Marinella Correggia interviewed TKP General Secretary Kemal Okuyan for Internationalist 360° on the 6 February earthquake, Turkey elections and Sweden’s NATO accession.
July 5, 2023
“Turkey is a NATO Country and Will Continue to be so, Unless the Turkish People Change the Existing Order”
Q. Erdoğan also won in the provinces devastated by the earthquake: despite the fact that real estate speculation permitted by his party resulted in many deaths; despite the great shortcomings of the relief effort, which even the TKP had verified on the ground; despite the pre-election rubble clearance operations, conducted without regard for the health of the workers… Why?
A. Yes indeed the election results shows that Erdogan and his party AKP continued to have the wide support in the region that was affected by the earthquake. It is true that this wide region was relatively conservative and traditionally voted for the right wing parties for a long time. However it is not true that the earthquake did have no impact on the ideological and political dynamics on the population. Just the opposite. Millions of people were shocked and even traumatised as no help came from the state which was something sacred for them. They questioned, for the first time in their life started to discuss and even decide to “leave” the protective shelter of the conservative ideologies. We have clear evidence from our party experience in the region and reports covered by trusted journalists.
Q. Then, why has nothing changed as long as the electoral results in the region are concerned?
A. Simply the bourgeois opposition was not trusted and did not give the impression that it was capable of running this country with too many problems. The conservative population did not feel secure with the opposition that already had no unity. During an election which was reduced to two main blocs, the opposition in fact pushed the masses again back to the secure harbor of AKP. While AKP was distributing small but meaningful money to the poor people in the region, the opposition was doing nothing to reach those hopeless millions. The effect of the earthquake on the ideological and political orientation in the regions can be seen through the prism of TKP’s work in the region. TKP had some organizations in the region but managed to open many new branches. Our work did not turn to votes but we could manage to continue after the elections. No new branches were closed. This would be impossible before the elections. Either nationalistic or Islamist prejudice would be strong barriers for a communist party to function. We function, we have new recruits from the conservative parties. However this is only a beginning, we need a lot of work to get use of this crack. But there is a real crack now.
Q. In the manifesto of the TKP written at the beginning of 2023, we read: ‘The Akp came to power with the slogan of fighting poverty, corruption and prohibitions. Today our citizens are even poorer, the country is suffocated by corruption and ruled by oppression and prohibitions’. Not even the extremely difficult economic situation has been able to defeat the sultan. How much has the Islamist and nationalist card played? And the subsidies and gifts?
A. The Islamist and nationalist cards are valid thanks to the strategy of the opposition. The alliance of the opposition nearly had the same ideological references and they persuaded that this is the “normal” of the country. So there existed no political alternative to an Islamist, neo-Ottoman line. However at the same time the opposition tried to combine this with a stupid pro-western stand. The poor sectors in the society are highly concerned by the “outside world”. That is not simply nationalism. That is also a sense of not being secure. Erdogan kept saying that he was struggling against all world powers. This would be a risk for him if the people realized that the foreign policy of AKP was bringing instability. Wide sections of the Turkish population seek for a strong internal protector that would save them from economic crisis, wars, uncertainties and chaos. And there is the issue of subsidies… AKP managed to get rid of the social rights and the remains of social state policies but instead promoted a more Islamic model: Charity system. You have no right but the state grants! The only thing the opposition did against this was to make fun of those gifts and subsidies. If and only if a strong working class movement could change the mentality of the poor people.
Q. Erdoğan and his government are among the major culprits for the ruin of Syria: with money from the Gulf monarchies (economic partners) and political support from NATO countries, Turkey has been a highway for jihadists and terrorists from dozens of countries. Together with the TKP, the Peace Association of Turkey denounced this often before being dissolved by the Turkish government in 2016; the Peace Committee of Turkey was then born, which condemned the invasion of areas of Syria by the Turkish army in 2018. Is this also your position?
A. Sure, TKP is against any military presence of Turkey abroad. Plus we also struggle against any foreign military presence inside Turkey, mainly NATO and USA. In the Syrian case, TKP has been very consistent starting from the very beginning. We warned all the forces in the region that the so-called “Arab Spring” was becoming an imperialist project and US and some reactionary forces were using peoples’ demands and struggling against some governments that were corrupted and caused a great deal of poverty. While some “left forces” were singing “down with Assad” TKP was saying that the change should be based on the Syrian people’s own struggle and no illusion should be created about the jihadist gangs. We have not changed this position till now and we will not.
We do not accept the existence of NATO, which committed massacres, occupations and hostility towards the people in its entire history. We do not want the nests of the world’s largest terrorist organization in our country. –TKP
Q. Many Turkish citizens are now impatient with the presence of millions of Syrians; do they not realise that these refugees are the fault of Erdoğan’s belligerent and pro-jihadist policy? And what about the last-minute attempt by Kılıçdaroğlu to get some votes by promising that the Syrians would be rapatriated in 2 years, thanks to peace with Syria? Was one of his mistakes?
A. There is of course a problem of immigrants with all dimensions. TKP is handling the issue with a class-based approach, struggling against any form of racism and trying to defend the rights of the immigrant workers. However we also take into account the organised fundamentalist armed groups within the immigrants coming mainly from Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. This is a real security problem for the working masses. We can not deny that there is also a systematic attempt to change the demographic structure of some regions of Turkey which also has political and ideological consequences. So TKP has no intention to be a part of the immigrant romanticism which is pumped by liberal circles. Of course where there is capitalist exploitation there are attempts to break the unity of the working classes, to promote nationalism or some other divisions to weaken the class movement. All over the world they are using the immigrant workers not only for cheap labour but also for creating confrontation inside the working masses. The same happens in Turkey. However the main source of the reaction towards the immigrants is the secular middle classes which were poisoned by the idea that the Syrians were threatening the society culturally. True, there is a real cultural problem but those who fear that immigrants will harm their daily life forget that the conservatism and the fundamentalist ideas are basically domestic issues. Kılıçdaroğlu exaggerated the hatred towards the Syrians and exercised an extreme nationalistic line especially during the last weeks of his campaign. Plus, the opposition did not have a solid policy towards the Syrian problem. They could not convince the people.
The argument used by the government and the so-called opposition parties that many problems in Turkey are caused by immigrants, only serves to sweep the real causes of the economic problems under the carpet. –TKP
Q. In foreign policy, Erdoğan plays on many tables: at the same time he occupies Syria, supports the most fundamentalist militias in Libya, but has very good relations with non-Western countries that were against the proxy war in Syria and are against NATO and its wars (also in Libya in 2011). It sells arms to Ukraine but is considered sided with Russia by those who are not with Kiev. Finally, Turkey is in NATO and will remain there and will even accept Sweden’s entry, bartering it with the handing over of Turkish political opponents. Why does even part of the Western left (always in opposition) consider Erdoğan independent of NATO, NATO which is present at his coronation?
A. Turkish capitalism should not be underestimated. Yes, we have a fragile economy, a great deal of depth, and the financial system is relatively weak, in some sectors dependent on Russia and some on Germany. Yet the Turkish capitalist class is very flexible and dynamic, benefiting from the weakness of the Turkish working class. But not only that. Turkey for many years had close links with Germany economically and with the USA politically. As the hegemony of the US imperialism has been weakened, like many other actors in the world Turkey started to look for a wider space and acted more courageously for new markets. The Turkish bourgeoisie has been investing a lot for many years now in the Caucasia, Balkans and the Middle East and some parts of Africa. These were mainly parts of the Ottoman Empire and the AKP government is promoting Neo-Ottomanism towards those regions. So ideological motives also accompany the Turkish capitalist classes’ interest. And there is also the Turkish army, which has a lot of bases abroad, defending those interests. Nobody should expect that Turkish foreign policy will be pro-US like it was during the 1970’s or 80’s. It is still pro-US and pro-NATO but in a different style. The problem with some left forces in the world who think that Erdogan is against NATO or even anti-imperialist is their shortcomings related to the concept of imperialism. Imperialism cannot be reduced to foreign policy of big powers. It is an outcome of monopoly capitalism and each and every capitalist country has a tendency towards imperialism. Not all can practice of course but this process is intrinsic to all. TKP has always evaluated Erdoğan with a class based analysis. He is a man of Turkish big capital. That is the main issue. His bargaining with US and NATO sometimes of course presents us time and some possibilities but at the end of the day we should know that Turkey is a NATO country and will continue to be so unless Turkish people change this existing order. Of course this does not mean that we see the NATO issue as a problem of the future. TKP is constantly waging a struggle against NATO.
Q. And now, how will the opposition to Erdogan move? The coalition already dissolved.
A. The bourgeois opposition has disintegrated. The right wing parties, after helping the social democrat CHP to turn itself to a right wing party and getting into the Parliament by the help of her, now keeping their distance. And CHP (the Republican People’s Party) now has severe internal problems. The Parliament is the most reactionary, right wing parliament ever. Erdoğan will be very confident in the National Assembly and try to impose a new Constitution. This parliament can create no problem for the AKP. People started to free themselves from parliamentary illusions. TKP is trying its best to benefit from this. The electoral results that TKP got has nothing to do with the influence of TKP among the society and its organizational strength. As the burden of the economic problems will be put on the working people in the coming period, there will be a real and tough task for TKP. This class-oriented struggle will be combined with an anti-imperialist and secular stance as Erdoğan will need to have better relations with he Western monopolies and also increase the Islamic elements in Turkish social and political life. We are ready for this challenge.