Mystery of Turkey’s Abortive Coup

By Lal Khan

The abortive coup in Turkey last week by sections of the Army has been portrayed by the corporate media as being defeated by a mass uprising of the ‘people’ in support of ‘democracy’ and preservation Erdogan’s rulership. Till Monday morning there was confusion about the exact situation inspite of the Turkish regime and parliamentary parties claiming that things were back to normal. This narrative seems to have been accepted by the majority of ordinary people around the world. However the real story is not that simple. Days after the putsch speculations are rife and confusion persists of what actually happened. The pundits of the status quo from different schools of thought have churned out intriguing conspiracy theories, such as Erdogan himself provoking the coup to get rid of dissenting sections of the army. An article in the Guardian on Sunday 17th July states, “Exactly who orchestrated the coup remains unclear. And, as usual in Turkey, conspiracy theories abound. While the government points the finger at the Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdoğan accused of attempting to oust him with a corruption scandal in December 2013, others believe the president himself stage-managed it all to consolidate his power by quashing the military for good. According to this theory, Erdoğan now has a cast-iron excuse for future authoritarianism, having established himself as the country’s undisputed guardian of popular rule – after all, the coup failed after his supporters responded to his call to take to the streets.”

It is true that some thousands of people were shown on the television screens in different cities, but there were “no hundreds of thousands” that had poured on to the streets as was the case in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere during the Arab revolution that had swept across the region in 2011.It is true that the intervention and blockades of these mobs taking on the army was a deterrent to the success of the coup but it was not the decisive factor that led to the failure of the attempt. The coup was ill planned, was not carried out by the organised chain of command of the armed forces and the troops involved failed to capture Erdoğan and stop the coverage in the mainstream media and social networks. Erdogan used this weakness to mobilise his supporters. Vast majority on streets was of his supporters.Although he does have a considerable base but that is mainly in primitive sections of the Turkish society. Religious leaders loyal to the Islamist president also used the network of mosques with loudspeakers to urge Turks to go out into the streets in the name of ‘jihad’. But ultimately the dominant section of the army controlled by the top brass defeated the coup. This military elite was also part of the Erdogan courtiers complicit in the corruption and plunder in which this incumbent regime is drenched.

Lenin once pointed out that some very peculiar situations could arise in revolutions and mass movements particularly in non-advanced societies. Progressive elements in the movements can some times flow parallel with the regressive tendencies in such mass cataclysms. Apart from the clashes between the adversary sections of the army there have been scuffles between the opponents and the supporters of the coup attempt in Istanbul and several other cities, although there has been a very minute coverage on rare networks. Along with rallies of Erdoğan supporters there have been protests and demonstrations against the regime that were being attacked by tear gas shells and water cannons by the regimes forces.

But there were many others who joined the anti putsch crowds in their revulsion to military rule and not really in support of the regime that has been increasingly despotic politically, socioeconomically and culturally. However the more plausible reason for the coup’s failure were the contradictions within the armed forces that have been lingering on for some time now. It was more of what was dubbed as the ‘captains coup’, that were common in the ex-colonial countries in the 1950s, 60s and the 70s. Apart from the faulty planning they had not broken the chain of command decisively to make coup succeed. However what were the real causes of this rebellion and what were the aims and objectives of the coup plotters is murky. For some years now Turkey has been facing huge and periodic protests and revulsions by vast sections of the population against the despotic and corrupt Erdoğan regime and he was imposing his authority with impunity. The bourgeois media is harping about the differences between Islamist meanderings of Erdoğan and the secular foundations of Turkeys Army. This might be a minor cause of the conflict and if it really is, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The so called secularist traditions of the Turkish army and Erdoğan’s Islamist credentials are now immersed in the economic and political flux that has developed with the particular pattern of Turkish capitalism that has failed to develop as a healthy system. The uneven nature of the economic growth in the last period was infact fuelling the contradictions rather than absolving them. This uneven and combined nature of development has created new contradictions within society and the army.

The role of Turkeys’ deep state in the creation of fundamentalist outfits such as the Daesh and other proxies with its underdevelopment as compared to the advanced European economies and the state´s own imperialist designs have further exacerbated these conflicts within the different sections of the state and the military structures.We can see the similar role of Pakistan’s deep state in relation to the rise of fundamentalist terror in Afghanistan and elsewhere. A New York Post article describes this situation, “Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister-turned-president now is an autocrat. He flirted with support for terrorists groups like Hamas, the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and even the Islamic State. Some regimes believe flirtation with radical Islamists might fulfill short-term policy ends, but in the long-term there is always a heavy price. The past year’s attacks in Ankara and Istanbul may have convinced Turks outside Erdoğan’s inner circle that their reckoning was near.” Apart from the issues of strategic positions, non–state actors pampered and supported by Erdoğan, the financial grabbling, enriching his kith and kin, rampant corruption and plunder from which obviously some sections of the state’s elite were excluded—could also be the reasons for the coup plotters to go for this adventure that backfired on them.

The support for the ISIL, brutal military aggression against the Kurds, falling growth rates, price hikes, increasing disparity, oppression of the workers and political activists, and a dynastic rule with Erdoğan having delusions of becoming a Sultan in a reincarnated Ottoman empire were revulsive for large sections of the society. The repression of the trade unions and brutal dispersals of the demonstrations against him were also the cause of this social unrest that had penetrated the sections of the army, particularly in the middle and lower ranks. The armed forces don’t exist in a vacuum but in a living society. Whatever the intentions of the coup plotters may have been, a new military dictatorship in Turkey, that has experienced four vicious military coups, would be another disaster for masses. Nor would such a regime solve any of the issues haunting the masses. But to condemn the coup is one thing but to credit Erdoğan for any democratic credentials would be no less imprudent, if not revolting. Yet sections of the right wing media are trying in vain to make Erdoğan a hero out of this episode.

After his arrival to Istanbul from his holiday resort, Erdoğan was vying for revenge and coarsen even further his despotic regime; “They will pay a heavy price for this… This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.” Earlier, the judicial authorities said that some 2,745 judges across the country would be dismissed in the wake of the coup. By Saturday evening there were still isolated rebel pockets but the government claimed the situation to be fully under control. Around three hundred military personnel and civilians were dead and scores injured during this putsch. More than 6000 people have been arrested, from foot soldiers to senior officers and civilians.

Well its not only be the army that will be cleansed ‘with God´s gift’ to Erdogan. His vicious resurgence will intensify the suffering and subjugation of the ordinary Turks. How far and how much a standing army can be cleansed? Some of the officers who were his close aides are now being prosecuted for the coup attempt. They were his advisers and trusted men. There is no guarantee that the new ones he will appoint shall be loyal ever after. The root causes of the conflicts that led to this military coup will be very much there. They are entrenched in the state and the system that is now in decay in Turkey. After all Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan has accused as the main orchestrator of the coup attempt was once a very close ally of his. Now he is his archenemy. But Erdoğan himself has become more and more authoritarian in the past few years as he purged his government colleagues, his own appointed top officials and even his loyalists. To further intensify his personal authoritarianism he will use this failed coup to the extreme. Turkish analyst Andrew Finkel wrote: “Many would argue that Turkey was already in the throes of a slow-motion coup d’état, not by the military, but by Erdoğan himself. For the last three years, he has been moving, and methodically, to take over the nodes of power.”

The rise of Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) also indicates the failure of the Turkish ruling classes to create a modern industrialised society and carryout the tasks of the National Democratic or bourgeois revolution to the full. With the decline and crisis of the socio economic conditions in Turkey its much-flaunted secularism of the Turkish state, dithered and dwindled.In the first nine years of Erdoğan’s regime the murder rate of women shot up by 1,400 percent as Islamists and conservative male chauvinists in this increasingly patriarchal society committed these heinous honour crimes with impunity. Since 2002 being in power, Erdoğan has infiltrated the bureaucracy and other institutions of the state with Islamic bigots. It was similar to what the Jamaat e Islami did during the eleven black years of Zia ul Haq’s vicious dictatorship and we can see the results of this wily and reactionary process from the decisions of the judiciary to the draconian laws against women still in practise in todays ‘democratic’ Pakistan. Similarly in Turkey the AKP regime has introduced religious and metaphysical syllabus in education to brainwash a generations to come. This allowed Islamist students to jump over scientific and merit requirements to enter top universities with scholarships and other perks. The BJP regime in Indian is doing the same as the AKP in Turkey. This process of religious infiltration of sciences, history and arts studies with indoctrination in the reactionary themes of the past was initiated by the Zia dictatorship, is now being continued by the Jamaat e Islami in Pakistan’s KPK province under the rule of Imran Khan´s PTI.

AKP inserted these religious bigots into every government department without expertise on the concerned tasks just for their religious fanaticism to forcibly retard society to pre medieval ages and perpetuate its rule. Erdogan and his family seized newspapers and TV stations and used them to broadcast barrages of religious hatred and sectarian enmities. Just these few facts lay bare the historical failure and the fragile nature of the Kemalist secular bourgeois revolution in Turkey. Mustafa Kemal Pasha was infact a ‘secular, democratic despot’.

The Turkish Communist Party (TKP) was founded in Baku in the Soviet Union in June 1919. Turkey was already in the throes of a liberation war and in a revolutionary tumult after the “Young Turks”(as the young officers of the dispersed Ottoman army)defeated the victors and declared a republic. The first attempt by Turkish communists to join the liberation war and participate in the shaping of the new Turkish state was fatal. Almost the entire leadership of the Communist Party was annihilated immediately after entering Turkish territory in Trabzon, a city in the northeast, in January 1921. During the same months, the leader of the National Assembly in Ankara (and commander-in-chief of the regular military forces) Mustafa Kemal was busy eliminating the peasant-guerrilla forces that had been formed independently of his government in order to fight against the Greek occupiers and their indigenous feudal allies.

For almost a century inspite of all the brutalities, repression, ideological betrayals and mistakes of the leaders the communist and the left forces in Turkey, generations of the enlightened youth and workers have continued their struggle to put an end to this cruel system. The intelligentsia talks a lot about military coups and civilian democratic rulerships, but what it conceals is the history of class struggle and the innumerable left uprisings of the workers and youth in Turkey. For the military dictatorships and the bourgeois democratic regimes, their foremost targets have been the left, trade unions and the communist movements. Even in the movements of 2013 and several others that erupted from Istanbul’s Gezi Park and elsewhere in Turkey against Erdoğan the communists and trade union activists were in the forefront. Red flags with hammer and sickle are there to be seen against the anti establishment and regime protests and rallies in these turbulent times in Turkey.

Although Erdogan is being portrayed as a strong man and a popular leader by the reactionary media, however this whole episode of the failed coup is a pyrrhic victory for him. His efforts to purge the military would ultimately have a backlash, as has been the case in history when the state and the militaries are purged with the capitalist system remaining intact. According to most polls more than fifty percent of Turkish population is opposed to him. His repression and increased brutal authoritarianism will inevitably provoke the masses sooner rather than later. Those who oppose him are mainly from the urban background comprising mainly of workers, professionals and the youth. His imposed Islamisation is reaching the pinnacle of tolerance for the modern advanced sections of the Turkish society. The economy has already dropped to 3.8 percent from a growth rate of seven percent a few years ago. This means worsening of misery, deprivation and poverty. In his insanity of eternal power he is even challenging his main protectors and bosses, the US and NATO, by closing their basis and accusing them of hosting Gulen whom he has nominated as the conspirator of the coup. He has gone even to indirectly accusing the US for a role in the putsch. He reminds somewhat of an insane Zia Ul Haq crazed with Islamicist hegemony shortly before meeting his deserved fate. The Americans and Europeans are playing for time. Serious analysts of the imperialists are already openly talking about his megalomaniac conditions. He has infact become a liability for his imperialist bosses. But it’s not just the question of the removal of Erdoğan. This rotten system needs these despots and military dictators for its survival. But the real force that can over throw this regime and the system it represents is not a military coup but a mass movement from below. Several uprising have erupted in the last few years of Erdoğan’s rule but these were limited and sporadic. Military regimes have inflicted the Turkish masses with tyranny and oppression and the moneyed democratic regimes have ended up with the outcome of Erdoğan’s despotic rule, severe exploitation and deprivation of the workers and the poor. The future of this or any other regime under capitalism is not only bleak but also catastrophic for the Turkish society.

With the states collapsing from Libya to Iraq and Syria on the borders of Turkey, the prospects of any stability are remote if not none. In such conditions the role of the communist forces and the left to build a revolutionary Marxist alternative is crucial. But once the Turkish workers and youth enter the arena of struggle and a movement erupts, a revolutionary situation can rapidly ensue. With a Marxist leadership a socialist transformation would be entirely possible in a country like Turkey. That is the only way forward for its working classes and ordinary people. The Bosporus flowing through Istanbul divides Asia and Europe. A revolution in Turkey shall give and impetus to the class struggle on both sides of the divide, uniting the revolutions of the two historic continents of Asia and Europe.