Sunday, 18 November 2012

Lessons Of The Balkans - Part 3

In parts 1 and 2, I've looked at Trotsky's position, on the Balkan Wars, in relation to the position today of the Liberal Interventionists, and how they are essentially a repetition of the position adopted by Liberals like Miliukov.  Trotsky also describes the position of Social Democracy (for which read Marxism) at the time, not to go along with all of the militarism and adventures under the guise of “liberation”. The atrocities Trotsky described were committed by the Serbs, Bulgars and Greeks, who were in the camp of the Triple Entente. In the opposing camp of the Triple Alliance stood Austria. If there were to be “liberal intervention” of the kind we are familiar with today, then the logical place for it to come from would be the Triple Alliance. But, Trotsky writes,

The Social Democrats of Austria denounce every step taken by their government toward intervention in the affairs of the Balkan Peninsula, expose the antipopular character of Austro-Hungarian imperialism, and demand the complete countermanding of mobilisation, which is ruinous to the people and fraught with bloody consequences.

Not in the thundering of guns and not in patriotic howling, but in this enlightening work carried on by the international proletariat do we find the best outcome of all mankind's previous efforts to emerge from darkness and savagery on to the road of free development.” (p 317)

Setting out the real interests of Russia and Austria in intervening in the Balkans, Trotsky writes to the Austrian Social Democrats,

Even less can support be given to imperialist adventures by the Russian proletariat, the class that suffers most severely under the present regime of political injustice, police outrages, and nationalist intoxication. The working class of Russia has not known and does not know the influence of any party but the Social Democrats, and from its very beginnings has lived and breathed in an atmosphere of peace and fraternity between people.

Just as you – in public meetings, in Parliament, and in delegations – reject decisively the right of Austro-Hungarian diplomacy to shape and reshape the destiny of the Balkan peoples in the interests of feudal and capitalist cliques, so we too declare.

Petersburg's diplomacy has no business in the Balkans, and the Balkan peoples can expect nothing to their advantage from the diplomatic chancelleries of Petersburg. The peoples of the Near East must organise a democratic federation on their territory, on principles of independence from both Russia and Austria-Hungary.

This standpoint unites us closely both with you and with the fraternal parties in the Balkans, whose fight against local dynastic and militarist reaction will be the more rewarding and successful the more vigorously and uncompromisingly we wage our struggle against any and every interference by the Great powers in Balkan affairs.” (p 319-20)

Trotsky's position in opposition to that of the liberal interventionists is probably most clearly set out in his discussion with right-wing Cadet, Ivan Kirillovich. Kirillovich was arguing for Russian intervention in the Balkans, and being opposed by Trotsky. Trotsky quotes the following statement in response by Kirillovich.

But, allow me, that was a question of support for a war which, as cannot be disputed, bore a liberating character. 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 Slav people from Turkish rule. Not to sympathise with such a war, not to support it, would simply mean to support, indirectly if not directly, Turkish rule over Slavs. Your doctrinairism has more than once led you to that position.” (p 325)

This statement by the conservative Kirillovich, has been echoed in recent times by any number of Liberals, and supposed Leftists, to justify their support for Imperialist intervention. The AWL, for example, have argued that those who oppose Imperialist intervention in Libya, or Syria, are effectively supporting Gaddafi, or Assad.  Similarly, they argued that calling for Troops Out of Iraq, was essentially to support the Iraqi clerical-fascists.  Each time, of course, it has been based upon the specific event, which distinguishes it from all previous such events, and allows them to hope that this time, the consequences of such intervention will not be so disastrous as every other such instance.

It is a statement that today could come from Liberal Interventionists in relation to Iraq, Libya or Syria. But, more coincidental is the discussion that follows. Inevitably, Russia's former allies in the Balkans, far from liberating anyone, pursued their own political objectives, by their own brutal means. A second war broke out between Bulgaria and its former allies. The same inevitability could have been foreseen about the actions of the US and its allies in Iraq, or about the Islamist “rebels” in Libya and Syria. The Liberal Interventionists and their co-thinkers on the Left, of course, abhor such atrocities, and the turn of events, as though this can be separated from their support, or lack of opposition to the actions that led up to them.

In the same way, Trotsky asks,

Well, but who are the allies of yesterday liberating now?...

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. A usurpation of historical tasks such as this is not at all an exceptional happening. The emancipation of the Russian peasant from the fetters of the village community of the epoch of police rule and serfdom is a progressive task. But, it is not at all a matter of indifference who undertakes this task and how. Stolypin's agrarian reform does not solve the problems set by history, it merely exploits these problems in the interests of the gentry and the kulaks. No, there is consequently no need to idealise the Turkish regime or the regime of Russia's village community in order to express at the same time one's uncompromising distrust of the uninvited 'liberators' and to refuse any solidarity with them.” (p 325)

Kirillovich replies again in words that could have been issued today by the AWL.

I admit that it would have been better if the liberation of Macedonia had taken place by other means, and not by the cruel means of war. However, that has this advantage that it is real and not imaginary. Whatever aims were pursued by the Balkan kings and ruling parties, as a result of the war Macedonia has been freed from the yoke of the Turkish beys, the Turkish taxation system, and Turkish tyranny. We Liberals consider it our duty to define our attitude to the war not in accordance with who was conducting the war but with the principle cui prodest, who will gain by it. As politicians living not in some indefinite future but today, and tomorrow, we were resolutely for a war that brought freedom to Macedonia and Old Serbia.” (p 326 -7)

Trotsky's response is also an adequate response to those like the AWL who operate with a syllogistic concept of history, whereby events occur within discrete blocks of time, separated from everything else.

Trotsky says,

If you don't see the link between today's disgrace and yesterday's 'glory', that's because you imagine that in the Balkans somebody is conducting a policy and answering for its reasonableness. In actual fact, policy is making itself down there, just like an earthquake. It was precisely the first war, the 'war of liberation' that reduced to insignificance, to a negligible quantity, all the factors of calculation and political discretion. Blind, unthinking spontaneity came into its own – not the benign spontaneity of awakened mass solidarity, which already has so many good deeds to its credit in history, but malign spontaneity, the resoluteness of which is only the other side of blind despair.” (p 327)

In 1870, Marx warned the Parisian workers against
launching an uprising.
In other words, of course, in any historical event, there will be unforeseen consequences, but that is precisely why before or rather instead of recklessly engaging in or encouraging some adventure, Marxists should do all they can to ensure that the revolutionary forces are mobilised in such a way as to ensure the greatest possible chance of victory. Without that, events will simply overwhelm the forces of the Marxists, and of the progressive sections of the working-class. The despair, which often leads to such outbursts, will instead lead to the kind of malign spontaneity that Trotsky describes here. We may not be able to prevent it. Marx argued against the Parisian workers rising in revolt in 1870. Lenin opposed the July Days in 1917, and as in both those cases, Marxists may have to still provide their support for workers once they have begun, but we should do all in our power to warn against them.

There are other similarities with today. A Marxist solution to many of these problems revolves around the mobilisation of workers across borders. For example, for a Balkan Federation, for a Federation across the Middle East and North Africa, for a United States of Europe and so on. But, organisations like the AWL, even if they raise such demands do so only as some kind of vague hope rather than as central to their programmatic solution. That goes back to the approach adopted by Al Glotzer in relation to the establishment of Israel. (See: Glotzer and Jews As Special, Glotzer and Immigration, Glotzer, Anti-Semitism and the Degenerated Workers State)  Basically, that approach lost faith in the working class to provide a solution, and said, “Yes, it would be nice, but we can't wait, we don't believe it will happen something must be done.” That, of course, is precisely the approach taken by the right-wing Liberal Kirillovich above. It is the approach the AWL and other Third Campists adopt today.

Its precisely that approach that Trotsky opposes. He writes,

And tangled knots exist in plenty in the Balkans...A customs union, federation, democracy, a united parliament for the whole peninsula – what were all these pitiful words beside the unanswerable argument of the bayonet. They had fought the Turks in order to 'liberate' the Christians, they had massacred peaceful Turks and Albanians in order to correct the ethnographical statistics of population, now they began to slaughter each other in order to 'finish the job'.” (p 329)

The current murderous attacks by Israel on the people of Gaza
as well as the rockets fired by Hamas at Israeli civilians, are
just a continuation of the consequences of the basis of
the creation of Israel over the bones of the Palestinians, rather
 than on the basis of joint working class action, and solidarity between
Arab and jewish workers.  It is the consequence of the moralistic politics
of "something must be done".
The same statement could apply to the Middle East in the period after WWII, when the British and other Colonial Powers were removed. The consequence of Glotzer approach based on the idea that “something must be done” to resolve the position of the Jews, a position that is supported by the AWL, in that case and others like it today, has been the perpetual conflict seen in the region ever since, that divides the workers across borders, and facilitates the work of Imperialism.

Trotsky's further comments are even more damning for those today whose justification for such intervention is 'liberation'. He writes,

The atrocities of the Balkan Wars
of 1912-3, were repeated in the
1990's, with atrocities committed
both by and against Serbs, such as
those in the Krajina.
'Free'! And to whom, pray, are the Macedonians topay the costs of their 'liberation'? And exactly how much do these costs amount to? How easily people operate with words, and now with living concepts, when they are not involved themselves! You, Ivan Kirillovich, say that peace is not an end in itself and so on, but you are letting your vision of reality be obscured. 'Free'! Have you any idea what the areas that were recently the theatre of war have been turned into? All through those places a terrible tornado has raged, which has torn up, broken, mangled, reduced to ashes everything that man's labour had created, has maimed and crushed man himself, and mortally laid low the young generation, down to the baby at the breast and even further to the foetus in the mother's womb. The Turks burned and massacre as they fled. The local Christians, where they had the advantage, burned and slaughtered as the allied armies drew near. The soldiers finished off the wounded, and ate up or carried off everything they could lay their hands on. The partisans, following at their heels, plundered, violated, burned. And, finally, along with the armies, epidemics of typhus and cholera advanced across the 'liberated' land.” (p 330)

And yet, today, the AWL and others see in these eloquent passages by Trotsky on the Balkan Wars, where he opposes intervention and adventures under cover of 'liberation', the exact opposite. They quote Trotsky in their usual bowdlerised manner to justify their own position in not opposing such intervention, and adventures under cover of the flag of 'liberation'.

The use of depleted uranium munitions will have
devastating effects for generations to come, just as
has been the case of the dropping of the atom bombs
 on Japan, and the use of Agent Orange, by the US, in
Trotsky compares the devastation with that of the Thirty Years War, but with the appropriate adjustment for the methods of modern machine production compared to handicraft industry. Today, by comparison the devastation wreaked by Imperialism, and the forces it stands behind in Iraq, Libya, Syria etc. are those appropriate to Post-Fordist production, with the application of the microchip,and advanced chemical production. It is that, which makes possible the remote killing of civilians by drones, that leads to the land and water being devastated by chemicals and depleted
Uranium, blighting the lives of the people for decades to come.

Trotsky describes these costs born by the people of the liberated areas in a way that applies equally today.

To speak of the 'liberation' of Macedonia, laid waste, ravaged, infected with disease from end to end, means either to mock reality or to mock oneself. Before our eyes a splendid peninsula, richly endowed by nature, which in the last few decades has made great cultural progress, is being hurled back with blood and iron into the dark age of famine and cruel barbarism. All the accumulations of culture are perishing, the work of fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers is being reduced to dust, cities are being laid waste, villages are going up in flames, and no end can yet be seen to this frenzy of destruction...Face to face with such reversions to barbarism it is hard to believe that 'man' is a proud sounding word. But at least the 'doctrinaires' have one consolation, and it is not small: they can with a clear conscience say, 'Neither by deed nor word nor thought are we guilty of this blood'” (p 332)

Back To Part 2

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