Review: “The United Nations and the Indonesian Takeover of West Papua, 1962-1969: The Anatomy of Betrayal” – John Saltford

John Saltford’s “The United Nations and the Indonesian Takeover of West Papua, 1962-1969: The Anatomy of Betrayal” provides an outstanding analysis of the failure of the United Nations to implement the 1962 New York Agreement. Moreover, although the main interest of the Saltford is not the right of peoples to self-determination under international law, it is impossible to examine the New York Agreement without reference to the right of peoples to self-determination, and when necessary Saltford offers an equally outstanding analysis of this fundamental right in international law.

West Papua (also known as West Irian, Irian Jaya, and West New Guinea) refers to the largest and easternmost part of Indonesia (it has since been administratively renamed and divided by Indonesia) and the western half of the island of New Guinea. The dispute over West Papua began when Indonesia achieved independence from the Netherlands in 1950 under the leadership of President Sukarno. The Dutch refused to handover West Papua, instead choosing to prepare the Papuans for independence. At the time the U.S. and other Western powers, especially Australia, the then administrating power of Papua New Guinea, supported the Dutch, fearing the spread of communism to the island of New Guinea. But when Sukarno threatened to take West Papua by force, the Dutch were in no position to fight alone in a war (the U.S., Britain, and Australia weren’t interested in committing resources to support the Dutch) in a mountainous and inhospitable jungle in the Pacific. Thus, under U.S. and Indonesian pressure, the Dutch agreed to negotiate. This led to the 1962 New York Agreement, the main subject of this book.

According to the United Nations’ website, the New York Agreement “calls for the transfer of authority for the territory from the Netherlands to Indonesia. The document also includes a guarantee that the Papuan people would be allowed an ‘Act of Free Choice’ (referendum) to determine their political status. It provides for a UN Transitional Administration in West New Guinea (West Irian) for the transfer of authority from Netherlands to Indonesia and the conduct of the act of free choice.” The Agreement was widely viewed as a victory for Indonesia and a defeat for the Dutch. As a U.S. State Department report asserted, the “agreement was almost a total victory for Indonesia and a defeat for the Netherlands,” that the United States “Bureau of European Affairs was sympathetic to the Dutch view that annexation by Indonesia would simply trade white for brown colonialism,” and that “The underlying reason that the Kennedy administration pressed the Netherlands to accept this agreement was that it believed that Cold War considerations of preventing Indonesia from going Communist overrode the Dutch case.”

Saltford’s analysis supports the above U.S. State Department’s summary of the Agreement. More importantly, however, Saltford examines the failure to implement the Agreement. “Specifically, under the Agreement,” Saltford writes, “the Netherlands, Indonesia and the UN had an obligation to protect the political rights and freedoms of the Papuans, and to ensure that self-determination took place freely in accordance with international practice. On both of these points, the three parties failed, and they did so deliberately because genuine Papuan self-determination was never considered a serious option by any of them once the Agreement had been signed” (p. 180). Saltford cites numerous incidents and violations of the Agreement both under UN and later Indonesian administration.

Throughout the book Saltford details numerous violations of the terms of the Agreement.

Article XXII states: “The UNTEA [temporary UN administration of West Papua] and Indonesia will guarantee fully the rights, including the rights of free speech, freedom of movement and of assembly, of the inhabitants of the area. These rights will include the existing rights of the inhabitants of the territory at the time of the transfer of administration to the UNTEA.” Moreover, UNTEA had the authority to introduce new laws or adapt existing ones “To the extent that they are consistent with the letter and spirit of the present Agreement.” Yet despite being obligated to protect the rights and freedoms of the Papuans, UNTEA ordered its police commanders to take “vigorous action” against anyone committing offenses under Dutch colonial law, “all of which made it a serious offense during the UNTEA period to speak out publicly against Indonesia or Indonesians in general” (p. 49). According to Saltford, whom I am inclined to agree with, “it is hard to see how UNTEA’s adaptation of Articles 154, 156 and 207 from the existing Dutch legal code was in any way consistent with the letter and spirit of the Agreement’s commitment to free speech in the territory as laid down in its Article XXII. Nor was it consistent with U Thant’s guidance to Abdoh that he should ensure Article XXII of the Agreement be ‘scrupulously observed’” (pp. 49-50).

After the UNTEA administration ended and the territory was transferred to Indonesian control, Sukarno banned all existing Papuan political parties, prohibited all political activity not sanctioned by the Indonesian authorities, and closed West Papua to the outside world, all violations of the Agreement. The failure of UN Secretary-General U Thant to enforce the terms of the Agreement were noted in internal Australian and British reports. An Australian memorandum reported “the failure of the Secretary-General to give effect to his intention to send Article XVI experts to the Territory…To our knowledge, none of the Article XVI experts has visited West Irian and other experts have been obliged, in order to ensure freedom of movement, formally to disassociate their visits from the purposes of Article XVI” (p. 75). This didn’t stop U Thant from reporting to the UN General Assembly, as he was required to do by the Agreement, on November 6, 1969, that although Article XVI of the Agreement concerning the presence of UN experts in the territory had not been implemented as required, the Papuan people “in accordance with Indonesian practice” nonetheless “have expressed their wish to remain with Indonesia” (p. 172).

Furthermore, when hundreds, if not thousands, of Papuans demonstrated in front of the residence of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Irian (UNRWI), the Bolivian diplomat Ortiz-Sanz, the UNRWI turned a blind eye to the fact that many of the participants were shot at by Indonesian troops and later imprisoned and tortured. The UN also turned a blind eye to the multiple armed rebellions against Indonesian rule in West Papua and the Indonesian military’s brutal reprisals, including bombing whole regions that displaced thousands of Papuans.

In an even more egregious violation of the Agreement, the UNRWI even recommended to the Indonesians that dissident Papuans should be detained in Java, thousands of miles away, lest they interfere with the Act of Free Choice! The UNRWI advised the Indonesians that “It was better to move them [dissident Papuans] out of the territory, if their retention was necessary, before the Act of Free Choice” (p. 123). According to Saltford, “By suggesting the removal of such prisoners from West Irian, he [Ortiz-Sanz] was not only condoning this breach of the Agreement, but was also advocating a policy of detaining prisoners thousands of miles away from their family and friends. Ironically it was a method previously used against Indonesian nationalists by the Dutch” (p. 123).

Article XVIII(a) states: “Consultations (Musjawarah) with the representative councils on procedures and appropriate methods to be followed for ascertaining the freely expressed will of the population.” Additionally, Article XVIII(d) of the Agreement states: “The eligibility of all adults, male and female, not foreign nationals in the act of self-determination to be carried out in accordance with international practice, who are resident at the time of the signing of the present Agreement and at the time of the act of self-determination, including those residents who departed after 1945 and who return to the territory to resume residence after the termination of Netherlands administration.”

With UN acquiescence there was to be virtually no popular participation in the Act of Free Choice. Instead of a “one-man, one-vote” plebiscite or referendum, the internationally recognized means for determining the “freely expressed will of the population,” Indonesia instead relied solely on “consultative assemblies”. The members of these assemblies would be selected from from “Existing, officially approved political, social and cultural organizations,” Saltford writes (p. 123). The UNRWI himself was aware that “those few people — possibly existing — not in favour of retaining ties with the Republic of Indonesia, are…not organized in legally existing political groups or parties in West Irian” (pp. 123-124). Despite being a blatant violation of the Agreement, the UN accepted the Indonesian proposal, with minimal opposition. Although the UNRWI initially insisted on some level of popular participation, he described the Indonesian proposal as a “slight departure” from the Agreement that the Act of Free choice should be conducted “in accordance with international practice” (pp. 110-111). The UNRWI continued on to urge the Indonesians to meet him half-way “by agreeing that my preliminary suggestion represents the minimum requirement to satisfy world public opinion” (p. 111). Again, I am inclined to agree with Saltford’s assessment of this exchange between the Indonesians and the UNRWI that it was inappropriate for a UN official “to endorse a method which not only broke the terms of the Agreement, but by his own admission only represented the ‘minimum requirement’ to satisfy international opinion” (p. 111).   

According to Saltford, “Indonesia’s on-going opposition to popular participation in the Act is understandable” due to the widespread opposition to Indonesian rule (p. 133). As one British Embassy report noted:

“the majority of West Irianese…are very far from wishing to become integrated with the Republic of Indonesia. Of all the people he [a journalist] spoke to, and he met between 300 and 400, none was in favour of such a solution. The impression he has is that the Papuans loathe the Indonesians, perhaps in the same degree and as a direct consequence of the way in which Indonesians have despised and belittled the Papuans” (p. 1333).

The last sentence of that quote refers to the opinion Indonesian military and government officials held of the Papuans. As one British diplomat described a conversation he had with Indonesian General Sarwo Edhie, the General commented that the Papuans “badly needed civilizing, half of them were completely naked (which seemed to shock him) and they were very lazy. He had a feeling that the Dutch had spoiled them…[but] properly treated by an honourable administration, they should settle down happily” (p. 132). Saltford is quite right that this was “an assessment that could have just as easily been made by a nineteenth-century Dutch colonial officer about the Javanese, and it goes some way to explaining why the Indonesians were so resented” (p. 132).

The 1,024 Indonesian-selected members of the Consultative Assemblies were forcibly detained and threatened by the Indonesian military to ensure an Indonesian victory in the Act of Free Choice. Inevitably the “consultative assemblies” voted unanimously to remain within Indonesia, leading one Australian newspaper to report that “even Hitler was satisfied with less than one hundred per cent in plebiscites” (p. 161).

The whole Act of Free choice was widely condemned throughout the world. According to Benedict Anderson, “Jakarta’s diplomatic community insists and members of the Indonesian government frankly admit in private that the entire process is a meaningless formality” (pp. 158-159). Stuart Harris, who witnessed one of the “consultative assembly” votes in Biak, reported that the “United Nations team is doing its best but their brief is a sham and they know it. Unhappily most of the people of West Irian do not understand this…They are encouraged by the useless presence of the United Nations observers and foreign journalists…to believe that their people have a choice” (p. 159). A Time magazine article commented how “Indonesia, one a bastion of a noisy self-righteous anti-colonialism, last week formally took over a remote, primitive piece of real estate that can hardly be considered anything but a colony” (p. 167).

I agree with Saltford’s assessment of the UN’s shameful role in the implementation of the Agreement: “it is clear that the Secretariat’s priority throughout was to ensure that the territory became a recognized part of Indonesia with the minimum controversy and disruption. This was a role that has been assigned to the UN by Washington in 1962 and U Thant saw no reason to deviate from it. This was ‘big power’ Cold War politics in which the rights of the Papuans counted for nothing” (p. 180). In making this assessment Saltford compares how independence was achieved in neighbouring Papua New Guinea:

“In marked contrast to its attitude towards West Irian, the UNGA resolutions concerning self-determination for TPNG were impressive. In 1966 and 1967, the UNGA adopted resolutions accusing Australia of condoning discriminatory practices in TPNG and called for the holding of elections fixing an early date for independence. In December 1968, the UNGA passed another resolution which included calls for Australia to: (a) fix an early date for self-determination and independence in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of the people of the territories; (b) hold free elections under United Nations supervision on the basis of universal suffrage in order to transfer effective power to the representatives of the people of the territories” (p. 174).

Moreover, in 1999 the UN committed 1,000 officials to organize and supervise the East Timorese referendum, including “270 police, 50 military liaison officers and hundreds of electoral officials and administrators” (p. 110). In West Papua, a territory many times the size of East Timor, the UNRWI’s had a staff of 15 officials to “advise, assist and participate” in the Act of Free Choice. (p. 110).

Saltford’s analysis of the UN’s failure to implement the Agreement and its virtual sellout of the rights of the Papuan peoples in favour of Cold War politics is well-researched and well-written. However, before I conclude this review, I want to bring attention to some of Saltford’s lesser points that are not necessarily significant to West Papua but are significant in other areas of the world.

On pages 8-9 Saltford examines briefly but significantly the lack of support for the people of West Papua by the USSR and the newly liberated states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

He first examines the application of the principle uti possidetis juris and how that influenced international perceptions of West Papua. Put simply, the principle uti possidetis juris maintains that the boundaries of post-colonial states should match the boundaries of the colonial entities that they replaced (i.e., post-colonial states shall inherit the boundaries established by European colonialists). Uti possidetis juris was to intended limit fratricidal conflicts between post-colonial states by making post-colonial boundaries inviolable. But according to one scholar cited by Saltford, this was to prove to be a flawed argument:

“Most states were multinational or polyethnic, and many subordinate ethno-nationalist groups perceived the doctrine of utis possidetis juris to be an ideology that justified the domination of weak peoples by groups that had managed to seize state power. Consequently, secessionist wars and anti-secessionist repression became pervasive features of the post-colonial world order. The UN state system could not live in peace with the nationalism that it had itself encouraged. It would only recognize states, while it denied to many peoples the right to their own states” (p. 8).

This flaw in the principle of uti possidetis juris is one that I feel is too often overlooked by legal scholars. Krüger and Makili-Aliyev, for example, have argued that uti possidetis juris, in making colonial borders supposedly inviolable in the post-colonial world, is indispensable for the maintenance of world stability, while ignoring the pervasive instability that has occurred because of it.

Moreover, as if anticipating the arguments of Krüger, Makili-Aliyev and others that there is no right to secession in international law and that the right to self-determination is inapplicable in the post-colonial world, Saltford quotes one scholar, Rein Mullerson, whose assessment is relevant to West Papua and many other conflicts:

“when a minority is denied its rights and its oppressed and discriminated against, it is thereby rejected by the majority. The majority rejects and alienates the minority leaving it outside the society. Thereby the minority becomes not simply ethnically or religiously distinct (this distinctiveness always belongs to it), but also socially, economically and politically different from the majority. We may say that the minority, due to the policy of the majority which does not permit the minority to fully develop its identity, acquires characteristics similar to those of colonial peoples. It can survive as a distinct group only independently of the majority. Therefore, the principle of self-determination of peoples becomes directly relevant to such minorities” (p. 179).

This assessment accurately describes the almost colonial conditions faced by minorities living in multiethnic states dominated by a single ethnic or religious group and the failure of international law to address the inherent instability caused by a rigid interpretation of uti possidetis juris. It would behoove Krüger, Makili-Aliyev, Isachenko, and others to consider Mullerson’s assessment that even in a post-colonial world, “When minorities are discriminated against or their identity is threatened by majority policy…This means that the minority can realize its right to self-determination not in the society as a whole, together with the rest of the population, but only separately.”

As well as uti possidetis juris, the USSR and newly liberated Africa, Asian, and Latin American countries were also influenced by the Katanga crisis in their perceptions of West Papua. Belgium and other Western powers supported the pro-West Katanga ruler Moise Tshombe in his secession from the Congo to weaken the democratic government of Patrice Lumumba and protect their economic interests in this resource rich Congolese province. By exploiting the Katanga crisis, Saltford writes, Indonesia was able to convince the USSR and many of the newly liberated countries that the West Papua dispute was a Dutch-encouraged effort to weaken newly liberated Indonesia under President Sukarno (a perception not without some truth).

Saltford’s book is a powerful indictment of the UN and international law with respect to self-determination and minority rights. This is a must read for international legal scholars.

I Went Outside My Comfort Zone – Off-Roading in My Jeep

Last Sunday (September 26) I tried something completely new and uncomfortable — I went to a social event organized by the local Jeep club and went off-roading with my Jeep near Lac du Bonnet, MB.

Roll out!

Anyone that knows me will tell you I am not one to participate in social activities (I own 1,300 books —is it not readily apparent that I mostly keep to myself?). Neither have I never been off-roading in my Jeep before (I just had a 2.5” suspension lift installed and upgraded my tires from 255/70/R17 to 285/70/R17). Needless to say doing both of these in the same weekend was a radical departure from what I usually do on weekends (i.e., retreat into my library and read books until Monday).

In the forest

While we were off-roading on these sand dunes and trails in the Manitoba wilderness (we saw a Black Bear too!), there were definitely moments that I was freaked out. That big sand dune and some of the steep rocky inclines were super uncomfortable — and I am honestly surprised I was able to do them in my Jeep!

Getting up the sand dune and lovely autumn colours
On top of the sand dune!

I am proud of myself for attempting something out of my comfort zone. Would I do this again? Probably not. I certainly won’t do it again with these people. Most of them were less than understanding towards the new guy (me), an attitude I have unfortunately often encountered with special interest groups (seriously, as a person diagnosed with autism, along with ‘be yourself’, the worst social advice I’ve ever received has been ‘find people that share your interests’). Moreover, and I sensed some of this while I was there, most of them on Facebook appear to be white supremacist and militaristic nationalists and other lunatic right-wingers. Even one of the nicer ones to me has a Canadian flag next to an assault rifle on Facebook. Makes me wonder whom he is supposedly ready to defend with the use of an assault weapon this country that was built on the genocide of indigenous peoples and the theft of their lands…? See you again next time…thank you but no thank you.

Another Jeep racing up a steep, rocky incline in 4×4. This hill looks way more terrifying when you are in the driver’s seat!
Autumn colours and mud!
End of the trail for me. Definitely a wild experience!

A wild experience I will remember for a long time!

Review: “Leninism and the National Question” – P. N. Fedosyev, et. al.

“Leninism and the National Question” is undoubtedly the most challenging book I have read in 2021. At 540 pages long, it is also one of the largest Soviet Progress Publisher books I own, and it is definitely not a light, after work read. It took all my mental faculties to finish this book.  

The book was written by a team of scholars from the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, CC CPSU, including P. N. Fedoseyev. It examines all aspects of Lenin’s contribution to the national question and national relations within the USSR and between the USSR and other states.

Overall I wasn’t impressed with this book. Despite being one of the longest Soviet books I own, there is little in the book that has not already been described in other books that are far less turgid, cumbersome, and repetitive. True, there are passages in this book that made me think “Aha!” but they are relatively few and far between, and mostly confirm what others have already written about in far greater detail. For example, on page 203, the authors of the book describe the demarcation of the various entities within the USSR, a subject I have read much about: “The borders of the Union republics, and those of the autonomous republics, autonomous territories and national areas were drawn to fit in with the economic factors, the way of life, and the national make-up of their population. The national sovereignty of all peoples, big and small, is safeguarded by the Constitution and legislation of the USSR, as well as those of individual Union republics.” The essence of this passage is that the demarcation of the USSR was shaped by a multiplicity of factors including ethnic, economic, demographic, etc., and not some Moscow-inspired conspiracy to divide-and-rule the peoples of the former Russian Empire, as bourgeois historians claim. However, many other historians, both Western and Soviet, have much more concisely and much more thoroughly debunked bourgeois falsifications about the creation of the USSR, including Adeeb Khalid, Adrienne Lynn Edgar, Årne Haugen, Arsène Saparov, I. Zenuskina, Francine Hirsch, R. R. Sharma, A. Roslyakov and  S. Tashliev, Yu. M. Ivanov, Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, R. Tuzmuhamedov, etc.

There was one passage that definitely gave me something to think about. On page 340 the authors write: “For the developing countries, the substance of the national question is to eliminate direct or indirect imperialist oppression and dependence on imperialism, to unfold the processes of national consolidation, and assure the formation and free development of nations and nationalities.” While seemingly insignificant, this passage, if true, seems to confirm my hypothesis that Artsakh’s (Nagorno-Karabakh’s) right to secession from Azerbaijan would be in full accordance with Leninism. It is my thesis that the bourgeoisie of both Armenia and Azerbaijan use the conflict over Artsakh to divide the Armenian and Azerbaijani working class and oppress their own nations, and that imperialism benefits from this perpetual state of conflict in the already volatile Caucasus region. Artsakh’s right to self-determination up to and including secession from Azerbaijan would weaken imperialism, “unfold the process of national consolidation, and assure the formation and free development of nations and nationalities.”

Nonetheless in both style and content this book reads like a mass produced pamphlet that was unnecessarily lengthened to 540 pages. That was a disappointment to me. Anyone interested in Lenin’s contribution to the national question and national relations would be better off reading I. Zenushkina’s book (review here) than this one.

Random Interesting Book from My Library: “The Geography of Hunger” – Josue de Castro

I discovered both “The Geography of Hunger” and its later revised edition “The Geopolitics of Hunger” at my favourite used bookstore in Manitoba, A La Page in Winnipeg’s St. Boniface. At first I was very skeptical about this book; the title of the book and the subject struck me as very bourgeois and neo-Malthusian. True, one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, however the choice of words in a book’s title can reveal much about its contents. For example, I find that I usually don’t like books with the word “inside” in the title (ex. “Inside ISIS”, “Inside the Kremlin”, “Inside Central Asia” [side note: don’t read Dilip Hiro]). That’s because I have often felt that authors/publishers insert the word “inside” into a book title’s as a flashy marketing tactic and as a means of concealing the substandard content of a book. Consequently, I am deterred from reading a book if I see the word “inside” in the title. Of the 1300+ books I own, 17 of them have the word “inside” in the title.

Anyhow, I am thankful I ignored my initial inhibitions about this book; it is undoubtedly one of the most important books I have ever read and contributed immensely to the development of my world outlook. Although I had long considered myself a Marxist-Leninist when I bought and read this book, I had still not fully expunged from myself neo-Malthusian arguments about hunger and overpopulation. Scientifically speaking, too many humans on a finite planet creates hunger, at least to some extent, no? That was my thinking when I first opened this book — and was I in for a massive shock!

A physician, nutritionist, geographer, and public official, Castro completely inverts neo-Malthusianism. According to Castro, rather than hunger being a “natural” result of overpopulation, hunger is an entirely man-made social phenomenon that leads to overpopulation!

You are probably thinking, “WHAT?! HOW CAN THIS BE?! NONSENSE! THIS IS BLASPHEMY!”

But Castro is no quack pseudo-doctor like Dr. Oz if the latter lived in the 1930s. He supports his arguments with an incredible amount of scientific detail and evidence: the affect of hunger and nutrition on fertility both at the time of publication and during historical periods of famine, cellular survival and reproduction, the socio-economic aspects of the biological manifestation of hunger, etc.

Withhold your inhibitions and don’t reject the author’s arguments until you read this book; it is impossible for me to summarize all his evidence here (and right now). This book is truly a masterpiece and seminal work on hunger and overpopulation.

Random Interesting Book from My Library: “The Struggle for Secession, 1966-1970: A Personal Account of the Nigerian Civil War” – Ntieyong U. Akpan

I bought this book from Burton Lyseki Books in Winnipeg more than three years ago. It is one of two books I own (and the better of the two) specifically about the Biafra Conflict (1967-70).

The Biafra War (also known as the Nigerian Civil War) was a complex and incredibly bloody conflict between the Republic of Biafra, a secessionist state in southeastern Nigeria and home to the Igbo people, and the Nigerian military. The origins of the conflict are as complex as the conflict itself: ethno-religious violence between Hausa-Fulanis of northern Nigeria and the Igbos of southern Nigeria and anti-Igbo pogroms, the coup and counter-coup of 1966, the oil reserves of the Niger Delta, and Cold War politics. During the Nigerian military’s blockade of Biafra an estimated 500,000 to 2 million Biafrans died from starvation.

This book is a personal memoir of the conflict by a Biafran state official. Ntieyong U. Akpan served as Chief Secretary to the Military Government, Head of the Civil Service, and Member and Secretary to the Cabinet of Eastern Nigeria and held these posts until the end of the conflict.

Akpan provides a fair overview of the Biafran conflict, but his main focus is on what he himself witnessed and experienced, and the people he himself worked with., especially within the Biafran state apparatus. This book is not a political or historical analysis, it is a personal memoir of a Biafran civil servant.

What I remember most about this book is Akpan’s antipathy towards Biafra’s secession and his criticisms of Odumegwu Ojukwu, the secessionist military leader of Biafra. In fact, he rarely, if ever, refers to Ojukwu as anything but ‘The Governor’, as if refusing to recognize Ojukwu’s leadership beyond his official capacity as the Nigerian Governor of the Eastern Region. Yet despite his antipathy towards Biafra’s secession and ‘Governor Ojukwu’, Akpan continued to serve in the secessionist Biafran state. Akpan was so loyal to his official duties in the Eastern Region that he continued to serve in those roles even after the Eastern Region declared independence as the Republic of Biafra, which he opposed. Throughout the book I got the strong impression that Akpan was not a man of any principles besides completing the task assigned to him regardless of whatever that task might be and whomever assigned the task to him.

Whatever its faults the book offers an intimate insight into one of Africa’s most brutal conflicts — and I am glad I paid the $100 for it at Burton Lyseki!

Review: “Winston Churchill” – V. G. Trukhanovsky

V. G. Trukhanovsky’s biographical book “Winston Churchill” is an outstanding scholarly work. Trukhanovsky, a Soviet scholar, provides a Marxist-Leninist analysis of Churchill’s life and the historical context in which he lived. In a way, Trukhanovsky’s book is both a biography, or semi-biography, of Churchill as well as a history of the 19th and 20th centuries. Although a Marxist-Leninist, Trukhanovsky is extremely objective and scientific in his analysis of Churchill, giving credit where credit is due while also not holding back in his criticisms of Churchill. Trukhanovsky is an extremely scientific and scholarly writer, and his book should in no way be  interpreted as a one-sided, anti-Churchill or anti-British diatribe, like one might reasonably expect from a book written with an ideological bias diametrically opposed to Churchill. Indeed, subtract from Michael Jabara Carley’s book “1939: The Alliance that Never Was and the Coming of World War II” the author’s bourgeois ideology and man-crush for Churchill and you will have a reasonably accurate idea as to what Trukhanovsky’s book reads like. 

I’ll divide this review into sections due to the large amount of information to cover in this book. There are a few important and occurring themes in this book that I think are worth highlighting.

Churchill: Unabashed Nazi Sympathizer and Fascist

Bourgeois history books like to depict Churchill as a courageous anti-fascist — this couldn’t be further from the truth. There can be no doubt that Churchill was an unabashed Nazi sympathizer and outright fascist. Again and again, both before and during Churchill’s time as Prime Minister, Churchill’s ideological affinity for Nazism and fascism is exposed by Trukhanovsky for all to see. In a 1935 article, Churchill praised Hitler’s achievements: “Although no subsequent political action can condone wrong deeds, history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim and even frightful methods but who, nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So it may be with Hitler” (p. 227). Hitler’s achievements, Churchill wrote, “are certainly among the most remarkable in the whole history of the world” (p. 227). Even well into 1937 Churchill continued to praise Hitler’s “patriotic achievement” (p. 228).

Churchill also praised Italian fascism and Benito Mussolini. At a press conference, Churchill declared: “You will naturally ask me about the interviews I have had with Italian statesmen and, in particular, with Signor Mussolini and Count Volpi [Italian finance minister]. I could not help being charmed, like so many other people have been, by Signor Mussolini’s gentle and simple bearing…anyone could see that he thought of nothing but the lasting good, as he understood it, of the Italian people, and that no lesser interest was of the slightest consequence to him. (p. 194). If Churchill had been an Italian, he continued, he would have certainly been a fascist and “wholeheartedly” supported Mussolini (p. 194).

Trukhanovsky convincingly shows how while Churchill led Britain in its war against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, this was due to inter-imperialist antagonisms and not Churchill’s ideological opposition towards Nazism and fascism. “The confrontation between Churchill and Hitler,” writes Trukhanovsky, “stemmed from the antagonisms that underlay the struggle between British and German imperialism. Hitler was demanding that the Treaty of Versailles should be annulled, and Churchill interpreted this as requiring Britain to renounce the spoils of victory in the First World War” (pp. 226-227). This analysis of Churchill is supported by one Churchill biographer, Emrys Hughes (not a Marxist): Churchill “had no doubts about giving his unqualified approval to the Fascist idea in Italy, but when it spread to Germany and took the form of a belligerent resurgence of German nationalism, whose objective was to end the Treaty of Versailles and to reverse the military defeats of the First World War, that was a different matter. Had Hitler been concerned only with preaching a holy war against Russia, Churchill could not logically have quarrelled with him. For he [Churchill] was as bitterly anti-Bolshevik as Hitler and Goebbels or any of the school of anti-Russian hate merchants and propagandists who exploited the Red bogey in their political warfare. Winston had been a pioneer and a distinguished master of this propaganda from the beginning, long before the Russians or the rest of Europe heard of Goebbels” (p. 227). Indeed, “There is little reason to think that Churchill was ever greatly disturbed by Hitler’s ideology [or] his anti-democratic policies,” Hughes writes (p. 228).

The Would-Be British Fuhrer’s (as H. G. Wells described Churchill) was so aggressively anti-Communist that it shocked even members of the Allied powers. Josef Davies, Truman’s representative, reported to President Truman “that frankly, as I listened to him [Churchill] inveigh so violently against the threat of Soviet domination and the spread of Communism in Europe…I had wondered whether he, the Prime Minister, was not willing to declare to the world that he and Britain had made a mistake in not supporting Hitler, for as I understood him, he was now expressing the doctrine which Hitler and Goebbels had been proclaiming and reiterating for the past four years” (pp. 308-09).

Interestingly enough, according to R. Palme. Dutt, Churchill’s famous use of the phrase “iron curtain” during his Fulton, Missouri speech to describe the socialist states of Eastern Europe was not an original idea of Churchill’s. On the contrary, the first use of the phrase “iron curtain” was in a February 25, 1945, editorial in Das Reich by none other than Goebbels! Churchill’s use of a phrase coined by Goebbels wasn’t the only Nazi-like aspect of Churchill’s Fulton speech. Stalin himself emphasized the most obvious similarity between Churchill’s Fulton speech and the ideology of Nazism: “Hitler went about the business of unleashing a war by promulgating a racist theory, announcing that the German-speaking peoples were the master race. Mr. Churchill likewise begins the business of unleashing a war with a racist theory, claiming that the English-speaking nations are the master race called upon to fulfill the destinies of the whole world…The British racist theory leads Mr. Churchill and his friends to the conclusion that the English-speaking nations, as the master race, must dominate the other nations in the world. In point of fact, Mr. Churchill and his friends in Britain and the USA are offering the non-English-speaking nations something in the nature of an ultimatum: recognise our domination voluntarily, and then everything will be settled, — otherwise, war is inevitable…” (pp. 340-41).

Churchill the Anti-Appeaser? Not so…

Bourgeois scholars (such as Carley, cited above) have praised Churchill’s supposedly brilliant foresight of the danger Nazi Germany posed to Europe in contrast and in opposition to Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement. While Churchill did oppose the Munich agreement and certain aspects of appeasement, to claim he was anti-appeasement is not a historically accurate description of Churchill. On the contrary, Churchill was a strong supporter of appeasement, so long as it didn’t weaken Britain’s dominate position in Europe. As Hughes writes, “Churchill’s hostility to Communism amounted to a disease. Indeed, had not Churchill himself advocated building up Germany as a bulwark against Russia, and was this not exactly what the Nazis were doing?” (p. 233). Even after Britain declared war against Nazi Germany in 1939 and the start of the so-called ‘Phony War’, Churchill hadn’t completely abandoned his earlier support of appeasement. “Churchill,” writes Trukhanovsky, “supported Chamberlain in his plans for despatching British and French troops to Finland and so…shared his [Chamberlain’s] idea of switching the war from Germany to the USSR” (p. 248). This would have been disastrous for Britain. “The Finish campaign was Gallipoli again and worse,” writes historian A. J. P. Taylor. “The motives for the projected expedition to Finland defy rational analysis. For Great Britain and France to provoke war with Soviet Russia when already at war with Germany seems the product of a madhouse, and it is tempting to suggest a more sinister plan: switching the war onto an anti-Bolshevik course, so that the war against Germany could be forgotten or even ended…At present, the only charitable conclusion is to assume that the British and French governments had taken leave of their senses” (pp. 248-249).

Moreover, after Britain’s declaration of war against Nazi Germany, Churchill did everything possible to delay the opening of the Western front. According to Lord Moran, “To postpone that evil day [the opening of the Western front], all his arts, all his eloquence, all his great experience were spent” (p. 275). Churchill himself revealed that “even before the war had ended and while the Germans were surrendering by hundreds of thousands and our streets were crowded with cheering people, I telegraphed Lord Montgomery [commander of British forces in Western Europe] directing him to be careful in collecting the German arms, to stack them so that they could easily be issued again to the German soldiers whom we would have to work with if the Soviet advance continued” (pp. 304-05). According to the West German scholar Sebastian Haffner “Hitler’s hope of a clash between East and West was not entirely unfounded: in the spring and early summer of 1945 there really was a danger (or chance, depending on your point of view) that war might break out immediately between the victors. At least one of the leading Allied statesmen, Churchill, was, according to reliable sources, ready for this and even looked forward to it” (p 305).

A Violent and Highly Unstable Person

Churchill was a man of no moral, philosophical, or political principles, incapable of feeling remorse or empathy towards others. Churchill was only ever consistently an imperialist, anti-socialist, confident in his innate superiority over others, and willing to pursue power at all costs. His entire political career is marked by an opportunist pursuit of power. As one paper quoted by Trukhanovsky commented, Churchill “has always been true to the only Party he really believes in — that which is assembled under the hat of Mr. Winston Churchill…His life is one long speech. He does not talk. He orates. He will address you at breakfast as though you were an audience at the Free Trade Hall, and at dinner you find the performance still running. If you meet him in the intervals he will give you more fragments of the discourse, walking up and down the room with the absorbed self-engaged Napoleonic portentousness that makes his high seriousness tremble on the verge of comic. He does not want to hear your views. He does not want to disturb the beautiful clarity of his thought by the tiresome reminders of the other side. What has he to do with the other side when his side is the right side? He is not arguing with you: he is telling you” (p. 197).

Churchill was notoriously flip-flopping on political issues; he supported whatever benefited himself at the time. For example, American historian Joseph Murray describes how, at the Potsdam Conference, Churchill opposed territorial concessions to Poland in favour of Germany: “It might be thought a paradox that Churchill, who had urged Britain to go to war against Germany on behalf of Poland and who now declared himself at Yalta as being in favour of ‘substantial accessions’ of German territory to Poland, was now arguing as a protector of the Germans against Polish claims” (p. 302).

In another instance, after reading through the Parliamentary debates following Germany’s attack on Poland in September 1939, Trukhanovsky writes that “one is rather surprised by the seemingly strange position adopted by Winston Churchill. The most intractable critic of the Government, who had demanded over the years that Britain should offer stiff resistance to Germany, suddenly, at this crucial moment, fell silent. The spirited calls for a declaration of war now came from other, less influential members of the Conservative opposition, as well as from Labour MPs” (p. 243). According to Trukhanovsky, there was a simple explanation for this: on the same day Germany attacked Poland Churchill received an invitation from Chamberlain to join the Government and the War Cabinet, which Churchill accepted on the spot. But as Trukhanovsky writes, “Chamberlain took his time not only in declaring war, but also in including Churchill in the Government. This was quite natural. Since he intended to reach an understanding with Hitler, Chamberlain could not irritate the Fuhrer by making someone like Churchill a minister” (p. 243). Churchill, the intractable critic of the Chamberlain government, “feared to oppose Chamberlain openly in Parliament, since he realised that, if he did, the Prime Minister might not want to take him into the Government even if war were declared.” Each time Churchill threatened to criticize the Chamberlain government in Parliament, Chamberlain would hint at a post in the War Cabinet, effectively silencing Churchill.  

As leader of the Conservative Official Opposition after his crushing defeat by Labour at the polls in 1945, Churchill relentlessly attacked the Atlee government’s nationalization of industry, state control over certain aspects of the country’s economic life, and social reforms. In so doing, Trukhanovsky writes, “Churchill seemed to have forgotten that he had advocated these very ideas at the beginning of the century when he was a Liberal minister” (p. 326). According to one of Churchill’s biographers, “In 1945, it [nationalization] was Socialism. In 1906, Churchill did his best to prove that it was not” (p. 326). Then, when Churchill returned to the premiership in 1951, he made no effort to repudiate the ‘socialist’ policies of the previous Labour government.

In another instance, Churchill attacked a Labour Bill to reform the House of Lords. Unfortunately for Churchill, “The Labour leaders remembered perfectly well what Churchill had said on this subject before the First World War. They read out extracts in the Commons from many of his speeches of that period, when the Liberal Government was passing its own Bill on the Lords. This was a powerful argument. The Conservatives sat frowning, while there was laughter on the Labour benches” (pp. 326-27).

Churchill’s political flip-flopping combined with his belief in his superiority and his passion for violence made him extremely dangerous. As Home Secretary, Churchill on multiple occasions orders thousands of policemen and military forces to attack striking workers and the women’s movement. In 1910, for example, 1,200 policemen battered the Suffragettes in front of Parliament for several hours (p. 95).  Another instance, the “Siege of Sidney Street,” Churchill took direct command of “the powerful police and military attachments, backed up by artillery” in a firefight with two common criminals, forcing the King to reprimand Churchill (p. 96). Churchill was even more dangerous when it came to the atomic bomb. According to Sir Alan Brooke, Churchill told him that with the atomic bomb, Britain and the U.S. could now dictate terms to the Soviet Union: “If you insist on doing this or that, well…And then where are the Russians!” Churchill was implying that if the Soviets didn’t surrender unconditionally, atomic bombs could be dropped on the Soviet Union and the Russians would be wiped out (p. 311).

Final Analysis

Anyone interested in how and why Churchill was as horrible of a person as he was needs to read this book. GREAT book!

Review: “Soviet Nationalities Policy and Bourgeois Historians: The Formation of the Soviet Multinational State (1917-1922) in Contemporary American Historiography” – L. Zenushkina

When I first started reading L. Zenushkina’s “Soviet Nationalities Policy and Bourgeois Historians: The Formation of the Soviet Multinational State (1917-1922) in Contemporary American Historiography,” I must admit I didn’t have very high expectations. True, Soviet nationalities policy is an area I specialize in, but since I have already read multiple books published in the USSR about this subject, such as “The October Revolution and the East: The Transition of the Soviet Central Asian Republics to Socialism” by Yu. M. Ivanov, “How Socialism Came to Central Asia” by A. Roslyakov, and “How the National Question was Solved in Soviet Central Asia: A Reply to Falsifiers” by R. Tuzmuhamedov, I expected more of the same. This was all the more so since both Tuzmuhamedov’s book and Zenushkina’s book were written with the intention of refuting the ahistorical claims of Western bourgeois scholars. I was simply not convinced this book would offer much that was new. However, it soon became readily obvious to me that my initial assumptions were wide off the mark – and that this was going to be one helluva read!

With laser-like precision and scientific detail, Zenushkina mercilessly exposes the lies, contradictions, and fabrications made by American bourgeois historians and Sovietologists about the USSR’s formation and nationalities policy like nothing I have ever read before. Zenushkina methodically dissects the works of numerous American bourgeois scholars, and follows the lies, contradictions, and falsifications through their various bibliographies back to their original sources, sometimes Russian. Consequently, Zenushkina’s book isn’t a generalized rebuttal like Tuzmuhamedov’s book, which isn’t really directed any at specific scholar or scholars but at Western historiography more generally, but rather a direct and merciless attack at specific American scholars. Zenushkina knows his/her targets and pursues them like a lion chasing a gazelle. Among the many works subjected to an intense ideological and historical thrashing are:

  1. “The Ukrainian Revolution 1917-1920: A Study in Nationalism” by J. Reshetar
  2.  “The Ukraine: A Submerged Nation” by H. Chamberlin
  3. “The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917-1923” by R. Pipes
  4. “The Bolsheviks in the Ukraine: The Second Campaign, 1918-1919” by A. Adams
  5. “Soviet Politics and the Ukraine, 1917-1957” by R. S. Sullivant
  6. “Lenin on the Question of Nationality” by A. D. Low
  7. “Bolshevism in Turkestan, 1917-1927” by A. G. Park
  8. “Russian Central Asia, 1867-1917: A Study in Colonial Rule” by R. Pierce
  9. “Pan-Turkism and Islam in Russia” and various articles by S. Zenkovsky
  10. “Russia in Central Asia” by M. Rywkin
  11. “Moscow and the Ukraine, 1918-1953” by B. Dmytryshyn
  12. “Leninism” by A. G. Meyer
  13. “Soviet Russian Nationalism” by F. C. Barghoorn
  14. “The Soviet Design for a World State” by E. R. Goodman
  15. “The Ukraine: A History” by W. E. D. Allen
  16. “Central Asia: A Century of Russian Rule” ed. E. Allworth
  17. “Beyond the Urals: Economic Developments in Soviet Asia” by Violet Connolly
  18. “Social Change in Soviet Russia” by A. Inkeles
  19. “Russia and Nationalism in Central Asia: The Case of Tajikistan” bu T. Rakowska-Harmstone
  20. “Ethnic Minorities in the Soviet Union” ed. E. Goldhagen
  21. “Soviet Nationalities Policy in Practice” ed. Robert Conquest

Since this will be a long review I will divide it into two parts: Part 1 deals with Chapter 1, and Part 2 will deal with chapters 2 and 3.

Part 1: Chapter 1

Chapter 1, “The National Liberation Character of the October Revolution,” is more than 80 pages long, and is the most informative and exciting of all the chapters to read. Zenushkina attacks the ahistorical accusations of Soviet ‘colonialism’ and other lies regarding the character of Soviet nationalities policy common in American historiography. Due to its prominent place in American and other Western bourgeois historiography as evidence of Soviet ‘colonialism’, Soviet nationalities policy in Turkestan is the main focus in this chapter, “since this borderland territory of the former Russian empire, was the largest and also typical of the ‘internal colonies’ of pre-revolutionary Russia” (pp. 23-24).

Part 1 of this chapter chapter begins with Zenushkina examining “one of the most widely put forward propositions in contemporary American bourgeois historical writing” — the “export” of the October Revolution to Turkestan (p. 25). This proposition “is based on the assertion that the revolution in Turkestan lacked indigenous roots and that the preconditions for its were absent” (p. 25).

In refuting the theoretical element of this proposition, i.e., that the preconditions for socialism were absent, Zenushkina gives an impressive thrashing to A. G. Park’s “Bolshevism in Turkestan” early on in the chapter. According to Park, citing unnamed Marxists, socialist revolution was impossible in Turkestan, a view consistent with the Menshevik Sukhanov and the pseudo-Marxists of the Second International. In response, Zenushkina cites several articles by Lenin in which he describes the revolutionary conditions within Turkestan.

The second element of this proposition, i.e., that the revolution lacked indigenous roots, is subjected to even sharper criticism. Zenushkina criticizes how in “striking contradiction with the real state of affairs the picture drawn by American researchers is one of a movement of the local population in Turkestan directed against the Russian ‘newcomers’. To present the problem in this way is initially to presuppose that the entire native local population had common interests and that it was, consequently, socially homogeneous” (p. 27). Zenushkina sharpy criticizes Park for concealing class antagonisms between Russian workers and the Russian bourgeoisie, and indigenous workers and peasants and the indigenous landlords and bourgeoisie in Turkestan, by lumping together whole swathes of the population as either “European” or “indigenous” to support this distorted picture of the conditions within Turkestan. But, as Zenushkina reveals with multiple economic and social statistics, class antagonisms were very real in Turkestan, refuting the image drawn by Western scholars of a homogeneous indigenous population united in their opposition to Russians and to socialism. Moreover, the indigenous population of Turkestan, writes Zenushkina, contrary to S. Zenkovsky’s claim that “the revolution caught the local population completely unprepared for any political action of significance” and Park’s claim that the revolution was a revolution of exclusively Russian workers in Turkestan, very much supported the revolution and was prepared to defend it (pp. 29-30). According to Zenushkina: “Reports of refusals to pay rent on public lands, of land seizure and ‘arbitrariness’ on the part of peasants in the distribution of water began to be received from the Ferghana and Samarkand provinces with increasing frequency, especially from the summer of 1917. In the Turkmenian villages a movement among the poor peasants gathered strength as they took back land and water seized from them under tsarism, refused to pay rent and came out in favour of the expulsion of the tsarist administration and the officials of the Provisional Government. Clashes between peasants of Northern Tajikistan and punitive detachments sent by the Provisional Government to crush the ‘agrarian disorders’ became more frequent” (p. 30). Not only peasants but indigenous workers, too, came out against their exploiters. “The employees of all cotton enterprises in the region,” Zenushkina writes, “92 per cent of whom belonged to local nationalities, came out on strike, and in the spring and summer the workers of Bukhara’s cotton-ginning plants, Andizhan’s butter factories and the employees of small laundries and dyeing enterprises, the latter for the most part belonging to indigenous nationalities, struck against their employers. This movement was following a course in no way opposed to but, on the contrary, exactly the same as that taken by the struggle of the Russian working class: against exploitation, the power of the Provisional Government and the inheritance left by tsarism” (pp. 30-31).

Part 2 of this chapter examines the character of the October Revolution after it succeeded in Turkestan. “American bourgeois historians also attempt,” writes Zenushkina, “to base their accusations that the October Revolution was ‘colonialist’ in character on the assertion that the Soviet government was supposedly contemptuous of the vital needs of Turkestan’s indigenous population” (p. 35).

According to Zenushkina, Park and other Western bourgeois scholars describe at length the famine conditions existing in Turkestan in the years 1917-1920, but deliberately obfuscate the reasons for those conditions and ignore completely Soviet efforts to alleviate them. Park, for example, citing T. Ryskulov’s book, describes the high mortality in Turkestan from the famine and Civil War; “however, although even T. Ryskulov’s book, to which he [Park] refers in this context, adduces documents detailing the enormous efforts devoted by the [revolutionary] government of Turkestan to saving the starving. Park remains silent on this score” (p. 43). “It must be borne in mind,” Zenushkina forcefully writes, “that at the time of the armed uprising in October 1917 it was not merely the borderlands but the whole of Russia that found itself in a calamitous situation, created by the irresponsible rule of the autocracy and compounded by the imperialist war and the policies of the bourgeois Provisional Government. By the autumn of 1917 Russia stood on the brink of economic and military collapse. V. I. Lenin, writing in September 1917, stated universally known facts: ‘Unavoidable catastrophe is threatening Russia. The railways are incredibly disorganized and disorganization is progressing. The railways will come to a standstill. The delivery of raw materials and coal to the factories will cease. The delivery of grain will cease. The capitalists are deliberately and unremittingly sabotaging…production, hoping that the unparalleled catastrophe will mean the collapse of the republic and democracy, and of the Soviets and proletarian and peasant associations generally, thus facilitating the return to monarchy and the restoration of the unlimited power of the bourgeoisie and the landowners. The danger of a great catastrophe and of famine is imminent. All the newspapers have written about this time and again…Everybody says this. Everybody admits it. Everybody has decided it is so. Yet nothing is being done. Six months of revolution [February bourgeois-democratic revolution] have elapsed. The catastrophe is even closer. Unemployment has assumed a mass scale…What better evidence is needed to show that after six months of revolution (which some call a great revolution but which so far it would perhaps be fairer to call a rotten revolution), in a democratic republic…absolutely nothing of any importance has actually been done to avert catastrophe, to avert famine?…Yet the slightest attention and thought will suffice to satisfy anyone that the ways of combating the catastrophe and famine are available, that the measures required to combat them are quite clear, simple, perfectly feasible, and fully within reach of the people’s forces, and that these measures are not being adopted only because, exclusively because their realisation would affect the fabulous profits of a handful of landowners and capitalists’” (pp. 39-40).

After the success of the October Revolution, far from throwing “the whole area into a new turmoil,” as M. Rywkin writes (p. 43), “Soviet Russia, in utter ruin as a result of the imperialist war, devastated, suffering from famine and fighting on the unnumerable fronts of the Civil War nevertheless shared its last resources with starving Turkestan,” Zenushkina writes. “From November 1917 to February 1918, 886 railway carriages of grain were delivered to Samarkand, Ferghana, Trans-Caspian and Syr Darya regions from the central areas of Russia at the cost of enormous effort, although Turkestan had been cut off from Russia as a result of the mutiny led by the Cossack ataman Dutov. At the end of January 1918 Turkestan received 300,000 rubles from Moscow to help in the struggle against famine. In May 1918 more than 16,000 tons of wheat and 8,000 tons of corn were went to Turkestan, while later part of the food designated for the central provinces of Russia was given to Turkestan on Lenin’s instructions. This amounted to 100 railway cars of wheat and 15 railway cars of barley. In 1918 the People’s Commissariat for Food allocated 20 million rubles for the purchase of grain for Turkestan” (p. 42). Canteens were also established throughout Turkestan to provide free meals to the starving. “In Tashkent alone 47,000 people were given free meals, while canteens were also opened in Alimkent, Pskent, Katta, Kurgan, Bukhara and other towns” (p. 47).

Zenushkina then proceeds to examine the so-called ‘colonialist’ character of the October Revolution in Turkestan. “American writers,” Zenushkina writes, “including Pipes, Rywkin, Park and others, seek to accuse the Soviet government of carrying out a colonialist policy from its inception, thus misinterpreting the very core of Soviet government’s policy in Turkestan, which consisted in defending the interests of working people, irrespective of their nationality. The revolution, Park writes, appeared to the indigenous peasants ‘to have brought into power nothing more than a new regime of European exploiters’” (p. 49). Zenushkina cites pages of statistics demonstrating the Soviet government’s commitment to end the colonial backwardness of Turkestan, including industrialization, increasing the food supply, mass literacy campaigns, land redistribution and the distribution of seeds, tools, and equipment to peasants, the building of hundreds of schools, libraries, and even a People’s University, etc. To claim that the Soviet government’s policies in Turkestan were ‘colonialist’ demonstrates “that American scholars show no desire to provide their readers with factual information concerning the efforts made by the Soviet government to put the economy of Turkestan on a working basis” (pp. 50-51). Moreover, it was the tsarist regime and the Provisional Government that implemented colonialist policies towards Turkestan, not the Soviet government. As a deputy to the Fourth Duma in 1915, it was Kerensky that said: “Turkestan and the steppe regions of Kirghizia are not the Tula or Tambov provinces. They can be viewed in the same way as the British or French view their colonies” (p. 42).

Part 3 of this chapter examines the political rights of the indigenous population in relation to the new Soviet government. American scholars, Zenushkina, “attribute to the Bolsheviks a fundamental unwillingness to share power with the Moslems and a desire to leave them without civil rights, while the indigenous population is depicted as refusing to accept the revolution and maintaining a hostile attitude towards the Bolsheviks as new ‘colonisers’” (p. 53).

According to Zenushkina, citing numerous historical works examining the minutes of various Party and council meetings in Turkestan, the Soviet government encouraged “participation on an equal footing by representatives of the different nationalities in formulating and passing political decisions vitally important to them at all levels of state administration” (p. 53). But putting “this principle into practice and involving representatives of the indigenous nationalities in the administration of the country met with a number of difficulties, among which the bitter class struggle, the region’s cultural backwardness and the extreme shortage of trained personnel from the indigenous population all had a role to play. The Communists, too, working in a Turkestan cut off by the battle fronts of the Civil War from the political centre of the Russian republic, were sometimes handicapped by political inexperience” (p. 53). Several pages are devoted to examining how the Soviet government of Turkestan and its representatives, although committing several sometimes serious mistakes, nonetheless tirelessly worked to include representatives from the indigenous population in all levels of administration. Zenushkina spares no criticism of the mistakes made by communists in Turkestan that alienated the indigenous population. A particularly egregious violation of Soviet nationalities policy was a resolution passed at the 3rd Congress of Soviets of Turkestan which declared that the “inclusion of Moslems in organs of the supreme regional revolutionary government at the present time is unacceptable…” (p. 54). This resolution, Zenushkina writes, was intended to exclude from power counterrevolutionaries but was “couched in unjustly broad terms; it groundlessly underrated the revolutionary potentialities of the masses and hence was mistaken and contrary to the principles of Soviet nationalities policy. Its authors ignored the Moslem working people’s organizations functioning at the time…” (pp. 54-55). Bourgeois scholars such as Park, Zenkovsky, and Allworth have exploited this resolution as ‘proof’ of the Soviet government’s contemptuous and hostile attitude towards the indigenous population, while saying nothing of the successes achieved in encouraging mass participation in all levels of administration. For example, P. Antropov, who studied the work of the first and second congresses of the Communist Party of Turkestan, writes: “We do not possess data on the numbers of Party members belonging to the indigenous population within the Party organizations in the majority of cases. But reports by the local representatives speak eloquently enough of the sympathy among working people belonging to the local population with which the Bolshevik propaganda campaign, with its correct approach to the problem, was meeting. Sympathy towards the Bolshevik Party was clearly growing and unions of Moslem working people and analogous organizations (Ittifak and others) were becoming a factor supporting Soviet power in the midst of the local exploited population” (pp. 55-56). As Zenushkina writes, “American historians are well aware of these facts, which refute their conclusion that workers belonging to indigenous nationalities were hostile or indifferent in their attitude towards the new government: in particular, P. Antropov’s works are listed in the bibliographies of books by A. Park and S. Zenkovsky. Unfortunately, this has had no effect on their conclusions” (p. 56). Similarly, “American historians cite the erroneous resolution passed by the 3rd Congress of Soviets of Turkestan but fail to mention other, quite unimpeachable resolutions passed by the same congress on the necessity for involving representatives of local nationalities in the work of local Soviets and other local organs and on organization of Soviets of Moslem working people at the grassroots level” (p. 57).

The history of Turkestan’s autonomy is another weapon in the arsenal of bourgeois historians used to slander the Soviet Union. Despite its complex history, American historians argue that since Turkestan’s autonomy wasn’t officially proclaimed until several months after the October Revolution, in April 2018, this proves the Bolsheviks fundamentally opposed the autonomy of Turkestan. This alleged opposition to Turkestan’s autonomy is what supposedly forced the politically aware section of the indigenous population to claim their right to self-determination and establish the now academically infamous “Kokand Autonomy”. Indeed, according to Pipes’ book, it was the failure of the Soviets to defeat the basmachi movement, “seen by Pipes as a ‘popular resistance movement’, that forced the central government to grant Turkestan autonomy” (pp. 71-72). This ignores the fact that regional autonomy figured prominently in the Communist Party’s programme even before the October Revolution. “Bolsheviks, both Russian and non-Russian, were in the forefront of activity directed towards establishing Soviet autonomy in Turkestan,” writes Zenushkina (p. 74). Moreover, “The Constitution of the Turkestan ASSR was the first to be adopted by an autonomous republic” and it was “natural that it should have been born out of discussion,” but bourgeois historians argue that the delay in Moscow’s ratification of the Turkestan constitution is evidence of Moscow’s unwillingness to recognize Turkestan’s autonomy (pp. 74-75). According to Zenushkina, the delay in Moscow’s ratification of the Turkestan constitution was due to how Turkestan was ringed by four battlefronts in 1918. “But Park closes his eyes to this and characterises the lack of official ratification for the Turkestan Constitution by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee as ‘a refusal to grant the Turkestan republic a formal charter of autonomy in the RSFSR’” (p. 76). Zenushkina criticizes this interpretation as “quite arbitrary and runs contrary to the known facts” (p. 75). In April 1918, an emissary from the Council of People’s Commissars “proposed at a secession of the Tashkent Soviet that a regional congress of Soviets to resolve the question of the region’s Soviet autonomy should be convened” (p. 76). That same month “a telegram signed by Lenin and Stalin was read at the 5th Congress of Soviets of Turkestan” which “assured the delegates that the Council of People’s Commissars would support Turkestan’s autonomy on Soviet principles” (pp. 76-77).

What about the nature of this autonomy? Without offering any evidence, the above mentioned American bourgeois historians as a rule argue that Turkestan’s autonomy was artificial and existed only on paper. Zenushkina quotes Pipes writing that “it was not until two years later that the natives were given the right to participate in the government,” ignoring the fact that at the 5th Congress which proclaimed Turkestan’s autonomy four representatives of Turkestan’s indigenous population were elected as People’s Commissars (p. 78). Also ignored by these American bourgeois historians is the fact that Turkestan was granted greater autonomy than most other Soviet autonomous republics. The Constitution of the Turkestan ASSR, Zenushkina writes, “contained a list of rights possessed by the Turkestan Republic as an autonomous part of the Russian Federation. The list makes it clear that the rights of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic were considerably more extensive than those possessed at that time by other autonomous republics of the RSFSR. In particular, Article 7, Section 3 of the 1918 Constitution of the Turkestan ASSR established the right to alter principles underlying military affairs, which had been adopted by the federal authorities, in conformity with local conditions, to enter into direct relations through federal representatives with adjoining countries on matters concerned with the local economy, neighbourly contacts and the police, to float loans and conclude financial agreements within the borders of the Russian Federation. Commissions on foreign affairs, military matters, communications and financial affairs accordingly functioned in the Turkestan Republic” (p. 79).

Part 4 of this chapter examines the class struggle in Turkestan. Zenushkina returns to the “export” of revolution touched upon in Part 1. American bourgeois historians argue that there were two revolutions in Turkestan: “one carried out by the indigenous population, motivated by purely national aims and standing in opposition to another, supposedly imported, ‘Russian’ revolution, [which] gives especially clear expression to the desire of bourgeois scholars to substitute conflict between different nationalities for an objectively evolving class conflict” (p. 80). According to Park, “Russian workingmen and soldiers…engineered the revolution in Tashkent without support from the native population,” a perspective shared by Zenkovsky. While it is true that Russian railway workers and soldiers “were the first to answer the call to revolution,” writes Zenushkina, it is “abundantly clear that without the support of the local population this handful of revolutionary-minded Russians could not have maintained Soviet power in the face of the united forces of Russian and indigenous counter-revolution” (p. 81). Contrary to the arguments made by these American historians, the indigenous population did participate in the revolution. “An Uzbek detachment of between 200 and 250 men took part in the armed uprising in Tashkent from the very outset,” for example (p. 81). Indigenous people throughout Turkestan supported the revolution. “The ranks of the Red Guard, formed to defend the revolution, included members of the indigenous population: for example, a Red Guard detachment of 500 men was formed from Uzbek workers in Tashkent in January 1918. Turkmen Red Guard detachments were organized in Ashkhabad, Tejen, Merv, Bairam-Ali and elsewhere” (p. 82).

The class self-determination of the indigenous population of Turkestan, Zenushkina writes, is evident in the failure of the ill-fated “Kokand Autonomy”. Leaders of the reactionary “Kokand Autonomy” included members of the Muslim clergy, cotton merchants associated with British and German capital, the Tashkent millionaire Arif Khoja Aziz Khojaev, among others, and were supported by the Russian bourgeoisie and General Dutov. “Kokand Autonomy” leaders openly proclaimed in December 1917 that their aim was “preservation of land, property and religion,” exposing the bourgeois exploitative character of this “autonomy” (p. 83). The indigenous population correctly recognized the exploitative character of the “Kokand Autonomy,” as a leader of the “Kokand Government” admitted in February 1918: “We have turned to the people with appeals on the necessity of uniting all levels of the Moslem population, but without success” (p. 84). Moreover, if the indigenous working and peasant population were opposed to the revolution and the Russian “newcomers,” how do these American historians explain the collapse of the “Kokand Autonomy”? Both Park and Pipes attribute the defeat of the “Kokand Autonomy” to the lack of soldiers and arms in comparison to the Tashkent Soviet; but this is in contradiction with the testimony of “Kokand Autonomy” members. “The provisional government of Turkestan’s autonomy [‘Kokand Autonomy’]”, testified M. Chanyshev, a sworn enemy of Soviet power and member of the “Kokand Autonomy”, “possessed no standing among the people and was without influence…Consequently, even if armed forces had been dispatched to it, it could not have established order. There is no hostility between Russians and Moslems” (pp. 86-87).  

As evidence of mass indigenous resistance to Soviet power, American historians cite the basmachi movement, referring to it as “a popular resistance movement” (Pipes), a “patriotic” movement (Rywkin), or as one of a number of “national independence movements” (Riasanovsky). However, the “assertions made by American historians regarding the essential nature and motives of the basmachi are in conflict with the facts,” writes Zenushkina (p. 88). Park, for example, ignores what French historian Joseph Castagne, whom Park cites, writes about the links between the basmachi movement and “Kokand Autonomy”, the British consul Etherton, the whiteguard general Djunkovsky, and others, “from which the conclusion follows that all these parties were concerned in the agreement concluded by Djunkovsky with the British” (p. 89). This agreement reads in part: “The British government is under an obligation to offer assistance in the struggle against the Bolsheviks in the form of arms, money, technical resources and, in the end of necessity, men. After the overthrow of the Soviet government in Turkestan an autonomous republic will be formed under the exclusive influence of Britain” (p. 89). “Thus,” Zenushkina concludes, “the basmachi movement served as a tool of the British imperialists in the struggle against the Soviet republic,” revealing the anti-national, class character of the basmachi movement (p. 91).

Part 2: Chapters 2 and 3

Chapters 2 and 3 don’t offer nearly as much new critical material as does Chapter 1; indeed, I found these last two chapters somewhat repetitive in their criticisms and information.

The Ukraine is the focus of much of these two chapters. Zenushkina disproves American bourgeois distortions of the nature of Soviet nationalities policy, especially as it applied to the Ukraine. Pipes and other bourgeois scholars, Zenushkina writes, ignore the “decisive role of the Ukrainian people in establishing Soviet power in the Ukraine,” and instead claim, as Pipes does, that Soviet power in the Ukraine was “founded on sheer military force without the active support or even the sympathy of the Ukrainian people” (p. 154). Zenushkina rejects this description of Soviet power in the Ukraine. According to a Red Guard from Petrograd, “Everywhere we were given the warmest of welcomes. The working people of the Ukraine in general understand that their bourgeois Rada is deceiving them and wants to force Ukrainians to fight against Great Russians…[but] Ukrainian soldiers did not want to fight against us: they either joined us in whole regiments or remained neutral” (p. 154). This reflected the orders of the Revolutionary Military Council of the RSFSR: “The Ukraine is the land of the Ukrainian workers and working peasantry. They alone have the right to rule in the Ukraine, to govern it and build a new life in it…You should bear firmly in mind that your task is not the subjugation but the liberation of the Ukraine” (p. 155). Neither was the liberation of the Ukraine achieved exclusively by Russian soldiers; “many millions” of Ukrainian workers and peasants fought against counter-revolution. A declaration published by the peasants in Gorodishche village in Cherkasy district read: “We shall arm ourselves with scythes, pole-axes and pitchforks and wipe the Central Rada and its hangers-on from the face of the earth. We are fully prepared to stand up for the Soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies to the last drop of blood” (p. 156).

Zenushkina sharply criticizes the claims made by American bourgeois scholars that self-determination was a “paper right” with no practical significance. In the case of the Ukraine, this is “proved by the fact that it was in 1917 – not at the end of 1919, as Adams states, and not as the beginning of the Civil War, as H. S. Dinertsein asserts – that the Russian Soviet government recognised the Ukrainian state and proclaimed the latter independent, immediately following the declaration of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic by the 1st All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets” (pp. 186-87). This was true of all the borderland republics. “In fact,” Zenushkina writes, “the central Soviet government re-affirmed its principle that each nation has the right to self-determination whenever one of the ‘peripheral areas’ was on the point of liberating itself from enemies of Soviet power: that is, at a time when it would seem reasonable to suppose that the Soviet government had least reason to encourage the given ‘peripheral area’ to secede,” thus invalidating criticism that the Soviet declaration of the right of nations to self-determination was a “tactical” concession (pp. 187-88). The central Soviet government adopted resolutions recognizing the complete independence of Belorussia on February 2-3, 1918; of Latvia and Lithuania on December 22, 1918; and it was the Soviet government that “was the first Russian government to recognise Finland’s independence” (p. 125). Lenin himself published a letter after Deniken’s defeat stating that “the independence of the Ukraine has been recognised both by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee of the RSFSR (Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic) and by the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)” (p. 188).

Zenushkina also sharply criticizes the claim made by American bourgeois scholars that Soviet nationalities policy is “colonial”. According to Zenushkina, even bourgeois scholars are forced to admit the immeasurable advancement of the USSR’s previously backward borderlands, such as David MacKenzie, who wrote: “great changes occurred in Tashkent under Soviet rule. The industrial revolution…transformed it into the greatest industrial centre in the Middle East” (p. 285). Charles Wilber, an American economist, similarly was forced to recognize socialism’s achievements in Central Asia: living standards “are on a much higher level than in those neighbouring Asian countries” and the time has come to compare the living standards of Soviet Central Asia with the level existing in Western Europe (p. 286).

Most of the rest of the book still offers an excellent analysis of the USSR’s establishment and its nationalities policy but is mostly arguing what has already been argued using different words. For example, Zenushkina argues that the Soviet federation was voluntary by citing Lenin’s categorical denunciations of coerced federalism and the numerous congresses, resolutions, and discussions that occurred within the independent republics on joining a federation; but I feel like this point was better made in Zenushkina’s analysis of Moscow’s recognition of the independence of the Soviet republics.

Overall this was an OUTSTANDING book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in the Soviet Union!

The 2021 Taliban “Victory”: A U.S.-backed Coup

A lot is being written about the Taliban’s sudden victory in Afghanistan. Let me be clear: this is not a defeat for U.S. imperialism, it is a thinly veiled coup d’état on behalf of U.S. imperialism.

It took the Taliban 2 years (1994-96) to capture Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, from the ragtag assembly of anti-communist warlords and drug dealers that called themselves the government of Afghanistan. Against these warlords and drug dealers, even with the active support of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, the Taliban never succeeded in conquering all of Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s ancient northern province of Badakhshan remained outside the Taliban’s control during the 5 years they controlled Afghanistan (1996-2001).

Now, after 20 years of illegal U.S. military occupation, we’re to believe that the Taliban have conquered Afghanistan in a few months, capturing not only the capital but more territory than they ever did between 1994-2001, including Badakhshan. This they did with no overt (but almost certainly covert) support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, while fighting a regime the U.S. and other Western states have spent billions of dollars arming, training, and supplying for 20 years.

The Taliban have also noticeably changed their tactics. Instead of castrating and murdering the Afghan president and hanging his corpse from a light pole, like they did to Mohammed Najibullah after seizing him from a UN compound, Afghan President Ashraf Ghaini was allowed to flee to a neighbouring country while the Taliban awaited a “peaceful transfer” of power. After Kabul fell, the Taliban reached an agreement with the U.S. Pentagon in Qatar for the evacuation of foreign nationals, and NATO has maintained control of the international airport and its diplomatic mission.

The Fall of Kabul is being compared to the Fall of Saigon in 1975; but the two can’t readily be compared. In 1975, the Vietnamese liberation forces attacked Saigon’s defenses, including the airport, typical of a military confrontation between enemy combatants. In Afghanistan, the Taliban awaited a “peaceful transfer” of power and not only didn’t attempt to attack the militarily strategic airport but voluntarily agreed for it to remain under “enemy” control (i.e., the U.S. and NATO).

This is not Saigon 1975. The Fall of Kabul smells like a pre-planned U.S.-backed coup d’état against the Afghan regime.

And why not?

The Afghan regime didn’t offer U.S. imperialism much bang-for-its-buck. For all the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. imperialists in arming, training, and supplying the Afghan regime, the regime was inefficient, incompetent, composed of mostly former Taliban members and not-so-former drug traffickers, and unable to wield effective control of the country. U.S. imperialism needs a stable, low-cost regime to do its bidding, and this the Afghan regime couldn’t do.

But the Taliban can. The Taliban is able to do everything the U.S.-backed Afghan regime did more effectively and with less resources, offering U.S. imperialism an effective and cheaper means for the same end. Besides, there are no fundamentally antagonistic differences between the Taliban and US imperialism. As long as the Taliban doesn’t cross certain red lines — like killing the Afghan president or closing the international airport, all things they did in 1996 — there is no objective reason why U.S. imperialism can’t come to an understanding with the Taliban. The U.S. has a long history of siding with reactionary and ruthless dictatorships: Mobuto in the Congo, Marcos in the Philippines, Suharto in Indonesia, Pinochet in Chile, etc. As oppressive, and reactionary as the Taliban are, they are hardly any less oppressive and reactionary than the Saudis are. If U.S. imperialism can accept the House of Saud, with their oppressive and medieval laws, then it can most certainly accept the Saudis’ much poorer Afghan proteges.

The Taliban can also offer something that the Afghan regime never could: Pakistani support. Despite all the support the Afghan regime received from U.S. imperialism, Pakistan would never accept it. Pakistan was the only country to vote against Afghanistan’s acceptance into the UN, and upon independence Afghanistan immediately made irredentist claims to Pakistani territory, since Afghanistan has never formally accepted the Durand Line. Moreover, Pakistan has always been hostile to any Afghan government too friendly with its archrival India, which the U.S.-backed Afghan regime was. Any Afghan government not to Pakistan’s liking would require extensive — and indefinite — support to counter Pakistani interference, or would necessitate U.S. imperialism’s greater involvement in Pakistani affairs, neither of which are very appealing to U.S. imperialists. Thus, from a long-term perspective it would make logical sense for U.S. imperialists to abandon their puppet regime in favour of an agreement between the U.S., Pakistan, and Pakistan’s favourite Afghan proxy, the Taliban.

Finally, this is 2021, not 1996 or 2001. Long-range, relatively inexpensive means of maintaining military control of a state have been developed. If you can’t tell, I am referring to Obama’s favourite harbinger of death, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (drone). U.S. imperialists no longer need to resort to more costly and publicly risky military alternatives, like launching cruise missiles (1998), supporting an ineffective and costly regime, or active troop deployment. The U.S. still controls Afghanistan’s skies — and the Taliban have agreed to that, hence NATO’s continued control of Kabul’s international airport.

The above evidence clearly indicates this is a U.S.-backed coup d’état, not a surprise Taliban “victory”.  

Image: “A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. Taliban fighters entered the outskirts of the Afghan capital on Sunday, further tightening their grip on the country as panicked workers fled government offices and helicopters landed at the U.S. Embassy.” Source: https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/world/taliban-afghanistan-crisis-kabul-capturing-ashraf-ghani-resignation-new-govt-head-live-latest-developments-726732

Review: “Television in the West and its Doctrines” – N.S. Biryukov

“Television in the West and its Doctrines” by N. S. Biryukov is a Marxist-Leninist analysis of television and other mass media in the U.S. and other capitalist countries. It is a rather peculiar mixture of Marxist-Leninist political economy in true Progress Publisher style as well as a critique of culture in capitalist countries.

The basic arguments of the book are still true — that TV is a vital propaganda tool of the monopoly bourgeoisie, which exploits its to debase Western culture and ideologically brainwash the masses with selective and biased news coverage, the glorification of capitalism, the proliferation of police shows and who-done-its, etc. But there was very little in the book that was new or innovative. For example, I can’t imagine very many people today that don’t think all this about TV, except for some TV-obsessed Boomers and maybe Gen Z. It is common knowledge that practically every major TV channel or network in the U.S. is owned by a handful of monopoly corporations, such as AT&T, Disney, Comcast, Viacom, and Fox/News Corporation. Perhaps, however, this has less to do with the quality of Biryukov’s analysis than it has to do with time; the book was published in 1971, and TV was probably quite different than it is today, at least in terms of monopolization, commercialization, etc. A case in point: it wasn’t until I read this book that I learned there was a time when TV didn’t have commercials! (My wife, Steph, who is 4-years older than myself and is much more familiar with outdated and discontinued technology than me, confirmed that this was the case.)

Nevertheless, as someone that loathes TV, I did enjoy Biryukov’s criticism of capitalist TV culture. “’Mass culture,’” Biryukov writes, “is a peculiar surrogate of culture concocted by the chiefs of bourgeois propaganda and designed not for a collective of human personalities who can think for themselves but for a mass of alienated individuals — the ‘lonely crowd’. The ‘mass culture’ doctrine has been adopted by bourgeois news media, including television, in order to keep away working people from high culture, genuine cultural values and achievements, to limit their interests to the family circle, to sow distrust, skepticism and an irrational fear of the ‘outside world’. The spiritual needs of the individual in the world of alienated and, essentially, enforced uncreative labour, and alienated social life are severely curtailed. ‘Mass culture’ has created the image of a primitive individual blinding following the standards and values of bourgeois society. To keep up with the Joneses, to pay deference to authority, to stifle any sign of free thinking — these are the qualities ‘mass culture’ is designed to foster among the masses” (pp. 153-154). “Thus, the discrepancy between the impressive technical achievements of bourgeois television and the poor cultural standard of its programming is the result of the class nature of bourgeois television” (p. 153).

Sometimes Biryukov’s criticism of TV remind me of the late George Carlin: “The ‘mass culture’ doctrine has been developed and used by bourgeois television with a view to stimulating robot mentality and behaviour among its audience. The powers that be need all kinds of robots: quiet robots, satisfied with their lives and position, never thinking of active struggle for the interests of the working people (the ‘comforting presence’ concept) and violent robots, ruthless servants who will carry out their superior’s orders without a thought, deprived of any moral scruples and deterrants (the concept of ‘symbolic catharsis’)” (p. 165).

A good, but not great, book.

Review: “In The Grip of Terror” – Andrei Grachev

Andrei Grachev’s “In the Grip of Terror” is a brilliant indictment of U.S.-led Western imperialism. It is the best of Michael Parenti’s “The Terrorism Trap: September 11 and Beyond”, “ The Sword & The Dollar: Imperialism, Revolution & the Arms Race”, and “Against Empire”; William Blum’s “Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II”; Michel Chossudovsky’s “America’s War on Terrorism” and “The Globalization of War: America’s Long War Against Humanity”; and Philip Bonosky’s “Afghanistan: Washington’s Secret War”, all in one short and easy to read pamphlet-sized book.

Grachev’s book can best be described as a scientific socio-economic and historical analysis of terrorism: “What kind of seeds sprout terrorism? How deep are its roots? What kind of soil feeds it? Who breeds it and for what purpose?” Grachev asks on the first page of the introduction.

Grachev begins by rejecting the subjective bourgeois explanations of the sources terrorism. “Trying to relieve the capitalist world of its responsibility for the emergence of this sinister phenomenon,” Grachev writes, “some bourgeois ideologists do their utmost to present political violence as a manifestation of ‘universal evil’, to pass it for a disease of the 20th century, which similarly affects capitalist, socialist and developing countries. Attempting to conceal its social origin, they proclaim it to be universal and emphasise that ‘terrorism…has now become the primary form of conflict for our time’” (p. 8). But “Terrorism is a manifestation of a moral and political crisis of capitalist society which, being founded on social oppression, exploitation and violation of human rights, is incessantly generating terrorism and violence, poisoning social life and damaging the international situation” (pp. 8-9).

One could be forgiven for thinking that Grachev was writing about the Bush Administration’s ‘War on Terror’ — but the book was published in 1981!

Grachev proceeds to dismantle the whole edifice of U.S.-led Western imperialism’s so-called war on terrorism (as it existed in the ‘80s, but equally applicable to the 21st century).  

In Chapter 1, “The World in Reverse,” Grachev describes the hypocrisy of U.S.-led Western imperialism’s use of the word “terrorism”. He describes how the legitimate struggles of national liberation movements are condemned by the reactionary Reagan administration as “terrorism” but not the death squads supported by U.S.-led Western imperialism. “Thus, those who have fought for the independence of India and Indonesia, Algeria and Vietnam, Angola and Mozambique and many other countries with a combined population of about two billion people are also called terrorists,” even though the legality of these struggles have “been recognised by the international community and upheld by the United Nations” (pp. 18-19). But while these legitimate and internationally recognized liberation struggles are condemned as “terrorists,” Grachev writes, “The Pol Pot hangmen enjoy support and are called ‘democrats’ rather than terrorists. Bands of fascist thugs — supported and financed by the United States — responsible for murders, tortures and terror in Chile, Haiti, Uruguay, Paraguay, Namibia and Guatemala supposedly have nothing in common with terrorists. The US-backed junta which murdered 40 thousand Salvadoreans within two years and a half is not a terrorist regime, and assassins attempting to take the life of Fidel Castro are not terrorists at all” (pp. 13-14).  

In Chapter 2, “The Roots of the Problem,” in true dialectical materialist fashion, Grachev traces the origins of terrorism in increased social tensions resulting from the general crisis of capitalism. “Bourgeois political scientists and the mass media which serve the interests of monopolies are using every means possible to camouflage the real cause behind the escalation of terrorism — the deepening crisis of the capitalist world. They deliberately play down the fact that it is capitalist society that, being inseparable from social oppression, constantly generates social violence within its bounds and proliferates it elsewhere” (p. 28). Capitalist economic crises increase social tension, causing an upsurge of political violence, i.e., terrorism. On the one hand, “The desocialization of youth and their failure to find a place in the job market turns a considerable number of young people into a reserve of right- and “left”-wing extremists. It causes them to break from the rest of society, and sets them against the whole political structure, democratic forces and working-class and trade union movements” (p. 30). On the other hand, “the bourgeoisie supplements traditional forms of economic and political coercion and ideological brainwashing of the masses with sheer violence, calling in the police or troops to crush strikes and break up political demonstrations (for example, in the summer of 1980 French warships were used against fishermen on strike)…In the United States, policemen are as quick to whip out a gun as professional criminals are. Within the past ten years, US law-enforcement officers killed 6,000 Americans between 10 and 80 years of age. Blacks account for 45 per cent of those victimized by the police” (pp. 33-34).

In Chapter 3, “Armies of Darkness”, and Chapter 4, “In the Throes of Two Crises,” Grachev examines both right-wing and “left”-wing terrorism, and how both objectively serve the interests of the monopoly bourgeoisie. Much of this chapter focuses on terrorism in Italy, where political violence on both ends of the political spectrum was widespread.

The rest of the book — chapters 5, “The Exportation of Violence”; 6, “Terrorism as State Policy”; and 7, “Information Terrorism” — is primarily focused on terrorism as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Grachev examines U.S.-led Western imperialism using former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s definition of a terrorist government as “any government which instigates, perpetuates or is involved in terrorist acts” (p. 85). “The use of terror is not new to the history of US foreign policy,” writes Grachev. “The US has long been [sic] resorted to terror in order to attain its global foreign policy goals. ‘For the last 35 years, the US government has made regular use of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy,’ said John Marks, an associate of the Center for National Security Studies” (p. 86). Grachev cites numerous examples of when terrorism was used as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy: “In 1946, it took an active part in suppressing the rebellion in the Philippines; in 1947, it crushed the popular uprising in Paraguay; in 1948, it staged an intervention by its mercenaries in Costa Rica; in 1950, it cruelly dealt with the liberation movement in Puerto Rico; and from 1950 to 1953, it waged a barbaric war in Korea” (p. 86). The U.S.-led 1953 coup d’état against Iran’s democratically elected leader Mossadegh in defense of the interests of oil monopolists is examined at length by Grachev. “Iran was followed by Guatemala, Thailand, Laos, the Congo, Panama, the Dominican Republic and many other countries where the CIA or its hirelings overthrew legitimate governments, exterminated the leaders unacceptable to the US and set up terrorists dictatorships” (p. 87). Grachev examines the whole spectrum of U.S.-led Western imperialism’s terrorist activities abroad: actual or attempted assassination of progressive world leaders such as Patrice Lumumba, Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi, and Salvador Allende; support for terrorist dictatorships such as Pinochet in Chile, the Shah in Iran, Duvalier in Haiti, Park Chung-hee in South Korea, and the apartheid regimes in South Africa and Israel; support for counterrevolutionary terrorists such as the mujahideen in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua, and Cuban emigres in Florida; and America’s own terrorist activities such as the CIA’s Operation Phoenix in Vietnam, in which CIA agents competed with each other to kill more Vietnamese, an estimated 40,000 in total, with chopped-off ears serving as ‘proof’.

A brilliant book — and a must read for everyone interested in terrorism and the phony “War on Terror”.

Review: “Scandinavian Social Democracy Today” – O. K. Timashkova

“Scandinavian Social Democracy Today” by O. K. Timashkova is one of the many books by Progress Publishers, naturally one of my favourite publishers, that I recently acquired from Gould’s Books in Australia. Obviously a Marxist-Leninist analysis of Scandinavian social democracy and so-called “democratic socialism” by a Soviet scholar intrigued me.

Timashkova really dives into the political economy of the Scandinavian countries, mostly Sweden but also Denmark and Norway and sometimes Finland. Timashkova offers an excellent analysis of the socio-economic origins of social democracy and “democratic socialism” in Scandinavia. According to Timashkova, the absence of serfdom in Scandinavia hastened capitalist industrialization, but simultaneously preserved a tradition of craft-guild exclusiveness, affording a privileged position to highly skilled labour (p. 18). This created a kind of de facto labour aristocracy. Moreover, owing to how the “industrial breakthrough” occurred in Scandinavia at a time when the industrial revolution was nearly complete in Western Europe, this shortened the transition from “classic” capitalism to state-monopoly capitalism. To compete with the monopolies of Western Europe, Scandinavian monopolies began to specialize in high quality manufactures. “This kind of specialisation, based on natural wealth — timber, iron ore, hydraulic power (Sweden and Norway) — climactic conditions (Denmark) and unique geographical location (Denmark and Norway), as well as on industrial skills, traditions of workmanship and the availability of highly-skilled labour, ensured these three small countries of advantageous positions on the world market, and led to the overwhelming importance for their economic development on external sources of accumulation” (p. 19). Thus, the Scandinavian bourgeoisie was able to share in the super profits of imperialism, even without extensive colonies of their own. “Even without colonies Scandinavian capitalism won a share of international imperialism’s superprofits. The Danish bourgeoisie, by attaining a monopoly of the meat and dairy markets and taking advantage of the cheap sea routes to London for marketing their farm produce, became — in Lenin’s words — ‘prosperous satellites of the British imperialist bourgeoisie, sharing their particularly easy and particularly fat profits’” (p. 19).

The Scandinavian bourgeoisie’s specialization in the production of high quality manufactures requiring highly-skilled labour, Timashkova writes, explains these countries more ‘socialist’ policies. For example, the demand for highly-skilled labour requires its constant replenishment. “It is no accident,” Timashkova argues, “that Sweden, Denmark and Norway were among the first European countries to eliminate illiteracy. At the beginning of the 20th century they were already spending from 10 to 12 per cent of their national budgets on education. This in turn brought about more costly national labour in these countries on the whole, and led to special forms of exploitation (in the Scandinavian countries both industry and agriculture have a very high labour intensity and productivity)” (p. 20). Moreover, “Highly-skilled, well-paid workers and artisans belonging to the worker aristocracy made up the core of the Social-Democratic parties of Sweden, Denmark and Norway from their very beginning in the last quarter of the 19th century” (p. 21).

Timashkova shreds the “mixed economy” theories and practices of the Scandinavian countries in Chapter III (pp. 99-154). Citing a large amount of data, Timashkova convincingly demonstrates that far from being a “mixed economy,” state-monopoly capitalism is well entrenched in Scandinavia. “In Sweden in 1974 industrial enterprises employing 500 or more persons and making up 2.4 per cent of the total number of enterprises employed 41.8 per cent of factory and office workers ([compared to] 1960 — 27 per cent); in Denmark 1.4 percent of the total number of enterprises employed 28.2 per cent of the work force ([compared to] 1960 — 26 per cent); and in Norway 1.1 per cent of the total number of enterprises employed 23 percent of the factory and office workers ([compared to] in 1965 — 18 per cent)” (pp. 106-107). A Swedish economic commission itself revealed that in the country regarded as the classic example of the “mixed economy” and the “third road of development” such a level of economic concentration did not proceed in proportions favouring the public sector (p. 109). Thus, in practice, Scandinavian social democracy and “democratic socialism” have proven to be even more right-wing and bourgeois than in Western Europe. Timashkova quotes Swedish politician E. Wigforss: “Swedish Social-Democracy emphasises that socialisation is only a means to an end, and this idea is stressed so forcefully that at times one gets the impression that they would like to do without it…The tradition of socialisation or nationalisation as the main line leading to the socialist transformation of society is much, much stronger in the [British] Labour Party than in Swedish Social-Democracy” (p. 122). Or, as the Swedish business magazine Affärsvärlden-Finanstidningen wrote: “One of the merits of Swedish Social-Democracy is that its economic policy can hardly be called a socialist one in the proper sense of the word: an orientation towards the development of state enterprise is by no means its distinctive feature” (p. 123).

Timashkova — rightfully, in my opinion — concludes that social democracy has survived in Scandinavia for so long because social democracy “turned out to be more acceptable for capitalism than the relatively weak organizations of the bourgeoisie. It was able to better meet the needs of the ruling class in stabilising the capitalist system, in the reproduction of the labour force by means of reforms relating to unemployment, poverty and social security. As a matter of fact, at a certain stage the purposes of Social-Democracy objectively coincided with the tasks of monopoly capital in these countries” (p. 240). Far from “changing the social physiognomy of their respective countries,” Timashkova writes, Scandinavian social democracy “have facilitated in no small degree the consolidation of the positions of big capital” (p. 241).

Review: “Super Profits and Crises! Modern U.S. Capitalism” – Victor Perlo

I still have one more chapter to read (“Socialism vs. Capitalism”) but I couldn’t wait to share this book with everyone because this book is FRIGGIN AWESOME!

Victor Perlo was a Marxist-Leninist economist and statistician. In “Super Profits and Crises! Modern U.S. Capitalism,” Perlo combines an immense amount of economic and statistical data with the most outstanding Marxist-Leninist analysis. But it isn’t only data that Perlo examines with a fine-tooth Marxist-Leninist comb. Probably the most impressive aspect of this book is how Perlo, like a search engine web crawler (and in the days before the widespread availability of Internet), indexes, examines, critiques, and synthesized the works of a vast array of other scholars, both Marxist and non-Marxist, with a Marxist-Leninist analysis. In this book you will encounter the names of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Hyman Lumer, James S. Allen, Philip Foner, William Z. Foster, Gus Hall, Seymour Melman, John Maynard Keynes, Smedley Butler, Alfred Marshall, Paul Samuelson, J. A. Hobson, and many, many more. And although he doesn’t mention them, some of what Perlo writes in this book reminds me of Michel Chossudovsky’s works on militarism and the role of the Bretton Woods Institutions, Rob Steven’s analysis of Japanese imperialism, and Michael Parenti’s many books, especially “The Sword and the Dollar” and “Against Empire”. Perlo takes the good, the bad, and the ugly of all these scholars and synthesizes all of them to create a Marxist-Leninist masterpiece. Admittedly, I was slightly stung by Perlo’s criticisms, although justified, of Melman’s social-democratic conclusions in his books, such as “Pentagon Capitalism,” because Melman’s books have a special place in my library.

Whatever social ill, event, or theory that has arisen or occurred since at least the time of the American Revolution, be it mass unemployment, colonialism, imperialism, Marx’s theory of surplus value, Lenin’s theory of monopoly capitalism, the failure of Keynesian economics, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, de-industrialization, the export of capital, inflation, national liberation struggles, the Russian revolution, WWI and WWII, the atomic bombing of Japan, the Third World debt crisis, the exploitation of immigrants in the U.S., the Vietnam War, the Korean War, etc., it is addressed in this book from a Marxist-Leninist perspective, backed by massive amounts of data. No rock is left unturned in this book.

To paraphrase Scott Atkin’s character, Yuri Boyka, in the Undisputed martial arts movies (you should watch these – they kick ass), this is “the most complete Marxist-Leninist book in the world!”

READ THIS BOOK.

Toronto Police Brutally Attack Homeless Encampment

In Toronto this week, Canada once again stretched its “democratic” muscles, in true banana republic fashion. On July 21st, 2021, Toronto police violently attacked an encampment of 14 to 17 homeless individuals, with batons, pepper spray, and other weapons, and destroyed all their meager belongings in a scorched earth campaign. Take a look at the photos of this “tremendous job”:

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/07/23/toronto-police-hit-with-formal-complaint-over-violent-homeless-clearance-as-tory-asks-who-started-it.html
Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/07/23/toronto-police-hit-with-formal-complaint-over-violent-homeless-clearance-as-tory-asks-who-started-it.html
Photo by Jay Watts

The violence of the Toronto police towards the homeless inhabitants of Lamport Stadium should be treated as an international crime. Canada has signed and ratified the United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which recognizes “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” Instead of providing affordable, adequate housing, as Canada is obligated to do so, Toronto police “beat the shit” out of the homeless and those defending them, an outstanding demonstration of Canadian “democracy”. And this coming at a time when more than 1,000 murdered Indigenous children have been recovered in unmarked graves at former Residential schools across Canada.

Now replace all references to Canada in the above paragraphs and what image comes to mind — that of a “developed”, “democratic” state, or a so-called “Third World” banana republic?

If any of you are surprised at such violence being committed by the Toronto police — or any police or armed organization of the state in Canada, for that matter — as I am sure some of you are, you shouldn’t be. Crimes against working and Indigenous people are an intrinsic element of the coercive apparatuses of the Canadian state.

The North-West Mounted Police, now the RCMP, was established as Canada’s colonial armed force, to enforce the oppressive laws of the Dominion Lands Act and the Indian Act, especially in the territory fraudulently purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company three years before. Since then the RCMP has been the violent strong-arm of Canadian capitalism. The RCMP has since been deployed against working-class and Indigenous peoples multiple times, both in Canada and around the world. Among the RCMP’s many crimes include: its war against Metis and Cree people in 1885 (the site of Louis Riel’s hanging is used as an RCMP Training Academy); its support for the British Empire in the Boer War in 1899-1902; the forcible separation of Indigenous children from their families and sending them to Residential schools where thousands were tortured and murdered; the killing Inuit sled dogs to destroy the independent, non-capitalist livelihood of the Inuit people; murdering striking workers in Winnipeg in 1919 and in Estevan in 1931; the forcible internment of communists and trade unionists, Japanese, and other “enemies” of Canada in the 1930s-1940s; bombing infrastructure in dirty tricks campaigns; engaging in militarized raids against Indigenous land defenders, such as in BC, where RCMP snipers were ordered to use “lethal force”, and in New Brunswick, on behalf of private corporate interests; and in support of U.S. imperialism’s illegal invasions and occupations of foreign countries, such as in Haiti, Mali, Palestine, and Iraq. The anti-progressive and reactionary nature of the RCMP was best captured in Inspector (later head of the RCMP Security Service) Charles Rivett-Carnac’s remarks in the 1930s that Nazism was acceptable because “the Nazi program which has been brought into being in Germany has retained the principles of the old system to the extent that a modified form of capitalism now exists in that country.”

The history of the Toronto police service is scarcely any better than that of the RCMP. One only needs to read the history of Toronto’s infamous Police Chief Dennis Draper. His “Red Squad” and “Draper’s Dragoons” viciously attacked communists and trade unionists while enabling Swastika Clubs to attack Jews, lobbied the City of Toronto to ban public speeches in any language, especially Yiddish, other than English, among many other crimes.

Canadians need to stop pretending that Canada is some “liberal democracy” and start recognizing this country for that it is: an illegal terrorist state built on genocide, theft, corruption, and violence.

Review: “The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad” – Harrison E. Salisbury

“The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad” by Harrison E. Salisbury…SUCKS! This book really, really sucks, and is a terrible, terrible book.

The title of the book is extremely misleading; indeed, only slightly more than half the total number of pages (54%) in the book actually have anything to do with the siege of Leningrad. It is not until page 307 — that’s right, THREE-HUNDRED SEVEN — that the siege of Leningrad even starts!

What’s the first 307 pages about, you ask? Good question. The first 307 pages of the book offer very little besides anti-Stalin and anti-Soviet claims juxtaposed with some poetic and colourful descriptions of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Most of Salisbury’s anti-Stalin and anti-Soviet claims are frankly absurd, outrageous, and completely ahistorical.

Page after page, for example, Salisbury criticizes Stalin and Soviet bureaucracy for lack of preparedness for the Nazi offensive; but when the Soviet’s did take actions to defend Leningrad, Salisbury criticizes those actions as being “extraordinary dictatorial”?! What does Salisbury expect?! Is there some kind of military-style democracy I am unaware of in the armed forces of other states? Did the U.S. or British militaries have some kind of secret ballot referendum about WWII that I have somehow missed?! Were the Japanese in Canada consulted before being stripped of all their assets and thrown in concentration camps?!

Salisbury’s outrageous, sometimes contradictory, and almost always uncited, accusations don’t end there. Like all anti-Soviet writers, Salisbury loves to describe Stalin as paranoid. He criticizes Stalin’s “suspiciousness” and refusal to heed the warnings of a possible Nazi invasion by the British (p. 77), as if Stalin’s suspicions of the British weren’t historically justified. Salisbury seems totally unaware of the fact of British involvement in the Allied intervention in the Soviet Union (1918-25), British policy of appeasement with Hitler throughout the 1930s and the willingness of the British to sacrifice Czechoslovakia at Munich, and the desire of leading British statement for war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, the essence of which was captured by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s comments in 1936: “We all know the German desire, and he has come out with it in his book [i.e., Hitler’s Mein Kampf], to move east, and if he should move East I should not break my heart…There is one danger, of course, which has probably been in all your minds — supposing the Russians and Germans got fighting and the French went in as allies of Russia owing to that appalling pact they made, you would not feel you were obliged to go and help France, would you? If there is any fighting in Europe to be done, I should like to see the Bolshies and the Nazis doing it” (p. 33 of “1939: The Alliance that Never Was and the Coming of World War II” by Michael Jabara Carley). Other outrageous and uncited accusations Salisbury makes include Stalin’s alleged pathological disdain for Leningrad and Leningraders (p. 126-29), Stalin’s willingness to execute someone “because he wore a funny hat” (p. 171), the execution of those whom “meticulously carried out” Stalin’s own orders (p. 182), etc.

Probably the worst book of 2021 so far. Yuck!

Review: “A Political History of The Gambia, 1816-1994” – Arnold Hughes and David Perfect

THANK GOD THIS BOOK IS DONE!

I expected “A Political History of The Gambia, 1816-1994” by Arnold Hughes and David Perfect to be a monotonous tome (at 549 pages!), but I thought I’d give it a go! And since there are so few books written about The Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest state, I was determined to finish reading it!

No English language book likely has as much information about The Gambia as this book. That being said, there really isn’t a lot of information in this book. Besides offering slightly more historical context than Wikipedia, the main area of focus in the book is electoral politics in The Gambia: the emergence of political parties and interests in colonial Gambia, the dominance of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), and the various opposition parties that have come and gone during The Gambia’s post-colonial existence. Now, this isn’t a problem in itself, even if mainstream liberalism’s adulation of electoral politics is enough to make any astute political analyst want to find the nearest high-rise building and throw themselves off it. But when you consider that this book is primarily about electoral politics in a country that was a de facto, if not de jure, one-party state for the entirety of The Gambia’s post-colonial history under examination in this book (1965-94), it becomes much easier to imagine how much commitment it took to slog through this book.

Moreover, the political analysis offered by the authors is almost laughable. Indeed, I got a good laugh when the authors on page 210 compared Kukoi Samba Sanyang, a Gambian dissident and leader of the failed 1981 coup d’état, to Joseph Stalin!

Phew…it’s done!! I can now say that I read a book about The Gambia! Time to move on to something else!

Review: “One Union in Wood: A Political History of the International Woodworkers of America” – Jerry Lembcke and William M. Tattam

“One Union in Wood: A Political History of the International Woodworkers of America” by Jerry Lembcke and William M. Tattam is one of the BEST labour studies books I have ever read.

The authors don’t just examine the history of the IWA chronologically, such as the various strike battles and other struggles of Canadian and American lumber workers, like what most union histories do. This book instead offers much more than that, as indicated in the book’s subtitle: a political history of the IWA.

By examining the political history of the IWA the authors aim to refute the conclusions of other writers about the IWA. For example, the authors dispute Vernon Jensen’s history of the IWA, in which Jansen concludes that the union’s communist leadership was ousted by democratic means due to the rank-and-file membership’s anti-communism. They also dispute Irving Abella’s conclusion that the defeat of the communists in the union was due to the communists themselves. As Lembcke and Tattam write, “The Jensen and Abella theses both assume that political processes, internal to the unions, are the decisive factors in the resolutions of factional differences in those unions” (p. 175). Lembcke and Tattam argue instead “that the political make-up of union leadership at any historical moment is determined by the intersection of struggles internal to the working class with the political and economic struggles external to it. What appeared to be personal and ideological differences between union leaders and factions within the CIO-CCL unions were in reality struggles between strata of the working class whose historic roots were deeply embedded in the uneven development of North American capitalism” (p. viii). Lembcke and Tattam throughout the book connect the factional struggles within the IWA, as well as with and within the AFL and CIO, with the uneven development of capitalism and its affect on industrial regions and workers. According to Lembcke and Tattam, the support for anti-communism and business unionism by lumber workers in Oregon was due to historic conditions: most operators in Oregon were small, and many of the lumber workers were originally, if not necessarily at the time, part-time farmers with a desire to “make it”. In contrast, lumber workers in Washington state and British Columbia were more radical: operators were much larger and more capital intensive than in Oregon, most workers lived in company camps or towns and not their own properties, and many of the workers were immigrants from Scandinavia with experience in socialist and labour activism. These historic conditions, and not the personalities of individual labour leaders, were the source of the disputes within the IWA.

Lembcke and Tattam thus reject the Jensen/Abella positions on empirical and analytical grounds. “For example, if the rank-and-file were predisposed against communism, why then did the anti-communist blocks in nearly all CIO-CCL unions have to fight pitched battles to put communist exclusion clauses in their constitutions? Why was it necessary for the CIO-CCL to expel the Communist-led unions in the late 1940s rather than simply letting the members of those unions determine who their leaders were going to be? Why was it necessary for the U.S. to spend thousands of dollars on Harold Pritchett’s deportation case when a vote of the member of the IWA could have sent him back to Canada? And was it necessary to ban Communists through the anti-communist clauses of the Taft-Hartley Act if the members of the unions were not electing them? The answer, of course, is that the rank and file did continue to elect Communists to leadership positions. In the IWA case, many Communists were elected to office by referendum election as late as the post-World War II years; few were ever defeated by the [Anti-Communist] Bloc opponents; all eventually were purged” (pp. 175-76). The source of the Communists’ strength, Lembcke and Tattam write, “was that they were indigenous members of the mill towns and logging camps in which they worked and organized” (p. 176). They “not only out-performed their opponents as organizers, but they offered a superior concept of what industrial unionism should be” (p. 177).

As always when reading these kinds of books, I was thoroughly disgusted with the dictatorial, anti-working class activities of the top labour leadership. Lembcke and Tattam describe incidents such as armed workers of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (AFL), in collusion with Teamsters, attacking IWA workers (CIO) on strike in 1937 (pp. 54-56), the IWA’s leadership bootlicking of the U.S. government and enthusiastic support of the Taft-Hartley Act (p. 118-119), the forced separation of the more radical B.C. locals of the IWA, which then formed the Woodworkers Industrial Union of Canada (WIUC), from the IWA, and then when WIUC workers went on strike for better wages and working conditions, the IWA leadership themselves shepherded strike-breakers into the mills and camps, described as “one of the most outstanding and shameful incidents in Canadian labour history” (p. 130).

Overall: FANTASTIC and BRILLIANT book!

Review: “Becoming Somaliland” – Mark Bradbury

Someone on Facebook recommended Mark Bradbury’s “Becoming Somaliland” to me because I study ethnic and separatist conflicts. I thought it would be interesting to read about Somaliland, a place I know little about besides that it declared independence from Somalia and has remained relatively peaceful while the rest of Somalia has been rife with violence and warlordism.

In this book Bradbury provides a comprehensive history of Somaliland and the origins of the Somali National Movement. According to Bradbury, Somaliland is distinct from southern Somalia in a number of ways. First, during the colonial era, the British had very little interest in Somaliland, and governed the territory (from India) through a system of indirect rule. This enabled Somalis maintain their traditions and customary laws. When the British did intervene more directly, such as in the war against the Dervish uprising of Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, this united Somalis against a common enemy. In contrast, southern Somalia was directly ruled by the Italians, and was later incorporated into Italian East Africa. Tens of thousands of Italians settled in southern Somalia, and thousands of Somalis were forced to work in Italian plantations, construction, and other industries, including the construction of the Mogadishu Cathedral. Traditional Somali social relations, including customary law and conflict resolution, consequently broke down in southern Somalia. Second, British Somaliland was briefly internationally recognized as an independent state, before agreeing to unify with southern Somalia to form the Somali Republic in 1960. The fact that Somaliland agreed to unify has fostered a sense that it should be allowed to leave the union. Thirdly, under various Somali governments, the northerners were often discriminated against and marginalized in favour of southerners, especially those from Mogadishu. This helped create a separate national consciousness in the north. Fourth, the brutal oppression of northern Somalis by Siad Barre’s regime, including the bombardment of Hargeisa and the massacre of tens of thousands of Issaq, helped unite northern Somalis behind the Somali National Movement (SNM). Fifth, the SNM, the main opposition movement in northern Somalia, was a popular movement dependent on the support of the people, especially those in the refugee camps in Ethiopia. This  helped foster (not always successfully) a sense of democracy and accountability within the SNM. In contrast, the main anti-government movements in the south, such as those by General Mohamed Farrah Aidid, Osman Atto, etc., were predatory and dominated by a single leader. Finally, since the north had always been marginalized and discriminated against by regimes in Mogadishu, when Barre was overthrown there was little to fight for control over. Agricultural land was minimal, state institutions were non-existent, 90% of Hargeisa was destroyed, etc. This helped to mitigate the factional infighting between rival warlords that occurred in southern Somalia.

Although Bradbury offers an excellent history and political analysis of Somaliland, he offers little else of value in the book. Most of the book is Bradbury trying to build a case for the recognition of Somaliland’s independence by pandering to Western imperialist interests. In page after page Bradbury tries to “sell” Somaliland to Western imperialism by highlighting Somaliland’s stability and comparatively well developed democracy, the fact that nearly everything is privatized in Somaliland, the merger of wealthy business interests and the state in Somaliland, and the windfall profits made in Somaliland by wealthy Somali investors in Djibouti. These are hardly convincing arguments for the average reader (and certainly not for me).

What was really disappointing to me about this book is how Bradbury never examines the lack of recognition of Somaliland from a theoretical perspective. If, as Bradbury writes, Somaliland is a politically stable, neoliberal paradise, I would be interested in reading why Western states refuse to recognize it, rather than why they should. Why do Western states recognize Somalia, which has been in a near constant state of civil war since the 1980s, and whose government has to be externally financed and imposed by force, but not neoliberal Somaliland? What’s the catch?

Final analysis: I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you’re really interested in Somaliland.  

Review: “France’s Wars in Chad: Military Intervention and Decolonization in Africa” – Nathaniel K. Powell

In “France’s Wars in Chad: Military Intervention and Decolonization in Africa,” Nathaniel K. Powell meticulously examines France’s multiple military interventions in Chad between Chadian independence in 1960 and Hissène Habré’s seizure of power in 1982.

Powell argues that France’s military interventions in Chad, its support to competing armed factions and ruthless dictatorial regimes, not only failed to maintain France’s neocolonial order in Chad but contributed to its downfall (in the form of the collapse of the Chadian state in 1979). To save the widely unpopular and ruthless regime of François Tombalbaye (1960-75) against multiple armed rebellions, France militarily intervened twice, most notably in Operation Limousin. When Tombalbaye’s regime was determined to be a lost cause, France then supported the military junta that ousted him, led by Félix Malloum (1975-78). To save the regime of Malloum against the still ongoing rebellions, now supported by Libya, France launched Opération Tacaud. When Malloum’s regime was determined to be a lost cause (he was forced to flee after rebel forces sacked N’Djamena), France half-supported the Government of National Unity (GUNT), a loose coalition of competing rebel factions, namely those led by Hissène Habré and the GUNT’s nominal president Goukouni Oueddei.

The GUNT didn’t last long: it was plagued by intense rivalries and clashes between member rebel factions. Moreover, France was widely perceived as favouring Habré’s anti-Libyan forces, which alienated other GUNT leaders. Only Libya strongly and consistently backed the GUNT against Habré’s forces, but fearing Libyan expansionism, France pressured Oueddei to expel the Libyans from Chad. Thus, with minimal outside support, the GUNT was no match for Habré’s forces, and in 1982, Habré seized the capital and toppled the GUNT. But Habré’s regime failed to resuscitate France’s neocolonial order in Chad, despite receiving extensive financial and military support from both the U.S. and France. Habré was one of post-colonial Africa’s most brutal dictators. His regime faced numerous rebellions (most notably by Idriss Deby), and an international tribunal convicted Habré of human right’s abuses, including rape, sexual slavery, and ordering the killing of 40,000 people.

Although the book is titled “France’s Wars in Chad,” the book is actually about far more than Chad. A more fitting title would be “French Neocolonialism in Africa,” since the book isn’t exclusively about Chad. Indeed, Powell provides an excellent analysis of Operation Barracuda (1979), the French military intervention in the then-Central African Empire to overthrow the regime of Jean-Bédel Bokassa. Powell also examined France’s relations with other African countries, such as Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Zaire, etc.

This was a fantastic scholarly work. Other books I have read about Chad, such as “The Roots of Violence: A History of War in Chad” by M. J. Azevedo, and “The Trial of Hissène Habré: How the People of Chad Brought a Tyrant to Justice” by Celeste Hicks, simply cannot compare to Powell’s.

Review: “Russia’s Protectorates in Central Asia: Bukhara and Kiva, 1865-1924” – Seymour Becker

Seymour Becker’s analysis of Russia’s conquests of the khanates of Bukhara and Khiva is considered the book on the subject. However, I did not find this book lived up to its reputation in Central Asian studies circles.

What is most striking about this book is Becker’s elementary understanding of imperialism and empire. Throughout much of the book Becker seems intent on proving that Russia’s conquest of the khanates of Bukhara, Khiva, and to a lesser extent Kokand was not due to imperialism. Firstly, Becker early on in the book rejects an economic explanation for Russian expansion. According to Becker, while the search for raw materials (mostly cotton) and a market for Russian commodities were important factors in Russia’s expansion into Central Asia, they weren’t the only factors, much less the most important ones. “Although Central Asian cotton had acquired a new importance for Russia on the eve of the conquest,” writes Becker, “and considerable sentiment existed for an advance into Central Asia to protect and promote Russian manufacturing and trading interests, the influence these factors had on policy-formation was minimal” (p. 23). Becker instead argues that “Russia was spurred on in Central Asia by a whole complex of motives — the quest for secure frontier, the provocations offered by unstable neighbors, the fear of being excluded from the area by England, and the temptations of diplomatic leverage, economic profit, and military glory” (p. 23).

None of these motives are incompatible with imperialism. Becker seems to think that imperialism occurs only when there are direct economic gains to be made. However, I don’t believe this is an accurate reflection of imperialism. As Parenti wrote in Against Empire, “Some critics have argued that economic factors have not exerted an important influence on U.S. interventionist policy because most interventions are in countries that have no great natural treasures and no large U.S. investments, such as, Grenada, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Vietnam. This is like saying that police are not especially concerned about protecting wealth and property because most of their actions take place in poor neighborhoods. Interventionist forces do not go where capital exists as such; they go where capital is threatened” (p. 87). Moreover, “The imperialist state’s first concern is not to protect the direct investments of any particular company, although it sometimes does that, but to protect the global system of private accumulation from competing systems” (p. 42).

Secondly, Becker devotes a considerable number of pages in the first few chapters to contrasting the official noninterventionist policies of the tsar with the unauthorized faits accomplis of Russian military leaders, namely Major General M. G. Cherniaev. His intent seems to be that tsarist Russia’s expansion into Central Asia was accidental, created by rogue military elements, and thus not due to any kind of imperialism. Becker repeatedly attempts to use official tsarist proclamations of noninterventionism in the khanates as evidence of Russia’s non-imperialist motivations. This is despite the fact that Becker’s own descriptions of Russia’s expanding influence in Central Asia could have been written by Lenin as a textbook case of imperialism (or, perhaps more accurately, colonialism)! Becker describes how “in March 1890 Russia’s presence in Bukhara was firmly established. A railroad had been built across the khanate and remained under the control of the Russian Ministry of War. A Russian political agency had been established in the emir’s capital. Russian garrisons had been installed at Chardjui and Kerki, in addition to troops who operated the railroad and guarded the railroad zone, and a Russian flotilla commanded the Amu-Darya as far as Kerki. Private Russian individuals and firms had begun to invade Bukhara in search of commercial profit, had purchased land, and had laid the foundations for three of four settlements that were to arise as Russian enclaves on Bukharan soil” (p. 146). But according to Becker one shouldn’t misconstrue this as colonialism or imperialism. “This revolution did not signify, however, that the imperial government had abandoned the principles of its traditional policy toward Bukhara — noninterference in the khanate’s internal life and maintenance of the emir’s authority[!]. The momentous changes of 1885-1890 were the unplanned result of Russia’s pursuance of policies that only indirectly involved Bukhara: the rivalry with Great Britain, the need for a rail link between Russian Turkestan and European Russia, and the desire to strengthen the line of the Amu-Darya against Afghan and British designs. The pursuit of these aims opened Bukhara incidentally to the penetration of private Russian interests” (p. 146). This theme of an accidental, or incidental, empire reoccurs throughout the book. “With the end of Bukhara’s isolation, brought about by the building of the Central Asian Railroad and the influx of private Russian interests, the khanate’s fate became linked ever more directly to Russia’s. Monetary controls and improved communications became necessities. These important changes, like those already discussed, were not part of a long-range scheme to subvert Bukharan autonomy. They came about rather in response to practical problems and in the context of Russia’s traditional policy of nonintervention” (p. 154); “The formation of Russian settlements and the broadening of extraterritorial jurisdiction were indeed responses on St. Petersburg’s part to the problems raised by the invasion of Bukhara by private Russian interests, but the intention was as much to protect Bukharan autonomy as to promote the business affairs of Russian subjects” (p. 173); etc. If this wasn’t bad enough, Becker similarly describes British support for counterrevolutionary forces in the Soviet Union as ‘accidental’ (“awkward,” to be more precise): “Having chosen to support Askhabad [Transcaspian Government] as the only available bulwark against German and Turkish expansion toward Persia and India, Britain soon found that she had no choice but to help Askhabad defend itself against the Soviet forces to the east” (p. 275). Thus, British Empire found itself “in an awkward position” (p. 276), as if the British were hesitant to support anti-Bolshevik forces!

Becker’s belief that “Nonintervention in the internal affairs of the khanates so long as the latter proved peaceful and compliant was to remain the guiding principle of Russia’s policy down to 1917” (p. 25) is somehow evidence of Russian non-imperialism is strikingly absurd. The nonintervention in the internal affairs of one state so long as it is “peaceful and compliant” with the demands of another state sounds a lot like imperialism to me. In fact, that is something that makes imperialism distinct from colonialism. Imperialism is more efficient and cost effective than imposing foreign rule on hostile territories! I can’t think of any imperialist state that would prefer to expend resources on brutal military occupations if it could achieve the same result without such expenditures.  

Despite these major theoretical and historical shortcomings, Becker does succeed in providing a lot of valuable and interesting information about the khanates. No other book that I have read specifically addresses the origins of the khanates of Bukhara and Khiva and examines them as sovereign and independent states (ex. the regimes in power, the role of religion, internal strife, etc.). Most books either skip these subjects altogether or only examine them insofar as they are relevant to understanding Russia.

Overall this is not my favourite book on Central Asia but not the worst either.  

Review: “Turkmenistan’s Foreign Policy: Positive Neutrality and the Consolidation of the Turkmen Regime” – Luca Anceschi

Luca Anceschi’s “Turkmenistan’s Foreign Policy: Positive Neutrality and the Consolidation of the Turkmen Regime” was another swing and a miss by Routledge.

Just like Irina Y. Morozova’s “Socialist Revolutions in Asia,” the subject of Anceschi’s book, i.e., Turkmenistan’s doctrine of Positive Neutrality, is of great interest to me. Since the overthrow of the USSR in 1991, Central Asia has been plagued with instability, including civil wars in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, ethnic violence and state failure in Kyrgyzstan, and Islamic fundamentalism in Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan, however, under the megalomaniac President-for-Life Saparmurat Niyazov (1940-2006), has occupied a rather peculiar place politically in the region. An analysis of Turkmenistan’s UN-recognized neutrality I had hoped would provide valuable insight into the class struggle in Turkmenistan.

Unfortunately, like most Western liberal political analyses, Anceschi’s book does everything but that. Throughout the book Anceschi seems more interested in colouring between the lines imposed by Western academia than offering any valuable insight into Turkmenistan. For all his political analysis, Anceschi fails to connect Turkmenistan’s Positive Neutrality to conditions existing within Turkmenistan. Even the chapter on Turkmenistan’s “Economic Foreign Policy” offers little beyond abstract analysis of “the problem of continuity and change in Turkmen foreign policy making” (p. 64). This is a major handicap of Anceschi’s book and Western academia. Since any discussion of class, class struggle, capitalism, imperialism, etc. is forbidden lest it threaten Western interests, books like Anceschi’s are limited to exercises in political philosophizing. Moreover, to ensure his material passes the censorship of Western academia, the quality of Anceschi’s political analysis is further weakened by such cliches as comparing Niyazov to Stalin. It is a documented fact that Stalin was against the cult of personality around himself. According to S. Davies, Stalin repeatedly “spoke out explicitly against the formation of the cult around himself”: “In speeches of the 1930s, Stalin repeatedly deemphasized the role of leaders (vozhdi) accentuating instead the key historical importance of broader social forces. Thus he affirmed in February 1933 to the First Congress of collective farm shockworkers (kolkhozniki-udarniki) that the time had long passed when vozhdi were considered the only creators of history. The history of states was now decided primarily by millions of workers.” This is in stark contrast to Niyazov, who renamed cities, streets, mosques, collective farms, celestial bodies, and even days and months of the calendar after himself and redefined the age of man! To claim that Stalin and Niyazov were both examples of Weberian sultanism is simply liberal hogwash.

Anceschi’s conclusion, that Turkmenistan’s doctrine of Positive Neutrality, is a “domestically-orientated foreign policy,” i.e., intended more to strengthen and consolidate the regime within Turkmenistan than have any meaningful impact on international affairs, is hardly a ground-breaking discovery. Bruce Pannier’s article in Radio Free Europe is just as good at Anceschi’s book but also way less expensive and quicker to read.

This book could have been much better.