Thirty eight people died and over 70 were badly injured when two bombs exploded on the Moscow metro during yesterday’s morning rush hour. This is not just a tragedy in which working people died, but an act intended to terrify people, an act which will have serious social and political consequences.
Naturally, people are horrified by the explosions and they express shock and sympathy. Many demand revenge. They are angry that when the metro shut, taxi drivers hiked prices by over ten times. Many people complain about the attempts to “politicise” the crisis.
To some degree, this is understandable. The Russian authorities are not known for taking responsibility for the safety of its citizens, for taking the blame or resigning. But they quickly use even the most horrific of tragedies to strengthen their position. However, to understand the tragedy and the conditions that caused it, it is necessary to understand the political situation.
A background of increasing chaos
Russia is currently suffering the consequences of the economic crisis in the form of rising prices and wage cuts and arrears. Thousands of people, notwithstanding the attempts by the police to stop them protesting, are beginning to come onto the streets in cities such as Archangelsk, Orel and Kaliningrad to protest. At the same time, an extraordinary split is developing within the structures of ‘law and order’. Increasingly working people are showing they are prepared to stand up to the arbitrary bullying by the police. In the recent stage-managed elections, the ruling party failed to get the votes it wanted. Against this background, these explosions will merely add to the growing sense of chaos in society.
Not surprisingly, given the past history of Russia discussions on the blogosphere around the question of who was behind the attacks has mainly presented three options – Islamic fundamentalists, the extreme right or the Russian secret services. It is not surprising that some people believe these bombs could have been carried out by the state. After all, it is widely believed that a section of the Russian internal security service, the FSB, was behind horrific terror attacks in Moscow in 1999, which gave the regime the pretext to launch its second Chechen war and which also saw Vladimir Putin springboard to victory in the following presidential election.
However, it does appear from the video footage taken in the metro that the perpetrators were female suicide bombers. The media suggests that they were “black widows” – extremely embittered women from the North Caucuses, who have lost their husbands, sons and other family members during Russia’s brutal wars and ‘anti-terror campaigns’, and who have then been recruited by political Islamists to carry out such acts.
Regime use metro outrage against all opposition
But whoever was behind the attack, it has played into the hands of the Russian authorities. The ruling elite, when they feel the ground shaking beneath their feet, have always found some enemy it can use as a scarecrow, to detract people’s attention from their everyday problems. It has even been suggested that if there had not been an explosion, the authorities would have had to invent one, so that it can step in as ‘protector’ of the people.
True to form, President Medvedev and Premier Putin have both, through snarling teeth, promised to annihilate the terrorists. The Kremlin loyal “opposition” parties have jumped on the bandwagon. Genaddy Zuganov, leader of the Communist Party, demands that the moratorium of the death sentence is lifted – quite how the threat of execution will deter a suicide bomber intent on detonating a bomb is not explained. The right populist politician, Sergei Abeltsev, thinks that the relatives and friends of the suicide bombers should have all their property confiscated. The neo-liberal politicians, several of whose members are now frequently subject to police repression, call for full co-operation with the police in the name of “civil solidarity”.
Representatives from the ruling party have been even more direct. The leader of its youth wing, Boris Yakimenko, put the blame for the metro carnage on the opposition: “Those who receive grants from abroad, fascists, nationalists, “human rights activists”, corruptioners, brothel visitors and drug users” – have done everything to disrupt stability. Irina Yarovaya, a parliamentary representative, declared: “Attempts to disrupt the political situation, to create negative feelings in society, create the conditions for these tragic events…Today all political forces in Russia should stop and think carefully about all of their statements and activities”.
It is clear from these statements that the ruling elite will step up its campaign to lump together these reactionary terrorists with genuine political opposition. This is already happening in words, with the campaign against “extremism”, supposedly intended to target terrorists and the far right who use bombings and other violent means, now being deployed against the left and trade union activists and also used to crack down on democratic rights. Following the Beslan school massacre (september 2004), the election of regional governors was abolished. After a bomb attack on the ‘Nevskii Express’ (Moscow-St Petersburg train) last autumn, amendments to the law on extremism were passed, making it an “act of extremism” to attempt to block traffic on the railways or roads, which is a highly effective form of protest traditionally used by workers in Russia.
Naturally, the far right has used the metro attack to whip up their reactionary propaganda and terror against immigrants. There are already several reports that people from the Caucuses have been attacked on the metro and young women wearing headdresses beaten up. Just as after previous terrorist attacks or the start of the war with Georgia, there will undoubtedly be an increase in vicious attacks and murders carried out by neo-Nazis against people with dark hair and skin.
At the very least, there will be a tightening of the passport-visa regime. But there are also calls for the use of Israeli know how, to build a ‘wall’ cutting off the Northern Caucasian republics from Russia, to create Bantustans, like the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
North Caucuses – territory without hope
In part, this is a natural consequence of steps already taken by the government following the Nevskii Express attack. Under the guise of an “administrative reform” the Southern Federal Region was divided in two. (Russia is divided into seven Federal Regions, each run by an appointed ‘Governor-General’). The Muslim areas of the former Southern Federal Region (the Republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkar and Karachaevo-Cherkesiya), together with the Russian Stavropol region, have been formed into the new Federal region of the Northern Caucuses. Stavropol was added, it seems to provide a base for the new Governor-General and, many believe, so that a ‘safe’ (i.e. Russian) Governor-General can be appointed by Moscow, thus avoiding conflicts between contending national elites over who should be in charge. Undoubtedly, Stavropol will also be a relatively safe base for the military forces needed to control the region. The creation of a new ‘centre’ will also help the Russian authorities provide a counterweight to the increasingly powerful warlord-turned President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who recently has demanded the right to police his neighbouring republics.
These manoeuvres show that even the powerful Russian regime no longer believes it can really solve the problems of the region. They have found it difficult to find a candidate for Governor General, because not only would acceptance of the post be equivalent to political suicide, but given the record of assassinations in the region, it would actually put the candidate at a high chance of being physically eliminated.
In many ways, given the terrible social and economic and security situation in the Northern Caucuses, it is surprising that there have not been more terrorist acts in Moscow (There have been many in other parts of the country).
A majority of the population in the North Caucuses have difficulties scraping together a living equal to the UN’s poverty guideline of $2 a day. By the end of last year, unemployment over the whole of the region was 20%, at 56% in Ingushetia. If, during the last period of economic growth, there were some signs of stability, particularly because the federal centre was providing money for reconstruction of war-torn Chechnya, now the crisis has hit again and developed with even more force than before.
Military and police activities in the Northern Caucuses have been stepped up considerably in the last few months. So widespread are the permanent “purges” (i.e. police actions aimed at wiping out alleged ‘terrorists’), military operations, explosions and assassinations, against the background of extreme poverty and unemployment and endemic corruption and repression, it is difficult not to describe the region a ‘war zone’.
Against this background, the attempts by the Kremlin to strangle national conflicts by military and police measures are only heightening tensions. The ending of the Chechen conflict by agreeing to the imposition of warlord rule through President Ramzan Kadyrev has only succeeded in spreading the remnants of the conflict across the neighboring republics. The political Islamists find plenty of ready recruits from those who have lost family members during the conflicts and living in abject poverty. It is from this extremely alienated layer that the so called “black widows” are recruited.
Can terror attacks be stopped?
Even those who demand tougher repressive measures do not believe they will be effective. Many people complain on blogs that threats by Putin and Medvedev to “destroy” the terrorists do not make them feel any safer on the metro. The truth is that the use of threats, arrests and revenge attacks, against the background of driving poverty and deep security fears, over the course of years, has created a problem that cannot be resolved overnight. The real cause of the problem is not to be found only in the existence of the terrorist underground or in demented suicide bombers, but in the existence of capitalism, which creates the conditions of mass poverty, desperation and humiliation and the feeling that there is no way out.
The only way to end terror attacks against innocent civilians is ultimately through the solidarity of working people and the poor, through an international struggle against poverty and the lack of basic democratic and other rights, with the creation of jobs, with a living wage, and by building decent homes, schools and hospitals. If we really want to end the viscous circle of repression and terror, it is not enough to change a few bureaucrats or even the whole government or to reform the police structures as many, including many on the left, suggest. There are no bureaucrats or ministers who can guarantee our safety as long as the social and economic causes of the problems have not been eliminated, that is, as long as the bosses’ and their state machinery exploit working people and deploy state violence to further their class interests.
The most effective way to end all terror attacks is to fight to end the system that gives birth to violence and terror, to replace gangster-parasitic capitalism by a democratically managed and planned economy, based on public ownership. This, in turn, would enable nationalities who wish to exercise genuine self-determination to do so and bring an end to the corruption, unemployment, poverty and authoritarianism that breeds violence and terror.