Introduction to "The Balkan war"
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Introduction to «The Balkan war»
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The following article on «The Balkan War» was published in the Italian paper «L'Avanguardia» on 1.12.1912. The author, Amadeo Bordiga, was then a leading member of the Socialist Youth movement of Italy. It was part of the struggle being waged, particularly by its younger members, within the Socialist Party of Italy for proletarian Marxist principles. It was only this tendency, initially known as the Abstentionist Fraction, which was able to carry out a consistent fight against involvement in the First World War. This same tendency, which today we represent, was the central core, the motivating force, behind the formation of the Communist Party of Italy -Bordiga became its first General Secretary.

Only a relentless struggle against irredentism (national salvation via extending national boundaries, which had come to the fore in the Libyan War of 1912) could lay the basis for internationalism. The experience of the First World War - and not a national one either - showed that rampant militarism and fascism could arise out of syndicalism (Mussolini), the right wing could mouth phrases against war until the «nation is in danger» and then stampede to defend the national interest (Turati), and the centrists could talk about peace while not endangering the war effort (Serrati).

Those tendencies internationally which opposed the First World War were those which were drawn enthusiastically towards Moscow and the formation of the Communist International. The Comintern, from the start, took up a decisive and implacable opposition to war. It is strange indeed that that same heritage is used by all sorts of organisations as an excuse to take sides in the recent conflict in Yugoslavia, rather than defeatism and fraternisation amongst conflicting forces.

The «Big Powers» and Yugoslavia
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The Balkan War of 1912 involved statelets on the southern fringe of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was an area of conflicting imperialist Interests in which the tussles of the «Big Powers», reaching out towards the Middle East, found a focus in that area. Strange ideas have been spread around by bourgeois historians that a single gun-shot in Sarajevo caused the First World War. The conflicts, and military alliances, of the Big Powers was the real cause, and It didn't really matter to capitalists where It started. The military defeat of the Central Powers (the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires) led to the reorganisations imposed by the Versailles Treaty. The «Balkan Problem» was solved by incorporation of the Balkan statelets into a single country - Yugoslavia. It represented a compromise between the competing English and French interests, resolved by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. France had wanted to penetrate and bolster the Ottoman Empire, while England wanted to pull it down.

Defeated Germany, under the impact of the hyper-Inflation of 1923, the Wall Street Crash and the following depression, turned towards fascism in its reorganisation and recovery of lost territories. It found a natural (but militarily an unreliable) ally in fascist Italy. The Second World War was mainly to dispute the results of the First. This time France was militarily defeated in a most decisive way, and Germany found itself the victor of wide areas of Europe. Stalin's Russia had diplomatically switched sides, lining up with Germany to once again partition Poland (stalinism being a rebirth of Russian national interests).

Germany's next move was clearly against Russia, Churchill's London knowing well in advance through its intelligence network. The change of regime in Belgrade, from pro-Axis to pro-London (while Moscow was still a firm ally of Hitler), provoked the German invasion of Yugoslavia, then Greece. The Belgrade coup was engineered by London in order to stretch Germany to the limit, especially delaying the invasion of Russia. London was worried about the prospect of a collapse of Russia, and strove to maintain it in the war against Germany. This was the traditional strategy of England with regards to Continental opponents - Europe is to be kept divided, and should one country come to dominate it, then It should be stretched to the absolute limit in order to be exhausted. This was, after all, how Napoleonic France was also defeated.

The killings and destruction as a result of the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia is well documented. Partisan movements arose supported by various powers outside of the country. London's preference, as an instrument of the war, was that of Tito's partisans. Support in the form of arms and agents was forthcoming from Churchill, to the point where it became obvious that Tito was his preferred choice as the force capable of meeting England's strategic needs. The myth of a revolutionary outcome from the partisan movement, a clear falsification (would Churchill support anything proletarian?), was invented in order to justify various political ideologies, especially Trotskyism.

The post-war conflict between Tito and Stalin, reflecting the competing influences in Eastern Europe, was paraded around as a reflection of the class struggle. The Yugoslavian economy, pulled relentlessly closer towards that of Central Europe, then the Common Market, was adapted to forms of so-called «workers control/participation». Various outfits on the left then pronounced it socialist, a «degenerated workers state» and so on.

Consequences of the Crisis of Capitalism
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As a satellite of the Common Market, Yugoslavia became a source of cheap labour, cheaper products, and even cheaper holidays. Germany's influence was growing all the time towards to Balkans. Finally, the growing crisis of capitalism, and the upsurge of a genuine class struggle by workers, had a devastating impact on the financially bankrupt Balkans -Yugoslavia itself imploded as a nation state.

Faced with a growing hostility of workers to the price to be paid for the crisis, the different sections of the bourgeoisie, the actual owners and controllers of capital, came up with its traditional weapon, nationalism and hatred for all others. Yugoslavia was in the process of breaking down into its regional states. Serbia had been in effect the regional master, retaining its control over Montenegro and its domination of the Albanian population in the province of Kosovo. It was prepared to contest control in parts of Croatia and Bosnia, for the creation of a greater Serbia.

It is a great mistake to compare the present events in the former Yugoslavia with the events of the Second World War, even though terms used during the 40s have reemerged, i.e. the Serbian Chetniks (those discarded by Churchill, as unreliable, in favour of Tito's forces) and the Croatian Ustashe. In the 1940s Yugoslavia was invaded and fought over by external powers. In the 1990s the events are home-grown, the response of Yugoslavian interests faced with economic catastrophe. The only way to divert and involve some of the population in their plans is the playing of the nationalist card. The Big Powers are there to back up the contending players, clients by proxy, while protecting their own stakes in the area. The big difference is that this time, the real big boy, the USA, is muscling in for a piece of the action! It represents the first direct toe-hold of Uncle Sam on the European mainland.

The breakdown of the former Yugoslavian state, until then of use to all the main capitalist powers, was from the start a problem for the European Community. It became a source of instability on its south-eastern border. The temptation of rich pickings from this breakdown was too much for Germany. The Yugoslavian National Army (JNA), equipped and trained to defend its «patriotic homeland's borders», was extremely unreliable in dealing with popular unrest and demands for separation. The JNA's units were only too happy to be withdrawn, almost competing to see how quickly they could evacuate back to Serbia. It was the officers connected with the former Communist Party apparatus, who saw to it that as much military equipment as possible was left for the aspiring local Serbian nationalists. Slovenia drifted out of the Federation and Croatia was recognised by Germany as an independent state; and that was that.

Serbia reacted by an alarm call to all other Serbs «abroad» in order to defend «their» interest against all others. Croats and Bosnians were to driven out of «Serbian» areas - the use of «ethnic cleansing» became a dreadful and horrific spectacle. It was a way of forcing Serbian populations to choose sides; and if they didn't participate in these events, the resulting conflict would force others into the civil and «ethnic» conflict. The reliable units of JNA were used to occupy the eastern part of Croatia - the siege and destruction of Vukovar in 1991 was as clear message to the Croats to stay in line.

Still, it was very difficult to involve the bulk of the working class in the former Yugoslavia in the obscene nationalist and racist rantings of the various contending political menageries. The reluctance of the Serbian workers to be involved in fighting their fellow workers continued throughout the rampant inflation, mostly caused by the international embargo of trade with Serbia. The sabre-rattling from the Croat leaders in Zagreb could not get the workers to participate in much more that as spectators in farcical shows of soldiers parading in snazzy modern versions of ceremonial «feudal» attire. This was also true, even after the shelling of coastal resorts of Split and Dubrovnik on Croatia's much extended coastline. Like many of the forces involved in the fighting, large numbers were of those who became involved through being «ethnically cleansed» and were fighting to go back to where they used to live.

The stage was now set in 1992 for the main drama Bosnia. Bosnia has a «mixed» population, where the Serbs meet the Croats, with the Muslims caught in between, like in the jaws of a vice. For the Serbian nationalists, using ethnic cleansing, drove the Muslims out of villages and town, and strove to take the capital Sarajevo, in an attempt to dominate Bosnia itself. Having failed, it set up its own «Republika Srbska» and remorselessly set to work in connecting the patchwork quilt of territory already seized. This in the end sealed its own fate in stretching its resources to breaking point in «surrounding» the Muslim centre of Bosnia. Meanwhile the Croats contested the Muslim forces for Mostar. Not to be outdone, the Serbs of both Bosnia and Croatia sought to eliminate the Muslim enclave of Bihac. A three-sided fight developed with the Croats changing sides according to its own interests, at times fighting against the Muslims and at fighting alongside them. This tended to reflect the interests and stances of the observing big powers, and their deliberations.

Neither the contending nationalist forces, nor the watching big powers, could resolve any of the issues involved. No matter how the dividing lines were drawn, even with a «multi-ethnic» Bosnia, which the leaders of Sarajevo dreamed of, could not solve the problems. Militarily, it is an almost impossible task redrawing of battle-lines, with pockets of refugees created from «cleansed» areas. To link-up Croat and Muslim areas means driving out Serbs, and thereby playing the game of the Serbian nationalists who had started off the whole conflict in the first place.

The «multi-ethnic» solution contradicts the process begun by the Serbian nationalists, the seizing of property and businesses controlled by others, dispossession by converting people into refugees. After all, this is a thoroughly bourgeois solution, stripped of the niceties of redundancies and legal evictions. The creation of a «multi-ethnic» Bosnia, with the return of people to their home areas, is a direct threat to all the jumped-up little local dictators who constitute the «Republika Srbska», leaving aside the issue of war crimes trials. That is why there is no prospect of a reunified, national Bosnia.

The Quagmire of Nationalism
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Nationalism has to be considered as a programme of the bourgeoisie. It is largely speaking the stage through which constitutes the rule of the bourgeoisie. It is the ideal form by which the population can be convinced of the necessity of defending the local capitalist class. It is through this «national» state that the idea of the identity of the interests of all classes finds its home. Everyone is supposed to have a stake in this patriotism, this guardianship of the «people». After all, it is the only mode through which the majority of the population can be persuaded of defending «their bosses» through taxation, and in times of war, through blood. Is their any other way of convincing workers to peacefully pay their taxes, and in times of war risk their lives for the interests of the big manufacturers and land owners?

Nationalism represents a diversion, a curse for the working class. It is not a stage that has to be completed before the working class can assert its own needs. In the case of Ireland, the Irish bourgeoisie has proved to be both incapable and unwilling to achieve national unification of the whole of that island. Does that mean that the historic role of the Irish working class is forever suspended because of the incapacity of «its own» bourgeoisie. Of course not!

Still less is nationalism something which the working class can use in any way - the dictatorship of the proletariat is a state form (which withers away), but has no features at all similar to the bourgeois nation state, excepting only that it represents class rule. The proletarian opposition to national oppression lies in the ending of oppression (through the ending of exploitation and the dissolution of classes) and not by a reorganisation of national states.

Lenin's firm defence of the «Right to National Self-Determination» should be seen in this light. Lenin was for the breaking of the imperialist and colonial grip of the oppressing nations, rather than just for the setting up of a myriad of smaller states. He was for the freeing of the working class in the subordinated countries from nationalism, rather than having it superseded by renewed petty national conflicts.

Nationalism is also used as a weapon of intimidation - just look, the bourgeois media points out, at what chaos results when the democratic state breaks down. Massive cover is given in the mass media of all the horrors happening when the existing nation states breakdown, from the former Yugoslavia to Rwanda. The object lesson is clear: citizens can only sleep safely in their beds by the survival of the democratic nation state. Any threat to it courts disaster for all! And that threat is used to bind even further the citizenry, despite their increasingly appalling conditions through the developing crisis, even closer to the rabble which runs the various countries.

But the breakdown of national states, under the impact of the growing crisis, has created new opportunities for the big international players. At first they all wrung their hands and lamented at the slaughter going on. Serbia was busily dealing with its problems by deporting its surplus population (such as ethnic Hungarians in its north, as well as Muslims and Croats) and profiting out of the flight of Serbian refugees. Croatia was restrained by pressure from the EC because it eventually wanted to join the European Common Market. The horrific blood bath of the siege of Sarajevo was used as an excuse for intervention - threatening noises were coming especially from Paris. London strove for caution, in fact protecting the strategic interests of Serbia by ensuring that the balance of forces should not be tipped too much against the Serbs. Serbia kept looking over its shoulder for Russia to act as a guarantor, but bankrupt Russia had difficulty in looking after its own borders. The only player which has an interest in reopening the whole issue will be the USA.

The instruments of international intervention were being tested out all the time. The clamour for the United Nations involvement grew, which took the form of humanitarian aid, and the «protection» of safe areas (in reality disarmed Muslim enclaves). The inability of a peaceful, peace-observing force was shown on the TV screens right across the world. This was in fact a very skilful manipulation of «public» opinion, because it was preparing the ground for a more determined «international» intervention - this time through the use of NATO forces. The blue helmets of UN forces were changed for the camouflaged helmets of NATO troops - and sustained air attacks were made on Serbian positions to «convince» them to accept the new American sponsored solution to the problem - the Dayton Agreement. This Agreement reflects for the moment the division of the former Yugoslavia between Serbian and Croatian interests. The parody of elections, supposed to be democratic, have taken place, even though former residents will not be allowed back into their former homes. «Ethnic cleansing» has now been institutionalised.

• • •

The stampede to involve themselves in the nationalist slaughter in the former Yugoslavia was not confined just to the bourgeois press - others were muscling in to get in on the act.

The most pernicious role was played by an organisation calling itself the «Revolutionary Communist Party» and its publication «Living Marxism». The RCP lives by notoriety, a worthy heir to that of the discredited «Marxist» Hyndman, challenging what it saw as the opinions expressed by the main capitalist leaders. It declared that before it fought its opponents, the bourgeoisie first demonises them. Therefore it opposes the demonising of enemy, and thus objectively expresses the other side's bourgeois interests. The RCP stated that the Serbs were being demonised, and proceeded directly to represent the positions of the most blatant Serbian nationalism. An exhibition showing the slaughter of Serbs in concentration camps during the Second World War was used to justify the «ethnic cleansing» of Croats and Muslims, as an exercise in self-protection.

The most opportunistic role was played by the Trotskyist «Workers Revolutionary Party» now dissolved, and its paper «Workers Press». Seeing the collapse of stalinism it sought to move on to this vacated ground. The WRP wanted to recreate the popular front-type of movement that arose over the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. Aid for Spain was replaced with Workers Aid for Bosnia, in an attempt to penetrate and influence that embattled enclave.

The Sarajevo regime of Izetbegovic prided itself as representing those of all ethnic origins, Serbian, Croat and Muslim, and those who regard themselves as a mixture of two or all three. This was how the concept of a multi-ethnic state was developed, as an instrument of its struggle with the surrounding forces. It is a rallying war-cry for the reunification of Bosnia, and the spilling of more blood for bourgeois rule. The «multi-ethnic» perspective for Bosnia was attractive to the USA, which was looking for its own stake in the area. After the enforced disarming of the Serbs, under the «Dayton Agreement», the USA has begun the rearming the «multi-ethnic» forces, in order to redrawn the battle-lines at a later date.

Those who continue to defend the «multi-ethnic» nature of states, whether as part of European «Equal Opportunities», or American «Political Correctness», as against the previous narrow-minded nationalism, carry out objectively the necessary reorganisations of capitalism in its drive for increased profits, and reduced costs. They also help to prepare new oppressions, more misery and new slaughters - and the further institutionalisation of unemployment, poverty and dispossession, and whatever other plans capitalism has for us all in the future.

To the article «The Balkan war»

Source: «Communist Left», no.10/11, p. 57,62

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