A reply to Solidarity/ATC on Nato's war
Source Louis Proyect
Date 99/05/20/21:55

This article is a reply to Solidarity, a left organization in the USA, and
Against the Current, a monthly journal they produce. Their position on
Nato's war, which mixes hostility toward the Serbs with support for Kosovar
self-determination, is reflective of a trend within the broad constellation
of Trotskyist groups internationally, and groups like Solidarity which have
emerged out of this movement.

A few brief words about Solidarity's origins are in order. It was formed in
the 1980s by radicals who had been part of the defunct International
Socialism (IS), a left-Shachtmanite current. IS was strongly influenced by
the writings of the late Hal Draper, one of the great Marxist thinkers of
the past 50 years. A librarian at U. Cal, Berkeley, Draper found that
independence from academia, while remaining close to its scholarly
resources, was the ideal combination for his scholarly work--a position I
strongly identify with. Draper and the IS'ers held a "third camp" position.
They thought that both the US and the USSR were class societies, whose
governments needed to be overthrown in order for true socialism to triumph.

The other important component of Solidarity is ex-SWP'ers, who left the
American Trotskyist movement after it renounced Trotskyism in the early
1980s. They by and large disagree with the "third camp" position, but have
agreed to not allow these differences get in the way of building a
socialist alternative in the United States. They feel that the "Russian
questions" can be discussed in a leisurely fashion while more pressing
class struggle issues occupy their immediate attention. The only problem
with this approach--it would seem--is that the ten year old war in
Yugoslavia is very much connected to the "Russian questions".

In general, the Trotskyist ideological milieu--including Solidarity--has
not really provided a satisfactory analysis of Kosovar nationalism. This
article will place the movement in historical context and explain why it is
a mistake to issue a blank check for "Kosovar self-determination". It will
then address the theoretical framework of "third campism" that form the
basis of the ATC/Solidarity statements on Yugoslavia, while actually
hearkening back to the original split between Trotsky and Shachtman.
Although I do not think that "third camp" positions fall outside of a basic
Marxist framework, it is necessary to challenge them when they interfere
with an adequate response to imperialist war. It is one thing to disagree
about the exact class nature of the USSR in the 1930s, it is another thing
to promote falsifications of Serb-Kosovar relations when bombs are being
dropped in the name of halting "Serb aggression."

One of the main problems of the anti-Milosevic, pro-Kosovar left is that it
fails to provide historical context for the Serb-Albanian conflict. It has
a curious time-line, where the starting date is the suspension of Kosovar
autonomy in 1989. Solidarity doesn't even bother to go that far back in
history and seems happy to base its analysis on the hysterical press
coverage of recent months:

"The government of what was Yugoslavia (now only Serbia and Montenegro,
essentially Serbia alone) is sponsoring massive ethnic cleansing in Kosovo,
and indeed is now waging a war against the Kosovo population which is
intended to kill or remove half the Albanian population, if not more." (The
position papers can be accessed at:

What's more, they charge that the Serbs' decision to ethnically cleanse
Kosovo was planned in advance and that they were encouraged to do this by
imperialism itself:

"It is clearly true that the flow of refugees, the reports of mass
depopulations and burning of villages, and the all-too-credible reports of
separation of male refugees for summary mass executions, all accelerated
when the bombings began. Yet it is important not to overweight this
argument: The Serbian regime's campaign for the destruction of the Kosovar
Albanian population was already underway."

Internal documents from Joschka Fischer's Foreign Office in Germany
contradict these claims. They were obtained by IALANA (International
Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms) and translated into English by
Eric Canepa, an activist with the Brecht Forum in New York City. One
report, dated 1/12/99, and addressed to the Administrative Court of Trier

"Even in Kosovo an explicit political persecution linked to Albanian
ethnicity is not verifiable. The East of Kosovo is still not involved in
armed conflict. Public life in cities like Pristina, Urosevac, Gnjilan,
etc. has, in the entire conflict period, continued on a relatively normal
basis. The actions of the security forces (were) not directed against the
Kosovo-Albanians as an ethnically defined group, but against the military
opponent and its actual or alleged supporters." (These reports are online
at the Z Magazine website

While these revelations are important, the more important question for
Marxists is what led to such a brutal conflict in the first place. There is
little disagreement about the fact that a civil war was in progress, but
what were the social and political forces at work? What were the initial
causes? The Solidarity/ATC statement leads one to conclude that naked
racism in the Serb nation came to a head when Milosevic took power. Like
the Indonesian Suharto regime, the Serbs then launched a military campaign
in order to force a form of apartheid on an oppressed Albanian nationality.
Solidarity specifically links the Yugoslav government with the American and
Afrikaner racist regimes:

"We do not, in principle, regard 'internal affairs' as inviolable when a
state or regime wages a war of extermination or practices extreme racism
inside its own internationally recognized borders. Socialists wouldn't have
opposed, for example, United Nations "interference" in the oppression of
the Black community by the United States, as Malcolm X was preparing to
demand. In certain cases we support and demand sanctions, as in the case of
South Africa where the internal anti-apartheid movement clearly wanted them."

Of course, since most people are aware of the history of American slavery
and South African apartheid, there is little reason to challenge Malcom X's
or Nelson Mandela's revolutionary struggles for justice and equality. But
what are the historical lessons that one can draw from the Kosovar
secessionist struggle? Since Solidarity/ATC can't be bothered to supply
them, one must assume that it was an emancipatory movement as well. Such an
assumption would be unwarranted given the facts.

Part of the problem in dealing with historical context is that nationalists
on both sides have an understanding of history that is virtually useless to
Marxists. Serbs would go back to the battle of Kosovo 700 years ago, while
Albanians justify themselves on the basis of historical events during the
Ottoman Empire. Our context must be rooted in what matters most: the class
nature of the Yugoslavian socialist regime and the revolution which gave
birth to it. From this standpoint, it is most useful to examine the
interplay between Serb and Kosovar nationalities during WWII, when Tito's
forces were mounting their challenge to Nazism and capitalism alike.

During the fascist occupation of Yugoslavia during WWII, Kosovo came under
Albanian control, which was itself part of Mussolini's dominion. While the
Serbs suffered greatly under Nazi rule, the Kosovars felt relatively
emancipated as they attached themselves to local fascist militia units.

The Albanian quisling ruler, Mustafa Kruje, visited Kosovo in June 1942 and
publicly advocated the need for an ethnically pure Albania that included
Kosovo. Between 70 to 100 thousand Serbs were forced out. Those who
remained were forced to assimilate in schools where the Albanian language
was used exclusively. During the 1960s and 70s, when Kosovar nationalism
began to re-emerge, it was obvious that the goal of the movement was to
turn back the clock to this state of affairs.

There were fitful attempts to win Kosovars to the Communist guerrilla
movement, during WWII but a top Communist organizer Svetozar
Vukmanovich-Tempo explained the difficulties in a November 1943 report:

"conditions for [starting] armed resistance in Kosovo and Metohija were
worse than in any other region of the country.... the Albanian population,
which made up two-thirds of the whole population, had an unfriendly
attitude toward the partisans... The occupiers have succeeded in winning
the Kosovo Albanians to their side by annexing Metohija and a part of
Kosovo to rump Albania; the local government is in the hands of the
Albanians, the Albanian language is obligatory... The Albanian population
is suspicious of all those who struggle for Yugoslavia, whether old or new;
in their eyes it is always less than what they have got from the
occupier..." (quoted in "The Saga of Kosovo", by Alex Dragnich and Slavko

In general, the problem for revolutionaries in Yugoslavia was similar to
the one that the Sandinistas faced with respect to the Pacific Coast
Indians. While Somoza--the Mussolini of Nicaragua--had been unremittingly
cruel to the Spanish-speaking majority of the country, English-speaking
indigenous peoples never faced the same direct assault. Furthermore,
Somoza's regime promoted commercial development on the Atlantic Coast that
benefited many of the indigenous peoples, Miskitus in particular. While
socialism in the long-run was the only system that could provide for total
human development in Nicaragua, in the short-run many indigenous peoples
felt that they had it better during Somoza when the country seemed more
prosperous and peaceful, from their vantage-point.

When Tito's forces triumphed, they made many of the same mistakes in Kosovo
that the Sandinistas made in Nicaragua. Since the Sandinistas were staring
down the barrel of the US military, they had to correct their course much
more rapidly than the Yugoslavs did. Arrogance remained a problem until
1966 when Tito's number two official, Aleksandr Rankovic, was removed from

>From that point on, federal money poured into Kosovo at a higher rate than
into any other part of the country. Pristina University grew to become one
of the country's largest with 48,000 students. Most of the region's
administrators, and its police, were ethnic Albanians. They were even
allowed to fly the Albanian flag, a black eagle on a red field. Yet this
rapid economic development ironically fed unrest as expectations rose which
economic development could not satisfy. Frustration deepened when the IMF
and western banks tightened their vise in ensuing years. There were riots
in 1968 and again in 1975. Demonstrators demanded the right to secede and
even demanded annexation by Enver Hoxha's Albania.

Throughout the 1970s Kosovar nationalism showed no progressive aspects as
Black nationalism in the United States had shown in the same period. If
anything, as a social phenomenon it demonstrated some affinity with the
Afghan village-based resistance to the Soviet-backed regime of the 1980s.
Miranda Vickers, a scholar and journalist sympathetic to the Kosovar cause,
writes in "Between Serb and Albanian" that:

"In the early 1980s an Albanian scholar noted that the Kosovar way of life
was still governed by traditional mores and outdated customs and badly
needed to be transformed. He wrote that this needed to be social no less
than economic, and to address first the still patriarchal family system:

"'The position of a woman is that of a human being deprived of fundamental
rights. Women were still kept secluded at home when they did not work in
the fields, they received minimal education, and were totally subordinate
to male authority. The emancipation of women is the first and foremost task
for the Kosovars as a people in order to achieve full emancipation. A
community denying half of its members access to a full education can never
be a civilised community.'

"Gradually women participated more in public life. Only ten years earlier
they hardly ever left home. All the same, women still had servile domestic
tasks. Hartmut Albert, a guest in an Albanian home in Pec in 1979, reported
as follows:

"'During our meal, between the tales, the patriarchal order in the
household was evident once again. Only the men (including the 14-year-old
son) gathered around the sofra (low table). Our host's wife approached only
to serve our food and clear the table. Then she waited silently at the door
with water and a hand towel until we wanted to wash our hands.'"

Against this social backdrop, it is not difficult to understand why a
substantial portion of the nationalist movement openly proclaimed fascist
goals. Keeping women in this kind of servitude is completely in keeping
with the sort of state that prevailed during Mussolini's reign. Chris
Hedges reported in the March 28, 1999 NY Times that:

"The KLA splits down a bizarre ideological divide, with hints of fascism on
one side and whiffs of communism on the other. The former faction is led by
the sons and grandsons of rightist Albanian fighters -- either the heirs of
those who fought in the World War II fascist militias and the Skanderbeg
volunteer SS division raised by the Nazis, or the descendants of the
rightist Albanian rebels who rose up against the Serbs 80 years ago.

"Although never much of a fighting force, the Skanderbeg division took part
in the shameful roundup and deportation of the province's few hundred Jews
during the Holocaust. The division's remnants fought Tito's Partisans at
the end of the war, leaving thousands of ethnic Albanians dead.

"The decision by KLA commanders to dress their police in black fatigues and
order their fighters to salute with a clenched fist to the forehead led
many to worry about these fascist antecedents. Following such criticism,
the salute has been changed to the traditional open-palm salute common in
the U.S. Army."

Such reports have appeared both in the bourgeois and left-wing press, as
well as on the Internet, for some months now. In light of the wide
availability of this information, it is simply shocking to discover that
the Solidarity comrades merely consider the KLA to be "politically
incoherent," while demanding at the same time that it be armed. What is the
logic behind arming a movement that grows out of misogyny, religious
fundamentalism and irredentism? Imperialism will always find a way to
support such movements without assistance from left-wingers, just as it did
throughout the years of low-intensity conflict in the 1980s.

This leads us now to the next question. Is it correct to take a
"third-camp" position between the US and Yugoslavia? Against the Current
would have us believe that it is of little consequence to the historical
struggle for socialism which side wins:

"This is a thoroughly reactionary war, in which the rulers of the United
States and Western Europe must systematically promote ever-bigger lies to
their own populations: lies to exaggerate the 'great military success' of
the bombings and to hide the destruction of civilian life; lies to disguise
the full extent of the escalation and occupation that must be prepared to
win this war; lies to rewrite history, to make people forget that
throughout the 1990s the West facilitated Milosevic's butcheries and
internal repression by treating him as the key to Balkan 'stability.'"

The notion that Nato and the west had a pro-Serb tilt in the 1990s is
absurd. In fact, "stability" is the last adjective in the world that can be
applied to Nato intervention in the Balkans, since the result has been
nothing but war over the past decade. Since the former IS'ers in Solidarity
would have regarded Tito's government as just another repressive regime in
no way superior to contemporaneous capitalist regimes in Greece or
Portugal, we should not be too surprised by the invective heaped on the
Milosevic's government, which--for all its distortions--does represent a
historical continuity with the first successful socialist revolution since

In the "Third Camp" schema, there is a bit of a paradox. Since there are no
qualitative class differences between societies ruled by Stalinist
dictators and our own, the obvious conflict between the two camps must be
rooted in something else than rival economic systems. What that is exactly
I've never been able to figure out. For those of us who do believe that the
cold war was about exactly such a clash, and--more importantly--that the
Soviet-type states were an advance over what preceded them, it is important
to put the war with Yugoslavia into that context. We have been conditioned
to sympathize more openly with Castro's Cuba or the USSR of the early 1920s
(how early depends on your theoretical schema), but it is just as important
to solidarize with those countries under attack whose governments are not
as spotless or heroic.

Buried under all the war hysteria and open propaganda about Milosevic's
evil nature, there were press reports in major dailies shortly after his
election that made the underlying class issues crystal-clear. The most
forthright was Carol J. Williams' in the December 12, 1990 Los Angeles Times:

"The choice of Milosevic and what amounts to hard-line communism isolates
Serbia, the largest republic, from four other Yugoslav states that have
elected center-right governments and set about repairing the economic
damage inflicted by half a century of Marxism. The Socialists have remained
popular in Serbia despite an anti-Communist mood in Eastern Europe..."

The demonization of Milosevic in the western press has much more to do with
the perception that he is some kind of "wild card" in the transformation of
Eastern Europe into pliant, maquiladora zones. If anything, the hatred
toward his wife is even greater and takes on an openly misogynist character
as she is tagged the "Red Witch" of Yugoslavia. Mirjana Markovic's politics
were never as ambiguous as her husbands and nobody could possibly regard
her as pro-western. A January 21, 1996 Washington Post article by Christine
Spolar states:

"The wife of President Slobodan Milosevic is casting a long shadow across
the political and economic future of this Yugoslav republic. As Serbia
tries to find its way in the world after signing the Dayton peace accord
with Croatia and Bosnia, the lifelong Communist has emerged as both a
significant force and a human tip sheet to the ways of her all-powerful

"In the past 1 1/2 years, Markovic, 53, has been working quietly to forge a
financial base among Serbian elite, to shore up support for a rededicated
communist party and to thwart economic changes, most importantly
privatization, that Belgrade analysts say Serbia desperately needs to turn
its dismal economy around."

Of course, none of this might register on leftists who will be satisfied by
nothing short of true socialism. These dreamers of the absolute envision a
society like the kind that Marx wrote about, where the operating principle
will be "to each according to their needs, from each according to their
abilities." Repression, bureaucracy and inequality will be unknown. For
some reason, however, all attempts at revolutions in the 20th century have
fallen short of Marx's prescriptions. A dialectical understanding of such
revolutions, which proceeds from the notion put forward by Marx in the 18th
Brumaire that "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as
they please", can lead us to only one conclusion. Any time that capitalism
is overthrown, revolutionaries in other countries have a duty to defend
such revolutions. In the battered terrain of the collapsed socialist world,
there are very few sparks of resistance today. While it takes a supreme
dialectical understanding to defend Yugoslavia in 1999, it should not take
such a gift to understand that a victory against the United States and its
Nato allies will be an enormous blow to capitalist reaction.

In many ways, Trotsky had the best understanding of the USSR than any other
Marxist thinker. His analogy with trade unions was most apt. It is
important to understand post-capitalist societies as having similarities
with trade unions. They are creations of working people, won through
struggle, that may have democratic or bureaucratic leaderships. The
Teamsters Union was a working-class institution whether led by Trotskyists
or by Jimmy Hoffa. In the confrontation between Teamsters Union and the
bosses, we side with the teamsters. A victory by truckers would not only
help to encourage other unions, but would also lead to shake-ups in a
bureaucratized union conducting the strike itself.

If there are any doubts about this, they can be assuaged by looking at the
rapid transformations taking place among Chinese youth. A profound
anti-imperialist mood has taken hold, which is directly related to Nato's
stance in the Balkans, the bombing of the Chinese Embassy, as well as
recent economic contradictions between the Chinese state and western
imperialism. Left-wing forces in China and Russia, as well as
anti-bureaucratic formations in Yugoslavia, will be inspired by a victory
over Nato. To stand "above" the conflict between US imperialism and its
allies, and a country with a mixed economy defending its sovereignty is a
throwback to the worst aspects of Shachtmanism. While nobody can persuade
people who have embraced a particular schema to give up their ideas, one
can certainly hope that they can be persuaded to step back from its most
extreme logic. Solidarity is an important left organization which has done
exemplary work in the trade unions, including the Teamsters. I address
these remarks to them in the spirit of comradeship and hope they are
accepted as such.

(I invite people who read this to circulate it to friends and comrades,
left-wing newsgroups and mailing-lists, especially the Solidarity mailing
list if it still exists.)

Louis Proyect

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