As the world economy enters a deeper crisis than that of the financial crisis of 2007/8 with the outbreak of COVID-19, the ruling class in Turkey, led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is already making the working class pay for the crisis. Desperate to protect the profits of big businesses, the government is refusing to impose a full-scale lockdown. This means that workers are still working in construction sites, factories, coal mines, and in other workplaces across the country, often working in cramped conditions and using public transport to go to work. A law was passed to the benefit of the bosses, as it allows them to impose unpaid leave and it limits trade union activity. However, despite the efforts of the government to further curb the powers of trade unions to organise, workers are organising walkouts in many workplaces over cruel working conditions, and the number of these walkouts are likely to increase.
It is under these circumstances that this document, written in Turkish and English by members of the Committee of a Workers’ International, is being published to make a contribution to key issues, such as the question of working-class political representation and how to build the socialist movement in Turkey.
Founded in 1974, the CWI is an international socialist organisation which bases itself on a working-class, Trotskyist programme. The biggest section of the CWI, the Socialist Party of England and Wales (formerly Militant Tendency), successfully built a mass campaign against Tory cuts in Liverpool and was the driving force amongst the elected Labour group in Liverpool City Council from 1983 onwards. Between 1983-7, under the leadership of Militant, thousands of houses for working-class people were built, along with sports centres, creating thousands of new jobs. Despite all the pressures from the capitalist establishment, mass meetings, strikes and demonstrations were organised to fight the cuts. Due to these achievements, but not solely for these reasons, Militant had a mass base amongst the working class in Liverpool. Only a few years later, Militant also led the mass non-payment campaign that not only defeated the Poll Tax but also laid the basis for bringing down Maggie Thatcher.
Our aim is to draw on from these experiences and from many other experiences of the CWI – in particular, the programme and methods of work that made these achievements possible – to make a contribution to the workers’ movement in Turkey by presenting our ideas. This document, which was drafted shortly before the covid-19 pandemic, is a short overview of the last twenty years and makes suggestions regarding what needs to be done.
CWI Turkey (İEK Türkiye – Devrimci Sosyalist Sol)
Low pay, bad housing, long working hours, and the infringement of most basic democratic rights have become the norm in the regime created by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – the right-wing capitalist party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Given the urgency of the situation facing the working class in Turkey, it is important to discuss the methods and programme necessary to topple this regime and replace it with a democratic socialist society run by workers. What follows is an analysis of the current situation.
Prior to the election of Erdogan as Prime Minister of Turkey in 2002, the Turkish economy plunged into recession after a financial crisis that exploded in 2001, resulting in a currency devaluation and inflation. This was one of the biggest economic crises in the history of Turkey: inflation stood at 70 per cent, the financial system almost collapsed, and living standards for the majority rapidly deteriorated. Shortly after the crisis, the coalition government sought a massive sum of loan from the IMF to ‘rescue’ the economy. In return for the loan, the IMF prescribed a series of structural reforms that included cuts and privatisations.
Erdogan fitted very well to this rescue plan. At last, the capitalist class concluded, a reliable representative of the capitalist class could implement neoliberal policies without facing any parliamentary obstacle. This is because even though Erdogan’s party gained 34 per cent of the votes, it had enough majority in the parliament to form its own government. He was supported by the EU and the liberals in Turkey. They portrayed Erdogan as a figure who could save the economy and democratise the country, by getting rid of Kemalist bureaucracy.
Erdogan was also popular amongst some sections of the working class and petit-bourgeois with the policies he put forward. Portraying himself as an ‘anti-establishment’ figure, Erdogan pledged to eradicate poverty and corruption. Many Muslim people who felt shut out from politics and society due to increased Kemalist-military interference in politics, drew the wrong conclusion that Erdogan could solve the issues faced by Muslim workers. But from the beginning, it was crystal clear that Erdogan would not deliver policies in the interest of working-class people. He would only give breadcrumbs to the poor whilst implementing pro-big business policies. Under Erdogan’s rule, the gap between the poor and the rich widened.
As dictated by the IMF programme, the AKP privatised dozens of companies and industries. To name only a few, Turkish Telecom, the tobacco and alcoholic beverages company TEKEL, and heavy industries, such as the steel industry, were all privatised in the first few years of the AKP administration. Reports suggest that 88 per cent of all privatisations in Turkey’s history were carried out during the Erdogan era.
The policies implemented by the AKP government did initially succeed to substantially reduce inflation levels to below 10 per cent after they got into power. Between 2002-2007, the country’s economy grew at an annual rate of 7.2 per cent. Erdogan’s party also undertook mega projects such as airports, bridges, motorways and luxurious apartments – projects that working-class people hardly afford to use. But all of these ostensible successes that Erdogan has boasted about throughout his rule took place with the backdrop of increased casualisation and massive credit expansion.
On top of this, Erdogan effectively used laws to undermine the rights of workers. Through laws that encouraged subcontracting in both public and private sectors, workers were deprived of any job security. The anti-trade union laws passed in the parliament led to a sizeable reduction in union membership. Compared to other OECD countries, Turkey ranks at one of the lowest in terms of union membership (8.6 per cent of the workforce are unionised). The situation is even bleaker when we consider the percentage of workers covered by collective bargaining: only 7.02 per cent of workers are covered by collective bargaining in Turkey compared to 26.30 per cent in the UK.
Although the tops of the labour movement in Turkey was not prepared to take on Erdogan to stop these policies, there were scores of militant strikes and protests organised by workers. This is in part the legacy of the fighting and socialist traditions of the working-class. It was not long time ago when more than 100,000 working-class people in Zonguldak, led by miners who wanted to stop pit closures in 1990-1, organised a city-wide strike against the neoliberal government of Turgut Ozal, a government that took measures to liberalise the economy by removing tariffs and implementing other pro-business reforms.
In a similar vein, the TEKEL dispute also frightened the ruling class in Turkey; this time it was not Ozal but Erdogan who found himself face to face with militant workers. In December 2009, following the privatisation of TEKEL, the government announced that 12 TEKEL factories would close with the 10,000 workers redeployed in other public sector jobs on precarious, temporary contracts and up to 40 percent pay cuts. This sparked industrial action and 12,000 workers organised a sit-in outside the AKP headquarters in Ankara, which lasted 78 days. In February 2010, tens of thousands of workers took part in a one-day general strike called by Turk-is. Nearly 100,000 people attended a demonstration in Ankara. The leadership of Turk-is throughout the dispute tried to dampen the mood, but the pressure from TEKEL workers forced the union to take action. This tremendous strike was the last mass struggle in Turkey driven by the working class.
The TEKEL dispute is an indication of the level of labour militancy in Turkey’s labour movement. This strike, and the other ones organised in the past few years, underlines the huge importance of a united mass struggle led by the working class to topple Erdogan.
As well as these industrial battles, the struggles of women, Kurdish people, environmentalists, and LGBT+ people and other groups play an important role in the radicalisation of broad layers of the society. Violence against women is reaching record levels under the rule of Erdogan – 474 women were murdered in 2019. LGBT+ people are organising impressive demonstrations against violence and discrimination. The CWI stands in defence of all women, Kurdish people, LGBT people and other oppressed groups who are being ferociously attacked by the regime. But rather than looking for short-cuts, especially in a period where some socialist organisations are making concessions to ID politics and to reformist leaders, Marxists must knit the struggles of all workers to build a mass working-class movement and to create a society free from exploitation and oppression. This compels Marxists to organise in workplaces and to transform unions into democratic and combative organisations that represent the interests of the working class. This also means constructing a mass workers’ party, drawing together workers, young people and activists, to raise clear class demands and to articulate a socialist programme.
The aftermath of the 2016 coup
The recent political and economic developments, which poses serious challenges to the stability of the AKP regime, creates new opportunities for a mass, working-class fightback to get rid of Erdogan. The events following the coup attempt in 2016 – the crackdown on opposition activists, the mass repression in Kurdish cities, the anti-worker decrees, and the economic crisis – are all an indication of a need to build an independent labour movement that acts in the interest of the working class and the oppressed layers in the society.
The failed coup attempt in 2016, led by a right-wing religious group known as the Gulen movement and its faction within the Turkish army, was a significant turning point because it prepared the ground for a massive crackdown on the opposition, including trade unionists, civil servants, Kurdish activists and teachers. In fact, Erdogan used the exact methods of the Gulen movement to not only detain people whom he regarded as a threat to his rule but also to establish a greater command over the state machinery. The Gulen movement, which had established close relationships with all high-ranking politicians and bureaucrats since the 1990s, were close partners with the AKP until there was a conflict of interests.
By declaring a state of emergency shortly after the coup attempt, in practice, Erdogan institutionalised the one-man rule he long planned. He succeeded to tighten his grip on the state bureaucracy, media and the army. This was a necessary step, from the viewpoint of Erdogan, because there was a downturn in the impressive economic growth that Erdogan always boasted about and there was a growing polarisation in the society between the Erdogan supporters and the opposition.
Since the coup, Erdogan has detained the left-wing leaders of the HDP, Selehattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, accusing them of spreading propaganda for PKK militants. He has detained several other HDP MP’s and activists. The democratically elected mayors of several Kurdish cities were also arbitrarily discharged from office and replaced by government trustees. The state escalated the war against the Kurds living in Turkey, resulting in the death of hundreds of civilians. Some Kurdish towns in Turkey were literally destroyed by the indiscriminate bombing of the Turkish army.
These ferocious attacks against all opposition activists laid the basis for the constitutional change in 2017, a year after the failed coup attempt, to establish the Presidential system that gave Erdogan unprecedented supreme powers to rule Turkey. This system gets rid of most basic bourgeois rights, such as the separation of powers, and allows the President to authorise the termination of the Parliament. Through decrees, the President could execute important decisions without the approval of the parliament, including the postponement of strikes.
Although capitalist commentators voiced their opposition to this new constitution, in a speech he delivered to a hall full of business people, Erdogan made it clear that the new constitution has given him the power to suspend strikes, and he also boasted about how the regime he created has successfully curbed the power of the worker’s movement. And to be clear, as far as capitalists are concerned, the undemocratic regime Erdogan has created is compatible with capitalism, as long as this regime safeguards private property and enhances profits.
Breaking the political impasse
The absence of a mass workers’ party throughout the 18-year rule of Erdogan made it possible for Erdogan to implement a neoliberal programme, to attack the Kurds and to tighten his grip on the state bureaucracy by imposing anti-democratic measures. Had such a mass workers’ party existed, with a fighting socialist programme, Erdogan would have failed many times whenever he tried to whip up Turkish nationalism as a cover to attack workers. He would have failed to portray himself as a ‘man of the people’. Putting forward a clear socialist programme, as opposed to the neoliberal programme of Erdogan, would transform the political situation in Turkey in the interest of the working class.
The reason why the absence of a mass worker’s movement is felt deeply today is for a few reasons. One, there is a growing concern amongst the capitalist class whether Erdogan could reliably represent the interest of international capital. Capitalist commentators are raising concerns about the independence of the central bank, as the last head of the central bank was removed from office by Erdogan. The economy is doing bad and Erdogan refuses to come up with an agreement with the IMF. The editorial produced by the Financial Times after the results of the rerun election in Istanbul raises these issues and suggests the AKP should focus on economic reforms that would lead to sustainable growth and job creation.
There is also the possibility that the new party set to be created by the former economy minister, Ali Babacan, and the former Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who both talk about the need for sound economic management and to restore the rule of law, might gain some support from the capitalists. But Erdogan still enjoys high levels of popularity, so the new right-wing capitalist party will find it incredibly difficult to challenge Erdogan.
Secondly, the living standards for working-class and middle-class people are rapidly deteriorating after the recent financial crisis. Although the official inflation rose to 25 percent in December 2018, real inflation was predicted to be over 40 percent. A recent report published by the state claims that inflation has dropped to the lowest level in almost three years. For the majority of people who are increasingly finding it difficult to consume most basic needs, such as meat, vegetables and electricity, this report is ludicrous.
The reality is there is growing anger amongst the working-class and middle-class people. Unemployment has increased by over a million in one year. Youth unemployment has reached its record levels of 25 percent. The global slowdown in the economy is also putting more stress on the Turkish economy. Global corporations such as Ford and Honda are preparing to close its car plants in Turkey, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs. Erdogan is also preparing to carry out an attack on the hard-won gains of the working class by making alterations to the redundancy pay and other welfare policies.
The results of the recent local elections, therefore, is at root an expression of the level of discontent in industrial cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Bursa. Working-class people had enough of rising living costs, lack of jobs and rising house rents. Reports suggest that AKP supporters are increasingly worried about the social differences between them and AKP officials. On top of this, the economy Minister Berat Albayrak announced in September 2019 that the AKP will introduce the New Economic Programme 2020-22, a series of structural reforms. The programme optimistically targets to achieve a 5 percent GDP growth and to keep the inflation level to 8.5 percent in 2020. The reality is this is a programme of privatisations, of low corporate tax, and of deregulation of the labour market. It contains no policy that will benefit the working class.
The Erdogan regime also has a notorious record of implementing projects or laws that lead to environmental destruction, a major issue especially for local communities, which is reflected in the number of large protests organised in the past few years. The construction of Hydroelectric power plants in northern Turkey has led to waves of protests organised by local people to defend the environment. Similarly, the demolition of Hasankeyf, a 12,000 years old ancient town in Batman, to build a dam resulted in local protests and mass outcry across Turkey. Erdogan, as the representative of capitalism, is recklessly destroying all green spaces and ancient towns in order to generate profit for his cronies.
Inherent in the situation, therefore, is the possibility of a mass revolt against the neoliberal and undemocratic rule of Erdogan. In 2013, millions of people flooded Taksim Square, in Istanbul, to stop the private scheme that would demolish a green space to build a shopping mall. Even though this uprising has achieved some important gains, such as forcing Erdogan to take a step back and concede to the demands of the protesters, the revolt failed to topple Erdogan. In fact, Erdogan became even more despotic in his actions as a means to preserve his rule. One of the reasons why the protests did not topple Erdogan, or even weaken him, was because it was a cross-class movement that had no leadership and no political programme. Had the working class led the movement by taking strike action and forming democratic workers’ committees, then the revolt could have overthrown Erdogan and even established a socialist society.
The Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP)
Ever since the AKP was elected to the parliament in 2002, the CHP has been the main opposition party. Adhering to Kemalist values, such as state-led economic development with private initiatives, the CHP is an outright capitalist party that only pledges to make limited reforms in the interest of working-class people. Since the 1970’s, however, the party has shifted to the centre-left and has established a close relationship with DISK. Typical of any outright capitalist party, moreover, the leadership of the CHP mainly opposes the anti-democratic measures of Erdogan that attack the most basic bourgeois rights, such as the freedom of expression, separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary from political pressure. Although it opposes privatisations verbally, the CHP will no doubt implement neoliberal policies.
At every critical stage in the 18-year rule of Erdogan, the CHP played a counterproductive role. The CHP leadership fears that a mass working-class movement will push the pro-capitalist CHP to the sidelines, meaning that they will lose their seats in the parliament and local councils and thus lose all their privileges. Perhaps a clear demonstration that there is no real difference between the AKP and the CHP from the standpoint of a worker, was the strike organised by railway workers in Izmir that took place in December 2018. Given the sharp rise of inflation in the summer of 2018, railway workers who were employed jointly by a CHP-led council and the transport ministry demanded a significant pay increase. Thousands of workers went on strike after the talks broke down. Fearing that the strike will spread to other cities, Erdogan intervened and suspended the strike. This is not only an indication of the level of labour militancy in Turkey, but it also shows the real class character of the CHP.
While we should make critical points of the CHP programme, there should be no illusions that the CHP could be reformed or transformed into a fighting organisation. The class character of the CHP leadership means that it will act as an obstacle in the struggle to create a socialist, pro-working class fightback against the Erdogan regime. An appeal should be made to all trade unionists and socialists in the CHP that they need to break away from the party and instead build a working-class alternative to the capitalist agenda of the CHP.
The formation of the HDP, on the other hand, has enthused millions of Kurdish people living in Turkey. The policies put forward by the HDP gave a glimpse of what could be done to transform the political situation. The decision to stand in the 2015 general election as a political party rather than as independent candidates, by appealing to the whole of the Turkish working population, was an important step to reach out to Turkish workers. The radical manifesto of the HDP was a rupture with the nationalist and pro-capitalist agenda of all mainstream parties, and for this reason they were able to receive a moderate amount of support in cities such as Istanbul and Ankara. The fact that the HDP succeeded in passing the 10 percent threshold since then and was voted into the parliament is a demonstration that an appeal to the Turkish working class does receive a response. And we should bear in mind that this victory took place whilst HDP buildings and rallies were attacked by far-right nationalists.
But fearing that Turkish and Kurdish workers might succeed at last to form a united fightback against the government, Erdogan once again employed the divide and rule tactic and launched a bloody offensive in Kurdish cities. The war between the Turkish army and Kurdish militants resulted in the death of scores of Kurdish civilians. Some Kurdish groups, in response, carried out individual terror attacks, killing dozens of civilians in Ankara and Istanbul. These attacks were used by the Turkish state as an excuse to attack Kurdish people. Erdogan whipped up Turkish nationalism to divide the opposition and demonise the HDP and its supporters.
One of the reasons why the Erdogan regime is successful to whip up nationalism is the Kemalist legacy that advocates one state and one nation. There is staunch opposition amongst Turkish people to the creation of Kurdistan, and many defend the ‘territorial integrity’ of Turkey. Although the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) formally defends the right to self-determination, in reality, they too oppose Kurds’ right to self-determination.
The escalation of the war between the Turkish army and the Kurds, as previously mentioned, has created a humanitarian disaster and it has underlined the dire situation facing the Kurds. The recent attacks on the Kurds in Rojava (northern Syria), after the US decision to withdraw from the area, has led to deaths of scores of civilians; more than 100,000 people had to flee their homes, according to the United Nations; water supplies were cut off, affecting nearly half a million of people. We could draw two conclusions from recent developments. One, there could be no trust in imperialist powers and two, Kurds could only rely on its own self-organisation and class solidarity. A united fightback against the bosses and the imperialists is the only way forward to defend the cultural and national rights, including the right to self-determination. As part of this fightback, the formation of mass workers’ parties with a socialist programme could transform the political situation in the region. And it is important to reiterate, unlike the TKP, the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) supports the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination, including, if they so wish, full autonomous democratic rights, the establishment of independent states, or a common state of all Kurds.
The HDP – the left pro-Kurdish party in Turkey – has the potential to become part of the process of setting up a mass workers’ party with a socialist programme. Despite the attempts of Erdogan to criminalise the HDP, this party continues to play a vital role in Turkey to raise the voice of ordinary people. Its manifesto pledges to nationalise key industries, to raise the national minimum wage and to restore trade union rights. These policies, though limited, have the potential to enthuse broad layers of society. It has the potential to act as a beacon to the rest of the labour movement to build a mass fightback to boot out Erdogan.
Undoubtedly, these policies have enthused many Kurdish workers who are already supportive of the HDP. Given that the HDP is seen as a Kurdish party, a Turkish worker is not aware of what the HDP offers to working-class people. Had the HDP put forward bold socialist policies in every election in which they stood, they could have enthused not only Kurdish workers but also Turkish workers. If the HDP calls for nation-wide protests with trade unions and calls for the nationalisation of banks and major companies under workers control and combines this with other socialist demands, then that could transform the HDP into a mass, workers’ party. Such a party will include all trade unionists and socialists and have a democratic and federalist structure, committed to defending the interests of the working class and the oppressed layers in the society. If the HDP takes an internationalist and socialist approach and makes a clear class appeal to Turkish workers, then an HDP-led government on a socialist programme could become a real possibility.
The leadership of the HDP, however, is far from taking such an approach. After the recent purges in Kurdish cities, the leaders of the HDP are seeking a broad alliance with different forces in the society. Unfortunately, this has included a visit to the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD), an organisation that represents the interests of the capitalist class in Turkey. Rather than seeking an alliance with a section of the capitalist class, the HDP should make a class appeal to the whole working-class and mobilise workers to build a united fightback against the right-wing capitalist government of Erdogan in order to end repression and poverty. This underlines the need to campaign for the HDP to be part of the process to form a mass workers’ party that defends the interests of the working class. Another important task for socialists is to battle against the influence of identity politics in the programme and methods of the HDP. Such a transformation of the HDP will require Kurdish/Turkish workers to be elected to leadership positions in the party.
So far, the component organisations within the HDP, including groups who call themselves Marxists, have been inept at transforming the HDP into a pro-working class organisation, and often the opposite happened, and socialist organisations had the water down their programme and pursued democratic rights on the basis of capitalism. Adhering to the stagiest theory, in any shape or form, is alien to Marxism. There can be no permanent democratic gains under capitalism. The result of the failure to grasp this basic component of Marxism meant that socialist organisations in HDP adapted themselves to left reformist leaders. This contrasts to the approach taken by the CWI. The CWI champions the struggle to win and defend all democratic rights, including the freedom of speech, the freedom of association, the right to vote and the trade union rights to organise and strike, while acknowledging that the struggle for democratic rights is integrated with the fight for socialism.
With its strong tradition of militant trade unionism, the labour movement in Turkey will once again need to put a stamp on the swirling events. We must remember that in the past, trade unionists were successful to mobilise workers as they formed political parties and new independent confederations. In 1961, twelve trade unionists formed a socialist party called the Workers Party of Turkey, the first party that was elected to the parliament on a socialist programme. In 1967, the leadership of the Metal Workers Union broke away from the state-controlled Turk-is, along with other unions, and built a new militant confederation called DISK, to represent the interest of working-class people. By 1975, DISK had over 700,000 members.
The fact that the working class formed militant, socialist organisations in the past proves that the working class is the only force in the society capable of overthrowing Erdogan and the capitalist system with it. Trade unions, as mass organisations of the working class, will need to take the lead in the struggle against the Erdogan regime. Although the leadership of DISK sees itself as the heirs of militant trade unionism, they are not bold enough to launch initiatives that will mobilise the working class and the oppressed layers in the society. Especially in a period where the AKP is going to implement even more vicious neoliberal policies and attack the rights of workers, left union leaders must launch a mass, working-class fight back to defend the jobs, rights, and wages of all workers. Rank and file members in these unions would need to put pressure on the leadership so that trade unions could be transformed into democratic, fighting bodies.
On the other hand, an appeal must be made to the members of right-wing trade unions such as Turk-is. For the past few decades, the most militant strikes in Turkey were organised by Turk-is workers. Workers were able to push the leadership of their unions to act in their interests. Even if Turk-is has organised protests and strikes in the past, this does not mean that the leadership of Turk-is is representative of the rights of the working class – this is a right-wing union that acts as a mere mediator between the government and workers.
The recent collective bargaining between the Turk-is and the government, which covered more than 500,000 public employees, further frustrated many Turk-is members who were disappointed by the eight percent pay increase because this pay rise is below the official inflation level. An article produced by the Evrensel newspaper after the agreement reports that the miners in Zonguldak are preparing to form a new union. In the upcoming period, therefore, there is the possibility that workers might challenge union leaderships to take back control.
Furthermore, the dozens of strikes organised by workers in the past few years demonstrates the determination and combativeness of the working class in Turkey. Last year, female workers employed in a cosmetic factory, called Flormar, took militant strike action to stop union busting in the workplace – which they eventually won. The metal workers, coal miners and construction workers also took several strike actions over pay, working conditions and pensions.
The situation facing working-class people has been exacerbated with the recent economic crisis. The living standards for both working-class and middle-class people are deteriorating while the rich are increasing their wealth. Erdogan is also preparing an even more vicious assault on the working class through the New Economic Programme. Trade unions need to organise militant strikes and protests and mobilise the working class to defend the interests of working people amid these attacks, which could potentially lead to a general strike. Raising clear class demands, such as the nationalisation of all companies that were privatised in the last 20 years and repealing anti-union laws, could have an electrifying effect to build a mass working-class movement with a socialist programme to boot out Erdogan.
Fighting for socialism in Turkey and internationally
The absence of a mass workers’ party, despite the existence of a powerful working class, enabled the Erdogan regime to cling onto power for almost two decades. Even though there were initiatives in the late 1990s to unite the left by attempting to form a mass workers’ party, these were futile attempts, as they lacked clear perspectives to defend the interests of the working class. Left-wing parties were, therefore, unable to square up to the challenges posed by the Erdogan regime.
The election of Fatih Mehmet Macoglu in Dersim, in this respect, is an important development to advance socialist ideas in a period where other left-wing parties, excluding the HDP, have failed in electoral politics. The achievements of Macoglu in the past four years, such as job creation and democratising local governance, has enthused millions of people across Turkey, and it gave a glimpse of what socialists could achieve. But a single city with a socialist mayor is not enough to win long-lasting gains for the working class. Given the popularity of Macoglu across Turkey, he should launch a national campaign together with the trade unions and link it to a programme of jobs, homes and services.
The working class in Turkey, more importantly, needs a political platform that could organise in workplaces, call demonstrations by mobilising workers and young people and stand in elections on a socialist programme to break the political impasse. As well as trade unions and the HDP, the four biggest left parties in Turkey – the Communist Party (TKP), the Labour Party (EMEP), the Left Party (SOL) and the new Workers’ Party of Turkey (TIP) – who have a combined membership of thousands of militant workers, could be part of the process of setting up a new mass’ workers’ party, which the CWI would like to participate to defend the day-to-day interests of the working class and the oppressed while linking this struggle with the fight for socialism. Different from previous attempts to unite the left, which was mainly an amalgamation of different sects and tendencies in the labour movement in Turkey, the creation of the new workers’ party should be led by the organised working class and include all class fighters and young people. Such a front could potentially enthuse millions of workers and young people to build a united and coordinated fightback against the Erdogan regime, to defend workers’ pay, working conditions and democratic rights. This, in turn, could lay the basis for the socialist transformation of the society.
The split within the TKP in the aftermath of the Gezi Park Revolt, however – which led to the formation of two separate parties, the TKP and the TIP – demonstrates the confusion of these organisations to grasp the complexities of the era we live in, especially in regard to the formation of new left reformist parties. The TKP embraces a completely sectarian approach and denounces the HDP as an outright capitalist party and therefore refuses to work with it. In a similar vein, SOL distances itself from the HDP and instead pursues an overt opportunist direction as they have now entered into a de facto alliance with the pro-capitalist CHP. The component organisations in the HDP, moreover, fail to understand the potential of the HDP to be part of the process of forming a mass workers’ party and they tend to underestimate the power of the working class to transform the society. All of these reflect the opportunistic pressures on socialist organisations in the era we live in.
It is important, therefore, to build a revolutionary, Trotskyist organisation, based on the methods of democratic centralism, to win long-lasting gains for the working class. The experience of the CWI in the labour movement across the world, especially in Britain, where Militant played a crucial role in the anti-cuts struggle in Liverpool and the mass non-payment campaign that defeated not only the Poll Tax but also Thatcher – the tested ideas and the methods of our international – are capable of playing a key role in the working class in Turkey and to form the embryo of a mass revolutionary organisation.
The revolutionary and semi-revolutionary upheavals by the masses in the Middle East – especially the mass protests in Lebanon and Iraq against corruption and poverty – could encourage a similar movement in Turkey. These movements in the region have shown that a united fightback against the bosses could cut across the ethnic and religious divisions. In a country like Turkey, where the state has suppressed almost all minorities, it is important to defend the democratic rights of all minorities. But this must also be linked with the fight for socialism. To transform the living standards of the masses, we need to break the power of the capitalists by taking the big companies in Turkey into public ownership under workers’ control and management. This will lay the basis to introduce a socialist plan of production based on the needs of the overwhelming majority of the population and the environment. For a socialist Middle East, and a socialist world!