CHP is unique in its complete reversal from its seemingly social democrat discourse when it comes to defending and aiding in the implementation of policies that squarely goes against the very idea of it.
The ideological deviations must be specifically addressed when contributing to the critique of CHP, as these deviations are the root of its many political contradictions. When the policies you uphold are against your ideology, you end up serving your opponent’s interests. It is precisely for this reason that CHP, who claims itself to be a social democrat party needs to reevaluate its ideological center.
The modern bourgeois society, which rose from the ruins of the Feudal Society, has not really gotten rid of class antagonisms. Instead it brought on new classes, new means of oppression, new war formats to replace the old ones. The whole society got increasingly divided into two large camps, two large groups directly opposed to each other: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
It is not the topic of this article to delve on the development of the bourgeoisie, the emergence of modern industry, and the process of establishing a world-wide marketplace. The whole history of industry and commerce is, more or less, the history of the struggles of modern production powers against modern production conditions and the property relations of the bourgeoisie -which, incidentally, its prime reason to exist. The main problem, therefore, is to socialize the means of production by removing the private property rights of the bourgeois levied on them. The only class capable of achieving this is the proletariat. This Marxist assessment is the common basis for the emergence of communist and social democratic movements. Granted there are other differences between the two, the main one lies in how to socialize the property rights on means of production, how to seize the political power, how to carry out the socialist transformation, and the type of government during this process.
The initial dissociation begins near the end of the 19th century when the international socialist movement goes into a course of division within itself. This schism grows in the form of advocates against critics of Marx’s theses. In 1898, Bernstein, who also served as an assistant to Marx, emerges as the pioneer critic and argues that Marxism should not be a dogma and must be subject to revision.
This was the first revision of Marxism, and Bernstein and his followers were deemed the first revisionists. The most intense debate in the First Congress of the 2nd International was about the way socialists would seize power. A revolution through violence, or through parliament?
This problem is solved by the decision of the 2nd International under Karl Kautsky’s leadership: “the seizure of power in a modern democratic state shall be realized through the parliament, whereas a step-by-step modus cannot work in places where the power is centralized”.
At this point the original problem evolved from being a tactical one to one of the most fundamental issues of Marxism, the STATE problem. According to Marxism, the state is a means of oppression for the property owners and the bourgeoisie. The proletariat and its representatives must squeeze this instrument of oppression with direct struggle, and in its place, it must situate a proletariat state that can provide wide-spread class democracy.
Bernstein and his supporters, in contrast, regarded this assessment as lacking a scientific foundation, and nothing more than a legacy of the Proudhonian. While they agreed that the state as an instrument operated under the control of the bourgeoisie, it is directed at benefiting the society as a whole. The Bernstein Revisionism, which became the dominant ideology of the Second International, defined the socialist movement within the general evolution of the capitalist society and placed it as a force that would change that society from within. It is now safe to clarify the names of the two sides: Communists and Revisionist (reformer) Social Democrats, because, from this date on, the disintegration would be referred to with regards to these qualities. However, it is important to state that both the communists and the social democrats, continue to refer to Marxism today and they both take their inspiration from Marxism. Well, except for our social democrats.
The revisionists led by Bernstein, based their ideas on Marx’s formulation of his concepts in 1859, that “no means of production would disappear before building its own production powers”, and they smirked at the idea that it was possible to leap ahead to the next means of production, which was socialism, before the current capitalist system had completed the process of its relations of production. Whatever the purpose of socialism might have been, the way to get to it had to be consistent with this purpose. This intertwined history of tools and purposes required that the direction that the socialist movement followed was not according to a pre-determined guide. Bernstein formulated this as “socialist movement is everything, socialist purpose is nothing”. Bernstein believed that democratic socialism could only blossom in a country that believed in democracy, otherwise the task of the socialists was to work towards obtaining the conditions under which democracy could develop and to engage in intensive educational activities towards socialism. According to him, the tools paved the way for the aim much more squarely than the aim paved the way for the tools.
Despite all the disagreements between Marxism and Reformism, the revisionists have long seen themselves as Marxists. According to them, the mistakes and the misguided interpretations of Marxism do not change the essence of the Marxist theory, and a theory that is just in its essence remains above party struggles and makes itself compelling.
In fact, Revisionism, as a concept, only makes sense within the framework of theoretical problems. It is instead called Reformism when used as part of the political language. Today, all the political parties who call themselves as social democrats, democratic left, and even socialists and thus differentiate themselves from the Marxist or Marxist-Leninist parties, at least in name, are primarily reformist parties. Reformist policy is one that sees the revolutionary modus operandi as a systematic work towards a reform, rather than an inevitable stage of the struggle.
There is no profound difference between the reformists, and the communists, when it comes to the ultimate goal.
Their theoretical differences are mainly related to the way towards the ultimate goal. Both sides are after a society in which class inequalities are eliminated and people are happier because they have ceased to be products. Socialism is nothing more than a tool on the way to such an accomplishment. In theory, a social process dominated by socialist production relations can create this intended society. The problem is within the response to the question of how to build the socialist society. According to Bernstein, reformists (social democrats) should be concerned with their daily socialist activities: parliamentary work, socialist activities within local governments, union organization, dissemination of production and consumption cooperatives, etc.
The history of the social democratic movement is full of ups and downs. In 1914, they followed a rather chauvinistic line of thought in Europe, and they did nothing to prevent the First World War, which led to the disintegration and collapse of Europe. In 1919, they lost the vast majority of their active militants to Lenin’s Third International. In 1933, they were defeated in Germany against the Nazis. They fell behind their communist compatriots within the People’s Front Against Fascism in 1935 because they were not inclined to do illegal work.
In 1945 and the following years, the reorganized social democratic parties gradually began to cut their theoretical ties to Marxism. The theory of ‘class equilibrium’, originally proposed by Austrian Otto Bauer as a transitional theory in 1920, became the basic theses of the post-1945 social democratic parties under the ideological leadership of Karl Schmacher. These parties began a period of parliamentary struggle in order to achieve some democratic gains following the right-wing theoretical contributions made by the British Labor Party Leader Crosland. Reducing social democracy solely to the level of struggle for democracy, freedom, Human rights, etc. is surely the way of thinking of the right and it is nothing more than vulgarization of social democracy. Nowadays, with the exception of Corbyn in the UK, and Sanders in the US, there aren’t any social democratic parties targeting an evolutionary transformation of production relations from a capitalist to a socialist one. Socialist International, the supreme organization of the non-social democratic parties, is far from being a theoretical social democracy itself.
CHP claims to be a social democratic party even though it has not gone through any of the evolutionary steps of the movement that I have tried to outline here.
CHP is the founding party of the Turkish Nation-State and therefore, nationalism has always been one its chief raison d’etre. The majority of other chauvinistic nationalist organizations are of CHP origin. The party, which started in 1965 as “Left of the Middle” and proceeded to a social democratic rhetoric starting with Ecevit in 1970, has never actually been a social democratic party. CHP continues to embrace its mighty “six arrows” today, decades after it was established as the single political party during the foundation of the Turkish Nation-State and the following Bonapartist period. It doesn’t make sense to defend the social democratic ideology when the most important of these six key concepts (or arrows) are nationalism and statism. The subjective conditions that can pull the CHP towards a social democratic line are not present, neither in our country nor internationally. If it were not for the TIP movement of 1965, CHP would not go to the “left of the middle” or, had a serious Kurdish movement not occurred in eastern and southern Turkey after the second half of 1980s, CHP would not have nominated any Kurdish candidates in the 1991 elections. As can be seen, there were subjective forces at play in both instances before CHP decided to take the corresponding democratic steps.
CHP spun to the left only in 1965, after the emergence of Turkish Labor Party (TIP) which was as left as a party in Turkey could be. CHP which was a part of the Kemalist intelligentsia, and had long been trying to present Kemalism (including secularism) as left, in its efforts to stop TIP in its tracks in 1991, used its faux-left rhetoric to give its deputies a chance in the Kurdish regions. Nevertheless, CHP was closest to a social democratic line during Erdal İnönü’s SHP years. The reign of Deniz Baykal was dominated by right-wing policies. CHP electorate which harbors some sincere and consistent social democratic people, was desperate to get rid of Deniz Baykal’s right-wing policies, and voila! a mechanism suddenly came into play to resolve the Baykal problem once and for all.
The same mechanism that led Baykal out, also brought in a new party administration under the leadership of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who under the Law of the Party of the Union, represented the party itself, followed an even more right-wing political rhetoric, crushing all expectations. He assigned people like Sinan Aygun (who have been in chauvinistic nationalist circles all his life), to prominent positions within the party. His candidates for Presidency as well as Ankara’s Local Government would be hard pills to swallow for even the Liberal Democratic Party -let alone a social democratic one. Which of the social democratic political parameters were in play when he voted against parliamentary immunity, or in favour of cross-border operations?
I am not going to comment beyond Europe, but the current standing of European Social Democratic Parties is not very bright. They are continually leaning toward the right, and, in turn, away from, power. The situation of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) which is the oldest social democratic party in Europe, and towards whom Marx and Engels contributed in establishing, is pathetic. Why and how can CHP score any better? The situation of the European social democrats is obviously dire, and there is no left-wing formation to be taken seriously that could lead CHP to pursue a true left-wing rhetoric. HDP is also far from being a deterrent on the CHP, especially after having taken heavy political blows (with CHP’s help). The CHP served HDP to AKP on a silver plate, just so it wouldn’t continue to be an alternative to them.
However, we have witnessed it time after time that social democratic parties will flourish when they remain along their lines, but will fail when they turn to the right. Since 1950, CHP has been able to receive a respectable percentage of votes only twice. Both were times when social democratic policies were at the fore. How is it that the leaders and administrators of these parties cannot see this basic fact like we, people on the outside, can? Because they are less sophisticated than us? I don’t think so. This brings us to the only deduction possible: that some within the party stand to benefit from these policies. The only rational thing to do for now is to curb our expectations for CHP to develop social democratic policies, and instead simply enforce them to remain within the minimum secular lines.