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This chapter presents the government’s economic policies and the oppression of peasants by state agents and large landowners. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the building of the modern Turkish republic was financed largely through taxes and monopoly revenues extracted from the agricultural economy. Turkey’s economy was largely based on agriculture, and accordingly, the new state relied heavily on rural resources. Oppression and coercion by state agents such as tax collectors and gendarmes and local dominants such as large landowners or village headmen accompanied the economic exploitation of peasants. This chapter gives a detailed picture of the exploitation and domination mechanisms that afflicted smallholders and the rural poor. It also sheds light on the impact of the Great Depression on Anatolian peasants.
This chapter reveals and examines the ways ordinary people expressed, disseminated and exchanged contrary views and subversive opinions. It especially focuses on three avenues through which the people’s voice and opinions were expressed and circulated: daily conversations, rumors and placards. The first and foremost thing the people were involved in was daily chats. The people expressed their contrary views when they came together in relatively safe places free from the state’s control, like houses, coffeehouses or gardens. Daily conversations were generally accompanied by rumors. Everyplace in the country was awash with numerous rumors. Rumors, mostly unfounded, expressed the hopes, desires or fantasies of people discontented with the regime, the government or a specific policy. Rumors challenged and sometimes undermined the credibility of the official propaganda and discourse. Finally, in those public places where open talks were risky, the people aired their grievances, contrary arguments and even criticisms through handwritten papers affixed on walls, trees or doors. All these operated as alternative media challenging the official propaganda of the government and its mouthpieces, the formal press.
The Hat Law is one of the hallmarks of the early republic. The nationalist-modernist new rulers attempted to fashion the Muslim population into a modern and secular nation by changing symbolic and cultural codes like clothing styles. Symbols such as headgear had conveyed important meaning since the Ottoman Empire by signaling the wearers’ religious, social and economic status. Aware of the power of clothing and particularly of headgear, the government intervened by eliminating this traditional and religious symbol with the Hat Law. The fez was discarded and the turban was limited to preachers. However, these changes generated a series of protests. Many Islamic scholars and preachers rejected the new hat. These are well-known aspects of the people’s negative response to the hat reform. In contrast to the existing literature, which focuses on well-known anti-hat protests and the religious reasons that spurred them, this chapter examines how people dealt with the hat reform by avoidance, covert disobedience or selective adaptation methods. This chapter also reveals the complex causes of the people’s hesitance to adopt Western hats instead of rendering the issue a conflict between tradition and modernity. It reveals the role of symbols like dress codes in social resistance, power rivalries and class struggles as well as in state-making.
This chapter brings out a less-known aspect of anti-veiling campaigns during the early republic of Turkey. It covers the provincial society’s negative perception of and resistance to unveiling. In contrast to the widely accepted arguments emphasizing the conflict between religiosity and modernity, this chapter reveals the socioeconomic, gender and psychological reasons that motivated the approach of men and women to unveiling. This chapter argues that despite the anti-veiling campaigns, peer pressure and local, traditional norms outweighed the state’s influence and that women did not give up veiling. This part also shows how the government dealt with the people’s insistence on veiling in a flexible manner rather than in coercive ways.
Monopolies constituted one of the main ways to control the economy from the Ottoman Empire to republican Turkey. Monopolies, which predominantly functioned as a mechanism to provide revenue for the state before the modern era, have gained new functions such as structuring property relations by commercializing the economy and generating revenues for modernization and state-building. Ottoman historians examined smuggling in the Ottoman Empire. What is less known is the smuggling during the early republic. The new Turkish state embarked on radical modernization and state-making projects and financed them with monopoly revenues as well as taxes. This chapter examines the responses of low-income consumers, producers and traders to monopolies and monopoly-like state control of tobacco, cigarette, salt, alcoholic beverages, textiles, sugar and forests through smuggling during the first two decades of the Republic. It argues that most actions labeled as “smuggling” were economic survival methods and were the continuation of practices with a very long pedigree because this is how people coped with the high prices of monopoly products, taxes and profit margins. The chapter shows that this informal economy restricted the republican state’s extractive capacity.
This chapter examines the peasants’ everyday resistance to heavy taxes, particularly the land tax, the livestock tax, the road tax and the wheat protection tax under the single-party regime. It shows that under the authoritarian single-party system, peasants coped with the increasingly burdensome economic demands of the new state and resulting social injustice through everyday and informal means. In contrast to the existing accounts that mostly regard the peasants as atomized under the absolute control of the state, this chapter portrays them as a relatively active social dynamic, which annulled the great part of the taxes in practice and compelled the government to soften its heavy taxes.
The introduction presents and discusses the general characteristics and flaws of the literature on early republican Turkey. It especially criticizes the state- and elite centered approach of both modernist-nationalist and critical accounts and suggests a new perspective to understand the social dynamics of early republican Turkey’s politics and modernization process. This chapter introduces the main theoretical, methodological and conceptual framework the book uses. It also introduces the new original sources this book is based on.
This chapter concentrates on the last resort of the peasantry in the face of the high cost of living and exploitation and coercion by local state agents and dominants. Although direct confrontation was generally avoided, the peasants, when faced with no other alternative, did not hesitate to violate their oppressors. Although historians considered the Anatolian countryside calm and passive due to the rarity of open and massive peasant movements, rural unrest manifested itself through fighting for scarce resources, theft of crops and livestock, attacks on oppressive individuals and the wave of banditry that swept all of Anatolia during the period. This chapter argues that in contrast to the literature, rural crimes and banditry as the most explicit form of rural crimes were predominantly a component of peasants' struggle for survival and their resistance to social injustice rather than a tool of Kurdish nationalist groups or tribal reactions.
The first decades of the republic were very arduous times for low-income wage earners. In Turkey, working people were more heterogeneous than the labor forces of industrial countries were. It encompassed different groups such as skilled and unskilled industrial workers, workers of peasant origin, casual laborers, artisans and their workers and low-wage white collar employees.
This chapter evaluates the longer-term impact of the people’s politics. The existing literature generally presents the superstructure of Turkey’s modernization by focusing on the state, elite and political organizations. This chapter highlights the alternative view, which this book introduces for the first time, by focusing on the deeper dynamics and bases of modern Turkey’s formation, that is, the infrastructure of Turkey’s modernization. This chapter briefly underlines how each chapter evidences the crucial role of the ordinary people’s views and practices in the implementation of the state’s policies and modernization projects. It argues that Turkey’s socioeconomic and political transformation as envisioned and imposed by republican rulers were limited by the people’s active, daily politics. Underlining how the state and society interacted through hitherto unknown bridges between them, in contrast to widely held theses, it argues the republican regime should not be seen as an elitist or rigid but a flexible and responsive system. One of the main conclusions this study draws is that today’s Turkey was formed by the interaction between state and society rather than top-down creation of the republican elite, and this culminated in today’s upsurge of conservative and Islamist politics. Yet, the book also implies that today’s discontented and disadvantaged individuals could continue to challenge today’s Islamist government in similar ways.
This chapter scrutinizes the last resorts of the workers in the face of extreme exploitation and oppression. Although the organized labor movement declined with the state’s increasing power from the second half of the 1920s, this did not mean that the working-class protests, violence and even informal and spontaneous strikes in the form of walkouts ended. On the contrary, the working people resorted to more informal and individual daily strategies such as intimidation tactics, threats, fights and attacks when laborers felt exploited. It also examines collective protests and walkouts beyond the few well-known strikes of the time. This chapter shows that despite the lack of trade unions and organized movements, such methods were not inconclusive in negotiating working conditions and wages.
This chapter examines how the peasants who were discontented with the state policies, taxes, monopolies, local exploitation and oppression expressed their criticism and made their voices heard through letters to the press, petitions to official authorities, placards, rumors and folk culture. It traces the peasants’ complaints about agricultural prices, agricultural loans, interest rates, landlessness, taxes, monopolies, enclosure of forests and grazing lands, bureaucratic malfeasance, exploitation and oppression by large landowners, village headmen and gendarmes. It also evaluates how popular demands and complaints influenced the state’s decision-making.
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the founding of the Republic in 1923 under the rule of Atatürk and his Republican People's Party, Turkey embarked on extensive social, economic, cultural and administrative modernization programs which would lay the foundations for modern day Turkey. The Power of the People shows that the ordinary people shaped the social and political change of Turkey as much as Atatürk's strong spurt of modernization. Adopting a broader conception of politics, focusing on daily interactions between the state and society and using untapped archival sources, Murat Metinsoy reveals how rural and urban people coped with the state policies, local oppression, exploitation, and adverse conditions wrought by the Great Depression through diverse everyday survival and resistance strategies. Showing how the people's daily practices and beliefs survived and outweighed the modernizing elite's projects, this book gives new insights into the social and historical origins of Turkey's backslide to conservative and Islamist politics, demonstrating that the making of modern Turkey was an outcome of intersection between the modernization and the people's responses to it.