Left and Right Radicalism in the 1970s Turkey

Turkish historiography usually accounts for the 1970’s as a form of “void” or “dark age” between the societal awakening of the 1960’s and the military-led neoliberal “reforms” of the 1980’s. In contrast, one could also examine the 1970’s as a period of political maturing. [2] This period saw political organising and mobilisation beyond the scale of anything seen in modern Turkish history. This “insurrection” was marked by very significant polarisation, as the left-right divergence was deepened and normalised. Towards the end of the 1970’s, this polarisation led to a ruthless spiral of violence One should note that the actors involved in the military coup also played their part in this escalation. One can trace the genealogy of contemporary radical left organisations and media to the social movements of that era. In all respects, the experience of the 70’s undoubtedly played a part in the memory, -notably through the indirect memory of those who read about this golden era of the left with emulation-, ideological structuring and consolidation of all significant political movements within Turkey.  Among the radical right, the 1970’s are mythified as a heroic era and an undoubtable proof of patriotism. I will once again touch upon the influence of the collective memory of the 1970’s at the end of this article 

While fledgling radical-left groups started to emerge in the 1960s, it was not until the 70s that these became popular and the movement as a whole legitimized. Until the 1960s, this development was limited to the timid organizing of the then illegal Turkish Communist Party (Türkiye Komünist Partisi, TKP) and the humanist-socialism disseminated by some members of the intelligentsia through social realist literature. Urbanization and modernization, along with the rights and liberties provided by the 1961 Constitution, transformed this political environment. The populist-socialist Turkish Worker’s Party (Türkiye Işçi Partisi, TİP), founded in 1961, and a variety of student and labour movements transmitted a significant legacy to the 1970s. This was a still-emerging, amateurish, yet extremely lively and ambitious socialist legacy. At the time, while anti-communism was still prominent, it had ceased to be a prohibitive obstacle blocking any form of socialist initiative. Throughout this period, therefore, we could describe egalitarianism, social justice, and a general left-wing conception in terms of ‘the voice of the oppressed’ as gaining a hegemonic capacity. This was a hegemonic capacity that one can trace through popular culture artefacts and the ideology of daily life.

This momentum was legitimised by a popular form of anti-imperialism, feeding itself upon the global agenda (Cuba, Vietnam, May 68…) and soaked with the Kemalist and nationalist discourse of the times. This affinity with Kemalism had always been considered as the “weak spot” of the Turkish Left. Withits mission defined as anti-imperialism, its secularism and modernism, Kemalism was depicted by many Turkish socialists as a petit bourgeois sort of democratic progressivism and seen as a catalyst of their own aims. Furthermore, because of the establishment’s inability to implement land reform, its accommodation itself to capitalism and its general loss of revolutionary energy led many socialists to proclaim themselves (for tactical as well as ideological reasons) as the the “true heirs of the Kemalist legacy.”  The idea that a native form of socialism could reinvigorate and “propel” Kemalism forward was very strong among socialists throughout the 1960’s. External variables also contributed to the formation of this “alliance” between Kemalism and socialism. At the time, the right labeled Kemalism as a movement bent on alienating Turkey from its roots by Westernising the country, perforce. Thus, Kemalists were blamed for eroding traditional values and creating an environment favourable to communism. Finally one should add that Leninist vanguardism and the authoritarian conception of socialism adopted by Stalinists strengthened this “affinity”. The 1960’s and 1970’s was especially significant in terms of attempts to question the affinity the left had with Kemalism.

In the mid-60’s, as the youth socialist movements invigorated by anti-imperialism were rapidly radicalising, a considerable faction engaged in questioning Kemalism. They increasingly argued that, while containing a “positive” radical component, it was after all a “bourgeois ideology” aligning itself with the capitalist-imperialist system. Perhaps even more important was that the bureaucratic and statist aura of Kemalism was inherently incompatible with a movement carrying the momentum of youth. Overall, the implicit yet widespread idea that the Kemalist bureaucrats, military officials and intellectuals could be the founding agency of socialism was discarded. In the later parts of this article, we will further elaborate on the manifestations of this secession from Kemalism.

Having quickly recovered from the wounds inflicted by the 1971 military coup, the radical left went into a phase of expansion. At the same time, this period witnessed an increased propensity to disagreement and divergence among the left wing movements and ideologies. The claim to represent the “true line” led to many unproductive and damaging conflicts within the left. The 1977 Labour Day was the dramatic result of these divisions as the tension between various groups prepared the ground for a counter-guerilla provocation which eventually resulted in  the death of 34 people. This provocation (still waiting to be properly investigated), tainted the left with “chaotic” image, delegitimising the whole movement.

During the optimistic and pro-active rise of the left, the alarmist tension of anti-communism (a founding ideologem of the Cold War Turkish right) tremendously increased. Initially divided between generic nationalist-conservatism and the critique of “extremist” modernism, anti-communism fully regrouped under the banner of nationalism. The liberal elements of the traditional centre-right were marginalised. Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, the strong leader of the Turkish right, fully reduced democracy into majoritarianism and argued that the separation of powers led to a loss of governability. The Nationalist Movement Party, especially through its paramilitary street power, became a key actor. Another important phenomenon was Islamism’s reach beyond the umbrella of the nationalist-conservative right, and its claim to be a “third way”.

Now, we can focus on these events in detail.

A)The Left

1)“Left of the Centre”

In the 1970’s, the nation building one-party of the 1923-1945 period, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) adopted a social democratic line under the slogan “left of centre”. At the time, secretary general Bulent Ecevit who was among the defining figures of this transformation, openly challenged the 1971 coup, hence diverging from the party’s historical leader and former prime minister Ismet Inonu. His victory in the party congress gave a very strong momentum to the “centre of the left”. This party line (as the right wing slogan “centre of the left, road to Moscow” suggested) was a major factor in legitimising and popularising the left. On the other hand, Ecevit’s cautiousness towards the party’s left wing was inhibiting a full scale social democratisation of the CHP.

Ecevit’s aim was to reinvigorate the Kemalist mission by placing it into a populist or popular-democratic frame. In this pursuit, he focused on “populism” among the 6 founding principles (“six arrows”) of the CHP, and aimed to leave behind the bureaucratic and top-down image associated with the party. This strategy was met by internal division as some of the statist and nationalist elements saw it as “preparing the ground for socialism” and left the party on this ground.

The orientation preferred by Ecevit could better be labeled as democratic left rather than social democracy. In the 1974 Congress of the CHP, the “Democratic Left Declaration” had been accepted. In this choice, the aversion to being linked with the international legacy of Marxism and socialism is quite apparent.

During the 1974 Cyprus Operation, Ecevit also appealed to the principle of “nationalism”. This move, while seen as rallying anti-imperialist and anti-American “sentiments”, actually reinforced nationalism itself (the left’s adherence to nationalist principles and the associated reinforcement of nationalist narratives were unquestioned until the collapse of “real socialism” in the 1990’s).

Ecevit, in his anti-imperialist and nationalist moment, developed the nativist and exceptionalist discourse of the 1970’s. He justified this exceptionalism with the historical sociology of the Turkish society, allegedly not inclined to class divisions and inequality. Apart from “circles of big interests”, the majority of Turkish people shared a mutual destiny and could exist as one, indivisible entity. Consequently, this discourse reinvigorated the Kemalist depiction of a “unified mass society containing no privileges and divisions” while at the same time transferring the “elitist” stigma (brandished by the Turkish right against its opponents) from the Kemalists to the left-wing intellectuals. This anti-intellectualism, based on an extreme left-intellectual figure conceiving radical social projects on behalf of people to whom he is a total stranger, would find its utmost expression in the post-1980 politics of Ecevit.

In CHP’s other extreme, there was a faction embracing social democracy in the “Western sense” and not shying away from its links with socialism and Marxism. The party’s membership to the Socialist International in 1977 would reinforce the base of this universalist/internationalist wing. It should also be noted that CHP was also partially influenced by the socialist current to its left. The revolutionary socialist movements, through the mottos of “revolution” and “anti-imperialism” were especially influential among the young cadres. Moreover, there were instances of direct contact and cooperation. Finally, the TKP had an impact on the CHP. The communists saw Ecevit’s party as a key actor within the “national-democratic front” assembled against the danger of fascism.

As to CHP’s search to consolidate the ideology of the democratic left, we have to focus on three aspects linked to policy-making. The first of these is the debate on the “people’s sector” (distinct from the public sector). Ecevit coined this idea as an element of balance and control against monopolistic conglomerates. In his 1974 book, entitled “The People’s Sector”, Ali Nejat Olcen envisions a role of collective entrepreneurship for the people in order to prevent private firms from pillaging the public sector and, in the long term, to facilitate the transition to democratic socialism. In his view, the people’s sector would enable democracy (meant as people’s self rule) to incorporate an indispensable economic dimension. Industrial production based on agriculture was meant to be the starting point of this sector. At that time, the CHP establishment worked to prevent the people’s sector from being perceived as a “soft landing into socialism” while the more left-wing factions within the party saw it exactly as a “soft landing into capitalism”. The idea of the people’s sector, despite never being translated into policy, carried significance for the party establishment as a symbol of German or Scandinavian style of social corporatism.

The second aspect was the debate on “national industry”. This debate contributed to the CHP’s anti-imperialist discourse and enabled the party’s approaching to the “Anatolian industries” as opposed to monopolistic conglomerates. In the development of the concept of national industry, some industrialists also played a prominent role. For instance, Mumtaz Zeytinoglu, president of the Eskisehir Chamber of Industry, advocated building a homegrown economy in “real” sectors such as steel, chemicals and machinery rather than relying on the import-dependent sectors of commerce and agriculture. In this context, he argued that the interests of these “real” industrialists converged with those of the working class.

Finally, the third aspect concerned “social municipal governance” (“toplumcu belediyecilik”). This movement, led by CHP mayors in Ankara (Vedat Dalokay, Ali Dincer), Istanbul (Ahmet Isvan) and Kocaeli (Erol Kose), advocated that the future belonged to the cities and that “municipal tutelage and administration” needed to be replaced by true “municipal government”. In their perspective, equality and social justice could only be achieved through municipal intervention into productive sectors. The municipalities needed to include all classes in decision making processes rather than just being sensitive to “big interests”. Rather than merely “regulating”, they needed to produce and “allocate the city’s income to society.” For this, they have to collectivise land, build a sustainable infrastructure and an housing project on industrial scale. [3]  

Overall, the CHP experienced an important phase of social democratisation throughout the 1970’s, both in terms of ideology and practice. However, the party’s bureaucratic and statist legacy did not simply evaporate. The tension between these two tendencies would play a major role in shaping the CHP from the 1980’s onwards.

2)The Socialist movement

A distinguishing feature of the 1970’s in Turkish political history was the emergence of a homegrown socialist movement. We may say that this movement “ideologicised” and “radicalised” politics in the country. Along with the socialist movement’s demand to instate a new order, this radicalisation had more to do with the expansion of political sphere, “overflow” of politics out of parliamentary channels.

The emergence of the socialism gained momentum with the youth movements of the 1960’s. The ideological contours of these movements were rooted in a radical and socialist-oriented interpretation of Kemalist anti-imperialism and developmentalism. The newly discovered teachings of Marxist literature were often placed within these contours. The 12 March 1971 coup marks a juncture concerning the movement’s ideology. In the aftermath of the coup, there was a cleavage among those who invested their hopes in a left-wing junta and those who instead favoured peasant and (to a lesser extent) worker based socialist organisation in order to do a revolution “in the light of the book”. The shock of the coup brought this cleavage to its logical endpoint.

a)The Turkish Communist Party (TKP)

The TKP, illegally founded in the 1920’s, was a small and secretive cadre mostly engaging in low profile activities since many of its

members were frequently arrested. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union which dictated the official party line, was reticent to jeopardise its relations with Kemalist Turkey. Decades later, in the 1970’s, the TKP rapidly transformed into a mass party. A source of its popularity was that many people were unsatisfied with the “amateurism” of the youth socialist movements in the 1960’s. The TKP was appealing for various reasons. A “giant” like Nazim Hikmet had been the party member. It had a certain charisma because of its long underground existence spanning decades. The party had officially been “recognised” by its Soviet counterpart. Finally, the party benefited from a wide network and cadres who acquired valuable experience within the 68 youth movements and at the Turkish Worker’s Party (TIP), a legal socialist formation. These cadres were called the Partisan,  after the name of the magazine they had been publishing throughout the 1970’s. These networks and cadres enabled the TKP to be influential within unionist milieux and most notably within the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK). The DISK served as a leverage to popularise and legitimise the TKP.

This period, defined as the “breakthrough” within the party, was shaped by the 1973 program which described Turkey as a US-dependent, semi-feudal and backward capitalist country. At the time, they could not pursue the goal of socialist revolution. Instead, the TKP called for “societal progress” and “advanced democracy”. The legal opposition status enjoyed by European communist parties was taken as example. This strategy was compatible with the Soviet Communist Party’s doctrines of “peaceful coexistence” and “peaceful transition to socialism”. TKP materialised this “progressive” agenda with the goal of a Democratic National Front (UDC). The call for such a Front was carried out by the DISK. In 1976 they aspired to form it by forging an alliance with CHP which they saw as the “representative of the national bourgeoisie.” Ecevit kept its distance towards these advances, yet the TKP managed to form connections with some elements of the party apparatus and even with few MPs. The UDC increasingly turned from its initial goal of “democratic advancement” to a warning call against the imminent danger of fascism. Against this perceived threat, the TKP accused “gauchiste” elements of preparing the ground for fascism. Among these were the Chinese inspired communists who were labeled as the “Maoist grey wolves” and “social fascists”. In the meantime, the TKP had formed a network of tens of thousands of supporters and sympathisers thanks to its new mass organisations such as the Progressive Youth Foundation (IGD), the Progressive Women’s Foundation (IKD) and the Teachers’ Unity and Solidarity Foundation (TOB-DER).

b)The Revolutionary Socialist Movement and Armed Struggle

The primary characteristic of the revolutionary socialist movement, extending from the 1960’s to the 70’s, was its “hastiness”. In a way reminding of the May 68 uprising in the West, the representatives of the emerging youth movement developed theses justifying immediate revolution. The revolutionary violence started in the 1970’s and was confronted with far greater state violence, resulting in the death of most of this generation’s brightest members.

The loss of this “vanguard” cadres (three of them hanged and twenty of them killed in armed confrontations) among whom the eldest was 26 years old, led to the creation of a very popular heroic mythology. At the same time, this mythologising and cult would become an obstacle to their still developing thought.

The foundational nature of the experience of the 1970’s is linked to the memory of killings and executions that took place in the 1967-1971 period. These events are told, retold, romanticised and marked as the dawn of a sacred mission “that has to be continuously pursued”. 

In 1974, as the country was escaping the grip of military rule and the increasingly left wing CHP won the elections, the revolutionary left underwent a renewal. Along with the suddenly “exploding” social momentum, the increased brutality of anti-communist paramilitary organisation led to the revival of the alarmist sentiment of the 1960’s. In addition to ideological reasons, the revolutionary socialists moved towards armed struggle  in the second half of the 1970’s, as a result of the general climate of violence. In these conditions, theory was undermined and instrumentalised, rather than fulfilling its role as the (to put it in socialist terminology) “handbook of practice”. This vulgarising tendency was “competing” with the movement’s eagerness about understanding the world and acquiring sophisticated theoretical tools.

The most influential ideological and political document written during the revolutionary left’s armed struggle in the 1970’s was Mahir Cayan’s pamphlet “Permanent Revolution” (1971-1972) Based on a synthesis of the Chinese and Cuban experiences, Çayan’s pamphlet rejected the initial phase of democratic revolution and instead advocated for a fusion of these two stages under the concept of the “permanent revolution”. The goal of revolution was to be attained by means of a “revolutionary people’s war”.

The inevitability of armed struggle was taken as a necessary part of radicalism within the 1970’s left. A reason underlying this was t the example set by the sheer violence of liberation movements and revolutions across the  “semi-colonial” countries, which, at the time, were compared to Turkey. Along with Marxist teachings, another important reason underlying this view was the perception that anti-communism and the existing political culture in Turkey would never allow for a peaceful struggle. The traumatic losses suffered during 1971-1972, would strengthen this perception. Furthermore, the preference for armed struggle symbolised the desire to overcome internal and external hindrances, namely, the Kemalist status quo and Stalinist bureaucratisation. This was accompanied by the incorporation of voluntarism (the idea that the conscious subject can change the world through action), a central tenet of left wing political philosophy. The multidimensional meaning attributed to armed struggle in the 1970’s would further contribute to the violence-fetish.

Within the socialist left of the era, much prominence was given to the idea of the Leninist “vanguard” cadres as being indispensable to awaken, encourage and organise the “backward” masses, open to manipulation. Stressing the notion of “artificial equilibrium”, Cayan meant to underline the fragility of both the existing order and the trust masses placed in it. The action of the vanguard would serve to demonstrate this fragility.

c)Divisions within revolutionary socialism

Cayan’s ideological line was divided into three main currents in the 1970’s. Among these, the Revolutionary Left (Dev Sol), formed in 1978, represented the orthodox interpretation of his strategy and kept insisting on the necessity for a “vanguard”. Inspired by Cayan’s “artificial equilibrium”, they engaged in attacks and assassinations (“reprisals”) in order to destroy the image of “strong state”. Half a dozen smaller groups, among which the most effective was the Marxist Leninist Armed Propaganda Division, emerged during this time. The Revolutionary Way (Dev Yol), distinguishing itself from other revolutionary groups, was criticised for focusing on anti-fascism and neglecting the “mission” of vanguard warfare.

On the other hand, the Liberation (Kurtulus) movement cautiously questioned the “vanguardism” of the Cayan line. The concept of guerrilla separate from the masses was stigmatised as “left deviation”. Kurtuluş advocated to refrain from entering into the path of tutelage and instead wanted to shift weight from the youth towards the grass-root organisation of the working class. They also stressed the significance of anti-capitalism and attributed special importance to the criticism of Cayan’s theses about fascism, with the intent of demarcating themselves from Revolutionary Left.. Contesting the notion of “crypto-fascism”, they argued that fascism could be nothing but outright dictatorship. No matter how opressive it is, if a parliamentary system protects civil rights and freedoms , it can be taken as indicative of the “normal » bourgeois class rule, Furthermore, Kurtulus was insistent that Cayan and his successors should completely distance themselves from Kemalism. In this aspect, the most challenging issue was the Kurdish question which demands the right of nations to self-determination be recognised. Kurtuluş movement vocally opposed nationalism which remains to be a core tenet of Kemalism. Along with anti-fascism and anti-imperialism, they held the principle of anti-chauvinism.

The third main current following Cayan’s legacy, the Revolutionary Way was relatively pragmatic and populist. They “enviously” appropriated Cayan’s theses but adapted them to the needs of political experience and practice. The features enabling them to become the most popular socialist organisation of the 1970’s were their flexibility and their effectiveness in the violent struggle against fascism. During that period, the intimidation strategy of the state-sponsored Grey Wolves against the reinvigorated socialist movement was the main concern of left movements, especially within universities. The Revolutionary Way gained ground by placing this urgent security issue at the very centre of its organisation and political action. Apart from schools, this anti-fascist agenda, gave them the opportunity to build mass organisations in (mostly Alevi) suburbs. The struggle against fascism was seen as compatible with the general revolutionary agenda.

On the matter of freedom of education and physical security, Revolutionary Way adopted a middle ground between “active militantism” and popular legitimacy (we can call it a reasonable radicalism) which enabled them to become a mass organisation. Revolutionary Way promoted anti-fascism to the status of « main contradiction ». According to the analysis they inherited from Cayan, fascism’s local conditions and form were structurally different from its form in countries which implemented their bourgeois democratic revolution. Monopoly capitalism, which develops a tendency towards outright dictatorship in its imperialist phase, does not incline to evolve into this form within Western democracies except during periods of extremely deep depressions. Limited and mostly symbolic democratic rights and parliamentary politics is the defining feature of colonial style fascism which tends to operate with top-to-bottom mechanisms and state-controlled terror instruments, thus giving it its distinctive “crypto” or “institutional” character. Nevertheless, in its evaluations, Revolutionary Left recognised that fascism in Turkey can constitute a “certain form of mass appeal” by means of terror and demagogy.

We should once again underline  that defining anti-fascism as a central theme had popular appeal during the 1970’s. The increasing cruelty and violence of the unconventional warfare apparatus of state and state-affiliatedGrey Wolves had become a major issue in daily life. Under those circumstances, the polarisation between “fascism” and the “people” provided revolutionary left with a very “useful” sort of flexibility and breadth. In suburbs, the demand of physical protection had coincided with the struggle for social rights (most importantly, the right to housing). “Resistance Committees” formed in such contexts were vital for anti-fascist struggle acquiring a foundational momentum. The members of Revolutionary Left would argue that this experience was the pillar of an original model, different from both the Soviet Councils and the “liberated zones”. They assigned the Resistance Committees the duty of sowing the “seeds of democratic people’s rule” and “alternative state-making attempts”. At the same time, there was an ongoing talk of “the people acquiring the ability of self-ruling before coming into power”. Revolutionary Way’s populist-revolutionary slogan of “people’s self-rule” found its base in these attempts. The brief experience of municipal government in the small Black Sea town of Fatsa, had been the most famous test of this ambition. In October 1979, Fikri Sonmez, an independent candidate supported by Revolutionary Way, formed neighbourhood committees, thus experimenting with grassroots democracy.

The treatment of daily, concrete problems and organising experience awakened a tendency for grassroots democracy within Revolutionary Way. They had the intuition of solving immediate problems and instituting communist societal relations rather than postponing this process until the aftermath of the revolution. This was important because the main problem of  then lively socialist movements was their total entrapment in anti-fascist struggle and hence falling short of developing an original and constructive socialist thought.

Some suggest that the Turkish socialist movement’s historic defeat is linked to the fact that Revolutionary Way wasted its hegemonic capacity by sticking to a dogmatic framework rather than defending the parliamentary order on the eve of 1980 military coup. [4]

Due to the dazzling dynamic of division we observe within the Turkish left, ideological efforts had been instrumentalised and used in   «succession wars». This is most apparent among the successors of the Turkish People’s Liberation Army (THKO), of which Deniz Gezmis, the popular figure known for his tragic execution and charismatic persona, was a member. These groups, among which the strongest was “Halkin Kurtulusu” (People’s Liberation), have recreated Maoism and Enverism with incredible dogmatism. While not an exclusive feature of these groups, the discourse of purification and self-criticism, a core tenet of that era’s socialism, was very prominent among them.

The Maoist current in Turkey, with its insistence on an alternative to the USSR-sanctioned “authority” of TKP and the charisma of THKP-C, held on to its own socialist references (Albania and China). In 1976, the argument that the USSR was a “social imperialist” or “social fascist” force was adopted within the movement. Maoism had already encouraged factionalism, the discourse of “purity” and an ethics based on self-criticism in its “youth phase” during which it promoted revolutionary mobilisation against bureaucratisation and reformism. Maoist ideology also stressed the reference to the cult of Stalin as opposed to the “revisionism” and corruption associated with Khruschev. Turkish kind of Maoism’s theoretical depravity, dogmatism and lack of originality in developing “homegrown ways” were further deepened by intergroup rivalry. In a manner similar to the groups deriving from THKP-C, the differences became more manifest, the conflicts became more conspicuous and hence Maoist movements in Turkey took on a sectarian character. Furthermore, the differences among these  groups were subject to the ideological position of the Communist Partyof China  which changed its political stance perpetually.

Halkin Kurtulusu, which evolved into the most massive organisation within the Maoist camp, defined its objective as fulfilling a national people’s democratic revolution that would displace feudalism and fascism. They refused any guerrilla warfare that lacks the support of the masses. In early 1980, as they became institutionalised under the name of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Turkey, they emphasised “the goal of preserving the purity of Marxist-Leninism” in their mission statement. Therefore they explicitly advocated theoretical puritanism.

We should note that Ibrahim Kaypakkaya, the founder of the TKP/ML and one of the most prominent figures of the 1971 division within the socialist left, gave much more significance to the recognition of Kurdish question and the problem of Kemalism, which he saw as the essential component of the regime of oppression. Rejecting the Kemalists’ claim to pioneer  liberation movements across the world, he instead interpreted Kemalism as a reactionary role model inhibiting these struggles.

Another important development of the 1970’s was the increasingly intense questioning of “Turkish” socialist organisations by the Kurdish left and accordingly its first attempts to develop its own doctrines. Among the various organisations we referred aboe, Kurdish militants were present but during the 1970’s, the idea of separate organisation became more prominent. Due to lack of space, here we can only briefly touch upon these developments.

Summarising the legacy of socialist movements, we can note that their members, after going through traumatic experiences of imprisonment and torture in the 1980’s, founded various parties in the 1990’s. In 1996, the Labour Party (Emek Partisi) emerged out of the Halkin Kurtulusu movement. Another group of socialists, mainly members of Halkin Kurtulusu and the Revolutionary Way, have joined their forces to form the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ODP). However, these parties could not live up to the expectations they had created and were mostly left out of parliamentary politics. A few years later, the ODP lost its claim of “reuniting” and became mostly limited to those who remained in the ideological line of Revolutionary Way. Another party line, starting with People’s Labour Party (HEP), was mainly concerned with the demand to recognise Kurdish identity but adopted a left-wing program. The members of this current founded many parties, among which 4 were closed down. Its latest successor is the Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP) founded in 2012 and claiming to carry on the legacy of previous socialist movements. Many representatives of the political tendency we described above, have approached to HDP in a variety of ways from getting directly involved to providing outside support.

B) The Right

Radical Nationalism

In the mid-1960’s, the Republican Villagers Nation Party (CKMP), taken over by the 1960 coup’s major figure Colonel Alpaslan Turkes and his supporters, adopted a “national-socialist” (milliyetci-toplumcu) line. The party, which changed its name as the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in 1969, formed a basis for anti-communist alarmism. This was especially observed in the increasingly violent paramilitary campaigns carried out by its youth wing  (the “idealists” or “Ulkucu”), against the left.


In the political socialisation of the Ulkucu movement, many drew attention to the role of provincial male culture. [5] Anti-communist violence, beyond merely targeting communism, was set against the “corruption” of traditional virtues by modernity which was accused of rendering life more complicated. Nevzat Kosoglu’s observations, a prominent cadre and ideologue of the party during the 1970’s, confirm this reactionary conservative profile. According to his sociological insight about the movement, the Ulkucus were “provincials who left traditional values when they arrived to the metropolis”. As a result, “they were disoriented and had lost their confidence”. According to Kosoglu, the Ulkucu ideology is essentially the expression of “urban stress” lived by those who lost the comfort and predictability of life in the countryside. [6]  In a sense, it was a sign of health and resistance displayed by national body politic in the face of rapid urbanisation.

In the Ulkucu ideology, nationalism is « taken for granted«  as an ontological value, an axiom. The articles of Galip Erdem, a cadre and intellectual of the MHP, is a good specimen of the Ulkucu movement’s conception of the nation. In his 1975 book, which he wrote to refute the accusations of racism, Erdem distances himself from “anthropological” and “ethnological” racism, two terms he uses interchangeably. However, while recognising that “race” and “nation” are separate, he argues that these two concepts are compatible when it comes to the specific case of the Turkish Nation! Erdem distinguishes the racial ferment from what he calls the “anthropological race”. In fact, despite having gradually mixed with other peoples and being physically changed,  the “foundational racial ferment” of the nation was left intact. The “consciousness of lineage and the idea of Turkish superiority” are mere defence mechanisms to protect from other peoples’ racism.

The concepts of ferment and “genetic code” (from the 1990’s onwards) were widely appropriated by this discourse. Rather than a biological one, this ideology adopted a metaphysical conception of the race, in the vein of Nihal Atsiz, the pioneering radical nationalist writer who published from the 1930’s up until the 1970’s. The “old school Turkism”, of which Atsiz was the symbol, survived within the Ulkucu movement through its cosmology rather than its ideology. The symbolic repertoire, discourse, heroism and fanaticism of Turkism were appropriated by the movement. Rather than his pamphlets and articles, the historical-mythological works of Atsiz received interest. In the 1970’s, with the increasing clout of Islamic sensibilities within the movement, his legacy would be kept at a distance.

The ideological frame of the MHP and the Ulkucu movement could be described as a form of conventional national-conservatism which underwent significant radicalisation in constant interaction with the fanaticism and general attitude of Turkism. In this process, one should not neglect the role played by the CKMP. The party, transformed by Alpaslan Turkes, managed to maintain its central Anatolian electoral base by appealing to them with a national-conservative discourse. The anti-Alevi agitation of the 1970’s also had an echo among this social base.

In 1965, Alpaslan Türkeş disseminated his political program through his pamphlet entitled “Nine Lights” in which he advocated for an “hundred percent national and native governmental doctrine”. Rather than its content, this pamphlet is important for its “doctrinal” function. In a way it “countered” the Six Arrows of the CHP, thus both challenging the official ideology and claiming ownership over it. This doctrine was pretty eclectic: 1:Nationalism, 2:Idealism (Ulkuculuk), 3:Moralism, 4:Socialism, 5:Scientism, 6:Freedom, 7:Village virtues, 8: Developmentalism and populism, 9: Industrialism and technicism. Its corporatist design would coincide  with a conception of society composed of six orders (worker, villager, shopkeeper, civil servant, entrepreneur, employer). This conception was posed as an alternative to the class-based society. The ideal was forming a national sector  in which economic democracy could be realised by involving all of the social orders in the ownership of the means of production, each through their own channels. Overall, the Nine Lights intends to remedy the increasing penetration of capitalist system and class conflicts into the texture of Turkish society, by providing a predictable, safe, disciplined, ordered and hierarchical vision of society, designed to reassure the disoriented and anxious middle classes.

While this corporatist model promised the safeguarding and restoration of the status quo to the benefit of small proprietors and middle classes, some dissenting voices within the MHP preferred to present it as a radical restructuring of the existing order. Even though it did not reach beyond the horizon of a « restoration within capitalism », this rhetoric targeted the corruption of the existing system and succeeded in stealing some momentum from left wing radicalism.

In 11th September 1971, Turkes sent a communiqué to the party apparatus and banned the expression of “national-socialism” (milliyetci-toplumculuk) because “it could be instrumentalised by our enemies seeking to denigrate MHP”. Nevertheless, in the 1973 party congress, Turkes attacked « the class-oriented and divisive » CHP along with the right wing parties for they “fail to embrace all sectors of society and remain under the yoke of big interests and capitalism”. From the mid-1970’s, anti-systemic radicalism suffered a drawback within the party but rose among the ranks of the Ulkucu youth organisations. Under these new circumstances; Ulkucu movement should not suffice itself with the goal of defending the existing corrupt order against the threat of communism but attempt to overthrow and replace it with a truly nationalist and Ulkucu order. The slogan “we wage a war against the corrupt system” gained popularity. The radicalism of the Ulkucu movement manifested itself with their newly-adopted extra-parliamentary strategies. The movement’s journal the State (Devlet) made a distinction among three aspects of authority in 1973. According to the new agenda, together with state authority and parliamentary authority, street authority also needed to be conquered.

The cult of the leader (basbug) in the Ulkucu ideology, is linked to the belief that in the Turkish tradition the head/president (baskan) has a vital role. Commitment to the leader is in itself a programmatic rule. Dundar Taser (a retired military officer having participated in the 1960 coup), second in command in the party until his death in 1972, once commented about Alpaslan Turkes that “his mistake is truer than my truth”.

Alpaslan Türkeş emphasised the “military and organisational character” of the Turkish nation and complemented it with the need for a “strong state that would organise the people”. The conception of a state-centred nation could be associated with the idea of the state’s people found within the Kemalist sort of authoritarianism. The main difference of the Ulkucu ideology is its much stronger emphasis on the metaphysical dimension, which was mostly left out in Kemalist nationalism. Its statist mythology and metaphysics also fed  upon Islam. Religion was effectively melted within the sacredness of the state. The compatibility of Turkishness with the Muslim faith was mythologised, almost gaining a divine aspect. According to the historian Osman Turan, Turks are naturally inclined to monotheistic systems and their customs and disposition were compatible with Islam from the outset. The Ulkucu ideology has borrowed two “epic” notions from Turan’s work: Nizam-i-alem (giving an order to the world) and Devlet-i Ebed-muddet (the eternal state). Above-mentioned Dundar Taser contributed to the Ulkucu movement’s appropriation of Osman Turan’s popular scientific notion of the sacredness of the state. Referring to the Ottoman axiom “fena fi’d-devle ve’l mille”, the movement have imputed political authority a theological meaning. The transcendental notion of fenafillah (becoming one with God) peculiar to Sufi islam was attributed to the state (fena fi’ddevle). According to Dundar Taser, the glory of the Ottoman Empire was emblematic of the fena fi’devvle spirit. In his own words, “nothing in Ottoman history, impressed and moved him more than the practice of fratricide” because it embodied the ultimate blood sacrifice made for the state.

In the Ulkucu’s handbook, one of the answers given to the question “what is an Ulkucu?”  was this: “whom serves the state when the time comes…”. The experienced editor Erol Kilinc, from the first generation of the movement, would regret in 2010 that the state could not use the Ulkucus as rightly, determinedly and effectively. After the 1980 coup, during his defence in the MHP case, Nevzat Kosoglu would say that “if our State had been a State and intervened as soon as the reflexes first showed themselves, the situation would not have escalated as much”. Kosoglu argued that the “community as a living organism” had displayed reflexes against the threat of communism as soon as it sensed it. According to him “when there is a threat to the sensible organs of a person, an automatic reflex emerges”. This elementary and pre-conscious act could not even be called a “reaction”. The struggle of the Ulkucu movement against communism was exactly thus: the national reflex against a tangible threat.

Turkes took the opportunity of the governmental crisis following the 1974 Cyprus Operation (during which the CHP-MSP coalition dissolved) to turn the MHP into a key political actor. Despite having only 3.4% of the overall vote and 3 MPs, the party played a vital role in forming a right wing coalition government. In 1975, the Nationalist Front (MC) was formed with the motive that the left-wing movements (“communism”) supported by the CHP posed a vital threat to the regime. After 15 years, Alpaslan Turkes once again had the status of a “state official” as he became vice prime minister.  Thus, the MHP was accepted into the state apparatus and among the dominant classes. The party obtained ministries and had the opportunity to place its cadres within the state. In the 1977 elections, the MHP increased its share of the vote to 6.4% and obtained 16 MPs, partaking in the second MC coalition government. This government, however, could not last long under the pressure of CHP which obtained the majority in the election. As CHP government was formed and the rising left wing movements once again started to dissolve the societal, institutional and moral structures formed by the MC, the Ulkucu movement returned to its reactionary agenda.

This reaction was basicly based on escalating the violence. Left wing militants and sympathisers were targeted as the enemies, followed bybombing attacks with many casualties, notably the March 16 1978 incident at the Istanbul University. Along with left student movement, state officials and intellectuals were targeted. Attacks targeted not only leftists but also “moderate” figures like Milliyet newspaper’s editor in chief Abdi Ipekci. There was an attempt to intimidate and  « silence » those who advocated “dialogue”, thus creating an atmosphere of civil war. In resorting to these tactics ; Ulkucu movement tried to spread the belief that the system is no longer governable and that an iron fist needed. The MHP establishment and Turkes, made use of their already existing relations within the army, in order to protect Ulkucu movement from the approaching coup attempt. As of October 1978, MHP demanded martial law in their official statements.

This strategy forced the left wing movement to adapt itself to the needs of anti-fascist struggle and take up arms against the counter-guerilla units. It was difficult to understand whether the Ulkucu movement acted on its own or at the behest of state-sponsored counter-guerilla units.   . In either case, the spiral of violence and aggression escalated. Oguzhan Asilturk, the MSP’s (Islamist party) Interior Minister in early 1976 compared Alpaslan Turkes to Dr. Frankenstein on the grounds that he could no longer control the monster he had created! Paramilitary organisation of Ulkucu movement, -Turkes’s commandos-, went out of control and disturbed even Turkes himselfHence, MHP’s reliability was increasingly questioned and the idea that party had fulfilled its mission became widespread. Another enemy image becoming apparent in the second half of the 1970’s were the Alevis. The stigma of perversion associated with Alevis was an important component of anti-communist agitation from early on. This discourse, associating communism with blasphemy, lack of morals and sexual perversion, thus linking it to the racist stereotypes about the Alevis, had become a commonplace strategy to rally Sunni Muslim conservatives. The image of the qizilbash (Red-Head) identified with Turkish Alevis perfectly resonated with the emblematic colour of communism. This association was further strengthened by the fact that the left wing movements had notable influence among Alevi youth since the 1960’s. Another societal factor for the anti-Alevi agitation in the 1960’s and 70’s was the role the central Anatolian middle classes and small proprietors played within the MHP electoral base. Anatolian middle classes perceived a threat of social relegation due to the increased penetration of capitalist economic structures into the Turkish countryside. >The threat perception deepened and manifested itself as a general discontent about the “descent” of Alevis into the cities and their upward movement into the middle classes created a reactionary stance. The social mobility of Alevis made traditional middle classes anxious about their own position and increased the popularity of stereotypes about Alevis.

In the 1970’s, rumours about Alevis/communists (the two terms were interchangeably used) spread. Accusing Alevis/communists of bombing mosques and attacking Sunnis became  the most widespread political strategy for mobilising angry mobs and leading them to lynching targets. Some clergymen, influential among anti-communist networks, also played a role in this mobilisation. In this context; there are strong indications that the Ulkucu paramilitaries and the state-sponsored counter-guerilla units joined their forces

The stigmatisation of Alevis was linked to the process of Islamisation that the Ulkucu movement went through in the 1970’s. Previously the CKMP/MHP line was not far from a pro-religious form of secularism. One could even note that the “pro-religious” aspect was often discarded by the putschist and Turkist elements within the party. However, both the religious discourse intertwined with general anti-communism and the provincial upbringing of most Ulkucu youth members inculcated a religious sensibility into the movement.

In the 1970’s, religion increasingly came to be defined as the foundational element of Turkishness in Turkes’s and the MHP’s discourse,. The official line looked for a synthesis between Turkish pride and consciousness on the one hand,and Islamic virtue and felicity, on the other hand This was accompanied by Turkes’s 1974 slogan “ Turkish as the Hira Mountain and Muslim as the Tanri Mountain”. Within the Ulkcu movement, some were unsatisfied with this official line which confined Islam into the realm of morality. A number of pamphlets and articles carried titles like “The flag of Islam is rising with our blood”, “the Ulkucu youth can die, but the sun of Islam can not be extinguished”, “we take our strength from Islam”, “victory belongs to the flag-bearers of Islam”, “  « The party attacked by the infidels : MHP ”. By 1980, perhaps the most popular slogan within the movement was thus : “even if our blood is spilled, Islam will be victorious”.

The sociological reason for the process of Islamisation (more obvious after 1980) was that MHP increasingly rested  on a provincial conservative base. The psychological impact of armed conflicts and an emergence of martyr mythology under the civil war conditions of the 1970’s was also decisive. The awakening of Islamic thought would manifest itself in the secession of BBP (Great Union Party) from MHP in the 1990’s.


a)Milli Gorus

The formation of a sustainable Islamist party in Turkey postponed until the 1970’s. It was eventually founded by a group of Islamist-leaning conservative MPs from the Justice Party (AP). The leader of the movement, Necmettin Erbakan had started to organise within the confines of the chamber of commerce where industrialists and tradesmen came together. When he became the secretary general of the chamber, he “militantly” defended the middle and small sized Anatolian companies against the Istanbul based conglomerates. He argued that the whole economic apparatus was working in favour of the “masonic-comprador minority” and relegated the Anatolian industrialists and merchants to a secondary role. In his political quest, Erbakan relied on the “peripheral” bourgeoisie and on certain branches of the Nakshbandi tariqat, a pragmatic and influential Sufi organisation.

In January 1970, Erbakan founded the National Order Party (MNP) along with two MPs who seceded from the AP. Facing frequent closedowns, the party and its name embodying the same political line would have to change 4 times up to this day. Right after the 1971 coup, the MNP was accused of “activities against secularism” and was closed down. In its place, the National Salvation Party (MSP) was founded, once again under Erbakan’s leadership. The MSP displayed its political popularity as early as the 1973 elections when it obtained 11.8% of the overall vote and was the most successful political party in many cities across Central and Eastern Anatolia.

In 1969, when running for parliament as an independent candidate in the Konya constituency, Necmettin Erbakan used a quite conventional slogan: “for a nationalist and holy Turkey”. The ideological frame of the MNP/MSP relied on building an Islamic identity over the already existing national-conservative edifice. The slogan “Make Turkey Great Again”, and the historical narrative fixated with the past glory of the Ottoman Empire were the anchors of national-conservative continuity. The Founding Declaration of the MNP emphasised the “glorious legacy of the Turkish nation which built many civilisations and ruled over the world”. The party’s goal was to put Turkey back in its “historical orbit” and elevating it from “a satellite country into a leader”. The attribute of “nationality” which was given ontological importance by Necmettin Erbakan, swings between Turkishness and Islam. One one hand, Erbakan did not refer to “Turkishness” nor did he appeal to “nationalism”. Instead he used the word “nation” in the Ottoman sense, as a synonym of the “ummah” (community of believers). On the other hand, he referred to a “millenary history” and explicitly embraced the imperial legacy of the Ottoman Empire, thus not refraining from ethno-cultural suggestions.

The attribute of “nationality” within these ideological contours, was the founding principle of the MNP/MSP. Erbakan depicted political polarisation as a divide between the “nationals” and the “impostors”. Tellingly, the generic name of the movement would be “national outlook”  or Milli Gorus. Thus, the MNP/MSP was the only national party. The others, whether it was communists, liberals, the “statist” CHP or the “colourless” AP reliant on “a few rich folks”, were impostors. Because of the distance it kept from the right, the “third wayism” of the MNP/MSP was far more apparent than that of the MHP. In accordance, the party’s insistence on anti-communism was less central.

Erbakan’s Milli Gorus was absolutely opposed to the west, which he referred to with the cliché of “crusader mentality”. He fully embraced the familiar narrative about the west having learned  science and technology from Muslims during the Middle Ages. His goal was to instill confidence in Muslims, thus redeeming their “loser complex” towards the West.

Ethno-religious xenophobia was a strong component of Erbakan’s ideology. Apart from the image of a homogenous west, freemasons and Zionists were the leading cast of various conspiracy theories. The Milli Gorus was anti-Semitic to its bones.

The party’s program was loyal to the objectives of its socio-economical base. Erbakan, who, in his own words “approached industrialisation with the same devotion like worship”, accused big businesses of perpetuating their imposture within the economic sphere by participating in “comprador capitalism” and building a “montage industry”. In contrast, there was a need to rely on Anatolian capital in order to engage in a “move into heavy industry”, to build “machines that would build machines” and “factories that would build factories”.

The lust for industrialisation was accompanied by the belief that superfluous and luxurious production needed to be stopped, thus giving the whole project a moral dimension. This asceticism which forbade hedonism and pompousness implied a sense of justice which was well received among the poor. The prohibition of interest, a core tenet of Islamic political-economy, was passed on to Milli Gorus. This point was once again presented as a search for justice as it condemned “undeserved” (“Jewish” sort of) acquisitions. Overall, the development agenda of Milli Gorus claimed to be of moral significance.

In the 1970’s, the MNP/MSP’s political adventure was defined by its “clumsy” swings between true “third wayism” and occasional proximity to one of the left/right camps. After the 1973 elections, as neither CHP nor AP had enough MPs to form a government, MSP had become the key party in parliament. Its decision to form a government with CHP came as a surprise at the time. The developmentalist alliance between CHP and  MSP took its force from the convergence of interests between the industrialists who insisted on export-led growth and the small business owners bothered by the monopolistic practices of conglomerates within the internal market. Both parties were satisfied by the wave of anti-Americanism brought by the May 68 movements across the world.

Afterwards, influenced by anti-communist pressures and afraid of being secluded within parliamentary politics, MSP participated in the first Nationalist Front government which followed a policy of civil war with fascist undertones between March 1975 and June 1977. The impact of the party’s participation in successive left-wing and right-wing governments between 1973-1977 was  a decline in its vote to 8.3% in the 1977 elections. Later on, initially by participating in the second Nationalist Front government in 1977/78 and then by giving outside support to the AP minority government which ruled Turkey until the 1980 coup, MSP kept aligning itself with the right-wing camp. At the same time, they refrained from giving full support to the anti-communist front formed by AP and MHP, hence aiming to emphasise their claim to represent a third way, outside of conventional left/right politics.

b) “Independent” Islamism

Towards the end of the 1970’s, a truly independent Islamism was emerging, maintaining the claim to represent a third way. It was independent as long as it estranged itself not only from the right in general but also from MSP itself.

The first indications of this tendency were seen at the end of the 1960’s, in the declarations of respected members of the Islamist intellegiantsia. Poet Nuri Pakdil objected to being classified in the right, and embracing anti-capitalism as a core principle he refused financial advertisements in his magazine. Another outspoken literary figure, Sezai Karakoc, intended separate Islamism from the national-conservative galaxy and instead place it within the perspective of an alternative civilisation. Among the younger generation, we could mention Ismet Ozel : As a former socialist, Özel pioneered a non-conformist vein of Islamism. First of all he rejected the civilisation-culture divide, common both among nationalists and most of the Islamists. In his view, the two were a whole and civilisation is internalised even within the most trivial artefact of material culture. For Özel, the critical thought on modernity and western civilisation could be deceiving but, in the end, it remained within the same paradigm. Therefore, modern civilisation needed to be rejected in its entirety. Returning to peaceful and authentic Islamic essence was the antidote to modern “theoretical” and artificial civilisation.

As a parallel to the left movements, the 1960’s had been a period of translation and political awakening in Islamic circles. The works interpreting Islam as a modern political alternative started to be translated into Turkish. First Sayyid Qutb, and, towards the end of the 1970’s, Ali Shariati were being discovered. In this period, a variety of magazines (Sura, Islami Hareket, Hicret, Tevhid, Dusunce…) objected to the degeneration and instrumentalisation of Islam into a “culture” in the hands of nationalists. For them, religion was not simply about “virtue and morals” but it was an entire political project on its own. Thus, a new, revolutionary current, which resisted to be associated with right  was emerging.

This tendency was further strengthened after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Together with this revolution’s impact across the region, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the jihad waged against it incited and encouraged international radical Islamism. The new Iranian regime, with the threat it posed to the bipolar world order, was further consolidating the Islamist claim to represent a third way.

At the time, especially among the young cadres within the National Turkish Students’ Association (MTTB) and the Akinci Foundation, the influence of radical Islam was being felt. As a result of this, the tension between the Ulkucus and the Islamists, sometimes escalated into armed confrontations. This development had effects on MSP and forced the party to distinguish itself from the conventional national-conservative right. The radical Islamist influence, stimulated by the 1979 revolution in Iran, essentially encouraged a discourse, contentious and even revisionist towards the existing order. Slogans such as “the irreligious state shall be overthrown”, “sharia will come and there will be smiles upon faces”, “sharia is Islam, the constitution is the Koran”, were popular. MSP, emphasising its non-violent stance and insisting on legality, tried to strike a delicate balance under civil war conditions. One one hand, it  distanced itself from such kind of radicalism, on the other hand, it did not want to  give up its youthful energy. During these years, MSP occasionally abstained from Ataturk commemorations and from Republican Day celebrations.

After the September 12 1980 coup d’état, radical Islam increasingly strengthened. Later on, in the 1990’s, it underwent a process of maturing (perhaps “ageing”). Some of the cadres who took lessons of pragmatism and conformism out of the Party’s past, added Milli Gorus movement a modern and dynamic dimension and eventually formed the nucleus of Justice and Development Party (AKP), founded in 2002.


Conclusion: The nostalgia of the 1970’s


In the collective memory of the left, the 1970’s does have a great melancholic value. The legitimacy and power attained by the radical left during the 1970’s is always missed and the successes, political figures and of course losses of those times remain to be significant reference points. On the other hand ,the political reassessment of the damage that the 1980 coup was able to inflict on the left is yet to be done. Perhaps, the proliferation of various memoirs within the last decade could be seen as an attemp to compensation. The period is remembered with the energy and the heroic acts which were accomplished “as if there was no tomorrow”. Owing to the social and political power that was achieved, this era is seen as a “golden age”. In fact, this is a narrative of agency. Yet, considering the various armed confrontations, assasinations, executions and tortures, it is also a narrative of victimhood. These narratives of agency and victimhood, along with the refusal to reflect on their weaknesses, is still a point of tension within the left. The fact that the “special days” of the radical left (the execution of Deniz Gezmis and his friends, the Kizildere massacre in 1972, May 1 Labour Day in 1977, the Maras pogrom against the Alevis, the 1978 Istanbul University bombing, the 1978 Bahcelievler massacre) are all anniversaries of traumatic losses is worth reflecting upon. It certainly underlines a past haunted by suffering and trauma.

The consolidation of this trait was partly due to the indirect memory conveyed by the habitus of leftist circles – not only in the sense of political iconography, but also in sense of words of love and greetings, clothing styles, even posture.[7] In the last ten to fifteen years, memoirs concerning this period have proliferated. Borrowing Svetlana Boym’s concept, Orhon would argue that one can talk of reflective nostalgia among the leftReflective nostalgia refers to the act of producing and disseminating the belief “what has been possible” during the 1970’s can be valid as an ethical proposition in the contemporary period. This is not only done through ideas but also through collective affectivity.

“On the other side”, in the collective memory of the Ulkucu movement, the 1970’s are remembered as a time of heroic struggle where “Turkey’sdrift into being an Afghanistan was prevented”. [8]  The idealist/grey wolf identity owes its charisma and pathos to the “performance” of the 1970’s. The 1980 coup is interpreted as “denigrating the value” of this struggle. The Ulkucu movement also constructed a narrative of victimhood from this period (the military regime imprisoned the leading members of the MHP and the Ulkucu movement of whom 9 were executed). In the background of the Ulkucu narrative of the 1970’s, one finds the problem of “being used by the state”. How could one interpret the fact that the Ulkucus, who “got the state’s back” in the face of communism threat, were put in the same basket with their enemies at 12 Eylul martial courts? At one extreme, we find those who “celebrate” being used and go as far as arguing that the state could have invested even more into this “patriotic” potential. On the other hand, there are those who think that the state had manipulated the “goodwill” of the Ulkucu movement (as well as that of the “naive and well meaning” leftists!), and prepared ground for the 1980 coup. Consequently, nationalists thinking in the second way took the lesson from the 1970’s that the nationalist movement should rely on a civilian strategy, maintaining distance from the state. In the middle ground between these two interpretations, there are nationalists who believe that only some of the elements within the Party were responsible for the coup, thus exempting the state (along with their own struggle) from blame…

In summary, the 1970’s were a founding moment in the memory of both the left and the right in Turkey.


Translated by Salih Işık Bora




Akyıldız, Kaya and Bora, Tanıl (2013): “Siyasal hafıza ve ülkücülerin hatırasında 70’ler”, Toplum ve Bilim, no. 127, s. 209-228.


Bora, Tanıl (2017): Cereyanlar –Türkiye’de Siyasi İdeolojiler. İletişim Yayınları, İstanbul.


Çakır, Osman (2008): Nevzat Kösoğlu ile Söyleşiler – Hatıralar yahut Bir Vatan Kurtarma Hikâyesi. Ötüken Neşriyat, İstanbul.


Çalık, Mustafa (1995): MHP Hareketi – Kaynakları ve Gelişimi. Cedit Neşriyat, Ankara.


Karakurt, Mehmet Süreyya (2017): Öncülük Olarak Politika. Belge Yayınları, İstanbul.


Turan, Ömer (2013): “Bu sayıda…” (editoral), Toplum ve Bilim,  no. 127, ss. 3-25


Yıldırım, Selahattin (2013): Türkiye’de Toplumcu Belediyecilik. Çankaya Belediyesi, Ankara.


[1] This article largely based on related chapters of my book Cereyanlar –Türkiye’de Siyasi İdeolojiler.

[2] Turan, 2013.

[3] Yıldırım, 2013: 251-262.

[4] Karakurt, 2017.

[5] Çalık, 1995.

[6] Çakır, 2018.

[7] Göze Orhon: “Bir 12 Eylül yazısının ilk cümlesi ya da kuşaklar, sesizlikler, kederler,” 40 Yıl 12 Eylül (derleyen Tanıl Bora), Birikim Kitapları, İstanbul 2020, s. 26-28.

[8] Akyıldız and Bora, 2013.