the unions did very little to bring their members en masse to Taksim. Hence the enormous state terror to prevent the rally from taking place which resulted in an almost standstill all over Istanbul. Road blockages to search cars and buses and huge police and military presence all over Istanbul (even outside Istanbul, to prevent participation from other cities and towns) created a situation of undeclared martial law. But let us repeat, this is not because of a mass confrontation of workers with state forces, but of an unnecessary and disproportional violence and terror applied by mainly the police.
Working class politics
The big “Republican rallies” and the “secular” intervention of the military caused certain sections of petty-bourgeois left, which always leans towards state leftism, begin immediately to waver in the name of defending “progressive values of the Republic” and secularism and of struggling against the “reactionary government”. The worst elements supported the intervention explicitly or implicitly. Others who did not fail to protest the intervention, however, are busy finding a somewhat progressive element in the reactionary middle class “Republican rallies”. Thus they, in a way or another, fail to take a clear position against the reactionary push of the putschist Kemalist establishment. Quite understandably they also fail to acknowledge that there is not a threat of Sharia in Turkey. Although they call themselves Marxists they lack a clear class understanding of politics. The petty-bourgeois left groupings are not alone in their vacillation. The Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DISK) which is a major labour organisation with a left background also wavered after the first Republican rally in Ankara and then offered their support for the second rally in Istanbul, making things worse.
Genuine Marxists must above all take a clear-cut independent working class attitude against the reactionary putschist drive and expose the fact that so-called threat of Sharia and “Islamism” of the government is a deceit and that secularist talk is a disgusting veil to hide the authoritarian intentions of the Kemalist establishment. It must be clear as day that this Kemalist establishment is the main anti-democratic reactionary force in Turkey. They are the staunchest enemies of the working class, being responsible for the fascist military coup of 12th September 1980 which crushed the working class movement and killed thousands of workers and revolutionaries. However, opposing the reactionary putschist drive in no way means offering any support to the government. The government is equally the enemy of the working class. Therefore the working class must never take sides with any of the warring bourgeois forces. Instead it must take an independent class attitude and, under the concrete circumstances, this independent attitude includes giving a priority to the struggle against the reactionary putschist drive.
There is certainly a political crisis and it is quite likely that this will continue in the coming period, assuming diverse forms. As the AKP has the greatest electoral support, they will certainly be the winner of the coming parliamentary elections, which means the reactionary Kemalist establishment’s pressure will continue through various means, including any kind of conspiracies. A military coup is not likely under the circumstances, because, apart from lacking a clear popular support or consent, they do not have the support from most of the big capital and the US imperialism. On the other hand, the Kurdish question is the most burning problem that lies beneath the whole political situation, especially now when an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan is establishing itself. In fact the military’s real fear is precisely this, because the US supports the Iraqi Kurdish groups and this aggravates the Kurdish question in Turkey wherein the biggest part of Kurdish population is located. The reactionary Kemalist-nationalist establishment is preparing for any kind of development on this front, including possible fascist pogroms against Kurds. Therefore, to oppose the putshcist drive necessarily includes the defence of the national rights of the Kurdish people. Being an acid test for socialists in Turkey, this is an essential part of the revolutionary working class struggle.