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Vol. 80/No. 6      February 15, 2016

(front page)

Putin invokes czars, Stalin to justify
Moscow’s intervention in ‘near abroad’

In recent remarks, Russian President Vladimir Putin staked his claim to the legacy of both the czarist empire — the most reactionary in Europe until it was overthrown in 1917 — and the counterrevolutionary regime of Joseph Stalin. He denounced the revolutionary course led by communist leader V.I. Lenin of supporting the rights of oppressed nations to self-determination. Putin’s statements are not a historical question. They aim to promote national chauvinism and justify Moscow’s territorial and political claims to its “near abroad” today.

Lenin “planted an atomic bomb under the building that is called Russia, which later exploded,” Putin declared at a Jan. 21 meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education. He expanded on this point at a Jan. 25 conference in southern Russia, saying he was referring to the debate “between Stalin and Lenin regarding the creation of the new state, the Soviet Union.”

Putin blamed Lenin’s insistence on a voluntary federation formed “on the basis of full equality with the possibility of seceding” for the 1991 coming apart of the USSR. He said the borders of the Soviet republics were “established arbitrarily, without much reason,” leading to “nonsense” such as including the industrial, proletarian Donbass region in Ukraine, not Russia. This is the region where Moscow’s forces have backed a separatist war against the government in Kiev for nearly two years now.

These remarks were given to a Russian Popular Front forum of pro-regime “civil society activists” in Stavropol. According to a transcript released by the Kremlin, Putin complimented the “efficient work” of officials in nearby Chechnya putting down nationalist struggles by the majority Muslim population there.

Ukrainian officials complained to the United Nations Security Council Jan. 27, saying that Putin’s statements “publicly questioning the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Ukraine” were “unacceptable.”

When the workers and farmers came to power in Russia in the October 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the old czarist empire was what Lenin aptly called a “prison house of nations.” In September 1922, Stalin proposed absorbing the independent republics of Ukraine, Belorussia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia into the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic.

Lenin’s final fight

“We consider ourselves, the Ukrainian SSR, and others equal,” Lenin argued, and must “enter with them on an equal basis into a new union, a new federation, the Union of the Soviet Republics of Europe and Asia.”

The record of this debate, in which Stalin derided the “national liberalism of Comrade Lenin,” can be found in Lenin’s Final Fight, published by Pathfinder Press. The Socialist Workers Party traces its political continuity to Lenin and the early years of the Russian Revolution and stands on Lenin’s legacy in this fight. It is the only road to unite working people in struggle.

Writing a couple months later about the necessity of combating Great Russian chauvinism inherited from the czars, Lenin said, “Internationalism on the part of oppressors or ‘great’ nations, as they are called (though they are great only in their violence …), must consist not only in the observance of the formal equality of nations but even in an inequality, through which the oppressor nation, the great nation, would compensate for the inequality which obtains in real life.”

The political course led by Lenin was crushed as part of the counterrevolution against the working class carried out in 1920s and ’30s by the bureaucratic caste that consolidated under Stalin. The USSR became not a voluntary union, but an oppressive “Soviet” superstate in which patriotism was used to justify the resurgence of Great Russian chauvinism. Whole peoples — like the Crimean Tatars in 1944 — were deported from their homelands at gunpoint. It was this course that made it inevitable the re-imposed prison house of nations would break apart.

Speaking in Stavropol, Putin also sought to smear Lenin and the revolution as brutal, unpatriotic and a disaster for “Mother Russia.” Bemoaning the fall of the czarist empire, he complains that the Bolsheviks “lost” World War I “to a losing nation,” saying it caused “colossal losses” for Moscow in territories surrendered. This refers to the Bolsheviks’ decision to sign the onerous 1918 Brest-Litovsk peace treaty with Berlin to defend the revolution from being overthrown.

Among other contributions to the working class worldwide, the Bolshevik leadership exposed the secret treaties that had been drawn up between the imperialist rulers in London and Paris — and the czarist regime in Moscow — to carve up the world among themselves, the real aim of the war.

“Everyone accused the tsarist regime of repressions,” Putin added. “However what did Soviet power begin with? With mass repressions.” As evidence he cited the killing in 1918 of the former czar and his family. He accused the Bolsheviks of murdering Russian Orthodox priests, as he seeks today to bolster the church’s hierarchy as a cornerstone of his regime’s rule.

Putin praised the “concentration of national resources” under Stalin, a euphemism for the forced collectivization, murder of political opponents and consolidation of a massive police apparatus in the 1930s. Without this, he said, Moscow would have risked “catastrophic consequences for our statehood” in World War II.

Putin’s goal is to justify his course today as he seeks to stabilize Russian capitalism, win working-class subservience and sacrifice in the name of greater Russia, and extend its grip over the “near abroad.”  
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