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Workers Vanguard No. 1043

4 April 2014

Crimea Is Russian

Self-Determination and Russian Intervention: Strengthening Our Position

A letter we received from a sympathizer of the International Communist League points out a significant flaw in our principled support to self-determination of Crimea and the intervention by Russia that allowed the referendum enabling that right to take place. In agreement with the line taken in “Ukraine Coup: Spearheaded by Fascists, Backed by U.S./EU Imperialists—Crimea Is Russian” (WV No. 1041, 7 March 2014), our sympathizer, Jonah, wrote in his March 14 letter that “as the Crimea is predominantly Russian and the majority favors unification with Russia, Marxists are bound to support that democratic demand for self-determination, while taking note of the fate of non-Russian minorities in the equation.” The problem, he wrote, is the article’s statement that support to Russian intervention was principled “so long as Russia were to implement special rights for the Crimean Tatar minority, who are plenty oppressed under Ukrainian rule.”

The article in WV No. 1041 further declared that “if Russian forces use the takeover of the Crimea to deepen the oppression of the Tatars, it would then be unprincipled to support the Russian intervention.” Jonah wrote: “That sentence and the provision on ‘special rights for the Crimean Tatar minority’ comes off as placing the self-determination for the Crimean Russians as being conditional on how well the Crimean Tatars are treated by Russia if and when the Crimea votes to become part of Russia. If that’s a criteria for self-determination then I don’t see how self-determination can be supported anywhere” (emphasis in original). He observed, “If the difference is the presence of Russian troops in the Crimea, then I don’t see how or why that would change matters. Even if the Crimea had managed to successfully secede peacefully from Ukraine (without needing Russian intervention) then Russian troops would still enter the Crimea when it became part of Russia proper.”

Jonah is correct in pointing out this problem, and we thank him for his letter, which is too long to print in its entirety. The condition we placed on support to Russian intervention, and hence to the exercise of self-determination by the Crimean majority, bent to the pressure of the imperialist propaganda barrage directed against Russia and its bourgeois strongman, Vladimir Putin. The U.S. and European Union imperialists and their media hacks, having backed the fascist-infested coup that overturned the Yanukovich regime in Ukraine, raised a hue and cry about a non-existent Russian “invasion” of Crimea—in fact Russian troops from the Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol were already there. They also condemned its “annexation” of Crimea, even comparing this to Nazi Germany’s Anschluss of Austria.

As we wrote in WV No. 1041: “Contrary to how it is often presented in the Western media, the Russian intervention into Crimea is not an intervention into a ‘foreign country,’ notwithstanding Crimea’s formal status as part of Ukraine.” Crimea was first incorporated into Russia in the late 18th century, when it was wrested from the Ottoman Empire. Our article noted: “It was only in 1954 that Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ceded Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Later, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, this took on significance, as the fate of the area was the subject of heated disputes between the now bourgeois states of Russia and Ukraine.” Putin’s intervention was essentially defensive, aiming among other things to protect the Black Sea Fleet.

Jonah wrote that the fears of the Tatar minority “do not invalidate the democratic right of the Russian Crimean majority to seek unity with Russia, any more than the fears of aboriginal people in Quebec invalidate the Quebecois majority’s right to independence.” (On the oppression of the Tatars, including their mass expulsion from Crimea by Stalin’s bureaucratic regime, see WV No. 1041.) Revolutionary Marxists seek to mobilize the working class in defense of oppressed minorities as part of the struggle against the capitalist class enemy. Thus, while advocating independence for Quebec, our Canadian comrades of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste are intransigent fighters for the rights of Native peoples and other minorities, whether under English Canadian or French Québécois capitalist rule. This includes defending the right of Native peoples with a land base to decide their own future, including the possibility of secession.

In Russia, a crucial task for Marxists is championing the rights of the Muslim Tatars and other ethnic and national minorities. In supporting Russian intervention in Crimea, we have not given the least amount of political support to Putin’s Russian-chauvinist capitalist regime. It is the duty of Marxists to oppose all forms of nationalism and Great Power chauvinism. Upholding the right of nations to self-determination, as V.I. Lenin explained in the article reprinted on page 2 of this issue, is a crucial means of combating nationalist prejudices and breaking down the barriers to uniting workers of different countries and nations in the fight for socialist revolution.

Crimea: Not a Case of Interpenetrated Peoples

In “Ukraine Turmoil: Capitalist Powers in Tug of War” (WV No. 1038, 24 January), we quoted an ICL resolution, first printed in January 1995, stating that the breakup of the Soviet Union following capitalist counterrevolution revealed a “considerable interpenetration of peoples and of economic production units which were inherited from and geared to a (bureaucratically) centralized planned economy.” The quoted resolution continued: “Thus in a number of regions (particularly eastern Ukraine, Crimea, northern Kazakhstan) a democratic resolution of the national question cannot be achieved except through a socialist federation or federations of workers states transcending national boundaries.” The resolution was part of our attempt to grapple with a historically unprecedented event: the counterrevolution that destroyed the degenerated Soviet workers state and unleashed an orgy of nationalist bloodletting throughout much of its former territory.

In fact, the use of the term “interpenetrated peoples” in regard to Crimea does not reflect reality, and it was not repeated in our last two issues. The resolution was superseded in April 1995, when the ICL called for a plebiscite so that the people of Crimea and Chechnya could decide their fate, a tacit recognition that self-determination for those areas could be achieved democratically short of the overthrow of capitalist rule. Jonah put the question, “If that situation of interpenetration still exists in the Crimea with the Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar populations, then why did WV come out with ‘Crimea is Russian’?”

When we speak of interpenetrated peoples, we are not talking about any mixture of nationalities and ethnicities within a single state, which is the norm in the world. Rather, we are addressing situations where two (or more) peoples claim the same territory, e.g., Israel/Palestine and Northern Ireland, and the programmatic implications for Leninists. While many reformist leftists divide the world into supposedly progressive and reactionary peoples, with democratic rights accorded only to the former, we uphold the right to self-determination for all nations, as Lenin did. In cases of interpenetrated peoples, as the ICL’s International Declaration of Principles states, “the democratic right of national self-determination cannot be achieved for one people without violating the national rights of the other. Hence these conflicts cannot be equitably resolved within a capitalist framework. The precondition for a democratic solution is to sweep away all the bourgeoisies of the region” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 54, Spring 1998).

Crimea is fully 97 percent Russian speaking, with even the ethnic Ukrainian minority heavily Russified. This is in contrast to the Caucasus, which is populated by many peoples speaking different languages. Nor is it like Northern Ireland, with its deeply split but roughly numerically equal Protestant and Catholic populations. The recent referendum in Crimea and its aftermath have underlined that the region is not a case of geographically interpenetrated peoples but one centrally defined by its Russian history and ethnic makeup. Just under 97 percent of voters favored reunification with Russia, although many Tatars boycotted the referendum. Furthermore, Russia’s reabsorption of Crimea was accomplished with virtually no bloodshed or any real resistance. The bulk of Ukrainian troops and officers in Crimea simply went over to the Russians.

Faced with a fait accompli, Barack Obama, with the assistance of his imperialist allies, has mustered some sanctions, low grade for now, against various Russian figures while also showing some force through increased air patrols in the Baltic states and a heightened military presence in Poland. This has been accompanied by an outpouring of bellicose statements replete with hypocrisy and double-speak. Addressing his European Union and NATO allies in Brussels on March 26, Obama condemned “the invasion of Crimea” and “Russia’s annexation” while admitting that Russia is not about to be dislodged from Crimea through military force. Obama passed off the U.S. occupation of Iraq, which destroyed an entire society and racked up hundreds of thousands more victims of American imperialism’s worldwide depredations, as leaving a “fully sovereign Iraqi state.” And after all, he said, it wasn’t about grabbing resources “for our own gain.”

This can be believed about as readily as Obama’s “shocked, shocked” denial that “America is somehow conspiring with fascists inside of Ukraine.” Washington has assiduously backed the Svoboda party—the more “moderate” face of Ukrainian fascism—throughout the turmoil that culminated in the coup against Yanukovich, as a result of which several fascists won high government offices, including deputy prime minister, prosecutor general and minister of defense. There is nothing new in Washington’s collaboration with such scum. After the Soviet Red Army drove out the Nazi invaders and their local hitmen in World War II, the U.S. enrolled and bankrolled Svoboda’s forebears—the fascist gangs led by Stepan Bandera, infamous for massacres of Jews and Poles—as soldiers in the Cold War against Communism.

“Leftists” Echo Imperialist Propaganda

Most of the reformist left in the U.S. has willingly served as tribunes in the imperialists’ verbal blitzkrieg over Russian intervention in Crimea. In WV No. 1041, we noted that the International Socialist Organization (ISO) retailed bourgeois propaganda by prettifying the mass protests in Kiev, replete with fascists, as a fight for “democracy,” describing the protests as “action from below.” Now over Crimea, the ISO asserts that it stands in a “third camp”—encapsulated in the slogan, “Neither Washington nor Moscow”—as it did when the Soviet workers state existed. In reality, the “third camp” was always the camp of imperialism, as the ISO proved time and again by backing counterrevolutionary forces arrayed against the USSR in the name of “democracy.”

Having reveled in the destruction of the Soviet workers state in 1991-92, the ISO continues to direct its fire to the east as U.S. imperialism ramps up the pressure against capitalist Russia. While objecting to what it calls “the imperialist conflict being fought out in Ukraine,” the ISO shows its real animus by shamelessly echoing the Western propaganda mills: “Russian imperialism has made its move to retain political and economic domination over the country with its takeover of Crimea—this should be unconditionally condemned by all revolutionaries claiming to be anti-imperialists” (“Ukraine and the National Question,”, 11 March).

The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), for its part, has given abstract recognition to the national rights of Crimea’s majority population only to say that it really doesn’t matter because the need of the hour is the call raised by its Russian group on March 2: “Russian Imperialism—Out of Crimea!” The CWI is the same outfit whose leading section in Britain capitulated to its imperialist rulers by refusing for decades to call for British troops out of Northern Ireland, where they along with local police and Protestant paramilitaries brutally oppressed the Catholic minority.

As we observed in U.S./EU Imperialist Frenzy as Crimea Rejoins Russia” (WV No. 1042, 21 March), the CWI’s stance was “little more than a left-sounding cover for the U.S./EU position that a vote for self-determination in Crimea is invalid because the U.S./EU imperialists say it is invalid.” On March 4, the CWI elaborated its position, declaring: “What is happening now will not lead to genuine self-determination; it will only mean that Crimea becomes a Russian protectorate, like South Ossetia, or, even worse, an occupied region with a dictatorial ruler, like Chechnya’s Kadyrov” (“Russian Troops Take Up Positions Throughout Crimea,”

Here the CWI willfully conflates very different situations. Unlike Crimea, the peoples of South Ossetia and Chechnya, both located in the Caucasus, are not Russian. The Russian chauvinists who rule in Moscow certainly know the difference, as seen in their two brutal wars against the Chechens, who had attempted to assert their right to secede. Russia’s wars against Chechnya required that Marxists support the call for Chechen independence and demand: Russian troops out!

As for South Ossetia, shortly after the collapse of the USSR it seceded from the former Soviet republic of Georgia under the protection of the Russian bourgeois state. In 2008, the invasion of South Ossetia by Georgia, which was heavily supported by the U.S., touched off a war with Russia, with Abkhazia also attempting to secede from Georgia. In that war, the national rights of the South Ossetians and Abkhaz were subordinated to what was pure power-play politics on the part of both Russia and imperialist-backed Georgia. The Marxist position was one of revolutionary defeatism: the class interests of the workers of Georgia and Russia lay in a struggle to overthrow their respective capitalist rulers through socialist revolution.

Defense of self-determination for the people of Crimea has posed an acid test for all organizations claiming to oppose capitalist imperialism, a system in decay that was given a new lease on life by the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union. The reformists, true to form, have directed their main fire away from the U.S. capitalist enemy and its European allies. Combatting the imperialist blowback to Crimean self-determination and the Russian intervention is part of the perspective raised in the conclusion of our last issue’s article: “The crucial task facing revolutionaries is to forge Bolshevik parties committed to the struggle against imperialism and all manifestations of nationalism, charting a course of independent working-class struggle leading to the fight for new October Revolutions.”


Workers Vanguard No. 1043

WV 1043

4 April 2014


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