What kind of change in Turkey?
Roni Margulies's article All change in Turkey (Feature, Socialist Review, April 2013) has been required reading here in North London where a highly-politicised local Kurdish community holds regular marches with sit-downs whenever there are provocations in Turkey. And there have been many provocations. The 20 million Kurds in Turkey are denied language, cultural and national rights, and are subjected to a state terror which has always been backed in practice by Britain and the US.
Ronnie writes that it now seems "almost certain" that the Kurds' main demands will be met as part of a peace deal, and that the left must support the "peace initiative" of Turkish prime minister Erdogan and his AK Party.
But the future is never so certain. Change must come, but there is a problem of agency. Socialists should not give such explicit backing to the conservative, neoliberal AK Party. We remember South Africa, where a once seemingly immoveable apartheid regime conceded all the demands of the ANC, while also negotiating a favourable settlement for the privileged.
In Turkey the working class, the left and the Kurdish movement must make the pace in struggles about what kind of change is to come. There must be a social agenda in the new Turkish constitution and in the settlement of the Kurdish question, with workers' rights, with social provision for housing and other welfare rights, and with severe reductions in the size of the army.
Ronnie justly condemns the Turkish left as blighted by left nationalism in the form of Kemalism. Building a left opposition must mean looking to the struggles of the working class and the oppressed for an alternative.
I found John Davies's account of Leeds Hands off our Homes in the last issue very useful (Frontlines, Socialist Review, April 2013). In Brixton one of the key issues for trade unionists and activists at the moment is fighting the Bedroom Tax.
The Leeds group is more advanced than us but the initial building blocks of the campaign have been similar. The basis of the initial campaign was existing networks we had built up locally around previous campaigns such as Defend Council Housing, Lambeth Save our Services and Disabled People Against the Cuts.
However, we had to think carefully about who was driving the campaign. In the Coldharbour Ward of Brixton alone over 300 households are going to be affected by the tax. There is no alternative accommodation being organised by Lambeth Council and they are evicting tenants from cooperative "short-life" homes. Housing issues are both devastating and explosive. We have been calling tenants' meetings on council estates to discuss how the changes affect the residents and how we can fight back. Although not identical, the poll tax can provide inspiration for many who have expressed the worry that the Bedroom Tax is here to stay. It has also been important getting councillors involved. We need to get Labour councillors to those tenants' meetings and apply the right pressure to get them to agree to stand up against evictions. Many councils and housing associations, such as those in Brighton, Dundee and Islington, have already agreed not to evict tenants. The only way we can fight the Bedroom Tax is for tenants, trade unionists and campaigners to fight united. Doing nothing is not an option - together we can win.
Homage to Catalunya
In mid-April I had the great honour of meeting David Fernández at the entrance of Idees per canviar el món (Ideas to change the world) organised by En Lluita (the SWP's sister organisation in Spain).
I reminded him of what he said last month (Interview, Socialist Review, April 2013) that "left wingers going into government is like playing a violin. You might pick it with your left hand, you rest it on your left shoulder, but you'll inevitably end up playing it with your right hand." We both laughed at the simplicity of the metaphor while at the same time we recognised its deep truth.
The title of his talk was "One foot in the parliament. A thousand in the streets". He reiterated that "CUP is totally aware that parliament is a tool of limited effectiveness." He rescued the true meaning of what Lenin used to call "the tribune of the oppressed", ie the use of parliamentary methods merely as another platform, another megaphone for the real social movements, but not as a unique tool of social change. This deep understanding of what electoralism constitutes - I would say - is what distinguishes CUP from any other party in the parliamentary left.
Since he got elected, he has not stopped being in the streets, but also we have all felt a qualitative change in left rhetoric from the parliament. This interview shows that CUP is something different to all the reformism that has paralysed this country's left for centuries.
Adrià Porta Caballé