In June 2013, millions all around Turkey marched against the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government, confronting brutal police violence and risking their lives. Western media suddenly changed its discourse; “mild Islamism” disappeared to give way to “authoritarianism”. In December 2013, a huge corruption scandal involving several ministers including the prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan broke off. At the same time, some dozen deputies of AKP who belong to the Gülen movement (an international, Islamic-fundamentalist, mafia organization that functions through deep state connections, until recently in coalition with Erdoğan and unofficially taking part in the government) resigned. It seemed like the ruling class coalition was falling apart1, as European and American representatives of imperialism started to slowly withdraw their support from the government. Then came the unbelievably corrupted local elections in March2, the Mayday protests with the by-now-usual police violence, and finally the outrageous mine explosion in Soma with at least 300 deaths.
During these political thunderstorms and hurricanes, Erdoğan made a propaganda campaign with posters of himself with the caption “Strong Will” in all metros, billboards, bus stops and anywhere one could imagine. It was as if he was personally fighting against all the conspiracies against him. The peak of this was reached when he literally punched a protester in Soma: As anywhere else in the world in the good old days, you'd expect citizens to try to hit ministers as a form of protest; in his case, he was protesting the people (o povo / el pueblo) with full indignation – mind you, this was in Soma after the mine explosion due to lack of safety measures and when some 700 people were still missing.
Now, the question is: How does he maintain his power (by now, AKP is identical to Erdoğan's personality) in this turmoil? How is it that he, with his “strong will”, never seems to doubt that he might be doing some mistakes?
This question needs a two-sided answer: 1) Why does imperialism tolerate such a confused situation in the only NATO country in Middle East? Why doesn't the US “bring democracy” to Turkey? 2) If a huge portion of Turkish society is outraged about the AKP government, how can Erdoğan remain in power without sufficient consent from the population?
- Imperialism and Tayyip: The rather bearable lightness of lack of alternatives.
§1. Erdoğan is arguably the most successful leader ever in Turkish history. In his reign since 2002, he successfully mediated between the interests of imperialism and his own political economic goals. While passing all the imposed EU reforms on free trade, he managed to consolidate all fractions of national bourgeoisie (including the complete destruction of a liberal political party that had 9% of the votes in 2002 elections). During the economic crisis, he slalomed between NATO interests and his own medium-scale imperialist plans in Middle East, and centralized all state apparatus in his personality in such a way that “order” could not be obtained if he were taken out of the equation.
§2. Given this crucial role, there is also a lesson learned by imperialism since Bush regime: If you don't have your alternative to impose, “leaving things messy” may be quite complicated. (see Iraq and Afghanistan) Especially in the presence of popular dissent, the political instability resulting from a government substitution by imperialism may be messier than ever. (see Egypt and Libya) Thus, using more civilized methods such as providing armaments to opposition forces (Syria), financing existing bourgeois movements that can attract some popular support (Venezuela), and supporting and training militia against the government (Ukraine) seems to be the Democrat method of imperialism.
Add to this the fact that Turkey is a NATO country, with military bases near Syria and Iran that require political stability in case of an international political crisis in the Middle East.
§3. Given this brand new, Nobel Peace Prize winner approach, all imperialist agencies (in cooperation with the biggest industrialists in Turkey as well as the Gülen movement) tried to come up with an alternative to Erdoğan. However, as explained in §1, this turned out to be a difficult task.
§4. This lack of alternatives was hardened by the strong anti-capitalist tendency of the June uprising. It was nearly impossible to canalize the anger of the protesters to an existing “milder” bourgeois alternative.
- The People and Erdoğan: This is what fascism looks like.
§1. In the first years of his reign, Erdoğan played the game with the rules. He modified, reinterpreted and manipulated already existing laws to suppress any possible opposition from other bourgeois fractions. He monopolized almost all media (some %85 is now parroting government propaganda), assigned his adherents to university administrations, and reallocated almost all high-ranking state officials. When this was done, he introduced a constitutional reform as his “knock-out” punch to the separation of powers: From that moment on, all juridical positions would be assigned almost directly by the government.
§2. As was revealed with the leaked phone call recordings, while seizing control of the state apparatus he coherently chose a certain fraction of bourgeoisie over the rest, several times against the interest of the big capital.
§3. Then, when the June uprising came, Erdoğan was fully aware that he was fighting all alone against the masses, that imperialist powers would need time to introduce an alternative, and that if he silents the protests as fast as possible he could re-consolidate his power.
From the June uprising onwards, politics has become a struggle for survival for Erdoğan. Accordingly, he changed gears and declared war against anyone who might have a reason to raise doubts about his leadership.
By now, police does not hesitate to use real bullets when attacking a protest (a recent such occasion caused the murder of two people in Istanbul) while Erdoğan stated that regular and normal police practices were being exaggerated by “some media”.
§4. This “change of gears” had a two-fold effect: While trying to demonize and criminalize the protesters (or, any kind of opposition for that matter), Erdoğan also marginalized himself. He put himself versus any protest, be a radical revolutionary action or a peaceful democratic demand. He defined all opposition as an extremist, thereby pushing himself to the other extreme.
All of a sudden, common practices like male and female students sharing flats became immoral acts, student protests became atheist and/or Jewish conspiracies (which in AKP language means “the worst possible thing ever”), Twitter and Youtube were categorized as means of sinful acts (and therefore got banned), and the mine blast in Soma became a huge international conspiracy against the government.
AKP got smaller and smaller, while maintaining its power in the lack of imperialist or popular alternatives.
§5. In addition, Erdoğan realized that the June protests created huge opportunities of dialogue in different sections of the opposition. An incredible convergence of concerns occurred in the Gezi Park occupation: From privatizations to domestic violence, from lack of LGBT rights to ecological destruction, from labor rights violations to nationalism, all protesters discovered that there was something common in their sufferings: AKP policies and neoliberalism.
Feeling confident that imperialism is doomed to his reign due to lack of alternatives, Erdoğan wisely observed that there is nothing more dangerous for his government (and in fact, for all his political career) than this kind of convergence in the opposition. This had to be stopped. More advanced water cannons had to be bought, and they were. All police department had to be restructured to comply with his personal orders, and it was. Any type of protest had to be oppressed immediately, and they are.
- To conclude
On the one hand, the convergence among June protesters seems to continue, as seen in the funeral of Berkin Elvan, the mobilization against the Twitter ban, and the protests following the Soma massacre.
On the other hand, this convergence in mentalities has not yet found its concrete form in active political convergence and ideological coherency.
When people come together, they make an arithmetic sum, and it is another thing to transform this into a vectorial sum that can exercise a force to make a change. And this is indeed the – very difficult – task in front of all political movements in Turkey.
[This essay was written for ATTAC Portugal. The Portuguese version was published here on June 9th, 2014.]
1“The Political Crisis in Turkey” - Mehmet Baki Deniz, Sinan Eden. https://network23.org/outforbeyond/2014/01/08/the-political-crisis-in-turkey-mehmet-baki-deniz-sinan-eden/
2 “Turquie: Un pas de plus en dehors de la démocratie” - Sinan Eden (Propos recueillis par M. Colloghan), Rouge & Vert, no 377, Avril 2014, 12-13. http://www.alternatifs.org/spip/IMG/pdf/rouge_vert377-2.pdf
The English version of the same interview can be found at http://pretendexistent.blogspot.pt/2014/05/turkey-one-more-step-away-from-democracy.html