The Socialist 26 March 2014 |
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Turkey: new wave of protests
Corruption and police violence exposed
Festus Okay, Ankara
In the run-up to Turkey's local elections on 30 March, tensions are rising. The way in which Prime Minister Erdogan is clinging on to power regardless of the cost is causing outrage.
The death of the latest victim of police violence has triggered another mass uprising.
On 11 March, Berkin Elvan, the eighth victim of police violence, lost his fight for life. Berkin was on his way to get bread for breakfast on 16 June when he was hit in the head by a pepper-spray round. His murderers, just like other perpetrators of state violence, are still free.
As the tragic news came through, another wave of anger at the government and at Erdogan spread throughout Turkey. Demonstrations were called for the evening. But people began to gather in the morning.
For example, a man carried out a sit-down protest on the steps leading into a park in the centre of Ankara.
He sat down on the steps with a piece of bread and waited silently for hours. Within a short time, many people gathered around him. By the afternoon, there were several thousand.
At the same time, students in many universities boycotted lectures and made their way to the city centre. A group of 5,000 students were attacked on their way by the police.
Although the demonstration was not due to start until 6.30pm, there were thousands of people at the location by 3pm.
University students, school students, industrial workers, office staff, left groups, Kurds and Alawites all joined together to chant: "The murderous state must be brought to account", "Berkin's murderer is the AKP's police" or "Erdogan, murderer!"
By the time the police attacked from all sides, it was not even 6pm yet. The crowd ran into the clouds of smoke which blocked their escape routes and quickly covered the whole square.
Running through traffic in the surrounding streets, people tried to protect their heads from the hails of gas pellets coming down from above, while running away.
It all happened in a matter of seconds. Cries could be heard, as well as the sounds of coughing and panicking people.
After running for a while, the crowd had dispersed everywhere. A kind of running battle developed between the police and some young protesters, and continued late into the night.
The following day, 11 March, Berkin was buried. Hundreds of thousands of people attended his funeral in Istanbul.
Directly after the burial of the youngest victim of the 'Gezi rebellion', there were further acts of police terror.
The crowd was attacked with the same methods and more street battles with the police took place. Many people were injured and arrested.
Since the Gezi uprising, nothing has been the way it was before. Erdogan's reputation as being invincible has been severely damaged by week-long mass protests.
In addition to this, there were a number of revelations of major corruption scandals which led to the resignation of four of his ministers.
Behind these revelations, which caused a crisis of the state, is a bitter struggle between the government and its former ally, the 'Gülen network', named after the preacher Fetullan Gülen.
He lives in the USA and represents a section of the Turkish bourgeoisie, through which the network has influence in key areas of the police and justice system.
While the government and the Gülen network, which Erdogan refers to as a "parallel state", trade blows, more dirt is coming to the surface.
Every day new audio recordings of conversations are revealed, making the scale of the scandal ever clearer.
In one of these recordings, a telephone conversation between Erdogan and his son, Erdogan is heard informing his son about a police raid on the sons of ministers and advising him to remove money from his home.
It is clear from the conversation that the money belongs to Erdogan and that the sums in question are very large.
After further phone calls, Erdogan's son tells the prime minister that only the 'small' sum of €30 million remained.
There is a strong opposition against Erdogan. As he is fearful that his opponents - the working class or sections of the ruling class - will hold him to account, Erdogan cannot afford to back down.
New laws give him control over the justice system. Investigations against army generals and members of the MIT intelligence services cannot be terminated without his permission.
A new telecommunications body gives Erdogan the opportunity for easier censorship - as with his recent banning of Twitter.
There is a re-alignment underway among the ruling class. Until recently, the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) was part of a common front with the Gülen network and the employers' associations - the so-called Anatolian capitalists.
The Kemalist opposition party, the CHP (Republican People's Party), the military and the association of the old capitalists, TÜSIAD, made up the opposing front.
It was the AKP which gained significant support in 2010 from a wide spectrum of left-liberal intellectuals and layers of society, because it stood up against the power of the military.
In this context, a large number of people, including former members of the army general staff, were arrested and tried in the so-called Ergenekon trials, and last summer were sentenced to life in prison.
While Erdogan cast himself as a kind of public prosecutor, the CHP styled itself as the defence lawyer in this dispute.
Now it is becoming clear that the wind can turn in the completely opposite direction, when the power of the ruling class is at stake.
Confronted with an increasingly radicalised mass movement and a new alliance of the Gülen movement and the CHP, the AKP is jumping into bed with the army and state forces.
At the same time, Erdogan is trying to shore up his base by means of fostering division. During one of his election rallies, Erdogan called Berkin a terrorist and incited the audience to boo the victim's mother.
One thing is certain: The question is not if, but when Erdogan will go. There is already a crisis of the state and the legal system is widely seen as bankrupt.
President Abdullah Gul challenged Erdogan's ban of Twitter after the prime minister said he would "wipe out" the service, which he claims spread allegations of corruption in his ruling circles.
Many people speculate whether the elections at the end of March will take place or not. The government is trying to use censorship, increased state violence and undemocratic laws to sustain its power.
It is preparing a major offensive, not just against the movement, but also against the opposing faction of the capitalist class.
Despite the fact that the opposition is becoming more radicalised by the day, the AKP still retains the largest support among the population, not least because of the relative stability of the economy.
But they will suffer losses. The question is how much their vote will decrease by. It is very likely that there will be an early general election.
Only this could temporarily calm the situation because people will adopt a "wait and see" attitude.
Neither has the government taken steps to improve the rights of the Kurds. But, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) has given the government until the elections to act. So Erdogan's ability to play the divide and rule card has been undermined.
The left is on the front line of the protest movement but its lack of political perspectives and programme prevents it from giving the movement clear direction.
It is an accurate summary to say that the left embraced the movement but the masses have not yet embraced the left.
However it is possible that there could be new developments in this regard after the local elections.
These polls will be the first stage of significant political events which will play out in Turkey over the next few months and even years.
It is vital that the left is built in this process, so workers and youth find the best possible way to build the workers' movement.
Marxist ideas are needed in this process to build towards a mass party, rooted in the working class, to show a way out of the nightmare of capitalism and repression.