In memory of Abdullah Cömert, Mustafa Sari, Mehmet Ayvalitas, Ethem Sarisülük and eight dogs, 63 cats and 1028 birds crushed under the stones of the castle
The title of this article is a rough translation of the words of Abdulgaffar al-Hayati, a thinker of the Middle East who wrote relatively little. Seven words that tell of the bloody business of being in power; they tell of what is behind the smirk of the executioners in castles perched atop hills, how many hearts have been broken to build them there. Let us remember that a passion for landmarks always signifies a desire to reach beyond time and the brutal nature of power; except that, today, the castles are shopping malls, tower blocks, aircraft carriers, memorials, tombs and enormous mosques.
We are living through days that those raised in the institutions of the establishment were unable to foresee. However, those who, in their capacity as the enlightened people, have taken it upon themselves to preach to the public at every opportunity are failing dismally. This may only be explained by their minds having been levelled in school or government ranks – or by “hegemonaphilia”. Just as dismal is the failure of the similarly levelled news media that insult our intelligence every day by giving us “advice”. Political parties and institutions with big titles are tumbling too – we must keep this in a corner of our minds to protect our sanity.
We must admit: a social awakening has occurred without coming under the control of any political structure. These are people who have gone out on the streets because they are sick and tired of being ordered around and talked down to by social engineers meddling with their lives. These people have marched to Taksim Square, not afraid of facing tear gas, batons, water cannons and police brutality. These are people who defend themselves against armoured police vehicles and helicopters with surgery masks, lemon, vinegar and antacid solution. These people have awoken in the middle of the night to voices from the street, strapped their toddlers to their strollers and joined the uprising. These people will no longer put up with authoritarian, totalitarian rulers regulating every aspect of their lives. This is a dignified crowd who will stand up against those who rely on the power bestowed upon them by the majority and try to brand others with (what they presume are) condescending words like terrorists, foreign meddlers, outsiders, vandals, riffraff and so on, just because they have the majority behind them.
Let us see the larger picture first: Islam and Modernity are in conflict across the world. Two identities that coincide with two distinct lifestyles compete to make more room for themselves. This is a simple fact that can be observed in the symbols used and the statements made by the two sides, and their conceptions of life.
In Turkey, the rule of Islam was succeeded by Kemalism, a bad copy of Modernity. Kemalism is the “monistic” ideology, under which Turkey was ruled for seven decades, atrocities like the Dersim massacre were perpetrated, and a Kurdish uprising that claimed the lives of fifty thousand was provoked. Three military coups led to the country’s militarization. Then, Islamism took revenge and “developed” shopping malls, tower blocks, huge mosques, bridges and mock-military barracks. It is not subtle about its desires to succeed as the sultanate or the caliphate of the Middle East. Those who raise their voices in opposition are quickly branded vandals.
Abdulgaffar al-Hayati says, “No castle is built without breaking hearts.”
In the perpetual hunting grounds of Islam and Kemalism, a spark was ignited on 31 May 2013. Some people said enough, and began laying the foundations for the new life they desired in Gezi Park in Taksim Square. Their efforts were symbolized by the “woman in red”, who remained unfazed at the tear gas sprayed right into her face. The appeal of that cornerstone spread first to the nation and then across the world. Hundreds of thousands came to Gezi Park. For the first time in years, the word “solidarity” became concrete and tangible. Roughly, these are the features of the movement:
1. Lack of allegiance to any group, formation or party: Most protesters were taking part in a protest for the first time. The absolute majority are not affiliated with any political party, association or movement. They took to the streets to protest police brutality and to demand one thing above all: freedom.
2. Anti-capitalism: The protesters are against bulldozing the park and the construction of a mall. Signs were put up, to the effect that “Everything within Gezi Park is free of charge.” Dining tables were open to all. Everything was done on a voluntary basis.
3. Anti-militarism: The protesters are against the prime minister’s plans to reconstruct the old Artillery Barracks. They refrain from violence. Against the slogans of nationalist groups claiming to be “the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal,” they respond, “we will not die, we will not kill.”
4. Participatory democracy: They are not organized, they do not know each other, and they do not act on the basis of a specific set of codes. They have a penchant for demonstrations where everyone speaks for him- or herself and everyone joins forces to build a sustainable common ground. Instead of delegating their representative rights to others, they want to directly participate in democracy.
5. Ecological sensitivity: This is a spark that was ignited when the authorities attempted to cut down trees in Gezi Park. Ecological sensitivities were further aggravated by the realization that thousands of trees were to be cut down for the third Bosphorus bridge, and of the likely impact on the ecological balance that plans for the Istanbul canal, as well as for a third airport, are likely to have (the construction of the latter has already been contracted out).
6. Sense of humour: The most astonishing aspect of the protests was the abundance of wit and humour. In response to prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling them “çapulcu” (vandals), they took on the branding, modified its content and returned it to the sender. “Çapul TV ” was born, along with countless songs about “çapulcu” and T-shirts printed with the emblem. The word was rendered into English as a calque – “chapuler” and “chapulling” – and Wikipedia entries were even created for these terms.
Humour is what sets the vain and the victim apart: “All egocentric seriousness is guilty conduct.”
Humour protects us against this and, as such, is particularly valuable – even aside from the pleasure it gives. A sage deprived of humour is a sad one. Is a sage with no humour still a sage? The intellect is characterized by its ability to make fun of everything and this makes humour a critical part of the intellect, and rightly so. Woe betide he who can only laugh at the other side! The irony is this: a laugh that takes itself seriously, a mocking laugh
is one that severs the head of the other and this saying is sufficiently explanatory.”
On the eleventh day of the protests, Taksim Square was cleared of protesters by the police using tear gas. Adopting “Everywhere is Taksim, resistance is everywhere!” as its motto, the protests had spread across 75 provinces, involving 640,000 people in 400 demonstrations. The uprising had made international headlines and received the support of democratic groups: Gezi Park had attracted international attention.
There are several questions that need answering: Why wasn’t anyone able to foresee an uprising with such serious consequences? Why were the leading columnists, political parties, university professors and leftist groups so absolutely secure in their worldly knowledge, unable to predict these developments, and why do they keep “mentoring” people instead of questioning themselves? Don’t they realize that by interpreting (read: “questioning”) what the youth did reproduces a representation of exactly that against which these people rose up?
There are, as yet, no answers to these questions.
But keeping them in circulation can protect against the damage caused by those who take it upon themselves to give advice.
Let us go back a little in time.
In 2000, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri published a book entitled Empire. They claimed that the concept of imperialism, used with reference to the expansion of nation-states into foreign soil, was inadequate in explaining global capitalism and that multinational companies were more devastating than nation-states. Instead, Hardt and Negri advanced the concept of Empire (with a capital E) to define the emerging global network of power. After this much acclaimed book came Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, where they argued that globalization also paved the way for uninhibited global interaction, providing limitless opportunities for new alliances and partnerships. It was possible for us to preserve our differences while communicating with each other to find new common ground. “Multitude” was another form of global network, where diversity could express itself freely and equally, where parties were open to each other and there was room for expansion.
Hardt and Negri also asserted that social actors such as the people, the masses and the working class had lost their property as social carriers, and invited us to consider multitude as a new social actor. According to them:
The people has traditionally been a unitary conception. The population, of course, is characterized by all kinds of differences, but the people reduces that diversity to a unity and makes of the population a single identity: “the people” is one. The multitude, in contrast, is many. The multitude is composed of innumerable internal differences that can never be reduced to a unity or a single identity – different cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations; different forms of labour; different ways of living; different views of the world; and different desires. The multitude is a multiplicity of all these singular differences. […] Thus the challenge posed by the concept of multitude is for a social multiplicity to manage to communicate and act in common while remaining internally different. […] Insofar as the multitude is neither an identity (like the people) nor uniform (like the masses), the internal differences of the multitude must discover the common that allows them to communicate and act together. The common we share, in fact, is not so much discovered as it is produced.
Hardt and Negri continue:
The people is one. The population, of course, is composed of numerous different individuals and classes, but the people synthesizes or reduces these social differences into one identity. The multitude, by contrast, is not unified, but remains plural and multiple. This is why, according to the dominant tradition of political philosophy, the people can rule as a sovereign power and the multitude cannot. The multitude is composed of a set of singularites – and by singularity here we mean a social subject whose difference cannot be reduced to sameness, a difference that remains different. The component parts of the people are indifferent in their unity; they become an identity by negating or setting aside their differences. The plural singularities of the multitude thus stand in contrast to the undifferentiated unity of the people.
Multitude should not be confused with the populace, the masses or with crowds as descriptors of mass alliances. Their members are not singular; they may be brought under control or assimilated within the pluralities to which they belong. These social actors have a limited capacity of acting on their own. Multitude, on the other hand, refers to an active social subject that acts on the common ground of discrete singularities. Multitude is an active subject that preserves its intrinsic differences. Its establishment is not based on uniformity or unity, but on a produced common ground.
One other important aspect of the multitude is that it does not define itself with a will to seize or ascend to power. This protects the multitude against the pitfalls of the violence of power, along with the tacit consent, conspiracies and moral corruption inherent in any attempt to seize or exercise power. It attempts to go beyond a discourse built on ruling or governing, and gathers possibilities for thinking a new form of social existence. In contrast, the “people” demand power; it is “one” and capable of ruling. Multitude does not speak the language of power; it is “singular” and therefore incapable of ruling. It dazzles and confounds current political science and political scientists, whose discourse is based on the idea of “governing”.
The demand for democracy is gaining ground globally. The multitude has the power to organize this demand. Against capital and attempts at domination, which have become extremely fluid thanks to multinational companies, this will enable the creation of an equally fluid counter-demand and a democratic actor: the “decentralized multitude” against “multi-centred capital”. This decentralized multitude effectively foils the government in search of a target to attack.
The multitude challenges the entire history of hegemony. One of the oft-repeated dogmas of political philosophy is the rule of “one”. This may be one king, one patriarch, one prime minister, one people or one class. The multitudes composed of singulars, however, cannot rule; they must be ruled: “Every sovereign power, in other words, necessarily forms a political body of which there is a head that commands, limbs that obey and organs that function together to support the ruler.” The multitude challenges this dogma by asserting that singularities can create a common ground where there are no commanding and obeying singulars, and can govern itself. “Rather than a political body with one that commands and others that obey, the multitude is living flesh that rules itself.” It refutes the political perception that regards the relationship between the ruler and the ruled as given. And it argues that this is the only possible method of opposition.
Now capitalism has extended beyond factory walls all over the planet, multinationals have started to rule everybody, everywhere. Since capitalism has reached a state of non-place (or even every-place), any struggle against capital can only succeed if it takes place across the entire world. The era of struggle through “unified” social actors has come to an end. Now a new line of defence must be imagined through common grounds created by multitudes composed of singularities. As long as the ruled multitude refuses to obey, the area of influence of the ruler shrinks.
To sum up: this is the most unique uprising ever seen under both Ottoman rule and the Turkish Republic. There has been nothing like it, either in terms of inner dynamics or of the impact on the people. Points that stand out are the great number of women (according to a Konda survey, 50.8 per cent of protesters were women), the duration of the incident (19 days), and the lack of affiliation with any political party, non-governmental organization or association. Other notable facts are how the fans of the three largest football clubs came together, side by side (overcoming the bitter enmity between them during games) and how Turkish and Kurdish nationalists condemned fascism in unison.
This uprising rejected all political structures that sustained themselves through Islam and Modernity (that is, Kemalism), considered “representation” an invariable and, in this sense, provided a content and a form to the concept “new”; that is, a concept that looks for its meaning in the statement “a different world is possible”.
This uprising has reproduced the slogan “Power is omnipresent, so resistance has to be immanent!”, has recognized the new “power network” character of capitalism and tried to implement a matching strategy, and has had an impact all over Turkey and the whole world.
This uprising has given a voice to a particular sensitivity against the unabashed destruction of the ecological balance by capitalism, and the madness of economic growth.
Considered alongside the participation in Hrant Dink’s funeral and Ufuk Uras’ election campaign, this uprising accumulated and multiplied itself: other more comprehensive and effective revolts can be expected. “The mobilization of the common gives the common a new intensity. The direct conflict with power, moreover, for better or for worse, elevates this common intensity to an even higher level: the acrid smell of tear gas focuses your senses and street clashes with police make your blood boil with rage, raising intensity to the point of explosion. The intensification of the common, finally, brings about an anthropological transformation such that out of the struggles come a new humanity.”