Peo­ple, oli­garchy, nation: big words that filled the french pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign, and func­tioned like an infer­nal trio, both on the right and on the left.

The Peo­ple against oli­garchy, appar­ent­ly this would now be the alpha and omega of every polit­i­cal analy­sis dur­ing an elec­tion cam­paign, as a def­i­n­i­tion of the way to save the “nation”. The people’s sov­er­eign­ty would thus express itself in its capac­i­ty to over­turn the reign­ing oli­garchy, while the “nation” would free itself from supra-nation­al oli­garchies, in this case Euro­pean ones, often denounced under the terms of “finance“and “lib­er­al­ism”.

Thus con­sti­tut­ed, an entire cor­pus has con­tributed to an elec­toral “pop­u­lar edu­ca­tion” brim­ming with shame­less pop­ulism, aimed at choos­ing the pow­er-that-be. Calls to insub­mis­sion on the one hand and to iden­ti­ty on the oth­er were sung in praise of a sov­er­eign Nation-State giv­ing back “pow­er to the people”.

Since an ana­lyt­i­cal tool is use­ful if it finds uni­ver­sal appli­ca­tion, let’s try this on Turkey, for instance.

In many lan­guages, the words “nation” and “peo­ple” are used indif­fer­ent­ly to des­ig­nate the same thing, with con­text sup­ply­ing the prop­er mean­ing. (For instance, it is com­mon to speak of the “French nation” as a way to des­ig­nate its pop­u­la­tion.) In Turk­ish, this is the rule. A not insignif­i­cant one, with deep links to its history.

The Turk­ish Repub­lic found­ed by Mustafa Kemal, rests on this con­cept of an indi­vis­i­ble, insep­a­ra­ble peo­ple-nation, pick­ing up in this the Occi­den­tal creed of nation-states, export­ed through­out the world, often with the colo­nial bay­o­net or the impe­ri­al­is­tic ruler applied to mil­i­tary maps. This was the case dur­ing the carv­ing out of the Ottoman Empire into “States”. The new impe­ri­al­is­tic pow­ers then fit­ted “peo­ples” into geo­graph­i­cal cub­by­holes and geopo­lit­i­cal con­struc­tions by divvy­ing them up and assign­ing them to ter­ri­to­ries. Pop­u­la­tion mosaics were crammed in, by force or through war, to fit the gener­ic name thus assigned. This is how the Mid­dle East was “nation­al­ized”.

The future “offi­cial Turkey” was cov­et­ed by many, as was Mesopotamia. To sim­pli­fy, the final col­lapse of the Ottoman Empire fol­low­ing the Armen­ian geno­cide – a most impor­tant com­po­nent of the mosa­ic – led to a war of inde­pen­dence and a nation­al rev­o­lu­tion led by Mustafa Kemal, who became Atatürk, father to the Nation and the Republic.

Some “ortho­dox marx­ist-lenin­ists” will see in this the first stage of a rev­o­lu­tion, the “nation­al” one, to be over­tak­en by the sup­pos­ed­ly inevitable “pro­le­tar­i­an” rev­o­lu­tion, giv­en the class antag­o­nism cre­at­ed by the new­ly estab­lished bour­geois repub­lic serv­ing the inter­ests of the cap­i­tal­is­tic class. We are famil­iar with the ortho­doxy of the “inescapable tran­si­tion”. Nor do we deny that the Kur­dish move­ment devel­oped this same long­ing for nation­al inde­pen­dence, since the “Kur­dish Nation” had not received ter­ri­to­ry, nei­ther in the great hag­gle nor through Atatürk’s repub­li­can solu­tion. A great part of this strug­gle for Kur­dish inde­pen­dence was log­i­cal­ly tak­en on by the par­ti­sans of armed class strug­gle, Marx­ist and Lenin­ist, that grew out of this same belief in the neces­si­ty of a “nation­al” step­ping-stone toward “com­mu­nism”. In the final years of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, up until 1990, the PKK was the rep­re­sen­ta­tive and actor of this ide­ol­o­gy. And every­one is care­ful not to men­tion too loud­ly how it works cease­less­ly at escap­ing this dog­ma, in order to let it live on as the left­ist opponent…

To sim­pli­fy, I’m sum­ma­riz­ing in this way the people/nation bundling and a few of its con­se­quences, on the Turk­ish scale. In Turkey, there evolved a repub­lic more Turk­ish than the Turks, a nation one and indi­vis­i­ble, both in ter­ri­to­r­i­al and ide­o­log­i­cal terms, in total dis­so­nance with its mosa­ic of peo­ples with their cul­tur­al and reli­gious imprints. Ana­lysts have used the con­cept of “Turk­ish­ness” in order to define its aspects and real­i­ty. At a sharp angle from this repub­lic, the “peo­ples” in the ter­ri­to­r­i­al mosa­ic became de fac­to “minori­ties” again, some as vic­tims of the genocide’s after­math, oth­ers as vic­tims of pogroms and expul­sions, while the Kurds were col­o­nized from the inte­ri­or, suf­fer­ing through repeat­ed mas­sacres and depor­ta­tions. Let us not for­get the reli­gious dif­fer­ences, sweep­ing through the his­to­ry of the set­tle­ments. This Turk­ish nation-state, often erro­neous­ly held up as a “mod­el of a sec­u­lar repub­lic” on “Mus­lim lands” is not yet a full cen­tu­ry old. In this peri­od of less than a hun­dred years, it has not long known inter­nal peace.

The his­to­ry of the Turk­ish Repub­lic melds with the oli­garchic pow­er estab­lished with an iron fist by Mustafa Kemal, then diver­si­fied and con­sol­i­dat­ed by mil­i­tary polit­i­cal pow­er born of coups d’état aimed at re-estab­lish­ing “repub­li­can order”, heav­i­ly dis­rupt­ed in the sev­en­ties by class strug­gles and armed con­fronta­tions between the Turk­ish ultra-left and the ultra-nation­al­ists. Turkey’s eco­nom­ic evo­lu­tion and its cap­i­tal­is­tic inte­gra­tion pro­vid­ed sub­stan­tial sup­port to this oli­garchic pow­er which it fed. We see noth­ing unusu­al in this, when put in par­al­lel with the equal­ly chaot­ic polit­i­cal evo­lu­tion in Euro­pean states caught in the tor­ment of decol­o­niza­tion, or even the Euro­pean con­flicts in the Balka­ns that fol­lowed upon the “fall of the Wall”.

Also note­wor­thy is the fact the dri­ving force of these antag­o­nisms and polit­i­cal crises accom­pa­ny cap­i­tal­is­tic devel­op­ment and inte­gra­tion, and the sig­nif­i­cant role of finan­cial oli­garchies in Europe in the choice of poli­cies to imple­ment or pre­serve. They rest on class antag­o­nism over the deep­en­ing gaps reduc­ing pop­u­la­tions to mis­ery and pre­car­i­ous­ness, while upset­ting the social and ter­ri­to­r­i­al geog­ra­phy. In Turkey, the rur­al exo­dus led to the devel­op­ment of enor­mous metrop­o­lis­es where all com­pete in the sale of their labor val­ue, while uproot­ed and assigned to their “Turk­ish­ness”.

You will note I’m adopt­ing this term used by the oli­garchy. Nonethe­less I avoid using it for any pur­pose oth­er than the des­ig­na­tion of a mode of alliances between dif­fer­ent inter­ests and power.

But in the Turk­ish chronol­o­gy, how does one then explain Erdoğan’s rise all the way to the absolute pow­er he now wields ?

At first glance, if we apply the inter­pre­ta­tion grid as that of the peo­ple vs the strug­gle against oli­garchy, he has every­thing right.

He has led a “citizen’s rev­o­lu­tion” over more than a decade, mod­i­fied the con­sti­tu­tion on a num­ber of occa­sions ; per­haps he has only for­got­ten to “hand back the keys”.

Oth­er users of this same ana­lyt­i­cal grid ‑let’s say the more nation­al­is­tic extreme right- will not agree with this view, a cer­tain reli­gion keep­ing them from doing so. And since, xeno­pho­bia exert­ing its rule, they don’t mix much with Turk­ish ultra-nation­al­ists despite their ide­o­log­i­cal close­ness, they reject every­thing under the “none of that in Europe” — which they assail nonethe­less with quixot­ic energy.

So, has Erdoğan suc­ceed­ed in HIS citizen’s rev­o­lu­tion through his refusal to sub­mit to the Kemal­ist oli­garchy ? His anti-elite pop­ulism, his mani­a­cal onslaught against the Kemal­ist mil­i­tary caste, rest­ing nonethe­less on the very same “iden­ti­tar­i­an” dis­course as that of Turk­isness, cou­pled with the Sun­ni reli­gious iden­ti­ty (offi­cial­ly espoused by the pre­vi­ous repub­li­can regimes) matched the “peo­ple against the oli­garchy” pat­tern in its ascend­ing phase. Let’s note that the pro­gres­sive seiz­ing of pow­er on this mod­el was done through the bal­lot box­es, accord­ing to the Republic’s rules, even if these were occa­sion­al­ly twist­ed out of shape.

Are the “Turk­ish peo­ple” in pow­er for all that ? When lis­ten­ing to Erdoğan, one can only answer in the affir­ma­tive. When look­ing straight at the facts, no need to draw a pic­ture, many have just answered NO.

Thus, this kind of pop­ulism has led to the worst, to the real­i­ty of a fas­cis­toid pow­er, owned and man­aged by a new “oli­garchy” that sub­sumes a heavy com­po­nent of the for­mer, lib­er­al finance that ignores all odors and all religions.

Each one of these para­graphs deserves to be treat­ed in one or two arti­cles. But our reg­u­lar read­ers know what I am talk­ing about…

If we add that the EU has large­ly con­tributed to the polit­i­cal ascen­sion of this indi­vid­ual, to his fight against the mil­i­tary caste, against a cer­tain form of “nation­al­is­tic” cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my, and that it has fund­ed invest­ments in Erdoğan’s “mod­ern Turkey”, we will have the over­all per­spec­tive on the mat­ter. And if the EU has curbed plans for Turkey’s polit­i­cal inte­gra­tion (a fact Erdo­gan skill­ful­ly exploits to flat­ter sov­er­eignist and nation­al­is­tic sen­ti­ments), it nonethe­less con­tin­ues to do busi­ness with Turkey, and more than ever, when it del­e­gates to Erdo­gan the key to its fron­tiers, as it had for­mer­ly done with Kad­hafi, in order to exor­cise its migra­to­ry phobias.

So, a “citizen’s rev­o­lu­tion” with bad inten­tions, and “non sec­u­lar” to boot ? Have the Turk­ish peo­ple been duped in their oli­garchic insubmission ?

Wouldn’t it be sim­pler to acknowl­edge that, among a cer­tain French “Left”, this kind of pop­ulism, as polit­i­cal soft­ware, fur­ther cou­pled with a sov­er­eignist repub­li­can ide­ol­o­gy, in defense of the Nation-State born of the 1789 bour­geois rev­o­lu­tion (and not of what was a found­ing moment in its time, such as the Paris Com­mune), leads away from the real­i­ties of class strug­gle, and only serves to cob­ble togeth­er an elec­toral pro­gram for the dura­tion of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, in a run­ning against oth­er forms of populism…

In a time when all polit­i­cal con­fu­sions com­pete with nation­al­is­tic iso­la­tionisms of all stripes, along with reli­gious and iden­ti­tar­i­an ques­tions of a reas­sur­ing tinge or false­ly com­bat­ive against cap­i­tal­is­tic glob­al­iza­tion, it is both inop­er­a­tive and dan­ger­ous to ignore a bud­ding form of fas­cism where it is tak­ing root, to bran­dish nation­al­is­tic solu­tions to ongo­ing wars, to draw equiv­a­len­cies between insti­tu­tion­al forms of eco­nom­ic lib­er­al­ism, not to men­tion a host of oth­er top­ics I’ll ignore for the moment. It is just as harm­ful to reduce the com­plex­i­ties of social oppo­si­tions to bina­ry forms, in order to instru­men­tal­ize the angers for elec­toral pur­pos­es. In effect, even the best analy­ses on cap­i­tal­is­tic, human, social and envi­ron­men­tal pre­da­tion, oper­at­ing every­where and served by dif­fer­ent forms of polit­i­cal pow­er, then dis­ap­pear behind sim­plis­tic populism.

Head buried in the manure on which the nation­al cock crows, we don’t hear what oth­ers are singing, and some­times the songs inter­min­gle, as the Ezan does at night when it res­onates over Istanbul.

*I wish to make clear that this is a col­umn in the con­text of “rude polit­i­cal words” for which I take sole respon­si­bil­i­ty even if it pub­lished in Kedis­tan. I also wish to men­tion that (French-lan­guage) links are includ­ed in the text, in order to avoid use­less con­tentious­ness caused by appar­ent short-cuts I may have tak­en in a col­umn of 1700 “rude polit­i­cal words”.

Trans­la­tion by Renée Lucie Bourges
French ver­sion > 
Erdoğan, un oli­gar­que élu par le peu­ple, cher­chons l’erreur

Image à la une : Osman Orsal
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Daniel Fleury
Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…