Left paralysis on Bosnia

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Sun Jul 16 23:56:08 MDT 1995

Thanks, Rahul, for coming back on my post about the perfidy of
"my" government and for giving some perspective to my moral
outrage. Yes we can agree that its record is even worse than that
of your country on Yugoslavia.

But as you imply, the more productive thing is to analyse why the
left has been pretty paralysed.

I don't think the reason is indecision about which side is more in
the wrong, although some argue that there are elements of socialism
among the Serbs, and that because the Croats and Slovenes were
supported by Germany and the "West" that makes it dubious.

On grounds of basic bourgoeis democratic rights even though all
sides have violated these, I think it is clear that the Serb regime
has operated as fascists, (social fascists if you will)

I do think there is an element of racism. If 60,000 people of
Christian cultural background were surrounded in Gorazde by aggressive
Muslims, I don't think there would be an automatic assumption that the
defenders should not receive arms adequately to defend themselves.

I do accept however that there are other reasons why the left has been

1) an understanding of conflict theory is still weak among the left *and*
the bourgoisie. The debate about Yugoslavia has been an undialectical one
that rigidly thinks you are either giving humanitarian aid or you are
imposing peace by force of arms, there is either war or "a level killing
field". On the contrary the starting point has to be to accept the
existence of many serious conflicts and without denying them for one
moment start damping down the ferocity of the way the conflict is expressed.

Before the end of the cold war, such conflicts would be managed by the
two superpowers titrating arms supplies to the protagonists. The same could
happen today. Especially as the Bosnian regime has every reason to
promote the respect for law, it could be given limited quantities of arms,
on condition of monitoring its adherence to the Geneva convention etc.

Improving the discipline of the armies in conflict does not mean massacres.
On the contrary it is a way of stabilising the situation.

There is a political idiocy going on that the western bourgeois states
fear committing themselves more because they cannot take the electoral
cost of their soldiers coming home in body bags. And yet the Bosnians
have an advantage in manpower and just need the arms to fight.

The other idiocy is that the Serbs have an advantage in artillery yet the
only counterploy that has been considered are air strikes by NATO: the
way of capping artillery is through infantry. So again why not allow
the Bosnian army to increase pressure on the Serbs?

Political problems for the left:

These are greater. It is easier for the left to oppose action by great
powers like the US than to campaign for action by them. In the absence of
a Communist International to tell us as in the middle thirties that we
should be working for a united front against fascism, it is hard
to swallow. But with the collapse of the cold war, we are going to have
to address this question. We have to  face up to the fact that it is
in the interests of the human race that the United Nations, is more
effective than the League of Nations, and that life being imperfect, the
United Nations will have to develop at this stage relying heavily on the
self-intested behaviour of the Great Powers. That should not prevent
us actively shaping a global society informed about what those great
powers should be doing in the name of the United Nations.

Then in any campaign we would have to distiguish a solidarity programme
with the oppressed people of the former Yugoslavia, from a pacifist line,
and from a militaristic line of say some Muslim nationalists, or right-wing

All to be achieved without a Communist International, and
without a training in Leninist type political parties. Difficult and
maybe the minimum critical mass of committed people is not there for
it to start growing but why should it be impossible?

Chris Burford, London.

copy to: rahul at hagar.ph.utexas.edu (Rahul Mahajan)

     --- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---

More information about the Marxism mailing list