The opposition mythology
Rhetorical manipulations of domestic ‘democrats’
No. 4 — Winter-Spring 2000
The following article is from our comrades in Crveni Kriticar, Yugoslav section of the International Workers’ Committee. We believe it is an important article for understanding the motivations behind the so-called “democratic” opposition in Yugoslavia.
Democratization of society and “turning to the West” have been discussed a great deal in the last several years, and became the main subject after NATO’s aggression against our country.
It is necessary to look at the perspective of the nationalist and pro-capitalist parties, since they represent the only alternative to Milosevic’s regime at this time.
And the dissatisfaction of people with his policy grows every day.
The reactionary character of the ruling clique is clear to every politically conscious person, so we won’t deal with it in this article.
This time, we will focus on the rhetoric of these pro-western parties, that is, on the demagogic phrases that they use to manipulate people’s minds.
The myth of the “rich and democratic West”
One of the main myths that their rhetoric is based on is the one about the “rich and democratic West.”
The leaders and ideologists of these parties uncritically portray the social and economic systems of advanced capitalist countries as perfect. Then they try to justify their own behavior and actions as subordinate to the aim of fighting for that kind of system.
But this can have only a formal character, since their practice totally contradicts their propaganda. The betrayal of the desires of participants in the mass protests two years ago, petty political trading and misusing of positions in regional and city government, and the policy of Milosevic’s favorite “opposition” party, the SPO (Vuk Draskovic’s Serbian Renewal Movement), are the best proof of this.
The key point behind the myth about the democratic West is alleged respect of the electoral will of citizens and the government’s legitimacy, and the “wide spectrum of political and economical freedoms.” But none of these claims are based on real political life in those countries. They are only empty abstractions drawn out of form, not out of the inner essence of events.
In order to see how much these rights and freedoms are really respected, it is necessary to begin with an analysis of the economic basis of a given society. This is necessary because the relations in material production that are established between people determine other social relations and forms of political and cultural consciousness.
We must understand the fact that people are forced to treat each other in certain ways by the basic production relations in any given epoch. Since the big corporations are the main forms in which concentrated capital appears, and since they are the dominant economic force in modern capitalist societies, they represent the most powerful and most influencing political force. They control how political parties and governments act through their financing of electoral campaigns and provision of benefits for party leadership and powerful government members. The interests of corporations and powerful individual capitalists define the aims and behavior of these parties, not the votes of citizens and their interests.
Once we understand this, the paradoxical actions of Tony Blair and his “Labour” party, actions that are counterposed to the interests of workers (i.e. cuts in social programs, healthcare and other services) become crystal clear. The same is true for Clinton and his program of reforms and cuts in health services, which is supposed to create a big budget surplus.
Of course, nobody talks about what such cuts really bring — more expensive health care which can only be enjoyed by those who can afford to pay.
Clinton’s government does not even feel a need to rationalize the enormous military budget, which amounts to almost $250 billion and serves to protect the interests of American capital all over the world.
So, individual rights and freedoms are respected only if they don’t endanger interests of capitalists. No matter which party is formally elected, it will work as a servant of capital, not the workers.
As far as social welfare is concerned, as the second component of the myth about the West, it should be pointed out that in most of these countries over 85 percent of the total wealth is in the hands of only 5 to 10 percent of the people.
A significant part of society lives on the edge of poverty, about 30 million in the U.S. alone. They don’t have satisfactory conditions of life and can’t afford social and health care, and the state doesn’t care about them.
Unemployment is a constant phenomenon and affects 5-15 percent of the population, and even more during recessions.
But, the living standard is undoubtedly higher than in East European and other former quasi-socialist countries.
It is not because capitalism is an ideal economic system, but because the imperialist countries plundered and exploited their colonies, semicolonies and other states, in the service of big capital, for ages.
As the aggression on Yugoslavia showed, economic interests, not alleged humanitarian concern, are the real cause of imperialist militarism. This had devastating consequences for the economy of Yugoslavia, but it brought more profits for the American military industry. This in turn stimulated the whole economy of the U.S. The growth of the Dow Jones index of over 1,000 points in only two months is a good indicator of this.
Now, when we see that “western democracy” and economic welfare represent nothing more than empty abstractions intended to seduce citizens, we can deal with other phrases.
Privatization is central programmatic point of all opposition and quasi-opposition parties, from the SPO, to DS (the Democratic Party of Serbia), to New Democracy. All of these parties claim that privatization is a necessary precondition for solving the economic crisis and extensive development of economy, which will be followed by rising living standards.
But every privatization is robbery, whether it is conducted violently or “legally.” It means expropriation of the workers’ means of production, or in the concrete case, transformation of public property to private property.
Domestic, rich “entrepreneurs” that have misused their position and authority in public companies, that have made bad contracts for those companies and manipulated public property in the past, now appear as potential buyers. Many of the high state officials misused their privileges and power in order to create a monopoly on import and export for their own enterprises, and to avoid taxes.
Other groups interested in buying public companies consist of foreign corporations and individual capital owners. These potential buyers are trying to make public companies accessible through financing and collaboration with some domestic parties and organizations. That explains the support to these “democratic powers” in the very same media that demonized whole Serbian people for over a decade.
On the other hand, these groups also manage to adjust their interests to those of Milosevic. This was seen when Milosevic sold the national telecommunications system, and when he gave other concessions to foreign capital.
The form in which privatization could be conducted is through the transformation of public companies into private corporations. Shares would be given to everyone, depending on their length of service, or sold to anyone who was interested.
This would create a stock market in which the big capitalists would buy individual shares for a very small amount of money. It is necessary to say that privatization actually started over decade ago. It started when one of the financial laws changed the status of self-managed companies, and when it forbade their further creation, which “stimulated” “more defined forms of ownership.”
But this privatization and robbery was not completed until today, because the regime feared public reaction to the devastating consequences on society as a whole. Because of this, they dragged out the process.
That explains all of the demagogic preparation of the people for poverty and misery, for “necessary cuts and sustaining.” Such preparation is necessary to avoid mass unrest once these “pro-democratic” parties get into power and carry out their policies.
Of course workers are the ones that will bear the burden, not privileged groups. But even these sacrifices and sustaining can’t bring prosperity and welfare. They can only bring new agony.
The average annual growth of economies in capitalist countries is about 5-9 percent, which is far less than what could be accomplished in a planned, nationalized economy.
A free market and private ownership can’t eliminate unemployment, because unemployment is one of the necessary preconditions for a labour market. Such a system surely can’t solve the enormous unemployment problem in Yugoslavia.
Also, completion of privatization would mean faster social differentiation, where the rich would become richer and poor would become poorer.
Finally, it would terminate many health, social, and pension systems. This would make already poor living standards even worse.
Free market, credit and investment myths
Privatization brings us to another term which is usually associated with it — the free market.
It is often said that resources and wealth are allocated and regulated best under a free market, and that only a market economy can pull Yugoslavia’s economy out of crisis. This is not true. The market economy has numerous shortages and defects. This is shown by the need of the capitalist state to intervene in the economy, especially after WWII. It is proven further by the need for numerous nationalizations of whole sectors of industry, even in major imperialist countries.
Various monopolies and multinational corporations do not adjust their interests to consumers and competition, but impose them on the whole economy. They dictate terms of sale and prices, make billions of profits, and, in that way, affect the distribution of wealth, concentrating it in the hands of a minority.
Deregulation of the economy of Yugoslavia, lower taxes, and opening our market to foreign capital would allow foreign corporations to take over all segments of the market and to control valuable resources.
Potential foreign investments would only speed up the drain of wealth through the profits of these corporations.
Foreign capital wouldn’t bring better living standards. Foreign capital comes in search of cheap labour and resources, not because of humanitarian ends. The experience of numerous semicolonies all over the world, exploited by foreign capital, are the best proof of that.
As far as phrases about humanitarian help and restoration credits are concerned, which are mentioned frequently after NATO’s aggression, it should be pointed out that they are equally empty and baseless.
History has shown many times that imperialist powers don’t give any serious help. The minor amounts that they sometimes give serve only for propaganda purposes. Credits, if they are given, are usually unpleasant. The come with relatively high interest rates, and are often packed with political demands and blackmailing. The experience of Bosnia-Herzegovina is a good example of this.
On the other hand, no matter who gets this “help” — Milosevic’s regime or some hypothetical “democratic” government based on these pro-western parties — most of it will end up in the private accounts of their leadership and “meritorious citizens.” Once again, we can look at Bosnia as an example.
The “democratic” parties base their image on this kind of rhetoric, expanding it with already used (by Milosevic) nationalist phrases like “national unity” and “defence of the fatherland” when appropriate.
No matter who gains power and conducts the restoration of capitalism, whether it is Milosevic or the pro-western opposition, this policy can’t solve the economic and other contradictions in Yugoslav society.
Better living standards and prosperity can’t be accomplished by privatization and expropriation from the workers of the means of production. On the contrary, it can only be accomplished by rational management of the economy, nationalization of privatized sectors of industry, and better participation of workers in decision making and the control of distribution of wealth.
But this can’t be accomplished without genuine workers’ democracy, based on the principles of Marxism and scientific socialism.
Anti-Marxist and anti-socialist hysteria stirred by the “democratic” parties and the Milosevic regime is enormous. But the worsening conditions of life and deep contradictions in which our society finds itself will destroy those myths about capitalism and bring workers back to the genuine principles of human society.