Cyprus and the Political Economy of State–Building


A review of The Political Economy of State–Building: The Case of Turkish Cypriots (1960–1967), by Hakan Arslan.

In this Ph.D. dissertation, Hakan Arslan has located as a major gap in the literature the study of the nature and role of the Cyprus State, looking at various phases and transformations the Republic underwent. The author informs us, when he started out he was not fully aware of the Herculean task he was about to embark. He spotted lacuna and bravely went head on to address it.

The introductory chapter examines the origins, the issues and the basic ideas of the thesis. It discusses the problems of the proper periodization of the Turkish Cypriot history, and the problematic relating to small states and economies and its implications for the debates relating to Cyprus as addressed by the Ph.D. dissertation.

Chapter 2, “Overview of Existing Literature on Cyprus,” provides a critical review of the existing Turkish literature on the Turkish Cypriots. The chapter discusses key aspects of the current crisis of the T/Cs, which the author refers to as “generalised crisis of statehood.”

Chapter 3, “Of the Relationships between Economy and Politics/State,” provides a critical review of the of the theories of the state, and political economy, with particular emphasis upon the state theory of Bob Jessop, and the theory of causality of Erik Olin Wright. The author suggests a model to test the two theories in the light of the empirical–historical material on the politics and economy of Turkish Cypriots.

Chapter 4, “T/C Politics and Economy, and the Cyprus Issue Prior to Zurich-London,” is the first of the three empirical chapters. It provides an account of the dual nationalist strategy of state-building and capital accumulation of the pre-1960 period, of the genesis of the Cyprus issue, and a summary account of the conjuncture of world politics prior to Zurich and London Agreements.

Chapter 5, “Republic of Cyprus, The Common State (1960–1963), the second of the three empirical chapters, gives a chronological narrative of the world conjuncture, and the politics of and economy of the Turkish Cypriots, organised in accordance with the historically and empirically grounded conceptual framework expounded in Chapter 2. The basic goal of this chapter is to rethink the theories of Jessop and Wright, in the light of the historical–empirical material of Turkish Cypriot politics and economy, for the sub-period of 1960–1963, the Common state of the Republic of Cyprus.

Chapter 6, “Republic of Cyprus, ‘Enclave Life’, The Proto-State (1964–1967), the last of the empirical chapters, is a chronological narrative of the world conjuncture, and the politics of and economy of the Turkish Cypriots, now for the sub-period of 1964–1967, when the Turkish Cypriots lived estranged from the polity and economy of the Republic of Cyprus, inside the heavily fortified urban neighbourhoods and large villages. The basic goal of this chapter is also to rethink the theories of Jessop and Wright.

The conclusion provides a brief presentation of the overall results of the dissertation as well as some key questions that are likely to guide future work on the problem of causality, in the field of International Relations, and on Cyprus. The author rightly locates a serious gap in the scholarly work on Cyprus: first, a lack of a political economy of the Cyprus Republic. Second, the need to study closely a number of key issues such as the following: the exact nature and role of ‘TRNC’, its ‘relative autonomy’ from Turkey, its political and economic system; the role of class and the military in the administration of the regime; the role of trade unions and the Turkish-Cypriot Left would be an area for future investigation.

From the outset the author states that his original goal was to write “a ‘theoretical’ narrative of the economy and politics of the Turkish Cypriots, from the perspective of the theories of the state, and political economy, for the period of 1960 to 1983” (p. 2). However, before he could do so, it was necessary to go back to the period 1943-1967. The empirical work therefore amounts to a prolegomena to what the author promises to carry out in his ambitious research agenda in the future. He also informs us that his theoretical framework the focus shifted from an historical narrative of the Turkish Cypriot society which was to be informed by theory to “the rethinking of specific theories using the historical–empirical material as relates to the Turkish Cypriot society, namely the state theory of Bob Jessop, and the theory of causality of the early Erik Olin Wright.”

The author draws on the state theory of Bob Jessop, and the theory of causality of ‘early’ Erik Olin Wright, which author revives and extends the debates within Marxism, particularly some of the official, ossified and deterministic approaches as well as some brands of structural Althusserianism that dominated Western neo-Marxist thought in the 1970s. Jessop was heavily influenced by Nicos Poulantzas (who was himself a student of Louis Althusser and very much influenced by Antonio Gramsci) and the early work of Wright draws heavily on Althusser. Arslan’s theorization is also complemented by what he refers to as “the so-called problem of productive–unproductive labour of Anwar Shaikh and Ertuğrul A. Tonak”, as he is forced to address a serious problem of trying to address the problematic of capitalistic relations, accumulation issues and state power facing the reality essentially of an ‘unproductive’ Turkish Cypriot labour in the particular social formations and regimes of Cyprus. He attempts to grapple with Wright’s six basic modes of determination: structural limitation, selection, reproduction versus non-reproduction, limits of functional compatibility, transformation, and mediation. He is searching to ground in the Turkish Cypriot social and state formations the relationships of causality between politics and economy, historically and empirically in the context of successive episodes of the Turkish Cypriot history. The author theoretically combines Jessop’s theory of the capitalist state and economy with Wright’s theory of causal determinations. He also draws on the International Relations terminology, multiple levels of analysis, more specifically, the inter-state (USA, GB, Turkey, Greece), and the global (International Political Economy) levels.

This is one of the best pieces of scholarship on Cyprus I have ever read. In fact we do not do justice to the work when we confine its’ scope and depth to Cyprus. It is an important contribution to the theories of the state at the crossroads of the relations between nation/nationalism and the state, as well as political economy and state-building, the global and local, small states, island studies as well as geopolitics etc. This is easily one of the best, if not the best theorist of the Turkish Cypriot social/state formation who takes empirical reality and theory very seriously.

Arslan did not only produce a Ph.D. dissertation, but a magnum opus; a 713-page long giant of a dissertation thesis, is actually not one, but two dissertations into one. If is to come out as a book, it could be easily cut into at least two distinct volumes: one dealing with Marxist theories of the state and how these be better understood and revised in the light of a micro-state or quasi-state formation of Cyprus, with particular emphasis on the Turkish Cypriot social formations(s). The second volume can deal with the empirical study of the Turkish Cypriot state formation and its implications; of course the author can, and indeed ought to refer to the theoretical debates but in a manner that enhances the arguments regarding the universality and particularity of the case under examination.

The dissertation is a brilliant exposition, discussion, and critical engagement with various Turkish Cypriot scholars and Turkish scholars on Cyprus, which is of immense value to scholars who are not Turkish speakers. It addresses a major gap in knowledge in theorising the state, politics-economy relations, accumulation and nation-building. It is also an important and refreshing piece on critical scholarship that revives important debates on the state, economy as well as the relationship between class struggles and national conflicts and state building. The work, if published can connect and fill the gaps in the critical scholarship on Cyprus. Already a number of Greek Cypriot scholars have opened up the debates on Cyprus, state theory and empirical studies, geopolitics, class relations and nationalism to the English-speaking world. Recently, the debates that connect Schmidt’s ‘state of exemption’ or ‘state of emergency’ to Cyprus have been examined in the case of Cyprus: the ‘Cypriot states of exception’, coined by Constantinou (2008), is highly relevant to the problematic Arslan discusses. Moreover ‘the aporia of Cypriot identity’ (Constantinou 2007) is very much part of the ‘nation-state dialectic’ (Trimikliniotis, 2000, 2012). The publication of Arslan’s dissertation would be of immense value to scholarship.

Nicos Trimikliniotis
Department of Social Sciences and
Centre for the Study of Migration, Inter-ethnic & Labour Relations
University of Nicosia, Cyprus

Primary Sources

Foreign Relations of the United States Archives
Hansard Archives
United Nations Resolutions
Yardım Heyeti Başkanlığı (T.C. Lefkoşa Büyükelçiliği)
Journals: Capital and Class, Cyprus Review, New Political Economy

Dissertation Information

Bilgi University. 2014. 713 pp. Primary Advisor: Ertuğrul Ahmet Tonak.

Image: Aytuğ F. Plümer, Kıbrıs Ekonomi Tarihi: Sarsıntılı bir Devrin Anatomisi (The Economic History of Cyprus: The Anatomy of a Difficult Age), Rüstem Publishers, Nicosia, 2008, p. 225.

1 comment
  1. The references are:
    Constantinou C. M. (2008) “On the Cypriot States of Exception”, International Political Sociology (2008) 2, pp. 145–164.
    Constantinou C. M. (2007) “Aporias of identity: Bicommunalism, Hybridity and the `Cyprus Problem’”, Cooperation and Conflict 2007, vol. 42, pp. 247-271.
    Trimikliniotis, N. (2010) Η διαλεκτική του έθνους-κράτους και το καθεστώς εξαίρεσης – συνταγματικές και κοινωνιολογικές μελέτες για την ευρωκυπριακή συγκυρία και το εθνικό ζήτημα [The nation-state dialectic and the state of exception – constitutional and sociological and studies on the eurocyprian conjuncture and the national question], Savalas, Athens.
    Trimikliniotis, N. (2000) The Role of State Processes in the Production and Resolution of ‘Ethnic’ and ‘National’ Conflict: The Case of Cyprus, unpublished Ph.D. University of Greenwich

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like