The Turkish left

"The Weak Reed- East European Intellectuals at the Turn of the Century" was a study of the intelligentsia in crisis. Two of the panelists, Gyory Csepli of the Institute on Ethnic and Minority Studies, Budapest, and Halil Berktay, of the University of Bosphorus, Istanbul, used the event as an opportunity to pour out all of the disappoinments and frustrations with trying to change society. At the age of fifty or so, both of these sad gentlemen announced their retirement from politics.

Csepli described the crisis of the Hungarian intelligentsia. For years and years they had identified themselves as oppositionists to state socialism and sought power in a post-socialist order. Their ideology was based on either nationalism or liberalism. When state-socialism disappeared, the oppositionists discovered that the new order had very little use for them.

In the old order, they could count on having their articles published in the state-owned press. Today, nobody gives a shit what they have to say. Many of them are unemployed. Csepli described the various survival techniques of the intelligentsia. One of them, a sociologist with prestigious dissident credentials, is now the manager of a big corporation and drives around in a limousine. Others are working for think-tanks like the one that George Soros funds, but by and large they are redundant figures. Csepli suggested that their plight could best be described through the plays of Chekhov.

Berktay spoke for twice his allocated length of time, and probably would have spoken even further if the chairperson hadn't kept making a T with her fingers, as in your time is up. He gave a litany about the mess that the Turkish left created in the 1960s. Sectarianism and dogmatism dominated the scene. Boy, aren't we lucky that this was only a problem in Turkey. In the universities, different departments were the rival turfs of pro-Soviet parties or Maoist parties, etc. Everybody had the goal of destroying everybody else. Sometimes this literally meant murdering your opponent.

In the mid 1980s, there was the possibility of forming a unified socialist party, but each faction refused to subordinate its own narrow interests to the good of the broader movement. The movement then imploded. Today the Turkish left consists mostly of people who want to turn the clock back to the 1960s dogmatism in the hopes that this time they can get it straight. This thinking is embodied in Jim Hillier's crossposts from the Turkish Maoist movement. It is also reflected in the Trotskyite manifestos which we still get from time to time on the Spoons lists. Nothing changes for these comrades.

Berktay is upset because he has just turned 50 and his life on the left has produced little of lasting value. He has spent time in prison for his beliefs. He also has had to struggle for academic positions. He is through with politics, however. He wants to spend the last 20 years or so of his life sitting by the side of the rose tending to his garden.

In the discussion period, I told him that there was a new Turkish left as embodied in the Workers Educations Centers and the interest that comrades like Zeynep (I didn't mention her by name) have in a non-sectarian and non-dogmatic Marxism.

He belittled the Workers Educations Centers. They are only 1% of the Turkish left and are stuck in a neo-Althusserian mode of re-reading Capital and other fundamental works. He then continued in this vein for what seemed like an eternity. They didn't understand this and they didn't understand that. His tone of voice was that of a professor correcting an errant student. This is a no-no with me.

Since I was hung-over and didn't feel like being lectured to, I got up from my chair and headed toward the door. The chairperson reprimanded me for being rude. Although I didn't plan on justifying my retreat, I simply said that I don't enjoy being lectured to in such a patronizing fashion. I also said that Berktay sure still seems to have plenty of things to tell the Turkish left even though he has announced his retirement from politics. I only hoped that he would learn to adopt a less authoritarian style if he changes his mind and decides to give young activists the benefit of his wisdom. His current style reminds me too much of the style of the 1960s, which he found so self-defeating. With those words I split.

Louis Proyect