One wonders if Immanuel Wallerstein’s latest piece, which is as full of inaccuracies as it is praise for Erdoğan, is an indirect apology for the days when his name adorned the op-ed page in Zaman. Of course that isn’t the case, but the situation is just as bad… When your sources on Turkey are liberal intellectuals, your articles on Turkey will be stillborn – even if you are Wallerstein
At the start of the 2000s, we got used to seeing announcements trumpeting “Look which famous western intellectual is writing for Zaman now!” It was a great tactic in attempting to lend some credibility to the nonsense in whatever column was on the other side of the page. Immanuel Wallerstein was one of the writers that bestowed prestige on Zaman (the newspaper of Fethullah Gülen Movement), even as someone known for being on the “left.”
Wallerstein has long been an important source for the left. Even if he doesn’t often resort to a class-based analysis, his evaluations of international current events in his columns on the 1st and 15th of every month are generally written within a coherent framework thanks to a solid foundation in political history. It is for this reason that Sendika.Org has often translated Wallerstein’s articles into Turkish after its foundation in 2001, creating a hefty archive of his work.
“Wallerstein is writing for Zaman!”
A few days after we would take Wallerstein’s articles from Binghamton University’s site and translate them, we would see them posted on Zaman’s website, indicating that Zaman was taking foreign intellectuals’ articles for other sites without permission and publishing them as if they are “writing for Zaman.”
We moved to alert Wallerstein to the issue with a polite email. “We’re a leftist site that publishes news on labor and doesn’t have any commercial interests. We translate your articles into Turkish along with the original address. The Islamist media organ Zaman, however, is publishing your stuff claiming that ‘Wallerstein is writing for Zaman.’ We’re upset by this, and we thought you should know.”
His first reaction was that since his work was followed by leftists, Kurds and Islamists in Turkey, it wasn’t a problem if an Islamist media organ was publishing his work. “So you’re writing for Zaman?” we asked. “It’s true, that word ‘for’ is a problem,” he answered and had his articles removed from the Zaman archives.
Times comes and time goes…
Wallerstein has generally been in tune with the Middle East and Turkey, and his forecasts for the Middle East have generally been on the mark. He correctly predicted that the hegemonic crisis of US imperialism would deepen after the Iraq War, that Iran would subsequently grow in strength and that Bashar al-Assad wouldn’t be going anywhere.
After predicting that the 2007-2008 financial crisis was ushering in the 500-year-old period of capitalism – to be supplanted by a 20- to 30-year period of chaos – he arrived in Turkey to share other predictions, showing himself to be knowledgeable on the Kurdish movement and Turkish politics. One couldn’t say that he took the socialist left particularly seriously, but one could chalk that up to the influence of the channels of information regarding Turkey.
“A really bad translation”
After the failed 15 July coup attempt, it was unsurprising that Wallerstein’s article on 1 August focused on Turkey, and Sendika.Org’s translation team quickly got down to work. But the article was so full of inaccuracies that readers would likely blame Sendika.Org and the translator, given that Wallerstein has rarely penned an article with so many errors and problems.
As such, we thought it necessary to sit down and expound upon the possible reasons why Wallerstein might have released such a problematic article.
Wallerstein writes for Erdoğan!
The title of Wallerstein’s article is “Turkey and Erdoğan: Rise and Fall?” – something that is problematic from the outset. To suggested that the 14 years of Justice and Development (AKP) rule is a “rise and fall” from Turkey’s perspective is to openly deny or misrepresent the truth and the preserve of liberal intellectuals who pretended their dreams regarding Erdoğan were true or who occasionally acted as false witnesses for Erdoğan for personal gain.
“The economy was going well, the country was democratizing and the winds of peace were blowing in the Middle East. Then something happened and everything suddenly reversed.” In this story penned by liberal intellectuals, there is no class background that reflects Turkey’s economic and military dependence on the imperialists (the US and the EU) or the bloody outcome of war. There is, however, plenty of lies and demagogy. Why did Wallerstein make similar mistakes? Likely it’s because his method, which does not accord enough importance to the class-based hegemonic relations at the heart of the political contradictions, has left him believing the rubbish dispensed by shoddy liberal intellectuals.
After 1946: A completely different story
This is how Wallerstein summarizes the transition to the multi-party era following a summary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic:
“Until 1946, Turkey was governed by a single party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP in its Turkish initials). Atatürk, founder of the CHP, died in 1938. In 1946, his successor as president and leader of the CHP, İsmet İnönü, allowed multi-party elections. After that, Turkey’s government alternated between the CHP (considered center-left or social-democrat) and the rightwing Nationalist Action Party (MHP). There were during this time repeated attempts to establish a Muslim or Islamist party. Whenever such a party seemed to grow strong, the armed forces launched (or threatened to launch) a coup, seeking to defend secularism against Islamist parties.”
It’s full of inaccuracies, but let’s start at the beginning: The transition to a multi-party system in 1946 was indeed a milestone, but the CHP remained in power until 1950. But the party formed in 1946 that used Islamic motifs as a political tool – but was remembered as a “center right” party and not an Islamist one – was the Democrat Party (DP). The MHP was only formed in 1969. The CHP and MHP never traded power; the CHP ceded power in 1950 when the DP won elections. The first coup was staged in 1960 against the DP. The DP was not overthrown because of its Islamist policies against the secular republic, but because it had ceased to be capable of managing Turkey’s contradictions, which stemmed from the country’s decision to become a part of the imperialist-capitalist world under the aegis of the US after 1945 and the dependency on US imperialism in economic and military terms, particularly during the DP era.
The nonsense that coups were staged against Islamists
Wallerstein asserts that Army staged coups to protect secularism, but there is only one – at least in terms of appearance – that meets that description: the “post-modern” coup of 28 February 1997.
Not only were the 12 March 1971 memorandum and the 12 September 1980 coup, which followed the 27 May 1960 coup, not staged against an Islamist party or movement, but sought to crush revolutionary/socialist movements and the working class movement, thereby opening the way for Turkey’s Islamification through the suppression of the left and the working class movement.
As much as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan portrays himself as a follower of the DP, which was ousted in the 1960 coup, the party was on the center-right; as such, the first appearance of political Islam on the scene would have to wait until 1970, when Necmettin Erbakan – who had been elected as an independent the year before – formed the National Order Party (MNP). The Islamist Erdoğan is a follower of Erbakan, cutting his political teeth in the MNP’s successor party, the National Salvation Party (MSP). Educated in the school of Erbakan, Erdoğan eventually became Istanbul mayor in 1994 for the Welfare Party (RP), another Islamist successor party to the MNP.
In addition to aiming at the revolutionary/socialist movements and working class movement that was sprouting from Turkey’s secular segment, the 1971 and 1980 coups provided encouragement to Islam and Islamism to restrict the left and the class-based movement, ultimately aiding the development of the Islamist movement as they crushed the left. Even if two of Erbakan’s Islamist parties were closed between 1970 and 1980, such prohibitions pale in comparison to the policies of destruction visited upon the left and other political currents during the period. Regardless, Islamist cadres succeeded in quickly forming new parties after the 1980 coup, providing an indication of how the state’s interventions always benefit political Islam. Formed by Erbakan in 1987, the RP won a number of municipalities in 1994, including Ankara and Istanbul, and even came to power as the senior partner in a coalition in 1996.
Islamists tolerant toward putschists
The 1980 coup plotters subsequently increased the number of religious vocational schools churning out Muslim clerics, increased the budget for the Religious Affairs Directorate and made Sunni-oriented religious classes mandatory. Coup leader Kenan Evren appeared at speeches with a Quran in hand, while the Turkish-Islam Synthesis became the official ideology. At a time when the mere mention of the left was illegal, Islamists were given carte blanche to organize.
Fast-forward to the post-modern coup of 1997. Forming a coalition with the True Path Party (DYP) in 1996, the RP was ostensibly subjected to military intervention in 1997 on the grounds that it was acting against secularism, but mostly because it was forging a path in opposition to the US imperialism and the largest domestic bourgeois business association, TÜSİAD. The Turkish Armed Forces did not seize power, but forced Erbakan from office. Erdoğan subsequently spent four months in prison and was subjected to trials to ban him from politics, although these prohibitions were eventually disregarded. The things that happened to Erdoğan in 1997 were not even comparable to the pressures exerted by Erdoğan against the opposition during his term in office.
Until an acceptable Islamist party – the AKP – emerged, the US and large domestic bourgeois groups spent much of its time attempting to close Erbakan’s parties after 28 February. Later, the traditionalist clique around Erbakan was sidelined, opening the way for the neoliberal-Islamist clique that had formed around Erdoğan to gain ascendancy. Erdoğan was ultimately able to attract a sizable proportion of the Islamic movement and merge it with the center-right to form the AKP in 2001. This is the extant of the victimization of Islamists at the hands of the putschists. Such a story was completed with the AKP’s advent as a single-party operating along neoliberal-Islamist lines.
But when the AKP restructured the state and began to crush the opposition, liberals overdid the old fairy tale that “Islamists were the fundamental power standing against the Armed Forces, the main problem with democracy,” inventing a history of the Turkish Republic that pitted “secular putschists” against “democratic Islamists.”
Erdoğan’s coming to power
Wallerstein continues, describing the AKP’s advent to power like this: “It was … a great shock to the armed forces, the CHP, and the MHP when the newly-formed Islamist AKP of Erdoğan won by a landslide in the 2002 elections.”
The AKP’s coming to power was a great success by itself, but the ones that were shocked were not the CHP and the MHP. In presenting the AKP, CHP, MHP and Armed Forces as the only players in the political arena, he hides the truth. Before the 2002 election, the coalition government was formed by the MHP, Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the Motherland Party (ANAP). These coalition members paid a heavy price for a big economic crisis and the destruction caused by a giant earthquake, all failing to clear the 10% threshold erected in the wake of the 1980 coup and enter parliament. The center-right DYP won 9.5% of the vote, but failed to enter parliament. In all, 45% of the votes cast in Turkey failed to produce a single seat because they were cast for parties that failed to pass the electoral hurdle. With just 34% of the votes, the AKP won 65% of the seats in parliament, while the CHP picked up the rest of the seats.
Arriving in power as a single party thanks to a coup-era threshold that had purged the political arena of all others, the AKP started on its path with an economy that was beginning – albeit with problems – to grow again with IMF help after its collapse, along with support from the Fethullah Gülen Movement, as well as the USA and big business.
Inventing a success story
“In 2002, The Turkish economy was in very parlous shape, with a low GDP and GDP per capita and a high rate of inflation,” Wallerstein says.
True, the economy was in terrible shape, but it had been driven into the ground by the former coalition following IMF policies before it started to grow again with the IMF’s new, stringent neoliberal measures. The AKP didn’t change these policies but became their caretaker.
“The AKP under Erdoğan’s leadership was remarkably successful in transforming Turkey’s situation in its first decade in power,” according to Wallerstein. Eric Edelman and Morton Abramowitz, who viewed the case through the prism of US imperialism, as well as representatives of capital, likewise praised the same period. It’s too bad that the leftist Wallerstein failed to look at the decade from the perspective of the people of Turkey. Forget about ideology, it’s too bad he -completely discounted concrete data.
“[The AKP] turned Turkey’s economy into one that boomed, and was able to liquidate its IMF loans,” he says. Turkey’s economy grew as a result of an extraordinary reduction workers’ rights, profound conditions of exploitation and unrestricted attacks on cities and the environment. How is it possible to declare an economy that grew on the back of 17,000 workers losing their lives over the past 14 years, that raised the number of workers at subcontractors from below 400,000 to more than 2 million, that effectively outlawed the right to strike, that drove unemployment to above 10%, that indebted the working class’ “welfare” to ever-rising consumer interest rates and credit card debt, that was based on unproductive sectors like construction, that was supported by international money-launderers like Reza Zarrab and which continuously watched as its current account and foreign debt totals rose? Saying the economy rose is nothing but bad propaganda continuously intoned by representatives of capital and liberal intellectuals.
And when the AKP even admits that it was unsuccessful on education, coupled with the commercialization of the health system alongside a US model, we can do nothing but move on when Wallerstein says: “[The AKP] used the new resources to improve economic and social conditions inside the country, notably in education and health services.”
Don’t forget the Iraq motion
Wallerstein suggests that the AKP was following peaceful policies in the Middle East when it first came to power, but this is to forget that it moved heaven and earth to support the US’ invasion of Iraq as soon as it came to power, attempting to convince MPs to support a motion that would have allowed US troops to use Turkish soil as part of its invasion. Opposed in parliament by the CHP and on the street by socialists, internal splits in the AKP resulted in the motion failing on 1 March 2003. Despite this, the AKP effectively opened the İskenderun port to the US, as well as its airspace.
The fire that has consumed the Middle East began in Iraq in 2003, so speaking of a peaceful beginning is absurd.
Wallerstein posits that the AKP became an exemplary Islamist movement in power, before the deus ex machina: “Suddenly this all seemed to fall apart.” He subsequently touches on the economy, the Kurdish problem and the bad direction of Syria. Why did this happen? He doesn’t say, but it happened suddenly.
The economic policies were good, everything was going well on the Kurdish issue, foreign policy was a bed of roses and the country was becoming more democratic before everything changed suddenly. Is such a story possible? Why is there no suggestion that the AKP’s “success story” of the first 10 years wasn’t all that it was made out to be?
Why are the anti-war coalition that prevented the Iraq motion, the 2013 Gezi uprising, the October 2014 Kobanê Events and other incidents from the bottom up that rocked the government ignored, only for everything to happen suddenly?
There was nothing sudden. Erdoğan was already on the wrong path, and as he set off on his journey to power, he brought Turkey to the edge of the cliff. The success story is something invented by those who benefited from the situation. The mass opposition, which focuses on the oppressed, was always involved in the struggle against the direction in even the darkest days. Cracks in the governing bloc came to the fore due to popular resistance movements such as Gezi and Kobanê, prompting the AKP’s allies within the mechanism of power to see that the party would soon be unable to exercise authority. When it became clear that the mechanism of power needed to reorganized, erstwhile friends became the fiercest foes.
Now, we are on the edge of a cliff to which we have been dragged by the AKP for the past 14 years – not four. Whether we are Immanuel Wallerstein or a regular reader, we need to steer clear of liberal nonsense and direct our attention to more class-based evaluations if we wish to comprehend the situation.
*This English version is a condensed version of the original Turkish.