Turkey and Latin America have experienced many similar historical and contemporary political processes and socio-economic changes despite significant cultural and historical differences. For example, Turkey is the center of a former empire, an Islamic country and member of NATO – Latin America is none of those. For purposes of this article, I want to focus on the contemporary socio-economic and political similarities and differences.
Both Turkey and Latin America have passed form bourgeois-national-statist development models beginning during the 1930’s and ending approximately in the later half of the 20th century. Both Turkey and most countries of Latin America have been ruled by neo-liberal regimes. Neo-liberalism came to Latin America a decade earlier (1970’s) and more intensely than Turkey (1980) but have produced very similar class polarizations. In both areas neo-liberalism has led to massive privatizations and the de-nationalization of banks, industry, telecommunications and other strategic sectors. The process of neo-liberalization has passed through three phases in both regions.
The first phase of neo-liberalism took place shortly after a military coup. Privatization was accompanied by massive corruption, crises, deepening inequalities and the emergence of a kleptocratic state.
The second wave of neo-liberalism emerging from the corruption and decadence of the preceding phase was characterized by greater dependence on the IMF and World Bank and attempts to accelerate privatization through stabilization programs to create the bases for the large-scale, long-term invasion of foreign capital.
The third wave of neo-liberalism began in the new millennium with the coming to power of neo-liberals who combine deepening subordination to foreign capital with ‘poverty programs’ to neutralize popular opposition and incentives to activate the provincial ‘national bourgeoisie’.
In Latin America the first wave of neo-liberalism coincides with the military dictatorships of Chiles’ Pinochet (1973-1989), Argentine Generals (1976-1984), Uruguay (1972-1985), Bolivia (1971-1984) and Peru (1991-2001). In Turkey the comparable period is the military coup (1980), the military-civilian regime of Turgut Ozal (1983-89) and the unstable coalition regimes from1990-1999. These regimes laid the ground work for the neo-liberal counter-revolution, by violently suppressing all popular, socialist and militant trade unions, parties and movements. The first wave neo-liberals created the beach heads for future large-scale privatization. Because of massive corruption, mismanagement, incompetence and internal political conflicts, combined with inflation and popular revulsion, the first wave neo-liberal regimes went into crisis, leading to the second wave of neo-liberalism.
The second wave of neo-liberal regimes in Latin America combined greater dependence on the IMF, a government of technocrats, finance capital with policies designed to reduce inflation in order to attract foreign capital. In Turkey, the second wave of neo-liberalism includes the Bulent-Ecevit-Kemal Dervis regimes (especially March 2001-August 2002) and the first government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan (2003-2007). In Latin America this second wave coincides with the rise of ex-populists and ex-Marxists turned neo-liberals who criticized neo-liberalism in their election campaigns but who deepened and extended privatization and de-nationalization once in power. In Argentina, the Peronist President Menem (1980-1989), Brazil’s Cardoso (1994-2002), Peru’s Toledo (2001-2006) and Alwyn and Lagos in Chile (1990-2005) represented this trend. The second wave of neo-liberalism in Latin America led to a major crisis and breakdown, leading to popular revolts and the overthrow of several neo-liberal presidents in Ecuador (2000, 2003 and 2005), Argentina (2001), and Bolivia (2003 and 2005) as well as the election of radical nationalist populist Hugo Chavez in Venezuela(1999). In Turkey, the crisis of 1999-2001 led to the election of Ecevit who proceeded to subordinate Turkey to the IMF and appointed former World Bank official Kemal Dervis as Minister of the Economy. Turkey’s 2001 economic crisis, unlike Latin America, did not lead to a massive popular uprising. Despite this important difference, the crisis of neo-liberalism both in Latin America and Turkey led to the rise of pseudo-populist neo-liberals (the ‘third wave’), who combined a ‘welfare’ ideology and promotion of the ‘national bourgeoisie’ with the privatization and de-nationalization of all strategic sectors of the economy.
Erdogan in Turkey, Lula in Brazil and Kitchner in Argentina, all combine a rhetoric of social paternalism with right-wing ‘free market’ practices.
The third wave of neo-liberalism has benefited from high world market prices for export commodities (metals, agricultural products, energy etc.) and an expanding world economy. But the internal class, ethnic and regional inequalities have deepened.
In Turkey and Latin America the current neo-liberal presidents (unlike the past) have several advantages: they have well-organized party apparatuses which reach into popular sectors, have well-funded ‘welfare’ or ‘poverty’ programs to buy the votes of the poorest classes and have been able to disarticulate the left through co-option and selective repression.
Nevertheless, the third wave of neo-liberalism faces several severe challenges from within and below and from the appearance of a successful alternative model. In Latin America, the advance of Venezuela’s President Chavez on the road to ‘21st century socialism’ with the nationalization of petroleum, telecommunications and massive free health and education programs has secured widespread popular support from the Latin American masses. Chavez’ progressive socializing policies successfully refute the propaganda that neo-liberalism is the ‘only alternative’. Secondly, major movements of trade unions, urban poor and peasants are on the move again – in Brazil the landless rural workers and public employee unions are now in opposition to Lula. In Argentina and Chile, the teachers and other public sector unions are demanding a greater share of the growing revenue of the state. In Bolivia, President Evo Morales is pressured by the right wing oligarchy and by leftist workers: he must turn left or face defeat by the right. In Ecuador and Peru, the mass movements through massive public demonstrations are challenging the reactionary social democratic regimes.
Equally serious, the financial crises of the US and Europe are having a negative impact on the economies of Turkey and Latin America, weakening the ‘social’ neo-liberals.
A new phase of class conflict and social mobilization is challenging the ‘third wave’ neo-liberals. In Latin America, it has a bold face in President Chavez, a mass base among the urban and rural poor, and especially with the public employees faced with budget cuts and privatizations.
In Turkey, the left faces the task of winning over the millions of poor migrants in the cities and countryside influenced by Erdogan’s ‘populist’ Islamist image. However as his regime is clearly dominated by urban technocrats tied to financial capital – it is only a question of time when the mask of ‘benign conservatism’ falls and the true face of cruel neo-liberalism is revealed.
Despite historical and cultural differences Turkey and Latin America are part of the neo-liberal cycle of expansion and crisis. Like Latin America, the response in Turkey will depend on the unity of diverse social forces in a socialist program. In Latin America the wave of popular revolts includes peasant, workers, unemployed workers, indigenous peoples, Afro-Latinos, women, public employees and progressive Christians. In the Turkish context, popular revolts will result from the unity of workers, Kurds, Alavi, peasants, urban poor, People’s Houses, progressive Muslims and public employees. Fundamental to the successful outcome of these struggles is opposition to US, European and Israeli imperialism and their wars against Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Afghanistan and Venezuela. Anti-imperialist struggles can only succeed by confronting their local Turkish and Latin American collaborators – first and foremost Erdogan in Turkey and Lula in Brazil.