from Jump Cut, no. 27, July 1982, pp. 35-37
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1982, 2005
Turkey is distinct among Third World countries in that it was never ruled by a colonial power. During the last two centuries of its existence, the Ottoman Empire was dominated by the West economically, but it never became a cultural or political colony. The political experience of the Turkish Republic is also rather distinct. In contrast to much of the Third World, multi-party democracy has become the rule — not the exception — of Turkish government since 1946, interrupted only briefly by military regimes (1960-61, 1971-73, 1980-).
The 1960s saw a rapid transformation of both the economy and social life. This was echoed by a vigorous intellectual debate concerning the directions and goals of both the economic base and the ideological formations (e.g., politics, literature, cinema) of Turkish society. The decade was dominated by a massive influx of international capital, a rapid increase in urbanization, and a political enfranchisement of the masses according to the liberal terms of the 1961 Constitution. Between 1960 and 1970, urban population increased by 5 million. Most of these migrants lived as squatters in shantytowns (Gecekondus) surrounding the old city centers.(1)
During this period of economic boom, social mobility and the rise of labor unions, the ruling Justice Party and its leader Demirel attempted to represent the interests of a bourgeoisie divided between those who favored big industry — international capital — and the "numerically vast sector of petty capitalists. The latter were unorganized, politically volatile, “savage” in their pursuit of profits, and exploited the shanty towns to gain their pool of unskilled labor.(2) Faced with the inescapable reality of rapid social change, the Turkish intelligentsia debated the strategies and tactics of “development," utilizing Marxist models (among others) to comprehend the upheaval of economic and cultural life.(3) Both the left and the Islamic right expressed dissatisfaction with models of development imported/ imposed from the Western industrial societies, as well as with the ideologies which accompanied Westernization. Each political and cultural wing sought to define the role of the artist in the task of reflecting and criticizing the social realities of development. How, they asked, should one speak to and for the economically marginal inhabitants of the crowded shantytowns fighting for the crumbs spilled from the central city? How could the artist express both the dilemma and the revolutionary potential of the masses while yet inspiring them to become a legitimate political force?
In the arena of cinema, the question of the ideological role of the artist was first articulated by the loosely organized National Cinema group, which effectively dominated the practice of serious Turkish film in the late 1960s/ early 1970s. In opposition to the program of National Cinema, a group of critics affiliated with the Turkish Cinematheque called for a radical cinema committed to social change. Unlike the practicing filmmakers of the National Cinema group, the members of this Revolutionary Cinema movement were at first outsiders to the industry, with no real access or control over the actual production of cinema. The conflict between these two groups extended to cinema a larger debate among intellectuals concerning the Turkish historical experience and economic structure.Marx had pointed out that the ancient, feudal, and capitalist modes of production were basically European phenomena, that they were not necessarily applicable to non-European societies. In Asia, Marx found an ancient and enduring production, characterized by the absence of private land ownership. Although he never analyzed this Asiatic mode of production in detail, Marx suggested that in comparison with Europe, the historical process in Asia (and the Ottoman Empire) had developed along very different lines.(4)