What we may expect from recent Wikileaks on Turkish politics

How is it that socio-political disruptions in Turkey consistently boost the power of the ruling party?

Emrah Karakilic
3 August 2016

Supporters of the AKP hold the portraits of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Ataturk Airport, Istanbul. Thanassis Stavrakis /Press Association. All rights reserved. In his latest book, The Uprising, “Bifo” Berardi (2012) borrows some concepts from one of the most important figures in the study of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, in order to describe the prevailing social impasse: instead of engendering a radical transformation or revolutionary upheaval, systemic disruptions in the social field increasingly consolidate and even give a boost to the power of the dominant paradigm, process, or group.

In the field of cybernetics, Wiener in the 1940’s distinguished between two forms of feedback. Negative feedback, on the one hand, occurs in a system when the received looped data (i.e. information about the results of an action, event, process, etc.) act in the direction of refining or rectifying the preceding results. Considering the socio-economic field, one may speak of the occurrence of negative feedback if, for instance, trade union action against academic casualisation compels the government to ensure secure employment for all scholars. Positive feedback, on the other side, occurs when the system perpetually increases the perturbation from the reference state over time, in a snow-ball effect. Here, one might consider the fact that the recent European financial collapse has actually, against all expectations, not led to a substantial change in European economic policy; on the contrary, it has strengthened the rigor of neoliberal monetarist policies (e.g. drain of common-wealth, cuts, bail-outs) throughout the EU.

On July 17, WikiLeaks made an announcement on Twitter that the organisation would ‘publish 100k+ documents on Turkey’s political power structure’. The hashtag, attached to the statement, #TurkishCoup gave an early idea about the general content of the upcoming release. The next day, it was added that the set of documents, including ‘300 thousand internal emails from Erdoğan's AKP [Justice and Development Party]’, might also reveal some controversial information beyond those relating to the botched and disastrous military coup. Notwithstanding sustained attack and unprecedented censorship, the first batch was put on-line successfully on July 19. WikiLeaks seemed convinced that the ‘mega-leak’ would ‘both harm and help AKP’.

In terms of the positive feedback loops described above, Turkey has become a paradigmatic case of this over time. There are abundant striking examples. Allow me to note only two of them by way of illustration. In 2013, the Turkish public witnessed one of the biggest corruption scandals in Turkish history. The allegations, via solid leaked materials, were directed against ruling political party ministers as well as Erdogan and his family. The tapes, transcripts, and footages were published on various social media channels, hence the public did indeed get a chance to learn about the corruption claims as thoroughly as possible. Only three months later, AKP not only won the local elections with 43% of all votes but it also increased its votes by almost 5%. So how could the AKP have increased its votes even though the vast majority of party supporters/electors had not dismissed and had even affirmed the dire corruption allegations in the first place.

As a second and more recent example, in May 2015, the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet published videos, photos, and footages by way of evidence that Turkish Intelligence Service (MIT), under the formal control and command of government, had transported weapons and militants between Turkey and Syria. The news had caused a political storm in the country and triggered a polemic concerning the connection between AKP and DAESH in the parliament as well as in public, a storm which ultimately ended up with the editors’ incarceration and AKP’s general election victory both in June 2015 (40.87%) and November 2015 (49.50%).

Might the recent WikiLeaks documents, touted as potentially ‘harmful’, facilitate negative feedback on Turkey’s current political system. Or on the contrary, might one expect that the documents would, in all likelihood, consolidate and, at worst, amplify the social enslavement (understood as the control of a population) that many opposition groups have been experiencing for a long period of time in Turkey.

If so, how can one make sense of the fact that socio-political disruptions in Turkey consistently boost the power of the ruling party, and add electoral votes to support for the AKP? This is certainly a tough question requiring both a holistic approach to an answer as well as extensive empirical study.

The starting point, nevertheless, might be the notion of the production of subjectivity, developed by such luminaries of French post-structuralist thought as Foucault, Deleuze, and Guattari, with respect to the different modes by which human beings make themselves and are made into subjects.

In my view, the strength of the AKP lies in its on-going long-term project, started well before 2002, of investing in and inventing a new type of subjectivity and a particular modus vivendi which increasingly correspond and conform to the desired social, economic, and political conditions. In other words, the AKP has been rather successful in shaping a diffuse network of preconditions (i.e. social, material, affective, and cognitive apparatuses), into a new mode of governmentality in conjunction with a new mental regime (manifest in corporate, state, education, media, etc. institutions) which entail a general mutation in the way human beings make themselves and are made subjects.

The success of the AKP manifests itself in the strong articulation between reformulated vectors of subjectivity and party ideology. This is why it is difficult not to see any interventions, whether they are internal (e.g. a military coup) or external (leaks, warnings, blackmail), as doomed to failure in Turkey’s current political climate.

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