vol.9, no.2, (July 2003)


Takis Fotopoulos' reply to Omer Caha's Dialogue Article



I would like first to thank Omer Caha for his comments on my article and also for his interesting contribution on the significance of the feminist movement-- and reformist movements in general-- in humanizing the system. His particular point of reference is the Turkish feminist movement and its success in ‘humanizing’ the system. As my article on the end of antisystemic movements[1] and the limited significance of reformist movements in improving the system had as its main point of reference the advanced market economies of the North, Caha’s intervention gives me the opportunity to refer to the corresponding significance of such movements in the South, with particular reference to the case of Turkey.

However, as the author, before embarking on a discussion of the significance of the Turkish feminist movement, finds it useful to refer to the importance of the socialist antisystemic movement with respect to the building of the welfare state and the system of ‘distributive justice’ characterising the period 1950-mid 1970s, one has to mention here that these achievements, which flourished during the statist period of modernity, were in fact temporary aberrations to the marketisation process.[2] Thus, the emergence of neoliberal globalisation during the period of neoliberal modernity has to such a significant extent undermined these achievements of social democracy that one wonders whether it is still meaningful to continue  talking today about the ‘important contributions of these movements on behalf of man’. Furthermore, it is ironic indeed that the author claims that the chief reason for the demise of the antisystemic movements was ‘the humanization process of the system itself (which) leaves no further need for the fundamental discourses to be promoted by social movements anymore’ at the very moment that marks the collapse of the welfare state even in its last European citadel, Germany, and when the system has just reached its brutality apogee point. In other words, at the moment when the transnational elite which manages the system today, in the aftermath of its other wars in the New World Order (war in the Gulf, NATO war against Yugoslavia and war against Afghanistan), has now embarked to a bestial preventive war and the subsequent occupation of a country in the South (Iraq), with the hardly disguised aim of looting its natural resources–an event unheard of since the second world war!

Having said that, let us come to the criticisms raised on my article on the basis of the Turkish experience. The author rightly stresses the importance of Turkey’s historical background with respect to gender relations in leading to the development of a reformist rather than an antisystemic feminist movement (as it was largely the case in the North). Thus, it is not surprising that, within a culture which secluded women from the public domain on the basis of the norms of gender roles, the nature of the newly emerged feminist movement (following the rise of the middle classes), would by necessity be a reformist one. By necessity, because women’s exclusion from the public domain in Turkey took the extreme form of  physical seclusion of many women within the harems; as the author mentions. The secular culture promoted by the new elite which controlled the Turkish republic, which rose --at the beginning of the last century-- on the ruins of the Ottoman empire, led to a steady improvement in the status of women, who were given the right to vote and to sit in parliament.

However, all these changes to the status of women came from above, i.e. from a progressive elite, rather than from below, i.e. from the struggle of women’s movements as, for instance, was the case with  the suffragettes in the West. This had crucial implications on the development of the feminist movement in Turkey. It is a necessary condition for the development of antisystemic consciousness that whatever social reforms are introduced by an elite are the result of social struggles, which may or may not intensify and lead to a higher level of consciousness once the reforms are achieved or reversed. But in the case of the Turkish feminist movement the reforms which resulted in the improvement of women’s social status were purely the result of aggressive action taken by the system introduced by the new republic. No wonder that ‘the “system” is generally accepted by Turkish feminist groups as the alternative of the traditional Islamic public sphere and as a positive and open domain for women— particularly today when the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey threatens to reverse even these reforms introduced by the system.

Turkish feminists therefore mostly sped up the implementation of the reforms introduced by a liberal and secular elite or simply functioned as the first line of defence against the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism which wished to move the clock back towards the relegation of women to their traditional position in the private realm. It is true, as the author rightly points out, that the evolution of the Turkish feminist movement into a postmodern identity movement (following a similar trend in the North within which the ‘new social movements’ by the 1990s had become transformed into supporters of ‘identity politics’[3]) represented an antithesis  to the universalising ‘homogenisation’ culture enhanced by the system that was established by the Turkish republic. However, one could reasonably assume that this antithesis does not represent any fundamental problem for the system itself. In fact, as the modernization process has not yet been completed in Turkey, the system simply attempts to balance the needs of modernization (which includes the promotion of women’s rights) with the needs of neoliberal globalization, whose ideology is expressed by the anti-universalistic postmodern paradigm.  One could therefore expect that as modernization proceeds (a process that will be sped up when Turkey eventually joins the European Union) and the social status of women is secured then there will be no problem for the full development of postmodern identity politics and the phasing out of the above antithesis.

In a nutshell, most of the achievements of Turkish feminists were very much compatible with the modernization policies of the Turkish secular establishment. In the light of this problematique, the conclusion drawn by the author (‘the case of Turkish feminism secondly and importantly indicates that reformist social movements  might play a more successful role in humanizing the system than  antisystemic ones’) is a non-sequitur, as  one could hardly argue that the humanisation of the Turkish system was mainly the result of  feminist activity.

The author then argues that ‘as the case of the socialist movement indicated in the case of the former Eastern socialist regimes, an alternative system established as a result of the activities of an antisystemic movement is not always  a positive development. The  fundamentalist Islamic regime in Iran is another indication of  the same point.‘ Setting aside the Iranian example which is irrelevant to my argument since the definition of an antisystemic movement that I had suggested clearly referred to the socio-economic system established by the market economy and representative democracy, the Soviet example does not of course prove that antisystemic movements are not needed anymore or that they are somehow inferior to reformist movements. The Soviet experiment is simply a case of a failure of an antisystemic movement for definite historical reasons having to do both with its ideology and the historical conditions under which it took place, and in no way could it be used as a case to derive sweeping generalisations about History. Nor could one accept  the author’s second argument that  ‘the replacement of the system seems not possible by means of social groups, which emerge and grow within the system itself’. Clearly, most systemic changes in the last century (Russia, Eastern Europe, China etc), irrespective of how we assess them against Marxist or any other  standards, were the result of struggles in which antisystemic social groups (emerged and grown within the system itself) played a leading role. Furthermore, the argument of legitimacy suggested by the author when he states that the antisystemic character of social movements sometimes brings about their end is, of course, true but this is as valid an argument against antisystemic movements as would be an argument for ostracising revolutions from any antisystemic activity as illegitimate!

The author’s conclusion therefore that the humanization of the system is possible as the case of social democracy and Turkish feminism has shown, is not supported by the facts, as I attempted to show above. Social democracy has already proven to be a temporary aberration whereas the humanization of the Turkish system, as far as gender relations are concerned, was much more the effect of systemic policies rather than of any feminist struggle. However, when the author argues that ‘the humanization of the system is more important than its replacement with unknown, empirically untested systems’ and that  he sees the modern system as a paradigm and its representative democracy and free market economy as ‘the historical accumulation of human experience’ he rather mistreats History. The crucial question arising here is: in what sense do representative ‘democracy’ (discovered by the American elites two hundred years ago in order to exclude people from the direct management of their own affairs[4]), which is a blatant distortion of democracy as created two and a half thousand years ago, and the market economy, (which was also established at about the same time that representative democracy was introduced) and led to the separation of society from the economy, express the historical accumulation of human experience? All this, not to mention that the author’s suggestion that the humanization of the system is more important then its replacement with unknown, empirically untested systems implicitly assumes that representative ‘democracy’ and the market economy represent the ‘end of History’, as the indescribable ideologue of the system , Fukuyama, suggests!


[1] T. Fotopoulos, "The End of Traditional Antisystemic Movements and the Need for A New Type of Antisystemic Movement Today", Democracy & Nature, Vol. 7, No, 3 (Nov. 2001), pp 415-455.

[2] See T. Fotopoulos, "Welfare state or economic democracy?", Democracy & Nature, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Nov. 1999) pp 433-468 and "The Myth of postmodernity" Democracy & Nature, Vol. 7, No. 1 (March 2001) pp 27-76

[3] see my article  "The End of Traditional Antisystemic Movements and the Need for A New Type of Antisystemic Movement Today".

[4] see Ellen Meiksins Wood, Democracy Against Capitalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1995) ch. 7 and Takis Fotopoulos Towards An Inclusive Democracy (London: Cassell, 1997) ch. 5






















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[4] see Ellen Meiksins Wood, Democracy Against Capitalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1995) ch. 7 and Takis Fotopoulos Towards An Inclusive Democracy (London: Cassell, 1997) ch. 5