Louis N Proyect
lnp3 at columbia.edu
Sun Jul 23 15:13:54 MDT 1995
The root cause of the war in Yugoslavia is not ethnic or religious
hatred. It is instead the social and economic crisis which has gripped
Eastern Europe in the recent period and which led to the downfall of
Communist Party rule throughout the region.
In the case of Yugoslavia, the ruling party's roots in the proletarian
revolution led by Tito's partisans did not spare it from the crisis.
Following the recession of 1974-1975, investment declined, the
foreign debt escalated, production fell, and unemployment grew
rapidly. The economic crisis caused 600,00 Yugoslav workers to seek
work in Germany alone. Yugoslavia's dubious embrace of "market
socialism" increased its dependency on western finance capital and
heightened the economic crisis in ways similar to the current crisis in
Under the impact of these strains, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia
began to disintegrate in January 1990. The split of the party took place
along the regional lines demarking the former Yugoslav Federal
Republic. Each of the local former CP ruling groups tried to cut deals
with imperialism to ease the economic burden of their region. While
reaching out to imperialism, they simultaneously enflamed nationalist
feelings among their populations in order to provide a popular base for
their actions. The most pernicious expression of this tendency is the
Slobodan Milosevic regime in Serbia.
The various ruling groups of the former Yugoslavia had been veering
toward regional competition long before the economic crisis of the
1990's. In the 1960's and 1970's, the Croatian Communists demanded
that income from the lucrative tourist areas along the Dalmatian coast
to be funneled exclusively to Croatia. Each region began to strive
toward self-sufficiency, a move that worked to the detriment of less-
developed areas. By 1985, for example, the income of the average
Slovenian was 70% higher than that of the average Macedonian. By
1989, it was 125% more.
When Tito was alive, he was able to subordinate regional tensions to
his own Bonapartist authoritarian rule. After his death, each regional
party power grouping began maneuvering toward its own advantage.
The first two territories to stake out on their own were Croatia and
Serbia. Slovenia followed shortly afterward. Violence was relatively
constrained in these areas because each contained a relatively
homogeneous ethnic and religious constituency. Bosnia-Herzegovina
became such a killing ground because the state was fairly evenly
divided between Serb, Croat and Islamic communities. Some, like
Alexander Cockburn, argue that war in Bosnia was not entirely the
fault of the Serbs. He claims that the Islamic-dominated local
government expressed a desire for an Islamic state and this frightened
the rural Serb population into a defensive war. I don't see much point
in Marxists trying to assign blame in this unfortunate situation. Our
goal should be try to point to a way out.
In that context, I believe that it is a mistake to call upon imperialist
troops to intervene. When people of conscience, including people on
this list, call upon "the world" to intervene, we can fall into the trap of
concealing the class nature of the various governments that make up
"the world". These governments are based on capitalist rule and never
act in way contrary to the particular interests of their own national
Not even the UN is above class criteria. The UN is dominated by
imperialist powers and never acts against the interests of imperialism.
The Korean War, one of the bloodiest of the last 50 years, was
basically a counter-revolution underwritten by imperialism and staffed
by UN troops. The UN was also culpable in the murder of Patrice
Lumumba in the Congo. The UN is incapable of acting in the
name of peace as long as the number one warmaker in the world--the
United States--is in the driver's seat. There was a time when the Soviet
bloc could put a break on these counter-revolutionary tendencies, but
with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is nothing to stand in the
way of the UN acting in the interests of imperialism.
As comrade Nello points out, we should be solidarizing ourselves with
progressive and antiwar forces in the former Yugoslavia. I had the
opportunity to meet Yugoslavian radicals in the 1960's around the
time of the student struggles in Belgrade for "a Red University" and
can attest to the genuinely internationalist and socialist character of
While it is perhaps too late to stop the slaughter in Bosnia, it seems to
me that the best way to block carnage of this sort in the future is to
build international solidarity and to re-construct a world socialist
movement. Jeffrey Booth is right to invoke Lenin and Zimmerwald.
Instead of aligning ourselves with the governments of the United
States, England, France and Germany, we should be building ties to
working people and peasants without regard to nationality, religion,
etc. It seems as long as the world is drifting toward nationalism and
war at the end of the 21st century, our task should be the same as
Lenin's: to stand apart from the slaughter and defend the humanitarian
principles of socialism. Anything else seems quixotic.
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