Workers' Liberty #57  


Indictments Serbs condemned by Sheila Lahr
Workers' Liberty and eclecticism by David Finch
The Good Friday Agreement: Revolutionary realism or resolutionary surrealism? by Harry Holland

Serbs condemned

Having read articles in Workers' Liberty and also the leaflet you issued entitled "Kosova and the Moral Collapse of the Left", I am surprised that you do not call for solidarity between Serbian and Kosovar workers and peasants. Instead you appear to treat all Serbians as the baddies and all Kosovars as the goodies.

You rubbish the view that NATO bombing provoked ethnic cleansing by stating that "by the same token Churchill was to blame for ('provoked') the Holocaust". When one considers that the Tory government and press praised Hitler (and Mussolini) pre-World War 2 and Churchill was opposed to Jewish refugees coming to this country, only a limited number allowed in, there is irony in your statement. Churchill wanted refugees to be resettled in Africa. In 1940 Jewish refugees were whipped up and interned as a fifth column, a number being sent out to what were the Colonies. Everyone should know the story of the sinking of the Arandora Star by a U-boat, in which several hundred Jewish refugees and Italians resident in Britain died. So don't whitewash Churchill to me!

I cannot grasp your analogies between Lenin being sent by the Germans in World War One on a train to Russia, or the Irish nationalists purchasing arms from Germany during WWI, and the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo. During the bombing much of the infrastructure was destroyed, releasing chemicals into the atmosphere, depleted uranium was used and the Danube blocked by bombed bridges, this latter preventing surrounding countries using the river for trading purposes.

Surely socialists should call to all the workers and peasants of Yugoslavia to join hands in solidarity and not play the politics of the Great Powers or ambitious nationalists?

Sheila Lahr

Workers' Liberty and eclecticism

Eclecticism is the ability to select ideas from different philosophies and weld them together, even if the ideas oppose each other.

Patrick Murphy's letter in the Guardian of 11 June reminded me of this method of thinking. He sneeringly attacks the anti-war movement, does not condemn the bombing of Serbia and Kosova by NATO, but half-heartedly criticises them by saying "it was possible to give support to the Kosovans without putting any trust or confidence in NATO".

Workers' Liberty policies on the Kosovan crisis lack a class attitude. You regard the war as an inter-imperialist war whereas it was (and still is) a war of aggression by the major imperialist powers against an underdeveloped capitalist country with nationalist aspirations. Workers' Liberty's attitude to the criminal attacks on Serbia and Kosova is muted and contradictory to say the least. In a confused, nonsensical imaginary debate written by the aptly-named John Nihill (Workers' Liberty, April 1999) "Kate", a clear, Marxist comrade trained by Workers' Liberty, gives the correct line to "Tony" and "Linda" - obviously intended to be muddle-headed SWPers. Tony wants the left to demand "NATO out of the Balkans", but Kate puts him right: "This is the politics of the lunatic asylum." And again, "to side with the Serbs beggars belief. Yet, that is clearly what concentrating on denouncing NATO comes down to." However, we must receive our dose of eclecticism, because in the same article Kate says: "Of course, we are against the bombing." But as she wants "Milosevic to lose", she must mean she wants NATO to win, and furthermore, "If... they stop or even limit the slaughter and uprooting of the Kosovars I'll be glad of it."

So in fact Workers' Liberty implicitly does support the bombing, and thereby accepts the arguments of Blair et al that the destruction ("degrading" is the term used by NATO military) of Serbia and Kosova is for humanitarian aims.

One more aspect of Workers' Liberty's attitude. You support an organisation, set up on 20 May, called Trade Unions for Kosova. One of its draft aims is "to support Kosovar trade unions and trade unionists in rebuilding their organisations and the social infrastructure of their country". A noble aim. No socialist can possibly disagree.

But what about giving Serbian trade unions and trade unionists the same support? What about supporting the rebuilding of the Serbian infrastructure destroyed by NATO? Not a word. Instead: "To develop where possible contacts with trade unions and trade unionists in Serbia, Montenegro and throughout ex-Yugoslavia on the basis of opposition to ethnic cleansing and the promotion of working class solidarity" (my italics).

The implication is clear: the Serbian working class are contaminated by ideas of ethnic cleansing - but there is no mention of the KLA's attitude, either in the draft aims or in the April or June/July issues of Workers' Liberty. On the front page in April you have the slogan "Arm the Kosovars".

But nowhere in your many articles do you say which Kosovars are to be armed. Do you mean the KLA, and are NATO to arm them? Your silence is hardly surprising. The KLA is a shadowy organisation.

The omission of the need to help Serbian trade unions and the rebuilding of Serbia's infrastructure, and the omission of the programme and role of the KLA, is in line with the attitude of Blair and Clinton. They will give no economic aid to Serbia because they blame the Serbian people for Milosevic and his policies. Or rather, they use that argument as a pretext - just as they use the excuse of Saddam Hussein to starve the Iraqi people. Workers' Liberty is in good company.

Workers' Liberty loves quotations: here are two you've missed. The first is from Marx, where he explains that communists "are distinguished from the other working class parties" by two factors, of which the first is: "In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries they point out, and bring to the front, the common interests of the whole proletariat, interests independent of all nationality." (Communist Manifesto, 1848).

And even more to the point of this debate: "All advocacy of the segregation of the workers of one nation from those of another, all attacks upon Marxist 'assimilation' or attempts in matters concerning the proletariat to contrast one national culture as a whole with another allegedly integral national culture, and so forth, is bourgeois nationalism against which it is imperative to wage a ruthless struggle" (Lenin, Questions of National Policy and Proletarian Internationalism).

This fits the comrades in Workers' Liberty like a glove. Your attitude to the Serbian working class contrasts sharply with that to the Kosovan working class. But possibly I am being too generous in my implied characterisation of Patrick Murphy and his comrades as "bourgeois nationalists". Perhaps I should borrow the polemical terminology of Workers' Liberty itself, and characterise him as a Kosovan chetnik, in view of his silence on the ethnic cleansing of Serbs by the KLA.

David Finch

The Good Friday Agreement:

Revolutionary realism or resolutionary surrealism?

The question of deciding what is, or what is not, the correct response to questions of constitutional order arising in bourgeois states is difficult and complex. The reason is that they are embedded in and cannot be easily separated from a myriad of other problems.

In states such as Northern Ireland and the Lebanon working class politics are, for all practical purposes, buried in communal politics. Armed conflict between the communities closes off any immediate prospect of working class unity across the sectarian religious divide. Some agreement on constitutional questions, allowing the communities to live together, is a prerequisite for workers to unite in struggle against the capitalist class.

The question of constitutional order arose quite quickly after the February 1917 revolution in Russia. The words of any constitution are of themselves of only secondary or tertiary importance. What is decisive in any particular situation is the relationship of social forces. Notwithstanding this, once the project to set up a Constitutional Assembly was under way, Marxists, while not spreading illusions about the ultimate worth of constitutions, had an obligation to keep alive the project. They saw it as important to resist any attempt by bourgeois forces to shunt aside constitution-making, or relegate it to the distant future. It was possible in certain future conditions that a Constituent Assembly could provide an arena within which the Bolsheviks could usefully combat the class enemy. In other words, the Bolsheviks, while sticking to basic principles regarding constitution-making, saw the vital importance of a tactical orientation which took account of the urgent, immediate interests of their class.

In his History of the Russian Revolution Trotsky says:

"But the Bolsheviks also, although finding no way out on the road of formal democracy, had not yet renounced the idea of the Constituent Assembly. Moreover they could not do so without abandoning revolutionary realism. Whether the future course of events would create the conditions for a complete victory of the proletariat could not with absolute certainty be foreseen. Exactly as the Bolsheviks defended the compromisist soviets and the democratic municipalities against Kornilov, so they were ready to defend the Constituent Assembly against the attempts of the bourgeoisie" (History of the Russian Revolution, Vol 2, p343, Ann Arbor, italics added).

(It should be noted that the bourgeoisie, through its main party, the Constitutional Democrats (KADETS), had no desire to proceed with constitution-making until the important business of crushing the Bolsheviks had been brought to a successful conclusion. Hence on this question it dragged its feet before October.)

The Bolsheviks for their part concentrated all their efforts on winning over those workers and peasants who had initially supported the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries in the Soviets. After their successful seizure of power in October the Bolsheviks saw no point in debating the finer points of constitution-making with the representatives of parties who were either open bourgeois enemies or Compromisist "Left" parties, discredited in the eyes of the workers. They squashed bourgeois efforts to convene the Constituent Assembly and create a focus for armed rebellion against Soviet power.

The analogy from the February-October period in 1917 is of course not exactly "on all fours" with the situation existing in the run-up to the Irish referendum. The question of setting up the Constituent Assembly was, for example, never posed to the Russian people as a Yes-No referendum proposition. Nonetheless the stance taken in the Bolshevik press, to win over the hearts and minds of the rank and file members of the Compromisist parties, has considerable relevance.

It is in this connection that Trotsky's reference to the parallelism between the Bolshevik party's exemplary attitude to a working class United Front aimed at rebuffing Kornilov's threatened assault on Petrograd, and its position vis--vis the question of the Constituent Assembly is germane to recent Irish events.

The Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionary parties' grovelling support for the policy of continuing the imperialist war, and all the other major policies of the KADETS, objectively marked them out as enemies of the proletariat and the peasantry. The Bolsheviks knew that the leaderships of these parties, and the parties themselves, would likely suffer the same fate as the Bolsheviks, if Kornilov's forces succeeded in conquering Petrograd. When lackeys, traitors and muddleheads cease to have any use for the ruling class, why should a victorious general, acting for the bourgeoisie, handle them gently? Nor was this point lost on the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries themselves. They accepted the Bolshevik proposals to set up joint defence committees. Kornilov and his forces were then easily rebuffed.

In Ireland, so long as Sinn Fein emphasised military struggle to attain its goals of ending the Orange ascendancy, attaining overall Irish unity etc., it was paradoxically doing the very thing that would frustrate its own aspirations. In one sense it could be argued that in the present period Marxists should not give even critical support to proposals likely to benefit a party that had for so long propagated the crassest nationalistic illusions. Such would, however, be a thoroughly superficial view. In the same way as the Russian Bolsheviks sought to win away rank and file support for the traitorous or muddleheaded "Left" parties, by initiating joint activity around the Kornilov threat and doing the same thing on the Constituent Assembly issue, a Marxist approach in Ireland, prior to the referendum, would have been to support the Yes vote sought by Sinn Fein, while setting out all the possible dangers inherent in so doing.

The Bloxam-Murphy position [see WL54] additionally was absolutely correct in pointing out that Sinn Fein in the very recent past had, implicitly at least, shifted away from its former dead-end militarism, and this combined with shifts in the Unionist camp created an opening that should have been seized with both hands.

If there was even a slight possibility that an Irish constitutional reordering, resulting from a Yes vote, would over time "drain away the sectarian poisons" in Northern Ireland, then Marxists everywhere should have supported the Yes vote critically.

Both the WL Conference majority and the Bloxam-Murphy resolution refer to lesser-evilism. It is unfortunate that the pithy capsule character of the term "lesser-evilism" has no positive counterpart. It is time one was invented. If we posit the expression "greater-goodism" and apply it to the Irish referendum question, it is clear that the essence of the issue is reframed, and it becomes a useful demystifier. The ultimate re-establishment of working class unity, or a near approximation to it, by ending forever dead-end militarism, would be a "good" which would produce incalculable benefits for the proletariat of Northern Ireland. Of course in the here and now it is a potentiality only, and that would have to be spelled out. What, on the other hand is the "good" that flows from abstention that can be set against possible future proletarian unity?

It is, we suppose, a "good" that some simple souls, incapable of looking beyond a banner headline "Vote Yes", would not have their illusions fostered. Every one of the sensible caveats and qualifications could have been set out in summary form in any agitational material promoted by Marxists.

It is worthwhile to compare the "abstention" recommendation in the referendum on British entry into the Common Market, with the same plea, if we suppose that it had been made, regarding the Irish referendum.

In the first case it was absolutely correct to stress that if Britain went into Europe, or if she stayed out, the consequences for the British working class would have been equally bad. In a beauty contest between a rattlesnake and a tarantula, the extreme ugliness of both contestants rules out even the possibility of a choice.

For the reasons explained above, in the Irish referendum there was on the other hand an infinitely greater "good" (in potential at least) that could be set against a markedly lesser "good" on the other.

The WL majority says "Voting 'Yes' to this British state project was wrong in principle". This statement seems to us to fall into the error of "putting a plus where the foe puts a minus, and a minus where he puts a plus". In the vast generality of cases the brains behind the ruling class state will, within the limits of their understanding, promote whatever is to the detriment of the long term interests of the working class. We must acknowledge that generally throughout the world they have been extraordinarily astute in assessing the vulnerabilities of the exploited classes, and promoting their own interests against them. There have, however, been exceptions which go to show that the class enemy is not all-wise on every occasion. When in 1917 the German military High Command agreed to transport Lenin from Switzerland across Germany in a sealed train, so that he could return to Russia, it correctly calculated that this dangerous agitator could assist in deepening the revolution and might possibly contribute to knocking Russia out of the war. In the short term they were proved right, but in the long term things turned out badly for them. Bolshevik fraternisation with war-weary German soldiers in the end led to the collapse of German armies on the Western front and the end of Imperial Germany.

The actions of hostile state machines must in every instance be looked at in their own terms. Simplistic rule of thumb formulas must be ruled out.

Long live Revolutionary Realism!

Harry Holland, New Zealand

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