Marxist and Structuralist Anaylses of “Apologizing”

In “Rediscovery of “Ideology”: The Return of the Repressed”, Stuart Hall indicates that the effects of class struggle may be traced within the linguistic system; since the meaning of signification is a social accomplishment.[1] Indeed, tough not mentioned in Hall’s article, Mikhail Bakhtin has long before described the language as a “living”, and as a “socio-ideological concrete thing.”[2] Therefore, meaning in the language no longer depends on how things were in reality, but on how things are signified in different ways and contexts.[3] In this socio-culturally oriented linguistic system, the same word might signify different meanings to distinct groups of people, as Hall exemplifies with the word “black”.[4] Here, my aim is to speculate – from Marxist and structuralist points of view – on the different perceptions of the act of “apologizing” in Armenian-Turkish relations of late.

In 2008, a group of intellectuals declared that they apologize to Armenians because of the atrocities committed by Ittihadist government against the Ottoman-Armenians in 1915. Several months later, Turkish nationalists came up with a counter statement, in which they expected an apology from Armenians whom they accused of committing atrocities against Ottoman-Turks. In the meantime, a group of Kemalists, tough marginal in numbers, apologized to Atatürk together with declaring their wish to return to the conditions of early republican period; they wished they were as powerful as the Ittihadists were back then, since the recent unrest of the Turkish intellectuals (apologizing to Armenians) had gone too far. On this occasion, three different usages of the word “apologizing” signify three distinct meanings; the first one signifies the effort to reconcile with the “once-repressed” (Ottoman-Armenians), the second denies the catastrophe, and lastly the declaration of the third connotes the nostalgia towards either the “rulers of the Republic” or the Ittihadist perpetrators of Ottoman monarchy. In this respect, two further points should be discussed:
First; both three acts of apologizing have thousands of supporters. Some apologize to Armenians in newspaper columns, using the same formula Turkish intellectuals presented. The opposite camp apologizes or expects apologies in accordance with the meanings signified by their counter statements mentioned. At this point, the significance of language as a phenomenon – which not only is structured by subjects in order to attain particular meanings but also shapes selves, constructs social belongings, reproduces existing social subjects -, is realized; since in a language system, which is at the same time a social system, speakers were as much “spoken” by their language as speaking it.
Second; the nationalist delusion which might be formulated in keywords as the forefathers envy of the counter-performers as opposed to the Turkish intellectuals (apologizing to Armenians) can be interpreted by referring to Louis Althusser. The Ittihadists constituted the ruling class which consisted of bourgeois members, most of which were from military background. They held not only the “state apparatus” in control but also the “state power”, which compose two distinct categories for Althusser.[6] Turkish Intellectuals (apologizing to Armenians) would suggest that Ittihadists used Repressive State Apparatuses as a result of which Armenian catastrophe occurred. Consequently after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the possession of both state apparatus and state power was succeeded by the Republican regime who, in order to reproduce its power as the ruling ideology and hence to reproduce the relations of production, took control of the Ideological State Apparatuses, since Althusser clearly emphasizes that “no class can hold state power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the Ideological Apparatuses.[7] Therefore, one might suggest that the “silhouette” of the Ittihadists and the envy for the forefathers in general are the products and the subjects of this reproduction through the practices of Republican ISA’s (Especially educational ISA, as Althusser also emphasizes).
On the other hand, Turkish intellectuals’ act of apologizing to Armenians can be interpreted in Antonio Gramsci’s terms. According to Gramsci, “all men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but no men have in society the function of intellectuals.”
[8] In our case, the “function” of intellectuals is to speak out the Armenian catastrophe. The declaration is crucial for the ways in which it exposes the oppressor on the one hand and sticks up for the repressed on the other. Furthermore, the declaration functions as a stance against the (dominant) political power, (which, as mentioned, reproduces its hegemony by ISA’s) which is, according to Karl Marx, merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another.[9] Although class struggle is not the right expression for stressing the conflict between Turkish intellectuals and the Kemalist-Nationalists, I believe that Marx’s depiction of the relations between the oppressor and the oppressed is useful in analyzing this particular conflict in Turkey (This approach is also handled by Walter Benjamin). Hence, concerning the relation between the oppressor and the oppressed (or the ones who intend to give voice to the once-oppressed (victims of catastrophe)), a Gramscian approach would precisely state the role of intellectuals as the leaders of the struggle of the oppressed against the perpetrator.
Finally a Marxist point of view would remark that in the course of this struggle, the aim of the followers of the “I apologize to Armenians” cause should prioritize to gain more and more control of political power in order to destroy the existing apparatuses controlled by the Kemalist-Nationalists. Tough not a Marxist point of view in the strict sense –since no mention of class as classical Marxism would perceive, plus economic relations as the infrastructure– Althusserian and Gramscian ways of interpreting this conflict provides the Turkish Intellectuals (apologizing to Armenians) an intellectual space within which one can effectively speculate on the existing relations of the oppressed and the oppressor and seek for the ways to provide political power for the oppressed nevertheless; so that in future, the oppressed can take control of the state power and exchange the existing state apparatuses of the oppressor with a quite different ones of the oppressed (this was simply what Marx wished for the proletariat to do).
[1] Stuart Hall, “The Rediscovery of “Ideology”: The Return of the “Repressed” in Media Studies” in Culture, Society and the Media, M. Gurevitch, T. Bennett, J. Curran and J. Woollacott, eds., Open University Press, 1986, p.77.
[2] Mikhail Bakhtin. “Discourse in the Novel” in, Literary Theory: An Anthology. Blackwell Publishing, 2004. p. 677.
[3] Stuart Hall, p. 77.
[4] Ibid., p. 80.
[5] Ibid., 72.
[6] Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” in Mapping Ideology, Slavoj Zizek, ed., London and New York: Verso, 1994. p. 108.
[7] Ibid., p. 112.
[8] Antonio Gramsci, “Hegemony, Intellectuals and the State” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, John Storey, ed., Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1998. p. 213.
[9] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. “Manifesto of the Communist Party” in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto, pp.203-243, Buffalo, NY, Prometheus Books. p. 231.

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