Barbarism in the New World Order

NATO’s "Humanitarian" Terrorism

The following is an edited version of a talk given by Tom Riley at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario on 12 June 1999.

Following NATO’s victory in Kosovo, the situation in the Balkans is bleak. We are not partisans of Slobodan Milosevic or his regime, but we defended the Yugoslavs against the imperialists’ “humanitarian” terror bombing. The attack on Yugoslavia was not motivated by any concern about the suffering of the Kosovar Albanians. Every class-conscious worker can only bitterly regret NATO’s victory.

We begin our analysis with the recognition that the imperialist powers can never, under any circumstances, play a politically progressive role in the semi-colonial world. Yet it is also important to understand why the NATO powers acted as they did. We can identify three factors at work here. Firstly, the wish to “stabilize” a potentially explosive area of Europe; secondly, the desire to punish an insufficiently obedient (i.e., “rogue”) regime and extend imperialist control in the former Soviet bloc; and finally, each of the major NATO powers (particularly the U.S. and Germany) used the confrontation with Milosevic to pursue its own (often divergent) agenda and maneuver for position against each other.

In imperialist military adventures, truth is always the first casualty, and so it has been in the propaganda war against Serbia. The campaign to demonize the Serbs has systematically glossed over the fact that the vicious communalism on all sides is a direct result of the victory of the “Free World” over “communism” and a predictable by-product of capitalist restoration in the former Yugoslav deformed workers’ state. During World War II, the Yugoslav Stalinists, under Tito, built a base in all the ethnic communities, through an aggressively anti-sectarian policy. Everyone knew that any soldier in Tito’s army who killed or raped a civilian would be shot, regardless of the nationality of either the victim or the perpetrator. On that basis, the Yugoslav Communists built a movement that successfully resisted the Nazis and smashed the grip of the traditional communalist elites. The destruction of the Yugoslav deformed workers’ state resulted in an explosion of ethnic and national hatreds.

While the media has been treating “ethnic cleansing” as something peculiar to Serbs, the worst single instance of this barbaric practice was the forcible eviction of a quarter of a million Serbs from Croatia. Of course, this was carried out with NATO’s connivance, so it is generally ignored by the capitalist media.

Milosevic sits atop a very unstable bonapartist, capitalist-restorationist regime. Through much of the 1990s, Yugoslavia was regarded favorably by NATO as one of the few powers in the region with enough muscle to maintain “order.” Where possible, this kind of work is subcontracted to local strongmen, thus avoiding the costly overheads and political headaches that come with maintaining foreign garrisons. Those who show too much independence from their masters can sometimes have the rug pulled from beneath them as Saddam Hussein discovered a decade ago.

In the 1980s, Hussein’s regime had been regarded as an important pillar of stability in the Persian Gulf, which is why the U.S., Britain, Canada and other imperialists were indifferent to Hussein’s various crimes—including the mass murder of Kurdish villagers with poison gas. But a few years later, when Big Oil’s control in the Middle East was threatened by the Iraqi incursion into Kuwait, Hussein suddenly became a menace to civilization, and the papers were full of “eyewitness” lies about 550 Kuwaiti babies being dumped out of incubators by the Iraqis. It was later revealed that the whole thing was a cynical invention, but it served its purpose in whipping up popular support for a “UN” war on Iraq. The half million children who have died in Iraq as a direct result of the U.S./UN embargo on food and medicine are, unlike the imaginary Kuwaiti babies, simply not “newsworthy.”

Like Hussein, Milosevic is no anti-imperialist—he aspires to the role of imperialist underboss, perhaps one day gaining entry to the European Union and even NATO. The U.S./UN made a deal with Milosevic to end the conflict in Bosnia—he was given a free hand in Kosovo in exchange for getting the Bosnian Serbs to accept the Dayton “peace” settlement. But that was then—this is now.

Before NATO could launch its “humanitarian” assault, domestic public opinion had to be softened up. The New York Times and the rest of the semi-official news organs took up this challenge and began churning out a barrage of human-interest stories about the plight of Kosovo’s Albanians, along with suitable background pieces tracing the history of the conflict. What’s interesting is that almost all of them began with Milosevic’s rise in 1987 as a Serb chauvinist. The [New York] Times is at least candid enough to proclaim on its masthead: “all the news that fits.” And suddenly one of the things that did not “fit” was that the Albanians have not been the only victims of ethnic violence over the years. In 1912, 40 percent of Kosovo’s population was Serbian—today it is less than 10 percent. This is only partly due to differential birth rates; it also reflects pressure on the Serbs from Albanian communalists as the New York Times had itself reported in the past. In 1982, for example, there was an account of the repercussions of an attempt by Albanian communalists to set a 12-year-old Serbian boy on fire:

“Such incidents have prompted many of Kosovo’s Slavic inhabitants to flee the province, thereby helping to fulfill a nationalist demand for an ethnically 'pure' Albanian Kosovo. The latest Belgrade estimate is that 20,000 Serbs and Montenegrins have left Kosovo for good since the 1981 riots.”
New York Times, 9 November 1982

Ethnically pure! A few weeks later a similar story appeared:

“There have been almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovo’s remaining indigenous Slavs—Serbs and Montenegrins—out of the province.”
— 28 November 1982

Five years later, another article reported:

“Ethnic Albanians in the Government have manipulated public funds and regulations to take over land belonging to Serbs....Slavic Orthodox churches have been attacked, and flags have been torn down. Wells have been poisoned and crops burned. Slavic boys have been knifed and some young ethnic Albanians have been told by their elders to rape Serbian girls....

“As Slavs flee the protracted violence, Kosovo is becoming what ethnic Albanian nationalists have been demanding for years, and especially strongly since the bloody rioting by ethnic Albanians in Pristina in 1981—an 'ethnically pure' Albanian region, a 'Republic of Kosovo' in all but name.”
— 1 November 1987

The most recent report of this sort that I have come across appeared less than a year ago, i.e., after Milosevic launched his campaign to eradicate the KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army]. The title of the article was “Rebel Terror Forcing Minority Serbs Out of Kosovo”:

“After a wave of kidnappings and terror, which foreign diplomats and human rights workers say is part of the strategy of ethnic Albanian rebels, the Smigics [a Serbian family whose ancestral home was torched] and nearly every ethnic Serbian family that lived in areas controlled by the rebels have fled or disappeared. More than 80 Serbian civilians are missing, and human rights workers believe that they have been killed.”

. . .

“Dotted around the territory dominated by ethnic Albanian rebels are dozens of villages and small towns where a few Serbs lived until the kidnappings started in April [1998], weeks after a police crackdown on rebel forces swelled ethnic Albanians’ support for armed revolt....

“That caused such alarm that most Serbs in rebel areas left, human rights workers say.”
New York Times, 31 August 1998

Similar accounts appeared in other papers, but today all of this is shoved down the memory hole as the “free press” dutifully assumes responsibility for demonizing the Serbs. It’s not only the Americans who have short memories. Right up to the time that NATO commenced bombing, the German government’s official position was that there was no credible evidence of persecution of Albanians in Kosovo. The “International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms” in a 29 April 1999 press release observed that:

“Until mid-March 1999, just a few days before the start of NATO’s air attacks against Yugoslavia, Joschka Fischer’s Foreign Ministry constantly stated in its status reports and official intelligence information produced for asylum hearings: 'Even in Kosovo an explicit political persecution linked to Albanian ethnicity is not verifiable'....However, since the NATO countries’ air war, begun on March 24, 1999, had to be justified before German public opinion and the Bundestag, the Foreign Ministry spoke of 'genocide,' 'deportations,' and 'ethnic cleansing,' practiced by the Milosevic regime against Kosovo-Albanians not just since the war’s beginning, but as having preceded the NATO attack for a considerable time.”

The German government was lying in both cases—Milosevic’s regime had been persecuting the Albanians for over a decade, but there was no “genocide.”

The KLA: "A Popular Uprising Waiting to Happen"

In early 1998, the KLA is estimated to have had only a few hundred members. According to the current issue of Foreign Affairs [May-June 1999], they first appeared in public in November 1997 at the funeral of an Albanian schoolteacher killed by Serbs. A few months later, on 23 February 1998, Bill Clinton’s special envoy to the Balkans, Robert Gelbard, made his famous pronouncement in Pristina that the KLA “is without any question a terrorist group” and that the U.S. “condemns very strongly terrorist activities in Kosovo.”

Belgrade took this as a green light to crack down on the KLA. Two weeks later, Serb security forces surrounded the farm of the Jashari clan near Prekaz, in central Kosovo, an area where the KLA had its deepest roots. Fifty-one people were killed—including women and children—some of whom were executed in cold blood. The Yugoslav authorities had hoped that killing Adem and Hamza Jashari, two brothers who were among the KLA’s best known leaders, would deal a fatal blow to the insurgency. But instead, the massacre produced an explosion of popular anger that transformed the KLA almost overnight from a marginal guerrilla fringe to a mass political movement.

The September 1998 issue of Foreign Affairs described the KLA as a “blend of terrorist organization, a guerrilla force, and a popular uprising waiting to happen, which fights for the unity of all Albanians in the Balkans.” By early 1998, the KLA had:

“built close ties or melded with much of Rugova’s League of Democratic Kosovo (LDK) [previously politically hegemonic among Kosovo’s Albanians]. It was no coincidence that once the rebellion erupted a year ago, local LDK leaders immediately picked up weapons and became commanders of village units. By the time of the uprising, Rugova had lost control of his own party.”
Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999

In the summer of 1998, as the KLA emerged as the recognized political leadership of the Kosovar Albanians, Washington changed its signals: the “green light” for Milosevic turned to “red.” When Belgrade ignored American instructions, the most pointed of which was issued in October 1998, the U.S. decided that its own “credibility” required that Milosevic be taught a lesson. The Rambouillet “negotiations” were to provide the pretext.

Rambouillet "Peace" Plan

The Rambouillet Agreement was written so that Belgrade could not approve it—one of the many facts that didn’t “fit” the picture the New York Times and the rest of the American mainstream media were painting. Since the Serb capitulation a week ago, there have been reports about how the State Department had told journalists, at the time, that the bar had quite deliberately been set “too high” for Belgrade. Among other things that were not reported at the time was a demand that NATO be given control of the Yugoslav media, as well as the right to virtually occupy Serbia.

Milosevic could not possibly accept such terms, but he was quite ready to make concessions. At Rambouillet, the Serbs proposed a settlement very similar to the one that NATO has now imposed. The U.S. wouldn’t agree because the Serbs first “needed bombing.”

The whole provocation almost came apart when the KLA suddenly refused to go along:

“After two days of nonstop talks, Madeleine Albright, the U.S. secretary of State, phoned Adem Demaci, an obscure ex-novelist with Coke-bottle glasses who last year emerged as the political power behind the ragtag Kosovo Liberation Army. Albright asked Demaci not to block a NATO-backed agreement giving Kosovo limited autonomy. But Demaci, who had refused to attend the talks, insisted on full independence. He curtly told Albright that a phone call couldn’t solve such a 'bloody and serious' problem. Then he hung up. 'Basically he stiffed her,' says one U.S. official. 'Here is the greatest nation on earth pleading with some nothing-balls to do something that is entirely in their own interest—which is to say yes to an interim agreement—and they defy us.'"

“....Demaci’s refusal upset the key U.S. strategy at the Rambouillet talks. A Kosovar 'yes' would have shifted the pressure to Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, who was resisting the idea of NATO troops as guarantors of Kosovo’s autonomy....

“Rambouillet was yet another lesson in how an indecisive superpower can be humiliated by a small, determined foe. Albright, traveling on to China this week, was described as exhausted. She told friends that it was the worst experience she’d ever been through. 'She is so stung by what happened,' said a close associate.”
Newsweek, 8 March 1999

"Humanitarian" Terrorism

Imperialist “humanitarianism” is always and everywhere a cynical charade. The supposed “catastrophe” that impelled NATO’s attack had produced 2,000 fatalities in Kosovo in the preceding year (300 Serbs—mostly cops and soldiers—and 1,700 Albanians, mostly civilians). NATO’s bombing campaign has certainly killed at least that many in a matter of months—mostly Serb civilians, but also at least a few hundred Albanians.

Two thousand deaths in a year is not something the Western media normally bothers to report if it takes place in Colombia or Sri Lanka. The Turkish government, a full-fledged member of NATO, was among the chorus of neo-colonial vassals feigning outrage at Milosevic’s misdeeds, secure in the knowledge that no one on Pennsylvania Avenue or Downing Street was worried about the fact that the Turkish military’s campaign against the Kurds has killed at least 40,000, destroyed thousands of villages and created a million refugees. No pictures of this in the papers, no television coverage, no government declarations. In 1975, none of the world’s great “democracies” were much concerned when Suharto’s rightist Indonesian regime, a major imperialist asset at the time, killed 200,000 people in East Timor (about a fifth of the population). There are lots of other examples where the scale of state repression against civilians far exceeded what was going on in Kosovo while the NATO “humanitarians” sat by with folded arms. As Noam Chomsky aptly commented, such measures are only treated as criminal when they are committed by “officially-designated enemies.”

Throughout this recent campaign, President Clinton and the other NATO war criminals endlessly repeated that the Serbian people were not their enemy. But the deliberate destruction of the civilian infrastructure of Yugoslavia—bridges, factories, refineries, power stations, water-pumping stations, schools, hospitals, houses and apartment buildings—tells a different story. Western news outlets dutifully reported NATO’s claim that Serbia’s television stations had been destroyed because they were broadcasting “propaganda.” No one knows the extent of the “collateral” ecological damage inflicted on the region, but it is safe to say that in the years to come, many thousands more civilians, both Serb and Albanian, will die as a consequence of NATO’s “humanitarian” assault.

This campaign has been a disaster for everyone concerned, except NATO, which has not only preserved its precious credibility, but enhanced it, by asserting its “right” to intervene anytime and any place it chooses. But even the servile media hacks and B-52 liberals who endorsed NATO’s Kosovo adventure are sceptical about talk of a new “Marshall Plan” to rebuild the region after the bombing. Yugoslavia will get a blockade and Kosovo an open-ended imperialist occupation. The 30,000 NATO troops already garrisoned in Bosnia are to be joined by another 50,000 in Kosovo. This may be enough to keep the lid on, at least for a while, but it changes nothing fundamental in the equation.

The 4 June 1999 New York Times was already worrying that the “real difficulties” for NATO’s army of occupation in Kosovo are not likely to come from Serbs, but “from the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has received NATO support and is unlikely to give up its ambitions for independence.” The imperialist powers don’t support independence for Kosovo, because they fear that changing one border in the region could set off a chain reaction with Albanians in Macedonia, Greeks in Albania, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia, Hungarians in Romania and various other national and ethnic minorities, all seeking to assert their own conflicting territorial claims.

The nationalist and ethnic rivalries in the Balkans are overlaid with significant divisions within NATO, most clearly reflected in the differences between the U.S./British axis on the one hand and the Germans, Italians and, to some extent, the French on the other, over the proper mix of military versus diplomatic pressure. (As usual, the Canadian bourgeoisie played no role beyond automatically endorsing any and all proposals advanced by its American senior partner.)

U.S. policy in the region is designed to advance a series of overlapping strategic objectives. In the first place, U.S. policy-makers want to prevent an explosion in the Balkans that could ultimately destabilize Europe. They are also intent on maintaining America’s pivotal role in European affairs while seeking to extend U.S. leverage within what was formerly a Soviet zone of influence.

NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia would not have occurred 15 or even 10 years ago. Like the attack on Iraq in 1991, it is part of the “peace dividend” resulting from the imperialist victory in the Cold War. It is the latest in a series of low-risk imperialist military attacks on “rogue” neo-colonial regimes. To date, these adventures have unfortunately not had serious military or political consequences for the aggressors, but even so, important elements in the imperialist brain trust are questioning the wisdom of resorting to the big stick so frequently. Samuel Huntington (a big-name Harvard foreign policy wonk) was recently fretting in Foreign Affairs that the U.S. was increasingly seen in much of the world as a “rogue” superpower. Henry Kissinger has also expressed concern that Washington’s new “uni- lateralism” may ultimately destabilize the imperialist world order. The Republican right in Congress picked up on this in initially opposing Clinton’s policy, but its main objection was that the U.S. did not have enough at stake to warrant the expense and potential risks.

Many liberals who disapproved of NATO’s intervention did so on the grounds that it should have been carried out by the United Nations, like “Desert Storm” in 1991. For Marxists, the question of which imperialist agency officially sponsors an assault is a matter of indifference—we are every bit as opposed to UN attacks on Iraq as to NATO aggression against Yugoslavia. The dispute over UN involvement is significant only to the extent that it reveals tensions within NATO.

Tony Blair is clearly just as enthusiastic about backing U.S. policy as Margaret Thatcher or John Major were, but the rest of the European Union powers have evinced concern about the long-term consequences of slapping around Russia’s traditional allies in the Balkans. Yeltsin’s humiliation in Kosovo has clearly fueled anti-U.S. sentiment at home—and the Russian seizure of the Pristina airport yesterday has to be seen in this context.

Initially Italy, Greece and even France were pushing the U.S. to get UN authorization, but the White House insisted on the “principle” of NATO’s right to act independently. Greece and Italy have substantial political exposure in the region and, potentially, a considerable economic interest in Yugoslavia. The German bourgeoisie is growing visibly less enthusiastic about following the U.S.—as far as they are concerned, the Balkans is a German sphere of influence, rather than an American one. German imperialism has traditionally taken an interest in the mineral wealth of northern Kosovo.

NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia represents an assertion by the American colossus of its “right” to do what it wants, when it wants, without regard to the UN Charter or other scraps of paper. Madeleine Albright, U.S. Secretary of State boasted:

“'If we have to use force, it is because we are America,' she said. 'We stand tall. We see further in the future.'”
— quoted in The Nation, 7 June 1999

At present the U.S. has sufficient military and economic clout to compel its allies to go along with its overseas adventures. Whatever their misgivings, they too have a stake in preserving the “credibility” of NATO, and in forcibly reminding stroppy neo-colonial rulers like Milosevic that their first responsibility is to the metropolitan banks and multinationals.

Geo-Strategic Considerations

Recently, in a special 75th anniversary issue, Foreign Affairs, the premier journal of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment, considered how American supremacy could best be secured. One of the more interesting contributions was from Josef Joffe, of Süddeutsche Zeitung, who drew a parallel between U.S. foreign policy in the 1990s and Germany’s in the late 19th century. In both cases, the object was to become the hub in a series of alliances with each of its major allies and/or rivals. German policy under Bismarck was, of course, limited to continental Europe, whereas the U.S. operates around the globe. In both cases, however, the strategic objective was to incline each of the lesser powers to seek cooperation with the dominant power, rather than to combine against it.

An accompanying article by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s former national security chief, provided an example of this approach. American policy, he wrote, should aim to ensure that “no state or combination of states gains the ability to expel the United States or even diminish its decisive role” in Eurasia. Brzezinski suggested that NATO provided a lever for the U.S. to ensure that West European development:

“will expand the range of American influence without simultaneously creating a Europe so politically integrated that it could challenge the United States on matters of geopolitical importance, particularly in the Middle East.”

One region that is assuming greater “geopolitical importance” these days is formerly Soviet Central Asia. The newly discovered oil and gas fields of the Caspian Basin are not yet subject to a great deal of discussion in the popular media, but they figure increasingly in the calculations of all the imperialist powers. The existence of oil in the region (particularly around Baku) has been known since the time of the Tsar, but recently the multinational oil corporations have discovered that the reserves are far larger than previously estimated. Some reports suggest there may be as much oil in this region as in Saudi Arabia.

Moscow regrets Yeltsin’s decision to grant independence to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and the Kremlin has been using its considerable influence in an attempt to regain control. The U.S., under the guise of promoting “pluralism” and “democracy” in the region, is seeking to help the American oil majors extend their stranglehold on this vital strategic resource.

The first act in this developing struggle is being played out over pipeline routes. The U.S. is pushing for a route that avoids Iranian and Russian territory, even though the distances (and thus costs) involved in going through more “reliable” states are considerably greater. The Russians, Iranians and many of the oil companies (which will have to pick up the tab) naturally favor the more direct route.

The intervention against Serbia advances the U.S. objective of expanding its influence in the former Soviet bloc and establishes an important precedent for future NATO “out of theater” interventions. The hypocritical moralism about stopping ethnic cleansing in Kosovo could be useful for future interventions in similar conflicts in the Caspian Basin, a point that Bill Clinton made in his 15 April [1999] speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors (a relatively sophisticated audience):

“Much of the former Soviet Union faces a similar challenge [to Kosovo], including Ukraine and Moldova, Southern Russia, the Caucasus nations of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, [and] the new nations of Central Asia....

. . .

“The potential for ethnic conflict became, perhaps, the greatest threat to what is among our most critical interests, the transition of the former communist countries toward stability, prosperity and freedom. We are in Kosovo because we care about saving lives and we care about the character of the multiethnic post-Cold War world.”

In other words: we want the oil!

Kosovo and the Left

The duty of revolutionaries in this recent conflict was clear: to oppose NATO’s criminal aggression and defend Serbia. We wanted to see “our own” side defeated. Regrettably, things turned out differently.

Some left groups (like the born-again British Shachtmanites of Sean Matgamna’s Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) aped the social democrats, and supported NATO on the grounds of defending poor little Kosovo. Most fake-Trotskyist groups in the imperialist countries did not go quite so far—instead they adopted a social-pacifist “anti-war” position. For example, Tony Cliff’s International Socialist tendency raised calls to “Stop the Bombing!” and “Stop This Madness!” But NATO’s attack was not a misguided or irrational act—on the contrary, it was clearly calculated to serve imperialist interests.

The Cliffites’ slogans were tailored to their objective of building a “mass movement.” Since big anti-war movements tend to have liberal politics, at least in the beginning, the International Socialists (IS) thought that by adopting liberal slogans, they would soon find themselves at the head of a mass movement. But politics is not so simple—instead of attracting liberals to the IS, this opportunist political adaptation only taught young ISers to respond to predatory imperialist wars like liberal pacifists.

The response of the United Secretariat (USec) was somewhat worse. Its leading section, the French Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), scandalously suggested that the imperialist Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should be conducting operations rather than NATO! This contemptible social-imperialist reflex, reflecting the anti-Americanism of a wing of the French ruling class, speaks volumes about how far Alaine Krivine and the rest of the LCR leadership have traveled since the heady days of 1968.

Here in Canada, the USec affiliate (Socialist Action) characterized NATO’s attack as an “imperialist intervention” and called for “Hands Off Yugoslavia.” But their main concern was to appeal to the labor bureaucracy and NDP [New Democratic Party— Canada’s right-wing social democracy], both of which fulsomely supported NATO’s aggression, to:

“call on the government of Canada to immediately break from NATO’s war in the Balkans and act concretely to support the self-determination of the people of Kosovo by granting political and material support to the KLA.”
— Socialist Action statement, March 1999

There was no need to break with NATO to provide “material support” to its auxiliaries! Apart from that peculiar bit of confusionism, we find the Socialist Action comrades seeking, as usual, to pressure the Canadian bourgeoisie to adopt an anti-imperialist policy. This is a standard reformist response to all bad things. The NDP adopted a similar stance during the Vietnam War. In those days, Socialist Action’s forerunners in the USec called for defeating imperialism. Today the NDP openly supports imperialist aggression, while the USec calls on the NDP to call on the imperialists not to be imperialists.

The prize for the most confusionist position has to go to the British Workers Power group [leading section of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International—LRCI] who claim to side with the Yugoslavs militarily against NATO except in Kosovo! In Kosovo they called for “the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Yugoslav forces...from Kosovo.” This amounts to a call for a NATO victory, which, unfortunately, we now have.

The LRCI was not worried about the KLA’s subordination to NATO, and proclaimed that the KLA has “the right to take any military advantage they can from the NATO bombing campaign” [LRCI International Secretariat statement 16 May 1999]. The KLA exercised this “right” by calling in NATO air strikes! Camouflaging their position with tongue-clucking about the KLA’s “adventurist attempt to draw NATO into Kosovo,” the LRCI statement flatly denied that the KLA operated as an auxiliary of NATO “despite the [KLA’s] recent cooperation in Kosovo with the British SAS”!

The Spartacist League (SL), to its credit, took a Yugoslav defensist position, but it made a rather peculiar flip-flop on the KLA that it seems unwilling or unable to either explain or justify. The 3 July 1998 Workers Vanguard (WV) reported that “defense ministers in Washington and European capitals are openly mooting plans for air strikes against Serb-dominated Yugoslavia” and “posing as champions of 'human rights' in Kosovo.” The SL denounced the imperialist axis and declared:

“We defend the right of the Albanian-populated areas of Kosovo to self-determination—that is, the right to secede from the Serb-chauvinist regime in Belgrade.”

Fair enough, although we would note that unlike Quebec today, where it is sufficient to defend the right of self-determination, by 1998, relations between the Serbs and Kosovo’s oppressed Albanian majority were so poisoned that it was necessary to call for immediate separation.

A few months later, when Serbia was once again threatened with NATO air strikes, the SL wrote:

“As we go to press, the threat of a massive bombing and missile assault by 16 NATO powers still hangs over the people of Serbia and the southern province of Kosovo. After mobilizing an armada of more than 400 military aircraft, Washington has now announced a ten-day postponement of any military assault to allow for a promised withdrawal of Serb police and army units.”
Workers Vanguard, 23 October 1998

The article reiterated the SL’s earlier position on independence for Kosovo:

“We defend the right of self-determination—that is, the right to secede from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia—for the Albanian-populated areas of Kosovo, so long as the separatist struggle is not subordinated to direct military intervention by the imperialists.”

A few months later, in the 5 February 1999 issue, WV abruptly changed its position without offering any explanation. Dropping the correct criterion they had outlined previously, the SL leadership announced that they no longer sided with the oppressed Albanians in Kosovo in their struggle against their Serb overlords:

“Today, to call for self-determination for the Kosovar Albanians can only be a cover for support to imperialist intervention.”

Nothing essential changed between October and February. NATO was still threatening Belgrade, but had not yet attacked. Nor was the KLA’s separatist struggle any more “subordinated” to the Western imperialists than it had been previously, as its intransigence at Rambouillet the next month [March 1999] demonstrated. The Spartacist League has consistently declined to offer any explanation for its change in position, so we can only presume that, as in previous abrupt flip-flops, the SL’s el supremo, James Robertson, simply changed his mind.

The Internationalist Group (IG), which emerged from the SL in 1996, tends to avoid any serious discussion of the origins of the once-revolutionary SL’s political degeneration. This reluctance is partially explained by considerations of prestige, as most of the important milestones in this transformation were passed while the IGers were SL members. The IG, which remains very much under the influence of its parent, only went into print on the KLA after the SL’s flip-flop, and “solved” the thorny problem of Kosovo independence with an assertion that the KLA was never anything other than a gang of imperialist spies and provocateurs. Their “proof” was a bit thin: reports of KLA leaders driving “expensive brand-new 4X4 all-terrain vehicles,” wearing “German uniforms” and possessing “high-power German arms” (see: Internationalist No. 7). I wonder how the IG evaluates the attempts of James Connolly and his Citizen Army in Dublin in 1916 to get their hands on some “high-power German arms”?

There can be no doubt the KLA had a range of unsavory connections—German intelligence, CIA, bandits, Islamists and drug dealers. (They also had an attenuated link to Enver Hoxha’s Stalinist regime!) And there is also no doubt that they took whatever equipment they could get from the Germans and anyone else, although most of their weaponry came from Albanian arsenals looted during last year’s popular uprising. But, unlike the Afghan mujahedin, prior to NATO’s air assaults, the KLA got very little from the imperialists—certainly nothing to counter Serb helicopters, tanks and artillery.

The KLA are certainly nasty petty-bourgeois nationalists—but it just so happens that they have been embraced by the masses of the oppressed Albanians in Kosovo. The issue for Marxists is whether (or rather, when) the KLA became subordinated to the imperialists, and that is a concrete question.

At the beginning of the conflict, the KLA had no anti-tank weapons or other means to effectively resist the Yugoslav Army’s armoured units, which is why they were so easily driven out of their base areas. The decisive change in the relationship between the KLA and the NATO butchers occurred during the early weeks of the conflict and was closely reported in the British press as we documented [see 1917 No. 21].

Marxism and Anti-Imperialism

Almost all the labor bureaucracies and reformist leftists in the imperialist countries sided with their own masters in this brutal war. Unfortunately, the imperialist alliance suffered minimal casualties. We deeply regret that at least a few, or preferably all, the [Canadian] CF-18 pirates involved in this criminal aggression were not shot out of the sky. Of course we are not narrow nationalists and so we also wish that the same fate had befallen the other participants in NATO’s war of aggression, particularly Britain and the U.S., the two most gung-ho. We well recall how Ronald Reagan’s attempt to establish a U.S. garrison in the Middle East in the early 1980s was abruptly terminated by an Islamic Jihad truck bomb. This was a serious blow to imperialism, and one that revolutionaries defended. Similarly, when U.S. Rangers took some casualties in Somalia in 1993, it was enough to force Clinton to pull out the rest of his troops. This too was a welcome event for anti-imperialists.

The Clinton administration was acutely conscious of the limits of its popular support, and succeeded in keeping casualties extremely low among NATO’s killer elites. Within the imperialist countries, domestic support for NATO’s “humanitarian” terror-bombing was very shallow even if, at times, it appeared broad. Despite the fact that U.S. polls showed support declining steadily as the murderous campaign continued, protests did not spread beyond the organized left and expatriate Serbs.

We look forward to the day when masses of working people in the imperialist countries understand that their interests are diametrically counterposed to those of their rulers and, as a consequence, begin to actively solidarize with the victims of imperialist aggression. Such a class conscious layer within the working class can only develop through sharp political struggle to expose the social patriotism pushed by the labor misleadership. The International Bolshevik Tendency seeks to carry forward the best traditions of the Marxist movement and help develop the program and analysis necessary to forge an internationalist proletarian party capable of leading all the victims of the “new world order” in the struggle for revolutionary justice.

1917 no.22: May 2000