The Moscow atrocity: ‘Chechnya and Palestine - two crimes of imperialism’

An editorial statement on the recent events in Moscow and an article by A.Kramer in which he looks at the historical background to the Chechen conflict and compares it to the conflict in Israel/Palestine, outlining a socialist solution to the problem.

The events in Moscow have exposed the cynicism of the ruling clique in Russia and its callous disregard for the lives of its own people. Putin has shown unspeakable ruthlessness, while all the time protesting against the crimes of "international terrorism".

With characteristic brutality Russian special forces stormed into the theatre, having flooded the place with an unnamed "sleeping gas" which not only incapacitated the terrorists but struck down the hostages. All but two of the latter, on the admission of the authorities, were killed, not by the terrorists but by the poison gas, with which the forces of the state flooded the place. Among the victims were many women and children.

We do not condone terrorism, a tactic that has always been rejected by Marxists, and above all by the Russian Marxists. We stand on the basis of the ideas, methods and traditions of Lenin and Trotsky, the ideas, methods and traditions of the Bolshevik Party, which consistently fought against individual terrorism.

The methods of the group of terrorists who seized a theatre with 700 people inside were repulsive, and must be decisively condemned. Moreover, the final result shows that they were completely ineffective.

They claimed to have been attracting attention to the plight of Chechnya. If this was the case, then they failed miserably. In the end, what did they achieve, other than to cause the deaths of over a hundred innocent people and themselves?

They have increased the store of bitterness and hatred between the Chechen and Russian people. They have given credence to the propaganda of the Russian reactionaries that wishes to present the Chechens as savages and killers. They have given Putin a pretext to increase repression. Such methods do not advance the Chechen people's cause one inch.

But what can one say about the methods of state terrorism used by the Russian authorities? They will categorise the use of gas as for the purpose of "law enforcement". In fact, this is a completely lawless regime, which tramples underfoot the rights of Russians and Chechens alike.

It is an open secret that the bombing of apartments in Moscow, that was used as a pretext for the savage invasion of Chechnya, was organised by the FSB, the Russian secret services. Morally, these methods are not one whit better than the methods of the terrorists that they so readily condemn.

A deadly nerve gas was used casually in a confined space where its effects were devastating. The use of large amounts of these weapons of mass destruction in such a place was bound to cause large-scale injury and death. This was well known to those who ordered the assault. This was state terrorism at its worst.

The reactionary Bonapartist Putin, the puppet of the oligarchy, is not willing to pull his army out of Chechnya. He is not even willing to negotiate with the Chechen leader Maskhadov, which was what the terrorists were apparently demanding. Probably the massacre could have been avoided if Putin had agreed to open negotiations with the Chechen leaders. The authorities were unwilling to negotiate or make any concessions, and that made the final result inevitable

Only the movement of the Russian workers can solve the problem by overthrowing the reactionary clique in Moscow and taking power into their own hands. Unlike the rotten clique of bankers and capitalists that is driven by greed for profits and raw materials, the ordinary Russian people have no interests in oppressing the Chechens or anyone else.

Now Putin has put on a bold face trying to "tough out" the wave of public anger and revulsion that followed the Moscow atrocity which left 117 people dead. But the callousness of the Russian authorities stands condemned not only by the methods used in the assault but in their subsequent conduct. Not only have the authorities refused to admit what kind of nerve gas they used, but they have withheld this information from the doctors treating the victims. As a result, more innocent people will surely die.

The Russian generals obviously have stockpiles of this gas for use in such circumstances. They also have an antidote, which has been used in the past. They are refusing to tell the doctors which gas was used on the grounds that if they reveal their secrets, then terrorists could take counter-measures in the future. Therefore they are prepared to let as many of their own people die as "necessary."

The silence of the White House on this atrocity is in stark contrast with the hullabaloo about Iraq. Let us recall that the main accusation against Saddam Hussein is that he has stocks of gases and chemical weapons. Now it is clear that the Russians are stockpiling deadly nerve gas, which they do not hesitate to use on civilians. Yet Bush and Blair have nothing to say. Why?

The disgusting hypocrisy of Tony Blair was exposed by the comments of the British prime minister. Not only did he refuse to condemn the Russian authorities, but he enthusiastically supported them!

The reason for this "understanding" response is clear enough. This is the week in which the UN resolution about Iraq will be settled - not the moment to offend Moscow, which has now become a key player on the stage of world diplomacy. And Bush and Blair do not want to hurt the feelings of their friend in the Kremlin whose support they need to wage war on the people of Iraq.

If the price is to turn a blind eye to a hundred or so dead civilians in Moscow, what does it matter? If the price for securing Russia's collaboration in the global "war on terror" is to give Putin a free hand in Chechnya, it will all have been worthwhile "in the broader scheme of things". You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours! Such is the essence of capitalist diplomacy.

The Bush-Blair-Putin axis therefore stands condemned as a conspiracy against the peoples of the world. Their protests against "global terrorism" is merely a hypocritical cloak to conceal the ugly reality of great power politics that treats people and nations as so much small change in a cynical game.

London,

October 28, 2002


Chechnya and Palestine - two crimes of imperialism

In this article A. Kramer looks at the historical background to the Chechen conflict and compares it to the conflict in Israel/Palestine, outlining a socialist solution to the problem.

The latest developments in the Russian capital remind many Israelis of the situation in their own country - terrorist attacks, huge police and military forces on the streets of their cities, terror and confusion spreading among tens of thousands of people.

This was the result of the actions of a Chechen terrorist group of about 40 men and women that succeeded in taking control of a big theatre hall in the heart of Moscow during a show. About 800 people were taken hostage. The terrorists demanded unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and the end of the war that has been going on for almost a decade.

After three days of manoeuvres between the Chechen terrorists and the Russian security forces, the theatre hall was stormed by Russian special forces. The majority of rebels were killed but up to 150 hostages have died according to official reports.

Marxists can see not just superficial parallels, but deep structural similarities between the conflicts in different parts of the globe. The similarities result from the impossibility of a solution to such conflicts on the basis of capitalism.

Both conflicts have a long history. The Palestinian conflict has its roots at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Jewish colonisation of Palestine led by Zionists began, with support from British imperialism. This colonisation involved the expulsion of Palestinian peasants from their lands.

The Chechen conflict stretches further back. At the end of the eighteenth century Russian imperial forces reached the coast of the Terek river and began to build forts and Cossack settlements as a bridgehead for the future invasion southwards into Chechnya and Dagestan. But the main struggle of the Chechens and Dagestanis against Russian domination began in the first half of the nineteenth century. The main leader of these rebels was the Imam Shamil, who organised these tribes, who had lost power, on the basis of a theocratic state. Islam was thus used by the rebels as the ideological basis for the resistance.

The so call Caucasian wars continued until the end of 1860s. The Russian army during suffered many heavy losses and humiliating disasters, but at the end of this period the majority of the local feudal lords made a deal with Russian Tsarism. Shamil ended up with only a handful of soldiers and was finally captured in Vedeno.

In later years the regions of Chechnya and Dagestan came within the orbit of capitalist development in Russia. Oil was discovered near the town of Grozny. The development of capitalism was not easy for ordinary Chechens. Many of them were absorbed into the local proletariat and were heavily exploited. Many Chechens lands were confiscated by the Tsarist government and given to Cossack settlers. At the same time the Chechen aristocracy totally collaborated with Russian rule and exploited its fellow countrymen.

After the October revolution in 1917 most Chechens supported the Red Army. The White Forces that were based in neighbouring Cossack lands never felt their backs were covered. And Soviet Rule was finally established in Chechnya. Some local feudal lords and clerics tried to resist this, but they were very quickly smashed because they didn't get any mass support.

However, the degeneration of the Soviet Union and the establishment of Stalin's bureaucratic regime had tragic consequences for the ordinary Chechen people. The imposition of mass forced collectivisation in its barbaric forms provoked mass peasant uprisings in the Chechen mountains. Witnesses described how thousands of bodies of Red Army soldiers were found in the Chechens rivers. This criminal action on the part of the Stalinist regime led to the development of a nationalist and clerical underground movement in this Soviet republic.

During World War Two some of these nationalists collaborated with the Nazis and thus gave Stalin the excuse for a new wave of criminal oppression of these peoples. In 1944 thousands of Chechens and Ingushi (the Chechens close neighbours) were deported to Kazakhstan in one night. Tens of thousands of people died during this deportation. It was only under Kruschev that these deportees were given the opportunity to go back home.

Stalin's policy sowed the seeds for future conflicts. However, during the 1960s and 1970s Chechnya was a Soviet success story. The oil industry gave a huge boost to the economy of the republic. Many people were able to get a good education. By the early 1980s the Chechens had become one of the most educated nations within the USSR with a high number of doctors and professors in all fields of study. The Chechen capital, Grozny became a brilliant star of the North Caucasus and a popular tourist attraction. The coming of capitalism transformed all this into ruins.

The crisis and collapse of Stalinism at the end of the 1980s brought all the old problems and conflicts back to the surface. The majority of Chechen people demanded more rights and compensation for the deportations in 1944. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991 Chechnya declared itself an independent state. The former Soviet General Gochar Dudaev became head of the republic.

The new Chechen regime began to copy the policies that were being carried out in the rest of the former Soviet republics, leading to the same problems: nationalism and privatisation on the one side and corruption and crime on the other. But in Chechnya all the problems that flowed from the building of capitalism were magnified a thousand times. Control of the republic was divided between a number of gangs that struggled for control of oil production. Unemployment rose, non-Chechens nation fled from the republic as the result of the rise of Chechen nationalism.

In 1994 the Yeltsin regime decided that it was a good moment to regain control of Chechen territory and especially of its oil reserves. The invasion ended in a total fiasco for the Russian forces. The majority of Chechens moved against the invading Russian army. It was not a "Chechen Army", nor was it a gang of Chechen field commanders, but an organised people's militia that inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Russian forces during the storm of Grozny on New Year's day in 1995. The heroic resistance of the Chechen people provoked huge sympathy inside Russia itself. We saw the same thing in the Middle East when the first Indifada (in the 1980s) gained sympathy among ordinary people in Israel and this enormous public pressure forced the authorities to reach a peace deal with the "rebels".

In the same way as the Oslo peace agreement fell apart in the Middle East, the Hasavurt peace agreement of 1997 did not last long in Chechnya. Russian imperialism all along was thinking of revenge.

For the Russian oil companies Chechnya was important not only because of Chechen oil, but also because it was a passage to the Caspian Sea oil in Azerbaijan. The newly "independent" Chechen regime had all the vices of the old regime. Just like the Palestinian Authority it was totally corrupt. The new Chechen president, Aslan Maschadov (former Soviet officer like Dudaev) did not have control over many of the armed groups and bands. Those bands terrorised ordinary people and the neighbouring territories. The ordinary people lived in an environment of terror and poverty.

Like in Palestine all these elements created the right environment for the rise of Islam fundamentalism, because the people could not see a real revolutionary alternative. After years of war the Chechen working class was had been almost totally destroyed. Industry no longer existed. The schools and universities had been destroyed by Russian bombing. It was the ideal atmosphere for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

It played the same role as in other parts of the world - that of providing the state with a necessary provocation to justify further repression. The invasion of Dagestan in August 1999 and bombing of flats in Moscow in September 1999 gave Russian imperialism the necessary public support to begin a new war.

Thus the Russian army occupied Chechnya once again. Again, as in Israel today, many ordinary Russians regarded it as an evil but a necessary one to prevent further attacks. In reality, just as in the Middle East, it was a road to nowhere. The Russian Army is still incapable of breaking Chechen resistance. The Chechens are incapable of putting an end to the occupation, suffering and brutal terror at the hands of the Russian military. More then 100,000 have people died in the two wars.

There many others parallels between these two conflicts. In both of them, the people have access to detailed information from the TV about the shocking acts of terror carried out by Palestinian or Chechen terror groups, but you have to go to the web-pages of human rights organizations to find information about children being tortured in Israeli prisons or about the mass executions carried out by the Russian army and police.

In fact, civilians on both sides suffer not just from individual terrorism but from state terror also.

In the both cases the authorities use the situation to attack the civil rights of all citizens. During the second intifada in Israel laws were approved that prevent people from openly presenting their political position. There was a plan to close a new Israeli station allegedly because of its "non-objective" reports - that is, reports not in line with government policy. In Russia we had the approval of a draconian "anti-extremism" law. During the latest hostage crisis in Moscow the TV channel "Moskovia" and the radio channel "Moscow Echo" was closed just because they agreed to transmit the Chechen rebels' statements.

The capitalist authorities in Israel and Russia are directly responsible to unleashing hatred between the peoples. In Russia the state TV declared that in some cites the police would not be able to control the situation if there were pogroms against Chechens. In Israel the state activates propaganda against Israeli Arabs (recently we had the active use of espionage against some IDF officers of Arab origins).

And finally we see the same way to solve both these conflicts - through the common struggle of the workers of all nationalities for a socialist future. Today thousands of Chechen workers live and work in Russia. We have the same situation in Israel too. Thousands of Palestinian workers are in direct contact with their Israeli class brothers and sisters. Only their cooperation can smash the power of Imperialism and Islamism in the name of a better future of all the peoples.

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