A new step in capitalist barbarism
War after war. After Kosovo, Timor. After Timor, Chechnya. Each competes to surpas Timor. After Timor, Chechnya. Each competes to surpass the others in horror and bloodshed. The conflict between the Russian army and the Chechen militia is bloody, and tragic for the Chechen population: "The latest Chechen tally is 15,000 dead; 38,000 injured; 220,000 refugees; 124 villages completely destroyed; and a further 280 villages with 80% damage. They say that 14,500 children have been maimed and 20,000 of them orphaned" (The Guardian , 20/12/99).
The country is raped, ravaged; the population starved, exiled, terrorised and desperate. To give some idea of the extent of the "humanitarian" disaster, for a country like the USA these figures would be the equivalent of 2 million dead, 5 million wounded and mutilated, and 28 million refugees! Since the article was written, these figures have certainly increased.
To this, we should add the Russian losses, which according to the Committee of Mothers of Russian Soldiers are at least 1,000 dead and 3,000 wounded (Moscow Times, 24/12/99).
In a Grozny flattened by bombardment, the survivors among the civilian population are hiding in cellars, without water, heating, or food, living like rats; in the outlying devastated villages and towns, the refugees live under the yoke of Chechen mafia gangs, or of the Russian soldiery, itself terrified and drunk with vodka, murder, and loot; in the neighbouring republics, the refugees are parked in veritable concentration camps, without shout supplies, medical attention, heating, in tents often without even a bed. The situation in the camps is dire. Just as it was in the camps for Kosovar refugees, where "international aid" arrived in dribs and drabs - and was largely stolen by the Albanian mafia and the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) - while the great powers of NATO dropped billions of dollars-worth of bombs on Serbia and Kosovo. Today, more tens of billions of dollars are going to finance the Russian state and its war, while the great powers leave the Chechen population to rot in the camps: "The sick and old go without medical attention. To feed themselves, residents rummage through local garbage bins, hoping to find rotten potatoes for soup. The water, drawn from a fire reservoir, is brown and full of insects, and even after boiling smells bad" (Moscow Times, 24/12/99). In the camps, the refugees are still subjected to the terror of the Russian military, which ransomed, aggressed, bombed and machine-gunned them during their flight. As The Guardian titled (18/12/99), "refugees of Chechen war find no sanctuary in camps" where nobody "can leave the camp without a day pass allowing them past the armed guards at the camp gates".
Between 200 and 300,000 refugees have fled the fighting and bombardments. In fact, the Chechen population is being subjected to collective assassination. The massive bombardment of towns and v villages, the Russian troops terrorising of the population, the machine-gunning of refugee columns in the corridors left open by the Russian army, have all pushed the Chechens to flee. This bloody ethnic cleansing follows that of 1996� carried out by Chechen troops after their victory over the Russian army, and which forced 400,000 Russian inhabitants to leave the region. Just as the Serb militias� ethnic cleansing of the Kosovars was followed by that of Kosovo�s Serb civilians by the UCK.
A lot of this is already said by the TV and the press. One might be surprised at the extent of the media campaign in Western countries, denouncing the Russian intervention, after they supported - and with what fervour! - the massive bombing of Serbia and Kosovo. But this campaign is particularly hypocritical, and attempts to hide the duplicity of the media. For what they do not say, is that the conditions, the methods and the consequences of this war, like the others, will be more and more terrible, and that they are only paving the way to still more numerous, widespread and terrible wars. They do not say, that these wars are the expressions of capitalism�s historical bankruptcy.
Today, imperialist wars are an expression of capitalism�s decomposition
Ten years ago, ethnic cleansing was exceptional and limited to a few particularly backward countrieuntries. During the 1990s, it has become the norm in imperialist war, whether in Africa, Asia, or Europe. Tens of millions of refugees throughout the world will never return to their town, their village, their home. They have been dumped forever in the camps. The situation of the Palestinians is becoming the norm on every continent. The self-assertion of a multitude of minority nationalisms - what the press calls "the explosion of nationalism" - is no longer the exceptional and limited phenomenon of the 1980s. it has provoked the proliferation of national conflicts, and the emergence of states, each one more mafia-ridden and corrupt than the next. Power-struggles between rival mafia have become the norm. Traffic in drugs and weapons of every description, banditry, kidnapping - which are and will continue to be among these "new nations" main resources - have also become the norm. The situation in Afghanistan - or in Africa, or in Colombia - is spreading to every continent. The norm? Chaos, spreading throughout every continent.
By contrast, the massive terror bombing of civilian populations, the destruction of whole towns and villages, is nothing new. It is a characteristic of all the imperialist conflicts, whether localised or world-wide, in the period of capitalism�s decadence, ever since 1914 and World War I. The destruction visited on Europe and Japan in 1945 had nothing to envy that of Chechnya in the year 2000. Groznyny today gives us a good enough idea of Dresden in 1945. What is new, is that the destruction caused by today�s wars will never be rebuilt. Neither Pristina in Kosovo, nor Kabul in Afghanistan, nor Brazzaville in the Congo, nor Grozny after 1996 were ever rebuilt, nor will they be. The economies devastated by war will never recover. There will not be - there cannot be - a new Marshall Plan. This is the situation in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, most of the African countries, Timor, which have all suffered the destruction of the "modern" wars of the 1990s. The permanence and proliferation throughout the 20th century of all these characteristics of imperialist war specific to capitalism�s decadence are an expression of its historical bankruptcy. They are an expression of its decomposition.
We have denounced today�s media campaigns over the war in Chechnya for their hypocrisy and duplicity. In reality, governments, politicians, journalists, "philosophers" and intellectuals are all accomplices in justifying capitalist barbarism and state terror. Chechnya today, like Kosovo yesterday, is witnessing the ethnic cleansing, the flight of civilians, the destruction of their villages and homes, the looting of their possessions, blackmail and murder by militias and troops, refugees in camps by the hundreds of thousands, the repression of a national minority, and the determination to ensure the disappearancnce of a whole population. Not to denounce - or rather not to pretend to denounce - the mass crimes in Chechnya, would make the media, indeed the whole democratic apparatus, the open accomplices of the great powers� humanitarian lies. "Whether you live in Africa, Central Europe, or anywhere else, if someone wants to commit mass crimes against an innocent civilian population they should know that, as far as we are able, we will prevent it" declared Bill Clinton at the end of the war in Kosovo. Not to at least appear to denounce today what was used yesterday as a pretext for military intervention would annihilate all the campaigns on the right of humanitarian interference. And would therefore also reduce the ability to intervene militarily in the future. By contrast, the pretence of denunciation makes it possible to continue the ideological campaign, and even to add a new layer to it.
What interests are at stake in the Chechen war?
But are these anti-Russian media campaigns only propaganda? Do they not reveal an opposition between Russia and the Western powers? Is there not a conflict of economic, political, strategic - in other words imperialist - interest, especially in the Caucasus? Are the US not giving support to projects for oil pipelines, which would avoid Russian territory and pass instead either via Georgia or Turkey? Do the diffeifferent powers not aim to control the oil of the Caucasus, or even to take for themselves the financial profits from its exploitation?
It is true that there are opposing interests among the great powers in the Caucasus. Along with the decomposition of the USSR, then of Russia, they are the other factor in the bloody conflicts throughout the Caucasus, indeed throughout all the ex-"Soviet" republics in Asia. This is the reason for the active presence of the various local powers, with Turkey and Iran to the fore, and world powers, with Germany and the USA vying for influence in Turkey. But what do we mean by "imperialist interests"? Are they simply a matter of the "oil rent", and the profits to be made from it?
A struggle for "oil rent"?...
What is the real situation as regards oil in the Caucasus? "Oil production in this region is no longer a major factor (�) This industry, along with the maintenance of a refining activity, is undoubtedly a real source of finance for the local clans in power, but is certainly not on the Federal [ie Russian] level" (Le Monde Diplomatique, November 1999).
What directly economic "vital interest" can the United States have in controlling such a small oil production, when they already control without difficulty the major part of world oil production in the Middle East, Venezuela, Meuela, Mexico, and the US itself? The US can hope for no direct financial profit from the Caucasus. So why this active American presence? To control the oil trade routes?
"If the Caucasus remains an object of major geopolitical confrontations, it is for another reason: control over the transit of oil from the Caspian Sea, even if the volumes seem to be less than at first thought. And in this respect, the power struggle between the two slopes of the [mountain chain separating the North Caucasian republics of the Russian Federation from the ex-Soviet republics of the South Caucasus] has sharpened considerably during the last year. The Russians have always insisted that most of the oil should transit by their territory, as it did during the Soviet era, via the Baku-Novorissisk pipeline (�) But on 17th April 1999, a new pipeline was officially opened between Baku and Supsa, a Georgian port on the Black Sea coast which is practically integrated into the NATO security system (�) In mid-October, the presidents of Turkey and Azerbaijan confirmed the construction of a pipeline between Baku and the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan: all the oil from the South Caucasus would thus bypass Russia" (idem).
So is this a matter of gaining control over the economic profits to be made from extracting and shipping Caspian oil? They financial gains to be made are certainly far from negligible for the republicblics of the ex-USSR in the region, or even for Russia and Turkey. But what about the United States?
"But whether the route [the proposed trans-Turkey pipeline] agreed to last week � which is strategically advantageous for the US but costly for the oil companies � can be profitable quickly is still a big question. So, too, is the nature and extent of political fallout with Russia, the loser in the deal" (International Herald Tribune, 22/11/99, our emphasis).
The United States� real interest, its real aim, is not economic but strategic, and it is the American state which is directing the strategic and economic orientations of US capitalism - against the advice of the oil companies, in this case. In capitalism�s decadent epoch, imperialist interests and conflicts are geopolitical, and while directly economic interests continue to exist, they are put at the service of the state�s strategic orientations: "For the Clinton administration, the prime concern has been strategic : guaranting that any pipeline would skirt Russia and Iran and thus denying those nations a choke-hold over a new energy supply for the West" (idem).
...Or for strategic interests?
The real goal of the United States is not to profit from the "oil rent", but to deprive Russia and Iran of any control over the transit of oilt of oil, and to ensure its own control vis-à-vis its own main European rivals, especially Germany. Just as in professional soccer today, the richest clubs buy great players that they do not really need, and which they don�t let play, simply to prevent them playing for rival teams. The real conflict of Western power strategic interests in this zone is often hidden: it is nonetheless profound. An unstable Russia ready to sell to the highest bidder, an anti-American, pro-European or even pro-German Iran, in control of the region�s oil routes, would represent a strategic threat to US power. The assiduous court being paid to Turkey - an particularly influential imperialist power throughout this Turkish-speaking region - by America and the European powers (the former offering a pipeline, the latter entry into the European Union) indicates clearly enough what is at stake and where are the divisions between the great imperialist powers. For the Americans, control over Caucasian oil would allow them to deprive the Europeans of it if necessary, and so give them a further means of pressure and a significant advantage in the balance of imperialist forces. It would bring no financial benefit - it is even likely to prove expensive - but it would be a particularly important strategic advantage.
The Western powers support Russia in Chechnya
The Western pressress� media campaigns about the war in Chechnya are hypocritical and conniving, but they are not directly part of these geo-strategic conflicts. The European press is much more virulent than the Americans in denouncing Russia�s intervention, when one might expect them to denounce the advance of the US. The fact is that although the war in Chechnya is connected to these imperialist antagonisms, especially from the Russian viewpoint, it is not directly part of them. Or more exactly, it is not coveted by the Western powers in the same way as the South Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), where they are struggling amongst themselves for influence. "We accept the fact that Moscow is protecting its territory" declares Javier Solana, Co-ordinator of European Union foreign policy (International Herald Tribune, 20/12/99), adding for the benefit of public opinion, "but not in this way", which is particularly rich coming from NATO�s ex-Secretary General, the man who gave the order to bomb Serbia and "push it 50 years into the past" last March. "Their [the Russians�] goal, their legitimate goal, is to defeat the Chechen rebels, and to stop terrorism within Russia, to stop their invasion of neighbouring provinces like Dagestan" (Bill Clinton, International Herald Tribune, 10/12/99). To which we can add the declarations of all the main American and European leaders, such as Germany�s ex-pacifist ecologist Foreign Minister in the leftwing Schröder government: "Nobody is questioning Russia's right to combat terrorism (...) but present actions by the Russians are often in contradiction with international law"(Joschka Fischer, in International Herald Tribune, 18/12/99), which is not bad either coming from one of the most fervent supporters of Western military intervention in Serbia, an operation which was even more illegal from the standpoint of international law and organisations like the UN which the ruling class has set up to try to settle its international differences.
How come such unanimity? Why such support for Russia, giving it carte blanche to obliterate Chechnya? Is this not contradictory with the dynamic of imperialist interests in the Caucasus?
The contradiction of the Western powers: against chaos in Russia, or for their imperialist interests?
"It�s not only the USSR which is about to disintegrate: it�s the Union�s biggest republic, Russia itself, which threatens to explode, without having any way of imposing order - except through veritable bloodbaths whose outcome is in any case entirely uncertain" (International Review no.68, December 1991). Since 1991, this tendency towards the decomposition of the ex-USSR has been largely borne out in the facts. The tendency for the whole capitalist world to rot on its feet at the politicalitical, social, economic, ecological levels strikes at all states, but especially the most fragile and those on the periphery. It has shown itself especially clearly in Russia.
Russia�s catastrophic and chaotic situation is cause for concern among the great Western powers. Russian military intervention in Chechnya has done nothing to reassure them, on the contrary: "Generals have talked of massive resignations and even civil war if the politicians interfere with their campaign, an ominous new note in the disintegration of Russian governance after a strong tradition of the military keeping out of politics. The fear that Russia instils now, a decade after the breach of the Berlin Wall, is the turbulence and irrationality of its weakness (...) It may bring the watershed of Russia's past communist evolution, losing the struggle for democracy and unleashing chaos and eventual military rule. That is why governments are so hesitant to react" (Flora Lewis, "Russia risks self-destruction in this irrational war", International Herald Tribune, 13/12/99).
This anxiety and hesitation are shared by all the major Western powers, despite their imperialist antagonisms. And even if the Americans tend to back the Yeltsin clique, while the Europeans at present tend to back the Primakov clique, they are all agreed not to throw too much oil on the flames, and so to limit the country�s slide into chaos. From this sis standpoint, the Yeltsin clique�s success in the December legislative elections was somewhat worrying for the country�s political stability, with the re-election of a particularly unpopular and incompetent - other than in filling its own pockets - ruling team, which owed its success solely to its bloody military victories in Chechnya. As we write, Yeltsin�s resignation and his replacement by his Prime Minister Putin clearly aims to bring on an early presidential election and guarantee the Yeltsin family judicial immunity in which to enjoy its ill-gotten gains. The disintegration of the Russian state may be halted by a "tough" Prime Minister - now President - taking, with the army, the reins of power. At least for the moment. And if the initial military successes in Chechnya continue, which is far from certain despite Russia�s crushing material superiority.
But the ineluctable aggravation of the economic situation, and the centrifugal tendencies of the Russian Federation threatening it with break-up, are a menace for the country itself and the whole capitalist world. Rusting away they may be, the missiles and nuclear submarines of the ex-USSR remain all the more dangerous in a country falling into anarchy and political instability. When Clinton, for the benefit of "public opinion", criticised the excesses of Russia�s intervention, Yeltsin�s threat that Clinton "has for a minute forgotten that Russia has a full arsenenal of nuclear weapons" (International Herald Tribune, 10/12/99) cannot simply be put down to the clowning of an old alcoholic. The mere fact that this corrupt buffoon, pickled in vodka, pinching the bums of his secretaries before the whole world�s TV, has been able to remain in power in Russia for 10 years, says much about the state of decomposition of the Russian bourgeoisie�s political apparatus. The great imperialist powers find themselves in a contradictory situation: on the one hand, the implacable logic of imperialist competition pushes them to grasp every opportunity to gain an advantage over their rivals and so to plunge society still further into chaos and decomposition, especially in countries like Russia; on the other hand, they are relatively conscious of this dynamic of chaos and decomposition, understand its dangers, and from time to time try to hold it back. But let�s be clear, it would be illusory to think that the capitalist world can reverse this tendency towards its own decomposition, just as it would be illusory to think that the infernal logic of imperialist competition could come to an end, and no longer provoke ever more war, chaos, and bloodshed. The common desire not to plunge Russia still further into the mire is only temporary: the implacable logic of imperialist interest will give new impetus to the tendency to chaos and decomposition in the Caucasus, as in other regions of the world.
The Western powers support Russia to limit its chaos
Confronted with the menace of an uncontrollable Russia, there is a tacit agreement among the Western states not to dispute its control over the Northern Caucasus which is part of the Russian Federation; but accompanied by an equally tacit warning not to try to gain a foothold in the Southern Caucasus, where the great powers are vying amongst themselves. This agreement has been expressed concretely in the "authorisation", to use the terms of the Russian press by the great Western powers for Russia to intervene to defend its "legitimate rights" in Chechnya, and drown the country in blood. "In the framework of the treaty on conventional weapons, the OSCE summit in Istanbul has authorised us to deploy, in the North-Caucasus military region, far more men and material than in 1995 (600 tanks instead of 350, 2200 armoured vehicles instead of 290, 1000 canons instead of 640). Russia will of course concentrate this military power in Chechnya" (reprinted in French from the Russian weekly Obchtchaïa Gazeta by the Courrier International of 16/12/99, our emphasis).
Let us at least give the Russian press credit for speaking clearly and frankly, and of reporting faithfully the intentions of the great Western powers: "We leave you the Northern Caucasus, but we take take the right to fight amongst ourselves for control of the South Caucasus". The tribulations of the Caucasian populations are not at an end. This region is yet another which will never again know peace, and which will never recover from the destruction which will continue to hit it.
Bourgeois democracy is war and misery
The hypocritical and conniving Western media campaigns have no intention of lessening, still less of combating capitalism�s military barbarism. They are aimed essentially at the Western populations, and in particular at the working class, in order to hide the link between imperialist war and capitalism�s economic bankruptcy, in order to hide the disastrous dynamic into which it is dragging humanity. They denounce the war in Chechnya in the name of the "right of humanitarian interference", the better to justify the war in Kosovo. The criticise the inaction of Western governments the better to glorify bourgeois democracy, when all the main protagonists of recent wars in Kosovo, Timor, and now Chechnya are democratic states with democratically elected governments. "Democracy is a not a guarantee against many nasty things" they say, in order to make it a goal with which everybody should identify: "We need to recapture a purpose in world affairs that is morally, intellectually and politically compelling. The democratic visioision retains an enormous vitality. Our duty is to help define the 21st century as a Democratic Century (...) Democracy is now demonstrably a universal value" (Max Kampelman, one-time US diplomat, International Herald Tribune, 18/12/99).
Today�s deceitful media campaigns aim to make us believe that a lack of democracy is the cause of wars and poverty. To think that "our fundamental challenge is to recognise that the political struggle remains between the democratic way of life and the denial of human liberty and political freedom"(idem) is to fall - however little - into the logic of defence of bourgeois democracy, for "more democracy", as we were endlessly told during the great media spectacle during the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle. It means identifying with the nation-state, lining up behind the national bourgeoisie. It is a dead-end, a trap. Far from stopping, or even holding back, the descent into hell, any mass adhesion by the population, and above all by the working class, to the "ideals" of bourgeois democracy would only accelerate the world�s slide into capitalist barbarism. Is that not precisely the terrible experience that the world has undergone since the collapse of the Eastern imperialist bloc and these countries� adoption of Western-style bourgeois democracy? And is that not precisely what the incessant media campaigns about the benefits of democracy are trying to hide? ? The chaos in Russia and the war in Chechnya are both a product of capitalist democracy.
Support the internationalists in Russia
Humanity�s salvation from capitalist barbarism lies down a different road. The international bourgeoisie�s media never mention it, or even its expressions. And yet, they exist, and it is clear that they would encounter a significant echo if they were not stifled, drowned, lost, barely audible, under a constant deluge of ideological campaigns. The road of refusal of sacrifice and war exists; it does find an expression. Faithful to the internationalist principle of the workers� movement, all the groups of the Communist Left have intervened to denounce the imperialist war in Yugoslavia (see International Review nos. 98 and 99). This road has also found expression in Russia itself. In the midst of general hostility and severe repression, at the price of serious personal risks, in the midst of nationalist hysteria, we salute the militants who have spoken out against Russia�s imperialist intervention in Chechnya, and who have defended the only road which can hold back, then put an end to military barbarity.
Don�t take us for idiots!
Yeltsin, Maskadov, Putin, Bassaiev�
They are all the same clique!
They are the ones who hthe ones who have organised the terror in Moscow, Vogodonsk, Dagestan, Chechnya. It is their business, their war. They need it to reinforce their own power. They need it to defend their oil. Why should our children die for their interests? Let the oligarchs fight amongst themselves!
Don�t believe the imbecile and nationalist speeches: we must not accuse a whole people of committing crimes which have been perpetrated by nobody knows who, but which are only the interests of the rulers and masters of every nation.
Don�t go to the war, or let your sons go! Resist this war as much as you can! Go on strike against this war and those who started it.
Some internationalists of Moscow.
Oppose the bourgeoisie and reject all nationalism, oppose the state whether democratic or not, refuse capitalism�s war, call the working class to struggle and the defence of its living conditions, stand up against capitalism: that is the road. It is the road that must be taken by the whole working class in every country. It is the road of working class struggle, of struggle against capitalist exploitation, against its sacrifices and poverty. It is the road to the destruction of capitalism, of this system which every day spreads more death and poverty throughout the world. It is the road of communist revolution.
Wars proliferate. The economic crisis is ravaging the world. Disaster follows disaster because of the all-destroying frenzy of capitalist production. Every day, the planet is less liveable, less breathable, more infernal. Only the working class can give an answer to these tragic ills that capitalism bears in itself. Only the world proletariat can offer humanity a perspective.