The seesaw of uneven development in Turkey under neoliberal restructuring has led to unprecedented recent growth. After a sharp contraction in 2009, the economy has been in the top three of the G20 club for rapid growth, the rise in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2010 was 8.9 percent, nominal wage growth has hit 18 percent a year, domestic demand is rising by approximately 25 percent, and credit growth is between 30 percent and 40 percent. Perhaps in order to absorb the surplus value that capitalism perpetually produces in the search for ever more profit, urbanisation and public works projects in Turkey have continued at a rapid pace. But can the rise and rise of neoliberalism in Turkey be adequately understood through a focus on the hegemony of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP)?

In recent times, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced built-environment projects that have included three nuclear power plants in a country designated as one of the most seismically active in the world; revealed a blueprint to build two new cities; proposed hydropower plans to realise a target of installing 4,000 hydroelectric schemes by 2023, despite the expropriation of land, the forced migration this entails and the flooding of ancient cities such as Hasankeyf; and pronounced his ‘crazy project: Canal Istanbul.

Turkey protesterEven before the protests surrounding the redevelopment of Gezi Park and the social movement process of Occupy Gezi, the contradictions of uneven development have been coupled with the escalation of authoritarianism under the AKP, despite a ‘hat-trick’ of electoral victories since 2002. Mobilisations of riot police against student demonstrators, teachers, university lecturers, and trade unionists – the latter, notably, against the long-lasting TEKEL workers’ protest – have all been evident. The fortitude of the members of ‘Resist METU’, consisting of over 800 academics at the Middle East Technical University (METU) signing an open protest letter against the use of force and violence across Turkey, underlines the point that there is increasing authoritarian neoliberalism in the country. These facets of AKP rule can not be swept aside by blind reference to how ‘the AK Party has a lot to offer to the democratising process of Turkey’, as stated recently in an opinion piece for Aljazeera.

My argument in a recent article in the journal Historical Materialism (available for download here) argues that it is difficult to view political rule in Turkey as an expression of what Antonio Gramsci would recognise as the exercise of integral hegemony, based on an organic unity of coercion and consensus. Instead, I point out that state power under the AKP has been articulated as a continuation of the function of domination. Here, to cite Gramsci, ‘the conception of the state as pure force is returned to’ where, under the AKP, ‘the bourgeois class is “saturated”: it not only does not expand – it starts to disintegrate; it not only does not assimilate new elements, it loses part of itself’. The lack of substantive democracy in Turkey, the authoritarianism of the AKP, the increased incarceration of journalists and harassment of teachers and academics, and intensified repression all make it difficult to argue that there is a ‘successful’ hegemony in Turkey.

Instead, I argue that the history of state formation in Turkey has been based on a ‘minimal’ hegemony characteristic of the condition of passive revolution, rather than the reciprocal balancing of force and consent, or integral hegemony. In a situation of passive revolution there may be forms of hegemonic activity but state power becomes an aspect of domination, coercion superintends consensus, which has a long history in the making of modern Turkey.

1_Mayıs_logosuIn Istanbul in 1977 tanks rolled into the gecekondu squatter settlement in Ümraniye (later Mustafa Kemal Neighbourhood) and on 1 May 1977 the DISK (Revolutionary Workers’ Union) organised a political rally in Taksim Square in Istanbul. The Chamber of Architects and Engineers participated in the front line of the rally. Subsequently, all professional organisations, including the Chamber of Architects, were closed down; all magazines and journals, including Arkitekt and Mimarlık, were closed down (Arkitekt, active since 1931, never resumed publication), and there were curbs on social occasions as well as giving children names with leftist connotations. Following the military coup of 1980 and, then, the reinstitution of electoral politics the strengthening of neoliberal capitalism has been evident.

This history is relayed wonderfully in Sibel Bozdoğan and Esra Akcan’s book, Turkey: Modern Architectures in History, where the focus is also on more recent urban transformation. Today, over 20 percent of Turkey’s population live in Istanbul with apartment blocks erected on the irregular sites of previous gecekondu houses, with architecture recognised as the centre of value generation, with public urban space on the decline, and neo-Ottoman revivalism on the rise. At a G20 summit in 2009, Erdoğan stated:

Money, capital, labour has no religion, nation, race or country. Money is like mercury. It flows wherever it finds a suitable channel, a secure ground for itself. If you can prepare this ground, it will come to you; otherwise it will flow somewhere else. We are determined to prepare this ground.

That determination has led the TOKI (Mass Housing Administration) to view gecekondu settlements as renewal zones leading to the relocation of settlers by buying under-priced property and selling them state-built mass-housing units with unduly high mortgage prices. According to Bozdoğan and Akcan, the ‘gecekondu renewal projects of the 2000s can better be characterised as state-led gentrification rather than as public housing that should have preserved the rights of the underprivileged population’.

Meanwhile, the appropriation of space in Istanbul has centred on developments such as the Golden Horn Renewal Project, only recently celebrated by the Guardian newspaper in a feature on Karaköy as ‘Istanbul’s coolest new hotspot’. Overall, this area was historically the site of factories, foundries, slaughterhouses and shipyards, including the Ottoman navy arsenal established in the fifteenth century, the imperial Feshane woollen textile factory, established in 1835 and the Silahtarağara Electricity Power Plant, established in 1911. Under the initiative of the Istanbul Metropolitan Planning Office established by the AKP municipal government, the entire Golden Horn has been reconceptualised as a culture-education-tourism zone, including the Istanbul Modern, which opened in 2004 as the country’s first museum of modern art. Additional developments include the Rahmi Koç Museum of Industry and Technology, the Sütlüce Congress and Cultural Centre, and Minyatürk, Turkey’s first architectural theme park. Developments also include the campus of Kadir Has University and Istanbul Bilgi University, the latter built on the site of the Silahtarağara electricity power plant and distribution station.

My point here is that there is an urban revolution unfolding across Turkey: an active economy of dispossession booming alongside the transformation of urban space that is articulated under the authoritarianism of the AKP to enact and enforce investment in the built-environment backed by state and capitalist class power. The social movement process of Occupy Gezi is responding by reclaiming a right to the city: a right not to be excluded from its centrality and movement. As Henri Lefebvre put it in The Urban Revolution, ‘whenever threatened, the first thing power restricts is the ability to linger or assemble in the street’.

The forms of repression recently witnessed under the ‘pure force’ of the AKP across the grid of urban space in Turkey and on the streets surrounding Gezi Park are indicative of the general condition of passive revolution and the restoration and reconstitution of capitalist class power in Turkey. Meanwhile the battle over the right to the city and spaces of difference in and beyond Istanbul will continue.

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