On the Recent Situation in Turkey

Economic situation

From geopolitical respects Turkey has an important strategic position, not only for imperialism, but also for the world proletarian revolution. A quite significant economic and industrial development has been made particularly since 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 economic crises never seen before. There are aspects of recent crises peculiar to Turkey, but the source of problem is essentially the world capitalism. As a result of economic programs dictated by the imperialist organisations like World Bank and IMF, Turkish economy constantly resorts to devaluations and lives with 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 are 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 workers is reduced half as a result of economic crises. They are cutting 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 of it is above 15 years of age. And 23.1 million of it represents the total workforce. Although the official figures indicate the rising of unemployment rate to around 10 percent the real figure used to be 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 everyday 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 on the front of working class movement.

Last year 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 from the figure of year 2000. And the GDP per capita dropped to $2160 with a loss of $826. It means that there is a 27.2% impoverishment on the average. It goes without saying that this is a misleading average 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, it would be adequate to remember the minimum monthly wage in Turkey, which is $110.

According to the figures of the World Bank, which include 207 countries, Turkey stood at the 22nd place with its $201 billion GDP by the end of 2000. However it dropped to the 27th place by the end of 2001. The ratio of public debt to GDP has risen 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 crises of Turkish capitalism, but also the crises of world capitalism can only be analysed in the light of Marxism.

We know that now 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 the expense of what? 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 hundredth times.

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 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 resigned MPs from rapidly disintegrating DSP has already exceeded sixty. DSP has dropped from the first rank to the fourth in the parliament, and accordingly MHP, the fascist party, has risen from second rank to the first. Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of MHP which is one of the coalition parties in government, 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 DSP and MHP were reluctant, though they did not openly oppose, on the issue of passing the laws for harmonising with the EU. Opinion polls show that these parties might face a big loss of vote 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 pro-EU capitalist circles. But in fact Motherland Party, as well as all coalition parties, is highly likely to fall below the official threshold of 10% for the elections. That is why, based on the concerns of the MPs to be re-elected, we observe defections from all parties, pursuit of new formations, election alliances on the agenda.

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. Therefore 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 DSP. The resigned MPs have established YTP (New Turkey Party) under the leadership of Cem. Cem argues the idea that this party should be like 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 (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 from Kemal Dervis who recently announced that he was searching for a so-called Social-liberal political synthesis.

The pursuit of the bourgeoisie to create a united party for the coming elections has not yielded a clear outcome yet. As a result of the mess in the political atmosphere of Turkey, created by the 12 September military coup, it is a fact that now even the big business is busy with filling the gap that appeared in the political spectrum of bourgeois parties and leaders. Swings on the front of bourgeoisie between the alternatives of opening the way for the CHP (Republican People's Party), which is not even represented in the parliament and the leader of which is Deniz Baykal, and of creating a new formation are still continuing. Deniz Baykal appealed to YTP for a unity under CHP and was refused by Ismail Cem. This development was interpreted in the bourgeois media as "the day that hopes were vanished". They said that YTP might go in an alliance with DTP (Democratic Turkey Party), which seems to be a more centre-right party and 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 Derviş claims to be more social democrat 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 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 as it was in Spain, Portugal and Greece during the disintegration process of fascist dictatorships. Of course, this bourgeois social democratic alternative is nothing but far right leaning bourgeois liberalism as it is the case today in general. 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 Derviş are busy with the advertisement of the same "merchandise", whatever you call it, social democrat or social liberal synthesis.

There has been no socialist or social democratic party of West European type in Turkey on the basis of its different historical conditions. And there is yet no any other left party in Turkey capable of attracting the mass of working class. Having been established by Kurdish democrats and 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 the minimum democratic rights of Kurdish people, this party continues its pursuit for election alliances in big cities as well.

It is obvious that 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 presented as so by the US imperialism for its war adventures. And Turkey is not a Middle East country. It is now chosen by the West as a model to be presented as a “democratic, modern Moslem country” to the other eastern countries. Thus the 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 is rising high. It emerged out of the closed Virtue Party which itself had emerged out of the closed 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 bazaar. Accordingly, in its programme, AKP says that it is in favour of 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 the big business which has adapted itself to Western secularism since long can hardly put up with these kind of parties. On the other hand some bourgeois ideologists suggest that AKP should be accepted as one of the mainstream parties of bourgeois parliamentary system as this party corresponds to the Christian democrat parties in the West. Opinion polls suggest that this party might get approximately 20% of total votes 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 world capitalist system. The bourgeois of the big brother US and some European countries are busy with giving various advices to Turkey. But a Turkish proverb explains their plight quite well: “if the bald had the remedy he would apply it for himself.”

In the meantime, the US is now in a feverish preparation of war in the Middle East which is closely linked with Turkey. The US wants a full support in its Iraq war in exchange for the promise of giving a share to Turkey from the oil region of northern Iraq, Mosoul and Karkuk. This is very important. Some foreign commentators say that the reason for Ecevit’s process of falling down is his refusal to promise to give a full support to the US. This is partly true. Because, fearing from a prospect of establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, the nationalist Ecevit is not willing for this military operation. That is why Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary, came to Turkey in this very period of disintegration of Ecevit’s government. He exercised pressure for Turkey’s direct involvement in the Iraq operation, using his 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 a conditioned support for the Iraq operation in the summit held in the presidential house Çankaya, with the presence of the Chief of General Staff. From the preparations of the US and its allies it seems that the Middle East will be turned to a hell.

The question of Cyprus is also in a big uncertainty at the moment. The military circles in Turkey who are directly involved in the matter threaten with the idea that the accession of Greek Cyprus to the EU before Turkey’s accession would spoil the peace and stability in the island and East Mediterranean. The relations with the US and the EU are kept in hand as cards to be played against one another by the Turkish ruling circles. 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 the 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 there is a feverish process of change towards getting into the EU in the industrialised western part of Turkey. But on the other hand there are enormous problems to be faced by the EU itself due to the crisis of world capitalism.

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

Opinion polls indicate that nearly 70% of the people in Turkey are in favour of integration to the EU. The reason for this cannot be explained solely with the economic factors. The fundamental factor that creates the Turkish public opinion’s desire 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 the bourgeois democracy in the Western Europe really means. But even this much of 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 MHP. 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 the pressure of the pro-EU big business the parliament was called for an extraordinary meeting on August 3 and the above mentioned bills 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 as in every issue. For instance, Supreme Election Council announced a prohibition for the Kurdish language in relation to its use in the pre-election propaganda period. Moreover 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 does. On the other hand, the most important organisation of the big capitalists, TUSIAD, which played a direct role in the September 12 military regime, now plays the “democrat”! They stand for integration to the EU and want a transformation. But on the other hand, they want to make Turkey a sub-imperialist power in the region with the aid of 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 to 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, wherein 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 to collective bargain in a certain workplace. But in order the workers in that workplace to be able to go on a strike when the negotiations end up with disagreement, the decision of the union or workers to go on a strike is never enough. In order the workers to 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 then the strike can be started, of course, when 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 across with the police blockage, Sami Evren, the president of KESK, said in the name of public employees: "No one can make us give up our intransigence to turn the 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 and weakened heavily 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 for de-unionisation. Thus, in this important 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 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 present in the trade union movement. And it is necessary to follow a clever, 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 vanguard workers and create a strong position. 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 about 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 very important 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 classes. 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, now 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 did build internationalist organisations out of its past struggles under very difficult conditions. And it achieved great victories thanks to these organisations of its own. That is the most important lesson to be understood.

Internationalist communists should direct 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 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!