Interview. We spoke with Kemal Okuyan, the Secretary of the Turkish Communist Party, about the May elections and Erdogan’s economic program. ‘With the weakening of U.S. imperialist hegemony, Turkey has put more effort in the search for new markets.’

Kemal Okuyan: From the Balkans to Africa, Erdogan exports capitalism and empire

In the last presidential election, the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP – Türkiye Komünist Partisi), founded in 1920, together with the Union of Socialist Forces, supported Erdogan’s opponent, Ahmet Kılıçdaroglu: the priority of the socialist forces was to beat “the Sultan” rather than present their own candidate. We interviewed TKP General Secretary Kemal Okuyan to get an overall perspective on the events.

Erdogan also won in the earthquake-ravaged provinces, despite major failures in relief operations and the real estate speculation allowed by his party that multiplied the casualties.

This is a relatively conservative region that has been voting for the right for a long time. Still, the earthquake had an impact on the ideological and political dynamics of the population. So many people were shocked by the inaction of the state. They questioned themselves for the first time in their lives. The TKP managed to open new branches. But nationalist or Islamist prejudice is a strong barrier to the work of a communist party. We are only at the beginning.

So why didn’t the very difficult situation lead to Erdogan’s defeat? How big of a role did the trump cards of Islamism, nationalism and subsidies play?

The conservative population did not feel safe with an opposition that didn’t really show unity. While Erdogan’s AKP distributed small amounts of money to the poor, the coalition around the CHP (People’s Republican Party) was unable to reach those hopeless millions. Those means were effective because the opposition alliance had almost the same ideological starting points and it entrenched the belief that this was the country’s normal. And at the same time, it tried to combine this line with a pro-Western position. Then, the AKP has managed to replace social rights with a more Islamic model: charity. You don’t have any rights except to subsidies. But the only thing the opposition did against this system was to mock the gifts and subsidies.

The Turkish government is among the great culprits in Syria’s downfall: since 2013, Turkey has served as a supply line for jihadists and has occupied portions of the country’s territory since 2018.

The TKP is against any military presence of Turkey abroad and against foreign military presence inside Turkey, particularly NATO and the United States. On Syria, the TKP has been consistent from the beginning. At the time of the so-called Arab Spring, the United States and some reactionary forces exploited popular demands – this is what we were telling everyone. For us, change had to be based on the people’s struggle. One could not harbor illusions about jihadist gangs.

Many Turkish citizens are now impatient with the presence of millions of Syrians. Do they not realize that these refugees are the result of Erdogan’s pro-jihadist policy in Syria?

The problem is multi-dimensional. We at the TKP address the issue with a class-based approach and by fighting against all forms of racism. All over the world, immigrant workers are being used not only to get cheap labor, but also to create conflicts within the working masses. However, we also take into account the armed fundamentalist groups, mainly made up of men from Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. This is a real problem for the security of the working masses.

What about Kılıçdaroglu’s last-ditch attempt to get some votes by promising that, thanks to peace with Syria, the Syrians would be repatriated within two years?

Kılıçdaroglu didn’t have a solid policy on this issue. He didn’t manage to convince voters.

In foreign policy, Erdogan is juggling multiple fronts at once. He’s occupying Syria and supporting the most fundamentalist militias in Libya, but has excellent relations with non-Western countries opposed to NATO and its wars. He sells arms to Ukraine, but those who don’t support Kyiv view him as siding with Russia. Finally, Turkey is in NATO and will remain part of it – yet it’s putting on airs of independence.

Turkish capitalism should not be underestimated. It is very flexible and dynamic and benefits from the weakness of the working class. But not only that. With the weakening of U.S. imperialist hegemony, Turkey has begun to look for a wider space and has put more effort in the search for new markets. For many years, the Turkish bourgeoisie have been investing in the Caucasus, the Balkans, the Middle East and parts of Africa. The AKP government is promoting neo-imperialism towards these regions. And there is also the military, which has many bases abroad, defending these interests. Turkish foreign policy is still pro-US and NATO, albeit with a different style. Some leftist forces across the world think that Erdogan is anti-NATO or even anti-imperialist, but that is an erroneous analysis. Erdogan is a man of Turkish big capital. That’s the main issue. And Turkey is in NATO and will continue to be in NATO unless the Turkish people change the existing order of things.

How will the opposition to Erdogan move forward now? The coalition seems to have dissolved already.

It has, because the right-wing parties, after they managed to enter Parliament with the help of the CHP, are now keeping their distance. And the CHP has serious internal problems. Erdogan will be able to lean heavily on the most reactionary and right-wing parliament ever. He will try to push through a new Constitution. But people have begun to shake off the illusion of a parliamentary solution. The TKP is doing its best to take advantage of this. In the coming period, the burden of the economic problems will fall on the workers. Our class struggle will be combined with a secular and anti-imperialist stance, while Erdogan will have to improve relations with Western monopolies and at the same time stress the Islamic component in Turkish social and political life.

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