The ICG's analysis of the war in Yugoslavia, with information about the preceding wave of workers struggles in the region.
For us the analysis of the war in Yugoslavia is indispensable. This war is not only of the greatest importance for its direct consequences for the conditions of life and struggle of proletarians in the region - it is also important for the international proletariat, and because it announces and prefigures the military conflicts that are to come.
From Communism #9
- "Is that you, Mladic?"
- "Yes it is, you old devil, what do you want?"
- "Three of my boys went missing near... and I want to find out what happened to them."
- "I think they're all dead."
- "I've got one of their parents on to me about it, so I can tell them for certain that they're gone?"
- "Yep, certain. You have my word. By the way, how's the family?"
- "Oh, not so bad, thanks. How about yours?"
- "They're doing just fine, we're managing pretty well."
- "Glad to hear it. By the way, now I've got you on the line, we've got about twenty bodies of yours near the front and they've been stripped bare. We slung them into a mass grave and they're now stinking to high heaven. Any chance of you coming to pick them up because they really are becoming unbearable...?"
This is a telephone conversation between General Mladic, Serb commander of the army corps in Knin and the head of the Croat Interior Ministry (MUP) force in Split. This conversation between two men who apparently know each other well (having had the same career in the Yugoslav National Army) was reported by the BBC correspondent, Misha Glenny, in his book "The Fall of Yugoslavia".
The reality of the war, the sinister development of bombardments, of massacres, of persecutions, of internments, show clearly that this war is a war against the proletariat, against its interests and against its movement of struggle.
This reality of the war was shown, for example, in July 1991, in Banija (in Croatia, on the frontier with Bosnia-Herzegovina) when armed groups, mercenaries, commandos of killers arrived in the villages and carried out massacres. They classified the inhabitants principally according to their Serb or Croat origins, obliging the Croats who were capable of serving to join their ranks and to take the Serbs as hostages. Then the units fired on all sides and the population fled. Following this the federal army invaded the villages, beginning by bombarding them and then hunting those who had not been able to flee. The fugitives of Croat, Hungarian and Serb origins fled in the direction of the big towns or towards Vojvodina or Herzegovina.
Little by little, these war operations grew, sometimes carried out by the Croat militias, which caused hatred to be directed towards all those considered to be Croats, sometimes by the Serb militias, directing hatred towards all those considered to Serbs. For the rest of the villages it was as if an earthquake had happened. Whereas for many years "Serbs", "Croats" or "Hungarians" were mixed to the point where they could no longer define themselves as belonging to one ethnic group or another, the nationalist forces operated a systematic separation according to their supposed ethnic links.
These war operations came to be aimed more and more at the big towns. Thus for example the industrial centre of Vukovar was bombarded for three months by the federal army. The inhabitants spent days and nights underground in the caves. They organised resistance, helping each other, with all nationalities together. The Croatian National Guard and the Ustaše (fascist forces) for their part organised the internal repression. When the federal army reentered the town, a whole series of corpses were found that had been shot from behind, summarily executed for refusing to let themselves be enroled in the Croatian National Guard and/or the Ustaše.
The general consequences of this type of operation were:
- Indiscriminate massacres of proletarians, as is shown, for example, by the discovery of mass graves where the bodies of "Serbs", "Croats", "Bosnians"... are mixed together.
The internment of hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war in numerous camps dispersed over the whole territory of former Yugoslavia.
For example, today you find internment camps in Serbia as well as in the parts of Bosnia occupied by the Croat militias.
You can also find camps on the periphery of the big Slovenian towns where the state parks "its" refugees - that Slovenia which the whole world assures us is a successful model for the transformation taking place in Yugoslavia!
- The existence of floods of refugees (more than 2.3 million in July '92 based on an estimate of the UN High Commission for Refugees) who try for better or worse to flee the massacres and throw themselves onto the roads in the hope of finding an unlikely exile elsewhere. Meanwhile, in Slovenia the government has declared that it will no longer accept Yugoslav refugees; in Sweden -a social democratic paradise according to some- the government has begun to expel refugees from Slovenia and Kosovo; in Denmark, the government has sent back more than two hundred Serb deserters...
The forced sending to the front of war refugees... there to join their "own camp".
- Thus the press has mentioned nearly 200 Bosnian Muslim refugees in Croatia in the Karlovac camp, who were rounded up on Monday 17 August 1992 at 4 a.m. by the Croat armed forces to be sent back to the front in Bosnia. Some had been recently freed from Serb detention centres. All the men in the camp aged from 18 to 60 years were forced onto a bus for Rijeka, on the Adriatic coast, from where they would rejoin the combat positions.
Since mid-July, four thousand refugee men have been "sorted", and then returned to the front via Rijeka and Split. The Croatian Vice-President, Mate Granic, recognised, on Tuesday 18 August 1992, that this operation "violated universal human rights". But he justified it by the necessity of avoiding "a social explosion" in his country.
Similarly in Belgrade refugees from Croatia who are over 20 years old have been sent toward the front lines "to divert the anger of the Belgraders who reproach them for their quiet life in Serbia".
- Direct, open repression against all those who resist. The state of war, the militaristic polarisation of society, allows the liquidation with complete impunity of all those who do not adhere to the patriotic and ideological values that flourish in all camps. Those that stand in the way are simply done away with!
The HCR estimates that more than a hundred thousand young deserters and draft dodgers have fled the war and the punishment of prison which they can receive for "high treason".
- The humanitarian campaigns as a means of blackmail in the hands of the different bourgeois fractions, the better to reinforce still more their control over the territories which they dominate, when they don't serve directly as a means of transporting arms ("in their impatience to acquire arms, the Bosnians have without doubt already obtained satisfaction and the Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina accuse some countries participating in the humanitarian air bridge of having parachuted in arms", Le Monde, 21 August 1992).
- The material disarmament of proletarians who refuse to fight on the fronts of this war which they recognise as not being theirs and which they flee from... The always sovereign HCR rejected the request of a Serb deserter who affirmed his "refusal to fight the Croats who are compatriots". In disarming the trouble-makers, in sending them back to "their" country, the bourgeoisie delivers them tied hand and foot, like peaceful and inoffensive lambs, to their executioners. And this is in the name of peace, in the name of the signed accords, in the name of the UN, that proletarians will be obliged to give up their arms and to wait passively for the hour of their execution in the abattoirs that are the fields of battle.
- The incessant bombardments and the inquisitorial and murderous militias, the forced mobilisations and the prison camps, the refugees with their miserable lot... the shortages, the rationing, the price rises, pauperisation, the unemployment which hits a greater and greater part of the population. The different states make use of the war situation to better liquidate the least productive sectors and to impose new sacrifices on proletarians.
This is the reality of war!
The social awakening
The restructuring of capital implied, in Yugoslavia as everywhere else in the world, a generalised attack on the conditions of life of the proletariat. This is what determined the objective and inevitable conditions for the rupture of social peace. In Serbia, for example, the Central Bank imposed a 40% reduction in wages for 5 years consecutively and freed prices.
In 1984, a wave of very hard-fought strikes broke out in Macedonia. One of the most important factories of the region declared itself on strike "against the bureaucratic mafia", another would go "to the limit". The strikes would last 46 days.
In Summer 1985, on the announcement of a diminution of wages and of redundancies due to lack of activity, the port of Koper (the only big port in Slovenia) was paralysed. The strikers put themselves openly on an anti-union terrain, against class conciliation (the union had accepted the stabilisation plan). Faced with the radicalisation of the workers, the union collaborated with the police and the port administration in the hunt for "ringleaders". This strike was the beginning of a vast movement of social protest which paralysed the whole country.
In Slovenia, several big enterprises were paralysed by the strike, the workers tore up and burned their union cards. In Croatia, the strikes radicalised and the army took action to prevent the extension of the struggle. In many different regions, the proletariat occupied the roads to show solidarity with the strikers. The labourers of the ports of Split and Rijeka joined the movement, so paralysing foreign trade. The reaction of the bourgeoisie was rapid: the government of Slovenia authorised strikes on condition that the workers met and discussed with the unions and informed the management in advance.
A Yugoslav journal (Studensk List, 3.10.85) said:
"... The information which we have reported this summer that almost every day, in two of our enterprises, the workers were on strike... In considering the strikes of this summer, groups of top managers (who like to visit factories on strike) have expressed their concern at the course of new circumstances, which were absent in preceding strikes. This concerns particularly the fact that the labourers involved in the strikes are expressing their general discontent, not just demands proper to their enterprise. Concretely, the labourers who are on strike are telling the top bosses of the Republics and the Federation that they take issue with the way they run the country. ..."
In 1986 a new attempt by the federal government to "close unprofitable enterprises" was launched. The unions tried to make the workers accept this restructuration plan in "enterprise management meetings". This governmental effort was refused en bloc by the working class: a new wave of strikes inundated the country.
The German newspaper Die Zeit of 17.1.86 reported the remarks of a metal worker:
"I can only smile at this theory that the strike actions were born suddenly out of some caprice or the suggestion which says that the idler and the loner are behind the work stoppages. Our patience is at an end. The working class no longer has anything to lose or to fear."
To survive, many workers only worked three or four of the seven official hours and turned themselves into "peasants" the rest of the time. Some 60% of the inhabitants of Yugoslavia lived off agriculture while only 38% lived in the countryside. The others supplemented their wages by working on the black after their jobs, 40% of family income coming from this source. The reduction of the real wage reached impressive figures: more than 40%. The statisticians of the Ministry of National Economy observed at this time an important fall in the expenditures known as consumption.
In March 1986, the government of Milka Planic fell. The reason? The impossibility of effectively completing the IMF plan in the face of growing proletarian discontent.
The new government promised to freeze wages for 6 months and to increase prices, the response was not long in coming: strikes, demonstrations, occupations, sabotage... which changed the balance of forces. The proletariat imposed its conditions: a proof of its strength was shown in an 8% increase in real wages. At the same time, the strikes and sabotage translated into a generalised loss of profitability of capital across the whole territory of Yugoslavia.
The bourgeoisie had backed down in the face of proletarian strength but the necessities of its concrete conditions of capital accumulation obliged it to take up ready made antagonistic solutions. It was thus that the federal government elaborated, with the blessing of the IMF, a monetary reform which had the aim of eliminating the non-competitive enterprises (in withdrawing the support of the local banks), and devaluing the Dinar so as to cause a redistribution of revenue, that is to say a radical and relative increase of the rate of profit.
In the course of the Autumn of 1986, all the banks in Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo failed. The pressure from the workers was so strong that no local manager would risk confronting the workers by closing enterprises decreed as non-profitable. The situation deteriorated. The enterprises were no longer able to continue functioning and they were simply abandoned. Unemployment reached enormous levels. It is estimated that for 1986 the number of unemployed was 1.2m, inflation reached 130%.
This same year, gas and electricity were cut to more than a thousand families in the centre of Belgrade who couldn't pay their bills.
The proletariat reacted to the new austerity plan which foresaw the elimination of 35,000 jobs by the end of the year -it launched a massive struggle. In the countryside, agricultural proletarians armed with axes and shovels attacked the police and the big industrial businesses.
1987 and 1988 saw the protest movement radicalising -proletarians were no longer content with just opposing the successive austerity programs, they openly posed the question of power. The demonstrations and strikes broke out of the limits of the factory and the big industrial centres and called into question all aspects of life: work, "socialism", the family, bosses, leaders, the miserable workers' housing... The elementary capitalist conditions for a return to work did not exist, the strike was permanent.
This sharpening of direct action by our class in Yugoslavia fed itself in strength and extent on the development of a cycle of generalisation of proletarian struggles on a world level. In the countries of Central Europe and the East (the countries called "Communist") there developed simultaneously a wave of intensive struggle which called into question the social order and gave the alarm signal which brought about the politico-formal changes which would later take place at the head of these states, so as to better manage these "sick economies" and respond to growing social agitation.
In Summer 1986, the "Hungarian" miners declared a strike against redundancies. In Romania in 1987 several waves of struggle finished up with the mutinies of Brasov (November 1987). In Autumn 1987, strikes also broke out in Bulgaria -to give just one example, we can cite thaat of the Mezdra factory. In Spring 1988 in Poland, numerous strikes developed in opposition to the massive increases in food prices and in August of the same year a wave of strikes broke out that Walesa and Solidarnosc could only control with great difficulty.
At the end of February 1987, in response to an increase in the prices of various commodities (as much as 20% for some), a wages freeze and an intensification of work, several strikes broke out which were described as "wildcat" by the authorities. For a month and a half, there were some 80 strikes without warning in the whole of Yugoslavia, primarily in Croatia. Faced with this movement, the bourgeoisie responded with the usual repressive measures that it always uses in such circumstances: redundancies, not paying for strike days, threats of military intervention...
But at that point the movement continued to grow. After a short interruption at the beginning of the month of April that same year, in the coal field of Labin (Croatia), a strike developed which was the longest recorded in Yugoslavia since the Second World War: it lasted 30 days. The miners demanded the cancellation of all price increases, a 100% increase in wages and a change of mine management. The bourgeoisie, faced with the perspective of possible proletarian unity in struggle and particularly taking account of the fact that at that very moment in the North-West of the country and on the Adriatic coast proletarians were launching an open struggle, conceded a nominal wage increase of more than 40% (while the workers were demanding 100% to stop the strike at Labin) and dismissed various functionaries designated as responsible for the situation. But they could not stop the example of the Labin miners spreading, notably to Titograd and Kraljevo.
In the other regions, groups of workers met to coordinate their actions! Proletarians in a Bosnian steelworks founded a new communist party which was openly against "the corrupt trade union" and called for "the expropriation of property from the state and the Party".
Unfortunately, we have no more information about this attempt at centralising the struggle. Everywhere the protests were directed against "the governmental mafia" and the foreign banks. At the same time, more than 700 steel workers in Slovenia began a strike "against corruption and bad management" with a demonstration in front of the parliament of the Republic. In July in Vukovar, 10,000 workers in a shoe and tyre company went on strike, 5,000 of them went to Belgrade to demand the doubling of their wages and the head of the old director (at that time Minister for Foreign Trade). They called for the dismissal of the management as well as the whole of the town council of Vukovar.
At the same time, there were demonstrations in front of the Croatian Parliament in Zagreb. The expedition of Vukovar strikers to Belgrade (two other struggles renewed this action around the same time) constituted some sort of new departure in so far as it was the first time during this wave of struggle that proletarians organised themselves practically to go beyond regional limits. What's more, they went not only to shout out their demands to the highest levels of the state, but above all to appeal on the spot for unity with the workers of Belgrade. Such an action necessitates, on the part of proletarians, an important confrontation with the Republic by Republic containment undertaken by the unions. This initiative implied therefore the rough outline of a rupture with the prevailing nationalism.
Then the official press never spoke of strikes but only of "work stoppages" while saying that the Belgrade government had threatened to use tanks against the strikers in the absence of an immediate return to work.
At the end of May '88, in response to a new "redistribution of revenue" law adopted on the 15th of the month by the Federal Parliament in Belgrade and which would have led to a fall in wages of between 20 and 45% depending on the sector, the strike movement affected the sectors of mining and transport (in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia). More than 10,000 proletarians in struggle demonstrated in Belgrade "against the high cost of living".
In October of the same year, there were violent clashes between demonstrators and special police units. Some workers who wanted to march on Titograd to join in the demonstrations were stopped by the police. For two days the town was cut off by the special units. Twelve thousand proletarians participated in the demo. They called for "economic reform" and higher wages. This movement led to the resignation of the government.
Things went the same way in the "autonomous" province of Vojvodina where the government went in the face of pressure from the street, specifically threatening to bring in a State of Emergency. Finally, in December 1988, the federal government found itself obliged to resign after two years of open struggle against the working class.
The government, after a period of political crisis and incapacity on the part of the local bourgeoisie to control the workforce, reconstituted itself under the aegis of Ante Markovic, a Croat, nominated Prime Minister of the Federation. The central points of his program were the freeing of prices, the interests of credit and the adaptation of the Dinar to the necessities of the market (which meant its adaptation to its real value).
To this the proletariat responded with a new wave of strikes during the first months of 1989, calling once again for a 100% wage increase.
Up to the month of March '89, for several weeks, Kosovo was the theatre of more and more massive and violent struggles. All the towns of this "autonomous province" were affected by a wave of struggles analogous to those which had shaken Algeria a few months earlier. In this case as in the other, the most obvious symbols and representations of the state were seen as targets by the insurgent proletarians: police stations came under attack. At Podujevo, the police commander ("of Albanian stock"... but this didn't matter to the insurgents, he was still a cop!) was killed and to some extent everywhere the forces of order came under fire from the roofs of houses, trains were attacked, shops devastated...
The state (in its federal and provincial forms) replied by decreeing, from the first of March, a State of Emergency in the region, and, from the 27 March, by a curfew. The day after the day when the riots reached their paroxysm, that is to say the 28 March, the parliament of Serbia voted unanimously for the complete suppression of the autonomy of the provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, with the double aim of allowing the proletarian revolt to be crushed more directly and of diverting it better (through anti-Albanian and anti-Serb nationalist polarisations) and thus recuperating discontent in Serbia itself.
This explosion of anger in Kosovo, was the culminating point of a wave of practically uninterrupted struggle which, since 1985, with its peaks and troughs, shook all sectors and corners of Yugoslavia.
In September 1989, 10,000 workers demonstrated in Belgrade and Skopje and threatened to launch a general strike if the federal government didn't stop inflation. The workers, who were already on strike, demanded that the German Mark should become the principle currency which they were paid in. The local bosses in Zagreb, Split and Rijeka for their part called, under pressure from the strikers, for a minimum wage of 1,000 DM.
In December 1989, 650,000 labourers from Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia declared themselves on strike against the policies of the government and demanded an increase in wages of 100%. The enterprise bosses gave in and, contrary to government directives, granted the demands.
The multiple strikes accentuated still further the weaknesses of the Yugoslav economy. To give an idea of the level of struggles: in 1989 the rate of annual growth of retail prices was officially 1256%, the rate of annual growth of wages for the same period was 1595%! Thus, in the whole of the year 1989, real incomes increased by 25% (according to Notes & Etudes document No. 4920-r1). The analysts of this same review added: "... an evolution difficult to accept in an economy said to be 'in crisis'. Unemployment and a significant fall in living standards are the price to pay for stabilising the situation."
Having enumerated the strengths of our class we must now set out the weaknesses which characterised this wave of struggle and which became an important lever which the state could fully exploit to impose defeat on the proletariat.
Firstly, there is the non-emergence of autonomous organisations of proletarians in struggle, and this despite the duration and intensity of the struggles and despite the fact of a certain amount of discontent with the official unions. But the critique of the unions was often limited to an opposition to the "union bureaucracy", reducing the critique to the question of a "bad leader" rather than the struggle against the counter-revolutionary nature of trade unionism. In consequence of this weakness in the critique of trade unionism, proletarians did not assume the tasks of self-organisation nor the classist actions of enlarging and centralising the struggle.
This weakness in the critique of institutions in terms of "bad unions", "incompetent politicians" or of "corrupt officials" proved to be useful to the state and more than one "individual bureaucrat" was thus thrown to the angry workers to protect the bourgeois class and capitalist social relations as a whole.
Another factor of weakness, which certainly constitutes an explanatory element in the first weakness which we mentioned above, was the weight of nationalism. In effect, the movement of struggle hadn't markedly broken with nationalist containment, even during the riots in Kosovo in 1989. In the context of Yugoslavia, where the national question is the weapon par excellence with which the state confronts the proletariat, every qualitative development has to immediately and absolutely set itself the task of an effective, conscious, break which takes on the forces of nationalist containment. If proletarian solidarity beyond the frontiers of the different republics found many an occasion for expressing itself in the course of hundreds of strikes and demonstrations, this solidarity never transformed itself into concerted, organised actions against the various nationalist forces! We therefore have to be prudent in using terms like "unitary" or "showing solidarity". The reality of the existence of numerous simultaneous strikes over several years is a fact. Nevertheless, the immediate expression of the unity of struggle and of perspective, beyond local solidarity, did not express itself in a consequent manner in terms of organisation and centralisation. Even in Kosovo, where proletarians took to the streets with arms to violently attack their misery, any potential for extension was castrated by the state which was very easily able to reduce the riots to a purely "Albanian" affair.
Economic, political and social reforms
If the wave of struggles in the '80s constituted the classist response of the proletariat to the intensification of attacks that it had suffered since the start of the '80s, the bourgeois class also didn't remain inactive and confronted the new situation of crisis by a whole series of draconian measures on the economic, social and political planes.
The economic crisis only declared itself openly in Yugoslavia in 1979. Until then, the specific mechanisms of "centralised planning" of the countries of the Russian bloc as well as the particularities of "self-management socialism" of Yugoslavia, allowed the Yugoslav economy to adapt itself to the consequences of the world crisis. But it is clear that the various factors (protectionism, centralised regulation) which can allow, and really have allowed, the effects of the world crisis of capital to be kept at bay in this region, can only delay an even more violent outbreak of the same capitalist contradictions later on. This is why, for revolutionary communism, "self-management" and "economic planning" are just illusions. They are myths which aim in the first place at drawing workers towards acceptance of their condition within bourgeois society and which in reality, beyond these pretensions and beyond the short-term variations in the forms that cover up exploitation, bring proletarians nothing but capitalist misery, with always more exploitation and war.
From the start of the '80s in Yugoslavia, the growth curves turned upside down, unemployment developed, foreign debt exploded, inflation ran away (until it attained a record rate of 2685% per year, in other words prices doubled every month!). At the start of the '80s, the first shortages of basic necessities also appeared: power cuts, petrol shortages...
"The fall in the standard of living was so great that it's hard to imagine another country which wouldn't have reacted to this situation by radical political changes or even by a revolution." (H. Lydall, Yugoslavia in Crisis - 1989, cited by Paul Garde in Vie et mort de la Yougoslavie.)
During the whole of this period, the Yugoslav government tried to "accommodate" to the crisis situation, with austerity measures and programs of economic stabilisation, all under the aegis of the International Monetary Fund which was very attentive to the interests of capital invested in Yugoslavia.
But, as we have said already, from 1985 these measures provoked a massive response on the part of the proletariat which only added to the difficulties of the economic situation.
Among the later reforms, we can mention those of December 1989, introduced after new falls in the volume of Yugoslav industrial production, after a new increase in unemployment, the growth of shortages, inflation... and an "explosion" of wages following struggles. This new reform bore the marks of the crisis which would violently shake Yugoslavia less than a year later. While introducing these reforms to attack the proletariat head on, the Federal State affirmed at the same time its ascendancy over the constitutive republics of Yugoslavia. The new federal Prime Minister, Markovic, introduced a plan which foresaw the complete freezing of wages and a partial freezing of prices, the creation of a "new Dinar" (convertible and tied to the German Mark), a restrictive monetary policy (limitation of credit) and a new fiscal policy (big cuts in wages, increases in the budget of the central state). It is clear from these reforms that the state was looking for a way to stabilise the economy, in other words to reduce the part of value dedicated to wages and to impose increases in productivity by eliminating (by suppressing the various mechanisms of protection which share out the effects of international competition amongst all the enterprises, or, as Markovic said "to help the enterprises which give the best results and allowing the bad ones to take on the consequences of their lack of ability") the deficient enterprises (deficient in the sense that they were incapable of lastingly overturning the status quo in the opposition between the interests of the enterprise and the interests of proletarians). The federal government foresaw that 150,000 more people would find themselves without work after only a year of application of the new measures. At the same time, the official economic indicators already showed a fall of real wage income of 9% for the month of December 1989 and of 29% for the month of January 1990.
By these new reforms the Federal State affirmed its pretensions to dominate political and economic life in the various republics, together with its concern to control the social situation. This "centralist" solution (that we could also call "Serb" (1) in that it corresponds directly and for historical reasons to the interests of the bourgeoisie of that republic) already had the support of important sectors of Yugoslav society, for example within the army, within the various republics, including Slovenia and Croatia, but also internationally. But inevitably they noted that these draconian measures aimed at containing the antagonisms shaking Yugoslav society would be too late to enable the Federal State to survive. If under the effect of the crisis the bourgeois fractions of the various republics more and more saw their salvation in the affirmation of their independence in the face of the pretensions of the Federal State to suppress their sovereignty, it is above all by international intervention and notably by the imperialist policies of the Western powers that this "centralist option" became obsolete and that the usual game of nationalist confrontation in Yugoslavia set out on the path of armed conflict.
If it is clear that this question of the "autonomous republics" of Yugoslavia constitutes an ideological force of prime importance against the proletariat, we must make it clear, at this precise point in our analysis, that it coincides also and in part with the economic interests of such or such republic in particular and to the corresponding fraction of the bourgeoisie. Far from wanting to analyse their particularities as "particularisms" needed to lead proletarians on the basis of "specific tasks" as the extreme left of the bourgeoisie often advocate (as they're always looking for popularity and something to agitate about) we analyse them with the aim of throwing light on the complementarity and convergence of interests of the different fractions of the bourgeoisie faced with the necessities of confronting an internationalist proletariat which has no regional or national interests to defend.
The premises of the war
It is in this immediate context that the outbreak of war in Yugoslavia was produced. There are two essential elements of explanation. Firstly, there is just the situation of struggle, the lack of adherence of proletarians to the national economy, to the interests of the Yugoslav nation. It would be wrong to only want to see here the various struggles that we have already briefly mentioned.
It was above all this lack of adherence of proletarians to the national interest which had caused the capitalist state (in its various regional expressions, Croatian, Slovenian, Serbian, Bosnian...) to not step back from putting into place much more radical policies for the defence of its interests. These were draconian "crisis" reforms, "democratisation" (we use here the flag used by the bourgeoisie in its campaigns, to refer to the reinforcing of atomisation, of everyone for himself, of mortal competition between proletarians, of the reign of citizenisation and terror, briefly, to an advancing disintegration of the proletariat, to the reinforcing of the democratic terror proper to the generalised dictatorship of commodities) and nationalism, war (conscription, requisitioning, imprisonment and killing of those who resist, militarisation of the whole of society...). The Yugoslav nation revealed itself to be no longer adequate as a framework for effectively dealing with the proletariat in these regions. The unleashing of inter-imperialist war in this area allowed the world capitalist state to drown the class antagonisms which were tearing its society apart in generalised massacres in which proletarians killed each other, and thus to set out on a path offering a bourgeois solution to the crisis of over-production of value.
The second element is also paramount and is directly linked to the first in so far as it cannot escape from the historical context which it is a product of, but it is really subordinate to it. This is the exacerbated competition between the different bourgeois fractions who abandon themselves to a war without mercy so as not to be among the losers in the competition which opposes them in the world market (the universal law of value which punishes capitals in the non-profitable sectors by purely and simply devalorising them). Inter-bourgeois antagonisms always fall into second place in the face of the revolutionary appearance of the proletariat, in other words the different fractions of the bourgeoisie always start - on pain of being eliminated - to make an abstraction of their particular interests and to realise their common circumstances when faced with communism and their need to defend their supreme interest: safeguarding their world of money, wage-labour and commodities.
It is this exacerbation of conflicts of interest between the numerous bourgeois fractions and capitalist entities directly on the international level, where these antagonisms express themselves by the support of different powers for such and such a fraction existing on the territory of Yugoslavia and the Balkans, coupled with the general situation of lack of adherence of proletarians to the national economy, which was the basic cause of the inter-imperialist conflagration in Yugoslavia. We want to make it clear at this point (we will return to this later on) that the "military" phase of the explosion in Yugoslavia was directly approved and encouraged by the process of international recognition of independence of Slovenia and Croatia, and that therefore the orchestration of the war and of massacres between proletarians is not simply an expression of an internal Yugoslav crisis but corresponds to the direction given to this crisis by the Western imperialist powers. The situation can only be understood in relation to all the other countries of the region, including the West.
In Serbia, following the de facto dismemberment of the old Yugoslav Federation, the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia", presented itself as the only inheritor of ex-Yugoslavia, proclaiming itself with Montenegro on 27 April 1992. In this republic, whose international isolation is growing, the situation is extremely tense: refugees flood in everywhere, huge numbers of young men have left the country to avoid conscription, the economy (2) has been transformed into an economy of day to day survival (a third of the economically active population is unemployed), misery and discontent reign.
The austerity measures put in place on 30 June 1992 in order to alleviate the effects of the international embargo foresaw amongst other things the partial freezing of prices "preceded by an increase of 116% in the price of petrol and 76% for electricity" (Le Monde, 2.7.92). This austerity plan aimed principally to "contain the discontent which threatened to turn into a social revolt" (idem). And in its propaganda the government habitually used the international blockade as a mobilising theme to forge national unity in the face of "the enemies of Serbia without" and to denounce and repress those who are "the enemy within".
The Serbian opposition tried to strengthen itself by recuperating the growing discontent of proletarians in general and the refusal of the war in particular by organising pacifist mobilisations from the beginning of the year. Starting in December '91, they called for elections so as to get rid of Miloševic, designated as responsible and a suitable whipping boy. But there was nothing to choose between these "opponents" and the bourgeois already in place and nothing to "differentiate" them, not even the slightest nuance. What's more, they were themselves the "old" political friends of Miloševic and only "divergent" by the need to present a credible "alternative". It didn't work and no bourgeois fraction is really credible: the last legislative elections, in the Spring of 1992, were marked by an abstention rate of more than 50%!
Faced with proletarian mobilisation, many opposition groups organised a demonstration in Belgrade on 9 March, 1991. It was in response to the first armed skirmishes between Serb and Croat forces in the town of Pakrac (in Slavonia, North Eastern Croatia) and thus they objectively participated in nationalist recruitment. But the demo didn't work out as expected, it overflowed its initial aims and transformed itself into class confrontations with the forces of order (proving that the proletariat, despite the power of nationalism, was still not beaten and that it continued against the current to defend its interests). The demonstration started to move through the suburbs of Belgrade (with the nationalists who were in competition with Miloševic, those of the Serbian Renewal Movement, at its head). But more and more it was joined by workers who had waited months for their wages to be paid, then the students, then the schoolkids and the unemployed. They shouted: "Give us freedom, give us bread" or even "Miloševic = Saddam, send him to the desert". When the demo reached the centre of Belgrade it was 100,000 strong. The police tried to stop the protest and to chase after the demonstrators who were armed with clubs and stones. A plain clothes policeman was killed. It is then that the demo led itself towards Republic Square, passing through the centre - on the way the banks and shops were attacked repeatedly in a very rapid fashion. Yugoslav and Serbian national flags were burned. Proletarians attacked the police armoured cars, the street fighting went on for hours, police cars were burnt and everywhere barricades went up. The police killed a demonstrator. In the evening the army had to intervene, 100 armoured cars crossed the town and occupied strategic points. The protest lasted four days until the army left. After this riot, the opposition parties pursued their negotiations with Miloševic and they decided together on a common policy of national unity.
THE SACRED UNION WOULD BE SEALED IN PROLETARIAN BLOOD !
There was massive refusal of conscription and a great number of desertions. In December '91, after numerous "victories" for the federal army, the "Croats" were achieving their first important successes in 5 months of war, which also signified that the federal army was more and more disintegrating.
Only 15% of conscripts responded to the call for mobilisation during Autumn '91: the refusal to turn up for military service was widespread and in order to counter this absenteeism it is now forbidden for any liable man aged under 30 to leave the republic without permission. In this situation, the state decided to extend, by decree in December '91, by three months the duration of military service for the recruits of '91 for "an indeterminate time, according to the needs [for cannon fodder!] of the Yugoslav Army" and fixing at 4 months the duration of mobilisation of army reservists. Military service was for 12 months and the reservists were mobilised beforehand between 45 and 60 days. These measures aimed to bring under control the problems of recruitment, the army admitted that more than 10,000 reservists had refused to join their units.
Repression against the deserters, and all those who struggled openly against the war and organised themselves accordingly, was put in place. The federal military authorities threatened the draft dodgers and deserters with long prison sentences according to Article 121 which set out penalties from a three years in prison minimum to the death penalty if the deserter left the country. Other deserters who hid after publicly refusing to be mobilised were grabbed off the street, imprisoned for 2 or 3 days, and the sent to the front to clear mine fields with the aim of killing or mutilating them! Numerous unidentified bodies were thus regularly buried at the front without anybody being able to tell where they came from, although this could also be the work of the death squads operating in Croatia who tracked down the deserters and opponents of the war and dumped the bodies of the anti-patriots they had assassinated at the front.
All over Serbia and Vojvodina young reservists hid themselves to avoid being conscripted: 25,000 "Hungarians" left the country to avoid conscription, more than 100,000 men did the same across the whole of Serbia. Everywhere young men of conscription age have chosen exile.
From this movement against the war an opposition emerged which organised itself OUTSIDE the official "opposition" parties, but, alas, nowhere near enough AGAINST them. Women proletarians played an important role in these struggles. Not being mobilised for the various fronts, they were the ones who were going to organise opposition to the war. It was also they who snatched their sons from obligatory conscription, who organised numerous groups circulating information about movements of desertion, who took charge of the legal defence of those who refused to fight. It was also they who took on "psychological aid" for soldiers who returned traumatised from the front. When the first regiments returned from combat in Slovenia (and the massacres that had happened afterwards in Croatia then in Bosnia) some talked about the Vietnam syndrome. Since then, for sure, the situation has deteriorated: "crazy acts" and suicides have multiplied. Some doctors saw nothing wrong with sending six soldiers with serious mental problems back to the front within 48 hours, after having threatened them with "punishment" if they continued their "irresponsible" behaviour.
But the refusal to go to war was far from just being individual, collective protests became more and more numerous without actually taking on the form of a declared resistance, of a clearly organised movement. Hardly a week passed without conscripts collectively resisting orders. The biggest refusal took place at Kragujevac, a garrison town in central Serbia, when 7,000 reservists presented themselves at the call up without their arms. They shut themselves up in their camps and refused to move. The military authorities exempted ALL OF THEM, but distributed to local employers an "infamy list" of all the "traitors to the country" who will find themselves forbidden to sell their labour power. In November 1991, 200 reservists stood in front of the office of the district president in Valjevo until their commander signed their military books stipulating that they had completed their service. On 18 December, at Markušica, on the front in Slavonia, 700 reservists refused to continue to fight after having already done their 45 days of recall. A general ordered the arrest of their officers, but backed down when the troops prepared to shoot him. At the beginning of January 1992, 150 reservists deserted as a group from the front at Osijek after spending more than a month on the front line and returned to Belgrade to protest at their conditions of life. In March 1992, more than 700 reservists on leave at Gornji Milanovac revolted and refused to return to the front in Eastern Slavonia, denouncing "the incompetence of the officer corps of the army and the unreliability of information coming from the front". At the same time 4 reserve officers were arrested in Belgrade after having abandoned the front and two others were sentenced to imprisonment in Niš, while thousands of reserve soldiers had to be brought before courts martial.
All these desertions and refusals to go to war, however contradictory these actions may have been (pacifism and the lack of perspectives for going beyond the immediate situation are the most marked weaknesses!), are nevertheless a clear proof that the national cohesion is not as strong as the bourgeois killers in each camp had hoped and that the proletariat is certainly not ready to leave for the front "with joy and gladness".
At the same time as the refusal of war on the military front, other manifestations of proletarian combativity burst out on the production front: strikes broke out in the course of which proletarians began to organise themselves, by force of circumstances, into "autonomous" structures. In the universities as well new opposition movements were born (we do not have any more information about this at present).
Before the outbreak of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 100,000 people took to the streets in Sarajevo to protest against the war. In February 1992, important street fights took place between the federal army and the inhabitants of several towns in this republic. On 29 February 1992, under pressure from the EEC and the USA, Bosnia-Herzegovina organised a referendum for independence. On the same day barricades were constructed inside the town of Sarajevo by masked elements of the extremist militias of Serbia and Croatia. Armed confrontations took place in front of the barricades, 30,000 demonstrators demanded the removal of these "ethnic" barricades dividing their neighbourhoods.
At the beginning of April 1992, two big demos took place in Sarajevo. A hundred thousand people from Sarajevo and other towns in the area demonstrated against the war and for the dissolution of all the nationalist parties! Marksmen fired on the demonstrators, there were many deaths. The next day, 100,000 people again took to the streets and again marksmen fired on them. Following this, Sarajevo was completely cut off from the outside world. The town is subjected to permanent bombardment from outside. During this time in Sarajevo people organised themselves and defended their homes together. They barricaded the streets against the armoured cars and attacked them. The irregular soldiers fired on everything which moved.
We have set out here a certain amount of information about the resistance of proletarians to the war, but we must insist on the weaknesses of these struggles and, in the immediate context of the war, it seems evident that the proletariat there has been subjected to an important defeat. One of the reasons for the unleashing of the war was precisely the need for the state in Yugoslavia to crush the proletariat, to subjugate it, to defeat its struggles and disperse it. As we have indicated, the framework of the old Yugoslav nation could no longer fulfil this role effectively and its break-up was the price to pay for domesticating the proletariat. Today no one can deny that systematic massacres, bombardment, destruction and repression, rapes, brain-washing by propaganda... briefly, the unleashing of state terror has cut deep into proletarian combativity.
As this war progresses and extends itself, relayed by a warlike and nationalist propaganda, and as the bombardments become more selective and as the repression targets its victims more and more "ethnically", we can see a more active participation by various strata of the population in war operations. The imperialist war therefore took the form of a "popular war" as the proletariat submitted to nationalist recruitment and dissolved itself into the people to enrol in the various nationalist fronts.
This evolution also took on the structure of the armed forces and the system of defence which the Yugoslav state had adopted (with all the military equipment, armaments, stocks, munitions and logistic support distributed over the whole territory) which is even favoured by nature because of the mountainous terrain with numerous villages with strong communitarian traditions implanted over the whole of this republic.
This reality also makes the situation more inextricable for any external intervention. Thus the declaration of General Barry McCaffrey, Assistant Chief of the Joint Forces Command of the US Army who estimated that it would take the United Nations 400,000 men and one year to bring an end to the violence in ex-Yugoslavia, without any guarantee that hostilities wouldn't commence as soon as the foreign soldiers left.
We are forced to admit that our class has suffered a severe defeat in Yugoslavia (and we are not referring just to sectors of the proletariat in Yugoslavia, but also just as much to other sectors outside the borders of Yugoslavia who are rendered accomplices of the state killers by their passivity!) and that many proletarians have deserted from class combat to join one of the imperialist camps present there. Lack of information does not permit us to pronounce on the strength of proletarians who continue to resist the war, the nationalist campaigns and the democratic propaganda so as to safeguard by their efforts internationalist classist perspectives. We know by experience that such nuclei can exist, resisting, surviving in such conditions of war. In this movement, these comrades crystallise the innate tendency of the proletariat to transform the imperialist war into a revolutionary war for communism.
In an international context of world crisis such as we are subjected to today, the exacerbation of antagonisms between the capitalist sharks is inevitable, and the aggravation of inter-imperialist tensions, the multiplication of war zones on the "natural" terrain where these antagonisms burst out openly (3), and this independently of the will of the various bourgeois fractions, constitutes our day to day reality. But the war is also here and now, and not just somewhere else or later on. The various capitalist fractions confront each other permanently and make war so as to conquer each others markets. While confrontation glides on the financial terrain, on the military terrain it does not change its nature, it is always a question of the same economic war indispensable to the survival of the system. Social peace must reign, whatever the price, productivity must be preserved. If this cannot be obtained by reforms and other austerity measures against our conditions of life and struggle, it will have to be obtained by force of arms (4).
We must not deceive ourselves - this war in Yugoslavia constitutes another step towards generalised war. In effect it is taking place in front of the eyes of the proletarians of Europe and elsewhere who smugly watch, in the successive and interminable episodes of this war on their little screens, a banalisation, a naturalisation of war. This is then conceived as the "normal" way out for any society in crisis. And the crisis is "natural" and "normal" as well, as are poverty, unemployment and the sacrifices that follow. What's more, without any question of objecting, you accept, you shrug your shoulders ("it's not so bad here", "what's the use in complaining?"), you bend your back and soon you will be ready to leave for the front...
This should be no surprise since the majority of proletarians across the world, and particularly in Europe, are imprisoned by patriotic walls and bourgeois ideology, they are prisoners of pacifism, of "anti"-imperialism or even still of "anti"-fascism and the international proletariat is not in a position today to affirm its revolutionary being as bearer of its own communist project.
As long as we remain passive consumers and spectators of our miserable lives, as long as we remain "useful idiots" for Capital, anything can be done to us and we should not be surprised if tomorrow good citizens start to kill each other for one reason or another!! Neighbour against neighbour, workmate against workmate, proletarian against proletarian.
If we have emphasised here various aspects of the war in ex-Yugoslavia, it is certainly not for us to give ourselves up to lamentation over this state of affairs, nor to try to make people feel moved by all this suffering! Against humanism, against hypocritical lamentations, we want to shout out that the struggle against capitalist war can only become real if it is taken up here and now, from today, attacking all fractions of the bourgeoisie, denouncing all their ideologies and refusing any front with any radical bourgeois fraction under the pretext of immediate common interests.
The proletariat is against all the camps, against the Croat, Serb, Bosnian, Slovenian and Kosovar camps, against the "international community" which has never been anything other than a name for a gang of terrorist states which subjugate and exploit us day after day! The French, American, Russian, German, Italian, British, Egyptian, Iranian state... whichever they may be! We have no country! To be a patriot, is to murder our class brothers and sisters. To be a patriot is to be an assassin!
Our class solidarity with our brothers and sisters who struggle in ex-Yugoslavia is expressed first of all when we attack the bourgeois fraction that directly confronts us because in the struggle against "our own bourgeoisie" we practically affirm our internationalism, our identity of interest and struggle with proletarians in ex-Yugoslavia and elsewhere. Our internationalism doesn't consist in "doing something here for proletarians over there". Our internationalism is to be in the same fight, affirming there the community of interests and struggle which unites us with our class brothers and sisters. Fighting against "our own bourgeoisie" - this is the profound expression of our class solidarity, of our growing unity. It is the passivity which reigns here in the face of austerity measures dealt to us which permits the development of the war in ex-Yugoslavia.
The importance of this last point becomes all the more evident when we consider the practical connivance (despite all the declarations of intent) uniting all the fractions of the world capitalist state, whose different policies all objectively end up in the generalised massacre of our class brothers and sisters. The involvement of the imperialist powers in this war could not be clearer: together all fractions of the bourgeoisie concur in the pursuit of massacres. Apart from their role in the unleashing of the conflict by their consecration of the break up of Yugoslavia (recognition of the independence of Slovenia by Germany on 23/12/91 and of Croatia and Slovenia by the EC on 15/1/92); apart from the gigantic profits which they have made, as in every war, from arms sales; apart from the use of this war as a field of experimentation; apart from the hypocritical international embargo which primarily acts to encourage national unity in Serbia; apart from the useful propaganda which the war allows them to develop "at home", "in defence of the values of the free world", against "human folly" (a pole of repulsion horrifyingly waved under the noses of proletarians "elsewhere"), the war in ex-Yugoslavia plays, as we have seen above, the role of a terrifying Bogeyman: "What are you complaining about? Be content with what you have, otherwise..." and the austerity measures can be piled on without meeting any resistance. To intervene on the territory, France, Germany, Belgium, Russia, the USA, the NGOs, the UN... cheerfully play the "peace keeping" card. Because, as always, it is in the name of defending civilisation against barbarism, in the name of keeping the peace that slaughter is perpetuated. The more they talk to us about peace, the more war rages!
The humanitarian campaigns operate on the terrain of direct repression of the proletariat. In Bosnia-Herzegovina it is in the name of peace, in the name of signed accords, in the name of the UN, that they have forced proletarians to hand over their arms and to wait passively, like beasts, for the hour of their slaughter in the abattoirs that are the fields of battle. The same scenario has been put into place in Iraq.
The humanitarian business directly favours the war. Not only does "humanitarian aid" give a good alibi to the imperialist powers to intervene in a country (Somalia, Rwanda etc.), not only does it directly serve the "ethnic cleansing" operations in the territories (deportation of proletarians to other areas and camps), but on top of this, the "humanitarian aid convoys" allow the fighters of the various warring imperialist fractions to be fed while an international blockade -another specifically modern form of intervention- only attacks the living conditions of proletarians by depriving them of essential commodities and making all goods on the local market more expensive!
The peace plans are nothing but the consecration by the "international community" of what is happening on the ground. What is happening on the ground is deportations, malnutrition and famine, epidemics... briefly, everything that follows from the unleashing of state terror.
We do not fight for "peace", we are not pacifists! Peace is only a particular moment of war. We do not want a capitalism purged of its "defects", of its "bad side", of its wars, its famines, its poverty. We do not fight for the amelioration of this world. We fight for its complete destruction, its total annihilation!
Communist action against capitalist war and peace !
Those who today refuse sacrifices, social peace, the defence of the national interest... the draft dodgers, the rebels, the troublemakers... are repressed, locked up and shot by the state. This is exactly what is happening on a large scale in ex-Yugoslavia, in all its ex-republics: open and direct repression against the resisters. The state of war, the militarist polarisation of society, allows the liquidation with impunity of all those who do not go along with the values (patriotic, religious or whatever) brandished by each side. People who are a nuisance are simply suppressed by the state.
The bourgeois state persecutes all those that it denounces as "troublemakers", "agents of the enemy", that is to say all those who oppose themselves to it, to its social peace and its Sacred Union. The maintenance of its domination over society requires only the weakness of the proletariat and rests essentially on the capacity of the state to divide proletarians, to keep them imprisoned in bourgeois polarisations (which is where ideological mystifications are important), and to repress without mercy any manifestation of struggle against exploitation, in other words it's very essence. This war is not a war of Serbs against Croats, of Croats against Muslims etc. It is the war of one class against another, it is the war of the bourgeoisie which wants to crush its mortal enemy which is neither Serb nor Croat nor Muslim but international, the world proletariat.
Proletarians of all lands, unite! Rich in the historic experience of our class, we reappropriate our collective memory of struggle. Our fight carries real perspectives of life, we want to destroy forever non-life, misery, exploitation, war!
Against the sectarianism and the mistrust towards any attempt at organising militancy, towards any attempt to bring to life a centralised direction for revolutionary activity, we denounce the nationalists, the UN and other imperialist powers, we spread information, support internationalist comrades, clarify and take on the objectives and the means of communist struggle.
The publication and distribution in different languages of this text constitutes an attempt at centralising our activities, at entering into contact with other revolutionaries, at consolidating the camp of those who defend internationalist perspectives, at expressing the needs of proletarians who revolt against war and misery, and to reinforce, by the clarity of our perspectives of struggle and by our determination, the impact of our refusal.
To be a patriot is to be an assassin !
Down with all States !
Let's fight for the world communist revolution !
1. We must not confuse this centralist "Serbian option" with the "Greater Serbia" option. This latter option was taken up as flavour of the month and popularised by the Serbian bourgeoisie only after the obsoleteness of the centralist "Serbian option" showed itself to be irreversible. The "Greater Serbia" policy is therefore more a consequence of the outbreak of war (the "Serbian" response to the international recognition of Slovenia and Croatia) and not at all the cause of this war as the media would have us believe.
2. We can judge the situation by these eloquent figures, which express the tragic reality which our class is subjected to today behind their cold calculation. In mid-June 1993, the Dinar was devalued (in fact its rate of exchange was aligned with the black market): from 1DM for 68,000 Dinars to 1DM for 700,000 (!) Dinars, more than ten times, without wages increasing in the same proportion. In mid-August, the National Bank, incapable of printing enough money to fill the gap and to appear to pay the meagre wages of the proletarians still working, issued a new note for... 500 million Dinar. A junkie like this soon needs more drugs, he injects a new, bigger dose scarcely 15 days later: a new note for... 1 billion Dinar is issued. Finally, three weeks later, it is a note for... 10 billion Dinar which must be printed as quickly as possible. If the price rises paid by proletarians during the first 8 months of 1993 carry on at the same rate, the experts (!?) foresee an annual inflation rate of... 1,671,000,000%. To carry on the anecdote, each hour the Dinar loses 1% of its value relative to the DM. The waltz of the price labels became hallucinatory, the prices are posted up today in billions of Dinar while in 1992 inflation was "only" 20,000%. At the beginning of September 1993, bread, milk and other foodstuffs "of primary necessity" are rationed in almost all the towns of Serbia and Montenegro. Anyway, basic products have disappeared from the shops whose windows are virtually empty. People die in the hospitals for lack of adequate medicines. The bourgeoisie have to admit that, according to their norms, "90% of the population live below the poverty threshold". The most effected are the retired who it is no longer rare to see competing with stray cats and dogs for the contents of dustbins. This is the situation which the proletariat is reduced to, with the ease with which the bourgeoisie can impose it by force in a period of war! Miloševic wasn't joking when he said that the sanctions and the blockade offered to Serbia "the occasion for restructuring its economy"!
3. Without giving an exhaustive list we can cite Rwanda, Somalia, numerous ex-Soviet republics, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, North Korea, Yemen (North and South), Haiti, Burma, India, Tibet, Mozambique, Angola, Algeria, Indonesia, Liberia etc. etc.
4. The path to armed conflict is only another form of the permanent competition that takes place without mercy between the capitalists and of the struggle which they simultaneously wage against the proletariat.