GLW: The fall of Milosevic -- coup or revolution?

Les Schaffer godzilla at
Sun Oct 29 22:47:00 MST 2000

[bounced > 30 Kb from Norm / Green Left Parramatta
<glparramatta at>. am forwarding only a piece of it, as
it's to appear online shortly. if you want more, say so. Les ]

Mike Karadjis asked me to post this on the list. Perhaps it take
comrades minds of the Brenner controversy. A shorter version will
appear in Green Left Weekly ( ) in coming



The Yugoslav Uprising - Coup or Revolution?

By Michael Karadjis

The federal elections and popular uprising which ousted former
Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic have provoked varied reactions
on the left. Central to the debate is the nature of the transfer of

Two overlapping events occurred. The first was a rearrangement of
power within the ruling elite, replacing the highly tainted Milosevic
with Vojislav Kostunica - a long time advocate of Milosevic's "Greater
Serbia" project who had, however, stood aloof from the barbarous
actions needed to create it.

The second was the dramatic entry of the masses - above all the
powerful Serbian working class - onto the political scene, something
not planned by the ruling elite and its western backers who wanted a
smooth transition in order to maintain capitalist "law and order" and
preserve much of the regime and its state apparatus intact.

Oddly, the nature of these two events has been totally confused by
many on the left. Diana Johnstone, a long time apologist for Serbian
nationalism, saw it this way:

"The "October surprise" was actually two events. One was a democratic
election, made in Serbia. The other was a totally undemocratic putsch,
made in the "international community" ... The democratic election
would have been sufficient to oblige Milosevic to retire ... But the
NATO-backed putschists wanted ... a dramatic media spectacle."

Calling the actions of hundreds of thousands of Serbian workers a
"putsch" is the only way for the pro-Milosevic left to deal with
seeing the working class oust a regime they, for reasons best known to
themselves, consider to be "socialist." It also helps justify their
odd theory that western imperialism is in favour of a working class

Scabbing on the Serbian working-class

For others thrown into deeper disarray by the downfall of their idol,
the anti-working class language is more hysterical. According to
George Szamuely, "throughout the country drunken mobs have been
storming the offices of factories, coalmines, banks and universities
and forcing people to resign ... The managers of Yugoslavia's largest
gold mine and smelter were kicked out, as were the managers at
Zastava, the country's giant carmaker. The Director of the Kolubara
coalmining complex was thrown out, as was the Director of Yugoslav
Coal Production."

He doesn't dare tell the reader that these "drunken mobs" driving out
their corrupt, plutocratic "managers" all over the country are the
long-suffering workers and their new strike committees in these
enterprises. Louis Proyect, whose entire political purpose has crashed
with Milosevic's demise, also claimed the occupation of the national
parliament was carried out by "a drunken, pistol-waving pro-Kostunica
mob." Even Johnstone, on the whole a moderate within this camp,
claimed the "unguarded building was systematically vandalized and set
on fire, causing considerable damage to public property. The
liberators then went on to smash shop windows and steal property in
nearby shopping streets."

This bourgeois "law and order" talk sounds remarkably like Howard's
description of the occupation of parliament house by Australian
workers in 1996.

By "unguarded" she means that, after the police had fired tear gas at
the masses, they became even angrier, so they simply overwhelmed the
police, who gave up. No doubt these good "socialists" would have
preferred the cops to have massacred the workers.

In view of what actually occurred, the best description of all this
drivel is 'scabbing on the Serbian working class.'

The industrial working class was the key force in the uprising, the
occupation of parliament and the continuing "instability." From
September 29, the strikes and occupations and ousters of managers by
thousands of miners at the Kolubara coal mines were the spearhead of
the uprising. Tens of thousands of people from surrounding areas came
to the defence of the workers when police attempted to attack their
picket lines. No doubt Johnstone, Proyect, Szamuely et al would have
again preferred the police to have done a better job and not left the
Milosevic-era management "unguarded".

The working class uprising went far beyond Kolubara. According to
Aleksandar Ciric in Podgorica "Every day a growing number of factories
and enterprises were proclaiming that they were on strike demanding
the true election results. On Thursday October 5, more than one
hundred large companies were on strike, including the former giant
industries such as chemical industries Nevena from Leskovac and Zorka
from Sabac, parts of Bor mining and melting combine, hydro electric
power plant in Bajina Basta, Trajal tire factory and chemical factory
Merima from Krusevac, parts of Kragujevac Zastava, Pancevo fertiliser
factory and petroleum industries, Electric Company of
Serbia... Railway transportation between Belgrade and Bar was
interrupted, and blockades of roads interrupted transportation in the
country for a few hours every day."

Notably, many of these plants were savagely bombed by NATO last year,
particularly Zastava and Pancevo. It is the height of arrogance for
the Milosevic bandwagon to write that workers bombed by NATO are now
rallying to NATO's cause because their leaders are allegedly being
offered a fistful of dollars. These same industrial plants and
industrial towns were already the backbone of the upsurge against
Milosevic last year following the end of NATO's war, an upsurge
betrayed by the very leaders now pretending to have led the current

It is similarly offensive to claim, as Proyect does, that coal miners,
suffering under western sanctions, "closed down the mine in order to
get rid of the enemy of Washington" to get sanctions lifted. Leaving
aside his belief that only sanctions, not the multi-millionaire
plutocracy that fantastically well from sanctions, caused their wages
to fall, it avoids the issue of why sanctions don't work like this in
other cases. Washington's 40-year total embargo on Cuba, far more
stringent than the selective sanctions on Yugoslavia, have not
encouraged Cuban workers to "get rid of the enemy of Washington."
Likewise, the genocidal total embargo on Iraq has not encouraged Iraqi
workers to rise up against "the enemy of Washington." And in this
case, the Hussein regime is a capitalist regime as brutal as that of
Milosevic. The difference is that the Iraqi masses understand they are
being punished for daring to threaten imperialist control of the
oil-fields, and as part of keeping down the Arab nation so as to
protect Washington's colonial client Israel. In the Balkans this is
reversed, with Serbia playing the Israeli role of ethnic cleanser of
the region. Serbian workers have rightly decided there was nothing to
be defended about a regime which had continually sent them to
slaughter their fellow non-Serb workers throughout the region.

Working Class and Kostunica Regime: Clash of Interests

[snip the remaining two-thirds]

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