In Climate, Environment

Sunday 12th February 2023

We declare our solidarity with all the victims of the terrible earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday 6 February. This is a huge human catastrophe. The death toll has already reached over 33,000, but insurance companies are assuming as many as 200,000 deaths. But this is not a ‘natural disaster’. Earthquakes are inevitable in regions such as this where they have been taking place since antiquity. The terrible death toll, however, is a consequence of human action and inaction, shaped by a capitalist system based on exploitation and driven by the competitive accumulation of capital.

2. Action – the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, based on the neoliberal Islamist AKP but now in coalition with the fascist MHP, has been in power in Turkey for more than 20 years. The economic growth of which Erdoğan boasts has been driven by a construction boom that has enriched the AKP’s capitalist backers. In this boom, even by the admission of ministers, building regulations have been systematically ignored. Around 20,000 people died in the 1999 Gölcük earthquake; thanks to precautionary measures, just three people died in the 2022 earthquake in Fukushima, Japan, despite the fact that both were earthquakes of 7.4 magnitude. Inaction – after the Gölcük and Düzce earthquakes, a special earthquake tax was introduced, which raised $37bn. According to an ex-minister, the money was not spent on constructing earthquake-proof buildings, but on “health, roads, tunnels, bridges”. As our comrades in the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party say, this is nothing short of murder.

3. This criminal negligence is compounded by the Turkish government’s response to the disaster – the imposition of a state of emergency to increase the repressive powers of the state, sluggish mobilization of aid and rescue services that left people to suffocate under the ruins, Erdoğan’s denunciations of “whingers” and “looters”, and an official campaign against “disinformation”. “There’s no state,” a surgeon in Adiyaman told the Financial Times. But the truth is that the Turkish state has its own priorities, which includes protecting the trio of politicians, contractors, and bureaucrats who created the conditions for this catastrophe.  Rather than trying to compensate for all that it has done and has failed to do, the AKP-MHP government is busy blaming the victims.

4. The earthquakes have affected a vast area stretching from Trabzon to Palestine. Not only do the effects span state borders, but they represent a further blow to regions afflicted by war – the civil war in Syria, the rivalries among regional sub-imperialisms, the Turkish state’s war against the Kurdish people, the interventions of US and Russian imperialism. The disaster is a particular blow for the people of Syria, where their lives have been devastated by years of imperialist interventions and the brutality of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and vast numbers of refugees are scattered across the country and in neighbouring countries.

5. The scale of this crisis exceeds the resources of the affected states. Currently the Western imperialist powers have three priorities – making their own working people pay for the inflationary crisis by pushing interest rates and unemployment up and wages down, pouring weapons into Ukraine to defeat their Russian rivals, and closing the borders to migrants and refugees. The recent EU summit, which shed crocodile tears over the earthquake, was dominated by the drive to strengthen Fortress Europe. It approved another €500m in military aid for Ukraine and €6.5m “emergency humanitarian assistance” for Syria and Turkey.

6. In contrast, ordinary people throughout the region and beyond have shown the way by themselves raising aid for the afflicted areas. This solidarity shines through, for example, in the support given by the citizens of states that proclaim themselves “enemies” of Turkey such as Armenia and Greece.

7. We demand that all Western states: 

– Rush money, food, medicines, and rescue services to the region to help the victims; 
– Scrap the sanctions against Syria permanently, not just for six months – no discrimination over who gets helped; 
– Give full support for refugees and migrants within and from the region – open the borders! 
– Initiate criminal prosecution of those politicians, contractors, and bureaucrats responsible for the shoddy buildings and the failure to prepare for the predicted earthquakes, and provide swift aid that have killed so many people. 
– Cut arms spending and redirect the resources to meeting real human needs.

8. Though climate change probably has not played a role in directly causing this disaster, what has happened gives us a glimpse into how climate catastrophe will be handled – with negligence, repression, and denunciations of the victims. Socialist revolution is needed more urgently than ever to rid the world of the capitalist system with its distorted priorities and corrupt and callous ruling classes.

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