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New Left Review I/126, March-April 1981


Ahmet Samim

The Tragedy of the Turkish Left

For twenty years, from 1960 to 1980, the Turkish left struggled to match its remarkable militancy, and not inconsiderable support, to the realities of its country and its time. Ultimately, socialists were able to garner 3 per cent of the national vote in 1979, a disappointing figure. Today their organizations are illegal. Both the failure and the potential of the Turkish left were symbolized by a massive gathering at Taksim, the big square of Istanbul, on May Day 1977. The celebration was called by the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers Unions (disk)—the more radical of two such associations in Turkey—and 200,000 socialists responded. They gathered behind a welter of different, often competing banners. Devrimci Yol (Revolutionary Way) had 40,000 followers, Kurtuluş¸ 10,000. Both were independent groups with origins in the guerrilla struggles of the 1960s. All three of Turkey’s pro-Soviet groups were present. There were many student and professional associations, as well as the workers of the unions themselves. The historic disaster which awaited them was prefigured by the brutal conclusion to the gathering. As a Maoist group attempted to force its way into the meeting to denounce its ‘social-fascist’ character, some of its cadres fired into the air. Immediately, another volley from the rooftops was aimed at the crowd. Panic ensued. Thirty-nine were left dead, most crushed in the stampede. Henceforth, the left would be caught in a violent struggle with the far right, an enemy which was not only numerous and unified but which was also closer to various branches of the state, as symbolized by the strategic emplacement of the gunmen. For three years fighting escalated. The military prevented an outright fascist victory, and in national terms the real conflict for state power was between these forces on the right. In the process, however, the left through its political immaturity contributed to its own defeat.

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