Russia, NATO, and the “Kosovoization” of Ukraine

On 24 February 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine, marking a dramatic escalation in the Russo-Ukrainian Conflict that began in 2014. While the world denounces the Russian invasion of Ukraine — as it rightly should — efforts by the West to depict Ukraine as an innocent victim and Russia as evil reincarnate fail to tell the whole story of the conflict and are counterproductive to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

In 2014, Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled by far-right protestors with the support of U.S.-led Western imperialism. That it was far-right, ultra-nationalist, neo-Nazis which led the “revolution” in 2014 is indisputable. In a systematic analysis of more than 3,000 Maiden protestors, the most active agents were members of the far-right Svoboda Party. The leader of this far-right, ultra-nationalist Party once complained that Ukraine was run by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” and includes admirers of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Ukraine has since been characterized by far-right violence, ultra-nationalism, and the loss of basic freedoms and civil liberties, including neo-Nazi pogroms against non-Ukrainians and Jews, violence against members of feminist and LGBT groups, state-sponsored glorification of WWII Nazi collaborators, book bans, and more. In 2016, Moscow Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Kiev, was renamed in honor of the Nazi collaborator and ultra-nationalist Stepan Bandera. During WWII, Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OAU) murdered 50,000 Jews and as many as 100,000 Poles. (His portrait is still displayed on the homepage of the League of Ukrainian Canadians.) In 2018, then-President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko was photographed with a Ukrainian soldier wearing a totenkopf, the skull-and-bones design associated with the Third Reich’s genocidal paramilitary the Schutzstaffel (SS).

Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine responded to the rise of neo-Nazism and ultra-nationalism by launching an armed struggle to separate from Ukraine and establish independent states — the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. While Russia exploited this weakness in Ukraine, it is erroneous to attribute the separatist conflicts in eastern Ukraine and Crimea to exclusively Russian machinations. Ukraine was already deeply divided ethnically and linguistically. In western Ukraine, people are more likely to speak Ukrainian and vote for pro-Europe candidates and policies. In eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, people are more likely to speak Russian and vote for pro-Russian candidates and policies. Far-right, ultra-nationalist regimes that spew anti-minority rhetoric often struggle with separatist conflicts, as minorities seek to protect their legitimate interests. We see this in Georgia, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, Myanmar, Ethiopia, even within Russia, which itself has battled separatism in Chechnya and elsewhere. Primary responsibility for Kiev’s ongoing conflict with eastern Ukrainian separatists, which has already killed 14,000 people, lies with Kiev itself, not Russia, albeit Russia has further inflamed the conflict for its own political benefit.

Let me be clear: this is not a defense of Putin’s actions. I feel for the people of Ukraine as much as I do for the people of Palestine, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Haiti, Libya, Iraq, and other nations which have been the victims of international aggression. However, the depiction of Putin in Western corporate media as evil reincarnate without any historical or political context is dangerously misleading. This same one-sided propaganda contributed to the deaths of 1.3 million people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan by US-NATO imperialists. There is always a state or leader that is Public Enemy #1 in the Western corporate media: the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chavez, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Vladimir Putin, China, Iran, Kim Jong-un, etc. There is no contradiction in opposing this or that state or leader while also criticizing how that state or leader is propagandized in the West. Indeed, such critical analysis is vital in an increasingly unipolar world. Western anti-Russian propaganda today is disturbingly similar to anti-Iraq propaganda in 2003; and just as you could be opposed to Saddam’s regime while also criticizing Western fearmongering over WMD, which we all know today was a lie, it is possible to criticize Western anti-Russia fearmongering and not be a “Putin Bot”.

“Why did Putin invade Ukraine?” is a question that has been asked by millions of people many millions of times this last week. I have heard all sorts of answers to this question, from Putin’s desire to re-create the USSR(!?) to Putin’s desire to “restore” Kiev as Russia’s capital(!?).

Perhaps a better question is why wouldn’t Putin invade Ukraine? Russia has every reason to feel threatened by US-NATO imperialism’s encroachment on Russia’s sphere of influence, including in Ukraine.

Russia has been invaded multiple times in the last two centuries from the West. The French under Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. Between 1918-21, 14 different states occupied the Soviet Union, including the US, Japan, Germany, Britain, Greece, France, Italy, Canada, and Finland. Nazi Germany invaded the USSR in 1941. It was through Ukraine that Nazi Germany attacked Stalingrad, leading to one of the largest, longest and bloodiest battles in modern warfare. An estimated 27 million people from the USSR died in WWII, an enormous loss of life incomparable to any other state.

Since the overthrow of the USSR and socialism in Russia, that aggressive and anachronistic military alliance called NATO has been steadily expanding towards Russia’s borders. This alarms Russia — as it should. NATO was never a “defensive” military alliance. There’s no evidence that US and Western European leaders truly believed the USSR posed a threat to Western Europe. John Foster Dulles, the rabidly anti-Communist US Secretary of State (1953-1959), himself is quoted as writing that Soviet communism “avoids anything that suggests a war of nation against nation…Some of the highest and most competent authorities in Europe have recently told me that they do not believe that the Communist Party would dare to order the Russian armies to march on Western Europe as an invading force unless Russia had been attacked, so that it was clear to the Russian people that the operation was necessary for self-defense…most well-qualified persons are inclined to feel their is no imminent danger of the Red Army’s being marched out of Russia against Western Europe or Asia in a war of aggression.”

NATO is an aggressive war machine. This is most clearly demonstrated in how at a time when the USSR and other socialist countries were reducing their armed strength the US and NATO were increasing theirs. Between 1955-57, the USSR reduced its armed forces by 2,140,000 troops, Poland by 141,500, Czechoslovakia by 44,000, the GDR by 30,000, Romania by 60,000, Bulgaria by 18,000, Hungary by 35,000, and Albania by 9,000. At the same time US and Western leaders were trying to turn NATO into a fourth atomic power. A permanent item on the agenda of the many conferences of US, Western European and NATO leaders was the establishment of the Multinational Nuclear Forces throughout the ’50s and ’60s.

If NATO was truly a defensive alliance, why would it need to increase its military strength against an enemy that was reducing its military strength and which its own spokesmen didn’t believe had any aggressive intentions? The fact is that NATO was created and continues to exist as a means for US-led imperialism to undermine the sovereignty and national independence of countries. NATO’s most recent military interventions in the former Yugoslavia, Libya, and Afghanistan were imperialist in nature, not defensive, since none of these countries attacked a NATO member. However, it is not only the peoples of the Global South whose sovereignty and independence NATO is intended to undermine. Membership in NATO also serves to undermine the sovereignty and independence of NATO’s own members. This was outlined in American Plan 100-1, which outlined how US troops in undefined “emergencies” were expected to suppress any movement in NATO countries that would threaten US strategic interests. Western media itself has acknowledge how the US has exercised secret control over political developments in NATO allied states so as to detect in advance trends capable of weakening these countries’ dependence on the US. A NATO document code-named M-116 SIS-69-6 recommended action be taken against youth and student movements, to isolate students and young workers from politics in order to purge the more politically active.

NATO’s increasing encirclement of Russia recalls the infamous cordon sanitaire imposed on the USSR by the Western imperialist powers to “contain” Bolshevism. It was this desire to “contain” and eventually overthrow socialism in the USSR which led the Western imperialist powers in the 1930s to “appease” Hitler and encourage his militaristic expansion in Europe that ultimately resulted in WWII. Moreover, the same countries which comprise NATO are the same countries that have most frequently in the last two centuries invaded or been at war with Russia, such as the US, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey, etc.

To recap: Ukraine is controlled by a militantly anti-Russian regime that is at war with Russian-speaking Ukrainians, celebrates people who caused untold suffering and devastation to Russia, and which has sought to join an anti-Russian military alliance comprised of the same countries that have so frequently invaded and attacked Russia and to acquire nuclear weapons.

It is doubtful whether any other state would react differently to these conditions than what is happening between Ukraine and Russia right now. A NATO-allied, nuclear-aspiring Ukraine is a far greater threat to Russia than Hamas is to Israel. Whenever Hamas fires its almost harmless rockets at Israel and Israel retaliates with massive airstrikes on what is the world’s largest open-air prison, the corporate owned media in the West doesn’t speculate about Israel’s intentions, it justifies them. This is despite the fact that Israel does not have the right under international law to retaliate against Hamas. As an occupying power Israel does not have the right to defend itself under international law against the very same people living under its occupation. “[T]he right to initiate militarized force in response to an armed attack,” Noura Erakat, a professor of international law at Georgetown University explained, “is not a remedy available to the occupying state…[t]herefore the right of self-defense in international law is, by definition since 1967, not available to Israel with respect to its dealing with real or perceived threats emanating from the West Bank and Gaza Strip population.” As an occupied territory, the people of Gaza have the right to struggle for independence “by all available means, including armed struggle,” as stated in UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/3246 (XXIX) adopted November 29th, 1974 [emphasis added]. Four years later the UN again reaffirmed “the legitimacy of the struggle for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle…” [emphasis added][27]. Protocol I of the Geneva Convention further enshrines the right of people living under colonial domination and foreign occupation as well as racist regimes (Israel has frequently been compared to apartheid South Africa) to use armed force in exercise of their right to self-determination.

After 9/11, US-NATO imperialists invaded and occupied Afghanistan for more than 20 years ostensibly to search for and punish a single man, Osama bin Laden. This despite the fact that bin Laden was never actually charged with or even wanted for his role in 9/11. The FBI admitted in 2006 that it lacked “hard evidence” linking bin Laden to 9/11[1].

In the final analysis NATO was created for no other reason than to violate the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of other states. The US itself, a Washington Post article revealed, attempted to overthrow foreign governments at least 72 times after WWII. What is the source of US and NATO’s sudden concern for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and its defense against Russia? It is not to be found in either the Ukraine or Russia, I argue, but in that military base masquerading as a nation: Kosovo.

NATO bombing of Serbia

When Kosovo declared itself independent from Serbia in 2008 US-led imperialism found itself in an impossible conundrum. The US and NATO had to recognize Kosovo’s independence. The dismemberment of socialist Yugoslavia had long been the policy of the US and its NATO allies. “That US leaders planned to dismember Yugoslavia is not a matter of speculation,” writes Michael Parenti, “but of public record.”[2] The Reagan Administration as early as 1984 adopted national security directives in which the state aims included the overthrow of communism while “reintegrating the countries of Eastern Europe into the orbit of the World market,” i.e., world capitalism.[3] After years of boycott, embargo, and horrific secessionist wars supported by the US and NATO, the latter declared in 1999 that “The economy of Kosovo shall function in accordance with free market principles.”[4] The US-NATO, in violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition against the use of force and without the authorization of the UN Security Council, then commenced round-the-clock aerial bombardments of Serbia, Kosovo, and Montenegro throughout March-June 1999. Interestingly for a so-called “humanitarian intervention,” the bombs left untouched private corporate interests. “The bombs,” Parenti writes, “fell only on state-owned or worker-controlled factories, enterprises, auto plants, construction firms, municipal power station and other public utilities, government radio and television stations, depots, ports, railroads, bridges, water supply systems, hotels, housing projects, hospitals, schools, and hundreds of other nonmilitary state-owned targets — in what amounted to privatization by bombing.”[5]

Thus, when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, the US and NATO had to recognize it because they were ultimately the ones that were responsible for Kosovo’s forcible detachment from Serbia in the first place. However, US-NATO recognition of Kosovo’s independence this led to something really terrifying for the US-NATO imperialists: an international precedent.

U.S. and Western scholars would prefer to hush-up these facts readily available to the public. Kosovo, they write, was a “unique” case. But is Kosovo really unique? What is unique about Kosovo? Serbian atrocities against Kosovar Albanians? That doesn’t make Kosovo unique. As Diana Johnstone cogently writes:

The “uniqueness” claimed by the United States is a propaganda construction. It is based on the supposed “uniqueness” of Milosevic’s repression of the armed secessionist movement, which was not unique at all. It was standard operating procedure throughout history and the world over, in such circumstances. Deplorable, no doubt, but not unique. It was minor indeed compared to the similar but endless and far bloodier anti-insurgency operations in Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Chechnya, not to mention Northern Ireland, Thailand, the Philippines[.]

Indeed, it is the US-NATO’s modus operandi to ally with and support dictatorial and terroristic regimes: Marcos in the Philippines, Suharto in Indonesia, Mobuto in Zaire, Rhee and his successors in South Korea, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, etc. This is to say nothing of the numerous death squads armed and trained by the U.S. throughout Latin America. The US-NATO bombing of Yugoslavia was itself described by a former U.S. State Department official as “terror bombing.”[6] Moreover, no crime allegedly committed by Serbia can compare to the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, which led to the deaths of more than one million Iraqis and destabilized the whole Middle East. Neither can Milosevic’s alleged or actual crimes compare to those committed by Israel’s apartheid leaders against the Palestinian people and Lebanon.

If there is anything unique about Kosovo, it is the accepted solution to the Kosovo crisis and the support this solution enjoys from prominent Western countries that is truly unique in the history of secessionist and counterinsurgency conflicts.

The Kosovo precedent — and it is a precedent whether one wants to admit it or not because even arguing Kosovo is not a precedent is a precedent by circumventing the UN Charter system while rhetorically attempting to uphold it — has haunted the US and its NATO allies since 2008. Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a manifestation of the conundrum US-NATO imperialism created for itself in Kosovo. The reason is simple: Putin, Russia’s strongman, has adopted the playbook of US-NATO imperialism for the benefit of Russian imperialism. What we are seeing now is the US and its NATO allies helplessly flailing around like a fish out of water trying to counter Russian imperialism while simultaneously defending their own Western imperialism.

Russia “invaded” Georgia and recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia in 2008. US-NATO propagandists like Socher and others argue that this was different from Kosovo, but was it really? The war began with a Georgian attack on South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali. According to Socher, this attack can’t be classified as “genocide” under the 1948 Genocide Convention, ergo Russia’s “humanitarian intervention” was a contravention of international law.[7] But neither is there any evidence that Serbian crimes in Kosovo satisfied the criteria of the Genocide Convention. As Parenti writes, “any number of Western sources including the EU, various UN commissions, Western security agencies, the German Foreign Ministry, UN generals, former State Department officials, Spanish and FBI forensic teams were unable to find evidence of genocide” committed by the Serbian government.[8] In 2001, a UN court ruled that Serbian troops did not commit genocide against Kosovar Albanians from 1998-99. If Serbian troops did not commit genocide in Kosovo, as the UN ruled, ipso facto the US-NATO bombing of Serbia was no more legitimate under international law than Russia’s intervention in Georgia in 2008. The failure of Socher to recognize this in his 2021 book can only be explained by the existence of ideological factors contrary to the supposedly ‘de-ideologized’ essence of his analysis.

Russia “annexed” Crimea in 2014. US-NATO propagandists have denounced this supposed “annexation” as a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Anne Peters (quoted in Socher’s book) argues that “The basic rule of pacification and neutralisation is of paramount importance for the assessment of the 2014 referendum in Crimea. It was held in front of the guns and tanks of the Russian army and unidentified troops.”[10] This is all likely very true, but then Peters’ criticism of the referendum in Crimea be applied almost verbatim to Kosovo. Before Kosovo declared itself independent in 2008, which according to the International Court of Justice did not violate international law, the US and its NATO allies bombed the life out of Kosovo and Serbia using cluster bombs and depleted uranium, which one cannot accuse Russia of using in Crimea. Moreover, Kosovo hosts the largest and most expensive US foreign military base constructed in Europe since the Vietnam War, construction of which began immediately after the Kosovo War (i.e., before Kosovo declared itself independent). Kosovo’s separation from Serbia was achieved in front of the guns and tanks of the US and its NATO allies even more so than Crimea’s referendum to unite with Russia. Putin himself called out US-NATO hypocrisy on Crimea: “[T]he Crimean authorities referred to the well-known Kosovo precedent — a precedent our western colleagues created with their own hands in a very similar situation, when they agreed that the unilateral separation of Kosovo from Serbia, exactly what Crimea is doing now, was legitimate and did not require any permission from the country’s central authorities.”

Although Kosovo is a prime example of the forcible detachment or annexation of a territory by the US and its NATO allies, it is by no means the only one. Peters’ criticism of the referendum in the Crimea in favour of incorporation into Russia can also almost verbatim describe Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua, as detailed in John Saltford’s The United Nations and the Indonesian Takeover of West Papua, 1962-1969: The Anatomy of Betrayal. In the 1960s, the US and its NATO allies, including the Netherlands, the former colonial power, supported or at least enabled Indonesia’s military occupation and the ethnic cleansing of West Papua prior to the so-called ‘Act of Free Choice’. Today the Papuan people continue to wage armed resistance against Indonesian occupation. Another example is the dispute between Britain and Mauritius over the Chagos Islands, not unlike that between Russia and Ukraine. In 1965, Britain annexed the Chagos Islands, including the island of Diego Garcia, from Mauritius, in violation of the territorial integrity and state sovereignty of Mauritius and in violation of that coveted principle of international law uti possidetis so that the US could build a land-based aircraft carrier in the strategic Indian Ocean. As recently as 2019 and 2021, respectively, both the International Court of Justice and the UN’s International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea have ordered Britain to return the Chagos Islands to Mauritius. Thus, while condemning Russia’s violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, Britain is refusing to return to Mauritius territory which it forcibly annexed and cleansed the native population of in 1965. Yet to my knowledge the champions of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty have nothing to say about Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and even less to say about how Indonesia annexed West Papua in the 1960s using a rigged referendum on self-determination, supported by the US, and Britain’s ongoing refusal to return territory illegally annexed back to Mauritius.

Now Russia has invaded Ukraine and recognized the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic after nearly 7 years of brutal civil war. It is not humanitarian concern for Ukraine that is motivating all this anti-Russian hysteria. If humanitarianism was truly behind US-NATO outrage against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is only logical that similar outrage should be directed against other atrocities. But that is not the case. Indeed, US and NATO are responsible for most of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. Saudi Arabia has been starving and carpet bombing Yemen for almost 7 years with US assistance, creating one of the largest humanitarian disasters in the world. Israel has been committing genocide against the Palestinian people for more than 50 years and has received billions of dollars in US aid.

The real threat to US-NATO imperialism is not the suffering of the Ukrainian people. What is truly alarming to the US and NATO is that Russia is doing exactly what the US and NATO did to Serbia — and they are helpless to stop it for the simple reason that they pioneered it. By recognizing the independence of Kosovo the US and its NATO allies inadvertently enabled Russia to adopt the US-NATO imperialist playbook. Russia is using US-NATO imperialism against the US and NATO and the latter are scrambling to try to counter it. Russia can’t be allowed to out imperialist the US and NATO.

[1] Page 27, “Hijacking America’s Mind On 9/11: Counterfeiting Evidence,” Elias Davidsson, 2013.

[2] Page 102, “The Face of Imperialism,” Michael Parenti, 2015.

[3] Page 102, “The Face of Imperialism,” Michael Parenti, 2015.

[4] Page 102-03, “The Face of Imperialism,” Michael Parenti, 2015.

[5] Page 103, “The Face of Imperialism,” Michael Parenti, 2015.

[6] Page 103, “The Face of Imperialism,” Michael Parenti, 2015.

[7] Page 130-131, “Russia and the Right to Self-Determination in the Post-Soviet Space”, Johannes Socher, 2021

[8] Page 104, “The Face of Imperialism,” Michael Parenti, 2015.

[10] Page 163, “Russia and the Right to Self-Determination in the Post-Soviet Space”, Johannes Socher, 2021

[12] Page 159, “Russia and the Right to Self-Determination in the Post-Soviet Space”, Johannes Socher, 2021

No to War in Europe – Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Canada

The military incursion of Russian forces into Ukraine has seriously ratcheted up tensions in the region, across Europe and internationally, and increased the danger of ‘great power’ confrontation and even nuclear war. This military action must end as quickly as possible, and with minimum loss of lives, especially among the civilian population, and a negotiated political settlement to the crisis must be sought and secured.

The Communist Party of Canada condemns the Canadian government’s role in stoking tensions leading to the outbreak of war in Europe, sending troops, arms, and funds to Ukraine while insisting that war between Russia and Ukraine is inevitable.

Instead of working to find a peaceful, negotiated political solution Canada’s government has once again taken its lead from the US and NATO, provoking the Russian Federation and ignoring Russia’s legitimate security concerns arising from NATO’s relentless Eastern expansion. The drive to war includes transmitting war propaganda as factual information on publicly owned media like CBC.

In 1990, the US then-Secretary of State James Baker made an agreement with USSR’s President Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not extend its eastern reach beyond Germany’s borders, and then proceeded to do exactly that, in the process encircling Russia with NATO states, military encampments and weapons all pointing at Russia. The 2014 Maidan coup d’état installed a far-right nationalist government, with the open participation of fascist and Nazi elements in Ukraine. This was immediately followed by overt discriminatory attacks and threats against the large Russian-speaking minority in the country, and led directly to Crimea’s secession and the formation of the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. It also further escalated tensions with its Russian neighbour to the north. This came to a head last Sunday when Ukraine’s President Zelensky told a NATO Security Summit that Ukraine sought immediate membership in NATO and would consider repeal of its non-nuclear status, opening the door to the installation of nuclear weapons on Ukrainian soil by NATO.

This was immediately followed by last week’s shelling of the newly independent republics in the Eastern Donbas by Ukrainian military forces and fascist militias.

It seems more than likely that these events contributed to the Russian decision to respond with military force February 24th. Perhaps the loss of 27 million Soviet citizens in the last great European war had a bearing on this decision.

Whatever the reason, Canada could have acted to de-escalate the growing crisis long before war broke out, by insisting the agreement to limit NATO’s eastward expansion should be honoured; by repatriating Canadian troops stationed in Latvia; by refusing to send additional troops and arms to Ukraine; by insisting the Minsk agreements be honoured by the Kiev government; and by pressing for negotiations leading to a peaceful, political solution.

Today, Canada must act to put out the fire it has helped to set, before it grows and expands to involve all of Europe. The Canadian government must:

  • Repatriate Canadian troops, arms and military equipment located in Europe
  • Demand that the US, NATO and EU immediately withdraw from the region and the conflict, and honour the agreement to limit NATO’s eastern European border to Germany
  • Press for a negotiated political solution between Russia, Ukraine and the republics in the Donbas The US, Canada and NATO are not the world’s police force.

Working people in Canada and around the world who support peace and political solutions- not military force – will need to act quickly to rebuild the powerful peace movements capable of stopping and preventing wars while holding governments to account. Canada’s immediate withdrawal from NATO would be a good first step towards its complete dissolution.

Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada

February 24, 2022

Review: “History in the Making: Memoirs of WWII Diplomacy” – Valentin Berezhkov

In this book published by Progress Publishers, Valentin Berezhkov describes in incredible detail high-level diplomatic meetings between representatives of the USSR and representatives from Nazi Germany, Britain, and the U.S., as part of a comprehensive analysis of the politics of WWII.

An engineer by profession, Berezhkov was transferred first to the Soviet embassy in Berlin and later to the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs to serve as an official Soviet translator due to his fluency in English, German, and Russian. Berezhkov was present at meetings between Molotov and Ribbentrop, Molotov and Hitler, Stalin and Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt, Stalin and Truman, the Big Three meetings at Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam, and through his work at the Soviet embassy Berezhkov frequently interacted with top Nazi leaders such as Hess, Goering, and Goebbels. Berezhkov describes in exquisite detail both the participants in these meetings and their personalities as well as the backroom political intrigue before, during, and after the meetings. The descriptions are not entirely novel or surprising but are nonetheless amusing: Stalin is a wise and respectful man; Roosevelt is an honorable leader despite his class background; Truman is a cold-blooded imperialist; Hitler is a theatrical lunatic who loves to hear himself talk and never shuts the hell up; and Churchill is a blustering and petulant child prone to emotional tantrums, much to Roosevelt’s chagrin and Stalin’s occasional amusement.

Berezhkov’s memoirs aren’t limited to recalling his experiences as a diplomatic translator. On the contrary, Berezhkov makes some pertinent political analysis of his own, demonstrating an outstanding understanding of both WWII politics and Marxism-Leninism. I was most intrigued by Berezhkov’s analysis at the beginning of the book of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. Why did the USSR sign a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany? This is a question that has been asked and studied by countless bourgeois and non-bourgeois scholars alike. Berezhkov, however, asks a different question, one that offers much more insight into the situation confronting the USSR in 1939: What if the USSR rejected Nazi Germany’s proposal for a nonaggression pact?

At a time when the Western powers, including the U.S., Britain, and France, were busy “appeasing” Hitler, offering him Austria and Czechoslovakia in return for attacking the USSR, the rejection of a Nazi proposal for a nonaggression pact could only have lead to the isolation of the USSR and to the strengthening of imperialism. The USSR would then have to confront Nazi Germany, supported by the U.S., Britain, France, Italy, and Spain, in the West, and a militaristic and fascist Japan in the Far East. By signing a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany, the Soviets dealt a crushing blow to the alliance between Britain, France, and Nazi Germany against the USSR, and prevented the USSR from having to fight a war on two fronts. The Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact made Nazi Germany a common enemy of both the USSR and the Western powers, thereby forcing, albeit reluctantly, the British, French, and later American imperialists to work with and not against the USSR in the coming conflict in Europe.

Berezhkov also has some intriguing analysis of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to Berezhkov, the Japanese were prepared to surrender conditionally using the Soviets as intermediaries (the Japanese ambassador in Moscow made such overtures to the Soviets). The U.S., however, refused to accept this. Truman and other U.S. imperialists demanded Japan’s unconditional surrender to the U.S. and to the U.S. only without Soviet involvement. This would give the U.S. a dominant position in the Pacific. Moreover, a conditional Japanese surrender with Soviet involvement would preclude the use of the atomic bomb, which was intended for use as a political weapon against the USSR. Thus, the war against Japan had to continue long enough for the atomic bomb to be used, but not long enough for the USSR to enter the war against Japan and have any influence in post-war Japan, which was to be exclusively within the U.S. sphere of influence. Even Churchill, an openly fascist sympathizer, was taken aback by the aggressiveness of U.S. imperialist plans for Japan. The atomic bombing of Japan was an act of terrorism and a war crime, and Berezhkov, with his extensive knowledge of WWII diplomatic and political struggles, makes a strong case for that.

Berezhkov ends his memoirs with a somber but accurate description of WWII:

The anti-Hitler coalition, which took place at the very beginning of the Great Patriotic War fought by the Soviet people against Nazi Germany, represented a major success for Soviet diplomacy and a victory for the Leninist foreign policy of the socialist state. Reactionary groups in the West made great efforts to isolate the Soviet Union, to deprive it of friends and allies, and to force it to fight single-handed against a heavily armed aggressor. This was the hidden aim of the policy of “appeasement” which the rulers of the bourgeois democracies pursued towards Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s.

There are some in the West who even now are perplexed: how did Hitler manage to wrap the canny politicians of London, Paris, and Washington around his little finger? Why was it that neither Britain nor France nor the United States would accept the suggestions urgently pressed by the Soviet government, which were aimed at nipping Hitler’s schemes in the bud? Why did the Western powers reject the Soviet plan for creating a system of collective security? Why did London and Paris stand idly by while Nazi Germany brazenly seized more and more territory in Europe almost without firing a shot, although at the time Germany was much weaker than either of the Western powers? Why was Hitler able to achieve his ends with such outstanding ease? Indeed, why?

The answer to all these questions is one and the same. Those who held power in the West at the time were ready to let Hitler have his way in everything as long as he performed the “historic mission” proclaimed in Mein Kampf – to destroy Bolshevism.

At bottom, Hitler’s campaign against the Soviet Union was the culmination of many years of effort by world reaction to eliminate what was then the world’s only socialist state, thereby restoring the unlimited sway of capitalism. The old order made a desperate attempt to stop history in its forward course, to block social progress. The Western powers tried everything imaginable to correct the “error of history” by which – as they saw it – a socialist country had been born, to smother Soviet Russia, to keep Marxism-Leninism from spreading and continue to hold nations in bondage to capitalism. Fourteen states joined together to intervene against the new Soviet republic; the notorious cordon sanitaire was established with the aim of keeping the ideas of socialist revolution out of Western Europe; the militarists of China and Japan were set upon the Soviet Union; and, finally, bourgeois politicians encouraged and abetted Nazi Germany, which they regarded as their main strike force against Bolshevism.

The interests of international security and the contribution the Soviet Union might make to achieving this goal were the last things London and Paris were concerned with. The Olympian calm the Western powers maintained as Hitler flagrantly violated international agreements, their inaction at the time of the Anschluss of Austria, their betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich – all this was payment in advance on Hitler’s promise to attack the Soviet Union. But the policy of appeasing the aggressor finally turned against its architects. The fascists’ appetites became so peremptory that the Western powers themselves were faced with mortal danger. The further course of events – first and foremost the Soviet people’s heroic resistance to the aggressor and the consistent stand of Soviet diplomacy – led to the formation of the anti-Hitler coalition.”

Pages 490-491

An excellent book – one that should be read in history class!

Review: “Beyond the Arab Cold War: The International Politics of the Yemen Civil War, 1962-68” – Asher Orkaby

Asher Orkaby’s “Beyond the Arab Cold War: The International Politics of the Yemen Civil War, 1962-68” is a comprehensive analysis of the international politics and significance of the (North) Yemeni Civil War.

The Yemeni Civil War began on September 26th, 1962, when the military forces of Abdullah al-Sallal shelled Muhammad al-Badr’s royal palace in Sana’a and declared the overthrow of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen and the establishment of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR). Al-Badr managed to escape to the Yemeni-Saudi border and in alliance with Yemeni tribesmen launched a guerrilla war against the fledgling YAR.

Because of the international political situation at the time of the conflict, what would otherwise have been a local conflict was transformed into a multifaceted arena of international politics that seemingly defies reason and most political analysis. Supporting al-Badr, a theocratic Shia monarch, and his Yemeni tribal forces was a bizarre alliance of British colonialism, Israeli Zionism, and Saudi Wahhabism. Confronting this alliance was an equally bizarre and disparate alliance, that of the YAR, Nasserist Egypt, the U.S., and the USSR. Thus, for a relatively brief period in the 20th century, monarchists, Zionists, colonialists, and Wahhabis, on the one hand, fought republicans, nationalists, communists, and imperialists, on the other hand.

Untangling the confusing and peculiar international politics of the Yemeni Civil War is main objective of this book. Orkaby has a superb understanding of the conflict and great ability to disentangle and explain the various competing political agendas, albeit I found the anti-Egyptian bias in the book somewhat disconcerting. The Saudis feared the spread of Arab nationalist republicanism to Saudi Arabia, the Israelis, Americans, and to some extent the Soviets wanted to wear down Nasserist Egypt in far away Yemen, the British feared the spread of Arab nationalism to Aden, and the USSR wanted to continue to maintain some influence in the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb straight.

A thoroughly researched and well written book on the conflict.

Review: “From Tsardom to the Stalin Constitution” – W. P. Coates and Zelda K. Coates

Published in the UK in 1938, “From Tsardom to the Stalin Constitution” by W. P. and Zelda K. Coates is an excellent history of the Soviet Union and the impressive achievements of the Soviet working-class under the leadership of Joseph Stalin.

Considering the year this book was published it is difficult to imagine this book causing anything less than a violent uproar by bourgeois scholars and politicians in the U.S. and Western Europe. The Coates challenged all bourgeois lies and distortions of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, and socialism. Since these same bourgeois lies and distortions continue to be propagated today, most of what the Coates wrote is still relevant more than 80 years after the book was published. In other words, this book has stood the test of time.

This book offers an excellent introduction to the Soviet Union and to socialism for anyone unfamiliar with either. That being said, for a seasoned and well-read scholar of the Soviet Union (like me!), the book mostly contains dry and repetitive economic and social statistics that have also been documented by other socialist scholars, including much more recent (ex. 1970s-90s) ones.

Except for the last chapter.

It is the final chapter of this book that makes it one of the most exceptional books I have ever read on the Soviet Union. The final chapter addresses the so-called “Show Trials” of Bukharin, Zinoviev, Rykov, and other Bolsheviks in 1930s, for which I happen to own the first edition English translations of the court minutes and testimonies. In this chapter the Coates offer a detailed and superb historical analysis of the trials.

The Coates first address the role of Stalin in these trials: “Those who regard these trials as a measure of personal revenge on the part of Stalin against Trotsky and the other accused will be surprised to learn that it was precisely Stalin who in the early days of the opposition whilst fighting them with arguments for all he was worth, nevertheless stood out strongly against any idea of their expulsion from the Party” (p. 286) In 1924, when the ‘Leningrad Faction’ led by Zinoviev demanded the expulsion of Trotsky, Stalin and the Central Committee rejected Trotsky’s expulsion. As Stalin said: “We could not agree with Zinoviev and Kamenev because we realized that the policy of expulsion was a peril to the Party, that this method of chopping, of blood-letting — and they were out for blood — was dangerous, infectious. To-day one may be expelled, to-morrow another, the day after it will be a third — and what will be the result?” (P. 287). Later, when Bukharin in the course of a speech told the kulaks to “get rich,” once more the Leningrad faction of Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc. wanted blood; and once more, Stalin and the Central Committee refused. “You demand Bukharin’s blood,” Stalin told Zinoviev, “we shall not give you his blood” (p. 287) In December 1925, Stalin again came out in favour of unity of the Party: “We are against scissions in the Party” (p. 287). As the Coates write, “Throughout this period and up to the end of 1934, the only repressive measures brought to bear on the opposition was the dismissal of its leaders from important positions in the Government and expulsion form the Party” (p. 289). Some, such as Trotsky, were expelled from the USSR, and others, such as Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc., were expelled from certain cities, but none of them were tortured, tried, or killed.

All this changed only after the assassination of Kirov on December 1, 1934. Only then was legal action taken against members of the Right and Left Opposition. Zinoviev and Kamenev were charged, tried, and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. Further investigation revealed far more nefarious activities by members of the Right and Left Opposition, including secret alliances with Nazi Germany and Japan.

The Coates make an interesting observation of the so-called “Show Trials” in 1937-38: that the defendants “didn’t confess the whole of their guilt…Oh, no! they only pleaded guilty or confessed so much as they saw they could no longer deny. In each successive trial they suppressed everything they possibly could suppress about the activities of the various opposition groups and organizations; they did not give away their fellow conspirators so long as they had reason to believe that the authorities did not yet know about their activities. Anybody who reads the verbatim reports of the successive trials cannot but be convinced of this. They pleaded guilty for exactly the same reason as accused in a British, French, or other court plead guilty, even though they may have at first denied their guilt, when they see that the evidence against them in the hand of the authorities is too strong” (p. 293).

It would be easy to dismiss the Coates’ analysis of the 1930s trials as “communist propaganda,” but that is exactly what makes this chapter so unique and invaluable. The Coates don’t just argue that the defendants were not tortured, that it wasn’t revenge killing on the part of Stalin, etc., they cite the testimonies of U.S. and Western ambassadors, journalists, and scholars that attended the trials!

Mr. Ward Price, writing for the Daily Mail (March 8, 1938), hardly sympathetic to the Soviets, wrote: “What conceivable explanation is there for such abnormally stoical insensibility? The confessed traitors know that they cannot escape the death penalty. They have nothing to gain by their abject self-reproaches, nothing to lose by defying to the last the regime for whose ruin they declare they have been working for many years. Why should the fact of being found out have changed their attitude towards Bolshevism? Torture? Men whose spirits had been broken by torment would show some outward signs of their sufferings, and would not have the liveliness of wit to exchange smart repartee with their judges. Terror? It is possible that the Ogpu — the Russian secret police — have seized their relatives as hostages, but what would Yagoda [head of the OGPU and on trial], himself till lately the head of that diabolically cruel gang, have faith in any promises of immunity for them that might be made? Moreover, the evidence at this trial is being given into the microphone and broadcast, so that anyone who knows Russian can tune in and listen. If torture or terrorism had brought about the prisoners’ submission surely one of them would blurt out the truth to the unseen listening world outside” (p. 307).

Sir Bernard Pares, Professor of Slavonic Studies at the London University, in an article for the Spectator, September 18, 1936, wrote: “As to the trial generally, I was in Moscow while it was in progress and followed the daily reports in the Press. Since then I have made a careful study of the verbatim report. Having done that, I must give it as my considered judgement that if the report had been issued in a country X (that is other than the U.S.S.R.) without any of the antecedents I have referred to, the trial would be regarded as one which could not fail to carry conviction. The examination of the sixteen accused by the State Prosecutor is a close work of dispassionate reasoning, in which, in spite of some denials and more evasions, the guilt of the accused is completely brought home. The act of indictment, which is very full and covers thirty pages, frequently cites the admissions of the accused in the preliminary examination, but does not in itself present any difference from what procedure might have been elsewhere. It is only the final speech of the State Prosecutor that he rises to heights of passion, and even here, in view of the admissions made by the accused, he hardly says more than might have been expected from many prosecuting barristers in this country. In the light of this record the only possible repudiation of the results of the investigation would have to be based on an assumption that the whole procedure was from start to finish a gigantic ‘frame-up’. For this the record itself presents no kind of justification” (pp. 312-13).

The Observer reported on August 23, 1936: “It is futile to think the trial was staged and the charges trumped up. The Government’s case against the defendants is genuine” (p. 308).

The Daily Herald correspondent reported: “A second great political trial has come and gone in Moscow within six months. Again we have heard one-time revolutionaries confess to counter-revolution and the most shocking career of murder, sabotage, and anti-government conspiracy in modern times. Now, instead of Zinoviev plotting to assassinate Stalin, we have Radek, renowned for twenty years as a Communist spokesman, planning with Nazi aid ‘the return of capitalism to Russia’. Yet to an eye-witness who attended the Zinoviev trial and who has lived in the Soviet Union since 1934 this proved to be the converse of fantastic as the case unfolded hour by hour and day by day. Nor is the writer’s opinion an isolated one. It was generally shared by the other foreign observers” (p. 308).  

Mr. Dudley Collard, an English barrister and member of the Executive of the National Council for Civil Liberties and the Howard League for Penal Reform, stated (in the Daily Herald, January 28, 1937): “I have never heard of such a tale of treachery, murders, spying, sabotage, and terror as the prisoners have told, with complete callousness and effrontery. In my opinion, there can be no question of a ‘faked’ trial, either with or without the connivance of the accused. It is obvious to anybody that the prisoners who do most of the talking, while Prosecutor Vyshinsky confines himself to an occasional question, are behaving spontaneously. No set of seventeen men could act their parts so brilliantly nor sustain their activity in this way without a slip for four long days. They are clearly in full possession of their faculties, do not appear to be terrorized, and look well. There is nothing to prevent any of them from alleging that the charges were framed” (pp. 309-10).

The News Chronicle reported, January 26, 1937: “All assertions abroad of broken spirits of the defendants and the administration of narcotics upon them by the State to force proper replies is sheer nonsense. The accused are well dressed, appear to be well fed, and in the best of health. They speak their mind with rare interruption from the prosecutor, often asking for the floor, and being given it in the course of fellow-defendants’ testimony” (p. 310).

The New York Times reported, January 24, 1937: “One of the most experienced foreign diplomats told the writer to-night: ‘If this is lying, then I have never heard the truth’” (p. 310)

The News Chronicle reported, March 5, 1938: “All the accused are giving testimony damning themselves with an air of complete sincerity” (p. 311)

The Sunday Times reported, January 31, 1937: “But it is hard to remain wholly skeptical of confessions so circumstantial and penitential. Radek told the Court that he confessed only when he was confronted with the confession of others. He may whittle away the particulars, but it is a hard irreducible core which says ‘I was wrong, I was wicked to do what I did. I deserve to die.’ The strong probability is that he was a traitor, and did many of the things of which he is accused” (p. 313).

An absolutely superb book!

Review: “The Last Soviet Republic: Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus” – Stewart Parker

Belarus has made international headlines in 2020 with the Belarusian presidential election and accusations that the election was rigged in favour of Alexander Lukashenko, who has served as president of Belarus since 1994. Although this seemed like a U.S.-sponsored colour revolution to me (and I still think it is), I didn’t know enough about Belarus to have a strong opinion about the election. Thus, when this book arrived in the mail, I was very eager to read it.

Stewart Parker makes a very interesting and surprisingly compelling case that Belarus is politically, economically, and socially more aligned with Cuba and Venezuela than anywhere else. Under Lukashenko, Belarus has adopted, or more accurately maintained from the era of the USSR, a highly progressive and unusually anti-capitalist socio-economic system, not that dissimilar to Cuba and Venezuela. According to Parker, with some moderate adjustments, like allowing some capitalist production, Belarus has strongly continued the policies of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic, considerably more so than any other former Soviet republic or Eastern Bloc state. The overwhelming majority of the country’s economy is state-owned and there is no “business” or “capitalist” class, all land is publicly owned and the majority of agriculture is still cooperative, education is free and compulsory up to and including university, unemployment is virtually nonexistent, there is no brain drain (Belarus maintains something similar to Cuba in that education is free on condition that you serve the country for a certain number of years) or mass migration, healthcare is universal, and equally generous pensions, funding for cultural activities and events, etc. The IMF and World Bank were kicked out of Belarus because Lukashenko refused to adopt the murderous austerity measures demanded by imperialism that had such disastrous consequences in other former Soviet republics. As Parker writes, there are very few rich Belarusians, and certainly no oligarchs such as emerged in Russia, but there are equally very few destitute and impoverished Belarusians.

Parker cites as an example of Belarusian social policy the dispute between the American fast-food giant McDonald’s and Belarus. Minsk, the capital of Belarus, as CNN even reported, sought to block McDonald’s expansion into the city due to “the state’s concerns about the nation’s health and the promotion of domestic food products.” Although only one example, and a small one at that, I think Minsk’s dispute with McDonald’s indicates that there is something to be said about the social and economic policy of Belarus, that it is not simply another bourgeois-capitalist state to emerge from the overthrow of the USSR.

According to Parker, Belarus’s socio-economic system is due to how deeply intertwined Belarusian history is with that of the former USSR. Under tsarism, Belarus was a non-entity, forming part of the Pale of Settlement, the territory where Jews were permitted to reside, and the Belarusian people were a persecuted minority like most minorities in the “prison house of nations”. Under the Soviet rule the Belarusian language was revived, Polish national-fascism was ended, Belarus formed a constituent Soviet Socialist Republic, illiteracy was eradicated, cooperative farms replaced rich landlords, and the impoverished territory was transformed into one of the most industrialized of all Soviet republics. This had a profound influence on the Belarusian people, who had never known statehood before, besides for a brief period in 1918 under German domination. When the Nazis invaded and occupied Belarus in 1941, more than 300,000 Belarusian partisans waged a relentless and brutal struggle against the Nazis and their Belarusian nationalist collaborators, killing more than 500,000 German soldiers, more than all German losses in the African and Italian fronts combined. Belarus suffered enormous causalities and destruction under Nazi occupation, but just like after the Russian Civil War, the Belarusian people with Soviet support once more rebuilt their republic, and Belarus again was one of the most successful Soviet republics.

The Belarusian people as a whole, Parker writes, are extremely proud of their Soviet heritage, and their experience fighting both the Nazis and their Belarusian nationalist-collaborators helped instill a far more internationalist ideology in Belarus not found in the Ukraine, Poland, Georgia, Russia, etc. Antisemitism, far-right nationalism, and neo-Nazism, all on the rise in the Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Georgia, Russia, etc., are virtually unheard of in Belarus, where national and religious rights are enshrined in law. Indeed, Lukashenko himself has threatened to “tear the arms off any fascist I find,” and after an attack on a synagogue in Minsk in December 2000, Lukashenko declared “we won’t let anyone harm our Jews.”

Parker makes some interesting observations about the conduct of elections in Belarus.

Parker rightfully emphasizes the hypocrisy of the U.S. and other Western imperialist states in condemning Belarusian elections. The U.S. has cozied up to dictators around the world, such as in Turkmenistan and other Central Asian countries, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc. Moreover, the U.S. is hardly democratic itself, with a two-party system, extensive corruption and police brutality, and the fact that its own capital city has no democratic representation in the U.S. Congress or Senate.

Parker then examines ongoing U.S. interference in Belarusian elections. U.S. imperialism, like it has in almost every country in the world, has brazenly interfered in Belarusian elections, funding opposition candidates, newspapers, NGOs and political parties. The examples cited by Parker are almost comical at times. In 2001, when Belarusian police seized computers from an unregistered opposition newspaper, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher demanded the computers be returned to Washington, D.C.! Even more farcical is the late Senator John McCain’s efforts to link Belarus with the September 11th attacks! Speaking at a conference in Washington, D.C., McCain declared how “September 11th opened our eyes to the status of Belarus as a national security threat,” as if the Belarusians were somehow connected to the mostly Saudi hijackers!

That the U.S. openly interferes in Belarusian elections was admitted to by none other than Michael Kozak. Prior to being appointed as U.S. Ambassador to Belarus by President Clinton, Kozak was directly involved in supporting the Contras in Nicaragua and the U.S. invasion of Panama. In a letter to the London Times, Kozak wrote that U.S. “objective and to some degree methodology are the same” in Belarus as in Nicaragua some twenty years earlier! However, as Parker documents, U.S. interference in Belarusian elections often takes the form of supporting the losing candidate deliberately. This is because, as Western intelligence agencies admit, even if Lukashenko didn’t rig an election, he would still probably win, owing to how disorganized and reactionary the foreign-supported Belarusian opposition is and Lukashenko’s own popularity with the masses. Thus, U.S. and Western interference in Belarusian elections often consists of supporting a “unified opposition” candidate that they know will lose to prevent any kind of genuine run-off election and enable the U.S. and other Western imperialist states to condemn the election as fraudulent. As Parker writes, “if the Belarusians cannot be relied upon to vote ‘the right way’, then the West must make the whole process suspect in order to justify isolation and sanctions” (p. 114). Although even in this regard U.S. condemnation of Belarusian elections is outrageously hypocritical. As Parker writes, while refusing to monitor the Belarusian election in 2006 but nonetheless condemning it as fraudulent, the OSCE recognized without complaint “a 97% result for Saahkashvili in Georgia, 93% for Heydar Aliev in Azerbaijan and 89% for Kurmenbek Bakiev in Kyrgyzstan. The key differences between these leaders and Lukashenko is not human rights or democratic processes, but rather political orientation” and the interests of U.S. imperialism (p. 186).

One might quickly denounce Parker’s analysis as being too pro-Lukashenko. However, I recently read a DW article that basically confirms what Parker writes. In this article, Belarusian opposition activist Svetlana Alexievich says she “did not have faith in my people. It seemed to me that people would not take to the streets and that we would carry on living as before, as if time had stood still.” Later in the article Alexievich seems to decry how Belarusians aren’t as violent as Georgians!

This book was a real pager turner for me. Although it is horribly edited and consequently sometimes difficult to read, I like how Parker examines Belarus in a way very similar to Dan Kovalik’s analysis of Venezuela. Very good book.

Review: “Russia and the Right to Self-Determination in the Post-Soviet Space” – Johannes Socher

I was not very enthusiastic about Johannes Socher’s “Russia and the Right to Self-Determination in the Post-Soviet Space” when I first ordered it on Amazon. The title of the book sounded like it was going to be some kind of Russophobic ‘analysis’, i.e., U.S.-NATO propaganda, like books by Svante Cornell, Kamal Makili-Aliyev, Bahruz Balyev, and Heiko Kruger. Of course, I had to order the book, even if I thought it would suck, because ethnic and secessionist conflicts, especially those involving the right to self-determination, is the primary subject of interest to me. But as I began to read the book I really did think, “Maybe this book is different?” Socher is a much better writer than the aforementioned scholars, and the book lacks their flagrant Russophobia, although Socher’s historical analysis is equally as terrible (it is readily apparent that Socher is a legal scholar or lawyer and not a historian). I was intrigued! Sadly, however, this sudden revelation proved to be premature; Socher’s book is U.S.-NATO propaganda, just slightly more subtle.

What infuriates me about books like this one and ones by the aforementioned scholars is the flagrant double-standard employed when examining the policies or actions of the U.S. and its NATO allies, on the one hand, and Russia and its allies, on the other. Socher, Cornell, Kruger, Makili-Aliyev write like they want Russia to be more like the U.S. and NATO but not do U.S.-NATO imperialism. They are trying to achieve the impossible: that of trying to support U.S.-NATO imperialism by criticizing Russian imperialism but in such a way that their criticism of Russian imperialism doesn’t backfire and lend credence to criticism of U.S.-NATO imperialism. After all, the objective is to strengthen U.S.-NATO imperialism, not weaken it, and criticizing any imperialism risks criticizing all imperialism.

A case in point is Socher’s arguments against statehood for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, and Nagorno-Karabakh. Socher recycles all the same arguments of Kruger and Makili-Aliyev: that 1) these entities are supposedly too reliant on outside support to satisfy the requirements of independent statehood under international law, and 2) and that they were established through the use of force in violation of the UN Charter. Of course these arguments are all true. Nobody denies that without Armenian support Nagorno-Karabakh wouldn’t survive and that without Russian support Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria wouldn’t survive. Neither does anybody deny that these de facto states were established through violence against UN member states, i.e., the metropolitan countries, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova.

Without exception, however, when Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia is inevitably examined all these arguments somehow evaporate. It is like Kosovo exists in some kind of vacuum; it declared its independence, no need to examine it in any further detail. The fact that the U.S. and NATO bombed Yugoslavia in violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition against force and without the authorization of the UN Security Council, described by one scholar as a “shameless land grab by the United States” and its NATO allies “to install an enormous military base (Camp Bondsteel) on other people’s strategically located land,” seems to escape the ‘de-ideologized’ analysis of Socher and the other aforementioned scholars. So, too, does the fact that, as Milena Sterio writes, “if international administrators were to withdraw from Kosovo now, it would most likely crumble as a state: it would be unable to militarily defend its borders; to politically sustain its government; to protect its population; to maintain a sound economic and commercial policy; or to explore its natural resources.

If only Kosovo was subjected to the same kind of supposedly ‘de-ideologized’ analysis that Socher subjects Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Transnistria to, maybe the book would have a very different conclusion. But then this would defeat the aim of the book: to defend the interests of U.S.-NATO imperialism by criticizing Russian imperialism. After all, if Kosovo was subjected to the same degree of analysis as the other secessionist entities, it would readily become apparent that Russia hasn’t committed any crime that the U.S. and its NATO allies haven’t already committed to a far greater extent.



Review: “‘Human Relations’ Doctrine: Ideological Weapon of the Monopolies” – Nina Bogomolova

Before I read Nina Bogomolova’s book “‘Human Relations’ Doctrine: Ideological Weapon of the Monopolies” I had no idea what “human relations” doctrine was. A few pages into the book, however, I soon realized I knew exactly what “human relations” doctrine was and that I have personally experienced it — and I knew I was going to like this book!

“Human relations” doctrine refers to the psychological indoctrination of workers by capitalists. Have you ever been told at a workplace that the company was like a “family”, that each employee’s voice mattered, that management had an “open-door policy”, etc.? This is the essence of the human relations doctrine: “subtle psychological methods to create among workers the illusion that in present conditions employers and workers can become ‘equal partners’ with common interest in the success of ‘their’ factory and in the establishment of ‘good human relations’” (pp. 7-8).

Bogomolova traces the origin of human relations doctrine to the 1920s-30s, when the whole capitalist world was hit by an unprecedented economic crisis, and when production became increasingly capital-intensive. “The emergence of ‘human relations’ doctrine,” Bogomolova writes, “and its wide dissemination were called forth by the high level of productive forces at that time, when the high degree of mechanisation in capitalist production while reducing physical stress, involved considerable nervous stress. Employers found themselves compelled to focus their attention on the ‘psychological’ or ‘human’ factor in industry, in so far as the mental state of the workers and their interest in their work were starting to determine productivity levels to an increasing degree” (p. 9). The degree of capital investment in production also made strikes and employee turnover much more costly to capitalists. “At this period industry was becoming much more capital intensive. In the middle of the last century there was an average of $500 worth of equipment per worker in American industry, whereas by the 1930s this figure had risen to several tens of thousands of dollars. Any hold-up resulting from a breakdown of equipment for which workers were responsible or strikes or high labour turnover caused the monopolies enormous losses. It is thus not surprising that the giants of monopoly capital started showing so much more interest in ensuring that the workers showed a ‘dedicated attitude’ to their work and the interests of the company” (p. 10). Moreover, the passing of the Wagner Act (1935), which gave American workers the right to organize unions, made it more difficult, albeit not impossible, for capitalists to use more brutal forms of repression against workers and trade unions (think of the Ludlow Massacre, the Battle of Blair Mountain, etc.). Instead, as Robert Jungk wrote, an important human relations advocate, it was necessary to stem “the wave of anti-capitalist sentiment” among workers and “take the ground from under the feet of present-day movements for social revolution” (p. 12).

The first major study of human relations doctrines was conducted in Hawthorne, near Chicago, at a Western Electric factory, in 1924, known as the Hawthorne Experiment. Researchers found that when workers were convinced of the importance of their work and there was a more “democratic atmosphere” worker productivity increased. The success and popularity of the Hawthorne findings led to the establishment of various human relations departments at major universities in the 1930s, including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and the University of Chicago. Monopoly capital’s interest in human relations continued into the post-WWII years. The American business journal Business Week reported that more than $178,000,000 had been allocated by major corporations including General Electric, General Motors, Ford, Standard Oil, and U.S. Steel, to human relations research in 1960.

Bogomolova, like any Marxist, is sharply critical of the Hawthorne Experiment and the Freudian psychoanalysis theory of human relations derived from it. “Like the neo-Freudians and the behaviorists,” Bogomolova writes, “so too do the advocates of ‘human relations’ minimise the role of consciousness in man’s behavior. Their concept of the way in which feelings, emotions and sub-conscious factors dominate human behavior were stated by Mayo and Roethlisberger [researchers at Hawthorne] who maintained that human behaviour was in the main non-logical and irrational” (p. 43). While conceding that “specific biological and psychological needs do indeed influence man’s behaviour, these needs do not exhaust the complete diversity of human needs and, what is more important, they are not the decisive factor in human behaviour. The whole course of history shows that the behaviour of human beings and in particular that of large social groups is determined by their material needs, the nature of which is directly dependent on the level of development and the requirements of social production, on the whole range of the conditions of life in a given society, on the specific socio-economic position of a group or individual in society, and above all on the relationship of the group or individual to the means of production” (pp. 41-42).

Under capitalism the means of production are privately owned and production is carried out not to satisfy human or social needs but to produce profit for the capitalist class. “The urge to extract profit is the subjective expression of objective economic laws of capitalist production and it is this which always determines the behaviour of the capitalist” (p. 42). Meanwhile the proletariat, deprived of any means of production and not possessing anything apart from its labour power “only has one path open to it: it can sell its labour power in order to secure its means of subsistence” (p. 42). Thus, Bogomolova writes, “Satisfaction of the working-class needs in capitalist society founded on private ownership of the means of production flounders against the narrowness of capitalist relations, which is one of the most important factors in the social revolution” (p. 42).

Because human relations doctrine advocates “choose to ignore decisive socio-economic laws of social development makes it impossible for them to probe the essence of social phenomena,” Bogomolova concludes. “As a result, many of the objective processes they have discerned in the workings of modern capitalist society are represented in a distorted light in their writings and the means they recommend for establishing ‘co-operation’ between labour and capital can only exert a temporary influence and are of an essentially reactionary utopian nature” (p. 152). Modern productive forces have attained such a high level of development to make legitimate calls for “a creative approach to work on the part of those engaged in it, respect for personal dignity of every worker and the establishment of democratic, free and genuinely human relations between all members of society” (p. 152). Capitalism, however, “being, as it is, based on exploitation is not able to provide the conditions indispensable for such relations to evolve,” contrary to the subjective and utopian theories of human relations advocates (p. 152).

This book reminded me so much of an incident at work. At the time I was working for a company where management incessantly said the company was “like a family.” Employees weren’t employees, they were members of “the [Insert Company’s Name] Family.” Because I was working full-time in an office during a pandemic and have a chronic illness I took quite a few sick days. I was called into the office of the General Manager, the most useless person I have ever seen work in an office (he made $100,000+ and the biggest tasks he dealt with were if the coffee machine worked in the lunch room and if the garbage was collected), to talk about my sick days. I’ll never forget how quickly his rhetoric of “we’re a family” turned into “we’re a business operating to make profit” in the course of that conversation. Ugh.

Anyways I seriously think this book should be required reading in schools. Too many workers defend capitalists like they are ‘equal partners’ in what is fundamentally an unequal and coercive transaction.

Review: “Soviet Lithuania on the Road to Prosperity” – Antanas Sneickus

“Soviet Lithuania on the Road to Prosperity” by Antanas Sneickus, who served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Lithuania from 15 August 1940 to 22 January 1974, is a short little book about the history of Lithuania and its progressive socio-economic development under socialism.

Since I know very little about Lithuanian history, I thought it was an interesting read, albeit it is difficult to determine how much of it is accurate. Certainly I think the author’s description of the failed socialist revolution in Lithuania between 1918-19, Lithuania’s backwardness under bourgeois-fascist rule and its incredible transformation under socialism are accurate. All of this is consistent with other former regions of the USSR, such as Central Asia and the Caucasus. However, even if one rejects bourgeois historiography, like I do, I felt rather conflicted with the author’s description of how socialism came to Lithuania. According to the author, the Lithuanian working-class in alliance with the peasantry, under the leadership of the Communist Party of Lithuania, successfully overthrew bourgeois-fascist rule in 1940, with the support of the USSR. There’s no mention of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, which even as a Marxist raises doubts about the historical accuracy of this book.

Nonetheless the book is a good little introduction to Soviet Lithuania. There’s lots of photos of Lithuania’s socialist development, including agricultural co-operatives, new libraries, schools, and other cultural and educational institutions, etc., and even more statistics and figures.

Review: “Getting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan” – Heraldo Munoz

Heraldo Munoz is a Chilean politician who was appointed to head a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. This book is kind of like an unofficial memoir of his experience investigating Bhutto’s assassination. It is a unique blend of a historical and political analysis of Pakistan in the style of Ahmed Rashid and a Whodunit murder investigation.

In my youthful years I was a huge admirer of Benazir Bhutto. The first woman to lead a Muslim-majority state?! What’s more awesome and bold than that?! Of course my understanding of Bhutto and her politics naturally has changed considerably since then. Despite her high-sounding, progressive phraseology and rhetoric, Bhutto was an aristocratic Sindhi, a feudal princess whose multiple governments did nothing for the people of Pakistan and who was essentially a Pakistani Margaret Thatcher. Yuck.

Nonetheless there’s no question that Bhutto was a force to be reckoned with in Pakistan and that she was a serious threat to the military regime of Pervez Musharraf. Although Munoz never outright says it in the book, through numerous subtle hints and clues one is inevitably left with the impression that Munoz believes Musharraf was behind Bhutto’s assassination. According to Munoz, Musharraf “was furious when Bhutto made her announcement” to return to Pakistan before the 2008 elections (p. 27). Musharraf did not want Bhutto in Pakistan campaigning for the elections; he wanted the elections conducted in Pakistan without Bhutto’s active participation. That was the beginning of numerous questionable actions or inactions by the Musharraf regime. Even before Bhutto returned to Pakistan, Musharraf reportedly told Bhutto during a phone call with Bhutto while she was in Washington, D.C. that “You should understanding something. Your security is based on the state of our relationship” (p. 184).

Before her assassination the Musharraf regime refused to allow Bhutto’s security team to use cellphone jamming devices when she arrived in Karachi. Nor were bulletproof vehicles available for her forcing Bhutto’s security team to construct a makeshift vehicle for her. As her motorcade proceeded from the airport the street lights dimmed over her motorcade. Then a bomb detonated, killing 149 people. Afterwards Musharraf refused to allow the FBI or Scotland Yard to investigate the attack on Bhutto in Karachi.

On the day of Bhutto’s assassination no Pakistani Elite Force protection was provided in violation of prior security agreement(s). The Pakistani police failed to provide a defensive box formation around Bhutto when she arrived at the campaign rally, again in violation of prior security agreement(s). Bhutto’s back-up escape vehicle, a black Mercedes, Munoz notes, was strangely the first vehicle to leave the rally, and headed back to Bhutto’s house. The Mercedes back-up vehicle “traveled all the way to the Zardari house, a drive of twenty to thirty minutes, before the occupants of the vehicle became aware that Bhutto had been injured in the blast. They didn’t even stop at a safe distance following the explosion to check on her condition, the condition of her vehicle, and whether the backup vehicle was needed” (p. 139). Pakistani police failed to adhere to the route planned by the PPP, blocking of the exit Bhutto’s motorcade was supposed to take (p. 140). “Consequently, in an emergency it would have been impossible to for Bhutto’s convoy to use the escape route, unless those police vehicles had been quickly moved” (p. 140).

After the assassination, doctors at the Rawalpindi Hospital were refused permission by the police chief to conduct a postmortem autopsy on Bhutto, in violation of Pakistani law. “Pakistani law dictates that in the case of an unnatural death, the police must have a postmortem examination report as part of their investigation…Only a district magistrate may waive the need for a postmortem examination” (p. 147). Bhutto’s body was subsequently transferred to a military base and placed in a “regular room,” not a medical room, to await her husband’s arrival from Dubai. Bhutto’s body was thus under military control for several hours after she was declared dead at the hospital. Furthermore Pakistani police failed to secure the crime scene and Bhutto’s Land Cruiser. The latter was taken to the police station and cleaned of any hair, blood, or other matter, and within one hour and forty minutes, the police were instructed to hose down the crime scene with fire hoses. “It is my belief,” Munoz writes, that the police deliberately botched the investigation into Bhutto’s assassination” (p. 161).

Munoz contrasts the investigation into Bhutto’s assassination with an assassination attempt on Musharraf. After one such assassination attempt, “the investigators sealed off the area of the attack, and immediately ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], MI [Military Intelligence], and police personnel were on the scene collecting forensic evidence. They discovered the blown-off face of an individual, a half-burned ID card, and the remains of a cell phone on the roof of a nearby building. According to Musharraf, ‘a meticulous search of the area helped find the SIM card. Surprisingly it was intact.’ These clues and further investigation led to the arrest of the attackers. These thorough investigations stood in stark contrast with what happened after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination” (p. 112).

I enjoyed reading this book. Although the book is mainly about Munoz’s experience leading the UN Commission into Bhutto’s assassination, the book provides a surprisingly good and matter-of-fact history of Pakistan, without the ‘patriotic’ nonsense of American writers. Munoz, after all, is not only an armchair intellectual and diplomat but also lived and fought under a fascist military dictatorship sponsored by the U.S. (Pinochet in Chile). Perhaps it is this combination of experience that enables him to write about Pakistan without the militaristic “hurrah!” of American writers.

Review: “Danger: NATO” – Anatoly Grishchenko, Vladimir Semenov, and Leonid Teplinsky

“Danger NATO” by Anatoly Grishchenko, Vladimir Semenov, and Leonid Teplinsky is a short Marxist-Leninist analysis of NATO published in the USSR. The book examines the history, establishment, and ideology of NATO, how the U.S. uses NATO to pressure Western European states to act as junior and subservient partners of U.S. imperialism against their own national interests, and the numerous but ultimately futile efforts by the USSR and the Warsaw Pact to achieve mutual peace, security, and disarmament between the West and the East.

Nothing in the book is ‘new’ or even radical to anyone even remotely familiar with U.S. imperialism and NATO (the fact that a Nazi was made Chairman of the NATO Military Committee should tell you everything you need to know about NATO). What I think is valuable about this little book is that all the information is contained in a single place. This book is like a mini-encyclopedia on all things related to NATO. Some of the key points the book raises are:

  • The argument of some U.S. and Western leaders that the establishment of NATO was necessary to stop the Soviet advance into Europe was ridiculous because NATO was established (1949) before the Warsaw Pact was signed (1955).
  • Germany was partitioned in violation of Potsdam because the U.S. and Britain wanted to re-militarize Germany as an anti-Soviet counter-force (literally déjà vu of the 1930s).
  • The declaration of the first meeting of the Warsaw Treaty Political Consultative Committee in 1956 stated: “Peaceful conditions for the development of European peoples can be best guaranteed by the creation of a European collective security system which would replace the military groupings currently existing in Europe” (pp. 35-36).
  • There’s no evidence that U.S. and Western European leaders truly believed the USSR posed a threat to Western Europe. John Foster Dulles himself is quoted as writing that Soviet communism “avoids anything that suggests a war of nation against nation…Some of the highest and most competent authorities in Europe have recently told me that they do not believe that the Communist Party would dare to order the Russian armies to march on Western Europe as an invading force unless Russia had been attacked, so that it was clear to the Russian people that the operation was necessary for self-defense…most well-qualified persons are inclined to feel their is no imminent danger of the Red Army’s being marched out of Russia against Western Europe or Asia in a war of aggression” (p. 19).
  • Virtually all proposals of by the USSR and Warsaw Pact countries were rejected by the U.S. and NATO, including the mutual and simultaneous abolishment of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
  • NATO served as a means for U.S. imperialism to undermine the sovereignty and national independence of Western European states. Examples include the American Plan 100-1, which, in “emergencies,” U.S. troops were expected to suppress any movement in NATO countries that would threaten U.S. strategic interests. The French press itself publicized how the U.S. exercised secret control over political developments in allied nations so as to detect in advance trends capable of weakening these countries’ dependence on the U.S. Similarly, NATO document code-named M-116 SIS-69-6 recommended action be taken against youth and student movements by isolating students and young workers from politics in order to purge the more politically active (pp. 21-22).
  • At a time that the USSR and other socialist countries were reducing their armed strength the U.S. and NATO were increasing theirs. According to the authors, between 1955-57 the USSR reduced its armed forces by 2,140,000 troops, Poland by 141,500, Czechoslovakia by 44,000, the GDR by 30,000, Romania by 60,000, Bulgaria by 18,000, Hungary by 35,000, and Albania by 9,000. At the same time U.S. and Western leaders were trying to turn NATO into a fourth atomic power. A permanent item on the agenda of the many conferences of U.S., Western European and NATO leaders was the establishment of the Multinational Nuclear Forces throughout the ’50s and ’60s (pp. 40-41).
  • The book also examines NATO’s role against national liberation movements throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This includes U.S./NATO support for Israeli aggression, the dismemberment of Mauritius for the establishment of a military base in the Indian Ocean, NATO support for apartheid South Africa against the Namibian peoples, NATO threats and aggression against Cuba, etc.

Overall the book is a serious indictment of NATO. Any progressive minded person in the world today should oppose NATO and support its dissolution. Even if you aren’t a Marxist there really is no benefit in the world of a quasi-military power like NATO. Fuck NATO.

2021….ughh

December was kind of a chaotic month for me on multiple fronts (well, let’s be honest, 2021 sucked!). In mid-December I started a new job, then I resigned from that job, and this week I have started a second new job at a much better company than before. That was a stressful and messy transition. Besides work, I am in the process of having all 1,400+ books we own appraised for insurance purposes. I was told that my LibraryThing.com system was not detailed and accessible enough for an appraiser, so I had to work on cataloguing each one on an Excel spreadsheet. On top of that I hired an editor on Upwork.com this week to begin editing my manuscript on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. My goal is to publish my manuscript this year on Amazon using their self-publishing service. Just think — me, a published author! I am super excited about that!

Anyways, since I last published a book review on December 23, I have read a couple more books, mostly short books, and I’ll be writing short reviews for them soon!

Review: “Modern Bulgaria: Problems and Tasks in Building an Advanced Socialist Society” – Todor Zhivkov

“Modern Bulgaria: Problems and Tasks in Building an Advanced Socialist Society” is an anthology of writings and speeches by the Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov, who served as General Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party from 1954-89.

Most of the chapters are repetitive in style and content like so many other books published in the USSR or Eastern Europe, albeit this book was published in the U.S. This doesn’t mean the book is not worth reading. On the contrary, I think Zhivkov, while no theoretician, makes several cogent arguments about issues facing socialist Bulgaria and the world communist movement.

In “Problems of Our Revolution and the Fundamental Laws of Social Development,” the first chapter in the book and an excerpt from the Report to the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party to the 7th Congress in 1958, Zhivkov discusses the nature of national tendencies in socialist revolution. Zhivkov seems to take aim at unnamed “tendencies” in the international communist movement that “exaggerate the role and importance of national traits, tendencies that underrate, deny, and, in the long run, revise some basic principles of proletarian revolution and socialist construction” (p. 6). Quoting from Lenin’s “State and Revolution,” Zhivkov argues that “The transition from capitalism to communism is certainly bound to yield a tremendous abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat” (p. 6). Zhivkov cites two examples from socialist development in Bulgaria to highlight this important point.

Firstly was the alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry in the Fatherland Front. Quoting from Georgi Dimitrov, Zhivkov writes how socialism was achieved in Bulgaria not under the slogan of Soviet power but under that of establishing a people’s democratic rule. “In the conditions then existing in Bulgaria,” Zhivkov writes, “this slogan facilitated the alliance of the working class not only with the poor but also with the middle peasants in the struggle against fascism. It helped to neutralize part of the Bulgarian bourgeoisie and created conditions under which some of its representatives could take part in the struggle. As a result, after the victory of the revolution, our proletarian dictatorship was established not in the form of soviets, but in that of a people’s democracy in which representatives of the petty-bourgeois and bourgeois parties participated” (p. 8).

Secondly was the development of socialist agriculture in Bulgaria. Instead of rapid collectivization and the nationalization of all land socialist Bulgaria established cooperative farms. “Our co-operative farms differ from the collective farms in the Soviet Union mainly in that the land was not nationalized. The co-operative farmers have retained private ownership of the land they held when they joined the co-operative groups and they receive rent for their holdings” (p. 9). Zhivkov is quick to clarify the meaning and role of rent in socialist Bulgaria: “It would be wrong, however, to identify this rent with absolute capitalist rent, which is based on the monopolistic private ownership of land and on the capitalist method of production. Actually, the rent that exists in the co-operative farms is a new economic category, since it is not an expression of relations of exploitation. It constitutes a relatively minor part of the income of the co-operative farms and is distributed among the farmers on the basis of the acreage of land they brought into the co-operative rather than on the amount of labor they perform” (p. 8). Moreover, the cooperative farms “are constantly developing, and along with their organizational, economic and financial stabilization, the farmers consciously and voluntarily are gradually reducing the rent or abolishing it altogether. Thus, when conditions are ripe, the land becomes public property, more socialist in character, more like collective farms” (p. 8).

These are two examples Zhivkov uses to demonstrate how national characteristics and conditions influence the political forms but not the essence of the transition from capitalism to communism.

In “People’s Culture, Socialist Culture,” a speech delivered at the concluding session of the First Congress of Bulgarian Culture in 1967, Zhivkov makes some interesting and valuable points on the development of socialist culture. Zhivkov criticizes the tendency to see Bulgaria’s history as all bad until the socialist revolution. According to Zhivkov, while many people suffered during Bulgaria’s 1,300 history of foreign and domestic monarcho-fascist oppression, it is important to incorporate into Bulgaria’s new socialist culture the democratic and progressive elements of the Bulgarian people’s history. Zhivkov continues this theme in “Party Work and the Youth”. “We need to assess Bulgarian history from a Marxist-Leninist point of view. The popular masses are the creators of history, and the historical figures who were leaders of the people and the country in various periods were the spokesmen of the people’s social aspirations and tendencies. A Marxist assessment of the objective role of Bulgaria’s eminent figures is therefore essential. Our predecessors who lived in this countryside, at these crossroads, fought selflessly over centuries under extremely difficult conditions to preserve the Bulgarian state, to save the Slavs from assimilation. This was a mighty struggle involving prodigious efforts, great sacrifices to save Bulgaria from the threats of the modern Byzantine Empire, of the Franks and the other barbarians who made frequent incursions into our lands. Yet we do not emphasize this” (p. 39).

In “The October Revolution and the Historic Destiny of the Bulgarian People,” an article published in Pravda in 1967, Zhivkov spares no criticism for the Chinese. “The Bulgarian Communist Party is well aware of the fact that the principal condition for bridling the imperialists and frustrating their plans is the unity and cohesion of the countries of the world socialist system, of the international communist movement and of the progressive forces all over the world. That is why the Bulgarian communists and the entire Bulgarian people are profoundly indignant at the actions of Mao Tse-Tung and his adventurous group. We find no justification for any action directed against the Soviet Union, against the CPSU, the international communist movement and against our unity and cohesion in the face of our sworn enemy. We cannot assume a position of ‘neutrality’ as if it were a matter of ordinary difference between two parties and not of frenzied slanderous attacks by the Chinese leaders against the Soviet Union and the entire world communist movement, attacks which betray the interests of communism everywhere, including China” (pp. 35-36).

Because I know little of Bulgaria I thought the book was interesting and that Zhivkov makes some valuable points about socialism and communism. The book is definitely of historical value. But unless you are fascinated with Bulgaria or Zhivkov I probably wouldn’t recommend reading it. Besides a few valid points most of the chapters are extremely repetitive and can probably just be skipped over entirely.

Books I Read in 2021

My goal was to read between 65-70 books in 2021 (I read 53 in 2019 and 58 in 2020). Unfortunately 2021 was a crazy (and by that I mean terrible) year for us and I didn’t even make it to 50 books!

Although I didn’t read as many books as I hoped I did read about a lot of diverse subjects. I read about revolutions in Mexico, Nicaragua, the DPRK, and Mongolia; ethnic conflict and nationalism in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Oromia, Darfur, the Tana Delta, Chechnya, Bashkortostan, West Papua, and the South Pacific; WWII including the memoirs of Molotov, the Siege of Leningrad, the Nuremberg Trials, and British-French-American collaboration with Nazi Germany against the USSR; the history of the Gambia, Liberia, and the emirates of Bukhara and Khiva in Central Asia; the foreign policy of Turkmenistan’s post-Soviet regime; biographies of General de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, and Rosa Luxemburg; a Marxist-Leninist analysis of mass media in the West; labour struggles in New Zealand and the North American woodworking and forestry; France’s imperialist wars and the failure of decolonization in Chad and Japan’s post-WWII imperialism; immigrant minorities in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi; and more.

Here are the books I read in 2021 🙂

Review: “The Indian Minority of Zambia, Rhodesia, and Malawi” – Floyd and Lillian Dotson

After reading “Blood on their Banner,” I couldn’t decide what I wanted to read next, when I looked at a book on my shelf and thought, “Hey, this looks like an obscure book, I shall read this one!” That book was “The Indian Minority of Zambia, Rhodesia, and Malawi” by Floyd and Lillian, which I most likely acquired from A la Page years ago.

The book is a sociological study of Indian immigrants and their descendants living in Central Africa. Thanks to such books as Shiraz Durrani’s “Kenya’s War of Independence: Mau Mau and its Legacy of Resistance to Colonialism and Imperialism, 1984-1990” and his biography of the Kenyan trade unionist and revolutionary Makhan Singh, I knew that Indians and their descendants occupied a prominent role in African affairs. But I still had a lot of questions: Why did so many Indians immigrate to Africa of all places? What was their socio-economic position in Africa? What are relations between Indians and their descendants like with Europeans and indigenous Africans? I knew there was some ethnic tension or oppression involving Indians and their descendants, such as Idi Amin’s expulsion of some 80,000 Indians and their descendants from Uganda in 1972, which at the time I learned of it struck me as odd.

Anyhow, as stated above, the book is a sociological study of Indians and their descendants in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. It is a comprehensive study based on fieldwork done by the authors in the late 1950s and again in the mid-1960s. A lot of the material is thus obtained in interviews conducted by the authors. There are chapters on the economic position Indians and their descendants occupy, religion, the heritage of caste, family and household, interethnic relations, history and settlement, pre- and post-independence politics, etc.

I found the book informative and interesting but besides the subject matter there was nothing notable or exceptional about it. I did, however, find the authors’ constant reference to the “cultural superiority” of Europeans and Indians over Africans, the authors’ British aristocrat style of writing and analysis, and especially the positive assessment of the racist Ian Smith regime in Rhodesia unsettling albeit not altogether surprising.

Conclusion: if you have to read it, read it; if not, Wikipedia should suffice.  

I Went Outside My Comfort Zone Again — Learning Muay Thai!

(Featured photo source: https://www.onefc.com/lifestyle/muay-thai-stance/)

This week my wife and I started doing something new — learning Muay Thai martial arts at Kwest Muay Thai & Kickboxing.

For a while both of us have wanted to get in shape and be more active, but a standard gym membership doesn’t work for us. Neither of us are going to want to run on a treadmill, ride a stationary bike, etc. after working 8-12 hours in an office. Previous experience has proven to us that anything that makes us want to look at the clock and think, “Am I done yet?” isn’t something that will work for us long-term.

Back in high school karate was offered as a course (it was classified as an “arts” course along with music, art, drama, and dance). I remember what a complete workout that was; legs, arms, cardio, it was a real full body workout. But it wasn’t only a body workout. You also workout your brain while doing martial arts, and this for me is the key difference. You don’t just go through the same motions everyday. You have to think about and be consciously aware of what you are doing in martial arts. That thinking triggers a thought process in my brain similar to what chess does: even if you sucked horribly at it, you think about what you did, re-think it again, re-think it more, re-think it even more, try again, rinse and repeat. You keep thinking about it long after you have stopped doing it. It is that constant thinking that stays with me that motivates me to keep doing it.

I wanted to do that again, not GoodLife or Shapes.

I am thoroughly enjoying the classes at Kwest. All the staff and instructors are outstanding motivators and teachers. Even if you suck spectacularly (like me) they make you feel like they genuinely want you to succeed and do better. Kelly, the founder/head instructor, is incredibly helpful and willing to accommodate my work schedule. If anyone is in the Winnipeg area definitely check them out!

I hope in the next 6-12 months I will get in great shape and improve my skills!

Review: “Blood on their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific” – David Robie

David Robie’s “Blood on their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific” is a comprehensive and outstanding work on the struggles of the peoples of the South Pacific against colonialism and for the right to self-determination. No other work on the South Pacific compares in the amount detail and information contained in Robie’s book, not even Andre Vltchek’s “Oceania: Neocolonialism, Nukes and Bones”. “Although most Western news coverage of the Pacific islands continues to give an impression of the region as a tourist dream world of sun-drenched atolls, sandy beaches and coconut economies where the biggest events are the occasional cyclone or hurricane,” Robie writes, “the reality is quite different. “The ugly side of Oceania involves genocide, assassination, guerilla warfare, and, most recently, a military takeover and an abortive constitutional coup” (pp. 14-15).

Robie’s book covers a wide range of issues: U.S. and French nuclear tests on Bikini and Moruroa, respectively, and the struggle to make the South Pacific nuclear free; Indonesia’s occupation and genocide in East Timor and West Papua; the 1987 military coup d’état in Fiji; the assassination of Palau’s first president Haruo Remeliik; Vanuatu’s struggle with French backed separatists in Espiritu Santo (known as the “Coconut War”); New Zealand and Australian neocolonialism; guerilla warfare and apartheid in New Caledonia; etc.

I have read some books but not a lot on this region of the world, including Michael C. Howard’s “Fiji: Race and Politics in an Island State” and Andre Vltchek’s “Oceania: Neocolonialism, Nukes and Bones”. Honestly, besides the military coups and tensions between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians in Fiji, nuclear weapons testing and radioactive fallout, and the wars in East Timor and West Papua, I was totally unaware of everything else in this book. Apartheid and guerrilla warfare in New Caledonia!? Katanga-like, French-supported secession in Vanuatu?! The assassination of Palau’s first president? French spies sabotaging anti-nuclear vessels and protests?! None of this should have come as a surprise to me, but I suppose I was taken in by the sun-drenched atolls and sandy beaches more than I expected.

Great book. It really opened my eyes and has made me want to learn more about the Pacific region.

Review: “Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Work” – Paul Frölich

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Paul Frölich’s famous biography of Rosa Luxemburg. A lot of what is written in the book strikes me as ultra-left, maybe even Trotskyist; and since I am not expert on Luxemburg’s life and her theories, I find it difficult to determine how much of the ultra-leftism, encompassing everything from dubious economic conclusions to outright anti-Sovietism, is an accurate reflection of Luxemburg’s political ideas or the author’s own bias.

Polish Bourgeoisie vs. Russian Bourgeoisie?

In the chapter “The National Question as a Strategic Problem,” which to my dismay offers little insight into Luxemburg’s violent dispute with Lenin on the right of nations to self-determination, Frölich examines Luxemburg’s opposition to Polish independence from Russia. Among the reasons Luxemburg opposed Polish independence, Frölich writes, was because “Russian and Polish capitalism were bound to each other by a strong solidarity of interests, that they depended on each other and profited from each other” (p. 27). Those “Tsarist measures adduced as evidence of anti-Polish economic policies all aimed in reality at prodding Polish industry into purchasing Russian, rather than foreign, raw materials. And, finally, Russian expansionist policies led Tsarism to form stronger ties with Polish, than with native Russian, industry, because Polish industry was better equipped to take advantage of the expanding market” (p. 27).

Nobody I can think of has ever denied that capitalism was more highly developed in Poland than in Russia. But to argue that tsarist Russia favoured the Polish bourgeoisie and Polish industry over the Russian bourgeoisie and Russian industry, and that tsarist Russia was content being a source of raw materials for Polish industry, seems extremely dubious if not completely false. If this were true, that would mean tsarist Russia was basically captive of Polish capitalism, almost like a reverse colonialism. It would also imply that the Polish bourgeoisie were the impetus for Russian expansionism in Central Asia and other Russian colonial territories; Russia exploited Central Asia for raw materials such as cotton, which, if what Luxemburg (or Frölich?) wrote is true, would mean that Russian expansionism in Central Asia ultimately benefited the bourgeoisie of Poland more than the bourgeoisie of Russia. None of this seems accurate to me.

Too Much

Throughout the book Frölich credits Luxemburg with ideas and successes as if she was single-handedly responsible for them all. This distorts not only the history of Luxemburg but also of those ideas and successes. For example, when examining Luxemburg’s most important theoretical work, The Accumulation of Capital, Frölich credits the theory of imperialism to Luxemburg’s genius — and only her genius. According to Frölich, “Rosa Luxemburg had solved a problem with which economists had wrestled for a fully century, ever since the first great economic crisis in 1815; a problem with had withstood even the intellectual powers of Marx” (p. 158). Just read this passage on page 164:

The Accumulation of Capital did more than solve an abstract theoretical problem: it also proved that imperialism, with all its typical accompaniments — the rivalry of capitalist states for colonies and spheres of influence, for investment possibilities for European capital and raw-material resources; capital export; high protective tariffs; the predominant role of bank and trust capital; the armaments race, etc. — was not an accidental by-product of certain political measures, nor did it serve merely the interests of narrow capitalist cliques (the armaments industries); rather it was a historically necessary phase of capitalist development — in fact, the final stage of that development…”

Not a single word about J. A. Hobson, Rudolph Hilferding, Lenin, etc. The theory of imperialism was an achievement of Luxemburg and Luxemburg alone. This is not the only remarkable achievement attributed to Luxemburg by Frölich. Even the October Revolution of 1917, writes Frölich, “was the first triumph of Rosa Luxemburg’s ideas[!!!]…” (p. 233, emphasis added).

Socialism in One Country and the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact

According to Frölich, Luxemburg opposed “socialism in one country” advocated by Stalin, believing that without a world revolution socialism was doomed to fail in the Soviet Union. Frölich defends Luxemburg’s Trotskyist position by claiming that the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 proves without a doubt that socialism had failed in the USSR! (p. 252). What nonsense!

Conclusion

I wouldn’t recommend this book. Rosa Luxemburg was no doubt a brilliant Marxist theoretician and a fiery orator (her condemnation of Kautsky was excellent!), but this book does not provide an accurate historical account of her ideas or her life as a person. Frölich’s book strikes me as a biography of an important Marxist theoretician through the perspective of a disgruntled Trotskyist.

“General De Gaulle: His Life and Work” – Nikolai Molchanov

“General de Gaulle: His Life and Work” by Nikolai Molchanov is one of the BEST biographies I have ever read. Molchanov, a Soviet scholar, offers a Marxist-Leninist analysis of one of France’s most important leaders, General Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free France forces against Vichy France and Nazi Germany in WWII, Chairman of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, and President of France from 1959-1969.

This Soviet biography of a prominent Western statesmen is quite unlike that written about Churchill by V. G. Trukhanovsky (see review here). Both Molchanov and Trukhanovsky offer reasonably objective assessments of de Gaulle and Churchill respectively; however, one can’t help but notice that the biography of de Gaulle is far less vitriolic than the one about Churchill! Clearly de Gaulle was held in much higher esteem in the USSR than Churchill…LOL!

Molchanov’s splendidly written book — it reads like a thriller novel —is commendably balanced in its assessment of de Gaulle.

On the one hand, De Gaulle is praised in the book for his military foresight, historical knowledge, and resolute defense of France. In the chapter “Tanks,” for example, Molchanov examines de Gaulle’s pre-WWII military theories and conflicts with the French High Command. De Gaulle believed a war with Germany was imminent and that this war would be fought with highly mobile, mechanized armies, rendering the Maginot Line useless should the Germans attack France. Molchanov ironically describes how the French High Command rejected de Gaulle’s suggestions to reform the French armed forces but Germany’s Nazi leaders adopted them! In later chapters, Molchanov praises de Gaulle’s opposition to NATO, the Vietnam War, and Israeli expansionism, and support for closer Franco-Soviet relations and Algerian self-determination. Writing about de Gaulle’s decision to withdraw France from NATO, Molchanov writes how “It can be considered in the same light as de Gaulle’s struggle for building an armoured corps in the 1930s, even the feat of June 18, 1940, the struggle against the European Defence Community, or the cessation of the Algerian war, that is, those stages in the General’s biography at which he resolutely embodied the will of France and served her national interest. He again showed his exceptional qualities of a great political leader capable of pursuing a goal despite numerous obstacles, overcoming them with unusual patience and tenacity” (p. 364).

On the other hand, de Gaulle is described as a conservative military officer not without some similarities with Petain and other Vichy leaders, opposed to democracy and parliamentarianism, contemptuous of the French working-class, and with a penchant for monarchism. Although “General de Gaulle despised the base amoral motives of the bourgeoisie, the eternal profit chasing, primitive mercenary spirit, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” de Gaulle remained “a man of that class despite everything, though he served it by frequently acting against its desires and aspirations” (p. 339).

This review really doesn’t do this book justice — but I must start preparing for work tomorrow. I strongly advise anyone interested in WWII to read this book. I couldn’t put it down!

Review: “The Red Feds: Revolutionary Industrial Unionism and the New Zealand Federation of Labour, 1908-1914” – Erik Olssen

“The Red Feds: Revolutionary Industrial Unionism and the New Zealand Federation of Labour, 1908-1914” by Erik Olssen chronicles the momentous changes in the New Zealand working-class in the period prior to WWI.

The main focus of this book are the changes and struggles within the working-class as opposed to between workers and employers typical of similar books. Prior to 1908, New Zealand was known as a workingman’s paradise, characterized by a worker-friendly Liberal-Labour (Lib-Lab) government and industrial system and minimal labour disputes, attracting hundreds of thousands of immigrants. But in 1908 things changed. Miners in Blackball (near Greymouth) started to demand a 30 minute instead of a 15 minute lunch break. When the coal company sacked the miners, the Blackball Miner’s Union went out on strike, in violation of New Zealand’s compulsory arbitration system and prohibition of strikes. The strike was a victory for the miners, a watershed moment in the history of New Zealand’s labour movement.

The victory of the Blackball miners convinced more workers to de-register their unions from the pro-employer, bureaucratic arbitration system and adopt the strike as a method of struggle. These more militant unions, at first mostly miners, formed the New Zealand Federation of Labour (known as the ‘red Federation’) in 1909, a federation of syndicalist trade unions opposed to the arbitration system.

The creation of the Red Federation created deep divisions within the New Zealand labour movement. Firstly, the Red Feds encouraged industrial unionism and the establishment of One Big Union, thereby earning the wrath of craft unionists. Secondly, the Red Feds encouraged strike action as a revolutionary method of overthrowing capitalism, in contrast to the ‘Lib-Lab’ labour reformism that had predominated in New Zealand. These divisions continued to divide the labour movement up until, and contributed to, the defeat of the Red Feds in the near general strike of 1913-14, when 14,000 to 16,000 workers went on strike and virtually crippled the country’s economy.

My overall review of the book is somewhat negative. Although an interesting subject, like so many other books I have read published by Oxford University Press, the poor writing and editing diminishes the quality of the material. I only stuck it out as long as I did because of the subject; it reads like a lecturer rambling on in a hall incoherently without regard to whether anyone understands him. This is why I generally don’t care for books published by Oxford.