Western Left & Yugoslavia
Source Jayati Ghosh
Date 99/06/05/15:34

Date: Thu, 03 Jun 1999 15:06:28 -0700
To: (Recipient list suppressed)
From: Michael Eisenscher
Subject: [PEN-L:7661] Western Left & Yugoslavia; Belgrade's Bunker Mentality

This is a very important article that was recently published in
people's Democracy. I believe it should get the widest possible
circulation. -Jayati


There have no doubt been demonstrations against the NATO bombing
of Yugoslavia in most advanced capitalist countries. There have also
been significant voices of protest from the Left: from Tony Benn in
Britain, a sizeable section of the Greens and even Social Democrats in
Germany, and from the Communist Parties. The protest has been
particularly strong in countries close to Yugoslavia, such as Greece
and Italy. Yet, notwithstanding all this, the fact remains that the
opposition from the Left in Europe and the U.S. to the bombing of
Yugoslavia has been rather muted; and such opposition as exists has
more often been based on arguments which are themselves rather

The muted opposition from the Left is undeniable. After all, in
most of Europe, at the moment, forces owing allegiance to the Left
are a part of the ruling governments. I am not talking about the
hardcore Social Democrats or counting Tony Blair, Robin Cook or
Gerhard Schroeder as part of the Left; but within the Social
Democratic Parties in each of these countries there are undoubtedly
significant sections who would count as Left, and who, by
implication, are also a part of the ruling governments. But these are
the very governments which are participating in the bombing. Even the
German Greens who were committed pacifists a few years ago are now
supporters of NATO bombing; the group within the Greens that opposed
bombing was easily defeated at the Party convention recently.

The reasons for this muted opposition are many. But one of these
no doubt is the perception quite widely shared in European Left
circles that the Yugoslav government was guilty of "ethnic cleansing"
(a euphemism for genocide) against the Kosovars, that it is a
"fascist" government, and that when the conflict is between "fascism"
and imperialism, the Left has to willy-nilly support imperialism.
Indeed many of those opposing the bombing of Yugoslavia do so not
because they are opposed to imperialist intervention per se but
because they feel that this bombing only strengthens "fascism" both
by making the plight of the Kosovars even more pitiable and by
rallying popular support within Yugoslavia behind the "fascist
regime". This argument is so completely wrong that the immediate
temptation is to ignore it. But wrong arguments, if ignored, only
come back to haunt us later. It is necessary therefore to take
explicit note of it and to confront it, which is what I propose to

This argument is wrong on at least three counts. First, it
is wrong empirically. It presumes that the developments in Yugoslavia
prior to the bombing had nothing to do with imperialism, that a
"fascist" regime happened to come along and start "ethnic cleansing",
and that imperialism only entered the picture at that stage and was
confronted with the question of what to do. Nothing could be further
from the truth. Yugoslavia not very long ago was a single country
encompassing not only Serbia and Montenegro (as it does today) but
also Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovena, Macedonia, and Slovenia. It was
a founding member of the non-aligned movement, an important and
respected member of the comity of nations, and a "model of socialism"
according to some of the very people who are currently engaged in
bombing what remains of it. It had evolved a federal structure that
had successfully and peacefully held together the diverse Balkan
nationalities for over four decades. True, there was always an
undercurrent of tension among the nationalities but the reason for
the break-up of Yugoslavia was not this tension as such; it was the
exploitation of this tension by German imperialism. Under the policy
of "economic liberalization" several of the federating units of
Yugoslavia vied with one another to attract German capital by getting
on to the bandwagon of German imperialism, and the latter gave every
encouragement to these units to break away from the federation.
Prompt European Community recognition was accorded, under German
pressure, to whoever broke away from Yugoslavia, and, not
surprisingly, the richest of the units, Slovenia and Croatia, were
the first to break away. German inperialism therefore was to a very
large extent responsible for the break-up of Yugoslavia.

But that was not all. Even in the truncated Yugoslavia which
remained, imperialism aided and abetted the Kosovo Liberation Army
which was fighting for the secession of Kosovo. It is a tragic fact
that wars of secession are always bloody; the protagonists on either
side perpetrate acts which can be labelled as "ethnic cleansing". Any
political power that is genuinely interested in avoiding "ethnic
cleansing" by one or the other group in a multi-ethnic country, should
take special care therefore that disputes among the ethnic groups are
settled politically with a spirit of accommodation, rather than
encouraging secession by a particular group. Yet this is what
imperialism has done vis-a-vis Yugoslavia right from the beginning.
Having connived at the break-up of the country and let loose ethnic
strife in the region, imperialism now appears in saintly robes to
prevent "ethnic cleansing"!

The second count on which the argument one comes across within
the European Left is wrong has in fact to do with morality. Let us
for a moment assume that the Yugoslav regime is "fascist" and has to
be restrained. What was there to prevent the imperialist countries
from approaching the United Nations? What gave them the right to
arrogate to themselves the role which the countries of the world had
collectively given to the United nations? And even today if their real
objective is to safeguard the rights of the Kosovars, to ensure the
return of the refugees, and to establish peace and respect for human
rights in the region, then what prevents them from agreeing to the
Yugoslav proposal of a U.N. peace-keeping force? Why must
heavily-armed NATO troops be stationed in Kosovo, enjoying all the
rights of "extra-territoriality" if the object is merely the noble and
lofty one of preventing "ethnic cleansing"?

Indeed the NATO summit held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of
the organization let the cat out of the bag. NATO has now formally
emerged as an expansionist alliance which would not hesitate to use
force in any part of the world, by-passing the United Nations. It
would do so not only if Western interests are threatened or perceived
to be threatened, but also for preventing "human rights abuses" and
"promoting economic reforms"! Imperialism in other words has bared its
fangs. To pretend, as sections of the European Left do, that this act
has been stimulated by moral concerns on its part is the height of

The third count on which the argument encountered within the
European Left is wrong is analytical: it relates to the definition of
"fascism". The third world is dotted with repressive regimes: it is a
symptom of underdevelopment. The third world is plagued with social
instability, with ethnic strife, with secessionist movements, and, in
the context of all these, with acts of extreme repression, not
perpetrated unilaterally but on one another by warring groups: this
too is a symptom of underdevelopment which becomes particularly
noticeable when "liberal economic policies" are being pursued. To call
any regime which one perceives to be repressive "fascist" is both
dangerous and analytically wrong. It is dangerous because in such a
case, on the principle that one has to willy-nilly support imperialism
against fascism, one would end up supporting imperialist intervention
against every such third world regime. One would in other words end up
becoming an apologist for the obnoxious "white man's burden" argument
to justify the re-imposition of colonialism.

But this danger arises because of an analytical mistake. To call
any repressive regime "fasicst" is to adopt a humanist as opposed to
a Marxist definition of fascism. Fascism according to the Marxist
approach has to be defined in class terms, not in moral terms.
Classical fascism was defined by the Seventh Congress of the Communist
International not in terms of the persecution of the Jews and the
concentration camps, all of which of course were the horrendous
symptoms of it, but as "the open terrorist dictatorship of the most
reactionary sections of finance capital". This definition, precisely
because it is not humanist but approaches the issue in class terms,
emphasizes the link between imperialism and fascism. German fascism
was in fact a part and parcel of German imperialism. The war between
Britain and Germany was a war between liberal imperialism and fascist
imperialism, in which the Left was on the side of liberal imperialism.
To use that example to justify support for NATO against the so-called
"fascist" Yugoslav regime is to use a false analogy, false because it
dissociates fascism from imperialism.

But then the question may be asked: if fascism is a part and
parcel of imperialism, then how can we ever characterize any third
world regime as "fascist", since such a regime after all belongs not
to an imperialist country but only to a third world country? If the
matter is looked at in class terms, however, then an important
criterion for a third world regime to qualify as fascist would be its
relationship with imperialism, not its own imperialism but that of
the imperialist countries. In short, humanist definitions do not take
us very far and can be quite dangerous when it comes to taking
positions on crucial political issues. The point of departure must be
class analysis, which unfortunately significant sections of the
European Left have abandoned.

It is for this reason that they have ended up swallowing the
moral argument which imperialism has advanced to cover up its grand
design of re-colonializing the world. And it is for this reason that
they actually exhibit moral righteousness in lining up behind the
aggressive actions of imperialism. One can only hope however that the
defeat of NATO's plans would drum some dialectics back into their
Kartik Rai

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