Internationalist Standpoint interviewed İsmet Akca from Turkey. He spoke to us about the growing crisis of the Erdogan regime, the war in Ukraine and how this affected Turkish politics, the developments on the Left in general and more concretely the developments around TIP (Workers Party of Turkey).
Akca was a member of the Başlangıç Collective, most of members of which recently decided to join TIP.
Q: Ismet, Can you give us a picture of the situation that working-class people in Turkey face at the moment? What are the main issues that affect people’s lives?
A: The Turkish economy is going through a deep crisis. The crisis dynamic that appeared in world capitalism after 2008 triggered a new and drawn out crisis period for the Turkish economy, which was dependent on the inflow of hot money throughout the 2000s. Starting from 2018, the current crisis pushed the government to make a more clear-cut choice between different fractions of the capitalist class. The Erdoğanist ruling bloc preferred an inflationary economic growth strategy, based on suppression of labor costs in the manufacturing production and services. This ended up diminishing the share of workers in the GDP, led to declining real wages, impoverishment, increase in working hours, worsening of labor conditions, rising unemployment- especially youth unemployment.
However, under neoliberal capitalism, the trade union organizations of the Turkish working class have been shattered and the trade union movement has not been able to renew itself in line with the new layers of the working class. As a result, currently the Turkish working class is deprived of the very class organizations it needs in such a period. However, there is growing discontent with the current government and the economic policies among the working class. In recent years, resistance with economic demands has been more common in various workplaces and sectors. However, it has not yet been transformed into a holistic working class movement and organization or found its political representation.
Q: Erdogan seems to be losing ground in the polls, and CHP present themselves as they are heading for a victory in the next elections. What do you think are the main prospects?
A: Election polls show that support for AKP (Erdogan’s party) has dropped to 30 percent (or even lower according to some polls), while support for Erdogan is not enough for him to be elected president. This is despite the fact that the parliamentary opposition is weak, as it is composed of the center-left CHP and 5 other right wing parties. These parties up to now just promise voters just a return to the “normal” parliamentary regime, some sort of normalization by putting an end to the current autocratic political regime. Despite having such a weak programme, they continue to gain support from the electorate, but it is still unclear whether they will receive the support of the increasingly undecided voters who have broken away from the AKP. Nevertheless, it is a very clear fact that the coalition around CHP, which has severely squeezed the support of the AKP and Erdogan, needs the votes of the Kurdish movement in order to gain power, especially in the presidential election. It is also obvious that even if this coalition wins the elections, it cannot offer a socio-economic alternative for the working class and other oppressed social layers.
Q: How did the war in Ukraine, and Erdogan’s “neutral” position, affect the political developments in the country?
A: One of the important fields in which the crisis of Erdogan’s hegemony within the ruling bloc becomes clear, is foreign policy. Turkish foreign policy is one of continuous zigzags in line with the sub-imperialist goals of the regime. This policy gained traction especially after the Arab Spring, and continues to pursue benefits from the cracks in the global military-political order, even though it has actually failed. Based on the global crisis for domination, the political regime of Turkey is trying to survive with extremely volatile and inconsistent relations with global powers such as the US, Russia, the EU, and China. The war in Ukraine is also instrumentally used in order to negotiate its relations with both US and Russia.
Q: There seem to be discussions in the Left on how to take part in these elections. How can unity be achieved and on what basis?
A: In Turkey, the socialist left is extremely fragmented and its social and electoral base are very weak. However, it still has a resilient structure. Besides the socialist left, it is necessary to underline the importance of the HDP, the political party of the Kurdish movement, which is based on a very strong popular base and movement. HDP got more than 10 percent in the last elections. Some socialist parties are directly participating the HDP, while others are in solidarity and alliance from the outside.
Considering that the two main parliamentary coalitions can promise nothing to Turkey’s oppressed classes, a third alliance to be formed by the HDP and socialists is of great importance for the struggle for democracy, labor rights and peace. In addition, the establishment of a socialist central political power in Turkey is of vital importance in order to influence the socio-political class power configuration in the country. Therefore, establishing an election and post-election alliance in line with these short and medium-term political and economic goals is important both for the dissolution of Erdogan’s autocratic political regime and for the struggle to change the class power relations.
Q: Başlangıç Collective recently agreed to join TIP. What can you tell us about this party and its perspective?
A: Başlangıç socialist collective was formed right after the Gezi resistance. It basically had two goals: a) To strengthen the movements in the areas of social struggles such as workers, women, LGBTQI, city, ecology etc; and to strengthen the positions of the left in these fields. b) The construction of a socialist left political force, the long-standing lack of which was further felt at the Gezi movement; contributing to the construction of such a political movement.
For various reasons, such as the radical change of the political regime; increasing use of state repression under an ongoing state of exception; the internal dynamics of Başlangıç; and the general crisis of the socialist left, it could not reach this goal, although an important political-ideological accumulation and struggle experience was built.
I believe that the above mentioned goals still hold for the socialists in Turkey. TİP (Workers’ Party of Turkey) was able to elect deputies in the parliament thanks to its alliance with HDP. TIP grew due to a combination of subjective and objective reasons. The subjective reasons were embodied in the successful interventions of its deputies and in the party’s policy of opening itself to all socialists and dissidents for a party building process. The objective reasons were the absence of political alternatives, which meant that TIP could attract the support and participation of oppressed classes and layers (workers, women, LGBTQI, non-aligned activists, youth, etc.). Thus, it emerged as an opportunity for the building of a socialist political force. The majority of the Başlangıç collective, following a well-structured political debate, opted to continue its struggle within TİP. TİP is a party that aims to be the socialist party of all oppressed classes and layers, especially the working class, and to strengthen the struggle for socialism, labor rights, peace and democracy in the country. In this respect, I think TİP offers a great opportunity for the building of Turkey’s socialist left.
The People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı) is an electoral alliance between Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP)
The Nation Alliance (Millet İttifakı) is an electoral alliance which consists of four opposition parties, namely the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Good Party (İYİ), the Felicity Party (SP), and the Democratic Party (DP). This alliance is also in regular meetings with two parties splits from the AKP, namely the Deva Partisi and the Gelecek Partisi.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP) is the party mainly of the Kurdish movement, in which some of the socialist parties also participate.