Russian leftists desert Chechens

The Chechen war needs revolutionary answers not hand-wringing liberalism

FROM ALL the reports on Moscow’s war in Chechnya, what has been noticeable by its absence is any significant opposition from the ‘left’ within Russia.

Behind the invasion is Yeltsin’s attempt to protect the territorial integrity of Russia and a reactionary hark-back to the defence of the Motherland - as such a barbaric move against all workers and all democratic rights in Russia.

Predominantly what exists on the ‘left’ seems, at best, to have only vacillating and mute criticism, and at worst lines up with the defence of Mother Russia - in its Soviet form. This does not bode well for the future.

The West, including much of the left, hailed the collapse of ‘communism’. They cheered the new ‘democratic hero’ Yeltsin. The reality of Yeltsin’s democracy is quickly being exposed.  From Douglas Hurd to Chancellor Kohl, the West is distancing itself from Yeltsin and sheds crocodile tears for the Chechens in this war.

But the reality of Russian carpet-bagging capitalism had already been exposed. There is little the capitalists in Russia or the West can or will do. Russian capitalism reared its very ugly head at the time of virtual worldwide decline.

The working class has been plunged into conditions far worse than the ravages of disintegrating bureaucratic socialism - even the most staunch defenders of capitalism have to admit this now. But no pain, no gain. Poverty, homelessness, unemployment, crime, disease - the pain falls squarely onto the shoulders of the working class.

In the absence of any independent working class voice conditions can only worsen. If workers in Russia fail to defend Chechnya’s right of self-determination and right to secede, they line up on the side of reaction, acquiescing with those who are forging the very chains of oppression that will be used to enslave them as well. We know from our experience of Ireland that “a nation which oppresses another cannot itself be free”.

Workers in Britain too must support Chechnya’s right of self-determination. However we must also recognise that the future for the working class lies in unity. Unity between workers against our common enemy, whether it is the reactionary leaders of Russia, Chechnya or Britain. It is also in our exploiters’ interests to come together - the dominant trend for imperialism today is integration - in the EU and Nafta. The break-up of Yugoslavia and the ex-Soviet Union bucks against this trend.

But to survive Russia also must integrate its economy with world capitalism and keep together the economy of the ex-Soviet Union which was industrialised as one. The Russian-Kazakhstan joint army is the latest example of their need to stay together to survive.

The interests of the working class lie in overthrowing an exploitative capitalist world economy and replacing it with a world economy under workers’ control. To carry out this revolution workers need to be organised first and foremost against their own bourgeoisie. It is beholden on workers in Russia to take the strongest stance against the brutal oppression of Chechen workers.

Lee-Anne Bates

Steve Kay reports below on the latest reactions of the ‘left’ in Russia to the war in Chechnya

THE WAR in Chechnya may be the beginning of the end for Boris Yeltsin. However, it also provides a chance to examine other aspects of Russian politics than the ‘Hero of the White House’, in particular the Russian left.

The leader of the National Bolshevik Party, Eduard Limonov, has urged Yeltsin to rely on his party on the grounds that the ‘national Bolsheviks’ support the Russian war effort in Chechnya. Yeltsin may not be quite that desperate yet, but he may be ready to accept help from a stranger quarter, as I shall reveal later. Anyway, Limonov’s overture is a sad commentary on the way that ultra-right nationalists can trade under the name of “Bolshevik” in late 20th century Russia.

A more influential force is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, supported by such blasts from the past as Yegor Ligachev. This party has quite a few deputies in the Russian parliament. The liberal Moscow daily Kuranty reported on January 17 that the communists in the parliament tended to be opposed to the war, but did not count among its most resolute opponents. The ones most opposed to the war were the liberals, especially those from the Russia’s Choice, Yabloko and Women of Russia parliamentary groupings. The communists’ leader, Gennady Zyuganov, was taking an “evasive” stance on the war, according to Kuranty: he was doing his best to be absent from crucial votes.

A different response is coming from Viktor Anpilov of the Russian Communist Workers’ Party. According to the Itar-Tass news agency, on January 21 Anpilov spoke at a rally in Moscow consisting of about 2,000 people who were gathered to mark the 71st anniversary of Lenin’s death. Anpilov urged “the working class to rise for an open struggle against the ruling regime”. Anpilov said he supported Lenin’s doctrine on the right to self-determination, including the right of secession, and he declared that he wanted the “federal authorities and the bourgeois Russian state defeated”. A number of other ex-CPSU groups were said to be present at the rally.

Another figure in the Russian Communist Workers’ Party, Boris Gunko, has called for Lenin’s doctrine of “defeatism” with regard to “this imperialistic war” in Chechnya, and demanded a war in the interests of the working class to restore Soviet power.

Outside the confines of the Russian Federation, there was an interesting reaction from Kazakhstan. The Russian-language daily Ekspress, published in the capital Alma-Ata, reported on January 13 that a representative of the ‘left wing’ of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan had called the Chechen conflict a “war by imperialist circles against the freedom-loving people of Chechnya” who were waging a “national liberation struggle”. Ekspress noted that the ‘right wing’ of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan held a different view, but did not explain what it was.

Leaving aside Limonov’s group, which seems to be an aberration, the attitude of forces claiming to stand for communism and Bolshevism appears to range from tepid opposition to the Chechen war to outright hostility to it. It will be worth keeping an eye on the Russian Communist Workers’ Party’s attitude to the war, though Zyuganov’s party counts for more at present.

Although they cannot be considered on the ‘left’, however far the word is stretched, it may be worth ending by examining Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the Liberal Democratic Party. The liberal and business-oriented newspaper Kommersant-Daily reported on January 24 that there were signs of a rapprochement between Yeltsin and Zhirinovsky. The latter is supporting the war in Chechnya and it is sobering to note that Kommersant-Daily thinks Zhirinovsky has been strengthened by the Chechen conflict.