Document Type


Date of Award



Turkey, History, 20th century, Politics and government, 1909-

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Terence K. Hopkins

Second Advisor

James F. Petras

Third Advisor

Robert I. Rhodes


Both Turkish and western explanations of the decline and demise of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire, and later, of the inability of Republican Turkey to become a developed polity have generally been of a superficial nature. To Western scholars, the Turks lacked the necessary qualities to become a civilized (Western) nation due partly to their “barbaric” past and partly to the incompatibility of Islamic culture with Western ideas and institutions. The Turkish thinkers on the other hand emphasized other explanations at different historical periods: the Ottoman scholars believed that the moral strength of the nation had loosened up and corrupt practices and values had disrupted the old (and better) order, while the late 19th and early 20th century Turkish intellectuals believed that they had not imitated the Western model seriously enough to have become a developed society.

After the emergence of an independent Turkey, Turkish historians developed a somewhat more realistic view of the Ottoman Empire. The traitorous actions of the Empire’s erstwhile allies, and their costs to the Ottoman World, were given greater prominence. Yet, for very different reasons, Turkish historiography continued to parallel Western historiography. In order to justify the overthrow of the caliphate to loyal Muslims, the nationalist historians, like their Western counterparts, continued to emphasize the reactionary role of Islamic institutions. But to a large extent these same historians remained firmly rooted within the Islamic tradition. The religious barrier that had helped to isolate the Empire from the impact of the French Revolution and the proletarian revolt that swept through Europe in 1848 allowed the new nationalist bourgeois historians to deny the applicability of class analysis to Turkish history. This reactionary view was facilitated by both the national bourgeois character of the Turkish transformation and the corporatist ideology characteristic of the Islamic world—the concept of the Islamic community.

Over the last fifty years an historical interpretation which at first served a progressive cause—the creation of the Turkish state—has become increasingly reactionary. Throughout the Third World it is now widely understood that capitalist development in the First World has meant capitalist underdevelopment in the Third World. A large theoretical and empirical literature on imperialism and underdevelopment now exists. But with a few notable exceptions this literature has not stimulated a systematic and scholarly reinterpretation of Ottoman and Turkish history. Until recently the only alternative to the conventional literature was a relatively mechanical Marxist literature shaped by party politics and uneven in its treatment of important social and historical materials.

Over the last few decades the absence of a critical tradition has cost Turkey dearly. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was, without a doubt, one of the major historical figures of this century. Given the conditions under which he forged the Turkish state, his accomplishments stand as one of the great achievements in the history of civilization. Unfortunately, the glorification of his remarkable accomplishments has allowed the necessarily limited scope of his reforms to pass relatively unnoticed. This hagiography has been matched by the equally irresponsible attacks of mechanical Marxists who have attempted to depict Atatürk as a mere petty bourgeois reformer.

In this study we have tried to apply the insights of underdevelopment theory to Ottoman and Turkish history. We have found these efforts very educational. As we have gone back and forth through Turkish history we have been struck by a number of recurrent myths. Since the early reformist efforts of the Sultan Selim, Turkish reformers have believed that by imitating Western methods, first the Empire, and later Tukey, would take its place among the developed countries of the world. That Turkey’s dependent position within the capitalist world might doom its capitalist development to failure was never seriously considered.

Secondly, reformers have placed their faith in the transformation of Turkey’s cities. The belief that urban reforms could, without a transformation of the countryside, create a modern Turkey, has again and again proven chimerical.

Lastly, Turkish reformers have denied that social classes are social forces that must be taken seriously. The consistent denial of this reality has impoverished Turkish history and time and again has contributed to the defeat of attempts to achieve structural reforms within Turkey.

These myths are explored within this text. We have tried to show how the economic burdens imposed upon Turkey after the signing of the Lausanne Treaty reinforced Turkey’s dependent position within the capitalist world. At the same time, however, we have carefully attempted to show how class forces within Turkey, forces shaped in part by Turkey’s earlier semi-colonial history, acted in combination with external powers to maintain Turkey's dependent position. Without minimizing Atatürk’s incredible achievements we have tried to delineate the very real limits imposed upon his reform efforts—limits which he understood far better than did most of his associates.

One cannot understand the inflation and stagnation of present day Turkey without a proper understanding of Turkish class structure. As we have gone back through Turkish history we see clearly the seeds of Turkey’s present economic difficulties in the naive hopes of the Young Turks who thought a Turkish bourgeoisie would have greater reason to create autonomous industry than the Armenians and Greeks who were displaced. Similarly, the backwardness of rural Turkey can be traced to the compromises the Young Turks made with Turkey’s rural elite. Today, the myth of a classless Turkey is being denied by militant struggles in the countryside as well as in the cities.

We have written this work with several audiences in mind. Though we do not claim our work is a comprehensive history of modern Turkey, we have tried to present crucial historical data which are unavailable in the English language and, unfortunately, not widely known even in Turkey. Our approach to Turkish history will, of course, be familiar to students who have read the relevant writings of Marx, Paul Baran, Andre Gunder Frank, James Petras, and other underdevelopment theorists. Yet, though the works of these men have been enormously useful to us, we have avoided ritualistic references that would interfere with our historical account. We have written our essay in the tradition of literate historiography in the hope its audience will extend beyond English- and Turkish-speaking academics.


This dissertations is bound in two volumes. Both volumes are combined in the pdf.