The Turkish state, the Turkish working class, and the Kurdish revolution

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 105 - February/March 1992

Republished as Chapter 3.3 in The New Warlords: from the Gulf War to the recolonisation of the Middle East, ed. Eddie Abrahams, Larkin Publications, 1994.

The Turkish working class and Kurdish oppressed masses are facing very conflicting tasks and dangers. Any analysis of the political conditions resulting from the general election in October 1991, of the policies of the newly established liberal-social democratic coalition must begin with an examination of the revolutionary dynamic of the labour movement in Turkey and the Kurdish resistance. MURAD AKIN, a member of a revolutionary organisation in Turkey (Gelenek), evaluates the newly developing trends in the class struggle in Turkey.

1991 proved to be the high point of the growing class resistance in the form of unofficial mass action which began in 1989 - the '1989 Spring'. The miners' strike in Zonguldak, December 1990-January 1991, was the first nation-wide anti-government challenge to the Motherland Party Government (ANAP) since the 1980 military coup. But after the intervention of local social democratic politicians and trade union leaders during the final stages of the strike, a collective agreement was signed and imposed on the strikers and the unofficial and widely supported mass movement was isolated. This development revealed both a weakness in class solidarity and the inability of the revolutionary movement to influence the course of the strike and combat the influence of the local trade union leaders.

Nevertheless, the positive example of the miners' strike spread to other workers' struggles against job losses, for higher wages and better working conditions. The glass workers of Pasabahce in Istanbul followed the example of the workers of Zonguldak converting workplace protest into a locally-based unofficial mass movement.

The Turkish and Kurdish workers suffer from a relatively new and careerist layer of trade unionist leaders, both local and national, who have benefited from post-coup legislation. This legislation allows higher ranks of trade unionists to be highly paid and to control a huge volume of financial sources. It was this trade union aristocracy which pushed the working class into an organisationally premature general strike ('general action' in their terminology) on 3 January 1991 during the last days of the miners' strike. They reduced this action to 'general absenteeism' - the workers merely stayed at home, although the 'general strike' was a concrete demand among the politically advanced workers. This contributed to the liquidation of Zonguldak resistance and the spreading of a general climate of defeatism in the working class movement.

After this, the trade union leader-ship limited the agenda to economic issues, depoliticised strikes and offered an indecisive opposition to the ANAP government. This was consistent with their call for a coalition government of social democrats and liberals. Such a government was formed after the elections in October 1991.

'Serhildan Ciyane' - 'To resist is to live'

Kurdish resistance (Serhildan) not only demonstrated the mass basis of the struggle led by Partiye Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK) but a new stage of struggle in the cities complementing the guerrilla warfare in the rural areas. Today the Turkish cities realise that the Kurdish resistance now incorporates an urban mass movement, although there is still a problem of interaction between the class movement in the cities and the Serhildan against the Turkish state and propertied classes.

During the imperialist military assault against Iraq, the PKK adopted a clear anti-imperialist policy risking isolation and repression by pro-imperialist Turkish forces. Nevertheless, this anti-imperialist policy, unique on the Kurdish left, helped the Serhildan to gain ground in the largest parts of Kurdistan.

On the other side, the majority of the metropolitan Kurdish left look towards US and European intervention for a 'democratic' mid-way 'autonomy' solution to the Kurdish question. This wing includes Talabani and Barzani of the Kurdistan Patriotic Front in southern Kurdistan.

This policy has been disastrous for the Kurdish people once again. The growth of mass support for the Kurdish national liberation movement allowed some local Kurdish politicians and ex-social democratic party managers to be involved in the Kurdish resistance on a more pragmatic, collaborationist basis. These elements tried to exploit the anti-imperialist patriotism of Serhildan. They want to narrow the scope of resistance to the interests of the Kurdish national bourgeoisie, using the sup-port of European and Turkish liberals to compromise with the Turkish state. These elements welcomed Ozal's 'liberal' intervention in northern Kurdistan. They joined the Social Democratic Populist Party which has no democratic or anti-imperialistic standing. This layer of Kurdish politicians and propertied classes also supported the new coalition.

Today these 'realistic' politicians, European-based Kurdish organisations and some sections of the Kurdish intelligentsia are planning to organise a 'Kurdish conference' with the help of pro-imperialist European and American politicians in such a way as to exclude the PKK. Using the 'liberal' policies of the Turkish bourgeoisie, they are aiming, primarily, to channel the grassroots radicalism and anti-imperialist socialist orientation of the Kurdish resistance towards the lines approved by the Turkish liberals and new world 'realism'. The 'Kurdish conference' has claimed that 'Today is not the age of socialism and national liberation movements but democracy and human rights'. This is taking place at a time when Kurdish guerrillas are being buried at mass funerals and the people are being shot by Turkish 'special teams' in the Kulp and Lice districts of Kurdistan. The PKK denounced the call for this 'Kurdish conference' in a press release on 2 January 1992.

There is nothing new in the new government's approach to the national liberation movement. Demirel, the new prime minister of the coalition government, is repeating the brutal-liberal approach of the Turkish state under Turgut Ozal in the period prior to the elections. This . policy depends on the recognition of Kurdish identity as an ethnic group, a rhetoric of democracy and tolerance, and armed suppression of any sort of resistance by those fighting for Kurdish independence. This policy is sponsored by US and European 'democrats' . It is basically aimed at the creation of a collaborationist layer within the Kurdish liberation movement.

Demirel promised everything during his post-election trips with his partner Inonu (leader of the Social Democratic Populist Party) through. Kurdish cities. But he did not forget to stress the unitary state structure, threatening to destroy the armed struggle 'more brutally than ever'. This policy had the support of ex-ANAP prime minister Mesut Yilmaz. The policy to eliminate the PKK by every means is the common denominator in Turkish bourgeois politics. The aim is to win the representatives of the Kurdish propertied classes away from the Kurdish revolutionary democratic movement - a movement which is based on the poor and op-pressed working people and peasants of Kurdistan.

The working class begins to remember Demirel in power

Both the True Path Party (Demirel 's party) and the Social Democratic Popular Party spent enormous energy convincing Big Business and Finance Capital about their 'realistic' and conciliatory policies by meeting TUSIAD (Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen Organisation) during the pre-election period. It is clear who will pay the bill of economic recession and political instability.

The workers and oppressed masses are beginning to understand the conciliatory declarations Of the seventh Demirel government. The new government is subject to the same ideological and economic constraints of the preceding bourgeois governments. The new cabinet was absolutely aware of the 'demands' of TUSIAD before forming a government. The new economic advisors support the master plan on privatisation prepared by the US bank Morgan Guaranty Trust. The first consequence will be the dismissal of a further 125,000 workers from Public Economic Enterprises, over and above the 300,000 job losses in 1990-1991.

The miners' strike had countered the hysteria of privatisation. So the privatisation of coal mines, steel plants (Erdemir), TEKEL (Tobacco Monopoly), TEK (Electricity Company) was slowed down. The new Secretary of State responsible for economic restructuring claims he will deal with privatisation in a more 'humane' way by a process of creating 'autonomous' (independent from the state budget) enterprises. But nobody knows how making those enterprises 'autonomous' will be more 'humane' than privatisation.

TUSIAD has now put more pressure on the legislative and govern-mental bodies to ensure through rationalisation a reduction of the number of unionised workers to under two million - less than 10 per cent of the work force. So sackings as a mean for deunionisation continue with armed- suppression against any attempts at resistance under the new government. The glass workers in Tuzla in Istanbul, for example, pro-testing against dismissals were sup-pressed by the 'mobile force' (a special anti-riot police force) at the end of 1991.

The main form of attack today by capital in industrial conflicts is through layoffs. This is because real wages have risen from their low point in 1988 and over the last two years have shown an increase, regaining the 1983 level. However, even current real wage levels in manufacture are 21 per cent less than the 1970s average. The increased labour costs. despite the low level, were a constraint on profits in the exports sector. Last years' job losses represented 15 per cent of unionised workers. However, the trade union leadership, in close collaboration with the new coalition parties, gives credit to the government and offers no sign of resistance.

The new bourgeois government faces a foreign debt of $55bn, unemployment at 21 per cent, and inflation around 60 per cent. On the other hand, the 500 largest industrial companies in Turkey enjoy a real rate of profit of 30.5 per cent. The share of labour costs as a proportion of sale revenues of these companies means that a worker works 24 days for him-self, and 230 days for capital in a year. The recent increases in state employee's wages of 25 to 30 per cent were far below the inflation rate.

There is very little that is 'new' in the policies of the coalition government. The deunionisation and dismissals increasingly may consist of casual workers, privately contracted employees etc. The new economic advisers emphasise the need to reorientate resources towards efficient and productive investments, rather than the speculative income-creating investment of the previous government. The Turkish bourgeoisie is now concerned to reduce the weight of the rentier stratum and increase the productive capacity of manufacturing industry as part of its new climate of consensus and democracy.

There is no pressure from the unions on the new government to reduce unemployment. The official level is 3.1 million, however, including agricultural unemployment and the informal sector, the figure could reach 9.5 million. The old managers of the misnamed DISK (Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions), whose activities were banned by the military regime, now promote their new concept of `contemporary trade unionism' . This concept is based on the total rejection of class unionism, and has been reinterpreted for its new world of 'peace and compromise'.

The reality is not so promising. Disillusionment has already set in among state employees. Plans to cut VAT repayments to workers and employees will significantly reduce real wages. Government plans to sell Public Economic Enterprises to foreign buyers as a mortgage for foreign debt threaten massive redundancies and more expensive services.

The government also believes that by allowing Kurdish liberals to publish their own newspapers and organise a Kurdish Democratic Party or something similar, it will isolate those leading the armed resistance against the Turkish state.

A common struggle against the Turkish state

As 1992 begins the Turkish ruling class in alliance with the Kurdish bourgeoisie is taking measures to retain the political initiative. This is dependent on the ability of the Turkish bourgeoisie to retain the collaboration of the trade union leadership for its economic programme and its success in integrating the Kurdish bourgeoisie in a more stable political relationship as part of the overall US-EC political strategy in the Middle East.

This path will meet resistance. The economic crisis will force the working class increasingly into confrontation with the reformist-collaborationist leadership of the trade unions. Kurdish anti-imperialist resistance is still independent, far away from defeat and liquidation. This is the context in which the ideological and political rejuvenation of revolutionary organisation of Turkish socialists is the precondition for a united anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist resistance against the Turkish state.


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