Turkey: another product of neo-liberalism

Issue 

By Zeynep Tufekcioglu

Turkey is a country on the edge of turmoil and collapse. It has a familiar story, often repeated in many countries around the world.

During the post-World War II policies of import-substitution under the ever watchful eye of the US, Turkey acted as a post of NATO imperialism neighbouring the Soviet Union and the Middle East.

In the '70s, as the economy inevitably headed towards a wall — like many Latin American, African and Asian countries — it collapsed into an undeclared civil war. Towards the end of the '70s, as imperialism was shaken by the loss of Iran and Nicaragua, Turkey was paralysed by strikes, torn by daily clashes between workers and the government-supported fascist forces. Predictably, a military coup was staged in 1980; the US ambassador informed Washington with the unforgettable phrase, "Our boys have done it".

Their boys had done it all right. As tens of thousands of communists and revolutionaries were rounded up, a period of murder, torture, repression and brutality ensued. All basic democratic, collective bargaining, free speech rights were suspended. Elections, for want of a better word, were held for a new constitution. The "no" vote was denoted by blue. Newspapers were shut down for publishing cartoons in which a young man told his girlfriend, her eyes were so, well, "blue".

Turkey was a showcase for IMF and imperialism. It was one of the first countries in which neo-liberal policies were implemented. A sharp turn was taken towards exports. The economy was liberalised.

Liberal economies, liberal politics, we often hear from apologists of neo-liberalism. To export, you need to be competitive in some sectors. Since Turkey was lacking infrastructure, thanks to the imperialist division of labour, there was only one commodity it could be competitive in: cheap labour. The politics of repression are a prerequisite to keep labour cheap, as working people of the world know very well, though the simple equation seems beyond the grasp of many an economist.

Real wages fell dramatically, unemployment rose, trade unions were coerced into submission, and the left was repressed. The pressure burst through the seams. In 1984, the long-suppressed Kurdish minority rose up in arms. This war continues to this day, and Turkey has one of the biggest armies in the world.

Some of the opposition found its voice in the demagogy of the religious right. From 1989 on, through spontaneous popular action, the working class also started once again in engaging in mass struggles.

Did Turkey become a powerful exporter? Of course not. It was never meant to be. It was meant to stay as a cheap labour pool — like Mexico, India, Chile, Indonesia and others. IMF and World Bank policies of neo-liberalism throughout the world have the same unspoken aims. Privatise social security, not to make it more efficient, but so that the money accumulated in those funds can also enter the frenzied roller-coaster of the financial markets. Privatise health care so another sector can be exploited for profits. Introduce subcontracting, de-unionising and "flexibility" to the labour market, to flex the worker to the whims of capital. The gospel of neo-liberalism is the universal language of injustice, poverty, repression, brutality, of blood and pain.

Currently, Turkey is in the midst of another government crisis. All political parties have become IMF and austerity parties. Any real opposition is met with violence and murder. The war in the Kurdish south-east continues at full swing.

As a game of musical chairs is played by the bourgeois political parties, a well-established state machinery continues the low intensity civil war on its own. The lack of a government and the impotent joke called parliament do not really matter. The economy is structurally deranged. Turkey collapsed into a crisis in 1994, similar to the Mexican one. Nothing has yet changed substantially in terms of the economy.

There is talk of another economic crises. It won't be a surprise. There is talk of another military coup. It is not really necessary, since country is already run according to IMF dictates enforced by the police and the military. Of course, the plunder continues: many corporations continue to break profit records, and foreign investment continues to come in — in more liquid forms so that it will be easy to pack up when the ransacking can't be sustained any more.

As noted in the enduring verses of a Turkish poet at beginning of the century:
"Continue to devour gentlemen,
Devour until you burst, until you blow up and explode ..."