TJ Petrowski

Soviet Nationalities Policy and Territorial Delimitation: “Divide at impera” or something else?

Have you ever looked at a map of Central Asia and the Caucasus? If you answered ‘yes’, then you have more than likely wondered why the borders of many of the now independent states in these regions of the former Soviet Union are so confusing and seemingly irrational. The strategic and fertile Ferghana Valley, for instance, appears to be haphazardly divided between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, while in the Caucasus Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan are de facto independent, and Nakhchivan is totally separated from Azerbaijan by Armenia.

Most authors attribute this confusing patchwork of borders to the sinister ‘divide-and-conquer’ policies of the Soviet Union, specifically Joseph Stalin.

This explanation is attractive to many Western authors for a number of reasons: 1) it transforms the Soviet Union’s nationalities policy into a simple Good vs. Evil narrative; 2) it serves to demonize the Soviet Union as an oppressive empire no different than its tsarist predecessor; 3) it has long been the policy of empires, whether ancient like King Philip II of Macedon (359-226 BC), in which the phrase “divide at impera” (divide and conquer) is usually attributed to, or contemporary, such as the colonial empires of Britain, France, Belgium, and other European colonial powers.

Yet a serious examination of Soviet nationalities policy and the delimitation of national territories disproves the ‘divide-and-conquer’ narrative of the origins of many of these now independent states.

A question that is almost never asked by those proponents of the Soviet ‘divide-and-conquer’ narrative is why the Soviet Union would have sought to divide and conquer subject peoples?

Most proponents of the ‘divide-and-conquer’ narrative, implicitly if not explicitly, attribute these policies to the Soviet Union’s empire-like aspirations. Despite its attractiveness to Western writers, however, empire is a poor explanation of alleged Soviet machinations. As Michael Parenti writes, “empires do not just pursue ‘power for power’s sake.’ There are real and enormous material interests at stake, fortunes to be made many times over.” The existence of empire is predicated on a socio-economic system “whereby the dominant investor interests in one country bring to bear their economic and military power upon another nation or region in order to expropriate its land, labor, natural resources, capital, and markets-in such a manner as to enrich the investor interests,” that is, imperialism.

Was the Soviet Union imperialist? “The answer should be clear enough,” writes Parenti. If “imperialism is a system of economic expropriation, then it is hard to describe the Soviets as ‘imperialistic.’ They own not an acre of land, not a factory or oil well in the Middle East or Eastern Europe. Moscow’s trade and aid relations with other socialist countries are decidedly favorable to those countries, contrary to the imperialist pattern in which wealth flows from the client states to the dominant nation.” Thus, according to Parenti, the Soviet Union can’t be described as an ‘empire’, since it wasn’t imperialist. Since the Soviet Union wasn’t imperialist, it is hard to imagine the Soviet Union benefiting from dividing and conquering subject people. [1]

Even if one rejects Parenti’s analysis and falsely claims the Soviet Union was an imperialist state, the ‘divide-and-conquer’ narrative of the Soviet Union’s nationalities policy and national territorial delimitation ignores a crucial historical detail: there was no unity to be divided.

In Central Asia, according to Adeeb Khalid, the Soviet Union wasn’t confronted “by a unified, cohesive local society, but a bitterly divided one. Conflicts within Central Asian society were just as important as conflicts between Europeans and Central Asians in the early Soviet period…As historians, we should rid ourselves of the phantom of Central Asian Muslim unity and look at Central Asia as an arena of multifaceted conflict.” [2] For this reason, Khalid argues that “We should therefore be wary of claims of a primordial unity of the people of Turkestan that was shattered by Soviet machinations. Turkestan was quite literally a creation of the Russian conquest, and it encompassed no unity.” [3]

Khalid’s conclusions are supported by Adrienne Lynn Edgar in her study of Turkmenistan. “In creating national republics in Central Asia,” Edgar writes, “Moscow did not divide a unified region, but merely institutionalized” the divisions that already existed [4]. According to a 19th century Russian officer quoted by Edgar about the Turkmen people, “The hatred of the various Turkmen clans toward each other is scarcely less than their hatred toward other peoples.” [5] Moreover, as part of Soviet Union’s larger nationalities policy, Central Asia was not singled out for delimitation, as new “national territories were springing up everywhere in the Soviet Union in the 1920s,” such as those for Ukrainians, Tatars, etc. To exclude Central Asia from this process “would have been tantamount to admitting that they were too ‘backward’ to travel the path of other Soviet peoples and become modern Soviet nationalities.” [6]

In the Caucasus, another volatile region, the Soviet Union found itself in a similar situation. In his study on the origins of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, Arsene Saparov describes how “The Bolsheviks inherited a region [the Caucasus] plagued by ethno-political conflicts which now became their problem.” [7] Indeed, the Caucasus had experienced widespread inter-ethnic violence before the Bolsheviks ever came to power, such as the Armenian-Tatar massacres, which left hundreds dead.

As a tactic used by an imperialist power to weaken a rival power to exploit the latter’s land, labour, and resources, the ‘divide-and-conquer’ narrative is inapplicable in the Soviet context. The Soviet Union was not an imperialist power and, even if it were, the regions it allegedly sought to ‘divide-and-conquer’ were already thoroughly divided.

What, then, explains the cartographic nightmare that is the borders of the various states in Central Asia and the Caucasus?

The answer to this question, according to the above cited authors, is in Soviet efforts to promote socialist development and stability in regions inhabited by non-Russian minorities. “As the sole power in the entire Caucasus,” notes Saparov, “the Bolshevik leadership needed to resolve those conflicting issues that prevented the establishment of stable governance.” [8] The solution adopted by the Soviet leadership was to create “territorial republics based on ethnic criteria and promoting ‘national cultures’ within them,” encouraging political stability and socialist development through fostering “national consciousness and incipient national statehood among its [Soviet Union’s] numerous non-Russian minorities.” [9] Thus, Soviet nationalities policy and territorial delimitation “was not some deliberate attempt at long-term manipulation, but rather a practical, albeit clumsy, compromise to contain violent conflicts.” [10]

Non-Russian minorities, if not always eagerly than begrudgingly, participated in the territorial delimitation, a fact often overlooked by proponents of the ‘divide-and-conquer’ narrative. The creation of Uzbekistan, writes Khalid, was “the triumph of an indigenous national project,” not sinister Soviet machinations [11]. Edgar’s study regarding Turkmenistan concurs with Khalid’s conclusions about the role of indigenous elites in Soviet territorial delimitation. While Moscow’s role in the territorial delimitation was “undeniably important,” notes Edgar, “the crucial contribution of local elites in shaping Soviet nations has not received enough attention. In Central Asia, members of the cultural and political elite had their own ideas about nationhood and socialism,” which often “differed substantially from those of the authorities in Moscow.” [12] Neither were local elites “passive recipients of central policies” in the Caucasus, according to Saparov, having “played a critical role in shaping Soviet policies.” [13]

The fact that the Soviet Union, in the words of Edgar, “served as midwife to the separate states that emerged” in 1991, discredits Conquest’s claim that the Soviet Union was a ‘breaker’ of nations, while providing an important historical lesson in how only with the victory of socialism can all nations experience free and equal development [14].

[1] Page 191, The Sword and the Dollar, Michael Parenti

[2] Pages 88-89, Making Uzbekistan: Nation, Empire, and Revolution in the Early USSR, Adeeb Khalid

[3] Page 46, ibid.

[4] Page 47, Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan, Adrienne Lynn Edgar

[5] Page 17, ibid.

[6] Page 47, ibid.

[7] Page 172, From Conflict to Autonomy in the Caucasus: The Soviet Union and the making of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno Karabakh, Arsene Saparov

[8] ibid.

[9] Page 2, Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan, Adrienne Lynn Edgar

[10] Page 172, From Conflict to Autonomy in the Caucasus: The Soviet Union and the making of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno Karabakh, Arsene Saparov

[11] Page 258, Making Uzbekistan: Nation, Empire, and Revolution in the Early USSR, Adeeb Khalid

[12] Page 5, Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan, Adrienne Lynn Edgar

[13] Page 6, From Conflict to Autonomy in the Caucasus: The Soviet Union and the making of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno Karabakh, Arsene Saparov

[14] Page 2, Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan, Adrienne Lynn Edgar

Communist Candidate Debates Canada’s Reactionary Foreign Minister

Drew Garvie is the Communist Party of Canada’s candidate in Toronto’s riding of University Rosedale.

Canada: A Peacekeeping Country?

Kimball Cariou is the Communist Party of Canada candidate in Vancouver Kingsway.

A Letter to Ralph Eichler, MLA for Lakeside

Dear Ralph Eichler,

Congratulations on your re-election as MLA for Lakeside.

At approximately 7:30 PM on September 18, 2019, I received a distressing phone call. The call was from my vocational counselor at Interlake Employment Services. (Her office is beside yours in Stonewall.)

Due to draconian budget cuts imposed by the Progressive Conservative regime in Manitoba, led by the multimillionaire, Costa Rican-wannabe Brian Pallister, a regime you support and participate in, my vocational counselor and many others at Interlake Employment Services are being laid-off.

What does this mean?

It means that dozens of individuals with disabilities like me will lose the support we need to find and maintain meaningful employment. Many of us will likely lose our jobs without this support.

This cut comes after the Pallister regime has not only cut Rent Assist and funding for social-housing but has sold-off 1000 units of publicly-owned housing while maintaining one of the lowest minimum wages in all of Canada.

As a ‘Progressive’ Conservative, Mr. Eichler, please tell me — is this your idea of progress?

If this is your idea of ‘progress’ then shame on you.

The Grenfell Fire: Austerity is Terrorism

On June 14, the 220 ft. tall Grenfell Tower went up in flames in a matter of minutes, as if it were tissue paper, witnesses reported. The world watched in horror as residents desperately tried to flee the fire, with one mother even dropping her baby out of a window. The BBC has reported that the total number of those killed could be as high as 70.

The fire was no accident; it was an attack on the poor by the capitalist system and its political supporters.

As far back as 2004 concerns were raised about the safety of the building. The EMB Property Management Committee found that the lighting system was in such poor condition it would fail in an emergency situation, with two-thirds of the batteries dead. A 2012 fire risk assessment report found that some portable firefighting equipment hadn’t been inspected or tested in years. Some portable firefighting equipment even had the word “condemned” written on the side.

The building’s residents’ organization, the Grenfell Action Committee (GAC), expressed concern about the existence of only one escape route and the lack of a building-wide sprinkler or alarm system. In November 2016, the GAC warned of “dangerous living conditions,” but after years of being ignored, concluded that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO.”

When the building was under renovations in 2016, The Guardian reported, the owners requested the more flammable exterior cladding to save £2 (a little over $3 CAD) a square foot. Cladding of a similar material is banned in Germany and the U.S.

In the aftermath of the July 7th, 2005, London Bombings, Ken Livingston, the then-Mayor of London, said the attacks were “aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old.”

Weren’t the victims of the Grenfell fire also victims of such indiscriminate mass slaughter? Like the London Bombings, the victims of the Grenfell fire were working-class, mostly low-income, Londoners from all walks of life. And if the BBC is correct, more working-class Londoners have died as a result of the Grenfell fire than were killed in the London Bombings.

And like the men responsible for the London Bombings, those responsible for the Grenfell fire were motivated by their own political agendas. The owner’s of Grenfell Tower, the Kensington and Chelsea TMO (KCTMO), despite stockpiling £270 million in reserve, chose to disregard the safety of its Grenfell residents in favour of cutting costs. Even when a similar disaster was only narrowly averted in 2013, the KCTMO continued to downplay the seriousness of its residents’ concerns. The Conservative-controlled Kensington and Chelsea Council even went so far as to threaten the publisher of the GAC’s blog with “defamatory behaviour” and “harassment” if they continued posting concerns about the safety of the building online.

Central austerity budgets, moreover, ensured that when a did fire occur, it would cause terrible human suffering. Budget cuts of up to 80% in some communities have drastically reduced frontline services, “visible to all in unrepaired roads, uncollected bins and closed libraries, gyms and children’s centres,” writes George Eaton. Cuts to legal aid made it more difficult for Grenfell’s mostly low-income residents to obtain legal advice, Eaton argues, while the loss of 7,000 firefighters in the last five years, resulting in longer response times and less fire prevention visits, all but guaranteed a major disaster.

The terrible Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington was entirely avoidable,” Deon Lombard, an architect, wrote.

Austerity kills. Capitalism kills. The only difference between those responsible for the London Bombings and the Grenfell Tower fire is that the perpetrators of the latter were mostly white men wearing expensive suits and sitting in plush offices.

 

(Image Source: The Sun (U.K.))

 

An Open Letter to David Anderson, MP for Cypress Hills-Grasslands

Dear David Anderson,

I am writing to express my disgust with your false and outright disgraceful polemic in the House of Commons recently about the death of Fidel Castro and the revolutionary government of Cuba.

I’d like to respond to some of your criticisms of Castro and of the Cuban “communist regime.”

Quoting an unnamed ‘Cuban friend’ of yours you claim that Cuban healthcare, far from being the ‘model of the world’ like that pesky organization called the United Nations says it is, is unable to provide the most basic services. According to this ‘friend’, Cuban hospitals don’t even have any aspirin!

Did it ever occur to you or this ‘friend’ that Cuba’s economic difficulties could be attributed to the U.S. embargo on this small island nation rather than being indicative of the failure of the Cuban social system? U.S. policy towards Cuba has always been to make life as unbearable as possible since the overthrow of Batista, the ‘good dictator’. Does Operation Northwoods or the Bay of Pigs Invasion sound familiar to you? Those operations certainly were in no way intended to benefit the masses of Cuban people. According to a 1997 report by the American Association for World Health, the 54-year-old U.S. embargo “has dramatically harmed the health and nutrition of large numbers of ordinary Cuban citizens,” causing “a significant rise in suffering-and even deaths-in Cuba.” The same reported applauded the Cuban government for averting a “humanitarian catastrophe” by maintaining “a high level of budgetary support for a health care system designed to deliver primary and preventive health care to all of its citizens.” I have included the link here to that report for you to share to your ‘friend’ and for you to read for yourself.

Your ‘friend’ claims that Cuban hospitals lack the most basic medicines and medical supplies, and this you use as evidence of the failure of Cuba’s healthcare system. Yet, despite the Cuban healthcare system’s apparent inability to provide its people with such basic medicines like aspirin, Cuba has managed to achieve a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S, the richest country in the world! Quite an impressive achievement for a country lacking painkillers, wouldn’t you say? A case could be made that if Cuba’s healthcare system is as you and your ‘friend’ describe and it has nevertheless achieved a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S., then this is indicative of the failure of the U.S. healthcare system, which by the way your Party and its former leader Stephen Harper enthusiastically support, not the Cuban.

Your criticisms of Cuba’s human rights record and lack of Western-style democracy are about as laughable as yours criticisms of Cuba’s healthcare system. With all do respect, you are far from being qualified to lecture the Cuban government about democracy and human rights! Let me remind you of the democratic and human rights achievements of the former Harper government, which you so dutifully served in as the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Foreign Affairs:

  • First government in the whole Commonwealth to be found in contempt of Parliament.
  • Largest mass arrests in Canadian history.
  • Passed the most repressive security legislation. A Canadian citizen can now be arrested on the mere suspicion of future dangerousness!
  • Your government cozied up to apartheid Israel. Regardless of what you might think of Cuba’s human rights record, in no universe has Cuba committed a fraction of the heinous crimes the Israelis have committed against the whole Palestinian nation. Nobody, not even you with your flawed and distorted logic, can accuse the Cubans of genocide.
  • Your government systematically undermined Indigenous rights, medicare, environmental protection, democratic debate, and the right to collective bargaining.
  • Your government formed a majority government with 38% of the popular vote! On what planet is that a democracy? The Foreign Minister you served couldn’t even provide an answer to a Jordanian reporter that asked how a government could hold all the power with 38% of the popular vote?

With a record like this you are hardly in any position to be criticizing the Cuban political system.

As for Cuba’s human rights, are you aware that at no time under the rule of the man you called a “tyrant,” Fidel Castro, was Cuba’s incarceration rate as high as that in the U.S.? Neither has Cuba, unlike the U.S. and Canada, been bombing other countries back to the stone age and torturing people abroad in U.S.-run torture camps. There wasn’t a war in the world your government didn’t like, and your government aided and abetted the illegal incarceration and torture of one of its own citizens. Finally the United Nations slammed your government for “increasingly serious violations of civil and political rights in Canada.” Among these “violations of civil and political rights” were your government’s refusal to take action on the 1, 200 missing and murdered Aboriginal women, repressive security legislation, and the use CRA audits to shut down charities not in line with your government’s ideology among many other serious violations.

I hope that you do some research and fact-checking next time before you decide to fulminate in the House of Commons.

Best Regards,

T.J.

The Hypocri$y of Non-Profit$

Christmas, the season of giving, is rapidly approaching, and workers earning poverty level wages with no benefits or any job security are busy at work processing the annual flood of donations to charitable organizations and non-profits. The good intentions of donors notwithstanding, like using a band-aid to treat cancer, charity is incapable of any fundamental social change, incapacitated as it is by the socio-economic system in which it operates. Unbeknownst to many donors is how these same organizations perpetuate and profit from the very social ailments they are supposedly on a mission to end, a consequence of the non-profit industrial complex.

It is no secret that billionaire philanthropic organizations are corporate entities masquerading as charities. Even by capitalist standards one can hardly claim that an organization like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose questionable charitable activities are far surpassed by its investments in virtually every industry, is anything other than a corporation. With investments in private prison companies and mercenary firms to transnational oil and gas, chemical, food, construction, pharmaceutical, and retail corporations, the foundation profits from the most violent and destructive exploitation of working people and the environment that exists today, including war.

Yet hidden from the public eye through effective marketing schemes and social taboos is the anti-working class activities of public non-profit organizations. To a lesser degree, though not always by very much, these charities likewise suffer from the same contradiction between their highly publicized objectives and their less publicized quest for more wealth, power, and privilege. Read More

The TPP: Bad for Canada!

Peacekeeping: Fiction vs. Reality

(Image: Protest in Haiti against UN sexual crimes against women. Source)

The word peacekeeping is like the word terrorism: it is meaningless on its own and able to be molded to serve the interests of a political clique. Like Alex P. Schmidt’s description of terrorism in The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research, peacekeeping “is usually an instrument for the attempted realization of a political…project that perpetrators lacking mass support are seeking”[1].

Peacekeepers have never kept the peace in any conflict. On the contrary, peacekeepers themselves have been linked to an increase in violence and human rights abuses, particularly of a sexual nature. In Bosnia, Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, peacekeepers have been “associated with criminal misconduct, including sexual violence. Crimes against women and children have followed UN peacekeeping operations in several locations, and the UN reported that the entrance of peacekeeping troops into a conflict situation has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution”[2]. Allegations of sexual violence against peacekeepers dates back to the 1990s. During the 1995-2002 UN mission in Bosnia, Kathryn Bolkovac, a human rights investigator, found that young “girls from Romania, Ukraine, Moldova and other Eastern European countries [were] being brought in to service the UN and military bases as sex-slaves. The cases involved the officers from many foreign countries, including the USA, Pakistan, Germany, Romania, Ukraine, government contractors, and local organized criminals”[3]. Bolkovac was subsequently fired for her investigation. As of 2015 more than 200 women and girls have been sexually exploited by UN peacekeepers in Haiti in exchange for food, clothing, medicine, and other basic necessities [4]. In the Central African Republic, French peacekeepers have forced young girls to have sex with dogs [5], starving and homeless boys as young as nine have been sodomized by peacekeepers [6], and an entire UN contingent was expelled from the country due to sex crimes [7].

Extrajudicial murder, torture, and mass murder – all war crimes under international law – have also been committed by peacekeepers. A 14-year-old Somali boy was beaten, tortured, and murdered by Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia; the peacekeepers having posed in photos with the boy’s bloody corpse. Not to be outdone, Belgian peacekeepers were photographed roasting a Somali over a fire. Read More

U.S. Paid P.R. firm $540 million to make Fake al-Qaida Videos

An explosive new report reveals how the U.S. government paid a British public relations company linked to right-wing politics and repressive regimes more than $500 million from American taxpayers to spearhead a top-secret propaganda campaign in Iraq.

Bell Pottinger, a London-based P.R. firm, created fake videos that appeared to be the work of al-Qaida, the Islamist extremist group formerly headed by Osama bin Laden. It also created news stories that looked as though they were produced by Arab media outlets, and distributed them through Middle Eastern news networks.

The company worked in Camp Victory, the U.S. military base in Baghdad, side-by-side with high-ranking U.S. military officers.

The propaganda videos were personally approved by Gen. David Petraeus — then the commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, who would go on to become the director of the CIA. On some occasions, even the White House signed off on the propaganda materials. Read More