Why all this hatred of capitalism?

2013-06-17 05:46:00

Today's Zaman

 June 16, 2013


The ongoing socio-political crisis in Turkey shows that some segments of Turkish society are not happy with the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) so-called “capitalism.”


First of all, although there are so many things going on in Turkey at the same time, it is too early to label Gezi Park protests a “socialist” movement. Poverty is not a main issue in the protests, but it is used as a tool to blame the government for an unequal distribution of resources. The increasing socio-economic inequality frustrates people, creates fear, anger, paranoia and depression. Furthermore, anti-capitalist slogans at Gezi Park demonstrate the fact that Turkish society remains a more class-aware and collectively-oriented society than many countries in West. Of course, Turkish society does not focus on the class as a central issue; however, we are seeing an increased tendency toward individualism in Turkey and this social development increases worries over issues of economic inequality.

Many people who are sensitive to social and economic inequality in society are apprehensive of conservatism, since it sees poor people as “defective,” “abnormal,” and “inferior” to rich people. Turkey is emerging as a welfare state and this is due to the AKP’s contribution to economic and social development. However, not only the AKP government, but also Turkish society in general must consider a historical approach to the status of the “deserving” poor that divides it into two categories: poor people who are “worthy” of public aid and the challenges of others who struggle to feed their family.

Historically, the previous governments in Turkey viewed the poor as masses who lacked morals and resourcefulness. Many people in Turkey still see the social problems of the poor as private troubles and interpret it as a lack of family support or a failure of individual character. They still think that caring for the poor is the family’s responsibility. If the family fails to take the primary care of their poor members, then the state provides care as a social control tool to protect the interests of those most powerful in society.

Wealth a gift of ‘prestige and honor’

Such a perspective of the poor people in Turkey prevented people from having power and privilege. Wealth has always been viewed as a gift of prestige and honor, and a means to grant the rich position, private property and the capacity to exercise power in society. The poor are perceived or judged as people without prestige or honor and people who do not have power, but rather as people who are expected to obey the most capable, intelligent members of society.

The Gezi Park protests reveal that the current social crisis in Turkey challenges the conservative and liberal approaches to competitive values in society. People are protesting the unbalanced power that traps people in poverty in a subordinate position. They also do not like the unequal distribution of resources that marginalizes those with fewer resources.

The current Turkish government without a doubt has a conservative attitude but it is also different from other Western conservative governments. It is true that the AKP favors the market-state approach to solving social problems and unlike previous governments, prefers to use law and order to control society. Many Turkish citizens benefited from this law and order in Turkey because of the stable and growing market economy. Nonetheless, some Turkish citizens are not happy with growing inequality; for them, the AVM in the heart of Istanbul is a symbol of capitalism. What they forget, though, is a lesson from history: a massive destruction of social and economic capital after the socialist revolution in Russia in 1917. Many nations, including the former Soviet nations, experienced the destructive power of communism, a hard core social democratic ideology.

In order to avoid of the destructive elements of the mass protests, the AKP immediately has to examine its approach to social and economic problems, which, in the end will benefit the entire society. People do not like governments that take an “I’m right; you’re wrong” attitude. Such an attitude alienates them from their citizens.

The AKP government should consider the basic fact that the Gezi Park protests woke the public’s conscience to the inequality in society and environmental challenges.

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