This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 3 June 2013 contains two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.
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– Turkey: A bright carnival in the shadow of a revengeful state
– Iran: On upcoming elections
Turkey: A bright carnival in the shadow of a revengeful state
5 June 2013. A World to Win News Service. “It started out about a park, but now it’s about everything,” someone tweeted in the middle of the night as protesters fought police in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.
The events began on Monday morning 28 May, when some 50 protesters stood in front of the bulldozers about to attack the trees in Gezi Park, adjacent to Taksim Square. In the following days, the park was occupied around the clock by youth in affinity with the global Occupy movement and others determined to save one of the city’s last green spaces. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had announced that the Ottoman military barracks that once stood on this site would be reconstructed to house a shopping centre and condominiums, alongside a new mosque. The symbolic and provocative nature of his announcement became even more apparent when it came out that he had decided to rip up the trees now and bring in the architects later.
This project represented the intersection of Islamism and the most speculative and monopolistic aspects of Turkish capitalism under Erdogan. The purpose was to demolish a square centred on a monument to Mustafa Kamel Ataturk, who transformed Turkey’s shattered Ottoman Empire by founding a secular republic after World War I, and make developers and financiers linked to the prime minister’s inner circle even more filthy rich.
At 5 am on Friday 31 May, police attacked. They fired rounds of tear gas into tents with people sleeping in them, including children, sent in bulldozers to roll over everything and set fire to the encampment. Hundreds of protesters, journalists and passers-by were injured. An attempted sit-in was dispersed. Instead of putting an end to the protests, this assault made many thousands of people from all walks of life feel that they had to come to the rescue. Some people chanted, “Thanks, Tayyip, for the wake-up call.”
Youth throwing stones and other objects fought back against police in pitched battles that lasted all day and all night. The next day, the police withdrew from the square and protesters closed off the entrances with high barricades built of cobblestones and appropriated police crowd control barriers, street signs and other items. Supporters left their cars and buses to block police access. Nearby apartment dwellers offered their facilities for protesters. The square was turned into a place for political debate, concerts and dancing, a lunch area for curious and supportive office workers, and home away from home for people who came for their first-ever political protest and never left. It acquired a first aid station and a library.
Many people didn’t come with the intention of fighting but under attack did so anyway. There were jokes on the theme of “Gezi gazzi” – I couldn’t help it, I was gassed (drunk), or I was tired but I got gassed up at Gezi.
They were high school and university students and teachers (the universities suspended final exams); artists, architects, city planners and other intellectuals (some of the very first demonstrators); doctors and lawyers (their associations defended the protesters, and many came to help them); slum youth and their parents, many of Kurdish origin; white collar workers and businesspeople; shopkeepers (often handing out lemons and milk to sooth eyes burned by tear gas and pepper gas); pushcart peddlers; and housewives of all backgrounds, including traditional peasant families, some covered, most not. A few days later the two public service union confederations called a two-day strike and their members joined the youth.
Heedless of the protest, the prime minister held the scheduled ceremony inaugurating the construction of a third bridge across the Bosphorus, a project designed to delight real estate and financial speculators and bring the final expulsion of the lower classes and nature itself from that part of the city. Speaking of the Gezi demonstrators, he said, “It doesn’t matter what you do. We made a decision and we will follow through with that decision.” The bridge, he announced, would be named Yavez (the Great) Sultan Selim, after the sixteenth-century hereditary ruler who made the Ottoman Empire a caliphate (Islamic state), also infamous for the slaughter of members of the Alevi religious minority.
While the main TV channels were broadcasting beauty pageants and cooking shows and ignoring the news, the Twitter hashtag #Direngeziparki became the world’s most popular, with 25 million people following it. Erdogan was to label Twitter and other social media “the worst menace to society.”
Led by a commandeered construction vehicle originally brought in to demolish the park, youth attacked the Prime Minister’s Istanbul offices. Tens of thousands of people from the part of the city on the other side of the Bosphorus confronted police and marched across a bridge normally closed to pedestrians to join the protests.
A late-night aerial video of the city shows lights blinking on and off in solidarity, in apartment buildings stretching far across the city, and everywhere there is the din of people beating pots and pans or banging spoons against street lamps, even in Bulgurlu, considered a stronghold of Erdogan’s AKP governing party.
The offices of the governing party were set ablaze in Ankara and Izmir. Demonstrations and fighting with police also took place in Adana, Antalya and many dozens of other cities and towns, in as many as three quarters of Turkey’s provinces
In the clashes with the police, the assaults and counter-assaults, countless women were in the forefront of the fighting, relishing a chance to battle for what they see as a clash over what kind of world they will live in. There were women in sun dresses holding out their arms to mockingly gesture “Bring it on” to the riot police; women in thin tank tops, their hands wrapped in rags so that they could grab tear gas canisters; many young students in jeans, some wearing head-scarves and a few with Occupy face masks as well; and other women of all ages and classes.
Some women fought; some milled around like most people; some brought fresh bread and tea to keep everyone going; some went home and banged out the rhythm of chants in their neighbourhoods. The police, who were spraying people in the face with streams of pepper gas and firing bone-breaking, flesh-penetrating baton rounds at close range, displayed a particularly violent hatred for women. Photos on the Web show one or another defiant woman caught in a crossfire of gas-loaded water cannons strong enough to cause serious injury.
Few women entered into this fray without an awareness of the special dangers, but perhaps their enthusiasm for symbolic and physical confrontation stems from a feeling that they are a central target of Erdogan’s programme. He tried to ban Caesarean section births and put restrictions on abortion, not so much in the name of religion but because, as he once opined on TV, “Turkish women” (meaning ethnic Turks, not the country’s minorities) should have more babies. In the blatantly patriarchal climate Erdogan has helped foster, honour killings, long a plague in Turkey, have risen sharply, with little prosecution. This participation by women is not just an interesting and positive feature. It is one of the characteristics that is best about this movement.
Another of its characteristics is that it is an outpouring of opposition to the government by many tens of thousands of people, while the opposition political parties have not been playing a directing role. The focus is on the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Many protesters demand that he listen to the people. Others, from the first, called for his resignation and increasingly his head. But this is more of a massive convergence of diverse streams than a political coalition.
There is a general unease with Erdogan’s recent speed-up of the Islamization of Turkey’s society. Recently the world-renowned pianist Faisal Say was tried and convicted for a Tweet comparing the Moslem vision of heaven to a house of prostitution. A young couple got in trouble for kissing on the Istanbul metro. The sale of alcohol was limited, and Erdogan declared that only alcoholics touch it. This was understood as a slap at Ataturk, who made a political point of drinking as part of establishing a Westernized, non-religious state and society.
Angered by all this, in a residential neighbourhood near Taksim Square a very elderly woman and the much younger woman from the countryside who cleans her apartment marched out of their apartment building arm in arm, bought some beer and sat down on a bus stop bench. They sipped a little and held their cans in the air so that the world could see their solidarity with the protesters who chanted, “Thanks for banning alcohol, now we’ve come to our senses.” People also held mass kiss-ins.
Now in the streets there seems to be an enormous desire for unity. In a city torn by deadly football rivalries, there were marchers wearing the t-shirts of one team and the scarves of their bitter enemies. A widely-posted photo shows a trio of young men making the hand signs of the fascist Grey Wolves, the secular Kemalists and the leftists. There were gay rights banners and a few portraits of Ibrahim Kaypakayya (the founder of the Maoist movement). The main opposition party, the deflated CHP that considers itself Ataturk’s heir, has not played much of a role so far. Many protesters voted for Erdogan and many people are sick of all the political parties. But the most common political symbols have been badges, banners and portraits of Ataturk. While Kurds as individuals are participating and there are occasional banners and chanting in support of the PKK and its leader Abdullah Ocalan, in general the question of the liberation of the Kurdish people has been lost in a sea of Turkish flags.
Some of the protesters are religious believers who feel that Erdogan is instrumentalizing their faith. Some are opposed to religious rule in general. Most seem to consider themselves secular. But this secularism itself covers contradictory trends. Kemalism (as Ataturk’s ideology is called) has always been reactionary. His vision of the “unity” of Turkey has always meant oppression of the Kurds and other minorities who make up a large part of the population. When marchers in Istanbul chant, “We are Turks, not Arabs” – one of Ataturk’s signature ideas, hitching Turkey to the Western powers instead of the Arab world – this kind of opposition to Islamism is poisoned with Turkish chauvinism and reactionary ambitions for regional domination as a willing junior partner to the Western imperialist powers.
While opposing a religious state, Ataturk’s heirs repressed non-Sunni schools of Islam (such as the Alevis) and gave state support to the Sunni religious establishment. Although Ataturk banned the public wearing of head-scarves for women and promoted what are perceived as Western values in other ways, the Turkish state he founded has both relied on the traditional mould of patriarchy and promoted a more Westernized (and sometimes decadent) form.
In fact, the most fervent followers of Ataturk have been Turkey’s generals, who kept their country under an iron heel for much of the late twentieth century with the blessing of the imperialist powers. The complaints emanating from Washington and other Western capitals about Erdogan’s “authoritarian turn” have to be seen in that light. Ironically, some of the”leftist” parties now in the streets against Erdogan and going along with the Kemalists gave him their support or assent until now, with the excuse that “He saved us from the generals.”
This kind of confused thinking is especially dangerous in a confusing situation. The political and class coalition around Erdogan is fraying, although not necessarily irreparably. As an informed observer explained it, Erdogan became prime minister with the support of the Tusiad, the association of Turkey’s most powerful imperialist-dependent capitalists, the heads of holding companies that own big banks and monopolize industrial sectors such as textile, appliances and other export items and construction. At a time when globalization was forcing a restructuring of Turkey’s ruling class and the traditional parties had become ineffectual, his task was to repair the power structure and broaden its social base by bringing in newly arising, traditional, Islamic-minded rural capitalists who like to call themselves the “Anatolian tigers” as a signal of their aspirations for wealth and power. He also appealed to the pious rural population and those coming into the cities.
Erdogan promoted himself as a tough guy from the slums of Kasimpasha, not far from Taksim. But his political success with sections of the ruling class was based on the fundamental promise not to radically change anything. His way of dealing with the urban poor was a reactionary populism based on a kind of cultural revenge against the “Tarabyav”, people from an opulent, secular Istanbul quarter. This was combined with “the Kurdish card,” his long-term attempts to bring the PKK and Kurdish capitalists under his wing, simultaneously mitigating the “Kurdish problem” and acquiring an ally with influence among an important segment of the rural and urban poor.
However, the headlong economic development under his leadership has brought political changes. There is a question as to whether he still feels a need for the support of the lesser, “Anatolian” newly rich, and a feeling that his programme is meant to favour the country’s biggest financial forces and encourage the kind of “bubble” speculation that may take Turkey down the path of Greece. Many people at various levels are worried that Erdogan’s policies regarding Syria will pull his country into a regional ethnic and religious civil war. It can be said with certainty that many people at the top are worried that he is endangering rather than solidifying the ruling coalition.
At the same time, his “urban development” policies represent the enrichment of a very tight circle of government-connected corporations and big-shots whose power (including over the media) is widely resented among other capitalists. “Urban renewal” has taken place at the expense of poor neighbourhoods. Economic growth has brought an intensification of class polarization. In areas where the AKP once handed out bread it is now moving schools and other facilities to the suburbs and forcing people to move out, not by open force, but by persuading them to sign contracts for new housing in distant areas before their old homes are torn down. Often these contracts put people more than ever at the mercy of feudalistic obligations to powerful individuals. This is not so popular. It is also significant that the PKK has helped keep cities in the Kurdish east (like Diyarbakir) less turbulent than other areas so far.
Discontent with Erdogan’s programmatic disregard for forces whose support or at least assent has been so crucial to his success is matched by outright alarm at his confrontational political style, as if Turkey’s fate rested on him alone. His arrogance isn’t without basis, since his ruling coalition might not be able to survive without him, but it might not be able to survive with him, either.
In addition to what is going on in the streets, there are other signs of cracks in the ruling class. Army units have failed to help the police in several incidents. The head of the judge’s association issued a warning to Erdogan, implying that his political style is un-Islamic. The fact that five-star hotels have turned their lobbies into emergency medical facilities for demonstrators and even provided staff (in contrast to Starbucks, which closed its doors), is an interesting turn of events, but it may not be unrelated to such splits and a general feeling that a further slide toward an Islamic regime would be bad for business, not the least tourism.
Some forces are trying to sew things together again, with or without Erdogan. The move by Turkish Deputy PM Bulent Arinc to apologize to protesters may be a question of “good cop, bad cop,” The Turkish stock exchange, which had dropped sharply, popped up again after this gesture. Trying to peel off some of the movement’s segments, Arinc called the protests against the uprooting of the trees “just and legitimate” and condemned the “excessive force” by the police, but at the same time said that the movement had been taken over by “terrorist elements” and refused to call off the police, ban the use of tear gas or issue an amnesty for those arrested. He said that now the demonstrators were just looters (“capulcu”). This promoted a worldwide wave of all kinds of people posting videos of themselves on the Net, introducing themselves in serious or funny ways and declaring, “I am a capulcu.”
Actually, there has been remarkably little looting and relatively little destruction, aside from tearing up pavements and urban fixtures to make barricades and gather projectiles to use against the police. On the contrary, the youth have been assiduously cleaning up the mess left by the fighting to demonstrate their political seriousness and perhaps recycle materials for future use.
The atmosphere is festive in Taksim and other places as people celebrate their victories, freely act out their life styles and project their visions of a future happy society. But it would be extremely dangerous to ignore the viciousness and strength of the state and the possibility that Erdogan will pursue “double or nothing” tactics to show that he and he alone can lead it.
Erdogan has said that because he received 51 percent of the votes in the last elections no one has the right to challenge him. He also said that demonstrations were occurring only in the biggest cities, and that the rest of the country supported him. He warned that he might not be able to keep his half of society at home much longer. Threatening not just repression but something more like a civil war, he declared, “Taksim Square cannot be an area where extremists are running wild. If this is about staging a protest, about a social movement, I would… gather 200,000 where they gather 20, and where they gather 100,000, I would gather a million party supporters. Let’s not go down that road.”
Two young men have been reported killed so far, by unknown persons, in Istanbul and Ankara, and some observers see this as the work of AKP militias. Civilians with knives have been reported to be joining police in beating and torturing demonstrators trapped in alleyways. In the south-western city of Antalya, the AKP youth organization attacked demonstrators.
No matter what approach the state takes, the situation is very dangerous for the ruling class, because any retreat by the regime may embolden the people in the streets, while a refusal to make any concessions may further enrage them. At the same time, the extremely contradictory nature of the movement against Erdogan is both an advantage and a source of danger for those aspiring to radical social change, because it embraces very different ideas about what society should look like – for instance, whether the Turkey they want is one where minorities and women are dominated, and the whole country is dominated by imperialism.
The fact that cracks have appeared among Turkey’s ruling classes and reactionaries is potentially a great advantage for those seeking radical change. But to the degree that people in this movement do not achieve some clarity about the need to oppose both Kemalism and Islamism, there is a danger that one or other of the various reactionary forces and not the people may benefit from this moment.
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Iran: On the upcoming elections
5 June 2013. A World to Win News Service. The following is a statement from 8 March Women’s Organisation (Iran-Afghanistan).
Women’s Vote: To Overthrow the Islamic Republic Regime In Iran!
Women’s Choice: For a World Without Oppression And Exploitation!
Once again, the anti-women regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran is preparing for a so-called presidential election. Through a campaign of lies, the regime intends to draw the people to the ballot boxes, legitimise their rule and elect a new operator for their oppressive apparatus! All the factions of the Islamic Regime as well as the leaders of the imperialist states agree and are cautiously hoping for people’s smooth participation in the current elections, as they are all well aware that the burning hatred of the people can easily ignite into flames and destroy their system of oppression and exploitation.
The ruling power is once again banking its hopes on the election. Although many illusions about people’s participation in elections have been shattered due to the events following the people’s uprising in the previous election four years ago, elections still remain capitalism’s best tool for obtaining the “popular legitimacy” it needs. The aim of elections in repressive religious regimes such as Iran, as well as in bourgeois democratic countries such as the imperialist countries, is to cover up class antagonisms and make people believe that the only way they can have a say about their own destiny, the only political participation open to them, is to get involved in state-orchestrated elections (whether a so-called democratic and legal election process or an illegal rigged one), where what the maximum people can really do is just altogether go through the democratic rituals of “civil society”.
The question to be asked is this: Why would electing the “lesser evil” ever fulfil the class interests of the poor and oppressed people of the world? Have people around the world ever had a real choice? Did Egyptian women, after all their sacrifices in Tahrir Square to overthrow Mubarak, choose to be raped afterwards? Did women and the rest of Egypt’s people choose Morsi? Was it the choice of Iranian, Afghani and Pakistani women to be stoned to death for falling in love? Have the workers of Bangladesh chosen to be the cheapest labour in the world or for thousands of them to be burnt or crushed to death under the rubble of collapsed factories? Have the workers in China, Taiwan, Mexico and so on chosen to commit suicide due to the tremendous pressures in the capitalist sweatshops? Have India’s women chosen to be buried alive, or to be sold for almost nothing, or for their wombs to be hired out? Have the women in Brazil and India chosen to be gang-raped in buses? Have the people in Mali chosen to have French bombs rain down on their heads? Have the people in Iraq and Afghanistan chosen to be killed by US bombs? Have the people of Syria chosen to be blown to pieces by Western weapons and the Islamic fundamentalists? Have the women in America chosen to be killed due to the near elimination of abortion? Have the women in Eastern Europe, the Philippines etc. chosen to be sex slaves in Europe’s brothels? Have the people of Africa chosen for their habitat to be a dumping ground for the world’s industrial and nuclear waste? So what is the right to the so-called elections thrown at us, the oppressed people, really worth? What has it resulted in for us except misery, war, poverty, hardship, inferiority, oppression and exploitation?
These elections are taking place when oppression, exploitation, and the subjugation and deprivation of women’s basic rights have been one of the main longstanding pillars of the anti-women regime of the Islamic Republic, throughout its 34 years of existence, and to preserve this shaky pillar in today’s critical conditions they are increasingly relying on intensifying oppression and patriarchy. In order to carry out this plan they are using anti-women laws, increasing the pressure of the security and military forces and even making new laws for that purpose. Although Iran’s Islamic Regime has the privilege of being the first country on this planet that has organised military force to control women’s bodies, it has not found that sufficient. The Islamic regime has also increased the pressure to impose compulsory Islamic dress codes on women, it is using gender segregation in universities and educational institutions, it is introducing new laws to tighten control on single women until the age of 40, by the sanctification of marriage and the family through the highest religious authority and the media, and by launching a house-to-house campaign to promote more children in families, etc. All this is being done to broaden and intensify violence against women and exert tighter control over this powerful rebellious and defiant social force and keep them away from the scene of struggle. The Islamic regime is well aware that they have lost their legitimacy amongst the people, but at the same time the regime intends to unite and further strengthen the traditional and backward section of the society by intensifying patriarchal relations in society.
By looking at the situation of women in the Middle East in the past few decades, from Iran to Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, etc., it can be clearly seen how the imperialist powers have played a role through direct or indirect military or non-military intervention in establishing and strengthening religious governments in the region – and we women were the first victims of the establishment of these Islamic, anti-women states. We therefore have no doubt that our rights cannot be secured through favours from the Islamic fundamentalist governments or through their civil channels, meaning “elections”, nor by depending on imperialist warlords and hoping that their reactionary parliaments and lobby groups will do us favours. There is no role for us in determining our fates and making a serious and fundamental change in women’s position in society through relying on patriarchal and male-chauvinist relations, because we have absolutely no interest in safeguarding this rotten system.
We deserve a society where people have a right to live in dignity, the right to eat, to work, and to better physical and moral health, where people have a right to be happy, a society where no one is hungry, where no one has to sell their body organs in order to live and no woman has to sell her body due to poverty or to abort because her foetus is female, where no woman shivers because she is scared of being raped and no family has to sell their daughter for bare survival, where no woman will be stoned to death because she falls in love, and where no religion, state or individual can control a woman’s body, a society where no woman is forced to marry against her will or to send her child to war in the name of national pride, and no woman is humiliated, controlled and killed in the name of honour, a society where no woman experiences violence in any aspect of her daily life and everyone has the right to genuinely take part in determining their fate.
We will be able to fight for the realisation of such a society only with a revolutionary consciousness and through an independent revolutionary organisation. We want a society in which people do not live to have a right to vote but live and struggle for the right to determine their path and their future, a society that humanity deserves, a society where the emancipation of women is a priority. Yes, we want to be free from gender oppression and subjugation, from oppression and exploitation.
We also know well that the first step in building such a society is a persistent and uncompromising struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of the Islamic Republic Regime of Iran, and this will not be realised through the ballot box. Nor is it sufficient just to not take part or to boycott the election or adopt a negative attitude. The state’s entire voting and electoral apparatus must be smashed. Yes, we women must settle the fate of the Islamic regime not by going to the ballot box but in the streets with our struggle to overthrow this regime!
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