In the days following the massacre, world leaders have been rushing to express their 'solidarity with the Russian people' and with their 'strong leader' Mr Putin. At the Republican Convention in New York, Bush did not hesitate to include the Russian state's war against Chechen separatism in the global 'war on terrorism' spearheaded by the USA. In Moscow tens of thousands took part in an official anti-terrorist march under banners declaring 'Putin, we are with you'.
But solidarity with the victims of Beslan is one thing. Support for the Russian state is another. Because the Russian state is just as much to blame for this nightmare as the terrorists who seized the school.
For a start, because a large number of the deaths and injuries were almost certainly caused by the actions of the Russian troops surrounding the school, using automatic fire, flamethrowers and grenade launchers in a completely chaotic manner. These brutal methods cannot fail to raise memories of the way the Moscow theatre siege was ended in October 2002, and yet Putin has refused to sanction the slightest questioning of the army's role in the affair. But more important than this is the fact that, just as the US 'war on terrorism' has plunged Afghanistan and Iraq into ideal hunting grounds for home-grown and international terrorist gangs, so Chechen terrorism is the by-product of Russian imperialism's devastating war in the Caucasus.
Russian state terror in Chechnya
Faced with demands for an independent Chechnya after the collapse of the USSR, Russia reacted with a murderous offensive in which at least 100,000 people died. In 1999, following a lull in the conflict, Putin stepped it up to even more barbaric levels, virtually flattening the Chechen capital of Grozny. The pretext given for this renewed offensive was the blowing up of apartment blocks in Moscow and Volgodonsk, in which 300 people were killed. Although Chechen terrorists were accused, there are strong grounds for thinking that this was the work of the Russian secret service. Since then, Russia has remained absolutely intransigent in its refusal of any demands for Chechen independence. This is because the loss of Chechnya would be a huge blow to Russia's imperialist interests. For one thing because of Chechnya's strategic position with regard to the Caucasian oil fields and pipelines; but, more importantly, because of the danger that if Chechnya secedes from the Russian Federation, it would give the signal for the break-up of the Federation and Russia would lose its last pretences to be a player on the world arena.
There have been no limits to the crimes committed by the Russian army in the Caucasus. They are well-documented by any number of 'human rights' organisations. Human Rights Watch, for example, talks about Putin's "failure to establish a meaningful accountability process for crimes committed by Russian soldiers and police forces�enforced disappearances, summary executions and torture have grossly undermined trust in Russian state institutions among ordinary Chechens" (cited in The Guardian, September 2 2004).
The 'democratic west' supports the war crimes of the Russian state
These ravages are equal to anything perpetrated by 'official' tyrants like Saddam or Milosevic. And yet throughout these years of misery in the Caucasus, the leaders of 'western democracy', the advocates of 'humanitarian intervention' in Kosovo or Iraq, have supported Putin to the hilt. Blair even invited him to tea with the Queen. This is because behind all their 'moral' rhetoric, Bush, Blair and the rest are interested only in the imperialist needs of the capitalist states they represent. Today these needs demand that Russia � though a rival in many respects, as it showed with its opposition to the Iraq war � must be preserved as a national unit and not allowed to collapse into chaos. Russia is a vast stockpile of nuclear weapons and a global energy giant. The consequences of the Russian Federation shattering like the old USSR are too dangerous for the bourgeoisies of the west. This doesn't mean that, tomorrow (or in some cases, already) the great powers won't try to take advantage of Russia's internal difficulties in order to advance their own pawns in the region. But for now, all of them, including the USA's main rivals, France and Germany, have approached the Russian question with extreme caution. President Chirac of France and Chancellor Schröder of Germany visited Putin recently, expressed their entire support for his Chechen policy, and endorsed the utterly fraudulent election of the new pro-Russian Chechen president Alu Alkharov, who succeeds his assassinated predecessor Kadryov.
It also suits the US and Russia to proclaim that they are both fighting a 'war on terrorism'. In exchange for turning a blind eye to Russia's barbaric military occupation of Chechnya and its support for petty warlords elsewhere in the Caucasus, Washington gets a certain degree of Russian acquiescence for its policies in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Against terrorism and nationalism - the world proletarian revolution
Because Russian state barbarism in Chechnya has spawned the barbarism of the terrorist gangs, there are those critics of the excesses of the Russian state who ask us to 'understand' the actions of the terrorists, just as they ask us to 'understand' the suicide bombers organised by Hamas and similar groups in Palestine, or even to 'understand' the al-Qaida attacks of 9/11. And, yes, we 'understand' that those whose families have been slaughtered and raped by Russian troops, or bombed by Israeli or American planes and tanks, should be driven towards violent revenge and suicidal acts of despair. But we also 'understand' why terrified Russian conscripts in Chechnya should be goaded into acts of insane brutality against the civilian population. This understanding does not lead us to support the Russian army, and neither does it lead us to support the nationalist and fundamentalist bosses-in-waiting who exploit the despair of the poor and the oppressed to push them into carrying out terrorist attacks on the poor and oppressed of other nations. Faced with the choice between Russian state terror and Chechen terrorism, between the Israeli army of occupation and Hamas, or between US imperialism and al-Qaida, we say: enough false choices! We will not be tricked into supporting one faction of capitalism against another, into looking for the 'lesser evil' in any of the imperialist wars ravaging the planet today.
We understand the roots of national and racial hatred, and this is precisely why we oppose all its possible expressions. The fanatical nationalism of the Beslan hostage-takers led them to consider their victims as less than human; and now a powerful sentiment of revenge for their inhuman acts is swelling up not only in Ossetia but in Russia as a whole. The Russian state will use these sentiments to justify new acts of aggression in Chechnya and elsewhere: already its military leaders have threatened 'pre-emptive strikes' anywhere in the world. This will give rise to further terrorist reprisals and so the endless spiral of death will continue, just as it does in Israel and Iraq.
Against national and religious divisions of all kinds, we stand for the solidarity of the exploited regardless of race, nationality or religion. Against all appeals for solidarity with 'our' state or 'our' national leaders, we stand for the class solidarity of the proletariat in all countries.
This solidarity, this unity of all the exploited, can only be forged in the struggle against exploitation. It has nothing in common with appeals for charity, with the illusion that solidarity can be reduced to sending money or blankets to the victims of war and terror. The wars and massacres spreading around the world are products of the terminal decay of capitalist society; they can only be opposed and ended through the common fight for a new society, where human solidarity is the only law.
One of the grieving parents of Beslan was quoted as saying that the inhumanity of the siege made her think that this was "the beginning of the end of the world". The collapse of all human decency, of the most basic social ties, exemplified by the slaughter of children, does indeed show us that the capitalist world is coming to an end, one way or another. One way is the capitalist way, leading to the extermination of humanity; the other is the proletarian way, leading to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the construction of a communist society without classes or exploitation, states, national frontiers or wars.
ICC, 10th September 2004