Sunday, 14 October 2012

Trotsky v The Interventionists

Last week, I looked at some of Trotsky's writings, in relation to the Balkan Wars, and what they could tell us about similar such wars today, in relation to the role of “Liberal Interventionism”. Today, I want to look at more of Trotsky's writing, on the Balkan War, in that light.

Trotsky describes the beginning of the Balkan War with first Serbia and then Bulgaria declaring war on Turkey, whose Empire, at that time continued to spread through the Balkans, and into North Africa. Parts of that Empire had already been taken away from Turkey by other European Powers during the 19th Century. Italy, for example had taken Libya away from them, and Britain held sway in Egypt and Palestine. As I said in the previous post, Trotsky, of course, saw the liberation of people from the Turkish Empire as a progressive historical achievement. However, as was demonstrated in last week's post, he made clear that Marxists are not at all indifferent as to how such liberation is achieved. We are most certainly not in favour of it being achieved on the back of some form of Imperialist intervention. And, as Lenin set out in his writings on the National Question, where liberation movements are in reality acting as the agents of “Monarchical intrigues”, for which today read Imperialist intrigues, though we could still use that phrase in relation to the Gulf Monarchies activities in the Middle East and North Africa, we have no business supporting such movements.

Trotsky conducted interviews with various politicians and military commanders, from both Serbia and Bulgaria. The military commanders described to him how, from the beginning of the war, atrocities were committed by their own men. They followed all of the same patterns we are familiar with in more recent conflicts, such as rape, pillage, the shooting of prisoners, and so on. The military commanders did not condone such actions by their men, and set out that, on occasions, at least the more principled officers – who had not themselves been guilty of such atrocities – would punish those responsible. Although, part of the reason for that was to maintain discipline more than anything else. They needed to ensure that the troops were ready to fight in the morning, not disappeared off raping and pillaging in the nearest village. Part of the problem, as today, was the fact that many of the fighters were not actual soldiers, but were various militia, who had been drawn in to “defend” or “liberate” what they saw as their homeland, or their fellow Slavs.

As I set out last week, Trotsky believed that the real solution, for the peoples of the Balkans, was the establishment of a Balkan Federation. That position is consistent with the analysis and program developed from Marx and Engels onwards, through to Lenin and Trotsky. Marx and Engels argued that Nationalism was a progressive force only up to a point i.e. up to the point where small principalities still dominated by feudal relations, were being consolidated into modern bourgeois, nation states. The development of the nation state, based upon a single national market was the pre-condition for capitalist economic development to proceed. But, beyond that point, Nationalism becomes a reactionary force, working against the further development of economic relations, and against the bringing together of the international working-class. Moreover, those small nations, which had not managed to establish themselves as nation state were considered to no longer have the resources themselves to bring it about. Marx and Engels described them as “Non-Historic Peoples”. That was to say that they were like the 300 Nationalities that had made up modern France, but whose existence was now fully subsumed within the French Nation State.

These “Non-Historic Peoples” would now be absorbed within some larger state or federation of states, and any attempt by them to resist should a development would be reactionary. It would, and did necessarily result in these small unviable states seeking support from outside. In the case of the nations Marx and Engels were describing in Central and Eastern Europe, that meant the Tsarist Russian Empire. That in turn would mean that these small nations would put themselves in hock to these external powers, who almost by definition would be reactionary. That basic position was carried on by Lenin and Trotsky, who saw such small states as reactionary. Lenin argued that the establishment of any new bourgeois state was to be opposed, except in the most exceptional condition. Instead, as Trotsky sets out here, the way forward was the establishment of democratic, federal states, that provided the maximum autonomy for each nation within it. There model was the United States of America, or Switzerland.

Trotsky, describes the historic function of the Balkan War in this context.

The Balkan war is an attempt to solve in the quickest possible way the question of creating new state-political forms that shall be better adapted to the needs of the economic and cultural development of the Balkan peoples.

The fundamental view of European democracy, Western and Eastern alike, on this question is perfectly clear: The Balkans for the Balkan peoples! 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.

The Balkans for the Balkan peoples! This means not merely that the hands of the Great Powers must not reach out towards the border of the Balkans but also that, within this border, the Balkan peoples must settle their own affairs, with their own forces, and according to their own ideas, in the land where they live.” (pp 148-52)

Trotsky, writing after the war had started, and after he had done these interviews, setting out all of the atrocities being committed, said,

The Balkans for the Balkan peoples! This slogan is taken up here by all politicians, both those of the extreme Left and those who serve the dynasties. 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)

As I pointed out last week this is one of the problems with the approach of the liberal interventionism advocated by assorted liberal, and opportunist politicians and groups. Almost by definition, the experience of imperialist intervention around the globe, and the fact that these various liberal and opportunist organisations will call for it, whenever someone shouts atrocity, is guaranteed to ensure that every small group with an axe to grind anywhere in the world, will feel free to declare themselves rebels, or revolutionaries – no matter how corrupt, reactionary, or beholden to other forces they might be – and shout “genocide” or “atrocity” at the first opportunity to produce a Youtube video demonstrating how the world must immediately come to their aid, and put them into power in place of their enemies! Trotsky describes, precisely this function of intervention.

He cites a number of Serbian and Bulgarian politicians who expressed their confidence that Russia would intervene to support its Slavic brethren in the Balkans. He writes,

Only in the setting of this confidence, which must, of course, have serious foundations, as yet unknown to Russia's citizens, does the resoluteness of the Balkan governments, which at first sight looks too much like recklessness, become comprehensible.” (pp 156-7)

He then qualifies this statement by saying that there are undoubted material foundations for what was transpiring, arising from the economic development of the area. He goes on,

But, the political consciousness of the masses is still so primitive here that there is always a big gap between the known feelings of the people and political action. As a mass, the people are politically helpless. Parties and cliques therefore possess great opportunities to exercise initiative, pressure and arbitrary decision. Without a governmental policy directed toward war there would have been no war – at any rate not now. And this policy on the part of the Balkan governments would, in its turn, not have existed without the confidence they feel, rightly or wrongly, that they are acting in conformity to Russia's desires.” (p 157)

This could be quite easily applied today to the situation not just in the Middle East and North Africa, but also to a large degree to the situation in Central Asia, and to parts of Eastern Europe. The difference being that it is political parties and cliques in these areas manipulating the masses, and launching adventures either with the connivance in advance of Imperialism, or at least as Trotsky describes here, in the hope that Imperialism will come to their assistance. The situation he describes is very similar to that we see today, in fact. In MENA, and in Central Asia, and in Eastern Europe, there is undoubted rapid, economic growth and development, which has caused deep social transformations. This provides the material base for various forms of social and political development. But, that does not mean that it is not open to being manipulated, or that various forces will not hijack such developments. That is what happened in Iran in 1979. It is what has happened in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia in the last year, with the Muslim Brotherhood, and more extreme Islamist forces, using these developments to further their own political ends.

The actions of Imperialism, and of the liberal interventionists, have encouraged such a development by their actions over recent decades. A similar development was seen a few years ago with the decision of Georgia's demagogic leader Mikhail Saakashvilli, to launch a genocidal attack on the peoples of South Ossetia. Saakasvilli who gives the impression of a highly deluded man at the best of times, was clearly convinced, as were the political leaders that Trotsky describes, that despite launching his murderous attacks on South Ossetia, the US and NATO would rush to his defence, if, as was likely, Russia came to stop him, in defence of the South Ossetians.

A similar dangerous game is being played today by Turkey in relation to Syria. As Trotsky set out, in relation to the Balkans, these kinds of games, with today Russia and China standing behind Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the US and the EU standing behind the Gulf Monarchies, Turkey, Jordan and the Sunni Islamist fighters is leading to a “ conscious provocation to a measuring of strength”, not just on a European scale, but on a global scale.

In the meantime, the US backed regime in Bahrain, has continued its own murderous and reactionary pogroms against its own people, with not a word of protest from the West, and with not a minute of TV coverage from the western media. On the contrary, the UK has just signed a new agreement with Bahrain to provide it with yet more military equipment and training, so that it can more effectively murder its own people.

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