How can the left in Turkey, end the supremacy of the right?

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Is the strategy that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu adopted during the latest local elections sustainable? In other words, can the left bring an end to the traditional supremacy of the right? 

Translated by Melissa Clissold

Hello, good day. I would like to mention a few ways in which the left could prevail over the right in Turkey; but first I would like to say this: Those who think that “There is no such thing as left-right discrimination, these are lies, they are things of the past” then they should stop watching. They won’t really show much interest in the topic anyway, once they see the title. The right-left discrimination won’t end, I don’t think it  can; of course, there are constant changes occurring, just like throughout history – and change will constantly take place -, but in terms of the direction of right and the left in Turkey,  I feel like it will stay pretty much the same. Everyone might evaluate this direction in different ways, but there is in fact a difference between those wanting to exploit people, and those coming up against those doing to the exploitation. 

In my opinion, the choice between the right and left is between making a choice between society and the state. As far as I know, as far as what I have experienced in Turkey – and this is the same in the world, but we are discussing the example of Turkey – the right, firstly looks out for the state, looks out for the survival of the state, and the well-being and prosperity of the people are pushed to the background – although, of course it claims that it wants well-being and prosperity as well.  Why do I want to discuss such a topic? Because, as someone who defines himself as being on the left, I have spent a large part of my career in Turkey following these movements defined  as rightist, and still do. 

The Islamic movement may not fit exactly within the framework of the rightist template, but to a large extent, it is indeed a right-wing movement – with some exceptions -, but the other is an idealistic movement, it is a movement that I have been following, that is already a rightist movement. I have also followed certain structures during different periods that claimed to be “liberal”, those to the centre-right; but fundamentally, as someone who knows a bit about the Islamic movement and the idealistic movement, I would like to say a few things. 

From the very beginning, when I started working on and researching these subjects – especially Islamism – there was one particular question and problem that appeared before me. Firstly, there’s a disposition on the left to dismiss these ideologies as backward and assume that they are temporary. I remember very well, when the Welfare Party (RP) had won the municipality elections for the first time, I took part in a debate in a leftist Istanbul – socialist left – in a foundation and presented there.

I had stated that the municipalities that the RP had won – especially in Istanbul – had mostly belonged to leftist parties in the 70s, belonged to the CHP and other areas where left parties had influence in one way or another. And I had stated that the reason why RP had won in those areas, was mainly because the left had changed their slogans and not adopted or embraced them fully.

At that moment, a revolutionary ağabey (elder brother or man) stated that this was not the case and in fact one member of the audience who had notes – I had been lazy and had not come with my notes – compared the numbers with the 70s. The concept of rejection is a disposition that has been quite widespread for a very long time amongst the left; instead of understanding, trying to understand and trying to find the problem in themselves, they try and find blame elsewhere. We see that Turkey is a rightist country, and this is a bad thing; it’s unfortunate for Turkey, the fact that the right is so strong here. And perhaps one of the reasons that the right is so strong in Turkey is – perhaps the most important reason – is that the left does not take this issue seriously enough. 

The left believes that if they state a few “facts”, then society and crowds of people will follow them etc. Now, let’s put aside the debates of the 60s, 70s and 80s and see what might happen in the future.  There is in fact, an example in front of our very eyes: The Republican People’s Party (CHP) – and, in fact, a lot of people do not think that the CHP is a leftist party, but it is one of the few parties that comes to mind – and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu have been following a certain strategy recently and I can see that this strategy has been quite successful. I had evaluated this before, and we have seen that this strategy has paid off. 

Let’s put it this way: what is the secret of a movement that was able to win over one of the largest municipalities in the biggest cities in Turkey; especially having probably gained a maximum of a third of the votes from the public – perhaps 40% if we add the People’s Democratic Party (HDP)? 

When we look at this closely, there is fine craftmanship involved. This craftmanship has taken place, despite of the left. I believe that the aspect that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has managed to achieve, will influence the way in which the left makes decisions in Turkey in the future. The Walk for Justice was an important milestone. I remember the comments and reactions that came during the time that Kılıçdaroğlu went on the Walk for Justice, and some people were saying that we were “Overreacting” or that the “CHP wouldn’t be able to keep this up.”

But Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu did something important during that Justice Walk; he pushed aside party politics, didn’t involve ‘leftism or rightism’ and used a slogan that the whole of Turkey could embrace – it is a political slogan, but not an idealistic one –  he walked from Ankara to Istanbul with the slogan of “Justice.” Hundreds of thousands of people walked beside him, from many different regions. They also got in trouble; people wanted them to get in trouble; but all in all, it was finalised in Istanbul.

Now, when we look back at what happened then, the other day when I went to Ankara, I had a discussion with my friend who is in the CHP and he underlined a very important point: There were no CHP municipalities on the route that the CHP decided to walk for the Justice Walk; not in Ankara, in Istanbul, or anywhere.  But when we look at it now, Ankara and Istanbul have passed to the CHP, Bolu too, İzmir Municipality as well – not Kocaeli Metropolis – and this all happened in a short amount of time. Of course, this did not only occur because of the Justice Walk; but the strategy adopted there and other steps, led to this happening. 

What kind of method is Kılıçdaroğlu adopting here, together with his mistakes? Instead of trying to turn rightists into leftists, he is trying to create common ground with certain different fractions of the right. These common grounds are not as simple as joining in animosity against Tayyip Erdoğan; it is something else, it is about justice.  It is one thing being against Tayyip Erdoğan as a person, but it is something else being against the one-man regime that Tayyip Erdoğan is constructing in the country. The greatest problem in Turkey right now is justice; there is no justice in Turkey, there is no rule of law, Turkey is not a law state. Of course, when we look at the most recent period in Turkey, we can see that the country is in economic crisis and poverty and deprivation is increasing. 

Turkey has moved further and further away from democracy, there is no pluralistic democracy, Parliament has lost its impact etc… These are all strategies to come together and form alliances with different fractions of the right – these fractions can be within the AKP or those who have parted ways with the AKP. Interestingly, Tayyip Erdoğan himself is facilitating these opportunities for alliance; he formed a constitution through the presidency system which permitted those opposing him to come together more easily. In this sense, these alliances are causing Tayyip Erdoğan to lose power. 

There is an aspect here that of coming together, of pluralistic democracy, of a sense of state of law, instead of turning the rightists into leftists. This is very important because: in the past during the period of Deniz Baykal and the first period of Kılıçdaroğlu and this still exists -, certain names from the right were being pulled in to win over the right. By showcasing certain names, they assumed that certain people who had started to resent the Justice and Development Party (AKP) would come to the CHP. 

But this was not a logical practice at all. There are many examples now, I won’t name names, but one of the rare successful examples was Mehmet Bekâroğlu; but Mehmet Bekâroğlu already – as someone who has been known for a long time – he was a leftist even when he was an Islamist, therefore he doesn’t really count. But there are also several unsuccessful examples too. There were transfers that actually created problems with the CHP’s own left base. 

I think that is an important aspect: A party, a movement, or an individual, whilst maintaining their leftist identity, can indeed form relations with structures who are to the right, can form alliances; but can do this whilst protecting its own principles and must be careful about who and where it gets involved with. In addition to this – it must not neglect ways to reach people who belong to the right parties and movements. 

It cannot do this by gathering certain politicians of the rightist parties and movements whose ‘sell-by-date’ have passed. And it was never very realistic and there are plenty of attempts up until now that have ended in complete fiasco. It must instead, determine ways to reach people – especially the poor, low and mid-low class – who could potentially adopt leftist views in normal conditions. 

At this point, there are several places in Central Anatolia and the Black sea, where leftism is disintegrating; it wasn’t like this 20 years ago. Now there are places that it seems it is perhaps impossible for the left to enter and be successful. 

All sorts of leftist movements must develop special programs to access these areas – and up until now I have not heard of any, I have not witnessed any. Maybe some people are presenting their famous PowerPoint presentations in Istanbul or Ankara’s hotel conference rooms; yet, when you go down into the field – I’m a journalist that has wondered around the field a lot – it is very hard to find leftists, people who speak on behalf of leftism; and when you do indeed find some of these, there is nothing to say other than “May God help you.”

I remember some names from the Black Sea, they are names that everyone knew because they were so few in number. Whereas, this was not the case in the 70s. In the 70s, there were plenty of places – especially in the Black Sea – where the presence of leftists was possible. 

Another aspect is the Southeast element; but that does not go into the scope of the right, that is a completely different aspect. Structure claiming to be from the left need to spend a great deal of effort, without losing their leftist identity, in order to explain to right fractions why their choice is wrong.  At this point, especially in terms of the aspect of religion – and in the recent period, a lot of positive progress has taken place – I think the attitude that certain people who claim to be acting for the left, has created a lot of damage. 

All across the world, whilst for example leftist movements in a majority of Christian regions, can potentially organise in churches, and very serious leftist movement can be formed, this has not happened  in Turkey, generally in the Islamic world – but our subject is Turkey. There are only very recently new structures such as Anti-Capitalist Muslims – especially after Gezi.

These structures especially have an impact within the youth; but there are somewhat lonely. The main reason for this isolation is: Islamists do not see them as one of their own, the leftists do not see them as one of their own. Such a situation exists, this needs to be ruptured. To be leftist does not mean to be against religion – I have been saying this from the moment I started journalism, but I will say it again despite all that has been said and done against me for saying this. This view only exists in very few places in the world, Turkey is one of them. This may have appeared to be ruptured in recent periods, but it has not completely cracked open.

If we are to return to the example of the CHP; the CHP is trying certain things, there are certain places where this is successful, and others where it is not. For example, one of the first things that the left needs to do first is to fight against polarisation; because today, the political ruling administration, is extending its life through polarisation. To fight against polarisation is a good position to be in, but here – if I remember correctly this was a Timur Selçuk song – one should not be ‘rightist with rightists’ and ‘leftists with leftists.’ 

Meaning, if you are to the left, there is no need to hide the relationships you have formed with people from movements on the right.

I feel as if this sort of disposition exists: certain people that cooperate with the right, avoid cooperating with names which are, in any case, close to their leftist base. They are making a mistake. To see someone, to hang out with other people, to go to other neighbourhoods, does not mean you are abandoning your own neighbourhood. 

Or let me put it this way – I know that I am speaking in code but this way is better: No one should take for granted those who seem to be on your side.  Of  course, those people within the left in Turkey who want to be more successful, need to state that there is no need to be afraid of those on the right, and this is a very good strategy and they need to be able to prove this. 

But whilst they are proving this, they must not forget that they are people on the left. So, in order for the left to open up to the right, the left must not become more ‘rightist’, I think that there are two ways for the left to open up to the right – and I can summarise all I have said as follows: Partnerships and collaboration should be developed with those people, institutions and parties on the right based on principles of honesty, openness and transparency. 

At the same time, this involves being able to explain the new form and changing version of the left – whatever that is, everyone has different thoughts –  to the right, without scaring them, without approaching them with the prejudice that existed during the Cold War period.

The way that the left can dispose of the supremacy of the right in Turkey is not through becoming more rightist themselves; it is exactly the opposite – through maintaining their leftism but forming equal, civilised and democratic relationships with those on the right. Yes, that’s all I have to say. Good day. 

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