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Ahmet Kulsoy
Dec 06 2018

Turkish Workers’ Party back in parliament after 47 years

Two members of Turkish parliament are breathing life into the Turkish Workers Party (TİP), resigning from the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and joining the left-wing group to give it its first seats in the assembly in 47 years.

The resignations of Barış Atay and Erkan Baş, both elected for the first time in general elections in July, were not the result of a dispute inside the HDP, but a decision between them and the former party.

The TİP was established in 1961 by 12 trade union members and generated huge enthusiasm within the flourishing labour movement at the time. In the 1965 elections, the TİP managed to win 15 seats in parliament and receive 3 percent of the national vote. But that electoral success still remains the most notable result a Turkish socialist party has ever achieved.

While the TİP became a focus of the Turkish left during the Cold War, the party faced both state repression and competition from other leftist factions.

Founded in the aftermath of the 1960 coup, the party was closed following the 1971 coup and its leaders were arrested. It was reopened in 1975, but received just 0.1 percent of the vote in the 1977 elections and shut down once again following the 1980 coup.

Relaunching yet again in 1987, the TİP was one of numerous socialist parties, but achieved no electoral success. The socialist left, whose current share of the vote is estimated to be between 1 and 2 percent, has failed to unify since the 1980 coup. The deepening polarisation in society is also an obstacle, as well as strategic voting that puts people off backing small parties.

The HDP was founded in 2013 after years of trying to bring together the Kurdish movement and socialist parties. But some socialist parties remain outside the HDP as they have conflicting views on the Kurdish conflict. Others are hesitant to join the party given the natural dominance of the Kurdish movement inside it.

Atay and Baş were among a number of Turkish socialists elected on HDP lists since 2015. How the TİP will now fare is still unclear, but the pair say they hope to increase the socialist vote above the current one to two percent.

Fikret Başkaya, a prominent socialist academic, told Ahval it was impossible to revive the old TİP and other methods should be tried instead. Başkaya said the socialist movement in Turkey stood at the intersection of Stalinism and Kemalism, an ideological framework following the principles of the republic’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

“This movement that is nourished by Kemalism and Stalinism has been suffering a moral weakness since the collapse of the Soviet regime in early 1990s,” Başkaya said.

Ömer Laçiner, editor-in-chief of the Birikim journal often labelled a liberal-leftist by some Turkish socialists, said that numerous leftist parties and initiatives had been losing credibility for years, but did not feel a need to question themselves. Laçiner said socialists had been marginalised, but still sat by patiently waiting for the day when everybody understood their righteousness.

Naci Sönmez, co-spokesperson of the Green Left Party, said the main problem of the Turkish socialist movement was its wish to redesign society with a top-down approach.

“I think there is no need for parties that are to be founded adopting the organisational approach of the 20th century,” he said.

The Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP), founded in the mid-1990s with the hope of establishing a unified platform for the left, remains outside the HDP. It was one of the initiators of the United June Movement, a socialist platform bringing together different groups and parties within the Turkish left established after the 2013 Gezi Park protests.

Alper Taş, the leader of the party, said identity politics had dominated the socialist movement and was critical of those who had made common cause with the HDP.

“The socialist left engages in politics by taking advantage of the HDP’s strength,” he said. “Socialist politics that is squeezed inside the Kurdish national political movement cannot be named socialist. Socialists should follow a class-centred route.”