The bloodshed that took place throughout the former Yugoslavia in the last decade has been interpreted in many different ways by many different bourgeois theoreticians. The only common threads throughout all these pearls of wisdom were those of the sometimes naïve, but mostly calculated, interest driven prejudices and nonsense. In an attempt to explain the ongoing war, the media labelled it as “ethnic”, “religious”, “civil” and in some cases even “tribal”. As Marxists we fight against these misinterpretations which flow from a basic misunderstanding of the causes and nature of the wave of violence which hit the Balkans in the nineties.

Almost five years since the fighting ceased and NATO troops were sent in to pacify the region, conflict between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians has flared up once again. This renewed conflict confirms everything we have said about Kosovo and the wider problems affecting the whole of the Balkans. The fundamental problems have not been resolved. They have been simmering below the surface.

Role of leadership

An essential lesson to draw from the miners' strike is the vital role of leadership. The miners' leaders stood head and shoulders above the majority of British trade union leaders at this time. Arthur Scargill in particular demonstrated an unbending will to struggle in the face of the most appalling personal abuse and character assassination. In this sense the leaders of the union were a source of inspiration for the miners in the areas. At the same time these leaders were inspired by the courage and determination of the rank and file miners, of their wives and their communities. Unfortunately courage alone is not enough to win such titanic battles. It must be accompanied by correct tactics and strategy. Mistakes in these vital areas were made even by the best NUM leaders.

Twenty years ago on March 5, 1984 the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) embarked upon the most important class struggle in Britain since the general strike of 1926. Over the following twelve months of ferocious battles billions of pounds were spent by the ruling class to crush the miners' militancy. More than ten thousand miners were arrested; two were killed on the picket lines and countless others injured. Decades of so-called consensus were obliterated and the real and ugly face of British capitalism was exposed for all to see. The masks of Democracy and the Law, behind which the ruling class try to conceal the rule of capital, were shattered as the veil of so-called independence of the courts, the police and the media was lifted to show the real role of the state in capitalist society.

An interview with Nigel Pearce, a member of the National Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers and working miner. He explains how the strike developed and the turning point that it represented for labour relations in Britain. In spite of the defeat he says, "We were right to fight, we had a duty to fight, and I'm proud to have fought, and I'm proud of all those I fought alongside."