W. Liebknecht

Crete and Social-Democracy


Written: 10 March 1897
Published: Vorwärts 10 March 1897
Transcribed by: Ted Crawford
Translated from German by: Mike Jones
Markup: H. Antonn

Note: The following article, together with others involving Bernstein, Kautsky, Wilhelm Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg appears courtesy of the editorial Board of Revolutionary History in The Balkan Socialist Tradition, Revolutionary History, Vol.8 no.3, 2003. For a full discussion of these articles in their context see the relevant volume of Revolutionary History.


My opinions and Kautsky’s diverge on only one point, namely with regard to the question of whether or not the position of Russia towards Turkey has today become fundamentally different from what it was previously.

Kautsky asserts it. I deny it. But before I argue with Kautsky, here are some remarks about the Press and some other comments.

I do not agree with the foolish sentimentality that – to express myself in the words of Marx – perceives in every sheep-stealer who gets into a quarrel with the Turks an ‘oppressed nationality’ and takes pity on him, just as little as it would ever occur to me to want to defend the Turkish government. A Belgian paper, the Brussels Réforme, which takes hypocritical Gladstonite phrases seriously, and splashes about in the once more gushing streams of philhellenism, that shallowest emanation of bourgeois liberalism, has called me a partisan of the Sultan – now that is a bit of a joke, which is not new, to people like us who have been labelled, every day for years, hirelings of the Austrian Emperor for being opponents of Bismarck. In addition, the new assertion that the Tsar cannot now be thinking of war against Turkey or of dividing Turkey because the capitalist development of Russia forces him into a policy of peace, I leave to one side; anyone who has seen how German capitalism, which is much more developed than Russian, favoured Bismarck’s policy of conquest and rained down material means into his lap, can only laugh at such childishness.

Not that I want to deprive the nationalities of every right. By virtue of their right of self-determination, the members of a nationality obviously have the right to unite. Only, what are nationalities or nations? Among the cultured peoples there are no nations and nationalities any more, in the sense of a racial community. The Italians are a hybrid people: Romans, Greeks, Germans, Arabs, Celts, Phoenicians (Carthaginians) and heaven knows what else; so are the Spaniards: Celts, Iberians, Carthaginians (Phoenicians), Romans, Germans; so are the French: Celts, Greeks, Romans, Germans; so are the English: Celts, Romans, Germans; so are the Germans: Celts, Germans, Romans, Slavs – in East Elbia, the latter vastly predominant, so that as East Elbia rules in Germany today, German Germany is actually ruled by Slavic Germany in ‘national’ Germany, as once Greece was by Macedonia – the finest satire on the Nationality Principle!

Indeed – and with that I shall return to the ground of facts and practicalities – it is our duty, inasmuch as it is within our power, to support and further the cause of ‘nations’ that fight against their violation. However, one must then examine each case individually.

And what Marx says about the Montenegrin sheep-stealers can at least in part be applied to the ‘Greek’ Cretans, whose Greekness is more than doubtful, whose talent for thieving and brigandage, practised at the expense of the Turks, is beyond doubt, and who have, in addition, shared in a freedom under Turkish rule which we Germans would have envied. Several stereotypical thinkers who veil their Gladstone-like hatred of the Turks with the cloak of the ‘materialist conception of history’ (like maiden Jettchen’s thimble[1], it is ‘good for all things’) have discovered that the Armenians and Greeks have to separate themselves from the Turks because their economic development is higher and their further development would be hindered by the Turks. With regard to the Cretans, this objection is certainly not correct, and I will not occupy myself further with it, certainly not in depth, because they stand on a most primitive cultural level, economically mostly lower than the Mohammedans of the island, and until now have attested just as little inclination for civilisation as the similarly economically and geographically placed Corsicans, who in spite of the utmost efforts of the French government, still today regard robbery and murder as their inalienable human right – exactly like the brave Cretans and Montenegrins. And one would not after all want to say of the French that they are ‘impediments to progress’, like the Turks, as the usual stereotypical phrases would have it.

However, let us leave that, and let us consider a nationality whose violation can be just as little disputed as its right to liberation: I mean the Poles.

No nation has ever been more brutally oppressed than the Poles. The divisions of Poland were disgraceful crimes, and cannot be excused by the sophistry of raison d’état: the destruction of Poland as a state is the blackest genocide known to history. The number of Poles is five times as great as that of the Armenians, and a hundred times as great as that of the Cretans – they were always pioneers of culture, and today they would be a defensive rampart of culture; their liberation would harm nobody but the criminals that have erased Poland from the family of states, and would hurt no interests but those of the universal enemy of human progress and freedom.

Good – so we stand one and all for the liberation of Poland! What? The eloquent champions of the Armenians and the Cretans are silent, with their enthusiasm suddenly frozen stiff. Explain that to me, Count Oerindur!

Merely the word Poland suffices to characterise the complete mendacity of Russian policy. And English policy on this question is for the present in the slip-stream, and the French only an appendage, of Russian policy. A state that commits a thousand times greater injustices in its own country, and tramples underfoot the right of nationality a thousand times more brutally than the Turks ever did, cannot in truth honestly mean it to those whom it allegedly wants to deliver from the Turkish yoke. Charity begins at home – Christian love and liberation begin at home. In Russia, there is a thousand times more oppression, and in addition a thousand times more stealing, than in Turkey. Were the Russian government serious about its humanity and emancipatory air, then it would set that noble instinct in motion in its own lands. And if it is good-natured but has let itself be tempted by the soft-soap of Russian-English priests and philistines to overlook the wrongs nearer home and dwell on the Turkish outrages in the far distance – if it is serious about them, with its enthusiasm and sympathy for oppressed nations, then it has the best opportunity to demonstrate this seriousness. There is Poland! Hic Rhodus, hic salta![2] There in Poland is the touchstone of the fanaticism of nationality. Anyone that gets worked up for the Armenians and Cretans and has no sympathy for Poland is either a thoughtless fellow, or a miserable comedian and hypocrite. Or he has benefited from the Russian rouble.

The alliance between Russia and Turkey is nothing new. Everything has existed before, already 65 years ago, and under quite similar circumstances. Had not the powers that divided Poland often before had alliances with Poland? Is not an alliance with an enemy the best means of destroying it? One sees that the present situation is not new, and we cannot infer a change of policy from the fact of the current Russian-Turkish alliance.

For Russia, the alliance with Turkey has the twofold advantage that – like the witch in Hänsel and Gretel – it defers the slaughter of the victim until a suitable moment, and simultaneously fattens the victim, that is, so that the process of annexation can be prepared con amore.[3] The restless Armenians are for the present much more useful to the Russians as Turkish subjects. They help in Turkey’s dissolution, instead of weakening Russia.

Owing to the alliance with Turkey, Russia has only become even more dangerous for Europe, and its power to influence the peoples governed by Turkey in a way hostile to culture only becomes greater. It is not correct that Russia is faced with a dam by the Christian Balkan states. That was the illusion of the Napoleonic semi-democracy after the Crimean War. The only one of these states which has freed itself completely from Russian influence is Romania, where various advantageous circumstances have played a rôle in this result. Bulgaria, which strove to emancipate itself, and also seemed to be at the point of achieving this aim many times, is once more completely dependent on Russia which, by the human robbery perpetrated on Battenberg,[4] by numerous mutinies and assassination attempts, and finally by the barbaric slaughter of Stambolov,[5] has manifested its civilising mission and its maintenance of the old policy of conquest with a clarity that leaves nothing to be desired. The third of the Christian Balkan states, Serbia, has one arm in the grip of Russia, and the other in the grip of Austria; while the fourth of these states, the robber state of Montenegro, is not only under Turkish influence, but is also on the official Russian payroll. It is feared in Vienna that the Serbs together with the Bulgarians will attack Turkey. It is feared in Vienna! The giant fears the dwarf. And why must the giant fear?

Because at home things are also done in a semi-Turkish way, and because he has not understood how to educate and win over the energy of the peoples of these rough lands.

Austria – and here is the core of the blunder – Austria is not a democratic state, and it cannot exercise any attraction on those peoples: its bleak, bone-headed bureaucratism just melts it away. What will happen in the East now? I will not rack my brains. Who can find his way around in all this confusion? If the European war were to break out today, then Russia, as Turkey’s protector that wants to prevent it being eaten up by others, would fight for the inviolability of Turkey, at the side of the Turks and the French. Tsar, Sultan and the bourgeois republic of human rights would be fraternally united. Truly Europe is not merely a sick-room – it is a madhouse.

Yes, if the French democrats and social democrats had overthrown the Russian-French government on 23 February and torn up the Russo-French alliance – if the French democrats and social democrats had succeeded in getting England and France to agree to a defensive and offensive alliance for the liberation of all oppressed nations and peoples – then we would indeed surely have had in sight a European war, and also perhaps the liberation of the Cretans, Armenians, Greeks, Turks, Poles, Russians, etc. Then the Eastern Question would, along with other questions, perhaps be on the way to a satisfactory resolution.

The French democrats and social democrats have not overthrown the Russian-French ministry and have not broken up the Russo-French alliance, and under these circumstances broaching the Eastern Question would inevitably have led to a European war without the prospect of a solution that was in the interests of humanity and freedom.

It is therefore certainly better that the solution be adjourned once more.

It has to be stated that so long as Russia is the arbiter of Europe, and England, due to France’s disastrous dependence on Russia, sees itself compelled to evade settling accounts with Russia, no change can ensue in the East that does not turn out to be for the benefit and the strengthening of Russia and the despotism it represents. The little Greece on which the enthusiasts rest their hopes is only a straw, and not a nice one into the bargain. And as long as France travels in Russia’s slipstream and Russia controls the situation, it can enforce its will and thwart every solution that is in the interests of democracy. We cannot ignore this fact.

And to speak frankly, I believe that the autonomy promised under the protection of ‘the whole of Europe’ is still better for the Cretans than annexation to the Kingdom of Greece, whose administration is just as rotten and ruined as that of Turkey, and far less tolerant. Because of Greece’s proverbial card-sharp policies, an annexed Crete under Russian leadership would be involved in adventures and catastrophes, from which an autonomous Crete has the prospect of safeguarding itself amid the mutual jealousies of all the European powers.

‘However, the Cretans and the other “oppressed” cannot wait!’

Alas, we social democrats are also oppressed, and our hearts beat against our ribs with anger to put an end to injustice. However, we must check our impatience.

Tsarism is the last support of capitalism. Together with the latter, it will be seen off by the liberator of peoples, international socialism.

The Eastern Question will be solved neither in Crete nor in the Balkan Peninsula, but in the metropolitan centres of Europe, first of all, with foresight, in Paris. The die will very likely be cast there first. The unworthiness of the alliance of the French Republic with Russian despotism will be made brutally clear to the French by the Eastern crisis, and by the despicable and ridiculous diplomatic buffoonery in which France participates.

The spectre of the Three Emperors’ League[6] is at work, too. If France detaches itself from Russia, then the foundation of Russia’s supreme power disappears, and it is once more the giant with feet of clay that cannot even do away with Turkey on the open field of battle.

The end of the Russo-French alliance is the beginning of the democratic and revolutionary resolution of the Eastern question

[1] A character from a popular novel of the time.

[2] ‘Rhodes is here, leap here’, by which Liebknecht means Russia need not go to Turkey (Rhodes) to prove its commitment to freedom. It can prove it here, in Poland.

[3] With love.

[4] A reference to the forced abdication and abduction of the German Prince of Bulgaria, Alexander of Battenberg (1857-1893), by pro-Russian Bulgarian officers in a coup in 1886. Since 1883, Alexander had increasingly angered the Tsar by his independent pro-Bulgarian policies. The coup failed, and although Alexander returned to Bulgaria to popular acclaim, he then abdicated, unwilling to rule in the face of continuing opposition from the Tsar.

[5] Stefan Stambolov (1854-1895) ran Bulgaria as regent and Prime Minister from 1886 to 1894. He was steadfastly anti-Russian but ruled despotically. He fell from power when Bulgarian ruling circles decided to mend relations with the Tsar, and he was brutally murdered in a street attack a year later.

[6] An intermittent alliance between Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia during the 1870s and 1880s which kept breaking down over conflicting interests, primarily in the Balkans.


Last updated on 9.2.2005