The Third International after Lenin

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chechnya: a primer in nine articles from The Militant


Washington, Moscow wage a 'holy crusade'  
{From the pages of 'Capitalism's World Disorder' column} 

The following is a section titled "Imperialism's new holy crusade" from "So far from God, so close to Orange County," by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. It is based on a talk and closing presentation to a regional socialist educational conference held in Los Angeles over the 1994–95 New Year's weekend. The edited report was discussed and adopted by delegates to the SWP's 38th National Convention in July 1995. It is published as the second chapter of Capitalism's World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium. Copyright © 1999 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission. Subheadings are by the Militant. 


The television networks and daily newspapers gave a lot of play to various international conferences in 1994. There was the "Summit of the Americas" in Miami. There have been conferences of NATO, the European Union, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and others.

Another international conference this month did not get much coverage, however. The fifty-two-member Organization of the Islamic Conference met in Casablanca, Morocco, in North Africa, December 13–15. While we were being deluged with dispatches about other world gatherings, I only saw one mention of the Islamic Conference—a short item in the "World News Briefs" column of the New York Times.

This is hardly an organization of firebrand revolutionaries. It is made up of the heads of state of bourgeois regimes—from the king of Morocco to the prime minister of Pakistan. But these figures rule in the name of hundreds of millions of people who are convinced, with good reason, that racist and xenophobic attitudes toward their religion and culture are being promoted by the governments and leading politicians in the imperialist countries—France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, and elsewhere.

I was struck by two decisions of this conference. First, the heads of state adopted a resolution condemning the "ferocious campaign to tarnish Islam" and associate it with terrorism. And they also voted unanimously to urge military aid for the embattled Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I do not raise this because I expect these governments to start supplying substantial material aid to Bosnia. I do not—although we will see stranger things happen before this century is over. I raise it because class-conscious workers in the United States and other imperialist countries need to start paying more attention to the imperialists' aims in fanning the flames about "Islamic fundamentalism" or "Arab fanaticism" or whatever they choose to call it.…

For the past three years, we have watched the first large-scale war take place in Europe in almost half a century. There has been massive, sustained artillery shelling. Air power has been used to bomb civilian populations in Europe for the first time since the bombings of Dresden, London, and other cities during World War II. Altogether U.S. jets, together with warplanes from the United Kingdom, France, and Holland, have carried out five bombing operations in Yugoslavia since February 1994.

All this has been happening in Yugoslavia. It is a war that has brought to the surface the deepest conflicts among the imperialist powers in Europe and North America since the collapse of the Stalinist apparatuses at the opening of the 1990s. It is a war that has exposed the increasing contradictions in what continues to be called the NATO alliance.

And what do we find right at the center of this European war? We find that one of the combatants, the Bosnian government, presides over a majority Islamic population. We find the terror squads of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic agitating against "Islamic fundamentalism" as the pretext to promote murderous "ethnic cleansing" along national and religious lines among working people who had lived and worked alongside each other for decades since the Yugoslav revolution in the aftermath of World War II.... 1  

Moscow's bloody assault on Chechnya

Then you turn to the news about what is going on in Russia. The New York Times recently featured two photographs accompanying an article headlined, "Russian General Halts His Tanks As Qualms Over Rebellion Grow." One was of women from Chechnya on the road leading to the capital city of Grozny. They were appealing to Russian troops to refuse Moscow's orders and halt their advance. In this case, as in several others, the Russian soldiers and their officers were won over and refused to move their tanks any further.2

The other photograph was of U.S. vice president Albert Gore and his wife Tipper the same day with big smiles on their faces at the fancy GUM department store in Moscow. I guess this scene was supposed to be suggestive of budding capitalism. They were there to show Washington's backing for their man Boris Yeltsin. The Russian president has been having a hard time of it lately and evidently needed a public display of support.

To justify his bloody onslaught and imperial designs in Chechnya, Yeltsin is raising the specter of "Islamic fanaticism." And what did the grinning Gore have to say about all this while in Moscow? He repeated the assertion of his commander-in-chief, William Clinton, that Chechnya was "an internal affair" of Russia. The Clinton administration supports the suppression of any secessionist or other moves that would further destabilize the weak Bonapartist regime in Moscow.3

We should note that Gore and Clinton get no quarrel on this score from ultrarightist Patrick Buchanan, who has warned in his syndicated column about the dangers of the "nationalist virus" in places such as Chechnya "spreading to the West." "Look homeward, America!" Buchanan writes. "With the multinational empires torn apart, are the multinational nations next?" And in Russia itself, the most prominent voice rallying to the defense of Yeltsin's war against the Chechens has been that of the fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

From the Caucasus and all along the Silk Road,4 national groupings and minorities who are predominantly Muslim chafe against subordination to the Great Russian overlords and their agents. This chauvinist course makes a mockery of Moscow's claims of normalization and stability, let alone its hypocritical championing of the inviolability of borders.  

Bolshevik appeal to Muslim toilers

This anti-Islamic crusade in Russia is not an innovation of the Yeltsin government, however. It is a product of the Stalinist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union some seventy years ago. Previously, under Lenin's leadership, the course of the Bolshevik-led workers and peasants government had been guided by one of its very first decrees, the "Appeal to All Toiling Muslims of Russia and the East," issued in early December 1917. Without lending an iota of credence to the progressive character of any religious beliefs or institutions, the Soviet republic declared:

All you whose mosques and shrines have been destroyed, whose beliefs and customs have been trampled on by the tsars and the Russian oppressors! Henceforth your beliefs and customs, your national and cultural institutions are declared free and inviolable. Build your national life freely and without hindrance. It is your right. Know that your rights—like those of all the peoples of Russia—are defended by the full force of the revolution and its organs, the soviets of workers', soldiers', and peasants' deputies.
And 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 oppression of one people by another and of all forms of exploitation of man by man!"5

Three quarters of a century later, we can confidently assert that for communist workers in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, reaffirming this clear pledge to oppressed and exploited toilers who may be Muslim, or who hail from parts of the world that are predominantly Muslim, is not a remote or external matter.

It comes directly into the fight against imperialist war in Europe.

It comes directly into the fight by the workers and peasants of Russia to defend the political space they carved out with the collapse of the Stalinist apparatus there.

It comes directly into the fight for democratic rights in the United States, where federal prosecutors will soon begin the first open sedition trial in many decades, this time against an Islamic cleric from Egypt and ten other defendants—a frame-up trial built around agents provocateurs.6

Communists and other class-struggle-minded workers combat every vestige of imperial arrogance and prejudice. We approach fellow toilers as equals who—through experience combating oppression and exploitation, and irrespective of beliefs they start out with—can be won to a scientific world outlook and communist organization. This conviction is a touchstone for those building a proletarian party and world movement. 

1 Among the major activities of the U.S.-organized NATO "Implementation Force (Ifor)" in Bosnia in 1996 was pressuring Bosnian Muslim authorities to deport volunteer fighters from Iran and other countries with large Islamic populations and to cut off further military aid and training from the Iranian government. The first widely publicized NATO military operation was a February 1996 raid on what Washington labeled an Iranian-run "terrorist train-ing camp" near Sarajevo.

2 In December 1994 the government of Boris Yeltsin dispatched an invasion force of 30,000 Russian troops to crush the independence movement of the largely Islamic people of Chechnya in the northern Caucasus mountains, bordering Georgia. During the first year and a half of relentless Russian army bombing and shelling, an estimated 35,000 people were killed and the capital city of Grozny and dozens of Chechen villages were laid to ruin. The war was unpopular from the outset among broad layers of working people and others in Russia.

3Standing beside Yeltsin at a news conference during an April 1996 summit meeting in Moscow, U.S. president William Clinton responded as follows to a question about the U.S. government's position on Moscow's assault against Chechnya and the death toll it has taken: "I would remind you that we once had a civil war in our country in which we lost, on a per capita basis, far more people than we lost in any of the wars of the 20th century, over the proposition that Abraham Lincoln gave his life for, that no state had a right to withdrawal from our union." The U.S. government, Clinton added, "has taken the position that Chechnya is a part of Russia, but that in the end, a free country has to have free association, so there would have to be something beyond the fighting, there would have to be a diplomatic solution."

4 The part of the world from Iran through Central and East Asia. The term derives from an ancient trade route for silk, spices, and other goods linking China with the eastern Mediterranean.

5 Both documents are contained in To See the Dawn: Baku 1920, First Congress of the Peoples of the East (New York: Pathfinder, 1993). See pages 251 and 231–32.

6 In 1995 Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and nine others were convicted in a federal court of violating a Civil War–era seditious conspiracy statute. The prosecution case, linking them to the 1994 World Trade Center bombing, rested on testimony by an informer who admitted in court that he had lied under oath and had received more than $1 million from the FBI. The defendants were not convicted of carrying out a criminal act, but of conspiring "to overthrow, or put down, or destroy by force the government of the United States." Rahman and one other defendant were sentenced to life in prison; eight others received from twenty-five to fifty-seven years.



Moscow Pressed To Halt Chechnya War  


"I declare in front of the press that all military actions in Chechnya will be halted," Russian prime minister Victor Chernomyrdin told Chechen leader Shamil Basayev June 18 in a televised phone conversation. The Russian government was compelled to order a cease-fire after two botched attempts to storm a hospital in Budennovsk, Russia, where Chechen commandos held as many as 2,000 hostages. Chernomyrdin guaranteed safe passage for the Chechens as Russian officials flew to Grozny, the Chechen capital, to start broader peace talks with Chechen rebel leaders that began June 19.

Chechen fighters attacked Budennovsk, a southern Russian city of 100,000 people, June 14. According to the Itar-Tass news agency, the Chechen fighters had threatened to kill all the hostages "unless the Russian military immediately stops hostilities in Chechnya." More than 140 people, including Russian soldiers and police, were killed in the failed attempts to take the hospital.

Moscow's problems in Chechnya reflect the political crisis wracking the Russian government. Russian troops have occupied the Caucasian republic since they launched a bloody war December 11 to crush the Chechens' three-year struggle for independence from Moscow.

Many Russian workers blame Russian president Boris Yeltsin for the conflict. Two hundred people demonstrated June 16 outside a local police station demanding an end to the war in Chechnya.

"I blame the government, from President Yeltsin to the local administration," said Nikolai Melnichenko, whose wife spoke at the protest and whose son was held hostage. "They are all so corrupt. They do nothing and would sell anything for money," he added.

"Let the Chechens live as they want and fight as they want," said Zina Arzimanova, who works at a local health clinic. "It would be better if our troops came back from Chechnya to protect us here, on our own land."

In another development, Maj. Gen. Valery Yevnevich, who was sent to head Russia's 14th Army in the Trans-Dniester region of Moldova, was forced out June 17 by vehement protests from Moldovan women. Yevnevich was to replace Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, who resigned earlier in June. Lebed had supported autonomy for Trans-Dniester.

"Yevnevich go home! Lebed is the only guarantor of peace in the region!" read the signs of the women picketing the garrison hostel where Yevnevich was staying.

Yeltsin returned to Moscow June 18 from a meeting of the Group of Seven (G-7) imperialist countries in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he sought to maintain support for Moscow's assault on the Chechen people. Yeltsin told reporters at the summit, "My friend Bill" supports Moscow's slaughter in Chechnya.

Clinton, who continues to back the regime in Moscow, tried to put Yeltsin at arms length on this one. According to the New York Times, the U.S. president "took pains to say he differed with Mr. Yeltsin's characterization of his position on the Chechnya conflict."

Early in the G-7 meeting, the government officials there issued a statement saying the "situation in Chechnya should not be resolved by military means." The summit's concluding statement, however, which Moscow joined, made no mention of Chechnya.



Chechens Humiliate Russian Army  


More than 100 Chechen independence fighters escaped Russian president Boris Yeltsin's bungled and bloody assault on the tiny village of Pervomayskoye. "The Chechens fought like lions," one of Moscow's special forces officers told Newsweek. Some Chechens had slipped across a frozen river from Chechnya to attack the Russian troops surrounding their colleagues.

The latest episode in Moscow's brutal war against the Chechens began January 9 when Chechen guerrillas took hostages in a hospital after failing to capture a Russian helicopter base in Kizlyar. With a promise of safe passage, the rebels released most of the hostages and headed for Chechnya with the rest.

Russian forces stopped their convoy at Pervomayskoye, a Dagestani town of farmers, and encircled the village with thousands of troops, reinforced with tanks and artillery. Moscow unloaded every conceivable weapon on the town for three days between January 15 and 17.

According to the interior ministry, 26 Russian soldiers and 153 Chechen fighters were killed in the onslaught. Moscow pulverized the village, using the pretext that all the hostages were killed. "They have executed the hostages," claimed Aleksandr Mikhailov, the chief spokesperson for the military operation on the day the assault was launched. Russian officials conceded later that no hostages were killed by the Chechens in the deadly standoff, a fact confirmed by the hostages themselves.

"They force us into such measures, pushing us into a corner and leaving us no other way out," said Salman Raduyev, the rebel leader of the Chechen action in Kizlyar. Raduyev eluded Moscow's relentless pounding and reemerged January 22 vowing to continue the independence struggle. "They call us bandits but we are not bandits. We are Allah's warriors fighting for our independence," Raduyev said in a location near his hometown of Novogroznensky, Chechnya.

Pervomayskoye was the only place the Chechens could run when they were attacked. "As soon as [the Russians] decided to settle this problem by force, we decided to break out of the village," said Chechen military chief of staff, Aslan Maskhadov. Maskhadov announced January 21, that all the remaining hostages captured in the raid would be released by January 23, except for 17 policemen. "The police we will keep as prisoners of war," he said. "We will use them in exchange for our men captured in Pervomayskoye."

A group calling themselves "Chechen resistance fighters" who commandeered a Turkish ferry boat January 16, surrendered January 19. They said they had no intention of harming anyone and were trying to bring the plight of Chechnya and the other mountain republics in the Caucasus region to world attention.

Thousands of supporters demonstrated in Istanbul as the rebels walked ashore after releasing more than 200 hostages held aboard during the crisis. Several hundred drove to the place where the ferry docked. They danced traditional mountain dances and chanted "Free Chechnya! Free the Caucasus! Chechnya will be Russia's grave!"

Moscow criticized the Turkish government's handling of the affair as Yeltsin warned that he had "plenty of helicopters." Turkey's prime minister Tansu Ciller admonished the Russian government saying, "The basic solution to all the problems in the Caucasus should be reached through peaceful ways and by [respecting] human rights." Ultrarightist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky suggested that Moscow should punish Turkey by helping Kurdish fighters who have been victims of Ankara's war against their struggle for independence.

Yeltsin declared more war on the Chechens, pledging to "wipe out" strongholds of Chechen leader Dzokhar Dudayev. "Now we have to take aim at Dudayev's bases where there are no civilians and give them a real blow to stop terrorism on Russian soil," said the Russian president. "Mad dogs must be shot down," he bellowed, further exposing the Great Russian chauvinism hated by all oppressed peoples in the region.

Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov said on Russian television January 22 that "the operation in Chechnya will now be toughened." Moscow will once again try the same method that has failed for two years - crushing the Chechen resistance by sending more soldiers to the region.

The Chechnya crisis has deepened fissures within Russia's ruling caste, reflected in the recent resignations from the presidential council of Otto Latsis, Izvestia's political analyst; and Yegor Gaidar, a former acting prime minister in the Yeltsin administration. "I am convinced that gambling on Yeltsin after what happened would be suicide," Gaidar stated, urging Yeltsin not to run for president.

Economist Grigory Yavlinsky, one of the procapitalist opponents of Yeltsin, led a call for a no-confidence vote January 16 at the first session of the new Russian parliament, spearheading a resolution condemning the assault.

"It is time to face the fact that we are in a real civil war now in Russia," said Yavlinsky. This was not a hostage crisis. It is a hopeless war, and it was started by Boris Yeltsin."

Yeltsin, who was elected president of the Commonwealth of Independent States January 19, has set up a staff to run his national campaign. "Probably I will agree to run for the presidential elections," Yeltsin told a conference of international investors on January 22.

Fighting has resumed in Chechnya as Yeltsin's war widens. The New York Times reported battles flaring up in several villages near Grozny, the Chechen capital. "After this the whole northern Caucasus will explode," said the leader of the group that captured the Turkish ferry. "We want complete independence of the northern Caucasus, otherwise there will be war."

Many editors and writers for the big-business media have run to Yeltsin's political rescue. Chrystia Freelander of London's Financial Times, for example, slandered the Chechens struggle as a "Pandora's Box" that has "led to ugly acts of international terrorism." Freelander said the Chechens will "emulate Palestinians, Kurds, and Irish Republicans." She acknowledged, however, that the "deep- seated support for the rebels in Chechnya" makes it almost impossible for the Kremlin to crush their resistance without "annihilating the Chechens as a people."



No to Moscow's war on Chechnya!  


Moscow's anti-Islamic campaign against the peoples of Caucasus, now escalating with its bombing of Chechnya and military assault on rebels in neighboring Dagestan, is a blow to the interests of working people everywhere.

It's not surprising that the Clinton administration and big-business press quietly cheer the Yeltsin regime's bombing campaign, while fretting that it will backfire. The capitalist rulers in Washington and elsewhere hope Moscow will do their dirty work by suppressing the rebellious peoples of the Caucasus who chafe under second-class status.

The crisis in the Caucasus confirms that the collapse of the Soviet and Eastern European Stalinist regimes a decade ago represented a defeat for U.S. imperialism. For decades the imperialist rulers, unable to overthrow the workers state in the USSR, pressed the bureaucratic government there to police working people. But under the impact of the world capitalist crisis in the 1980s, the Stalinist apparatus shattered as workers and farmers began to resist attacks on their living standards and social rights. This has become a nightmare for Washington, London, and their fellow sharks. It is increasingly clear that the former Soviet Union is not moving toward capitalism, much less toward a stable democratic capitalism.

More and more, the imperialist powers will be forced to take on working people in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union with their own military forces in order to shore up their declining imperial order, as they have done with the savage NATO bombing war against the workers state in Yugoslavia.

Moscow, a regime based on permanent instability, is lashing out against Chechnya from growing weakness. Boris Yeltsin has to rely more and more on centralized executive power to hold together the warring factions of the dominant stratum and balance it against an increasingly restive working class, as living standards keep plummeting.

To bolster its position, the Russian government has whipped up anti-Islamic chauvinism — carrying out anti-immigrant raids in Moscow and raining terror on the civilian population of Grozny and other parts of Chechnya. Russian officials grotesquely justify their assault by comparing it to the barbaric U.S.-NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Their reactionary actions will only embolden ultrarightists like Russian fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

National conflicts of all kinds will continue to explode throughout Russia and the central Asian workers states. They are an inevitable product of the Stalinist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union more than seven decades ago, which brutally reversed the internationalist course of the Bolshevik Party under V.I. Lenin's leadership. In the early years of the Russian revolution, the workers and farmers government there moved to restore to the majority-Muslim peoples of northern Caucasus the lands that had been stolen from them by czarist rulers.

In the first Caucasus war of 1994–96, Moscow unleashed a bloody onslaught but failed to crush the Chechen independence struggle, having to withdraw its humiliated army. The Chechen people won respect from working-class fighters everywhere for their heroic resistance to the Great Russian chauvinists. Today the Kremlin is in an even weaker position to stifle this struggle.

Working people around the world should demand that Moscow immediately withdraw its troops and stop its war on Chechnya and other peoples of the Caucasus.



Moscow is stung by Chechens, pressured by Washington  
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Forces defending the Chechen capital of Grozny dealt a blow to Russian troops who entered the city December 15, attacking a tank column and leaving an estimated 100 Russian soldiers dead. The pitched battle was the first major ground clash in the city since Moscow began its offensive against Chechnya in September.

Moscow's campaign, which aims at subduing independence forces and bringing the rebellious republic forcibly under its rule, has occupied 60 Chechen towns and villages but has to date shunned infantry battles with Chechnya's defenders. This was the first heavy fighting reported in the capital since the Russian invasion of the territory began over two months ago. Much of Grozny lies in complete ruins after the Russian bombardment which preceded this latest move. "There are no windows, no roofs. There is nothing there," one woman among the more than 200,000 people who have fled the city told reporters. Tens of thousands of people remain in a city that was home to a quarter of a million.

But aerial bombardment alone can't win a war. The armored column that entered Grozny December 15 "was surrounded by rebel fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades. The bodies of several dead Russian soldiers were seen sprawled around burning tanks and armored personnel carriers near the city center," CNN reported.

Before the clash General Valery Manilov, the first deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, said in Moscow that Grozny would succumb in "a question of days."

Washington and its imperialist allies have seized on the events in Chechnya to pressure the Russian government, professing concern for the civilian population. "Russia will pay a heavy price for those actions, with each passing day sinking more deeply into a morass that will intensify extremism and diminish its own standing in the world," U.S. president William Clinton stated December 6.

Russian president Boris Yeltsin delivered a sharp rebuff to the U.S. rulers on December 9 in Beijing. "President Clinton permitted himself to put pressure on Russia," he said after his arrival in Beijing. "It seems he has for a minute forgotten that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons."

The major capitalist governments in Europe have outdone Washington in their criticism of Moscow's actions. On December 8 leaders of the 15 European Union governments threatened to impose economic sanctions against Moscow until the ultimatum directed at Grozny residents was lifted. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook referred to a decision by the International Monetary Fund on withhold a promised $640 million loan from Moscow. "The IMF charter makes it plain that its decision must be grounded in the economic conditions," he said. "But believe me, it will not be lost on Moscow that the decision was taken yesterday."

The capitalist rulers of the United States these other imperialist powers judge that their interests are best served by a more critical stance in the war. They have substantial interests at stake, both short and long-term.

Washington has demonstrated its determination to grasp the lion's share of the oil wealth lying beneath the Caspian sea. In November Clinton signed a deal with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Georgia for the construction of an oil pipeline that would bypass Russian territory. Much of the present pipeline crosses Russian territory and several republics near the Caucasus mountains, including Chechnya. If it is built, the new pipeline will also bypass Iran, toward which Washington has assumed a hostile stance the 1979 revolution which toppled the dictatorship of Shah.  

U.S. rulers' target is workers state

More than strictly economic assets are involved, however. Washington is turning up the heat on Moscow in an attempt to force march the pace of "reforms" aimed at increasing the influence and eventually establishing the dominance of capitalist property relations. Minimal progress has been made along those lines, however, even as Russia's economic crisis grinds on. No ruling capitalist class has sunk roots in the country, and workers and farmers resist the layoffs and other attacks that the imperialists want to impose.

An article in the New York Times printed in August 1998 titled "Soviet Mindset Defeating Rural Capitalism" illustrated the obstacle to the reintroduction of capitalism formed by social relations in Russia. "The demise of the Soviet Union gave workers an opportunity to break free of the collective," wrote Michael Gordon. "All workers received a handsome certificate allowing them to take about 10 acres of tilled and 5 acres of pasture and farm it for themselves. Instead the workers leased their land back to the farm, keeping only tiny plots for themselves to grow vegetables and perhaps raise a pig or a calf."

After initial high expectations following the end of the cold war, the U.S. rulers are increasingly less susceptible to illusions that they can reimpose capitalist relations in Russia by peaceful means. They are turning more to military and diplomatic pressure. That shift lies behind the eastward expansion of the membership of NATO, the military alliance that Washington dominates, to include Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Washington has rejected Moscow's protests at this move, and has refused to pledge that nuclear weapons will not be deployed in the new member countries.

Washington is pressuring Moscow to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that prohibits the U.S. and Russian military from developing anti-missile missile systems. Clinton is on course to give the nod to the development and deployment of just such a system.

Plans for deployment of such a system in Asia show that this new generation of weapons, designed to give Washington a first-strike capacity, is also aimed at the Chinese workers state.

The U.S. rulers are using their scare campaign over "Chinese spies" to demonize Beijing. Wen Ho Lee, a Chinese-American scientist, was indicted December 10 on 59 counts that included mishandling computer files containing U.S. nuclear weapons "secrets." He was fired from his job at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in March amid a barrage of news reports smearing him was a "suspected spy" for the Chinese government. He was never charged with "espionage" and U.S. government officials have failed to present any evidence on the spy claims. .

More than a dozen Asian-American organizations have spoken out against the charges. "From what I've seen so far, this looks like prejudice and overkill," said William Chang, president of the Chinese American Engineers and Scientists Association of Southern California.

At the same time, Washington is hopeful that its new trade treaty with Beijing will provide a road to pressing forward market reforms in the still-growing Chinese economy. It has many fewer such illusions in regard to Russia.



Chechnya invasion, imperialist hostility are backdrop to elections in Russia  
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As Russian artillery and planes hammer the capital Grozny in Chechnya, voters in Russia have elected a new Duma, or parliament. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the president who appointed him, Boris Yeltsin, emerged after the December 19 ballot with an increased roll of supporters in the 450-seat house. Putin has built his popularity as champion of the still-undefeated military offensive in Chechnya.

Judged by the response of the big-business media, the election results were met with some relief in Washington and other imperialist capitals. At the same time, the rulers of the United States and the major European powers, frustrated by the longer-term lack of progress toward "market reforms" in Russia, have grasped the destructive assault on Chechnya as a pretext for stepping up pressure on Moscow.

"The nation is pinning great hopes on the new Duma," Putin said December 21. The prime minister is the current front-runner in the lead-up to next June's elections to replace Boris Yeltsin as president. The two parties that Putin endorsed in the parliamentary campaign, Unity and the Union of Right Forces, together polled around 30 percent. Both parties were formed less than a year ago and feature present or past government figures.

The Communist Party remains the single largest party in the Duma with 24.3 percent of the vote. The party of the rightist Zhirinovsky polled around 6 percent.

"This opens a lot of possibilities that no one had expected," said Anders Aslund of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a pro-imperialist outfit. "Putin can now change the political stage by having a reformist parliament." The prime minister and his parliamentary supporters back increased reforms, the code word for steps towards reintroducing ownership by private capitalists of the major factories, enterprises, and banks.

Washington Post reporter David Hoffman described the deadlock in the former parliament as perceived by the capitalists. "The Communists and nationalists who dominate the lower chamber have frustrated many attempts to pass more market-oriented economic legislation," he wrote on December 19. "[They] have fought each other to a bitter stalemate over creating a land code to fill one of the many gaps in the quest to become a market economy."

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, "While Russia still has a long way to go before it gets what I believe it needs most, the rule of law and institutions that must undergird any free market.... [The] Communists' stranglehold over the ...Duma, which has blocked the legal and tax reforms Russia needs... will be broken." 

Capitalists hope for 'reform'

"Russia Votes Right" announced the Wall Street Journal in an approving headline. The New York Times editors noted that "Unity, allied with President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, built its success on jingoistic exploitation of the brutal Russian military campaign in Chechnya." The editorial added that "moderates could end up with more than half the total seats. Those gains could help bring economic reform back to life."
These commentators hope the new parliament can kick start the opening up of Russia's economy to profitable capitalist investment. They falsely identify the Communist Party as the main block to such "reforms," and the fragile coalition around Putin as a potentially powerful ally.

But social relations in Russia do not blend with the priorities of capitalist investors. There is no native capitalist class that can self-confidently seize the social assets—the factories, mines, farms, and other means of production—and impose the conditions of labor demanded by the profit system. Workers and peasants, accustomed to minimal rights to employment and social services, defend those rights against the prerogatives of capital. The ruling layers in Russia fear the resistance of working people. Many also fear for their own privileged positions should capitalist relations triumph.

For electoral purposes the Communist Party portrays itself as a defender of working people's interests in the Duma. But its roots do not lie in the revolutionary vanguard of workers and peasants built by revolutionaries in Russia, which led working people in a victorious struggle for power in 1917 and in the first years of the revolutionary government. In that tumultuous period the workers and peasants government expropriated the landlords and capitalists and established the basis of a nationalized economy, state monopoly of foreign trade, and economic planning.

Rather, it is a decrepit shadow of the political machine that developed out of the political counterrevolution of the late 1920s and early 1930s, which for decades represented the interests of privileged bureaucratic layers in the former Soviet Union. The conditions of extreme hardship and civil war that prevailed in the young Soviet Union in the 1920s weakened the Soviet-based power of the toiling masses. Such difficulties provided a basis for a parasitic layer to rise to a leading position, including in the Communist Party. The bureaucracy seized power by killing and imprisoning millions, including the most political conscious and experienced workers and peasants. Great Russian chauvinism and oppression of the peoples of the Caucuses and Central Asia reemerged, in a reversal of the course charted by the Bolsheviks under the leadership of V.I. Lenin of championing the right of oppressed nations to self-determination.

This brutal exclusion of working people from political life also drastically weakened the economic gains of the revolution. Washington and other the imperialist powers relied on the Stalinist murder machine to police the workers and peasants and drive them out of politics. Although the bureaucratic apparatus served as an instrument for transmitting capitalist values, the post-capitalist property forms remain, even in the midst of generalized crisis and want.

The ruling classes of the imperialists powers entered the 1990s with expectations that the decline of CP-led regimes and the election of pro-capitalist politicians would unlock the Russian economy—and others like it—to capitalist exploitation. As the "reform" process has stalled the imperialists have become frustrated.

Washington has struck a more hostile stance to Moscow and to its erstwhile ally, Boris Yeltsin. The U.S. rulers have boosted their military strength in Europe, stationing thousands of troops in Yugoslavia and expanding the borders of NATO, the military alliance they dominate.

Recently the two powers have clashed verbally over the U.S. military's development of a missile system designed to provide it with a first-strike advantage in a nuclear conflict. On December 21 Putin called for the ratification of the Start II treaty to limit the number of nuclear arms, but "noted" some "serious obstacles," reported the New York Times.

Less then two weeks earlier, Yeltsin pointedly stated during a visit to Beijing that in attempting to pressure Moscow the Clinton administration should not forget "that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons."  

Washington boosts nuclear force

Putin cited Washington's proposal to build a "limited defense" against missiles launched by "rogue states."
"Skeptical military officials in Russia and China" reported the Times, "argue that the United States' real goal is to build a defense against the shrunken nuclear force that Russia would possess once ... arms-control treaties are implemented." Beijing and above all Moscow control substantial nuclear arsenals.

The development of new weapons systems is now openly discussed in Washington. The Washington Post reported on December 10 that "A blue-ribbon scientific panel... has recommended... the design [of] a new, billion-dollar plutonium weapons plant and... [of] new warheads for the first time in more than a decade." According to the Post the findings are "likely to be welcomed by members of Congress who... recently voted to reject the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."

When Moscow invaded the breakaway Caucasian republic of Chechnya in 1994, Washington gave its tacit support. Not so this time. "The Russians are self-isolating from the rest of the international community," said U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albricht on December 17 at a meeting of government representatives from the "Group of 8" nations, at which Yeltsin joined representatives of the seven most powerful imperialist countries of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

"No sanctions but no aid" summarizes the stance of the imperialist governments in Europe towards the military offensive of the Russian army in the Caucasian republic of Chechnya.

On December 21 Albright ordered the Export-Import Bank of the United States to deny an agreed $500 million loan to the Siberia-based Tyumen oil company. The refusal stops "American companies from selling oil-drilling and environmental equipment to... a company that is 49.8 percent owned by the Russian government," wrote David Sanger in the New York Times, adding that the "Clinton administration has... slowed money to a trickle while insisting on major changes in the Russian economic and legal system." 

Oil wealth at stake

The oil wealth of the Caspian sea and Caucasus area is also at issue in the tensions between the U.S. and Russian rulers. Capitalist oil companies have expanding interests in the region (see map above). The Christchurch Press from New Zealand commented in a December 22 editorial on the Chechnya conflict that were "Russia widen the conflict to other parts of its sphere of influence ... the West might find its interests endangered... supplies of oil from Kazakhstan might be at risk."
Rising oil export revenues have helped to finance Moscow's war against forces in Chechnya that demand independence for the southwestern republic. Moscow's ability to at least minimally supply and feed its soldiers stands in contrast to the 1994 invasion. The Russian generals have held casualties down by relying on the heavy use of artillery and air bombardment first and direct clashes with Chechen forces second.

The dangers that lie in wait for a Russian attempt to take and hold the capital Grozny on the ground were revealed when over a hundred troops in a tank column were killed in a battle on December 17. After that setback the Russian forces resumed their bombardment. Ground troops are sent to the edge of the city to try to determine the positions of the well-entrenched rebels. The Russian troops have set up roadblocks around Grozny and Chechnya more widely to control the movement of people.

Prime Minister Putin announced on December 18 that Russian troops had taken control of a key road linking the independent country of Georgia with Chechnya, claiming it is used by Chechnyan forces to move supplies. The Georgian government said on December 17 that Russian bombs had fallen near a Georgian village.

Putin presents himself as a "tough guy" dealing with "terrorism" in Chechnya. Moscow claims its invasion is aimed at "Islamic terrorists." Putin claims that civilian casualties in the offensive, which has created 200,000 refugees and depopulated Grozny,"could be counted on one's fingers." The parliamentary elections came at the right moment for this politician, who has tied his fortunes to those of the bludgeoning Russian offensive.



Putin launches crackdown on Chechens 
(back page)


Far from expressing regret or offering compensation for its handling of the October 23–26 takeover of a Moscow theater, in which the actions of Russian forces resulted in more than 150 deaths, the government of Russian president Vladimir Putin has stepped up its military and police operations in both Moscow and Chechnya.

Shortly after Russian troops effected their "rescue," blowing a hole in the wall of the Moscow theater in which some 50 Chechen guerrillas had held 750 city residents, Putin declared the raid to be an "almost impossible" victory, while regretting that "we failed to save everyone." As the news came out that 118 hostages had been killed by the effects of anesthetic gas pumped into the building under the orders of Russian officers, he moderated his tone only slightly, describing the events as "tragic."

"Russia will never make any deal with terrorists nor will it give in to any blackmail," Putin said on October 28 as he announced a military campaign to wage war on "terrorists...whatever their whereabouts."

Washington, which is pressing for the acquiescence of the government of the workers state in its preparations for war on Iraq and deepening intervention in the Middle East, at first declared support for the Russian action. "The president feels very strongly that the people to blame here are the terrorists... who took hostages and endangered the lives of others," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer October 28.

As the facts of the raid were revealed over the following hours, officials changed their tune. According to the New York Times, the U.S. ambassador said the next day that "secrecy about the use of a powerful anesthetic gas may have needlessly raised the toll in Saturday’s raid."

The Chechen guerrillas had taken over the theater October 23, threatening to kill the hostages and demanding that Moscow withdraw its forces from Chechnya. As the guerrillas’ deadline expired three days later, Russian special forces soldiers pumped the gas into the building. Many of those who escaped death suffered liver, heart, and kidney damage. As the fumes dissipated the soldiers entered the building. They shot most of the 50 rebels in the head.

Many afflicted hostages were rushed to hospitals, only to die when medical staff, kept in the dark about the nature of the gas, were unable to provide treatment for the poisoning. "Almost everyone would have survived," said a Russian doctor on October 30, if people had been "helped to breathe with artificial ventilation while still in the vehicles being brought to the hospitals."

Another doctor reported that physicians were instructed to describe their patients as "victims of terrorism and violence" rather than gas poisoning.

"They poisoned us like cockroaches," one woman told the daily newspaper Kommersant. A journalist who had helped in negotiations with the hostage-takers told reporters that the "operation was staged to destroy the [Chechen rebels] as a show of strength...but not to free the hostages."

"Russia will respond with measures that are adequate to the threat to the Russian federation," said Putin, "striking all the places where the terrorists themselves, the organizers of these crimes and their ideological and financial inspirers are." He pledged to grant the military wider powers and directed the army brass to draft new guidelines for conducting Moscow’s antiterror operations.

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, is considering a sweeping bill that, among other measures, would restrict news coverage of "antiterror operations" and bar the media from carrying statements by rebel spokespeople.

On October 31 Russian interior minister Boris Gryzlov announced that several dozen people had been arrested in connection with the hostage crisis as part of a security clampdown. Chechens living in Moscow were a particular target of these operations.  

‘War is over, but there is no peace’ 

Moscow has launched two wars over the past decade to crush the independence movement of the largely Muslim people of Chechnya in the northern Caucasus mountains. In 1994–96 the Chechen fighters defeated an invasion army of 30,000 Russian troops. In 1999 Putin launched another war that demolished most of the territory and placed occupying troops in the capital of Grozny, which was in virtual ruins, and other key points.

Today, 85,000 Russian soldiers remain in the region, where up to 80,000 Chechens have died and 35,000 have disappeared over the past three years. Tens of thousands of Chechen refugees have moved into the neighboring republics of Georgia and Ingushetia.

Engaging chiefly in hit-and-run guerrilla actions, the Chechen forces are still capable of inflicting damage. The Russian government admits that at least 4,000 soldiers have been killed in the last three years.

Following the hostage crisis, Russian military forces killed 30 Chechen independence fighters on October 28 near Tsentoroy, a village east of Grozny. The next day a military helicopter was shot down as it prepared to land at the main military base in Chechnya--the fourth Russian helicopter downed in Chechnya in less than three months.

"The war is over, but there is no peace," remarked Akhmad Kadyrov, the Moscow-appointed administrative head in Chechnya.

The stance of the U.S. government toward these developments has shifted several times as it vacillates between emphasizing its historical hostility to the workers state and seeking to draw Moscow into short-term alliances. While Washington supported the 1994 Russian offensive, it opposed the operations launched in 1999. President William Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, described Moscow’s offensive at the time as "self-isolating."

More recently, the Bush government has taken advantage of Putin’s eagerness to contribute to the imperialist assault on Afghanistan and cooperate with the placing of U.S. military forces in surrounding countries that are part of the former Soviet Union.

The governments of the imperialist superpower and the workers state face many conflicts of interest. One example is the strategically placed republic of Georgia, right on Russia’s doorstep and a neighbor of Chechyna. Washington views the territory as the linchpin for transportation of oil and gas from the rich fields in the Caspian Sea, and has already deployed 200 Green Berets in the territory--along with communications equipment, light weaponry, and vehicles, in a $64 million package signed with the Georgian government. The special forces will train some 1,200 Georgian soldiers in operations in the Pankisi Gorge, which borders Russia.

Moscow, which still has military bases in Georgia, charges that Pankisi is a base for "international terrorism" and a supply channel for Chechen insurgents. Russian ground troops and warplanes have conducted repeated military search and destroy operations in Georgian territory, including five bombing raids in August. Putin has announced that the Russian military is considering strikes along Georgia’s border with Chechnya.

The Russian government is also nervous about the impending U.S.-led imperialist war against Iraq, in which it stands to lose about $7 billion owed by Baghdad, as well as access to Iraqi oil wealth, if the regime of Saddam Hussein is toppled.  

Conflicts with European Union 

Moscow has also come under pressure from the European Union (EU). As a condition for agreeing to Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization, EU officials have been pressing the Russian workers state to open up its vast energy reserves to capitalist competition. Natural gas and crude oil, the country’s top export items, are state-owned.

EU representatives have demanded a reduction in Russia’s domestic fuel subsidies. "The low price of gas in Russia contributes $5 billion a year in subsidies to industry a year," complained Herve Jouanjean, the European Commission’s director of WTO affairs. Gazprom, the state energy company, sells gas on the domestic market for about $15 per 1,000 cubic meters, while the export price is about $95 for the same quantity.

"We accept that gas prices in Russia cannot reach international prices overnight, but we cannot accept that a market economy can be on the basis of subsidies to its industrial sector," said Jouanjean.



Russian troops end hostage crisis with bloody raid; 338 die in assault 
Unrest in Caucasus spells trouble for Putin gov’t
(front page)


The government of Russian president Vladimir Putin has seized on the events around the armed takeover of a school in Beslan, a town in the southern republic of Ossetia, to broaden its “antiterrorism” offensive, especially against groups fighting for Chechnya’s independence from Moscow.
In the aftermath of the brutal raid by Russian commandos that ended the hostage crisis in a bloodbath, the popularity of Putin, who has built an image of a “tough guy” who will do anything to “defend the fatherland,” has plunged. At least 338 people, including many children, were killed during the raid. A governmental crisis has been provoked once again by the growing instability in the Caucasus, and the far-from-defeated movement for self-determination in Chechnya.

The 53-hour crisis began September 1. Armed attackers took over Middle School No. 1 in the small town in the middle of the Caucasus, and held nearly 1,200 people hostage, threatening to kill them if an assault was launched.

Military officials who began negotiations with the armed group, which initially resulted in the release of 25 hostages, claimed that the demands of the attackers were not clear.

The Russian government responded by surrounding the school with troops, tanks, helicopters, and armored vehicles. While Putin had said the school would not be stormed, two Special Forces squads were practicing an attack at a nearby school similar to the one occupied. A shoot-out reportedly began September 4, when a bomb was set off accidentally by those holding the hostages. The explosion sparked panic among the captives who ran outside trying to flee, only to find themselves caught in the crossfire between Russian commandos and the hostage-takers.

Responding to widespread criticism of how the government handled the situation, Putin defended the decision to storm the school, saying the hostage-takers had begun “shooting children out of boredom,” according to CNN news.

“No one has a moral right to tell us to talk to child killers,” the Russian president lashed out. “Why don’t you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace?”

To win support for its war against forces in Chechnya that demand independence for the southwestern republic, Moscow has stepped up its claim to be fighting “Islamic terrorists.”

Washington has backed the Kremlin on this position. “The people who took over the school are terrorists, plain and simple,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a press briefing September 8. “Groups that sponsor them are terrorists, plain and simple. They need to be fought, they need to be eliminated, and we stand with Russia very closely as they face that threat of terrorism.”

Moscow claimed the 32 people who took over the school were part of a Chechen separatist group linked to “international terror” organizations. Providing no hard evidence, the government claimed this “multinational” group has links to al-Qaeda, and that among the hostage-takers were 10 fighters from Arab countries. Hostages who survived the carnage, however, have refuted this claim, saying they saw no Arabs in the school, BBC News reported.

Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian armed forces, said the Russian military “will take all measures to liquidate terrorist bases in any region of the world,” including carrying out “preventive strikes.”

Over the past decade Moscow has launched two bloody wars attempting to crush the independence movement of the largely Muslim people of Chechnya in the northern Caucasus mountains. In 1994-96 the Chechen fighters defeated a massive armored invasion of Russian troops, humiliating the regime of Boris Yeltsin. Most estimates put the death toll in that war at between 30,000 to 40,000, the bulk of them Chechen civilians. In 1999 Putin launched another war that destroyed most of the territory and placed occupying troops in Grozny, the Chechen capital. At least 5,000 were killed in the invasion and occupation.

Despite the occupation, Chechen forces have engaged in hit-and-run guerrilla actions inflicting both political and military damage on the Putin regime.

The Putin government has a record in handling such incidents with brutal assaults that disregard the lives of the hostages. About 50 Chechen guerrillas, for example, took over a Moscow theater and held 750 people hostage in October 2002. Russian troops raided the theater, ending the takeover and killing 129 hostages and 41 hostage-takers in the process. The deaths resulted from anesthetic gas pumped into the building under orders of Russian officers.

The siege in Beslan was part of a series of recent attacks that have left some 500 people dead, including the downing of two passenger airliners, and a suicide bombing attack in a Moscow subway station.

The Russian government has offered a $10.3 million reward for information that could lead to the capture of Chechen rebel leaders Shamil Basayev and Aslan Maskhadov, whom Moscow accuses of being responsible for the takeover in Beslan.

In the midst of the hostage crisis, Maskhadov, the former president of Chechnya, publicly distanced himself from the attack and condemned the seizure of the school. “There is no justification for terror against absolutely innocent citizens,” he said, while expressing his condolences to the families of the deceased.

At the same time, the Chechen leader called “upon the world to condemn the policy that has made such tragedies not only possible but unavoidable.” Maskhadov accused the government of Russia of carrying out a “genocide of the Chechen people.”

The Putin government has used the tragedy to whip up nationalist sentiments and strengthen its so-called war on terror.

More than 130,000 people attended a government-sponsored rally held outside the Kremlin September 7 under the banner “Russia Against Terror.” Tens of thousands rallied in other cities across the country in mobilizations with similar themes, according to the Interfax news agency.

In a September 4 speech, Putin said that Russia had let its guard down after the collapse of the Soviet Union 13 years ago and would now need to rebuild its security against internal and external enemies.

Despite this campaign, the government has been facing growing criticism. The newspaper Kommersant said Putin’s emphasis on “international terrorism” serves Moscow and other governments to dodge responsibility for the killings. “It’s as if all the children did not die because of a war in Chechnya that has been going on for 10 years, but because international terrorism has been on the attack,” it said.

“It is strange that the president neglected the question of Chechnya in his address,” said the newspaper Vedemosti, trying instead “to shift responsibility to the people who divided up the country in 1991.” referring to the disintegration of the Stalinist apparatus that led to the fracturing of the Soviet Union in the late ’80s and early ’90s.



Self-determination for Chechnya 

Working people should oppose the crackdown by Moscow on the independence movement in Chechnya in the aftermath of the bloody raid by Russian troops in the Caucasus that resulted in hundreds of deaths. They should also expose Washington shedding crocodile tears for the victims in Beslan, with the aim of providing more rationalizations for imperialism’s “global war on terrorism.”

As a Chechen leader pointed out, at the heart of the matter are Moscow’s policies, which “have made such tragedies not only possible but unavoidable.” He was referring to the Russian government’s 10-year war to crush the movement in Chechnya for national self-determination.

The independence struggle in Chechnya is a just one. If successful, it will strengthen the working class in Russia and the region. The revolutionary workers movement has always championed the right of oppressed nations to self-determination as a precondition to building genuine unity on the basis of equality among all the toilers.

There is an especially bitter irony to the Kremlin’s anti-Islamic crusade that has reached its sharpest point in Chechnya over the last decade. One of the very first decrees the workers and farmers government in Russia issued in December 1917, just after the triumph of the Bolshevik-led revolution, was an “Appeal to all toiling Muslims of Russia and the East.”

Without lending an iota of credence to any notion that Islam or other religious beliefs or institutions are progressive, the Soviet Republic declared: “All you whose mosques and shrines have been destroyed, whose beliefs and customs have been trampled on by the czars and the Russian oppressors! Henceforth your beliefs and customs, your national and cultural institutions are declared free and inviolable. Build your national life freely and without hindrance. It is your right. Know that your rights—like those of all the peoples of Russia—are defended by the full force of the revolution and its organs, the soviets of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies.”

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 former czarist 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!”

More than eight decades later, we can confidently say that for militant workers around the world, reaffirming this clear pledge by the Bolsheviks to oppressed and exploited toilers who are Muslim, or who hail from parts of the world where the Islamic religion predominates, is not a remote or external matter. The campaigns against “Islamo-fascism”—from the Silk Road, to the Middle East, northern Africa and the imperialist world—which are part of capitalism’s “antiterrorism” drive, are a case in point.

The Chechens and other oppressed peoples in the Caucasus will continue to resist the Great Russian chauvinism that was reimposed on them by the regime of Joseph Stalin with the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, and that continues to this day. Working people should back the Chechens’ just struggle for national self-determination.



Chechnya: a long history of struggle for self-determination 


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.



Wars in Chechnya revealed Moscow’s chauvinism 


Russian officials peddle Moscow’s invasion of Georgia as a defense of the rights of the Ossetian people. However, the brutality of the Russian government’s wars against the people of Chechnya in the 1990s displayed Moscow’s real stance toward the rights of oppressed peoples.

Chechnya’s population is largely Muslim, and is situated along Georgia’s northeastern border in the Caucasus mountain region. The toilers in Chechnya have a long history of resistance to Russian domination.

In the early 1990s, the Stalinist bureaucratic regimes of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union shattered, creating a new opening for the struggle of the Chechen people. Chechnya declared its independence in 1991.

On Dec. 11, 1994, 40,000 Russian troops invaded Chechnya in what then-president Boris Yeltsin of Russia claimed was a war against “Islamic fanaticism.” Washington and other imperialist powers backed Moscow’s action with an eye toward suppressing political unrest in the region that could upset plans to restore capitalist property relations. They said the invasion was an “internal affair.”

Chechens continued to resist Russian military incursions through 1996, when Yeltsin was forced to sign a cease-fire agreement, granting Chechnya de facto self-government.

Despite the agreement, Moscow did not officially recognize Chechen independence and launched another invasion in 1999, deploying 100,000 troops this time.

Sustained shelling throughout both conflicts left Chechnya’s capital in ruins. During a Dec. 16, 2000, invasion of that city, thousands of Chechen fighters defended the city against Russian tanks and military personnel. On March 3, 2000, United Nations personnel described the aftermath as a “devastated and still insecure wasteland, littered with grenades and bodies.”

The 11,000 hospital beds in the country in the early 1990s had been reduced to 2,200 by 2000. The oil industry, which had previously employed 6,000 workers, was now reduced to a workforce of 500.

Some 30,000 Chechens were killed in the course of Moscow’s two invasions.

Under tsarist rule, the peoples of the Caucasus, including Ukrainians, Jews, Central Asian peoples, and others were denied basic rights of language, religion, and control of cultural, economic, and political affairs.

The October 1917 Bolshevik-led Russian Revolution decisively ended the tsarist empire and broke the domination of capitalist and landlord social relations. The Bolsheviks championed the right to self-determination of oppressed nationalities, which was a decisive element in the alliance between workers and peasants—a driving force of the revolution. Federation in the new union of socialist republics was on a voluntary basis, with nations having the right to secede.

However, a political counterrevolution led by a bureaucratic caste headed by Joseph Stalin reversed this course. Chechnya retained formal autonomy, but in reality was subject to police repression and political dominance by Moscow.


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