Although the attempted coup by elements of the Armed Forces on July 15 was successfully defeated, since then, there has been a decisive shift in the balance of power by which the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has concentrated greater state power in his own hands.
Even while the coup was still in progress, the Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen was accused of having organised it through an alleged parallel state apparatus. However, no evidence of this, or of any statement from Gulen’s supporters backing the coup, has yet been produced. Nevertheless, since the coup, there has been a widespread purge of the military, the civil service, the universities and among journalists. More than 10,000 people have been arrested and the numbers continue to rise. According to government figures, 45 percent of all senior military officers have been arrested.
More than 10,000 people have been suspended from official posts, including the deans of all the universities, some of which have themselves been closed down. Judges, who tend towards the nationalist movement and occasionally hand down judgements based on current law rather than the wishes of the ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP, have been dismissed. Among them were many who had acquitted people arrested for their part in the Gezi Park protests last year. Even the trade unions of the Gulen movement were disbanded, although they have little influence. So far, the left-wing unions, DISK, which is based above all in the engineering sector, and KESK, the public service union have been left alone.
State of Emergency
In addition, a three-month state of emergency, which allows Erdogan to govern in a way which would not be legal under the existing constitution, has been declared. All meetings can now be dispersed, there is a nationwide curfew, newspapers, magazines and books can be prohibited, any person can be searched at any time and the period of detention without trial has been extended to 30 days, possibly to allow the healing of injuries sustained under torture. None of this requires any judicial agreement and thus the separation of powers has been greatly limited.
What might seem astonishing, therefore, is that the AKP and the police not only called for active participation in demonstrations, including a rally of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, CHP, last Sunday, but have even offered free public transport in Istanbul. On the Left, there were debates about whether to participate in this rally because it was hoped that there might be statements against the coup and against this presidential dictatorship by Erdogan. There were even demands for Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the People’s Democratic Party, HDP, to be allowed to speak.
The meeting in Taksim Square, however, was a rather lame CHP affair at which the “leader of the opposition” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, although he did condemn the coup, scarcely mentioned Erdogan’s seizure of political power. It is no surprise that not only supporters of the nationalist opposition but also many members of the AKP itself took part in this demonstration. This reflects Erdogan’s tactic of immobilising both the fascist MHP and the nationalist HDP, which is often wrongly characterised here as “social democratic”, by a mixture of threats and integration. Thus there is also to be a “summit meeting” with these opposition parties to discuss “state reform” while, at the same time the AKP is purging and rebuilding the state apparatus in its own interest. This approval for the “loyal opposition” that, in any case, has done little to obstruct the project of the AKP in recent months, also gives the appearance of democracy, which satisfies the Western allies.
Even if the left and socialist groups have not been the first to be attacked under the state of emergency, nonetheless the way is being prepared for the purged state apparatus to go for them after it finishes, condemning them to years of imprisonment or even worse; the death penalty is to be re-introduced for “enemies of the Fatherland”. The state of emergency is not the only thing creating a permanently threatening climate for political activists; the most extreme supporters of the AKP have been mobilised on the streets where they are presented by the party-controlled media as “the people”. Already, they have attacked city neighbourhoods dominated by minority groups such as the Alevi who now have to defend themselves day and night. These Islamist gangs work hand-in-hand with the AKP-loyal police and there is a real danger that this combination will be used in future against mobilisations of the working class and socialists.
In all this, Erdogan is making effective use of the calls for democracy from all sides for his own purposes, arguing that his party, which won a majority to come into government, has to be defended on the streets.
On the night of the coup, all socialist organisations and parties spoke out decisively against it, however, not all of them correctly demanded that the struggle against the coup had to go alongside a struggle against Erdogan’s attempt to use it for his own coup and the establishment of a semi-dictatorial regime. What we are seeing now in Turkey is described there as a “civil coup”, a process that began before July 15. Until now, Erdogan has not been in a position to change the constitution to introduce a presidential system with himself at the top, either through a majority in Parliament or through a referendum.
Now, however, with all the rhetoric about permanent threats, both domestic and foreign, making defence of the fatherland the highest priority, more people might be willing to accept a dictatorship in order to ensure stability. Even though in the past the CHP took a position against such a presidential system, it did agree to the removal of Parliamentary immunity for HDP deputies and thus opened the way to such a system. Now, however, the opposition needs to translate its words into deeds and not bow down before the AKP.
The policy of the CHP shows once again that this bourgeois opposition party cannot be trusted. Ultimately, it represents the interests of a minority within the ruling class which nonetheless stands much closer to Turkish capitalism and its state than to the people who have to live under this system.
The HDP has lost some of its base and its supporters since the war in Kurdistan and is now unlikely to be able to mobilise mass support outside the Kurdish region. On Saturday, July 23, it called a meeting in Istanbul which attracted several thousand supporters to protest not only against the coup but also against Erdogan’s repressive policies.
This shows that legal mobilisations are still possible but also that to oppose Erdogan’s plans will need more than just the HDP. What is necessary is the formation of a united front that can bring together the organisations of the working class and the nationally oppressed, as well as democratic parties like the HDP as well as socialists and the DISK and KESK trade unions.
Such a united front must base itself in the first place on fundamental democratic demands: the lifting of the state of emergency, restoration of all democratic rights such as the right to assembly and demonstrate, removal of all restrictions on travel, reinstatement of those dismissed in the public sector, release of the many people detained, immediate cessation of the war against the Kurds, withdrawal of the army and the police from the Kurdish regions.
Trials of those who participated in the coup should not be left to the regime and the AKP. Without press freedom, without democratic rights for the opposition, this would be a farce even if a show trial appeared to conform to the “rule of law”. The socialist and democratic opposition forces must therefore demand the publication of all communications, all evidence of alleged involvement of the Gulen movement in the coup, in order that responsibility not only for the coup but also the counter-coup from Erdogan can be publicly examined.
Alongside democratic demands, however, such a united front against the state of emergency should also raise the need for the self defence of workers’ organisations and of the oppressed minorities in the country against attacks from both the state apparatus and the reactionary mobs.
Lastly, revolutionaries must argue for the formation of a new workers’ party that can offer a political alternative to the ever tightening grip of the AKP and combine the struggle for immediate and fundamental democratic rights, such as the demand for a constituent assembly, with the struggle for the socialist revolution.
This article was originally published at fifthinternational.org