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Leon Trotsky 19100814 From the Bulgarian Congress

Leon Trotsky: From the Bulgarian Congress

[Pravda No. 15, August 1 (14), 1910, The Balkan Wars. New York-Sydney 1980, p. 42-45]

The Bulgarian Social Democratic Party — or, rather, that section of it known as the Tesnyaks — decided to transform its regular congress this year into a demonstration of Pan-Socialism against Pan-Slavism. To this end the central committee of the Bulgarian party invited to Sofia representatives of the Social Democratic parties of Russia, Poland, Serbia, and of the Czechs and Ruthenians — in short, of all those nations whose bourgeois classes, divided by hostility and envy, had two or three weeks previously played out in that same city the comedy of brotherhood among all Slavs. … Not all the parties invited, alas, were able to respond to the fervent appeal from Sofia. On June 11, the day the congress opened, after a street demonstration in which three to four thousand workers took part, the delegates of the Belgrade proletariat listened to greetings from the representatives of the Social Democrats of Serbia (L. Lapcevic and D. Tucovic), of the Czech Social Democrats (B. Smeral), of the Ruthenians (V. Levinsky), and of the Russians (L. Trotsky). The sessions of the congress were held in the open air, in the courtyard of the workers’ headquarters, where, besides the seventy-five delegates and ten members of the central committee and the control commission, no fewer than four to five hundred visitors were present. The whole courtyard was decorated with red banners and little flags, The delegates’ badges showed a picture of Marx or of Bebel, surrounded by a red bow. Marx and Bebel! From the very start, this outward sign of the gratitude that the Slav Socialists feel, as pupils, toward their great German teachers was a significant protest against the anti-German agitation of the “All-Slav” chauvinists. It is hard to convey the enthusiasm with which the Bulgarian workers received the representatives of the foreign parties and listened to their speeches. Storms of applause, endless ovations! … The Bulgars understood best the speeches in the Russian and Serbian languages, and much less well those made in Ukrainian and Czech. The Bulgarian language is in general very close to Russian, and furthermore, it must be remembered that the Bulgarian Social Democrats have been brought up on Russian Marxist literature. Not only “Grandad” Blagoev, the founder of Bulgarian and co-founder of Russian Social Democracy***; not only Georg Kirkov, who attended the grammar school in Nikolaev and already at that time moved in Narodnaya Volya circles; but also the younger generation of the Bulgarian revolutionary intelligentsia, who studied in Swiss universities and there passed through the Russian school of Marxism, under the direct guidance of Plekhanov or of his closest pupils. The advanced workers of Bulgaria, even if they have never left the country, follow Russian party literature and understand the Russian language. The Bulgars sing Russian revolutionary songs, it must be admitted, better than we Russians do; the party publishing house in Sofia has printed in its Songbook the words of all the most popular Russian revolutionary songs.

The singing of the Marseillaise in Russian and of Vi zhertvoyu pali [You made a sacrifice] preceded the two-hour address given by the Russian delegate on the revolution in Russia (this address was taken down in shorthand and is to appear in Bulgarian as a pamphlet). In brief, one could say without exaggerating that, as regards its ideas, the Bulgarian movement is merely a branch of the Russian. This is shown, unfortunately, in negative phenomena as well: like the Russian Social Democrats, the Bulgars are split into two factions which have no link except the fierce struggle between them.

The stronger section of the movement is, to all appearances, the Tesnyaks, or “conservatives,” led by Blagoev, the founder and respected theoretician of Bulgarian Marxism. They have a strong, centralized organization, and a party publishing house that is well equipped both with ideas and with financial resources. The other side, however, charges them with organizational conservatism and of focusing all their attention on socialist propaganda in small groups to the detriment of political agitation and action. The opponents of the Tesnyaks are not a homogeneous group ideologically. On the right stand, under the leadership of Sakazov, the so-called “broad ones,” disposed toward joint action with the left wing of the bourgeois democrats who Eire now in power in Bulgaria; more to the left are the supporters of Bakalov and Kharlakov, who are distinguished from the Tesnyaks only by their views on organizational and technical matters. In 1908 the cothinkers of Sakazov, Bakalov, and Kharlakov formed a single organization, which was called the “united” party. The Tesnyaks refused to join with them, and still so refuse, taking the view that the “united” party is nothing but bourgeois democrats with a socialist coloring, who can contribute only demoralization to the proletarian struggle. It is not possible to set out here a detailed survey of the relations between the Bulgarian factions; I will merely add that the most unfortunate aspect is the split in the trade unions, which in Bulgaria have a close organizational link with the party.

To return, however, to the Tesnyaks’ congress. In a speech lasting five hours — Bulgarian orators astonish one not only by their passionate eloquence but also by their tirelessness — the party secretary Kirkov gave a comprehensive review of party life during the past year. The membership of the political organization has grown from 1,870 to 2,286. The trade union organization now numbers 4,600 members as against 3,424 last year. In order that these and subsequent figures may be properly appreciated, it should be kept in mind that Bulgaria’s total population does not exceed four and a half million, and that two parallel organizations are competing in this restricted field! During the year under review, the party held 623 public meetings, attended by 117,425 people, and distributed 117,920 copies of proclamations and 15,005 copies of pamphlets. The party’s central organ, Rabotnichesky Vestnik, comes out three times a week, in a run of 3,500, and the theoretical monthly Novo Vreme in one of 1,500. Both publications show a clear profit. Altogether, their publishing activity is the Tesnyaks’ pride. During the year under review they issued, among many other pamphlets, Engels’s Origin of the Family, Kautsky’s Road to Power, Engels’s Ludwig Feuerbach, Parvus's Social Democracy and Parliamentarism, and Kautsky’s Marx and his Place in History, each in 2,000 copies; then Bebel’s From My Life, in 3,000 copies; and, finally, a month before the congress, the first volume of Capital, translated by Blagoev, in 2,500 copies, 1,700 of which had already been spoken for by previous subscription. To this must be added that at the same time as Blagoev’s translation of Capital came out another one appeared, by Bakalov!

A noble passion for knowledge has the advanced workers of Bulgaria in its grip, together with the young Bulgarian intellectuals. Because of the general cultural backwardness of their country, the work of the people’s teachers is transformed into a mission, an apostolate. This impels teachers to adopt the most resolute ideology and the most extreme party. Of the two teachers’ organizations, one, numbering 800 members, is directly affiliated to the Tesnyaks, while the other, with 3,000 members, is under the influence of the united socialists. In full conformity with the backwardness of capitalist development, the intelligentsia plays a disproportionately large role in the Bulgarian labor movement. It brings into the proletarian ranks ideological fervor, an intense desire for socialist knowledge; but also, along with these, its characteristic negative features — on the one hand, the striving to play a political role at any cost, which, when the proletarian base is inadequate, leads to dangerous combinations and opportunistic vacillations; on the other, fanaticism and doctrinaire intransigence, which lead to continual splits and breakaways. In these phenomena must be seen the disorders of youth and growth. The only radical remedy for them is the development of capitalism, bringing more profound social differentiation and increased political independence of the proletariat. And on this matter we can rest assured: despite all the hindrances arising from the state and national divisions of the Balkan Peninsula, capitalism — in its most up-to-date forms, moreover — will certainly bring the Near East under subjection. The building fever which delegates could observe in Sofia indicates that an industrial boom is on the way, and this, as happened in the 1890s in Russia, may at a stroke lift the Social Democratic movement to a great height

Regarding the work of the congress, through lack of space I will further mention only the eloquent six-hour (!) speech by Comrade Kolarov, devoted to the general political situation in Bulgaria, the very instructive address by Blagoev on the Balkan Question, with its conclusion in favor of a Balkan federal republic based on national autonomy — and, finally, the vigorous resolution of protest against the violence of the St. Petersburg bashi-bazouks against Finland.

The visitors carried away from Sofia a firm conviction that the cause of socialism is in safe hands there.

* In 1885 Blagoev was arrested in St. Petersburg for organizing workers’ circles and helping in the publication of the newspaper Rabochy. — L.T.