National Sections of the L5I:

Yugoslavia: bringing the war to Austria

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Austria is little more than one hundred kilometres from the centre of the fighting in Bosnia and shares a border with Slovenia. The war is having a big impact on political life, as Michael Gatter of ArbeiterInnen-standpunkt, Austria section of the LRCI [Editor: now the League for the Fifth International], reports.

“Serbien muss sterbien!” (Serbia must die) was a slogan of the Habsburg war machine in the First World War. After seven decades a more modest Austrian imperialism is trying to regain at least some of the political influence and economic power it once had in the Balkans.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the tabloids and even the “serious” bourgeois press have been mounting a racist anti-Serbian campaign for months now.

The Kronen-Zeitung, the biggest circulation daily, even used its front page to remind readers of the dastardly assassination of Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand in 1914 by Serbian nationalists, and once again demanded punishment of the disobedient Serbs.

Every day, the press reports in detail the cruelties and savage massacres of the Serb militias. But at the same time there is no mention at all of the detention camps and the massacres perpetrated by the Croat and Muslim militias.

In this way the basis is laid for the government’s strongly pro-Croatian, war mongering policy. Using the analogy of the Gulf War, Foreign Minister Mock promotes the idea of an “Operation Balkan Storm”.

The interests of the Austrian bourgeoisie are easy to guess. Slowly, but steadily, a sphere of influence, the so-called “natural unit of Middle Europe”, will be built up. Participation in “Initiative Central Europe” and the “Alps-Adria working group” both serve that purpose.

Austrian trade and finance capital have already made significant inroads in the Slovenian economy. One of the biggest Austrian banks, the Creditanstalt, hold the majority of assets of the Nova Banks, which is central for the creation of a private capital.

Support for Croatia and the Bosnian Muslims is little more than supports for the interests of the Austrian ruling class. Nowadays these are disguised by a human rights campaign which is promoted with great zeal. At the same time, the ruling class trades on the natural and justified sympathy of the Austrian population for the Croat and Bosnian refugees with a state campaign to help a “neighbour in trouble” by other means.

The whole hypocrisy of the campaign is clearly revealed by the fact that the social democratic Minister of the Interior, Löschnak, introduced visas for Serbian refugees. In the longer term, closure of Austrian borders to all war refugees is now being considered by the government.

The 55,00 refugees who are already in Austria are considered quite enough by the same government whose policy promoted the civil war in Yugoslavia by encouraging the federal state’s break-up for its own economic interests.

Growing state-supported racism clearly has a terrible effect on the Yugoslav refugees and immigrant workers, especially the ones of Serb origin, living in Austria. Most of the 150,000 immigrant workers from Yugoslavia are Serbs, Slav Muslims or Albanians.

Every day racist pressure and abuse increases against the Serb immigrants. This is fuelled by the racist explanations given for the war by the bourgeois media who present it as the result of age-old feuds, Balkan tribal hatreds, mass lunacy and so on.

In addition, blaming the “mad Serbs” for the war has also helped to deepen national divisions amongst Yugoslav immigrant workers.

This was revealed in demonstrations over the last twelve months. In autumn 1991 Croat nationalists (HDZ, HSP, HNS) demonstrated several times for independence and for imperialist support against the “Serb communists”, mobilising on average about 1,000 Croats.

In November 1991 a bigger demonstration took place, which was supported by the Conservative (OVP) and the Socialist (SPO) parties, the foreign minister, the catholic church and Croat organisations.

Likewise, Serb nationalists organised 500-1,000 strong demonstrations in the autumn and winter. Although directed against the anti-Serb agitation of the Austrian government, they also supported the reactionary war aims of the Belgrade regime and the Yugoslav army.

The fight against the rise of nationalism affecting the immigrant community, opposition to the reactionary nationalist war on both sides, as well as struggling against the growing anti-Serb chauvinism in Austria was and is the major task of the left and the labour movement in this period.

However, at best its response has been almost entirely passive. ArbeiterInnenstandpunkt (ASt) was the only organisation on the Austrian left to develop propaganda amongst the immigrants, issuing publications in Serbo-Croat.

Out comrades also organised several public meetings where a Serbian comrade gave an eye-witness account of the situation in Serbia. Many people, including Yugoslav workers, attended and showed a keen interest.

ASt members regularly visited the clubs of the Yugoslav community to discuss the war, the situation in their contries and the imperialist interference in them.

When the economic blockade and imperialist threat on Serbia increased in the summer, the ASt took the initiative for a demonstration against imperialist intervention and reactionary nationalist war.

The platform included the following slogans: Bush, Kohl, Mock: Hands off Serbia! No UN-blockade! No military intervention! Support all organisations who fight against nationalist war! No to racism against the peoples of the Balkans! Hunger and freedom know no frontiers-asylum rights for all war refugees! Withdraw the racist visa restrictions for Serbs!

However, the whole left, from the Communist Party to the “Trotskyists” of the SOAL (USFI section) and the RKL, refused to participate in, or support, a demonstration on this principled platform.

Why? The wretched pretext they offer was that the demonstration was supported by the Draskovic-ite “Serb National Rebirth”, a nationalist grouping which is at the moment opposed to the war efforts of the Milosevic regime and to US-EC-UN armed intervention.

Without their participation, of course, few or no Serbs would have marched with us.

About 1,500 people, mainly Serb workers, participated in the demonstration. In our speeches and in special publications in Serbo-Croat and in German, we denounced imperialism’s policy and Austrian racism.

We also denounced the reactionary and pro-capitalist policies and deeds of all the nationalists in former Yugoslavia (Stalinist or openly bourgeois). In particular, we attacked the crimes of its Serb variety.

Not surprisingly, this latter aspect of our propaganda revealed that there are many agents of national chauvinism within the immigrant community. A group of Chetnik fascists physically attacked a Serbian ASt comrade.

In that situation the “moderate” nationalists of the Serbian Rebirth, failed to actively join in our defence or kick the Chatnik scum off the demonstration.

Indeed, they even gave the microphone to a Chetnik pseaker to plcate them, thus turning the demonstration into a reactionary nationalist event.

The blame for this lies not only with the Serbian Rebirth on the demonstration, but with the cowardly Austrian left and the misleaders of the labour movement.

The latter’s pro-imperialist stance and the fake revolutionaries’ utter passivity not only let Austrian imperialism’s aims go unchallenged, they also open the road for reactionary nationalists of all varieties, from “democrats” to outright fascists, to gain control over the Serbian, Croat, Muslim or Albanian worker immigrants.

Their refusal to build for a principled anti-war and anti-imperialist demonstration itself inevitably shifted the balance of forces towards the bourgeois nationalists and Chetniks.

The RKL have, characteristically, fallen back on the old left sectarian alibi to excuse their utterly centrist passivity. They argue that any block with “bourgeois restorationists”, even for a demonstration in support of principled slogans, has to be unprincipled. Only joint action with workers would satisfy the high standards the RKL demands!

Splendid principles! But the Serbian workers are heavily influenced, and to some extent led, by the “moderate” nationalists. The turn out of workers on the demonstration itself proved this. Unfortunately, there are no Serbian workers’ organisations or leaders in Vienna, independent of one or another type of nationalist. If there were, we would be happy to organise a demonstration with them.

We await with interest news of any such demonstration being organised by the RKL. Of course, there will be none because this piece of nonsense about “principle” is just a cover-up for a really unprincipled failure to challenge Austrian imperialist chauvinism and reactionary Serb (or Croat) nationalism, face to face and on the streets.

These “revolutionaries” put no value on the struggle to find and win Serbian and Austrian workers to active internationalism.

The main reason for this is that the RKL has developed as a national sect in a country which has seen long years of social peace, a minor imperialism that seemed to be, until recently, very distant from the front lines of imperialist politics.

As a result, the comrades have learnt only to repeat their formulae and “principles” whilst they wait, we assume, for the workers to catch up wit hthem. The collapse of Stalinism, in particular, is revealing the sterility of such politics, and not only in Austria.

An important task for the LRCI, as it intervenes in both the former Stalinist states and in the crisis of the international left, is to win the argument that revolutionary principles are neither shibboleths that can now be dispensed with, nor icons which, if clung to, ensure revolutionary purity.

For the LRCE, revolutionary principles are the codifications of the lessons of the history of class struggle, lessons learned through the activity of revolutionaries alongside workers and their leaders.

For our part, we take those lessons into the struggles and organisations of the working class as they now exist, learning from them how to advance the cause of communism. We do this not simply despite having to make temporary alliances with “the Devil and his grandmother” but, indeed, through such alliances.