An Analysis of Soviet Economic Policy in the Periphery: Tajikistan in Context

Below is a copied and pasted version of a paper I published on Academia.edu (here) in which I examine the economic relationship between Tajikistan and the Soviet Union.

The economic relations between the Russian Soviet federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) (the centre) and the Soviet Union’s peripheral republics has frequently been described as ‘colonial’.

Nowhere is this colonial narrative more common than when discussing Tajikistan. The least industrially developed of the Soviet Union’s fifteen republics, there is no shortage of literature describing Tajikistan as a Soviet colony. According to Jesse Driscoll, “Tajikistan was never more than a frontier cotton colony.”[1] Similarly, Robert Strayer describes how the “imposition of a single-crop, cotton-growing economy on large parts of Central Asia during the Stalin years had created a highly dependent, almost colonial relationship with the more developed regions of the Soviet Union.”[2]

The theory of Tajikistan’s de facto status as a Soviet colony is attractive to scholars of Central Asia due to the civil war that engulfed Tajikistan between 1992-97. For decades scholars have debated the various factors that contributed to the outbreak of violence: regionalism, Islamic militancy and the spillover of the war in Afghanistan (one of the most famous mujahideen warlords, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was a Tajik), the overthrow of the Soviet Union, etc.[3] Yet, as Idil Tunçer-Kılavuz notes, none of these factors, collectively or individually, explain why Tajikistan experienced civil war, since all these factors also existed in Uzbekistan, including the existence of a powerful Uzbek warlord in Afghanistan, Abdul Rashid Dostum, with cross-border connections.[4] “Uzbekistan resembles Tajikistan in many ways,” writes Tunçer-Kılavuz:

Unlike the other Central Asian countries, the territories of today’s Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have long been home to sedentary societies. The literature on Central Asia describes their societies as having been influenced by Islam to a greater extent than the other Central Asian countries. They have similar social cleavage structures in terms of salience of regional identities and the prevalence of Islamic sentiment. Both their economics are based on agriculture. They share the legacy of the same Soviet past, having lived under the same Soviet institutions and policies, and then separated from the collapsed state. Economic factors stated as the causes of civil war in Tajikistan were valid for Uzbekistan as well. Both countries suffered from poverty, and the end of subsidies from the Soviet Union. They had similar social structures, with largely rural societies. A large degree of intermingling between their populations has taken place.[5]

Continue reading “An Analysis of Soviet Economic Policy in the Periphery: Tajikistan in Context”

Marxism and the National Question: Nagorno-Karabakh in Context

Below is a copied and pasted version of a paper I published on Academia.edu (here) in which I attempt to apply Marxist dialectics and Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. For the full bibliography, please visit my Academia.edu page.

(Featured image source: https://karabakhfacts.com/nagorno-karabakh-republic-artsakh-map/)

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, social disintegration and political instability caused by the overthrow of the Soviet Union sparked numerous ethnic and territorial conflicts in many newly independent Soviet republics. Some of these conflicts never ended but became “frozen” (a slightly misleading but frequently used term) due to stalemate, leaving some regions de facto independent for the last several decades.

Among these “frozen” conflicts is that which involves Nagorno-Karabakh (officially known as the Republic of Artsakh). Between 1988-94, Karabakh Armenians, with the support of the Armenian SSR (later the Republic of Armenia), fought a brutal war against the Azerbaijani SSR (later the Republic of Azerbaijan). The war killed an estimated 20,000, and displaced another 1.5 million, making it one of the bloodiest post-Soviet conflicts[1]. In April 2016, fighting erupted between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, in which “dozens of Armenian and Azerbaijani tanks ‘squared off against one another in open battle.’”[2]

On the one hand, Karabakh Armenians, supported by Armenia, argue that Nagorno-Karabakh has the right to self-determination. On the other, Azerbaijani leaders, supported by the U.S. and most Western countries, Turkey,[3] and Israel,[4] argue that Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession violates the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

What can Marxism and Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination tell us about the conflict vis-à-vis Nagorno-Karabakh? This is more than an exercise in semantics; Nagorno-Karabakh is the “most dangerous unresolved conflict in wider Europe,” writes Thomas de Waal, with the potential for a new “catastrophic war”[5].

In this paper I will attempt to argue, using Marxism and Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination under specific conditions as my basis, that Nagorno-Karabakh should cede from Azerbaijan.

Continue reading “Marxism and the National Question: Nagorno-Karabakh in Context”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Page 46, ibid.

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

[5] Page 17, ibid.

[6] Page 47, ibid.

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

[8] ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Permanent War Economy and De-industrialization

(Image: Detroit, Michigan, the former centre of America’s auto industry. Source)

Politicians of all political stripes like to dress inflated military budgets, and the wicked arms deals that frequently accompany them, in terms of “job creation.” Former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, arguing against any reduction in military funding, claimed that any decrease “would result in job cuts that would add potentially 1 (percentage point) to the national unemployment rate.”[1] Here in Canada, both Stephen Harper and his Liberal counterpart Justin Trudeau have justified the $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the largest such deal in Canadian history, as a means of creating jobs. “The fact is that there are jobs in London relying on this” deal, Trudeau said [2].

A closer examination will reveal something different. By not producing a life-serving product, i.e., an article used for either consumption or for further production, military spending is not only the worst of available choices for job creation, it contributes to industrial and infrastructure decay. Continue reading “The Permanent War Economy and De-industrialization”

Refugee Crisis is a Crisis of Imperialism

The widely circulated photo of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was found on a beach in Turkey and whose family was “making a final, desperate attempt to flee to relatives in Canada even though their asylum application had been rejected” by the Harper Government, has caused widespread outrage and forced Western leaders to acknowledge that there is a “refugee crisis”.

In Canada, the leaders of the Liberal and New Democratic parties have used the news of Kurdi’s tragic death, along with the deaths of his five-year-old brother and his mother, to criticize the Harper Government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Trudeau and Mulcair have called on Canada to accept more Syrian refugees, while the Harper Government, with its lust for military action, insists on more illegal bombing raids in Syria and Iraq as the solution to the surge of Syrian refugees.

The real tragedy is the refusal of Western leaders to acknowledge the cause of the refugee crisis – Western imperialism’s genocidal and never ending wars on the people of the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.

There are now more refugees than at any time since World War 2, and the number of refugees has increased markedly since the start of the “Global War on Terror”. Wherever the U.S. and its imperialist allies have intervened, whether through direct military action or indirect proxy wars, economic sabotage, and coups, in the name of “democracy”, the “War on Terror”, or the “responsibility to protect”, death and despair have been forced upon millions of innocent people, who have been left no other choice than to abandon their native lands to embark on a dangerous future of desperate struggle.

In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali, Korea, Vietnam, East Timor, Sudan, Ukraine, and elsewhere the livelihoods of millions have been destroyed by the forces of U.S. and Western imperialism.

In the 1980s, Afghanistan had a “genuinely popular government”, according to John Ryan, retired professor from the University of Winnipeg, that was implementing widespread reforms (Parenti, Michael. “The Terrorism Trap”. Page 56. City Lights Books, San Fransisco, 2002). Labour unions were legalized, a minimum wage was established, hundreds of thousands of Afghans were enrolled in educational facilities, and women were freed from age-old tribal bondage and able to earn an independent income. U.S. and Western imperialism, fearful of that kind of equitable distribution of wealth, supported the feudal landlords and fundamentalist mullahs to sow chaos across the country, bringing rise to elements that later formed al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Afghan people were once more dealt a severe punishment by the forces of Western imperialism following 9/11, despite a lack of conclusive evidence linking either the Taliban or al-Qaeda to the attacks. 30 years of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan have left the people of Afghanistan impoverished, traumatized, and desperate.

The conflicts in Libya and Syria are eerily similar to the Western destabilization of Afghanistan. In 2011, when the Arab Spring protests swept across the Middle East and North Africa, Western imperialism hijacked legitimate grievances of the masses as a pretext for intervention in the name of the “responsibility to protect” and “democracy promotion”.

Prior to the 2011 U.S./NATO intervention, Libya was among the wealthiest and most stable countries in Africa, with the continent’s highest standard of living. Housing was enshrined as a human right, education and healthcare services were free for all citizens, and the country was pushing to establish an African currency linked to gold to help end the endless cycle of debt and impoverishment of the African masses by Western imperialism. Under the cloak of the United Nations, Western imperialism, using the pretext of protecting the people of Libya from Gaddafi’s murderous rule, launched airstrikes on Libya and allied themselves with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other Libyan extremists. NATO airstrikes killed hundreds of civilians and forced Libya back into the Stone Age; Gaddafi was mercilessly tortured and murdered by the rebels. Thousands have been killed as rival tribal and extremist factions, some now allied with ISIS, battling for control of the country.

The conflict in Syria has frequently been referred to as “Libya 2.0”. U.S. imperialism with the support of Israel, Turkey, and the Persian Gulf States, trained and financed “moderate” rebels to overthrow the secular and popularly supported government of Bashar al-Assad. The “Free Syrian Army”, i.e., the “moderate” rebels, has been virtually eliminated in the conflict despite millions of dollars in aid from the U.S. and its regional allies. FSA fighters have deserted to the ranks of ISIS en masse, itself a product of the illegal U.S. occupation of Iraq that killed 1 million Iraqis. There is overwhelming evidence that the U.S. and its allies have been actively training and supporting ISIS elements since the start of the proxy war in Syria. It wasn’t until ISIS invaded Iraq with its new Toyota technicals, curtesy of U.S. imperialism, that ISIS was declared a threat to the world. Western imperialism changed its tactic from supporting ISIS to airstrikes on Iraq and Syria, with the support of other Western imperialist states, Turkey (which is also conveniently bombing anti-ISIS Kurdish fighters), Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf States, but without consultation with the Syrian government, Iran, or Hezbollah that have been fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda elements since the start of the conflict. Hundreds of thousands have died in the West’s proxy war against the Syrian government.

From Libya to Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and Somalia, U.S. and Western imperialist interventions, coups, and sanctions have displaced and killed millions of people. Physicians for Social Responsibility estimates that in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan alone Western imperialist interventions have caused the deaths of 1.3 million people. It is no wonder then that hundreds of thousands seek asylum elsewhere; however, after traveling huge distances overland and on water, refugees find themselves abused, discriminated against, held in detention, or rejected from Europe, Canada, the U.S., and Australia.

More than 2, 500 have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, while the International Organization for Migration estimates that 30, 000 could die by the end of 2015.

Refugees attempting to enter Europe, even if they are granted asylum in a mainland European country such as Germany, have been met with police violence in Greece, Italy, and other countries on the Mediterranean that are the first landing points for boats sailing from North Africa and Turkey.

Greek riot police have beaten refugees protesting the failure of local governments to process their applications. Conditions are so poor for refugees that while waiting for processing newborn babies have died in Greece.

On the Macedonia-Greece border, where more than a thousand refugees are crossing daily, refugees that broke through the barbed wire fences were shot at with stun grenades, and the Macedonian police have treated refugees as rioters, according to Amnesty International.

Italian police forcibly removed African refugees camping out at the French border after France refused to grant them asylum. Hungary is building a fortified wall, similar to the barbaric wall that divides the U.S.-Mexico border, to stop refugees from crossing the border.

The thousands of refugees that seek asylum in Australia are detained in Australia’s detention facilities in Papua New Guinea and the small island nation of Nauru, dubbed the “Guantanamo Bay of the Pacific”. Refugees can be detained for several years in these facilities, where social workers have observed “profound damage” to those detained through “prolonged deprivation of freedom, abuse of power, confinement in an extremely harsh environment, uncertainty of future, disempowerment, loss of privacy and autonomy and inadequate health and protection services”. An Australian Senate investigation received reports of guards raping women on tape and sexually exploiting children as young as 2-years-old. Just as Britain refuses to assist drowning refugees in the Mediterranean out of fear that it will encourage more migrants to seek asylum, the unannounced policy of Australian authorities is to make refugees suffer abuse and inhumane living conditions to deter them from seeking asylum in Australia, as if Australian imperialism hasn’t inflicted enough suffering on the people of the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia.

U.S. and Western imperialism is the root cause of the “refugee crisis”. Everyday men, women, and children are killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, U.S. and Western-backed militias in Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia, European and North American mining and oil conglomerates in Central and Western Africa, or are starved to death in Yemen by the U.S.-backed Arab blockade of the country. Until the genocidal aims of U.S. imperialism, with the support of Canada, Australia, the European Union, and regional allies, are defeated, the “War on Terror” will continue to make life too unbearable for working people in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to remain in their home countries.

(Image source: https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2015/09/14/429086/US-Syria-Libya-Afghanistan-Iraq-refugee-Aylan-Kurdi)