The Tankies' Tankies/ 2

Submitted by AWL on 12 April, 2004 - 9:52

The PDPA worked essentially amongst officers who had trained in the USSR or had become impressed with the USSR as a model of how a backward country could be developed, and wanted to try Stalinist methods. Neither PDPA, as such, nor the PDPA officers, related to the rank and file other than through the normal military hierarchy.
The idea that the PDP's relationship to the army amounted to a class alliance of workers and peasants is sheer fantasy. At every point it is contradicted by the facts - and by the course of events after April 1978.

If the PDPA really had won over a sizeable section of the Afghan army, eighty to a hundred thousand strong, by agitation in the rank and file, that would indeed have given them opportunities to influence some of the rural population. The army would then have related to the population as propagandists and agitators, not as the dumb, will-less, brutal tools of the urban elite, as people whose only recourse if they didn't want to play that part was desertion. By the time of the Russian invasion more than half the troops had done just that, deserted, sometimes in organised groups which went over to the Muslim forces fighting the PDPA and the Russians.

I wouldn't necessarily choose to put it like this, but if the PDPA's relationship to the armed forces embodied any sort of "class alliance", then it was an alliance between the PDPA and a section of the Afghan urban intellectual, technological and military elite, a "middle class" elite, to bring Stalinism to Afghanistan, and install themselves as a home-grown bureaucratic ruling class. The only time the peasant composition of the army became important was when the army began to melt away because many of the soldiers deserted when the army was set to conquer other Afghans like themselves.

But for Marshall:

"The revolutionary pressure which had been diverted in 1973 by the Daud coup reasserted itself, reaching a crescendo early in 1978."

This is pious lying (though it is not clear to me why people whose point of honour it is that they never "bow to spontaneity" need such pieties). The "revolutionary pressure" played no part in the coup. The key makers of the coup, though they were shaped politically by the impasse of Afghan society, were not responding to any "revolutionary pressure". Both the possibility and the timing of the coup depended on the state of PDPA recruitment amongst the officers. The 1977 "unification" of Khalq and Parcham makes no sense except as preparation for a coup already decided upon.

"Â…Taraki, Karmal and Amin were imprisoned, but not before Amin had given instructions to the Khalq followers in the Armed Forces to launch an uprising."

Emine Engin is more honest here, recounting that Amin was only placed under house arrest, within which he could and did function pretty freely. Details like that show how much of the Establishment was already on the PDPA's side, and thus do not help J-J make his case.

"The revolution succeeded, a government dominated by PDPA members was installed, and the task of transforming society was commenced".

Now J-J comes to the "point of honour" which he will still be clinging on to 20 years later:

"Although many insisted on labelling the April Revolution a 'coup', there can be no question that it was a social revolution. When Daud took power there were only a few changes of top personnel; 50 army officers were encouraged to retire but the system remained intact. With the coming to power of the PDPA only one army General was maintained (a party member), the other 60 were either killed or sacked and the state bureaucracy was likewise thoroughly cleansed".

Even were this true, it would not indicate that Saur was not a coup, only that it was a coup made by people bent on radical change. As indeed the PDPA was.

J-J is trying to merge the idea of a working class revolution that smashes the state with the Saur coup and its aftermath. The purging that followed Saur amounts to the same thing, he implies. The purging of the state by the victorious militarist-PDPA faction after the coup to put full power in the hands of the Stalinist segment of the armed forces elite - that was the workers' revolution!

In fact any hard-fought coup, any coup where the armed forces hierarchy is divided, will be followed by a purging. That the Afghan armed forces hierarchy was indeed split was shown by the serious fighting in Kabul in April.

The illuminating questions are: what was left of the old state after the purging? Who ruled? A bureaucratic military state under the control of the Khalq held power and ruled! This was the purest of Stalinist revolutions, the changeover from one sort of ruling class to another, without even a "moment" of working class power, or any working class or even plebeian action.

In fact Khalq's purging was directed as much against Parcham as against "unreliable" non-PDPA officers. So severe was the purging that, within a year of Saur, the airforce, which in April 1978 had been one of the PDPA's strongholds, was dependent on Russian pilots to go on functioning.

"Reforms [which the PDPA announced] were met with outrage by the feudal reactionaries, who immediately began organising armed counter-revolutionÂ… Karmal and the other Parchamists had opposed the April Revolution, wanting to support Daud and the 'lefts' around him (New Worker, January 11, 1981)".

The "unification" of the two PDPAs in 1977 is, given their actual relationship to each other, inexplicable unless you assume that the Russians promoted it and that it was seen by both PDPAs as preparation for the coup. Parcham may indeed have been bounced into an April coup, as distinct from a planned coup in August.

"It was therefore almost inevitable that, as the forces of counter-revolution began to plunge the country into Civil War, they [Parcham] would become increasingly uneasy, shrilly demanding retreat and a new government in alliance with the 'progressive' bourgeoisie. The result of this right-opportunism was that Karmal and four other Parcham leaders were sent to positions abroad, and later removed from the Central Committee".

James Marshall is an untroubled admirer of Amin and all that he did.

"Amin - the Foreign Minister - and later the Prime MinisterÂ… insisted on maintaining an uncompromising position towards the danger of right-opportunism, and meeting counter-revolutionary terror with Red Terror. He was instrumental in setting up the Afghan Cheka - the AqsaÂ…

"That some in the World Communist Movement have rounded upon Amin for supporting 'terror' is a disgrace. All genuine revolutions, when faced with the threat of counter-revolution, have resorted to terror as a legitimate tactic. The Great French Revolution of 1789, the Paris Commune of 1871 (which Marx criticised for not crushing its opponents vigorously enough) and above all the October Revolution of 1917. 'To the white terror of the enemies of the Workers' and Peasants' government the workers and peasants will reply by a mass terror against the bourgeoisie and-its agents.' (Communist Party Resolution - September 2, 1918, quoted in E H Carr - The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol 1, p.176)".

That's all right, then. Karaoke Jack has found an analogy which excuses him from dealing concretely with Afghan realities and allows him to posture and strike attitudes as an intransigent revolutionary.

In fact, the PDPA butchery was from the beginning directed against the peasants and also heavily internecine - a crazed, blood-drunk mixture of Stalin's mid-1930s purging and Robespierre's reign of terror, combined with an attempt to conquer the country people by force.

Here and in later articles, there is a repulsive relishing of terrorism and state repression. Even if we felt obliged to support such measures, decent socialists would do so reluctantly. We would not glory in it, as J-J does. To support terror even in a genuine revolution is not something socialists would ever do lightly, least of all as a piece of posturing from far away.

There are no conceivable circumstances in which we would support, still less make, a coup or would-be revolution like Saur. There are no circumstances in which we would initiate or endorse the archetypal Stalinist terror that Khalq practised in the year and a half before the Russians removed it from power. (Parcham and the Russians then started killing Khalqis. That butchery was still going on in mid-1980.) No valid comparison can be made with the Red Terror during the Russian civil war and the intertwined wars of intervention that did such terrible damage to the Russian revolution.

In fact the Khalqi terror wrecked the PDPA regime. It gutted the airforce and badly affected the army. The Stalinist political police conducted a reign of terror in the towns, against Parchamis and many other elements of the urban population. Above all, there was a reign of airborne terror in the countryside. That was the regime's first, not its last, resort.

Essentially, the difference between Khalq on one side and Parcham and the Russians on the other, was that Parcham wanted to limit what would be done in immediately transforming the country, and the tempo at which that would be done. It wanted to keep the tempo in consonance with the nature of Saur, to take account of the fact that it had been only a coup, not a popular revolution; that it had no serious rural support, and very limited positive support for the new regime even in the towns. They recognised that a slower tempo was appropriate to the limited nature of Saur.

Khalq, on the other hand, wanted to proceed as if there really had been a great popular revolution. Entirely Stalinist, they thought that force would be enough, that naked force against the population, and as much of it as would be necessary, could "engineer" the society they wanted. Ignoring the weakness of the Afghan state in relation to Afghan society, they thought that control of the state gave them sufficient force.

We need to remember exactly what is going on in Afghanistan when Karaoke Jack postures like this. What do the "intransigent" "revolutionary" posturing and the denunciation of the "reformist" Parcham amount to in the real world? He is advocating, and cheering on, Russia's "Vietnam war", the bloody Russian attempt to conquer the peoples of Afghanistan. His praise for the terrorism practised against the people by Amin, combined with his complaints about the "reformist" and conciliatory Parchamis and Russians, mean he is condemning anything other than brute force to force through measures that have not enough popular support to make them, for now, viable.

"[After] Taraki returned from the Non Aligned Conference in Havana, via MoscowÂ… on September 16, Taraki and Amin fell out andÂ… later Amin announced the death of Taraki. It is generally [!!!] agreed that Taraki wanted to retreat, and conciliate with the forces of reaction, which Amin refused to doÂ…

"The Soviet support for the overthrow of Amin ["support for"? They did not support it, they did it! Here he indulges in the fantasy that Parcham is independently in power, and not the Russians], and his killing along with 97 other PDPA leaders was the result of their fear of an imperialist-backed counter-revolutionary state being established on their borders. No doubt it was considered that Taraki, and especially Amin, were pursuing a course which would only encourage such a development. The Soviet leaders, like Karmal, seemed to believe that if the regime retreated, this would lessen the fury of black counter-revolution. This idea has, over the past two years, been proven to be erroneous, the counter-revolutionary forces have continued to take a heavy toll on the Afghan Army, and now the Soviet Army itself".

He is avid for the victorious prosecution of Russia's "revolutionary" Vietnam war, for the Stalinisation of one of the most backward countries in the world by way of the bloodiest conquest.

"The description of Amin by Karmal as a 'satanic operative and tyrant' who 'upon the advice of US imperialists, massacred true Muslims' and who was himself a 'CIA agent'Â… has no basis in truth. Karmal used this characterisation of the Khalq leadership in order to attempt an accommodation with counter-revolution. [This is just a stupid pretence that there are real political processes still going on in Afghanistan. The Russians are fighting to subjugate the country. Any coalition of "reactionary forces" with Karmal's Parcham will in fact help in consolidating that Russian conquest.] 'In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful' [Karmal] wrote to that reactionary butcher Ayatollah Imam KhomeiniÂ… But to no good, counter-revolution continued its murderous course."

Fortunately Russia, "the world revolutionary centre", is on the job. He gloats:

"[Counter-revolution's] armed bands and supporters now contend, not with the terror of the Aqsa and its replacement, the KAM, but that of the helicopter gun-ships of the 'godless' Soviet Union on which Karmal increasingly dependsÂ…

"Although Leninists recognise the valiant role of the Soviet Army, we cannot be blind to the right opportunism of Karmal and the other Parcham leaders, and the fact that Amin, the true leader of the April Revolution, was killedÂ… [The PDPA] is still divided between Bolsheviks (Khalqists) and Mensheviks (Parchamists)Â… History demands of us a decision - Reform or Revolution, Menshevism or Bolshevism, Parcham or Khalq, Right-opportunism or Leninism. In the long term it is one or the other."

This is stupid posturing and amateurville dogmatising. As the more intelligent tankies knew perfectly well, if the Russians who held what state power there was in Afghanistan, succeeded in consolidating their grip on the country, then its transformation into a replica of the other Stalinist states was assured. Any "compromises" with "counterrevolutionaries" willing to work with the Russians or their chief quisling would in fact be helping the Stalinist revolution consolidate itself.

Part 3

Part 1

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