Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New links, and old acquaintances

I'M pleased to have two more blogs to add to my listed links at the side of this page. One is Charlie Marks, whose name I'd heard before but I don't think we have met. I believe he was/is linked to the Socialist Workers Party, but known for his independent attitude. This other Charlie has contacted me to compliment me on the posting about London Underground and Overground troubles. When I looked up his name I found that he had his own blog, left-wing commentary with looks at issues I haven't tackled, and lots of links. Among them was one to Random Pottins, so I thought it was only right to reciprocate.

Then there's this message that came by e-mail the other day:

Dear friends,

I'm writing to announce my new blog, 'Greater Surbiton', which I hope you will all drop by from time to time.
It will be devoted to political commentary and analysis, with a (far from exclusive) thematic focus on reinterpreting the meaning of progressive politics and (equally far from exclusive) geographic focus on South East Europe.
I don't plan to have public comments for the time being, but any private comments or criticisms would be greatly appreciated.

Best wishes,

I first met Marko Attla Hoare in Trafalgar Square about 14 years ago, at a rally about the war in Bosnia. I'd gone up there with a couple of my friends from the WRP/Workers Press, Dot Gibson and Geoff Pilling.

When the conflict in former Yugoslavia first broke out few of us knew much, or had any idea what to do about it. Trotskyists had supported Yugoslavia when it stood up to both Western and Soviet pressure, some even going out to work projects there. But we had not really followed or understood recent developments, and knew little about the national question there. I'd keenly read books about the partisans when I was young, and also knew about Ustashe crimes and the fact that the perpetrators remained active as emigres.

It was a Yugoslav comrade called Rade who helped us learn more, and urged us to action. He was one of a group of East Europeans who'd formed around the Hungarian Trotskyist Balasz Nagy in Paris, and who joined us in forming the Workers International (to reconstruct the Fourth International). When Rade came to London I asked him whether the situation was as bad as we read about in the newspapers. He replied: "What's happening is much worse than anything you've read in your newspapers".

It had not occurred to me till then to ask what variety of Yugoslav he was. I asked where he was from. Rade was a Serb, from near Belgrade. His brother had been called up to the Yugoslav People's Army, and decided though he disagreed with the regime that as a Marxist he must go with the masses. At a place called Vukovar he discovered that overnight his fellow-soldiers had removed the red star from their caps, replacing it with the Serb nationalist white eagle. It was at Vukovar that invading Serb troops dragged patients from their hospital beds to kill them. Rade's brother narrowly persuaded the men is his own unit not to participate in such actions.

We got Rade to speak at a meeting in London's Conway Hall. It was not well attended. Maybe some on the Left knew as much they wanted to, or thought they did. But a Greek person asked whether it was not bad to see Yugoslavia breaking up. It was, agreed Radi. "But if you want to save unity you don't do it by destroying a mixed, working class city like Vukovar, and you don't bombard the national library of Sarajevo with incendiary shells!"

What Rade had to tell us about responsibility fitted what I also heard from two people at a Jewish Socialist Group meeting, one being Dr.Donald Kenrick, best-known for his activity for Gypsy rights, but also long-acquainted with Yugoslavia and its peoples; and the other Ben Cohen, a young guy from an Iraqi-Sefardi family who had been visiting relatives in Sarajevo when it first came under siege.

It was Rade who advised us to try and get help to Tuzla, a mining town where something of working class unity survived between 'Muslim', Croat and Serb. We met some Bosnian refugees from the area, and heard how miners in Tuzla had raised funds for the British miners during the great strike. We also heard that some socialists who had been mainly involved in anti-fascist activity were planning to set up something called "Red Aid for Bosnian Refugees". It was together with them that we formed Workers Aid for Bosnia. But where and how to begin?

We set off for that rally in Trafalgar Square with our publications, and a petition calling on the TUC to support aid to Bosnian workers and refugees. It never did, but the names gave us a start. A young guy signed my petition and bought a copy of the 'International Trade Union Solidarity Bulletin' , a modest little monthly I edited at the time. Shortly afterwards I saw Dot and Geoff talking to a couple, and went over to offer them the Bulletin. "I see my son has just bought one," said the woman, who had already bought a Workers Press and signed the petition.

Looking at the signatures I saw the names of Branca Magas and her partner Quintin Hoare, and that the name on my board was Attila Hoare. I'd heard about Branca and Quintin breaking with the New Left review but this was the first time we'd met them or their son. Later, although they had their own activity, they helped Workers Aid, and Marko Attila Hoare wrote an article in Workers Press.

The reason I'm telling you these mundane details is because the WRP and Workers Aid for Bosnia came under attack at this time from, among others, a sect centred on Detroit and led by one Dave North who, before he broke with both Gerry Healy and Healy's opponents in the WRP had been co-author of a series of works called Security and the Fourth International, dealing with real and increasingly unreal agents and conspiracies. Now in similar vein, but more imaginatively, North and his British followers led by one Dave Hyland uncovered a fresh conspiracy hatched by Leeds academic Cliff Slaughter of the WRP. They insisted that preserving Yugoslav state unity was a principle, whatever the weak-kneed Tito had allowed for in the constitution. Ignoring the fact that Douglas Hurd and the Tory government were denying the Bosnian people's right to defend themselves, they said Workers Aid to Bosnia was smuggling arms to Bosnia on behalf of the imperialists. Why the imperialists whose troops in UN guise controlled Bosnia's roads and airfields should depend on a bunch of amateurs with second-hand lorries was never explained.

But the North group had informed readers that "Slaughter procured Attila Hoare from his privileged educational background" to write in Workers Press. And there was me thinking I'd just bumped into the lad in Trafalgar Square by chance. Just goes to show the difference between what we mere plebs think of as common sense about how things happen, and the higher levels of thought achieved by conspiracy theorists.

I hear that nowadays the North group's Australian offshoot printer is handling the Financial Times contract. Not bad for an international outfit that once denounced Workers Aid for having a contact in Tuzla who was "a banker with interests in Bosnia". He was indeed the manager of the state-owned Bank of Tuzla, who, since the place was sandbagged and the money wasn't much use in wartime, took time off to help on convoys. I stayed in his flat in a tower block on an ordinary estate there. Obviously a high-level financial conspiracy.

We don't see much of the Hyland Light Infantry these days, but I see the venom is still available from other, perhaps more traditional sources. Neil Clark, a Morning Star contributor who I gather doesn't like Trotskyists of any description and thought poor old Milosevic was innocent, accuses those who disagree of being "anti-Yugoslav" and informs readers of his blog that:

"Attila Hoare is a ex-Workers Revolutionary Party fanatic who is as far from an unbiased observer on Balkan affairs as it is to be. The comments on him by resistor on Harry's Place say it all. "

I've stayed away from Harry's Place so far, and see no reason to look up smears from anonymous habitues. I'll leave it to others to decide from their writings which is the "fanatic" , Marko Attila Hoare or Neil Clark.

My path and that of Marko parted ways during the Kosova war, when we took different attitudes to Western intervention. I think he has strayed into some company now that I'd not want to keep. But he continues to write well, and with real knowledge, particularly about Yugoslavia and its history. *

Regarding the "ex-WRP" tag, Marko has replied that he was never in the WRP, but if he had been in the WRP/Workers Press he would have been proud to say so, because of its principled record. And whatever differences we may now have, I am proud to add a link to Marko Attila Hoare's blog to my list.

* Books by Marko Attila Hoare: "I am the author of three books, The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day (London, Saqi, 2007), Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943 (London, Oxford University Press, 2006) and How Bosnia Armed (London, Saqi, 2004). I am currently working on a history of modern Serbia".

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At 6:47 PM, Anonymous Marko Attila Hoare said...

Thanks for the link and the kind words, Charlie.

To be completely accurate, though, I didn't support Western military intervention against Serbia during the Kosovo war. I was actually rather at a loss for what line to take; trying to square the circle of solidarity with the Kosovars with opposition to Western imperialism.

When I went to a meeting of Workers Aid for Kosova just after the start of the Kosovo War, I found that a lot of the comrades felt as torn and confused as I did. Which I think was the way all good left-wing socialists should have felt.

Based on the experience of Bosnia, I felt convinced that the NATO intervention would turn out badly for the Kosovars, and that they would be betrayed by the Western alliance, which would do a deal with Milosevic at their expense, a la Dayton.

It was the unexpectedly positive outcome of the Kosovo War which, more than anything else, influenced my move away from a traditional anti-imperialist perspective.

At 10:27 PM, Blogger Charlie Marks said...

Charlie, I'm not with the SWP, and haven't been in the past - though I have much respect for many of its members, the workings of the organisation are not as I would like - the usual complaints about open criticism and accountability


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