Recently, the IWL-FI promoted and participated in the Workers’ Aid Convoy to Ukraine, organised by the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggle, which participated in an internationalist May Day demo in Lviv. This is neither a coincidence nor an isolated event in the history of our international current. Almost 30 years ago, a convoy was also organised during a war, the Serbian invasion of Bosnia. Therefore, it seems important to us to bring on a series of articles by IWL-FI members posted on the Leon Trotsky Archive (https://archivoleontrotsky.org/) written during the Bosnian war in 1994.

These historical materials were collected by comrade Angel Luis Parras, a Corriente Roja militant in Spain, who was a member of the Workers’ Aid to Bosnia and took part in the convoys that brought aid to the Bosnian miners during the war years. At the end of the text, we provide links to the articles (in Spanish).


Workers’ aid in the war

Thirty years had passed since the beginning of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina when Russian troops were about to complete two weeks of their invasion of Ukraine.

By Ángel Luis Parras

Bosnia was a small country, around 10% the size of Ukraine and with a population of 4.3 million. Three years of occupation and a war of national liberation (1992-1995) left a desolate panorama. The death toll ranged from 130,000 to 230,000, the number of displaced persons exceeded two million, and concentration camps and massacres such as in Srebrenica were left to history.

The “left” was then divided between those who demanded that the UN and NATO intervene and those who cheered on the Serbian butcher Milosevic, presenting him as an “anti-imperialist” or even the “last European stronghold of socialism.” For the former, it was a “religious war” and therefore sending in “peacekeepers” (the blue helmets) was the only solution to ‘avoid a massacre.” For the latter, with the Stalinist organisations ahead, there was only a war of imperialist aggression and the Bosnians represented only the “Muslims,” the fascist-jihadists “allied to imperialism.”

As in Ukraine today, they were not the least concerned with defining the nature of the war1 or of the wars that were superimposed on it. The unleashing of the war by the Serbian army, and the occupation of Bosnia after the referendum in which Bosnia and Herzegovina massively voted for its independence, were for Milosevic’s self-confessed and unconfessed friends a trivial issue and the massacres, rapes of thousands of women, looting of villages, were nothing but “imperialist propaganda.”

For us, revolutionary Marxists, no matter what the situation is, our policy always has one strategic focus: to consciously build the independent action of the working class, which, because of their material position in society, are the only ones capable of combining the tasks of national and social liberations. And if this is so in times of peace, it becomes even more dramatic and present in times of war, i.e. of the “continuation of politics by other means.”

A revolutionary organisation is, therefore, always obliged to defend and build a line of class independence. But in the midst of such ado, with all the media, governments and “left” parties against us (with some honourable exceptions) what could a very small organisation like ours2 – with no money or material means, with some experience in the daily class struggle, but none in a war – do? However, we had at least three treasures indeed. The first was the International, the IWL-FI, and the link with revolutionary militants who were not IWL-FI members; the second was being educated in a class criterion, and the third was the determination to get things done. The Workers’ Aid to Bosnia was born from this combination.

Where did these miners come from and how did Workers’ Aid to Bosnia come into being

Today, when we send the collected aid to the Independent Trade Union of Miners in Kryvyi Ri, the “left” organisations cry out: “How strange. Where did these Ukrainian miners we don’t know come from?” Actually, the argument is hardly any different from 30 years ago when we started collecting aid for the miners in the Kreka mines in the Bosnian town of Tuzla.

It is normal that they did not know the miners in Kreka then, nor do they know the miners in Kryvyi Ri now. This is because while those miners were fighting in the late 1980s and many of the 1990s to defend their work and their bread from the infamous robbery of the privatisations that accompanied the capitalist restoration (the one led by the “communist” bureaucracy), the “western left” could not see anything because their eyes were filled with tears for the “fall of socialism” and any of the many street demonstrations or strikes, and any protest for democratic and national rights could only be a product of reaction and fascism celebrating the fall of “real socialism.”

Like nowadays, they are faithful to a story and the facts cannot in any way contradict the story. For them, any contradiction between the narrative and reality has only one explanation: reality is wrong.

But those of us who tried not to lose the connection with the working class – neither in peace nor in war – knew that these workers’ organisations existed, even if at first we had no direct contact with them, nor did the Internet exist to look for them. And indeed we found them. The miners of Kreka in Bosnia were the same miners who in 1984-85 had responded to the call of the British miners in their bitter struggle against Margaret Thatcher’s government. The Bosnian miners agreed in those years to give one day of their monthly wages to their British comrades. Many years later, in 1993, it was those Bosnian miners who asked their British sisters and brothers for help. In asking for their help they said: “We remind our friends in Britain that our miners’ hearts have always beat for the goodness of humanity, for justice, for the working class.”

And so began the Workers’ Aid to Bosnia in Britain in 1993. The IWL-FI responded to the appeal of the British comrades and in particular of one of the most recognised and loved leaders and comrades outside and inside the IWL-FI, Bill Hunter3.

In the Spanish state, absolutely out of nowhere, we started to look for help, money, and means of all kinds. We got lorries, tons of food, clothes and sanitary material. The aid was the product of the enormous effort of many workers: the UPS workers in Madrid, the Magneti Marelli workers or the miners of Sallent in Catalonia, the EMT workers in Madrid who fixed our trucks, the firemen in Bilbao and Madrid who collected aid and came to Bosnia. Many teachers, young people and workers helped us to collect money by organising parties, selling T-shirts or collecting food and other materials in Madrid, Catalonia and Andalusia.

It was not easy, nor was it the first time we managed to get to the border of Mostar and cross a country at war with the trucks of the convoy through the mountains. When we managed to reach Tuzla, we not only delivered aid but also saw first-hand the suffering and struggle of a people whose army, the Armija, was made up of miners, industrial workers and college students. The 2nd Armija Corps in charge of the defence of Tuzla had in its ranks 5,000 miners from their trade union, to which were added half a thousand salt miners, or more than a thousand from the thermal power station and as many from other factories. “This is not a civil war. It is a war of liberation. It is the defence of the right to exist as a nation” explained the Principal of the University of Tuzla, in one of the many meetings and contacts we had during the days we were able to stay after each arrival of a new convoy.

Put control of all the war tasks in the hands of the workers

Why all this mess, why not collect the aid and give it to the UN or some NGOs instead of doing something that put the very lives of the comrades at risk? This question was repeated among the Bosnian workers and young people we were talking to. Even the president of the Tuzla Council of Trade Unions, Fikreta Sijercic could not help but ask us the same question at the meeting to which we were invited, after thanking us warmly for the aid: “What were the motivations that led us, again and again, to deliver aid directly ourselves, despite the dangers we were forced to face?

We went to Bosnia to deliver aid from workers to workers because each modest contribution had an unequivocal objective: “It is necessary to promote and help develop aid controlled by the workers’ organisations because in this way a policy of class independence is promoted by placing the tasks of national and social liberation in the hands of the workers4.”

Wars, including wars of national liberation as then in Bosnia and today in Ukraine, do not make the class struggle disappear. By what criteria does a war economy function? By what criteria are the basic needs of the troops and the population, food, clothing, housing, and how are the health services organised? How are the energy supplies, petrol, diesel, electricity, etc., guaranteed? And how do we combat the fifth column in the rearguard, not only the most obvious, the invaders, but also the bourgeoisie or those who aspire to be bourgeois through theft… Those scoundrels who make their living on the black market, stealing humanitarian aid to do business with it or plundering the houses that are left empty when people rush out of their homes to avoid dying in a bombing.

Empowering the participation of workers’ organisations in the control of the economy and political life during a war is the first and indispensable step for the working class to act independently. The bourgeoisie, including the bourgeoisie of the invaded country, will approach the tasks of war from their class point of view, from the point of view of absolute respect for the private ownership of the great means of production and exchange. And whether they win the war, or lose it and manage to preserve their domination in the part of the country that remains to them, they will approach the tasks of reconstruction with the same class criteria with which they conducted the war.

Today, as we put all our efforts into defeating the Russian invasion and dedicate our efforts and aid to the Ukrainian workers of Kryvyi Ri, remembering the experience of the Bosnian war and the solidarity between workers thirty years ago must be part of Workers’ Aid.

Notes

1 The Marxist study of the different definitions of the nature of wars was synthesised in a short work published in 2011 by the IWL-FI’s theoretical magazine Marxismo Vivo, Some considerations on wars. (https://archivoleontrotsky.org/view?mfn=12787).

2 We were then two small groups in a phase of merging that would eventually give rise to the PRT.

3 Bill Hunter was a veteran leader of British Trotskyism. Bill was an engineering worker, a member of the Independent Labour Party during the Second World War and, in 1944, became a Trotskyist, playing a leading role in the Revolutionary Communist Party for many years. In 1988, he joined the International Workers League and was a member of its International Moral Commission.

4 Correo Internacional no. 64, August 1994 (https://archivoleontrotsky.org/view?mfn=7884).