Issue 230 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
There was no doubting who gained most in Turkey's general election last month: 'Intimidating convoys of fascists were on the streets celebrating within hours,' report socialists in Turkey. The fascist National Action Party doubled its vote to 19 percent, making it the second largest party in parliament. The fascists were set to be invited into a coalition government this month. The National Action Party did best in the villages and smaller towns of central Turkey. Its worst results were in major cities like Istanbul and in the predominantly Kurdish south east of the country where the pro-Kurdish Hadep polled well. The fascists picked up votes from Turkey's two Tory parties--the Motherland Party and the True Path Party.
Above all they benefited from the nationalism which the government of Bulent Ecevit has whipped up over the last three months. Ecevit has encouraged a wave of chauvinism against the 13 million Kurds who live in Turkey since the kidnap and arrest of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in February of this year. Turkey's support, as a member of Nato, for the US led bombing of Serbia has further increased the nationalist backlash. The government has invoked memories of the Turkish Ottoman Empire which encompassed the whole of the Balkans in the last century to pose as the defender of the Muslim minorities there.
Ecevit leads the Democratic Left. It is a social democratic party, but is intensely nationalistic. The Democratic Left did get about 23 percent of the vote, but the fascists increased their vote the most. The less nationalistic social democrats, the Republican People's Party, failed to reach the 10 percent threshold needed to get any seats in parliament.
Ecevit's role is eerily similar to that which he played in the mid-1970s. As prime minister, he ordered the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The resulting nationalist euphoria brought the right wing to power. Two fascist ministers joined the government, even though they had only three MPs. A virtual civil war between activists of the left and fascist street fighters, the Grey Wolves, followed, claiming 6,000 lives. The generals seized on the crisis in 1980 to launch the third coup in 20 years.
Today Turkey has entered an even deeper period of instability. For the election has brought no comfort to the Turkish ruling class. They had hoped it would mark an end to two decades of political turbulence. But deep crisis still grips the Turkish economy. There is no end in sight to the 15 year long war in Kurdistan which eats up £7 billion a year from the budget.
The political fragmentation which feeds social conflict is even more chronic than before the election. There are two social democratic parties, two openly capitalist parties, an Islamic party and the fascists. None can command a majority in parliament. There has been a succession of short lived, crisis prone coalitions over the last seven years.
The bulk of big business hoped the Motherland Party would represent their interests as the dominant force in any government. But it only got 13 percent of the vote and has not pulled clearly ahead of the True Path Party which got about the same number of votes. And the working class remains a powerful force. Ecevit's government backed away from confrontation with workers over privatisation and factory closures in the months before the election.
It would be folly to dismiss the fascist threat. They have a considerable base of support within the army, police and judiciary. But the fascists picked up votes as the most vociferous nationalists, not because one in five people in Turkey want to see the unions and all forms of democracy destroyed. All of this means the left has the chance both to drive a wedge between the fascist core of the National Action Party and its voters, and to offer an alternative to workers and the poor.
Unfortunately much of the far left, itself fragmented between different parties which looked to Russia or Maoist guerilla tactics, is fantastically demoralised after the election. They stood in an electoral front, but ended up polling only 0.25 percent. Many of the left parties argue that Turkey is already a fascist state because of the intervention the army makes in politics. More have described the Islamists as fascists. So they have not seen the threat from the true fascists in the National Action Party.
United action by the left wing parties and the social democrats can prevent the fascists from consolidating their vote into harder support. That means focusing on the one force which is not battle weary and has the capacity to break the right's forces--the working class in Turkey.
Tony Blair--so belligerent in Nato's war against Yugoslavia--is usually hailed in the media as a peacemaker when it comes to Northern Ireland. But over recent weeks he has taken us to the brink of the renewal of war in Northern Ireland.
Blair, along with the leader of the Irish republic, Bertie Ahern, has caved in to the Ulster Unionists' demand for the decommissioning of IRA weapons before Sinn Fein can sit in the executive of the new assembly. The two leaders' Hillsborough declaration--rejected by Sinn Fein, the Loyalist PUP, the Women's Coalition and the Alliance Party--effectively rewrote last year's Good Friday peace agreement.
That agreement, hailed by politicians and the media alike last year, does not demand IRA decommissioning before the assembly is set up. Yet Blair and Ahern's Hillsborough declaration demanded a specific date for the handing over or destruction of some IRA weapons and a 'day of reconciliation' before the new government can be set up.
For the British government to demand decomissioning of IRA arms while it bombs the people of Kosovo and Serbia is the utmost hypocrisy. The IRA has only a tiny amount of weapons in comparison to the great arsenal in the hands of Nato and the western powers. Moreover decommissioning is absolutely no guarantor of peace in Ireland.
The first point is that in no other similar peace process, for example in South Africa or the Middle East, has one side been required to hand over its weapons before new political structures were in place. The demand for one side to decommission in Northern Ireland amounts to telling the IRA to surrender. Indeed the peace process came about precisely because both the British government and the IRA admitted that they could not defeat each other militarily. Loyalist terror groups are still intimidating and attacking Catholic areas on a daily basis, especially areas like Portadown where Orangemen are still protesting over the restricting of the Drumcree anti-Catholic march.
There are still thousands of guns held legally by Unionists. The report into the RUC armed police force, headed by former Tory minister Chris Patten, will not be published until September. Most Catholics have absolutely no faith in the RUC, which is still over 92 percent Protestant and widely believed to have been involved in the recent murder by Loyalists of civil rights solicitor Rosemary Nelson. Last year the United Nations castigated the RUC for its intimidation and harassment of Catholics. A recent report into RUC collusion with Loyalist death squads has been sent to Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam. It draws on secret army files to conclude 'that agents of the state have been involved directly and indirectly in the murder of its citizens'. It is hardly surprising then that many Catholics reject IRA decomissioning while the RUC and Loyalist gangs are still operating, and while the British army is still stationed in Northern Ireland.
The British and Irish governments, by backing the Unionists on decommissioning, have effectively given David Trimble and his Unionist cronies a veto on the future of Northern Ireland. Trimble wants to use decommissioning to shore up his support in the Ulster Unionist Party and to appease his hard line members. The Unionists are deeply divided by the peace process. While some, like Trimble, accept the need for at least limited power sharing with Catholic parties, the whole Unionist tradition is built on anti-Catholic bigotry. Trimble hopes he can keep everyone on board by uniting in hatred against the IRA.
The great danger now is that, as the politicians muddle along, sectarianism will be whipped up during the orange marching season and during the campaign for the European elections in June. Arch-bigot Ian Paisley has already declared he will use these elections to denounce the peace process.
The current impasse exposes some of the fundamental contradictions of the peace process and how it has failed to wipe out sectarianism. Even if some sort of deal is eventually patched together and the new assembly formed, politicians on all sides will try to drive ordinary Protestants and Catholics to line up in separate camps.
None of the social and economic questions such as the poverty which has blighted the lives of working class people, Catholics and Protestants, will be addressed. The need for class politics, which links the fight against sectarianism and injustice with the fight against low pay and poverty, has never been greater.
The two Nazi bomb attacks in Brixton, and then in Brick Lane in the East End of London last month injured over 40 people in busy working class areas of London. The attacks were racist in motivation and mark a new development in fascist activity. Other similar ethnically mixed areas have also been threatened with attacks, including East Ham, Southall, Bradford, and St Pauls in Bristol. Although they are clearly aimed at black and Asian people they are also an attack on the white working class population who live and work in a multiracial society.
The fascists have become increasingly isolated in recent years and these attacks are a sign of desperation. The Stephen Lawrence case has created an increased revulsion against racist attacks. One of the fascist groups that claimed responsibility for the bomb planted in Brixton was Combat 18. The fact that the call was made from a telephone box on Well Hall Road in Eltham, where Stephen was murdered, is no simple coincidence. Support for justice for Stephen Lawrence has been overwhelming among whites as well as blacks. These bombings show once again the connections between fascism and racist attacks.
The rise in racist intimidation and violence in south east London at the time of Stephen Lawrence's murder was linked to the attempts of the BNP to organise in the area, with its national headquarters located in nearby Welling. It was clear that the BNP's presence acted as a focus for local racists. The connection was confirmed by the rise in race attacks in the East End of London in 1993 after BNP member Derek Beackon was elected as a local councillor in Millwall in the Isle of Dogs. A week before the election Quddus Ali was viciously beaten into a coma by eight racists, and following Beackon's victory there was a 300 percent increase in reported racist attacks in the area.
This explanation of the rise in racist attacks was woefully missing from the Macpherson report into Stephen Lawrence's murder, as was the response to racism and fascism of trade unionists, anti-racist activists and ordinary black and white people. Following Stephen's murder the Nazi groups in the area were marginalised through mass activity, in particular the 60,000 strong Unity demonstration to demand the closure of the BNP headquarters in Welling. The march proved the determination to silence the Nazis and prevent them from gaining any sort of hold or credibility. Yet the marchers were pilloried by the government, press and police, and the police mobilised huge numbers to protect the Nazi headquarters, allowing the fascists to propagate their lies.
The demonstration was denounced by the police as a riot before it even took place. On the day, the police blocked the agreed march route and riot police created and exacerbated the violence by wading into the crowds with truncheons and hospitalising dozens of protesters. The action of the police meant that they protected the fascists against the large numbers of people exercising their right to demonstrate against the BNP. Given this record, there is a level of mistrust in the police's ability to deal with the fascists. They have also come under attack for their delay in finding those responsible for the recent bomb attacks.
The attacks expose the frustration and isolation within fascist organisations. However, this should not leave anti-fascist campaigners complacent. The day after the bomb in Brick Lane members and supporters of the Anti Nazi League were out petitioning and giving out stickers in the market. There is a tremendous record of fighting fascism in the area, from kicking the blackshirts out of Cable Street in 1936 to removing Nazi councillor Derek Beackon. The strength of these fights have been black and white unity, willingness to confront fascism head on, and a refusal to rely on the forces of law and order who have repeatedly been found wanting.