The following exchange (published in the Fifth Estate, Spring 2003) is in response to David Watson's article
Milosevic “Crucified”: Counter-Spin as Useful Idiocy.
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Letter to the 5th Estate about the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague
By Richard Tate for Wildcat
December 29, 2002
David Watson's piece criticizing Alternative Press Review's coverage of the show trial of Slobodan Milosevic in the Fifth Estate no. 358 should be rewarded with a job at Human Rights Watch.
It's as if he's trying to respond to the increasing ranks of its readers who say the Fifth Estate has become a liberal publication by saying 'look – I'm not a liberal – I don't even support the concept of innocent until proven guilty!'. His only criticism of the NATO Tribunal in the Hague is that it appears to require the prosecution to prove its case. The Tribunal is directed almost exclusively against Serbs. If there were an international court which specialized in prosecuting Jewish alleged war criminals, would Watson support it? The Tribunal doesn't just have "more than a whiff of victor's justice", it is a kangaroo court in which the likes of Madeleine Albright give evidence against small-scale butchers from the Balkans.
He wastes no time in resorting to 'reductio ad Hitlerum', a variant of the amalgam technique. If Michael Parenti is a 'Stalinist hack' for questioning the extent of Serb war crimes in Kosovo, David Watson is a NATO hack for trying to prevent us from making our own minds up by opposing the publication of alternatives to the official viewpoint, and smearing those who do publish those alternatives. He amalgamates defenders of the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, supporters of Pol Pot, and the brave French communists who, defying the legal system, Zionist and leftist cops, and France's own anarchist establishment, insisted on taking the claims of holocaust revisionism seriously. I'll make my own mind up about Nazi crimes against Jews via a careful examination of the arguments of both sides, thanks, citizen Watson.
Even those who lack a critique of the bourgeois concept of Justice should be able to see when it is not being applied. The death of Nicholae Ceaucescu wasn't justice. He was murdered by his former comrades to stop him snitching on them. Watson asks if we should publish statements by Pinochet or old Nazis? Certainly – if they expose Kissinger and the CIA! Milosevic and other Serb leaders have much to tell us about links between the CIA, the KLA and other Islamic fascist organizations.
I don't want to defend Leninists, and still less, mass-murdering ex-heads of state, but if the likes of Watson slander them, what choice do I have? The World Socialist Website is a useful source of information. So are conservative and libertarian sources, if one keeps one's critical faculties. For example, Nebojsa Malic explains the errors in each part of the prosecution case against Milosevic: www.antiwar.com/malic/m090502.html.
If it's 'convenient' to blame NATO for events in Yugoslavia, it's much more convenient to take NATO's side! Contra Watson, the defenders of Milosevic do publish plenty of evidence that NATO countries were behind the breakup of Yugoslavia. It's true that the EU initially opposed the secession of Croatia, but Germany changed its mind. In claiming that Serbia 'started the wars' in Yugoslavia by attacking the secessionist republics, Watson reveals one dangerous idea he shares with Leninists – national liberation. To say Serbia 'invaded' Croatia is to recognize Croatia's independence, and to take sides in a capitalist conflict: secession is an act of war. He even claims that Serbia had a 'colonial' relationship with Kosovo.
Nevertheless, it is true that Milosevic's defence is one-sided. NATO didn't simply attack Serbia and support its opponents. As you point out, it imposed an arms embargo on Bosnia, preventing Bosnian 'Muslims' from defending themselves against Serbian and Croat nationalists. I don't want to give the impression that I take sides in the Yugoslav tragedy. In many cases, all parts of the ruling class collaborated to massacre the working class – at Vukovar, Sarajevo and other places. I am not aiming to take Milosevic's side, just restore the balance of facts, and most importantly, opposing Watson's attempt to suppress part of the story.
For a CLASS analysis of the reasons why the ruling classes on all sides in Yugoslavia are war criminals, check out www.webcom.com/wildcat/Yugoslavia.html .
Here's hoping you rediscover your radical past, yours,
Richard Tate for Wildcat
Originally published at http://www.webcom.com/wildcat/yugo5est.html
Response to Wildcat
By David Watson
February 28, 2003
I wonder if anyone else feels the same nausea and despair I experienced when reading missives like R. Tate’s. Apparently, such jumbled, simple-minded invective, with its breathless disregard for the requirement to present serious evidence to support an argument, is what now passes for debate, for reasoning, in the so-called anti-authoritarian milieu. Was it always like this? Do any of these people even bother to learn anything about a subject anymore before applying their one-size-fits-all template?
In debate, political or otherwise, one is generally expected (or should be) to cite books and serious historical evidence. In the best cases, there is an attempt to confront the breadth of the argument one is challenging, to address its strongest points, and to do so with some precision and sensitivity to the complexities and inevitable ambiguities of the historical record. This is particularly crucial in a subject as complicated as the history of the Yugoslav wars of dissolution.
There is evidence and there is evidence, to be sure, and therefore it is not quite enough to “keep one’s critical faculties.” (Given how little Tate appears to know, how could he discern just how critical his faculties are or are not?) There is no royal road to knowledge about complex matters; one might actually have to read some books.1
My article was in no way “trying to prevent [people] from making [their] own minds up.” And readers are free to rake through the sewage Tate recommends, such as the right-wing, pro-Serb nationalist www.antiwar.com, with its semi-literate, crudely manipulative denials of the Srebrenica massacre and its other equally worthless diatribes, or the WorldSoc website, produced by a trotskyoid cult. They do diverge from the official line, there is no doubt. But that alone hardly recommends them as serious sources for understanding.
Such “sources” bring to mind a passage from Julie Mertus’s useful Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War (1999):
“An old Balkan tale tells of a man leafing madly through one newspaper after another. ‘Father, father, can I help you?’ his son asks. ‘No,’ the man brushes the boy aside and continues skimming only the headlines of the papers. At last, he jabs his finger at one crumpled page and cries, ‘Here it is! I knew it all along.’ He throws the other papers on the floor and clings to his one headline. That the other papers contradict this story is irrelevant: He has found the Truth.”
This is how much of the left has functioned on the Balkan wars—citing one another citing one another, and selectively culling, cafeteria-style, from the media. And most people who consider themselves dissidents go to the handful of leftist luminaries, pundits, and conspiracy theorists to receive their wafer of understanding the way that true believers flock to the high priest of a cult. This is the contemporary equivalent of reading the Communist Party’s Daily Worker to obtain the Pavlovian signals as to which line to follow this week. A radical understanding demands more.
Rather than offering reasoned debate or serious evidence, Tate fulminates. I urge people to examine the leftist dogmas and am accused of trying to prevent them from thinking for themselves. It doesn’t matter that I presented serious evidence and cited serious studies and highly credible testimony to support my argument that Milosevic’s defense and the diatribe printed with it are garbage; Tate simply ignores evidence and argument.
Thus, according to this ideologue, if one happens to accept the obvious (as I do) that, however transparent the hypocrisy of the Great Powers, and whatever the “iota of truth” in Milosevic’s denunciations of Western domination (all stated explicitly in my article), the public record is abundantly sufficient to prove Milosevic’s guilt, one is therefore guilty of supporting NATO’s depleted-uranium diplomacy. But even the APR editors acknowledged Milosevic is a war criminal—so what is the problem?
Such hapless Manicheanism should demonstrate clearly and painfully that for all their pretensions, most of the vestiges of the ultraleft and the anarchist milieu have fallen into the same decline and confusion that the marxist-leninists have since their wall fell down.2
Despite its ultra-radical pretensions (or perhaps because of them), Wildcat is an especially poignant example of confusion. In the Spring 1994 issue of the journal, for example, the chaos, starvation and warlordism in Somalia in the early-mid 1990s, and the battles these petty gangsters wound up fighting with the US military, are depicted as the work of “the heroic proletariat of Somalia,” and they declare, “Somalia shows the way.”
In the same article, one also learns that since they are businesses, food aid organizations actually “creat[e] dispossession and the means of maintaining it” in order to promote starvation and subsequently better compete for international funding.
The UN offensive in 1994 to capture warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed after his militias killed twenty-four UN soldiers was, we are told, carried out in order “to strengthen support for Aideed in the same way [that] the US bombings of Baghdad were designed to strengthen support for Saddam.”
This kind of paranoia, with its tiny leavening of truth and its rigid, though absurd, logic, is what substitutes for critical thinking among certain “revolutionaries.”
It is no exaggeration to say that nearly every line in Tate’s letter is either uninformed, visibly confused, or both. In the one paragraph in which he comes closest to presenting an historical argument about the Yugoslav collapse, Tate evades my evidence that there was no Western European or German conspiracy to carve up Yugoslavia, preferring merely to repeat what I already refuted.
The defenders of Milosevic do present evidence that NATO countries were behind the Yugoslav breakup, he insists, but he doesn’t bother to provide any. In the process he quickly reveals his ignorance about the history of Serb-Albanian relations in Kosova, and the chronology and causality of the Yugoslav breakup—as if, for example, secession didn’t come when Yugoslavia had already been wrecked by Milosevic’s Serb ethno-fascist counter-revolution, and after Milosevic’s war had already begun.
Thus, secession was no “act of war.” Tate’s complacent formulation, a typical leftist trope, turns active agents of ethnic cleansing, conquest, and plunder into automata. More importantly, it conceals the stark reality that the attack on Bosnia in particular was nothing like a war; it was an out-and-out massacre until late1992, when the Bosnians began finding the meager means to resist. The vast majority of casualties and conquest of territory had by then occurred. When people began fighting back, it became a war. Tate does not remotely understand this crucial distinction.
Similarly, the “class analysis” Tate recommends, which readers are welcome to peruse if they have unlimited amounts of time to squander, is staggeringly uninformed, despite its veneer of historical knowledge. (As is typical of this kind of literature, they went looking for disembodied “facts” that fit their template, and, not surprisingly, they found some.)
Briefly, among other inanities too numerous to mention, the text submerges the Serb-Albanian national conflict (and yes, the colonial relationship, which is why the Albanian Kosovars have been justifiably compared to the Palestinians) and the Albanian resistance against Belgrade into a kind of decontextualized workerist fantasy.3
Less forgivably, they also repeat the lie that the “competing sides” were equally nationalist and equally guilty. The reality, of course, is that one side—the Bosnian side, not the “Muslim side,” which is a contemptible mystification—defended a multicultural, multiethnic society, and in fact was supported by significant numbers of all ethnic groups, and ethnically mixed-families, of which there were and are significant numbers. In contrast, the Serb nationalists, as well as the Croatian nationalists, fought for fascist ethnic “purity.”
For all its revolutionary posturing, Wildcat evinces no understanding that this fundamental difference made all the difference: the Bosnian ideal was, and remains, worth defending, and it was vital to resist the murderous Serb and Croat ethno-nationalist projects. The principle of multi-culturalism represents a basic minimum for a viable future for all of us; without this principle, no radical transformation is possible, and ethnocidal bloodletting is inevitable.
Thus, as a number of radicals are gradually realizing, the entire for-or-against-intervention fetish over the Balkans is a kind of red herring. What is far more important is that we learn to articulate and to put into practice what it is we are for, the kind of social relations we desire. And the tragic fate of the Serbs, the struggle of the Albanian Kosovars, and particularly the promise of a multiethnic Bosnia, are at the center of that crucial question.
I believe it imperative to pay particular, and detailed, attention to the history of the Yugoslav breakup; this is not only because that conflict has been in important ways paradigmatic of the contemporary international chaos, with its spreading whirlwind of nationalist bloodbath, but because the failure to understand the breakup of Yugoslavia and its implications has been equally paradigmatic.
Tate chooses to “make [his] own mind up” about such matters—including taking even the claims of holocaust revisionists seriously, which suggests how little prepared he is for the task he has set for himself. He approves of self-styled radicals publishing Milosevic and similar ilk because they “have much to tell us.” This, again, is the lame rationalization the APR editors made.
Without bothering to respond to my article’s critique of this specious claim, Tate thinks it sufficient to repeat it doggedly, though he adds, as a particularly odious example, that Serb pogromists can enlighten us about the relationship between the KLA and islamic fascists—a statement that is roughly equivalent to arguing that printing Goebbels might have provided insight into the relationship between Jews and the international communist conspiracy. I imagine he’ll find a way to make up his mind about UFOs when he is done with the Balkans.
As I argued in my article, except perhaps as a case study in fascism, radicals have nothing to learn from publishing or reading Milosevic; everything that comes out of his mouth is a self-serving lie. Worse, it is steeped in fascist political myths that continue to poison any possibility of sorting out the collapse of Yugoslavia—most of all for the Serbs, who have a very long way to go collectively to honestly face the crimes committed in their name by brutes still moving about freely in their midst.
This is also true in Croatia, where there is similar resistance to the Hague tribunal. By reducing the complex matter of historical justice to the idea that the tribunal is nothing more than a “kangaroo court,” Tate and the APR essentially affirm these reactionary forces, and indirectly legitimize Tudjman, Milosevic and their fascist supporters. The leninist text APR chose to explain Milosevic repeats the old same shibboleths, and largely legitimizes his lies.4
Tate does not seem to have read any of this; I do not intend to repeat it all here. People will have to read my article and judge for themselves. The undecided would do well to read the admirable book Taking Sides Against Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia: The story of the Workers Aid convoys, for much of the real story (including a very succinct refutation of the canard about German conspiracy, on page 34, and a moving repudiation of the political myth that all sides were to blame, on page 142). Readers can send twenty-five dollars to the FE in Detroit and I will send them the book. Money raised continues to support Workers Aid projects with Kosova miners.
Taking Sides and the aid convoys were assembled by people who were able to break from their ideological blinders—to learn from what was best in their radical traditions—and then to actually do something concretely to aid the beleaguered people of the fiercely antinationalist enclave at Tuzla, which was defending itself against Milosevic’s horde. Wildcat ridiculed their effort (see Issue 18, Summer 1996)—and thus has earned its humble place in history’s great hall of shame for that gesture alone.
Finally, I have seen little evidence that “increasing ranks” of FE readers consider this publication liberal, though it would not change my views if this were true. I’d look for new comrades; I happen to respect the truth more than any label. But judging from the many conversations and brief notes on subscription renewals we have had, the material we have published on the Balkans has struck a chord with a lot of long-time readers who are sick of the bad faith, willful ignorance, and inhumanity of the left on this issue.5
It used to be common in this movement to say that one’s opponent, whom one might be accusing of showing bad faith or political hypocrisy, spoke “with a corpse in his mouth.” The genocide denial by Wildcat and APR should remind us that the corpses in question are not always mere metaphors.
1. One might even start with Human Rights Watch’s report on the pogrom and war in Kosova (which also examines NATO war crimes), Under Orders: War Crimes in Kosovo (2001).
In passing, I might add that whatever its flaws, Human Rights Watch has done infinitely more good in the world than Wildcat, the ultraleft groupuscule and publication with which Tate is associated, and so I am hardly offended by Tate’s attempt at an insult by associating me with them. The HRW report is sound.
Of course, to understand the background and chronology, it is not enough. One might start with Branka Magas’s The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Break-up 1980-92 (Verso, 1993), Noel Malcolm’s histories of Bosnia and Kosova, and Ivo Banac’s impressive The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics (1988).
Writers like Christopher Bennett, Tim Judah, David Rieff, David Rohde, and Chuck Sudetic and others I have mentioned in previous articles also offer credible and nuanced journalistic treatments of the Balkan wars that include ample history. Branka Magas has recently edited, with Ivo Zanac, The War in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina 1991-1995 (2001), which will, I think, prove to be indispensable.
At a minimum, one might read the series Mark Danner wrote in the late 1990s in The New York Review of Books, including America and the Bosnian Genocide, in the December 4, 1997 issue. It is possible to read the Danner series in an afternoon at the local library. It is unfortunate that he has not yet turned it into a book. [See Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War, October 2009.]
Other articles in the series include:
The US and the Yugoslav Catastrophe, November 20, 1997
Clinton, The UN, and the Bosnia Disaster, December 18, 1997
Bosnia: The Turning Point, February 5, 1998
Bosnia: Breaking the Machine, February 19, 1998
Bosnia: The Great Betrayal, March 26, 1998
Slouching Towards Dayton, April 23, 1998
In the Killing Fields of Bosnia, September 9, 1998
2. This is the point made by New Left Review editor Tariq Ali in an infuriatingly wretched collection he has edited, Masters of the Universe? NATO’s Balkan Crusade (2000). Writes Ali, “Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the triumph of capital, the international left has been in a state of great demoralisation. This is only natural. The scale of the defeat has been enormous and its effects have been disorienting. Some on the left have lost confidence in the capacity of people to emancipate themselves” (358).
That Ali thinks the collapse of the gulag empire should explain the decline in a belief that people are capable of emancipating themselves is as laughable as it revealing. Does it need to be said that this fondness for the Berlin Wall is hardly consonant with a philosophy of liberation?
3. In fact, Fredy Perlman wrote his doctoral thesis at the University of Belgrade in Yugoslavia in 1966 on the very subject of the exploitation and unequal development of Kosova, as a kind of internal colony, by the Yugoslav regime, a thesis that was disputed by the apparatchiks, but eventually accepted after his doctoral academic adviser advocated strongly for him.
4. As for the paradoxes of justice I tried to illuminate in my article, Tate’s letter is particularly ironic; elsewhere in the 1994 issue of Wildcat cited above, the editors propose a notion of justice as cocksure as it is peculiar. Next to critiques of “libertarian prejudices” that fail to recognize “the necessity for organization,” one can read self-assured declarations that the “D.o.P.” (the dictatorship of the proletariat, no less) must “impose its needs despotically against its enemies.”
“Repressive measures,” they explain, “will be carried out on the basis of expediency rather than justice….”
Now, one might make a reasonable argument for organization; one might also argue, with less credibility, I think, for untrammeled revolutionary violence. But to combine the two, and to insist gleefully on expedience over justice, is to propose an old and familiar recipe—a “spicy stew,” as one precursor of Wildcat famously called it, of authoritarian nihilism.
5. In an e-mail (which was later forwarded to me) explaining he wasn’t even going to read a letter critical of his publication of Milosevic, APR editor Jason McQuinn commented that it was clear this correspondent had been recruited to a Fifth Estate “hate campaign” against APR, a theme he takes up in the Fall-Winter 2002-03 issue of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed in an article, “Contempt for anarchists: Contemporary hate campaigns in the anarchist milieu.”
Here, McQuinn writes of a tendency in the anarchist milieu for “pronouncements of contempt” with “a holier-than-thou attitude of political correctness reflecting their true belief in the one true correct line of their various ideologies. Any other anarchists who fail to uncritically believe in the same ideological lines with the same fervor are simply ridiculed and denounced.”
In fact, the APR editors reacted with pointed scorn and defensiveness when FE staff members first brought the issue up to them. When McQuinn and his friends critique others, they are simply offering “more thorough logic and critique.” When others criticize them, it is a “hate campaign.” This is Humpty Dumptyism straight out of Alice in Wonderland, not debate.
And McQuinn doesn’t mind dishing it out. Refusing to respond substantively to my criticisms, he resorts to the most petulant, evasive attacks. In the same issue, one can read, in what is ostensibly a review of recent issues of Fifth Estate, Anarchy editor McQuinn’s noble defense of APR—of which he also happens to be editor. According to McQuinn, I wrote my “pathetic diatribe” because APR has had “the temerity to consistently oppose the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia,” and because—I am not making this up—APR had not asked my permission to publish Milosevic.
Predictably, I am then accused of supporting NATO. Now that’s an argument. This is more like armed projection—or perhaps passive aggression—than “armed desire.”
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