Friday, December 15, 2017

USSR intervention in Afghanistan: How Marxists approached it

This statement is from the 26 December 1980 issue of The Militant.

Soviet Troops in Afghanistan: A Reassessment

The following statement was adopted November 26 by the Political Committee of the Socialist Workers Party.

A few days after the Kremlin sent tens of thousands of Soviet troops into Afghanistan, the Socialist Workers Party National Committee discussed this event and adopted a position on it as part of a report on the world political situation.

The central axis of this position was condemnation of the U.S. government's intervention in Afghanistan on the side of the landlord-backed guerrillas and the Carter administration's attempt to use the Afghanistan situation as an excuse to step up its militarization drive. The SWP launched a campaign to tell the truth about the scope and nature of Washington's involvement and its anti-working-class foreign policy. Along these lines, the SWP opposed the boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow and economic sanctions against the Soviet Union. The SWP denounced greater military spending and more bases in the Indian Ocean. And, the SWP actively participated in the struggle against reinstituting draft registration.

Some radicals, including in the antidraft movement, adapted to the pressure of Washington's militarist propaganda. They argued that the Soviet Union bears partial, if not equal, blame as the imperialist powers for the threat of war in the world today. Members of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, for example, insisted that antidraft coalitions make condemnation of the USSR one of its principles. The radical weekly, Guardian, which immediately condemned the Soviet Union and called for withdrawal of Soviet troops, proclaimed that the main danger to world peace was "superpower contention." Their main concern was that the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan jeopardized "detente between U.S. imperialism and Soviet hegemonism," which posed "an enormous danger to world peace and progress."

The SWP rejected all these arguments and explained how they only serve to add fuel to the imperialists' anticommunist campaign. The quenchless profit drive of imperialism, not the Soviet bureaucracy, is the source of the drive toward war. The party also explained why it is new victories in the world revolution, not class-collaborationist ideals like detente, that mark the road to peace. The responsibility of class-conscious workers in the imperialist countries is to concentrate their fire on the real warmakers and aggressors, the capitalist rulers in their own countries.

In the eleven months since Moscow sent its · troops into Afghanistan, the imperialists have not let up in their reactionary campaign. This was demonstrated most recently at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe held in Madrid and in the United Nations General Assembly.

At the Madrid conference in November, the U.S. representatives hypocritically decried the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops. Meanwhile, the U.S. government was pouring in more arms and "advisers" to prop up the repressive junta in El Salvador, and staging a mock invasion of the Middle East by its Rapid Deployment Force. By attempting to get international publicity for its attacks on Moscow, Washington hoped to take some heat off its record as the worst violator of human rights and self-determination both at home and abroad.

On November 20, Washington pushed another resolution through the United Nations General Assembly, much like the one adopted last January, demanding a pull out of "foreign troops" from Afghanistan. The vote was about the same as in January: 111 for, 22 against, 12 abstentions, with nine countries either absent or not voting. As in January, the representatives of the revolutionary governments in Cuba and Grenada voted against this imperialist-initiated measure, and the representative of the revolutionary government in Nicaragua abstained.

At a meeting on November 15-17, the SWP National Committee again discussed the events in Afghanistan and adopted the resolution "Upheaval in Afghanistan," which appears below. The central axis of the party's response to the moves of U.S. imperialism was reaffirmed. At the same time, the National Committee came to the conclusion that it· had been in error on a number of other aspects of the Afghan situation.

The initial report adopted by the January 5- 9 National Committee meeting had said, "The presence of Soviet troops, by barring the road to the counterrevolution, creates a new and more favorable situation. . . . 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."

This was wrong. The November resolution corrects this by looking at the Soviet intervention within the framework of the overall policies of the Kremlin and the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan [PDPA] regime. It says, " ... the Soviet bureaucracy's occupation, like all of its preceding actions to prop up this government, did not give an impulse to independent initiative by the city workers or by the peasants .... The Soviet troops were not greeted by the workers and peasants as reinforcements in the fight to advance their social and political goals. "To the contrary, the Kremlin's policy in Afghanistan has set back the revolutionary process opened in April 1978, and has had a dampening effect on the class struggle."

The January report also incorrectly stated that the entry of Soviet troops into Afghanistan "strengthens the hand of the antiimperialist fighters in Iran. And it even buys time for the revolutionary government in Nicaragua, halfway around the world. Needless to say, the impact will be great in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Turkey."

The correction in the November resolution says, "Moscow's role has also negatively affected the class struggle in Iran and Pakistan.

"The hopes of the masses in Pakistan, first kindled by the Afghan upheaval, have been dimmed as the social revolution has been blocked ....

"Instead of becoming a revolutionary example for the Iranian masses, the Kremlin-PDPA policies are grist for the mill of the clergy's anticommunism."

This error reflected a confusion of two quite different phenomena. The January report correctly recognized that the fact that Moscow thought it could get away with sending Soviet troops into a capitalist country was a result of the post-Vietnam War shift in the world relationship of forces against Washington and other imperialist powers. But that report incorrectly equated this result of the changing balance of forces with a factor, such as the Nicaraguan and Iranian revolutions, that tipped the scales still further in favor of the world's toilers. The current resolution untangles this confusion, recognizing:

"In the context of the change in the world relationship of class forces to the detriment of imperialism, the Kremlin was more easily able to get away with the use of troops to attempt to stabilize a regime Washington sought to undermine, without any real fear of a direct military response by imperialism. But the Kremlin's counterrevolutionary policy in Afghanistan, including its use of troops, has had an adverse impact on this relationship of forces from the point of view of the oppressed and exploited of the world."

As part of the education campaign around Afghanistan conducted by the party, a pamphlet was published called "The Truth About Afghanistan" by Doug Jenness. It was based on the line adopted at the January meeting. The explanation for the Soviet intervention presented in this pamphlet is incorrect. "When the Kremlin sent Soviet troops into Afghanistan," the pamphlet argued, "it did not do so out of revolutionary motives, but as a defensive measure. It saw the U.S.- and Pakistani-backed guerrillas as a threat to the Soviet workers' state, which is their base of power and privileges."

The Soviet troops "were not sent to crush the Afghan revolution in the interests of detente or SALT II," the January report stated. "As much as the Soviet bureaucracy wants and presses ·for agreements like SALT II, it has interests that are more important; one of these is self-defense against direct imperialist moves to tighten the military encirclement of the Soviet Union."

The new resolution explains that defense of the Soviet workers state was not really at issue, nor was it a significant factor in the Kremlin's calculations.

The resolution states "that the dispatch of massive numbers of Soviet troops to Afghanistan was a consequence and continuation of the general policy the Kremlin had been carrying out since the PDPA government came to power. The failure of everything the Kremlin and the PDPA had done to establish a stable regime capable of governing the country left no other alternative, from the standpoint of their policy, to massively using Soviet troops as another attempt to accomplish this goal. This action signified the weak and worsening position the Kremlin found itself in after nearly two years of influencing, intervening in, and shoring up the PDPA government."

In correcting its initial evaluation of these important aspects of its position on Afghanistan, the SWP's National Committee had the benefit of ten months experience in carrying out its line-the central axis of which was against imperialism's moves-in the unions and the antidraft movement. It was also able to observe the consequences of the Soviet occupation both in Afghanistan and throughout the world, and to study more closely how other revolutionary currents, such as the Castro leadership, have assessed the situation there. In addition, the accumulation of new information from a growing number of sources (although obtaining accurate and timely information on Afghanistan remains a problem) about the results of the policies carried out by the Afghan regime and Soviet occupation forces facilitated a process of rethinking Its position.

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