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The Third Great Depression and rise of the far-right: experiences from Turkey

Tuesday 1 May 2018, by siawi3

Source: https://www.opendemocracy.net/burak-g-rel/third-great-depression-and-rise-of-far-right-experiences-from-turkey?utm_source=NAWA+%28Arab+Awakening%29&utm_campaign=b1242d6bc8-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a0a8666281-b1242d6bc8-408095677

The Third Great Depression and rise of the far-right: experiences from Turkey

Burak Gürel

25 April 2018

In Turkey the Islamist right garners support in rural areas by promoting social welfare and subsidy programmes. The left needs to put farmers and workers at the centre of class-based struggle.

Photo: Unrest in Istanbul, June, 2013. Wikicommons/ Eser Karadağ.

The contemporary far-right comprises three main strands. The first is the authoritarian right, aiming to weaken progressive forces and civil rights and liberties without trying to destroy the institutions of electoral democracy altogether. The second comprises the proto-fascist parties that (implicitly or explicitly) aim to destroy electoral democracy and monopolize political power indefinitely. The lack of a strong paramilitary apparatus is one of the main differences distinguishing these movements from the classical fascism (of Italy and Germany) of the inter-war period. Front National (FN) in France and Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Germany are examples of this phenomenon. Any worsening of the ongoing world economic crisis and/or rise of the radical left can trigger a rapid shift from proto-fascism to fascism in regions worst hit by the crisis.

Finally, we have seen the rise of parties resembling classical fascism, combining legal/parliamentary methods with paramilitary organization and violence, striving to establish a monopoly of power. Hindu nationalism, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party, BJP) on the parliamentary front and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organization, RSS) on the paramilitary front, is the clearest and most important example of contemporary fascism.

This tripartite taxonomy does not imply unbridgeable boundaries. Depending on the changes in the national and global political economy, far-right movements may shift positions. Any possible worsening of the ongoing world economic crisis and/or rise of the radical left can trigger a rapid shift from proto-fascism to fascism in regions that are worst hit by the crisis.

The third great depression and the far-right

In order to contextualize the rise of the contemporary far-right, we need to remember that it is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, neoliberal policies implemented since the late 1970s have gradually alienated workers and small peasants from the parties of the centre right and left. Many of the prominent far-right movements (in France, India, Turkey, etc.) reached double-digit percentage figures in the elections of the late 1980s and 1990s.

By slowing down economic growth and increasing unemployment significantly, the current world economic crisis has further aggravated the crisis of the politics of the centre. The collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 opened up a new period for world capitalism, which can be characterized as the “Third Great Depression” (similar to the first [1873-1896] and the second [1929-45] depressions). The Second Great Depression gave rise to two tendencies. On the one hand, it led to the simultaneous rise of the radical left and right. On the other hand, it intensified inter-capitalist/inter-state conflict, as reflected in the growing economic nationalism that finally led to the outbreak of the World War II.

The current depression is similar to the previous one in the sense that economic nationalism is again rising. Coupled with growing geopolitical tensions in the Pacific and the Middle East, rising economic nationalism risks regional wars and even a world war. The current depression is similar to the previous one in the sense that economic nationalism is again rising.

The fundamental difference of today’s depression from the 1930s is that the radical left is globally weak. By discrediting the idea of socialism, the turn to capitalism from Eastern Europe to East Asia in the 1990s appears as a particularly important factor behind this outcome. The resurgence of the reformist left (in Latin America in the 2000s and Europe in recent years) has not been sufficiently strong to solve this problem. More importantly, reformist parties and governments have refrained from attacking the foundations of bourgeois rule and therefore become part of the left’s crisis. The resulting political vacuum has made the far-right the main beneficiary of the current crisis. Far-right parties… often expand low-cost and clientelistic welfare programs by capitalizing on the larger funds controlled by local governments and central government.

Far-right politics has used the promise of economic growth and welfare provision to garner popular support. Far-right parties are also well aware of the importance of welfare policy for staying in power. They often expand low-cost and clientelistic welfare programs by capitalizing on the larger funds controlled by local governments and central government.

The Turkish case

The case of Turkey vividly illustrates the close relationship between welfare provision and the far-right ascent. The Turkish economy experienced three severe crises in 1994, 1999, and 2001. Those crises and the subsequent neoliberal reforms eroded the mass base of centre right and left parties and paved the way for the rise of Islamism, represented by the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP), which has stayed in power since November 2002. The AKP has not changed the neoliberal orientation of the Turkish economy. Privatization of state-owned enterprises and informalization of the labour market have progressed very quickly during the AKP era. In order to maintain its support in the countryside… especially critical to winning elections, the AKP government has recently promised to subsidize half of the fuel cost of farmers.

However, the AKP has also slightly increased agricultural subsidies (compared to the coalition government of 1999-2002) and designed and implemented various (in-cash and in-kind) social assistance programmes targeting the rural and urban poor. The share of social expenditure in Turkey’s GDP increased from 7.7 percent in 2000 to 10.3 percent in 2005, and 13.5 percent in 2014. In order to maintain its support in the countryside, which has recently become especially critical to winning elections, the AKP government has recently promised to subsidize half of the fuel cost of farmers.

Class politics as an emancipatory alternative

Far-right politics falsely present the elite/rich and the ethnic, religious, and gender minorities as collaborating enemies of the majority and call on the ethnic-religious majority to attack both. The left should, therefore, defend minorities against the far-right bigotry. A truly emancipatory (rural and urban) politics should aim to win back the majority.

However, this is far from sufficient to counter the growing far-right threat. A truly emancipatory (rural and urban) politics should aim to win back the majority. In order to do this, the left should reclaim the class struggle by pushing demands such as full employment through creating public sector jobs, re-formalization of the labour market, removal of all restrictions on the right to unionize and collective bargaining for workers, as well as small farmers, including empowering them in contract farming arrangements. Increasing agricultural support to small farmers will put them front and centre of national politics. This type of class politics would provide a common platform for workers and small farmers to find a progressive way out of the current crisis.

Burak Gürel is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey. Gürel’s scholarly interests include agrarian change, rural development, social movements, and welfare politics, with a focus on China, India, and Turkey. His works have been published in several journals including The Journal of Peasant Studies, Journal of Agrarian Change and Rural China.