Another useful 2004 article on national self-determination from The Militant.
Chechnya: a long history of struggle
BY MICHAEL ITALIE
Moscow's brutal ending of the Beslan hostage crisis, leaving more than 330 dead, has put a spotlight again on the Chechen people's struggle for self-determination. The toilers of this mountainous region on the Caucasus have resisted national oppression for decades.
The Chechens' fight for national self-determination began with the struggle against tsarist occupation forces in the 19th century, culminating in liberation as a result of the Russian Revolution of October 1917, which was led by the Bolsheviks. With the degeneration of the revolution in the late 1920s and early 1930s, however, the regime of Joseph Stalin re-imposed Great Russian chauvinism, which has continued until today. The Chechens' fight for national self-determination picked up steam again after the fracturing of the Stalinist regimes in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe at the dawn of the 1990s.
The government of Russian president Vladimir Putin, however, like his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, is attempting to paint the struggle of the 1.5 million Chechens with the brush of "terrorism." Referring to the 53-hour crisis that began September 1 in the small town of the southern republic of North Ossetia, Putin's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said September 10 that Chechen leader Shamil Basayev "was in direct control of that operation." Moscow is also trying to link the school takeover to "international terrorism." Lavrov stated that "the information that there were Arabs has been confirmed," without offering evidence for his claims, reported the Associated Press.
In the midst of the takeover, former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov distanced himself from the attack. At the same time, he pointed to Moscow's military domination by calling "upon the world to condemn the policy that has made such tragedies not only possible but unavoidable."
Not backing down from the government's justification for its course in Chechnya, Lavrov shot back that Maskhadov's statement "is a direct encouragement of terrorism, if not evidence that he was in control of all that."
Against similar charges of "terrorism" and "betrayal of the motherland," the Chechen people have fought for generations.
The tsarist government annexed the Caucasus in 1783 and began Russian colonization in order to better control the region. Organized resistance in Chechnya was led by national hero Imam Shamil in face of an invasion of Russian troops in 1830, finally going down to defeat with the 1859 incorporation of the territory into the empire of Tsar Alexander II.
Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin described the Russian empire as a "prison house of nations." Under tsarist rule the peoples of the Caucasus, the Baltic region, Ukrainians, Jews, and others were denied the most basic rights of language, religion, and control of cultural, economic, and political affairs. Great Russian chauvinism was the ideological whip used by the imperial rulers.
Russian revolution and its degeneration
Following the victory of the Russian Revolution of October 1917, the Bolshevik Party headed by Lenin championed the right to national self-determination of peoples who had been oppressed under the tsarist empire, forging a genuinely voluntary federation of workers and farmers republics.
One of the very first actions of the Bolshevik-led government was to proclaim the right of all the subject peoples within the confines of the old tsarist empire to "free self-determination up to and including the right to secede." Finland, Estonia, and other states acted on this pledge, establishing their independence.
The Soviet government declared null and void all the tsar's colonial treaties and signed new treaties with China, India, and other countries that, among other provisions, canceled debts owed to the tsarist regime.
A few years later, at the 1920 Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East, leaders of the Communist International joined with other revolutionary fighters—from inside the borders of the old tsarist empire and beyond—in calling on all Muslim toilers in the region to join in a "holy war for the liberation of all humanity from the yoke of capitalist and imperialist slavery, for the ending of all forms of exploitation of man by man!"
The bureaucratic caste that began to emerge in the early 1920s, with Joseph Stalin as its foremost figure, pushed to reverse this course. In 1922 Lenin opened a political battle against this counterrevolution. But Stalin's reactionary policies prevailed following Lenin's death, reversing the Bolsheviks' program and course of action. In the 1930s, the Stalinist apparatus increasingly relied on Great Russian chauvinism to reassert Moscow's dominance over the tsar's former colonial possessions and other oppressed nationalities. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics reemerged as a prison house of nations inherited from tsarism and imperialism.
While Chechnya formally maintained its autonomy within the USSR, the reality was the opposite. During World War II the Stalin regime carried out deportations and brutal repression of oppressed nationalities who were charged as "collaborators" with the Nazi invaders. Under a decree issued by Stalin, the Crimean Tatars were "banished" from their native land for "betrayal of the motherland." Beginning in February 1944 hundreds of thousands of Chechens were forcibly taken from their homes and deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan on similar charges. They were not allowed to return until 1957.
The bureaucratic regimes in the Soviet Union, and those imposed on other countries of Eastern Europe where capitalist social relations had been overturned after World War II, served as reliable instruments for the transmission of capitalist values.
These regimes disintegrated in 1989-91 under the accumulated weight of the social and economic crisis generated by decades of bureaucratic misrule and the pressure of the deepening downturn of the capitalist system worldwide. As this process unfolded, the oppression of national groupings through the use of police repression and military force began to weaken.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Dzhokhar Dudayev, a former senior official in the Soviet air force, declared Chechnya's independence from Russia. Fearing the example this set for other oppressed nationalities, the government of Russian president Boris Yeltsin responded with military incursions, which were repelled by Chechen forces.
Two full-scale wars
Since 1994, the Chechen people have fought two full-scale Russian invasions of their land aimed at restoring Moscow's domination. Yeltsin justified the bloody onslaught by raising the specter of "Islamic fanaticism" in Chechnya. Rebels there humiliated the Russian military in the 1994-96 war. At that time an invasion force of tens of thousands of Russian troops was dispatched to crush the independence movement. More than 30,000 people were killed and dozens of cities and villages were devastated, including the capital city of Grozny. But the Chechen resistance remained undefeated in a war that was unpopular from the outset among broad layers of working people and others in Russia. Chechen women blocking the way of Russian tanks on the road leading to Grozny, seen on television around the world, captured the heroic determination of the Chechen people's refusal to submit to Moscow's domination.
The Communist Party of Russia, representing the interests of one of the competing factions of the bureaucratic caste that shattered in 1991, voiced support for Yeltsin's assault on Chechnya.
In 1999 then prime minister Vladimir Putin, under the pretext of the bombing of an apartment complex and other unexplained explosions in Moscow, ordered another invasion of Chechnya. Putin built his popularity as a champion of the military offensive against "Islamic terrorists." He was elected president in 2000. Revealing some of the arrogance of the ruling caste in Russia toward the lives of working people, after one year of war Putin offered that civilian casualties in the war "could be counted on one's fingers." At that point, Russian forces had already driven 200,000 from their homes and depopulated Grozny.
The Putin government claimed victory in the war in early 2002, and most of Chechnya is dominated by Russian troops and pro-Moscow forces. But the Russian government has been unable to put down the Chechen independence struggle, whose fighters continue to control a large portion of the mountainous southern region and regularly skirmish with Russian forces and their local henchmen.