Yugoslavia and the issue of "political revolution."

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at SPAMbellsouth.net
Thu Oct 12 22:07:53 MDT 2000

Anthony wrote:

>>I think that there now can be no doubt, taking all of these accounts into
account, that a democratic revolution is occurring against Milosevic's
corrupt, pro-imperialist, and decadent regime.

>>The working class has decisively entered the struggle against Milosovice
and the decrepit bureaucracy.

>>A "February Revolution" has taken place - but in a decrepid and senile
workers state.<<

I hesitate to write about Yugoslavia, about which I know little. But this
issue is raising all kinds of questions for me and I wanted to share some of
my thinking and get feedback from people.

It seems pretty clear that a "political revolution" has taken place in
Yugoslavia. It is, yes, a revolution against a bureaucratic leadership, and
all that, I guess. And while I'm willing to concede that on some level
Milosovic is "pro-imperialist," that's not the reason he's being overthrown,
he's being overthrown because he's on the outs with the imperialists. I just
don't see how that can be questioned.

I'm not sure why Anthony considers Yugoslavia to be a decrepit and senile
workers state. I don't see him using such adjectives about, say, the U.S.,
German or Japanese imperialists. And if things were a little run down in
Belgrade of late, that may not have been due exclusively to Milosovic,
perhaps 10 years of imperialist economic and political attacks as well as a
shooting war or two had something to do with it.

    As for Milosovic himself, even assuming that absolutely every accusation
leveled against him and his friends is true, from ethnic cleansing and
genocide to stealing the CNN satellite uplink and being better-looking that
Christiane Amanpour, why would the replacement of Milosevic with those who
represent not just individual criminals, but a criminal system be an
improvement? They say they want to try him for his crimes, and if it is true
he's a criminal, then I'm all for it -- just as soon as the trials of the
NATO generals and NATO political leaders who ordered the bombing of
civilians, and the trials of the hangmen of the Basque and Irish patriots,
can be gotten out of the way. Because placing on trial someone who may be a
criminal who is now out of power is not NEARLY as important as placing on
trial the criminals who are still in power. And of course, by trying their
own war criminals first, the NATO countries could give the world a practical
demonstration of the impartiality of these international courts they keep
wanting to set up.

    Nor do I understand why Anthony thinks that going BACK to February AFTER
October opens up such boundless possibilities.

    I'd like comrades to consider a possibility. Let's assume (again, as
usual, on Yugoslavia I do not know) that this was a genuine workers
movement, deeply rooted in the proletariat and all that. And let's take into
account the impression one gets that there is no pro-socialist wing among
these workers. Can't it be said, and should it not be said that THIS workers
movement is a REACTIONARY worker's movement?

    Can there be such a thing? On this sort of scale?

    I believe there can be such a thing. What does it represent? It
represents a movement by this working class, or some section of it, to
become part of the international aristocracy of labor, to become a "white
European" working class rather than a "third world" working class, to throw
their lot in with the oppressors.
To use Malcolm X's analogy, they want to be "house niggers" instead of
"field niggers."

    The social base of the proletarian movement, of the communist movement,
is decidedly among the "field niggers," --who have nothing to loose but
their chains-- and not among the "house niggers," who don't wear chains at
all, and who never feel the overseers lash, what with chains and blood being
so upsetting to the ladies of the house and all. And it really isn't even
among those in the fields with welts on their backs and chains around their
legs who think the way to solve their problems is to be "good" slaves so
they, too, can be assigned to relatively privileged quarters.

    I read this as an attempt to restore a relatively privileged situation,
which, clearly, on a world scale, the workers in Eastern Europe and the
USSR, including Yugoslavia, enjoyed. It's what tied them to the bureaucracy,
and through the bureaucracy, to imperialism. Now that imperialism has been
on the war path against the Yugoslav workers state, which of necessity meant
against ALSO whoever was the current leadership of that state, the workers,
if the reports that depict this as a genuine workers movement are true, have
moved to cut out this middleman.

    That's why they're making a pro-imperialist BOURGEOIS-democratic
revolution. And if things do turn out that the movement to restore
capitalism fails, and instead the socialist character of Yugoslavia is
reaffirmed, that will be due to the people generally lined up against THIS
revolution having won out.

    And thus we come four-square to the issue of political revolution. I
wanted to post earlier on this in the thread about how "for a political
revolution against the bureaucracy and for workers democracy" is an
"outdated" slogan. I'm not too sure just was comrades meant by that, and I'm
not sure I even saw all the posts, I've been quite busy, but I've become
pretty convinced of one thing: this idea is dead wrong as a strategic axis
for revolutionaries.

    The strategic axis for revolutionaries EVERYWHERE, and ESPECIALLY in a
workers state, is the world struggle against imperialism, solidarity,
proletarian internationalism, you know, what it SAYS on the cover of the
manifesto: workers of the world unite.

It is THIS consciousness among the workers which after decades of
bureaucratic misrule was finally extinguished in the Soviet Union and which
made it possible for the wannabee bourgeoisie of the Yeltsinite bureaucracy
to stage its counterrevolutionary dismemberment of the USSR and leading to
capitalist restoration.

    The road is not that of Lech Walesa and Solidarnosc, not that of Gorby,
not that of Brezhnev and Andropov, and not that of Khruschev (though I still
have a soft spot in my heart for Khruschev: he turned the USSR away from at
least some of the most inhuman aspects of Stalin's reign; denounced, at
least partly Stalin's crimes and fabrications; led humanity into the space
age; supported and defended Cuba when it was most necessary; and saved the
world from nuclear annihilation at the hands of those hysterical idiots, the
Kennedy brothers. I think one could do a lot worse than go down in history
as Nikita Khruschev).

The real road is that of Che (and Fidel), not the tactic of creating a foco
or a strategic approach of guerrilla warfare or even armed struggle in
general, but of solidarity, proletarian internationalism, the building of
socialism as a conscious, political effort, of subordinating your own needs
to the needs of the overall struggle against imperialism.

    This would mean, for example, that the strategic axis of revolutionary
minded workers in the USSR in the 1980s was not to support --however
critically-- Gorby's "democratic" reforms, but to build the movements in
solidarity with the Nicaraguan and southern African revolutions. Notice I
said "strategic axis." I don't mean that I think revolutionary minded
workers should have opposed perestroika and glasnost and insisted on the
reimposition of Stalinist rigidity and hypocrisy.

    But "Send Migs to Managua" is what I think people should have been
shouting, not "down with the bureaucracy."

    "Down with the bureaucracy" is the slogan of the liberal, procapitalist
opposition, and what they mean by it is down with the bureaucracy that
enforces the state monopoly of foreign trade, down with the bureaucracy that
administers the social conquests of the workers and peasants, down with the
bureaucracy that runs the schools, etc. WE, are at least I am not at all for
"DOWN" with those bureaucracies, on the contrary, I want to reform them and
improve them and restore their true sense of dignity and worth by fusing
them as closely as possible with the working people.

    That this is the REAL meaning of the liberals' and democrats' and even
narrow trade unionists "down with the bureaucracy," has been made clear by
the past ten years. Yeltsin stayed. The state monopoly of foreign trade, the
planning board, the institutions that ran social services, that's what went.

    In the 80s, I now think I would have tried doing in Moscow exactly the
same kind of thing people were doing in the U.S. and elsewhere, promoting
material solidarity, with Nicaragua, Cuba, Grenada, southern Africa,
collecting donations, holding meetings to talk about these struggles,
publicizing the speeches by their leaders, protesting in front of the U.S.
embassy, trying to get local governments to adopt sister city resolutions
and programs.

    It would, I assume, have been a fight with the bureaucracy for the right
of working people to aid their Nicaraguan, etc.,  brothers and sisters. We
would fight for this democratic right, the right to promote revolution,
solidarity, internationalism, but, after the experience of 1989-1991, and
now Yugoslavia, I do not believe if one is conscious of the tremendous
damage done by the bureaucracy to the very soul of the revolution, the
consciousness of working people, that one can or should fight for free
speech for the CIA, free speech for the parties that take millions of
dollars from imperialism, and so on.

    Of course, if the imperialists choose to disarm, choose to stop spying
and subversion, and have a purely ideological fight under gentlemen's rules,
THAT would be an entirely different matter.

    I do not believe it would have been illegal, or unjust, or Stalinist, or
undemocratic for the Yugoslav government to have adopted, as an elementary
measure of defense of its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,
which has been under direct economic, political and military attack by
imperialism, a prohibition on political parties accepting foreign financial
or material aid in general or from the imperialist countries in particular.
Even the United States has such a law (although I half expect that at the
next round of world trade negotiations the European capitalists will insist
on their right to equal access to the American politician market).

    I do not believe it is coincidence that the more "democratic" the USSR
got, under Gorby, the more cravenly pro-imperialist did its foreign policy
become. I believe there is a deep and underlying class connection.
Proletarian democracy is not merely the fulfillment of bourgeois democracy.
It is not a matter of filling the empty bourgeois-democratic forms with some
real content. It is the NEGATION of bourgeois democracy. It is not
"representative" democracy, it is not a "marketplace of ideas," it is
direct, participatory democracy, as totally different both in form and
content and in every other way from bourgeois democracy as are the sun and
the moon are from each other, however much from to the naked eye from the
earth they may look like very similar bodies, only one being much brighter.

    As to which is better, the old USSR under Khruschev, Brezhnev, Gorby et
al, or capitalist Germany, I suspect the answer to that question depends on
who you are and what class you are in. If you're a big banker, the old USSR
was the very antitheses of democracy. If you're one of the millions of
workers slowly starving to death RIGHT NOW in the country that is no longer
the land of Lenin, and precisely because it is no longer the land of Lenin,
I suspect your point of view will be decidedly different.

    The essence of proletarian democracy is the beginning of doing away the
contradiction between society and the individual. Bourgeois society presents
itself to human beings as an alien organism. You can be FOR or AGAINST it
going this way or that way, you can even VOTE for it to go this way or that,
but what you can't do is FORCE it to do so. Not even the capitalists or
their governments can do so fundamentally, and in this sense they are as
much prisoners of their own system as anyone else (as Marx pointed out in
some of his early writings).

    What proletarian democracy is about is actually getting the bloody thing
to DO what you (collectively) want it to do, and in achieving that, MOST of
the voting is done in your actual day-to-day social practice. This is what
makes institutionalized forms of direct, participatory proletarian democracy
so important, because you can't really do that without organizations in
which the masses of people directly participate and discuss through what is
to be done. It gives the insititutions of proletarian democracy such a
radically different character and form from elected bourgeois parliaments,
boards, councils and officials, that we often do not recognize them for what
they are. Things like block committees, union locals, youth organizations,
women's groups, associations of professionals, if they are not mere
appendages of a bureaucratic caste, are the foundations on which the more
recognizable forms of proletarian democratic institutions, such as the Cuban
organs on people's power, soviets, etc, rest. Without the entire social base
of the revolutionary process organized in such a way, the "higher"
institutions become merely representative and degenerate into meaningless,
bourgeois forms.

    That said, I don't believe the soviet union was done in by the lack of
"democracy," in general but by the lack of internationalism, of solidarity,
of class political consciousness. It was done in by turning "workers of the
world unite" into an empty slogan devoid of all content. And I do not
believe there can BE proletarian democracy WITHOUT that content, which is
why a struggle for "democracy" and "democratic rights" in general in a
workers state under the kinds of conditions that prevail, and have prevailed
since 1917, leads you straight into the arms of the imperialists. Trotsky
understood this perfectly, which is why he never called for democracy in
general, but only for those recognized by genuine workers soviets as forming
part of the movement.

    I suspect that much of what the USec wing of the Trotskyist movement
said about the strategic issues of the workers states, workers democracy,
political revolution, the three sectors of world revolution and so on was
*fundamentally* wrong. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. and
probably there is no better proof than Poland, where the organization and
the figures that had been thrown up by the workers "antibureaucratic"
movement did come to dominate the state institutions, and they immediately
began to dismantle the institutional framework that represented the historic
gains of the working class, i.e., the workers state.

    We may say, but the Yugoslavs had their OWN revolution, so this will
turn out differently than it did in other places in Eastern Europe. But the
Russians, too, had had their own revolution.

    One last thought: if comrades are right in saying this was essentially
one more Stalinist, bureaucratic regime, then this situation once again
confirms the extraordinary fragility of such regimes. And it raises even
more questions in my mind about the use of the term "political revolution"
at all in connection with them or as a central strategic concept. The
post-1989 Soviet and East European experiences among other things confirmed
that these bureaucratic layers are not a new social class. Their cohesion as
a social layer tends to fall apart very quickly, which, of course, is
precisely why they almost invariably rule by keeping society in a

    In actually thinking through the kinds of things revolutionaries in such
societies might say, "political revolution" doesn't pop into my mind first.
The first things that come into my mind are a) the need for an
internationalist policy based on solidarity and b) the need to defend the
workers state against any attempt to dismantle it and c) the need for
structural reforms through which the working people can more directly
exercise their power through that state.

    Viewed in Marxist, class terms, "Political revolution" is essentially a
reformist program. It does not question the underlying property relations,
social organization, nor many state insistitutions, which embody those, but
rather the political leadership at the top of the state apparatus and the
policy- and decision-making structure that determines who will be at the top
and what they will do. It marks a change in the political, not the
socio-economic regime. In this sense, once could even speak of a sort-of
"political revolution" in México with the last election, and certainly in
Latin American countries that have gone between bourgeois democracy and
military dictatorships. These "political revolutions"  or changes in
political regime have sometimes been accomplished quite violently, but at
other times they have been brought about in relatively controlled ways. In
principle, I cannot see why such a relatively "cold" "political revolution"
could not arise in a workers state that was bureaucratized. Sure, there
would be a political crisis, most likely, protests and demonstrations and so
on, it could not be cold in that sense, without a mass movement of working
people. But whether it of necessity would involve armed clashes and an
actual "overthrow of the government" and a "seizure of power" by force,
well, it isn't clear to me that it necessarily would. Trotsky himself
speculated in the 30s that a substantial wing of the bureaucracy when a
crisis came would break with Stalinism and side with the working people.

    I do not believe that's the way most post-Trotsky Trotskyists thought of
political revolution, nor the political axis and content that they give the
changes they call for. And they have so come to fetishize the idea and the
phrase of "political revolution" so much that when one comes along, it is
greeted and hailed as a good thing, even though, clearly, this political
revolution is one that seeks a capitalist restoration and is directed not so
much against Milosovic as against the workers state itself, i.e., a
political revolution that wants to "grow over" into a capitalist
restoration. Milosovic just got in the way. But time will tell the tale on
this; whether I'm right or wrong about it, the outcome will not change no
matter how many polemics comrades write to convince me that this one really
is different from all the rest and so on. I don't believe leopards change
their spots and I don't believe revolutions change their class character and
although I know little about Yugoslavia, I know enough to say that this one
has got "imperialist-sponsored bourgeois restoration -- Made in the USA"
stamped all over it.

    On the broader programmatic issue, which is really what I'd like
feedback on, I think today, AFTER the revolutions in Eastern Europe, and,
I'm afraid, in Yugoslavia, too, I think the workers revolution against the
bureaucracy for democracy or anything else like that has been shown by
history to have a strictly bourgeois, counterrevolutionary content.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Louis Proyect" <lnp3 at panix.com>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Thursday, October 12, 2000 9:28 AM
Subject: Forwarded from Anthony

Hi Lou!

Please post this.

I want to thank you for posting the very conflicting accounts of events in

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