This is a contribution by a close sympathiser from Turkey, taking position on the forthcoming elections in Turkey. We fully agree with the comrade’s denunciation of the election circus in Turkey, in particular the pernicious role of the extreme left, which justifies participation in the bourgeois political arena in the name of “anti-fascism” or the “defence of democracy”.
Politicians, academics, NGO representatives, singers, TV stars, all the institutions that sustain the capitalist state and the mouthpieces of their ideological apparatus, both left and right, say the same things in every medium like parrots: “this election is the most important election of our lives”, “the future of our children depends on the outcome of this election”, etc.
In a society where capital and its arms monopoly, its mass media and means of communication are in the hands of the ruling class and its state, “democracy” is a complete sham. In a society where people have lost their organic ties, where they do not talk to each other, do not discuss, do not listen to each other, where they are hypnotized by the mass media, “free elections” are a complete deception. No previous exploiting class had such propaganda tools to present its rule as the natural outcome of the masses’ own choice. This shows how sophisticated and dangerous a form of class dictatorship bourgeois democracy is. In such a system, where the real decisions are taken in secret meetings, in parliament’s backstage, parliament itself can only be a circus of debates. The true face of bourgeois democracy can be seen not in the superficial debates in parliament, but in the police raids on those who think of questioning the capitalist system.
All parties that call on workers to vote in parliamentary elections stand on the same basis: the defence of the national economy, the perpetuation of nationalist sentiments, the demand for sacrifices from the working class, and above all the maintenance of capitalism. We can understand this most clearly by looking at the “differences” between Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu. Both Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan are united in defending the interests of Turkish national capital. The most recent example of this can be seen in the recent vote on Finland’s accession to NATO, where all opposition parties, especially the CHP, either supported the government or refrained from voting no. Similarly, the two leaders share the same intrigue when it comes to increasing military expenditures and making refugees a target of their nauseating policies (Kılıçdaroğlu’s election pledge to repatriate Syrian refugees).
The real distinction between bourgeois factions is formal, not programmatic
On the other hand, the discourse of these two politicians seems to diverge somewhat on issues that concern society, or humanity as a whole, such as the rights of women, sexual oppression, solutions to the Kurdish problem, the position of minorities, the integration of youth and the elderly into social life, the climate crisis. However, these are all issues that the capitalist ruling class is actually incapable of solving without undermining and destroying its own sovereignty: women cannot be liberated and heteronormative relations cannot be broken without the dissolution of the family institution and patriarchy; the Kurdish problem cannot be solved without the destruction of the nation state; the climate crisis cannot be stopped without the destruction of capitalism. Therefore, these issues are cynically used by the parties of capital to draw more people into the electoral charade.
The fact that it is the capitalist class, its state and its political representatives who make the laws, abolish them, enforce them or do not enforce them, are expected to step back or are expected to help, shows the instantaneous and symbolic nature of the regulations expected under capitalism. To give more concrete examples, let us take the Istanbul Convention that criminalizes various forms of violence against women. In Turkey, where this convention was opened for signature, it was the same Erdoğan government that first ratified the convention and then withdrew it. Similarly, it should be remembered that it was the same Erdoğan government that initiated the so-called Resolution Process, in which great hopes were nurtured on the Kurdish question, and then cut it off like a knife. These and countless similar cases are clear examples of how the ruling class uses social issues for its own political maneuvers. It is a historical reality, repeated over and over again, that the so-called regulations expected from a future Kılıçdaroğlu government, which are similar to those expected from the Erdoğan government yesterday, will tomorrow be taken back by the same government or another government in accordance with its own current capitalist policies or will not be implemented in practice at all, or cannot reach the broad proletarian masses within the cumbersome legal mechanisms of the state.
Therefore, there are no serious programmatic differences between the parties competing in the elections today. They are all formally different representatives of the same capitalist class. Moreover, in these conditions, these formalist distinctions are increasingly being determined on the basis of cultural and identity differences such as male-female, religious-secular, Kurdish-Turkish, Alevi-Sunni. The parties of capital are caught in an increasingly meaningless culture war, in a no-exit zone where individual and formal preferences are politicized. In the midst of such formalistic and cynical distinctions, the aforementioned social issues lose their sensitivity and are reshaped in the hands of capital as apolitical conflicts. The bankruptcy of bourgeois politics can be seen most tragicomically in the way the two leaders identity themselves and blame each other. While Kılıçdaroğlu emphasizes his Alevi identity and calls Erdoğan reactionary, Erdoğan clings to his religious identity more than ever and accuses Kılıçdaroğlu of being a spokesman for gay marriage. In such pathetic squabbles, the country is being dragged helplessly towards both social degeneration and deepening economic disaster.
Leftists as falsifiers of marxism
The parties of capital do not only consist of those who openly defend the capitalist order. Today we see that organizations and parties on the extreme left of capital (from Stalinists and Trotskyists to official anarchism) are also involved in this electoral process with all their might. These groups are lining up behind the parties of capital in the name of solving the social issues mentioned above, in the name of protecting fundamental rights and freedoms, in the name of defending and regaining democracy against “fascism” and “dictatorship”. These groups, who are falsifiers of marxism, are in a race to show the righteousness and revolutionism of their political stance by sharing quotes from Lenin and Marx.
The left and the extreme left of capital defend positions that, even if previously true, have been invalidated or rendered meaningless by historical development. For example, they quote Marx and Engels’ support for the unions at the time and conclude that the unions have always been organs of the proletariat. By using an abstract and timeless, and therefore non-marxist, method, they conceal the fact that as capitalism entered its decadent phase, the unions became organs of the bourgeois state against the proletariat.
Hegel showed that a phenomenon can retain its form while its content is completely transformed. This is precisely the way the left and extreme left of capital falsify Marxism:
“Falling into the trap of the leftist heritage which they cannot shake off, they replace the historical and dialectical method with the scholastic method, failing to grasp one of the principles of dialectics, the principle of the transformation of opposites, that something that exists can be transformed to act as its opposite. The proletarian parties, too, because of the degeneration caused by the weight of bourgeois ideology and the petty bourgeoisie, can be transformed into things diametrically opposed to themselves and become the unconditional servants of capitalism. “
This is how the leftist method, which rejects the historical dimension of class positions and the historical process in which they were formulated, seeks to prove today that participating in the electoral circus is a revolutionary attitude.
But when and how did revolutionaries get involved in parliamentary elections?
While the bourgeoisie rapidly established its economic hegemony in Europe, it did not immediately gain the power to wrest political power from the aristocracy. With the beginning of the 19th century, however, the bourgeoisie had to engage in a political struggle against both the aristocracy and its own reactionary factions in order to meet the demands of its rapidly developing economy, to abolish serfdom completely and to generalise wage labour. This century was the period of the rise of capitalism, when the bourgeoisie launched the struggle for universal suffrage and parliamentary action. During this period, parliament became the field of power of the bourgeoisie against the aristocratic and monarchical feudal classes, which were usually clustered in the executive branch of government. The relationship of balance between the legislature and the executive is a legacy of this period for the bourgeois political order. While the feudal elements, whose economic power weakened in the face of developing capitalism, retained the executive, they left the parliamentary sphere as a concession to the bourgeoisie, whose economic power increased. Even though bourgeois parliaments represented a very narrow circle of voters, and universal suffrage was almost non-existent throughout the 19th century, the bourgeoisie adopted parliamentary democracy as a universal means of representation as a dominant element of its ideology.
On the other hand, since capitalism was still a strongly expanding system at this time, its revolutionary overthrow was not yet on the historical agenda. Workers had neither freedom of expression nor the right to organize. At a time when the bourgeoisie was still struggling with feudalism for power and capitalism was expanding both economically and politically, conditions made it possible for workers to win real reforms within the system. On the one hand, they could fight for their economic demands through their trade unions, and on the other, they could wage their political struggle in parliament with their own mass parties. This was the reason Marx and Engels called for the proletariat to engage in parliamentary activity and election campaigns (with all the attendant dangers) during the period of the rise of capitalism.
However, as capitalism became a true world economy and definitively established its political domination, feudalism was consigned to the darkness of history and parliament ceased to be not only a progressive arena in which the bourgeoisie fought vigorously, but also lost its role as a platform for the working class to fight for reforms.
This was predicted by Rosa Luxemburg in her 1904 article “Social Democracy and Parliamentarism” in the following words: “Parliamentarism is far from being an absolute product of democratic development, of the progress of the human species and other such good things. Rather, it is the historically determined form of the class domination of the bourgeoisie and its struggle against feudalism, which is only the opposite of this domination. Bourgeois parliamentarism will remain alive only as long as the conflict between the bourgeoisie and feudalism continues.”
At the beginning of the 20th century, capitalism could no longer resolve its internal contradictions without war. With the outbreak of World War 1, a new historical epoch was entered, the epoch of the decadence of capitalism, of “Wars and Revolutions” as Lenin called it. The victorious October revolution in Russia and the November revolution in Germany, which ended World War 1, were the further proof of a new historical epoch in which the proletariat directly tried to destroy capital.
In the age of wars and revolutions, the centre of gravity of political life had now moved completely beyond the confines of parliament. As the theses prepared by Amadeo Bordiga and presented for discussion at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920 put it, “the abolition of parliamentarism had become a historical task of the communist movement.” The same theses continued as follows: “Unless the Communist Parties base their work directly on the dictatorship of the proletariat and workers’ councils and break off all contact with bourgeois democracy, they will never achieve any great success in spreading the revolutionary marxist method.“
From the Second Congress of the Communist International to the present day, historical events have amply demonstrated the correctness of these theses. The participation of the Communist parties in the electoral charade and on the parliamentary rostrums has led to dangerous confusion in the ranks of the working class. Today, all sorts of groups claiming to be “revolutionary” are participating in the upcoming elections and claiming to continue the tradition of “revolutionary parliamentarism”. What these so-called revolutionaries are actually doing is trying to legitimize their own bourgeois policies by using the mistakes of past workers’ movements or methods that have lost their historical reality.
When representative democracy is precisely the first form of bourgeois society that must be overthrown, the participation of these so-called “socialists” in parliamentary institutions and elections is nothing more than proposing “radical” and “sustainable” alternatives for the management of capitalism.
Still, can’t “democracy” be defended against Erdoğan’s “fascism”?
One of the main arguments used by many capitalist parties, from marxism-falsifying leftists to liberals, in this election is the defense of “democracy” against Erdoğan’s “fascism”. In this article, we do not want to discuss in detail what fascism is, since in our opinion the Erdoğan regime is a form of populism, but the main problem with this illusion is that fascism is seen as the coming to power of “reactionary” forces outside the normal “civilized” functioning of capitalism.
This is precisely the “apparent” explanation for the emergence of fascist governments in Europe in the 1920s and 30s. According to this story, fascism came to power against the wishes of the bourgeoisie. Not only does this story enable the ruling class to deny any connection with the darkest events in history, but it also conceals the real historical circumstances in which fascism emerged.
What really happened is that capitalism, faced with the strain of economic crises, created fascist regimes in line with its own needs. After the First World War, in the defeated or impoverished countries, the only alternative for the ruling class was to try to get a bigger piece of the imperialist pie and mobilize for a new world war. To do this, it was necessary to concentrate all political power in the state, accelerate the war economy and the militarization of labor, and put an end to the conflicts within the bourgeoisie. Far from being an expression of the dispossessed petty bourgeoisie, fascism was the policy of choice of the big industrial bourgeoisie itself, in Germany as in Italy. Fascist regimes were therefore established as a direct response to the demands of national capital.
However, the economic crisis and the necessity of state capitalism are the main, but not the most important precondition for fascism. The most fundamental precondition for fascism is the defeat of the working class. It was only after the defeat of the world revolutionary wave of 1917-23 that fascism emerged in Germany and Italy, the largest defeated countries of the First World War. In these countries, fascism emerged immediately after the forces of the left, which appeared to be the friends of the workers, physically and politically crushed the revolutionary wave. It is important to underline here that in Germany it was the Social Democrats, not the Nazis, who murdered Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht by bloodily suppressing the revolutionary mobilization of the working class, using the Freikorps, the embryo of the future Nazi militia. Similarly in Italy, Mussolini’s movement could only develop after the defeat of the working class, with the help of the bosses who financed it and the state which encouraged it. It was the defeat of the international revolutionary wave that ultimately allowed fascism to seize power.
Bourgeois ideology makes the struggle between “democracy” and “fascism” or between “freedom” and “totalitarianism” the keystone of 20th century history. This is a complete deception, because it is the same bourgeoisie, the same capitalist state, which favors one or the other of these banners according to its needs and historical possibilities.
Humanity paid the price of this deception with the Second World War. This war was presented as a “just” war between “good” democrats and “bad” fascists, and the working class was mobilized in anti-fascist alliances to defend democracy. The reality, however, was quite the opposite: it was militarism and the drive to war, the real mode of existence of decadent capitalism, that created fascism. It was emphasized that fascism, the “absolute evil”, together with Stalinism, was solely responsible for all the horrors of the last century all over the planet, while the disasters caused by the “democratic” side in Dresden and Hiroshima, and later on in the wars in Vietnam, the Gulf and Afghanistan, were ignored.
Today the fallacies of “peace” and economic prosperity are long gone, so the ruling class is trying to rally the workers with illusions that democracy is the last bastion against dictatorship. For the working class, the democratic bourgeoisie is not a “lesser evil”. The future of humanity is in the hands of the working class and one of the biggest obstacles it faces is the ideological campaigns of the ruling class to defend the democratic state with anti-fascist, anti-totalitarian mobilizations. The greatest danger facing the working class and its capacity to destroy capitalism today is not the “fascism” of Erdoğan or anyone else, real or imagined, but the democratic traps of the ruling class.
The communist understanding of capitalist democracy, its elections and parliaments is based on the historical experience of the working class. As Lenin clearly summarized in his theses on “Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” to be presented to the First Congress of the Communist International in March 1919, “The renegades of socialism, in their old bourgeois nonsense about ‘democracy in general’, forget the experience of the Paris Commune and its concrete lessons. The Commune was never a parliamentary institution.”
Capitalist democracy is a deception. The real power of the exploiting ruling class is not in the parliaments it gets the exploited majority to elect, but in its boardrooms and corridors, in its armed forces, in the economic stranglehold it maintains under its technocratic and democratic mask. In the face of capitalist crises, all capitalist governments have to increase the attacks on the living and working conditions of the working class. Whoever wins in the May elections, the basic orientation of the bourgeois state will be the same. Militarism and attacks on the living and working conditions of the working class will continue.
It is absurd to mobilize the working class to participate in deciding which capitalist politician will head the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The working class, atomized and isolated in the polling booths and drowning in a classless, formless sea of “citizens”, cannot express itself in capitalist elections. It can only defend its interests in the class struggle, by uncompromisingly developing its class consciousness and identity, and by building networks of class solidarity. This struggle, which inevitably pits the working class against the state, is the only force that can destroy the capitalist state and its terrible economic system. Otherwise the barbarism of capitalism will know no limits.