BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS
In a letter printed on page 15, reader Steve Craine raises questions and disagreements with the column "Why Yugoslavia is not yet `former' " in the January 22 Militant. Hasn't the class unity Yugoslav workers won through their revolution, he asks, "been lost or is well on the way to being buried for a long time?" That is the heart of the matter.
The working class in Yugoslavia has been facing deteriorating conditions of life and work for nearly two decades because of the Stalinist bureaucratic and anti- working-class methods of planning and management by the petty- bourgeois layer that controlled state power. The resulting crisis was worsened by the economic stagnation world capitalism has experienced since the mid-1970s, and the depression conditions the entire imperialist system has been mired in since the opening of the 1990s. Yugoslavia was particularly vulnerable since the regime of Josip Tito had opened up its economy to foreign investment and loans from imperialist institutions much earlier than other workers states in Eastern Europe.
The assault on the Yugoslav working class took a qualitative turn for the worse when the competing regimes in the different republics - primarily in Serbia and Croatia - launched their bloody war in 1991 in the attempt to control land, factories, and other economic resources, with the goal of maintaining or improving the parasitic and privileged way of life of the castes they represent.
Since then, the working class in Yugoslavia has been embroiled in a fight to resist this onslaught - much like workers in Russia, France, the United States, Argentina, and elsewhere. Granted, the conditions, challenges, and immediate tasks workers and farmers face in these countries vary widely. But in each of these confrontations communists and all proletarian fighters must never give up what has not been wrested from our class by the enemy class in battle. One of these conquests is the Yugoslav workers state.
The rival gangs of wanna-be capitalists in Serbia, Croatia, and other Yugoslav republics - all originating from the break- up of the formerly centralized Stalinist regime - and the invading imperialist powers would like to declare the Yugoslav federation over. But for some reason they are having a hell of a time making that stick. I will give my reasons.
First is the relentless resistance by millions of Yugoslav working people to the attempt to force them to no longer live with, work alongside, and intermarry with those of different national origins as they have done for decades since the triumph of the Yugoslav revolution in the 1940s. This resistance has permeated five years of the slaughter, butchery initiated by the rival bureaucratic regimes and aided by the intervening imperialist powers - first Bonn and then increasingly Paris, London, and Washington.
Beyond obfuscation of capitalist media
To support his argument that most working people in Yugoslavia have been swept up on the side of one or another of the competing bureaucratic gangs, Craine points to "the mass exodus of Serbs from areas surrounding Sarajevo (taking with them even the exhumed bodies of deceased family members)."
Beyond obfuscation of capitalist media
According to United Nations figures, some 12,000 of the 70,000 people of Serb origin who live in the suburbs of Sarajevo such as Ilizda and Vogosca had left by early February for other areas controlled by pro-Belgrade forces. Since December a few dozen graves of relatives have been exhumed by some of these departing Serbs, many of whom do not like the prospect of living under the rule of the Bosnian government.
This story of grave removals, like much of what passes as "news" reports, is part of the ruling-class propaganda to justify the imperialist war drive against Yugoslavia. The television scenes and newspaper headlines and photos gave the impression that virtually every Serb in Sarajevo was digging up graves. But buried in the middle of the New York Times story, for example, was the fact that only 50 graves had been exhumed. Sorting out propaganda from fact is an essential part of any class-struggle fighter's task in confronting NATO's war drive.
What all the bourgeois media also carefully hide every day is that that an equal or greater number of Serbs have stayed inside Sarajevo.
In July 1992, when I visited Sarajevo reporting for the Militant, there were 100,000 Yugoslavs of Serbian origin inside the city under siege along with another 200,000 Muslims and Croats. I met some of the Serbs who fought as part of the Bosnian army against the troops of Bosnian Serb chauvinist leader Radovan Karadzic. "These Serbian extremists are terrorists," mechanic Nenad Colic, himself a Serb, told me, referring to Karadzic's army. "I don't know how long we can hold against them."
Ramiz Beshlija, a Muslim shepherd living on the Trebevic mountain in the outskirts of the city, offered to take me to the front line where one of his Serbian neighbors, among several Serbs in the Bosnian defense forces in that end of town alone, was in the trenches with a platoon of the Bosnian army. "Before Sarajevo was attacked he went and fought in Vukovar against the Yugoslav army," Beshlija said of his neighbor. He was referring to the 1991 assault by the army of Serbia's president Slobodan Milosevic on the town of Vukovar in eastern Slavonia, a sliver of Croatian territory now occupied by Belgrade.
Most of these Serbs inside Sarajevo stayed in the city during the four years of relentless bombardment, many giving their lives in battle along with their Muslim brothers and sisters, holding up against the chauvinst forces that often had clear military superiority.
This military resistance to Karadzic's troops in Bosnia has been based on the political resistance by big sections of the Yugoslav working class to the chauvinist offensive right up to today. It has been prevalent not only among Muslims, Serbs, and others inside Sarajevo, but throughout Bosnia and other Yugoslav republics.
Resistance throughout Yugoslavia
A Feb. 1, 1996, article in the Toronto daily Globe and Mail, for example, lifted the curtain a little from this well- kept secret by the big-business media.
Resistance throughout Yugoslavia
"There were Serbs who secretly helped the Muslims in attempting to ease the suffering caused by Serb extremists," Ibrahim Halilovic, a Muslim cleric for the northwest Bosnia region around Banja Luka, told the Globe. "We are very grateful for that." Banja Luka houses the headquarters of Karadzic's gangs. Since 1992 Halilovic has lived under virtual house arrest there, says the Globe article, "presiding over a Muslim community that was the target of expulsions and violence." Halilovic described how an underground network of Banja Luka residents of Serb origin - smack at the center of the chauvinist Serb stronghold, where many of the "ethnic cleansing" assaults were planned - have opened their homes and given other help to persecuted fellow Yugoslavs of Muslim and Croat origin from 1992 until today.
A few similar stories can occasionally be distilled from items in U.S. dailies amid countless lines always ascribing the roots of the conflict to centuries-old animosity between Serbs, Muslims, and Croats; lines of type shaped by gallons of ink that the bourgeois editors never allow to form the word "Yugoslav" when describing the people of Yugoslavia.
An item in the January 18 New York Times, for example, quoted several Serbs in the rural town of Ljubinje in southeastern Bosnia, in an area under Karadzic's control. Referring to the war he described as senseless, Zeljko Berberovic told the Times reporter, "I got out alive, and now the only thing I want is to leave the Serbian republic [that is the area Karadzic's ilk want to break off from Bosnia and preserve just for Serbs]. I'll go almost anywhere else." Thousands of other Serbs in these "ethnically pure" areas feel the same disgust toward the chauvinist offensive and are ready to act on their beliefs.
Desertions from `Yugoslav' army
As many as 50 percent of those called up for the draft under Belgrade's rule to fight in the "Yugoslav" army against fellow working people in Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 refused. (The Yugoslav army came under the complete control of Milosevic's regime by 1991.) And thousands more youth, many of Serbian origin, deserted the same army when Belgrade launched its war against Bosnia. The desertions have continued, though on a smaller scale.
Desertions from `Yugoslav' army
Even among many of the Serbs who fought in the Yugoslav army there is little identification with the course ordered by Belgrade and its lackeys in Bosnia. Miroljub Torbica, a Serb who spent four years in a Bosnian government jail as a prisoner of war and was released recently in an inmate exchange, told the New York Times January 27, "I was part of the Yugoslav army. It was my job, but I am not a Chetnik." Chetnik is the derogatory term widely used by citizens of Sarajevo to describe Karadzic's forces.
The Chetniks were a guerrilla group in the early 1940s set up with London's backing by people loyal to the Serbian monarchy that ruled Yugoslavia before the 1945 revolution. They were a Serbian chauvinist group that fought some battles in the mountains against the occupying German troops at the time. But their main role was to counter the domination of the liberation movement by the Partisans, led by the Yugoslav Communist Party.
Torbica told the Times he would like to stay in Sarajevo, his hometown, where he has many friends.
Similar reactions are found among many of the more than two million refugees displaced by the war. At least a dozen Militant readers who are industrial workers have described to me discussions with a number of co-workers from Yugoslavia who have immigrated to the United States as a result of the war. One common thread among these stories is that the big majority of these workers consider themselves Yugoslavs. Some take it as an insult to be called "Serbs," "Muslims," or "Croats" regardless of their national origin.
These are a few of the countless examples that prove working people throughout Yugoslavia have continued to defend one of the fundamental gains of the revolution: class unity that cut across national lines.
It is this Yugoslav working class that in its millions remains the obstacle to the aims of the competing gangs of bureaucrats and above all to the invading imperialist armies.
Why many buy nationalist demagogy
During the early 1940s, workers and peasants of varied national origins and beliefs in Yugoslavia organized an armed movement, led by the Partisans, to throw off the German imperialist occupation during World War II. In the process they launched a powerful social revolution. Working people took the power out of the hands of the landlords and capitalists. By the end of the 1940s they had carried out a radical land reform and expropriated the bourgeoisie's factories, mines, warehouses, and banks. They had established a workers state.
Why many buy nationalist demagogy
The gains of the revolution extended well into the 1960s. They included the progressive narrowing of the gap in living standards and working conditions between the highly industrialized republics such as Slovenia and the less developed like Macedonia. Such affirmative action programs, along with respect for different languages and cultures, cemented the bonds of working-class unity.
But the Tito leadership acted to break the forward motion of the revolution and hasten its bureaucratic degeneration. Belgrade carried out a policy of conciliation toward imperialism, backing Washington in the Korean War and taking a "neutral" stance during the U.S. assault on Vietnam. Capitalist methods of competition among enterprises and profitability were institutionalized in industry, packaged as "workers' self-management." Market mechanisms were extolled, encouraging eventual competition between different republics. The state monopoly of foreign trade was allowed to erode.
As a result, the direction of the early measures of the revolution was halted and began to be reversed, a process that accelerated in the 1970s. Social differentiation began to widen. It was amplified by the impact of the first capitalist world recession in 1974-75.
At the opening of the 1990s, the Stalinist regime and Communist Party that dominated the Yugoslav workers state begun to crumble, as was happening in the workers states throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. When members of the petty-bourgeois layer that dominated the state apparatus in Yugoslavia organized along nationalist lines to justify the grabbing of territory and resources, they did find some support among the population in each republic.
Because of decades of Stalinist misleadership, the class consciousness of workers and farmers had been eroded. The regime in Belgrade, the main culprit for the slaughter, also played on the fact that millions of working people opposed imperialist intervention - either in the form of German tanks and military advisers first sent by Bonn to the Croatian regime of Franjo Tudjman in Zagreb, or the subse-quent sanctions slapped on Serbia and Montenegro by the United Nations. For these combined reasons many working people bought into the nationalist demagogy of Milosevic, Tudjman, and company and supported or did not resist the formal break-up of the Yugoslav federation.
But even among the hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavs who turned out and applauded the nationalist tirades by Milosevic at rallies in Belgrade and elsewhere, a majority opposed the terror of ethnic cleansing. The Serbian regime often had to blatantly lie to rally working people behind its military offensives. When the Yugoslav army, for example, was called out of the barracks to halt the independence of Slovenia, troops were told by officers that Yugoslavia was being assaulted by Austria and Italy. As soon as most soldiers discovered the truth, fraternization of the troops of different nationalities took place and a bloodletting was averted in that republic.
The Yugoslav working class has been pushed back but has not lost the battle. The important fact is the widespread resistance to the course of Milosevic and his rival bureaucrats described earlier. The dictatorship of the proletariat may not be well but is still alive throughout Yugoslavia.
Hitler triumphed in Germany in the 1930s and established a fascist regime after the working class in that country had been dealt a crushing defeat. The Nazis won popular support for their openly stated aims of exterminating the Jews and other non-Aryans based on the smashing of the labor movement.
In Yugoslavia, neither Tito nor his heirs have been able to crush the working class to the point of returning the country to the prison house of nations it was prior to the 1945 revolution.
If the working class in Yugoslavia had been smashed and the workers state there torn to pieces already, imperialism would not need to be sending in its armies, using the opening provided by the war that the Serb and Croat regimes initiated. Such a blow would also be registered by a qualitative shift in the relationship of forces in favor of imperialism worldwide - from Cuba to China to capitalist Europe.
As is the case in Yugoslavia, the toilers throughout the workers states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union keep surprising the imperialists by their resistance to attempts to integrate those countries in the world capitalist market. The recent miners' strikes in Russia and Ukraine are one such example. (In a similar way workers from Seattle to Peoria, Illinois, keep surprising the capitalist employers and their government by fighting and continuing to prove that even a declining and bureaucratized union is not the same as no union whatsoever.)
A union of soviet republics
"If `the Yugoslav workers state has not been dismembered into little pieces,' how is it that at least five separate states exist, each with its own government, constitutions, army, and international relations," asks Craine.
A union of soviet republics
The formal break-up of the Yugoslav federation is not synonymous with the splintering of the workers state into five pieces being picked up one at a time into the fold of the imperialist system. (By the way, that's what Stalinist groups such as the Workers World Party and the Communist Party USA argue: that Serbia and Montenegro remain the only socialist republics and the rest such as Croatia and Slovenia are already ruled by capitalist regimes.)
What the Yugoslav revolution put in place was not a state akin the bourgeois democracies in western Europe, albeit with nationalized property forms. It was a union of soviet republics - a social dictatorship of the majority, the producers - kept together through the class unity of Yugoslav workers and farmers, conquered on the basis of a common struggle against capitalist exploitation and all forms of national oppression.
It is these social relations, along with the property forms put together by the revolution, that have not been destroyed. That's why it's not useful to use Craine's yardstick.
In addition, the internal borders of each of the Yugoslav republics are very porous with constant movements of populations largely caused by the war. You can also hardly argue that Macedonia, for example, has its own full-fledged army with a few rusty tanks and minimal weaponry. Not to mention the situation in Bosnia, where borders and controlling armies are fluid, changing month by month. The economic infrastructures of the different republics are still totally interlinked, with power plants and other factories producing for neighboring or distant republics, for example. And the invading imperialist powers are nowhere close to establishing capitalism in any piece of Yugoslavia.
Several articles in the big-business press make similar observations from the capitalists' point of view.
"Just over a month after the suspension of United Nations sanctions imposed for its role in the Bosnian war, Serbia is fast retreating into the closed economy of its Communist past," complained an article in the February 6 Wall Street Journal.
"This is bad news not just for potential investors, but also for the U.S.-led effort to bring peace and economic stability to neighboring Bosnia. Prying open this key Balkan nation," the Journal article continued, "is viewed by many experts as crucial to the success of the Bosnian peace process, since so many of the region's industries are intertwined. A closed Serbian economy also could hurt countries such as Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, which desperately want to reopen roads and trade links through Serbia to northern Europe."
Task of reestablishing capitalism `overwhelming'
As for Bosnia, the task of pouring in massive investments and establishing a market economy seemed daunting to the Journal.
Task of reestablishing capitalism `overwhelming'
In an accompanying article in the same issue reporter Mark Nelson said "the task at times seems overwhelming." He was referring to efforts by foreign engineering and other firms to capture contracts for power plant repairs and other construction projects, each of which have received pledges from imperialist institutions adding up to a few billion dollars.
"After World War II," Nelson continued, "it took the Western allies more than three years to do in Germany all the things that the Dayton Accord aims to do during the next six months: organize elections, create a democratic, free-market society, and start rebuilding a functioning economy. And the allies enjoyed some advantages in Germany: That country was completely occupied and already had a tradition of efficient companies and bureaucracies.
"Here the economic inheritance from old Yugoslavia offers little comfort."
Indeed, the capitalist powers and their mouthpieces are not in for a comfortable ride to capitalism in Yugoslavia. They do not occupy the entire country - at least not yet - and even in the portions they do control they have to confront militarily the inheritance of the Yugoslav revolution: a working class that will resist any shock therapy measures and any attempts to return to capitalist social relations.
Despite the efforts of Milosevic, Tudjman, and other bureaucrats, the social and economic foundations of the Yugoslav workers state have not been torn apart.
No stable capitalist ruling class exists with the accompanying system of bourgeois values; stable legal and contractual relations; and the dominance of privately owned industrial, banking, financial, and commercial capital. The fight is not settled over any of these questions. That's why Yugoslavia is not yet former.
This is what NATO's war drive is all about: putting the imperialist powers in place to smash the working class there directly through military violence in order to reestablish capitalism. Youth and working people in North America and throughout the world can make this task of the competing imperialist sharks even more monumental.
We can do so by telling the truth about NATO's war drive, explaining the Yugoslav revolution and its accomplishments, and joining other fighters in all defensive struggles and asking them to add to their demands getting the U.S. and other imperialist troops out of Yugoslavia now.
Above all, winning fighters today to a communist party capable of leading workers and farmers to take state power and defend it arms in hand is the biggest aid we can give to working people in Yugoslavia.
Giving to the capitalist exploiters what they haven't already taken from our class would hurt our embattled brothers and sisters in the Balkans.
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