Aslan Tayfun Ozkok, born in Istanbul, 1955, graduated from Kabatas Erkek Lisesi(Kabatas Men’s High School). He came to attend – DMMA (Yildiz Technical University) and was elected to the management of the Association of Higher Education (DEMAKD). He was busy at rowing amateurishly. But, being revolutionary was a summation of his life’s work. Also, this summation includes all details and richness of revolutionary struggle of our country’s history as his comrades. After the arrest he was judged in the main process of Devrimci Sol. Together with his five comrades he was sentenced to death and he had spent long years at different prisons of Anatolia. In 1984, he was in the first group of hunger strike for death and resisted during 75 days in prison. He had escaped from prison on july 1990 and participated in the war and he is still acting in an exact honorable manner of a DHKP member. The following interview – in fact – has been done with a daily newspaper. But, they broke their promise and made no honest working. They ceased from publishing the interview. For, it is been issued in Mucadele (Struggle)magazine in Turkey. Following passage is a summary of interview issued in Mucadele. We hope the interview will be full of interest to you.
Was the Turkish Left ready when the junta took control? What could be done at that time, when you look at it today?
To prepare for the 12 September coup meant to prepare for war. The Turkish Left had no intention of fighting, therefore it was impossible for them to prepare for it. The left’s ideology, political perspective and psychological state was far from meeting this end. For this reason, the Left started to theorize about fleeing the country and leaving the battlefield, under the name of a “retreating” tactic, before the footsteps of 12 September were heard. But thought we were a young movement, we tried to prepare for the coming period by fighting with all our means and by intensifying the fight. How successful we were is another point of discussion. But this was what was necessary. This preparation process starts with our breaking away from Revolutionary Path. This sort of preparation was impossible without an organization which has ideological unity, freedom and centralism. In accordance with this view, we broke from Devrimci Yol (Revolutionary Path) in 1978. Although we were young, inexperienced and amateurish, by quickly intensifying the fight, we started to learn and to organize in the fight.
We brought the accelerating struggle to the cities and the rural areas. We gained experience from the achievements of the rural guerrilla movement. The punishment of Gun Sazak was one of the last blows against the civil fascists.
After the withdrawal of the civil fascists from the scene, and the establishment of official fascist terror, we moved against the latter. We punished the torturers. We raided police stations. By punishing Nihat Erim, we gave a powerful message to those who were in preparation for a new junta.
In spite of all insufficiencies, our rural guerrillas joined our activity in the same period. We raided and disarmed the Dere gendarme station in the Pertek district of Dersim, and punished one soldier who tried to resist.
We were not only in the armed struggle, but in every type of struggle. We organized mass protests, joined by tens of thousands of people, strikes and land occupations. By our invitation to a protest action against the high cost of living and increases in prices, and with the support of shopkeepers, we organized mass activities which had the ability and power to bring life to a halt in Istanbul. While we were doing these, the Left was talking about “provocations”. Therefore, they were not only being pacifists, they were also doing everything in order to prevent and destroy the young Devrimci Sol. In other words, while they had no such problem as preparing for 12 September, they were preventing those trying to prepare themselves. Our intensification of the fight and mass activities were preparing the people to even greater resistance against fascist oppression. Our activities were creating support and sympathy among the people. For example, our raid on Dere gendarme station may seem simple when we look at it today, but it had a profound effect on the people and the oligarchy then. This action was the first rising which was carried out in the name of the Kurdish people since the Dersim rebellion of 1938. When 12 September came, we had certain serious dilemmas and inadequacies. We were aware of them. We had been exposed extensively. The underground culture had not been internalized yet. We did not have the support behind the front line which would enable us to continue to fight, to retreat when needed and to allow us to prepare and attack again. But in spite of these, the struggle did not allow time for any hesitation or indecision. This was the underlying rule of the war. And the young Revolutionary Left was on the fighting arena while everyone was away. In the first month of our fight against the junta, a member of our central committee, some people from our senior cadres and leaders were captured. But we did not stop. We insisted on reorganization of the struggle. In conditions where we lost power outside, we took our place in the front line inside. Three of our comrades were martyred in a hunger strike in prison. What could have been done? We say, we should have struggled. We should have prepared by intensifying the fight more and more. We should have started the fight earlier and we should have been more determined. There is no other way to live or to win victory against fascism and its appearances: the junta sin our country. As for the ones who fled or surrendered, we think they should not have surrendered, at least they should not have fled.
Do you think the Turkey’s Left has assessed the 12 September defeat sufficiently?
It is obvious that a Left in this state does not have the ability to asses 12 September. Far from assessing it, the Left is under the ideological influence of 12 September. From this point of view, only the PKK is different from the rest. It is obvious from its practice that the PKK is undertaking selfcriticism. But the PKK is not admitting its mistakes, it does not do a theoretical-political analysis of its mistakes, and it is not bringing them out into the open. This plays an important role in causing its current problems. The PKK might evaluate its fleeing abroad as a “successful retreating tactic”, and this could save its pride, but it is not a beneficial thing to do. Our movement assessed 12 September in the years of resistance. We assessed it, by the 1983 Evaluation, the 1986 retreating tactic and the 1989 attack. And today, there is nothing for us to learn from the assessment of 12 September. We are trying to build our future on the assessment of today’s fight which we have created under much heavier conditions of oppression and terror. Today’s oppression and terror in our country is in comparable to those of 12 September. Things have got worse since then. But, apart from the PKK, our movement is still alone in the battlefield. Some Left groups make efforts to organise armed units. But these efforts are unconfident and weak. They do not have the right strategy or enough experience. We advice them that they should not play with guns. Either you should fight with high determination or the fight will teach you that you cannot play with it. To walk without vacillating, without being driven to the left or right, to defend and to carry out the ideas which you believe are right, against anything and anybody, is possible only with ideological strength. We followed this path with the power which we gained from our ideology. In this manner, for us, there was no change from the past to the present. Whatever we said or did yesterday, we still defend them. And life has supported what we did. There is only one difference, today we are more self-confident. Today we are more confident in our ideology, our policies and ourselves than we were yesterday. That is to say, we are more powerful. We are looking at the future with hope. We hope that our friends draw lessons from this process, this is our only wish.
From 1987 on the Left and the social opposition showed an intensification. Thousands of workers, civil servants and students took part in demonstrations. During this time the Turkish Left became stronger and more popular. After 1991 we witnessed a decline. With this decline the Left became weaker as well. What happened? Had people not found what they expected? Did revolutionaries make mistakes? Or was this a classic example of a fall-rise situation which can be seen in mass struggles? Do you think this period has been sufficiently evaluated?
Your questions have a pessimistic tone. Pessimism comes from the wrong assessment. This pessimism shows how narrow-minded the intelligentsia is, when it is affected by small falls and rises in mass activity and cannot see the political developments and its dimensions. It is obvious that the mass activities of 1986 and afterwards were spontaneous. Although these rises and falls have effects on political developments in countries like ours, this should not be exaggerated. The main thing is the mass activities which develop from a revolutionary armed struggle of an alternative organisation to the state. This is a meaningful thing. The masses which are affected and mobilised by armed struggle and the masses which mobilise themselves for economic-democratic demands are two quite different things. While armed struggle achieves a consciousness movement, which is directed at seizing power, it also causes a gradual decline in the spontaneous mass movements with limited economic-democratic demands which do not overstep the boundary of bourgeois opposition. It also liquidates the organisations which attempt to establish formations on this ground, it clears the ground and this can also appear as a decline. Another truth is the fact that the mass potential which armed struggle creates does not reveal itself immediately, but over a time lag and with explosions. Although this fact was proved in the world and in our country many times, it momentarily establishes a ground for the opponents of armed struggle who see armed struggle as Narodnism and give them reason to talk pessimistically and to attack the armed struggle. They repeatedly say “Armed struggle started and mass activity fell, so armed struggle was wrong” and this is the only argument they have against the revolutionary movement. When the Turkey People Liberation Party and Front (THKP-C) launched the armed struggle on 12 March, they were severely criticized on these grounds. But the enormous mass potential created by the armed struggle of the THKP-C opened a new page in the history of class war in our country. It cannot be denied that this potential affected all the armed movements and it can even be said that it is the very reason for the existence of the Turkish Left. This happened in exactly the same way for our movement before 12 September. While intensified armed struggle advanced and strengthened the young Revolutionary Left, it also made it rooted into our country’s soil in and it is impossible to pull out these roots. In the period of this advance of the armed struggle, the ones who were proud of their mass following became inactive and found no way but to escape. Today’s situation should be assessed within this framework. After 1989 we entered a period in which we achieved an alternative to the state by pursuing armed struggle. While this development caused a temporary backward effect on weak, spontaneous mass activities, at the same time it aroused a mass activity of greater quality, meanwhile the economic-political crisis continue to deepen. This process will go on with further intensification. When assessed from this point of view, it can neither be said that the rise after 1986 made the Left a more effective opposition, nor that there was a decline after 1991. The rise after 1986 was an activity of the masses in order to free themselves from the long silence of the 12 September years. But this was a weak movement which went no further than economic demands, distant from politics and organisation. It was not conditioned by the revolutionary struggle. It was in no condition push back the limits of the oligarchy. In other words, the oligarchy needed some space, a need arose from its internal conflicts, and the masses benefited from it. It is a wrong conclusion that the Left gained power from this development and became a centre of opposition. This cannot be said if we look from the inside. In those years, the Left could not even stand up on its knees. But we had just decided to retreat in 1985 and we were trying to carry this out. So we were retreating in the period which you have called a rise. Of course, this does not mean that we were insensitive to the mass movements. While we were trying to take part in the mass movements which had economic-democratic demands, we were also trying to influence the masses with our armed struggle. While the masses ignored the ones who quickly established magazines, having been encouraged by mass activity, they gathered partially among our ranks in spite of our retreat tactic, because we were trying to lead them in practice. In 1989 we successfully drew this mass development to a radical line. Our ties with the masses became tighter. The principle rise of our movement on a higher quality basis started after 1990.
In 1990 we left the retreat tactic and leapt forward in every aspect of struggle: in armed struggle, in politics, in tactics and mass activities. The masses accepted our slogans to a very great extent. Our slogan WE ARE RIGHT WE WILL WIN was widely accepted by the masses. We led massive activities such as the general strike on 3 January, the boycotts of students on 6 November. We organized many mass activities such as strikes and boycotts. In the Gulf War period, while everyone was silent, we made a big impact with our wide range of armed and unarmed activities. We successfully mobilised all anti-imperialists, nationalists, even Islamic fundamentalists. We found opportunities to politicise the masses and to establish firmer ties with them. Our organisation spread to Anatolia and the countryside. This development, though was slowed down, especially by the betrayal movement which we went through, continued till today. So your assessment that the Left became a powerless opposition centre and that mass activity declined after 1991 is also wrong. The facts show the opposite. It is true that there was a decline in spontaneous mass activities and in the popularity of Left in general. But our revolutionary movement showed an opposite development and became a very effective opposition centre. It can be seen from your next question that you have detected this point. The armed struggle which we waged from 1990 on left the oligarchy facing serious dilemmas, gave hope to the masses and the oligarchy had to take into account our armed revolutionary opposition in a very serious way in every step they made. The period in front of us is open to more radical and political mass activities. Indeed, our country is ready for revolution. Our revolutionary movement has the power and capacity to lead this more than ever. So there is no need to be pessimistic. We are looking at the future with hope. Life has not proved us wrong till now and it will not do so this time.
In the 1987-1992 period Devrimci Sol showed characteristics different from the rest of the Left in terms of popularity and armed activities, especially in the big cities. It can be said that it was the movement growing most visibly. But after 1992 there was an obvious decline in Devrimci Sol. What are the reasons for this?
Another mistaken question. In fact, it is not the fact which make you ask this question. It is the betrayal which we lived through a year-and-a-half ago. The truth is completely different, as we explained above. We wish you would ask us a question thus: How did the betrayal on 13 September 1992 happen? How and why did everybody unite against you? How did you fight against all the world? And how did you manage to come out of this period with gains? This question posed in this way would be more beneficial for everybody today. On 13 September 1992 three or four counter-guerrilla elements and debauchers tried to capture our leader and our movement. From opportunism to the oligarchy and imperialism, everybody joined together against us. Some were very happy, some were overjoyed. We became a centre of attraction not only in Turkey, but in the Middle East and Europe as well. Everybody was waiting for our funeral eagerly. Even the CIA watched these developments thoroughly. The counter-guerrilla had exposed all our organization, seized our weapons, ammunition, and organisational secrets and was destroying the future of our revolution and our organization. Tens of our friends were martyred or captured. We lost many valuable comrades. But for some reason all the Left was supporting and praising them and giving all their support to them. It was a very instructive period. On condition that they are antiimperialist, antifascist and patriotic, those who face such a betrayal would find our helping hand, even if they were hostile to us. Would they be ashamed, who knows… But we are revolutionaries. We are here to achieve a revolution in our country. The revolution’s interests are what determine our actions, not simple, daily, narrow considerations. This will continue from now on too. The counter-guerrilla gang is now finished. They remain a group of debauchers and they are living in dirt. Whatever we said was exactly proven. We tried to tell this to some friends but it is impossible to tell something to someone who does not want to understand. There was something else they did not understand: Nobody can destroy us. Some people who do not know Devrimci Sol and its history dream about it. They were wrong once again.
We were often alone. We fight big struggles alone. But we are the ones who win in the end. We strongly believe in victory. With this belief, we went into a fight even if all the world unites against us. Everybody knows the result. We are silent today. But this should not deceive anybody. It seems that this silence deceived you. We knew that our silence would be interpreted in this way. But we chose this deliberately. We will stay silent for a while. We will behave in whatever way the art of politics necessitates. Yes, we are silent today. But we cannot see anyone talking. In other words, if we remain silent, Turkey remains silent as well. This is a very important fact, and an enormous power. We could say “We do not talk, but we are the ones talking”. Who is talking today, apart from us? There is not a single example. We are the only ones talking with our various democratic activities, mass protests and some other work. So let’s go back to your question. What kind of decline is this? It is obvious that this is not a decline but a rise. It is precisely a demonstration of our power. Until 1992, though we had some successes, we were not organized in the cities and we were trying to live in the countryside. Today with our armed and unarmed forces we are present in all aspects of life everywhere, from the cities to Anatolia and rural places, with strong roots. Our roots are very deep. Nobody can pull them out. Nobody can succeed in this task. You call this period a decline, What kind of decline is this? We should not confuse our wishes with the truth.
How do you interpret the collapse of the Soviet Union from the point of view of the future revolution and socialism? Is there any difference in your thoughts of socialism – not in a theoretical sense but in the sense of practical and pragmatic applications – before and after the collapse; if there is, what is it?
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the other countries of the socialist bloc is an important loss for the revolutionary movements of the world. The balance which the Soviet Union established against imperialism, although in a revisionist fashion and based on wrong policies, created a space to live for many revolutionary and patriotic movements and this was an advantageous position for those movements. The movements which tied all their hopes to this balance went into a phase of surrender and reconciliation after the collapse. So the world revolutionary movement temporarily lost power. Imperialism seems to have taken control of the world and has begun to attack the remaining socialist countries and the wars of independence in order to strengthen its domination. But all this is temporary. It is impossible for imperialism to find a solution to its structural problems. Its contradictions are deepening from day to day, it is in a shaky state and it cannot solve its contradictions. Today, national and social independence wars are arising on the basis of self-confidence, that is to say from a better base. In the socialist countries which collapsed people saw the brutal face of capitalism and are moving towards socialism again, in spite of all its failures and negative aspects. In other words, the picture is improving. It cannot be known how this picture will shape up in the short term. But the truth is that the evolution towards a better state will go on at an accelerating or decelerating rate. Our view has remained the same before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We shouted the truth with great selfconfidence when the wind of Gorbachevism was affecting everybody. Our past remarks have historical importance today. When we look at what we said and wrote then, we see the present. The only difference in our interpretation of socialism is that we now believe that the process of transition from socialism to communism will take longer than our expectations.
Could the decline in the struggle after 1991 be interpreted as a defeat? Or how could it be interpreted? What contribution did the collapse of socialism make to this process? If the collapse of socialism played a role in this development can it be interpreted as a defeat with ideological dimensions? What should the Turkish Left do in this situation?
We repeat this again and again. We do not believe there was a decline after 1992. We do not know where this pessimistic picture and discussions of “defeat” come from. It is really hard to understand. We tried to explain the development of the revolutionary political struggle and the mass activities. Of course the collapse of socialism has had some impact on the speed of the development of mass activities. But this is not a significant factor. Although a lot of people are explaining their failures in terms of the collapse of socialism nowadays, these explanations are totally invalid. Nobody should see the reason of any development in anything other than himself. One should try to find the reasons in himself. Marxist-Leninists should not rely on external forces. For this very reason, while everybody was complaining about the collapse of socialism, we were able to raise the socialist flag with our armed struggle. We strongly believe that we will carry the socialist flag until victory, in spite of everything and everybody. We refuse to spend time on worthless arguments like these. We believe that a serious development cannot be achieved without organising the struggle in every aspect of life, without acting according to the strategy of the united revolutionary struggle in the countryside and in the city, without uniting the armed struggle and mass activity, without organising the legal and illegal struggles together. That is why our struggle is developing and strengthening on a healthy base. We advice those who are moaning about the collapse of socialism that they should face the truth. Today our country seems on the threshold of a revolution. The oligarchy is in a state of paralysis. The contradictions are very deep and complicated. The people’s demands are making themselves felt deeply. Turkey has became a country of uncertainty, armed conflict and hunger. Not a single day passes without the sound of the guns of the guerrillas in its cities and mountains. All political parties of the oligarchy, even in collaboration, have failed to find a solution to the current crisis. Another junta could do nothing but worsen the situation. The main thing is to produce alternatives to these contradictions. The important thing is to become the voice of the peoples of Turkey and to lead their struggles. Yes, this is what we must do today. And only those who do this have the chance to survive. The only power which can achieve this end is the revolutionaries and there is no alternative movement for people to trust.
Does the level the Kurdish struggle has reached today impose extra tasks on the Turkish Left? If it does, what are these tasks and can they be achieved? What tasks has the Kurdish question imposed on the Turkish left since 1984 and have these been carried out?
The general response of the Left to the Kurdish national struggle is obvious. After the escalation of the armed struggle by the PKK, the Left as always ran away from Kurdistan, from the scene of violence and left the Kurdish people facing the oppression of the oligarchy and with a nationalist movement. We never see the Kurdish independence struggle as external to us. We are the main element and the leader of the Kurdish independence war, as we are of the struggle of all other nations living in our country. In this instance we accept other revolutionary, antifascist and patriotic organisations who fight for the same goal, even if they pursue incomplete and wrong policies. Our approach is the same for the Kurdish nationalists. Kurdish nationalists are not defending real liberation. Their horizon is restricted by nationalism. But their struggle is progressive, it is for the revolution. We are ready for solidarity and friendship with them, as we are for all the Left. Today the Kurdish people may have better understood that liberation is an impossible task to achieve alone. It can only be done with the solidarity of other nations and with the destruction of the oligarchy. That is why they are approaching our organisation in a more friendly way. This is a fact which can lead to new developments in future. The PKK has a lot of supporters and a spontaneous mass always ready to support it. But the PKK has not been able to organise this mass, because of their focus on armed struggle, their insensitivity or inability to organise in the cities and because they have allowed the bourgeois nationalists to control the democratic activities. Along with its mistake in mass contact and the policies and tactics carried out according to a nationalist strategy in the end will obstruct its way and will make the masses go away from it. We always said that. We are saying it again. By saying this we did not ignore its successes and the point which they reached now. We are still not ignoring them. Today the PKK is trying to find a solution this problem with another problematic means. It gave hope to reconciliation with oligarchy and it is expecting from international imperialism to make attempts in order to solve the problem. It transformed the aim of the armed struggle to fight for democratic rights. Kurdish people has knew with its experience that these policy and tactics could not solve its problem. They knew this with the experiences of Barzani and Talabani. That is why to try to find the solution in transforming itself to a position like Barzani is one thing that Kurdish people would not tolerate. It is impossible to find a nation which confronts this kind of struggle for its democratic rights. If a Kurdish state is established to serve imperialism this would bring Kurdish people nothing but hunger and misery. This process can be seen in Northern Iraq now. First of all PKK should change its strategy. There is no importance of today’s struggle from a reference point in future, unless PKK changes its strategy. Barzani, in spite of its struggle for years could not to fall into this point. In comparison with Barzani, PKK’s struggle is quite young. It is a point of discussion that how PKK reached the same point with Barzani in such a short time. Oligarchy established its strategy against Kurdish nationalist struggle, on the dilemmas of PKK mentioned above. From the beginning they are tried to overcome, to exhaust and to make it inactive this movement in Kurdistan by keeping it inside Kurdistan. It is obvious that they achieved a great deal according to their strategy. Oligarchy also keeping a plan of making the armed forces go down from the mountains by recognition of some rights like cultural rights and more freedom on the local authority in case of a failure. In both cases the goal is the same to terminate the armed struggle. Whether they can do it or not is another point of discussion. But as we mentioned earlier the wrong strategy of PKK is strengthened the oligarchy. Although in some cases PKK may become dominant, this will be not enough to save the future. For this reason oligarchy is going on its vicious attacks without any fear. What oligarchy afraid of is the formation of an organization which directly aims to get the power and formed by Kurdish, Turkish and all other nations of Turkey which pursuing armed struggle in country side and cities. Developing an armed struggle with this strategy would allow us to get the initiative from oligarchy and make Kurdish people free from their dilemmas. We are trying to do this. So we are doing our duties about Kurdish struggle with great power and efficiency. Today our struggle along this strategy is gaining power in the cities and mountains of Kurdistan. We want to establish firm contacts with Kurdish nationalist movement. But Kurdish nationalist movement although seems strong in fact is weak. Its weakness is the weakness of its ideology. Its obsession of nationalist pragmatism. For this reason it is keeping away from collaboration and friendship. It is trying to make itself the only power in Kurdistan by artificial measures, by force and terror. In the name of ideological struggle and criticism, it is attacking in an ill-mannered way and deceiving its supporters with lies and speculations. PKK and the Left should know that no power could make us separate from Kurdistan. Nobody could prevents from fulfilling our duties for the struggle of Kurdish people. These kind of acts only damages its doers. It turns out to be a weapon shoot them. The ones who trust their ideologies would not afraid of collaboration, friendship and fighting together. We are not afraid. Because sooner or later our correctness will be understood. If organized powers could not see it Kurdish people will see. PKK should hold our hand. It holds our hand and let’s liberate Turkey and the peoples in Turkey together. Until now Kurdish nationalists tried to show that they are in favour of collaboration. This is completely a lie. There is not a single attempt from PKK for collaboration. Our attempts received with an insensitive manner. They even tried to restrict our expansion. Instead of establishing unity with the ones who are fighting, PKK chose to form political parties under its control and to collaborate with weak, insipid and useless organizations. By doing this it aimed to mislead the public. But it is obvious that this action of theirs could not achieve anything and damage their trust worthiness.
What else do you want to say about Turkish Left?
Lastly we would like to say that all Left, patriots, revolutionaries and democrats have duties of historic importance in Turkey today. Our people, Turks, Kurds, and other nationalities have an honourable duty which is not given to many people by the history. Nobody has a right to prevent our people to perform this duty. We should lead people to perform this duty. We should achieve this. In order to do this let’s unite our forces. Let’s lock to the struggle for power. If we cannot do this let’s create a struggle unit. Our unity will be the unity of Turkey’s people, Kurds, Turks and the others. Our unity will bring victory. We are ready to collaborate with anybody who is fighting or ready to fight. The war in our country is in front of our eyes. It felt itself with an undeniable power. Let’s get armed, let’s intensify the fight, let there be revolution. This is what the nations and the workers of our country are expecting from us. This is what our country needs. This is what the world revolution needs.