National Sections of the L5I:

The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan

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Adopted by the MRCI conference, April 1988

1. In 1978 the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power. It was a party based on the urban intelligentsia and the upper ranks of the armed forces. The party was based on the Stalinist monolithic model but was riven by factional conflicts. The PDPA’s programme consisted of a series of democratic reforms, based on continuing the policy of co-operation with the USSR which had been pursued by the king until 1973, and which Daoud, in conjunction with the CIA and the Shah of Iran, was attempting to stop. The seizure of power had popular support in the towns. It was, however, not a Soviet organised putsch. The Soviet Union had hitherto been content with Afghanistan as a neutral buffer state. In return the Soviet Union pumped in large amounts of aid being concerned only that the Afghan regime was “friendly”. But the effects of Soviet aid (army training, education etc) were to pro-Sovietise the majority of the army officer corps and state bureaucracy.

The initial reform programme of the PDPA embraced land redistribution to the advantage of the rural poor, an industrialisation programme in co-operation with the USSR/Comecon and a programme of women’s rights involving a campaign for literacy and against the bride-price. Conflicts within the PDPA, the repressive and bureaucratic nature of the PDPA’s “reform” programme, coupled with mounting imperialist subversion, dramatically narrowed the base of the regime during 1979. This was a direct result of the Stalinist policies of the PDPA which proved incapable of mobilising the most oppressed layers of Afghan society against the most entrenched reactionary interests. The reforms were sufficient to provoke protests from the bigger landowners and the mullahs, but they were not radical enough to win active support from much of the rural poor. They did not provide sufficient military and material aid, and were carried through in a bureaucratic manner. This prevented the independent organisation of the masses. In an escalating civil warm the disparate forces of Islamic and monarchist reaction threatened to completely destroy the faction-ridden and weak PDPA regime.

The Stalinist programme of a “stages” model was responsible for this situation: the idea of independent bourgeois democratic development proved once more to be an illusion. There can be no fundamental improvement of the conditions of the masses without a dramatic boosting of the productive forces to a sufficient level to lay the necessary material bases for this. This can only be achieved by the programme of permanent revolution in the whole of Central Asia.

2. The Soviet Union entered Afghanistan in order to preserve a friendly regime on its southern border and to thwart imperialism’s plans, which hoped to turn Afghanistan into an anti-Soviet buffer which could be used as a listening post and to strengthen Islamic reaction in Soviet Central Asia. The bureaucracy organised the invasion in order to protect its own interests.

The invasion did not take place at a time when imperialism was immediately threatening the USSR with war. However, it did coincide with US losses in the region (Iran), the election of Reagan and the end of the Carter period of detente. Hence Afghanistan’s civil war was to become a major front in the renewed anti-Soviet drive of imperialism.

While entering Afghanistan to protect its own interests, the Kremlin bureaucracy was forced to intervene on the progressive (i.e. PDPA supporting) side of the Afghan civil war. But it had no interest in defending or extending the reform programme of the PDPA. Its military might was aimed against at those that wished to do so, as well as against the forces of militant reaction. However, in attacking the rebels, the Soviet Armed Forces (SAF) physically defended the fragile progressive forces in Afghanistan to some extent. This was the only progressive consequence of the invasion.

3. We condemn the invasion as counter-revolutionary because:

a) Its formal violation of the PDPA government and party and the installation of a Soviet backed minority faction split the progressive forces and threw some of them into the arms of reaction. Further, by formally violating the Afghan peoples’ right to self-determination, it handed an extra weapon to imperialist backed reaction. The invasion therefore weakened the indigenous working class and poor peasantry, even if it temporarily strengthened the military offensive against the reactionary rebels.

b) It threatened any independent organisation of the working class with full scale Stalinist repression. Given the imposition of the counter-revolutionary Kremlin bureaucracy’s military repressive regime, Afghan revolutionaries have to struggle to break this hold in order to seize power, which is their strategic aim.

Nevertheless, once the intervention had occurred, revolutionary communists had to adopt tactics related to the existing situation, however undesirable or disadvantageous. In conditions of civil war, where the working class and its allies are unable to take independent military action against Afghan reaction and the Soviet backed Afghan government, we suspend the demand for the withdrawal of the SAF.

Because of the weakness of the progressive forces in the Afghan civil war and their inability to defeat both reactionary Afghan forces and drive out the SAF, there was a need for a united front with the SAF against reaction. Behind the lines of the SAF and the PDPA, the vanguard of the Afghan proletariat would constitute itself in a merciless struggle against Afghan and imperialist reaction and in a struggle against Stalinism’s drive to demobilise the best of the popular masses in its own bureaucratic interests. Being aware of the aims of the SAF, no Trotskyist could “Hail the Red Army!”. However, our goal remained and remains Soviet withdrawal when the progressive forces in Afghanistan were militarily and politically armed to defeat reaction.

It is permissible to form tactical united fronts against black reaction with petit bourgeois democrats and Stalinists, be they Afghan or Soviet. Such fronts are of course tactical, i.e. of limited duration or for limited goals (principally the preservation of the lives of the working class and intelligentsia). Equally important is the defence of these forces against Stalinist repression. No united front is possible with the SAF whenever they are attacking progressive forces. In all such circumstances revolutionaries must unequivocally stand with these forces.

4. We reject the proposition that because of the invasion of Soviet troops, the national question takes precedence over all other issues and has a progressive dynamic against the SAF. From this point of view, it would be logical to regard the establishment of one or several reactionary Islamic states as progressive. This is wrong on several counts:

a) There is not one Afghan national question. There are many.

b) The fate of the tribes and nationalities can only be settled internationally; their self-determination could only be realised beyond the framework of the present Afghan borders which divide Baluchis, Pathans, Uzbekhs etc.

c) Oppressed nationalities such as the Baluchis see the SAF as a defence against the Pathan dominated rebels.

d) Even “independent” national states would be under even tighter imperialist influence through Balkanisation.

However, national oppression may occur against peoples who are not in reactionary opposition to Kabul. In these circumstances we would support their right to self-determination, up to and including secession, including armed defence against Pathan chauvinism, whilst excluding any alliance with reactionary forces.

5. The rebel Mujahedin is sufficiently well armed and strategically located to be a permanent threat to the Afghan army and the SAF. US aid to the rebels stands now at $1 billion with supplies ranging from stingers to long range mortars. The rebels are militarily and politically disunited, divided between monarchists (some of whom are backed by Saudi Arabia) and Islamic fundamentalists (Iran is backing the Shiites). The Islamic elements are wracked by Sunni/Shiite conflicts. All these divisions render the rebel forces incapable of securing a final victory. Their military actions have, however, proved to be an important thorn in the side of the SAF. All the rebel groups share varieties of the reactionary project of bolstering feudal forms in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan based rebels consist of six groups who form the Islamic Alliance, all of which receive aid from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The strongest group is the fanatical Hezbe-Islami which wants to install a far stricter Islamic code than that which operated under the king. Alongside these groups there are, or were, three political currents in Afghanistan itself, as well as the fighters of the individual tribes (Nuristani, Hazara—the latter with Iranian support). These three groups are the social democratic Settem-i Melli (supported by the Pakistani secret service and with the best links with the Chinese bureaucracy), the Maoist GAKA (Schola-e Jewed), and the politically diffuse SAMA which embraces the intellectuals and deserters. Every rebel current has been on the wrong side of the barricades. Despite the views of the Maoists and of some sections of the USFI, none of these forces has a progressive character. The “national” right of self-determination of the Afghan peoples currently has a predominantly reactionary character. Alliances or united fronts with these forces are impermissible.

The opposition has been able to take strength not only from imperialism but also from the USSR’s attempts to compromise and conciliate with them.

6. In the face of this opposition, the PDPA and the Kremlin have increasingly sought a new stabilisation by making deals with the rebel leaders. Thus Karmal renounced elements of the Khalqi land reform and women’s literacy campaigns. This was designed to appease the reactionary opposition, yet failed to stem their resistance. With the ousting of Karmal and his replacement by secret police chief Najibullah, the regime has stepped up the pace of such policies in the name of “national reconciliation”.

Its policy towards the countryside is one of seeking deals with tribal chiefs which involve recognising the chief’s authority over what are then designated as “peace zones”. They are given Soviet arms and aid in a tacit recognition that the PDPA is no longer in control of these areas. Said Ahmad and Malek Jelani, two rebel chiefs once much touted in the West, have signed such deals. Where tribal chiefs will not reach an accommodation, whole areas have been wasted, facing the population with the choice of either moving into the towns or of joining the millions of refugees in Pakistan.

Campaigns for women’s literacy , which provoked the Herat revolt led by the reactionary rebels has now virtually ceased. With the Najibullah purge of the Karmalites, the last woman has been ousted from the Politburo. The new campaign for national reconciliation explicitly drops any commitmnnt to women’s rights against the Islamic Code.

The Najibullah regime is campaigning to extend the private sector which already accounts for 52% gross industrial product. Investors are now being given a six year exemption from income tax. Big landlords who are prepared to co-operate will have their land returned, the previously landless who cannot make their land pay because of the lack of seed or because their divided lands lie too far from their homes, will have to give it back.

In the areas around Kabul, Commissions of National Reconciliation are trying to work with one time oppositionists. Seats have been left vacant in the government for future conciliators. Attempts are still being made to woo the monarch. Najibullah recently stated that the King “could play a big role in unifying the country”. From 1980 this drive for reconciliation with reaction has consistently gone hand in hand with a drive to reach a global compromise with imperialism at the expense of the Afghan workers, peasants and their allies.

7. The USSR did not invade Afghanistan in order to “structurally assimilate” it into the Soviet Union, nor to underwrite the transformation of the country into a degenerate workers’ state. Despite the presence of the SAF and the close links with the USSR, Afghanistan remains a capitalist state, however primitive.

The USSR’s aim has always been to reach a deal with imperialism that would restore Afghanistan’s “neutral” status from the pre-Daoud days. This policy now takes the form of the Geneva negotiations in which the USSR has made clear its willingness to sacrifice the PDPA regime and withdraw its troops in exchange for a “neutral” Afghanistan. Its hopes for achieving this lie in global detente with the USA. To achieve a settlement in Afghanistan would remove a number of obstacles to the USSR’s current foreign policy aims: improving its relations with various Middle East countries (Iran and Saudi Arabia), and smoothing the path of rapprochement with the Chinese bureaucracy.

The Kremlin bureaucracy clearly recognises that it cannot win the war in the short term without massively extending its commitment, e.g. taking the war into Pakistan, a policy which it is not prepared to risk. Hence the USSR’s pressure on Pakistan in particular, in order to achieve a quick settlement.

By declaring its intention to pull out its troops in a fixed period, the USSR has posed point blank to Pakistan and its backer, US imperialism, the question of what form of government they are willing to accept in Afghanistan. Both the imperialists and Pakistan have backed Islamic reaction against the USSR. However, they are now worried that division within the opposition as well as the fundamentalist dynamic of its most armed elements could serve to further destabilise the region. An intensified civil war in Afghanistan or the emergence of an Iranian type fundamentalist regime would not please either Pakistan or imperialism.

The Soviet bureaucracy hopes to push the Reagan administration and Zia into accepting a joint government in Afghanistan—a coalition of PDPA and Mujahedin elements presided over by the monarchy. They hope to restore the pre-1974 status quo—an Afghanistan firmly within the Soviet sphere of influence, but open to limited imperialist penetration, providing it is not aimed at destabilising Soviet interests. Whilst such a settlement may be temporarily achieved, the project of a permanently “neutral” Afghanistan is a utopia which flows from the Soviet bureaucracy’s reactionary dream of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism.

Such a treacherous withdrawal by the USSR confronts the Afghan left, workers and peasants with the imminent threat of a bloodbath at the hands of the reactionary forces. It would have been carried out at the price of the lives of thousands of young Soviet workers in uniform.

8. While the PDPA militia appears to have stabilised its numbers, at least in Kabul, there is no sign that the independent forces as yet exist that will be able to defeat the heavily armed, imperialist backed Mojahedin forces. To demand the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops would be tantamount to handing all the progressive forces in Afghanistan—the urban workers,women, teachers, intelligentsia etc.—into the hands of an Islamic dictatorship. We therefore continue to argue against the withdrawal of the SAF. Instead we focus on demands on the SAF to provide the necessary troops, ammunition and economic aid to make land reform, industrialisation, literacy and the defeat of reaction really possible. We demand such aid with no strings. We demand the immediate arming of the urban workers en masse, and their organisation into militias in the face of a potentially unilateral Soviet withdrawal. We fight to win the PDPA militants and sympathisers to complete opposition to the Stalinist treachery currently being hatched in Geneva.

9. Inside the USSR we oppose the treachery of Gorbachev and the Kremlin. We also the oppose the “peace movement” campaign for withdrawal. Instead, we argue for genuine internationalist aid from the Soviet workers to Afghanistan’s workers and peasants, and a fight against the bureaucracy in order to secure that aid. That fight for internationalist aid and against the bureaucracy’s class collaboration with imperialism must be used to re-awaken the revolutionary traditions of the Soviet working class on the road to the political overthrow of the bureaucracy. For political revolution in the USSR!

10. The Afghan working class and poor peasantry needs a programme to answer its present crisis. The key elements of that programme must include:

• No to national reconciliation with reaction! No to the restoration of the monarch.

• For a Constituent Assembly elected by universal suffrage and defended by the armed organisations of the masses, not a Loyah Jirgah of the PDPA and tribal and feudal chiefs! For the Constituent Assembly to be open to all parties that have not sided with reaction in the civil war.

• For the nationalisation of the land. The land to those who work it. No to the restoration of the lands of the big landowners. For a programme of interest free credit for the small farmers and peasants, in particular to aid a programme of co-operativisation and resettlement. No expropriation of the lands belonging to the small peasants.

• For equal political and social rights for women. Away with the veil and the bride-price!

• For the separation of mosque and state. Expropriate the mosques’ lands. Education for all in schools free of the Mosque.

• Social and political integration of the refugee population returning from Pakistan.

• No to the repressive regime of the PDPA and the SAF. For independent trade unions. For workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils. For soldiers’ committees. For fraternisation with the SAF workers in uniform.

• For a programme of industrialisation in the towns and modernisation in the countryside that can provide the material basis for politically defeating reaction! Such a programme will necessitate international co-operation within the region, especially between Afghanistan and the Central Asian Soviet Republics. The best form that this co-operation could take would be a federation of revolutionary workers’ states in Central Asia.

• Every independent mobilisation of the workers and peasants must be defended against Islamic and Stalinist reaction. For the formation of armed defence squads and a workers’ and peasants’ militia.

• Down with the Geneva sell-out! Down with a reconciliation with the king enforced by Soviet troops! No unilateral withdrawal of the SAF: Afghan workers must decide on the aid they need to defeat reaction. For Soviet aid—arms, training, funds and volunteers—with no strings and under the control of Afghan workers and poor peasants. We oppose a Soviet withdrawal until the workers and peasants can defeat reaction in all its monarchist, feudalist and Islamic forms.

• Should the Soviet bureaucracy come to an agreement with imperialism which involves the disarmament of the PDPA militias and handing over the Afghan proletariat, poor peasantry and their allies to Islamic reaction, we are in favour of the armed defence of these forces against the SAF. We would be for the defeat of the SAF in such a conflict, and for forcing them from Afghan soil. For breaking it up and winning its best elements to the side of the Afghan working class and poor peasants. Outside Afghanistan, this would involve calling for the withdrawal of the SAF and for an internationalist campaign of military and financial support for the Afghan working class, poor peasantry and their allies.

• Soviet workers must not allow their rulers to murderously leave the Afghan workers and peasants in the lurch. For internationalist aid to Afghanistan against the Kremlin bureaucracy’s Geneva sell-out.

• No confidence in the Kremlin lackeys of the PDPA. For a revolutionary (Trotskyist) party in Afghanistan.

• For a workers’ and peasants’ government based upon workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils.

• There can be no solution within the borders of present day Afghanistan.

For a federation of revolutionary workers’ states in Central Asia.