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Considerations on the civil war in Yugoslavia

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1. South Slavs (i.e. Yugoslavs), consisting of Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and Montenegrins, have had a longing to unite as a nation since at least the beginning of the XIX century. In this they were prevented by the foreign powers which dominated the Balkan politics, i.e. the monarch of Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Turkey. Nationalist feelings ran high for a long time, and we should remember that assassination of archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by a Serb nationalist served as a spark that started off the WWI. As Austria-Hungary started to disintegrate towards the final months of the war (and we should remember that one result of this disintegration was the appearance of the Soviet republic of Hungary, headed by Bela Kun), the oppressive apparatus was no longer there to prevent the realization of the dreams of the South Slavs. Hence, the modern Yugoslav state appeared in 1918. It was a constitutional monarchy.

2. The communist party has appeared in Yugoslavia on April 20, 1919. It has appeared as a result of coming together of separate socialist parties which existed in the 7 provinces of Yugoslavia (Bosnia & Herzegovian, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia). The party joined the Communist International, although there were both social-democratic and communist currents within. In the year 1920 the party faced a severe repression, which was in tune with an anti-communist terror which was raging in the nearby Hungary. We should note that at the time of formation of the YCP there was no or little of modern industry. Hence, at that time it made a great deal of sense to see the proletariat as the leading, revolutionary class of society.

3. The future leader of the nation, Tito, by education was a locksmith, i.e. a craftsman, an early proletarian. He was involved in the WWI as a soldier, then captured by the tsarist Russian army, and witnessed the Russian revolutions of 1917 as a prisoner. At that time, he became a marxist. Upon his return to Yugoslavia, he tried several jobs, but was fired from them for his subversive views (sounds familiar?). Then he spent some years in jail, where he read marxist literature. Later, he went to the Soviet Union, where he witnessed the purges.  writes: "By keeping to himself and keeping his mouth shut, he stayed alive during the most dangerous years of the Stalinist purges, while hundreds of other Yugoslav Communists exiles were executed. In 1937 he became secretary of the YCP, which he reorganized around his prison friends.


1. On 25 March 1941 Yugoslavia joined the military alliance of Germany, Italy, and Japan. But there were wide-spread protests to the move. On March 27, 1941, there is an officers' coup, with the result that the country withdraws from the Nazi alliance, and on 5th of April 1941 signs a defense agreement with the USSR. However, the very next day, 6th of April, Germany, supported by Italians, Hungarians, and Bulgarians, invades Yugoslavia. On 17th of April, Yugoslav army officers sign capitulation. A reason for such a rapid defeat is that the country was internally torn apart by nationalist tensions and class contradictions. King Peter and his government fled, eventually to England; meanwhile, the remnant of the Yugoslav army found a shelter in the mountains, and started to group themselves around Draze Mihailovic, a general of the former Yugoslav army. These units became known as Cetnicks.

2. In parallel, i.e. independently of the old army, a resistance to the German invasion was organized by the Communist party. They started to form loosely coordinated guerrilla units, and active resistance started with the invasion of Germany upon the territory of the Soviet Union. On the 27th of June 1941 the headquarters of the partisan units was created; on the 4th of July 1941 they passed a formal decision to start an uprising against the fascists; on the 7th of July the first shots of guerrilla resistance were fired (source: Radovan Colakovic, one of the participants in the war on the side of YCP).

3. It was possible to organize a guerrilla warfare against a foreign invader in part due to the inhuman policy pursued by the Nazi government towards the Serbs. For every German soldier killed, the policy dictated killing 100 Serbs, and for every German soldier wounded, there were 50 Serbs to be killed. Most of the times these were peaceful peasants, who were simply rounded up in their villages, and murdered as a crowd. This policy forced the villagers to flee into the mountains and the forests, and there to engage in an armed resistance to the Germans. The lesson seems to be this: in order to force a peaceful population to arms, the choice must be either a certain death or a possibility to fight for a better future.

4. The principal organized fighting forces in Yugoslavia were: 1) the "Chetniks" of Mihailovic, which represented the former Yugoslav state; 2) The communist guerrillas, headed by Tito; 3) The Croatian fascists called "Ustashi", headed by Pavelic. These were the puppets of the Germans; 4) The German and Italian occupying forces.

5. The fighting of Chetniks against Germans almost immediately ceased; most of their fighting the Chetniks did against the communist guerrillas, although there were moments when both tried to join forces against the Germans. This joining together of forces was advocated by Stalin, who didn't want Churchill to think that he was "exploiting" the situation to start a world socialist revolution. As a result of communist guerrilla bands joining the Chetniks, both fell into disreput as a result of a harsh policy towards the civilian population, especially towards non-Serbs. Hence, the course of the fighting forced the communist guerrillas to withdraw from cooperation with Chetniks, and later to defeat them, as a by-product of fighting the 4th and 5th military offensives launched by the Nazis in 1943 (the Chetnicks at this time were fighting with the Nazis against the guerrillas). The military victory proved that the communist guerrillas were fit to take power in Yugoslavia. S. Sowards writes: "they had united much of the population against fascism, addressed issues of national self-determination by espousing an ideology of federalism, and demonstrated their effectiveness through a network of local committees all over the country." 

6. Yugoslav CP kept in secret from the Soviet Union its decision to form an independent state. This was because the Yugoslavs were afraid that the Stalinist administration will want to curtail the revolution in Yugoslavia in order to please their Western "democratic" allies, i.e. Churchill and Roosevelt. On 29 November 1943 the decision to form an independent state was formalized at a meeting of an Anti-Fascist Council, a front organization of Yugoslav communists.

7. Simultaneously with the war against fascism, an armed struggle for a socialist society has started in the country. In fact, these two struggles coincided. The fight to free the country from German Nazism was a fight against capitalism. But simultaneously with fighting the Nazis, the communist guerrillas had to face the remnants of the former Yugoslav army, i.e. the Chetnicks. This was because in choosing between the Communists and the Nazis, the remnants of the former Yugoslav government chose the Nazis. This alternative promised a conservation of the capitalist system, albeit in a perverted form dominated by the German monopolies. 

8. We should observe that the pattern which occurred in Yugoslavia - the coincidence of national liberation with fight for socialism - occurred in many other parts of the world. In XX century examples of such wars were the liberation of China from the Japanese, in the course of WWII, the fight of the Greeks against the Nazis, and later against the British, also during WWII, the fight of the Vietnamese for national self-determination after WWII, first against the French, then against the Americans. Not always were such national liberation/socialist struggles successful. Greece is an example of a defeat, while Yugoslavia, Albania, China, and Vietnam are examples of victories. It seems that conditions which determine an outcome of a struggle are:  1) Independence of a revolutionary movement from interference by Moscow. 2) A World War, which weakens the grip of international capital.
3) Hence, an internal turmoil inside dominant capitalist powers.

9. Peasants made up the bulk of the fighting forces of the Russian, Yugoslav, Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban revolutions. These revolutions were led by radical intelligentsia (such as Lenin and Mao), or marxist proletarians (such as Tito), or radical landowners and revolutionary middle classes (such as Castro and Che Geuvara). Hence, we may ask who will lead the next, global revolution?


1. It seems to be a good idea not to run after additional information, but to absorb well the information that is already at hand. On the basis of this, perhaps not too rich data, using intuition about the development in general, we can construct hypothesis or theories. Later, additional information may immediately disprove our conjectures; nevertheless, this method appears to be superior to the one where no or little analysis is done.

2. Having said that, what intuitive sketch can we form of Yugoslavia after WWII? Strictly speaking, it is not possible to understand the history of any one country by itself. If a single country is examined, there is no way of clearly grasping the more universal trends of development, i.e. the more important lines, and separate them from the less developed ones. Hence, an understanding of a country like Yugoslavia is not possible outside of a parallel probing into countries with a similar development, such as the region encompassed by the former Soviet Union, or China. From this follows that the approach to the subject of the current "academics" is faulty: they are all specialists either in the "Balkan affairs", or "the former Soviet Union", or "economics", but have no inkling that the subject is the whole.

3. In addition it must be said since in the current production all countries participate, no understanding of any one region is adequate for gaining a feel of the solution to the many problems the world is now facing (although it is adequate for gaining a rather comfortable position of an intellectual lackey). Hence, if we genuinely desire to find a way for development of the Earth's productive forces, for exiting this cradle of humanity, we must grasp the problems affecting many different regions, on many different planes - intellectual, economic, etc. However, as the number of proposed areas is very large, an analysis of each can not be very detailed and long-winded (as was, for example, the fashion in the XIX century, in the period of the First Industrial Revolution). Rather the wealth of detail must spring from the multiplicity of the subject, as one plane of the subjecdt reflects light on another one.

4. The present crisis in Yugoslavia has emerged as a result of development of productive forces of the country in the post-WWII period. It must be immediately said that Yugoslavia developed not in a vacuum, but rather in a world dominated by the Cold War between the forces of dominant capitalist countries, led by the U.S., and the forces led by the Soviet Union. Moreover, Yugoslavia, partially because of its geographical situation, and partially as a result of a settlement between Churchill and Stalin, has found itself on the borderline between the two warring factions. On the one hand, Tito and his party had the strength and desire not to become a puppet of Stalin's administration, to attempt to develop towards socialism in a fashion different from that which was practiced in the Soviet Union. On the other hand, immediately after the conclusion of WWII, Yugoslavia was almost in a state of war with the U.S. and Britain, as it was helping to arm the Greek communist guerrillas, whom the British, and later the U.S. was directly fighting (civil war in Greece, 1944-49).

5. Within the Yugoslav CP, there were different views on what road of development to take. A faction led by Hebring desired for Yugoslavia to integrate its production completely with the Soviet Union. In essence this meant creating a single state. A fraction led by Tito saw a more independent road for Yugoslavia. While cooperating with the Soviet Union, it desired Yugoslavia to develop its own industries. When Stalin started to publicly denounce Tito in 1948, perhaps he counted upon the faction of Hebring to conduct a coup against Tito.

6. The United States (reasonably) desired to exploit the rift that appeared between Tito and Stalin, and offered its "help" in a variety of ways (although the American saying that "there is no free lunch" should have warned Tito). Encarta Encyclopedia writes: "In 1949 Yugoslavia secured financial help from the U.S. Export-Import Bank and from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and also signed a trade treaty with Great Britain. In the same year, Yugoslavia was elected to the U.N. Security Council, against bitter Communist opposition. The United States continued to furnish aid, particularly in years of grain shortages, and by 1952 was also furnishing military supplies." The World Bank, the IMF, the IBRD, - all these names the people the former Soviet Union started to learn in the years of"perestroika" (late 1980's), and, I would venture to say, by the opening years of the XXI century still did not fully understand their meaning. They hear on the radio of "optimal loans" from IBRD, they witness the inflation and the falling standards of living, (including the level of culture), but they do not put all these facts together. "Politics" is still a sphere that is foreign and hostile to them. Hence, we can say that because of its unique world situation - primarily, because of its opposition to the dictates of Stalin's administration, - yet, an opposition that was within the framework of a communist movement - Yugoslav society was forced to move to the "right" earlier than any other society in the "socialist" bloc.

7. Yugoslavia imparted, immediately after the war, upon a program of collectivization and industrialization - a move that took the Soviet Union around 10 years to decide upon (although early industrialization measures, such as the program for complete electrification of the country, elimination of illiteracy, etc. were started in the USSR immediately after the end of civil war in 1920). As an additional historical parallel, we should remember that after the pinnacle of the English revolution and civil war of 1640-49, the English agricultural bourgeoisie (the gentry) started to practice scientific methods of production only in the early XVIII century, while the industrialization of the country did not start until the end of the XVIII - beginning of the XIX century. In any case, the English gentry, and later industrialists, and the Communist revolutionaries did similar jobs - they took their respective countries out of pre-industrial stage of development, and mechanized the industry and agriculture. Each group did it at a different pace because of the different historical epochs that were theirs, and different international situations they found themselves in.

8. Yugoslav government attempted to expropriate large landowners: "in 1953 the maximum size of private holdings was reduced to 10 hectares (25 acres)." However,ultimately, only approximately 13% of land was collectivized, i.e. there were no violent collectivization campaigns like in the Soviet Union. The technical and economic reasons for this are two: 1) "70% of the private farms were smaller than 5 hectares (less than 13 acres)"; 2) there were no industrial implements, such as tractors, which are necessary to do land cultivation on a large scale in collective farms. In England and the U.S. we see a constant interaction between industrial and agricultural revolutions: when industrial machines appeared, they were made use of in farming, which permitted formation of larger farms. Hence, we see the most industrialized nations gradually moving into socialism, which other countries in the XX century could not afford to do.

9. Yugoslavia invested significant resources into its industrialization program. Encarta writes: "Total industrial production in 1957 had increased by 70% over that of 1953, and by 1966 had more than doubled the 1957 figure." In general, late 1960's - early 1970's is the peak of development, reached by the countries in the "socialist" bloc. From then on, standards of living start to decline, the countries enter the period of stagnation, and eventual dissolution of their social and industrial systems. It should be noticed that by the late 1960's the industrial base - in the sense of crude mechanization - has been rebuilt after the damage caused by WWII, or newly created in the "socialist" countries. In the same period, new type of industrial revolution - that of computer and information technologies - picks up, and it is here that the "communist" bureaucrats were not able to compete with the freshly spirited inventors who were springing up everywhere, but for whose creativity the more multi-directional economy of the U.S. proved to be as the most favorable environment (I advice to read about Steven Wozniack of Macintosh).

10. A sign that "all is not well in the Danish kingdom" was given by the opposition to the way things were going by one of the most prominent leaders in Yugoslavia - Milovan Djilas. It is possible to say that he was the 2nd or the 3rd in command after Tito. However, in the early 1950's he started to have doubts that Yugoslavia was going in the direction of socialism, and to express that, he has written a book called "The New Class", in which he accused the "communist" bureaucracy of forming a new social class whose goal was exploitation of people veiled by the promises of a "better future". For this book, as well for others which followed (of which "Conversations with Stalin" is noteworthy) Djilas has spent 10 years in hard-labor prison (1956-1965). Can we call a regime "revolutionary" which sends its iconoclasts to hard-labor prisons?

11. In many ways what is happening in the former USSR today is foreshadowed by the events in Yugoslavia in the 1960's: 1) in his book "The Imperfect Society" Djilas identifies "marxism" with "stalinism" - and this basically incorrect identification we have seen in the Soviet "progressive" newspapers, magazines and books in the late 1980's. One significant example is the biography of L. Trotsky written by V.Volkogonov in this period, fulfilling the social order of the then ruling faction of bureaucrats. By the next decade, this identification has become a stale phrase to which no one payed attention. 2) In Yugoslavia of 1960's, nationalism has started to emerge as an expression of social tensions and contradictions within the society. One sharp example of this is Franjo Tudjman, who in the 1960's was a prominent member of the YCP (a former guerrilla veteran and a general), but who left the party to become an academic and a Croation nationalist. By the early 1970's, within the YCP ranks there circulated propositions for the secession of Croatia. Similar story was true for Slovenia. This desire to secede has found an echo in the disintegrating tendencies in the republics of the former Soviet Union. As soon as the moment appeared right, i.e. in the interval immediately following the putsch in Moscow in August 1991, i.e. in the period when the "Big Brother" appeared weak and confused, most of the republics of the former Soviet Union, including the Ukraine, declared independence.

12. We must seek for economic roots (as is consistent with the marxist method) of this sudden desire for "independence" and "national pride" on the part of the ruling bureacracies in the republics. Let's turn to Yugoslavia in the 1960's. There, we see an "economic reform" taking place, which, Encarta tells us, consisted in decentralization, allowing for competition among enterprises, increase of trade with the West and dropping of visa requirements, so that Yugoslav workers could migrate freely and find menial jobs with the same Germans, whom they were fighting 20 years ago, and have defeated. M. Djilas describes the economic reform in Yugoslavia in 1960's as a result of an economic chaos, losses, and technical stagnation. Already in that decade he could see clearly that a bureaucracy-led economy could not keep up with the increased automation of production (resulting from introduction of computers). The key words which Djilas uses to describe the economic reform are: "profitability", "orientation towards the world market", "free movement of commodities and capital", "a convertible currency". However, the old administrative-bureaucratic machine has remained largely intact. The Yugoslav CP retained the monopoly on power (and hence, this resembles the state of things in China since the death of Mao in 1976, up to the present, i.e. 2000). "The so-called 'socialist' sector", says Djilas, "most of the times was not able to satisfy modern demand". This must be understood both in qualitative and quantitative terms. Most of the native products were both poor in quality, lagging behind in design and innovation, and relatively very expensive, which is a sign of a low productivity of labor. We should note in passing that productivity of labor was 2-4 times greater in the U.S. than in the so-called "socialist" bloc (various sources offer different figures, according to their party orientation). And the reason for this is not only the greater automation of production in America, better tools, etc., but also due to a different kind work environment which exists there. I refer to the habits of the workers. One example of this: when I used to work in a woodwork shop in the U.S., we had to start at 7.30 a.m. That meant we had to be already dressed, and at our work places. When a worker comes to work in Ukraine, for example, s/he can "beat around the bush" for an hour or two.

13. On the basis of the above two paragraphs, we draw a conclusion that there is a close correspondence between the so-called "economic reform", i.e. break down of an economy functioning as one unit coordinated on a national level, and a re-emergence of nationalism. However, whereas the first appearance of nationalism has led to a formation of a higher unity - a single state for all the South Slavs, the second appearance of nationalism has the very opposite effect. It means a collapse of a federal state consisting of many national groups in favor of highly nationalistic, small, one may say almost fascist states. The need for their appearance seems to be dictated by the needs of the ruling factions of bureaucracy to privatize what is left of the nationalized industry and agriculture. However, one might doubt that there will be much left to privatize after the civil war which leads one on the road from a nationalized property to private property. Thus, for example, after an "end" of a civil war in Bosnia, 45% of industrial plants were destroyed, the remaining operated at 6% of their pre-war capacity, while the domestic food production was satisfied less than 35% of the "country's" (i.e. Bosnia's) needs. In addition, 1/2 schools were destroyed, 1/3 of hospitals, 2/3 of homes. Finally, as people are an essential part of the productive and reproductive process, we should mention that 200,000 got killed, 200,000 were wounded, and 2.3 million got displaced, i.e. became refugees (out of the total population of 4 million). Infant mortality doubled between the beginning and the end of the war (and infant mortality is one of the indicators of an economic progress). Having paid such a high price, can we say that the problems of Bosnia's further development got solved? And that's the most horrible answer: all that sacrifice was in vain. Problems of one region of the Earth, in this day of global production, will not be solved separately from those affecting the production cycle as such, on the global scale.

14. Emergence of nationalism is conditioned by the infighting within ranks of bureaucracy for control over the major resources of what was formerly one country. And hence, for that reason they appeal to backward prejudices and animosities which exist within population in order to grab what is not theirs, but is "people's", at least de juro (if not de facto). In fact, nationalistic philosophies and provincial backwardness is imposed on the people from the top: in schools, in universities, on their work places, on the radio, TV, newspapers, in books and banks, in fact in all spheres of life. People are taught to hate their neighbors, e.g. Russians are taught to hate people from the Caucasus region, because the Russian ruling bureaucracy can not come to an agreement with the Chechen bureaucracy over the control of oil in the region - one of the main sources of revenue for the elite who no longer are capable of developing industrialization. Sale of raw materials, natural resources abroad is what they count upon. Capital is built on blood and extreme misery of millions of people, on degradation and de-industrialization of entire global regions!

15. Nationalism, as it emerged in the countries of the former "socialist" bloc, must be considered as a step towards "ethnic cleansing", i.e. a step towards one of the most ugly forms of capitalism - fascism. This is a kind of provincial fascism which is dominated by the leading capitalist powers of the Earth. United Nations and NATO, led by the U.S. government, both help to establish this kind of regime. It is their way to fight the most progressive currents on the globe, and specifically at home. In the course of fighting, first we see the imperialist powers doing the fighting with the hands of other nations, but later they are forced to get involved directly. And every war today has a very strong tendency to enlarge into a global confrontation. This tendency was strongly perceived in the spring of 1999, when NATO attacked the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which in turn made some moves towards a political union with Russia. If the two countries united, an attack on Yugoslavia would be an attack on the joint entity, consisting of Russia and Yugoslavia. Hence, for the first time the American pilots would be directly confronting the Russian pilots and Russian anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems. And we believe this scenario may be realized in the near future. Who knows where such a war will take us? One possibility is turning this intercontinental war into a revolutionary war against capital and the former "communist" bureaucracy.

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