A note on “going down to the people”

Yet another defeat for the center-right CHP (which disguises itself as center or even center left, as usual) in Turkey and all the patterns from the previous defeats start popping up in no time. The most common “post-defeat” pattern has two elements in it: those cursing the people\voters for their stupidity, ignorance, etc. and the other camp blaming the “elitism” of the left and calls the left to “go down to people” instead of making demands which were “contrary to the peoples values”. I will not really deal with the first group in this post. I believe that reaction has some truth in it (i.e. ignorance and superstition of the masses are definitely exploited by the bourgeoisie ) but essentially these sentiments are reflections of a lack of political understanding\will which gives birth to hopelessness. So the cure for this illness is simple, ask people to do politics and they will find better use of their time than cursing, which pragmatically does not serve any purpose. It’s the second illness which is more worrisome.

 

The idea of “sharing people’s values” or at least “not provoking\hurting” them has a long history in the left, not specifically in Turkey. The specific idea which lead me to write this post is the article by Ross Wolfe: http://thecharnelhouse.org/2011/04/16/the-stalinization-of-post-revolutionary-soviet-art-and-architecture/ . In it, we learn that the Soviet era architecture did not start as nor was destined to become “Stalinist” architecture, which is characterized by its references to pre-modern Russian architecture under the name of “proletarian” architecture. We learn, to the contrary, that in the golden first ten years of the revolution, the union was seen by not only the revolutionaries but also by foreigners as a castle of modernism in an era where people still had to fight reactionary forces in their home countries. Many important projects were done in the Soviet union by setting up international competitions which allowed the artists\architects to design without the boundaries they are imposed in their own countries. Now how is this related to the slogan of “going down to the people”, you ask? OK, the relevance is understood when we observe the rhetoric of the regime in transition to Stalinism, i.e. the process of corruption of the revolution. We see that the rhetoric is very clearly reliant on the themes of “such unbounded modernism is detaching us from the masses”, “we should not go too far ahead of the masses else we’ll lose them”, “the art should have a basis in the nation’s traditions” (face-palms…) etc. Yup, there you go.

 

Now the detailed interpretation of these relations\similarities is left to the reader, recommended to be done after a thorough reading of the aforementioned Ross Wolfe article. But for me the case is clear, “going down to the people” symbolizes the retreat from revolutionary ideas in order to “settle down\slow down” and “take a breath”, e.g. degeneration of any progressive reform\goal. I say, think the other way around: you are part of the “people”, have\make the others come “up” to you.