The Tankies' Tankies/ 5

Submitted by AWL on 12 April, 2004 - 10:00

This is wilful lying in which a partial truth - all those groups, together with all rational observers, save only the WV/Leninist, did define April 1978 as a coup - is used to tell a big factional lie about Workers' Power and the Spartacist League. They were avid supporters of the Stalinist coup and of the Russian invaders!
The Spartacist paper, Workers' Vanguard, had the front page headline "Hail The Red Army" - hail it for invading Afghanistan! Even more extraordinarily, Workers' Power, then the possessor of an undernourished version of a state-capitalist theory of Stalinism, which it was "discussing" abandoning, responded to the invasion of Afghanistan by taking a sudden leap across the divide to proclaim its sudden certainty that the USSR was a degenerated workers' state.

I won't undertake to depict the thought processes that led them to see the invasion of Afghanistan as evidence that Russia was a workers' state, but it was Afghanistan that made their minds up for them. Possibly it was that in the real world the Russian-imperialist invasion of Afghanistan was strong evidence against any "workers' state" description, so that they had either to change course from their half-finished journey towards the "degenerated workers' state" view, or else take a hysterical leap of faith in order to land safe on the other side of the theoretical divide.

For practical politics, during Russia's colonial war in Afghanistan, groups like the Spartacists and Workers' Power were identical to The Leninist, failing only to persuade themselves that the April coup was not a coup but, really, a social revolution akin to October.

The polemical dishonesty and sectish use of the Revolution-not-coup dogma which they had made their own to distinguish themselves from their near co-thinkers - as they use it now to distinguish themselves from AWL - is sadly typical of the standards of The Leninist and the Weekly Worker.

Mahoney now shows that he is not afraid to seem ridiculous in a good cause:

"For all these opportunists the idea that there was a dictatorship of the proletariat in a country where there is 'no proletariat to speak of' is an absurdity. We disagree".

Mahoney, having explained the miracle of how the bread of the April coup was transformed into the body and blood of a revolution akin to October, will now show how there could be a dictatorship of the proletariat in Afghanistan even though there was "no proletariat to speak of".

This "dictatorship of the proletariat" was a product not of the Afghan, or any other, working class, but of "the world communist movement" and of the PDPA. They had the power to transmute the officers who made the coup under PDPA leadership into a "vanguard" workers' party and the Afghanistan where they had seized power into a dictatorship of the proletariat. The PDPA was the working class which otherwise did not exist vigorously enough "to speak of". You will travel a lot further before you will find a clearer, innocently undisguised, version of Stalinist substitutionism:

"The nature of the state is determined not by the numbers a class possesses, but its leadership of society through the agency of state power. The Afghan working class ruled Afghanistan through the PDPA. It was a product of the world communist movement and in 1978 it was led by genuine revolutionaries who made a revolution".


"We say to deny the genuine proletarian nature of the Afghan revolution is to deny the Russian revolution".

So there was no working class to speak of in Russia, too? The revolution was working-class only by way of the Bolsheviks declaring themselves to represent the working class?

Mahoney changes the subject! He had been discussing how Saur could be a genuine working-class revolution, creating "the dictatorship of the proletariat", given that the actual Afghan working class played no role in the seizure of power. (Nor for that matter did the party, as a party, other than to activate the officers who acted as a substitute for the "vanguard party" which in turn substituted for the working classÂ…) He had slipped from the question of the Afghan workers' role in Saur, and in the PDPA regime, into a discussion of the numerical weight of the working class in Afghan society. He will now slip a further notch along the same trajectory. Because the workers were a small minority of Russian society when they made October, the proportion of workers or their actual role in the transfer of power means nothing at all!

"True, prior to the 1978 April revolution, the total number of Afghan workers did not exceed 90,000 out of a total population of some 17 million".

To Mahoney, this only leads to the question: so what?

"But then, if we only recognise the possibility of a proletarian dictatorship where this class constitutes over 50% of the population we would not only deny the class nature of the October Revolution but [also that of the] Chinese revolution, where the proletariat consisted of perhaps 2% of the population and played no direct role in the protracted revolutionary struggle led by Mao Zedong".

The working class was maybe one-sixth of the population in Russia in the October Revolution, and the majority in the big cities where the decisive revolutionary struggles took place. The revolution was a taking of power by the workers' councils, elected, recallable, democratic.

But for Mahoney (taking his figure, which is probably on the high side) the Afghan working class, which was about half of one percent of the population and played no part in the revolution at all, has power.

The candour here about the actual Afghan workers playing no part contrasts strongly with Jack Conrad's smartass juggling with figures on demonstrations in his recent articles.

But Mahoney reasons about Afghanistan not by dealing with Afghanistan, but by reasoning about something which he says is analogous.

In fact there is nothing closely analogous to Afghanistan even in the history of Stalinist-"communist" revolution. All the real Stalinist revolutions, in Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam, were made by organisations possessing an active mass following, leading mass struggles. The coup by "communist" officers in Afghanistan who had no base of mobilised mass support was unique in the history of Stalinism.

Mahoney solves his problems by discussing something else, and by invoking Lenin's approach to something else, the October Revolution!

"The mechanical, anti-Marxist approach of our reformists, opportunists and various Trotskyites replicate almost perfectly the arguments that the Mensheviks used against Lenin before and after the October revolution".

So, because these arguments were wrong about the Russian Revolution, ipso facto, analogous arguments are wrong about the Afghan coup!

"The Trotskyite Spartacist League are if anything, the most explicit in their slander of the Afghan revolution".

The Spartacists are in fact, in their political conclusions, the closest to The Leninist, differing only by giving a less fantasy-soaked account of Saur! But you would never guess that from The Leninist's polemics,

"For them it was a putsch by a group of reform-minded petty-bourgeois nationalists, primarily junior officers in the Afghan army, of the Khalq wing of the PDPA.

"Of course, using precisely the same reasoning it is quite possible to call the Russian revolution a 'putsch'. In reply to the dogmatists of his day, who could not, or would not see a living revolution, with all its contradictions and 'rough edges' when it is in front of them, Lenin defined a 'putsch' as an 'attempt at insurrection [that] has revealed nothing but a circle of conspirators or stupid maniacs, and has aroused no sympathy among the masses.'(Lenin, CW, Vol. 22, p355)".

In his recent work Jack Conrad tells us far too much about this quote he picked up from Engin, so that, in a polemic justifying the Russian annexation of Afghanistan, he clumsily brings in the question of the rights of small nations and quotes Lenin denouncing the very same attitude that The Leninist had to the peoples of Afghanistan. Here Mahoney tells us far too little. He does not even tell us that Lenin was not talking about October, still less about Saur, but the 1916 Rising in Ireland.

"The Afghan revolution does not fall into this category.

"The 'junior officers in the Afghan army' who formed an important striking foe in the l978 revolution did not fill a vacuum in the political sphere; rather they performed the military function of the party under the political leadership of the PDPA in the person of Hafizullah Amin, a leading member of its revolutionary Khalq wing".

This is only valid if the role in the coup of the officers can be identified with the role of the "military wing" of the Bolshevik party, that is the Red Guards and rank and file soldiers in revolt against the armed-forces hierarchy. It is valid only if we can equate the workers organised to seize power, with the soviets behind them and the left SRs who led the peasants sympathetic to them, and shortly to join in a coalition government with them, with the PDPA-led coup in Saur. It is preposterous and absurd, a matter of corrupting the meaning of words.

"The revolution was the culmination of years of mass work. When the revolution was announced [that is, when the Afghan workers were told that they had taken power, so to speak, in their sleep!] hundreds of thousands of working people poured out onto the streets to greet the news. Since then many have given their lives to defend the revolution. That hardly indicates a 'conspiracy with no sympathy from the masses'Â…

"Working class power came to Afghanistan through an indigenous revolution, heroically led by the Khalq wing of the PDPA in April 1978".

With Mahoney's explanation of why the PDPA failed to win mass support, the truth about the nature of the seizure of power, that it was a coup and not a revolution, seeps into the picture.

"There was the inevitable counterrevolutionary backlash from the dispossessed ruling elements of the ancien regime. Unfortunately, this backlash was aided by important subjective errors by the party. Instead of boldly striking out with revolutionary initiatives, most importantly sweeping land reform that would have undercut the base of counterrevolution, both wings of the PDPA temporised, vacillated and thus lost the initiativeÂ…"

Elsewhere, following Amin when he called off the land reform late in 1979 with the claim it was complete, The Leninist claim land reform and similar as actual achievements of the regime.

"Faced with the burgeoning counterrevolution - now armed by US imperialism and its proxies in the region - the PDPA repeatedly (13 times in fact) called on its Soviet ally to provide direct military aid to bolster the revolutionary regime. When the Soviet intervention eventually came however, it was an intensely contradictory phenomenon.

"[Invasion] strengthened the weight of the revolutionary forces against their mediaevalist enemies. [But] the Soviets manufactured an opportunist coup. Its men shot Amin, leader of the revolutionary Khalq wing of the Party and 97 of his comrades, and installed Karmal, leader of the opportunist Parcham wing, in power. This was a crime which effectively crushed the dynamism of the Afghan revolution.

"Since then, the Soviet armed forces have acted as the crutch to a revolution they themselves had crippled. Now even that prop is being pulled awayÂ…

"Imperialism will never be satisfied until it has the head of Soviet socialism itself on the chopping block.

"Only by a resolute defence of living socialism and the active promotion of revolutions in other countries can the Soviet workers' state hope to survive in the long runÂ…

"The betrayal of the Afghan revolution stands as a shabby monument to the political dead-end that the Soviet leadership has reached. Despite bureaucratic deformations, the Soviet Union was able to extend socialism into Eastern Europe in the aftermath of World War and defended and gave crucial material aid to indigenous revolutions - the Cuban, Vietnamese, Chinese, etc.

"Now it has abandoned the Afghan revolution to the forces of reactionÂ… the murder of the Afghan revolution is the foreign complement of the internal retreats embodied in Gorbachev's perestroika.

"Precisely because it is the frontline of the world revolution today - the country where the question of revolution or counterrevolution is posed point blank - the task of the defence of the Afghan revolution has exposed the theoretical poverty and dirty political cowardice of the left in Britain".

Mahoney ends with a blatant misrepresentation of his actual cothinkers, the Spartacists, Militant, Workers' Power, etc.

"Only Leninists greeted and still defend the Afghan revolution. That is why we say: No sell out in Afghanistan! Gorbachev, revolutions are not for sale!"

Mourning for the revolution

But despite the valiant literary fight put up by The Leninist against Russia's betrayal of the "living revolution" in Afghanistan, the "class traitor" Gorbachev did his dirty work and withdrew the "Red Army". He thereby deprived the peoples of Afghanistan of the benefits the Russian forces had bestowed on them:

"Los[ing] them the support of 150,000 Soviet troops, their high grade technical equipment, their helicopter gunships and their fighter aircraftÂ…"

- as "Ian Mahoney" had put it in May 1988 (forgetting to list Russia's high-grade napalm, and the expertise of the Russians in using it, amongst the good things the Afghans would lose if Russia withdrew).

Four years later, the Najibullah regime which the Russians had left behind, and had continued to supply and finance until the collapse of Russian Stalinism in August 1991, fell. The Mujahedin occupied Kabul.

Under the headline, "Afghanistan: never forget", "Ian Mahoney" wrote up a passion of grief, anger, self-love, and denunciation of the socialists who had not shared The Leninist's dogma on Afghanistan, that the coup had been a great popular revolution. A strapline announced the theme of the article: "The left in Britain had a disgraceful record when it came to Afghanistan".

"On April 25, the brutish Mujahedin counter revolutionaries entered the Afghan capital, Kabul. The appearance of these medievalist scum in the city that in 1978 was the epicentre of the Afghan proletarian revolution is yet another defeat for the world's working classÂ…

"A return to chattel slavery - that is the prospect that faces the women of Afghanistan, whatever faction of the Mujahedin front finally manages to establish controlÂ…

"The women's question in Afghanistan is not some 'detail' of the programmes of the contending sides in the civil war: it was a social question that cut to the very heart of the revolution itself. The re-enslavement of women has been inscribed on the banner of the counterrevolutionÂ…"

This is fantasy raised to the level of delusion. Kabul, which is now in the hands of reactionaries was in 1978, "the epicentre" - of? The coup? No: "the epicentre of the Afghan proletarian revolution".

By scholastic, convoluted, substitutionist reasoning The Leninist had defined the army takeover as a working class revolution (the PDPA was the proletariat, representing the international proletariat as well as the Afghan; the political leadership of the PDPA made the officers' coup a popular revolution, and moreover, a proletarian revolution, etc.). Now they went still deeper into unreality, fantasising that Kabul had been to the Afghan "revolution" what Petrograd was to October.

There is no fantasy in the picture he paints of what the Mujahedin conquest of Kabul means for Afghanistan's women. There is however utter one-sidedness in the way he forgets the other side of the picture - the large numbers of women killed or driven into refugee camps by the "woman-liberating" Russian bringers of civilisation to Afghanistan.

Now Ian Mahoney gets down to the serious business of self-approbation: mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them allÂ…?

"This paper has stood alone on the British left in its unconditional defence of the Afghan socialist revolution of 1978, our unequivocal support of the Soviet army in its progressive war against the feudal Mujahedin reactionaries, our militant opposition to Gorbachev's sell out withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1988 and our warning that the state in Afghanistan, given the counterrevolutionary leadership in the USSR, was in 'mortal danger'.

With their congenital anti-Sovietism, the rest of the left - with a few partial exceptionsÂ…"

This is a private nod to truth that has the convenience for the author that it does not tell the truth to anyone who does not already know itÂ…

"Â… lined up with the Mujahedin, against the Soviet Army; with the counterrevolution, against the revolution, with the 12th century against the 20th.

"The experience of Afghanistan has illustrated that the so-called revolutionary left pay nothing but lip-service toÂ…"

To what?

"Â… to the October revolution."

If you reject their convoluted reasoning, and their near-equation of the Stalinist officers' coup with the October Revolution, why thenÂ… you really reject the October proletarian revolution! Mirror, mirror on the wallÂ…!

"All these groups parrot the Menshevik argument marshalled against Lenin prior to 1917 to slander the heroic 1978 Afghan revolution.

"Across the spectrum the 1978 revolution was dismissed as a 'putsch'. Indeed, the possibility of a social revolution was dismissed out of hand, something only possible through an outside agency or some distant time in the future.

"Socialist Organiser, probably the Labour Party's most loyal foot soldier, defines the 'tragedy' of Afghanistan as that of 'a class (i.e. the professional middle class) which took power in conditions where it could not realise its programme because of the backwardness of the society' (Socialist Organiser April 23 1992).

"Such sympathy is worthless. Socialist Organiser backed the counterrevolutionary jihad against the Soviet Army, and the Afghan government forces. Despicably, they compared the campaign of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan - a force fighting, albeit with all sorts of bureaucratic blunders and fetters, to save a living revolution - to 'what the Americans did in Vietnam, what the French did in Algeria and Indochina' and, plumbing new depths even for Socialist Organiser, to what the Nazis had done in those parts of the USSR they overran at the beginning of the Second World War' (ibid)".

The Russians were fighting to save "a living revolution" from the people of Afghanistan - therefore, if you know how to define things correctly as the Leninists, and only the Leninists, know how to, the methods they use, although to the untutored mind they are the same methods as the Americans, French and Germans used, are in fact not the same.

He now uses a non sequitur to enable himself to denounce his close cothinkers like Workers' Power and put them in the same historical rubbish bin as Socialist Organiser and the SWP. Belief that the coup was a popular revolution is The Leninist's badge of honour.

"This and similar views from the left in Britain should not surprise us. After all those who cannot see a real revolution are hardly in the position to defend one. From Tribune, through the Socialist Workers Party to Workers' Power, the April 1978 revolution in Afghanistan has been labelled a 'putsch'."

For Mahoney, if you supported the Russians and their quislings, and yet failed to understand that Saur was not a coup, you were damned and kept out of the company of the Leninist elect. This idiocy was primarily a form of delusional self-identification and self-distinction, the small propaganda group in Britain praising itself for being "harder", more ruthless, more "revolutionary".

"This is a scandalous slander of an inspiring revolution, a revolution that lit a torch of liberation for the peoples of the region".

Remember: it is the year 1992. The last Stalinist regime has just fallen in Kabul. Saur was 14 years ago, the Russian invasion a dozen years ago, Russian withdrawal four years ago. The fact is well known that one and a half million Afghans died in Russia's colonial war, and that six million were made refugees over the borders.

Afghanistan has been thrown back decades. All the important gains of the reforms carried out from above in the 1950s and 60s have been lost. And still "Ian Mahoney" asserts that the 1978 coup "lit a torch for the peoples of the region"!

It is an example of the crass state of denial in which they lived - and even after they have moved a long way from where they were in 1992, demonstrably still live.

"Mahoney" repeats the perennial quote from Lenin and rehashes the arguments. That will not detain us.

"Of course, Marxists recognise that a genuine revolution can take the outward form of a coup. Obviously, revolutionary ideas can gain considerable influence inside the military forces of the old regime, and these sections can indeed seize the leadership of a living revolutionary movement. But this is simply the outward form that the Afghan revolution manifested itself in, the same outer form as the 1917 October Revolution (also slandered as a "coup" by philistine bourgeois historians, ultra-leftistsÂ…).

"The revolution provoked a furious backlash from the forces of reaction internally and externally: no mere coup could have done this. The thousands of communists and ordinary Afghans who willingly gave their lives in the ensuing civil war to defend the revolutionary conquests were aware that they were fighting for something rather more than a change of oppressors, even if the 'theoreticians' of the British left could not quite work it out.

"All of the evidence points, not to a 'palace coup' with no sympathy or involvement from the masses, but to a revolution!"

"Mahoney" is still a soldier in "the world communist movement". He has now abandoned the idea that the PDPA was, from a revolutionary point of view, especially virtuous. Now it is merely typical of the parties in that movement.

"Those trapped in the dogma of denouncing the world communist movement of which the PDPA was a typical component part as 'counterrevolutionary' had to slander this, perhaps its final positive achievement. The alternative was simply too unthinkableÂ… to defend it, even though it was led by 'Stalinists'. The truth was partially admitted by the Trotskyoid Socialist Organiser in the April 23 issue when it says that 'the fact that the Afghan regime the Russians left behind them when they withdrew in 1988 did not collapse for over three years indicates that it was not only a creature of the Russians'."

This can't be a matter of Socialist Organiser honestly trying to depict what is. It is just us "partially admitting" something useful to The Leninist. But a regime can be something a bit more than a creature of a foreign government, without being proletarian, or deserving socialist support.

"That never stopped Socialist Organiser supporting counterrevolution while the Soviet Army was stationed there. The same spirit of anti-Sovietism actually also informed the positions of groups like Workers' Power which claim to have clean hands (see its 'Blood on their hands' in Workers' Power May, 1992). Workers' Power gave what it called 'support' to the Soviet Army when it was in Afghanistan, trueÂ…

"So, partial, lily-livered exceptions there were, but so what? When it was a matter of a life or death struggle between the revolution and counterrevolution, the congenitally anti-Soviet left lined up with the counterrevolution."

The idea of the "third camp", which means working class political independence, has no place in Mahoney's thinking. He belabours the SWP, which on such questions was not part of the "orthodox Trotskyist" tradition. The SWP took a stand identical to that of Socialist Organiser when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. At that time it had not yet embraced the peculiar politics that would lead it to switch to backing Iran against Iraq in 1987/8 and then to its present popular-front alliance with MAB (the Muslim Brotherhood).

"'No end to the bloodshed' hypocritically moaned Socialist Worker of May 2, 1992, viewing the victory of their side in Kabul, the Mujahedin. With the victory of the forces the SWP has backed consistently against the communists in that country, we are told 'the stage is set for terrible bloodshed. The people who will pay the biggest price will be ordinary Afghans' (ibid).

"Pardon, 'comrades'? Perhaps we have got it wrong, but weren't you the bunch who told us that despite the fact that Mujahedin were thorough going reactionaries, 'we say the Russian troops should get out of Afghanistan.' (Socialist Worker Review March 1980).

"The Mujahedin would set up a government 'well to the right of Khomeini' (Socialist Worker Review February 1988). Despite this, 'socialists' as they call themselves and their supporters, 'shouldn'tÂ… see Russia's defeat as anything but a boost for our side' (Socialist Worker February 11, 1989). In fact, the Soviet withdrawal, which in effect for the moment sealed the fate of socialism in Afghanistan, was celebrated by these 'socialists' as 'a welcome blow against imperialism' (Socialist Worker Review February 1989).

"In classic Menshevik fashion the SWP advised the Afghan people that their lot must be a 'cycle of misery' which 'won't be broken until genuine socialist revolutions in more advanced countries provide the resources to overcome its economic backwardness' (Socialist Worker February 4, 1989).

"So Afghan revolutionaries, according to both the patronising Socialist Worker and Socialist Organiser, should politely refrain from the opportunity to make their revolution in much the same way as one might refuse a cigarette - 'Thanks, but not just yet'. Instead, they should wait - god (or perhaps Allah) help them - until the likes of SO or the SWP make the revolution in Britain.

"They would wait forever. Those who cannot defend the living gains of our class internationally, and centrally these countries where we have made revolutions, are hardly likely to be much good (at least on our side of the barricade) when it comes to making the British proletarian revolution".

He now reaches orgasmic levels of retrospective self-love.

"As we wrote in 1989: 'In the chill wind of the Cold War groups in Britain used the self serving lie that the Afghan revolution was nothing more than a coup in order to avoid defending a revolution, which unlike that of South Africa, Nicaragua or El Salvador was not popular among chic circlesÂ… Well you 'friends of the Afghan working class', you have now got your way . This is generally recognised as what will happen if the counterrevolutionaries take over. Your textbook working class will be nowhere to be seen but real workers and progressives, all those who made the Afghan Revolution, will face deathÂ…

"That is why we say that the blood of Afghan's progressives is not only on the hands of the bestial Mujahedin, the imperialists and the traitor GorbachevÂ… It is on the hands of all those who refused to defend the Afghan Revolution! You are all guilty and we shall make sure that the working class never forgets your crime (The Leninist February 17, 1989)".

Mahoney vows vengeance on the "Trotskyites", not yet having moved away from fantasies of a future "Leninist" revolution that will put people like himself in charge of a British equivalent of the Afghan Stalinist secret police, the Aqsa.

"Let us add, as we view the horror unfolding in Afghanistan - that they never forget, and that they make you pay".

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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