Hail the Red Army in Afghanistan!
Down with Islamic Reaction
The following article, described as “adapted from Workers Vanguard,” was printed in the February-March 1980 issue of Spartacist Canada (no. 41). Tom Riley, currently the editor of 1917, edited Spartacist Canada at the time.
The effective deployment of several tens of thousands of Soviet troops in Afghanistan is one more stinging humiliation for American imperialism in the Near East. Seeing Washington at an impasse with the ayatollah, the Kremlin bureaucrats seized the time to quell the uprising by the Afghan mullahs and khans (religious and tribal heads).
Anti-Soviet opinion around the world—from the White House to the Chinese Great Hall of the People, from the “non-aligned” neo-colonies like Zambia to the Spanish and Italian Communist Parties—railed against “Soviet expansionism” which had “trampled on the national sovereignty and integrity of Afghanistan.” The imperialist media pulled out the stops to build sympathy for “freedom fighters’’ battling sophisticated tanks and planes with sticks, stones and chants of “allah akbar.”
But in the military confrontation pitting the Soviet soldiers backing the nationalist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) against the feudal and pre-feudal forces aided by imperialism, Marxists side with the Russian tanks. Hail the Red Army!
Carter’s Cold-War Frenzy
The pretext of Soviet troops in Afghanistan was exploited by President Carter and his Dr. Strangelove national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to translate the Cold War rhetoric of their anti-Soviet “human rights crusade” into action. On January 4 Carter went on TV to announce that the U.S. was going to engage in economic warfare against the USSR: 17 million tons of grain already ordered by the Soviet Union would not be shipped; sales of high technology products, such as advanced computers and oil-drilling equipment would be cut off; four Coast Guard cutters were dispatched to Alaska to protect the fish from Russian aggression; scheduled openings of consular facilities were stopped, as were any new cultural and economic exchanges. Carter has since pledged that the U.S. will boycott the Moscow Olympics if the Soviet troops are not withdrawn from Afghanistan by mid-February.
Over the Teheran embassy crisis Carter pledged not to use food deliveries as an economic weapon against Iran. In his State of the Union message, Carter stated:
But against the Soviet Union, which needs American grain in order to increase meat production and improve the diet of its population, the United States uses nutritional blackmail in the hopes of fomenting social discontent. Carter’s message is: Starve for human rights! Canada’s lame-duck Prime Minister Joe Clark, following suit, agreed not to increase Canadian grain shipments and halted all high technology trade and cultural exchanges with the USSR.
American Secretary of Defense Brown was dispatched to Peking to deepen the anti-Soviet U.S./China alliance, already twice tested militarily: over the South African invasion of Angola and the Chinese invasion of Vietnam. Now the Pentagon wants the People’s Liberation Army to channel arms to the reactionary Afghan rebels through their mutual military client, Pakistan. With unprecedentedly forthright bellicosity, Brown’s toast at a state banquet called on Peking to join American imperialism “with complementary actions in the field of defense as well as diplomacy.” Now most of the cards are on the table.
We are presently experiencing a major shift of the international order as it was shaped in the aftermath of World War II. Such changes do not occur overnight and to place the turning point at 1 January 1980 would be dangerously misleading. From Potsdam, Truman’s policies sought an imperialist alliance against the USSR; and the new anti-Soviet action was already foreshadowed by Washington’s complicity in last year’s Chinese invasion of Vietnam. Whether it is the “human rights” rhetoric of Vance or the McCarthyite demonology of Brzezinski, the target of Carter’s onslaught is the Soviet Union and the threat of the new realignment is imperialist war to obliterate the conquests of the October Revolution.
Ever since taking office Jimmy Carter has sought to morally and militarily rearm American imperialism and pull the U.S. out of what the Pentagon sees as its post-Vietnam paralysis. His claims to have recently changed his opinion of the Russians to the contrary, Carter is simply milking the Iran and faked-up Afghanistan crisis for all they are worth in building jingoist support for his war drive against the USSR. Carter has increased the U.S. military budget for three years running and in December he announced a further hike in military spending—taking inflation into account this amounts to over one trillion dollars to be added to the war budget in the next five years. Most of this is to pay for a “rapid deployment force” and new ships which the Pentagon has had on its shopping list for years.
Each escalation in American armament was palmed off as appeasing opponents of SALT. Clearly “Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty” means billions for more nuclear missiles, bombers, ships, etc. And these weapons are not being built to liberate hostages held by Islamic “students” chanting, “Carter is a dog.” They are aimed at the USSR. With the Soviet army operation in Afghanistan, all the claptrap about “détente,” SALT, etc.—by which the imperialists seek to negotiate the disarmament of the Soviet degenerated workers state—has been put into mothballs.
Of course, this counterrevolutionary diplomatic farce would not have gotten this far were it not for the class-collaborationist, pacifistic illusions of the Kremlin bureaucracy in “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. But even as hamhanded intransigence by employers sometimes forces even conservative union hacks to call a strike, so the septuagenarian Stalinist leaders in Moscow got fed up and did the obvious thing. Recognizing that (as American analysts have long admitted) Afghanistan has no strategic importance for the U.S., the Soviets took the opportunity to shore up the secular left-nationalists in Kabul and in the process extended their defense perimeter by several hundred miles around the eastern flank of Iran. As for SALT, it was obviously dead and only the impotent and frustrated Jimmy Carter could see “withdrawing” it from Senate consideration as a “warning” to Moscow.
Compared to twenty years ago, however, the United States’ world position is greatly weakened and the role of its imperialist allies is much greater. The end of unquestioned U.S. imperialist hegemony was marked by Nixon’s 15 August 1971 action severing the dollar’s relation to gold—the basis for the post-war monetary system. Now Carter meets indifference to his calls for economic boycotts of Iran and the Soviet Union. The French turned down U.S. requests to curb advanced computer exports to Moscow and the Japanese are continuing with their multi-billion dollar project to develop Siberian natural gas. The most Carter could come up with was German diplomatic support and an agreement by major grain exporters not to increase their sales to the USSR. On Iran, they’re willing to vote with the U.S. in the United Nations, but no one is willing to jeopardize the vital crude oil supplies for the sake of the hostages. Turkish Foreign Minister Hayrettin Erkmen put it most clearly: “Not approving of some action by a country is not the same as announcing that that country is your enemy.” Even Pakistani despot Zia is queasy, terming Carter’s 400 million dollar aid offer “peanuts.”
Only the Chinese appeared willing to go all the way for what that’s worth. Revising its earlier “public” verdict on Deng’s attack on Hanoi last year, the U.S. now concludes that “the Chinese were bloodied by the more experienced Vietnamese armed with modern Soviet weapons” (New York Times, 17 January). Pentagon officials conservatively estimate that to bring Peking forces to the point that they could threaten anyone would cost at least 35 billion dollars.
Carter’s call for preparations to reimpose the draft in the U.S. reflect the current problems which the U.S. is having with its allies—the lack of a united response to the Soviet Union. Thus the Sunday Times [London] reports:
When the Soviets felt the hot breath of counterrevolution next door, the Kremlin was not seized by rotten liberalism. The treatment of the pro-imperialist “dissidents” may force some governments to make hard choices between continued cooperation with the Soviet Union and lining up behind Carter’s renewed Cold War. Thus the exiling of Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov caused the president of the French National Assembly, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, to cut short his visit to the USSR and return to France in protest. When these dissidents called for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, they were branded for what they are: traitors to the proletarian cause.
Afghanistan and the Soviet Union
U.S. imperialism has tried to portray the Soviet military operation in Afghanistan as akin to its invasion of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. In Hungary the Kremlin suppressed a working-class political revolution. In Czechoslovakia it clamped on a bureaucratic stranglehold and cut short potentially revolutionary ferment. Both invasions were neither in the interest of the international working class nor of the defense of the gains of the October Revolution. Afghanistan is entirely different.
Commanded by a parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy which has usurped political power from the Soviet workers, the lives of Red Army soldiers have often been squandered for counterrevolutionary ends: from the Sino-Soviet border war to supporting the blood-drenched, genocidal bonapartist Derg in Ethiopia. But the Red Army in Afghanistan, the Russian support to the heroic Vietnamese and the Soviet-backed Cuban defense of Angola against the U.S.-instigated South African invasion in 1975-76 are three instances since the end of World War II where Russian military action has clearly aided the liberation of the oppressed and the defense of the Soviet state against imperialism.
Afghanistan and Russia share a common border of over 1,000 miles. Like most backward regions, Afghanistan is a mosaic of peoples none of which has been able to compact a modern nation and many of which extend into the Soviet Union or other neighbouring countries. Out of an estimated population of 17 million there are more than 250,000 mullahs—a tremendous weight on the skimpy social surplus of this barren land. Some 70 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, but two-fifths of them are landless. While 15 percent of the people are urbanized, there are only two factories in the whole country.
The enormous burden of the Islamic priest-caste in Afghanistan, as in Iran, is rooted in barbaric social institutions which are in turn conditioned by extreme economic backwardness. Marxists point out that social progress can be measured by the position of women, and what really drove the Afghan mullahs into opposition was the attempt by the Kabul regime to restrict (not even outlaw) bride price. For centuries women have been sold like chattel slaves. For most men the bride price was a lifetime’s savings or a life-long debt to money lenders who charged usurious interest rates and gave the mullahs their cut in donations.
Clearly within the framework of Afghanistan alone there was no solution to national and social oppression. These questions are linked, historically as well as socially, to the fate of the Russian Revolution. The extension of the October Revolution to Afghanistan in 1921 was prevented only by the presence of British imperialism in India. And one need only look at the gains that women have made in the Soviet East to see what proletarian liberation of these pre-capitalist areas meant. The October Revolution proclaimed the full equality of women, and Bolshevik cadres in the Asian regions where the mullahs held sway struggled, often at the cost of their lives, to draw women out of enforced seclusion. Even though this work suffered with the Stalinist political counterrevolution, nevertheless women in the Muslim areas of the USSR have vastly more social gains and real equality than in any bourgeois Islamic country.
Although the Stalinist bureaucracy is imbued with Great Russian chauvinism, its conduct is conditioned by the fact that Russians are a minority people within the Soviet state—albeit the predominant minority. In order to integrate the peoples of diverse national and ethnic backgrounds who make up the Soviet Union, the bureaucracy retained a democratic national heritage. In contrast, the Chinese bureaucracy can and does resort to a policy of ruthless Sinification. The contrast between the USSR and China is clearest in their shared borderlands. For example, the Mongolians living in Outer Mongolia (a Soviet satellite) do not suffer anything like the national oppression of Mongolians living in China’s Inner Mongolia, before that token of regional autonomy was abolished during the “Cultural Revolution.” And an estimated 200,000 Turkic speaking people from Sinkiang, seeking to escape the oppressive chauvinism of the Han Chinese, have fled to the USSR since 1961.
The Soviet regime is particularly sensitive regarding its Muslim borderlands, where it has often made the greatest efforts to grant local and national autonomy in order to maintain the loyalty of peoples related to the rest of Central Asia. Muslim peoples number 50 million in the Soviet Union and they dominate six of the 16 republics of the USSR. Notably many of the soldiers of the Soviet army units in Afghanistan are recruited from Uzbeks and Tajiks. And if “fiercely independent Afghanistan” is about to suffer such horrendous national oppression at the hands of the Soviets, why indeed can Moscow use Muslim-derived troops without fear? Obviously because they know they’re better off than they would be under the Afghan mullahs or Khomeini. Reportedly one reason why the Soviet army deployed substantial forces in Afghanistan was the feeling that the Kabul regime was being too high-handed and insensitive to the problems of carrying out reforms and consolidating a centralized governmental authority in backward areas with diverse peoples and was thereby fueling the reactionary Islamic insurgency.
From a military point of view the Soviet intervention may or may not have been wise, though certainly it is deeply just to oppose the Islamic reactionary insurgents backed by imperialism. There can be no question that for revolutionaries our side in this conflict is with the Red Army. In fact, although it is surely uncalled for militarily, a natural response on the part of the world’s young leftists would be an enthusiastic desire to join an international brigade to Afghanistan to fight the CIA-connected mullahs. Most of the fake-leftists cannot see this, however—just as they cannot understand how workers are beginning to speak of particularly oppressive bosses as “ayatollahs”—because they support the analogous movement, Khomeini’s “Islamic Revolution,” next door in Iran.
Defend the Soviet Union!
By giving unconditional military support to the Soviet army and PDPA Afghan forces we in no way place political confidence in the Kremlin bureaucracy or the left-nationalists in Kabul. While the Moscow Stalinists apparently presently intend to shore up the PDPA regime, and if anything limit the pace of democratic and modernizing reforms, the prolonged presence in Afghanistan of the Soviet army opens up more far-reaching possibilities. Speaking on the national and colonial question at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, Lenin foresaw that “…with the aid of the proletariat of the advanced countries, backward countries can go over to the Soviet system, and through certain stages of development, to communism, without having to pass through the capitalist stage.” Extend social gains of the October Revolution to Afghan peoples!
If Afghanistan is effectively incorporated into the Soviet bloc this can today be only as a bureaucratically deformed workers state. Compared to present conditions in Afghanistan this would represent a giant step forward. The sharp contrast between the condition of women in Soviet Central Asia and that in any Islamic state provides an index. But the road to the socialist future of economic plenty and internationalist equality lies in a proletarian political revolution to oust the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy. This in turn must be linked with socialist revolutions from South Asia to the imperialist centers.
The Kremlin and its flunkies of the pro-Moscow CPs will predictably launch a “peace offensive” to “isolate the warmongers” and “revive détente.” To these shibboleths we respond as James P. Cannon did to the Stalinists in the 1950s: