Shining Path of the Balkans?

James Farmelant farmelantj at
Mon Mar 29 11:30:33 PST 1999

On Mon, 29 Mar 1999 10:49:17 -0500 "Nathan Newman" <nathan.newman at> writes:
>It is this kind of analysis, where Turkey killing Kurds is
>"reactionary" and
>Serbs killing Kosovans is "progressive" that makes me, and a hell of a
>of other folks, want to disassociate themselves from the whole Marxist

This kind of intemperate response does little to advance the debate over how far and under what circumstances progressives support the right to national self-determination for particular ethnic groups under particular circumstances. The Turkish Kurds have at least as strong a claim for national self-determination as the Kosovan Albanians, yet no one seriously expects that the US and NATO will take action against Turkey (a NATO member in good standing).

Nathan accuses me of supporting Serbian genocide against the Kosovan Albanians. I don't see anything in my post that should have led Nathan or anyone else to that conclusion. Rather, it is my contention that none of these Balkan nationalisms (whether Serb, Croat, Bosnian Muslim, or Kosavan Albanian) is worthy of support by progressives. All of these groups can be seen as having legitimate grievences against other groups but there is no reason (certainly none based on experience) for supposing that the fulfillment of these petty nationalist aspirations will lead to outcomes that are desirable from a progressive standpoint. Lou Proyect emphasized evaluating these outcomes in terms of their of their consequences for proletarian solidarity but even from the standpoint of bourgeois liberalism, there are precious few grounds for expecting a decent outcome.

Several people on this list have emphasized that the burden of proof in the debate over NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia lies with the proponents of this action, not with the critic. So far those on this list who support the NATO action have attempted to evade this burden. Up to now I have seen little attempt by them to meet this burden. This suggests to me that the grounds for supporting this action are lacking.

>Luckily, there are a lot of Marxists who would not justify cultural
>to prevent "reactionary counter-revolution."

Of course you can find "Marxists" who will support just about anything. Back in the Cold War there were "Marxists" who supported the US position, some like Max Shachtman even supported the US side in the Vietnam War. Anyway Nathan has not answered either Lou Proyect's argument that there is no basis for unqualified rights of national self-determination from either a specifically Leninist standpoint or (as I argued) from a more general Marxist outlook. Anyway, as Brett pointed out there are many instances of groups claiming a right to national self-determination, who do not necessarily merit the support of progressives. At least some of these groups probably would not win support from even Nathan.

Jim F.
>--- Nathan Newman
>-----Original Message-----
>From: James Farmelant <farmelantj at>
>To: marxism at <marxism at>
>Cc: lbo-talk at <lbo-talk at>
>Date: Monday, March 29, 1999 10:05 AM
>Subject: Re: Shining Path of the Balkans?
>On Mon, 29 Mar 1999 08:38:00 -0500 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at>
>>Walter Keen wrote:
>>>As a marxist, I have no option but to be for Kosovar independence.
>>This is
>>We should remind ourselves that Lenin supported self-determination
>>in the case of oppressed nationalities, it helped mobilize people
>>imperialism. There was a class basis for it.
>Many progressives including Marxists seem to view the right to
>national self-determination as an end-in-itself rather than as means
>to building class unity. This has led them to support this right even
>in situations where the consequences will most likely benefit
>and which will make the struggle for socialism all the more difficult.
>> Secessionist movements in
>>Yugoslavia have had no such dynamic. In point of fact, imperialism
>>pushed the hardest for such movements, beginning in Croatia and
>>which soon became clients of Germany. The US became interested in
>>independence for the same reason. It now covets Kosovo. If I were a
>>Yugoslav communist, I would have been fighting for unity of the
>>the very beginning. The disintegration of Yugoslavia has been wrapped
>>with the introduction of capitalist property relations.
>>"Self-determination" in the context of the 1980s and 90s is a formula
>>counterrevolution in the Balkans.
>If the NATO action is successful then Kosovo will most likely either
>become an independent state which will be a client of the US or it
>will become a part of Albania which is itself a client of the EU and
>the US.
>>On the other hand, Kurdish national demands directed against Turkey,
>>client of the US, are progressive, as are the Palestinian's and East
>>Timorese. Our goal as socialists should be the breaking down of
>>borders and
>>the creation of a unified human race without any national
>Chris Burford stumbled into the truth when he argued that leftists
>should use the Kosovan situation to press the point that Turkey
>has been systematically repressing its Kurdish population in much
>the same manner that the Serbs are accused of repressing the Kosovan
>Albanians. All the talk by the US and the EU of supporting the right
>of national self-stermination is sheer hypocrisy which attempts to
>give a humanistic veneer to what are geopolitical calculations.
>>Nationalism, religion and racial pride are irrational beliefs that
>>disintegrate in the bright light of a society governed by science and
>>social justice.
>True enough, but it is also the case that Marxists will under certain
>circumstances support nationalist movements if they calculate that
>the likely consequences will enhance possibilities for proletarian
>unity. In the last century, Marx & Engels supported the cause of
>unification, not only in 1848, when that was primarily a cause for
>and liberals but later on when it was finally achieved under the
>auspices of Otto von Bismarck. That was because that a united Germany
>would industrialize more rapidly, leading to the more rapid
>of an industrial proletariat which would no longer be divided among
>numerous kingdoms, duchies, and principlaities that had constituted
>Germany. Likewise, Marx & Engels supported the Polish nationalists
>because it was directed against the Czarist regime of Russia, which
>was in the 19th century the great fountainhead of reactionary politics
>throughout Europe. Anything that weakened that regime would be of
>benefit to progressive forces in Europe. (Also, I think that Marx &
>welcomed the unifcation of Germany because it would counter Czarist
>ambitions in Europe). In any case the Marx & Engels never supported
>nationalism as an end-in-itself. They as socialists (as Lou pointed
>looked forward to a society where national consciousness will whither
>away. And in fact Marx & Engels opposed many of the new nationalisms
>of eastern Europe which were asserting the right to national
>against Austria-Hungary. They perceived that not all assertions of
>supposed right were necessarily progressive. On the contrary, in
>many cases the assertion of this right can have reactionary
>Jim Farmelant
>>In the meantime, living under capitalism, our interest
>>to examine these tendencies as a way of undermining that very system,
>>preserving them in amber.
>>Louis Proyect
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