Kondopoga: Down with pogroms, weapons of the state to divide the working class!

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A real outpouring of hatred, of rioting, arson and pillage, has taken place in Kondopoga, a small industrial town close to the Russian-Finnish border. The target of these attacks was the Caucasian and Chechen minority. These events have had quite an impact at the national level, in Russia, and even internationally.

The events in Kondopoga are not at all an isolated case, above all since the war in Chechnya which began in 1994. But in recent months, pogroms have broken out in several regions of Russia. In May 2006, in Novossibirsk, 20 native Russians burned a dozen homes belonging to Tsigans on the pretext of fighting the drug trade; in the town of Kharagun in the Tchita region, there were confrontations between Russians and Azerbaijanis, in which one person died; in the Astrakhan region, following the murder of a young Kalmuk in a fight with Chechnyans, 300 Kalmuks attacked Chechens and burned their houses. A month after, in the village of Targuis in the Irkutsk region, an anti-Chinese pogrom resulted in 75 Chinese having to leave. A few days later, the inhabitants of Salsk in the Rostov region took action against Daghestanis, leaving another person dead. On 21 August, a bomb exploded in the Cherkizovo market in Moscow, where the majority of traders come from central Asia or the Far East. Result: 12 dead and 40 injured. The Chechens, seeking refuge from the war, have been the main target of hostility, as well as the Tsigans.

In Kondopoga, the anti-Caucasian pogrom was without precedent in its intensity. For five days, from 30 August to 5 September 2006, a crowd of several hundred people, the majority of them young men between 15 and 20, ran amok. The first target was the town market where, like in many Russian cities, the Chechens run fruit and vegetable stalls. The stalls were smashed up, pillaged and burned. Then there were several nights of rioting with garages and vehicles belonging to Chechens being attacked with stones, bottles and Molotov cocktails. There was also an attempt to burn the school where a number of central Asian families had taken refuge! Several nationalist movements were involved and were publicly calling for the immediate deportation of the Caucasians. The troubles ended up with the massive departure of the immigrant population who were now in a state of panic. 200 Caucasians and dozens of Chechens had to flee for their lives to a another town 50 kilometres away.

The complicity between the neo-Nazis and the state

A lot of people have pointed to the ultranationalists of the Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). Coming from Moscow and St Petersburg, the militants of this xenophobic, pro-Slav group, backed by neo-Nazis, played a key role in whipping up the young people and organising the pogrom in Kondopoga. However, if they were able to act like this it was because they were not acting alone. Their role was only made possible through the support of the local bourgeoisie. The leader of the DNPI, Belov, even came to the town at the invitation of the local deputy of the populist party, the LDPR, Nikolai Kourianovitch, who called for the formation of a militia of former Russian combatants from the Chechen war to re-establish order!

The public authorities treat the Caucasians as scapegoats responsible for all the ills affecting the population. They talk about their “ostentatious wealth” and their “open-topped Mercedes”, not to mention their “mafia connections” or the bribes given to the police to turn a blind eye to their activities. The governor of the region, Katanandov, a member of Putin’s Russia United party, displaying the racism that is natural to his class, stoked the fires of this irrational pogromism: “The main reason for the troubles is the fact that the representatives of another people have behaved in a n impertinent and provocative manner, showing ignorance towards the mentality of our people”. Chechens have the habit of “not queuing up for technical control” when there is a traffic accident, which shows that “everything is allowed as far as they are concerned” (Liberation, 8.9.06). He further justified the pogrom by denouncing “these young men who have come from Caucasia and other regions” and who behave “like occupiers”, he insists that they should “keep a low profile or go away”(Le Monde, 21.9.06)

The collusion between the official authorities and the neo-Nazi groups isn’t simply a habit of the lower echelons of the state machine. The Russian state as a whole has good reasons for treating Caucasians as scapegoats. The pogrom atmosphere suits the Russian state’s interests very well. It is directly encouraged by the big bourgeoisie and the state as one of the most repulsive means of defending its imperialist interests. The neo-Nazi groups, if they are not directly emanations of the regime, are widely manipulated by the Kremlin. It uses them as a sort of unofficial, parallel police force in the dirty work of repression against any kind of opposition. At the same time they are valuable auxiliaries for propagating all sorts of nationalist hatred within the population, which serves as a perfect cover for the barbarous actions of Russian imperialism in Chechnya.

In the imperialist contest between Georgia and Russia, the Russian state has stepped up the pogrom atmosphere against Georgians living in Russia, especially after the arrest on 27 September of four Russian officers whom the Georgians have accused of espionage. At the beginning of October Putin himself came out against “criminal ethnic groups” who had taken control of trade, making it necessary to “restore order” in the markets, which he called the “most ethnically polluted in the country”, with the aim of defending the “interests of Russian producers and of the native population”(lefigaro.fr.17.11.06) by expelling from Russian territory several thousand “criminalised” Georgians.

Pogroms are also useful to the bourgeoisie in another important way: they serve to create divisions in the ranks of its mortal enemy, the proletariat, to prevent the oppressed classes from recognising their real enemies. These endless campaigns against the immigrants who “steal jobs from Russians” (a credo both of the state and of the ultranationalist groups) provide the background to the numerous physical attacks on immigrants. Blaming the immigrants for the general decline in the living standards of the working class is consciously deigned to undermine the class solidarity and identity of the proletariat.

The instigation of pogroms by the state has a long tradition in Russia, notably in the form of the crimes of Czarism towards the Jews. The Russian state, which has made xenophobia its official ideology, is simply reviving the sinister tradition of instituting measures aimed at “defending Christians from Jewish exploitation” as Czar Alexander III (1882) once put it. Envisaging that “a third of Jews will emigrate, a third will convert, a third will perish”, Alexander ‘s measures were specifically designed to whip up anti-Semitic pogroms as a means of paralysing any struggle against the monarchy. This is why the workers’ movement denounced the role of the state in these pogroms, exposing “the all-Russian autocracy which acted as the protector of this whole clique of brigands and butchers, supported by the official bureaucracy and directed from the top by a cabal of courtisans” (Trotsky, 1905). The crowned heads had no more decorum than today’s capitalist state, which is carrying on the same barbaric tradition.

Pogroms have nothing to do with the struggle of the proletariat.

In a statement published on the internet (Libcom, 24/9/06) - we don’t know whether it is the individual initiative of its author (M. Magid) or whether it reflects the official position of the organisation he belongs to (the Russian section of the anarcho-syndicalist IWA), we can find some dangerous confusions about the class nature of this movement and the perspectives it contained. The author even defines this movement as something, if not from the working class itself, then at least as useful to its struggle: “Everywhere, or almost everywhere in Russian province destruction is widespread, due to bandits of all nationalities, who are controlling local markets, companies and banks…In Kondopoga we saw an attempt of people to set up an organ of self-governance, a regular meeting of people who would make resolutions, which according to opinion of the people authorities should fulfil. But riots became nationalist ones...Is this movement ordered or initiated by fascists or local traders? No, that claim is a lie by mainstream media. It was a popular riot, of working people, which developed to a nationalistic direction, safe for authorities - partly due to events themselves, partly due to initiative of local traders”.

In the final analysis, the author institutes the means used, riots and pogroms, as valid weapons that the proletariat can use. The only regret he expresses is that it should not have simply targeted what he calls Caucasian bandits but should have widened to target Russian bandits. The most striking thing is that he takes at face value the nationalist campaigns of the Russian state which portray all Caucasians as mafiosi. At no point does it occur to him that this could be a false idea. This is clearly making concessions to the repulsive lies of the state, giving credence to the racist scapegoating of the Caucasians.

This attitude is in complete contradiction with the one that revolutionaries should have, in continuity with the traditions of the workers’ movement. Faced with the anti-Semitic pogrom in Kishinev in 1903, the founding Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party called on its militants to “use all means at their disposal to fight against such movements and to explain to the proletariat the reactionary and class-based nature of all anti-Semitic and national-chauvinist agitation”. The attitude of the working class and of revolutionaries has always been to show solidarity with the victims of pogroms and to offer them its protection. This was one of the roles of the soviets in 1905and 1917: “the soviet organised the working class, directed strikes and demonstrations, armed the workers, protected the population against pogroms” (Trotsky, 1905). Under the direction of the councils, in a large number of towns, the workers organised armed militia to repress actions by pogromist thugs. The Bolsheviks themselves were strongly and constantly involved in the formation of armed revolutionary groups to oppose the pogromists. Here is an example of Bolshevik activity in the city of Odessa: “Here I was a witness to the following scene: a group of young men, aged around 20-25, among whom were police agents in civilian clothes and members of the Okhrana, frisked anyone who looked like a Jew – men, women and children – stole their clothes and beat them without mercy….we immediately organised a group of revolutionaries armed with revolvers…we ran towards them and fired on them. They cleared off. But between the pogromists and us there suddenly appeared a solid wall of soldiers, armed to the teeth and facing in our direction. We had to fight while retreating. The soldiers went and the pogromists reappeared. This happened several times. It was clear to us that the pogromists were acting in concert with the army” (O Piatnitsky, Zapiski Bol’shevika, Memoirs of a Bolshevik, Moscow 1956) Today the proletariat does not have the strength to adopt such measures, but if it is to rediscover this strength, it will have to adopt the attitude of the Bolsheviks, and not the one proposed by Magid. If the workers allow themselves to be divided and led into pogroms, they will lose everything. For the working class this is a question of life or death.

The vision developed by Magid, which lends authority to the designation of scapegoats to bear responsibility for the unbearable situation created by the capitalist economic crisis, is completely alien to the proletariat. This ambiguity on the nature of pogroms condemns those who accept it to playing the political game of the state. What lies behind these errors is the absence of class criteria for analysing the reality of capitalist society and the struggles which take place within it, dissolving the proletariat into the undifferentiated whole of the ‘people’, as well as the Bakuninst cult of violence with its idea that unleashing the destructive passions is the lifeblood of the revolution. This is all typical of anarchism. The dangerous confusions which lead to apologising for pogromism lie in its very roots.

The proletariat can only attain its revolutionary future by developing its class solidarity and rejecting all the divisions imposed by capitalism. All forms of nationalism and racism serve only to weaken its struggle for emancipation. The revolution is not and cannot be an act of revenge against a part of the population that gets the blame for its situation. The proletarian class struggle is aimed at the destruction of capitalism as a system, based on the exploitation of wage labour in the framework of capitalist relations of production. Its final goal is the transformation of the present order of things, with the aim of “creating conditions of life for all human beings such that they can develop their human nature with their neighbours in human conditions, and no longer have to go through violent crises turning their lives upside down” (Engels ‘Two Speeches at Eberfeld’).

Down with all pogroms!

Down with the capitalist system which generates pogroms and uses them for its self-preservation!

Long live the international solidarity of all workers!

ICC, 22/2/07.