Article 8
March 17, 1988




National problems since Gorbachev: the removal of Kunayev in Kazakhstan. Rebellion followed. Boundary changes, cancellation of irrigation project. Aliev of Azerbaijan dropped from Politburo. Chronology of struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh. Religion not the real issue. Effects of industrialization and migration. Growth of proletariat in southern republics. Reforms based on self-interest endanger equality of nations. Nagorno-Karabakh and Lenin's policy of self-determination. Secessionist movements in 1917. Setting up a multinational Soviet state. Class and national inequalities persist. Christianity, Islam and Communism. Perestroika and the distribution of national resources. For revival of revolutionary communist ideology, workers must be heard.

The news of widespread clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanians in the southern part of the Soviet Union has deeply shocked and saddened progressives, socialists and communists around the world. However, this is not the first time during the Gorbachev administration that such an outbreak has occurred. In December 1986, two people were killed in severe fighting in Alma-Ata, in the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, after the first secretary of the Communist Party there, Dinmukhamed A. Kunayev, a Kazakh, was removed and replaced by Gennadi V. Kolbin, a Russian.

The Kazakhstan Republic, as of the 1970 census, had some 16 million people, of whom about 40.8 percent were counted as Russians and about 36 percent as Kazakhs. General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev said in a speech in 1961 at a conference of leading agriculturists in Kazakhstan, "You should pride yourself on the fact that in your republic members of 100 nationalities and peoples of the Soviet Union live and labor in friendly fashion as a single family and in moral unity." This gives a measure of the complexity of the problem. A hundred nationalities in one republic!

According to the official Soviet accounts, Kunayev was removed for corruption and inefficiency. That may or may not be the case. But of the more than 6 million Kazakhs in the republic, was there not even one who could replace the allegedly corrupt Kunayev? Was it so absolutely essential to put in an ethnic Russian? Indeed, it seems to us, especially in the light of recent events, that the Gorbachev administration was inviting rebellion. Such an issue as corruption doesn't go over where ethnic divisions are involved. One would think this would be ABC in dealing with the national question. Even in the most difficult circumstances, the Party could have resorted to the practice used during the Civil War when the Red Army first took over civil administration from the bourgeois and feudal elements. At that time, the practice was to initially put in a Soviet commissar, along with a leading person from the local nationality. And that was 70 years ago!

Another problem arises from changes in the geographical composition of the republic, often referred to as redrawing boundary lines. This is often a disguised form of what in the U.S. is called gerrymandering, artificially attaching or detaching areas for what may be narrow factional or even economic reasons. In 1963 a part of the South Kazakhstan territory of the Kazakh SSR was transferred to the Uzbek SSR. Soviet writer E.V. Tadevosian explained it this way:

In view of the fact that in Uzbekistan, cotton growing is a leading branch of agriculture, while in Kazakhstan it has not progressed very far, Kazakhstan gave to the brother republic of Uzbekistan more than 8,700,000 acres of the Hungry Steppe, which has been opened primarily to cotton farming by the joint efforts of the peoples of Central Asia. 1

Tadevosian says nothing about how this affected the population of either area. Such a transfer of land and population can create a formidable challenge to communist administration and the observance of ethnic sensitivities. It is easy to perceive how such a multiplicity of nationalities can create severe problems if sensitivity to the national question is not observed.

A great deal has justifiably been written about the heroic exploits, hardships and sacrifices of the families from all parts of the USSR who were resettled in the virgin lands area of Kazakhstan, but little has been said about how this affected relations with the local population.

It should also be noted that the Kazakhs for a considerable number of years looked forward to a realization of the great undertakings planned by the January 1961 plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for the irrigation and opening of the desert and delta regions of Central Asia and Kazakhstan. That plan, after many years of discussion and study, was canceled in 1986. (See Appendix 1.)

These problems--the cancellation of the irrigation project, manipulation of geographical areas and finally the replacement of Kunayev by Kolbin--could not but have had a disturbing effect in the region. They fly in the face of orthodox communist practice with respect to the national question.

In October 1987, another political move was made that cannot but have added to national antagonisms. A member of the Communist Party Politburo since 1982, Geidar Aliev from Azerbaijan, was retired from his post, reportedly for opposing Gorbachev's reforms. He had been Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers for Social Development since November 1986 and Chairman of the Politburo Commission for Direction and Control of Working Out Complex Program of Development of Consumer Goods Production and System of Consumer Services since 1983. Aliev was described in William Mandel's book on the non-Russian peoples of the Soviet Union. Mandel met Aliev when he was head of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan in 1982.

Only in Byelorussia had I ever heard that kind of warmth for a local leader. When Brezhnev died . . . , his successor, Andropov, amazed the West by bringing this Azerbaijani into the Political Bureau where he was named first deputy premier of the Soviet Union. (The amazement stems from the fact that Western scholars, journalists, and politicians had apparently hypnotized themselves into believing that Moslem peoples in the USSR are treated like Blacks in the U.S.)

Aliev was entirely a product of Soviet times. Born in 1923, the son of a worker, he graduated in history from the University of Azerbaijan, itself founded after the Revolution. He is also the product of a subtle aspect of Soviet ethnic policy, for he comes from Nakhichevan, an Azerbaijani enclave surrounded by Iran on one side and once-hostile Armenia on the other. To provide maximum respect for ethnic feelings, this territory, with a population of under a quarter million, was given the status of autonomous republic under the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, which it does not directly border.2

One of the greatest achievements of the Revolution of 1917 was to dismantle the brutal czarist empire and replace it with a carefully worked-out system of republics and autonomous regions which were federated on a voluntary basis, with respect for the language, customs, culture and needs of all the different peoples.

Since the Revolution, some of the greatest material progress has been in those areas which were most underdeveloped under czarism, including the Central Asian republics and the area of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, once known as Transcaucasia. Industrialization there has transformed what was once a predominantly peasant population into a modern working class.

Now, according to the bourgeois interpretation of events, old animosities of a religious and ethnic character have resurfaced and are the sole source for the violent explosions in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Is this really what has happened? Or are there more significant factors? Before trying to answer these questions, let's take a quick look at the geography of the area concerned and the chronology of events in February 1988 that ended in bloodshed.

Armenia is a Soviet republic of about 3.4 million people which lies east of Turkey. It borders Azerbaijan, another Soviet republic north of Iran and west of the Caspian Sea. There is a small enclave totally within Azerbaijani territory and under the authority of the Azerbaijan Republic known as the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, whose population of 186,000 is 80 percent Armenian. The Armenians were historically Christian; the Azerbaijanians (or Azeris) were largely Moslem. While at one time the Armenians were cruelly oppressed by the Turks, they are today more prosperous than the peoples of the surrounding areas.

The following chronology of events describing what happened in February 1988 is assembled mainly from accounts in the U.S. press (including the New York Times, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor):

February 11: Posters and letters appear in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, calling for the region to be incorporated into Soviet Armenia.

February 13: Students in Nagorno-Karabakh go on strike. Demonstrations begin, including one outside the local Party headquarters, calling for the transfer of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

February 18: The Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party meets and rejects the demand for the transfer of Karabakh to Armenia. General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev calls for a special meeting on the nationalities policy, calling it "the most fundamental, vital issue of our society."

February 20: The Karabakh regional soviet passes a resolution backing the demands of the demonstrations. The official paper of the region, Soviet Karabakh, publishes the resolution the next day. Demonstrations spread to Yerevan, the capital of Soviet Armenia.

February 24: It is announced that the Communist Party chief of Nagorno-Karabakh, Boris S. Kevorkov, has been dismissed and replaced by an Armenian, Genrikh Pogosyan.

February 25 and 26: Tens of thousands continue to march in Yerevan. The Armenian Communist Party calls on the Central Committee to reconsider the issues fueling the protests.

February 26: Gorbachev calls on Armenians and Azerbaijanians to end the protests. He says that "not a few shortcomings and difficulties have accumulated in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. The new leadership of the oblast must adopt urgent measures to correct the situation." Gorbachev's statement is seen as more conciliatory than the first response of the Central Committee. Leaders of the Armenian demonstrations agree to a one-month moratorium. Armenian Communist Party leaders call for a commission to examine the demands of the demonstrators.

February 28: After it is reported on the radio for the first time that two Azerbaijanian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh had been killed there in the first days of the protests, widespread fighting breaks out between Azeris and Armenians in Sumgait, an industrial city in Azerbaijan, 40 miles north of the capital Baku. Several days later it is revealed that 31 people died and hundreds were injured in the fighting. The French paper Liberation of March 3, quoting an Azeri official, says that "the troubles were provoked by `young Azerbaijani hoodlums of 16-17 years' whose parents, fleeing from Kafan in southeast Armenia because of the Armenian nationalist demonstrations, sought refuge in Sumgait." Soviet troops move in and a curfew is imposed.

March 1: A radio report from Baku says a commission has been established to help Azeris who had fled from Armenia to return to their homes.

Again and again it is emphasized in the Western reports that the struggle between the Armenians and Azerbaijanians is a religious one. But this is its superficial aspect. Even the many pre-capitalist struggles that took a religious form, like the Reformation in Germany, had a class content. If a religious struggle survives, it must be a masked form of substantial material interests.

Take, for instance, the struggle which resulted in so many casualties in the city of Sumgait in Azerbaijan. Sumgait was not even on the maps in the census of 1939, but it is now an industrial center of 220,000 in a modern oil-producing region. Unless put in the context of the industrialization and development that have occurred there in the last few decades, the situation can't be understood, not even from an ethnic point of view. The study by E.V. Tadevosian cited earlier shows not only vast economic changes in the region as long ago as 1963 but also the ethnic diversity and general mobility of the Soviet population, especially in Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Today not only republics but cities and districts, and thousands upon thousands of workforces at industrial enterprises, construction sites, collective farms, state farms, and even individual brigades have become truly international. This is particularly clearly visible in the example of the rapidly growing new industrial centers such as Sumgait in Azerbaijan, Rustavi in Georgia, Angren, Begovat or Chirchick in Uzbekistan, etc. A unified, brotherly family of members of dozens of different nationalities work in each of them. In the town of Sumgait, whose population increased from 1939 to 1959 by a factor of 8.2, there are people of more than 40 nationalities, including Azerbaijanis, Russians, Georgians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Armenians, etc." 3

This study speaks of the vast significance of the increasing mobility of the Soviet population and also, even more significant, of the great strides in industrialization and mechanization which have resulted in mass migrations of population.

We see that Sumgait is a city of considerable ethnic diversity. So many nationalities working together could account for a great deal of social friction over housing, schools, sanitation, etc. In fact, unless great precaution is taken and unusual sensitivity is shown by the authorities, administrators, managers and above all the heads of ministries from the central government, much can go wrong. A divisive, bitter struggle can revive what industrialization and modernization are objectively laying the groundwork to wipe out.

Note should be taken of the remark that a "brotherly family" made up of the various nationalities works in each of the establishments. Yes, the workers are showing class solidarity as they cooperate on a daily basis, notwithstanding possible social frictions arising out of overcrowding, housing conditions or schooling. Does the current problem in Sumgait flow from the ancient ethnic composition of the workers, or is it a social problem inflamed by the new bourgeois intelligentsia, many of whom are drawn from the families of the old feudal and landed aristocracy? Industrialization and the vast population changes resulting from necessary mass migrations can lay the basis for solidarity. Poor and arbitrary planning, however, while surely superior to anything done by the imperialist countries in their underdeveloped regions, brings about inter-ethnic friction. It also comes from the new bourgeois intelligentsia and their penchant for greater privileges and emoluments.

The old south, so to speak, has disappeared. The republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are socially much different than they were in 1917. This is not to say that their feudal history does not weigh upon them. It is, however, altogether false to regard them, as do imperialist accounts, as more or less rural appendages to the Great Russian republics. The strides made in science and industry in this part of the USSR are truly phenomenal. It is pertinent to compare their economic, political and cultural development at the time of the Revolution with that of ten years ago (and there has been considerable progress since then). Here is what a standard Soviet reference had to say about the economic development of Azerbaijan and Armenia over a decade ago:

During the years of Soviet power new and modern industries have come into being in the Azerbaijan SSR, while at the same time the traditional oil industry has developed rapidly. These new industries include metallurgy, machine-building, metal-working, chemicals and petrochemicals and the extraction of natural gas." 4

Next comes a long list of oil and chemical products made in Azerbaijan. Then it continues:

The machine-building and metal-working industries produce a variety of products: equipment for the oil and chemical industries, ball bearings, steel pipes, electrical and radio goods and instruments, agricultural machines, gas apparatus, refrigerators, air-conditioners, radio receivers and other domestic equipment.5

The book lists many building materials manufactured in the republic, describes the expansion of its electricity-generating capacity, the introduction of new industries such as electronics and radio-engineering, and the growth of mechanized agriculture. As for Armenia, the authors say:

Before the Revolution mining and wine and brandy production were the only relatively developed industries in Armenia. Now the republic possesses machine-building, nonferrous metallurgical, chemical, building materials, light and food manufacturing enterprises.

Armenia produces high-quality computers, quantum generators, a variety of complex instruments, mobile power stations, transformers, cables, semiconductor elements, automation equipment, radio technical and electronic items, machine-tools, centrifugal pumps, valuable polymer products and many other items. In two days Soviet Armenian industry produces more than Armenia produced in the whole of 1913. . . .6

What we see here is not only tremendous industrial development but the growth of a proletariat which did not exist in that magnitude before the Revolution, even though cities like Baku, Tbilisi (formerly Tiflis) and others had a great revolutionary history that generated a Marxist movement early in this century, way ahead of many developed Western countries.

One of the aims of the Gorbachev economic reforms is to advance the high-tech revolution so as to catch up to the West, transform the working class and develop the service sector. In the southern areas, however, what's new is the emergence of the proletariat based upon the development of huge industrial complexes, all of which is the product of the Bolshevik Revolution and socialist construction. In these republics, the proletariat has only recently come into its own. Whereas some of the new bourgeois-influenced elements in the Soviet intelligentsia look toward the passing of the proletariat and its dissolution under the high-tech revolution, the situation here is altogether different. Here the proletariat is first asserting itself. The commanding group in charge represents an older social stratum which was developed by the central authorities and which socially is in conflict with the majority of the population--the proletariat. It is to this phenomenon that we have to direct our attention. The religious and national form that the struggle has taken is misleading.

The basic tenet of the Gorbachev reforms is to arouse new individual initiative on the basis of enlarging personal material incentives. This is not a new phenomenon, but the lengths to which it is going can bring a tremendous leap in private accumulation. Its broader aim is to loosen economic centralization. The reforms give a tremendous impetus to personal aggrandizement, which lessens class solidarity. If such an enlarged role for personal, material incentives and self-interest is elevated to a principle, then it also means a reassertion of the self-interest of each nationality as against others. Therein lies the great danger.

The promotion of self-aggrandizement and accumulation as against the collective whole leads to centrifugal tendencies within the republics and endangers the Leninist principle of the equality of all nations. If it is okay for everyone to think first and foremost of him or herself, and not of the collective whole, then the same can apply to each nation. This works against the solidarity of all nations and has a damaging effect on working class solidarity, the fundamental lever of socialist construction.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an autonomous region that, while inhabited mostly by Armenians, is geographically located inside the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. It is a rural, agricultural area where the 186,000 Armenian residents outnumber the ethnic Azeris by nearly 4 to 1. This region, while self-governing, became part of Armenia in 1920, but as a result of several regional reorganizations, was brought under the political framework of Azerbaijan in 1924.

Viewed in both a historical and contemporary light, this is not an unusual problem. There are many nationalities around the world that are geographically within the framework of other nations. What is it that differentiates the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh?

First, its historic legacy. If any area in the world fits the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto, which describe how oppressor and oppressed have changed positions over many centuries, it is this area. It was a crossroads and staging ground in the struggle of the ancient powers. Even 70 years of socialist reorganization have been inadequate to erase the ancient antagonisms. What gives them sustenance, however, is the existence of a bourgeois intelligentsia, recruited from the old ruling classes, which generates the antagonisms for its own emoluments and privileges.

In this area, autonomous regions can lend themselves to manipulation and often become the cat's-paw for factional struggles on top. The objective fact is that while vast population shifts and economic development require cooperation and consolidation, the very existence of small separate states in such a huge multinational state as the USSR can turn them into petty fiefdoms. The existence of separate republics or regions may often conflict with rapid advances in economic construction, especially during the current era of technological revolution.

Nothing is more central to the cause of socialism and the construction of a communist society in the USSR than the question of the relations among the many different peoples, with their variety of languages and sharp contrasts in economic condition. It is inconceivable that an orderly, coherent, comprehensive socialist plan for the economy could be effectuated without the voluntary agreement of all the peoples and nationalities within the confines of the Soviet Union.

The old czarist empire, known as a "prison house of nations," united this diverse group of peoples on the basis of naked force. National groupings were separated or lumped together for the administrative and military convenience of the czarist autocracy and in the economic interests of the landlords and bourgeoisie. Little consideration, if any, was given to the desires or interests of the peoples of Russia.

Thus, one of the truly world-shaking events of the 20th century was the way Lenin and the Bolsheviks dealt with the national question. For many years, virtually from the inception of the Social Democratic movement in Russia, the issue of self-determination was in the forefront of political discussion among the various exile groups and secret organizations of workers. The idea of self-determination, the right of the peoples to organize their own lives, including the right to secede, was contained in the famous Paragraph 9 of the Social Democratic Party program of 1903. The idea of self-determination itself was not contested at the congress which adopted this program.

In later years, of course, this whole matter was interpreted quite differently by the two main groups in the party, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The Mensheviks represented the softer, more bourgeois line. The Bolsheviks were for indefatigable defense of the right to self-determination, including secession, and a relentless struggle against Great Russian chauvinism. This heritage was developed by Lenin, whose many rich articles on self-determination became one of the hallmarks of Bolshevism. It should be noted that to this day, the Soviet Constitution retains the substance of Paragraph 9 of the Party program--the right of nations to self-determination, including the right to secession.

Of course, proclaiming the right of nations to secede does not at all mean advocating or promoting it. That should be left to the people themselves. What the Bolshevik Party did was to continually press for the class solidarity of the workers and all the oppressed peoples in the struggle against national oppression and capitalist exploitation, feudal servitude and every kind of social and political inequality which imposes the privileges of one nation upon another.

After the czarist monarchy was overthrown in February 1917, the first phase of the Revolution resulted in centrifugal forces for separatism. Of great significance in all this is that while the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks stood formally for the right of nations to self-determination, including the right to secede, the provisional bourgeois government headed by Kerensky, which was supported by the Mensheviks, soon found it to their great advantage as servants of the bourgeoisie to renege on this question. They found it greatly necessary to enforce the "unity of the country"--so they could continue to prosecute the imperialist war.

Some nations took the opportunity of the period between the overthrow of the czarist autocracy in February and the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution in October to secede. They included in the west Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and in the south Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, these attempts to secede were not in hostility to the bourgeois provisional government as much as in fear of the workers and peasants, who were carrying out the mightiest revolution in history against the landlords and the bourgeoisie under the leadership of the Bolsheviks. Thus, some of these rump republics (which lasted until the consolidation of the Soviet Union as a vast multinational state in 1922) became outposts of imperialist domination and not expressions of the vast majority of the people, that is, of the workers and especially the peasants.

After a short period, it became obvious to all that national independence, as conceived by landlords, bankers and industrialists, meant one thing. It wasn't the national independence that the vast majority of the people were concerned with, especially in the so-called border lands of the south. They wanted emancipation from the landlords and to take over the land and industry on their own behalf. This period was characterized by civil war and by the intervention of the imperialist powers.

To the west--Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, as well as Poland--were countries where capitalist development had taken an earlier and stronger hold than in central Russia. The proximity of these areas to the Western capitalist countries gave the bourgeoisie greater leverage. Bourgeois elements were stronger there than in the great centers of proletarian revolution, Moscow and Petrograd.

To the south and east, especially in the Asiatic part of Russia, what amounted to feudal servitude and centuries of oppression weighed upon the people economically. Before the Bolsheviks had an opportunity to strengthen their influence among the peasants in the vast rural areas of Transcaucasia, the bourgeois element predominated and in suspicion of the Bolsheviks set up what amounted to a caricature of independent republics in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

These bourgeois republics petitioned the postwar so-called peace conference of European powers for help and recognition, even as these same powers were attacking the Soviet areas from all different directions. However, Woodrow Wilson, the French and the British were much more concerned with supporting the czarist counterrevolutionary White Guard armies, whose interest was in reestablishing the absolutist monarchy and who were totally hostile to any form of self-determination, let alone independence, as a violation of the holy principle of the unity of the czarist state. So the imperialist powers didn't really want to take these so-called republics under their protection. Indeed, the American part of the delegation regarded them as a liability, since they didn't offer any great economic advantages of immediate concern.

The entities set up in Armenia and Azerbaijan, being led by bourgeois-landlord survivors, were more concerned with the struggle against each other than with friendly relations. The Armenians in particular were most anxious to get the support of the imperialist Allies--Britain, France and the U.S.--against the Turkish imperialists, who had been aligned with Germany in the war. When the Bolsheviks in 1920 finally defeated the counterrevolutionary interventionist forces, led by General Denikin, these republics disappeared as living entities.

The destruction of the old czarist order, where the relation of oppressed peoples had all been determined by political expediency, was certainly a giant step forward in human history. The problem was how to create a multinational state within the framework of a centralized, socialist economic plan while at the same time guarding the autonomy and national integrity of each people.

It is enough to mention that the last period of Lenin's life was all one conflict with respect to the very region we are discussing, which at that time was still called Transcaucasia. How and by what means could they establish the new state structure of the USSR, without violating the rights and integrity of the Georgians, the Armenians, the Azerbaijanians, etc.? It needed practical experience, wise policy and above all the closest possible attention to the sensitivities of the peoples involved. That's what occupied Lenin in his last years--in particular his conflict with Stalin over how to proceed in Georgia and in the Caucasus generally. Stalin's high-handedness and rudeness appalled Lenin and impelled him to declare a war against Russian chauvinism.

How could Lenin accuse Stalin of Great Russian chauvinism, some ask, when Stalin himself was a Georgian? But while Stalin was from Georgia, he was more interested in centralizing power over the region in his own hands and far less concerned with the problem of how to unite the formerly oppressed peoples on the basis of communist principles, how to coordinate the apparently conflicting interests of the nationalities in one centralized, multinational state.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics made every effort to unite all the oppressed peoples, with particular regard to safeguarding the historic legacy and achievements of each nation and its culture. Even the most rabid bourgeois chroniclers cannot deny the tremendous achievements of the Bolshevik regime in not only securing the national autonomy and well-being of the various nationalities but in uplifting them from centuries of feudal oppression and cultural deprivation. Not only did the Bolshevik regime remove all limitations on the nationalities that had prevailed under czardom but it helped to develop their languages and cultural and artistic life. While the strides made in the formerly oppressed areas should not be underestimated, to this day they are still regarded as the less developed parts of the Soviet Union.

The great problem, that even the October Revolution and all its contributions since then have not liquidated, is the uneven development of the various republics. Overcoming it is a task that couldn't be fully accomplished even in such a long span as seven decades. Despite the industrial and scientific-technological growth in the less-developed parts of the Soviet Union, the discrepancy is still very great.

The need to overcome the vast gulf that differentiates town from country has been a subject of considerable controversy since the days of the Communist Manifesto, in which Marx said that the task of socialism was to wipe out the inequality between the great population centers and the countryside, with its poverty and "idiocy of rural life," as he put it. In almost prophetic language, the young Marx and Engels foresaw that: "In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end." 7

The clashes in Armenia and Azerbaijan are proof that class distinctions still survive in the Soviet Union, even though classes supposedly have been altogether abolished. These conflicts are over matters of substance--who controls what area--which certainly means the control of the flow of funds and expenditures. Administration, even in a socialist state, is still a privilege, even if by no means of the same dimension as in the capitalist countries, and an armed struggle over who is to be in charge shows the degree to which class stratification and class distinctions still exist.

Much has been made recently of the fact that it is now 1,000 years since the establishment of Christianity in Russia. The Wall Street Journal even commented that the U.S. should have "intervened more conspicuously and enthusiastically" in the anniversary celebrations.8 General Secretary Gorbachev in an interview with anchorman Tom Brokaw of NBC boasted about the great celebrations, to the embarrassment of communists everywhere. So much publicity has been given this event, including in the USSR, that it's impossible for it not to have rekindled religious bigotry and national enmities, which are survivals of the old class system. It could not but have had an effect in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

It is one thing to scrupulously observe the democratic rights guaranteed in the Soviet Constitution for religious freedom. It's another thing altogether to promote religion, simply because there might be some diplomatic fringe benefits for this or that USSR peace offensive. The proper task of communists everywhere is to promote the materialist conception of history, to develop and promote atheism and science and expose superstition. Instead of that, much is made of reviving cultural traditions in religious form. This is correct up to a point, from the viewpoint of each nationality developing its culture. But it's another matter to promote religion merely because the Russian Orthodox Church has a history of supporting the government's position (which it also did in the days of the czarist autocracy).

The Christianization of Armenia goes back to the 4th century, even before the founding of the Orthodox Church in Russia. Making much of it is a way of promoting nationalist aims, whereas the duty of the Party and government is to promulgate the struggle for the materialist explanation of history, especially among the young. The recent increased interest among some youth in religion is a sign of a relapse into bourgeois spiritualism and bourgeois idealism and is in marked contrast to the revolutionary period in Russia, which was such a great spur to the ideological emancipation of the people in general and of the youth in particular. In all of this, the Gorbachev administration hearkens back to the past as a crutch to build the perestroika future.

The persistence of inequality in development is one of the objective factors that characterizes the present situation in the USSR. How do the reforms promulgated at the 27th Congress of the CPSU affect the economic inequality that exists between one part of the country and another? Does the restructuring help to widen the gap or to narrow it? The question that immediately comes to mind is how will the new income be divided? How will resources be allocated? What is the contribution of each of the states? If the process set in motion by self-aggrandizement is increased, does this tend to liquidate social inequality or does it widen it?

We have some examples in other socialist countries, for instance, Yugoslavia. Some even question whether it is proper any more to call Yugoslavia a socialist country, notwithstanding the ownership of the means of production by the state. Is it not a fact that the decentralization there, the innovations of so-called workers' councils, self-management and so on, have resulted in the most acrimonious relations among the nationalities? Isn't it a fact that it has brought such a phenomenon to a socialist state as the use of tanks to suppress the masses, as was done in the province of Kosovo by the Yugoslav government? Isn't it a fact that the Kosovo area is the most underdeveloped in Yugoslavia and that the maldistribution of the national income and resources has been one of the sources inflaming nationalist passions and resulting in violence against the less developed peoples? Some of these same problems are raised by the Soviet reforms.

In his speech to a Plenary meeting of the CPSU Central Committee in February 1988, General Secretary Gorbachev said: "We must devote most serious attention to the nationalities policy at the present stage. This is a most fundamental, vital question of our society." 9 But it was not raised that way at the 27th Congress of the CPSU in February 1986, or in December 1986 after the unrest in the Alma-Ata area of Kazakhstan which resulted in injuries and death.

One would have thought that a great deal of this should have been anticipated, considering the dimensions of restructuring. Gorbachev has said that the fate of socialism depends on perestroika. Why not talk more about the national question and how restructuring would affect it? Nothing in his peremptory allusions to the national question at these meetings indicates recognition of the magnitude of the problem, which has since led to bloodshed in three republics. Now, in the light of the developments in Azerbaijan and Armenia, Gorbachev says that another Central Committee meeting will be held to discuss the nationalities problem. We certainly hope so.

Of course, one must not overlook the interests of imperialism in this. They're not dispassionate observers of what is going on. But it's important to note that even bourgeois observers admit these have not been anti-Soviet demonstrations. It would be erroneous to regard the recent outbreak of mass protests and demonstrations in Armenia and Azerbaijan, and earlier in the Kazakhstan area, in the same light as struggles elsewhere conducted by bourgeois dissident elements, with their strong inclination toward imperialism. For example, the recent agitation in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is not driven by the same objective forces as that in the south.

This was acknowledged in the Washington Post. "A senior Western diplomat said today that the ethnic riots in the Transcaucasus `are quite different' from earlier ethnic demonstrations in the Baltic states and Central Asia. These activities `are not directed at the Soviet system or Russia or [ethnic Russians],' the diplomat said. `They have to do with ethnic relations that go back deeper in history. It would be a mistake to consider them a challenge to a Soviet ruler or the social system.' " 10

So far no overtures have been made to the West by the Armenians or Azerbaijanians. And the Western imperialist press has played it very cool. They are also concerned as to which way the struggle may go: whether it is oriented in a bourgeois direction, whether it will undermine the reforms of Gorbachev which they perceive as being pro-capitalist, or whether it will take a revolutionary socialist direction--not against communism and not against the Soviet Union but for greater autonomy, a fuller share in the resources of the Soviet Union, permitting the peoples to make as great a contribution as possible in return for greater responsibilities by the central government. It is very important that the struggle there should not be prejudged as being a mere extension of the bourgeois dissident elements in the USSR, of the cheerleaders for market socialism.

Of course, one must be aware that both Iran and Pakistan are daily broadcasting propaganda into the republics in their own languages calculated to divide them and to promote clerical reaction. But it is significant that, as reported in the New York Times, Soviet soldiers returning from Afghanistan are "not impressed" by the achievements of Islam but are appalled at the poverty and the level of economic distress in all of these areas.11 Notwithstanding the difficult problems encountered in Soviet military assistance to the Afghan government, the hope of the imperialists that the reaction unloosed by the Khomeini regime would somehow spread to the USSR is just one big lie.

It is clear that the convening of a Plenum of the Central Committee to discuss the national problem was decided on only in the aftermath of mass unrest.

The bourgeoisie are saying that since Gorbachev is for democratization, this will necessarily help a resurgence of bourgeois elements as a natural, logical conclusion. For that reason, they are more favorably disposed to deal with him and they are fearful, or so they say, that the hard-liners, who are presumably the only alternative, would suppress the democratization trend. The imperialist bourgeoisie are hypocritical. They are not concerned with democratization. They are concerned with an opening for bourgeois elements upon whom they can rely in the struggle against the USSR.

The democratization process itself is highly progressive. That component of the reforms is correct and absolutely indispensable. It's the economic content of the reforms that is in question. It is not accidental that the bourgeois dissidents are the first to take advantage of the democratization. The more consistent communist elements, especially in the working class, where there has not been a real resurgence of proletarian democracy, have not yet emerged. If democratization is to be widened and deepened, if it is to bring about a renaissance of revolutionary communist ideology, then we must look for the proletariat to be heard.

Secretary Gorbachev, by his willingness to meet with two of the leaders of the struggle in the south, and also by his speech over television directed to this situation, is acknowledging that the Party organization has been overwhelmed and may have lost control of the situation. That doesn't mean, however, that it will be superseded by bourgeois leaders. On the contrary, this can open the path for new revolutionary communist leaders who represent the new proletariat in these areas.

"No nation which oppresses others can ever be free itself." This maxim predates Marxism. Marx and Engels absorbed and developed this bourgeois democratic demand. They concretized it in the form of promoting the right of nations for self-determination. They fought for the independence of Poland and of Ireland at a time when these were given scant recognition anywhere in the bourgeois world. But their monumental achievement was to see national oppression in the light of capitalist exploitation. Lenin's contribution was to deepen the understanding of self-determination and put it into practice over a period of many years. It is impossible to separate the national question from the class question.

Those who seek to separate out the national question, detach it from its class moorings, from the struggle for socialism, are harking back to a capitalist era. This is what has to be borne in mind in the struggles in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan and in the Baltic area.


1. E.V. Tadevosian, "The Further Convergence of the Socialist Nations of the USSR," Voprosy filosofii, 1963, Number 4, in Steven P. Dunn, ed., Sociology in the USSR (White Plains, NY: International Arts & Sciences Press, 1969), p. 65.

2. William M. Mandel, Soviet but Not Russian (Palo Alto: Ramparts Press, 1985), pp. 278-79.

3. Tadevosian, p. 65.

4. Soviet Union: Political and Economic Reference Book (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), p. 130.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., p. 136.

7. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party," Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1976), Vol. 6, p. 503.

8. Wall Street Journal, March 4, 1988.

9. "Theses of Mikhail Gorbachev's Speech at Plenary Meeting of the CPSU Central Committee," Tass News Agency, Moscow, February 18, 1988.

10. Washington Post, March 5, 1988.

11. New York Times, December 19, 1986.

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