The winner in Turkey’s parliamentary elections: democratic illusions (AWTWNS 8 June 2015)

This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 8 June 2015 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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The winner in Turkey’s parliamentary elections: democratic illusions

9 June 2015. A World to Win News Service. By Ishak Baran. The parliamentary elections held in Turkey on 7 June resulted in a major setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to consolidate the grip of his AKP (Justice and Development Party), which had been in ascension since 2002. He had hoped the election would bring an even bigger majority and further legitimacy, or, in other words, a mandate to push through a constitutional reform that could include the legal framework for replacing the current parliamentary system with a presidential system, vastly increasing his powers and the further Islamisation of public life. These plans were dramatically upset when the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) drew votes from former AKP supporters, particularly in Kurdistan, and gained entry into parliament.

The HDP has positioned itself as both the main opposition to Erdogan’s power ambitions and the strongest voice demanding the resumption of the peace talks between the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and the government. By assembling the leftist parties and organizations in Western (non-Kurdish) Turkey around them, the HDP has been transformed from a pro-PKK party into an umbrella organization aiming to represent “the excluded” – all opposition identities – the forces of a real “democraticization” of the political system– against the authoritarian AKP.

No party now has a parliamentary majority to form a government. A coalition seems to be necessary to resolve this problem. But Erdogan is not backing off. He is blaming his opponents for creating this potential crisis and calling on them to assume their responsibility for ensuring and protecting political stability. Even though this is addressed to all parties, it is particularly levelled at HDP. The assistant prime minister has already started articulating this, warning, “Mouthing the word honey doesn’t sweeten your mouth, and repeating the word peace does not produce peace.” Now that HDP has 13 percent of the votes and 80 seats in parliament, “they should call on Imrali (the island prison where PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is being held) and Kandil (the mountain headquarters of the PKK military commanders) to put down their guns.” This is raising the bar for peace negotiations by demanding, as a precondition for moving forward in this process, that the PKK decommission their weapons. HDP is to be held responsible for making sure that this happens. It is being told that if it is to be allowed to function within parliament, it must act as a representative of the interests of the Turkish state. And rival parties to the AKP are being told that only the AKP is capable of leading this process. In response to the criticism that Erdogan is acting out of personal ambition, and the denunciation of him by Turkish ultra-nationalists for negotiating with “terrorists”, he is appealing to his rivals to close ranks behind him in the broader interests of the state.

Despite the euphoria among HDP supporters and other opposition forces following Erdogan’s electoral setback, these are the terms in which political infighting is being carried out among the ruling class and its representatives, and HDP will be obliged to be a part of this.

The Turkish ruling class is making very clear allusions to Ocalan’s defence at his trial following his capture in 1999, when he argued that in hindsight, taking up arms was not the right thing to do but the Kurds were provoked and forced into it because of the denial of their national identity – because they needed to be heard and plead their case. Now there is a growing chorus, starting on the eve of the elections, saying, “No more excuses. Now you’ve been heard. Now you have to distance yourselves from the terrorists in the mountains.” This is the insidious underside of HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas being called “the Kurdish Obama”. The AKP and others are saying that now that the Kurds have been gifted with democracy by being given a place in the Turkish parliament, they have to represent the whole of the Kurdish population, meaning the burgeoning capitalist class in Kurdistan, and the interests and concerns of Kurdish political bigshots who have been supporting the AKP. This is an effort to bring Kurdish resistance into “the mainstream”, which means the existing reactionary political structure.

This is made acceptable to the people by presenting it as the “victory of democracy”, the expression of the will of the masses in Kurdistan and the rest of Turkey through the electoral process. Yet in reality, what is going on is more than just a demand for Kurdish forces to definitively capitulate and be integrated into the state. It is also part of a countrywide effort to muffle and manage various manifestations of resistance to the economic, social and political system, as seen, for instance, in the Gezi Park protests that spread like wildfire from Istanbul to other major cities in June 2013. The same potential explosiveness has also been seen in the angry reaction to the deaths of miners in Soma in 2014, and the growing outrage and struggle by women to traditional patriarchal relationships and the brutality against women and a wave of murders in the context of the increasing Islamisation of society. The AKP has used violent repression, but has faced serious difficulties. Now the HDP, claiming that its policies like requiring 50 percent of its deputies to be women and 10 percent LGBT (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex people), make it a representative of all the oppressed and excluded, is contributing to the encirclement and taming of protest, bringing potential forces of revolt back into the fold, and reassuring people that this system can be made to alleviate its irresolvable contradictions.

Further, numerous forces that consider themselves revolutionaries and even communists have been enlisted into this process, because they are convinced that the overthrow and radical transformation of the system is impossible and are lured by the prospect of obtaining a place in the system and the possibility of some reforms. Ironically, they justify their unconscionable activity theoretically by claiming that Turkey is fascist and their entry into parliament is a blow for democracy – when in fact promoting illusions about bourgeois democracy is just as necessary to the ruling class as more openly brutal means of protecting their class dictatorship.

The jubilation in the streets of Diyarbakir and the squares of other Kurdish cities celebrating the HDP’s electoral advance was sharply contradictory. There was the joy of being able to overcome some of the limits set by the system, such as the election threshold requiring parties to win a minimum of 10 percent of the vote countrywide to enter parliament, which was established to keep out Kurdish parties. But at the same time people who hate what this system does to themselves and others find themselves hemmed in by its horizons. For instance, thousands of people waved the flag of the Turkish state and portraits of its founder Ataturk, who brutally repressed Kurdish rebellion, along with portraits of Ocalan, robbing the Kurdish struggle of its revolutionary and emancipatory potential.

What makes the reformist efforts even more out of touch with reality is the underlying assumption that Turkish society can be protected from the clash between Western imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism that is raging throughout the region, including right on the country’s borders, reflecting contradictions that certainly run through Turkey itself. Many Western imperialist political counsellors and spokespersons understand this much better. They were generally unanimous in hailing the setback dealt to Erdogan, and many even called for the HDP to enter parliament before the elections that made this the “will of the people”.

While representing and promoting the flourishing of capitalism in Turkey in subordination to the imperialist system, Erdogan’s Islamisation drive and ambition to put himself at the head of a resurgent Moslem world are problematic for the U.S. Also, Islamist forces whose rise is fuelled by the development of capitalism itself are seeking to legitimize their claims for their due place in the global system of exploitation and are mobilizing people under their leadership who are in conflict with the political and ideological models imposed by the West. Erdogan has been compelled to support Islamist forces throughout North Africa and the Middle East , including Syria, because his legitimacy, the ideological cohesion that holds his movement together and the political strength of his regime, depend on it. Erdogan may not be Taliban, Bin Laden or Daesh, but his project is both a product and an agent of the clash between these two “outmodeds” (Western imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism) in the region and globally, a clash that engenders drives and tendencies that cannot be controlled. For instance, Erdogan could not avoid offending Kurdish voters with his refusal to aid the Kurdish forces fighting Daesh in Kobani (in northern Syria). He is inevitably brought into conflict with the U.S.’s plans and efforts in the region. This sharpening polarization between imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism is generating new alignments throughout Kurdish cities in Turkey and all of Turkey. Erdogan’s policies, often wrongly reduced to simple signs of personal ambition, such as his moves to increase the powers of the presidency and reduce the independence of the judiciary, reflect the same polarization and its necessities. These contradictions, like all the other fault lines in Turkey, cannot be resolved by elections. Framing the question as a fight between “liberal, pluralist democracy” and “authoritarianism” ignores the real forces at work and leads people into a trap.

The shadow of the U.S. looms at least as large here as that of Islamic fundamentalism. The PKK, HDP and most of the Turkish Left looked favourably upon the U.S.’s criminal role in the war tearing Syria apart, including its bombing raids. Whatever the U.S. does in Kobani or anywhere else is part of its fight to preserve and extend its empire. The positive evaluation of and even praise for the U.S. in relation to Kobani now has been followed by even more outrageous capitulation – people are tolerating statements such as “the Left should learn a few things from imperialism instead of rejecting it wholesale”. The long insurgence against national oppression in Kurdistan is being enlisted in an effort to modernize and reinforce the Turkish state, which is totally linked to imperialism, and even to serve the world’s number one oppressor power, the U.S. In turn, Erdogan uses this to strengthen his regime and its ideological appeal by crying that he is the victim of a foreign “plot”.

Along with the extremely tragic fact that so many people are dragged and driven into the arms of one or the other of these outmoded forces, there is another tragedy: that some people are not only dreaming of mitigating the conflict between these two outmodeds but are making this the foundation of a political programme and doing their best to inflict their blindness on millions of others, including those who are now awakening to political life and struggle and searching for a way to a different world. In reality, what practical alternative is there to imperialist and fundamentalist mass murder and murderous ideologies except the revolutionary overthrow of the entire social order and the total reorganization of society and eventually the world? However, these same contradictions are also the potential basis for a different solution if people with a thoroughly scientific, communist understanding of the problem and solution work to transform the struggles around the basic, burning contradictions in society and the people waging them into streams converging into a movement capable of actually making a revolution.


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