Debating ‘State Capitalism’ in Turkey: Beyond False Dichotomies

Following the 2016 failed coup attempt, and in the context of increasing mistrust towards the West, Turkey’s president Erdogan reflected his discontent with the EU and argued that Turkey should instead join the Shanghai Five, namely the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) led primarily by China and Russia. Soon after, despite being a NATO member, Turkey signed a deal with Russia to buy the S-400 air defence missile system. Taken together with Turkey’s other ‘adventures’ in its region, these developments were perceived as manifestations of a changing political economy of Turkey, and were deeply disturbing to Western powers. After all, since the end of the Second World War, Turkey had been a close ally of the US-led Western capitalist bloc, it continued to be one during the Cold War; and had remained very close to US and EU interests following the end of the Cold War in 1991.

For some accounts[i], these developments are related to the changing world order and global power shifts following the 2008 crisis, as the decline of the ‘liberal international order’ and the rise of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) marked transformations of the global political economy. Hence, there is a tendency to explain Turkey’s late political economy in this context. It is argued that, in this ‘post-liberal international order’ where two competing political economies come to the fore, Turkey is moving towards the ‘East’ or ‘non-West’ – mainly China and Russia. As such, Turkey’s engagement with non-Western ‘great powers’ (which are generally characterised by ‘authoritarian state capitalism’ as opposed to the ‘neoliberal political economy’/liberal democracy/’democratic capitalism’ of the West), shapes Turkey’s political economy and paves the way for ‘authoritarianism’, ‘illiberal democracy’ and ‘state capitalism’. Put differently, as the legitimacy crisis of ‘Western neoliberalism’ makes it less desirable for countries like Turkey, Turkey is regarded to have deviated from neoliberalism and liberal democracy and moved to state capitalism and authoritarianism.

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Assessing the ‘Return’ of the State: Bringing Class Back In

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There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen’, words famously attributed to Lenin. In the last few weeks the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an extraordinary series of events throughout the world. Our everyday lives, the way our economies are organised, and the ways that we exercise our basic rights and freedoms are being transformed. These changes were unimaginable only a few weeks ago.

A significant aspect of these ‘extraordinary times’ is governments’ extraordinary responses to the economic meltdown triggered by the coronavirus crisis. Within the space of just a few weeks, one taboo after another in Western capitalism has been broken, as The Economist puts it. As monetary policy measures (i.e. unlimited QE, record low interest rates) proved to be insufficient, unprecedented fiscal stimulus packages including wage and income guarantees came to the fore. In the EU, the so-called ordoliberal principles of competition, free market and a commitment to a balanced budget (that were harshly imposed upon Greek and other peripheral European economies during the Eurozone crisis) appear to have been all but forgotten by the core capitalist countries. ‘We will protect our strategic companies from foreign takeovers’ declared the president of the European Comission. The infamousschwarze Null’ budget policy of Germany, for example, was abandoned as the German government foresees an extra 156 billion in new government debt this year, and an extra €600 billion to bail out big companies if necessary. In the UK, the traditionally austerity-loving Conservative Party’s Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an enormous coronavirus package of £350 billion. The Trump administration has signed the largest ever US financial stimulus package, amounting to $2 trillion, which includes ‘helicopter money’ for the citizens. Whatever it takes’ became the motto of G20 leaders and finance ministers. All of a sudden, austerity ended as the reproduction of the capitalist system became impossible without the protective measures that were introduced. This reflects the fact that austerity was a political choice all along; despite being framed as ‘TINA’ for years. Read More »