The development of the Left Wing of Armenian and Macedonian socialism

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After three years organizing and six years of intense activity, by 1896 two clear factions had appeared within the Revolutionary Hunchak Party. One was led by Avetis Nazarbekian and his wife Maro Vardanian, who controlled the party center. The other was formed by their opponents. However this split within the Party was far from being simply about the personalities of Nazarbekian and Vardanian. The dissidents were opposing a very basic and integral part of the party line, namely that it was socialist. In their opinion, the statement made by the center tying the Armenian question to the workers’ question in Russia was a very serious mistake and by doing this the center was scaring not only the conservative Armenian bourgeoisie and Muslim society but also the bourgeois states of the West who were not interested in supporting any emergent socialist movement in the Ottoman Empire1. The solution, according to the opposition, was the removal of socialism from the party program, since they did not think socialism was necessary for the liberation of Turkish Armenia. The opposition demanded a convention for electing a new central committee. The socialist faction did not want this, so in August 1896 the dissidents held a meeting on their own in London. The socialist wing condemned the dissidents for this and held the ordinary 2nd Congress of the Party, also in London, without them. In this Congress, practices such as mass demonstrations and armed actions were rejected and continuing to uphold the socialist doctrine was strongly emphasized. The split between the nationalist opposition and the socialist center was complete.2

Two years later, at a convention again held in London the former Hunchak dissidents officially formed their new party, the Veragazmiya or Reformed Hunchak Party. Following the split, the opposition was initially stronger within the Ottoman Empire and Egypt whereas the socialist faction had a significant majority in the Caucasus.3 However, it soon became evident that the Veragazmiya Hunchak Party was far from being strong enough within the Armenian national movement to play the leading role it wished. Because there was a new organization which wanted to take the place filled by the Revolutionary Hunchak Party before 1896; the Armenian Revolutionary Federation or Dashnaktsutyun, and Veragazmiya was not going to be able to do more than tail this new force, As for the Hunchak Party, it started to have a social democratic practice in a meaningful sense only after 1896. Now at the core of its activities was the translation of marxist theoretical works into Armenian and publishing them, as well as continuing the general work of propaganda.

The Revolutionary Hunchak Party no longer included the anti-socialist elements nurtured by its own practice and in part by its own ideology. Nevertheless, while its general orientation was now quite clearly based on social democracy, it could not be said that it was on the left of social democracy; nor could it generally be said that nationalist Armenian politics were abandoned for internationalist class struggle. The anti-socialist right wing of the Party had left ; yet the party was not at a point where it could satisfy those left wing elements who saw class struggle as the only solution. The first region where the Armenian marxist left began to leave the Party was unsurprisingly the Caucasus where it had been most involved in the class struggle. Here there was a more advanced working class with a history and experience of struggle far greater than its counterpart in the Ottoman Empire. Here the 1890s had not been a period of defeat and repression for the working class as it was for the Ottoman proletariat.

The first organization of the Armenian marxist left was the Marxist Armenian Workers’ Group, founded in 1898 in Tbilisi. Its leading founders were: Gevorg Gharadjian, Melik Melikian, Karekin Kozikian, Haik Pilosian, Achot Khoumerian and Assadour Kakhoian. Gevorg Gharadjian, also known as Arkomedes, wasborn in the Caucasus, was one of the founders of the Hunchak magazine and, along with Avetis Nazarbekian and Maro Vardanian, was one of the writers of the Hunchak program. He had also translated the Communist Manifesto into Armenian by comparing its French and Russian translations. Gharadjian left the Hunchaks a short time after the founding of the group. He had continued to participate in the struggle in the Caucasus, especially in the Tbilisi workers’ movement, and had been a member of social democratic organizations in this city. Melik Melikian, also known as Dedushka, had been born in a village which today is inside the borders of Azerbaijan and had first encountered the revolutionary movement in the Caucasus in 1890. Karekin Kozikian, writing under the name Yessalem, was born in Kharput in the Ottoman Empire in 1878 and had emigrated to the Caucasus during the Armenian massacres of 1894-95. Kozikian was a twenty year old worker who had been politicized when very young and had already been a member of the Revolutionary Hunchak Party. Haik Pilossian, also known as Atamyan, had also been born in Turkey and was a close friend and comrade of Kozikian. Achot Khoumerian was a worker born in Tbilisi who had been one of the founders of the Association of Revolutionary Armenian Workers close to the Hunchaks and had written the first May Day leaflet in Armenian. Assadour Kakhoyan, also known as Kecho, had been politicized in the Caucasian workers’ movement and had written the history of the first strike in Armenia.4

The small Marxist Armenian Workers’ Group was not an isolated Armenian organization, and had close ties to Georgian revolutionary workers in Tbilisi. It also participated in strikes in the leather and shoe factories where the Armenian workers were numerous.5 In the years 1900-1 the Group put out an illegal publication called Banvor (‘Worker’), which makes it possible for us to see its political line. Banvor, published under the slogan “Workers of all countries, unite!”, declared itself to be the publication of the Armenian socialist workers. Both the Dashnaks and the Hunchaks were very strongly criticized for isolating the Armenian working class by a nationalist approach and it was emphasized that only the working class was capable of solving the Armenian question, putting forward the idea of a common struggle of the workers of all nationalities in the Caucasus. On this basis, we can say that this small yet efficient group was the first Armenian socialist organization to be free of nationalist influences and fully committed to the principles of proletarian internationalism.6 In 1901, the forces of the state launched attacks against it and destroyed the organization, imprisoning many important militants. However the Armenian marxist left did not disappear completely.

The appearance of this internationalist organization in the Caucasus meant that the political destinies of the militants in the Marxist Armenian Workers’ Group were to be deeply influenced by the Caucasian socialist movement, and indirectly the Russian socialist movement. Stepan Shaumian, the future leader of the Baku Commune of 1918, who was to be massacred among the rest of the revolutionaries in this city, was at the centre of these influences. Shaumian was an Armenian born in the same year as Karekin Kozikian in 1878. As a young man, a student member of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, he returned to his home town of Tbilisi after being expelled from the Polytechnic Institute of Riga. He had joined the Russian Party in 1900 when he was still in Riga. A few months after he arrived in Tbilisi, Shaumian formed the League of Armenian Social Democrats with former militants of the Marxist Armenian Workers’ Group such as Melik Melikian, Achot Khoumerian and Assadour Kakhoyan. The new organization explained the positions it defended in a manifesto published in its publication, Proletaryat:

In its activities, the League of Armenian Social-Democrats, as one of the branches of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party which extends the network of its organizations far and wide over the entire expanse of Russia, is in complete accord with the RSDLP., and will fight together with it for the interests of the Russian proletariat in general, and of the Armenian proletariat in particular (…)

The attainment of the socialist ideal is, in our opinion, conceivable neither through the working class’ efforts in the economic sphere nor through partial political and social reforms; it is possible only by completely smashing the entire existing system, by means of a social revolution, to which the political dictatorship of the proletariat must he the necessary prologue. (…)

Taking into consideration that the Russian state is made up of many different nationalities at varying levels of cultural development, and believing that only the extensive development of local self-government can safeguard the interests of these heterogeneous elements, we deem essential the establishment of a federative republic in the future free Russia. As to the Caucasus, in view of the extremely diverse national composition of its population, we shall strive to unite all the local socialist elements and all the workers of the various nationalities; we shall strive to create a united and strong Social-Democratic organization (...) [T]aking into account the above-mentioned diverse national composition of the Caucasus and the absence of geographical boundaries between the various nationalities, we do not find it possible to include in our program the demand for political autonomy for the Caucasian peoples.”7

Only one issue of this militantly internationalist publication was ever published, however the views expressed by the organization drew the attention of one of the leaders of the young generation of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in exile, Vladimir Lenin. Writing in the 33rd issue of Iskra in February 1903, Lenin evaluated the positions of the League of Armenian Social Democrats, congratulating the organization for developing a correct attitude on the national question. However, he was opposed to the federalist demand expressed in the manifesto:

“[I]s it possible from the Armenian Social-Democrats’ point of view to speak of the demand for a federative republic? Federation presupposes autonomous national political units, whereas the League rejects the demand for national autonomy. To be fully consistent, the League should delete the demand for a federative republic from its program (...) It is not the business of the proletariat to preach federalism and national autonomy; it is not the business of the proletariat to advance such demands, which inevitably amount to a demand for the establishment of an autonomous class state. It is the business of the proletariat to rally the greatest possible masses of workers of each and every nationality more closely, to rally them for struggle in the broadest possible arena.”8

As a separate organization, the League of Armenian Social Democrats was to be short-lived. The internationalist Armenian left in the Caucasus was rapidly reaching the conclusion that a common organization of all the socialists in the Caucasus was needed rather than an explicitly Armenian one. On this basis, in March 1903 the League joined the Caucasus Organization of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which was made up of the editorial committee of Brztola (Struggle) of the Georgian marxists and Proletaryat as well as the party committees in Tbilisi, Baku and Batumi. The united organization started publishing Proletari Krive (Proletarian Struggle), a new publication in Georgian, Armenian and Russian. Following the Menshevik/Bolshevik split in the RSDLP in August 1903, prominent militants of the old League of Armenian Social Democrats such as Melik Melikian, Achot Khoumerian and Assadour Kakhoyan were led by Shaumian to become some of the first Armenian Bolsheviks.9 Other leaders of the old League such as Arshak Zubarian, who was to become a deputy in the Duma, and Aramayis Erzinkian, sided with Menshevism.10

The Caucasian Gevorg Gharadjian, one of the leaders of the Marxist Armenian Workers’ Group who had not been involved in the League of Armenian Social Democrats due to his arrest in 1902, was undecided between Menshevism and Bolshevism,11 but following his release from prison he was to have a serious influence on developments inside the Revolutionary Hunchak Party. Gharadjian began to argue strongly that members of the Party in the Caucasus should join the RSDLP.12 Following the increase in state repression against Armenians in the Caucasus after 1903 the Hunchak Party had been growing rapidly.13 As the class struggle intensified a left wing emerged within the Party arguing that the members in the Caucasus should join the RSDLP while the party continued the struggle in the Ottoman Empire. The leaders of this left wing were none other than those who had been among the Party’s founders such as Avetis Nazarbekian, Mariam Vardanian and Ruben Khan-Azat. The conservative faction was led by an Armenian militant called Stepan Sapah-Gulian, born in Nakhchivan yet active in Turkey. After the factional struggle intensified between 1903 and 1905, the two sides finally confronted each other at the congress held in Paris in 1905. The conservatives led by Sapah-Gulian had the upper hand and stressed the unity of the Hunchak Party. However, on returning from the congress, the Caucasus-based left wing declared that it did not recognize the congress decisions and entered the RSDLP. Like Gharadjian, leaders such as Nazarbekian, Vardanian and Khan-Azat, did not side with either the Mensheviks or the Bolsheviks and adopted only the program of the RSDLP. But some Hunchak organizations in cities like Yerevan and Baku joined the Bolsheviks.14

The internationalist attitude adopted by a great majority of the Armenian socialists of the Caucasus was determined on the basis of the interests of both the Armenian workers in the region as well as those of the proletariat in the Caucasus in general. On the other hand, the Armenian socialists in the Caucasus held the view that the liberation of the Ottoman Armenians could only take place through a revolution in Russia and in some cases came close to completely rejecting the need for any political work in the Ottoman Empire at all. Such an attitude was far from being adequate or convincing either for Armenian socialists in the Ottoman Empire or for those in the Caucasus who had come from the Ottoman Empire and still had ties there. The faction led by Nazarbekian among the Hunchaks was clearly on the left, yet Sapah-Gulian and his comrades weren't actually very far on Nazarbekian's right – developments in class struggle had pulled the Hunchaks as a whole to the left.15 The decision taken by Sapah-Gulian and his supporters in the 1905 congress was expressed as “realizing proletarian revolutionary activities in the Caucasus and struggling to form a political democracy based on marxist principles in Turkey”.16 The congress also added ‘social democrat’ to the party name. After a final change of name at the 1909 congress held in Constantinople, the organization was known as the Social Democrat Hunchak Party.17

In the Caucasus a new socialist organization more interested in the problems of the Ottoman Armenians emerged. The Social Democratic Armenian Workers’ Organization was formed in 1903 by a mixed bunch, some coming from Caucasian Hunchak organizations and others, possibly a majority, who had been introduced to marxism as students in Europe through the writings of Plekhanov and Kautsky. Although this organization was interested in Ottoman problems, seeing itself as an internationalist organization and being especially critical of the nationalism of the Dashnaks, it was primarily a reaction against the internationalism of the Caucasian socialists. It was not on the right wing of the Caucasian movement alone: it also openly proclaimed the influence on its ideology of right wing tendencies in international social democracy such as the Jewish Bund and the Austrian marxists. On the national question, the organization’s position was essentially right wing, emphasizing national differences rather than the common interests of workers from different nationalities. The demand of the Social Democratic Armenian Workers’ Organization to be recognized as the sole representative of the Armenian proletariat was received coldly by the Caucasian social democrats; the organization never became as large as the Jewish Bund which so inspired it, and it remained a fairly insignificant right-socialist tendency in a land where workers’ struggles created a strong tendency towards class unity.18 The most significant work directed towards Armenian social democracy in the Ottoman Empire was to be done by Armenian socialists in the Caucasus who had emigrated from the Ottoman Empire.

Meanwhile, the development of the socialist movement in the west of the Ottoman Empire, in Macedonia and Bulgaria, was taking a course similar to its counterpart in the east. At the turn of the century, the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers’ Party was shaken by intense debates on the national question generally, and specifically on the Macedonian movement. Blagoev, leader of the BSDWP, had started putting forward the line that nations and nationalities were temporary bourgeois concepts which were destined to vanish as the capitalist system became more widespread. The conciliatory right wing of the BSDWP had, since 1900, existed as a sort of a faction within the party, around the publication Obshto Delo (‘The Common Cause’) edited by Yanko Sakazov. Sankov was the founder of the Union of Bulgarian Social Democrats with which Blagoev's Bulgarian Social Democratic Party had merged in 1894. In 1901 Gavril Georgiav, a militant of the Bulgarian party close to Blagoev, in an article published in the official organ of the party, Rabotnicheski Vestnik (Workers Paper), had accused those party members focusing on petty-bourgeois activity such as the Macedonian struggle of neglecting their duties to the proletariat. Dimo Hadjidimov, a member of both the Union of Revolutionary Social Democrats of Macedonia and Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, as the voice of the right wing of the party in Obshto Delo led protests against Georgiev19

The Bulgarian Party, and consequently the Union of Revolutionary Social Democrats of Macedonia, were rapidly heading for a split. The most concrete reflection of the issue at the core of the split was the question of Macedonia, with many debates and clashes between the left and right wings developing over this issue. A ban by the central committee of the BSDWP on its members joining Macedonian nationalist organizations was a serious blow against the right wing. But the issue wasn't just about the approach towards the national question in Macedonia. The left wing led by Blagoev was very strictly against any compromises with the bourgeois or petty-bourgeois elements and held the view that only proletarian struggles must be defended. The right wing led by Sakazov thought that the party should be based not only on the working class but on other social classes as well. The right wing had no problem with the idea of cooperating with bourgeois or petty-bourgeois tendencies. The left wing and the right wing also had different concepts of organization: the Bulgarian left had an approach similar to that of the Bolsheviks, in favor of building a narrow party of cadres, whereas Sakazov's right wing favored building a broad mass party. All these differences resulted in a split at the 10th Party Congress of 1903. From now on, the organization of Blagoev and his comrades was called the (Narrow) Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers’ Party and the organization of Sakazov and his supporters the (Broad) Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers’ Party. This split made the Bulgarian Narrow Socialists among the first in the international socialist movement, together with the Bolsheviks, to form a separate organization of the lefts.

The split in the Bulgarian party broke up the Union of Revolutionary Social Democrats of Macedonia. The one leader of the Broad Socialists in Macedonia was Dimo Hadjidimov. Under his leadership, members of the (Broad) Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers’ Party started conducting their activities entirely within the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, and made contacts with the left wing of this organization.20 As for the Narrow Socialists, the Ilnden uprising of 1903 caused them to fully clarify their opinions on the Macedonian issue and the national question. In an article published in Rabotnicheski Vestnik in September 1903, they defended the view that the liberation of Macedonia could only be realized by the working class, and consequently an uprising could only be successful if led by the working class.21 Vasil Glavinov, who had created the first socialist organization in the country, was now the most prominent leader of the Narrow Socialists in Macedonia. Especially after 1903, any member of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization had to give up their membership in order to join the Narrow Socialists led by Vasil Glavinov who was totally against Macedonian nationalism and defended proletarian internationalism, The Macedonian Narrow Socialists now took the name Social Democratic Workers’ Organization of Macedonia and Adrianople,22 with the aim of starting discussions in order to determine what sort of political practice was to be followed in the coming period. This was the first organization of the left wing of international social democracy within the Ottoman Empire.23



1Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Ermeni Devrimci Hareketinde Milliyetçilik ve Sosyalizm (1887-1912)”. İletişim. 1992. Istanbul. p. 24

2Nalbandian, Louise. "The Hunchakian Revolutionary Party 1887-1896"

3Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Ermeni Devrimci Hareketinde Milliyetçilik ve Sosyalizm (1887-1912)”. İletişim. 1992. Istanbul. p. 24-25

4Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Le mouvement révolutionnaire arménien, 1890-1903” Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique. Vol. 14 N°4. pp. 536-607. 1973. p. 581, 595-597, 599 For Achot Khoumerian also look at: Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Ermeni Devrimci Hareketinde Milliyetçilik ve Sosyalizm (1887-1912)”. İletişim. 1992. Istanbul. p. 48

5Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Ermeni Devrimci Hareketinde Milliyetçilik ve Sosyalizm (1887-1912)”. İletişim. 1992. Istanbul. p. 47

6Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Le mouvement révolutionnaire arménien, 1890-1903” Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique. Vol. 14 N°4. pp. 536-607. 1973. p. 597

9Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Ermeni Devrimci Hareketinde Milliyetçilik ve Sosyalizm (1887-1912)”. İletişim. 1992. Istanbul. p. 49

10Ibid, p. 59

11Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “1876-1923 Döneminde Osmanlı Toplumunda Sosyalist Hareketin Doğuşunda ve Gelişmesinde Ermeni Topluluğun Rolü”. “Osmanlı İmparatorluğunda Sosyalizm ve Milliyetçilik” Editor: Mete Tunçay and Erik Jan Zürcher. İletişim. 2004. Istanbul. p. 234

12Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Le mouvement révolutionnaire arménien, 1890-1903” Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique. Vol. 14 N°4. pp. 536-607. 1973. p. 599

13Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Ermeni Devrimci Hareketinde Milliyetçilik ve Sosyalizm (1887-1912)”. İletişim. 1992. Istanbul. p. 53

14Ibid, p. 62-63

15Even the Dashnaks shifted left. The Dashnak Party was to declare its adoption of socialism at its 1907 congress and despite the protests of all the Caucasian social democrats was to apply for membership of the Second International and be accepted. Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Ermeni Devrimci Hareketinde Milliyetçilik ve Sosyalizm (1887-1912)”. İletişim. 1992. Istanbul. p. 72-73

16Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Ermeni Devrimci Hareketinde Milliyetçilik ve Sosyalizm (1887-1912)”. İletişim. 1992. Istanbul. p. 63

17Turabian, Hagop. “The Armenian Social-Democratic Hentchakist Party Part 1”. Ararat No. 34. Nisan 1916. Londra.

18Ter-Minasian, Anahide. “Ermeni Devrimci Hareketinde Milliyetçilik ve Sosyalizm (1887-1912)”. İletişim. 1992. Istanbul. p. 54-55

19Adanır, Fikret. “Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’nda Ulusal Sorun ve Sosyalizmin Oluşması ve Gelişmesi: Makedonya Örneği”. “Osmanlı İmparatorluğunda Sosyalizm ve Milliyetçilik” Editor: Mete Tunçay and Erik Jan Zürcher. İletişim. 2004. Istanbul. p. 45

20Adanır, Fikret. “Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’nda Ulusal Sorun ve Sosyalizmin Oluşması ve Gelişmesi: Makedonya Örneği”. “Osmanlı İmparatorluğunda Sosyalizm ve Milliyetçilik” Editor: Mete Tunçay and Erik Jan Zürcher. İletişim. 2004. Istanbul. p. 54

21Ibid, p. 53

22Now the Turkish city of Edirne

23Ibid, p. 54


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