Landscapes of oppression, gestures of resistance: Istanbul


Today is Sunday.
Today they led me out into the sun for the first time.
And for the first time in my life
I stood immovable
Amazed at how distant the sky was
How vast,
How blue
Respectfully I sat down on the ground
Leaned my back against the wall
At this moment
No falling into revolting waves at all
At this moment no thoughts
Of struggle
Of freedom
Of my wife.
The soil, the sun and me …
I am happy.

Nâzim Hikmet

The house was a crack in the aluminum barrier that circumscribes the area  marked for demolition and “renovation” in the neighbourhood of Tarlabasi; pulled away like the lid of a tin of sardines, a tattered house stood with three modest men seated upon the stairs of the porch, contemporary squatter-rebels against urban capitalist appropriation.  A stone’s throw from Taksim square and the intense tourist economy of the Istiklal district,  Tarlabasi is the lie to Erdogan’s and the AKP government’s capitalist fantasy of consumer plenty and middle class happiness.  Like a sore or cancer on the healthy flesh of the bio-political body, it must be removed.  Far too sick for proper rehabilitation, it can only be destroyed.

The half millennium old gypsy neighbourhood of Sulukule has to a large extent been erased from the city administrative region of Fatiha.  In its place stands a massive gated community of hybrid english town houses in a vaguely ottoman style, surrounded by fencing and barbed wire and guarded by private security agents.  All is peaceful, beautified and manicured; an immaculate world without blemish.  And as no such world can be, Sulukule is also today a dead world.

The stone work of Gezi park continues to bear the traces of the state violence of that was used against the occupiers in the summer of 2013.  Throughout the country, and in the proliferation of protests and occupations, eleven people would be killed, hundreds wounded and thousands arrested.  And yet tragically, the repression against the Gezi inspired protests was modest in comparison to other such moments in the country’s history.  20th turkey is written in blood.  If this is unexceptional in the making of modern states, the construction of the turkish state seems to offer a particularly eloquent testimony to the intrinsic violence of state power.  From the armenian holocaust/assimilation of the early 20th century, through to the persecution, expulsion and killing of ethnic and religious minorities to the present day, the war against the kurdish PKK in the 1980s, the repression of left-wing and student political movements, coup d’etats in series, arbitrary arrests, mass incarcerations, torture, assassination, exile: all of this history can be read upon the physiognomy of Istanbul …

… Bloody Sunday 1969

… Taksim Square massacre 1977

… 1980 coup d’état

… Gazi quarter riots 1995

… Gezi Park – Taksim 2013

How wars are to be waged and won against State-Capital is not evident; the question is at the heart of all anti-capitalist politics.  But before all of the violence of the turkish state, people of this country resist and create … they resist through creation; and that too can be read in the city.  Far too much much emphasis is given to Ataturk in the creation of the republic; far too little is said of the so many “anonymous” and “marginal” political actors who carved out the spaces of autonomy, however fragile, that also mould life in Istanbul. And that resistance/creation continue …

We share below first  a statement from Kuzey Ormanlari Savunmasi and Istanbul Kent Savunmasi against the destruction of the northern forests of the Istanbul, to make way for a third bridge over the Bosphorus, a third airport and a channel on the european side of turkey connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean (Sendika 04/07/2015).  Secondly, we share an interview with the Otonom collective, an Istanbul based autonomist marxist inspired group, on the Gezi protests of 2013, originally published in Commonware (01/08/2015).

Campaign: Stop the killer projects! Be the breath of Istanbul!

To urgent attention of the members of international press and international community;

This is time to unite for Istanbul.  This is time to mobilize for Istanbul. This is time to raise our voices and get mobilized for the existence, memory, and well-being of this ancient city. This city is our home, life narrative and lover. She is our body and soul to whom we promised to eradicate from each of its corners the occupation of dark figures whose rationality is spoilt by money-green and conscience by concrete-grey.

We, as defenders of life, today launch the campaign, “Stop the Killer Projects! Be the Breath of Istanbul!” We declare that we shall protect and defend the city of Istanbul in each tree and street of her, and she in all, tried to be ruined by the mega partnership of the capitalist companies and their political power.

The Northern Forests of Istanbul, as a complete ecological structure, as the “lungs” of the Marmara Region, as a critical point at the thousands years-old migration routes and as the precondition for the very survival of life in these lands, is the home of more than sixteen million people living in this city; of a wild life; of thousands kinds of migratory birds, endemic plants and is also the ground of the historical memory of all peoples who lived here throughout all ages. The Northern Forests of Istanbul is today under an unprecedented assault, by the mega-killer projects, namely the infamous projects of 3rd Bridge, 3rd Airport and Channel Istanbul. And Northern Forests of Istanbul still resist against the so-called mega projects, killer of the integrity of humans and nature.

The resistance of the forest is our resistance. As continuation of the killer projects mean interruption of entire liveliness of Istanbul; break-down of the Northern Forests as the main source of rain and oxygen of the city; irreversible contamination of our water sources; rapid drought of main lakes of drinkable water; and invitation to permanent water scarcity for the whole region.  It shall mean destruction of right to life of the wild life; of the roes, wild boars, water buffalos, forest dormouses, squirrels, ants, turtles, storks, imperial eagles and fish. It shall mean expropriation of the sources and tools of subsistence of the peasants, their exile to the city, and burning of the city all together with her citizens by the heat islands resulting from the destruction of its climate. Thus it means violation of the right to life of humans, animals and nature; every kind of rural and urban inhabitants.

The killer projects put in jeopardy not only of the Northern Forests but also the existence of the street animals, the ancient habitants of the city.  Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality is constructing concentration camps at locations within the forest borders where more than 40 thousand cats and dogs are planned to be imprisoned or to be exterminated at once. These concentration camps, which are both illegal and destructive for the ecological regions of Istanbul, together with the killer projects, mean extermination of the animals of the city as another step in the gentrification process and making the victims of urban transformation invisible.

We know that the actors who are responsible for this destruction scenario are well aware of the results of their actions. Kadir Topba?, Mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan City, still has his signature under the major planning document of Istanbul; Istanbul Master Plan dated 2009, once called by himself as the “Constitution of Istanbul”:

“As the life support systems of the city are under a process of destruction, the ecological values at the northern axis of the city running along the Black Sea coasts, primarily the water basins and forest areas of Istanbul, are closed to risky economic endeavours.”

And further, by the words of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mayor of Istanbul in 1995:

“Making a 3rd Strait Bridge is committing suicide; this is a murder! It is nothing more than killing the green areas left at our northern region by opening it to reconstruction!” (RTE, 27th April 1995).

As time changes, real faces are seen. Now neither of them implements the court decisions which stop the 3rd bridge construction and both evict the villages over the heads of peasants by the 3rd airport construction. And both of them try to market risky endeavours once they declared as the murder of the northern forests. And they are not alone in this nature-killing endeavour. The holding companies associated with the political power known as the “dirty five” since the public release of the monetary scandals at the end of 2013; the big construction companies which are fed by public tenders for years; which are provided immunity against court trials and which are the major actors in nearly all nature destruction projects in the whole country are their partners of crime in this murder.

This is time to defend life against this murderous partnership. This is time to stand up against those who have an eye to the water basins, meadows, lakes, homes of humans and of their life comrades, the animals.

We, Northern Forests Defence and Istanbul City Defence, stand up at streets against the dark decisions of the bargaining tables, by taking the self-repairing power of nature and the self-will of the citizens to sustain the life of their city at our back.

We are hand in hand in this struggle with lawyers who believe in free judgement; with responsible scientists who repeatedly declare the dangers; with professionals who defend the city against arbitrariness; with members of press who do not obey repression and with urban and rural labourers who try to live with their sweat blood.  We stand up just in front of the killer-excavation trucks and just behind the court docks of your job murder cases. We stand up at the heart of the ecosystem which is tried to be killed; inside the killer construction sites.

We declare that we shall circulate the truth; with our reports, documents, news, films and photos and words. We shall declare the trees our sisters; collect signatures in every corner of this city; and build our solidarity with every life defender in every country.  We shall unite in all streets, neighbourhoods and cities. And we shall stand at your door in Ankara in fall.

No more lies we want to listen! No more lies about non-existing forests which even at this stage of murder still have more than 250 million trees. No more lies about non-existing lakes which are dried by filling soil. No more lies about any great and growing economies. No more lies to market destruction as growth.  No more lies about real truths that are even written in your Environmental Assessment Reports.  No more lies about birds: More than 160 kinds of birds are the witnesses of truth and peasants whose lands are appropriated for nothing by urgent expropriation laws of the state of war.

We, as the people of Istanbul, warn the authorities to stop the killer projects. We know that nature is bigger than any authority. And it is self-repairing. Northern Forests, though bleeding now by construction sites, is capable to self-repair. Animals are capable to rebuild their destructed homes. Peasants are capable of growing their children under hundreds years-old oak trees in their villages. We know that it is possible to grow plants while the nature killers are put under trial. Stop the killer projects!

We urge all defenders of life to stand up: We are not late for anything and now we stand up. We shall be on the street on 5th July, Sunday for the first march of our campaign and always to: Be the Breath of Istanbul!

Northern Forests still resist, Istanbul still resists! This is no time to lament but to stop the killer projects! This is time to be the breath of Istanbul. In Istanbul and for Istanbul! We urge international community to build solidarity with our campaign and defend Istanbul as the common value of all ages and all humanity.




The Commune of Gezi: Genealogy, Power, Challenges

The movement in Istanbul started with the defence of a park, but immediately it raised general questions. How did the movement begin? Particularly, we are interested to know the genealogy of the movement: former struggles and mobilizations, elements of novelty, forms of participation, etc. And if the movement was a space of recomposition of other forms of resistance, or it is first of all a completely new space of political action.

We’d like to provide a comprehensive answer, which may be formulated in two sections as in your question. Firstly, we feel the need to go into a genealogical work that would inevitably transcend the limits of the question. It is mainly because any consideration on the present composition of the constituent forces in our context requires a historic-political evaluation of the constituent forces of the past. This sort of genealogical analysis may be conducted along three major lines: the Ottoman heritage and the foundation of Turkish Republic, AKP government since 2002 and lastly, re-imposition of the ban on Taksim square on Mayday 2013. Secondly, against the background of the genealogy of constituent forces, we can better proceed to consider whether the movement was a space of recomposition of other forms of resistance, or it is first of all a completely new space of political action.

In our opinion, the last era of the Ottoman Empire and the First World War have a central importance in understanding the recent developments both in contemporary Turkey and the Muslim countries in Northern Africa and Middle East. The fact is that the recent developments we have been witnessing especially in Northern African and Middle Eastern countries exhibit a particular return and unfolding of the repressed problems dating back to WWI.

The last era of the Ottoman history was shaped with the momentums and tensions inherent to the process of modernization and the development of the nation-state form. In order to be clear, we’d like to underline that Turkey is the only Muslim country which experienced the processes of modernization, nation-state building and secularism in a half-immanent manner.

Firstly, the so-called period is marked with the onset of the second constitutional era in 1908. In the context of internal and external developments, the second constitutional era coincides with the loss of imperial power on the part of the Ottoman rule, pregnant with the coming constitutive processes. There were two sides to this turbulent era: the supporters of Sultan Abdulhamit and the movement of Union and Progress. Both should be considered as constituent forces in their claims to overcome the crisis of the Empire. Sultan Abdulhamit already abandoned insisting on the imperial borders of the Empire and aimed at restoration of the Ottoman rule within the Islamized borders. For this purpose, he moved to Islamization of Anatolia and the Middle East. The forces that supported him were the Turks, Arabs and Kurds adhered to an Islamic line. This is also why the history of clearance of Anatolia from non-Muslims, and particularly from the Armenians starts with Abdulhamit era. At this conjuncture, the Kurdish ruling elites with strict loyalty to Islam constitute a major political and military force in aggressions against the Armenians. In other words, Kurdish ruling elites were in alliance with Ottoman ruling elites as a shareholder to the rent of Islam and the Empire.

Union and Progress aligning itself with an imperial line of politics based on modernity was the central actor of the 1908 Revolution. On this territory, 1908 was the first revolution in its modern sense. It was a bourgeois revolution which included almost all the sections within Empire letting all to have their say. In the banners carried in the marches for revolution, it was written “Long Live Freedom” in several languages from the Armenian to the Ottoman Turkish, from Greek to Arabic. Hence 1908 was not characterized with a religious spirit but it was rather a freedom cry against the dictatorship of Abdulhamit. In this sense, 1908 may be said to be the counterpart of 1789 on this territory with the important difference that it based itself upon Ottomanism rather than any sort of nationalism.

In terms of its constituent elements, the Revolution in 1908 was pioneered by modern forces like the intelligentsia, the youth and the army, which must be seen as an extension of the tradition of “devsirme”[1] in the Empire. In this period, we do not witness either a strong class movement against the development of capitalism or a peasant revolt against feudalism. The society which mostly constituted a religious mass base was devoid of national consciousness. In contrast to the society in general, the intelligentsia, the youth and the army which shared a modern tradition together served as the political representative of the bourgeoisie. This division between the traditional and modern forces corresponds to the political division between Sultan Abdulhamit and the cadres of Union and Progress, which still constitutes a major cleavage in Turkish society and politics, although it manifested itself in various forms in accordance with different stages of capitalist development in Turkey.

Ottomanism that was favoured by both Abdulhamit and the cadres of Union and Progress, albeit in very different senses, collapsed with the defeats in the Balkan Wars. However its ultimate end came with the defeat in WWI. There was an urgent need for a new constitutive discourse, which would be taken on by the paradigmatic transition from the imperial to the national state.

However the problem was that the paradigm of nation-state was without any foundation on Ottoman territories, especially in today’s Muslim countries and perhaps except for the Balkans. Sovereignty was conceived in terms of Islamic unity represented by the caliphate. Thinking in terms of nation-state was something even hard to imagine. As the saying goes, the national borders of Arabic countries were just drawn with the rulers. In other words, the national movements in Northern African, Middle Eastern countries and Turkey were not built on social consensus and did not manifest any revolutionary-democratic spirit. The paradigm of nation-state was imposed on all these territories from above as part of the social engineering supervised by the imperial and local sovereign powers. These territories had never been able to digest the national form of sovereignty, which is a fact still serving as a key to understanding the emerging movements in Turkey and Muslim countries. This also explains why the rule in all Muslim countries including Turkey depends upon the army. In these territories, the army still constitutes the supreme political power.

Hence the Turkish Republic was born in 1923 into the tensions inherent to the rise of a new power structure. Foundation of the Turkish Republic was not the result of an anti-imperialist struggle as Kemalists often argue, but it was rather the extension of WWI into our territory. The nation state of the First Republic was founded in 1923 in alliance with the imperialist powers -which were guaranteed that Turkey would be part of the international capitalist camp- and in antagonism with three major internal threats: the political power of Islam based on the caliphate, the existence of Kurdish people, and lastly the October Revolution and the communist movement. The First Republic subsumed all military and political forces under single political party and regular army so as to discipline and –if necessary- demolish all democratic constituent powers. Almost all the founding cadres of 1923 had military origins. The rise of modernity and the foundation of nation-state in Turkey were clear cases of political reactionarism totally dependent upon the army force and coercion.

With the abolishment of the caliphate in 1924 by the First Republic, the unity of Muslim countries was dissolved. The Arabic countries were not under the command of political unity any more. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood movement was a response to this political dissolution. In other words, it is 1923 that gave rise to the Muslim Brotherhood as we know today. And the Kurdish ruling elites as the other major force lost all their political power rooted in the Hamidian regime. With the Lausanne treaty, Kurds were divided within the national borders of 4 countries. The communist movement, criminalized as the third internal threat, was violently suppressed. The tragedy of the communist movement in our country lies in the cruel fact that the first Communists in our history were all killed with the guns provided by the Bolsheviks. In accordance with the definition of internal threats, the official ideology of the nation state of 1923 consisted in the objective of Turkification and Islamization of Anatolia under the control of the state, which resulted in destruction and deportation of non-Muslim populations as well as the bloody suppression of the Kurdish people which would be subjected to violent assimilation for long years to come.

The rise of AKP to power in 2002…

The rise of AKP to power in 2002 is directly related to the change in the capitalist form of sovereignty from nation-state to Empire. The resonance of the dissolution of the nation-states triggered by Empire in Muslim countries has shaken the existing balance of forces leading to formation of new relations of power. All the problems concealed by the WWI were revealed by the Second Gulf War in 2003. The whole of the nation-states founded within the hierarchy of the imperialist era were forced to submit to biopolitical subsumption in Empire. In our view, this process is governed through the Third World War. WWIII is a war waged by Empire against all the nation-states among which Muslim countries are the major target. The developments observed in Turkey, Middle East and Northern Africa point to liquidation of the sovereign powers operating within the hierarchy of the imperialist era, and institution of corporate states and new relations of power in conformity with the imperial network system. It is in this context that AKP was brought into power as the constituent force of the WWIII in the region. Real subsumption has been replaced with biopolitical subsumption. How this replacement is taking place and shaping the Middle Eastern and Northern African countries is certainly matter of another essay. However the point we still need to underline here is that constitution of Empire has been considered so far mainly from the perspective of the West while an approach to the same process in view of the Middle East and the Northern Africa seems still lacking.

In our case, AKP has assumed the role of instituting an organic link with Empire, that is, the capitalist machine of sovereignty operating with biopolitical subsumption. This process at the same time corresponds with Protestanization of Islam as represented by AKP. This is nothing less than reconciliation of Islam and money or capitalism so as to transform all social agents into the biopolitical power of Empire. Therefore the recent developments we have been witnessing in Islamic countries should be traced back to the rise of AKP to power. The following point may be helpful for clarification: AKP moves like the Trojan Horse of Protestanization of Islam in Muslim countries. It should be seen as a global power that promotes integration of Muslim countries into biopolitical subsumption by capital. The neo-Ottomanist discourse adopted by AKP is a clear indication of this mission.

When AKP rose to power in 2002, its main strategy was to dissolve the political power of the army and to reclaim the state power. In its attempt to dissolve the sovereign powers of the nation-state, particularly the army, AKP leaned on EU. It was clear that foundation of the Second Republic would be impossible without the dissolution of the power relations of the First Republic. In the first phase of AKP government, this process was mostly completed allowing AKP to become not only the government but the sole state power. During this transformative process, the oppositional discourse adopted by the forces of the First Republic was secularism against the Sharia. The counter-discourse developed by AKP centred on democracy against the army. With the abolishment of the political custody of the army as the constituent and protective force of the First Republic, all the political powers with a long past in the political history of Turkey started to make appearance, among which Kurdish political movement is unquestionably the most significant.

Contemporary Kurdish political movement that started with PKK in 1979 to pass through various stages depends neither on Islam nor on modernity in the particular sense of adherence to national self-determination. PKK is essentially a leftist movement that has its origins in the revolutionary history of this territory. However it has a very peculiar nature in which one can find a wide spectrum of tendencies ranging from anarchism to nationalism. It is also possible to trace a major influence of Negri in Öcalan’s prison notes. In brief, Kurdish political movement may be characterized as the national movement of the indigenous people of the world, albeit who do not argue for nation state.

It is very much clear that AKP would not be able to maintain itself as a global power of Empire in the Middle East without integrating the Kurdish political movement into the Second Republic. Aware of this clear fact, AKP has started the negotiation process with the Kurdish movement. At the moment, AKP is apparently a state-party and a police state.

The ban on Taksim Square and the left…

Here we need to offer a brief history of the left in Turkey. It wouldn’t be to wrong to suggest that in our territory we lack a tradition of formation of political background through resistances, to which only the case of Kurdish political movement constitutes a very important exception. It is a clear example of political achievements attained by resistances. The achievements on the part of the leftist movements almost never generalized to the whole of the society.

The left starts its history with the First Republic, with its roots in anti-imperialism and struggle for political independence. This tendency is still alive within the most of the left. The second discourse which has been effective in self-constitution of the left is anti-fascism, which reached its peak in the period between 1970 and the military coup d’état of 12 September 1980. The left has never been able to develop a constituent discourse other than anti-imperialism and anti-fascism. The variations within the left especially in the decade between 1970 and 1980 were limited with the differences in the form of struggle that made appearance with the 68 movement. The armed struggle that escalated in those years and the concomitant rise of new forms of organization changed the structure of the left. The coup d’état in 1980 was a major strike against the left, from which it still cannot be said to recover. However the reason for this is not only the immeasurable state violence but also entrapment of the left within the paradigm of almost hundred years ago. With anti-imperialism and anti-fascism being its paradigmatic mottos, the left does not have an anti-capitalist political culture. This is apparent in its present anti-imperialist attitude against AKP, which inevitably leads it into a position that defends the First Republic. The left still speaks in terms of national independence, secularism against Shariah and modernity. It is unable to develop an understanding of capitalism in Empire due to its adherence to the paradigm of the Fordist era of capitalism. The left evolved within the same classical form of struggle till Mayday 2013. Taksim had been closed to May Day demonstrations since the massacre on Mayday 1977. In 2010 and 2011 Mayday could be celebrated in Taksim as a result of three-year struggle in the streets. However the ban on Taksim was re-imposed on Mayday 2013. In the following days, not only the square but also ?stiklal Street –the major street leading to the Square- was totally closed to all demonstrations. On the part of the left, this soon led to escalation of its outrage against AKP. In this respect, the motive that mobilized the left in Gezi resistance at the beginning still derived from the traditional leftist paradigm. However this unrepresentable movement without subject as the self-creation of all the bodies in the streets brought left to the limits of its traditional paradigm, introducing it with anti-capitalism. Viewed from the perspective of the prospects for formation of a culture of anti-capitalist struggle, it is certain that the ongoing process would be retrospectively considered as a milestone.

In the context of the Second Republic with a background of deeply rooted power relations, Gezi resistance has mobilized not only the historical actors like the traditional left or the Kurdish movement but also all the constituent forces still in making. The variety of agents extending from the Kurds pushing for democratization and a new constitution to political organizations representing the nationalism of the First Republic, from the historical revolutionary left degraded and persecuted by the state all along its history to anti-capitalist Muslims, from immaterial workers to LGBT individuals struggling for the dignity of their bodies, from football fan groups to alternative environment and urban planning organizations and to so many anonymous heroes altogether created a new common materialized in the social body of the resistance itself: the virtuality of a new political plane. This common may be best characterized as a shared awareness that the traditional political plane is not enough and do not respond to problems any more, accompanied with a search for a new political plane. This search is directly reflected in problematization of a notion of politics based on interests, representation and alliances. In other words, it is a search of singularities and differences for a democracy based on multitude and expression. Therefore we are in such a challenging situation that makes it inevitable for all the actors to revise and reconstitute themselves. In our opinion, the global character of Gezi resistance lies here. The thing that makes it part of the global cycle of struggles is not the similarity of the problems it puts forward with those given voice in other parts of the world, but rather its search for a new political plane on which every sort of problem would be expressed. However the nature of this new political plane is not clear yet; and it is still a matter of thought and debate. In our formulation, this is a search for political constitution of expression against representation. While capital and the sovereign powers do not know yet how to co-opt expression as political opposition, the left and other oppositional organizations based on representation do not how they could institutionalize expression in order to turn it into political power. Nobody expected such a strong revolt, but it did happen. Gezi resistance which started as a movement against the capitalist assault on the city turned into a generalized revolt against biopolitical subsumption by capital. For the first time after very long years, the political action in this territory had the sense of its globality. Gezi resistance ruptured the notion of democracy from modernity.

What is the composition of the movement? Particularly, we are interested in the relationship between the composition of the movement and the class composition.

In Gezi resistance, Fordist and post-Fordist forms of labor for the first time gathered around the same problems as equal subjects in struggle. Therefore we believe understanding Gezi is possible only with a conception of biopolitical subsumption under capital. Although Fordist forms of labor and especially the trade unions as their representatives do not have any social power for a long time, they still retain their traditional weight within the left. They are not effective any more in revealing the other oppositional forces. In this sense, they are in a serious crisis. They still consider the forms of labor peculiar to biopolitical subsumption of capital in terms of petty bourgeoisie or middle class. They are blind to classification[2] of labor in relations through which capital is able to turn life itself into a commodity and a matter of rent. As a real challenge to the existing interpretive frameworks, Gezi resistance has rendered politically visible the multiple forms of labor classified through biopolitical subsumption. In contrast to the previous forms of labor in the Fordist era when time was measured through its spatialization, these new forms of labor are involved in commodification of time that cannot be measured through its spatialization. These forms of labor have hitherto unseen prevalence among the constituents of Gezi resistance. However the prevalence of post-Fordist forms of labor in the composition of the resistance shouldn’t be considered within the limits of a particular economic background or economic demand. Above and beyond all, it was about immeasurable political prevalence of the opposition against degradation of life through its commodification and rentalization. In other words, Gezi resistance revealed that the dignity of body and affect constitutes the most effective anti-capitalist power against biopolitical subsumption by capital. In our view, this is the most important feature of our resistance that makes it a movement of expression rather than interests and demands. The struggle abandoned the terrain of dialectics of competition between interests and representations. It transgressed the barriers put by the interests and representations in the way of expression of singularities and search for the common. The rule of state and money was first to be questioned. The spark for the growing resistance was the revolt against the state’s plan for commodification and rentalization of Gezi Park which is perhaps the last common in the city autonomous from the state and capital. People went into streets to protect the dignity of the common. It was the rejection of representation by the state and the capital, which separates body from what it can do, singularities from their expression, and social labor from the common. The power of the state and money to measure and represent bodies and affects through their individualization and the common through its commodification was undermined. The determined resistance against the cruel police violence, far from initiating a vicious cycle of violence, was a clear expression of this power struggle. To go into the streets meant, above all, refusal of disempowerment through individualization and a desire for the common. In our view, the horizontality of the revolt against biopolitical subsumption which degrades body separating it from what it can do and express is very much related with the level the general intellect of multitude has attained in conditions of post-Fordist production.

This increase in the political power of the multitude manifested in the transition from representation to expression in political subjectivity has also created possibilities for a political recomposition. The estranged and hostile bodies coming together of which couldn’t be even imagined due to continuous fragmentation of the social body by the state and capital became brothers and sisters in the body of resistance. Anti-capitalist Muslims were in the streets. They revolted against the monopoly of representation AKP established over Islam. Against Protestanization and commercialization of Islam, they expressed that Islam can also be lived as an ethics of common life and resistance. In the context of the debates around giving the name of Sultan Yavuz Selim, who is responsible for the massive murder of Alevi people, to the third Bosporus bridge to be built, the Alevi people also came out of their homes and this time they were not left alone in their struggle of hundreds of years for dignity. In response to the oppositions such as the seculars vs. the conservatives, the Sunnis vs. the Alevis used for the state in order to fragment the common and to turn brothers and sisters of this territory into enemies, all the singularities opted for fraternizing the resistance. Especially after the evacuation of Gezi Park, whenever groups with their own agendas poured into streets for demonstration, it soon received crowds of people who were once opposed, reserved or totally indifferent against the issue on the agenda. In this spirit, when anti-capitalist Muslims called for “Mother Earth Meal” at Istiklal Street in Taksim on the first day of Ramadan against the iftars (fast breaking meals) organized in luxurious hotels, thousands of people including believers and non-believers participated and the meal tables set on the streets all along the Ramadan in different cities have soon become spaces for communising. LGBT individuals as victims of marginalization, torture and murder were impressive in their insistence and militancy in defending the dignity of their body against all the representations deriving from sexualist imaginaries. Their slogan “Love is to organize” that became very popular among the crowds was one of the beautiful translations of Gezi spirit. And the mediatised youth who composed a very large part of the resistance refused to be represented as “fooled children” by the father state, accepting it as an insult against its general intellect and what its body can do. The seriousness of the young people in their resistance originated from their joy in affirming their power. This is why they produced the most impressive humor during their militant fight in the barricades. And the fans that used to be represented as dazed with the opium of football, especially ÇAR?I, the Be?ikta? fan group became the most important driving force of the resistance with their inexhaustible energy. In Gezi resistance, they continued their struggle for dignity against corporatization of their teams and their exclusion from the tribunes.

In this collective construction of a new imaginary based on a form of social and political recomposition, one of the most controversial issues was the co-existence of Turkish flags and PKK flags, Atatürk and Öcalan posters in Gezi Park as well as in the streets. This situation which was apparently susceptible to be manipulated in the power struggle between the First and Second Republic, everybody but especially the Kurdish political movement was very cautious. However they were also well aware of this fact: The spirit of the ongoing peace and resolution process did not lie in the negotiations held between the representatives but in the life created in Gezi Park and in that unforgettable demonstration participated by the whole of Gezi protestors when a Kurdish young man was killed in the protest against construction of a police station in Lice. The demonstration was a clear sign that Kurdish question could only be solved on the political plane opened by Gezi resistance.

All in all, expression of singularities in Gezi resistance shattered all the representations cut out and configured for each of them on their behalf. With the abolishment of the barriers established by representations in the way of flows, intersections and combinations of singularities, now they proceed to building a new ethico-political life in which they defend not only their particular identities and ways of life but the dignity of the common and the whole life. Democracy which can be imagined within the representative system only as a formal relation of mutual recognition now turns into an ethico-politics immanent to life. Our dignified starting point was to acknowledge all the pains of the past as the common pains of life. The honor of all the lives marginalized, devalued and degraded by Power and sovereign representations are being restored. Gezi Park had been an Armenian cemetery long years ago. But now every tree in the Park is an Armenian even the grave of whom is something unbearable for the rulers, or a revolutionary killed in Taksim on Mayday 1977, a Kurdish villager bombed in Roboski and whose murderers are still kept unidentified by the state, or a martyr that passed away in our resistance… This is only the beginning, our struggle continues…

Many commentators talk of a revolt of the middle class. But we’re experiencing a process of “downgrading” of the middle class, that is to say, a proletarianization of the former middle class. Therefore it is losing its traditional political role of mediation against the class struggle. What is the importance of this element in your context and in the movement?

Talking of Gezi resistance as a revolt of the middle class would mean to completely misunderstand it. This resistance is precisely a movement that combines various sectors of society in their claim for a change in the general intellect. It is a practice that gives birth to a new virtuality.

Turkey is one of those countries where the interest rates are very high, which makes it attractive for large volumes of global capital inflow. There is a very strong middle class in Turkey, which has been further empowered during AKP reign. Therefore there can be no talk of impoverishment of middle class. Although impoverishment is escalated through debt and financial mechanisms, it has not culminated into an economic crisis and political unrest.

It wouldn’t be wrong to state that Turkey is historically a country of middle class which has always played a significant role in political developments. Today AKP has almost total control over the middle class. Turkey does not consist only of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Anatolia has a different cultural portrait than that of these three big cities. You can go on your life without fasting in Ramadan, but in Anatolia it wouldn’t be so easy. Hence the cultural life of the middle class has a strong religious bias which is usually incompatible with the modern culture. In this respect, AKP is also the ideological representative of the middle class. Kemalist ideology of the First Republic failed at modernizing the ideological stance of the middle class, which is mostly affirmed by the fact that in much of the political developments in Turkish history the ideological dimension of the matter prevailed over its class dimension. During the AKP reign, this situation is further exasperated. Besides, the middle class keeps its distance from the left which also couldn’t build ties with the middle class all along its history.

The most peculiar feature of middle class in our country which always had strong ties with the Hamidian axis mentioned above in politics did not attain a stable representation in the political system till AKP government. The support lent by the middle class to various parties in the long meantime had always been temporary. In AKP, the middle class found its ultimate representation. For this reason, AKP can be best characterized as the historical bloc of the middle class. However the historical bloc of capital or labor within the representation system didn’t still emerge. On the part of capital, the political bloc is the state itself. Therefore, in Turkey a representative system based on the classes has not been consolidated yet, which is also manifested in the problems faced in formation of social consensus. Furthermore, the masses of labouring classes still follow the political line of middle class. As a result, the breaking of the historical bloc between the middle class and AKP seems only possible with the eruption of a historical crisis.

In its rise to power, advocacy of democracy was the major discourse that AKP resorted to. In this way, it achieved to receive the support of liberal circles including some part of the left. Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Kemalist Party that is the founder of the First Republic has a voting rate of 25% while Nationalist Movement Party, the historical representative of the fascist line in Turkish politics, has a share of only 15% in votes. Both parties lack the capacity to propose a political line that would embrace a wide range of voters. Hence they are rather old political formations with no future. With the explosion of Gezi resistance, AKP seems to have lost the support it received from the sectors outside its traditional mass base. It is now left with its own mass. One important reason for the loss of support is that AKP promoted economic, political and cultural dispossession of all the sectors outside its social base. In this respect, Gezi resistance may be considered as a reaction of all those dispossessed during the reign of AKP. Therefore there can be no talk of a middle class withdrawing its support from the government. Instead, it seems that it is rather other political forces who have been withdrawing their support from the middle class. However provoking it may sound, it is possible to say that Gezi resistance is also a revolt against the middle class in Turkey and its success depends on its power to politically fragment the middle class. We have to wait and see what the future will bring…

What is the relationship between the movement and the left (old or new)? What is the relationship with the representation system?

The left was severely hit by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the military coup d’état of 1980. However, as we mentioned before, the deadlock of the left is rather related with its inability to understand the present stage of capitalism as well as the changes and transformations taking place in Turkey, Middle Eastern and Northern African countries as part of the process of constitution of a new form of capitalist sovereignty through Third World War. The left entrapped within an interpretive framework shaped with Fordism and the Third International is facing a serious crisis of civilization. There seems to be two possible ways of overcoming this crisis: Either the old left will reform itself or a new left will be created within a new wave of movement. The first alternative seems impossible given that the left, locked in its conservatism, has already lost its power to reform itself. Gezi resistance points to the second alternative. It is a new left wave which has brought together the whole of the left on a practical plane.

We prefer to define this conservative left as the modernist left. The modernist left which has taken its place in Gezi Park with its huge banners and flags flying at the heights couldn’t exert any political influence during the resistance. Its arrogance to lead and represent has been totally shattered. It is puzzled and paralyzed in the face of the initiative taken by the resistance itself.

In this sense, Gezi resistance introduced the left with expression against representation, with singularity against universality and multitude against the One. It made a breakthrough in the notion of politics opening the way of quests for a new left. Till the Gezi resistance, “multitude” or “the common” was seen as obscure philosophical concepts. But with their actual manifestations through the resistance, now they are received as key concepts in making sense of life.

Figures like Spinoza, G. Deleuze, A. Negri and J. Holloway as well as the past and present tradition of autonomist Marxism altogether make up a rich toolbox of paradigms to be utilized in the quests for a new left in our country as well. However the most powerful side of these constitutive paradigms bears the risk of becoming their weakest point. In our context, these figures and their thoughts have been expropriated by the monopoly of an intellectual market isolated from life and political agency. They are utilized to justify individualism rather than political and organizational sensibility, and turned into an object of aristocratic pleasure. Everyone talks of Negri but they mostly avoid undertaking implications of his thought politically. Hence we believe these constitutive paradigms need to be traversed by a constitutive militancy and a sort of Leninism as we understand.

What are the common elements and the differences of the movement with regard to other struggles in the crisis (the North African insurrections, the Spanish acampadas, the American occupy, the mobilization in Brazil, etc.)? Do you think is it possible to talk of a transnational cycle of struggles in the crisis?

It is very pleasing that Gezi resistance which is still able to determine its temporal and spatial dimensions by itself despite all the ups and downs faced so far has not lost its capacity to revive itself and to call the rebel bodies back. The movement owes this capacity to its active rather than reactive nature which is essentially manifested in its continued existence as a new political plane on which a variety of agendas find their expression rather than being entrapped in dialectics of representative demands. Perhaps the fact that the movement was unexpectedly translated into many questions although it started from the defense of a park can be best explained by the transition from the dialectics of representation to antagonism of expression in constitution of political subjectivity. Furthermore, this emerging political subjectivity, in our view, constitutes the most important feature of our resistance that points to not only the common that the singularities in this territory have been collectively building, but also to the globality in its indigenousness which connects it to the cycle of struggles in other parts of the world. Therefore, in comparing and contrasting Gezi resistance with other struggles in the crisis, it would be essential to keep this dimension in mind.

That the remarkable difference between June Revolt in Turkey and other movements in the world in fact reveals the deep connection between them is apparently a thought-provoking paradox. It is obvious that Gezi resistance did not immediately develop into an “anti-systemic” movement like the Northern African insurrections against the dictatorial regimes or the movements that developed against the crisis of social welfare and representation in Europe and US due to the collapse in the global financial system. This difference may be explained at first glance with two conditions specific to Turkey. Firstly, we do not have here a cruel dictatorial regime as witnessed in neighboring territories; and the representation system is still able to maintain itself both as a political means and as a political culture even if its efficacy has been considerably reduced in many ways. Secondly, the effects of the financial crisis of 2008 on Turkey were not received as severe as to lead to a social explosion mainly because the credit expansion has not been obstructed yet. However, to infer from all these that the conditions for transformation of Gezi resistance into an anti-systemic and anti-capitalist movement have not been ripe yet would be only to repeat orientalism of modernity, which always despised the power and intellect of the multitudes of this territory, from below. Conditions are always actualizations of the virtuality of the power relations they are immanent to and Gezi resistance precisely brought about a fundamental change in this virtuality. Gezi resistance is above all a movement of re-appropriation by multitudes of their powers separated from them through expropriation, rentalization, commodification and representation. In the face of this movement of re-appropriation, biopower’s capacity to govern has been driven into a serious crisis. The hierarchical balance of power maintained between capitalist biopower as a power to expropriate and govern and multitude as a power creative of life has been irreversibly shaken. In our view, the “systemic” nature of the crisis created by the movements both in our territory and in the world lies in the refusal of the multitudes to be subjectified in the specific composition of power relations imposed by Empire in their own territories. This global refusal from Northern Africa to Puerto del Sol, from Zuccoti to Taksim is mobilized with the desire of the multitudes for a new composition of power based on self-determination. Nevertheless whether the movement of multitudes to re-appropriate their power would lead to reinstatement of the hierarchical composition of power through reforms or to a form of social and political recomposition in their own particular contexts is still uncertain.

In our case, it seems that the uncertainties about the course of Gezi resistance also allow for a comparison with other experiences in the world. As mentioned earlier, Turkey is, on the one hand, trying to take a leap forward in democratization of the representation as part of the consolidation of the Second Republic. The government’s initiative to replace the 1980 constitution made by the coup d’état administration with a new constitution receives significant support beyond the traditional electoral base of AKP. All the “others” excluded by the official ideology of the First Republic extending from Sunni Muslims to the Alevi people, from Kurds to non-Muslims demand to be included in the new constitutional process provided that they wouldn’t be dishonored once again. For this reason, we cannot say that the refusal of the representation system in Gezi resistance has been as highlighted as it was in Spain. However after the common struggle of all the social agents for the dignity of life rather than for the objectives of recognition by the system and guarantee for their interests, it is clearly seen that the new constitutional process couldn’t be reduced to a bargaining to be resolved by the alliance and consensus between political representatives. To the extent that this struggle of dignity could be continued, democratization would not mean democratization of the state but life itself and the peace process would not bring continuation of war with other means but fraternization of life. In this context, the forums held in local parks in several cities all over Turkey after the evacuation of Gezi Park and the attempts to turn these forums into assemblies as we see in world experiences present immeasurable possibilities for building democracy and peace as an ethico-political life.

Another uncertainty about Gezi resistance is whether this movement of re-appropriation of power would turn into a generalized revolt against the command of money and a collective desire to build and institute the common. As mentioned above, Gezi resistance did not start as a revolt directly against debt and the command of money. However it has been from the start a movement of transgression of the borders imposed by money and work on the re-appropriation of power and the desire to build the common within the resistance. The Commune that lasted perhaps only 15 days in Gezi Park could be built only with disrupting the discipline of the working hours, de-commodification of everything needed for the commune and more importantly, with cooperative production of a variety of wealth inaccessible by mediation of money. Our commune as an instance of magical realism did not exist anymore. However it is still alive as the image of the power of the common against the command of money and work.

We push for reading the uncertainties inherent to our movement in terms of opportunities for an increase in its power for social and political recomposition. Compared with the voices “We do not fear any more”, “You do not represent us”, “We won’t pay your crisis” that rose from Tahrir, Puerto del Sol and OWS, the scream from Gezi “This is only the beginning, the struggle continues” reflects the desire of “the chapullers”, the multitudes of our territory, for searching these opportunities.

What is the importance of the common in the movement? Both as political language, and/or the concrete action and goal? And what is the relationship between the struggles and the defence of the public?

The common seems to assume a very important role in constitution of political subjectivity: both as political language and concrete action and goal. It is a key concept that is indispensable in overcoming the deadlocks not only in theory but also in forms of struggle and organization. It drives to desire, joy and activity distancing us from the form of struggle of the Fordist era based on interests and demands. It emerges as an immanent power which abolishes the distinction between the social and the political, turning life itself into a power of resistance. In this sense, what is most strongly expressed in Gezi resistance is the pursuit for the common. It appears that institutionalization and persistence of global resistances requires organization of the commons… organization of the common as an event… anti-capitalism immanent to communism… the common as the political body and power of the multitude…

The defence of the public has already been exhausted in our country. It has no resonance in the movements. It is even hard to say that the welfare state here is defeated, it totally collapsed. The state has been corporatized. Commodification of every space and everything has already become the form of life of capital in Turkey. Hence Gezi resistance is based not on the defence of the public but the common. The common is the form of life of labor against that of capital. In Gezi resistance, the political substance of antagonism made its appearance. This is where our hopes rise from.

We would like to conclude our interview with our comradely salute to all!

Dear comrades, the beautiful people bearing the conscience, dignity and joy of life…

We have passed through a minor revolution, through a life which revolts against Power that pisses it off, a life which does not want to be Power… We learnt to respect life. The virtue of the common, how much we missed it! We embraced each other as the indigenous of the world, fulfilling our longing for each other in our recall for virtue of the common. We laughed and danced with the joy of the revolution. We feel honoured, we deserved love and revolution!

How many we are! How lonely we were… Why we have left each other so alone…

How lovely it is to be one, two, three and thousands among the multitude… How arrogant we were in the solitude of egoism… How nice it is to feel ourselves humble in the multitude of differences and expressions without subject and representation. We now see revolution is an immense friendship.

Love is friendship in revolution, we see it! To be fellows, comrades in the love for friendship… How honourable it is to be revolutionaries…

Before our words was empty talk. We just spoke from the mouth to the ears. We now see that it is the hearts that speak. And revolution is nothing but the flow of words from hearts to hearts. We feel plenitude! It is a transition from “the will to power” of lack to “the will to desire” of plenitude. We feel the will to friendship. The will to power is not any more the will to rule. We see that the revolution is not a transition in Power or a power to negate but the cultural transcendence of the general intellect with power to drive everything into an immanent change. Nobody is him/herself, nothing will ever be the same.

We love you so much. Your fight is our dignity, joy and power. Please never forget that you have comrades here. Here is your home. Our door is yours…

With the joy of revolutionary laughter “we want everything”!

Take care!

[1] Devsirme (blood tax) was chiefly the practice by which the Ottoman Empire took boys from their Christian families, who were then converted to Islam with the primary objective of selecting and training the ablest children for leadership positions, either as military leaders or as high administrators to serve the Empire.

[2] Classification is used here with reference to production and reproduction of class subjects, having in mind Foucault’s notion of subjectification as a question of power relations.


There are those who would speak of Gezi as the emergence of a counter-hegemonic politics of the multitude.  I would prefer to speak of a politics of friendship, or love, in which one loses oneself (and are we not already lost to ourselves?) to become the many …

Erkan Ogur – Eksiklik Kendi Özümde/Deficiency is in myself

Let me sing a bit
if you don’t listen what can I do
let me go into the love-sea
I came to sink into ocean

I became familiar to God
no materials in my heart
rotating around your fire
I came to burn in it

I was scattered in the harvest of love
I was both sieved and kneaded
was boiled in the boiler
I came to the ground for beating

I am a simple servant of God
I’m one of the bad vessels
the nightinfale of the same society
I came to the ground for singing

I am Pir Sultan as you know
there are no faults in my words
deficiency is in myself
I came to stand in front of Him

Let me sing a bit
if you don’t listen what can I do
let me go into the love-sea
I came to sink into ocean

I was scattered in the harvest of love
I was both sieved and kneaded
was boiled in the boiler
I came to the ground for beating

I am Sah Hatayi myself
there are no faults in my words
deficiency is in myself
I came to stand in front of Him

(Original lyrics with the above translation can be found here)

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