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Jack Weber

The Balkans – Pawns of the Great Powers

(April 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 17, 26 April 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Bourgeois writers of history, when they spoke unguardedly, and therefore frankly, called the Balkan or Eastern Question “the problem of filling up the vacuum created by the gradual disappearance of the Turkish Empire from Europe.” In this manner of posing the “problem” there was not a trace of thought given to the Balkan peoples themselves. Long before Hitler was born, the Concert of Europe – was there ever a more ironic name for it? – moved diplomatically to carve up the Balkans among the great powers.

The first great rivals for the inheritance of the Sick Man of Europe (so they called the Sultan) were England and Czarist Russia. Russia wanted Constantinople and an outlet to the sea. England wouldn’t have minded that so much, except that she already possessed India. Hence she dared not tolerate any power having a hold on the Mediterranean which might dominate her lifeline to India and the Far East.

Each of the great powers was anxious to become the “protector” of the small Balkan nations. The Czar was the first protector and in true gangster fashion exacted his price. But in the Crimean War, England muscled in and took over the protection. Today it is Hitler who shoulders aside England, as well his ally Italy, to become the “protector.”

It Was Also Napoleon’s Strategy

Hitler is following closely in the footsteps of Napoleon. The latter said: “Really to conquer England we must make ourselves masters of Egypt.” By this Napoleon meant breaking the sea route in the Mediterranean that was a matter of life and death to British imperialism.

The first World War was fought over this same issue when Germany attempted to build the strategic Berlin-to-Bagdad Railway. This would have brought the Kaiser close to the Suez Canal. Now Hitler again wishes to use the Balkans as the stepping-stone to Suez. In the last war Germany wished to gain complete domination of Europe in order next to break up the British Empire. Hitler has followed the same formula, thus far with much greater success.

People who do not understand the working of imperialism in the small nations wonder why Hitler was so successful in keeping the Balkan states apart and swallowing them one at a time. In this Hitler merely inherits the “benefits” derived from the intrigues of all the imperialist powers of Europe. If the Balkan countries had been able to unite in an economic and military Federation, they might have held off all the imperialists. Many a Balkan statesman, even among the bourgeoisie, dreamed of achieving such a union.

Why No Balkan Federation Existed

But every time a move was made in this direction the big powers used every machination to frustrate it. We take a few among innumerable examples. In the first Balkan War, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria formed a League to gain complete independence from Turkey. They were successful, but at the end of the war Germany stepped in and cleverly set the allies against each other by offering support to Greece and Serbia to seize Macedonia, which was predominantly Bulgarian. This brought on the Second Balkan War of 1912–13. To cap matters Germany attracted Bulgaria to her side in the first World War by then holding out the reward of righting the wrong done her!

In 1923, when the peasant leaders, Stambuliski in Bulgaria and Raditch in Yugoslavia, tried to settle their countries’ disputes peacefully and, form an alliance, Mussolini found all his plans disturbed. He had a hand, with the army clique of Bulgaria, in bringing about the assassination of Stambuliski through the use of the Macedonian terrorists in his pay.

Thus the history of the Balkans shows nothing more clearly than the impossibility of the Balkan peoples to live their own lives while imperialism is master in Europe. Imperialism reaches down right to the heart of the small countries of Europe. It lays hold of the financial and banking interests which are tied up closely with the interests of the bigger bankers of the capitalist powers. Through its economic domination it also controls the major political parties and the governments set up on the basis of these parties. Often each party is in the pay of a different imperialist power. The only recourse of the native bourgeoisie is to gravitate from the orbit of one of the powers to that of the other. Its bargaining power lies only in the fact that rival imperialists bid against each other for influence.

Only Socialism Can Save the Balkans

It is this interference by powerful outside forces that has made of the Balkans the most unstable section in the world, the powder keg of Europe. Internal stability is unthinkable in small countries where all the complicated lines of diplomacy cross and recross. The Balkans, as backward countries under the yoke of a native feudal-capitalist ruling class, could not possibly withstand the enormous pressure exerted from outside. The fierce class struggles in the Balkan countries, unable to culminate in proletarian revolution, have resulted in army and monarchical dictatorships.

Hitler has for the time being seized hold of the Balkans and he will attempt to adjust their economy to suit that of Germany. But that will depend on his ability to force the peasants to work their fields for him, so as to supply the grain and other foods that Germany got previously from the Balkans. But these peasants have for years been accustomed to a Balkan jacquerie – peasant warfare. They will now transfer this from a fight against the native oppressors to a fight against Hitler. The Balkan Question will remain. Its only solution is the formation of the Socialist United States of Europe.

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