Student Protests in Turkey: A Communist Critique

1. The student protests in Istanbul, and later in other cities in Turkey, began with the government’s appointment of the new rector to Boğaziçi University. The appointed rector’s incompatibility with the culture at Boğaziçi, and the proven plagiarism in his Masters and Doctoral theses were the initial points raised by the protest and the main demand was for democratic rectorate elections with the participation of all components of the university. Following an art exhibition within the protests, which displayed Kaaba with LGBTI+ flags, the government targeted the LGBTI+ students and claimed that they were deviants and that they violate Islamic values. Police brutality against the students and the continuous attacks of the government against the LGBTI+ students and also the many detainments, as well as the ridiculous verdicts of house arrests and outright arrests resulted in a public backlash. An open letter to the 12th president, which positioned itself against the AKP regime was published by the students. They demanded the resignation of the rector, Melih Bulu, and for putting an end to the defaming and disenfranchising of the LGBTI+ community. Beside this, the release of their friends who were arrested or detained was demanded.

2. There is no characteristic of the Boğaziçi protests that would necessitate the working class to support it. It is not only a struggle limited to democratic demands with its emphasis on rectorship elections, but most importantly it is merely a cry for sustaining the privileges of academia. Besides this main aspect comes the aggressive attack of the government and the president towards LGBTI+ students, police brutality towards protesting students and the unlawful detainments and arrests. The student movement, leftists, and the opposition parties combined these issues and strictly attributed them to the government and the dictatorship, which displayed a failure to generalize them to the disease of the class society itself. As many others, this struggle was organized against the corrupt government, and the question of “who” is truly in power under capitalism was completely brushed over. This movement is defined by its democratic, inter-classist characteristics, and the fact that the working class was mentioned here and there within the movement doesn’t in any way position it in the proletarian terrain. Police brutality does not stem from certain grim politicians or governments. The police cannot be separated from the state itself, and from the duty of protecting property relations and the interests of the ruling class. To terminate police brutality is only possible through the abolition of the police which itself is only possible by abolishing capitalism. The working class must raise its voice against all oppressions of society, but with even more certainty, it must denounce these confined, democratic, inter-classist struggles as ways to overcome them. The way to overcome the differences between oppressed minorities and put an end to all oppression is not through a combined struggle of said minorities but through the struggle of the working class only.

3. As mentioned above, the oppression of the state is inherent in the capitalist system. Restraining the oppression is only possible with class struggle. If the opposition parties pretend to take a position with the oppressed people, they are still servicing the order of the state, the capitalist system. In this case, the main opposition party (CHP) supported the demand for democratic rectorship elections but advised the students to calm down and not to exaggerate the events while carefully avoiding to address the attacks against LGBTI+ students. This received negative reactions from the protestors. Meanwhile, HDP and other leftist parties that claim to have a working class orientation such as TİP, EMEP, and SP supported the movement, which caused sympathy towards them and their politicians. All of these parties that claim to be representatives of oppressed minorities, use parliamentary struggles that cannot take the struggle of the working class a step forward. Only the working class can defeat capital, not a bourgeois party doing politics in parliament. The oppression of the LGBTI+, women, ethnic and religious minorities are inseparable from capitalism. Parliamentarianism creates an illusion of an emancipation from oppression, and its role is to mislead the working class. These parties do not – and will not – defend the interest of the working class in any way. The parliament is not an instrument that would improve the conditions of the oppressed groups – there can be no such instrument in the decadent stage of capitalism.

4. The oppression of LGBTI+ individuals, and further anti LGBTI+ attitudes in society, do not exist in a vacuum. They are not merely the result of ignorance, stupidity, or bad people, but have their basis in the wider system in which we live, called capitalism. Capitalism has for centuries been predicated on the social model of the bourgeois nuclear family as one of the fundamental units of the system. This unit propagates a strict sexual morality in which men are meant to be the wage-laborers of their household while women are assigned the role of mother, rearing and raising their children to be future proletarians. Homosexuality and breaking out of purely heterosexual relationships and sexual orientations flies in the face of this ideal. Capitalism views it as a threat to its traditional order of delegating strict and unchanging roles to men and women, and to its age-old social unit, the nuclear family. And while capitalism may prove itself capable of adapting to changing circumstances and incorporating homosexuality, as well as heterosexuality, into its money-making scheme, for now the only route to the liberation of those who do not conform to capitalism’s sexual and gender roles is the abolition of capitalism itself.

5. It has been clear for some time now to both Turkey’s ruling class as well as its proletarians that the country is facing a severe economic crisis. Since 2018 the currency crisis has produced countless problems of management for the ruling class and only increased hardship for workers of the country. For Erdoğan and the Turkish bourgeoisie, it is of the utmost importance that workers see something other than the exploitative system of capitalism as the cause of their troubles. Therefore he and his cronies have continued fostering nationalist, racist, and revanchist sentiments amongst the population to direct the blame outward. This includes increased support for conservative and traditional values, which of course means that anger is also directed against so-called sexual deviants and “LGBT perverts'' as Erdoğan and the conservative bourgeoisie refer to LGBTI+ people. Yet again it becomes clear that the problem of mistreatment and oppression towards sexual and gender minorities can only be ended through the abolition of capitalism, the system which spawns such attitudes.

6. There is an urgent need to break out of the reformist, legalistic, and parliamentarian strait-jacket that these protests confine themselves to. In reality, we need to be able to see that issues pertaining to LGBTI+ people, police brutality, and the authoritarianism of Erdoğan and the AKP are issues which can only be fully solved with a working class communist perspective. Only when we break out of petit-bourgeois struggles for “more democracy” and legal equality will we have a chance at actually solving the problems of oppression and exploitation which pertain not only to LGBTI+ people but all of the working class. This requires the formation of a worldwide class organization which has the aim of carrying out the self-emancipation of the working class and the vision of the only alternative society, communism. This is not what existed in the old USSR but instead a society that has abolished classes, the state, and with them all exploitation and oppression. We have a world to win.

Internationalist Workers’ Group and Petroleuses

February 18 2021

Friday, February 26, 2021