Was Callinicos a Closet Neo-Con?

Submitted by AWL on 22 February, 2008 - 2:53 Author: Editorial

No better, more democratic, or more effective rules exist for organising relations between peoples and fragments of peoples than those of Lenin, Trotsky and their comrades. Consistent and comprehensive democracy: self-determination for compact majorities; indifference towards existing state boundries; as much autonomy, self rule, as circumstances allow, for peoples who are not a compact majority; unity of the working class across the borders and other divides on the basis of consistent democracy.

Nothing else is more conducive to working class unity across the divides and despite them. These are the principles of all who are Marxists and stand in that great tradition.

The consequences of the opposite approach — or of an approach of unprincipled eclecticism and zig-zags — are well illustrated by the politics of Socialist Worker and the SWP on Kosova.

When Yugoslavia was breaking up, when terrible things were being done by the Serb chauvinists to the non-Serbs, the SWP was determinedly “neutral” — but in a way that favoured the Serbs. For instance, accepting the arms embargo, which favoured the forces and the allies of the old Serb state, which had arms.

They denounced all talk of help — such as arms or medical aid — for the Bosniaks. The future self-proclaimed “best fighters for Muslims” could in that situation not rouse themselves even to active sympathy with the Bosniaks who, as it happens, were mostly Muslims.

They did worse in 1999 when the Serb-dominated Yugoslav state under Slobodan Milosevic attempted a generalised drive in Serbia’s colony Kosova to kill or expel the entire Albanian population.

The future “best fighters for Muslims” were then not only remiss in solidarity or even sympathy with the Kosovars. They sided stridently with the Serb would-be exterminators of the Kosova Albanians — who, as it happened, were Muslims.

The NATO powers — some of whose leaders may perhaps have felt ashamed of the passive collusion with which they had stood idly by while the Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered — mounted an international police operation to stop genocide in Kosova.

The SWP launched an “anti-war” campaign that quickly became a campaign of lying propaganda on behalf of Milosevic.

The Milosevic regime could have “stopped the war”, and eventually did, simply by desisting in Kosova. The SWP denouncing NATO one-sidedly and in a way that amounted to the demand: stop the war and let Milosevic have a free hand in his war of attempted extermination on the Kosova Albanians.

They rejected and denounced as “pro-imperialism” any suggestion that their “anti-war” movement should demand that the Serbs stop their war against the Kosovars and withdraw from Kosova. That is what the imperialists were demanding!

Their lying war-propaganda for Milosevic ranged from blaming NATO for the mass movement of Albanians fleeing for their lives from the Serbs, to arguing publicly that the destruction of the Albanian population was already an irreversible fact (and therefore other socialists could with a clear conscience join the SWP in backing Milosevic against “imperialism”.)

(The reader does not have to take our word for it here in this editorial – it is copiously documented in Workers Liberty 2/3, which is on our website. Or see Pat Murphy's account of the NUT Conference then.)

Socialist Worker’s comments on Kosova’s formal declaration of independence from Serbia are in keeping with what they said and did in 1999.

Ordinarily, the SWP does not bother much about consistency or continuity. Since 1999 the SWP leaders have been converted to an attitude of supportive sympathy towards political Islam, including Islamic clerical fascists such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

The “anti-war” movement which the SWP led in 2002-3, sided entirely with Saddam Hussein (though many who were involved in the demonstrations of the Stop the War Coalition did not).

The SWP sided with Hezbollah in the Lebanon war of 2006, and with Hamas in Israel/Palestine.

Under the banner of “Respect”, SWP leaders stood for election, presenting themselves in Muslim areas of Britain as “the best fighters for Muslims”.

They even felt obliged to revise their own history and implicitly to publicly criticise themselves for having supported Salman Rushdie when a death sentence was pronounced against him by the Iranian clerical-fascist regime. They made a mistake, Alex Callinicos wrote in Socialist Worker.

To make up for that, they supported the religious bigots who demonstrated two years ago against the Danish cartoons showing Mohammed.

Anyone who hoped that in this vein they might have had a second look at their politics on Kosova and on Milosevic in 1999 has been disappointed. They publicly repent for having opposed the fatwa on Rushdie, but not for having been war-propagandists for those attempting genocide on Kosova in 1999! Consistency does not live at the SWP’s address!

Callinicos, writing recently in SW (17 December), was unrepentant about Kosova in 1999. This time too, as in 1999, he expressed attitudes to Albanians that might reasonably be described as deeply prejudiced if not — dare we say it? — racist. Why we say this will become clear as we go along.

There is a Marxist tradition on such questions as the right to self-determination. Is there a Marxist, or a general socialist, or even a liberal case to be made against these basic attitudes, in relation to the Kosovar Albanians? If there is, Callinicos does not attempt to make it. His article is not that of someone within the Marxist tradition arguing why that tradition does not cover the Kosovar Albanians but the work of someone willing to use any arguments that he thinks might serve.

Callinicos says that he “nearly threw up” recently when he heard US ex-president Clinton claim that in 1999 the NATO powers achieved “a humanitarian triumph” in Kosova.

The very moral Mr Callinicos says that Clinton’s view here is evidence of the abysmal “moral measure” of the so-called “international community”. Stopping genocide was not a “moral triumph” . And why? The US and others disregarded the legal rights of Serbia over Kosova.

That legalistic argument is the root and anchor of Mr Callinicos’s case. He is all for international “legality”. It is an important consideration for socialists and anti-imperialists, isn’t it? Think what its absence can mean.

Chechnya against Russia. Algeria against France — which had held Algeria for a full century and a quarter by 1954 when the bandits of the Algerian National Liberation Front started, in the deepest illegality, shooting French soldiers. Ireland in 1919-21, where they started shooting the agents of the UK government whose state had legally held Ireland for seven hundred years already.

Such outrages against international legality are enough to make a decent chap like Mr Callinicos rip up his copy of the Daily Telegraph in righteous anger.

And don’t think that such things as majority rights are enough to override international law. Callinicos concedes “the majority of Kosova’s population are now Albanian”. (This fact is here a partial lie, expressed by way of understatement. A majority might be 55 or even 51 per cent. The Albanian majority in Kosova is 93%. The overwhelming majority! And what does "now" mean? That they weren't until -? That the Albanians drove out so many Serbs as to meaningfully change the balance of populations? Nothing of the sort!)

The Albanians are the majority. But, says Mr. Callinicos, in the same sentence in which he has grudgingly conceded that the Albanians are a majority: “but Kosova retains an important place in Serbian nationalist ideology”.

Yes, of course it does. And? The sentiments of a different people, and the rampant chauvinism of many of them – do what to the rights to self-determination of the Kosovar Albanians? Override them?

Override the wishes of the people who live there, whose ancestors have lived there for centuries, for separation from the state that has oppressed them for a century, that attempted to massacre or drive them out less than a decade ago?

Nobody but a brain-pickled Serb chauvinist would argue that!

Mr Callinicos, who is not Serbian, is a Serb chauvinist? That’s certainly what he was, vicariously, in 1999, acting as a propagandist for Serbia even as genocide was being attempted against the Albanians of Kosova.

Callinicos rcalls that the last of the Balkan wars which Milosevic launched in the 1990s was that in Kosova, in 1999. What was happening there?

“A vicious but small scale counter-insurgency campaign was waged by the Yugoslav army against the KLA, demanding national independence”. And then what happened?

“Clinton and his European allies… Tony Blair mounted a bombing campaign against Serbia”. And then? “Milosevic reacted by ordering the Yugoslav army to expel hundreds of thousands of Kosovars, but eventually had to abandon control of Kosova to the UN”.

This is a bit more truthful than what Callinicos was saying about the same subject in 1999, when it was happening, but nonetheless it is a shameless pack of lies.

Though Nato bombing served as excuse for Milesovich to step up the offensive against the Kosovo Albanians the attempted genocide by Serbia was not a response to the NATO bombing, but its prime cause. When the Serbs retreated from Kosova, the bombing stopped.

Even so, says Callinicos, “Kosova remained legally part of Serbia”. (And it’s very important to the feelings of Serbs nationalists, don’t forget.)

Serbia had been baulked in attempting genocide, but Kosovars and readers of Socialist Worker must respect its continuing international legal rights in Kosova? Make socialist, or democratic, sense of that if you can!

And now, says Callinicos, Kosova’s “Albanian-dominated government” is threatening to declare independence. You can see how grossly unjust it is, can’t you?

Callinicos adds: though Kosova is “legally” part of Serbia, it has an “Albanian-dominated government”. Only 93 percent of the population, and they still think they have the right to form a government!

This is an imperialist crime! It is only because NATO imperialism inhibits Belgrade and stops it exercising its legal rights over Kosova that such an outrage takes place.

Callinicos warns that the recently elected Prime Minister of Kosova, Hashin Thaci, “was one of the leaders of the KLA” which — if we understand Callinicos’ drift — betrayed Serbia: during the 1999 war. It “worked with NATO” forces coming to stop Serbian genocide against Albanians!

And you won’t, reader, be astonished to learn that Bush is backing Kosova’s independence.

But the really shocking thing about Kosova is how crime-ridden it is. Hashin Thaci was widely criticised, Callinicos says, for the “crime that flourished” when he ran Kosova just after the Serbian army withdrew.

Callinicos indicts Hashin Thaci for “the crime-wave and… widespread atrocities against Kosova’s Serb minority”.

Now, atrocities are atrocities — and attacks on unarmed civilians of the “wrong” ethnicity are indeed atrocities.

The Serbs in Albanian-majority areas have reason to feel insecure. And therefore? Therefore the majority Kosovars’ right to self-determination is indefinitely annulled?

The question arises here: why, (leaving Israel aside) of all peoples in the world, including peoples in countries where there are far worse conflicts that that between the Serbs and the Albanians in Kosova, do the Albanians in Kosova not have the right which socialists and even decent liberals recognise for all peoples?

Well, why? Callinicos approvingly quotes a writer in the Financial Times predicting terrible things in an independent Kosova: “an independent Kosova… likely… a failed state, ethnically cleansed of all its minorities…”.

Callinicos adds his own bit to that “… Thaci and the thugs around him won’t now be restrained…”. The KLA warlords who run Kosova will have “…a regime run by nationalist gangsters”.

The KLA thugs and gangsters in power naturally outrage the one-time propagandist against them on behalf of the gentle and civilised humane-minded Slobodan Milosevic!

Now, of course, guerrillas in civil wars often have many of the characteristics of gangsters. We have no brief for the KLA. Ethnic conflict, victimisation and persecution are in all conditions deplorable. But the conclusion here is that the Albanians are simply not fit to exercise self-rule.

And therefore? There should be continued UN control? (In fact a large measure of EU control over Kosova will continue).

This is a novel approach to such questions for the SWP. And what if it were to be generalised? Why are the sort of difficulties he describes and plausibly predicts for independent Kosova an argument for denying them self-determination?

The Provisional IRA functioned, and some of them still function, as gangsters. Callinicos favours continued British control? In which of the many other troubled places in the world do Callinicos and the SWP want UN international supervision?

Is Callinicos a closet neo-con? Well for Kosova he is! But only for Kosova.

What Callinicos says and seemingly advocates for Kosova would be roundly denounced by the SWP if proposed for any other place on Earth. Kosova is special. Albanians are – what?

This is what Callinicos says they are: “the US and European Union are rushing to back a regime run by nationalist gangsters whose independence may destabilise [the] region”.

Again we ask: is he a neo-con? Or is it only in Kosova, as must be inferred from what he writes, that he wants the old colonial power Serbia, to be restored in order to control the “gangsters” and the inextricably crime-ridden Kosovar Albanians, who plainly aren’t fit to rule themselves. Those Albanians! Sheep-shaggers and thieves, most of them!

Or is it just the old SWP syndrome of using any argument that will help the case you want to make now? Yet the neo-con implications are there, unless the argument is that the Albanians are hopelessly inferior to people everywhere else.

In his time Saddam Hussein “destabilised” his region, invading Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1991 for example. And? Callinicos will soon publish a confession in Socialist Worker to say that he was wrong to oppose the intervention of the US and Britain (backed retrospectively by the UN)?

Make sense of the SWP if you can!


Submitted by martin on Fri, 22/02/2008 - 22:35

Turns out that the SWP can find someone like-minded on the left. The venerable Labour left weekly Tribune, of 1 February, carried an article by its advertising manager, Marcus Papadopoulos, hailing the Serbian presidential elections as "a chance for Serbs to pull back from the westward drift of recent years and re-establish their historic links with Russia".

It comments with apparent approval that "in the first round of the presidential election 55% of Serbs pledged their support to parties which have a policy of no compromise with the West over Belgrade's stance on Kosovo". "No compromise with the West" actually means "no compromise with" - let alone recognition of - "the rights of the Kosovars".

The latest Tribune, 22 February, "balances" the coverage slightly with an article by Ian Williams with the gritted-teeth headline, "Accept the reality of Kosovo independence".

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