Russia’s apologists

Morning Star and Chechnya

Chechnya’s people are facing decimation at the hands of the Russian military. The capital of the Chechen ‘Republic Ichkeria’, Grozny, is nearly surrounded and under threat of attack by the massed forces of Russia’s army.

On Monday of this week Russian jets dropped leaflets over Grozny ordering its civilian population to leave within five days ... or else. The Times (December 7) reported the leaflet’s text as concluding with the chilling words, “Those who remain will be viewed as terrorists and will be destroyed by artillery and aviation. The countdown has started.” Already the situation of Grozny’s remaining population is perilous, as shells and bombs rain down: according to Guy Willoughby, an aid agency worker, “The city’s an inferno” (Today BBC Radio 4, December 7). If the Russian army makes good on its threats we shall witness civilian casualties on an unprecedented scale in Grozny, a city the size of York or Swindon.

Despite the overwhelming and long-standing desire of Chechnya’s one million people for independence, Russia insists that Chechnya remains an integral part of the Russian Federation. Russian nationalists, including the so-called ‘communists’, demand that the old semi-colonial relationship revived by Stalin and continued by his heirs should continue. Chechnya has oil - Russian Federation oil - and Russia will have it come what may. Chechnya’s people are as nothing to these xenophobes and Great Russian chauvinists, whose military wants to punish the Chechens for losses in the 1994-6 war and for this week’s casualties outside Grozny.

The Guardian’s reporter in Chervlyennaya, Chechnya got it from the horse’s mouth: general Valeriy Shpak told him that Chechnya would be under Russian military rule for years to come. Shpak’s political boss, Nikolay Koshman, deputy prime minister in charge of Chechnya, was even more forthright, saying: “There’s no need to fear a partisan war. Chechnya is a subject of the Russian federation and will obey Russian laws” (The Guardian December 6).

Into this arena of denial of the Chechen people’s democratic rights steps the Communist Party of Britain’s Morning Star and its correspondent Jef Bossuyt, whose feature article ‘Capital’s grab for gas and oil’ was published at the end of last week (December 2). The Morning Star vaunts the feature with the strapline, “Behind the war in Chechnya is the West’s object of controlling oil supplies. Jef Bossuyt reports on capitalism’s ‘balkanisation’ of the Caucasus.”

We are treated to the following incredible justification for Russia’s present attack on the Chechens, played up prominently by the Morning Star as a key element of his argument: “Ever since tsar Peter the Great incorporated Dagestan and other nearby ethnic regions into the Russian empire in 1722, Chechnya has been used as a crowbar to force a way into Russia from the south.” What political bankruptcy. A more Slavophile statement would be difficult to concoct. Turning the truth on its head, the victims of Russian barbarism become magically transformed into ‘tools of imperialism’ and thus deserving of all the atrocities committed against them. Presumably Russia is considered worthy of support because it is sometimes at loggerheads with the leading imperialist powers. There is also, of course, more than a little nostalgia for the old USSR in all this. If this is anti-imperialism, then it’s porcine aviator time.

Not content with this vile statement of justification, however, the Morning Star article revises history. First, the Chechens are apparently themselves to blame for being overrun by imperialist troops during the intervention against the Russian Revolution in 1919. Second, and criminally, Bossuyt passes over in silence the deportation of the Chechens under Stalin during World War II, instead slandering this whole people under the pretext that some joined Nazi volunteer units (the justification used by Stalin for the deportations). He paints contemporary Chechens as bandits, islamicists, and receiving weapons and training from “pro-western Arab regimes”. Clearly in Bossuyt’s eyes the Chechens are no better than vermin.

The article refuses to countenance even one mention of the rights of the Chechen people to self-determination - a disgraceful stance for ‘communists’, but par for the course for the Morning Star. It labels the Chechens “separatists”, as if this is sufficient to deny them, after all the bloodshed at the hands of Russian forces, the right to form their own state. For three years the Chechens have established de facto independence, Yet Bossuyt, a member of the ultra-Stalinite Workers Party of Belgium, whose views are clearly in line with the CPB on this question, issues what amounts to a call for recolonisation.

It seems that any threat to the Russian state as presently constituted represents for Bossuyt, and presumably the Morning Star (since it gives his article so much prominence), the ne plus ultra which such ‘communists’ would defend to the death. Why? According to the article, merely because what the “Chechen warlords” want “fits perfectly the plans of US and European oil multinationals to control the petroleum fields and oil pipelines in the Caucasus and eliminate the pipelines on Russian territory.” Yet everyone (except these paragons of perception, it seems) knows that Britain, USA, etc would be only too pleased if Russia could sort out its problems and impose a regional stability for capitalist development - as would Russia’s present rulers, of course. Duplicitous as ever, Bossuyt even complains that “since [Chechen warlord] Basayev invaded Dagestan last August, not a single petroleum company intends to invest there”. This really is giving the real game away and destroys the article’s whole premise.

Bossuyt goes on to regale us with a definition of ‘anti-imperialism’ that has more affinity with the desperate strivings of tinpot dictators anxious to curry favour among the less than politically literate. It is certainly not the genuine anti-imperialism supported and promoted by the international working class.

The Morning Star, presenting Bossuyt’s article in a way that makes clear its agreement, is giving support to Russia’s reactionary rulers. These ‘communists’ are clearly only in favour of self-determination for states, not nations or national entities. In other words only territories, not peoples, have rights. The Star stance, exemplifies the national socialism from above that became an article of faith for ‘official communism’. The logic of oxymoronic ‘socialism in one country’ leads, as it did in Russia, to socialist revolution’s opposite, to national chauvinism, the enslavement of peoples, and a denial of democracy in a new prison house of nations. The working class is grotesquely ill-served by such apologists.

The Morning Star’s unfettered acceptance of Bossuyt’s article marks another spiral down into the red-brown pit. The article first appeared in Solidaire (October 13 1999), the weekly paper of the WPB, a rabidly Stalinophile organisation with fraternal links to the Socialist Labour Party’s Harpal Brar and his Communist Workers Association.

Jim Gilbert