Political prisoners in Turkey

Class struggle and rhetoric

I was saddened to read the article by Steve Kaczynski about the brutal attack on the revolutionary prisoners in Turkey (Weekly Worker December 21). The piece was a work of revolutionary sensationalism of the worst kind.

The conclusion, "This is one of the world's first major revolutionary battles of the century", indicates to me that comrade Kaczynski is totally misreading the situation. I must remind the comrade of an old maxim which says, 'Those who claim victory in defeat cannot lead revolutionary battles.'

Major revolutionary battles are not waged between the state security forces and political prisoners within the confines of a prison. They are the culmination of a never ceasing class struggle involving millions of working people against the ruling class and its state. Revolutionary phraseology which obscures this simple truth is of no help either to revolutionary prisoners or to the working class.

Lacking a serious assessment of the recent developments in the social and political agenda of Turkey, the article merely repeats the claim that the hunger strike of the political prisoners was in response to the introduction of the so-called F-type prisons. However, the author fails to ask himself why this type of action was undertaken at this particular time.

There have been political prisoners in Turkey's jails for many long years. Successive Turkish governments tried to put an end to the use of prisons as 'revolutionary universities' by introducing various stricter regimes, including the isolation of political prisoners from each other.

This time they have tried to reduce cell sizes through F-type prisons. But there has never been a shortage of isolation cells. And there have been several bouts of resistance, including hunger strikes, conducted by revolutionary prisoners against these attempts.

However, none of this explains why this particular action was adopted by the political prisoners and why it was met with such brutality by the state. Let me briefly elaborate.

The four-party coalition government, led by Ecevit, whose health is failing by the day while the influence of his own party is diminishing, is increasingly coming under the influence of the party of the extreme right 'Grey Wolves'. The coalition is held together by the strings wrapped around it by the higher echelons of the military.

The current economic downturn is a direct result of the 'stabilisation programme' dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. This aimed at reducing the annual inflation rate to 35%, and shifted the burden, once more, onto the workers and public employees. Their wage and salary increases were kept to the barest minimum in line with this target figure, while the actual inflation rate was at least double. This reduced real wages drastically, while the increased tax burden, on the pretext of providing an earthquake fund, further reduced disposable income.

This led to a day of strikes and demonstrations by public employees, who are barred from trade unions with no right to strike. Nevertheless the action was supported by all trade union centres and enjoyed massive support. The working class of Turkey is beginning to stir. We can see the same thing reflected in the political organisations of the working class.

The government tried to backtrack from its tightly imposed economic regime, but this led to increased pressure from the IMF, and the international financial organisations started to withdraw their short-term deposits from banks and government securities. This sent jitters throughout the Turkish bourgeoisie, and several privatised, formerly state-owned banks collapsed. The government shouldered the debt burden and was forced to accept further restrictions in return for an additional $10 billion credit from the IMF.

The Turkish bourgeoisie, and its leading stratum, finance capital, has been unable to persuade the masses that bourgeois interests are identical to the 'national interest' within the narrow confines of a bourgeois democracy, resulting in a fragmentation of the political system.

The new 'civilian' president is at loggerheads with parliament, the government and high-ranking generals. As for the new boss of the National Intelligence Agency, he proposed changed policies towards Kurds in opposition to those of the government and military. The subsequent open conflict amongst ministers from different parties caused a minor economic crisis. The police's own rapid deployment forces rioted and rightwing activists among them organised demonstrations against the investigations into corruption ordered by the relevant minister.

Over the last year, the working people of Turkey have read, day by day, how various criminal bands, invariably consisting of businessmen and high-ranking state officials, along with their gangs of armed men, have siphoned state funds or misappropriated state properties while taking part in the so-called 'anti-terrorist' activities of the state.

When the government was forced to respond to this situation, the attempt to bring the resulting farrago under control rebounded with the exposure of further scandals.

Arrested gang members rioted inside prison, killed other inmates and took prison staff hostage. The collaboration between armed gangsters on one side and prison directors, ministers and 'honourable' members of the judiciary on the other were brought out into the open. Many high-ranking politicians and state officials were either convicted or face criminal proceedings.

In this situation, diminishing popular support compelled the government to search for measures that would appease the general public. One such measure was an amnesty for prisoners. Hailed as a remedy for the injustices caused by the judicial system, and a godsend in terms of cutting state expenditure by reducing the bulging prison population, it was also presented as a measure of implementing one of the demands of the European Union in regard to prospective membership. One of the establishment's unspoken aims, however, was to save their chums from further investigations and from prison sentences.

However, the preparation of the amnesty bill produced a political farce. The conflicting views of the coalition partners caused drafting to drag on and on. Meanwhile prisons became tinder boxes through the creation of false hopes and anxieties.

The amnesty from the very start was devised so as to keep the revolutionary prisoners and Kurdish guerrillas out of its scope. It became apparent that the government was simultaneously intending to break the hold of revolutionary organisations within the prisons. Concentrating revolutionary prisoners in certain jails in order to isolate them from other prisoners had inadvertently enabled them to organise and resist. The amnesty provided for rank and file members of the revolutionary organisations who had served a considerable part of their sentence to be released, while the leading members were to be kept in isolation in special prisons.

The last stage of the amnesty produced another farce. The president refused to sign it. When it was passed by parliament he returned it for reconsideration. The government, displaying great unity and fortitude, organised a marathon session of parliament lasting 24 hours while the state assault on the revolutionary prisoners was going on. The same bill was again passed without so much as a comma being changed, taking advantage of a clause in the constitution which bars the president from refusing a bill a second time if it is returned by parliament unchanged.

It was under these conditions that the decision to hold hunger strikes was taken by some of the revolutionary organisations and their political prisoners last autumn. From the very start, lack of common action and unity of purpose between the various left groups and Kurdish prisoners dealt a severe blow to the effectiveness of the campaign.

However, at the end of the day, the agenda and its time frame were set by the government. The revolutionary organisations adopted this course of action in response.

Aziz Demir