Sunday, 11 November 2012

Lessons Of The Balkans - Part 2

Part of the reason the Slavs, in the Balkans, believed that Russia would come to their aid, Trotsky argues, was due to the actions of Russian Liberals, rather like today the Liberal Interventionists provoke adventures, by their advocacy of intervention, by large western powers. In this regard, Trotsky singled out the role of Pyotr Miliukov. Trotsky writes,

You are one of the initiators and inspirers of what is known as the 'Neo-Slavonic' movement, which comes forward not otherwise than in the name of the most respected general principles of civilisation, humanity and national freedom.

You have frequently, both in the columns of the press and at the tribune of the Duma, assured the Balkan allies – that is to say, the dynasties and dynastic cliques ruling in the Balkans – of the unaltered sympathies of so-called Russian society for their campaign of 'liberation'.” (p 285)

Following on from his discussion of the atrocities, committed by these “liberation” forces, Trotsky asks,

Recently, during the period of the armistice, you made a political journey to the Balkans; you visited several centers and, what is of particular importance, you went to the regions recently conquered by the allies.

Did you not hear during your travels – it must be supposed that this would be of interest to you – about the monstrous acts of brutality that were committed by the triumphant soldiery of the allies all along their line of march, not only on unarmed Turkish soldiers, wounded or taken prisoner, but also on the peaceful Muslim inhabitants, on old men and women, on defenceless children?” (p 285-6)

In fact, Miliukov and the Liberals said nothing, or next to nothing, about these atrocities, just as their modern equivalents have done in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. What is worse, some of those, who today claim to follow in Trotsky's tradition, themselves support the hypocrisy of the Liberal interventionists, and justify these atrocities where they admit to them. What is more they do so using similar terms to the justifications used by the Liberal Miliukov.

Trotsky writes,

Would you not agree that a conspiracy of silence by all of our 'leading' papers.... that this mutual agreement to keep quiet makes all of you fellow travellers and moral participants in bestialities that will lie as a stain of dishonour on our whole epoch?

Are not, in these circumstances, your protests against Turkish atrocities – which I am not at all going to deny – like the disgusting conduct of Pharisees: resulting, it must be supposed, not from the general principles of culture and humanity but from naked calculations of imperialist greed?”

And, of course, the same is true today of the Liberal Interventionists, who try to distance themselves from the atrocities committed by the “Liberation” forces they have supported. The same is true of those, like the AWL, and others within that tradition, who, like Pontius Pilate, try to wash their hands of these atrocities with weasel words, saying, “We didn't ask for intervention, we just refused to oppose it!”

Libyan workers, particularly black workers have suffered
massively from atrocities by the Libyan "rebels" that were
supported by the AWL and others.  But, you would not know it
from reading the AWL's journals.
In response, Miliukov began by essentially denying any atrocities (the AWL have effectively adopted this approach in respect of Libya and Syria) by the “liberation” forces. He did agree that there had been atrocities by Greeks against the Turks, as proof that there was no cover up. But, as Trotsky points out, this was a criticism of the only non-Slavic opposition to the Turks, and against the Greeks with whom the Bulgars were also in dispute over Salonika.

When revelations about these atrocities did begin to appear – Germany had its own reason to expose them, for its own ambitions, just as Russia today has its own reasons to expose atrocities, via RT – Miliukov and the Liberals changed their argument to basically say, what is the point of exposing them, especially when they were a part of a process that was aimed at ending Turkish rule. The Liberal Interventionists adopt a similar argument today, and the AWL has justified the role of the Islamists in Libya and Syria in similar terms.

Trotsky points out that the point of protesting was precisely that Public Opinion could have saved many lives, and forced the leadership of the “liberation” forces to take action to prevent atrocities. What Trotsky most certainly was NOT arguing was that the way to stop these atrocities was by “intervention” by other powers or even refusing to oppose such intervention! Indeed, it was intervention under the banner of “liberation”, from Turkish domination, that had led to the atrocities, and it was the hope of Russian intervention, to support them, which had led to them recklessly engaging in such an adventure.
Its in this context that Trotsky made his now oft quoted statement,

An individual, a group, a party, or a class that ‘objectively’ picks its nose while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive.

Only the workers can bring about their own
liberation.  The answer to oppression is international
working-class solidarity, and self-activity, not a faith
in our class enemies, certainly not in the bourgeois
state, and "Democratic Imperialism".
On the other hand, a party or the class that rises up against every abominable action wherever it has occurred, as vigorously and unhesitatingly as a living organism reacts to protect its eyes when they are threatened with external injury – such a party or class is sound of heart. Protest against the outrages in the Balkans cleanses the social atmosphere in our own country, heightens the level of moral awareness among our own people. The working masses of the population in every country are both a potential instrument of bloody outrages and a potential victim of such deeds. Therefore an uncompromising protest against atrocities serves not only the purpose of moral self-defence on the personal and party level but also the purpose of politically safeguarding the people against adventurism concealed under the flag of ‘liberation’.” (p 293)

Taken in its proper context, here its obvious just how much the AWL have bowdlerised Trotsky's comments. For one thing they omit the second paragraph.  Far from Trotsky arguing that atrocities by existing regimes justified intervention, Trotsky was arguing AGAINST such intervention, in part because he recognised that such intervention was itself likely to result in, and indeed already had resulted in such atrocities. But, also Trotsky was arguing that such intervention was the opposite of the means of liberation that Marxists advocate.

Trotsky argued, in relation to the claims of the Liberals, that the atrocities were in some way justified because they led to a progressive result,

The AWL and other Liberal Interventionists see no reason to
oppose the "barbarous methods" used today by Democratic
Imperialism and its allies who,
 "for their own reactionary purposes, are, by their own
 barbarous methods, now destroying that despotism..." 
They have no problem with "history's tasks"
 being usurped by these forces.
But it is not at all a matter of indifference by what methods this emancipation is being accomplished. The method of “liberation” that is being followed today means the enslavement of Macedonia to the personal regime in Bulgaria and to Bulgarian militarism; it means, moreover, the strengthening of reaction in Bulgaria itself. That positive, progressive result which history will, in the last analysis, extract from the ghastly events in the Balkans, will suffer no harm from the exposures made by Balkan and European democracy; on the contrary, only a struggle against the usurpation of history's tasks by the present masters of the situation will educate the Balkan peoples to play the role of superseding not only Turkish despotism but also those who, for their own reactionary purposes, are, by their own barbarous methods, now destroying that despotism...

Our agitation, on the contrary, against the way that history's problems are at present being solved, goes hand in hand with the work of the Balkan Social Democrats. And when we denounce the bloody deeds of the Balkan 'liberation' from above we carry forward the struggle not only against liberal deception of the Russian masses but also against enslavement of the Balkan masses.” (p 293-4)

And he writes, removing the arguments of those like the AWL that non-opposition to intervention excuses them.   He writes,

The AWL and other Liberal Interventionists are like
Pontius Pilate.  They think they can wash their hands
of the consequences of intervention, by claiming they
 did not call for it only refused to oppose it.  That they did
not desire the negative side of the action only its positive side.
Its the same kind of approach that Marx attacked Proudhon for.
"And do you think that by that vigorous outburst you exhaust the question? Don't you agree that between this 'disgraceful' war and the war you called a 'liberating' war there is an indissoluble connection? You don't agree? Let's look at the question more closely. The emancipation of the Macedonian peasantry from feudal landlord bondage was undoubtedly something necessary and historically progressive. But this task was undertaken by forces that had in view not the interests of the Macedonian peasantry but their own covetous interests as dynastic conquerors and bourgeois predators." (p 325)

It is necessary to vindicate the possibility for these peoples themselves to settle their own affairs, not only as they wish and see fit but also by their own strength, in the land where they are established. This means that European democracy has to combat every attempt to subject the fate of the Balkans to the ambitions of the Great Powers. Whether these ambitions be presented in the naked form of colonial policy or whether they be concealed behind phrases about racial kinship, they all alike menace the independence of the Balkan peoples. The Great Powers should be allowed to seek places for themselves in the Balkan Peninsula in one way only, that of free commercial rivalry and cultural influence.

The Balkans for the Balkan Peoples! But this point of view signifies nonintervention. It means not only opposition to the territorial ambitions of the Great Powers, but also rejection of support for Balkan Slavdom in its struggle against Turkish rule. Isn't this a policy of narrow nationalism and state egoism? And doesn't it mean democracy renouncing its very self?

Not at all. Democracy has no right, political or moral, to entrust the organisation of the Balkan peoples to forces that are outside its control – for it is not known when and where these forces will stop, and democracy, having once granted them the mandate of its political confidence, will be unable to check them.” (p 148-52)

Lafayette's forces were put under the
control of the American revolutionaries.
 Does anyone beleive that today
Imperialist forces would be put under
the control of truly revolutionary forces?
This, of course, is the answer to the arguments put by some members of the AWL who justified their support for intervention by Imperialism in Libya by referring to the intervention of France in the American Revolution against Britain. Lafayette's forces were put under the control of the American Revolutionaries. No serious person believes that external Imperialist forces anywhere would today be put under the control of truly revolutionary forces! In fact, the experience of Lafayette, would be one reason for that. When he returned to France, Lafayette joined the French revolutionary forces!

And given the fact that these disputes in MENA today are merely reflections of wider regional antagonisms, and indeed of international strategic antagonisms behind that, Trotsky's further comments in this regard should be a warning to Marxists today in how they respond.

But the majority of politicians, while quite properly refusing the Great Powers the right to make any claims on the Balkans, desire at the same time that Russia should help, arms in hand, the Balkan peoples to reorganise the Balkans as these leading political personalities would like the Balkans to be. This hope, or this demand, may become the source of great mistakes and great misfortunes. I say nothing about the fact that this approach to the question transforms the Balkan War into a conscious provocation to a measuring of strength on the all-European scale, which can mean nothing short of a European War. And, however dear to us the fate of the young Balkan peoples, however warmly we wish for them the best possible development of cultured existence on their own soil, there is one thing we must tell them plainly and honestly, as we must tell ourselves: We do not want, and we are unable to put our own cultural development at risk. Bismark once said that the whole Balkan Peninsula was not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. We too can say today: If the leading parties of the Balkans, after all their sad experience of European intervention, can see no other way of settling the fate of the Balkans but a fresh European intervention, the results of which no one can foreordain, then their political plans are indeed not worth the bones of a single infantryman from Kursk. That may sound harsh, but it is the only way that this tragic question can be seen by any honest democratic politician who thinks not only of today but also of tomorrow.” (pp 153-4)

This dialectical, historical materialist method of Trotsky stands in complete contrast to the syllogistic approach of the Liberal Interventionists, and those like the AWL who see history as broken down into discrete blocks of time, with each event within it, existing separate from every other, and capable of being responded to in like manner.

Trotsky's comment,

Secondly, it revealed the helpless way the Cadets are drawn towards the masses. Not in the field of internal politics, where they are paralysed by their liberal opportunism but in that of external, 'national' tasks, they try to reach out with one hand to the people and with the other to the ruling powers. Seeking to collaborate with official diplomacy, they are obliged humbly to swallow, as a 'regrettable necessity', everything that is done by those in command of affairs in the Balkans. Seeking a path to the masses, they are obliged to systematically to delude their readers and listeners regarding the activities of their Balkan and other allies,”

would apply in many of those recent conflicts to the approach of the Liberal Interventionists, including those that claim to be Marxists.

Trotsky's description of the background to these events could also be applied to today. Trotsky describes the situation with the Triple Alliance standing behind Turkey, with the Triple Entente standing behind Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece, which has striking similarities with the situation today, with Turkey and the Gulf Monarchies standing behind Sunni regimes and forces, and backed by US and European Imperialism, whilst Iran stands behind assorted Shia regimes and forces, with China and Russia standing behind it.

Back To Part 1

Forward To Part 3

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