‘The Emer­gence of So­cial Democ­racy in Turkey: The Left and the Trans­for­ma­tion of the Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party,’ By Yunus Emre

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - ASST PROF. SELİN AKYÜZ, Zirve Univer­sity, Gaziantep

[The] 1960s was a dif­fi­cult decade for the [CHP]. The three coali­tion gov­ern­ments that were es­tab­lished by the [CHP] ended in dis­ap­point­ment for the party ad­min­is­tra­tion and party mem­bers. … The [CHP] failed to have any elec­tion suc­cess in the 1960s. The party was de­feated in all gen­eral, lo­cal, and se­nate elec­tions. Above all th­ese dif­fi­cul­ties, a po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tion ques­tion arose from the de­vel­op­ments out­side of the party. (220)

This quo­ta­tion might sound fa­mil­iar. If one were to sub­sti­tute the 1960s for the 2000s, this book could eas­ily be read as con­tem­po­rary anal­y­sis. Since the be­gin­ning of the 2000s, the Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party (CHP), the main op­po­si­tion party in Par­lia­ment, has not only faced in­tra­party strug­gles but also un­suc­cess­ful elec­tion re­sults after ex­tra­or­di­nary party con­gresses. The most re­cent of th­ese was held in Septem­ber 2014, just after the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion won by Re­cep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere, Yunus Emre’s “The Emer­gence of So­cial Democ­racy in Turkey: The Left and the Trans­for­ma­tion of the Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party” is a timely read. The book aims to ex­plore the for­ma­tion of a po­lit­i­cal move­ment in Turk­ish par­lia­men­tary pol­i­tics, with a spe­cific fo­cus on the CHP be­tween 1960 and 1966. In this con­text, the book’s main lines of in­quiry are the fol­low­ing: “Why did such a party iden­tify it­self as stand­ing on the left of cen­tre? Why did the RPP [CHP] choose a so­cial demo­cratic ori­en­ta­tion in the 1960s?” (xii).

The book is di­vided into five chap­ters, in­clud­ing its in­tro­duc­tion and con­clu­sion. The first chap­ter in­tro­duces the so­cial demo­cratic move­ment and its ide­ol­ogy, de­scrib­ing the his­tor­i­cal evo­lu­tion of so­cial demo­cratic par­ties. Emre iden­ti­fies the or­ga­ni­za­tion of the work­ing class and the com­mit­ment to par­lia­men­tar­ian democ­racy and peace­ful so­cial trans­for­ma­tion as the main char­ac­ter­is­tics of the so­cial demo­cratic move­ment. He high­lights the im­por­tance of the “class po­lit­i­cal character” of th­ese move­ments. Ac­cord­ingly, he de­fines so­cial demo­cratic par­ties as cross­class al­liances. Emre then of­fers an­a­lyt­i­cal ap­proaches to and tools for study­ing so­cial democ­racy to de­limit the dis­cus­sion. The chap­ter fi­nally an­a­lyzes the main pa­ram­e­ters of so­cial democ­racy beyond Europe and its pe­riph­eral coun­tries. In this chap­ter, Emre ar­gues that so­cial democ­racy is a dy­namic, con­tin­u­ing project that can­not of­fer univer­sal for­mula for ev­ery na­tion-state, nei­ther in Western Europe nor in its pe­riph­ery. “The so­cial demo­cratic move­ments in the pe­riph­ery gave pri­mary im­por­tance to the ques­tion of de­vel­op­ment, while the western Euro­pean ex­per­i­ment in so­cial democ­racy fo­cused on class and class pol­i­tics” (27).

Chap­ter 2 fo­cuses on the emer­gence of so­cial democ­racy in Turkey, and an­a­lyzes the po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere in the coun­try be­fore the 1960s. The CHP, founded by Mustafa Ke­mal Atatürk, was Turkey’s rul­ing party and led the Ke­mal­ist na­tion-build­ing process dur­ing the early repub­li­can pe­riod, be­tween 1923 and 1945. Emre ar­gues that au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and elitism bur­geoned in the party at this time. Un­til the end of World War II, the CHP was the sin­gle rul­ing party and did not wel­come op­po­si­tion. For Emre, the au­thor­i­tar­ian character of the party is an im­por­tant fac­tor in the slow ar­rival of so­cial democ­racy. Be­cause the party ad­min­is­tra­tion stood in the way of many po­lit­i­cal rights, in­clud­ing the right to or­ga­nize, there was no fer­tile ground for al­ter­na­tive po­lit­i­cal move­ments. Hence, the ban­ning of po­lit­i­cal left­ism led to the de­layed emer­gence of so­cial democ­racy. Un­til the 1960s, the left was sup­pressed in Turkey. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the au­thor,

the in­sta­bil­ity cre­ated by the move­ment’s his­tor­i­cal her­itage on the one hand, and on the other new po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions brought on by the party’s quest for a new di­rec­tion chal­lenged the party. The sec­ond half of the 1960s marks a new pe­riod.

Chap­ter 3 ex­am­ines Turkey’s first ex­pe­ri­ence with so­cial democ­racy, which be­gins in 1960. Ac­cord­ing to Emre, the mil­i­tary coup of May 27, 1960 marks a new era not only for Turkey, but also for the CHP, as the coup moved the party left of cen­ter. While Turkey tried to es­tab­lish a new demo­cratic regime ac­com­pa­nied by a new con­sti­tu­tion, the CHP tried to at­tune it­self to the new po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere. Dur­ing this pe­riod, the party di­vided into two groups, con­ser­va­tives and pro­gres­sives. While the con­ser­va­tive group was against re­form pro­grams with the support of coali­tion part­ners -- namely the Jus­tice Party (AP) of for­mer Pres­i­dent Sü­ley­man Demirel -- the pro­gres­sives backed a re­formist pro­gram with the prom­ise of a “sta­ble po­lit­i­cal regime and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment” (118). Ac­cord­ing to the writer, due to the pres­sure of in­creas­ing ac­cu­sa­tions link­ing Demirel with com­mu­nism and for­mer Pres­i­dent İs­met İnönü’s ef­forts to fore­stall th­ese ac­cu­sa­tions and dif­fer­en­ti­ate the party from the left, a new “left of cen­ter” dis­course was an an­swer for both the con­ser­va­tives and pro­gres­sives. Emre con­cludes his ar­gu­ment with the hy­poth­e­sis that the fall of İnönü’s third gov­ern­ment in 1965 was in­stru­men­tal in the party’s adop­tion of the dis­course of a left­ward shift. In ad­di­tion, in a po­lit­i­cal arena shaped by an emerg­ing work­ing class move­ment, leg­is­la­tion en­shrin­ing the right to strike and free trade union­ism sig­naled the be­gin­ning of a new pe­riod.

Chap­ter 4 dis­cusses the


pa­ram­e­ters of this new en­vi­ron­ment for Turk­ish pol­i­tics in gen­eral and the de­vel­op­ment of the left in par­tic­u­lar. It ex­am­ines the po­lit­i­cal ac­tors of the left and their re­la­tions with the CHP. All three or­ga­ni­za­tions faced chal­lenges and ac­cu­sa­tions of be­ing com­mu­nist and/or so­cial­ist. Although the terms were used in­ter­change­ably, the very ex­is­tence of the left as a broad po­lit­i­cal stance breathed new life into Turk­ish pol­i­tics. In this chap­ter, in or­der to of­fer a broader pic­ture of the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the CHP and the ac­tors on the left, Emre an­a­lyzes their re­la­tion­ship via three widely de­bated is­sues: land re­form, anti-Amer­i­can­ism and planned de­vel­op­ment. All three is­sues were crit­i­cal, es­pe­cially the na­tion­al­ist dis­course on the form of an­tiAmer­i­can­ism, in terms of the party’s po­si­tion­ing it­self. The writer ar­gues that “the terms ‘so­cial demo­crat’ or ‘left of cen­tre’ in the western sense might be con­sid­ered as ap­pro­pri­ate most on this is­sue for the RPP [CHP]” (199).

The book’s con­clu­sion of­fers a com­pre­hen­sive sum­mary of the work and high­lights the dif­fer­ences be­tween so­cial demo­cratic move­ments in Western Europe and Turkey with spe­cial ref­er­ence to the CHP. Emre con­cludes that “the new di­rec­tion of the [CHP] was dif­fer­ent from that of the western Euro­pean so­cial demo­cratic move­ments. The so­cial demo­cratic par­ties of Western Europe had emerged and de­vel­oped as the po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions of the work­ing class” (227).

To con­clude, this work is a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to the lit­er­a­ture on Turk­ish pol­i­tics, the his­tory of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal par­ties, its po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere be­tween 1960 and 1965 and the evo­lu­tion of so­cial democ­racy. Th­ese days, in which the po­lit­i­cal stance of the CHP has been un­der scru­tiny, his­tor­i­cal anal­y­sis on the move left of cen­ter is es­pe­cially rel­e­vant. As it is part of Emre’s doc­toral re­search, its de­tailed anal­y­sis of the sub­ject’s the­o­ret­i­cal back­ground helps the reader un­der­stand his­tor­i­cal de­vel­op­ments. His anal­y­sis of the re­la­tion­ships be­tween the CHP and left­ist po­lit­i­cal groups asks im­por­tant an­a­lyt­i­cal ques­tions and re­minds the reader how the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment has sym­bi­ot­i­cally evolved.


A protest in Par­lia­ment by

the CHP.

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