Korkut Boratav Evaluates the Gezi Resistance: “A Matured Class Based Contumacy…”

The class composition, appearance, causes and possible outcomes of Gezi Revolt; institutionalization of resistance; we talked with Prof.Dr Korkut Boratav about the lessons that the socialist left and Kurdish movement has to deduct from the resistance itself. The resistance erupted after the assault on Gezi Park seems like a middle-class rebellion instead of a total class counter-action. What could you say about the causes and consequences about this aspect?

Korkut Boratav: If we to see this in a Marxist perspective, the term of middle-classes have to be approached with cautions. Be careful, I say “term” not “concept”; hence the definition of “middle-classes” is arduous if we use the “concept” within the American Political Science Tradition. Then we would have to express that the definition would be comprised from two words that do not have the capacity in order to be defined as a “concept”.

Then, we should focus on the class composition of the Gezi Resistance in order to pin-point what is the quality of the participants’ of this revolt that depicts it as a “middle-class spectacle”.

First of all an externalization is on-going and it is asserted that neither the individual workers nor workers-as-a-class are within the ranks of the resistance. It is true that the working-class had not joined the resistance with their organizations and programs, but if what is meant is that the absence of the working-class elements in total; I think that the objective justifications of this assertion has not been seriously considered? Which elements were absent? People living in relatively more out-classed neighborhoods? Blue-collar workers of industrial sector? White or blue collared wage workers without a university degree? Students as a group that is been assumed having roots in families within the relatively higher levels of society?

If there is anyone still insisting that “these groups are not participating”, following an exact opposite approach, we can begin discussing from, albeit it would not be beneficial; Ethem Sarısülük, an OSTIM[2] worker, who killed by a police bullet in Ankara with the social profiles of other victims or the football “supporter groups”, those in the forerunners of resistance, and their class compositions. Would it really plausible that the progressive, secular, left-wing and democrat elements within the traditional working-class have opted-out from the revolt which had begun with the Taksim Resistance in the first place?

On the other hand we have to accept that the majority of the people engaged in the resistance have some common social characteristics. Let us try to depict these characteristics by through the overpowering of the label “middle-classes”.

Once, important part of the participants in the revolt comprises from university and high-schools students. For them the label of “middle-class” is meaningless. We ought to talk no further if we do not know anything about their class roots (social profile of their parents). But, we must point that; the objective configuration of the students, in the broadest of aspects, is a belonging to the working-class as a potential. Their schools are training them to become a component of qualified elements in the supply of workforce in the near future. Also, capitalism offers them unemployment. Hence in the first stage they will be admitted to the army of reserved workforce and with their objective configuration they will become elements of the working-class in its broadest understanding.

Derivatives of university students (to define them like this) whom graduated ten years ago are within the thronged ranks of resistance: Defined with their Undergraduate (and beyond) degrees; these qualified workers, with their qualified labor characteristics, are placed amidst the complex sector of “services” as wage-laborers… Unemployed sections of these people do not lose their status as “wage-laborers”.

When it comes to unqualified sections of the “service” sector; it is a known fact that within these wage-laborers, number of individuals with a university degree have been multiplying. Thus the toils, works of these elements have begun to be aligned with new terminologies that are suitable with the position of “white collar” workers (and [whilst] aiming a separation from the working-class). They have been promoted to the positions of Salesclerks, caretakers, secretaries, “office, sales, security personnel and staff members”; hence day-by-day larger segments ending up with university degrees.

The productiveness of their branches of activity – and the appendages of the “services” sector – of the above mentioned sector and their direct labor does not alter our point of discussion. As wage- laborers; they either create surplus-value straightforwardly for their employers or engaging in a labor activity that enables their employers to reach, expropriate surplus-values deriving or transferred from different business sectors. And, in the broadest sense, they are the elements of real or reserve labor armies. In short, objectively in today’s conditions, their existence spontaneously belongs to the working-class whilst composing the important proportion, in quantity, of the class.

We have to encounter another important stratum that has been squeezed into the bloc of “middle-classes”: Independent professional groups that do not sell their qualities deriving from their education directly to employers but to their “clients” in order to make a living such as; doctors, lawyers, consultants, engineers, architect and accountants. This stratum depicts similarities in quality, ideology, value-systems and living choices with the above mentioned segments (educated, white collared workers); yet their class differences becomes stark when it is think within relations of production.

Is there another possibility of a class-relation apart from this?

If not hiring workers above limited thresholds, not elevating to corporations; elements of this stratum can be accepted as petit-bourgeois. According to this, peasants, craftsmen and independent/professional segments; owning the means of production (land, ateliers, tools/implements and specific instruments for specific occupations) and earning their livings basically through their own (or through the toils of their families) labor, generates the petit bourgeois. Their common characteristics could be formulated as being external to the two main classes that formulates the determined antagonism of capitalism (working-class and capitalists) and their indeterminate attitudes within class struggles.

Nevertheless, professional groups became differed from productive petit-bourgeois qualitatively. Their direct positions within the social division of labor cannot to position within capitalist relations or in simple commodity production. Their wages depends on selling their services. The service being sold could be taken as “productive” if it belongs to professions such as doctors, engineers, teachers; but in this instance the priority of the antagonism of distribution for the production of small-scale commodity (between the direct producer and commercial/financial capital) does not hold prominence or validity. The unproductive services encompassing lawyers, accountants and consultants requires funding (surplus) from the other –productive – sectors of the economy. In both cases the source of income lies a real faculty, dexterity or –pending on a license or certificate allowing activity – an artificially created penury annuity emanating from education and experience.

Hence, significance of independent professionals, deriving from these characteristics, together with their important influences upon the superstructure spatiality (politics, ideology, culture, legal system); it would be apt to consider them external to the small-scale producers within the bloc of the exploited direct producers. Also they do not belong to the position of qualified wage-labor (objectively the position of the working-class) within capitalist relations. According to the traditional Marxist class theory; the sole member of the middle-classes could only be independent professionals.

We know that, there had been participation that cannot be underestimated from independent professionals, for example from doctors and lawyers. Apart from the representations of profession within the resistance; the political attitudes of professionals and qualified workers had ran parallel courses. But, social division of labor and the differentiation in the labor process could possibly end up in separations. For example, the search for stability of the latter, hence their compromising attitudes, could be unearthed sooner than the former. Still, the widest autonomy belongs to the students and unemployed.

Is there a class confrontation in the Gezi Resistance?

When we looked at the triggering incident, the start of the Taksim project, I think, there is a matured class reaction: Highly qualified and educated workers, together with their future class comrades (students), with the inclusion of professionals; confronting the attempt of expropriating of the huge city annuity by the pick pocketing bourgeois and political power unified with it.

This is a matured class-based rebellion against this plundering capitalism. It is class oriented hence; it is against the bourgeois and its State apparatus, the resistance is a collective act by individuals not in a unity of predestination with the system but who are in a dis-unity of predestination with the State and bourgeoisie. Also it is a matured class-based action hence; there is not a present, short-termed and direct antagonism in distribution with bourgeois and the State. The prime minister also askes in daze “Which one of you the Taksim Project hurt? Why are you opposing it?”

It is true, that the opening of the centre of Istanbul to exploitation and plundering does not have negative effects on the incomes, wages, working conditions of the people who are trying to resist; or it does not increase their rents, student loan paybacks, fuel prices or the inflation in general. There is no operation that seeks to increase the rate of exploitation or the extraction of surplus-value. What is being done is; the giving away of the commonwealth of the present society, which has bequeathed from past generations, by the political power to the pickpocketing bourgeoisie. People resisting today are resisting against the transformation of their collective property, which has been left by the past generations to present society, into bourgeois private property. When they look at the prime minister they see this; and it is because of this comprehension they react. Within this context; this is a matured class reaction in a superior level of understanding.

I think the maturity of a class reaction is revealed, also, in the rapid and spontaneous transformation of the movement into a political line. I think this line could be defined with its enlightening and unlimited (direct) democratic characteristics. The entrapments of parliamentary democracy have been detected: It has been transmuted into a political power of pickpocketing bourgeois and a regime of Islamic fascists. The solution; “everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance…”. This is the call for the historic yearning of the working-class; the call of direct democracy.

Great revolutionary Mao Zedong says: “There is turbulence (chaos) in the word, the situation is very good…”. Students, intellectuals, workers, mental laborers in Taksim gave us this turbulence as a present. Of course they will be defeated in the end; but the “universal” law of the dialectic will carry on no matter what: It will function while elevating Turkey unto a higher level and bestowing an important gift to the history of social struggles…

What is ought to be done in order for the institutionalization of this resistance and creating a dual political power?

It is important to be careful with the historical analogies. We should not be in haste.

What are the lessons socialist left and the Kurdish Movement has to deduce from this resistance?

Korkut Boratav: I hope that the socialist left has learned to make peace with facts and phenomenon of the Turkish Republic, the gains of the Republic, and with their symbols.

I hope that; Kurdish Movement on the other hand, to explain with an old Turkish proverb, has learned that “who sleeps with the blind, wakes up squint-eyed”: It is an impossibility to reach democracy and freedom compromising with Islamic fascism.

The movement of resistance, I hope, has showed the Kurdish Movement its natural ally. The opposite of this observation is also valid; but I think the responsibilities of the Kurds are heavier.

Interview: Özay Göztepe

[1] Korkut Boratav (born 1935) is a Turkish Marxian economist. Boratav was born in Konya. After his graduation from Ankara Gazi Lycee in 1955, he continued his studies at Ankara University, Law School. In 1960 he became a lecturer and researcher in that university in Finance and Economics, by getting a postgraduate degree on Public Finances. He was granted a doctoral degree in 1964 with his thesis about “income distribution and public finance”. He taught at Cambridge University between 1964 and 1966. In 1972 he was granted an assistant professorship at Ankara University for his thesis on “Progress of the Socialist Planned Economy”. In 1975, he worked as a specialist in the Health and Welfare Department of the United Nations Organization, in Geneva, Switzerland. In early 1980, he became a professor at Ankara University. But after three years, he was dismissed from his position after the “1402″ law put into effect by the Military coup of 1980 in Turkey. He then taught at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare from 1984–1986 and thereafter returned to his previous position at Ankara University. He has retired from teaching since 2002.[1] He was honored in 2005 by a conference about his work, organized by Ankara University and History Foundation of Turkey. He continues to publish as one of the most influential scholars of Turkish economy and economic history. Boratav is a member of the Advisory Board of Praksis, a Turkish journal of social sciences.

[2] An organized industrial district in Turkey’s Capital Ankara. Officially it comprises 139 branches within 17 different sectors; from electronics to packaging, from furniture to production of machinery . But a place, nevertheless, with full of precarious workers in bad to worse working conditions under full-fledged capitalist exploitation.

Ozay Goztepe, 28 June 2013