If we take the 500 most important global companies, we find, for Turkey, on the 420th place the Koç Holding, which brings together 113 companies including credit institutions, an oil refinery, tractor factories, bus bodies, tourist companies, the production of household appliances in particular with Beko, etc. Important though less powerfully, there are also Sabancı Holding (notably with one of the textile leaders Kordsa Teknik Tekstil), OYAK Holding, and three state monopolies: Turkish Airlines, Halkbank and Vakıfbank. In any case, we are very far from an imperialist-type export of capital, in a country where a quarter of women marry before the age of 18. Moreover, for a significant part of their activities, all these main Turkish companies are in close partnership with companies from imperialist countries (Toyota, Citibank, Philip Morris, Carrefour, DuPont, etc.).
Turkey is in fact a very active dependent country. This can be read in the following figures. Its foreign direct investment was $ 27 million in 1991, $ 1 billion in 2005, $ 4.7 billion in 2015. On the surface, it is very impressive. However, in reality, in 2015, this represented only 0.32% of foreign direct investment in the world, against 0.01% in 1991. This remains deeply marginal. Turkey took advantage of the capitalist momentum after 1989, but has not changed its base. Moreover, in 2015, Turkey experienced a penetration of foreign capital of 16.5 billion dollars, much more than its own capitalist interventions outside its territory.
The expansionist aggressiveness of Turkish militarism
However, despite this very clear weakness from an economic point of view, Turkey is particularly aggressive. It is active with Azerbaijan against Armenia, it occupied part of Cyprus in 1974, it makes Iraqi Kurdistan a satellite, it intervenes in Libya, it actively supported the Islamic State in order to take advantage of its military penetration into Syria and it decided, in the name of offshore oil drilling, to assume a frontal position with France and Greece.
A sign of this trend, Turkey produces 70% of its weapons and the goal, by 2023, is to achieve this at 100%. It is difficult to see how this is technologically possible, as evidenced by the purchase from Russia, to the chagrin of US imperialism, of the highly advanced S 400 anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense system.
The question of where such aggression stems from is of great importance. There are really many revolutionary organizations in Turkey since the 1970s and they are frantic on precisely this issue. Some see Turkey expressing an aggressiveness peculiar to capitalism, others see it as the activity of an American satellite, of a neo-colony. Some speak of semi-capitalism, others of capitalism with feudal remnants in the superstructure, or of bureaucratic capitalism.
Turkey’s matrix: the general crisis of capitalism
It is by no means a coincidence that Turkey becomes particularly aggressive in the context of the second general crisis of capitalism. This country was born from the first general crisis of capitalism. It is even a component of it.
Since the founding of the Republic of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal in 1923, this country has experienced countless political, economic, military and ideological upheavals, to the point that in fact it has been in permanent crisis for no less than a century. Half of its existence, at least parts of the territory have been under a state of emergency!
It must be understood that the country was born on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, which generated the expulsion of more than a million Greeks from its territory, to which must be added the Armenian genocide in the background from 1915 to 1923. Turkey succeeded at its foundation in expelling from its territory the foreign armies aiming at a permanent occupation, but came under German control, then under British control, finally under American control. There has been permanent instability, with military coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980. There is also a significant Kurdish national minority, which has been tirelessly suppressed militarily for a century, while the country has also important other minorities, such as Lazs, Circassians, Arabs, Zazas, many Caucasian peoples, etc.
The Turkish regime, crossed by violence
Turkey is thus a country of immense culture, but also of immense complexity. There are a lot of minorities, the country was formed from above; it is at the same time a mixture of peoples and nations and at the same time it forms a real unified block. The central state has been, since its birth, ultra-paranoid. During the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the imperialist countries indeed wanted to carve up the Turkish part of it and sent occupying troops. One part was to come under British rule, another under French rule, Greek and Armenian areas to be established and Istanbul to form a small state.
This nightmare scenario from the Turkish point of view is a key to this ultra-militarist Turkish device, benefiting from a huge popular echo in the name of the “defense” of national interests, but in reality in the service of large landowners allied to a upper bourgeoisie linked to imperialist countries and serving as intermediaries. Within such a framework, the army plays an omnipresent role, and its clandestine interventions – through “disappearances”, murders, counter-guerrillas – have been innumerable.
This makes this country one of the main weak links in the chain of dependent countries. The country was born on the job, in the framework of the first general crisis of capitalism. It has been relatively “frozen” with the clash of the American and Soviet superpowers. But once the general framework has been called into question by the second general crisis of capitalism, it sets off again.
Kemalism is born as a national bourgeois response to the attempt at imperialist partition of the country. This explains its ultra nationalism, its insistence on the absolute primacy of the central state and on the need to modernize the country. The first military successes of Mustafa Kemal and the development of the first general crisis of capitalism resulted in a compromise and Kemalism established a regime with the recognition of the imperialists, in exchange for their significant penetration into the country.
Turkey is then a country as if blocked. The bourgeoisie began its war of independence but sold itself from the start, in alliance with the big landowners in order to establish the new regime. The authentic national bourgeoisie, which arrived too late historically (and partly non-Turkish and notably Armenian), has withdrawn in front of a “turkified” bourgeoisie sold to imperialism.
Throughout the 1920s, Turkey then experienced a terrible trade deficit, while the capital of the imperialist countries appropriated railway companies, mines, industries, businesses, banks. In 1924, Germany already had 2,352 of the 4,086 km of railways; in 1937, 42% of exports and 36.5% of imports were with Germany. Turkey will also indirectly support Nazi Germany, maintaining its massive economic exchanges until the very end of the war.
This was a continuation of ever greater pressure on the masses. Many strikes had been bloodily suppressed by the regime, while in January 1921 the leadership of the Communist Party of Turkey had already been physically liquidated. From 1931 the police had full latitude for arrests; in 1934 the parliament gave Mustafa Kemal the name Ataturk, “the father of the Turks”. In 1936 public holidays and the ban on child labor were abolished, with even a labor law taken over from fascist Italy; in 1931 the press was controlled and in 1939 any organization headed by the state; in 1943 agrarian products were taxed at 12%, hitting hard small peasants, etc.
The change of supervision after 1945
The CHP, the Republican People’s Party, which had been pro-Nazi Germany, lost control after World War II to the DP, the Democratic Party, which was pro-American. Turkey “benefited” from the Marshall Plan and a massive military support, the companies of the capitalist countries invested in Turkey in a deep way, this country switching over to NATO in 1952 and in 1955 in what will be called the CENTO, making this country a pro-imperialist fortress on the borders with the USSR. It was then the army that took control, starting to build a military-industrial complex.
It was thus the army who overthrew the DP government in 1960, which had been unable to stabilize the regime despite its pro-religious and nationalist demagoguery, leading in particular to the Istanbul riot of 1955 against the last Greek community, with numerous deaths and very significant damage to buildings linked to the Greeks (4,348 stores, a thousand houses, 110 hotels, 27 pharmacies, 23 schools, 21 factories, 73 churches, 2 monasteries, a synagogue…). This caused the exodus of more than 100,000 Greeks.
The DP, which became the AP (Justice Party), resumed power a few years later, accompanying the transformation of Turkey into a productive base for the imperialist countries, the trade deficit from 1960 to 1972 being between 113 and 677 million dollars according to the years. Turkey then depended very largely on the United States and West Germany, then on France, Japan, Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium. Soviet social-imperialism was also ever more present, providing between 1966 and 1979 $ 2.7 billion in credit, more than the United States between 1930 and 1974. However, instability continued to the point that the army intervened to intervene again, for a second coup, in 1971.
The 1970s and the systematization of ultra-violence
In 1970, the Turkish regime was in agony. A quarter of the country’s budget went to the military, compared to only 4.7% for agricultural development where 65% of the population lived in 1970, and 3.8% for health. In 1970, more than a third of the inhabitants of the cities lived in shanty towns (the “gecekondus”, a building built overnight); more than half of the population was illiterate. 55% of children die before they turn 18. Emigration became massive to West Germany, but also to Austria, Switzerland.
In this miserable context, marked by revolts whereas imperialism became increasingly oresebtn as the large landowners crushed the peasants, the army then fell into crushing. The 1971 coup set off a sequence that would extend into the late 1990s, with a systematization of ultra-violence. Faced with the uninterrupted crisis, the army took the lead as such and generalized arrests, murders, torture, violent interventions, legal and clandestine, direct or through nationalist mafia networks. These notably acted in a terrible way with their massacre, in December 1978, in the city of Kahramanmaraş, of a thousand left activists, including their families.
May 1, 1977 had already been marked by shootings against the crowd, killing dozens and dozens of people, while 600,000 people demonstrated. The secret services, MIT, were developing strategies directly with US imperialism, to counter the multitude of revolutionary organizations resulting from the first three initiatives of the early 1970s, the THKO, the THKP / C, the TKP / M-TIKKO, who were developing the armed struggle. The clashes spread, with around ten deaths per day, more than 5,000 in total, including more than 2,000 militants of revolutionary organizations.
With the economy on the brink of collapse, the army then took the initiative of carrying out a new coup in December 1980, arresting 650,000 people, placing 1.6 million people on black lists, etc.
From the 1980s to open expansionist assertion
The army directly managed the country from 1980 to 1983 and the revolutionary organizations were not able to reorganize themselves until 1987, then reaching a high level of combativeness during the 1990s. The revolutionary organizations which then had the most success were the DHKP / C (Guevarist), the MLKP (Hoxhaist), as well as relatively the TKP (ML) and TKP / ML (both Maoists). They got bogged down, however, while conversely the PKK enjoyed ever greater success among the Kurdish masses, reaching great scale and clearly succeeding in subduing the revolutionary organizations to its own agenda, except for the DHKP / C.
The failure of the revolutionary organizations to turn things around in the 1990s was similar to the success of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He was elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994, prime minister from 2003 to 2014, when he became President of the Republic. Its political domination corresponds to quite a change in Turkish reality. Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdoğan advocated a reactivation of the Islamic-Ottoman ideology, and no longer simply a “Turkish” republicanism. He was in tune with an upper bourgeoisie seeking expansion.
The mistake of the revolutionary organizations in Turkey was thus very simple. They all considered Turkey to be fully subjugated to US imperialism through the military. However, the arrival of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to power corresponds to the arrival of a new faction in power. We have proof of this with the trial of hundreds of people at the end of the 2000s, accused of being part of the Ergenekon network made up of soldiers and members of the secret service. This was the beheading of the Kemalist state apparatus. The American response included the attempted coup in 2016 through the Islamic congregation Gülen, which failed.
But the new regime managed to take hold. It goes beyond the Kemalist nationalism born of the first general crisis of capitalism to add to the neo-Ottoman aims and placed it as its main aspect.
The question of the PKK and Rojava
Turkey’s expansionist assertion could not concretely be followed by the Kurds, which explains why the PKK was the only movement able to hold out against the nationalist-Islamic wave, since the revolutionary organizations had made the mistake of believing that there would be a status quo in the following of the United States.
The PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party, is historically a very incoherent movement; born on a communist basis, it nonetheless immediately sought military confrontation in the late 1970s with the revolutionary organizations in Turkey, and has often been a follower of the coup against them until today. The PKK does not tolerate competition.
Conversely, it can at times express a real internationalism and a great sympathy for them, by a natural convergence, in particular of its base. Moreover, the PKK expresses a democratic battle of the Kurdish masses and this produces self-denial at times, a democratic struggle of great depth. It is also all the more difficult to apprehend the PKK by the fact that the Kurds are historically divided territorially in several countries (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria).
In any case, in order to subsist politically and especially militarily in the case of the existence of armed branches, all revolutionary organizations in Turkey, with the exception of the DHKP / C, then literally followed the PKK. This is true from June 1998 with the Platform of United Revolutionary Forces (BDGP), bringing together the PKK, TKP (ML), MLKP, TKP / ML, TDP, DHP, TKP-Kıvılcım. And this will take on an even greater scale when in the Syrian civil war, the Kurdish forces establishing an independent zone, Rojava, bringing in Turkey and Rojava the establishment of the United Peoples Revolutionary Movement (HBDH), with the PKK, TKEP / L, TKP / ML, MKP, TIKB, DKP, MLKP, THKP-C / MLSPB, DK.
Is this an adequate choice against expansionist Turkey? In fact, in the background, there is the question of knowing if Turkey really exists and if the revolution is defined in its framework, or if it should disappear in favor of a regional framework of near-eastern dimension. It goes without saying that the PKK is pushing in the latter direction, due to its national agenda being defined over several countries, while conversely there is a reading considering that a national framework is always specific, like for the DHKP / C and TKP / ML (the latter having withdrawn from HBDH precisely on this issue).
Turkey’s pan-Turkish headlong rush
The revolutionary organizations were thus overtaken by this emergence of an openly aggressive Turkey; in their eyes, it was inconceivable. Why did the revolutionary organizations in Turkey make this mistake? In fact, they didn’t see that Turkey was coasting. By 1974, Turkey had already occupied part of Cyprus, affirming its expansionism which then, with the collapse of Soviet social-imperialism, was all the more expressed. There are indeed many peoples in the world who are part of Turkish history, with its language and culture: the Uzbeks, the Uighurs in China, the Azeris, the Kazaks, the Kyrgyz, many peoples of Russia such as the Yakuts or Tatars, Turkmens, etc.
Many of these peoples lived in the USSR, and US imperialism overwhelmingly supported pan-Turkism in order to help destabilize its competitor. Today’s Turkey is in fact, sustaining this approach, which is culturalo-racialist fanaticism, frewheeling. Thus, a significant portion of people of Turkish origin in Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Switzerland… refuse any assimilation, defining themselves as “Turks”, only marrying between Turks, etc. Pan-Turkism aims at the union of the Turks and this as far as China and Siberia.
There was space there for the Turkish upper bourgeoisie, with its massive Cold War army, ultra-aggressive on the basis of “modern” Turkey, to rush into an expansionist orientation.
These inordinate ambitions literally carried a new political wave in Turkey, of which
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the direct expression. The Muslim dimension is, however, also extremely important here, as pan-Turkism, already widely present in Kemalism, has merged with the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Qatar and Turkey are the strongholds.
Turkey’s Ottoman headlong flight from and Qatar
There is no (Sunni) Islam without a Caliph and it is the Ottoman Empire which for several centuries has played the role of the Caliphate. Its collapse in 1918 sparked the birth of Islamism as a movement to reconstitute a caliphate. Launched into its expansionist ambitions, Turkey has reactivated the ideology of the Ottoman Empire, proposing itself as “protector” of Islam. This leads it to have a very important influence in Albania and in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This neo-Ottoman Islamic line is obviously in conflict with Saudi Arabia’s claims to offer itself as the model and guardian of Mecca. The Saudi “Wahabis” are thus in open conflict with Turkey, which is based on the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose stronghold is Qatar. The “Arab Spring”, in which the Qatari channel Al-Jazeerah played a big role, was in fact a series of pro-Muslim brotherhood revolts, notably in Egypt.
Qatar has very little investment in Turkey, but very targeted, supporting it when its debts are too important, making in 2008 the acquisition for more than a billion dollars of the second group of media (led between 2007 and 2013 by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law), buying Turkey’s largest television satellite for $ 1.4 billion, earning 49% in military vehicle production with even a Qatari military representative on the board.
Turkey and the double dynamic of its headlong rush
Turkey is in a double ideological system: on the one hand, as an “extension” of the Ottoman Empire, it claims to be the heart of Islam, which justifies its hegemony; on the other, there is a non-religious racialist discourse. This tinkering is based on expansionist inclinations, but at the same time it can only hold up through expansionist inclinations.
It can be said that, from the start, Turkey has been the weak link in the chain of dependent countries, because it was born in a tinkering resulting from the first general crisis of capitalism, that it maintained itself artificially in the framework of the cold war and that with the second general crisis of capitalism its headlong flight literally turns into a detonator.
The national bourgeoisie which immediately played the role of bureaucratic bourgeoisie at independence, in alliance with the large landowners, took advantage of its importance during the Cold War to establish its bases and prolong its flight forward by means of a neo-Ottoman perspective corresponding to its redoubled aggressiveness while the second general crisis of capitalism asserts itself.
Turkey has thus always been in crisis since 1923 and it tilts, depending on the nature of the general crisis at the world level, in such and such aggressiveness. It is losing itself, as reflected in religious fanaticism and irrationalism.
The turmoil of Turkish history will thus be at the heart of the second general crisis of capitalism. Large-scale upheavals are inevitable. Turkey will experience an intense period of crisis during the 2020s and will be one of the countries at the heart of the revolutionary question at the global level.