Nobel Prize Laureate Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk's statement on the Turkish bourgeoisie during an interview with the German weekly Die Zeit two weeks ago provoked highly controversial comments in the Turkish media. Pamuk said: “The bourgeoisie annoys me. Their arrogance and egoism, the hate they have for the people of their country makes me angry. The upper class is neither upset by military coups nor the ill-treatments of the Kurds. The majority of them are scornful of headscarved woman. All this reminds me of the attitudes of the white South Africans towards the black South Africans in the days of the Apartheid.”
Quiet paradoxical support for Pamuk came from Erol Yarar, the founder president of the Independent Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (MÜSİAD). Yarar, after saying that he agreed with Pamuk, asserted that “the bourgeoisie in Turkey is far removed from the people and it has a decoupled life while there is in the world a bourgeoisie that has come to terms and is better established.” Apparently the president of MÜSİAD does not consider himself as a member of the Turkish bourgeoisie.
Another comment, more naive than paradoxical, came from the CEO of Sanko Holding, which is based in Gaziantep and employs more than 10,000 workers -- a typical powerful Anatolian tiger. When Abdülkadir Konukoğlu, a very jovial guy whose grandfather owned a weaving workshop in Gaziantep, was asked what he thought about Pamuk's statements against the Turkish bourgeoisie, he answered that he did not understand the bourgeoisie and that this was a matter “for great men.”
Obviously the emerging Anatolian businessmen -- indeed they have already emerged quite strongly -- do not consider themselves as part of the Turkish bourgeoisie. For an old Marxist like me who still appreciates the work of the great master on capitalist development and still believes in the usefulness of “class struggle” as a concept of understanding the evolution of societies, Pamuk's feelings toward the Turkish bourgeoisie, as well as the response of the Anatolian business community on his feelings, seems to be very problematic.
Pamuk and the Anatolian conservative businessmen do not have a class approach but rather an ideological-cultural positioning vis-à-vis the traditional secular bourgeoisie -- for the sake of simplicity, let's say who are represented by the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD). Given the taste for military coups and arrogant attitudes towards those of the Turkish bourgeoisie according to Pamuk, one can easily assert that our Nobel Prize winning novelist does not include the Anatolian bourgeoisie, at least the conservative parts, in the Turkish bourgeoisie. Symmetrically, this conservative bourgeoisie do not consider themselves as part of the Turkish bourgeoisie.
This rapidly developing Anatolian bourgeoisie has its roots historically in the traditional handcrafts and small trade. Within three generations, a new bourgeoisie emerged from this nebula through hard work, investment of profits in their own business and successful export policies since the 1980s, when the Turkish economy opened up to the world during late President and Prime Minister Turgut Özal era.
Some years ago French sociologists spoke about “Calvinist Muslims” in a research on Kayseri. I agree with their concept. This Anatolian bourgeoisie, sociologically and culturally “closed off to people,” consolidated its economic power without being backed by state benefits and without the political support of the bureaucratic elite. The majority of the businessmen belonging to this conservative bourgeoisie are neither racist nor military coup lovers as is suggested by Pamuk. But also let me remark that this conservative bourgeoisie does not share the values of the Western bourgeoisie, for obvious historical reasons. They support pluralist democracy for class interests but I am not sure that they support, with the same enthusiasm, human rights and individual liberties for Kurds as well for non-believers.
On the other hand, one cannot consider the traditional “secular” bourgeoisie as a homogenous entity -- remember the democratic shift of TÜSİAD in the 1990s starting with the report on democracy and its progressive approach to the Kurdish problem. When one considers the nationalist hardcore of the Western bourgeoisie which could be considered to be the main instigator of the European wars, we can hardly qualify the majority of TÜSİAD members as “racists and enemies of democracy.”
The formation of the bourgeoisie in Turkey has never been a product of class struggle embedded in the democracy building process like in Europe. The Turkish state made the “secular bourgeoisie” and in counterpart this bourgeoisie accepted the Turkish nationalistic ideology and the limitations emanating from this ideology on democracy and individual liberties. I believe that amalgams and simplifications should be avoided when Turkey, a country that followed a very different path in its history of modernization, has to be analyzed.