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The National Question: A Tricky Old Business

IT WAS gratifying to receive such a long reply to my little article ("Welcome to Zone 2", What Next? No.19), which was intended to provoke a discussion about how we concretely apply our theoretical understanding of the national question. Mike Jones’s reply in No.20 ("Marxism or Nationalism?") is in fact longer than the full article which appeared in What Next? and quite a bit longer than the edited version which appeared in Socialistisk Information back in April. The editorial board chopped out my musings about the Macedonian national question ("Macedonia – ein geografisches Begriff") on the grounds of length. This of course removed the most provocative part of it.

The article as printed in Socialistisk Information (and What Next?) was signed and therefore my own view. I guess I should feel flattered to be seen as a representative of the USec "line" or that the theoretical homogeneity of the USec is as high as Mike seems to believe. Nobody in SAP, or the small proportion of the Danish population which reads our magazine, felt so outraged as to respond, and certainly not at the length that Mike has. It is therefore a bit unfortunate that Mike adopts such a polemical tone but comes up with so little actually positive either in terms of general theoretical points or the concrete question of Macedonia and the surrounding area.

May I just explain the objectives of my piece? It was an attempt to apply my limited empirical knowledge of social and economic realities in Macedonia (and Kosova) to provoke a discussion about what attitude we should take if the demand for a Greater Albania started to be an issue, and whether we should take the same attitude to a Greater Albania as we took to a Greater Serbia. That’s all. Nowhere in the article do I advocate such a step – not that I’m the first to mention the thought.

It’s a tricky old business this national question, and having at Mike’s bidding reread John Sullivan’s article in What Next? No.19 ("Nationalism Against Marxism") I’m frankly not a lot wiser – much the same as I found myself after reading Michael Löwy’s otherwise thought-provoking book. John makes some very fine points about not inventing nationalities for the fun of it and not to ponce around like members of the Ärhus Manchester United Fan Club. I admit a total ignorance of the South Moluccan question but, if things are as John describes, errors have been made. Apart from this, both John (and Mike) correctly point out that most of the Balkan states are multi-ethnic (and that this is a good thing) – this much I agree with. They also claim that many Marxists ignore the rights of national minorities who do not have a "snowball’s chance in hell" of creating their own states – this I’m a bit more sceptical about, but maybe some do. If I’m being charged with this, I’ll plead not guilty and ask the prosecution to state their case.

I believe that Mike, John and I have a common theoretical heritage where we support movements of the nationally oppressed against their oppressors – not because we are nationalists (or kitsch third-world romantics) but because we see this as the best way to create working class unity. We support the right of self-determination for oppressed nations (i.e. separation or independence) and sometimes actually advocate it. This common heritage goes back to Marx, Lenin and the early Comintern. So please, can we drop this Marxism vs Nationalism malarky?

Like I said, I didn’t invent the Albanian national question, nor did the USec. The Albanian national question, especially the question of Kosova, was one of the biggest factors in the split between Yugoslavia, the Cominform and Albania, and assumed an importance many years before the latest blow-up. Mike congratulates me for pointing out that Albania was created by Austrian pressure to spite the Serb monarchy, but I didn’t mean to imply that this rendered the Albanians less "worthy" of the right to nationhood, just because their statelet was created by caesarean section. In fact the fledgling Albanian national movement failed to develop in the late 18th and early 19th centuries because they were more nervous of the surrounding Slavs and Greeks than they were of the Ottomans – possibly with good reason!

Macedonia is one-third Albanian – they live mostly in the north west where they constitute an overwhelming majority of the population. They are legally, economically and culturally oppressed. To their immediate west, just over the Shar mountains, lies Albania, which is of course overwhelmingly ethnically Albanian. To their immediate north lies Kosova which is (now) roughly 95% Albanian. To the immediate east of Kosova lie limited areas of Serbia (Presevo valley etc) which are definably Albanian. A similar situation exists in the south of Montenegro. Now, if these people want to unite into a nation state is that such a bad thing? The difference between a Greater Albania project and the Greater Serbia project is that the Albanian lands are all coterminous and that Trotsky did after all advocate national self-determination (i.e. a black state within the US south) for American Blacks. I think he was wrong (Mike probably agrees), but I doubt Mike will accuse him of "knee-jerk support for any movement demanding self-determination" as he does me and my "associates".

What is Macedonia in any case? Essentially it is the ground that Serbia seized from Turkey during the First Balkan War and from Bulgaria during the Second. It was classed as being South Serbia until the Partisans took power and established the Federal Republic of Macedonia. This I believe was as much an attempt to weaken Serb hegemony within the new Jugoslav state as recognise a Macedonian entity. I did however not deny the existence of a distinct Macedonian entity – I do not follow the line of some Albanian nationalists that they are simply a pot-pourri of Bulgars and Serbs. I do however question the sustainability and desirability of a state ethnically dominated by Macedonian Slavs to also rule the north west of their country if the majority of its population feel themselves discriminated against (which they are) and wish to secede. Since 1989 the Albanian population of Kosova (approximately 90%) had been treated to the most barbarous persecution. They had had their democratic rights removed, their culture repressed, they had been sacked en masse from their jobs, robbed, beaten and killed by representatives of the Serbian state. Their protests, which started by waving portraits of Tito and demanding equal rights, were crushed.

It is therefore scarcely surprising that they drew the conclusion that the best way to remove the Serb bureaucrats, soldiers, police, special police and paramilitary irregulars was to end Serb rule and that taking up arms was the only way to do it. In my view it is axiomatic that Marxists should have supported the Kosovar rising against their tormentors irrespective of what we feel about Thaci, Rugova, Demaci, the drugs trade, the Rambouillet Agreement or for that matter imperialist interests in the Balkans.

My article was written in late March – since then things have moved forward a good deal. There has been considerable progress within Macedonia to remove the discriminatory aspects of the Macedonian constitution and to create a civil society within which the Albanian minority will be treated as equal citizens. I’m not convinced, but we can hope ...

Mike keeps referring rather elliptically to Bosnia throughout the article, unfortunately without really pointing out what he himself really believes. I believe it is as misguided to approach Macedonia through the eyes of Bosnia as it would be to approach Bosnia through the eyes of the Spanish civil war, Vietnam or Chechnya. As for Mike’s question about Bosnia as a historical entity – read a bloody history book Mike! BiH was a historical entity before the Ottoman invasion, after the Ottoman invasion, and has had the same border since at least 1878, and substantially the same border since some point in the 16th century. In fact it has a stronger "claim" to be a "historic nation" than Germany and Italy have! Having said that, I have no desire to reopen the rather acrimonious little squabble which graced the pages of What Next?

Otherwise I agree with a lot of Mike’s points, and will excuse some of my omissions on the grounds of space and that I was writing a short article not a book. For example, I failed to mention the Slavic minority in Greece since they were tangential to the point of the article, not out of spite (or ignorance). I also take Mike’s point about local autonomy for the Serbian areas of Croatia. In principle nobody could oppose this but it’s maybe a bit beside the point, since the overwhelming majority of Croatia’s Serbs didn’t live in Lipa or the Krajina. I would also agree that Tudjman drove the Krajina Serbs into the hands of Boban and Co by his use of Ustashe symbols and strident Croat nationalism.

A final point is – what are the Yanks up to in the Balkans? I recently read an article by Michael Chossudovsky which poses the question: "Is the whole outbreak of Albanian nationalism an attempt by the US to divide and rule (balkanise the Balkans in fact) in order to build an oil-pipe from Burgas in Bulgaria to Vlora in Albania?" (For that matter, is the bombardment of Afghanistan part of an imperialist plot to run a pipe from Kazakhstan to Pakistan?)

If the former is the case, should this change our attitude towards the legitimate grievances of the Albanians in the Balkans? Are the KLA/NLA merely the tools of American imperialism? Is our enemy’s enemy necessarily our friend, and more important, is our enemy’s friend necessarily our enemy?

Mick Woods

Marxism, Rioting and Moralism

MY ARTICLE "Marxism and Rioting" in What Next? No.19 seems to have got up a few people’s noses. One of my critics – John Plant – couldn’t even bring himself to write to What Next? (which he dismissed as "one of the New Labour journals"!) about it, and sent his denunciation to New Interventions instead. According to comrade Plant, my article was written "in support of state repression" of the London May Day protestors, and "logically" in support also of the killing and systematic beating of demonstrators at Genoa! And this in a journal which sternly announces as its editorial policy that "discussions should be conducted avoiding the use of character assassination and other ’point-scoring’ tricks".

Andy Robinson’s polemic in What Next? No.20 ("Marxism and Mayday") is almost restrained by comparison. But it is still completely over the top. Andy derides my view that the May Day Monopoly demo in London "passed off relatively peacefully", and claims that protestors were in fact subjected to "barbaric repression" by the police, whose purpose was to "terrorise people out of demonstrating".

To be blunt, I think this is hysterical nonsense. The police strategy was essentially to smother the demonstration by weight of numbers, rather than use violence to drive the protestors off the streets. This was what I had in mind when I described the events as relatively peaceful (a view shared by Peace News, incidentally, which described the London May Day protest as "a relatively peaceable affair"). If the aim of the Metropolitan Police was indeed to "terrorise people out of demonstrating", through the use of "barbaric repression", how would Andy characterise the police actions in Genoa? It seems to me that he has lost all sense of proportion.

As for my acceptance of the line that a minority of the demonstrators were intent on trashing shops in Oxford Street, Andy’s response is: (1) this isn’t true – the protestors didn’t intend to attack property; (2) if they did so, it was the fault of the police, who provoked them; (3) there are anarchists who employ such methods, but Marxists have tried to dissuade them; (4) it doesn’t really matter anyway – "a few broken windows is, after all, hardly the central issue here"; and (5) those who would question any of this suffer from "conservative character-structures".

Andy goes on to quote Marx’s dictum that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself. I would agree. The "central issue", therefore, is how the actions of socialists can advance the consciousness and collective organisation of working people generally.

"Anti-capitalist" stunts like the May Day Monopoly protest try to leapfrog this process. They find little support among the mass of working people, who may bitterly resent certain aspects of capitalism but have not yet reached the stage of rejecting capitalism as such. And the prominent involvement of anarchists committed to nihilistic attacks on the symbols of bourgeois society only widens the gulf between the protestors and the people. Workers Power’s youth paper Revolution has recounted how, after rioters had smashed up shops in Gothenburg, anti-capitalist protestors were spat on by local workers. How exactly does this promote working class self-emancipation?

Finally, I would observe that Andy appears to possess the kind of character-structure which gets off on adopting a tone of moral superiority towards those who disagree with him. Personally, I think this is useless as a means of clarifying political issues.

Martin Sullivan

From the NEUM to UMSA: A Reply to Yousuf Rassool

I WISH to deal with some of the points raised by Yousuf Rassool in his letter "On the History of the Unity Movement" (What Next? No.20).

Firstly, he asserts that the Society of Young Africa (SOYA) was intended for the African youth only. This is patently incorrect as attested by the membership of the organisation, which consisted of Blacks from the African, Coloured and Indian sections of the oppressed population as well as those Whites who accepted full equality in accordance with the programme and policy of the Unity Movement of South Africa (UMSA). In the early stages of the formation of SOYA, the politically advanced youth in the organisation, who were mainly Coloured and Indian coming from the cities, were advised by the leadership of UMSA not to project themselves forward in the organisation in order to encourage the less politically advanced, mainly African youth from the countryside to participate actively in SOYA. The guidance provided by the leadership of UMSA helped SOYA to develop into a dynamic political organisation of oppressed young Blacks engaged in the liberation struggle in South Africa. Many of the members of SOYA joined the African People’s Democratic Union of Southern Africa (APDUSA) when it was formed and some played (and continue to play) leading roles in the organisation. Rassool, in his letter, acknowledges the role of APDUSA in the liberation struggle: "APDUSA was a real thorn in the side of the apartheid regime and many members suffered as a result – some ending up on Robben Island."

As Rassool points out, the UMSA was originally called the Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM). A split occurred in the organisation in 1959 when the Kies-Jaffe clique succeeded on wrenching the Anti-CAD – a federation of mainly Coloured organisations, to which the Teachers League of South Africa (TLSA) was affiliated – away from the NEUM. At the 1964 conference of the NEUM a resolution was passed that it change its name to UMSA, and an article in the APDUSA journal ("The NEUM or UMSA", Vol.VI, No.2, June 1980), to which Rassool refers in his letter, explains the reason for the change: "It was felt that there was no longer any need to use the appellation ’Non-European’ ( a negative of another people) as a collective name. The oppressed people, i.e. the African, Coloured and Indian, had accepted the fact that they were one people, bound together by common disabilities and engaged in a common struggle; in short, that oppression was indivisible."

Rassool next turns to the land question, which he says was a central reason for the split in UMSA. The Kies-Jaffe clique criticised Point 7 of the Ten Point Programme which calls for the right of the peasantry to acquire land. "Does this mean the peasantry must buy the land and where will they get it?" they demanded. The same article in the APDUSA journal mentioned above dismissed this criticism as irrelevant when the explanatory note to Point 7 is considered together with it. This note states: "A new division of the land in conformity with the existing rural population living on the land and working the land, is the first task of a democratic State and Parliament." The article goes on to elaborate UMSA’s position, that "the land question in South Africa cannot be solved within the framework of capitalism" and that "the first ‘Democratic Parliament’ which will reflect the predominance of the oppressed groups and classes will have to place on the agenda the fundamental question of the landlessness of the majority who live on the land and till it. This envisages an ongoing uninterrupted revolution".

APDUSA is affiliated to UMSA, which Rassool has constantly tried to bury but which refuses to die. It opposed the negotiated settlement in South Africa in 1994, which was conducted behind the backs of the oppressed workers and peasantry. Whilst the racist regime, representing the mainly white bourgeoisie, was forced to yield to the demand of the Blacks for democratic rights, it considered this a price well worth paying for retaining the ownership of the main sectors of the economy. APDUSA, together with other political organisations, trade unions and the Anti-Privatisation Forum (a united front of political, trade union and civic organisations), are engaged in a bitter struggle against the neo-liberal policies of the ANC-led government. The programme of transitional demands of APDUSA calls for the nationalisation of the land and the completion of the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution under the leadership of the proletariat, assisted by the landless peasantry.

Rassool tells us that he broke from the "NEUM" ideologically when it "came out in support of the Serbs’ assault on Bosnia". To which organisation is he referring, since he knows that after 1964 "NEUM" was dropped in favour of "UMSA"? In an article Rassool wrote in Searchlight South Africa (No.10, April 1993) entitled "Quo Vadis the Unity Movement? A Disgraceful Episode", he quoted from two articles, one in the Educational Journal, organ of the TLSA, and the other in The Bulletin of the New Unity Movement of South Africa, to show that they supported Serbia in its attack on Bosnia. He then claimed that the TLSA belonged to UMSA and implied that the New Unity Movement of South Africa did so as well. He went on to hold UMSA responsible for their views and condemned it. It is widely known in South Africa that the TLSA and the New Unity Movement of South Africa are organisations which are not connected in any way to UMSA. Why, in his letter to What Next?, does he name "NEUM" and not the TLSA and the New Unity Movement of South Africa as the two organisations that came out in support of Serbia against Bosnia? UMSA and APDUSA were opposed to the policies of the former Serbian regime in its attack on Bosnia as well as on the Kosovars. If Rassool’s purpose in writing the article in Searchlight South Africa in 1993 and the the allegations he has now made in his letter to What Next? was to frame UMSA, it was a clumsy attempt.

Norman Traub

More on Lambertism

IN HIS letter on "Lambertism", Frank Wainwright ("Towards an Assessment of Lambertism", What Next? No.14) claims he wants "to offer an alternative perspective to the usual denunciations" by the FI/ICR’s political opponents. However, while it is correct to say there are no denunciations of the Gluckstein-Lambert current in the article, where have the political issues gone?

All Wainwright ends up writing is: "the one thing that should be said of the Lambertist current is that they are growing." This is but a mere assertion. He doesn’t deal with any of the concrete political questions which need to be raised. For instance: what is to be done now by Trotskyists in France, or in Britain (he’ll admit that "work within the Labour Party" is a very, very short answer).

Then Wainwright mentions that, according to him, "in France the FI/ICR section [named PCI until 1991] has in recent years been savagely attacked on at least four occasions". Before dealing with some of these "attacks", let me state the following. The most "savage attack" ever upon the French PCI was led by its own leadership, during the ’80s. The PCI had already decided not to have its own candidates at the 1978 legislative elections, arguing that it was a necessity to elect a Socialist Party/ Communist Party majority. Let me explain that, in France, these elections have two rounds. In 1981, the leadership of the PCI called for a vote for Mitterrand, the Socialist Party candidate, in the first round.

After the victory of Mitterrand and the election of a huge majority of SP and CP in the parliament, a victory reflecting the will of the working class to put an end to the consequences of the capitalists’ policies, a coalition government was constituted – replete with established, including bourgeois, politicians. The Fifth Republic’s institutions remained. The PCI had to, and partly did for a year or two, open a political perspective to the working class: the fight directed towards the majority of SP-CP, elected by the working people against the capitalists, to compel this majority to break with the government and the Fifth Republic. The Socialist and Communist MPs should declare the sovereignty of the National Assembly, declare that the government would be an emanation (I don’t know what this word means ...) of this Assembly, and constitute a government in which there were no representatives of the capitalist class and its parties. The PCI, built during the previous thirty years on the basis of the programme of the Fourth International, fought on that orientation (certainly with many mistakes) for some months after the 1981 electoral victory.

But very soon a line reflecting the pressure of the "popular front" type government appeared. In 1982, the PCI press published a pamphlet entitled The Government at the Crossroads. What else could that mean if not that this government, a bourgeois government, could implement pro-worker policies? As early as 1983, for the local elections, the demand addressed to the SP-CP majority that they break with the government was turned into the mere democratic demand – "respect what you were elected for" – which, in a way, was exactly what these representatives were doing. The PCI began then to raise as a slogan the necessity of building a "workers’ party", and no longer a revolutionary workers' party. In 1984, the MPPT began to take shape. This was a political ectoplasm? Replace this word with extension of the PCI, a gathering on "four points" (can one believe this?). These points were like "respect for democracy. The people themselves will determine its form and content".

In fact, a total capitulation in front of the task of building the revolutionary workers’ party, for socialism, had infected the very top of the party. United front policies were abandoned, or faked. In particular, the following excerpt from the Transitional Programme – the centre of it – was totally rejected:

"Of all parties and organisations which base themselves on the workers and peasants and speak in their name, we demand that they break politically from the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for the workers’ and farmers’ government. On this road we promise them full support against capitalist reaction. At the same time, we indefatigably develop agitation around those transitional demands which should in our opinion form the programme of the ’workers’ and farmers’ government’."

An opposition appeared within the PCI, after the internal publication – early 1984 – of an article by Stephane Just. The leadership of the PCI was clearly worried, because it appeared that an internal political current was forming, calling for a return to the revolutionary traditions of the PCI. The leadership of the PCI (including Cambadelis, who would leave two years later) organised a provocation (with the help of Pierre Broué, who would be expelled five years later). This was christened the "Melusine affair". A shabby trial against a militant who had misquoted a party member who was a local councillor. But the fact was that this member of the PCI, elected in 1983 to the local town council, had associated herself with a tribute for the French soldiers in Lebanon, had voted in favour of the budget, the taxes, and also of the "union de la gauche" mayor, etc. It was under the direct leadership of Pierre Lambert that she did what she did.

Melusine was expelled, followed by all those who didn’t approve this expulsion (incredible but true!). So was Stephane Just, and a tenth of the comrades, who would begin to publish Combattre Pour le Socialisme. In the next year, 1985, comrade Domange was expelled from the PCI because he developed the same arguments as Stephane Just and wanted to form a tendency. In 1986, it was the turn of comrade Verdi and some others. The same year, following scrupulously the "line of democracy", all the student leadership (Cambadelis/Kostas) deserted the PCI, went to the Socialist Party. The PCI lost almost all its youth sector and control of the main student union. Among the teachers, the positions held within the powerful "FEN" – at that time the union that included all tendencies in that sector – were abandoned without a fight, most of the militants being ordered to leave and build "Force Ouvrière" in education. In fact, the subordination of the PCI leadership to the Force Ouvrière bureaucracy appeared more and more, and the PCI suffered blow upon blow. In 1987, it was the loss of the Favre faction, which meant the loss of many members in Latin America.

In 1988, an internal tendency was constituted, again over the same issues: the necessity for the PCI to go back to united front policies. Pierre Broué was a member of it, although he didn’t play a leading political role. The only important role he’d play then was to provide the pretext the PCI needed to expel the tendency as a whole. Broué gave a presentation at a royalist organisation meeting. It was of course unacceptable, and Broué had to be sanctioned for this. But the leadership of the PCI knew in advance that Broué was to make such a speech, and let him do it. Afterwards, another letter from Broué published in the internal bulletin was used to organise the expulsion of the tendency he belonged to, in 1989. Some of the comrades of this tendency joined our [Stephane Just’s] group.

Frank Wainwright calls that a "savage attack"? Who then did attack the PCI? Where did he hear about this? (And, by the way, I’m absolutely sure that the controversy with the Morenist, Carrasquedo was not about whether to support the bombing campaign of ETA or not.)

And then, in 1991, the PCI was buried – turned into a "current" within a so-called "Workers’ Party". In the town of Clermont-Ferrand, the majority of the militants refused to accept the political dissolution of the PCI. They demanded an extraordinary convention. They were, again, expelled from the PCI.

Wainwright deals with the international conference held in Barcelona in 1991. It was in reality a conference of dissolution (under the term "reproclamation") of the struggle for the reconstruction of the Fourth International. It was politically subordinated to a unprincipled gathering of petty bourgeois, anarchists, and many other groups which are politically alien to the working class. At the same time, the imperialist war against Iraq was to begin. A manifesto "against war and exploitation" was adopted at that conference. It doesn’t mention the imperialist aggression against Iraq and against all of the people in Middle East (one of the consequences being the total capitulation of the PLO leadership that has led the Palestinian people to the dead end in which they try to survive today). This summarises the complete capitulation of the Gluckstein-Lambert current during this war. In France, the dead corpse of the PCI was hoisted by its leadership to the petard of the Stalinist party.

One last thing: Algeria. One cannot mention the Workers Party led by Louisa Hanoune and Pierre Lambert without mentioning the course of adaptation to the Islamic reaction party, the Salvation Islamist Front (FIS). This led the PT in Algeria to sign an agreement in Rome, in 1996, with all the bourgeois opposition parties, including the FIS. The "pacte de Rome". Today, as the struggle continues in Algeria against the Bouteflika government, the PT leadership has called to hold a "national convention", which would include Bouteflika’s government, the Army, and other bourgeois institutions. This is consciously aimed against the convocation of a constituent assembly for the whole of Algeria, which seems to be the appropriate political answer to the question of power today in Algeria, the "mot d’ordre" which concretises the will of the Algerian masses: to overthrow Bouteflika’s government and the semi-dictatorial military regime.

So, even if it’s hard to accept, one must draw the conclusion that the political force that had assumed the political continuity with the Fourth International built by Leon Trotsky is dead, sold off to bureaucrats like those of Force Ouvrière in France. The Lambert-Gluckstein current has broken with the politics they used to develop, based on united front politics, on answering correctly the question of government, the question of power. It went from capitulation to capitulation, especially during the imperialist war against Iraq. The PCI has been buried. The fight for the reconstruction of the Fourth International, too (just as if the question of the crisis that dislocated the Fourth International in the fifties was solved!).

Hervé Ducros