Seven years after 9/11: The invasion of Georgia – A turning point in world relations (Part Two)

In theory, Europe should be a major world power with considerable leverage over Russia and yet the September 1st EU summit on Georgia produced nothing except for clouds of hot air, revealing the complete impotence of "Europe". Meanwhile, the war will have a serious influence on both the domestic politics and foreign relations of Russia for years to come, and will also exacerbate the already festering national question in the region.

The EU - summit for nothing

In theory, Europe should be a major world power with considerable leverage over Russia. After all, the EU's population is more than three times that of Russia, and its wealth more than a dozen times greater. Yet the September 1st EU summit on Georgia produced nothing except for clouds of hot air. Officials and diplomats hurried back from their summer holidays to prepare for an emergency EU summit on the crisis, called by the French presidency. At the summit Europe's politicians loudly condemned Russia and demanded action. Yet all this was just empty rhetoric. The summit consisted of a lot of moaning over Russia's recognition of the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But of actual reprisals there was scarcely a murmur.

There was lots of talk, of course, including talk of an EU mission to "monitor" the situation in Georgia. Originally, they advanced the idea of an EU military force, but this piece of nonsense was rapidly shelved. But when it comes to the EU-Russia relations, the leaders remain divided. The EU is not a single country. Its highest decision-making body, the European Council, is composed of 27 heads of state and government representing the interests of 27 different bourgeoisies. Some time ago, Henry Kissinger asked a very pertinent question: when I want to speak to Europe, who do I ring? There is still no answer to this question. The attempt to arrive at a new constitution that would create a united foreign policy was wrecked by the Irish referendum. But in any case it was a utopian idea.

Europe has a slight problem - it depends heavily on Russian energy. 39 percent of the EU's gas comes from Russia. This means that it has Europe (literally) over a barrel. The summit could not therefore be expected to produce any meaningful response to "Russian aggression", for the simple reason that the various leaders cannot agree even on the most basic question: whether any response at all would be a good idea or counter-productive. The disunity towards Russia shows once again the impossibility of arriving at a capitalist united Europe. How can there be a common European foreign policy when there is no common EU interest?

Take Sweden, for example. It is not dependent upon Russia for its energy supplies at all. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt can therefore afford to strut up and down like a peacock, crowing about principles and demanding, "Russian aggression must not go unpunished". Sad to say, nobody takes the opinions of Stockholm very seriously on this or any other matter. In the first place, it is hard to envisage the Swedish army marching on Moscow. In the second place, the idea occurs to one that this sudden attack of "principle" may not be unrelated to the large and profitable investments held by Swedish capitalists in the Baltic States, which now seem somewhat less safe than they were just a few months ago. Russia must therefore be "punished" for its actions in Georgia for fear that it may be tempted to repeat them in the Baltic region, damaging not only Swedish moral sensitivities but, more seriously, Swedish economic interests.

On the other hand, Germany and Italy are heavily dependent on Russian gas. Thus, while moaning about Russia's bad behaviour in Georgia, they insist that it must not be punished but "engaged as a partner". In recent disputes that led to clashes between Russia and such countries as Poland or Estonia, a favourite line of German diplomats or politicians was to complain that individual countries had no right to take the wider EU's good relations with Russia "hostage". That is to say: "You Poles and Estonians have no right to spoil our good relations with Russia, which supplies us with most of our gas and provides a market for our exports."

Then there is the United Kingdom of Great Britain, which is nowadays neither as united nor as great as in former times. The government of Her Majesty is one of those emitting the loudest demands for "united European action against Russia". Unfortunately, the effect is rather spoilt by the figure of Gordon Brown, trying hard to appear statesmanlike (like Tony Blair) and only succeeding in appearing even more wretched and pathetic than his predecessor. Everybody in Europe knows that the power of Britain is so diminished that it can only find a role in world affairs by acting as the lackey of Washington. In reward, the latter treats it with exactly the same consideration that every master shows to his lackey: that is to say, none at all. Threats from London are met in Moscow by an even more disrespectful guffaw.

The Economist moaned about "weakness, selfishness and division" in the EU in its edition of August 28, shaking  its head sadly at this unedifying spectacle and uttering the following words of wisdom:

"The cold calculation of national interests is a complex business, as any student of game theory can tell you. Disunity would be irrational if EU members always saw their common interests as paramount. But they do not, certainly when it comes to dealing with big third countries, from Russia to China to America."

And The Economist continues its lament:

"Nor do the costs of disunity fall equally. Take energy. It must be in the EU's interests to diversify away from the block's dependence on Russian gas-which is why it supports pipeline projects that would bring in gas from elsewhere. But in each individual EU country the voters expect to have the heating on this winter and the lights on all year as cheaply as possible (nor would they easily tolerate sharing their energy with neighbouring countries in the event of rationed supplies). In recent years, countries from Germany and Italy to Bulgaria and Greece have signed deals that increase the EU's dependence on Russia, and undercut alternative routes. From the perspective of those individual countries, such selfishness probably felt quite rational."

Yes indeed! One could hardly put it better.

All this noise has had no effect in Moscow. On the contrary! The men in the Kremlin were expecting these protests and actually welcome them. The louder the protests, the more glaring is the contrast between deeds and words. The West protests, bangs the table, passes resolutions and issues dire threats - and does precisely nothing.

The war in Georgia marks a decisive shift in Russia's attitude to the West. Konstantin Zatulin, a Duma deputy handling relations with former Soviet republics, put it very clearly when he said:

"The time when we needed Western applause is over. [...] Mikhail Gorbachev made military and political concessions to the West: he agreed to the unification of Germany and the liquidation of the Warsaw Pact but a few years later the country where he was president fell apart."

It is clear that the war will have a serious influence on both the domestic politics and foreign relations of Russia for years to come. Russian troops still remain in Georgia, which shows Russia's attitude to the French-negotiated ceasefire that demanded their withdrawal to pre-war positions and an international discussion about the enclaves. In reality, Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia will not change much. Russia already had almost full control over the two territories anyway. Few countries will follow Russia's recognition, but this will not worry Moscow particularly.

The partition of Georgia lays the basis for a long-term confrontation between Russia and the West, with echoes of the cold war. This does not worry the Russians in the slightest. Medvedev has said: "Nothing scares us, including the prospect of a cold war... we have lived in different situations and we will survive." Russia's elite understands that it holds some important cards in its hand. It controls gas supplies to large parts of Europe. It is a major supplier of oil at a time when oil is a most valuable commodity. The Americans depend on Russia's collaboration for the pursuit of its war in Afghanistan. Moscow can therefore afford to ignore the threats of "non-collaboration" from NATO, the EU and Washington.

 The West, despite all the bluster and rhetoric, will just have to swallow Russia's decision. "When you cross the road you have to check for dangers," declares Mr Zatulin. "The West can apply psychological pressure. But Europe cannot afford to turn down our gas and America needs our help with Afghanistan and Iran." This is only a statement of fact, and the West knows it.

Should we support Russia?

Many on the Left (the present writer included) enjoyed the spectacle of the humiliation of US imperialism. It was quite amusing to see these gentlemen and ladies (never forget the ladies!) twisting and turning like a fish dangling on the end of the line. It was even funnier to read their pathetic excuses and the diplomatic sophistries whereby they attempted to convince the world that what was all right for them in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan was all wrong for the Russians in the Caucasus.

In order to underline their "deep concern" they have now sent Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President - that ultra-reactionary warmonger, profiteer and gangster, to Tblisi to assure Saakashvili of his undying support. What a pretty couple they made! Only this visit did nothing except infuriate Moscow, which, given that it retains a powerful military presence in and near Georgia, was perhaps not the cleverest move to make. But then, the men and women in the White House are perhaps not the cleverest people in the world.

However, while we are happy to see George Bush get a well-deserved black eye, we should not make the mistake of thinking that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Putin and Medvedev are certainly no friends of the Ossetians, the Abkhasians or the working class. They are the representatives of the Russian oligarchy - that reactionary gang of corrupt monopoly capitalists who have got fabulously rich by plundering the assets of the Soviet state. They cannot play a progressive role, either in Russia or the Caucasus or anywhere else.

It was not very difficult for the Kremlin to prepare the population of Russia psychologically for war. In the mind of most Russians, the cause of the war is to be found in America's expansionist plans and desire to establish control over Russia's neighbours. And this perception corresponds to the facts of the case. Inside Russia itself, the war will lead to a temporary strengthening of the Kremlin clique around Putin and Medvedev. The West's hopes for "liberalization" (that is, weakness towards the West) under Medvedev have evaporated. But despite the appearance of strength, the ruling clique in the Kremlin is a hut built on chicken's legs.

Today Putin and Medvedev are the victors. They have taken their revenge upon American for their public humiliation in Kosovo. They have shown the nations that make up GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) what it means to go against Russia. But in reality nothing has been solved.  The ambitions of Russia's ruling clique and its new-found confidence can lead it into new adventures and wars. The war with Georgia was a small war that was ended quickly with very few Russian losses. But step by step Russia can be dragged into more serious conflicts, for example with the Ukraine over Crimea. It is not even ruled out that they might be tempted to reoccupy the Baltic States at a certain stage, using the pretext of the oppressed Russian minorities.

None of these things are in the real interests of the Russian working class, but they reflect the interests of the Russian capitalists, greedy for new markets, raw materials, markets and spheres of influence. It is the duty of Communists to uphold an independent class position at all times and especially in wartime. No confidence in the Kremlin clique! No collaboration with the capitalists and exploiters on the spurious grounds of a non-existent "national unity"! The workers must not be fooled by demagogic appeals to patriotism but must mercilessly unmask the selfish and predatory class interests that are hidden behind them. We stand for the sacred unity of the workers of all countries, against aggressive capitalist wars and annexations.

Lenin always emphasized these ABC propositions of Communism. Yet the so-called Communist Party of the Russian Federation immediately capitulated to the chauvinistic policies of Putin and Medvedev. Instead of exposing the real interests that lay behind this policy, they eagerly seized the Russian flag and joined in the patriotic chorus. Lenin would be turning in his grave! In the same way, the so-called trade unions have tail-ended the chauvinistic bandwagon. This is not surprising since the leaders of the "Communist" Party and the unions long ago abandoned any pretence of an independent class position. They have capitulated to the capitalists in peacetime, so it is logical that they would do so in time of war.

With nobody to offer a class alternative, it is not surprising that many workers have been temporarily affected by the fumes of patriotism. Yet there is a difference. The patriotism of the oligarchs and their political representatives in the Kremlin is only the expression of selfish greed. On the other hand, the patriotism of the ordinary Russian worker bears the seed of an incipient class discontent. For years the Russian worker has witnessed the triumphal march of capitalist restoration. He has seen all the gains of the Russian Revolution liquidated one by one. He has seen state property privatized and bought up by voracious wealthy parasites - both Russian and non-Russian. He has seen a once-proud country humiliated and plundered. He is angry and bitter about it but can see no way out and nobody offers him an alternative.

The Russian workers hate imperialism and therefore the spectacle of the Russian army inflicting what amounts to a severe defeat on the USA is a cause for celebration. In the short run this will strengthen the Kremlin clique. But the heady fumes of patriotism will wear off even more rapidly than those that come from a bottle of vodka. And the headache they leave behind the next day is infinitely more painful.

The fact that Russia is now fully integrated in the capitalist world economy means that it is more subject to the turbulence of the world market. The deepening crisis of world capitalism, with the stagnation of the productive forces, a shortage of credit and a contraction of demand, signifies that the steep rise in the price of oil is coming to an end. Oil prices are already falling back. This will affect the Russian economy in the next period. The combination of an economic slowdown and rising inflation will create favourable conditions for an increase in strikes. The Russian working class will slowly recover its strength and morale through the economic struggle, which will eventually acquire a political and revolutionary content.

The "United Nations"

The reformists and particularly the Lefts always call for the United Nations to intervene to prevent wars. But in fact, the (dis-) United Nations has never prevented any war since it was established after 1945. It is a toothless entity, a talking shop that provides a useful illusion that the small and weak states can have some influence on world affairs when in reality a handful of imperialist states (above all the USA) determine everything. If the UN ever passes a resolution not to their liking, they just ignore it and act as their interests dictate, as was the case in Kosovo and, even more blatantly, in Iraq.

Despite all its protests, the Economist was forced to admit:

"NATO's air war on Kosovo and Serbia in 1999 was, like the Iraq war in 2003, conducted without the legal approval of the United Nations. Both wars were aimed in part at regime change. Last February's recognition by many Western countries of Kosovo's independence from Serbia again lacked formal UN blessing (thanks to Russia's threatened veto). All this made it inevitable that Kosovo, like Iraq, would be cited as justification for other adventures. The West knew that Kosovo's independence, in particular, risked becoming an excuse for Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia."

So here we have it! When it suited their interests, the USA and its allies bombed Yugoslavia without asking the permission of the United Nations. Nor did they consider it necessary to consult the United Nations before invading Iraq. In short, they acted like self-interested troublemakers. That was all right. But when Russia acted in the same way, it was all wrong. The United Nations was not consulted! This was a breach of international law! Solon of Athens once said: The law is like a spider's web: the small are caught and the great tear it up. The USA has done this repeatedly. Yet now it wants to deliver lectures on international law to Russia! The (dis) United Nations is a forum where occasionally the major powers can reach agreement on secondary issues. But where the vital interests of one or other of these powers are involved, the UN has no role to play. Such matters are always resolved in the traditional manner: by force or the threat of force. Such it was; such it will ever be, as long as class society exists.

As one could expect, the UN has played no role whatsoever in the Georgian affair. Neither the Russians nor their American adversaries have paid the slightest attention to it. Nor did Saakashvili bother to telephone the UN before launching his attack on South Ossetia. Only after the debacle did the government of Tblisi make a pathetic attempt to appeal to it (albeit indirectly). They did not appeal to the Security Council (where they would immediately face a Russian veto) but went round the back to the tradesman's entrance, so to speak, appealing to an "international racial discrimination convention from the 1960s", which nobody remembered existed.

Tblisi wants to take Russia to a United Nations court in The Hague over its invasion of South Ossetia, accusing Moscow of ethnic cleansing (conveniently ignoring its own achievements in that field). But even if this were to proceed, it would take years to reach a final decision. Moreover, as Professor Mark Osiel, director of international criminal and humanitarian law at the TMC Asser Institute in The Hague, helpfully pointed out:

"Everything would have to be couched within the specific language of this convention and so the mistreatment of ethnic Georgians has to be described in terms of racial discrimination rather than war crimes or crimes against humanity," And he went on: "Russia can thumb its nose at the court, of course. So the reason for going to the court is not for the immediate advocacy of the judicial relief as such but rather the larger symbolic resonance of a court judgment in favour of Georgia."

Yes, the UN is rather good at symbolic actions, like all the resolutions it has passed calling on the Israelis to respect the rights of the Palestinians for over half a century. The only use to which these resolutions can be put is in the room in the Israeli foreign office marked "gentlemen". And that will be the fate of any resolutions from The Hague on the Georgian question. The attitude of Russia, like that of Israel, is "what we have we hold". And who is going to argue with them? The reformists and pacifists will shake their heads sadly and complain about the sad state of the world we live in. Yes, it is a very sad world where morality always takes second place to selfish interests, greed and naked force. But what is needed is not sentimental declarations in favour of peace, or symbolic gestures, but a serious struggle to change the world.

The future of the Caucasus

It is futile to demand Peace for the Caucasus. Pacifism is an expression of impotence and a deception of the masses. Marxists must say what is. As long as the region is dominated by nationalist cliques and corrupt gangsters there will be war after war. And as long as Russia is ruled by an even more corrupt and rapacious bourgeois oligarchy it will continue to take advantage of these conflicts and wars to strengthen its stranglehold on the region, while the imperialists will do their best to stop it and to strengthen their interests at the cost of more conflicts and wars.

All this is the poisonous fruit of capitalism and the legacy of Stalinism in the past. Capitalism means war, endless and pitiless war on a global scale. There are many fault lines in world politics just as there are in world geography. The fall of the USSR exposed many of the fault lines left over from history - in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Stalinism was unable to solve these national problems and in fact lent them an even more convulsive and explosive character. This fact was cruelly exposed by the collapse of the USSR. But the return to capitalism has made a bad situation a thousand times worse. The coming to power of chauvinist cliques in all the ex-Soviet Republics has created the conditions for endless wars, conflicts, atrocities, terrorism and ethnic cleansing. Militarist demagogy and revanchism have brought misery, poverty, suffering and fratricidal wars to the peoples of the Transcaucasian region.

With the collapse of the USSR North Ossetians, who were Russian citizens, fought against their Ingush neighbours, who were also Russian citizens. This war was the tragic result of Stalin's catastrophic policies on the national question. Hundreds of thousands of Ingush (as well as Chechen) people were exiled on his orders in the 1940s (see Stalin Liquidates Two Republics by Ted Grant).

Much of the land of the Ingush people has not been returned to them. Thousands of Ingush still live in primitive conditions in what are basically refugee camps. The potential for violence at any moment explains why terrorists chose Beslan, a town in North Ossetia, for a horrific terrorist attack on a school on September 1st, 2004. They wanted Ossetians to assume the terrorists were Ingush, and to provoke a new civil war, which could have happened in 2004 and could still happen in the future. Yet the Ossetians who moved onto their land and worked on it for two or three generations, and who also have nowhere else to go, also have rights that need to be considered. This is a complicated and sensitive question.

Take South Ossetia: it is not a homogeneous state. Before the latest conflict it was a complex mix of Georgian and Ossetian villages. Attempts to solve the national question on a capitalist basis will inevitably lead to ethnic cleansing as in Yugoslavia. In the past Georgians and Ossetians lived peacefully side-by-side, as did Serbs and Croats before the breakup of Yugoslavia. The rise of aggressive nationalism is the inevitable concomitant of the restoration of capitalism. This will produce a nightmare in the Caucasus as it has already done on the Balkans. The absorption of South Ossetia into the Russian Federation will solve nothing because Russian capitalism has nothing to offer the poor and unemployed Ossetians. It will not take long for disillusionment to set in. Slowly the people will realize that they have only changed one oppressive master for another. Frustration among the unemployed youth will make them a fertile breeding ground for terrorism. New contradictions will be created, preparing the way for new explosions.

Russia's actions in Georgia have solved nothing and will have created a general sense of injustice. The question will be asked: "What about the thousands of Ingush who have been forced out of their homes by Ossetians?" During the war, many Ingush said "it is not our war". The seeds of many conflicts in the Caucasus were planted by Stalin. His ruthless nationalist policies in the 1930s and 1940s led to the liquidation of the Chechen and Ingush nations. This laid the basis for the recent wars in Chechnya and the general instability in the whole area today.  After years of bloody fighting, Chechnya is too exhausted to fight another war with Russia at present, although in ten years' time the question of independence of Chechnya may arise again.

Russia maintains stability in the Caucasus by military force and fear. At the same time that Russia was "liberating" South Ossetia, its security services were intimidating human-rights activists in Ingushetia and Dagestan. Its methods differ little from those of the separatists and terrorists they are fighting. This will lead to an intensification of national conflicts in the Caucasus in the future. There is really no solution other than a socialist revolution and the re-establishment of a Soviet Transcaucasian Federation on the basis of absolute equality, fraternal relations and the democratic control of the workers and peasants - the only classes who have no interest in conquering other people's lands and oppressing other nations.

The mass of ordinary workers and peasants in Georgia do not want to fight to control South Ossetia. Georgian reservists who were called to fight deserted, while the soldiers on the ground were said to have been apologetic for the invasion. But the actions of the Russian army in bombing towns like Gori will have caused revulsion and hatred towards Russia. Similarly, the driving out of Georgian peasants and the burning of their homes and villages will stoke the fires of Georgian revanchism and play into the hands of the chauvinists. Out of such things future wars are prepared. 

What is the solution?

Marxists recognize the right of nations to self-determination. It is a democratic right, like any other democratic right, and as such must be supported by the working class. However, as Lenin explained many times, it is not an absolute right that we must inevitably support under each and every circumstance. Marx and Engels in 1848-9 supported the national struggles of the Poles and Hungarians but did not support those of the Czechs and South Slavs. The reason was that in the given historical context, the national liberation struggle of the  Poles and Hungarians were directed against Russian tsarism and served to weaken its stranglehold on Europe (and especially on Germany), whereas the South Slavs and Czechs were being used by Russian tsarism and the Austrian Empire to strengthen reaction and crush the Poles and Hungarians. In other words, their attitude to the national question and the right to self-determination was dictated by the concrete conditions of the class struggle internationally.

In approaching the national question and the right to self-determination today we must adopt the same scientific method of Marx, Engels and Lenin. In every case we must ask ourselves: does this development help or hinder the cause of the working class and the international socialist revolution? We must cut across the clouds of sentimental and moralistic rhetoric about "poor little nations", "aggressors and victims", "humanitarian aid" and "peacekeeping missions" and learn to detect the class interests that lie behind the smokescreens of diplomacy. We must ask ourselves: in whose interests is this war being waged? As the lawyers say, Cui bono? (Who stands to gain?). Then we will not make a mistake.

In the present case, if we are asked whether we support Georgia's right to self-determination, we will answer in the affirmative. The Georgian people have the right to determine their own destiny and to live peacefully in their own homeland without fear of foreign aggression. We would argue that it would have been far better to have maintained the Soviet Union and to have fought for a genuine regime of Soviet democracy, as in the days of Lenin and Trotsky, and to recreate the old Transcaucasian Soviet Federation, with full autonomy and equal rights for all the constituent republics. Naturally, this would have to be a voluntary union and the right to secede would be guaranteed. But we are certain that the benefits of such a federation would be so obvious that there would be no question of that.

There were clearly serious problems with the old Soviet Union as it degenerated under Stalin on bureaucratic-totalitarian lines. But those problems now pale into insignificance when compared to the horrors that have come from the break-up of the USSR. Endless wars, terrorism, unemployment, poverty and despair: these have been the real consequences of the move towards capitalism in the Caucasus. Instead of a voluntary and fraternal union we have hatred and fratricidal strife that sets brother against brother and sister against sister, we have bloody militarism that wastes the riches produced by the sweat and toil of the working class, and we have rabid chauvinism that incites the workers of one nationality to slaughter those of another.

Yes, we recognize the right of the people of Georgia to self-determination, but not unconditionally. We do not defend their right to oppress other small nations, such as the Ossetians and the Abkhazians. Do we defend the right of the Abkhazian and Ossetians to self-determination? Yes, we do. But what kind of self-determination is it that depends entirely on subsidies from Moscow and allows itself to be used as the small change in the diplomatic intrigues of the latter to subvert and oppress the Georgians? In what way does this further the cause of socialism and the working class? In no way! This kind of "self-determination" is a fraud and a lie. It is merely a convenient smokescreen to disguise the ambitions and greed of a larger power, namely Russia, which wants to take back its old possessions in the Caucasus. The absorption of these peoples into Russia will give them about the same "self-determination" as that enjoyed by the Chechens - that is, none at all, just as there is no real self-determination in North Ossetia, Dagestan, or any other region in Russia.

On the basis of capitalism no lasting solution can be found for the national question, whether in the Caucasus, the Balkans or the Middle East. Any attempt to "solve" the national question on the basis of capitalism can only lead to new wars, terrorism, "ethnic cleansing" and new waves of refugees, in a vicious spiral of violence and oppression.    The question of the right to return for all refugees can never be solved on a capitalist basis. It would inevitably mean increased competition for scarce resources, jobs, houses, medical assistance, education, and other services. If there are not enough jobs and houses for all, it would inevitably fuel the fires of national or religious tensions. Partial reforms will not solve the problem. A root-and-branch solution is necessary. One cannot cure cancer with an aspirin!

It is entirely possible for the peoples of the Caucasus to live together in peace and harmony. Why should it not be? These nations lived together for hundreds of years. They have a long tradition of peaceful coexistence and they can rebuild this again with good will on all sides. However, this perspective is utterly impossible under capitalism. It requires a complete break with the bourgeois regime. What is necessary is to return to the programme and policies of Lenin and the Communist International, when it was still a genuinely revolutionary organization. Tsarist Russia was a prison house of the nationalities. The Bolsheviks solved the national question after 1917 when the workers and peasants overthrew the old oppressive regime and took power into their own hands.

Before 1917 there was terrible ethnic strife between the Azeris and Armenians, characterized by bloody pogroms of the Armenians in Baku, encouraged by the capitalists and the tsarist authorities. Many would have said that it was impossible for Azeris and Armenians to live peacefully together, but this was proved to be wrong. The Bolsheviks organized a Transcaucasian Soviet Federation, with autonomous Soviet Republics. On the basis of fraternal relations and complete equality, the old national hatreds were soon relegated to the background.

Let us cite one striking example. There is an Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan called Nagorny Karabakh. In 1923 the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan offered to hand control of this region to Armenia, but the Armenians did not accept. Why? Because they considered that the national problem was solved and did not attach any importance to the question of Nagorny Karabakh. After the break-up of the USSR, however, the issue of Nagorny Karabakh came to the forefront of relations between the bourgeois nationalist governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia. War broke out and it is still going on, although at a lesser intensity than before. Many people have been killed or driven from their homes and the national enmity between Azeris and Armenians has increased, poisoning relations between two small countries.

Is this really what the people of the Caucasus want? Of course not! These splendid people want to live in peace with their neighbours. They long for the stability and relative prosperity they enjoyed in the days of the Soviet Union, despite all the problems and deficiencies. A few years ago I was in Saint Petersburg and was invited to a small bar (and shop) that was owned by a Georgian. The staff was entirely made up of people from the Caucasus: Azeris, Armenians etc. We sat around the table, eating and drinking beer together. Then unexpectedly I was asked to give a political speech. I was unprepared for this and tried to refuse but they insisted. So I decided I would speak my mind without any diplomacy. I said approximately the following:

"We are gathered here around this table - people from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan - eating, drinking and conversing together as true friends. That is as it should be. I know the Caucasus. It is like a beautiful garden. It should be a paradise on earth. But instead they have turned it into a hell. There are constant wars in which brother slaughters brother. This is what capitalism has brought to the Caucasus! We know that there were many things wrong with the USSR. But nobody can deny that the nationalized planned economy gave everybody a job and a home. And there was peace between the peoples. What is needed is a socialist solution, genuine socialism based on a nationalized planned economy but with genuine democracy, and a socialist federation based on complete equality and fraternal relations."

When I had finished speaking, I noticed that the people around the table were visibly moved. Some had tears in their eyes. They remembered how things were and they contrasted this with the intolerable state of affairs now prevailing in their beautiful homeland. I am firmly convinced that the overwhelming majority of the working people of the Caucasus would react in exactly the same way. This is the only message that can give hope to the peoples: the revolutionary international message of Marxism.

London, 11 September 2008

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