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Self-Determination for Kosova! A Reply to Bob Pitt

Nick Davies

BOB PITT is mistaken when he argues ("Self-Determination for Kosova?", What Next? No.13) that it is not correct or appropriate for socialists to call for self-determination for Kosova. I think it is essential that we do; it would have strengthened, not weakened, the opposition to NATOís bombing of Serbia, and in any event we owe it to the Kosovars, as the principal victims of the Kosova conflict, as a basic gesture of solidarity.

By not taking a position of self-determination for Kosova, the anti-war movement made itself vulnerable in two ways. Firstly, it strengthened the conviction of many workers that they should reluctantly support the war because NATO was standing between the Kosovars and annihilation. Secondly, it made it all the more difficult to combat politically the Serb nationalists and their hangers-on on the left who, for a mixture of good and bad reasons, became involved in the anti-war movement. The opinions on the genocide of Bosnian Muslims and Kosova Albanians held by the Chetniks who appeared at anti-war demonstrations and meetings in London can only be guessed at, but if the only basis for the demonstration or meeting was "Stop the War" then they had a perfect right to be there.

I think it would be sectarian to insist on support for Kosova self-determination as a precondition for participation in an anti-war campaign, but, while building the campaign, it would be necessary to argue that it take up that demand, for the reasons given above. Leaving aside Serbian nationalists, why should it be so difficult to win socialists and trade unionists to this position? If they can be convinced that NATOís "humanitarian" concern for the Kosovars is pure hypocrisy, then surely it is possible to win them to the twin position of Stop the War and Self-Determination for Kosova?

Bob argues that those who call for Kosova self-determination "seem to have lost sight of the main issue", namely that US imperialism is a greater threat to the oppressed of the world than a tinpot dictator. That is undoubtedly true. But take the case of Iraq. Does our recognition that Clinton is the wholesaler of state terror and Saddam Hussein merely a small shopkeeper prevent us from calling for self-determination for the Iraqi Kurds, even when we are demanding an end to the bombing of Iraq? No, of course not.

Bob makes clear his sympathy for the plight of the Kosova Albanians, but adds: "if humanitarian sympathy with the oppressed were a sufficient basis for determining a correct political course, however, where would be the need for Marxism?" Very true, but is it good Marxism to separate the two so absolutely?

In any case, Bobís reasons donít really stack up. He refers to the Kosova Liberation Armyís support for the Rambouillet agreement and then for NATO intervention. Two points arise here.

Firstly, there has been an almighty bust-up within the KLA over even attending the Rambouillet talks, let alone supporting NATO airstrikes to impose the "agreement". Former KLA leader Adem Demaci, who refused to go to Rambouillet, opposed the NATO bombings, calls for Kosova self-determination with full rights for the Serb minority, and is now regarded as a traitor by the new leadership. Therefore, the question of the relationship with NATO is still a live issue in the KLA.

Secondly, do we refuse to call for self-determination for a people because of the crimes or mistakes of the leadership of its liberation organisations? Do we refuse to call for Irish self-determination because we donít agree with what Adams and McGuinness are doing, or because of what the IRA did in the 1970s and í80s? Should socialists have stopped supporting Algerian self-determination because the MNA of Messali Hadj signed the Evian agreement with France? Further, national liberation movements or their leaderships have frequently sought the protection of one major power against another Ė Subash Chandra Bose allied with the Japanese against the British in India, to use just one example. During the cold war, the USSR or China played this role. Now there is only one superpower, so there is less choice! Amidst the break-up of a "socialist" police state which is carrying out genocide against an oppressed people, seeking protection from the "democratic" West may be misguided, and ultimately disastrous, but it is understandable.

Surely the job of revolutionary socialists, in situations like this, is to be as unremitting in our criticism of these illusions and mistakes as we are unconditional in our support for self-determination. National liberation movements always twist and turn between military or guerrilla methods and "constitutional" means. If revolutionary socialists waited for a national liberation movement which did not make disastrous mistakes before giving our support to that people, we would be waiting a very long time indeed.

Bob says that, as the KLAís immediate aim is not self-determination for Kosova but the establishment of a NATO protectorate, there is no movement actually fighting for self-determination and capable of exercising it, so it makes no sense to raise "self-determination for Kosova" as an agitational slogan. But where is the precedent for this? Doesnít the fact that the "self-determination" on offer from NATO amounts to a poverty stricken, war ravaged bantustan make it more urgent that revolutionary Marxists call for the real thing? The alternative would be, in fact, to abandon the Kosovars to NATO and, at the same time, perpetuate the fiction that NATO is their only real friend.

From What Next? No.14 1999