When the prisoners started the hunger strike till death, they weren’t taken seriously by the bourgeois parties, the petite bourgeois intellectuals and parts of the left. While the bourgeois, Mehmet Agar and the police continued the attacks inside and outside the prisons to demonstrate their determination, some groups claimed this kind of action would not lead to success. The reformist left, which thinks and acts within the limited framework of the system with regards to the questions of the revolution, always rejected the determined struggle, “a tooth for a tooth”, against the rulers. When it became obvious that the rulers governed the country with continuing attacks and bans, the reformist left developed their analysis of the “government of the transition phase” and the “junta” and they ended their only form of struggle, publicity work.
This was exactly what the bourgeoisie- wanted to achieve. The bourgeoisie is able to anticipate exactly what results they would achieve with their measures. The tactics of the rulers are apparent. The revolutionary prisoners inside the prisons never surrendered, on the contrary, they changed the prisons into schools of the movement.
The rulers knew very well that they had to destroy these schools of the revolution. At least they had to render these schools useless. They perfectly knew that the prisoners would resist any attack. While they continued their attacks against the prisoners, they also attacked, with all their strength, the people who supported the prisoners outside the prisons and who wanted to intensify the struggle. They attacked them to crush any resistance. Against these tactics of the oligarchy, it is the revolutionary tactic to increase the struggle, inside as well as outside. By spreading the struggle to the whole country, the plans of fascism are crossed with a powerful counter attack as an answer. The reformists, on the other hand, withdrew at this point once again with their theory of the “government of the transition phase”. By worrying about elections and “legality”, they showed the oligarchy once again that they don’t belong to the revolutionaries, on the contrary, they keep their distance.
On the one hand, the crisis of the oligarchy deepened, on the other hand the attacks against the people increased. Despite the collapse of the coalition between the DYP and ANAP, the attacks were continued, in a hitherto unknown dimension, under minister of Justice Mehmet Agar. These attacks were continued, without any interruption under the government of the REFAYOL coalition. After the collapse of the coalition between DYP and ANAP, there was virtually no other alternative left as a government of the Refah party, even though this wasn’t exactly the kind of government the imperialists and the monopoly bourgeois desired most. After the Refah party promised the US-imperialists, the monopolies and the military they would do anything in their power to maintain order, the imperialists and the federation of major industrialists – including Sabanci – gave the green light for a Refah party government. This government didn’t hesitate for one moment to fulfil its promise and they started to move immediately. The main point of its activities was to put into practice the program of repression, taken over from the ANAYOL government, and trying to crush the revolutionary movement. Although the government changed, it continued, without any changes, the policy of repression of the police and the general staff. Those who assert different objectives from every change of government and who, for “tactical” reasons, waited and hoped, soon realised they had been wrong. We have said before that in this phase of the revolution and the contra-revolution no civilian government is capable of withdrawing itself from the control by the contra-guerrilla. On the contrary, without basing itself on these force, no civilian government could possibly exist. This was shown once again.
The Refah party gave themselves the appearance of being different than the other civilian parties. They took over the protests of the people’s masses against the governing parties and the system in their ideology and they presented themselves as an opponent of the regime. Although this was obviously just a manoeuvre to become the governing party, the mechanical and dogmatic application of the principle that every party represents the interests of a certain class or grouping, led to the belief that the Refah party was different from the other civilian parties.
That the Refah party is not an opponent of the imperialists, the monopolists and capitalism, but supports these as best as it can instead, was not only clear after several months; it was obvious after a couple of days. The Refah party became a force of the imperialists and the monopolies which, especially in the phase of the coup of September 12, 1980, work at spreading religious motives and which was available whenever imperialism and the monopolies would need her. The Refah party became the governing party to fulfil the needs of the bourgeois and from the very first day she did all she could and the attacks, started under the previous government were even increased under the maxim “What the other governments didn’t achieve, we will”. In this way they wanted to proof the imperialists and monopolies that Refah constituted their best possible defence. As a proof they wanted to deliver a decisive blow against the prisoners, and at the same time destroy the mass movements outside of the prisons. While the Refah party on the one hand for the time being kept the masses appeased with economic promises and increasing the wages, on the other hand they prepared for the decisive blow against the revolutionary prisoners to show themselves trustworthy in the eyes of the bourgeois. We were able to cross this plans with extraordinary measures. We had to show the people that the Refah party had nothing to do with the people, nor with justice, human rights or equality, instead they exploited the religious feelings of the people, and that they just were working to fulfil the wishes of imperialism, the collaborating bourgeois and the contra-guerrilla. We had to show this as possible, without hesitation and without allowing that our message would be falsified. The prisoners increased their resistance to the hunger strike till death and the struggle outside the prisons was intensified and broadened. This was meant to wake all those who had put their hopes on the civilian parties and on the Refah party as some kind of new blood. A strong barricade was to be build against the attacks.
The resistance of the prisoners was not only aimed at improving the conditions in jail or for the achievement of certain rights. It was rather a struggle to deal with the new REFAHYOL government, to take away the mask of the fascist Refah party. The people defended themselves against the attacks by the REFAHYOL government with a counterattack.
As the events of the hunger strike have shown, Marxists-Leninists do not let themselves constrained in the struggle. It has been shown that when we, Marxist-Leninists, analyse the concrete conditions of struggle in all areas of life, when we look at the particularities of our country and develop our struggle with the utmost creativity, that we can achieve positive results, no one reckoned with. From this perspective, the Marxist-Leninists have acted and by connecting the creativity of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete conditions, they created the weapon of the hunger strike till death.
The bourgeois showed their egoism and disbelief by letting minister of Justice Sevket Kazan declare that the prisoners would not die. Many reformist as well didn’t take the problem seriously until the moment the prisoners began to die, one after the other. When the first hunger strikers till death fell, they said: “Why did they die, this is not necessary, we must live and fight outside.” Thus they showed an attitude which was very remote of answering the attacks by the powers that be with a counter attack, an attitude which had nothing to do with revolutionary determination and conviction. This attitude of the “left” is exactly the attitude of the petite bourgeois intellectuals of not supporting the resistance, but ending it. The revolutionary movement had to intensify the struggle against the attacks by the bourgeois, as well as against the reformists and petite bourgeois intellectuals, with determination and the willingness to pay the price. The bourgeois wanted to spread pessimism and uncertainty by calling the deaths superfluous. A broad front of petite bourgeois intellectuals, many democratic groups and individuals didn’t believe that the revolutionary movement was prepared to give martyrs in this struggle. Because of the foresight of the Marxist-Leninist it was possible to enhance the unity of the revolutionary forces in many fields.
There still remain some problems, but they have started to look for solutions. The Central Co-ordination Committee of the prisoners, the prisoners solidarity platform DETUDAP, and Mayday 1996 are the best examples of this unity. The resistance of the hunger strike till death constituted the first real test for this unity and it must be evaluated according to this aspect. Important is too that the revolutionary movement in Turkey created a tradition under the most difficult circumstances (the years after the coup), in a time when nothing moved anymore, a tradition of delivering blows against the enemy, leaving the heritage of the hunger strike till death. The prisoners refused to be treated like “inmates”, fought for their identity as Free Prisoners, and they combined their struggle with the struggle outside the prisons, forming one inseparable unity. The ideas like “A political struggle is impossible in prison” and “One can only fight for certain rights there”, spread by the reformists, were smashed by the prisoners and thrown away as garbage. The prisoners transformed their imprisonment into a nightmare for the oligarchy who fear that all those in prison will become militants. The resistance of the prisoners, waged under these circumstances, looking death into the eyes, met a large echo throughout the land and the whole world. And so we were able to reveal the fascist face of the Refah party in just a couple of days, a task which would otherwise have taken months, maybe even years.
The dynamics of the revolutionary movement in Turkey have always been strong. The shortcomings were with the inadequate leadership of the movement which acted dogmatically and which didn’t go beyond the framework of already known forms of struggle, which came under the influence of the reformists, developed no belief in the own strength and which kept aloof of developing unison. One can look at the hunger strike till death as the joint action of several political groups who approached death together, groups which, be it slowly, surpass their dogmatism and self interests.
The hunger strike till death created a large gap in the oligarchy and especially in the Refah party and its “Islamic” ideology. The Refah party and the oligarchy were dealt a great blow at a time they didn’t expect and in a field they didn’t expect. This struggle not just created a barricade against the attacks of the Refah party and the bourgeois and achieved certain rights for the prisoners, foremost it took away the mask from the fascist face of the Refah party and it dealt a great blow against the bourgeois which was spreading pessimism and disbelief. The real gain of this resistance was taking victory and moral superiority in the ideological struggle against the bourgeois.
The reformists, the bourgeois, the petite bourgeois intellectuals etc., who kept repeating that there was nobody in the world anymore who was prepared to give his life for his cause, were very surprised when hundreds of revolutionaries announced they were prepared to die. Even the mediocre bourgeois authors had to admit they were surprised. But it is nothing new that Marxist-Leninists, revolutionaries, are prepared to face death for their conviction, that they receive death without hesitation. We have had hundreds of leading cadres and fighters who for years affirmed their conviction with their last breath, who never surrendered when they were surrounded, who died fighting, who even in their last moments wrote their conviction on the walls with their own blood. But in this struggle, a tooth for a tooth, with all these martyrs, certain parts of the people, democrats, petite-bourgeois intellectuals, and even the bourgeois, were shocked as never before. However, the hunger strike till death was not an event which suddenly occurred. During the period of the military junta there were almost no struggles outside of the prisons, due to the circumstances. The prisoners resisted to maintain their political identity and their dignity. But this resistance, which took sacrifices, was not isolated from the outside and the people. The resistance took in every step the development of the movement and the future of the people as a starting point. Those who in the past, under the circumstances of the time, had said that “the prisons are not the centre of the struggle”, “a political struggle can not be waged inside the prisons”, “actions like a hunger strike till death are suicide, murder” etc., now participated in the hunger strike till death. This shows that the long struggle, armed and unarmed, in all areas, in the cities and in the mountains, which demanded sacrifices, had a strong influence on the people, and on the left. The struggle had caused the people and the left to develop in the right direction. No sacrifice is ever in vain, it always has some effect. No matter how much the truth is denied, or ignored, it always forces itself into the open.
The revolutionary forces have shown that they, if they succeed in uniting, and despite the huge price, are a force that has to be reckoned with and that, if they realise the adequate policy, will achieve important and successful results. The ongoing war has thought that the revolutionary forces can not achieve serious and positive results without paying the price, without waging the war with the bourgeois on all levels. All know that revolutionaries do not wish death. But they have shown the determination time and time again to die if necessary. And it is this determination which scares the enemy the most. It is often said that there is no force which can defeat people who are prepared to die. For the bourgeois the most dangerous and most feared force are those people who take death into account. The bourgeois has seen this dreaded force once again during the hunger strike till death. And when the oligarchy saw that the revolutionaries jointly went into death, they panicked. A struggle, waged together and where ones shares death, can clear the road to the beginning of a new process of the revolutionary moment in Turkey. The hunger strike till death, with all its aspects, with the unification of the left forces, its determination, its brilliance, could be a the beginning of a new chapter of the revolutionary movement in Turkey. The bourgeois is aware of this danger and they will plan new attacks to avoid this danger.
The hunger strike till death is more than just an ideological struggle with the bourgeois for socialism or capitalism. It has shocked the non-socialist intellectuals, the democrats who put their hope in the regime, the egoists, the discouraged, the tired, and even the islamists, who were betrayed with words of a just regime, justice and equality, in other words the whole people, very deeply. Behind this shock is the selfless, sacrificing new human, who puts a new morality against the immorality of the bourgeois, against the degeneration, individualism, loss of identity, against egoism, who puts his own interests behind for his people and his country. This new human could be witnessed in the hunger strike till death. In the quagmire, created by the imperialists and its collaborators, the revolutionaries who gave their lives created a new and strong hope for a new world, for a dignified life and a dignified future. The people discussed the difference between the bourgeois parties and the revolutionaries. Death crossed the demagogy and the lies of the bourgeois. Those who fell spoke to the conscience of the people. The longing for justice, honour and dignity was evident. This longing materialised on the streets. Many of those who were under the influence of the regime, took sides with the revolutionaries. The hunger strike till death, jointly organised by several organisations, has its foundation in the many armed and unarmed actions and the hundreds of martyrs. Therefore the hunger strike had great influence. This influence arised from the characteristics of the hunger strike till death. This can not be explained with a dogmatic theory, it has to be explained with the quality and development of the revolution. These results were achieved by applying the right methods in the struggle and by the will to pay the price.
In the beginning the police, the military and the bourgeois parties of the oligarchy thought “they will not die…” When the hunger strikers till death died, the one after the other, the military thought “let them die inside, we will kill them outside” and they believed they could continue the oppression and destroy the resistance. When the bourgeois parties, who didn’t believe that the prisoners would die, saw that they did die, one by one, and when they saw that mass activities increased despite the repression, that the world public opinion stood up, that the prisoners continued their resistance with determination despite the fallen, they made concessions. They were forced to their knees and had to promise to fulfil the demands of the prisoners in order to stop the mass potential of the resistance and to end the resistance at all costs. In this phase, while the police chiefs threatened everybody, including intellectuals and artists, and pledged revenge, the bourgeois parties surrendered to the hunger strikers till death who gave their lives. In this phase those who cried “there may be no more deaths, stop the resistance” met with the bourgeois. The revolutionaries do not love death, neither do they love to kill. But if its advances the revolution, they are not afraid to die. Those who fear death, do not want the revolution.
The days when two or three prisoners died were a nightmare for the oligarchy. Despite their shown uncompromising attitude and toughness, they experienced the moments of their greatest weakness. If it would have been necessary, the prisoners from the Party-Front would have paid an even higher price.
Some democratic organisations panicked and feared a police operation in the prisons. With their showed toughness, this panic was exactly what the government wanted to achieve. Furthermore some prisoners, who did not participate in the hunger strike till death, nor in the unlimited hunger strike, tried to use the resistance for their own purposes. In the name of the hunger strikers till death, without them knowing it, they negotiated with representatives of the government and thus caused a lot of misunderstandings and wrong developments. Those who negotiate with the government in the name of the prisoners without knowing what the prisoners think have to think very carefully who and what they can represent. They act without mandate when they speak and negotiate in the name of the prisoners without permission and authorisation. When they keep on speaking in the name of the prisoners and even demand “amnesty” for the prisoners, they embarrass themselves for the public. When they want to act for the rights of the prisoners and their human rights, they first have to develop a line which is not in contradiction to the line of the prisoners themselves.
Although the resistance of the prisoners won victory, neither the attacks by the oligarchy nor the resistance ended. The resistance will continue in several forms and it will, from dynamics from its own, unite with the struggle outside the prisons and develop further. Now it is the most urgent task to beat back the attacks of the oligarchy, or even better, to go over to the attack from the defence. Therefore the central co-ordination of the prisoners has to develop further, it has to induce the organisations who did not yet participate to do so, to evaluate the resistance, learn the necessary lessons and thus prepare an even bigger resistance. Outside of the prisons the prisoners solidarity organisations must be enlarged and institutionalised so they won’t neglect the long term tasks. To reflect the achieved positive results inside the prisons outside of the prisons as well, the present disorganisation must be transformed into organisation, the fragmentation of the struggle must be overcome, and the struggle must be centralised and structured. During the time of the resistance it wasn’t achieved on the outside give the resistance a central structure. For that reason the mass resistance outside remained weak and without effect and it only achieved relevance because of the rising number of dead prisoners. But despite the 12 martyrs, the dozens of wounded and the hundreds who were at the brink of death, the resistance outside the prisons remained far behind the expectations. Although the resistance caused an earthquake inside the heads of the reformists, the petite bourgeois intellectuals and the democrats, the lack of a strong and trustworthy central democratic organisation prevented an adequate broadening of the resistance. When we do not centralise and organise the democratic opposition of the people, the reformists will try to split the struggle and bring it under their control. Some organisation will claim full and arbitrary freedom of movement by proposing “coalitions of strength and action”. The broad segments of the people will not trust such a situation and in stead of tens- and hundreds of thousands, only a very few will remain in the squares.
The Refah party and the other bourgeois parties, who do not want to lose their source of votes, could propose a partial amnesty in order not to keep the mass potential which is dissatisfied with the regime. We can already now see the beginning of this debate. We have to deepen this debate and lift it on all levels to the demand “Freedom for the Prisoners”. It is not impossible to crown the victory of the hunger strike till death with the freedom of the prisoners. It is possible to achieve successes with the political structures, the broad participation of the democrats and the intellectuals.
By showing their willingness to die together, if necessary, the prisoners made everybody conscious of the need for unity. Those who, with a thousand of pretexts, withdrew from their responsibility for the unity and who represent their own egoistic group interests under the mask of unity, should look back once more how our martyrs went into death together and they should think about it.
The fighters in the hunger strike till death wrote the history of honour and heroism of our people. This history is so strong in tradition and legitimate that she brought hope and created trust in a world of immorality, lies, degeneration, egoism and despair, created by the bourgeois. The revolutionary movement gained an even larger legitimacy among the people’s masses and dealt the bourgeois a heavy ideological blow. The masses took side with the prisoners. Those who under these circumstances still do not support the resistance of the hunger strike till death, who try to besmirch the results, are not for justice and human dignity and they are not on the side of the people, no matter which view they represent. One should ask them what they mean with honour and conscience and one should verify whether they possess such qualities at all. The most valuable children of our people and the revolution are those who gave their lives without hesitation. We know those who act as if nothing happened, who didn’t even care for the lives as the prisoners as the bourgeois defenders of human rights did. It will become more difficult to remain in the back, creating an artificial agenda, insulting the revolutionaries, but claiming to be representatives of the working class and pretending to have good relations with the people. Sooner or later the people will hold them accountable. They say “The working class will solve the problems, we have to address the working class”, while they look down at all the actions, and in reality they have nothing to do with the working class. All their deceitful acts are done in the name of the working class. The struggle intensifies and the attacks by the oligarchy grow stronger. In this process the distance between the reformists and the revolutionaries will increase and the reformists will draw up plans, like Aydinlik (1), to save themselves. These groups will develop a steadily increasing reactionism. They already began to write against the revolutionaries in the literature of the bourgeois. When they proceed on this way, they will not be able to save themselves from condemnation, like Aydinlik. The revolutionary movement is stronger than ever before and it will defeat the provocations of the oligarchy, as well as those who drool around the bourgeois.
This is the time for us to be even more courageous, to learn from the events, and to promote unity between the revolutionaries everywhere. In that way we will create even more complex forms of organisation and even bigger actions.
(1) Reference to a party from the 70’s, which still exists today under several names. This party betrayed revolutionaries to the oligarchy by denouncing them and publishing their names and photographs in their paper. This paper was called Aydinlik and the successor parties kept this name as well. Nowadays the party is called Isci Partisi (Workers Party).