Issue 232 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July/August 1999 Copyright Socialist Review


Reactionary, but not fascist

Mike Wayne argues that Yugoslavia is fascist (Letters, June SR) and that the only differences between Milosevic and Hitler are 'about scale and size, not category'. I think he is profoundly wrong. In labelling all conservative or reactionary governments as fascist, he obscures the truly barbaric forces in the current war.
Fascism is a political movement that emerges outside the capitalist state. Despite offering reactionary solutions to social crises, including the crushing of the workers' movement and the destruction of all forms of opposition, fascism grows through populist and anti-capitalist rhetoric which enables it to win large numbers of ordinary people to its side.
Both in Italy and Germany, fascists built parties with hundreds of thousands of members, including small owners, the unemployed and even some workers. Having organised these masses of people, fascism cannot dole out jobs or better living standards, and cannot meet the demands of its supporters. To solve the contradiction between what it promised and what it delivers, fascism then turns to wars of nationalism and racial genocide. In this way every fascism has within it the seed of another Holocaust.
This simply is not the dynamic of Milosevic's Yugoslavia! Milosevic is a Stalinist bureaucrat, whose political method involves playing off different forces against each other. This explains his attitude towards the Kosovan Albanians. In Misha Glenny's words, 'The refugees are part of the war (not a pre-ordained programme of ethnic cleansing); they are designed to sow chaos amid Nato but also to threaten the stability of the host countries.'
Socialists and trade unionists in Yugoslavia need every support against a hostile regime, but the best way that we can help them is by winning them the space they need to organise. The way to do that is by opposing our government's bombs. We would do socialists in Yugoslavia no favours by confusing them as to the nature of Milosevic's regime.
Dave Renton

A base of terror

Anybody who believes Nato will play a progressive role in Kosovo now that the war has ended should look at the effects of western intervention in northern Iraq.
After the Gulf War the allied countries set up a 'safe haven', allegedly for the people of Kurdistan. In practice this was nothing more than a base of operations for US actions against Saddam and Turkish moves against the PKK. Initially run by Kurdish clients of the US, the 'safe haven' became a large camp controlled by nationalist militia parties who became little more than puppets of the US and one or other of the regional powers. The largest of them are the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Democratic Party of Kurdistan (PDK) as well as an Islamist movement.
These nationalist parties instituted a reign of terror. Unable to address the major social problems facing Iraqi Kurds, they began a savage onslaught on their civil and human rights in order to maintain control.
The nationalists and Islamists revived tribal ancestral customs and restored religious traditions and values. In this climate women were the first victims. Women were forced back into the home. Freedom to choose a partner, the right to divorce, the right to separate, the right to dress as you choose and travel freely have all been attacked. The levels of beatings, mutilations, stonings and murders have increased massively. As a result more than 4,000 women have been killed in different parts of Iraqi Kurdistan since 1991. The number of women committing suicide has risen dramatically.
Despite this dark picture, a radical women's movement has started in recent years to fight against this oppression, terror, indiscriminate killing and the personal status which is based on the Islamic code (Al-sharia).
At present women in Iraqi Kurdistan are in need of your support to combat this backward and regressive culture and establish a society that respects equality and freedom. If you would like more information about our struggle please contact us at the address below.
Sawsan Salim
South London

Independent Women's organisation in Kurdistan-Iraq, PO Box 7926, London SE1 2ZG.

Brotherly love

When the war began there was a kind of hysteria in most of the Russian mass media. It seems to be less so now, and there are reasons for that. But the 'our brothers, the Serb people' discourse dominates the media and institutions of civil society. Right wingers like Zhirinovsky and the Communist Party compete with each other to be the most 'patriotic' and pro-Serb. The old pan-Slav ideology has been resurrected. Anti-American sentiment has become the common sense: they talk about an 'eternal antagonism' between western and 'Eurasian' civilisations.
Many commentators here note a shift in the overall tone of Russian politics. They mistakenly call it 'moving left', meaning populism and patriotism. With the war, patriotism and anti-Americanism have become a means to gain political capital for politicians and others.
The Russian Federation of Student Unions has launched an anti-war campaign. They are an opportunist bureaucracy and they have decided to jump on the bandwagon. But, like the campaign initiated by Gaidar, Chubais, Nemtsov and Co, this campaign is not completely nationalist and pro-Serbian.
The Russian political field is structured differently from that in the west. Though monstrous right wingers where economic policy is concerned, Gaidar and Co put less emphasis on 'order, tradition and fatherland', which is the stuff normally associated in the west with right wingers. Gaidar and Co put more stress on human rights.
Whom should I campaign with in this situation? The Russian ruling class is afraid to go too far in inciting nationalism because it is weak and depends financially on the west (though I don't know to what extent the decisions of the IMF and World Bank depend on the immediate twists and turns in the foreign policy of the western powers). Yeltsin had to warn some of our military hawks to tone down their aggressive talk.
But even though the Yeltsin bloc, which never dares to stand against the west, is solidly in power, the majority of ordinary people don't want war and the imperialist forces are either farcical (eg Zhirinovsky's craven support for Yeltsin) or in disarray. There will always be the temptation for the ruling class to attempt to resolve its problems on the basis of aggressive nationalism.
The Russian ruling class is weak and divided, but that is no guarantee against dictatorship--the Weimar ruling class was weak and divided too. What really distinguishes Russia from Weimar Germany is that in Russia the working class has been largely absent politically and ideologically.
Ildar Rismukhamedov
Kazan, Tatarstan, Russian Federation

'Neither Nato nor Milosevic'

The recent conflict in the Balkans was a combination of two wars. The first was the war of the Serbian regime against the people of Kosovo. The second was the war of Nato against Serbia. The politics, of which both wars were a continuation, were reactionary. Socialist Review has been superb in carrying the argument that Nato's war was not a war for the defence of the Kosovars but a hypocritical, murderous and counterproductive war for the self interest and expansion of Nato influence in Europe.
But what of the first war, the war of terror and murder against the Kosovar people by the reactionary regime of Milosevic? There was no demand in Socialist Review for the withdrawal of Serbian military forces from Kosovo, even though these forces were engaged in the murderous 'ethnic cleansing' of the Kosovar people according to a detailed plan prepared well before Nato bombs fell. There was opposition to the legitimate democratic demand for independence, for secession, by the Kosovar people, even though Nato and Milosevic compete only over who shall dominate the Kosovars. And, while socialists should certainly not give political support to the KLA, the very right of the Kosovar people to organise armed self defence seemed to be questioned in Socialist Review. Worst, space was given to Philip Knightley to repeat the lies of the Milosevic regime that the Kosovars were fleeing Nato bombs and not being burned and murdered out of their houses by Serb military forces, marched to railway stations and herded on trains to the border, facts all confirmed not only by the victims but by the likes of Robert Fisk in the Independent.
Socialists had a duty to oppose the Nato bombing, and in a Nato country building a movement against the bombing had to be the central activity of socialists. But the analysis in Socialist Review was left with a Kosovo shaped hole. Socialists should champion the cause of Kosovan independence, with full rights for the Serb minority, not because we want new national divisions but because the Kosovars, facing brutal oppression from Belgrade, have the right to national self determination and they have decided they want to exercise that right. To oppose independence can only mean the continued forcible maintenance of Kosovo inside Milosevic's 'Yugoslavia', albeit now with de facto Nato control.
Jeremy Hardy, writing in Socialist Review, was right that socialists work against ethnic divisions and for workers' unity. But Lenin wrote that when 'national oppression and national freedom make joint life absolutely intolerable then the interests of the class struggle will be best served by secession'. Secession can help 'clear the decks' for the class struggle to develop. Moreover, said Lenin, socialists only favour the assimilation of nations when 'not founded on force of privilege', and it is beyond question that Kosovo has been kept in Milosevics Yugoslavia by force and will now be denied independence by Nato force. Socialists will be unable to relate to the profound disillusionment in Nato which the Kosovars will experience over the coming period if we, like Nato and Milosevic, oppose their demand for political self determination.
The concerns of Alice Mahon MP, writing in the Independent (8 June), that there must be no secession of Kosovo because of the rights of the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, are a million miles from a Marxist approach. The very essence of socialism from below as opposed to socialism from above in international politics is that the former looks to the oppressed as 'not only the object but also the subject of politics', as Trotsky put it. The Kosovars, if they are to become a independent subject and not just the object of Nato policy, will travel the road of self organisation and a drive for political independence. That drive, repressed by Milosevic for so long, will now be opposed by Nato. Marxists have no place opposing it too but in championing the right of the Kosovars to self determination and seeking to infuse it with socialist ideas and perspectives, beginning with full democratic rights for the Serbs in Kosovo.
In the deal which has ended the bombing, Nato and Milosevic agree that Kosovo shall not be independent. They only disagree on whether Kosovo is to become a Nato 'protectorate', in other words a pawn in Nato's global ambitions. 'or remain an oppressed part of Milosevic's murderous 'republic'. Socialists should not join either of these two evils in opposing Kosovan independence. The method of the third camp, 'Neither Washington nor Moscow,' but consistent democracy and independent working class socialist politics means today, 'Neither Nato nor Milosevic!
Alan Johnson

On top down under

Alexis Wearmouth's article on East Timor and Indonesia (May SR) was useful but contains a few factual errors and misinterpretations.
Indonesia is not the local superpower, Australia is. Australian bombers can fly as far north as Malaysia--something Australia's sub-imperial rivals cannot reciprocate. Because it is only a sub-imperial power, Australia has formed a strategic alliance with Indonesia, which has huge troop numbers but very limited military technology.
John Howard, Australia's prime minister, flew to Bali not to 'uphold the fragile truce' but to bolster Habibie, whom Howard described as an 'honourable man'. Even as he left for Bali, Howard, in true imperial power fashion, stated Australia's 'preferred' option was East Timorese autonomy inside Indonesia. Clearly Howard has not 'thrown his lot in' with Gusmao. Gusmao leads a genuine national liberation struggle, which is limited in its vision by its nationalist politics.
I think it is overly generous to say Howard wants to 'oversee a peaceful transition' to East Timorese independence. Rather he supports, by any means necessary, steps to safeguard 'regional stability' and Australian profits, peaceful or violent.
The Australian ruling class has a long and sordid history in pragmatically adapting to the Indonesian ruling class's strategy and tactics to keep control of the archipelago. Australia will only acquiesce to East Timorese independence when all other options are exhausted. The formation of the militias by Indonesia shows there is a long way to go before that is the case.
Tom Orsag

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