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Workers Vanguard No. 1111

5 May 2017

Turkey Referendum

Erdogan Tightens His Grip

The Turkish constitutional referendum of April 16 resulted in a narrow win for the authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and has left the country sharply polarized. Less than 52 percent voted “Yes” to granting him sweeping new powers, while almost half voted “No.” The mainly Kurdish areas that are being ravaged by Erdogan’s brutal war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) overwhelmingly voted against him. Significantly, Erdogan also lost the vote in Istanbul, where his Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won every election since it was founded in 2001. The major cities of Ankara and Izmir also voted “No,” as did the Aegean and Mediterranean coastal areas.

Amid widespread reports of electoral fraud, the result was contested. The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) appealed to the Council of State to annul the result on the grounds that unsealed ballots were accepted as valid, but its appeal was thrown out.

President Trump congratulated Erdogan on his victory, which replaces the parliamentary system with an executive presidency; Erdogan now effectively controls parliament and the judiciary. He has taken the result as a mandate to beef up the draconian repression that he imposed following last July’s botched coup. On April 26, police launched yet another huge crackdown, arresting over 1,000 people and issuing warrants for thousands more. Erdogan also declared that Turkey will hold a referendum on bringing back the death penalty. The aggrandizement of his bonapartist rule is an ominous threat to the historically combative working class in Turkey.

The following is a translation of an article that appeared prior to the referendum in Spartakist (No. 216, Spring 2017), newspaper of the Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, German section of the International Communist League.

*   *   *

A referendum to amend the Turkish constitution will be taking place on April 16, while the country is under a state of emergency. At issue is the proposed change from a parliamentary to a presidential system through the adoption of 18 amendments to the constitution, which was imposed by the military in 1982. These amendments would substantially reduce the rights of parliament, and aim to massively strengthen the power of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If the referendum passes, Erdogan could stay in power until 2029, giving him considerable latitude to pursue his Islamization of the country, which particularly threatens women’s rights. The referendum is a bonapartist measure that, if passed, will be tantamount to establishing one-man rule and will strengthen the repressive power of the Turkish capitalist state. This is why we Marxists say: Vote HAYIR/NA in the referendum! (“No” in Turkish/Kurdish.)

The referendum constitutes an assault on the democratic rights of everyone, but is particularly aimed at further intensifying the brutal oppression of the Kurds. The central leadership of the pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), which opposes an Erdogan dictatorship, was arrested in November 2016, so as to hinder their campaign against the referendum. These arrests were carried out under the state of emergency imposed following the failed coup of 15 July 2016. As a result of Erdogan’s countercoup, a blanket ban has been imposed on anti-government demonstrations and strikes. Over 150 newspapers and radio stations have been banned, 148 journalists and media workers arrested and tens of thousands of people detained. Between 2001 and 2016 (Erdogan became prime minister in 2003), the number of people imprisoned more than tripled to almost 180,000. In the next four years, 165 new jails are scheduled to be built.

Opponents of the referendum are branded by the Erdogan regime “alternatively as terrorists, putschists or traitors” (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 27 February), making everyone who is not on Erdogan’s side a target, particularly the petty-bourgeois HDP, which was established by Kurds and Turkish leftists. While we defend the HDP against attacks by the Turkish state, we give it no political support. Among the supporters of “No” to the presidential system are even some supporters of Erdogan’s AKP and the ultranationalist MHP (Nationalist Action Party), to which the fascist Gray Wolves also belong. Erdogan has received the support of the MHP because it welcomes his plans to reintroduce the death penalty. On March 20, the police helped a group of fascists gain entry to the Faculty of Communication in Ankara, where they hung up the banner “Execute Öcalan. United Greater Turkey!” A number of students who wanted to oppose this action were surrounded by the cops and then beaten up by the fascists. This incident shows how dangerous things have become for leftists, anti-fascists, Kurds and workers. Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, has been imprisoned on Imrali Island since 1999. We demand the immediate release of Öcalan!

The opposition to the referendum is diverse, with polls indicating that an Erdogan victory is by no means certain. Reasons cited for resisting amending the constitution include that it would lead to further division in Turkey, to the establishment of a dictatorship or to the abolition of Turkey’s supposedly progressive secularism. Leftist, secular and Kurdish forces have set up their own HAYIR/NA campaigns. In the first few days, over 800 opposition supporters were arrested for “support of a terrorist association” (Telepolis, 16 February). Fahrettin Yokus, the head of the white-collar workers union, was shot at by unknown persons. The office of the civil servants union was wrecked after the head of the union declared that he was intending to vote “No” (FAZ online, 28 February). To prevent opponents of the referendum from protesting, AKP supporters openly threaten them with violence, in statements like: “We will bathe in your blood” (Telepolis, 5 February). Prime Minister Binali Yildirim declared: “Anyone who opposes the change will be eliminated” (ibid.). Nevertheless, on March 8, International Women’s Day, over 10,000 mostly women demonstrators assembled in Istanbul with chants against Erdogan and with “HAYIR” signs. The celebrations for Newroz (Kurdish New Year in March) were also held despite the repression and were linked to a campaign for “NA.” In Diyarbakir, the capital of the Kurdish part of Turkey, 100,000 people took part in them. Down with the repression against the HAYIR/NA campaigns!

A further sign that, despite consolidation of his autocratic rule, Erdogan cannot maintain total control was the January 20 strike by 2,200 workers at three companies (13 General Electric plants and two Swiss firms, ABB and Schneider). The strike was organized by Birlesik Metal-Is (BMI), a member of the DISK trade-union federation. Opposing the intimidation, BMI stated: “The government and the bosses are acting hand-in-hand against our basic rights; they are trampling our rights under foot and we simply won’t take this lying down.” In spite of the official ban on strikes, the strike forced through a pay raise: a success against the bosses.

Since negotiations between Erdogan and the PKK were broken off in 2015, the military has repeatedly attacked Kurdish villages and towns in southeast Turkey with heavy artillery and paramilitary groups; hundreds of Kurdish civilians have been killed. This military offensive is an expansion of the decades-long campaign to wipe out the PKK. After more than 30 years of military occupation, the area looks like a wretched disaster zone. All Turkish military forces out of Kurdistan! It is vital for the working class of Turkey to stand for military defense of the PKK against the Turkish state and for the Kurds to have their own state. Anti-Kurdish chauvinism is essential to maintaining bourgeois rule in Turkey. Applicable here is the socialist principle enunciated by V.I. Lenin: “No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations” (“The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up,” July 1916). What is necessary is the construction of a revolutionary binational (Kurdish/Turkish) workers party that will intervene to break the workers from Turkish chauvinism and win them to the defense of the national rights of the Kurds.

The Kurdish people—whose homeland is the mountainous region that stretches across the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran—constitute the largest nation in the Near East without its own state. We call for a united independent Kurdistan as part of our struggle for a Socialist Republic of United Kurdistan in a socialist federation of the Near East. We also support the immediate independence of the Kurds from individual capitalist states—for example, the right of the Kurds in Turkey to secede. But in Iraq and Syria, the Kurdish nationalist leaders, including the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is linked to the PKK, have currently subordinated the just struggle for self-determination to their alliance with U.S. imperialism in the fight against ISIS. This is a betrayal of the interests of the masses in the Near East, not least of the national aspirations of the Kurdish people themselves. The imperialists bear the central responsibility for the devastation of the entire Near East. The petty-bourgeois nationalist leadership of the PKK has a treacherous history of ingratiating itself with the imperialists and even with Erdogan himself. Kurdish militants must break with this bankrupt program and be won to a proletarian, internationalist, Trotskyist program.

EU Imperialists Rail Against Turkey

The European imperialists have seized on Erdogan’s massive wave of repression in Turkey to cynically cast themselves in the role of defenders of bourgeois freedoms and thereby justify the strengthening of their own machinery of repression. The German government has assumed a vanguard role in the oppression of the Kurds. It regularly provides weapons to the Turkish government, and it banned the PKK in 1993, with the result that Kurdish leftists are frequently arrested and prosecuted. On March 2, shortly before the Europe-wide Newroz demonstration in Frankfurt, in which 30,000 people called for “HAYIR,” all pictures of Öcalan were banned; previously, only pictures of him in military garb had been banned. The cops videoed the entire demo, and every individual carrying an Öcalan banner is threatened with legal action. Additionally, Germany’s ban on the PKK has been extended to apply to youth and women’s organizations (including the YXK student association) and to symbols of its military wing in Syria, the People’s Protection Committees (YPG). The bourgeois state bases the charges on the “thought crime” Sections 129a/b (“formation of terrorist associations”) of the legal code, which are also currently being used by a Munich court against ten leftists of the TKP/ML (Turkish Communist Party/Marxist-Leninist). Down with state repression and the proceedings against Kurdish and Turkish activists! Down with the ban on the PKK and all Kurdish associations! Down with the “thought crime” Sections 129a/b!

There are about 2.9 million Turkish citizens in the EU [European Union] who are eligible to vote in the upcoming referendum, 1.4 million of them in Germany. Erdogan ordered a few Turkish ministers to propagandize in EU countries for a “Yes” vote in the referendum. Various European governments promptly imposed bans on their speaking in public, taking the opportunity to take a swipe at Erdogan, who annoys the imperialists by not always bowing to their diktats. On March 11, the Turkish family minister, Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, was expelled from the Netherlands and escorted to the German border by the police. In the port city of Rotterdam, Dutch cops then beat up demonstrators who were protesting in front of the Turkish consulate against the minister’s expulsion. Shortly before this, in order to maintain “law and order,” the Netherlands’ prime minister, Mark Rutte, prohibited Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from landing. Rutte outdid the anti-Muslim racist Dutch politician Geert Wilders with this witchhunting of Turks. Rutte hoped to attract votes from Wilders’ supporters in order to be able to continue his anti-worker, pro-EU policies. This policy was promptly copied in Germany by the CDU/SPD [Christian Democratic Union/Social Democratic Party] government of the Saarland, which banned all appearances by Turkish politicians even though none were planned. There were also bans in Germany on planned events in Gaggenau, Cologne and Hamburg.

We Marxists oppose the bans that national and local governments in Europe have imposed on Turkish politicians appearing, speaking or entering the countries. We also oppose the police attacks against demonstrations called by Turkish and Kurdish residents in connection with the referendum. The bans against Turkish politicians set a dangerous precedent that can be used to wield state censorship and repression against leftists or any workers organization simply because the state disagrees with their political views. The bans are also part of a campaign to further escalate terror and repression against Muslim communities in Europe. Since 2001, with their “War on Terror,” the European capitalist rulers, from [German chancellor Angela] Merkel to [French president François] Hollande, have placed all Muslims under suspicion of being terrorists. They fuel hostility against Muslims, emboldening the fascists and other racist forces like right-populists, from Wilders and [leader of the French National Front Marine] Le Pen to the AfD [Alternative for Germany].

In Germany, while the anti-Muslim campaigns affect above all the workers who have immigrated from Turkey and Kurdistan since the 1960s, as well as their children and grandchildren, they are ultimately aimed at the working class as a whole. The Turkish/Kurdish immigrants—even more than immigrants from other countries—have been marginalized for decades as “guest workers” and have suffered racist oppression. Right up to the present, they and their children have been refused full political rights. In 1992 in Mölln and 1993 in Solingen, Nazi arson attacks inflicted murderous terror on families of Turkish and Kurdish origin. For years, the “National Socialist Underground” (NSU) was able to carry out a series of murders and terror, targeting mainly people with a Turkish background, while the police and the German state carried out investigations against the victims’ families. In fact, the periphery of the NSU Nazis was swarming with agents of the state, who are actively involved in the leadership of the Nazi terror organizations.

It is no wonder that Erdogan finds admirers among the oppressed in Germany, who suffer racist discrimination and Nazi terror. It is the task of the workers movement to provide these oppressed layers with a different perspective by fighting against all oppression and discrimination, in particular by the German state. Full citizenship rights for all who have made it here! Immigrant workers and their descendants are a strategically important component of the working class in Germany; very often they are on the front lines of strikes and they form a living bridge to workers and oppressed in Turkey, Kurdistan and the Near East. In this way, the struggle for socialist revolutions in the Near East can be linked to the struggle to bring down the German bourgeoisie through a socialist revolution.

With their strident calls for bans against Turkish politicians, the leaders of the Left Party are once again proving how much they desire to take on governmental responsibility for German imperialism. Thus, Left Party member of parliament Sevim Dagdelen called for “sanctions against dictator Erdogan” and a “decision by the federal government for an entry ban. Chancellor Merkel can’t be allowed to continue to duck the issue.” Similarly, the leader of the Left Party’s electoral list, Sahra Wagenknecht, stated on Twitter: “Federal government acts like a bunch of anarchists. We need at long last a clear line: Stop people from giving speeches for dictatorship!” and “Entry ban: Netherlands gives German government a lesson on how to show backbone toward Erdogan dictatorship.”

This statement is nothing but a dangerous whitewash of German imperialism, which persecutes Kurds and other immigrants and bans their organizations. Erdogan’s crimes pale in comparison to those of German capital, which is currently exercising its dictatorship in the form of bourgeois democracy. German imperialism dominates the EU, exploiting in particular the countries of southern and eastern Europe and driving their working classes into terrible poverty, as the case of Greece makes especially clear. We communists stand in principled opposition to the EU, which is an imperialist trading bloc to intensify the exploitation of the workers of Europe and improve competitiveness over its imperialist rivals—above all vis-à-vis the U.S. and Japan. German imperialism sends its troops into many parts of the world; the Bundeswehr [German Army] has been stationed in the Balkans since 1999 and in Afghanistan for over 15 years. The Bundeswehr also operates from the Turkish NATO base of Incirlik, helping to devastate the Near East: with reconnaissance and tanker aircraft, with personnel in NATO headquarters and aboard AWACS planes. Bundeswehr out of the Balkans, Turkey, Near East, Africa, Afghanistan! Down with German imperialism and the EU! For the Socialist United States of Europe!

The social-chauvinist arguments of the Left Party that the government should intervene against Turkey in the name of “democracy” chain the working class to its “own” bourgeoisie. It is necessary to break the workers from these workers’ misleaders with their mentality of colonial overlords and to build an authentically revolutionary, multiethnic workers party that fights irreconcilably against all forms of chauvinism. This party will have a leadership component of cadre of Turkish and Kurdish origin and will be part of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International, which will include a binational workers party in Turkey. The Fourth International will be able to take up and win the struggle for socialist revolutions worldwide, including for a socialist federation of the Near East.


Workers Vanguard No. 1111

WV 1111

5 May 2017


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