Kurdish fighters

Confusion of libertarian socialism

Esen Uslu continues his examination of the Turkish left’s attitude to the Kurdish question

 Having examined the programme and congress documents of the legal Communist Party, the TKP (‘Only through socialism’, August 16), I shall look at how other left political parties approach the national question, beginning with the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP) and its programme.

In the mid-90s the ÖDP was formed by the merger of various groups, and the end result was a hotchpotch or conglomerate. The peculiar conditions of the day - the collapse of the Soviet Union, the aftermath of military rule, the escalating Kurdish guerrilla war, and a rapidly diminishing left - led many groups to seek refuge in unity. However, ideological clarity - unity with what aim? - was lacking. The party brought together groups whose cooperation had been unthinkable just a few years before, such as the rump ‘official’ communists, Trotskyites and several new-left organisations.

United Communist Party

It may be quite contrary to the saying, ‘Never speak ill of the dead’, but let me add a remark in passing: as may be remembered, the ‘official’ TKP of the 70s merged with the Workers Party of Turkey (T?P) in the late 80s to form the United Communist Party of Turkey (TBKP). Two of the new party’s leaders returned from exile to seek its legalisation. They failed and were jailed. However, their supporters formed a legal TBKP in 1990 - only for it to be banned shortly afterwards by the constitutional court. In between, the TBKP held its legal congress in 1991 and resolved to liquidate the party!

However, just before closing down, the party congress adopted a document listing the sins of the ‘official’ TKP. Even in that last-gasp ‘self-criticism’ document the Kurdish question was dealt with only tangentially. The document dwelt on the 1920s TKP position on the Kurdish question, but it failed to comment on the line adopted in the 1970s and 80s. It chose to deal with the position of party in that bygone era in the following manner:


The TKP was squeezed between the external peace policy of the government of the [young] republic and its repressive domestic policy ... A contentious issue that arose as a result of that dilemma still reverberates today: that is, the attitude of the TKP towards the Sheikh Said rebellion [in 1925]. This issue requires a historical inquiry. It needs to be established whether and to what extent British imperialism played a provocative role against the republic in that incident. Until such a role is proven, it would be sensible to accept that the TKP position on the Sheikh Said incident was wrong. In any case, the TKP should have pursued a more open policy on the Kurdish question in that era.


Years later, in December 2011, the last general secretary of the ‘official’ TKP, contributing to the liberal daily Taraf as a columnist, praised prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s apology over the Dersim massacre of 1937-38 and added a kind of apology of his own:


On many occasions I have criticised the historical position of the TKP and Comintern during the Sheikh Said rebellion and afterwards, as well as our mistakes in regard to our approach to the Kurdish question [after 1973]. In the past there have been some who engaged in self-criticism on behalf of the party. However, those individual self-criticisms do not remove our obligation to extend our sincere collective apology in relation to the Dersim massacre. Therefore, I hereby extend a sincere apology on behalf of myself, as well my comrades and friends, who share these feelings, in regard to the erroneous attitude of the TKP on the Dersim massacre.


The apology created some rumblings among certain sections of the left, but they were nothing compared to the shock felt by the ardent members back in 1991 when they learnt at the congress that the TBKP was to be closed down. Some were consoled when they learned that a United Socialist Party was to be formed as its continuation. However, after a short while it too dissolved itself and joined in the formation of the ÖDP as a left unity project.

Since the ‘official’ TKP’s policies were based on those of the Soviet Union at various stages of the 20th century, it was full of twists and turns, half-truths and lies, missed opportunities and downright counterrevolutionary dictums. The national question was one of the most important policy issues distorted by those who saw the world through the prism of the ‘supreme needs’ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The ‘official’ TKP may have died a slow death as an organisation, but its ideological legacy lingers on among Turkey’s left as part of the stultifying influence of ‘official Marxism’.

ÖDP programme

The ÖDP was deliberately formed as a organisational conglomeration. There was to be no amalgamation within a centralised party: no, it was decided to allow a hotchpotch of groups acting together, while maintaining their own decision-making bodies and internal discipline.

As many had predicted, the ÖDP’s puddingstone structure did not succeed in the declared aim of creating unity on the Turkish left. It failed to maintain its initial momentum and suffered a succession of splits. At present all that remains of the party is the rump of Dev-Yol (the 1970s Revolutionary Path).

Many of the groups that split and formed their own organisations, are today part of another ‘unity project’, called the People’s Democratic Congress - I will deal with its position on the Kurdish question in a later article.

The ideological thrust of the ÖDP programme is directed against the arch-enemy - neoliberalism - which is regarded as the ideology of contemporary capitalism. The aims of the party could be summarised by the phrase “libertarian socialism”. The programme lists the principles of this libertarian socialism - such as internationalism, self-governance, democratic planning, ecologism and feminism - and claims:


Overcoming the barriers to revolutionary politics not only requires correct ideas, but the ability to link those correct ideas with the real movement, to organise those whose lives and interests have been damaged by neoliberal policies - in short, the victims of globalisation - winning over the trust of the broad masses and becoming their hope.


Having established this context, the programme deals with the national question in the following manner:


In regard to the Kurdish question, living together on the basis of ‘voluntary citizenship’ appears to be the most suitable solution in terms of applicability, as well as in terms of its potential to create solutions for the people’s problems. Taking into account the fact that the Kurdish question has been the weakest link in the culture of democracy, it should be kept in mind that its resolution would clear the way for the democratisation of Turkey. The enjoyment of democratic, political and cultural rights by citizens of Kurdish origin should never be a matter of contention, and should be a natural element of social life. Demonstrating the state’s resolve for a democratic settlement of the question, including a general political amnesty, and ensuring that the people of the region enjoy social services, opportunities for employment and investment as equal citizens, would clear the way for a solution. The strengthening of a culture of living together must be coupled with the tenacious implementation of a ‘regional development plan’ aimed at removing regional inequalities through social action, and engendering the principle of local self-governance to enable people to make their own decisions on issues affecting their lives.


Under the section entitled ‘Both freedom and equality’, the ÖDP programme incorporates the Kurdish demand for freedom to use one’s own mother-tongue:


Libertarian socialism ... regards meeting the demands for individual rights and freedoms, as well as demands of identity raised as a response to exploitation, repression, discrimination and exclusion, as a prerequisite of a libertarian society. Within the context of the ‘multicultural and multi-identity’ reality of Turkey, the party defends the right of the individual to speak in his or her mother-tongue, and to freely maintain his or her own identity, culture and sexual orientation ...


On the other hand, the party draws attention to the mistake of elevating non-integral identity politics above political and social struggle. In this context, it emphasises the importance of creating commonality within the differing fields of struggle on the grounds of intertwined working and living spaces, and every individual having “more than one identity”.


Following these general principles, the ‘Axis of struggle and plan of action’ section of the ÖDP programme raises the following demands under the heading, ‘A democratic and peaceful solution for the Kurdish question’:


l Based on the premise that so long as there is no peace within society there can be no overall peace, a political, social and cultural living medium should be created where differences are not denied, but regarded as legitimate, and to that end all necessary measures should be implemented.

l All members of society should be able to exercise fully and equally political, democratic and cultural rights, as well as the right to self-improvement; public education/training opportunities should be offered to all citizens of Turkey in their mother-tongue.

l The structure of a state and politics which has been closed to the multi-identity, multi-cultural social reality, including the constitution, legality and state institutions, should be changed and given a democratic content through legislation. All legal and administrative barriers preventing the discussion of solutions to this issue should be removed.

l Initiatives to dispel social insecurity, alienation and prejudices created by ongoing conflict, to reduce the tensions between cultures, to increase exchange and interaction between cultures, and to develop a process of diversity should be supported and developed; and the culture of living together under equal conditions should be strengthened in every field of social life.

l Action should be undertaken, together with all democratic forces, to create an alternative oriented to ‘peace and tolerance’ in opposition to ‘nationalist violence’ and the spread of a ‘lynching culture’ within society.

l Public resources should be mobilised to remove the regional inequalities prevailing in eastern and south-eastern [Turkey]; to ameliorate the region’s living conditions, which have been devastated and remain economically and socially underdeveloped; to implement measures aimed at resolving the economic and social problems of the region, and increasing employment opportunities.

l Normalisation of the region should be undertaken: those who were forced to migrate from the conflict should be provided with opportunities to enable their return, and those whose homes and property were damaged should be compensated.

l All special warfare units of the gendarmerie, armed forces and police operating in the region, as well as village protectors, should be fully disbanded.

l The prohibitions incorporated in article 83 and chapter 4 of the Political Parties Act should be repealed.

l In view of the fact that those most adversely affected by past developments in the region have been women, every measure should be taken to remove all the effects and consequences of harassment on grounds of female identity, including rape and all other forms of repression seen in the region.

l Special measures should be undertaken against the tribal system and underdevelopment prevailing in the region, and educational opportunities should be extended to women confined to the home, who presently have no access to education, but are restricted to domestic and childcare obligations.

l A general political amnesty should be declared, and the necessary legal and social measures undertaken, to ensure that everybody enjoys political, social and economic rights.


I must also point out that other demands in the ÖDP programme include the call for decentralised and participatory self-government. However, the ÖDP programme clearly indicates a confusion on the Kurdish question, failing to grasp its dynamics and its impact on the whole of Turkey as well as the region itself.

In the next part of this article I will examine the programme of the Workers Party of Kurdistan (PKK), which hopefully will enable English-speaking comrades to put the differing views on the Kurdish question into context.