The Situation in Yugoslavia and the Position of Proletarian Revolutionaries (1991)
League for a Revolutionary Communist International (predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency), Summer 1991, www.thecommunist.net
We reprint here two documents which were originally published by the predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (the League for a Revolutionary Communist International) in summer 1991.
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Yugoslavia faces the prospect of a horrific civil war between the peoples and ethnic groups that make up this most multi-national of European states. Revolutionary Marxists condemn without hesitation the fomentors of national strife. The Serbian, Croatian and Slovenia nationalists are all guilty of this. Cynically playing with the fire of chauvinism which led to hundreds of thousands of deaths during the Second World War, reviving the pogromist traditions of the Chetnik and Ustasha fascists, they have brought the country to the brink of a repetition of these events.
The nationalists’ objective has been to seize power from the weakened and disintegrating Stalinist bureaucracy and compete for the favours of European imperialism in restoring capitalism in the successor states to the Yugoslav federation. But these would-be capitalist exploiters cannot agree to a peaceful distribution of the spoils of the Yugoslav workers’ labours over the last forty years. The nationalists—especially those of Serbia and Croatia—are seeking a “Greater Serbia” or a “Historic Croatia”. They seek to divide up the national minorities and other peoples and ethnic groups like so many cattle.
The European Community imperialists, who refuse to recognise Slovenia and Croatia’s declarations of independence, have rushed to offer their “good offices” to prevent civil war and supposedly solve Yugoslavia’s problems. Workers of all nationalities in Yugoslavia should beware imperialists bearing gifts. They have only two purposes. Firstly, they desire political stability and, secondly, the completion of the restoration of capitalist exploitation in Yugoslavia. The imperialists will only support Slovene and Croat rights to the extent that they advance this process. That is why we oppose the imperialists’ intervention. Imperialist economic or military intervention will enormously strengthen and speed up the process of capitalist restoration.
Yugoslavia is a state in collapse. Individual republics no longer meet their obligations to the Federal institutions. The State Presidency is incapable of operating. The power of the current federal president, Ante Markevic, has been dramatically reduced. Finally, two republics, Slovenia and Croatia, have now held referendums in which the overwhelming majority of the population voted for full sovereignty and independence from Yugoslavia. All of these facts, particularly the latter one, demand a clear political response from revolutionaries.
Responsibility for the impending catastrophe does not lie solely or even primarily with the bourgeois nationalists. The originators of this crisis are the Stalinist bureaucrats whose political oppression, economic parasitism and mismanagement have brought the Yugoslav workers’ state to its present collapse. Their policy has resulted in the planned economy failing to meet the elementary needs of the masses, leaving them open to the influence of the propagandists for the market and capitalism.
The bureaucracy attempted to stem the indignation and revolt of the working class by hiding behind nationalist demagogy. Milosevic lit the fuse of chauvinism in Serbia, Kossovo and Vojvodina. This was primarily responsible for bringing to power separatist, restorationist nationalist forces in Slovenia and Croatia. The attempt by the Tito bureaucracy to create one single Yugoslavian nation has now been fundamentally shattered.
The independence of the Baltic republics would only rob the USSR of its present western flank and remove some of its relatively economically advanced areas. In Yugoslavia, however, the independence of Slovenia, and above all of Croatia, would call into question the very survival of the Yugoslav state. Nevertheless we recognise and defend the right of self-determination. The break up of the Yugoslav Federation does not mean the instantaneous and inevitable destruction of the workers’ state.
The workers of Slovenia could still stop the restoration measures if they are aroused to consciousness of the peril to their basic conditions that these entail. If they do not do so no other force in the world, least of all the Stalinist bureaucrats in Belgrade, will defend these gains for the working class.
It would therefore be wrong to identify the defence of the Federation with the defence of the planned property relations. The Stalinist bureaucracy in Serbia is not fighting at the head of the Serbian workers for the defence of the planned property relations. It is fighting to defend its own parasitic existence, the remnants of its dictatorial powers. It wants to restore Serbian privileges and oppression either in the federation as a whole or in a greater Serbia in which the minorities of Kosovo, the Vojvodina, Macedonia and even Bosnia-Hercegovina would come under the iron heel.
With the brutal repression of Croat nationalism in 1971, the Yugoslav workers’ state introduced significant elements of national oppression against one of the component republics into politics for the first time since 1945. However, the fact that there were purges in Slovenia and Serbia after the repression indicates that the pan-Yugoslav bureaucracy in the 1970s was still more interested in the maintenance of the balance of power.
The emphasis on the common interests of the Yugoslavian peoples and the repression of nationalist tendencies in all the component republics was one of the standard methods of maintaining power used by the Yugoslavian Stalinist bureaucracy in the 1970s. Until Tito’s death in 1980 there was no oppressor nation in Yugoslavia, although the republics’ rights to national self-determination were limited by the central bureaucracy. In this context the biggest nationality, the Serbs, identified most readily with the central bureaucracy.
This form of maintaining power implied a relative balance between the nationalist forces which cancelled one another out. This balance of power became increasingly unstable in the 1980s, with the carrying forward of the bloody oppression of the Albanian resistance by Serbia. The Kossovo Albanians’ justified demands for their own republic could not be silenced by even the harshest of methods. As a result the Serbian bureaucracy was pushed ever further forward on its nationalist course.
Recourse to nationalism
To justify the oppression of the Albanians a recourse to Greater Serbian nationalism became essential. It was upon this that the republican leadership under Milosevic increasingly based itself. Secondly, the resistance based in the leading bodies of the autonomous republic of Kossovo had to be broken. The overthrow of Azem Vlasis and his indictment for high treason was a symbol of the Serbian “co-ordination” of Kossovo.
The autonomous province of Vojvodina was also “co-ordinated” with the same consequences, although not so dramatically. The result was that after 1989-90 the whole post-war system, based on the limitation of all the nationalities’ aspirations for independence, was thrown out of balance.
Serbia, together with the leaderships of the “autonomous” republics of Kosovo and Vojvodina plus Montenegro (traditionally a loyal ally), now has a de facto veto on all decisions of the state presidency, which is composed of eight representatives. It is this stalemate which prevented the routine transfer of the state presidential office to the Croat, Stepa Mesic, and thus paralysed the state presidency.
Since at least the second half of the 1980s the other nations’ fear at the resurrection of Great Serbian nationalism has been justified. National oppression resulted from two factors. Firstly, because the Stalinist state bureaucracy denied the democratic right of national self-determination and, secondly, because of the real threats to national interests posed by resurgent Great Serbian chauvinism.
Nevertheless, the nationalism of the Serbian minorities in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina is not entirely reactionary. Firstly, it is based on the real experience of national oppression by the Croat Ustasha government of Poglavnik Ante Pavelic during the war. With the protection of the Established Catholic Church in Fascist Croatia (to which Bosnia-Hercegovina with its strong Serbian population then belonged) an anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Serbian holocaust took place, resulting in hundreds of thousands of victims.
Secondly, of all the Yugoslavian nations, the Serbs are the most divided amongst the various republics and autonomous provinces. In comparison to overall population size their representation in the state presidium was, until 1988, the most seriously under-represented. Alongside the Republic of Serbia, in which approximately 75% of the population belong to the Serbian nationality, there also are big Serbian minorities in Vojvodina (more than 50%), in Kosovo (approximately 17%) in Croatia(15%) and in Bosnia-Hercegovina (30%).
We defend the right of self-determination even in the case of the Serbs. We defend the right of all Serbian areas to unite with the Serbian Republic unless this would result in the oppression and/or block the self-determination of another nationality. Where the latter would be the case we are for full autonomy for all minorities unavoidably located within other states. A denial of the democratic right of the Serbs and the unwillingness, or inability, of the Stalinist bureaucratic caste under Tito to amend the frontiers of the republics in accordance with the wishes of the population, is a further reason for the unusually strong resurgence of Serbian nationalism in the 1980s.
Today, therefore, not only are the Albanians and the Turkish minority in Macedonia oppressed nations, so are the Slovenes and Croats. The fact that Slovenia is the richest republic in Yugoslavia changes nothing in this respect. Slovenia, with 7% of the population, produces almost 25% of Yugoslavia’s total wealth. Wages in Slovenia are ten times higher than in the poorest, most under-developed regions of the country. Within a common state one nation can be oppressed even when it is relatively richer than other parts of that state.
Along with the ever less concealed Greater Serbian rhetoric, the ideology of Yugoslavianism also serves the interests of the Serbian dominated state bureaucracy. This return to the ideology of a single Yugoslavia is not an expression of the limited progressive character of the anti-nationalist Yugoslav peoples’ liberation struggle, but rather a return to the Greater Serbian politics of the period before 1941.
This is true not only for the nationalist opposition in Serbia, like the Serbian Renewal Movement, but also for Milosevic and his Party supporters, with whom the militaristic Yugoslavianism of Tito is combined into a contradictory unity with pre-war Great Serbian chauvinism. The Serbian nationalist denunciation of Tito as an enemy of the Serbs marks a change. However, even here the Serbian Republic’s bureaucracy is not consistent. On 24 October 1990 Serbia declared Republican law to have priority over Federal law, and, thereby expressed the fact that support for the unity of Yugoslavia was nothing more than a tactical manoeuvre.
The most important bearer of the idea of Yugoslavian unity is the Federal Army. Dominated by Serbs (80% of the officer ranks are held by Serbs), it is a major factor in the internal politics of Yugoslavia. It presents itself as the guardian of Titoism and the anti-nationalist traditions of the Yugoslav people’s liberation struggle. It is, however, a bureaucratic repressive institution which, as under Tito, is prepared to repress national unrest.
Revolutionaries fight against any army intervention which limits the national right of self-determination, even if such an intervention takes place in the name of a united Yugoslavia. However, proletarian revolutionaries would critically support army interventions wherever national sentiments have been so stirred up that no other means can be used to prevent a nationalist bloodbath.
The defence of Serbian minority areas in Croatia against attack is thus justified and supportable, whereas attacks on Croat minorities or on the independence of Slovenia are not. Slovenia and Croatia are equally justified in defending their people against brutal attempts by the Serbian army to prevent their secession. A civil war in Yugoslavia is, however, not likely to have an overall progressive character on one side or the other.
The conflict is already turning into a guerilla war to divide the areas of heavily intermixed population lying between Croatia and Serbia. This is a monstrous act of national oppression. The losers will be the workers and farmers of all ethnic groups. Only the immediate formation of multi-national defence militias based on the factories and villages can drive out the pogromists wherever they show their faces and stop the slide into a reactionary civil war.
The Yugoslav army is not defending the economic basis of a workers’ state. The Markovic government, to which the army has declared its loyalty, is willing to play a counter-revolutionary role. Only the loss of power by the central Belgrade administration has hindered rapid progress on the road to capitalist restoration at the level of the whole state. Correspondingly, the independence movements are not directed primarily against the degenerate workers’ state, which in any event has already been reduced to its foundations. The dominant elements are, on the one side, the real fear of Greater Serbian chauvinism and, on the other, the wish to be able to determine their own destiny at the economic and political level.
Yugoslavia is a country with massive social and economic differences. However, within Yugoslavia the richer republics have not developed themselves at the cost of the poorer. We reject the idea, often heard in Serbia today, that Serbia is backward because it has been exploited by Slovenia and Croatia. We equally reject the argument that, through a super-colonial exploitation, Yugoslavia (and above all Serbia, within the common state) has retarded the economic development of Slovenia and Croatia. The annual statistics from 1952 to 1988 show that the three republics, Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia, have developed at approximately the same speed.
Although the Stalinist bureaucracy was incapable of an all-embracing development of the whole state, it is not the case that one republic really benefited from the economic disadvantage and exploitation of other republics. It is true that under market socialism since the 1960s, as is always the case under market conditions, there was a transfer of value from the unproductive to the more productive regions. However, until very recently there was also a Central Development Fund through which a part of the national surplus product was re-transferred back to the poorer republics. On balance these tendencies cancelled themselves out.
The wish for independence at the economic level is a product of the failures of the Stalinist deformed planned economy, especially since 1979. The relatively advanced nature of Slovenia or Croatia cannot be taken in itself as an argument against self-determination. The movements for independence and sovereignty in both Slovenia and Croatia are a nationalist reflex against the stagnation of “market-Stalinism”.
The strike movement since the mid-1980s, in which the Yugoslav workers fought against the worsening of their living standards, could have led to a supra-national political pre-revolutionary situation. Instead it was channelled into the nationalist movements, first in Serbia, later in the other republics. The danger of Great Serbian nationalism gave Croat and Slovenian nationalism a certain justification. The desire for independence must be accurately and concretely examined by revolutionaries.
In 1990 the Stalinist bureaucracy lost political power in Slovenia to a coalition of seven bourgeois parties. The Demos government achieved 95% support in the December 1990 referendum on independence. On this basis Bucar, the president of the parliament, declared Slovenia to be an independent state.
Despite the restorationist dynamic in Slovenia, and despite the bourgeois leadership through which the Slovenian people’s struggle for independence has been channelled, we recognise not only Slovenia’s right to state independence and to secede from Yugoslavia, but we ourselves raise the demand for Slovenian independence. The struggle against subordination and intimidation by Belgrade cannot be left to the reactionaries. Only a proletarian leadership in the independence movement could lead a fight for the justified national concerns without any Slovenian nationalist arrogance, and combine it with an internationalist perspective, the struggle for a socialist federation of the Balkans.
In the referendum campaign of December 1990 Trotskyists would have argued against a vote for independence, counterposing to this the key action slogans of the political revolution and the formation of a new free federation of the peoples of Yugoslavia and the Balkans. However, once the Slovene people had made clear their unmistakable desire for separation then we would have fought throughout Yugoslavia for an end to all coercion against them and for the immediate recognition of Slovenia’s independence.
We are for an independent workers’ council state of Slovenia. Trotskyists would have seized the initiative when it came to fighting the effects of independence. They would have fought against the wage cuts which would come with or without independence and they would have fought all suggestions that the $16 billion Yugoslav foreign debt was a matter for the republics which had not seceded. Only a common rejection of all imperialist debts can release all the republics from the grip of the finance capitalists.
The independence of Slovenia has no repressive dynamic with regard to other nations. In respect of the minorities who live in Slovenia (Hungarians and Italians) revolutionaries would naturally argue for the furthest reaching consideration of their national rights up to secession. We defend the right of the Slovenian minorities inside Austria and Italy to autonomy and, if they want, to integrate into a Slovenian republic.
The relationships are different in Croatia. The independence of Croatia under the leadership of the HDZ government implies a new minorities problem, above all that of the Serbs in Krajina and Slavonia. Here Trotskyists have to make their position in any referendum dependent on whether the rights of minorities (above all the Serbs) are to be guaranteed up to and including secession, or not.
After the referendum of 19 May 1991, to which Trotskyists would have had the same attitude as in Slovenia, they would have recognised the decision of the Croatian people in favour of independence and defended them against coercion. But we could take no step in common with the Croat nationalists on the question of Serbian and other minorities since we simultaneously and equally support their right to secede from an independent Croatia.
In its concern to free itself from Serbian intimidation and threats the working class of Croatia must clearly distance itself from the HDZ government, with its sympathetic attitude to the fascist Ustasha tradition. It must stand consistently for the right to self-determination for all those national groups—the Serbs, Muslims and Jews—who are fearful of an independent Croatia. Naturally, here too, the fight for national self-determination must be combined with the struggle against capitalist restoration.
Recognition of national rights
The case of the other nations is different. The desire for separation has not yet reached such a scale that we would raise the demand for independence. We concentrate on the demand for the recognition of national rights but not, however, for secession. We fight for the recognition of Kossovo as a republic with equal status, and for an end to the unworthy status of a de facto occupied country. We would support and raise the demand for unification with Albania should this be the wish of the Albanians of Kossovo and the other areas of majority Albanian settlement in Yugoslavia (in Macedonia and Montenegro). We would also support and raise the demand for the unification of the Macedonian nation, currently divided between Yugoslavia, Greece and Bulgaria, if they express a desire for this. In all these cases we would fight for independence to take the form of a workers’ council republic.
The secession of Slovenia and Croatia from Yugoslavia would mean the end of the state federation in its present form. The increased weight of Serbia in relation to the other republics would dramatically accelerate Yugoslavia’s collapse. But we must not fall into a reactionary conservatism through fear of a new potential trouble spot in Europe. We must not stand against the legitimate national interests of the Slovenes and Croats on the basis that their secession would increase the likelihood of the Serbian bureaucracy oppressing the remaining nations.
We must analyse the situation very soberly relating our positions to the circumstances which, in all probability, will be changing rapidly. Yugoslavia has lost all progressive content as a federation of its three largest peoples. Any attempt to maintain it against Croatia and Slovenia will only reinforce its prison-house character. But the defence of a continued voluntary and democratic Yugoslavian federation as against absorption into a Great Serbian nation state can have a progressive character for those other nationalities and ethnic groups in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, the Vorozdina etc.
It will not be imperialism which destroys Yugoslavia. The nations of Yugoslavia themselves are at the point of delivering the coup de grâce. Because the Yugoslav state was unable to solve the national problems of the Balkans the present process can only be the prelude to a fundamental re-ordering of the relations between the peoples in the region.
Dynamic of political revolution
The dynamic of the political revolution in the Balkans must once again bring to the surface the national problems which were suppressed by Stalinism. The state and republican frontiers reflect not the free will of the peoples, but compromises between Stalinist leaders and the imperialists. Revolutionary communists have no interest in the maintenance of the existing borders.
A complete re-ordering of the region must take place through a democratic socialist federation of the Balkans. This could result from a victorious political revolution in the former Stalinist countries or through social revolutions in Greece and Turkey. However, the bourgeois and Stalinist leaderships are leading the Balkans into a new phase of nationalist hatred and probable civil wars and massacres. The nationalist struggle of all against all can no more be our objective than the enforced pacification of nations within a prison-house state.
We do not support either the dissolution or the maintenance of Yugoslavia. Rather, we support national independence where it is demanded by a majority of the working class and is not at the cost of new minorities. We also support negotiations for a re-formation of Yugoslavia wherever the working class has new hopes of a nationally and socially more just state structure. In both cases, however, we say clearly and unmistakeably that the national problems cannot be solved on a bourgeois basis.
Only the fullest recognition of the national rights of self-determination, together with the establishment of a multi-national democratically planned economy, can offer the peoples of the Balkans a perspective for development in the future. For the proletarian revolution a new, revolutionary Yugoslavia must be a step on the road to a Socialist Federation of the Balkans, and that itself a step towards the United Socialist States of Europe and, indeed, of the whole world.
Independence and the stability of state borders are not questions of principle for Trotskyists. We unconditionally defend the right of oppressed nations against the ruling caste exactly as we would against bourgeois governments. We are in favour of federations of states which offer and make possible a better development of the productive forces. The only revolutionary solution to the national question is the common struggle of the proletariat of the oppressed and the oppressor nations. This is particularly true for the area of south-eastern Europe.
South-eastern Europe in general, and Yugoslavia in particular, is a region where the areas of settlement of the various peoples is exceptionally intermixed and, even with the best will in the world, clear national borders are difficult to find. Thus in Vojvodina representatives of twenty different peoples live in a crisscross pattern. Amongst the majority Serbs and the Hungarians, who make up 20% of the population, there exist some 7% Croats, more than 3% Slovaks and Romanians, tens of thousands of Gypsies, and so on.
In such areas where an appropriate border line could not be drawn, where as many as half-a-dozen nationalities live together in the villages and the cities, we should be for their recognition as multi-ethnic territories, with full protection of each group’s national and cultural identity. But the limits of national self-determination are reached where this right seriously impinges on the legitimate national and social needs of another nation. In such regions any other position would lead to mass expulsions and deportations and the destruction of a cultural framework which has developed over centuries. This would poison the relations between the various nations for a very long time to come.
The situation in Bosnia-Hercegovina is similar. The 1990 election results quite accurately reflect the national composition of approximately 50% Muslim, 30% Serb and 20% Croat. A division of Bosnia-Hercegovina, as for example that negotiated between the presidents of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Hercegovina in June 1991, carries within it the danger of expulsions and deportations. In particular there is the danger that such a division would be carried out over the heads of the population. We would decisively reject this and stand for the maintenance of Bosnia-Hercegovina as a multi-national republic. However, we recognise the right of self-determination of all national groupings even there.
In both republics striving for independence we are confronted with the problem that the overwhelming majority of all social classes, including the proletariat, is nationalist and has united behind the bourgeois leadership. The task of revolutionaries is to differentiate between the progressive and the reactionary aspects of this consciousness and to open the way to the development of a revolutionary class consciousness.
On the one hand we support the struggles for national independence and separation from the collapsing Yugoslavian federation. On the other, the Slovenian and the Croatian proletariat must be broken away from their bourgeois leaderships, the parties of the Demos coalition and the HDZ in Croatia or other bourgeois parties, and the nationalist rubbish driven out of their brains. Our slogan cannot simply be for independence.
We raise the slogan of an independent workers’ state for both Slovenia and Croatia. However, such a slogan has only a conjunctural significance and would be withdrawn if the differentiation within the Slovenian leadership deepens, the experiences of accelerating restoration in Slovenia or Croatia lead to a change of mind within the working class (the enthusiasm for independence is already beginning to decline) or above all if the Serbian working class differentiates itself from the national demagogues and offers to the other peoples of Yugoslavia a new federation not under the domination of the Serbs. We do not entirely exclude the possibility of a renewal of Yugoslavia, but ultimately it must be a socialist renewal under proletarian leadership.
Independence means the immediate strengthening of tendencies in the direction of capitalist restoration. However, the Markovic government is anything but a guarantee of the maintenance of a workers’ state, even a degenerated one. It is trying to open the road to capitalist restoration. If it could get the reins of power firmly back into its own hands it would accelerate the process of restoration at a pan-Yugoslav level, smoothing the way for the transition to capitalism.
The central task is to mobilise the proletariat against capitalist restoration. The greater part of industry is still not privatised. The capitalist market is still not fully dominant. Only an independent workers’ movement can stop capitalist restoration. Proletarian revolutionaries must clearly highlight the consequences of restoration and mobilise against every measure take in that direction.
“In order to come together more closely and more honestly one must first separate” (Trotsky).
The task today is the defence of the possibility of this first step. As Marxists, however, we must not for a moment forget the second step, the revolutionary unification once more of the workers’ states. It is for such a policy that revolutionaries must stand in Yugoslavia today.
• Down with the organisers of pogroms. For a multi-national workers’ militia to stop the slide into reactionary civil war.
• For the full right of national self-determination for all the peoples of the Balkans!
• For an independent soviet Slovenia!
• For an independent soviet Croatia with full recognition of the right to self-determination of the Serbs in Croatia!
• No to capitalist restoration! For a proletarian political revolution against the ruling bureaucracy! Croatian and Slovenian workers throw out the restorationist regimes in Llubjana and Zagreb.
• Down with the counter-revolutionary nationalists in all the republics of Yugoslavia!
• For a federation of independent workers’ states of the Balkans!
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The crisis in Yugoslavia
Adopted by the International Secretariat of the LRCI, 29 June 1991
The intervention by Yugoslav army troops in the republic of Slovenia, following hard on its declaration of independence, must be condemned by all socialists and working class fighters world-wide.
The forcible retention of any people within the borders of another state is not only a violation of democratic principles but, far more importantly, poisons the relations between the working classes of different peoples and in this case splits the unity of the Yugoslavian working class.
Yugoslavia is a workers’ state but not a workers’ state where the working class has ever held direct political power by means of workers’ councils. It was from birth a degenerate workers’ state. Therefore, it has always lacked key features inseparable from workers’ democracy, including a real, rather than a formal, right for any republic or oppressed nationality to secede from that state.
Marxists are no admirers of small states for their own sake. Nor do we advocate the creation of tiny statelets for every nationality, linguistic or ethnic group world-wide. On the contrary, we see in the existing national borders so many restraints on the forces of production and above all on the most important one—the working class itself. But if the unity of the working class is injured by the network of frontiers even more so is it injured by the national oppression of any people within an existing multi-national state.
Our answer to this is to fight for an elementary demand of bourgeois right: for self-determination up to and including separation, for the unhindered right to secede. In the imperialist epoch, despite including this principle in all their charters, declarations and constitutions, the bourgeoisie (whether imperialist or semi-colonial) denies this right in practice.
Thus in the Middle East the thirty million strong Kurdish people’s right to an independent state is denied by all the great powers and not only by the regimes which partition it. Those vicious hypocrites the British imperialists have for the last seventy years imprisoned a large minority of the Irish people within the “United Kingdom”.
Therefore, the EC imperialists, who refuse to recognise the declarations of independence of Slovenia and Croatia, have rushed to offer their ”good offices” to prevent civil war and solve Yugoslavia’s problems. The working people of all nationalities in Yugoslavia should beware the imperialists bearing gifts.
They have only two purposes. Firstly, they desire political stability and, secondly, the completion of the process of the restoration of capitalist exploitation in Yugoslavia. They will only support Slovene and Croat rights to the extent that they advance this process. That is why we oppose their intervention. Imperialist economic or military intervention will enormously strengthen and speed up the process of capitalist restoration.
The election of openly bourgeois restorationist governments in Ljubljana and Zagreb delighted the imperialists. Some of the adjacent capitalist countries (Italy and Austria) may have flirted with the prospect of gaining client statelets out of any break-up of Yugoslavia.
The bourgeois restorationist government in Hungary has secretly sent arms to Croatia. It may harbour designs of re-uniting the half-million strong Hungarian minority in the Vojvodina with the fatherland, as well as restoring some sort of economic linkage to Croatia. As these two republics are the most developed parts of the Federation they would be a valuable acquisition for their neighbours.
Backward Serbia, with its large and militant working class as well as its Stalinist regime, is clearly much harder to handle. The EC powers do not want another poverty stricken claimant to EC membership and EC funds. A controllable flow of Yugoslav cheap labour to the factories of Germany and Italy in the boom years was one thing. A mass exodus of economic refugees in the present recession is quite another.
The EC and the CSEC have therefore rushed to mediate. Their objectives are to prevent a complete break up of the federation, to promote the weakening and eventual downfall of the Serbian republic’s Stalinist regime and to strengthen the restorationist federal government of Ante Markovic.
We do not take as our starting point the preservation of the Yugoslav Federation as such. This federation is itself too narrow to resolve the national problems of the Balkan peoples. Its borders divide one and three-quarter million Albanians from their co-nationals in Albania. They divide one and one-third million Macedonians from their co-nationals in Greece and Bulgaria. They divide nearly half a million Hungarians from their fellow nationals.
Revolutionary communists from the early years of this century have seen the answer to the extreme national complexity and intermixing of the peoples of south-east Europe in the creation of a Federation of the Balkan Peoples.
National borders and customs posts crippled the already under-developed economies of the peninsular between the two wars. Stalinism was unable to overcome this legacy of economic backwardness. It was also unable to overcome the legacy of national oppression.
At various times, and most recently in the period of the crisis of the regimes in Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia, the Stalinist dictators deliberately inflamed the old national antagonisms.
Zhivkov persecuted the Turkish minority, Ceaucescu the Hungarians, Gypsies and Germans. In Yugoslavia, since 1987, Slobodan Milosevic has held on to power by inflaming first anti-Albanian chauvinism amongst the Serbs over the autonomous region of Kosovo, and then the historic antagonisms dating from the bloody “civil war” between Croats and Serbs which was a component of the 1939-45 war.
Yugoslav Stalinism is in its death agony. The Yugoslav League of Communists (YLC) has disintegrated and its rump, now named the Serbian Socialist Party, still maintains a semi-dictatorial hold on power in Belgrade. To preserve this power its leader, Slobodan Milosevic, has for three years mounted a campaign to “restore” Serbian dominance in the Federation, lost in his view, in 1974 when a new constitution created autonomous regions in the Vojvodina and in Kosovo.
In addition the Yugoslav army, dominated by a largely Serbian high command and officer corps, will only survive if the Yugoslav Federation holds together. That is why it is willing to use bloody means to ensure this. Any Yugoslav military dictatorship, any restoration of the Stalinist one party tyranny would not constitute a defence of the planned property relations which still exist in Serbia, albeit in a disintegrating condition.
To be sure, Milosevic has sought to preserve his hold on the working class by opposing rapid moves to denationalisation and the abolition of the “workers’ self-management”. This in turn has fuelled illusions in him by workers fearful of the economic disintegration that would be intensified by the secession of the Slovenes and the Croats.
But Milosevic is also committed to restoration. His only proviso is that a Serb dominated Yugoslavia must continue and that the Stalinist bureaucratic caste should hold onto a dominant share of power whilst it transforms itself into a part of the new capitalist class or into the political servants of this class.
Serbian workers are being dragged into a reactionary civil war, not in defence of the planned property relations but in defence of the parasitic bureaucracy. Only a political revolution against the SSP bureaucrats and the defeat of the bourgeois opposition (e.g. the Serbian Renewal Movement of Vuk Drascovic et al), only the support by the Serbian workers for the right of the oppressed nationalities to independence if they wish it, can be a basis for solving the enormous problems facing the proletariat.
Serbian chauvinism has in its turn fuelled Slovene and Croat separatism. The Slovenian and Croatian Stalinists have been swept from power by openly restorationist bourgeois nationalist governments that, as the elections showed, unfortunately have the the support of the great majority of their populations including their working classes.
The programmes of the governments of Milan Kucan and Franjo Tudjman will bring unemployment, poverty and social insecurity to the workers of Slovenia and Croatia. But they can hide this now, not only by the usual deceitful propaganda envisaging a rapid transition to the prosperity of an Italy or an Austria, but also by appearing as the only defenders of their peoples against a brutal Serbian dictatorship, whether Stalinist or bourgeois nationalist.
This latter claim is false in essence. They themselves have inflamed chauvinism by their blaming of all Yugoslavia’s ills on the Serbs, whom they claim exploit them by taking “their” taxes to develop the backward parts of Yugoslavia. The Croatian nationalists have glorified reactionary “national heroes” like Ban Jelacic (leader of the pro-Habsburg counter-revolution in 1848) and the leaders of the Nazi puppet state of “independent Croatia”.
In addition, the Croat militias have attacked and murdered Serbian villagers. This, in turn, has given another twist to the upward spiral of Serbian chauvinism.
The obstruction and then the military prevention of Croatia’s and Slovenia’s bid for independence has wounded, perhaps fatally, the hopes for a solution to the national question within the framework of the Yugoslav state. Only a rapid break of the working class from their Stalinist and bourgeois misleaders can save the fraternal union of the toilers and avoid either a bloody and reactionary civil war or an imperialist-restorationist imposed settlement.
What should be the key demands which constitute such a break?
• Imperialists, hands off Yugoslavia. No to an EC intervention. No sanctions or withholding loans to the Federation.
• Yugoslav Armed Forces out of Slovenia and out of all but the majority Serb enclaves of Croatia. For the withdrawal of all Croat militia from the Serbian regions of the Croat republic and the right of these regions (like the Krajna) to secede if they wish to. Fraternise with the Yugoslav armed forces; for workers’ and soldiers’ committees and the election of officers.
• For the right to self-determination of all nations, including the right to autonomy or participation in a free and equal federation with no privileges to one nationality.
• For the immediate recognition of the Slovene and Croat declarations of independence and the recognition of the independence of the Serbian majority areas within Croatia.
• For the maintenance of the planned property in Croatia and Slovenia, against the restoration plans and mass unemployment, for the defence of workers’ ownership and control of the factories, for a new democratic workers’ plan.
• Break with the bourgeois and Stalinist restorationists. For independent workers’ militias to safeguard all minorities and full democratic rights to the workers and peasants. Down with the pogromists.
• For workers’ council states in Slovenia, Croatia and all the republics.
• For a new voluntary federation between the republics as the first step to a socialist federation of the Balkans.