To anyone interested in the origins of the first World War, the question of Europe’s “Sick Man” – Turkey – must inevitably come up. I’m not exactly sure how the phrase was understood (if used at all) by European citizens in the late 19th / early 20th century, but among more recent scholarship (particularly in the work of Laurence Lafore, author of The Long Fuse), I would guess the fatal disease was, centrally, nationalism. Not Turkish nationalism alone, but the centrifugal nationalist tendencies arising from that complex arrangement of people’s within the former Ottoman Empire.
While the imperial Great Powers squabbled among themselves over divvying up the spoils of the Sick Man’s decaying Empire, a young Trotsky, recognizing the poison of nationalism, offered a democratic solution in counterposition to the classical bourgeois democratic aspirations of The Young Turks. Presciently, one will note, considering the horrors to arise throughout Europe just 5 years after his essay’s publication –
Only a single state of all the Balkan nationalities, on a democratic and federal basis similar to the Swiss or United States model, can bring internal peace to the Balkans and ensure the conditions for a broad development of its productive forces.
The “Young Turks” for their part definitively rejected this approach. Representing the dominant nationality and having their own national army, they hold to and remain national centralisers….
What will it [sic] happen to Turkey in the immediate future? It would be futile to try to guess. One thing is clear, which is that victory for the revolution will mean the victory of democracy in Turkey, democratic Turkey would be the foundation of a Balkan federation and this Balkan federation would clean out once and for all the “hornets’ nest” of the Near East, with its capitalist and dynastic intrigues which stormily threaten, not only this unhappy peninsula but the whole of Europe.
The Young Turks (marxists.org)