The felonious murder of a black American by a police officer in Minneapolis last week has set off a massive reaction not only in the United States but also throughout the world. The US is now experiencing one of the biggest popular revolts in its recent history.
On the other hand, nowadays, Turkey’s progressive movements are commemorating the 7th anniversary of the Gezi resistance, one of the greatest uprisings of the people of Turkey against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its anti-environmental, anti-labour and anti-popular policies. Correspondingly, journalists, authors and academics in Turkey have carried out numerous analyses comparing the recent riots in the US and the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013.
Investigating what is going on in the US, soL International interviewed with Kemal Okuyan, the Secretary-General (SG) of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), on the similarities and differences between the riots in the US and Turkey’s Gezi rebellion in June 2013.
What is going on in the US and why have the recent protests grown so much? We ask this question because the existence of racism against black Americans has been known since the founding of this country. So, George Floyd, murdered by the police officer sparking the recent riots, was not the first victim of this hostility. It is obvious that he was feloniously killed, but is this explanation sufficient to understand the reaction to grow such a degree?
As you said, the murder of George Floyd is not the first incident of police violence against black people in the US. The figures regarding the death toll caused by police violence are incredibly high. In the past three years, 690 black Americans were killed by the police. However, we need to talk about other figures to understand the real story behind this violence. In the US, the police don’t kill blacks only. Moreover, if we just consider the figures and statistical data, the number of white people killed as a result of police violence since 2015 is almost two times more than the number of black people murdered by the police. Yes, 2385 white people have been killed by the police over the last five years. Whites, Blacks, Hispanics…In fact, all Americans from every ethnic origin have been the target of US law enforcement forces.
Yet, only figures or statistics may not be sufficient to understand the situation here. The proportion of black Americans is below 15 per cent all over the country, if I am not mistaken. Therefore, when analysed proportionately, it becomes evident that black people in the US are more confronted with police violence. In other words, the police engage in violence against black Americans almost three times more than the police violence committed against white people.
In a nutshell, explicit, unconcealable and disgusting racism dominates the capitalist system in the US, as supported by the given data. Undoubtedly, this racist discrimination is an extension of a long period when black people had to live as second-class citizens even after the abolition of slavery. Maybe legal equality has been achieved, but it should not be forgotten that the social system in the US has to keep racism alive in order to survive.
After all these, it is now necessary to touch upon what is said less. As I just mentioned, police violence in the US targets not only Afro-Americans and Latinos but all citizens. However, here, we make a big mistake when we say ‘all citizens’ because police violence is targeting the poor, not only in the US but all over the world. There are wealthy black people belonging to the capitalist class in the US or in other countries such as the United Kingdom and France. Yet, the police as an ideological tool of the ruling class cannot attack them. Thus, what needs to be emphasized is that state violence in capitalist countries is predominantly used against the poor and focuses on the least protected among the poor.
So, the main issue, here, is essentially class warfare rather than racism.
Police violence in the US has been widely debated in recent days, and these discussions are generally on the basis of racism. Some of the arguments point out that the police service has historically been dominated by another ethnic community in the US. It is known that the Protestant Irish have such a mission after their immigration. However, it is possible to see some ethnic traces in crucial institutions of the state organization in almost all countries. The Cossacks in Russia and Caucasians in history of Turkey have been the critical forces of the ‘‘security’’ concept, for instance. However, it should not be forgotten that there are black cops in the USA. To be more precise, there are black cops or police officers with other ethnic backgrounds, who deal with racial prejudices, engaging in violence against the poor in the US. There is racism, yes, and it is terrible. Yet, the source of police violence derives from the watchdogs protecting the capitalist order, and the same social order regards those who suffer from the [capitalist] order as ‘‘evil’’.
At this point, another claim arises. Some say that black people commit more crime. For one thing, there are undoubtedly racial prejudices in this claim. The issue is not blacks, but the crime rate naturally increases as societies get poorer. Regardless of the discussion of what is a crime and what is not in reality, we are talking about a society where more than 40 million people have become unemployed within only three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robbery, hijacking, pickpocketing, forgery…Yes, the presence of these crimes is a fact. Yet, how can the capitalist ruling class expect an advanced morality from people deprived of their rights to housing, employment, social security, access to food, and education? Besides, nobody is a fool. Everyone knows that the masters of the capitalist system commit the best of robbery, hijacking, fraud and forgery all over the world. The capitalist class has proven to be a universal thief as Marx revealed it in his works. With the sinister authority behind him, that cruel police officer can choke a black man with his knees, but that's all. He is nothing more than a pathetic police officer serving in the interests of one of the most nefarious, most rapacious and militarist states in the world.
Crime is a relative concept. You define it differently in terms of justice and the codes of proper law imposed by the body of regulations and standards set up by governments and international bodies under the dominancy of the capitalist class in the contemporary world. You starve people, leaving them weak at the knees, and then you ask, ‘‘why are they looting shops in riots?’’ Undoubtedly, the solution was the organized and political struggle of the working class, but this struggle has been still considered as the biggest crime in many countries. We know from the history books how the US capitalist class has made a great effort to break the ties between the anger of the black people and the communist movement in the country for decades. They are the same everywhere, telling the lies to the people. The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie causes every kind of ignominy.
Many journalists, authors and academics in Turkey have carried out numerous analyses comparing the recent riots in the US and the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013. There are some similarities between the statements of the US officials regarding the riots and the statements of Turkey’s ruling AKP on the Gezi protests at that time in addition to the similarities between provocation attempts on the streets during both uprisings. Above all, the growing and decisive rebellion of the people partly questioning the existing capitalist system as a whole…Taking all these into consideration, some intellectuals in our country describe the recent riots as ‘‘the Gezi Resistance of America’’. What do you think about it? Is there any similarity between these two riots?
As a matter of fact, it is necessary to keep away from such comparisons to a certain extent. When the Gezi Resistance erupted in 2013, some had called it ‘‘the Istanbul Spring’’, referring to the Arab Spring in 2011. However, it had almost nothing to establish a connection between them.
There is police violence all over the world. There are communities exposed to state violence with a particular focus across the world. And of course, there is exploitation and oppression all over the world. The similarity is here. There is unrest in every place where there is violence. Sometimes this unrest leads to anxiety and fear, resulting in silence and cowering, while sometimes it emerges as a reaction and rebellion.
It makes no sense to compare every social reaction to each other. They erupt under different conditions and different social dynamics. On the other hand, class dictatorship underlies all social movements.
Beyond any doubt, the murder of one or more people by the state is a very significant incident, and sometimes when it combines with other conditions, it sparks unforeseen developments.
Let me remind you of the 1905 Revolution in Russia… The revolution was sparked when the Tsar ordered his mounted policemen to attack over thousands of poor people who wanted to submit a petition to him, resulting in a massacre. Furthermore, an infiltrator, a priest Father Georgy Gapon, secretly assigned by the Tsar to ‘‘organize a false social movement’’ were leading to the unarmed demonstrators. Of course, Gapon did not lead to the 1905 Revolution, but it must be admitted that his clumsiness contributed to the rise of the revolution. There are many examples like this in history. Therefore, no one should trust their high-technological armament, tear gas, tanks and guns.
Should we expect to see the political trauma in Washington similar to the impact of Gezi protests on Turkey as a result of the recent riots in the US? This question has two dimensions: As the protests entered into the 8th day, how will the riots end in? And what would its long-term impact be?
Today, the US has become one of the most fragile states of the current capitalist system. First and foremost, the ruling class in the US has serious difficulties to govern the country. It cannot resolve intra-state contradictions. Different factions have emerged within the state apparatus. We can even talk about a breakup.
There is a crisis that affects the whole society and cannot be limited to the economic sphere. We clearly observe that there is a great disappointment in large masses in the US, as disaffection among people increases rapidly. This situation is also true for other countries, but the failure of the US administration in pandemic management and the further rise of the barbarity of the capitalist system in the US against the poor during the pandemic are the developments that need special attention.
We had previously seen these kinds of social reactions in the past in the US. For example, people had protested the government after a destructive hurricane, after extensive power cuts and again after the police violence… One of the important points for the recent riots is that more white workers join the protests, while the demonstrators started to bring certain socio-economic demands forward.
However, this social movement is not organized. More precisely, there has been no political organization that can lead to this movement so far. Beyond any doubt, there are particular groups organized on social media, a large and small number of organizations and associations are trying to do something but they cannot eliminate this unorganized character of the movement. Therefore, such an unorganized but widespread social reaction is either crushed by the government forces or disappears in time by being a part of rivalries in American bourgeois politics.
On the other hand, the masses learn much faster than normal times during such periods. So, we cannot completely override the probability of emergence of a permanent and class-based movement from the riots in the US.