Karl Radek


The Fight for the Straits

(29 September 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 83, 29 September 1922, pp. 622–623.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The Diplomatic Situation

The diplomatic situation created by the fight over the Straits is a perfect parallel to the diplomatic situation with regard to the reparations question. Only the roles of England and France are exchanged. Whilst England plays towards Germany the part of a peace-loving and restraining element, in the Turkish question it is France who takes up this role. The French press is now writing as to the stupidity of a military adventure, as to the futility of sabre rattling and of the necessity of deciding the disputed question by means of negotiations and common agreement.

In the one case just as in the other, the peaceful declarations are nothing but a hypocritical cloak for imperialist interests. England who is in need of the German market, and who wished to use Germany as the counterpoise against France appears in the West as the angel of peace at the very same time that, in the East, she plays the part of the Versailles Shylock. In order to set the Mohammedan world against England, to strengthen Turkey as against the position of England in Egypt and India, and by means of the pressure in the East to make English imperialism more compliant towards the robber campaign in Europe, France appears as the angel of peace in the East.

M. Poincaré plays the English role with surprising skill. When France made use of the threat of occupying the Ruhr basin in the event of Germany’s refusal to carry out the decisions of the Reparations Commission, England declared that she would take no part in any military undertakings against Germany, although she agreed in principle that Germany must fulfill the Versailles Peace. Today France makes a similar declaration. France agrees in principle with the execution of the decisions of the Allied Conference held at Paris in March, but nothwithstanding, she withdraws her troops from the Asiatic coast of the Dardanelles, which means that she wishes to throw upon England all responsibility for the possible military collisions in Turkey. In this manner France not only achieves the isolation of England and the strengthening of the Turkish pressure, but she also stirs up against Lloyd George the discontent of those elements in the Conservative Party who regard the maintenance of the Entente as the salient point of English politics.

Of course, this does not mean that the rupture of the Entente has yet occurred. France is only desirous of receiving her price for meddling in Turkish affairs. And her price is increasing. The Berliner Lokalanzeiger is perfectly right when it asserts that in all probability, Germany, who always has to pay the piper in the Anglo-French disputes, will also have to pay this price.

The Military Situation

The chief question is, whether the Turkish army can venture to take Constantinople and the Straits with prospects of success. The simple fact that the English Government is dispatching considerable military and naval reinforcements, gives us reason to reply in the affirmative. Hitherto England had no more than 12,000 soldiers at her disposal in the Dardanelles districts. Such a small army is of course incapable of halting the advance of Kemal’s forces. The question now is, whether Kemal’s troops can cross the Dardanelles? Yes, they can do so. Although the forts on both sides of the Dardanelles have been to a considerable extent demolished, heavy artillery mounted on the rocky Asiatic coast of the Dardanelles could successfully bombard the English warships. The Dardanelles are very narrow; at many points the coasts are not more than 1,000 meters apart. To operate warships in such a strait under the fire of the Kemalist artillery is extremely difficult. By dispatching troops to Gallipoli and occupying the Adrianople-Dimotika line, the Kemalists could cut off the Greek army of 40,000 men under the command of Vlachopul in Thracia. This army which has been demoralized by the collapse of the Greeks in Asia Minor would then have to deal not only with the regular troops of Kemal, but also with the Turkish and Bulgarian insurgents. From Thracia which is under Greek occupation, about 200,000 Turks have migrated to Constantinople and environs. The whole of this mass is waiting impatiently for the possibility of returning to its native place. With regard to the Bulgarians, there is no doubt that in spite of the Bulgarian Government’s efforts to preserve neutrality, a considerable number of Bulgarians are active in the revolutionary national organizations, not only in Macedonia, but also in Thracia. The Bulgarians desire an approach to the Aegean Sea and the port of Dedeaghatch is the objective of the Bulgarians.

Whether the Kemalist army is aiming at the conquest of the Straits is not yet certain, although it is equal to this task The capture of the Straits would mean continuing the war with England. We do not know whether Kemal is resolved on that. His decision depends not only upon the strength of his military forces, on the economic resources of the country, but also on the question, to what extent Kemal Pasha may depend upon the support of France. It is possible that the Kemalists, while abandoning the attack on the Straits will strike a blow at the weakest spot of English rule, namely, at Mesopotamia where the English forces are very weak and where no dreadnoughts can be concentrated.

What Will England Do?

As to what direction the question of the Straits is to take in the near future, whether it will be solved by military or diplomatic means, it is important to cast a glance at the aims of England.

The English press declares that the Bulgarian and Greek population of Thracia must not be left in the hands of the Turks. They base the conduct of English politics upon national motives. It is very interesting, therefore, to read the article by Arnold Tombey in the Manchester Guardian. This article calls attention to the following characteristic fact: England has held Cyprus for 78 years under her control. When the English obtained Cyprus from Turkey by a secret convention they pledged themselves to return it as soon as Kars and Adargan, occupied by the Russians, should again come into Turkish hands. Kars and Adargan are already in the possession of Turkey. Cyprus, however, is an English colony regardless of its Greek population. And when the English, in their negotiations with the Turks, make reference to the principles of nationality, they can be answered with the English proverb: “Charity begins at home.”

In addition to “Freedom of Nationalities” the English press refers to another principle – that of “Freedom of Navigation”. In what way, however, are the Dardanelles better or worse than Gibraltar, Suez, Aden or Singapore? What becomes of the freedom of navigation if England is in a position to shut out every ship except her own from the entrance to the. Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea or the passage from India to the Pacific Ocean?

The last English argument is even more interesting, for it takes us from the region of the propagandist myths of English Imperialism to the sphere of the real aims of England. “England will not suffer the entrance to the Black Sea to be closed to her” declared that organ of Lloyd George, The Daily Chronicle.

What is the meaning of this declaration? When the English, in 1914, procured from the Turks the passage of English ships through the Dardanelles, England was at that time in Alliance with Russia who was fighting against Germany. England is no longer allied with Russia and Russia is no longer at war with anybody. The greatest hindrance to the free passage of merchant ships in recent years has been England, who allows to pass or holds up vessels going to Russia, at will. When England ceases doing this, all merchant ships coming from the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea will have a free passage in times of peace. And as regards times of war, we must ask whether England reckons that in the future we, in alliance with her, shall be engaged in fighting against other powers, or whether Turkey could perhaps prevent England from bringing help to Soviet Russia? ... We stand in closer relationship to Turkey than to England, and we see no indications by reason of which England could reckon on being our ally in the near future. At any rate, England gives us no information regarding the existence of such indications. Between politics and love there is the distinction that in politics things are not self-evident, but require precise declaration.

We fear that England is not so much concerned with the possibility of being hindered front rendering help to Soviet Russia against supposed enemies, but rather, as to how she can keep the Straits as a means of exerting pressure against the Turks and against Soviet Russia.

So long as Constantinople is the capital of Turkey, the presence of an English garrison in Gallipoli and the free passage of English warships through the Dardanelles constitute an immediate threat to Turkey. Owing to the weakness of the Russian fleet it means danger to Russia also. And the whole struggle of England for the Straits is nothing but a struggle on the part of England for the possibility of an armed pressure of English imperialism upon Turkey and Soviet Russia.

Soviet Russia and the Dardanelles

The Russian Government, through a note from the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, again called the attention of the English Government to the fact that a war in the Near East could be obviated by an international conference in which the participation of all countries adjoining the Black Sea is indispensably necessary. The English press responded to this note in a very pompous manner. Lord Balfour vouchsafed no reply to Karakhan’s note. But that does not in the least alter the facts, which are very obstinate things.

The military situation renders it possible to prevent the egress of the English ships from the Sea of Marmora even if they were to succeed in getting into it through the Dardanelles. All solutions of the question, arrived at without Soviet Russia, will he unworkable for the simple reason that they do not take into account the actual relationships of power. The time when the Allies reckoned on solving the question of the Near East at Sèvres, without Russia and without Turkey, is not so far back only two years have elapsed since the Treaty of Sèvres. But since that time Soviet Russia has finally annihilated white Russia and now speaks not only in the name of the working masses of present day Russia, but also in the name of the coming generations.

In the meanwhile defeated and crippled Turkey has proved that she is alive and is capable of action. Therefore, if Kemal Pasha be compelled for the sake of a breathing space to enter into a solution of the problem of the Straits contrary to the interests of the Turkish people, and whether England will or will not reject a joint solution with Turkey and Russia of those questions which touch the vital interests of both countries, the authority of any such solution will not last longer than that of the decision of Sèvres. For they would be contrary to the interests of the Russian and Turkish peoples, whose strength will continue to increase in the next few years. And every such solution will become the starting point of a new war.

The English Government has already said many shrewd words to the French, as to it being easy, at a certain moment, to dictate an unjust peace, but very difficult to enforce it.

It would be very desirable if the English Government, instead rattling the sabre and swearing by the spirits of the victims of English imperialism fallen at Gallipoli, would calmly consider whether it would not be worthwhile to lay the peace in the near East on a firmer foundation than the one it has stood upon hitherto.

Last updated on 3 September 2020