Is misery Afghanistan’s destiny?: The story of Afghanistan's Saur Revolution

27 April marks the anniversary of the 1978 Saur Revolution of Afghanistan. This article, originally written in 2010, gives an excellent account of these events which are often conveniently 'forgotten' by the Bourgeois media.

The serious strategists of US imperialism understand that a military victory in Afghanistan is ruled out. At the same time, Russia, India, China and other powers are manoeuvring to gain advantage from the situation. All this is the result of the reactionary defeat of the 1978 Saur Revolution. Now, however, memories of that period are coming back among the workers and youth, who are seeking an alternative to both the reactionary fundamentalists and the present regime.

“The geographical position of Afghanistan and the unique character of its people taken together confer on this country such political significance in Central Asian affairs that it is impossible to overestimate”. (Fredrick Engels 1820-1895)

British and US soldiers in Afghanistan.As in several other ‘flash points’ around the planet, the geo-strategic significance of Afghanistan has become a curse, rather than a blessing for its people. For centuries Afghanistan has been the battleground of proxy wars, insurgencies and the Great Game, in which the imperialist powers vied for the control of Central Asia. In the past it was a conflict between Great Britain and Russia. Now Russia is again involved in intrigues with the Tajik and Uzbek populations in the north. Iran is extending its influence over the Dari speakers and Shiites. China is eager to exploit the mineral resources of Afghanistan, where it owns the biggest copper mine in the world. Last but not least, India is also actively intervening which is aggravating the conflict with Pakistan, which sees Afghanistan as its own backyard. This cynical display of regional power politics might conceivably lead to the breakup of Afghanistan into its constituent parts in the future. This unhappy country finds itself in the grip of a brutal imperialist invasion and is embroiled in a bloody war of attrition with no end in sight.

The imperialist aggression has failed to instil any optimism in the west or to alleviate the appalling suffering of the Afghan masses. The elections to the “Loya Jirga” (parliament) on 18th September have solved nothing. The picture can hardly be more desolate. A narco-economy run by treacherous warlords, brutal imperialist aggression, universal corruption and the savagery of the obscurantist Taliban: this is the reality of today’s Afghanistan.

Yet this was not always case. There were times when Kabul was known as the “Paris of the Orient”. The victory over the British in the third Anglo-Afghan war of 1919 put an end to about a century of imperialist incursions, and a certain precarious national sovereignty was attained. Soviet Russia, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, was the first country to recognise Afghanistan as an independent nation. However, this independence was short-lived and the Nadir Dynasty imposed a monarchical autocracy in 1929.

The present war did not begin with the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. This aggression spans more than thirty two years. The military coup of Muhammad Daoud in 1973 represented the interests of the big landowners and the bourgeoisie. It received aid from US imperialism and the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow. Both tried to woo the Daoud autocratic regime during the Cold War.

Noor Muhammad TarakiNoor Muhammad Taraki The PDPA (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) was formed at the unity congress of the different factions of the Communist Party of Afghanistan on January 1, 1965. On April 17, 1978 Mir Ali Akbar Khyber was assassinated by the Daoud regime in the Pul-a-Charkhi prison in Kabul. There was a spontaneous protest demonstration of more than 10,000 in Kabul that shook the repressive regime. Daoud was planning to kill the other main leaders of the PDPA who were languishing in prison.

The PDPA had no option but to retaliate. On April 27, 1978 the PDPA officers in the Afghan Army and Air force overthrew the oppressive Daoud regime through a bloody coup. The Pul-a-Charkhi prison walls were bombarded by the armoured corps and the PDPA leaders were freed. The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was proclaimed, and a revolutionary council and a new government formed, led by Noor Muhammad Taraki, general Secretary of the PDPA.

One of the first decrees issued by the Revolutionary Council was the total ban on the buying and selling of women. Women in pre-revolutionary Afghanistan were deprived of any rights. They were essentially a commodity whose purchase was thinly veiled by the payment of bride money in pre-feudal Afghan society. Yet these barbaric acts are still prevalent in Afghanistan today, not just in the Taliban areas but also in those under the imperialist imposed “democracy”.

In July 1978 Decree No. 6 cancelled all debts to landowners and money lenders. This meant that, at the stroke of a pen, over 11.5 million people – 80 percent of the rural population were no longer held to ransom by the moneylenders. The total value of the debts that were abolished amounted to 33,000 million afghanis. The new government also carried out an agrarian reform. Five percent of the population owned three quarters of all cultivated land. By the autumn of 1979 all this land was expropriated and granted to more than 300,000 landless peasants.

The role of middlemen in agriculture produce was also abolished. The first ever census was held. Radical steps were taken to improve healthcare, housing, food supply and to wipe out unemployment. Over 600 schools and higher educational institutions were established in 1978-79. 800,000 workers and peasants began attending literacy-campaign courses. Large swathes of imperialist and “national” bourgeois capital and assets were nationalised.

Counter-revolutionary "Jihad" forces. Photo by Thomas H. Johnson.Counter-revolutionary "Jihad" forces. Photo by Thomas H. Johnson. Naturally, the new revolutionary government was seen as a threat by the imperialists. Among the many slanders hurled against the Saur (spring) Revolution was that it was “Soviet sponsored”. This was entirely false, as even some of the western media were forced to admit. For example, Time magazine wrote in its January 28, 1980, issue:

“The Marxist coup in which Noor Muhammad Taraki overthrew Daoud in April 1978 surprised the Soviets as much as the Americans. Western Intelligence has not been able to find Russian finger prints on the scene of ‘the April Revolution’.”

In a speech delivered on April 9, 1979 Taraki said, “No outside forces were involved in the April Revolution. Afghanistan neither imports or exports revolution… It has embarked on a new course that of building a society free from exploitation of man by man”.

The radical steps taken in the first months after the revolution had an enormous impact, especially in South, Central and Western Asia. Imperialism was terrified by the potential repercussions in the whole region. That is the real reason why the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA was unleashed against the Afghan Revolution. It is also when the present war began, with the reactionary insurgency that was organised by imperialism under the banner of an “Islamic Jihad”.

The Washington Post wrote on February 15, 198:

“Key committees of Congress responsible for overseeing covert activities have been kept informed of the actions by the State Department and the CIA… the covert transactions could ultimately raise questions about whether the secret aid to the rebels, while it harasses and ties up the Russian forces, may also hinder their departure, which is the administration’s stated objective.”

The main executioners of this CIA covert operation to overthrow the left-wing government in Kabul were the Zia dictatorship in Pakistan and the Saudi monarchy. The “dollar jihad” was launched by none other than President Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigneiv Brzezinski, in the autumn of 1978 at the Khyber Pass. He was the one who recruited Osama bin Laden to this “holy war”. He even chanted “Allah-o-Akbar” at its launching.

However, the ideological inadequacies and confusion and narrow nationalist outlook of the leadership of the PDPA hindered the formulation and execution of a revolutionary internationalist class policy to combat and defeat the imperialist insurgency. The ideology of the PDPA leaders was dominated more by nationalist tendencies rather than Marxist internationalism. This reflected their Stalinist background and education.

To attempt to gain support for the revolution on the basis of Pushtoon (and other) nationalism was bound to fail. As the pressure of the insurgency mounted, infighting broke out amongst the PDPA leadership, which also reflected divisions on national and ethnic lines. As a result, Taraki was killed and the Russian tanks rolled into Afghanistan, crossing the Oxus River and moving through Salang pass. This transformed the whole dimension of the conflict.

The aftermath was predicted only by the Marxists. Ted Grant wrote in June 1978 just weeks after the Saur Revolution:

“If they (leaders of PDPA) temporize, possibly under the influence of the Russian regime, they will prepare the way for a ferocious counter-revolution based on the threatened nobility and the Mullahs. If successful, counter revolution would restore the old regime on the bones of hundreds of thousands of peasants, the massacres of radical officers and near extermination of the educated elite”.

Mullah Omer. Photo by Max Thayer.Mullah Omer. Photo by Max Thayer.

This extraordinary prediction has been carried out to the letter in the subsequent period. The Taliban took Kabul in 1996 with US assistance. The main person who orchestrated the “conquest of Kabul” by the Taliban under Mullah Omer, was the former U.S. under Secretary of State, Robert Oakley. He was acting in connivance with the Benazir government and the Pakistan secret services (the ISI).

After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops in 1987, the Americans abandoned Afghanistan to the tender mercies of the forces of reaction they had created. These wreaked havoc and mayhem on this unhappy land. But in 2001 the Frankenstein’s monster they had built turned on them with a vengeance. This was what led to the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan, which has brought unmitigated devastation and misery for the already impoverished masses.

After almost nine years of direct occupation, defeat is now staring the Americans in the face. The think tank “Stratfor” set up by former CIA staff, in its latest report of September 6 makes the following astonishing admission:

“(it) is particularly stark given the fundamental reality that America is not going to bring about a victory in Afghanistan in any conventional sense… Taliban will likely have to be part of any accommodation that can precede America’s withdrawal.”

Sensing the weakness of the US-dominated Coalition, Afghanistan’s controversial President Hamid Karzai has been transformed from a puppet of Washington to an open critic of the U.S. In order to preserve his own position, he is prepared to accept Taliban control over some of its local strongholds. Washington is alarmed by the terms of the peace deal now being explored by Karzai. The Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA are bitterly divided on this projected “negotiated’ settlement”.

Osama Bin Laden being interviewed by Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir (photo).Osama Bin Laden being interviewed by Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir (photo). The White House is seeking a graceful exit. But the conditions on the ground rule out such an outcome. America’s NATO allies are in no mood to stay on. The American people now long for a withdrawal. But the Pentagon cannot afford one. The U.S. commander general Petraeus has pressed Obama hard to delay any serious troop withdrawal until well beyond the July 2011 time frame favoured by the President. Obama apparently is backing away from the deadline. The US strategists and armed forces are in a mess of their own making. They cannot afford to withdraw, but neither can they sustain such a terribly expensive and bloody war. As Howard Hart, a former CIA area chief told Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times: “The very presence of our forces is the problem. The more troops we put in, the greater the opposition”.

What the western media conceals is that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are not the only opposition. They ignore the rising tide of mass demonstrations on social and economic issues that have taken place in most major cities of Afghanistan. Numerous left, nationalist and other elements are involved in the national resistance against foreign occupation. Protest demonstrations in the cities of Afghanistan are increasing in frequency and militancy. The more devastation the occupation forces inflict, the stronger the resistance will get.

There is fear in some quarters that the withdrawal of the NATO troops could lead to anarchy and a bloody civil war. Others ask how much more carnage and mayhem can emerge than the extreme turbulence and massacres that are already being inflicted by the occupation forces. The reactionary Taliban are using this as an alibi to murder and molest innocent people.

In desperation, the imperialists may consider breaking up the country to make way for a “graceful exit”. There are ethnic tensions between the majority Pushtoons (44%) and the Tajiks (27%), the Uzbeks, the Hazaras and other minorities in the north, which, as we have pointed out, are being exacerbated and exploited by foreign powers. These national conflicts mean that the balkanization of the country is not completely ruled out. But it is not the most likely perspective in the short term. If the imperialists were to embark upon this strategy, there would be an even more gruesome bloodbath in Afghanistan.

General McChrystal. Photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison.General McChrystal. Photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison. The possibility of achieving stability under the occupation is dwindling by the day, by the hour even. It may be that General McChrystal deliberately provoked his removal in anticipation of an impending defeat. His successor Petraeus has not brought the rate of causalities down, nor has he made any significant gains in the war. The Associated Press has reported him saying on September 4, “you don’t kill or capture your way out of an Industrial strength insurgency”.

The elections to the Loya Jirga (a pre-medieval tribal assembly) were held on September 18 and were as rigged as the presidential ones had been. This parliamentary farce is a deceitful attempt by the imperialists and their stooges to gain some credibility in the eyes of western audiences. It is intended to provide some kind of justification for an adventure that has gone terribly wrong. The only choice before the Afghan masses in these elections was between different warring warlords and criminals. They are mercenary thugs who have made millions out of this war through the drug trade, kidnapping for ransom and blackmail based on changing loyalties. These elections will solve nothing.

In Afghanistan capitalism cannot develop society or improve the lot of the teeming millions. Under the present Mafioso-capitalist relations a formal national economy cannot be established, not to speak of the other tasks of the national democratic revolution. The whole economy is based on foreign aid and the drug trade. In this narco-economy, with 70% illiteracy, a social fabric in tatters, medieval obscurantist domination, extreme poverty, misery and disease, no “democratic” setup grafted on by imperialism could ever function. Reconstruction, development and prosperity are pipe dreams that bear no relation to reality. In this morass of explosive contradictions, there is no way out. Afghanistan cannot overcome the ethnic conflicts, economic imbalances, chronic instability, wars, bloodshed and deprivation without a fundamental break with the past.

The picture painted in the West of the Afghan people as Islamic fanatics and supporters of the Taliban is completely false. The dark forces of fundamentalism and the corrupt liberal democrats have no appeal for the masses. But there are the beginnings of a significant revival of left forces. There has been a revival of the PDPA which has held a recent congress in Kabul. Other left parties have also become active again.

The memories of the gains of the poor peasants, workers and youth after the 1978 Revolution have been passed on to the new generation. The period of the first few months of the “Saur” Revolution gave a glimpse of what could be achieved by the overthrow of this rotting capitalist system and the setting up of a planned economy, even in a caricature form.

The imperialist propaganda that presents the spectre of a ruthless obscurantist rule and the talibanisation of Afghanistan as the only alternative to imperialist occupation is absolute nonsense. Thirty-two years ago Afghanistan was the only country in South Asia where landlordism and capitalism had been overthrown and the imperialist stranglehold had been broken. Learning from the mistakes made by the old leaders, a new generation of the youth and workers of Afghanistan could carry out a socialist revolution on a much more advanced level.

The revival of the old obsolete system through imperialist aggression and religious bigotry has spelled disaster for Afghan society. The new generation has grown up in atrocious conditions. They have been raised in the school of tyranny, exploitation and drudgery. Yet it is not the inevitable destiny of the people of Afghanistan to endure this suffering. The new generation is moving towards revolutionary conclusions. In a recent debate on a popular website of the Afghan youth, more than 70% were in favour of studying and understanding Trotsky.

Internationalism is the key to the success of the future Afghan Revolution. Today more than ever the fate of Afghanistan is linked to what happens in Pakistan and Iran. Strong historical, cultural and economic ties have bound these societies together for thousands of years. The IMT has also developed modest but firm revolutionary forces in these countries. The setting up of a centre of the IMT in downtown Kabul is no mean achievement for the growth and development of the forces of revolutionary Marxism.

The forces of revolutionary Marxism can grow rapidly in the stormy events that impend. A socialist victory can be placed on the order of the day sooner than most people could imagine at the present time. History has decreed that this region will either descend into the abyss of barbarism, or else leap over the different stages of capitalist development by means of a socialist revolution. That is the only way forward. It is the only path to survival and emancipation of the millions of exploited and oppressed people who are yearning for a change.

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