Nationalism and democracy are dangerous for class struggle

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Despite the difficulties facing the international class struggle, especially with the containment of the big social movements of the last few years (‘Arab spring’, Spanish indignados, etc), despite the tide of nationalism that has drowned many expressions of protest and discontent, as in Ukraine, here and there we are still seeing signs that the ruling class is not always having things its own way. The outbreak of mass protests against ‘socialist’ austerity in Venezuela and the re-ignition of mass anger against the regime in Turkey are examples of this. In this article our sympathiser Baboon detects the same elements of real class struggle in the recent movements in Bosnia.


August 24 2011, a strike broke out at the DITA detergent factory in Tuzla in Bosnia. The strike was spontaneous and erupted over the lack of wages, back-pay, paid transportation to work and the loss of pensions and healthcare for the workers. It lasted for 7 months until March 2012. And then having been locked-out by the bosses, the striking workers, again spontaneously, organised a permanent blockade of the factory in order to stop the asset-stripping of their plant - which they’d seen happen at neighbouring factories. The strike committee organised pickets to other workers and went to other plants and factories and other workers, some of whom were on strike or protesting themselves, also came to the DITA factory in shows of support and solidarity. Local peasants bought food to the pickets, as did miners and bakery workers. Health workers and postal workers also came to the site in solidarity. One of the strike committee said that “not a single local union supported us” because the strike was deemed “illegal” (For a fuller account of this movement see the video on the libcom internet discussion forum thread “Protests in Bosnia”, Ed’s post 17.2.14. The video has the catchy title of “Here’s something for you Granny, thank you! Thank you! That is huge!” - it’s very interesting and a profoundly moving expression from the working class expressed by one of the strike leaders).

Just after the beginning of February this year, suffering from similar indignities and attacks from the bourgeoisie, the anger of the workers of Tuzla exploded again. Government buildings, symbols of the workers’ misery, were attacked and burnt, and the bosses’ protectors, the police, were also attacked, provoking the latter here to surrender and there to dish out more beatings and repression. Ten per cent of the hundred thousand inhabitants of Tuzla were on the streets, including students who joined the workers, and movements of solidarity broke out in the towns of Zenica, Mostar, Bihac, Sarajevo and elsewhere in the region, where the unemployment rate goes up to anything around 75% and where wages and conditions are being dramatically cut. For all its weaknesses, lack of direction and confusion, what occurred in Tuzla and beyond was, in the first instance, an expression of the working class and, in the face of the dangers of nationalism and democracy, an example of workers saying “enough”.

The imperialist carve-up of Bosnia, after the war in the early 90’s, which itself was an expression of the decomposition of capitalism, was engineered by “peace envoy” Richard Holbrooke - a worthy successor to Henry Kissinger - in the 1995 “Dayton Accords” which unfolded under the auspices of American imperialism. In this process Bosnia was split into two entities and one autonomous district - Brcko (where there were also protests recently); the Bosniak-Croat Federation is divided into ten cantons that work alongside local government. “The result” says The Economist, 15.2.14, “is a system that pays large salaries to politicians in a country of just 3.5 million people”. In other words, the whole system imposed by the major powers favours corruption, nepotism and gangsterism. Indeed many of these politicians and top bureaucrats in the Balkans are out and out gangsters and traffickers who make up the local bourgeoisie. All those, on the right and left, who maintained that this war would lead to a major reconstruction of the region and that there was an “economic rationale” behind it, have been proved decidedly wrong. Not only did the war and the subsequent “peace” agreement lay the ground for further irrationality and gangsterism, not only do vast areas of the Balkans remain devastated and sprinkled with minefields, but unemployment and savage attacks on workers are everywhere. Here, on our doorstep in Europe, we find not reconstruction but the ravages of imperialism and capitalist destruction persisting and deepening.

Various nationalist factions put forward their own conspiracy theories around the protests or labelled them the work of “hooligans”, with the EU’s High Representative in Bosnia, Valentin Inzko, threatening to bring in EU troops against the protesters (Malatesta’s Blog, 12.2.14). Going from the correct idea that these protests put forward no demands based on ethnic divisions and that there was a certain solidarity expressed across the inter-ethnic lines imposed by Dayton, a number of intellectuals and academics, including Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Naomi Klein and Slavoj Zizek, wrote a couple of letters to The Guardian (see Balkans Insight, 13.2.14) “supporting” the “citizens” of the region. But this support is like that of a noose supporting the hanged man. They call on the “international community” to sort things out - the same international community that provoked the war in the first place and imposed these divisions and conditions in the second. In essence these leftist supporters of capitalism simply tail-end the forces of the bourgeoisie in general and the machinations of the EU over the protests in particular. For example, the EU’s call for Bosnia’s leaders “to show more accountability and transparency” (Reuters, 17.2.14), and the Bosnian government’s appeal to “dissatisfied workers to seek to achieve their rights through union institutions with whom (this) government has had continual good relations” (World Socialist Website, 6.2.14). We’ve seen above how the unions, themselves divided up along nationalist lines, are not only hand in hand with the state but openly against the workers’ struggles.

The outburst of anger from the workers of Tuzla hasn’t come from out of the blue. There was a miners’ strike for more wages last September; around Bosnia there have been demonstrations that have challenged ethnic divides and express concern for unemployment and the future, reflected in such slogans as “Death to nationalism!”, “We support uprisings all around the world!”, “School never taught us to be unemployed!”, “Fuck you in three languages!” They were painted on government buildings or on hand-made posters held by protesters of all ages including the unemployed and retired workers. Strikes and blockades organised by workers broke out in Kralejevo, Serbia, and there have been protests in Belgrade and in Drvar, Republic Srpska. Further afield there have been demonstrations against unemployment in Skopje, Macedonia (Bosnia-Herzogovia Protest Files, 18.2.14) and violent unemployment protests by students were reported in Pristina, Kosovo (BBC News, 8.2.14: whether by coincidence or not, Nato KFOR troops were mobilised for training against protests in their joint multi-national command centre at Hehenful, Germany).

Clearly this movement is very small scale and prone to the dangers of division, nationalism and democracy. The latter can be seen in the “Plenums”, “Governments of Experts” and “Technical Governments” that have been established and called for. These are the sort of bourgeois organisations that will be welcomed by the letter-writing leftist academics above. We lack sufficient information to say whether some of these plenums may have been real general assemblies, genuine products of the movement, but there are reports that the Tuzla plenum has completely ignored the demands of workers. This concretely expresses the danger of a class movement being subsumed into a “democratic” mobilisation which ends up looking for new ruling faces. And the other side of the dangers of nationalism is the idea of a vague “multi-nationalism” which aspires to everyone “getting on” and to “cultural tolerance” in order to take the steam out of any further developments. Against all this the working class must attempt to develop its struggle on its own ground even though at the moment it appears to be very confused and has significant forces ranged against it.

But, “Here’s something for you Granny”: Bosnia is no Ukraine. There are no western politicians, spies, ambassadors, delegations and dollar bills backing the workers’ struggles. These struggles are more in line with the fight and anger of the “Indignant” in Spain, the protests in Egypt, Turkey and Brazil, and they are prone to the same or similar dangers. But taking place in this region decimated by imperialism they are an important sign that the international working class has not been crushed by the material and ideological attacks of the enemy.

Baboon, 19.2.14