Only through socialism
Esen Uslu begins his examination of the attitude of the left in Turkey to the Kurdish national question
While the borders of the Middle East are surely about to be redrawn, a clear-cut, radical, democratic programme in relation to the national question is sorely missing. The oft-repeated slogans, such as ‘We are internationalist’, ‘We are anti-imperialists’ and ‘We unreservedly recognise the right of nations to self-determination’ ring hollow in the face of bloody struggles between communities against the background of open and covert imperialist interventions.
In this series of articles I will describe the viewpoints of differing political trends of the Turkish left on the national (specifically Kurdish) question. I will try to summarise them by quoting the relevant texts.
The first trend I would like to examine treats the Kurdish question as a distraction or a harmful side-issue, which diverts the attention of the movement from the main issue - the winning of power by the working class through direct struggle. This trend also regards the national question as something that should have been resolved by the bourgeoisie in the past. But the failure to do so rendered the national question insoluble and presents it before the working class today as a hindrance in its struggle for class unity.
Therefore, according to this line of thought, in our day and age the solution to the national question can only be attained through the victory of socialism, and all national struggles should be subordinated to this central fight. Any ‘deviation’ from this direct struggle for socialism, such as fighting for autonomy or a separate state, can only but help imperialism in its attempt to divide and rule. For that reason communists should defend the integrity of the Turkish state with all their might.
The best example of this tendency is represented by the legal Communist Party of Turkey (TKP). Its 2001 programme is the basic document that sets out this line.
The first section, ‘Introduction’, has been translated into less than perfect English.1 Under the heading, ‘Establishment of socialism in Turkey is possible and a necessity’, the programme deals in this way with the history of the Kurdish question:
The newly established Turkish capitalism also refrained from discharging Kurdish feudalism and integrating the poor Kurdish peasants to the working class of modern capitalism. Instead of a ‘revolutionary transformation’ that includes thrusting out a hand to the Kurdish people and, as necessarily implied by this, to foster a mass movement, the state preferred to build an alliance with Kurdish sovereigns. Thereby, Kurdish labourers have been discriminated, their identities have been denied and their national democratic rights have been extorted.
Further down under the same heading the programme links the solution of the national question to socialism:
The economic, social and political problems of Turkey cannot be solved by an alternative except socialism. Speaking concretely, socialism is the precondition of deepening secularism in Turkish society and living it as a process of enlightenment; securing economic, social, military and cultural independence; granting equal rights to Kurdish people, and establishing a democratic political structure.
Under the heading ‘Revolution of Turkey will have a socialist character’, the programme reveals its true character when it specifies the defence of the Turkish state as the principal anti-imperialist duty:
The liquidation of the Republic of Turkey for the sake of direct imperialist domination and on behalf of the interests of the capitalist class will lead to the complete submission of our working class to poverty and darkness, and drag Turks and Kurds into conflict as well.
It would be impossible for the working class of Turkey to take any further steps in any other agenda of the class struggle without standing against this process of dissolution and liquidation with anti-imperialist proletarian patriotism.
The movement to be created against imperialism should include Turkish and Kurdish identities together. The solution to the national problem and the precondition to build a brotherly union of our people who speak different native languages is to establish a common will to expel imperialism.
The Communist Party of Turkey claims that the anti-imperialist struggle of Turkish and Kurdish labourers exercised together on a common patriotic identity could win a victory only with the socialist revolution, and the process of socialist revolution could be deepened only with the anti-imperialist struggle.
Further down under the heading, ‘Building a new working class movement is more than possible’, the programme dismisses the Kurdish struggle for freedom in this way: “Kurdish movements which originated from the left have drifted apart from the left under the influence of both liberalism and Kurdish nationalism.”
The second section of the document is entitled ‘The program of socialism’. Unfortunately this section is not available in English, so the following translations are mine.
Kurds are mentioned only twice. The first reference is under the subheading, ‘Character of the TKP and its identity’:
Our working class is a whole that consists of Turks, Kurds and other national and ethnic elements. The TKP accepts this entity as its basis, and stands for the political and organisational unity of the working class against any discrimination.
The other instance where Kurds are mentioned is under the subheading, ‘Programme of socialist power/ political structure’:
Turks and Kurds are the equal founding elements of socialist Turkey. Measures shall be taken to liquidate discriminatory, chauvinistic practices and approaches, which are the dominant characteristic of capitalist Turkey, in their entirety.
In order to avoid any accusation of judging a political organisation on the basis of 10-year-old texts, I should point out that the most recent documents of the party still follow the same line.
The legal TKP held its 11th Congress in June 2012. A political report was submitted to the congress, and two main documents were adopted. One of them was ‘Resolutions’ and the other was entitled ‘Religionisation and communists’.
The political report had two sections, and the second section, entitled ‘Class struggle, foci of resistance and the TKP’, contained the subsection, ‘Kurds’, after others on the working class, youth and women. The text is as follows:
Which political stream the demands of the Kurdish movement flow into still remains uncertain. The Kurdish political movement is making contradictory inputs to the politics of Turkey, not only because it contains different class and ideological dynamics, but also its leadership has preferred a political culture that favours such diversity.
Kurdish politics, which carries a grave responsibility for the establishment of the JDP [Justice and Development Party], is also one of the political forces that creates the most difficulties for that force, and that is not only a matter of political culture, but also related to the insoluble nature of the Kurdish question within the circumstances of capitalism. The zigzags of Kurdish politics towards US and European imperialisms are a phenomenon that should also be considered in its dual aspects. The fact that the Kurds of Turkey, unlike those in Iraq, are unaccommodating to the American project could not be reduced to a simple problem of ‘bargaining’. There are serious hindrances preventing Kurdish politics entering into an engagement under the auspices of the Americans while maintaining its present-day structure. A similar confusion could also be observed in the attitude of Kurdish politics towards the religionisation of society. It is a fact that, while they were attempting to protect the secular gains that were products of the Kurdish awakening, they were acting under the illusion that reactionary moves may also be ‘liberating’.
The Communist Party of Turkey rejects the idea that it is possible to become a part of this picture in the name of Kurdish people’s demands. It is impossible for communists to impact on Kurdish politics and the Kurdish people by becoming part of this picture, since Kurdish politics is not an inert element open to any intervention and socialist ideology is not able to tolerate such elasticity.
On the other hand, evaluations such as that which believes Kurdish politics is set on an irreversible course, that in the end it will seek a compromise within the body of the Second Republic, or that it is shedding the revolutionary element that exists within it, are exceedingly expedient and misleading.
The principled position of the Communist Party of Turkey should remain that of focusing on activities oriented to alter the political balance in Turkey instead of judging the Kurdish dynamic against this or that criterion, and defending the justified demands of the Kurdish people with a socialist perspective, and openly standing against the oppression of the Kurdish people and politics, but not deviating from the independent line of the socialist movement in regard to the questions of imperialism, reaction and liberalism.
In this context, we should continue our propaganda to the effect that the JDP government’s preparations for a new constitution, which have created expectations for a resolution of the Kurdish question, actually contain no remedy - without denying the burning desire of the Kurdish people for a quick resolution, every initiative should be taken to prevent approaching the new constitution in a piecemeal fashion, and it should be persistently stressed that the JDP constitution, like the September 12 constitution [following the 1980 military intervention], will have no legitimacy.
Within that framework an open, honest and constructive dialogue and solidarity should be maintained with the representatives of Kurdish politics, party organisations especially within Kurdish areas in the west should be strengthened, and channels and means to address the Kurds should be developed.
There was only one other reference to the Kurds in the political report. It is in the first section entitled ‘JDP government in its 10th year: its strengths and weaknesses’ under the heading, ‘7. Only the working class can settle scores with the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’:
The JDP has claimed, especially in the last five years, that it has brought before the people historical, social and political problems to solve. However, far from resolving them, it has rendered them more inextricable. The initiatives undertaken in regard to the Alevis and Kurds have come to a dead end quite quickly and the confusion that ensued in relation to several questions taken up by the government has started to give the JDP a headache.
Among the resolutions adopted at the congress only one has a tangential reference to the Kurdish issue. The final resolution is entitled ‘No to fascism and lawlessness! Freedom to the revolutionary prisoners!’ and contains the following declaration: “The 11th Congress of the TKP condemns ... all operations against Kurdish politics and ... all violent and repressive policies pursued by judiciary and police ...”
The second document adopted at the Congress was entitled ‘Religionisation and communists’ and carried some references to the Kurdish question that might be illuminating in regard to the TKP approach to the issue.
The ruling forces of Turkey need Islamic help to fill the gap left by the disappearing social state: they need the Sunni identity in order to enhance their role in the Middle East; they need the ‘religious brethren’ idea in the name of finding a solution to Kurdish question; they need to scour the fields of art and culture in order to choke off the resources of progressive ideologies, and they need to extend and deepen the sphere of religion in order to legitimise inequalities, and injustices in general.
Further down the text deals with the same issue again:
In order to lure Turkey into imperialist scenarios in the Middle East, Sunnism could be sharpened up; on the other hand, the success of the peace struggle would hamper religious reaction. Whereas they want to subjugate the Kurdish people in the name of religious brethren, the participation of Kurdish toilers in the class struggle would mean capturing one of the fortresses of religious reaction.
Further down under the subheading, ‘Religious intervention in Kurdish question’, the text deals with several current issues:
The strengthening of religious orders and of Hezbollah, support for Barzani and tribalism as an integral part of Kurdish society, and developments such as the launching of an attack by religious reaction in the ideological field are all diseases of the Second Republic. In this field [ie, the Kurdish question] the use of a certain religionisation in order to maintain a popular base has been widespread. This should be accepted as infiltration of religiousness into the popular ranks, not as a base of resistance. The left should defend the secular character of the Kurdish awakening and try to bolster that dimension.
The last section of the document, entitled ‘What should communist do?’, contains this declaration:
The TKP asserts that the Kurdish question will be resolved as a product of the struggle of workers and toilers of all origins on the basis of the principles of equality and justice, where national characteristics are not considered grounds of discrimination, not on the basis of ‘religious brethren’. Extending the reach of religious reaction within the Kurdish people would hamper a solution that accepts the brotherhood of peoples as its basis. The TKP fights to reveal the enlightening background of Kurdish demands for freedom, and to strengthen it.
So much for the line of the legal TKP on the Kurdish question. Next time we will look at the position of other trends.
1. This section of the programme can be found in English at www.tkp.org.tr/ing/program-of-the-communist-party-of-turkey-722.