The Elections in Turkey and the Kurdish National Question
Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 19.6.2015, www.thecommunists.net
1. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the leader of the bourgeois Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), received a blow in the recent parliamentary election. His party won only 40.9% of the vote and thus fell short of the 276 members of parliament (MP) needed to command a majority in the legislature. The AKP has been in power since 2002 and was seeking to change the constitution in order to make President Erdoğan the new Bonaparte of Turkey. The bourgeois-chauvinist Republican People's Party (CHP) won 132 MPs with 25.0% of the votes, the extreme right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) got 80 MPs with 16.3% of the vote. The Halkların Demokratik Partisi (Peoples' Democratic Party, HDP), fared better than expected by winning 80 MP with 13.1% of the vote.
2. Why did the AKP loose more than 9% of its votes compared with the previous elections? Since the AKP came to power in 2002, Turkey has experienced a substantial economic upswing, the country’s economy having grown by 68%, which is equivalent to an average annual growth rate of 4.5%, despite two bad years (2008–09) at the height of the global financial crisis. Despite this, a broad layer of the working class and urban and rural poor continue to live in misery. In addition, economic growth has slowed to 2.9% and unemployment has increased from 8% to more than 10%. In addition, Erdoğan failed to substantially increase Turkey’s regional influence in the Middle East because the counter-revolutionary developments of the past two years have brought the old guard of the pre-2011 dictatorships back to power (General al-Sisi in Egypt, Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunisia), thus removing bourgeois Islamist governments which were elected in 2011 and 2012 and with whom Erdoğan had close relations.
3. As a result, Turkey’s working class is increasingly struggling for their rights. At the end of May some 5,000 Renault workers went on strike, demanding increased wages. They joined workers at another automaker, Tofaş – a joint venture of Italy’s Fiat and Turkey's Koç Holding – and those at Çoskunöz Holding. The strike is supported by workers from a host of companies operating in the automotive sector at Bursa such as Beltan Trelleborg Vibracoustic (TBVC), Delphi, SKT, Ototrim Automotive, Rollmech and Mako but without the support of the trade union bureaucracy.
4. The working class struggle and the Kurdish liberation struggle face systematic repression by the Turkish state. The ruling class bases its power on strong repressive apparatus which bequeaths to Turkey’s political system a hybrid character combining elements of a bourgeois democracy with strong features of a Bonapartist regime. Turkey, however, is not a fascist state, as many Turkish Maoist, Hoxhaist, and other leftist groups incorrectly claim.
5. The HDP is a petty-bourgeois democratic party. It is primarily a Kurdish party reflecting the desire of the oppressed Kurdish minority – constituting up to 30% of the Turkey’s population – for national self-determination. The huge majority of its voters are Kurds residing in the southeastern region of the country. Its recent electoral success (gaining an additional 6.5% of all votes cast) was based on winning over Kurdish voters who previously supported the AKP. The HDP is closely related to the Kurdish petty-bourgeois underground movement PKK. Its program is not socialist but can rather be characterized as progressive liberal.
6. The Kurds are a nation which shares a common language and territory, yet which is divided politically between the states of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, in all of which they constitute minorities. The Kurds have a long history of being oppressed by these states, as well as defiantly resisting these manifestations of oppression. In Iran, they have been tremendously oppressed which explains why there have been various armed rebellions there led by the PDKI and today by the PJAK. Similarly, the Iraqi Kurds have faced severe repression, in particular during Saddam Hussein’s genocidal war against them, with its tragic highpoint – the infamous gas attacks in 1988 which killed thousands of civilians. The Kemalist governments in Turkey traditionally tried to eradicate the Kurdish language and culture, a policy which has provoked armed rebellion since 1984. The Erdoğan government – in contrast to the hard-line chauvinist CHP and MHP – has tried to end this conflict by combining repression with negotiations with the PKK, promising to ease the oppression. Similarly, the Kurds in Syria have been systematically discriminated against.
7. The RCIT and its predecessor organization have always supported the national liberation struggle of the Kurdish people. We call for a united socialist Kurdistan. Such a free, red Kurdistan should be part of a voluntary socialist federation of the people of the Middle East. It can only be the result of a revolution led by the working class and supported by the poor peasants.
8. The background of the HDP’s growth is the failure of the PKK’s guerilla strategy. The PKK was founded in 1978 under the leadership of Abdullah Öcalan. Its program was based on a fusion of the Maoist variation of Stalinism and Kurdish nationalism. Instead of focusing of organizing and mobilizing the working class, the PKK adopted a guerilla strategy and waged an armed struggle for an independent Kurdish state. After the failure of the guerrilla struggle and the capture of Öcalan in 1999, the leadership abandoned its version of Stalinism and led the party along a new political road – petty-bourgeois reformism which Öcalan calls “Democratic Confederalism.” Öcalan led the PKK to abandon the call for an independent Kurdistan and open negotiations with the AKP government. In 2013, the PKK declared a ceasefire agreement and began slowly withdrawing its fighters to the region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
9. Hence, the growth of the HDP is a product of the PKK’s turn towards integration into the capitalist political system of Turkey. While various leftists uncritically support the HDP, Marxists need to take a principled and revolutionary position. The RCIT states that the HDP is neither a socialist party nor does it have an orientation towards the working class. The HDP leadership’s lack of principles became obvious immediately after the elections when it called for a coalition government formed by itself together with the bourgeois chauvinist CHP and the fascist MHP! The HDP is, however, a petty-bourgeois party representing the oppressed Kurdish nation and their desire for national self-determination. For this reason – and only for this reason – socialists should give critical support to the HDP at elections and combine this with demands for the party to seriously mobilize for mass struggles as well as criticize the HDP leadership for its orientation.
10. The HDP is attempting to widen its support and to reach Turkish voters, in particular the liberal middle class layers. Were it not for the fact that the HDP is based on the oppressed Kurds, we in the RCIT would not call for any kind of support for this party. Thus, while we do call for critical support for the HDP if new elections are held , we warn that just as the leaders of this party relinquished the demand for self determination for the Kurds, they will abandon any demands they currently make in the interest of the workers.
11. What is needed is a different party: a multi-national Bolshevik type party – composed of Turks, Kurds, and other national minorities – that will work towards the unification of the working class in the struggle for a socialist revolution. A party that will struggle for a free red Kurdistan in the framework of a socialist federation of the Middle East. The RCIT calls upon socialists in Turkey to join us in order to build such a party!
International Secretariat of the RCIT