Posted to PEN-L by Sabri Oncu

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Jan 9 15:55:54 MST 2003

Louis wrote:
 > While radical mass action has been the response in
 > Argentina to a devastating economic collapse, Turkey
 > appears eerily calm in face of its own. Except for
 > increased votes for populist Islamic electoral formations,
 > there is not much one can point to as a sign that people
 > are unhappy with the status quo. When I pointed this out
 > to one of my better-informed hosts, she explained to me
 > that there is a key difference between Argentina and
 > Turkey. While displaying superficial similarities as
 > "modernizers", Peron and Ataturk differed on one key
 > question. Peron consciously built up the trade union
 > movement; Ataturk did everything he could to suppress
 > it.

There is definitely truth to that and it has been either in the
Constitution or in the Penal Code (we had many and I have the
1981 Penal Code at hand) since the beginning of the Republic of
Turkey in 1923 that it is a crime to advocate enmity based on
class, race and religious differences to divide the "people". For
example, see Article 312 of the 1981 Turkish Penal Code, which
calls for up to three years prison time for such attempts.
For Kemalism, however loosely defined it still is as an ideology
as well as a strategy or program, class struggle does not, or
better said, should not exist. Kemalism, among other things, is
an anti-communist ideology that rejects classes defined based on
their relationships with respect to the means of production: All
citizens of the Republic of Turkey, whether they are capitalists,
peasants or workers, are happy members of the Turkish Nation,
which is composed of all the citizens of the Republic of Turkey.
This also means that whether they are Muslims, Jews or Christians
or whether they are Kurds, Albanians, or Assyrians, all citizens
of the Republic are happy members of the Turkish family. One nice
thing I should mention, to be fair, is Kemalism's anti-sexism,
thanks to the struggles of the women of Europe: Kemal gave the
rights of suffrage to women shortly after the establishment of
the Republic, for example, among other improvements in women's
social life.

The project of Kemal and Kemalists was to build a capitalist
nation-state out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire from above.
As far as I can see, there appear some similarities between the
Leninist and Kemalist projects in the sense that both were
attempting to smash an existing system to quickly replace it with
a new one, although objectives were completely at odds. Indeed, I
speculate that one of the reasons why the Kemalists were so
hostile to the class concept was the success of Leninists in
neighboring Russia, although without the support of Lenin's USSR
they wouldn't be able to "win" the independence war against the
Great Powers of Europe. They were afraid that communism would
spread to Turkey, too.

One of the similarities between Lenin and Kemal was that they
both saw the Western Civilization superior to their own and,
because I don't want to upset some Leninists, I will claim only
that Kemal went to extremes, such as imposing a dress code,
changing the alphabet, banning Turkish music and ordering some
composers to compose operas and vaudevilles and the like, to
create a (westernly) civilized nation out of the multi-cultural,
multi-lingual, multi-religious peoples of the domain he and his
fellows came to govern.

In a sense, they were like IT people who were upgrading the
operating system on an old personal computer by trying to erase
the existing one, which always comes with many serious problems,
at least, to my experience.

On page 35 of his book "The New Imperialism - Crisis and
Contradictions in North/South Relations", Robert Biel summarizes
what Kemalists were trying to do very the nicely without any
reference to neither Kemal nor Turkey:

"Much of the latecomer, nationalistic strategy revolves around
the idea that for the South capitalist development cannot proceed
at the 'natural' pace, which it would develop in the absence of
internal factors. If they could industrialize within a time-wrap,
domestic entrepreneurs would expropriate traditional society at
their own pace and develop a level of technology appropriate to
that particular stage. But it is not possible for them to ignore
the advanced level of technology existing elsewhere and this
meant forcing the pace. According to the latecomer argument,
there is an advantage, in that they can copy technology. But
there is the disadvantage of more difficult social relations:
social change cannot be speeded up in the same way as
technological change; the logical conclusion is that the state
should act as a proxy for a capitalist class, keeping its place

Also on the same page Biel says:

"Aspiring developers knew they were fighting an enemy determined
to smash them. This had an influence on the latecomer models,
which has proved quite lasting even when the original reasons
were forgotten: they are strongly marked by authoritarianism and

I cannot think of a better description of Turkey than the above.
The sad thing is that most western writers don't know much about
Turkey and hence they deprive themselves off one of the richest
historical experiments against which they can test their

It is mostly because of the above that "while radical mass action
has been the response in Argentina to a devastating economic
collapse, Turkey appears eerily calm in face of its own", of
course, if we ignore for a while how strong a state the Ottoman
Empire, the predecessor of the Republic of Turkey, was.
In Turkey, if you dissent and become a threat to the system,
sooner or later the state will crush you.

At least, this is how I see it.


Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

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