On Erdogan’s Bonapartist Regime
—Breitman and Riley, 8 March 2017
“The correct characterization of the coup is not one of democracy defeating dictatorship. Two despotic forces faced each other and the more gradualist one won. Anyone who dares to talk about the triumph of democracy in Turkey is lying and deceiving the whole world. This episode was the result of a long-drawn out civil war between the two sides of what we as DIP (Revolutionary Workers’ Party) have been calling the (bloodless) civil war of the bourgeoisie…. reduced to its kernel, this coup was a struggle unto death of, on the one hand, those forces within the Turkish ruling classes who choose to anchor Turkey strategically to the imperialist West as opposed to, on the other, the up and rising fraction of the Turkish bourgeoisie who have cast their fate with Erdoğan and are looking for a future in which Turkey rules the Sunni Islamic world…. This is why the outcome of the 15 July episode was not democracy defeating despotism, but the victory of the more gradualist despotism in the face of a more abrupt repression of all democratic forms.”
“As opposed to the immediate ending of any semblance of democracy that the coup represented, Erdoğan’s is a long-drawn-out strategy of infusing extremely anti-democratic substance into seemingly formal democratic structures. “
—“Turkey: A War of Two Coups,” posted Jul 20, 2016 by Sungur Savran https://mronline.org/2016/07/20/savran200716-html/
We all agree that the recent Turkish coup was an intra-bourgeois conflict in which neither side had a track record that suggested much commitment to bourgeois democracy. Comrades who advocate a military bloc with Erdogan on 16 July 2016 coup have been clear this is not because they in any way approve President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s record or regime, but rather because military coups against elected governments must tend to destroy whatever bourgeois-democratic gains exist and thereby inevitably threaten the organizations of the working class. This formula, while generally true, is not automatically or universally applicable—the particular features of each concrete situation must be taken into account.
The 2016 coup did not come as a bolt from the blue. It was the latest episode in a long-running series of struggles within Turkey’s ruling elites that predate the Young Turk “Revolution” of 1908. Since that time Turkey has experienced a number of military coups of sometimes sharply different character, both in terms of their impact on working-class interests and on bourgeois-democratic rights and institutions.
‘Young Turk’ Officer Corps: Ersatz Bourgeois Revolutionaries
Throughout much of the 19th Century the Ottoman Empire (centered in Turkey), was known as the “sick man of Europe.” The empire’s military had suffered a long string of defeats, and lost a lot of territory, chiefly to Tsarist Russia:
“At the end of the nineteenth century the ruling Muslim community of the Ottoman empire was gripped by anxiety. Their state had been in retreat for two centuries. Every time a province was lost, waves of Muslim refugees poured into the sultan’s remaining possessions.”
—Ataturk, Andrew Mango, 1999, p 10
One important reason the sultan’s empire did not collapse entirely was because it had the political support of the British Empire, which needed a counterweight to the expansive Tsarist Empire in the “Great Game” played by London and Moscow for control of India and adjoining Asian territories:
“Until the end of the nineteenth century Britain had pursued the policy of supporting Ottoman territorial integrity against Russian encroachments towards Istanbul and the straits, which would have guaranteed Russia free access from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. But the diplomatic equation changed dramatically in the last quarter of the nineteenth century with German unification and the creation of the German Empire. The balance of power, which had provided stability in Europe after Napoleon’s defeat, was damaged irreparably. Faced with the German challenge, Britain began to repair relations with its imperial rivals, France and Russia.”
—The Future of Turkish Foreign Policy, Lenore G. Martin, and Dimitris Keridis (chapter 2), MIT Press, 2004
The prospect of Britain repairing its relationship with Russia at the expense of further losses of Ottoman territory galvanized a section of the sultan’s officer corps known as the “Young Turks” (“Yeni osmanhlar”). They resented the corrupt and incompetent feudalist ruling strata, and thought that by removing the sultan’s regime the road would be opened for the development of a modern, industrialized Turkey that could hold its own against its Western European rivals. The Young Turks played a prominent role in Turkey’s “constitutional revolution” of July 1908 which overturned the sultan and introduced a form of parliamentary rule.
A leading component of the “Young Turks,” was the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which had an ambitious agenda:
“to reform and modernize the empire so as to abandon the status of client for that of partner to the Great Powers. The Unionists saw their empire as potentially the ‘Japan of the Middle East.’”
Russia’s unexpected defeat by the forces of Emperor Meiji in 1905 had delighted the Young Turks who were particularly impressed by Japan’s success in replicating the technology of the west while still retaining its distinctive cultural identity. The CUP aspired to modernize the decrepit Ottoman Empire and identified the resistance to the adoption of European science, technology and forms of political organization by the sultan and the Islamic clerical hierarchy as the chief obstacle.
In a contemporary account, Trotsky observed that in the 1908 revolution the young officers played the role history assigned to the rising bourgeoisie in earlier revolutions against feudalist autocrats:
“By the tasks which it must achieve (economic independence, the unity of nation and state, and political freedoms), the Turkish revolution corresponds to the self determination of the bourgeois nation and in this sense points to its links with the traditions of the 1789 and 1848 revolutions. But the army, led by its officers, functioned like the executive body of the nation, and that gave events from the start the planned character of military manoeuvres.”
—“The Young Turks,” 3 January 1909
Trotsky drew attention to the fact that Turkey’s marginal bourgeoisie barely had any role in the struggle to break the grip of the sultan’s archaic regime:
“a new social class did not have to overcome the armed resistance of the Ancien Régime but, on the contrary it could be satisfied with the role of supporting chorus for the revolutionary officers who led their men against the government of the Sultan.
“In its historical origins and its traditions, Turkey is a military state. Currently, it is the first among the European Nations as regards the relative size of its army. A large army requires a considerable number officers some of whom had risen from the ranks because of long service. But the Yildiz (the Palace of the Sultan), in spite of its barbaric resistance to the needs of historical development, was forced to Europeanise its army to a certain extent and to open it to educated people….The unimportance of Turkish industry and low level of urban culture left the Turkish intelligentsia with hardly any other choice than a military or civil service career. So the State organized at its centre the militant vanguard of the bourgeois nation in process of formation: the critical and dissatisfied intelligentsia.”
A few weeks earlier Trotsky contrasted Tsarist Russia, where the vigorous young proletariat had played the pivotal role in the 1905 revolution, with Turkey:
“In Russia it was the proletariat that came forward as the chief fighter for the revolution. In Turkey, however, as I have already mentioned, industry exists only in embryonic form, and so the proletariat is small in numbers and weak. The most highly educated elements of the Turkish intelligentsia, such as teachers, engineers, and so on, being able to find little scope for their talents in schools or factories, have become army officers. Many of them have studied in West European countries and become familiar with the regime that exists there–only, on their return home, to come up against the ignorance and poverty of the Turkish soldier and the debased conditions of the state. This has filled them with bitterness; and so the officer corps has become the focus of discontent and rebelliousness.”
—“The Turkish Revolution and the Tasks of the Proletariat,” 17 December 1908
The military’s role in introducing bourgeois democracy largely accounts for the limitations and chronic deformations the various iterations of the Turkish parliamentary system have exhibited over the decades. For a century the military assumed the role of mentor and guardian, freely intervening to prevent either the Islamist right, or the secular left gaining too much influence.
As Trotsky observed, the Turkish military caste did not act to advance its own narrow sectoral interests but rather as the representative of:
“the most advanced classes in society: merchants, craftsmen, workmen, sections of the administration and of the clergy and finally masses in the countryside exemplified by the peasantry.
“But all these classes bring with them, not simply their ‘sympathy’ but also their interests, their claims and their hopes. Their social aspirations, stifled for a long time, are now openly expressed while a Parliament provides them an arena to put them forward.”
—“The Young Turks,” 3 January 1909
Here Trotsky touched on the nub of the problem for Turkey’s ersatz democratizers: simply importing parliamentary forms into a relatively backward society does not automatically solve, and can often aggravate, political contradictions. While allowing various layers of the population a means to vent their angst, it can also sharpen social tensions.
Kemalism v Islamic Traditionalism: A House Divided
In the late Ottoman empire there was a great deal of anxiety:
“Everywhere, Muslims were haunted by the thought that they were losing the state….’How can the state be saved?’ was the question Muslims asked themselves. But when Ottoman reformers tried to save their dominions by adopting European ways, Muslim conservatives saw another threat, that of losing their traditional religion….”
—Ataturk, Andrew Mango, 1999, p 11
The Young Turks were not particularly radical. They did not propose any sort of radical land reform, nor did they seriously infringe on the prerogatives of the Islamic hierarchy. Nevertheless, the modernizing young officers, and their attempts to arrest the disintegration of the empire, antagonized the clerics and other traditionalists. This schism has in various forms, persisted for the past century, and continues to manifest itself today.
After unsuccessfully attempting to sign on as a British ally in the run-up to World War I, the Ottoman Empire ended up with the Central Powers. When the fighting finally ended, the victorious Allied victors imposed the punitive Treaty of Sèvres on the Turks, which the sultan reluctantly signed. The treaty not only stripped away all the empire’s remaining provinces, it also carved up the Turkish heartland, and left the sultan to preside over only a rump territory.
When elements of the Turkish military rejected the deal and revolted against the British occupiers, the sultan dispatched General Mustafa Kemal, who had distinguished himself in the war, to liquidate the dissidents. Instead he switched sides, proclaimed a provisional government and eventually triumphed over the Allies and their proxies in “the Turkish War of Independence.” In this struggle, which successfully regained most Turkish territory, Kemal was backed by the big landowners and the officer corps. He also received substantial material and political support from the young Soviet workers’ state under Lenin and Trotsky.
Kemal railed against the crimes of the international bourgeoisie, declared his friendship for working people, and enrolled in the anti-imperialist alliance of the peoples of the East. But he also took the precaution of liquidating the leadership of the fledgling Turkish Communist Party, banning trade unions, repressing radical peasant leaders, and illegalizing the Kurdish language.
In November 1922 Kemal abolished the Sultanate and the next year proclaimed a republic, brushing aside the ineffectual opposition of the Islamic clergy. In 1923 Turkey signed the treaty of Lausanne with the Allies and Mustapha Kemal (who later took the name Kemal Ataturk) was elected as the first president of the republic.
The next year, in response to a fatwa issued by Sheik-ul-Islam (spiritual leader of all Muslims) directing the faithful to resist the secularizing regime, Kemal abolished the caliphate, the Islamic equivalent to the papacy. His regime then embarked upon a top-down modernization program aimed at breaking the power of the clergy and narrowing the gap between Turkey and the leading European powers.
“Religious brotherhoods were declared illegal, and forced underground; Islamic courts were dissolved. Women were given the right to vote, polygamy was banned and Muslim women were given the right to marry non-Muslim men. The Muslim calendar was replaced by the European one….”
—The New Turkey, 2005, Chris Morris p 36
Sharia law was replaced by a Westernized legal code and religious attire was banned. Education was made free, and attendance mandatory. Attaturk’s modernization program was fiercely resented by conservatives and clerical authorities. As Morris observes, in only a few years, “centuries of tradition were swept away, and the dust never had a chance to settle.” Ataturk’s “relentless drive toward modernity” and forcible secularization of a largely peasant society was, from the beginning, accompanied by “autocratic tendencies and democratic flaws that still live on in the system today.”
The parliamentary system established in 1923, under which 24 national elections have been held to date, was, from the outset, a system of managed democracy. Voters elected deputies who passed legislation, but the Kemalist military reserved the right to override any decisions they did not like:
“The military has been the ultimate arbiter on the political scene for years. Generations of officers have been taught that they have a mission, and a sacred duty: to ensure that the vision of Ataturk is fulfilled…. Secularism and national unity have to be protected at all costs—the enemies are fundamentalism and ethnic separatists who seek to tear the country apart.”
—Morris, p 39
Turkey’s bonapartist regime underwent a limited democratic evolution after Ataturk’s death in 1938:
“The old Turkish regime, founded by Mustafa Kemal but revised in subsequent decades, was based on a homogenizing secular nationalism. Thoroughly authoritarian in the beginning, it came to lean on democratic support after the 1940s. Despite the old regime’s common (and flat) portrayal as top-down and outright authoritarian, it is best viewed as a hybrid regime, a ‘democratic authoritarianism’ where authoritarianism outweighed democracy, even if the exact makeup depended on conjuncture and balance of forces.
“Since the 1930s, the dominant sectors within this [ruling] bloc – the military leadership, the modernizing layers of the civil bureaucracy, an officially protected industrial bourgeoisie and a West-oriented intelligentsia – have favored a more or less authoritarian exclusion of religion from the public sphere. The bloc’s subordinate sector – conservative elements of the bureaucracy and professional middle class, an export-oriented bourgeoisie, merchants and provincial notables – tended to advocate a larger space for Islam, albeit still under ‘secular’ control. The subordinate bloc also mobilized broader popular layers – workers, peasants, artisans, the unemployed, small provincial entrepreneurs, clerics – against the dominant sector and often succeeded in extracting concessions from it.”
—“Gülenism: The Middle Way or Official Ideology?” Cihan Tuğal (Chapter 4 in The Making of a Protest Movement in Turkey: #occupygezi), pp 51-2
Ataturk had his clerical opponents down but they were never out, because they retained a popular base, particularly in rural areas:
“The old religious orders—the tarikats—were formally abolished in 1925 at the height of Kemal Ataturk’s great revolution, but they never went away. Ancient sects…(better known to outsiders as the Whirling Dervishes) survived as underground organizations during the early crusading years of the secular state. They gained more confidence during the gradual liberalization of the system under the Democrat Party in the 1950s, and they came into their own again in the 1980s as Islam was re-established permanently in the public domain.
“….Although still technically illegal, they now run well-established foundations and charitable institutions, and play an important role in the lives of many Turks.
“So the politicians court the tarikat vote.”
—Morris, p 76
In 1945 the door was opened for other parties to compete with the Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP). The next year a small group of CHP dissidents launched the rightist Democratic Party (DP).
“By 1950, the Democratic Party had come to portray itself as the champions of the Turkish people, resentful of the CHP and ruling elite classes, despite the fact that most of its leaders were members of this same bureaucratic class. The Democratic Party exploited the CHP’s association with Westernization, a source of hostility for the public and a sign they were losing touch with their citizenry.”
A Tale of Three Coups: 1960, 1971 & 1980
The Democrats won a landslide victory in the 1950 election with the help of the tarikat vote. They remained in power throughout the 1950s and gradually eased restrictions on observant Muslims. After a decade in power the DP began to lose popularity:
“The policies pursued under the DP rule had led to high inflation rates, shortages of critical goods, and poor economic development. Additionally, the DP government began showing a deep authoritarian streak. In the years ahead [after 1955], the DP increasingly suppressed opposition within their own party and with that of rival parties and stifled the press.
“On May 27, 1960, the DP government was overthrown by military group called the National Unity Committee, led by General Cemal Gürsel. The military feared that the founding principles of the Turkish Republic were being eroded, and there was growing public dissatisfaction with [DP prime minister Adnan] Menderes’ perceived intolerance of criticism. The military junta stayed in power for the next eighteen months, trying several top DP leaders for unconstitutional rule and high treason.”
The military coup led, somewhat paradoxically, to a further democratization of Turkish society:
“DP was accused of violating the principles of Kemal Ataturk, making concessions to Islamist groups and not protecting the secular principles of the Republic…The coup had a complex effect on Turkish democracy. Although it was an antidemocratic act by definition, the new constitution that was adopted in the Turkish parliament in its aftermath offered a liberal approach to political rights and freedom, and thus contributed to the overall democratization process in Turkey. The same liberal approach also helped the Islamists to gain further visibility within the exiting political system without too much fear of repression, and later enabled them to break ranks with the right-wing political parties to establish their own organization.”
—Democratic Consolidation in Turkey, pp 327-8, Muge Aknur ed
The liberalization that followed the 1960 coup created more favorable conditions for organizing by both Islamists and the working class. Under the military’s new constitution, trade unions were legalized for the first time and door was opened for the workers’ movement to organize its own party:
“After the military coup of 1960, the Trade Union Act no 274 and the Collective Bargaining, Strikes and Lockouts Act no 275 were enacted in 1963. These recognised the right to strike and to engage in collective bargaining and facilitated a dramatic increase in union membership, which exceeded one million by 1971. The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK) was founded in 1967 after a strike at a glass factory resulted in a split within TÜRK-İŞ. Organising mainly private sector workers, DİSK adopted an overtly radical position. It took strong militant action and supported the socialist Turkish Labour Party (TİP), some of whose founding members were DİSK leaders.”
—Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Trade Unions in Turkey, https://www.igmetall.deFES_Laenderbericht_Tuerkei_d59ec85d3b1af938695d17f0fc28f8a5cadabc63.pdf
The junta’s constitution substantially broadened democratic rights:
“The new state was described as a ‘social state’; it gave greater civil rights than ever before, autonomy to the universities and the rights for students to organize associations, and workers enjoyed the right to strike. In this environment of political freedom, workers and leftist intellectuals united to form a socialist party, the WPT [aka TIP], and provided an ideological alternative to the debate on political life framed in the past on Kemalist terms.”
—Feroz Ahmad , Turkey – The Quest for Identity, pp 126-7
An upsurge in class struggle during the 1960s by trade unions and leftists was:
“countered on the right by Islamist and militant nationalist groups. The left carried out bombing attacks, robberies and kidnappings; from the end of 1968, and increasingly during 1969 and 1970, left-wing violence was matched and surpassed by far-right violence, notably from the [fascist] Grey Wolves. On the political front, Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel‘s centre-right Justice Party government, re-elected in 1969, also experienced trouble. Various factions within his party defected to form splinter groups of their own, gradually reducing his parliamentary majority and bringing the legislative process to a halt.
“By January 1971, Turkey appeared to be in a state of chaos. The universities had ceased to function. Students emulating Latin American urban guerrillas robbed banks and kidnapped US servicemen, also attacking American targets. The homes of university professors critical of the government were bombed by neo-fascist militants. Factories were on strike and more workdays were lost between 1 January and 12 March 1971 than during any prior year. The Islamist movement had become more aggressive and its party, the National Order Party, openly rejected Atatürk and Kemalism, infuriating the armed forces.”
—Wikipedia, “1971 Turkish military memorandum”
In March 1971 the military issued a law and order “memorandum” and intervened against the left and workers’ movement in an attempt to restore a strong regime. The Kemalist CHP won the next election two years later and so formed a new government:
“Nevertheless, the very same problems highlighted in the memorandum re-emerged. A fragmented party system and unstable governments held hostage by small right-wing parties contributed to political polarization. The economy deteriorated, the Grey Wolves escalated and intensified political terrorism as the 1970s progressed, and left-wing groups too carried out acts aimed at causing chaos and demoralization. In 1980, seeking once again to restore order, the military carried out yet another coup.
The failure of death squad assassinations and Grey Wolves’ terror to derail a rising wave of class struggle prompted the military command to launch a murderous Pinochet-style coup. This time the Kemalist officers openly courted clerical support:
“After the military coup in 1980 anyone perceived as a ‘leftist’ was purged from the state system, left-wing organizations were shut down en masse and the power of the radical left collapsed. Members of the intelligentsia were hounded, and clear limits were placed on individual freedoms. Instead the secular guardians in the military chose to put the emphasis on traditional values—and that meant mixing Turkish nationalism with religion. They introduced compulsory religious education for all primary and secondary school pupils; they allowed special Koranic schools and many more religious high schools to open; and another mosque-building boom began. But by emasculating the left so completely, the military helped the Islamists to attract the votes of the discontented.”
—Morris, pp 72-3
The savage repression unleashed by the 1980 coup dealt the workers’ movement a blow it has yet to fully recover from. The Islamist opposition, judged a less dangerous foe, was able to gradually emerge as the main vehicle for expressions of disenchantment with the Kemalist status quo.
Erbakan: Godfather of Turkey’s Islamic Revival
Turkey’s first Islamist political party, the National Order Party (MNP), was launched by Necmettin Erbakan (who was to dominate Islamist politics for 30 years) in January 1970. When the Constitutional Court outlawed the MNP, Erbakan created the National Salvation Party (MSP) which was in turn succeeded by the Welfare Party (RP) in the 1980s. In the 1996 election the RP won a plurality and Erbakan became prime minister.
“Once in power, Erbakan proved that the secularist fears had not been exaggerated. He soon turned most of his attention to promoting and financing Turkey’s Islamic revival. During his tenure in power, he sought to strengthen the role of Islam in the state apparatus and in society. Since Welfare’s victory in the 1994 municipal elections, there had been a systematic Islamization of local government institutions where it was in power.”
—“Turkey Transformed: The Origins and Evolution of Authoritarianism and Islamization Under the AKP,” Bipartisan Policy Center, October 2015, p 27
In early 1997 Erbakan began floating proposals of restoring Shari’a law—a direct violation of the constitution. This suggestion, strongly endorsed by the Iranian ambassador, alarmed the military leadership, which issued a memo demanding the government reverse its anti-secular course. In this case the mere threat of military intervention proved sufficient to force Erbakan to step down. This was dubbed a “postmodern coup.”
The long-standing division within the Turkish bourgeoisie expressed in the rivalry between the RP and CHP in the 1990s parallels in the polarization in the ruling class that underlay the 2016 coup:
“The conflict was rooted to a significant extend in the demands of a class of businessmen who identified as Islamic. Small-scale businessmen in the provinces across Turkey, which tended to be more religious, had revolted against the Istanbul big businesses, which tended to be more secular and Western-oriented. Thus, these economic differences reinforced a deeper confrontation between Westernization and indigenous Islamic culture…
“It was the emergence of an Islamist business class that Erbakan leveraged to build the support and constituency for his entry into politics….Erbakan exhorted the state to support the growth of small businesses by investing in the heavy industrialization of rural Anatolia, and he called for policies that would spread capital and break the concentration of economic power to the urban centers.”
—“Turkey Transformed,” p 24
In 1997 the Kemalist establishment was able to push back the RP’s creeping Islamification:
“With some popular support, the military intervened in 1997 and started a process of ‘postmodern coup’ (as it was officially dubbed) that stretched through several years and included measures such as the removal of the government, the closing down of the Welfare Party, mass arrests and harassment of Islamic activists, closer military monitoring of parties and associations and the gradual securitization of all society (such as dress checkpoints at university entrances, which primarily targeted religiously covered women, but also anybody who seemed to be dressed irregularly).”
—Cihan Tuğal, p 53
Erbakan did not hesitate to step on toes in order to advance his agenda as fast as possible. But as Morsi discovered a few years ago, moving too fast can backfire by galvanizing opposition:
“The Islamists’ brief tenure in power is now mainly remembered because it was forced from office by the military. But while the military was an influential force, it was far from the only reason Erbakan failed. What is now often ignored is the unprecedented radicalism of the Welfare Party while in power. Staffing the bureaucracy with Islamists, talking about Sharia’a, and intimidating its opponents, Erbakan and the RP showed the thuggish nature of their party. Their defeat was in great part a result of their overreach and left a bitter aftertaste among the Turkish electorate.”
—“Turkey Transformed,” p 28
Erdogan’s AKP–Islamist Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Erdogan and other younger Islamists drew a lesson from the 1997 reversal—Erbakan’s mistake had been to push too hard too soon. It would be better, they thought, to proceed more gradually while creating a moderate image. When they launched a new party in 2001 they adjusted both their program and its presentation:
“After the  coup, when it became clear that larger concessions were necessary to win the toleration of the ruling elite, a new generation of Islamists began to challenge the old leadership. The former radicals were quick to adopt a free market, ‘moderate Muslim’ position. Prominent among them were Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Abdullah Gul and Bulent Arınc, all of them differentiated from the old guard by their professionalism, media savvy and attentiveness to the pro-business agenda.
“These leaders established the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, henceforth AKP).
—“Gülenism: The Middle Way or Official Ideology?” Cihan Tuğal (Chpt 4 in The Making of a Protest Movement in Turkey pp 53-4)
Erdogan in particular was well known as a hard Islamist from his days as the mayor of Istanbul in the mid-1990s:
“Plenty of people still remember the fiery young activist who wouldn’t shake hands with a woman, and thought Turkey should be looking east rather than west. He was photographed sitting at the feet of the [pathologically misogynist] Afghan warlord Gulbeddin Hekmatyar, and when he became mayor of Istanbul he quickly banned alcohol from city-run cafes and restaurants. But… Erdogan insists that he has changed. He now comes across as a pragmatist, and a proud nationalist….”
—Morris, p 61
The AKP’s posture as a pragmatic “big tent” party for a wide variety of conservative interests, made it more successful than its predecessors almost immediately:
“The new leadership reclaimed the territory of the center-right in Turkish politics – in effect, reconstituted an updated version of that alliance of provincial businessmen, religious intellectuals and the state elite at which the subordinate fraction of the ruling power bloc had traditionally aimed but which had become impossible with the rise of radical Islamism. Now, this alliance could also offer to strengthen the hand of the neoliberal and export-oriented sectors of Turkish capital. Large numbers of center-right politicians, intellectuals and supporters soon swelled its ranks.”
—Cihan Tuğal, pp 53-4
Promising to provide effective, vigorous and democratic leadership the AKP won the national election of 2002, the year after it was founded. Erdogan was cagey when discussing his supposed evolution from an overtly Islamist past. In 2004 when asked if he were still a fundamentalist he responded: “We’re not a party based on religious values. When I’m at home, I’m a Muslim; when I’m in the office, I work for democracy” (Morris, p 62). This was more palatable (if less candid) than his earlier remark that “Democracy is merely a train that we ride until we reach our destination.”
Many people had a concern about Erdogan: “Is he practicing political takkiye—the idea that a Muslim can hide his real opinion to gain a practical advantage?” There were other questions as well:
“Why does he always mention religion in his speeches…? Why does he give senior positions in the state bureaucracy to people who don’t support the secular system? And why … [does he sometimes advance] an Islamist agenda—trying to get more religious students into universities or supporting plans to make adultery a crime?”
—Morris, pp 62-3
The answer is now pretty obvious. But for the first decade of its rule the AKP leadership moved very carefully in attempting to meld Turkish nationalism and Muslim identity. Erdogan carefully presented himself as a religious conservative who was committed to democratizing Turkey in order to meet the requirements for joining the European Union.
An uptick in economic growth during the AKP’s first term broadened its support. So did its alliance with the Hizmet, an Islamic movement headed by imam Fethullah Gulen. The Gulenists advocacy of a more liberal, pro-Western strain of Islam than that of the AKP and its predecessors helped broaden Erdogan’s appeal. Gulen’s teachings included:
“a scientific (some would say positivistic) understanding of Islam, a silent (rather than armed and public) struggle against the Left, support for the center-right (rather than an independent Islamic political party), a synthesis of the Sufi and textualistic elements of Islam and an overall strategy that focuses (at least publicly) on Islamicizing the individual rather than the state.”
—Cihan Tuğal, p 57
The Gulenists had supported both the 1980 coup against the left and the 1997 coup against the AKP’s predecessor:
“One of the many medium-sized religious communities in Turkey at the end of the 1970s, Gulenists rose to prominence thanks to their support for Kenan Evren’s military intervention in 1980. Their businesses and civic activities also benefited from [Turkish premier and subsequently president (1983-1993)] Turgut Ozal’s neoliberal policies (which were possible only after the 1980 coup). The [Gulen] community was locked in what seemed to be a fatal battle with anti-regime Islamic forces in the 1980s and 1990s. This culminated in its support for the anti-Islamist military intervention in 1997 and the pro-military coalition government of 1999. Throughout these years, the community also supported the military’s war with the Kurdish guerilla.”
—Cihan Tuğal, p 58
The failure of the military to reciprocate the Gulenists’ friendly overtures eventually led them into the embrace of the AKP:
“The Gulenists’ stance changed as the military kept on persecuting them along with the Islamists. A few years into the coalition government, the community changed sides and merged its forces with a splinter Islamist party (now the governing party in Turkey, AKP), which had itself moved very close to Gulen’s understanding of religion, society, economy and politics….”
—Cihan Tuğal, p 58
Gulen’s movement was composed of many talented professionals who, with AKP assistance found positions in the state apparatus, thus helping consolidate the regime. For years the AKP leadership moved slowly, but methodically, to incrementally strengthen their position without prematurely alarming any potential targets:
“The AKP-Gülen partnership began maneuvering in the mid-2000s to take control of the military and judicial system. They promoted Hizmet members within these two spheres as a counterweight to Kemalist influence, and as a way to increase pressure on other secular voices.”
“This authoritarian course revealed itself as early as 2005, when laws were first introduced to make the prosecution of dissidents easier. This was followed by the constitutional changes of 2010, which effectively allowed both AKP and Gülenists unfettered control of the judiciary by making parliament directly responsible for the composition of Turkey’s highest tribunal, the constitutional court.”
—Journal of Middle East Politics and Policy [December 2016]- http://hksjmepp.com/turkey-erdogan-repression/
AKP’s Culture Wars: Playing the Long Game
Erdogan’s regime placed a high priority on the religious indoctrination of students. In a February 2012 announcement of plans for reforming the educational system, Erdogan forthrightly described his objective as “raising pious generations.” According to the Economist (4 February 2016):
“As mayor of Istanbul, Mr Erdogan once said he would like every state school to become an imam hatip, a vocational high school with an emphasis on religious training. When such schools first opened in the 1950s, the idea was to supply mosques with preachers. When the AK party took power, they accounted for barely 2% of Turkey’s students. Following a series of reforms, that proportion has risen fivefold, to more than 1m students. Some 1,500 non-religious schools have been converted to imam hatips. Thanks to a well-endowed charity run by Mr Erdogan’s son, these schools are often better equipped than ordinary state ones. Some parents now find they have no choice.”
Students enrolled in secular institutions are also being exposed to more religious indoctrination:
“While the imam-hatip schools are growing rapidly, the reforms also greatly expanded the religious content of academic high schools. And in this regard, Turkey is going directly against a judgement of the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 2007 that Turkey’s compulsory classes in religious education, which featured only education in the tenets of Sunni Islam, violated the religious rights of minorities.”
—“Turkey Transformed,” p 61
Another major arena in the AKP’s drive to push an Islamist agenda is through the reassertion of male supremacy in both the household and workplace. One reflection of this campaign is the fact that the murder of women soared 1,400 percent in the seven years following the election of the AKP in 2002, according to Ministry of Justice statistics. On this issue, as on many others, Erdogan chose not to beat around the bush, but rather to openly proclaim his reactionary views:
“Advocates for women’s rights and critics of the AKP’s social policy most often point to remarks Erdogan made in 2014, in which he declared that women are not equal to men. ‘You cannot put women and men on an equal footing. It is against nature,’ Erdogan said in an Istanbul speech where he also accused feminists of rejecting motherhood.
“Since 2008, Erdogan has repeatedly called on women in Turkey to have three children to combat Turkey’s shrinking population….Likewise, he has railed against abortion, cesarean sections, and birth control, which he publicly declared as treason in December 2014.”
—“Turkey Transformed,” p 65
The AKP has been promoting a return to traditional Islamic values since it took office. But the methods shifted as Erdogan’s position became more secure:
“Prior to 2012, Islamization was mainly driven by the shifting of the incentive structure in society…. Beards and headscarves were now subtly, and often less-than-subtly, encouraged. The latte became the most important symbolic issue: Men whose wives did not wear them were rapidly made aware that they were not ‘on the team,’ and many adjusted accordingly. Similarly, an economy was built in which secular business interests were not directly attacked, but certainly fell out of favor; government contracts filled the important function on building up the ‘pious’ bourgeoisie supporting the AKP and Erdogan.”
“But it is increasingly clear that Turkey’s descent towards a Sunni sectarian foreign policy [supporting the Islamist insurgents in Syria] in 2011-2012 also contributed to speeding up the policies of Islamization at home. Just as the 2011 Arab upheavals accelerated the return to the AKP’s ideological roots in foreign policy terms, the perception of a major historical event taking shape, which Turkey was destined to lead, also helped crush many of the remaining inhibitions about more over Islamic policies on the domestic front. This was helped by the greater [room] to maneuver enjoyed by the AKP after the 2010 referendum and the 2011 elections, which brought it full control over the state.”
—“Turkey Transformed,” p 59
Islamicizing Turkey’s Judiciary
A key objective of the AKP during its first years in power was to loosening the grip of the Kemalist establishment on the judiciary. Erdogan advertised this as reforming the justice system to bring it into line with those of Western Europe, thus improving Turkey’s chances of being admitted to the European Union:
“Turkish courts and state prosecutors have never enjoyed a sparkling reputation for neutrality. Mr Erdogan’s own spell in jail in the 1990s, for the ‘crime’ of reciting a poem, represents one of the milder perversions of justice that prevailed before the AK party’s rise. Most Turks cheered as the party undertook a series of reforms, billed as raising Turkish justice to European standards. These changes concerned both the shape and the size of judicial bodies.
“In the name of democratising a board that oversees judicial appointments, the AK party expanded its membership, and in the fine print also increased its own powers to select those members. A subsequent move to expand the number of state prosecutors, with the ostensibly laudable aim of speeding up the creaky justice system, enabled the party to appoint thousands more loyalists. The result is a judicial apparatus that, except for the highest courts, increasingly dances to the AK party’s tune.”
—Economist, 4 February 2016
The struggle to control the judiciary was a key arena in the Gulen-AKP bloc’s campaign to displace the Kemalist establishment:
“Between 2008 and 2013, the outcome of court decisions in Turkey was truly unpredictable. Some judges and prosecutors were members of the republican establishment, others were Gulenist. The only thing they had in common was their politicization. One course could issue a verdict one day, and another could overturn it the next, depending on the proclivities of the judges and prosecutors in question.
“The AKP-Gulenist alliance dealt with this problem in simple way: They remade the entire judiciary.”
—“Turkey Transformed,” p 47
The 2010 constitutional referendum provided the mechanism for carrying out this radical overhaul:
“the most potent items were those that remade the country’s key judicial institutions, namely the Constitutional Court and the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which oversees the promotion and appointment processes of judges and prosecutors. By broadening membership in these institutions, the AKP ensured that it ended the control of the old state elites over the judiciary. And while that, on paper, made them more democratic, in practice it means that the AKP gained control over them, since the AKP president and prime minister were able to appoint a majority of members….
“The referendum filled one purpose: vanquishing the republican establishment. With the military defeated and the judiciary subdued, the ancien regime of Turkey was essentially dead. There were no longer any bureaucratic checks and balances on the Islamic conservative movement.”
—“Turkey Transformed,” pp 47-48
Ergenekon Conspiracy Trials: Breaking the Kemalist Establishment
Control of the judiciary positioned the AKP for the final assault on Kemalist resistance by purging the officer corps. This was achieved through the “Ergenekon conspiracy” purge trials which commenced in 2008. The central initial targets were active and retired military officers who had supported the 1997 coup:
“The alleged network of secularist ultra-nationalists, Ergenekon, draws its name from a mythical Central Asian valley where Turks are said to have been saved from annihilation by a wolf that led them past their enemies to freedom.
“The network was said to have been linked to the ‘deep state’, hardliner secularists in key areas of the Turkish establishment who are believed to have wielded considerable influence in political life in recent decades.
“Just before the final verdict, there were 275 defendants, 66 of whom were in custody, and the case has included 23 indictments.
“Former Armed Forces Chief General Ilker Basbug was among those accused of involvement in Ergenekon.
“Opposition members of parliament, academics, politicians and journalists were also among those on trial.”
The Ergenekon trials provided the pretext for going after a broad range of opponents:
“However, a lot of opposition figures (at best) loosely or ideologically connected to these murderous groups [military hit squads exposed in the Ergenekon trials] were also imprisoned. Moreover, any opposition to the government has been labeled publicly as ‘pro-Ergenekon’ without any proof (such as a major strike in 2010 by Tekel workers who lost their rights as a result of privatization).
“Other similar Cold War tactics raised the suspicion that the new regime was simply replacing its own extrajudicial operations for those of the old regime (and possibly incorporating many cadres and tactics from the old regime on its way). Throughout the Ergenekon case, the public has been enlightened about the murderous potentials of the state, but the whole process has also been used, ironically, to further silence and criminalize opposition in Turkey.
“This democratic authoritarianism, then, has been the core continuity between the old regime and the new.”
—Cihan Tuğal, p 55
After eliminating the Kemalist counterweight, Erdogan continued to steadily work to free himself from any remaining parliamentary/constitutional restraints:
“Erdoğan now stands as the sole ‘go-to’ authority, because his government has bureaucratized and centralized previously autonomous institutions.
“For example, in May 2011, the parliament, with its absolute AKP majority, granted the prime minister and his cabinet the right to issue decree laws for a period of six months, thus giving them the power to pass laws without having to submit them to parliamentary deliberation and vote. On 17 August 2011, a decree law annulled the independent commissions whose task was to protect national environmental sites.”
—Aslı Iğsız, “Brand Turkey and the Gezi Protests: Authoritarianism in Flux, Law and Neoliberalism,” (Chapter 3 of The Making of a Protest Movement in Turkey: #occupygezi,) p 27
Gezi Park Repression—Watershed for AKP Repression
In 2013 Erdogan was irked when a few hundred protestors opposed AKP plans to destroy green space in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The extreme brutality with which the regime responded to what had been fairly small-scale protests produced a nationwide wave of opposition rallies that ultimately involved an estimated three million people. Erdogan did not back up, and at every stage responded with intensified repression. When it was all over eleven people had been killed, 8,000 wounded and 3,000 arrested.
Crushing the Gezi movement represented an important moment in the AKP regime’s transformation from essentially parliamentary to autocratic/bonapartist. One feature of this has been the routine criminalization of political dissent:
“Erdoğan has repeatedly referred to Gezi protesters as ‘terrorists’ and accused Taksim hotel owners of harboring ‘terrorists’. Rhetoric aside, in order for someone to actually be tried under anti-terrorism legislation, one of the most important things is to establish their links to armed violence. The police have now duly exhibited the alleged ‘findings’ of their Gezi Park-related raids on the homes of some protesters….”
—Aslı Iğsız, p 30
A particularly ominous development was the regime’s mobilization of its plebeian supporters to attack the protests:
“Pro-Erdoğan journalists and intellectuals, therefore, see the Gezi protests as an expression of this ‘deep’ capitalism and frequently threaten to mobilize millions of people in order to smash them. The prime minister himself supports this line, and so do throngs who chant ‘Let Us Crush Taksim’ (Yol ver gecelim, Taksim’i ezelim). Civilians have helped the police in repressing the Gezi uprising. One of the deaths (of Ali İsmail Korkmaz) is largely due to civilian rather than police violence. This violence has also found some legal support (e.g., a civilian known as the ‘assailant with machete’ has been acquitted).”
—Cihan Tuğal, p 62
The Gulenites, whose relations with Erdogan were already becoming strained, initially expressed some sympathy toward the Gezi protests, before sharply denouncing them:
“Gulenists insisted that Taksim Square was hijacked by ‘marginal’ groups, which did not reflect the demands of the initial and ‘innocent’ activists. Erdoğan and the Gulenists explicitly agreed in their characterization of left-wing unions, parties, professional syndicates and intellectuals as ‘marginal’.”
—Cihan Tuğal, p 56
Islamists Fall Out—Gulenists v Erdogan
The Gulenists, who held key posts within the state security apparatus, judiciary and bureaucracy, had been a vital ally for Erdogan and the AKP in the struggle to uproot the Kemalist “deep state”:
“However, despite the merger, tensions persisted between the [Gulenist] community and the AKP. There were ideologically based disagreements (most of all regarding Israel [the Gulenists opposed the Gaza flotillas that Erdogan backed]), as well as frictions regarding how to share positions within the bureaucracy. During the past decade, the community, it was suspected, purged and excluded not only secular nationalists, but also former Islamists from the judiciary and the police forces. The tensions came out into the open when Gulenists allegedly attempted to take over the core institution of Turkish intelligence (MİT).
“Almost all of the mainstream Islamic press denied that the community expanded its power in such a way during the past ten years. But when the community allegedly tapped into the prime minister’s calls (as a prelude to its MİT operation), the gloves were off. The pro-Erdoğan Yeni Şafak and other media outlets explicitly or implicitly attacked the community and accused it of monopolizing power. Pro-government sources claimed that the community had recently tried to arrest the prime minister and even planned a coup. Only one day before the [June 2013] Gezi protests became massive, these sources implied that Erdoğan was now in a counter-offensive in order to prevent Gulen from becoming the sole ruler of Turkey.”
—Cihan Tuğal, pp 58-9
Relations broke down completely a few months later when Gülenists within the state apparatus arrested 80 AKP supporters:
“In December 2013, a division of the Istanbul Security Directory took a number of officials affiliated with the AKP into custody on charges of fraud, bribery, corruption and smuggling. Erdogan and his supporters accused members of the Gulen movement within the police and judiciary of working together to undermine the power of the AKP. In response, Erdgoan ordered several waves of ‘purges’ of alleged Gulen supporters in the police and judiciary, a process that continued into the summer of 2014.”
—The Turkish AK Party and Its Leader, Umit Cizre, ed., p183
In a 20 January 2014 interview, Gulen told the Wall Street Journal that “in the last two years the democratic process is now being reversed”:
“Furthermore, members of the AKP have been clearly threatened by the fact that actors within the government—presumably supporters of the Gulen movement—have engaged in covert activities that have targeted Erdogan, fellow party members and even members of Erdogan’s family. Unauthorized wire-tappings of phone conversations and political meetings that were released on the internet seemed to reveal illegal actions on the part of Erdogan and his son….Erdogan has reacted by accusing Gulen’s supporters in the government of being a ‘parallel structure’ that must be expunged from the government bureaucracy, judiciary and security forces.”
—Umit Cizre, ed., p194
In his counterattack, aimed at purging Gulen supporters from state institutions, Erdogan branded his erstwhile allies as enemies of the state:
“The government had the community included in National Security Council documents as a ‘national security threat’ and dismantled alleged Gulenist networks in the state, especially in the police and the judiciary. The counteroffensive was not limited to public institutions. The government also launched campaigns to socially isolate the Gulenists and exerted pressure to force the financial collapse of Bank Asya, which is known to be close to the community.
“The government’s latest onslaught targeted top managers of media close to the community. On Dec. 14,  police carried out raids in 13 provinces and detained 31 people — among them Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, the Gulenist media’s flagship, and Hidayet Karaca, president of the community’s Samanyolu TV, as well as other media employees and police officers — on charges they set up, run or belonged to a terrorist organization and were involved in organized forgery and slander activities.”
Erdogan’s War on the Media
The AKP has not been shy about using its control of the state’s repressive machinery for leverage in muzzling dissident voices in the media. Turkey’s largest two media groups were crippled by an outright seizure in one case and punitive fines in the other:
“When mainstream media outlets began [in 2007] to voice criticism of the AKP’s unilateralist policies, Erdogan went on to publicly rebuke them. The SDIF [Saving Deposits Insurance Fund] was then used to seize the country’s second-largest media group, Sabah/ATV, which was auctioned off in a single-bidder auction (financed by state banks and Qatari funds) to the Calik energy company, whose media wing was run by Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak.
“Erdogan’s outbursts grew stronger as secular-minded outlets criticized the 2008 constitutional amendment that opened the way for greater wearing of the Islamic veil and covered serious accusations of corruption involving an AKP-affiliated charity in Germany, the Deniz Feneri….
“Erdogan then took on the country’s largest media group, Dogan Media (DMG), after it ramped up its reporting on the Deniz Feneri case which implicated figures close to Erdogan….Tax authorities then slammed DMG with fines totaling almost $3 billion.”
—“Turkey Transformed,” p 46
The AKP’s attacks on the media typically involve some absurd “anti-terror” pretext:
“By putting pressure on private owners and making vigorous use of laws against incitement, defamation and the spread of ‘terrorist propaganda’, the party has come to exercise control over all but a handful of broadcasters and news publishers. ‘I don’t remember any time when it was like this,’ says Erol Onderoglu of Reporters Without Borders, a watchdog group. ‘Hundreds of journalists have been fired or arrested in the past five years, and we expect more every day.’
“In recent months the assault on press freedom has involved not just threats and spurious judicial procedures but outright violence. In September mobs attacked the offices of Hurriyet, one of Turkey’s few remaining independent newspapers, after Mr Erdogan criticised its editors on national television. Soon afterwards thugs, several of whom were later found to be AK party members, beat up a popular television presenter, Ahmet Hakan, in front of his Istanbul home, breaking his nose and several ribs. In December Mr Hakan found himself threatened with an investigation for ‘propagating terrorism’ after a guest on his programme said it was a mistake to dismiss the PKK as a terrorist organisation.”
—Economist, 4 February 2016
Bogus allegations of terrorist connections are not restricted to the media. Erdogan has been aggressively branding virtually any political dissent (particularly in regard to his brutal war on the Kurdish minority) as “terrorism”:
“Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has claimed the definition of a terrorist should be changed to include their ‘supporters’ – such as MPs, civil activists and journalists.
“It comes after three academics were arrested on charges of terrorist propaganda after publicly reading out a declaration that reiterated a call to end security operations in the south-east of Turkey, a predominantly Kurdish area.
“Mr Erdogan has said the academics will pay a price for their ‘treachery’.
“A British national was also detained on Tuesday…after he was found with pamphlets printed by the Kurdish linked People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
“‘It is not only the person who pulls the trigger, but those who made that possible who should also be defined as terrorists, regardless of their title,’ President Erdogan said on Monday, adding that this could be a journalist, an MP or a civil activist.”
—Independent, 16 March 2016 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/turkey-s-president-erdogan-wants-definition-of-terrorist-to-include-journalists-as-three-academics-a6933881.html
Turkey has the dubious distinction of having the world’s highest ratio of reporters in jail, according Foreign Policy (15 July 2016):
“Many Turks initially supported Erdogan out of animosity toward the military and a belief that his commitment to reform was real. They soon learned, however, that Erdogan wanted not a free press, but rather an obsequious one. Even minor criticism could mean legal trouble. Turkey today has more reporters in prison on a per capita basis than any other country.”
When judges in the Constitutional Court (Turkey’s supreme judicial authority) permitted two leading journalists to get out on bail while awaiting trial in 2016, Erdogan exploded and threatened to abolish the institution if a similar ruling is made in the future:
“Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened his country’s top court for releasing two journalists detained on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. The court’s future is in doubt if it were to make another such ruling, he said.
“‘I hope the Constitutional Court will not try to repeat this in a way that would call into question its existence and its legitimacy”, President Erdoğan said, according to AFP.”
“Immediately after the court’s ruling in February, Erdoğan said, ‘I do not abide by the decision or respect it’.
“‘The media should not have unlimited freedom. There is no absolute freedom anywhere in world media either.’
“The journalists’ prosecution comes during a crackdown on press freedom by Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian government.
“Turkey’s largest newspaper, Zaman, was taken over by government administrators last week. Its editor and chief columnist were fired, and its staff were told to expect ‘a change in editorial policy’.”
—Independent, 12 March 2016, emphasis added
A few days later the Independent (16 March 2016) reported: “The President of Turkey has said democracy and freedom have ‘absolutely no value’ in the country after calling for journalists, lawyers and politicians to be prosecuted as terrorists” (emphasis added). With statements like this it would be unfair to accuse Erdogan of a lack of candor. Nor, as his record makes clear, is this just hot air. Erdogan has, for the past several years, been “walking the walk” in suppressing dissent and gutting Turkish state institutions of whatever independence they possessed in relation to the ruling regime.
In discussing the possibility of electoral fraud, the Huffington Post, (16 November 2015) opined that no government institution in Turkey would be capable of holding Erdogan to account:
“since the Gezi protests of 2013, AKP governments, under the tutelage of President Erdogan, have ensured the emergence of an AKP-compliant bureaucracy. We can now speak of a regime in Turkey that is fully committed to establishing a governance structure, where all agencies of the state are expected to serve the will of the president without question. From this we can expect no prosecutor to file a lawsuit questioning the validity of the election results, even in the face of good evidence which may come out in due course. We are also unlikely to witness any court which would accept to hear the case. Any such accusation questioning the outcome of the election would be branded as an unacceptable repudiation of the ‘national will’ that was delivered at the ballot box, and the persons pursuing the case severely punished.”
Ottoman Hearths: Erdogan’s Extralegal Enforcers
To supplement the organs of state repression the AKP has created its own extralegal militia, the Ottoman Hearths:
“For a relatively new organisation, it hasn’t taken long for the Ottoman Hearths to instil a sense of fear and revulsion. They have increasingly come into the spotlight for their alleged involvement in notorious acts that include attacks on the offices of political parties, independent media outlets and journalists.
“Established in 2009, the Ottoman Hearths now boast close to two million members across the country. Their stated goal is the promotion of an Ottoman system of governance and way of life. Both their leadership and members profess a profound devotion to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the political party he hails from: the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“This devotion has meant that many see the Ottoman Hearths as an informal force used by the AKP to target its opponents. The AKP, however, has long been at pains to disassociate itself from the Ottoman Hearths and denies any links with the group, particularly any financial links.”
Ayatollah Khomeini also denied any responsibility for the actions of the Hezbollah thugs who played a vital role in helping the mullahs consolidate power in Iran. Erdogan’s Ottoman Hearth thugs are not even particularly popular with many AKP members:
“The group has developed such an intimidating reputation that even plenty of hardcore AKP supporters fear and despise the group.
“According to [political scientist Nuray] Mert, there is little ideological difference between the paramilitary ultra-rightist Grey Wolves organisation of the past and the Ottoman Hearths of today.”
The Ottoman Hearths were called on to help rectify the disappointing results of the June 2015 election in which the AKP failed to win sufficient seats to push through a constitutional amendment to formally change the form of government from parliamentary to presidential. A major factor in the outcome was the unexpectedly large vote won by the Kurdish-based reformist People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Erdogan called for new elections in November. To motivate his Turkish chauvinist base he renewed military hostilities with the Kurdish PKK. Meanwhile the Ottoman Hearths and their fascist MHP allies went after the HDP:
“Following the June elections, a spate of mob attacks occurred where primarily the offices of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were targeted. Fingers were pointed at movements associated with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which has been fiercely opposed to any peace process to resolve Turkey’s Kurdish conflict. These movements come with a previous history of resorting to street violence as a means to an end.
“At the time, however, even the MHP distanced itself from such mob violence and pointed the finger at the Ottoman Hearths, which it said was an AKP-linked organisation.
“During the same period between June and the November snap elections, independent media offices and journalists also came under attack. The lethargic police response to all these attacks also meant analysts perceived a link between the ruling party and the attackers, who were believed to be members of the Ottoman Hearths.”
Areas which had voted heavily for the HDP were targeted. The Middle East Monitor reported:
“Some of the worst mob violence occurred on Sept. 8 in Kirsehir, a city known with its pluralist and democratic fabric. Last week, the public got an idea of what really unfolded in Kirsehir as horrific footage from security cameras, collected by the prosecutor, were leaked to the media. The crowd, which had originally gathered for a march to condemn terrorism, set ablaze the local HDP office, a bookstore owned by a leftist Turk and an ethnic Circassian HDP member, as well as four Kurdish-owned businesses, and vandalized 32 other shops and homes. The assailants acted in an organized manner, torching the buildings according to a predetermined list, the Hurriyet daily reported, citing local sources. As the mob went on the rampage for seven hours, the police looked the other way, failing to stop even the attack on the Gul Bookstore, a stone’s throw from the police station.”
Similar attacks were carried out by AKP/Grey Wolves thugs in Turkish immigrant communities in Germany and Switzerland in September 2015. The AKP formally denied all responsibility for the violent campaign carried out against its opponents, but the response of the party leadership conveyed a different message:
“A wave of violence has rocked Turkey since the June 7  elections, culminating in a suicide bombing of a peach rally by the HDP and leftist groups in Ankara on October 10, which killed over 100 people….Erdogan and [prime minister] Davutoglu expressed no empathy for the victims—the latter responded by publicly excoriating the HDP, and blamed the bombing, implausibly on a joint operation by the PKK and Islamic State….the police’s immediate response to the twin suicide bombing—just as in the aftermath of an June 2015 suicide bombing in Diyarbakir—was to target the dead and injured with tear gas and water cannons. Whoever carried out the attacks, the government’s behavior suggests it is not on the side of the victims.”
—“Turkey Transformed,” p 58
The campaign of violence unleashed against the HDP is widely seen as responsible for the sharp decline in its vote total from June to November 2015 :
“On the flip side, the Kurds’ defiance of Erdogan at the ballot box was met with a terrible vengeance. As nationalist mobs freely attacked Kurdish workers and businesses in the west of the country and suicide attacks killed young Kurds and socialists, paramilitary police units descended upon besieged Kurdish towns with tactics and brutality all too reminiscent of the 1990s. For some Kurds –mainly conservative Sunnis, tribal leaders and/or business owners –who abandoned the AKP in June to protest Erdogan’s anti-Kurdish stance since Kobane by pushing the HDP over the threshold, this seems to have been too high a price to pay. In the re-run election, about a million HDP voters either returned to the AKP or did not show up at the polling booth at all.”
Erdogan’s electoral tactics in November 2015 combined intimidation and physical attacks on his opponents. Trotsky’s description of a bonapartist regime as “a military-police dictatorship…barely concealed with the decorations of parliamentarism” seems entirely applicable.
Unions Under Erdogan
The military coup of 1980 introduced draconian anti-union laws which all subsequent governments maintained. Under Erdogan made the legislation became even more restrictive, resulting in a significant decline in union membership. In February 2015 the Financial Times pointed to the connection between Erdogan’s hostility to unions and the material interests of the Islamic businessmen at the core of his power base:
“This habit of stopping strikes is one of several indicators that complicate what has been a remarkable story of economic growth since the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002…. The class of newly enriched producer-suppliers, many based in Turkey’s more observant central provinces and often referred to as ‘Anatolian tigers’, has been a crucial source of support for the AKP government. The reconciliation with economic globalisation forged by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the other founders of the AKP was a key force-multiplier for the movement. ‘This [reconciliation] turned political Islam into a real political and social force in this country,’ Dogan said. Turkey’s union law—which provides for the government to ban strikes — was passed in 2012. (…) But the law, like Turkey’s free market economy, has its roots in Turkey’s 1980 coup d’état. (…) Unions did re-emerge, but were constrained. In 1987, as a wave of strikes was building in the country, the unionisation rate in Turkey was 23 per cent. In 2012, it was 4.5 per cent. “We haven’t seen any effective strikes since the 1990s in Turkey,’ Dogan said.”
In 2014 the predicament of Turkey’s trade unions was described in similar terms by the former head of the militant trade union federation DISK:
“In remarks to Al-Monitor, CHP lawmaker Suleyman Celebi, former head of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), said the current level of repression on trade unions is unheard of, even under the notorious military rule that followed the 1980 coup, when 2.5 million workers were unionized compared to about a million today, with only 624,000 entitled to collective bargaining.”
The situation only got worse with Erdogan’s victory over the coup; one of the regime’s first move was to ban 19 trade unions.
Pilsudski & Erdogan Regimes: ‘Government of the Saber’
Trotsky described governments where the military, police, judiciary, media and educational system are closely controlled by a ruling clique as bonapartist, regardless of any formal parliamentary trappings:
“A government which raises itself above the nation is not, however, suspended in air. The true axis of the present government passes through the police, the bureaucracy, the military clique. It is a military-police dictatorship with which we are confronted, barely concealed with the decorations of parliamentarism. But a government of the saber as the judge arbiter of the nation – that’s just what Bonapartism is.”
The elections of 2015 demonstrated that Erdogan’s regime had moved from the authoritarian edge of the bourgeois democratic spectrum, to something qualitatively similar to Pilsudski’s in Poland in the 1920s and ’30s. Unlike his Italian and German contemporaries Pilsudski neither crushed all opposition parties, nor entirely eliminated press freedom; and elections were conducted with regularity:
“A distinguishing feature of the [Pilsudski] regime was that, unlike the situation in most of non-democratic Europe, it never transformed itself into a full-scale dictatorship. Freedom of speech and press and political parties were never legally abolished, and opponents were usually dealt with via ‘unidentified perpetrators’ rather than court sentences.”
Like Erdogan, Pilsudski, maintained the forms of bourgeois democracy:
“By not dissolving the Sejm [parliament] and supporting the formation of a new government, Pilsudski’s  coup had initially appeared not to challenge the existing party and democratic structures. (…) A Bill for Constitutional Changes was approved by the Sejm in July. This increased the power of the presidency, vesting it with extensive powers. On two occasions, Pilsudski became Prime Minister. But even when ostensibly not in office, his authority was unchallenged. His power base remained the army, which was purged of those who disagreed with the coup. (…) On 23 April 1935, the regime succeeded in changing the constitution. Introducing presidential rule, it reduced the prerogatives of the elected assembly.”
—Anita Prazmowska, Poland – A Modern History, pp 122-4
The mere fact that elections take place is not a sufficient reason for Marxists to categorize a regime as bourgeois-democratic. Many regimes that operate essentially as dictatorships permit electoral activity. Elections were held regularly under Mubarak in Egypt as they have been under the Iranian mullahs. Syria’s Ba’athists also hold regular parliamentary elections. Elections have a certain utility for authoritarian rulers in gauging popular moods and creating illusions in the possibility of effecting change within the existing system.
Even though, like Erdogan, Pilsudski left some space for competing political and social forces, Trotsky considered his regime to be somewhere on the spectrum between fascist and bonapartist:
“Pilsudski came to power at the end of an insurrection based upon a mass movement of the petty bourgeoisie and aimed directly at the domination of the traditional bourgeois parties in the name of the ‘strong state’; this is a fascist trait characteristic of the movement and of the regime. But the specific political weight, that is, the mass of Polish fascism was much weaker than that of Italian fascism in its time and still more than that of German fascism; to a much greater degree, Pilsudski had to make use of the methods of military conspiracy and to put the question of the workers’ organizations in a much more circumspect manner. It suffices to recall that Pilsudski’s coup d’état took place with the sympathy and the support of the Polish party of the Stalinists. The growing hostility of the Ukrainian and Jewish petty bourgeoisie towards the Pilsudski regime made it, in turn, more difficult for him to launch a general attack upon the working class.
“As a result of such a situation, the oscillation between the classes and the national parts of the classes occupied and still occupies with Pilsudski a much greater place, and mass terror a much smaller place, than in the corresponding periods with Mussolini or Hitler; there is the Bonapartist element in the Pilsudski regime. Nevertheless, it would be patently false to compare Pilsudski to Giolitti or to Schleicher and to look forward to his being relieved by a new Polish Mussolini or Hitler.”
Wolfgang Wippermann, a German leftist who studies fascism, describes how Pilsudski would resort to intimidation, and other extralegal measures, if he found the outcome of an election to be unsatisfactory. Like Erdogan, he felt no compulsion to play by the rules, but was not prepared to not entirely dispense with a parliamentary façade:
“Parties were not banned and in 1928 free elections were still held, which ended in a heavy defeat for the National Democrats: they retained only 37 of the previous 100 mandates, while the Peasant Party received 21 of its previous 53 seats and the Socialists raised their number of mandates from 41 to 63. In October 1929 the parties of the left and the center united to form the alliance ‘Centrolew’ which controlled the relative majority in the Sejm with 180 mandates. Pilsudski ended the thus erupted struggle between the executive and the parliament, controlled by opposition parties, by arresting 88 Sejm deputies of the ‘Centrolew’ and taking them to the fortress of Brest-Litowsk where they were bullied and tortured. This scare policy succeeded. At the ‘elections’ of 16 November 1930 at which various opposition politicians could not run for office or were hindered in their activity the government bloc obtained 243 of the 444 seats of the parliament. In January 1935 a new constitution was eventually introduced by which the parliamentarian-democratic system was fully abolished [in favor of a presidential system].”
—Wolfgang Wippermann, Europäischer Faschismus im Vergleich 1922-1982, p177 [HH translation]
AKP ‘Democracy’: Parliamentary Façade & Presidential Dictatorship
Since the July 2016 coup Erdogan has maintained a parliamentary façade, with his AKP majority repeatedly rubber-stamping extensions of a state of emergency. Tens of thousands of suspected oppositionists have been fired or suspended; tens of thousands more face legal charges. Many have already been jailed and some tortured.
In the midst of the coup attempt Erdogan appealed to the population to come into the street in opposition to the rebels. The tens of thousands who responded included many AKP and MHP partisans who behaved aggressively toward their political opponents, even though the CHP and HDP (the other main parties) were backing Erdogan against the coupsters. The day after the coup the four main parliamentary parties issued a joint statement denouncing the coup and proclaiming that the handling of “the bloody coup attempt sets an example for the whole world”:
“At an extraordinary parliament session early on Saturday, a joint declaration was issued by the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), ‘strongly condemning the coup attempt’….”
—Al Jazeera, 17 July 2016 http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/07/turkish-political-parties-unite-coup-attempt-160717170830139.html
Erdogan gave the Kurdish reformists of the HDP plenty of reason to reconsider his democratic bona fides when he started throwing their leaders into jail on spurious “terror” charges. When deputies from the secular Kemalist CHP protested the outrageous imprisonment of their HDP counterparts they were themselves targetted:
“Erdogan’s lawyer Huseyin Aydin placed the complaint on Tuesday against all MPs of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), including leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, with Ankara prosecutors, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. Prosecutors will now decide whether to open an investigation. The petition has been launched over a meeting of party MPs led by Kilicdaroglu on Monday denouncing the crackdown under the state of emergency imposed in the wake of the July 15 failed coup. It came after 10 MPs from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest party in parliament, were arrested on charges of terror links. Nine staff from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper were also remanded in custody at the weekend.”
The HDP and CHP have apparently concluded that in defending Erdogan they were not defending democracy so much as enabling a dictator:
“‘Turkey is now going through a dark and authoritarian coup staged by the presidential palace,’ the CHP said in a statement. (…) The co-leader of HDP Selahattin Demirtas, who was one of the MPs arrested, said in his latest message from jail on Tuesday that he was ‘taken hostage… in a civilian coup d’etat’. ‘This is a new step taken by those who have, step by step, implemented various plots to consolidate a one-man rule,’ he said in a statement released by the HDP.”
If opposition parties are allowed to operate, but not to win, the fact that elections take place does not count for much. If dissident candidates, or opposition deputies, are subject to selective repression for criticizing the government or otherwise espousing their views it is hardly possible to describe this as some sort of bourgeois democracy, even of an “attenuated” sort. For citizens to make informed political choices they must have access to information, i.e., a free press and candidates who are not afraid to express their views openly. Under Erdogan that privilege is reserved for members of the AKP and their fascist allies in the MHP.
Erdogan is prepared to rid his regime of those who show a lack of enthusiasm for establishing a virtual dictatorship:
“Turkey’s depressing, seemingly irreversible descent into one-man rule continues apace and may even be accelerating. Five weeks ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who just six months prior had led their Justice and Development Party (AKP) to a major electoral victory, securing nearly 50 percent of the vote and a large parliamentary majority. (…) What appeared most intolerable to Erdogan was Davutoglu’s inadequate enthusiasm for the president’s monomaniacal desire to jam a new constitution down the throat of a dangerously polarized society — a constitution that would dispense with Turkey’s parliamentary system in favor of an executive presidency, or more accurately, an imperial presidency. This new role would lend ex post facto legitimacy to Erdogan’s consolidation of absolute power and to his systematic, multi-year, extraconstitutional assault on nearly every major public and private institution in the country — the military, judiciary, media, private business, civil society — that might serve to check his totalitarian impulse.”
As the Economist noted (4 February 2016), Erdogan is already exercising the powers that he will only officially acquire after his new constitution is approved:
“It is not just that Mr Erdogan wants to rewrite the constitution to award himself executive presidential powers. The trouble is that he hardly needs them. Sometimes overtly, but often by stealth and dissimulation, the AK party has spread its tentacles across Turkish society. The courts, the police, the intelligence services, the mosques, the public education and health systems and the media are all, in one way or another, subject to the party’s overweening influence.”
Erdogan’s allies in the the fascist MHP have openly acknowledged that Erdogan’s appropriation of the role of “executive president” far exceeds his constitutional authority. In fact, Erdogan himself openly stated as much in a 14 August 2015 speech in Rize, his hometown, where he bragged to the crowd that he was already operating a “de facto” presidential system:
“‘There is a president with de facto power in the country, not a symbolic one. The president should conduct his duties for the nation directly, but within his authority. Whether one accepts it or not, Turkey’s administrative system has changed. Now, what should be done is to update this de facto situation in the legal framework of the constitution.’
Al Monitor bitterly observed:
“In other words, the European-style parliamentary system enacted by the Turkish Constitution was no longer valid because Erdogan had ‘de facto power’ that overrode the constitution. So a new constitution had to be crafted as soon as possible to reconcile the de facto reality with the nation’s charter. The president was not made for the constitution; rather the constitution must be made for the president.”
The upcoming referendum in April scheduled to retroactively approve Erdogan’s quasi-dictatorship, will give Turkey the form of government that Pilsudski sought. It took Pilsudski nine years after his 1926 coup to formally replace parliamentary democracy with direct presidential rule; it has taken Erdogan 15 to achieve the same objective.
Polls suggest that a lot of Turks are not happy about the proposed constitutional amendments. The regime is responding with threats and pressure: “Several AKP members, including Cabinet ministers and the prime minister, have indicated multiple times that saying no is what terrorists would do” (Al Monitor, 17 February). Erdogan’s thugs are muscling perceived opponents In the same way they did prior to the November 2015 election:
“There have also been multiple stories of brutality and intimidation of those who attempt to join rallies or refuse to distribute pamphlets, or who simply tell others that they plan to vote against the referendum. There has been so much of this talk that people have started questioning if the vote will be done through open or secret balloting, and whether those who dare to say no will be taken into custody after they vote.”
With opposition politicians, journalists, academics and other critics rotting in jail or facing charges for “insulting the president” Erdogan is expected to win the referendum, one way or another. This is expected to produce:
“a presidential system as dictatorial and repressive as anything seen in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. Since a failed military coup last July, a sweeping purge has seen at least 137,000 judges, teachers, journalists, civil servants and military personnel arrested or sacked, according to the government’s own figures. The mass arrests and trials include anybody who protests or dissents from government policy. Two Kurdish leaders, whose party won five million votes in the last election, face over 200 years in prison…. “Erdogan will hold a referendum in April on the new presidential system in which all power is focussed on himself. But since he has closed down or taken over at least 150 news outlets and jailed 141 journalists, he is likely to win approval of legal changes that will strip almost all power from parliament and the judiciary.”
Christoph asked if “what Erdogan has done is equivalent to what the plotting generals would have done (purges and mass arrests)” given that the AKP apparatus:
“is established in all of the civil institutions in Turkey, including of course in parliament and the government itself. In order to deal with the AKP they would have had to destroy the existing democratic framework. Again the destruction of the parliamentary system and associated democratic rights is the norm for a military dictatorship. Has Erdogan really gone that far?”
The record suggests that indeed he has. The AKP’s domination of Turkish society and its institutions—the judiciary, the press, the educational system, the police, the military and the civil service—and its suppression of competitors, is why the existing framework has not been one that could be described as legitimately “democratic” for at least the past couple of years. Even within the ranks of the AKP there has been a pronounced evolution in the direction of leader worship:
“When the AKP was established in the 2001, individuals who sought to be affiliated with the party were expected to demonstrate loyalty to the party and its ‘cause’. In time, this requirement has mutated into demonstrating loyalty to one man and his cause: Tayyip Erdogan. Such requirements are now being mandated to hold government positions and fundamentally weakening the structural integrity of the Turkish state, its democratic traditions and institutional pluralism.”
—Huffington Post, 16 Nov 2015 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sinan-ciddi/the-end-of-turkeys-experiment-with-democracy_b_8575748.html
On Taking Sides When Bourgeois Thieves Fall Out
There are several scenarios which could possibly be seen as reasons for Trotskyists to take a defensist stance toward Erdogan’s regime against an extra-parliamentary coup by his bourgeois rivals:
(a) if the regime was in fact bourgeois-democratic (even if an imperfect, or attenuated, form). Or,
(b) Mikl has argued that even if we all agreed that Erdogan was a bonapartist with negligible bourgeois-democratic credentials, he should still be defended against any coup because we could not be sure the coupsters were and they might have been worse. Or,
(c) Even if we agreed that Erdogan’s regime was essentially bonapartist, if the forces seeking to replace it via a military coup were fascist, we would have a defensist attitude. In this scenario Erdogan would represent a General Hindenburg figure under attack by a Hitlerite coup.
Proposition (a) flies in the face of all available evidence, as documented above.
Proposition (b) can also be ruled out as counterfactual. In responding to Roxie, on 27 December Mikl asked: “Do we have any guarantee that a coup has nothing to do with us when we do not know where the coup is from? When it is unclear, it is rational to stop the coup with the assumption that it might be worst case.”
The coup was not carried out by unknown elements but rather by forces with long track records in Turkish politics. As Marxists, our policy in intra-bourgeois conflicts must be based on a careful estimate of the social forces involved on both sides. The history of the Gulenists and Kemalists shows that their attitude to bourgeois legality, civil liberties and working class rights is essentially similar to those of Erdogan and the AKP.
It is well known that Turkey’s fascists have been closely aligned with Erdogan. Their support in parliament gave Erdogan the votes he needed to proceed with his presidential referendum:
“While the AK Party lacks enough seats to carry parliament alone, the package was approved with backing from the nationalist opposition MHP. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Jan. 17 that his party was making the changes together with the nationalist MHP.”
There is no reason to think that the coupists, who claimed to be acting to restore democracy, would have been worse than Erdogan. The very fact that they not a politically homogenous formation, means they would have needed to conduct a negotiation among themselves in order to establish the parameters of a new regime. Quite possibly, given the mutual distrust between Kemalists and Gulenists, they would have ended up with an arrangement approximating the early years of Erdogan’s rule.
As for Proposition (c), in conflicts between two sections of the bourgeoisie the crucial question is whether the workers’ movement has anything to gain by the victory of either. In the 1980 Turkish coup, the 1973 Chilean coup and Franco’s 1936 coup, the military intervened to suppress working-class resistance. But this was not the case in 1993 in Russia, 2013 in Egypt or 2016 in Turkey where the axis of the conflict was between two qualitatively similar bourgeois formations. Workers had no interest in the victory of either, because whichever side emerged on top the conditions for the masses were not going to be significantly different. The question of whether or not to take sides in such conflicts depends on the program and the social base of each of the combatants.
In his 27 December 2016 contribution, Mikl quoted Trotsky’s observations about a hypothetical conflict between German Chancellor Hindenburg and Hitler in 1933. While Marxists would never offer parliamentary support to Hindenburg, had the old reactionary sought to use military force to suppress the Nazis a different question would be posed—in that case we would indeed have had a side:
“The civil war between Negrin and Franco does not signify the same thing as the electoral competition of Hindenburg and Hitler. If Hindenburg had entered into an open military fight against Hitler, then Hindenburg would have been a ‘lesser evil’. We do not choose the ‘greater evil’, we choose the ‘lesser evil’. But Hindenburg was not the ‘lesser evil’ – he did not go into open warfare against Hitler; the Social Democrats hoped for that – that was stupid – but that was not the case. But here we do have a war of the Social Democrats against fascism. To support Hindenburg against Hitler [electorally] meant to give up political independence.”
—Leon Trotsky, “Answer to Questions on the Spanish Situation,” The Spanish Revolution (1931-39), p 287
Trotsky was not concerned about who got more votes in the 1932 election, nor in parliamentary maneuvers against the Nazis: “The war against fascism cannot be resolved by parliamentary means because fascism is an army of reaction that can be crushed only by force” (Ibid. p 288). The content of the Nazi’s fascist program was the reason that Trotsky was prepared to bloc even with reactionaries like Hindenburg in a military struggle to smash Hitler.
Many Turkish leftists immediately analysed the coup as in essence a falling out within the ruling elites. The evidence that has surfaced since tends to confirm that estimate:
“A secret report written by Intcen – the EU’s intelligence agency – found that the hastily organised attempt to overthrow Mr Erdogan last year was motivated by the fact that military generals feared they were going to be subject to an imminent crackdown on the opposition.
“‘The decision to launch the coup resulted from the fears of an incoming purge,’ the August 2016 report, seen by The Times, read. ‘The coup was just a catalyst for the crackdown prepared in advance.’
“Before the coup, several factions within Turkey’s army were unhappy with the government’s attempts between 2013 – 2015 to make peace with the PKK, the militant Kurdish separatist movement, and Mr Erdogan’s interventionist stance on the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
“Rumours of an expected purge joined army followers of the exiled cleric Fetullah Gulen, secularists, and those opposed to Mr Erdogan’s policies against the Kurds together, providing the momentum for the dramatic failed July 15 takeover.”
Erdogan referred to the coup as a “gift,” because it gave him a pretext for extinguishing virtually all opposition. His record has shown a consistent drive toward establishing a bonapartist quasi-dictatorship, in which he plays the role of the new sultan.
“The political system that the leaders of the AKP are working to implement is distinctly illiberal and autocratic, treating public support for their rule as a formality to be engineered in elections that may be free but certainly not fair. This political system is to be undergirded by a cultural change, a Turkey that the government is seeking to make solidly Islamic in its values and worldview. Finally, the economy of the new Turkey is essentially a crony capitalist system under the ruling party’s control.
“The AKP’s 12 years of single-party rule display a nearly linear, if not accelerating, progression toward these goals.”
—”Turkey Transformed,” p 40
Erdogan’s action in banning the 19 trade unions signalled his hostility to the workers’ movement and his commitment to rolling back its organizations, weak as they are. Erdogan’s regime has become progressively more self-confident but even in the immediate aftermath of the coup still considered it politic to attempt to reassure its traditional secular and Kemalist opponents with a bizarre display of fidelity to modern Turkey’s founding father, whose political legacy the AKP is dedicated to dismantling. As the dust settled and Erdogan felt more secure in the saddle, his solicitousness diminished. He currently appears to feel free of any serious constraint on his actions.
Despite maintaining a few fig leaves of fidelity to Kemalist democracy the actual content, and trajectory, of the Islamist regime Erdogan heads has long been anti-democratic:
“His whole politics is obsessively concentrated on converting the parliamentary system into a supposedly presidential one, a euphemism in effect for autocracy. He has destroyed any semblance of independence for the judiciary, trampled unabashedly on the freedom of the press, practically banned the right to strike and almost entirely denied the freedom of assembly in protest. The wholesale destruction of Kurdish cities since last summer under conditions of round-the-clock curfews that last for months on end has left speechless all those who have witnessed the resulting rubble of whole neighbourhoods or even entire towns. Thus Erdogan’s despotism is an incontrovertible fact.”
—“Turkey: Atlanticism versus Rabiism,” Sungur Savran, posted 29 July 2016 http://socialistproject.ca/bullet/1286.php
The proposition that workers had no interest in defending the AKP/Erdogan regime in the July 2016 coup was not only an entirely logical deduction from events leading up to that confrontation—it has also been confirmed by practically everything that has happened since.
[The comrades who advocated a bloc with Erdogan against the 2016 coup did not respond to this document.]
⇑  “Broadly speaking, the Muslims were employed by the state, which they served as soldiers or civilian officials; they were also landowners and peasants. The non-Muslims provided almost all the merchants, tradesmen and craftsmen, as well as making up a part of the peasant population. Because of their religious affinity with western Europe, Ottoman Christians took to new learning long before their Muslim neighbors.”
—Mango, p 9
⇑  “In October 1951, the [Democrat Party] government opened several vocational schools to train preachers and clerics,”
Democratic Consolidation in Turkey, p 325, Muge Aknur ed.
⇑  Erdogan came to national prominence after being elected mayor of Istanbul on the RP ticket in the 1994 municipal elections.
⇑  On 31 March 2016, during a visit to a prestigious imperialist think tank in Washington D.C., the Turkish president’s body guards horrified their hosts by brazenly assaulting critics just as they would at home. Brookings issued a public rebuke of this unseemly behavior:
“Erdoğan’s security detail behaved unacceptably—they roughed up protesters outside the building and tried to drag away ‘undesired’ journalists, an approach typical of the Russians or Chinese. Brookings extended its hospitality to Erdoğan, and because he was an invited guest went to considerable lengths to accommodate his massive entourage and treat him with respect. But his security detail abused Brookings’s hospitality. They picked fist fights with demonstrators and attempted to evict Turkish journalists.”
⇑  “Bonapartism and Fascism,” July 1934
⇑  The AKP actively favors “Green” (Islamic) capital over the traditionally dominant, Western-oriented segment of Turkey’s bourgeoisie:
“Erdogan has claimed that ‘capital is changing hands.’ Even though that remains a work in progress, it is nonetheless obvious that the AKP harbors the ambition to shift the weight within the business elite from its dominant, secular fraction, to the Islamic fraction. With this in mind the party has created its own class of capitalists [the so-called ‘Anatolian tigers’].…
“Of course, the state has always played a decisive role in the economy in Turkey by supporting business interest. In that sense the AKP’s crony capitalism does not represent a novelty….
“To conclude that the two parts of the bourgeoisie—the secular and Islamic—are engaged in intra-class warfare is thus misleading: for political purposes, the state is privileging one fraction at the expense of the other….
“Many Turkish analysts agree…that the Erdogan factor is paramount in explaining the evolution of the Turkish economy. In this perspective, the emergence of crony capitalism under AKP was far from inevitable: ‘It is the same system as in Central Asia, one-man rule, with a group of business cronies beholden to the supreme leader….”
—“Turkey Transformed,” p 68
⇑  “The first decree signed by Erdogan [after the July coup] authorizes the closure of 1,043 private schools, 1,229 charities and foundations, 19 trade unions, 15 universities and 35 medical institutions over suspected links to the Gulen movement, the Anadolu agency said.”
⇑  Lenin observed:
“Universal suffrage is an index of the level reached by the various classes in their understanding of their problems. It shows how the various classes are inclined to solve their problems. The actual solution of those problems is not provided by voting, but by the class struggle in all its forms including civil war.”
—“The Elections to the Constituent Assembly and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” 1919
⇑  On 18 July 2016 Berkeley sociologist Cihan Tugal commented:
“After president Erdoğan’s invitation to people to flood into the streets, and face down the military rebels, mosques across the country also urged citizens to thwart the coup. In city centres, provincial towns, and inner cities, people climbed onto tanks clutching Turkish flags. The captured photography and video are likely to become as iconic as images of tank-blocking Chinese students in Tiananmen Square.
“But these masses have done much, much more. They have attacked the pro-Kurdish party HDP (which has nothing to do with the coup attempt) in several towns. They have harassed alcohol consumers. Several clashes have broken out in Alevi (a religious minority) neighbourhoods and towns. This is the dark side of what has been celebrated by some as the democratic defence of the regime by the people.”
⇑  “Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli on Thursday promised Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım to support the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government when a draft constitution is submitted for parliamentary approval, including a switch to a presidential system of governance. The Erdogan-Bahçeli meeting came at a time when Bahçeli sparked a fresh debate last month over the introduction of an executive presidency when he said there was a de facto situation in Turkey concerning its system of governance and that President Erdogan was already acting like an executive president even though his post is largely ceremonial.”