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The Form of Establishment of the Bourgeois Order in Turkey

The form of establishment of the bourgeois order in Turkey has completely different characteristics than the development process of the bourgeois order in the Western European countries, where the classic examples of bourgeois revolutions are seen. In France, for instance, bourgeois development began yet in the feudal society, and the rising bourgeoisie, on the basis of private property, established its order by carrying out its own revolution in the following years. However, the historical development line of the Ottoman Empire, that the Republic of Turkey emerged out of, does not resemble that of France.

The Ottoman Empire has an Asiatic-despotic historical background in which there was no private property on land and was therefore dominated by a class, devletlû, that owns the state. Even when it began to dissolve with the external influence of capitalism, the Ottoman Empire did not become a feudal society as in the European countries. Since the process of capitalist development in Turkey is different from the countries in the West, a developed bourgeoisie as the one in France was not existent to come forward and carry out a democratic bourgeois revolution in the process leading up to the Republic of Turkey out of the Ottoman Empire.

However, the process under the pressure of capitalist development around the world made it increasingly necessary to transform the socio-economic conditions in a fashion that paved the way for capitalist development. The historical confrontation between the conservative and progressive forces took place within the ruling class of the Ottoman Empire itself due to the conditions of the time. The Westernizing section of the Ottoman ruling class was predominantly of military origin. As can be seen clearly in the example of the modernization of artillery during the reign of Mahmud II, the Westernization campaign was always led by the army. During the quest of opening to the West, this section of the Ottoman state class, seyfiyye, has never abandoned the struggle against the religious ulema, ilmiyya, which favoured the order of the caliphate and had resisted in the past.

Among the military and civil bureaucracy and the Ottoman intellectuals, the elements that favoured change and opening to the West, capitalist development in short, started to organise in order to lead the bourgeois transformations. The 1908 Young Turk Revolution, foundation of Union and Progress and the leadership of the National Struggle that resulted in the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, all was formed and shaped on this basis. In other words, Westernization and bourgeois transformation did not begin with the bourgeois revolution that took place under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal but his leadership was the continuation of a change and transformation which had already begun in the last period of the Ottoman Empire.

After Vahdettin shut down the Assembly in December 1918, the National Struggle period came along, in which reformist Ottoman officers and intellectuals such as Mustafa Kemal, a member of the Young Turk movement, established their hegemony. Following the National Struggle, which was initiated after the occupation of the Ottoman Empire by the imperialist powers at the end of the First World War, the Republic of Turkey was founded with the bourgeois revolution of 1923.

This national struggle, which came under the leadership of M. Kemal after his passage from Istanbul to Anatolia and the organising he conducted, achieved its goal with a republic established on the basis of solely the Turkish national identity. Here we should not overlook an important fact. Although 1923 was the continuation of 1908, a significant change took place between the two events. Behind 1908, there was also the non-Muslim bourgeoisie, as the pioneer of capitalist development in the Ottoman Empire and the most important bourgeois layer of the period. The Young Turk movement was organised not only among young Turkish officers, students and intellectuals, but also among non-Muslim bourgeoisie.

1923 was devoid of this heritage with the Balkan countries’ gaining their national independence. The Republic of Turkey started off with a weak national bourgeoisie that was left over, while the late Ottoman period had a strong non-Muslim bourgeoisie and a local bourgeoisie that consisted of the weak Turkish bourgeois elements that were newly developing.

The bourgeois revolution of 1923, which took place under the leadership of M. Kemal, was a top-down revolution that completed the unfinished work of 1908 in a rudimentary manner. To draw an analogy within the context of the Marxist evaluation of bourgeois revolutions, 1908 belongs to the category of 1848 revolutions in Italy, Austria, and Germany, which Marx and Engels named as dwarf revolutions. The characteristic of these revolutions is that they are late bourgeois revolutions, so they tend to compromise with the dominant elements of the previous order and eventually waver in halfway. Previously we have mentioned that the consequences of dwarf revolutions will remain also dwarf in the future.

It will be recalled that, in the case of Germany, the unfinished 1848 revolution was followed by a top-down revolution, led by Bismarck towards 1870s, which could not dare to sweep out the extensions and remnants of the old order in a revolutionary manner. Similarly, the Turkish bourgeois revolution of 1923 was a top-down revolution that tried to complete the work left incomplete by the dwarf 1908 in a conciliatory manner. The late bourgeois revolutions such as the ones that took place in Germany in 1848 and subsequently in 1866 entered the stage of history much later in the case of Turkey due to delayed capitalism.

It is clear that the bourgeois revolution of 1923, which resulted in the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, was a top-down revolution in which the masses of people did not participate. The characteristic of such top-down revolutions is that, unlike the democratic bourgeois revolutions, they do not include the democratic demands of the working class and do not engage their active support. On the contrary, they try to pave the way for capitalist development by excluding and suppressing the masses, performing some compulsory transformations from the top. They do not have the capacity to perform democratic transformations in the interest of the large working masses as in the land reform. As a matter of fact, the Republic of Turkey example completely affirms these designations.

The bourgeois transformation, which started in the last period of the Ottoman Empire, was finalized by the transformation of the constitutional monarchy (i.e monarchy with parliament) into a non-democratic republic. The capitulations taken over from the Ottomans (rights and privileges granted to foreign countries and organisations) were abolished with the Treaty of Lausanne signed on the 24th of July 1923. Düyunu Umumiye, an institution that handled the payment of the Ottoman debts, was abolished and the Republic of Turkey undertook to pay its share of the Ottoman debts by instalments till 1954.

With the law accepted in March 1924, the caliphate was abolished and the Ottoman dynasty was expelled out of the Republic of Turkey, thereby the Ottoman sultanate order was terminated. İş Bankası, a state-sanctioned private bank, was founded in 1924 to lay the foundation for capitalist development. But nothing has been done in order to solve the land reform issue, which is one of the most fundamental tasks of a bourgeois democratic revolution. As a result of the agreement made with the landlords, the tithe collected on the harvest in the Ottoman Empire was abolished in February 1925.

In some approaches that attach a greater meaning to the Kemalist revolution than its reality, it is claimed that this revolution destroyed the previous state apparatus. However, as previously emphasized, only genuine popular revolutions can accomplish this. What has been experienced in Turkey between 1919 and 1923, was not a revolution based on popular uprising. Under the leadership of the Kemalist bureaucracy, the top-down dwarf bourgeois revolution did obviously not destroy the old state apparatus but made it even more competent by dipping it into the Republican sauce.

In this type of bourgeois development, we see that the elements coming out of the old state bureaucracy and demanding a reformation in anticipation of the inevitability of capitalist development take on a pioneering role in social transformation in the early stages. But such a transformation is embodied in a specific kind of capitalist development that involves reactionary reconciliations with the major landowners, avoids engaging the masses and accelerating the process, and is in particular under strict control of the state. It is not possible to consider such a line of development as equivalent to the capitalist process in European countries where democratic bourgeois revolutions take place.

In the particular case of Turkey, a very important issue that must be addressed correctly is the class character of the state founding bureaucracy. The pro-Western section of the upper state bureaucracy, which formed the dominant class in the Ottoman social structure, wanted to integrate with the modern capitalist world as a result of the exigencies of the now changed world conditions during the collapse of the Empire and took on this mission. To the extent that these bureaucrats undertook the task of establishing a new state on bourgeois foundations, they themselves underwent transformation and became bourgeois. For this reason, they made their mark on the foundation process of the Republic of Turkey as the vanguard section of an emergent class, i.e. the bourgeoisie.

It is against reality to consider these constituent elements of the bourgeois state as petty-bourgeois or as a self-styled bureaucratic caste that is cleared of bourgeois character. Such assessments, however, are quite common in the Stalinist ranks. In addition, some Trotskyist circles put forward theses in this direction. However, the simple truth is that the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal’s leadership, was not petty-bourgeois, but was bourgeois.

The political structure of the bourgeois Republic of Turkey, which was established in the remaining land of the fallen Ottoman Empire, does not resemble the multiparty political structure in the countries that have experienced the process of bourgeois democratic revolution. Since the first period of the National Assembly was the product of a course of struggle and alliances, it included diverse political elements, left-wing deputies, Laz and Kurdish representatives. However after M. Kemal leadership eliminated its opponents through the so called Independence Courts and liquidated left organisations and politicians by means of the Takrir-i Sükun law (law on the maintenance of order) a form of administration embodied by Kemal’s personal hegemony was established. Thereby, even though the political structure after 1925 in Turkey included a Parliament, this has never been a Western-type bourgeois democracy.

From the proclamation of the Republic to 1946, the form of political sovereignty was embodied in the single-party dictatorship of the CHP, the founding party of the bourgeois state. The political regime implemented the policy of systematic repression over the working masses and the oppressed Kurdish nation. Compared with parliamentary democracy in European countries, the bourgeois regime in Turkey emerged as a more anti-democratic one with a reactionary character and continued its existence on the basis of the past despotic state tradition.

In countries where bourgeois transformations are carried out via revolutions involving the masses, we see that the old absolutist regimes are liquidated much more radically. Additionally, by means of agricultural reform, the capitalist transformation of peasantry and the proletarianisation of rural population take place by leaps and bounds, meaning a shorter period time. A revolutionary type of bourgeois development can eliminate the barriers to capitalist rise more comprehensively, in a shorter time and therefore less painfully. However, the Prussian line of development is the opposite. The top-down bourgeois revolutions that accompany this line of development are coward and conservative in fundamental bourgeois democratic transformations, such as the elimination of the old political structure and the agricultural reform. That is why, in Turkey, the process of capitalist development in rural areas has been accompanied by a remarkably agonizing process of dissolution.

In the example of Prussia, the phenomenon of statism and the made-up fallacy that the state did not discriminate between the working class and the bourgeoisie and treated both classes equally are of great importance. A similar distortion of consciousness has predominated for many years in Turkey as well. The motto of Kemalism, “we are a classless, privileged, coherent mass”, is similar to Bismarckism and is essentially the expression of fear of the proletariat. This fear is not only dependent on the level of national development but is essentially a historical one. Indeed, the bourgeoisie first saw the light of day with this fear in a period that the working class has not developed yet. If we recall that this bourgeois order was established just beside a workers’ state which was the product of the October Revolution, the extent of the problem can be understood much better.

As in all other bourgeois leaderships and national struggles carried out by such leaderships, who defended their political independence against imperialism, Mustafa Kemal, while challenging some imperialist powers in order to keep his plans going, made various agreements with others. In order to establish the bourgeois republic on the basis of the recognition of solely the Turkish nation, the M. Kemal leadership enforced the policy of repression and exclusion against various minorities and the oppressed Kurdish nation.

This official policy, which shaped the founding period of the Republic of Turkey, continued after the death of M. Kemal with a one-man [National Chief] dictatorship and Kemalist cadre movement. The non-Muslim bourgeoisie, which was inherited from the Ottoman Empire with a dominant position in private capitalist enterprise in both trade and industry, was brought down by fascist practices (e.g. forced labour camps, Wealth Tax) and the path for the development of the Turkish bourgeoisie was opened.

The establishment of the Republic of Turkey and the hegemonic political position of the Kemalist bureaucracy during the single-party rule cannot be considered independent of the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie’s development. The single-party dictatorship that appears as an extraordinary regime on its own or the absolute political power of the bureaucracy when compared to the multiparty parliamentary democracy examples in Western Europe, has been, over a long period, the embodiment form of the bourgeois rule that is particular to the conditions of Turkey. The Kemalist single-party rule, which retracted under the influence of the international conditions between the two world wars and secured an accumulation of capital through internal market exploitation with state capitalism, repressed the working class on the one hand and started to lay the foundations for the transition to industrial capitalism in Turkey on the other.

The extant influence of the peculiar elements that marked the National Struggle and the top-down bourgeois revolution process in Turkey is quite important as well. It is therefore useful to summarize certain notable issues.

While in France, first the private property owning bourgeoisie developed and correspondingly created its own politicians and bureaucrats, in Turkey it was the opposite. In Turkey, civilian or military, the state founding bourgeoisie, that emerged as the upper bureaucracy, paved the way for the formation of a direct entrepreneurial bourgeoisie, who was engaged in industry and trade by means of state capitalism. Therefore, this second fraction, unlike the examples in Europe, got into the habit of taking shelter under the wings of the first fraction when in trouble, until it was sufficiently fed and battened, and started to feel powerful. When it began to feel powerful and wanted to rise against its own generals and bureaucrats, it did not succeed until recently (apart from the exceptions that ended with gallows or suspicious deaths). After all, it is not easy to bring the soldiers and the civil bureaucracy, who are convinced that they are the state founding and regime-protecting vanguards for many years, around the fact that they are the servants of the bourgeois business world.

In countries like Turkey, where a bourgeois class, built upon private property, did not prevail, civilian or military upper bureaucracy assumed the mission of the property owning bourgeoisie of the Western European countries. In this regard, the bourgeois order in Turkey, in a sense, took an extraordinary political form from the outset. For the same reason, the upper state bureaucracy gained an extraordinary importance in political setup and this position has survived until today. We can say that it has become a matter of life and death not to lose its superior position for this bureaucracy which appeared as if an independent group within the alliance of ruling classes by means of its ownership of the state.

The conflict between the bureaucracy and the bourgeois business world which gained strength as a result of capitalist development, has made its presence felt sometimes softly sometimes harshly. But this has not been a conflict between the elements of different classes. This extant conflict is the power struggle within the bourgeois class, in other words, within the ruling power bloc.

In Turkey, the sovereign bureaucracy entered the stage of history as the vanguard elements of the national bourgeoisie, which began to develop under the favour of state capitalism. For a long time, it faced mainly the small peasantry whose process of proletarianisation was very slow due to the slow and painful dissolution of the countryside. Capitalism has evolved over time in Turkey even though the form of establishment and progress of the bourgeois order was different from the examples in the West. The proletariat, though belated, grew and the fundamental conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat matured objectively. But the peculiarity, which has predominated since the establishment of the bourgeois order, that is, the bureaucracy’s weight in political life, has survived until today as a reality that does not vanish easily.

This reality has led to incorrect assessments such as that the predominant conflict in Turkey’s political life is “between the bureaucracy and people” or “between the bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie”. Left liberalism, which is still highly respected today, detached the political reality from the class basis on which it is based. However, as in all capitalist societies, the principal conflict is between the bourgeoisie and the working class in Turkey as well. The bourgeoisie-proletariat conflict, which emerged much more prominently in the Western European countries where capitalism started to develop within feudalism on the basis of private property, took shape belatedly in Turkey due to different conditions, state ownership and statism phenomenon.

Vis-à-vis Kemalism, which meant the National Struggle, the form of establishment of the Republic of Turkey and the official ideology of the bourgeoisie, various political forces took stand according to their class positions. The military and civilian bureaucracy always considered themselves as the true owners of this ideology. In fact, these were the forces that set Kemalism as the official state ideology in order not to lose their privilege in Turkey’s political setup. According to them, M. Kemal was the leader of an unprecedented movement of independence and progress, and Kemalism was the ideology of such a unique historical move.

In addition to this, the left movement in Turkey has been plagued by the phenomenon of left Kemalism as well for many years. We can characterize this as a petty-bourgeois left variant of the official ideology of the bourgeoisie. Left Kemalism is a pernicious source that has poisoned, and continues to poison, the socialist movement in Turkey. According to Left Kemalism, the National Struggle is a glorious anti-imperialist struggle led by [so called] vigorous military and civilian forces. The left Kemalists, who refuse to see the bourgeois class character and the repressive side of these forces, attribute a distinct and more revolutionary character to Kemal and Kemalism. In fact, they interpret the bourgeois revolution, which in reality is top-down and not anti-imperialist at all, and his leadership as a kind of petty-bourgeois radicalism, i.e. Jacobinism.

This is an issue that has been heated and brought up repetitively on various occasions. The reason that the petty-bourgeois left intellectuals persist on doing this, is their wish to display the National Struggle in Turkey and its leader Mustafa Kemal as a revolutionary thread. The liberal bourgeois attitude, on the other hand, accuses revolutionary attitude in general as top-downism, under the guise of criticizing Jacobinism. In fact, neither Kemal and his peers are Jacobins, nor Jacobinism is top-down revolutionism.

Jacobinism, which emerged within the French revolution, describes the kind of bourgeois revolutionism, which tries to bring the bourgeois revolution to its peak and does not exclude the action of the masses unless it goes beyond the limits of the bourgeois order. Jacobinism, therefore, has nothing to do with the top-down bourgeois revolutionism, which despises and suppresses the action of the masses. Jacobinism represents a positive tendency, a revolutionary attitude within the context of bourgeois revolutions. Top-down revolutionism, on the other hand, is Bismarckism, and Kemalism in the case of Turkey. Kemalism, which excludes the masses from the act of revolutionary transformation, does not radically settle with the old regime and undergoes a bourgeoisification process under the auspices of the state bureaucracy, represents a reactionary ideological and political line compared to the bourgeoisie’s revolutionary democratic tendency, Jacobinism.

[This piece is taken from the book Bonapartizmden Faşizme – Olağanüstü Burjuva Rejimlerin Marksist Bir Tahlili (From Bonapartism to Fascism – A Marxist Analysis of Extraordinary Bourgeois Regimes) by Elif Çağlı.]