The Guardian • Issue #1991

Interview with comrade Ekin Sönmez from the Communist Party of Turkey

Interview conducted by E Lennon and Anna Pha

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1991

Ekin Sönmez.

Comrade Ekin Sönmez is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP). Our comrades at the Guardian – The Workers’ Weekly talked with comrade Ekin to learn more about Turkey and the TKP’s role in its class struggle.

Guardian (G): How would you describe the involvement of youth within the TKP?

Ekin Sönmez (ES): Let me start answering this by noting that the average age of Turkish society is still around twenty-nine. Therefore, we are talking about a relatively young society, where young workers constitute a significant part of the population. In such a country, the organisation of the Communist Party among the youth is, of course, particularly important. 

Considering our organisational strategies among high school and university students, we should mention that historically, youth has always been at the forefront of the working-class struggle in Turkey, especially since the ’60s. Important youth leaders had been the leading figures and militants of the communist struggle. Both because of this historical heritage and because the people who are most affected by the crises of capitalism today are the young workers who cannot see their future. Our political work among youth has been one of the most dynamic and critical parts of our struggle. Specifically, I can say that about one-third of TKP members are students and young people in their 20s.

Communist Youth of Turkey, formed by young party members and cadres – as well as leftist high-schoolers – are the two dimensions of our struggle in high schools and universities. With these, we are trying to organise in many high schools and universities of Turkey, as well as within student societies, and clubs. What can be more natural than the defence of the right to high-quality, scientific, secular and free education, against the reactionary religious changes within the educational system, by those who are now facing the direct impact of the undermining of many achievements?

We should also note that working while studying has turned into a rule from being an exception under today’s conditions. Many university students have to work at various workplaces in what we can call the services sector, such as cafes, bars, shopping malls, call centres etc., to afford their living and cover their educational expenses. We are making efforts to organise these young student-workers, who recognise the reality of exploitation at a very young age.

The political and ideological organisation among youth has always been of central importance to our Party. Of course, this includes Turkish Communist Youth’s bilateral relations with other youth organisations as well as those under the umbrella of the World Federation of Democratic Youth.

G: What do you think the CPA and the TKP can learn from each other?

ES: Our parties struggle in two countries with very different historical and cultural backgrounds and economic dynamics. But we are struggling without ignoring the importance of universality of socialist struggle and internationalist values. We know that the mainstream media and communication tools mislead the working class in the service of the bourgeoisie all over the world, and at this point, we have an obligation to share the truth with each other. We know that the capitalist class is organised firmly on an international level and has always devised new mechanisms to further exploit the working class. Thus, we have no other choice than to join forces against them. An achievement of the working people in a completely different part of the world is a victory for us as well, and it is a source of hope and pride for our struggle. We have much to learn from each other in the struggle against nationalism, racism, ethnic discrimination, and militarism.

Beyond these, we believe that the international communist movement needs to continue having a dialogue but by keeping the idea of revolution at its centre – especially as we are experiencing the deepening crises of capitalism. Of course, some parties are making some achievements in some areas, yet changing the focus of the struggle. For example, some consider parliamentary gains, democracy, environmental problems, etc., without aiming to overthrow the capitalist social order, which is the root cause of the world’s problems (e.g. poverty, hunger, and wars), leading us to dissolution. The particularity of the communist movement is the goal of revolution, the toppling of capitalism. We should not allow deviations from this cause. Because humanity has no more time to lose, and the responsibility falls on us.

G: How has the TKP responded to the drastic change in conditions due to COVID-19?

ES: The pandemic had multifaceted effects on the lives of working-class people. This is not because of the effects of the virus itself, but totally on how the capitalist order has reacted to the pandemic. The primary motivation of the capitalist class was to preserve and promote profit-making mechanisms. The flexible and remote working regime, which at first seemed to have facilitated the isolation measures necessary for the pandemic, has cast a big shadow on working relations. Workers now have to pay for their expenses such as communication, electricity, heating, etc. The chances for unionisation, organisation, and even socialisation among workers have shrunk, which pleases the bosses a lot.

International capitalist organisations note that Turkey has been one of the countries with the least amount of help and support provided to people during the pandemic. This is not something new for us, yet it is essential that it is reported. Meanwhile, Turkey’s largest monopolies announced billions of dollars of profits and boasted of growing. Therefore, since the onset of the pandemic in Turkey in March 2020, we aimed at pointing at these contradictions. Ideologically, we tried to oppose the idea that the pandemic affects everyone regardless of their class, and to explain that the poorest are affected the most. This is because the discourse that “we are on the same boat” covers the fact that the capitalist class’ abuses even during pandemic conditions to increase their profit rates.

We were involved in many struggles and pickets of the workers who were dismissed due to the pandemic, sent to unpaid leave for a long time, and whose rights were usurped due to the so-called “extraordinary conditions.” We tried to make such struggles expand and not remain local. During the pandemic, the burden on women workers doubled, both their workload at home and at work increased. They were most affected by the spiral of unemployment, exploitation, and violence. Following our Party’s 13th Congress in 2020, we have taken steps and prioritised winning the women workers into the struggle. We established Women’s Solidarity Committees against exploitation, violence, and discrimination. Today, more than seventy Women’s Solidarity Committees have become organisations where abused women in many neighbourhoods fight for legal rights, demand the right to nurseries, voice their demands for reproductive health, and most importantly, become politicised.

In the last two years, one of the things we concentrated on the most was the development of the idea and feelings of solidarity within the working class. Because today, people are struggling to survive under immensely painful conditions. We tried to establish Solidarity Committees in working-class neighbourhoods, which in some cases yielded very successful results. Meeting the needs of the neighbourhood together, struggling for the essential rights together, raising the feelings of solidarity and friendship among the workers, instead of competition, selfishness, egoism, discrimination. Of course, building class-consciousness has been our central goal while shedding these seeds of solidarity. What I mean here, of course, is not a charity type of work. What we do is fully based on our socialist program and the ultimate goal of socialist revolution. However, while capitalism has atomised and isolated the workers so much, it is necessary to re-establish humane bonds and remind people that they can enjoy an organised life.

G: What is the current political and economic situation in Turkey?

ES: Turkey is facing a harsh economic crisis, whose severity has been increasing since the dramatic drop in the value of Turkish currency in 2018. We are trapped in a vicious cycle of massive foreign debt over USD$450 billion in foreign currencies, devaluation of the Turkish lira, and constantly rising inflation. In addition, following the privatisations, the workers no longer have any say in the country’s resources and production, and there is very little left to counter the losses. Of course, privatisations started before but have reached an unforeseen level during the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. It has rendered the country’s productive capacity, especially in industrial and agricultural sectors very poor, with services and construction sectors replacing these. Moreover, unemployment has become as high as over twenty-five per cent, which does not take into account a major part of the informally unemployed.

The AKP government has wrecked the economy of capitalist Turkey in the last twenty years. However, the passive and sometimes openly anti-worker attitude of the bourgeois opposition, which is so ready to fulfil the demands of the capitalist class, also helped the AKP government in passing many bills favouring exploitation. We now see two bourgeois alliances sharing the roles of power and opposition in parliament, who have been partnering in maintaining the capitalist social order for years. Now the balance of weight is changing and the AKP government is in decadence. Post-AKP scenarios about Turkey are rumoured every day, not only in Turkey but also in the press organs of imperialist countries such as The Financial Times, where articles are pointing out that Erdogan is losing power. There is a great debate on who will be the next presidential candidate.

However, in our opinion, until the country’s structural problems are resolved, which stem directly from the capitalist order, there will be no fundamental difference no matter which bourgeois parties are in power. The opposition front that is trying to be established now, namely the Nation Alliance, consists of the temporary union of parties that are quite different from each other in terms of ideological approaches and electoral base, apart from currently opposing to or competing with AKP. There are also former AKP members, even ex-ministers, in this oppositional alliance, which is a Western-oriented bourgeois alliance with a democratic outfit that is ready to implement IMF policies. Can such an orientation solve Turkey’s long-lasting problems of unemployment, poverty, inequality, injustices? Moreover, it can be presumed that this alliance can fall into a crisis in the first challenge they face and may easily disintegrate. Let me give a concrete example. We saw this in the last parliamentary voting of the extension of the military mandate for cross-border troops. As TKP, we are fully against Turkish army’s military missions abroad including NATO missions, but these bills have been passed by this parliament many times. Now the social democrat Republican People’s Party (CHP) (in order to win the favour of peace-loving segments as an electoral tactic) voted against the bill, and its ally, the Good Party, voted in favour. This is not enough to cover up their past shames, but it also indicated the differences of opinion among the bourgeois oppositional alliance. In sum, Turkey is at the brink of a deep political, economic, and social upheaval. We are aiming at turning this energy into organised power of workers. Our class enemies aim to absorb it for the continuation of capitalist barbarity. That is the difference.

G: What sort of conditions do party members, trade unionists and progressive forces work under?

ES: With the 1980 coup d’état, Turkey became one of the countries where neoliberal policies, privatisations, and increasing exploitation were implemented. One of the pillars of this was the spread of individualist thoughts and, most importantly, the dissolution of organisation within the society. Unions, parties, mass organisations were intervened [in], both by physical attacks, by means of law, and ideologically.

Today, the problem of lack of organisation in society still continues. For example, the unionisation rate in Turkey is around fifteen per cent, a significant part of which is yellow unions.

The AKP government – which applied all kinds of tactics in order to increase the exploitation of labour and resorted to religiosity in the first place – aims to create great pressure on society. They increased the number of police, guards, etc., and the speed of individual armament accelerated. This is a way of creating one’s own militia.

The reactionary regime of AKP has aimed at banning all political activities, penalised union leaders and intellectuals. An example could be the number of court cases against hundreds of people for the pretext of insulting Erdoğan as president. The leadership of our Party and some of our cadres have also been targets of these accusations and got penalties. Although TKP is a legal party, its political activities are often trying to be banned. Of course, we don’t surrender to that because we see the abuse of the law by the executive power.

In addition to these, we should keep in mind that anti-communist activities have been carried on for decades in Turkey, and they still continue as a central mission of the ruling power. Yet, Turkey is a country with an irrepressible vein of values such as republicanism, secularism, and equality, and we are trying to strengthen this vein. The 2013 Gezi Uprising is an example of this. Despite the pandemic, May 1, which we celebrate in working-class neighbourhoods, is another example of this. Repressions are part of the struggle of classes, and we will continue. 

G: What role has Turkey been playing in the Middle East and what wider ambitions does it have?

ES: I will answer this question by addressing the role and objectives of the AKP government in the last twenty years because this was the most decisive factor in today’s conditions. Of course, this does not mean that broader ambitions did not exist before but the AKP government used Islamism to gain influence in a large area in the region. AKP relied on the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and tried to gain the upper hand in the conflicted countries of the Middle East and Africa, under the name of Neo-Ottomanism, and to have weight in the political, military, and economic sense in these countries. Of course, they did this in harmony with the desires of the Western imperialist states, without going beyond their words. However, they also tried to fulfil their own expansionist ambitions without really hiding their agenda. What helped AKP here were the conflicts of interest within the imperialist order. For example, AKP purchased S-400s from Russia but on the other hand, sold drones to Ukraine. Of course, the AKP government is the political representative of the expansionist ambitions of the capitalist class. They aim to reach more resources, cheaper labour power and higher profit, seeking to accumulate more capital. This overlap of interests lies behind the fact that for twenty years, the Turkish capitalist class and AKP, a party full of irrationalities, have got along very well.

Moreover, the Neo-Ottomanist policy led the working people to be provoked against each other based on nationalism and religiosity, which helped a great deal to cover up the class contradictions. The AKP government was also able to interfere in the internal affairs of many countries stretching from Libya to Iraq, through the refugees flowing to Turkey (which was also a bargaining issue with the Western imperialist countries).

Finally, let’s not forget the fact that the AKP’s Islamist expansionist role in the region is an upgraded continuation of its role as the anti-communist outpost of the West in the area, a role assumed also by previous governments. Islamism was used as the most important instrument to oppress the working people, inside and outside Turkey, and to counter the spread of leftist thoughts. 

We consider what the AKP government has done to the people of the region as a great shame and also a crime. And the righteous punishment of these crimes can only be possible in a people’s power. That’s what we are fighting for.

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