Whilst there have been numerous wars around the globe over the last forty-eight years, Europe has seen only the mundane brutality of everyday capitalist social relations. But once again the spectre of war haunts the proletarians of the continent. The former republics of Yugoslavia have lurched into a bitter cycle of war, and the images of the suffering provide a terrifying reminder of the capacity of the working class to carve itself up along national lines.
Are we heading for a major European war? Will the events of the past couple of years in Yugoslavia be repeated throughout Eastern Europe? An analysis of the conflict is clearly imperative.
Such an analysis is made more difficult however both by our separation from the events, leading to a lack of information from 'below', and by the endless stream of depressing details on the conflict in the media making any attempt to keep abreast of events into a desensitising test of endurance. So this article will be limited to an attempt to simplify the conflict by grasping the material roots of the nationalist tensions.
The first problem lies with deciding where to start. A possible starting point would be the formation of the first (monarchist) Yugoslavia after WW1, as the internal migration of Serbs under the Serb-dominated regime (to be followed by a similar migratory flow after WW2) helped produce the ethnic mish-mash with which we are now familiar. Another possibility is WW2 and the genocide perpetrated by the Ustashe which helps explain the fear of persecution so characteristic of current Serbian nationalist ideology.
Neither of these starting points seem to provide the best means of unravelling the conflict however, as the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia did hold together for well over forty years despite its ethnic diversity and the experiences of WW2. Instead, the focus of the analysis has to be the 1974 Constitution, which appears to be a pivotal moment in the shaping of Socialist Yugoslavia; so, to begin with, we have to examine the factors which gave rise to it.
(2) Class Recomposition.
In 1948 the Yugoslav Communist Party (Y.C.P.) was expelled from the Cominform, in part due to the Y.C.P.'s desire for U.S. financial support. As if trying to disprove Stalin's accusation that the Y.C.P. was a 'Kulak' party incapable of making war on the peasantry the Y.C.P. set out on a programme of forced collectivisation beginning in 1949. Prior to the war 75% of the regions population were dependent on peasant agriculture and immediately after the war the Y.C.P. rewarded the peasants, from whom the partisan army under Tito had drawn most of its support, with land reform; land previously owned by foreigners, collaborators, the church and large estates was broken up and distributed amongst the poor peasants as small plots. Such an organisation of agricultural labour was, however, a brake on the development of the productive forces so desired by the Y.C.P., a brake which collectivisation (socialist primitive accumulation) was designed to remove. This programme came up against significant peasant resistance however, with extensive riots in 1950 and widespread sabotage of agricultural production the following year. Given their need for the political backing of the peasants the Y.C.P. was forced to abandon this policy of rural expropriation. First the compulsory delivery of agricultural produce to the state was scrapped and in 1953 collectivisation was abandoned. Peasants were allowed to leave the collectives, and most of them did.
Thereafter agricultural labour consisted of two sectors; a small collectivised 'socialist' sector comprising about 5% of the agricultural workforce and 15% of agricultural land, and a much larger private sector in which peasant families were able to sell their surplus produce on the open market with the states role reduced to setting the levels of taxes and some prices. Yugoslavia had clearly begun to move away from the Stalinist model of a centrally-planned economy. The Y.C.P. had decided that the accumulation of alienated labour would have to proceed using the discipline of market forces with the coercive power of the state decentralised. In 1950 the 'Basic Law on Workers Self Management' was introduced in the industrial sector to allow workers to participate on a democratic basis in their own exploitation. Workers Councils were henceforth able to elect Management Boards which by 1953 were able to engage in foreign trade, set prices in most cases, and decide for themselves questions concerning product range, investment, output, supplies and customers. Thus there evolved the partial separation of the 'political' and 'economic' aspects of the capital relation; the involvement of the Federal Government in the everyday running of the economy gradually declined as the social division of labour came to be increasingly regulated by the market.
Liberalising economic and political reforms occurred in 1960-61, 1963, and 1965 despite concerted opposition from the more centralising elements within the Y.C.P. The net results of these reforms were twofold although both represented a decline in the power of the Federal Government in Belgrade. On the one hand remaining price controls, including that setting a minimum price for labour-power, were abolished, and control over credit, and thus control over the real accumulation of capital, was devolved to the banking system. The rule of money over the conditions of life thereby increased. Alongside this shift was a political one devolving a certain amount of political clout to regional authorities although fiscal policy and control over the repressive functions of the state remained the prerogative of the Federal bureaucracy in Belgrade.
Within the Y.C.P. there had occurred a certain division between the conservative autocrats of the bureaucracy and the liberal technocrats of the productive enterprises and banks, with the relative empowerment of the latter. And such a reorganisation proved to be very successful. Investment rates during the 50s and 60s were exceptionally high by international standards. Rapid accumulation allowed for rising real wages paid for through rising productivity. A relatively generous social wage was affordable; healthcare and other services developed to rival those in many West European countries. Thus the Yugoslav model became the ideal for many left-liberals in Britain and elsewhere who had a particular fetishism for democracy but no critique of alienation. But this rapid accumulation had a number of consequences which would serve to undermine this particular form of market-based self-management.
i) Accumulation of Grave-Diggers:
In less than two decades much of Yugoslavia had been transformed from a predominantly agricultural country into an industrial one. And where industry had previously existed it had grown in size. Between 1953 and 1965 over 1 million peasants had been transformed into wage-labourers. The rulers had created their own nemesis, potentially at least. The increasingly real subsumption of labour under capital tended towards the homogenisation of the working class, and the increasing size of industrial units its unification. Democratic participation in the Workers Councils served to atomise the Yugoslav working class, but the increasing socialisation of labour led to those individuals becoming ever more parts of a collective worker collectively exploited by ever more hostile dead labour. This transformation of the productive power of labour was reflected in the minds of the workers themselves and class antagonism, expressed througha rapid turnover of labour, absenteeism, work stoppages and strikes, increased accordingly.
The incidence of wildcat strikes increased notably following the liberalising reforms of 1965, and whilst they tended to remain an amalgam of localised affairs, for reasons which will soon become apparent, they nonetheless constituted a significant threat to the status quo. A second front was opened up in the spring of 1968 by radical students who appeared on the streets of Belgrade with a coherent theoretical critique of alienated labour and of representative organisational forms. Of particular importance is the fact that the student movement was aware of the impossibility of abolishing the alienation of students without abolishing capitalist alienation in general, and thus sought through its slogans and in its programme to achieve that which had not yet happened; the unification of the whole of the Yugoslav working class in a movement for its own abolition.
ii) Accentuation of Regional Disparities;
The republics which together formed Socialist Yugoslavia after WW2 displayed massive social, cultural and economic differences. Slovenia and Croatia were the more developed regions (M.D.R.s) of the country due to their incorporation into the Austro-Hungarian empire, their close ties with German and Italian capital, and their relative lack of infrastructural damage during the war. Agriculture was still significant in the M.D.R.s, even if much less so than in the L.D.R.s. But land was much more fertile than in the southern regions and farms tended to belong to the collectivised 'socialist' sector which was much more capital intensive than the private sector of the independent peasants. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo (an Autonomous Province within the Serbian republic), being more rural areas in which private sector peasant agriculture was much more significant, made up the less developed regions (L.D.R.s). Serbia (with its other Autonomous Province of Vojvodina) had undergone an average degree of development and thus constituted the middle ground. The difference in levels of consumption between the workers of the M.D.R.s and those of the L.D.R.s was notable. Indicators such as share in the total social product, infant mortality rates, literacy rates, inhabitants per hospital bed and others are testimony to how much a higher rate of exploitation in the M.D.R.s enabled workers there a higher standard of living.
The Y.C.P. were fearful that these disparities would exacerbate nationalist tensions to a degree that would undermine the stability required for capital accumulation. An active regional development policy was therefore pursued immediately after the war in order that development in the L.D.R.s might be speeded up. Whilst this could be done relatively easily during the central planning period, when the main source of of investment funds was the Federal Budget, the shift towards a market economy undermined this policy. Up until 1963 investment was controlled by a General Investment Fund, and although a certain amount of money-capital was earmarked for investment in the L.D.R.s on preferential terms the bulk of the resources was allocated on the basis of the profitability of the enterprises wishing to receive funding. Then, when responsibility for credit and investment passed into the hands of the banking system, profitability became the sole criterion for decisions concerning the allocation of credit.
This relaxation of control over the workings of the law of value served to exacerbate the regional disparities. Enterprises in the L.D.R.s tended to be much less competitive and thus found it harder to obtain the capital required to raise the productivity of labour, thus they became even less competitive. Unable to obtain credit through the banking system the L.D.R.s resorted to obtaining the few resources available through the 'Federal Fund for Crediting Economic Development of Less Developed Regions'. With investments in the L.D.R.s then being made on the basis of political considerations these resources were often wasted on hopelessly uncompetitive 'prestige projects', thus further undermining profitability in the L.D.R.s. As for agriculture in the L.D.R.s, productivity was falling further behind that of the M.D.R.s socialised sector, and the Y.C.P. tried to narrow the gap by passing a law in 1967 enabling peasants to buy agricultural machinery such as tractors. But with the relatively small scale of plots such a move was futile. And on top of this, when the tourism industry began to expand rapidly Croatia was to prove the main benificiary.
Given such a regional division of labour, with manufacturing concentrated in the M.D.R.s, tourism concentrated in Croatia, and mining, energy production and peasant agriculture dominating the L.D.R.s, it is obvious that objective conditions did not favour a unified offensive by the Yugoslav working class as a whole. And it also becomes clear as to why the tensions within the party between the liberals and the conservatives took on a regional bias which was at times prone to expressing itself in nationalist terms.
(3) 1974 Constitution
The Y.C.P. was able to isolate, repress and recuperate the student movement and defuse the radical workers offensive thus neutralising the immediate threat to its rule. But it had become clear that capital accumulation would have to be re-stabilised on a new basis as the existing regime of domination was showing too many cracks. Striking workers in the M.D.R.s were questioning the inequalities between themselves and the new breed of entrepreneurs in an ostensibly socialist society. Workers in the L.D.R.s similarly protested about inequality, including the question of wage differentials between themselves and their northern counterparts. And within the bureaucracy itself there were tensions between the cadre of the different regions and between the regional leaderships and the Federal leadership in Belgrade.
A period of intense discussion resulted in the 1974 Constitution, heralding the period of 'associated labour' and 'social compacts'. The organs of workers democracy were divided into 35,000 smaller sub-units called the 'Basic Organisation of Associated Labour', thus fragmenting abstract labour in much the same way as TeamWork does under Just-In-Time/Total-Quality-Control production regimes. Relationships between B.O.A.L.s within an enterprise, and between enterprises, were to be governed by negotiated contracts, with wages regulated by 'social compacts' - agreements negotiated between enterprises, their B.O.A.L.s, trade unions, and the regional governments. In this way the autonomous power of money had been curtailed as a concession to quell dissent; market forces were henceforth partially subordinated to the political control of the party.
The party which had regained its leading role was itself restructured by the 1974 Constitution. The powers of the Federal government were reduced relative to the regional governments, and all major decisions concerning the federation had to be reached through social compacts and agreements requiring the consent of the leaderships of all eight republics and provinces. Such decisions included those concerning fiscal policy, monetary policy, public spending and contributions to the Federal Fund for Crediting Economic Development of L.D.R.s. The leaders of each of the republic's parties had effectively gained the right of veto over the policies of the Yugoslav government, and the leaderships of the L.D.R.s were thus able to secure preferential treatment for their regions, such as exemption from customs duties on the import of fixed capital, higher export subsidies, refunds for contributions to the Federal Budget etc. And the transfer of powers from Belgrade to the regions allowed the party leaders in the L.D.R.s exclusive control over the use of resources obtained from the development fund.
To summarise, the 1974 Constitution attempted to restore the rule of the party over the power of money, but the party itself was also restructured leading to the regionalisation of the Yugoslav economy. But what had emerged as an attempt to forge a new consensus around which accumulation could be organised in fact led to dissatisfaction in virtually every quarter.
The politicisation of resource allocation was inevitably unpopular with the technocrats/ entrepreneurs/ bankers concentrated in the M.D.R.s, and the party leaderships of Croatia and Slovenia soon resumed pressing for the prioritisation of profitability criteria for investment. Although in the late 1980s the M.D.R.s only made their contributions to the L.D.R. development fund under great duress, it was not the magnitude of the value that was transferred southwards that the M.D.R.s objected to. The level of contributions from the M.D.R.s was modest despite the fact that the Federal Fund provided virtually all the investment resources for the poorest of the L.D.R.s. What the party leaders in the M.D.R.s objected to was that the political restrictions upon the flow of money-capital towards the highest rate of profit was serving to slow capital accumulation in Yugoslavia as a whole and the M.D.R.s in particular. This section of the ruling class wanted further decentralisation and the extension of market-based reforms in order to reimpose competition as the means whereby Yugoslav capital would organise itself against labour on a national level.
Such a move would have consigned the economies of the L.D.R.s to the role of Yugoslavia's 'third world'. The constitutional changes had however given the means to block the moves by the M.D.R.s for further liberalisation. But the status quo was not to the liking of the L.D.R. leaderships either, as the growing autonomy of the regional economies was already condemning them to a permanent position as the 'poorer partners' with a slower rate of accumulation. Thus they pressed for an active interventionist policy in opposition to the demands from the M.D.R.s.
As previously noted, Serbia occupied the middle ground where development was concerned, but was where political power had been concentrated. What caused consternation amongst Serbian cadre was that the Federal leadership in Belgrade was being held hostage by the narrow national interests of the republican and provincial governments. Contributing as much and sometimes more than each of the M.D.R.s to the fund for the L.D.R.s they were as resentful as the parties in those republics at seeing capital being wasted by the L.D.R. leaderships on 'prestige projects' which did nothing towards decreasing the profitability divide. The Serbian leadership thus wanted to revert to a strong central government to ensure the efficient utilisation of investment capital. Furthermore Serbs (and Montenegrins) had always been over-represented within the Y.C.P. as a whole because of the composition of the partisan movement, and within the Federal Army and the state apparatus there were a disproportionate number of Serbian (and Montenegrin) cadre. The 1974 Constitution was thus perceived by the Serbian party leadership as having reduced the power and prestige of the Serbian leadership in Yugoslavia as a whole. In the mid 1970s the Serbian party began campaigning against regional autonomy, setting up a working commission of the party to gather together the arguments against the regional autonomy granted by the constitutional changes in a 'Blue Book'. The 'Blue Book' advocated the return to Belgrade of control over economic policy for the whole of Yugoslavia, as well as control over the provinces judiciary, police and security services. Not surprisingly the arguments were rejected by the multi-national Federal leadership.
(4) The Onset of Crisis
Opposition to the 1974 Constitution was often expressed in nationalist terms. Such ideas were hardly new, having resurfaced periodically in Socialist Yugoslavia. But each time they had surfaced they had been criticised extensively as most of the Y.C.P. were committed to Yugoslav unity. So although opposition to the 1974 Constitution would incorporate certain aspects of nationalist ideology this did not lead to open hostilities. That is until the cement of capital accumulation which had held together the 'red bourgeoisie' of Yugoslavia began to crack as the economy plunged into a serious crisis.
The partial restriction of competition within the domestic market of Yugoslavia served to undermine the means whereby the valorisation conditions of social capital are forced upon particular capitals. Without the same competitive pressures, individual capitals operating within Yugoslavia were less compelled to raise the productivity of labour. The constant struggle to expend no more than the labour-time socially necessary for the production of given commodities was relaxed. But while the Y.C.P. could assert some control over the law of value as it operated within the boundaries of Yugoslavia, there was less it could do about the dictates of the world market. Global social capital demanded continuous reductions in necessary labour but Yugoslav capital had backed away from the struggle with its workers. Thus Yugoslav capital became increasingly uncompetitive in the world market. Selling commodities abroad increasingly required subsidies, but the money for this had itself to come out of surplus-value, which was becoming harder and harder to realise.
By 1980 a foreign debt of $14 billion had been accumulated, and Yugoslavia joined the I.M.F. The following year a loan was negotiated which was the biggest the I.M.F. had paid out at the time, but the provision of credit was conditional upon the imposition of an austerity programme. A strict incomes policy was to be introduced, prices were to be deregulated, interest rates increased sharply, the Dinar devalued, and exports increased at the expense of domestic consumption. The 1974 reforms had not succeeded in eliminating the Yugoslav working class as an overtly antagonistic subject however, as had been demonstrated by an upturn in the number of strikes in 1976. So in response to the attempted imposition of austerity the Yugoslav working class waged a fierce defensive struggle, in many cases successfully blocking the Federal government's measures. Strikes, largely in response to wage cuts, threatened to escape the control of the trade unions. And beyond the productive sphere other struggles were waged, including the organised boycott of rising electricity and gas bills.
This defensive struggle continued through the early eighties, but the state did have a certain amount of success in its battle against its working class. Many uncompetitive capitals were forced to collapse and unemployment rose rapidly, exerting further downwards pressure on wages. Wages were pushed down significantly in real terms during the 1980's, although there are various figures available as to exactly how much. An article in New Left Review 174 states that 'working class consumption' fell by nearly 8% between 1979 and 1985 whilst an article in the April/May '93 issue of Wildcat states that 'incomes' fell by 45% over the same period and that 'wages relative to prices' fell by 30% between 1978 and 1988. Mass unemployment is a contradictory weapon however, and despite this fall in wages the foreign debt had risen to $20 billion dollars by 1985, and inflation was becoming rampant (reaching 250% by the end of 1988).
In 1986 many individual firms had conceded wage increases which, although considerably below the rate of inflation, were in excess of the rate fixed by the government. In response the Federal government passed a law in February 1987 cutting wages and requiring that wages in excess of the limit be paid back. Mass strikes broke out, particularly around the areas of Zagreb and Belgrade, and street battles with the police occurred in many towns and cities throughout Yugoslavia. The Federal government in Belgrade threatened to bring tanks onto the streets to restore order, but this was eventually achieved by means of a temporary price freeze.
Another measure used by the Federal government to deal with this situation was an agreement that wages would be allowed to rise in excess of the norm provided they were 'paid for' through increased productivity. This was a divisive measure, obviously benefiting workers in the M.D.R.s, especially those in sectors linked to export and foreign currency earnings (the tourist industry). And divisive tactics probably had some success given the way that the gap between conditions for workers in the M.D.R.s and those in the L.D.R.s widened with the crisis. In 1987 the party leaders of three of the L.D.R.'s -Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro- declared their regions bankrupt, and 'Agrokomerc', the Bosnian agro-industrial conglomerate, collapsed. Whilst unemployment rose from 11% to 18% between 1975 and 1989 as an average for Yugoslavia as a whole, the rise was from 4% to 6% for the M.D.R.s, from 13% to 17% in Serbia and Vojvodina, and from 22% to 36% in the L.D.R.s. Using another indicator, the proportion of the Yugoslav population below the poverty line rose from 17.2% to 23% between 1978 and 1989, but the regional variation is striking; in 1989 the proportion was only 2.9% in Slovenia compared to a staggering 81.9% in Kosovo. The reason for this increase in regional disparities during this period was linked to the changing price of manufactured goods and primary products on the international market. The M.D.R.s had benefited from the rise in the price of manufactured goods following the oil price hike of 1979, whilst the prices of agricultural products and raw materials, the mainstays of the L.D.R.s' economies, collapsed due to the international debt crisis and the efforts of debtor countries to meet repayments by stepping up exports.
(5) Class Decomposition
1987 appears to have been something of a turning point in the unfolding of the situation. It was at this time that organised groups began successfully propagating nationalist ideas within the working class movement, placing themselves at the forefront of demonstrations. The development of nationalism within the working class had been encouraged by developments within the Y.C.P. On the one hand the party leaderships of the M.D.R.s had started backing up their demands for economic liberalisation with demands for national independence, probably at this stage just to increase the pressure on the Federal leadership. And on the other the Serbian party were now openly endorsing Serbian nationalism. That nationalism was able to become the potent material force we know it to have become in Yugoslavia is down to the fact that it had a material basis. Dismissing it as 'false consciousnesss' is inadequate as it can lead to little more than implying the need for a vanguard to teach the proles what their real interests are. Our opposition to all forms of nationalism should not mean that we are incapable of addressing the question as to why it is capable of mobilising working class support.
Nationalism reflects the superficial identity of interests thay exists between a particular national bourgeoisie and the proletariat of that country for so long as capitalist social relations persist. An identity of interests because the successful valorisation and realisation of capital provides both capitalists and workers with a source of revenue with which, as independent subjects in the market legally separated from means, commodities can be purchased to satisfy needs (albeit in an alienated form). Superficial because, whilst it does not immediately present itself as such, this process is one of class exploitation and hence antagonism. To the extent that the bourgeoisie organises itself on a national level, and it remains meaningful to talk of national economies, the proletariat will find itself a universal class divided upon national lines. For so long as we remain defeated, i.e. so long as the value-form exists, then nationalism may feed upon this division. Capital may be a unity, but it is a differentiated one whose unityis constituted through competition on an international level. With competition on the world market based on the cheapening of commodities, acceptance of a 'national interest' and making sacrifices to the national bourgeoisie may mean increased exploitation for the working class, resignation to a living death or a real one as cannon fodder, but it also increases the competitiveness of the national capital on the world market, making its realisation more probable, and thus helps to secure future revenue for both classes.
The regionalisation of the Yugoslav economy meant the existence of a material basis for nationalist divisions within the Yugoslav working class. Refusal to accept these divisions could maintain the prospect of social revolution, or at least maintaining a trajectory which kept this possibility alive. Acceptance of these divisions could mean abandonment of any hope for a free, unalienated existence, but also the prospect of a greater access to the social wealth alienated to capital by deflecting the assault of capital onto the 'other', whether that be other republics, other nationalities within the republic, or both. As the prospects for the class began to disappear over the horizon so resignation to nationalism increased.
Around 1980 a new generation of bureaucrats came to power in Serbia, grouped around Ivan Stambolic (head of Serbia's government 1980-82, head of Belgrade Party 1982-84, president of Serbian Party 1984-86). This new leadership, which included Slobodan Milosevic, sought to achieve the aims of the 'Blue Book', the recentralisation of political power in Belgrade, through the strategic manipulation of nationalist sentiment in order to exert pressure on the Federal leadership. Such a proposal would have to be agreed by the assemblies of the Autonomous Provinces of Vojvidina and Kosovo, as well as the other republics, and the assemblies of Serbia's Provinces were not willing to give up power.
Indeed, in 1981 there was a huge wave of rioting right across Kosovo. Whilst the underlying cause of the rioting may be rooted in the falling living standards of Kosovo's working class these riots have usually been interpreted as nationalist riots. There certainly were demands put forward that Kosovo be given full republican status. But even if this interpretation is wrong there can be little doubt that the predominantly Albanian working class were forced into falling in behind 'their' leaders in defence of 'national rights' by subsequent events.
The rioting was suppressed by the predominantly Serbian Federal forces and a state of emergency declared. Nationalist elements within Serbia began decrying the way in which the 1974 Constitution had led to what they saw as the Albanianisation of Kosovo, which they considered to be a part of 'Greater Serbia'. Indeed Kosovo is of central importance to Serbian nationalists as it was the centre of medieval Serbia until it was lost to Turkey in the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. Such nationalist ideas did not however have much popular appeal at the time.
By 1986, however, the Serbian leadership's use of nationalism in the context of a worsening economic crisis was starting to have some effect. The Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences produced a document called the Memorandum which was full of xenophobic nationalism, revising the history of Yugoslavia in order to rehabilitate the Chetniks (Serbian ultra-nationalist movement of WW2). Milosevic ensured that the Serbian Party leadership did not openly criticise the Memorandum, thereby encouraging the development of nationalism by the intelligentsia. And at this time the 'Kosovo Committee of Serbs and Montenegrins' began organising nationalist rallies in Kosovo and sending delegations to Belgrade demanding military rule in Kosovo. To back up their demands the Committee and their nationalist allies in Serbia launched an anti-Albanian campaign. Their allies included retired policemen, right wing intellectuals, a wing of the Orthodox Church and of course a significant section of the state and Party bureaucracy. The official media aided the campaign by printing racial slurs and the fabricated stories of the systematic rape of Serbian women by Albanian men in Kosovo. Many Serbs were emigrating from Kosovo, not least due to the comparatively high rate of unemployment in the Province, and this was presented in the media as evidence of Albanian oppression of the Serb minority.
By 1987, anti-Albanian discrimination was rife. Factories started to be built in Kosovo for Serbs only, Albanian families were evicted from Serb villages, sale of Serb-owned land to Albanians was prohibited, and Albanians heavily sentenced for minor crimes. The more liberal elements in the Serbian Party, grouped around Stambolic, became worried that the monster they had given sustenance to, if not created, was threatening to divide not just the Yugoslav working class but Yugoslavia itself, and so they sought to criticise the nationalist 'excesses'. But those grouped around Milosevic openly endorsed the rising nationalist sentiment recognising that it could serve to deflect the anger of Serbian workers away from their real enemies, justify repressive measures in Kosovo, and pressurise the Federal bureaucracy into making the desired constitutional changes. A struggle for control of the Serbian Party ensued and by September of that year the liberals had been defeated and Milosevic was in power.
The battle to impose a solution to the crisis continued throughout 1988 along regional lines. Slovene and Croat leaders continued to demand the unleashing of market forces, which the L.D.R. leaderships resisted, recognising that such a move would imply a chronic devalorisation of their existing capital and little opportunity to accumulate further. Slovenia's rulers in particular, presiding over the most developed and Westernised of the M.D.R.s, were the most vocal in their desire to see increased local autonomy, political pluralism, and the introduction of private enterprises alongside self-managed ones. Whilst their economic demands were supported by Croatia alone, the demands for increased regional autonomy had the support of many in Bosnia, Vojvodina, and Kosovo as well.
The solution proposed by Serbia's leaders however was the restoration of a strong central government in Belgrade such that the motor of accumulation, the M.D.R.s, could be harnessed to the rest of the country, and the L.D.R.s developed more efficiently. And in this they enjoyed the support of the leaders of Macedonia and Montenegro who were grateful for Serbia's anti-Albanian campaign for allowing them to discriminate against their own Albanian populations.
The first hurdle, however, remained the Party leaders of Vojvodina and Kosovo. In the autumn of 1988 numerous nationalist rallies were organised. Throughout Serbia, and especially in Belgrade, huge rallies called for Serb unity, i.e. the unification of 'Greater Serbia', and solidarity with the armed Serbian vigilantes operating in Kosovo. Serbian nationalist rallies also took place in Vojvidina, Montenegro and Kosovo, leading to the replacement of Vojvodina's leaders with Milosevic-supporters in October, and those of Montenegro the following January. With big Serbian nationalist rallies planned to take place in Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia the Federal Party decided that it would have to appease Milosevic and agreed to allow for Vojvodina and Kosovo to be put under Serbian control.
Amidst much speculation of a break in the Federation, October 1988 saw the introduction of a number of Constitutional changes. As a concession to the leaders of the M.D.R.s there were a number of moves in the direction of freeing competition, scrapping the system of B.O.A.L.s and Compacts. And to appease the Serbian leadership the resignation of the Kosovo Party leaders was secured. This provoked massive demonstrations in Kosovo, and in February the following year, when the Serbian Party imposed their own officials on Kosovo's assembly in an attempt to speed up ratification of the Constitutional changes, Albanian workers responded with a general strike. Their demands for the retention of regional autonomy were rejected by the Federal leadership following big counter-demonstrations in Belgrade, and in March 1989 the Kosovo assembly finally agreed to accept direct rule from Belgrade. The news was greeted with celebrations by nationalists in Belgrade, but Albanian workers in Kosovo rioted until they were violently suppressed by the Federal Army. Since then tension has been high in Kosovo.
Nationalism was able to flourish amongst Serbian workers due to the fact that Milosevic sought to transfer increased value southwards from the M.D.R.s and that non-Serbian peasants and workers in the L.D.R.s would bear the brunt of the crisis. But its development did not go unopposed. Independent trade unions and other organisations formed to defend class interests and Serbian workers continued to strike against 'their' bosses. Indeed, strike activity increased in 1988, the most spectacular incident being the occupation of the Serbian parliament by 5,000 united Serb and Croat strikers from the cities of Vukovar and Borovo Selo in South-East Croatia. 1989 saw a further increase in strike activity and in 1990 moves to carry out the dismantling of the self-management apparatus and the privatisation of enterprises were abandoned in the face of violent strikes, not just in Serbia but throughout all the republics. Despite the growing influence of the nationalists those opposed to nationalism were able to mobilise mass support right up until the outbreak of the war. In March 1991, only months before the break away of Slovenia, 70,000 demonstrated in Belgrade against control of the media by Milosevic's nationalist lackeys. The demonstration was met with water cannons, tear gas, mounted police, rubber bullets and finally live ammunition leaving two dead (according to official figures). The next day saw big demonstrations throughout Serbia's towns and cities demanding the release of the 300 arrested and for the next four days there were mass demonstrations in Belgrade, including an ongoing occupation of the main square. But despite the fact that Serbian workers were often able to win concessions from 'their' bosses struggles such as these ultimately proved incapable of overcoming the divisions between the workers both within and between the different republics to the extent required to prevent the war.
This account of the development of Serbian nationalism shows the lie of those on the left who, in their desperation to back one faction of our class enemy against the other, seek to apologise for Serbian nationalism by arguing that it is merely a response to the threat posed by Croatian fascism. But this account does not explain the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It did not occur, as much of the bourgeois press initially argued, due to fear of Serbian domination on the parts of those nice liberals in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. Let us shift our attention north-westwards.
ii) Slovenia and Croatia
Party leaders in Slovenia and Croatia observed what was happening in Belgrade with trepidation. But, despite talk of secession, what they really wanted was economic liberalisation and increased autonomy within a looser Yugoslav Federation. They certainly did not want the recentralisation of power in Belgrade, nor were they content with the 1988 Constitutional changes. But things would begin to change rapidly the following year; 1989 was the year that the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe crumbled, the year that the Berlin Wall fell.
During 1989 opposition parties formed in Slovenia and Croatia, committed to market forces and closer ties with W. European capital. Talk of solving the economic crisis by cutting themselves free from the millstone of the incompetitive L.D.R.s became louder, and nationalist tensions increased with a boycott of Slovene commodities in Serbia. In September the Slovenian assembly adopted Constitutional Amendments, including the right to secede and the right to decidewhether any declaration of martial law in Belgrade should be extended to Slovenia. The leaders of Croatia and Bosnia were also increasingly lining up against Serbia.
In January 1990 the Federal Party congress broke up in disarray, and two months later the Slovenian and Croatian delegates failed to attend a Central Committee meeting in Belgrade, choosing instead to meet with Italians, Germans, Austrians and Hungarians in Slovenia, whilst the Bosnian delegation turned up in Belgrade only to leave again immediately. But it was to be the election of parliamentary parties in the M.D.R.s which had no affiliation with the leaders in the rest of the country that made secession look increasingly likely.
Slovenia and Croatia both staged elections in April 1990. In Slovenia the election largely revolved around the issue of secession, with the secessionists winning, although the election of Kukan, leader of the Slovenian Communist Party, to the position of President reflected a certain amount of caution. In Croatia the election brought Franjo Tujman, leader of the right-wing nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, to power. In the 1960s Tujman had engaged in historical revisionism, rewriting the history of WW2 and the Ustashe regime, and on coming to power set about their rehabilitation. The new Croatian Constitution declared Croatia to be the land of the Croats, giving no constitutional guarantees for the rights of minorities. The use of the Cyrillic alphabet for official communication was banned, even in areas where Serbs are the majority. The insignia and flags of the Ustashe began reappearing, 'Victims of Fascism' Square in Zagreb was renamed 'Croatian Heroes' Square. Serbian workers began to be sacked en masse from public sector jobs in order to reduce unemployment amongst Croatian workers and establish a new pattern of domination. And in a manner reminiscent of the bad old days arbitrary arrests, disappearances and the murder of Serbs started happening all over again.
Not surprisingly Croatia's Serbs started agitating for autonomous Serbian enclaves. In October 1990 they seized arms from police arsenals throughout Eastern Croatia and set up roadblocks, declaring the region autonomous and calling for the Federal Army to back them against the 'fascist government' in Zagreb. But within the enclaves Chetnik insignia were reappearing; many of the insurrectionists were pro Serbian nationalism as much as anti Croatian fascism.( The Serbian minority in Bosnia had also been agitating for autonomy and October 1990 also saw violent clashes between Bosnia's Serbs and Muslims. The reason for the trouble was the refusal of Serbs to commemorate the slaughter of Muslims by Chetniks in WW2.)
As previously noted the 1988 strikes in precisely this region of Eastern Croatia had demonstrated a significant degree of unity between Serbs and Croats. Two years on, however, and caught between rival nationalist militias, such unity appears to have been impossible to sustain. And whilst Croatian and Slovenian workers struck in 1990 along with workers in the other republics, opposition to nationalism seems to have been less fervent than in Serbia, largely because of the potential benefits that workers in the M.D.R.s could accrue from independence (and that Croatian workers could gain at the expense of the Serbian minority in Croatia).
It could be said that the civil war had already started, but it would not start in earnest until the following summer. In December 1990 elections in Serbia and Montenegro had returned the renamed Y.C.P. to power, signalling to the leaders in the M.D.R.s that their demands were unlikely to be met. Slovenia's new rulers organised a referendum on whether they should secede should reforms not be forthcoming in the near future, and a huge majority voted in favour. Croatia also made Constitutional changes reserving the right to secession.
In Spring 1991 both announced their intention to ditch the Federation. The Federal Army leadership sought the declaration of a state of emergency in order to block the move, but the Federal leadership refused them. On June 25th 1991 Slovenia and Croatia declared themselves independent.
(6) The Conflict Begins
Outmanoeuvred politically the leadership of the Federal Army, now the de facto Federal power, responded militarily. On June 27th the Federal Army attempted to hold the Federation together through the seizure of Slovenia's border posts and main airport. Within only 10 days however, the Serb-dominated Federal Army leadership had to concede that Slovenia's secession could not be prevented. On the one hand the Federal Army met with fierce Slovene resistance. The previous year had seen both Slovenia and Croatia make moves towards turning those Federal forces under their control into independent national armies, which were blocked by the Federal leadership declaring such moves illegal and impounding weapons. But whilst almost all of Croatia's weaponry was impounded only 40% of that in Slovenian hands was recovered. Thus when the fighting started Slovenian forces were sufficiently well armed to encircle and cut off the Federal Army's Slovenian bases.
Another factor behind the Slovenian victory was resistance within the Federal Army itself. Military leaders had registered their concern about the loyalty of Federal troops in May 1991 when they began calling up Serbian reservists to form ethnically 'pure' tank regiments. But resistance to the war was not limited to non-Serbian troops, who in 1991 made up only 40% of Federal Army manpower. Indeed it has been reported that since the war began a staggering 80% of Federal Army conscripts have deserted!
Resistance within the Federal Army was backed up by anti-war protests in Serbia itself. The independent trade unions and other organisations which had been set up to oppose the development of nationalism in Serbia in the late 1980's quickly established themselves as the foundations upon which an anti-war movement could be built. Two days after the outbreak of the war anti-war protesters, including many mothers of conscripts, stormed the Serbian parliament in Belgrade demanding the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army from Slovenia.
Whilst the weakness of the Federal Army meant that Slovenia's secession had to be accepted as a fait accompli, the situation regarding Croatia differed for a number of reasons. Not only were the Croat forces not as well armed as the Slovenians, more importantly Croatia's leaders already had a major problem on their hands in the form of Chetnik revivalism amongst Croatia's Serbian population. Following the declaration of independence, tensions between Croatia's rival ethnic groups increased further, and there were numerous reports of armed clashes. Thus when the Serbian leaders of the Federal Army switched their attention towards Croatia they were able to allow Chetnik forces to do most of the fighting. In this way the Serb leaders were able to relegate the potentially unreliable Federal Army to a supporting role, claiming in order to appease both 'the West' and the rest of the Federation that its role was one of neutral arbitration, whilst their aims were pursued by Chetnik guerrillas for whom reliability was not an issue. In this way the Chetnik /Federal Army alliance was able to score a partial military victory over the forces of the Croatian Army (backed up in turn by guerrillas including H.O.S., the fascist movement reminiscent of the Ustashe). Whilst they were unable to achieve the total victory which might have preserved the Federation, albeit minus Slovenia, they were able to gain control over the mainly Serbian regions, and have the gains consolidated by the U.N. cease-fire agreement. As previously noted the goal of a Greater Serbia had many supporters within the Serbian leadership. Whilst this was probably not the aim of the Serb leaders when they launched the Serb/Croat war in July 1991, the chances of being able to hold the Federation together decreased significantly following the German-led E.E.C. recognition of Croatian sovereignty on January 15th 1992. This, combined with the inability to ensure an absolute victory over the Croatian Army, must have been a major factor behind the shift in the aim of the Serbian leaders from that of preserving the Federation to that of a Greater Serbia.
This shift was itself probably a major factor leading to the Bosnian declaration of independence in April 1992. The Bosnian leadership had long been moving closer to the leaders of the M.D.R.s (due to their support for regional autonomy), despite themselves presiding over a L.D.R. (although the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo in 1984 indicates a significant potential for foreign currency earnings through the development of skiing as a tourist industry). Now, not only were their fears of Serbian domination heightened, but they had also seen (admittedly confusing) signs of international support for secession in the cases of Slovenia and Croatia, and may have assumed that they would receive backing against Serbian retaliation. A spring referendum boycotted by the Serbian minority registered 99% support for independence. Bosnian Serbs and Croats had already been calling for the cantonisation of Bosnia to produce Serbian and Croatian enclaves which could subsequently join Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia respectively. The announcement of the referendum result stirred them up, particularly the Serbian nationalists in Bosnia. Serb gunmen mounted barricades around Sarajevo on the night of March 2nd and the following night (to which Muslim militants responded by blocking off the Muslim quarter). Protesters immediately gathered at the barricades to demand their removal and were fired upon only to regroup and return with thousands more demonstrators. The multi-ethnic and well-integrated population of Bosnia's capital city had signalled their opposition to the nationalists in their midst, as did the population of the city of Tuzla by signing a statement against 'ethnicisation', but elsewhere in the country ethnic clashes escalated. When independence was declared the following month, and immediately recognised by the U.S., the war in Bosnia began.
Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tujman had met the previous month to discuss the partition of Bosnia between a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia. What had by this stage become a Serbian Army invaded Bosnia from one side to back up the Chetnik militia whilst Croatian forces invaded from the other. Anyone with eyes and ears must have a fair idea as to what has happened since. Serbian forces have seized about two-thirds of the country and Croatia much of the remainder, as the countryside, though not the cities, has seen neighbours take up arms against each other and, divided along ethnic lines, pursue a bloody civil war. All three of the warring parties have attempted to tighten their grip on the regions they control by driving out 'aliens' through the use of terror, including rape.
(7) Resistance To The War
At the forefront of the struggle against the war has been desertion and draft resistance; some media reports have indicated that the cities have been awash with those refusing to fight. In mid 1992 it was reported that over 100,000 Serbs had refused the call-up and that over 10,000 had been prosecuted for desertion. And Sarajevo is reputed to contain many Serbs, Croats and Muslims refusing to join or having fled from their respective armies.
Without wishing to appear too pessimistic, it does however seem that the anti-war movement has gradually lost its way. Exactly one year on from the demonstrations of March 1991 and there was another wave of demonstrations in Belgrade, this time against the war itself. But they were far smaller than the previous years and seemed to be far more dominated by students and school kids, with a truancy epidemic said to be sweeping through the capital. June 1992 saw 10,000 demonstrate in Belgrade and July 1992 saw a strike by 10,000 Belgrade students, but important though this resistance was it seems to have lost the ability to mobilise other sections of the working class. Then, following the announcement of Panic's participation in the Serbian elections on an anti-war platform, the demonstrations appear to have disappeared from Belgrade altogether as hopes were pinned on the democratic process. Whilst Belgrade voted solidly against the war voters elsewhere backed Milosevic, and the ultra-nationalists to his right gained about a third of the votes, largely from rural areas. Milosevic was returned to power and the hopes of the anti-war movement shattered.
Vague stories have surfaced of striking workers occupying railway lines in Vojvodina and Serbian tanks being diverted en route to the front to intimidate unruly workers. And June 1st 1992 saw the return of violent confrontations in Belgrade between the Serbian state and proletarians following the sacking of the President of the 'rump-Yugoslav Federation' by Milosevic. Such a development can only be for the good, despite the fact that opposition to Milosevic is an extremely confused amalgum of anti-nationalists and ultra-nationalists, for it signals that the war has not meant the irreversable defeat of the working class of Serbia. But with Milosevic now in favour of a settlement to end the conflict due to pressures brought to bear by domestic opposition and the effects of sanctions, but unable to exert sufficient pressure on Bosnia's Serbs, the impact that an anti-war movement in Belgrade could have appears to be limited. What is really needed is opposition within Bosnia itself, and whilst opposition in Belgrade could serve as a filip to the small anti-war movements in other republics, the chances of its development in Bosnia are slim given that the cities are in ruins and their populations terrorized by bombardments and sniper fire. It is hard to be optimistic about the near future for the working class of former Yugoslavia. Given the severity and extent of the atrocities witnessed, the divisions between the various nationalities are likely to fester for many years to come.
(8) The International Context
No account of Yugoslavia's descent into civil war would be adequate without reference to the massive changes in the surrounding geo-political order. As with many of the most significant events of recent years, from the Gulf War to the end of the Ethiopian war, the collapse of Somalia to the Italian corruption scandal, it was the crisis in the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War that precipitated the disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation. Such a scenario would have been inconceivable whilst Yugoslavia straddled the border between East and West. Neither side would have allowed events to take their own course whilst the possibility remained of Yugoslavia going over to one side or the other.
The end of the Cold War meant the loss of any advantage Yugoslavia's rulers may have derived from their position as an unaligned nation placed strategically between rival Blocs. But more important has been the reorganisation of the European bourgeoisie following the fall of the Berlin Wall. The process of European unification offers a stark choice to the rulers of the poorer countries on the fringes of the newly emerging power bloc. Either try to climb on board, in which case the position of poorer partner supplying cheap primary products and labour-power will, to a certain extent, be compensated for by financial aid. Or be left trying to keep afloat in the emerging 'Third World' of Europe, competing with other East European plus African, Asian, and Latin American economies to sell basic commodities inside 'Fortress Europe' or the other trade blocs. This fear of marginalisation from the main circuits of capital is perhaps the most important consequence of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc so far as Yugoslavia is concerned, forcing the tension between the M.D.R.s and the L.D.R.s to breaking point. The election of nationalist/secessionist politicians in the M.D.R.s was a consequence of this struggle against margin alisation. An undivided Yugoslavia could just as easily have gone the way of Albania as that of Hungary. Now, Slovenia and Croatia seem to have laid some of the necessary foundations for future economic recovery, with Slovenia in particular attracting significant amounts of foreign investment capital which provides a source of revenue for the new state, whilst the poorer Southern nations seem destined for further economic deterioration on the periphery.
The end of the Cold War has also meant that 'The West' has lost much of the coherence that the opposition to 'communism' imposed, and major divisions within the bourgeoisie of Europe have emerged which have had a significant effect on the international response to the war in Yugoslavia, and which must therefore be examined. The major division is that between Germany, and to a lesser extent Austria and Italy, on the one hand and France, Britain and the rest of the E.E.C. on the other. Germany has strong economic interests in Croatia and Slovenia. Since its formation the German state has been as inclined to look Eastwards as Westwards, and whilst this process was blocked by the Cold War, since the detente of the 1970s German capital has been forging closer links with Eastern Europe. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall this process has accelerated as the German bourgeoisie have sought to develop a hinterland in which they can exploit cheap yet skilled labour and so undermine wages in Germany itself. To this end, having already encouraged Croatian and Slovenian separatism, the Bundestag pressed for early recognition of Croatia and Slovenia. They eventually forced E.E.C. recognition in January 1992 having unilaterally recognised them the preceding month. And whilst Croatia has been somewhat destabilised by the war, Germany has been able to begin the annexation of Slovenia to the Deutschmark zone. Around 40% of the foreign capital invested in Slovenia since independence has come from Germany (25% has been Austrian and 15% Italian, with many firms simply shifting factories from one side of the border to the other). And in relation to the war the German bourgeoisie have been pressing for an anti-Serbian position within the E.E.C., openly siding with Croatia to such an extent that many otherwise supportive liberals have been embarrassed by the blind eye turned towards Croatian fascism.
For the rest of the E.E.C., however, there is far less at stake in the conflict. Lacking the strong economic interests in the region of the German bourgeoisie, and given that there is little money to be made out of this particular war, the primary consideration of the rest of Europe's rulers has been to minimise the destabilising effects of the war. Refugees are not required at a time of mass unemployment, and there was the possible danger of the conflict spreading to involve N.A.T.O. countries such as Greece (which supports Serbia) and Turkey (which supports Bosnia). Hence the main aim at the start of the conflict of the rest of the E.E.C. states was to preserve the status quo, obstinately refusing to recognise that the Federation was dead until forced to do so by Germany's actions.
This division between Germany and the rest of Europe paralysed the E.E.C.'s attempts to respond to the situation in Yugoslavia. So the main outside intervention has been mounted by the U.N., in which Germany is still denied the permanent seat on the Security Council that its economic might would warrant. The main power in the U.N. is of course the U.S.A., with Britain and France still enjoying a major role as well. And once more a division has emerged. American interests in the region are hard to identify, but in opposition to German support for Croatia, and at odds with the position of the rest of the E.E.C., the United States appears to have supported Bosnia. When Croatia and Slovenia declared themselves independent the U.S. reiterated its position of supporting Yugoslav unity, recognising the Federal leadership as the legitimate power in the region. Then, when Bosnia declared its independence, U.S. recognition was immediately forthcoming. When the war in Bosnia began the U.S. repeatedly expressed a desire to arm the Bosnians, pressing for them to be exempted from the embargo imposed on the whole of former Yugoslavia, and has only recently come to realise that Bosnia has ceased to exist as such and would not therefore make much of an ally.
Given the lack of obvious interest in the region it is difficult to say why the U.S. took a position in opposition not just to Germany but also the rest of the E.E.C. One consideration may have been the fear that the Bosnian Muslims, at present renowned for their secular leanings, would be driven into the arms of fundamentalist regimes should they hold out the only possibility for real support. Another factor may have been the fear of the economic power of a 'Greater Germany', of the threat it would pose to U.S. hegemony, and thus the desire to have Bosnia as its bulwark against German expansionism. Yet another may have been the desire of a beleaguered presidential regime for a foreign policy success to deflect criticism in the same way its predecessor used the Gulf War. But whilst the State Dept. and foreign policy advisers urged Clinton to get involved the Pentagon was resolutely opposed, recognising the potential hazards. This left the U.S. President urging intervention but refusing to join Britain and France in sending ground troops.
So where does the British Government stand in relation to all this? The media has consistently taken an anti-Serbian position, first backing Croatia and then, when that became untenable, backing the 'poor Muslims'. And Margaret Thatcher has appeared on Croatian television calling for the British Government to arm the Croatians in their fight 'for democracy', and has, more recently, called for the arming of Bosnian Muslims. But whilst ideology plays its part, the war is being fought for real material interests, and it is clear that the British Government has no intention of joining Germany in taking sides with Croatia. In fact the U.K. seems to be more sympathetic to Serbia, though not to the extent that Russia is, and usually takes the stance that all the sides are as bad as each other even if the Serbians are more powerful. Britain, like most of the other E.E.C. states has little economic interest in the region, and would be as concerned as any about German predominance within Europe, but is more reluctant than most to become involved in military intervention, refusing to do anything more than police an agreement once it has been established between all the warring parties, because British troops would undoubtedly be expected to bear the brunt of any fighting, which would involve major casualties.
With no country willing to commit ground troops for military purposes the international actors seem set to limit their ambitions to containing the conflict and letting it burn itself out. The Vance-Owen plan which sought to carve-up of Bosnia into semi-autonomous provinces, was scuppered by the fact that each of the parties attempted to further their gains, or in the Bosnian case reduce their losses by provoking military intervention on their behalf, before a 'final' settlement was reached. A three-way partition of Bosnia is now firmly on the agenda since all talk of U.N. military intervention to impose a settlement has long since been shown to be empty. Neither Kohl nor Clinton would have had their way, but Croatia will have made significant territorial gains and a Bosnia of sorts will remain. Neither Germany or the U.S. had enough to gain by acting unilaterally and destroying the fragile international consensus.
To return to the questions posed in the introduction, we now have to consider whether or not we are witnessing the opening salvos in a major European War. There are those for whom the very asking of this question proves our inability to learn the lessons of history. For them 'decadent capitalism' is inexorably driving towards a final apocalypse unless the cavalry arrive on cue. But the essence of capital is not war, nor even a drive towards it. It is the self-expansion of value, a process repeatedly requiring the re-establishment of certain preconditions. At certain historical junctures the imposition of these preconditions has proved impossible to obtain except through war, but not always. Whilst those who drone on about the lessons of history continue to live in the past we must recognise that history is only closed and certain when it is in the past. History is open and full of possibilities in its making because it is a living process made through the struggle of labour against capital, of life against death. Answers to questions such as these cannot, therefore, be merely presupposed, but require real analysis. There is no conclusive evidence that the events in former-Yugoslavia herald a much wider military confrontation. Indeed it seems likely that whilst hostilities in the Balkans will continue for a while the conflict is unlikely to spread. Greece's sabre-rattling over Macedonia seems to have been little more than an exercise in trying to encourage a national identity in a country plagued by working class opposition to austerity. And whilst tensions in Kosovo remain high the odds are stacked too firmly in Serbia's favour for it to become a battleground in the struggle between a 'Greater Albania' and 'Greater Serbia'.
The other question was whether the pattern of events in Yugoslavia are likely to be repeated throughout Eastern Europe. The division of Czechslovakia demonstrates that disintegration need not necessarily lead to war, whilst the many conflicts simmering in the former republics of the U.S.S.R. indicates that there remains a real possibility of further conflicts. Should such conflicts concern 'The West' more than the present one, due to a threat to strategic or economic interests, then military intervention would be a real possibilty. If only for this reason we therefore have to look at how the Left in Britain has related to the present conflict.
(9) The Left and the Conflict
As war has moved westwards from the Middle East to the Balkans, so doves have turned into hawks. The left-wing of the Labour party, which with C.N.D. established itself as the pacifist opposition to the Gulf War, has been baying for military intervention in this war. Seemingly unable to penetrate the distortions of the media, the hand-wringing desperation to 'do something' has lead them to call for something, anything, to be done and ignore all the evidence showing that such actions would only make things worse. Their position shows that they have not grasped the hypocrisy of the U.N.'s supposedly humanitarian mission. The U.N. forces are not there to prevent suffering in the name of humanity; the U.N. mission reflects the only interests on which western capital can agree, namely the containment of the conflict. Given this premise it is impossible to support military intervention by the U.N. Not because of some abstract 'right to self-determination', which in this case amounts to the right to slaughter fellow proletarians, but because such a move could only strengthen the hand of international capital and make things worse for the working class of Yugoslavia. Aerial strikes were the most likely form of intervention, as the only option military leaders were prepared to countenance, and it was widely admitted that these would inevitably result in significant civilian casualties. And the exemption of the Bosnian Army from the arms embargo, a policy still advocated by Germany and the U.S. (not to mention Ken Livingstone in the U.K. and Edward Said and Noam Chomsky in the U.S.) but resisted by France and Britain, would clearly lead to an escalation in the fighting. Working class unity in the Balkans already seems a remote possibility and military intervention or the re-equipment of the Bosnian Army would postpone it even further.
The left of the Labour Party are not the only ones who have seen fit to alter their position on inter-capitalist wars. During the Gulf War the S.W.P. moved from an initial position (logically derived from their 'theory') of supporting 'anti-imperialist' Iraq, to one of simply opposing the allied war mission (in order to be able to recruit from the fringes of the pacifist movement to which they attatched themselves). This time they have adopted a class position on the war:
'The privations of war may lead workers to discover that their real enemies are the regimes which set them at war with one another.......That means turning towards class struggle as the only real basis for ending the war.'
Whilst we must commend the S.W.P.'s recent conversion to a class position it does strike us as somewhat strange that it has occured in the present situation. They have seen fit to take sides in numerous wars where there has been serious working class opposition to the war, whilst they are now adopting a 'No War But The Class War' position in a situation where the opposition has been all but smashed. After ignoring class struggle in Iraq they are now inventing it in Bosnia.
Meanwhile the R.C.P. attempted to stake its claim to be the most solidly pro-Serbian faction of the British Left early on in the conflict. Living Marxism thoroughly prepared the ground for making inroads into the market as soon as U.N. intervention occured as 'the magazine that supports the Serbian boys'. Every month it avidly 'exposed' the latest reports of the atrocities perpetrated by the 'anti-imperialist' Serbian militias as 'lies', only to be left high and dry by the West's lack of intervention. The West's failure to perform its proper imperialist duties has left the R.C.P.'s position of tacit support for the Serbian bourgeoisie without the usual 'justification' that such a position undermines the needs of 'the highest stage of capitalism'.
With these changes in position within the Left it is clear that opposition to any future military engagement would not simply be able to learn the lessons from opposition to the Gulf War end expect to be able to replay the game on the same pitch; the goalposts would be found to have been moved.
The roots of the present conflict are located in the severity of the economic crisis which hit Yugoslavia at the end of the 1970's, and the different solutions which, due to the disparities between the republics, the different republican leaderships were striving to impose. The rapid changes in the surrounding political and economic order resulting from the collapse of the Eastern Bloc precipitated the disintegration of the Federation by upping the stakes. And disintegration has lead to war as each of the newly independent factions of the bourgeoisie pursues its own goals regardless of the consequences for others. We would have to say, however, that the slide into civil war is a consequence of the particularities of the history of Yugoslavia, notably the genocidal programme of the Ustashe during World War Two, memories of which provide nationalism in the Balkans with a particularly fertile basis. Furthermore, whilst the effects of regional disparities may be witnessed elsewhere, such as in Italy, in no other European country is there the degree of regional economic autonomy which the Yugoslav Republics enjoyed. The civil war in Yugoslavia is extremely unlikely to be repeated in the countries of Western Europe whose economies are so interpenetrated, whilst further conflicts could well emerge in the developing 'Third World' of Eastern Europe.
In contrast to other accounts of the civil war we hope to have demonstrated that the working class of Yugoslavia have not been mere passive victims of circumstance. The wave of struggles waged in the late 1960's forced Tito to curtail the rule of money over the lives of the working class by means of the 1974 Constitution. This in turn lead to their entrenchment and an inability of Yugoslav capital to raise the rate of surplus value sufficiently. As such the Yugoslav economy was particularly hard hit by Western standards when the world recession began to bite.
A period of open struggle ensued for most of the 1980's. Despite the fact that the Y.C.P. were unable to resolve the crisis of accumulation, by the late 1980's they were having increasing success in undermining the working class's ability to defend its previous gains. As the prospect of defeat began to stare the working class in the face so nationalist ideas began to gain increasing acceptance. This in turn undermined the ability of the working class to generalise its particular struggles. Struggles defeated in isolation encouraged nationalism which isolated struggles even further. From the graveyard of proletarian aspirations rose the ghost of nationalism, and the potential grave-diggers of Yugoslav capital began burying the corpses of their own class.
The need to take a closer look at what has occurred in Yugoslavia was adequately demonstrated to us by the now obvious fallacy of our assertion in issue 1 that the British State was preparing for a military intervention in pursuit of interests held in common with the Bundestag. This may have reflected an overestimation of political unity within the EEC, and a tendency to conflate the demonisation of the Serbs in the British media with the real interests of the British State. But it certainly reflected an inadequate theorisation of the driving forces behind the conflict.
See Table 1 in 'The Disintegration of Yugoslavia: Regional Disparities and the Nationalities Question' in Capital and Class Vol. 48. This article places too little emphasis on the limits to capital accumulation imposed by the struggles of the Yugoslav proletariat but is nonetheless useful for the wealth of empirical information regarding Yugoslav development that it presents. Also recommended is 'Yugoslavery' (£1 from BM Blob, London WC1N 3XX) which contains 'Yugoslavia: Capitalism and Class Struggle 1918-1967' and 'Some Basic Ingredients of Yugoslav Ideology', again because it provides a much richer account of capitalist development in Yugoslavia, but as this was published before the conflict had broken out its use is now limited to providing context.
The Ustashe regime ruled the Independent State of Croatia, which existed under German and Italian protection from 1941 to 1944. The fascist Ustashe are estimated to have murdered between a half and one million people, mainly Serbs but including Jews and gypsies, with a zeal reputed to have shocked their Nazi allies.
See 'Results of the Immediate Process of Production' in Capital Vol. 1.
The best account of the student revolt and how the Y.C.P. managed to deal with it is 'Revolt in Socialist Yugoslavia' by Fredy Perlman. This article has been included in a recent compilation of some of his works called 'Anything Can Happen' (Phoenix Press £4.50).
See Sayer, A. 'New Developments in Manufacturing: The Just-In-Time System', Capital and Class Vol. 30.
Yugoslavia's economic crisis was of course bound up with the worldwide recession which began in the early 1980s, as Left-Communist articles on Yugoslavia have pointed out. But unlike them we reject the thesis that a purely 'objective' crisis lead to certain 'subjective' responses, recognising the need for a unified theory of crisis. In the case of this article it is important to recognise the role of working class entrenchment in the development of Yugoslavia's crisis. After all the Yugoslav economy was much harder hit by the same worldwide crisis than, say, Japan.
The little information included on the class struggle in Yugoslavia during the 1980s has largely been taken from an article in the October 1992 and April/May 1993 issues of the German autonomist magazine Wildcat (Sisina, Postfach 360527, 1000 Berlin 36-030/6121848).
See 'The war in Yugoslavia and the Debt Burden: A Comment' in Capital And Class Vol. 50 for an analysis of the effects of the international debt crisis on regional disparities in Yugoslavia.
Recognition of this allows one to understand how capitalism has proved to be so remarkably resilient. How does one account for the absence of revolution or the attractions of reformist politics if this is not recognised?
Much of the information for this section has come from 'Yugoslavia: The Spectre of Balkanization' in New Left Review 174, 1989.
There has been no conclusive confirmation to back up this claim of systematic rape, but that does not necessarily mean that it did not occur. Rape is often a weapon in war and the atmosphere in Kosovo could certainly be described as warlike at the time, with the dehumanisation of rivals that encourages rape well developed. But whilst there may well be some truth in the stories of rape of Serb women by Albanian separatists it is also clear that the Serbian media exploited such actions to their own ends and in doing so refused to be constrained by the facts.
We use the term 'Muslim' with some reservations given the way the war in Bosnia has been portrayed at times as a tribal feud and the way in which Croatian and Serbian propagandists have used the 'fundamentalist bogey'. Whilst some of Bosnia's leaders have professed support for Islam most of those referred to as Muslims are in fact secular. The term seems to apply to all those in Bosnia who do not identify themselves as either Serbian or Croatian. We are simply using it for the sake of brevity.
Fear of the consequences of a Muslim state based on the Sharia (Islamic law), which the Bosnian President had previously declared himself in favour of , may also have been a factor behind the opposition of (Catholic) Croats and (Orthodox) Serbs to independence.
See 'Crimes against Women in Former Yugoslavia' in Bad Attitude no. 2.
Does this election result, the seige of Sarajevo and the destruction of cities such as Vukovar signal a divide between the urban and rural classes on the question of nationalism? We do not have sufficient information to say conclusively one way or another. Opinions on this matter would be welcome.
Capital's victories can in any case only ever be provisional because it cannot eliminate antagonism, having to posit living labour as its opposite. Regarding the question of war one only has to remember how the first world war ended.
See 'E.M.U.'s In The Class War' in Issue 1 of Aufheben.
As with the U.S. there are major divisions within the Government and even within the two main parties.
Divisions are even deeper within the Russian state, with Yeltsin and his supporters keen to please 'the West', particularly the U.S., and his opponents, notably the old guard in the Red Army, more inclined towards backing their old Slavic allies.
And containment of any possible uprisings in the immediate aftermath of the war.
For an analysis of the opposition to the Gulf War see 'Lessons from the struggle against the Gulf War' in issue 1 of Aufheben.
Socialist Review Issue 165, June 1993.