The following is a Liberation News interview with Ekin Sönmez, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), on the current political situation in Turkey as well as TKP’s activities in ongoing working class struggles in Turkey.
1. Let’s start with the state of bourgeois politics in Turkey. It looks like there will be snap Presidential elections before 2023. There are already talks in the bourgeois opposition for a wide-ranging coalition to defeat Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). How does the TKP assess this development?
Next year will mark the 20th year of AKP rule. In these 20 years, the AKP has committed exploitation, plunder and destruction at a level that many previous bourgeois governments could not. It was the AKP that brought the transformation that started in our country in 1980 to its final point: AKP has a great responsibility in the neoliberal transformations that can be summarized by the lack of organization in social life, privatization of public assets, unlimited exploitation in the labor regime, as well as in opening the door to reaction and turning our region into a war zone.
With these characteristics, 20 years of AKP rule is an unprecedented blessing for the capital. However, it turned out that the path that can be taken with AKP has various dead ends as far as capital is concerned.
There are several reasons for this. First of all, there are internal conflicts about how the cake will be divided, since it is an alliance based on interests, not principles. We witnessed the most striking example of this in the 2016 coup attempt. There is an uneasiness due to this in the capitalist circles and imperialist centers. The capital accumulation model established by the AKP made many bosses rich; however, because the economy is mostly based on the irregular flow of hot money from the reactionary Gulf countries, borrowing in foreign currency, unplanned consumption of public resources, and the construction, tourism and service sectors–instead of production–has not been able to recover since the 2018 crisis. Moreover, the AKP has a staffing problem that renders it incapable of carrying out even the simplest administrative tasks. Just during the pandemic period, they changed the head of the Central Bank many times. Similarly, the ministers cannot stay in their seats. As an extremely stubborn and ambitious politician, Erdoğan’s personal outbursts also create a level of unpredictability, even if that has worked for the AKP so far. Surveys conducted in recent months show that even their own base is in a state of distrust.
This being the case, for the capitalists, a new problem of political representation that can sustain the wheels of exploitation emerges. As I said at the beginning, Erdoğan and the AKP have been the government that provided the greatest service to the capital so far, and they claim that is still the case. However, the opposition, which has so far helped Erdoğan in many ways (including open support for AKP’s foreign policy), now says, “Hey, I am here too, whatever AKP did, I am also ready to do.” This is an opposition that will not have some of the excesses of the AKP government and may be a little more polished, but will not be much different in essence. The “Nation Alliance,” which was established before the 2018 general elections and has become more solidified as an alliance in the past years, should be seen in this light. However, within this alliance, there are deputies of the social democratic CHP (People’s Republic Party, the main opposition) with secular sensitivities; religious leaders of the Felicity Party, the nationalist İyi Parti (Good Party), the HDP (Peoples’ Democracy Party), the party of the Kurdish movement that gives covert support to the alliance. Each of these parties has internal factions…Therefore, we are talking about an alliance that is likely to face similar difficulties as the AKP.
With that in mind, it is necessary to evaluate the elections not as a regular political process that repeats every few years, but on the basis of this political deadlock experienced by the capitalist class. This stalemate cannot last long. Therefore, we can say that the elections will probably take place in 2022, earlier than 2023.
The TKP is of course preparing for the elections. Our main approach to the elections is around that political stalemate I described above, leading to a revolutionary outcome in which the capitalist class is overthrown. With all of our energy, we are working to organize the working people in this direction. On the other hand, we are also doing our best to expose the candidates of the bourgeois alliances for their sham prescriptions for people’s problems, so that our people do not fall for this falsehood. The “Peoples Alliance” (the alliance between AKP and the fascist MHP) and the “Nation Alliance” cannot do politics on behalf of the working people. In that respect, we are working closely with other left and socialist elements in our country. For the elections and beyond, we attach great importance to the growth of an independent left channel that identifies with the values of anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, secularism, patriotism, republicanism and independence.
Since we are talking about elections, it is also important to note the following: In a capitalist country, no matter what type of democracy it is called, it is the capitalist class that rules and the elections are not independent from this rule. Second, the electoral system in Turkey has become tremendously unfair and unreliable, especially during the AKP years. Many examples have emerged, such as the violation of the people’s legitimate right to elect and be elected, the stealing of votes, the cancellation of elections and the Supreme Electoral Council acting as an ‘officer’ of the government, violating the principle of impartiality. There is no guarantee that similar things will not happen in the next election. From our point of view, there is also such a limit to the elections in terms of their political determination.
2. Recently, the TKP issued a call for a front against exploitation, imperialism, religious reaction and for independence, labor and secularism. On September 12, the TKP held a mass rally with the slogan, “Do not postpone, do not waste time, do not settle for less, now is the time for socialism!” This highlighted the actual need for socialism for a truly independent, secular Turkey that guarantees equal rights for everyone. Can you elaborate on the link between all these struggles?
Connected to the previous question, the reason for the destruction, unemployment, poverty, oppression of the workers, the hopelessness of the youth for the future and the threats on women’s lives in our country is clear. Our country has basically undergone an intense increase in the rate of exploitation. Religionism, nationalism, racism and sexism were all of these were used as tools of this transformation which resulted in this current bleak atmosphere.
All of these problems are the result of the capitalist order, and the solution is obvious: A socialist revolution. For this reason, the slogan of the rally we held on September 12, on the occasion of our Party’s one 101st anniversary (which was 10 September 1920), was “Now is the time for socialism!” We need to bring forth the actuality of socialism more often. Socialism is not a slogan that we can hold back on; on the contrary, socialism is the core of our Party program. Our call for a united front is addressed to our friends who share the same concerns as us and see the real liberation of the country in socialism. The left in Turkey needs to break out of being a marginal force as soon as possible and become a real hope for the masses. If we do not do our best to achieve this, unfortunately, it will be inevitable that we regress further.
3. The recent opening ceremony of the judicial year of the Supreme Court, which started with a prayer from the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate who stood alongside President Erdoğan, is a true testimony to the total destruction of secularism in Turkey at the hands of ruling AKP. However, what was also noteworthy was that the leader of the main and social democratic opposition (People’s Republic Party, CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, also ended up participating in that prayer. How does the TKP interpret this?
In fact, the bourgeois opposition’s practice of using religious rhetoric and appealing to conservative sections of society is not new. Secularism had an important place in the founding philosophy of the Republic, but this was an interpretation of secularism that was tied to capital and therefore contained weaknesses. As a matter of fact, by the 1950s, with the clear alignment of our country with the U.S., NATO and Western imperialist camp, organizations that would undermine secularism gained even more power. Religionism was used as the most important weapon against communism, against the upbringing of young people with the ideas of enlightenment and progressivism and against the worker’s demands for rights and the sense of rebellion against injustice. We can use the word “weapon” here in both its literal and metaphorical sense.
Nineteen years of actions by the AKP government, which comes from the Islamic movement and regionally shares the same ideology with the Muslim Brotherhood, have effectively destroyed secularism in Turkey. What is meant here is not just the intrusion of Islamic-Sunni decrees into law, media and politics, and the Religious Affairs Directorate becoming the institution that receives the biggest share from the country’s budget. Giving muftis the right to marry, calling deaths at work places “destiny” (we refer to them as murders), demonizing mixed gender student houses, and calling LGBT people “perverted” are also part of this process. All that must be opposed.
Kılıçdaroğlu, who prayed at the opening of the Supreme Court, had said before, “I don’t think there is a secularism problem in Turkey.” Well, Erdoğan says the same! As a matter of fact, former AKP members, with whom the CHP collaborates under the umbrella of the “Nation Alliance,” come from the Islamist movement, even though they act moderate now. Akşener, another member of the same alliance, who is from the former MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) and nationalist movement, for example, welcomed the transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque that is a world heritage site and was turned into a museum thanks to an enlightened and secular approach in the first years of the Republic. All these examples show that the bourgeois opposition does not really care about the destruction of secularism. In this sense, we can say that the “Nation Alliance” coming to power will not be a remedy for the needs of women and young people who want a secular social life. What our people and the peoples of the region need is secular, working class governments.
4. Women’s rights have also been under severe attack coupled with a skyrocketing violence against women during the AKP’s rule. Following last year’s congress, the TKP had launched the “Women’s Solidarity Committees” initiative. How is this initiative going, especially following Turkey’s exit from the İstanbul Convention?
Liberation news note: İstanbul Convention is an international treaty of the Council of Europe on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence opened for signature on in 2011, in İstanbul, Turkey. Turkey was the first country to sign it.
Following the unanimous decision on a proposal made by the Working Women’s Bureau at our 13th Congress held in 2020, we started establishing the Women’s Solidarity Committees (WSCs). The exploitation, oppression and violence that women are subjected to has reached embarrassing levels in Turkey. We are tired of reading in the media about a new woman being murdered every single day, reading that the murderer received a reduced sentence the next day and seeing the murderer posing with important figures of AKP the day after.
Of course, working women from the Party and our friends around us are also directly involved in this situation. WSCs were established to fight against the grievances created in the lives of women, to wage a political struggle against the real causes of these grievances, but at the same time to help one another and to become centers of resistance and solidarity. In some places, WSC’s demanded the right to a nursery from the municipality, in some places workshops were organized to teach Turkish to refugee women and in some places, through WSCs, we provided legal support to women who were subjected to violence. And we did not allow any of these activities to be run outside the political context they are linked to. Because what we need is for women who are targeted by this order, whose lives are under threat in this order, to stand against that order as political subjects.
As of now, there are over 70 WSCs, and our goal is to increase this number to over 100 by the end of the year.
As far as the Istanbul Convention goes, the AKP’s decision to withdraw from it caught the attention of the whole world. Exiting a convention like that, which was accepted by the Council of Europe, is a sensational step. However, from our point of view, this was nothing but confirming the obvious: Even if the Istanbul Convention is a contract on the basis of human rights and within the limited framework of bourgeois law, it was still too much for the AKP. The reality of Turkey also clearly showed that the purpose of the convention–namely the prevention of violence against women–was not taken serious at all. The government got a lot of backlash and tried to legitimize its decision by saying, “We know how to prevent violence with our own methods.” However, it is necessary to see that Turkey’s exit from the Convention is a serious step back. So, is the scope of the Istanbul Convention sufficient for us? It certainly is not. Unless one changes the class basis, the relations of exploitation and the historical inequalities at work and in social life at their roots, one can only partially prevent violence against women. Indeed, the fact that a country like France, which prides itself on being democratic, is facing a serious problem of femicide, is an example of this. Our demands must be radical, not limited. The text of the “Women’s Decisions for Equality and Freedom” published by the WSCs elaborate the next steps to be taken in great detail.
5. The TKP continues to establish new District, Village and Workers’ houses all over the country to organize more workers in their workplaces, neighborhoods and villages. Can you tell us more about these houses and their impact in the working class struggles as well as the growth of the TKP?
The District, Village and Workers’ Houses are the main organizational tools of the Party. We can say that this decision we took in 2018 has greatly benefited our organization. The TKP is and will remain a Leninist party. As a requirement of this, we could not stay in fixed templates and had to find creative ways to connect with the lives of the workers. District Houses emerged as an intervention to the concrete situation.
The workers, who are being separated and isolated from each other day by day in the capitalist order, need to come together, act together and regain the culture of organization. The District Houses are aimed at creating such a culture as modest places established in settlements of several thousand people and maintained by the workers’ own means. At the same time, each District House should become the venue for organizing the struggle and the meeting and gathering place for the workers in the neighborhood, district or village it is located in. A District House should also serve as a means to help the local youth acquire advanced habits that are free from the consumption culture of the bourgeoisie and lumpenism.
With the organization we have established through some of our district houses in the past three years, we had a significant impact at the administrative level in those neighborhoods. The District Houses established solidarity networks to defend the rights for health, education and culture which were under attack especially during the pandemic.
Finally, the District Houses have been very useful in destroying the wrong, distorted perceptions about communism and communists which especially help the bourgeoisie. We will continue to work for the opening of Neighborhood Houses wherever there are communists.