Reviving the Völkerabfälle: The South Slavonic Left, Balkan Federalism and the Creation of the First Yugoslavia

Summer 2018

This article explores how the Southern Slavs, decried as Völkerabfälle by Engels in 1849, managed nevertheless to develop a distinctively social­ist movement and culture of their own, particularly from 1903 to 1914, capable of both challenging and shaping politics in the Balkans. Although heavily influenced by Marxist theoretical currents and external ideas such as Austro-Marxism, the formation of this South Slavonic Left was rooted in the social and historic contexts of its adherents’ respective homelands. Limited industrialisation, coupled with the rise of rival political move­ments such as nationalism and peasant agrarianism, prompted many on the Left to turn to the region’s early socialist heritage, specifically the phi­losopher Svetozar Markovic’s concept of Balkan Federalism. As well as providing a means by which the region could begin to modernise through closer economic and political cooperation, the perceived threat of Austro-Hungarian and Italian expansionist ambitions legitimised the left-wing belief that a Balkan Federation was now essential to the future preser­vation of regional identity and political freedoms. Consequently, the creation of the first Yugoslavian state in December 1918 was welcomed as the first step to fulfilling these goals.