|Members of the TKP in Gezi Park|
Kemal Okuyan is the chief editor of the progressive daily newspaper soL (meaning 'left' in Turkish) and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Turkey or TKP. He recently answered questions put to him by the TKP about the Gezi Park struggle taking place today in Istanbul. Protesters have been assembled in Gezi Park since the end of May, opposing the demolition of the park and construction of a shopping mall. The brutal police repression of demonstrations sparked wider public support for the actions which quickly developed into broad opposition against the reactionary government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In this interview, Reprinted from Solidnet, Okuyan addresses questions which have recently been debated in Turkey and internationally such as “Where is Turkey heading?”, “Is this a revolutionary situation?” and “Are the recent events the ‘Spring’ of Turkey?”
Was a social movement of this scale expected?
Historically, big social movements are generally movements that cannot be foreseen. If the limits of something can be predicted, actors related to the issue prepare accordingly. With negative or positive inputs, they attempt to control the results. When this happens, the fictional casts a shadow on the movement. Progress that can change the given balance of power cannot be made and as a result a big social movement does not come into being. Nobody was able to estimate the dimensions of what we are experiencing at the moment. The government couldn’t. The mainstream opposition couldn’t, the left couldn’t either. There were some foresights, some was able to realize that the events would reach a critical point but no one was able to foresee what is happening now. This is important. The political and ideological climate of Turkey is now different from 4-5 days ago. Not completely different but at a scale that can’t be underestimated.
What is behind the prevalence and the depth of the movement?
In a straightforward, naked fashion, it is the culmination of the reaction, even hatred towards AKP government and especially towards Erdoğan to an incredible level. There we thought we all knew this. But there was something we forgot, this feeling of hatred towards Erdoğan solidified, accumulated at the same rate as Erdoğan increased his arrogance, solidified his impunity. On the other hand, everyone thought that this hatred was taken for granted since it was of no use or the impression that it was of no use. But hatred is not a feeling that can be taken for granted. If it finds a channel, it will come out. Tayyip Erdoğan cannot be proud of himself enough. He has become a focal point that not many people in the history have ever become.
Is it that simple, in other words, can the whole issue be narrowed down to the rage against Erdoğan?
Of course not. But this should be given importance. As an example, if it weren’t such a dominant figure like him, say, Abdullah Gül heading AKP, the level of the reactions would have come down to a normal level. One should not read this as if there is not an ideological reference here. Erdoğan is a catalyst with the effect of a multiplier. But the movement is aiming to settle accounts with the fundamental features of the mentality that materialized in AKP… Exception being the class base… Reactionism and collaboration has been the ideological background and Erdoğan was placed in the center. The Prime Minister says “This is not about the trees”. I can’t believe he said this… After a certain point, it is not about the trees or Gezi Park. This was the final straw. He doesn’t realize the level of the rage and hatred he has created…
The dominant feature of AKP is its marketism… Where is the lack of the connection here?
Well, we can’t really dodge the issue by simply saying that this is the reaction of middle class. If the middle class reaction has reached this level in Turkey, we should start thinking about other things. OK, there is a middle class character to this but there has been serious mobilization in the working class neighborhoods, particularly in İstanbul and Ankara. If we forget what we have known all along and talk off the top of our head, we will make mistakes. Firstly, the ideological political impact, both in terms of bourgeois and socialist ideology, has to overcome the middle class obstacle. The struggle for hegemony here needs to be taken serious. If everyone labels this wide field as they feel like it, it would be a great mistake. The Left has for years looked down on this field labeling it with labels such as “White Turk”… Ideological rigor is important, so is the class sensitivity. But we also need to avoid oversimplification. Secondly, it is the structure of the working class in Turkey. There is limit to organizing in the workplace a labor mass that is unsteady, ever moving while dealing with unemployment. It is time to look at the laborer localization with a new logic. We have transferred the working class to the union structure but they are not on solid ground either. The whole country has risen up and unions are nowhere to be found. There is no tool that will activate the working class as the leader, that will make it the dominant force! In previous incidents where this was achieved by political structures, there was absolute success. Tens of thousands of people who were labeled as “Middle Class” have in fact laid claim to an anti-capitalist axis. The reason is that most of these people are people whose labor is exploited.
Is it this innocent or are there “deeper” plans in this movement?
Some of the mouthpiece media writes claim that evil forces have been mobilized for an organized uprising. If this had been the case, the result would have been different. They can rest easy. This is simply an explosion of rage. The political players who share this rage obviously have been able to connect with this general rage easily and they have come forward in the areas they already had connection with or where they were already organized. But this should not be exaggerated. Conspiracy seekers should look somewhere else. And exactly among themselves. It is very clear, for a while there is an attempt to tweak, to fix Tayyip Erdoğan’s policies. USA for various reasons, Fethullah Gülen’s sect for other reasons. Both in foreign and internal politics, they are trying to get Erdoğan controllable again. Erdoğan is someone who doesn’t get things easily… He can’t stay consistent either. He got Reyhanlı partially but it wasn’t enough. In the issue of Gezi Park, USA, big capital and Gülen’s sect, by leaving him vulnerable and defenseless, they have shown him the result of Reyhanlı business. I am not sure if he got the point. Last week, the name of Sarıgül being continuously mentioned as the candidate for the head of Istanbul municipality… (Sarıgül is the mayor of a district in Istanbul, who is a social democrat with strong ties with some sectors of capitalist class) The new relation between CHP (main opposition party) and Gülen’s sect constantly being mentioned in the “social media”. Add all these on top…
Would the “Turkish Spring” analogy fit there?
The “Turkish Spring” reference in the imperialist media is a message to Erdoğan. In the final analysis, they are happy with Erdoğan and they are not planning to replace him but they are also reminding him his limits. After the recent events, Erdoğan's policies about Syria and Iraq need to change. I think his adventure of presidency is also finished. One possibility is that the relation between Erdoğan and Gülen’s sect starts getting better and by establishing an ideological and political consolidation against the social reaction that emerged, they move together… This obviously will take time. On the other hand, Erdoğan’s anger can last longer and may respond to Gülen’s sect. This would create interesting results. But, it is not possible to expect Erdoğan to play the reasonable politician since a crestfallen Erdoğan is not useful for anyone.
Is that the historical meaning of the events?
Absolutely not… No one should cast a spur on this movement. This is an uprising of the people. The people are angry. Those who underestimate the opposition against Erdoğan and AKP should start to reconsider their perception. Those who think that there will be peace and democratization with Erdoğan should do the same thing as well. All their plans have failed. Do not listen to the analysis. This is a social movement. Some political forces are trying to use this movement not for a new future but just to intimidate the government. But this will not stop here. The recent events have contributed to the organized movement of the people. They left Erdoğan unsupported because otherwise they will attract the anger to themselves. They have been very careful. May me they used some tricks. For instance the unbridled brutality of the police….
How ready was the Turkish left?
It is always controversial what you mean by the left in Turkey. Some leftist groups do not have any political concerns. There are some groups which are not interested in or disdain the developments. I do not want to talk much about them. The political forces with serious political concerns were not ready to lead the events. But this movement is not alien to the left. As I said in many localities the organized left led the people.
There are some who are not happy with the intervention of the left. They are not comfortable with political identities, party flags or banners…
This is not surprising if you consider the spontaneity of the movement. On the other hand, in most places people demand the coordination of an organization. If you take into account the size of the events, the direct contribution of the organized left is limited but the determination of the people depends on the leftist forces. There is also an intellectual ego which is allergic to the idea of organized left. They want to monopolize the stage. We do not take them seriously. We have honest intellectuals who are resisting against this government. The left should back them but not the ones who are hostile to the leftist politics and the idea of any type of political organization.
There are two elements of this movement: Football fans and alcohol…
The participation of football fans has injected energy into the movement. However this should be analyzed alongside other factors… This energy caused some problems. Swearing at the political demonstrations, which has not been the case in Turkey can be given as an example to those problems. I observed this myself: Our women friends who criticize some of our texts or newspaper articles for having a ‘masculine discourse’ were swearing sexist words. This, of course, can be explained with the extent of the anger but the socialist movement should impose its own culture. In the issue of alcohol as well… Since Erdoğan is trying to ban alcoholic drinks, alcohol has become an issue of freedom. But this should be politicized. You cannot struggle against oppression by holding beer bottles in your hands. That is why I think TKP’s decision to not drink alcoholic drinks during the demonstrations is very important.
How can we define these incidents? Is that a revolutionary crisis?
No. Of course, this is an outburst of a huge social energy. It is powerful at extent and effect. But there are some Marxist criteria to define a situation as a revolutionary crisis. We are away from there. At least for now….
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