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Workers Socialist Review

Magazine of the Workers Socialist League

Written: 1984.
First Published: Autumn 1984.
Source: Published by the Workers Socialist League.
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Workers Socialist Review
No. 4, Autumn 1984

Afghanistan: U.S.S.R. troops out!

1. Four and a half years after the invasion, the results of the Russian occupation have to be tabulated as follows:

a) The USSR has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and yet has only very unstable control of the main cities such as Kabul. Guerrilla activities take place regularly even in Kabul, where Russian soldiers are regularly attacked and last autumn the USSR’s own ‘embassy’ was attacked.

b) Almost the entire countryside is beyond the control of the invaders, who are an army of occupation which moves in unsafe military convoys and by air.

e) The 4½ years of Russian occupation have seen the progressive disintegration of the Afghan state machine, especially of the army.

d) The vast majority of the population is in bitter opposition to the invaders and large numbers are in arms against them. The USSR army uses the methods of the US in Vietnam and of Hitler’s army in Europe to beat down the people. Villages are napalmed, crops destroyed, towns bombed out of existence in ‘reprisal’.

e) Close to three million refugees have fled to Pakistan and over one million to Iran.

f) Large areas of the economy are devastated.

g) Afghanistan has not been assimilated to the USSR system, yet serious steps have been taken to integrate its economy in a dependent relationship with the USSR. The USSR is engaged in extensive mining and surveying operations for a wide range of minerals including uranium.

The 1978 Coup

2. The April coup of 1978 placed in power a regime based essentially on the army. It had the following notable features:

a) The ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), had a large base in the army and had won political hegemony over the decisive sections of the officer corps.

The links between the PDP and the officer corps were very close. This arose from the close relationship of the Afghan state apparatus to the USSR and its military bureaucratic caste. Since the mid ’50s the USSR had equipped the armed forces and trained their officers.

The officers had developed ideas about their mission to develop and modernise Afghanistan in the face of the feebleness of the Afghan bourgeoisie according to a pattern familiar in many underdeveloped countries, but with the peculiarity that the client status of Afghanistan vis-a-vis the USSR inclined them to look to the bureaucratised workers’ state as a model of a developed society. Their view of their own future was as an elite, like the USSR bureaucracy, on the basis of a serious social transformation.

b) Because of the absence of a mass base for the PDP outside the armed forces, the ‘revolution’ unfolded as an attempt at reform from above, stamped throughout and limited in every respect by its military-bureaucratic origins and the limitations of the PDP.

The 20 month history of the PDP-army regime, until the Russian invasion of December 1979 put an end to it and replaced it, was marked by the narrow base of the regime and the attempt to use the armed forces as the instrument of a social transformation which proved obnoxious, for varying reasons, to the big majority of the population.

Despite its unusually close links with the bureaucracy of the degenerated workers’ state, the regime never got beyond the stage of being a military-bureaucratic state capitalist regime attempting to carry through the bourgeois programme of land reform, education reform, and some easing of the enslavement of women.

Its methods in relation to the Afghan masses were never other than military bureaucratic: the bombing and strafing of villages, including the use of napalm, from the first weeks of the regime, and the figure of 400,000 mainly non-combatant refugees by the end of 1979, graphically sum up the military- bureaucratic regime’s relationship with the Afghan masses.

c) The opposition to the PDP regime consisted of landowners, antagonised by the regime, the priests, many of them landlords; usurious capitalists and the masses of peasants.

All these were tied together and hierarchical, social and personal ties maintained, under the slogan ‘Defence of Islam’.

The utterly reactionary character of the opposition is clearly expressed in its common bitter antagonism to any alleviation of the condition of women.

Outside Afghanistan many forces assisted. Pakistan gave facilities for training, drilling and raising money through the opium trade. Various Muslim powers gave money and guns. China gave guns and training instructions. Probably the CIA was involved – though not to the degree that Russia said.

d) It is difficult to get accurate information about the degree of support that the PDP-Army regime did have. Some demonstrations were staged. Nevertheless the known course of the Muslim revolt, the difficulty of the PDP-Army regime in standing up to it, and the incapacity of the regime to rally even significant, let alone decisive, masses of the population in support of reforming decrees that should have benefited millions, provide us with a clear proof of the feebleness of whatever support the PDP had outside the army.

It does not even seem to have been able to muster a fraction of the support from urban petty-bourgeois and plebeian forces achieved by Jacobin formations in 18th century Europe, although the conflicts in Afghanistan have many points of comparison with those between such Jacobin regimes and peasant opposition.

e) Socialist in Afghanistan would have had to give critical support to specific measures of the state capitalist regime, but in no sense could they have supported the regime as such. It would have been necessary to maintain class independence; to aim at dismantling and destroying the state apparatus; to criticise and expose the brutal military-bureaucratic methods of the regime as both counter-productive in relation to the reforms and expressive of the class character of the regime. Socialists would have faced the repression of the one-party PDP-Army regime.

Socialists would have directed their fire against the reaction, and in that sense only would have ‘supported’ the PDP-Army regime, while maintaining political and if possible military independence from it and striving to overthrow it.

Why Russia invaded

3. Afghanistan had for 25 years been a client state of the bureaucracy and from 1978 had drawn close to the USSR, which dramatically increased number of its ‘advisers’, military and civilian.

As the regime increasingly showed ineptitude and fell apart, the Russians were drawn in to substitute for the PDP and the disintegrating army. Months before the December 1979 invasion the air force was being run by the USSR. The logical finale was the invasion, which marked the end of the Army-PDP experiment and opened a new chapter.

Russia invaded:

* Because of lack of confidence in the ‘leftism’ and intransigence of the Amin regime and its obvious incapacity to stabilise Afghanistan.

* Because defeat of the PDP-Army regime would have placed in power a hostile regime on its borders (though this should not be exaggerated: the invasion has done just that in the case of Pakistan, which has since been rearmed and reinforced by imperialism).

* Because to allow defeat of its client could undermine its relations with other client states like Ethiopia.

* Because – and this is probably the fundamental thing – the disarray and weakness of imperialism following its defeat in Indochina and the then recent collapse of Iran as a military power seemed to allow the possibility of the Russian bureaucracy expanding its area of control with impunity, and in a strategically important area.

Further expansion through Baluchistan to the sea may well be in the minds of the Russian bureaucracy. In the ’40s it seized and plundered territory in Eastern Europe and Manchuria, with the consent of imperialism. The USSR is not imperialist in the sense of being based on monopoly capitalism, with its inherent drive to expand and divide up the world – but the bureaucracy does seek to gain and plunder new territories when it can. As Trotsky indicated nearly half a century ago: “The driving force behind the Moscow bureaucracy is indubitably the tendency to expand its power, its prestige, its revenues, This is the element of ‘imperialism’ in the widest sense of the word which was a property in the past of all monarchies, oligarchies, ruling castes, medieval estates and classes.”

The foreign policy of the USSR today is that of a relatively stable bureaucratic degenerated workers’ state. Since World War 2 it has increasingly been the co-equal of imperialism in terms of military power, in a world where the H bomb has led the rulers of imperialism and the bureaucracy so far to rule out full scale war as a means of trying each other’s strength. In that period the bureaucracy has been the twin pillar of world counter-revolution, other being American imperialism.

It has taken opportunities to expand its area of control, as after World War 2. Competition with imperialism has led it to support a number of autonomous, mainly Stalinist-led, third world anti-imperialist movements of a relatively progressive character.

In underdeveloped countries, the USSR’s post-October Revolution, non capitalist social system has allowed the Kremlin bureaucracy the possibility of relating to revolutionary movements in a seemingly positive way. Its own social structure has allowed it to seem in line with the anti-imperialist and even anti-capitalist objectives of the revolutionaries.

It has ‘evoked’ revolutionary movements in areas such as Eastern Europe – and almost immediately, simultaneously strangled them, imposing a repressive totalitarian regime as the social instrument of the rule of a parasitic bureaucratic caste, on top of the revolutionary transformation it has carried through or helped through.

At the same time, the bureaucracy’s limited rapprochement with imperialism has meant that Communist Parties under its control in the advanced countries have betrayed the revolutionary movements of the Italian, Belgian, French and other working classes repeatedly. And the awful example of the USSR and its satellites, presented as socialism by the reactionaries, has been a major dead weight on the struggle of the world working class for the socialist revolution.

It has repeatedly show itself to be capable of being ‘revolutionary’ against imperialism and capitalism; but always it has been simultaneously counter-revolutionary against the working class, striving to set up its own type of bureaucratic regime. Where it has aided revolutions, as in Cuba, it has at the same time shaped and moulded the resulting regime to its own totalitarian pattern.

In a large part of the world – the USSR itself and Eastern Europe – the USSR bureaucracy is the first-line or second-line direct enemy of working class socialism.

For all these reasons, the bureaucracy, then as a whole in its relation to world politics, has been a fundamentally reactionary and anti-revolutionary force.


4. In Afghanistan; to have any hope of creating a friendly regime, the Russians would have had to carry through the land reforms and other reforms. They have the strength, including the military resources and the physical power, that the PDPA-Army regime did not have, and therefore could carry through these changes.

But in fact one of the first things that the post-invasion USSR-puppet government led by Babrak Karmal did was to slow down and then abandon the programme of land reform.

The indications are that the USSR intends to stay in Afghanistan. The implications of this must be eventually – if they can conquer the peoples of Afghanistan- the full assimilation of Afghanistan to the collectivised bureaucratic system of the USSR.

Is assimilation progressive?

5. In the overall context, such a transformation, paid for at such cost, cannot be progressive. Trotsky argued:

“The occupation of eastern Poland by the Red Army (in 1939-40) is to be sure it ‘lesser evil’ in comparison with the occupation of the same territory by Nazi troops, but this lesser evil was obtained because Hitler was assured of achieving a greater evil. If somebody sets, or helps set a house on fire, and afterward saves five out of ten of the occupants of the house in order to convert them into his own semi-slaves, that is to be sure a lesser evil than to have burnt the entire ten. But it is dubious that this fire-bug merits a medal for the rescue . . . ”.

The argument against ‘lesser-evilism’ applies equally to Afghanistan too.

As Trotsky indicated:

“The primary political criterion for us is not the transformation of property relations in this or that area, however important these may be in themselves, but rather the change in the consciousness and organisation of the world proletariat, the raising of their capacity for defending former conquests and accomplishing new ones. From this one, and the only decisive standpoint, the politics of Moscow, taken as a whole, completely retains its reactionary character and remains the chief obstacle on the road to world revolution”,

And again:

“The statification of the means of production is, as we said, a progressive measure. But its progressiveness is relative; its specific weight depends on the sum-total of all other factors. Thus, we must first and foremost establish that the extension of the territory dominated by bureaucratic autocracy and parasitism, cloaked by ‘socialist’ measures, can augment the prestige of the Kremlin, engender illusions concerning the possibility of replacing the socialist revolution with manoeuvres and so on. The evil far outweighs the progressive content of Stalinist reforms in Poland. In order that nationalised property in the occupied areas, as well as in the USSR, become a basis for genuinely progressive, that is to say socialist development, it is necessary to overthrow the Moscow bureaucracy . . . We do not entrust the Kremlin with any historic mission. We were and remain against its seizures of new territories by the Kremlin.”

We call for the withdrawal of troops because of their overall reactionary role, in terms of political pulverisation of Afghanistan, strengthening the Russian bureaucracy, and reactionary effects in world politics (reinforcement of Stalinism and cold war forces). We argue for the mobilisation of progressive forces in Afghanistan independently of and against the Russian army.

The Resistance

6. The opposition to the Russian occupation includes all the forces rallied against the PDP-Army regime, plus significant sections of the PDP and Army themselves.

Some sections of this opposition claim to have relatively enlightened bourgeois-liberal programme. There is no solid evidence, however, that the core of it is other than a reactionary Islamic force in terms of its social programme and ideology.

The opposition, however, cannot be assessed as simply an ideological current. It is almost an entire population in arms against an oppressive invader. The rights of the people of Afghanistan cannot depend on the ideological views expressed by their leading political-military forces.

Imperialist and other foreign support for the rebels also continues. But this too cannot be taken as a decisive consideration. The great majority of the population of Afghanistan cannot be dismissed simply as catspaws of imperialism.

Export of ‘Revolution’

7. In general, revolutionaries have never favoured ‘export of revolution’ by military adventures. This would be so with a healthy workers’ state, and especially in the epoch where nuclear war could annihilate civilisation if not humanity.

Avoidance of war, short of surrender to imperialism, would have to be part of proletarian revolutionary policy. We oppose peaceful coexistence, which essentially means the subordination of the struggles of the workers and masses to deals between the USSR and imperialism, wherever the USSR can control events. But opposition to peaceful coexistence is not a demand to the alien and anti-proletarian Kremlin bureaucracy to start World War 3 to further the revolution.

The consequences of the Afghan invasion, in intensifying the cold war and giving credence to the imperialists’ claims in the eyes of many in the labour movement, are unconditionally reactionary consequences, the responsibility for which rests with the Russian bureaucracy in the first instance.

Our attitude in the cold war is of course determined not by secondary considerations, or by the events in Afghanistan as such, but by the fundamental antagonism between the USSR and imperialism. In this we are unconditionally for the defence of the basic property relations of the USSR.

Imperialism will not settle with the bureaucracy, the proletariat will. And imperialism or bourgeois democracy are not progressive alternatives to Stalinism in the USSR and similar states. That is the fundamental meaning of the defence of the USSR for Marxists.

As Trotsky pointed out:

“Our tasks, among them the ‘defence of the USSR’, we realise not through the medium of bourgeois governments and not even through the government of the USSR, but exclusively through the education of the masses through agitation, through explaining to the workers what they should defend and what they should overthrow. Such a ‘defence’ cannot give immediate miraculous results. But we do not even pretend to be miracle workers. As things stand, we are a revolutionary minority. Our work must be directed so that the workers on whom we have influence should correctly appraise events, not permit themselves to be caught unawares, and prepare the general sentiment of their own class for the revolutionary solution of the tasks facing us”.

“We must formulate our slogans in such a way that the workers see clearly just what we are defending in the USSR (planned economy and state property), and against whom we are conducting a ruthless struggle (the parasitic bureaucracy and its Comintern”.

“We defend the USSR on the basis of proletarian politics independent from the bureaucracy and its policies, and we distinguish between conflicts flowing from the bureaucracy, representing its interests and psychology, and conflicts in which the basic question of the defence of the USSR as against imperialism is posed”.

“In every case the Fourth International will know how to distinguish where and when the Red Army is acting solely as an instrument of the Bonapartist reaction, and where it defends the social basis of the USSR”. (Trotsky).


8. From the above our line and tasks follow.

We are opposed to the imperialist outcry. Imperialism can have no rights in Afghanistan, nor any right to attempt to drive the Russians out.

The USSR bureaucracy should withdraw its army. The anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist proletarian revolution can neither be served nor expanded by such an advance by a social force that is the enemy of the revolution, even if the result of the advance is the assimilation of Afghanistan into the social system of the USSR.

As Trotskyists, we defend the basic property system in the USSR, and we also maintain our political independence from the bureaucracy. We reject any implication that the bureaucracy, since it can seize territories and peoples and incorporate them to the social system of the degenerated workers’ state, is thereby expanding the revolution. We reject the implied position of many would-be Trotskyists that power bloc politics and the foreign policy of the USSR bureaucracy can replace or supplement the class struggle.

Workers Socialist Review Index (1981-84)

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