Workers' Liberty #56
The real issues in the Kosova conflict lie behind the dispute at NUT conference.
Bernard Regan and Pat Murphy debate them.
Your last Workers' Liberty contains a report from Pat Murphy of the NUT Conference. In it he reports on an incident involving myself and the Industrial Organiser of Workers' Liberty. The report is in fact inaccurate. The facts of the matter are these:
Following a debate about the situation in Kosova, outside the meeting, I was called a "Chetnik" by this individual, whose name I don't know. He refused to withdraw this statement which he had made in front of a number of other individuals from different political groups.
In a subsequent private meeting Paul Hampton, an AWL member, apologised to me on behalf of Workers' Liberty saying that the remark was wrong and unjustified - (an apology repeated in private by other members of the organisation since). I accepted that apology and said that since the remark was made by one individual from Workers' Liberty I did not hold the whole organisation responsible and did not regard it as something which would stop me working with Workers' Liberty at the conference or in the future. I considered the matter finished with.
I was therefore shocked to read the story, written by Pat Murphy, published in your journal and on your website. Pat Murphy was neither present when the incident took place nor was he present when Paul Hampton apologised on behalf of your organisation. However I took in good faith that Paul Hampton's apology was made on behalf of the organisation and that it therefore was known about and understood by Workers' Liberty members to be an end of the affair.
To reprint the story, however, reopens the whole issue and calls into question the political sincerity of the "apology" and its worth. Despite the fact that Pat Murphy says that it was a "private" matter, publishing the story means that it has ceased to be a "private" matter and is now public.
To call someone a "Chetnik" is in fact to accuse them of being a fascist.
The Industrial Organiser of Workers' Liberty understood this perfectly well and it was clear from Paul Hampton's apology that he fully understood what was meant. If Workers' Liberty think that someone is a "Chetnik" then they have a responsibility to the rest of the labour movement to denounce them as such as loudly and widely as possible and to drive such a person out of the workers' movement. It is not simply a question of putting a label on someone - no fascist should be tolerated inside the trade union movement.
Either Workers' Liberty should take responsibility for calling someone a fascist and act accordingly or withdraw the accusation, making it clear to those who read your magazine and website and the rest of the workers' movement that you unconditionally retract this attack and apologise.
This isn't a matter of name calling or some matter of personal sensitivity. When supporters of Stalin used the term "social fascist" about the Social Democratic Party in Germany in the '30s it completely miseducated their ranks and others on the whole nature of fascism and the danger it represented. People inside the trade union movement have already asked me what this is all about. People who don't know me might also want to know whether I can be trusted. Part of my work is actually with refugees from Kosovo. It is a matter of political responsibility. It is not some matter of bourgeois prejudice about my "good name" it is a matter of political accuracy as well as my political record and whether it will damage the relations with others with whom I work. To cite examples of how other people might refer to Workers' Liberty is not a justification for your action in writing and publishing this story. I assume you defend yourselves against such attacks when they are made. I do not belong to a political party. I have to defend myself.
At a recent meeting of the Socialist Teachers Alliance members of Workers' Liberty agreed with a motion that was adopted which stated, "The STA: condemns the bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO and opposes any proposal to extend the war through, for example, a ground invasion; condemns the treatment of the Kosovar Albanians by the Milosevic regime; supports the right of the Kosovars to return to Kosova and their right to self-determination including the right to independence.
"The STA further agrees to encourage support for this position within the NUT and to oppose the position adopted by the ETUC, TUC and Education International which have all backed the NATO actions."
They disagreed with the proposal that, "The STA (agrees) to affiliate to the Committee for Peace in the Balkans, to make a donation and to publicise its initiatives."
I assume that Workers' Liberty is in favour of actively opposing the imperialists. So where does the objection to affiliation to the Committee for Peace in the Balkans come from? It seems as if the AWL wants to equate opposition to US and British aggression with support for Milosevic. But this equation is not justified. One of the tragedies of the bombing campaign, for example, has been that Nevasisnost, the independent trade union organisation in Serbia which is a major component of the anti-Milosevic forces responsible for the half million strong demonstration against his regime in 1998, has now been virtually driven underground by the actions of NATO, just as the opposition to Saddam Hussein was isolated by the events of the Gulf War and the continuing blockade which has resulted, by UNICEF calculations, in an increase in mortality rates in Iraq of 90,000 a year.
Imperialism is not interested in defending either the Kosovar working class or the Serbian working class. Imperialism is hypocritically wrapping itself in the humanitarian flag as a cover for its own ambitions. Socialists should have nothing to do with this charade.
I will debate you on the subject of Kosova any time you wish but I ask that you publish a retraction of what was said in the article concerning the incident at the NUT Conference.
I ask you to publish this letter in full without amendment.
Who called who what in the corridor outside a meeting is of little importance. I find the idea that it should produce written discussion pieces and collective apologies faintly ridiculous. Bernard, nevertheless, clearly seems upset by the whole thing, and that is not conducive to effective collaboration between us in the future. For that reason I would like to make some things clear:
Of course it is not the view of WL (teachers or otherwise) that Bernard is literally a "Chetnik". Given his completely accurate statement that I heard none of this at first hand, I will say nothing more about it.
To report that this remark was made (whatever it was) is not to endorse it.
It was described in the offending article as "an insult". It was compared to the descriptions of us as "Unionists", "Zionists" and "pro-imperialists", remarks with which I self-evidently disagree. I find absurd the claim that anyone in the labour movement seriously thinks either that Bernard is a Chetnik or that that is our considered assessment of him on the basis of the short comment in my article. If such people exist, I would be happy to meet and counsel them.
It seems that some of Bernard's indignation stems from his own confusion about who the Chetniks were. "To call someone a Chetnik," he says, "is in fact to accuse them of being a fascist." Well only if you stretch the word "fascist" until is has very little meaning. The Chetniks were a group of Serb resistance fighters who opposed the Nazi occupation of that part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the Second World War. On one level they were very much anti-fascist, or at least anti-Nazi. They were, however, monarchists, recruited from the pre-war royal army and loyal to the Serb monarchy which ruled before the occupation. They were overshadowed by Tito's Partisan resistance, which also fought the Nazis, but on the basis of a republican Yugoslavia. To call someone a Chetnik in the context of debate about the current conflict is to accuse them of being a Serb chauvinist. That could be a legitimate, though over-the-top and no doubt irritating, comment to make in the heat of a row. The idea that Bernard was accused of being a fascist is bombastic nonsense.
Hence we find ourselves in the odd position of being asked for an apology for an implied slur that was never made. We find ourselves lectured about the need to use the term fascist in a correct and precise way by someone who has himself misunderstood it. "Workers Liberty," says Bernard, "should take responsibility for calling someone a fascist and act accordingly."
Well, no doubt we will when the occasion arises. Meantime, Bernard needs to calm down. No-one has called him a fascist, or believes him so to be. Let that reassure all those Kosovan refugees and people in the trade union movement who read the last Workers' Liberty. I sincerely hope that, where it makes obvious sense, and that means most of the time, Bernard and his co-thinkers feel able to work constructively with comrades from Workers' Liberty in the NUT. We will, in the next few months, be working in our branches to ensure that he is elected as national Vice-President of the union, and that STA policies are well represented at next year's conference. We will do all this in the spirit of uniting in activity where we agree and debating, often sharply, where we disagree. We expect no more or less from Bernard.
One of the issues on which we quite clearly disagree and should, therefore, debate properly is the conflict in the Balkans. There is a part of the left, of which Bernard is only an example, which has lost its moral bearings in the current war. This dispute arose because of a disingenuous contribution he made to an important discussion on the war at NUT conference. The issue at stake was whether the left, in attempting to have the war discussed on the floor of conference, would include support for the right of the Kosovars to independence. The people who insisted that no such reference be made were the SWP. Bernard spoke last in the debate and used his considerable weight in the STA to ensure that the SWP won. He clearly indicated that it might be tactically better not to call for Kosovan national rights because it could alienate the Stalinists on our NEC and in conference. In other words, we needed their opposition to NATO even if it was based on pro-Serb sentiment. This at a time when the attempt to physically liquidate the Kosovars was at its height. Then, in a cynical piece of evasion, Bernard explained how important it was to understand the difference between self-determination and independence and implied that the Kosovars might not want independence. Actually the amendment he was speaking against supported their right to independence, but in any case he was responding to an immensely important issue by retreating into pedantry and abstraction. The result, which he worked hard for, was that the first trade union conference after the outbreak of war was offered a "left-wing" policy which said nothing about the central question of the conflict - the national rights of the Kosovars. I think that is a disgrace - a good deal more worrying than the question of Bernard's reputation.
As it happens the events at NUT conference have been repeated up and down the country, and that brings me to the question of why we voted against STA affiliation to the Committee for Peace in the Balkans. The comrades from WL who attended the last STA national meeting were quite right to do that. I have also spoken and voted against support for the Leeds Committee at my union branch and will continue to do so while the so-called "anti-war" movement keeps its current character. The plain fact is that this campaign is not really anti-war at all, and is certainly not anti-imperialist. It is against NATO's war and NATO's imperialism but says nothing about Milosevic's war and Serb imperialism. Like many of my comrades, and those of other political organisations, I have attended anti-war meetings and argued that they should supplement their "Stop the bombings" slogan with clear, public support for the central victims in this conflict, theKosovar Albanians. I wouldn't find it so depressing if there had been an argument about how much priority to give this demand, whether it should have equal billing with anti-NATO slogans or be subordinate. No, what is appalling is that the very idea of championing Kosovar rights has been resisted ferociously throughout.
The lead role has been played by the SWP, whose record in this matter has been a disgraceful episode in their history. They have been helped by a more general culture which, it seems to me, is politically and morally corrupted. It is a culture with no consistent, positive programme on democratic and national rights, only a crude anti-imperialism. It is a moral world defined entirely by the need to negate its enemy rather than mobilise and educate new friends. The intellectual poverty of this culture has produced some grotesque spectacles in the course of this debate. I have now heard numerous "left-wingers" deny or question whether massacres have really occurred in Kosova. The SWP have put great effort into pedantic articles arguing that this is not strictly speaking genocide. The KLA is described as drug-running, criminal, Muslim fundamentalist and CIA-funded all at the same time. This, too, from people who understand all too well the variety of nationalist politics, semi-criminality and dodgy sources of weapons characteristic of virtually every national liberation movement. It is, in short, a dishonest, opportunist moral, intellectual and political worldview some have built for themselves. We want no part of it. We will give it no succour and we will continue to relate to it by way of merciless criticism, because that is the only way in which a serious thinking, critical socialist movement can be built.
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