FRFI 159 February / March 2001

Turkey: Middle Eastern revolution under siege

Middle Eastern revolution faces the prospect of being liquidated at its pivotal point in Anatolia/ Kurdistan. This attack is the third of its kind and the most serious; the previous crises being the fascist coup of 1980 and the counter-revolutionary climate which followed the collapse of the socialist countries in the early 1990s. The weakening of the Middle Eastern revolution, following the imperialist Gulf War, is essentially rooted in the isolation of the Kurdish national liberation struggle.

Over the last eight years, the isolation of the Kurdish freedom movement has gradually led to the abandonment of its initial strategy and aims. These included, for example, a pledge to bring about 'the October Revolution of the Middle East'.

The party of national liberation, Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK), represented the unity of young proletarian revolutionaries with the oppressed Kurdish masses. Most of those in the nucleus of the liberation movement had gained their first political experience in the revolutionary organisations of the Turkish left.

After 1984, the rise of the Kurdish national liberation struggle coincided with the destruction of the Turkish revolutionary movement. This contradiction has never been surmounted, despite various attempts to unite the two revolutionary dynamics. The Kurdish revolution had organisationally and morally overtaken the Turkish socialist movement. Some sections of the Turkish revolutionary movement attempted to act in solidarity with the national liberation struggle and use its rise to reconsolidate socialist struggle in Turkey; however despite some low level operations in Turkish cities after 1991, they remained ineffective. An armed resistance front, FKBDC (Unified Resistance Front Against Fascism), was founded by seven revolutionary organisations and the PKK in 1982, and another, the Revolutionary League, in 1985, but both were subsequently dissolved. Since 1990, virtually every Turkish left organisation which has collaborated with the PKK in political and armed struggle has been militarily attacked by the Turkish regime and its leaders have been killed.

This 'cleansing process' paved the way for legal parties such as …DP (Freedom and Solidarity Party), EMEP (Labour Party) and SIP (Party for Socialist Power) to form a mainstream conformist Turkish left. In the 1980s 'Turkeyfication' was a radical policy, whereby the liberation movement refused to limit itself to demanding a free Kurdistan but expressed the needs of the working people of Turkey as well. However, today the same term is used to describe a middle class policy of 'social peace', whose exponents enthuse about integration in the Turkish political system and seek the acceptance of the ruling and middle classes. The potential of the Kurdish liberation movement to spark revolution in Anatolia is therefore now fading.

The defeat of the Kurdish revolution is also adversely affecting all the revolutionary positions held by non-reformist, internationalist sections of the left, leading to:

  • increased belief in 'European democracy' and the victory of western democracies over 'totalitarian bureaucracies';
  • legitimisation of the fascist MHP (Nationalist Action Party) through 'civilian dialogue';
  • refutation of class politics in trade unions and defence of 'social consensus';
  • glorification of the Turkish army as a 'democratic force for reform';
  • invention of positive aspects of the New World Order and declaration of 'the end of the age of revolutions';
  • rehabilitation of Kemalism as progressive apart from a 'little Kurdo-phobia';
  • labelling the armed struggle as a 'blind alley'.

Worst of all, adherents of such positions accuse those anti-imperialists who continue to insist on the right of nations to self-determination of being 'dogmatic and sectarian'. Cadres who are unconvinced by the dressing up of these trite political discoveries as 'new policies' for the Kurdish 'Democratic Republic' are being isolated and eliminated.

The main responsibility for this tragedy lies with the traditional Turkish left. The gap left by Turkish revolutionaries is being filled by New World Order democrats and the Turkish ruling class.

Today, imperialist military attack in the Middle East is accompanied by a political siege of the Kurdish, Palestinian, Turkish, Iranian and Arabic revolutions. Counter-revolutionary restoration in the Shi'ite Iranian and Palestinian revolutions and the paralysis of the revolutionary process in Turkish cities contributed to the isolation of the Kurdish revolution. This has created a political climate which greatly diminishes the initiative of the oppressed peoples in the region.

This is in contrast to the period 1988-1992 when revolutionary politics made progress and both the ruling class and the anti-imperialist forces were conscious of an impending revolutionary crisis.

The current siege of the Middle Eastern revolution is related to the growing role of Pax Americana in the region, which has been fuelled by shifts in the balance of imperialist forces.

German imperialism gained strength from its role in the central and eastern European counter-revolutions. For example, until recently, the Iranian bourgeoisie compensated for the deprivation caused by the US blockade by collaborating with German capitalism. The German state supported middle class opposition to the Iranian Shi'ite revolution and used Iran-based Kurdish leaders as pawns.

Germany began to weaken after 1992 because, despite its economic strength, it was unable to privatise the entire infrastructure of the ex-centrally planned economies and make them profitable for its economic upswing. Since then the Anglo-US bloc has gained hegemony in the capitalist world system and is overtaking the political influence of German imperialism on the Palestinian and Iranian bourgeoisies.

As a sub-contractor country of US imperialist plans, Turkey reduced the economic dynamism of the German, Iranian and Azerbaijani propertied classes and helped US-British intelligence gain ground. US military and foreign policy apparatuses completed what was initiated by Germany in Croatia, the Baltic republics and Palestine. The CIA even played a direct role in helping the Palestinian Authority set up a police force.

In 1991, Germany unilaterally recognised Croatia and Slovenia. This was the first step towards division of Yugoslavia. But following NATO intervention and bombardment, Germany fell to a secondary position and Pax Americana gained hegemony in Yugoslavia.

The main Middle Eastern allies of the Anglo-US bloc are Turkey and Israel. Neither is a historical nation state; instead they are counter-guerilla bodies organised in state form to suppress other peoples of the region. The alliance between them was covert until 1992 and took place at the level of counter-guerilla intelligence. The main outcome of this terrorist co-operation has been the concessions wrung from the governments of Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. For example, co-operation between Turkey and Syria on 'prevention of terrorism' dates back to 1992. Since 1991, the bases of revolutionary movements situated in these countries have been under increasing financial, political and military constraint, as the host regimes have capitulated to imperialism.

This has also contributed to the defeat of the revolutionary movements in Turkey. Firstly, some revolutionary and anti-imperialist organisations failed to retain organisational and ideological independence from the Ba'ath and Arabic states. Secondly, there was a wave of migration from the Middle East to Europe, with militarily trained revolutionary cadres becoming refugees on the margins of the European welfare state and consumer society.

German imperialism also played a role in the diaspora of Anatolian and Middle Eastern peoples. Since the 1980s the German state was involved with the Palestinian bourgeois opposition, the Iranian trade bourgeoisie and middle class opposition, and the larger mainstream Turkish left parties, such as the TKP (Communist Party of Turkey) and Devrimci Yol (Revolutionary Path). The German ruling class also tried to manipulate the European front organisations of the Kurdish national liberation movement. Some Iranian-Kurdish leaders, such as Abdurrahman Quasimlo, were killed in Germany, while German capitalists did business with the Tehran and Tebriz bourgeoisie. German social democracy also helped the Palestinian bourgeoisie to isolate the revolutionary organisations fighting for total liberation from imperialist powers.

TKP and DY leaders in Germany assisted in liquidating their own movements and reducing them to pressure groups. In the late 1980s TKP-led trade unionists did their best to bureaucratise Turkish unions, while a new wave of post-coup working class militancy was on the rise. DY leaders pressurised the movement's armed wing to give up its arms and break from the revolutionary front with the PKK. Hundreds of DY fighters in the Black Sea region were captured or killed. Thousands of working class TKP members were abandoned to their fates. A new type of 'NGO democratism' was substituted for radical struggle.

The Gulf War was the height of the PKK's anti-imperialist standpoint. It fought on two fronts, in northern and southern Kurdistan. But, from the killing of Vedat Aydin, head of the Diyarbakir human rights association, in 1991, and the armed suppression of the civilian uprising Serhildan, the guerilla struggle was forced back to the mountains. 18,000 civilians were killed during the next ten years.

1991 also saw the start of police raids on political cells in Istanbul and Adana in which revolutionary leaders and activists were murdered or captured, resulting in nearly 12,000 political prisoners. This was the beginning of the isolation of the PKK's armed struggle and the erosion of the national liberation struggle's anti-imperialist politics.

Until 1991, German imperialist control over the anti-US independence movements in the Middle East was increasing. This was done by threat of deportation, imprisonment, the sending of fascist MPs to bargain with revolutionary leaders in Bekaa, provision of financial facilities to collaborationist elements in the movements and by political show-trials. For example, when some national liberation movement leaders were put on trial in Germany, politicians openly called for the 'democratisation' and disarming of the PKK. At its 4th, 5th and 6th congresses, the PKK condemned the petit-bourgeois elements, who were alien to the guerilla struggle, and who voiced exaggerated expectations of European support for 'democratisation'.

Today the international conspiracy against the PKK is organised by the Anglo-US bloc. The Kurdish people are reacting to the PKK's new strategic policies according to their class basis. Middle class elements are regaining strength and the Kurdish poor masses are caught between their radical anti-state tradition of struggle and the fear of revisiting the outcome of the previous round of uprising: the physical destruction of the leadership and integration of propertied elements into the colonial political system. This is what PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan severely condemned shortly after he landed in Rome but it is also what the PKK is now being forced to accept by the Anglo-US new order, despite having rejected it when Germany tried to impose it.

But the contradictions in the Middle East are so strong that all attempts to impose an unjust 'peace' are ultimately bound to fail. From new US President George Bush's comments on the Middle East, an acceleration in US aggression is almost certain. The US needs a bellicose, militaristic regional power other than Israel in the Middle East, especially to control Southern Kurdistan and Iraq. Turkey, after having lost the hope of foreign economic resources and European integration, needs to get what it could not during the Gulf War: the oil of Mussoul and Kharkuk. On the other hand, Germany is trying to rebuild its political muscle by forging alliances with Russia and, through Russia, with Iran, India and China.

Turkey, one of the world's most rapidly arming countries, has no margin for political flexibility. Therefore it has to massacre the political cadres in the prisons and provoke total confrontation with PKK guerillas. The Turkish bourgeoisie has to prove that it is not to be bargained with. This is also its message to the working class which was beginning to organise against the IMF. Presumably, the PKK is now adapting itself to a more confrontational period with a new concept of Serhildan and social struggle in the cities. As expected, the strategic change towards 'peace' in PKK policy eroded confidence in other revolutionary organisations but, even just to survive, the PKK can never turn into a disarmed force and, after so many defeats, Turkish revolutionary organisations cannot abandon the poor urban Kurdish masses even for the sake of their own social revitalisation. Now it is time to forge new ways of uniting the social struggle with the liberation struggle.

Murad Akincilar