Friday, 15 August 2008

Crimes and Misdemeanours

According to the United Nations there are 150,000 refugees resulting from Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia. As part of the ceasefire agreement, and peace plan being worked out between Russia, the EU, and US Russia has begun the process of stabilising South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and has said that the enxt stage will be to assist an international investigation into the war crimes committed by Georgia in its invasion. Of course, that might mean looking at the Russian actions in Georgia too. Wars are never fought by the Marquis of Queensbury rules by any of the contending parties.

When Serbia invaded Kosovo in response to the attacks of the KLA against Kosovan Serbs, and in order to reassert Serb control over the area, there was quite rightly a huge hue and cry against such Serb aggression. The Serb leader, Milosevic was brought before the International Criminal Court to answer for Serb atrocities. The US was one of those that was keen to see such war criminals bought to book. Russia is now proposing that a similar process be undertaken in respect of the war crimes of Georgia in South Ossetia. If the Georgian President, Saakashvilli has any sense he will either try to get Georgia accepted as America’s 51st State, or else will take out US citizenship, because although the US is keen to see the citizens of other countries bought to book for war crimes, it is not itself a member of the International Criminal Court, and will not allow its citizens to be brought before it!

There remain conflicting reports coming out of Georgia. British media continues to report that Russian troops are occupying various parts of Georgia, and Georgia which is the source of many of these reports continues, not unexpectedly, to make claims of continuing Russian military action inside Georgia. However, yesterday US Defence Secretary Bob Gates, whilst continuing, again not unexpectedly, to make strong comments about Russian action, also not only made clear that the US was not going to go to war over this, but that most if not all the Georgian claims about Russian action had proved to be false. Indeed, it seems that behind the scenes both EU governments and the US Government have been more than a little bit pissed off with the adventurist action of Saakashvilli, which has put them in an awkward position. Having said, that if Russia took advantage of the Georgian adventure into South Ossetia to teach its neighbour something of a lesson, and send out a message about NATO encroachment on its borders, the US it is clear is using, in turn the Russian, action against Georgia, to bolster its presence in Georgia, which holds for the US an important geo-strategic position.

The fact, is, however, that none of this is good for workers. It has become clear that as always happens in such situations, South Ossetians are now taking revenge on Georgians, both inside Ossetia, and on its periphery. This can only weaken the unity of the working class, precisely at a time, when that unity is most important. The Russian response to Georgian aggression has also, understandably created a feeling of hostility between Georgians and Russians – though in an interview with one Georgian woman casualty on Newsnight last night, her hatred of the Russians was matched with a hatred of the Georgian Government for causing the situation by its adventure in the first place. It will take a lot of work to rebuild confidence and friendship between Russian, Georgian and Ossetian workers, a friendship, which as a result of first Tsarist, and then Stalinist oppression of Georgians, and Georgian oppression of Ossetians, was not tremendous to begin with. The absence of any strong Labour Movement as the result of years of Stalinism, and its replacement in Georgia at least with a right-wing, and less than democratic capitalism, and certainly the absence of any decent workers Party that could have offered workers across the various borders an alternative to the nationalism of the current leaders does not help either. But, the building of such unity of the working class, and indeed the building of a Workers Party that can provide such an alternative both to Georgian Capitalism, and Russian Stalinism is the only real long term solution.

The South Ossetians as with the Abkhazians have a right of self-determination. Socialist should have fought for that right against any attempts to violently suppress it by Georgia. Consequently, socialists had to condemn in the strongest terms the Georgian murderous attacks on Ossetia. But our, solution to such aggression is not to look to a response from our class enemies, or from the Stalinist bureaucracy which oppresses workers in much the same way. There could be no more reason for socialists to support the Russian response to Georgian aggression than there was to support, or even see as “good” the US response to Serb aggression in Kosovo, or a US or Israeli attack on Iran. To look to these alien forces is not only to dupe and mislead the working class, but is to demobilise it, and to sow illusions in the progressive nature of those alien and hostile forces.

But, there is another point here. The South Ossetians, however valid their claim for self-determination, are a small population. In comparison with the Russian, and Georgian working class they are tiny. The conflict their demand for that self-determination has caused has created not only tremendous antagonism between those two working classes, but has also led to considerable bloodshed from them on both sides. Had, and this is not yet an impossibility, the US had much greater forces in Georgia, for example had Georgia been a part of NATO, then not only could much greater carnage have ensued, but it could have resulted in a World war that would have spelled the end of human civilisation. However, harsh, cruel and reprehensible it may seem, socialists cannot support the rights of a tiny minority on that basis, when the consequences for the working class in general are at stake. Marxists are not moralists, we do not begin from an analysis of what to do based on an evaluation of moral rectitude, but on the basis of a class analysis, and from that an analysis of what best represents of the working class as a whole. That is why Marxists begin in such situations with a solution based on the building of working class unity across borders. It is why Marxists do not take the bourgeois democratic demand for self-determination on its own, but only as part of a socialist programme. Its why they cannot put the interests, for instance, of the tiny Iraqi working class above the interests of the world working class in fighting US imperialism in Iraq, and demanding its withdrawal. Its why they cannot side with Israel in launching a pre-emptive strike against Iran, or a similar attack by the US itself. Its why they cannot support the demand for self-determination for Kosovo – though of course they support the RIGHT of Kosovans to struggle for that demand by means of proletarian internationalism – when that demand could spark a conflagration throughout the Balkans worse than that which has flared up in Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia. Its why they cannot support the demand for self-determination for Tibet, though again they would support the RIGHT of Tibetan workers to struggle for that demand again by methods of proletarian internationalism, because of the huge division in the Tibetan and Chinese working classes that such a nationalist civil war would bring.
Marxists seek to resolve the National Question by means of building working class unity, by utilising that unity to fight for consistent democracy for all within the borders of the given state, and ultimately if such struggle cannot address the legitimate needs of a given aspiration that very class unity provides the basis for the separation of the two peoples with the minimum of opposition, and the maximum support by the workers of the dominant nation for the workers of the oppressed nation in exercising that right. Any other course of action has nothing to do with Marxism, it is simply bourgeois nationalism, and to be condemned in the harshest terms.


Chris S said...

I have added you to my blog roll, i enjoyed your post.

Boffy said...


Thanks for that. Perhaps, you could invite me to be a member of your blog too. Having viewed it, I could perhaps add you to my blogroll too.

Boffy said...

I'm adding Serge's Fist to my Blogroll