VII: The Balkan Wars of 1912‑13 and the Balkan Federation


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Y 1912, the Ottoman Empire, for so long the sick man of Europe, had at last taken to his death-

bed. Following the Young Turk Revolution and the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908, the empire increasingly fell victim to enemies both at home and abroad. In the Balkans, the Albanian national question burst into flames with mass uprisings against the pan-Ottoman centralism of the Young Turks in successive years from 1909 to 1912. Elsewhere, Arab insurrections and Armenian troubles steadily sapped the empire’s strength. Externally, the threat of imperialist dismemberment grew alarmingly. In September 1911, Italy’s colonial pretensions led it to declare war over Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (modern Libya), which raged on for almost a year, and resulted in the loss of the last of the Ottoman possessions in North Africa.

The Balkan states seized this golden opportunity with both hands. In the course of 1912, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia formed a Balkan League directed against Ottoman Turkey. In October, they attacked, and within six weeks the First Balkan War was all but over.[1] The Bulgarians, who bore the brunt of the fighting, swept eastwards through Ottoman Macedonia into Thrace,[2] to within 20 miles of Constantinople (Istanbul), the Ottoman capital. The Serbs took most of what is today Macedonia and Kosovo, and then occupied northern Albania to secure access to the Adriatic Sea. The Greeks, meanwhile, drove northwards and captured the all-important port of Salonika.

The First Balkan War was immensely popular among the peoples of the participating states and their co-nationals within the empire. They regarded it as a war of national liberation which, after centuries of oppression, would finally free the Slav and Greek peoples of Turkey in Europe from the hated Ottoman yoke. By contrast, the Balkan socialists regarded it as a war of conquest, and flatly opposed it.

At the outbreak of war in October 1912, Christian Rakovsky drafted the first item in this section, the ‘Manifesto of the Socialists of Turkey and the Balkans’, setting out their anti-war position. Rakovsky here argues that the war is one of conquest by the Balkan states, whose partition of the peninsula would not only fail to achieve national unity because of its intermixed demography, but might also lead to new wars. Only a Balkan federation could therefore bring genuine unity for all the nations of the region. Instead, the most likely victors of the war would be the imperialist powers, who would pounce on the dismembered corpse of the Ottoman Empire.

Although they also opposed the war, the Serbian social democrats refused to sign the Manifesto, objecting, it appears, to those passages in which Rakovsky outlined an essentially reformist approach to the Ottoman Empire.[3] Advocating cultural autonomy for the nations of the empire plus a series of political and social reforms, Rakovsky argued that only such a programme would ‘give the Muslim worker and peasant masses the minimum of satisfaction which will attach them to the new [constitutional] regime’ brought to power by the Young Turk Revolution of 1908. Despite its evident shortcomings, which he acknowledged, Rakovsky continued to regard this regime as the basis for progress in the region.[4] For the Serbs, however, this approach opened the door to the re-consolidation of Ottoman Turkey as a reformed power in the Balkans. Instead, they envisaged a revolution of the masses against the new regime as the indispensable stepping-stone to the creation of a Balkan federation.[5] In addition, Rakovsky was more supportive of Ottoman territorial integrity than the Serbs could abide. They refrained both from supporting its integrity, rightly sensing that this would compromise genuine revolutionary opposition to the Ottoman ruling class and state, and from advocating its partition by the Balkan bourgeoisies.

The Serbian refusal to sign may also have reflected wider unease within the party regarding opposition to the war. The next piece in this section, entitled ‘Memoirs of the First Balkan War’, is by Triša Kaclerović, one of two socialist deputies in the Skupština, the Serbian Parliament, when war broke out. This extract from his hitherto unpublished memoirs, written during the Tito years, is of particular interest because Kaclerović, together with the leading editor of the party newspaper, Dušan Popović, disagreed with the official stance on the war, arguing for ‘less active opposition’ to it.[6] Popović had written an article entitled ‘Out with the Turks!’ which the party refused to publish, and he eventually resigned his position as editor. Kaclerović, meanwhile, decided not to attend the Skupština vote on war credits, leaving his colleague, Dragiša Lapčević, to record the only vote in opposition.

In his memoirs, Kaclerović explains that, although he and Popović were resolutely opposed to the war, they disagreed with the party’s failure to stress that ‘the first and greatest evil was the Turkish regime, which could at the time have only been destroyed by a war’, as the Balkan peoples were not strong enough to do so themselves by revolutionary means. What this position in fact recognised was the progressive character of the war, which, regardless of the subjective intentions of the Balkan states, was for national liberation and against Ottoman feudalism. Nevertheless, both Kaclerović and Popović stopped short of what their opponents within the party saw correctly as the logical conclusion of their stance — of supporting the war, albeit critically.

Kaclerović and Popović were not alone in wrestling with a position that would have adequately reflected the dual character of the First Balkan War. For example, Trotsky’s Balkan journalism, on the one hand betrays a profound sympathy for the struggle of the Balkan peoples against oppressive empires, but, on the other hand, a refusal to support any war by the Balkan ruling classes against such empires.[7] Lenin’s Bolsheviks, together with the rest of the Second International, also opposed the war.[8] Nevertheless, Lenin was quick to applaud the victories of the Balkan League states, which he described as ‘tremendous’. He wrote:

Although the alliance which has come into being in the Balkans is an alliance of monarchies and not republics, and although this alliance has come about through war and not through revolution, a great step has nevertheless been taken towards doing away with the survivals of medievalism in Eastern Europe.[9]

It is also worth noting that none other than Dimitrije Tucović, who led the Serbian Party in opposition to the war, later confided to his diary in 1914 that in fact the war had been ‘wholly in accordance with historical development’ as its results promised to bring ‘improved relations, peace and progress’ to the Balkans.[10]

The position of the Balkan socialists and others on the First Balkan War reflected two related factors. The first was the essentially pacifist orientation of the Second International, which opposed wars and supported the status quo for fear that any conflict could lead to a general conflagration. In early 1912, Rakovsky declared: ‘We are against all wars, since even wars of liberation are wars of conquest.’[11] The second factor was the belief that the Balkan states could not act independently of imperialism, and that therefore any conflict in the region threatened to embroil the Great Powers in a cataclysmic world war. Rosa Luxemburg later wrote that the Balkan Wars were ‘objectively only a fragment of the general conflict’ between the imperialist powers, a view held by most leading Balkan socialists at the time.[12]

But in fact the First Balkan War caught the imperialist powers by surprise. While Russia had cultivated a Balkan League as an alliance against Austria-Hun­gary, the Balkan states turned their guns on Turkey instead. In a stunning confirmation of the arguments raised by figures such as Luxemburg herself in the debate in 1896-97 on Russia’s rôle in the Balkans,[13] the concerted alliance of the Balkan states enabled them to escape the embrace of the imperialist powers and strike out in an anti-imperialist direction of their own. Indeed, when Bulgaria’s military successes brought them to within striking distance of Constantinople, the much-coveted goal of Russian foreign policy, the Tsar made it clear that he would not countenance the taking of the Ottoman capital.[14] The transformation of the Balkan League from an instrument of Russian policy into an instrument of Balkan policy was, at best, only partially understood by the Balkan socialists who remained steadfastly loyal to the indiscriminately anti-war straitjacket of the Second International.

The decisive break with this position was made by Lenin during the First World War. Writing in 1915, Lenin reflected on what position socialists should have adopted if the world war had not become a general conflagration, but had instead remained an isolated Balkan conflict between the original combatants of 1914, Austria-Hungary and Serbia. He wrote:

It is only in Serbia and among the Serbs that we can find a national liberation movement of long standing, embracing millions, ‘the masses of the people’, a movement of which the present war of Serbia against Austria is a ‘continuation’. If this war were an isolated one, that is, if it were not connected with the general European war, with the selfish and predatory aims of Britain, Russia, etc, it would have been the duty of all socialists to desire the success of the Serbian bourgeoisie — this is the only correct and absolutely inevitable conclusion to be drawn from the national element in the present war.[15]

It is clear that Lenin had come close to this position during the First Balkan War in 1912, but the Bolsheviks had then remained loyal to the overriding anti-war strategy of the Second International. Following the collapse of the International in 1914, such loyalties could at last be discarded.

The Second Balkan War of June and July 1913, which pitted Bulgaria against Greece, Serbia and Romania starkly demonstrated what the Balkan socialists had understood very well — that steps towards unity from above by the Balkan ruling classes were bound to be as short-lived as they were superficial. Ultimately, therefore, a Balkan federation could only be created by workers and peasants from below in revolutionary struggle against their own ruling classes.

This second conflict arose over the vexed question of liberated Macedonia and how it would be divided. At the insistence of Austria-Hungary and Italy, the London Ambassadors Conference of December 1912, at which the Great Powers sought to regain control over events in the Balkans, forced Serbia to withdraw from northern Albania, which it had occupied in order to gain access to the Adriatic Sea. As a result, Serbia looked to compensate itself with Macedonian territory at Bulgaria’s expense, while Greece was at loggerheads with the Bulgarians over the strategically vital Macedonian port of Salonika on the Aegean Sea. These tensions exploded in June 1913 when Bulgaria launched a pre-emp­tive strike against the Serbs and Greeks, only to be comprehensively defeated at the Battle of Bregalnica. Meanwhile, Romania took the opportunity to occupy the much-contested Dobrudja border region of northern Bulgaria, while Turkey launched an offensive against Bulgarian lines near Constantinople, regaining a toehold in Europe.

The next item in this section is on the Second Balkan War, and is taken from Towards a Balkan Federation, the work of the Bulgarian Narrow socialist, Hristo Kabakchiev, which appeared in 1913. This book is arguably the single most important work by a socialist to appear on the Balkan federal idea before the First World War. In the extracts below, Kabakchiev traces the way in which the Balkan League fell apart once its goal of expelling Ottoman Turkey from Europe had been achieved. Launching a fierce attack on the policies of the Bulgarian bourgeoisie, Kabakchiev also astutely analyses the rôle played by the imperialist powers in fomenting divisions amongst the Balkan states in order to reassert control over events. Of particular interest is his analysis of Russia’s rôle. Kabakchiev recognises that, despite all its defects, the Balkan League had become an autonomous anti-Ottoman force over which the Tsar could only reimpose his control by encouraging Balkan rivalries. Bulgaria’s disastrous defeat in the Second Balkan War, which left it with only a small portion of Macedonia, led to a wave of anti-government feeling. In the elections of November 1913, the Narrow Socialists won 18 seats, while the Broads, who also opposed the war, won 17, marking the breakthrough of socialism into Bulgarian political life.[16]

The final item in this section is an extract from one of the classic works of Serbian Marxism on the national question, Serbia and Albania, by Dimitrije Tucović, published in 1914. In this extract, Tucović provides a powerful critique of the expansionist plans of the Serbian bourgeoisie which, by its brutal occupation of northern Albania in the drive to gain an outlet to the Adriatic Sea, had incurred the wrath of the Albanian population. As a result, the Albanians were driven into the arms of two imperialist powers, Austria-Hungary and Italy, who demanded the creation of an independent Albanian state as a block to Serbia’s access to the sea. Although prepared to defend Albanian independence, Tucović does not however favour the creation of another petty statelet in the peninsula which would cut the Albanians off from sharing in the economic and political advantages of a wider regional union. As a result, they would fall prey to imperialist subjugation, as Austro-Hungarian and Italian intervention for an Albanian state was demonstrating. For Tucović the Albanians can only gain lasting national liberation and unity as an autonomous unit within a Balkan federation.17

Tucović’s central argument, however, is that the enmities between the Balkan peoples, brought about by the competing expansionist goals of the Balkan ruling classes, had had the disastrous consequence of entrenching imperialist control over the Balkans. This has a strong contemporary relevance. The oppression of the Kosovan Albanians by the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milošević drove them into the arms of the United States, which exploited their plight to bomb Serbia in 1999 and entrench its power in the Balkans as part of Nato’s US-sponsored expansionist drive eastwards into the vacuum created by the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

Tucović’s critique of Serbian nationalism is therefore, simultaneously and inseparably, a powerful anti-imperialist critique. It is extraordinary that in a recent book on the Kosovo question by Stephen Schwartz, with a preface by Christopher Hitchens,[17] Tucović’s attack on the Serbian bourgeoisie’s oppression of the Albanians is misappropriated to provide a ‘socialist’ cover for the bombing of Serbia by US imperialism in 1999. Concentrating exclusively on his critique of Serbian nationalism, Schwartz and Hitchens utterly fail to give expression to the uncompromisingly anti-imperialist tenor of Tucović’s politics. This distortion and truncation of his thought demand that we put the record straight. The extract from Serbia and Albania below demonstrates with irresistible clarity that for Tucović the struggle against nationalism in pursuit of the ideal of a Balkan federation was in practice an integral part of the struggle against imperialism.

Dragan Plavšić

Christian Rakovsky

Manifesto of the Socialists of Turkey and the Balkans [18]


O the working people of the Balkans and Asia Minor! — To the workers’ International! — To public opinion!

War is at our door. When these lines appear, it will in all probability be an accomplished fact.

But we, the socialists of the Balkan countries and the Near East, who are more directly affected by the war, will not allow ourselves to be swept away by the chauvinist wave. We raise our voices still more loudly against the war, and we call upon the masses of workers and peasants together with all sincere democrats to unite with us in opposing to the policy of bloody violence, which brings in its train the most disastrous consequences, our conception of international solidarity.

The proletariat of the Balkans has nothing to gain from this adventure, because both the vanquished and the victors will see militarism, bureaucracy, political reaction and financial speculation, with their usual following of heavy taxes and price rises, of exploitation and profound misery, rise ever stronger and more arrogant still on piles of corpses and ruins.

Moreover, for the Balkan countries, the war will have other consequences resulting from their political and geographical situation.

In the event that they emerge victorious from the conflict, and the Ottoman Empire becomes the object of partition, the lion’s share, that is the richest regions economically and the most important points strategically, will become prey to the great capitalist powers, who have been detaching territories in the East limb by limb.

Austria at Salonika, Russia on the Bosphorus and in Eastern Anatolia, Germany occupying the rest of Anatolia, and Italy southern Albania — this will probably be the map of the East after the eventual downfall of the Ottoman Empire.

Thus, on the day they fall into the clutches of the Powers, the independence of the Balkan states will be at an end. The political and public liberty of the people will be destroyed by militarism and monarchical autocracy, which, fortified by their victory over the Turks, will demand new credits for their armies as well as new privileges for their sovereigns. And after these hard trials, the national struggles between the peoples will not be over. They will become even more bitter, each one aspiring to hegemony.

A victorious Turkey will result in the recrudescence of religious fanaticism and Muslim chauvinism — the triumph of political reaction — the loss of the few improvements obtained at the price of so many sacrifices in the internal government of the country. Moreover, it will bring about the triumph of Austrian and Russian imperialisms, who will pose as saviours of the defeated Balkan powers, in order to extend their self-interested protectorate over the devastated peoples.

In order to justify the war, the nationalists of the Balkan states invoke the necessity of realising their national unity, or at least of obtaining political autonomy for their nationals under Turkish domination.

It is not the socialist parties who oppose the realisation of the political unity of the elements of each nation.

The right of nationalities to an autonomous life is the direct consequence of political and social equality and of the suppression of all class, caste, racial or religious privileges, demanded by the Workers’ International. But will this unity be realised by partitioning the populations and territories of Turkey amongst the small Balkan states?

Will the Turks, now under Bulgarian, Serb or Greek domination, have their national unity? Will the Serbs of Novi Pazar and of Old Serbia,[19] the Bulgarians, the Greeks, the Albanians of Macedonia, whom partition would eventually place under the yoke of Austria or Italy, the Armenians and the Kurds of Eastern Anatolia, the Turks, the Greeks and the Bulgarians of the vilayet[20] of Adrianople, who might become Russia’s prey, realise their national unity?

The bourgeoisie and nationalism are powerless to establish true and lasting national unity. What will be created by one war may be destroyed by another war.

National unity, founded on the subjugation of the national elements of other races, bears within it an original sin, which threatens it constantly. Nationalism only changes the names of masters and the degree of oppression, but it does not abolish them. Only political democracy with real equality for every element, regardless of race, religion or class, can create real national unity.

The nationalist argument is, in reality, only a pretext for the Balkan governments.

The real motive of their policy is nothing but the tendency towards economic and territorial expansion, which characterises all countries that undertake capitalist production. Turkey’s neighbours seek from it the same advantages as the Great Powers, who are hidden behind the small states: they want markets for their goods, for the investment of their capital and for the employment of the bureaucratic personnel who are surplus to requirements in the offices of the metropolis.

But if we point out the weighty responsibility of the Balkan states for the coming war, as well as in the past when they obstructed the internal transformation of Turkey, and if we accuse European diplomacy, which has never wanted to see serious reforms in Turkey, of duplicity, we do not in any way wish to diminish the responsibility of the Turkish governments themselves. We denounce them too to the civilised world, to the people of the empire and particularly to the Muslim masses without whose help they would not have been able to maintain their domination.

We reproach the Turkish regime for the complete absence of real liberty and equality for the nationalities — an absolute lack of security and guarantee for life, or for the rights and possessions of the citizen — the non-existence of justice and a well-organised and impartial administration. It has maintained a system of the most heavy and most vexing taxes. It has turned a deaf ear to all the demands for reform for Muslim and non-Muslim workers and peasants. It has supported armed feudal lords and nomadic tribes against defenceless farmers.

By their proverbial inertia, the Turkish governments have done nothing but provoke and sustain misery, ignorance, emigration and brigandage, and numerous massacres in Anatolia and Rumelia, in a word, anarchy which serves today as the pretext for intervention and war.

The hope that the new regime would put an end to the past by inaugurating a new policy has been dashed. Successive Young Turk governments have not only continued the errors of the past; they have used the authority and the prestige of a false parliamentarism granted to Turkey so that a system of denationalisation and oppression, and of excessive bureaucratic centralism could be implemented, which would smother the rights of nationalities and the demands of the labouring masses.

The men of the new regime have also surpassed the old one in certain respects, which had raised systematic assassination of its political adversaries to the heights of a system of government.

But we acknowledge that the people — and only the people — have the right to dispose of their lives. To the war which with all our power we repudiate as the way to solve political and social problems, we oppose the action of the conscious and organised masses.

To the bloody ideal of the nationalists, who would dispose of the lives of their peoples by war and haggle with their rights and their territories, we respond by affirming the imperative necessity, already proclaimed by the Inter-Balkan Socialist Conference of Belgrade in 1909, of closely uniting all the peoples of the Balkans and the Near East without distinction of race or religion.

Without such a federation of the peoples of Eastern Europe, national unity will be neither possible nor lasting for them. There will be no rapid economic and social progress, because their development will be continually threatened by the perpetual return of internal reaction and foreign domination.

As regards the Ottoman Empire in particular, we consider that only radical reform of its internal relations can re-establish peace and normal conditions of life, ward off foreign intervention and the danger of war, and at last render a democratic Balkan federation possible.

It is not by endeavouring to revive projects half a century old, inherited from a short-sighted bureaucracy, that the Turkish regime will be able to solve the problem of nationalities, it is by granting true equality, by granting complete autonomy to the nationalities for their cultural institutions — schools, churches, etc — and by establishing local government (self-government) in districts, cantons and communes, with proportional representation for ethnic groups and for parties, with equality for languages.

Only an administration in which the various ethnic groups of the empire are represented will provide the necessary guarantee of impartiality.

Only agrarian reform, tax reform, social legislation and guarantees for rights of association and assembly will give the Muslim worker and peasant masses the minimum of satisfaction which will attach them to the new regime.

These reforms may annoy the Turkish bureaucracy, that is to say those few thousand individuals attached to their privileges. But they will to the highest degree benefit the Turkish people, whom the present regime reduces to the exclusive rôle of soldier and policeman, rushing to every frontier and every province in order to combat the calamities heaped on this country by Turkish incapacity and oligarchy.

The solution of the great problems that trouble the populations of the Ottoman Empire will guarantee the national security of the Muslims, and will enable them peacefully to turn their attentions to their economic, political and social development.

This is the programme for whose realisation we appeal, not only for the co-operation of the proletariat of the Balkans, but also to that of international socialism.

We, the socialists of the Balkans and the Near East, have a profound consciousness of the double rôle we have to play with regard to the proletariat of the world and to ourselves.

Stemming the belligerent tide unleashed by governments and the chauvinist press, struggling against sentiments implanted and nourished by a warped education predisposed to favour the struggle between nationalities and class domination, we will not fail to fulfil our duty of international solidarity. In fact, we are simply outposts, because the war in the Balkans brings the general peace into imminent danger. By rousing all the capitalist appetites of the great states, and by giving preponderance in political life to imperialist elements, greedy for conquest, it may not only provoke war between nations, but also civil war. And, as the capitalist governments of several countries have been driven into their last strongholds by the successive victories of the proletariat, they will not fail to take the opportunity offered them to drown the masses in blood, or by restrictive legislation to stifle our movement for emancipation, civilisation and human progress.

For weeks and months, we have led a campaign against war. But it is particularly at this moment that we protest the most loudly. We express our firm intention to uphold with all our power the struggle of the world proletariat against the war, against militarism, against capitalist exploitation, and for liberty, for equality, for the emancipation of classes and nationalities, in a word, for peace.

Down with war! Long live the international solidarity of the people!


The Socialists of Turkey and the Balkans

Triša Kaclerović

Memoirs of the First Balkan War [21]


ERE I want to stress that although this war against Turkey was popular among all Serbs, nevertheless the party took a decisive stand against the war. The entire party leadership of the time agreed with the party’s declaration given to the Skupština. But there were disagreements on one matter which, although not on a point of principle, provoked a rather sharper conflict in the thinking of the party leadership at the time. Later, at the first subsequent party congress, which could not be held until 30 January 1914 and which was also the last party congress, this conflict caused quite an uproar among some delegates, albeit an unnecessary one.

This is what it was all about. When we adopted the text of the Skupština declaration, the party Secretary, Dušan Popović, and I were of the view that the declaration should be made complete by adding a Marxist analysis of the specific historical character of the war. Since it was already stated in our declaration, entirely correctly, that ‘Turkey is a misfortune for all the peoples of the Balkans’, that ‘the feudal system and the caste regime are an evil’ for the Balkans, that we are opponents of the status quo, and that we are not for the maintenance of the feudal and caste empire of the Turks — then we ought also to have said that the Turkish regime, on the one hand, and the status quo policy conducted by the imperialist powers, on the other, had created such an unbearable economic, political and national state of affairs in the Balkans, that it was bound to lead to war and had to be brought to an end by it, in order to create the conditions for modern economic, political and cultural life, for the development of the Balkan peoples as a whole, and for the class struggle of the proletariat. But despite the positive, historical rôle of the war for the Balkans, we social democrats cannot vote for this war for the following reasons.

Wars in the Balkans might provoke a European war and threaten world peace for whose maintenance the international proletariat fights. And this, the maintenance of world peace, above all else takes first place, for the Serbian Social Democratic Party as well.

The agreement on the military league was reached without asking the people, secretly behind their backs and the Skupština.

This agreement envisaged the division of the Balkan territories of Turkey between the Allies, and this will cause military conflicts between them, which will be even more fatal for their future relations.

This division of territory was carried out without the knowledge and the assent of the peoples who live on that territory, and this is against the principle of national self-determination.

We two, Dušan and I, thought that by stating the fact of the historical rôle of the war, the party would not in any way have weakened its principled stand against it, because all the good reasons for being against war were on the party’s side; but that in this way the party’s declaration would have represented a sound Marxist work. But the majority of the party leadership rejected this demand. Dušan Popović had prepared an article for Radničke Novine setting out our thoughts, in which he characterised the war against Turkey as a wholesale revolution of a kind for the Balkans. But not even this article was published. Popović was angry about this — and when, before our vote against extraordinary war credits, we were to give out a statement, and when we again tried in a proper way to insert into our parliamentary speech our earlier thoughts, again without success, then a quarrel, a sharp exchange of words, almost broke out. In anger, Dušan Popović told one of the paper’s contributors, Nikola Bogdanović:[22] ‘Here, take the paper and edit it as you see fit.’ But this was only momentary. This competition in ‘leftism’ also got on my nerves, so I did not attend the sitting of the Skupština at which the vote on war credits was taken! I was then of the opinion, which I hold to this day, that our declaration, by adopting our proposal, would have been a good, complete Marxist document, which would not in any way have weakened our standpoint on the situation in the Balkans as it then was in relation to our principled stand for a federation of the Balkan peoples. War is an evil, and the armed conflict between the Balkan states which we foresaw and which then broke out, is an even greater evil. But in those circumstances in the Balkans, the first and greatest evil was the Turkish regime, which could at the time have only been destroyed by a war, even one carried out in the way it was, because the Balkan peoples were not ready or strong enough then to carry out this task directly themselves, nor was the proletariat, which ought to have been at the head of this great movement.

Hristo Kabakchiev

From Victory to Defeat

The Second Balkan War [23]


HE Balkan League, founded in order to destroy Turkey and conquer its European provinces, quickly began to collapse after the accomplishment of its aims. It was not even able to survive past the first decisive victories over Turkey, and serious disagreements already broke out between Greece and Bulgaria during the capture of Salonika. The disagreements soon passed over into open conflicts once Bulgaria attempted to establish its administrative authorities and garrisons in those Macedonian towns and provinces that the Bulgarian government considered belonged to Bulgaria according to the agreements concluded between the allies, but which had been seized by the Serbs and the Greeks.

Already in its address to the Basel Congress of the International of November 1912,[24] Bulgarian Social Democracy had declared that the military-dynastic alliance of the Balkan states would collapse as soon as it had accomplished its immediate task, the overthrow of Turkey, and that this alliance could bring neither national unification nor independence to the Balkan peoples.

Of course, the ruling classes and dynasties of the Balkans dressed up their plans for conquest and aspirations to hegemony in the mantle of ‘national ideals’. The Bulgarian bourgeoisie has first place in this respect. The Bulgarian ministers, diplomats, writers and journalists repeated daily that Bulgaria was warring with Turkey in order to achieve the national unification of the Bulgarian people, and if it demanded the annexation of Macedonia and Salonika, this was only in order to realise and complete the unification of the nation.

Macedonia consists of three former Turkish vilayets, Salonika, Bitola and Skopje. Turkey does not possess official population statistics, and so there is no official data as to the numerical relations between the nationalities in these three vilayets. But according to the (comparatively) most trustworthy data that exists, the total population of the these vilayets numbered three million before the war, of which, according to head of the Bulgarian state statistical service, Kiril Popov, the Bulgarians numbered 1.1 million in 1895 and 870 000 in 1909. In 1912, according to the same source, this figure was even smaller.

Even if we take the latter figure as reliable, the Bulgarians constitute only 29 per cent of the total population of Macedonia. After them in size come the Albanians with around 640 000 or 21 per cent, the Turks with 550 000 or 18 per cent, the Greeks with 240 000 or eight per cent and the Serbs with 210 000 or seven per cent. It can be seen from these data that the Bulgarians are more numerous than the other nations inhabiting the Macedonian vilayets taken separately, but in relation to the total population they make up even less than a third. From the same facts, it can be seen that none of the nations in Macedonia constitutes an absolute majority. Also, the population in Macedonia is so mixed that cities and areas where one nationality predominates are rare. The Bulgarians predominate in some cities and areas of western and central Macedonia, the Greeks in southern Macedonia, and the Serbs in northern Macedonia.

Thus it is clear that the annexation of Macedonia to Bulgaria would signify forcing into its borders a population two-thirds of which consists of foreign national elements, and only a third Bulgarian and not even a full third at that. Such is the national unification to which the Bulgarian bourgeoisie aspires. Together with the unification of the Bulgarian people, this would bring the separation of hundreds of thousands of Greeks, Turks, Albanians and Serbs from their own national entities, and their subjugation to a new national slavery, that of Bulgaria. But national unification is even less the determining factor, or the central goal of Serbian policy. Serbia has conquered western and central Macedonia for itself, where the Serbian population in no instance surpasses 10 per cent of the total population. It is not national, but capitalist interests and dynastic motives that drove Serbia into the new war. Remaining deceived in its hopes of conquering northern Albania and of coming out onto the Adriatic, Serbia wanted compensation in the form of the Macedonian lands it was occupying, and, by means of being next door to a weaker state like Greece, to dispose of the harbour of Salonika on the Aegean.

If Serbia was following a really national policy, its gaze should have been turned to the north, to the South Slav provinces of Austria-Hungary, where the greater part of the Serbian people lives, and in this case Serbia should not have warred with its Balkan neighbours over the conquest of regions made up of other nations, but should have maintained the closest friendship with them in order to be able to achieve its national unification with their support.

And Greece, in order to keep hold of Salonika, aspired to conquer and in this way win a large part of its environs which, however, were principally made up of Bulgarian villages. On the other hand, Greece aspired to part of southern Albania, which was mainly inhabited by Albanians. Thus, like the other Balkan states, Greece also strove above all for the economic, strategic and political ‘consolidation’ of its territory. National unification played only a secondary rôle in the policy of the Balkan states, as a means of achieving their main expansionist aims, and as an ideological disguise for their policy of conquest.

However, the Balkan states were driven to such a policy, which for the sake of the goal of conquest and the striving for hegemony over the Balkans lost sight of national unification, not only by the capitalist interests and aspirations of their ruling classes and dynasties, but also by the big European states encircling them.

Thus, Austria-Hungary already in its secret convention with King Milan[25] of 1882 promised to give Macedonia to Serbia in exchange for an obligation on the part of the latter to renounce all pretensions to Bosnia and Herzegovina. From then on up to this very day, the Habsburg Monarchy has not ceased to direct the gaze of Serbia to the south, to Macedonia, in order to deflect it from its natural aspirations to national unification with the numerous Serbian nation groaning under the Austro-Hungarian yoke. In the recent Balkan crisis, Austria-Hungary continued with the same policy, and is one of the instigators pushing the former Balkan allies to war.

Similarly, the Bulgarians were pushed towards war against their allies by the great capitalist powers. Ever since Russia recognised Ferdinand’s dynasty,[26] Bulgaria has always vacillated between Austria-Hungary and Russia, without being able to exploit their antagonism in the Balkans for an independent national policy. On the contrary, in order to attain the goals of its nationalist, expansionist and dynastic policy, Bulgaria has itself sought now the support of Austria-Hungary, now that of Russia, against its neighbours, and has in this way by its own doing more and more increased its dependence on these two powers. After the overthrow of Turkey with the help of Serbia, Greece and Montenegro, Bulgaria, again with foreign support, that of Russia, sought to grab the lion’s share of the legacy of European Turkey, to destroy the combined pressure of its former allies and to secure hegemony over the Balkans.

But here the entire, fatal short-sightedness of the nationalist and dynastic policy of Bulgaria came to the fore. Bulgaria was faced with two paths; along the first it could come directly to an agreement with its allies, consolidate its alliance with them on broad economic and political foundations, using the authority and influence that it had won in the first war, and inaugurate an independent national policy by wresting itself free of the guardianship of the Great Powers; the second path was that of recklessly following the lust for conquest of the bourgeoisie and monarchism and the ‘advice’ of the big capitalist states, a path that would inevitably lead Bulgaria into catastrophe. Bulgaria chose the second path!

H             H             H

In reality, the defeat of Bulgaria stands in a tight causal relationship with its victory. The victory of Bulgaria is due to the Balkan League, without which it would have been incapable of destroying Turkey, not only because its own forces were insufficient for such a task, but also because without a Balkan alliance Bulgaria in a war with Turkey would have been threatened with attack by the other Balkan states. However, the defeat of Bulgaria is also due to the Balkan League, which was established solely for the overthrow of Turkey, and Bulgaria, occupying the central rôle in this military-dynastic alliance, did nothing to consolidate it and tie it to an economic-political union, a union within whose framework the national antagonisms between the Balkan peoples could be pacified, antagonisms that had inevitably to break out after the victory over Turkey.

The Balkan allies, led by Bulgaria, destroyed Turkey with a few well-aimed blows. The young Balkan states destroyed the status quo in the Balkans, over which European diplomacy had stood guard with such zeal for decades. While the Great Powers held a disintegrating Turkey together because they could not agree over the division of its legacy, the Balkan states expelled Turkey by force of arms from its European vilayets, even up to the walls of Constantinople, and established a new situation in the Balkans.

The Great Powers were forced to reconcile themselves with this situation, firstly because it did not contradict the interests of a majority of them, and secondly because yet again they could not agree on changing it. As always in capitalist society, great contradictions are resolved by force, and this is also the case with those tied to the existence of European Turkey.

After their victory over Turkey, the Balkan states were placed in a very favourable international situation. The great capitalist powers could not decide whether to deprive the Balkan states forcibly of the gains they had made, firstly as an agreement was lacking between them regarding this, and secondly, because any state that tried to do so would run up against the outrage and indignation of the peoples of Europe. If in spite of this advantageous external situation, the Balkan League could not be turned into a healthy bulwark against the plans for conquest of European capitalism and imperialism, this is due to its internal weaknesses, for which the Balkan peoples have to thank above all their ruling classes and dynasties. But the greatest responsibility for the collapse of the Balkan League and for the second war, a new calamity visited on the Balkan peoples, belongs to the Bulgarian bourgeoisie and Bulgarian monarchism.

The great capitalist states left the Balkan allies to overthrow Turkey, but they exploited the first sign of weakness and internal discord of the allies in order to impose their will with regard to the final liquidation of the Turkish legacy in Europe.

Russia, under whose supreme patronage the Balkan League had been established, was never happy with the march to war against Turkey. As is already known today and as P Milyukov[27] confirmed in the Russian Duma (and there was no official denial in response), Russia counted on a Turkish victory and prepared itself once more to enter into the rôle of the ‘saviour’ and ‘liberator’ of the Bulgarian people. In general, the European governments considered the campaign of the Balkan states to be an adventure that was condemned to failure, and that would give them the pretext for even more unscrupulous interference in the life of the Balkan peoples.

Taken aback by the rapid, thunderous victories of the Balkan League, and made especially uneasy by the expansion and strengthening of Bulgaria, Russia began to offer its ‘advice’ and ‘suggestions’ before the Bulgarian army had even reached the Çatalca line.[28] Russia could not tolerate the entry of the Bulgarian Emperor into Constantinople, the centuries-old dream of the Russian Tsars. After the Bulgarian army was stopped before the Çatalca fortifications and peace talks started with Turkey, Russia already set in motion all the means at its disposal once more to turn the Balkan League — which, encouraged and strengthened by its victories, could have turned against Russia itself — into its obedient tool. In order to attain this goal, Russia directed all of its efforts to scupper the creation of a large, powerful ‘Greater Bulgaria’ by expanding and strengthening Serbia at its expense.

In realising this goal, Russia diplomacy found its best mouthpieces and helpers in the person of the bourgeois parties in Bulgaria, and especially the governing Russophile-conservative coalition. In order to remove even the smallest possibility of any kind of independent activity whatsoever on the part of Bulgaria, the Russian government placed at the head of Bulgarian ‘diplomacy’ Dr Stojan Danev,[29] an old, experienced Russian tool, whose entire ‘abilities’ in the field of diplomacy were exhausted by — obeying and fulfilling unquestioningly the orders of Russia.

Having completely taken the talks being conducted by Bulgaria into its hands as well as Bulgaria’s entire foreign policy, Russian diplomacy began to intrigue and scheme with zeal. First of all, it strove to string out the peace talks to gain more time. Then it encouraged the pretensions of Romania in order to make Bulgaria more compliant. And all the time it was pushing Turkey to hold on to as much territory as possible in Thrace in order to distance Bulgaria from Constantinople and preserve the latter for the Russian Tsars.

When Bulgaria stormed Adrianople and transferred its artillery to Çatalca, the Russian government suggested to Bulgaria that it desist from forcing the Çatalca fortifications, in exchange for which Russia promised to force Serbia to concede the whole ‘uncontested zone’ in Macedonia.[30] Two months later the Russian government informed Bulgaria of its desire to exercise ‘its broadest rights to arbitrate over all Serbian-Bulgarian disagreements’, that is, to fulfil the greater part of the Serbian demands. When Bulgaria sought to keep Rodosto,[31] the Russian government categorically opposed this, while promising Bulgaria more land in Macedonia and more ports on the Aegean. But at the same time, the Russian government whispered to Serbia that it should be intransigent, and gave it time to consolidate itself and prepare to oppose Bulgaria. When Turkey was already prepared to yield and conclude peace, the Russian government encouraged Romania to come out with its pretensions to compensation, and in this way encouraged Turkey to haggle. At this time, the Russian government sent Danev to Bucharest to ask what the wishes of the Romanian rulers were, and later compelled him to sign a protocol in London that predetermined the surrender of Silistra, and finally organised the Petersburg Conference which gave Silistra to Romania.[32] In this way, Russia managed to strike a blow at Bulgaria, encourage Turkish intransigence, and turn Romania towards its policy in the Balkans.

All this was accomplished with the submission and close collaboration of the Bulgarian rulers. The latter welcomed the public slap in the face Bulgaria had received as one would the caresses of a lover and being spat on as one would heavenly dew.

The right to arbitrate, which Serbia and Bulgaria had already conceded in their treaty of alliance to the Russian Tsar, gave Russia the possibility of interfering at the most decisive moment in the relations between the allies, namely when they undertook the division of the spoils of war. Russia exploited this right to encourage Serbian pretensions to Macedonia, so that in this way Russia not only reduced Bulgaria in size, but turned Serbia into an even weaker tool of Russia’s policy of conquest in the Balkans and an even greater barrier to Austria-Hungary, Russia’s historic competitor in the Balkans.

While Russia strove to preserve the Balkan League so as to turn it as far as possible into its obedient instrument, Austria-Hungary turned all of its efforts to destroying this league, which was also directed against it. Austria-Hungary pushed Serbia and Bulgaria towards war, long wishing to frustrate their alliance.

Austria-Hungary also encouraged Romania in its criminal attack on Bulgaria. Just as Austria-Hungary pushed Serbia towards the south, towards Macedonia, in order to turn the gaze of the Serbs from the Austrian provinces populated by Serbs, so, in order to turn the gaze of the Romanians from Transylvania and Bukovina, where more than three million Romanians live, Austria-Hungary pushed Romania towards the conquest of Bulgarian territories. And before the second war, the Austro-Hungarian government ‘sincerely’ advised Bulgaria to satisfy the Tutrakan-Balchik border[33] demarcation demanded by Romania. In this way, Austria-Hungary wanted to satisfy Romania, but of course at the expense of Bulgaria, to wrench it from the influence of Russia and once again to win its sympathies.

Turkey’s terrible wounds from the first war were still gaping when the Balkan allies, its conquerors, seized each other by the throat. Bulgaria, Turkey’s dangerous enemy, itself cleared the path to the latter’s invasion by completely withdrawing its army from Turkey’s borders. And here Russia zealously assured the Bulgarian government that it would not allow Turkey to destroy the Peace of London. But as soon as the last regiment of Bulgarian soldiers abandoned their positions at Çatalca, Russia pushed Turkey into the conquest of Thrace. With this Russia completed the defeat of Bulgaria and established a pretext for itself to demand a little while later the right to drive out the Turks from Thrace and once again save Bulgaria, in exchange, of course, for some kind of compensation (the occupation of Armenia or Burgas and Midye).[34] Bulgaria collapsed to defeat and ruin even faster than it had climbed to the heights of victory, before it had come to its senses and realised what was happening to it. Bulgaria was broken under the blows of its fifth enemy. The invasion of the Turkish army into Thrace completed the iron embrace that encircled Bulgaria from all sides, and which in a few weeks forced it into the most difficult and humiliating capitulation. Bulgaria was defeated. However, the defeat of Bulgaria was also the defeat of the dynastic and nationalist policy of conquest of the Bulgarian bourgeoisie.

H             H             H

Before the outbreak of the war amongst the allies, Serbian and Bulgarian Social Democracy raised their voices against the butchery that was being prepared for these sister nations, while Romanian Social Democracy, despite the unbridled chauvinist rage and police vandalism with which the rulers of Romania sought to stifle its protest, organised massive meetings against the criminal attack of Boy­ar[35] and capitalist Romania. Thus did the Balkan proletariat boldly and energetically attack the criminal war with one single voice. It protested right in the face of the propertied classes and dynasties of the Balkans against their policy of mass murder and mutual ruination that led to the conquest and oppression of the Balkan peoples. It raised high the banner of the fraternal solidarity of the workers of all the Balkan countries.

After the wars, the struggle for the Balkan federal republic was taken up with even greater energy by the proletariat in the Balkan countries. The Balkan proletariat, which was blooded in the butchery of the Balkan nations organised by their despots and exploiters, already understood that to fight for the Balkan federal republic meant fighting to prevent a new Balkan war, one to which the ruling classes and dynasties were driving the Balkan states, and which would not only snatch away the lives of hundreds of thousands more workers and ordinary people, but could also bury the independence of the Balkan peoples.

However, the wars gave a powerful push, not only to the struggle of the Balkan proletariat for the Balkan republic. It brought about a profound, radical change in the consciousness of the broad popular masses, ensured their growing sympathy and support for the cause of the Balkan federal republic, and established the conditions for an ever-stronger democratic-republican revolutionary movement, led by Social Democracy, which under its intellectual and political leadership will eliminate all obstacles and realise the Balkan federal republic.

Dimitrije Tucović

Serbia and Albania  [36]


N Albania, Austria-Hungary and Italy are conducting a policy of aggression, that is a fact. Is Austria-Hungary, constructed entirely on the denial of national rights, or is Italy, today throttling another nation on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, really defending the national principle? In the age of imperialist policy, such slogans are as ill-suited to these two capitalist states as the Russian slogan of the ‘liberation of the Christians’ in Turkey once was to Tsarist Russia when it was the greatest oppressor of freedom at home and abroad. These political lies no longer fare so well, even among the Balkan peoples, who have learnt through experience that every alliance with one or other ‘protector’ has cost them heavily, the more so as they, in their boundless longing for liberation from the Turkish yoke, abandoned themselves with such devotion to their protectors. In Albania itself, all the elements working for the autonomy of their country are aware of this. One of the most influential men in Elbasan,[37] later chosen as governor of that town, did not hesitate to answer my questions absolutely clearly and openly: Austria-Hungary wants Skadar[38] to stay in Albania so that it can continue to be the northernmost guard on watch against the penetration of Serbia and Montenegro into its sphere of influence, just as Italy is interceding in favour of southern Albania, so that no one else can establish himself on the other side of the Straits of Otranto.[39] The unyielding support of Austria-Hungary and Italy for the autonomy of Albania is about saving the last foot of land with which to protect themselves from the danger of anyone else gaining access to the Adriatic Sea, and from which they can influence the flow of events in the Balkans. Furthermore, Austria-Hungary wants ‘lebensfähige Albanie’, ‘an Albania capable of living’ at the very moment that it sees before it the danger that Serbia may become capable of living. The aim of this policy is as clear as day. No matter what, they want a new pygmy in the Balkans incapable of living, so that another pygmy that has been striving to break its chains does not become capable of living. This is the old method of creating a weak state, the incapable of living, condemned to cling to the coat-tails of European diplomacy, regardless of whether this appears under the false label of ‘national principles’ or ‘balance of power politics’.

But if the concern of Austria’s rulers for the right of all the Balkan peoples to national self-determination is a terrible clowning around with the national principle, the pretensions of Serbia to the conquest of Albania are a crude violation, and a trampling underfoot of that same principle. By proclaiming this policy, the Serbian bourgeoisie has now for the first time removed from the face of the Serbian people the veil of an oppressed nation struggling for its liberation. As their former youthful ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood have disappeared, they have lost the capacity to respect the desire of nations for freedom. Our bourgeoisie bends under the pressure of its northern neighbours, clings tightly to the coat-tails of Russian diplomacy, and borrows the means by which it rules from foreign capitalist companies. It has acquired the ideology of an exploiter and a proprietor that sees itself at the head of a hungry army, and as the master of several million oppressed subjects; it dreams of greatness and bristles; it appeals only to force and throttles those weaker than itself at the same time that it too is threatened with the danger of being strangled by stronger forces. But as this turnaround in the policy of our bourgeoisie, which had to come sooner or later as the result of capitalist production, appeared before the Serbian people had achieved total national unification, so that Serbia’s rulers have begun to use the political division and enslavement of their own nation to justify their appetites to enslave other nations, this is just proof that the capitalist economy of profit and the bourgeois military-bureaucratic state system give rise to the same appetites among the small as among the great representatives of today’s social order at home and abroad, in domestic as well as in foreign policy.

This new course in the policy of the Serbian bourgeoisie has more than a theoretical significance for Social Democracy. Not only is it confirmation of our viewpoint that the national ideals of the ruling classes are a lie behind which is hidden the desire to exploit their people at home and enslave nations abroad. The national liberation and unification it seeks for its own nation the capitalist bourgeoisie denies to other nations. From its class viewpoint, this is natural and understandable: when my own people find themselves under my class rule, why do you ‘savage’ Albanians resist joining what is according to all the laws of the modern state an organised and ready-made system of submission! The foreign policy of ruling classes is but the continuation of their domestic policy. And just as the proletariat in a certain country represents the one social class which cannot struggle for freedom from class slavery without freeing the whole of society, so Social Democracy cannot advocate freedom for its own people without advocating national freedom for all other nations. In this lies one of the fundamental differences between the viewpoint of Social Democracy and the bourgeois parties on the national question.

But the great practical significance of this question has to interest us all the more because the consequences of the aggressive exertions of our rulers represent an inexhaustible source, not only of new atrocities against the Albanian population, but also of constant danger for the peace and tranquillity of our people, and of endless burdens and sacrifices. Serbia has been pushed into the maelstrom of the struggle of aggressive ambitions which has all manner of foreseeable and unforeseeable obstacles and currents, a maelstrom in which the energy of the people will be exhausted in futile efforts to seize the coast. New and even greater efforts will be made in order to overcome every new obstacle, and the sacrifices which the masses are finding all the heavier to bear will be justified by those that have already been made. The conquering invasion of Albania has given birth to the bitterness of the Albanian people towards Serbia and to revolts, and revolts impose new financial and military pressures; insecurity on the western border of Serbia has appeared as the consequence of the aggressive policy towards the Albanian people, and is the reason for the army’s constant state of readiness; for the same reason we have come into conflict with stronger pretenders to Albania, and in the delirium of creating a great Adriatic state by subjugating other nations, our rulers preach some great future settling of accounts with them. Having mortgaged the country, new state burdens, militarism and other parasitic institutions are seeking from the people still greater sacrifices, the more they are being strangled materially and exhausted economically by perpetual insecurity, by the danger of war and by frequent mobilisations.

That is how the rush of events will finally, by force of the internal logic of things, push our exhausted little country from crisis to crisis, from danger to danger, while all the bourgeois organs of public opinion will try to ensure that the true cause of these misfortunes is forgotten and that the responsibility for them is transferred to others. For this reason, Social Democracy, as the one resolute opponent of the aggressive policy which is the cause of all these misfortunes, cannot allow the moment to pass unrecorded when our ruling class made a grab for other countries and for the freedoms of others, when the former heralds of national liberation took up the banner of national oppression, and when the interests of capital swallowed up the interests of the nation. We must constantly point to the indissoluble causal link between the aggressive policy of the bourgeoisie and the heavy consequences and losses whose end is nowhere in sight.

H             H             H

The Balkan Peninsula is a mixture of nations with intertwined historical memories. Some parts of the peninsula, which in these historical memories represent self-contained regions, have been entangled with one another and lie across each other’s natural paths of cultural and trading links with the world. This is particularly true of its central regions, Old Serbia and Macedonia, the regions that make up the main part of the Turkish inheritance of the Balkan statelets. Thus, when by the efforts of the masses Turkish rule was pushed out of these regions, the ruling circles of the Balkan statelets stepped forward with their fists full of plans for the division of the newly-won regions on the basis of historical and national rights and of economic and political necessities. But here lies the problem: that division was not possible without trampling on the national principle, without endangering the state’s existence and damaging real economic interests as well as imagined and outlived historical rights. For example, as the natural entry point to the Balkans, Salonika is needed by everyone, but Salonika is one and indivisible. The trading and transport axis of the Balkans, without which Salonika would not be what it is, is undoubtedly the Vardar valley,[40] and it too is one and indivisible. In this same way, the borders of the medieval kingdoms often moved and overlapped, and as a result the historical pretensions of the Balkan statelets are also in irreconcilable antagonism. Who is then able to establish at all where the borders of the Serbian and Bulgarian nations start and finish? How is it possible to gather the Macedonian Slavs into one national community without oppressing the Greeks and other nations? How is it possible to gather the Greeks of Thrace into one national state without oppressing the Turks, and without cutting Bulgaria’s links with the Bulgarians around Salonika and further on to Kostur?[41]

These are just a few indications of the great number of real and imagined questions and true and false interests, which have, with the destruction of Turkish power, poured out like water from a broken pot, and which could only have been satisfactorily resolved by the creation of a new union. Opened up by the destruction of one whole, these questions could have been peacefully and satisfactorily resolved only within a new whole of a higher form. This was, incontestably, the only road which would have led not to war, but rather to rapprochement, freedom, strength and general progress in the Balkans, not to mention the great significance of avoiding fratricidal war. In general, a union of nations in the Balkans is the solution to the complex Balkan Question from which all the Balkan peoples would gain the most favourable conditions for peaceful and successful development in the future. Only the creation of a new union in place of the Turkish rule that was overthrown could have protected long-lost national freedoms from once again being drowned in a bloody internecine tug-of-war over the newly-won territories, which is the greatest misfortune for the freedom of the Balkan peoples. With the thieving plunder of the newly-conquered territories, this freedom was throttled before it was born, which gives historical confirmation to the viewpoint of Social Democracy that the national liberation of the Balkan nations is not possible without the unification of the whole Balkans into one general union. Such a union of peoples would, at the same time, liberate all the nations and regions of the Balkan Peninsula from the mutual crowding and obstruction which numerous frontiers tend to create, and would open free access to the sea for all. The Balkans would become one vast economic territory in which modern economic life would receive a boost, and each part of the region would be guaranteed freedom of movement and fulfilment of its economic needs, as well as the means for more rapid economic development in general. The true economic emancipation of the Balkan nations lies in the economic union of the Balkans. And with the unification of political forces and economic progress, the Balkan peoples would be able to resist the aggressive pretensions of the European capitalist states.

If there is a political reality in the Balkans, it is the necessity for a union of the Balkan nations. Belief in that necessity springs from observing the real situation in the Balkan Peninsula, like reading any open book that precisely outlines our future. The only realistic policy of the Balkan statelets is one that takes this idea as its guiding principle.

As an act in the great Balkan drama which is closely linked to preceding and subsequent developments, Serbia’s campaign of aggression in Albania is the crudest deviation from the principle of the union of the Balkan nations, and a deviation paid for with the most striking defeat. In addition to that tangled web of historical, ethnographic and political relations which envelops disputes in Macedonia, the reasons behind such an act express most clearly the tendencies of the Balkan policy of the bourgeoisie. This act nakedly exposes the intolerance of the ruling classes towards other nations, and the aggressive ambitions and the readiness of the bourgeoisie to carry them out with the most brutal crimes, such as have until now only been committed in overseas colonies. The abandonment of the principle of the union of Balkan nations, even when agreement was reached on common action against Turkey, has driven us to batter and crush one another in vain in the ravines of Albania. And driven out of there, we were thrown into a mad and barbaric slaughter with our brothers at Bregalnica.[42] One error attracted another, and one defeat led to another. That is how the ‘realistic’ policy of Mr Pašić[43] has been sealed with two very real defeats: in Albania and at Bregalnica. And while there is the desire to justify the Albanian adventure by the fact that we have been cut off from Salonika, and the crime of Bregalnica by the fact that we were driven out of Albania, then we have to emphasise that the cause of both evils is one and the same, namely, the aggressive ambitions of the bourgeoisie and the ruling cliques and leaders in the Balkans and their inability to replace their limited separatist interests with the principle of union which many of their representatives once used to advocate.

Serbia’s aggressive approach towards the Albanian people in particular has provided yet more experience of the great danger which every conflict between the Balkan nations represents for one side and the other. At the same time, it has also shown how the policy of the ruling classes creates hatred between nations.

Today it has become very risky to advocate the need for collaboration with the Albanians. In a dangerous contest to justify a wrong policy, the bourgeois press has created a whole pack of untrue and tendentious ideas about the Albanians, while Serbia’s policy of conquest, with its barbaric methods, was bound to fill the Albanians with the deepest hatred for us. Yet there has never been such hatred before. The Serbian and Albanian tribes, as can be seen from the accounts of Marko Miljanov,[44] lived in close contact with each other under Turkey. They were linked by very great social kinship, expressed by many common customs, traditions and memories, such as many joint actions against the Turkish authorities; frequently blood kinship also existed. According to what Miljanov noted among the people, the Kuči, Belopavljići, Hoti, Piperi and Klimenti had not always represented two tribal groups, the Albanian and the Montenegrin, divided into two hostile camps, but had often stood on the same side against the invading enemy. As proof that memories of those close relations lived on among the Albanian people, there is an Albanian saying Dositej Obradović recorded during his travels in Albania: ‘We were once one clan and tribe with the Serbs.’[45]

Many factors and events have since led to a situation where, in place of neighbourly relations and feelings of kinship, intolerance and enmity are beginning to spread. What contributed most to this development was the systematic implementation of Constantinople’s policy of divide and rule, and the behaviour of Serbia and Montenegro towards the Albanian population during the wars with Turkey.

If anyone had the right conditions to work in agreement with the Albanians, Montenegro and Serbia did. Not only did they have mixed populations and the kinship of neighbouring tribes, but also their mutual interests pointed these two nations to agreement and friendly relations. Just as the road to the Adriatic Sea runs across modest Albanian settlements, Albanian ties with the interior of the peninsula lead across Serbian borders. Just as we need the sea, they need land even more. If our worries over our exports point us towards the Albanians, their worries over bread point them towards us. If these two sides cannot agree, they will crowd out and throttle one another.

But all hopes of a policy of agreement and friendship were dashed on this occasion much more by one overbearing act of conquest by Serbia than by the crudeness of the Albanian tribes. Serbia did not enter Albania as a brother, but as a conqueror. Moreover, it did not enter as a politician either, but as a brutal soldier. Behind the brutality of military practice, the politician could not be seen. In fact, he had only one thought which was contained in the order: ‘Go and conquer!’ Subjugate or perish! Given a policy that did not cater for human beings, for tribes, for the people, and given the natural desire of Albania to gain its independence, Serbia lost every contact with the representatives of the Albanian people, and pushed them into a terrible hatred for all things Serbian. If the Albanian people have not until now represented one national whole which could take an interest in and give life to one idea, that common idea is today, regrettably, the general national revolt of the Albanian population against the barbaric behaviour of their neighbours, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro, a revolt that is a great step forward in the national awakening of the Albanians.

Relying exclusively on the army, which has no understanding of these questions, the Serbian government, delirious with cravings for conquest and deluded by foreign influence, did not even know how to exploit its half-year rule in northern Albania with a single act which would have left some trace and soothed wounds. It did not know how to do this, even at the final moment when the question of Albanian autonomy had already matured. The masses yearned for liberation from the poverty of the peasant condition, but for such revolutionary acts only Napoleon’s revolutionary army had any understanding. The more educated layers among the Albanians did not hide their uncompromising attachment to the idea of autonomy from Serbia, but what every English Conservative would know how to assess politically was too much by far for the Serbian Radicals.[46] They pushed on towards the sea by force. Serbia entered Albania as an enemy, and it left as an enemy.

The boundless hostility of the Albanian people towards Serbia is the first concrete result of the Albanian policy of the Serbian government. The second, still more dangerous, result is the consolidation in Albania of two of the Great Powers who have the greatest interest in the Balkans. This represents yet more proof that every internecine animosity between the Balkan peoples only benefits their common enemy. The aggressive attitude of Serbia, Greece and Montenegro could not prevent the creation of the autonomy of Albania, but this pushed the youngest pygmy in the Balkans, even prior to its appearance before the world, to deliver itself up to the mercies of Austria-Hungary and Italy. This fact is of great danger for peace and for the free development of Serbia. It is clear that this danger does not come in any way from the fact that an autonomous Albania was created, but rather that it was created in the struggle against the aggressive desires of the neighbouring Balkan statelets, that it was in fact taken from them by the intervention of Austria-Hungary and Italy, and that it has in this way been tied so strongly to these two states. Where friendship was needed, both sides have been overcome by terrible hostility, while friendly contacts are being consolidated between two parties, one of whom is already condemned to be the other’s victim.

The two concrete results of the aggressive policy of Serbia towards the Albanian people have both been felt by the state’s finances and our economic development, but mostly by those tens of thousands of slaves who are perishing in the Albanian mountains. They have been despatched to the border to stop with their lives the wave of bitterness which has been provoked by the policy of aggression of our rulers, and to guard the country from the danger into which on this occasion it has been drawn. The chains with which the bourgeoisie wished to shackle other nations have cramped the freedom of its own country and its own people.

Finally, while there is a desire to justify the campaign of aggression in Albania with false theories about the incapacity of the Albanians for national development. The very real and, regretfully, evil consequences of that campaign have exposed to the whole nation the incapacity of the ruling classes to conduct a policy which is in the national interest. What results will flow from the struggle for autonomy in Albania is a separate question to which only the future can provide an accurate reply, but the comprehensive and costly defeat of the policy of aggression of our bourgeoisie which fought against autonomy stands before us as an accomplished fact and rings out with fine historical irony over the theory of the national ‘incapacity’ of the Albanians. But since the defeat of the policy of aggression has not brought to an end the string of dangers and sacrifices that threaten the freedom of the Serbian people and the future of Serbia, it is at the very least now necessary to look truth in the face and, setting aside all prejudices, recognise that the struggle that the Albanian people are today conducting is a natural, inevitable historical struggle for a different political life from the one they had under Turkey, and different from the one imposed on them by their ruthless neighbours, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro. A free Serbian people must value and respect that struggle as much for the freedoms of the Albanians as for their own, and deny every government the means to carry out a policy of aggression.

As the representative of the proletariat which has never been the lackey of the aggressive policy of the ruling classes, Social Democracy is duty bound to track step by step our rulers’ policy of extermination towards the Albanians, to stigmatise as barbaric a policy carried out on the false pretext of a ‘higher culture’ as the class policy of the bourgeoisie which greatly damages the class interests of the proletariat, and as an anti-national policy of aggression which brings the peace and freedom of the country into danger and which greatly worsens the position of the masses. Against this policy, Social Democracy raises its own slogan: the political and economic union of all the peoples of the Balkans, including the Albanians, on the basis of full democracy and the fullest equality.


[1].     War broke out again briefly in January 1913 when a coup in Constantinople brought another Young Turk regime to power. Their attempted counter-offensive was a disaster, and they were swiftly forced back to the negotiating table.

[2].     Thrace (the Ottoman vilayet of Adrianople) lays at the south-easternmost extremity of the Balkans where Europe meets Asia. Today it is divided between Bulgaria, Greece and European Turkey.

[3].     Dimitŭr Blagoev’s Bulgarian Narrow socialists appended their signature only at the very last minute. This is the only declaration they signed with the Menshevik-like Broad socialists, with whom they had split acrimoniously in 1903. The Broad leader, Yanko Sakŭzov, the only socialist deputy in 1912, voted against the war.

[4].     Rakovsky was here partly reflecting the influence of the ‘social-Ottomanist’ wing of the Second International, most commonly associated with the figure of Jean Jaurès (1859-1914), the French socialist leader and defender of the Young Turks.

[5].     The Serbian socialists tended to treat the 1908 Young Turk revolution as more of a military coup than a genuine revolution. When the masses participated in defeating an attempted counter-revolution in 1909, however, Tucović was more enthusiastic, writing of a newly awakened revolutionary Turkey as the potential ‘axle’ of a Balkan federation (Dimitrije Tucović, Sabrana Dela [Collected Works], Volume 2, Belgrade, 1975, p429).

[6].     This is how Trotsky described the position in a footnote to a letter from Popović he published in his Paris newspaper, Nashe Slovo, in 1915, which appears in Section VIII below on the First World War.

[7].     See Leon Trotsky, The Balkan Wars 1912-13 (New York, 1980). It is clear that Trotsky learnt much from the Balkan socialists, particularly Rakovsky and the Serbians, to whom he was politically close. Trotsky recounts that many rank-and-file socialists enthusiastically supported the war despite the official position of their parties (ibid, p157).

[8].     See the Bolshevik manifesto on the war in John Riddell (ed), Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International 1907-16: The Preparatory Years (New York, 1984), p84.

[9].     VI Lenin, ‘A New Chapter of World History’, Collected Works, Volume 18 (Moscow, 1963), p369. In a later article, ‘The Social Significance of the Serbo-Bulgarian Victories’, ibid, pp397-9, Lenin stressed that the victories amounted to a bourgeois revolution against feudalism akin to 1848. He added that liberation would have been far less costly had it been achieved by revolutionary means. But like Kaclerović, Lenin noted that war rather than revolution took place because of the disunity of the peasants and the small size of the working class. Compare this, however, with the German socialist August Bebel (1840-1913) who privately wished for a Turkish victory, presumably for anti-Russian reasons, while blithely conceding that ‘it is not certain that the Balkan problem would thereby be settled’ (quoted in George B Leon, The Greek Socialist Movement and the First World War, New York, 1976, p131).

[10].    Dimitrije Tucović, Sabrana Dela, Volume 8 (Belgrade, 1980), p351.

[11].    Quoted in Francis Conte, Christian Rakovski (1878-1941) (New York, 1989), p62. Trotsky recounts that a Bulgarian bourgeois politician attacked his opposition to the First Balkan War thus: ‘For you, all this is simple: you reject war altogether, at any time and under any circumstances. A war in the Balkans or a war in Patagonia, aggressive or defensive, for liberation or for conquest — you make no distinctions. But we consider it necessary to investigate the real historical content of the war, the given war, the war in the Balkans, and we can’t shut our eyes to the fact that what is involved here is the liberation of the Slav people from Turkish rule.’ It has to be said that this reads like a good Marxist critique of Trotsky’s position (The Balkan Wars, op cit, p325).

[12].    Rosa Luxemburg, ‘The Junius Pamphlet: The Crisis in the German Social Democracy’, Rosa Luxemburg Speaks(New York, 1970), p309.

[13].    See Section II: Marxism and the Eastern Question: Challenging the Orthodoxy 1896-1897 above.

[14].    The French Premier, Raymond Poincaré (1860-1934), commented laconically that Russia ‘is trying to put on the brakes, but it is she who started the motor’ (see LS Stavrianos, The Balkans since 1453, London, 2000, p535).

[15].    VI Lenin, ‘The Collapse of the Second International’, Collected Works, Volume 21 (Moscow, 1964), p235.

[16].    Tsar Ferdinand refused to accept these results, and annulled the elections. Terrified, he asked Serbia for help in the event of a revolution in Bulgaria. Socialist results were cut by almost half in the elections of early 1914 as a result of police repression and the waning of anti-war feeling.

17.    Tucović’s colleague Dragiša Lapčević later wrote that the Serbian socialists were prepared ‘unconditionally [to] respect Albania’s independence and work towards its inclusion as an independent member of a federation of Balkan republics’(Rat i Srpska Socijalna Demokratija [War and Serbian Social Democracy] (Belgrade, 1925), p166. Nevertheless, a tiny, defenceless Albanian state was not the solution they favoured, which is why they never failed to stress the need for Albania to join a Balkan federation to protect itself from foreign imperialist predators and local nationalist aggressors.

[17].    Stephen Schwartz, Kosovo: Background to a War with a preface by Christopher Hitchens (London, 2000). The bibliography reveals that Schwartz does not seem to have even read Tucović’s Serbia and Albania in full. Instead, he consulted a text of selected articles and extracts by Serbian social democrats, including Tucović, published in Slovenia in 1989. This text was compiled for political use by the Slovenians against the Serbs in the bitter, internal dispute that preceded the collapse of Yugoslavia. As such, it focused heavily on the Kosovo question and the anti-nationalist credentials of the Serbian social democrats. It is not therefore a reliable source for a properly rounded view of Tucović.

[18].    Dated 12 October 1912. Translated from the French by Dragan Plavšić. This translation is based on the English translation of the time, for which see Bulletin Periodique du Bureau Socialiste International (3année, N°9), pp5-7.

[19].    Mainly Kosovo, the heartland of the medieval kingdoms of Serbia.

[20].    An Ottoman administrative region.

[21].    From Zbirka Triša Kaclerović, written in 1946, Arhiv Srbije. Translated from the Serbian by Dragan Plavšić.

[22].    Nikola Bogdanović was a lawyer and member of the editorial committee of Radničke Novine. He was later a social-patriot.

[23].    From Towards a Balkan Federation, 1913. Translated from the Bulgarian by Andreja Živković.

[24].    The Second International called the Basel Congress in response to the outbreak of the First Balkan War.

[25].    King Milan Obrenović (1854-1901) was Prince (1868–82) and then King (1882–89) of Serbia, whose reign was characterised by his subservience to Austria-Hungary.

[26].    Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1861-1948) was a German aristocrat who was Prince (1887-1908) and then King (1908-18) of Bulgaria.

[27].    Pavel Milyukov (1859-1943) was a Russian constitutional politician who later served as foreign minister in the first Provisional Government of Prince Lvov in 1917, and a distinguished liberal historian.

[28].    The Çatalca line in Thrace was comprised of antiquated fortifications 20 miles west of Constantinople where the Bulgarians were defeated by the Ottomans in the First Balkan War.

[29].    Stojan Danev (1858-1949) was a Russophile politician who was Bulgarian Prime Minister during the Second Balkan War.

[30].    The uncontested zone refers to that part of Macedonia which Serbia was to receive under the terms of its secret prewar agreement with Bulgaria.

[31].    Today Tekirdağ (then as now in Turkey) on the coast of the Sea of Marmara, which lies between the Bosphorus Straits leading to the Black Sea and the Dardanelles to the Aegean.

[32].    The St Petersburg Conference of March 1913 met for Russia to resolve the territorial dispute between Bulgaria and Romania. Russia awarded the ethnically Bulgarian Danubian port of Silistra (today in Bulgaria) to Romania. This angered the Bulgarians, but did not satisfy the Romanians, who also wanted the southern Dobrudja in north-eastern Bulgaria.

[33].    Romania claimed southern Dobrudja from Bulgaria, specifically territory north of a line between the Danubian city of Tutrakan and the Black Sea port of Balchik, both today in Bulgaria. Located between the bend in the River Danube and the Black Sea, the Dobrudja was very fertile land.

[34].    Burgas and Midye (now Kiyiköy), Bulgarian and Turkish ports respectively on the Black Sea.

[35].    The Romanian nobility.

[36].    Translated from the Serbian by Dragan Plavšić.

[37].    A city in central Albania.

[38].    Also known as Scutari, and now Shkodër in Albania. This city was taken by Montenegrin and Serbian forces during the First Balkan War. At Austro-Hungarian insistence, however, the city was evacuated, as it was essential for the survival of the Albanian state that the Habsburgs wanted to create to hold back Serbia from gaining access to the Adriatic.

[39].    The Straits of Otranto lie between the heel of Italy and Albania.

[40].    Roughly the area of modern Macedonia through which the River Vardar runs.

[41].    Now Kastoria in northern Greece near the border with Albania.

[42].    The Battle of Bregalnica was fought during the Second Balkan War of 1913 when Serbia and Greece defeated Bulgaria and gained the lion’s share of Ottoman Macedonia.

[43].    Nikola Pašić (1845-1926) was Prime Minister several times and the leading Serbian statesman of his day.

[44].    Marko Miljanov Popović (1833-1901) was a Montenegrin political and military leader who learned to read and write in his 50s, producing works on the common tribal life and customs of the Albanians and the Montenegrins.

[45].    Dositej Obradović (1739-1811), one of Serbia’s greatest literary figures, travelled widely and was much influenced by the Enlightenment, and was briefly Minister of Education during the Serbian Revolution of 1804-13. Tucović here quotes from his classic from 1783, Život i priklučenija [Life and Adventures] (Belgrade, 1997 edition), p133.

[46].    The Radical Party, led by Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić, was then the dominant party of the Serbian ruling class.

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