After the Slaughter: Political Lessons of the Balkan War

                    By David North
                    At the Turn of the New Century

                    The capitulation of Serbia to the US-NATO onslaught brings to an end
                    the last major strategic experience of the twentieth century. Its bloody
                    conclusion endows the century with a certain tragic symmetry. It began
                    with the suppression of the anti-colonial uprising of the Chinese Boxers.
                    The century closes with a war that completes the reduction of the
                    Balkans to the status of a neo-colonial protectorate of the major
                    imperialist powers.

                    It is too early to appreciate the full extent of the devastation wreaked
                    upon Serbia and Kosovo by the missiles and bombs of the United States.
                    The number of military deaths suffered by the Serbs is estimated at
                    5,000. Military casualties are thought to be twice that number. At least
                    1,500 civilians have been killed. In the course of nearly 35,000 sorties,
                    the US air force—abetted by its European accomplices—shattered a
                    vast portion of the industrial and social infrastructure of Yugoslavia.
                    NATO estimates that 57 percent of the country's petroleum reserves
                    have been damaged or destroyed. Nearly all the major highways,
                    railways and bridges have been extensively bombed. The electrical
                    transformers, central power plants and water filtration systems upon
                    which modern urban centers depend are functioning at only a fraction of
                    their pre-bombardment capacity. Several hundred thousand workers
                    have lost their livelihoods because of the destruction of their factories and
                    workplaces. Several major hospitals have suffered extensive
                    bomb-related damages. Schools attended by a total of 100,000 children
                    have been damaged or destroyed.

                    The estimated cost of rebuilding what NATO has demolished is between
                    $50 billion and $150 billion. Even the lower figure is far beyond the
                    resources available to Yugoslavia. It is expected that the country's gross
                    national product will decline by 30 percent this year. During the last two
                    months consumer spending fell by nearly two-thirds. Economic
                    researchers have already calculated that, without outside assistance,
                    Yugoslavia would require 45 years to reach even the meager level of
                    economic prosperity that it knew in 1989!

                    The bombing of Yugoslavia has exposed the real relations that exist
                    between imperialism and small nations. The great indictments of
                    imperialism written in the first years of the twentieth century—those of
                    Hobson, Lenin, Luxemburg and Hilferding—read like contemporary
                    documents. Economically, small nations are at the mercy of the lending
                    agencies and financial institutions of the major imperialist powers. In the
                    realm of politics, any attempt to assert their independent interests brings
                    with it the threat of devastating military retaliation. With increasing
                    frequency small states are being stripped of their national sovereignty,
                    compelled to accept foreign military occupation, and submit to forms of
                    rule that are, when all is said and done, of an essentially colonialist
                    character. The dismantling of the old colonial empires during the late
                    1940s, 1950s and 1960s appears more and more, in the light of
                    contemporary events, to have been only a temporary episode in the
                    history of imperialism.

                    The assault on Yugoslavia can be defined more appropriately as a
                    massacre than a war. A war implies combat, in which both sides are
                    exposed to at least some significant degree of risk. Never in history has
                    there been a military conflict in which so great an imbalance existed
                    between the contending forces. Even Hitler's bloody and one-sided
                    attacks on Poland, Holland and Norway exposed German forces to a
                    measurable level of danger. That element of military risk was for the
                    United States entirely missing in the latest war. Without losing a single life
                    to so much as a stray bullet, NATO pilots and the operators of its
                    computerized missile launch systems laid waste to much of Yugoslavia.

                    This imbalance in the military resources available to the opposing sides is
                    a defining characteristic of this war. At the end of the twentieth century,
                    the economic resources commanded by the imperialist powers guarantee
                    their technological supremacy which, in turn, is translated into
                    overwhelming military advantage. Within this international framework, the
                    United States has emerged as the principal oppressor imperialist nation,
                    utilizing its technological dominance in the sphere of precision-guided
                    munitions to bully, terrorize and, if it so chooses, lay waste to virtually
                    defenseless small and less-developed countries that have, for one or
                    another reason, gotten in its way.

                    From a military standpoint, the bombing campaign has again
                    demonstrated the lethal capacities of the United States' war-making
                    machine. Its defense contractors are congratulating themselves and
                    smacking their lips in anticipation of the revenue stream that will flow
                    from purchase orders as the Pentagon replenishes its arsenal of weapons.
                    But the capitulation of Serbia is a Pyrrhic victory. The United States has
                    secured its short-term objectives in the Balkans, but at tremendous
                    long-term political costs. Despite the bombastic propaganda campaign to
                    portray its destruction of Yugoslavia as a humanitarian exercise, the
                    international image of the United States has suffered irreparable damage.
                    In the atmosphere of political confusion surrounding the collapse of the
                    Soviet Union, the prestige of the United States rose to heights not seen
                    since its glory years of World War II. Illusions abounded in America's
                    “democratic” and “humanitarian” role.

                    Much has changed in the course of this decade. The endless series of
                    cruise missile attacks against one or another defenseless enemy has
                    provoked a sense of revulsion among the broad masses. All over the
                    world the United States is perceived as a ruthless and dangerous bully
                    which will stop at nothing to secure its interests. The rage which erupted
                    in the streets of Beijing after the bombing of the Chinese embassy was
                    not merely the product of the Stalinist regime's propaganda and
                    incitement of chauvinism. Rather, it is now widely understood that what
                    was happening to Belgrade could happen within the next few years to
                    Beijing. More astute representatives of American imperialism fear that the
                    deterioration in the international image of the United States will carry with
                    it a serious political price. In a roundtable discussion on the ABC news
                    program Nightline following the initial announcement of Milosevic's
                    acceptance of NATO's terms, former Secretary of State Lawrence
                    Eagleburger opined: “We've presented to the rest of the world a vision of
                    the bully on the block who pushes a button, people out there die, we
                    don't pay anything except the cost of the missile ... that's going to haunt
                    us in terms of trying to deal with the rest of the world in the years ahead.”

                    Even among its NATO allies, there is nervousness over the international
                    appetites of the United States and its willingness to use all methods to get
                    what it wants. Publicly, European presidents and prime ministers
                    genuflect obediently before the United States and proclaim eternal
                    friendship. Privately, among themselves and in “safe” rooms that they
                    hope are not bugged by the CIA, these leaders wonder where, or against
                    whom, the United States will make its next move. What happens if and
                    when the interests of Europe collide directly with those of the United
                    States? Last year the covers of Time and Newsweek ran mug shots of
                    Saddam Hussein. This year, of Slobodan Milosevic. Next year, who will
                    it be? Whom will CNN proclaim to be the latest international villain, the
                    first “Hitler” of the new century?

                    Far more significant than the proclamations of NATO's solidarity was the
                    announcement by the leaders of 15 European countries, on the very day
                    of Yugoslavia's capitulation, that they will transform the European Union
                    into an independent military power. “The union,” they declared in an
                    official statement, “must have the capacity for autonomous action,
                    backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them,
                    and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises
                    without prejudice to actions by NATO.” Underlying this statement is the
                    conviction of the European leaders that the ability of European capitalism
                    to compete with the United States on a global scale—that is, to
                    survive—depends upon a credible military force that is able to secure
                    and defend its own international interests. For the European bourgeoisie,
                    it is intolerable that only the United States should have the capacity to
                    deploy military power in pursuit of geopolitical strategic advantages and
                    economic interests. Thus, the competition among the major imperialist
                    powers is now poised to assume, in the immediate aftermath of the
                    onslaught against Yugoslavia, an overtly militaristic coloration.

                    Far from representing a humanitarian break with the past, the Balkan
                    War of 1999 signals the virulent resurgence of its most malignant
                    characteristics: the legitimization of the naked use of overwhelming
                    military power against small countries in pursuit of strategic “Big Power”
                    interests, the cynical violation of the principle of national sovereignty and
                    the de facto reestablishment of colonialist forms of subjugation, and the
                    revival of inter-imperialist antagonisms that carry within them the seeds of
                    a new world war. The demons of imperialism that first arose at the
                    beginning of the twentieth century have not been exorcised by the
                    international bourgeoisie. They still haunt mankind as it enters into the

                    The Media and the War against Yugoslavia

                    Propaganda plays a critical role in all wars. “Think of the press,” the Nazi
                    propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels once said, “as a great keyboard on
                    which the government can play.” But the scale, technological
                    sophistication and impact of modern-day propaganda exceeds anything
                    that could have been imagined even during the era of World War II. All
                    the mind-numbing techniques employed by the advertising and
                    entertainment industries find their consummate expression in the
                    “marketing” of war for a mass audience. The entire sordid enterprise
                    depends upon the effective use of a single emotion-laden phrase that can
                    be relied upon to disorient the public. In the 1998-99 bombing campaign
                    against Iraq, that phrase was “weapons of mass destruction.” To mobilize
                    public opinion behind the attack on Yugoslavia, all the contradictions,
                    complexities and ambiguities of the Balkans were dissolved into a single
                    phrase that was repeated day after day: “ethnic cleansing.” The American
                    and international public was bombarded with the same unrelenting
                    message: The war is being waged to stop mass murder. The video clips
                    of ethnic Albanian refugees streaming out of Kosovo were broadcast in a
                    manner which left viewers entirely in the dark as to the historical and
                    political context of what they were being shown. The fact that the loss of
                    life in Kosovo had been relatively small, at least in comparison to
                    communal conflicts occurring in other parts of the world, until after the
                    bombing began was simply glossed over. As for the actual number of
                    Kosovan Albanians killed directly by Serb military and paramilitary
                    forces, the wild claims by US government and NATO spokesmen, which
                    placed the figure at anywhere between 100,000 and 250,000, were
                    entirely unsubstantiated and bore no relation to reality.

                    The comparisons routinely made between the conflict in Kosovo and the
                    Holocaust were obscene. Those made between Serbia and Nazi
                    Germany were simply absurd. When the World Court finally issued its
                    politically-motivated indictment of Milosevic, the number of deaths for
                    which he was held officially responsible was 391. No one would argue
                    that Milosevic is a humanitarian, but there are people responsible for far
                    more deaths than he, including America's own Henry Kissinger, who
                    went on to win the Nobel Peace Price. The entire propaganda campaign
                    seemed at times to be buckling beneath the weight of its own mendacity
                    and inanity. Still, that there existed any reason for the war, other than the
                    official humanitarian motives claimed by the Clinton administration, was
                    never acknowledged in the American mass media even by those who, in
                    the most timid terms, raised questions about the decision to bomb

                    The media made no effort whatsoever to examine the historical
                    background of the conflict. Critical issues such as the relationship
                    between the economic policies imposed upon Yugoslavia by the
                    International Monetary Fund and the resurgence of communalist tensions
                    were never discussed publicly. Nor was there any critical review of the
                    disastrous contribution of German and American policies in the early
                    1990s—specifically, the recognition of Slovenian, Croatian and Bosnian
                    independence—to the outbreak of civil war in the Balkans. That the
                    Serbs had any legitimate reason to be dissatisfied with the political and
                    economic consequences of the sudden dissolution of Yugoslavia—a state
                    that had existed since 1918—was not even mooted. No explanation was
                    offered by the United States and the Western European powers for the
                    glaring contrast between their attitude toward the territorial claims and
                    ethnic policies of Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia on the one hand, and
                    toward those of Serbia on the other. Why, for example, did the United
                    States actively support in 1995 the “ethnic cleansing” by Croatia of
                    250,000 Serbs living in Krajina province? No answer was forthcoming.

                    As a general rule, the media suppressed all information that lent even the
                    slightest legitimacy to the actions of the Serb government. The most
                    notorious example of deliberate falsification was the media's treatment of
                    the proceedings at Rambouillet. First, it referred continuously to the
                    Serb's rejection of the Rambouillet agreement —though all those who
                    were familiar with the proceedings understood that there had been neither
                    negotiations nor an agreement at Rambouillet. What the Serbs rejected
                    was a nonnegotiable ultimatum.

                    Even more dishonest, the American and Western European media
                    withheld critical information that might have prejudiced public opinion
                    against the attack on Yugoslavia. The media simply did not report that
                    the “agreement” included an annex that demanded that the Serbs accept
                    the right of NATO forces to move at will not only through Kosovo but all
                    portions of Yugoslavia. The significance of this clause was obvious: the
                    United States deliberately confronted Milosevic with an ultimatum that it
                    knew he could not possibly accept. Even after this information seeped
                    out over the Internet, it was generally ignored in the mass media. Not
                    until its edition of June 5, after the capitulation of Serbia, did the New
                    York Times finally report and even quote the crucial codicil. It even
                    acknowledged that the removal of this codicil from the terms proffered
                    by Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari was a critical factor in persuading
                    Milosevic to agree to the withdrawal of Serbian troops from Kosovo.

                    Imperialism and the Balkans

                    To the extent that the media maintained its monomaniacal focus on the
                    theme of ethnic cleansing, it deterred an examination of the more
                    substantial and essential reasons for the decision of the Clinton
                    administration to launch its assault against Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, with
                    only a few honorable exceptions, US academic experts in the field of
                    Balkan history and international politics showed little inclination to
                    publicly challenge the propaganda campaign. Indeed, they lent a degree
                    of intellectual credibility to the US government's humanitarian posturing
                    by dismissing the very suggestion that any significant material interests
                    were at stake in the Balkans.

                    As even a cursory study of the region reveals, this is certainly false.
                    Kosovo is rich in marketable resources. Finally breaking its long silence
                    on the subject, the New York Times—that pillar of the US State
                    Department—carried an article on June 2, 1999 entitled, “The Prize:
                    Issue of Who Controls Kosovo's Rich Mines.” It began: “A number of
                    unofficial partition plans have been drawn up for Kosovo, all raising the
                    question of who would control an important northern mining region. The
                    bombing has made up-to-date production figures difficult to come by.
                    Experts say the resources include large deposits of coal, along with some
                    nickel, lead, zinc and other minerals.”

                    Of course, the presence of such resources cannot, in and of itself,
                    provide an adequate explanation for the war. It would be too great a
                    simplification of complex strategic variables to reduce the decision to
                    launch a war to the presence of certain raw material in the targeted
                    country. However, the concept of material interests embraces more than
                    immediate financial gains for one or another industry or conglomerate.
                    The financial and industrial elites of the imperialist countries determine
                    their material interests within the framework of international
                    geopolitical calculations. There are cases in which a barren strip of
                    land, devoid of intrinsic value in terms of extractable resources, may still
                    be viewed—perhaps due to geographical location or the vagaries of
                    international political relationships and commitments—as a strategic asset
                    of inestimable value. Gibraltar, which consists mainly of a large rock, is
                    precisely such an asset. There are other regions which possess such
                    extraordinary intrinsic value—notably the Persian Gulf—that the
                    imperialist powers will stop at nothing to retain control of them.

                    The Balkans do not float above a sea of oil; nor is it a barren wasteland.
                    But its strategic significance has been a constant factor in imperialist
                    power politics. If only because of its geographic location, either as a
                    critical transit point for Western Europe toward the east, or as a buffer
                    against the expansion of Russia (and later the USSR) toward the south,
                    the Balkans played a critical role in the international balance of power.
                    Events in the Balkans led to the outbreak of World War I because the
                    ultimatum delivered by Austria-Hungary to Serbia in July 1914 (shades
                    of the US-NATO ultimatum 85 years later) threatened to destabilize the
                    precarious equilibrium between the major European states.

                    Throughout the twentieth century the attitude of the United States toward
                    the Balkans has been determined by broad international considerations.
                    During the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson's decision to
                    champion the right of national self-determination was partly motivated by
                    the desire to utilize the national aspirations of the Balkan people against
                    the Austro-Hungarian Empire. One of the famous “Fourteen Points”
                    formulated by Wilson as a basis for ending the World War championed
                    the rights of Serbia, including the right of access to the sea (which is now
                    threatened by the United States' encouragement of Montenegrin
                    secessionism). After the conclusion of World War II, the deepening
                    confrontation with the Soviet Union was the decisive factor in determining
                    US policy toward the new regime in Belgrade led by Marshal Tito. The
                    eruption in 1948 of a bitter conflict between Stalin and Tito had a
                    dramatic impact upon Washington's assessment of Yugoslavia's role in
                    world affairs. Viewing Tito's regime as an obstacle to Soviet expansion
                    via the Adriatic Sea into the Mediterranean (and, thereby, toward both
                    southern Europe and the Middle East), the United States became a
                    determined advocate of Yugoslavia's unity and territorial integrity.

                    The dissolution of the Soviet Union altered Washington's relations with
                    Belgrade. Without the specter of Soviet expansion, the United States no
                    longer saw any need to retain its commitment to a unified Yugoslav state.
                    American policy reflected a new set of concerns related to the rapid
                    reorganization of the economies of the former USSR and the Stalinist
                    regimes in Eastern Europe on the basis of capitalistic market principles.
                    After some initial hesitation, American policy makers were won to the
                    view that the process of economic denationalization and the penetration
                    of Western capital would be facilitated by the breakup of the old
                    centralized state structures that had played so great a role in the
                    Soviet-style bureaucratically-directed economies. The United States and
                    its Western European allies then proceeded to orchestrate the dismantling
                    of the unitary Yugoslav Federation. This was done, quite simply, by
                    officially recognizing the republics of the old Federation—beginning with
                    Slovenia, Croatia, and then Bosnia—as independent sovereign states.
                    The results of this policy were catastrophic. As Professor Raju G.C.
                    Thomas, a leading expert on the Balkans, has pointed out:

                    “There were no mass killings taking place in Yugoslavia before the
                    unilateral declaration of independence by Slovenia and Croatia and their
                    subsequent recognition by Germany and the Vatican followed by the rest
                    of Europe and the United States. There were no mass killings taking
                    place in Bosnia before the recognition of Bosnia. Preserving the old
                    Yugoslav state may have proved to be the least of all evils. Problems
                    began when recognition or pressures to recognize occurred. The former
                    Yugoslavia had committed no ‘aggression' on its neighboring states.
                    Surely then, the real ‘aggression' in Yugoslavia began with the Western
                    recognition of Slovenia and Croatia. The territorial integrity of a state that
                    was voluntarily created and which had existed since December 1918 was
                    swept aside. In 1991, new state recognition policy provided a method of
                    destroying long-standing sovereign independent states. When several rich
                    and powerful states decide to take a sovereign independent state apart
                    through the policy of recognition, how is this state supposed to defend
                    itself? There can be no deterrence or defense against this form of
                    international state destruction. Indeed, the West led by Germany and
                    later the US dismembered Yugoslavia through the policy of state

                    The international strategic implications of the dissolution of the USSR
                    provided yet another reason for the United States and NATO to
                    encourage the dismantling of the old Yugoslav Federation. The United
                    States was anxious to exploit the power vacuum created by the Soviet
                    collapse to rapidly project its power eastward and assert control over the
                    vast untapped reserves of oil and natural gas in the newly-independent
                    Central Asian republics of the old USSR. Within this new geopolitical
                    environment, the Balkans assumed exceptional strategic importance as a
                    vital logistical staging ground for the projection of imperialist power,
                    particularly that of the United States, toward Central Asia. Herein lay the
                    ultimate source of the conflict between the United States and the regime
                    of Milosevic. To be sure, Milosevic was neither opposed to the
                    establishment of a market economy in Yugoslavia nor, for that matter, to
                    the elaboration of a working relationship with the major imperialist
                    powers. But the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation, contrary to the
                    initial expectations of Milosevic, worked to the disadvantage of Serbia.

                    One need not sympathize with the program of Milosevic to recognize that
                    imperialist policies in the Balkans were shot through with a hypocritical
                    double standard that weakened Serbia and endangered the entire
                    Serbian community living in different parts of the old Federation. While
                    actions taken by Croatian and Bosnian Muslim military forces—which
                    included what came to be known as “ethnic cleansing”—were largely
                    viewed as legitimate measures of national self-defense, those of the Serbs
                    were denounced as intolerable violations of international order. The logic
                    of Yugoslav dissolution tended to criminalize every measure taken by
                    Serbia to defend its national interests within the new state system.
                    Recognition of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia transformed the Yugoslav
                    army, in the eyes of the imperialist “international community,” into
                    aggressors who threatened the independence and sovereignty of new
                    independent states. The actions of Serb minorities outside the borders of
                    what remained of the old Federation were likewise viewed as examples
                    of Yugoslav aggression. To the extent that Serbian dissatisfaction with the
                    result of the carve-up of the Balkan peninsula proved disruptive to the
                    far-reaching strategic aims of American imperialism, it aroused the ire of
                    Washington and led it to conclude that Serbia had to be taught an
                    unforgettable lesson.

                    The Global Eruption of US Imperialism and the Second
                    “American Century”

                    The assault on Yugoslavia was undertaken by the combined forces of
                    NATO. But in its planning and execution, the war was an American
                    enterprise. Not even Prime Minister Tony Blair's somewhat comical
                    impersonation of Margaret Thatcher could conceal the fact that the
                    United States, in the most literal sense, called the shots in this war. When
                    the first cruise missiles were launched against Yugoslavia on March 24, it
                    marked the fourth time in less than a year that the United States had
                    bombed a foreign country. Earlier in the year, in pursuit of Saddam
                    Hussein's phantom “weapons of mass destruction,” the Clinton
                    administration initiated a ferocious bombing campaign against Iraq.
                    Indeed, the bombing of Iraq has become by now a permanent and
                    routine feature of American foreign policy. The record of American
                    military activity during the last 10 years is by any objective standard
                    cause for astonishment and horror. A country that proclaims ad nauseam
                    its love of peace has been engaged almost continuously in one or another
                    military exercise beyond the borders of the United States. There have
                    been no less than six major missions involving ground combat and/or
                    bombing—Panama (1989), the Persian Gulf I (1990-91), Somalia
                    (1992-93), Bosnia (1995), Persian Gulf II (1999) and
                    Kosovo-Yugoslavia (1999). There has been, in addition, a series of
                    occupations—Haiti (1994-), Bosnia (1995-) and Macedonia (1995-).
                    The number of human beings who have lost their lives as the direct or
                    indirect result of American military actions during the past decade is in the
                    hundreds of thousands. Naturally, each of these episodes has been
                    presented by the US government and media as benevolent peacemaking.
                    They are, in reality, objective manifestations of the increasingly militaristic
                    character of American imperialism.

                    There is an obvious and undeniable connection between the collapse of
                    the Soviet Union and the arrogance and brutality with which the United
                    States has pursued its international agenda throughout the 1990s.
                    Substantial sections of the American ruling elite have convinced
                    themselves that the absence of any substantial international opponent
                    capable of resisting the United States offers an historically unprecedented
                    opportunity to establish, through the use of military power, an
                    unchallengeable position of global dominance. Unlike the earlier
                    post-World War II dreams of an “American Century,” which were
                    frustrated by the constraints placed by the existence of the Soviet Union
                    on the global ambitions of the United States, policy makers in
                    Washington and academic think tanks all over the country are arguing
                    that overwhelming military superiority will make the twenty-first century
                    America's. Unchecked by either external restraints or substantial
                    domestic opposition, the mission of the United States is to remove all
                    barriers to the reorganization of the world economy on the basis of
                    market principles, as interpreted and dominated by American
                    transnational corporations.

                    It is only necessary, they argue, for the United States to overcome any
                    inclination to squeamishness over the use of military power. As Thomas
                    Friedman of the New York Times put it shortly after the outbreak of the
                    war against Yugoslavia: “The hidden hand of the market will never work
                    without the hidden fist—McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell
                    Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the
                    world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United States
                    Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.... Without America on duty,
                    there will be no America Online.”[2]

                    The Future of War and the Cult of Precision-Guided

                    An unabashed and detailed elaboration of this perspective is to be found
                    in a recently-published book, entitled The Future of War, by George
                    and Meredith Friedman. The basic argument of the Friedmans—who are
                    both specialists in strategic business intelligence—is that America's
                    arsenal of precision-guided munitions has given it a degree of military
                    superiority that will ensure world dominance for decades, if not centuries,
                    to come. They write:

                    “While warfare will continue to dominate and define the international
                    system, the manner in which wars are being waged is undergoing a
                    dramatic transformation, which will greatly enhance American power.
                    Indeed, the twenty-first century will be defined by the overwhelming
                    and persistent power of the United States. We are arguing that the rise
                    of American power is not merely another moment in a global system
                    spanning five hundred years but is actually the opening of an entirely
                    new global system. We are in a profoundly new epoch in which the
                    world that revolved around Europe is being replaced by a world
                    revolving around North America”[3] (emphasis added).

                    According to the Friedmans, this world-historical shift in the locus of
                    global power was heralded by the Gulf War of 1991. “Something
                    extraordinary happened during Operation Desert Storm,” they proclaim.
                    “The sheer one-sidedness of the victory, the devastation of the Iraqi
                    Army compared to a handful of casualties on the American side, points
                    to a qualitative shift in military power.” The reason for the overwhelming
                    character of the American victory was the deployment of
                    precision-guided munitions, the first weapons whose trajectory is not
                    controlled by the laws of gravity and ballistics. Capable of correcting
                    their own course and homing in on their targets, “precision-guided
                    munitions transformed the statistical foundations of war and with it the
                    calculus of both political and military power.” The Friedmans declare that
                    the introduction of precision-guided munitions is an innovation that “ranks
                    with the introduction of firearms, the phalanx, and the chariot as a
                    defining moment in human history.” As Europe “conquered the world
                    with the gun,” the emergence of precision-guided munitions marks the
                    beginning of a new American-dominated epoch of history.[4] The
                    Friedmans conclude:

                    “The twenty-first century will be the American century. This may seem an
                    odd thing to say, since it is commonly believed that the twentieth century
                    was the American century and that, with its end, American preeminence
                    is drawing to a close. But the period since American intervention
                    determined the outcome of World War I to the present was merely a
                    prologue. Only the rough outlines of American power have become
                    visible in the last hundred years, not fully formed and always cloaked by
                    transitory problems and trivial challenges—Sputnik, Vietnam, Iran,
                    Japan. In retrospect, it will be clear that America's clumsiness and failures
                    were little more than an adolescent's stumbling—of passing significance
                    and little note.”[5]

                    Quite apart from the validity of the Friedmans' estimate of the historical
                    implications of precision-guided munitions, the fact that their views reflect
                    the thinking of a substantial layer of the policy-making elite in the United
                    States is, by itself, of considerable objective significance. There is nothing
                    more dangerous than a bad idea whose time has come. As has already
                    been shown by the decision to confront Yugoslavia with a “surrender or
                    be destroyed” ultimatum, the strategists of American imperialism have
                    convinced themselves that precision-guided munitions have made war an
                    effective, viable and low-risk policy option.

                    The idea that military force is the decisive factor in history is hardly a new
                    one. But examined theoretically, it expresses a vulgar and simplistic
                    conception of the real causal relationships in the historical process. The
                    politics of war and the technology of weaponry are not the essential
                    factors in history. In reality both of these arise on the basis of and are
                    ultimately determined by more essential socioeconomic factors. The
                    introduction of a new weapon system can certainly influence the outcome
                    of one or another battle, or even, depending on the circumstances, a war.
                    But in the broad expanse of history, it is a subordinate and contingent
                    factor. The United States presently enjoys a “competitive advantage” in
                    the arms industry. But neither this advantage nor the products of this
                    industry can guarantee world dominance. Despite the sophistication of its
                    weaponry, the financial-industrial foundation of the United States'
                    preeminent role in the affairs of world capitalism is far less substantial
                    than it was 50 years ago. Its share of world production has declined
                    dramatically. Its international trade deficit increases by billions of dollars
                    every month. The conception that underlies the cult of precision-guided
                    munitions—that mastery in the sphere of weapons technology can offset
                    these more fundamental economic indices of national strength—is a
                    dangerous delusion. Moreover, for all their explosive power, the
                    financing, production and deployment of cruise missiles and other “smart”
                    bombs are subject to the laws of the capitalist market and are at the
                    mercy of its contradictions. The production of these weapons involves
                    extraordinary expense; and, it should be remembered, their use does not
                    involve the creation of wealth, but rather its destruction. For years to
                    come, the wealth generated by productive labor will be used to pay off
                    the debts that were accumulated to pay for the building of bombs that
                    were exploded in the Balkans.

                    We doubt that Madam Albright troubles herself with such subtleties.
                    Indeed, the infatuation with the “wonders” of weapons technology and
                    the “miracles” they promise is most common among ruling elites who
                    have arrived, whether they know it or not, at a historical dead end.
                    Bewildered by a complex array of international and domestic
                    socioeconomic contradictions which they hardly understand and for
                    which there are no conventional solutions, they see in weapons and war a
                    means of blasting their way through problems.

                    When viewed through the prism of practical political relations, the abiding
                    faith in precision-guided munitions appears dangerous and reckless. No
                    period in history has witnessed so rapid a development of technology.
                    Each advance, no matter how spectacular, sets the stage for its rapid
                    transcendence by even more extraordinary innovations in design and
                    performance. The revolutionary advances in communications and
                    information technology guarantee the more or less rapid diffusion of the
                    underlying knowledge and skills upon which precision-guided munitions
                    are based. The US monopoly of nuclear power—which President
                    Truman and his associates believed, back in 1945, would form the
                    military foundation of the “American Century” that was promised at the
                    end of World War II—lasted less than five years. There is no reason to
                    believe that the technology of the new weaponry will remain the exclusive
                    property of the United States. But even if the United States is able to
                    maintain its leadership in the development of precision-guided munitions,
                    this will not guarantee that the wars of the next decade will prove as
                    bloodless for Americans as those of the 1990s. The outrages committed
                    by the United States inevitably intensify the pressure felt by those nations
                    that consider themselves threatened to prepare a significant counterblow.
                    Even in those cases where the costs of developing or purchasing
                    precision-guided munitions technology prove prohibitive, cheaper but
                    very lethal chemical, biological and, let us add, nuclear alternatives will be
                    found. Russia already possesses ample stockpiles of all these alternatives.
                    China, India, Pakistan and, of course, Israel also have substantial
                    arsenals of lethal weaponry.

                    Though the resources of economically backward countries are not
                    sufficient to compete with the US in the sphere of high-tech weaponry,
                    those of Europe and Japan certainly are. Although they are careful to
                    couch their statements in terms that do not indicate hostility to the United
                    States, European analysts are stressing the need to substantially increase
                    the EU's military spending. “Europe's dependence on the US,” wrote the
                    Financial Times of Britain on June 5, “has been uncomfortably
                    exposed.” Stressing the “urgency” of the European Union's plan to
                    develop its own military program, the FT stated: “It is not that Europe
                    should aim to match the US missile for missile and fighter for fighter. But
                    it should have the technology, the industrial base and the
                    professional military skills to ensure at least that it can operate side
                    by side with the US rather than as a poor relation” (emphasis added).

                    Back to the Future: Imperialism in the 21st Century

                    The first half of the twentieth century witnessed the most terrible waste of
                    human life in world history. It has been estimated that more than 100
                    million people were killed in the course of World War I (1914-18) and
                    World War II (1939-45). The origins of these wars, as the great
                    revolutionary Marxists of the time explained, lay in the fundamental
                    contradictions of world capitalism—between the essentially anarchic
                    character of a market economy based on private ownership of the means
                    of production and the objectively social character of the production
                    process; between the development of a highly integrated world economy
                    and the national state system within which bourgeois class rule is
                    historically rooted. The world wars were directly precipitated by conflicts
                    between the ruling classes in different imperialist countries over markets,
                    raw materials and related strategic interests. The United States emerged
                    out of World War II as the preeminent capitalist power. Germany, Italy
                    and Japan had been vanquished. England and France were devastated
                    by the cost of the war. The old inter-imperialist antagonisms did not
                    disappear, but they were held in check in the face of the Cold War
                    conflict between the US and the Soviet Union.

                    The collapse of the USSR in 1991 removed the political constraints upon
                    inter-imperialist conflicts. The competing ambitions of the United States,
                    Europe and Japan cannot be reconciled peacefully forever. The world of
                    business is one of relentless and ruthless competition. Conglomerates
                    which, for one or another reason, find it necessary to collaborate on one
                    project today may, depending on the circumstances, be at each other's
                    throats tomorrow. The relentless competition among conglomerates on a
                    world scale—the eternal bellum omnium contra omnes (war of each
                    against all)—ultimately finds its most developed and lethal expression in
                    open military conflict. The global integration of production processes
                    does not lessen the conflict among imperialist powers, but, paradoxically,
                    increases it. As the Friedmans write, for once correctly: “Economic
                    cooperation breeds economic interdependence. Interdependence breeds
                    friction. The search for economic advantage is a desperate game that
                    causes nations to undertake desperate actions, a fact that can be
                    demonstrated historically.” [6]

                    The increasing frequency of military outbreaks during the 1990s is an
                    objective symptom of an approaching international conflagration. Both
                    World War I and World War II were preceded by a series of local or
                    regional conflicts. As the major imperialist powers seek to expand their
                    influence into the regions opened up for capitalist penetration by the
                    collapse of the USSR, the likelihood of conflicts between them increases.
                    At stake in major disputes—such as those that will inevitably arise over
                    the allocation of booty from the oil of the Caspian and Caucasian
                    regions—will be life-and-death issues of world power and position. Such
                    issues do not, by their very nature, lend themselves to peaceful resolution.
                    The basic tendency of imperialism moves inexorably in the direction of a
                    new world war.

                    The Balkan War and American Public Opinion

                    Despite all the efforts of the media to manufacture support for the war,
                    the response of the American working class—that is, the overwhelming
                    majority of the population—has been notably reserved. To be sure, there
                    have been no significant manifestations of opposition to the war. But
                    neither have there been any substantial displays of popular approval of
                    the assault against Yugoslavia. In contrast to the unrestrained pro-war
                    enthusiasm displayed by media personalities, the sentiments most
                    commonly expressed by working people have been confusion and
                    apprehension. The war has not been a popular topic of conversation.
                    When asked how they feel about the war, working people generally reply
                    that they do not understand what it is really all about. Naturally, they do
                    not like what they have heard about “ethnic cleansing.” But at the same
                    time workers suspect that the causes of the fighting within Kosovo and
                    throughout the former Yugoslavia are more complicated than they have
                    been led to believe by the media. Far from exciting patriotic fervor, the
                    obviously unequal character of the conflict and the impact of American
                    bombs have contributed to the general sense of unease within the broad
                    public. This assessment is supported by the measures taken by the
                    Clinton administration, with the complicity of the media, to restrict as
                    much as possible news about the death and destruction caused by
                    American bombings. The decision to bomb the principal Yugoslav
                    television station in Belgrade was taken after its coverage of the first
                    major incidents of NATO bombings with serious loss of civilian life. In
                    the weeks that followed that bloody event, live coverage by American
                    correspondents of the impact of the intensifying bombardment of
                    Yugoslavia all but ceased. The televised reports of Brent Sadler, perhaps
                    the last CNN correspondent with a modicum of personal integrity, were
                    brought to a halt. The administration clearly did not want the public to be
                    too well informed about its use of cluster bombs and other real “weapons
                    of mass destruction” against the Serbian people.

                    An even more important indication of the Clinton administration's
                    estimate of the popular mood was its obvious belief that the public was
                    deeply opposed to placing American lives at risk in Yugoslavia.
                    Certainly, there is nothing particularly edifying about a state of popular
                    consciousness which is prepared to accept the killing of the people of
                    another country as long as it does not cost any American lives. However,
                    a war for which people are not prepared to accept any degree of
                    sacrifice is not one for which the government can claim deep public
                    support. It is worth recalling that more than 25,000 American soldiers
                    had already been killed in Vietnam, and several hundred thousand
                    wounded, before public opinion shifted decisively against that war.

                    There is nothing more intellectually barren and politically superficial than
                    the type of pseudo-radicalism that confuses jargon with analysis and
                    insists on interpreting such a complex and contradictory phenomenon as
                    mass public opinion in naively “revolutionary” terms. It would be
                    misleading and self-deluding to equate the relative absence of pro-war
                    sentiment—that is, the mood of passive acquiescence that has prevailed
                    throughout the bombing campaign—with a politically-conscious
                    opposition to the imperialist assault on Yugoslavia. However, it would be
                    no less incorrect to draw from the present confused state of popular
                    consciousness pessimistic conclusions and to discount the very real
                    potential for a change in the political orientation of the working class.
                    Rather than superficial pessimism or optimism, it is necessary to
                    investigate the objective state of class relations that has conditioned the
                    response of different social strata to the Balkan War.

                    The Financial Boom and Imperialism's New Constituency

                    Among the most remarkable features of the attack on Yugoslavia has
                    been the leading role played by individuals who once opposed the
                    Vietnam War and participated in anti-imperialist protest movements.
                    With the exception of Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain—who had
                    virtually no political history until he was selected by Rupert Murdoch to
                    head the Labour Party—all the other major leaders of NATO's war
                    would have claimed, earlier in their lives, to be opponents of imperialism.
                    President Clinton, as everyone knows, avoided the draft, puffed
                    marijuana, and publicly proclaimed his hatred of the US military. Javier
                    Solana, the social democrat who had opposed the entry of Spain into
                    NATO, is now the general secretary of the military alliance. The German
                    chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, spouted Marxist phrases as leader of the
                    Social-Democratic youth movement and opposed the deployment of
                    Pershing missiles only 15 years ago. Joschka Fisher, his foreign minister,
                    headed a group of self-styled revolutionary street fighters in the 1970s,
                    and later, as a leader of the Green Party, proclaimed his intransigent
                    commitment to pacifism. A recent portrait of the German foreign minister,
                    published by the New York Times, reported that “Joschka Fisher
                    vociferously defends the very policies he once denounced, infuriating the
                    fundamentalists in his own Green Party.” Massimo D'Alema, Italy's prime
                    minister, led the Communist Party before it was transformed into the
                    Democratic Party of the Left. The political history of these individuals is
                    not merely a confirmation of the well-known French adage, “Before 30 a
                    revolutionary; afterwards a swine.” It typifies, rather, the evolution of a
                    broad social layer in contemporary bourgeois society.

                    The social structure and class relations of all the major capitalist countries
                    have been deeply affected by the stock market boom which began in the
                    early 1980s. Perpetually rising share values, especially the explosion in
                    market valuations since 1995, have given a significant section of the
                    middle class—especially among the professional elite—access to a
                    degree of wealth that they could not have imagined at the outset of their
                    careers. Those who have actually grown rich comprise a relatively small
                    percentage of the population. But in numerical terms, the “newly rich”
                    represent a substantial and politically powerful social stratum. Capitalist
                    governments devote much of their time and energy to satisfying its
                    expanding appetites and ever more exotic tastes. Virtually freed from all
                    conventional worries about personal budgets and available cash, the
                    newly rich enjoy a level of opulence in their personal lives that the
                    overwhelming mass of the population knows of only through movies,
                    television and popular magazines.

                    The New York Times recently carried an interesting study of an
                    important new trend in the United States real estate market: “The
                    million-dollar mansion—or multimillion-dollar mansion, in some cities—is
                    emerging as a high-profile badge of the gilded late 1990's, not just in the
                    traditional pockets of wealth, but also in Middle American cities like
                    Memphis where such homes have been rare.”

                    These mansions, the Times noted, “are emblematic of an economic
                    divide: the wealth generated in the boom that began in late 1995, while
                    touching many people, has gone disproportionately and in huge quantities
                    to the richest 5 percent of the nation's households. They have pocketed
                    most of the gain from the stock market run-up, which has created
                    thousands of multimillionaires overnight. And they have conspicuously
                    channeled a big chunk of their gains into mansions.”

                    Citing a study by New York University economist Edward N. Wolff, the
                    New York Times reports that “Rarely in history has there been such a
                    rapid minting of rich people.... While the number of American households
                    rose by 3 percent over the three-year period, the number of
                    million-dollar households jumped 36.6 percent. Make the wealth cutoff
                    $10 million or more, and 275,000 households qualified in 1998, up from
                    190,000 in 1995, a 44.7 percent increase.”

                    The other side of this process is the deterioration of the economic
                    position of the overwhelming majority of the American people during the
                    same period. “From his analysis of Federal Reserve data,” writes the
                    New York Times, “Mr. Wolff gleans another insight: While net worth
                    grew for the richest 10 percent of the nation's households in recent years,
                    the remaining 90 percent lost ground.”[7]

                    The account cited is only one snapshot of the social inequality that is
                    ubiquitous in contemporary America. The widening social chasm within
                    American society is fast approaching—if it has not already been
                    reached—the point at which even the pretense of a broad-based social
                    consensus, rooted in core democratic values, cannot be maintained. This
                    situation is not only a product of the sheer scale of the difference between
                    the average annual income of the top 10 percent of the population and
                    that of everyone else. The specific character of the wealth-generating
                    process—that is, enrichment through rising share values—quite naturally
                    produces social and political attitudes that are of a deeply anti-working
                    class and pro-imperialist character. The policies which have made
                    possible the explosive rise in share values—the relentless pressure on
                    wage levels, the constant demands for greater productivity, the massive
                    cuts in social expenditures, the relentless use of “downsizing” to maintain
                    high levels of corporate profitability—have undermined the social position
                    of the working class in the United States.

                    The international consequences of the policies that have sent the Dow
                    Jones and NASDAQ averages skyrocketing have been, for the vast
                    majority of the world's people who live in the less-developed countries,
                    deeply tragic. The stock market boom has been fueled and sustained,
                    above all, by the deflationary (or disinflationary) environment that has
                    depended on the protracted decline of commodity prices for raw
                    materials. The decline has not been simply the product of objective
                    economic processes, but of ruthless policies pursued by the major
                    imperialist powers to undermine the ability of “third world” producers to
                    raise commodity prices. The successful destruction of the pricing power
                    of the OPEC oil cartel—in which the Gulf War of 1990-91 played a
                    major role—is the most significant example of the relationship between
                    the accumulation of wealth in the imperialist countries and the intensifying
                    exploitation of the less-developed countries. Those in the advanced
                    countries whose wealth is based on rising share values have benefited
                    directly from this process. This does not, of course, mean that every
                    individual who has invested in the stock market is a supporter of
                    imperialist policies. But it is impossible to deny the broad social and
                    political implications of these objective economic processes and

                    In the midst of World War I, Lenin noted the link between the
                    superprofits extracted by imperialism from the colonies and the political
                    corruption of a section of the middle class and the labor bureaucracy.
                    While the economic conditions and international relations of 1999 are
                    certainly not identical to those of 1916, an analogous social process has
                    been at work. The objective modus operandi and social implications of
                    the protracted stock market boom have enabled imperialism to recruit
                    from among sections of the upper-middle-class a new and devoted
                    constituency. The reactionary, conformist and cynical intellectual climate
                    that prevails in the United States and Europe—promoted by the media
                    and adapted to by a largely servile and corrupted academic
                    community—reflects the social outlook of a highly privileged stratum of
                    the population that is not in the least interested in encouraging a critical
                    examination of the economic and political bases of its newly-acquired

                    The State of the American and International Labor

                    The growing chasm between the privileged strata that comprise
                    capitalism's ruling elite and the broad mass of working people denotes an
                    objectively high level of social and class tensions. It may appear that this
                    assessment is contradicted by the absence of militant labor activism in the
                    United States. But the low level of strike activity and other forms of mass
                    social protest do not indicate social stability. Rather, the fact that the last
                    decade has seen so few open manifestations of class conflict, despite
                    rapidly growing social inequality, suggests that the existing political and
                    social institutions of the US have become unresponsive to the
                    accumulating discontent of the working class. Established social
                    organizations such as the trade unions no longer function even in a limited
                    way as conduits of popular grievances. The Democratic and Republican
                    parties, which have virtually no direct contact with the popular masses,
                    do not even acknowledge, let alone propose, solutions to the basic
                    problems of working class life. The longer the grievances of the working
                    class are ignored and repressed, the more explosive they ultimately
                    become. At some point social tension, as it approaches “critical mass,”
                    must erupt on the surface of society.

                    The protracted decline and demise of the American trade union
                    movement is one of the most fundamental changes in the social life of the
                    United States during the last two decades. As recently as the 1960s the
                    Johnson administration could not conduct the Vietnam War without
                    constantly taking into account the impact of its policies on the working
                    class. President Lyndon Johnson resisted demands from the Federal
                    Reserve and representatives of big business that he meet the rising costs
                    of the war by cutting the level of social expenditures. He feared that
                    austerity policies would further intensify the already high levels of class
                    conflict and social disorder. In 1971 the Nixon administration attempted
                    to resist workers' demands for better living conditions by establishing a
                    Pay Board and an annual 5.5 percent limit on wage increases. To give a
                    sense of the social climate of that era, let us recall that even a man like
                    George Meany—the septuagenarian president of the AFL-CIO who was
                    viewed as the most right-wing figure in the American labor
                    movement—denounced Nixon's efforts to control wages as “the first step
                    towards fascism.” Subsequently Meany, despite his rhetoric, agreed to
                    collaborate with the Pay Board. However, in the face of overwhelming
                    popular opposition and a mounting wave of strikes, Meany was
                    compelled to quit the Pay Board and Nixon's wage control scheme

                    Beginning in the 1970s, however, a combination of economic and
                    political developments fundamentally altered to the advantage of the
                    American ruling class the domestic and international environment within
                    which it operated. First, the major international economic recessions of
                    1973-75 and 1979-81 brought to an end the long post-World War II
                    boom. Against the backdrop of rising unemployment—which the
                    government promoted by raising interest rates to unprecedented
                    levels—the corporations seized the opportunity to launch a sustained
                    offensive against the trade unions. The signal for this attack came in
                    August 1981, when President Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 striking air
                    traffic controllers. Despite mass popular support for the
                    controllers—which found expression in an anti-Reagan demonstration of
                    500,000 workers in Washington, DC in September 1981—the
                    AFL-CIO took no action to force the rehiring of the strikers. A pattern
                    that would continue throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s was
                    established. The union bureaucracy, which had long viewed rank-and-file
                    militancy as a threat to its own privileged position, welcomed the defeats
                    as an opportunity to deepen its direct collaboration with the employers.
                    By the end of the 1980s, after an unbroken series of defeats in one
                    industry after another, the trade unions had ceased to function as genuine
                    defensive organizations of the working class in any meaningful sense of
                    the term. Strikes, until the mid-1980s a persistent and explosive feature
                    of American social life, fell year after year to record low levels. Wage
                    cuts and mass layoffs, which had been traditionally met with bitter
                    resistance, became commonplace throughout US industry.

                    Notwithstanding certain historical weaknesses of the American labor
                    movement that made it exceptionally vulnerable to attack—such as its
                    lack of independent political organization, the absence of any substantial
                    socialist tendency, the generally low level of class consciousness and, last
                    but not least, the disgusting extent of the corruption and gangsterism of
                    the labor bureaucracy—the collapse of the trade unions in the United
                    States was part of a broader international phenomenon. All over the
                    world the old political parties and trade unions of the working class
                    entered into a terminal crisis from the mid-1980s on. What was the
                    essential objective cause of this worldwide process of decay?

                    The Emergence of the Transnational Corporation

                    The global recessions of the 1970s and early 1980s led to a fundamental
                    change in the basic forms of capitalist production. While there had been
                    an immense growth in international trade following the end of World War
                    II, the process of production proceeded, for the most part, within a
                    national framework. While the multinational corporation did business in
                    many countries, its manufacturing facilities operated on a national basis.
                    For example, a US corporation, like Ford or General Motors, would
                    have manufacturing facilities in different countries. But these facilities were
                    intended to build products for the market of the country in which they
                    were located.

                    The revolutionary developments in transportation and computerized
                    communications technologies made possible an historic change in the
                    organization and techniques of capitalist production. The multinational
                    form of corporate organization was transcended by the transnational
                    corporation. The essential significance of this change was that it had
                    become possible to organize and coordinate manufacturing and services
                    on a directly international basis. Nourished by massive daily movements
                    of both capital and information, transnational corporations were able for
                    the first time to establish globally integrated production systems. This
                    allowed them to bypass the labor force in their “national homeland” and
                    effectively exploit regional and continental differences in wage levels and
                    social benefits.

                    None of the existing mass organizations of the working class were either
                    prepared for or capable of developing an effective response to the
                    revolutionary advances in technology and their far-reaching impact on the
                    capitalist mode of production. Regardless of their official titles and formal
                    political affiliations—whether they called themselves Socialist,
                    Communist, Labor, or, as in the United States, openly proclaimed their
                    loyalty to capitalism and the parties of big business—the old labor
                    organizations based themselves on the national state as the unalterable
                    framework of production. Assuming the eternal dependence of capitalist
                    corporations on the directly available national labor force, the trade
                    unions believed their own position to be impregnable. To the extent that
                    they controlled the national supply of labor, they would retain in
                    perpetuity the ability to extract concessions from the employers. The
                    entire reformist ideology of the labor movement was based on this
                    complacent nationalist perspective.

                    This national reformist perspective was ultimately rooted in the material
                    interests of the bureaucracy. Therefore, the collapse of this perspective
                    did not undermine in the least the bureaucracy's loyalty and subservience
                    to capitalism. Rather, the bureaucracy devoted its energies to preserving
                    its own privileges within the national state by attempting to force the
                    working class to accept a lower standard of living.

                    The Collapse of the USSR

                    The disintegration of the Soviet Communist Party (CPSU) and the
                    collapse of the USSR were only the most extreme and explosive
                    manifestations of the breakdown of the old bureaucratic and reformist
                    parties of the working class. Of course, the Soviet Union represented a
                    far greater historical achievement of the international working class than
                    the trade unions of Western Europe and the United States. The CPSU
                    held state power and ruled on the basis of the nationalized property
                    forms that had been created in the aftermath of the October Revolution
                    of 1917. But despite this significant difference, the program and ideology
                    of the ruling Stalinist bureaucracy—which had long before usurped
                    political power from the working class and exterminated the entire
                    generation of Marxists who had led the socialist revolution—was
                    essentially the same, in two fundamental respects, as that of the labor
                    bureaucracies in the advanced capitalist countries.

                    First, the official Soviet doctrine of “peaceful coexistence” was the
                    Kremlin's version of the class collaboration practiced by the labor
                    bureaucracies in the West. Contrary to the hysterical propaganda of the
                    American media, Marxism played no role whatsoever in the policies of
                    the Stalinist leaders of the USSR. The attitude of the typical Soviet
                    bureaucrat toward the very possibility of revolutionary upheavals—both
                    beyond and within the borders of the USSR—was a combination of
                    personal fear and political revulsion. Desiring nothing so much as to enjoy
                    in peace the luxuries to which their positions in the bureaucracy entitled
                    them, the Stalinist leaders sought not the overthrow of world imperialism
                    but an accommodation to it.

                    Second, the economic and social program administered by the
                    bureaucracy was a peculiar version of the nationalism practiced by their
                    reformist counterparts in Western Europe. The so-called “socialism”
                    espoused by the Kremlin regime based itself mainly on the resources
                    available within the USSR. The Stalinist bureaucracy aspired to nothing
                    more ambitious than a Soviet version of a national welfare state. The
                    basic fallacy of this program was that the development of the Soviet
                    economy depended, in the final analysis, upon the resources of the world
                    economy and its international division of labor. It was not possible to
                    maintain on the basis of national self-sufficiency a viable social welfare
                    state, let alone an advanced socialist society. The introduction of
                    globally-integrated production widened the gap between the advanced
                    capitalist countries and the Soviet Union. The problem was not merely
                    technological: there was simply no place in the Stalinist system for
                    transnational forms of production. Even between the USSR and the
                    Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe, economic relations remained on an
                    extremely primitive level. By the time Mikhail Gorbachev came to power
                    in 1985, he had no better answers for the challenge posed by the
                    globalization of capitalist production than his opposite numbers in the
                    bureaucracies of the American and Western European labor movements.
                    All his desperate efforts to improvise a solution to the deepening social
                    and political problems came to naught. The catastrophic Stalinist
                    experiment with “socialism in one country”—which had from the
                    beginning represented a repudiation of the principles of socialist
                    internationalism upon which the October Revolution had been
                    based—came to a disastrous end with the dissolution of the Soviet Union
                    in December 1991.

                    A Crisis of Leadership and Perspective

                    The present political disorientation of the working class is much better
                    understood when placed in the context of the global economic
                    transformations, political catastrophes and organizational collapses of the
                    last two decades. Imagine an army of soldiers surrounded on all sides by
                    powerful enemies. In the midst of battle its leaders have deserted, taking
                    with them arms and supplies. The working class finds itself in an
                    analogous position. It has been betrayed by the parties and organizations
                    to which it had given its support and upon which it had relied.
                    Complicating matters is the fact that the worthlessness of its old
                    organizations and leaders is not merely a matter of subjective errors and
                    personal corruption. Rather, it is deeply rooted in objective economic
                    processes that have dramatically affected the mode of production and
                    class relations. Therefore, what the working class requires is not merely a
                    change of faces in the old organizations—or, to be more precise, in what
                    is left of them. There is no “kiss of life” that can resuscitate the moribund
                    and reactionary bureaucratic trade union and political organizations of the
                    past. The sooner they are kicked aside, the better. What the working
                    class now requires is a new revolutionary international organization,
                    whose strategy, perspective and program correspond to the objective
                    tendencies of world economy and historical development.

                    There are, we know very well, legions of pessimists who are convinced
                    that there exists no possibility whatsoever of building such an international
                    revolutionary movement. One might note that the most incorrigible of
                    these pessimists are to be found precisely among those who not so long
                    ago placed full confidence in the trade unions and believed deeply in the
                    permanence of the USSR. Yesterday they were convinced that
                    bureaucratically administered reformism would last forever. Today they
                    believe with no less conviction in the eternal triumph of capitalist reaction.
                    But underlying the giddy optimism of yesterday and the demoralized
                    pessimism of today is a certain type of intellectual and political
                    superficiality, whose characteristic features are an unwillingness and
                    inability to examine events within the necessary historical framework, and
                    a disinclination to investigate the contradictions that underlie the highly
                    misleading surface appearance of social stability. There are other
                    characteristics—especially among those who draw their paychecks from
                    university bursars—that contribute to and aggravate these intellectual
                    weaknesses, namely, a certain lack of personal courage, integrity, and
                    simple honesty.

                    Confidence in the revolutionary role of the working class and the
                    objective possibility of socialism is not a matter of faith, but of theoretical
                    insight into the objective laws of capitalist development and knowledge of
                    history—particularly that of the twentieth century. The last 99 and a half
                    years have seen no shortage of revolutionary struggles of the working
                    class—Russian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Chinese, Chilean,
                    Argentinean, Vietnamese, Hungarian, Austrian, South African, Ceylonese
                    and, yes, American. This short list is far from complete.

                    What then, is the objective basis for a resurgence of revolutionary
                    struggle by the working class as we enter the twenty-first century?
                    Paradoxically, the very changes in the objective processes of world
                    capitalism that contributed to the disorientation and weakening of the
                    working class during the last two decades have laid the foundation for a
                    renewal of open class struggle, but on a far broader basis than was
                    previously possible. The principal weakness of the previous forms of
                    class struggle lay in their national insularity. Even where the international
                    unity of the proletariat was proclaimed and celebrated, objective
                    conditions worked against the development of the class struggle as a
                    unified international process. But the possibility of transcending this
                    limitation is present in the process of globally-integrated production. This
                    development of capitalism not only confronts the working class with the
                    objective necessity of conducting its struggles on an international basis;
                    the economic transformations have also created the objective means of
                    effecting this international unity. First, the activities of the transnational
                    corporations and the fluidity of global capital movements have led to an
                    immense growth of the working class on an international scale. In
                    countries and regions where, only 30 years ago, there hardly existed a
                    working class, the proletariat has since emerged as a mass force. The
                    proletariat of East Asia, which comprised a mere fraction of the region's
                    population only a generation ago, now numbers in the tens of millions.
                    Second, the communications technology that underlies transnational
                    production will inevitably facilitate the coordination of the class
                    struggle—both in terms of strategy and logistics—on a global scale.

                    Internationalism and Nationalism

                    The impediments to the globalization of the class struggle and the
                    international unification of the working class are less of a technical than of
                    a political and ideological character. The protracted crisis of the
                    international workers movement found perhaps its most reactionary
                    political reflection in the upsurge of nationalism. The loss of political
                    confidence in the revolutionary capacities of the working class and the
                    prospects of socialist revolution contributed to a resurgence of nationalist
                    programs and ideologies. In many cases, the historically retrograde
                    character of this tendency was disguised by the pseudo-left demagogy of
                    “national self-determination” and “national liberation.” Seeking to evade
                    the difficult task of combating all forms of chauvinism—whether based on
                    language, religion or ethnicity—and effecting the unity of all sections of
                    the working class within countries with heterogeneous populations,
                    innumerable petty-bourgeois tendencies have chosen instead to base
                    themselves on one or another national community. The cynical and largely
                    ignorant use of Marxist jargon does not change the fact that the essential
                    content of their policy has been the elevation of national or ethnic identity
                    above class consciousness and, flowing from this, the subordination of
                    the objective interests of the working class to the political and financial
                    interests of the national bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie.

                    There is reason to believe that the high tide of the nationalist resurgence
                    may have already been reached. Indeed, the impact of the events in
                    Yugoslavia must contribute to undermining the prestige of nationalism and
                    the political credibility of the demand for self-determination. The horrors
                    of the inter-communal conflicts that have ravaged the Balkans have
                    exposed the reactionary implications of nationalism. What has been
                    achieved by the dissolution of Yugoslavia? The sordid machinations of
                    Milosevic in Serbia, Tudjman in Croatia, Kucan in Slovenia and
                    Izetbegovic in Bosnia have cost the lives of tens of thousands, and for
                    what? The entire economic and cultural level of the Balkans has been
                    lowered immeasurably. “Independent” Bosnia is a miserable imperialist
                    protectorate. “Independent” Croatia lives off whatever crumbs the
                    imperialists are willing to throw it. Serbia has been devastated. And as
                    for Kosovo, it has been divided into several zones of occupation. Its
                    “national liberation movement,” the KLA, has no future except as the
                    designated gendarmerie of the United States. All of the national and
                    religious communities have been victimized by the civil wars. All the
                    events surrounding the dissolution of Yugoslavia stand as a bitter
                    indictment of nationalism.

                    There is yet another aspect of the Yugoslav experience from which the
                    international working class will be compelled to draw lessons. The
                    one-sided nature of the military conflict will serve to undermine the myths
                    that have surrounded the perspective of wars of national liberation—i.e.,
                    that the defeat of imperialism is to be achieved principally on the basis of
                    military conflict, rather than through the methods of world socialist
                    revolution. Petty-bourgeois radical romanticists were enraptured by the
                    Guevarist perspective on “One, two, many Vietnams.” That delusion has
                    turned into “One, two, many Iraqs.” And what about Vietnam? For all
                    the heroic sacrifices of the Vietnamese masses, their wars of national
                    liberation, spanning 30 years, did not free them from imperialist
                    domination. Nearly 25 years after the capture of Saigon, the IMF is able
                    to exert more influence over the policies of Hanoi than Nixon and
                    Kissinger ever could with American B-52s.

                    As long as there is imperialism, there will be armed struggles conducted
                    by oppressed nations. But the basic and decisive form of the struggle
                    against imperialism is the revolutionary political struggle of the working
                    class. Within this framework, to emphasize the immense historical
                    importance of the class struggle in the advanced capitalist
                    countries—above all, within the United States—does not suggest any
                    degree of arrogance or disdain toward the workers and oppressed
                    masses in the less developed countries. Rather, it flows from a realistic
                    appraisal of the international balance of class forces and an understanding
                    of the explosive character of the social contradictions within the
                    imperialist centers. Those who deny the possibility of socialist revolution
                    in the United States are not only denying, as a practical matter, the
                    possibility of socialism anywhere. They are actually abandoning any hope
                    for the future of mankind. However complex the interaction of world
                    struggles and however unpredictable the actual sequence of events, there
                    can be no doubt that their final outcome will be decisively influenced by
                    the development of the class struggle in the United States.

                    For the present, it is an undeniable social fact that the level of political
                    consciousness within the American working class is very low. Let it be
                    said, however, that this is not a failing that is only to be observed among
                    the workers. Consciousness is influenced by events—not only for the
                    worse but also for the better. The underlying contradictions of American
                    society will, in the final analysis, result in profound and, for many,
                    unexpected changes in mass consciousness. Nowhere is it written that the
                    social tensions which are so deeply embedded in the structure of
                    American class relations can only express themselves in such tragic and
                    demented forms as the shooting at Columbine High School. These
                    tensions can and will find more humane, democratic and revolutionary
                    forms of expression.

                    The Role of the World Socialist Web Site

                    The advent of globally integrated production has, as we have already
                    explained, created not only the objective conditions for the international
                    political unification of the working class, but also the means. The
                    extraordinary advances in computerized communications
                    technology—above all, the creation of the World Wide Web—have the
                    most far-reaching historical implications for the development of the class
                    struggle. In a manner and at a speed which could hardly have been
                    imagined even at the start of this decade, the innumerable obstacles that
                    limited communications between socialist and progressive political
                    tendencies among intellectuals, students and workers have been swept
                    away. The monopoly of the capitalist media over the dissemination of
                    information has been gravely weakened. The possibility of reaching a
                    mass audience is now available. The Yugoslav war revealed the
                    enormous potential and political significance of the Internet. Even after
                    Yugoslav television broadcast facilities were bombed, information about
                    the impact of NATO attacks continued to reach an international audience
                    via the Internet. Many critical pieces of information, such as the secret
                    annex to the Rambouillet agreement, found their way to an international
                    audience because of this remarkable communications technology.

                    In February 1998 the International Committee of the Fourth International
                    founded the World Socialist Web Site ( We recognized
                    in this technology the potential to present to a broad international
                    audience, on a daily basis, a Marxist analysis of world events. We were
                    convinced that the WSWS could play a decisive role in the development
                    of that which has been lacking for so many decades—a genuine
                    international Marxist political culture. What was needed, we believed,
                    was not simplistic slogans and jargon, but a serious examination of
                    events. The long history of our tendency—whose origins date back to the
                    struggle conducted by Leon Trotsky against the Stalinist perversion of
                    Marxism and its betrayal of the October Revolution—provided the
                    necessary intellectual substance to sustain daily commentary. Confident in
                    the strength of our ideas, we were anxious to encourage a dialogue with
                    readers reflecting a wide range of viewpoints. We continue to believe that
                    such a discussion will facilitate a crystallization of socialists from all over
                    the world around a genuinely internationalist revolutionary program.

                    The experiences of the past year have demonstrated the importance of
                    the work that has been undertaken by the World Socialist Web Site to
                    thousands of readers in dozens of countries. In the aftermath of the war
                    against Yugoslavia, there will be an even greater and more urgent need
                    for political discussion and theoretical clarification. The editorial board of
                    the WSWS calls on its readers to participate in this discussion, to do
                    everything in their power to extend the influence of the World Socialist
                    Web Site, and in this way lay the foundations for the growth of the World
                    Party of Socialist Revolution.

                    1. “Nations, States and War,” in The South Slav Conflict, edited by Raju G.C.
                    Thomas and H. Richard Friman (New York and London: 1996), p. 225.
                    2. New York Times, March 28, 1999.
                    3. The Future of War: Power, Technology & American World Dominance in the
                    21st Century (New York: Crown Publishers, 1996), p. ix.
                    4. Ibid ., p. x.
                    5. Ibid ., p. 1.
                    6. Ibid ., p. 4.
                    7. New York Times, June 6, 1999.