Failed Coup: A Springboard to Bonapartism
On July 15, the world watched as an attempted military coup against President Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) took place in Turkey. The putschists’ eventual surrender does not in any way signify an end to the permanent crisis of Erdoğan regime.
August 09, 2016
The night of the attempted coup, Erdoğan was flown to safety and landed at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul—the site of a recent ISIS attack that left 45 dead. As the coup was being forced into retreat, he called the putsch* “a blessing from god” and called for a complete cleansing of the military.
A few days later, after a special meeting with the council of national security and the cabinet, Erdoğan declared a three-month, national state of emergency. The state of emergency immediately granted the police greater powers, such as control over the seizure of apartments, cars and backpacks as well as the use of arms during protests. It also provided greater authority to local governors, such as the right to prohibit meetings and demonstrations, declare curfews and suspend civilian activities.
These events should not simply be taken as Erdoğan’s declaration of war against the putschists; they also signal a move toward a systematic transformation of the Turkish State.
Erdoğan is using the failed coup as a springboard for a bonapartist government. Classic bonapartist regimes are characterized by a strong reliance on the military or other means of state repression (“rule by the sword”), along with a prominent, authoritarian leader who appears to rise above the classes to play the part of “neutral mediator.” The leader seeks mass support through granting concessions, but ultimately represents the interests of capital and and secures its rule.
The defeat of the coup does not signify the stabilization of the regime, which is in a constant crisis. In fact, Erdoğan has only claimed a provisional victory; the cleansing taking place—one of the harshest examples of such a purge since the founding of the Turkish Republic—demonstrates the extent and depth of the crisis. Institutions ranging from the presidential ministry and interior ministry to the intelligence services have been penetrated.
Since the onset of the state of emergency, we have seen the closure of 35 public health institutions, 934 schools, 109 student residencies, 104 foundations, 1,125 associations, 15 universities and 19 trade union headquarters. Employees of the Ministry of Education have been hardest hit, with the dismissal of more than 20,000 and the revocation of 21,000 licenses. The council of higher education announced that 1,577 deans would be forced to resign. According to Erdoğan, those fired and forced out had ties with Fethullah Gülen, exiled preacher and former ally of Erdoğan. Gülen and his backers, known as the Gülen movement, have been accused of being associated with the coup.
The state of emergency has given Erdoğan the ability to govern without limits and no accountability. His legislative decrees are effective immediately and cannot be overturned by the Supreme Court. Should Erdoğan be successful with the cleansing of the “opposition,” it would perhaps weaken a reactionary sector of the ruling class (the Gülen movement), but would in no way usher in a more democratic State. On the contrary, the outcome would strengthen Erdoğan’s autocratic and anti-worker regime.
Turkey’s longstanding crisis
Though Erdoğan’s regime is attempting to establish a bonapartist government in Turkey, the longstanding crisis impedes his path to becoming "class conciliator." There are many factors that contribute to this crisis. First, the Republic of Turkey is a semi-colony. For example, foreign capital has massive influence and the industrial development of the national economy is highly subordinated to imperialist companies. Turkey is both economically and politically too weak for the government to win real national independence and grant democratic rights to the people. Thus, the government is unable to co-opt either the petty bourgeoisie or the working class.
Another key expression of the crisis in Turkey is the ongoing conflict between the secular, western bourgeoisie of Istanbul (TÜSIAD) and the conservative-religious and right-Anatolian bourgeoisie (MÜSIAD). The regime also faces fallout from its anti-worker policies and egregious working conditions, such as workplace deaths caused by preventable accidents (over 18,000 since 2002).
Yet another central factor is the Kurdish armed struggle for liberation. The colonization of Kurdistan presupposed a strong military apparatus steered by the Turkish bourgeoisie. Repeated attempts to suppress the Kurdish people through military and assimilationist policies have failed and resulted in enormous economic costs for the government. The almighty state and military apparatus has become an obstacle for the regime’s very stability.
In 2002, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) took control of the government when the country was shadowed by a deep economic crisis. The AKP’s economic deregulation, political reforms and diplomatic foreign policies were implemented in order to override the contradictions of the Turkish bourgeoisie on the Kurdish question. A new course was being paved, consisting of a “peace contract” (negotiations between the Turkish State and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party—PKK), pushing back the military apparatus from economy and state, and increasing privatization. Finally, Turkey is geopolitically situated in the heart of a region that is characterized by intense conflicts and permanent imperialist interventions.
Today, the AKP government is a far cry from the “ideal personification of the total national capital,” as Marx put it. Its foreign policy has been a total failure, as well as its approach to the Kurdish question, shifting from diplomatic to increasingly repressive military tactics.
Furthermore, rapprochement with the EU has stalled repeatedly. The doors to the European Union will not be thrown open to Turkey anytime soon.
In sum, Erdoğan has failed in his efforts to secure Turkey’s place as a regional power. He uses warlike methods and foments nationalist sentiment as a basis for political consolidation, but has failed to fulfill the interests of the Istanbul bourgeoisie and imperialist powers.
In a semi-colony, the imperialist bourgeoisie has significant influence, as it possesses the majority of the principal means of production. The destiny of the local bourgeoisie is tied to its alignment and collaboration with international imperialism. In the eyes of capital, the need for a legitimate bonapartist regime matches the level of conflict between the classes.
In Turkey, the problems of strengthening the regime do not appear an urgent matter, due to the low level of organization among the working class, its rampant divisions, and the absence of a revolutionary mass party.
While Erdoğan must actually rise above the classes to be truly bonapartist, he instead receives support from only a fraction of the bourgeoisie. That is the main reason why his bonapartism is stumbling and the Erdoğan regime is in trouble times. Not even the “normalization” of the confrontational relation with Russia and Israel was a success. The coup attempt is nothing but a recognition by a sector of the military that Erdoğan’s government is in deep crisis due to its failed domestic and foreign policies.
The likeliest option for Erdoğan is to proceed toward consolidating a de facto presidential system, in other words, defending and filling positions in the national institutions through a cleansing process. The implementation of the state of emergency is a major step in this direction. He will wrest these positions to gain the consent of other wings of the local and imperialist bourgeoisie.
The attempted coup has ended with the surrender of the putschists, but the contradictions rampant in the regime’s domestic and foreign policies still persist.
* Military coup