G. Zinoviev

In the International

The Lessons of the Bulgarian Upheaval

(19 July 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 51 [30], 19 July 1923, pp. 523–525.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, October 2021.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

To be duly noted by the sections of the Comintern.

1. The Necessity for Criticism

We hesitated for some time: Is it not too premature to subject the tactics of the central committee of the C.P. of Bulgaria to public criticism? At the moment this party is exposed to the direct fire of the victorious White Fascist bands. The bourgeois papers constantly demand that our Bulgarian party be placed outside of the law. In consultation with the Executive of the Comintern, we came, however, to the conclusion that we dare not be silent, that silence on the erroneous tactics being pursued by the party will not save it from ruin, but rather enhance the danger of this ruin; that it is necessary to track down the errors committed, and to learn the right tactics while events in Bulgaria are yet fresh.

The Communist International is a united communist world party. The Bulgarian example, without doubt, possesses international significance. Each one of the 60 parties affiliated to the Comintern has its own interests at heart when it seeks to ascertain whether fie Central Committee of the Bulgarian CLP has acted rightly or wrongly in the course of events which may be repeated, in a more or less similar form, in other lands.

In the meanwhile, the leaders of the Central Committee of the CP of Bulgaria are propagating their “neutrality” theory in the international communist press with a zeal worthy of a better cause. This involves two dangers. In the first place, incorrect views are spread abroad and utilized by our opponents is the 2nd International. In the second place, the defence of an erroneous attitude deprives our Bulgarian comrades themselves of the possibility of rectifying their mistakes, and bars their way to really revolutionary tactics.

We dare not be silent! The question is of too great importance. It is precisely because of our brotherly relations to the Bulgarian workers, and to the Bulgarian Communist Party, to which we are bound by ties of special friendship, that we led bound to express our candid opinion. Let our enemies smile maliciously. The Communist Parties have often had to subject themselves to self-criticism, and to order their ranks under the fire of the enemy. It suffices to recollect the example given by the CP of Germany alter the March action in 1921. Despite everything, the future none the less belongs to the Bulgarian communists, not to the reigning Bulgarian Fascists, and not to the “social democratic”. Fascisti from the party of the “broad” Mensheviki. (When the Bulgarian labor party split, the right wing designated itself the “broad” social democrats, the left wing the “narrow ”. – Ed.)

2. The Role played by the Independent Peasants’ Parties

The latest events in Bulgaria throw a strong light on some of the most important present day political problems, above all on the question of the role played by the peasants’ parties. One of the most interesting facts in the most recent history of politics is the attempt to form peasants’ parties which presume to play an independent political role – apparently directed against the bourgeoisie and against the proletariat. We have witnessed such attempts during recent years in the Balkans, in Czecho-Slovakia, in Hungary, in Poland, etc. It is an exceedingly complicated phenomenon. it may chiefly be explained by the fact that during the war, and during the further decay of the bourgeois “order”, the city has been constantly pished into the background by the village – in the sense that the importance of the village, its economic and social significance, has continually increased? This is the basis. On the one hand, the peasants won a certain amount of political experience during the imperialist war of 1914 to 1918, which shook the village to its profoundest depths, and caused much suffering among the broad masses of the peasantry. The young men from the countryside who had been called up in millions to fight in the imperialists armies, afterwards returned to their villages (if they returned at all) bringing with them a certain political energy. On the other hand, the power of the big bourgeoisie is obviously on the decline, and thus the bourgeoisie with its social democratic helpers is forced to devote more attention to the peasantry, to draw them into political life.

The peasants’ parties are not succeeding in playing an independent role in politics, and are not likely to succeed. In this respect Bulgaria’s example is extraordinarily instructive. A via media policy is condemned to breakdown more than any other policy during our imperialist epoch. The peasantry has but two alternatives: either to side with the bourgeoisie, rendering the “Bulgarian” solution of the question inevitable sooner or later – or to side with the proletariat, which is the sole effective means of defending the real and fundamental interests of the peasantry. Even those peasant parties existing today, and keeping up the appearance of independence, are in reality nothing more than political cannon fodder for the bourgeoisie. It is not by accident that we find so many parsons, lawyers, and rich landowners, among the leaders of the so-called peasants’ parties.

We cannot deny a certain depth and broadness in Stambulinsky’s attempts, lite biography of Stambulinsky is not that of an ordinary man. There was a time in which he had the courage to tell the truth in the face of the mighty ones of the earth. He was sentenced to imprisonment for life, and so forth. Especially during the first period of bis government, his policy was characterized by a certain broadness of outline. It seemed as if, were it possible for a peasants’ party to really play an independent role, that Bulgaria was just the country for the purpose. This is actually the fact. In Bulgaria 85 to 90% of the population consists of peasants. The city bourgeoisie is comparatively very weak. The two wars by which Bulgaria was visited were especially disastrous to the peasantry. Stambulisky’s past rendered him for a time an extremely popular peasants’ leader.

And yet this miserable collapse!

Stambulinsky’s attempt was in reality the first important attempt, if a demagogic one, yet at least at its commencement, an attempt to direct the policy of a peasants’ party against the bourgeoisie When Stambulinsky held a plebiscite on the punishment of the former ministers guilty of the imperialist war, when he deprived the bourgeois officers of their offices and brought in a peasant militia from the villages, when he armed the peasants, etc. – these were efforts calculated to create popularity for Stambulinsky. But all too soon the “peasants’ policy” of Stambulinsky began to change into a policy in favor of the large farmers. In recent times Stambulinsky did not direct his policy so much against the bourgeoisie as against the working class, and against its leader, the Communist Party. The attempts at keeping to the “middle” line were speedily shipwrecked. Stambulinsky, in separating himself from the masses, not only forfeited the confidence of the whole working class, but also that of a large section of the peasantry, and himself paved the way for the unhappy fate which overtook him. A “peasants’ government” which directs its efforts against both the proletariat and bourgeoisie has proved itself to be an empty and lamentable Utopia, even in an agrarian country like Bulgaria. Nothing but a workers’ and peasants’ government can help the Bulgarian peasantry to free itself from tire clutches of the bourgeois robbers.

3. The Tactics of the Bulgarian CP

The Bulgarian upheaval is a serious historical test of the Bulgarian Communist Party. This crisis, like every other crisis, must serve to show the actual conditions obtaining in the old and powerful Bulgarian Communist Party, which boasts a large membership and is apparently thoroughly adequate to cope with present problems.

Unfortunately, the Bulgarian Communist Party has not stood the test. On the contrary, it has justified the most pessimistic predictions.

We waited on the tip-toe of expectation for the first news as to the attitude adopted by our Bulgarian Party at the beginning of the civil war. But even the earliest imports aroused tear that the attitude taken would be too passive. The news following exceeded even our worst fears.

“The new government, whose existence is due to a military putsch, replaces the fallen military and police dictatorship of the peasant bourgeoisie by the new dictatorship of the city bourgeoisie, the old bourgeois party ...

“The mask of bourgeois legality has been torn aside, and the sole party representing in actual deeds the rights and liberties guaranteed (!) by the constitution (!!) is the Communist Party ...

“The toiling masses in town and country will not participate in the armed struggles between city and rural bourgeoisie, for such a participation in the struggle would signify that the toilers fetch the chestnuts out of the fire for their exploiters and oppressors.

“In the name of the working people we demand the maintenance and expansion of political liberty. We demand full liberty of speech and press, full rights of coalition and bolding meetings. We demand measures against speculation and high prices! ...

“Up to the present the new government has not yet raised its hand directly against the Communist Party. But the regime of military dictatorship now established is directed against the rights and liberties of the working people, and thus against the Communist Party. We demand that these rights and liberties be restored, that military law be suspended, and we call upon you to gather under the banner of the Communist Party ...” etc.

Thus declared the Central Committee of the Bulgarian C.P. in its first appeal issued on June 9, 1923.

“The armed struggle between the adherents of the fallen government and those of the new government is not yet finished. The Communist Party, and the hundreds and thousands of workers and peasants united beneath its standard, take no part in this armed struggle. We do not know how this struggle will develop; but it is one into which the broad masses of the people nave not yet been drawn up to the present moment. It is a struggle for power between the city and country bourgeoisies, that is, between two wings of the capitalist class ...

“The Communist Party, in clearly pointing out the actual aims being fought for by the city and rural bourgeoisies, and in showing that these aims have nothing in common with the aims of the toiling masses in town and village, calls upon the workers and toilers in town and country to unite, and to fight independently for the preservation of their interests, and for the realization of the slogans issued by the Communist Party.”

Thus declared the CC of the Bulgarian CP in its appeal of the 11th lune. The CC took its stand on this “neutrality” position, and has not budged from it to this day. Two bourgeois lions are fighting with one another. That has nothing to do with “us”. We “demand” ... the abolition of military law. And this one day after the White upheaval! we are ... so innocent that we demand from the Fascist government that it confirms its declarations (on freedom and other beautiful things) “by deeds” ...

The communist workers in the provinces have not all been able to find their way to this “high” pinnacle of statesmanship.

They see that naked Fascist reaction is beginning to triumph, they are taking up arms against it, and are trying to resist the Fascist, who are gaining the upper hand, by joining their forces with those of groups of peasantry. In Plevna and other places, action is beginning among armed communist workers, supported by the peasantry. But the Central Committee lakes immediate steps. We repeat the wording of the remarkable telegram sent by comrade Lukanov, secretary of the CC, to Plevna:

“Plevna. To Wassiliy Tabatschkin (Secretary of the Plevna Party organization). I hear that there are rumours among you in Plevna, to the effect that I have been arrested, and that extraordinary measures are being employed against us here in Sofia. This is a life. Do not let yourselves be confused by rumours and provocations. You will receive our appeal. Support to the utmost the altitude taken in it! lake no part, either for or against one or the other party. Regards to Tatscha Olga, Asen, and other comrades.” (The object of these last words was to prove to comrade Tabatschkin that the telegram was really from Lukanov.)

We have learnt from various telegrams that this Plevna incident was not an isolated one.

As is invariably the case in such occurrences, the errors committed by the Party centrals are ascribed to the workers. The Bulgarian workers are accused of indifference, of lack of fighting spirit, of disinclination for combat, etc. It is thus that the members of the C.C. of the Bulgarian C.P. write.

These are all mere sophistries. We know quite well that the C.C. issued the incredibly wrong slogan of “neutrality” a few hours after the white revolution, that is, that it began to induce our workers to take no part in the struggle between two cliques both alleged to be equally hostile to us. How were the workers to prove their fighting spirit, when their own party, in the person of the C.C., from the very beginning, required non-participation in the conflict from them?

In his article: The bourgeois military upheaval and the C.P. in Bulgaria, comrade Kabaktschiev himself writes that in the districts of Radomir, Parzardschik, Pleven, Schumen, Karlovo, Popovo, Russe, Bela Tscherven-Breg, Lovetsch, and Drenovo (there are 89 districts in all) an armed resistance began among the peasantry, and that the strength of the armed groups reached several hundreds in the districts of Pleven, Schumen, and Pazardschik.

How then can it be said Io be evident, as maintained by comrade Kabaktschiev, that the movement was certain of defeat, even when “supported by lhe Communists”? At the beginning, the Whites had but slight txiwers at their disposal – this is acknowledged by comrade Kabaktschiev himself.

But comrade Kabaktschiev has another argument ready:

”The working masses of the cities – he writes – “met the upheaval with indifference, even with a certain relief.” (!!)

The article published by the periodical of the Bulgarian C.P., the Novoye Vremya goes even further:

“The masses of Sofia met lhe downfall of the Peasants’ League government with a feeling of relief and open (!) satisfaction (!).”
(The article is entitled: The upheaval and the situation in Bulgaria.)

The masses are well known to have a broad back. Everything can be loaded upon them. But if ever there was a case in which the party leaders are to blame, it is this. Even today they are still railing more violently against the fallen Stanibulinsky government than against the triumphant Whites. This they justify “theoretically” by the magnificent “thesis”, that for the workers there exists no difference between the two “cliques” of the bourgeoisie. They name this attitude an “independent” one, but it deserves a very different epithet ...

This dogmatic doctrinaire method of estimating the different groups of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie is not confined to the leaders of the C.P. of Bulgaria. In this respect they remind us of the worst sectarian characteristics of Guesdism (of the earlier description). So long as this was merely a theoretical fad, a literary subtlety, it was not a serious matter, out as soon as it determined the policy of the party in a decisive crisis, it became a real disaster to the party.

The number of small-holding peasants in Bulgaria, as often confirmed by comrade Kabaktschiev himself, is 300,000. There are as many medium holders (also extremely poor). In this tiny country there are about 600,000 peasants who are potentially our allies. A portion of these was already at the parting of the ways from Stambulinsky to us at the time of the upheaval. And we are told that we are dealing here with a struggle between two equally pernicious bourgeois “cliques”.

At the close of the manifesto mentioned, the CC of the Bulgarian party salves its conscience with the slogan of the “Workers’ and Peasants’ Government”. But under such circumstances this slogan is a mere phrase, a dead word, a political corpse. This is not the way to fight for the Workers’ and Peasants’ government. This is not Marxism.

Stambulinsky has been murdered. The heads of his party have been scattered. Some of them have gone over to the Whites. But the peasants remain. We must unite with them to fight against the bourgeoisie. And we cannot do this without freeing ourselves from wrong and sterile views.

The leaders of the Central Committee probably hoped to save the party from blows by their “neutrality”. They did not decide to take up arms. The over-cautious leaders sought to shelter themselves from the impending danger of civil war beneath the torn umbrella of “neutrality”. Do not believe the “rumours” of extraordinary measures taken against the Communists, telegraphs comrade Lukanov. A few days pass and – was it so difficult to foresee it? – the “extraordinary measures” become actual fact. The Fascist government hails repressions on the Communist Party; in Plevna alone some hundreds of Communists have been arrested; it is perfectly clear that the party is being driven into illegality. The whole bourgeois press writes derisively upon the “neutrality” of the Communists, and prepares to deal them fresh blows.

It is difficult to imagine a more dogmatic and wrongful attitude, under the given circumstances, than that adopted by lhe C.C. of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Stambulinsky was the natural enemy of the working class. His policy of repressions against the Communists naturally aroused a justified indignation and a justified hate against him. And it is of course equally true that the heads of the Stambulinsky peasant’s party had more and more degenerated into a group representing the interests of the large farmers. But all the same, it is an amazing error, in such a situation as that of Bulgaria, to represent the whole bourgeoisie, including the peasant petty bourgeoisie who are still sympathizing, or half sympathizing, with Stambulinsky, as “a reactionary mass”. At the moment when the Fascisti and the heads of the peasants’ party came into conflict, it was (and remains) the task of the Communist Party to unite with all reasonably honest adherents of the peasants’ party, and to join forces with these against the Whites. Was Kerensky no enemy of the workers in September 1917? And yet the Bolsheviki joined Kerensky against Kornilov. And they lost nothing by it. Kerensky was the only one to lose anything. This is the only way in which the Stambulinsky party can and must be opposed.

The attitude taken by the Bulgarian C.C. approaches very closely to a social democratic attitude.

When we say “social democratic”, we are thinking of the good old days of social democracy. The present day social democrats naturally go a great deal further. The leaders of the Bulgarian Mensheviki (the “broad” socialists), who form a part of the Second International, participate in the Fascist government, and, it would appear, undertake the role of executioners for this government.

In this manner the Second International identifies itself directly, through the “broads”, with the glorious international family of the Fascisti.

The “ neutral” attitude adopted by the central committee of the C.P. of Bulgaria was bound to lead into a blind alley. A waiting policy, combined with a gesture of neutrality, at such a juncture, signifies political capitulation.

The late of the Bulgarian Communist Party is instructive. It is one of the oldest and most powerful labor parties. The C.P. of Bulgaria can look back upon at least 25 to 30 years of development it had won over the greater part of the workers and a considerable section of the peasantry in the course of a long struggle against the “broad” socialists, it deprived the “broads” of all serious influence on the working classes. In agitative and propaganda work, the Bulgarian Communist Party has accomplished magnificent work (something after the manner of German social democracy in its best years). The C.P. of Bulgaria is led by a staff of leaders composed of educated and tried Marxist. And yet – this terrible error, this great disappointment, It is fearfully difficult to proceed from agitation and propaganda to revolutionary deeds.

As early as 1921 (in an open letter dated May 4. 1921) the Executive of the Comintern directed the attention of the Bulgarian Communist Party to its weak points. Impress it upon yourselves – we wrote in this letter – that victory does not simply fall from heaven. Remember that agitation and propaganda alone do not suffice, that we must know how to make the transition to direct lighting measures at the decisive moment.

The second time that the Executive drew the attention of the C.P. of Bulgaria to its weak points, a somewhat sharper tone was used. This was on the occasion of the last revolution in Greece. The Bulgarian CC, heading the whole Balkan federation. maintained an apathy with regard to the events in Greece perfectly imcomprehtnsible to a revolutionist.

What is the cause of this?

The Bulgarian Communist Party has been gathering its forces during a quarter of a century by means of organizatory and propagandist work. The question was, whether quantity would be converted into quality in good time, whether the old Bulgarian party would be able to put an end to the preparatory period of propaganda and gathering of forces, and at the decisive moment, plunge into the fight. It has proved incapable of doing this. The leaders of the Bulgarian C.P., during the past few months, have devoted much more thought and care to the protection of the “People’s Houses”, which were attacked by Stambulinsky, than to preparations for the impending upheaval, though this was foreseen by Kabaktschiev and the whole C.C. Just as in 1914 many a leader of social democracy ...

The Bulgarian Communists are backed up by the whole of the railway workers, the whole of the post office and telegraph employees. It is obvious that this could have been of immense significance in the first days of the upheaval. But we remained “neutral” ...

The Bulgarian C.P. wanted a revolution “with guarantees”. It has never ventured to even think of a war. “On the day following a revolution, Roumania would march against us, etc.” But the whites were not afraid of the Yugoslavs, and they have been victorious, whilst the “caution” of the Bulgarian C.P. has earned a severe defeat.

It is difficult indeed to have to say all this at a moment when the scorpions of Fascism are harassing the Bulgarian workers. But we dare not preserve silence, lhe bitter lesson of the political defeat of one of the strongest parties belonging to the Comintern must be turned to account by the other parties. It is through these severe and trying defeats that real communist organizations are developed, We had a right to expect something better from the Bulgarian party. But it seems as if we must drink this cup of sorrow to the dregs. It is only from their own errors and defeats that the workers learn.

There are situations in which it is worse for a revolutionary party not to take up arms than to enter into a fight resulting in a defeat. Our Bulgarian Party was in such a situation. To retire behind the cloak of “neutrality” at such a moment means paralysing one’s own powers.

We do not doubt for a moment but that those hundreds and thousands of conscious proletarians who have joined the Bulgarian C.P. – those who have instinctively plunged into the fight and have been left in the lurch by the leaders – will know how to save their party. By a reorganization of their forces, by the experience of the bitter lesson just learnt, they will be enabled to more firmly establish their organizations and prepare themselves for fresh decisive battles, and this under the direct fire of the enemy. After all, the civil war is only just beginning. It can only end with the victory of the Communist Party. The slogan issued by the C.C. of the C.P. of Bulgaria, the slogan of the Workers’ and Peasants’ government, is the right slogan. We do not accuse the C.C. of the Bulgarian C.P. of fighting under wrong slogans, but of not fighting at all. The slogan of the Workers’ and Peasants’ government will find excellent soil in the peasantry which has been shaken out of its indifference by the civil war. The Bulgarian proletariat will follow this slogan to victory through severe defeats, through a period of White Terror.

May our Bulgarian comrades not lose their courage, may they correct the mistakes committed with all speed. But all other communist parties must learn from the Bulgarian example how not to do it.