A People’s Struggle for Their Liberty

Submitted by Reddebrek on April 1, 2018

Even in our humanity, remarkable for violence and injustice, the Bulgarian people have had an exceptionally long and cruel experience of war, oppression and slavery. Only in 1878, when it was liberated from Turkish domination, did Bulgaria become an independent nation. Its history is, nevertheless, very long. The Finno Uralian warriors (Bulgars) who gave the country their name invaded the peninsula as early as the 7th century and mingled with the Slavs who had already migrated there and with the Thracians who had long been settled on the land. Hard and tenacious workers of the land, the Bulgarians could not resist the Turkish armies and were conquered by the Sultan Bajazet in 1393 and 1396. Their awakening dates only from the end of the 18th century; it began as an intellectual revival of the educated classes, and preceded by a hundred years the proclamation of independence. This independence, moreover, did not bring peace: ever since, Balkan Wars, European Wars and World Wars, fascism, and “liberation” movements have ravaged this part of the Balkan peninsula; in sixty years Bulgaria has been through six wars, two revolutions and a dozen fascist coup d’etat (including the decisive ones of June 9, 1923, and May 19, 1934). Now, despite so much blood and suffering, a regime of persecution and oppression is again strengthening its grip on unfortunate Bulgaria.

A few economic, historic and social facts will give a better understanding of the present situation and the evolution of the ideology and character of the social movement, chiefly the Anarchist and Anarcho-Syndicalist movement. A small country of five and a half million population, Bulgaria is a homogeneous nation, with a good balance between mountains, hills and watered plains, but possessing only one outlet to the sea (on the Black Sea). It is a country of small peasant proprietors, hard-working and persistent. Eighty-three per cent of the population lives by agriculture; 85 per cent of the cultivated land is farmed in units of less than 25 acres, and the most common land measure is the decare (a quarter of an acre) ; Bulgarian agriculture is really a kind of gardening. Cultivation of grain ranks first: wheat then corn; and a great variety of warm-climate crops: orchards, vineyards, tobacco, sunflowers, flax and hemp, cotton, poppies, mulberries (silk-worm culture), roses, truck-gardening; and cattle-raising. Industry has developed mostly since the first World War: textiles, tobacco manufacturing, milling, sugar-refining, distillation of attar of roses. In a normal year, agriculture not only provides Bulgaria’s food requirements, but is also the basis of its industry. In addition Bulgaria gets enough lignite for its own use from the Pernik and Bobov Dol mines, and even exports some copper, lead and zinc. When tied in with certain characteristics of the history of the people, these basic economic facts take on particular significance, for every stage in the development of a people is consistent with its past. Historical and social factors dating from the Middle Ages, associated with specific economic forms, have encouraged the practice of mutual aid and the love of liberty, and have given the anarchist movement deep roots in the past and a distinctly anarchist-communist colouring. Thus the spirit of the peasant commune, the Slavish zadruga (brotherhood) that existed through the Middle Ages and for over a thousand years, still survives in the spontaneous practice, among small peasant proprietors, of communal work and cooperative association. The peasant commune once held the land collectively, the zadruga comprised 50 to 100 and even 250 members. Today there are still communities of 15 to 30 persons where parents, sons and descendants live together and cultivate their lands in common. Feudalism, arising in the 9th and 10th centuries, dealt the death blow to this primitive communism. The present-day communal pasture and woods, the tradition of communal labour, are sturdy lasting traces of primitive communism in the social and economic life of the people. Each year companies of gardeners are formed and travel through the countryside; groups of harvesters descend from northern Bulgaria and the mountain villages into the plains of southern Bulgaria to gather the crops; groups of building and transport workers are formed; all this is collective labour. In many villages the threshing of wheat is still done, as from time immemorial, essentially on the work principles of the zadrugas, corn-husking is a communal, festive occasion; spinning parties, mutual aid in building homes, are every-day events in the life of the Bulgarian village. Thus it is not accidental that the co-operative movement is very powerful and that in these last years co-operatives to work the land collectively have developed rapidly and achieved great success. But the movement of particular importance and great historical consequences, not only for Bulgaria but for the cultural renaissance of Europe as well, was Bogomilism - a movement of the Middle Ages of a distinctly anarchist character. Bogomilism, a heresy of oriental origin preached by a Bulgarian priest, Jeremiah Bogomil, developed among the impoverished peasant masses at the beginning of the 10th century. It represented social revolt against feudalism, and defence of the peasant commune by passive resistance. As a religion Bogomilism was unoriginal: a mixture and recasting of dualist doctrines and heresies derived from the Orient. But socially it was entirely original: a purely Bulgarian and Yugoslav movement whose revolutionary ideology was (for that time) definitely anti-statist. Categorically and unequivocally, the Bogomiles repudiated all authority: economic (the rich and their wealth), political (the State and the Boyard government), religious (the church and its dogmas and clergies). Their clandestine writings express modern social ideas that could be inserted without change into the programs of present-day anarchist movements. The Bogomiles covered all Bulgaria with a network of communes and practiced the principles of free communism. After three centuries of war, Bogomilism was exterminated in Bulgaria by fire and sword. But it passed the frontiers and spread into Bosnia and Italy under the names of Patarins and the Cathari, and influenced the Albigenses in France. In Western Europe it prepared the ground for the Renaissance and Reformation.

Bulgaria remained under Turkish domination for five centuries (1393 to 1877). The Bulgarians’ servitude was double: political toward the Turks and religious toward the Greeks. Dark ages. But, as always and everywhere, slavery gave birth to revolt and struggle. Political and social conditions unfortunately did not lend themselves to the creation of a well co-ordinated social movement. Hence the struggle took the character of individual revolt: the Haiducks, a kind of bandit comparable to the heroes of Schiller’s “The Brigands.” The Haiduk movement began in the 15th and 16th centuries; few at first, they became legion. They long preserved the characteristics of individual revolt, of professional semi-banditry, much like Stenka Razin in Russia. Though their revolt later acquired a clearly social character, they could never completely free themselves of the methods of individual struggle. The great influence of the Haiduk movement on the political and social life of the Bulgarian people is reflected in popular poetry. There the Haiduk is depicted as a romantic hero, combatting violence and exploitation, defending the poor, a sworn enemy of tchorbadjis (great landowners and nobles), monopolists and Turkish tyranny. He is a symbol of disinterestedness and love, of limitless self-sacrifice for the people and for liberty. The working masses and their hatred of tchorbadjis, exploiters and oppressors formed the social basis of the Haiduk movement. Its historical importance lay in preserving and safeguarding among the oppressed working people the tradition of independence, the spirit of courage, and the hope of coming liberation; and in this way it prepared the first phase of the revolutionary movement. Directly linked with the Haiduk movement was the “national-revolutionary” movement that emerged during the 19th century and laid the basis of intellectual, cultural and political revival. This movement was supported by three social forces: the artisans’ and merchants’ guilds that developed during the 1 7th and 18th centuries in the villages and cities of the lower Balkans; the poor and oppressed peasants of the same regions; and the progressive “intelligentsia,” especially teachers, of whom the disciples of the Russian socialists of the 1860 period were the vanguard.

The rebirth passed through three principal phases:
1. An intellectual renaissance (1830-1840) whose chief accomplishment was the founding of ecclesiastical schools.
2. The struggle for independence of the Bulgarian church (1805 to 1860), culminating in the establishment of an independent church and liberation from spiritual servitude to the Greeks (constitution of the exarchate in 1870).
3. A revolutionary movement that developed around 1870 and had both a national liberation and a purely social character.

The last phase of the Bulgarian revival - the revolutionary movement - has direct influence on the present-day Anarchist movement in Bulgaria. When the national revolutionary movement arose, the national problems of Western Europe were nearly all solved and social problems already occupied a primary place.

For this reason the national-revolutionary movement was strongly influenced by the socialism of the First International and developed a strong socialist tendency. The first militants of the national-revolutionary movement had been influenced by Russian revolutionists, Bakunin first of all. Cristo Botev, Bulgaria’s greatest poet, was the most remarkable revolutionist of the period. He died heroically at the head of a company of partisans in the mountains, June 2, 1876, two years before the national emancipation. He had studied in Russia, had lived in Romania with Nechaeff. A disciple of Proudhon and Bakunin, a revolutionist and journalist of great breath, he is today the national hero, the inspiration of Bulgarian youth among whom his deeply moving works have long kindled the flame of idealism and revolutionary social struggle. In addition to these traditions, the Anarchist movement was favored by the social and economic structure of the country: the proletariat is small, and small peasant proprietors comprise the largest class by far. Just because of the family character of agriculture, and the extreme dividing up of the land, the peasants constituted a working class exploited by crushing taxes and disposed to ideas of liberty, independence and mutual aid. Finally, one more important factor: the Bulgarians’ extreme attachment to liberty. Nevertheless, during the first years after the liberation, until 1923, anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism had only a moderate growth: the influence of Russian terrorism and French “individualism,” the Haiduk heritage of individualist action, were irresistible; the elite of Bulgaria’s proletarians and intellectuals perished in the struggle. In addition, much of their energy went into the national-revolutionary movement of the Macedonians. Thus the Bulgarian revolutionary movement was deprived of a host of courageous men, a very grave loss; but for all that, this activity was a precious contribution to the Balkan struggles for liberation. The pioneers of this movement were Anarchists, and the Bulgarian public knows that the Macedonian national-revolutionary movement is principally the work of Bulgarian Anarchists whose clear understanding of the national-revolutionary movement never allowed them to isolate the struggle for Bulgarian national liberation from the social struggle. Finally, if we can see the retarding effects of terrorism on the growth of the Anarchist movement in the first part of the 20th century, we can see too that the very participation of Anarchists in this action is the basis of the high opinion of anarchism in Bulgaria, for this action was in the spirit of the historical traditions; the unparalleled courage, idealism and self-sacrifice of these great revolutionary figures has drawn the popular masses to anarchism. During this period, the Socialist movement was equally stagnant: when the Russian Social-Democratic party split at the beginning of the century, the Bulgarian Social-Democracy also split in two. Partisans of united political action by workers and small peasant proprietors formed (in imitation of the Russians) the clearly Opportunistic “Shiroki” Social-Democratic party.

Partisans of the conception that the proletariat alone can be a revolutionary class in the Marxist sense formed the “Tensi” Social-Democratic party, verbally revolutionary, actually also opportunistic and electoralist. At this time the Agrarian Union also absorbed many militants. At first the Agrarian Union was an economic movement of peasants with very advanced cooperative and socialistic tendencies. Later the trend toward participation in political struggles took hold and transformed the Union into a political party, the strongest in the country after the first World War. Other political parties in Bulgaria at the end of the first World War were the Liberty Party and the Democratic Party - undistinguishable except for phraseology, taking power by turns as the King willed - and an insignificant Radical Party anxious to take its place among them. There was nothing very democratic, liberal or progressive about any of the three, all servants of the King who vied with each other in repressions against the people.

Finally, the most reactionary party, the Narodrisak, the party of the big capitalists, although not numerous, exerted great influence on political and economic life. That most of the clergy and nearly all the active and reserve officers of the army were its watchdogs was demonstrated in the coup d’etat of June 9, 1923, and the bloody repressions that followed. The first World War marked a new beginning in the development of the anarchist inspired revolutionary movement. Some groups existed before the war, but the movement had been unable to work out a general plan of propaganda and action to reach all sections of the population. The activities of groups were of an individual character: some published pamphlets and books, others were active in the Agrarian Union, others tried unsuccessfully to build a Revolutionary Syndicalist movement.

Among high school and university students, Anarchist ideas found their most favored reception; organised refusal to pay taxes, at Chabla and Duran-Kulak, developed into a peasant insurrection; a general strike in the colleges spread throughout the country; finally, in this period, the newspaper Rabotnicheska Missal (Workers’ Thought), which became the organ of the Anarchist Federation after the war appeared as the voice of Revolutionary Syndicalism. During the first World War the Bulgarian government abandoned neutrality to ally itself with the Central Powers. Many Anarchists, judging the war imperialist, refused to fight; some were shot at the front, others in prison. When Bulgaria entered the war, Alexander Stambuliyski, leader of the Agrarian Union, was imprisoned in the Sofia central prison for denouncing King Ferdinand as a traitor. He liked to talk with the imprisoned Anarchists, enjoyed their company. After the war, as President of the Council, he declared in his famous disclosure from the balcony of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that power and the State corrupt the most moral individual, and he advised precautions. When the police arrested the audience at a meeting in the Sofia anarchist club, he went, as soon as he learned of it, to release them before the police could employ the form of assassination known as “attempt to escape.” But two years later he was himself corrupted by power and initiated a vast campaign of repression in which many anarchists were assassinated and anarchist clubs burned.

Sober and hard-working, the Bulgarian people have little love for the State or for governments. Many popular songs express their deep love of liberty and admiration of the Haiduks, those valiant guerrillas who always gave battle to oppressors and exploiters. The three years of war overflowed the cup of suffering: the people warned the government to sign a separate peace, or else the soldiers would leave the front. The warning went unheeded, and in September 1918, front-line soldiers deserted en masse and, keeping their arms, set out for the capital to punish the warmakers and especially King Ferdinand who had abdicated and fled to safety in Germany before their arrival. The subsequent debacle was not thought of as a great national misfortune, quite the opposite; politicians and speculators had enriched themselves scandalously on the war and the “national ideal.” The popular masses gave free expression to their discontent and their desire to revolt against not only the profiteers and the war but the bourgeois regime as well. Stambuliyski, who now came to power, enjoyed tremendous popularity, especially among the peasants, by virtue of his gesture against the King; he believed he could dam up the threatening revolution by dividing the popular masses, country against city, and accomplish a kind of preventive counter-revolution by provoking conflicts between them. The Russian revolution, whose progress the proletariat followed with enthusiasm, further bolstered the revolutionary spirit. In this atmosphere the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation was formed, and its influence never ceased to grow. In September 1919, delegates from anarchist groups met in national conference and founded the Federation of Anarchist Communists in Bulgaria. Under pressure of events all those who had hitherto preferred to devote themselves exclusively to the peasant co-operative movement, to the trade union movement, to the cultural movement and to local propaganda, or even to individual activity, came to realize the urgent need for a federalist organisation that would, by joint study of their problems, co-ordinate educational propaganda and mass organisation with a view to defense of the immediate interests of the people and the creation of a better society. This first conference unified the anarchist-inspired revolutionary movement and gave it powerful impetus. Intensive propaganda, and increasing participation by militants in social agitation and strike activity, popularized anarchist ideas and tactics. The movement lacked old militants, it lacked experience, but initiative made up for that. To spread their ideas among the people and take part in the struggle for freedom, many high school and university students left school and became workers. The number of sympathizers increased daily, apace with increasingly severe government repression, particularly at the time of the transport strike. From an insignificant movement of small groups and closed circles, the anarchist-inspired revolutionary movement was developing into a mass movement. The four Regional Unions arranged regular educational speaking-tours and propaganda meetings in all cities and villages. The Federation itself was secret and restricted to militants. Public activity took the form of social studies’ groups, semi-syndicalist producers’ groups, and combat groups. In January 1923, the Fifth Congress, the first and only public (but illegal) anarchist congress, was held at Jambol; the previous congresses had all been held secretly in the mountains. The congress concluded with a meeting in the town square. At Jambol the movement defined its ideology, tactics and organisation in clearly anarchist-communist terms. (Important, because the Anarchists were then almost alone in declaring publicly against power). Delegates from all over the country reported the organisational and propaganda accomplishments of their respective groups.

In Jambol itself, in Nova Zagora, Khaskovo, Kyustendil, Radomir, Kilijarevo and Delebets the majority of the workers were affiliated with the anarchist movement. Great progress was being made at Plovdiv, Sofia, Burgas, Russe, etc. The quickening of governmental repression against the workers’ movement, and especially against the anarchist movement, preoccupied the congress. Once in power, Stambuliyski - president of the Agrarian Union and simultaneously President of the government - had begun to persecute the Leftists and support the Rightists. His Prefect of Police, Prudkin, of Russian origin and obscure past, manufactured attentats to justify reprisals against the workers’ movement. Several Communist halls and Houses of the People were burned. To the anarchists, Prudkin applied the system of attempted escape: when he considered a militant too “bothersome”, he had him arrested and shot in the back of the head; to the press it was announced that such and such a dangerous individual had been killed attempting to escape. These assassinations became repeated, frequent; a vast fascist-reactionary offensive was obviously underway. This the statements of agrarian militants confirmed. The fascists were presenting the governments with accomplished facts. From careless talk it was also known that in the Macedonian Autonomist organisation and in the Military League something ominous was going on.