On Tuesday 11th June, Socialist Appeal and the Marxist Societies of SOAS and UCL organised a meeting at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies), London, to discuss the current political situation and mass movement in Turkey. This followed on from the daily protests that were held in Trafalgar Square over the past week to show support for the Turkish demonstrators.
Alan Woods from the International Marxist Tendency spoke, stressing that the protests that started in Taksim Square and Gezi Park in Istanbul – and that were subsequently replicated in almost each of the 81 Turkish provinces - are anything but isolated episodes of discontent. On the contrary, this large-scale mobilisation reflects a global malaise against the system, and the fact that a sit-in (organised as a consequence of the government’s plan to substitute Gezi Park for a shopping centre) can quickly become a massive nation-wide demonstration proves that this is not about narrow issues, but about the capitalist system reaching its limits - and people realising it.
Turkey, if we believe mainstream commentators, has been enjoying a decade of economic growth and diplomatic success. But this simplification of the country’s transformations is casting a thick shadow over at least two central points that were emphasised during the presentation: inequalities are still one of the highest in all Europe, and the impressive accumulation of wealth in the hands of the bourgeoisie can only be explained by the poverty of the masses, especially peasants and dwellers of small cities in Anatolia – not to mention the Kurdish people in the East. The second central issue is that economic and political power are more and more concentrated in the hands of a very small elite that has access to both the means of production (and the most valuable businesses in the country) and the highest political sphere. In the end, Erdogan, the Prime Minister, has built a close circle of businessmen that share economic and political power.
Inequalities, authoritarianism and this greedy plutocracy are now more evident before the eyes of the masses. And the protests at Taskim Square precisely show that, despite differences and plurality, middle and working classes are marching side by side. As Alan rightly explained, for the first time in many decades Kurdish flags are floating next to the Turkish moon; secular liberals are sharing the space with anti-capitalist Muslims; the intellectual and artistic bourgeoisie is embracing the protests of trade unions and students. But this is not the image that the media and the government want to show. Erdogan has insisted that all this has been organised by a minuscule minority of radicals. As comrade Woods said, how can a minority of radicals spread its protest throughout the country and maintain mass pressure over the police and the government for more than 10 days? If anything, the recklessness of the authorities and their insistence in portraying the demonstrators as violent radicals has helped the movement to gain strength and to obtain more support among different people in every province.
After 40 minutes, during which the main challenges of the protesters were mentioned - namely, the lack of a proper organisation with a conscious, responsible leadership, and the fact that a political programme for socialism has not been presented - the audience took part in the discussion by presenting extremely relevant points and offering some reflections on the overall situation. For instance, a couple of comments and questions were made regarding the role of trade unions in these protests and, more generally, the health of the labour movement in Turkey nowadays.
Different contributions to the discussion also stressed the Kurdish matter. This is evidently not only a Turkish issue, since the Kurdish people is spread across many borders. However, as internationalists it is extremely important to remember that nationalist struggles that present a clear revolutionary programme deserve our support - not because we consider that the establishment of a new state is an end in itself, but because these revolutionary struggles necessarily extend beyond borders and can be a means towards a regional, and potentially global, revolution.
It was also very evident that attendants were interested in linking the movement in Turkey with the wave of protests and revolutionary movements that took place in Northern Africa and the Middle East two years ago. Some of them successfully deposed their regimes, others didn’t. But the important point is that those outcomes were completely unexpected. The same could happen in Turkey, it is just a matter of organising the movement in the right direction and putting forward the appropriate demands.
When summing up, Alan insisted on the importance of building a strong revolutionary organisation with a conscious and committed leadership. People learn very fast during a revolutionary situation, but it is important to find the theoretical and political references that give support to the mobilisation. For instance, Alan drew a parallel with the Russian Revolution of 1905, during which the mobilised masses quickly realised that the only strong alternative to the state apparatus, and the only organisation capable of standing against it, was the revolutionary party. Sticking to it, making it stronger by the day, and pushing its programme forward proved successful 12 years later.
Turkey is now going through a revolutionary situation; but it is not a fully revolutionary process ... not yet. The material conditions are there in Turkey and the class consciousness is growing fast. We must keep an eye on the development of this situation in Turkey and support the movement in whatever way possible - and ultimately by fighting for a socialist programme here in Britain.