Some Considerations on the Demonstrations in Turkey

We’ll leave it to the journalists with their “stock images” to chart the presumed causes of the recent protests in Turkey. The story that the demolition of Gezi Park to make way for a shopping centre, mosque and car park, is the prime cause of the protests in Istanbul and the brutal state repression by the police, called onto the streets after two days of clashes, is simply laughable.

Certainly everything kicked off from Taksim Square’s one green space — the park, but as for why tens of thousands at first and then millions joined demonstrations in all the bigger Turkish cities, a deeper explanation is required.

First of all, the socio-economic situation must be evaluated. Turkey emerged stronger from a financial crisis in 2002, thanks largely to a series of factors which allowed the AKP, Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, to begin a process of development that in ten years brought Turkey to be the 17th country in the world in terms of GDP, to become a central element in the politics of the Middle East and a vital hub for the transport of oil and gas from central Asia to the Mediterranean and then on to Europe. The political stability of the new government, the stability of the Turkish lira, the relatively low cost of labour allowed considerable amounts of capital to engage in productive and speculative investment. The favourable situation for Turkish capitalism lasted into the first few years of the international crisis, but then came the fateful hitch in the proceedings.

The recapitalisation of the banks, which had allowed the first steps forward for Ankara’s economy, disintegrated as increasing speculative activity subtracted capital from industry. Despite the reorganisation of the labour force and the restructuring of leading sectors of the real economy, based on super-exploitation and insecurity, the economy began to suffer from the lack of internal funding, by the contraction in international demand. At the same time imports, especially of energy, continued at the same pace as before. In the public sector the leap forward led to an increase in the national debt equal to 100% of GDP. In turn this has led for a couple of years now, to cuts in health care and schools, while layoffs have begun in a range of petty bourgeois areas linked to the public sector, and last but not least, in the construction industry which was, and still is, the focus of some of the biggest speculation in the country.

All this has triggered a progressive malaise against Erdogan and his party. Until two years ago, everything was under control and the Prime Minister of more times than anyone else enjoyed a wide popularity, being re-elected with almost plebiscitary consensus (he has been in power continuously since 2002). Today things are changing and the policy of slow Islamisation, the cancellation of the few "secular throwbacks" and the arrogance of power mean there is less and less room for manoeuvre. But, although they have played an important role in recent events, it is not just a matter of civil rights and the defence of secular Turkish society which is moving millions of Turks. Behind all this there is a malaise which makes what previously would have passed smoothly seem unbearable, a malaise keenly felt by the government itself which has not held back with the crackdown, giving rise to scenes of brutal violence which otherwise would have been unnecessary.

The opposition which took to the streets, first in Istanbul and then in all the squares of Turkey, is varied, multifaceted and politically confused. First, there are the members of the political opposition, those who have had to endure in Parliament and in society as a whole the humiliation of being relegated to the margins of national politics. These are the traditional bourgeois political forces of the "left" who have not missed the opportunity to take to the streets and annoy "Erdogan “the Islamist”. This component includes the institutional political parties of the secular tradition such as the radicals, socialists and residues of Stalinism who still call themselves communists. Outside of these party political cages fringes of the middle classes in the process of proletarianisation, or already proletarianised, are active such as doctors, engineers and graduates who work in the public sector in general and who are finding themselves swelling the ranks of the redundancies required to reduce the cost of public administration. Many are young people, mainly university and college students who have seen increased taxes and reduced services. For the moment presence of the working class is not yet preponderant even if they are involved in the demonstrations in each locality. Above all young temporary/casual workers and underemployed, young sub-proletarians and unemployed are present on the streets of Istanbul or Ankara. But we are only at the beginning, the crisis has yet to bite more viciously. This does not mean that we are on the eve of a large scale insurrectional process, nor that the proletariat is about to write a glorious Turkish page of the class struggle. It only means that the crisis is beginning to trouble those countries which, until a few years ago, seemed to be immune to it and that out of this welter of opposition to the Erdogan government, either a revolutionary advance guard with anti-capitalist policies will emerge, or else everything is destined to return as before, with the prospect of more tragic episodes of repression.


Thursday, June 6, 2013