Global class constitution of the AKP’s “authoritarian turn” by neoliberal financialization

Pinar Bedirhanoglu

The AKP-led state transformation process in Turkey, which has always been identified by critical Marxist scholars as authoritarian in continuity with the neoliberalization processes at work since the 1980s, entered into an accelerated new phase in the aftermath of the 2013 Gezi uprisings. After the AKP’s temporary loss of parliamentary supremacy in the June 2015 general elections, the suppression of the media and political opposition through extra-judicial executions, ascending police operations conducted in the name of combat against terrorism and systematic violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms have become ordinary practices of the Turkish state. The failed coup attempt on 15 July 2016 has further strengthened this oppressive drive as the government used it as an opportunity to put an end to Turkey’s parliamentary republican order in July 2018 after a two-year-long emergency rule. Since the passage to the so-called Presidential System of Government (PSG), a new state practice has been put on trial, challenging the state’s internal as well as international relations of power fundamentally. Turkey’s new state in the making is centralized, personalized, and discretionary with practically all the power concentrated in the hands of President Erdogan for the moment.

This rather depressing political outcome, which was not unexpected for critical Marxist scholars, has forced other researchers who had seen a democratizing potential in the AKP in its early years in power to revisit their analyses (e.g. Barkey &. Congar, 2007; Hale &. Ozbudun, 2010; Insel, 2003; Onis, 2006).1 These researchers have started problematizing the 2010s as an authoritarian “turn” in the AKP rule that moved the country towards “an electoral authoritarianism of a more markedly Islamic character” (Ozbudun, 2014), “delegative democracy” (Tas, 2015) and/or “competitive authoritarianism” (Esen & Gumiiscu, 2016), just to name a few. Arguments on why such a “turn” happened have varied in content due to different focuses of analyses on the AKP leadership, party politics, electoral developments and/or political coalitions.2 These analyses have also varied over time as more radical political developments observed towards the end of the decade led to revisions in earlier positions. The AKP’s arguable move from a democratic to an authoritarian agent in Turkish politics was justified in the early 2010s with reference to Erdogan’s or the AKP’s responses to a changing electoral atmosphere in Turkey, while more comprehensive questions have been posed towards the end of the decade. Defining the new emergent regime in Turkey as “Erdoganism”, after the 2014 presidential elections, Insel (2018), for instance, argued that “this is the second regime in the Republican history after Kemalism that has got fully integrated with the leader”.’ Somer (2016), on the other side, was associating Turkey’s “democratic breakdown” with Erdogan’s move towards utilizing the Turkish state’s “old authoritarian” practices to remain in power, in addition to promoting some new others. Towards the end of the 2010s, rapid Islamization of Turkish politics, institutionalization of corruption, passage to the PSG to form Erdogan’s one-man-rule and his systematic transgression of even the PSG framework forced these scholars to problematize the question within a wider socio-political context. Hence, Somer (2019) started emphasizing the transformative effect of political polarizations and Esen and Gumiiscu have reconsidered the AKP’s “strong electoral mandate” (2016: 1584) within a triangular dependency in between the ruling party, crony capitalists and the urban poor (2020: 2).

In their efforts to explain why such a “turn” happened, these approaches have indeed asked some very important questions as well. Esen and Gumiiscu (2020: 5), for instance, underline that Turkey’s move towards authoritarianism in the 2010s defies some of the fundamental assumptions of liberal democratization theories that associate democratic collapse with weak party systems, weak civic attitudes, or economic failures as none of these are defining Turkey in the mid-2010s. Having not been satisfied with the leader-based explanations as well, they maintain that “although democracies are often threatened by autocratic leaders, they rarely collapse”. On similar grounds, Somer (2016: 483) looks for some more fundamental “structural” transformations taking place in “economic and informational societies” rather than focusing on electoral politics only. It is, however, important to note that the “structural” in these works refers to some “variables” such as “[p]olitical institutions, culture and economic factors” (Esen & Gumiiscu, 2020:4) defined only at the domestic level. The neglect of dynamics at other levels does not make these analyses unimportant as they make important contributions to the understanding of the specificities of state-business, state-citizen and AKP-electorate relations in Turkey in the 2010s. Nevertheless, this neglect indicates the methodological limitations of these studies in making sense of the global determinants of state transformations that work across national boundaries.

This methodological limitation has become particularly noteworthy with the concurrent rise of authoritarianism/populism in many countries since the late 2010s. These scholars have either remained silent on this global development and continued to define the problem as an exclusively domestic one (Esen &. Gumiiscu, 2020: 1) or proposed mainly comparative analyses without any questioning of common historical determinants defining different cases (Somer, 2017).4 The first part of this chapter will question the implications of this neglect by paying special attention to Ziya Onin’s works (Onis, 2015; 2017; 2019). Onis constitutes a major exception in these studies as he has always examined state developments in Turkey in recognition of the international and global environ-ment and the country’s changing foreign relations. However, as will be argued, the recognition of the global/international dynamics does not save him from similar methodological limitations, as Onis, like others, approaches the state as an autonomous political actor that takes position vis-a-vis international and internal actors/dynamics in a self-contained manner. Hence, while questioning the way the global and international developments affect Turkish state transformation under the AKP rule, he conceptualizes the relationship between the two as an external one, managed mainly by party leadership. Hence, regardless of the politically critical stance of Onis or other scholars towards the AKP’s “authoritarian turn”, they all share a common limitation derived from their methodological liberalism that takes domestic-international, state-society and/ or state-market distinctions as given.

This chapter will propose an alternative Marxist analysis to problematize the states’ relation to global dynamics as an internal one with due consideration of the “capitalist” form of nation-states, which is defined globally. Refraining from a reductionist conceptualization of the “global” as a separate field exerting “economistic” pressures over the AKP-governed state transformation in Turkey, it will suggest a holistic class analysis to rethink this process within the changing historical conditions of class struggles and contradictions at the global level. Analysis proposed here is informed by Simon Clarke’s (1992: 135-7) argument that the capitalist form of the state is shaped by the state’s necessity to reproduce itself within the contradictory processes of capital accumulation on a world scale, while the political implications of these contradictions should be managed on a national basis. Clarke (1992: 136) identifies two fundamental mediations, namely the rule of money and the rule of law, to problematize the former global process, and maintains that it is at the global form'giving5 level that class limits confining state strategies and interventions at the domestic level are defined. In Clarke’s own words:

Although the modern nation-state is constituted politically on a national basis, its class character is not defined in national terms. The class character of the capitalist state is most fundamentally determined by the separation of the state from civil society, and the corresponding subordination of state and civil society to the rule of money and the law. However, the capitalist law of property and contract transcends national legal systems, and world money transcends national currencies. Thus the subordination of the state to the rule of money and the law, which is the foundation of the constitutional form of the capitalist state, confines the state within limits imposed by the contradictory form of the accumulation of capital on a world scale.

(2001: 79; emphasis mine)

This paper aims to problematize the class limits of contemporary capitalist states in relation to the rule of money only, which, as will be argued, has acquired a financialized content in the world after a four-decade-long neoliberal transformation. The “rule of money” is an abstraction proposed to problematize the mediation between the national states and class struggles defining global capital accumulation. It is based on the Open Marxist argument that monetary constraint is a specific form of class domination acquiring different contents in the historical development of capitalism in relation to the changing conditions of subordin-ation/insuhordination of labour by capital (Bonefeld, 1992: 124-5). By crosscutting the global-national divide, the rule of money gives state transformation processes their class-determined character, though this does not mean omitting contingency in analysis; for even though the rule of money defines particular historical class limits for states, there is no structural necessity for any state to reproduce itself within these limits. In their attempts at political consolidation at the national level in response to domestic political struggles and international political pressures, states can go beyond the historical limits set by the expanded reproduction of capital, though at the risk of the breakdown of the state and civil society as a whole (Clarke, 1991: 195). As capitalist relations of production are persistently redefined within crisis-ridden processes of capital accumulation - in which states play a crucial role in managing class contradictions while trying to reproduce themselves - there is always the possibility that moments of concentrated crisis in this process could also give way to new political forms in capitalism.

The second part of the chapter will use these critical insights to identify the historically specific class limits of current state transformations worldwide, including the Turkish one. To this end, it will rethink the “rule of money” within the context of the neoliberal financialization processes and question how the financialized rule of money has restructured the class limits of capitalist states today. However, considering that authoritarianism has been a defining characteristic of neoliberal state transformations since the 1980s, a nuanced historical analysis will be proposed to understand the reasons behind the recent acceleration of neoliberal authoritarianism/populism all over the world in relation to the changes in global credit conditions.

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