Fascism in Power

It was the eve of decisive events. At the forefront of the struggle, the Anarchists were the first aware of the danger. Against 90 per cent of the population, the reactionary 10 per cent would not have been so dangerous, had the people been armed; and the Anarchists raised the slogan: “Arm the people.” But they alone understood the new situation, they alone proposed arming the people, the only effective defence against the rising fascism. For all their revolutionary phraseology, the Communist leaders had been won over to electoral opportunism. Already, in 1919 - 1920, when the revolutionary pressure of the people threatened to overthrow the capitalist regime, the Communist leader and theoretician, Dmitri Blugoeff, propounded the famous thesis of the “three-fourths from abroad,” that is, three-quarters of the force behind a triumphant Bulgarian revolution would have to come from abroad - so thoroughly did Blugoeff misjudge the revolutionary energy of the Bulgarian people who each day gave proof of their determination to put an end to the capitalist regime. The reactionary bourgeoisie took note, redoubled its manoeuvres designed to divide the popular masses. Similarly, instead of following the example of those who were forming combat groups and demanding that the people be armed, the Communists kept on with their noisy, short-sighted propaganda. The Agrarians, intoxicated by power, did not take the fascist danger seriously; their leaders hunted for ways to aggravate the disunity of the masses, and thought of nothing else but of crushing the Communists and Anarchists; they did organise a combat formation, the “orange guard,” but it was intended as an instrument of repression against strikers and against demonstrations by workers and revolutionary peasants.

The Socialists were the most confused of all the leftist groups - so confused that when the fascist coup d’etat began some of them, under Dimo Kasassoff, participated in the fascist project, and Dimo Kasassoff joined the government of the sinister Professor Tzankoff. The revolutionary groups of the Anarchists were the most clear-sighted and aggressive. Fearing that a coup d’etat would tally all anti-fascist resistance around the anarchist movement, the fascist leaders decided to utilize their secret agents in the police, and especially their secret League of Regular Army Officers, to liquidate the anarchist movement before attempting their coup. On March 26, 1923, the anarchist organisation convoked the workers of Yamboli to a meeting in the central square of the town to protest the assassinations of militants and to demand the arming of the people. The meeting was forbidden by the military commander; at the appointed hour the square was occupied by troops and troops were posted at strategic points in the town. In small groups, the Anarchists were succeeding in reaching the square; some were already there, including the designated speaker. Judging the moment here, he climbed up on a bench and began to talk. After a single warning, the commander gave the troops the order to fire. At the first volley, the speaker and other comrades were wounded. The audience, instead of running to safety, replied so energetically with pistol and grenade that it was the troops who had to flee. A furious battle lasted two hours. The two regiments stationed in the city were insufficient, the commander had to bring up a regiment of heavy artillery from a town nearby. In spite of the Anarchists’ courage and boldness, the superiority of numbers and above all of arms was crushing. They decided to cease fire and scatter under cover of night. Nevertheless the soldiers captured 26 of them and took them to the barracks. Toward midnight, in the barracks courtyard, in a row, facing leveled machine guns, they waited, calmly, defiantly. A superior officer arrived, commanded: “Let those who are Anarchists take three steps forward.” As one man the whole line advanced three steps. The officers gave the machine-gunners the order to fire. The 26 men were cut down by bullets, fell. The veil of night covered their corpses. No one would have known how they were assassinated, without trial or sentence; but, among the victims, the student Obretenoff, wounded, profiting by darkness, managed to crawl through the barbed wire that surrounded the barracks; he reached the hospital where he told what had happened. Among the frightened attendants someone denounced him, and within an hour soldiers came looking for him to finish him off. But the truth was known. The following day the military again succeeded in capturing militants, and shot them. All others hid out in the towns, neighbouring villages, arid the mountains. The same morning, before the news could arrive, troops invaded the Sofia Anarchists hall where a meeting was going on and arrested everybody. But finally the Anarchists of all Bulgaria were alerted and took their precautions. How did public opinion react to this massacre and these fascist proceedings? The assassins of Yamboli were protected by the government, and, to divert attention from himself, Stambuliyski went in person to Sofia to liberate prisoners.

Before the Anarchists’ magnificent example of courage and self-sacrifice, the Communist press did not modify its customary hostility - the young Communist militant, G. Stoinoff of Yamboli, could no longer stomach the attitude of his party, and committed suicide. The Communists, whose influence on the masses was greater, did not think this struggle important. The bourgeois parties were silent, they understood that the first phase of their fascist offensive had begun. From then on, events hurry forward: three months later, on June 9, comes the coup d’etat against the Stambuliyski Agrarian government, but mainly against the working class and the revolutionary movement. Embracing representatives of all the bourgeois parties and the Socialist Party, controlling the Military League and the Macedonian Autonomist organisation and organisations of reserve officers and noncommissioned officers, the Zveno circle - the same that since the “liberation” has shared power with the Communists - successfully executed the coup d’etat. In Sofia the Agrarian ministers were arrested; Stambuliyski, in the country, was captured, murdered. The Orange Guard resisted only a very short time, only at Plevna. The Communist Party preserved its usual passivity, its calm; the Central Committee of the Party declared: “Let the two bourgeoisies (of country and city) kill each other.” The Anarchists, hunted down and shot by the Stambuliyski government and still bearing the scars of Yamboli, tried to resist the coup d’etat: at Kilifarevo they rose, carried the local Communists and Agrarians along with them, and stood off the assaults of the army for several days. They even occupied the city of Drenovo and several villages at the foot of the mountains. Had the Communist Party joined in these actions, had the Agrarians been better prepared, the uprising bursting out in many places could have put down the fascist coup d’etat. These events are reminiscent of the fascist insurrection in Spain in 1936: a preconceived plan, a massive fascist assault. In Bulgaria, though unprepared for united mass action, the Anarchists put up stubborn resistance: not for direct realization of their ideal of Libertarian Communism, less still to rescue the Stambuliyski government, but simply to prevent the imposition of fascism. Later the Bulgarian Communists, spurred by Moscow’s reproaches, “took cognizance of their mistakes” and organised an uprising (in September). But the Bulgarian Communists had no experience in revolutionary action and the plans were discovered beforehand by the authorities. The uprising failed. The Anarchists took an active part, contributed important successes and many victims. The savagery of the terrified fascist bourgeoisie was unrestrained: barracks, schools and prisons were full of anti-fascists. Each night the torturers came looking for victims; black wagons came looking for bodies to throw over a cliff or into a ravine. Each night, for days, weeks and months, prison boats on the Danube threw mutilated corpses into the waters. Among the combatants, as among the dead, Agrarians, Communists and Anarchists had their heroes and their martyrs. The number of assassinated anti-fascists - peasants, workers, intellectuals - reached 35,000 The number condemned to death, to life imprisonment, long terms, was very high. In answer to this butchery, the attentat of the Sofia Cathedral was carried out; 220 persons died, among them 13 generals and ministers.

We are here in the darkest years of fascist reaction. There were guerrillas all through the regime. The first Bulgarian partisan units were Anarchists. The Communists, declared enemies of this tactic, busied themselves with electoral battles and again lost interest in the revolutionary struggle. From 1923 - 1924 onward, the anarchists Vassil Ikonomov, Vassil St. Popov (Geroi), Tinko Simov, Georgi Popov, the brothers Tumangelov, and many others formed partisan groups that went into the mountains and kept the revolutionary ardor of the Bulgarian people alive. The bloodiest repression could not stamp out what refused to die: love of liberty and the will to struggle to regain it. Under the fascist regime the first large-scale labour action was the successful general strike of tobacco manufacturing workers. Its principal leader was the Anarchist Ivan Konstanioff, militant of Plovdiv. The student youth, also, particularly the Federation of Anarchist Students (B.O.N.S.F.), distinguished itself by stubborn activity despite beatings, persecution, assassinations. Finally we must give credit to the passive resistance of the peasants. For six or seven years they did everything they could to avoid paying taxes, in spite of seizures and public sales. Rarely did anyone dare buy such goods. Tax receipts did not come to even half the budget estimates. In these bloody struggles the Anarchist movement lost many militants. But there were other losses, too, losses resulting from collaboration with politicians, above all with the Communists. The “United Front” tactic is in fact a Communist idea, basically a manoeuvre to swallow up “sister” organisations. Some let circumstances get the better of them, and a “revisionist” tendency developed within the movement; those who practiced close, continual collaboration with the anti-fascist political parties sought self-justification in revision of fundamental Anarchist ideas. Others, hoping to build up an exclusively syndicalist movement, went so far as to assert that the proletariat, through its unions, had the right to organise and direct the life of the whole society - though in Bulgaria the proletariat is only 10 per cent of the population. This period of confusion did, however, give the Federation an experience from which it learned to reject all collaboration with political parties except on the plane of revolutionary action. In 1931 elections were held. Despite elaborate precautions favorable to fascists and pro-fascists, they were defeated. Bulgaria now had a kind of democratic government; but the omnipotence of army and police was not disturbed. Freedom of speech and association was so circumscribed that this regime was hardly distinguishable from dictatorship. Nevertheless, it did represent a slight improvement over the nine years of avowedly fascist rule. The anti-fascist groups began to resume activity. In point of members the two strongest were the Agrarian Union and the Communist Party, closely followed by the Anarchist Federation. Anarchist periodicals and publications, though severely censored and often confiscated, appeared anew: papers, theoretical magazines, pamphlets, books. The movement rebuilt rapidly, but it still had to remain underground, in utmost secrecy. Overly Anarchist labour, peasant or cultural organisations were forbidden.

But skillful subterfuges enabled the movement to make substantial progress; the Anarchist peasant organisation, the Union Vlassovden, counted 130 groups; and there were 40 syndicalist groups. In the cultural field, under fascism, the Anarchists had created the movement of “abstinent youth” who developed an extensive activity under this modest name. They had branches in towns and villages and all the bigger schools. The militants of the Federation had also organised an association of Anarchist and Anarchist-sympathetic writers, painters, sculptors, theater artists, doctors, engineers, scientists and intellectuals. This activity was broadened and intensified after the mountain congress of September, 1933, that reaffirmed the Anarchist-Communist basis of the Federation*. But in May, 1934, the Military League staged a new coup d’etat. Hoping to stifle the love of liberty forever, the reactionary bourgeoisie turned to the corporative method of fascism. The military, regimenting every phase of social, economic and cultural life, established the “new order.” This “new order” was really very old, the Bulgarian people were not deceived. The totalitarian state strove to bring all social, economic and cultural organisations under its direct control; but when active struggle is no longer possible, passive resistance finds manifold expression. If one could no longer publish a newspaper to one’s liking, one did not therefore have to read those of the corporative lie–and-obscurantism factories. If one could not organise an association in harmony with one’s ideas and aspirations, one did not belong to an organisation whose aim was directly contrary. Dues, of course, were collected by the tax-collector like taxes. Still, if one could not always get out of attending meetings, one dispensed with taking part in the discussion. And as to work, one did not strain oneself. Naturally, all that does not solve the problem, it is not enough to end an oppressive regime. There comes a time when one’s indignation can no longer be contained; revolt, first individual, then collective; then, also, bullets, prison, the concentration camp. During the last war, during the German occupation, passive resistance grew tremendously, and at one time the armed resistance very much resembled the 1923 insurrection; when new groups of partisans appeared and the Communists sought to monopolize this form of struggle, the Anarchists joined in this movement. Acting independently or in co-operation with the Communists, they came immediately after the Communists in number of victims. And they took part in the liberation movement of September 9, 1944. Bulgaria, under occupation till that date, fought the Gestapo and German Nazism. It was an arsenal. The most stringent measures were used to throttle every attempt at protest, but the Bulgarian people gave proof of extraordinary moral force, the thousands of peasants and workers were shot, and their houses burned by the fascists. Often, to revenge themselves on a single man of resistance, the fascists killed wife, children, parents, brothers and sisters. In this struggle, the Bulgarian Syndicalists and Anarchists were in the vanguard, as much in resistance groups as in sabotage groups within the factories.

* some Syndicalist nuclei were formed: though underground, they guided the workers towards methods of direct action and encouraged them to revolt against exploitation and oppression. The illegal organ of the Federation advocated this activity)