It was early evening on Friday 15 July that the Turkish military coup began. Planes flew low over Istanbul and Ankara. Soldiers and tanks took to the streets. Key bridges and buildings were taken over.
State TV was taken over and it was announced that the military were in control of the country. News started to emerge of snipers on rooftops and the bombing of Parliament by the airforce.
By the early hours of Saturday morning it was clear that the coup had been defeated. Why? How? It soon became clear that the coup was the work of only some sections of the military not all. But what stopped those sections in their tracks and prevented them carrying the rest of the army with them was the mass mobilization of the people on the streets.
Ordinary Turkish working class people, women and men, poured onto the streets of the main cities in the tens or hundreds of thousands and they did so instantly. They confronted the army, they climbed on tanks, they argued with the young conscript soldiers and the soldiers started to surrender.
Why did the people come out? Because they were called out by President Erdogan and his AKP government and because most of them support that government – yes. Erdogan won 50% of the vote, mainly from workers and peasants, at the last election and clearly has mass support. But also because they knew from bitter experience what a military coup would mean.
The history of Turkey is a history of military coups. There were two brutal coups, in 1960 and again in 1980, where the military forcibly took control of the entire country. In 1971 the military forced the elected government to resign. In 1997 they rolled out the tanks on the streets and toppled the coalition government. In 2003 the military had made detailed plans for a coup to topple the AKP government but they were unable to put it into action.. In 2009 another coup plan to topple the government was developed by a faction of the Turkish military.
These coups and attempted coups had horrific consequences for the ordinary people of Turkey. Parliamentary democracy was terminated. All progressive political movements, trade unions and workers’ movements, student and civil society organisations were crushed.
In 1960 the ousted prime minister and two government ministers were hanged by a military trial. After each coup, widespread and long lasting martial law regimes were put in place eliminating even the most basic human and workers rights. Elections were cancelled. Thousands of political activists were arrested, tortured or killed. All the press was subject to military control. In all cases it was the working class that suffered most.
If the latest coup were to succeed it would have been the same again and the people knew this. And that is why with great courage and in such great numbers they came out into the streets. Things could easily have gone the other way but this mobilization of people power made all the difference.
The defeat of the coup was a victory for the people and for democracy but in the first instance it also strengthens the hand of President Erdogan and his AKP (Justice and Development Party) government. Who are the AKP?
In some ways they are like Fianna Fáil, only Islamic not Catholic – nationalist, socially conservative and authoritarian and with a huge level of working class support won by giving people certain limited but real reforms, but completely committed to developing Turkish capitalism into a strong independent regional power. In some ways Erdoğan resembles De Valera.
The idea put out by some that Erdoğan is a fascist is mistaken as is the idea that he is an extreme Islamist jihadist like ISIS or Al Qaeda. The military hate Erdoğan and the AKP because they see themselves as partners with the Western imperialists and see reject Erdogan’s Islamism as traditionalist and backward.
Socialists want to see the overthrow of Erdoğan like every other capitalist ruler but this must be by the working people Turkish themselves not by, or in alliance with, the reactionary military.
In this situation the Turkish left, which in reality is very weak, must stand firm on its principles. It must defend basic democratic and workers rights, first and foremost against the military and this or any future military coup, but also against attacks from the Erdoğan government. And if the Turkish economy – which has been booming for a decade or more – slows down these attacks from Erdoğan will intensify.
Also vitally important is the Kurdish question. The Kurds have long been the victims of extreme nationalist oppression by the Turkish state which has denied them, by brutal repression the right to self-determination. The Kurdish people, by and large, understood that the military are their bitter enemies and opposed the coup. People came onto the streets in Diyarbakir, the biggest city of Turkish Kurdistan. Now the left must stand by the Kurds and demand an end to the war on the Kurds, a return to the peace process and respect for the national rights of the Turkish people.
In short: No to the coup! Defend democracy! Peace with the Kurds!