Stalinism and roots of Yugoslavia's disintegration
(Books of the Month column)
Below is an excerpt from The Truth About Yugoslavia, one of Pathfinder's Books of the Month for April. The articles in this book first appeared in the Militant. Written by a reporting team of socialist workers that visited Yugoslavia in 1992, the articles tell the truth about Yugoslavia, expose the role of the Stalinist caste in promoting national divisions in order to preserve their privileged status, and why working people should oppose imperialist military intervention. Copyright ©1993 Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
BY GEORGE FYSON
AND JONATHAN SILBERMAN
The Yugoslav bureaucracy—like its counterparts in Russia and elsewhere—was from early on a breeding ground for regional competition. The bureaucrats in the most advanced regions used nationalist demagogy as a weapon for self-enrichment—demanding control of the spoils of foreign investment and of trade conducted across their international borders, for example.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a section of the bureaucracy in Croatia called for income from the lucrative tourist industry of the Dalmatian coast area to be allocated entirely to the Croatian, not the federal, government. They resisted using such resources to even out the imbalances across Yugoslavia by advancing the less-developed regions.
Provinces and republics closed their markets to one another, seeking to become self-sufficient. This inevitably worked to the detriment of the least-developed regions. By 1985, for example, the income of the average resident of Slovenia was 70 percent higher than that of the average resident of Macedonia; by 1989, it was 125 percent more.
The historical roots of national divisions in Yugoslavia had been dealt huge blows by the revolution. But the bureaucrats began the process that they continue today—to do their utmost to revive the old nationalist causes, seeking to mobilize workers and farmers around their reactionary appeals, for the purpose of holding onto power and expanding the resources under their own control.
Their ability to do this has been limited by the deep-rooted gains of the Yugoslav revolution, which is seen in the extent to which, despite the appeals of the demagogues, large layers of working people do not see themselves as "Croatian," "Serbian," or some other nationality, and refuse to endorse the chauvinist course laid out by the bureaucrats. A common response is, "We are Yugoslavs, not Croats or Serbs."
In proportion as social inequality grew and tensions developed—between working people and the rising parasitic caste; between the rulers of different regions; and within the bureaucracy as a whole—the Yugoslav bureaucrats needed a powerful arbiter, standing over society as a whole, to secure their rule. In this situation Tito, a figure with great authority deriving from his identification with the revolution, was able to emerge as a Bonapartist leader. In this role he straddled the interests of the caste and the workers and peasants, keeping in check the interests of the bureaucrats, and functioning as the supreme arbiter within the caste itself.
Protests by workers and students in Yugoslavia emerged in the 1960s, focusing especially on the new privileges of the ruling social layer. The protests began to spread on a Yugoslavia-wide basis. Forty thousand students occupied the University of Belgrade in 1968, promoting a petition that opposed the rulers' privileges and calling for democratic rights. The petition was then signed by 200,000 students around the country. The students also opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam in the face of official government neutrality.
Over the next four years a deep economic slump set in, the product of the slowdown in world capitalism and bureaucratic mismanagement.
Following the worldwide recession of 1974-75, the economic crisis intensified. Investment declined, the foreign debt escalated, production fell, and unemployment grew rapidly. By 1985 the average wage was only 40 percent of what was officially considered necessary to support a family of four at 1979 living standards. Inflation skyrocketed to an annual rate of 2,500 percent by January 1990.
From the end of 1989 to mid-1991, the Yugoslav economy contracted by more than 40 percent. A number of local governments and enterprises announced bankruptcy.
What led to the disintegration and resulted in the bloody conflicts that have raged since 1991 was not Tito's death in 1980, but the drastic economic decline. However, the Bonapartist ruler's demise did mark a turning point in the acceleration of the centrifugal forces in Yugoslavia.
These strains finally shattered the ruling Communist Party. The party was formally dissolved in early 1990. Many members left before its final breakup, declaring themselves to be Croatian nationalists, Slovenian nationalists, or some other variant. The caste in Belgrade demagogically advanced Serbian nationalist goals, often behind the cloak of being the defender of "Yugoslavia."
This process has amounted to the bureaucracy restructuring itself—redividing and reapportioning the loot, the caste's pillage of the social surplus, among itself—and using workers and peasants as unwilling pawns in their bloody turf war.
At the same time as each wing of the bureaucracy has sought to gain control over more resources, they all cherish hopes of linking up with those they have the closest economic relations with among the imperialist powers. Depending on which wing of the caste and which region, this may be either the ruling capitalist families of Germany, France, or other countries.