Revolutionary Communist Party of Turkey

Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK):
an organisation for struggle

There is a “new” popular organisation in Turkey, which has been around for nearly a year, and which made its name widely heard alongside and, in some cases, more than some of those organisations with progressive-democratic, revolutionary or socialist demands: People’s Democratic Congress (HDK).

It is not an organisation which came to being suddenly. For years efforts have been made to unite the broadest sectors of working people of different nationalities, Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Zaza and others, and of oppressed sects and religions in a “front” and around their minimum basic demands. Depending on the ebbs and flows of the workers’ movement, and leaving aside isolated actions against the attacks on the working people, the fight for unity and the development of important efforts gave rise to an electoral alliance called “Labour, Democracy and Freedom Bloc”, which bore fruit in the last few elections.

However, what was needed was such a united popular organisation on a permanent basis embracing much broader sectors of the people.

AKP’s propaganda about “democratisation” serves to pacify the masses and numb their expectations

Since the 2002 election process and the formation of the government of the AKP (Justice and Development Party), it has adopted a tactic to broaden its mass support through the promise of “democratisation and change”. This promise meant a prospect of improving the lives of the popular masses who experienced grave repression by military juntas and anti-democratic governments for decades, who had difficulties meeting even their most basic needs, and who suffered from unemployment, poverty and the traumatic conditions linked with the “Kurdish war”.

For the broad masses the AKP seemed to be “a new party and government”. With the announcement by its leader, Tayyip Erdogan, of an “initiative” for the “democratisation of the country” and for the “solution to the Kurdish question”, expectations rose high for an end to the grave repression.  The “initiative on the Kurdish question” was followed by the “initiative on the Alevi question”, which led the millions of Alevis, who have been oppressed since the rise of the Ottoman Empire, experienced many massacres in the past centuries and as recently as the 1970s and were forced to practice “the demands” of the majority sect (Sunni Islam), to hope for the implementation of bourgeois secularism, at least.

AKP increased its support not only among the Kurdish capitalist circles and the liberal intellectuals of Turkish, Kurdish and other origins, but also among the Kurdish and Alevi masses – the minority sect – thanks to its promises for “improvement”. Another factor which fuelled the hopes was the AKP government’s policy of placing their own cadres in state institutions, hiding behind the propaganda of “being against military trusteeship”. As a result of the reaction against military coups, governments of military juntas and military violence, the liberal intellectuals and groups of national and foreign capital propagandized as another sign of “democratisation” the arrest of those generals and members of counter-guerrilla gangs accused of “making preparations for a coup and conspiracy against the government”.

All this played a role in the AKP government getting public support in the Constitutional Referendum and in the local and national elections. Despite the fact that AKP is a capitalist party which came to power to implement economic policies determined by the big imperialist countries and international financial institutions (IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organisation) in line with the interests of the big bourgeoisie of Turkey, they managed to create a “populist” illusion with their populist rhetoric. This is because the broad masses of the people were not only tired of political and military oppression but also of the economic attacks which affected the majority of the people. The whole burden of the 1994-2001 crises had been put on the working class, with wages, salaries and agricultural base prices lowered, while basic commodity prices increased, redundancies intensified and social rights were cut back. Exploiting the reaction caused by these attacks on the masses, and benefitting from the “vacuum” created by a great number of establishment parties which had been swept away for falling below the electoral threshold due to the 2001 economic crisis, AKP came to the fore as a “new, young and dynamic” party with its hypocritical populist rhetoric. Under these circumstances, when there was no other reliable alternative for the masses, it was no surprise that with its “novelty” this party found a lot of support and raised hopes with the promise of improving the political and economic conditions of the people.

Nevertheless, as the “series” of right-wing conservative and reactionary parties and governments had done, this party and government carried on a line in harmony with the policies of the Western imperialists, especially the USA. The high ranks of this party and its government consisted of those who took part in Turkish nationalist and Islamist organisations and who were united against the anti-imperialist revolutionary and socialist movement, around policies against the working class, the labourers and the Kurdish people.

The AKP government became a subcontractor of and allied itself with the U.S. expansionist and aggressive military and political strategy, which was designed to seize control of the energy resources and their transport routes to world markets in the region of which Turkey is a part. With its collaborationist policy, Turkey aimed at becoming an active regional power, materialising its plans for the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa (Maghreb) under the auspices of the USA. The AKP government is trying to sweeten its “policy of force” against the neighbouring countries with the rhetoric of “zero problems with its neighbours”, just as it was hiding its attacks on the popular masses behind the rhetoric of “democratisation”.

Increasing attacks and the fall of the veil of the hypocrisy of “democratisation” and the “initiative” for the solution of the Kurdish question

The policy which was determined by the interests of big capital and the international monopolies was too harsh and sharp to go on covertly and through hypocritical promises. AKP presented itself as the candidate to decisively implement the socio-economic attacks that were intensified after the 1980s on an international scale in line with these interests, and it now showed itself able to do just that after coming into power.  Moreover, it was even more aggressive than its predecessors, undertaking the representation of the reckless competition and greedy aggression of the capitalist enterprises run by “Islamist” groups which were once known as “the Anatolian Tigers”. One by one it started to implement the attacks on the people as well as the manipulation of the masses. Ironically, “democratisation” meant increasing police brutality, forceful silencing of the workers, public employees, youth, women and even children who rose up for their demands, and imprisoning those who resisted. The practical value of the “initiative on the Kurdish question” did not go beyond broadcasting Kurdish news and popular songs and propagating government policies on a state-owned TV channel. Still continuing to deny the national demands of the Kurdish people, that is, their recognition as a nation and an end to all restrictions and repression in every field, they intensified their efforts to pacify those Kurds in combat, especially the organised sectors, through an encirclement by the government, police, military and judiciary.

The fact that the Kurdish armed movement, PKK, could not be liquidated or weakened to such a point that would lead it to abandon some of its fundamental demands, led the government to abandon its rhetoric of “democratic initiative” and to heighten the policy of violence and attacks, which was announced to be “carried out under a new concept”. It was an overall attack. However, the impossibility of a total liquidation had already been expressed by the two former Chief of Staff (Yasar Buyukanit and Ilker Basbug), who were arrested on charges of allegedly “leading an armed terror organisation, Ergenekon”. (The government opened an investigation to silence the opposition, which led to a frenzied arrest of hundreds of people, including former generals, politicians, journalists, etc. on charges of an attempted coup and conspiracy against the government.) “The marginalisation of the terrorist organisation PKK” would have been considered a success! The armed forces, the police organisation, the judicial system, the Higher Education Institution (YÖK) governing all the universities in the country, and the influential press and media were all under AKP control.

Under the new conditions, in which the AKP government concentrated in its hands the “will” of the legislative, executive and the judicial institutions, the “new concept” meant that the attacks were to be coordinated by the government. The encirclement was against all the organised and combative sectors of the popular masses, but the priority was to pacify the Kurdish movement, that is, to push back and isolate the Kurdish national movement and break the support that they get in order to force them to abandon most of their demands and settle for the bare minimum. The intense wave of attacks, accompanying the propaganda that “the initiative to solve the Kurdish question was continuing”, was designed to get the Kurdish people to bow down by force and to accept the idea that they could not achieve freedom and equality by resistance and that they should accept the imposition of the concept of “one nation, one language”. AKP’s prospective solution to the “Kurdish question” did not go any further than the “right” of the Kurds as individuals to speak the Kurdish language.

This weakening of the resistance of the Kurdish masses would facilitate the implementation, both inside and outside the country, of the policies of the AKP government, which was backed by U.S. imperialism and which had proved its loyalty to the interests of the national and foreign monopolies. While mass arrests were being carried out to disperse the organisation of the Kurdish movement, the Prime Minister and other ministers accused those who criticised these practices of “supporting terrorism”. The Home Secretary went a step further by saying that whether one was a columnist, poet, cartoonist, artist, actor, etc., whoever criticises government policies “must be deactivated” and this must be considered “as part of the fight against terror”. Government announcements of “the show of state power” were accompanied by intensified and expanded attacks, which differed from the previous ones by the fact that militarism and the bureaucratic institutions of the state were mobilised after having been reorganised and centralised at the highest ranks. Professional military assault teams were reinforced with special police teams through which the “operations” were carried out. There was evidence of the use of chemical weapons during the domestic or “cross-border” air strikes (against Kurdish guerrillas). Following the operations against the KCK (Union of Communities in Kurdistan), hundreds of Kurds, including some low-ranking leaders of the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), were arrested because of their participation in the struggle for their national demands. While in their court hearings Kurdish was registered as “an unknown language”, the government representatives continued to deny the existence of restrictions on the Kurdish language. The Prime Minister and his ministers did not deny their political responsibility in these arrests, and the “Specially Appointed Courts”, whose links with the government were clear, decided to expand this frenzy to every part of the country to include all those sectors who opposed the policies of the government and capital. In other words, although the Kurdish national movement suffered the heaviest blows, all the popular sectors opposing the government policies and demanding their rights were now the target. Thousands of such people were arrested, including elected representatives to parliament and 97 journalists. Those who were not arrested and continued their opposition to government policies were eliminated from the media. It was the escalation of an overall offensive.

On the other hand, the version of the attacks could not just be explained by the political-police oppression and pressure. Attacks that led to serious socio-economic consequences were being announced as “package programmes” one after another. Working conditions were made worse. Spokespersons for the government and capital said in their propaganda that Turkey is the 17th largest economy in the world, while 13 million people live in poverty and 13 per cent of the population is unemployed. Due to the fall in wages – also affected by the introduction of “flexible” work and working hours – and the rise in the prices of basic goods, the purchasing power is decreasing. 4.7 million people are working without insurance or membership in a union, below or just at the minimum wage. The “regional minimum payment”, which is half of the minimum wage at 700 TL (340 Euros), is being reintroduced. The General Health Insurance that has been delayed for 2 years due to the elections is now in place. While the government is attempting to pre-empt any reaction through the propaganda that “everyone will have the opportunity to benefit from health insurance, the queues in hospitals will end”, it can be seen in practice that this is a cruel scheme designed to squeeze money out of everyone, including the unemployed. The cancellation of severance pay, a right of the workers earned through long years of struggle, is on the government’s agenda. Redundancies are continuing. Those workers who resist are attacked by the police and put on the “black lists”.

The attacks on the masses, especially on the Kurdish resistance, have combined with a provocative and aggressive war, pushing forward a foreign policy under the shadow of the USA. They are taking sides in the infighting among the rulers in Iraq and they still maintain troops in Afghanistan. The desire to be “the influential power in the region” against Iran has led to a strained relationship. With the building of the new anti-missile shield in Malatya-Kürecik, a new attack position against Iran and Russia has been created. This shield has strained the country’s relations with those countries, as well as with those other countries in the region opposed to the USA. The military intervention in Libya with the USA and France and the taking down of the Gaddafi regime as a result of large massacres is a clear indicator of the aggressive line taken abroad. AKP is trying hard for the Syrian regime to be brought down. They are not hiding this and they are “plotting” a military action. On the Turkish side of the border they are placing special military troops and coordinating “hit-and-run” attacks. The Prime Minister and “his men” are interfering in the internal affairs of Syria as if it was a state in Turkey and they see the collapse of the Assad regime as a pre-condition for Turkey’s dominance in the area. While this is going on, they are also spreading sectarian propaganda using differences between Sunnis and Shi’ites and blaming the Shi’ite leaders for inciting the Alevis in Turkey. What are being pursued are capitalist imperial policies yearning for the “glorious” Ottoman period, which is leading the country into the quagmire of regional war, the potential ingredients for which are accumulating. 

The increasing need to organise together, the rise of the People’s Democratic Congress as an organisation to achieve unity

The need for a people’s democratic organisation that will repel the attacks against all sectors of society fighting for their rights has become more apparent. There was a need for a people’s democratic organisation of the masses, alongside organisations related to economic work such as the trade unions and other organisations of the democratic masses, so that those immediate rights can find their expression in the demand for equality, freedom and democracy for the different classes and strata, religious groups and the popular masses.

The general elections of July 2011 could have been an opportunity for the workers organisations and advanced forces of the masses to get together again. There has been a longstanding experience of unifying forces between the Kurdish national movement and the party of the revolutionary class, which took different forms. The need to formulate a popular, broad-based focus of opposition that could be united around was also more pressing. There is the need for an organisation that could be the focus of the democratic popular movement around which people from different nationalities and beliefs, workers and labourers could unite.

The initiative in organising the HDK goes back to the July 2011 General Elections with the formation of the “Labour, Democracy and Freedom Bloc”, but it was not entirely new. Alliances among democratic political forces formed for elections have been a part of the political landscape in the last decade, if not in earlier years. There have been such alliances just before and linked to the 1999, 2002, 2007 and 2011 elections, but these “blocs” stopped functioning almost immediately after these elections. However, the people needed such a centre of power and struggle with which they could engage in order to solve their main problems, to be permanent rather than temporary. The central need for an organisation that will enable the Kurdish national movement, movements of Turkish workers and labourers and workers and labourers of other ethnic minorities to fight in unity was felt by progressive, democratically minded and revolutionary people from different sectors of society for this long period. It was possible to advance the movement of broad sectors of society provided that a correct tactical line of struggle was developed on the basis of a programme embracing the Kurdish National Party, numerous big and small political circles and those who had left the reactionary bourgeois parties and cliques in search of something new. Despite all the anti-democratic election laws, the 10 per cent national threshold, the support of the Treasury for the bourgeois parties, election activities being subjected to military, police and civilian fascist attacks, it was important to create, against all odds, a united centre of struggle based on the popular forces.

This did not happen due to the lack of advancement of the democratic forces for unity, for example towards a popular front, before the last “bloc” alliance which turned into HDK. On the other hand, the “Labour, Democracy and Freedom Bloc” which was formed for the July 2011 general elections, was approached with the lessons from previous experience and additionally with an understanding to ensure that “it had continuity” and met the expectations of wider sectors to create a unified centre of power. Hence this movement has enjoyed the support of the masses as it met this expectation. The “new bloc”, its initiative and programme was a platform to express the concerns of those authors, artists, youth and people of all sectors who were aware of the threat posed by the AKP policies, dragging the country into a quagmire by an aggressive policy of imperialist conflict abroad as well as the use of the Kurdish question to drag the country into a period of conflict at home. This was the reason why it received wide support from intellectuals, trade unionists, academicians, etc. and the election results were a direct manifestation of this fact.

In terms of those sectors reluctant “to act together with the Kurdish Party”, the fact that despite the AKP government’s increasing attacks, some sectors of working people got bigger strengthened the tendency to get together. The support that the “Labour, Democracy and Freedom Bloc” received has also strengthened the tendency to take part in a “unity movement” of those parties, organisations and individual intellectuals, trade unionists and academicians who were not in the “Bloc” for one reason or another. Unity was achieved around demands such as “a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question based on equal rights”, “an end to neo-liberal policies”, “no to market rules on the question of health and education”, “for jobs, peace and freedom”. Hence, despite all repression and electoral tricks the percentage of the vote that the Bloc received increased and 36 of its candidates got elected. This successful result gave rise to the expectation and possibility of the unity of broad sectors of people.

HDK, prospects and forces

In early August 2011 a number of political parties, organisations and individuals as well as the components of the “Labour, Democracy and Freedom Bloc” agreed to form an organisation that would keep their “own organisational and ideological independence” to serve as a kind of “front organisation”. Up to 20 political parties, organisations and political formations announced that they would take part. This was a formation beyond the “Bloc” for unity in the elections. The aforementioned conditions and the intensification of reactionary activities played a direct role in this. It was the decision of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and organisations as well as those who had never taken part in any political organisation, united in a popular opposition, to repel the attacks of capital and the government on all sectors of society. With the belief that it will meet this need, HDK has received the support of professional and trade union institutions, political organisations and groups and individual intellectuals, authors and artists. While deciding to work together, various revolutionary, democratic, socialist and patriotic parties, organisations and groups identified as a priority the work to convince those sectors reluctant to join them. Following meetings in 81 cities to establish a representation of the national will to determine the name of the organisation to be united around, its programme, working principals and the creation of temporary bodies to achieve these, the HDK initiative held its First Congress on 15-16 October 2011. The “National Assembly” of 121 members and a 25-strong “Steering Committee” were elected. Following the discussions it was agreed that the central committee must be based on people’s councils in cities and towns, focusing on organising in the factories, streets, neighbourhoods and villages, and thus HDK was established. With this organisation, the Kurdish people’s fight for equality and freedom would find a more effective support, and the development of the united democratic struggle of all classes and strata would have greater opportunities. Whether this organisation came onto the scene of history to meet the need of the oppressed and exploited to fight, whether it will show this ability or not, is directly linked to the work and determination to be shown in this direction.

Some parliamentary representatives of the “Bloc”, including Sebahat Tuncel, Ahmet Turk and the former Emek Party leader A. Levent Tüzel, who were given the task of organising the HDK, met with various sectors of society and coordinated the organisation of “city and town councils”. Numerous progressive individuals, who had formerly never been members of a political organisation, have taken part as “individuals” in these activities.

The majority of the followers of HDK are primarily supporters of the Kurdish struggle, the workers and labourers from the two different nations – Turkish and Kurdish – and other ethnic groups and the organisations they are affiliated with, including the Revolutionary Party of the Class. A considerable number of intellectuals, authors, artists, academicians, youths and some trade unionists are also part of this. The fact that the Kurdish National Party and the Revolutionary Party of the Class are the two main players in this organisation has particular importance because of their responsibility in uniting the two bases in the mass struggle, that is, the Kurds, the popular masses, the urban working class and the rural labouring forces. This is because the oppressed Kurdish people and the Turkish working class must unite to develop a movement that will enhance the struggle for democracy and meet the urgent needs of the people in the fight against capitalism. The support of these two powers will play a special role in ensuring the success of the path identified by HDK. This obviously is an observation related to the special responsibilities of the two main political currents rather than being about the importance of the attitudes and work of the individuals and groups or parties that pursue a political agenda within HDK.

The national movement has strong organisational ties with the Kurdish population and has the support of the masses. HDK will be strengthened by this. On the other hand, the working class of Turkey is far from being united in its own class organisations. Therefore, the Revolutionary Party of the Class holds a special responsibility to strengthen the support of the workers for HDK through actions that will serve to unite the whole of the working class in its struggle against capital. Through this work to achieve the ideological, political and organisational unity of the working class the Revolutionary Party will broaden its mass base and it will also enhance the organisation of the HDK in such a way as to contribute to the democratic, anti-imperialist and progressive unity of the workers of all nationalities and religions, of the progressive, democratic, revolutionary, socialist intellectuals, authors, artists, academicians, trade unionists, etc. From this perspective, the actions to enhance the organisation of the workers and the Revolutionary Party will also strengthen the HDK. Since it is necessary to unite the oppressed peoples of different ethnicities and beliefs in their fight for justice, it is also important to break the effect of chauvinism and enmity towards Kurds incited by the capitalist circles and the AKP.

It is very important that those tendencies that would have negative effect on the work of unification among the masses should be eradicated. Equally important is the need to focus on the struggle against the aggressive policies of capital and the government domestically and internationally, and to give priority to the organisation of the masses which is the basis to strengthen this struggle.  This is important not only because it is a precondition for success for the anti-imperialist and anti-war struggle, for HDK, for democracy, political freedoms and equal national rights against the capitalist policy of plunder, but also because of the enhancement of the struggle against capital through HDK’s contribution to the unity of the peoples, the working class and the oppressed of all nationalities. This struggle will also directly strengthen the HDK. This work is vital for the revolutionary organisation of the working class, for the advance of the struggle against capital and the development of class consciousness through the struggle against all forms of oppression. HDK has shown – through its actions – its dedication to the line of struggle that it announced during its formation, despite having some issues and weaknesses yet to be overcome.

The continuation and strengthening of its actions will depend on the determination shown by the founding forces to fight for the rights of the workers, the Kurds and all other oppressed peoples and their willingness to conduct this fight in a united and organised manner.

The policies are used against the workers and the working class, the peoples – the majority of whom are Turks and Kurds – with different identities and beliefs under pressure, divided along the lines of secularism and sharia [the traditional system of Islamic law] and “right” and “left” and pulled into line behind the mainstream parties. The Kurdish question is portrayed not as the struggle of a nation for equal rights or its right to determine its own future but as “separatist”, for the “division of the country” or the “efforts of outside influences to rip Turkey up”. It is necessary to overcome this perception and division among the workers, to overcome the threat of Turkish chauvinism leading to a Kurdish-Turkish conflict. In opposition to these policies, HDK will function as centre of unity and organisation. With its programme of struggle against imperialism, wars and occupations, against sexism, national and religious oppression, the plunder of nature and the environment, the commercialisation of water, education, health, transport and housing, HDK will play a significant role in the struggle of all oppressed peoples. These are its objectives. It is impossible to advance without a determined defence of the national and democratic demands of the Kurdish people and the socio-economic and political democratic rights of the Turkish and other nationalities. The party of the working class, the Kurdish national and revolutionary movement, the democratic parties, organisations and political formations, the environmental movements, the oppressed peoples of different nationalities and beliefs, the women and youth sectors, intellectuals and academicians all have a direct responsibility to all nationalities and the oppressed in the country.

The dragging of the country by the AKP government into a state of regional tension, the intensification of the economic-political attacks on the workers, the suppression of the Kurds and the attempt to force them to be grateful for the most regressive demands, all indicate the wide opportunity to create unity among the masses against these attacks. It is obvious that one cannot deny the conditions for the expression of mass resistance of the national struggle in the Kurdish region. We could see mass resistance soon! There are continuing announcements of a “Newroz Celebration” based on the masses on 21 March, which is considered the “National Day of Resistance” by the Kurds. There is continuing anger against the massacre of 34 Kurdish villagers in a bombardment by a Turkish F-16 fighter plane on the border with Iraq, in collaboration with the USA and Israel. There is also a growing reaction against the on-going military-police attacks, custodies and prosecutions. The economic-political attacks against Turkish, Kurdish and other nationality workers are intensifying. The attacks, custodies and prosecutions of intellectuals, authors, artists, academicians, trade unionists, journalists and others are on the increase. All this makes the work to achieve the unity of the masses in struggle, expressed by HDK at its establishment, an urgent need. This is what will strengthen the HDK and make it a “lasting” organisation as is expected of it.

February 2012

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