I am writing to query what seem to me certain anomalies in the article on the bloodshed in Yugoslavia (September Socialist Standard). The writer states that uneven economic development amongst the constituent republics of the former Yugoslavia is the primary factor behind the conflict. Specifically, it is said that the capitalists of Slovenia and Croatia were reluctant to see their profits “exported” to fund development in the poorer republics. Hence the pro-independence policies of their respective governments.
The above is undoubtedly true but it still leaves the position of the workers in these two republics unexplained. According to the article, free elections were held in Croatia and Slovenia in 1990 in which parties promoting secession from Yugoslavia were victorious. This must mean that the majority of workers voted for these policies. The reason they voted so would appear to be that they could expect vastly improved earnings as workers in a capitalist Slovenia or Croatia rather than a capitalist Yugoslavia; a figure of possibly up to six times as much is mentioned in the article. This again is a straightforward result of the uneven development. Further they obviously felt little ethnic kinship for their fellow workers in the rump state of Yugoslavia.
Thus the writer’s comment that workers have been injected with nationalism by unscrupulous capitalists would seem simplistic. It would appear that both capitalists and workers in the breakaway republics had a material interest in going it alone. Hence the governments, being elected, acted accordingly to carry out the aspirations of both sections of society.
Yugoslavia is but one historical instance where the economic demands of capitalism and nationalism have combined, resulting in human tragedy. To prevent its repetition, by being able to explain to workers its causes, it is necessary to understand these phenomena fully. Perhaps questions such as the nature of the state; the role of government and what forces in a “democratic” capitalist society it represents; and the influence of nationalism and ethnic culture in forming workers’ political views and modifying their experience of the class struggle could be explored in future issues of the Socialist Standard.
No doubt the workers in Slovenia and Croatia who voted for pro-independence parties perceived this to be in their economic interest, but this does not mean that independence will in fact make any substantial difference to their economic situation.
The article did not say that their wages could go up by as much as six times. It merely recorded that the average wages in Slovenia were reputedly six times as much as in Kosovo, the most backward part of former Yugoslavia. This was due to economic rather than political considerations, for instance a higher degree of industrialization and a higher level of education, training and culture amongst the working class, “a straightforward result of the uneven development” as you put it. It follows from this that independence—a change in the political superstructure—will make no difference to wage levels.
Independence will, however, mean an immense gain for the capitalists of Slovenia and Croatia in that a proportion of their profits will no longer be syphoned off to Belgrade (to pay much more for the upkeep of the Yugoslav army than for projects in backward Kosovo and Macedonia, as it happens). If the Slovenian and Croatian capitalists were to share these retained profits with their workers in the form of higher wages, then a case might be made for saying that workers as well as capitalists had a common material interest in independence. However; this would be to assume a generosity on their part never yet displayed by capitalists anywhere. Perhaps the workers who voted for independence believed that this would happen. If so, they will be sorely disappointed—Editors.
Democracy and Votes
Your cartoon in the July issue of Socialist Standard really did reach the depths of Stalinist-style amalgam tactics, in its attempt to link anarchism to Stalinism and Nazism. Not only was the cartoon scurrilous, it was also inaccurate as well. Stalin through the Comintern advised the Communist Parties worldwide to use parliamentary tactics, as was so miserably illustrated with the career of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Hitler for his part used parliamentary methods, as did, and still do. other fascist parties, including Mussolini.
You say that anarchists ignore the State. On the contrary, those revolutionary anarchists who have learnt the lessons of history believe that a social revolution must involve the active destruction of the State. There is a big difference between electing MPs and mandating delegates to, for example, a workplace or neighbourhood council. The delegates to these would be decided upon by mass assemblies. and would be mandated and subject to instant recall. Parliamentarians would be under no such control of the masses. What is more alienating under capitalism than to file singly into an election booth once in every five years?
You pay lip service to self organisation and mass action. In reality, in your advocacy of parliament, including the defence of institutions like the Russian Constituent Assembly, you show yourselves as staunch defenders of bourgeois democracy.
Thanks for the compliment! Yes, we do say that the vote is an important gain and we do say that “bourgeois” democracy, for all its many limitations, provides the best framework for workers to organise themselves without leaders—both to defend their interests under capitalism and to struggle to replace it by the fully democratic society that socialism will be. What are you saying? That it makes no difference whether or not we have the vote? We don’t think you will get very far with that one— Editors.