Back to basics in Yugoslavia and Somalia

By Sam Marcy (August 19, 1993)

For Marxists, the initial point of analysis of any social phenomenon is always its class basis. Whether we are discussing a minor shop grievance or the complexity of international diplomacy, our search always has to be in the direction of what class it serves, what is its class meaning.

In the contemporary world, where finance capital has placed itself at the helm of both economics and politics on a world scale, it is all the more necessary that we not depart from Marxist methodology.

Two significant world developments, one in Europe and one in Africa, make it incumbent upon us to push more vigorously than ever for a truly Marxist position in the face of a monolithic bourgeois press and media offensive on a world scale that is unprecedented.

The first is in the former Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia. The class basis for the origin of that struggle seems lost in a maze of intricate diplomatic maneuvers involving the various nationalities.

In Somalia, the situation is not so intricate. Yet the terror of U.S. bombing has not evoked even the most muffled outcry in the world against what is truly an attempt to strangle a country, to bind and hog-tie it completely to the chariot wheels of U.S. imperialism.

Class and nationality in Yugoslavia

But first let us take Yugoslavia. Is everything gone, everything built up over so many years of struggle for a working class socialist federation, one that lasted so long despite so many adverse conditions? Has it been swept away by internecine nationalist conflicts until nothing can be made of it from the viewpoint of Marxism? Must we let the situation drift from day to day until nothing is left but the viciousness of what appears to be only a national struggle for domination of what once was, by all accounts, a functioning, peaceful federation of nationalities working on the basis of a common economic plan and a common political perspective?

When Yugoslavia was a socialist federation, it did not quash national identity or impinge upon the cultural institutions of any nationality. This included, of course, the right to one's religious belief — most important in that part of the world, in view of the earlier religious struggles. As Marxists, we must emphasize that at bottom, these struggles always had a class basis; religion was a cover.

Yugoslavia was the only country in Eastern Europe, with the exception of Albania, which underwent a truly socialist revolution based on the forces of its own proletariat and peasantry. This contrasted very sharply with other East European countries, where the overturn in class relations was mainly the result of the Soviet military intervening against the Nazi forces and their puppet regimes.

Since 1991, we are told by the media, the socialist federation has been completely overturned so that what remains now in what is left of Yugoslavia is an unreconstructed, vicious Serbian nationalism personified by Slobodan Milosevic and, in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic.

Of course, in all the "analyses," the most important thing left out is that the principal incendiary fueling the nationalist struggle is none other than U.S. imperialism. It continually incites national strife and has gained a great advantage from the breakup of the socialist federation.

The imperialist bourgeoisie goes to great lengths to attack only the Serbian leadership, in both Serbia and Bosnia. Their propaganda portrays the Serbians as utterly atrocious. If one is to give any credibility at all to this, it is only because the Serbs are the larger population. But that's a poor basis on which to judge who is oppressing whom. Belgium was a small country, but it brutally oppressed the Congo with its many millions of people. The determinant is not the size of the population, but which class dominates society.

What classes are there? Do classes exist at all, or are there only nationalities? Marxism teaches us that in any society dominated by class antagonisms, a nation, big or small, is in reality the instrument of a specific ruling class. Classes will disappear only when private property and exploitation have been totally abolished. Then we would have a classless society and the state would wither away.

But the classes have not been abolished in Yugoslavia. So which class is dominant and which is subjugated?

Class truth from an unexpected source

One hesitates to give even the slightest credibility to Milan Panic, the Yugoslavia-born U.S. businessman who enjoyed a short political career in 1992 as prime minister of Yugoslavia. Why was he invited to come back from California and become prime minister? What motivated the leadership of Serbia, in particular, to do that? It was plainly apparent then, as it should be now, that it was an opportunist maneuver to propitiate U.S. imperialism. It could be explained on no other basis.

However, his remarks Aug. 9 on the PBS Charlie Rose show certainly shed some light on contemporary Yugoslavia. Panic said that in Bosnia, the people in the cities are mostly Muslims, while the peasants in the countryside are almost all Serbs.

Leaving room for a polemical exaggeration in this situation, it nevertheless must be clear that the peasants in Bosnia are primarily of Serbian nationality.

Peasants have existed in Serbia for centuries, but they were under the domination of feudal landlords. The landlords were expropriated and the land given to the peasants by the socialist government of Yugoslavia, headed by Joseph Tito, in a great socialist overturn after World War II. Collectivization was also attempted, but in light of Yugoslavia's struggle with the USSR on the one hand and the imperialists on the other, this was abandoned in the 1950s.

There is no denying that the peasants were the most numerous class in socialist Yugoslavia, even though the proletariat was politically the most advanced class and the source of cadres to govern the country. Tito himself, the leader of the revolution and the government, was an industrial worker — perhaps the only proletarian head of a socialist state.

All this has to be borne in mind when day after day the imperialist press grinds out the most vicious propaganda against the Serbian leadership in order to pit one nationality against all the others. They say that the Serbs now control 60 percent of the land in Bosnia, but they don't explain who occupies this land — the peasants.

For the working class of this country, the lesson must be: no support to U.S. imperialism's war against Yugoslavia. The slogan has to be for the withdrawal of imperialist forces, influence and above all weapons.

The imperialist emissaries, Lord David Owen of Britain and Cyrus Vance of the U.S., tried to split up Yugoslavia into tiny pieces, to make it unmanageable and to provoke the greatest hostility among the nationalities. Not even Hitler or the ancient Roman emperors ever went to such lengths! The Vance-Owen plan was not only artificial and false but it was also an attempt to wipe out the vestiges of socialist construction and socialist consciousness in the masses.

What is the main difference between Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Milosevic of Serbia? It is that Yeltsin is collaborating with imperialism for the disintegration of the socialist infrastructure in the former USSR. Milosevic, on the other hand, is resisting imperialist incursion. While he is in a somewhat similar position to Yeltsin, yet he has a fundamentally different perspective.

Unfortunately, however, Milosevic has resorted to ultra-nationalism in the struggle against imperialism.

Venomous attacks on leaders

While the struggle in Somalia is different in form, the adversary of the people of Somalia is the same old brutal imperialist U.S. The imperialists have created villainous caricatures that it would be impossible not to hate, such as their portrayal of Gen. Mohammed Farah Aidid in Somalia and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. These vituperations leave no room for any kind of appraisal of their class, national or political stature.

Take, for instance, the picture the U.S. has painted of General Aidid. They have described him alternately as a bandit, a warlord and an obscure clan leader. Only when they thought they had him at the point of accommodating to U.S. sovereignty over Somalia did they refer to him as the general.

When the State Department and Pentagon leaders realized that actually he was politely asking for the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign forces from Somalia, they began to pour out the vilest of poisons against him.

Lessons of Mussolini's attack on Ethiopia

Was the situation that different in the 1930s when Italy, under Mussolini, opened its imperialist assault on Ethiopia? Ethiopia was then ruled by an absolute monarch. Would it have been correct for Marxists to draw an equal sign between the two anti-democratic forces and say a plague on both your houses?

Communists the world over knew then what many since have forgotten: that imperialism, whether under a democratic or a fascist form of government, is an oppressor and exploiter, not only of the working class at home but of the people abroad. The position of the broad working-class movement was to defend Ethiopia. It was not at all confused.

At that time, the Allied imperialist countries were opposed to Mussolini's adventure in Ethiopia. But not on the basis of anti-imperialism or solidarity with the Ethiopian masses. It was strictly on the basis that Ethiopia should become a vassal state of theirs. What has changed? Now they are the very ones that are ravaging not only Somalia but Iraq and, of course, Yugoslavia.

The U.S. attitude toward Somalia and Yugoslavia differs very little from its hegemony over Latin America all these many years. Almost a century ago, changes in leadership in Latin America at the behest of U.S. and British imperialism could be effected with such ease that the journalists called it "doing business during alterations."

That period has ended, even if the Pentagon has not agreed to its terminal role there. Enhancing its position diplomatically and militarily through the subjugation of Yugoslavia and Somalia will not present the Clinton administration or its successors with the kind of victories one might have expected during the Theodore Roosevelt administration.

Growing resistance to imperialism

The collapse of the USSR on the basis of external aggression and internal corrosion of the leadership has been of enormous advantage to imperialism. But it has not been the success story they hoped for.

The resistance of Somalia is growing day by day. It demonstrates the existence of a people's war against a most brazen and predatory intervention. Its survival in the most difficult conditions, without any semblance of an alliance with any other imperialist power, is a most remarkable development. It shows not only that the anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist struggle can be launched but that it can even set the invaders back, as the imperialist press is having to note. The rightwing Republican leader Robert Dole can even question the "wisdom" of U.S. intervention in Somalia.

If, in Yugoslavia, the workers and the peasants can by their own independent efforts raise their struggle to an unequivocally anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist one, that would be the beginning of the regeneration of the socialist federation there. It would have great repercussions, not only in Europe but all over the world.

Last updated: 15 January 2018