“Sosyalist Alternatif” magazine circle has joined Workers Party of Turkey (TIP) since May 1st. We present to our readers the following article by Nihat Halepli, which summarizes why Sosyalist Alternatif decided to join TİP on the way to building a mass socialist party.
We have entered a historical period in which it is clear that the capitalist system worldwide is facing a generalized crisis. On the one hand, there is massive accumulation of wealth in the hands of a handful of people on a global scale and, on the other, the crisis of global capitalism brings massive poverty, war, racism and environmental destruction. The ruling class tries to dump the crises of the system on the shoulders of the working class. But the working class, despite its attempts to fight back, is lacking a party representing its own interests; it is essentially forced to choose between different bourgeois parties, or look for solutions in the wrong direction, turning to religious, sectarian, nationalist or far right-wing ideologies, which are by-products of the capitalist system. In this context, the question of the representation of the working class in the form of independent (from enemy classes and ideologies) mass parties, is one of the most important issues currently confronting class struggle worldwide.
The problem of representation and new formations worldwide
The collapse of Stalinism in 1989 represented a historic defeat and a turning point for class struggle internationally. In these “degenerated workers’ states” (as Trotsky characterized the Stalinist states) private ownership of the means of production had been abolished, foreign trade was under state monopoly, there was a planned economy, but there was no working-class democracy (no working-class control and management in production, distribution or administration, no freedom of political expression and organisation). These regimes were not capitalist but, also, were mere caricatures of socialism. With their collapse, capitalism not only declared its ideological victory over the working class but also dealt a serious blow to its organized structures.
The Social-democratic and Communist Parties, –especially in Western Europe where the working class was strong– in which there existed an active working-class rank and file, despite the bureaucratic and bourgeois character of their leaderships, in general suffered a huge decline after 1989. The Social Democratic parties became “bourgeoisified”, i.e. their character and composition changed from “bourgeois-workers’ parties” (to use Lenin’s expression) to more clearly defined bourgeois parties, while the Communist Parties in most cases lost their mass character, turned to the right and on many occasions collapsed and even disappeared.
The problem of the lack of representation of the working class opened the way to the ruling class to ruthlessly implement its neoliberal agenda. The bourgeois governments, which previously had to think twice before taking measures that directly attacked the working class, regarding wages, working conditions, social rights, etc., could now do so without hesitation.
Gradually, the working-class retreat triggered by the collapse of Stalinism began to be overcome, starting with the anti-globalization movement in 1999 and continuing with the anti-war protests against the imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, new left parties, often called “New Left Formations”, emerged in many countries, as sections of Social-democratic and Communist parties as well as of the trade union movement broke away. Parties such as PSOL in Brazil, Die Linke in Germany, SYRIZAin Greece, Podemos in Spain, the Left Block in Portugal, are some such examples. These new parties were critical of the Social-democratic and Communist parties and had a more radical profile. While they did not have a clear socialist programme and strategy, they emerged with demands that defended the interests of the working class. They usually embraced quite diverse political currents and, in some cases, developed into organizations with mass electoral appeal.
These new formations were clearly not revolutionary workers’ parties or even radical reformist socialist parties, but they differed from old working-class parties which had entered a process of bourgeoisification, in their demands, discourse and actions.
These New Left Formations were on the rise until they were tested. SYRIZA was elected το government, based on the economic, social and political crisis in Greece and on the wave of struggles that erupted, but after the 2015 referendum it capitulated and crossed over to the bourgeois camp. Die Linke, in the last elections in Germany suffered losses because it sought a coalition with the Social-democratic SPD and the Greens instead of drawing a clear line between them. PSOL in Brazil is currently facing a crisis over whether to run its own candidate against Bolsonaro in the first round of the next presidential election or support the PT’s candidate, former President Lula.
The question of the representation of the working class is considered in this document from a tactical-strategical point of view. The approach of revolutionary socialists towards parties that attract the attention of the broad masses of working people, that can be a voice of their demands, that can unite the struggle inside and outside parliament, is positive, precisely because they can advance class struggle. It is a question of “united front” tactics (to use the expression of the Bolsheviks) and it reflects the need to unite in action and struggle with such parties even if there are important ideological differences.
The strategical task of revolutionary socialists is, of course, to build mass revolutionary parties as a necessary tool for the overthrow of the capitalist system and the building of a socialist society. Tactics is always subject to strategy. Strategy requires adherence to principles and in this sense is inflexible. Tactics requires great flexibility because it depends, among other things, on the way the various organisations of the working class, political and social, develop.
Thus, despite the uncertainty about the future of the new formations, in the present historical period, when the level of organization and class consciousness of the working class is very low compared to previous historical epochs, these parties retain their importance in the process of the emergence of mass socialist revolutionary workers’ parties.
The question of working-class representation in Turkey
The problem of the representation of the working class, which is a worldwide problem, takes a specific form in Turkey, since there has never been a Social-democratic party in the classical sense in the country. In contrast, there are dozens of small parties and organizations from various currents of the workers’ movement that attempt to approach working-class struggle from a revolutionary perspective. While some of them are not concerned about the question of representation in the form of a mass party/organization, others see themselves as the nucleus of a mass revolutionary party of the working class.
Sadly, the discussions around the need for unity and for building a mass party are usually dominated by ultimatums based on which program is the most “revolutionary”. However, defending a revolutionary program and fighting for it does not exclude working in a united front manner with reformist parties. For example, the Spartacus Group, the revolutionary group of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, arguably the most important leaders of the workers in Germany, was part of the USPD even though the latter was a centrist (vascilating between reformism and revolutionary Marxism) party.
Last but not least, the history of the working-class struggle has shown that in order to transform a propaganda group into a mass party, it is not enough to win over individuals through agitation-propaganda alone, nor is it enough to have a “revolutionary” program. It demands much more: engaging in the struggles of the working-class masses, building cadres in the mass movements and following correct tactics in relation to other left formations, including of a reformist character.
The Workers’ Party of Turkey as a milestone of the working-class struggle in the country
The Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) was initially founded in 1961 by 12 trade unionists, in a relatively more “democratic” environment created by the new constitution adopted after the 1960 military coup. The involvement of some prominent intellectuals and of the Socialist Party of Turkey boosted the party’s growth, and in the 1965 parliamentary elections it won 2.97% of the vote and 15 deputies in Parliament, becoming the first socialist party in the country’s history to enter parliament. This was a turning point that would profoundly affect the history of the working-class struggle in Turkey for years to come.
The deputies led an effective opposition in Parliament and TİP began to gain influence, drawing the ire of the ruling class. As a result, the electoral law was amended, among other things, to prevent TİP from entering parliament. The so-called “national balance” electoral system, in which votes not reflected in constituency seats are added up and distributed among parties throughout Turkey, was replaced by the D’Hondt electoral system. While the first system enabled small parties to elect representatives to parliament, the second was an undemocratic system that prevented this and favored large parties. Thus, TİP was unable to elect representatives to parliament in most subsequent elections. In the 1969 elections, although the party received 3% of the vote, it was able to send only 2 deputies to parliament.
In the 1960s, when youth around the world were highly politicized and the world was shaken by youth movements, TİP became the center of youth attention and provided a dynamic platform for theoretical debates. Most revolutionary currents in Turkey today have their roots in the discussions of this period, on the platform provided by TIP and the conclusions drawn from those discussions. Within the party, various groups formed, e.g., the advocates of “socialist revolution” versus the advocates of a theory of gradual revolution such as the “national democratic revolution”; the advocates of the Stalinist approach versus those who were critical of the Soviet Union, and so on. The party was also the first party in Turkey to recognize the existence of the “Kurdish question” and refer to it in its party programme.
After the 1971 military coup (known as “coup by memorandum”), the party was banned for its stance on the Kurdish question, and its cadres were sentenced to long prison terms. The party was reestablished in 1975 but it remained a small leftist organization, far from the prospect of becoming a mass party. After the 1980 military coup TİP was banned again but continued to exist illegally. When political bans were lifted in the country a few years later, TİP and the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) merged and formed the United Communist Party of Turkey (TBKP) in 1987. After this party was dissolved, some of its cadres joined the ÖDP (Freedom and Solidarity Party) and later the re-established TKP.
ÖDP: the broadest attempt at left-wing unity
The largest left-wing unification attempt in recent history was the Party for Freedom and Solidarity (ÖDP). The party was formed in 1996, when the United Socialist Party changed its name and new left-wing groups and currents joined it. These groups worked together within the party while at the same time maintaining their organizational and political independence. Although the party quickly created a dynamic on its way to becoming a semi-mass socialist party, it got a bad result in the first elections it stood, falling far short of expectations, with only 0.8 percent of the vote. This was followed by intense political debates and debates on strategy between the constituent groups, until the party was finally reduced to a small group around the old “Revolutionary Street” (Dev-Yol) tradition.
In an attempt to make a new beginning, ÖDP renamed itself as SOL (Left Party) in 2020, but this attempt had no actual meaning, as only the name changed. SOL is so opportunistic that it had one of its chairmen (Alper Taş) run as a mayoral candidate in Beyoğlu, Istanbul in 2019 elections, under the banner of the Kemalist bourgeois party CHP. On the other hand, it behaves in such a sectarian manner that it refuses to participate in meetings organized by HDP and other left forces to form an alliance in the upcoming elections! As a small left-wing party, SOL is currently far from the perspective and potential of a mass party.
HDP has shaken the bourgeois political system
The Democratic Party of the Peoples (HDP) is a leftist reformist mass party founded by the Kurdish Left and part of the Turkish Left and has the support of predominantly Kurdish voters. The party was founded in 2012, against the backdrop of peace negotiations between the AKP government and the PKK, the so-called “solution process”, and initially existed only on paper. Behind the party’s founding was the idea of building a joint left-wing party that would unite the Kurdish and Turkish Left and would be able to operate legally throughout the country after the end of the Kurdish armed struggle.
An important test of the party’s ability to win votes in western Turkey, i.e., outside the Kurdish provinces, was the 2014 local elections. Despite all the difficulties, the party was able to show in these elections that it could operate in the western provinces as well and won 2% of the vote in these areas. The most important thing about this result was the refutation of the argument that the Turkish working class would not vote for a “Kurdish party”. While the 2014 election result was not some kind of an outstanding success, it was not a failure either, and it was a step toward a “nationwide” party.
In 2014, HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş ran for president as the third candidate against other bourgeois blocs. By addressing not only the democratic demands of the Kurds but also social problems, Demirtaş managed to receive just under 10 percent in those elections.
In the 2015 parliamentary elections, the HDP achieved a sensational result of over 13 percent, becoming a decisive factor in AKP (Justice and Development Party, Erdoğan’s party) losing its absolute majority in Parliament. As a result, AKP formed a coalition government with MHP (Nationalist Movement Party, the far-right party).
Today, HDP occupies a key position in the balance of forces in the Turkish political system. This critical position is made possible by the fact that the HDP entered the elections as a party, unlike its predecessors, who run the elections as independent-single candidates, due to the 10 percent threshold. The dynamic of HDP was partly the reflection of the energy created by the Gezi protests (see further on) at the ballot box, despite it keeping a low profile during the Gezi protests due to ongoing negotiations between the government and the Kurdish movement over the so-called “solution process.”
Despite massive state repression, HDP’s share of the vote has so far held steady above 10 percent (about seven million votes) in the polls. This was evident in the 2019 local elections, when the HDP supported some CHP (Republican People’s Party) and IYI Party (Good Party, a split from MHP) against the AKP without forming a formal alliance. This allowed the opposition to seize power in the country’s main metropolitan areas, including Istanbul and Ankara. Although all these parties are more nationalist than even the AKP on the Kurdish issue, the very existence of HDP, which has become the political expression of the Kurds’ struggle for democratic rights, forces all these nationalist bourgeois parties to be more cautious in their tone and attitude toward the Kurds. HDP is a good example of how a left political force can have an impact and push forward processes in a class direction, despite complications like the national question.
HDP emerged under Turkey’s special conditions and therefore faces special challenges. It is very easy for its political opponents to associate it with the PKK or “terrorism” and defame it. The fact that HDP is a top-down project also leads to many structural weaknesses. Although it makes demands that are in line with the interests of the working class, it cannot be said to have a clear programme, let alone a socialist programme.
Nevertheless, it is a party of great importance for the demands of the Kurdish people, for democratic rights and for the unity of the Kurdish and Turkish working classes. In this context, these and similar reasons show the need for another mass left party in Turkey that can operate independently with a united front approach, without the fear of working together with HDP.
BHH as a wasted opportunity
The United June Movement (BHH) emerged in 2014 as the second leftist front alongside HDP at the initiative of many large and small left parties, groups and individuals. This leftist front drew on the Gezi resistance, the largest and longest-running spontaneous protest that rocked Turkey in June 2013. Although BHH emerged with some delay, a year and a half after these protests, it was an important development in the crystallization of the united struggle of the socialist left in Turkey. Starting from the Park Forums that emerged during the Gezi protests, BHH aimed to become a unified left force by organizing discussions at local gatherings, under the name of Neighborhood and District Forums.
The Gezi protests corresponded to the largest spontaneous popular movement in Turkey’s history. Although Gezi offered a rare opportunity for the Left, the left organisations did not know what to do with the potential that this movement unleashed. Initially, protests quickly spread through the squares, neighborhoods of cities across Turkey. Then, in the form of Park Forums and various other forms, the movement continued to shape the social fabric of the country, for nearly a year without interruption. In the highest phase of Gezi, however, when the masses had not yet withdrawn, the Left was more concerned with secondary issues than with the substance. Although the most prominent slogan of the Gezi movement was “Tayyip (Erdogan) resign”, there were no proposals by the left forces in these forums on how to achieve this. While the masses gathered in cities, neighborhoods and parks and discussed how to defeat the AKP, the Left satisfied itself with the usual, routine agitation and propaganda. It did not anticipate the local elections that would be held nine months later, nor the presidential elections that would be held a year later. With this foresight and the appropriate development of tactics and methods, the Left could have influenced the Gezi protests and develop into a much stronger political force. A force that could have transformed the “People’s Forums” into neighborhood, district, city and national assemblies and pave the way for the establishment of a new mass party by the masses themselves. However, this did not happen, and such a party was not founded by the masses involved in the Gezi protests.
Still, the founding of BHH caused excitement and interest in certain sections. However, BHH failed its first test when it did not take a clear position in the critical parliamentary elections on June 7, 2015. If HDP had not passed the 10 percent threshold in those elections, AKP would have been able to form a government on its own. BHH distanced itself from HDP by not openly (albeit critically) calling for a vote for HDP. In doing so, it missed the opportunity to play a role in the parliamentary elections, which were an important turning point. This stance by BHH was a big mistake, both politically and tactically. An even bigger mistake was that BHH did not learn from it and correct it. Such weaknesses led the BHH to disappear from the stage of history within a few years.
“New” Workers’ Party of Turkey
The “new” TİP was founded in 2017 on the initiative of the People’s Communist Party of Turkey (HTKP). Following the Gezi protests, the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) split into two camps in 2014, due to internal debates that arose over how to deal with the Gezi protests. The section of the party that considered TKP’s handling of the Gezi protests to be sectarian, founded HTKP. In March 2017, the formation of the party was announced with a call signed by some trade union and workers’ representatives, representatives of democratic mass organizations, academics, writers, journalists, and representatives of various professions:
“Let us add our voices to the voices of the workers, the toilers, that is, of all of us. Let us found the Workers’ Party of Turkey, the party of the working people of Turkey.”
At first, however, this call did not meet with much interest.
The newly formed party was able to follow correct tactics and as a result it had two deputies elected to parliament, through the HDP list, in the 2018 parliamentary elections.
Unlike other socialist deputies who had previously entered parliament on HDP lists, the TİP deputies, in agreement with HDP, declared their intention to leave the party and work in parliament under the banner of TİP. After that, two more deputies, one from HDP and one from CHP, declared that they join TİP, so the number of its members of parliament rose to four.
A political structure in the form of a political party, especially if it is represented in parliament, asserts a higher legitimacy in the eyes of the working class. This sociological reality, as well as the positive memory of the TİP of the 1960s, served as a beacon for TİP to attract attention. The party’s membership, which was around 600 when it was founded, rose to 8,279 as of May 2022, according to official figures, or nearly 10,000 if “informal members” (for legal reasons) are included. The average age of the party is 30-35 years, and it is clear that the interest of young people in the party is increasing. The profile of new members consists of people who joined with a view to build a mass socialist party, Marxist groups and people who broke away from other left parties, and those who joined or supported CHP because there was no alternative mass left party for them but did not find it left-wing enough. Although most of the members come from big cities like Istanbul and Ankara, there is participation from all over the country, including the Kurdish provinces.
Similarities and differences of TIP with other NLFs
TİP differs from other New Left Formations in a number of ways. Even though it defines itself as the party of the Gezi protests, it emerged as a cadre party that opened itself to other leftist groups and individuals, unlike, for example, Podemos which emerged directly as a result of a social movement. On the other hand, TİP’s claimed position of being the party of Gezi is not entirely wrong, considering the profile of the groups that are primarily interested in this party. Moreover, the party does not have a “pluralistic” structure, consisting of different groups and currents with their own names and publications, as is the case with many other new formations. Only individual memberships of the party are possible and the right to form a tendency/faction within the party is not explicitly mentioned in the new draft statutes.
In terms of their goals, most New Left Formations like Die Linke and Podemos can be characterized as left or reformist parties, under the concept of “democratic socialism” (Social-democracy). TİP openly defends socialism and in this respect can be compared to the Brazilian PSOL in its initial phase or even FIT-U in Argentina. In the party programme this is stated as follows:
“Our world is entering the final phase of the age-old struggle between light and darkness, progress and reaction.
“This phase is nothing less than the war of the working class against the capitalist class.
“The future of humanity depends on the future of class struggle.
“The domination of socialism in the world is the only way to ensure the liberation of the workers and toilers who have had to live in misery and poverty for hundreds of years, and the liberation of the peoples enslaved by wars, racism, sectarianism, oppression and violence.
“The world is once again faced with the need to make an irreversible choice under the rule of the capitalist order of exploitation: socialism or barbarism!”
Elsewhere it says:
“Adopting Marxism-Leninism as its guide, TİP embraces the history of the socialist movement through a critical approach and stands for the rebuilding of the socialist movement on a revolutionary basis”.
Even though the cadres who took the initiative for the founding of TİP had a Stalinist background, it would be wrong to describe the party as a Stalinist party.
Some challenges for TIP
TİP is not yet a mass socialist party; but at this stage it is the only party in Turkey that has the potential to become one. The current interest that TİP has aroused among a section of the working class is the main factor that explains this potential. However, it will have to overcome many difficulties and dangers on the difficult road it has just entered. The following are some specific ideological issues related to the level of consciousness of the working class, structural and building problems, and issues related to programme.
Some specific problems in Turkey
A revolutionary movement must always act taking into account the level of class consciousness of the working class. But this is only half the truth. The other half is that there needs to be a conscious effort to raise the existing level of consciousness. Otherwise, it is inevitable that revolutionary politics will capitulate to the low level of consciousness of the working class and drift into opportunism. On this general note, let’s examine some of the complications around doing revolutionary politics in Turkey.
Kemalism: A significant section of the Turkish working class sees itself as leftist because of Kemalism. This is because Kemalism is often interpreted as being on the left, especially because of its aspect of secularism. In the context of the hatred for the neo-Ottoman, anti-Kemalist Erdoğan regime, it seems that Turkey will experience some kind of a Kemalist renaissance after the fall of the regime.
However, Kemalism is not only about secularism. Although TİP does not explicitly mention it, its party programme considers Kemalism to be part of the bourgeois revolution in Turkey and “progressive and enlightened to the extent that it fought against the Ottoman order and imperialist occupation.” It notes, that this progressivism did not transform into a quality that “transcends the interests of the capitalist class and goes beyond capitalism” and led Turkey, like all bourgeois revolutions, on a “reactionary and collaborative course”.
However, considering the fact that a significant part of those who have joined TİP today and those who will potentially join TİP in the future, come from the part of the working class that has indulged in false illusions in Kemalism, it is clear that Kemalism will constantly be an issue that will put pressure on the TİP.
The Kurdish question: This is an important issue that cannot be ignored by any revolutionary organization with a socialist perspective not only in Turkey but in the entire region of the Middle East, as it directly affects four countries (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran). It is doubtful that a socialist revolution in this region can be successful if it does not take into consideration the Kurdish issue and involve the Kurdish working class and the poor peasants – of whom about 20 million live in Turkey alone. In this context, the party programme states:
” TİP considers the Kurdish people and their struggle as one of the indispensable components of the freedom struggle in Turkey and of the people’s revolutionary movement led by the working class.”
Although it does not explicitly say that the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people includes the right to secede, it justifies its support by saying that
“TİP recognises the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination. However, it develops its approach as to the usage of this right by considering the good of the working-class struggle”,
this can be seen primarily as a step forward for the Kurdish side of “class unity”.
However, the main difficulty lies on the side of the “Turkish” worker, who is also influenced by Kemalist ideology. The backbone of the prevailing Turkish nationalism in Turkey is the understanding of a unitary state based on “one nation, one state, one homeland, one flag, one language,” on which Kemalism built the Republic. This is a fundamental aspect of Kemalist nationalism, which continued the ” Turkist” ideology of the Committee for Union and Progress (“Young Turks”) that eradicated the Armenian presence in Turkey with the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and is often overlooked by the Turkish Left.
Given that the Turkish working class is strongly influenced by this nationalism, this is another problem that TİP must be very careful in its approach to the Kurdish question and in its struggle against nationalism in general. The fight for the democratic and national rights of the Kurdish people as well as of other nationalities (in any forms of it) demands patient explanation and not pointing the finger or looking down upon the working class and the youth.
Imperialism: In general, the imperialist aspect of the Turkish state is ignored or overlooked – this is a serious mistake that is also prevalent in the Left. The statement in TİP’s programme,
“Like its many international counterparts, the Palace Regime, which seeks to build its hegemony over a part of this region as well, is one of the actors of the crimes committed against peoples of the region”,
is correct, but it can be misread to mean that the imperialist policy of the Turkish state is limited to the policy of the Erdoğan regime. However, this policy is the state policy on which all bourgeois forces agree, despite the differences in the way they are implemented. In fact, the current bourgeois opposition bloc shows its principled support for Erdoğan’s imperialist policies at every opportunity.
By saying that the Turkish ruling class is following a policy of imperialist expansion in the region, we understand of course that it is a second- or third-rate imperialist power, not comparable to the US and the Western powers’ imperialism or that of China, Russia etc. Imperialism is a “system” that has many levels, and is not restricted to the 2-3 major Western imperialist powers that were dominant in the course of most of the previous century.
As stated elsewhere in the TİP party programme:
“The main reason of all kinds of relationships between the exploiter and the exploited, the oppressor and the oppressed in Turkey is the hegemony of capitalist mode of production that is based on private ownership of the means of production”.
and the domination of this mode of production inevitably leads the bourgeois state to seek by various means, including military, to create new areas of domination and influence over markets, raw materials and exploitation beyond existing national borders. Northern Cyprus has been militarily occupied by the Turkish state for nearly 50 years and continues despite the massive opposition to the presence of the Turkish army and the direct political interventions of the Turkish governments, by the Turkish Cypriot masses. Turkey’s control of the regions in northern Syria is also not only a continuation of its policy to put an end to the Kurdish formation there, but also of its expansionist policy in the region.
The one-sided and narrow view of imperialism by significant sections of the Turkish Left has also blurred the concept of anti-imperialism. So much so, that even Erdoğan can be considered… an anti-imperialist by sections of the population. It is not a paradox that a significant part of the working class supports Erdoğan despite all the conditions of exploitation and oppression, because they believe in the claim that “foreign powers” who do not want Turkey to become strong are behind all the problems. Anti-imperialism is currently approached from a nationalist position that often manifests itself in a crude anti-American or anti-Western stance, which among other things does not distinguish between the bourgeoisie and the working class in the Western imperialist countries. Blurring this question limits anti-imperialism to nationalism and creates an obstacle to the international struggle of the working class and the internationalism of the Turkish workers and youth.
Aspects of building
Party of active members: The membership of TİP has grown considerably in a short period of time, and everything indicates that it will grow even more as the elections draw closer. Unlike the bourgeois parties, who have hundreds of thousands of members on paper, TIP must become a party of “active members,” strongly rooted in the working class, effective and dynamic. This means that as many members as possible should be involved in party work, discussions and decisions. The way to achieve this is through the urgent political consolidation of a functioning party structure. Since the political process in Turkey is likely to accelerate considerably in the near future, there is a danger that TİP will be caught on the wrong foot and will not be able to exploit its potential sufficiently.
Branches: As the smallest building stones of the party, local branches can play a decisive role in increasing the number of active members in a structure with thousands of members. They should consist of a maximum of about 20 members and meet regularly with a sustained periodicity, with a well-prepared agenda consisting of sections in which theoretical-political and practical-organizational questions are discussed and, of course, decisions are taken. In this way, on the one hand, the theoretical and political clarity of the membership of the party will be ensured, and on the other hand, the fact that these units, starting from the problems on the ground, will independently organize campaigns, events and actions, will ensure that theory is not abstract but linked to action, intervention in the movements and building of the party. This will enable the party and its ideas to be tested in the class struggle. Otherwise, the party runs the danger of turning into a loose and slow-moving structure, in which all the work will rest on the shoulders of a limited number of cadres and decisions are only taken at the top level.
A democratic structure: Democracy is a basic prerequisite for a socialist society, and the abolition of private ownership of the means of production alone is not sufficient for a socialist society. Just as a human being cannot live without oxygen, a healthy socialist regime cannot exist without democracy. The party programme of TİP states:
“Socialist democracy is the political system in which the working- class is organised as the ruling class. Socialist democracy stands for the people’s self-governance from the smallest local unit to the nationwide scale. Basic decisions that concern the whole society are made directly by the people”.
Indeed, self-management by the working class requires a high degree of democratic participation, which is not achieved automatically but, on the contrary, demands conscious effort. For democracy to work, the working class must know how to utilize it, and in this context the Party is also a “school” where the working class, practices and educates itself in self-government. Therefore, TİP must succeed in becoming a highly democratic organization, and the democratic functioning must be implemented at all levels, from the branches, to the national coordinating and executive bodies and up to the Party Congress, the highest body of the Party.
As a mass party, TİP unavoidably includes various currents of the Left, but allows them to become members only as individuals and not as groups or organizations. The reason for this policy is that the TİP leadership attributes the failure of previous attempts to create a unified party to the factional infighting that arose in the process. Obviously, the right to form factions alone is not sufficient to create a democratic structure, and at times it can be used by groups or people to create problems. But the question is how and in what form different views, especially minority views, can be expressed within the party. Especially today, it is not realistic for anyone to believe that a monolithic party can exist. If different views that inevitably exist are hidden under the table, at some point they will explode. It is a key task for TIP to find a way to openly and democratically discuss different views (that abide to the same principles) in order for it to become a vibrant and politically strong mass party. Ideally, the best way to approach this problem and avoid future splits, is to provide the right of tendencies, groupings and factions to freely exist, to freely express their ideas and be represented proportionately in the leading bodies. This is the only way to avoid the fragmentation that is haunting the Left for decades. We should always remember that the Bolshevik party functioned precisely on the above lines and it is not unrelated that they led the most important revolution in the history of the international working class.
The party programme of TİP states,
“The task the international communist and revolutionary movement has not been able to fulfill for long years is to correlate the current demands of the working-class with its historical interests.
This is a good formulation of the core question about the nature of the program of a mass socialist formation. It goes on to say,
“If this task is not fulfilled and a socialist option, whose aim is to abolish the private ownership of the means of production, is not built against the global capitalist crisis, it is inevitable for the social movements and nonrevolutionary left-wing organisations to be confined to the limits of capitalism. Moreover, the inability to fulfill this task is also the reason why socialist movements are ineffective in social struggles and unable to challenge pro-establishment forces”.
Minimum-Maximum Program: one of the tasks we face in relation to the program of TİP, therefore, is precisely to develop the point mentioned above.
The party program has been formulated in the old form (i.e., before the experience of the October 1917 revolution) of a “minimum” and a “maximum” programme, with the “struggle programme” expressing the current demands of the working class that can be realized within the limits of the capitalist system and the “socialist programme”, expressing the demands that can be realized only after the socialist revolution. In such a programme, the minimum demands become the basis of political work, while socialism, i.e. the maximum programme, is postponed until the revolution. However, the main task is to link the minimum and the maximum programme.
The present programme of TİP, with its statements that
“TİP plays a highly active role in any struggle for basic rights such as right to work, job security, right to unionise, right to collective bargaining, right to earn an adequate standard of living, right to rest and leisure; notes that it is extremely significant to carry out political work on these fields in order to raise the class- consciousness”.
This is all very correct. But the link between today’s current demands and the socialist revolution, correctly identified in the party programme is not clear. This is a deficiency that we need to address.
Transitional programme: What is actually needed is a transitional programme that links today’s immediate needs and demands to the socialist future.
Are demands like the above, mentioned in TİP’s programme, possible to attain under capitalism? Is it possible to achieve equality of the sexes, abolishment of religious sectarianism, racism and nationalism, within the context of the system? Is it ever possible to achieve the conditions of life enjoyed by the working class in the European Union, for example, when these same rights are being smashed in the EU itself? Is it possible to achieve even basic bourgeois democratic rights in the conditions of present-day Turkish capitalism? The answer to all the above is, unfortunately, no!
Our task is to formulate, promote and fight for all the just demands of the Turkish workers, poor and youth, and at the same time explain, in a detailed, scientific and well documented way, that Turkish capitalism has not satisfied these over decades and will not satisfy them in the future; and that therefore, for this reason, it has to be overthrown. Only in conditions of workers/people’s democracy in a socialist society can such demands be satisfied.
In this way socialism becomes not a “good idea” but a necessity, in order to satisfy the most basic needs of the working masses. If we are able to convince the working class of Turkey on this fundamental “method” then we have achieved half our task in preparing the socialist future.
Some perspectives and possibilities
At a time when the 20-year-old regime of Erdoğan is drawing to a close, the building of TİP takes on special significance. The elections, which will take place in a highly politicized and polarized atmosphere, can serve as a catalyst for TİP to develop in the direction of a mass party. In addition to the bourgeois blocs, it appears that two leftist blocs will be participating in the elections. One, is likely to be formed on the initiative of parties such as TKP and SOL, that does not want to join forces with the HDP, while the other will probably be composed of seven socialist leftist parties, along with HDP and TİP. HDP’s high number of votes provides already the basis for a mass electoral appeal for the left parties of the second bloc. This means that apart from HDP, TİP and other left-wing parties can be present in parliament in the coming period.
Although it is difficult to make predictions, TİP’s goal of reaching 3% of the vote will be a challenge. But it is worth and necessary to fight for it. An enthusiastic mobilization is necessary, involving motivated, energetic and committed work in the workplaces, in the neighborhoods, in the universities, in all areas where the working class is present.
At the same time it is also necessary to be prepared for the risk of disappointment if this goal is not reached. One disadvantage for TİP in these elections is the fact that they will essentially be a referendum on the Erdoğan regime, so there is concern among the population that there could be a split in the vote, i.e., there will be massive polarization which will squeeze the smaller parties. Moreover, the recently adopted new electoral law puts small parties at an even more disadvantageous position.
We have already entered a new era in Turkey, regardless of whether the regime will be voted out or not. In the event of the regime’s defeat, we will have a major turning point in this new situation with great opportunities for the Left and for socialist ideas. A transitional government will probably be formed from the established bourgeois opposition parties, which will provide for a two-year transition period. This could lead to a situation in which the left front of HDP, TİP and other left parties would become a mass left opposition in the country. Even if in the new atmosphere of political “stability” we see a certain influx of fresh money into the country the new government will not be able to lead the country out of the crisis, nor will it be able to fulfill the promised democratic and social rights.
Although there have been isolated struggles by workers in Turkey, over the past seven years against layoffs, low wages, precarity and the cost of living, the working-class struggle has largely receded due to the government’s almost total abolition of democratic rights and the establishment of a regime of massive repression. Since a large part of society feels confident that the Erdoğan regime will end with the next elections, sharp class struggles are not expected in the immediate period, although we have to be open about sharp changes due to the global crisis which is developing. In any case, it is very likely that the present low ebb in class struggle will change soon, particularly in the event of a fall of the regime and that there will be major labor struggles, especially in a situation of a world economic crisis and an attempt by the new CHP-led government to implement austerity policies.
The development of TİP has already advanced the discussions for unity among the Left. Not least for this reason, ÖDP has renamed itself into SOL in order to make a new start with the goal of becoming a mass party. The same applies to the search for a new left front on the initiative of TKP and SOL. The consolidation of TİP can lead to further such new left crystallizations and can have an impact internationally. TİP’s progress towards becoming a mass party will also move HDP further to the left.
Considering these prospects, together with the fact that new far-right forces are emerging in the country, especially on the basis of anti-refugee sentiments, one can see the great responsibilities that lie on the shoulders of TİP and all socialist forces.
The necessary objective conditions exist for TİP to become a mass socialist party. The main difficulty at present lies in the subjective factors, and no revolutionary Marxist who recognizes the crucial importance of a mass socialist party in the struggle of the working class can remain indifferent to the development of TİP, despite all the existing difficulties and complications.
TİP is not something static, but is a party in the process of making. It will go through many more phases and is already in the process of a transition to a higher stage. The success or the failure of this transition will be a turning point for the working class. If TIP achieves this goal, it can inspire the working class and poor peasants throughout the whole region and internationally to build similar mass socialist parties.