The Central Asian Holocaust of 1916

The Baku Congress

The Central Asian Holocaust of the First World War, when Tsarist imperialism massacred at least 500,000 Khirgiz Tartars in 1916 is little known today but forms part of the twentieth century Koroglu of the Turkic Peoples. It took place in the midst of the First Imperialist War of 1914-18 when Russian imperialism was facing a major crisis in its war against German imperialism.

The massacre was mentioned in the Manchester Guardian of 28 November 1917:  'While Western Europe has heard about Armenian massacres, the massacre of the Central Asian Moslems by the Tsar’s agents has been studiously hidden.'

Under Tsarist Imperial rule, Turkestan was converted to a major cotton-growing region to compensate for the loss of the US cotton supply in the 1860s due to the American Civil War. The resulting economic development brought some small-scale industry to the region, but the Turkic peoples were worse off than their Russian counterparts, and many farmers became indebted.

Cotton price fixing after the start of the Imperialist War in 1914 made matters worse, a large, landless rural proletariat soon developed, gambling and alcoholism became commonplace, and the crime rate rose. Historian Togan wrote 'after the proliferation of cotton planting in Ferghana (imposed by the Tsarist Imperial state at the expense of cereal cultivation) the economic conditions deteriorated'.

On 25 June 1916, a Tsarist Imperial Decree ordered the compulsory conscription to military service of Muslims in Central Asia. This signalled the beginning of the national liberation movement which was documented by historian and participant Zeki Velidi Togan.

Imperialism means as communists we support the right of self-determination of nations. The Turkic peoples were an oppressed nation fighting an oppressor state in Imperial Russia. Self-determination is an essential element in the solution of the national question. The Russian imperialist state comprised nationalities such as the Turkic peoples deprived of rights, and suffering acute deprivations. Lenin identified 'the intensification of national oppression under imperialism.'

In July 1916, the first mass protest meeting took place in Tashkent and Tsarist Imperial police fired into the crowd. Arrests and summary executions followed. The Russian settlers, who had been brought into Tashkent some thirty to forty years earlier, began looting at the instigation of the Imperial police. Protest meetings spread all over Central Asia, and railroads were destroyed. 

The Imperial Russian state declared martial law, and  armed the Russian settlers in Central Asia to act as imperialist death squads to reinforce the Imperial army. Imperial generals moved all their forces against Jizzakh. Imperial regiments attacked the people of Khiva region, and according to eyewitnesses, massacred babies in the cradle. Those who were not killed were stripped of their all possessions. Contemporary reports estimated that between 25 June 1916 and October 1917, some 1.5 million Turkic peoples were killed by the Tsarist Imperial forces. At least half of the Central Asian livestock was destroyed, and personal property was looted by the Imperial military forces. In the midst of imperialist wars, the extermination of peoples occurs.

Following the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in October 1917, a Congress of the Peoples of the East was held by the Communist International in Baku in September 1920. 2,000 delegates attended including anti-imperialist and Bolshevik fighters from the Tajik, Kirghizes, Uzbek and Turkmen peoples. The Baku Congress committed to a struggle of oppressed peoples against the imperialist oppressors.

Regional autonomy is an essential element in the solution of the national question. Turkic peoples joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin's indigenisation policy and established the Uzbek, Tajik, Krgyz and Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republics.  

Kashmir: the struggle for independence

 Joy Bose

The struggle for Kashmiri independence is central to Indian and Pakistani politics and the conflict between the two nations. Both countries claim Kashmir as their own, with no regard to the wishes of the Kashmiri people. Its partition in 1947 was the inevitable outcome of the manoeuvres of British imperialism in the first half the last century as it attempted to split the Indian independence movement along religious lines. Today, two-thirds of the 10 million population of Indian-occupied Kashmir are Muslims.

When the British left India in 1947, 77% of Kashmiris were Muslims, but its ruler was the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh. At the time of independence India was to be divided into two states, with Muslim-majority regions going to Pakistan. Accordingly Pakistan claimed Kashmir, but Singh was reluctant to accede. To put pressure on him, Pakistan launched a guerrilla invasion, only to drive him into Indian hands. The arrival of the Indian army in Kashmir led to the India-Pakistan war of 1948, ending in a UN-sponsored ceasefire agreement, the demarcation of a line of control between India and Pakistan and since then, de-facto partition. The UN resolution included a promise to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir about its future, which Nehru and subsequent rulers of India ignored. The unresolved situation has led to three further wars between India and Pakistan: 1965, 1971 (mainly over Bangladesh but also involving Kashmir) and 1999.

In Indian-ruled Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, founder of the National Conference Party, was the most popular political leader. Initially having good relations with Indian PM Nehru, he was appointed Prime Minister of Kashmir but was subsequently jailed for taking an independent line. The accession of Kashmir to India was later formalised in the Article 370 of the Indian constitution, under which Kashmir has a special status and certain privileges: these are opposed by Hindu nationalists. India has conducted regular elections in the part of Kashmir under its rule, fostering an illusion of peace and democracy. However, they were rigged to make sure India-friendly puppets were elected, and the state governor appointed from Delhi often held real power.

The illusion of peace was shattered in 1987. One factor was the blatant rigging of the Indian-sponsored assembly elections when it seemed that an unfriendly face might win. Ordinary Kashmiri people got tired of Indian control and repression and many youth took to arms. A second factor was that the military in Pakistan, flush with US funding and arms meant for the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet Union, was running training camps in the part of Kashmir under its control, so youth could cross over, receive training, and then return to the Indian part of Kashmir. A number of separatist organisations, from the pro-independence Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front under Yasin Malik to the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen and Islamic militant groups such as Lashkar e Toiba sprang up. Attacks on Indian soldiers and government officials, as well as tourists and the Hindu minority, increased.

The Indian government responded with putting the state under direct rule from India, bringing in thousands of troops and increasing repression of the Kashmiri youth, jailing many and conducting arbitrary arrests and house to house searches. Many youth were picked up and tortured on the flimsiest of grounds, having no legal protection due to draconian anti-terrorist acts. Only recently thousands of unmarked graves were discovered in Kashmir, many of them civilians killed by the Indian army over the last 20 years. Kashmir remains the most militarised region in the world today, with more soldiers per unit of land than any other conflict zone on this planet. Incidental victims of the situation were the Hindu Kashmiri pandits, most of who had lived for hundreds of years in the Kashmir valley and were forced to flee to refugee camps in India. However, an overwhelming majority of Kashmiris today want their safe return to their former homes.

After peaking in the early 1990s, the struggle for self-rule exhausted itself for want of progress in the face of the Indian army's brutal tactics and Pakistan's ambivalent support. This prompted the Indian government to lift president's rule in 1996 and organise new elections. The outcome was a victory once again for National Conference under Farooq Abdullah, son of Sheikh Abdullah. In 1999 India and Pakistan again came to war over Kashmir when Pakistani soldiers occupied the peaks of a mountain pass overlooking a major strategic highway built by India.

Since 2004, Pakistani support for the insurgency in Kashmir has waned due to its internal politics. However the issues underlying the Kashmiri people's right to self determination and oppression of Kashmiris by the Indian army are still not resolved. In 2008, in response to a decision by the Indian government to transfer a huge amount of forest land in Kashmir to a Hindu pilgrimage site, mass protests flared up including a rally where half a million people protested against Indian rule. Here too the army used bullets against the mainly stone-throwing youth, and many were arrested, tortured and killed.

There is continuing persecution of one of the leaders of the Kashmiri independence movement, Professor Syed Geelani. But although a Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru was finally executed in February 2013 following his conviction on flimsy evidence for an attack on the India parliament, the Kashmir valley is presently subdued. Many former militants have abandoned the struggle. The Indian government is attempting to bring development to the state while ignoring the issue of self-determination. India treat it as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and opposes outside interference, refusing to negotiate directly with Kashmiri separatists. The recent election of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Indian Prime Minister Modi may signal a stepping up of Indian oppression. His government's recent actions to assert Indian rule include suggestions of abolishing Article 370, proposals to return the Hindu Kashmiri pandit refugees to exclusive protected settlements and ejecting the UN peacekeeping force monitoring the border with Pakistan. Only when the Indian as well as Pakistani governments stop using the Kashmiris as pawns in their geopolitics and acknowledge their right to self-determination, will the valley know lasting peace.

Philippines: militarising disaster

’What the disaster victims need urgently are food, water and medical attention, not US warships bringing in emergency rations to justify their armed presence in Philippine sovereign waters... If the US government were really interested in providing assistance to countries who have suffered from calamities, then it should increase its funds to civilian agencies that deal in disaster response and emergency relief, not in fattening its international military forces and taking advantage of the people’s miseries to justify their presence.’

Communist Party of the Philippines, 15 November 2013.

On 8 November, Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, hit the Philippines. The second-deadliest typhoon to have hit the country, it has left up to 10,000 people dead and thousands more injured. Total damage to infrastructure is estimated at up to $240m or more according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council.

Following the disaster, the US announced that it was sending six warships to the Philippines, including the flagship aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which has 80 fighter jets as well as helicopter gun-ships, and more than 5,000 armed personnel. Another 1,000 soldiers have been sent, bringing the number of US soldiers in the Philippines to 10,000. The British sent HMS Daring and a Boeing C-17 military transport plane. Japan made commitments to send 1,000 military personnel, aircraft and three naval vessels to the country, in what could be its biggest overseas deployment since World War Two.

Tacloban airport, at the centre of the damage, was taken over by the US military. The US also took advantage of the disaster to gain access to the Mactan airport and seaport. These are facilities which have been part of negotiations for years with the US seeking to increase its military presence in the Philippines.

All this is occurring in a context where the US is accelerating its ‘pivot to Asia’, a US imperialist strategy to secure regional dominance in East Asia and the Pacific and to curb the growth and influence of China. By 2020, 60% of US naval forces are to be stationed in the region. The Philippines has been participating in joint military manoeuvres with the US and the US has increased its military aid to the Philippines, growing from $11.9m in 2011 to $30m in 2012. 2012 also saw the re-opening of the Clark Air Base and the Subic Naval Base to the US military, following conflict between the Philippines and China over the hotly disputed South China Sea. Continued disputes over the Spratly Islands, encouraged by the US, have been used by the Aquino regime to justify the further build-up of US forces in the country.

Lessons from Haiti.
While the imperialist media hail the large roll out of aid, there are warnings from the past. After the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, $8.4bn was announced as pledges for the reconstruction of the country. However, the reconstruction plans prioritised private enterprise and did little to address the need to house the 1.5 million people left homeless by the earthquake. Much of the money was never intended to arrive, with inflated and never-to-be received pledges and a large amount of the money promised being repackaged debt relief. Much of the money offered to Haiti never arrived but went to firms and institutions at home, with the US military and US private contractors being the biggest recipients. Of the $2.43bn in aid disbursed in 2010, only $24m went to the Haitian government – most was looted by imperialist corporations and the US military. In Haiti the US army took over Port-au-Prince airport, giving itself control over the arrival of aid.

This is the likely scenario for aid pledged to the Philippines. Instead of helping people to recover from the disaster, many of the donations will find their way into the profits of the imperialist corporations. It is multinational companies whose rampant, uncontrolled logging and mining operations are increasing the misery caused by natural disasters. The process of destructive extractive mining causes degradation and denudation of mountains and increases the number of landslides, and it has been stated that decades of mining and logging were one of the main causes for the 2006 Southern Leyte mudslides in the Philippines, killing over 1,120 people.

The further militarisation of the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific region offers no hope to the people whose lives were devastated by the typhoon and other natural disasters. Many thousands of people have donated to help the victims of the typhoon; their sentiments are abused by calculating and cynical governments and their armies.

Victoria Smith

Chin Peng 21 October 1924-16 September 2013/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

Chin Peng - Revolutionary Communist

21 October 1924-16 September 2013

I make no apologies for seeking to replace such an odious system with a form of Marxist socialism…If you saw how the returning British functioned the way I did, you would know why I chose arms.’

Chin Peng, former leader of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), died on 16 September aged 88. A ferocious fighter for socialism and national liberation, he died in exile in Bangkok, having been banned from his homeland in 1989.

Chin was born into a family of Chinese migrants in Setiawak, Malaya, in 1924. Thousands of Chinese migrants were introduced to Malaya by British colonial administrators during the 19th and 20th centuries, serving as slaves and coolies on British rubber plantations and tin mines; anti-Chinese racism was central to colonial rule and contributed to his decision to join the banned MCP aged 15.

During the Second World War Chin was a leader of the MCP’s Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), whose 9-point programme demanded an independent Malayan republic. While the British eagerly used MPAJA’s military assistance against the Japanese, their political programme was unpalatable; the British ruling class had no intention of losing Malaya, the largest net dollar earner in the sterling area. After the war the MCP remained a proscribed organisation, and under the command of Attlee’s Labour government hundreds of party members were arrested; the MCP’s leader, Lai Tek, had disbanded MPAJA, leaving the communists powerless against the crackdown.

Lai’s actions were opposed by most party members, and he was soon exposed as a British agent. In 1947 Chin was elected party leader and reinvigorated the fight for independence. As the Labour government prepared a new racist constitution barring 90% of Malaysian Chinese from citizenship, the MCP built an anti-imperialist and anti-racist trade union movement, the Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions (PMFTU); between April 1946 and March 1948 2.6 million days were lost to strikes in Malaya and Singapore. Labour’s response was predictably racist, with Ivor Thomas MP recommending that striking workers should be flogged. Colonial police executed orders with brutal precision, shooting strikers, banning the PMFTU and arresting its leaders. On 20 June 1948 the British declared martial law. The MCP was left with no choice but to embark on armed struggle; Chin Peng became the most wanted man in the British Empire, with a £250,000 bounty on his head.

The armed struggle against British imperialism lasted 12 years, pitting 10,000 MCP guerrillas against a 400,000-strong British colonial army. The British cynically dubbed its counterrevolutionary war the ‘Malayan emergency’; a declaration of war would have voided insurance policies protecting British capital. By 1953 4,500 air strikes had been launched on the Malay peninsula. Villagers were butchered, their houses burned to the ground, and nationalists terrorised by the infamous Dyakheadhunters. Extreme population control measures were implemented; approximately 40,000 Chinese were deported in British sweeps, while 500,000 civilians were forcibly resettled in ‘new villages’, a system of guarded concentration camps. Guerillas were contemptuously labelled as ‘bandits’ and treated as terrorists. A secret Foreign Office file explained the reasoning behind the reign of terror: ‘the war against bandits is very much a war in defence of [the] rubber industry’.

Popular opposition to British repression forced a partial amnesty and peace talks in 1955. As chief negotiator for the MCP, Chin demanded the party’s right to a position in a coalition government, while the British demanded the MCP’s surrender. The MCP refused, and peace talks collapsed. However, the Malay bourgeoisie was now forced to support independence; this was granted in 1957, although 70% of Malayan company profits remained in the hands of the imperialists. The MCP continued to fight the new comprador government, although repeated crackdowns took their toll; in 1989 a peace agreement was signed, guaranteeing remaining guerrillas safe havens in ‘peace villages’ on the Thai border.

While the MCP was defeated, Chin never repudiated the struggle and died a committed communist. In his final letter he hoped that ‘the path I had walked on would be followed and improved upon by the young after me. It is my conviction that the flames of social justice and humanity will never die’. His remains have been refused entry to Malaysia. Even in death he strikes fear into the ruling class.

Jack Edwards

General Vo Nguyen Giap: 25 August 1911 – 4 October 2013

‘We fight for the liberty and independence of our country, for the people’s liberation, for socialism and peace. Our cause is just; we shall win.’

Vo Nguyen Giap, general of the Vietnam People’s Army, died on 4 October aged 102. The bourgeois press called him the Red Napoleon, to the Vietnamese he was Ge Luo, Volcano under the Snow. General Giap was a legendary hero of the resistance to Japanese, French, British and US imperialism, he died in hospital in Hanoi. On 13 October hundreds of thousands of people lined the route from the National Funeral House in Hanoi to the airport to bid farewell to and salute General Giap as his coffin passed by, en route to his home province of Quang Binh in central Vietnam.

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