Issue 233 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
Alan Johnson (Letters, July/August SR) confuses the issue by referring to 'ethnic cleansing' in Kosovo before the war began. While there were undoubtedly atrocities prior to the war, they occurred within the framework of counter-insurgency, which I'm afraid is all too familiar the globe over. This was the view, in fact, of western intelligence prior to the war.
German government documents printed in Junge Welt on 24 April 1999 reveal this quite clearly: 'Even in Kosovo, an explicit political persecution linked to Albanian ethnicity is not verifiable... The actions of the security forces were not directed against the Kosovan Albanians as an ethnically defined group, but against the military opponent and its actual or alleged supporters.'
The UNHCR reported its first wave of refugees (4,000) on 27 March--three days after the war began. Ethnic cleansing began in earnest in response to Nato's war, which Serb forces blamed on Albanians. It continued right up until Nato allowed the European Union and the G8 to formulate a deal that Milosevic would accept.
We also have to face the reality that, while self determination is a laudable idea to have, the situation in Kosovo has now become ethnic cleansing of Serbs under the protection of Nato's guns. As with the war between Serbia and Croatia, dividing up the region means a drive to create an ethnically pure state.
A secessionist movement with the KLA at its head, led by ethnic cleanser Agim Ceku, would create an equally reactionary government and is unlikely to be a liberation for Kosovans. To divert the energies of ordinary Kosovans down that route would be preposterous and ultimately tragic.
Prior to the war Socialist Review did support the independence movement in Kosovo, and despite what Johnson claims, condemned Milosevic's treatment of the Albanians (November 1998 SR). Today, however, the situation has changed. The independence movement has become a force for reaction and ethnic cleansing, and offers no solution to the problems of ordinary Serbs and Albanians. Only the united struggle of Serbs and Albanians can topple Milosevic and rid the area of Nato's malevolent presence.
I support your opposition to Nato warmongering, but I feel that you should give more support to the Kosovans' campaign for self determination. Nato does not support the Kosovan campaign for self determination, and so to support self determination for the Kosovans is to be consistently anti-imperialist.
Yes, obviously the ultimate aim would be a united socialist federation of the Balkans, but at the moment that is a utopian dream. We should support the Kosovans' struggle against oppression. To do otherwise is to side with the oppressor against the oppressed. While the KLA is violent, do we not support the violence of the oppressed? Any Marxist does. Nato is not the only enemy, but yes, the main enemy is at home in the guise of Nato and the bourgeoisie. Also, the Serb proletariat should support the Kosovans, as they are against the Serbian bourgeois state.
'The fact that the struggle for national liberation against one imperialist power may, under certain conditions, be utilised by another "great" power for its own, equally imperialist aims is just as unlikely to make the social democrats [communists] refuse to recognise the right of nations to self determination as the numerous cases of bourgeois utilisation of republican slogans for the purpose of political deception and financial plunder are unlikely to make the social democrats [communists] reject their republicanism,' said Lenin in Questions of National Policy and Proletarian Internationalism.
Although I am only 15, I would like to express my viewpoint on the situation, which can be summed up as follows: 'Nato out of the Balkans, self determination for Kosovo!'
June's review article 'Nato and the new imperialism' was excellent, particularly the map. Unfortunately, some socialists have translated the article into arguing that the war was one of 'blood for oil'. This simply is not true, and it comes from a desire to say, 'Look--it's just like the Gulf.' It's not enough to just stick with what you know. Getting closer to the truth means going far deeper.
We must start from the Nato expansion into the vacuum left after the fall of the Eastern bloc. Sometimes this is achieved through peacefully swallowing nations (the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, with Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania probably next) and sometimes forcibly.
The Russian race for Pristina airport backs this up 100 percent. Nato is desperate to condemn the move, but the guise of a humanitarian war against Serbian atrocities forbids it. The only feasible explanation is that Russia cannot allow Nato forces complete access and control in the region. This same race was played out on a larger scale in 1945, with the Great Powers racing to gobble up the largest share of Europe, Africa and Asia.
Of course, there are specific political, strategic and economic objectives--this is how military powers are driven to expand. In a way, the particular aim of a particular action is the least important aspect. In the end it does not come down to a single explanation, like oil, but to the nature of imperialism.
Natassja Smiljanic wrote in the July/August issue of Socialist Review that 'another forgotten casualty of Nato's war is respect for the principles of international law'. She wrote uncritically about the United Nations Charter and the International Court of Justice, merely criticising Nato for subverting the doctrine of humanitarian intervention.
It is a serious error to give workers or socialist activists any impression that the UN or international law have any role other than as the tools of imperialism. They are not 'neutral' classless referees in the battle for world domination! 'International law' is a liberal moralistic formulation, which is meaningless unless it is given a class content.
We live in a capitalist world, and just as the legal system of the capitalist state is constructed in the final analysis to protect the property and profits of the capitalist class, so on the next level 'international law' is constructed to defend the interests of multinational companies and imperialism.
During normal times there are legions of politicians, diplomats, lawyers and journalists who can spin beautiful and confusing webs of language to conceal this stark fact, but in certain situations, such as the recent Balkan War, the true nature of these capitalist institutions is revealed. Imperialism always has been and always will be entirely selective about which 'laws' it chooses to obey, depending on its interests at the time.
Despite the naive hopes of many of the British left, the United Nations cannot rise above its own class composition. It is composed of a collection of imperialist states and their clients--its connections remind me of the meetings of rival Mafia families: the gangster capitalist states get together and discuss 'human rights' and 'peace' in the same way as the Mafiosi talk about 'honour' and 'respect' before deciding who gets cut in on which deal and who to take the next contract out on.
It is fundamentally wrong to call on Nato to abide by 'internationally agreed standards and principles', as these 'standards and principles' were decided over the heads of the ordinary masses in the interests of the international ruling class.
In reality both Nato and the UN have been doing the job they were set up for--creating devastation, misery and poverty for workers and peasants internationally, while defending the power, prestige and profits of capital.
Failure to grasp these facts and any illusion in the UN or international justice will disorientate and cause untold damage to future movements of the masses. It is therefore crucial that socialist journals are absolutely clear and precise about these issues. The article 'A licence to bomb' should not be left uncorrected.
I cannot accept Lindsey German's assertion that the activities of the anti-war movement during the war against Yugoslavia deterred Nato from staging a ground war. Of the Nato governments only Blair's really wanted an all out war in the Balkans, and, like a glove puppet that had fallen out of the control of the ventriloquist, Blair's gung-ho approach (a dread combination of Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Bob Geldof) became an embarrassment to the war's real controller, Bill Clinton. Although the war went on longer than Nato had expected, it correctly recognised that Milosevic would go for a deal before too much of his industrial infrastructure was destroyed. The US was never intending to engage in what would be a lengthy and bloody ground war when it knew that Milosevic would give way fairly soon.
Although many people in Britain were uneasy about the war, the anti-war movement was not only small but very divided, not least over the question of self determination for Kosovo. Some anti-war demonstrators I met, mostly Stalinists, even denied that Milosevic's regime was committing atrocities. And one or two revolutionary groups refused to take a clear, unambiguous stand against Nato's bombing. Moreover, Nato managed to co-opt much of liberal opinion, and managed to use the pro-war liberals as its political wing. There was far less cohesion in the movement against this war than in that against the Gulf War.
I believe that the various pieces in Socialist Review that give an almost 'doomsday scenario' impression about the former Soviet bloc are rather alarmist. What has struck me with the collapse of Stalinism has been the relative lack of wars and unrest in the wake of the fall of an entire socio-political system across a whole continent. There have been wars in Moldova, the Caucasus, Chechnya and, of course, Yugoslavia, and unrest elsewhere. But these have been limited both in time and area.
Each war in Yugoslavia has been limited to a discrete area of the former federation. There are plenty of areas of the former Soviet bloc where the potential for trouble is there, and Nato's eastwards expansion certainly could well exacerbate destabilising tendencies.
But a potential flashpoint need not ignite and, altogether, the former Soviet bloc has proved less stable in practice than in theory. As for ex-Yugoslavia, the establishment of UN/Nato protectorates in Bosnia and Kosovo could freeze the instability there for some time. This is an imperialist solution which socialists cannot support, but it is also something which the Nato fan club in and around the government can claim as a success.
It was good to see young people taking to the streets on 18 June. It revealed some of the anger that is bubbling under in Blair's Britain. But the anti-capitalist demonstrators in the city were a tiny proportion of the young people in Britain who are pissed off with the life that capitalism has to offer them. Unfortunately, having grown up in a culture which has relentlessly undermined political action and stolen our right to free education, most young people have no concept of the possibilities for change. Before seeing Justin Kerrigan's Human Traffic I had assumed it would be another media appropriation of 'yoof culture': hip so that everyone wanted a part of it, but safe enough not to threaten. And though many people have reacted to it in just that way, I saw a brilliantly accurate portrayal of the way that most of Britain's disenchanted youth deal with their anger. Kerrigan's film is the Saturday Night and Sunday Morning of the 1990s. Instead of drinking and fighting to forget the miserable grind of the factory, the characters in Human Traffic take ecstasy and get loved up to forget the miserable grind of McDonald's.
In one of the first scenes of Human Traffic, the lead character, Jip, stands at his job folding endless pairs of jeans which continually fall off the shelf. The film cuts into a shot from Jip's imagination and we see him bent over while his manager holds a £20 note over his mouth and fucks him, literally. Moff has more sense--he deals drugs to pay for his nights out and tells his dad that he won't move out and get a job because he's 'not ready to be that miserable'.
Most young people in Britain today can relate to this film because they've been in the same situation: living for the weekend, desperate to get out of your head to forget about the mind numbing boredom of work. Yet few see Human Traffic, or their own situation, as one to which politics has any relevance. I'm not knocking drugs, but they're no substitute for lasting change and, as Human Traffic shows, they don't stop you having to go back to a shit job on Monday morning. A few thousand crusties dancing in the city on 18 June was just the tip of the iceberg. There are millions of disaffected young people in Britain who want to change their lives but don't know how.
The final paragraph of Barry Pavier's otherwise excellent piece on Kashmir (July/August SR) left me somewhat disturbed. No socialist would deny that the British division of the subcontinent in 1947 was a disaster for the vast majority of the people of south Asia. Up to 1 million murdered and 150,000 women abducted during the partition itself, the creation of two militaristic states permanently at loggerheads, the growth of chauvinistic politics which targets minorities in both India and Pakistan--clearly, as in Ireland, partition has created a 'carnival of reaction'.
But to raise the issue of 'overthrowing partition' at the present moment, even linked as it is with the phrase 'over-turning the ruling classes' seems to me to be bad politics. The only groups in south Asia calling for a revision of partition are the organisations of the Hindu right, who have always viewed the division as a betrayal of 'Hindu India'. It is the fascist RSS, and its cadre in the BJP and elsewhere, that call for 'Mother India' to be reunited by the force of a militant and resurgent Hinduism--a recipe for genocide.
In the absence of real popular forces in the subcontinent calling for workers' unity across the borders, it seems ill advised to talk of redrawing state boundaries at the present time.
On 18 September the annual March for Pensions will head from the Embankment to Trafalgar Square.
Over the past 20 years a situation has arisen of real poverty, growing inequality and widespread dependence on means tested benefits for today's pensioners, and for tomorrow's pensioners a declining retirement pension and a State Earnings Related Pensions Scheme (Serps) whose benefits have been halved whilst contributions have been increased. Consequently millions of workers face hardship and poverty in retirement as we go into the new millennium. Pensions in this country are the worst in Europe!
In 1997 the basic pension was just 17 percent of average earnings, and this will fall to 14 percent by 2010 and to 9 percent by 2020. The cost of pensions in 1994 was only 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 1992 only 25 percent of pensioners paid income tax, which means that the income of most pensioners was less than £4,300 (or £6,875 for a married couple). The decline in pensions has been the result of deliberate government policy, carried out mainly by breaking the link between pensions and average earnings.
With the exception of Denmark, Finland and Sweden, where a universal flat rate pension is paid as a right of citizenship, according to residence and regardless of employment record, and the private occupational pension sector is relatively undeveloped--pensions schemes reflect the gender inequalities created in the labour market which lead to lower incomes for many women in old age.
Millions of British citizens are living on inadequate pensions. Many live daily lives without any help whatsoever. Life is often a grim struggle to make ends meet. Basic pensions are not sufficient to live on without topping up on means tested benefits. Yet 700,000 older people already fail to claim the income support to which they are entitled. The benefits system does not ensure an adequate retirement income.
It is probable that most of the millions of pensioners, in voting for the Labour Party at the general election, did so with a belief that the Labour government would restore the social contract principle to public life. As crude market contracts fragmented and demoralised society around them, pensioners had no doubts about the changes they wanted.
When the government Green Paper on pensions finally emerged it did not address the needs of today's pensioners, nor seriously those of the working population. It offered nothing beyond a means tested provision for today's poorest and oldest pensioners. It will provide a pension above the poverty level only for the better off who are able to save and invest, instead of increasing and strengthening National Insurance to provide a decent retirement scheme for all.
Rather than referring to pensioners as 'a growing burden' and to the 'pensions timebomb', politicians should address the matter of pensions from the viewpoint that Britain is an immensely rich country, and that this wealth was created by both living and dead generations. Although the ratio of pensioners to workers will rise, no one is suggesting that the GNP will fall as a result. The growth in the economy needs to be high enough for taxation to provide the extra money, and this it is well able to do.
Decent pensions are at the heart of the welfare state alongside access to healthcare, education and decent housing. There is no substitute for an adequate basic state pension which should be such as to enable a pensioner to live a reasonable life in a civilised society.
We have two early opportunities to raise the issue of pensions. First is the march on 18 September. This is a March for Pensions, not just a march for pensioners. We must push for a large attendance of trade unionists along with their banners. Second is the lobby of the Labour Party conference on 26 September. We should be encouraging and enabling pensioners' groups to support and attend this lobby.
We must see the fight for decent pensions as part of our central campaign to gain a society which ends exploitation and ensures that the wealth created by workers is owned and controlled by workers
I write with an update about Bomani (Brian Roberson) after visiting him in Texas.
Bomani has spent over 12 years on Death Row. Socialist Review has been following his case over the past few years.
My impression about the Terrell Unit was good so far, in as much as I could see as a visitor. The guards are more friendly and helpful than at the Ellis unit, and they did let us have our visits without disturbing us all the time.
The bad news is that Bomani's federal habeas corpus was denied by the judge on 28 July 1999. His case will now move onto the Fifth Circuit, which is the last court level. My sister and I have been very busy with talking to Bomani's lawyer as well as speaking to another lawyer we know very well in Texas. We will prepare a petition for Bomani and we were given very good advice about what we have to mention and what's important. We now have to wait for the answer from the Fifth Circuit and if necessary start with the urgent action (petition).
It's very important that we do what the lawyers say and listen to their advice so that we all work together towards the same goal. Please write to Bomani and give him some words of encouragement and let him know you are thinking about him and he is not forgotten.
Write to: Brian Roberson, #886, Terrell Unit, 12002 FM 350 South, Livingston, Texas 77351, USA
Congratulations on the Socialist Review coverage of Kosovo. I was particularly impressed with the article on the impact of the Caspian oil. One of the good things about Socialist Review is its ability to provide insights into important areas of the world which normally receive little coverage.
Can you please make sure that the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia is covered in full. Thousands of people are supposed to have died, but the western powers apparently have little interest in the area, and as a result the UN also seems to be little concerned.
When you publish anniversary articles like that on the Chinese Revolution, why not include a guide to further reading?
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