In 2019, Fatih Mehomet Macoglu of the Communist Party of Turkey was elected mayor of Dersim, a municipality of 70,000 people in the mountainous interior of eastern Turkey, a historic centre of resistance to the central government in Ankara. He had previously been mayor of the smaller Ovacik district, where he had developed forms of communal agriculture, that helped subsidise social services such as free transport. He is the first communist to hold office as mayor of a major centre in Turkey.
When you won the 2019 elections, you talked about proving that a socialist model can govern a city. What kind of progress have you achieved in terms of co-operative agriculture, free transport and budget transparency?
We are actually doing all of these. It is difficult to implement socialist ideas within a capitalist system. However, in a world where there is brutal exploitation, we are working to explain the need for socialism by developing government locally where people are in charge.
This means organising production which is not on the terms set by the monopolies, which produces things which meet local needs — and where we can transfer the surplus to other areas to help their development.
We protect nature. We protect water. We protect climate, soil and all wildlife habitats against the plunder of capitalism. Saying that water cannot be sold, and is a right of the people, is a symbol of our anti-commercialism. We are also developing a culture of social co-management against the individualism created by capitalism.
A key part is for the whole municipality to present itself transparently so that all income and expenditures can be seen. Public accountability is essential. If capitalism cuts down a tree because it cannot benefit from its shadow, we are working to protect the tree and the forest.
What kind of work do you do to make your region economically self-sufficient?
When we achieve our goal which is having a revolutionary, socialist government in all 81 provinces, we can answer your question.
Currently, we are making efforts to develop production forms meeting basic needs, such as education, health, nutrition, housing, transport, internet, informatics. But it seems unlikely that we can make our region self-sufficient. Dozens of institutions are outside our responsibility. We do not have the city governorship, the public areas, national education, the directorate of agriculture, the village services nor the water administration.
We are just one of these authorities. It is not possible to meet all needs without the management of the whole. But we are trying to push these issues by doing things beyond the official responsibilities of local governments.
What do you think about the political consequences of the economic depression in Turkey?
The world is in a crisis. It is not a crisis of the capitalist system as it used to be. In the past, the capitalism was able to renew itself. But today the world cannot overcome this crisis. The only way to overcome this crisis is a socialist government.
Millions of people are getting poorer, left to starvation and misery. Nature is exploited, plundered and destroyed by dams and mines — filling the pockets of a minority and condemning the majority to starvation.
This is why we support socialism. If we talk about our own country the crisis is felt more deeply. Turkey depends on the hegemony of the imperialist countries; The hunger threshold is getting higher. Sixty million people are living below the poverty line. People have started to skip meals. They only eat one type of food while in the past they could afford to eat two or three kinds.
For this reason, as long as these monopolies continue to exploit this country, and hundreds of other countries, it is not possible to overcome the crisis. We have to take into public ownership basic industries and services, electricity, telecom, all public spheres and companies, and put them into the service of society.
What are the differences between your management style and the previous mayors?
Unlike the previous administrations, we do not think that services end with the repair of pavements. This is a duty of a municipality and it is done in our period as well as previously.
For us the difference is a matter of honesty, not lying to the public.
In agricultural it is a matter of spreading the best forms of production to the whole society. What distinguishes our socialist plan is that it seeks to provide for everyone: supplying transport, water, internet either cheaply or free of charge.
We do not seek to compete with others. Good things were done before us including studies of the languages of local people. We find these issues important and valuable. What distinguishes our programme is its focus on social needs.
How have people in your city reacted?
There have been negative reactions — mainly from opposing political stances. What we really care about are long-term assessments after the consequences of our policies become apparent.
Take transport. Previously people paid up to six Turkish lira. Now they pay one lira. When will people realise the difference? When another administration charges five lira. Similarly with water. It should not be sold. People will realise when another administration increases the charge. Everything you do will have an impact in the next period.
However, we want to put pressure on other municipalities now to follow suit. But let me also say if there is already a positive outcome. At least after Dersim and Ovacik many municipalities have started to carry out their own works through co-operatives and associations — not through the big monopolies.
What are the main challenges and obstacles you face with the increasingly aggressive Erdogan regime?
It will never be possible to have a challenge free world in face of capitalism. The laws are against you. We face a plethora of obstacles before we undertake any activity — in terms of budgets, project approvals, eligibility for international funding. In areas which we would like to work, our ability to collaborate with different public agencies and institutions can be blocked by the governor and our projects can be denied funding from the central budget.
Today’s system, with the current president in power, is oppressive. But the real problem has to do with the capitalist/imperialist system itself. This is the same all over the world, whether it be Venezuela, Japan or Putin’s Russia. Look at the leaders of America. All of them run pro-capitalist policies. In Turkey, as the economic crisis deepens, the government imposes more militaristic, police state controls.
This whole picture is against us. In the period of the AKP and MHP the pressure against democratic movements has increased massively — even ignoring the oppression of the Kurds and Alevis, of youth and women’s rights. Look at the recent controversies regarding the 2022 Istanbul Agreement and the way food grains are distributed.
All of these represents systematic oppression from within Turkey. And on the other side, we have the global oppression of the monopoly bourgeoisie. All of these seek to impose barriers against people like us who struggle for democratic, revolutionary and patriotic politics.
How have you achieved success after your election, with supporters of the AKP government on one side, and the Kemalist opposition on the other and increasing nationalism everywhere? How hard is it to work in such an environment?
All are related to one another. The system preserves itself by dividing. One side calls itself nationalistic, another calls itself religious.
And each wants to govern the country with these principles. But we say all of these are means of exploitation, that they ultimately serve capital and the monopolies and offer nothing for the people.
Labour is ignored, workers exploited; women pushed back into the house. They continue their oppression by locking up democrats, revolutionaries and intellectuals. This is exactly where the need for socialism manifests itself to the masses, when it becomes respected and appreciated. Today in Dersim, in Ovacık, we feel around 80 million of the 85 million people in Turkey on our side.
Berkan Celebi is a member of the YCL’s Derbyshire branch