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Leon Trotsky 19100814 The Balkan Question and Social Democracy

Leon Trotsky: The Balkan Question and Social Democracy

[Pravda No. 15, August 1 (14), 1910, The Balkan Wars. New York-Sydney 1980, p. 37-42]

At the end of June [1910] there was held in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, the second “All-Slav” congress. The significance of this event may be summarized as follows: Political bankrupts from various Slavonic countries gathered together in order to proclaim their bankruptcy to the world at large.

In meetings held in St. Petersburg and then at the Prague congress of 1908 the new “Pan-Slavist” movement took the stage to the sound of drums and trumpets: it undertook to reconcile Poles and Russians, Ruthenians and Poles, Serbs and Bulgars, to put an end to friction and enmity between the bourgeois classes of all the Slavonic nations and to set the edifice of the new Slavdom upon a foundation of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Since then two years have gone by; and very poor results had to be reported to the congress held in Sofia. During this period all the contradictions within Slavdom succeeded in attaining unprecedented acuteness. In “Slavonic” Russia the counterrevolution put persecution of Poles and Ukrainians on the order of the day: the new western zemstvo and the scheme to cut off the district of Chelm are the final word of the Polish policy of constitutional tsarism. In Galicia the oppression of the Ruthenian nationality by the Polish gentry and bourgeoisie led, almost on the very eve of the Sofia congress, to a bloody battle inside the walls of Lvov University, If relations between Bulgaria and Serbia have not worsened in this period, they have certainly not improved. In view of these facts, the speeches delivered in Sofia about the solidarity of all Slavs did not even sound hypocritical, so openly was mutual hostility and barefaced insolence expressed in them. The Cadets, who until recently were leading the All-Slav choir, drew back in dismay and bewilderment, making room for more direct and immediate servants of tsarism. Miliukov and Maklakov stayed at home. Guchkov, Count Bobrinsky, and Cherep-Spiridovich attended as Russia’s representatives. Kramar, the leader of the Young Czechs, bustled about trying to improve outlets in the Balkans for the products of Czech industry. All touchy questions — concerning Poland, the Ukraine, the South Slavs, the Balkans — were hushed up by mutual agreement: this was more convenient for all participants in the All-Slav comedy.

Outside the congress, however, in the streets and squares of Sofia, all the questions of international politics, and first and foremost the Balkan Question, were presented clearly, openly, and honestly. This was done by the Bulgarian Social Democrats.

At a mass meeting conducted by Blagoev and Kirkov a resolution was adopted on June 20, before the Slavonic congress met, which tore the mask from the speculators in Pan-Slavism. Not content with this, the Bulgarian Social Democrats invited to their annual congress at the beginning of July representatives of the Slavonic Social Democratic parties, so as to show the Balkan masses in a striking way that there are two Bulgarias, two Serbias, two Russias — in each case a reactionary-dynastic one and a revolutionary-proletarian one. In this way the regular congress of the Bulgarian Workers’ Party was this time transformed into a splendid demonstration of international solidarity of the proletariat, which found expression not only in fervent ovations and reciprocal greetings, but above all in the fact that the delegates of all the parties represented in Sofia — Bulgarian, Serbian, Russian, Czech, and Ruthenian — proceeded from the same premises and arrived at the same conclusions in deciding how to settle the Balkan (Eastern) Question.

Two aspects need to be distinguished in what is known as the Eastern Question: first, it is a question of the relations between the nations and states of the Balkan Peninsula; second, it is a question of the conflicting interests and intrigues of the European capitalist powers in the Balkans. These two questions are not at all identical. On the contrary: the real solution of the purely Balkan Question runs entirely counter to the interests of the European dynasties and stock exchanges.

The Balkan Peninsula, which is approximately as big as Germany but has only about one-third as many inhabitants (22 million), is divided between six independent states: Greece, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro, together with the Austro-Hungarian provinces of Dalmatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. In the six independent states, each of which has its own dynasty, army, currency, and customs system, there live many nations and races, divided into separate fragments: Greeks, Turks, Romanians, Bulgars, Serbs, Albanians, Jews, Armenians, Gypsies. … The frontiers between the dwarf states of the Balkan Peninsula were drawn not in accordance with national conditions or national demands, but as a result of wars, diplomatic intrigues, and dynastic interests. The Great Powers — in the first place, Russia and Austria — have always had a direct interest in setting the Balkan peoples and states against each other and then, when they have weakened one another, subjecting them to their economic and political influence. The petty dynasties ruling in these “broken pieces” of the Balkan Peninsula have served and continue to serve as levers for European diplomatic intrigues. And this entire mechanism, founded on violence and perfidy, constitutes a huge burden weighing upon the Balkan peoples, holding back their economic and cultural development. Thus, the Serbs are forcibly partitioned between five states: they form one small “kingdom” and one tiny “principality,” namely, Serbia and Montenegro, separated from each other by the sanjak of Novibazar, which, though inhabited by Serbs, belongs to Turkey; many Serbs live in the Macedonian districts subject to Turkey; finally, a large proportion of the Serbs are included within the frontiers of Austria-Hungary. A similar picture is offered by all the other Balkan nationalities. This peninsula, richly endowed by nature, is senselessly split up into little bits; people and goods moving about in it constantly come up against the prickly hedges of state frontiers, and this cutting of nations and states into many strips renders impossible the formation of a single Balkan market, which could provide the basis for a great development of Balkan industry and culture. On top of all this is the exhausting militarism that has come into being in order to keep the Balkans divided, and which has given rise to the danger of wars fatal to the peninsula’s economic progress — wars between Greece and Turkey, Turkey and Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. …

The only way out of the national and state chaos and the bloody confusion of Balkan life is a union of all the peoples of the peninsula in a single economic and political entity, on the basis of national autonomy of the constituent parts. Only within the framework of a single Balkan state can the Serbs of Macedonia, the sanjak, Serbia, and Montenegro be united in a single national-cultural community, enjoying at the same time the advantages of a Balkan common market. Only the united Balkan peoples can give a real rebuff to the shameless pretensions of tsarism and European imperialism.

State unity of the Balkan Peninsula can be achieved in two ways: either from above, by expanding one Balkan state, whichever proves strongest, at the expense of the weaker ones — this is the road of wars of extermination and oppression of weak nations, a road that consolidates monarchism and militarism; or from below, through the peoples themselves coming together — this is the road of revolution, the road that means overthrowing the Balkan dynasties and unfurling the banner of a Balkan federal republic.

The policy followed by each of these pint-sized Balkan monarchs, with their ministers and ruling parties, has as its ostensible aim the unification of the greater part of the Balkan Peninsula under one king. “Greater Bulgaria,” “Greater Serbia,” “Greater Greece,” are the slogans of this policy. Actually, though, nobody takes such slogans seriously. They are semiofficial lies put out to win popularity among the people. The Balkan dynasties, artificially installed by European diplomacy and lacking any sorts of roots in history, are too insignificant and too insecure on their thrones to venture upon a “broad” policy such as Bismarck’s when he united Germany by blood and iron. The first serious shock could sweep away for good the Karageorgeviches, Coburgs, and other crowned Lilliputians of the Balkans. The Balkan bourgeoisie, as in all countries that have come late to the road of capitalist development, is politically sterile, cowardly, talentless, and rotten through and through with chauvinism. It is utterly beyond its power to take on the unification of the Balkans. The peasant masses are too scattered, ignorant, and indifferent to politics for any political initiative to be looked for from them. Accordingly, the task of creating normal conditions of national and state existence in the Balkans falls with all its historical weight upon the shoulders of the Balkan proletariat. This class is as yet small in numbers for Balkan capitalism is everywhere still hardly out of swaddling clothes. But every step forward along the road of economic development, every additional mile of railway line, every new factory chimney that arises in the Balkans, increases and rallies the ranks of the revolutionary class. Alien to every kind of ecclesiastical and monarchical superstition and to all bourgeois-democratic and nationalistic prejudices, the young Balkan proletariat, filled with vigor and enthusiasm, is utilizing, in the first steps that it takes on its historic road, the rich experience of its elder brothers in Europe. The Social Democratic parties of Bulgaria and Serbia, the most mature representatives of the labor movement in the Balkans, are fighting tirelessly on two fronts: against their own dynastic-chauvinist cliques and against the imperialist plans of tsarism and the Europe of the stock exchanges. A federal republic in the Balkans, as the positive program of this struggle, has become the banner of the entire conscious proletariat of the Balkans without distinction of race, nationality, or state frontiers.

The Balkan conference held last winter in Belgrade, which was attended by representatives of the Serbian, Bulgarian, and Romanian Social Democratic parties, of the Social Democratic groups in Macedonia, Turkey, and Montenegro**, and also of the Serbian Social Democratic proletarians of the southern provinces of Austria-Hungary, worked out the general principles of the Balkan policy of the proletariat, directed towards the abolition of Balkan particularism and militarism, national conflict, and foreign oppression. The second Balkan conference, which is to be held this winter, will have the task of forming close organizational links and indicating the forms to be taken by joint political actions on the part of all the Social Democratic parties in the Balkans.

In this way there is arising before our eyes, out of the chaos and darkness of the Balkans, a united section of the Socialist International.

This fact is extremely important for the workers of Russia. From now on not a single attempt by tsarism to interfere in the fate of the long-suffering peninsula will take place without a firm rebuff from Balkan Social Democracy. To the lies of the bourgeois parties about Slav brotherhood, accusing us of betraying the interests of the Balkan Slavs, we can now counterpose an incontrovertible fact: the proletariat of the Balkans is not with them but with us. Along with us it is fighting against tsarism, which has now, through the Russo-Japanese agreement, freed its thieving hands for brigandage in Persia and intrigue in the Balkans. Along with us it has declared ruthless war upon Pan-Slavism, both the crudely Asiatic variety and the liberal Cadet one.

The historical guarantee of the independence of the Balkans and of the freedom of Russia lies in revolutionary collaboration between the workers of Petersburg and Warsaw and the workers of Belgrade and Sofia.

** The Greek Social Democrats sent a telegram of greeting. — L.T.