Turkey, Kurdistan and the marxist case for peace.

Emre Öngün


In Turkey over the past few years, the main vehicle and stake for a mass, class politics has been the struggle for peace, which has been waged by numerous currents in the radical left.
It is of course necessary to understand those dynamics in order to analyze current events in Turkey and their impact on the Near East. However, my goal here is to contribute to a “broader” strategic reflection that reaches beyond that specific area.
How can the polysemic, apparently harmless notion of “peace” make sense and represent a rallying cry as well as a strategic stake for revolutionary Marxists? What is at stake here is a situation of oppression and not the opposition to an inter-state conflict – which, if a conflict broke out, would have to be turned into a class civil war, following the classic pattern of World War I – even if the international dimension can’t obviously be written out because of the extension of the Syrian civil war. There are three reasons for this.
The first – and most important – has to do with the dynamics of the conflict between the Kurdish national movement, around the PKK, and the Turkish state, with the shift in the PKK’s rhetoric and prospects. This translated into two things: first, the peace process between the State and the PKK; secondly, the birth of the HDK/HDP, made of the Kurdish national movement, marxist currents, consistent democrats (including people coming from political islam) and conservative Kurds in order to implement a politics at the national level.
The second reason has to do with the irruption of the mass democratic movement of Gezi in 2013, which reinforced that evolution by democratizing the opposition to Erdogan.
The third reason has to do with the weakness of the class movement in Turkey: the recent workers’ mobilizations are key but they are essentially phases of catching up with class struggle.
Therefore it appears that, for a revolutionary strategy, the struggle for peace is mandatory, since it implies the realization of an interclass alliance with the bloodless yet consistent Turkish bourgeois democratic milieus – and above all with sectors of the Kurdish conservative bourgeoisie. In the case of the HDP, this alliance was made on a non-revolutionary but pro-working class, fully reformist political basis.
But what this allows above all – keeping in mind all the specificities of the Turkish-Kurdish context – is to actualize certain insights about building up specific fronts that are potentially interclass but that are necessary in regards to the fundamental problems of capitalism in a given area. This also resonates, for Western Marxists, with the goal of appropriating key notions that the liberal bourgeoisie gave up on and giving them a subversive, anticapitalist meaning – notions like “peace,” democracy,” “freedom”.

Turkey - Kurdistan - HDP - peace