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May 2001 • Vol 1, No. 1 •

Imperialism, Nationalism and Internationalism

By Nat Weinstein

It's impossible to understand the chaotic internecine war among peoples in the Balkans—a people who were once unified in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia—without understanding the complexity of factors at work in the region as well as elsewhere in the world. The most important factor is the criminal role of capitalist imperialism.

Modern imperialism is capitalism at its highest stage of development. This stage is reached when the most industrially advanced capitalist countries not only exploit their own working class to the greatest extent possible, but are forever in search of markets for investment of surplus capital since idle capital tends to steadily lose value.

Giant capitalist trusts, monopolies and cartels in the advanced industrial countries are attracted to the industrially backward regions of the world because living standards there are lowest, the price of labor cheapest, and, it follows, profit rates tend to be highest. And because the average rate of profit in the industrially advanced countries tends to fall, investment in the underdeveloped world, where the profit rate is much higher (justifying the Marxist term, superprofits), serves to raise the average rate of profit for the imperialist powers that dominate the neo-colonial world.

The living standards of the exploited masses—in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and, of course, the Balkans—are far lower, albeit, unevenly lower—than in the advanced industrial nations. And to get right to the point, imperialism's capitalists, backed by the military might of their powerful states, move heaven and earth to see to it that the cheap labor they super-exploit in these lands, stays cheap and, wherever possible, is driven cheaper still.

When imperialist profits are threatened because of the periodic crises of capitalism—impacting hardest on the poorest countries—imperialism demands that the subject nations' indigenous rulers squeeze more profits out of their already super-exploited masses. And, in line with standard capitalist strategy, they ruthlessly play one nation against the other wherever possible to divide and rule over their subject nations.

Nationalism, like all things, is a contradictory social phenomenon. Historically, it constituted a step forward in the evolution of human societies toward ever-larger communities. The underlying positive principle is that the greater the number of people cooperating in a common struggle for survival, the better is that people's welfare, and the greater its capacity for surviving the accidents of nature that can more easily destroy a smaller collectivity than a larger one.

The process of social organization begins with the simplest forms, based on the closest blood relationships and evolving over long periods of time toward ever larger and more complex social and economic relationships. Thus, with the extension from the most primitive forms of tribalism to class society over tens of thousands of years, new forms of community arise—the village, the city, the nation, etc.—all of which were progressive phases of this process of social evolution.

But class society is based on slavery—whatever form it takes, chattel, serf or wage slavery—and evolves to the point where nations enslave other nations. Conqueror nations in class society are by nature exploiter/oppressors and the conquered, it follows logically and factually, are exploited and oppressed.

This all leads us toward having a basis for drawing some general conclusions that are indispensable for understanding who are the criminals and who are the victims in the unending series of small and large wars taking place all over the world. Every one of these wars involves oppressors and oppressed. But sometimes it's not easy to determine which is which—especially when there is more than one criminal oppressor nation and more than one victimized oppressed nation.

And to make matters even more complicated, the roles of oppressor and oppressed among the small nations often reverse according to time and place. Thus, Serbs may oppress Croatians, who oppress Serbs where they happen to be in a minority. And both Croatians and Serbs may oppress Bosnian Muslims and vice versa, ad infinitum.

However, since it is not possible to analyze all instances of a general phenomenon at once, I will focus on the wars in the Balkans since the U.S.-led assault on Yugoslavia began in the spring of 1999. But first a brief review of the history of the Yugoslav revolution that began during World War II is in order. It is an indispensable introduction to an understanding of imperialism's real motive for its ongoing intervention in Yugoslavia.

History of Yugoslav Socialist Revolution (1945-1999)

The war waged by the imperialist nations of Europe and America against Yugoslavia is better understood in the context of the history of modern Yugoslavia, which was born in a united struggle by its constituent nations against German imperialism's military occupation of the region during World War II.

After their military victory over the Nazi army, the Yugoslav Communist Party, as the leader of the armed resistance, took power and established the new federation of nation states—modern Yugoslavia.

The multi-national Yugoslav Communist Party established the new federation of nations in 1945 as a relatively benign union of states with each nation juridically guaranteed the right to self determination—including the right to separate. Moreover, soon after the Yugoslav federation was set up the new government of the federated national republics carried through a social revolution based on workers' power.

Yugoslavia's revolution expropriated the capitalists and established a planned nationalized economy, which opened the door to a relatively rapid development of the Yugoslav economy. The resulting increase in the nation's wealth—together with a constitution granting the Yugoslav federation's national republics the right to self determination—made it possible to avoid the internal conflict that can develop when there is extreme economic hardship and the rights of minorities are unprotected. Thus, the juridical equality of the federated nations, the right to separate, together with rising living standards, effectively served as the glue that held this multinational workers' state together for several decades.

Paradoxically, the road to proletarian solidarity was made possible when Stalin tried to block the Communist Parties in the region from establishing a workers’ government and overthrowing capitalism. The Communists, led by Marshal Tito (Josip Broz), however, defied Stalin and mobilized Yugoslavia's workers for the socialist revolution.

A break with Stalin—but not Stalinism

But while Tito and the Yugoslav Communist Party broke with Stalin, they failed to make a clean ideological break with Stalinism. Therefore, when Stalin sought to isolate and eliminate the Tito leadership of the Yugoslav Communist Party, and the latter were left to fend for themselves without any help from the Soviet Union, they nonetheless followed the counterrevolutionary Stalinist strategy for survival in a hostile imperialist world.

They followed a policy of seeking a strategic accommodation with imperialism—which can only be on imperialism's terms. And the price that imperialism demanded for "peaceful coexistence" was for Yugoslavia to grant implicit or explicit support to imperialist policy. Consequently, the degeneration of the Yugoslav economy was inevitable. Once such dependency is consolidated, imperialism is able to extract ever more favorable trade relations for itself.

The effect is what we see happening in the former Soviet bloc countries, and to a lesser degree in China—workers' states degenerating into semi-colonial nations in transition toward third-world capitalist states.

The resulting economic decline gradually eroded the glue holding the country together as each nation's Stalinist bureaucracy sought to save itself at the expense of the others. However, it was the dominant Serbian bureaucracy that bears major responsibility for the collapse of the Yugoslav federation's solidarity.

In 1989, Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic, demagogically adapting to the most rabid Serbian nationalists, stripped Kosovo, the majority of whose inhabitants were Albanians and Muslims, of its constitutional right to autonomy. By this act Milosovic gave an impulse to the most reactionary chauvinist elements in the Yugoslav federation.

Propelled by the wave of Serbian nationalism he had triggered, Milosovic elbowed aside his superiors in the Communist Party bureaucracy and launched himself into power as the President of Yugoslavia.

The country disintegrated, with Slovenia and Croatia exercising their right to separation in 1991. Milosovic attempted military repression but failed there and later in Bosnia.

Imperialism intervened in the name of "peace," but it was a peace in which it imperialism’s interests would be best served. Both Milosovic and his opponents or competitors in the Serbian nationalist movement—both before and during the U.S.-led NATO war on his country—followed the deadly logic of the nationalism of the oppressor.

The glue of proletarian internationalism that post-World War II Yugoslavia was founded on was virtually dissolved, with each nation's ethnic majority oppressing its own ethnic minorities and with imperialism oppressing all and using one against the other. The entire region now descends into chaos.

On the other hand, the nationalism of the oppressed is understandable and justified when there is no alternative. But it's no solution in and of itself, especially in a world dominated by imperialism. The problem of oppressed nationalities—and all of the nations in the former Yugoslavia are oppressed by imperialism—can only be solved in the context of a world socialist society.

And the only road to world socialism is international working class solidarity based on the struggle in every land for the liberation of humanity from a global capitalism rapidly degenerating into a variety of self-destructive barbarism. If left unchecked this system will destroy every social, economic, scientific and technological conquest gained by the human race in over 5000 years of civilization.

Imperialism won the war but not the peace

By Nat Weinstein

Imperialist troops now occupy Kosovo and Bosnia. Slobodan Milosevic has been ousted as head of the Yugoslav government and later arrested. A somewhat more pro-imperialist faction is now in charge, but little has fundamentally changed. Refugees are once again on the move in the Balkans as they flee the fighting in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

Some of the 15,000 mostly ethnic Albanian refugees are fleeing the northern town of Tetovo where much of the current fighting is concentrated. Some 3000 others, it was reported in the March 24 Financial Times, "have crossed via Bulgaria to Turkey as the specter of another war haunts the region."

The London-based Financial Times reports that diplomats fear that if the integrity of Macedonia is violated and its borders changed, "this will have a domino effect throughout a region where nationalists still harbor aspirations for their own ethnically based states. 'If we allow that to happen we shall have a major war on our hands,' says one NATO diplomat."

An earlier report by Peter Beaumont, Ed Vulliamy and Paul Beaver appeared in The Observer on March 11. The report suggests that there is a division among KFOR, the imperialist forces of occupation in the Balkans. The reporters charge that the United States secretly supported the ethnic Albanian extremists responsible for the insurgencies in Macedonia and southern Serbia.

According to The Observer:

The CIA encouraged former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters to launch a rebellion in southern Serbia in an effort to undermine then Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, according to senior European officers who served with the international peace-keeping force in Kosovo (KFOR), as well as leading Macedonian and U.S sources.

They accuse American forces with KFOR of deliberately ignoring the massive smuggling of men and arms across Kosovo's borders....

The accusations have led to tension in KFOR between the European and U.S. military missions. European officers are furious that the Americans have allowed guerrilla armies in its sector to train, smuggle arms and launch attacks across two international borders.

One European KFOR battalion commander told The Observer yesterday: "The CIA has been allowed to run riot in Kosovo with a private army designed to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic. Now [that] he's gone, the U.S. State Department seems incapable of reining in its bastard army."

The claim was backed by senior Macedonian officials in the capital, Skopje. "What has been happening with the National Liberation Army [which has been responsible for a series of attacks on Macedonia's borders in recent weeks] and the UCPMB [its sister organisation in southern Serbia] is very similar to what happened when the KLA was launched in 1995-96," said one. "I will say only this: the US intelligence agencies have not been honest here."

The claims were given extra credence from an unexpected source—Arben Xhafari, leader of Macedonia's main Albanian party who tried to prevent the crisis on the border igniting an ethnic civil war inside Macedonia itself.

What are we to make of these reports? While the above report in The Observer has not been reported in any major news source, to our knowledge, neither has it been repudiated. However, it certainly has the ring of truth and is an accurate reflection of the notorious secret machinations of American imperialist secret police agencies like the CIA and FBI—which include various unbridled acts of individual and mass terrorism.

On the other hand, the March 26 Financial Times told quite a different story. In an article describing the Macedonian army's assault on Tetovo The Times reports:

On Saturday [March 24], Colin Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State, telephoned Boris Trajkovski, Macedonia's president, signalling Washington's concern over the situation in the republic.

Mr. Powell lent Washington's support to calls from both NATO and the European Union (EU) for military restraint to be accompanied by political gestures towards Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority.

President George W. Bush made his first official statement on the crisis late on Friday, condemning the ethnic Albanian rebel groups but urging the government in Skopje to move ahead with reforms to accommodate the aspirations of ethnic Albanians.

"Macedonia is a close friend, a partner country of NATO, and a successful example of a democratic, multi-ethnic state in the Balkans," Mr. Bush said.

So, which report is accurate? Undoubtedly both are accurate and the seeming contradiction is to be explained simply by the fact that capitalist government proclamations can never be taken without a large grain of salt. The new commander in chief of world imperialism, President George W. Bush, like his predecessor, is simply playing one of its captive nations against the other.

In other words, when it is in American imperialism's interests to support ethnic Albanians against Milosevic's Serbians, it does so—and when necessary, with a vengeance.

And when it was in its interests, much earlier to support Serbia's Milosevic against Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovnia, Kosovo and the other Yugoslav republics, it never hesitated to do that, either.

Whether American imperialism supports ethnic Albanians against Serbians or Serbians against Albanians, has nothing whatever to do with "humanitarianism." On the contrary, every official and unofficial act of the U.S. masters of deceit is always in the interests of world imperialism—and their own narrower imperialist interests first and foremost.

To be sure, revolutionary Marxists are always on the side of the exploited and oppressed against their oppressors.

However, our support to the right of oppressed nations to self determination is both consistent with and subordinate to the unification of all the victims of capitalist and imperialist exploitation and oppression under the banner of a world workers' movement for liberation.—N.W.

Workers Resisting Privatization in Yugoslavia

By Nat Weinstein

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the renunciation of socialism by the renegade Stalinist bureaucratic dictatorships in all the Soviet bloc countries has led the imperialist world to celebrate the "death of socialism."

The only country that has steadfastly refused to follow the course of reversing and liquidating the political and social gains of its socialist revolution is Cuba, whose leadership has been consistently anti-Stalinist.

However, whenever it serves imperialism's interests they blithely refer to the ex-Soviet bloc states, pejoratively, as "socialist" or "communist" countries.

For those, however, who think that socialism is dead, a report that appeared in the March 16 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle will be enlightening.

Under the title, "Rewriting an Economy," Joshua Kusera, listed as a Chronicle Foreign Service reporter, describes how workers are stubbornly opposing the privatization of the country's roughly 7,000 state-owned enterprises:

A new reformist government full of Western-oriented experts and a history of relative economic liberalism would seem to ensure Yugoslavia a bright economic future.... [But workers] are not on board yet. To them privatization sounds suspiciously like the government trying to make a fast buck off their years of hard work.

"Its like you and your family are building a house for years," said Milenko Smiljanic, president of the 1.2 million-member Trade Union Confederation of Serbia. "And then, one day, somebody comes and says, 'OK, you can stay. But you live in the basement and we'll take the rest of the house.'"

A general strike was averted in early February only after the government pledged to workers that privatization would be suspended until both sides agree on a new procedure.

Unlike in the rest of Eastern Europe, many of Yugoslavia's companies were not state-owned but something called "socially owned," in which workers, at least in theory, owned and ran the enterprise.

That description is an indication of the potential resistance of Yugoslav workers to privatization. There would hardly be any danger of a general strike by Yugoslav workers if they didn't believe they had a big stake in the system of collective ownership of the basic industrial infrastructure of Yugoslavia and all the concrete benefits that derive from it.

These benefits include, for instance, a guarantee to its workers of a job or, if for or any reason its workers are laid off, they receive 60 percent of their base pay until they are returned to work or get another job. It also includes the complex system of housing, healthcare, utilities and other social benefits rooted in and subsidized by the state-owned industries. And while workers don't manage their workplaces, they exercise a large measure of control over the workplace—far more than in any of the so-called "free-world's" capitalist democracies.

The reporter also gives some evidence for why Yugoslav workers think they have a vested interest to the point that they threaten to employ the potentially revolutionary working class tactic of mounting a general strike:

In the '90s, Milosevic converted many of the most important socially owned companies to state-owned, but the legacy of worker ownership remains in people's memories and makes privatization less palatable.

Opinion polls also suggest that many Yugoslavs are not convinced of the need for privatization. According to a November survey by the Belgrade polling company Medium, more than half believe that state-owned enterprises should form the framework of the economy.

While the new government, not unlike the one headed by Milosevic, is eager to remove all obstacles to the restoration of capitalism, including the demands of imperialism to open up all sectors of the Yugoslav economy to a takeover by financial and industrial monopolies, the workers stubbornly stand in their way—just as they did under Milosevic.

They stand in the way because Yugoslav workers fully understand that privatization means that the bulk of the country's industrial infrastructure will be shut down and workers left jobless because the cost of modernizing the least efficient factories is prohibitive. And they know that even those plants that can be made profitable will thin its workforce down by introducing more efficient technology and by intensifying the labor process—but without providing new jobs for those cast into the ranks of the unemployed.

The indigenous privatizers—the would-be capitalists and bureaucrats morphing into capitalists—are no less aware of the resistance of the workers to privatization. However, they are under relentless pressure from imperialism, which is less able to appreciate the difficulties facing their indigenous junior partners. While the imperialists are safely distant and relatively immune from feeling the direct impact of an angry working class, Yugoslav officials have good reason to be fearful.

Further in this Chronicle article, we read the following comment by a Dr. Slobodan Korac, who happens to be the vice president of the Yugoslav Chamber of Commerce and a former economics professor at Princeton and UC Berkeley. Korac reportedly said "I can understand why [workers] are protesting. But ... now we are in need of foreign investment, and [when] you're in the position to sell something for cash, you have to do it."

The Chronicle reporter describes how even the laws recently enacted permitting the privatization of some 7,000 state-owned firms have had to include restrictions on their complete privatization or risk massive resistance from workers.

The reporter illustrates the problem as told him by Privatization Minister Aleksander Vladhovic, who is described as a former executive with the giant consulting firm Deloitte &Touche. Vladhovic complains that the law governing the privatization of the 7,000 state-owned firms sets aside "60 percent of company shares for workers and 10 percent for pension funds. With only 30 percent left, no one was willing to invest in a company that they couldn't control."

Vladhovic gets to the heart of the problem. He asks rhetorically, "Who are the owners? Workers. Who will decide on such important issues like downsizing or turnaround strategy or restructuring? Who will decide how many workers will leave? Workers. I don't think so."

If one reads carefully such unusually candid but rare reports, it nonetheless only gives a glimpse of the power that still remains in the hands of the working class of Yugoslavia—and is yet to be brought fully to bear in its own interests.

And finally, even though the pace of capitalist restoration in the former Soviet bloc countries has been more rapid, the workers there are no less a force to be reckoned with—especially in the land of the October 1917 socialist revolution where it all began.

And, leaving aside all the derivative circumstances that have contributed to the long retreat of the revolutionary workers' movement in the Stalinized former Soviet bloc countries, there are only two basic reasons.

One is the failure by the world working class thus far to construct a mass world party of socialist revolution. And the other is the resulting successful stabilization of world capitalism after the greatest movement for world socialism in history —inaugurated by the Russian Revolution—was strangled by Stalinism and other varieties of reformist socialism in the period between the early 1930s and the 1950s.

But, as is becoming ever more evident, that prolonged period of capitalist equilibrium is coming to an end. And Stalinism and the other reformist misleaders of the working class are now thoroughly discredited.

The new world relation of forces between labor and capital now unfolding will impel the workers of the world—including in the degenerating workers’ states—to once again take the road toward a world socialist society based on the principle of workers democracy as exercised by the workers of the Paris Commune of 1871 and the October Revolution of 1917. —NW




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