The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.63/No.14           April 12, 1999 
Capitalist Decay, Not `Tribal Hatred,' Causes Yugoslav War
Excerpts from `Capitalism's World Disorder'  

The following selection is from "Youth and the Communist Movement," a report by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. It was adopted by a special fusion congress of the Communist League and Young Socialists groups in the United Kingdom in June 1992. The entire report appears in Capitalism's World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium, copyright (c) 1999 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission.

If we look at the unfolding slaughter in Yugoslavia, we will see many elements of the world we are describing. The most difficult things to come to grips with in discussing Yugoslavia are not the theoretical questions; we have adopted reports on those questions and written about them well.(1) The most difficult thing is to acknowledge the reality of a murderous war, the scope and horror of which has not been seen in continental Europe for decades. Even more difficult to accept is the fact this war is not an aberration, but instead a foreshadowing of the direction of world politics today.

Most bourgeois commentators would have us believe that the slaughter in Yugoslavia signifies a new rise of nationalism -or as they often prefer saying, a new rise of "tribalism." Outside a few white enclaves in "the West," they imply, world civilization is threatening to break down along lines of "age-old ethnic hatreds." The truth is the opposite. The slaughter in Yugoslavia is the product of the breakdown of the capitalist world order; it is the product of intensifying conflicts among rival capitalist classes in the imperialist countries and would-be capitalists in the deformed workers states. These conflicts, in which exploiting layers demagogically don national garb to defend their narrow class interests, will increasingly mark world politics.

What is happening in Yugoslavia also bloodily demonstrates the fact that Stalinist leaderships cannot unite toilers from different national origins on a lasting basis to open up a broadening federation of soviet republics working together to build socialism. Several years after the October 1917 revolution in Russia, the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a voluntary federation of workers and peasants republics. The Bolsheviks in Lenin's time were a revolutionary workers vanguard that fought uncompromisingly for the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, for the complete equality of nations and nationalities, and against every vestige of national privilege, arrogance, and chauvinism. They took the lead in placing that internationalist perspective at the heart of the program and practice of the Communist International. As part of the political counterrevolution carried out by the petty-bourgeois social caste whose spokesman was Joseph Stalin, however, this proletarian internationalist course gave way to the return of Great Russian chauvinism, now dressed up as the "new Soviet nation" and "Soviet man."(2)

The federated Yugoslav workers state that the imperialists and rival Stalinist gangs are now trying to tear apart was a gigantic accomplishment of the Yugoslav revolution of 1942-46. Workers and peasants who were Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and from other nationalities forged unity to oust the Nazi occupation forces and their local collaborators, carry out a radical land reform, and expropriate the capitalist exploiters. It was truly one of the great revolutions of this century, a proletarian socialist revolution.

The Stalinist leadership of the Yugoslav Communist Party, headed by Josip Broz (known by his nom de guerre Tito), however, blocked the toilers of different nationalities from building on their conquests and solidly cementing the federation together. The socialist revolution in Yugoslavia was deformed from birth. Nonetheless, substantial layers of toilers in Yugoslavia -whether Bosnian, Serb, or Croat, whether Christian or Muslim in their current beliefs or family origins - have continued even today to demonstrate their will to resist the horrors thrust on them by the rival bureaucratic gangs that emerged from the crumbling Stalinist apparatus.

The consequences of the bloodbath in Yugoslavia also provide further confirmation that refugees are increasingly becoming actors in world politics today. Every time we hear the word "refugee," in any language, we should always translate it in our minds as "fellow worker." It is not enough for class-conscious workers to reject the chauvinist portrayal of refugees as pariahs. Above all, we must resist turning refugees simply into victims, rather than potential soldiers in the battalions of the international working class. We take communist politics to these fellow workers, and we fight alongside them for their rights, their dignity, and the common interests of working people the world over.

The slaughter in Yugoslavia shows every sign of deepening and drawing in other countries. There is already a United Nations intervention force there - so-called "peace-keeping" troops - for the first time ever in Europe. We cannot predict whether the war will expand, or foresee the forms an escalation might take. Nor do we know how long the current imperialist "peacekeeping" will take; we do know the longer it takes, the more likely it is to turn into "peacebreaking." Our job as communist workers is to demand a halt to the imperialist intervention and fight every attempt to deepen it. We need to keep speaking the truth about the stake workers have in this struggle, and to support the toilers throughout the Yugoslav workers state who are trying to defend their social conquests and bring the butchery to an end.

The war in Yugoslavia sharpens interimperialist conflicts. It sharpens the divisions between the United States and Europe, as well as divisions within Europe itself....

The ruling families of Germany and Japan are confronting the need to be able to use their armed forces once again to intervene abroad to defend their class interests against those of their rivals. As they take steps forward in doing so, however, they are meeting opposition both at home and abroad....

Whether in North America, Europe, or Asia and the Pacific, working people over time will move into action against the devastating consequences of capitalist militarism and the rulers' drive toward World War III. In order to succeed, these struggles cannot be "we in Britain" against "them in Germany" or "we in the United States" against "them in Japan." There is a we and a they - but it is a we of the working class and a they of the capitalist class. This we and they, moreover, have irreconcilable class interests. Either the workers of the world will unite to fight against the oppressive social and political conditions that will increasingly bear down on all of us, or the working class in each country will be torn apart and defeated by our respective capitalist rulers one by one.

It is the outcome of this struggle that will decide whether or not the march toward a third world war and its unthinkable consequences will become inevitable once again - as it had earlier in this century, by 1939 - or will be stopped this time by the advance of the world socialist revolution.

1. See The Truth about Yugoslavia: Why Working People Should Oppose Intervention by George Fyson, Argiris Malapanis, and Jonathan Silberman (New York: Pathfinder, 1993).

2. The historic communist position on these questions is explained in The Right of Nations to Self-Determination and Questions of National Policy and Proletarian Internationalism, both by V.I. Lenin (Moscow: Progress Publishers); and Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!, the proceedings of the Second Congress of the Communist International (Pathfinder, 1991). Lenin's battle against the first efforts to reverse this communist course are traced in Lenin's Final Fight: Speeches and Writings, 1922-23 (Pathfinder, 1995). Leon Trotsky, the most prominent Bolshevik active in the leadership of the October revolution who fought to continue Lenin's course, recounted the social and political factors that made possible the Stalinist counterrevolution, including on the national question, in his classic 1936 work, The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? All these titles are available from Pathfinder.

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