National Sections of the L5I:

The fight to overthrow Milosevic in Serbia

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Statement by the International Secretariat of the LRCI

In Serbia in the aftermath of NATO's victory in Kosova, a pre-revolutionary situation is maturing. Any brutal acts of repression by the regime could rapidly turn this into a revolutionary situation.

But as elsewhere in Eastern Europe over the past ten years there is such an acute crisis of working class leadership - the absence of parties and trade unions independent of the regime - that the potential for proletarian revolution could be dissipated thus increasing the danger that Milosevic could fall to either nationalist-fascist or bourgeois democratic counter-revolution.

The workers of Serbia need to intervene on the streets and by mass strike action in pursuit of their own class interests in order to shift the balance of forces away from the reactionaries.

The Serbian working class needs to break from Milosevic and the Serbian Socialist Party but not fall in behind the fascist Seselj, the neo-liberal Djindjic or the pro-imperialist adventurer Vuk Draskovic. Only mass action by Serbia's working class and youth can open the road to proletarian revolution in Serbia and the Balkan region as a whole.

The aftermath of the war in Serbia has seen a series of mass demonstrations and unrest. In many towns the bourgeois opposition forces did held protest meetings.

They also organised a petition for the resignation of president Milosevic. In addition to this there are protests of disaffected soldiers reclaiming outstanding wages. Furthermore the imperialist war has left the country destroyed.

As one Western economics put it, "Serbia has been bombed back to the beginning of the century." Serbia's de facto loss of Kosova has enormously discredited the Milosevic regime. There can be no doubt that the Milosevic's power is fragile since mass disaffection in the barracks, the factories and the universities is growing.

The means by which Milosevic holds onto power are becoming increasingly clear despite the iron grip he still has over the media. Many workers rightly hold the regime responsible for starting four bloody ethnic wars in the past eight years, which have ended not with a Greater Serbia but with Serbia and Montenegro smaller than at the end of the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, an economy on the verge of collapse and living conditions for the bulk of the population woefully lowered.

But the Serbian people also hate NATO for its cowardly 15,000ft high-tech bombing which destroyed the country and killed and injured many civilians and reservists.

The urgent task faced by the Serbian working class is to create a revolutionary leadership which can offer an alternative to the demoralising spiral of national chauvinism and the take over of the rump Yugoslavia by US and EU multinationals.

The massive strike waves of the late 1980s and the spring of 1991 indicate that the Serb workers are amongst the most militant in the Balkans. But all ended in defeats due to the fact that they did not pose the question of workers' power, let alone actually achieve a revolutionary workers' government.

The results of these defeats meant that Milosevic led the masses into a deadly spiral of ethnic wars, attempted genocides in Slavonia, Bosnia and Kosova and now economic depression. chauvinist excesses and economic depression.

The combined effects of organisational and political atomisation - a legacy of Tito's bureaucratic regime - hindered the working class from playing an independent role in political life.

As a consequence the field was left wide open to the most reactionary bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces. Even during the mass protest movement of early 1997 only a few workers participated.

But in every society which is based on oppression and exploitation the suppression of the class contradictions is impossible in the long run. Sooner or later the masses rise again and this is exactly what is happening at present in Serbia.

The character of the Milosevic-Regime
Serbia is a moribund workers' state whose progress towards capitalism has been greatly retarded by a series of Balkan wars after 1991. For most of that time Serbia has done little to change the juridical property forms inherited from the old Yugoslav federation; some privatisation of state assets has taken place either to nomenklatura figures or Italian/Greek MNCs.

But the restructuring of the labour process and the relations between enterprises, and between these and the government has been in a state of suspension due to the existence of a degenerate form of "war communism".

The key features of this has been destruction of production from pre-1991 levels, autarky, and the retention of elements of bureaucratic planning with the aim of sustaining a military infrastructure and fighting force.

A massive black market both internal and to break the embargo exists alongside and integrated with this bureaucratic command system. The much diminished state employed workforce has been one of the key elements of the social base of the Milosevic regime to date.

The Milosevic-Regime represents a bloc of those parts of the bureaucracy in the state apparatus which is desperate to hold onto its position and of significant sections of state enterprise managers and the bourgeoisie (particularly around JUL) -p a good part of it is of a Mafia character.

It is grouped around the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) with Milosevic as its leader and the Yugoslavian United Left (JUL), with Mirjana Markovic, Milosevic's wife as its head. It has allied itself over the last period with the bourgeois democratic SPO and the fascist SRS.

It is a typically bonapartist regime where a strong man (and a powerful repressive apparatus) raises itself over society. For a long time the regime had a base inside the working class and the peasantry while the urban middle class became more and more alienated.

Serbia was the dominant nation in pre-1991 Yugoslavia. After 1987 this domination increasingly took the of national oppression after Milosevic took power. It had therefore most to win by defending this domination and most to lose by the break-up of Yugoslavia.

This explains the chauvinist course taken by the Serbian bureaucracy which has led it into conflict, and then temporary alliances with, imperialism whose interest was and largely remains capitalist restoration under conditions of political stability.

The Kosova war has on the one hand temporarily strengthened the support for the regime because it could claim to have defended the country and because it could discredit the bourgeois democratic opposition as "enemies of the fatherland".

On the other hand, the war weakened the material underpinnings of the regime because of the massive economic and financial damage inflicted on Serbia which has directly harmed its electoral base (rising unemployment, no wages for soldier and workers) and the state apparatus (less tax income means less wages and bills). Therefore the regime is now at its weakest since the mass workers' demonstrations of 1987/88.

Once open differences inside the state apparatus emerge into the open Milosevic's days in power are numbered. However the revolutionary potential in today's Serbia is seriously endangered by the weakness of class independence and the role of the bourgeois opposition.

The pro-imperialist, bourgeois-democratic opposition

The bourgeois democratic forces have little by way of a power base inside the state apparatus. They mainly represent the urban middle classes and draw some support from sections of the working class and the peasantry. Politically they are by and large grouped around two poles.

One is the so called "Alliance for Change" whose prominent leaders are Zoran Djindjic, Dragoslav Avramovic, Milan Panic, Vuk Obradovic and Milo Djukanovic.

The most significant are on one hand Djindjic who is the leader of the small Democratic Party and played a role in the student protests two and a half years ago. On the other hand, Djukanovic who is the president of the small republic of Montenegro has the regional police force and some popular support behind him

They are not "genuine democrats" fighting for "freedom" and "liberal-democratic values" Most are former associates of Milosevic who have been purged at one time or other.

Avramovic was the chief of the National Bank and implemented an austerity program for Milosevic between 1993-96; Panic is a US-based millionaire who was Prime Minister of Serbia; Obradovic is an ex-General of the JVA and Djukanovic was for several years Milosevic's puppet in Montenegro, and led a war of plunder against Dubrovnik in Croatia in 1992.

Djindjic allied himself with the arch-reactionary, semi-fascist Bosnian-Serbian leader Karadiz in the attempt to oust Milosevic. So these generals without an army are mainly expelled favourites of the regime they denounce today.

The central weakness of this opposition is its lack of an organised power base with the exception of its regional support in Montenegro. It has organised a series of demonstrations in smaller towns calling for the resignation of Milosevic - several of them attended by a few thousand -and organised a petition with the same aim.

But there are differences inside the Alliance over the question of whether after the resignation of Milosevic - there should be a transitional government (meaning more stability but which would only be possible with the approval of the SPS/JUL) or whether there should immediately be new elections with all the attendant danger of political instability.

The Alliance planned to march to Belgrade but was forced to delay it because of lack of mass support. It has the support of imperialism both politically and financially.

While they can capitalise on mass unrest against the regime it also bears the stigma of being the puppet of the enemy NATO which just bombed the country. So the opposition is able to utilise the present mood of the masses but it fails to organise them and lack significant support inside the state machine.

The other pole of the opposition is found in the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) led by Vuk Draskovic. Since this party played an important role in the protests of 1991 it has a history of opposition and is much better organised nationally. Its main difference with the Alliance for Change revolves around who shall be the main leader and the different tactics toward the regime.

The Alliance for Change opts in the present situation for a full confrontation with Milosevic and leans fully on imperialism. The SOP wavers between supporting and taking the leadership of the mass protest and seeking a compromise with Milosevic.

At the moment it urges Milosevic to accept a lower profile stateman's position or resign with certain guarantees for him and his family. However, even the SPO seems not to have any significant support inside the state apparatus - particularly the army and the police. But through its temporary co-operation with Milosevic (Draskovic was the Yugoslavian Vice-Prime minister until April this year and his party still forms a coalition with the SPS, JUL and SRS) he controls the Belgrade city council and the TV station Studio B. He organised by far the largest opposition demonstrations of the last weeks but has since called a halt to them.

In August a third opposition grouping was formed, Movement for a Democratic Serbia. led by General Perisic. Once again, like many figures in the Alliance, he is an old Milosevic stalwart, and was sacked late in 1998 as the army chief of staff for criticising Milosevic's policy in Kosova.

In general one can observe a fundamental weakness of the bourgeois democratic opposition forces ever since the early 1990s. The main reason for this lies in the close connections of state managers and many bigger capitalists with the regime, the material weakness of the middle classes because of the economic slump and -p connected with this -p the chauvinist and bonapartist nature of the regime.

The goal of the bourgeois democratic opposition can be summed up in the following: they want capitalist restoration but with an orientation -p i.e. dependence on -p to imperialism and the destruction of the state monopolies. They also would -p in the first period -p weaken and purge the repressive state apparatus since it is full of people deeply hostile to them. They never offered the nationally oppressed people the right of national self-determination and even on occasion demanded an even greater crackdown on the "Albanian terrorists" in Kosova.

The fascist forces
For all these reasons the main force beside the ruling SPS/JUL-bloc is the fascist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) led by Seselj. As the last presidential elections at the end of 1997 in Serbia indicated, it has a real power base. It got a majority of votes in the first elections which where then annulled by Milosevic and was just narrowly defeated in the second set, only after massive manipulation. In contrast to the bourgeois democratic forces it has significant roots inside the repressive state apparatus, probably more inside the police than the army.

Seselj has threatened to resign from the government after Milosevic agreed to the treaty with NATO which effectively "sold out" Kosova. But the SRS is still in the government and it seems to wait for now for a better chance to take power. It appears not to control most of the state apparatus.

There can be no doubt about the fascist character of this party. In towns where it governs it intimidates and expels national minorities. It had armed gangs and militias operating (mainly looting, raping and massacring) in the Bosnian war. A government under the lead of Seselj would be a massive threat for the working class and open the way to a full-blown police/military dictatorship.

It stands for a different road to capitalism, one with no reliance on imperialism but rather a future inside a pan-Slavic bloc with Russia, Belarussia and Ukraine. There can be no doubt that such a regime would have no long, stable life ahead of it since these countries are economically very weak themselves and therefore Serbia would probably descend into an even deeper economic crisis.

The trade union movement and the need for a workers' party
The official Yugoslav trade unions are still tied to the ruling bureaucracy. Indeed, their bureaucracy forms an integral and important part of the ruling stratum, the basis of which is a stalled restoration process and the accompanying blocking of the transformation of the enterprise management in the state-owned companies into capitalists and of the complete comodification of labour power.

That is not to say that this bureaucracy is in any sense anti-capitalist. On the contrary, it has done as much as it could to bind the workers to the restorationist goals of the Milosevic regime; it has backed the sacking of workers and prevented the maturation of a class struggle trade union and political opposition in the enterprises as much as it could.

Whilst it is important to break away the workers from the official trade unions and necessary to develop tactics to achieve this goal, the official unions are not a "normal" economic trade union organisation, but an organisation controlled and intimately connected to the ruling regime (particularly to the ruling SPS)

Therefore the smaller independent trade union movement NEZAWISNOST represents an important step forward towards working class independence despite its economist and pro-market defects.

These strong sides of NEZAVISNOST could be and can be observed in their role in economic struggles against non-payment of wages, against sackings and for higher wages. NEZAVISNOST also spoke out against the national chauvinism of the Milosevic regime, opposed the wars against Croatia, in Bosnia and against the Kosovars. At the same time it also opposed the sanctions against Yugoslavia from 1992 onwards and the NATO attacks on Serbia and Montenegro.

NEZAVISNOST has an estimated membership of around 100,000 but at the best a third of them still has a job. The problems faced by the union in recovering from the war - which not only hit its members hard but also forced it to a semi-illegal existence - are increased by the fact that unlike the bourgeois opposition it does not receive substantial (if any) material support from the trade union movement in Western Europe.

The links which have always been fragile have been weakened not only by the war itself. Major West European trade union federations (e.g. the DGB in Germany) supported the war and therefore distanced themselves from opposition to NATO's attacks. The Stalinist or Stalinophile trade union left on the other hand preferred links to the official trade unions.

But the main weakness of the independent trade unions are political. From its very beginning NEZAVISNOST has a strong "anti-political" bias. In that sense it repeats the weakenesses of the Yugoslavian workers' movement of the 1960s to the 1980s. Whilst NEZAVISNOST produced a number of political statements since its existance, it never ever tried to go beyond them.

It saw the transformation towards capitalism as inevitable (if not an advance). It was unable to understand the material basis for the reactionary politics of the various fragments of the bureaucracy and the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois forces in Serbia, but only characterised them as lacking "wisdom" or "democratic will".

It drew the conclusion from that, that only bourgeois democratic reforms and a regime based on parliamentary institutions could offer a way forward in political terms.

Therefore NEZAWISNOST proved incapable of developing an independent class standpoint from the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois opposition even if the trade union itself was suspicious about their real aims. It had little or no independent face apart from the Alliance in the recent demonstrations against Milosevic.

This political subordination also means that the ability of the independent trade unions to rally all workers around an action programme - including the best and most militant workers who now support the offical trade unions - is politically blocked. Indeed the political weaknesses and failures of NEZAWISNOST will at the same time bind workers who are aware of the restorationist goals of the Alliance and the SPO to the official trade unions, the Milosevic regime or even towards the SRS.

Suspicion towards the alliance expresses itself in demands inside the independent trade union movement for the formation of a new workers' party based on the unions. This is an absolutely urgent step. All class conscious workers in NEZAVISNOST should fight for an emergency conference of rank and file delegates of the union and change the union's orientation: end all support for the Alliance and fight for an independent working class party whose programme must start from resistance to a NATO/IMF takeover. It must be a programme for working class power which links the immediate democratic and social demands of the masses with the struggle for working class power and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The struggle for a genuine revolutionary programme to be at the heart a workers party is indispensable as the pre-revolutionary situation unfolds. On the basis of a reformist programme a new workers' party could only become a larger or smaller replica of the social democratic parties.

We therefore do not limit our call for a workers' party to NEZAWSINOST members albeit in the current circumstance many of the initial members of a genuine proletarian party may come from this, but also call on the rank and file members of the reformist organisations, unorganised rank and file workers, women's organisations, soldiers and students to form such a party.

Tactics of revolutionary communists
The Alliance for Change has organised a month of regular demonstrations calling for the resignation of Milosevic. These provincial demonstrations have attracted several thousand people. The two big SPO demonstrations mobilised 20-25,000 people. On 19 September the opposition tests its strength by holding its first national demonstration against Milosevic in Belgrade, the first at which all the opposition groups have promised to collaborate.

The petition launched by the Alliance now has half a million signatures out of a population of ten million. The Serbian Orthodox Church has called for Milosevic to go. The Alliance for Change and NEZAVISNOST have muted the possibility of a general strike in September.

In addition soldiers are discontented. Permanent protests of armed soldier units demand their outstanding pay. Concentrated in the Southern cities where the SPS was very strong in the past they blockade major roads and pose an important threat to the regime.

Their protests started during the war when they and their relatives protested against Milosevic's policy of sending mainly working class people to Kosova instead of soldiers from bourgeois and middle class backgrounds.

They too may join the protests demonstration in Belgrade but the regime is conscious of their danger may seek to buy them off. Since they have failed to organise themselves centrally and lack political demands against the regime this could happen all too easily.

Another important element in the present situation have been the mass demonstrations in several southern Serbian cities (particularly Leskovac). These demonstrations are spontaneous and not organised by the opposition parties.

They are relatively bigger than the ones called by the Alliance. Over 25,000 protested in Leskovac after one TV technician called for a demonstration during a basketball game. These demonstrations focus on the removal of the local SPS governors but also of Milosevic. They are partly joined by armed soldiers

The deterioration in the economic situation especially over the winter ensures that the question of food, wages, inflation etc will continue to provoke dissent and even unrest.

However, as elsewhere the degree of social and economic shock may induce political passivity in the absence of leadership or focus given the need to adopt survival strategies at a household level. In these conditions mass political unrest may focus on issues such a payment of wage arrears, the existence of widespread goods' shortages and known cases of corruption and privilege of the elite faced with the sharpened crisis.

While it is difficult to assess the exact tempo of the ongoing between the masses, the bourgeois opposition and the regime it seems fair to say the following:

The bourgeois opposition at the moment does not look strong enough to overthrow the regime (given that there are no indications that NATO plan a military attack on Serbia with the goal of directly overthrowing Milosevic).

They either have to win the support of a significant section of the repressive state apparatus and the bourgeoisie or they have to win over and extend the spontaneous mass movements in the Southern Serbian cities and of the soldiers. If they do not succeed in either, Milosevic will probably stay in power.

In the present situation revolutionary proletarian policy must start from the necessary and legitimate struggle of the working class against the reactionary Milosevic regime.

The present situation offers the best possibility for a proletarian revolution against the Milosevic dictatorship this decade. Workers in Serbia therefore have to fight both against the regime and -p at the same time - for the political independence of workers and soldiers from the bourgeois oppositionist misleaders. Class conscious workers cannot support the imperialist drive to ouster Milosevic and install a pro-imperialist transitional regime together with bourgeois oppositionist forces. This would represent no progress.

The LRCI supports all genuine protests and struggles of workers and soldiers against the regime and the hardship caused by it. We support therefore the mass protests of the soldiers and the workers in the cities like Leskovac. These must be organised and extended nationally.

The Serbian working class must not give political support to the leadership and aims of the Alliance for Change or the SPO. Where they call demonstrations against the government the trade unions and local factories and offices must participate under its own banners and slogans.

We can not support the Alliance for Change or the SPO's drive to replace the regime with imperialist puppets. Nevertheless, we are opposed to any attempt by the regime to suppress these protests since this will drive the workers even further into the arms of the pro-imperialist opposition forces.

Marxists must not stand passive as misguided workers and youth rally behind the Djindjics and Draskovics. They must be argued with, their false hopes revealed for what they are and the hypocrisy and deceit of the Alliance patiently explained.

It is important to look for every moment of working class independence within such a bourgeois led movement and to skilfully exploit them to support workers in struggle and break them away from the bourgeois misleaders.

The LRCI stands alongside the workers of Serbia, for so long cruelly deceived and betrayed by Stalinism and chauvinism. We fight in your ranks for:

Workers and soldiers must not only protest but also organise themselves on a regular basis in mass action councils. Regular demonstrations should elect delegates for a co-ordination which should formally organise the protests and be accountable and recallable to the masses.

Organise action councils made up of delegates of the soldiers companies and urban protests on a regional and national basis. For an independent co-ordination which does not rely on the bourgeois opposition.

Disarm the local police! Arm the people! For armed defence for the demonstrations! Soldiers should distribute their weapons to organised self-defence units of the masses! For a workers' militia to defeat the troops loyal to Milosevic and the armed gangs of Seselj and Arkan!

To finish the spectre of Great-Serbian chauvinism once and for all it is crucial for the mass movement to support the right of national self-determination for all national minorities inside Yugoslavia (Hungarians, Moslems in Sandzak etc.)! For unconditional and immediate recognition of the republic of Kosova! No to the continuing repression of the Albanian minority inside Serbia! No ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosova!

Fight all attacks on democratic rights! For full freedom to assemble, to demonstrate and to publish! Down with state censorship! Employees of papers, state radio and TV and the mass protest movement must put all media under their control!

No to any military coup by Milosevic against the Montenegrin government!

For an emergency plan of the working class! Milosevic's regime and NATO have ruined the country -p now is the time to reorganise the economy and to rebuild the country! For workers' control of all big enterprises! For a public debate on where to put the limited resources of the country!

For the immediate expropriation of the Milosevic clan and all the enriched followers of the regime! Nationalise all big enterprises under workers' control!

For international trade union solidarity! Build links with the unions in Kosova, Albania, Macedonia, Croatia and Greece! Reciprocal solidarity for the struggles which are underway at the moment in Greece, Croatia and Serbia!

NATO out of the Kosova and the whole of the Balkans! Finishing the Milosevic dictatorship is the job of the workers in Serbia, Montenegro and Kosova but not of the Western big powers! Down with all sanctions against Balkan countries!

For immediate elections to a Constituent Assembly under the control of mass action councils! Class conscious workers' delegates would fight inside such a Constituent Assembly for a revolutionary workers' government which would introduce a democratically planned economy and a regime of workers' democracy. Such a Constituent Assembly should also debate and agree on the future state of Yugoslavia (centralised, federation or confederation) including the state of Montenegro.

Put Milosevic and all leading figures of the police and army in front of a workers' tribunal where both Serbian and Albanian delegates should judge them! Find out all those who were guilty of war crimes in Kosova in the past and put them on trial!

Overthrow Milosevic but do not replace him with the ex-followers of the regime and the today's followers of NATO killers! For a government based on action councils of workers, peasants and soldiers!

For an international workers' campaign to force the imperialists to finance the rebuilding of Serbia and Kosova without any conditions! No delays in financing Serbia's reconstruction until Milosevic is removed! Put reconstruction monies into the hands of democratically newly elected local councils and a Constituent Assembly!

Down with the reactionary regimes in all Balkan countries who rob their people to enrich themselves and spread national hatred! For workers and peasant revolutions in the whole of the Balkans! For a voluntary, socialist federation of the Balkan people having equal rights!

Such a programme will not fall from heaven into the minds of the Serbian working class. It needs to be developed, understood, explained and propagated by a conscious nucleus of revolutionary activists. To build such a revolutionary organisation in Serbia (and all other Balkan countries) is of highest importance today.

Because it is the precondition to solve the most burning question today in Serbia: The building of a revolutionary workers' party. Understand this: there is no escape for Serbia out of the spiral of oppression, exploitation and misery without a revolutionary mass party which can lead a proletarian revolution and the building of workers' state in Serbia and a socialist federation of the Balkans.

It is equally important to build a new revolutionary international. Particularly the last war has shown the interconnection between the Balkans, Europe and the rest of the world.

Also the task of rebuilding the country shows the importance of international workers' solidarity. Last but not least it is also extremely important that both unionists and socialist activists exchange their experience and develop a united approach.

All these is illusory without a powerful international revolutionary tendency with a programme tested in the past events by cadre proven in struggles. The League for a Revolutionary Communist International commits itself to do its utmost to fulfil these task. We want to collaborate with all trade unionists, students and activists to fight against the oppressors and for the demands of the working people in the whole Balkans region and beyond!

Workers and peasants, lets fight together against oppression, exploitation, chauvinism and war! For the proletarian revolution in Serbia, the Balkans and the whole world!