Workers' Liberty #55


Who will save the Kosovars?

'An individual, a group, a party or a class that is capable of 'objectively' picking its nose while it watches men drunk with blood, and incited from above, massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive. 'On the other hand, a party or a class that rises up against every abominable action wherever it has occurred, as vigorously and unhesitatingly as a living organism reacts to protect its eyes when they are threatened with external injury - such a party or class is sound at heart.'

L D Trotsky, February 1913 [On the Balkan Atrocities]

'The socialist who aids directly or indirectly in perpetuating the privileged position of one nation at the expense of another, who accommodates himself to colonial slavery, who draws a line of distinction between races and colours in the question of human rights, who helps the bourgeoisie of the metropolis to maintain its rule over the colonies... instead of aiding the armed uprising of the colonies; such a socialist deserves to be branded with infamy, if not with a bullet.'

L D Trotsky, Manifesto of the 2nd Congress of the Communist International, August 1920.

Stop the bombing! Arm the Kosovars!

On the evening of Wednesday 24 March NATO launched the first of a still continuing series of air strikes in the rump Yugoslav state. Their stated reason was to put a stop to the Serb chauvinist drive against ethnic Albanians, who form 90% of Kosova's people. The immediate consequence of the bombing was an enormous escalation of the Serb drive against the Kosovars. With the demonic energy of starved wild beasts released from a cave, Milosevic's ethnic cleansers attacked the Kosovars.

Within a week, more than half of Kosova's two million ethnic Albanians had been uprooted or killed. In Kosova's capital 200,000 people were driven out at gun point, and Pristina became a ghost town.

It almost beggars belief that the consequences of its bombing offensive were not anticipated by NATO. For NATO continues to oppose self-determination for the Kosovars. NATO remains committed to the Rambouillet Agreement. Under this, Kosova remains in the Serb state, with Serbian policemen to maintain 'security', and 1,500 Serb soldiers on its borders. NATO is 'intervening' from the skies to control the 'internal' affairs of a state, 'Yugoslavia' (Serbia), whose stability it considers essential and to whose continued possession of Kosova it has solemnly committed itself!

This is what Clinton said in a speech broadcast to the Serbian people: 'The NATO allies support the Serbian people to maintain Kosova as part of your country.' This could commit eventual occupation forces to repress the Kosovars! They fear that independence for the Kosovars will encourage others to secede from their Balkan states and thus whip up a new storm of instability. This makes NATO as much of an enemy of Kosovan independence as Milosevic, and a potential partner of Milosevic's in a deal at the Kosovar's expense.

But NATO will not kill and disperse 90% of the population of Kosova. For the Kosovars, the immediate difference between NATO and Milosevic and between autonomy [even in a truncated Kosova] and being killed or driven out of Kosova is no small one: it is a matter of life and death - death for an unknowable number of persons and for the Kosovar ethnic Albanian people as an entity.

Everything NATO has so far done suggests blundering inchoherence and political and military incompetence. Clinton and Blair deal in gesture politics. They may well, even after so much experience of him, have misunderstood and underestimated what the serious Serb chauvinist and 'nation builder' Milosevic would do. Clinton and Blair and the people around them are politicians for whom principles are carefully crafted soundbites and catch phrases; commitment is working hard to get elected and, once elected, saying and doing anything it takes to win high office; historical perspective is thinking of the next election; and action is mimicry and gesture. They combine pursuit of state interest and high politics with pseudo-democratic gestures and Palmerstonian poses, not, like the mid-nineteenth century Prime Minister Palmeston, with gunboats, but with rockets and bomber planes. They possess (not quite) godlike technology and power that allows them to make war without the political liability of high casualties on their side. These are people from whose mouths the words of the much-quoted US general in Vietnam, who 'had to destroy the city in order to save it', would flow smoothly and in whose consciences it would sit easily and cause little self-doubt.

The crudity of their tools is a pointer to the crude botching and butchering of the political solution they may produce in the final deal with Milosevic. Alchemists, amateurs, witch doctors of world government, they throw bombs at the Serbs, most of whom don't know the scale of Serbia's slaughter and ethnic cleansing in Kosova. They do not, as consistent democrats would, ally or seek to ally with either the Serbs or Kosovar people; they do not seek to facilitate self-emancipation of either Kosovars or Serbs. The Rambouillet Agreement provides for dispossesing the Kosovars of the arms they have and their submission to Serb armed forces. They refuse to arm the Kosovars. They deploy a crude and savage weapon, bombing for the wrong political goals, at best, the Balkan status quo, at worst a carve-up Kosova deal with Milosevic. The Serbian economy may be thrown back decades.

Yet, though it is necessary, it is not enough to say this and similarly true things about those who are now intervening in the affairs of the Yugoslav state, and their tactics and goals.

There can be no reasonable doubt that though the bombing gave him his cover, Milosevic had long planned and was already carrying out a 'cleansing' offensive against the Kosovars, and would, bombing or no bombing, have found occasion to escalate it. The idea that sustained bombing of Serbia can't affect what happens in Kosova is self-evident nonsense. The question is whether by the time it takes effect, there'll be any Kosovars left in Kosova, except the 10% of the population that is Serb.

But from what point of view is it possible to oppose NATO and, in fact, side with Serbia? Those who shout 'stop the war' mean stop only one part of the war: for Milosevic will not listen and obediently stop his war against the Kosovars. Those who give this a 'revolutionary' gloss by talking of the socialist duty of 'defeatism' are primarily defeatists in relation to the Kosovars. They are the heralds and allies of Serbian triumphalism. If this is an inter-imperialist war, then Serbia represents an expansionary dark ages tribalist imperialism and NATO modern civilisation, intervening not to conquer Serbia but, as would-be world policemen, to stop the wiping out of the Kosovars. There is even some reason to think that US and British liberal 'gesture politics' has led to action that the NATO establishment would not otherwise have taken.

Many points of view merge to make up the anti-war movement. They twine and combine to reinforce each other.*

  1. Pacifism - war is never justified. The inglorious conclusion is: leave the Kosovars to their fate. They have an urge to minimise the horror of Serbia's genocide. In effect, most of them wind up to one degree or another as Serbia's apologists. Their anti-war effort is one of Serbia's military assets.

  2. Stalinist and quasi Stalinist attitudes. 'Yugoslavia' is 'progressive', it has a 'workers' state tradition', Milosevic calls himself a socialist. This point of view draws on old reflexes and instincts of loyalty to the USSR and its bloc: the Kosovars should be dealt with as harshly as necessary. This is a hard, blinkered, unteachable pro-Serbia element.

  3. Anti-Germanism, overlapping Little Englandism and hostility to European unity. Tony Benn embodies this viewpoint especially. This view mixes reminiscences of World War II with resentment of Germany's renewal.

  4. 'Anti-imperialism' - against one side only. Here it is to side with the Dark Ages Serb ethnic imperialism. In fact it is not anti-imperialism at all but sectarian anti-capitalism. 'Imperialism' inheres in advanced capitalism, and therefore in NATO, irrespective of its policy or the policy of its opponent. The truly imperialist element in NATO's attitude to the Kosovars, if it comes out in an attempt to enforce a deal with Milosevic at the expense of the Kosovars, will have the support of the 'anti-imperialists'.

  5. Anti-Americanism. Socialists have no reason to support the pretensions of the US, or NATO, to be the world's cop. But the anti-Americanism tapped into by the 'peace campaign' is an old stagnant pool left behind by the Stalinist flood tide: it is the negative fossil imprint of blocism, after the Stalinist bloc has disappeared! It is deprived of any sense except incoherent anti-capitalism.

  6. Insular indifference to the fate of the Kosovars.

The mixing together of these elements in a broad 'peace movement' to 'stop the war' (that is, leave Serbia a free hand) creates immense confusion. It works like too much booze against rational discussion.

One of two things: either Kosova and the fate of the Kosovars is the central issue here, or NATO's bombing is. If the Kosovars and the Serbian attempt to kill or drive out 90% of the people of Kosova are central, then NATO must be seen in relation to them, not the other way round.

We say that the axial issue is Kosova! The Kosovars have the right to make any alliance they can get, with NATO or with the devil, to save themselves from destruction! But the left does not have to and should not follow them and mimic them.

The left should not extend political credence and credit to NATO. We cannot do anything other than condemn Milosevic and want his defeat. Such defeat will not lead to the subjugation of the Serbs: Milosevic's victory will lead to the annihilation of the Kosovars. That alone is enough to determine our attitude. One did not have to positively support the North Vietnamese regime to be pleased that in 1978 they invaded Cambodia and stamped out the murderous Khmer Rouge regime. Or need to be a supporter of the Indira Ghandi's regime in India to be glad that India invaded the former East Pakistan in 1971 and put an end to the genocidal drive of the West Pakistanis against the Begalis.

To say stop bombing now, without demanding Yugoslavian (Serbian) troops out of Kosova, the arming of the Kosovars and independence for Kosova is to give up on the Kosovars. If bombing stops will the ethnic cleansing stop? The opposite is likely to be true - it will escalate. We say arm the Kosovars!

Nobody should trust NATO politicians, or NATO bombs and troops. Socialists should not take political responsibility for them or advise them on what to do next: it is to misunderstand both reality and the responsibilities of socialists for us to urge positive measures - troops, for example - on NATO. If they land troops it will be for their own reasons and not ours.

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