Book Review: A History of Turkey

“A History of Turkey” by M. Phillips Price, M.P. (Published by George Allen and Unwin).

An interesting book. A condensed version of the history, of Turkey, from the early days of the Osmanii tribe, who started the Turkish Empire, to the present day Republic. This is not intended to be a profound work but for those requiring an introduction to the events which have taken place in Turkey since the early empire, this is the book. It is the sort of thing that has come to be associated with travelling journalists, M.P.’s, etc., well written, easily read and with enough facts to make it interesting. The bibliography published at the end of the chapter is extensive and should aid the interested student of Middle-Eastern affairs.

Turkey as a bulwark against Russian Imperialism
Despite its superficiality, the book brings out the importance of Turkey to the Western Powers as a bastion against the Imperialist designs of Russian Capitalism. For the contemporary Capitalist set-up in Russia is just as keen to get control of the Black Sea Straits (at Turkey’s expense) for trade, strategic and other reasons, and to roll back the Russo-Turkish border, whenever and wherever possible, as was Czarist Russia.

Turkish Agriculture—Feudal Aspects
Turkey still has its Feudal aspects, despite its Capitalist visage. The “Metayer” or sharecropping system, still exists, although it is not the prevailing mode. The Metayer is “based on the principle that the annual crop is” divided between landlord and cultivator.” . . . (Page 184). Also dealt with is ownership of land in Anatolia, of “34½ million acres of cultivated land in Anatolia, 32 million acres are owned and worked by cultivators of an average of not more than 16 acres, two millions by persons with an average of 300 acres, and only half a million with an average of 400 acres.” (Page 182).

Labour Conditions and the T.U. Movement
There is a brief chapter on Labour conditions and social legislation. Mr. Price points out the lack of a trade union movement in Turkey, until comparatively recent times. The Trade Unions, such as they were, were early suppressed, which was quite understandable in a semi-feudal economy. 1920 saw some serious attempts to get Trade Unions going. “The Kemalist Government of the National Revolution set itself the task of industralising Turkey, and consequently became concerned with having a contented working class which would run these industries. .. .” (Page 197, our italics). But despite the needs of Turkish Capitalism it was not until 1947 that a law was passed legalising Trade Unions. The author says that Trade Unions are “not instruments of the State or of a Party dominating the State, as in Communist countries.’’ … (Page 204), but one can fairly say (despite this statement that Trade Unions in Turkey as in Russia and many other countries are part of the State machine. The fact that the T.U. movement in Turkey was initiated by the Government, that strikes are illegal, and that Trade Unions have to get Government permission to join International organisations is more than proof of their subservance to the Turkish State. Referring to the matter of joining International organisations, Price says: “The Turkish Trade Union leaders seem to see nothing very wrong in taking their lead from the Government in matters of this kind, and indeed to wait for Government initiative in such matters.” (Page 202).

A free Trade Union movement to better the lot of the Turkish working class is something which has yet to be fought for; and then only in the light, that it is, at its best, reformist activity aimed at getting the best out of Capitalism for Turkish workers, and that it will not alter the basis of Capitalist society.

Only Socialist understanding can solve the problems of all workers, and this is something that the Turkish working class must aim at acquiring.


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