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Leon Trotsky 19101100 In the Balkan countries

Leon Trotsky: In the Balkan countries

[“Der Kampf” [The Fight] Vol 4, No 2, November 1910, pp. 68-74. It is an extended version of the article “The Bulgarian and Serbian Social Democrats”. The extensions are my own translations. Obviously the text shows Trotsky's conciliationism towards Menshevism at that time. “Der Kampf” was the theoretical monthly of Austrian social democracy]

When the Great French Revolution was succeeded by European reaction, giving birth to the Holy Alliance, and again when counterrevolution was exerting all its strength in order to put an end to the heritage of 1848, on each occasion the Eastern Question appeared on the scene. Marx already pointed this out in his day. And now, after the defeat of the revolution in Russia, as though to justify skeptics in asserting that history always repeats itself in a vicious circle, the Eastern Question reappears on the agenda. But with what a tremendous difference! Then, the diplomats of Europe scratched lines with their fingernails all over the map of the Balkan Peninsula to their hearts’ content, settling the fate of nations; now the Balkan peoples themselves have awakened to historical existence, the Balkan Question has become their own question, and Turkey is counterposing her own revolution to the return of tsarism to the Balkans; Balkan capitalism stands firmly on its feet; out of the chaos of ages has emerged the Social Democratic movement of the Balkan peoples. And if even for European diplomacy the southeastern comer of Europe has ceased to be a passive object of their predatory combinations, so also for Europe’s Social Democrats it must cease to be a mere faceless geographical expression and become a living political concept The Balkan section of the [Second] International is growing and assuming ever more definite shape.

Capitalist development in the Near East is marked by colonial features. The European stock exchange, having trapped the Balkan states in nets of public debt, plunders the peasants and workers of the Balkan Peninsula without distinction of nation or race through the “national” taxation systems; European goods overwhelm domestic and craft production; finally, European industrial capitalism, subordinating local capitalism to itself, is establishing in the Balkans railway systems and industrial enterprises of the most up-to-date capitalist type. This development squeezes the petty bourgeoisie in a vise even at the very start of its historical existence. Its economic disintegration is complemented by its political putrefaction; along with the ruined peasantry it has become political cannon fodder for the shyster politicians, street-comer demagogues, dynastic and antidynastic charlatans who grow like fungi out of the dunghill of agrarian-colonial parliamentarism. The small, intermediate stratum of big bourgeois is starting on its historical career with the words “cartel” and “lockout” on its lips, politically quite cut off from the masses and seeking support from European banks. The colonial character of capitalist development, which is here even more pronounced than in Russia, places the proletariat in the position of vanguard fighter, puts in its hands the country’s most highly concentrated productive forces, and gives it a political importance that surpasses by far its magnitude in numbers. Just as in Russia the main brunt of the struggle against the patriarchal-bureaucratic regime falls on the shoulders of the proletariat, so in the Balkans the proletariat alone is taking on the immense task of establishing normal conditions for coexistence and collaboration between the many peoples and races of the peninsula. The problem is to create, on a territory whose limits have been defined by nature, state forms that are sufficiently broad and flexible to ensure, on a basis of national autonomy for the different sections, a unified internal market and common organs of government for the entire population of the peninsula. “To free ourselves from particularism and narrowness; to abolish frontiers that divide peoples who are in part identical in language and culture, in part economically bound up together; finally, to sweep away forms of foreign domination both direct and indirect that deprive the people of their right to determine their destiny for themselves.” It was in these negative expressions that the first congress of the Social Democratic parties and groups of southeastern Europe formulated its program when it met in Belgrade January 7-9,1910.*

The positive program that follows from this, historically justified by the experience of the United States and Switzerland1, is called: the federal Balkan Republic.

The requirements of capitalist development continually clash with the narrow limitations of particularism in the Balkans, and federation has become an idea meditated by the ruling circles themselves. More than that; the tsarist government, unable to play any independent role in the peninsula, is trying to come forward as the initiator and patron of a Bulgaro-Serbo-Turkish league, with its point directed against Austria-Hungary. But these are only vague plans for a temporary alliance of the Balkan dynasties and political parties which by their very nature are incapable of guaranteeing freedom and peace in the Balkans. The program of the proletariat has nothing in common with all that. It is aimed against the Balkan dynasties and political cliques, against the militarism of the Balkan states no less than against European imperialism; against official Russia no less than against the Austria-Hungary of the Hapsburgs Its method is not diplomatic combinations but class struggle, not Balkan wars but Balkan revolutions.

True, the workers of the Balkan countries are at present too weak to be in a position to put their political program into effect. Tomorrow, however, they will be stronger. Capitalist development in the Balkans is taking place under the high pressure of Europe’s finance capital, and the forthcoming industrial boom, the nearness of which is shown by the building fever in Sofia, can within a few years bring about the industrialization of this peninsula so richly endowed by nature and so fortunately situated. Given this basis, the first serious upheaval in Europe can make the Social Democratic movement in the Balkan countries the center of decisive events similar to those in which the Russian Social Democrats were involved in 1905. Even today, however, the program of a Balkan federal republic has serious practical significance: it not only guides day-by-day political agitation, giving unity of principle, it also forms (and this is still more important) the basis on which the national workers’ organizations of the peninsula draw close together and in this way creates a unified Balkan section of the international Social Democratic movement.

★ ★

The merit of taking the initiative in uniting the proletariat of the Balkan countries belongs to the Social Democratic parties of Serbia and Bulgaria. Despite their youth — if we leave aside their ideological past, which is much longer in the case of the Bulgarians,2 and consider them merely as workers’ organizations, both are only seven or eight years old — they have rendered great services to the International. At a critical moment, after the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, when all Serbia was gripped by a thirst for revenge, the Social Democrats there came out boldly against the prevailing trend. Comrade Kaclerović, the party’s only deputy in the Skupština, had the courage to hurl the bitter truth into the faces of the intoxicated nationalists and the sober intriguers alike. Radnicke Novine, the party’s central organ, launched a relentless campaign against the head of the Belgrade military clique, Prince George, whom the Social Democrats forced within a few days to renounce his rights to the throne. And these tactics, combining political realism with revolutionary valor, strengthened the party organizationally and increased its political influence. The same is true of the Bulgarian Social Democrats, who fought uncompromisingly, first against the patriotic adventure that turned the sham-vassal prince into the independent “king of Bulgaria,” and then against Russia’s meddling in the Turko-Bulgarian dispute. The fight against Neo-Pan-Slavist demagogy, liberal in its gestures but reactionary to the marrow of its bones, is an important service performed by both the Serbian and the Bulgarian Social Democrats. The most recent party congress, held July 24-26 of this year, was transformed by the Bulgarian party into an inspiring “demonstration of Pan-Socialism against Pan-Slavism” by inviting to Sofia representatives of the Russian, Polish, Czech, and Serbian Social Democrats, representatives of the proletariat of those very peoples whose bourgeois representatives had only a few weeks earlier simulated Pan-Slavic brotherhood in that same city. And although the Russophile press of Sofia proved so shameless, stupid, and cowardly that it hushed up the Social Democratic congress, the latter spoke up for itself eloquently enough: the street demonstration of July 24, in which three to four thousand workers took part; the speeches of greeting by the foreign delegates at the open session of the congress, held in the courtyard of the workers’ headquarters before many hundreds of guests; the public lecture on the Russian revolution, advertised with red posters that were stuck up all over the city; the solemn public discussions of the Balkan problem, opened by Blagoev’s address — all this caused the Social Democratic congress, despite the efforts of the bourgeois press, to become the center of general interest, and made it a deeply significant episode in the history of the young Bulgarian party.

I have mentioned the conspiracy of silence on the part of the bourgeois papers. To this must be added the fact that the only daily paper which has the right, more or less, to call itself socialist, Kambana (The Bell), quite scrupulously kept mum about the international demonstration against Pan-Slavism — not so much from political as from factional considerations. At this point a few words must be said about the factional groupings that play a big role in the life of the Bulgarian Social Democratic movement.

In 1903 the Bulgarian party split into two factions: the Tesnyaks (“narrow ones”), led by Blagoev, Kirkov, Rakovsky, and Bakalov; and the “broad ones,” led by Yanko Sakazov and N. Gabrovsky. In contrast to the Tesnyaks, who maintained the strict class principle, the “broad” faction tended toward what was called “the indirect approach,” meaning collaboration with bourgeois democratic elements and revisionism in the theoretical sphere. Both parties kept the name, program, and constitution of the old united party. In 1905 a further split occurred among the Tesnyaks: under the leadership of Bakalov and Kharlakov a group of “liberals” broke away, accusing Blagoev’s supporters, the “conservatives,” of organizational narrowness that had the effect of isolating the party from the working class and threatened to turn it into a “coterie.” The year 1908 saw yet another group of dissidents break away from the Tesnyaks, dissatisfied with the party’s conservatism and calling for unity of all socialist organizations. These were the so-called “progressives,” led by Ilyev. An attempt at general unification failed owing to the resistance of the Tesnyaks. Alongside and in opposition to them was formed what was styled the “united” party, consisting of the “broad ones,” the “liberals,” and the “progressives.” The only link between the two organizations now is the fierce polemic that goes on between them, in the press and at meetings. Kambana, though not a party organ, is nevertheless connected with the “united” party and to a certain extent serves as its semiofficial spokesman. This accounts for its attitude towards the anti-Slavophile demonstration organized by the Tesnyaks.

The nature and form of the groupings and divisions within the Bulgarian socialist movement are basically due to the country’s political youth: the low level of differentiation in social life, the complete absence of political traditions, the insufficient independence of the proletarian vanguard, and the inordinate numbers of the radical and socialist intelligentsia. In all the political parties in Bulgaria intellectuals play a disproportionately big part, and the only serious spiritual tradition they possess is that of socialism. The founder of the’ “democratic” party, Petko Karavelov (now dead), was in his day a supporter of Narodnaya Volya in Russia. With the exception of two or three, all of the current ministers are former socialists. The Minister of the Interior Takiev was consumed by republican fervour just five or six years ago. Journalists of all bourgeois Bulgarian parties underwent apprenticeship as socialists, even if only for a short period.3 Socialism was their political elementary school; in order to put into practice the elementary knowledge they acquired there, they went over to the other camp. The section that remained loyal to socialism longest were the teachers4 in the people’s schools. The country’s need for enlightenment, together with its cultural backwardness, gave the teachers’ work a missionary, apostolic character, and impelled them to embrace the most radical ideology available. Of the two teachers' organisations, one, which has 850 members, is directly affiliated to the "Tesnyaks", the other, which has over 3000 members, is under the direct influence of the "United party".5

Thus, the Bulgarian socialist movement embraces not only the political and trade union organizations of the workers but also an extensive, ill-defined element of socialist and semi-socialist intellectuals, The lines of demarcation between the bourgeois parties, in their turn, are quite chaotic, or rather, such lines do not exist. Suffice to note that in the previous Sobranie, the Stambulov Party, which formed the government, had a crushing majority, whereas the opposition Democrats had five or six seats; after the new elections, however, the Democrats, which became the governing party, received almost 160 seats (total number – 200!), while the Stambulov Party did not win a single candidate! And all this on the basis of universal suffrage!6 Demagogy constitutes the supreme wisdom in Bulgarian politics: in comparison with this, graft is merely a technical detail. It is demagogy that wins hearts, seats in parliament, and ministerial portfolios. In this political chaos, ready at any moment to assume the likeness of some deity standing at the helm, the excessive predominance of socialist intellectuals brings a danger of serious temptation and corruption for the young workers’ party. The proletarian army is growing, but is as yet still weak: its general staff is too large for it. The possibility of exercising direct political influence is restricted for these leaders by the comparatively small size of their army. And yet, generally speaking, how easy it is for anyone with any talent at all to play a role in Bulgarian politics! All that is needed is to make a little jump to one side. Actually, even such a jump is not obligatory, since the radical intelligentsia of all shades of the rainbow constitute a natural bridge that leads from socialist ideology to bourgeois practice.

The “indirect approach” serves precisely to give form to this endeavor by the socialist intellectuals to run ahead of the historical process and obtain for the Social Democrats through artificial political combinations that influence which cannot be achieved on the basis of the present numbers and degree of organization of the proletariat. "The road to democracy!” wrote "Kambana" the day before the last elections.7 In Bulgaria, however, the “indirect approach,” that is, collaboration with bourgeois democrats, is more dangerous than anywhere else: for where does this Bulgarian “democracy” begin and where does it end, this phenomenon that has been called to life today as though by the striking of a rod upon a rock, but that tomorrow may be sent back to nothingness? Besides, the democrats in power in Sofia — who yesterday were republicans and conspirators — are in no way inferior to the French Radicals in their methods of political corruption. And so we now see these or those supporters of the “indirect approach,” former leaders of the teachers’ union, or of the railwaymen’s union, occupying comfortable berths in various “democratic” offices. …

On the other hand, these same conditions also give rise to the opposite danger, namely, that of transforming the political party into a socialist seminary. Organizational narrowness and political self-restraint as methods of self-preservation in the loose social milieu saturate the party thought and the party apparatus with conservatism and deprive both of the necessary elasticity, of the ability to adapt, not only to the ephemeral political situations but also to the deeper social processes: to the growth of the proletariat as a class and to the complication of its tasks arising from this growth. Every new conquest in the field of tactics is bought in these conditions at the price of new divisions and splintering.8 We have seen that the Bulgarian party has split three times, so that there are now two parties and also a factional division within the “united” party. The Tesnyaks see in these splits only a process of “purging” the workers’ party of petty-bourgeois intellectual elements. It is not possible, however, to endorse this view without qualification, not only because the dominant role among the Tesnyaks as well is played by intellectuals, and not only because the “united” party includes, so far as I can judge, many valuable socialist elements, but above all because we cannot ignore the most unfortunate feature of the Bulgarian labor movement, namely, the split in the trade unions between the Tesnyaks and the “united” party.

But it seems to us that a minimum can be established that can and must be reached: firstly, the restoration of the unity of trade union organisation and trade union struggle; secondly, the possibility of convening a general conference on the Balkans with the participation of both factions of Bulgarian social democracy. The former demand is clear in itself. As regards the second, it should be noted that any attempt to remove the competing party from its share of general Balkan affairs would – given the close links between the Tesnyaks and the Serbs and between the "United party" with the Romanians – undermine the very idea of the Balkan conferences. The International is keen to ensure that its Balkan section stands united before the outside world, and is likely to find ways of subordinating local factional considerations, however serious, to the interests of international social democracy on this issue.9

★ ★

In conclusion, here is a general review of the organization and activity of the Tesnyaks, whose party congress the author of these lines attended as the representative of the Russian Social Democrats. The eloquent secretary of the party, talented agitator and editor of the party paper, Rabotnichesky Vestnik, and also party treasurer, the indefatigable Georg Kirkov, presented in a five-hour speech to the congress an exhaustive picture of the party’s life and work. In the past year it included fifty-six local organizations and groups, with 2,126 members, of whom 1,519 were workers; in addition, there were affiliated to the party the Social Democratic teachers’ organization, with 851 members; the organization of municipal employees, with 250 members; four Social Democratic student groups, with 52 members; twelve workers’ self-education groups, with 325 members; and fourteen young workers’ clubs, with 420 members. The party membership increased during the past year by only 12 percent, Kirkov was sorry to report; owing to the extremely strict selection carried out by the local organizations, it always lags behind the membership of the General Trade Union Federation, which is spiritually and organizationally connected with the party. This trade union grouping embraces today thirteen centralized unions with 172 local sections and 4,600 members: it has increased its membership by 1,200 since last year. During the past year the trade union grouping has spent 15,000 leva (francs) on strike needs and paid out 10,000 leva in benefits. The number of trade union publications is now twelve. Kirkov described the agitational and publishing activity of the party with a feeling of justified satisfaction. During the past year it held 917 open meetings, attended by 154,675 people, issued 647 appeals in 158,896 copies, and distributed 18,896 copies of 157 pamphlets. The May Day demonstration of 1910 involved nearly 14,000 workers. Rabotnichesky Vestnik, the central organ of the party and of the united trade unions, which appears three times a week, ended its thirteenth year of publication with 3,214 subscribers. The party monthly, Novo Vreme, edited by “old man” Blagoev, founder of the party and theoretician of Marxism in Bulgaria, had 1,275 subscribers at the end of its thirteenth year. The party’s press is its pride: the turnover increased from 124,000 francs in 1909 to 422,000 francs in 1910! During the past year, the press produced sixteen books and pamphlets, including 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; Bebel’s From My Life, in a printing run of 3,000, and, finally, the first volume of Capital, translated by Blagoev, 1,700 of which had been ordered before publication. There also appeared, almost at the same time, another edition of Capital, translated by Bakalov. Our party in France, with its great revolutionary traditions and its incomparable orators and parliamentarians, has every reason to look with envy at the amazing educational activity carried out by the Bulgarian party in this country with a low cultural level and hardly five million inhabitants. 10What Bulgarian social democracy lacks is parliamentary representation. The need to have the popular representatives take a stand on all issues of the country's socio-political life would at one stroke give all considerations and differences within the party a more topical political character and thus – we are convinced – create a real possibility for unification. On the other hand, the absence of a representation of the Bulgarian proletariat in the parliament itself is to be seen as a result of the split…

On the way back, the representatives of the foreign parties stopped in Belgrade, where they had the opportunity to speak in a meeting with at least 1500 attending. At the moment we have no opportunity to go into a detailed characteristic of the Serbian party, as well as the political conditions in which it operates. We shall therefore confine ourselves to cursory remarks. The Serbian leaders are significantly younger than the Bulgarian leaders – and the workers look older; among the "Tesnyaks" the young people between 18 and 25 years of age predominate; the age level is said to be higher among the “United party”. The Serbian workers are much more mature, culturally developed, intelligent than the Bulgarian workers, and they reflect the centennial political life of the country. At the same time they are calmer, perhaps even more sceptical. A series of national blows that the Serbs had to endure, the hopelessness of the economic situation of the country, which depends on the discretion of Austria-Hungary – all this is reflected in the Serbian proletariat. In Belgrade there is no trace of the fiery enthusiasm that floods the speaker and the auditorium like lava in the assemblies in Sofia. Here it looks as if you are in Vienna or even in Berlin.

Marxism rules completely in the Serbian party. From 1901 to 1903, the party, led by the late Dragović, who had gone through the school of German socialism in Graz, fought a decisive battle against the revisionist-tinged radicals who tried to take Serbian workers with them (Jovan Skerlić, Kosta Iovanović and others). They were completely ousted from the proletarian organisations and now lead a miserable existence of renegades who attack the party in the columns of the democratic paper. The party remained united and united-minded. The centralist trade union organisation, which is closely linked to the party, has 5,000 members, the political organisation has half that number. The functions as a secretary in the trade union federation are now held by Dragiša Lapčević, a former merchant who joined the party as a finished political figure and immediately gained great influence in it. This is a real type of mass agitator who knows how to remain both principled and popular at the same time. In the party he is called "Čiča", meaning uncle, probably because of his powerful figure and his 43 years of age; in Serbia this is a Methuselah age, as the editor of the theoretical bi-weekly "Borba" Dimitrije Tuzović is 29 years old, and the editor of the central organ "Radnicke Novine", the most talented journalist Dušan Popović, 24 years old.

The unity of the Serbian social democracy and its great political flexibility is explained on the one hand by the higher political culture of the country in connection with the greater stability and the more solid framework of the bourgeois parties; on the other hand by the source from which it draws its spiritual inspiration. The Serbian party is under the influence of the German party to the same extent as the Bulgarian party is under the influence of the Russian party. Of how strong this influence is we Russians have not even a remote conception. Not only fifty-year-old Blagoev, who studied at a Russian university and in 1885 was arrested in St. Petersburg for organizing workers’ circles and helping to start the newspaper Rabochy; not only forty-five-year-old Kirkov, who attended grammar school in Nikolaev (Southern Russia)11 and already at that time moved in the circles of Narodnaya Volya; but also the entire young generation of the Bulgarian Social Democratic intelligentsia are “russified” through and through, and along with the intelligentsia also the advanced strata of the proletariat. They followed our battle of ideas with the “Economists,” and then the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, Iskra is as live a concept for them as for us — or, so as not to exaggerate, as Die Neue Zeit is for the Serbs. The Bulgarian workers sing Russian revolutionary songs, and in Bulgarian political articles one constantly encounters the phraseology of our own party. 12The Serbian party translated the Erfurt Programme into Serbian and made it its own. It fought spiritually and partly also politically the whole struggle of German Marxism with revisionism and preserved its unity. And our dear Bulgarian brothers are also divided into factions like us ...

These are two schools. Which of them is better? In order not to create a conflict between my patriotism and my respect for the truth, I will refrain from answering this question.

* Represented at this conference were the social democratic parties of Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, the social democratic groups of Macedonia and Turkey, the southern Slavic social democratic parties of Austria-Hungary (Carniola, Croatia, Slavonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina), finally the few social democrats of Montenegro.

1 The phrase “historically justified by the experience of the United States and Switzerland” is missing in the other version

2 The phrase “which is much longer in the case of the Bulgarians” is missing in the other version.

3 Instead of the last three sentences (“With the exception…”) the other version has: “The journalists and even the ministers of all Bulgaria’s bourgeois parties underwent apprenticeship as socialists, even if only for a short period.”

4 The other version adds: “both men and women”

5 The sentence is missing in the other version.

6 The two sentences (“Suffice to note …”) are missing in the other version.

7 The sentence is missing in the other version.

8 The two sentences (“Organizational narrowness and political self-restraint …”) are missing in the other version.

9 The paragraph is missing in the other version.

10The rest of the paragraph and the following text up to “The Serbian party is under the influence of the German party to the same extent as the Bulgarian party is under the influence of the Russian party.” is missing in the other version.

11 The explanation in brackets is missing in the other version

12 The rest of the paragraph and the next are missing in the other version.