Academic journal article Capital & Class

The Rising Mafioso Capitalists, Opportunities, and the Case of Turkey

Academic journal article Capital & Class

The Rising Mafioso Capitalists, Opportunities, and the Case of Turkey

Article excerpt

Introduction

Property ownership, resources received and authority distributed have been among the criteria widely used in the literature on social classes. Along with their other contributions, Marx's analysis of exploitation relations and Weber's analysis of status have contributed much to the social classes literature. Yet studies inspired by Marx and Weber have for the most part been on capitalists, workers, peasants, the middle class, the underclass, bureaucracy and managers. Today, there is a need to study a rising social class--that of the mafioso capitalists, who hold not only economic resources but also substantial armed power, with implications for social, political, and economic life. In Turkey, debates on counter-guerrilla operations in the late-1970s, extensive political torture in the early 1980s, political killings by unknown perpetrators in the 1990s, and shadow paramilitary organisations in the early 2000s have made it necessary to reconsider the mafiosi in relation to those authoritarian practices and trans-legal formations. Scandals over the past few decades have brought to light the illegitimate relationships of politicians, police chiefs and army members with the mafiosi. However, the power of the mafiosi is not restricted to Turkey. There has been a growing body of literature on illicit business, especially in ex-Eastern Bloc countries.

Indeed, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been significant analytical interest in illicit business. Several authors have directed their interest at Russia, following the implementation of Jeffrey Sachs's shock therapy there. (1) Whether the chaos and poverty there has been attributed mainly (if not exclusively) to the transition to market economy (e.g. Burawoy, 1999; Gowan, 1995; Holmstrom and Smith, 2000) or to the so-called 'red legacy' of the 'communist regime' (e.g. Anderson, 1995; Dempsey and Lukas, 1998), there has been a consensus on the substantial share of illicit business in post-collapse Russian economic and social life. Inspired by the chapter on 'primitive accumulation' in Capital Val. 1 (Marx, 1867), Holmstrom and Smith (2000) associated this process with 'primitive accumulation', calling it 'gangster capitalism' and a necessary phase for the transition to capitalism. In terms of the presence of mafioso capitalists, Holmstrom and Smith concluded that Sachs's programme has had considerable responsibility for the creation of criminal capitalists, while the privatisation process in Russia was drafted essentially criminally by the underground mafiosi, the nomenklatura, top managers of certain industries, and segments of the intelligentsia. As for Burawoy (1999), having reconstructed Karl Polanyi's argument in The Great Transformation, he analysed the destructive consequences of market economy in Russia, calling the process in effect 'economic involution'. Rather than seeing the process as a stage of transition to further industrialisation, he called attention to the return to a barter economy and the deindustrialisation process in Russia, which, according to him, implied a future possibility of neo-feudalism. According to him, the Russian case of 'primitive disaccumulation will turn out to have been no less destructive than original primitive accumulation' (p. 9). As for those liberal arguments attributing the chaotic atmosphere in Russia to the legacy of 'red' bureaucratic control rather than to the market economy, the solutions they propose revolve around so-called 'liberal governance' with the tasks of 'prevention of harm and the protection of property rights' (Dempsey and Lukas, 1998) or the 'rule of law' and 'reducing the illegal markets produced by the communist economy' (Anderson, 1995). Regardless of different approaches to evaluating the process in ex-Eastern Bloc countries of the post-Cold War era, the growing wealth and strength of mafioso capitalists gives the impression that the mafioso mode of production is likely to last longer than anticipated by several Marxist and liberal academicians who, whether in this or that way, see the stage in temporary, rather than relatively permanent terms. …

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