The developments in Turkey’s political, social and economic landscape in the last ten years paved the way for a unique change in societal dynamics in the country. Since the Justice and Democracy Party’s (AK Party) rise to power at 2002 and its consecutive election victories up to present, Turkey has been going through a gradual change in what Gramsci calls “political society”, which points out the advent of the AK Party and their further consolidation of power at government. Particular reconfigurations in political society also triggered an immense change in “civil society” by means of shifting boundaries between different social classes. The course of events necessitates a distinct theoretical approach to be able to grasp the ongoing process in which the AK Party plays a crucial role.
The AK Party’s critical role in the transformation of Turkey has been subjected to various analyses, some of which refer to Marxist literature. Many commentators including the members of the AK Party tended to analyze the function of this political entity especially with reference to Gramscian terminology. Sociologist Besir Atalay, vice president of the AK Party, stated in a press conference held on January 20, 2012 that, “The AK Party should not be considered as a political movement reproducing the status-quo. Rather, the AK Party is a revolutionary party.” On April 7, 2013, he further stated that the AK Party undertook a “silent revolution” within the last 11 years of government. (http://haber.rotahaber.com/turkiyede-sessiz-devrim-yaptik-_358374.html)
Furthermore, Omer Celik, a deputy member of the AK Party explicitly referred to Gramsci when he stated that the AK Party undertook the Gramscian conception of ‘passive revolution’ by reworking the superstructure of society during his speech at King’s College on December 4, 2012. (http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/planet/22067534.asp) In August, 2013, a book entitled “Silent Revolution” with introductory essays by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Besir Atalay was published, which narrates the reforms undertaken by AK Party since the last ten years.
Explicit references to the idea of “revolution” are quite radical when considered in terms of the already established discourses of center-right politics in Turkey. Since the establishment of the republican regime in Turkey, particular activism for a revolutionary practice was acquired by left wing intellectuals, who strictly oppose themselves to populist politics. The republican regime aimed to transform the society from above in line with the Westernized perception of a public sphere, which necessitated the transformation of the private sphere as well. Left wing politicians and intellectuals considered the republican regime as a temporary phase of the revolutionary struggle. According to them, the transition from Ottoman Feudalism to Bourgeoisie society accomplished by the republicans would pave the way for the emergence of working classes, which would acquire a revolutionary agenda to overthrow the Bourgeoisie republic. This particular formula was however problematic since Ottoman society was not a feudal society in the Western conception of the term. Additionally, the republican regime managed to establish itself with the fierce discrimination of masses that were considered as “non-modern” and “ignorant”, especially Kurds and practicing Muslims. Since orthodox Marxism also faced crises in the first half of 20th century, the elitist, assimilationist and Westernized ideals of the republican regime were constituted upon a suppression of identity, rather than class.
As the theoreticians of the AK Party explicitly refer, the discussions around Antonio Gramsci in Turkey’s political and social landscape are relatively new. Gramsci’s critique of Marx’s economic determinism and his conception of hegemony as the basis of conflict in society provide one to reconcile the question of class with identity. The second half of 20th century witnessed the emergence of particular class formations on the basis of identity where social classes who were discriminated due to their cultural, ethnic or religious identities were also economically impoverished. The fact that the AK Party still wins the majority of their vote from the working classes of the society and that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) wins their vote from middle and upper-middle classes who identify themselves with the ideals of the republican regime is a crucial indicator of class dispositions which strongly interact with identity formation.
In the early 21st century, the AK Party emerged as a coalition of different social classes, including practicing Muslims, conservatives, Kurds, left wing democrats and socialists who were disillusioned with the republican regime. Especially practicing Muslims and Kurds, who have been left out of the elitist and modernist impulses of the republican ideals, were introduced to the political scene and managed to gain visibility in public sphere. Following Gramscian terminology, the AK Party became successful in winning the consent of the individuals from different social classes in their war of position against the established order. The party preferred a gradual struggle with the established order by carefully setting its defenses rather than a direct attack, which illustrates the configurations of Gramscian war of position, rather than a war of maneuver. The process resulted in a passive revolution; which is according to Gramsci, different than an active revolutionary process since the apparatuses of the already established order is still at work, whereby the political society carefully reworks on this system to reconcile its interests with such order. The ways in which the AK Party failed to prepare a new constitution to replace the one established by the 1980 coup perpetrators is an important handicap for an active revolutionary process to take place.
More importantly, the crucial aspect of the passive revolution is the way in which the AK Party reconciled its interests with the neoliberal global economic order. Paradoxically, the Welfare Party led by Necmettin Erbakan throughout 1990s as the predecessor of the AK Party introduced a political program which was strongly opposed to capitalist regulations such as free market economy, neoliberal policies, interest rates and privatization. Erbakan rather preferred an economy with anti-capitalist motives that includes strictly regulated market and nationalized industry, which was inspired by socio-economic foundations of Islam especially in terms of the equal redistribution of wealth. The anti-capitalist stance was stressed with the publication of “Adil Düzen Manifestosu” (A Manifest for a Just Order) during 1990s, which was the political agenda of “Milli Görüş” (National Vision) movement led by Erbakan. Taking the office of prime ministry at 2002, Erdogan however publicly declared that he “took off the ‘national vision’ shirt”, which signified their reconciliation with neoliberal economy. Since then, Turkey has been integrated into neoliberal global order and has a significant growth rate in such terms.
Integrating with the neoliberal order provided actors from different social classes such as practicing Muslims and Kurds to gain more visibility with newly established industries and consumer cultures. Furthermore, the ongoing peace negotiations between the state and Kurds will provide stability to the region, which will provide further integration of the region with neoliberal economy. The problems persist however in terms of the equal distribution of wealth and the insufficient conditions of working classes and the suburban poor. Such problems, which became manifest after the mine tragedy in Soma, point out the most significant indicators of the paradoxes inherent at passive revolution. The discourse of economic development becomes a hoax unless lower classes are not cannot enjoy the equal distribution of wealth. Once-oppressed social classes gain visibility in cultural terms with the identities whereas a class based oppression and impoverishment are reproduced due to neoliberal policies. It is certain that the particular process initiated by the AK Party fits in well with the definition of a passive revolution. Yet the AK Party faces a new challenge to convert the passive revolution into an active revolutionary process by maintaining a critical distance to neoliberal economic policies.
Published at http://www.turkeyagenda.com/turkeys-passive-revolution-and-its-discontents-799.html
Picture retrieved from http://www.deviantart.com/art/Antonio-Gramsci-01-Quaderni-del-carcere-363061666