We cannot understand the significance of NATO's war against Yugoslavia unless we trace the role of imperialism in the breakup of Yugoslavia as a political campaign to destroy "communism" and consolidate the post-cold war US hegemony. Without this analysis the left strays from a proletarian perspective.
The 'democratic imperialists'
On the issue of the war most of the left are moving right behind Social Democracy which has become the "new right" according to the Le Monde Diplomatique. It is no accident that Blair, Clinton, Schroeder etc are all rightwing Social Democrats. The Greens are also totally compromised by their support of the bombing. Talk of splits in Social Democracy and the Greens may become real if the war continues if the pacifist rank and file rejects their leaderships. This may restore some reformist credibility in the sense of providing a 'left cover' for the Blairite centre.
Already providing a cover for the 'new middle' is the pro-imperialist pacifist 'far left'. This sucks up to imperialism by opposing NATO bombing, yet defends imperialist intervention in some form or other in the name of Kosovo's human rights and bourgeois democracy. These include the Usec (International Viewpoint) and Rouge in Europe, and Green Left in Australia
Fundamentally these criticisms of the bombing are not unconditional opposition to imperialism, but criticism of war as a tactic in advancing human rights! Some say Serbian 'fascism' is equal to or worse than NATO imperialism (Australian Green Left Weekly, Michael Karadjis, "Chossudovsky's frame-up of the KLA").
Underlying this capitulation to 'democratic imperialism' is a Eurocentric racism which brands and demonises Slavs as backward, uncivilised etc needing to be taught a lesson by the West's moral campaign for human rights. It is no surprise that these groups tend to hate Stalinism as totally reactionary. That is, they have always backed anti-Stalinist bourgeois democratic social movements as being more progressive than the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Degenerated Workers States.
The Socialist Workers: some history
The most obvious case is the International Socialist current, often called the 'Cliffites' after their main historic leader Tony Cliff (SWO in NZ). Their hostility to Stalinism is legendary originating in a split between Shachtman and Trotsky in 1939 over the defence of the Soviet Union. Trotsky distinguished between a healthy workers' state and a degenerated workers state ruled by a Stalinist bureaucracy. This bureaucracy would have to be overthrown by a political revolution to create a healthy workers state.
Yet Trotsky subordinated the overthrow of the Stalinists to the defence of workers property against imperialism. He said that this might mean blocking with the Stalinists to defend the Soviet Union. But the Cliffites were hostile to Stalinism, and they rejected Trotsky's analysis of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state. They put forward instead their theory of 'state capitalism' which had no progressive features worth defending. They took the infamous double defeatist position -"neither Washington nor Moscow."
The first test of this position came in 1950 with the Korean war when the Cliffites refused to take sides in the UN/US attack on the Democratic Republic of Korea. Today in the case of Yugoslavia where capitalism has been restored the Cliffites hostility to Stalinism is still evident in the opposition to the former Stalinist Milosovic.
To call for the defeat of NATO and Milosovic in Kosovo at the same time is to take a dual defeatist position on the war, equating the two sides as equally bad.
The social base of this dual defeatist position is the petty bourgeois labour aristocracy in the imperialist states. Trotsky's original critique of Shachtman still holds. The "petty bourgeois opposition", as he called it, was adapting to the onset of the cold war which hyped-up US workers against the SU as a Stalinist dictatorship equal to Hitler's fascism. The opposition caved in to this media blitz and adopted the state capitalist position. This adaptation to anti-Stalinist public opinion is still evident today. It accounts for the Cliffites inability to withstand NATO's media campaign to demonise Serbia and Milosovic, and their call for Milosovic to get out of Kosovo when the effect of that call is to weaken Yugoslavia's defence against NATO!
Solving the National Question
On the other hand, the so-called 'ultraleft' says the national question is now wholly subordinated to the defence of Yugoslavia. For example, the ICL (Spartacists) and the Marxist Workers Group (MWG) "subordinates" the national question to the united front against imperialism as if they were separate questions. While it is correct to unconditionally oppose NATO (i.e not making the defeat of Milosovic and the defence of the KLA conditions of that stand) we cannot eliminate the national question from our programme by making it merely an effect of a future working class revolution. We have to do more than proclaim the end of the Kosovo question; we have to actively turn the national question into the class question (as we explain below).
Former Stalinists, and Trotskyist currents like the Spartacists and the MWG, take a view of the national question, which reduces it to its leadership. This misses the point of the Leninist fight to champion the national rights oppressed workers in order to win them away from their reactionary chauvinist leaderships to the struggle for socialism.
Therefore, for these tendencies, the fact that Kosovo liberation is led by the KLA which is covertly armed and trained by the US, and which now acts as the "ground troops" for NATO, disqualifies the Kosovo struggle as reactionary.
But why should the reactionary leadership disqualify the national rights of the majority? All national struggles against oppression are led by reactionary, or potentially reactionary, leaders whose interests are much closer to imperialism than those of workers and peasants. InYugoslavia, the anti-imperialist UF against NATO is led by Milosovic, who is no democrat. Yet he is no fascist. But even if he were a fascist that would still be no reason to abandon the defence of Yugoslavia.
Trotskyists defend oppressed countries from imperialism despite their reactionary leaderships. This is because imperialism is the main enemy. It creates the conditions for reactionary leaders. A victory for imperialism is always an outright defeat for workers because it allows imperialism a free hand to impose worse economic and political conditions on workers. This is why the defence of on an oppressed country in a war with imperialism is unconditional.
However, while our military bloc against imperialism is unconditional workers must maintain a political and military independence from the bourgeois leadership. This is because in the national struggle an independent working class leadership can emerge capable of replacing the bourgeois leadership and winning against imperialism by turning imperialist war into class war.
So just as we bloc militarily with Milosovic while he is fighting against NATO, the fact that the Kosovo struggle is currently misled by the KLA in league with NATO is no reason for abandoning the national rights of the majority of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Inside the UF against imperialism we fight to build workers multi-ethnic militia which can prevent ethnic violence from dividing and destroying workers unity.
It is because this 'ultraleft' current is pro-Stalinist, and tends to put its faith in Stalinist (or ex-Stalinist) bureaucrats, that it rejects national struggles led by non-Stalinist elements, and turns the struggle to build an independent revolutionary leadership into a lifeless abstraction. It fails to see that the while the Kosovo national question has to be subordinated to the Yugoslav national defence against NATO, nevertheless inside the anti-imperialist UF, Kosovo has to be raised in order to create the conditions for workers internationalism. Without that internationalism there can be no socialist revolution capable of resolving all national questions by a free choice of peoples to form Socialist Republics within wider Federations.
Our position is neither of these flipflops. The clearest way to understand revolutionary politics is to follow the class line of dialectics. It is no accident that Trotsky saw dialectics as the key to socialist revolution and the abandonment of dialectics as the sure evidence of capitulation to bourgeois ideology and abstaining from the leadership of the proletariat. Once again, imperialist war becomes the crucial test of the ability of Trotskyists to understand the class line.
As Trotsky taught us, imperialism represents the main capitalist enemy with the power to set-up and destroy whole nations by economic, political and military means. Therefore we must subordinate our struggle against any given national bourgeoisie to a united front against imperialism. But since the national bourgeoisie are ultimately serving the interests of imperialism, only a working class opposition to imperialism can ensure the defeat of both.
Thus, in the case of the current war, while we subordinate the Kosovo question to the defence of Yugoslavia, we subordinate both to the building of an international working class opposition that can win a victory over imperialism and allow the free development of national rights within the framework of a Federation of Socialist Republics.
We can see that imperialism has successfully divided and ruled the former Yugoslav Federation of degenerated workers states. It has restored capitalism and imposed -IMF austerity programmes. And it has promoted former Stalinists or fascists as ultranationalist bourgeois leaders all bent on grabbing territory and ethnically cleansing any opposition. Any imperialist intervention, military or 'humanitarian', as we have seen in many places as well as Yugoslavia, cannot defend national or human rights, and only strengthens the hand of reaction. It is designed to set up compliant client mini-states of imperialism as "Mafia republics", or military bases as part of the strategy to partition and exploit the resources of Central , South and East Asia.
Because of imperialism's divide and rule tactic we are on the side of oppressed nations. We are for the unconditional right to self-determination of any oppressed people which democratically expresses this right. However, we do not support the reactionary leaderships of independence movements, or its imperialist backers, since this the opposite of self-determination.
So while we unconditionally defend Yugoslavia against NATO and the KLA, we also call for the right of Kosovars to self-defence against Yugoslav repression. This right has to be raised along with the demand for multi-ethnic militias capable of uniting workers against repression on all sides.
We do not call for Independence for Kosovo now because that would mean a victory for the KLA. Not because it has got its arms and supplies from imperialism, but because it has accepted the imperialist strings attached to these- that is, support of NATO bombing Yugoslavia to make Kosovo free!
Against US domination of the whole Balkan region, Serbian, Kosovar Albanian, Albanian, Croatian etc., self-determination can only result from the united Yugoslav workers overcoming the imperialist divide and rule strategy of fomenting ethnic chauvinism and removing their ultranationalist leaders to create a Federation of Socialist Republics of the Balkans.
But this will only happen during the unconditional defence of Yugoslavia where the bourgeois misleaders will be shown to be on the side of imperialism not the workers of Yugoslavia. Milosovic cannot defend Yugoslavia and will do a deal, probably brokered by Russia, another US semi-colonial dependency desperate for IMF funds, for the partition of Kosovo under UN "peacekeeping troops". The KLA and the Albanian bourgeoisie in the pay of the US have already done their deal - and the price for ordinary ethnic Albanians is bombing, displacement and chaos.
Such deals are a major defeat for Yugoslav, Kosovar, and all Balkan workers, as well as workers everywhere, as they legitimise a NATO/UN "hardcop-softcop" routine to intervene at will in any oppressed country on the pretext of defending 'human rights'.
Therefore, it is necessary to actively call for workers to unite across ethnic lines as the only way that Yugoslavia can be truly defended. This internationalism must be taken up by workers in the NATO countries following the example of Italian and Greek workers.
The main enemies are at home!
Turn Imperialist war into civil war!
From Class Struggle No 27 May-June 1999