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The Saga of Kosovo
The Saga of Kosovo

   

 

Marxist Concepts of Nationality: The Comintern and the Balkans


 

Traditional Marxism holds that the capitalist system is the source of conflict between and among nationalities. Consequently, once a communist system was established, national animosities and hatreds would disappear. Peace and harmony would reign. Over the past several decades, however, this philosophical formulation has been the source of trouble and bitter controversy, especially among Balkan communists and their mentor, Josef Stalin.

In the Balkans, discussion of nationality problems from the Marxist point of view took place even before Stalin was born. One of the first, if not the first, to do so was a young Serbian student, Svetozar Markovich (1846-1875). Studying in St. Petersburg on a Serbian government stipend, young Markovich read Chernishevsky, Herzen, and other Russian writers, and subsequently moved in a circle of Russian socialists and anarchists (among them Bakunin) in Zurich. He became a socialist and used his considerable gifts in writing a number of political tracts. Fragile in health, he died at the age of twenty-seven, not long after his return from abroad.

With respect to the nationality question in the Balkans, Markovich believed that he had found the "master key" in the formation of a Balkan federation of South Slavs, where the peoples could live together on the basis of equality and self-government. He was interested in the liberation of South Slavs living under foreign rule. To that end he wanted to see the destruction of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. He believed that his native Serbia could help in the liberation of brother Slavs, but he wanted to be sure that Serbia retained the image of "liberator" and not become an "oppressor."

Other Serbian socialists, notably Dimitrije Tutsovich (1881-1914) and Radovan Dragovich (1878-1906), founders in 1903 of the Serbian Social Democratic Party, followed essentially in Svetozar Markovich's footsteps. Tutsovich was critical of Serbia's desire to get an outlet to the Adriatic across Albanian territory, although if done by mutual agreement, he said, there could be benefits both to Serbia and Albania. He and his fellow Social Democrats believed, however, that Albania should be an "autonomous member of a democratic Balkan federation. " Parenthetically, it should be noted that Tutsovich, unlike many other socialists, fought in the Serbian army against Austria-Hungary, and met his death on the battlefield in 1914.

South Slav communists, among them Sima Markovich and Josip Broz Tito, claimed to be heirs of Svetozar Markovich, and at different times espoused the idea of a Balkan federation. But they were never able to reach agreement on the operational aspects of such a federation. And some of them could not even approach a theoretical consensus.

The Yugoslav communists went through some bitter controversies over the nationality question. Their mentor, Stalin, as commissar of nationalities under Lenin, produced a brief book entitled Marxism and the National Question. Although full of confusions and evasions, the book's essential message is that national hostilities are the result of the conflicts of capitalist classes. If applied to Yugoslav-Albanian relations, for example, the Serbs and Albanians were at each other's throats because of their respective "bourgeoisies" were in conflict. By accepting such a formulation, Yugoslav communists theorized themselves out of their Balkan reality. Unless totally blind, they should have known that Serbo-Albanian disputes were not based on class struggle.

In 1923, a resolution of the Yugoslav Communist Party (then known as the Independent Workers' Party of Yugoslavia), stated that it is the duty of the Party to lead (with the organizations of the working masses of oppressed nationalities) a common and open struggle for the right of secession, i.e., to support the movements of oppressed nationalities with the aim of forming independent states such as Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, as well as the liberation of Albania.

This resolution and other discussions among Yugoslav communists led to considerable disagreement as to the national question and how it should influence the organization of a future communist state. Sima Markovich (no relation to Svetozar) became head of the Yugoslav Communist Party in 1926, and subsequently perished in Stalin's purges because Stalin, Dmitrov, Tito, and others did not agree with his views on the nationality question. Born in the heart of Serbia, and a brilliant mathematician, Markovich was a man ill-suited to blind obedience. In a brief pamphlet, he argued that there was not a nationality problem in Yugoslavia, but a constitutional one.

Markovich, along with other Serbian communists, were regarded by many other Yugoslav communists as "rightists." They were, in fact, accused of advocating Serbia's preponderance, the heavy-handed centralist concept of Belgrade's financial moguls (charshija). To avoid this image, they became the most vocal critics of nationalism, especially Serbian nationalism. Markovich did everything possible to project himself as a "leftist," progressive, and loyal to the international concept. He denounced the "imperialist tendencies" of the Serbian bourgeoisie, and asserted that the "Serbian theory of national unity of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes is only a mask for Serbian imperialism. " This was Markovich the "left wing" communist. Then in small print we read: "Of course we are talking only of state centralism. Because for the class conscious proletariat it is beyond question that for both the party and the trade unions centralism must be developed along the principles of proletarian democratic centralism." (Nacionalno pitanje u svetlosti marksizma [The National Question in the Light of Marxism]; Belgrade, 1923, p. 119.) The accusation that Sima was a "rightist" and a "unitarist" because he believed in central direction of affairs under communism, could subsequently be levelled at all top Yugoslav communists, including Tito himself.

Even before he became General Secretary of the Yugoslav Communist Party, Markovich had some close calls with the Comintern, the Soviet arm for world revolution. He could not easily accept the Comintern's support for the Revolutionary Macedonian Organization (IMRO), nor its objective of detaching Vardar Macedonia from Yugo slavia (in fact Serbia). Moreover, he argued that Macedonian, Bulgarian, or any other Balkan nationalism was just as "bourgeois" as Serbian nationalism. He could not see the Comintern's fine distinction between the nationalism of oppressed and oppressor nations. And he resented the thundering utterance of Comrade Zinoveiv (head of the Comintern's Executive Committee): "Macedonian Bulgarians, [Macedonian Bulgarians!], Albanians, Montenegrins, Croats, and Bosnians are rising up against the rule of the Serbian bureaucratic landowning oligarchy... " Zinoveiv obviously knew little about Serbia, the society of free small landholding peasants. In general, it could be said that no Balkan state had yet reached Marx's two requirements for revolution: a mature capitalism in decline, and an urban proletariat.

The Comintern, however, had its way. At its fifth congress in Moscow in June-July 1924, admittedly a "congress of struggle for the Bolshevization of Communist parties," the resolution on Yugoslavia included the following passage: "The opinion of the Yugoslav delegate (Milojkovich) that the Yugoslav Communist Party must fight equally hard against any nationalism whatever, is not only opportunist, but objectively plays into the hands of the Great Serbia bourgeois nationalistic policy. In their struggle communists must always bear in mind the difference between oppressing and oppressed nationalities." And the July 1935 plenum of the Yugoslav Communist Party's Central Committee, meeting in Split, insisted that the Party "continue with full force our struggle against the regime of Great Serbian oppression, and for the liberation of oppressed peoples... "

The same tone is found later in Tito's article, "The National Question in the Light of the People's Liberation Movement" (Proleter, December 1942), where he says: "Macedonians, Arnauts [Albanians], Croats, and others ask themselves in fear, 'what will become of us if things return to the old way'... The question of Macedonia, the question of Kosovo and Metohija, the question of Montenegro, the question of Croatia, the question of Slovenia, the question of Bosnia and Hercegovina will be decided easily and to the satisfaction of all only when the people alone will decide... "

No mention of Serbs or Serbia, but to the Albanians, ninety percent of whom (by subsequent admission of Yugoslav Communists) were at that time on the side of the Italian occupier, he found it expedient to pledge that they would be free to decide their future! Why were not the Serbs mentioned? Did all of the mentioned groups fear the Serbs? Who was it that would not permit them "alone" to decide? These questions alarm Serbs--communist and non-communist. The non-communists resent the tone of the suspicion about Serbian motives; the communists frantically attempt to prove that this is not what the questions imply.

When the time came for the Albanians to experiment with Marxism, the simplicity of the "master key" solution was not simple enough. It had one serious and rather complicating drawback. The center of communism was in Moscow. The Albanians were accustomed to turning abroad for guidance (Constantinople, Rome, Vienna), but to have Slavs direct their destiny was inconceivable. After all, the whole idea of the Albanian "national awakening" was kindled to save the nation from "Slav usurpers." Even if the incompatible was somehow accepted, many Albanians felt that competing with Serbs and Bulgars for Russian favor was a hopeless and suicidal task. There is reason to believe that communism, had it come from French or German socialists, would have been more palatable to Albanian intellectuals.

Nevertheless, as if part of some established historical pattern, once again what was supposed to be an indigenous Albanian movement, started abroad. It was imported as a package: organization, cadres, training, and dependence. As some kind of fatal damnation of all movements called Albanian, Marxism was just as foreign as Islam and Catholicism had been originally. To make matters worse, in the pecking order of the communist parties in the Third (Moscow) International, Albania was placed last.

The leading party body of the Albanian Communist Party was set up in Moscow in 1928. The Comintern arranged for the first party operatives to be sent into the country only a year later. This attempt did not produce anything meaningful; communism had no chance to participate in the political life of the new nation. King Zog's regime provided no room for communist agitation, and most of the Westernized intellectuals and liberals were not oriented toward the East.

For Serbo-Albanian relations, it was of some significance that the most prominent among the Albanian communists sent from Moscow was Ali Kelmendi. He was born in Pech. In 1930 he visited his hometown and Kosovo generally, worked closely with the kosovo.netmittee, attempted some ground work in the area, but on the whole was not successful. In Albania itself, the Communist Party infiltrated the intellectual "kruzooks," where Marxism was tolerated in the guise of so-called "discussion groups," and among the followers of the former Fan Noli party (mainly in the southern part of the country). Ali Kelmendi and his few collaborators were forced to leave Albania in 1936. He took part in the Spanish Civil War and in 1939 died in France.

Soon after the Albanian Communist Party was formed abroad in 1928, the Yugoslav Communist Party held its fourth congress in Dresden, Germany. The resolution issued at the end of the deliberations included a paragraph dealing with Kosovo: "The Party declares the solidarity of revolutionary workers and peasants of the remaining Yugoslav nations, and first of all Serbia, with the Albanian national revolutionary movement, represented by the kosovo.netmittee, and calls upon the working class to wholeheartedly assist the struggle of the dismembered and oppressed Albanian people for an independent and united Albania." (Quoted in Slijepchevich, Srpsko-arbanaski odnosi, p. 312.) This was when the kosovo.netmittee was operating out of Vienna, under the aegis of the Comintern, which supported and coordinated some of the Balkan irredenta movements. (Nicholas C. Pano, The People's Republic of Albania, Baltimore, 1968, p. 27.)

There is little doubt that in the interval between the two world wars, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia was tragically wrong on the nationality question. For reasons of expediency and the benefit of a few wavering votes, the Party appealed to all those who felt "exploited" by the Serbs. The Croatian Ustashi, the Bulgarian irredentists, the dispossed Moslem landowners, the Albanians and others-- all joined the Communists in chasing the same nationalist "vampire," Serbia which allegedly was determined to dominate the other nationalities. Unfortunately for all of the Yugoslav nationalities, the result under Tito's Communist regime was a "national solution" which has bred divisiveness that has gone a long way toward tearing the fabric of Yugoslav unity, which the regime had avowed to achieve. As subsequent pages of this study will show, the "chickens have come home to roost," and the folly of a misguided nationality policy may pose a threat beyond the Yugoslav borders.

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