The U.S.-led war by NATO against Serbia was an act of imperialist aggression – an attack on the working class in the Balkans and a threat to workers internationally.
The settlement recently imposed by the NATO imperialists and their Russian ally confirms once again that the imperialist powers’ “humanitarian” pretensions are pure hypocrisy. The war allegedly aimed at the Yugoslav military in fact targeted factories and utilities throughout the country; it leaves Serbia and Kosovo in an economic shambles, with thousands of dead soldiers and civilians. The war allegedly fought to defend the human rights of the Kosovo Albanians began and ends by denying their basic right to national self-determination; the settlement omits even the vague promise of a referendum that was implied by the Rambouillet “agreement” signed in March.
The imperialists condemn Milosevic as a “Hitler” for his treatment of the Kosovars, yet they tolerate and encourage similar oppression elsewhere: Turkey against the Kurds, Israel against the Palestinian Arabs. The U.S.’s real interest in the Balkans is to maintain its hegemony over its imperialist rivals, its subordinate junior partners, and above all the masses of working people increasingly restive in the face of the mounting world economic crisis.
When armed struggle broke out in Kosovo, the imperialists were desperate to block the spread of mass upsurges, working-class or nationalist, which could have meant conflagration spreading to Macedonia, Albania, Greece and Turkey. As well, the European powers feared even larger numbers of refugees emigrating across their borders. NATO’s claimed “concern” for the refugees is obscene, given their history of persecuting both refugees and immigrants within their own borders.
As working-class revolutionaries, we stood for the defeat of NATO’s murderous assault and for defense of Serbia against NATO. But despite our military support, we gave no form of political support to the bourgeois nationalist regime of Slobodan Milosevic in the rump state he created out of former Yugoslavia. After the war as during it, we demand the end of the NATO attacks and the withdrawal of NATO forces from the Balkans.
In the past U.S. imperialism dominated the Balkans by backing two local strongmen, Milosevic in Serbia and Tudjman in Croatia. NATO went to war to show that Milosevic, like Saddam Hussein in 1990-91, could not get away with stepping over the bounds that imperialism has set for him.
Milosevic based his power on Serb nationalism, ever since the economic crisis hit Yugoslavia hard in the 1980’s. His aim was to defeat the multi-ethnic Yugoslav working class, which had fought over 1000 strikes against the regime’s austerity policies. A key step was the cancellation of Kosovo’s autonomy within Serbia, which had been granted in 1974. This deprived the Albanian Kosovars – the great majority of the population – of democratic rights on ethnic grounds. This year he followed up with a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Our organization originally sided with the Kosovo Liberation Army’s fight against national oppression by the Serb regime. However shady its origins or funding, however bourgeois its politics, a national liberation struggle must be supported by Marxist revolutionaries as long as it is genuinely fighting against oppression. But when the KLA signed the Rambouillet agreement and supported NATO’s war, it actively joined the imperialist side. Thus it abandoned the struggle for national self-determination in favor of accepting, at least temporarily, an imperialist protectorate.
During the war, military support for the KLA meant support for imperialism. It remained necessary, however, to support the military defense of the Kosovar people against Serbian ethnic cleansing. But since there were no anti-Serb forces not subordinated to NATO, we were for the military defense of the Serb forces against the KLA as long as the KLA remained a NATO auxiliary.
We remain in favor of the right of the Kosovars to national self-determination. Even though independence is no solution for a tiny, economically backward nation, Trotskyists side with the oppressed in the struggle against imperialism and other forms of oppression. We aim to help free the workers and peasants from illusions in nationalist bourgeois and petty-bourgeois politicians, so that they can confront their own ruling class head-on.
Self-determination for Kosovo cannot be achieved by siding with NATO. But it must be demanded by the working class in Serbia as well as in Kosovo, as a key political method in defending Serbia – and by workers in the U.S. and the other imperialist countries of NATO who must reject the imperialists’ insistence that Kosovo remain part of Serbia.
The eruption of Serbian chauvinism and the betrayals of the Albanian Kosovars by their bourgeois nationalist leaders – from the pacifist Ibrahim Rugova to the guerrillaist KLA – both prove once again that nationalism is no solution to oppression: it is a deadly enemy that inevitably betrays the masses to imperialism. Working-class revolutionaries stand for proletarian socialist revolution and a socialist federation of the Balkans.
In the U.S., our prime task is firm opposition to the greatest enemy of the exploited and oppressed masses here and abroad, American imperialism, and its liberal and social-democratic agents in the working class. In opposing NATO’s war, we also worked to separate support for Serbia from the chauvinist anti-Albanian line pushed by Serb nationalists and by those on the left who act as their shills in the name of Marxism. Those who oppose Kosovo’s right to self-determination today are backhandedly defending the imperialists’ “right” to rule the world.