Paul Costello

Afghanistan: Anti-Imperialism and World Revolution

First Published: Theoretical Review No. 17, July-August 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Recent events in Afghanistan have raised a whole series of issues of vital importance for the world revolutionary movement. Questions such as the nature of socialist revolution and the socialist transition period, the relationship between anti-imperialism and the struggle for socialism, the role of the Soviet Union in world affairs, and the requirements of proletarian internationalism. The crisis of international politics, in part sparked by these Afghanistan events, has polarized the left into two camps, which serves to illustrate the degree to which traditional alignments and “labels” have lost their meaning in the light of contemporary reality.

In one camp can be found those who unequivocally oppose the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. These include the overwhelming majority of social democratic and democratic socialist forces, the International Socialists and the Guardian newspaper. These forces insist that the invasion was a violation of Afghanistan’s right to self-determination. Also in this camp, for entirely different reasons, are the pro-Chinese and pro-Albanian groups who view the invasion as an act of imperialist aggression on the part of Soviet “social imperialism.”

In the other major camp, which supports the Soviet invasion, are also to be found a curious amalgam of groups. It includes, of course, the Communist Party, USA, but also a host of Trotskyist groups from the rightist Socialist Workers Party to the leftist Spartacist League. Also located in this camp is the Workers World Party. Leading forces in the anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist communist movement, in particular the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC) and the Rectification movement, have published their own analyses of these events which puts them in this camp as well.

In a brief document such as this one it would be impossible to attempt to discuss all the issues which have been raised in the course of the struggle between and within these two camps. This article will instead try to provide a brief theoretical and political framework in which to situate the Afghan events, in the course of which we will critique a number of views, more particularly those of the PWOC and Rectification since they are of central importance to the party building movement of which we are a part.

At the same time we want to make clear our own approach. We think that the struggle against imperialism can only be waged successfully by communists in this period if it is inseparably linked to the struggle against revisionism, either of the Soviet or the Chinese varieties. We think that fundamental errors are being made by many forces in the movement, errors which, in the course of the struggle against imperialism, liquidate the struggle against revisionism. The analyses of events in Afghanistan made by these forces sharply point out these errors. Our movement, as a whole, must struggle against these errors if it is to go forward.

We do not intend to recapitulate here, the facts and dates of the developments in Afghanistan itself. For that we refer our readers to the excellent articles in New Left Review No. 112 (1978) and No. 119 (1980) by Fred Halliday, considered by many to be the leading Marxist scholar writing on the Middle East today.

From Angola to Afghanistan

With regard to the analyses presented so far within the anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist communist movement, they are notable for their shallow and limited character. In some respects this response is a step backward for our movement. In 1976 when the Angolan revolution was under way, these same forces used the occasion to draw out the appropriate lessons of the struggle by way of a political critique of the Chinese Communist Party’s conception of the international situation and their “three worlds strategy.” An effort was made to draw out the lessons of Angola for other liberation movements and their impact on the international revolutionary process.

Not so with Afghanistan. Both PWOC in its statement, published in the February 27th issue of the Guardian, and Rectification, by way of Irwin Silber’s pamphlet, Afghanistan – The Battle Line is Drawn, seem quite content to register their support of the Soviet intervention, coupled with a few secondary criticisms of Soviet policy and the tactics of the Afghan government. Both fail to adequately explain the factors which created a situation in Afghanistan requiring Soviet intervention. At the same time they fail to adequately discuss the Soviet reasons for their intervention. Most importantly both fail to provide a political framework within which to correctly combine the struggle against imperialism with the struggle against modern revisionism as represented by the USSR.

The interests of the international revolutionary movement require that we accurately assess the development of the revolutionary process and distinguish between those who practice Marxism-Leninism and those who merely pay lip-service to it. In the international context we must also distinguish between short term, temporary allies and long term supporters of the proletarian revolution. To do so an all-sided theoretical and historical framework and its application to Afghan reality is an essential precondition.

The lessons of the experience of socialist revolution, socialist construction and class struggle in the USSR, Eastern Europe and China are important in the construction of this framework. The fact that PWOC and Silber ignore these lessons is unfortunate, given that Silber and several leading members of PWOC participated in the Rectification-sponsored Soviet Union Study Project. While it is a fact that each revolutionary process develops in its own relatively unique way, to fail to draw upon the lessons of other revolutionary experiences can lead to narrow empiricism and ideological confusion. The Afghan party and government, as well as those in the USSR, are heirs to the legacy of the world communist and workers’ movements. The crisis of world communism, through which we are all living affects them too, and they must be judged by their response to it.

The Nature of the Revolutionary Process in Afghanistan

The term “revolution” is used by both PWOC and Silber to describe the seizure of power by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Afghanistan in April, 1978. In fact what occurred was something considerably more complicated. As Halliday has pointed out: “A revolution, in the sense of a seizure of power through a process of mass mobilization, has not occured in Afghanistan.”[1] Instead there was a seizure of power by “a radical sector within the state apparatus, led by civilians and aided by army officers.”[2]

The new government, headed by the PDP, was faced with an unfavorable situation. The overwhelming bulk of the population consisted of illiterate peasants living off the land. The Party itself was small, based in the “middle class” urban elements, with almost no membership in the rural areas. The international situation was equally unfavorable, given the hostility of world imperialism and China to the new regime.

At this point, questions of revolutionary strategy and tactics, the role of the party and state, the problem of a worker-peasant alliance, and mass mobilization became paramount, if this seizure of power was to become a genuine revolutionary process of and by the masses.

Halliday tells us that the first ten months of the new regime went relatively well, with the mass of the rural population adopting a cautious “wait and see” attitude.[3] Ten months later, however, the situation had deteriorated to the point that only a massive influx of Soviet troops could prevent the collapse of the PDP government. What happened in this period to change the situation? What were the factors that pushed broad sections of the masses into opposition, or even into the arms of the counter-revolution? To what extent was this situation the product of the policies of the new government itself?

No knowledgeable observer has failed to remark on the degree to which the serious errors of the government and party contributed to the exacerbation of the contradictions which Afghanistan faced. We do not want to minimize in any way the significant role of imperialist intervention (external factors) in the development of the Afghan counterrevolution. However, as Communists, we must also be conscious of the importance of examining our own political practice critically, particularly when that practice is conducted from a position of state power. This article is mainly concerned, not with evaluating the role of imperialist intrigue, but with the internal factors which created favorable conditions for its activity.

Yet both PWOC and Silber speak as if the errors of the PDP were “principally” tactical in nature. Such a view is possible only if one ignores the nature of the PDP itself and the obvious model from which its practice is derived. The errors of the PDP were not mere tactical excesses in the context of a generally correct strategy. For the PDP is a communist party whose theory and politics are unswervingly based on the Soviet model; whose program faithfully echoes Soviet theories such as peaceful coexistence, and whose reliance on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is open and notorious.

When we speak of the “Soviet model” we are not referring to the practices of the Lenin period, but to the conception of the socialist transition period which emerged with the victory of the political line of the Stalin group in the late 1920s. It is this strategy for socialist construction which guided the PDP government (and, of course, its Soviet advisors). Before examining how it was implemented in Afghanistan, let us look at the form this strategy took in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

The Politics of the Transition Period

In a number of respects the Russian conjuncture of 1917 was similar to that facing the new Afghan government in 1978. Russia, too, was overwhelmingly peasant, with a small workingclass and a small communist party with few ties in the rural areas. In Russia, however, the party had a strong base in the workingclass and the revolution itself was the product not only of mass activity in the urban areas, but of a peasant revolt as well.

Even so, the decisive problem of revolutionary strategy and socialist construction was how to neutralize the former ruling classes and rich peasants by drawing the broad, non-proletarian masses into the revolutionary process; how to win the peasantry to socialism. In short, the problem of the worker-peasant alliance.

In this context Lenin developed, particularly after the summer of 1921, a conception of an active political and economic alliance between workers and peasants, not as a temporary expedient, but as the form of political power appropriate to the entire period of socialist transition, in predominantly peasant countries.

In Lenin’s words:

“The main thing now is to advance as an immeasurably wider and larger mass, and only together with the peasantry, proving to them by deeds, in practice, by experience, that we are learning, and that we shall learn to assist them, to lead them forward.”[4]

This conception of the worker-peasant alliance was a central focus of the inner-party struggle in the Soviet Communist Party in the late 1920s. When the victory of the political line of the Stalin group ended that struggle the result was the abandonment of the Leninist line, and the replacement of a policy of patient political-ideological struggle to win the peasantry to socialism, with increasing state coercion.

Other features of the new conception of building socialism inaugurated by the Stalin group are also important. The growing reliance on the use of state coercion to handle class contradictions resulted in a vast growth of the state repressive apparatuses with the subordination of the party and mass activity to them. This in turn led to the increasing isolation of the party and the state from the masses. As the democratic character of the state and party declined, the use of administrative methods and state coercion in dealing with contradictions among the people and within the party became generalized. The conception of socialism based on the active and increasing control by the masses over their conditions of life was buried together with the Leninists who fought to defend it.[5]

This strategy for socialist construction, first implemented in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s was transplanted to Eastern Europe after the Second World War, with equally disasterous results. An important study [excerpted elsewhere in this issue] by the Hungarian historian Andras Zsilak demonstrates how this strategy, when implemented in Hungary in the 1949-56 period, created the conditions which resulted in the 1956 counter-revolution.[6]

The Hungarian communist party mechanically copied the Soviet model, isolating itself from the workingclass by its policy of intensification of labor without any accompanying rise in the standard of living or workingclass participation in planning and production decisions. In the rural areas state coercion hit the peasantry as a whole weakening the worker-peasant alliance. The replacement of the multi-party popular front government by a single-party state, and the forcible liquidation of other parties and mass organizations, isolated the party from other social strata. In 1949 a number of leading party figures were framed, tried and executed as “Titoites.” Instead of broadening the base for socialist construction, the Party had, by 1956, seriously isolated and discredited itself. Summing up the lessons of its failure to forge the necessary alliances between the party and political representatives of other socialist and progressive forces, Zsilak concludes:

“From 1949 to 1956 the Party leadership ... was not able to solve correctly, even from a theoretical point of view, the problems related to the policy of alliance. It was even less capable of elaborating a system of practical measures to develop properly the relations between the Party and the workingclass as well as between the workingclass and other classes in conformity with the interests of socialism.”[7]

The Errors of the PDP Government

This incapacity to solve, “even from a theoretical point of view,” the problem of socialist transition was not some historical accident, unique to the Hungarian communists. It is a fundamental feature of the Marxism of the Stalin period, a central component of the present crisis of communism as it manifests itself in the socialist world. The unfortunate example of the Afghanistan events is only the latest confirmation of the truth of this assertion.

Almost from the beginning the PDP mystified the nature of the process unfolding in their country, characterizing it as a “proletarian revolution” and disregarding the vital need for a correct alliance policy with regard to the peasant masses.[8] The complete absence of basic democratic norms in the PDP or the new state apparatus, noted by Halliday, led to an increasing reliance on administrative and .military methods to deal with sharpening class and social contradictions. Halliday reports:

“Far too often a group of PDP members and army personnel would arrive in a village and start commanding the peasants without proper awareness of local sensibilities and conditions.”[9]

As resistance grew, so did the use of military force. The dogmatic and harshly administrative government measures served to widen the gap between the party and the masses. The present Afghani Minister of Education puts it quite simply: “By using force, the Amin regime came into conflict with all our religious, cultural, and familial traditions. The people lost confidence in us.”[10] Military and state violence spread from rural areas to the cities, and even after the invasion is being used to ”resolve” the bitter inner-party struggle within the PDP itself. Many party members were arrested, some were tortured, forced to “confess” to crimes and then executed.

In what Halliday describes as a climate of terror and repression, the former ruling classes were able to rally around themselves broad sections of the rural population while the PDP government could not even rely on its former urban base. Aided by its corps of Soviet advisors, the PDP government had committed serious voluntarist and commandist errors. It had sought to impose its conception of necessary reforms without sufficient regard for the consciousness of the masses, and it employed state coercion without sufficient effort to rely on the activity of the masses themselves. In Halliday’s words:

“The critical error of the Russians was less that they intervened in December 1979 than that they had allowed matters to reach such a point that they were confronted by the options then existing.”[11]

This failure of the Soviets to forestall the developing situation was no mere oversight. It is the blindness which flows from a conception of socialism which sees the masses as simple pawns in the hands of a state administration, a conception which substitutes government resolutions for ideological struggle and dispatches military battalions in place of propaganda teams.

It was this deteriorating situation which convinced the Soviet government that it had no other choice than to approve a military intervention. This situation was not simply the result of imperialist intrigue, as the Communist Party, USA, would have us believe. Nor was it only a problem of ”tactical errors” on the part of the PDP government. In large measure it was the result of the application in Afghanistan of a fundamentally anti-Leninist strategic program, borrowed from the Soviet Union and imposed upon the Afghan class struggle with disastrous consequences.

That the PDP program “deserved widespread popular backing,” in Silber’s words, is quite beside the point. If it is to succeed, a revolutionary program requires the participation of the masses; it cannot be imposed upon them by force. With such methods even the best program would become nothing more than a bureaucratic formality. A mass line requires more of a program than that it serve the best interests of the masses. To avoid voluntarism and commandism it must start where the masses are and draw them into active participation in its implementation and rectification on the basis of their own developing consciousness and sensibilities.

Self-Determination and the Interests of the World Revolutionary Movement

In assessing recent Afghan developments two problems immediately present themselves: (1) evaluating Soviet intervention, and (2) determining the effect of that intervention internationally and within Afghanistan itself.

Both PWOC and Silber insist that Soviet intervention was a defeat for world imperialism and in the interests of the Afghan and world revolutions. We disagree. It cannot be said that the intervention was an unqualified defeat for imperialism.

For to begin with, we cannot determine the effect on world imperialism just from an examination of the situation in Afghanistan. For while one political effect may have been the military defeat of the Afghan counter-revolution, another political and ideological effect has been the strengthening of the position of the more aggressive, more reactionary fractions of the bourgeoisie in the “developed” capitalist countries (e.g., Brzezinski over Vance) who have used their power to effect a significant increase in anti-communist sentiments in the capitalist world. This, combined with the Cuban refugee problem, has resulted in a marked increase of “cold war” ideology in the United States in particular. To judge the effects of Soviet intervention without taking these factors into account is dangerously simplistic.

If the international results of intervention appear complex, the impact on Afghanistan is no less problematic.

Nationalism and the idea of a nation’s right to self-determination are a material force in the world today. It is one thing (and correct) to say that the right of self-determination is not an absolute, but must be subordinate to the requirements of the class struggle. It is quite another thing to recognize that the violation of that right of self-determination, as in Afghanistan, to prevent the victory of armed counter-revolution, can produce definite political and ideological affects in that class struggle.

In Afghanistan, before the Soviet intervention, various classes and groups opposed the PDP government for different and often conflicting reasons. After the invasion, the fact that Afghanistan’s national sovereignty had been violated effectively united many of these forces against the Soviet troops, and the Karmal regime.

It appears that the immediate affect of presence of Soviet troops was a military setback for counter-revolutionary forces, a setback for imperialist intrigue in that region of the world. But, in the long run the continuing Soviet presence may politically and ideologically strengthen the counter-revolution and allow it to exploit the issue of self-determination to win backward sections of the masses to its banner.

If Soviet intervention was not an unqualified defeat for imperialism, we must also recognize the contradictory and limited degree to which it serves the interests of the world revolution. PWOC and Silber fail to take note of this because of their particular assessment of Soviet motives and Soviet interests.

Soviet Motives

PWOC argues that the Soviets intervened in Afghanistan solely for reasons of national defense. Silber agrees, commenting that the national interests of the Soviet state and military security were the main concern of Soviet strategists. Seen in this light the action of the USSR appears to be relatively harmless, and even sensible. Such a perspective is seriously misleading and constitutes a mystification of the role of revisionism internationally.

Just as PWOC and Silber obscured the real strategy of the PDP behind talk of tactical errors, they mystify the thinking of Soviet leaders with the deceptive phrase “national defense.” Silber, however, provides us with a justification for this approach. Soviet opportunism, he tells us, is largely a matter of ideology and the Soviets are “only inconsistently [opportunist] in the realm of politics.”[12]

This view flies in the face of communist history and the lessons of anti-revisionist struggles over the past 25 years. In fact it represents a virtual liquidation of that struggle. The critical focus of the struggle against revisionism is politics and political practice. To obscure that focus, to displace the centrality of politics in the struggle against modern revisionism is to rob our movement of one of its most important weapons.

Soviet intervention was not a simple defensive response, because the Soviet idea of national defense is the product of a particular political conception of world socialism and the Soviet role within it. Is this conception of recent origins? Does it date back only to 1956, as PWOC and Silber would argue? We think not.

Ever since the victory of the Bolsheviks in the October revolution of 1917 the question of the role and obligation of the Soviet Union in the world revolutionary process has been the subject of discussion and debate. It was an important point of discussion in the early years of the Communist International. It was at issue in the struggles within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union between Stalin, Trotsky, and Bukharin. But it was only in the 1940s, after the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II that the question was posed in a new way.

With the formation of People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe at the war’s end, the problem of relationships between differing socialist states emerged as a major point of contention. The USSR, however, soon made clear its view that socialist construction was more a matter of Soviet ties than of the correct leadership of the class struggle. In the polemics which the Communist Information Bureau launched against Yugoslavia in 1949 the Soviet line was spelled out:

“... it is clear to every Marxist that there can be no talk of building socialism in Yugoslavia when the Tito clique has broken with the Soviet Union, with the entire camp of socialism and democracy, thereby depriving Yugoslavia of the main bulwark of building socialism ...” [my emphasis, P.C.][13]

The clear Soviet message was: the main bulwark of socialism in any one country is not the working masses of that country, but a government which is closely allied with the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc. Yugoslavia, by breaking its links with the USSR and its allies was declared to be an enemy of world communism and a threat to the socialist system.

In 1968, after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, this same conception was carried to its logical conclusion, to justify the military intervention of one socialist country in the affairs of another. The so-called Brezhnev doctrine was born. In the words of the Soviet Communist Party newspaper, Pravda:

“There is little doubt that the peoples of the socialist countries and the Communist Parties have and must have freedom to determine their country’s path of development. However, any decision of theirs must damage neither socialism in their own country nor the fundamental interests of the other socialist countries . . . “[14]

In short, the decision as to what constitutes “damage” to socialism can be decided from abroad, by the Soviet Union itself. More specifically, under this doctrine, damage to socialism is equated with opposition to the policy and line of the Soviet party and state. The right to self-determination of socialist states under the Brezhnev doctrine is limited to their right to carry out a policy in harmony with that of the USSR. Since the existence of these socialist states is assured, according to Pravda, “thanks precisely to the power of the socialist commonwealth – and primarily its chief force, the Soviet Union – and the might of its armed forces,” then these forces can intervene, when needed, to “defend” socialism.[15]

At issue here is not the abstract principle of the right of one socialist country to come to the aid of another when the latter is genuinely threatened by counter-revolution. Rather it is the question of the right of the Soviet Union, guided by a distorted conception of socialism, to use its immense military strength to enforce the practice of that conception of socialism in other countries. Here we are not talking about the defense of socialism in general, but the political practice of Soviet revisionism in particular.

Is it any wonder, given this long standing threat of the USSR, that so many parties and revolutionary groups have elevated the right of self-determination to an absolute? We must recognize that their concern is legitimate, but we must also recognize that if the danger of foreign intervention exists, so does the danger of bourgeois nationalism. Only a political practice which puts class struggle in command can provide the framework with which to combat both these errors.

In Afghanistan the struggle of the masses was reduced to the voluntarism of the party, which in turn was reduced to the action of the state, or more precisely, its military apparatus. And in the end it was the intervention of the Soviet military which was the decisive factor in stabilizing that state, which otherwise might have fallen.

The implications of this situation should be clear. Pro-Soviet parties and states do not have to correctly practice the mass line, nor develop a strategy for socialist construction appropriate to their own countries and peoples. Basing themselves on the military might of the USSR, they can make the most serious errors, commit the most flagrant abuses of power, and still remain in control. And not only that, if faced by counter-revolutionary opposition, they can even earn the support of some US anti-revisionist communists in the name of anti-imperialism!

The Soviet idea of national defense is inseparably linked with a conception of world socialism which gives the USSR the right of military intervention in other socialist states in defense of its own perceived national and international interests. Given the fundamentally revisionist theory and practice of socialism in the USSR this conception and the power to implement it constitutes, in the long run, a serious danger to the world revolutionary movement.

But, since PWOC and Silber think that, in the Afghan case, this Soviet practice produced positive effects (defeat for imperialism), its long term dangerous nature for world socialism need not be mentioned (to the Guardian’s credit it takes PWOC to task on precisely this point). Nonetheless, to remain silent on a long term fundamental threat to socialism, for whatever reason, can only be considered opportunism. It ideologically and politically disarms our movement, for the danger of modern revisionism is clear. It is to be found not just in the abandonment of Marxist-Leninist theory but most importantly in a constellation of political practices, which concern the nature of class struggle and revolution, the character of socialist construction, the nature of world socialism, and the role of the Soviet Union within it. Our demarcation with revsionism is primarily political (although these political differences are very much related to differing practices of Marxist-Leninist theory) and this point should never be forgotten. Ultimately, it is in the concrete political positions we take on fundamental questions of class struggle which determine the character and correctness of our anti-revisionism, and not abstract and general phrases.

Soviet Interests

The Soviet Union has an objective interest in the weakening of the world imperialist system whose hegemonic power is the United States. So, too, does the world revolutionary movement. To this degree there is a coincidence of interests between the USSR and the world revolutionary movement.

In the so-called “under-developed” countries the effort to break free of the stranglehold imposed by international imperialism is in the objective interest of a multiplicity of classes, the national bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, the workingclass and the peasantry. If any one or a number of these classes can hold state power, the possibility exists of altering that country’s place in the hierarchy of world imperialism. We say “possibility” because as long as a social formation does not make a qualitative break with capitalism the possibility of a rapid reversal to the advantage of imperialism exists. This was the case in Nasser’s Egypt which was quickly transformed into an imperialist outpost in the Middle East under Sadat, despite twenty years of anti-imperialist policies.

The existence of an anti-imperialist regime, however, creates certain favorable conditions for another possibility – socialist revolution. But the classes and class alliances which produced an anti-imperialist regime cannot be identical with those which will make the socialist revolution. These are two qualitatively different processes, although they are often inter-related, and they serve different class interests. A revolutionary proletarian party is required to be able to develop the appropriate strategy and tactics necessary to take advantage of these different processes as they unfold in the interest of the world revolutionary movement.

Thus while the world revolutionary movement cannot remain indifferent to the anti-imperialist process, and must actively participate in it; the interests of the world revolutionary movement go far beyond the simple weakening of imperialism. Once that point has been passed, once the question of socialist revolution is on the agenda, the fundamental interests of the USSR and the world revolutionary movement, which had coincided during the anti-imperialist phase, diverge.

The interests of the contemporary Soviet social formation in the long run lie in the construction of a community of socialist states patterned after itself. The interests of the world revolutionary movement-require a decisive break with the revisionist Soviet model of socialism, and the construction of socialism on new foundations. The Soviet model cannot be relied upon if a genuine vanguard party is to be created and the masses drawn into a new, qualitatively different revolutionary process. This divergence of interests is long-term and fundamental, and no amount of temporary coincidence of anti-imperialist interests should be allowed to obscure it.

The possibility of a genuine Afghan revolution unfolding in the wake of the April 1978 coup was progressively diminished by a Soviet advised party and state whose strategy and tactics bore little resemblance with Marxism-Leninism and whose disastrous policies would have brought down upon the Afghan people a fierce counterrevolution, had it not been for Soviet intervention. The long term interests of the Afghan and world revolutions are not best served by a party and state which can only stay in power due to the presence of foreign troops. The cause of communism is not advanced by a socialist state in which, to use Silber’s word’s, “thousands of political opponents and critics of the regime were needlessly executed.”

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 interests of the Afghani and the world revolution.

It is in this sense that we dispute PWOC and Silber’s unqualified claim that Soviet intervention was in the interest of the world revolution.

But, as PWOC and Silber might counter, we are not faced with this abstract problem of long term interests. The issue is clear-cut: ’Either a communist party and state or armed counter-revolution will win. Which side are you on?’ This argument has a familiar ring to it. When a military coup overthrew the Allende government in Chile, the Communist Party, USA, sought to prevent criticism of the errors of the Popular Unity experience by charging that anyone who did not uncritically support Allende was aiding the counterČrevolution. Genuine Marxist-Leninists mobilized against the counter-revolution, but they refused to withhold their criticisms which were absolutely vital if the important lessons of the Chilean experience were not to be lost.

It is absolutely necessary for US communists to render ideological and material support to the struggle against the Afghan counter-revolution and its US and Chinese supporters. This is our anti-imperialist duty, a concrete expression of proletarian internationalism. But to go no further, to fail to draw out and publicly discuss the important lessons of Soviet revisionism and the errors of the PDP regime, is to reduce our tasks as communists to those of anti-imperialists, to abandon the indispensible theoretical and political obligations of communist leadership. Even worse than this omission is what PWOC and Silber are doing: mystifying the fundamental long term divergence of interests between the Soviet Union and the world revolution behind a narrow coincidence of interests in the anti-imperialist struggle.

In the present period of the US communist movement, which is still characterized by great ideological confusion and uncertainty, we must redouble our commitment to study and assimilate the lessons of other revolutions and be on guard not to repeat their errors.

Communist Morality

At this point it is necessary to respond to a particular criticism raised by Irwin Silber. In his pamphlet on Afghanistan he says:

“Nor can we accept the view of those centrists within the Marxist-Leninist movement who stand on the ’high ground’ of moral absolutism and declaim their fervent support for the revolutionary struggles of the world’s people’s in the abstract, but would permit the actual concrete struggles to be lost because certain actions do not suit their own ideal vision of what should be ’permissible’ in conducting the class struggle.”[16]

To a significant degree this is a “strawman” argument. As communists we have balked at endorsing the Soviet intervention in the manner Silber has done, not because of “moral absolutism,” but from an understanding of the nature of modern revisionism.

But there is something more disturbing about these remarks. The contempt for morality and “permissible” limits in conducting class struggle which the quote reflects has a long and notorious history in our movement. It was used to cover up and apologise for the crimes of the Stalin era. It was used only last year to justify the crimes of the Pol Pot regime. Dogmatist groups rely on it to justify their use of violence against other left forces.

The Afghan government refused to place limits on the manner in which it “conducted the class struggle.” The results we all know. Can we afford to adopt the same attitude? If we accept Lenin’s definition of communist morality, as that which “serves to destroy the old exploiting society and to unite all the toilers around the proletariat” [my emphasis, P. C.][17], then we must recognize the terrible and tragic immorality of the PDP regime.

Communists must take a firm and unshakable stand against the use of violence and coercion to handle contradictions among the people or contradictions within a revolutionary party. Such a stand is not moral absolutism, it is fundamental Marxism-Leninism.

One final point on the question of centrism today. We would have to say that the real centrists are those who proclaim their fervent opposition to revisionism in the abstract, while supporting its concrete manifestations. Politically and theoretically these centrists have learned nothing from the past twenty years. Their outlook is shaped by pre-1956 Marxism, their dream to return to the Stalin era, its myths and its “principles.”

Because Marxism in the Stalin period was not practiced as a “living science,” organically linked to the class struggle, in the context of this Marxism modern revisionism arose. Any contemporary critique of revisionism which understands reality, not through the advanced theory of the present, but through the sterile dogmas of the pre-1956 period, is doomed to failure; or more accurately it is not an effective critique of revisionism at all.


Here we would like to recapitulate what we feel are the major errors and inadequacies of the PWOC and Rectification response to events in Afghanistan.

First, there is the liquidation of the political essence of modern revisionism. The Soviet Union and its allied parties around the world share both a theory of proletarian revolution and a theory of the socialist transition that objectively liquidates class struggle, subordinates the party and the masses to the state, and replaces political-ideological struggle with state coercion. It was the political practice of modern revisionism which drove the Afghan rural masses into the arms of the counter-revolution and necessitated Soviet military intervention.

Second, there is a blurring of the distinction between the anti-imperialist and socialist aspects of the world revolutionary process. Afghanistan demonstrates a temporary coincidence of the anti-imperialist interests of the USSR and the world revolutionary movement. But this temporary coincidence of interests should never be allowed to obscure the fundamental and long term divergence between the interests of the Soviet state and its conception of socialism, on the one hand, and the interests of world revolution and revolutionary Marxism-Leninism on the other. To minimize this fundamental divergence of interests, or to ignore its existence, is to capitulate to revisionism.

Third, Soviet motives of national interests cannot be separated from their conception of a world socialist system in which the USSR has the right and duty to intervene by military force to maintain or impose its own conception of socialism. To ignore the threat posed by Soviet military power to socialist states which might seek independence or even a break with revisionist policies, because of a temporary coincidence of anti-imperialist interests, is to disarm our movement theoretically and politically.

Our own position is that, while the Soviet intervention may have temporarily blocked a military victory for the counter-revolution in Afghanistan, socialism cannot be imposed upon a people at gunpoint. The use of troops will not solve the many serious problems the PDP government faced in its effort to draw the masses into the revolutionary process. Soviet socialism cannot be a model for socialist transition in the world today, and those who defend it are not acting in the best interests of the world revolutionary movement. The struggle for socialism can only be strengthened if it is accompanied by a struggle against revisionism; for it is only the latter struggle which enables us to distinguish between our long term allies and those whose interests temporarily intersect with our own.

In the present world context this means taking up concrete political positions which combine opposition to imperialism with anti-revisionism. It also means always maintaining an orientation which looks after the interests of the whole movement, rather than a part of it, an orientation which is not tempted to allow short term coincidences of interests to obscure our long term goals. We cannot find this orientation ready-made in some book. It will have to be created in the theoretical-political struggle to build a genuine communist party.


[1] Fred Halliday, “Revolution in Afghanistan,” New Left Review No. 112 (Nov.-Dec. 1978), p. 43.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Fred Halliday, “War and Revolution in Afghanistan,” New Left Review No. 119 (Jan.-Feb. 1980), p. 23.

[4] Quoted in Charles Bettelheim, Class Struggles in the USSR Second Period: 1923-1930. (MR, 1978), pp. 23-24.

[5] See Bettelheim’s Class Struggle in the USSR, in two volumes to date.

[6] Andras Zsilak, “The Changes in the Social Structure of Hungary and the Main Questions Concerning the Alliance Policy (1949-56) in Studies on the History of the Hungarian Working-Class Movement (1867-1966), Henrik Vass, ed. (Akademiai Kiado, Budapest, 1975).

[7] Ibid., p. 349.

[8] Halliday, New Left Review, No. 119, p. 32.

[9] Ibid., p. 24.

[10] Newsfront International, June, 1980, p. 14.

[11] Halliday, New Left Review No. 119, p. 38.

[12] Irwin Silber, Afghanistan – The Battle Line is Drawn. (Line of March, 1980), p. 16.

[13] White Book on Aggressive Activities by the Governments of the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Albania Towards Yugoslavia. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, 1951), p. 175.

[14] S. Kovalev, “Sovereignty and the Internationalist Obligations of Socialist Countries,” The Current Digest of the Soviet Press, October 16, 1968, p. 10.

[15] Ibid., p. 11.

[16] Silber, p. 30.

[17] Lenin, “The Tasks of the Youth Leagues,” Collected Works, Vol. 31, p. 293.