The disintegration of Yugoslavia through conflict and war in the 1990s
created an image of the Balkans that led some on the left to back Nato's
1999 war over Kosovo. In this picture, nationalism comes from within the
Balkans while peace comes from western intervention.
This collection of socialist writings gives us a side to the Balkans that we are not normally shown. The articles - most of which appear in English for the first time - were written in the period from 1871 to just after the outbreak of the First World War. Some authors are socialists central to the development of revolutionary Marxism in the Balkans, such as Christian Rakovsky, Dimitrije Tucovic and Dimitur Blagoev. Others are western socialists who wrote on the Balkans, including Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein.
Two key factors shaped the socialist tradition in the Balkans. Firstly, the region was economically backward, divided into small, weak states with little developed industry. This was the arena in which nationalist movements in each state could seek to create a stronger base for development by pursuing a policy of a Greater Serbia, Bulgaria or whatever.
Secondly, the region's key location at the crossroads between east and west meant the imperialist states of the period all had an interest. In 1871 Ottoman Turkey controlled most of the Balkans. By the start of the First World War, as the Ottoman Empire crumbled, Austro-Hungary, Russia, Germany, Britain and France had all become players in Balkan politics.
The importance of the Balkan socialist tradition is that it developed in opposition simultaneously to Balkan nationalism and to imperialism. As in Russia, economic backwardness contrasted with political maturity on the part of the socialists.
Take the debate on the so called 'Eastern Question'. After Russia's role in opposing the revolutions of 1848, Marx and Engels argued that Tsarism was the main barrier to revolution in Europe, and took sides against Russia wherever possible. During the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78, Engels wrote that he would be 'delighted if the Russians take a pasting'. Marx and Engels opposed any national movements against Ottoman rule in the Balkans on the basis that they would lead to a stronger Russia.
But, as modern imperialism developed in the 1890s, it was not just Russia that sought to exploit Balkan national movements. The Balkans became an area of imperialist rivalry between Austro-Hungary, Germany, Britain and France. In fact the pretext for the First World War was the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo in 1914.
After Engels' death in 1895, a debate developed among German socialists over this question. In 1896 the Bulgarian Marxist Christian Rakovsky presented a report on the Eastern Question to the Second International's London congress. Rakovsky argued - in a similar vein to articles by Luxemburg and Bernstein - that socialists should support the Balkan nations' independence from Turkey as a means of breaking them from the influence of Tsarism.
Another section deals with Austro-Hungary's annexation of Bosnia in 1908 and the failure of the Austrian socialists to defend Bosnia's right to independence. There has been much debate on the left about the approach of so called 'Austro-Marxism' to the national question, and the idea of national autonomy. The articles presented in this collection show that in practice this position led the Austro-Marxists into a tacit alliance with the Habsburg Empire and, ultimately, into support for their own ruling class in the First World War.
Both the Serbian Socialists and the Bulgarian Narrow Socialists (the Bulgarians had also split along Bolshevik-Menshevik lines in 1903) voted against war when it broke out in 1914. In this respect they were far ahead of most of the Second International parties who lined up behind their own ruling classes.
Other sections deal with the question of Macedonia, the impact of the Young Turk revolution of 1908 on the Balkans, the idea of a Balkan Federation, and the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. The authors' analysis is enriched by original research across many languages.
This book is an important addition to the history of socialism in the Balkans. It also provides an accessible introduction to an under-explored area in the development of Marxism.
Nicolai Gentchev, "socialist review", February 2004