Baskın Oran

Will this populism turn into fascism?

Though the term populism is defined as “being a sycophant to people” in Turkey, its common definition today is the following: Using the masses by polarizing them outside and especially inside with the help of some discourse that pleases people. 

What is important is to gain votes easily: both left-wing (Peron, Chavez, Morales...) and right-wing politicians do this. However, considering the historical examples, the right-wing politicians (Boulangisme, Mussolini, Hitler, Salazar, Le Pen, Berlusconi, Tea Party, Trump...) are always better at this.

The populist politicians, during the process of dividing by polarizing, declare that they represent the overwhelming majority of people against “the educated”. They often use anti-elitist notions like “lobbies”, “liberals”, “Freemasons”, “national will”, which directly appeal to “the average man”. They also use “local and national” values against the international values. As a method, they also love the tricks like “popular vote”. Nationalism and radicalism are their best allies.


Let's look at the role of populism in recent history of Turkey:

  1. During the period of Unionists, it helped the emergence of the Turkist movement.

  2. During the war of independence, it helped the integration of Kemalist circles and Muslims, who constituted the overwhelming majority of Anatolia.

  3. The principle of “populism” entered the doctrine of Republican People's Party in 1931 and the constitutional law in 1939. The purpose was to prevent the industrial proletariat, which will eventually be created by the emerging statism, from causing trouble to the coalition of “landlords-traders-bureaucrats”. Indeed, Recep Peker, the secretary general of the Republican People's Party (CHP), was expressing this fact in 1934: “Our populist character is the exact opposite of the doctrines that created the class struggle.”

  4. Let's keep it short. Its current function is to serve as a tool for Erdoğan's one-man-regime. His furious reactions, meetings with neighborhood representatives, the service pays to the public servants, defiance to national authorities, praises to the death penalty are part of his planned populism. He is doing this especially by targeting the West, which demands return to democracy.

Look at his female senior advisor Saadet Oruç. She responded to a French journalist who called Erdoğan “dictator” as the following: “Dictator is your mother!”


Populism is successfully used by fascism in order to gain the support of the masses who are damaged by the wearing socioeconomic conditions. In fact, there would not be fascism without the support of these masses; there would only be dictatorship. For instance, we called the coups on March 12 and September 12 “fascism”, but those military coups were just fascistic, because they were not backed by the masses.

Now, the masses are also involved. There are nationalist-conservative-religious masses that Erdoğan keeps influencing by 1) endlessly using the “demons” of FETÖ (Gulenists) and PKK; 2) providing support from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP); 3) gaining unearned income through construction companies and creating oligarchs by seized properties of holding companies; 4) feeling grateful to CHP's “timid democracy”; and finally 5) by producing “the conqueror of Mosul” discourse.


The trouble is that it is not only limited to Turkey. The Brutal Capitalism aspect of globalism triggered a populist period in regions from India to South Africa; and there is such a period even in the West. The West, which hasn't been experiencing such a wide movement since 1929 and which barely survived the crisis of 2008, is like a laboratory now.

Lower-middle class people, who became poorer because powerful companies of the US have been moving their operations to countries like China and because of the millions coming from Mexico, voted for Trump, though they are not white.

In addition to these developments, Muslim refugees who are keep coming to Europe by sea or land undermines the lifestyle of the continent, escalate the anti-Muslim feelings and nurture nationalism and racism, which are close friends of populism. People coming from the former colonies made Britain pay the price of imperialism through Brexit.

In the past, Putin was in two places: in Moscow and Ankara. Now, he has a third place: Washington.

If this is the case of the West, just thinking about the situation in the countries that are accustomed to regard the West as responsible for all evil is enough to make me suffer, since their only remedy for these “foreign” evils is what is “local and national”, which mean authoritarianism, or even medieval times.


The situation is really bleak. Populism facilitates fascism, that's usual. But will populism turn into fascism? As you know, since fascism gets the support of the certain masses, it remains for years once it comes to power. The rule of Franco and Salazar lasted for 36 years.

Ömer Taşpınar from Brookings, in his contribution to P24, reminds the fact that Europe and the US have reliable ways for getting rid of this situation: Europe is vaccinated to fascism, since it went through it. And in the US, the mechanism of balance of power is solid as a rock.

However, such institutions are not strong in the countries like Turkey and now, they are being eroded by Erdoğan.


Fortunately, there are other developments.

This country has been exercising democracy at least since 1876. The right to vote was given to women in 1934; in Switzerland, it happened in 1971. Last years of Menderes government was a nightmare. He could not have enjoyed 1961 constitution as much as he wished. Now, Erdoğan started to take on Cumhuriyet newspaper and also messes with CHP. He helps the party to pull itself together. We thank Erdoğan for this.

Furthermore, the phenomenon of globalism means speed above all. Some situations that went on for 30 years in the past come to an end in 3 years now. You block the internet, then VPN comes. There is an abundance of solutions.

Putin in Moscow has endless sources to rely on, like oil and gas. What does the one in Ankara have, considering the collapsing economy?


On the other hand, AKP circle is losing control. The most recent and typical example came from AKP İzmir MP Hüseyin Kocabıyık. He said: “In a case of assassination of some statesmen, our nation will raid the prisons and hang all the FETÖ and PKK members. People are talking about this.”

I know the prison, since I spent some time in there during March 12 coup. In our country, the state is frightened by any harm that may be done to the prisoners. Here is an example: even if a prisoner says that he has no nowhere to go in middle of the might, they would not let him to spend an extra second in prison, because the state would be responsible for any harm that may be done to him in that extra second. The state cannot afford it.

Kocabıyık said something so big that its price might be unaffordable.

As the poet says, “This weight is too much for these scales.”