SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 201 September 2016

Turkey’s failed coup

A new military coup was added to Turkey’s chequered history on 15 July 2016. The attempt caused open conflicts at the top of the state machine and resulted in hundreds of deaths. Leaders of the right-wing ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party), particularly president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, called on people to come out and ‘protect the squares’. While there was an element of civil resistance, it was mostly an attempt by the AKP and Erdoğan to shield themselves from the prospect of being removed from power.

The coup attempt failed, enabling the regime to turn it into an opportunity to regain its waning support. It immediately announced that the coup was organised by supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a prominent Islamic figure who had fallen foul of Erdoğan’s regime and has been living in the US since 1999. Gulen was defined as a ‘terrorist organisation leader’, his followers as ‘traitors’.

Following the nationwide state of emergency, a vast cleansing operation was launched, including of staff in the judiciary and security forces. Thousands of people were quickly identified as alleged supporters of Gulen, and suspended straightaway. In addition, radical changes were made to administrative structures, with many institutions closed or put under the direct control of the presidency. It is uncertain how long this will go on for but politics in Turkey will never be the same again. Meanwhile, AKP mobs continue to hold the squares in a show of force they call ‘democracy watch’, receiving support from the government through free transportation, food, etc.

Fethullah Gulen is the leader and founder of the ‘Gulen Community’, one of the most influential of hundreds of Islamist groups in Turkey. This organisation gained an enormous boost after the 1980 military coup, as did the other Islamist groups. That coup, directed against the workers’ movement, virtually crushed all the left-wing groups and outlawed left-wing trade unions at the time. The political vacuum created was filled by right-wing political Islamism, considered as the antidote to ‘communism’ and, consequently, supported by the capitalist state.

The language of the struggle between rich and poor, adopted under the influence of the left, was brushed aside and replaced by that of a ‘secular vs Muslim’ conflict, particularly in the areas where Islamist groups became strong. The Gulen Community was ideally placed to reach out to the poor. It possessed numerous private schools and dormitories and an enormous amount of wealth, so was able to provide social help and education for poor children, and win the support of Sunni conservative families. After years of right-wing Islamic indoctrination, those children would graduate and start work, and the Gulen Community paid special attention to getting its members into the police, army and judiciary.

Another important characteristic of the Gulen Community is that it never intended to found a political party. This reveals its mutually beneficial relationship with the AKP: the Gulen Community never needed a political party because the predecessors of the AKP – and the AKP once it was established in 2001 – occupied the parliamentary scene. The Gulen Community simply co-operated with the AKP. This is best described by what Erdoğan said after he and Gulen fell out with each other: “What is the thing you wanted that we did not give to you?"

Following the constitutional referendum carried out by Erdoğan in 2010, the purge from the state apparatus of the military officialdom with a Kemalist background (the ideas behind the inter-war, secular Turkish state) was almost completed. Once almost all the state bureaucracy had become ‘pro-Erdoğan’, the AKP’s need for a partnership against Kemalism ran out. The Gulen Community became a millstone around Erdoğan’s neck. However, while tensions grew between the AKP and Gulen between 2010 and 2013, they were mostly behind the curtains.

They came out in the open with the government’s desire to close the private educational institutions of the Gulen Community – one of its largest human resources. The Community then used its influence to initiate corruption investigations into the AKP in December 2013, releasing recordings of Erdoğan’s involvement. The conflict between the two factions turned into an open war. The 15 July coup attempt was the final straw. The Gulen Community aimed to restore its influence by claiming absolute power. It is too early to say if this organisation has suffered a deadly blow, but it is certainly a major one.

It is now a popular and controversial topic in Turkey to judge whether the failed coup has strengthened or weakened Erdoğan. The answer is not simple. On the basis of the widespread victimisation following the coup, and the consolidation of support among sections of the population, Erdoğan seems to have been strengthened for now. On the other hand, his polarising strategy of exploiting the Kurdish question, carried out for many years, and the fact that none of the problems facing society has been solved, mean that Erdoğan will continue to lose his grip on power in the medium to long term. One way or the other, the coming months will be turbulent. The structural political crisis in Turkey has moved to another level.

Erdoğan, who could not afford to fight on multiple fronts, also made a tactical retreat against the official, pro-capitalist opposition. This was opportunistically seized upon by the leaders of the CHP (Republican People’s Party – from a Kemalist background) and the far-right MHP (Nationalist Movement Party). In the past, they had declared Erdoğan a dictator but have now adopted a more conciliatory tone, making his work easier. In return, Erdoğan has withdrawn the charges he was pressing against CHP leader, Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, and MHP leader, Devlet Bahçeli. On 7 August in Istanbul, the three parties declared a ‘national consensus’ at an enormous meeting addressed by all the main party leaders, apart from the left-wing, pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democratic Party).

At this stage, socialists need to prepare for the coming struggles against Erdoğan and his exploiting, authoritarian regime, and to create a force able to offer an alternative, while taking up the demands of the workers, the poor and the Kurdish people. Against the national consensus of the capitalist parties and the rich, we need a class-based consensus of our own.

The ‘national consensus’ is designed to enable the capitalist class to continue its attacks against the poor and the working class. It is a perfect term by which the bourgeoisie can try to veil the class conflicts, as though a capitalist and a worker is the same, an equal part of one ‘glorious nation’. It is a truce between the ruling parties with the intent of perpetuating their suppression and exploitation. Bolstered by opposition support, Erdoğan and his regime are on the offensive. But this will also lead them onto a collision course with important sections of the masses, in a period where the economic situation is rapidly worsening for the majority.

Some of the main officers involved in the coup were also in charge of the war against the Kurds in the southeast, so their failed attempt has weakened the military arm of the regime. The mass rallies organised recently by the HDP in Diyarbakir and other Kurdish cities, in rejection of both the coup and those exploiting it for their own purposes, show the potential for rebuilding a mass independent movement against the regime. For that to happen, however, it is essential that Turkish and Kurdish activists, those on the left and workers’ movement, unite their forces.

The ‘Coalition for Labour and Democracy’ initiative declared on 11 August – by left-wing organisations and trade unions, including the HDP – could be a good start to forming the ‘class consensus’ necessary against Erdoğan and the capitalist system he represents. This coalition will need to be determined and patient, but should not waste any opportunity to broaden its appeal. It must also maintain a clear independence from capitalist forces and have an inclusive approach to all currents of the left, to attract the working class and the poor away from the ruling parties which, at present, are capitalising on the fear and anxiety created by the coup attempt.

Murat Karin

Sosyalist Alternatif (CWI in Turkey)

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