Partly due to its astonishing size, and partly due to the withering of the west's affection for Turkish PM Erdogan and his authoritative "mildly" Islamist AK party in government, the popular uprising that has been shaking Turkey for the last week has been receiving unprecedented attention in the international media. But there are certain misperceptions and misrepresentations regarding what is going on in Turkey.
One mainstream perception is that events developed unpredictably, spontaneously and without any particular organizing. Was it really unpredictable? It is partly true that mass social events are unpredictable; but only partly true. Yes, exactly when it will happen is unpredictable, but that it will happen is not. For instance, does one need to be a Marxist to see that the EU elites are sitting on a social time bomb? Not really.
In the case of Turkey, the revolutionary leftist press has been swarming with analyses pointing to the fact that the AKP is increasingly alienating not only social groups like LGBT, religious and ethnic minorities, students, artists, Kemalist and liberal secularists, and so on,but also people from its own electoral base. Look at the Tekel resistance, look at Reyhanli, look at public and private sector workers disillusioned with extreme outsourcing, the relentlessly assault on worker rights, the widening income gap!
It has also become well-established in intellectual circles in Turkey - left and right alike - that the AKP project has failed to become hegemonic, which should be evident in the increasing dose of mindless violence, the aesthetical, cultural and intellectual poverty of its cadres, and the recent withdrawal of the shamefully uncritical support of certain Turkish liberals.
Union activists at DISK headquarters in Istanbul. Demotix/Jodi Hilton. All rights reserved.
Was the uprising spontaneous and without prior organization? Not really. The enormous amount of activism that made this uprising so sharp and resilient is being documented 24/7, there should be no worries on that score. However, one also must not remain silent when Middle East experts like Juan Cole draw extremely simplistic conclusions from what they observe of the situation in Turkey. The last thing we need is reductive and hasty analyses that - we want to believe, unintentionally - replicate the bankrupt logic of Erdogan and his AKP. Cole writes:
“The young people protesting probably don't care that much about either the early last call in Taksim's bars or about the fate of Bashar al-Assad… they get hassled by the police... My suspicion is that the protesters are leftists or the children of parents in the Republican People's party, who do not like Erdogan's capitalist leanings nor his embrace of the religious Right as a prime constituency.”
Please! Firstly, to call Erdogan and his government's economic outlook and policies “capitalist leanings” does not make sense within any frame of reference of economics or politics. It is like calling Chavez “left leaning”. Second, the leftist youth in Turkey do know and care about their government's foreign policy and its consequences, otherwise they neither are, nor can properly be called, “leftists”. True, there are many protesters who were fairly apolitical till the uprising; also there are many people in the crowd who are Kemalist secularists usually voting for RPP, and perhaps their parents were from RPP. But the presence of these groups has been absolutely critical in demonstrating that Turkey will not tolerate, let alone a Saudi-type sharia law, but even a much more palatable mildly Islamist neoliberal conservatism, which is, incidentally, a direct descendant of the American religious right rather than any Islamic political ideology. However, these groups of protesters are the fuel rather than the engine of this uprising. The engine of this uprising has two components: the victims of an alienation much more brutal than conservative restrictions in the public sphere exercised by the extreme neoliberal authoritarian rule of AKP, and thousands of politically engaged people from every area of anti-neoliberal struggle who have been bravely defending the rights of these victims for a very long time. It should be boldly underlined that the adverb “bravely” has a very different significance in the context of Turkey than it has in a typical western democracy. All this activism is rooted in a revolutionary stream as old as the Republic itself, and has constantly been subjected to unlimited state violence. This engine may have become invisible in the clouds of gas and unorganized crowds, but they are the real threat which makes the government reaction so relentlessly brutal, and it is this engine that will pay the price if the crack-down on the uprising succeeds.
Representing the current uprising in Turkey as an apolitical mass of crazy middle-class Turks suddenly getting out of control under police harrassment is not only appallingly inaccurate, but also an insult to those people on the ground who are heroically resisting an extreme dose of police violence at a level unseen in a democracy. There was, and there is organizing on the labour front - 2013 has been witness to an explosion in quantity and quality of workers’ strikes and organizing, from the cultural front, from Kurdish, minority, ecological, feminist, anarchist, LGBT, anti-militarist, anti-displacement struggle forces. There has been organizing and preparations on a mass scale before these events broke the surface. Let us not forget, thanks to the AKP, that Turkey's left is very well- rehearsed against violent crack-downs on peaceful protests, the last big dress rehearsal being staged on May Day, 2013.
Cole adds insult to injury, when he directs his discourse to accord with Erdogan's, remarking that the call for the fall of the government is undemocratic. If people don't like Erdogan, they should campaign for his opponents in the next election. Sorry Mr. Cole, but you cannot sell this argument to us. Not just because the people of Turkey are not sufficiently indoctrinated in liberal-bourgeois ideology to be lured into such stale and cheap tactics of pacification. But also, and more decisively, because your remark is completely decontextualized and therefore meaningless.
Would you call a regime democratic if its army bombs its citizens - namely economically desperate Kurdish peasants smuggling diesel on mules over the Iraqi border? Nobody is held responsible for this, and a government official is quoted saying he feels sad for the mules carrying the peasants? Can the prime minister of a democratic country explicitly call the judiciary in to take action against some individual organization? Is it possible in a democratic country to keep thousands of students in jail without specific accusations or charges? If law enforcement officials in other democratic countries rape child prisoners, do rapists get away with it? In a democratic country, is it OK to jail people because they write what they think? Do PMs of democratic countries explicitly complain that the principle of checks and balances hinders the government's executive abilities? Do the police in democratic countries open fire onto protesters, or target tear gas cannons directly into their faces, or gas people in closed environments like metro stations, cafes, hospitals, houses? Can the police, Mr. Cole, kill protesters?
Finally, would you, Mr. Cole, play chess with an opponent who can change the movement rules of his pieces at will? The rules of a game have significance only for as long as all the sides abide by them. Democracy is a human achievement, but logic is sent from heaven.
Furthermore, given the current degenerate rules of the democracy game in Turkey, taking your advice would be suicidal. All the progressive forces would be jailed so that a progressive opposition campaig becomes impossible. Either we break this ever-shrinking circle of oppression imposed by the neoliberal-authoritative-conservative alliance headed by AKP, or we get broken. To get informed and to connect start here: #occupygezi In solidarity!
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