US/NATO: Hands off Yugoslavia!

The main enemy is at home!

Self-determination for Kosova!

For a Socialist Federation of the Balkans!


A Statement by the Trotskyist League US Supporters of the International Trotskyist Opposition

23 April 1999



                On March 24 the US and NATO attacked Yugoslavia, launching cruise missiles and dropping bombs on supposedly military targets. In the weeks since, they have escalated their air war to include economic and political targets throughout Yugoslavia. With bridges, oil refineries, factories, offices, and television stations being hit - and “collateral damage” to houses, schools, hospitals, and even refugee columns - the US and NATO are now waging war against civilians.

                The official rationale for the US/NATO war on Yugoslavia is to force it to allow US and NATO troops to occupy Kosova, a predominantly Albanian province of Serbia, supposedly to protect its population from human rights abuses. This is entirely hypocritical, since the US and NATO aid and abet even worse human rights abuses by Turkey against the Kurds and Israel against the Palestinians.

                The war is in fact an imperialist war, fought by the big capitalist powers to establish their domination of the world and their hierarchy relative to each other. Iraq continues to defy them, despite the Gulf War and eight years of murderous economic sanctions. Now Yugoslavia is defying them in their European heartland. They want to crush this resistance and consolidate the “new world order” they’ve been trying to build since the fall of the Soviet Union.

                The abuses in Kosova are real, however. Slobodan Milosevic rose to power on a wave of Serb chauvinism ten years ago. Since then, Serbia has denied political and social rights to Kosova’s Albanian majority through systematic discrimination much like “Jim Crow” in the southern US until the mid-1960s.

                When the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) launched its armed struggle last year, the Yugoslav police and military retaliated against civilians they suspected of aiding the KLA, much as the US and South Vietnamese military retaliated against civilians they suspected of aiding the National Liberation Front during the Vietnam War. Serb paramilitaries went even further, terrorizing Kosovar Albanians in a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.”

                When the US and NATO began their air war, the Yugoslav military and Serb paramilitaries escalated their attacks on Albanian civilians. According to UN relief agencies, half a million Kosovar Albanians have fled to Albania and Macedonia to escape the Serb attacks and the US/NATO bombing. Another half million, perhaps more, have been driven from their homes but remain in Kosova, in part because the Yugoslav military wants to keep them there to hamper US/NATO military operations.

                The Trotskyist League - US supporters of the International Trotskyist Opposition - opposes the US/NATO war on Yugoslavia as an imperialist war. We are for the defeat of imperialism in this war. Realistically, the only way this could happen is if workers and youth in the imperialist countries rise against the war, as we did against the Vietnam War.

                We oppose “ethnic cleansing” and support Kosova’s right to self-determination, including its right to secede from Yugoslavia and join Albania. We see a Socialist Federation of the Balkans as the only real and lasting alternative to imperialist domination and national conflicts in the Balkans. We want to help build an international political party that could overcome national and ethnic divisions and lead the working class in the struggle for world socialism.

                As US imperialism continues to escalate its war on Yugoslavia, the TL’s most important contribution to these goals is our struggle to stop the war. We join with other socialists in saying: Stop the US/NATO bombing of Yugoslavia! No ground war! No occupation! The main enemy is at home!


This is an imperialist war


                The war against Yugoslavia by the US and its NATO allies is a war waged by imperialist powers for their own political and economic goals. The sermons about “human rights” as a cover for the intervention can only be heard with contempt. We need only point out a few examples of the imperialists’ concern for “human rights” to expose their hypocrisy.

                The rights of Vietnamese, Timorese, Kurds, Palestinians, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Iraqis, Rwandans, South Africans, and many more were clearly not on the minds of the imperialists when they or their clients displaced whole nations, bombing their cities and shooting, torturing and starving their people. The imperialists, who have twice this century turned the whole world into a gigantic killing field, can only preach about “human rights” from the pulpit of duplicity.

                The imperialist attack on Yugoslavia must be put in the context of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The equilibrium that existed between the US and the Soviet Union was a stabilizing element in the world situation. By and large, the rivalries among the major imperialist countries - the US, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and Canada - were checked and abated by their common hostility to the Soviet Union. And all the imperialists, including the US, were constrained by the existence of the Soviet Union and the possibility that it would aid working-class and national liberation struggles against them.

                Now all this has broken down. With the Soviet Union out of the picture, large areas of the world previously off limits are now open for trade and investment. The imperialists want to assert their common interest in world domination and their separate interests in spheres of influence. Their different agendas are beginning to take shape.

                The US, as the dominant imperialist power, wants to make clear that nothing is possible without its participation and leadership. Germany sees the non-Serbian parts of the former Yugoslavia as in its sphere of influence. It helped instigate the secession of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and now Kosova. France sees Serbia as in its sphere of influence. Italy has a longstanding imperial relationship with Albania. And Britain once again is acting as hyena to the American lion. About all they agree on is that Milosevic has gotten out of line.

                These differing interests and roles in the Balkans are echoed elsewhere in the world, for example, in Africa.

                At the moment, the economies of the imperialist countries are doing relatively well, and they have relative class peace at home. So their contradictory aspirations are blunted. But an economic downturn - which should occur this year or next - or a wider war in the Balkans or elsewhere would exacerbate these tensions. A deep enough social crisis could also bring to power more aggressive governments willing to go down the militaristic path that led to world war twice before in this century.

                Every bomb dropped on Yugoslavia is a not-too-thinly veiled message to Russia that its days as a major player on the world stage are over. That NATO would absorb three former Warsaw Pact countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary) and then, within days, attack a Russian ally is a provocation unimaginable ten or even five years ago.

                While the Yeltsin government has made noisy statements about “not standing idly by” and “the danger of world war,” it is in no position to challenge NATO. It is more interested in negotiating IMF loans than confronting imperialism. This bluster is mainly geared for internal consumption. But the relationship between the US and Russia is unmistakably strained.

                It is not at all clear who will fill the vacuum of leadership that will follow Yeltsin’s death or retirement next year. The bombing of Yugoslavia is in part a message to the next Russian government to know its place. The rules of conduct in the post-Soviet world are new and largely unwritten. The United States is attempting to write those rules with the blood of Yugoslavia. This could easily backfire, with nationalist and even fascist elements gaining ground and mapping out a more confrontational policy toward the US.


Neoliberalism and the attack on Yugoslavia


                The capitalist counteroffensive against the workers and oppressed begun in the late 1970s continues today as neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is an attempt by the capitalist class to break down trade restrictions, deregulate industries, privatize previously state-owned companies, drive down wages and social benefits, and increase the rate of exploitation. It is an attempt to transcend the limitations imposed on it by the movements of the workers and the oppressed from the 1930s through the mid-1970s.

                Yugoslavia has been integrated into the world capitalist economy since the early 1960s. In part because of negative aspects of this experience, the mainly Serbian remnant of Yugoslavia retains a greater degree of state control over the economy than most of the other former workers’ states. The wars in Croatia and Bosnia and the UN embargoes are also partly responsible for Yugoslavia’s continued state ownership of many industries.

                Politics plays a role too, as the Milosevic regime rests ideologically on preserving a large state sector and claiming continuity with Tito’s Yugoslavia. While too much could be said of the economic reasons for the attack on Yugoslavia, it is no accident that NATO has made a concerted effort to destroy Yugoslav industry, including its important ability to produce many of its own vehicles and to refine petroleum.

                The whole neoliberal project hinges on the acceptance by the working class that there is no alternative to the capitalist system. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent discrediting of “socialism” among large sectors of the working class have given the imperialists an immense ideological victory. The disorientation of the vanguard and leadership layers of the working class as the result of this ideological victory is necessary for the continued success of the neoliberal project.

                Defiance by Iraq, Yugoslavia, or any other country undermines the view that there is no alternative. It cannot be tolerated, if the project is to succeed. In a sense the bombing of Yugoslavia is the ultimate in union-busting. Its aim is to break the will and ability of working and oppressed people anywhere to resist the dictates of capital.


For the defeat of US/NATO imperialism in Yugoslavia!


                A defeat for the US and NATO in Yugoslavia would be a profound setback for the imperialists. It would severely limit their ability to intervene elsewhere in the world. After the defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam, it was a decade and a half before the US was politically able to attack another country - and even then, it had to avoid large-scale casualties. A US/NATO defeat would give an impetus to all those around the world resisting the onslaughts of capitalist barbarity.

                 Every struggle from the landless peasant movement in Brazil to the fight against sanctions on Cuba would gain. Many struggles for national liberation, for example, Ireland and Palestine, have sought to come to terms with the new post-Soviet imperialist order.  These movements would have new reason to believe that it is possible to fight and to win, that there is an alternative to the acceptance of imperialist dominance.

                A Yugoslav military victory is very unlikely, however. NATO has the combined resources of the world’s most powerful countries. Milosevic’s troops are very different from Tito’s partisans, who defeated thirty German Nazi divisions in World War II. The goals, policies, and, to a certain extent, the leadership of the struggle against the Nazis gave it the tenacity and moral strength needed to win. The ideals of the partisan struggle have long since been burned away in the nationalist inferno of Yugoslavia’s breakup.

                Nonetheless, revolutionaries should defend Yugoslavia against the US and NATO as part of our struggle against imperialism. Our defense should be without political conditions. In particular, we should oppose the US/NATO war whether or not Yugoslavia withdraws from Kosova. But we should give no political support to the reactionary nationalist regime of Milosevic, which is an obstacle in the fight for a real defense of the Yugoslav, Albanian, and international working class.

                The US and NATO have the military power to destroy Yugoslavia and impose their will on the whole area. But they are reluctant to commit the ground troops needed to do so. They fear that their own working classes would react against them, undoing their efforts to overcome Vietnam.  The imperialists can be defeated by making the political price for engaging in this war more than they are willing to pay.

                Revolutionaries in the imperialist countries should explain that the struggle against this war is linked to all the struggles of the working class. We face a common enemy, the capitalist ruling class.

                The unions are the most important organizations to activate against the war, since they are the strongest organizations of the working class in most countries. So long as the working class accepts this war, quietly or openly, the imperialists will have room to maneuver.

                The union leaderships in the US are going along with the imperialist war, helping to give it humanitarian cover. If US casualties are low and the war is over quickly, this probably won’t change. But conditions are different in other countries and in different sectors of the working class here. And the situation will change, if the war lasts long enough and brings US casualties.

                In some countries, mass demonstrations, strikes, and hot-cargoing are already real possibilities. Everywhere, we can agitate against the war and help generalize the experience and perceptions of the more politically conscious workers. This will help limit the imperialists’ ability to wage the war and add drive and clarity to the class struggle.


Self-determination for Kosova


Socialist parties which did not show by all their activity, that they would liberate the enslaved nations, and build up relations with them on the basis of a free union - and free union is a false phrase without the right to secede - these parties would be betraying socialism. Lenin, The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination


                The right of national self-determination has long been included in the canon of democracy, but rarely has it been afforded in reality to those outside the imperialist world. Marxists recognize this right not just for its democratic merits but as an essential requisite for the eventual unity of all the peoples and nations of the world. A guarantee of the right to self-determination, up to and including separation, provides the basis for learning in action the value of unity.

                It is not just that communists are more consistently democratic than the ruling class, but also that the socialist project requires the active participation of millions, whose trust and confidence in each other must be based on living realities, not phrases and motions in parliament. The democracy of the ruling class is a democracy based on their dictatorship, and all that comes into conflict with that dictatorship, including national liberation, is a threat to be met with force.

                The Albanians of Kosova are an oppressed national minority deprived of their rights as a people and suffering at the hands of the Serb majority of Yugoslavia. Since the KLA began its armed struggle last year, Albanian civilians have been driven from their homes and sometimes killed because they were suspected of aiding the KLA, because they lived in KLA-controlled areas, or simply because they were Albanian. Since the US and NATO began their air war against Yugoslavia, the situation has gotten much worse. Between “ethnic cleansing” and the bombing, a majority of the Albanian population has been displaced, half a million having fled the country.

                The US and NATO don’t want a truly free Kosova anymore than the Serb nationalists do. Real self-determination would involve redrawing borders, since the Albanians of Kosova and Macedonia almost certainly would choose to join Albania. This would destabilize the region, creating the possibility of a much wider Balkan war, a war that could potentially involve NATO members Greece and Turkey fighting against each other. It might even draw in Russia.

                Redrawing borders in the Balkans would pose the question of redrawing them in many other countries, including the imperialist countries. The aim of imperialism is the imposition of stability based on its dominance, not the liberation of subjugated people.

                When the KLA began its armed struggle last year, its strategy was to provoke Serb retaliation against Albanian civilians and bring in the imperialists. The KLA is now collaborating with the imperialism in its war on Yugoslavia. KLA guerillas act as spotters for US/NATO planes bombing Serb positions.

                Tied to the most right-wing forces in Albania, the KLA deserves neither the support nor the confidence of the Albanian population. A real movement for self-determination must be based on a firm rejection of imperialism, if it is to achieve its most basic demands. The KLA offers the Albanian population as pawns to imperialism.

                A different perspective is needed to achieve the aspirations of the Albanian people, as well as all the other nationalities of the Balkans, to freedom and a dignified life. That perspective would include as its cornerstone the building of a Socialist Federation of the Balkans.


For a Socialist Federation of the Balkans!


                The Yugoslavia of Tito’s partisans went as far as the limits of its economy and bureaucracy could allow in developing an equitable solution to the longstanding national conflicts in the Balkans. Yugoslavia’s respect for the national rights of its component republics was near unique in the world. But this respect was also an expression of a bureaucratic balancing act. After the Stalin-Tito split, the bureaucracy had to make concessions to Yugoslavia’s nationalities, as it had to make concessions to its workers, to survive the combined hostility of imperialism and the Soviet Union.

                Genuine working-class internationalism starts from the needs of the international class struggle as a whole, recognizing that the victory of each can be achieved only by the struggle of all. The Yugoslav Stalinist leadership never adhered to this. To do so would have meant the end of its existence.

                Its “independent path” meant balancing between the Soviet Union and imperialism. Its “workers self management” was a fraud that gave little in the way of direct control over the economy to the working class. It professed itself classless, yet huge inequalities developed. All this led to a deep suspicion of the socialist alternative.

                However bad Titoism was, capitalist restoration has been much worse, offering nothing but deeper misery. Imperialism’s solution to the national question is its domination, not the realization of national self-determination. We should not romanticize the past, but we should build from its lessons. A noncapitalist approach succeeded better than any other in securing the national rights of the Balkan people. We must build on that lesson.

                A genuine Socialist Federation of the Balkans would incorporate freely all the nations of the Balkans, for the working classes of the different countries have far more in common with each other than differences. A common struggle against all the nationalist bureaucracies and fascistic marauders, against the restoration of capitalism, against the oppression of national minorities, women, lesbians and gay men, and against imperialist military and economic intervention. For the return of refugees, and the rights of religious, national and ethnic minorities. For independent working-class action, politically and militarily.

                The building of a Socialist Federation of the Balkans is impossible without a multinational collective leadership with the ability to absorb and generalize the experiences of the working class as a whole. This leadership must organize itself into a party, a revolutionary party whose aim is the socialist transformation of society. A party incorporating the best traditions of the Yugoslav revolution, but critical of the limitations of Titoism.

                The struggle for international socialism requires rebuilding the Fourth International, that is, the World Party of Socialist Revolution. In this way, the lessons of all our experiences, both positive and negative, can be put to the shared purpose of socialist revolution. The mistakes of yesterday, if we learn from them, can help pave the way to success tomorrow. In that way the suffering of Yugoslavia and Kosova will not have been in vain, but will have helped bring about a new and infinitely more harmonious world.