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A response to Karadjis and Yarker

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  • Fred Feldman
    I want to respond briefly to two questions that were raised or asked about things I wrote on the national question in the former Yugoslavia. In the context of
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 26, 2004
      I want to respond briefly to two questions that were raised or asked about things I wrote on the national question in the former Yugoslavia. 
      In the context of my opposition to the trial of Milosevic various other Serbs and others accused of war crimes at the Hague, Michael asked whether I supported the incarceration of Pinochet by the British at the order of a Spanish judge.  The answer is no.  Pinochet was arrested in Britain while on a trip as a representative of the Chilean government.  This was a serious attack on Chile's sovereignty, and this in my opinion was the main aspect of this move.  It was an assertion of crude imperialist domination in the name of "human rights."  The demands of various human rights fighters in Latin America for trials in Europe of the criminals of the military regimes is an understandable response to the weakness of their nations, and their inability to represent the people in punishing the criminals, but basically I think the demands strengthen the hand of the imperialists against the oppressed nations.
      Fortunately, the class struggle in Latin America is making progress in forcing the governments to lift the various immunity guarantees that were given to the Pinochets of Chile, Argentina, and other countries.  This is the road I favor to the resolution of these issues.
      In that sense, the current wave of "human rights" war crimes trials  or demands and threats for such "international" tribunals are different than the Nuremberg example which I also cited.  Basically, Nuremberg was part of the settling of accounts by the victorious US and British imperialists with the imperialist powers who had unsuccessfully contended with them for world domination -- Germany and Japan.  The basic framework of the trials was the punishment of German and Japanese officials who had committed crimes in the pursuit of THEIR illegitimate war.  Since the victorious imperialists were assumed to have waged a "just war," crimes like those in Dresden and Hiroshima -- not to mention such things as the reoccupation of Vietnam and slaughter of  Vietnamese which was taking place during the trials -- were off the agenda by definition.
      In that sense, I have a certain sympathy for the wide popular opposition in Serbia to the trial of  Milosevic and other Serb criminals and alleged criminals.  There is an element in these cases of resistance to imperialist domination, although it is led in a Serb chauvinist direction by the reactionary  forces that dominate Serbia today (including the supporters of Milosevic).  I feel the same way about the response of Albanians to trials of their nationals, whether guilty or not.  The central issue overall in the Balkans in recent years has been the reassertion of imperialist domination in an area from which they had been largely pushed out for decades.  The trials are part of this.
      The current spate of  trials is about imposing and tightening imperialist control over oppressed nations -- which is how I regard Albania, Serbia, the Albanians of Kosovo and all the other peoples of the Balkan region.  This is also the issue in imperialist demands for trials -- and for their "fair" control of trials -- in the cases of figures from the Pol Pot government in Cambodia.
      Jim Yarker criticizes me for favoring "unconditional self-determination" for the Albanians of Kosovo today.  I think I made it quite clear that my call for "unconditional" self-determination was related to the present context and was not being made as a moral absolute for all seasons.  It is quite clear to me that there is no alternative, from the perspective of unifying the workers and farmers of the Balkans against imperialism and capitalist exploitation, to recognizing the right of the Albanians in Kosovo to an independent Kosovo or unity with Albania.  Without recognition of the right to sefl-determination, there will be no effective unity against imperialism in that region.  The fact that all the governments in the Balkans are today dominated by reactionary and proimperialist forces doesn't modify that necessity. 
      Yarker raises the examples of  the Russian occupation of Georgia during the civil war  of 1918-20 and, again during the civil war, the sending of troops to Poland in an attempt to lend aid to the revolutionary forces in that country -- an incident which was also very much part of the Civil War, in which imperialist forces were using Poland as a counterrevolutionary base.  I notice that these examples are now being routinely used by some to justify cancelling out the right of self-determination any time that oppressed nations are held to be led by non-revolutionary or right-wing forces.
      Georgia was an incident in a vast civil war, and refusal to move on this would have simply been suicidal for the Russian revolution.  Most importantly, Lenin, Trotsky and other Bolshevik leaders did not regard the occupation and expulsion of the social-democratic government to cancel out or resolve the right of the people of Georgia to self-determination.  The following years saw a mounting struggle over  this issue between Lenin, Trotsky, and other revolutionaries on one side and the conservatized bureaucratis stratum that Stalin represented.  Lenin saw recognition and implementation of Georgia's national rights, including self-determination, as central to advancing the revolution there.  For useful information on this, see Lenin's Last Fight published by Pathfinder in the United States.
      In my opinion, the Russian actions in Poland were not intended at all to be a suppression of Poland's right to self-determination.  Making gains in the Civil War, the Bolsheviks estimated -- there were some differences among them about this -- that sending Soviet troops into Poland would make it impossible for the Polish rulers to defeat the revolutionary uprising that they believed would take place there.  There was no idea at all, even temporarily, of ruling Poland from Moscow.  The estimate turned out to be wrong and the invasion actually strengthened the hand of the reactionary rulers of Poland who were able to force territorial concessions from the Bolshevik regime.  What was involved was a revolutionary calculation that misfired, not a violation of self-determination.
      Contrary to what Yarker would suggest, the Bolsheviks didn't at all oppose the right of self-determination in cases where counterrevolutionary and reactionary forces were involved.  Finland was granted its independence by the new regime even though power fell into the hands of the right, and the same thing was done in Estonia and Latvia.  The aim was to eliminate national oppression and occupation as issues that could block solidarity between the revolutionary workers and peasants of Russia and those of these countries.
      At issue in all these cases was the Russian revolution.  Unfortunately, there was no revolution at stake in the Balkans.  What basically set off the breakup of Yugoslavia and the wars was neither an imperialist plot nor a clash between revolution and counter-revolution.  What had taken place across the region (as in the Soviet Union and the workers states) was the disintegration and collapse of  workers states as a consequence (in the context of imperialist world dominance and growing capitalist economic difficulties worldwide) of decades of Stalinist misrule.
      Fred Feldman

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