Saturday, December 6, 2008

Intellectuals, Party Politics, and Hopes for the Future

Mümtaz'er Türköne examines intellectuals' relationship to politics, specifically the CHP. While holding intellectuals to task for adopting the same elitism as CHP members, Türköne acknowledges many to have supported AKP because of the party's pro-democracy and pro-EU agenda. Türköne is responding to a column by Oral Çalışlar in the leftist Radikal in which Çalışlar laments the emerging pro-establishment --meaning more nationalist/statist -- position of AKP, a development which has come to concern many progressive intellectual reformers as of late.

As CHP moves further to the right in its efforts to reach out to religious Turks, many of whom live outside the country's urban centers or are recent immigrants to the cities, AKP seems to be more accepting of CHP's pro-military/nationalist positions (and, before this, overly-concerned with its socially conservative base). Where does this leave pro-democracy intellectuals, who Türköne identifies with the left, and who have before supported AKP as a result of its liberal democratic credentials? At the moment, Turkey has no center-left party (see Erik Zürcher's recent critique of Turkish politics). While AKP can be aptly, though perhaps not adequately, explained as a center-right party (the party is economically and socially conservative), CHP is traditionally regarded as the establishment bastion of the Turkish left. However, CHP is more staunchly nationalist than it is pro-labor, more concerned with preserving Kemalist understandings of secularism --and, frequently, even ethnic solidarity -- than it is with promoting economic and social rights. Neither party is willing to aggressively address the issue of rights for ethnic and religious minorities, gender inequities, or draconian restrictions on the freedom of expression. Türköne intimates that intellectuals would be best represented by a third party, but in the end concludes that in the absence of a party, AKP is still the best hope. From Türköne:
Because of the elitist tradition on which it has relied, the CHP has failed to appeal to all of society and has not overcome its image as a bureaucratic party destined to always act as an opposition party. This was a problem of not only the CHP, but also intellectuals, who, like the CHP, are the products of the elitist tradition. However, intellectuals have a greater dilemma than the CHP. This is because intellectuals are accepted as intellectuals to the extent that they appeal to society. Unlike the CHP, they have to do things beyond this elitist tradition in order to advocate freedom, democracy and the rule of law. This accounts for why intellectuals cannot join the CHP, but at the same time, have problematic relations with conservative and traditional circles.

As the CHP reviews its elitist past, intellectuals are discussing their problems with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Having supported the AK Party against the militarist and bureaucratic political guardianship, intellectuals are now questioning this support.

In Turkey, being an intellectual makes you automatically leftist. As the term "left" or "leftist" are preferred concepts in Turkey, these intellectuals tend to define themselves as "democrats." Although this designation is used for a different reason, it means "liberal" as it does in the US Democratic Party. The designation of "democrat" is used out of habit or for convenience for these intellectuals, most of whom are former Marxists. Oral Çalışlar, a Radikal columnist, says the number of these intellectuals is "40 or 50 at most," but this is not a small number either. As an intellectual acts as a translator for the feelings and tendencies of the masses who cannot express them, this figure is rather high. To dispel any doubt, we may also provide some names. This is a long list including Ahmet Altan, who ruthlessly shoulders the entire burden alone, the Altan brothers, Eser Karakaş, Şahin Alpay and Cengiz Çandar.

. . . .

First, we need to question the frequently voiced theses that "The AK Party is not democratic" and "Everyone seeks democracy for only their own community." How can one suggest that a political party -- not only the AK Party, but also the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) -- do not support democracy, which is their raison d'être? How can intellectuals, who are supposed to defend freedom against all sorts of power, yield to democracy, i.e., the rule of the people? Isn't there a problem with the description "a democratic intellectual who says the AK Party is not democratic"?

Our political system, which we call a representative democracy, is run through political parties. When you take political parties out of the system, there remains nothing that we can call democracy. Democracy is what makes parties exist. Parties are what make democracy exist. The description "a party that is not democratic," which Çalışlar is comfortable using, is not quite accurate. If he refers to "intra-party democracy," it is an altogether different topic. The political system that is up and running inside political parties is a product not of the Political Parties Law, but of the political culture of the nation.
For full article, click here.


An AKP stalwart, Türköne's conclusion is far from surprising, but interesting is his resignation at the structure of political parties. Türköne discounts the important role played by emerging Turkish civil society groups operating at the grassroots, and seems to suggest political parties to be the only driving force in democratic politics, in Turkey or otherwise. Attacking Çalışlar's position on political parties, Türköne argues that their predominance in Turkish politics has more to do with political culture than it does with the Political Parties Law. While this may indeed be the case, an issue addressed in my post two days ago about youth participation in politics, it does not mean that Turkish political leaders should not promote a more participatory polity.

Political culture is not static, and in Turkey, seems to be on the verge of recovery. Türköne's argument that intellectuals are best served by AKP may indeed be the case when it comes to the ballot box, but it is their engagement with the party outside of the dictatorial normal politics of inner-party decision making in which lie the best prospects for Turkish democracy. The development of a vibrant and diverse civil society is precisely what is needed in Turkey because the political party system is so impoverished, and one of the reasons for this poverty is the exact same party-centric view Türköne perpetuates. As Turkish citizens from a variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds, social classes, and political groups come to participate more in politics, Turkish political parties will in turn become more diverse, and consequently, more sophisticated in their understanding and approach to politics -- regardless of whether these citizens cover their heads, speak Kurdish, or practice heterodox forms of Islam. Increased participation in and organization of Turkish civil society should translate to increased demands for better representation, and demands for better representation are the only hope that a more democratic party politics might one day come to pass.

4 comments:

Mizgîn said...

Oh for the days when old Mümtazer was an up-and-coming young Gray Wolf and a huge influence over Tansu Çiller.

But Mümtazer doesn't talk about any of that anymore, does he, especially with all this Ergenekon nonsense going on. After all, he might be indicted for his intimacy with the Deep State < /sarcasm>

As this example shows, there really is no difference between the hyper-fascists and the Fethullahcı. Like the Democrats and Republicans, they are both exactly the same.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

I am puzzled that Zurcher does not refer to Ecevit's CHP of the 70's since it seems to fit his description. They were liberal for their time, and definitely secular. They did have the urban vote (over 50% in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir in the last free general elections in '77). Why/how they failed is a question I don't know the answer to, but I'd like to see it asked. Or at least I'd like to see the urban voting pattern acknowledged and explained.

The median age in this country is 28. All of the youth and a fair bit of the 40-50 year olds are either raised in the system set up after the coup of '80 or are survivors (bodily or politically) of that period. While an immense amount of time and energy is spent to analyse and mostly discredit the period between '25-50 not much is talked about concerning the 70's. I think at the very least as a set-up or motivation for the system that ensued, both the politician and voter behaviour of the 70's need to be analysed. (There are a lot of juicy conspiracy theory stuff there also, eg: would the May Day 1977 massacre have happened if the 'right' seemed like they'd win the elections a month later? I dunno. If anyone claims to know, I'd certainly like to hear what they think.)

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Here's a link to back-up what I said about the elections.

Ragan Updegraff said...

The demise of the Turkish left is something that indeed should be talked about more, and the coup of 1980 and the center-right politics that followed is certainly something that should be more commonly ackowledged in analysis. Thanks for the election data!