The War on Chechnya and US ‘Humanitarianism’

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By NAT WEINSTEIN

Every major political current and politician in Russia, from the most rabid Great Russian chauvinists on the right to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation on the so-called “left,” supports the cruelly repressive and utterly reactionary war on Chechnya. Although American-led world imperialism has loudly condemned the Russian assault on Chechnya, their words are belied by their deeds.

The Dec. 22, 1999, edition of The New York Times , for instance, reports the settling of a dispute between Tyumen Oil, a Russian-controlled company and BP Amoco, an British-American oil company. The dispute was over which company should be the legal owner of Chernogorneft, a prized Siberian oil field worth many billions of dollars. (To be sure, neither the people of Russia nor of the Chernogorneft region were consulted.)

This story first burst into the mass media in boldfaced headlines less than a week earlier, when Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright reportedly had ordered the independent Export-Import Bank of the United States to cancel a pending $500 million loan package to Russia.

Also being blocked by the Clinton administration-ostensibly because Russia’s Tyumen Oil company was accused of having “illegally”1 gained economic control over Chernogorneft oil deposits-was a previously approved $640 million loan to Russia by the International Monetary Fund.

Thus, because the blocking of the two loans coincided with American threats over Chechnya, it had the intended effect of appearing to be the first blows struck to put economic force behind Clinton’s condemnation of Russia’s chauvinist assault on Chechnya. However, when the above-cited agreement between Russia and the United States hit the headlines, the credibility of the U.S. “condemnation” of the Russian assault on Chechnya went up in smoke.

Moreover, since the deal gives the British-American oil company the very valuable Chernogorneft oil field, it raises the question: What did Russia’s elite get in exchange?

Some light is shed on the Chernogorneft deal when it is known that Chechnya is a part of the oil-rich Caspian Sea region, that has for some time been the scene of a many-sided struggle for control of its oil deposits and pipe-line routes. Among the powers scrambling for control are most of the major imperialist countries and Russia.

Also scrambling for a piece of the action are second-rate powers like Turkey and Iran and still other, even weaker, contending nations bordering on the Caspian Sea. Consequently, Russia’s self-enriching bureaucrats and capitalists, like their soul brothers among the world’s imperialists, seem hell-bent on a course toward armed conflict, and thus, the exchange of blood for oil.

This part of the background to the Russian assault on Chechnya indicates that the real aims of imperialism have little to do with defending the rights of the Chechen people. In a word, Russia’s assault on Chechnya served American imperialism as just another chip in the bargaining over Caspian oil and other riches of the region.

Accordingly, the trade-off appears to be that Russia got the okay from imperialism to go after what it wanted in Chechnya and imperialism got Russia’s okay to try and take what it wanted, from both the Chernogorneft and Caspian oil deposits.

This conclusion was largely confirmed in subsequent reports in The New York Times. The lead story, featured on the front page of its Dec. 24 edition, for instance, reported on a meeting between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and the Russian defense minister, Igor D. Sergeyev. Talbott reportedly let it all hang out by expressing “support” for Russia’s goal of “eliminating Chechen extremism and terrorism.” (These are code words use in demonizing a people to justify their oppression.)

Talbott’s criticism was thereby reduced to the mild “rebuke” that the “methods [Russia used to eliminate ‘terrorism’] should respond to international law.” In other words: it’s okay for Russia to crush those it labels “terrorists”-but only if it is approved by the United Nations or one of the other international agencies under the thumb of world imperialism!

What imperialism really wants

Another report in The Times appeared in its Dec. 29 edition titled, “U.S. Backs Away from Bid to Cut Off Aid to Russia.” It serves as further confirmation of Clinton’s spurious “condemnation” of the Russian assault on Chechnya. The report begins with this straightforward confirmation of the U.S. capitalist government’s cynical hypocrisy:

“The United States will not seek to block economic aid to Russia as punishment for that country’s widely condemned campaign against separatist rebels in Chechnya, a Clinton administration official said today.”

The Times report, whether intentionally or not, makes it crystal clear that American policy is not what it’s cracked up to be. For one, it is further proof that Clinton’s “humanitarian” support for Chechnya’s right to self-determination is as phony as was the imperialist claim starting 500 years ago that its colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas was designed to “bring Christian morality and enlightenment to the benighted pagan world.”

And as we shall see, it fits in with imperialism’s real foreign policy aims in this region of the world; that is, to pressure the procapitalist Russian government to accelerate the pace of privatization of its nationalized economy.

This is because imperialism fears that if privatization remains stalled, there will be too little incentive for capitalists, domestic and foreign, to invest in Russia-and the economy will continue to wither away.

But privatization in Russia and in the other degenerating workers states can only be carried out by the procapitalist Stalinist bureaucracy and its capitalist offshoots. This is an indispensable prerequisite before imperialist financial and industrial corporations-and the Americans, first and foremost-can hope to take over and develop the economies of these countries as a source of new trillions of dollars in superprofits.

(Whether or not their aspirations are realizeable, however, is quite another question.)

The Times report, in any case, describes the “joy” expressed by an unnamed “senior Russian economic envoy” at the “good news” that the World Bank had announced that the $640 million loan would be released on the condition that Russia meets its obligations under the agreed-on terms of the loan.

A major condition for the loan is that the money be used only to “cushion the impact of mass layoffs in the coal industry.” The fact that Russia had already agreed to close 116 inefficient mines as another of the conditions to be met before receiving the $640 million in “aid,” merely shows that U.S.-Russian differences over Chechnya were incidental to their maneuvering for strategic advantage in their joint project-the restoration of capitalism in Russia.

This points to one of the real reasons behind the conflict between imperialism and their collaborators in the degenerating workers states; that what imperialism wants is for the ruling elite in these countries to move faster than they are willing or able to go toward capitalist restoration.

But those in charge of these countries have good reason to fear that should they move too fast toward shutting down state-owned industry, it would throw more millions of workers out of their jobs and contribute to the already deepening radicalization of the working class. Since the Russian elite is on the front lines of this effort, they prefer to tread much more slowly and carefully than does imperialism, who stand at a safer distance away.

Those are the real reasons for the conflict between the indigenous ruling elites in the degenerating workers states and the world’s imperialists. But their conflict notwithstanding, the partners in crime need each other, at least until worker resistance has been crushed.

Moreover, the struggle for control over Chernogorneft exemplifies another source of conflict between the indigenous Russian ruling groups and imperialism. And that refers to their competition over who will end up with the lion’s share of the plunder when the dust settles-imperialism or their indigenous junior partners-in-crime?

But in the meantime, imperialism desperately needs Russian bureaucrats and capitalists to lead the assault on Russian workers-Eastern Europe’s most powerful working class. This is essentially because it would be impossible for an outside force-no matter how powerful-to be the direct agency of capitalist restoration. That’s why they are dependent on an indigenous political and military force to push it as far as it can go.

And then, if mass resistance threatens to stop and reverse the counter-revolutionary process, imperialism has the option of sending “peacekeepers” in to crush it. (An option they are sure to think through with much trepidation over the consequences of failure!)

A look back at World War II provides a graphic illustration of the problems imperialism would face if they had to force a transition to capitalism from the outside and without an indigenous force spearheading a joint attempt to turn the clock of history back in Russia as well as in the other post-capitalist countries in Eastern Europe and Asia.

In June 1941, the German imperialists tried a direct military overthrow of the conquests of the Russian Socialist Revolution during their World War II invasion of the Soviet Union. The Nazi army even went so far as to promise the Ukrainian people the right to self-determination in order to gain a base of support among the Soviet population. The Nazi promise of freedom from Stalinist chauvinist oppression led many Ukrainians to welcome the German invaders as liberators.

However, when the Germans proceeded to confiscate the nationalized factories and farms of Ukrainian workers and farmers, and kidnapped its young men to serve as slave labor in German factories, Ukrainians realized their mistake and rose up in revolt against the German armies of occupation.

Ultimately, the Ukrainian struggle-which the Nazis had deepened into a repression of Ukrainians both as a class as well as a nation-led to the latter’s armed resistance making an important contribution to the defense of the Soviet Union and to the defeat of German imperialism in World War II.

We can be sure that the lessons of that disaster for Germany have not been lost on today’s imperialists. Hence, imperialism today has little choice but to depend on their Russian collaborators to spearhead the capitalist assault on the revolutionary conquests of the Russian working class.

Nationalism of oppressor begets nationalism of oppressed

It’s an old story by now that the main strategy of any ruling class or caste, which in class society is always a small minority of the population, must be that of “divide and conquer.” Privileged rulers must seek out and incite and foster every imaginable difference among their victims so as to play one sector against the other.

Such antagonisms rarely arise without the help of those who seek to profit from sectoral strife. Racial, religious, cultural, language, and national differences are in no way an intrinsic source of antagonisms between human beings.

But when living standards are depressed-however it is caused-and the struggle for existence intensifies, the oppressors seize on the crisis of existence to divert the anguish of the suffering masses from themselves to one or more of the scapegoated sectors of the population.

Nationalism, as a stage of human social development, for instance, had historically served to achieve a larger measure of human solidarity than previously possible. It brought tribes together into nations, which brought far larger numbers of human beings together for social and economic cooperation.

All other things being equal, it is a widely accepted principle that two or more people working together can accomplish very much more than each on their own. And, according to this principle, the more people working together, the greater the potential for increasing the productivity of the clan, tribe, or nation.

And so it is the case when capitalism spreads its tentacles across the surface of the planet, bringing ever-larger numbers of human beings into its global network. Thus, capitalist globalization increases the productive potential of the human race in direct proportion to the potentially greater number of people involved in the production of the things that satisfy human needs and wants.

But, as is well known, only imperialism benefits from the increased wealth produced by those who do the work, while the general quality of life for the great majority has tended to steadily decline. Only a privileged few among the colonial and neocolonial nations of the world, who loyally serve the interests of imperialism, are permitted a small share of the wealth expropriated from the masses.

At the same time, as capitalism expands its influence to every corner of the planet, and weaves its subject nations into a global economic network, the right of its peoples to determine their own affairs and control their lives tends to be increasingly abrogated. And, whether intended or not, any resistance to social, economic, and political dictatorship by imperialism is repressed by any means and by whatever force it deems necessary.

Thus the nationalism of the oppressor calls into existence its own opposite-the nationalism of the oppressed.

Socialists are not advocates of nationalism in the world as it is today. The national state was a higher form of social organization by virtue of the fact that it was the only way possible, at a given point in history, to bring together in one social and economic organism the largest possible number of human beings cooperating in any given region of the planet.

But that time is long past. Today it is an instrument in the hands of exploiters and oppressors for dividing those it exploits and oppresses. Capitalism transforms these narrower social relationships into their opposites; into competing fractions of the population in a struggle by each against all.

In the last century alone, we have seen countless small and larger wars and two world wars, all of which-with the exception of wars of the oppressed against the oppressors- have been between competing nations, each dominated by its own indigenous capitalist class. And the terrible tragedy is that the oppressed on both sides of these reactionary wars do most of the killing and dying, and gain little or nothing for their pains.

At the same time, however, revolutionary socialists, like the supporters of this newspaper, see the nationalism of the oppressed as irreconcilably opposed to the nationalism of the oppressor, and thus we take sides with the oppressed against the oppressor. In our view, the struggle of the oppressed nationality for political freedom is organically connected to the struggle of the international working class for social and economic freedom from capitalist exploitation.

Thus, we see the nationalism of the oppressed as an essential but transitory part of the struggle against capitalist superexploitation and oppression and as, objectively, a step toward freedom. But so long as capitalism still holds sway, real freedom is not possible, since the capitalists of the oppressed nationality have interests counterposed to the rest of society. Even capitalists who are members of an oppressed nationality also are the exploiters and oppressors of their own toilers.

However, that’s not a reason for the oppressed to stop fighting against national oppression and for the right to determine their own affairs. Every partial victory in the grander struggle against all forms of class, national, and other forms of social and economic injustice is a component part of the solution. That is, each small victory by the oppressed against the oppressor shows that the ruling classes and castes are far from omnipotent and can be defeated.

Consequently, it is very important to understand that solutions of such things as nationalist oppression is part of the solution, but is not a solution in and of itself.

But its main importance is that it points to the fact that small victories builds the collective consciousness of the oppressed. It serves to build the confidence of the oppressed masses that they indeed have the power to defeat their oppressors. Thus, the calculated use of small tactical victories to build toward the larger strategic victory is an essential part of a winning strategy in the class struggle.

Such a pattern of victories, planned, organized, and led by a conscious working-class leadership can lead the masses to the ultimate goal of overthrowing all their oppressors and liberating humanity from the main and all encompassing source of their misery-world capitalist imperialism.

After all, we should not lose sight of why we revolutionary socialists are champions of proletarian internationalism. It’s because the working class has been formed by history to be the only force capable of leading all humanity in a struggle for the liberation of the entire human race.

There are only two alternatives before the human race. One is the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of a world socialist society based on the abolition of all manifestations of social, economic, and political injustice. The only other alternative has already gone a considerable distance toward the absolute destruction of human solidarity-and in the end, nuclear annihilation of our species and perhaps of all life on the planet Earth.

1 The alleged “illegal” act was a Russian court decision regarding who owned Chernogorneft that may well have been decided in Tyumen Oil’s favor by buying off the judge. But that kind of underhandedness is the norm in the United States and every other capitalist country and, in fact, virtually every politician in capitalist countries is legally for sale and will do the bidding of those who can pay the most.

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