So, the “most important election of the year” (dixit The Economist) is over. At the end of the second round, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won by several percentage points (52 per cent to 48 percent) against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (we will abbreviate both names, the former as RTE and the latter as KK, both abbreviations being very common in Turkish popular political writing.) KK conceded defeat around four hours after the polling stations closed. This suggests that the opposition Nation Alliance that supported KK, the leader of the Republican People’s Party, for president of the republic, will not file for grave irregularities. Such irregularities have become a household matter under the 21-year rule of the AKP and so the discovery of all kinds of sore spots should not surprise in the coming days. However, it seems that, at least for the moment, blatant rigging of the type that occurred, just to cite the most famous example, during the constitutional referendum of 2017 are not present.
On the other hand, this election, and here we are talking only of the presidential facet of the elections and not the general (parliamentary) elections which were held together with the first round of the presidential elections two weeks ago, may or may not have been rigged, but it is patently illegal and illegitimate. And why is this so? Primarily because the constitution of the country clearly says, “a person may be elected president of the republic only twice”. Well, RTE had already been elected twice to this position (2014 and 2018), so he should not have been allowed to run. But the only competent authority on such matters is the Supreme Electoral Board and that board is under RTE’s control, as is the rest of the judiciary. But the left must not give up on this matter and whenever it comes on the agenda should insist on the illegitimacy of his third term in office. If and when the masses, especially the working class, engages in actions that challenge the government, this is a formidable trump card to raise against RTE: “Unconstitutional president!” This is a president of the republic that must be sent away when the first occasion presents itself.
There are many other irregularities that would create an immense scandal and upset the entire electoral process in a country that minimally respects its democratic procedures. To take just a single example, because the Kurdish parliamentary party HDP supported KK in the presidential elections (but ran under its own slate in the parliamentary leg), RTE and company tried to utilise this to prove that the Nation Alliance and KK were working hand in glove with the “terrorists”, meaning of course the PKK. This may be regarded normal in a country where the masses are conditioned by unceasing propaganda against the Kurds and their political organisations. However, during the entire week before the first round, RTE showed at his rallies videos into which one of the top leaders of the PKK was very visibly edited as a distortion. This operation seems to have had great influence on large masses of people. This is a perfect example of what some tend to label “post-truth”, but which is in fact nothing but the reproduction of the methods of Goebbels in the political methodology of reactionaries of all countries.
And this brazen lie is only an extreme example of a multitude of irregularities that marred these elections.
“The most important elections of Turkish history”
Mainstream commentators of all stripes within Turkey declared went farther than The Economist did and declared these elections to be the “most important elections of Turkish history”. In this, they were haplessly tail-ended by many intellectuals of the socialist left. One reason, perhaps not brought to the surface very often but ever-present in the mind of the advocates of the idea, was that 2023 is the centenary of the foundation of the republic in Turkey. Given the very differential assessments of the republic offered by the two sides of the cultural wars that have been raging since the AKP came to power, the republic has been prized very highly by the opposition, in particular the turn to the West (“contemporary civilisation” in Kemalist parlance) and the move away from Islamic values and culture (intermingled as that is with secularism, the great bone of contention between the two sides) are the hallmarks of this republic. Whoever won the elections would have the upper hand in the inevitable ideological battle to be waged for the rest of the year.
The reason explicitly put forth was that, after two decades of the counter-revolutionary rule of the AKP, here was the first time when a realistic strategy had finally been devised by KK, the leader of the main opposition party, the CHP, the Kemalist and purportedly social-democratic party, the party founded by Atatürk in the 1920s and carried to power by Ecevit in the 1970s. We will be providing abundant information on the alliance built under the leadership of KK below. Here we would just like to state our opinion that there was nothing special that set these elections apart from the previous ones, other than the fact that many opinion polls gave KK as the probable winner of the presidential elections. And because we assess this alliance both unrealistic as an instrument to get rid of RTE’s despotism and reactionary politics and, at the same time, positively harmful from the point of view of the working class and the oppressed masses, including the Kurds, the Alevis, women and other oppressed strata, we did not and do not form a part of this massive wave of hope, before, and of despair, after the election that has swept and is sweeping all kinds of people who oppose RTE, the AKP and the People’s Alliance that RTE has built with the main fascist movement of Turkey. We will explain below why the opposition alliance lacked realism and was harmful to the interests of the working people and the oppressed.
But before moving on to explain that, let us also point out that the overwhelming part of the socialist parties and movements in Turkey, as well as the Kurdish party, HDP, subordinated themselves entirely to this strategy and this alliance developed by KK. This was tail-endism raised to a degree. A critique of this strategic orientation is the main aim of this article.
In order to understand the intricacies of the tactical orientation of the two alliances and of the left, including the Kurdish movement represented by the HDP, we need to remind the reader of the trajectory over two decades of the rule of RTE and the AKP.
In power since the end of 2002, the AKP traversed four different phases. The first one lasted until 2007, when RTE was busy currying favour with imperialism, particularly with the European Union, and the established wing of the Turkish bourgeoisie organised in the powerful TÜSİAD (Turkish Industrialists’ and Business People’s Association), the monopolistic apex of the Istanbul bourgeoisie, which we at DIP call the Westernising-secular wing of the bourgeoisie. The AKP thus was trying to isolate its fiercest opponents within the Turkish political system, first and foremost the top brass of the armed forces (TSK), which had brought down the government of Erbakan, historic leader of the Islamist movement in Turkey, in a barely disguised coup d’Etat only in 1997. It should also be remembered that RTE, together with some other up-and-coming leaders of Erbakan’s movement, had separated from Erbakan and set up the AKP only in 2001 under the pretence that this was a “moderate Islamic” shoot-off of the historic leader’s movement, and was therefore supported by the US administration and the EU. Hence, in this early phase, RTE was the darling of the imperialist establishment, including the Western media.
This extended honeymoon was dealt a blow by the refusal of the army to turn over the symbolic presidency of the republic to the AKP when the term of the incumbent president came to an end in 2007. The presidency had always been regarded as a hunting ground for the guardians of the Kemalist legacy. A pronunciamiento of sorts by the chief of the general staff set in motion an abortive military intervention, the first “digital coup” in the history of the country so well-versed in all types and sizes of coups d’Etat. The AKP came on top, probably because the chief of the general staff had some dirty secrets in his past record now possessed by RTE’s extremely strong ally Fethullah Gülen, a preacher who is the leader of a semi-secretive fraternity, supported and protected by the US, where he has lived for the last quarter of a century. This episode soured relations between TÜSİAD and the government and set off a process through which RTE and Gülen together tried to take control between themselves of the judiciary, the armed forces (TSK) and the police force on Gülen’s side and the MIT (intelligence), various other agencies of government, in particular TRT (state radio and television), the Anadolu Agency (semi-official news agency), and the Directorate of Religious Affairs, as well as the (private) mainstream media on RTE’s side. This second phase was, then, the transformation of the subterranean “bloodless civil war” started early on between the two sides into an open struggle between the Westernising-secular bourgeoisie and its representatives in the state agencies, on the one hand, and the AKP and the Gülen fraternity, fighting successfully to increase their influence within the bourgeois state on behalf of the newly rising Islamist wing of the bourgeoisie. A most important milestone was the constitutional referendum of 2010, through which RTE (and Gülen in the shadows) succeeded to rearrange the constitutional setup in the appointment of judges, in general, and in the context of the very powerful high courts, in particular. The judiciary, up until then a loyal ally of the army in fighting Islamism, was thereafter gradually brought under the control of the Islamist alliance.
This second phase lasted until the Gezi Park people’s rebellion in 2013. The mass movement, not confined by any means to Gezi Park, or the Taksim area, or Istanbul, but active in all regions of Turkey, seriously threatened to bring the government down. RTE changed tack. Overnight he became much more of a bully, for the first time turned openly against the West (accusing what he called the “usurers’ lobby”, meaning Wall Street and the City), the TÜSİAD bourgeoisie as well for cooperating with them and went so far as flinging the threat of civil war against the Gezi side. For a full decade (late 2002-mid-2013) he had weathered all the storms raised by the Westernising alliance (TÜSİAD, the TSK, the judiciary, universities etc.), but the people’s revolt unsettled him. As a result, he lost many of his allies, in the West and in Turkey, including the liberals who had sheepishly followed him in every move he made against the so-called “tutelage system”.
Gezi divides RTE’s leadership career sharply into two halves: between 2003 and 2013, he manoeuvred constantly and skilfully played one foe against another. Between 2013 and 2023, he has (with one exception) ruled through repression and provocation.
The third phase was the shortest and lasted until the failed military coup of 2016. This was still a transitional stage towards his despotic regime, finally created fully after this coup. It was transitional for two reasons. First because until 2015 he stuck with the so-called “solution process” whereby supposedly the Kurdish question, a burning question of life or death since a guerrilla war had been started by the PKK in 1984, was to be solved peacefully. This way RTE was gaining still another new ally to compensate for his loss of former allies. This came to an end in mid-2015, when he utilised the Kurdish question to win over the classical fascist movement, the MHP, to his side after he lost the election of 2015. The second reason why the period between the people’s rebellion and the coup of 2016 was that the rift that had been simmering between the two allies in power, RTE and Gülen, had still not been taken to its logical end of open rupture.
This contradiction came to a head in July 2016, when in an episode shrouded with mystery, the Gülen fraternity organised a coup against RTE, which was to prove abortive and lead to the arrest, imprisonment and punishment of Gülenists within the army, the judiciary, the police and the ranks of the bourgeoisie en masse. This was the second immensely sensitive moment for RTE after Gezi. For a brief moment, he flirted with everyone he could to stay afloat and then moved unswervingly towards a new despotic regime as soon as he recovered from the shock. In this, the fascist MHP was his ever-faithful ally. The turning point here is, of course, the second major constitutional referendum of 2017, which created a sui generis presidential system.
So, the character of the regime has gradually but quite recognisably changed in these two decades of RTE’s rule. This has three different facets. On the one hand, the regime has become increasingly despotic, with the executive controlling not only the judiciary and many government agencies tightly, including since 2018 the Central Bank, which did have some autonomy before, but also totally putting the legislative branch of the government down. Since the 1960s, the office of the president of the republic had a symbolic character. Now that office has taken over immense power and left parliament a quasi-symbolic role.
All this is true. What is not true, in the opinion of our party, DIP, is that this is an “autocracy”, i.e. a one-man rule. Although it is undeniable that RTE still enjoys a charismatic prestige in the eyes of particularly the more plebeian masses of the population and, therefore, all power holders must to a certain extent bow before his authority, the government is nonetheless divided into cliques that are already in fierce competition for positions of strength in the post-RTE period (although he is only 69, his health is visibly deteriorating). The fascist MHP in alliance with some shady political figures, in particular Süleyman Soylu, formerly minister of the interior, is one of the contenders. Rivals include many political figures homebred in the AKP of RTE as well as some of his family members and, thirdly, a set of security staffers, with the Minister of Defence, former Chief of the General Staff, as well as the Director of MIT in the forefront.
The second facet has to do with the heavy blows suffered by secularism (laicité in Turkish political parlance). Turkey’s commitment from the early days of the republic to the exclusion of Islam from worldly matters has taken a very serious blow. Religion is everywhere and the Directorate General of Religious Affairs has mutated from a government agency tasked with keeping religious activities under strict control to one of a propaganda department of religious ideology. In this, of course, it is not alone. Turkey has become a bee hive of all types of fraternities and communities, taking over many aspects of education and raising a young generation of zealots and misogynous women-bashers.
But for us the most important aspect, never ever mentioned even passingly by KK and others of his ilk, and rarely mentioned by our socialists, is the full-scale repression of workers’ rights. All strikes of any significance for the general class struggles have been banned by RTE throughout the last decade. Unionisation in the private sector requires pretty much the same conspiratory techniques and underground work necessary for illegal revolutionary parties! AKP governments have always been behind the capitalists in this unending war. Public employees have unions, but no possibility of signing collective contracts. And when contingents of workers step forward to struggle and change this utterly hypocritical situation in a country that supposedly has a liberal industrial relations regime, the police, the gendarmerie, the courts and the Ministry of Labour conspire to quell all resistance. And all KK and his cohort do is to talk about how inflation in the market place bears down on the entire population (not the “working masses”, God forbid that kind of communistic terminology!), without ever mentioning the blocking of the solutions to that poverty. And why is that? That is because the CHP and the Nation Alliance as a whole, if not each and every party in that alliance, is undeniably the mouthpiece of the Westernising-secular bourgeoisie!
The evolution of fascism
It is not enough to treat fascism as simply a loyal ally of RTE since 2015. For the fascist movement in Turkey has displayed an interesting development since the cenversion of the MHP into RTE’s junior ally. One aspect of this is the division of the movement into many different organisations. A party that is now of considerable strength is İyi Party under a woman leader. This party, a member of the Nation Allaince, received close to 10 per cent of the vote in the parliamentary elections. This party, a breakaway from MHP, has to be seen as a classical fascist party. An overwhelming part of the leadership comes from the cadres of the fascist movement and were, as youngsters, assassins of all kinds of leftists when the MHP waged a full-scale civil war in disguise against the workers’ movement and the left in the 1960s and 1970s. Then there are further splits from this party. Ümit Özdağ, a fascist leader of unusual calibre, is a Turkish Matteo Salvini of sorts. His main plank is to get rid of the millions of asylum-seekers, refugees and irregular immigrants that have flocked into Turkey under the AKP. It was his small party (which nonetheless scored above 2 per cent in the elections) that put up the third presidential candidate, Sinan Oğan, in the elections (more of him later). Finally, there is another party that is RTE’s ally, the product of a feud within the fascist movement in the 1980s, a party that received 1 per cent of the vote in the elections.
If you add the popular vote received by these parties, the total falls short of a full quarter of the electorate by only a couple of points, with 5 per cent of the votes in the presidential elections going to an innocuous fascist candidate. This is the highest vote the fascist movement has, as a whole, received in its history. The MHP received its highest score in 1999 with 19 per cent, which brought it the vice-premiership in a coalition government for three years. But the steadily growing interest in the movement, divided as it is for the moment, should, nevertheless, be a warning sign for the working class and the left. If and when it unites under a single leadership, the fascist movement, on the basis of all that we know about it from its history, is a mortal danger for the class-struggle unions, for the socialist and communist movements, for the Kurdish masses, for the Alevis, and the totally unorganised masses of the asylum-seekers and irregular migrants that have taken refuge in this country. Whoever is making guesswork for the post-RTE period should be very much alert to this aspect of the prospects for the future.
The painstaking construction of an opposition
After miserably failing in his, let us say it clear and loud, stupid tactics during the presidential elections of 2014 (before the new regime was established) and of 2018 (the first after the presidential system had been established), KK saw new light in the split of the fascist movement into two as a result of the reaction of many long-time cadres of the MHP to the slavish subordination of the party leadership to RTE after 2015.
The rise of İyi Parti was the basis of KK’s strategy of building an alliance in order to beat the right-wing AKP-MHP alliance. So, opposite the so-called People’s Alliance between the AKP and the MHP rose the Nation Alliance. While this partnership was being built with a fascist party against a government that was considered by many in the same movement as “fascist”, there came into being splinter parties from the AKP. These were parties purely organised around a leader of considerable stature in the world of politics. The background of these leaders is very instructive.
One, Ali Babacan, was the minister in charge of the entire economy, lock, stock and barrel, under RTE for a full 13 years, leading to the wholesale pillaging of the Turkish economy by imperialist capital, a person of whom one may, without any qualms, say “the man of the City of London” in Turkey, a man who attacked between 2002-2015 the overwhelming part of the gains and rights the working class had acquired over the decades. The other, Ahmet Davutoğlu, started out as RTE’s national security adviser, was promoted to the position of foreign minister from 2011 on and his prime minister during the shameful massacres of 2015, a professorial intellectual who was the mastermind behind RTE’s neo-Ottomanism, his Kissinger, so to speak. Add to these the moribund party of Erbakan and another puny party of the right, and you have a grand (!) coalition, born as the Desk of Six. It was in effect the Nation Alliance reproducing itself fantastically, without any new electoral or militant clout added. It could be called the “fictitious Nation Alliance”, in the same manner as “fictitious capital” is conceived by Marx. None of these parties (save İyi Party, which was already a member of the Nation Alliance) could have had MP’s elected by themselves, they have so little support within bosom of the people. If they each had MP’s elected in the parliamentary elections of 14th May, that is because the CHP (the Republican People’s Party) granted them quotas (and what quotas!) on its own list.
To this Desk of Six, was added, externally, since the Kurdish movement is stigmatised all across the spectrum of bourgeois parties, the HDP and the bloc that had gathered around it (called the Labour and Freedom Alliance).
So, the arithmetic of the first round adds up very neatly (the figures are of course only approximations): in the parliamentary elections, CHP, KK’s own party, received 25 per cent, İyi Parti and the Labour and Freedom Alliance 10 per cent each. Add the figures up and you reach KK’s own share of the vote (45 per cent) in the presidential election! Nothing (or almost nothing) from the illustrious leaders of the other parties on the Desk of Six. And the CHP had close to 40 MP’s designated by these parties from among their members elected on its own! Intelligent move indeed!
An opposition built on quicksand
Our party, DIP, has been exposing the contradictions of the Nation Alliance, alias the Desk of Six, and the utterly erroneous policies pursued by the socialist left and the Kurdish movement vis-à-vis this alliance for months now. In other words, the criticism we will summarise below is not after the fact. These are the reasons why we think the strategy concocted by KK was neither realistic nor salutary for the working masses and the oppressed. We do not speak in abstract terms but base our opposition to this strategy on facts.
We will present the major points item by item so that they are comprehensible to a foreign audience that is not, in most cases, familiar with the intricacies of Turkish politics and may get lost in the maze details. We will first dwell on the problems and weaknesses of the Nation Alliance and later move on to the tactics and strategy of the socialist movement.
1. The Nation Alliance is not even a “progressive” force in the first place. The official justification given for its importance is the reactionary nature of the People’s Alliance government. But what is the People’s Alliance but a coalition of Islamism and fascism? The Nation Alliance itself, as already explained, has three parties with an Islamist fundamentalist origin (two of which are recent offshoots of the AKP) and one party that is an offshoot of the fascist MHP. So, the antidote is no better than the poison!
2. The CHP is the only party within the alliance that can claim to a “bourgeois-progressive” heritage at certain stages of its history. We do not agree with such facile characterisations in this direction and think that the matter is much more complicated and contradictory, but this is not the place for that debate. However, even the CHP itself is rapidly moving to the right. One of KK’s major planks is to address the fascists and try to convince them that the CHP is the best venue for them at present! The Nation Alliance is decidedly a right-wing force in Turkish politics, although not as extreme as the People’s Alliance is in some of its policies. It must be added that the Nation Alliance is more brazenly pro-imperialist, while the People’s Alliance is only slyly so!
3. The major political event of the between-the-rounds negotiations has confirmed the fact of the right-wing nature of the Nation Alliance once again. KK sat down and negotiated with Ümit Özdağ, a fascist already mentioned above, and signed a protocol with him that included not only a racist platform of deporting all the millions of asylum-seekers and immigrants that are in Turkey now within a year, but also grave reactionary measures regarding the Kurdish question, including the continuation of the policy of appointing administrators after local elections to replace the newly-elected mayors of cities and towns in Kurdish cities, an AKP policy that had been condemned resolutely by all stripes of “democrats” so far, and the exclusion of negotiations with the Kurdish movement in order to come to a settlement on this thorny question. This is only the beginning.
4. The Nation Alliance is a patchwork of extremely differing ideological and political movements that will tear at the seams under the stress of all sorts of crises. To make this comprehensible to foreign audiences, we refer to the episode of the İyi Parti’s three-day departure from the alliance in early March. The reason was that the leader of this party was simply unable to persuade her cadres and rank and file that KK, an Alevi, was an acceptable candidate, so deep is their Sunni chauvinism against the Alevis, a religious minority mostly peculiar to Anatolian soil and Syria, although it has its roots in Central Asia. So, lived experience already shows how fragile the coalition is. The only reason she came back was that KK was put under the custodianship of the metropolitan mayors of Istanbul and Ankara in the capacity of vice-presidents, the latter elected in 2019 as mayor on the CHP slate, but still proudly claiming his fascist heritage.
RTE, very skilful in dividing his enemies, will probably sound out all the different possibilities of dividing the Nation Alliance. A lot of horse-trading may come on the agenda in the near future. So even in the distant possibility of KK winning the presidential elections, his relations with his coalition partners would have been hanging on so many threads. Now, with many government positions being open for proposing to the different parties and personalities, RTE’s chances are of course even stronger.
5. The main plank of the programme of the Nation Alliance is to replace the presidential system sui generis established through the constitutional amendment of 2017 with a “reinforced parliamentary system”. The DIP insisted that the new presidential system served the interests of the entire Turkish bourgeoisie, including its Westernising-secular wing, better in the conditions of economic and political turmoil in the international system and that, therefore, the Nation Alliance would willingly embrace this regime if it ever came to power, often citing the case of François Mitterrand in France, who characterised the 5th Republic established by Charles de Gaulle in 1958 as “a permanent coup d’Etat” at the time, but ruled over that same regime as president of the republic for a full fourteen years between 1981 and 1995.
6. The Nation Alliance and, in particular, CHP have thrown in the towel each time the AKP has blatantly crossed a Rubicon or violated the law. Examples abound. Just to cite two examples, the constitutional referendum of 2017 was won by the AKP side only after the Supreme Electoral Board, under the instructions of RTE no doubt, changed the rules of the game in the midst of the voting process (details need not detain us here, since the CHP does not challenge the truth of this gross violation). The CHP simply took this to heart as RTE was almost mocking his opponents, using an expression that means “whatever the juridical situation, I have already achieved my goal”, an expression unmistakable to all speakers of Turkish. The frail protestation of the Nation Alliance against the candidacy of RTE for a third term in a country where twice is the explicit constitutional rule for any president is further testimony to the same thing.
Sure enough, when, after the first euphoria created by the setting up of the Nation Alliance faded, it became clear that (a) there was no way the alliance could garner enough seats in parliament to change the constitution, (b) that the architects of the alliance were all happy to grant to KK, if he ever won the presidential election, all the powers that the constitution bestows on RTE at the moment, (c) and that even in the case where KK, if elected, had to rule against a hostile majority in parliament, he should use all the powers that enslave parliament to the “one-man administration” they all so vehemently criticised. Such utter hypocrisy!
The socialist left and the Kurdish movement tie their fate to KK’s castle in the air
We have already mentioned that the overwhelming part of the socialist left in Turkey and the Kurdish movement, the parliamentary HDP, subordinated their policy concerning these elections to the Nation Alliance and went along with it to the very end. This is, very unfortunately, a pitiable sight.
We need to make the extent of the tail-ending clear. This means that we need to provide some details to our foreign reader since two different elections (presidential and general) were held on the same day (14th May, being the first round of the presidential elections) and since many socialist parties and HDP did participate in the general elections on their own, the foreign reader may be misled into thinking that these had their independent electoral policy without at all supporting the Nation Alliance. This is not the case. The tail-ending relates to the presidential elections and was quasi-universal.
To start with, the left was almost unanimous in this support. Even worse, this was not even critical support. It was wholesale support even for those (like the Communist Party of Turkey-the TKP), which did emphasize that its own policies were very different from the CHP and its candidate KK (which statement itself is dubitable), but nonetheless did not criticise at all KK or his party in public, for fear that many would ostracise it for thus supporting RTE in a roundabout manner. (The DIP did, of course, receive more than enough of its share in terms of abusive remarks!)
There are three groupings of socialist parties that supported KK plus the Kurdish movement. (a) The Kurdish movement has a sui generic politics and ideology. It has distant echoes of its socialist past, but also follows the post-modernist programme its historic leader Abdullah Öcalan, in prison for a quarter of a century now built painstakingly out of disparate elements of identity politics, and elements of the theoretical corpus of Immanuel Wallerstein and Murray Bookchin. The HDP was entirely committed in these elections to support KK. (b) Close to a dozen socialist groups have been working within the HDP for longer than a decade now. All of these, with one or two exceptions, went along with the decision of the HDP leadership to support KK in both rounds. (c) Another six socialist groups and parties joined the HDP in the Labour and Freedom Alliance (already mentioned). These are in a position that is different from the ones that have gone inside HDP. They are independent parties that joined the alliance, at least in certain cases, in quest to have MP’s elected from their ranks. All of these parties also supported KK. (d) Finally, four parties and groups came together in what was called the Socialist Union of Forces. Of these, only one (the TKH) did not call for a vote to KK by remaining silent on this question.
Several Trotkyist groups put up candidates on the lists of the TIP (the Workers Party of Turkey, sometimes also called the Labour Party of Turkey), which was itself a member of the alliance around the HDP. These candidates were placed in positions where it was impossible to have them elected. Their presence on the lists of the TIP meant that these groups went along with the call for a vote for KK, of whom the TIP was one of the most vociferous and uncritical supporters.
Here are the reasons why this policy of unrestrained support for KK was suicidal for both socialists and the Kurdish movement. (A better way of doing this would have been to put forth our criticism in two distinct stages. But we do not wish to make even longer an already overly long article.)
1. This policy of tail-ending the major political party that the Westernising-secular bourgeoisie of Turkey, made up of the most powerful holding companies and the major industrial giants of the country, shuns the pursuit of a policy of building the class independence of the proletariat. Our party is in daily contact with hundreds and thousands of industrial workers. To call them to vote for KK and carry on daily propaganda to convince the workers who traditionally have voted for the AKP or the MHP (probably two thirds of the proletariat, leaving aside the Kurdish and Alevi workers) is a serious responsibility and inimical to the building of another type of party, a revolutionary workers party. This should have been true for other socialist parties as well, but given the indifference of the socialist movement in Turkey to the proletariat since the collapse of the Soviet Union etc. their attention is now fixed on very different issues. There are some exceptions to this, but that is the overall picture. Material conditions determine consciousness in this case as well.
We must add in passing, as an antidote to possible non-dialectical grasp of the development of class-consciousness, that those workers who vote for the AKP and MHP are not at all static in their comprehension of the world. They are often in the front ranks of workers that have to fight the police or the gendarmerie when the latter try to out down, often without success, the struggles waged by workers’ collectives during banned strikes or picket lines or factory occupations. We are not talking of sporadic or exceptional cases, but a systematic pattern of behaviour on the part of the workers. Many of the workers that join or sympathise with our party come from among these workers. It is dead wrong for revolutionaries to abandon these workers to the AKP!
2. Many in the socialist movement defend their support to KK by the argument that as soon as KK wins, they, our socialists, will immediately pass to the opposition, working for the workers, the other labouring strata, the oppressed etc. This is of course the old Menshevik argument taken over later by the Stalinist parties of the 20th century in countries where tasks relating to the democratic revolution are on the agenda of society. That aside, it is not at all true that the support extended to KK was a one-off, hit-and-run kind of tactic. It has been going on explicitly at the latest since 2016 and sometimes implicitly since Gezi itself. Very strangely indeed, almost as a joke, the Turkish left at the time of the Gezi rebellion drew the conclusion that the left should prepare RTE’s defeat at the election booth. A Turkish Podemos (or Unidas Podemos under its current name) not having been created, the left has veered, in different elections, between the HDP and the CHP. That is the background. As to the future, it is almost impossible for the left to quit supporting the CHP and, if he survives as a political leader, the KK leadership. So, this electoral support has become a strategic orientation for many components of the left.
3. This strategy should have been abandoned long ago even if it were rational at any point in the past. The strategy has as its only goal professedly the defeating of the despotic regime of RTE. However, each time RTE was pushed into the corner in the decade between the Gezi popular rebellion and the present, the CHP came to a midway agreement with the AKP, thereby making it possible for RTE’s despotism to survive!
4. The capitulation of the CHP and the Nation Alliance to RTE’s manifold instances of fait accompli, in the light of his violation of the legislation, becomes all-important and decisive concerning the rigging of elections. We ask the reader to remember what happened at the constitutional referendum of 2017. The decisive moment this time would probably have come around if it were the CHP that had won the race by a slight difference and the AKP then took measures to rig the results so as to cling to its supposed victory. Everybody who had a minimal level of political consciousness was aware that this might cause strife and fighting between the two sides. CHP had no strategy whatsoever for this. Had the AKP have needed to rig elections so as to win them, the CHP would have remained passive in the face of this kind of major intervention. The CHP is the party of the meek. It was not even aware that this time it had the Kurdish people, so well-versed in fighting tooth and nail for their rights. on its side. It is not enough to defeat the RTE camp solely on electoral ground. One also needs clout on the streets. This directly implies that the Nation Alliance was useless as an instrument to beat the People’s Alliance for the latter was ready to fight it out if need be. There is not a single shred of doubt about that.
The electoral proposal of the DIP that went unheeded
All this does not imply that DIP was disinterested in the elections or indifferent to them. No, on the contrary, sensing the direction things would take as elections neared, DIP formulated its proposal for the overall socialist movement very long before the elections, in July 2022, almost a year, in advance, before any single party had made their position on elections clear.
The proposal was simple and easily comprehensible: Build an Independent Socialist Bloc of all the different socialist parties in the country. Since the only effective position in the country after the passage to the new regime has become the presidency of the republic, let this Bloc put up a candidate for the presidential election, someone able to address the working class and its concern, on the basis of a mutually agreeable programme that made issues of class, of freedom against the despotic regime, and of imperialism and war its main planks
The formula also provided an answer to the question of what to do in the runoff election, if that were to prove to be the case (which, as we now know, is what transpired). The agreement would leave the parties signatory to the Bloc free to decide as they willed for the second round. DIP itself was resolved not to support any of the bourgeois candidates in the second round. (It was obvious, given the balance of forces, that no socialist candidate would make it to the second round.) But others who insisted that the candidate running against RTE should be supported would be free to do so. This would make it possible to achieve a compromise between the two outlooks.
The obvious gains expected from the DIP tactic were threefold: first, the Bloc would present a unified posture on the part of the socialist left to the people at large, in a country where a popular pastime is to complain about the divisions on the (socialist) left. Secondly, it would thus act as a powerful instrument to address the concerns, problems and aspirations of the working classes and provide a spring board for the further organising of the working class on a class independence basis and thus strengthen socialism’s voice in class struggles. Thirdly, in case it was RTE and his People’s Alliance that gained the elections, the struggle in common between diverse socialist parties would be fertile ground for preparing for the even more challenging battles of the future.
However, from the very beginning, TIP, which gained a certain audience thanks to the activities of its MPs (elected on the HDP slate as a result of an agreement with that party during the 2018 elections) came out squarely for a vote to any candidate of the then emerging Nation Alliance from the first round. (That this candidate could, very plausibly, be Mansur Yavaş, the mayor of Ankara who still claims his fascist heritage did not seem to bother them at all.) The reason cited was that a third candidate in the first round might turn over the election to RTE. Sol Parti (the former ÖDP reduced to a shadow of its earlier self) ruled out any candidates that would rival that of KK. Others adapted their policies willy-nilly with these two. HDP’s attitude, on the other hand, was a bit more nuanced than these two, since they kept postponing a declaration of support for KK until less than a month before the first round.
Thus, DIP’s proposal was left unheeded.
It is important to take stock by comparing the two policies now that the results are known. The socialist left gained nothing, we repeat, absolutely nothing from the policy adopted with respect to the presidential elections. Some may retort that several socialist groups came out strengthened by the parliamentary elections, TIP in particular. But our proposition concerns the tactic with respect to the presidential elections, not parliamentary elections. The socialist left and even the HDP were each turned into a subordinate passive actor regarding the presidential race, the decisive one. Witness what happened in between the rounds. As soon as the country came out of the first round, both the HDP and some of the socialist parties assured the country of their continuing support for KK in the runoff as well. Lo and behold, KK then turned and started negotiations with both Ümit Özdağ, the fascist politician whose single plank was the racist policy of wholesale deportation of asylum-seekers and immigrants and the other fascist mentioned above, Sinan Oğan, with pretty much the same platform. In the end, Oğan chose to support RTE for the second round probably because he was promised a position in the upcoming government if the latter won. Özdağ, on the other hand, forced KK to sign a protocol in exchange for his support to the Nation Alliance candidate. As explained above, the protocol included full acceptance of his racist programme, along with additional measures against the Kurdish cause! Evidently, the platform was signed even without indirect, behind-the-doors consultation with the HDP. For the latter party held a press conference the same afternoon expressing its cool reception of this newcomer among the supporters of KK and said it would make public its final stand the next day. Such disrespect for a partner wielding unrivalled influence on approximately ten per cent of the popular vote is inept in the extreme. (Moreover, if we remember that the party of the newcomer Özdağ had received only 2.2 per cent of the popular vote in the first round, the move also becomes imbecilic.) This incident shows how little room for manoeuvre the HDP or the socialists had in the presidential elections.
Compare what possibilities would have opened up for socialists if they had put up a common candidate for the first round. The fascist Özdağ was negotiating on the strength of his meagre 2.2 per cent strength. No one can deny that had the socialists come to agree on a joint candidate for the first round, that candidate would have received even more than that, in our opinion would have passed the 5 per cent mark with a good, effective campaign bringing to the fore the many ills and scourges faced by the working and oppressed population totally ignored by the bourgeois parties and candidates. Imagine how much clout that would have given to the socialist candidate in the discussion between the two rounds. If nothing else, this would have given socialists the opportunity to draw the attention of almost the entire population to their policies and exposed the bourgeois political establishment irreparably.
This was the difference between the two tactics.
DIP as things turned out, DIP did not vote for any of the candidates in either round of the presidential election and called for a vote to TKH because that was the only socialist party that did not call for a vote to KK and, additionally and very importantly, has been an ally of DIP an the anti-NATO positions of our party since the onset of the war in Ukraine.
Raising the stakes: RTE’s construction of an arch-reactionary “counter-opposition”
The construction of the Desk of Six, which was then assimilated into the Nation Alliance, provoked a countering move by the AKP. Having made fun of the Desk of Six and its inevitable prevarications, tergiversations, and procrastinations, RTE then felt compelled to bring in new actors into his own alliance. There was already a third, clearly fascist, party in the alliance between the AKP and the MHP. Looking for fresh forces, RTE hit on three different prospective allies, all more shameful than the others. There was first the Party of Allah. Naturally, anyone with a minimum knowledge of the Islamic world will immediately think of Hezbollah (in its Arabic form) or Hizbullah (in its Turkish form). But no, this was named after the Persian word Huda and was called (in a slightly Turkicised way) Hüda-Par (“Par” short for party). And why this borrowing from Persian? Because the original Hizbullah that is the antecedent for this party was in the late 1990s forever branded due to its murderous actions such as burying the corpses of its wantonly killed victims, including pious women regularly wearing the hedjab, under slabs of concrete so that the stench would not raise suspicion. Hüda-Par is simply a continuation of that organisation in disguise! It has no electoral clout. Despite this it has had four MP’s elected on the AKP slate! What it promises the AKP as an ally is violence against the Kurdish national movement if and when the need arises. “Our boys”!
There was then the party founded by the son of Erbakan, the historic leader of the Islamist movement mentioned before, competing with Erbakan’s last party before his death, which is a member of the Desk of Six of KK. This was called the Welfare Redux Party, since Welfare was the name of Erbakan’s string of parties under which he was most successful and finally acceded to the office of premier. Welfare Redux is incomparably more reactionary than Erbakan’s historic Welfare Party. It is practically for the segregation of women and has had the AKP grant it manifold concessions that would contribute to the enslavement of women if implemented as official measures.
One final touch of irony. As we have already mentioned RTE had made fun of the Desk of Six. But in the end his “alliance” also numbered six parties. The last comer was… Ecevit’s party. Turncoats are an ordinary type in present-day Turkey. But a leader of Ecevit’s party attacking the Nation Alliance for acting in the name of the “gaiour”, i.e. the infidels, was hard to believe even in this atmosphere.
The arithmetic is very neat here as well. Assuming no votes were stolen (and this is difficult to believe for the MHP at least), in the parliamentary elections, the AKP won (again approximately) 35 per cent, the MHP ten per cent, the Welfare Redux Party three per cent and the other fascist party one percent. Add them up and you have the approximately 49 per cent of RTE!
The basic cause of Erdoğan’s resilience
We cannot conclude this piece without touching on the most universal lesson of both these elections and, more generally, Erdoğan’s success in commanding the loyalty of the masses, in particular of the plebeian layers of the urban population, the people living in the backwaters of provincial towns especially in “the interior”, the heartland of Anatolia, and the peasants. Why a love affair has tied these masses to their leader for so long can be explained only on the basis of the specific history of Turkey, a nation which, after having enjoyed six centuries of imperial supremacy, found itself drastically downsized and brought down on its knees in a rump state at the dawn of the 20th century. To understand the tremors this has caused on the Turkish psyche and to delve into its deeper causes within the material life of capital accumulation is a matter of reflection for another paper. We have done this analysis in Turkish earlier. This is not the place to go into that very specific aspect of the Turkish question.
However, all countries are specific and yet many increasingly share the same fate concerning the rise of a particular family of political parties and leaders of a markedly tyrannical sort. Some, especially in the imperialist countries, are the inheritors of fascism, although they do not have their stormtroopers, their militia, their band of thugs like the black-shirted squadri of Mussolini and the SS and SA of Hitler. We at DIP call this new brand of party proto-fascist. Others are more closely tied to the specific historical developments of their own countries, such as Modi in India or Erdoğan in Turkey. There are also those who rely on emulation: the Latin American typology seems to fit into that category, with Bolsonaro at their head. They are not all fascists. Modi is but not Erdoğan. Islam has its own specificities and it is these that have created Erdoğan. Those who have, in blindfolded fashion, characterised Erdoğan’s regime as “fascist” in the recent period are only looking for an excuse to support the CHP. And what an irony to try to bring down a regime one characterises as “fascist” through parliamentary methods! A caricature of Marxism!
However, we drew attention above to the growing political strength of the original, genuine type of fascism in Turkey also. So, in combined form these two movements may be coming closer and closer to fascism.
No, taken on his own, Erdoğan is not a fascist, but shares with the fascists of other countries this common trait of speaking to the heart of the common folk as no establishment politician can succeed to. And the main key to his success is that the left in general and the socialist left in particular has, as it has in all the countries of which we are talking now, let down the common folk, including the working class. That is why the people have turned to Erdoğan and leaders of his ilk in a string of countries.
Erdoğan may have weakened politically and may be suffering bad health personally. But the 2023 elections have shown that Turkey is far from leaving behind this phase of its historical development. To do that, one needs the socialist/communist movement to step into the fray and start talking the language of the working class. The working class, as well as all the plebeian masses of Turkey, are under the spell of Erdoğan. The way forward then is to pull this ground from under his feet. Only revolutionary socialists can do this, but not tail-ending bourgeois politicians but pursuing their own course of class independence.