One of the Turkish political arena’s recurring agenda items is why the political parties designated as “left-wing,” “leftist,” “social democratic” or “liberal” fail to secure comprehensive electoral support to gain control. This question has been nagging Turkey since the country started to implement a multiparty parliamentary democratic regime in the second half of the 20th century.
Political scientists know that Turkey actually lacks a truly left-wing, socialist or liberal political movement. In the final analysis, Muslim societies never experienced an industrial revolution and they did not experience a class-based society shaped by class conflicts. Leftist, left-wing, socialist or liberal political movements are nothing but efforts by certain intellectuals to adapt what they translate from Western languages to their Eastern societies.
An ordinary voter, as the subject-matter of democracy -- a Muslim -- does not describe himself as a leftist, socialists, Marxist or liberal. He may refer to them as the forms and names of political movements, but he never internalizes them mentally or spiritually. This means that we are talking about things that do not exist. Yet, we also know that expert political scientists just write off leftist or liberal intellectuals as “bad translators of the West.”
We should of course not do an injustice to true representatives and advocates of these political movements who act properly within their respective environments and in line with the background of the historical developments of their own societies. In Turkey and across the Muslim world, there are people who call themselves leftists, socialists, social democrats or liberals and engage in political activities with these borrowed identities.
In Turkey, the failure of the left-wing or social democratic movement can be explained easily: How can a party whose ideological and political route was decided by İsmet İnönü, who declared himself the “National Chief” after Eternal Chief Mustafa Kemal Atatürk died, be left-wing/leftist or social democrat according to the European standards which it claimed to take as its references? The odd thing here is not how a person who designated himself as the “National Chief” -- this may be translated into German as “Führer” and into Italian as “duce” -- during his 12-year rule (between 1938 and 1950) attempted to shaped the party’s political course but how a political party that had haunted the country like a nightmare for 27 years -- the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which had been nurturing on the political heritage of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) -- attempted to adopt a social democratic identity as if it could stave off its past and true identity.
Moreover, after this party, which was the indisputably dominant party of the single-party dictatorship, secretly lent support to the bloody coup of 1960, it not only maintained, but also fervently embraced its name (the CHP), its original philosophy (the state-founding party), its historical heritage (to Westernize Turkey by coercion), its symbols and canons (the six arrows), but pretended to be a social democratic party.
Since 1850, Islamic movements have been trying to change Turkey in compliance with the principles of legitimacy, participation, the rule of law, freedoms and rights. Said Nursi, Mehmet Akif and other Muslim intellectuals and their followers strongly resisted autocratic regimes and dictatorships. However, because of their Muslim identities, they were always treated by Europe with suspicion. Europeans believed that they could maintain their semi-colonial regimes in the Muslim world only through their mediators or political parties that represent the single-party mentality, so they treated Islam-inspired policies with doubt. Just as Europe was unhappy with the Hafez al-Assad and Saddam Hussein regimes, it was also concerned with the fascist single-party government that pretended to be social democratic.
Elites know that their raison d’être is the continuation of autocratic regimes because their policies do not appeal to the general public. So far they have been successful in controlling political power in one way or another. Now, they change their identities and appearances in order to put the developments in the Middle East back on their original course. Their nature is the same though their name has changed.