Issue 17 – Historiography I

Editors: Ateş Uslu, Attila Aytekin, Burak Gürel, Fatih Yaşlı, Ferdan Ergut, Fuat Özdinç, Güçlü Ateşoğlu, Sinan Yıldırmaz

Major Controversies in Materialist Historiography
Şebnem Oğuz

Marxist historiography is dominated by the idea that the motor of historical change is the conflict between forces and relations of production.This idea, which was most clearly articulated in Karl Marx’s Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, has been widely used by Marxist historians to explain social transformations in general, and the transition to capitalism in particular. The major methodological implication of this understanding is the prioritization of forces of production over relations of production in explaining historical change. This understanding was first criticised by British Marxist historians in the 1950s, especially in the writings of E. P. Thompson. In recent years, the critique of this understanding came forcefully back to the agenda through the works of authors like Robert Brenner, Ellen Meiksins Wood and George Comninel, whose approach came to be collectively known as “political Marxism”. This paper aims to discuss the contributions of political Marxism to materialist historiography. It reaffirms the basic argument of political Marxism that the motor of historical change is not to be found in the conflict between forces and relations of production, which is a construct specific to capitalism, but class struggle itself, which is central to both pre-capitalist and capitalist societies.

Keywords: Marxism, Historiography, Class Struggle, E.P. Thompson, Robert Brenner.

The Cold War and the Soviet Union-Turkey Relations in the Historiography of Turkish Foreign Policy
Cenk Saraçoğlu

This paper aims to examine how the history of the Soviet Union and Turkey relations just after the Second World War has been examined and interpreted by different and contradictory perspectives held by different historians and researchers. The paper will assess a bunch of different texts, which were written throughout the 1980s and 1990s and which retrospectively analyse the early Cold War period.This assessment will involve an attempt to classify these texts, based on the nature of discourses, concepts and rationalization they employ. This classification will show that the different narratives of the history of Turkish foreign policy emerges due to not only academic and scientific discussions but also political and ideological struggles ongoing in Turkish society. Following this discussion, the paper, in the end, will highlight the role and merit of the class-based explanations of the Turkish foreign policy in deciphering the real ideological functions of the narratives based on the concepts of national and national interest.

Keywords: Turkish Foreign Policy, Cold War, National Interest, Historiography, Soviet Union.

Main Traditions and Marxist Tracks in the Peasants’ War and Thomas Muntzer Historiography
Vefa Saygın Öğütle

This study does not aim to narrate the history of Peasants’ War and the biography of Thomas Muntzer in detail. Our intention is to compare main traditions in historiographies of the Peasants’ War and Thomas Muntzer, to criticize them and to deepen Marxist paths. İt can be said that there are two main traditions in historiography of the Peasants’War and Muntzer: On the one hand the tradition initiated by Luther and Melanchthon and continued by Leopold von Ranke, on the other, the tradition initiated by young-Hegelian Zimmermann and adopted by Friedrich Engels and Marxist Peasants’ War historiography in general. Therefore this study is, in a sense, a descriptive one. To outline these traditions will provide materials that are necessary to criticize them from the standpoint of Marxist conception of history. İn another sense, it is argued that classic Marxist Peasants’ War historiography (especially, in the matter of Muntzer’s position in the Peasants’ War) needs to have some serious revisions. What is required to be revised is primarily Zimmermann’s bad inheritance, that is, idealistic trans-historical status attributed by Zimmermann’s understanding of history to Thomas Muntzer. For this reason, it is attempted to present objective and subjective dimensions, peculiar circumstances and qualitative distinctions of the Peasants’ War and to expel some ‘myths’ and misunderstandings about Muntzer that weaken Marxist Peasants’ War historiography. In conclusion, it is argued that Marxist conception of history has very important possibilities; both because it contacts the past and ‘historical dislocations’ realistically and strongly without mystifying them, and because it provides the possibility of self-reflexivity in order that historians and historiographers realize their social and historical context and participate in ‘today’ actively and politically.

Keywords: Friedrich Engels, Thomas Muntzer, Peasants’ War, Marxism, Historiography.

Hungarian Historiography in the Light of Two Debates (1945-1956)
Ateş Uslu

This essay examines the origins of Hungarian historiography and its development between 1945 and 1956. The first section identifies main currents of Hungarian history-writing in the nineteenth century and between the two World Wars, and explores the “Stalinisation” of historiography in the late 1940’s. The following sections describe and analyse two debates on Hungarian historiography. The first debate, the so-called “Erik Molnár Debate”, occurred in 1950, as a series of critical points were raised against historian Erik Molnâr’s book about mediaeval Hungarian history. The “Molnár Debate” reflects the main arguments of the Marxist conception of historiography in the Stalinist era. On the other hand, the debate that took place in 1956 within the Petöfi Circle, a discussion club of young Marxist intellectuals, attests to the rise of a critical point of view in Marxist historiography. Through the analysis of these two debates, it is possible to comprehend the changing concepts of history writing, and their ties with political and social changes in Hungary.

Keywords: Hungary, Historiography, Stalinisation, The Molnár Debate, Petöfi Circle.

Historiography as an Element of History: Some Arguments in the Context of Home-Based Work
Dilek Hattatoğlu

If history of a social movement is written by the members of this specific movement, what will be the effects and conclusions of this specific kind of historiography? This article aims at discussing this question in the context of home-based work and the examples of home-based workers’ organizations. The article relies on two main arguments: first is that organising is a kind of historiography in itself, and the second is that this specific kind of historiography in which agents and commentators are the same, has some important advantages.The second argument implies that history of a social movement differs depending on who the writer is and it is also formed in this writing process. In other words, this article tries to discuss the meaning of “writing history” and the differences between “history” and “historical materials”.

Keywords: History, Histoiography, Historical Materials, Home-Based Work, Social Movement.
The Peculiarities of Historical Knowledge: Time and Path Dependency
Ferdan Ergut

Historical knowledge has its own peculiarities which differentiate it from other forms of knowledge, such as philosophy, mathematics, logics, physics etc. The time is the most crucial element of this peculiarity. After discussing some of the intricate problems related to the perception of “time” the article attracts our attention to”path dependency” and warns us to resist
“presentist” temptations. İt argues and illustrates through several examples that the temporal and spatial dimensions of a particular phenomenon are crucial to understand its basic characters and dynamics. In order to understand “how it happened”, we have to understand “when and where it happened”.

Keywords: Historical Knowledge, Time, Path Dependency, Peculiarity, Presentism.

Benjamin, Thesis on (the Philosophy of) History and Historiography
Bora Erdağı, Mehmet Evren Dinçer

Departing from Walter Benjamin’s prominent work Theses on History, this article evaluates his contribution to historiography. In order for this task to be accomplished, the authors have preferred directly to focus on Benjamin himself, rather than engaging with the huge literature on
the thinker. With a historical materialist perspective, Benjamin considered reviving the tradition of the oppressed to be the major obstacle in front of “the continuation of the defeat of the oppressed” Benjamin resorted to ali his linguistic and cultural build-up so as to convey this thought of his. The very intensity of his writings has resulted in a huge literature of comment and writings on Theses and these comments have taken various directions. Thus; Benjamin’s references and observations in Theses have been discussed by taking his own corpus into consideration. This method has facilitated to reveal Theses’ significance with regard to its place in historiography; because Benjamin has managed to expose the reconciliation of everyday life experiences and historical materialism.

Keywords: Walter Benjamin, Philosophy of History, Historiography, Theses on History, Everyday Life.