Dimitar Blagoev (1856-1924)
The solitary prophet

He was a teacher and a public figure. One of the first educated and consistent theoreticians of Marxism in Bulgaria, he was the founder and the leader of an organised socialist and workers' movement. As a student in St. Petersburg he set up the first social democratic group in Russia (1883) with its own newspaper Rabochy ("Worker"), for which he was expelled from the country. In 1891 he founded that Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, edited and published the theoretical magazine Savremenniy Pokazatel ("Modern Standard" 1885) and the party magazine Novo Vreme ("New Time"). He was one of the founders of the Communist International in 1919, an MP in three National Assemblies, and a municipal councillor in Sofia for many years. Blagoev was born in the village of Zagorichane near Kostur and died in Sofia.

On May 9, 1924 the streets of Sofia were crowded by the funeral procession of Dimitar Blagoev, the founder of the social democratic and workers' movement in Bulgaria. It was the first of three monumental funerals that the citizens of Sofia would remember, the other two being that of Professor Assen Zlatarov and of the Democratic Party leader Alexander Malinov. Each of them was the champion of an idea or a theory, and each touched upon important aspects of the national character.

Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, Dimitar Blagoev's positive answer to the question whether socialism should be instituted in Bulgaria has been disproven by history. However, he was one of those personalities who, by devoting their lives entirely to a doctrine, had a stronger and more tangible impact on their time and their people that the doctrine itself.

The year 1933 was marked by the publication of a book entitled Left Generation, a documentary work and a confession about the turning point for the Bulgarian intelligentsia, "from the trenches of 1917, to 1923". The author, Ivan Meshekov, dedicated it to "the noble memory of two great Bulgarian public figures and ideologists" who had contributed to its creation, Dr. Krustyo Krustev and Dimitar Blagoev. "Different as they were," Ivan Meshekov wrote, "they shared the same calling: to lead and aid the progress of the Bulgarian intelligentsia, society and literature as influenced by the wars and as required by the new collective historical experience." Dimitar Blagoev was part of that intelligentsia and of its dramatic search for a comprehensive world view that would make its existence and work meaningful. To that intelligentsia, the creed issue was not a matter of ideology but a matter of life.

"The awareness that human conscience has been commandeered, and has paid for the ambitions of a state that is no longer a motherland" was born in the trenches of World War I. The aesthete Dr. Krustev was sending to his young followers in the battlefield books "including - Oh, God! - the works of Marx". Marxist Dimitar Blagoev was already acting as dictated by his conscience, and not guided by state and dogmatic purposes. In 1914, he was the leader of the socialist MPs in the Sixteenth National Assembly, the only parliamentary force that voted for Bulgaria's neutrality, a vote that was very much at odds with the teaching of Marxist classics. In Russia, Plekhanov, the father of socialism, called for victory of the imperial army. In Germany socialist leader Parvus was hoping that the Kaiser's army would prevail. In Bulgaria the former volunteer from the Serb-Bulgarian War Dimitar Blagoev denounced war and condemned the celebrated leaders as traitors.

As a student in St. Petersburg he founded the first social democratic organisation whose meetings were attended by about thirty participants. The Bulgarian Social Democratic Party was about the same size at the time of its formation in 1891. Both organisations grew and Blagoev's life in Bulgaria was, in his own words, "always busy with work, support of party initiatives, internal affairs and meetings". Still it rather resembled the life of Lyuben Karavelov who, in exile, in the seclusion of his home in Bucharest, was absorbed by the great ideas of his age, and was looking for a way towards Bulgaria's salvation. Similarly, Blagoev was more a man of letters and philosophy that an organiser and a leader. Having found a rare spiritual harmony in his family, he could devote more time to his dreams and theories, to philosophy and literature, social science and publicism. That was the starting point from which he approached the daily problems of party life. In the Novo Vreme ("New Time") magazine alone he published over 500 articles, chronicles and reviews. His collected works amount to 20 volumes, and they served as much more that a substantiation of Marxism and the grounds for socialism in Bulgaria.

A disciple of Petko Rachov Slaveykov, who he thought of as both a father and a patron, Blagoev wished to satisfy the intelligentsia's need for an ideal with "the pursuits of modern man". He also wished to relieve the intelligentsia of the back-breaking task of solving the national problem labelled "national ideal". He was aware that it was "impossible to expect a revolutionary mood in the masses, to create a popular movement", and he set his faith on the "factory as the fundamental change in the social relations in our country that will break our people's conservatism". What he despised most was "the petty bourgeois way of life", by which he meant "vegetating without any noble emotion". His ambition was, in fact, to lead the people away from their "domestic problems" towards a broad and brighter way: "If a nation is to be worthy of respect and believed to be progressing, it should be the bearer of a universal, 'cosmopolitan' ideal".

From the twnety volumns of Dimitar Blagoev's works, the party he had founded picked just the slogans and the canons it needed in its struggle for power. The intelligentsia failed to embrace totally the "universal ideal", choosing instead to seek its own way to a national one. The popular movement turned out to be different from the movement of the "factory people", the proletariat. At the same time, "vegetating" as a way of life was becoming increasingly popular.

Dimitar Blagoev remained a solitary prophet whose words contained more meaning than the people were able to find. His is still misread, misinterpreted and misunderstood.

See also: Blagoevgrad

{Spiritual Leaders of Bulgaria}

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