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. Russian troops are once again bombarding Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. They have occupied a third of Chechnya, and tens of thousands of refugees have fled Chechnya for neighboring regions. In 1994-96 Russia devastated Grozny and drenched Chechnya in blood. That war ended, but the status of Chechnya was left unsettled. Today the Russian troops are back. The Russian government has, in effect, renounced the peace settlement of the 1994-96 war:it no longer recognizes the Chechen government; and it is seeking to maintain Chechnya in Russia no matter what the Chechen people want.
. Russia is using the pretext of fighting rebel bands in Dagestan to justify its invasion of Chechnya. These bands are apparently composed in large part of Chechens (although not sanctioned by the Chechen government) and are under Islamic fundamentalist influence. But it wasn't until the Russians stomped on Chechnya in 1994-96 that fundamentalist influence zoomed. And it is the invasion of Chechnya and the brutal methods of fighting the rebels in Dagestan that may spread both fundamentalism and hatred of Russia throughout the region. At this time, Dagestan--which is quite diverse ethnically--probably doesn't want to leave Russia, and probably doesn't sympathize with the rebel bands. But if the Russian troops continue to leave a bloody trail throughout the region, this could change. Already Russian military activity in Dagestan has instigated ethnic conflicts there.
. The Yeltsin government has also used the pretext of several bloody terrorist bomb blasts in Moscow to spread racist hysteria throughout Russia. Chechens, and darker-skinned peoples, are being expelled from Moscow and other areas of Russia. President Yeltsin and Premier Vladimir Putin are trying to increase their popularity by stepping over heaps of Chechen bodies. This is also the fruit of the years of extreme nationalist agitation by Zyuganov's party (misnamed "communists") and Zhirinovsky's fascist party (misnamed "liberal democrats"): both Yeltsin and the largest opposition parties are trying to divert Russian workers from fighting the real causes of their extreme poverty and oppression.
. Thus the war against Chechnya harms the interests of the working people of both Russia and Chechnya. It promotes chauvinism in Russia while it kills large numbers of Chechens and ruins their country. The Chechens, like the East Timorese, deserve the right to self-determination. Chechnya was annexed to Tsarist Russia by force. If it was to be maintained in Russia despite this history, Russia had to create favorable conditions for Chechen life and development. This might have won over the Chechens to staying with Russia. Instead, both Russian state-capitalist and free-market regimes have continually oppressed Chechnya.
. The Bolshevik revolution inaugurated new policies of freedom for the formerly oppressed nationalities in the Russian empire. It reversed the tsarist policies of oppression. But the revolution decayed, and was replaced by a Stalinist state-capitalist order. This regime no longer had anything to do with socialism or Marxism. In 1944, Stalin ordered the deportation of all Chechens from Chechnya (which was then part of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic--and the Ingush were deported too), and the very name of this nationality was erased from Soviet literature. It was only after Stalin's death that the Chechens were able, eventually, to return to Chechnya. State-capitalism remained in Russia, but the policy towards the national minorities softened. Now state-capitalism has been replaced by the neo-liberal Yeltsin government, and it has stepped up the oppression of Chechnya.
. It is in the interests of the Russian working class, and of socialist activists all over the world, to oppose the oppression of Chechnya. This is not because Chechnya has a socialist or revolutionary government: it doesn't. It is because the working class can only build up its world-wide unity by showing that it opposes unity imposed by tanks and artillery. As we approach the new millennium, the Marxist-Leninist principle of the right to self-determination remains crucial for working class unity.
--Joseph Green, October 22,1999
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Mahy 31, 2003.