The official present-day political ideology of the Republic of Turkey.
Kemalism refers variously to the thought of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881–1938); the ideology and regime of the single-party period (1920–1950) in the Republic of Turkey; the official Turkish political ideology to date (semiofficial in the 1961 constitution, fully official and imperative in the 1982 constitution); the principles of national education and citizenship training; the hegemonic public philosophy in contemporary Turkey; and finally to the name of the persistent Turkish personality cult.
Westernist Reforms in Turkey
Kemal derived his legitimacy from the commandership in chief of the successful war of independence (1919–1922), which ended up in the foundation of the republican Turkish nation-state on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922). No less important, this legitimacy was reinforced by his extreme qualities of charismatic leadership. Kemal and his followers, after abolishing the sultanate and the caliphate, proceeded to build up an authoritarian, single-party state, with discernable totalitarian characteristics in certain ideological and institutional spheres. The Kemalists implemented, alternately gradually and forcefully, a series of radical reforms in the political, legal, educational, and cultural fields, including adoption of Western legal codes (some liberal, such as the Swiss civil code; some fascistic, such as the penal and labor codes); latinization of the Ottoman alphabet; adoption of the Western calendar and units of measurement and imposition of Western clothing and headwear; the closing down of social and associational institutions of Islamic sects; unification of education in the sense of prohibiting schools of religious instruction and creating a new system of secular national education; and disestablishment of Islam in general beyond the narrow laicist sense of separation of religion and politics, but at the same time bringing religion under the control and supervision of the state through a Directorate of Religious Affairs.
The main thrust of these reforms was Westernization and secularization of the society, based on a rejection of the Ottoman Islamic past and on a synthesis of Western values with the virtues of old, original, Turkish "national character," not excluding a tertiary element of the purified, pre-Arabic-Persian-Ottoman version of Islamic morality. Many of these reforms constituted the completion of a long process of Westernist modernization, some inaugurated by the "Re-Ordering" (Tanzimat, 1838) and the First and Second Constitutional periods (1876 and 1908), some others formulated by Ziya Gökalp and partially implemented by the Unionists (1908–1918). Whether the Kemalist reforms constitute a revolution or radical reform is the subject of an ongoing debate, but the Kemalists identified themselves as "transformist" (inkilapi).
Interpretation and Classification of Kemalism
Partly impressed by the Westernist reformist and laicist character of "cultural Kemalism," most interpreters—Turkish and foreign alike—have designated Kemalism as a tutelary democracy overlooking or playing down the severely antidemocratic essence of "political Kemalism" both as an ideology and as a regime. This standard interpretation of Kemalism has also been partly guided by an imputation of false causality, in the sense that the development of the single-party regime after the end of World War II into a sort of multiparty parliamentary system (1946–1950), as a result of external pressures, was attributed to the unfolding of the internal dynamics of the first thirty formative years of the Turkish republic. As a matter of fact, this rootless parliamentarianism has been thrice interrupted by military coups (1960, 1971, 1980) of varying degrees of violence—all declared to be staged, among but above all other things, in the cause of Kemalism.
Kemalism as a "Third Way" Ideology
Kemalism was an early brand of those "third way" (tertium genus) ideologies and regimes of the post–World War I world of late-modernizing capitalist countries which were to borrow further elements, especially in the 1930s and early 1940s, from the full fascisms of interbellum Europe. Kemalism was antisocialist and anti-Marxist, antiliberal but not anticapitalist; that is, it was corporatist capitalist. It belonged more to the solidaristic species of corporatism formulated by the Turkish social and political thinker Ziya Gökalp, only later assuming partial fascistic overtones in certain ideological and institutional spheres. The Kemalist single-party regime rested on a class alliance of civilian-military petite bourgeoisie, big landowners, a nationalistic commercial bourgeoisie, and an incipient and subordinate industrial bourgeoisie, which it was the explicit ideology of the Kemalists to create and strengthen through neomercantilist policies of economic statism (etatism). This developmentalist objective required accelerated capital accumulation through labor policies which provided a cheap and disciplined labor force for private enterprises, for state economic enterprises, and for joint ventures between the two and through fiscal policies that called for transfer of resources from the agricultural countryside to industry and the urban centers, especially after the Great Depression.
"Transformation" Becomes Repression
The Kemalist regime, aiming at the creation of a bourgeois society without liberal politics, was not a de jure but a de facto dictatorial regime. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as the "greatest father" (Ata-Türk) of the nation, as the "eternal chief" of the single party, as the president of the republic, as the effective head of the executive branch (in breach of the 1924 Constitution that formally called for a sort of cabinet system) which governed in accordance with his directives, sat at the apex of this system. The parliamentary facade but thinly veiled the fact that the legislature (the Grand National Assembly) was regularly "packed" by Atatürk and his lieutenants, second-degree electors rubber-stamping the candidates handpicked by the former. The parliament, in Kemal Atatürk's own words, was coterminous with the parliamentary group of his Republican People's Party.
In other words, Kemalism was a plebiscitary, Bonapartist-charismatic "chief-system" in whose ideology the identity of the charismatic leader, the nation and its will, the state, and the party was emphatically expressed. Opposition, pluralism, and freedom of press and association, among others, were suppressed in the name of "transformationism" as against the overstretched category of reactionary forces. This attitude and its attendant formal and informal arrangements were to leave a durable imprint on the political culture, political-legal regime, and institutional structures of contemporary Turkey—the most recent fortification of which was to be made after the 1980 military coup in the form of the 1980 Constitution, the new Political Parties Act, the Higher Education Act, the Associations Act, and so forth. Certain liberalizations of the 1950s and 1960s had already been reversed immediately after the semicoup of 1971, restorationist reorderings and preparations of which were to culminate in the systemic overhauling executed by the 1980 coup.
The Six Arrows
The Kemalist ideology is summed up by, but cannot be reduced to, the Six Arrows: (1) Republicanism, meaning antimonarchism rather than democratic res publica; (2) Nationalism, aiming at linguistic and cultural identity-building rather than being an expansionist or irredentist political program; with a less known second face that has racist undertones; (3) "Peopleism," not in the common sense of populism but one which postulates a unified, indivisible, harmonious "whole people"; (4) Statism/etatism; (5) Laicism; and (6) "Transformism," meaning radical, especially cultural, reformism in contradistinction to both revolutionism and evolutionism—all seminally formulated by Gökalp, subsequent distortions notwithstanding.
Technically a rightist ideology, Kemalism in the Turkish context, however, proved to be very pervasive and all-embracing, thanks to characteristics typical of most "third way" ideologies, which try to "reconcile the incompatibles" in order to have a catchall appeal. Hitherto all Turkish political groups, from the extreme right to the center, and more interestingly, to many gradations of the left, have professed (and had to profess) allegiance to Kemalism. Its appeal to the right and center parties is more opaque in view of its authoritarian, "above-parties" and "above-classes," corporatist context. It has been and continues to be very functional in this sense, being the "grund-norm" of political legitimacy in Turkish politics, reproduced by the intelligentsia and forcefully guarded by the military. As for the left, most have incorrectly taken Kemalism's developmentalist statism for a form of state socialism, its anti-imperialism for a kind of anticapitalism, and some of its political reforms for a variant of bourgeois revolution (that would mechanically lead into a socialist revolution)—forgetting the profoundly antidemocratic character of political Kemalism. This consensus, surviving the 1990s despite the foregoing, excludes only a very marginal sector of academe and the nonauthoritarian left, as well as the fringes of the fundamentalist—but not the orthodox, statist-religious right. The former is excluded for obvious reasons; the latter less because of the authoritarian aspects of Kemalism than for its, in their view, excessive Westernism. It should also be noted that the much-spoken-of revival of Islam in Turkey in the 1980s was not initiated by the fundamental-ist groups—certainly one of the beneficiaries—but by the military (1980–1983) and civilian (1983–) governmental policies of granting religion a far greater domain of legitimacy than hitherto seen in the history of the Republic of Turkey. The military-imposed Constitution of 1982 provided for compulsory courses on "religious culture and morality" in elementary and secondary education "under the control and supervision of the state." This constituted the first significant deviation from the otherwise intact Kemalist orthodoxy of Turkish establishment politics. In breaking, in this instance, with the classical Kemalist principle of laicism, which has excluded religious instruction from the national education and citizenship training system, the military sought to add Islam to Kemalism in its program of depoliticization, control, and ideological manipulation of Turkey's youth and society, paralleling measures it has taken in many other spheres.
Works on Kemalism, interchangeably called Atatürkism, are legion. Attempts at differentiating the two are polemical and unfounded; Atatürk and his followers baptized their own ideology as Kemalism. A great many of these works, however, are hagiography or are based on secondary or tertiary evidence, whether they be belletristic or academic. In academe, too, Kemalism remains the social scientific official ideology—the obvious contradiction in terms notwithstanding.
see also atatÜrk, mustafa kemal; gÖkalp, ziya; republican people's party; tanzimat.