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The Class Content of the 1980 Regime (Korkut Boratav)

Years have passed since the September 12, 1980 military coup. Today, the military regime of that time is being remembered for its `disciplining` the society in Turkey through blood shed and violence. Yet, the class content or the results of its economy is not well remembered. It is beneficial to remind few points in this area.

The September 12 regime inherited the previous economic measures of January 24(1). These measures had been taken in the direction of the prescriptions and demands of the IMF and the bourgeoisie to alleviate the economical bottleneck the country experienced after 1977. In the prior two years, the Ecevit(2) government had tried not to dump the entire burden of the crises on the laboring masses and had demanded some concessions from the wealthy sectors of the society as well. Ecevit’s government had resisted to some items on the IMF’s list of prescriptions and was toppled after a systematic campaign from the community of capital. The same classes gave full support for the January 24 economic measures that lifted the controls over the markets, and with a high devaluation of the Turkish Lira set the prices free. Few months later the interest rates were also set loose.

The architect behind the January 24 measures was the undersecretary of the State Planning Institute (DPT) , Turgut Özal, who had been assigned to that position by Demirel(3). We should remind here that Özal was the general coordinator for the Sabancı Group (4) and was the president of MESS, the powerful association of employers. Özal had gained respect and esteem from the business community in the pre 1980 years of class clashes especially with his staunch and non concessionist stand against the labor UNIONs during his presidency in MESS.

Özal’s entire class based instincts and his MESS experiences had taught him that without “disciplining” the working class and curtailing the wages the January 24 measures, which seemed to have focused on the primacy of exports and competition, would fail. He even documented his views on this issue.

Atilla Karaosmanoğlu, a founder of the State Planning Institute, known for his left views, was made the Minister of Economy in the Nihat Erim government that was formed after the March 12 military coup of 1970. The military regime wanted to portray a “reformist, progressive” image to the public. When this “veneer” proved to be false and the “sledgehammer operations” against the left was underway, Karaosmanoğlu and his “reformist” friends left the Erim government.

The September 12 coup, however, never attempted such a hoodwink. While arresting Demirel, Turgut Özal became the deputy prime minister in charge of the economy.

How did this decision that amounted to the bourgeoisie’s taking control over the military regime’s economical inclinations implemented?

We have some clues that enlighten the issue: Between January 24 economic decisions and September 12 military coup, Özal briefed the high ranking military officers on economic policy issues (where, without a doubt, the necessity of “disciplining” the working class as a prerequisite for the “only alternative” neo-liberal transformation was explained”). Later, it was revealed that the relationships between Özal and General Haydar Saltuk who subsequently became famous for being the powerful man after the September 12 regime and Admiral Bülent Ulusu, the head of the military regime, had begun in those years.

The class character of the September 12 military coup (which also included Özal’s contributions) was revealed in the first appearance of General Evren, the head of the military coup, on his TV and radio announcement of the military takeover. In his initial statement Evren targeted the trade UNION movement and compared his salary with that of a waiter. The “deception” of the previous March 12 junta was no longer on the agenda.

Özal accepted to take part in the government after negotiating with the junta for the freedom to name his own ministers. This information can also be found in a telegram the US Embassy sent to Washington six days after the coup. This information was conveyed to the Ambassador personally by Özal (while the negotiations were still continuing.)

It is also a fact that a week after the Ulusu government was formed, Vehbi Koç(5) wrote a letter to the head of the military junta, general Evren, and asked him to “keep Turgut Özal.”

The years that led to and that followed the September 12, 1980 coup resembles a “laboratory” where the ruling classes ideologically and in real terms take control of the political government when the state apparatus is shaken and is in disarray.

In the three years that followed the coup, the community of capital systematically and in an organized way played the determinant role in shaping and constructing the employer-employee relationships in laws and regulations in the 1982 constitution. In this way, the bourgeoisie stopped and rapidly reversed the processes that were eroding its rule over the whole society.

This transformation bore quantitative results as well. The economic charts of Turkey’s economy show how the distribution has turned against workers and peasants in dramatic dimensions between 1980 and 1988.

Post 1989, as they say, is another story.


Korkut Boratav

Notes (all notes are by translator)

(1) January 24 Economic Measures: Dramatic economic measures taken in 1980 to satisfy IMF’s demands. A first wholesale attempt to radically alter the social state and establish the full power of the market over the society.
A 32.7% devaluation, smaller state in economy, rolling back government subsidies, opening the economy to foreign investment and giving subsidies to exports were some of the features of January 24, 1980 measures.
(2) Bülent Ecevit: A social democratic leader of the traditional, statist CHP, the Republican Peoples’ Party.
(3) Süleyman Demirel: A pro market right wing leader who was the prime minister when the September 12, 1980 military coup took place.
(4) Sabancı: The most wealthiest person/family in Turkey. The group owns huge corporations in nearly all sectors of the economy from banking to textiles to import/export.
(5) Vehbi Koç: The second richest family/ conglomerate in Turkey.