The War over Kosovo: Exchange between News & Letters and Proletarian Revolution

Letter to PR from N&L, August 10, 1999

Regarding PR’s claim in its last issue that News & Letters endorsed the U.S. bombing of Serbia, anyone who has taken the trouble of reading the materials in our paper can clearly see that 1) we opposed the U.S. bombing from the start, 2) pointed out the hypocrisy of the U.S.’s claim to be waging a humanitarian war, 3) vigorously supported the Kosova resistance in the face of its abandonment by “the left,” and 4) called for “the right of the KLA to obtain arms” in order to carry on their struggle against genocidal ethnic cleansing. In doing so we projected continuity with the revolutionary principles pursued by Connolly and others in the Easter rebellion of 1916, who declared, “England’s Misfortune is Ireland’s Opportunity”! Apparently, if the world were so unfortunate as to have sects like the LRP around in 1916 they would have been treated to Connolly also being denounced as an “endorser” of imperialism.

PR’s sectarian and misinformed style of polemics is well known and would need no comment from ourselves, except that the author of the piece has so revealed his utter lack of knowledge of the basic facts about the Kosova struggle that it deserves being exposed. First, contrary to your statement that Demaci resigned from the KLA over the Rambouillet accords he did no such thing. He resigned from the delegation of KLA leaders assigned to Rambouillet, but then rejoined it after NATO modified some of its provisions in its final agreement. Second, contrary to your claims that Demaci opposed NATO’s air war, he instead openly supported it and continues to defend it, as is clear from his most recent statements. Everyone on the ground in Kosova and anyone who has taken the trouble to study the situation knows these facts all too well (though Nick Braun, whose article you apparently plagiarized, no doubt does not). That you’re in the dark about all this exposes the emptiness of your polemics.

By the way, since PR stated uncritical support for a figure who actually supported the U.S. bombing, should we not apply your own twisted method of argumentation to yourselves and conclude that it means the LRP “really” gave “backhanded endorsement” to the U.S. bombing? If that conclusion proves upsetting perhaps it is time for you to examine the twisted method underlying your analyses.

Yours, Peter Hudis

Reply by Proletarian Revolution

For someone who accuses us of a “misinformed style of polemics,” Cde. Hudis has contributed a notable example of the genre. He ignores the charge we actually made about his organization’s position and invents one we didn’t make in order to deny it.

Since we are concerned to ascribe and analyze political positions on the left with the utmost accuracy, given Hudis’s charges we will go into News & Letters’ position on the war in some detail. Here is what we wrote about N&L and the Kosovo war in PR 59 (page 28):

Backhanded endorsement of the imperialist war, in the form of continued support for the KLA after its subordination to NATO, was provided by several left organizations. One of the worst was the “Marxist-Humanist” News & Letters

Every word of this is true. First, News & Letters supported the KLA throughout the war. N&L might try to argue that the KLA was not serving as a NATO auxiliary, but Hudis does not even bother. Indeed, he implicitly admits that our charge is correct when he boasts that N&L called for “the right of the KLA to obtain arms” – which meant, of course, getting arms from the Western powers, a demand specifically made by a KLA representative whom N&L interviewed uncritically in its June issue.

Military support of the KLA was correct when the main issue was defending Kosovars against Serbian oppression and ethnic cleansing. But once NATO intervened militarily by bombing Serbia, the struggle against imperialism was the key issue; general support for the KLA had to be withdrawn. (See our article, Self-Determination and Military Defense: the Marxist Method, which followed the Kosovo article that Hudis cites.) Once the war was on, support for the KLA meant capitulation to imperialism.

Second, we did not say that N&L endorsed the U.S. bombing, as Hudis charges. Nevertheless, in looking back over what N&L has written, the best one could say is that their position was murky. Certainly N&L did not clearly oppose the bombing, as Hudis claims they did “from the start.” They never called for an end to the bombing or demanded that NATO get out of the Balkans. That this was a matter of substance, not style, is shown by the fact that N&L has readily raised the “Stop the Bombing” slogan against the U.S.’s war on Iraq.

These self-styled “humanists” did not even object during the war that NATO’s bombs were killing and maiming innocent Serbs and Kosovars! Only in their August-September issue, published after our criticism, did N&L mention the U.S.’s “killing hundreds of Serbian civilians in its imperialist air war.” It seems that we struck a nerve.

As for what they did say, an April article by Hudis opened with the statement that “the massive bombing campaign launched against Serbia ... will not aid the victims of Serbian oppression ... .” True enough, but one could conclude from that alone that N&L wants NATO to intervene more effectively, not get out. The article later criticizes leftists “opposed to Milosevic [who] are accommodating themselves to the bombing of Serbia” – but as we shall see, this applies to N&L itself.

For example, an article in their May issue on demonstrations in London made clear that they opposed a rally with the slogan “Stop the Bombing!“ (because Serb nationalists were participating) and eagerly joined a counter-rally calling for U.S. aid to the KLA. At this rally, according to a widely circulated internet account, “Many had KLA banners and posters calling for NATO intervention.” The N&L article itself reported, again uncritically, that the chants included “UK, USA, Arm the KLA.” The News & Letters group’s policy of attending pro-bombing demonstrations but boycotting those with anti-bombing or anti-NATO slogans was confirmed at their public meeting in Chicago last April.

Along the same line, Lou Turner’s “Black World” column in the May N&L objected to the Black Radical Congress’s “abstract demand to end NATO bombing” on the grounds that the demand doesn’t “trouble itself” with the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. The implication is that the main enemy in the Balkans is not the militarist imperialist powers but the Serb regime.

Even more explicitly, N&L’s July editorial stated:

What most of the Left fails to recognize is that in today’s retrogressive climate, some of the forces opposed to U.S. or Western imperialism are even more reactionary.

Since Serbian nationalism is one of their “even more reactionary” forces, why couldn’t a reader conclude that N&L favored NATO’s victory – especially since NATO was fighting alongside N&L’s much-admired KLA? Some readers in fact did draw this conclusion: two letters in their July issue berated N&L for supporting the U.S. bombing, without any denial by the editors.

Thus News & Letters did not directly endorse the bombing. But when imperialism was attacking the Serbs, N&L chose not to openly oppose it. N&L demanded arms for NATO’s allies and denounced those calling for an end to the bombing. This was precisely backhanded support for the imperialist war, as we charged.

Hudis may not have noticed, but our Kosovo article also criticized leftists who opposed NATO’s war but sought solutions through the United Nations or the OSCE, which are equally imperialist institutions. N&L should have taken issue with us on this, since they too have raised demands that the U.N.’s war crimes tribunal, an outfit run by the Western powers, arrest Milosevic and other Serbian officials (July 1999). These thugs are certainly guilty of mass torture, rape and murder – but it is not for the bigger torturers and murderers of the imperialist powers to settle accounts with them. Calling on the U.N. to administer “justice” is another form of backhanded support for imperialism.

The Connolly Comparison

Hudis’s reference to the Irish nationalist and socialist revolutionary James Connolly also shows his failure to understand the centrality of imperialism. Connolly, during the First World War when Ireland was an English colony, declared that the Irish would be justified to accept German aid in the struggle against the English ruling class. Hudis’s unstated implication is that it is likewise justified for the Kosovars to ally with NATO in their fight against Serbia.

However, the difference between the two wars is decisive. The World War was an inter-imperialist conflict in which Marxists had to oppose both sides, above all their own ruling class. The NATO war on Serbia was imperialist on one side only, and Marxists are obliged to join the struggle for the defeat of imperialism. That Serbia was at the same time stepping up its murderous oppression in Kosovo in no way meant that support for NATO was justified; as N&L itself pointed out more than once, NATO’s bombing was not preventing Serbian oppression but allowing it to intensify.

Demaci’s Role

On the side issues that Hudis brings up, we did not “state uncritical support” for Adem Demaci, the former KLA political leader. We explained very thoroughly in two long articles that the KLA is bourgeois nationalist and that Marxists give no political support to such an organization or to any of its leaders. We summarized reported disputes within the KLA and demonstrated that Demaci objected to the capitulations to imperialism made by others in the KLA leadership.

As to factual errors, our report that Demaci opposed NATO’s war and called for full rights for the Serb minority in Kosovo was based on articles in three left journals: the Australian Green Left Weekly, the German Junge Welt, and International Viewpoint of the United Secretariat. These reports may have been wrong, but Hudis presents no evidence to refute them, other than the sweeping claim that “everyone on the ground” knew that Demaci openly supported NATO throughout the war.

On Demaci quitting the KLA, the wording in our article was not precise. We wrote that Demaci had “quit in protest” when the KLA signed the Rambouillet agreement; we did not mean to imply that he had left the KLA, about which we have no information; we meant only that he had quit the KLA leadership, a fact that was reported by numerous sources, both bourgeois and leftist. We have seen no indication that Demaci rejoined the leadership, as Hudis claims. However, one thing we said does seem to have been wrong: that Demaci faced death threats from the new KLA leaders.

The one point where Hudis may be right is that Demaci may subsequently have supported NATO’s role. An interview in the New York Times on August 10 read: “NATO’s bombing war, which forced the Serbs to pull out of Kosovo but kept the province under Yugoslav sovereignty, has not been a complete victory, Mr. Demaci said.” He added that the Albanians “after 2000 years of slavery are now breathing freely, able to decide their lives for themselves.” Whatever this says about his views on NATO, Demaci continued to defend the rights of Serbs living in Kosovo – something which News & Letters has yet to do, since as of December it had not yet condemned the ethnic cleansing of Serbs by Kosovars under NATO’s not-so-averted gaze.

In sum, N&L was on the side of the KLA, and therefore – however reluctantly – on the side of NATO in this imperialist war. They opposed not NATO’s war but NATO’s tactics in the war. For a supposedly Marxist organization working inside the world’s dominant imperialist power, this is a shameful record. No wonder Hudis wants to “correct” it.


News & Letters’ backhanded support for imperialist intervention in Kosovo has been extended to backhanded support for imperialist intervention in East Timor. In their October issue, they implied support for “East Timorese political groups working for freedom for their country [who] appealed both to the United Nations and the countries of the West for immediate action to stop the bloodshed.” Then they criticized the U.N. force orginally present as “inadequate”; they reported, seemingly regretfully, that Australia declined to take unilateral action; and they condemned the U.S. and Britain for taking the token action of interrupting military relations with Indonesia but “refus[ing] to go further.”

If this weaselly language is not meant to suggest that the Western powers should have sent military forces to Timor earlier and more actively, what does it mean?