ISTANBUL (1930-40S) / PEOPLE’S HOUSE — THE STATE, THE PARTY AND THE PEOPLE
The People’s House, as a top-down bureaucratic institution, had received much criticism as an authoritarian approach by the Kemalists to exercise propaganda through the disguise as a social institute for the people. In such context, the socio-political hierarchy among the State, the Party and the people in Turkey in the early Republican years was revealed through the spatial hierarchy and the protocols of the People’s House.
In the early Republican years, during 1930-40s, the Republican People’s Party had stood as the sole party in the State. A multi-party experiment was carried out in 1930, but ended without lasting more than one year. The Liberal Party was founded by Fethi Okyar. The establishment of the Liberal Party was initially supported by Atatürk, the President at that time. However, the popularity and public support enjoyed by the Liberal Party had revealed the discontent of the people with the RPP. Atatürk had eventually perceived the Liberal Party as a threat to his power and this led to the forced dissolution of the Liberal Party in November 1930. Lesson learnt by the RPP was that, to ensure the survival of the Republic, reforms would have to be generalized and broaden. The importance of socio-cultural complements to a political reform was noted. This paved the way for the authoritarian policies carried out by the RPP later on.
In the Republican Party Convention in 1931, the Republic’s six fundamental principles (a.k.a. the Six Arrows), namely republicanism, nationalism, populism, statism, secularism and reformism, were introduced. These ideologies were incorporated in 1937 into the Constitution as the Republic’s ideology, known as Kemalism. The projects on People’s Houses were also introduced in the same Convention, and officially opened to the public on February 19, 1932, with 14 active branches. In the Convention, Atatürk had stressed on the close relation between the State and the Party, and that a decision by the Party would be the Government’s own decision. The distinction between the State and the Party was blurred and the RPP had firmly established its power in the one-party State.
The People’s Houses, as state-owned institutions scattered all over the nation, were regarded as instruments of the RPP to carry out its broad development policy after 1930. The administrative structure of the People’s Houses was highly bureaucratic. The Houses were placed under the Republican Party’s Secretary General, bureau one, and the Party provide full material and administrative support to the Houses. Every People’s House in the country was headed by a State official or a Party member appointed by the RPP. All activities in the Houses were directed from the top through the Secretary General and the Republican Party’s Central Committee.
The Houses were stages for the tangible performance of the party-state’s authority. The central space of the architectural brief of a typical People’s House was a two-hundred-person auditorium for lecture and ideological plays. (Fig. 1)
Although the People’s House was stated by the Party as sites for the exchange of expertise and ideas in both directions, the dominance of the auditorium in the spatial hierarchy in the People’s House suggested the role assigned to the public as a passive recipient. Moreover, even though both the Party and the People’s House had publicly claim the institution to be a place where nobody would be privileged, the seating protocols stated in the widely-circulated manual published by the organization suggested otherwise. Such spatial hierarchy and protocols set up by the RPP had rendered visible the social hierarchy — with the Party at the top and the people at the bottom — imposed by the Party-State.
Karpat, K. H., 1963. The People’s Houses in Turkey: Establishment and Growth. Middle East Journal, 17(1/2), pp. 55–67.
Kezer, Z., 2015. Building modern Turkey : state, space, and ideology in the early republic.