Afghanistan: Socialism or Barbarism

Marx explained that in the long run capitalist society would either be replaced by Socialism or it would degenerate into Barbarism. The situation in Afghanistan is a living example of what Barbarism means. In this interview, held on March 22, 1998, Afghan socialists explain the situation in their country after the victory of the Taliban.

Interview with Afghan Socialists

Marx explained that in the long run capitalist society would either be replaced by Socialism or it would degenerate into Barbarism. The situation in Afghanistan is a living example of what Barbarism means.

In 1978 a military coup led to the setting up of a regime modelled on Stalinist Russia. The leaders of the coup were attempting to find a way out of the extremely underdeveloped nature of Afghan society.

Although cities like Kabul were modern centres of culture and civilised living, the country as a whole was still living in the Middle Ages. The Stalinist officers who led the coup wanted to drag Afghan society into the 20th century. For example they abolished the selling of women. This and other reforms represented a great step forward and were welcomed by progressive people in Afganistan and everywhere else.

However, the Stalinist army officers, trained in Moscow, had no real understanding of how to proceed. A genuinely Leninist party always bases itself on the masses. Given the extreme backwardness of most of the country, with a tiny working class and virtually no industry, it was obviously impossible to proceed on the basis of the classical model of workers' democracy based on the soviets.

Instead, the correct policy would have been gradually to build a mass base of support in the petty bourgeoisie, the intellectuals, peasants and semi-proletarian elements in the towns and villages. In order to do this, it was necessary to proceed slowly, with great tact and caution, particularly on the issue of religion. Unfortunately, the Stalinist army officers proceeded in a bureaucratic way, attempting to rule by decree. The hasty bureaucratic bungling of the leadership alienated large sections especially of the rural population and gave the reactionary Islamic fundamentalists a basis for mobilising reaction against the regime.

The purpose of this article is not to recount the history of Afghanistan over the past 20 years, but to dispel the myth that the forces that overthrew the previous Stalinist regime were some kind of "freedom fighters".

The fundamentalists that came to power were backed by various Western imperialist countries. The United States and Pakistan in particular backed the fundamentalists, and the most reactionary fundamentalists at that, with arms and money. They cared very little for the fate awaiting the people of Afghanistan. Their only aim was to regain control of this strategic part of the World.

We publish below an interview with a group of left activists of the PDPA (the Afghan Communist Party). For reasons of security we are not publishing their names. Suffice it to say that these comrades prior to the counter-revolution were working as school teachers, university lecturers, mathematicians, junior army officers and were long standing members of the party. Now they have lost their jobs; some are surviving by selling potatoes on market stalls, others are doing casual labour on building sites and some are unemployed. They have lost everything and are now living in terrible conditions (no running water, no proper sewage system...), but they are more determined than ever before to fight for the ideas of genuine Socialism.

G: We are rank and file comrades. Unfortunately the leaders of our party, the PDPA, are corrupt, but the majority of the people are looking to the party. Compared to what the people are suffering today the previous Soviet backed regime is seen as a lost paradise. We base ourselves on the ideology of Marx, Engels and Lenin. We have nothing to do with the old corrupt Stalinist KGB.

The leadership of the PDPA is divided into various factions; some are linked to the ISI (Pakistani secret services) and the CIA, others are supporting reactionary warlords.

From our own bitter experience we've decided that we are not going to work with anti-socialists. We will unite with genuine socialists.

The terrible conditions in Afghanistan are due to the fundamentalists, but the people are now fed up with them.

The drug Mafia dominates the country. There is a lot of dealing in Heroin.

Then there are the foreign interests. Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian states (Uzbekistan, etc.) are all involved. Foreign mercenaries are operating in the country. The different foreign powers have conflicting interests.

There is one thing I want to underline. 500.000 PDPA members in Afghanistan are searching for an alternative. They are fed up with the faction fights and are waiting for something. There is only one way out and that is to offer the people of Afghanistan the ideas of genuine Socialism.

After years of oppression the people are turning against the mullahs and are more inclined to Socialism.

One wing of the leadership of the PDPA, the so-called "Movement for peace", is participating in a coalition which calls for the return of the monarchy!

The activists of the PDPA are in Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Europe, etc. The different foreign powers are trying to keep them divided and they try and buy them off.

We have one request to make to you: that our voice should spread throughout Europe. You must explain to the people of Europe the misery that the Afghan people are living in. Imperialism is imposing misery on us as a punishment for the revolution of 1978.

Marxists must explain what the imperialists are doing. We know that in Afghanistan the only two alternatives are Socialism or Barbarism.

We are facing the foreign intervention of Pakistan, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the ex-Stalinist states, especially Russia. They want to divide Afghanistan through ethnic conflict.

For example the Hazaras (Central Asians) are backed by Iran because they are Shiites, the Hizburadat (the Party of Unity). The Dostans (Uzbeks) are backed by Uzbekistan and Turkey. The Anatsanarhud (Tagiks) are backed by France and India. The Talibans are backed by the Saudis, the USA and Pakistan.

The war has now been turned into ethnic conflict. The Talibans, for example, are all Pushtoons. When they entered Kabul they burned 150 children and old people. Among the Talibans there are people like Sayav, leader of the Wahabi gang. These have the special backing of the Saudis. The Wahabi killed many people by nailing them in the head.

When the Talibans came into Afghanistan they decorated their vehicles with flowers and announced publicly that they would rape the Tagik women. Tagik children in order to get bread from the shops must ask for it in Pushtoon. These are just a few examples to show how foreign intervention has provoked more ethnic conflict.

We have a lot of natural resources in Afghanistan. We have copper and in Kandahar we have precious marble. We also have a lot of Uranium. We know that raw Uranium is being flown out of Kandahar, but we don't know where it is going.

The US multinational company Unicorp has a contract with Turkmenistan to build an oil pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan. But the Iranian government wants the line to go through Iran. So you can see how the conflicting imperialist interests determine local conflict.

H: Women have been banned from working. Men must have a long beard to get work. The Talibans don't give work to educated people. There is a ban on Radio, TV, games and music. Music is one of the most traditional expressions of Afghan culture. Music is the spirit of the Afghans.

Anyone not abiding by these rules will be tortured, even to death. If a woman or a girl wears a white Sharwa and without a head cover, she will be stopped and punished. That is because they consider white the colour of their flag, where they write "Allah AkBar" (God is great).

One and a half million Afghans were killed in the Civil War. That means that there are many widows, women who are left as the only custodians of their family. But now these women can't go out to work. Therefore there is famine in the houses. The women of Afghanistan absolutely detest the mullahs, because these people are making life intolerable for them.

M: The workers of Afghanistan find it impossible even to eat once a day. There are no jobs and unemployment is very high. When the Talibans came they sacked all government workers and refused to pay any wages owed to them. Prices are very high. A very small family needs 1.5 million Afghan rupees just to survive one night, but it is impossible to find this kind of money in Afghanistan.

Health facilities were free before the counter-revolution. Now health is no longer free and there are very few doctors because the majority have fled the country. Those that are left charge high fees. Terrible diseases are spreading through the country and people die through the lack of basic facilities.

There are a lot of foreign NGOs trying to do something about health. But the Talibans demand that the NGOs should not give out medicine to the people, but should first give them to the Talibans who would then decide who to distribute it to.

S: Before the Civil War there were many colleges and schools. Now the fundamentalists have practically destroyed the whole education system. Most of the colleges have been closed down. Those that haven't been closed are not functioning properly and they have long periods of vacation. The old syllabus has been changed. Now it is totally Islamic. Right from the first year through to the tenth students must read the Islamic syllabus. Every aspect of the past civilisation has been completely destroyed.

There was some heavy industry, but now it has been completely smashed. The machinery has been sold off to foreign buyers. For example Nawar Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan who owns a steel industry, purchased scrap metal from Afghan factories that had been closed.

G: One BBC documentary revealed that the bones of the dead of Afghanistan are sold in Pakistan to make chicken feed! The children dig up the skeletons in the graveyards and sell each one for 12 rupees. That means that the bones of four Afghan workers are worth only one dollar!

All this has convinced us that we must firmly stand by the ideas of genuine Marxism. Until we have spread the ideas of Marx and Lenin to the whole world we will not sit down.