‘The Emergence of Social Democracy in Turkey: The Left and the Transformation of the Republican People’s Party,’ By Yunus Emre
[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
THIS WORK IS A VALUABLE CONTRIBUTION TO THE LITERATURE ON THE COUNTRY’S POLITICAL PARTIES
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