Jun 10, 2013
The following article is translated from the June 7 issue of Lutte Ouvrière [Workers’ Struggle], from the journal of the revolutionary organization of the same name active in France.
Without a doubt, it was only the thousandth or the ten-thousandth time that the Turkish police had intervened against demonstrators, using their usual methods. Those who demonstrated against the proposed construction of a shopping mall in the same location as Gezi Park – next to Taksim Square and right in the heart of Istanbul – fell victim to ferocious police assaults on Thursday, May 30th and Friday, May 31st. Water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray, and savage beatings were supposed to have sent the demonstrators back home crippled by blows and to discourage anyone else from joining them. However, things did not turn out this way.
This time, the brutality of the police only increased the protestors’ anger and caused their numbers to grow. Many young people and workers from all the neighborhoods of this immense concentration of 15 million people came to swell the ranks of those opposed to cutting down the trees of Gezi Park. These huge, historic plane trees standing in the middle of Istanbul had offered a relaxing shade. They were supposed to be cut down to feed real estate speculation by friends of the prime minister.
The battle then raged on, resulting in more than a thousand injuries. But the violence of the police proved powerless in the face of the ever-growing number of demonstrators, who built barricades to protect themselves. This clash appeared to go well beyond the question of the venerable trees of Gezi Park. It was a protest against the methods of the government, its constant resort to repression, its disdain for the population, and the attempts by the Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan to impose his morality in order to please the reactionaries who support him.
On Saturday, June 1st, the government was forced to retreat. It ordered the police to withdraw from Taksim Square and the nearby streets. But an ever larger crowd occupied the square instead, shouting the slogan, “Government, resign!” Demonstrators descended into the streets of other neighborhoods of Istanbul, as well as those of the capital Ankara, an Aegean coastal city, and in many more cities, large and small.
As for Erdogan, he feigned indifference and declared that he would continue with his scheduled tour of North African countries. He used the typical excuse of politicians, claiming there were only a handful of demonstrators, manipulated by extremists and by “foreigners.” In fact, he found himself faced with determined masses who had gathered together all across the country. In the evening, the crowds grew even larger, with people coming from work to show their support for those in Taksim Square or other areas. Three union confederations called for a work stoppage on June 4th and 5th, and a general strike was under discussion.
The trees of Gezi Park are saved, at least for the moment, but now the problem of Erdogan’s government remains. His AKP party has won three elections in a row, taking advantage of Turkey’s economic growth. However, after a certain initial caution, the AKP now makes its Islamist and authoritarian approach more clear – attempting to restrict the public sale of alcohol, condemning abortion as murder, using brute force against all demonstrations, and increasing the number of arrests.
Added to all of this is the regime’s engagement in Syria. By supporting the Islamist opposition to Bashar al-Assad and provoking bombings in response like the one in Reyhanli in southeastern Turkey, Erdogan draws Turkey into the crisis more and more. Many reproach him for this. In any case, the rise of conservatism is shocking to an entire section of the Turkish public, which has had enough of the regime’s authoritarianism. This disgust is not limited to the partisans of the social democratic party CHP, a competitor of the AKP, which defends the secular political tradition and would like to take advantage of the current movement.
No matter what threats the prime minister makes, there is no doubt that he is discredited by the demonstrations and upheaval that Turkey is going through. The movement can still develop farther. For many, it is not only the regime, its police, and its pretensions to moral order that are involved, but also its corruption, the sheer power of the bosses, and the exploitation and harshness of daily life, despite the economic prowess that Erdogan brags about. Not only can the working class participate in the movement – it can organize on its own basis, putting forward its own demands and affirming itself as a political force that wants to end this society based on exploitation.
Many of the workers and young people who have mobilized will not be satisfied with the vague prospect of political change at the head of the government. Such a movement teaches a much stronger lesson than any speech. Its participants were able to measure, in the streets of Istanbul and many other cities, their size and the strength of their feelings. They can also learn how to defeat not only the cops of Taksim Square, but also the bourgeoisie and its government.