Turkey after Erdogan’s triumph

03 June 2023

By Dave Stockton

After 20 years in power, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won yet another term as President of Turkey, with 52.14% of the vote, as against his challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroglu’s 47.86%. Though Kılıçdaroglu took European Turkey, Istanbul and the Aegean and Mediterranean coast, plus Ankara and the eastern Kurdish districts, Erdogan held on to his Anatolian heartlands.

Over twenty years, first as prime minister and since 2014 as president, he has raised the standards of life of the rural and small town population as well as playing to their religious conservative views. 

This result will disappoint many, especially younger voters in the big urban centres and among the minority nationalities, who had hoped to get rid of Erdogan’s authoritarian rule. Also disappointed will be the leaders of the European Union and the United States, who have found him a serious irritation within Nato and in the politics of the region.

It seems the voting itself did not see enough irregularities for the opposition to challenge the results. But an election can hardly be called free and fair when the government overwhelmingly controlled media outlets and parties and politicians, especially those on the left and from the Kurdish minority, were banned or intimidated. Indeed, reports are emerging of opposition election observers being beaten up. 

In the first round of the presidential elections on May 14, Erdogan – with 49.52% of the vote – only missed immediate re-election by a whisker. A far right candidate Sinan Ogan won 5.2% so whom his voters switched to would play an important role. Since one of his main slogans was to expel the over 3.7 million refugees who have fled the Syrian War, this had a major impact on the ‘democratic’ opposition.

Kılıçdaroglu, who leads the Republican People’s Party (CHP) disappointed those who believed he would not just replace Erdogan as president, but also demolish the powerful executive presidency and constitution, introduced by his Justice and Development party (AKP) in 2018.

In the first round, the CHP, which claims to be social democratic but is actually a Kemalist secularist party, centred the campaign of its Table of Six alliance on a promise to return Turkey to a parliamentary system. In addition, he promised to align Turkey more closely with Nato and the EU on Ukraine. This led Western observers to present him as a thoroughgoing democrat. Equally, many left-wingers, seeing no other alternative, pinned their hopes on Kılıçdaroglu at least as a lesser evil.

His tactics in the second round should have undeceived them; he turned to hateful anti-Syrian refugee demagogy in an effort to win the support of Ogan’s supporters. He denounced Erdogan certainly, but with a disgusting pledge: 

‘You knowingly brought more than 10 million refugees to this country… I am announcing it here – as soon as I come to power, I will send all refugees home. Period.’

Despite this, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP), which stems from Turkey’s Kurdish movement and was in an alliance of leftists in the first round and in the parliamentary elections, backed Kılıçdaroglu’s second round candidacy.

Erdogan’s future

Erdogan already faces a serious economic crisis, which has been mounting over recent years with high inflation rates, in part because of the way the Covid 19 pandemic severely hit the economy. Then came the devastating earthquake of 6 February, where the collapse of many buildings revealed corruption by AKP officials, who failed to enforce building regulations, costing 50,000 people their lives.

Those who have suffered most are the working class and the national minorities who make up 25-28 percent of the population, but the economic crisis has also hit the middle classes hard. This social crisis is the motive for Erdogan, Kılıçdaroglu and Ogan all blaming Syrian refugees for the country’s ills; so far this has succeeded.

Turkish inflation, which had been running at around 20%, took off in September 2021, when one US dollar was worth around eight Turkish lira; by December 2022, this had leapt to nearly 19, an inflation rate of 87.5%. It has fallen back to 43.7% but nevertheless this has decimated real wages. More than two-thirds of households are struggling to pay for food and cover their rent, according to a recent survey by Yoneylem Social Research. 

After the elections in 2018, and again in 2023, the AKP had to enter into a parliamentary coalition with the People’s Alliance, the MHP. This is a far right party, closely linked to the violent fascist Grey Wolves. They are happy to act as a prop for Erdogan’s Bonapartist regime.

Erdogan now has near total control of the state apparatus and the media. His support is based on major sections of capital, broad layers of the petty bourgeoisie, the conservative middle classes and even some nationalist layers of workers and the poor. Chauvinism, nationalism and the reassertion of Ottomanism, that is, claims to a Middle East regional leadership, are what tie together these disparate forces.

Turkey’s economic crisis will exert enormous pressures on the authoritarian regime. Inflation and the fall of the lira are pushing Turkey’s middle class, which flourished during the early years of the AKP government, more and more to the margins, turning some of them against the government. The earthquake, nepotism and corruption scandals have further discredited the government.

The Left

In order to avoid a possible party ban shortly before the parliamentary elections, the candidates of the HDP ran under the name of the Green Left Party (Yesil Sol Parti, YSP). Together with other left parties, it formed the Alliance for Labour and Freedom. The Alliance won four seats in the Parliament with 1.73% of the vote.

The HDP is the most important force for many leftists, trade unionists, the LGBT+ community and parts of the Kurdish minority. However, even though the HDP has oriented towards the trade unions in recent years and has important influence in and links to the more militant federation, the DISK, it is not a reformist workers’ party. In fact it is a hybrid of petty-bourgeois nationalism, Stalinism, populism and left reformism. Nevertheless, it has come under horrific persecution by the AKP.

In May 2016, the AKP government stripped 138 MPs of their immunity. Co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksedag remain in pre-trial detention, along with several other MPs. The CHP was deeply embroiled in this dirty procedure, because it was only with its votes that the two-thirds majority in parliament necessary to lift the MPs’ immunity could be achieved. After the 2019 local elections, the government removed 47 of the 65 elected HDP mayors and appointed its own people as forced administrators.

The Turkish Prosecutor, General Bekir Sahin filed a motion to ban the HDP with the Constitutional Court on 17 March 2021. The HDP and its structures are systematically attacked and repeatedly crushed; the waves of arrests and defamation have not abated in years.

The Turkish Workers’ Party, TIP, is the second strongest force in the Alliance. The EMEP (Labour Party), EHP (Workers’ Movement Party), SMF (Federation of Socialist Councils) and the TÖP (Social Freedom Party) are also involved. In addition, most of the left trade unions supported the HDP in the parliamentary elections.

Although a ‘left alliance’, it was not based on a clear anti-capitalist programme for socialist revolution. Rather, it was an alliance with the petty-bourgeois nationalist HDP, based mainly on Kurdish workers and peasants, but also on the petty-bourgeoisie and small entrepreneurs.

In the parliamentary elections, the League for the Fifth International called for critical support for the Alliance for Labour and Freedom as the only force with mass support from the working class and the oppressed Kurds that represented a progressive alternative to the two reactionary bourgeois blocs of AKP/MHP on the one hand and CHP/Table of Six coalition on the other.

At the same time, however, we criticised the programme of the electoral bloc. Even if many of the social and democratic promises, such as defending the rights of working people, the trade unions, the democratic rights of the Kurds and other national minorities, were themselves worthy of support, it did not go beyond democratic reformist promises. At best, it presented a glowing picture of a socialist future, but without presenting a strategy to get there, which would have to include a programme of transitional demands, linked to the acute economic needs of the masses.

The alliance also adopted an opportunist stance towards the CHP, the Table of Six and Kılıçdaroglu, glossing over his chauvinism as a lesser evil compared to Erdogan. 

Workers and socialists should call on all forces of the Alliance for Labour and Freedom to build a united front of all workers’ organisations, the HDP, the trade unions, the environmental movement and the women’s movement against the coming government’s attacks.

Revolutionaries must stand for an open discussion in the Alliance on the question of what kind of party the working class and oppressed in Turkey need. In our opinion, a revolutionary workers’ party is needed. This requires breaking with the vacillation between left petty-bourgeois nationalism and ‘left’ party projects without a clear class political orientation. It would also need to define itself against Stalinist and left reformist traditions.

Such a party can emerge, but only if united actions are combined with a struggle to build a workers’ party based on a programme of transitional demands, which can lead the workers and oppressed to socialist revolution. This is not a question of a distant future, but arises in the class struggle.

The economic situation cannot be straightened out with a few reforms. Only the working class can do this by the expropriation of the factories and corporations under its control, an emergency programme for the victims of the earthquake and the reorganisation of the economy according to a democratic plan in the interest of the masses.

These and other fundamental measures cannot be implemented with the existing capitalist state apparatus. They can only be implemented through a movement of the workers and oppressed, through nationwide mass strikes, through occupations of the factories, through the establishment of councils and self-defence organs of the masses in all regions. These measures can build a force to sweep away the Bonapartist authoritarian state apparatus and bring a government of workers and peasants to power.

We believe revolutionaries must fight to convince the militants of these parties to commit to developing a revolutionary programme and a revolutionary workers’ party that will put itself in the forefront of a united front of struggle against Erdogan and in defence of the oppressed minorities and the Syrian refugees.

Tags:  •   • 

Class struggle bulletin

Stay up to date with our weekly newsletter