Turkey: Erdoğan’s Pyrrhic victory

It is time to build a new united left force

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has compensated for the defeat it suffered in the 7 June general elections in the second election of the year through a bloody tactics of massacre, repression, fear and chaos. Thus, Turkey has entered a new, difficult period seen from the viewpoint of the class struggle and the opposition forces. In these conditions, the HDP’s breaking of the anti-democratic electoral threshold is an achievement. A fruitful basis has emerged for building a large front and a mass left party that can defend the interests of the workers and the poor and encompass the unity of the Turkish and the Kurdish working classes. The point here is to start building this front patiently, but immediately.

The general election held on 1 November was an important challenge for the conservative, pro-capitalist and Islamist AKP government and pro-neo Ottoman leader Erdogan to ensure their dominance. After failing to get an outright majority on 7 June, while the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) managed an unprecedented breakthrough with 13%, the AKP compensated for its loss in the repeated elections by gaining an unexpected result through dirty and bloody tactics played primarily by Erdogan and his supporters.

According to the election results, the AKP increased its votes by around 8.5% to 49.5%, thus able to form a government on its own. While the Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) secured about the same as it did in June with 25.3% of the vote, the biggest loss was suffered by the nationalist far right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which declined from 16.3% to 11.9%. Although the HDP surpassed the 10% threshold with 10.8 % of the vote, it lost 2.3 % of the share it secured in June’s elections.

The fact that the votes of the MHP and other small nationalist parties went to the AKP, rather than the CHP contrary to expectations, demonstrates the worrying level nationalism has reached in the country and that the AKP’s tactics served their purpose.

This tactic consisted simply in whipping up fear, blood and terror. In the period after the June elections, around 500 persons lost their lives, in mass attacks and massacres took place in Suruç and Ankara. The AKP and its supporters managed to use all these to their advantage as part of their plans for chaos.

Given all the delirium of the past five months, the votes won by the AKP cannot be simply explained by large scale election fraud – although localised fraudulent methods were reported in various places. But if the (nationalist) votes lost by the CHP and MHP are taken into consideration together with the big nationalist and racist attacks that took place on September 6-8 in Turkey’s western provinces, the votes won by the AKP would be self-explanatory. The AKP consciously awakened the monster of nationalism and racism and channelled it for itself by waging war against the Kurds in the last five months.

The AKP also increased its vote share and seats in Kurdish provinces. Although it gained a certain portion of the vote in the region through fear, intimidation and from the base of those Islamist parties such as Huda-Par which had not joined the elections, the increase in the AKP’s vote share was mainly due to a lower turnout. The fact that HDP voters were prevented from casting votes under war conditions also had a particular impact on the results.

The meaning of the AKP’s victory and some insights

The victory of the AKP and Erdoğan is a Pyrrhic victory, won at great cost and therefore leading to even greater costs in the future. This victory multiplies the AKP and Erdoğan’s criminal record and burden. They went so far, they no longer have any place to go. They have no other choice than to deepen the repression in order to sustain the victory. Although this repression has initially been imposed on Kurdish people and left opponents, the AKP’s attacks will target all segments of society, who will attempt to raise their voices when the crisis within the system becomes visible and makes its effects felt on the working class.

It seems likely that they will continue the job they have already started, that is, silencing and intimidating the opposition media. Already columnists like Cem Kücük from the pro-AKP newspaper Star, who are in fact ‘non-diplomatic’ internal voices of the AKP, have started to give ultimatums by threatening media members who they cannot control and try to force them to kneel down.

In the same manner the war started in July in Kurdistan will be deepened. The repression and violence that we have been witnessed in the Kurdish provinces during the five months between two elections will be continued again by declaring special security zones, days-long curfews, political detentions and various intimidation methods.

Meanwhile, the developments in Rojava were also an important factor determining the approach and the attitude of the AKP to the ‘resolution process’ regarding the Kurdish question alongside the HDP’s rise and its stance against the AKP.

Furthermore, the liberation of Tal Abyad, to the east of Kobanê canton, in June from ISIS marked a turning point. The fall of Tal Abyad not only ensured the cutting of ISIS’s Raqqa-Turkey link, but also secured the geographic unification of two of the three cantons of Rojava. Now, Turkey’s main strategy is to prevent Rojava forces taking control of the region between the West of Kobanê and the Afrin canton, bordering Turkey and controlled by ISIS. US imperialist strategists, who are collaborating with the PYD (the Kurdish party leading Rojava) in their fight against ISIS, have also made abundantly clear they are opposed to this plan, as having an uninterrupted stretch of territory controlled by the Kurds along the Turkish border would bring them into renewed tension with Turkey, a key NATO ally, at a moment when the Americans are trying to downplay their differences with Erdoğan following the elections.

The tactical wars and negotiations pursued over Rojava will be important factors for both the government and the state to decide on whether the resolution process will be taken out of the ‘refrigerator’.

Is the HDP unsuccessful?

When the HDP gained 2% of the vote in the western provinces (around 4-5% in Kurdish territory) in the local elections of 2014, many leftist groups claimed that the HDP project as a left mass party had failed. However, when the HDP candidate received almost 10% of the vote in the presidential elections in August the same year, it became clear that there was a potential for building a new mass party in Turkey. The decision of the HDP to participate in the general elections as a party rather than with independent candidates was considered a big risk and the difficulty of it reaching the 10% threshold was debated. 80 seats gained in the parliament with 13.1% of the vote was a sensational result and was welcomed with big enthusiasm. Nevertheless, if the HDP had won its current share of 10.8 % in the June elections, it would have also been rightly seen as an important victory.

The HDP suffered from big attacks starting even before the June elections. Its offices in Adana and Mersin were attacked with bombs aiming at mass massacre. Bombs were exploded at a mass rally in Diyarbakir two days before the elections. The deepening of the violence against the party after the elections, starting with Suruç and continuing with the 10 October Ankara massacre, which claimed over 100 lives and was the bloodiest attack on a workers’ demonstration in the history of the country, combined with increasing state repression and the arrests of many of its activists, made the HDP’s campaign exceptionally difficult. Yet the decision of the HDP leadership to cancel all the party’s rallies and mass events following the Ankara bombings up to election day has contributed to muting its voice at a critical moment. The mass demonstrations and the two day-general strike that had followed these terrorist bombings showed, however, that the instinct of important sections of workers, students and activists was, on the contrary, to occupy the streets and renew the grassroots struggle against the government.

The attitude of the dominant forces against the rise of the HDP, which could ensure the unity of Kurdish and Turkish workers, and their tactics to prevent it from doing so, put the country on the edge of a civil war between 6 and 8 September. Primarily, Erdoğan, the AKP and its supporters continuously tried by all methods to identify the HDP with the PKK and to discredit the party in the eyes of Turkey’s working class.

The HDP surmounting the 10% threshold, despite all these attacks, is remarkable. The party still managed to get over a million votes more than in the 2014 presidential elections. Securing enough votes to pass the threshold, despite a partial loss of votes in Kurdistan, demonstrates further that it consolidated the support of certain segments of society in the West, at least the support of the left. Commentators’ general opinion was, however, contrary to this fact before the elections. According to this view, the HDP received ‘borrowed’ votes in June elections in the west because of the key role it played in preventing the AKP from having power on its own. These “borrowed votes” would return to the CHP in November and the HDP would compensate for its loss by increasing its share in Kurdish provinces.

New period and possibilities

On election night, many were clearly disappointed by the results; some were even talking about leaving the country. Some left activists discussed the results as if it was a defeat. The answer to this question depends on from which perspective the results are interpreted. If defeat means losing out on gains, there is no defeat here as we cannot talk about a regression in the struggle since the Gezi protests of June 2013, despite certain changes in the situation. On the contrary, it has to be admitted that a move to the left is taking shape if the election statistics and anti-government attitudes in society are taken into consideration.

On the other hand, it is also obvious that the struggle suffered a big blow and has entered a difficult period as Erdoğan reinforced his power at the moment he was falling back. Yet it shouldn’t be ignored that the left gained important experiences and has drawn certain political lessons in the last three years. One of the most important was the awareness gained regarding the lack of a subjective factor which could unify and carry forward further small and large-scale struggles and towards which the masses would turn. The HDP’s gains, achieved in a short time, demonstrate well how such a factor can have influence and potential. Yet, despite this, it is difficult and complicated for the HDP to fulfil this duty on its own, primarily because of its identification with the PKK.

The lack of a clear stance in the June elections by the United June Movement (BHH), built in a short time in autumn 2014, because of its sectarian attitude meant that it represented almost nothing. Although the BHH again did not take a clear stance for the November elections, its components correctly and totally supported the HDP. Taken from this angle, a big front involving the HDK/HDP, BHH and other groups can be crystallised in the coming period. This is not only possible but necessary because of its urgency.

The call to build a ‘democracy bloc’, issued by HDP circles recently, demonstrates that this necessity is admitted in many circles and that it can be achieved. The name of such a bloc is not of primary concern. It can become a new alternative against the government and the system if it is built with the aim of unifying the democratic and the social demands of the working class.

As a concrete initial step, DISK, KESK, TMMOB and TTB, the major leftist trade unions and workers’ organisations of the country, jointly with the HDP and the BHH, should organise a central conference on the joint initiative. However, this conference must be held in the form of a large congress, well prepared beforehand targeting mass participation from the working class, and should be different from previous attempts held in small hotels, where agreements were reached just by representatives of the executives of participating parties and organisations. In such a congress, a campaign foreseeing a medium-term struggle raising two important demands could be launched, with a final declaration comprising a list of various democratic and social demands of the working class. The first of these demands should be the ending of the war, which is the most vital problem both in Turkey and the region, while the other could be an increase in the minimum wage, which directly affects the living standards of the working class, to an amount of 2,000 liras ($700, €660) a month.

That which will determine the class struggle in the coming period and will deflect concerns raised by the blow of the election as to whether Turkey’s left movement will be able to build a united force by drawing the necessary lessons from the current situation.