The events in Yugoslavia represent a political earthquake. In the space of 24 hours the entire situation has been transformed. The decisive element in the equation has been the sudden eruption of the masses on the scene. The scenes of an avalanche of humanity descending on Belgrade, the strikes, the confrontations with the police, the storming of the Parliament, have captured the imagination of the world. What is the meaning of the events in Yugoslavia? What is the nature of this movement? And what attitude should Marxists take towards it?
In the first year of the 21st century, we have seen war, revolution and counter-revolution in the Balkans. This proves decisively what Marxists have maintained consistently: that we have now entered into the most convulsive period in human history. All the bourgeois strategists thought that with the fall of the Berlin Wall the perspective of socialist revolution was off the agenda. Events have already proved them wrong in one country after another. In The New World Disorder, written exactly twelve months ago, we said the following:
"All history shows that there is a relation between war and revolution. When the fumes of chauvinism wear off, the masses take stock of their real situation and begin to draw their own conclusions. Their anger is directed towards the ruling clique that led them into the path of death, destruction and impoverishment. While the war lasts, the working class has its head down. But that cannot last forever. Sooner or later the working class will enter the arena of struggle. In Croatia there have been big strikes of the working class, largely unreported in the West. This shows the process that will take place in one Balkan country after another in the next period. At a certain stage the ground will be prepared for a class and internationalist policy, based on the goal of a socialist federation of Balkan peoples as the only way out of the present nightmare." (From The New World Disorder; World Relations at the Dawn of the 21st Century, by Alan Woods and Ted Grant, 15th December 1999.)
One year later, we see no reason to alter a single word of what we wrote at the time.
The ancient Greeks had a saying: Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. This certainly seems to have happened with Milosevic. The calling of elections was a miscalculation from his point of view. He clearly did not expect to lose! We have seen similar phenomena many times in history. Lord Acton, in his famous adage, said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Autocratic rulers surround themselves with a camarilla of servile courtiers who tell them what they want to hear. Consequently, they get out of touch with reality. In extreme cases, this leads to actual insanity (Hitler, Stalin). In the present case, it is obvious that Milosevic badly misjudged the mood of Serbian society. The whole situation was now working against them, but they failed to see the change of mood down below them. So long as the war continued, the people of Yugoslavia remained united against the foreign enemy. But now the chickens have come home to roost. Despite the regime's partial success at rebuilding the shattered infrastructure (bridges, etc.), the conditions of the populace remain dire. Discontent grows all the time. This is reflected in the results of the recent election.
It is difficult to get an exact picture, but in all probability the opposition did get a majority of the votes. The regime's candidates suffered a particularly heavy defeat in Belgrade. But it was clear that Milosevic would not easily surrender the reins of power. Clearly taken aback by the election result, he decided to play for time. He immediately claimed that nobody had achieved a decisive victory and called for a second round of voting on 8 October. Milosevic's announcement was met by a howl of protest from the West. The opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica stated that he would refuse to participate in the second round, demanded that Milosevic step down and called for a movement of civil disobedience including a general strike. The results of this caught everyone by surprise.
The lightning speed of events at this point deceived even experienced eye-witnesses. The relations between the classes changed, not by the day, but by the hour. On the 2nd of October we received a message from a Serbian Marxist in Belgrade, which contained the following appraisal:
"The opposition have won the presidential elections, but they lost the elections for the Federal (Yugoslav) Parliament. They also won the local government elections in Belgrade, Novi Sad and other big cities. However, the most important election was the one for Parliament because all legislative and constitutional changes must be made there. The Federal President has no real power. So the opposition's victory has no real significance, except for a psychological one. In my opinion, even if Milosevic decides to admit defeat, the regime won't collapse. Milosevic also controls the Republic (of Serbia) Parliament and has his man installed as the President of Serbia.
"The opposition has won also in the local elections, but they already held power in major cities in the last four years. the Republic's Parliament determines the funding and structure of local governments, so they can't do much harm to the regime.
"The opposition is organizing demonstrations in the big cities, and they managed to get a lot of people on the streets, but these people are not willing to fight for them. They think that marching and singing are enough to bring the regime down. The call for a general strike had a very poor reception in Belgrade, and as far as I know the same is the case in other major cities. This is very logical because they offer no clear strategy or solutions. Because of the poor response of the people they are always postponing the general strike - in fact they can't organize it. It was declared on Friday, then they moved it to Monday, and now to Wednesday. If they don't manage to pull off really big strikes in the most important companies, before the run-off (8th October) - and I think that they won't be able to do this - they will be defeated. Milosevic will organize the second round of elections and probably declare victory. Then he might get the police on the streets and break up the demonstrations.
"The situation in the small cities is more radical, but even there people are not prepared for open conflict with the police. The miners occupied one mine in central Serbia and few other trade unions warned that they might go on strike too. However, their demands are limited to admitting the victory of the opposition's candidate over Milosevic. There are no economic demands from a working class standpoint.
"Unfortunately, I think that the workers are beginning to believe all the bourgeois propaganda about the benefits of the free market, privatization, etc, and because of the grave economic situation they have decided to give it a try. This was reflected in the elections. The opposition would probably have also won in the Federal Parliament, but Montenegro boycotted the elections, and this automatically gave Milosevic almost 50 percent of the seats. So I don't think that there is much room for socialist ideas right now, but if the situation gets radicalised, the petty-bourgeois character of the revolt and the demonstrations might turn into a revolutionary mood. And that might lead to self-organizing of the workers, because the opposition seems toothless."
But even while we were waiting for further reports from Belgrade, the news came through of the dramatic events. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over Yugoslavia flooded into Belgrade. The demonstrators had stormed the parliament and set it on fire. Within hours it became clear that Milosevic had been overthrown by a mass movement of the people which swept everything before it. Does this not contradict the appraisal of our Serbian correspondent? Not necessarily. Indeed, in general, the lines reproduced above contain an accurate analysis of the forces involved, although events took a different turn to what was anticipated. It now appears that the leaders of the opposition (DOS) were far-sighted people who were in complete command of the situation. Actually, the success of the movement owes little or nothing to the opposition leadership, the nature of which we will deal with presently. The latter understood nothing, foresaw nothing, and merely acted as an unconscious catalyst for forces beyond the control of themselves or anyone. They were the first ones to be surprised at their own success. By calling for a mass campaign of civil disobedience in protest against the refusal of Milosevic to recognise the election results, they provided the focal point for the subsequent upheaval. But they had no clear idea of where they were going and no coherent plan of action.
Foreign observers were under no illusions as to the courage and "far-sightedness" of the opposition leaders. In an article dated 4/08/2000 and entitled Can Milosevic lose?, Janes Intelligence Digest wrote:
"With the prospect of further Balkan conflict on the horizon, the outcome of Yugoslavia's September elections will be a crucial factor. However, suggestions that Slobodan Milosevic might be on the run appear a little premature.
"...some analysts still appear to believe that the Serbian opposition might manage to unseat President Milosevic. JID's analysis is that this is almost certainly wishful thinking.
"...In reality, given Milosevic's grip on the state security apparatus and the official media (particularly the vital television network) he stands little chance of losing power. With the Serbian opposition parties still desperately disunited, the threat DOS poses to the ruling elite is minimal: a calculation which clearly influenced Milosevic's decision to call the elections." (our emphasis)
As we see from this, the strategists of capital were unanimously sceptical as to the possibilities of an opposition victory in Yugoslavia. Rather their perspective was that Milosevic would use the army and police to crush its opponents.
However, another article in Janes Intelligence Digest (18/9/2000) showed a clearer understanding of the process. The article, entitled "From inside Milosevic's camp", states:
"With the Yugoslav elections just days away, JID brings you an extended - and exclusive - report from inside President Slobodan Milosevic's secret service. It makes grim reading, but confirms the warnings we have issued over recent months. Conflict may now be inevitable.
"A major re-shuffle of Serbia's political forces is taking place behind the scenes just days before the Yugoslav elections scheduled for 24 September. Leading players are winding-up old alliances and attempting to form new ones through a series of clandestine meetings. Several officials of the ruling regime have gone into hibernation and a former federal president publicly resigned from Milosevic's party. This does not bode well for a peaceful outcome of these elections; rather, it indicates that the internal political scene has become strained to the limit and, whatever the official results of the elections, street protests are likely to follow, with a high probability of violence. That is, if the elections are held at all, as some signs point to the possibility of a postponement."
This appraisal, by the serious representatives of Capital, proved to be quite accurate.
The opposition's call for a general strike initially met with next to no response in Belgrade and the biggest cities, showing the opposition's lack of a base in the factories. This is shown by the newspaper reports. On Tuesday October 3, 2000 Gillian Sandford, the Guardian correspondent in Belgrade published a report entitled "Patchy start to Serbian strike". In it we read:
"A general strike to force Yugoslavia's president, Slobodan Milosevic, to concede electoral defeat failed to bring the Serbian republic to a complete standstill yesterday.
"Opposition strongholds in the provinces lived up to their record of radicalism, but in Belgrade and other major cities workers failed to heed opposition pleas for a boycott... an opposition spokesman conceded that the day's showing was a disappointment.
"Today we particularly failed with this general strike...", the spokesman said. (The Guardian 3/10/2000, our emphasis).
However, the report continues to describe a more radical mood in the provinces: "The strikers at the Kolubera coal mine complex said they were under enormous pressure, but that they had rebuffed police on Sunday night.
"Everyone is 100% ready to continue the strike," a union member, Milovan Jankovic, said.
"Around 4,500 miners also downed tools at the Kostolac mine in eastern Serbia. They blocked off the mine and power plant but agreed to maintain minimum output.
"In the opposition-held town of Kraljevo, a journalist, Ljudmila Svetkovic, said that key roads were blocked. Restaurants, shops, buses, state companies- even the local Socialist party television station - were on strike, she said.
"In nearby Kragulevac, more than 30,000 people took to the streets, including car workers and labourers from the armaments factory. And in Cacak an angry crowd threatened to demolish the tax office.
"In Mr Milosevic's hometown of Pozarevac, until recently firmly controlled by his allies, farmers blocked roads and the schools were closed."
The picture was clearly uneven, but the workers in the main centres were at first completely passive.
The imperialists certainly did not have much confidence in the opposition's chances of success. They were convinced that Milosevic would fight. This was, in fact, a reasonable supposition. Fearing a slide into civil war with unpredictable results, the imperialists suggested that Russia should mediate. Probably they hoped for a re-run of what happened in the Kosovo war, when Yeltsin obliged them by stabbing Milosevic in the back. However, things moved much further and faster than what they, or we, expected.
The events of two years ago showed quite clearly that demonstrations of students in and of themselves, no matter how massive, could not overthrow Milosevic. A show of force was sufficient to put an end to the movement of the middle class oppositionists who "think that marching and singing are enough to bring the regime down." Nevertheless, this correct appraisal of the weakness of the middle class movement appears to be falsified by subsequent events. Why? Because the mood of the workers began to change. All the accumulated frustrations, bitterness and discontent erupted onto the surface. Quantity changed into quality. But the decisive element in the equation was the role of the working class. If it had not been for the actions of the miners, the whole movement would almost certainly have gone into reverse. They were only saved by the intervention of the workers.
Once this occurred, the whole mood of the masses changed. This in turn affected the morale of the security forces. In the past (for example, two years ago) the latter were prepared to use violence against the protesters. But now we saw pictures on television which starkly revealed that the situation had been transformed. When the authorities sent the riot police to place a ring round one of the striking mines, a bus full of protesters broke through the police lines by the simple expedient of gently but firmly pushing a police van out of the way, while the police stood by and did nothing. This little incident said everything that needed to be said about the morale of the police. The rapid growth of revolutionary sentiment in the space of twenty four hours has been well documented. We quote in full from a report in The Guardian Friday October 6, 2000 by Gillian Sandford in Kolubara and Owen Bowcott:
"Protests break out across country as activists smash police roadblocks Serbia: Riot officers swept aside as convoys head for capital
"As convoys of opposition vehicles converged on Belgrade yesterday, a shock wave of protests spread across the countryside. Hesitant riot police stood by, or were swept aside by the popular uprising.
"In the northern town of Subotica, near the Hungarian border, the arrest of a student activist triggered a rally of 10,000 people in the town square. In the third largest city, Nis, a similar sized demonstration tried to force its way into the local offices of President Milosevic's Socialist party but was persuaded by opposition leaders not to give police a reason to attack them. Water cannon vehicles remained parked.
"Attempts to block the roads leading to the capital were easily thwarted. Where the police had set up roadblocks they were overwhelmed by the numbers pressing forward... Protesters used an excavator to shove aside two lorries laden with sand and parked across the main road from the opposition-held town of Cacak to Belgrade. Police in riot gear did not intervene as a 12-mile-long column of cars and buses, with opposition and Serbian flags fluttering from the windows, ferried 15,000 people into the capital.
"At other roadblocks, lorries were pushed off the highway while demonstrators negotiated with police commanders to be allowed through. At one blockade, protesters overturned a police car into a ditch. Several thousand people were marching on foot towards Belgrade from the industrial city of Pancevo, six miles to the north.
"There were more defections to the opposition from the state-controlled media. The Dnevnik newspaper in northern Serbia carried reports on opposition activities and the wave of strikes and blockades. At the strikebound coal mine in Kolubara, where police first gave ground to the crush of opposition demonstrators on Wednesday night, the occupation by miners continued in defiance of the police who had taken over part of the complex in an attempt to prevent widespread power cuts.
"The strike committee in Kolubara decided to stay put rather than join in the march to Belgrade. 'We are not afraid, we have to keep up,' a member, Zoran Cvetanovic, said. 'We want to keep our workers in the pits - we do not want them to go to Belgrade because we must persist in our demands and defend ourselves.'
"Another strike leader said: 'There should be no confrontation with [the police]. If they know how to make the machines work, then they can make them work. We won't work until the true results of the presidential elections are recognised. Until Vojislav Kostunica is president.'
"An opposition leader declared: 'We found the fire in Kolubara, this dynamite that has activated people all around Serbia.'
"The 7,500 strikers at Kolubara understood what was at stake. 'I'm not afraid of the police. There's no reason to be afraid,' said Miljana Ljuba, a 36-year-old who spent 17 years working the pits in a region that until last week solidly supported Mr Milosevic. 'The police are people, just like us. We are fighting for justice.'
"'We are not interested in bloodshed,' said Milos Maksimovic, 35. 'Milosevic had enough in Bosnia and Croatia. I respect Mr Milosevic. In the past I voted for him. But now we need another man. The opposition is careful - and there will be no bloodshed'."
The storming of Parliament
The most decisive events occurred on Thursday in Belgrade. The opposition leaders had given the government an ultimatum: Milosevic must resign by three p.m. on the fifth of October. In the minds of these people, this deadline clearly had a rhetorical character, since nobody expected Milosevic to oblige. But then something happened that upset everibody's calculations. From all over Yugoslavia, a mass of people poured into the capital, an unstoppable torrent. The mood of the demonstrators was summed up by one man who angrily addressed an astonished opposition leader: "Look at the time! It's seven minutes past three, and no announcement has been made. What are you going to do?"
What the leader replied to this question is not recorded. But replies were no longer needed. The crowd, as if guided by an unseen hand, suddenly pushed forward towards the steps of the Parliament, which was defended by a line of nervous-looking riot police. Then the pushing and shoving started. Those in front were pushed by those behind. The police started to lash out with their batons and a man staggered back, clutching his head. But somehow, the blows of the policemen lacked strength. The crowd, almost by telepathy, understood that the police resistance lacked conviction, that they were hesitating. The sheer size of the demonstration paralysed their will. Here and there, individual policemen were breaking ranks and joining the demonstrators. Others, in desperation, fired tear gas, causing momentary panic. Demonstrators fell back, coughing and choking. Some people were injured. But this only served to anger the protesters and spur them on. At a decisive moment, the will of the police cracked. The crowd surged forward. The Parliament building was occupied.
Spurred on by their fury, the demonstrators rushed into the building and began smashing furniture and windows. A fire was started that soon got a grip. This suggests that there were lumpen proletarian elements mixed up with the demonstrators. Meanwhile the much-feared riot police filed out and hastily disappeared in the crowd. They still carried their weapons, but no longer had the will to use them. There is a lesson here for anyone who cares to learn it. That no power on earth can stop the masses once they decide that they have had enough. The most powerful state apparatus, army or police force can be paralysed and rendered useless, once the people show that they mean serious business! This lesson will have been learned by the Serbian working class and will not be soon forgotten. The same bourgeois leaders who are now crowing victory and are scrambling to power on the backs of the masses will have cause to regret this fact.
The demonstrators stormed the state television station, which was also partially set on fire. Suddenly the whole nation became aware that something of a fundamental character was happening when all three TV channels went dead. When broadcasting was resumed, the television was already in the hands of the opposition. The state news agency Tanjug announced that is had switched sides. This was perhaps the critical point when the outcome of the struggle was decided. Overnight those prostituted journalists of the State-owned or formerly pro-Milosevic dailies were compelled to break the habit of a lifetime and tell something like the truth. However, old habits die hard. Having unceremoniously ditched one Chief, they anxiously looked over their shoulder at the new one before putting pen to paper. The papers all issued special editions reflecting the change in their editorial policies. Politika, Milosevic's old mouthpiece, featured a front-page photograph of Mr Kostunica, his arm raised triumphantly in the air over a headline: "Serbia on the road to democracy" with a subtitle describing him as president.
Had the workers been organised and class-conscious enough, they could have taken power without bloodshed or civil war. The army stood to one side. After a meeting of the chiefs of staff, the armed forces immediately announced that they would uphold the Constitution, and would only fire in self-defence. As always, the army reflects the mood of society. This is particularly true in Yugoslavia where the army is made up of conscripts, who would not be prepared to fire on the people. Even if the army generals were willing to fight for Milosevic, they would not be able to do so. One bloody incident, and the army would split in pieces. Despite all the fears of a counter-stroke by Milosevic, all appears quiet. On Friday October 6, The Guardian wrote: "No movements by military units were reported anywhere in the country today. Momcilo Perisic, a former army chief of staff and now an opposition figure, said he had contacted Yugoslavia's military leaders and that they had promised not to intervene."
Thus, the opposition, to their amazement, found power lying in the street, and just picked it up. A "crisis committee" has been established to assume the functions of government. They are hastening to re-establish the state and to prevent the movement "getting out of hand". Kostunica has called for the re-establishment of "order". What is its first action? To call for an end to the protests, and the re-establishment of "order". The new rulers (and their Western backers) are most concerned to obtain a "smooth transition", and for pragmatic reason they are not baying for blood, just yet. Nevertheless, attacks on Milosevic supporters have been reported as having taken place in Leskovac and Belgrade. At this time of writing Milosevic's whereabouts are unknown. He has variously been reported as having escaped to Moscow or Minsk, to be in hiding in Bor in the East and to be still in Belgrade. Either way, his future is bleak. If he does not find a foreign exile, he will end up either in prison or six feet under the ground.
For its part Moscow has shown itself unenthusiastic about providing hospitality for its old friend. Prime Minister M. Kasyanov has stated that "political asylum was not under consideration". It is well known that politics knows no gratitude and that ex-dictators are not a marketable commodity! With characteristic cynicism, Russia's foreign minister Ivanov lost no time in flying to Belgrade to shake the hands of the new bourgeois leaders.
Why Milosevic fell
There are times in history when an autocratic or reactionary regime can fall, not as a result of a revolution, but simply as a result of its own internal decay and exhaustion. Sometimes, power can pass into the hands of the opposition (including the working class) without a struggle, as happened in Hungary in 1918, when the Karoly regime handed over power to the Communists without a fight. This easy victory was subsequently thrown away through the mistakes of Bela Kun and the leaders of the Hungarian Communist party, but that is another matter. Another case was the collapse of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in 1930. These regimes were not overthrown. They just collapsed as a result of internal disintegration, like a rotten apple falling off a tree. The same was true of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe eleven years ago. Now history is repeating itself.
Hegel once said "all that is real is rational". But when a state loses its reason to exist, when it becomes "unreasonable", the slightest push can send it toppling over.
The international bourgeois press consistently harp on the theme that Milosevic was a "Communist" and that this movement represents the final victory of "democracy" (read "capitalism") over socialism. This stands the truth completely on its head. The regime of Milosevic bore not the slightest relation to socialism. As we pointed out twelve months ago, this was already a bourgeois semi-Bonapartist regime, run largely by a gangster element:
"Throughout this period Milosevic and the gangster clique around him have been carrying out their own privatisation programme. An example was the privatisation of Serbia's state-owned telecommunications company in 1997 when Telecom Italia and OTE of Greece paid about $1bn to buy up a 49 per cent stake. In 1998 the large Beocin Cement Factory was sold to French and British investors. The Pancevo Petrochemical Industry was evaluated at a billion German marks and was preparing to go onto the London stock exchange before the bombing started. The state run sugar refineries were also sold off to foreign investors.
"Many of Milosevic's clique have managed to become property owners in this process and transform themselves into capitalists. They do not have the interests of the Serb workers at heart but their own lust for wealth, power and privileges." (From Why Marxists oppose both Milosevic and the "opposition" in Serbia by Ted Grant and Fred Weston, September 1st, 1999.)
What failed in Yugoslavia was not socialism or communism, but a monstrous bureaucratic caricature that had already succeeded in destroying the basis of the nationalised planned economy and was moving in the direction of capitalism even before these events. The only difference between these elements and the opposition was who was going to get the spoils. The victory of the opposition, however, will mean that the movement towards capitalism will be speeded up, to the detriment of the Yugoslav working class and the people as a whole.
According to opinion polls one year ago over 70 percent of the Serb population would have liked to see Milosevic go, but at the same time over 40 percent did not trust the opposition movement. The problem in Serbia is that the working class does not have its own political voice. Thus the struggle between the Milosevic regime and the opposition is between two capitalist camps. They all agree on one thing: that the economy should be privatised. What they don't agree on is how it should be privatised and who should rake in the benefits.
Milosevic clearly wanted to make sure that his own clique would consolidate its control over the privatised economy. The opposition leaders represent a more pro-western bourgeois point of view. They want "reforms", i.e. privatisation, at a faster pace, and they want to open the road to their western backers. Neither road will offer a solution to the workers and youth of Serbia. In both cases the masses will suffer as the wealth they produce with their labour is robbed by the developing bourgeois class and ex-Stalinist bureaucrats.
The reason why the opposition gained support was the bankruptcy of the Milosevic regime. The present regime in Belgrade has solved not one of the problems facing the country. On the contrary. This semi-Bonapartist regime, based on gangsterism and corruption, has ruined the country and brought it to the brink of the abyss. In the past Yugoslavia enjoyed a reasonable standard of living. Now all that is history. Economic output in Serbia last year was half what it was ten years ago. In the same period average monthly income had fallen from about £400 to about £70, with a drop of about 40 percent in the past period. Living standards have plummeted. Many workers have not been paid their salaries or pensions. Even before the bombing unemployment was officially 25 percent. But the NATO bombardment led to a massive destruction of the productive base and infrastructure.
Milosevic's adventurist policy has led to an unprecedented national disaster. For 13 years, Milosevic succeeded in maintaining himself in power by a combination of skilful Macchiavellian manoeuvres and a policy that amounted to permanent war. Let us not forget that he came to power by cynically playing the card of Serb chauvinism. This played a fatal role. Tito succeeded in maintaining the unity of Yugoslavia on the basis of autonomy for the regions. By destroying this autonomy, Milosevic set out on a disastrous course that opened the door to the manoeuvres of imperialism and led to the break-up of Yugoslavia. This was a completely reactionary development which was against the interests of all the peoples of the ex-Yugoslavia. Now Serbia has emerged as the greatest loser of all. After ten years of national conflict the end result for the Serb people has been the displacement of about 700,000 refugees from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The Serbs have been humiliated in three wars which have brought nothing but misery. This fact slowly dawned on the consciousness of the masses and ultimately led to the present denouement.
The last desperate throw of this gambler was the Kosovo war. By abolishing the autonomy of Kosovo, Milosevic was personally responsible for a chain of events that led inevitably to war in the province. Naturally, the imperialists took advantage of this to launch a vicious campaign of bombing. As long as the war lasted, Milosevic was secure. The indignation of the Serbian people against the barbarities of NATO undermined the pro-western bourgeois opposition. Once again Milosevic could whip up nationalism in order to maintain his grip on power, despite the terrible deterioration of people's living standards. But once the war had ended, as we predicted one year ago, the intoxicating fumes of chauvinism gradually dispersed, leaving the Serbian people face to face with cold reality.
The bourgeois opposition leaders, egged on by imperialism, lost no time in beating the drum for "democracy". They succeeded in getting an echo in the students and middle class. but their fatal weakness was the lack of a base among the working class. Without the support of the workers, nothing could be done. The decisive role of the proletariat has been demonstrated with absolute clarity in the last few days. Without the active participation of the workers, especially the miners, it is most likely that Milosevic could have won. As the Serbian Marxist pointed out, he would merely have declared himself the winner in the second round and then used the riot police to disperse the demonstrators. But the strike movement changed all that. It served notice on the regime that the game was up. It gave hope to the demonstrators and shook the morale of the police.
In a revolutionary situation, as the great French revolutionary Danton pointed out, the main quality that is needed is audacity. Hesitation is fatal. In Yugoslavia the masses seized the initiative. The authorities were taken completely by surprise and caught off balance. If Milosevic had sent in the riot police immediately he might have succeeded in dispersing the movement before it acquired the necessary strength. But he hesitated and the moment was lost. It is like a gigantic snowball that has been rolled with great difficulty uphill, and, on reaching the summit, rolls downhill, gathering volume and momentum until it becomes completely unstoppable. By the time the authorities had realised what was happening, the possibility of a counterstroke had all but disappeared. Once the movement had reached a certain point, any attempt to crush it in blood would have had precisely the opposite effect.
So was this a workers' revolution? Unfortunately, no. The workers certainly intervened—or, at least, a section of the workers. Others remained passive. Indeed, the western media were saying right up to the time when the whole situation erupted, that most workers still supported Milosevic. More correctly, they did not trust the opposition. And in this they were quite right. But, as the Serbian Marxist pointed out, unfortunately an increasing number of workers, tired of economic hardship, wars, all-pervasive corruption, lies and manoeuvres, are inclined to look for an alternative, and the only alternative on offer at this time is that of the bourgeois opposition. While sceptical, many would shrug their shoulders and say: "Well, we can't be any worse off. Why not give them a try?"
A similar mood existed ten years ago in Eastern Europe and Russia. It meant that, insofar as the workers intervened at all, they did so, not under their own banners, but under the alien flag of the bourgeoisie. This was a fatal move for which they have paid a heavy price. For when the bourgeois raise the banner of "freedom", they inevitably mean freedom to exploit and oppress the working class. This painful lesson has been learned by the workers of Russia, Bulgaria and Romania. Now it is the turn of the Serbs.
Meanwhile, it is necessary for Marxists to tell the truth to the working class. If you fight under the banner of another class, if you abandon an independent class position, then the character of the movement is determined by the leaders, not by you. In the moment of truth, once the fighting is over, you will find yourselves cheated and robbed of the fruits of victory. The bourgeois who now speak only of Liberty will place their foot on your neck and you will be even worse off than before. You do not want to hear this message today? Very well. But life is a hard teacher, and tomorrow you will listen.
The nature of the opposition leaders
The intentions of the bourgeois opposition leaders are no secret. They are published in the Program of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia where, under the section, 'The First Year of the New Government", among their stated aims we find the following:
As one of the options for stabilising the currency they propose the "introduction of a dual-currency monetary system, i.e. legalization of the German mark in internal circulation" and the "free entry of foreign banks with a high reputation."
Finance for their programme of so-called "economic reforms" (in reality privatisations) should come from "direct foreign investments (sale of state property in the process of privatization)".
They propose "price liberalisation", i.e. the annulment of administrative price controls. They would introduce subsidies only for "the poor" as they state that, "presently all population categories are being needlessly protected through controlled prices".
They also plan to introduce "Foreign trade liberalization" with the "cancellation of all import and export quotas (except for agriculture)".
But the most important section of their programme, which defines them as a reactionary counter-revolutionary coalition is the section on "Privatizations" where they state quite clearly that: - "privatization must be carried out relatively fast due to an enormous delay in comparison with other countries in transition - privatization will be made compulsory - the process of privatization must be transparent - privatization will predominantly be conducted through the direct sale of state property, taking into account the huge amount of inherited public debt that should be paid - privatization will stimulate development of a capital market." (Our emphasis.)
What more needs to be said?
In reality, the leaders of the opposition are pro-Western, pro-bourgeois and pro-privatisation. The slogan of "democracy" on the lips of these ladies and gentlemen means just the same as it meant ten years ago in Russia. Vojislav Kostunica and the other "democratic" leaders, like Zoran Djindjic and Zarko Korac make no attempt to conceal their bourgeois views. The opposition is being backed by imperialism with money and resources. Accusations that the opposition is on the payroll of Washington are well documented.. A 'New York Times' article by Steven Erlanger concedes that the charges we and many other people have raised about US meddling in Yugoslavia are true. Indeed Erlanger adds information we had no way of knowing. For example, he reports that "suitcases full of cash" are sent across the borders into Yugoslavia to fund the "democratic opposition".
Erlanger states that "Independent journalists and broadcasters here have been told by American aid officials "not to worry about how much they're spending now," that plenty more is in the pipeline, said one knowledgeable aid worker. Others in the opposition complain that the Americans are clumsy, sending e-mails from "state.gov" - the State Department's address - summoning people to impolitic meetings with American officials in Budapest, Montenegro or Dubrovnik, Croatia."( NY Times, 20/9/2000.)
"Even before the Kosovo war, the United States was spending up to $10 million a year to back opposition parties, independent news media and other institutions opposed to Mr Milosevic. The war itself cost billions of dollars. This fiscal year, through September, the administration is spending $25 million to support Serbian "democratization," with an unknown amount of money spent covertly to help the failed rallies of last year, which did not bring down Mr Milosevic, or to influence the current election. For next year, the administration is requesting $41.5 million in open aid to Serbian democratization, though Congress is likely to cut that request." (ibid.)
Again: "But there is little effort to disguise the fact that Western money pays for much of the polling, advertising, printing and other costs of the opposition political campaign - one way, to be sure, to give opposition leaders a better chance to get their message across in a quasi-authoritarian system where television in particular is in the firm hands of the government." (ibid.)
A Congressional testimony, from July 29, 1999, cited American officials then involved with Yugoslav policy, like Robert Gelbard and James Pardew, telling Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware about their projects. They describe the creation of a "ring around Serbia" of radio stations broadcasting into Serbia from Bosnia and Montenegro, the spending of $16.5 million in the previous two years to support "democratization in Serbia," and another $20 million to support Montenegro's president, Milo Djukanovic, who broke away from Mr Milosevic in 1998.
In a curious inversion of Clausewitz's formula, eonomics is here the continuation of war by other means. It goes without saying that US imperialism does not spend such sums of money without good reason. In the words of the old proverb: "He who pays the piper calls the tune." US imperialism is determined to bring Yugoslavia under its control. What it could not achieve through bombs it is now attempting to get with dollars. The victory of the opposition would mean the subordination of Yugoslavia to the West and the "market economy". There would be wholesale privatisation of industry. This would only add to the general chaos and make the situation even worse. As in Russia, Bulgaria and Romania, the main losers would be the working class. It would be a catastrophe for the long-suffering people of Yugoslavia. That is why the working class has remained aloof from the opposition. The general strike was a flop, with the exception of the miners, whose actions are particularly misguided because they would be among those worse affected if the opposition were to come to power.
The role of imperialism
The news of the downfall of Milosevic has been greeted with jubilation by Western leaders. Tony Blair and President Clinton openly gloat on the television screens at the fall of their most hated enemy. But mixed in with this public triumphalism there is a note of anxiety. Clinton warned that military action to remove Milosevic would be "inappropriate". The ferment in Yugoslav society, the chaos and "anarchy" in the long run bodes them no good.
The denunciations of the imperialists against Milosevic and their "friendly" overtures to the people of Serbia reek of hypocrisy. These civilised, Christian gentlemen who wrecked Yugoslavia by bombing now pose as the friends of the Yugoslav people. Their real attitude to Yugoslavia was shown by the imposition of crippling sanctions. The sanctions were imposed by the United States government and its allies to disorganise and further destroy the productive forces and infrastructure. They have badly hurt the Yugoslav economy and caused widespread poverty and suffering. In reality, their only problem with Milosevic is that he does not want to be their stooge. In order to bring about their enemy's downfall any means is justified.
In recent years Washington has been busy strengthening its stranglehold on the Balkans. Albania is already a pawn in the hands of US imperialism and NATO. Bulgaria and Romania have fallen into line. And after the Bosnian and Kosovo conflicts, the USA now effectively controls a broad swathe of territory in the region. It is building up its military strength in Macedonia and has now fixed its beady eye on Montenegro. In Croatia, after the death of Tudjman, a more pliable regime has been installed. Only the Serbian regime remains a thorn in its side. This, and nothing else, determines its policy.
Despite all the propaganda the Kosovo war solved nothing for imperialism. It was not even a military victory in the strict sense of the word. The Yugoslav army was not defeated in open conflict, although terrible damage was inflicted on the Yugoslav economy and superstructure by the indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets. Had matters reached the point of a ground war, the military result would have looked very different. The only reason this did not was that Yeltsin, for purely selfish reasons, abandoned Milosevic at the critical moment.
The result of this uneasy compromise is an abortion in which Kosovo, remains formally part of Yugoslavia, but the Yugoslavs have no say in it. This was underlined in the recent elections when the occupying forces tried to interfere to prevent the people of Kosovo from taking part, which they were legally entitled to do.
Over one year after the cessation of hostilities, nothing is solved in Kosovo. Nobody is satisfied. In place of ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serbs we have ethnic cleansing of Serbs by Albanians, many thousands of Serbs, gypsies and other minorities have been driven from their homes. The KLA leaders, hailed by the West not long ago as "freedom fighters" have shown themselves to be a gang of reactionary criminals, who enrich themselves with the proceeds of drug trading, arms smuggling and the sale of stolen cars. While brutally oppressing the Serbs, they are also busy fighting among themselves as different groups of mobsters struggle for a bigger slice of the cake.
Unfortunately for the KLA, the imperialists have no intention of giving them independence, since, as we pointed out long ago, this would mean all-out war in the Balkans.
Revolution or counter-revolution?
Do the events in Yugoslavia add up to a revolution? Trotsky in his History of the Russian Revolution explains that the most important characteristic of a revolution is the direct participation of the masses in political activity. From this point of view, what we see before us is indeed a revolution. However, this does not exhaust the question. If we ask what class forces are leading the movement, we have to say that the leadership is a bourgeois leadership which is exploiting the movement and discontent of the masses for its own selfish ends. The situation is therefore extremely contradictory.
The elements of a revolution are undoubtedly present, and there would be a potential for a genuine workers' revolution if the subjective factor were present, that is, if there were a genuine revolutionary workers' party and leadership. In the absence of the subjective factor, however, the movement will inevitably end up the same way as it did in Romania—as a reactionary bourgeois regime.
This is what is so tragic about the events in Yugoslavia. It was so easy to overthrow a seemingly all-powerful regime! So easy—And yet so hard! So hard for the working class to take advantage of its own victory, and to stop the power from falling into the hands of its enemies! And yet, all that would be required is to issue an appeal to the workers to set up their own democratic organs of power, elected workers' committees in every workplace and workers' district (which the Russians called soviets), to expand these committees to include the students, peasants and soldiers, to link them up on a local, regional and national scale. Then power could pass peacefully into the hands of the working people. So easy, and yet so terribly difficult without the necessary Marxist party to explain what is required.
But there is no such party. And the voice of the workers will be drowned out in the general chorus that tells us "We have won!" "We have won!" The general euphoria of victory is as intoxicating as a large dose of slivovic, and the hangover the following day will be correspondingly painful. For who are the "we" who have won? And how will this victory manifest itself? These are the questions which nobody wants to ask just now. But asked they must be—and answered also.
The Marxists have already asked the question and answered it too. One year ago we warned: "Mass privatisation will involve further increases in the already high levels of unemployment. It will involve the destruction of what little is left of the old welfare guarantees provided by the previous regime based on state controlled economic planning. That is why Marxists can give absolutely no support to the opposition movement in Serbia. This is not because we have any illusions in Milosevic. Milosevic is also an enemy of the working people. Both camps are out to make the workers pay. The opposition hides behind its camouflage of "democracy", but in reality it defends the interests of world capitalism, not renowned for its democratic credentials when it comes to defending its fundamental economic interests."
No matter how bad Milosevic was, the bourgeois opposition, those Western stooges with their plans for privatisation tucked in their pockets, will undoubtedly be a thousand times worse. The only way forward in the present situation is on the basis of an independent class policy for the workers and the trade unions. No support for the bourgeois parties! The only solution is the establishment of workers' committees, and a fight for workers' power as the real alternative to Milosevic and the bourgeois opposition.
Given the general confusion and the weakness of the subjective factor, it seems inevitable that the present favourable situation will not last. The opportunity will be lost and the uprising will only be the prelude to the installing of an openly bourgeois regime. The working people of Serbia will pay a heavy price for this. But "life teaches' and sooner or later the movement will re-emerge on a higher, socialist, level.
Neither Milosevic nor Kostunica, but a working class alternative!
No to capitalism! For a socialist Yugoslavia!
For a Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia, under the democratic control and administration of the working people themselves!
For a democratic Balkan Socialist Federation!
Alan Woods and Ted Grant,
London, 6th October,2000
The above document was written in the heat of the events, before the situation was completely clear. The only small correction we should make is in relation to the position of Milosevic. it is now clear that, contrary to earlier reports, he had not fled the country but remained in Belgrade, where he met the Russian foreign minister. What passed between them we cannot know. Presumably Ivanov advised him to give up all thoughts of resistance (advice that would have been superfluous in any case) and admit defeat like a good "democrat" in exchange for the perspective of playing some kind of role in Yugoslav politics in future.
Bowing to the inevitable, the old grey fox appeared on Yugoslav television gracefully conceding defeat. The fact that this defeat was inflicted on the streets after a struggle which was far from graceful would have been lost on no-one. Moreover, it is far from clear that Milosevic will be permitted to play a role in Yugoslav politics or even remain at liberty for any length of time.
True, the new leaders are proceeding cautiously, issuing reassuring noises about no retribution. This, however, is not the result of any humanitarian considerations. They have to look over their shoulders at the generals, who would not take kindly to any trial of Milosevic and his supporters, since they fear that they would be next.
As for the Americans, they continue to growl about war criminals raising the spectre of the wretched court somewhere in Holland, the purpose of which is a mystery to most people and which has so far tried nobody of any consequence. Five years after the Bosnian conflict, Karadzic and Mladic remain at liberty, thumbing their nose at Washington and its tame court. Now Milosevic seems to be doing the same. However, lord Owen, who appears to have learnt one or two things from his earlier Bosnian adventures, has warned that the West should leave Milosevic alone. By raising this thorny issue at this time, Washington merely proves the old adage that American generals (and diplomats, like Madeline Albright) are unable to master the art of marching and chewing gum at the same time. As a Frenchman once remarked: "This is worse than a crime, it's a mistake!"
by Alan Woods