Erdoğan's 'turn' towards Atatürk
soL News interviewed Kemal Okuyan, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), regarding Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's recent initiative of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.
soL: Erdoğan’s appeal to Atatürk became one of the hottest issues last week. Is this appeal part of a general strategy, and is it possible for it to work out?
Kemal Okuyan: We insistently mention that Erdoğan's behaviours are two-dimensional. The first of these is related with taking positions amid the intra-contradictions of imperialist system and the harsh conflicts between different axis, and with appealing to the quests of Turkey’s capitalist class that wants to develop new initiatives by use of such contradictions. We cannot call this a mere strategy since it is quite inconsistent and short-term. The second of these two dimensions is in parallel with the first one. Erdoğan's entire moves are also linked with his personal salvation, and he has proved that he is willing to do whatever is needed in this direction. He intends to loosen the social block, the resistance of which he could not break at all until today. It is obvious that the reality of Mustafa Kemal has become the binding force for the majority of the social groups in question. Erdoğan is acting with a motive to soften and diminish the influence of this binding force.
soL:Received with "No way!" by everyone, could such a manoeuvre be convincing or influential?
KO: We are not living in a country where we could give an early answer to this question. Above all, Erdoğan consolidated a social group that follows his lead no matter what he does. He integrated democrats, liberals, militarists, nationalists, westernists, Eurasianists and solution-seekers [with reference to the failed process between the AKP government and the Kurdish movement] with his Islamic identity; and nobody asks him, "Hey Reis [Chief], what is this?" This is a challenge to everyone, a show of a grand self-confidence by Erdoğan. However, this also reveals something else: that Erdoğan has always been an Islamist and anti-communist. Always… If he feels hard-pressed, he may attempt to give up on Islamism, yet, which would be too far him to achieve. But he will always remain an enemy of communism.
soL: In brief, you are saying that Erdoğan can get his social base to come to terms with all his masquerades, adding that this is a show of strength. Yet, it seems that Erdoğan's primary focus are groups other than his own basis…
KO: Look, if the issue is discussed merely and simply with regard to electoral arithmetic, it would lead to a huge mistake. Erdoğan's exploration of Atatürk is linked to the fact that he could see the weak point of the block against him; therefore, he might think that this manoeuvre could ease the "peer pressure" he will feel during elections as well. Boasting about "New Turkey" all the time, he and his clique were able to dissolve the Republic but they are now panicking as they are not able to establish what they want instead.
soL: Do you think he could succeed at this point?
KO: Not for certain, but he might. Because Erdoğan is well aware of the weak points and lack of coherence of the block against him. In this respect, Erdoğan's manoeuvre of Atatürk is not a development to be taken lightly at all.
soL: What about those weak points?
KO: The weak point of anti-Erdoğan stance is the inability of breaking with the class that makes Erdoğan himself. The rage of a wide social group is softened, made amorphous and weakened by the capitalist class. The bridges between these social groups and the capitalist class are established by the bourgeois parties. What enables Erdoğan to switch positions so easily is due to the fact that politics that remains within the boundaries of the system is bound to stay the same in essence. By the same token, Erdoğan is not alone in bouncing from one position to another all the time. Those, including some so-called left-wing figures, who criticise him with these motives should look at themselves. Having quietly moved from position to position in the last 20 years, some politicians still appear in public sphere as if nothing happened.
soL: And now, Atatürkism becoming fashionable again does not seem to be restricted only to Erdoğan himself; big companies have issued statements one after another, even some left-liberals, who used to label any discourse on the gains of the Republic or the historical value of Mustafa Kemal as “nationalism”, have started speaking of respect for Mustafa Kemal. Why?
KO: There is no single explanation for this situation. For one thing, we should not forget that millions of people, the majority of whom were unorganized as was seen during the June Resistance [mass anti-government protests in 2013], were inspired by certain symbols while resisting such a reactionary and authoritarian rule; Mustafa Kemal was one of those symbols. That was a very real need. This was a phenomenon that people clung to facing the perception that Justice and Development Party (AKP) was very strong and indefeasible, No one could deal with this phenomenon, including Erdoğan. The TKP stated years ago that making a fuss over Mustafa Kemal or fighting him would be both futile and meaningless. That is a foolish entrapment. It is extremely understandable that some are attempting to break free from this deadlock at the moment, but as long as one stays within the boundaries of this system, it is inevitable that they will end up in some other deadlock one way or the other.
soL: What might be the outcomes considering that Atatürk has become the common basis of all political forces and the whole society in Turkey?
KO: The TKP is allergic to the "common basis". Look, indeed, this society is divided. There are the exploited and the exploiter, the workers and the capitalists. We do not want them to share a common ground. Quite the contrary, we want this division to be reflected on to the political scene. Because, speaking of a common ground between the exploiter and the exploited would stand for approving the inequality between the people. What common ground can there be between those who make profits of over hundreds of millions every year and those who are trying to survive with one thousand five hundred or two thousand Turkish liras a month! Additionally, it is not a good idea to talk about a common ground between the bigots and pro-Enlightenment people, the fascists and the revolutionaries, the pro-NATO forces and the patriots!
soL: Do you think Atatürkism will be exploited in this way, too?
KO: It has been exploited in this way for years. Look, a similar departure point existed for Mustafa Kemal. The proposition "We do not have social classes", did not reflect the reality of Turkey back then. The number of industrial capitalists was very small in the war-torn Anatolia of the 1920’s, but that doesn't mean one can argue that the mercantile bourgeoisie and the big landlords shared the same interests with the workers and poor peasants. Turkey’s Independence War was won by the young Turkish bourgeoisie's ability to link the poor masses to itself. Nevertheless, the bourgeois revolutions have always been so, and these qualities do not decrease their historical values. It is no surprise that the bourgeois revolutions have contradictory characteristics, spinning the wheel of history forward on the one hand, and paving the way for a social system that should be surpassed on the other. Fortunately, we have such a worldview through which we can grasp this fact and put it into its place in a historical manner.
soL: Could it have turned out to be different?
KO: It could have. But we do not have any chance to discuss different alternatives and make arithmetic calculations. One may give a multifaceted answer to the question of whether a socialist break was possible in the beginning of the 1920s in Turkey. Of course, it was possible. Still, if you list the factors that would enable it to come true, you will see the challenges. Raising the socialist alternative at that time in Turkey was both legitimate and indispensable for the communist movement. However, the time was pressing, a resistance holding an utterly different perspective was launched in Anatolia. The Turkish working class was extremely weak and unorganized, the rapid spreading of socialist ideology occurred not on a deep and sound course but on a shallow and occasionally distorted basis; moreover, the leaders of the first socialist state, the Soviet Russia did not consider a socialist alternative to be realistic in Anatolia. It would be nonsense to argue, "What if Mustafa Kemal took this path?" Mustafa Kemal organized the resistance in Anatolia by the way of transforming the decaying Ottoman bureaucracy and the cadres, carrying them to a break with the Ottomans after a certain point. What made Mustafa Kemal stay away from socialism was not the circumstances but his political and ideological orientations. However, it would be nonsense to argue about it. Mustafa Kemal stood on the side of revolution amid the confrontation between revolution and counterrevolution. This is true both in terms of the international level and our geography. No one can change this reality.
soL: But, does not the bloody liquidation of the communists, who took a more progressive position at the time, contradict with this revolutionary position?
KO: We have already stated that bourgeois revolutions have intrinsic contradictions. There is no pure black or white world even though it is sometimes necessary to describe the world as white and black… In historical context regarding the Anatolian geography of the 1920s, is there anyone who can argue that the real fight was waged between labour and capital, or between the Kemalists and the communists? We will never forget January 1921, when Mustafa Suphi [the founder of the Communist Party of Turkey] and his comrades were murdered. Nor will we forget the collaborationists, the court jesters, the reactionary Islamists, the pro-Caliphate forces, those who were terrified of the idea of Republic, and the struggle waged against them. Look, communist poet Nâzımwas not masquerading when he was writing poems about both Mustafa Suphi and Mustafa Kemal. His angry poems about the 15 [the TKP leaders who were murdered in January 1921] were real, so were his other verses, "He looked like a blonde wolf, and his blue eyes were sparkling," [with reference to Mustafa Kemal]… This is what historical consciousness stands for. We have said the same thing, we have stood for the same approach for years.
soL: What would you like to say for today?
KO: The Communist Party of Turkey is against all the attempts which hide the contradiction between labour and capital, which postpone the struggle for socialism in the name of peace and democracy or liberties and so-called independence. We will continue to advocate for and emphasize the historical values of the Republic's foundation and the Kemalist transformations, we will continue to respect the leader of such transformations, but we will not fall for the liberal trap of supposing that Turkey should wage a second national liberation war, and which is designed to reconfirm the domination of capitalist class in Turkey. In this manner, everyone could pretend to be an Atatürkist, to which, we, the TKP, will never resort.
soL: Does not "national liberation" mean resistance against imperialism or a tough stance against Islamism?
KO: Resistance against imperialism must have a class character. Definitely. Without settling scores with the Koç family, the Sabancı family, a dye company [which broadcasted a TV ad with Atatürk images] and the others, without apparently aiming for the emancipation of the toiling people from exploitation, one would be fighting against the windmills like Don Quixote in the name of struggling against imperialism. That is why the anti-.U.S. stance is void of any real context today. Erdoğan also takes advantage of this ambiguity. The U.S. stands at the top of the imperialist hierarchy but the imperialist system is not simply U.S. There is an enormous mobilization within the system. Turkey’s capitalism is an important actor within this mobilization, too. Let's remember what generated both Fethullah Gülen and Erdoğan was the passion of this actor, Turkey's capitalist class, for expansion and growth. Among the [Turkish] capitalists, there are those who are much closer to the U.S., those to Germany, or those turning towards Eurasia… These preferences may vary; what really matters is profit, what matters is the continuation of this system. Indeed, there is a conflict of interest between this class and the working people. The TKP was founded to be the voice and organization of the working people in this conflict, not to be part of fake projects for independence, not to serve this or that capitalist group. Therefore, the TKP, has the responsibility for warning the people who are honestly angry about the U.S. imperialism and NATO, against this trap. There is neither a good imperialist nor a preferable monopolistic capital, arguing that "national liberation is possible" within the economic-political system under their hegemony would mean shooting oneself in the foot. Let’s overthrow this obsolete exploitative system, then you will see how Turkey becomes sovereign and independent.