|Statement of the International Workers’ Committee:
Uprising ousts Milosevic regime
- Down with Milosevic! Down with Kostunica! Workers to power!
- No privatizations! No mass unemployment! For workers’ control!
- Stop the NATO-sponsored breakup of Yugoslavia! For a Balkan socialist federation!
THE UPRISING in Belgrade that overthrew the regime of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was the end of a process that began over a decade ago.
The more than 400,000 demonstrators that descended on the Yugoslav parliament on October 5 managed to do something that neither NATO bombs nor imperialist “diplomacy” could do — remove Milosevic from the top office in the country. And it took the combined efforts of the “democratic” opposition and the trade unions to do so.
The working-class presence at the Belgrade demonstration was quite obvious. Contingents of trade unionists from all parts of Yugoslavia arrived, carrying their union banners and demanding an improvement of the workers’ standard of living. At the same time, miners in Kolubara occupied their worksite, demanding that the Milosevic regime step down.
Also, workers in Belgrade took part in the demonstrations and actions in their own way. Workers for the media in particular took an active role in the events. Pressmen and journalists at the government-run newspapers like Politika took over production and put out the publication with their own statements. Journalists at Tanjug, the main news and information outlet for Yugoslavia, issued a short statement (also posted on their Website) stating that they would cease being the mouthpiece of the Milosevic regime and begin reporting “in the interests of the people.”
But it would be false and misleading to call the events in Yugoslavia over the last 10 days a “workers’ uprising” or “workers’ revolt.” Such a description ignores the fact that, while many workers participated in the ousting of the Milosevic regime, the leadership of the “democratic revolution” was organized and led by elements of the Serbian bourgeoisie, in alliance with top leaders in the military, police and security services.
A “people’s revolution” and political crisis
It would be accurate to call the uprising in Yugoslavia a “people’s revolution.” That is, it was a revolt that drew all classes into action. However, such a people’s revolution has an inherent bourgeois character because it is not the working class that leads such revolts.
The main political force behind the uprising was the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), in the figure of its presidential candidate, Vojislav Kostunica. The DOS is a coalition of 18 opposition parties ranging from far-right nationalists and fascists to pro-U.S./NATO “democrats.” Its goal was to wrest the presidency from the brittle Milosevic regime in favor of establishing a government more “favorable” to the European and American imperialists.
In this, they certainly succeeded. Within the first few days after being acknowledged as the president-elect, Kostunica made several announcements regarding the future status of Yugoslavia, Kosovo and the Balkans as a whole. All of his statements open the door for U.S./EU imperialism to implement its agenda for the Balkans — the breakup of the region into small but stable markets that can be easily exploited for the benefit of Berlin, London and Washington.
But even though the DOS is claiming that a “new day” has dawned for Yugoslavia, it is in fact the white-hot fire of political crisis that is peaking through the clouds. Even though the DOS has won the presidency, it does not have control of the parliament or the courts. The Socialist Party of Serbia (Milosevic’s party) is the leading party, along with smaller coalition partners. Even though Kostunica has tried to court some of the coalition partners — including the vice-presidency to the leader of the Montenegrin SNP — this does not guarantee that he can gain control of the parliament.
But, even if Kostunica can pull off a grand political maneuver and build a slim parliamentary majority, he still has the greatest test facing him from a section of the very movement that brought him to power. The working class of Yugoslavia has already begun to place demands on Kostunica and the DOS. The Kolubara miners remained on strike after Kostunica was installed, and workers in Belgrade have maintained the strike committees they set up as part of taking control of the media and industry.
As well, the “umbrella” structure of the DOS has also angered workers. During the mass demonstrations in Belgrade, workers showered far-right nationalist Vojislav Seselj with bricks. There is little question that as the DOS moves to accommodate all of the elements in its “coalition” that the workers will find more reason to break from it.
Imperialist intrigue comes to a climax
The ouster of Milosevic may have been carried out on the streets of Belgrade, but it planned, financed and encouraged from the imperialist centers in Europe and North America. This can be seen in two concrete examples.
First, even though Kostunica is the public face of the DOS (because of his role as presidential candidate), the real power lies in the hands of his “advisers” and “consultants.” Zoran Djindjic and Milan Panic, both former opposition candidates for president, are key advisers to Kostunica and the DOS. Djindjic, head of the Democratic Party of Serbia, is a long-time collaborator with U.S. and European imperialism.
In statements made after the installation of Kostunica, Djindjic declared that a “strategic partnership” with U.S. imperialism must be created “for the Serbian national interests.” In other words, Djindjic has declared that “Serbian national interests” lie in becoming an economic colony of American imperialism.
The second example comes from the U.S. In the weeks and months preceding the September 24 election, the Clinton regime in the U.S. approved giving the DOS hundreds of millions of dollars for their election campaign. Besides hard currency, the DOS also received computers, fax machines, cellular phones, printing presses and material, and other “necessities” for their effort. This kind of imperialist funding to sway the Yugoslav elections in favor of the DOS was also done by British, German and French imperialism (and illegal if it is done with parties inside these countries).
The International Workers’ Committee has insisted that U.S. and European imperialism orchestrated the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1990. The secession of Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia from Yugoslavia was funded through low- and no-interest loans provided by the imperialists through “religious” and “civic” intermediaries. Billions of dollars in loans, millions of dollars worth of civil and military equipment, and the sending of military specialists and mercenaries were provided by U.S., British and German imperialism for the purpose of dismantling and carving up Yugoslavia into smaller (and, thus, easily exploitable) sources of cheap labor and raw materials.
This was much of what was behind the imperialists’ war against Kosovo in 1999. That region has industry and natural resources that imperialism wants. And, since Yugoslavia was unwilling to open itself to rampant exploitation in the region, the U.S. and NATO decided to continue its political “diplomacy” by other means.
What is most ironic in this final act of the imperialist-sponsored dismantling of Yugoslavia is the new “partner” whom Washington, London and Berlin are going to use to facilitate this work. Hungary, which at one time maintained (as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) control over the region, is being used now as the imperialists’ middleman in the Balkans. Hungarian capitalism is looking to carve itself out a small region of Yugoslavia (most likely the northern region of Vojvodina) to call its own while doing the bidding for its American and European paymasters.
Another “fall of communism”?
As part of the imperialists’ ideological war (also carried out by the DOS), the ousting of the Milosevic regime is being called the “fall of Yugoslav communism.” U.S. president Bill Clinton stated that what happened in Belgrade on October 5 “was the end” of a process that began “with the fall of the Berlin wall.”
Once again, the imperialists are attempting to revive the “we won the Cold War” triumphalism of a decade ago. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is much different.
In spite of all the claims that Yugoslavia was a “Communist state,” the fact was that the Milosevic regime was considered an ally of imperialism for some time. Milosevic had been seen as a man that the imperialists could work with. But, when Milosevic decided to put “national interests” ahead of those of the American and European imperialists, he once again became a “Communist dictator.”
All of this begs the question: Is Yugoslavia a “Communist state?” In our opinion, no.
In 1944, as the Nazi fascists were being driven out of the Balkans, Tito and the Partizans, with the passive support of the Yugoslav working class, established the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The state and economy were rebuilt along the political, social and economic model of the USSR. Thus, Yugoslavia was rebuilt as a deformed workers’ state. That is, it had progressed beyond capitalism into a form of proletarian dictatorship. But, that dictatorship had been severely deformed by the bureaucracy built by Tito and the Union of Communists of Yugoslavia.
The split with Stalin and the implementation of “workers’ self-management” were not a means of combating that bureaucratism or embarking on an internationalist course. On the contrary, they were a continuation of the Stalinist (i.e., un-Marxist and anti-Leninist) policies of “socialism in a single country” and “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. Regardless of this, Yugoslavia remained a deformed workers’ state, to be unconditionally militarily defended by Marxists and class-conscious workers against imperialism and internal counterrevolution.
But this situation changed in 1989, with the rise of Milosevic to power. Milosevic represented a wing of the bureaucracy that wanted to transfer the social and economic base of their power from the collectivized property of the Yugoslav workers’ state to private property and Western capitalism. However, unlike what was to happen in the USSR a year later with Boris Yeltsin, Milosevic wanted to make this transformation (in reality, a counterrevolution) while maintaining the Yugoslav federation. For imperialism, this was not acceptable. As in the case of the USSR, the imperialists wanted to break up the country into smaller, more easily integrated, parts.
This brought Milosevic into conflict with imperialism for the whole of the last decade. But, in spite of this conflict, the fact remained that the new regime Milosevic built had fundamentally broken from its social and economic origins in the bureaucracy and collectivized economy. Milosevic established a bourgeois state, rising from the ashes of the now-smashed socialist federal republic.
As Bolshevik-Leninists, as Marxists, we understand that a state rising from a successful capitalist counterrevolution may have to rest on nationalized and collectivized property for some time. Such was the case in Yugoslavia. Because of Milosevic’s conflict with imperialism, he was forced to maintain some elements of the collectivized property in order for the country to survive economically.
All of this is now in the process of changing. With the ouster of Milosevic, and the opening of Yugoslavia to western imperialism, a massive wave of privatization (and, thus, mass layoffs and unemployment) will wash over the region, further eroding the working and living standards of the Yugoslav working class.
Along with the opening of Yugoslavia to the imperialists has come an all-sided counterrevolutionary reign of terror. Fueled by the ideological assault of the DOS and imperialism calling the Milosevic regime “Communist,” mobs of “democrats” have sacked offices of the Socialist Party of Serbia, the Yugoslav United Left (run by Milosevic’s wife, Mirjana Markovic) and the New Communist Party of Yugoslavia. Literature, publications and property of these organizations have been thrown into the streets and burned. Members of these organizations and others have been threatened and physically assaulted.
A working class, Marxist alternative
We shed no tears for the end of the Milosevic regime. He was responsible for much misery, violence and death in Yugoslavia (although not in the way that imperialism portrays). But we do not share the opinion of many that think that his ouster will mean the flourishing of “democracy” in Yugoslavia. On the contrary, we believe that the political victory of the DOS will mean the opening of a new period of increased attacks on the working class in Yugoslavia.
We give no support to either Milosevic or Kostunica. We call for the working class of Yugoslavia to organize itself with the goal of genuinely “finishing the job,” by sweeping away Kostunica and the DOS, and building a workers’ government. But two concrete things are needed to carry this out — an action program and a Marxist party to put forward that program and win political leadership.
An action program for Yugoslav workers must now center on four key demands:
- No privatizations! For workers’ control of industry! — One of the demands of imperialism will be the opening up of the Yugoslav economy to superexploitation. We fight for all industry (manufacturing, mining, refining, etc.) to be nationalized and controlled by committees of workers. And, as opposed the concept of “workers’ self-management,” which can mean pitting one factory against another, we call for a centralized control, based on elected representatives from factory committees, to plan out and coordinate production at these workplaces.
- No cutting of social welfare and services! For workers’ control! No IMF, World Bank! — Walking hand-in-hand with mass privatization of the economy will be deep cutting of social welfare and services for workers. Both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will demand the implementation of an “austerity plan” for Yugoslavia if Kostunica appeals to them for loans and assistance. We fight for a restoration and defense of all social gains that resulted from the 1944 Revolution and their extension through workers’ control and administration of these programs.
- Bureaucrats out! For membership control of trade unions and other workers’ organizations! — For far too long, the trade unions, whether they are “official” or “free,” have been dominated by a bureaucratic leadership. Often times, these leaders are unelected, appointed either by the regime or by themselves. Just as we fight for workers’ control of industry, we also fight for membership control (workers’ control) of our class organizations — trade unions, workers’ political and social organizations, workers’ sports organizations, etc.
- For workers’ democracy, not the imperialists’ “democracy!” — The “democracy” that the DOS and Kostunica support is the “freedom” of imperialism to superexploit and economically colonize the region. The real democracy that matters to workers — the right to a job, the right to medical care, housing and education, the right to organize into trade unions and political parties, the right for workers to demonstrate and fight for their interests, etc. — will not be genuinely realized under Kostunica and Djindjic. We fight for genuine workers’ democracy, defended through armed workers’ self-defense and coordinated through factory and workplace committees, and neighborhood committees of action.
These demands are essential now for workers in Yugoslavia and the Balkans as a whole. But it will take more than spontaneous protests to win these demands. It will take workers seizing control and liberating themselves to be able to fully implement even these four basic demands. And that very important task requires the building of a genuine Marxist party of the proletariat.
There are several organizations in Yugoslavia today that call themselves “Marxist,” “Socialist” and “Communist.” However, most those parties were tied, to one degree or another, to the bureaucracy created by Tito’s UCY and/or Milosevic’s SPS. Many of these parties may mouth the words of “workers’ control” or “workers’ democracy,” but their ties to the bureaucracy mean that their understanding of workers’ power is the “power” of another wing of the bureaucracy.
We Bolshevik-Leninists have been consistent fighters among the working class against both bureaucratic degeneration and capitalist counterrevolution. Our struggle began almost 80 years ago, when L.D. Trotsky organized the Left Opposition to fight the growing bureaucratism in the USSR. We have a proud history of unconditionally defending the gains of the “socialist camp,” while at the same time saying that the best defense against counterrevolution is for the workers to sweep out the bureaucrats and build a revolutionary, internationalist workers’ state, based on workers’ councils and fighting for international socialist revolution.
Workers in Yugoslavia now face what their brothers and sisters in the former USSR and Eastern Europe have been facing for a decade. But it is not too late. There is still time for workers in Yugoslavia to organize and fight before imperialism sinks its teeth into the country.
Our comrades in Crveni Kriticar, Yugoslav section of the IWC, have been fighting to organize and build a genuine Marxist party that can win political leadership of the working class in the struggle for liberation and power.
Brothers and sisters! Workers of Yugoslavia! Milosevic may be out, but his “replacement” brings imperialist exploitation and misery. Imperialism must not succeed like it has in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It is time to the use your power to take what is rightfully yours! As well, it is more vital than ever to build links and unite with your brothers and sisters in the former regions of the SFRY to build a Balkan-wide struggle against imperialist domination and for workers’ power.
October 10, 2000