Ballots and the Balkans

Debating the war - and readying for the Euro elections

The CPGB’s 16th Summer Offensive was launched on May 2 after a day of debate on working class issues and strategies in the light of the Balkans conflict. This event was important in terms of a deeper exploration of the question of war in general. It also put into context the situation in which we will contest the forthcoming June 10 European Union elections and underlined just how vital it is not to miss the opportunity of fighting bomber Blair in the ballot box.

The day began with an opening from comrade Tina Becker on the Marxist theory of war. Fundamentally war must not be understood as something abnormal. War and peace are but opposites within a political unity. As Clausewitz - the Prussian soldier-philosopher - famously said, “War is the continuation of policy by other, violent, means”. Comrade Becker pointed out that while war has existed throughout class society, we need to distinguish between other class societies and capitalism. She argued that capitalism - at its monopoly or imperialist stage - is distinctive in that objective laws drive it inexorably towards war: Its need for expansionism or offloading imminent crisis onto others, leads, where peaceful means fail, to armed conflict.

Today’s world is no longer dominated by the Cold War system characterised by the military-strategic rivalry of the Soviet bloc and US-led imperialism. We are living in a New World Order dominated by US ‘super-imperialism’. This is the context within which the laws of uneven development operate - where the USA tries to spread monopolistic competition to the rest of the world and police small to medium powers that refuse to recognise and comply with the new rules.

Stabilising the troublesome Balkans, stopping the effects of ethnic strife spilling into the rest of Europe and advancing the US-Nato sphere of influence towards Russia’s near abroad lies behind the air war against rump Yugoslavia.

Like the SWP we argue that imperialism should not be allowed to bomb minor powers into submission. However, unlike them we refuse to collapse into social pacifism. We recognise that there are just wars and movements which ought be critically defended. The SWP refuses to call for Kosova independence or arming the KLA. Instead the comrades actually warn of the “danger” that a KLA victory could bring to the region. For communists the Kosovar fight for national self-determination has an undeniable democratic content which must be supported. That principled stance is no abstraction. Till the Serbian working class sides with the people of Kosova, it can never be free.

The discussion which followed brought out an important difference on this question. Comrade Phil Walden argued that the fight for national rights is reactionary in today’s globalised economy. We need “simultaneous revolutions”, not “national revolutions which will create unviable states”. This line has also been advanced by comrade Sandy McBurney from Glasgow, who says that “the progressive content to the struggle for national self-determination has disappeared with globalisation” (Letters Weekly Worker April 29).

But other comrades argued that this was simply a 1999 example of what Lenin termed ‘imperialist economism’ in his polemics against Rosa Luxembourg and her Bolshevik followers Bukharin, Radek and Pyatakov (Kievsky). John Bridge of the CPGB was pleased that comrade Walden had finally caught up with the Marxist aim of “simultaneous revolutions”. Marx and Engels had argued for it in 1845. But this could only be achieved if communists championed the fullest democratic rights in every country. As comrade Stan Kelsey argued,

“the fight for revolutionary democracy cannot be the victim of some abstract economism. The working class must taken up the democratic rights of others in order to become hegemonic. It is the struggle for the working class itself to provide answers which is pivotal.”

The distinction that some Trotskyist groups make between political and military support was also strongly criticised. Such an unwarranted distinction defies both logic and reality. Communists should politically support progressive struggles. This implies using whatever means available, including armed support if desirable and/or possible. If we agree that war is policy by other means, how can ‘military support’ not be political?        

The school moved on to discuss revolutionary defeatism with an opening given by comrade Marcus Larsen. He too argued that the specifics of the situation need to be our starting point. Nevertheless history, especially 1914, teaches important lessons. The success of revolutionary defeatism in leading to the first socialist revolution illustrates both the limitations of SWP-type pacifism and the need for war in the cause of socialism.

Comrade Larsen polemicised both against the red-brown, pro-Milosevic camp and the first-camp politics of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, who “seem to have forgotten that the main enemy is at home in their eagerness to take a stand against Milosevic”. Unfortunately, such comrades appear to have surrended before bomber Blair. Who will they back in the June 10 EU general election? New Labour? Scargill? The ‘Weekly Worker’ list?

The discussion which followed centred mainly on our defence of the KLA. While its fight for independence is a just one, clearly it is in danger of becoming simply a tool of imperialism. At the moment Nato does not see the KLA as trustworthy - hardly surprising, given its pan-Albanian ambitions. However, it is far from impossible that the KLA could be moulded into a Nato-sponsored army policing a Nato protectorate. If this becomes the case, clearly our slogans will change. While we would still be calling for self-determination for Kosova - this time against Nato - we would no longer give any support to the KLA.

Some comrades voiced concern that we need to be very clear with our slogans - that whilst we support the right of the KLA to be armed in its fight for self-determination, we are not ‘KLAists’ and certainly do not support its nationalist programme. We defend the democratic content of its programme, as we did with the IRA. But, however much we need to criticise the politics of the KLA, the cause of today’s crisis lies with the failure of the working class movement to support Kosovar rights. Without that Kosovars are bound to look towards the KLA and nationalism.

The final opening of the day was given by comrade John Bridge. He addressed his remarks mainly to the tasks facing us as an organisation during this period of air war and preparation for ground war. While the collapse of the Socialist Alliance electoral bloc is a setback, there still are possibilities. Two years of Blairism have clearly not brought the ‘crisis of expectations’ so excitedly predicted by the majority of the left. It is not, as leading SWPer Candy Udwin proclaims, “the best time to be a socialist”. It is a period of reaction - but one of a special type. Things can change very rapidly. The SWP, SPEW and others have taken a cowardly step back - unable to take on the SLP. As comrade Bridge argued, “While they can fool themselves that they will fight after the European elections, they will not have created either the space or garnered the political courage to take on Scargill in the London Assembly elections.” The CPGB, through standing in this election, can “give leadership to the left and fight to ensure that Scargill’s attempt to revitalise his Stalinite shell of a party does not go unchallenged”.

The meeting concluded with the Summer Offensive. With a total of over £10,000 pledged at this one meeting, we are off to a good start. But we need the involvement of all those who in one way or another, or to one degree or another, support our EU election platform and the fight for principled unity. By donating to our fundraising campaign - we have a £25,000 target - you will play an important part in furthering the politics of revolutionary democracy against both Blairism and the national socialism of Scargill.

Anne Murphy