Interview of V. U. Arslan, leader of the SEP in Turkey.
What is the current political situation in Turkey?
The current political situation can be characterised as a dictatorship. There are elections, but the entire state apparatus is at the service of the propaganda of the government’s party, the AKP of Erdogan, which is, of course, an enemy of the working class. The government has outlawed strikes and independent workers organizations. Simultaneously, there’s an economic crisis and living conditions have deteriorated, so the AKP is restless because of the local elections next March 31.
What is the panorama for the next local elections?
Erdogan is afraid of losing the municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara, the two main cities. And the third, Izmir, is already in hands of the opposition. The high inflation and growing unemployment has affected workers and small merchants, so he is afraid of losing votes, while the bourgeois opposition parties have united. Even the Kurdish HDP has decided not to run their own candidates outside the Kurdish region. In Istanbul, it has around 12% of support which, by not running candidates, will be indirectly transferred to the CHP, which represents the traditional bourgeoisie.
What alternatives are there on the left?
Unfortunately, there are only a few local left alternatives, but not on a national scale. The hegemonic left party, the HDP, will only run candidates in the Kurdish region, and the rest of the left is too small to be a national alternative, so the election is polarized between the two bourgeois parties. However, at a local scale are some phenomena. One is Fatih Macoglu, a Maoist candidate in Dersim, a Kurdish and Alevi zone in the East of the country. It is a historically leftist place, where influence is disputed between the Kurdish HDP and the Maoists. Though it doesn’t have a revolutionary program, the Maoist group represents the socialist left and a class perspective that crosses national, ethnic and religious identities. Macoglu is the Mayor of a sub-district of Dersim, and now is candidate for Mayor of the entire district. His campaign is based on the measures he has taken in his sub-district, like mechanisms of direct democracy, free transportation and subsidized projects of alternative agriculture. He could even win because he has became very popular, with the support of broader sectors than the leftist electoral base. Sectors of the bourgeois press opposed to the AKP give him space and he’s become a national reference of the left. Last year we campaigned for him to run as a presidential candidate, because he could have led the rise of a national left alternative, but he didn’t want to.
The other two left wing campaigns are in Istanbul. One of them is Alper Tas in the centric district of Beyoglu. He is the referent of the ODP -linked to Syriza in Greece- but accepted being a candidate for the CHP and has the chance of winning. Of course, we have disagreements with his group and electoral strategy, but we call for a critical vote for him, because if he wins he can generate something similar to Dersim -he has similar direct democracy proposals, against the neo-liberal austerity plan, environmental measures- but in the centre of Istanbul. This could generate an important level of sympathy towards the left and aid in the rise of an alternative.
Lastly, there is also an independent socialist candidate in the Avcilar district of Istanbul, a working-class zone of half a million inhabitants. His name is Savas Karabulut, an academic who was fired because of the political persecution, who runs an independent campaign based on proposing that the capitalists pay for the crisis. Also, being a victim of political persecution, he advocates the causes of democratic rights.
How will the SEP intervene in the electoral process?
Darsim is 1300 km from Istanbul, but we will send a delegation to support the campaign there. We support a critical vote for Tas and we are in contact with his campaign, but the CHP will probably not allow us to run an independent campaign for his candidature, and in those conditions we would not take part of the campaign itself. On the other side, the campaign of Karabulut will be our priority and main activity in the electoral process. It only has the support of socialist left groups and the SEP will play a central role. In fact, we organised the press conference that launched the campaign a few days ago.
Lastly, how do you evaluate the process of the construction of a new international organization that we are launching?
We give this project great importance, because there isn’t a revolutionary international alternative, and it’s a necessity the working class has. There is a world economic and political crisis, in which liberal bourgeois democracy is losing legitimacy, traditional bourgeois parties collapse and there’s a figure like Trump leading the main imperialist country.
Trump, Putin, Xi Jinpin, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, emerge as a reaction of capitalism to the crisis. People confront them, but we need a revolutionary alternative on our side. This is the issue. If revolutionary socialists can become an alternative, we can attract a new sector of the working class, women and the youth. There is a political vacuum on the left and opportunities to build and grow.