War on Terrorism: The Lessons of Beslan

The horrific slaughter of over 300 innocent children, men and women in the recent events in the Russian town of Beslan should make us think hard about the causes of terrorism today. Events such as Beslan are being used to step up military repression against nationalist movements, hiding the fact that the real terrorists are imperialist countries and Russia who have used state terror for centuries to repress and super-exploit colonial and semi-colonial countries. We say the Russian ruling class is the real terrorist in Beslan.

Who’s the Real Terrorist?

At Beslan the media as usual almost completely ignored the underlying issues and went straight for the jugular of the hostage takers. In doing do they missed the biggest terrorist –Putin and his Russian mafia hell bent on restoring a Great Russian imperialism.

Even before the siege was over Bush and co were busy trying to draw an al-Qaeda link. This was to be expected as was the total lack of journalistic integrity which followed this outrageous statement which was completely unsubstantiated. We were crying out for a journalist to have the courage to ask “Is this information based on the same intelligence that there were weapons on mass destruction in Iraq?”

Let us be clear that there is no justification for the targeting of civilian Russian children and using them as pawns in a power game. But as soon as we say this we have to say their deaths are the result of a much more systematic and destructive state terrorism of the big powers. The actions of the hostage takers in Beslan show that the leaders of oppressed nations, exploiting the anger and hatred of the freedom fighters against their oppressors, are prepared to use any methods to try to do deals with the big powers to broker the valuable resources of their countries.

While the Chechen warlord Bassiev has apparently claimed responsibility for this terrorist act there are still doubts that Chechnya was involved. Putin is quite capable of staging a fake attack to justify a further assault on Chechnya, and a stepping up of counter-terrorist actions and anti-terrorist legislation. But if it was a Chechen attack how can we explain it?

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

The events in Beslan are a result of the Russian policies and atrocities carried out in Chechnya not just in recent times but over the last couple of centuries. Russia has in two recent wars invaded and decimated Chechnya as it tries to prevent its secession and the grabbing of its resources by Russia’s EU and US rivals. In this situation we are on the side of Chechen self-determination and in the same trench as the Chechen freedom fighters against Russian oppression.

While we unconditionally side with Chechnya against Russia we criticise the barbaric and self-defeating methods used by the Chechen nationalist leaders against Russian oppression such as the acts of terrorism we saw in Beslan. They are prepared to sacrifice the heroic youth and women as pawns in their desire to force the Russians do a deal and allow these nationalist bosses to get rich from acting as the agents of Russian, EU and US corporations.

Commenting on the Spiked Online site, Brendan O’Neill says: “taking hostage an entire school on the first day of term, surrounding teachers, parents and kids with land mines and high explosives, makes little sense as a nationalist strike against a military aggressor or as a tactic for weakening Russian rule in the Caucasus. Instead, like the Moscow theatre siege of 2002, the school siege looked more like a murderous stunt, an al-Qaeda-esque assault, designed to provoke fear and outrage rather than to realise any discernible political aim.”

The commentator goes on to add that the speed with which authorities tried to point the finger of blame at International Terrorism is alarming.

“For obvious reasons, Russia is keen to situate Beslan within the international 'war on terror', effectively claiming that the siege was the work of al-Qaeda. Putin's al-Qaeda talk is clearly opportunist; his aim is to distract from his repressive policies in Chechnya since a second war was launched there in 1999 (the first war having taken place under Boris Yeltsin from 1994 to 1996).”

What appears to the Spiked commentator to be a senseless and self-destructive act of terror at Beslan is in reality a consequence of the military weakness of these nationalist movements, and the fact that oppression of the US, EU and Russia has created a generation of freedom fighters around the world prepared to sacrifice their lives. As one Algerian freedom fighter said many years ago, “you give us your airplanes and we will give you our homemade bombs”.

Root Causes

What are the root causes of what happened in Beslan? Brendan O’Neill has a go at answering this.
"The missing link in the debates about terrorism, about the shift from the more politically-oriented violence of the past to the blindly ruthless attacks of today, is the West's foreign interventions of the 1990s. It is by examining these that we can start to make sense of today's seemingly senseless terror. Such interventions, particularly in the Balkans, did much to create the conditions for the rise of the new stateless groups that are so different from old-style nationalist movements.”

And further,
“Western officials wring their hands over the atrocity in Beslan, carried out by a terror group that seems irrational and, as Aldwyn Wight says, without restraint. Yet such terror networks are the product of the West's undermining of its own postwar international framework during the humanitarian era. The old national liberation and nationalist movements reflected a world organised around the principles of sovereign equality and state authority; today's terror networks hold a mirror to the West's self-destructive assault on state sovereignty and the integrity of borders in the post-Cold War world. Where the old world order, for all its vast faults, gave rise to movements that sought to create their own states, the new world order has encouraged the emergence of distinctly stateless groups, not tied to any specific community or political goal.”

What this commentator fails to realise is that this apparent “murderous stunt” has been forced on nationalist movements not by a breakdown in ‘humanism’ or even recent invasions, but by centuries of Western imperialist and Great Russian terror. Individual or group terror such as that at Beslan has to be seen as the effect of this long history of imperialist class and national terror. Moreover the death toll at Beslan was not the result of the methods used by the ‘insurgents’ but the direct result of the attack by the special forces which stormed the school. 45,000 children killed in Chechnya in the last 20 years, now several hundred killed at Beslan and both at the hands of the Russian military.

O’Neill also comments on the now much known fact that the west was once keen to support movements such as the Mujhadeen in their activities in Afghanistan but now cannot contain what these movements have morphed into.

An article in a recent Guardian Weekly also seeks to shed light on what took place: “Today's hostage-taking, though, from Iraq to Ossetia, is more savage, born of the spread of asymmetrical warfare that pits small, weak and irregular forces against powerful military machines. No insurgent lives long if he fights such overwhelming force directly. His tactical success has always been in surprise and in picking his target. If insurgent bullets cannot penetrate military armour, it makes little sense to shoot in that direction. Soft targets - the unprotected, the innocent, the uninvolved - become targets because they are available. If the hostage-takers in Beslan knew they were likely to die, they also knew they would die with the world's attention upon them. Had they died in a regular fire fight with Russian forces, we would neither have known nor cared.”
This commentator doesn’t seem to realise that ‘asymmetrical warfare’ is not the origin of ‘savage’ methods of warfare. Imperialism has long used ‘Gurkhas’, i.e. the native troops of the countries they occupy, to do their fighting for them. There is nothing more ‘savage’ than to use these ‘loyal’ troops to fight imperialism’s wars. It was the British who pioneered search and destroy methods against ‘soft’ targets in their colonies 200 years before the modern guerrilla insurgents‘re-invented’ them. It was the British who took the poison gas technology from the battlefields of France to Iraq in the 1920s before Saddam was born.

And of course who can be surprised that we know virtually nothing of what is actually going on in Chechnya. Media coverage is almost non-existent, or managed by tame or embedded agencies that push the official line of the oppressor state. There are acts of inhumanity being carried out by the Russians in Chechnya all the time. We just don’t hear about them. It is out of sheer desperation (the same sort of desperation that makes a 14 year old Palestinian by strap explosives to himself) that such acts as the Beslan hostage taking occur. Again, this is not to condone the action, rather to gain some sort of understanding. For it is only through understanding that we can find an answer.

“Peace and Security”

The Guardian tries to draw out the links that exist in Putin’s war in Chechnya with other similar ‘adventures’, but in doing so it remains trapped in its liberal view that these were ‘failures’ because they did not realise their objectives of ‘peace and security’:
“As the drama of Beslan was entering its final hours, George Bush was bidding for re-election on the promise of security to the American people, a security premised on the willingness to use overwhelming military force. It was the same promise that Putin gave to the Russians and Ariel Sharon to the people of Israel. All three have used violence freely in pursuit of electoral reward: Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple Mount that triggered the second intifada, Putin's reckless adventurism in re-launching the Chechen war in 1999, and the Bush invasion of Iraq. None has produced the peace or security that was their justification; all have widened the circle of killing far beyond the formal engagement of armed men on both sides. Now the most likely victims are the poor and the helpless, as collateral damage, bombing casualties or hostages.”

Where both the Guardian Weekly and Spiked Online fall far short in their analysis is their inability (or perhaps unwillingness in the case of the ex-Trotskyists of Spiked Online) to recognise that events in Beslan cannot be separated from the ever-increasing demands of international capitalism to control and subjugate anything they see as threatening their global domination. Their liberalism does not allow them to see that these events are the necessary result of resistance to an escalating, recolonising, military drive by the imperialist powers to re-conquer and re-divide the world to grab the scarce, valuable resources they need to survive and expand.

Marxists tell the truth

The duty of Marxists is to tell the truth. We need to call for workers to recognise the real enemy and to also recognise that so-called senseless acts of violence cannot end worker’s oppression. They merely give ammunition to the Capitalists and their boot lickers in the media.

There is an international campaign of terror and it is waged every day by the capitalists and their agents such as Bush and Putin. It is the oppression and misery this campaign causes which gives rise to Nationalist struggles. These struggles in turn say much about the weakness of the left and its inability to mobilise workers in a struggle to overthrow capitalism. In this vacuum, nationalist leaders of all colours have risen to lead the struggles of the masses in the hope they can use them to negotiate profitable terms with imperialism. Rather they have been re-routed to the only game in town which in many cases is a nationalist struggle.

To transform these national struggles from dead ends that will lead to the defeat of the masses, into the struggle for socialism, Marxists have a duty to unconditionally support them against their oppressors. But while we side with these national struggles against imperialism or national oppression, we give no support to the nationalist leaders. Rather we try to mobilise the masses to arm themselves, and to break free of their nationalist leaders and from imperialism by fighting for socialism. In doing this we can show that socialism alone can liberate workers and peasants from the trap of imperialism and reactionary national capitalism.

Defend Chechnya!
For the right of Chechnyan self-determination!
Down with Great Russian Chauvinism!

For Workers and Peasants states in the former Soviet Union!

From Class Struggle 58 October-November 2004

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