CHP’s Change in the 1960s: From Kemalism to the Left of Center


The CHP was founded by Mustafa Kemal as the continuation of the “Anadolu ve Rumeli Müdafaa-i Hukuk Cemiyeti”.  This formation, which was the predecessor of the Party, took place in the Turkish Grand National Assembly under the name of the Müdafaa-i Hukuk Grubu (Group 1) during the War of Independence. At that time, Group 1 fought against the harsh opposition of Group 2 which were the traditional liberal and supporter of the reign. After the victory of the War of Independence, Group 1 gained support of the people and liquidated the Group 2 with early election. Group 1, became a political party in September 9, 1923 and established the Republic of Turkey and ruled alone until 1950.

The CHP shaped the Kemalism in the Single Party Period and ruled the country in line with the principles of this ideology. After the 1930s, the CHP, which put the six principles into its final form, integrated the party and the state in this period, and made the bureaucracy dominant. During this period, the CHP was a party that did not tolerate class conflict, lacked social base, supporter of a status quo.

The CHP, which ruled the country during its 27-year rule, has added democracy, human rights and social rights to its program after it lost power and thus tried to conduct effective opposition. However, the real change of the CHP took place after 1965. The ideology of the left of center put forward by İsmet İnönü was developed by Bülent Ecevit and changed the face of the CHP. Ecevit reinterpreted the principles of Atatürk, tried to base the party on the people and wanted to give energy to his party.

1. Kemalist Ideology that Ruled Over Between 1923 and 1950

The founders of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) aimed to modernize by making reforms within the framework of the Western-type nation-state model.[1] In this context, the anti-imperialist and nationalist attitude put forward in the Sivas Congress and the 1st Assembly formed the ideological foundations of the CHP.[2] This regime to be established was different from its predecessor Ottoman Empire in terms of its roots. Because the new regime was intended to be based on the Turkish nation. Therefore, the first major revolution of Group 1 – despite the harsh opposition of Group 2 – was the abolition of the reign on 1 November 1922. This revolution was followed by the proclamation of the Republic and the abolition of the caliphate. With these three revolutions, the newly established Republic of Turkey based its legitimacy on Turkish people and abandoned his claim to be the leader of the Islamic world.

Despite the efforts of the CHP elite which was consisting of soldiers, civil bureaucrats and intellectuals, the reforms were made lacked social consensus. Therefore, they were similar to the reforms were made during the reign of Mahmut II and Selim III. Thus, the CHP elites were bound by the concept of historical leadership of the former elite.[3] For this reason, they tried to impose reforms and materialist perspectives on the public with the help of the education system they controlled. In short, the CHP of the single-party era was not a popular movement, but a top-down, elitist organization that made reforms for the people despite the people. [4]

CHP did not form an ideological identity until the early 1930s and sought to reconcile with conservative groups in society. However, a number of developments, such as the Izmir Assassination and the Menemen Incident, led the CHP to focus on Kemalism. Clearly, there was a sharp distinction between the CHP elites and the groups that were disturbed by their privileged position. For this reason, Kemalism was focused on in the 1930s and with the help of the “halkevleri”, the efforts were made for the public to accept the reforms. Moreover, authoritarianism and bureaucratic conservatism have been applied by influencing the conjuncture of the period. So much so that journalist Ali Naci Karacan said in an article, “Like communism in Russia and fascism in Italy, there should be Kemalism in Turkey.”.[5]

The party congresses have a great role in the formation of the ideology of CHP. Firstly, in the second congress in 1927 following the Sivas Congress, which was accepted by the CHP as the first party congress, it was stated that the party was republican, populist, secular and nationalist and thus four of the six principles were expressed.[6] In the 1931 Congress, statism and revolutionism were also included in the program and the six principles took their final form. These six principles, which were emphasized once more in the 1935 Congress, were further determined as the principles of the state. Thus, the ideology of the party was combined with the ideology of the state in the 1930s when party state integration was observed. Finally, the six principles were added to the constitution in 1937 to strengthen party state integration. However, the principles underlying Kemalism did not emerge in the 1930s. On the contrary, they are a summary of the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Ziya Gökalp.

The principle of populism, one of the six principles of Kemalism, which Atatürk has frequently emphasized since the First Assembly, has been explained in the 1931 and 1935 programs like other principles. According to these programs, the concept of populism aimed at national sovereignty, legal equality and a classless / unprivileged society. However, the ideal of classless society emphasized by Kemalism was not based on socialism and did not emphasize the bourgeois-labour conflict. On the contrary, the populism of Kemalism was directly opposed to the class conflict. Such that; in the 1931 and 1935 programs, various production groups such as farmers, artisans, craftsmen, workers, civil servants and industrial employers were mentioned and these groups were named as clan.  The existence of these working groups showed that Kemalism prohibited class conflicts, not classes. Moreover, this perspective of populism has taken away the rights of workers and peasants to organize and strike. In other words, Kemalism’s conception of populism adopted during the single-party period was quite different from the conception of populism, which was to be adopted in the 1960s.

Contrary to what was stated, Kemalism’s secularism principle was not intended to separate state affairs from religion but to control religion by the state. In other words, the party and state elites wanted to undermine the traditional authority to ensure their charismatic authority and legitimacy.[7] In this direction, the Presidency of Religious Affairs which is affiliated to the government was established, the dervish lodges were closed and the caliphate was abolished. At the same time, the principle of secularism served as a shield for the single-party regime in moments of danger and served as a justification for the measures taken.

The statism principle settled in Kemalism after the Great Depression of 1929. Kemalists adopted liberal economy in Izmir Economy Congress in 1923 and worked to create national bourgeoisie in 1920s. However, the limited opportunities of the state and private capital prevented the success of this policy and the principle of statism was adopted with the effect of the crisis of 1929. In 1931, the CHP adopted moderate statism at the congress, and in 1935,  adopted extreme statism. In this direction, many foreign companies have been nationalized and industrial plans and heavy industry investments have been made.[8] Realizing the limited effect of these moves in the villages dominated by feudal lords, the CHP administration began to work on land reform but World War II caused these studies to be interrupted. After the war, land reform came to the fore again, but due to the opposition, CHP did not achieve the desired results.

2. The End of the Single Party Period and the Ideological Transformation of the CHP

2.1 Transition Period

Following the establishment of the Democrat Party, the Republican People’s Party took some liberalization steps in the last period of its power. This was also a period in which the extreme right was defeated, the threat of the USSR emerged and relations with the West were sought. Under the influence of all these, the principle of populism was softened and the trade unions were opened, the censorship applied to the press was reduced and statism was decreased to avoid competition with the private sector. At the same time, after 1948, elective religious courses in primary schools was started, imam hatip courses and theology faculties have been opened, and religious lodges have been allowed. This liberalization tendency was reflected in the council of ministers. Such that, İsmet İnönü who was appointed Recep Peker as prime minister in 1946;  appointed Hasan Saka who had liberal views in 1947, and appointed conservative Islamist Şemsettin Günaltay in 1949.[9]

CHP turned to libertarian rhetoric in 1950 with the transition of power to the Democrat Party. In the declaration issued in 1951, demands such as the rule of law, democracy and freedom of the press were included and at the party congress in 1953, two parliamentary systems, the rule of law and the right to strike were included in the party program.[10] During this period, CHP turned to be the voice of the people against the  power of the Democrat Party which was increasingly authoritarian and tried to establish close contact with the people. Especially in the second half of the 1950s, it increased its opposition to the Democrat Party and defended social, political, economic rights and freedoms as the pioneer of social opposition.[11] Moreover, many concepts emphasized by the İlk Hedefler Beyannamesi published in 1959 were included in the 1961 Constitution, which was prepared after the military coup. Although CHP did not settle in the left ideology in the 1950s, those years could be called a transition period for the party.

2.2 Rise of the Left of Center

The military coup of May 27 brought the end of the Democrat Party period and brought CHP back to power between 1961 and 1965 with coalition governments. During this period, CHP administration realized the importance of youth and tried to recruit young people to the party together with academics and retired officers. However, in spite of all these efforts, in the first half of the 1960s, there was no radical change within the party and signs of returning to the traditional tutelary structure were given. Due to the conservative approaches of CHP, the youth started to tend to the Turkish Labour Party (TİP).

Nevertheless, after the local elections in 1963, some steps were taken to prevent the passing of votes to the AP and TİP. The party elites revised their policies and highlighted concepts such as reform and social justice in their discourses. Accordingly, a declaration named İleri Türkiye Ülkümüz was adopted at the party congress in 1964. This declaration, prepared by Turhan Feyzioğlu and Bülent Ecevit, focused on issues such as land reform, social justice, social security, economic development and secularism.[12] However, all these promises consisted of words that CHP mentioned but did not fulfill in those years. Therefore, all these efforts could not prevent CHP from losing votes.

Ismet Inonu, after the famous Johnson Letter “A new world was established, Turkey is taking place there,” he said, and this is considered the first signal to the left of center ideology.[13] Shortly after this statement, İsmet İnönü declared that CHP was on the left of the center and signaled the ideological change in CHP.  What İnönü meant by the left of the center was the statist economic model and planned development. Therefore, in his statements, he stated that the CHP has been a statist and leftist center since the day it was founded. However, during this period, for the first time in its history, CHP set out to become the party of the workers and peasants.

CHP’s orientation to the left ideology was undoubtedly the result of the spread of left ideas to the world in the 1960s. After the Second World War, the prosperity in Western countries caused young people who grew up in those years to look at life through different windows and began to look at the capitalist order critically. Some developments like the US invasion of Vietnam, the Cuban Revolution and socialist guerrilla organizations led the emergence of left opinion among youth and the wind reached into Turkey. So much so that in the early 1960s, when CHP turned to conservative structure, members of the CHP Youth Branch stood against imperialism and capitalism. In other words, unlike the CHP administration, the party’s youth base had already adopted the left.

The 1965 General Elections had been a heavy defeat for CHP. Many people in the party attributed this defeat to the left of center ideology, but those at the head of the party did not think so. According to them, the reasons for the defeat were the idea that CHP had a share on May 27, the failure of the İnönü coalitions, the rival parties accusing CHP of communism.[14] Bülent Ecevit, in his book The Left of Center, explained the defeat as follows: “In reality, the recent reaction to the Republican People’s Party was due to the fact that this party embarked on unsettling reforms and social justice measures in some circles accustomed to exploiting the people or the state.”[15] At the same time, during this period, AP’s production of slogans such as “Ortanın solu Moskova yolu” pushed CHP to the left.

The 1966 Congress, which was the first congress after the General Elections, resulted in the election of Bülent Ecevit as Secretary General. According to Ecevit, the party should get rid of its conciliatory identity and clearly state its political position.[16] Therefore, as soon as he was seated in the position of the Secretary General, he sought to define the framework of the left of center ideology. Ecevit, who made more “populist” the principles of populism (halkçılık) and etatism, described this ideology as populist (halkçı), humanist, progressive, reformist, statist, planner, committed to freedom and democracy.[17] The principle of populism, which rejected the class conflicts in the Single Party Period, underwent a major change with Ecevit and began to defend the peasant and labour against the bourgeois and feudal groups.

According to Ecevit, what had to be done was the infrastructure revolutions. In this direction, Ecevit criticized Kemalism for focusing on the superstructure revolutions and gave importance to the revolutions that the people really needed and would not hesitate to adopt. According to him, even if the hat revolution was necessary, this revolution had no benefit to the peasant so they had to go beyond such superstructure revolutions. However, Bülent Ecevit frequently criticized Kemalist intellectuals too along with Kemalism. According to him, intellectuals who had elitist ideas and thought that religion was an obstacle to development were one of the biggest obstacles to reaching the people. The bureaucratic intellectual perspective and the idea of ​​revolution for the people despite of the people, was unacceptable for Ecevit.

İsmet İnönü’s left of center rhetoric which crossed the borders of Bülent Ecevit, caused disagreements and big debates within the party. Turhan Feyzioğlu, who worked with Bülent Ecevit to reform the party in 1964, waged war to the left of center at the 1966 Congress. Feyzioğlu’s rhetoric triggered distinction within the party and spread to the local organizations. This separation, which prevented the unity of CHP and the effective opposition, led Turhan Feyzioğlu and his friends to leave CHP and establish the Güven Party. However, the debate of the left of center did not end here. Bülent Ecevit’s criticism of Kemalism initiated a new debate within the party. Ecevit, who wanted to re-establish the revolutionary legacy of the Party and rejected the status quo, was criticized for rejecting the Kemalist legacy. Moreover, Ecevit crossed the safe borders determined by İnönü and lost his support.

Contrary to the accusations of the right-wing parties and the concerns of some groups within the party, Bülent Ecevit did not sympathize with the extreme left and was concerned about its dangers. For Ecevit, all the anti-democratic ideology affecting Turkey like USSR’s socialism was dangerous. According to him, in order for an ideology to be acceptable, it had to contain democratic elements. In fact, Ecevit found the left of center necessary to counter the danger of communism, and thought that the exploited peoples could turn to the far left.


Kemalism, is an ideology against social democracy and liberalism. A thorough study of the six arrows of Kemalism shows the impossibility of synthesis of these principles with social democracy.[18] Even though the CHP elites used the concepts of social democracy from time to time in the Single Party Period, these words were only political moves. In fact, Kemalism is elitist, rejects class struggles, and does not seek social consensus in his reforms. The one thing that CHP in the Single Party Period had in common with social democracy was its statist economy model.

The end of the Single Party Period and the emergence of the Democrat Party on the stage of history caused CHP to soften the ideology of Kemalism. Until then, CHP which ignored the rights of the working class, censored the press, and used secularism as a shield when needed, entered the path of liberalization with the effect of competition and developments in the world. The transition of power to the DP accelerated the political transformation of CHP, intensifying the discourses of democracy and human rights, and caused the party to pay attention to intertwined with the public. However, the political moves made during these periods were far from sincerity. During the coalitions that began after 1960, CHP’s status quo tendencies were the greatest proof of this.

The real ideological change of CHP started with Bülent Ecevit. He boldly advanced the discourse of the left of center put forward by İnönü and changed the face of the party by making an unexpected breakthrough from CHP. Ecevit, who did not hesitate to make self-criticism within the party when necessary, tried to re-interpret the principles of Kemalism, especially the principle of populism, to make it suitable for the conditions of the period and the expectations of the people. The idea of ​​basing the party and the planned revolutions on the people is a real revolution for CHP. Admittedly, if Bülent Ecevit had not made his ascent, İnönü’s left of center rhetoric would have been merely a matter of bringing the principle of statism to the forefront and it would not have the support of the public. At that time, CHP administration lost the confidence of the people by failing to fulfill the promised reforms. Ecevit has made CHP a hope in the country by going beyond the party’s borders.



Ahmad, Feroz. Demokrasi Sürecinde Türkiye 1945 -1980, İstanbul, Hil Yayınları, 2010.

Bora, Tanıl. Ortanın Solu, Sosyal Demokrasi ve CHP, İstanbul, İletişim Yayınları, 2017.

Çelik, Adem. CHP’nin Kemalizm Algısı ve Sosyal Demokrasi: Eleştirel Bir Analiz, Kocaeli, Kocaeli Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü, 2010.

Ecevit, Bülent. Ortanın Solu, İstanbul, İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2009.

Erdoğan, Caner. CHP: Tek Parti İktidarı Döneminde Cumhuriyet Halk Partisinin İdeolojisi, İstanbul: Sokak Kitapları Yayınları, 2008.

Karpat, Kemal H. “The Republican People’s Party 1923-1945”, In Metin Heper and Jacob M. Landau (eds) Political Parties and Democracy in Turkey. London:I. B. Tauris, 1991.

Parla, Taha. Kemalist Tek Parti İdeolojisi ve CHP’nin Altı Oku, İstanbul, İletişim Yayınları, 1995.

Tuncer, Erol. Ortanın Solundan Demokratik Sola ve Sosyal Demokrasiye (D.A: 01.01.2020)

Uzun, Hakan. Tek Parti Döneminde Yapılan Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi Kongreleri Temelinde Değişmez Genel Başkanlık, Kemalizm ve Milli Şef Kavramları, ÇTTAD, 2010.


[1] Kemal H. Karpat, The Republican People’s Party 1923-1945, In Metin Heper and Jacob M. Landau (eds) Political Parties and Democracy in Turkey. London:I. B. Tauris, 1991, p. 43.

[2] Caner Erdoğan, CHP: Tek Parti İktidarı Döneminde Cumhuriyet Halk Partisinin İdeolojisi, İstanbul: Sokak Kitapları Yayınları, 2008, p. 26.

[3] Kemal H. Karpat, ibid, p. 43.

[4] Caner Erdoğan, ibid, p. 29.

[5] Hakan Uzun, Tek Parti Döneminde Yapılan Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi Kongreleri Temelinde Değişmez Genel Başkanlık, Kemalizm ve Milli Şef Kavramları, ÇTTAD, 2010, p. 45.

[6] Ibid, p. 248.

[7] Taha Parla, Kemalist Tek Parti İdeolojisi ve CHP’nin Altı Oku, İstanbul, İletişim Yayınları, 1995, p. 328 – 329.

[8] Caner Erdoğan, ibid, p. 31.

[9] Feroz Ahmad, Demokrasi Sürecinde Türkiye 1945 -1980, İstanbul, Hil Yayınları, 2010, p. 46,50.

[10] Caner Erdoğan, ibid, p. 41.

[11] Feroz Ahmad, ibid, p. 149.

[12] Ibid, p. 314.

[13] Tanıl Bora, Ortanın Solu, Sosyal Demokrasi ve CHP, İstanbul, İletişim Yayınları, 2017, p. 575.

[14] Caner Erdoğan, ibid, p. 50.

[15] Bülent Ecevit, Ortanın Solu, İstanbul, İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2009, p.11.

[16] Tanıl Bora, ibid, p. 576.

[17] Bülent Ecevit, İbid, p. 17-20.

[18] Adem Çelik, CHP’nin Kemalizm Algısı ve Sosyal Demokrasi: Eleştirel Bir Analiz, Kocaeli, Kocaeli Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü, 2010, p.181.