[Part one of this article, an interview with Sevda Karaca, can be found here.]
Turkey prepared for general elections in May after a devastating earthquake from which it had not fully recovered. The country then went through a long and exhausting electoral process, but one full of promise even though the main opposition's hopes were not realized. Despite all this, many progressive, revolutionary, and democratic opposition MPs were elected to the new Turkish parliament. In addition to the Cumhur Alliance—formed by Erdoğan, his fascist partner the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and small right-wing parties—and the Millet Alliance—led by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and composed of other right-wing parties, representing the main capitalist opposition—a third electoral alliance, the Labor and Freedom Alliance, was formed by the left, the Kurdish national movement, and democratic forces. The Green Left Party (YSP) and the Workers' Party of Turkey (TİP) lists included left-wing socialist MPs. Two of them are Sevda Karaca and İskender Bayhan, MPs from the Labor Party (EMEP), which came from the working class struggle in Turkey and were elected from the YSP lists. I talked to Karaca and Bayhan about what kind of Turkey working people can expect after the elections.
EK: Mr. Bayhan, you were elected from the third district of Istanbul. The region you worked in is a region where AKP supporters live in large numbers. You also encountered many Kurdish and immigrant workers. What did your electoral campaign show you? What is the picture of Turkey for workers and laborers?
İskender Bayhan (İB): There are a total of thirteen districts in Istanbul's third region. The population of these three districts is around 5,695,000, according to official counts. There are four districts from the third region that are among the twenty most populous districts in Turkey. Therefore, this is an important region in terms of understanding the election results as it reflects the attitudes and tendencies of the workers of Turkey. Seventy-one percent of the citizens living in this region are of working age. When we look at the working conditions and the working order of workers in the industrial production concentrated in the region, we see that the unionization rate is very low, but when we look at the number of applications for social assistance, we see that it is far above the national average.
Again, as you said, the districts where migrant workers work most intensively and receive the most migration are located in this region. Now, when we look at this data, the total picture shows the following: We are faced with a picture where workers are oppressed under long shifts, workers are subjected to heavy pressure and threats despite wages below the hunger limit, workers who want to exercise their union rights and freedoms got fired from their jobs, and despite working in such inhumane conditions, workers cannot provide for their families and cannot even put a slice of cheese in their children's lunchboxes.
This is also the picture of the AKP's "stability." The one-man regime is a capitalist party that is very skillful in condemning the working people to misery and buying the misery it creates from the working people. When this skill is added to the organized power of the state and the reactionary ideological siege of the religious sects, it has achieved a lot of stability in making the conditions in which the capitalist class can exploit the workers comfortably permanent and continuous. It can be said that the laborers, who have been made unable to put a slice of cheese in their children's lunchboxes, are being cajoled into accepting the lesser of two evils because they are afraid that the social aid they receive will be cut off.
However, we should also note the workers and laborers we had the opportunity to chat with during the election process, who were somehow affected by the Cumhur Alliance, who voted for the AKP and Erdoğan. Among the workers we met here, of course, there is no one who is satisfied with their working and living conditions. But it must also be said that the AKP or Erdoğan is not seen as responsible for the problems experienced here.
In summary, the scene of the AKP’s Turkey is one in which stability is ensured under the harshest conditions of exploitation for the benefit of capital; this stability is defined as "great Turkey," and workers are imprisoned in disorganization and manipulation that will make it difficult for them to understand that this "great Turkey" is the "great" country of their enemies, the class. When the workers trust their own organized forces and start doing politics to protect their own rights and lives, to earn a humane life, this bleak picture can be torn away so easily. As a party, we have entered a process in which we will accelerate our activities to concentrate on this issue in the workplaces and to enable workers to establish their own organizations.
It may also be necessary to note the following here: The despair and pessimism of the poor and working people is rooted in the fact that they are not aware of their own power and expect the solution from parties that contradict the interests of their own class, or that this expectation has been created. We are going through a period in which we have to be organized rather than hopeless, determined rather than pessimistic.
EK: How was Erdoğan able to win despite a major earthquake and an economic crisis in Turkey? How do you interpret this as a Labor Party MP?
İB: As a party that, from the moment of the earthquake, has worked day and night to rebuild life in the region, to hold the hands of earthquake victims and to hold capitalists and their political representatives to account for what happened, we believe that these election results were not unexpected "despite" the earthquake and the economic crisis. As I mentioned earlier, the AKP government of twenty years has been using all the means of the state, from the media to social aid mechanisms, as a tool of consent and domination over workers and laborers. This ideological siege on workers has to a large extent prevented the form of politics that can develop from their own class experiences and interests.
This ideological siege should not be seen as a monolithic and holistic siege. Because there is also a seven-point decline in the AKP's vote share. Therefore, a significant part of the workers who are oppressed by misery wages, poverty, and inflation have sent a warning message to the AKP. I say this is a warning message because even though the workers see the contradiction between their class interests and the interests of the AKP, which is a party of order, they have not yet reached the stage of making a politics in line with their class demands. Therefore, some of these melting votes have shifted to the New Welfare Party, which is on the rise, especially in industrial areas.
The New Welfare Party, which declares at every opportunity that it is a moderate opposition, organizes especially in poor neighborhoods and workers' districts. This periodic role of the New Welfare Party should be interpreted by assuming that it will follow a line aimed at softening the sharpened class contradictions and creating peace rather than class conflict. In a way, it is possible to say that it functions as a buffer to cool down the anger of the masses that have broken away from the AKP due to their class-based grievances.
For the workers and laborers who still decided to continue with the AKP, it is obvious that nationalist ideological propaganda also had an impact. In particular, investments in domestic and national technology and the defense industry have caused workers to be articulated with the deception of a "Strong Turkey" instead of their own class interests. At this point, workers should not fall for the deception that everything good is from the government and everything bad is from fate.
For us, this picture was reflected in the election results. The weakness of the struggle and organization of workers in their factories and workplaces caused them as a class not to position themselves as subjects in politics. Therefore, as long as workers struggle for the improvement of their living and working conditions and make gains, they will be able to position themselves as a transformative subject.
EK: Erdoğan's support is 52 percent, while Kılıçdaroğlu's is 48 percent. These figures indicate polarization. On the one hand, the Cumhur Alliance resorted to deception, threats, and violence, while the Millet Alliance first approached the Kurdish people pragmatically and then signed a protocol with ultra-nationalists. In such an atmosphere where both capitalist alliances have difficulty in making policy, we have a parliament that has little influence on the presidential office. What kind of Turkey awaits us?
İB: When polarization occurs around two bourgeois cliques, when workers themselves cannot exist as a clique on the political scene, a more artificial and temporary polarization emerges. When it is realized that the real poles are capital on one side and labor on the other, when workers, instead of fighting each other with the rhetoric of those who make empty promises to them, unite to win their rights against empty promises and those who sell dreams, and impose themselves as the strongest pole, then a country of victorious battles awaits us. But if they continue to vote for the same parties as their bosses and expect the change they envision to come from the party of their bosses, then we will see a country mired in misery in the "great Turkey" of the bosses.
As a matter of fact, it is a dream to think of a parliament that can have influence over the presidential office. It is made up of a large aggregate that is there to defend values and interests that do not contradict the capitalist values represented by the presidential office. If there is to be an impact on the presidency, only the people themselves can do it. We will do our part to ensure this in such a period, to strengthen the organization of the people's struggle and to show in the most effective way why the "presidential office" and this assembly of bosses cannot solve the problems of the people.
We also told this to the factory workers we addressed during the election campaigns. We asked for their votes, saying that in the coming period, both the international developments and the plans of capital within the country will bring great misery to the working people, that they are after more usurpation of rights, more plundering of the country's lands, and that for this reason, the more representatives of workers and laborers in the parliament to be formed, the more this will be in the interest of the workers.
EK: The electoral performance of the Labor and Freedom Alliance, of which your party, the Labor Party, is a part, did not achieve the vote share that the forces of democracy had previously achieved. Is there any critical process going on in this regard? In such a situation, how do you and your allies, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and the Workers' Party of Turkey (TİP), plan to fight against the conditions you mentioned?
İB: The development of the struggle for labor and democracy is important in terms of standing against the one man and his policies in the coming period as the guarantor and organizer of the struggles of the people on the streets, in the workplace, at school, beyond the unity of the alliance to ask for votes. It is also important for us that this is organized at the local level as opposed to the central level. In this respect, we attach importance to strengthening the grounds where we will come side by side and act together with both our friends who are part of the Labor and Freedom alliance and our friends who make up the Union of Socialist Forces. We see this as one of the basic needs for the defense of labor and freedom against the one man in the coming period.