Neoliberalism and Populism in Turkey by Mahmut Mutman

The Turkish case shows that the universally accepted model of “neoliberal rule-populist response” is more complicated than it seems. The story of neoliberalism in Turkey goes as far back as 1980 military coup. The simple reason behind the coup was the impossibility of implementing the neoliberal economic program and austerity measures accepted in the same year under democratic rule. The military junta government repressed the left opposition and immediately put into implementation the neoliberal economic program by appointing a famous economist who was the behind the neoliberal economic program, Turgut Özal, as the minister responsible for economic affairs. The same neoliberal program was maintained by the democratically elected Motherland Party government, which was indeed established and led by Özal, following the end of military rule. It must be said that by the end of the 1980s neoliberalism became the doxa in Turkey. In its first phase, neoliberalism managed the transformation of “import substitutionism” into “export oriented” economy, liberalized finances and gave a green light to privatization. It was mainly already powerful Istanbul-based industrial bourgeoisie who benefitted from privatization, deregulation and export-oriented growth. It is important to underline that Özal’s Motherland Party which governed the initial process came to power by anti-elite, anti-bureaucratic populist themes—indeed populist themes which run well with the anti-state, pro-privatization discourse of neoliberalism.

This was followed by a long period of hegemonic crisis and fragmentation of power. By the beginning of 2000s however, a new, younger generation of Islamists (R. T. Erdogan and A. Gul) established the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and came to power in the 2003 elections. Islamism emerged as a directly populist movement, which characteristically divided the political space into two, declaring an enemy camp in antagonism to “the true people.” Islamist populism is thus characterized by a strong version of “nativism,” i.e. a coding of native difference as Islamic vis a vis the authoritarian secularism followed by the Republican elite. But one should further keep in mind that, like in all populist movements, Islamism is also the expression of a class difference, given that the economically dominant class, i.e. Istanbul-based industrial bourgeoisie was actually created by the statist Republican elite by a program of capitalism from above. Islamist populism is therefore a construction of class difference as religious difference, indeed as a consolidated religious difference. Therefore it would be quite reasonable to consider Islamism as a populist response to a neoliberal program implemented from above. Indeed this “class” and “anti-elite” dimension gave Islamism a strong argument of victimization. But this is only part of the story, because Turkish Islamism has also very strictly and successfully followed the neoliberal economic program already re-formulated by the previous government following a short period of economic downfall in 2001. This brings us to a significant dimension of neoliberalism in peripheral spaces such as Turkey: its promotion of “small and medium size enterprises,” the SMEs. These are often critized for providing cheap (often family and informal) labor for the multinationals (such as Gap, Nike or Mac). Although this is true, they might also be part of a process of capital accumulation. Indeed it so happened in Turkey that a new group of Islamist large conglomerates emerged out of the immense support given to the SMEs especially by the AKP government (but already by previous governments as well). Known as “Anatolian Tigers,” this new group of Islamist businessmen was represented by AKP. Turkish Islamism can therefore be described as a new hegemonic bloc formed by the Anatolian Tigers with the poor working mass, which they lead ideologically and politically. Put in loosely Gramscian terms, it is the persuasion of the working mass by the new bosses into a new hegemonic system organized in and by Islamist ideology. But this populist version of neoliberal populism led by a “conservative democratic” politics gradually turned into an authoritarian, proto-fascist populism.

As soon as it came to power in 2003, the AKP government actually followed a series of democratic reforms, apart from its strictly neoliberal stand. It thus appeared, in its initial phase, as a pro-EU, reformist, conservative or Muslim democrat party, which had support from the liberal sections of the society as well as from EU (the number of awards Erdogan had from prestigious Western and European institutions would shock anyone now). Turkey was a model country until about 2010, a laboratory in which the so-called “compatibility of Islam with democracy” was successfully experimented. AKP made a qualitative jump in the relations with EU, reformed the banking sector and gave the central bank a leading role, and battled the corruption. It also made peace with the dissident Kurdish leadership and started a process of negotiation, however slow and problematic. It also made peace with the dissident Kurdish leadership and started a negotiation process, however slow and problematic. But these successful double syntheses of neoliberalism and populism, and of democracy and Islam, did not last long. Indeed it repeated the same pattern observed in other cases of neoliberal populism such as Argentine’s Menem and Peru’s Fujimori. AKP’s reformist line has never been entirely consistent. It battled corruption and favoritism insofar as the old elite is concerned but it also developed its own favoritism and its own version of “crony capitalism”, and it constantly avoided auditing institutions and mechanisms. On the political level, AKP was successful to the extent that it was capable of governing various freedoms emerged in parallel with the rapid development of capitalism, but it seemed to reach a point where it became impossible for it to govern freedoms any longer for both politico-economic (its own corrupt practices) and ideological (its conservative, authoritarian and nationalist roots) reasons. Hence we witnessed, in the case of Turkey, a swift turn into a violent, repressive form of authoritarian populism and crony capitalism.

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Mahmut Mutman teaches critical theory, media and cultural studies in the Department of Cinema and Television and is the coordinator of the M.A. Program in Cultural Studies at Istanbul Sehir University. He is the author of The Politics of Writing Islam: Voicing Difference; he has co-edited a special issue of Inscriptions titled “Orientalism and Cultural Differences” and a collection on Orientalism, Hegemony and Cultural Difference (in Turkish) as well as several articles on orientalism, nationalism, postmodernism, and film and media in Cultural Critique, Postmodern Culture, New Formations, Rethinking Marxism, Anthropological Theory, Radical Philosophy, Third Text and Toplum ve Bilim.

Populism in the shadow of neoliberalism – the Finnish case by Jorma Sipilä

As for populism, we speak of mass movements of adults, who feel severe dissatisfaction. They have lost jobs, money, security and undergone unfairness and insults by public and private institutions. All this has led to pessimism towards the mainstream culture and politics.

It is a historical norm that low paid workers do not love immigrants, be they domestic or foreign. The increase in the number of poor people pushes wages down and rents up. Immigration also tends to weaken the hard fight for better labour conditions.

Of course, all this has happened may times before – only the context is new, favouring the growth of populism. One reason for that is that the process takes place in urban and international environment and is escalated by social media. Another change is that the experience of exclusion is more collective than before: a growing proportion of people is being defined to be mentally, physically, culturally or educationally incompetent, unskilled, or unreliable.

There are always politicians ready to mobilize unhappy people. For the participants, populism is rewarding, giving hope and promising revenge.

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The core of True Finns belongs to a generation that grew up in a nation, which had found new solidarity during the Second World War and the construction of the welfare state.

Politics of inclusion was in many ways particularly strong in Finland until the 1990s when the frame of the national project became too narrow for business elite.

True Finns, however, are only mildly critical towards the financial elite. Why are they attacking the left? First, they have to recruit among people who because of their social status have previously given their support to the left. Second, they get backing from the failure of leftist poverty politics.

The socialist alternative has not attracted older people after the failure of communism, whereas social democrats look toothless for them. This view has gained strength since the end of 1990s when social democrats were still the strongest political party. Its right wing leaders together with the conservatives turned their back to the people, who needed basic services and basic income security. The decline of poverty policies led to losses especially among people who were dependent on universal benefits – small entrepreneurs, long-term unemployed, housewives.

Social democrats stuck to cooperate with the labour unions. Downgrading the tax rate was preferred, although this happened at the expense of the financial transfers to municipalities, which provide the basic services for education, health, and social care. This has remained the penetrating logic in public expenditure: Because of the ageing and the maturation of the pension system the employment pensions must grow. Their growth is politically well protected and so is the freezing of the tax rate, as well. When pension contributions have been decided to be counted as taxes, there is no alternative to the retrenchment of public services.

Thus, the supporters of True Finns have reasons to be angry with the comrades, who do not show solidarity. As well known, they also show contempt towards the young red-greens, whose worldview is far away from that of the True Finns.

What will happen next?

Will we return to the era of mass parties and democratic politics?  I do not think it could happen without an international cultural revolution like that in the 1960s. Of course, such a return is possible in principle: the global financial power system is not a military fortress but a political creation that may be politically shaken.

If we really wanted to solve the underclass problem, we would fade out the boundary between the middle class and the underclass. Nordic countries have shown that it is possible, to some extent. Some of them are still doing it – Finland and Sweden do not.

The major problem is that in welfare capitalism underclass alone is a small political force. To improve the position of underclass, another political force has to join and promote inclusiveness. The position of middle class is however labile; in the eyes of the middle class the existence of underclass is both useful and problematic. It produces personal services at low cost, but it also is a source of social problems and malfunctioning in the society.

Sometimes the middle class needs political allies. In some Western countries (e.g. Greece, U.S.) the situation of middle class has worsened so much that a coalition between the middle class and underclass is more plausible than before.

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I’d also like to play with an unlikely alternative. Is it possible that equality generating public policies might be accepted under neoliberalism? This sounds crazy: neoliberalism was born as an ideology of inequality. On the other hand, the powerful driver of neoliberalism is international capital.

We have an enormous amount of empirical research proving that social equality promotes economic growth and the growth of the capital. This suggests the radical conclusion that the capital should not identify itself with the personal interests of the finance folk but, for its own benefit, to demand as equal development of human resources as possible. Capital income is not maximized in the conditions of extreme inequality and lack of social investments. On the other hand, only the state can take response of universal development of human resources.

At least, it is theoretically possible that in the long run the capital and the state find common interests in promoting equality. State and capital are not strange bedfellows – if they have ever been. The state monopoly of taxation is such an attractive means to increase capital income that capital cannot stuck with an ordo-liberal anti-state position. In the present welfare capitalism neoliberalism as an ideology strives to infiltrate the public sector in order to cash money into financial institutions. Does this mean that the money escapes from the citizens? Not completely, a remarkable share of capital income returns in the form employment pensions…

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Jorma Sipilä is a permanent fellow of the Institute for Advanced Social Research at the University of Tampere. He specialises in welfare state, social policy, services for the elderly and children, and cash-for-care arrangements.

14th Anniversary and Alumni Reunion of The Institute for Advanced Social Research (IASR) at the University of Tampere


Welcome to our reunion and wait for our blogs on the panel theme of populism on 19 April 2017

Programme
14:15 Opening Words and an Annual Report,

Professor Risto Heiskala, Director of the IASR
14:30 Greetings from the University of Tampere

Professor Seppo Parkkila, Vice Rector for Research

14:45 NEOLIBERALISM AND POPULISM Panel- Full video is available here

Seven of our Fellows address the topic from the perspective of seven different political cultures in talks of seven minutes and answer these two questions:
(1) Should the rise of populism be understood as a misplaced revenge of the masses for more than 30 years of neoliberalism?
(2) What will happen next?

Chair: Risto Heiskala

The panelists:

The UK: Louse Settle

The US: Meyda Yegenouglu

Australia: Zsuzsa Millei –  Australia

Russia: Marianna Muravyeva

Turkey: Mahmut Mutman

Hungary: Robert Imre – Hungary

Finland: Jorma Sipilä

Discussion

NB: This time we depart from the tradition and will not provide any pre-circulated material.

However, if references are needed, one useful, timely and interestingly polemical brief introduction is Perry Anderson’s column “Why the system will still win” in LE MONDE Diplomatique (see http://mondediplo.com/2017/03/02brexit ).

Thicker introductions include the following two:

On neoliberalism: Michel Foucault: The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the Collége de France, 1978–79. Palgrave, 2008;

On populism: Jan-Werner Müller: What is Populism? University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

Neoliberalism and Populism: A Short Survey by Mahmut Mutman

There are two ways in which we can talk about the relationship between neoliberalism and populism. Populism often emerges as a response to the crisis produced by neoliberalism, or alternatively (and paradoxically) they work in combination, i.e. neoliberal policies are implemented by populist governments. This initial categorization is only helpful to a certain extent and should not be taken at face value, as these phenomena are more dynamic than they appear when viewed from within a standard approach.

As the economic and social costs of the implementation of neoliberal program are borne by the working classes and poorest groups everywhere, neoliberal governments are often overthrown or replaced by populist movements—various Latin American and Asian populisms as well as Trump’s recent victory are the main examples. Populism has two major characteristics: (i) it divides the political and social space into two antagonistic camps; (ii) it constructs a “true” and “authentic” people as one of the camps, while the other, enemy camp is constructed as having an elitist, parasitical nature and being foreign to the interests or life style of the majority. The construction of the enemy, and accordingly the appellation of “true” people, shows a significant variation between right and left populisms. For instance, in the USA, Donald Trump’s right wing populism constructs the enemy as “the immigrants protected by the liberal establishment who is alienated from the interests of real American people” (and the same can be said for various European right wing populisms, though the presence of “EU” instead of “liberal establishment” gives these populisms a different tone of nationalism), whereas the Latin American left wing populism constructs the enemy as “the neoliberal, IMF-supported elite who is against the interests of poor working class people.” National identity (often with a strong racial implication or even plain racism) is essential for right wing populism, even though one always hears references to the “hard working people, simple American” etc. In Latin American left wing populism however, both the enemy and the victim are defined in class terms. It is not that left populism has no national address, but it is never racist (often quite the contrary as in Bolivia or Venezuela). Last but not least, the fact that these populisms, which are almost opposite each other, share some similar characteristics makes us wonder if populism is a generic ideology on its own or the form politics takes under conditions of crisis and antagonism.

The ideology of neoliberalism is distinguished by a set of politico-economic axioms that lies at its core: free market, enterprise, privatization, deregulation, financialisation, etc. But it also seems to have a salient capacity to adapt to different circumstances, from Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile to the rule of law in USA or UK. It would be wrong, for instance, to think that neoliberalism is racist by definition because it is hegemonic. It is compatible with the neoliberal axioms to bring unskilled labor force from peripheral regions insofar as it helps to reduce the cost of reproduction. Neoliberalism is not necessarily against multiculturalism or immigrants (even though there is a difference between B. Clinton’s and G. W. Bush’s versions). And yet, we know historically that in many peripheral countries, it was impossible to put the neoliberal program into implementation without a military regime in power (1973 in Chile, 1980 in Turkey). Neoliberalism seems to be capable of maintaining its “economic nucleus” across varying contexts and allies.

This brings us to the second category: neoliberalism implemented by populism. This is widely observed in peripheral societies: Menem in Argentine (1989-1999), Fujimori in Peru (1990-2000) and Erdogan (2003-) in Turkey are major examples. While populism is associated with charismatic leaders and plebiscitary tendencies, neoliberalism operates by elite, technocratic decision-making mechanisms. Although this is true to a great extent especially in “the neoliberal crisis-populist response” model, it cannot be considered as exhaustive of the possible range of relations between these two political formations. The neoliberal axiom of creating new markets by privatization and deregulation gives it a strong anti-elite thrust fighting “state bureaucracy”. Hence it shares an anti-status quo position with populism. Once in power, populists are in need of stability and development that may be provided by neoliberal programs. In this respect, all three examples above share quite similar patterns: the project of creating successful entrepreneurs from the small and medium sized companies and the informal sector; replacing white elite bureaucracy with new cadres of well-trained experts from lower middle class and provincial areas; World Bank and IMF-supported emergency programs giving the urban and rural poor some access to government benefits (schools, health, etc. for the excluded groups); cultural nationalism and a sense of participation and voice, even though restricted. This combination is no magical formulation for success, as it ends up in severe economic and political crisis, usually finding itself in an authoritarian chaos.

It is difficult to forecast whether there is another possibility of a neoliberal populism or a populist neoliberalism in the Western metropolitan centers, following the victory of Trump in the USA and in the eve of coming French and Dutch elections in Europe. One should also not forget the considerable force of left wing populism in Europe (Spain, Greece).

Mahmut Mutman teaches critical theory, media and cultural studies in the Department of Cinema and Television and is the coordinator of the M.A. Program in Cultural Studies at Istanbul Sehir University. He is the author of The Politics of Writing Islam: Voicing Difference; he has co-edited a special issue of Inscriptions titled “Orientalism and Cultural Differences” and a collection on Orientalism, Hegemony and Cultural Difference (in Turkish) as well as several articles on orientalism, nationalism, postmodernism, and film and media in Cultural Critique, Postmodern Culture, New Formations, Rethinking Marxism, Anthropological Theory, Radical Philosophy, Third Text and Toplum ve Bilim.

Nationalism, Populism, Globalism: Brexit and Trump 

by Robert Imre

The victory of Donald Trump as President of the United States has been reported in various ways as a shock,  just as the Brexit vote was reported to have shocked people in the UK and the US.

The nationalist (and in the United States, the old term ‘nativist’ is often used) elements, coupled with a resurgence of populism, are specific factors that can be traced to help us understand how this political situation has developed. As a political scientist I see this as both commonplace, as well as a much longer process of (at least) beginning in the Thatcher and Reagan neo-conservative/neo-liberalisms begun in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The new ‘reality TV’ version of media management begun in the late ‘90s opened the door to a ‘post-factive’ political communication delivering populist politicians. The medium really did become the message.

As such, I suggest here that both results can also be seen as unremarkable in terms of modern politics and how political machines and election cycles operate. Through my own conversations with political science colleagues over the past several months, we had similar conclusions, both that Brexit was a real possibility and were not surprised when it eventuated. Similarly, a Trump presidency was not far-fetched and there was a path that he could take that could possibly bring victory. Google translate will give you a pretty clear view here.

Brexit

Secessionist movements have been around as long as there have been states and nations so it should not be a surprise when states, that is to say some form of a modern constituent political units, that are bound together through trade or political agreements, decide to split (and possibly join other political configurations). 

These (attempted) splits can occur due to any number of factors and are often the result of trade issues, social movements, nationalist revivals, anti-colonialism, and any combination of these factors will change the political unit of state and alter borders. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the British Raj, Quebec and Scottish secessionist attempts, Singapore and Malaysia, the list goes on and will continue to go on in the future (one can Wikipedia them all for backgrounds on political origins). 

Backlash

The UK had been leaning more and more towards looking like some of it’s multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural progressive former colonies (especially Canada and New Zealand and to some extent Australia) in the post-WW2 period. The backlash here, mainly as a result of a disenfranchised post-industrial working class and rising xenophobia spurred on by a ‘post-factive’ set of election campaigns, is leading England and Wales towards a reformation to make that political constituency appear more like small and mid-sized European states (Hungary for example): creating the false notion of an ethno-nation, rather than a cosmopolitan civic polity. This is seen as way to stem the tide of the negative effects of late-industrial capitalism and the entrenchment of neo-liberalism, especially by a particular elite that sees their own power-base dwindling in the face of some form of political consociationalism. Ironically, led by a core of professional politicians who were instrumental in this neoliberal entrenchment, and taking pride in misinformation, this is also a global movement, stronger in some times and places and weaker in others, that looks very much like the Trump presidential campaign: retreating to a ‘new nationalism’.

Trump is not Unique:

We have seen this before in the post-Cold War period with both Berlusconi in Italy and Putin in Russia (as well as many others) in the post-Cold War period. Campaigns run in the same manner, by similar personalities, and entrenched in the political imagination of their respective constituencies. The Trump campaign demonstrated a miscalculation on the part of their opponents, both inside and outside the Republican party, and saw the disaffected ‘rust-belt’ voters who would normally vote Democrat, and may well have at least split their vote with Bernie Sanders, go with Trump’s totally malleable misogyny and racism. While there are a number of other demographic events here, this is probably the lynchpin, and played in to Trump’s appalling rhetoric about women, Muslims, Mexicans, and so on. This is almost exactly the same tactic that Australian Prime Minister Howard used in his first two election victories (although the misogynism was not so overt, and the ‘other’ obviously did not involve Mexican people) and it created the notion of the ‘aspirational voter’: working class (or ‘battlers’ in the Australian vernacular), in many cases the losers of global neoliberalism, who sought a way out not through labor unions, but in going after a constructed other and pushing women out of the political and economic spheres. Howard was not a reality TV star, but his political campaigns were very much about bringing a disenfranchised blue-collar class to vote for a political party that created a false ‘other’, coupled with a false hope, and Australia has been doing so ever since. Ignoring the participation in the heroic rescues of the Vietnamese ‘boat people’ in the early ‘80s, asylum-seekers arriving by boats are locked away in internment camps not seen since WW2 while at the same time globalization and the associate problems continues unabated. 

Today we have a situation where plenty of people are willing to vote for reality-TV personalities, who promise everything, use brash and insulting language, and appear as some kind of demagogue seeking to fix the unfixable. This certainly is an accurate reflection of American popular culture, including all of those negative aspects of misogyny and racism that are so deeply embedded. It is also a reflection of a global popular culture of misogyny and racism, and populist political movements reflect this, using the most crass of media techniques pushed forward by the reality TV phenomenon, and as such not needing to rely on facts, science or research of any kind. This is more than mere sloganeering, it is a deliberate campaign of deceit, lies and misinformation by political opportunists: the Brexit and Trump campaigns encapsulated.

Delusions:

It was delusional of the progressives in the US to think that rational argument will win the day. Playing on these core cultural tropes meant that there was no need for Berlusconi, Trump, or Boris Johnson to show a detailed policy plan on how to fix the global economy. Who would read it? The delusions played on, with people of all kinds claiming they will ‘move to Canada’ or New Zealand if Trump won, thinking that their privilege extended to the global as to be able to move to another country when their own side loses an election. 

What next?:

Questions about what the future might hold is something else, including the Grand Game questions about Russia and China, global trade, and the ongoing struggle with political violence. For both the US and the UK there are many unanswered questions, and like Berlusconi and other populists, they wont have a plan, they will answer them on the day.

Dr Robert Imre is currently Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at The University of Newcastle, Australia and a Fellow with the Space and Political Agency Research Group (SPARG) at the University of Tampere.