chapter  8
21 Pages

State, class and the discourse: Reflections on the neoliberal transformation in Turkey

Introduction: the need to challenge the dominant paradigms Political sphere in modern bourgeois societies has always been one in which political and social implications of capital-labour contradiction are confined and redefined within the limits posed by capitalist interests in particular historical conjunctures through the mediations of law and money, two crucial transnationally operative forms (Clarke 1992: 136). While the content as well as the success of political and ideological strategies to manage this contradiction might have varied according to the historical specificities of different countries, the concern to put an end to class-based politics can be identified as a persistent feature of the alienated bourgeois sphere at different scales. Neoliberalism as a particular class-based response to the global capitalist crisis of the 1970s has not been an exception. Hence, while it has been historically shaped, practiced and managed unequally as well as contingently at local, national, international and transnational levels since the early 1980s, the reconfiguration of the political sphere has been an integral and constitutive aspect of neoliberal transformation processes. On this basis, a cursory review of the debates – which have dominated the academic as well as the political agenda since the 1980s, at least until the global crisis in 2008 – about the role of the state in a capitalist economy, would highlight two particular deficiencies. First, there is the dominance of a dualistic conception of state/market and/or state/society relationships in so far as these spheres are perceived as being externally related, if not as ontologically distinctive domains, with their own logics and principles. Second, there is a tendency to approach the relations between states and markets in terms of alternative ‘paradigms’, thus reproducing varieties of relativism, if only to reiterate the validity of a theoretical edifice with universalistic aspirations. An adherence to the philosophy of external relations could also be detected in attempts to develop ‘non-reductionist’ accounts of state-society relations with an emphasis on ‘institutional orders’ operating according to their distinctive rules and priorities as a characteristic feature of modernity. Two extremely influential, though equally misleading, corollaries follow: that the relations of domination are not inherent in the capitalist relations of production; and that a

capitalist market economy faces instability because of exogenous interventions rather than its inherent systemic characteristics. The former not only implies an identification of the state with coercion per se, but also as something external to consciousness. It also indicates the lack of a conceptual apparatus to come to terms with the fact that not only the outcome of human actions, but also the human actions themselves have a material aspect which cannot be reduced to their conceptual aspect and/or subjective meaning. In particular, it indicates a refusal to acknowledge the historical-social nature of the categories which would have provided one avenue to escape their reification. Against these dominant tendencies, it is imperative that a proper analysis of capitalism should be grounded on the methodological premise that the state and the economy do not ‘exist’ as externally related entities, one of which is determining and/or dominating the other. For, in the neoliberal era as ever, state power is integral for the constitution and the reproduction of the market economy as a ‘form’ of the capitalist relations of production. Concomitantly, there is the need to come to terms with the constitution of social classes in general, and the bourgeoisie in particular, ‘within and through the state’, if one is to avoid the relationship between the state and social classes being viewed as one of externality. It would also underline the importance of treating the state as an ‘empirically open-ended’ concept that can be employed to come to terms with the relational and the historical character of social reality rather than a sui generis reality and/or absent concept. A better understanding of the relations between states and markets can thus be realised if they are conceived in terms of alternative strategies of capitalist development rather than paradigmatic differences as has been the case with particularistic arguments which contemplate the institutions of a society as if they were the expressions of a primary essence.1 This, in turn, underlines the methodological imperative to approach the determination of social forms as an historical process whose dynamic is internal to it so as to come to terms with the relational and the historical character of social reality. In short, it becomes essential to explain why this particular form has taken the form it has in that particular context. By the same token, the modalities of these relations that could be observed over the last two decades in many of the so-called emerging markets as they have experienced economic and political crises while going through different phases of financial liberalization could be contemplated as alternative strategies of adjustment to the vagaries of international financial markets rather than manifestations of a single project of restructuring attributed, inter alia, to globalization (cf. Cerny 1997; Robinson 2002). Yet, at the same time, it is also crucial to come to terms with these strategies as hegemonic projects to the extent that they fulfil certain functions in the reproduction of particular forms of social relations in historically specific contexts. Neoliberal policies have led to sharp political and social confrontations wherever they have been introduced. Disenchantment with Keynesian and/or developmentalist policies in line with the neoliberal ideology has led to a process that has made not only labouring classes, but also different capitalist interests

increasingly more dependent on the market to survive. In this regard, crisis management and/or prevention has become a central concern of the neoliberal reformers in many countries so as to mitigate the adverse consequences of the market reforms. Several Gramsci-inspired studies have conceived neoliberal transformation processes in different countries as ‘passive revolutions’ which have comprised attempts to co-opt, assimilate or dissolve opposition to reforms through policies that might have ranged from violent suppression of organized labour to innovative welfare transfer mechanisms such as conditional cash transfers and/or corruption.2 The necessity to form ‘winning coalitions’ has been another intensively debated strategy to proceed with neoliberal change in the Northern and Southern countries (Evans 1992), while transition debates of the 1990s constituted attempts to lock in the trajectory of social transformation in the former Eastern Bloc into one of either shock or the gradual move to a market economy. Putting an end to class-based politics by dissolving class alliances through such strategies has hence been one of the central concerns of not only the neoliberal reformers but also the states – a task which has become ever more challenging due to the aggravating poverty and exclusion of the labouring masses. While conscious strategies to dissolve opposing class alliances have always been integral aspects of bourgeois power struggles, the process of putting an end to class-based politics in the neoliberal era should not simply be understood as an outcome of such strategies only. Indeed, the very success of the neoliberal project lies in its ability to isolate the reform process from the transformative impact of such social criticisms or pressures, and turn it into one which has primarily been proceeding under the discipline of finance. Strengthened by neoliberalism’s anti-state rhetoric, the financialization of everyday life has thus played a central role in delegitimating class-based struggles in many countries. This has proved to be an effective process in the reproduction of the separation of the political and the economic in contemporary capitalism for it helps to ‘construct new public perceptions concerning the “neutrality” . . . of the state’ (Burnham 2000: 22) on the one hand, and the ‘self-regulating market’ on the other. Once the protective armour of capitalist relations of production has been strengthened in this way, arguments emphasizing the importance of class struggles might easily lose ground against such others that underline the role of competition states, or identities, or civil societies in social change. The neoliberal transformation process in Turkey, though acquiring historically specific characteristics, has been in line with these general trends observed elsewhere. This chapter aims to identify the processes and strategies that have served to put an end to class-based politics in the neoliberal period in Turkey by focusing on the implications of the 1980 coup d’état, post-1989 capital account liberalization, the rise of identity-based politics and conflicts, and the anti-statist hegemonic discourse. It will be argued that the neoliberal authoritarian form the state had acquired as early as the 1980s has persisted since then through the powerful articulation of these economic, political and cultural processes into each other. This argument will obviously be in contrast to those perspectives that

tend to identify the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) government since 2002 as an historical opportunity to initiate a rupture in Turkish politics.3 Instead it will be maintained that to the extent that the AKP promises to reproduce neoliberal authoritarianism in Turkey, it represents more continuity than radical change in terms of state-class relations whilst claiming to initiate radical changes in state-society relations. Therefore, it will be much more realistic to assess the phenomenon as an example of how the political Islam adjusted to neoliberal restructuring project within the process of globalisation.