Asking the regime to clean out its own filth

While the liberal left calls for bourgeois democracy Turkish style, Esen Uslu demands a working class programme

From the outside, Turkey certainly seems a confusing country. The ruling party is on trial before the Constitutional Court, charged with “being a focus against the secular order”, and is very likely to face a banning order.

Seventy-one of the most prominent members of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) face a ban, prohibiting them from taking part in the political process for a limited period. Included in the list are the prime minister, deputy prime minister, the ministers responsible for telecommunications and science, education, transport and health; the current president of the republic, who is now ‘impartial and independent’, but was a former prime minister and foreign minister; the previous speaker of the Grand National Assembly; three top political assistants and aides, current and former members of the assembly, and elected members of various local governments. The charges were laid in a bill of indictment by the equally ‘independent and impartial’ chief public prosecutor, who is actually an appointee of the minister of justice.

The charges are based on press statements and public speeches of party figures, as well as the parliamentary activities of the government and the party’s parliamentary group, backed up by intelligence reports. However, the conclusion drawn from these intelligence reports and information from publicly available sources is striking. According to the prosecutor, these open political activities prove beyond doubt that the AKP, which has been in office since the autumn of 2002 is about to topple the secular regime by force, and will commit such a heinous crime in a very near future!

The relevant section of the indictment reads as follows, and it is a quite precise translation: “The charged party is deemed to be exploiting religion and beliefs considered holy in order to cause society to evolve into an islamist structure through the gradual methods it has called ‘the processes of gaining a consensus’, and eventually to make sharia law supreme. And considering the fact that sharia has always had a jihad dimension in order to convert the whole of society into an islamist order, and considering the defendant party is the party in power, it is an established fact that it would resort to the use of force to the point of overthrowing the secular regime, the said danger being not very distant.”

This may seem like a joke to European readers, but we in Turkey have been accustomed to the warped logic of the Turkish justice system - and to grossly unjust rulings made by prosecutors and judges on the pretext of defending the existing order established by the Kemalist regime against rabble-rousers such as communists, Kurds and Alevis.

Confusion reigns

Actually the confused nature of Turkey does not end here. Wherever you look, similar paradoxes lurk.

There is no doubt that the AKP is die-hard islamist in its political outlook as well as in its historical background, and its disregard for secularism sends shivers down the spines of many in the establishment. However, in its bid to win power it has attempted to transform itself into the party best able to represent the interests of Turkish finance capital. Once in office, it undertook a major overhaul of the ancien régime in order to prepare Turkey for the beauty contest known as the Turkish application for European Union membership.

The government still maintains popular support on the basis of its religious and islamist credentials - and it is increasing that support base by presenting itself as the victim of the statist forces entrenched in the military and civilian bureaucracy. However, there is not a trace of democracy flowing through the AKP’s veins. For example, just last week days ago, there was a local government-organised festival in a Black Sea town, to which a liberal-leftist female writer was invited to take part in a panel discussion. As she was explaining her opinions and criticisms, the mayor shouted her down, saying: “We paid for your trip here and we don’t want to hear your negative views.” The row got out of hand, and the writer was forced to leave town at once. The mayor later tried to defend his stance by claiming that she was drunk and the debacle seems likely to end in court.

While the ruling party is clearly representing the interests of Turkish finance capital as a whole, it has also chosen to present itself as the true representative of the newly emerging islamist industrialists of the Anatolian towns, which has led to inevitable conflicts with finance capital. Recently a top director of Koc, the powerful financial and industrial group, stated in a newspaper interview that Koc would not employ any man with a beard or moustache amongst its white collar workforce. The prime minister condemned this remark, saying that such an archaic form of discrimination against bearded (ie, religious) people in the workplace is unacceptable in the modern society Turkey aspires to be.

The confusion created by the issue of the university headscarf ban has been well publicised. On the one hand, the government wants to promote the ‘freedom’ of fundamentalist islamist students, while on the other it maintains its obstinate stance of not recognising the religious rights of the Alevi community.

The same government accepted prior to its election the principle of transparency in public finances. It introduced a new public procurement procedure whose stated aim was to eliminate discrimination, favouritism and bribery in central and local government bodies. The AKP attempted to present itself as modern and progressive by adopting this proclaimed principle of the modern capitalist world, which is an anathema for normal business practice in Turkey. However, although this was included in the hotchpotch of Turkish legislation (and noted in the records of the EU), the government introduced several bills which, while not directly negating the transparency legislation, introduced exclusion clauses bypassing its provisions. The effect was to cause the spirit of the law to rise to the heavens like holy smoke, while misappropriations and embezzlement continued unhindered as before.

The government claims that it is ready to amend the constitution, or to redraft it substantially. But the Kemalist Republican People’s Party, the CHP (which is about to be kicked out of the Socialist International because its ultra-nationalist stance on Kurdish issues), is enthusiastically defending the 1982 constitution that was forced down the throats of the population by the military junta, and is standing against any democratising amendment. The CHP is afraid that giving an inch on democracy would mean weakening the regime’s military tutelage over the civilian political process.


The case before the Constitutional Court, now in its final stages, is a reflection of the confusion which permeates all aspects of political and social life in Turkey. The expectation had been that the ruling party would be permanently closed down, and its leading figures banned from political life.

However, the European parliament voiced its criticism and expressed the hope that Turkey would act in accordance with the 1999 Venice criteria set by the Council of Europe, which state: “Prohibition or enforced dissolution of political parties may only be justified in the case of parties which advocate the use of violence or use violence as a political means to overthrow the democratic constitutional order, thereby undermining the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. The fact alone that a party advocates a peaceful change of the constitution should not be sufficient for its prohibition or dissolution.”

The Turkish judicial bureaucracy was not in the mood to listen to such advice. However, an unexpected development suddenly put a new political complexion on the whole affair.

The Istanbul public prosecutor had been investigating the terrorist activity which lay behind the assassination of a judge in Ankara. A cache of ex-army grenades and explosives was discovered in Istanbul, which was linked to the bombing of a nationalist newspaper. The investigation, which had seemed dormant for a while, suddenly jumped to a new stage, when connections were made between those acts and allegations of several coup attempts organised by top army officers.

The investigating prosecutor detained several former generals, who had commanded the land forces and gendarmerie as late as 2004, as well as prominent nationalist industrialists and some riff-raff from the dirty war in Kurdistan. Most of them are remanded in custody pending the preparation of bill of indictment, which is expected towards the end of this month. Leaked information suggests that the charges will be brought under Turkey’s draconian anti-terrorism legislation.

Some confused people are now saying that the government is seeking revenge. Hysteria over ‘the threat of sharia law’ muddles the thinking of many progressives, who blank out the danger of a new junta. Actually many on the so-called ‘left’ seem to be siding with the Kemalist pro-junta bureaucracy against the islamists.

They have failed to notice that the military top brass is striving to maintain the remaining vestiges of its tutelage over the civilian political process by sacrificing those who made the fundamental mistake: failing to act resolutely when the time was opportune! Failure must mean humiliation and disgrace, since any attempt, whether from within or without the military, that may disrupt the chain of military command is at present unacceptable to Turkish and international finance capital, as well as to the US, EU and Nato - especially when such an attempt is undertaken without their approval.

Wish list

The liberals, together with confused sections of the left, are following the lead of the representatives of Turkish finance capital in advising politicians on the best options for running Turkey. In particular they parrot the advice of the EU, since parroting the advice of the USA is still considered beyond the pale.

These elements want the government to stop scaring everybody and curb its fundamentalist islamism. They want a government which would inject new vigour into the stalled EU membership negotiations by quickly reforming Turkey’s antiquated state structures. They want a government which would repair its damaged relations with the military top brass by keeping investigations focused on the sacrificial lambs, and not attempting to delve deeper. They also want a military that is not drenched in the archaic ideology of Kemalism. They want nothing but ‘the type of democracy they have in Europe’.

Yes, the filth historically accumulated in the stables of the bourgeois state must be cleaned out. However, is the bourgeoisie capable of undertaking such a task?

In order to achieve any of the items from the above wish list, the bourgeoisie must obtain the support of the mass of working people. But that is rather difficult when finance capital must present its own economic policies as IMF-dictated, since they are a very bitter pill for working people to swallow. Furthermore, any attempt to mobilise mass support would risk losing control of the movement created. Therefore, instead of attempting to clean out the stables, Turkish finance capital just muddles on.

The left seems to prefer a ‘realistic’ short-term wish list to the ‘impractical’ and ‘unachievable’ democratic demands of the working class and oppressed people. Such a wish list has nothing to do with democracy. It leaves the working masses out of the political process, fails to address the democratic demands of Kurdish people, and does not connect the demands of the working people of Turkey with the demands of the international working class. It plays into the hands of the bourgeoisie.


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