Stalinism and Afghanistan: socialists and the 1979-89 war: Workers' Liberty 3/55

Introduction: A watershed for the left

Published on: Thu, 27/10/2016 - 14:00

Sean Matgamna

Afghanistan’s “Great Saur Revolution”, in April 1978, and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan that flowed from it 20 months later, at Christmas 1979, were two of the most important events of the second half of the 20th century.

The invasion led to the so named Second Cold War. Their failure to subjugate Afghanistan in a nine-year colonial war was one of the things that shattered the self-confidence of the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy, and contributed to its downfall. The April 1978 revolution was a freakish event — an army and air force officers’ coup controlled by the Peoples Democratic

Introduction (1985)

Published on: Thu, 27/10/2016 - 13:54

Sean Matgamna

Just after Christmas 1979, 100,000 soldiers of the Russian army occupied Afghanistan. Five and a half years later the Afghans are still putting up an unquellable resistance.

Russia holds only the towns; even its hold on the towns is insecure. Over large areas of the country the writ of Russia’s puppet government does not run. The invaders are forced to move around in convoys which are frequently ambushed, reportedly with heavy losses. Even the Russian “embassy” in Kabul is not safe from rocket attacks. Kabul, the capital city, with a population of one million, is reportedly surrounded by

The Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the British labour movement

Published on: Thu, 27/10/2016 - 13:48

Sean Matgamna

Most of the Trotskyist organisations backed the Russians. Socialist Organiser was the only organisation in the entire “orthodox Trotskyist” political spectrum that condemned the Russian invasion and called for the troops to be withdrawn.

The confusion on the left about Stalinism created great difficulties for Socialist Organiser in the 1984-5 miner’s strike. For us the first principle was the liberty and political independence of the working class everywhere. We had to combine necessary criticism of Scargill and his friends in their capacity of Stalinists with whole-hearted support for them

Part I: Afghanistan before and after the 1978 coup

Published on: Thu, 27/10/2016 - 13:35

Afghanistan is one of the most backward countries on earth. Its population about 16 million. National income per head is less than $150 a year. Between one and two million people were nomads even before the Russian invasion created four million refugees.

The biggest town, the capital, Kabul, has a population of a million; the next biggest, Kandahar, a bit more than 100,000. More than 85% of the people live in the rural areas. Only 10% of males and 3% of females are literate. The land is massively underutilised. Only about 20% of the country is arable but of that less than half is cropped.

Part II: Ted Grant and Alan Woods on Afghanistan

Published on: Thu, 27/10/2016 - 13:14

Sean Matgamna

What characterises Bolshevism on the national question is that in its attitude towards oppressed nations, even the most backward, it considers them not only the object but also the subject of politics. Bolshevism does not confine itself to recognising their “rights” and parliamentary protests against the trampling upon of those rights, Bolshevism penetrates into the midst of the oppressed nations; it raises them up against their oppressors; it ties up their struggle with the struggle of the proletariat in advanced countries; it instructs the oppressed Chinese, Hindus or Arabs in the art of

Part III: Conclusions

Published on: Thu, 27/10/2016 - 12:21

The Russian bureaucracy and their Afghan supporters are in effect carrying through the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution in that country”, says Woods — though they are doing it in a “distorted”, Bonapartist fashion. The same idea is expressed by Grant in his 1978 article: the “proletarian Bonapartist” regimes “carry out in backward countries the historic job which was carried out by the bourgeoisie in the capitalist countries in the past”.

They are alluding and making comparisons — Grant explicitly — to Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, according to which the tasks of a

Part IV: Afghanistan: Defend the cities!

Published on: Thu, 27/10/2016 - 11:47

Sean Matgamna

For nine years, the army and air force of the bureaucratic ruling class of the Soviet Union waged a brutal war of conquest against the peoples of Afghanistan. They napalmed villages and burned the crops in the fields. They devastated the countryside, wrecked the primitive economy, and drove as many as five million refugees — one quarter of the entire population — over the borders into Pakistan and Iran.

Yet they never even came near conquering the people. Western military experts calculated that a full conquest would have taken at least three times as many as the 100,000 soldiers and flyers

Civilisation, backwardness and liberation

Published on: Thu, 27/10/2016 - 11:27

Sean Matgamna

What is the attitude of Marxists to "backward" and "underdeveloped" countries and peoples who are being assaulted, occupied, or colonised by a more advanced but predatory civilisation?
No-one expressed it so clearly and so forcefully as Leon Trotsky:

"What characterises Bolshevism on the national question is that in its attitude to oppressed nations, even the most backward, it considers them not only the object but also the subject of politics. Bolshevism does not confine itself to recognising their 'rights' and parliamentary protests against the trampling upon of those rights.


Appendix: Ted Grant and Marxism

Published on: Thu, 27/10/2016 - 11:02

Sean Matgamna and Martin Thomas

When the Russians invaded Afghanistan In December 1979, almost every “orthodox Trotskyist” group in the world supported them, or at any rate refused to call for their withdrawal. Some were wildly enthusiastic for a while. A big part of the so-called “United Secretariat of the Fourth International”, grouped around the Socialist Workers’ Party of the USA, hailed the Russians as “going to the aid of the Afghan revolution”.

Even those who had a more balanced view refused to call for the Russians to get out. Over the years most of the Trotskyism changed their minds and started to call for

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