Twenty years ago, from 24 March to 10 June 1999, United States and other NATO airplanes conducted bombing raids over what was left of Yugoslavia. Ever since the late 1980s, as capitalism’s world economic crisis sharpened and the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia went down with the USSR, rival war lords had been whipping up ethnic and religious divisions in order to carve out new state territories for themselves.
As we noted at the time, the crisis which had at first provoked a wave of workers’ strikes and protests, came to be defined as a problem of national identity. “Tuđman in Croatia, Izetbegović in Bosnia and Milošević in Serbia may have all been rivals but they had a common purpose – drown the class struggle in ‘ethnic’ conflict.“ [Internationalist Communist no.17, Spring 1999] In the process any possibility of a unified working class response to the economic hardships being imposed on the majority of the population was effectively eliminated.
In any case these so-called independent nationalisms could only win out under the tutelage of a greater imperialist godfather. Whilst the EU (via Germany) sponsored Tuđman’s Croatia from the beginning, Serbia’s Milošević clung to their enfeebled Russian sponsor which had problems of its own. Izetbegović, a supporter of Islamic fundamentalism, was forced at first to rely on the likes of Saudi Arabia but after Serb atrocities eventually the US and NATO came to the aid of the Bosnians.
NATO then, as now, was a tool for US imperialism. After it helped to deepen the bloodbath in Bosnia (1994-95) it ensured the permanent splintering of the territory so recently under Russian influence. When 8,000 Bosniaks were massacred by Ratko Mladic’s Serb militias during a pause in NATO’s bombing to allow 50 UN ‘peacekeepers’ to escape, NATO then launched a series of air strikes which paved the way for Bosnia’s occupation by a 60,000 ‘peacekeeping force’ to enforce the Dayton Accords. (Signed in Dayton, Ohio.)
By 1999 the US did not even pretend to be acting as an impartial ‘UN peacekeeper’. Without the backing of Russia or China (for their own obviously imperialist reasons), the US – via NATO – embarked on a massive series of air strikes aimed at destroying any possibility of a revival of the old Serbian-dominated, pro-Russian Yugoslavia. After three days 500 civilians had died under this supposed precision bombing campaign (which also “accidentally” targeted the Chinese Embassy). NATO had destroyed almost all of its strategic military targets in Yugoslavia but “the bombing extended to strategic economic and societal targets, such as bridges, military facilities, official government facilities, and factories, using long-range cruise missiles to hit heavily defended targets, such as strategic installations in Belgrade and Pristina. They also targeted infrastructure, such as power plants water-processing plants and the state-owned broadcaster, causing much environmental and economic damage throughout Yugoslavia.” (Wikipedia)
Meanwhile the United States kept up the pretence that the whole military operation was to protect Albanians in Kosovo. (Though it didn’t stop NATO bombing ethnic Albanians in Korisa who were being used as a human shield.) The outcome of Operation Allied Force brought the final break-up of the post-war Yugoslavia, with Kosovo occupied by UN forces. (Kosovo went on to declare itself an independent state but it is still a ‘disputed territory’ to this day.) Russian imperialism had been further weakened and the USA could now count on Poland and the Czech Republic amongst its allies.
For us this anniversary is nothing but a grim and tragic reminder of what imperialism has in store for the working class everywhere if we allow ‘national identity’ to overwhelm our common working class situation which alone can enable us to unify and fight on our own account: for an end to capitalism and its imperialist warfare, whether in US, Russian, Chinese, private or state hands. Twenty years ago, on the day after the first bombings in Yugoslavia, we issued the statement below in English, Italian and Spanish. If this was like a voice crying in the wilderness then at least today there is a growing number of internationalist communists who recognise that, for the working class everywhere, the only war worth fighting is the class war.
No War But the Class War!
Capitalism Means Imperialism, Imperialism Means War
What cynicism! What hypocrisy! Day in, day out millions upon millions of human beings all over the world are exploited like animals for starvation wages. Millions more live in absolute poverty. None of this offends the delicate consciences of the gentlemen of the bourgeois press who are trying to convince us that the bombing of Serbia is for the “humanitarian purpose” of preventing massacre of civilians in Kosovo.
What cynicism! What hypocrisy! They are shameless liars! Of course, they are just capitalism’s hired hacks. They only obey one logic. This is the logic of the capitalist who exists only to realise the greatest amount of profit even if it means stepping over the corpse of his own mother!
In reality the game that is being played out in the Balkans is just one episode in the confrontation between the various imperialist powers in order to gain control of sources of oil, oil revenues and commercial and financial markets. It is a ferocious conflict for domination of the planet. The United States is trying to prevent the formation of a new imperialist bloc which might be able to compete with them for primacy in the world. This why they have expanded NATO throughout the entire Balkan region and in Eastern Europe. Having armed, clothed and equipped the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) they aim, with the stabilising presence of their troops in Kosovo, to secure control of the oil of the Caucasus region, to finally relegate Russia (which still remains the world’s second military power) to the role of onlooker and - perhaps the most important thing - to deliver a heavy blow to European hopes of playing an independent imperialist role.
The Europeans, in their turn, are putting a brave face on things by supporting NATO military action only to avoid the risk of being totally excluded from an area of such vital importance. Meanwhile Europe is hoping to create a common military apparatus in line with its common currency.
Serbia itself, though posing as the sacrificial victim, really hopes to exploit its own strategic position better. It is trying to carve out a role as regional power which would allow its bourgeoisie to pocket a huge income. To do this it has never hesitated to tighten its grip on workers’ necks (including those in Kosovo). In the period of greatest economic crisis the Serbian Government imposed a wage freeze, despite the fact that inflation was 2000% per year; revoked all forms of political and economic autonomy, and drowned in blood the anger of millions of workers. This is no different from what the ruling class is doing the world over.
War is not caused by “humanitarian meddling” nor “defence of the nation”. The root cause of war is capitalism’s incessant drive for greater profit, whatever the cost. For genuine communists the choice therefore is not between imperialisms. We don’t distinguish between the small and large imperialisms. The politics of choosing the supposed lesser of two evils is opportunist and dishonest. Any support for this or that imperialist front is support for capitalism. It is a betrayal of the international working class and the cause of socialism.
The only way to escape from the logic of war is through the revival of class struggle, in Kosovo as well as the rest of Europe, in the USA as well as Russia. The solidarity of internationalist communists is reserved exclusively for the workers of Kosovo and Serbia who are suffering under the double weight of capitalist exploitation and the dramatic and direct consequences of imperialist war.
Down With War!
Down With Capitalism!
For a Return to Class Struggle!
For Rebuilding the Revolutionary Party!
International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (forerunner of the Internationalist Communist Tendency, ICT)