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With the Chechen capital of Grozny reduced to ruins, inhabited only by a destitute remnant of its population, the champions of Russian “power” can now begin to total up the results of their campaign.

One result will be an enduring hatred on the part of the Chechen people. This savage slaughter renews the memory of their mass deportation during World War II. This is a history that because of Stalinism the Russian people have never learned.

When I was traveling through Russia this summer, the ordinary Russian people that I was able to speak to still believed that the Chechens had been deported because they went over to the German side during the war.

Serious studies refuting this claim, such as Nekrich’s “Punished Peoples,” have not been circulated widely in Russia to this day. The attempt to restore capitalism has led to the collapse of the publication of serious books, obstructing clarification of the Stalinist past.

When I told Russian intellectuals that the Chechens had played a major role in the victory of the Bolsheviks in the civil war, holding down half of Denikin’s counterrevolutionary army, they were incredulous. For them, the Chechens were simply a reactionary race.

For the mass of Russians, there may be a vicarious satisfaction in seeing their Chechen “enemies” punished and in feeling a sense of national power. But these sentiments are likely to prove ephemeral, when they realize that they have gained no real benefit from the slaughter of the Chechen people.

To the contrary, the international image of Russia has been darkened again by this ruthless campaign, most importantly in the eyes of the peoples of East Europe and the former Soviet Union, with whom it is essential for the Russian working people to rebuild their ties of solidarity and cooperation.

For the moment, the main gainers are the opportunistic Russian politicians who hope to enrich themselves from the ruins of the collective economy. Both the open supporters of capitalist restoration that rallied behind Yeltsin, as well as the half-hearted critics represented by the Communist Party, have joined hands over the ruins of Chechnya.

Commenting on the upcoming Russian elections, Astrit Dakli wrote in the Feb.26 issue of the Italian left daily Il Manifesto:

“In the presidential race, Putin [the current acting president] has virtually no rivals. The Communist Party is running a token campaign for its secretary, Gennadi Zyuganov. … But he is so compromised with Putin [in support of the war] that there is no contest.”

Despite all their crocodile tears over the slaughtered Chechens, on whom Putin has built his image as a “strong leader,” the imperialists are also gainers. Dakli wrote on Feb. 25: “Western businessmen … are no longer hiding their enthusiasm for the man who is ‘offering a perspective of stability and therefore a secure road for the [procapitalist] reforms in Russia.'”

Ruthless disregard for human suffering is after all the best qualification for a defender of capitalism.

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