Football and revolution
Aziz Demir takes issue with the views of the DHKC Turkish revolutionary group and questions its views on what lay behind rioting by Galatasaray fans
Reading the letter from the DHKC London on the aftermath of the Leeds v Galatasaray match in Turkey, I was reminded once more that, despite all the revolutionary intent, a simplistic and vulgar understanding of the real world does not help us in guiding working class struggle (Weekly Worker April 20).
Let us look at some ideas from the letter:
- "Such popular sports are always used by the fascist regimes." Yes, this is a generally true statement, but does it explain why these sports are also popular in the bourgeois democratic countries? Moreover it cannot explain the social and political differences between being a football fan in Britain and in Turkey. Nor can it explain the differences and similarities between being a football thug in the two countries.
- "The football clubs in Turkey are centres for laundering 'black money' (capital that is earned through dirty businesses like drug trafficking, prostitution, etc)." In Turkey, where the black economy is estimated to be as large as the 'officially accounted' economy, laundering black money is not an exception, but the norm.
Let us not forget also that international finance capital as well as the Turkish government complain about this. The government, in recognition of the current state of affairs, has promulgated a tax law which states, in literal translation, "If you declare your amassed fortune and pay a token tax, we do not ask any question about its sources." This is popularly known as the law "whitewashing black money."
The black economy is not based solely on what could be called 'crimes against humanity' such as drug trafficking and prostitution, etc., as might be concluded from the DHKC letter. It starts with the misappropriation of state and local government funds through embezzlement and preferential contracts obtained through political and/or family relationships; passes through ordinary, daily service and manufacturing activities, such as VAT fraud, pocketing workers' national insurance and income tax deductions, and unregistered trading through unsafe and unhygienic workplaces; and reaches right down to the bribes that ordinary people have to pay every day in order to get any official procedure completed by the ever-swelling ranks of officialdom.
Implying that football clubs are the centres of black money laundering is to distort - even whitewash - the realities of capitalism in Turkey.
- "The chairs of the major football clubs are either fascists, mafia mobsters, or have close relations with them." In Turkey today, the openly fascist party is a major partner in the governing coalition. Whatever position in the state or society you look at, you will find a former fascist gunman or a new nationalist-islamist fellow traveller who is trying to hitch his wagon to the governing coalition engine. The so-called 'mafia' - the gangs of bandits, kidnappers, extortionists, torturers, and contract killers that were formed, assisted, abated, controlled, and used by the state in its counter-insurgency warfare against the Kurdish uprising - is all-pervasive and intricately knitted into the political and administrative system.
As the recent scandals regarding the Shia-islamist Hizbullah (God's Party) and the Shafi-islamist Tevhid (Unity) have proved beyond doubt (that is, for those who need bourgeois legalistic proof to disperse their doubts), they were protected, supported, armed, and directed against Kurds and secular intellectuals by government ministers, state officials, and local administrators.
Every state official, politician, or businessman of substance has had very close relationships with these nasty characters. Why single out the owners and managers of football clubs? Again, this is to distort the realities of the democracy (or, as the DHKC likes to call it) the "fascism" of Turkey.
- "Turkey has been made a candidate member of the European Union. So it was essential to be 'European'. How could they be while their anti-democratic practices take place? Galatasaray became the lifesaver. Its success in the European Cup was enough to cover everything up."
Who then is Galatasaray serving? The imperialist countries who have bestowed candidate status on Turkey, or the fascists of Turkey who are trying to cover up their anti-democratic practices in order to be seen as 'European'? If either were the case, why let loose their dogs of war to kill supporters of European teams or ransack European towns? How does that "cover up" their anti-democratic practices? Has Galatasaray's success been enough to cover everything up? Or rather, as a result of the killings in Istanbul and the rioting in Copenhagen, is it not the case that the nature of Turkish society has been exposed more plainly to ordinary people throughout Europe?
For example, Channel Four broadcast a documentary just after the second Leeds-Galatasaray match, which looked (superficially) at Turkish society in order to trace the cause of those events. A striking feature for me was the interview with a young Turkish journalist who spoke as if reciting a military communiqu" from memory: "We are very keen to defend the territorial integrity of Turkey as our ancestors won these lands by their blood." This might well have served to remind the European audience that today's Turkey is a state formed on the lands of the Armenians and Greeks following one of the first acts of ethnic cleaning in the 20th century; and that ever since its formation it has kept the Kurds imprisoned through institutionalised oppression.
Yes, Galatasaray's success has been used by the bourgeois media to create a 'feel-good factor' in Turkey. It may be difficult for comrades from Britain to understand, but the 'national pride' of the people of an underdeveloped country, which has got used to being trampled underfoot by imperialism, is rather different from the chauvinism of advanced countries. It even oozes into the rhetoric of the left. For a long while one of the primary slogans of Turkey's left was 'A fully independent and really democratic Turkey'.
'Independence' was generally explained as 'not allowing any foreigner to dictate the destiny of our nation'. And the road to achieve this was described as the 'national democratic revolution'. During the 70s and 80s we communists waged a very difficult struggle against this poisonous nationalism within the left, even within the ranks of the Communist Party.
After Galatasaray's victory in the Uefa Cup, this national pride burst out in the form of extravagant celebration. Five people were killed by stray bullets fired into the air during the festivities. The bourgeois media tried to deepen and prolong this mood, but it did not have a lasting effect. Apart from the memory of a night of entertainment, nobody gives a toss about the rest of their rhetoric. And any 'feel-good factor' always fades more quickly under the difficult economic conditions of Turkey than in Blair's Britain.
- "The violence of the 'culture of alcohol and vulgarity' became a way of discharging the anger of the people." Blaming football for misdirecting the anger of people does not explain why such an accumulated explosive material exists and why there seems to be no other way to convert this anger into positive action.
In fact a "culture of alcohol and vulgarity", as well as violence, predates football by many centuries. But why is football violence a relatively recent phenomenon? Without probing these questions, this statement can only be read either as a moralistic complaint on the one hand, or, on the other hand, a cry of despair, when faced with the inability to mobilise the masses for revolution despite their anger.
- "Those who were cast out became 'somebody' when they were welcomed to stadiums." Those who are "cast out" are the youth of the gecekondu districts: that is, the working class youth. They form the basis of football support and they are the ones who fill the stadia. They are the ones who are denied a decent education. They are the ones who have next to no hope of finding a decent job. They are the ones who are denied a proper roof over their heads. They are the ones who are even denied the opportunity for fully human sexual relationships under the oppressive atmosphere prevailing. They are the ones subjected to stupefying primary 'schooling' and a bourgeois ideology designed to stunt their personality. They are the ones likely to be conscripted into the army and sent to fight 'the Kurds'.
Let them at least be 'somebody' when they are watching football and passionately identifying with their team. Unless we understand and empathise with these alienated and brutalised working class youth the left will never be able to channel their anger into revolutionary action.
- "We come here to die or win the game." This slogan says a lot about those who shout it. It is not actually sung as written above. The actual words are: "We come to win or to die." And that difference is not one of nuance. It is a slogan adopted and taken to heart by millions because it reflects a determination to achieve their ambition in life. It is not like the many trite popular football songs heard in Britain - even though some of them seem to represent a desire for comradeship and common action: most notably 'You'll never walk alone'.
In fact this slogan reflects past revolutionary struggles, when the masses attempted to put it into practice. The thousands shouting it today are those who will form the core of the revolutionary upheavals of the future.
The left must put an end to this tendency to demean the football-supporting working class youth and instead find ways of working with them. Unless we start doing that, we will have no right to complain about any of their other vulgar, sexist, racist, and nationalist slogans - slogans which keep them tied to the oppressive state.