Workers Vanguard No. 919
29 August 2008
Great Power Duel in Georgia
Democrats, Republicans Saber Rattle Against Russia
Russian, Georgian Workers: The Main Enemy Is at Home!
U.S. Bases Out of East Europe, Central Asia, Near East!
AUGUST 26—On the night of August 7, the Georgian government of Mikheil Saakashvili ordered its U.S.-armed and -trained army to invade South Ossetia, a small ethnically distinct province that effectively seceded from Georgia under Russian protection over 15 years ago. The next day, Russia counterattacked and, sweeping through central Georgia, came within 25 miles of its capital Tbilisi, thus demonstrating its intention to re-establish itself as the dominant power in the region. Russian forces have now withdrawn to a security perimeter in the area around South Ossetia and asserted their intention to maintain a permanent “peacekeeping” presence in the province.
The conflict between Russia and Georgia, the latter backed by the U.S., is nothing other than pure power-play politics on both sides. Thus our position is one of revolutionary defeatism: the class interests of the workers of Georgia and Russia lie in a struggle to overthrow their respective capitalist rulers through socialist revolution. The main enemy is at home!
The conflict in Georgia is in no way analogous to the Russian invasions of Chechnya in 1994 and again in late 1999 after several years of de facto Chechen independence. In both those cases, the imperialists did not intervene militarily and the conflict centered on defense of the national rights of the Chechen people against Russia’s murderous attempt to reassert its subjugation of the province. We called for military defense of the Chechen forces and for defense of Chechnya’s independence. We forthrightly declared: Defeat Russian invasion of Chechnya! (see “Independence for Chechnya! Russian Troops Out Now!” WV No. 840, 21 January 2005).
The situation of the Georgian government vis-à-vis Vladimir Putin’s Russia today is vastly different. Saakashvili was groomed to be a puppet of U.S. imperialism from at least 1999, when he attended a State Department “leadership program” in Washington. He came to power in 2004 in one of a series of color-coded “revolutions” financed and engineered by the U.S. in order to counter Russian influence in the region and install pliant pro-American regimes. Washington has been strident in pushing its West European allies to accept Georgia (and Ukraine) as full-fledged members of NATO, and Tbilisi has the distinction of being the only major city in the world linked to its international airport with a highway named after U.S. president George W. Bush! Saakashvili’s army has been built up and trained by the U.S. and its Israeli allies. And Georgia, with a population of fewer than five million, has a contingent of 2,000 troops in Iraq—the third biggest after the U.S. and Britain—that was airlifted back to Georgia by the U.S. following the Russian counterattack.
The New York Times (13 August) claimed in a headline that Georgia had received “mixed U.S. messages” regarding its planned invasion of South Ossetia. But a photo in the same issue belied this claim. It showed five regional U.S. lackeys from Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania—long labeled “captive nations” of the “Soviet empire” by the U.S. imperialists—on an orchestrated solidarity visit to Saakashvili in Tbilisi four days after Russia counterattacked. The U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes (9 August) reported that a NATO military exercise in Georgia, including a thousand U.S. troops, was completed on the eve of the Georgian invasion. The Georgian army was also aided by Israeli military “advisers.” The well-informed Parisian satirical journal Le Canard Enchaîné (20 August) reported:
“The role of the American advisers was perhaps not limited to giving technical support to the Georgian artillery. If what is being said at the Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters in Paris can be believed, it was following a suggestion by these U.S. officers that the Georgians, even before the advance of their troops, launched hundreds of surface-to-surface missiles at the Ossetian capital.”
Today, capitalist Russia is no longer the economic basket case it was in the years following the 1991-92 capitalist counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet degenerated workers state. Enriched by petrodollars from the high price of oil, Putin has been able to rebuild Russia’s military and make it clear that he is prepared to challenge the U.S. in reasserting Russia’s role as the great power in the region. On August 26, Russia formally recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another secessionist province.
Russia’s humiliating slap down of Washington’s Tbilisi client provoked a frenzy of vituperation in U.S. imperialist circles. Bush ludicrously intoned that invading a foreign country “is unacceptable in the 21st century”—this only days before the U.S. occupiers carried out a bloody massacre of some 95 Afghan civilians, including 50 children! The U.S. then finalized a long-planned deal to install an anti-missile “defense” system in Poland, the first in a former Soviet bloc nation, and to deploy American troops there to operate the system. So much for Washington’s claims that such an anti-missile defense is aimed not at Russia but Iran, which has neither intercontinental ballistic missiles nor nuclear warheads!
Capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union paved the way to the emergence of a “one superpower world,” emboldening the U.S. imperialists—no longer challenged by Soviet military might—in their military adventures abroad. The U.S. has since established bases across Central Asia and elsewhere on Russia’s periphery, aimed at the encirclement not only of capitalist Russia, which is still the second largest nuclear power, but also of China, the largest and most powerful of the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states. We call for unconditional military defense of China—and the other deformed workers states of Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam—against imperialism and internal counterrevolution and demand: U.S. bases out of East Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Near East!
The Caucasus and Central Asia are also pivotal for U.S. and West European access to Caspian and Central Asian oil and gas. The huge 1,100-mile-long Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, one of three built to supply West Europe while skirting Russian territory and possible Russian control over the oil flow, passes through Georgia. The European powers, especially France and Germany, have their own ax to grind in the region. Both countries have opposed the entry of Georgia into NATO, while French president Nicolas Sarkozy, as current head of the European Union, presided over the initial ceasefire agreement between Russia and Georgia. Meanwhile, European “military observers” are part of a UN “peacekeeping” force that has been in Georgia since 1993 along the border with Abkhazia. UN out of Georgia now!
Democrats, the Other Party of U.S. Imperialism
The two presumptive candidates to the post of imperialist Commander-in-Chief, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, rushed to condemn Russia. Both called for putting Georgia on a “fast track” to NATO membership. Democratic Senator Joseph Biden demonstratively visited Georgia only days before his selection as Obama’s running mate. On his return, Biden declared: “I left the country convinced that Russia’s invasion of Georgia may be the [sic] one of the most significant event[s] to occur in Europe since the end of communism” (Washington Post online, 18 August). Biden’s tirade is of a piece with Obama’s July 24 Berlin speech, where he upheld the U.S. anti-Soviet crusade as a model for reasserting Washington’s global interests today.
Indeed, Obama’s cautious and uneven opposition to the Iraq war and occupation, which is cheered by the reformist left, is directed at restoring U.S. imperialism’s ability—weakened by the Bush administration’s disastrous policies in Iraq—to project its military and diplomatic power globally. Obama made this clear in an article on “Renewing American Leadership” in Foreign Affairs (July-August 2007), where he calls for a “responsible end” to the U.S. occupation of Iraq in order to redeploy and significantly escalate American military forces and operations around the world. Obama is foursquare behind the murderous occupation of Afghanistan and calls for deploying an additional 10,000 U.S. troops there. It is no accident that Obama’s foreign policy consigliore is one Zbigniew Brzezinski, a veteran of Cold War II who was a central figure in the Democratic Carter administration as it launched an anti-Communist “human rights” campaign against the Soviet Union. This included massive support to Islamic reactionaries in Afghanistan against the Soviet Army, which intervened there in late 1979 in defense of the USSR’s southern flank and on the side of elementary human progress.
Deep hatred for the Bush gang among workers and minorities, in the U.S. and internationally, must not obscure the fact that the Democrats are the other party of imperialist war and racism. We oppose political support to any capitalist politician—McCain, Obama or the Greens’ Cynthia McKinney. We stand for the complete political independence of the working class. Our aim is the forging of a revolutionary multiracial workers party that fights to overturn the capitalist system through workers revolution and to establish a workers government. All U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan now!
Leninism and the National Question
In hyping Georgia’s “democratic” pretensions against supposedly unceasing aggression by a timeless “Russian imperialism,” the bourgeois media have been replete with historical references to the “progressive” Menshevik Georgian regime of 1918-21. The New York Times (10 August) referred to this as “when Bolshevik troops crushed Georgia’s thrilling, and brief, first experiment with liberal rule.” From the standpoint of the proletarian revolution, the suppression of Menshevik Georgia, which was neither “democratic” nor “independent,” was absolutely correct and necessary.
Following the proletarian seizure of power in the October Revolution of 1917, Lenin’s Bolsheviks immediately carried out their commitment to grant the right of self-determination to the myriad peoples oppressed under the tsarist prison house of peoples. The Leninist position on the national question was premised on the full equality of all nations and peoples. The aim was to get the national question off the agenda, to counterpose to all variants of bourgeois nationalism an appeal to the workers for international unity in their class struggle.
Revolutionary Russia was subjected to a three-year-long Civil War by imperialist-backed counterrevolutionary White reactionaries and direct imperialist military intervention by 14 capitalist armies. Those countries—like Georgia, Poland, Finland and the Baltic states—that remained capitalist after achieving independence from Russia became bulwarks of reactionary terror against the working class and beachheads for imperialist intrigues against the Soviet state.
In his 1922 pamphlet, Between Red and White (also known as Social Democracy and the Wars of Intervention in Russia 1918-1921), Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky exposed the myth of “democratic,” “independent” Georgia promoted by the imperialists and their social-democratic henchmen at the time and rehashed by the bourgeois media today, citing the Mensheviks’ own words. In December 1918, the Georgian Menshevik Topuridze assured the Allied imperialists: “I assume that our republic will co-operate with the Allied countries in their fight against the Bolsheviks, with all the means at its disposal.” In another example, he recounted the brutal suppression of a peasant uprising in Ossetia, quoting Menshevik leader Valiko Djugeli, who delighted at the slaughter: “Ossetian villages are burning all around us
. We will be cruel. Yes, we will.” “I begin to understand Nero and the great fire of Rome,” Djugeli recalled another Menshevik telling him after “gazing upon the bright flames.”
When the Mensheviks, who had opposed the proletarian revolution in Russia, took power in Georgia in early 1918 they drove the Georgian Communists underground. “Independent” Georgia immediately invited in the German imperialist army and, following Germany’s defeat in World War I, handed the reins to the British imperialists. Working with Armenian and Georgian nationalists, the British imperialists engineered the overthrow of the Baku Soviet of 1918—based on Azeri, Armenian, Georgian and Russian oil workers—which was the center of Bolshevik power in the Caucasus. The 26 Bolshevik leaders of the Soviet were later captured and executed in September 1918 at the behest of the British. Trotsky dedicated his pamphlet to these heroic Communists and to the hundreds and thousands of others who were persecuted and slaughtered by the Georgian and other bourgeois regimes in the Caucasus.
In February 1921, as a Communist-led uprising broke out in Georgia, the Red Army finally moved in and swept out the imperialist-backed Menshevik government, ushering in workers rule and bringing genuine national liberation. As Trotsky explained in his pamphlet:
“We do not only recognize, but we also give full support to the principle of self-determination, wherever it is directed against feudal, capitalist and imperialist states. But wherever the fiction of self-determination, in the hands of the bourgeoisie, becomes a weapon directed against the proletarian revolution, we have no occasion to treat this fiction differently from the other ‘principles’ of democracy perverted by capitalism.”
For Marxists, the right of national self-determination is not an absolute principle. In the case of Georgia 1921, it was subordinated to defense of the proletarian revolution. Similarly in 1914, with the outbreak of World War I, the question of the rights of small nations occupied by one or another imperialist power was subordinated to the principle of revolutionary defeatism against all the imperialist combatants. Thus the revolutionary Serbian Social Democrats rightly refused to call for Serbian self-determination after the country was overrun by the Austro-Hungarian empire.
A more recent example is the 1999 U.S.-led war against Serbia, carried out by the Democratic Clinton administration in the name of stopping “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo. Much of the reformist left internationally beat the drums for “human rights” imperialism on behalf of “poor, little Kosovo,” with some even supporting direct imperialist intervention. We historically defended the right of self-determination of the Kosovo Albanians, including the right to form their own state or to integrate into a “greater” Albania. But in the buildup to and during the U.S./NATO war, this question had become subordinated to our position of revolutionary defensism: military defense of Serbia without any political support to the revanchist regime in Belgrade. That remained the case when NATO forces supplanted the Serbian army as the effective state power in Kosovo following the 1999 war. As we wrote in “Balkans Tangle” (WV No. 755, 30 March 2001): “With Kosovo now a NATO protectorate, there can be no independent struggle for the national rights of ethnic Albanians or any other national minority in the region which does not first and foremost seek to expel the imperialist ‘peacekeepers’.”
Kosovo’s sham “declaration of independence” from Serbia this February was essentially a diplomatic provocation against Serbia and Russia—paving the way for the conflict in Georgia—and a further incitement against the besieged Serbian minority in Kosovo. We defend the national rights of the Serbs in northern Kosovo, opposing their forcible incorporation into an Albanian Kosovar state. As Marxists, we oppose the poison of nationalism and fight for the class unity of the workers throughout the Balkans in overthrowing all the bloody capitalist regimes of the region. We say: Down with the imperialist occupation of Kosovo! All U.S./UN/NATO troops out of the Balkans now! For a socialist federation of the Balkans!
The Impact of Capitalist Counterrevolution
Particularly in areas of heavy national interpenetration, such as the Caucasus and the Balkans, only under proletarian rule could there be a just and equitable resolution to the conflicting national aspirations of the numerous peoples. The Bolsheviks, in order to accommodate the myriad peoples at different levels of national consolidation, established a variety of Soviet republics, Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics for nationalities, Autonomous Oblasts and Nationality Okrugs for various tribes. In Georgia, Abkhazians and Ossetians had autonomous regions, as did other formerly oppressed peoples such as the Chechens, Tartars and the Bashkirs in the Urals.
Many of the Bolsheviks’ policies were reversed with the growth of the nationalist Stalinist bureaucracy that came to power with the political counterrevolution that began in 1924. The dogma of “socialism in one country” proclaimed by Stalin later in 1924 was to become synonymous with the sellout of countless revolutionary opportunities abroad in the coming decades, while fostering the recrudescence of Russian chauvinism in the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, the collectivized economy of the multinational Soviet workers state laid the basis for the equitable resolution of national conflicts and an enormous leap in social progress. This was reflected in the high levels of education and cultural development and the advancement of women and widespread ethnic intermarriage. Moreover, the Soviet state implemented policies aimed at advancing the most backward regions of the USSR. Georgia was a case in point. An article by Göran Therborn in New Left Review (July-August 2007) titled “Transcaucasian Triptych” pointed out that in the decades after 1921:
“Soviet industrial developmentalism—factories, roads, railways, schools, hospitals, scientific institutions—was to transform the socio-economic landscape of the Caucasus, and a modernizing Tbilisi became the industrial, administrative and cultural hub for the South Caucasus as a whole
“As one of the prime beneficiaries of the Soviet system, Georgia was one of the main losers from the break-up of the USSR.”
Decades of Stalinist mismanagement, lies and bureaucratism prepared the way for the counterrevolutionary breakup of the USSR in 1991-92. The imperialists encouraged the growth of bourgeois-nationalist movements, particularly in the more prosperous non-Russian republics in the Baltics and in Soviet bloc states like Poland, and used these as a battering ram for counterrevolution. The restoration of capitalism in East Europe and the former Soviet Union led to an unprecedented immiseration of the working masses in those countries and exacerbated communalist hatreds. The final undoing of the October Revolution was a world-historic defeat for workers and the oppressed around the world.
To the bitter end, the ICL carried out its Trotskyist obligation to defend the gains of the October Revolution. We hailed the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan against CIA-backed Islamic insurgents. When the imperialists bankrolled the clerical-nationalist Solidarność “union” in Poland as a spearhead for capitalist restoration throughout the Soviet bloc in the early 1980s, we called to “Stop Solidarność counterrevolution!” When Russia’s Boris Yeltsin, working hand in glove with the Bush Sr. White House, launched a pro-imperialist coup in August 1991, the ICL responded with the call, “Soviet Workers: Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution!” (reprinted in Spartacist pamphlet, How the Soviet Workers State Was Strangled, August 1993). We urged the multinational Soviet proletariat to return to the internationalist road of Lenin and Trotsky and to forge an authentically Bolshevik party to lead the fight for proletarian political revolution and to smash the forces of capitalist counterrevolution. Our statement, translated into Russian, was distributed in the tens of thousands throughout the Soviet Union.
In contrast, the reformist left internationally took its cues from the social-democratic and labor lieutenants of the imperialists, condemning the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, hailing Solidarność and cheering on Yeltsin’s pro-imperialist “democrats.” A prime example was the U.S. International Socialist Organization (ISO) and its then cothinkers in Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, who enthused over Yeltsin/Bush’s victory: “Communism has collapsed.... It is a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 31 August 1991). Russian supporters of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) and Alan Woods’ International Marxist Tendency did more than rejoice from afar; they actually sought to restrain workers who tried to oppose Yeltsin’s counterrevolutionary barricades.
The response of much of the reformist left internationally to the conflict in Georgia has ranged from a vague pacifist neutrality—punctuated in the case of the ISO with Cold War “captive nations” rhetoric about “Stalin’s prison-house of nations” (Socialistworker.org, 12 August)—to a pro-Russian tilt. The latter is exemplified by the Workers World Party (WWP), whose calling card has always been to paint various Stalinist and neocolonial bourgeois-nationalist regimes as “anti-imperialist.” In fact, WWP’s “anti-imperialist” posturing has always gone hand in hand with tailing “progressive” (i.e., Democratic) capitalist politicians in the U.S. WWP rejects the class line in favor of the capitalist “lesser evil.”
What support to Putin’s Russia means on the ground can be seen in the grotesque position of the Russian Taaffeites. Since the counterrevolution, these reformists have lined up with the most retrograde chauvinist forces in Russia, including the fascist National Bolshevik Party. While, typically, the CWI issued a sanitized statement for international consumption (“Georgia/Russia Conflict Brings Disaster for Working People of Region,” 11 August), in Russia the group portrays the war against Georgia as a just war for Russian statehood and calls for “people’s militias” to fight for Mother Russia:
“The reaction of ordinary people, who all across the country are enlisting in volunteer brigades, is entirely clear. If there are those who want to come to the aid of fraternal peoples (and the mass volunteer movement is inspired precisely by this—after all, the degenerates who simply want to ‘shoot it up’ aren’t that many) then it would be entirely logical for precisely these people to replace conscripted soldiers. But a people’s militia is dangerous for the authorities and capital, since a people’s militia, on the strength of its elemental proletarian instinct, could act against not only external, but also internal enemies.”
—“Turn the Guns on the Brass!” www.socialism.ru (11 August)
By all accounts such “people’s militias” did follow Putin’s forces into Georgia, where they reportedly killed, looted and burned down the homes of ethnic Georgians. Without giving support to either side in this conflict, Marxists uphold the right of all communities to defend themselves against pogromist terror.
In the aftermath of counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states of East Europe, all the old crap of the pre-World War I era has returned. Ethnic cleansing, daily terror against immigrants and minorities—these are part and parcel of the triumph of the “national principle” which the imperialists pushed throughout the Cold War as a weapon against the Soviet Union. Only when the class principle—i.e., the program of world socialist revolution—prevails over the “national principle” can there be an end to imperialist war, exploitation and oppression.
Washington’s imperialist triumphalism in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union has been eroded. With the global economy on the decline, tensions between the U.S. and European powers are likely to grow. The U.S. imperialists find themselves in a quagmire in Iraq and increasingly in Afghanistan. Their ambitions in the Caucasus have been openly challenged by Russia. But a wounded imperialist beast with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal is an extremely dangerous creature. This underlines both the urgency and seriousness of the task faced by Marxists: the reforging of Trotsky’s Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution, to lead the proletariat in sweeping away imperialist barbarism.