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Opinion(A. H. Yalaz)


In the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was economically incorporated into the world market as an exporter of primary products and importer of industrial products. The Empire became a semi-colony of the capitalist European powers. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Empire was principally an agricultural, industrially backward and financially and commercially foreign-dependent economy. During WW I and the Turkish War of Independence the vast majority of the non-Muslim bourgeoisie, which was mostly comprador and formed the bulk of the capitalist class, either emigrated or liquidated or expelled from the country.

The ‘nation-state’ inherited a semi-colonial and semi-feudal economic structure and only a small part of the bourgeoisie from the Empire. There was almost no industry in the hands of the local Turkish bourgeoisie. As a consequence, the state stood centre-stage in the economy of the ‘Turkish Republic’.

In the 1920s, the state bureaucracy pursued an economic strategy that promoted the private sector and aimed at creating a national bourgeoisie. The anti-labour regulations that were designed before the war were maintained. Economic restructuring in the 1920s took place in relatively open economic conditions and the economic strategy of the state favoured the commercial capitalists and rich farmers. It was an economic growth strategy based on private capital accumulation. Foreign capital became instrumental in encouraging and organising export-oriented agriculture. The economic strategy also aimed at further integration of the local economy with the world economy as a supplier of raw materials and agricultural products and importer of finished manufactured goods.

In the same decade, the political structure underwent profound changes and a single-party authoritarian political regime was established. However, the fundamental features of the economic and social structures remained the same.

The dependent capitalist development and dependent position in the international division of labour subjected Turkey to the dynamics of development in the imperialist countries. The Great Depression of 1929-30 had an tremendous impact on Turkey’s economy. Foreign demand for Turkey’s export commodities on the one hand and the supply of industrial goods to Turkey on the other, sharply dropped. The private sector was still very weak to initiate an industrial development that could produce the imported goods domestically. Under the circumstances, the state introduced a state-led semi-independent import-substitution industrialisation (ISI), that is, state capitalism. In contrast to the 1920s, the industrialists were favoured by the economic strategy in the 1930s. The state bureaucracy strengthened its economic and political position. The state closely controlled and suppressed the working class and the class-based organisations were banned. The developments in the 1930s and particularly the role of the state in the economic life had profoundly influenced the future economic, political and cultural developments.

The years of WW II was a period of interruption in the ISI strategy. The political cadres and the high state bureaucracy acquired extensive authority which led to extraordinary changes in income distribution. These changes determined the developments after the 1945. During WW II the commercial bourgeoisie, the capitalist and semi-feudal large landowners accumulated huge amount of capital and wealth. Towards the end of the war the state bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie were further alienated from each other. A new group of entrepreneurs and the large landowners grew in strength. Turkey was still a country of small peasants with a small industrial proletariat.

As regards the economic strategy of the state, 1946 was one of the turning points in the economic history of Turkey with profound social and political consequences. The agriculture-based economic growth strategy was oriented towards the world market. The RPP government embarked on a more liberal policy with regard to the private sector because of internal and international pressures, particularly coming from the USA and international economic and financial organisations. The government took a number of measures to liberalise the international trade.

The ban on founding class-based associations was cancelled which led to the formation of many trade unions which were denied the right to collective bargaining and agreement. Some major institutional changes took place in the period 1946-53, such as reduction of government regulations and the introduction of a multi-party system.

The DP won the general elections in May 1950 and formed the government. In the early 1950s, the DP government pursued an inflationary growth strategy. The 1954-61 was the period of exhaustion of the economic strategy and the re-adaptation of the economy to the world economy. The liberal trade regime was abandoned and some of the statist measures of control readopted. The government tried to reduce the state intervention in the economy and paid more attention to agriculture and the private sector. While the agricultural sector led the capitalist development before 1955, the urban industrial sector began to receive de facto protection after 1955. As a result, the industrial bourgeoisie improved its economic position. The economic strategy was, in fact, imposed by the IMF and the World Bank. Inflow of foreign capital was encouraged by law.

In the second half of the 1950s, the government had to pursue an import-substitution industrialisation, especially in the form of state investments. The ‘new statism’, however, differed from the ‘old statism’. It played somewhat a less prominent role in the economy and was more politically directed. It laid great emphasis on production of consumer goods and social overhead capital. This policy was consistent with the promotion of the private capitalist sector.

The increasing political differentiation of the capitalist class and its growing independence from the bureaucratic bourgeoisie took place in the 1950s. The economic and political powers of the commercial bourgeoisie and the large landowners grew and these fractions of the propertied classes together constituted the dominant domestic class alliance. In the first half of the 1950s, the position of the industrial bourgeoisie was weak with regard to these class forces. In the period 1954-61, however, its position was strengthened.

As regards the distribution of the national income, the industrial bourgeoisie and the fraction of commercial bourgeoisie that involved in marketing of the industrial goods benefited the most in the period 1954-61. The share of workers and the salaried sections of society in the national income increased as well.

In the 1950s, the number of workers as well as the degree of unionisation increased rapidly. Like its predecessor, the DP government continued structuring the interest representation system of labour mainly by imposing strict controls and constraints rather than by granting organisational and policy benefits.

On 27 May 1960, the military bureaucracy took over the political power. This ended the preliminary phase of ISI as the dominant mode of capital accumulation and inaugurated a new phase mainly led by the private sector. The coup of 1960 was, inter alia, a form of direct political intervention in the process of capital accumulation. The developments following the coup served mainly the interests of the larger industrial bourgeoisie and the international capital as well as the bureaucratic bourgeoisie which developed a sense own interest over the years.

The 1960s and the first half of the 1970s was a period of further and rapid expansion of capitalism in general and the import-dependent ISI as the dominant mode of capital accumulation in particular. In terms of economic growth, the ISI strategy was successful. Private industrial sector grew very fast, but the state sector was still very strong. In the process the military bureaucracy became an integral part of the capitalist class proper.

In accordance with the requirements of the ISI strategy, the state legislated and institutionalised collective labour rights and a social security system, excluding unemployment insurance. By so doing, the state managed to incorporate an organised section of the industrial working class. Although the working class movement developed rapidly and became a socio-political force to be taken into account, job unionism dominated the trade union movement under the leadership of trade union bureaucracy. Nevertheless, a section of the working class and other social forces waged an organised struggle against the existing capitalist order.

The ISI strategy was dependent on external financing and whenever confronted with a bottleneck it got into deep trouble. Because of growing politicisation of the society and the worsening economic situation, the military bureaucracy intervened once more on 12 March 1971. The military controlled civilian government took anti-labour measures and severely persecuted the political opposition. The internal contradictions of the ISI strategy on the one hand and the international economic environment on the other, signalled the beginning of the end of a period.

The international economic environment was not favourable for ISI. In 1974-75, the worst worldwide recession occurred. ‘High’ labour costs and the ‘expensive’ welfare system were perceived as the main causes of the crisis. According to a new consensus among governments of the core capitalist countries, the state’s role in the economy had to be reduced and the market forces had to be allowed to operate freely. The dominant mode of capital accumulation and regulation (Fordism) had to be abandoned in the advanced capitalist countries. ‘The reorganisation of global production from Fordist economies of scale to post-Fordist economies of flexibility’ (Cox 1996: 31) had to be carried out. The so-called neo-liberal restructuring of the world economy ‘was essentially one more offensive in the class struggle to alter the perceived shift in class relations and shares in the national incomes’ (Kolko 1988: 31).

In the course of the crisis and restructuring, the industrial or productive capital has lost its dominance and the money or financial capital has become dominant fraction of capital. The capitalist state played a crucial role in the restructuring process through macro economic policies, anti-labour measures, breaking down the ‘welfare state’, privatisation, etc. The nature of state intervention has changed considerably, but the role of the state in the economy has not diminished.

The global economic crisis made a tremendous impact on the ISI strategy in Turkey which was the expression of the close interaction between the external and internal factors concerning the economic strategy. By the end of the 1970s, the time of import-dependent ISI was over. Although the private sector had come to play a substantial role in the industry, the state sector was still the economy’s centre of gravity.

The 1970s witnessed to growing organised interest representation. Both the industrial bourgeoisie and the industrial proletariat employed in large-scale factories were organised and waged struggle against each other under the leadership of their respective organisations. Intensified class struggle effected the income distribution relatively in favour of the organised working class. In the 1970s, the influence of organised capital rose dramatically in the class struggle as well as in the policy-making process.

In the ISI period of the 1960s and 1970s Turkey experienced a de facto as well as de jure political liberalisation and even a certain degree of liberal democratisation. Towards the end of the 1970s, the social alliance between a domestic market-oriented industrial capital, an organised industrial working class and the state (bureaucratic bourgeoisie) broke down.

In January 1980, the government announced and began to implement an IMF and WB-sponsored ‘structural adjustment programme’ of the neo-liberal collaborationist class alliance. The programme aimed at replacing the ISI strategy with the export-oriented industrialisation (EOI) strategy.

When the economic crisis and intensifying class struggle threatened the conditions of the capitalist reproduction, it became obvious that without crushing the organised popular opposition and restructuring the political system it would not be possible to implement the programme. On 12 September 1980, the military fraction of the bureaucratic class intervened to create the favourable conditions necessary for capital accumulation and established its monopoly on political power. By so doing, it became the principal agency of political as well as economic restructuring in the early 1980s. The organised mass political opposition was crushed by the military fascist dictatorship, and the neo-liberal social forces had free hand to implement their programme. Besides political restructuring, the labour-force market was disciplined and restructured through extra-economic means.

In December 1983, a transition from a military regime to a semi-military, semi-civilian political regime took place. At the end of the 1980s and early 1990s the organised working class staged a counter-offensive and improved its economic position, but only to be worsened after 1993. Particularly in the 1990s, civil society has expanded rapidly and become more pluralistic.

Domestic as well as global cultural environment have facilitated the neo-liberal restructuring process in Turkey. An ideological campaign accompanied the restructuring process against the organised labour, state involvement in the economy (particularly in production of consumer goods), social security system, etc. Religion, anti-communism, chauvinistic nationalism, the mainly authoritarian cultural values and practices all have been used to legitimise the political and economic restructuring. However, the long and strong tradition of state intervention in the economy is a part of ‘common’ culture in Turkey which makes it rather difficult to change the relationship between the state and economy.

The state, particularly the Özal governments, introduced many ‘reforms’, such as liberalisation of the import and exchange-rate regimes, financial liberalisation, export promotion, privatisation of the state-owned economic enterprises, etc. The objective and subjective restructuring of the economic structures led to a intensified struggle among different fractions of capital each of which aimed at increasing its share regarding the redistribution of surplus value. The bank owning large holding companies benefited the most from the so-called neo-liberal restructuring.

One of the striking phenomena in the 1980s and 1990s has been the rise of ‘Islamic capital’ or ‘tarikat-capital’ which provided a powerful economic base to political Islam which has also strengthened its position in the bourgeois political arena.

How did the legacy of the Ottoman Empire affect the future developments in Turkey? It would not be an exaggeration to argue that the legacy of the Ottoman Empire determined the future developments in the nation-state. Because of the dependent incorporation of the Ottoman Empire into the world market, the history of the capitalist development in Turkey, though there was a period of decreasing dependency in the 1930s and early 1940s, has essentially been the history of the neo-colonial capitalist development. The ‘new’ state also inherited a strong tendency towards self-colonisation reflected in importing Euro-centrist ideologies, cultural values and political institutions, etc. It has proved to be impossible to break the chains of dependency within the capitalist world system.

A semi-colonial and semi-feudal economy meant, inter alia, an underdeveloped social stratification. The mechanisms of surplus appropriation and political rule were not sufficiently separated to allow the development of a bourgeois society. The absence of the noteworthy industrial bourgeoisie and industrial proletariat reflected the insufficient development of the forces of production and capitalist relations of production for an essentially self-reliant and self-sustaining capitalist development. There was no industrial working class strong enough to fight for democratic rights that could have led to, inter alia, a liberal political system. As a result of an underdeveloped class structures, the existence of powerful semi-feudal large landowners and religious leaders, the dominance of commercial fraction of the capitalist class over a weak industrial bourgeoisie and a weak industrial working class, the state stood centre stage in the society. Since the ‘new’ political rulers were the heirs of the Committee of Union and Progress, the ‘nation-state’ inherited an authoritarian state-society relations which prevented the development of a relatively strong progressive civil society and enhanced the position of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie. Therefore, not only the future economic developments, but also the political developments were determined by the backward socio-economic and political relations.

Which internal and international factors did lead to the emergence of a state-led import-substitution industrialisation in the 1930s? The Great Depression was the most international event that helped to shape the future development of Turkey. Because of the world crisis the momentum of the commercial bourgeoisie was arrested and the state gained importance in the economy. The absence of a domestic private capital accumulation sufficient enough to allow the private sector to undertake industrialisation pushed the state to the front. If one wants to see the industrial bourgeoisie in the 1930s and 1940s in Turkey, one should look at the state which largely assumed the role of industrial bourgeoisie. By so doing, the state aimed at overcoming or compensating the negative effects of the world crisis and accumulating capital partly to promote a local industrial bourgeoisie. The already established political dominance of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie and its willingness to promote its own interests played its role as well. The emergence of an autarkic state capitalism had strengthened the authoritarian state-society relations which ran counter to bourgeois political liberalisation and democratisation.

What were the internal and international factors after WW II that led to the emergence of a new stage of ISI based on the private sector and what role did the state play in this process? During WW II the capitalist class, particularly the commercial fraction of it, accumulated significant amount of commercial capital and wealth. Both the commercial bourgeoisie and the large landowners became economically powerful enough to form a strategic alliance and demand political changes from the bureaucratic bourgeoisie that would enable them to participate in the decision making process. The victory over the fascist totalitarian states helped to discredit the single-party authoritarian political regime and autarkic state capitalism in Turkey which could not be sustained anymore. An international climate of ‘liberalism’ arose in which democracy became commonplace and the door was opened to create a multi-party system in Turkey too. The Turkish state played the so-called Cold War card in order to obtain financial support from the imperialist powers.

The state’s role regarding the economy of Turkey in general and the accumulation of capital in particular changed considerably. Until the mid-1950s, the Turkish state pursued an agriculture-based economic strategy oriented towards the international market which was also sponsored by the USA and the international economic and financial organisations. The state became the main agency of the emergence and intensification of neo-colonial capitalist development through the liberalisation measures regarding the international trade and encouraging the penetration of the foreign capital. When it became clear towards the mid-1950s that the inflationary growth strategy could not be sustained anymore, the government had to pursue the ‘new statism’ in which the supporting role of the state sector came to the fore regarding the private sector.

In the second half of the 1950s, the industrial bourgeoisie became a significant economic power and demanded stable economic policies which the DP government was not capable to provide. The military fraction of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie seized the political power and built the institutional framework to regulate the private-sector-based ISI mode of capital accumulation which supposed to ensure a rational and planned allocation of ‘scarce’ resources. The state was the agency for mediating the relations between the internal and international economy. A closely regulated international trade and foreign exchange regimes were the main instruments of the state which accompanied the institutional framework to promote the private accumulation of capital. In the new stage of ISI, the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, particularly those segments which were in charge of financial and economic affairs, assumed extensive powers to influence the capitalist development.

What were the internal and international factors that made the neo-liberal restructuring of the economic and political structures imperative?
The global crisis of capitalism, the two oil shocks and fall in workers’ remittances were the main international factors that contributed to the worsening of the balance of payments and debt problems and, thus, to the crisis of the ISI strategy which was soon to be substituted by the EOI strategy. However, the real cause was the inability of ISI to earn its own foreign currency in order to meet its import needs. This inability was caused by the low labour productivity (the high production costs, thus the decreasing average rate of profit) in the industrial sector that prevented the domestically produced low quality and expensive industrial goods to compete in the world market. One way and another, the crisis of ISI was a reflection of the global crisis which influenced the intensity of domestic crisis. The neo-liberal economic programme of the neo-liberal collaborationist class alliance faced a strong popular opposition which made the implementation of it almost impossible. Besides, the political structures did not correspond to the requirements of the new economic strategy. The working class struggle, general politicisation and polarisation of society and the political instability were perceived by the capitalist class forces and the state as a threat to the capitalist order and an obstacle to the implementation of the programme.

How has the process of neo-liberal restructuring in Turkey developed? In the absence of a ‘civilian engineer’, the ‘military engineer’, the military fraction of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, took over the job of political restructuring in order to prepare the ground for a new mode of capital accumulation and regulation. The military fascist dictatorship restructured the political system and continued with the implementation of the economic restructuring programme. After the transition to semi-military, semi-civilian authoritarian political regime, the objective and subjective restructuring processes gained momentum. Since the end of the 1991, the coalition governments have been at the head of civilian executive which makes the restructuring somewhat a more difficult process. However, almost all bourgeois political parties are in favour of the neo-liberal restructuring. Towards the end of the 1980s, popular opposition to the neo-liberal restructuring, particularly against privatisation of SEEs grew. With some fluctuations, this opposition still continues involving new active social forces, particularly the movement of civil servants.

In Turkey, the state has always actively involved and intervened in the economic life in order to produce as well as regulate the expanded capitalist reproduction process. State’s intervention has been particularly important and aggressive in crisis periods of the dominant mode of capital accumulation. In the age of ISI, state capitalism was an indispensable component of this mode of capital accumulation. The state (bureaucratic bourgeoisie) was the main agency of transformation of economic structure from predominantly agricultural economy to agricultural-industrial economy. Some much needed industry, particularly capital goods industry, and social overhead capital that facilitated the development of a private capitalist sector, were created by the state. Extracting surplus from the productive classes and strata and transferring a substantial part of this surplus to the ‘national’ industrial and commercial bourgeoisie and international capital was one of the most important functions of the state. It had to regulate the process of capital accumulation and legitimise its policies and the pursued economic strategy. This meant economic, social and political concessions to the working class and other productive social forces depending upon the internal and international economic and political conditions.

The Turkish state has been at the centre stage of the neo-liberal restructuring process of the economy of Turkey. Contrary to the arguments of the advocates and practitioners of the neo-liberal economic policies, the role of the state in the neo-liberal restructuring process has not been diminished but profoundly changed in nature and direction. When the ISI strategy entered into crisis, caused by internal and external factors, the state has, once more, played a crucial role in restructuring the economy to resolve the crisis of capital accumulation.

The interests of internationally oriented fractions of capitalist class, some segments of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie and politicians and the international financial system required a shift towards export-oriented mode of capital accumulation that was directed and controlled by the very same forces. While the Turkish state has been the main domestic agency of the neo-liberal stage of the reproduction of neo-colonial dependency, the IMF and the WB have been the principal global agencies which co-directed the so-called neo-liberal restructuring of the economy. The export-oriented industrialisation meant the further increasing of the role of the world market in the accumulation process in Turkey and reproducing and deepening the neo-colonial dependency of Turkey’s economy on the highly industrialised and capital-powerful economies: favoured dependency. The neo-liberal forces within the Turkish state, together with the neo-liberal fraction of capital, has put this imperialist-imposed industrialisation strategy into practice and institutionalised the new mode of capital accumulation within the framework of neo-colonial capitalist development.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Turkish state has been more active to promote the international competitiveness of the domestic industry. The state has not only the political and economic means (particularly SEEs), but, in comparison with the private sector, it has also the ability to create domestically and obtain internationally the necessary financial means.

Neo-liberal restructuring process in Turkey has been mainly a state-controlled subjective restructuring process which also involved the restructuring of the state itself. Political restructuring involved the further centralisation and concentration of the decision-making process. Without a ‘strong’ rule there could be no neo-liberal restructuring. The power relations between different social classes and strata and the fractions of capital would not allow it to take place. In the political restructuring process, the powers of the executive, particularly the powers of those state organs directly involved in the economic restructuring have been increased.

The so-called state-directed neo-liberal restructuring process has also been the process of the authoritarian reconstruction of state-society relations. The restructuring of the state has made the suppression and disciplining of the working class and other oppositional and/or potentially oppositional social forces easier. This could, however, not prevent the development of a relatively strong progressive civil society in Turkey.

In the neo-liberal economic and political restructuring process, the Turkish state has proved itself to be a combination of a ‘strong’ and a ‘fierce’ state which has been indispensable to safeguard the economic, social, cultural and political preconditions of capital accumulation.


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