Harry Quelch 1912

The War in the Balkans

Source: Revolutionary History;
First Published: 1912 The War in the Balkans, The British Socialist, Vol.1., No.10. October 15, 1912. pp.433-438. Published at the start of the war when the outcome was quite unknown;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

As International Socialists we of the British Socialist and of the British Socialist Party, generally, are entirely in favour of peace. In our view one of the worst calamities that can possibly befall mankind is war. Our Party – the Red International, the international working-class Social-Democracy – is the one great world-wide peace party; and one of its chief objects is to “Seek peace and ensue it,” and to establish international concord among all the peoples of the earth.

That being so, we, cannot but deplore the outbreak of war between the smaller Balkan States and Turkey. In our judgement this war is not merely – as, generally speaking, all wars are – crime against humanity; but it is, what is sometimes said to be worse than a crime, a hideous blunder.

Ardently as we desire hence, as affording, as a rule, the only conditions in which the various peoples can work out their own economic salvation, we are forced – however reluctantly – to admit that wars are sometimes inevitable and justifiable, and that there arc circumstances in which the horrors of peace are worse than those of war. Great as is our abhorrence of war, we cannot but admit that a war waged by any people in defence of their national liberty is not only justifiable, but a duty. We stand by the “sacred right of insurrection” on the part of any people; and our sincere sympathy and approbation are always with a people “rightly struggling to be free.” Moreover, we believe, with our friend Cunninghame Graham, that the Ark of the Covenant of human liberty is in the keeping of the smaller nations; that the great empire-States of to-day are huge liberty-destroying, oligarchical despotisms, the Frankenstein monsters created by the most sordid form of class domination the world has ever seen, that of international capitalism.

Holding these views we should, naturally, be entirely on the side of the Balkan States in this conflict, and should applaud them for their action if we were convinced that it represented a genuine movement for setting free any community from the rule of Turkey, or any other despotism.

In the circumstances, however, it is impossible to regard this present attack upon Turkey as anything, more than the outcome of the sinister policy of the Great Powers, and notably Russia, to which policy Bulgaria, Servia, Greece and Montenegro have foolishly – although not, it is presumed, disinterestedly – lent themselves.

We hold no brief for Turkey, any more than for any other imperial Power, but as between Turkey and Russia we maintain that the latter is infinitely the worse. Turkey, as was pointed out years ago, is a decaying; despotism; Russia is a growing one. Turkey is an old-world, unprogressive, easy-going, tolerant alike as to the race and creed of all the peoples who come under her sway. Russia is rapacious, brutal, savage, repressive, crudely intolerant to all save the orthodox. At the same time Russia, brutal, scarcely civilised, as she is, is progressive and expansive. In no country, in the world, probably, has economic development proceeded so rapidly during the last few years as in Russia, and in the same period she has been reaching out alter fresh territory in all directions. No defeat even, however crushing, appears to check the steady, relentless, never-hasting, never-resting extension of her devastating sway.

Russia has always been regarded by the international democracy – Socialist and other – as the worst and most dangerous enemy of human liberty and of democratic progress. The guiding principle of democratic and even Liberal policy was anti-Russian, until Gladstone’s time. Gladstone, bewitched, it is alleged, by a sort of Russian Delilah in the person of Madame de Novikoff, discovered in Russia virtues of which she had never before been suspected. She was the great, powerful, stainless champion of civilisation, Christianity and liberty, and more especially of the Christian races in Eastern Europe, and her Czar was the incarnation of piety, kindness, and all the Christian graces – a perfect Bayard, “sans peur et sans reproche.”

From that time onward it has been impossible, in Liberal eyes, for Russia to do any wrong. The “Black Hundreds”; the “Pogroms”; the Czar’s battue of his loving subjects, who came, unarmed and chanting his praise, to beg for his merciful consideration in their misery and want; the brutal outrages upon men, women and children; the unspeakable, horrors of the massacres of Kischineff, Moscow and innumerable towns and villages throughout Russia; the Siberian hell; the savage clandestine arrests and torture in prison of youths and maidens – all these horrors passed unnoticed by our good Liberals, or only called for the mildest sort of protest.

Then came the Revolution. The bonds of despotism had been strained to breaking point; and the reverse of the war with Japan gave the democratic forces in Russia their opportunity. Like fire through over-dry stubble swept the revolutionary movement – irresistible, all-conquering, and triumphant. It was indeed a glorious victory, which inspired every lover of freedom throughout the world with hope and confidence. The Russian despotism was doomed. This was more than the handwriting on the wall. The autocracy was utterly defeated; it would soon be tumbled into the dust never to rise again.

So we all hoped and believed; and so it would have been, but England and France said “No!” True to the Russophil Gladstonian tradition, the Liberal Government, by the instrumentality of Sir Edward Grey, deliberately set out to rehabilitate Russia as a world Power. Through that wicked and sinister policy, therefore, supported by the moneyed interests in Western Europe, with their vast investments in Russian enterprises, the most cruel and monstrous despotism in the whole world has been rehabilitated. And the results of that rehabilitation during the few years that have elapsed since are too fresh in our memories to need recapitulation. The suppression of all that was democratic in the Duma, and the imprisonment, torture, and death of its Socialist members; renewed massacres; torture and prison horrors; the violation of the constitution of Finland, and the partition of Persia. Such are a few of the consequences – to say nothing of the dangerous situation created in Western Europe – of the Russophil policy of our Liberal Government.

And we are now witnessing another in this war in the Balkans. It cannot be doubted for a moment that the present outbreak is due to the intrigues of Russia, who stands chiefly to gain by the war, whatever its outcome. Bulgaria, Servia, Montenegro and Greece are only catspaws to get Russia’s chestnuts out of the fire, because the operation was a little too dangerous for her to perform herself.

The pretence that the war is being undertaken to ensure the autonomy of Macedonia is the merest piece of humbug. We are entirely at one with our comrades of the Radical wing of the Bulgarian Social-Democratic Party in their declaration that “the autonomy of Macedonia would be no solution to the Balkan question. For an autonomous Macedonia would still be the same apple of discord for the rival Balkan States and dynasties and for European diplomacy as an enslaved Macedonia. Besides, the Powers would never consent to a real autonomy. A war in the Balkans would only be an opportunity for the policy of conquest of the Powers, especially for Russia’s designs in the Balkans. Then the Russian secret convention with Bulgaria would come into force, according to which, in the case of a war between Bulgaria and Turkey, the Russian fleet is to occupy the Bulgarian harbours on the Black Sea, thus assuring to Russia the entrance into Southern Bulgaria, the shortest way to Constantinople. A war for the “autonomy” of Macedonia would, without attaining the real goal, totally exhaust Bulgaria, and then deliver it up to the tender mercies of the Russian despotism.”

And thus the last state of Macedonia, as well as of Bulgaria, would be far worse than the first. She had far better resign herself to the rule of King Log – Turkey, than call in King Stork – Russia. It is quite true that there have been horrible massacres and outrages in Macedonia, Armenia, and the other Christian provinces of Turkey. But they bear no comparison with what has taken place in Russia. And there is this difference: In the one case, that of Turkey, they have been wantonly and deliberately provoked in order to justify revolt and intervention; in the other they have been wanton attacks upon inoffensive people. The Turk – brutally ferocious as he may be when provoked – is, as a rule, easy-going and tolerant, and not given to persecution. The outrages perpetrated upon Jews in Russia have been the result of religious fanaticism and intolerance, deliberately instigated by the authorities. The outrages perpetrated upon the Christian subjects of Turkey have been provoked by the arrogance, overbearing tyranny, and ruthless exploitation by these Christians of their unfortunate Moslem neighbours. Yet our Nonconformist Liberals here are deaf and blind to the one, and furious with indignation and breathings of threatenings and slaughter against the other. “Turn the Turk, bag and baggage, out of Europe!” cried Gladstone. “I say, God damn the Sultan!” was the prayer of the saintly Dr. Parker. But no Liberal statesman ever suggests turning Russia bag and baggage out of the territories she I has annexed and despoiled; nor does any Nonconformist divine pray to his God to damn the Czar. They are all for freeing Macedonia from the dominion of Turkey; but they could not move a finger to prevent Finland or Persia being brought under the sway of the far worse despotism of Russia.

Had the Powers earnestly desired peace and the autonomy of Macedonia they could have secured both long ago. But they – and especially Russia – want all that could be got by a war without fighting among themselves.

So they have egged on the Balkan States, and will step in and grab the plunder when the fight is over. Not Turkey, nor Bulgaria, nor Greece, nor Servia, nor Montenegro will be permitted to gain anything by the war. Any gain to be derived therefrom will be taken by Russia, or divided between her and Austria. John Bull, once more, will be fooled, and the Balkan States will have their trouble, and loss, and bloodshed, and suffering for their pains. Neither side to the actual conflict will be the gainer, and we heartily support the opposition of our Bulgarian comrades to the war, and endorse their view in favour of a union of all the Balkan peoples in a Federated Republic.


Last updated on: 1.3.2005