The Workers Have No Fatherland

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

The workers have no fatherland....


No understanding of the conflict in Kosovo can even be attempted without a clear picture of the development of that Balkan region in the past years. The collapse of Yugoslavia, following the international collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the USSR, and the re-structuring of the region along world market standards resulted in a mayhem of barbaric war and nationalism. The regional differences of the previous economic organisation of Yugoslavia, which the Titoist regime tried to keep controlled through state subsidies and constitutional changes, clearly dominated all the post-socialist economic structural changes, overshadowing the fierce class struggles of the late 70's and early 80's, and thus providing nationalism with a material basis. The bureaucratic elites used this and sought to nationally 'unify' the disobedient proletarians by separating them.

As it was proven, the unified resistance to both nationalism and the subsequent war by the Yugoslav working class was not strong enough to overcome the superficial divisions among the Balkan proletariat. The end of the war in Yugoslavia with the Dayton agreement in 1995 was a victory of nationalism and, as such, decreased the chances of a coherent proletarian offensive against capital, leaving the region open to further explosions of nationalist violence and war, as the current war in Kosovo clearly demonstrates.

The conclusions that can be drawn from the situation are rather pessimistic. Not only the Balkan proletariat (the internal enemy) has failed to successfully resist these developments, but even internationally, the opposition to the war has been ludicrous. Yet, some of the recent developments in the Balkan region, indicate that proletarian resistance has not faded away. The numerous mutinies and desertions in the Serbian Army showed that, amidst Nato's bombs and Serbia's strict martial laws, there were proletarians who chose to be enemies of 'their' state. And this was one of the most inspiring and rational moments in this irrational war.

The nature of the Yugoslav Economy

Ever since Tito disassociated socialist Yugoslavia from the USSR in 1948, the country worked on the basis of so-called workers' self-management and state planning. In contrast to the rest of the Eastern bloc, Yugoslavia's economy was more open to western capital, and as such during the cold war Yugoslavia was seen as a mediator between the Western and Eastern economies. This facilitated the relative prosperity of the country. However, the socialist determination to smooth the antagonism between labour and capital through the absence of a proper labour market and the dedication to full employment meant that labour discipline was not maintained: the state-regulated labour market prevented the mass sacking of workers, resulting in low levels of unemployment. The discipline of the workers of Yugoslavia was thus not as easy to maintain as in the West.

Yet the Yugoslav economy was also characterised by great differences among the various regions. Slovenia and Croatia were more developed regions because of their closer connections with the Austrian-Hungarian empire, German capital and lack of serious infrastructure damage during the 2nd World War, whereas Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo were primarily agricultural areas. Serbia constituted the middle ground and embodied the administrative functions of state economic planning. These regional differences were kept under relative control through state subsidies to the less developed regions, and through constitutional arrangements. Eventually, however, the peaceful co-existence of the different regions was undermined by the radicalisation of the working class[1], and the accumulation of money-capital in the more developed regions.

The development of the economy in the 50's and early 60's had increased the number of industrial wage-labourers[2]. When the first liberalising reforms were initiated in the 1960's by a faction of the Yugoslav ruling class which favoured the facilitation of the accumulation of money-capital in the more developed regions, this working class reacted forcefully through wildcat strikes and violent confrontations with the Yugoslav police. This radicalism influenced a faction of students, and in 1968 a student revolt exploded which sought to unite the existing class struggle with a coherent critique of alienation, thus making the qualitative step towards a major offensive against capital. At the same time, big riots broke out in Kosovo which, although termed nationalist, reflected the reaction to the economic reforms of one of the poorer regions more than its ethnic divisions.

The student revolt was suppressed by the state machine, and as a response to the Kosovo riots, further subsidies were made to the less developed regions. However, the growing intervention of the banking system in the economy meant a re-orientation towards profit making and thus less money to the 'inefficient' south.

The International Crisis and Proletarian resistance

When the international crisis of the 70's hit Yugoslavia the impact was devastating, and soon the ruling class was looking for ways of dealing with the huge internal crisis. Thus, in 1974 constitutional changes were introduced which reduced the power of the Federal state and attempted to accommodate regional differences. The regions were transformed into autonomous regions, and Yugoslavia into a confederation of semi-sovereign states which had independent economic policies, police and the right to veto Federal decisions. However, none of the changes satisfied the regions, which, as a result of the growing economic differences between them, had already started reacting to economic reforms on a regional basis. The more developed regions were dissatisfied due to the political restrictions on the flow of money- capital, Serbia reacted to the loss of power of the Federal state, while the less developed regions were concerned because the regional restructuring positioned them as a permanent 'third world' within Yugoslavia, since the reforms did not affect the structural reasons for their gradual impoverishment. Gradually, regional tensions created a material basis for the development of nationalism.

The inability to cope with the crisis led Yugoslavia to join the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1980, which automatically imposed heavy austerity measures which shifted the burden of the crisis to the working class. The proletariats' nasty habits of wildcat strikes and riots were demonstrated once again, but the IMF proved to be successful. The rise of unemployment and the decrease of the real wages of the workers indicated that the western-style regulation of the labour force was more efficient in imposing labour discipline than its socialist counterparts. Yet, this was not sufficient, and the elites of Slovenia and Croatia started considering the prospect of secession from Yugoslavia as a more efficient way of coping with the crisis.

At the same time the conditions of the IMF and subsequent government measures which clearly favoured the more developed regions further ignited regional tensions. In 1981 big riots broke out in Kosovo, again more of an indication of growing impoverishment than a clear nationalist expression. However, it was now clear that the propagation of nationalism was facilitated by the ongoing economic impoverishment of the less developed regions.

In 1986 further riots were reported in Kosovo, and separatist voices were now more visible, although not yet dominant. However, the situation had changed from previous years. By now, Serbian nationalism had already begun to be propagated by a number of intellectuals.[3] The fact that many Serbs left the economic poverty of Kosovo and moved towards Serbia where there were more chances for them to survive, was exploited by the growing nationalist faction of the Serb bourgeoisie as a sign that Serbs were being driven out by Albanian nationalists. The result was an escalation of the institutionalised discrimination against the Albanians (declaration of martial law in Kosovo), a process which essentially meant that Kosovars did not only have to face the poverty of the region, but ethnic racism as well. The mass sacking of Albanian workers on the basis of their ethnic origin was a step taken by the Serb nationalists which almost necessarily implied a nationalist response on behalf of the Albanians.

By 1987, in the more developed regions of Slovenia and Croatia, demands for further liberalisation and the withdrawal of the political restrictions on the accumulation of money-capital, were conjoined with demands for national independence. The Serb bourgeoisie was divided between those who wished to maintain a unified Yugoslavia but were incapable of halting the economic developments which gave rise to nationalist aspirations, and those who chose to oppose the separatist tensions through Serb nationalism. The latter's claim was simple: any non-Serb nationalism was to be dealt with militarily. At the same time, further attempts to integrate the Yugoslav economy into the western market took the form of mass sackings, wage decreases and constitutional changes in the legal aspects of capitalist exploitation (abolition of the pseudo-self-management, liberalisation of the labour market, decentralisation of the banking system, etc). Resistance to these plans was fierce[4], forcefully demonstrating that suppression of proletarian resistance was the only way through which the Yugoslav economy could be adjusted to its new standards. The interests of western capital and of the local bureaucrats of Slovenia and Croatia became identical.

The legitimisation of capitalist social relations was in need of a new political structure, which at this point could only take the form of new nation-states which would divide, police and re-compose the proletariat on the basis of national identity.

The nationalist faction of the Serb bourgeoisie found its expression in Milosevic, whose nationalism reached its peak in 1989 when he organised a rally in Kosovo to propagate Serb nationalism, at a time when 81.9% of the population[5] (the overwhelming majority of whom are Albanian) were living below the poverty line! Soon after, the autonomous status of Kosovo was revoked and the region was re-integrated into Serbia.

Nationalism and Anti-nationalism in Yugoslavia

Meanwhile however, the international context was rapidly changing. The Eastern Bloc collapsed, and the subsequent instability brought about a further ignition of nationalism, since the Slovenian and Croatian elites saw this as an opportunity to proceed with the dismantling of Yugoslavia.

Yet the moves towards nationalism did not proceed unopposed. Seeing the growth of nationalism as an attempt to divide the working class, significant parts of the Yugoslav proletariat set up independent trade unions and anti-nationalist organisations, coupled with a new wave of wildcat strikes[6]. The continuing attempts at privatisation and dismantling the 'self-management' structures were fiercely opposed throughout all regions. Nonetheless, such unity was hard to sustain. In the midst of nationalist hysteria, the promises of material gains that a potential independence could bring to the workers of the more developed regions (at the expense of the Serb minorities) won the day.

In June 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence[7]. The Serb-led Federal Army chose to respond by declaring a state of emergency and by sending troops to take over Slovenia's border posts and the main airport. But the Slovenian army proved to be well prepared and managed to resist the Federal Army's forces. At the same time, the internal enemy in Serbia used the anti-nationalist organisations and the independent trade-unions as the basis for an anti-war movement, resulting in massive desertions[8] and big anti-war demonstrations. The independence of Slovenia was a matter of fact in only 10 days.

In Croatia things developed in a totally different way, since there was a significant Serb minority which proved to be a problem for Croatia's independence. The consequent repression they faced following the declaration of independence of Croatia, enabled the Serb bourgeoisie to present their military response as a natural response aiming at protecting the 'Serb brothers and sisters' facing persecution.

Western Intervention in the Balkans

Western interference in the war placed the Yugoslav conflict more deeply in an international context. Yet, the interests of the Western countries differed. In Europe, the first country which openly favoured the break up of Yugoslavia was Germany[9]. The collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the re-unification with East Germany had boosted Germany's imperialist aspirations south-eastwards. The immediate recognition of Slovenia and Croatia without any prior arrangements[10] demonstrated that Germany was very keen on creating a German sphere of influence in the Balkans. And although the rest of the European Union shared neither the interests of Germany nor its determination, their pre-occupation with spelling out the Maastricht Treaty, as well as the long-run interests of a westernised and competitive Slovenia and Croatia, led them to adopt the German line. When the EU was placed as the mediator between Slovenia, Croatia and Yugoslavia, the break-up was a fait accompli.

US capital, on the other hand, was at first more eager to keep Yugoslavia unified so as to ensure that the shock therapy loans of the IMF were repaid. However, when the developments in the Balkans changed due to European intervention, the US realised that their policy towards Yugoslavia would leave them out of the game, and that competitive and independent republics in the region might well be more suitable for US interests. Germany's moves, which by now had the support of the EU, posed the threat of European superiority in the Balkans, a development most definitely not favourable to US/Nato dominance in Europe. As a result, a new approach to the Balkans was sought, and most specifically one which would not merely condone the one held by the European States.

In January 1992 the US intervened in the conflict by pushing the Izetbegovic government in Bosnia to push for independence[11]. Aware that the military infrastructure necessary for a proper intervention in the Yugoslav conflict could not be provided by the European states[12], the US-led Nato force called for an air-borne 'bombing campaign'. This strategy ensured that, since no US troops would be coming back to their 'mother-country' in body-bags, anti-war resistance would be minimal. Coupled with a skilfully constructed spectacle of humanitarian ideology, the first bombs in Yugoslavia landed with the blessing of the liberal population of 'Western civilisation'.

After the War

The war ended with the Dayton Agreement in 1995, which simply confirmed that Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia were independent republics. The process of restructuring these new nation-states took mainly the form of austerity measures and repression of any dissidence on the basis that 'all need to sacrifice for this newly acquired national freedom', the attempt to reconcile class antagonisms under the watchful eye of the national leadership. Economic development however has been confined to Slovenia and Croatia - due to their previous connections with West European capital and not least in Croatia due to Tudjman's dictatorial rule. In Bosnia however, foreign investors do not seem to be queuing up outside the borders. In fact, Bosnia has remained a wrecked landscape, with unemployment levels much higher than the pre-war period. The war for national independence made Bosnia a military protectorate of Nato, whose prolonged presence in the area was probably meant to ensure that the agreements (such as the economic embargo on Serbia) were kept by all sides.

Yet the Dayton Agreement completely ignored the issue of Kosovo and the Albanian population which, since the revocation of its autonomous status in 1989, felt all the more abandoned by the West. By 1992, in the middle of the civil war in Yugoslavia, the Albanians in Kosovo started looking to Albania as the possible saviour of their deteriorating living conditions, a shift that alarmed the western powers, and more particularly the US.

'Communist' (read: state-capitalist) Albania had never supported the cause of the separatist Kosovars, for the simple reason that such an approach would have endangered Hoxha's important trade relations with Yugoslavia. As such, up until the 1980's, Albania had better relations with Belgrade than with Kosovo, a fact that alienated many Kosovars, but which never reached any serious degree because -as we mentioned- there was no dominant separatist Kosovar-Albanian movement.

The developments of the 80's and 90's however had led to the emergence of separatism in Kosovo. The collapse of the Eastern bloc and the anticipated changes in Albania itself led many Kosovar-Albanians to believe that these changes would also affect Albania's relation to Kosovo. And when the democratic party of Sali Berisha won the 1992 elections, the expectation was that a westernised Albania would pay more attention to its Kosovar 'brothers and sisters'.

The West however had a slightly different opinion on the matter. Berisha was certainly used to bring about stability in Albania and he received considerable subsidies by the West for beginning a process of integration to the world market. Yet, the most crucial purpose of the deal for subsidies was to ensure that the borders between Albania and Yugoslavia (and Kosovo) were kept well-guarded. The reason for that was that the West feared that separatists Kosovar-Albanians might take advantage of the chaotic situation caused by the Yugoslav civil war to push for Kosovar becoming independent from Yugoslavia to join the 'Greater Albania'.

Berisha proved to be a loyal dog (he was after all a find of British Intelligence). The borders were kept closed, and no connections existed between the government of Berisha and the Kosovars-Albanians.

However, when the war ended, so did the subsidies to Albania. The West had no direct interest in maintaining this 'economic aid', and Berisha was left alone. His economic policies from then onwards were disastrous. On the one hand, he created fake pyramids-enterprises (with Italian and Greek capital in the background) to which many people in Albania 'invested' their minimal incomes; on the other hand he facilitated emigration as a way of increasing the state revenue, aware of the fact that the money earned by the immigrants abroad would soon find their way back into Albania. Yet, when the pyramids collapsed and the people's 'investments' went up in smoke in 1996, even Berisha's repressive regime was not able to control the masses of proletarians, disillusioned by the sudden tremendous impoverishment. A revolt broke out and soon after the total collapse of the state followed.

The West did intervene in order to bring things back to 'normal', yet in this case the intervention was not accompanied by either humanitarian ideology nor spectacular media coverage, since the only atrocities committed were those of the hated secret police of the West's favourite Berisha.

However, an important result of the Albanian revolt was that the formerly well guarded borders between Albania and Yugoslavia were no longer 'well guarded'[13], and some of the 750,000 Kalashnikovs appropriated by the proletariat soon reached the emerging KLA in Kosovo.

The Next Day in the Balkans

The immediate background to the war, its actual process and implications will not be discussed here -they have been sufficiently dealt with in the 'Nato's War Against Yugoslavia' article. It is however interesting to look at some of the implications of the war in Kosovo for the neighbouring Balkan nation-states.

Firstly, the war provided the West with the opportunity to restructure Albania. On the one hand there was the KLA which (forcibly or not) re-appropriated the Kalashnikovs of the revolt for its national liberation army, and, on the other hand, the mediocre government of Fatos Nano in Albania gave control over the country to Nato's forces. The reason for that was that the Albanian revolt of 1996/1997 was never suppressed, but had simply withered away due to its own contradictions. And although no one could speak of a revolutionary situation in Albania before the war in Kosovo, the fact remains that the Albanian proletariat was still armed. And, potentially, when the proletariat is armed, the revolution is armed.

Secondly, although, as we've argued, the West does not have any direct capitalist interests in Kosovo or Serbia, Greece and Italy do[14]. It is thus no surprise that the countries with the most investments in the area were at the same time the most 'reluctant' ones to condone Nato's bombing campaign. It is equally of no surprise that, following an invitation by the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, the capitalists who have major investments in the Balkans pointed out the strategic location of their factories so that they were not going to be bombed by Nato -and they weren't. This information is crucial in understanding the majority of protests against the war in Greece, most of which were unofficially supported by the government. The fact is that the Greek government had absolutely nothing to lose from tolerating a bit of anti-Americanism within Greece, let alone one coupled with Greek nationalism. The majority of the protestors in Greece went along with this, overlooking the fact that Greece is in Nato. Furthermore, by keeping a distant solidarity with Serbia, Greece ensured that it could position itself as a "...favourable negotiator-mediator for the western businesses who will be potentially interested in investments in the region" (Economy and Business, ELEUQEROTUPIA, Greek Journal, 10-11 April 1999). The over-enthusiasm about the Greek protests against the war, visible in many of the anti-war literature, was hence gravely misleading.

(lots of info for this article from Aufheben #2 and Wildcat [UK]: From Wage-Cuts to War)

[1] We're not of course implying that the class struggle was directly responsible for the eventual collapse of Yugoslavia, but that the dynamic of working class resistance forced the ruling class to respond with attempts to divide the proletariat - nationalism was one of the most crucial ones.

2 From 1953 until 1965 1 million peasants were turned into wage labourers, Aufheben no. 2, 'Yugoslavia Unravelled', 1992

3 In January 1986 the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences produced a manifesto of xenophobic nationalism called the Memorandum, in which, among other nationalist bullshit, an ultra-nationalist movement of the 2nd World War, the Chetniks, was praised. Its purpose was to activate the authorities against the supposed genocide of the Serb population in Kosovo.

4 1500 strikes and 385,000 strikers in 1987; 1360 strikes in the first months of 1988.

5 At the same time, in Slovenia the percentage is only 2.9%. Once again, this testifies for the fact that the economic crisis affected the different regions in different degrees.

6 One important incident being the occupation of the parliament by 5,000 Serb and Croat strikers.

7 Even the bourgeois press was forced to draw the connection between this move and the class struggle: as the Financial Times pointed out (June 27, 1991), the moment that Slovenia and Croatia chose to declare independence coincided with a 700,000 strong strike in Serbia.

8 From the beginning of the war since the summer of 1993 it was reported that 80% of the Federal Army's conscripts had deserted.

9 Austria and the Vatican had also shown that they favoured the independence aspirations of Slovenia and Croatia, but their influence and dynamic cannot be compared with Germany's.

10 The European Union's demand for assurances that the Serb minority of either Slovenia but most importantly Croatia was to be protected was by-passed by the German government.

11 Bosnia was divided between the Bosnian Croats, the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims, none of which were a clear majority. Any attempts to independence led with mathematical precision to barbaric war.

12 As we mentioned, the European States were more concerned at the time with the Maastricht Treaty and with the economic implications of a European monetary unification. Clearly, the necessary military expenditure for the Balkan conflict could not have been justified amidst massive austerity measures imposed by the Treaty.

13 The Army of Albania had deteriorated since the soldiers either went home or joined the revolt.

14 The Greek Telecommunications company (OTE) and its Italian counterpart recently bought 49% of Serbia Telecom, while OTE by itself already controls 35% of the Romanian Telecom and 51% of the Bulgarian Telecom. Furthermore, the Greek Steel Industry MUTILHNAIOS has signed a 5 year contract with the Trepca mines in Kosovo; the dairy products company DELTA invested 4 billion drachmas (aprox. 10 million pounds) in an ice-cream factory in Belgrade; and the construction company DIEKAT participates along with other companies in the construction of the Belgrade Metro. Meanwhile, one of the most important FIAT factories is in Yugoslavia.