Left on the rise in Turkey
Green Left Weekly, #235, 19 June 1996
More than 15,000 people participated in the founding of the new Freedom and Solidarity Party (ODP) in Turkey on January 22. Ertugrul Kurkcu, a founding member of this party, recently visited Australia. He was interviewed for Green Left Weekly by Arty T and Sue Bolton.
Question: What is the state of the left in Turkey?
The May Day march this year was five times as big as it was in previous years. More than 100,000 people participated, and most of them were led by left groups and parties. Among the student movement and among the intellectuals, the left is on the rise. That is one of the reasons why we were able to set up a united party of the left and labour.
The left was deeply affected by the collapse of the USSR. Before the collapse, the pro-Soviet Communist Party was very influential, especially among trade union leaders and the working class movement. After the collapse of the USSR, they evaporated.
Outside the pro-Soviet Communist Party, the Turkish left in the past was critical of the sort of socialism experienced in the USSR. I believe that the Soviet Union was a distorted bureaucratic form of building socialism.
The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in heavy losses all around the world, but there was a positive side to this. Now we don’t have any example that we have to repeat. Now we have a broader area for free thinking, imagination and analysis. This is the only gain from the collapse of the Soviet Union, and we have to keep it.
Question: What about the social democracy?
We don’t consider them part of the left in Turkey. The social democratic parties are now captivated by state policies, particularly on the Kurdish issue. There are three social democratic parties in Turkey, and they have all participated in right-wing governments.
The basic line which divides the left and right in Turkey is the attitude towards the Kurdish war. All three of the social democratic parties support the ongoing war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the human rights abuses committed against Kurdish and Turkish activists.
Question: What are the main activities of socialists?
The revolutionary left was fragmented, disorganised and dismembered under the pressure of the junta, especially in the 1980s. Most of the leaders were forced into exile, some were killed, and others remained in prisons until 1991, including some prisoners from the 1970s.
There are three main groups in the left: armed propaganda groups, legal left parties and the Kurdish left, who support the PKK and other less influential Kurdish parties.
There are still armed propaganda groups, one of them called Revolutionary Left (DS). The armed propaganda groups have experienced heavy police crackdowns, so most of the revolutionary left has begun rebuilding itself in a legal party form.
There are two legal parties. One is the Labour Party formed by [Albanian Communist Party leader] Enver Hoxha followers.
The other legal party is the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ODP). The ODP is a unification of a large section of the Turkish socialist left, social movements and labour movement. The social movements involved in the party include the left green movement, the feminist movement and the lesbian and gay movement.
Previously the trade unions followed political parties or were directed by political parties. Since the junta seized power in 1980 and political groups were smashed, labour unions or labour mass movements started to follow a left policy of their own. They have developed a very influential left labour movement since 1989. The leaders of these groups are also involved in our party.
Prior to 1980, all Turkish left groupings had their counterparts among the Kurds. When the PKK was formed in 1984, most Kurdish activists decided to join the PKK rather than remain in contact with Turkish left parties. The most influential left party in Kurdistan is the PKK, but due to their loss of interest in ideological matters, they don’t have good relations with the Turkish left. There is no real cooperation between the Kurdish left and the Turkish left. This is one of the reasons for the collapse of the left in Turkey in the 1980s.
Question: What is the significance of the Kurdish question?
The Kurdish question is the question of questions, not only for the left but also for the right, for the state, for the police, for the army and for Turkey’s international relations.
Until now the government and other political parties and the military have only pursued the military solution. Their aim is to stop the Kurdish uprising with force, denying their social, historical, cultural and political existence. This war has resulted in 3 million forced evacuations and the burning down of more than 2500 villages.
The issue of independence for Kurdistan is crucial for the Turkish left not only because of the national question but also because Turkey’s expenditure on the war against the PKK totals around $US7 billion annually. This is one-fifth of the budget. If you include the rest of the military and police budgets, one-third of the budget is spent on the military machine.
The Turkish government is seeking to cut the budget deficit with an ambitious privatisation program. The labour movement now sees that the war and the privatisation program are interconnected. Without fighting one, you cannot fight the other. The left intellectuals are also convinced now that without ending the war and resolving the Kurdish issue, there is no room for political liberty in Turkey.
The first step towards solving the Kurdish question is for an open discussion of the issue with Kurdish groups. Kurds need to be granted the right to organise their own political parties and then the Kurdish people need to be asked what solution they will accept. Of course, the solution will depend on what the Kurdish people think is necessary to achieve self-determination.
The army generals are so committed to the war that any withdrawal would be seen as a defeat for them. Even the capitalists themselves have raised a peaceful solution. Business magnate Sabanci has openly called for a peaceful solution but he stopped making such statements when pressured by the army chief of staff.
The task for the left now is to create a mass peace movement. The sentiment for peace is growing because 10,000 soldiers have been killed and there is no end in sight.
Stopping the war doesn’t solve the Kurdish question, but it is only when you stop the war that you can start to talk about the solution.
Question: What is the level of political repression in Turkey?
There is still some kind of state of law in Turkey, but the state solves many of its problems with illegal forces. There is a high level of repression of civil liberties, trade union liberties, political liberties and particularly on the expression of ethnic identities.
Since 1980, 22 journalists have been killed, and more than 100 journalists are in jail. They have been condemned for violating the notorious Article 8 or similar provisions, and 3000 cases are in progress in the state security courts.
Ten provinces are under state of emergency, with soldiers on the streets. Since 1986 four political parties have been banned by the Constitutional Court. Kurdish deputies are jailed for what they have said in the parliament.
Public employees are not still granted the right to organise, but they are organising themselves; therefore they are under pressure. Many of their members are sued or arrested during mass strikes or mass demonstrations. The student movement is also starting to organise despite the government banning political organisations in the universities.
Question: What are the implications of the new government for the workers movement?
The new government is determined to block the workers’ opposition and to continue implementing its privatisation program.
Secondly, the government has decided to put pressure on the mass movement. Now new orders are being drafted regarding the right to demonstrate and the right to organise. Because of the war and other reasons, the Turkish economy is on the decline. Workers’ incomes are decreasing and there are massive lay-offs of around 600,000 workers. This means a very heavy burden on the working class. Workers are starting to fight.
The new government is pursuing the hardline strategy of the military against the Kurds. The situation is not better with respect to political liberties. The government is unlikely to make any improvement regarding Turkey’s abuse of human rights.
These issues won’t be solved in the parliament. They will be solved in the street. There have been times when the right to strike and right to demonstrate have been abolished and then regained after mass struggle.