Socialists, liberals and me

After establishing this association, I gradually and painfully realized that I had some fundamental differences from my “Marxist friends.” After a while, conflict gradually built up between us. Not only were our ideas conflicting but also our approach to matters was fundamentally different. I wanted to focus on solving students’ problems (there were quite a lot) at the university whereas my friends preferred to talk about the “clash of classes” or “revolutions in other countries.” I advocated a popular association; they did not want to register anyone who was not Marxist.

We had almost 200 members, and our calls for petitions used to end up with almost 200 signatures in a faculty that had almost 7,000 students. One day I wanted to show my friends that everything in these petitions was wrong and we, if we wanted, could be quite popular without being populist. I launched a personal call for a petition that demanded concrete improvements in students’ rights from the faculty, and my petition ended up with almost 1,000 signatures. I became very “popular” at the faculty, but this made me a scapegoat at our student association.

My last two attempts, trying to get some Muslim democrat friends of mine registered in the association and to mobilize the association against the headscarf ban that was gradually put forward by our faculty, were the final straws. I left the association that I founded with my friends.

When I look back now, I understand that I was always a liberal, but it was very difficult to accept this “label” then. The word “liberal” back then was like a curse, like swearing at someone. While I was suffering from this “identity crisis,” I discovered a leftist group that I felt quite close to. It was such a huge relief to read Murat Belge’s book “Sosyalizm, Turkiye ve Gelecek” (Socialism, Turkey and the Future). Belge fiercely criticized totalitarian regimes, the so-called proletariat dictatorship, the Turkish Marxist movement and others. He introduced and advocated Antonio Gramsci’s thoughts on “civil society,” “hegemony,” intellectuals and so on. Belge was against violence, anti-democratic methods, Stalinism, etc. In those years, socialist monthly Birikim started to circulate again, and the producers of this magazine were Belge’s friends. They all were quite the democrats. I became addicted to the magazine. I always had much respect for these people and observed their honest struggle to defend democratic socialist ideas. Meanwhile, my personal readings were also progressing, and in those years, I discovered the Frankfurt School, which tried to synthesize Marxist and Freudian ideas. I was amazed by their analysis of fascism and the authoritarian personality which created it. For reasons I did not quite understand, that Frankfurt School has never become popular in Turkey.

For the last four or five years, I have had quite good contact with liberals and the Association for Liberal Thinking. I define myself as a liberal now. But as a human rights advocate, I also defend economic, social and cultural rights. I should ask my liberal friends whether I should call myself a liberal or a libertarian. Like the socialist group Birikim, we have a bunch of liberals gathering around this association, and they are also quite idealistic.

What triggered this stream of ideas was an interview with Ömer Laçiner in the Jan. 11 edition of Today’s Zaman. I recommend that you read the interview with this veteran democratic socialist.

Last but not least, for me, being a democrat, not only thoughts but also attitudes are much more important than advocating any ideology. Real democrats in Turkey (they maybe socialist, conservative, religious, liberal and so on) are quite rare, and I think this is our biggest problem!