Settling of scores

On February 12 the trial of Slobodan Milosevic by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia began in The Hague. Milosevic has been indicted on more than 50 counts - crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, all relating to Serbia's conduct during the campaigns of 1991 in Croatia, 1992-95 in Bosnia and 1999 in Kosova. The trial, which could last as long as two years, will undoubtedly bring to the fore once again those bitter divisions on the left that were most notable during Nato's war against Serbia over the question of Kosova. Just as then, so now, we can expect various Stalinite and Trotskyite sects to call for the unconditional support of Milosevic, on no more rational grounds than the fact that he is supposedly an inveterate enemy of 'imperialism' - just like Saddam Hussein in fact, another icon of the 'anti-imperialist' struggle. The enemy of my enemy is my friend - that is what passes in these quarters for Marxist analysis. That Milosevic was a bloody, reactionary, anti-democratic tyrant, an oppressor not just of various ethnic minorities in the Balkans, but also of the Serbian working class itself, is something we are supposed to brush aside in our righteous condemnation of the injustice represented by The Hague tribunal. All that matters is the defence of Milosevic. To take one, admittedly bizarre, example, we have only to look at an article entitled 'Milosevic, prisoner of conscience', by Neil Clark (New Statesman February 11). At first reading it seems as if it might be some deeply ironic, provocative spoof, but no. Mr Clark, who describes his "ecstasy" at finding a copy of Tony Benn's Arguments for socialism prominently displayed in a Belgrade bookshop in 1998 (years after Milosevic's fomenting of blood-soaked wars in Croatia and Bosnia) tells us that Milosevic's "worst crime was to carry on being a socialist" who "never once made a racist speech", but who, when "confronted by the incessant violence of western-trained separatist groups, had little option but to use military means to try to prevent the break-up of his country". For Clark, the really "scandalous" thing is the infringement of Milosevic's human rights. Clark's position may seem extreme, but in essence it is actually little different from what we heard so often during the Kosova war from those bone-headed philistines who crudely abused Trotsky's theoretical legacy by maintaining that Yugoslavia under Milosevic was in some sense a workers' state (albeit a 'deformed' one) and that it was therefore the sworn duty of all communists and socialists to take the side of Milosevic in his heroic struggle against imperialism. Nonsense it was then; nonsense it remains. Not even in some tangential way did Milosevic's warmongering constitute a genuine struggle by an oppressed people to defend itself against imperialist aggression. In its ultra-nationalism and chauvinism, the Milosevic regime, intent on creating by bloody force an ethnically pure greater Serbia, may have used pseudo-socialist and anti-imperialist rhetoric to defend its actions, but it was about as far from socialism as you can actually get. So how should we as communists and revolutionaries orient ourselves towards The Hague? Do we believe that Milosevic should be held accountable for his crimes? Yes. He whose policies and actions, directly or indirectly brought death and immense suffering to hundreds of thousands of his own people should pay the price. Just as, for that matter should Tudjman, were he still alive, not to mention Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who still remain at large. Do we, therefore, support or condone the creation of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal and its trial of Milosevic? Certainly not. In an ideal world, degenerate scum like Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic would have their fate settled not by a bourgeois court dispensing victors' justice in the name of the so-called 'international community' (ie, the interests of US imperialism and the new world order), but by the remorseless justice of the Yugoslav working class itself, sitting in judgement on its tyrannical oppressors. Sadly, that cannot be. Milosevic is a criminal, but his captors and his judges are the greatest criminals of all. The imperialists went to war against Milosevic not to rid the world of a genocidal megalomaniac, but to secure their own strategic interests in the former Yugoslavia, whose disintegration threatened to make the region permanently unstable and unfit for exploitation. It was not the desire to guarantee the right of self-determination to Kosova (in itself a genuinely justifiable demand, which we consistently supported) that led the Nato alliance to attack Serbia, but the necessity of imposing stability on the Balkan region on its own, self-serving terms. The decisive question in all such matters is what furthers the struggle of the working class against its oppressors and for democracy. Hence, it is clearly impossible to give any support to a tribunal whose purpose is to settle accounts with a rogue former client. It is hardly in the strategic interests of the international working class to rely on imperialists, through judicial or other means, to deal with its enemies and oppressors. Milosevic became an enemy for the imperialists because he refused to play the game by their rules. But the real enemy of imperialism, the enemy that at heart it fears the most, is the working class at home and abroad. It cannot conceivably be in the interests of the working class to give any support or credence to a supra-national body whose ultimate purpose is to uphold and defend the new world order on the basis, in fact, of no legal or moral authority whatsoever, save that of power. In order to bolster its dubious legal credentials and beef up its claim to be acting in the name of 'humanity' in general, The Hague tribunal compares itself with the international military tribunal that tried leading members of the Nazi regime in 1946. But, as John Laughland pointed out in a recent thoughtful article, "As with many bodies in search of legitimacy - the Hague tribunal was created in 1993 by the UN security council, a body which has as little right to set up a court as it does to raise taxes - its defenders probably think that a quick reference to Hitler can settle the matter" (The Guardian February 16). Ironically, as Laughland states, "Like today's globalists [imperialism and the new world order - MB], the Nazis argued that economic realities had changed, and that, therefore, the great powers should have the legal right to interfere in the internal affairs of smaller nations in their sphere of influence "¦ The Nuremberg jurisprudence of peace has been abandoned in favour of the Hague's decision to award - to the powerful western nations at least - a 'licence to kill'." It is interesting to hear from Mr Laughland, who one doubts is a communist, so eloquent a juridical denunciation of the whole international tribunal process. Not only has it got nothing to do with justice or morality - as Marxists we knew that already - but even on the basis of bourgeois jurisprudence it is an abuse that has everything to do with that international power and domination which imperialism covets in the name of the so-called 'international community'. Ironically, as it happens, the trajectory of international 'law', made on the hoof by politicians rather than lawyers, now actually poses a threat to the cohesion of the alliance whose purpose it was meant to serve. The logic of the process, accepted and promulgated by the major EU powers, is to create an International Criminal Court with power to indict anyone, anywhere. A treaty to set up the ICC is already approaching ratification but is being bitterly opposed by the Bush administration, led by a powerful bloc of Pentagon and state department interests, who believe that, at least in theory, it could lead to the unthinkable - the US itself being indicted for war crimes. A projected Congress amendment will, therefore, prohibit Americans from having anything to do with the ICC, even if it means a political rift with Nato on the question. Of course, given the nature of the capitalist system itself and imperialism's new world order (ie, pax Americana), there are not and cannot be any legal or other institutions, however grandiose their charters, that truly represent 'the interests of humanity'. In this sense, The Hague tribunal lacks not only judicial but any remote semblance of moral authority. Maurice Bernal