Turkey is going through many interconnected crises, reflecting the rest of the world and continuing its course over the past decade. In order to maintain his position in this period of multiple crises, Erdogan is firing on all cylinders: repression, wars, blackmail, negotiations, breaking alliances and new alliances.
Moreover, changes in the global geopolitical system have played to his advantage to a large extent. Over the past decade, Erdogan has honed his ability to harness world events for his own bargaining in order to bolster his position or, at least, delay his political death. Such is the case with the war in Ukraine, which he was able to take advantage of to overcome the problems imposed by the declining purchasing power of the working class and its unpopularity in the run-up to the new elections. So Erdogan, showing a certain skill, tries to rely on the global situation, but finds himself obliged to wage war on all fronts.
On the economic front
The fragility of Turkish capitalism has been around for a long time, and the AKP government has always sought “innovative” solutions aimed at least at delaying the effects of the crisis. But the trends observed in Turkey at the present time are also closely related to the crisis of global capitalism. After the 2008 crisis, when central banks around the world were pumping liquidity into the global economy, Turkey also saw the arrival of a huge mass of money and with it, a certain illusion of wealth. The bad aspects of indebtedness appeared when the moment came when it was necessary to start paying. With the announcement of the gradual abolition of asset purchases in financial markets by central banks, two different groups of interests corresponding to two distinct capital sectors appeared in Turkey and began to manifest themselves. On the other hand, TÜSIAD1, an organization of Turkey’s traditional big bourgeoisie, criticized the government’s policy and demanded the central bank to increase interest rates. On the other hand, there are “Small and Medium Enterprises”, some of which have emerged, however, as large capitalist interests in their own right. Those, who are often politically aligned with Erdogan’s government, have been relying on him to keep interest rates low.
Despite their relative differences, these two sectors of the capitalist class also have common interests, whether it is, for example, their investments in the industrial sector connected with export, or their hostility to the freedom of unionization of workers and the right to strike. Thus, if the nuances between these Turkish capitalist circles can be good, a general classification is possible on the basis of the difference between the capitalists of the capital-intensive sectors and the capitalists of labour-intensive industries. One can also suggest a general distinction between those who have enough capital to grant loans and those who are looking for cheap credit. Therefore, despite their common priorities, there is limited scope for confrontation between these two groups of venture capitalists.
Faced with an inevitable economic crisis, the government had to choose between high inflation or high unemployment. With the elections approaching (which will take place no later than June 2023), the choice was the inflation rate against a possible increase in the unemployment rate, with the continuous reduction of interest rates, with the aim of stimulating the economy and supporting the capitalist groups surrounding Erdogan, both of whom are convinced that while preserving jobs, The loss of purchasing power will lead to less discontent within his constituency.
Over the past 10 months, Erdogan’s government has tried an economic experiment: while preserving the value of the Turkish lira [TL] At a low level, the government has tried to help exports while supporting producers who seek to increase production from very low interest rates, when the real interest rate approaches 40%. The main objective was to support exports and to replace new productive investments with imports. However, their experiences, along with the overall price increase, helped trigger a spike in inflation: 70% officially, but according to ENAG, an independent research body, inflation is at 175% annually. The purchasing power of the working class has fallen sharply, leading to widespread poverty. In particular, the lack of access to grain and other imported food products due to the war in Ukraine worsened the situation of the majority of workers. The government has had to raise the minimum wage – which is usually only raised once a year – for the second time this year. The new minimum wage has been increased from 4,253 TL (242 EUR) to 5,500 TL (313 EUR), but none of these amounts are enough to guarantee normal living conditions. It should be remembered here that the majority of Turks receive the minimum wage for 45 hours of work per week. The minimum wage has become almost the average wage in Turkey.
But at the same time, Erdogan’s policy of making Turkish capitalism export-oriented has been crafted on favorable ground, especially given the restructuring of supply chains within global capitalism during the health crisis. Turkey’s policy of cheap production costs with weak exchange rates has paid off to some extent. Even in a context where Europe, Turkey’s main export market, grew by only 0.3% in the first quarter for about a year, every month Turkey broke its export record in the previous months. In May 2022, exports reached $19 billion. Now, shifting alliances in global politics further support this trend as supply chains move towards groups of ‘strategic partners’
foreign policy front
TÜSIAD, anticipating this development by issuing a warning to the government: “Supply chains are now shifting to countries that share common ‘values’ and the government needs to reorient itself towards Western alliances in order to take advantage of these changes in global supply chains”. This announcement came during the dispute between Turkey and its allies within NATO, particularly on the issue of the integration of Sweden and Finland into NATO. Erdogan publicly rebuked them for their “betrayal” and “anti-national” behavior before agreeing exactly to the advice just given to him: Having exercised his veto in NATO, he signed memoranda of understanding with Sweden and Finland. . He was until then accusing these countries of supporting “terrorism” and asking for help in his plans to invade Syrian Kurdistan in order to create a so-called buffer zone in Rojava 30 km away where houses would be built to house refugees. It may sound strange, but many people in Turkey believe in this Erdogan project as a way to welcome refugees in Turkey and also to change the demographic balance of Syrian Kurdistan. Of course, this 30 kilometers is also a bargaining chip for Erdogan: he and his nationalist allies are looking for assets in the course of his negotiations with Russia and the United States so that he can launch a military invasion.
Sweden and Finland were just the beginning. At the beginning of July, the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, was on a visit to Turkey from where he left with a suitcase full of signed agreements on a number of topics ranging from military cooperation to diplomatic cooperation, and memoranda of understanding on protection. The civil society agreement for the mutual recognition of driving licenses between the two countries. During their meeting, they discussed increasing trade to reach 30 billion euros and enhancing road transport between the two countries, among other things, which is an additional prerequisite for increasing trade with Turkey.
It is no exaggeration to say that over the past two decades Turkey has become one of the major manufacturing centers of European capitalists and now, with the reorientation of supply chains and its extremely weak currency, its well-educated but unregulated and low-cost workforce, Turkey is more than ever on its way to becoming the new China for Europe. Despite its disagreements with the government on other issues, even TÜSIAD couldn’t be happier.
on the home front
In the context of increasing poverty, loss of purchasing power, and frequent military attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan and Rojava, the government realizes that it must be brutal in the face of any public expression of discontent. He knows that showing the slightest sign of weakness puts you in danger of seeing protest spread. Hence the fact that even local demonstrations by workers in their workplaces, in order to increase wages, are violently suppressed by the police. But in recent months, these police assaults have been accompanied by raids by fascist thugs.
During the violent attacks on gay pride, the encouragement given to far-right Islamist groups to attack gay movement activists in the streets, and the reports on the social networks of various “civilian” paramilitary associations, the opposition also feared that this was a kind of pre-election strategy. These hardly disguised paramilitaries—one might say, do not hesitate to make their vigorous demonstrations in broad daylight—seem to be intended to intimidate and paralyze the opposition, which is increasingly concerned about the conditions in which these elections will take place. And the role that street violence will play in it.
Delaying the crisis in Turkey is done on the back of the working class whose life is always more difficult. On the one hand, the government is trying to suppress any dissent by terrorizing society with arrests and police violence and trying to provoke national mobilization around the wars in Iraqi Kurdistan and Rojava. So this power strategy seems quite clear: to deter any mobilization of the opposition through fear, to try to create some form of economic assistance with an increase in the minimum wage and marginal improvement in pensions, to press for national mobilization in the country the basis of external “victories”, and to divide the opposition by creating Neofascist opposition focused on refugees. As for the opposition coming from the bourgeoisie, it is represented in waiting for the elections and not indulging in any “provocation” until the result of the vote in order to then get rid of Erdogan without showing any political differences between his program and Erdogan’s program. .
Unfortunately, in the absence of a real leftist alternative, even getting rid of Erdogan, we still do not see the political program that should enable the working class to improve its working conditions and self-confidence.
Translated by TM Labica