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Pete Glatter

Rulers’ rights

(September 1990)

From Socialist Worker Review, No.134, September 1990, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE BEAR’S Hug (June SWR) – David Viinikka’s detailed historical justification of Baltic demands for independence – puts the role of the Western leaders in its true light. Faced with a major issue of human rights they unhesitatingly plumped for ‘rulers’ rights’ instead.

‘We’re not going to cancel the summit just because Lithuanian housewives can’t heat their coffee on Saturday morning.’

This remark by an aide to President Bush, quoted in Newsweek, can perhaps help us imagine the atmosphere in which intense pressure from the West preceded the first concessions on independence by the Lithuanian government. An article in the Financial Times declared that ‘the Soviet Union versus Lithuania is not just a football match in which you support either one side or the other’ as this might ‘bring down the whole stadium.’

The article described those who supported Lithuanian demands as ‘armchair warriors’ and ‘simple minded.’

But perhaps this is not such a bad point. Who would want independence at the cost of pushing the entire USSR with its 300 million people over the edge into complete chaos?

I think one answer to this is that the leaders of the USSR, like their Western counterparts, do not inhabit quite the same ‘stadium’ as the average citizen.

They do not suffer from the chaos caused by shortages of food, consumer goods and housing.

‘Chaos’ to them is simply the end of their dominion over one sixth of the earth’s surface.

A more important answer is that there seems to be a connection between the different types of opposition to the central Soviet bureaucracy.

Of these the most important are undoubtedly the stirrings among the Russian working class, the only force, as in Tsarist times, in a position to break the system at its heart.

The Guardian reports workers in the Siberian oilfields as saying,

‘If the centre uses our product to put pressure on Lithuania, what stops us from doing the same to the centre!’

What a frightful thing that might be for Margaret Thatcher, her popularity already submerged to Gorbachev-like depths. It must have been bad enough to see Union Jacks with holes in the middle on the national demonstration against the poll tax.


Pete Glatter
South London

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