Self-determination for Kosovo?

Louis' post on this is excellent.

It is a rather sad indictment of so much contemporary Trotskyism that questions such as self-determination have been ripped out of their actual historical context, turned into a fetish-slogan and raised up to timeless principles.

In the case of Yugoslavia, the formation of that country was surely a great step forward for its people. It gave them the opportunity to actually break out of being dominated by foreign powers who had long controlled the Balkans and opened up the path to some greater level of socio-economic development.

What is curious about the infatuation with self-determination in Yugoslavia is that it is divorced from any real materialist analysis of what is going on there and from any really anti-imperialist politics. Breaking up Yugoslavia simply puts the various new states under the hegemony of some imperialist power, instead of rule from Belgrade. It is difficult to see how this can be considered any advance over the pre-1990 situation.

Moreover the division of Yugoslavia has been largely economically driven. The restoration of the market meant, among other things, that the wealthier areas of the country wanted to opt out of subsidizing the poorer areas. So Slovenia and Croatia raised the slogan of 'self-determination' for themselves. Their 'self-determination' was about defending privilege. They could hardly said to be terribly oppressed within the old Yugoslav federal state.

How should Marxists respond? I would be more inclined to give the same response that Abraham Lincoln gave to Jefferson Davis and the southern slaveowners in 1861! (OK, I'm aware that this isn't a great analogy as we are dealing with a different time etc, but you know what I mean!)

The great powers have been up to their eyeballs in political and diplomatic manoeuvring in the area over the past decade. Germany, for example, was very interested in Slovenia and Croatia becoming independent as this was a way of incorporating them into an expanding German imperialist sphere after the implosion of the Stalinist states in eastern Europe. Germany is also keen to whitewash the activities of the Croatian fascists in WW2.

What is going on in Yugoslavia seems to me to be a very bogus kind of 'self-determination'. Surely one of the advantages of Marxism is that it gives us the tools to look below the surface appearances and analyse the real forces at work. I would think we should be very wary indeed about 'self-determination' in the Yugoslav context.

When the self-determination of people all over the world is being denied by a rampant imperialism (Haiti, Iraq, Somalia, NATO's attacks on Yugoslavia, western troops in Rwanda, etc etc etc), I would have thought Marxists and other anti-imperialists would have quite enough to contend with without supporting bogus market-oriented and imperialist-orchestrated attempts to smash up the Yugoslav federal state.

Philip Ferguson

Wilson's conception of national self-determination - what Lenin chastised as "Wilsonism" in the 1920 preface to the French & German editions of *Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism*) - meant a world order without formal imperial colonies under US control...while his "14 Points" proposal - a plan to strangle the Soviet Union and suppress socialist revolutions disguised as a "peace and reform" program - was initially rebuffed in the US, his kind of internationalism was virtually sacrosanct foreign policy by the end of WW2...

Wilson liked to recall Lincoln's comment about the US being the "last great hope on earth"...he added to this sentiment with his own phrase about the US "fighting wars to end all wars"

Michael Hoover

Ói, cara

Ultimately, we Marxists don't believe in nation-states. As empires have been prisons of nations, nation states themselves are prisons for the human spirit.

The problem of a Marxist politics of nationalities is that it will always be tinged by some degree of instrumentality. We want a world free of capitalist exploitation and, for that, we strive to unite the working classes of all national origins in a common effort of liberation. Lenin never wrote a word about the "right of nations to self-determination" that wasn't tightly submitted to that higher political and historical aim. Now, some people want to read him as proclaiming a kind of natural right. But Lenin was not a jus-naturalist and he was not in the business of writing the UN Charter. He was an internationalist class fighter and a communist.

We must keep that in mind when drafting a politics for national questions. Nationalities politics can be maddeningly complex and trying. As a general principle, I would certainly like to proclaim the "right" of every worker to belong to a state of his choosing (and to recall that choice if he ever finds himself to have been in error). The problem is that it simply cannot be that way. Population layers are sometimes very mixed and cannot be uprooted. We must face tough choices. And we cannot just do it case by case, by political expediency or because some peoples are judged "progressive" and some others "reactionary". We must define general principles at a theoretical level. On that Lenin was absolutely correct. His principles, however, were drafted in a colonial era that is not ours anymore. And he had a strategic outlook for the overthrow of capitalism worldwide (to which his national politics was submitted) that I'm not sure if it still holds in its integrity.

On Kosovo(a), I would like to see a political solution that grants every Kosovar the right to live in the land, free of ethnic harassment and oppression. The Albanians, of course, constitute the vast majority of the Kosovars. But that doesn't necessarily mean that "Kosova for the Albanians" is the best politics. The Hutus were also the vast majority in Rwanda and their "national project" turned out to be a murderous spiral, while the Tutsi led Patriotic Front had the only viable national project with some republican and democratic decency. The Serbs are also an important group, firmly rooted in Kosovo. They are not settlers and were by no means a privileged elite during Tito's time. They are not "pieds noirs". Then there are other groups (Rom, Bulgarians, Macedonians, non-Albanian Muslims, etc.) who, curiously enough, seem to find more guarantees in the present political state of affairs than in a KLA statelet. Ibrahim Rugova (recently sentenced to death by the KLA) seems to speak for a very considerable section of the Albanians that still believes in an accommodation and true citizenship in a post-Milosevic Yugoslavia. That could very well be the best solution.

The only certainty I have is that the NATO intervention is absolutely criminal and must be defeated by all means. This is THE ENEMY at work. We know its aims and methods. Irrespectively of what political solution one finds to be best suitable for Kosovo(a), we just cannot refuse battle there. And that means support for the Yugoslav republic.

Joăo Paulo Monteiro

Japanese nationalists thought of Japan itself as an oppressed nation, fighting the Western imperialists, liberating other Asians, and leading them as junior members of the Daitoa Kyoei Ken (the Great East-Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere). The concept of an oppressed nation is a very problematic one, when divorced from class-content and linked to anti-socialism. The reason why the concept is so seductive and dangerous is that there is a kernel of truth in it. For instance, Japan, at the dawn of its capitalist modernity and end of _sakoku_ (that limited the entry of Westerners), had to 'open up' itself to the West based upon unequal treaties (that, among other things, allowed the Westerners in Japan to enjoy extraterritoriality). However, when this kernel of truth gets divorced from class analyses, it becomes merely a propaganda tool for reactionaries to leverage themselves from the status of second-class imperialists to that of the first-class ones. In fact, even today, Japanese nationalists are fond of claiming victimhood: "I coulda been a contendha."


while Marx expressed views about the behavior of national groups in Europe (and Balkans peoples were among those of whom he was critical), he did not offer an explanation for the persistence of nationalism because he thought that class struggle would eventually eliminate such identifications/loyalties...however, turn of the twentieth century socialists in multinational regions of Eastern Europe and Russia attempted to provide explanations for national rivalries and give some guidance for ameliorating/resolving these difficulties...

I don't know much about Otto Bauer's plan (_The National Question & Social Democracy_, 1907) for extraterritorial autonomy of nationalities within the Austrian Empire and would appreciate a brief exegesis...was it a genuine effort to seek a solution to the national question in the conditions then prevailing in the Austro- Hungarian Empire? practical would it have been to apply?

Stalin's attack on the above (_Marxism and the National Question_, 1913) argued that socialists should adopt the slogan of self- determination where national conflict existed within multinational much of this rival work (developed with Lenin's guidance, if memory serves), was opportunistic polemic intended to exploit Russia's national difficulties by offering discontented groups a vague, yet appealing, right of self-determination?...

Michael Hoover

Louis Proyect:

The war against Serbia is a proxy war against every vestige of anti-imperialist independence in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It is a signal to the Communists in Russia and allied states that Nato will blow them to kingdom come if they threaten the "stability" of the new world order. Poor Kosovo has been dragged into this confrontation, but it is of secondary consequence. Despite the retrograde character of the Serb leadership, its defiance of Nato's war is as important as the defense of Stalingrad in 1942. If Serbia loses, the forces of war and barbarism will simply drive forward with their expansionary agenda. And Russia surely will be the next target.

It will be no surprise to anybody if I say that I agree with this position. However, I think there are a couple of collateral issues that should be tackled at the same time.

1. The "final crisis" of capitalism. I feel it is clearer by the days that we have finally entered the "final crisis". As usual with history, things are never the way one anticipates them, but the current tendency to lower average global wages (substituting Indonesian or Mexican workers for West European or North American ones can have no other effect) while productivity boosts cannot but take us to a stalemate which will become harder and harder with time. If this is not a crisis, could anyone tell me how to label it? Under such conditions, former productive centers outside the First World must be brushed away, and though the Yugoslav industry may be in a bad condition, it is an industry anyway, and it has an industrial proletariat, engineers, managers, scientists and the whole host of institutions that might -le cas echeant- put it to work again. So it must be ruined for good. This seems to be the policy for any independent industrial complex outside the Great Powers. During the 30s, many semicolonial countries tried to keep the prices of the commodities high by burning them or throwing them to the gutter (e.g.: coffee in Brazil, wines in Mendoza -Argentina-). Now, it looks like the West understands that they have to return to the days when they had the monopoly of industry -either by owning all the plants abroad, thus owning the right to stop their development where they deem necessary, either by leaving only the "central" plants in good condition- and the destruction of the Yugoslav factories (BTW: a nice way to destroy the strength of the working class, already practiced by the Videla regime in Argentina, after 1976) may be a further step in this direction.

2. The exemplarity of the punishment is not aimed at Russian Leftists only. It aims at anyone who may dare intend to perhaps who knows maybe even think to think about a possibility that "we may attempt a mild confrontation course". The message is sent to people like Chavez in Venezuela also, who have not deployed their full programmes. The former US ambassador to Venezuela put it bluntly to the Argentinian paper _Clarin_: "We hope that Chavez will become another Menem" (that is, a traitor). But things may be very different in Venezuela. So that, why not sending a clear message?

The Yugoslav OTAN war is the Paraguay War of our days. A worthy and brave people is stormed for the sake of the needs of the Empire, and of course they are stormed to save them of their dictator. The war is "against Milosevic", though it kills Yugoslavs. The same happened in Paraguay, during the late 1860s.


Marx and Engels said repeatedly that no people can be free if it oppresses other peoples. That tells it all about their opposition to national oppression, even if they made a few mistakes about who was oppressing whom. Also, the NRZ articles are very early -- I doubt if M & E had thought much beyond Europe and the revolutionary situation unfolding there. But recall their firm stand against German control of Polish territory in the same period.

The touchstone is Ireland. Ireland. Ireland. Ireland. We should all read the anthology of their writings on Ireland, and read about their (particularly Engels's) involvement in the Irish liberation struggle. No pragmatism there.

Jim Blaut

IMO the one constant underlying Marx's positions concerning the national question is the effect that a particular nationalism would have on the overall class struggle. Marx's evaluations of particular nationalisms included assessments of the effects that national self-determination would have on class relations both within that particular nation as well as the effects that national independence might have within the context of international relations. This explains how Marx could support Polish and Irish independence while opposing most of the Slavic nationalisms of the Balkans. The former by weakening Russia and Britain respectively, would weaken the main pillars of reactionary politics in Europe. The latter on the other hand would enhance the power of Russia in eastern Europe.

Likewise Marx and Engels were also very much concerned about the effects that the achievement of national self-determination would have on industrial development and hence on the development of industrial proletariats that would be capable of waging class struggle in newly independent states. Marx for instance in the American Civil War strongly backed the Union against the Confederacy not only because he saw that a Union victory would smash slavery in the South but also because he saw that a Union victory would ensure the political supremacy of Northern industrial capital over the planter class of the South. Such a victory would remove political impediments to rapid industrialization. This in turn would lead to the rapid growth in both numbers and strength of an American industrial proletariat on the one hand while the emergence of the US as a major industrial power would exacerbate the contradictions of capitalism. Therefore the American South's bid for independence was to be opposed.

Jim Farmelant

Louis Proyect wrote:

Since Paul Flewers, the editor of "New Interventions", is on this list, I'm sure he'll have something to say...

Firstly, a small point: I am not the editor of New Interventions, I'm a member of the editorial board, and the production manager. We don't have an editor or a 'party line'.

Secondly, it's good that the whole issue of 'self-determination' is being raised. To be provocative, it's amazing that so many Marxists are so flexible on many issues, including socialist ones, yet stand, or rather kneel, in total submission in front of what is a bourgeois principle. Marxists should not take bourgeois principles as permanently applicable guides to theory or action.

On the Yugoslav issue, I took the line that none of the secessionist states were oppressed nations, indeed Slovenia and Croatia were privileged sections of Yugoslavia. All the Yugoslav republican élites wanted to reinforce their positions at the expense of each other, and mobilised nationalist sentiments to divert growing working-class militancy. The federal arrangement of Yugoslavia permitted this -- was the federal arrangement the best way to overcome the national problems, it allowed national élites to establish a proto-statal basis for themselves, but what was the alternative? Is it a crime for a Marxist to say 'I don't know'? (That's another problem of the left -- we've got to be self-assuredly correct at all moments on all subjects, no exceptions allowed.)

What Croats and Slovenians saw as Serb centralisation was much more likely to be the inevitable centralisation around the federal capital Belgrade. To be sure, the Serb élite used that centralisation in the 1980s, but it's wrong to see Titoite Yugoslavia as some do, as a Serb-dominated entity.

I opposed the break-up of Yugoslavia as, in the words of James Connolly, partition leads to a carnival of reaction, spurring foul nationalism in all areas of the now ex-federation. As for Bosnia-Hercegovina, its electorate had prior to independence voted 90 per cent for nationally-based Muslim, Croat and Serb parties -- how on earth could such an entity stay intact? I told people who supported the break-up of Yugoslavia and who then complained when BiH fell apart, that if you heave a brick at a window, you can't expect a particular bit of to stay in one piece.

As for Kosovo, it is clear that we have an area in which the majority population was oppressed. Even during the Tito years, the Albanians were not treated (in practice as opposed to in constitutional theory) as full equals, and this has deteriorated over the last decade. This, plus the fact that they are facing an appalling attack by Serb chauvinists, does make the question of self-determination valid and supportable. But -- and it is a big 'but' -- there are real problems. Firstly -- and this is so often overlooked by 'self-determinator socialists' -- what is the nature of the Kosovan independence movement? I imagine that it will be just like all the other decomposition national movements we have seen in the area, a nasty thuggish chauvinist outfit. Last night on the telly, by the way, two British volunteers related how they had an unpleasant experience at the hands of the KLA, who thought they were Serb spies. They had, apparently, visited the wrong KLA, meaning that there are at least two KLAs operating. Secondly, what can Kosovan independence mean as anything more than just an emergency measure to prevent being done over by Serb chauvinists? An independent Kosovo would, I think, be the smallest-ever Balkan state, and that takes some doing! Thirdly, the Kosovans are in danger of becoming a cat's-paw of Nato. Like the Iraqi Kurds, they will almost certainly be dumped by imperialism when the media attention goes elsewhere.

Finally, as I've been rabbiting on too long here, the Bolsheviks called for the independence of Ukraine prior to the October revolution. No sooner had they got power, did they combine an invasion of Ukraine with insurrections in Kharkiv and Kyiv to overthrow the Ukrainian Rada. Losing power, they repeated the invasion twice afterwards. Was this right? Yes, as the Soviet government at that point represented a proletarian revolutionary force. The Bolsheviks erred badly at first in disregarding the national sensitivities of the Ukrainians, for instance, they did not use the Ukrainian tongue as the state language. That, however, is a different issue.

The fight for genuine equality and against all forms of discrimination cannot be fudged over. The right of national self-determination is a tactical issue.

Paul Flewers

Some thoughts on Self Determination

I get the impression from some that because a demand stems from the incomplete Bourgeois revolution that it is of little importance, in fact Bourgeois democratic demand are practically sneered at. I think sometimes of those who have never experienced real repression have a cavalier attitude to civil liberties or regard minor harassments as the equivalent of full scale fascism. I recall the difficulty the group I was in had in getting a campaign together to stop a hanging by the Irish government. The major organisation did not regard it as their business as the couple involved were independents. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for they". Democratic Rights, which came on the political stage with the Bourgeois revolutions, are extremely important for all the broad masses. Look for a start at the resistance movements in World War Two when the elimination of all democratic rights by the occupation forces sparked off a near revolution, which began with a struggle to restore democratic rights as they existed before the occupation. Of course the resistance movements had a momentum, a dynamic which with revolutionary leadership could have gone beyond. Think of the many revolutions that began as "simple" struggles for basic Bourgeois democratic rights.

National Self-Determination is also a demand of the Bourgeois Democratic revolution, but it is not in the context of Imperialism necessarily a demand of the Bourgeoisie. In Ireland it would be hard to find a shadow of the Bourgeoisie with any interest in anything but an accommodation with Imperialism. In fact the anti republican repression has been stronger in the formally independent part of Ireland. The Bourgeois Nationalist DeValera acted with more ruthlessness in dealing with Republicans than the Orange statlet in the North. I repeat Connolly’s conclusion "the cause of Ireland is the cause of Labour, the cause of Labour is the cause of Ireland". This excellent Marxist synthesis draws the conclusion that Irish Labour can only begin to liberate itself by taking up the cause of national liberation and bringing it to a conclusion. Does self-determination have to lead to separation? Sometimes for real unity across national divides separation is a necessary first step. I feel that was the essence of Lenin’s line in the formative stages of the USSR.A big brother approach from an alleged more advanced nation leads to resentment and is usually a cover for various forms of racism. Irish people for historical reasons were priest ridden and it is only in the recent past that we have caught up with and surpassed the secularism of other nations. (Quebec was a similar phenomenon) Engels was aware of this but being a democrat saw that the fight to secularise Ireland was the task of the Irish and not some "Marxist" Cromwells.

There are national struggles which occur where separation is impossible. I think of the USA. But all sorts of imaginative solutions are possible under Socialism. Do groups that the Bourgeoisie regards as marginal have to commit cultural suicide? Surely this is the application of Bourgeois logic. Are say the Blackfeet nation an anachronism.? If the Afro-American people of Mississippi demand separation, and given what has been done to them and continues to be done to them, who can blame them. Under Socialism all forms of autonomy, cultural development will be possible and the mechanical constraints of self-determination under Bourgeois rule will not be a constraint.

E.g. With the Internet and satellite Television very small groups can connect to their cultural heartland and continue to live their cultural inheritance. Or do our assimilationists think the world would be better if we all spoke a lowest common denominator form of English. The early USSR brought written scripts to languages without them and to some quite small groups, so did the Sandinistas.

Paul Flewers agrees that the Kosovo Albanians suffered fairly massive and widespread discrimination. This to me gives them a right to redress through self-determination. It is hypocrisy for pro Serbs and Serb "democrats" who did nothing to defend the Kosovo Albanians especially in the last ten years to ask them to seek redress through Belgrade. Serbia lost it’s "right" to rule because of this discrimination. Likewise the Orange State proved itself unfit to exist because of the systematic ill treatment of the nationalist minority.

I think the question of whether a state is viable is a red herring. Why even a bourgeois country like France cannot go it alone in this world. Marxists have been pointing at the exhaustion of the possibilities of fully independent states for a long time now. In real terms Jugoslavia even with Croatia etc was not more viable than Kosovo. All are very insubstantial in world terms. That is the economic realism behind Socialist Internationalism. Socialism in one country or even Capitalism is no longer possible. Add in the cost of repression of the minority and things can only get worse. That is why I support East Timor and the other small nations of the Indonesian Empire. Even though imperialist Portugal backed by the EU is formally on the side of the East Timorese.

Phil Ferguson:

national self-determination is a bourgeois and not a socialist principle. It's funny how this rather basic fact is so often obscured, yet it is crucial to understanding how Marxists approach the issue and why self-determination is *subordinate* to questions such as the defense of a workers' state (eg how the Bolsheviks sometimes over-rode self-determination), the role of imperialism and so on.

I would say that it is a "national" (in the French Revolution sense, and thus bourgeois but with some nuances) principle. In fact, it is not even a principle, it is a task to be accomplished. We Marxists approach the issue subordinating it to questions such as the defense of a workers' state, true, and I'd say that in general -even in the absence of such a state- self-determination and national struggles are subordinate to our goals. Certain national struggles promote socialist revolutions, other do not.

But one may also think that not only "national" tasks can work against socialism, class interests, even working class interests may also do so. For example: in what today is Israel, the Zionist community supported a high-wages policy through the creation of a closed Jewish economy that kept as little contact with the Arab economy as possible. The Histadrut, the Jewish workers' central, strongly and firmly opposed the hiring of Arab workers by Jewish bourgeois. In this, it was mimicking the policies of the Australian labor during the early years of the 20th. century, when immigration was strongly restricted to Europeans in order to keep wages high.

In Australia, this policy was useful though morally we can find it ugly. In Israel it helped build a vast gulf of hatred between Jewish and Arab workers. But then, just wait a minute: Is it not in the interest of the working class to enjoy a higher standard of living? Yes, it is. But, is it not also in the interest of the revolution to weld workers of every national origin in a single, strong and powerful mass? Yes, it is. And then, when it comes to the case I expose (it could be theorized, I prefer to put a good example for the sake of clarity), don't the interests of revolution clash with the interests of the working class?

The polemic of Lenin with the "economists" is full of further examples. Politics and history never run smoothly.


If post Cold War US foreign policy leads her to bomb Yugoslavia, a WWII ally and an object of Cold War strategy to encourage nationalism as a devise to split international communism under the alleged control of Soviet imperialism, in the name of ethnic self-determination, then no nation in Asia is safe from US military inference in its internal affairs. More than Kosovo, national separatist movements in China and in other nations in Asia such as Indonesia and India/Pakistan have been exploited by Western imperialism's divide and rule principle. Asians view this new phase of US self-righteousness as a pretext for a a policy of armed intervention to break up strong government to install a new Open Door policy for Asia to continue economic and financial imperialism through US led globalization. In past decades, political domination has been tolerated by economic pay-offs. The countries that supported US policy has been reward with higher standards of living throughout Asia. Since the 1997 crises, this is no longer true. Asians are beginning to understand that economic self-determination required political independence from the American system which in turn requires resistance to American engineered national separatism.

Over four thousand years of history, China had attracted voluntary integration from neighboring national minorities when she was strong and prosperous, and faced splittist dismemberment when she was weak and poor. Most of the time, China was engaged in trying to keep neighboring minorities out rather than in. The arrival of Western imperialism changed that trend.

In modern time, in addition to the majority ethnic Han nationality, China has fifty-five officially recognized national minorities living on sixty percent of its territory with a combined minority population of over 100 million among its total of 1.3 billion people. China's national minorities in modern time would have a population equal to the combined total of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria.

Self-determination has many levels. But these issues are currently distorted by foreign forces to dismember China by creating "independent" client state around her headed not by national liberation leaders but by patsy puppets like the Dalai Lama who want to restore theocracy under American protection. It is highly likely that under a prosperous China, many groups who have left in the past century will return to China's embrace voluntarily because of natural benefits of association. It is a matter of time before Outer Mongolian will seek to return to China. The Yalta Conference forced Mongolia independence on Chiang Kaishek as a price to induce the Soviet Union to enter the war against Japan. Why do you suppose Hillary Clinton went to Outer Mongolia after the fall of the Soviet Union? The long term US strategy is to surround China with a ring of "independent" states from Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It is the America version in Asia of the British dream of a British path in Africa from Capetown to Cairo envisioned by Cecil Rhodes.

Henry C. Liu