[Marxism] Stillbirth: The New Liberal-Conservative Mobilization in Turkey

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 15 08:08:13 MDT 2014

(Cihan Tugal is always very interesting.)

Stillbirth: The New Liberal-Conservative Mobilization in Turkey
May 15 2014 by Cihan Tugal

Liberal-conservatism was the dominant intellectual discourse in Turkey 
for more than three decades. The 1980s was its moment of departure. It 
suffered a hiatus under the shadow of the Kurdish war in the 1990s, but 
militaristic brutality also increased its sympathizers. The 2000s was 
its golden age. Its triumphalism reached an apex during the 2010 
referendum. Ever since, its dominance has been crumbling.

State versus Society, the Military versus the Civilians, the Authentic 
Bourgeoisie versus the Old Elite

Among other factors, the 1980 coup convinced many intellectuals that the 
military was at the root of Turkey’s problems. Therefore, any civilian 
initiative deserved support. This belief was further strengthened by the 
global spread of liberal discourses after the defeat of the 1968 
revolutionary wave. “Civil society” became the buzzword in academia and 
independent intellectual circles. The new focus on civilians and civic 
actors (somehow believed to be brought into existence without state and 
military involvement) got an additional boost from the collapse of the 
Soviet Union and the Eastern European intellectuals’ liberalism.

The rise of the Islamist movement put a new spin on this emergent 
discourse. The dominant intellectuals perceived Islamism as a threat, 
but also a possibility. It was obviously one of the voices in society 
against the state; but it also harbored a lot of authoritarianism. If 
the civilian elements within the Islamist movement could be harnessed to 
the liberal project, then the resulting combination could turn into a 
veritable force against the state. Simultaneously, many intellectuals 
within the Islamist movement also started to use the vocabularies of 
liberalism, civil society, and, interestingly enough, postmodernism. The 
question then became: were these just isolated and unrepresentative 
maverick intellectuals, or was there a social force behind them?

Here, a liberalized Marxism rushed to the rescue. Liberalized Marxists 
had been arguing for a while that the lack of an independent bourgeoisie 
was the main cause of the lack of a true democracy in Turkey. The 
existing bourgeoisie was the result of official manufacturing. Young 
Turks and their descendants, the Kemalists, had first forcefully 
dispossessed the non-Muslims and then artificially created a new 
bourgeoisie. As a result, the business class in Turkey was indebted to 
bureaucrats from the get-go. It could never become the voice of 
democracy as it had in Europe.

By contrast, the emergent bourgeoisie of the 1980s had developed as a 
result of market dynamics. Kept in check under the corporatist 
regulation that characterized Turkey from the 1930s to the 1970s, small 
merchants and entrepreneurs were set free by the liberalizing atmosphere 
of the 1980s, especially thanks to Turgut Özal’s reforms. Conservative 
religiosity had bound this class together during these unfavorable 
decades; now the language and networks woven by that religiosity further 
allowed it to flourish. Unlike the official bourgeoisie, this emergent 
bourgeoisie did not have a bloody record. Among those less educated, 
Islamism was a movement of cultural reaction against westernized and 
educated people. But in the bosom of this authentic bourgeoisie, there 
were deeply liberal orientations; hence the quite grounded Islamic 
liberalism of the above mentioned intellectuals.


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