Workers Hammer No. 236

Autumn 2016


Turkey's failed coup: both sides bad for workers

Down with the state of emergency!

The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard no 1093, 29 July 2016.

On 15 July, sections of the blood-soaked Turkish military launched a failed attempt to oust the government of Islamist autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Theories abound as to who was behind the coup. Erdogan claims that his erstwhile Islamist ally, Fethullah Gulen, living in Pennsylvania, orchestrated it. Gulen denies any involvement and claims that the coup was Erdogan’s doing in a bid to consolidate power. Others say that it was a plot by the imperialists. Although Erdogan quickly declared that order was re-established, 14 Turkish naval ships went missing as did the commander of the Turkish navy. We don’t know who the coup plotters were, but one thing is clear: the only position in the interest of workers was to oppose both the Erdogan regime and the coup.

Memories are still sharp of the repression rained down on trade unions, the left, Kurds and others after the bloody 1980 military coup. Some 650,000 people were rounded up; 14,000 had their citizenship revoked; 30,000 fled the country; hundreds were killed. The military junta banned the Kurdish language and carried out a war of terror against the Kurdish people. In the urban centres, the labour movement was strangled and the left decimated.

Today, it is the Erdogan regime (which has recently been butchering the Kurds) that is intensifying repression, using the coup attempt to quash opposition — real or perceived — and further consolidate power. Shortly after the coup attempt, Erdogan began raising the prospect of re-introducing the death penalty. On 20 July, he declared a three-month state of emergency, giving his government and police forces sweeping powers, including a new measure extending the time people can be held without charge from four to 30 days. More than 100 generals and 6000 military personnel have been arrested. Tens of thousands of public officials, including judges, have been sacked. Universities and schools have been a particular target, with 15,000 teachers and staff tossed out of their jobs. More than 20 TV and radio stations have been shut down and news websites blocked. The repression has now spread to the labour movement, with 19 trade unions shut down. As Erdogan put it, for his regime, the failed coup was “a gift from God”.

On the night of the coup, Erdogan, from an undisclosed location, called on his supporters, including through the mosques, to mobilise in the streets. They did, called out by fundamentalist imams throughout the cities. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) will doubtless use the botched coup to accelerate the ongoing Islamisation of Turkey, which will target any proponent of secularism and especially women, the left and minorities. There are reports of women in Western dress being attacked on the streets, and at least one religious group, the Ismailaga movement, has issued a decree ordering women to stay home. According to the Jacobin website (18 July), Islamist thugs, sometimes with the support of the police, attacked leftist Kurdish and Alevi (a religious minority) neighbourhoods in Istanbul, Ankara and Antakya the night after the coup.

Erdogan’s repressive measures have not stopped a slice of the pseudo-socialist left from hailing his victory over the coup plotters as a wonder of “democracy”. On 18 July, the US International Socialist Organization reprinted an article on its website that rejoiced that the Islamist Erdogan was “saved…by the Turkish masses” and praised “the heroic fight put up by ordinary people to defend what remains of democracy in Turkey”. Two days earlier, the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which has supporters in Turkey, had issued a similar statement, fawning over “the way in which the plotters were beaten, by popular mobilisation” and claiming that this “could open the way to a more democratic Turkey”. The SWP urged on Erdogan’s purges: “The first task is to make sure the coup has been broken and that anti-democratic elements are purged from the armed forces.” And the regime’s next task was to shut down the trade unions!

The Turkish masses are being strangled by decaying capitalism, with over a century of imperialist subjugation serving to arrest social progress. Turkey is a land of glaring disparities. A sizable industrial proletariat exists in a society still subject to precapitalist forms of exploitation, especially in the countryside. Behind Istanbul’s pubs and cafés, patronised by unveiled women mixing with men, stands a vast country locked in deep poverty and centuries-old backwardness. These contradictions, which are rooted in the capitalist order, could not and cannot be resolved by the secular nationalism embodied in the doctrines of Kemal Atatürk. The bankruptcy of Kemalism led to the ascendancy of the Islamists.

The only path to social transformation is for Turkey’s large and multinational industrial proletariat, standing at the head of all the oppressed, to sweep away capitalist rule. For this to come about, the working class requires the consciousness and discipline that can be provided only by a Marxist party modelled on the Bolshevik party of VI Lenin and Leon Trotsky, which led the multinational proletariat of Russia to power in October 1917.

Such a party, forged through the fusion of advanced workers and revolutionary intellectuals, would fight to break the working class from religious reaction and all forms of nationalism. It would imbue the proletariat of Turkey with the understanding that its own liberation demands championing the just national struggle of the Kurdish masses, whose oppression is integral to Turkish nationalism and capitalist rule. For a united independent Kurdistan! The Kurdish people, divided between four capitalist countries, are always the first to suffer in Turkey. The Erdogan regime has been carrying out a brutal war against the Kurds — a war that would have likely intensified had the coup plotters won. A vanguard workers party must have the perspective of a socialist federation of the Near East, including a Socialist Republic of United Kurdistan.

When the coup first broke out and its success was still uncertain, the US imperialists hedged their bets, with Secretary of State John Kerry simply calling for stability. It was only when it became clear that the coup would fail that the US came out in support of the “democratically elected government of Turkey”. Though relations are today strained, Turkey has for decades served as a key partner of US imperialism, particularly as a member of NATO. After World War II, the US-Turkey alliance targeted the Soviet Union. Since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR in 1991-92, the US has looked to Turkey, often vaunted as a “stable” and “moderate” Sunni Muslim regime, as a regional gendarme, most recently relying on the Incirlik air base to carry out bombing raids against ISIS in Syria. At the same time, Turkey is a regional power with its own interests, which do not always coincide with Washington’s.

It is vital for workers in the US to oppose their own imperialist rulers. The same capitalist ruling class that wreaks death and destruction abroad gorges itself on profits while the workers it exploits have their jobs axed and their health and pension benefits torn up. America’s racist rulers unleash their cops to kill black youth on the streets, incarcerate nearly one-quarter of the world’s prison population and round up desperate immigrants for deportation. US out of the Near East! Down with US imperialism!

The many peoples of the Near East will never know peace, prosperity or justice until capitalist rule is overthrown. The proletariat in power would reorganise society on the basis of collectivised property and fight to extend the revolution internationally, especially to the US, Germany and other imperialist centres. In breaking the chains of exploitation that enslave it, the proletariat will simultaneously open the door to the liberation of all — peasants, women, youth, national and ethnic minorities — who are oppressed under capitalism. Only then will there be a full and equal place for the myriad peoples of the region — Sunnis, Shias and Christians as well as the Kurdish, Palestinian and Israeli Jewish nations.