Yalcin Burkev: “Middle class”, leading the revolt, is the proletarianized petit-bourgeoisie
Our conversations on class character, appearance, causes and probable results of the revolt, institutionalization of the resistance, and conclusions that should be considered by socialists and the Kurdish Movement are continuing. The second guest of the conversation series, which we have started with Prof. Korkut Boratav, is the editor of NotaBene Publishing, Yalcin Burkev…
The resistance that followed the attack to Gezi Park gives an appearance of revolt of middle class rather than a class oppositional movement. What can you say about its causes and probable results?
Yalcin Burkev: Gezi Park Resistance has been a challenging development.As in all historical revolt movements which erupted as a synthesis of very complicated causes, one should not respect much simple explanations that claim to analyse it. Yes, also for this event, those who take it superficially argue that it is a “middle class revolt”. Particularly the prevailing media handled this thesis significantly, and it seems that it will go on doing the same thing, depending on the scenes, the humour in the slogans and graffiti, and peaceful style of the action.
Of course, as this resistance includes significant differences from the previous ones, it does not reveal a classical appearance of laborer revolt. Yes, one significant dimension of the event is related to “middle classes”, that is with petit-bourgeois. However, this middle class leading the revolt are the losing ones, that is to say the proletarianized middle class. These components of the society reflect reactions of a social stratum that is, indeed, newly belonging to the working class. While these people are lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, engineers, graphic artists, designers, etc. that we meet daily; they have been rapidly losing intermediate class characteristics and becoming a member of the working class. Because, these “middle classes” have been dequalified in their occupations, and alienated from their job related to the neoliberal policies on one hand. On the other hand, they have become included in wage earner category under conditions of “precariousness”, and have lost their level of prosperity permanently. That means, this “loss” is not a temporary situation related to the crisis, but a permanent change in their social class position.
“Proletarianization of the middle classes” should be considered at top places among critical events which trigger revolt movements of the era that we pass through. The role that was played by the unemployed young people in Egypt (especially in 2011) and Tunisia has also reflected this historical process, and also, just before it, the protest movements opposing the commodification of education of the European university students that burst out in 2011.
Basic factor underlying the experience of these “middle class” reactions as a historical wave is transformation of petit-bourgeois (or in the trendy term “middle classes”) into a mass of “losers”, which had been expanding with inflation of particular sectors by the artificial economic expansion as a result of financialization in 1980-1990s, beginning from 1999, but becoming more significant following the global crisis of 2009. These loser masses are rapidly becoming poorer, dispossessed, and proletarian. These are well-educated young people grown up according to prevailing consumption standards with the hope of a higher level of prosperity. However, still they can hardly go on their daily life depending on the material support of their parents, deny being proletarian, and could divert to the most short-cut reactions to escape this situation. These factors underlie the inclination of the “middle classes” to left, to social democracy and particularly to Kemalist nationalism. They do not behave with respect to proletarian pattern to a large extent. They actually confine themselves to short-cut daily reactions.
The mentioned objective class behaviors underlying the whole process have not gained a direct political appearance. The process can be mediated by some situations before having a political appearance. For instance reactions to the general proletarianization in Turkey turn out to be a secular reaction, as the neoliberal policies have been carried out by “the moderate Islamic AKP”. While AKP has been creating its own middle class, it has been eliminating traditional “middle classses” and young “middle class” candidates pushing them to the side of losers.That I to say, the AKP staffing is the basic factor in the rise of this new middle class. Thus, “proletarianization of the middle class” in Turkey has been experienced in a quite original way, and there is a big mass of losing secular middle class in spite of a rising small mass of Islamic middle class, and these polarize on a Islamism-secularism axis.
Naturally, the new laborer masses impoverished and became precarious by the neoliberal policies, who do not feel close to place themselves in the Islamic social network, form one of the main dynamics, though one cannot claim it to be the leader of the process. Moreover, reactions of “Alevis” who feel excluded and under threat in general, and particularly hot reactions of the Arab Alevis because of the Syrian events, should be noted as identity-derived reactions adding to the class dimension in the revolt. And, of course, the leading role of women inside every political community and their mass contributions in general are considerable, and this contribution is a significant defense and freedom reflex against oppressive conservative tendencies.
As a matter of fact, all those “class and identity-pivoted” issues have been blended and shaped as a freedom struggle against the almost dictatorial regime. This struggle of freedom has received support from various communities who feel themselves oppressed politically, socially and also economically. The point that it burst out is typical as well, it is an expression of the accumulated reactions towards the urban transformation and rantier policies. That means it is a reaction to the motor sector of the neoliberal policies. Briefly, the problem has a complete class characteristic of proletarian axis, the reactions are against the neoliberalism mixed with Islamic fundamentalism, and it can never be handled as a static “middle class” behavior.
It is early to make comprehensive explanations about results of this outburst before the process comes to an end. Though, whatever the results are, a certain thing is that, construction of the politics only on the hegemons policy axis which has been valid since 1980 came to the end. That is, (in football terms) single-goal match is over, a new platform for the new working class movement to be involved in politics have been formed depending on its reconstruction. Secondly, the image of political “stability” that has been drawn by the hegemons for the last ten years has been ended up irreversibly.
Naturally, involvement of the labor and the oppressed will not appear with its most developed form, but we will witness many small or big spontaneous social outbursts. Current experiences are certainly a “revolutionary situation” in classical “objective terms”, however “subjectively” it lacks enough power as it corresponds to reestablishment of labor movement. For this reason, if we would assess these events in a historical perspective, it would be meaningful to compare them with 1830 revolts and 1848 revolutionary movements reflecting the first periods of the formation of labor movements, instead of comparing them with the conditions of the organized labor movements of 20th century revolutions, like 1905, 1917, etc.
What can be done for institutionalization of the resistance and establishment of a dual power status?
For dual power, the resistance needs to set a locality continuously (at least for a period). For example, occupation of urban squares was just such a state. It lasted for a short time, now it continues in different forms like the park forums.
Even within this short-lasting Gezi Park model, which broke down existing political polarizations and put forth the possibility of another world, having got its attraction from an enormous wealth of action styles and especially “direct democratic” methods of decision-making, is a sample model of social opposition in the new period. However, it is hard to say that the depth of this method could be comprehended thoroughly today in many cities, especially in places other than Gezi Park in Istanbul. Especially it seems typical to manage the situation by applying to pragmatic and temporary alliances instead of developing “direct democracy” methods. So, the Gezi Park Model should be discussed on and disseminated with its whole depth. Again labor arm of the process progresses quite slowly and fragmentally. Internal dynamics of the social opposition also progresses problematically. Instead of trying to overcome at the level of governing forces and fighting continuously with the related conflicts, one should try to spread and deepen the Gezi Park Model particularly in the base, in localities and work-places.
What are the lessons that the socialist left and the Kurdish Movement need to take from the resistance?
What happened up to now is the feeling of great masses that creating another platform or another world is possible and testing democratic ways to reach this goal. This is a magnificent gain. It means that masses have felt the possibility of surmounting the existing political polarization. However for the process to acquire more persistent forms, first of all the social opposition needs to face with its basic weaknesses. First of all comes the inability to overcome the polarization between Kemalist nationalist dynamics and the Kurdish Movement. It cannot be expected that these segments could simply come together. It has been strikingly seen that the ability to melt such sensitivities in the same pot opposite to the neoliberal dictatorship is critically important. The basic magic of the Gezi Model is this ability. Still let us imagine for a moment that the Kurdish Movement, PKK, participate actively and extensively and suppose how great results its effects could achieve. Let us conceive what a difference could be brought in the country by a resistance which spreads to all of the Kurdish cities and also including the Kurds in the West. Of course there would come a series of objections about its impossibility and probable negative results. However those who would express those negativities should consider that polarizations among the oppressed could be surmounted in the simplest and the most persistent way through social struggle. Of course this potential would signify a critical lesson and a possibility from the perspective of struggle of all of the oppressed people. And, of course, it would be necessary to review retrospectively ways that have been followed up to now (to pave the way to the future).
It is possible to draw a noticeable series of lessons from this wave of revolt for all arms of the social opposition.
First, it has been seen once more strikingly that the hegemons of the nationalist foci had a rightist mentality, whereas those masses who had nationalist sensitivities, especially the poor and low-middle income groups, had out-of-order reactions. As Dogu Perincek (the leader of Worker’s Party-IP) has fallen into an in-order situation by proposing a “temporary national government” on the basis of “IP-CHP-MHP” coalition to pass through this period; segments who have strong nationalist sensitivity, particularly of CHP basis, who acted together with the left and even with some Kurdish actors in localities, exhibited an out-of-order inclination they really had. As much as the CHP administrative committee had a restrictive attitude respecting the sensitivity of the capitalist segments with “common sense” with a governmental mentality, the CHP base exhibited such radical inclination. It is certain that every arm of the oppositional segments need to act considering this real situation. As these segments cannot be left to right-nationalist or liberal leadership, they cannot also be left to leftist chattering like “join us, we are telling you the right thing to do”. These problems should be met bravely considering mainly the basis movement.
Secondly, the left should adopt an attitude which enables to break down existing clichés in itself. The social dynamism has brought an opportunity for the left to face with its bureaucratic habits which obliged itself to engage to little targets in a restrictive and stereotypical way far from rapacity and inclusiveness. This opportunity requires a radical review of its style, program, organizing and the struggle insight. In this respect, creative action and direct democracy practices (taking decisions via forums, determine group attitudes after actual in-group discussions, etc.) have been manifested by the Gezi Park Model. Furthermore, it was extremely considerable that the Gezi Resistance accomplished to build the pluralism that the left and social opposition could not achieve before, and also it was equally important that the oppressed segments could get into contact with each other in a positive interactive way.
Third, the obligation for the Kurdish National Movement to think over the problems derived from its failure to face with the liberal pressure on itself has come up. As is known, for the time being the Kurdish National Movement follows a policy based on “international opportunities” and bargaining with the hegemons. On the other hand, in Turkey, where the most populous and the most dynamic mass of Kurds live, the Kurdish Movement showed a hesitant, leery and distant attitude towards this historically significant public movement, with the reason that it could harm “the peace building process and expansion that they have been carrying out with AKP”. To me, the movement should not neglect this hesitant attitude, should seriously face with its causes, and should analyze its results and lost opportunities. This cannot be solved solely by correcting tactics. The Kurdish National Movement should draw lessons going on during June and the Gezi Park experience like all of us.
Lastly, notice, the Gezi Park Resistance (or the June Revolt) transformed into what a magnificent mass outburst as a basis movement by going beyond all of the political actors, how it has debilitated the power forces, and how it raised to consciousness its potential to become an alternative power. Evidently as everything complements each other here, it should also be noted that the way of struggle being a “civil resistance” in a form of “civil disobedience” had a limited degree of violence and developed using legitimate defense methods. This resistance pattern is specific to current reconstruction phase of class movement. The power which has been militarized enormously has become helpless against such a rightful and legitimate action. It should be considered once more how effective results this legitimate-militant way created in various countries being civil disobedience forms developed in accordance with current international and national power-opposition balances and being specific to new class movement. As the militant struggle had a role of opening the way in every critical threshold, creative actions supported and contributed by big masses complement each other symbolizing possibility of another world in stagnation periods.
June 15, 2013
Interview: Özay Göztepe
 Kemalist nationalism is a term which also includes statism, petit-bourgeois progressiveness in the “folk-Kemalist” understanding. But not in the understanding of hegemons’ Kemalism. Also, “how to understand Kemalism is a big debate going on in the left.
 AKP (Justice and Developement Party) is the Islamic party who has the power in Turkey till 2002.
 The second biggest sect in Turkey, nearly includes 20 million people who mostly takes oppositional and progressive positions.
 While Gezi Park was occupied, there were all parts of the opposition, even some people among fascist masses, a small part of Islamists (anti-capitalist Muslims), and also some organised Kurdish groups also joined the protests but the Kurdish Movement didn’t prefer to enter the protests massively. Nearly, not a protest happened in Kurdish cities.
 Worker’s Party is a very small (ex-Maoist) Kemalist nationalist party (they consider themselves in left, but non of the left does consider them in left) which plays an important role in the actions of radical Kemalist nationalists; CHP is a social democrat, Kemalist mass party and the main opposition party which got % 26 in the national elections; MHP is the basic fascist party which got % 12 in the national elections.