By GERRY FOLEY
In the run up to elections in Russia, Yeltsin’s premier, Vladimir Putin, launched a second war against the Chechen people, who number barely a million. At least 500 Chechen civilians have already been killed by long distance artillery and bombing. Hundreds of thousands have fled into the dirt poor neighboring autonomous republic of Ingushetia.
Even the refugees have come under attack from the air. In the Oct. 9 issue of the Italian left daily Il Manifesto, Astrit Dakli reported Putin’s denial of a hit on a bus carrying people trying to escape the fighting. The premier said, “If it were true, they wouldn’t keep coming to Russia.”
Putin’s statement was a snide suggestion that Chechens in particular and former Soviet Middle East peoples in general were swarming over Russia like a plague of locusts. That is in line with the racist campaign put forward by all the reactionary political forces in Russia today, from the government to the neo-Stalinists.
In the Oct. 14 issue of Rouge , the weekly newspaper of the French Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, Denis Paillard wrote: “The opposition is singing the same Great Russian chauvinist song as the government. Yuri Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow [a major opponent of the government], has been waging a witch hunt against ‘persons of the Caucasus nationality’ since 1998, as has Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF). As early as 1996, some CP leaders called for the expulsion of all Chechens and the confiscation of their property.
“The media are not lagging beyond. The editor in chief of the Moscow News published a long article explaining that the Chechens are mere savages, who only understand force.
“On TV, A. Nevzorov [a well known neo-Stalinist commentator] has called for the formation of death squadrons in the FSB [ex-KGB]. The newspaper Komersant [an organ of the new business class] has published the exploits of an oil trust boss who personally liquidated dozens of ‘bandits’ after his brother was kidnapped.”
The Oct. 9 Il Manifesto carried an interview with Aleksandr Kuvaev, secretary of the Moscow organization of the CPRF. The post-Stalinist leader explained that his party had organized militias, utilizing former members of the political police, to maintain surveillance of people with a Middle Eastern appearance: “Sad to say, they maintain a special watch on people from the Caucasus. You know that they are the focus of suspicion.”
Astrit Dakli asked him what he thought of Luzhkov’s measures against people from the old Soviet Middle East. Kuvaev said: “Luzhkov has allowed a terrible situation to develop in Moscow by opening the doors up wide, concentrating all the wealth and criminality of the country here. … In Moscow, the Caucasians are a problem. They control the markets, they force up prices of fruit and vegetables, and prevent Russian peasants from selling their products.”
Kuvaev looked back to better times: “We can say what you want about Stalin. But he never had a war on Russian territory.” Of course, the “Father of the Peoples” did deport the entire Chechen people from their homeland during World War II, condemning them to hardship and many thousands to death.
There is, however, an obvious contradiction in the campaign to rid Russia of Chechens or reduce them to a class of enemy aliens. Putin claims that Chechnya is just as much a part of Russia as Moscow. Il Manifesto of Oct. 9 quoted him as saying, “Chechnya is Russian territory. The armed forces of Russia can go anywhere they want on the territory of the Russian federation.”
Putin rejected any idea of negotiations with the Chechen leaders. “We will not stop half way in the fight against Chechen terrorism.” The implication of this is that Putin intends to occupy all of Chechnya and impose a made-in-Moscow government.
Nonetheless, in its return engagement, the Russian army does not seem to be any better of a fighting organization than it was in the first. It has been concentrating mainly on bombing and shelling from a distance. The badly paid or unpaid officer corps is still up to its neck in all sorts of illegal traffic, and there is no evidence that the rank-and-file soldiers are any less demoralized than before.
The military and political leaders obviously know that they have to avoid casualties, or risk provoking the sort of mass upsurge against the war that forced them to grant de facto independence to the Chechens in the first place.
For the moment, Putin is gaining from his chauvinist campaign against the Chechens. The polls show him with a 65 percent approval rating, as opposed to only 6 percent for his boss, Boris Yeltsin. Chauvinism has been the last refuge of scoundrels for both the open defenders of the legacy of Stalinism and the most strident advocates of capitalist restoration. It has an effect on people demoralized by bureaucratic rule and hypocrisy and reduced to fighting each other for increasingly scarce means of survival.
The rulers of Russia argue that the breakdown of their rule over Chechnya produced a dangerous disorder, creating a breeding ground for terrorism. But their attempts to restore capitalism has led to deprivation and chaos throughout the former Soviet Union that are already far more disastrous than any conceivable “Islamic terrorism.”
The only thing that can stop the continuing slide into anarchy is the reorganization of the working people to take control of the economy and sweep away the profiteers and robbers spawned by the ultimate degeneration of the counterrevolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy.
In order to do that, the ideals and perspectives of socialism have to be revived. And that requires an unyielding fight against Great Russian chauvinism, which was the precondition for the victory of the Russian socialist revolution in the first place.
Today, it seems that most Russians have forgotten that the Chechen people, attracted by the Bolshevik leaders’ promises of self-determination, played a decisive role in the defeat of the reactionary White armies on the southern front during the civil war.
A new revolutionary leadership must remind them of this, and once again win the Chechen fighters as allies in the struggle against reaction, this time against the betrayers of the revolution.