The chief editor of the daily Sol, Kemal Okuyan, interviewed hereon the Gezi Park struggle, before the recent attack by the police. He clarifies answers to questions that have recently been debated, such as “Where is Turkey heading?” “Is there a revolutionary situation?” and “Are the recent events the ‘spring’ of Turkey?”
Was a social movement of this scale expected?
Historically, big social movements are generally movements that cannot be foreseen. If the limits of something can be predicted, actors related to the issue prepare accordingly. With negative or positive inputs, they attempt to control the results. When this happens, the fictional casts a shadow on the movement. Progress that can change the given balance of power cannot be made, and as a result a big social movement does not come into being.
Nobody was able to estimate the dimensions of what we are experiencing at the moment. The government couldn’t. The mainstream opposition couldn’t. The left couldn’t either. There were some foresights: some were able to realise that the events would reach a critical point; but no-one was able to foresee what is happening now.
This is important. The political and ideological climate of Turkey is now different from four to five days ago—not completely different, but at a scale that shouldn’t be underestimated.
What is behind the prevalence and the depth of the movement?
In a straightforward, naked fashion it is the culmination of the reaction, even hatred towards the AKP government, and especially towards Erdoğan, to an incredible level. There we thought we all knew this. But there was something we forgot: this feeling of hatred towards Erdoğan solidified, accumulated, at the same rate as Erdoğan increased his arrogance, solidified his impunity.
On the other hand, everyone thought that this hatred was taken for granted, as it was of no use, or the impression was that it was of no use. But hatred is not a feeling that can be taken for granted. If it finds a channel, it will come out. Tayyip Erdoğan cannot be proud enough of himself. He has become a focal point that not many people in history have ever become.
Is it that simple? In other words, can the whole issue be narrowed down to the rage against Erdoğan?
Of course not. But this should be given importance. As an example, if it was not such a dominant figure like him—say, Abdullah Gül—heading the AKP, the level of the reaction would have come down to a normal level.
One should not read this as if there is not an ideological reference here. Erdoğan is a catalyst, with the effect of a multiplier. But the movement is aiming to settle accounts with the fundamental features of the mentality that materialised in AKP . . . the exception being the class base . . . Reaction and collaboration have been the ideological background, and Erdoğan was placed in the centre.
The prime minister says, “This is not about the trees.” I can’t believe he said that . . . After a certain point, it is not about the trees, or Gezi Park. This was the final straw. He doesn’t realise the level of the rage and hatred he has created . . .
The dominant feature of AKP is its marketism . . . Where is the lack of the connection here?
Well, we can’t really dodge the issue by simply saying that this is the reaction of the middle class. If the middle-class reaction has reached this level in Turkey, we should start thinking about other things. All right, there is a middle-class character to this; but there has been serious mobilisation in the working-class districts, particularly in İstanbul and Ankara. If we forget what we have known all along and talk off the top of our head we will make mistakes.
Firstly, the ideological-political impact, both in terms of bourgeois and socialist ideology, has to overcome the middle-class obstacle. The struggle for hegemony here needs to be taken seriously. If everyone labels this wide field as they feel like it, it would be a great mistake. The left has for years looked down on this field, giving it such labels as “White Turk” . . . Ideological rigour is important; so is class sensitivity. But we also need to avoid oversimplification.
Secondly, it is the structure of the working class in Turkey. There is a limit to organising in the work-place a labour mass that is unsteady, ever moving, while dealing with unemployment. It is time to look at labour localisation with a new logic. We have transferred the working class to the union structure, but they are not on solid ground either.
The whole country has risen up, and unions are nowhere to be found. There is no tool that will activate the working class as the leader, that will make it the dominant force! In previous incidents where this was achieved by political structures there was absolute success.
Tens of thousands of people who were labelled “middle class” have in fact laid claim to an anti-capitalist axis. The reason is that most of these people are people whose labour is exploited.
Is it that innocent, or are there “deeper” plans in this movement?
Some of the mouthpiece media claim that evil forces have been mobilised for an organised uprising. If this had been the case the result would have been different. They can rest easy. This is simply an explosion of rage.
The political players who share this rage obviously have been able to connect with this general rage easily, and they have come forward in the areas they already had connection with or where they were already organised. But this should not be exaggerated. Conspiracy-seekers should look somewhere else—specifically among themselves.
It is very clear that for a while there is an attempt to tweak, to fix Tayyip Erdoğan’s policies, by the United States for various reasons, by Fethullah Gülen’s sect for other reasons. Both in foreign and internal politics they are trying to get Erdoğan controllable again.
Erdoğan is someone who doesn’t get things easily . . . He can’t stay consistent either. He got Reyhanlı partially, but it wasn’t enough. On the issue of Gezi Park, the United States, big capital, and Gülen’s sect, by leaving him vulnerable and defenceless, have shown him the result of the Reyhanlı business. I am not sure if he got the point.
Last week the name of Sarıgül was being continuously mentioned as the candidate for the head of the İstanbul municipality. [Sarıgül is the mayor of a district in İstanbul, a social democrat with strong ties to some sectors of the capitalist class.] . . . The new relations between CHP [the main opposition party] and Gülen’s sect are constantly being mentioned in the “social media.” Add all these on top . . .
Would the “Turkish spring” analogy fit here?
The “Turkish spring” reference in the imperialist media is a message to Erdoğan. In the final analysis they are happy with Erdoğan, and they are not planning to replace him, but they are also reminding him of his limits. After the recent events Erdoğan’s policies on Syria and Iraq need to change. I think his adventure of presidency is also finished.
One possibility is that the relation between Erdoğan and Gülen’s sect starts getting better, and by establishing an ideological and political consolidation against the social reaction that emerged they move together . . .
This, obviously, will take time. On the other hand, Erdoğan’s anger can last longer and may respond to Gülen’s sect. This would create interesting results. But it is not possible to expect Erdoğan to play the reasonable politician, as a crestfallen Erdoğan is not useful for anyone.
Is that the historical meaning of the events?
Absolutely not . . . No-one should cast a spur on this movement. This is an uprising of the people. The people are angry. Those who underestimate the opposition against Erdoğan and AKP should start to reconsider their perception. Those who think that there will be peace and democratisation with Erdoğan should do the same thing as well.
All their plans have failed. Do not listen to the analysis. This is a social movement. Some political forces are trying to use this movement not for a new future but just to intimidate the government. But this will not stop here. The recent events have contributed to the organised movement of the people. They left Erdoğan unsupported, because otherwise they will attract the anger to themselves. They have been very careful. Maybe they used some tricks—for instance the unbridled brutality of the police . . .
How ready was the Turkish left?
What you mean by the “left” in Turkey is always controversial. Some leftist groups have no political concerns. There are some groups that are not interested in, or disdain, the developments. I do not want to talk much about them. The political forces with serious political concerns were not ready to lead the events. But this movement is not alien to the left. As I said, in many localities the organised left led the people.
There are some who are not happy with the intervention of the left. They are not comfortable with political identities, party flags or banners . . . This is not surprising if you consider the spontaneity of the movement. On the other hand, in most places people demand the co-ordination of an organisation.
If you take into account the size of the events, the direct contribution of the organised left is limited, but the determination of the people depends on the leftist forces.
There is also an intellectual ego which is allergic to the idea of an organised left. They want to monopolise the stage. We do not take them seriously. We have honest intellectuals who are resisting against this government. The left should back them, but not the ones who are hostile to the leftist politics and the idea of any type of political organisation.
There are two elements of this movement, football fans and alcohol . . . ?
The participation of football fans has injected energy into the movement. However, this should be analysed alongside other factors . . . This energy caused some problems. Swearing at the political demonstrations, which has not been the case in Turkey, can be given as an example of those problems. I observed this myself. Our women friends who criticise some of our texts or newspaper articles for having a “masculine discourse” were swearing sexist words. This, of course, can be explained with the extent of the anger; but the socialist movement should impose its own culture.
On the issue of alcohol as well . . . As Erdoğan is trying to ban alcoholic drinks, alcohol has become a question of freedom. But this should be politicised. You cannot struggle against oppression by holding beer bottles in your hands. That is why I think TKP’s decision to not drink alcoholic drinks during the demonstrations is very important.
How can we define these incidents? Is this a revolutionary crisis?
No. Of course, this is an outburst of a huge social energy. It is powerful in extent and effect. But there are some Marxist criteria for defining a situation as a revolutionary crisis. We are far from that. At least for now . . .
Kemal Okuyan is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Turkey