by Kartik Rai
People's Democracy. May 30 1999
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 often been based on arguments which are themselves rather disturbing.
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 do .
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 brokeaway 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 immorality.
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 ofthe 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 heads.
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