The Class Character of “Gezi” Movement, Illusions and Bourgeois Polarisation

The wave of mass protests that has begun against the project of plundering of Gezi Park now seems to enter the stage of withering away after three weeks of mobilisation. 4 young people were killed, thousands of people were wounded, some of them were seriously injured and thousands of them were detained. The AKP government drove out the protesters from Taksim, Gezi Park and other public gathering spaces across the country through use of a rabid police terror and set out to take revenge by launching a campaign of a counter-attack against members of KESK, socialists, associations, Çarşı (group of fans of Beşiktaş football team). Tens of people were arrested with the charge of being “member of a terrorist organisation” and of “damaging public property.” It is clearly understood what Erdoğan meant when he said “we got the message”: attempts to consolidate the police, increase gas stocks and control social media. This is because the AKP is aware that the shadow of this mass movement will follow it in every step.

It is clear that the movement deserves detailed analyses from many respects and undoubtedly it will be done in the period ahead. We pointed out in the first days of the protests that what made a small scale resistance turn into a mass movement against the government was the reaction against impositions of the AKP, its authoritarianism and growing police terror. And we also pointed out in outlines the issues that we had examined in detail in our previous articles.

Here we will point to the character of this movement that has become clearer as it developed, its vital deficiencies and illusions about it. We will undoubtedly examine in detail what the policy followed by AKP in general and Erdoğan in particular against the resistance points to and also basic issues such as the attempts of bourgeois opposition forces to make use of the movement in their own interests, the influences over the movement of the conflicts and rivalry within the bourgeoisie.

The character of the movement

In the first phase of the protests we pointed out that the movement had democratic dynamics, constituted a useful experience in different ways, but even at that time we noted the general weaknesses of the movement and dangers facing it:

“This resistance have not started and developed in an organised way and it is characterised with a general non-organisation. It does not bear an apparent proletarian class character. At present stage there is no organised working class involvement in the process, but workers are involved as individuals. The dominant elements are mainly “white-collar” workers, university and high-school students and the “middle class” which has strong Kemalist prejudices. The dominant motive is the hatred against the AKP and Erdoğan. But the political composition is quite mixed. For instance there are tendencies such as Türk Solu, a fascist group, and IP (so-called Workers’ Party, which is strongly nationalist and Kemalist) and the putschist-chauvinist wing of the CHP (Republican People’s Party), and they are trying to bring the movement to an anti-Kurdish chauvinist line. ... But unless organised proletarian class movement gets in, this dynamic is faced with the danger of withering away or playing into the hands of nationalist powers like CHP which is the biggest anti-government political force around.”

We should underline that in the following days the character of the movement became clearer and that the above-mentioned shortcomings and the danger became more striking throughout the protests. It has to be underlined again that the movement is not marked by a proletarian class character but by a “middle class” character in terms of its demands, slogans, targets and the way it acts. This holds true despite the fact that people who joined the protests are largely part of the working class. Because they joined the movement as individuals and not with their class identity, class demands, class organisations. Moreover, as regards “white-collar” workers, “middle class” mentality, life style, and the sensitivities arising from these, become more distinctive.

Thus it appears that the movement is confined to hostility towards AKP and Erdoğan stemming mainly from this kind of sensitivities. For example, except some democratic demands, workers’ vital demands are not raised although there are serious problems: The life and working conditions of workers and toilers are under boundless attack; Anti-democratic practices are running rampant; Turkey is on the way to the hell of imperialist war; Kurdish question is still a burning issue; betrayal contracts are signed concerning thousands of workers in metal industry; Turkish Airlines workers are waging a life-and-death struggle under big pressure. Despite much highlighted aspiration for “individual freedom” we have not come across with demands for political rights and freedoms. The AKP and Erdoğan are called to resign but it is not clear who or what or what kind of government is demanded in their place.

Precisely for this reason, it is not correct to put the movement into the same category, on the basis of formal similarities, with the popular revolts against totalitarian regimes in various Arabic countries, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt. In the same manner, the movement is categorically different from the “indignados” movement in Spain against unemployment and austerity, the working-class movement which caused a revolutionary situation in Greece, the “Occupy” movement in the USA that broke out against dismissals and the attempt to put the burden of the bill of economic crisis onto the shoulders of the working class and the ongoing movement of the Brazilian poor working masses against price hikes and outrageous public spending for the World Cup. Of course, these movements are spontaneous, non-organised and unable to go beyond the limits of the system. But in all these movements, workers and toilers strongly expressed demands such as democracy, justice, jobs for all, food and social security. And it is clear that even these apparently commonplace demands cannot be permanently met under capitalism. For the very reason, an important part of these movements had the potential of overthrowing the bourgeoisie provided the guidance of a revolutionary leadership. However, in spite of the presence of so many socialist groups, contesting for setting up tents in Taksim Square, let alone anti-capitalist slogans, even such demands have not been raised in “Gezi Park” protests. Another important issue is the fact that in most of the aforementioned movements the proletarians did not get involved as individuals but as a class with strikes and occupations etc. But in Gezi protests not any section of the working class took part in the movement with their class identity and the majority of the industrial proletariat distanced themselves from the movement because of the influence of the bourgeois polarisation.

Most of the protesters who “occupied” Gezi Park-Taksim and other squares across Turkey are “white collar” employees and high school and university students coming from “middle class families”. Most of them consider apoliticism and unorganisation a great virtue and are praised and applauded by their families and bourgeois liberals for this. Also the “white collar” employees are praised by liberals since they act on the basis of “middle class” motives despite they are objectively workers. The statement “we are at work at daytime and join the protest at night” reveals the class character of the protests. This statement is made by “white collar” employees and quoted in approval by some of so-called socialists. Daytime everybody continues to be waged slaver or keeps on running their shops and at night they go to “gezi” (gezi means “going around”)! At present stage, the fact that the movement has evolved to “standing man” protests and “forums” which have been carried out in the parks in predominantly well-to-do neighbourhoods is also an important indication of the class character of the movement. There are only a few other neighbourhoods outside this category, where Alevis predominantly live and socialist groups have some activity. Even if there are hundreds of thousands flooding into squares it was clear to us that this movement was to get stuck and subside, which eventually proved true, unless a working-class response rises from, above all, inside production areas, and its main axis is formed by the demands characterised by the working class.

There is no doubt that those bourgeois segments that seek to bring the AKP into line are very pleased with this movement which has not disturbed the existing order. Among them are “chapulling” Cem Boyner, Koç Group, TUSİAD, bourgeois liberals. The fact that the bourgeoisie who see the ghost of revolution even in a strike could support a mass movement of this scale without fear is in itself indicative of the character of the movement. Therefore we need to ask those who attach too much importance to this movement, discover strong revolutionary dynamics in it or characterise it as an anti-fascist struggle: have you ever seen a workers’ movement supported feverishly by the bourgeois? Or, have you ever seen an anti-fascist movement applauded by leading members of monopoly capital?

To sum up, the movement has not been owned by the broad sections of the working class due to the extremely terrible situation of the trade-union movement, the utmost detachment of the socialist movement from the working class and the persistence of the artificial polarisation of society created by the bourgeois infighting. And the movement itself showed no interest in joining with the working class, which would carry it to a higher level. Thus the movement remained essentially a petty-bourgeois movement confined in a very narrow framework which would inevitably subside. And it could not escape the grip of bourgeois polarisation.

The bourgeois effort to manipulate the masses in its infighting

Because of the aforementioned weaknesses and shortcomings the efforts of various bourgeois cliques to manipulate the resistance and utilise it could not be staved off. Those capitalists who form the backbone of TUSİAD and have been in retreat for some time before Erdoğan seized upon the opportunity to bring the AKP and particularly Erdoğan into line and prepare the ground for new bourgeois alternatives for government. While this segment of the bourgeoisie expressly supported the movement after the first few days, it tried its best to keep the movement in line. Through liberals in the media controlled by them they feverishly promoted the ideas such as that “old” organisational conceptions do not address those “free” youth camping in the Gezi, that they should keep themselves away from “marginal” groups, that organising can well be done through twitter, that today’s youth are creating wonders with their sense of humour and technological capabilities.

Another wing of the bourgeoisie that tried to utilise the protests in an attempt to settle accounts with the government is the Fethullah Gulen wing. What they did was however a bit different. While they criticised Erdoğan’s manners in a “friendly” way in their own media outlets, they took sides with the government media in doing black propaganda against the protesters. This way they were seeking to give the message to Erdoğan that “we still support you but you must see that you will be eaten out if you don’t take us into consideration.”

And those imperialist powers that are discontent with Erdogan’s hardhead manners and his uncontrolled actions also tried to turn the popular discontent into an opportunity to prick Erdoğan’s bubble and bring the AKP into line. The US and EU based bourgeois media (CNN International, New York Times, The Economist, Guardian, Bild, Le Monde etc.) made an extensive coverage of the protests while they choose to ignore or distort or gloss over similar events when it does not suit the economic/political interests of their own states or bosses. These media organs used adjectives such as “dictator”, “concrete headed” in describing Erdoğan, and some of them equated him with dictators in Arab countries in their publications. This way they gave Erdoğan the message that “don’t boast too much, know your limits,” who has been pompous having the idea in his mind that “Muslim world takes us as example.”

As for the AKP side, in the classical attitude of rulers who felt themselves under threat Erdoğan kept his arrogant language and attacks instead of softening his language and attitude. He tried to prevent any cracks among his electoral base by alleging that the protests are a conspiracy of foreign powers and the domestic leg of this conspiracy is the “financial lobby” etc. and humiliating the protesters with adjectives like “bandits,” “drunks.” This was a very conscious policy to consolidate his electoral base in an attempt to aggravate further the existing artificial polarisation. Conscious of the results (a mounting anger) he gave the order to attack Taksim and Gezi Park, which was a challenge against the protesters and those bourgeois segments that try to undermine him. Eventually he made a show of strength the other day in his Istanbul mass rally as if a victorious commander.

Having been backed into a sort of corner in its Syrian policy, criticised harshly due to his initiative on the Kurdish question, sensed the fragile situation in economy despite much praised stability, Erdoğan has chosen to stand firm against this movement. Keep in mind that there will be several elections next year and Erdoğan has plans to change the political system to a system of presidency. He seeks to put a new constitution to vote and get himself elected as the first president of Turkey. He is quite aware of that this is a life-and-death question for himself and his party and once again he is pursuing the policy of aggravating the artificial polarisation among society by resorting to a discourse of victim to strengthen his side.

It is also clear that in the face of AKP CHP and other nationalist sections are pursuing a similar polarisation policy on their side. Nationalist forces underwent a kind of revival thanks to this movement against the government and tried to channel the movement towards their own line. They were depressed after a series of defeats such as losing of much-debated court cases like Ergenekon, Balyoz etc., the military-civil bureaucracy losing its peculiar position and going under AKP control, which overall meant losing of many Kemalist strongholds.

The working class, under conditions of present low level of consciousness and organisation, cannot take an attitude and move on to action on the basis of independent class line and escape from the grip of the bourgeois polarisation. Those workers who voted for the AKP are forced to accept what Erdoğan says and defend him, and most of the workers who supported the protests or joined in are driven to be supporters of the CHP.


It is not surprising at all for Marxists that both massive workers’ movements and popular movements occur in the form of spontaneous outbursts in their first phase. There are numerous examples that such movements are sparked at unexpected moments and for unexpected reasons. It is known that in some cases they can even go so far to the point of revolutionary situations. But the “Gezi” movement, let alone leading to a revolutionary situation due to objective and subjective limits, could not win active or passive support of majority of the public. Except the extraordinary situation caused by police attacks and resistance against these attacks that concentrated in a few squares that are centres of the protests, there was no disruption or halt in the workings of the system and the flow of daily social life. The movement has not expanded into industrial areas. Despite this movement became a topic of conversations among workers, broad sections of the working class stayed away from it.

Nevertheless, it appears that the socialist movement is carried away by this movement and they lost their sense of reality because it was the most massive resistance movement seen since the 12 September 1980 coup. The lack of strength and inability of socialist groups, overwhelmed by the ever-growing unorganized masses in Taksim, to lead or orient the movement became strikingly evident, leading to tail-ending the movement. Those who attached great importance to this movement created many illusions. Even those who came to acknowledge that the working class stayed away from the movement and that this was a great problem, were carried away and behaved in a mood of “we are marching towards revolution”, which in fact points out to losing sense of reality caused by their lack of proletarian class base. This petty-bourgeois outlook and mood have found expression in the attitude which was focused only on the rightful outrage against the AKP and police terror, and in the worshipping of the movement.

Knowing that this kind of movements which are not led by the working class as an organised and revolutionary force are doomed to be crushed, subside or get no lasting gains, the working class revolutionaries focus on bringing a solution to the fundamental deficiency. Surely the political atmosphere where a mass awakening is being experienced, a rise of interest in politics on the part of the working class provides an important opportunity for socialists to raise the consciousness of workers along correct lines, win them and orient them. It is quite natural that every socialist organisation will try to increase its strength through utilising this opportunity. But it is not, and should not be, the business of working class revolutionaries to attach an exaggerated importance to, and ignore the limits of, the existing movement which is not proletarian but petty-bourgeois in its essential character. It is also unacceptable for working class revolutionaries to disseminate illusions of revolution which will inevitably lead to disillusion. But what the petty-bourgeois left did was exactly this. They unfortunately make up the majority among the socialist movement in Turkey. They reduce revolutionary activity to clashes with the police and advertising themselves, and do not care the lack of organisation of the working class.

This process also helped to disclose the long-time mood of the nationalist, populist sections of the socialist movement. This mood has been a picture of pathological despair and pessimism intermingled with the Kemalist delirium of CHP supporter elite over the last 10 years during which the AKP has been ruling the country. “Gezi” protests were good for this mood as if elixir and the movement became a lever for them to restore their belief and trust in “the people” and “revolution.” On the basis of this mood they considered this movement a game to plunge into and play through the end with plenty of adrenalin, without questioning its nature, shortcomings and limits. The following lines by a socialist scholar from these circles deserve quotation as they reflect plain and sincere confessions:

 “ … As individuals we were overwhelmed in an incredible feeling of isolation until the start of uprooting of the trees in Gezi Park. Gezi resistance has taken us all out of this isolation. It acquired different colours and forms, grew day by day beginning with 28 May and showed to whole Turkey that we are not alone in our feeling of isolation, despair; and nullified this illusion.

“We needed this feeling so much that over the last 12 days we have been content with only experiencing it to the end. Perhaps it is not time yet to make profound analyses and predictions. But it is exactly the time to establish connections between the Tekel Resistance and the Gezi resistance. The Tekel Resistance took place 3 years ago and made us feel the same by giving us hope and making us ask whether a new stage of struggle begins or not.” (Funda Başaran, 10.06.2013)

In fact what guided not only these layers but all those parts of the socialist movement stricken with petty-bourgeois character was not sober assessment of the process and taking position on that basis, but “emotions.” In the grip of the euphoric mood almost whole socialist left was swayed by illusions. They went so far as to assert that the revolt would not stop until the AKP falls, that this is a revolt of freedom against fascism, that it quickly raised revolutionary consciousness, that a new generation of revolutionaries were being born, that the 21. century socialism would be formed by this kind of street movements etc.. And all these assessments are lavishly added a praise of lack of organisation either explicitly or implicitly. The result is spontaneism, tail-endism and a worshipping of “movementism.” Disregarding their plight they had so far the mistaken impression that they could lead the revolution. And although the course of events disclosed the weakness and lack of strength of the left, this led them not to draw correct lessons such as focusing on the main task which is a proletarian class based work but to play with the fatal idea that there can be a successful revolution even without a revolutionary leadership.

But contrary to those who let themselves be carried away in dizziness, class revolutionaries focus on the hard work that everyone escapes from, but is a must to prepare the rebellion of the working class, which will shake the system to its foundations and make the bourgeois tremble in their shoes. And, accordingly, they strive to strengthen the proletarian revolutionary organisation within the working class, to get the working class acquire the required level of consciousness and organisation and act not in the wake of the bourgeoisie but on the basis of their independent class interests. Only insofar as this is done the proletariat can lead the possible mass movements in the period ahead and can indeed turn them into a lever of proletarian revolution.