Young Socialists meetings

at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University

Why is the US in Bosnia?

The meetings examined the historical roots of the civil war in the Balkans and the geopolitical aims of Washington's military and diplomatic intervention.

By Our Reporter

THE Workers League and Young Socialists held meetings during the last week of September at the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan and at Wayne State University in Detroit to explain the historical and class issues behind the communalist warfare in the former Yugoslavia.

The speaker, IWB editor Barry Grey, outlined the basis for the opposition of Marxists to all of the nationalist regimes and leaderships in the region--Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian Moslem--and to the intervention of the United States and the European great powers.

The US-backed "ethnic cleansing" of hundreds of thousands of Serbs by the Croatian army in August and the subsequent 16-day US bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs revealed, he argued, the reactionary content of the drive by the United States and western Europe to open up Yugoslavia to unhindered capitalist exploitation. The encouragement of ethnic and religious conflicts was an integral part of this policy.

Grey maintained that the human suffering and social devastation in the Balkans constituted a somber verdict on the claims of western governments and the media that peace and democracy could be achieved in the formerly Stalinist-ruled countries on the basis of the capitalist market and the program of national separatism.

Grey began his remarks by characterizing the so-called peace plan that the US is seeking to broker in Bosnia. It calls for a carve-up of the region along ethnic lines, with the establishment of more or less purely Moslem, Croatian and Serbian territories. At best, an armed truce among semi- statelets, in an area the size of West Virginia, would be policed by tens of thousands of NATO troops, the bulk of them American.

But, he asked, if the principle of ethnicity is to be applied consistently, why shouldn't the Albanians in Kosovo have their own state, or the Serbs in the Krajina region of Croatia, or the Moslems in the Sandzak region of Serbia and Montenegro, or the Hungarians in the Serbian province of Vojvodina, or the various groups in Macedonia?

And what of the claims of Indian Moslems to an independent Kashmir? Or the Francophones to an independent Quebec? Or the Welsh and Scots in Britain? Or the Walloons and Flemish in Belgium?

US-backed "ethnic cleansing"

Grey then asked the workers and students in the audience to consider how the US had created the conditions for dictating such a carve-up of Bosnia. Precisely, he answered, by arming the Croatian army of the proto- fascist Franjo Tudjman and sanctioning the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Serbs from the Krajina, where their ancestors had lived for centuries, and then bombing Bosnian Serb targets so that Bosnian Moslem and Croat armies could conquer large swathes of territory in the northwest of the region. Thus, in less than two months, the US oversaw a level of "ethnic cleansing" far beyond that which had occurred over the previous three-and-a-half years of civil war in Bosnia.

The American government and the mass media made a practice of condemning Serb atrocities, of which there were many, while blacking out those committed by the Croats and Moslems. It resorted to a one-sided and superficial presentation of the conflict and moralistic appeals to middle class public opinion in order to create a smokescreen behind which the American ruling class pursued very definite, predatory aims. These centered on the struggle of US-based business for control over markets, raw materials and sources of cheap labor in eastern and central Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Grey pointed as well to strategic concerns spelled out by the Pentagon in a planning document leaked to the New York Times in 1992. That document made clear Washington's opposition to the emergence of a dominant Serb state in the Balkans in league with Russia.

In reviewing the historical background to the present civil war, Grey explained the division of what was to become Yugoslavia between competing medieval empires, that of the Ottoman Turks and Hapsburg Austria-Hungary. From the 1800s on, the region became a center of intervention and intrigue by rival great powers--Britain, France, Germany and Russia--all of which pursued their national interests in the area by backing the claims of various local rulers and aspiring national bourgeois elements.

Marxism in the Balkans

The early Marxist movement provided the basis for a progressive solution to the enforced carve-up of the Balkans and the legacy of poverty and backwardness left by foreign domination. The Serbian socialist movement championed the unity of all the peoples against great power oppression and local ruling cliques under the banner of a socialist federation of the Balkans. The Serb socialists opposed World War I and the claims of the Serb bourgeoisie that the war was being waged for the liberation of the Serb nation.

After the war the newly formed Yugoslav Communist Party (CPY) organized workers across ethnic and communal divides and opposed the bourgeois Kingdom of Yugoslavia set up by the victorious powers. The rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union and its defeat of the Marxist opposition led by Leon Trotsky had a disastrous effect on the workers movement in the Balkans. Stalin imposed on the CPY a new policy of adaptation to peasant-based nationalist and separatist movements in the Balkans and purged the internationalist leadership of the party.

Josip Broz Tito emerged as the leader of the Stalinized party in the 1930s. His nationalist and Stalinist orientation were embodied in the new form of organization of the party--a federation of ethnically-based leagues.

In the course of World War II, Tito's partisan movement emerged triumphant in a civil war with the Nazi-backed fascist Ustashe regime in Croatia and the Serb royalist Chetniks. Tito became the exponent of a Yugoslav nationalism patterned after the Stalinist program of "socialism in one country" in the Soviet Union.

After the 1948 split between Tito and Stalin, the Titoist regime adapted to the United States and western imperialism and sought to maneuver between the two Cold War "superpowers." From 1949 on the US backed Tito with financial aid and diplomatic support, seeing in his regime a useful counterweight to the Soviet-dominated East European bloc and its Warsaw Pact military alliance.

Grey explained that the initial gains in social conditions for workers and peasants under Tito were bound up with the extensive nationalization of industry and finance in Yugoslavia. The legacy of united struggle against Nazi Germany and internal reactionary forces during the war was embodied in a limited and distorted way in a complex system of constitutional guarantees for the various ethnic groups and checks and balances between the federal government, the six republics of Yugoslavia and two autonomous provinces within the Serb republic--Kosovo and Vojvodina.

The reactionary role of Yugoslav Stalinism

However, this inherently unstable setup, based on an acceptance of the post-World War II imperialist order and the narrow confines of the nation-state system in Europe, was fundamentally unviable. Its "success" was dependent on the temporary conditions of postwar economic boom and the strategic position of Yugoslavia between the opposed camps in the Cold War.

With the deepening crisis of US and world capitalism and the unraveling of the postwar order from the mid-1960s on, the economic, social and political foundations of Tito's state began to crumble. The economic shocks of the 1970s--the escalation of oil prices, world recession, soaring interest rates in the US--had a devastating impact on Yugoslavia. The Tito regime came to rely more and more on loans from western banks and the US-dominated International Monetary Fund. By 1980 it had an external debt of some $20 billion.

The federal government increasingly became a clearing house for the international banks, and the Stalinist leaderships of the various Yugoslav republics, above all Slovenia and Croatia, began to assert their independence and seek more direct relations with the imperialist west. From the early 1980s on, the IMF imposed policies of austerity and denationalization of industry and finance, which had a devastating effect on the living conditions of workers throughout the country.

Rising unemployment and falling living standards produced a wave of strikes in the mid- and late-1980s. The greater the threat from below, the more the Stalinist leaders in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia turned to ethnic chauvinism as a means of diverting the anger of the working class.

The collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union were the death knell for the Titoist state. With the end of the Cold War, Yugoslavia lost its central place in the strategic designs of the US. A reunified Germany sought to extend its sway eastward by backing the moves of Slovenian Stalinist leader Milan Kucan and Croatian chauvinist Franjo Tudjman for secession. In Serbia, Stalinist President Slobodan Milosevic was fanning the flames of Serbian chauvinism. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Islamic fundamentalist Alija Izetbegovic increasingly played the card of Moslem nationalism.

Western intervention provokes civil war

When the European Union, under pressure from Germany, recognized the independence of Slovenia and Croatia at the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992, and the US inserted itself into the Balkan crisis by championing the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the spring of 1992, the eruption of full-scale civil war became inevitable.

Under conditions of mass unemployment and worsening poverty, minority groups in the various republics, such as the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, became overnight the citizens of new statelets, based on the supremacy of other ethnic groups and minus the constitutional guarantees of equality provided by the old Yugoslav state structure.

Grey asked his audience how they thought black people would feel if they suddenly found themselves the citizens of the sovereign nation of Alabama?

The heart of the Balkan tragedy, Grey explained, was the crisis of working class leadership and perspective. None of the leaderships in Yugoslavia, from the federal level down to the republics and localities, spoke for the interests of the working class. All of them supported the dismantling of the social gains established on the basis of the partisan victory in World War II and the return of industry and finance to private capitalist hands. Decades of domination by Stalinist bureaucrats, wielding power in the name of socialism, had created political disorientation and disillusionment.

Civil war, reaction and imperialist bloodletting in the Balkans embodied the capitalist "solution" to the historical crisis of the nation- state system. The same pressure of world economy was bearing down on the nation-state structure of North America, as seen in the threatened breakup of Canada. It would be foolish, Grey asserted, to rule out the danger of civil war and US military intervention just across the Detroit River. Even in the US, the turn of capitalist politicians to anti-immigrant demagogy and racial politics, as well as the revival of the banner of states' rights, were symptomatic of centrifugal tendencies.

The events in the former Yugoslavia proved in the negative that the only progressive answer to the crisis, not only in that region but internationally, was the unification of the working class in the struggle to overcome national state divisions and establish socialism on a world scale.

The internationalist traditions of the early socialist and communist movement in the Balkans had to be revived, through the building of the Fourth International.