This past northern summer, the Turkish military engineered the
collapse of the Welfare Party (RP)-True Path Party (DYP) coalition,
supposedly to prevent a
fundamentalist takeover. The military
is now on a drive to ban RP.
In Turkey military intervention is nothing new. There were military
coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980; in between, the military maintains a
dominating role over
Left-wing and Kurdish parties have long been banned and suffer extensive repression. According to the Association for Human Rights in Turkey, over the last year 2395 people were killed in armed clashes, mostly in Kurdistan, 168 were assassinated by the state security forces, 191 disappeared, 170 were jailed for their views, 12 died on hunger strike and 342 journalists were sentenced to prison.
There was no let-up in repression under the one and a half year rule of the RP-DYP coalition. RP deputies voted for repressive laws regarding political parties that are now being used against it, and acquiesced in the suppression of the Kurdish HADEP party.
So why the drive by the repressive military against a right-wing party like RP?
The official line is that Turkey’s military is the guardian of Turkey’s secular constitution, obligated to act against an Islamic fundamentalist threat to it.
RP leader Erbakan is a right-wing politician who organised
Islamic paramilitaries while part of various Turkish
governments. These paramilitaries and the allied fascist
Wolves of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) were used throughout
the 1970s and 1980s against the then powerful Turkish left and
secular military and the Motherland Party (ANAP), the
dominant right-wing party, to which the military ceded limited power
in the 1980s, also used
Islamic ideology as a counterweight to
the left. Under the military dictatorship of Evren and the
military-backed ANAP’s Turgut Ozal in the 1980s, most of the
Islamic schools were set up&38212;far more than under Erbakan.
ANAP saw itself as a bridge between traditional secular
Kemalism and Islamic ideology. Yet now ANAP, in the new
coalition with the so-called Democratic Left (DL), is leading the
military-backed attack on these schools and on
Erbakan’s forces have made a huge advance on the far right periphery, taking 21% of the vote in the last elections. This gives them more scope to push their particular agenda, but the fact remains that 80% of Turks voted for secular parties.
RP was able to push through small
Islamic changes in the last
year and a half only due to the cover given by the
(and the support of the fascist MHP). This cover was gained by the RP
and MHP agreeing to cloak massive corruption scandals involving DYP
The vacuum created by the smashing of the left following the 1980 coup
has given RP more scope to win sections of the impoverished masses to
Islam. But this growing base poses no threat of an imminent
Islamic revolution, least of all in the big cities of the west and
Aegean coast, where a secular lifestyle has been entrenched for
However, RP’s base does pose a threat to integration into the European Union. Its ability to attract sections of the masses adversely affected by this economic direction, on a nationalist, anti-Europe platform, reflects a split in the Turkish ruling class.
The big bourgeoisie of Istanbul and Izmir in the west are pushing
integration into the EU, having historic business ties to Europe. They
are in the best position to profit from the radical opening up of the
Turkish economy. To gain middle-class and working-class support, a
modern, democratic and secular Turkey as part of Europe is
However, considerable sections of the ruling class, particularly middle-sized companies based in central and eastern Turkey, know that such an opening to competition by far stronger European companies will ruin them. They have adopted a more nationalist and protectionist line.
Islam of RP is an expression of this political-economic
A huge network of these companies is creating an
economy based in central Turkey. The Independent Industrialists
and Businessmen’s Association, a federation of
bosses, was a major support for the RP-DYP government.
In its conflict with the pro-EU wing of the ruling class, RP gained support from sections of the masses being driven into impoverishment by the restructuring of the economy.
In power, the Erbakan-Ciller government proved contradictory,
however. On the one hand, Erbakan set up the
Group (Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia,
Malaysia and Nigeria) as a new Muslim economic bloc; on the other
hand, the EU orientation continued.
social justice was forgotten as the government
proceeded with new privatisations. A cooperation treaty was signed
with Iran, while a military agreement with Israel went a
This unclarity, massive corruption scandals involving DYP members and the betrayal of election promises made the regime ineffectual in controlling the masses.
Mobilisations of teachers earlier this year and strikes and resistance to privatisation by electricity workers were among the many outbreaks of working-class resistance, while among RP’s own base there emerged a tendency around the unofficial newspaper Akit which openly criticises Erbakan and urges its supporters to concentrate on social justice issues.
This gave space to the opposition Motherland Party to assume
leadership in the big bourgeoisie’s EU direction, projecting a
secular image. The ANAP is ruling in a
coalition with MPs who split from the DYP and the
Left, a virulently nationalist Kemalist party using social
democratic ideology, backed by another social-democratic party. The
role of the social democrats is decisive.
In particular, their control of the trade unions is decisive. While
inflation is running at 100%, the union leaders accepted very tiny
wage rises in order to strengthen
unity in the fight against
Further, for the last nine years, the state has
percentage of workers’ wages
for the future of Turkey,
which was directed to
investors. This year, workers had the
right to take it back, but it will be returned in six stages, without
interest. This means a worker entitled to receive $4000 will now
The social democrats also steal some of RP’s nationalist thunder, but direct it against Greece rather than the EU. When prime minister and ANAP leader Yilmaz concluded the Madrid treaty with Greece in July, within days Democratic Left leader Ecivit was announcing the partial incorporation of occupied northern Cyprus.
The military replaced the RP-DYP with the new
coalition. However, the military has its own interests, which have
also diverged from the new government.
Ironically, the military itself may prove more an obstacle to full EU integration than the Islamists. While European governments have for decades armed Turkey’s military despite massive violations of human rights, these same governments do not want the kind of problems the military is confronting, in particular the Kurdish uprising, within European borders.
The occupation of northern Cyprus would also have to end. In fact, full European integration would threaten the dominant role the Turkish military has long played.
Further, the army has its own major economic interests through the Organisation of Mutual Aid (OYAK), which has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in much of Turkish industry. In a rapid liberalisation, the military’s holdings might be no safer than the eastern interests championed by the Islamists.
The military aims to mask its virulently anti-democratic rule with the
democratic face of fighting the fundamentalist threat. However,
this contradiction has already opened ruptures between the military
and its supposed allies in the new government.
While the government has confronted the fundamentalists by introducing
compulsory eight-year education, to weaken the power of the Islamic
schools, the military is insisting on suppression of the RP. This is
the opposite of what the regime needs to show its
image to the EU.
These various splits among the ruling class are a result of Turkey’s poor economic performance, which is dramatically below the level of the poorest EU country, making its future membership questionable.
Hence, the degree of economic restructuring necessary for Turkey’s entry will be far more painful than it has been for other countries. The reactions from the masses this is likely to create will necessitate considerable repression, as well as increasing nationalistic posturing against Greece, as a diversion.
The military will be around for some time, and Yilmaz and company will
need to wait longer than they would like before they can show any
democratic changes or any economic results.