Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

How Margaret Thatcher turned the left upside down

Thatcher

When I was growing up in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher was the incarnation of evil. I came from a left-wing family and was an activist from an early age, joining the Labour Party Young Socialists at fifteen or sixteen. I was active in support of striking teachers and ambulance workers and against the poll-tax; I attended the great London demonstration against the poll-tax of 31 March 1990. In those days, political rights and wrongs were very simple: right-wing was bad and left-wing was good. Thatcher, along with the US’s Ronald Reagan, was the number one left-wing hate-figure; most demos involved the ritual chant of ‘Maggie ! Maggie ! Maggie ! Out ! Out ! Out !’ Her fall in November 1990 was a time of joy.

My two-dimensional political world began to collapse in 1991, when Serbia’s fascistic dictator Slobodan Milosevic launched full-scale war in the former Yugoslavia, from where my own mother came. The crimes of Milosevic’s forces, culminating in the genocide in Bosnia, made the real or supposed crimes of Thatcher and the Tories – the sinking of the Belgrano, the crushing of the miners, the poll tax, etc.  – pale in comparison.

Continue reading at Left Foot Forward

Thursday, 11 April 2013 Posted by | Bosnia, Britain, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia, SWP, The Left, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dressing chauvinistic hatred up as ‘class warfare’ or ‘anti-imperialism’ does not make it a good thing

One of the most insidious things about the radical left-wing discourse of class warfare and imperialism is the way in which it is increasingly providing a cover under which the worst forms of bigotry, even murderous or genocidal bigotry, can masquerade as something ‘progressive’. So effective is this propaganda technique that today it is increasingly being adopted by members of the right and far right as well. Indeed, right-wing and left-wing opponents of our contemporary, cosmopolitan, global civilisation are increasingly resembling each other, dressing up anti-Semitism and other forms of racism as resistance to imperialism or capitalism.

Take the example of anti-immigrant racism. The BNP regularly presents its racism in class-warfare terms: ‘The only political party in Britain that is opposed to the immigration racket and its devastating effect on British jobs is the British National Party. We are poised to throw the entire weight of our campaigning machinery into action in support of striking British workers. We, unlike the unions and Lib-Lab-Con, will stand by our own people no matter what the cost. For decades we have had a simple slogan explaining our position: BRITISH JOBS FOR BRITISH WORKERS!’

But even less crude opponents of immigration are ready to play the class-warfare card. In the words of Jeff Randall, writing a couple of years ago in the Daily Telegraph: ‘By lowering wages, migrants enable the middle classes to hire more home-caterers, dog-walkers, house-cleaners and hedge-trimmers for less cost than before. Very nice, if you’re an investment banker in Kensington. Not so hot, if the last job you had was polishing his Bentley.’ Of course, working-class families might also benefit from Polish plumbers charging less than British plumbers, but this particular Telegraph columnist has learned the value of dressing up his right-wing viewpoint in quasi-Marxist clothes.

He is far from alone. Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Bernard Dinneen complains that in permitting mass immigration, ‘Labour politicians were the culprits; they betrayed the working class. ’[] Sue Reid, in the Daily Mail, wrote an article entitled ‘The great white backlash: Working class turns on Labour over immigration and housing’. She argued that in light of increasing ‘white working-class’ receptivity toward the BNP, ‘Perhaps this should serve as a timely warning to Hazel Blears and the rest of the New Labour hierarchy, who many feel have let down the ordinary people who put them in power.’

The problem is not that the language of the left is being cynically misused by racists and right-wingers, but that the links between left-wing discourse of ‘class warfare’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ on the one hand, and racism and anti-Semitism on the other, are much deeper than leftists are often ready to admit. When Ukrainian peasants rebelled against their Polish aristocratic landlords in 1648, their ‘class warfare’ was directed in particular against the landlords’ Jewish estate-managers; in practice against Jews in general, tens of thousands of whom were slaughtered. I hope it is unnecessary to point out that anti-Semitic slaughter of this kind does not become acceptable simply because it is an expression of ‘class struggle’.

For modern socialists and anarchists, hostility to capitalism frequently went hand in hand with hostility to Jews, as evidenced by the anti-Semitism of Proudhon, Fourier, Bakunin and others, including Marx himself. Fascism itself had radical socialist origins, as the brilliant historian of fascism Zeev Sternhell has demonstrated. Early fascists replaced the class struggle with the national struggle as the weapon for attacking liberalism and democracy; they believed redistribution of wealth and power should occur between nations, rather than – or in addition to – between social classes.

The most radical ‘national socialist’ experiment was, of course the one undertaken by Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party. As Hitler said: ‘We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions.’ Hitler saw the task of his National Socialists as freeing the German workers from the influence of ‘Jewish’ international socialism, and of freeing the German economy from the control of ‘Jewish’ international capital. In power, the Nazis expropriated the wealth of Jews and of other nations, redistributing it in favour of Germany and German ‘Aryans’.

Yet genocidal impulses are scarcely an aberration in the revolutionary left’s tradition. Notoriously, Marx and Engels believed in the existence of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ fit only to be exterminated. In 1849 Engels called for a ‘war of annihilation of the Germans against the Czechs’ as the ‘only possible solution’; he described the Croats as a ‘naturally counter-revolutionary nation’ and looked forward to the day when the Germans and Hungarians would ‘annihilate all these small pig-headed nations even to their very names.’

Left-wing radicals, unrestrained by any belief in the virtues of moderation and restraint, will frequently slip down the slope from aggressive radicalism into outright chauvinistic hatred, with their radical ideology simply a means by which their inner rage against particular groups of people can find socially acceptable expression. And in recent years, the more the prospect of revolutionary social change in the direction of socialism has receded in the advanced capitalist world, the more radical leftists and their fellow travellers have been ready to descend into the gutter of chauvinism directed against ‘counter-revolutionary nations’.

During the Wars of Yugoslav Succession of the 1990s, a considerable portion of left-wing opinion in the West made it abundantly clear that it did not respect the right of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ such as the Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians even to exist, let alone to receive solidarity in their struggles for national survival. The genocidal campaigns of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic were invested with an ‘anti-imperialist’ content, so had to be defended against ‘Western media bias’ and ‘demonisation’. What was chilling at the time was that, once the nations in question had been marked as ‘pro-imperialist’, their only legitimate option – as far as the ‘anti-imperialists’ were concerned – was to lie down and die. Any attempt at resistance to their national destruction on their part was condemned as a crime equivalent to – indeed worse than – the original Serbian assault on them, while any expression of solidarity for them by others in the West was condemned as ‘support for Western intervention’.

The Western leftists who defended Milosevic’s genocidal campaigns internalised the Serb-nationalist ethnic stereotypes of Croats as ‘Ustashas’, Bosnian Muslims as ‘fundamentalists’ and Kosovo Albanians as ‘criminals and drug smugglers’. There were plenty of ironies in the sort of arguments used to deny the right of these peoples to national existence. Opportunistic anti-Semitic statements made by Croatian president Franjo Tudjman in his book Wastelands of Historical Truth were cited to tar the entire Croat nation with the brush of fascism by leftists who have consistently turned a blind eye to – if not actively apologised for – the far more extreme and integral anti-Semitism of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah or of the Iranian and other Muslim regimes. The Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic, who never expressed any chauvinism toward Christians or Jews and who presided over a secular state, was condemned as a reactionary Muslim by leftists who would soon be supporting ‘resistance’ to ‘imperialism’ and ‘Zionism’ in Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan on the part of genuine murderous Islamists, or uniting with British Islamists to form the ‘Respect’ party.

Leftist stereotyping of Kosovo Albanians as drug smugglers and criminals is simply the same stereotyping as that employed by the BNP against Albanians and other immigrants or ethnic minorities. Thus, the Socialist Unity website cited popular left-wing blogger ‘Splintered Sunrise’ to back up its own opposition to Kosovo’s independence, quoting him as saying ‘I’m opposed to independence for Kosovo because the place is run by a bunch of mafiosi, its economy is based on the trafficking of drugs, arms and women, and giving this basket case the attributes of statehood will make a bad situation worse.’ The BNP, too, opposes Kosovo’s independence on similar grounds, arguing ‘Albanians are spread all over Europe and especially in the criminal underworld. They are notorious for their effectiveness, unpredictability and incredible cruelty. Their main advantage to the other organized crime [sic] is the fact that they speak language [sic] nobody understands, their organization is based on family ties and if someone dares to speak out that person is being brutally murdered. In Europe, today the Albanian mafia is the main engine of traffic of drugs and humans, theft and falsification of passports, weapons and human organs trade, abductions, extortions and executions. In London these people control the entire network of prostitution, in Italy and Greece they deal with weapons and drugs’ smuggling. There are entire towns in Italy where the business is controlled by Albanians.’ However, ‘Splintered Sunrise’ attributed the BNP’s support for Serbia over Kosovo not to anti-Albanian racism, but to the Albanians’ own alleged sins: ‘the new BNP position has its roots in Londoners’ fear and loathing of violent Albanian gangsters’.

What is horrifying is not that the leftists in question are accusing Croatian, Bosnian and Kosovar leaders of things they are often not guilty of, or that the leftists in question are inconsistent or hypocritical. It is that such accusations are simply so many pretexts to support the destruction of the nations in question. These leftists do not want to give solidarity to progressive Croats who oppose anti-Semitism, or progressive Bosnian Muslims who support secularism, or progressive Albanians who oppose organised crime, with the goal of making Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo better places. On the contrary, the leftists are seeking to provide ammunition to those who would like to wipe these countries off the map altogether.

But for all the venom directed by ‘anti-imperialist’ leftists at the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, there is one state that they hate even more. Israel, in their eyes, is the ‘counter-revolutionary nation’ par excellence; its Jewish majority citizens condemned as ‘settlers’ (unlike immigrants in the West, who are not so condemned); its academics boycotted. Such leftists will line up with the most murderous and bigoted elements in the Muslim world against even the most progressive nationally conscious Jews on an ‘anti-Zionist’ basis; their need to deny Israel’s legitimacy as a nation and state trumping any opposition to anti-Semitism, fundamentalism, misogyny or homophobia they might be expected to have. Once again, they oppose Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank or discrimination against its Arab citizens not because they wish to align themselves with progressive Israelis who also oppose these things, but because they would, fundamentally, like to see Israel destroyed altogether.

The pretext for this left-wing hatred of Israel is that it is a ‘hijack state’ based upon the dispossession of most of the Palestinians who lived there until the 1940s. But this ignores the fact that other states are based upon similar or even larger-scale dispossessions of national groups, without their right to exist being called into question. For example, the Czech Republic’s relative ethnic homogeneity stems from the Czechs’ expulsion, following World War II, of two and a half million ethnic Germans from what was then Czechoslovakia. Likewise, modern Turkey is founded upon the extermination of a million Armenians and hundreds of thousands of Greeks during the 1910s and 1920s, and the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands more. But nobody claims the Czech Republic or Turkey is an illegitimate nation-state. It is Israel alone which is deemed to have forfeited its legitimacy as a nation on account of its leaders’ crimes of decades ago.

In each of the examples presented here, extremists try to dress up their bigoted hatred of whole ethnic groups or nations in radically progressive clothes. So the BNP will present its hatred of immigrants in terms of ‘supporting the British working class’, and radical leftists justify their hatred of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ on the basis of ‘anti-imperialism’. Chauvinistic hatred does not become progressive simply because it is dressed in progressive clothes, and it is always worth looking beyond the window dressing to see what the agendas of such groups and individuals really are. Equally, it is time to acknowledge the problematic nature of such radical left-wing concepts as ‘class warfare’ and ‘anti-imperialism’, and the reasons they lend themselves so readily to abuse. When they are increasingly becoming the justification for the most extreme reactionary politics, something is very wrong.

This article was published on 10 August by Engage.

Friday, 14 August 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Israel, Jews, Middle East, Red-Brown Alliance, SWP, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Was Franjo Tudjman a Holocaust denier ?

tudjman1When faced with claims made by revisionist writers concerning the wars in the former Yugoslavia of the 1990s, that they present as ‘challenging accepted wisdom’, it is generally a safe working assumption that they are all falsehoods, unless the writers in question actually present hard evidence to back them up. This can be shown by even the most casual glance at the ‘sensational revelations’ that these writers have been making since 1991: that Germany ‘encouraged’ Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia in 1991; that the Croatian chequerboard symbol was a ‘fascist’ symbol; that Bosnia’s Alija Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II; that Izetbegovic’s regime reestablished a five-thousand strong SS ‘Handzar Division’ in Bosnia in the 1990s; that the Western media ‘fabricated’ the existence of Serb concentration camps in Bosnia; that the Bosnian Army was guilty of shelling its own civilians in Sarajevo in order to provoke Western bombing of the Serbs; that the US imported mujahedeen or Wahhabi fighters into Bosnia during the war; that Izetbegovic was a friend and ally of Osama bin Laden and shared his politics; that the fighting and massacres in the Srebrenica region were initiated by the Bosnian Army; that there is ‘no proof’ that the Srebrenica massacre occurred; that Croatia’s Operation Storm was the ‘largest single act of ethnic cleansing during the Yugoslav wars'; that there was no Serbian ethnic-cleansing in Kosovo before the NATO bombing began in 1999; that no mass graves of Kosova Albanians were found in Kosova after NATO moved in; that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has focused disproportionately on Serb war-crimes suspects; and so on and so forth –  all these claims, and others, have either been shown to be complete fabrications or, at best, wild exaggerations, or they remain entirely unsubstantiated. Generally, only a bit of research is necessary to reveal each new claim of this kind as yet another falsehood.

On this occasion, I should like to turn to one of the older claims made by the members of the Milosevic-Karadzic lobby and by others who defend Milosevic and the Great Serbian record: the claim that the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman was a ‘Holocaust denier’. This claim has generally been linked to Tudjman’s turgid, rambling, 1989 study of genocide and mass violence, Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti: Rasprava o povijesti i filozofiji zlosilja [Wastelands of historical truth: A discussion of the history and philosophy of violence] – citations here are from the first edition, Nakladni zavod Matice Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1989.

This is what Tudjman wrote in Bespuca (p. 153) about the Holocaust:

After Hitler’s military forces had foundered in the Soviet expanses, together with the myth of German invincibility in the Blitzkrieg, there disappeared also for Germany the possibility of a territorial solution of the Jewish question outside of Europe. Already from the very start of the German-Soviet war, from the summer of 1941, the persecution of the Jews was increased, with fanatical propaganda about the need for the merciless uprooting of all members and supporters of Jewish-Bolshevism. Since with the development of the war the possibility of expelling the Jews to Madagascar had vanished, and the conquest of large Polish and Soviet expanses in the East had opened other possibilities for a territorial solution, so Hitler, at the start of 1942, with the goal of a ‘final solution’, took the decision on the resettlement, that is the expulsion or ‘deportation’ of the Jews to the East. Although the Berlin (Grossen Wannsee) confererence (21.01. 1942), at which Heydrich gave instructions to the high Nazi officials on the execution of Hitler’s new orders, spoke only of ‘evacuating’ the Jews from all European lands to the East, it was obvious that the final solution of the Jewish question in this way aimed at achieving their step-by-step annihilation. H. Frank had, before German functionaries in Krakow, spoken more directly of the ‘final solution’. Mentioning that in Poland there were now almost 2.5 million Jews, and including the mischlings perhaps up to 3.5 million, he would say that they ‘cannot all be executed or poisoned’, but that it was necessary ‘to take measures that would bring about their annihilation’, because the war would not be a complete success if Jewry survived.

Thus, in the third year of the Second World War (1942), began the period in which the Third Reich would attempt through the ‘final solution’, that is, the exclusion of the Jews from the life of Germany and the other European nations, to achieve their step-by-step extermination. But, as that goal could not be announced to the world public, and was in the form of a secret directive notified to only a narrow circle of Nazi confidants, this was also kept hidden from the majority of Germans, who took the deportation of the Jews to the East to be their resettlement in the Polish-Russian territories, and held the concentration camps to be work camps and not death camps.

Thus, the accusation that Tudjman was a ‘Holocaust denier’ is simply untrue. But nor is it quite true that the accusations came completely out of nowhere: in this case the lie contains three grains of truth:

1) Tudjman cast doubt on the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims (pp. 155-156):

Regarding the total number of Jewish victims in the Second World War, in world literature there is still not even an approximate scientifically determined fact. On the one hand, estimates range from about four million (G. Reitlinger, 1953) to up to six million (J. Lestchinsky and the American Jewish Congress, 1946, and N. Levin, 1968 and 1973). Raul Hilberg, whose book (1961 and 1973) in terms of comprehensiveness and quality exceeds that of Nora Levin, judges that the total losses exceed about five million or about one third of the pre-war Jewish population, but in his statistical overview alleges that of 5,100,000 deaths there are records for the deaths of 900,000, and casts doubt (putting question-marks) on some other numbers in the framework of the total figure. Those are, presumably, the reasons why there is a need to mention that, on the other hand, some consider the figure of six million deaths to be highly ‘exaggerated’.

This passage has frequently been misquoted to accuse Tudjman of putting the figure for Jewish Holocaust victims at only 900,000, though Tudjman was in fact claiming that a leading Holocaust scholar, Raul Hilberg, had put the figure at 5.1 million and the number of those for whom records existed at 900,000. However, Tudjman then argues (p. 156)

That the mentioned estimates of up to six million dead are based too much, both on emotionally partisan testimony, and on one-sided and exaggerated figures of the postwar settling of accounts for wartime misdeeds and retribution against the defeated perpetrators of war-crimes…

After discussing differing estimates of Jewish, Polish and other casualties at Auschwitz, Majdanek, and elsewhere, Tudjman nevertheless concludes his discussion of the Holocaust (p. 158):

Of course, these examples – whether unconfirmedly indiscriminate or highly contradictory – of giving different figures, do not bring into question the enormity of the war losses of particularly the Jewish and Polish, as well as some other peoples, and in particular are not important for an overall condemnation of the genocidal acts of their perpetrators.

2) Tudjman cites self-evidently anti-Semitic sources to try to show that in the Ustasha death-camp of Jasenovac, Jewish inmates had enjoyed a privileged role in relationship to other groups of prisoners, including Serbs and Gypsies, and had even participated in the persecution and killing of the latter (pp. 316-320). Typical of the way Tudjman gives credence to anti-Semitic testimony against the Jewish inmates of Jasenovac is his citation of an anti-Semitic Bosnian Serb former Jasenovac inmate, Vojislav Prnjatovic, whose statement Tudjman quotes (p. 318): ‘A Jew remains a Jew, even in Jasenovac. They have retained all their vices in the camp, only these are now more apparent. Selfishness, cunning, unreliability, avariciousness, treacherousness and a propensity to snitching are their principal characteristics.’

Tudjman then comments (p. 318):

This judgement of Prnjatovic’s reeks of exaggeration; we could say an anti-Semitic inclination, but similar things are said by other witnesses. Some of the Jewish camp officials were armed and participated in the killing. Furthermore, in their hands was, to a large degree, the ‘selection'; i.e., the separation of prisoners for ‘liquidation’, and partly even their actual execution.

Tudjman did not deny the crimes of the Ustashas against Jews in Jasenovac, but his discussion of the Jewish inmates of Jasenovac is dominated by their supposed role as perpetrators, rather than their suffering and loss of life. 

3) Tudjman moves straight on from his discussion of the Holocaust to a discussion of Israel and Palestine, in which he compares Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi treatment of the Jews (p. 160):

After everything that it had suffered in history, particularly that terrible suffering in the Second World War, the Jewish people will in a very short space of time carry out against the Palestinian people such a brutal, genocidal policy that it has justly been termed judeo-Nazism.

Tudjman described Israeli policy as tending toward a ‘“final solution” of the Palestinian question‘, and complained:

And all this is taking place in the middle of the nineteen eighties, when world Jewry still has the need to recall its losses in the ‘Holocaust’, and even to try to prevent the election of the former general secretary of the UN, Kurt Waldheim, as president of Austria ! (p. 160)

Tudjman had fought as a Yugoslav Partisan during World War II, against the Croat Ustasha fascists; his ‘anti-Zionist’ views concerning Israel and Palestine should be attributed not so much to any right-wing Croat nationalist tendencies on his part, but primarily to his formation as a Yugoslav general under Josip Broz Tito’s fiercely pro-Arab and anti-Israeli Communist regime, with its close links to Nasserite Egypt and the Non-Aligned Movement.

In sum, therefore, Tudjman was not a Holocaust denier, but he cast doubt on the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims; went out of his way to portray Jewish inmates of the Jasenovac death-camp as perpetrators rather than as victims; and relativised the Holocaust in a manner that can only be deemed deliberately offensive and provocative toward Jews – by comparing it to Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

Tudjman was a crude Croat chauvinist who was entirely ready to write offensively about Jews, as he was about other groups, and to repeat anti-Semitic cliches about the role of ‘world Jewry’ in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to its alleged use of the memory of the Holocaust. But hostility toward Jews was not central to Tudjman’s worldview, as it was for ideological anti-Semites in the mould of Hitler, Corneliu Codreanu, David Duke, Osama bin Laden, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Hassan Nasrallah, Mahmud Ahmadinejad or other contemporary Islamic radicals. What was central was a profound cynicism and callousness with regard to questions of genocide and its victims, which led him to veer in the direction of anti-Semitism.

Originally a hard-line doctrinaire Marxist, Tudjman began his evolution into a Croat nationalist through his work as a historian, in which he had attempted to evaluate Croatia’s World War II history more positively; this involved emphasising the Croatian contribution to the Partisan movement. But it also involved challenging the view favoured by some Serb intellectuals, that the Croats were a ‘genocidal nation’, and challenging the high figures given by Yugoslav and Serb historians of Serb victims in the Ustasha genocide, in particular at Jasenovac. These were legitimate gripes: the widely accepted figure of several hundred thousand dead at Jasenovac was indeed a gross exaggeration; the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington today places the figure at 56-97,000 (though Tudjman’s own estimate of 30-40,000 was too low). Likewise, the overall figure for Serb deaths in the Ustasha genocide has frequently been put at around a million or upwards. But studies of war-losses carried out by the demographers Bogoljub Kocovic and Vladimir Zerjavic, a Serb and Croat respectively, have shown that the total number of Serbs killed on the territory of Croatia and Bosnia during World War II – including battlefield deaths and civilians killed by the Germans, Italians, Chetniks, Partisans and other non-Ustashas – was somewhat over three hundred thousand. These and other sources suggest a total figure of somewhat under three hundred thousand Serb victims of the Ustasha genocide.

As a historian, therefore, Tudjman was entirely justified in questioning the figures for Serb casualties in mainstream accounts of the Ustasha genocide, particularly where Jasenovac was concerned. But this bee in his bonnet then mutated into the highly cynical and offensive general theory set out in Bespuca, with its anti-Semitic overtones, in which genocide was relativised and the distinction between victims and perpetrators was deliberately blurred. This involved, as we have seen, a questioning of the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims; a portrayal, based on anti-Semitic sources, of Jewish inmates of Jasenovac as perpetrators rather than as victims; and a description of Israeli policy toward Palestinians as ‘Judeo-Nazism’. Tudjman had moved seamlessly from skepticism about mainstream evaluations of the Serb death-toll in the Ustasha genocide and resentment of the image of Serb victimhood in it, to skepcitism about the figure of six million Jewish deaths in the Holocaust and resentment of the image of Jewish victimhood in Jasenovac.

The type of anti-Semitic views expressed by Tudjman in Bespuca, particularly where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was concerned, was of a kind that is today not unusual among supporters of the UK’s ‘Stop the War Coalition’ and ‘Respect’ party, or among speakers at the Socialist Workers Party’s annual conference. They reflect, in part, Tudjman’s background as a Yugoslav general under Tito’s fiercely ‘anti-Zionist’ Communist regime. But Tudjman was not a Holocaust denier. The accusation that he was, of course, is frequently made by radical leftists in the West, such as supporters of the SWP, who are themselves often apologists for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime – all incomparably more anti-Semitic than was Tudjman. Such radical leftists hold views on Israel and Palestine that are generally similar to, if not more extreme than Tudjman’s, and share his hostility to the Bosnian Muslims, to the idea of a united Bosnia, and to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Of all the revisionist myths that such radical leftists peddle about the former Yugoslavia, the myth that Tudjman was a Holocaust denier is particularly cynical: insofar as it has any origins in reality, it derives from him having said the sort of things about Jews that they do themselves.

Friday, 6 March 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Israel, Jews, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, SWP, The Left | , , , | Leave a comment

Richard Seymour’s ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder’

seymourThe blogger Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour of ‘Lenin’s Tomb‘, a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), published his first book last year, entitled The Liberal Defence of Murder (Verso, London, 2008). Rather than review the whole of the book and make points that other reviewers are likely to make, I am going to focus on the section (pp. 190-212) dealing with my own area of special interest: the former Yugoslavia, to see how Seymour’s thesis holds up. I should declare a special interest, in that I am myself quoted critically in passing in this book, and my own parents, Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare, come in for particular criticism in it. Despite this, and despite the fact that I am not exactly a fan of Seymour, his politics or his party, this will be a review in measured tones, as I would like the facts to speak for themselves.

Seymour explains the title in his opening sentence: ‘This book seeks to explain a current of irrational thought that supports military occupation and murder in the name of virtue and decency.’ Broadly speaking, this book is a critique of liberal and left-wing supporters of humanitarian military intervention, as in the cases of Bosnia, Kosova, Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, in the section of the book dealing with the wars in Croatia and Bosnia (pp. 190-205), Seymour is unable to provide any evidence that any of his liberal targets did, indeed, support ‘murder’ – unless simply being in favour of Western military intervention automatically makes one a supporter of ‘murder’. Even so, there are no quotations in this section dealing with just how, or in what way, the liberals in question did indeed support military intervention. Seymour tells us, in his own words, that Ken Livingstone ‘called for force to be used against the Serbs'; that Michael Foot ‘pleaded for a British humanitarian intervention'; and so on. There are no examples provided of any bloodcurdling war-cries, or calls for the Serbs to be bombed back to the Stone Age, or the like. Seymour does a bit better in the section on Kosova (pp. 206-211), where he does provide a couple of quotes, one of which actually comes across as quite bloodthirsty – by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who is quoted here as supporting attacks on the Serbian civilian infrastructure. But that really is just about it: Seymour has no case whatsoever that liberal interventionists supported ‘murder’ in Croatia or Bosnia, and only one quote by one individual that arguably supports his case with regard to Kosova. So we are left with a tautology: support for military intervention is defined as support for murder, therefore any liberal who supported military intervention is evidence of a ‘liberal defence of murder’.

Why, you may ask, did it then take Seymour a whole twenty-one pages to make this point ? How does he fill up those pages ? Well, Seymour’s main argument is not that liberals supported military intervention that might have or did kill Serb civilians. Rather, he attempts to argue that military intervention was wrong because 1) Serb atrocities, and Milosevic’s regime, were not as bad as liberal interventionists made them out to be; and 2) that the Croatians and Bosnians were not worthy of being defended by Western military intervention, because their governments were just as bad as Milosevic’s – possibly worse – and were guilty of the same atrocities. So far from writing a polemic on the evils of Western military intervention, or on the bloodthirsty character of its supporters, Seymour has written a polemic playing down the evils of Milosevic and Serb nationalism, playing up the evils of Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic and Croat and Muslim nationalism, then condemning those liberals who – as he sees it – got the balance wrong. The only quotations he actually produces for his prosecutor’s case against the ‘liberals’ in the entire section on Bosnia and Croatia are quotes expressing condemnation of Serb atrocities, or of Western complicity in them. So we have Alain Finkielkraut quoted using the term ‘Guernica'; Bernard-Henri Levi quoted calling for the lifting of the arms embargo against the Bosnians; Christopher Hitchens quoted as claiming that Serbia and Croatia were led by ‘fascist parties'; Michael Ignatieff quoted describing what was happening as ‘genocide’, and so forth. But as Seymour makes clear, he does not believe that Milosevic and his Serb forces were fascist, or that genocide occurred, or that the Serb forces ran concentration camps, etc.

This, then, is the case for the prosecution: not that liberals actually supported murder, or even that they supported military intervention, but that they made Milosevic and Serb ethnic-cleansing out to be worse than they were, when really, they weren’t bad enough to justify military intervention. Before we turn to Seymour’s actual methodology, it is worth pausing to examine what the premise of this argument is. Seymour is saying that if you used terms like ‘fascism’, ‘genocide’, ‘concentration camps’, etc., to describe Milosevic and his forces and what they were doing, you are a liberal supporter of murder. The correct response, in Seymour’s view, to news and images of Serb ethnic-cleansing and atrocities (which Seymour does not deny took place) is not to demand action in defence of the victims, but to ensure that the perpetrators of this ethnic cleansing and these atrocities get a fair coverage and are not condemned in too strong terms. So it really doesn’t take much to be a liberal defender of murder: if you react to images of Serb persecution of Muslim civilian prisoners in camps by using the term ‘concentration camp’, or if you describe a Serb ethnic cleanser as a ‘fascist’, you’re one of the bad guys. Whereas if you try to moderate liberal condemnation of the concentration camps and the ethnic cleansers, as Seymour does, you’re one of the good guys.

Consequently, what Seymour has written is a defence of the Milosevic regime and Serb ethnic-cleansing from their liberal critics. Complaining about the Western media’s treatment of the conflict, Seymour writes that ‘while Izetbegovic was deified, Milosevic received no credit for taking risks with his support by urging the Serbs in Krajina and the Republika Srpska to accept various deals to end the conflict.’ (p. 205) Thus, Seymour condemns Western journalists for failing to portray Milosevic as the peacenik that, in Seymour’s eyes, he really was (as for actual evidence that the Western media ‘deified’ Izetbegovic – Seymour doesn’t provide any).

Seymour’s critique centres not on actual liberal support for military intervention, let alone murder, but on what he sees as a mistaken liberal analysis of what was going on in the former Yugoslavia, and on inappropriate terminology. He condemns the liberals not for having the wrong principles, but for applying them incorrectly. Since there is no real clash of ideals between Seymour and his various liberal targets expressed here, his case rests on how effective his piecemeal demolition job of their case turns out to be.

Rather than bore the reader by going once more into the rights and wrongs of the former Yugoslav conflict, I am going to analyse Seymour’s case entirely in its own terms, by looking in turn at his principal charges against his liberal targets.

1) ‘Backing secession’.

Seymour begins with a critique of my parents, Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare. He quotes a source as saying that ‘when Branka went to visit Zagreb, she flipped over to Croatian nationalism. I mean, she simply backed secession.’ (p. 192) Seymour doesn’t draw any conclusion from this assertion; he simply allows it to speak for itself.

Who is the source in question ? None other than Peter Gowan, a former friend of my mother’s and father’s who parted company with them over the former Yugoslavia. Gowan isn’t by anybody’s standards an expert on the former Yugoslavia; he’s merely a left-wing writer who broadly shares Seymour’s ‘anti-imperialist’ political views and has similar views on the former Yugoslavia. The source is given as ‘author interview with Peter Gowan’.

What Seymour is saying is that he had a chat with his mate Peter, and Peter used to know Branka, and Peter said that Branka supported Croatian nationalism and Croatian secession. We’re talking ‘man in the pub’ scholarship here. But leaving aside the fact that Gowan has zero credibility as an objective judge of Branka’s political evolution, the accusation that Branka ‘backed secession’ is a rather unfortunate one for Seymour to make.

On 31 March 1990, Seymour’s party paper, the Socialist Worker, itself ‘backed secession’ when it wrote: ‘The Lithuanian masses overwhelmingly rejected Russian rule given a chance to vote for the first time recently. They want independence. That is their right. Every socialist should support them.’

On 13 July 1991, the Socialist Worker ‘backed secession’ in Yugoslavia as well: ‘First, the mass of people cannot gain by forcing an ethnic group to stay in a state where it doesn’t want to. That means recognising the right of any national minority to separate from the state if it so wishes, and opposing the murderous activities of the Yugoslav army.’

In other words, Branka is condemned as a liberal defender for murder because she supported exactly the same thing for Croatia – the right to national self-determination – that Seymour’s party supported for Lithuania, and which it initially supported for the Croats as well.

2) ‘Unfair accusations of fascism’.

Seymour accuses his liberal targets that they ‘consistently demonised Slobodan Milosevic as a “fascist” or its equivalent, which was a false and unnecessary embellishment when he was merely a bureaucratic thug’ (p. 194). This complaint comes from someone who routinely describes the British far-right party, the ‘British National Party’, not merely as fascist, but as ‘Nazi’; I don’t particularly object to this, but it is clearly a ‘false and unncessary embellishment’ of the kind that apparently makes one a liberal defender of murder. The only explanation for this double standard is that Seymour supports action against the BNP but retrospectively opposes any action against Milosevic.

But there is no need to trawl through Seymour’s blog to find evidence of his double standards: he devotes nearly a full page (pp. 196-197) to describing the fascist affinities of Croat nationalism. In the space of this one page, he uses the terms ‘fascist’, ‘Nazi’ and ‘Ustashe’ (Croatian fascists) six times in relation to Croatia. It’s true he does not actually describe the Tudjman regime as ‘fascist’ outright. But nor does he mention any equivalent fascist phenomena in relation to Serb nationalism. He does not mention the fact that Serbian paramilitaries called the ‘Chetniks’ – after the Nazi-collaborationist, anti-Semitic, Serb extreme-nationalist movement of World War II – formed part of the Serbian forces, under Belgrade’s control, that assaulted Bosnia in 1992. Or that Milosevic’s sometime collaborator, Vojislav Seselj, was a friend and ally of France’s Jean Marie Le Pen, and had received a decoration from a Chetnik warlord who had fought alongside the Nazis and Ustashe in World War II. Or that the Bosnian Serb nationalists armed and funded by Milosevic’s regime openly embraced the Chetnik heritage. Seymour thus simultaneously defends Serb nationalists from the charge of fascism while accusing Croat nationalists of embracing fascism. He condemns liberals as defenders of murder when they accuse Serb nationalists of the same thing of which he accuses the Croat nationalists.

3) ‘Abuse of the term “genocide”‘

Seymour denies that Serb forces were guilty of genocide, even suggesting that the International Court of Justice may have been guided by political motives when it defined Srebrenica as an act of genocide (p. 204). But while condemning his liberal targets for using the term ‘genocide’ in relation to Milosevic’s Serb forces, he has no qualms at all about tarring Tudjman with the brush of genocide: ‘His [Tudjman's] position on the question of genocide had been made very clear: “Genocide is a natural phenomenon… Genocide is not only permitted, it is recommended, even commanded by the word of the Almighty.”‘ Seymour is quoting Tudjman to show that he supports genocide (p. 196).

Where did Seymour get this quote by Tudjman from ? Why, from none other than the book To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, written by Michael Parenti, head of the US section of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic (ICDSM). Parenti’s book, like Seymour’s, was published by Verso. Its Serbian-language edition had a foreword written by Slobodan Milosevic himself ! Needless to say, Parenti, like Seymour, hasn’t read anything Tudjman has written; he doesn’t even provide a reference for the quotation.

I, on the other hand, have read what Tudjman wrote in the Croatian original (Franjo Tudjman, Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti: Rasprava o povijesti i filozofiji zlosilja, Zagreb, 1989, p. 172):

As we were able to conclude from the preceeding study, in the very (Judaic) origins of all our later, Western, civilisation, in that ancient age when the apex of historical-philosophical human thought was expressed by the word of the biblical god Yahweh, genocidal violence is a natural phenomenon, consistent with human-social and mythological-divine nature. It is not only permitted, but even recommended, moreover even found in the words of the all-powerful Yahweh, always when it is necessary for the survival or the restoration of the kingdom of the chosen people, or for the maintenance and spread of their one true religion.

Tudjman, writing as a (third-rate) historian and scholar of genocide, is claiming that the Old Testament god Yahweh endorsed genocide. There is nothing in this passage to suggest that he himself supported genocide. Seymour, however, misquotes Tudjman to suggest that he upheld genocide as an ideal. He does this on the basis of a quotation he got from a book written by an American supporter of Milosevic who has never read anything by Tudjman.

Finally, later in the book Seymour claims that the US’s ‘atrocities in Indochina were certainly closer to genocide than anything that happened in the former Yugoslavia’ (p. 219).  Since he provides no evidence or argument whatsoever in support of this tendentious claim, it would appear his expressed concern at the supposed casual misuse of the term ‘genocide’ by liberal interventionists is not quite sincere.

4) Dodgy source materials and ‘imperialist propaganda’

Since Seymour’s case against liberal interventionists really just boils down to the accusation that their analysis of the Yugoslav conflict and use of terminology were flawed, it is worth examining Seymour’s own scholarly apparatus. Owen Hatherley, the SWP supporter who reviewed Seymour’s book for the New Statesman, claimed: ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder is probably more valuable as history than as polemic.’ But would a genuine scholar have made a judgement about Tudjman’s views on genocide on the basis of a third- or fourth-hand misquotation from a Milosevic lobbyist ?

Indeed, Parenti’s grubby little propaganda book is entirely characteristic of the source material that Seymour relies upon. Seymour cites the opinion of ‘George Kenney, a former State Department Yugoslavia desk officer’, that the Western diplomacy that preceded the Kosovo war was ‘equivalent to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which had been used to justify escalation in Vietnam’ (p. 208). Seymour fails to inform his readers that Kenney was a Milosevic sympathiser, who wrote to Milosevic in prison to tell him ‘I believed then and still believe that you are innocent of all the charges in the Tribunal’s indictments’.

Seymour cites the views of Edward Herman and David Peterson in support of his argument (p. 203); he does not tell his readers that the two are organisers of the ‘Srebrenica Research Group’, a lobbying group set up to deny the Srebrenica massacre. One of Seymour’s principal ‘sources’ for his claim that ‘the SDA [Muslim nationalist party] was one of the nationalist parties seeking to use secession and military conflict to amplify its own power’ is Kate Hudson’s book Breaking the South Slav Dream: The Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia. Hudson is the leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a member of the Communist Party of Britain, whose newspaper The Morning Star backed the Serb side during the Bosnian war and still publishes Srebrenica-denying articles. Hudson’s book, a propaganda tract that casts doubt on the fact of the Srebrenica massacre, is entirely typical of Seymour’s source material: his endnotes are filled with references to articles by Diana Johnstone, Alexander Cockburn, John Pilger and other authors who have no genuine expertise on the former Yugoslavia but who share his political views, and whose unsubstantiated claims are treated as ‘evidence’ for his case.

Thus, for example, Seymour claims: ‘Izetbegovic later confessed to having confected Serb death camps in order to precipitate bombing raids.’ (p. 200) The ‘source’ for this claim is an article in the American far-left magazine Counterpunch by the Srebrenica-denying Paris-based writer, Diana Johnstone, in which she claims that the Srebrenica massacre was merely a case of Serb soldiers killing Muslim soldiers in battle, and that it was anyway engineered by the Muslims. Johnstone’s source for Izetbegovic’s alleged ‘confession’ was the memoirs of the French politician Bernard Kouchner, but Seymour doesn’t bother to consult the French original; he merely takes Johnstone’s article as a sound source on which to base his argument, as he did with Parenti.

Even if one assumes Johnstone has cited Kouchner accurately, one wonders how Seymour can criticise liberal interventionists for poor methodology, when he takes every single accusation made by Western politicians against Izetbegovic and the Muslims at face value. Never mind that Kouchner’s French government was aiding and abetting Milosevic’s destruction of Bosnia, and maintaining an arms embargo against the Bosnians; we are supposed simply to believe his accusations against Izetbegovic.

Likewise, Seymour cites ‘Philip Corwin, the UN’s chief political officer in Sarajevo during the summer of 1995′ as a witness to the fact that ‘following the Dayton settlement, thousands of Serbs were vindictively “cleansed” from areas of Bosnia by state police forces.’ Seymour continues approvingly: ‘Corwin was relentlessly critical of the media depiction of events…’ (p. 201). What Seymour doesn’t tell his readers is that Corwin was one of the ‘advisors and contributors to the work of the Srebrenica Research Group’, Edward Herman’s Srebrenica-denying outfit, and therefore had political views that might lead a genuine scholar to question the objectivity of his account.

Indeed, one of the unintended achievements of this book is that it marshals enough evidence to demolish convincingly the view that Seymour himself appears to hold: that Izetbegovic’s Bosnian regime was the party favoured by ‘Western imperialism’ while Milosevic and the Serb ethnic-cleansers were the victims of imperialism. Seymour writes (p. 204):

Other stories barely examined [by the Western media] include what might be described as ‘false flag’ operations, such as the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at the Markale market in 1994, which helped precipitate the Nato bombing of Serb positions. Many UN officials believed that the shelling had come from the Bosnian army, and Unprofor accused Bosnian government forces of ‘firing to provoke the Serbs, and of using hospitals and public buildings as cover for such fire.’

So the representatives of Western imperialism in Bosnia accused the Bosnians of massacring their own people in order to blame it on the Serbs, and of ‘provoking’ Serb attacks on hospitals and public buildings. Seymour’s endorsement of these claims means that his argument cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as ‘anti-imperialist’ – on the contrary, he upholds the claims made by Western imperialist officials against the victims of Western intervention; that they were to blame for their own suffering. This is, it seems, the only way he can construct his critique of the defenders of Bosnia.

5) ‘Inflated casualty figures’

Seymour devotes some space to trying to show that liberal interventionist estimates of Bosnian or Muslim casualty figures in the war have ‘not stood the test of time’ (p. 203). This is taken as evidence of the weakness of the liberal-interventionist case. Consequently, Seymour cites the evidence of the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Centre, that calculated the total number of people directly killed in the Bosnian war on all sides, both civilian and military, to be in the region of 100,000, or considerably less than the ‘up to 330,000′ deaths claimed, according to Seymour, by the liberal interventionists.

This being such a key element in his argument, how does Seymour himself deal with the casualty figures for Serb victims ? With regard to the Srebrenica massacre, Seymour writes: ‘In the run-up to that atrocity, a wave of terror, including rape, by Bosnian Muslim forces in surrounding areas had killed thousands of Serbs.’ (p. 204). Yet according to the figures of the Research and Documentation Centre itself, which Seymour himself cites, the total number of Serb civilians killed in the entire wider region of Podrinje,  where Srebrenica was located, during the whole of the war was 849. In other words, the figures that Seymour himself cites – and which were not available to liberal defenders of Bosnia during the war – disprove his own claim that a Bosnian Army ‘wave of terror’ killed ‘thousands of Serbs’ near Srebrenica. In fact, the Research and Documentation Centre has specifically refuted the claim that ‘thousands’ of Serb civilians were killed in the atrocities Seymour cites; it calculates the total number of Serb civilians killed in the locality in question during the war to be 119.

Likewise, Seymour claims that Croatia was guilty of the ‘ethnic cleansing of up to 300,000 Serbs during Operation Storm’ (p. 203). This figure of ‘up to 300,000′ is apparently taken from Hudson, who also writes of a ‘massive population flight of up to 300,000 Serbs’ resulting from Operation Storm (Hudson, p. 119). But what was the real figure ? According to Amnesty International, ‘In May and August 1995, the Croatian Army and police forces recaptured Western Slavonia and the Krajina region. During and after these military offensives, some 200,000 Croatian Serbs, including the entire Croatian Serb Army, fled to the neighbouring Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina under Bosnian Serb control.’ According to the ICTY’s indictment of the Croatian general Ante Gotovina: ‘The “Oluja” offensive resulted in the displacement of an estimated 150,000 – 200,000 Krajina Serbs, who fled or were forced to flee, during, and in the aftermath, of the said offensive.’ The top figure of this range – 200,000 – includes the Krajina Serb army, which numbered about 40,000. The number of displaced Serb civilians was therefore closer to 150,000.

If exaggerating casualty figures is a crime that makes one a ‘liberal defender of murder’, then what does it make Seymour ?

In conclusion, it is really very difficult to work out what Seymour intends to achieve with this poorly researched, poorly sourced, repeatedly self-contradictory and entirely unsuccessful excercise in nit-picking, which amounts, as we have seen, simply to a series of spectacular own goals. But even if we were to concede Seymour’s main points (which we don’t, of course), and to accept that the Milosevic regime was not fascist, did not commit genocide and was not qualitatively worse than the Tudjman or Izetbegovic regimes, would he have a case ? Are people who reacted to the horrors of Omarska, Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo by calling for Western military intervention to halt them really defenders of murder ?

This is perhaps what is most shocking about Seymour’s whole, sorry ideological exercise: the perverse obsession with trying to prove that the people who wanted to stop the racist mass-murder and close the concentration camps were the bad guys.

Update: Seymour has written a response to me. He writes:

‘Hoare is scandalised that I impute “political motives” to the International Court of Justice: the problem is that I don’t. He is referring to page 204, which explicitly references the ICTY, a wholly different (and highly politicised) body.’

This is what Seymour writes, on p. 204:

‘Designed to ethnically cleanse the territory and capture it decisively for the Republika Srpska, the operation [against Srebrenica] is now considered by the US-sponsored ICTY and the International Court of Justice as the only instance of “genocide” that can be shown to have occurred. Serbia, however, was cleared of involvement in the massacre. Some scholarly opinion has cast doubt on the verdict of genocide, and it could be argued that the purpose of the judicial process was less to establish the facts of the case than to determine a politically convenient verdict.’

Carry on digging, comrade…

Update no. 2: In his response to me, Seymour is now attempting to justify his claim that a Bosnian Army ‘wave of terror’  in the area around Srebrenica had killed ‘thousands’ of Serbs by insisting he was referring to Serb military casualties as well as civilians:

‘I did say “Serbs” and not “Serb civilians”, and the total number of Serbs killed in that area, according to Hoare’s source, is 5573. He might have been more attentive to what he was reading.’

Even if we accept the extremely dubious proposition that Serb military casualties should be counted as victims of a Muslim ‘wave of terror’, the figures still do not support Seymour’s claim.

Firstly, he has cited the wrong figure: 5,573  refers to the deaths of Serbs from Podrinje, including those killed in other parts of Bosnia. The number of Serbs killed in Podrinje, including those from other parts of Bosnia, is 4,848. But this refers to all Serbs killed in the whole of the Podrinje region during the whole of the war, not just those killed near Srebrenica.

Secondly, and more importantly, the Research and Documentation Centre, whose data Seymour relies upon to make his case, has calculated the total number of Serb civilian and military deaths in the ‘wave of terror’ that Seymour refers to. It puts Serb civilian deaths at 119 and Serb military deaths at 448. This puts the maximum possible number of Serb deaths in Seymour’s ‘wave of terror’ at 567, rather than in the ‘thousands’ that he claims.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, SWP, The Left | 1 Comment

Greater Surbiton first birthday post

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‘Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly.’ – Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love

Greater Surbiton became one year old on 7 November. Some weeks before that, it passed the figure of 100,000 page-views. Many thanks to all my readers. Well, at least to some of them. As it has been a very busy academic term, I have not had the time until now to write a suitably self-indulgent birthday post. I apologise in advance for the rambling that follows.

I had two principal aims in mind when launching this blog: to discuss what progressive politics might mean in the twenty-first century, and to provide commentary on South East European affairs. The second of these has tended to predominate, partly because it has been such an eventful year in South East Europe, with the international recognition of Kosova, the failed nationalist assault on the liberal order in Serbia, the escalation of the conflicts between Greece and Macedonia and between Turkey and the PKK, the failed judicial putsch against the AKP government in Turkey, the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and so on. Although the recognition of Kosova and the defeat of anti-democratic initiatives in Serbia and Turkey gives us reason for optimism about the region, all the indications are that events there will not cease to be ‘interesting’ in the forseeable future. Key struggles are either being decided now, or are simmering: for the international recognition of Kosova and its successful functioning as a state; for the defence of Macedonia’s name and nationhood; for the democratisation of Turkey; for the resolution of the Cyprus conflict; for the defence of Georgia’s independence and territorial integrity; and for the reintegration of Bosnia.

While I remain cautiously optimistic about at least some of these, reason for concern is provided by the direction in which EU policy is tending. This includes support for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s disgraceful six-point plan for Kosova, which will reinforce the country’s ‘partition lite’. It includes also support for a new partnership with Russia, in violation of the ceasefire agreement over Georgia (from which Russian forces have refused fully to withdraw) and at the expense of the military defence of the states of Eastern Europe. All this indicates a new appetite for appeasement, for which France, Germany, Italy and Spain are principally responsible. The big unknown, at the time of writing, is precisely what the Obama Administration’s policy toward the region will be. I am somewhat Obamaskeptic and have voiced my concern about this already, but we really won’t know what Obama will do until he assumes office. In the meantime, I am happy to note that our own, British ruling classes show no indication of going back down the road shamefully trodden by John Major’s government in the 1990s: David Miliband’s performance as Foreign Secretary with regard to South East Europe has on the whole been commendable, while David Cameron’s response to Russian aggression in Georgia was magnificent. Whichever party wins the next British general election, the UK is likely to act as a brake on some of the more ignoble impulses of our West European allies.

It is fortunate, indeed, that the only political parties likely to win the next general election are Labour and the Conservatives, both of them respectable parties of government, rather than some irrelevant fringe group. Such as the Liberal Democrats. I have written to my various MPs several times in the course of my life, and on a couple of occasions to other elected politicians. The only one who never wrote back was my current MP Ed Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, to whom I wrote to ask to support the campaign to provide asylum in the UK to Iraqi employees of the British armed forces. No doubt, as Mr Davey has assumed the immensely important job of Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, he will have even less time to waste on trivial matters such as writing to his constituents, and no doubt democracy would anyway potter along so much better if we all stopped pestering our MPs. And the fruits of Mr Davey’s labour are there for all to see – such as this empty, incoherent, waffling attack on ‘neo-Cons, from Dick Cheney to David Cameron’, for being too ‘macho’ over Georgia. One can always rely on a certain type of wishy-washy liberal to be infinitely more offended by resolute calls for action against aggression than they are by the aggression itself. The line isn’t to oppose aggression, comrades; the line is to oppose people who oppose aggression. The electoral contest here in Kingston and Surbiton is a straight fight between the Conservatives and the LibDems; readers may rest assured I won’t be voting for the LibDems.

Indeed, as a point of principle, progressives can no longer automatically back the left-wing candidate against the right-wing candidate; we need to think hard before deciding whether to back Merkel or Schroeder; Sarkozy or Royal; Livingstone or Johnson; Obama or McCain; Cameron or Brown. Politicians and parties of the left or of the right may be a force for positive change, while both the parliamentary left and the right must move toward the centre if they want to win elections. Thus, the US presidential election was fought between two centrist candidates, lost by the one who waged the more divisive and partisan campaign, and won by the one who reconciled a message of change with a message of healing and reconciliation. About a billion commentators have pointed out the signficance of a black man being elected president of the US, yet it was the reviled George W. Bush who appointed the US’s first black Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2001, and first black woman Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in 2005, something to which even the Guardian’s Gary Younge pays tribute.

Only joking. In his article at the start of this month on how inspiring the possibility of a black president is for young black people in the US, Younge actually complained that Obama hadn’t been all good, because he had voted to confirm Rice as Secretary of State. A couple of years ago, Younge said: ‘Of course, on one level it’s important that black people have the right to fuck up and to be bad, but we have to separate progress of symbols and progress of substance. At a symbolic level, Condoleezza Rice does represent some kind of progress, but if that’s where we are going with this thing I’m getting off the train now.’ Has everyone got that ? The election or appointment of black politicians to senior posts in the US should only be celebrated as symbolic of positive change if they’re politically sympathetic in the eyes of Guardian journalists.

If there’s one blogging decision I took that I was initially unsure about, but now definitely do not regret, it was the decision not to have comments. I realise that this makes me a social outcast in the blogosphere – something equivalent to a leper during the Middle Ages. But do you know what, dear readers ? I really don’t care. Just as I don’t like dog turds, half-eaten kebabs and squashed bubble gum littering the parks and pavements where I walk, let alone on my doorstep, so I don’t want my nice clean blog littered with comments from the assorted riff-raff of the internet: Chetniks; Ustashas; national chauvinists; genocide-deniers; Stalinists; Nazis; ‘anti-imperialists'; ‘anti-Zionists'; Islamophobes; Islamofascists; BNP supporters; SWP supporters; Red-Brown elements; ultra-left sectarians; toilet-mouthed troglodytes; Jeremy Kyle fodder; ‘Comment is Free’ types; and others like them. And I particularly don’t want flippant, inane comments that take ten seconds to think up and write, by Benjis who don’t bother to read the post properly in the first place. Thank you very much.

Let’s face it, members of the above-listed categories generally comprise about half of all the people who comment on blogs dealing with my fields.

Of course, all credit to those bloggers who do succeed in managing comments in a way that keeps the debate lively and the trolls and trogs to a minimum.  But I see no reason why every article has to be followed by comments. While I applaud the democratisation of the means of communication that the blogging revolution represents, this democratisation has come at a price. The ubiquitous nature of online discussion and the generally inadequate level of comments moderation has resulted in a vulgarisation of public discourse. Where once the letters editor of a paper could be relied on to reject automatically semi-literate, abusive or otherwise bottom-quality letters for publication, now many, if not most, online discussions are filled with outright filth and rubbish. Well, I’m doing my bit for the online environment.

Related to this is the unfortunate fashion for blogging and commenting anonymously, which inevitably results in a ruder, nastier online atmosphere. I’m not going to judge any individual who chooses to remain anonymous – you may have a valid personal reason. But really, comrades, is all this anonymity necessary ? So long as you live in a democracy, and the secret police aren’t going to come round to visit you just because you express your opinion, then the default position should be to write under your real name.

Greater Surbiton has received plenty of intelligent criticism in the one year of its existence, and not a small amount of really stupid criticism. So, to round off this too-long post, I’m going to announce an award for Most Ill-Informed Attack on Something I Have Written. In this inaugural year, the award goes jointly to Hak Mao of the Drink-Soaked Troglodytes and to Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch (unless you really have nothing better to do, you may want to stop reading at this point – it’s my time off and I’m having a bit of pointless fun with my sectarian chums).

Hak Mao, in response to my Normblog profile:

‘There you are, minding your own business and then you read this steaming pile of bollocks: The most important change of opinion I’ve ever had … was realizing that ‘anti-imperialism’ … was something highly negative and reactionary, rather than positive and progressive. Can’t spell Vietnam, Laos, Amritsar, Bay of Pigs or Salvador eh? You are welcome to compose your own list of atrocities committed in the name of the ‘West’. And one of those whose historical contribution to human emancipation I most appreciate [is] … Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The emancipation of Armenians was particularly heartwarming.’

This criticism is being made by someone who is a born-again Leninist and Trotskyist religious believer, whose favourite book is still Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’, who views Trotsky’s martyrdom the way Christians view the crucifixion, but who nevertheless writes for a pro-war, Christopher-Hitchens-worshipping website.

The Bolshevik regime of Lenin and Trotsky armed and funded Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists. It signed a treaty ceding to Turkey territory that had been inhabited and claimed by the Armenians; the US president Woodrow Wilson had wanted the Armenians to receive much more territory than the Bolshevik-Turkish treaty gave them. The Turkish slaughter of Armenian civilians in Smyrna in 1922 was made possible by Bolshevik military and financial support for the Kemalists. The Bolshevik regime was therefore utterly complicit in Turkish-nationalist crimes against the Armenians.

Someone like Hak Mao, properly equipped with a Scientific Theory of Class Struggle, who is faithful to the Principles of Revolutionary Socialism and well versed in Marxist-Leninist Scripture, can simultaneously 1) revere Lenin and Trotsky, 2) ignore their support for Mustafa Kemal and their complicity in his crimes against the Armenians; 3) denounce bourgeois reactionaries like myself who write favourably about Mustafa Kemal; and 4) justify all this in ‘scientific’ Marxist terms. And of course, everyone knows that, were Lenin and Trotsky alive today, they would undoubtedly, as good anti-imperialists, have joined with Christopher Hitchens in endorsing George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, in welcoming the Bush dynasty to the campaign against Islamic terror, and in supporting Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And naturally they would still have denounced apostates and traitors to the cause of anti-imperialism, such as myself, in the strongest possible terms.

Anyone with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism can only reach this conclusion. If you do not reach this conclusion, it is because you do not have a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism. And anyone without a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism is an ignorant pleb whose views don’t count, and who should defer to a vanguard comprised of professional revolutionaries with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism.

Here’s a joke for the comrades:

Q. What do you call a racist, anti-Semitic, Great German nationalist supporter of capitalism, the free market, globalisation, Western imperialism and colonialism ?

A. Karl Marx

(NB I’m also pro-war over Iraq and Afghanistan, and I agree with Christopher Hitchens more often than not. But I don’t pretend to be an ‘anti-imperialist’.)

Daniel Davies, in response to my post ‘Weighing Obama versus McCain’:

I wrote:

‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban.’

Davies (‘Bruschettaboy’) replied:

‘call me a bad blogger, but I would shed very few tears and protest only halfheartedly at our terrible UK libel laws if it turned out that there were some sort of consequences for saying something like that.’

This is what Ahmed Rashid, one of the most eminent journalists of Afghanistan and the Taliban, writes in Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia:

‘Between 1994 and 1996 the USA supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western. The USA conveniently ignored the Taliban’s own Islamic fundamentalist agenda, its suppression of women and the consternation they created in Central Asia largely because Washington was not interested in the larger picture.’

Hopefully, Rashid will agree to be my defence witness in the event that Clinton follows Daniel’s advice and takes me to court.

As for Milosevic, Davies clearly has not heard of the Dayton Accord, but I assume everyone else who reads this blog has (certainly everyone who reads it as assiduously as Daniel does), so I’ll confine myself to posting this picture of Clinton’s man Richard Holbrooke, the architect of Dayton, carrying out Western imperialist aggression against the anti-imperialist Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic:

holbrooke

You see, comrades from the ‘Indecent Left’ like Daniel see their mission as defending the leaders of Western imperialism and their record over crises like Afghanistan or Bosnia, from condemnation coming from the ranks of the ‘Decent Left’, and they do so in the most strident and aggressive manner – even when the condemnation is totally justified. And there I was, thinking we were all part of the same left-wing extended family.

Honestly, what a bunch of splitters.

Update: Davies isn’t now trying to defend his previous claim that Clinton never collaborated with Milosevic or the Taliban, and that I deserve to be sued for saying so, but is taking refuge in the defence that he didn’t understand what I was saying, because I wasn’t expressing myself clearly.

What do you think, readers, is the sentence ‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban’ at all difficult to understand ? Is the grammar or vocabulary at all complicated ? Perhaps I’m using opaque academic jargon that a non-specialist might find difficult ?

Or could it be that Daniel simply isn’t the sharpest tool in the box ?

Friday, 28 November 2008 Posted by | Afghanistan, Anti-Semitism, Armenians, Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Croatia, Cyprus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Genocide, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Islam, Jews, Kosovo, Kurds, Macedonia, Middle East, NATO, Neoconservatism, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, Serbia, SWP, The Left, Turkey | 1 Comment

Is the Socialist Workers Party about to join the War on Terror ?

Picture: British imperialist general Sir Michael Rose, described by the SWP’s Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour as ‘certainly no sympathiser with the Bosnian Serb forces’, carrying out imperialist intervention against his sworn enemy, the leader of the Bosnian Serb anti-imperialist resistance, General Ratko Mladic.

The internal politics of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), spearhead of British opposition to imperialism and Zionism, may be thrown into turmoil by revelations made on Friday by leading SWP blogger Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour. In a comment on his blog Lenin’s Tomb, Seymour challenged the prevailing SWP wisdom that it is Western imperialism that is attacking and oppressing the Muslim world, and that the Left should be supporting the Muslims. According to Seymour’s iconoclastic claims, it is actually the other way round.

Citing a former senior official of Western imperialism (Philip Corwin, former UN chief political officer in Sarajevo), Seymour argued that Serb shelling of Sarajevo civilians and hospitals during the war in Bosnia was all deliberately provoked by the Muslims in the first place, furthermore that the Muslims were oppressing the Western imperialist forces: ‘Philip Corwin’s memoir recalls that BiH provocations weren’t just intended to draw Serb fire. They were also aimed at coercing UNPROFOR. Thus UNPROFOR troops were repeatedly shelled by BiH [Bosnian army] forces, more or less each morning. And UNPROFOR’s attitude, given that its role was to be co-belligerents with the US and the local clients, was to refuse to mention these in its situation reports or even protest too vigorously.’

With this radical challenge to prevailing SWP orthodoxy, Seymour claimed: 1) that the imperialist forces were the victims and the Muslims were the oppressors; 2) that all accusations made by Western imperialist officials against Muslims should be assumed to be true; 3) that the Bosnian army was shelling the UN forces every day, because they were allies against the Serbs; 4) that the UN was on the side of the Muslims against the Serbs, so never mentioned the fact that it was being oppressed by the Muslims – except in the published memoirs of its leading officials, available for purchase at Amazon.co.uk; and 5) that this UN-Muslim conflict renders UN officials the most objective judges of Muslim wrongdoing. 

Seymour goes on to argue that the popular belief that Sarajevo in the 1990s was shelled and besieged for three and a half years by Serb forces was a myth cooked up by the Western imperialist media, and that it was actually the Muslims who were shelling and massacring themselves in order to blame it on the Serbs. To prove this, he cites the testimony of the Western imperialists, who were engaged in a campaign to demonise the Serbs and who are therefore best placed to testify that the Muslims were really to blame for everything. Responding to a critic who argued that the Markale massacre of Sarajevo civilians in 1994 was the work of a Serb shell, Seymour cut him down: ‘your sense of who was responsible is curiously at odds with the views of UNPROFOR, which accused the Bosnian government forces of “firing to provoke the Serbs, and of using hospitals and public buildings as cover for such fire”.’ These imperialist accusations against the Muslims support the view, argues Seymour, that the Muslims were clients of the imperialists and that the two were working hand-in-glove againt the anti-imperialist Serbs. 

In addition to Corwin, Seymour cites a second Western imperialist official, British UN commander Sir Michael Rose (pictured above) in support of his argument that the Markale massacre was carried out by the Muslims: ‘UN experts had determined, according to General Sir Michael Rose (no Tory as far as I am aware, and certainly no sympathiser with the Bosnian Serb forces), that the shot came from the Bosniak side. UNPROFOR itself openly declared that the Bosnian forces repeatedly engaged in “false flag” operations to provoke Serbian attacks on civilian buildings.’

Picture: Dutch UNPROFOR troops carrying out imperialist intervention against Mladic and his Serb anti-imperialist forces at Srebrenica, July 1995. Thanks to Western imperialism’s support for the Muslims against the Serbs, the ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica was successfully defended from Serb anti-imperialist assault, and eight thousand Muslim men and boys were not massacred, left-wing sources say.

Sir Michael was unavailable for comment. However, he is known as a leading scholarly expert on Islamic culture and civilisation. In his published memoirs, Fighting for Peace, Rose argued that Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic was probably incapable of appreciating Mozart because he was a Muslim. Having attended a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in besieged Sarajevo alongside Izetbegovic, Rose wrote, ‘I wondered if he understood the Christian sentiment behind the words and the music’. Despite this demonstrated sympathy for Muslims and Islam, it is notable that Rose agrees with Seymour on the nefarious character of the Izetbegovic regime; Rose writes that Izetbegovic’s ‘talk of creating a multi-religious, multi-cultural State in Bosnia was a disguise for the extension of his own political power and the furtherance of Islam.’

Seymour’s allegations are likely to prove controversial among SWP members, who have spent the past several years supporting the jihad of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iraqi insurgents against Western imperialism, under banners such as ‘We are all Hezbollah now’, and were thus under the impression that radical Islamists were the good guys and Western imperialists the bad guys. SWP supporters have also tended to argue that while it is acceptable to support anti-Semitic Muslim groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah out of principled opposition to Zionism, it is unacceptable to support anti-Semitic Croats such as the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman because Tudjman and the Croats are reactionary nationalists, and socialists are not supposed to take sides in disputes between reactionary nationalists. Yet this SWP attitude, too, may change in light of Tudjman’s consistent opposition to Izetbegovic, multiethnic Bosnia and the Bosnian Muslims – an opposition that closely mirrors that of Seymour, Rose and UNPROFOR. Tudjman also shared the anti-imperialist left’s opposition to Israel, which he described as a ‘Judeo-Nazi hijack state’, to the imperialist war-crimes tribunal in the Hague, and to US imperialism in general, even taking steps to rehabilitate the World War II Ustasha fascist ‘Independent State of Croatia’, which declared war against the US in 1941.

As one left-wing opponent of imperialism and Zionism said yesterday, ‘We are all Ustashas now’.

Greater Surbiton News Service

Update: In response to this post, Seymour has accused me of being a ‘demented stalker’. For the record, I have posted about him fewer times than he has posted about me. Before I had ever written a word about him, he was libelling me on his blog. Five days ago, he launched an open thread on his blog so that his weird anonymous cronies could post defamatory comments about me and my family. So the question of who is a ‘demented stalker’ is probably not one that Richard should be raising. My advice to Richard is: if you can’t take it, then don’t dish it out. And as for which one of us needs, as he puts it, to ‘get a fucking life’… :-)

Monday, 8 September 2008 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Islam, Israel, Jews, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, SWP, The Left | Leave a comment

   

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