Archives par mot-clé : Socialist Party of Turkey

The Emergence of Muslim/Turkish Socialism and the Muslim Working-Class in the late Ottoman Empire and Early Turkish Republic 1908-1925 (2/2)


The existing literature on the emergence of socialism in Turkey to a great extent concentrates on intellectual history, prominent personalities and political organizations. Intellectual history is one of the most developed areas in the historiography on Turkey, compared to social and cultural studies. The translations from French and other Western languages constitutes also a significant part of the literature in the Ottoman Empire. That is why, one should also compare these translations with the original European texts. Yet, Ideologies are taken into account as if they were only intellectual products. Historians and social scientists do not see any link in between the emergence of leftist ideas and organization and the movement of labouring classes. However, ideologies and political organizations are also social phenomena. The literature on intellectual and political history argue that the Ottoman Empire lacked an industrial revolution which was a base for a full-fledge working class movement and socialist thought. Historians claim that Socialism in the Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic was a foreign import. It is a general assertion in Turkish historiography that Turkish socialists did not really know the philosophical and ideological content of socialism. Therefore, for them, Turkish socialism should be considered to be a part of other branches of ideologies such as liberalism and nationalism. My research will first contribute to the existing literature by revealing the ideological content of the Muslim/Turkish socialism and uncovering the link between them and the workers’ movement.

I argue that the emergence of socialist thought in the Ottoman Empire was indicative of a vibrant working class. Surely, socialism was not the only influential ideology on working class discourse and identity during this particular period. Like any other socialist movement in history, Ottoman socialism was also influenced by social and historical context. Thus, Muslim/Turkish socialists made use of national, ethnic, religious, communal elements in their political discourse. Turkish historiography considers socialist movement as a part of Turkish nationalist movement, particularly in the Armistice Period. In contrast to mainstream Turkish historiography which denounces of the socialist identity of Muslim/Turkish socialists due to their ethno-religious discourse, I explore the articulation of these discourses as an indispensible aspect of class formations and class experience within the context of a multi-ethnic empire.

Social and Political Context

The demographic composition of the Ottoman Empire was comprised of different ethnic and religious communities. Both the working class and the socialist were squeezed in between their own religious/ethnic communal identities and the notion of a common Ottoman citizenship. Drawing on communal compartmentalization of the empire, national historiographies subsume working class movements and socialists under ethnic and religious movements. Yet a non-national perspective regards ethno-religious bonds as building blocks of socialist discourse in the Ottoman Empire. The international connections of Ottoman socialists attest to their political autonomy from ethno-religious movements. The integration of the Ottoman Empire into the world economy within the course of 19th century stimulated an influx of foreign investment and trade, international corporations, and European workers and professionals. These global transactions transformed Ottoman economy and society. In this context, the working class movement and the socialists established ties to international organizations. As a significant number of socialists migrated in and out of the country, Ottoman socialists learned a great deal from their French, German and Russian comrades. They communicated with socialist organizations such as the International and the Bolshevik Party. The Ottoman public followed news regarding the movements of workers, strikes and socialists in different countries as evident in the press coverage in this particular period.

Why this study?

I decided on this research topic following my earlier studies on social movement in the Ottoman Empire. I published several articles and a book on the boycott movements during the Second Constitutional Period. In my PhD studies I concentrated on the mobilization of Muslim merchants and working classes in the anti-non-Muslim nationalist movement. I defended my dissertation in May 2010 at Leiden University and published by IB Tauris in 2014. As a historian of social movements I came across with the vibrant socialist publications and convivial working class movements during my PhD researches.

This research will pave the way for a comparative analysis of working-class movements and socialism and try to build up a critique of the essentialist and exceptionalist tendencies in Turkish historiography. Therefore my research will not only try to contribute to the existing knowledge on working class movement and Muslim/Turkish socialism in early 20th century but also will try to trace a theoretical path out of traditional Turkish historiography. The latest contribution to the Ottoman and Republican Turkish Labour History in this vein has come from the IISH by the publication of the 17th Supplement of the International Review of Social History. Besides these theoretical approaches and interest on Turkey, I am also looking forward to find relevant archival material within the collection of IISH such as Ottoman and Turkish socialist periodicals and personal and institutional donations about the early Ottoman/Turkish labour movements.

One of the significant organizations that came out during this particular era is the Ottoman Socialist Party (Socialist Party of Turkey after 1918). Party and its leader Socialist Hilmi also tried to construct a relationship with their counterparts in Europe such as Jean Jaurès and the Second International. Therefore, I will work on the Second International Archives to find traces of Ottoman and Turkish socialists. The activities of Turkish socialists in Caucasia after 1918 have also a crucial place in the history Socialism Turkey. Turkish Communist Party (TKP) had its roots in Caucasia. The intellectuals coming from Russia played significant roles in the socialist movement. I will study on the Turkey-Transcaucasus Relations Collection 1908-1920 to find relevant information about my subject. The collections such as the Ottoman Socialist Party Collection, Komintern-TKP Collection, and Iran and Turkey Communist Parties of Azerbaijan Archives are directly related to my investigation. I am also looking forward to find some issues of socialist journals in Turkish such as İştirak and Beşeriyet in the library of IISH which are not available in Turkish libraries.

Doğan Çetinkaya
Istanbul University

The Emergence of Muslim/Turkish Socialism and the Muslim Working-Class in the late Ottoman Empire and Early Turkish Republic 1908-1925 (1/2)

The Emergence of Muslim/Turkish Socialism and the Muslim Working-Class in the late Ottoman Empire and Early Turkish Republic 1908-1925 (1/2)

Summary: The working-class movement in the Ottoman Empire gained an unprecedented impetus after the 1908 Revolution. Although it has peaks and valleys, mobilization of the workers persisted until the construction of single party era in Turkish Republic. The mobilization of the workers and their actions coincided with the emergence of Muslim/Turkish socialism and socialist organizations. In contrast to the Turkish historiography, my research will scrutinize the link between the emergences of these phenomena in the first quarter of the 20th century. Traditionally these two cases are examined separately as if they were unconnected. My research will not only consider socialism as a component of intellectual history but uncover the effects of the workers’ movement on its ideology and political organizations.

Research Proposal

In this research project I explore the nexus between ideology and social mobilization by studying the relationship between Muslim/Turkish socialism and working class movement in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey. Two aspects of Global Labour History Programme provide the guiding principles of my research: first working class formation is part and parcel of a global process and needs to be studied as such; second, the definition of the working class cannot be narrowed down to industrial work force. The aim of the project is thus to engage with theoretical approaches to labour history as well as Turkish historiography.

The Working-Class

I focus on different groups of workers among the Muslim/Turkish working class who lost their ownership of and control over the means of production: artisans, underemployed, women, part-time workers and factory workers in the formal as well as the informal sectors. As Marcel van der Linden argued, a significant number of interpretations on working class are based on “free” wage earners. He has claimed that the working class is comprised of different types of commodified labour and that “this commodification may take on many different forms.” Similarly, E.P. Thompson criticized the definition of the working class as industrial workers and emphasized the role of the declining artisans in early modern working class formation. Scholars such as William H. Sewell, Christopher H. Johnson, Raphael Samuel has argued class-conscious workers’ movement was not an outcome of factories and industry. A great bulk of working class movement in Europe in the course of 19th century were to a great extent a movement of artisans because there were no longer any “traditional” urban crafts since capitalism and new exploitive practises had already transformed crafts long before the invention machinery. Contrary to this line of thought, Turkish historiography retained a sharp distinction between industrial labourers and artisans or guild workers and equated capitalism with the Industrial Revolution. The narrow definition of the working class in Turkish historiography converges with the neglect of socialism as a significant political movement. In contrast to other modern ideologies such as nationalism, constitutionalism, Islamism or liberalism, socialism remains an understudied subject in Ottoman historiography. The underlying assumption of this neglect remains the operative even for handful historians of Ottoman socialism such as Mete Tunçay: no industry, ergo no working class, ergo no socialism. Studying class formation, however, requires more than establishing a mechanical connection between economic development and political thought. It involves the investigation of class formation, class experience and social agency.

The history of the working class in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic is still understudied and neglected field in contemporary Turkish historiography despite significant contributions to Turkish labour history in the last decade. Since historians are primarily preoccupied with the state and political elite, modern research on working-class history has been left to amateur historians, journalists and union activists. These studies proliferated in the 1960’s and 1970’s when social and leftist political movements gained power in Turkey. For them the working class movement was an outcome of historical progress: the industrialization process in Turkey gave birth to a working-class who pioneered the socialist movement. Soviet Turkologists also contributed to these early studies. However, theirs were a Turkish variation of Soviet historiography which was devoid of detailed information and in-depth research. Amidst these publications there appeared also the first academic studies on the topic though they were quite marginal within academic circles.

Historians to a great extent make use of a specific definition of working class. The narratives of the Turkish historiography assume the working class as a population of men working in a modern industrial plant: the blue-collar worker. Workers who operate in service sector are not even counted among the members of this social class. This approach is not peculiar to the historiography on Turkey. Most of the studies on working class history in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey have concentrated on the activities of the trade unions, organizational initiatives, political struggles and strikes. However, this tendency to limit working-class history to such fields resulted in a very limited picture of the workers’ experience. Until mid-20th century this scholar trend was not peculiar to Turkish historiography. Labour historiography had similar features in different countries. However, subjects like daily life, gender, ethnicity, race, culture, religion, identities etc. have entered into Western labour historiography after the 1960’s. Turkish historiography on Labour history is still lacking these new areas of investigation.

In my research I will focus not on the level of industrialization but the development of capitalist relationships in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, in order to evaluate and analyze the social classes.

Doğan Çetinkaya
Istanbul University