The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Should Revolutionaries Support the Russian Invasion of Afghanistan?

Mar 31, 1980

Thousands of Russian troops moved into Afghanistan in late December of last year. Since that time there has been continual fighting and opposition to the Russian troops. Beginning February 22, there was a strike of shopkeepers and then service workers in 3 major cities, including the capital city of Kabul. In the countryside, the guerrillas have kept up their fight as well, bogging down thousands of Russian troops in the mountains.

It is clear by all this that the opposition to the Russian intervention is not just from small isolated groups. The Russian troops are seen by a large section of the population as a force of occupation.

In this fight between the Russian troops and the rebellion in Afghanistan, the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) takes the side of the Russians. This support for troops occupying another country might seem surprising coming from revolutionaries. It is the revolutionaries who oppose the occupation of another country because they oppose all oppression. It is the revolutionaries who stand for freedom for all the peoples of the world. So this position of the SWP’s in relationship to Afghanistan raises questions. In order to judge whether their position is the correct one for revolutionaries to take in this instance, we must first examine their arguments.

Defense against an Imperialist Attack?

It is possible that revolutionaries could support the occupation of another country, even if it is against the will of the population. A workers state or a revolutionary government might have to carry out military maneuvers in other countries in order to defend itself against an immediate attack, actual or possible, by imperialism. The army of a workers state or another revolutionary government might have to impose itself on another people in order to do battle. It could be decisive to the outcome of the war. In this situation, revolutionaries would support the military occupation of another country.

But even in this case, it would not represent a good thing or a success. It would be a regretful necessity. It would be an admission of the inability of the revolutionary movement to attract the population of the country to its side at that point in time.

In any case, the SWP in no way claims that the intervention of the Russian army into

Afghanistan was an act of self-defense against an immediate attack by imperialism. In fact, just the opposite. They believe that imperialism, far from attacking, is on the run – and that it has been weakened even further by the Russian army’s move into Afghanistan.

Defense of the Afghan Revolution or Maintenance of Russian Control?

The SWP justifies its support of the Russian troops on the grounds other than that of the defense of the workers state. First of all, they say that the Russian bureaucracy has aided the Afghan Revolution by sending in its troops:

“... we recognize the fact that if Soviet troops help the new regime score victories over the reactionaries, this takes pressure off the Afghan revolution and encourages and inspires the struggle for social revolution in that country.” (From “The Crises of Imperialist Domination,” in the International Socialist Review section of The Militant, February 15, 1980.)

Yet in the very same article, the SWP contradicts itself when it admits that the bureaucracy doesn’t want to support revolution.

“The Stalinist bureaucracy and the parties that follow it want stability, not revolution, not offensives by the colonial masses. In their view these only rock the boat.”

The SWP talks in general about the bureaucracy’s inability to support a revolution. But nonetheless, in a specific case like Afghanistan, the SWP is able to see the bureaucracy do what in general the SWP claimed it couldn’t do.

But putting this contradiction aside, let’s examine this Afghan Revolution that the SWP claims the Russian bureaucracy is aiding.

First, the SWP says that the government of Amin was the government of a revolutionary regime. Then they say that thee Russian troops intervened to aid this revolutionary regime. But if this is the case, then why did the Russian troops assassinate Amin, the leader of the supposedly revolutionary government? Why was one of the first acts of the Russian troops to open the jails and the prisons to let out hundreds of people who had been jailed under the regime of Amin as counter revolutionaries?

In fact, we do not have a revolutionary regime in Afghanistan. What we do have is a series of military dictatorships. There have been 3 new governments in 2 years time. And none of them established through the intervention of the working class, nor of the peasantry, nor of the petty bourgeoisie of the cities. These governments were established simply by coup d’etats, through which differences in the ruling circles were decided by gun fire.

So the SWP sees no difference between a revolutionary regime and a military dictatorship. It’s proof that the SWP does not care about the actions or attitudes of the working class, or of the rest of the popular classes. We can understand why because when we see these popular classes or a part of them taking action, it is against the so-called revolutionary regime.

The SWP prefers to ignore the actions and attitudes of the popular classes by focusing on the nature of the opposition. The SWP says that this leadership is made up of “landlords, rich mullahs, usurers, dope smugglers, and others who profited by exploiting the Afghan people.”

This may or may not be the nature of the opposition forces. But it is not the real question. For even if we assume the SWP’s characterization of the leadership is correct, this proves nothing about the nature of the so-called revolutionary regime. It does nothing to explain the support this opposition found in the population. This leadership still stands at the head of a mass movement. It has given expression, even if it is in a very distorted way, to the aspiration of a mass of people.

We have seen the same process taking place next door in Iran. We have seen the struggle of the masses of people in Iran against the Shah and U.S. imperialism. And we have also seen this struggle directed by reactionaries like Khomeini and the mullahs.

The SWP’s reasoning on all this is convoluted. All the talks of a revolutionary regime and the reactionary opposition covers over the reasons for the Russian invasion.

In fact the invasion by the Russian is more simple than what the SWP says. The bureaucracy continued its long-standing policy. They supported each and every regime in Afghanistan that was willing to make an alliance with them. They didn’t care what kind of regime it was. Today the Russian bureaucracy supports Karmal, but before him they supported Amin, and Taraki before that. And before 1978, the Russian bureaucracy supported Daud. And for many years before Daud took power in 1973, the Russian bureaucracy had an alliance with the old monarchy.

The fact that the Russian bureaucracy has made alliances and supported all these different governments in Afghanistan clearly shows that the Russian bureaucracy is not concerned with supporting revolutions, or barring counter-revolutions. The concern of the bureaucracy has been simply to maintain governments in Afghanistan which are in alliance with it. Above all else, the concern of the bureaucracy has been to maintain stability on its border and its control over Afghanistan.

When the Russian bureaucracy moved into Afghanistan with thousands of troops, it was for the same reason. The Russian bureaucracy feared that the government of Amin was going to be overthrown by the opposition forces which the bureaucracy did not control. These Islamic forces had openly declared hostility to Russia and stood against maintaining an alliance with it. The Russian bureaucracy intervened in Afghanistan in order to maintain its zone of influence.

A Blow to Imperialism or its Reinforcement?

The final justification the SWP gives for supporting the Russian troops in Afghanistan is that this intervention is a blow to imperialism, both inside Afghanistan and around the world. As the SWP states it, the Russian intervention into Afghanistan:

“...encourages and inspires the struggle for social revolution in that country.

“It strengthens the hand of the anti-imperialist fighters in Iran. And it even buys time for the revolutionary government of Nicaragua, halfway around the world. Needless to say, the impact will be great in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Turkey...” (From “The Crises of Imperialist Domination.”)

First let’s look at the case of Afghanistan itself. Even if we did accept the SWP’s own viewpoint that the opposition is led by reactionaries, in no way has the intervention of the Russian troops helped the struggle for social revolution. In fact, it has done exactly the opposite. It has pushed the population further into the arms of those the SWP calls reactionaries. As a result, the opposition can also benefit from the population’s wish to be free of foreign domination. It is the Russian intervention which allows this opposition to appear as the real defenders of the people, not only against the Afghan government of Karmal, but also against the invasion of the Russians.

Finally, on the world level, the results have also been the opposite from those the SWP predicted. Far from being a blow to imperialism, the Russian intervention has proved very useful to imperialism.

U.S. imperialism did not want another Islamic movement to take power in this area of the world.

Khomeini in power in Iran has already caused problems for imperialism. An Islamic government in Afghanistan could have created even more. It could have further encouraged the people of Iran. And furthermore it could have encouraged all the Muslim peoples of the entire region to rise up. There is the threat of a tremendous instability and hostility to imperialism in this area of the world.

This explains why the U.S. government did nothing serious to oppose the move of the Russian troops into Afghanistan. Of course the U.S. government will not openly approve of the Russian invasion. This is why it verbally and symbolically opposed the intervention. But more important than these gestures is the fact that when the Russian bureaucracy for the first time moved massive numbers of troops into a country outside its acknowledged buffer zone, the U.S. government did nothing to prevent it. Above all else, this shows how imperialism understood the significance of the Russian invasion.

U.S. imperialism has been strengthened by the Russian intervention into Afghanistan. In the whole area of the world around the Persian Gulf and into the Near East, there has been an increase in anti-Russian sentiment. And this combined with, or even masked, the sentiment against U.S. imperialism.

The Russian invasion of Afghanistan has given U.S. imperialism more room for maneuvering. It gives the U.S. government a justification, on the world level as well as domestically, for sending troops and establishing new military bases in this region – as it proposed to do in Kenya, Somalia and Oman. It gives the U.S. government more means for intervening against the peoples of this area.

Inside the U.S., the events in Afghanistan have drawn attention away from the problems of the economy. It has covered, at least temporarily, the inability of the Carter administration to resolve the Iranian situation. If nothing else, it has probably given Carter the means of assuring his re-election.

The events in Afghanistan have given the U.S. government the opportunity to whip up a war-like sentiment. The events in Afghanistan are just one more crisis in long series of crises which help to prepare the American people to accept the inevitability of a war against Russia.

In no way has imperialism been weakened around the world by the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

It is for all these reasons that we do not see any cause to support the Russian bureaucracy’s intervention in Afghanistan.