From International Socialism, No.23, Winter 1965/66, pp.7-8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The recent Turkish general election demonstrated, if demonstration was needed, how little of the central social problem was solved by the 1960 army coup d’etat. The country still remains trapped between conservative landowners, backed by the overwhelmingly large peasantry and some businessmen, and the radical elements – the urban middle class and intelligentsia, and the junior officers of the army, itself the only force comparable in strength with the peasantry. In 1960, the intelligentsia precipitated a confrontation with the autocratic government of Menderes which would have destroyed them had the young army officers sent to repress the rising not joined the rebels – so compelling the senior officers to crystallise their own discontent and overthrow Menderes.
The 1960 change did much for the urban classes – trade unions and strikes were legalised, the judiciary and universities declared independent, and the press defined as free. For the first time really since Ataturk suppressed the Turkish Communist Party and gaoled its leaders in 1925, socialist activity became possible. Twelve trade-union leaders sponsored the formation of the Turkish Workers Party in 1961, and by 1963, the Party claimed 13,000 members and a youth organisation of 3,000. The leadership stressed at that time legal activity, aiming at an alliance with the parties of the industrial bourgeoisie to break the power of the landlords and establish a national plan for industrial growth, with the State retaining control of all heavy industry and using this as a lever to force private industry to obey the plan; the Party was, at best, ambiguous about Turkey’s participation in NATO. The roots of the Party are predominantly among intellectuals and students, although it has much support among the small industrial working class in Istambul and Izmir.
The general election has sorted out reality and propaganda by overwhelmingly returning to power the heir to Menderes and his Democratic Party (now banned) – Suleyman Demirel and the Justice Party, with 240 of the 450 seats in the Assembly. The army, after all its immense efforts to destroy the following of Menderes, looks on, defeated at the polls both in the party that was raised to power by the senior officers after the coup, Inonu’s Republican People’s Party (134 seats), and in the Republican Peasant’s Party (11 seats), a crypto-fascist creation of a group of junior officers under Colonel Alparsan Turkesh (one of the fourteen officers expelled from the army junta controlling the coup in November 1960 allegedly for ‘dictatorial tendencies’). The Turkish Workers’ Party performed quite well with 15 seats, although this is a poor result beside the inflamed panic against ‘Bolshevism’ exhibited among Turkish landowners and some of the foreign press; the day of the Turkish Workers’ Party is yet to come.
Not that the advent of Demirel is likely to shift Turkish government policy very far. Aid to the rich peasants and away from the urban sector will not be resumed on the Menderes scale while the army remains at the government’s elbow. 1960 is a clear warning in that respect; the junior officers’ sporadic attempted coups since 1960 are similarly a warning to the generals. Demirel inherits from Inonu a mild Five Year Plan, and he will no doubt point up both the crucial role of ‘private enterprise’ in this and the fact that a fifth to a quarter of the total investment in the Plan is to come from foreign sources. More interesting in the long term is the slow but steady erosion of Turkey’s position as a bastion of NATO and American power in the Middle East. Pakistan’s shift has been, on the surface, dramatic, but Turkey has also nudged eastwards – its Foreign Minister visited Moscow in 1964, and the Prime Minister followed last August; Gromyko arrived in Ankara last May and duly promised to stop sending Soviet arms to Makarios, to oppose Enosis, and send Soviet aid for specific projects in the Five Year Plan. Given the historical hysteria which Turkey’s rulers have always exhibited when faced with the word ‘Communism’ at home or abroad, this is a dramatic shift. The direct self-interest motives behind it have meshed with Turkish irritation at the American role in Cyprus and the rumbling of the intelligentsia against Turkish subordination to US power, a hostility which crystallised in the agitation in the first half of this year against the role of foreign oil companies in Turkey. It seems likely, with the softening of the Moscow image and the erosion of NATO itself, that Turkey will continue undramatically to mend its northern fences, activity which will have a cumulative effect on CENTO and American power in the east Mediterranean. For the moment, the most important element of the State, the Turkish army, needs American arms and that dictates a certain sort of foreign policy, but again Pakistan has demonstrated how far even that priority is elastic.
Last updated on 8.10.2007