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Political Opposition in the Early Turkish Republic: The Progressive Republican Party: 1924-1925.

Erik Zurcher, Reader in Middle East History at the University of Nijmegen and Senior Research Fellow at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, has filled an important gap in the political history of the Turkish Republic. In this succinct volume he gives what will undoubtedly be the definitive account of an episode which, among other things, indicated that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, for better or worse, was sometimes thin-skinned and determinedly protective of his own position as the unrivaled leader of his country and his reform program.

After a useful discourse on "Historiography," where he details the complexities of finding unbiased sources for the writing of contemporary Turkish political history, Zurcher explores, as background to the PRP episode, personal relations between Ataturk and important contemporaries during the Young Turk period, and the attempts of Enver Pasha to regain power during the years immediately after World War I by reviving the Committee of Union and Progress. Enver failed, of course, but an important factor in Ataturk's ability to dominate was that Ataturk had the support of a great many other important military and political figures.

The Progressive Republican Party of 1924-25 was led by some of the same leaders, who strongly,supported the Kemalist revolution in principle but differed on what Ataturk considered important matters of tactics and implementation. Several of the PRP members also took personal offense at the President's habit of ramming laws through the Grand National Assembly without what they considered adequate time for debate, and at his failure to consult them (many, such as Rauf Orbay, Ali Fuat Cebesoy and Kazim Karabekir, being among his oldest friends and colleagues).

In programmatic terms, there were both structural and ideological issues. Regarding the former, Zurcher describes the PRP leaders as "classical liberals" who favored checks and balances, rather than Ataturk's notion that "sovereignty belongs to the nation," a sovereignty that is best expressed through the concentration of all power in a unicameral Assembly. On ideology, there were numerous articles on economic and social programs, most not greatly different from those of the government. The ruling Republican People's Party, in particular, alleged that the PRP was anti-secularist, citing Article 6 which said "The party respects religious beliefs and convictions." Zurcher finds no basis for this accusation, though he notes that the PRP did favor a slower pace of reforms so that the general population would be more effectively enlisted in supporting the revolution.

The PRP lasted just under six months. It failed for many reasons. Some were coincidental - for example, that some of its local leaders became associated with the Kurdish rebellion of Seyh Sait. Others were that the party showed alarming strength in some local by-elections, that its deputies in the Assembly were not always the most capable and tactful - and "one gets the feeling that they were somehow out of touch with the realities of politics in Ankara" (p. 116), whereas Ataturk was a superb tactician. In the end it was the willingness of the President to allow the radical wing of the ruling RPP to predominate and his insistence that the revolution had to be driven forward unrelentingly in every respect, a view which also reinforced Ataturk's position as the unrivaled leader of the Republic and its overwhelming personality. Zurcher notes (p. 94) that, in Frederick Frey's words, the opposition was felt to be dangerous because, through leaders who themselves had substantial reputations, it was "so close to the jugular."

In his conclusion Zurcher agrees with Frey's characterization of the PRP as "Postindependence Conservatives," who are frequently seen in the immediate post-independence stages of political revolutions. This reviewer shares his implied view that the PRP leaders deserve at least the label of "loyal opposition," though Zurcher also says quite rightly that the attempt to decide whether the PRP's policies would have helped to solidify or to compromise the revolution is best characterized as "pure speculation." But in illuminating the problems of personalities, effective political organization, and the vital role of tactics when forming and implementing political programs in at least a rudimentary democratic form, Zurcher's book is an important co better or worse, was sometimes thin-skinned and determinedly protective of his own position as the unrivaled leader of his country and his reform program.

After a useful discourse on "Historiography," where he details the complexities of finding unbiased sources for the writing of contemporary Turkish political history, Zurcher explores, as background to the PRP episode, personal relations between Ataturk and important contemporaries during the Young Turk period, and the attempts of Enver Pasha to regain power during the years immediately after World War I by reviving the Committee of Union and Progress. Enver failed, of course, but an important factor in Ataturk's ability to dominate was that Ataturk had the support of a great many other important military and political figures.

The Progressive Republican Party of 1924-25 was led by some of the same leaders, who strongly,supported the Kemalist revolution in principle but differed on what Ataturk considered important matters of tactics and implementation. Several of the PRP members also took personal offense at the President's habit of ramming laws through the Grand National Assembly without what they considered adequate time for debate, and at his failure to consult them (many, such as Rauf Orbay, Ali Fuat Cebesoy and Kazim Karabekir, being among his oldest friends and colleagues).

In programmatic terms, there were both structural and ideological issues. Regarding the former, Zurcher describes the PRP leaders as "classical liberals" who favored checks and balances, rather than Ataturk's notion that "sovereignty belongs to the nation," a sovereignty that is best expressed through the concentration of all power in a unicameral Assembly. On ideology, there were numerous articles on economic and social programs, most not greatly different from those of the government. The ruling Republican People's Party, in particular, alleged that the PRP was anti-secularist, citing Article 6 which said "The party respects religious beliefs and convictions." Zurcher finds no basis for this accusation, though he notes that the PRP did favor a slower pace of reforms so that the general population would be more effectively enlisted in supporting the revolution.

The PRP lasted just under six months. It failed for many reasons. Some were coincidental - for example, that some of its local leaders became associated with the Kurdish rebellion of Seyh Sait. Others were that the party showed alarming strength in some local by-elections, that its deputies in the Assembly were not always the most capable and tactful - and "one gets the feeling that they were somehow out of touch with the realities of politics in Ankara" (p. 116), whereas Ataturk was a superb tactician. In the end it was the willingness of the President to allow the radical wing of the ruling RPP to predominate and his insistence that the revolution had to be driven forward unrelentingly in every respect, a view which also reinforced Ataturk's position as the unrivaled leader of the Republic and its overwhelming personality. Zurcher notes (p. 94) that, in Frederick Frey's words, the opposition was felt to be dangerous because, through leaders who themselves had substantial reputations, it was "so close to the jugular."

In his conclusion Zurcher agrees with Frey's characterization of the PRP as "Postindependence Conservatives," who are frequently seen in the immediate post-independence stages of political revolutions. This reviewer shares his implied view that the PRP leaders deserve at least the label of "loyal opposition," though Zurcher also says quite rightly that the attempt to decide whether the PRP's policies would have helped to solidify or to compromise the revolution is best characterized as "pure speculation." But in illuminating the problems of personalities, effective political organization, and the vital role of tactics when forming and implementing political programs in at least a rudimentary democratic form, Zurcher's book is an important contribution.
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Author:Weiker, Walter F.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:1304
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