Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 5, 2013

Smyrna: the Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City

Filed under: Film,Turkey — louisproyect @ 2:36 pm

Counterpunch Weekend Edition April 5-7, 2013
A Review of “Smyrna: the Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City”

When Madness Swept the Mediterranean


In my one and only visit to Izmir to meet my wife’s relatives, we walked along the quay to see some of the picturesque city’s landmarks including the statue of Mustafa Kemal that looked toward the sea. My wife’s cousin Ceyda, the daughter of a General assigned to NATO and a rock-ribbed Kemalist, paused in front of the statue to inform me that this was where their war of independence was won. The quay, from which the city’s Greek population was literally driven into the sea, is as important a symbol of that country’s birth in the early 1920s as the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is to an American.

Although I have been very critical of Toni Negri and Michael Hardt’s “Empire”, I am tempted to agree with their argument that the nation-state is a toxic formation when I think about Turkey’s origins over the mountains of Armenian, Greek and Kurdish skulls. Like the Native American corpses that are vomited up at the end of “Poltergeist”, that’s the chilling spectacle you get in the powerful documentary “Smyrna: The Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City” that opens on April fifth at the Quad in New York. With previously unseen photographs and film footage, the city is revealed in both its cosmopolitan glory and the immolation in 1922 that changed the character of the city forever. Henceforth it would be referred to by its Turkish name—Izmir—just as Constantinople would be known as Istanbul.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/04/05/when-madness-swept-the-mediterranean/

March 6, 2012


Filed under: music,Turkey — louisproyect @ 7:44 pm

January 23, 2012

Eurovision, Turkey, and the Jews

Filed under: anti-Semitism,music,Turkey — louisproyect @ 6:55 pm

(Hat tip to David Shasha of the Sephardic Heritage mailing list.)

Eurovision, Turkey, and the Jews

By: Rachel Amado Bortnick

I first heard of Can Bonomo less than a year ago, in an interview with him in the Istanbul Jewish weekly Şalom on the occasion of the release of his first CD, Meczup (Lunatic). But what drew my attention then was not that a Jewish boy was a popular musician (there have been, and are, many Jews that are popular musicians in Turkey) but that he was from Izmir, the city where I was born and raised. I thought, in fact, that he was probably the great grandson of the Mr. Bonomo who owned a bicycle repair shop in our neighborhood, as there was only one Bonomo family in Izmir. When later on, in June of 2011, I read that Can (pronounced as John) got a prize in the musical competition Altin Kelebek (golden butterfly) organized by the Turkish daily Hurriyet, I was happy, as I would be for a young relative who had done well.

But when I learned, on January 10, 2012 that Can Bonomo was nominated by the Turkish Television Network TRT to represent Turkey at the next Eurovision song competition – to be held in May in Baku, Azerbaijan – I was truly proud.The buzz about Bonomo’s nomination continues daily with the posting of a widely-seen You Tube video of his performances, and on Turkish websites, articles, TV and radio features and commentaries and interviews. In most cases, the commentators or interviewers are kind and happy for him, ignore or downplay his Jewishness, and just ask him about the songs he will submit, about his musical training, and so on, and wish him good luck.But unfortunately there has also been a barrage of Anti-Semitic articles and comments, some going as far as accusing the musician of being part of the Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world! Can has been very dignified, and to all those that bring up his Jewish background as an issue, he has replied that “Music has no language, religion, or race”, and explaining that his family has been here for 540 years, he is a Turk, and can represent Turkey.

The Eurovision song contest, though not well known in America, is a big deal every year among the participating nations (its website states that approximately 125 million people watch it on TV) and winning it is a cause of national pride, akin to winning a “Miss Europe” contest. Jewish Americans probably heard about it in the years that Israel won (it did 3 times: 1978, 1979, and 1998) and are reminded of it especially when the popular song “Halleluyah” is introduced as “the Eurovision winner of 1979.” But this year Eurovision is in the Jewish media because a Jewish boy is going to represent a Muslim country!But it is not pride in a Jewish person’s achievement that is motivating the coverage, but rather criticism of Can’s statements regarding his Judaism, and countering the possible notion that Turkey is a tolerant country. At least this seems to be the case in the recent JTA article titled, “Turkish Jews celebrate country’s Eurovision pick, but singer would prefer quiet about his religion”


The article objects to Bonomo’s statement, citing it as: “My family came from Spain 540 years ago. I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey, I will go out there with the Turkish flag … I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that everybody needs to know.”

The writer, Ron Kampeas (who is probably Sephardic also, judging by his last name) writes:

“Should Bonomo, who was born in the coastal city of Izmir, decide one day to shuck off his hesitancy about his Jewish roots, he might discover how they informed his music.

Jewish cafe singers drew crowds in the 1920s and 1930s with their modernized versions of their parents’ aching and ancient Ladino love ballads. A number of their modern Israeli interpreters, including Hadass Pal-Yarden and Yasmin Levy, have taken their acts to Turkey and won acclaim.”

The fact is that Bonomo’s statement, which even referred to his people’s history in Turkey, had no “hesitancy” about his Jewish roots. Nor has he ever tried to hide his Jewishness. Even though his first name, Can, is Turkish (it means “soul”), his surname is clearly is Sephardic, and, as probably everyone knows by now, means “good man” in Italian. (Some have mused that he may be a relative of the famous American clarinetist Benny Goodman!)

Mr. Kampeas has never interviewed Bonomo to find out what the musician knows about what “informed his music.” And who were the “Jewish cafe singers [who] drew crowds in the 1920s and 1930s …?”

There is no tradition of Jewish café singers in Turkey! Perhaps Mr. Kampeas was thinking of Roza Eskenazi, star of Rebetiko music, who is the subject of the movie “My Sweet Canary.”

[You can read her story in: http://www.mysweetcanary.com/PDF/bio.pdf ]

Roza is not typical of Sephardic women, who traditionally did not perform in public. The many Jews who were Turkish classical musicians and composers in Ottoman times were not “café singers” either.  Nor did Mr. Kampeas have to refer to Israelis who sing in Ladino today. There are wonderful Ladino musical groups and singers in Turkey, including Los Pasharos Sefaradis, Janet and Jak Esim, and the world’s only Ladino children’s chorus, Las Estreyikas d’Estambol. Additionally, the group Sefarad, made up of Jewish musicians, performs in Ladino and Turkish, has recorded several CDs, and remains extremely popular. But none of this adds or detracts from Bonomo’s personality as a Jew or a musician.

I agree with the interviewee Saporta in the article, who said that the antisemitic verbal attacks on Bonomo come from “political factions that deride minorities in general,” but unfortunately their pronouncements concerning Jews are as Anti-Semitic as one finds anywhere. Yet, Can Bonomo‘s popularity has prompted thousands in Turkey to express outrage at the racism and discrimination in the country, and to promote the traditional kindness and humanity of the Turkish people. As Jews, we have had a long history of living peacefully with and among Turks. We hope that Can Bonomo will win first place with his song in the 2012 Eurovision contest, and bring glory to Turks and Jews, with ripple effects for good will everywhere.

December 25, 2011

Starbucks Occupation in Bogazici University

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Occupy Wall Street,Turkey — louisproyect @ 9:18 pm

August 13, 2011

Turkish workers victorious in Ireland

Filed under: trade unions,Turkey — louisproyect @ 12:53 pm

January 26, 2011

A song for the miners

Filed under: Turkey,workers — louisproyect @ 2:24 pm

Hat tip to Kasama Project

December 15, 2010

Turkish hip-hop

Filed under: music,Turkey — louisproyect @ 8:20 pm

From the wiki on Cartel:

In addition to combining Arabesk melodies with Turkish rap, Cartel is most identifiable by their gangsta style hi -hop that juxtaposes their group against cultural displacement, racism, and capitalistic exploitation[4]. Some themes in their music include cultural pride, the celebration of brotherhood amongst Turks and Kurds, and a call to mobilize the masses against arson attacks, racism, xenophobia, exclusion, drug abuse, materialism, and capitalism. This notion of Turkish youth struggling with national identity is perhaps most clearly addressed by Cartel’s lyrical content. In the explosive song “Go Go,” Cartel asks its audience to recognize the new generation of Turkish Germans, “We’re not Ali of Ahmet/Look at the chess board/Whoever disrespects us now is/ forced to make their play/You’ve made us sick long enough/ with your swindling.” By referring to Turks as “Ali” and “Ahmet”, the quintessential image of the Turkish Gastarbeiter, Cartel calls its listeners to see beyond Turkish stereotypes while holding them accountable for all cultural assumptions. In drawing upon the image of a chess board, Cartel alludes to future relationships between ethnic Turks and Germans, warning that the power is shifting to Turks because of the upcoming generation [5] Kaya sums up the implications of Cartel’s nationalistic rap by saying: Cartel rappers assert and construct a distant pan-Turkish diasporic cultural identity while acknowledging the African connections of rap art. Like many other Turkish rap groups, Cartel also acknowledges it’s ‘authentic’ Turkish folk music connections in the form of a lyrics structure which was used by the mythical Turkish minstrels (halk ozani) By doing so, the rappers also contextualize themselves both in their ‘own authentic’ culture and in the global youth culture [4]. Cartel’s strong identification with Turkey, as seen in their lyrics, is further confirmed by a variety of album cover designs. In their debut album, “Cartel” the design of the CD resembles the Turkish flag, with a red background and the initial letter ‘C’ of ‘Cartel’ imitating it’s signature crescent. The word, ‘Cartel’ is also decorated with Turkish ornamental shapes [4]


November 22, 2010

Bayrampaşa Lawsuit and December 19th Massacre In Prisons

Filed under: repression,Turkey — louisproyect @ 4:55 pm

In 19th of December 2000, 28 prisoners and convicts died in the operation called “Return to Life”, which was carried out simultaneously against 20 prisons. A total number of 122 people died and over 600 people became permanently disabled in the ongoing process and during the death fasts. Within the scope of this operation, 12 people died and 55 people became permanently incapacitated alone in Bayrampaşa Prison. In operation, the phosphor bombs were used. Many arrested and convicted people who had been under the aegis of the government died in the operation so-called “Return to Life”.

In the course of this operation, two soldiers, Nurettin Kurt, specialist sergeant in Ümraniye Closed Prison and Mustafa Mutlu, in Çanakkale Closed Prison, also died. Primarily, it was declared that Nurettin Kurt was shot by the convicts who returned fire to the calls to surrender. However a weapon with “high kinetic energy” caused the wounding that led to death, showed an autopsy that was performed over Kurt. There was not any long barreled weapon considered to have a “high kinetic energy” among five weapons which were claimed to be taken out from Ümraniye Prison. Besides it was identified that the weapon in question was a long barreled weapon which did not belong to the convicts and it was indicated that the weapon leading to the death of Kurt was not among the weapons asserted to be obtained from the convicts. In the report, it was remarked that the weapon leading to the death might be only AK-47 or G-3 infantry rifle and it became definite that Kurt died because of the soldiers` weapon.

It become evident that the explanation made by official authorities about the operation and many news in the press were lies and fake as well. Minister of Justice Minister the current period, Hikmet Sami Türk said that “the prisoners killed by soldiers engaged in combat with soldiers” in his speech and he made a claim that some deaths occurred because of the conflict between prisoners. According to the reports of the forensic science experts, it was exposed minister Türk’s statements (“they fired shots with Kalashnikov”) about the operation in BayrampaĢa Prison were groundless. The report says that, the bullets were not fired from the wards and the gas bomb was used over the lethal doze.

It was identified that the female prisoners in BayrampaĢa Closed Prison in C-1 ward, died in fire resulted from tear gasses and nerve bombs used by security guards. Still, according to the forensic medicine reports, there was no armed resistance. The inquiry in the wards showed that these places were completely burnt but there were no arms inside. In addition, according to the expert reports there were intense gunshots from the administrative parts of the prisons towards the areas where the inmates were located but none from the inmates’ part to the soldiers’ location. In the report, it was written that in the C-1 ward where 12 people died, 5 of the six female prisoners were burnt to death and one of them died due to gas poisoning. The report said that “in C-1 ward 35 grams of bomb material was found” and emphasized that the 20 grams of the active matter of the bombs used in the operation can kill a person in 38 minutes.

Once again in the same ward, apart from the already exploded tens of gas bombs, 45 unexploded bombs were found. It was recorded that also shots were fired towards the C-14 ward and C-15 ward and many tear bombs and gas bombs were thrown inside all the it was written on the bombs “Do not use indoors” and “Throw the bomb to the area where there are not any people and burning materials”. The claim that the convicts killed each other were disproved by the forensic report identified that the prisoners were killed by shots fired from long distance. The report, also, found out that some evidences were obfuscated and some contradictions exist inside the records of the gendarmerie.

The only (concluded) suit for damages about the operation was the one against the Ministry of Domestic Affairs and the Ministry of Justice filed by the family of Murat Ördekçi who was killed by the soldiers in BayrampaĢa Prison. Istanbul 2nd Administrative Court decided that there should be a compensation for the operation. First decision was as the following: “There was a violation of the right to live. The family of the dead prisoner should be paid 109 billion Turkish Liras.”

A lawsuit was filed against the newspaper called Radikal because it published the Forensic Medicine reports of the “Return to Life” operation. The managing editor of Radikal Newspaper, Hasan Çakkalkurt and his lawyer Köksal Bayraktar were acquitted in the trials that took place in Istanbul State Security Court No. 5. In 2004, by the decision of the JDP government and the Minister of State, Cemil Çiçek, a “Medal of Merit” was given to Ali Suat Ertosun who was one of the ideological architects of the F-type Prisons [The concept of “F-Type” stands for the high security isolation prisons t.n.] and was then the General Director of Prisons and Detention Houses. After the operation, a suit was filed against the gendarme officers about the events in Çanakkale and Ümraniye. While the case about Ümraniye operation still continues, the gendarme officers on trial due to Çanakkale operation were acquitted.

Read full http://www.marxmail.org/Bayrampasa.pdf

July 21, 2010

Turks hanging out, playing music

Filed under: music,Turkey — louisproyect @ 9:21 pm

May 17, 2010

The USSR, Mustafa Kemal and “reactionary anti-imperialism”, part 2

Filed under: cuba,Mexico,Stalinism,Turkey,ussr — louisproyect @ 4:53 pm

(Part one is here.)

Lazaro Cardenas: the Mexican Kemal

Perhaps no other incident in history better illustrates the old cliché that politics makes strange bedfellows than the Soviet-Turkish ties in the early 1920s.

This relationship had two phases. In the first that occurred during War Communism, the USSR made common cause with Turkey because they both were anxious to fend off British imperialism. 40,000 British troops were part of a 13 nation expeditionary force that was determined to overthrow Bolshevism.

Meanwhile, Britain used Greece as a surrogate invading power to control what would become Turkey in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Mustafa Kemal relied heavily on Soviet arms and material during 1920.

Within a couple of years, the policy of War Communism had been abandoned in favor of the NEP. This meant that the Soviet Union would put a high priority on establishing peaceful relationships with any and all countries, including Britain. This was also the period in which the Comintern looked Eastward in the hope that Asia would rise up against imperialism. It viewed national liberation movements as progressive, even when they were led by someone like Mustafa Kemal. Given this turn, it would make sense that the USSR would bend over backwards trying to link up with Turkey.

The definitive statement on Soviet-Turkish relations came from Karl Radek, whose articles England and the East and The Winding-Up of the Versailles Treaty, a report to the fourth Comintern congress are must reading. It is a shame that Goldner made no attempt to evaluate such material since it would at least have given the reader the assurance that he was considering all sides of the debate. In the second article, Radek zeroed in on the Treaty of Sevres that put the WWI victors in charge of the Ottoman finances and extracted other concessions. It was analogous to the Brest-Litovsk treaty that punished the infant Soviet Republic for having the temerity to withdraw from the WWI bloodbath. Radek wrote:

Whatever may be the result of the Near Eastern crisis, one thing is quite patent: the Sevres Treaty has been smashed by Turkish cannon. The popular masses of the Near East, who in the eyes of the Allies are not only a quantité négligeable, but simply the scum of the earth, have been set in motion against no less a thing than the Versailles Treaty. They are at present beginning to play their part. Among the diplomats who think to be able to control the course of history through clever formulae and secret conferences, there is disunity. Great Britain has experienced one of her deepest humiliations in her long history, when after the defeat of her Greek vassal, she durst not come in shining armour to his assistance, and after having pronounced a sentence of death upon Turkey, had now to flatter her and even to offer her a place in the League of Nations. This fact is the irrefutable proof of the break-up of the Sevres Treaty. Popular masses on a low level of civilisation can only be kept in subjection as long as there is unity among the slaveholders, but not when these come to loggerheads. As soon as the slaves perceive that the oppressors are trembling, they begin to rebel. The East of to-day which sees Great Britain trembling, is no more the East of the days of the Sevres Treaty. The Turkish victory finds an echo in India and the whole Islamic world. This echo is the best proof that we have to do with an important episode in the growth of the world revolution, with a success of the world revolution, though the organisers of the victory are far from being revolutionary in the modern sense of the term.

What is missing entirely from Goldner’s analysis is any sense of how important Kemal’s victory was in pushing Greece and Britain out of Turkish lands. This was not only important for the defense of the USSR, it was also a genuine anti-imperialist victory on a par with Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal or the British being forced to leave India. It does not matter that Nasser or Gandhi were bourgeois nationalists simply interested in capitalist development. Marxists, at least those not addled by philosophical idealism, have always considered colonial struggles as worthy of support even if they are not being led by communists.

In 1882, Engels wrote a letter to Karl Kautsky that was very much in the spirit of what Radek wrote. You will notice that he does not make communism some kind of litmus test. He is for the independence of oppressed nations even under bourgeois leadership:

One of the real tasks of the 1848 Revolution (and the real, not illusory tasks of a revolution are always solved as a result of that revolution) was the restoration of the oppressed and dispersed nationalities of Central Europe, insofar as these were at all viable and, especially, ripe for independence. This task was solved for Italy, Hungary and Germany, according to the then prevailing conditions, by the executors of the revolution’s will, Bonaparte, Cavour and Bismarck. Ireland and Poland remained. Ireland can be disregarded here, she affects the conditions of the Continent only very indirectly. But Poland lies in the middle of the Continent and the conservation of her division is precisely the link that has constantly held the Holy Alliance together, and therefore, Poland is of great interest to us….

I therefore hold the view that two nations in Europe have not only the right but even the duty to be nationalistic before they become internationalistic: the Irish and the Poles. They are most internationalistic when they are genuinely nationalistic. The Poles understood this during all crises and have proved it on all the battlefields of the revolution. Deprive them of the prospect of restoring Poland or convince them that the new Poland will soon drop into their lap by herself, and it is all over with their interest in the European revolution.

Maybe Goldner does not consider Engels to be a real communist, only one of those people promoting “reactionary anti-imperialism” but Engels is good enough for me.

All that being said, the question remains: was the USSR correct to try to maintain a close relationship with Turkey after Kemal unleashed his repression against the Communists? In some ways, this is a difficult question to answer since time was drawing near when it would become moot. By 1923, when Kemal was mopping up the Communists, the USSR was on the verge of isolating Leon Trotsky and other critical-minded Marxists who objected to what was becoming a policy of accommodation to the national bourgeoisie. In four short years, the disastrous policy in China would unfold prompting Trotsky to open a full-scale assault on Stalin’s class collaborationist politics. Under directions from Stalin, the Chinese CP had subordinated itself completely to the Kuomintang, leading to the slaughter of far more many working class militants than was the case in Turkey.

If the USSR was no longer able to serve as an example of how a revolutionary society relates to governments such as Kemal’s, there is one that is close at hand facing almost identical paradoxes and contradictions, namely Cuba. As I have already pointed out, Goldner is completely hostile to the Cuban government, linking it with North Korea in one of his articles:

Fewer still look to surviving relics such as North Korea or Cuba. The most radical elements of the 1960’s and 1970’s upsurge, from Socialism or Barbarism in France, Eastern European “Marxist humanism” (Kolakowski, the Yugoslav Praxis group), the Situationists, or the Italian workerists mainly rejected these regimes as viscerally as they rejected the (Keynesian) Labour and Social Democratic welfare states of the 1945-1975 period.

If they were the most radical elements of the 60s and 70s, I am glad that I went my own way. Frankly, there was about as much chance of me hooking up with the Situationists as there was with the yippies. I don’t begrudge someone like Guy Debord having a grand old time at the expense of middle-class propriety but I was far more interested in organizing mass demonstrations against the Vietnam War.

Now Cuba faces many of the same problems as the infant Soviet republic but with the added complication of having a much smaller resource base, a narrower geographical space that is additionally vulnerable due to its proximity to the USA, and—more recently—without socialist allies internationally.

Cuba faced a similar quandary in 1968 when the Mexican government unleashed a terrible repression against the student movement, many of whose leaders were likely Fidelistas politically. Although this is not quite the same situation as took place in Turkey in the 1920s, the Cuban government was as low-key as the Soviets were when the 15 Turkish Communists were drowned.

As I have pointed out myself to uncritical Fidelistas on Marxmail, there was no response from the Cuban government. If you go to the Castro speech database and do a search on Mexico during 1968, you will not find a word of protest.

Now it is no accident that Turkey and Mexico are connected in this fashion since both exemplify the paradoxes of national liberation movements led by the bourgeoisie and governments that have become calcified after it takes power. The Mexican PRI and Kemal’s Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican Peoples Party) were both political leaderships of arguably the last hurrah of the bourgeois revolution.

And, interestingly enough, both republics gave asylum to Leon Trotsky. For all of Mustafa Kemal’s hostility to Communism, he was willing to host Trotsky in the first leg of his exile. While Trotsky does not exactly sing Kemal’s praises in “My Life”, there are some accounts that he enjoyed his stay in Turkey immensely on a personal level. I recommend the documentary Exile in Buyukuda for the modern Turkish take on his stay in their homeland.

Despite Mexico’s more democratic functioning during Trotsky’s stay there, not much differentiated it from Turkey in economic terms. Both Kemal and Cardenas were committed to national development and considered labor and capital to be co-equal partners in a bid to modernize the respective countries. Of course, this was just propaganda. The way it worked out in practice, as it does everywhere in the world, is to the benefit of the bourgeoisie. In both the case of Turkey and Mexico, the lip-service paid to labor and the actual benefits it received declined the longer the two hegemonic bourgeois parties remained in the driver’s seat.

No matter how degraded the Mexican PRI had become, there was still a residual spark that motivated it to stand up to imperialism when it came to Castro’s Cuba. In a paper titled Capitalizing on Castro: Mexico’s Foreign Relations with Cuba, 1959-1969, Renata Keller makes clear how important Mexico was to Cuba. The article begins:

In the decade immediately following Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, Mexican leaders consistently distinguished themselves from their Latin American counterparts by acting as outspoken defenders of the Cuban people’s right to self-determination. Influential politicians such as Lázaro Cárdenas threw their support behind Castro, and in 1960 Mexican president Adolfo López Mateos welcomed Cuban president Osvaldo Dorticós in a lavish state visit. At the July 1964 meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C., Mexico was the only Latin American country that refused to adopt the resolution to break diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s Cuba and impose economic sanctions. Mexico thereafter maintained diplomatic relations with Cuba, which effectively established Mexico as the sole link between Castro and the rest of the hemisphere because none of the other Latin American governments recognized Cuba’s revolutionary regime until after 1970.

So in order to fend off American economic pressure and to find an ally, sincere or not, in diplomatic initiatives against the counter-revolutionary OAS, Cuba found itself in bed with Mexico.

While it is difficult to quantify what this relationship meant to Cuba, it very likely helped Fidel Castro to survive. No matter how politically bankrupt Mexico and the USSR were, they were necessary allies against imperialism. If Castro refused to denounce Mexico in 1968 or the USSR for invading Czechoslovakia in the same year, he more than made up for this in assisting liberation movements in Africa and Latin America.

In the real world, politics can be very messy. My advice to my anarchist, situationist, left, council and libertarian communist friends who want to keep their hands clean is to stay out of politics altogether.

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