SOME THOUGHTS ON THE RECENT EVENTS IN TURKEY
by Savas Michael Matsas
The recent dramatic upheaval in Turkey, the failed military coup on the night of July 15-16 and its aftermath- the “war of two coups” according to the accurate definition by Sungur Savran- has not solely a local or regional but a world historical significance. Affecting a country situated in a crucial geopolitical position and an army second in numbers in NATO, it marks a turning point in the overall crisis in the Middle East and Eurasia, with explosive implications for the world crisis of imperialist capitalism, both in its center, the United States, as well as in a post –Brexit European Union in a process of disintegration. The elaboration of a real international revolutionary strategy (and organization) necessitates urgently an ever deepening understanding of this explosive process still in progress.
The articles by Comrade Sungur Savran, the statements and the entire principled political stand by the revolutionary Marxists in Turkey organized in the DIP stood successfully the test of History in its making and provide the basis for such an elaboration.
Our thoughts will focus and develop on three crucial points brought forward by the DIP: a. the fallacy of “a defeat of dictatorship by democracy”; b. the fallacy that “only the Gülenists are involved in the coup”, and c. the danger of “Syrianization” of Turkey.
a. Dictatorship versus Democracy-or clash of two despotisms?
The failure of the military coup was followed by an extensive mass purge of the military, judiciary, education, civil servants, journalists etc – about 70.000 people were persecuted, arrested, imprisoned, tortured or fired; a draconian State of Emergency was declared; and, amidst this sinister atmosphere, a much publicized by the Erdogan regime mass rally of nearly all opposition parties, Kemalists, far right Grey Wolves, other ultranationalist groups but also left organizations and trade unions took placein (the so far forbidden for workers and the Left) Taksim Square in defense of “democracy” and against a military dictatorship promoted by the attempted coup.
It is not accidental that Erdogan invited the Kemalist party CHP and the fascist MHP in a special meeting of “national unity” - but not the HDP, the coalition of the Kurdish national movement with some Turkish left organizations. Obviously they are ostracized first to raise the AKP’s nationalist credentials but above all to show who are next in the list of persecutions,
In these conditions, it is a political scandal the fact that even groups claiming to be “revolutionary Marxists” (like the co-thinkers of the ‘Cliffite” International Socialist Tendency, of the British SWP and of the US ISO, both in Turkey and in Greece) hailed the “popular victory of democracy”. Abstract “democracy” hollowed by any social political content has become the fetish to forge class collaboration with capitalism in crisis, to paralyze and defeat the Left and the working class not only in Turkey but also in Europe (France! Greece!!), and internationally. The “logic of the lesser evil” is the recipe for disaster. Covering up Erdogan’s despotism, and indirect or direct class collaboration with it express the fear of these forces in front of a disintegration of the capitalist regime that opens the floodgates of decisive historical class confrontations.
There is enough evidence for the Turkish events to prove that there was no significant political intervention of the working class independent, either from the regime or from the Kemalists, The coup disintegrated by its own inner contradictions and then the pro-Erdogan armed police, AKP militias and supporters, mobilized by the faithful to Erdogan Islamic clergy, gave the coup de grace.
The majority of the Turkish Left pays an enormous price for tailing ending, for decades, either the pseudo-anti-imperialist Kemalists or the pro-EU liberals. Some groups in the fringes of the extra-parliamentary left found, both in Turkey and in Egypt, as a substitute to a revolutionary force and organization, the …anticommunist, reactionary, pro-capitalist Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish version , Erdogan’s ‘Rabiism”.
One of the rare, if not the unique, exception to this shameful “national unity” “democratic” consensus serving the Erdogan’s regime consolidation, is the principled stand by our comrades of the DIP opposing both despotisms and calling for an independent working class revolutionary orientation.
b. A Gülenist conspiracy or a dual failure?
The claim by the Erdogan regime that behind the coup of the 15th of July is the Islamic network of Fettulah Gülen serves its immediate needs but not the historical truth. The magnitude of the vast purges shows by itself the falsity of this claim. Behind the attempt are various forces manifesting anti-Erdogan grievances: Kemalists, Gülenists, even a section of the ruling AKP, with the first, the Kemalist military being the backbone of the failed coup. For tactical reasons serving his strategy for consolidation of a Bonapartist regime centered around an omnipotent President, Erdogan tries to win the support of the bourgeois opposition, first of all of his secular Kemalist opponents. This desperate effort for a new “national consensus” became a farce when the AKP anti-Kemalist regime raised an enormous portrait of Kemal Ataturk in front of the headquarters of his party…
This parody is a manifestation of the weakness of the regime, despite claims that Erdogan emerges all powerful after the failure of the coup. To survive politically in short and medium term he needs a broader base of support. To achieve this aim, he stresses the real, existential danger that modern Turkey faces to attract Kemalists and the nationalist far right to the cause of “national salvation”, against an “international conspiracy” masterminded in the US.
In another level, this call for a new “national consensus” does manifest the enormous pressure by centrifugal forces threatening to turn apart Turkey. The danger of disintegration emerges out of a dual failure: first, the failure of the Kemalist project to build an independent, Westernized, secular bourgeois Turkish Republic, and second, the failure of a “neo-Ottoman” Islamist neoliberal alternative to Kemalism embodied in the rise of the AKP.
The failure of the military coup itself shows the historical exhaustion of the capacity of the Kemalist military, as the backbone of the State, to be the regulator of the political, social, and economic life as it used to be in the past. Turkish “Statism” was one of the first similar experiences in the imperialist epoch when the national bourgeoisie in the colonial and semi-colonial countries tried to base its own capitalist interests and capital accumulation on a strong State sector of the economy.
The crises of declining world capitalism eroded this base.
In an over-indebted and turned apart by civil strife Turkey, the 1980 coup by general Evren coincides with the international turn, initiated in the Anglo-Saxon imperialist countries, to finance capital globalization and neo-liberalism to find a way out from the crisis of capital over-accumulation that led to the break up of the Keynesian Bretton Woods framework in early 1970s.
The Kemalist themselves initiated the end of Kemal Ataturk’s project with extensive privatizations and surrender of the economy to global finance capital .This gave rise to a new bourgeoisie in Anatolia oriented to the markets of the Middle East, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to former Soviet Central Asia and Caucasus. These material historical changes propelled Erdogan’s and AKP’s successive electoral victories and nurtured the illusions for a neo-Ottoman hegemony in the region and the Muslim world, with a political mix of “moderate” political Islam, Turkish nationalism, and neoliberal, credit driven, capitalist policies of plunder and speculation.
The rise of Erdogan and AKP was insolubly interconnected with the weak recovery of the world capitalist economy in early 21st century driven by a vast extension of credit to confront the implications of the 1997 international crash centered in Asia Pacific, expanding in Russia’s bankruptcy, and the burst of the financial bubble of the “dot.com” economy in Wall Street. The temporary boom of the Turkish economy that strengthened AKP’s rule and ambitions, a part of the rise of the BRICS at the same period, was based on these international conditions that ended brutally with the implosion of finance capital globalization in 2007-2008 and the Third Depression that followed. Neo-Ottoman “Rabiism” à la Erdogan proved to be economically and politically unsustainable.
The immediate prospects for the Turkish economy are bleak. After the failed coup, political uncertainty and risk, fall of tourism, deep recession and a huge crisis of public and private over-indebtedness lead to a disaster. In the next twelve months half of the foreign debt of $ 170 billion dollars has to be serviced (Libération, 25/7/2016) under conditions of credit crunch.
The popular revolt in Gezi Park in 2013- coinciding with upheaval in another BRICs country, Brazil- marked the beginning of the end of Erdogan’s delusions. It was followed by the Kurdish rebellion in defense of Kobane in 2014 and the metal workers wildcat strikes in 2015. In a non synchronized way the forces of a future revolution emerge out of a break on the top of the class power pyramid. The AKP knew its first electoral defeat in June 2015. It was only the escalation of war against the Kurdish areas and terrorism by the State and/or ISIL that gave another electoral victory, in early elections in November 2015, to the weakened AKP regime.
The coup of July 2016 demonstrated the fragility of such electoral results. Furthermore, it accelerated the disintegration process both within the camp of the Islamist bourgeoisie and the Western-oriented bourgeoisie. Initially the AKP has used the extended Islamist network of the self exiled “imam of Pennsylvania” Fettulah Gülen to undermine and defeat the Kemalist camp. Then it turned against its former ally. Now with the accusation that the Gülen organization was the center of the coup, the split in the Islamist camp reaches its climax. At the same time, the divisions and vacillations in the Kemalist military were crucial for the failure of the coup. The “civil war within the Turkish ruling class”, as the analysis by the DIP calls it, became bloody and generalized. All kinds of divisions, horizontal, vertical and transversal within the ruling elites and the State apparatuses come forward producing an unprecedented regime crisis, and a real threat of disintegration of the State.
c. “Syrianization” of Turkey
The DIP has timely raised the danger of a “Syrianization” of Turkey manifested in State repression, ISIL terrorist massacres, the escalation of war against the Kurdish people, and now the “war of two coups”.
As a matter of fact, Syrianization of Turkey represents the highest point of the dissolution of the imperialist order in the Middle East after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, established by the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916. The dissolution was initiated by the destruction of Iraq by the US imperialist armies in 2003. It was followed by the destruction of Syria and Libya by the French, British and US imperialists, in their effort to stop the revolutionary process in the Middle East and North Africa after the overthrow of the dictators Ben Ali and Mubarak by the popular revolutionary uprising of the Tunisian and Egyptian masses. Out of the upheaval that still is shaking the entire Arab world, the prospect of an independent Kurdistan, which was brutally denied in the Sykes–Picot deal, becomes again visible, actual, and feasible. It is threatened not so much by the savage repression of the regional powers or by the ISIL but above all by the collaborationist policies of the Kurdish leaderships with the US imperialism that wants to give the “kiss of death” to the Kurdish national expectations.
The dissolution of the Sykes-Picot framework threatens the Zionist State of Israel, an integral part of it, from the Balfour Declaration onwards. And now it hits the hard core of the former Ottoman Empire, modern Turkey.
It is a powerful manifestation of the nature of the imperialist epoch of capitalist decline, as well as a negative vindication of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. The movement of the Young Turks and the War of Turkish Independence led by Mustapha Kemal were at the forefront of the rising national liberation movements in the early phase of the imperialist epoch. But the national bourgeoisie in a historical epoch of capitalist decline cannot achieve real liberation from national oppression and dependency. Turkey’s ruling class adapted its strategy for survival to the international strategic needs of imperialism. Kemalism turned into Atlanticism, an advanced military post of NATO in the Middle East and in the soft underbelly of Russia, both during and after the Cold War. Erdogan’s version of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology is NOT anti-imperialism. Neo-liberal policies makes AKP subservient to global finance capital. Neo-Ottoman ambitions does not want to revive an “empire” counter-posed to the imperial forces of the capitalist West but to achieve an hegemonic position in the Arab Muslim (exclusively Sunni) world with a more advantageous relation to the world hegemon, US imperialism. The rhetoric noises for a “new orientation”, possibly to the loose “Eurasian Union” led by Russia or the Shanghai group led by China is no more than wishful thinking and a bargaining card with the West. Russia and China have enough problems by themselves now to try to solve the problems of such an unreliable ally as Erdogan.
With the coup and counter-coup in Turkey the Middle Eastern chaos merges with a post-Brexit European Union in a process of disintegration. The meeting point of the two processes is Greece, a capitalist country economically bankrupt, socially devastated by the measures of social cannibalism tied with the “bail out programs” imposed by the troika of the EU, the ECB and the IMF with the collaboration of all Greek governments, right and “ left”, and in an insoluble political regime crisis.
After the coup in Turkey, Jack Lew, the finance minister of the Obama administration during his visit in Athens, stressed that Greece should become a frontline preventing the spreading of the Turkish and Middle Eastern crisis in Europe. This statement could be taken only as a futile exorcism. Apart from the ever sharper conflict between the IMF and the EU about the (non) future of the unsustainable Greek debt, the insolubility of the Greek problem, within the current capitalist framework, is exacerbating with the events in Turkey. Among the factors are the on going migrant crisis and the possible break up of the EU/Turkey dirty deal, but also the Cyprus problem, the status of the Aegean, the prospects of exploitation of the oil/gas deposits in Eastern Mediterranean. The dangerous rise of nationalism and warmongering as a tool of social control of the masses by the ruling classes in both sides of the Aegean cannot be underestimated.
For the same reason the strategic significance of proletarian internationalism and solidarity between the oppressed in Greece and Turkey acquires now the most vital and urgent importance. The ruling bourgeois classes failed miserably to provide elementary material conditions of life to the peoples and they promise only death by war or by starvation or by State repression.
The strategic unity of the revolutionary forces in Europe and in the Middle East, as it was projected by the EEK and the DIP in the three Euro-Mediterranean Conferences in Athens in 2013, 2014, and 2015 as well as in the internationalist work by the Balkan Socialist Center “Christian Rakovsky” and the RedMed web network, is central to the struggle against barbarism generated by a capitalist system in bankruptcy. Against the imperialism of the EU, the US, and NATO, against all the ruling classes and all despotisms, our battle cry is for international permanent revolution, and workers power, for the socialist unification of Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok, for the Socialist Federation of the Middle East.
August 3, 2016
 Sungur Savran “Turkey: a War of Two Coups”, originally posted on the website RedMed, on July 20 2016, but also published on EEK's website and in MRZine.monthlyreview.org). See also, by the same author, "Turkey: Atlanticism versus Rabiism", published on July 29, 2016 in Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 1286, and then on RedMed and EEK's website.