Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

David Finkel and Paul Costello

Debate on Afghanistan

First Published: Theoretical Review No. 18, September-October 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Dear Comrades:

Paul Costello’s article “Afghanistan: Anti-Imperialism and World Revolution” (TR, July-August 1980) states:

To the narrow and limited degree that Soviet intervention will weaken imperialism in Afghanistan and allow for the possible development of genuine socialist revolution, it coincides with the interests of the world revolutionary movement and should be supported. To the degree that it goes beyond that point and continues to influence the character of the revolutionary process in Afghanistan along Soviet lines it works against the interest of the Afghani and the world revolution.

It would have been interesting if the author had gone beyond this methodological formulation and attempted to concretely assess whether, in Afghanistan today, the Soviet intervention “allows for the possible development of genuine socialist revolution” or forces the revolution “along Soviet lines.” Had he done so, on the basis of currently available information, I believe he would have altered his political conclusions.

That information indicates that Afghan government ministries are now run directly by Soviet officials (see for example Fred Halliday, The Nation, April 29). It also suggests that what remains of the Afghan army is in a state of permanent near-mutiny in which rebellious units are controlled only by Soviet tanks and planes surrounding and bombing their barracks. And while the reports from New Delhi by “travellers” from Afghanistan of massive battles are generally fraudulent, there is plenty of first-hand and fairly reliable evidence (see, for example, Martin Wollacott’s recent series in the Manchester Guardian Weekly) that various tribal groups in Afghanistan have for the first time in their history found a point of “national unity”–that is, to drive the Soviet Union out.

On the other hand, there appears to be no evidence at all that the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul has retained even the slightest shred of popular support. It is still a matter of conjecture whether the February strikes in Kabul against the regime represented the urban population going over to the rightist rebels, or whether they were the work of independent pro-revolutionary forces. The same question mark hangs over more recent actions such as student strikes and marches, etc. But as to the complete revulsion in which all the people of Afghanistan hold the current regime–even those who supported to one degree or another the Taraki and/or Amin governments–there seems absolutely no doubt.

Under these circumstances, what are the actual prospects “for the possible development of genuine socialist revolution” in Afghanistan under Soviet occupation? The question literally answers itself. In fact, the Soviet Union has found itself in such a blind alley in Afghanistan that it may be prepared to liquidate the “revolution” entirely in exchange for a “negotiated settlement”–negotiated not with the Afghan people, but with the western imperialist powers for some kind of “neutrality” formula.

Perhaps Costello would not agree with this political assessment of the real situation in Afghanistan. He should then put forward his own. Otherwise, his methodological construct concerning to what “degree” the invasion should be supported is left hanging in midair. If, however, he is in basic agreement with the analysis I have sketched, then presumably on the basis of his own criteria he will share my political conclusion that the invasion cannot be “supported” to any degree whatever, but must be unequivocally condemned and opposed.

I would suggest that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan transformed the character of the war there–from a civil war to a war of national occupation. The Soviet intervention is a very serious political blow to international socialism: not, as is sometimes argued, because it damages the prestige of the Soviet Union or strengthens the hands of the more outright reactionary forces in the west (these are minor factors), but because it has allowed one of the most reactionary and medievalist forces in the world to wrap itself in the mantle of a legitimate national liberation struggle against a foreign oppressor. Although I am not convinced that the rightist Afghan forces will have permanent hegemony over the anti-Soviet national resistance, it is certain that these forces have gained substantial support from the peasantry and that whatever their hideous social policies, they are now viewed as the leading national force in Afghanistan. This is utterly tragic, but it is necessary to face the facts.

Costello has certainly correctly pointed out the cravenness of the anti-revisionists who have found in Afghanistan an excuse to abandon all criticism of “Soviet revisionism” like so much excess baggage. I do not believe, however, that the “fusionists” and “rectificationists” accidently forgot to mention it. I believe that they, and by a different theoretical route most of the Trotskyist groups, have consciously decided that for better or worse the Soviet Union is the vanguard of world socialist revolution and that this was the convenient occasion to “unite” with it. In the interests of theoretical clarity, I hope that other Marxists will not swallow the same poison even if in diluted form.

In conclusion, there is perhaps one respect in which the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did indeed advance the interests of international socialism: being bogged down in Afghanistan has weakened its ability to intervene against the workers of Poland.

With fraternal greetings,
David Finkel

* * *

Paul Costello responds:

David Finkel says that he is not convinced that rightist Afghani forces will have permanent hegemony over the “anti-Soviet national resistance.” I would question the extent to which any viable national resistance exists which is independent of the rightist counter-revolution. Clarity on this question is an essential element for any correct political orientation.

Lenin always insisted that the working class in Czarist Russia could not remain indifferent to the struggle for bourgeois democratic rights, because the achievement of such rights would provide more favorable conditions for the revolutionary movement. Unfortunately, however, the communist movement has all too often ignored his advice, as when, during the “third period” in the history of the Communist International (1929-1935), it insisted that there was no fundamental difference between bourgeois democracy and fascism. But there is a difference, as the German communists learned to their sorrow, upon Hitler’s accession to power.

Once again Comrade Finkel wants to say “a plague on both your houses,” and “unequivocally” condemn both sides. But here the two sides cannot be equated. One side represents feudal reaction, the other a discredited and bureaucratic state apparatus dominated by a communist party kept in power by foreign troops. The one side represents the counter-revolution, the other the failure of Stalinian Marxism.

To the extent that the Afghani counter-revolution represents, as David Finkel admits, “one of the most reactionary and medievalist forces in the world today,” I think we must recognize that the Soviet occupation, no matter what other problems it creates, still safeguards more favorable conditions for any eventual socialist revolution, than would be created by a rightist victory. As long as the counter-revolution remains a real danger, and the presence of Soviet military forces continues to check their advance, to that narrow degree, it is necessary for us to support the Soviet intervention.

Comrade Finkel’s desire to oppose the intervention of the Soviet Union in the revolutionary process of other countries in defense of its own national interest is understandable. However, when this opposition is raised to an absolute, it blocks a correct understanding of our political responsibilities as proletarian internationalists. Opposition to Soviet interference and the errors and crimes of Stalinian Marxism can never serve as a rationale or an excuse not to struggle against imperialism and counter-revolution.

This is a trap into which we have no intention of falling. The history of the Communist movement is full of groups which began as critics of the Stalinian deviation and ended up in the service of imperialism. In the beginning they saw this deviation as something to be struggled with; in the end it was elevated to an absolute evil, such that they could unite even with imperialism in the fight against it.

This trajectory is not an inevitable one, in spite of what “orthodox” Marxists might say. The struggle against counter-revolution and in defense of revolutionary Leninism can be successfully combined in the practice of proletarian internationalism. “The fight against imperialism is a sham and a humbug unless it is inseparably bound up with the fight against opportunism.” Lenin said that.