Turkey: What Gezi is teaching the left

Issue 

The capacity of the Turkish revolutionary left to help lead a mass revolt has been tested during the past month of the Gezi protests.

They are now calling it “the Great June Resistance”. The left clearly feel lighter, refreshed. Their spirit is higher than it has been for decades. And most importantly, they have a direction to grasp. The path forward is clear.

A united people’s struggle for revolution has been the dream of Turkey's left for more than four decades. Finally they have experienced a real united mass peoples movement.

The power of the Great June Resistance has finally forced the revolutionary left to act together, something in which they have very little experience. The Turkish left has a terrible history of angry, and sometimes bloody division.

For the first time in their history, the Turkish left has been educated about united struggle by a mass peoples’ movement. Some did not understand it, but the groups that put their slogans, symbols and their own identity before the people in revolt quickly became irrelevant to the demonstrations.

Here is just one good example of the lessons Gezi has taught to the left. During demonstrations in Izmir, Turkey’s third-biggest city, two left parties, the Turkish Communist Party (TKP) and the Socialist Democracy Party (SDP), confronted each other in the usual way. Things got ugly and there was violence.

But for the first time ever, the two parties’ central committees got together, resolved the issue and published a joint statement of regret.

In a different situation, this dispute would have dragged on over a long period, exhausting their energies. It would never have been resolved but, at best, eventually forgotten.

The confidence inspired by the Great June Resistance feels like a new start for relations among the left. It is giving rise to some proposals that would never have been possible before.

Some sections of the left have started to call for Gezi hero Sirri Sureyya Onder to be the movement’s mayoral candidate for Istanbul in next years’ local government elections. Onder is a member of parliament for the umbrella alliance of Kurdish, Green and Socialist parties, the People's Democratic Congress (HDK).

If it happens, it is likely that a very large proportion of the left would support him and further deepen their experience of cooperation and unity.

After 20 days of street fighting, the spirit of Gezi is now living in nightly forums in the suburban parks of Istanbul and other cities. The biggest are in Istanbul’s Besiktas, Abbasaga, and in Kadıkoy, Yogurtcu Parks.

Thousands of people are taking part. There are discussions about how those forums can be transformed to form a new kind of national group. With local government elections just eight months away, these forums could be very useful.

On the other hand, there is a danger the forums could exhaust themselves and disappear over time if they don’t create concrete plans and targets.

Since the start, there have been concerns that Turkish nationalists could hijack the movement. If this were a secular nationalist, anti-islamist, anti-Kurd movement, the peace process between the Kurdish freedom movement and the AKP government would have been targeted, as it is a major government initiative.

Nationalists would love to see slogans against the peace process, but the movement has not taken them up. The main slogan of the nationalists, “We are soldiers of Mustafa Kemal” (founder of secular Turkey) was ridiculed by the protesters’ counter slogan: “We are the soldiers of Mustafa Keser” (a contemporary folk musician and figure of fun).

When police killed a protester in the Kurdish town of Lice on June 28 (a town that was burned to the ground in 1993), Taksim and Kadikoy Squares erupted with “Lice, Resist” slogans.

This was the last nail in the nationalists’ coffin in the Gezi resistance.

An entirely new generation that has never been politically active took part in protests for the first time during the Gezi resistance. They have left their mark on everything.

It is a new generation with different attitudes, language and behaviour. Their parents may have believed that if Kurds spoke their own language, the country would be torn apart. Or if a girl went to school with her headscarf, sharia law would follow.

This was paranoia created by nationalists. But the new generation are different and most socialists can see it. This is the challenge they must meet.

[I Zekeriya Ayman is a Kurdish Turkish socialist living in Melbourne.]


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