Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Where Have All the Leftists Gone?

A friend with little knowledge of Turkey recently asked me how an Islamist-oriented, rather conservative political party like AKP became the force of liberal reform in Turkey. Was this always the case? Is there no Turkish left? The questions would probably appall many Turks who identify themselves as anti-AKP and quite "liberal," but they are fair to ask. AKP's main opposition in parliament is formed by two nationalist parties that in many ways sound very much like each other, and by most definitions, are anything but leftist. In fact, recent discourse about Article 301 and the türban place CHP on the reactionary end of a left-right scale.

Highly-criticized in liberal circles, comprised of those who seek an expansion of personal liberties, but yet are critical of AKP's pro-market, libertarian-type ideology, Baykal's CHP is frequently seen as a barrier to the entrance of a viable leftist politics. While AKP exists as the only pro-Europe party, the party's center-right, liberal democratic credentials remain unchallenged. AKP, perhaps best considered a center-right party akin to Germany's Christian Democrats, is thus the only party capable of courting pro-Europe liberals. Thus, the leftist constituency in Turkish politics is left without adequate representation, their social democratic values left unvoiced in AKP's center-right politics or lost completely thanks to CHP's unrelenting nationalism and demagoguery, a seemingly right-wing, conservative politics more in line with the proto-fascist MHP than with the social democratic parties of Europe.

So, what is CHP's relation to the left? In name, the oldest party in Turkey and the party of Atatürk, CHP underwent many transformations in its long and turbulent history. Following the rise of leftist politics in the 1960s, CHP became the manifestation of Turkey's mainstream left. Under the leadership of Bülent Ecevit in the late 1960s and 1970s, CHP espoused a social democratic politics built on a Kemalist foundation. In many ways, its politics mirrored that found in the emerging social democracies of Europe, and it even joined the Socialist International. While it is true that the party always held true to a rigid protection of the state's secular identity, it also promoted civil liberties, and under Ecevit's leadership, decried military interference in politics. However, following the 1980 coup and a complete re-working of the political left, CHP re-emerged weak alongside an array of other parties, all of which fell short of representing the leftism that had changed the face of Turkish politics in the two decades prior to the military's violent intervention.

THE RISE OF THE TURKISH LEFT

Prior to the 1960s, there had been extreme leftist groups in Turkey who fell in line with the idea of a strictly statist economy to be centrally-planned and managed by the Turkish state. Statism was a central tenet of the old Kemalist regime, but the Kemalist understanding of statism did not approach central planning as a communist enterprise, but rather as a matter of national sovereignty and good government.

Importantly, the Kemalist regime of the early years of the republic did not oppose foreign investment and the state made little effort to regulate private investment. Turkish statism under the Kemalist regime did not mean that the state would interfere with private property rights or investment pursuits, but rather that the state would be responsible for capital-intensive industry. The state did create systemtatic schemes of central planning, but stayed determinedly away from adopting any sort of aggressively socialist or communist ideology. When price-fixing and other economic measures the government had taken proved disastrous in the 1940s, the government applied to join the IMF. With the election of the Democratic Party soon after, the economy began to open further under the helm of prime minister Adnan Menderes who encouraged direct foreign investment and sought foreign loans to bolster economic development. However, due to DP mismanagement, the investment led to little in terms of sustainable increases in productive capacity and a lack of regulation contributed to a high-level of growth from which only the richest benefited and inflation sky-rocketed. Economic disenchantment contributed to the demise of DP and the leftist politics that would come to pass in the 1960s.

Following the 1960 coup, a discourse began to develop among the intellectual left replete with prescriptions for state planning and protectionism. This leftist discourse was much abetted by the respect the military government paid to the academic left following the moderate turn it took when it dismissed ultra-nationalists from its ranks. The academic left had supported the military during the 1960 coup and the military had turned to it for assistance in drafting a new constitution. Thus, there was a tolerance for the rise of the more radical leftist politics that burgeoned in the 1960s.

Spurned by socialist dialogue elsewhere in the world and temporarily saved from government repression, many intellectuals began to propose radical reforms. Following the student movements in Europe and the United States, similar radical groups of young people began to emerge in Turkey and some of these began to call for radical revolution and sometimes through violent means. Many of these militant groups began to rebel against the state ideology or amalgamate its nationalist component with a communist narrative based on class solidarity. The state soon grew concerned by many of these groups and began to repress their more radical manifestations, but the radical left stayed largely intact up until the 1980 coup.

In the meantime, a more moderate form of democratic socialism was being embraced within the ranks of CHP. Following the 1960 coup, the party was also subject to the development of leftist thought experienced in the 1960s and following disappointing election results in 1961, adopted a center-left ideology that contrasted greatly with that of the Justice Party (Adalet Partisi—AP). While the AP supported a traditional understanding of Kemalism and took a combative and sometimes repressive posture to the emerging left of the early 1960s, CHP integrated the left's calls for social justice and democratic order into its party platform. Led by Bülent Ecevit, this effort stumbled in its beginning, but led to election victories in the municipal elections of 1968.

The party continued to consolidate its center-left stance throughout the latter part of the 1960s and into the 1970s. It was under Ecevit's leadership that CHP became a member of the Socialist International. However, as radicalism became a burgeoning problem on the fringes of the leftist movement and communism an ever greater fear, Ecevit found it increasingly difficult to integrate these more radical elements and a serious fragmentation began to occur. Although the center-left stance was certainly progressive when compared to the positions of its mainstream rivals, it never came to close to incorporating the sort of radical reform some demanded into its larger agenda nor did it ever have the political power to execute the progressive agenda to which it did aspire. In this end, Ecevit's progressive reform agenda did not successfully co-opt the more radical elements by way of any great re-working of society as happened in Europe.

THE 'POST-COUP' LEFT: DISASSEMBLY & RECONSTRUCTION (SORT OF)

Increasingly concerned with the radicalism of the left, the military staged its September 1980 coup—the aftermath of which virtually devastated leftist politics. Under the leadership of General Kenan Evren, the newly-established National Security Council (NSC) squelched political discourse and arrested over 10,000 people in its first weeks in power. Many of those arrested had been involved in leftist political activities and many were detained and tortured for indefinite periods of time. The NSC established the constitution under which the country is still governed and exercised tight control over the formation of political parties and in so doing denied the formation of any viable leftist opposition be it moderate or radical. This is significant in that political parties since 1960 are the principal structures in which organized political activity occurs and this development meant that the left was stifled from mainstream participation in politics for some time to come. The NSC also actively sought to purge leftist university professors, firing hundreds while coercing others to reform by threatening their pensions. In addition to the universities, the NSC activiely sought to eliminate any trace of lefist thought in civil society and among the press.

Thanks to the toleration of Turgut Özal's center-right Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi—AVP), leftist politics began to reassert themselves in the 1980s. Özal's AVP emerged out of the aftermath of the 1980s coup and came to power following its overwhelming victory in the 1983 parliamentary elections, in which the party gained an absolute majority. Largely a rejection of the direction in which the NSC had taken the country following the coup, AVP reasserted the primacy of democratic politics and due to aims of its own, allowed some of the previously banned parties and the politicians that led them to participate in the 1984 municipal elections. During Özal's reign, leftism began a process of slow recovery, but never regained the strength or influence it had prior to 1980.

Erdal İnönü's newly-formed Social Democratic Party (Sosyal Demokrat Parti—SDP) was the most successful new party to emerge and reunited the disenfranchised liberals that had been ignored (if not repressed) in the early 1980s. The SDP contrasted with the People's Party (Halkçı—HP) that the military had allowed to run in the 1983 elections alongside AVP in that SDP represented the liberal wing of the old CHP and as HP had been little more than a construction of the military to create a party in which to place CHP's old conservative wing. Understandably, in the 1984 muncipal elections, SDP fared much better than HP, the latter of which failed to meet the 10 percent threshold it needed to enter parliament. However, both parties merged in 1985 to become the Social People's Party (Sosyal Halkçı Parti—SHP).

SHP became the more conservative of the two mainstream leftist parties when Bülent Ecevit re-emerged in 1985 to found the Democratic Left Party (Demokrat Sol Parti—DSP). Unencumbered by the conservative presence of the old CHP, Ecevit was able to move further to the left than before. DSP entered parliament in 1986, although it soon lost its voice in November 1987 when it was overshadowed by İnönü's SHP. Although these liberal parties were able to participate fully in democratic politics throughout the 1980s, the era's dominance by two center-right parties—AVP and Demirel's old AP—made it impossible for it to wield much influence.

Here enters Baykal and what some Turkish leftists pointedly refer to as "the new CHP": In the late 1980s, Baykal emerged within the ranks of İnönü's SHP to become its Secretary-General and began to openly challenge İnönü's leadership of the party. Repeatedly unsuccessful, Baykal decided to found his own party in 1992 and branded it CHP. Amidst the political sectarianism of the 1990s and the fragmentation of the two center-right coalitions, the leftist parties fared paritcularly poorly in the 1994 elections that brought to power the Islamic Refah Party (RP). Now faced with a common enemy, İnönü's old party (now under the leadership of Murat Karayalçın; İnönü had resigned in 1993) combined with Baykal's re-fashioned CHP in 1995.

The merger brought together two very strong personalities in a testy alliance, but both party leaders decided to step aside and Hikmet Çetin was chosen to lead the new party. Çetin was soon pushed aside by Baykal and the struggling party performed poorly in the 1995 elections depsite the alliance. Although a significant liberal coalition did emerge within the fragmentation of the two center-right parties and managed to pass through a liberalization package under pressure from the European Union (similar to the one currently being pushed by AKP), the coalition was divided on issues related to secularism and Baykal used the opportunity to oppose many of these reforms as a battling cry to garner power within CHP viz. espousement of an ideology that fell far from what should be called "liberal." Continually decrying the "Islamist threat," Baykal virtually became the CHP.

As the CHP became a virtually non-existent player following its massive defeat in 1995, Ecevit was able to regain his position as the leader of the left. Following the post-modern coup, Ecevit became prime minister when he posted the strongest showings in the 1999 elections (only 22 percent of the vote). However, as prime minister, Ecevit's coalition was not guided by liberalism, but by recalcitrant adherence to the the principles of secularism.

In 2002, Ecevit's health and his own stubbornness led the DSP coalition to fall apart and basically destroyed the DSP. In the elections to follow that year, DSP support fell 95 percent. Thus, as AKP came to power, CHP was able to reassert itself as the only viable alternative to Islamism. The party received only 19 percent of the vote, but Baykal's Leviathan has acted to quash dissenting voices in its ranks, aptly silencing would-be challengers. Further, it is deaf to criticism coming from leftists outside the country, most markedly to the criticism of the Socialist International, which is considering its explusion from the organization, a move welcomed by many leftists within Turkey.

WHERE ARE THE LEFTISTS?

In so many ways, the demise of the Turkish left can be attributed to its' members own dogmatic prescriptions for the role of religion in society. The left's strict interpretations of secularism and conflation of the Islamist threat have proved a serious distraction for the advocacy of the social and economic reforms that typify leftist existence in other countries. As the sole inheritor of the left's legacy, CHP is a frightfully sad representation of its past history. Caught up in what it imagines as a virtual state of war against Turkey's internal and external enemies, the CHP and its secular elite are more likely to espouse Hobbes than Rousseau or Mill. Rather than protecting free speech, it must be stifled to preserve the integrity of a state facing threats from Islamists and Kurds. Rather than allowing for democracy, elected parties must be periodically closed because they might threaten the nationalist or secularist order. Rather than joining truly social democratic nations in Europe, EU accession must be held circumspect because it involves a surrendering of centralized state control, a re-negotiation of secularism, and countenance liberalism, for individuals vested with too much liberty might act contrary to state ideology and the carefully devised plans of the ruling elite.

Many liberals have left CHP, casting relucant votes for the center-right and vaguely Islamist AKP rather than continue to support the stumbling block Baykal and the CHP have thrown up in the way of Turkey's larger political development. How many of the many "floating voters" that cast ballots for AKP in 2002, and again in 2004 and 2007, were disgruntled leftists, fed up with Baykal and CHP authoritarianism? Other liberals have continued to support CHP, but not without due anguish. Still, yet another group, perhaps not liberal, per se, but frustrated with Baykal and the CHP status quo while equally afraid of AKP's economic liberalization schemes and "creeping conservatism," continue to support CHP rather than wed themselves to a more liberal vision of Turkish politics, a liberal ideology that if properly formulated, might coalesce the reasons for their resentment toward AKP with an incipient support for individual liberties and democratic pluralism.

Meanwhile, CHP seeks to dissolve all challenge as evidenced by the party's plans to swallow DSP, which has retained a small membership base and a negligible presence in parliament as a result of the election of some of its members to parliament as independents. With the opposition crushed, Baykal maintains his stranglehold on the party, the recent türban amendments giving ample opportunity for the party leader to do what he does best—demagogue on secularism. Baykal's rallying cries that the amendments are proof that AKP is intent overturn the secular order of things are likely to further strengthen his position in the party , making it even more difficult for leftist challengers in CHP to oppose him come the party's spring congress. As Baykal beats the familiar rhythms of the CHP drum, its members continue to move in circular unison, in no direction and with no place to go.

5 comments:

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

I'll just jot down some notes about points that are not clear to me in my own attempt to understand this:

Statism was a central tenet of the old Kemalist regime, but the Kemalist understanding of statism did not approach central planning as a communist enterprise, but rather as a matter of national sovereignty and good government.

When and under which circumstances statism became a central tenet is itself worthy of research.

Following the student movements in Europe and the United States, similar radical groups of young people began to emerge in Turkey and some of these began to call for radical revolution and sometimes through violent means.

There's some dispute on how the actual violence began and whether those people who advocated a radical revolution were actually pushed towards miltancy by the militant right. Also, 'radical revolution' might include things like the conspiracy for the Madanoglu junta which are hardly 'radical' in the left sense.

Many of these militant groups began to rebel against the state ideology or amalgamate its nationalist component with a communist narrative based on class solidarity.

And, despite what people say now, they had their own press (with circulation numbers probably surpassing, say, Taraf's on a far smaller population base) that talked about both the Armenian and (far more prominently) the Kurdish question. I am amazed that people now claim that nobody talked about the either of these issues up till very recently[1]. That's clearly false. Even Perincek's faction (yes, the same guy) used them in his propaganda. I personally cannot see how people (45+) can use those pieces from back then to make fun of people like Perincek now and fail to realize that perhaps Taraf isn't the 'first,' and perhaps this is not the first time a sizeable number of younger people are hearing about these issues.

If you are interested in this aspect, the Birgun people and Kurkcu (of Bianet) would be the ones to talk to. (I most certainly am not. I am barely the right age, was uninvolved and am just going by what I remember. This is a very odd country, indeed. The petite-bourgeois (me!) with the 'shallow' political inclinations is advising a political scientist to talk to the remnants of the revolutionary left!)

The state soon grew concerned by many of these groups and began to repress their more radical manifestations, but the radical left stayed largely intact up until the 1980 coup.

There might be difference between the pre-1971 radical left and the one who took part in the violence that led up to the coup of 1980.

Led by Bülent Ecevit, this effort stumbled in its beginning, but led to election victories in the municipal elections of 1968.

I'd like to see the numbers on that. I think what's also worth noting is that Ecevit became the chairman of the CHP as a result of internal elections against a formidable -- but aged -- incumbent (Ismet Inonu). We have not seen that happen in any other major party. The question that needs to be answered is this: was the CHP irredeemably authoritarian inside out? Ecevit himself gave up on it and founded his own party after the coup, but what were his reasons? I don't know the answer, but I have a sense that the present popular history emenating from the likes of Zaman columnists is merely politically expedient propaganda.

There's also another development that goes hand-in-hand. Erbakan was encouraged to found his the Islamist party under assurances from -- at least one of -- the generals involved in the '71 coup-by-memorandum. Ecevit did let Erbakan share power in a coalition gov't after the first free elections following the 12th March period. Thus began the overtly Islamist party's chance to place their men in the bureaucracy. In retrospect, even the introduction (by that same coalition) of the mandatory 'morals' class can be seen as a sly means to place Erbakan's people into the hierarchy in the Ministry of Education. (The mandatory religion class had to wait for the coup of '80).

Also worthy of note is the 1974 military operation in Cyprus. I don't know if that changed how Ecevit was viewed abroad. Some of the US internal documents from that era should now be accessible (and I have read some involving phone calls between Kissinger and Ecevit) but I don't know if anyone actually combed through them. Turkey did get hit with an arms embargo subsequently (but not necessarily as a consequence of the military action, there was also the issue about opium poppies that was about to trigger some retaliation for Turkish governments' intransigence on that). These things were significant at the time and might still be significant in an analysis of the 'left' because as Turkey was hit with both the oil shock and the US embargo, one would expect the ever-nationalist center to sympathize with the anti-US rhetoric of the far-left. Things didn't quite happen that way, but why?

[1] I am amazed that nobody made much fuss about Pamuk's assertion that only him 'dared' talk about these things. If there was anything offensive and indicative of the guy's character in that infamous sentence, it was that self-aggrandizing claim rather than the somewhat mundane observations about numbers of deaths.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

I am amazed that nobody made much fuss about Pamuk's assertion that only him 'dared' talk about these things.

Heh, one English mistake among possibly many. I'm not writing merely to correct it, but to point out that w/o some understanding of the language you can only go so far. You may have noticed how different Turkish is from English (and other Indo-European languages), and therefore how tough it is for Turks to be fluent in English. Any Westerner who fails to fully appreciate what this means would be vulnerable to manipulation by those who have the funding/means to publish in English. As in the joke, it'd be like the drunk guy looking for his keys under the streetlight as opposed to where he actually dropped them. I have seen a lot of manipulative nonsense get published in English, authored by people I wouldn't trust to tell the time of day correctly, and yet be highly regarded by well-meaning English speakers. That someone is articulate in English and is able to employ the right rhetoric for Americans has absolutely no bearing on his/her knowledge or intellectual integrity. Since we're having a hard enough time keeping the discourse in our own language within the bounds of sanity let alone plausibility, there'd hardly be any native corrective influence (or folks to provide 'fear of God' if you will) for the discourse that takes place in English. Not that I have noticed any evidence of undue influence by the articulate propagandists in this blog, but figured I might as well make use of the conveninent opportunity for that particular segue.

Ragan Updegraff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ragan Updegraff said...

The question of these young leftists of the 1970s being pushed toward violence by the right is not something I have come across, and I would certainly like to know more about the claim and what basis in fact it has.

I agree completely about the 1970s being patently ignored in many analyses of Turkish politics. One of my favorite images of Turks to appear in the past year was in the New York Times: Above an article about the "Make Noise Against Coups" protest in Taksim was a photo of protestors holding placards reading how they were made small in the 1980s, but are not anymore.

And, not only is the legacy of the coup something that should be more discussed in political analysis, but it should also be a fact to which Western countries need to own up. As you said, Pamuk is far from a unique voice in the history of Turkish politics, and so as to not squander future opportunities, analysts should learn from past mistakes. Democratization and respect for human rights in Turkey is not occuring in a vacuum, but through a series of complex transnational interactions in which Turks and international actors are both playing active parts. Ecevit's legacy, and the left's relations with the "West" are something I imagine we would all be benefitted by paying more attention to, and something I indeed would like to learn more about. I wonder how different history might have been if the political fragmentation and violence of the 1970s had been curtailed by better leadership, and whether it was even possible to do so. Beyond question is that the politics of 1970s Turkey certainly belie the kinds of stupid oversimplifications wrought by the less-than-adequate analysts to whom you refer in your second post. I chuckled aloud at this observation, and sadly, I think you are probably very much correct in this assessment. History is our friend, and we should learn from it.

It is wonderful to see posts on things from this far back, and as always, the feedback, additional information, and critical reception are much appreciated. I have tried to eschew "articulate propaganda," but look forward to continuing to have my feet held over the fire.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Yeah I think we're in broad agreement. Some more notes:

The question of these young leftists of the 1970s being pushed toward violence by the right is not something I have come across, and I would certainly like to know more about the claim and what basis in fact it has.

Oh this is a rather standard claim coming from the organized left. They say they only started arming themselves after it became apparent that both the militant right and the state forces would not shy away from extreme and lethal violence. As for the facts, I don't know. AFAIK, the first death from the right is Ruhi Kilickiran in '68, a student, who was shot in school when an altercation over religion (during Ramadan) got out of hand. I believe the guy who did it got arrested and went to jail (it is possible that the entire group was jailed after '71). The first death[1] from the left would be Taylan Ozgur in '69 who was shot by unknown assilants (suspected to be cops). The left points to that incident and mass violence like this one as they make those claims. Unfortunately I don't know much more than this and I'd be cautious about the spin people tend to put on such things (note the tone in the Wikipedia entry I linked to). For example, the militant left had the habit of euphemizing their murders as 'punishment by the people.' We're not talking about touchy feely and pacifist folks here.

I'd also look into the transformation of CKMP into MHP and their shift towards increasing their stress of religious elements in their recruitment and struggle against the left. As was aptly pointed out by the MHP leadership during their trial after the coup of '80, they got put in jail while their ideology was being implemented as the "Turco-Islamic Synthesis" by those in power (including, as they surely must have meant it, violent suppression of any trace of dissent).

One of my favorite images of Turks to appear in the past year was in the New York Times: Above an article about the "Make Noise Against Coups" protest in Taksim was a photo of protestors holding placards reading how they were made small in the 1980s, but are not anymore.

Yeah, they did that with the benefit of proper police protection, as did the folks who went to the 'Rallies for the Republic.' There was some e-mail summary of the experiences of a group from Genc Siviller from this past May Day that spoke about a completely different interaction with the police. (I couldn't find it now.)

And, not only is the legacy of the coup something that should be more discussed in political analysis, but it should also be a fact to which Western countries need to own up.

Well, people from both the militant right and the left sometimes produce names of diplomatic personnel from a big ally who appeared in various cities like Corum and Maras right before violence erupted. I don't know if anyone tried filing FOIA requests about those claims. Let me also point out that the 'CIA did it all' cop-out is unduly attractive to and popular with the local people who directly or indirectly have blood on their hands and perhaps that aspect ought not be overplayed. I have seen no convincing reason to think that the equivalent of something like Project Ajax took place here, but I have seen a lot of people who'd love to believe that and discount the role of the internal dynamics and domestic initiative.

[1] 'First' in this context. It is hard to tell when the violence agaist the left really began -- some start it from the drownings of Mustafa Suphi et. al.