1990s >> 1999 >> no-1140-august-1999


The Balkan War

Dear Editors,
Surely you can do better than that in your comments on the Balkan war?

That war was and is an ethnic one pure and simple. For ten years now Serbs, Croats and Bosnians have indulged in a war of racial hatred. Kosova was Milosevic’s last straw and he played it out to the last.

It was time that the rest of Europe woke up, even though they took a dozy attitude to the events in Africa. Somebody had to say enough is enough, and it was right to turn on the Serbs and halt their genocidal attitude to the Kosovo Albanians.

The Belgrade Serbs cocked a deaf ear to Kosovo and indulged in “pop” concert patriotism, something the Brits missed out on in their hatred of the Irish.

If you wanted to relate political beliefs to anything out there, why not indulge yourselves in sussing out that bastard “Jackson”, the drunken badly-spoken military man of the infamous paratroopers, who are always brought out along with the Ghurkas when there is dirty work to be done.

BILL CONNOR, Heywood, Lancs

you’re quite wrong. For there to be a race war there would have to be races. But races (and “ethnic group” is just another, equally unscientific, word for “race”) don’t exist. There is only one race—the human race. Even by the sloppy definition, based on superficial visible anatomical differences, used by those who perpetuate the myth of “race” it is clear that the people in former Yugoslavia would all be members of the same race. Or can you tell the difference between an “Albanian” and a “Serb” just by looking at them?

What’s at work in former Yugoslavia is nationalism, which is a political doctrine that preaches that people with a common history or language or religion form a separate “nation” from all other people and have the right to have their own political state to defend their common interest. Socialists have always rejected this doctrine, not just because it isn’t true (people who have a common history or speak the same language do not have a common interest; they are divided into classes, and a worker who speaks a particular language has a common interest with workers speaking other languages but not with a capitalist who speaks the same one) but also because of its practical consequences.

Without the ideology of nationalism, capitalist states would be unstable since, being based on minority class rule, they need a minimum allegiance from those they rule over. Nationalism serves to achieve this by teaching the ruled to be loyal to “their” so-called “nation-state”. In states where a sizeable minority of the population do not fit into the definition of that state’s “nation”—because, for instance, they speak a different language, especially if this is the language of another state—then there is at least a potential problem, to which the final solution is so-called ethnic cleansing. The establishment of independent states in eastern Europe following the break-up of the Tsarist and Austro-Hungarian empires in the First World War led to massive transfers of populations between the new states, precisely because the borders of those states did not correspond to the distribution of the population by “nationality” as defined by language. The same thing is happening again today with the break-up of Yugoslavia since the collapse of state-capitalism in 1989-90.

So-called ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia is the consequence of the creation of new capitalist states in the area and the attempts of their new or would-be ruling classes to consolidate their rule. The Serbian ruling class under Milosevic wanted to clear Kosovo of Albanian-speakers to get rid of a “disloyal” minority within Serbia that was becoming ungovernable. Similarly, the KLA is now trying to clear Kosovo of Serbian-speakers because they know that they will never be able to get them to be loyal to the independent state they hope to set up.

Ordinary Serbian-speakers and ordinary Albanian-speakers have the same interest, in getting on with their lives while capitalism lasts and ultimately in establishing socialism. What interest can they have in burning down each other’s houses—and worse? Clearly, they are being manipulated by rival nationalist politicians seeking to consolidate new capitalist states.- Editors


Who’s afraid of socialism?

Dear Editors,
As a sympathiser but not yet a member of the Socialist Party I have been interested in the discussion about the “S” word. When one considers the diverse characters who have misused the word—Hitler, Stalin, Mao down to Wilson, Kinnock, Scargill, Hatton and many many more, there is no wonder that many people are deaf to preachings in the name of Socialism.

In my opinion it has become imperative that an alternative terms must be adopted. May I suggest Common Wealth Party? (Not Commonwealth!). this is descriptive of aims and “fresh” sounding—stimulating further interest instead of instant dismissal by a potential convert to our cause.

I believe this subject deserves more serious consideration as a means to obtaining more sympathetic listeners to our message.

ROBERT COLEMAN, Wellington, Somerset

Actually, there was once a party called the Common Wealth Party. It even had an MP, but he ended up defecting to the Labour Party.- Editors


That word again

Dear Editors,
I can’t help but feel that the term “socialism” has become a scapegoat.

The concept of socialism is just as vulnerable to prejudice and misunderstanding as the term we use to denote it. Those who associate “socialism” with bolshevism or the Labour Party are almost always incapable of envisaging a system of common ownership and instinctively equate it with nationalisation of one form or another. Changing our terminology will not alter the fact that many people cannot imagine an alternative to capitalism even when they have it explained to them. To imagine that it would is to accept the simplistic logic of political correctness.

Besides, abandoning the term “socialism” would bring us numerous disadvantages. We risk appearing to have broken away from our past. Our record of arguing the case for socialism is a distinction which we cannot afford to lose.

Equally, we risk appearing to have modified our views, or the suspicion that we have something to hide. We risk appearing to have succumbed to a New Labour-style victory of style over substance, or the duplicity of renamed factions of the former Communist Party. Socialism is a righting word; One World, Free Access and the like sound like Women’s Institute sub-committees.

In any case, the word socialism will always be associated with Karl Marx and his ideas, ideas which bring many people to the Socialist Party. I knew I was a socialist because that’s what Marx was and he made far more sense than anyone I’d heard of before. That’s why I bothered contacting the Socialist Party.

The irony of all this is that the problem is actually decreasing. You don’t meet many 20-year-olds who would call the Labour Party “socialist”. When I put the case for socialism to people my own age it is rare for them even to mention the USSR. I used to point out the difference between socialism and bolshevism; now most people pre-empt me.

The end of the Cold War is prompting many people to go back to Marx and re-evaluate his ideas. There is increasing interest in what most people will still call “socialism”. Now is the time to cling to that name more tenaciously than ever.



And again

Dear Editors,
I fully accept Max Hess’s main arguments that it is better not to mention the word Socialism initially and that the positive personal benefits of socialism need more stress. I must disagree however with his conclusions regarding the Party name. Like many members I was attracted to the Socialist Party by its name rather than put off (at 14 I carefully scrutinised Tony Benn’s “Arguments for Socialism” in a vain attempt to find arguments for socialism!). Changing the name, e.g. to the “Free Access Party” (which sounds like an undergraduate debating society) or something to do with “Autonarchy” (some sort of bizarre S&M?) would be a catastrophe. For a start we would lose all rights to the Party’s history—which some of us are proud of.

Other organisations have similar problems—the anarchists for instance have a constant battle regarding the bomb-throwing jibe—yet they haven’t got this constant navel-gazing obsession with titles.

If anything it is the fake “socialists” who should be asked to change their name not us (the SWP becoming the SCMTP—State Capitalist Mostly Teachers Party, the ex-Militants becoming the RNSP—Reformist Name Stealing Party, etc).

If we’re not making socialists as rapidly as we might hope there is a case for re-examining the effectiveness of our propaganda. However the Socialist Party has never had any time for the theatricality of “spinning” (name changing included). What we say is what we are.



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