Throughout the 1990s, the territory of the former state of Yugoslavia was the scene of a series of horrifying massacres justified by the ideology of ethnic chauvinism. The war in the Balkans brought imperialist slaughter closer to the heartlands of capitalism than at any time since 1945. The local bourgeoisies did all they could to whip their populations into a frenzy of ethnic and nationalist hatred, the precondition for supporting or participating in the bloody slaughter of the Yugoslav wars.
These hatreds have not been eliminated by the uneasy peace which now reigns in the region, so it is all the more heartening to see signs that there are those in the region who look for a way forward in the social movement against capitalism and not in any dreams of national aggrandisement. We have seen, for example, a number of struggles by students in Serbia and Croatia, which should be seen as another expression of the same international tendency which we have seen in Western Europe and in the USA with the indignados and Occupy movements. And we are now witnessing the development of a genuinely internationalist politicised minority in both countries, a which openly rejects national divisions and seeks cooperation among all internationalist revolutionaries.
One expression of this new movement is the Declaration of the Birov collective in Serbia, which has recently emerged from a growing nucleus there (see their website, http://www.birov.net/). We are publishing it here. The most important thing about this Declaration, it seems to us, is the clarity and directness with which it puts forward a series of fundamental class positions:
affirmation of the revolutionary nature of the working class against all “post-marxist mystifications”;
necessity for the self-organisation of the working class in opposition to the trade unions, defined as organs of the capitalist state;
insistence that the workers’ assemblies and eventually the workers’ councils are the instrument for the mass struggle against capitalism;
rejection of all national liberation struggles and capitalist wars, seen as a fundamental “border line between revolutionaries and the patriotic, social democratic left”;
characterisation of the so-called ‘socialist states’ as capitalist regimes.
The last two points are obviously especially important given the recent conflicts in the region, and the increasing use of nationalist rhetoric by the ruling class.
Underlying these revolutionary positions is a definite recognition that capitalism is no longer in its progressive phase and can no longer provide permanent reforms: in other words, that it is a system in decline.1
The Declaration also makes an interesting observation on the transition period, recognising the problem of the conservative ‘drag’ exerted by certain semi-state organisms.
Clearly there remain areas for discussion and clarification among internationalists, for example on the question of organisation, the perspectives for the class struggle, and the meaning of anarcho-syndicalism today. At the very least, we can welcome a healthy realism in the Declaration’s statement that “no revolutionary organization can be larger or stronger than the current workers` general position dictates”. These and no doubt other questions can only be elucidated through open and fraternal debate.
ICC, February 2012
Declaration for revolutionary organization, Belgrade (2011)
“If there was hope, it must lie in the proles” - George Orwell
Aware of the class divisions inside the capitalist system, the brutal exploitation of which all of us are victims, the state oppression which makes that exploitation possible, and also the unsustainabile nature of the current militaristic order which is inevitably heading towards a catastrophe, we organize ourselves into “Birov”, an organization with the goal of radically opposing these social phenomena and of achieving their final eradication through class struggle.
By realizing that the working class, as the class hit the most by today’s social structure, holds the largest revolutionary potential, “Birov” organizes class conscious, militant workers with the intention of spreading class consciousness within the working class, and directing it towards organized workers` struggle realized by means of workers` councils. We reject all “post-Marxist” mystifications which talk about the dying out or non-existence of the working class and therefore negate the class struggle and the crucial role of the workers as an agent of revolutionary change. A member of the working class is anyone who has to sell their labour power to capital : a butcher, a worker in the sexual industry or a girl working in a printing shop alike.
Emancipatory actions must be based on the self-activity of the oppressed, and on autonomous workers` councils, striving towards the creation of a self-managed society, without a state, without classes and without the involuntary institutions of civil society. Every new attempt at overcoming the old society must be directed towards organizing the council system on an international scale, because only a radical change in the balance of class forces can initiate progressive social changes. The council form set up after the dissolution of the traditional, hierarchical capitalist state machinery is not something that revolution should strive for – here it only exists as a conservative organ which exists during the revolution, and the final self-organization and emancipation of the working class will imminently threaten its power, as well as the existence of that order itself. In this imminent conflict revolutionaries must recognize autonomously organized workers as the revolutionary vanguard in the final and decisive battle against the old order and for the society of free producers.
Only the open and unrestricted opposition to divisions created by this society will unleash the subversive potential which the existing workers` struggle holds today. Workers` struggle must be founded on the workplaces, where workers recognize themselves as producers and where class differences are being projected and resolved in their essence. We reject the party as completely inadequate for revolutionary organizing of the working class. Old reform parties which are remembered for winning political freedoms and reduced work hours, weren’t that in the first place : their primary purpose was a struggle for economic and political reforms, where an anti-political consciousness was yet to be and where it was still striving towards traditional –hierarchical forms of representation.
We can conclude that “Birov” can be characterized as an anarcho-syndicalist propaganda organization. It addresses workers in struggle and gathers anarcho-syndicalists which act by forming militant class groups at their workplaces. These groups shouldn`t be mistaken for trade unions because their intention is not to grow in numbers but to participate in assembly movements. They don`t have a formal structure and political programme. These groups are formed at workplaces where there is already a tradition of autonomous workers` organization and where a network of workers tends to continue their activities and develop new ways of struggling.
We consider that today the trade unions cannot have a political program which is not reactionary, and thus the only possible way for the mass of workers to organize can be assemblies; mass organizing in a “permanent” organization isn`t possible until the revolution becomes an immediate goal. Trade unions have, as instruments of reform struggle and a separate economic organization, lost their reason of existence in conditions in which they cannot any longer consistently reflect the aspirations of the working class. They are today nothing less than a state incorporated instrument which keeps the workers` struggle depoliticized and within a strictly limited framework They represent a kind of prison for the working class, without which the workers would be free in their tendency towards self-organization. Paid and often corrupt union bureaucrats are nothing but guards and wardens of those prisons. Therefore, unions are just an arm of a state which implements another kind of oppression of the working class. Capitalism cannot provide permanent reforms anymore: every struggle for the immediate and daily interests of proletariat, where they are not suppressed by trade unions and parties, necessarily evolves towards the revolutionizing of the masses and action against the repressive and exploitative foundations of the capitalist order. Because of that, today, any kind of phenomenon that tends to depoliticize the workers` struggle and keep it in the imposed framework, is necessarily reactionary. Claims about how anarcho-syndicalist organizations should be “non-ideological” are no alternative to the fake divisions imposed by capitalism, but only a re-emergence of the old (unenforceable) idea about separate economic organization, and in practice most often end up as leftist activist networks which reproduce the ideology of the mainstream, nationalist “left”. Opposed to those claims, anarcho-syndicalist organizations are class-militant and political organizations : the only principles of anarcho-syndicalism which are accepted by all members are necessarily political in their content.
We see ourselves not as an organization which necessarily tends towards growth in numbers and thus puts itself as a goal, an idea which often results in radical activism; nor do we consider ourselves as a kind of vanguard of the working class which dictates its interests. Our goal is to develop an organization which will be able to intervene in workers` struggle. We share our accumulated experience with the workers and by that we can increase the capacity of the workers` struggle, thus helping its extension and its further organization. Such a relation creates a mutual dependence and therefore no revolutionary organization can be larger or stronger than the current workers` general position dictates; and because of that we aren`t afraid of workers self-organizing and of “loss of control”; it is, on the contrary, our goal. Consequently, the basis for the unification of oppressed groups in capitalism will not be set by any party or “front”, nor by a mass trade union, or an anarchist group which acts in the preparation phase, the phase of re-grouping of revolutionary forces, but by a mass anti-capitalist struggle organized in workers’ councils under whose wing alone can the true emancipatory vision be articulated. Therefore, the best way of expressing solidarity with oppressed groups is the development of our own struggle at the workplace and constant education about the questions of oppression.
We condemn as completely reactionary any stance on the revolutionary character of ’national liberation’ struggles. Drawing a parallel with bourgeois-revolutionary national movements is wrong and in this period anti-nationalism is a border line between revolutionaries and the patriotic, social-democratic left. In today`s capitalist society every state is imperialist and the growth of national consciousness can only be seen as a means of preserving the capitalist order in conditions of permanent crisis and impending doom. Any acceptance of national, populist discourse can only draw workers towards a bloody imperialist war; it is the prelude to such a historic moment, as we all witnessed during the beginning and the middle of the 20th century.
In total contrast to the ideas of the anti-war movement of the First World War, counter-revolutionary ideology subordinates the workers to the needs of the national bourgeoisie and all in the name of “anti-imperialism” and “peoples’ liberation”. The results are historically recognizable and can be seen in the “socialist revolutions” after the end of the October revolutionary period, which were victims of party instrumentation and suppression of any form of workers’ self-organization and have resulted in totalitarian imperialist regimes of state capitalism, or so-called “real socialism”.
The liberation of the working class will be carried out by the workers themselves, or it won`t be at all.
Belgrade, Serbia, October 2011