The Tankies' Tankies/ 3

Submitted by AWL on 19 October, 2008 - 9:54

All the elements of Karaoke Jack's politics, on Afghanistan and in general, are there. The article is written in the spirit of the New Worker's injunction of "No concessions! No Compromise" with the Polish working class. Jack Conrad wants full steam ahead in the subjugation of Afghanistan.
In fact Amin called off the land reform in 1979 with the transparent face-saving lie that it had been accomplished already. Whether or not the invading Russians and their puppet Karmal could have won some popular support had they prosecuted the land reform, no one can know now. Perhaps not: the polarisation was already too sharp. The historical fact is that the PDPA-Khalq failed in its land reform because of the lack of popular support among the putative beneficiaries. Posturing John-Jack's only alternative was the stepping up of the Stalinist terror against most of the population of Afghanistan.

1986: hailing Najibullah

Move on five years. In those years indescribable horror has engulfed the peoples of Afghanistan. The extent of the slaughter is well known. So is the vast number of refugees driven out of the country, which at its peak will be something like six million, one in every three Afghans.

Western military experts have estimated that to win its war Russia would have to deploy more than double the 100,000 Russian soldiers and fliers it has committed to Afghanistan, and resort to some form of regimentation of the civilian population in order to cut off support for the anti-Russian fighters - something like the "strategic hamlets" which the Americans used in Indochina, or the pioneering concentration camps where Britain imprisoned Boer civilians during the Boer war, inadvertently killing large numbers of them by disease.

Russia, now deep in the crisis that will lead to its collapse, has long ago indicated its desire to leave Afghanistan, if a satisfactory successor regime can be agreed upon. Talks have been going on in Geneva for years already. In mid 1986 the Russians replace Babrak Karmal as their chief quisling. This is widely seen as preparation for broadening the base of the government in preparation for Russian departure.

The new man is Najibullah, who has been head of the political police since the Russian invasion. Jack Conrad sees Najibullah, the man of vigorous police action against counter revolution, as a possible Amin for the new period.

The Leninist, June 1, 1986, Jack Conrad: Afghanistan after Karmal.

"The replacement of Babrak Karmal as General Secretary of the PDPA… has excited little comment in the communist movement… The new General Secretary, Dr. Najibullah has not denounced Karmal…It could well be true that Karmal [retired] for health reasons. Yet it must be admitted our world movement, especially the ruling parties, have a record of getting esteemed comrades to step down for health reasons one month, only to brand them as revisionists the next. We also do not exactly have a custom of comrades retiring at 65.

"Karmal is only 57. Most leading comrades in our movement, political strength permitting, have stayed in their jobs till they died. This is not necessarily a good thing. But the tradition of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Tito, Brezhnev, Andropov, Hoxha - the tradition of replacing leading comrades only after they have died - is more or less a universal one…..

"The revolution can count on growing support, as illustrated by the 200,000 or so who demonstrated recently in Kabul against the US attack on Libya. …[But even so] Comrade Najibullah recently estimated that the PDPA government only controlled 35% of the country outside the towns. [In fact far, far less].

"With this in mind we can only welcome Najibullah's declaration that he will 'reinforce the armed forces fighting the rebels".

J-J is still a pining Khalqi, still pretending that it makes a difference whether Parchamis or Khalqis have nominal power where the Russians have direct physical control.

"Although Karmal's opportunist grouping, Parcham, dominates government ministries, it only makes up about 40% of the PDPA's membership. Remarkably, the revolutionary Khalq, once led by Hafizullah Amin, retains much of its strength. For those who so easily branded Amin a CIA agent, this should provide food for thought.

"These same elements blamed Amin and Khalq for causing the counter-revolution because of the extent of their land and other reforms, and because of their tough attitude to the counterrevolutionaries. They have been proved wrong….

"The Soviet Army's intervention in 1979 ensured counterrevolution could not win, but it also fanned tribal xenophobia; the killing of Amin and 97 other Khalq leaders put in power pliant opportunists, but weakened the PDPA forces; many of the Khalq led PDPA government's reforms - like teaching girls to read and write - were not liked by feudal reactionaries, but Karmal's holding back some of the early plans for reform has proved no answer to counterrevolution".

But there is reason for hope. The new man, Najibullah, used to run the police. He is a man in the vigorous tradition of Amin. Amin is posthumously being vindicated.

"The fact that the new PDPA General Secretary, Najibullah, has a reputation for giving no mercy to the forces of counterrevolution, and there are suggestions that the pace of reform will be increased, vindicates much of what Amin and his Khalq comrades did between April 1978 and December 1979. It's about time his and their reputations were rehabilitated."

The August 29th Leninist carried an unsigned article (whose content overlaps with the earlier piece, so that it is plainly by the same author). Above a picture of Amin are the words, "No CIA agent". and under the picture: "It's official".

"The July 16 public meeting of the Harrow Morning Star Readers and Supporters Group listened with rapt attention to Mohammed Arif, the Secretary of the Afghanistan Friendship Society who said: 'In my view Amin was not a CIA agent'. Centrist mouths dropped open in disbelief… We have, as our readers will know, been attacked time and time again for [saying] this. Yet what sort of CIA agents carry out a revolution?

"For the simple fact is that it was under the effective leadership of Amin that Khalq cells organised and carried out the April 1978 revolution which overthrew Daud and the feudal/bureaucratic regime…

"When the revolutionary situation came to a head in 1978 the forces of revolution were prepared. In response to the Daud regime's attempt to crush the PDPA, through assassinating some leaders and arresting others like Taraki, Karmal and Amin, the Khalq cells in the army immediately set in motion the plans Amin had drawn up for a nation-wide uprising.

"The revolution succeeded and a PDPA dominated government began the task of transforming society. The old state machine was decapitated and replaced by what was in essence the dictatorship of the proletariat. Of course Afghanistan was an extremely backward country. This meant that the order of the day was not directly socialist but democratic tasks.

"The far-reaching land reform, the literacy campaign and the outlawing of the selling of women were seen as the first steps of a revolution which would in due course go uninterruptedly to socialism".

This is a last-reduction, no-frills version of the Stalinist revolution. The dictatorship of the proletariat is state power held for the working class by people who will "in due course go uninterruptedly to socialism".

"The growth of counterrevolution in Afghanistan worried the Soviet leaders. They knew nothing [!!!] of the PDPA plans to make revolution in 1978… Failing to understand their own revolutionary history they appear to have thought the PDPA's leaders and their sweeping reforms were the problem, not the counterrevolution.

"[Russian] pressure… apparently lay behind Taraki and Amin violently falling out in September 1979. Amin's taking over as PDPA General Secretary meant there was no fundamental change in the course of the revolution. [In fact the regime announced that the land reform, which in fact had been an economic disaster, was ending because it had already been implemented…] In the eyes of the Soviet leadership this could only fuel the passion of the counterrevolutionaries (for whom Amin personified the hated reforms and the feared red terror).

"It is well known that both Taraki and Amin had made repeated requests for Soviet fraternal assistance. But when at last it came, it tragically saw the installation of Karmal and the killing of Amin and 97 other PDPA leaders. Far from stemming the tide of counterrevolution this gave it a new lease of life….

"True to their diplomatic internationalism centrists in Britain and elsewhere repeated the foul slanders against Amin with all the conviction of political virgins. Because of this the statement of Mohammed Arif could only but be acutely embarrassing to the Morning Star supporters at the Harrow meeting…

"Of course, Leninists unconditionally defend the Afghan revolution and support Soviet assistance against counterrevolutionaries: but does that mean suspending our critical faculties? Certainly not. We, unlike the NCP, the Straight Leftists and Uncle Tom Durkin and all centrists, will not be an uncritical cheerleader of comrade Taraki, …then comrade…er… Amin, then… er.. um… Karmal (who's been shuffled into the background) and now…comrade…Najibullah …only to slander them the next day.

"We call on the Afghan Party and all communists to openly acknowledge that Amin and the 97 PDPA leaders have been the victims of slander. Their names should be cleared and those responsible for ordering their deaths exposed…"

1988: denouncing Moscow's "sell-out"

Move on another two years. Russia is on the verge of abandoning its attempt to subjugate the peoples of Afghanistan. The war has helped shatter the self-confidence of the USSR's ruling class.

In an editorial in Socialist Organiser I wrote that those on the Trotskisant left who had backed or defended the Russians should now logically denounce the Russians for betraying the "Afghan Revolution". I thought I was brandishing a bit of reductio ad absurdum at them. In fact The Leninist did just that!

In March 1988 The Leninist carried a one-page article by Jack Conrad entitled: "Afghanistan: no sell-out!" It had the following words above the headline:

"If Soviet armed forces are withdrawn the forces of counterrevolution, and their imperialist backers, will have scored a major victory. The forces of progress will have suffered a major reverse".

The article went on:

"Soviet foreign minister Shevardnadze, has offered to begin the pull out of all Soviet forces from Afghanistan starting on May 1".

Jack Conrad is beside himself with revolutionary indignation!

"What a way to mark international workers' day! [!!!] A Soviet withdrawal under present conditions can only be considered a sellout of the Afghan Revolution and a betrayal of communism.

"Soviet withdrawal… is on the cards…Now is the time to speak openly".

He is not having it!

"Afghanistan is in the front line of the struggle against reaction and imperialism. Until the forces of counterrevolution are crushed, until they represent no danger to the gains of the 1978 Saur (April) Revolution, there should be no talk about a Soviet withdrawal. Shevardnadze should be told in no uncertain terms: Afghanistan - no sellout!"

J-J does not forget to beat his chest like the Pharisee at prayer, insisting that he is not like other sinners: that is always a big component of articles in The Leninist.

"Proletarian internationalism demands this. True proletarian internationalism, as opposed to diplomatic internationalism of toadies at the top of organisations like the NCP, Straight Left and the CCG, will not hail treachery.

"Recalling the humiliation of the US in Vietnam, Soviet officials are quoted as saying. 'We will leave Afghanistan, but we will not leave clinging to the skids of helicopters lifting off the roof of our embassy.' Maybe, but clearly the Gorbachev leadership has in mind a Vietnam in reverse.

"The Afghan Revolution is considered reversible and desertable. There have even been suggestions that the monarchy - overthrown in a palace coup in 1973 - will be restored. This is totally counter to the spirit of communism".

Jack Conrad, it will be remembered has always insisted - though not always without self-contradiction - that there was a genuine revolution in Afghanistan, entirely viable with a bit of judicious outside help from the "working class" who hold power in the USSR. In fact it is all posturing, attitudinising and play-acting. He knows perfectly well how things stand. Withdrawing Russian troops means "reversing" the "revolution".

"Moreover Soviet troops and citizens might well retreat in good order but can the same be said of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan? Frankly, no!… All PDPA members and supporters are being placed in mortal danger. The forces of counterrevolution shoot communists on sight. These barbarians take no prisoners.

"Without Soviet troops how long will an internationally agreed interim government last? Months or weeks? How long will the forces of reaction take to seek out and exterminate the 'infidels'? No wonder there have been rumours of plans to uproot the entire PDPA membership and resettle them in Uzbekistan or one of the other Soviet central Asian republics.

"This might save the PDPA membership but not the gains of the Saur Revolution. Women will be re-enslaved, al1 working-class organisations, such as trade unions will be destroyed…"

He means the police-state "Labour Front", the pseudo unions run by the Afghan regime, as by all Stalinist regimes, to regiment the working class and prevent the emergence of real working class self-organisation. Towards real working-class organisation, whether Solidarnosc in Poland or new unions in the USSR, he will never, until after the collapse of Stalinism, cease to be vehemently hostile.

"… A new Iran, ruled by reactionaries and clerics, will emerge from the chaos. Abandoning the Afghan people to such a fate is criminal. These are harsh words. Nevertheless they have to be said".

Better by far to continue killing Afghans, to push the casualty figures up beyond the one and a half million level, and to drive out another one, two or three million to join the six million already outside the state's borders. The Russians, unlike the reactionary indigenous people in Afghanistan's countryside, do not discriminate against women. They napalm, strafe and set mines to kill men women and children without distinction.

J-J's belief, or pretended belief, in the Afghan revolution as a viable project has collapsed in the panic the Russian withdrawal has unleashed in his little make-believe, posturing revolutionary soul. But he hasn't stopped pretending and play-acting: he now pretends that he is talking about a real communist movement and a real communist government in Moscow, albeit an "opportunist" one.

"The Soviet Union has no right to horse-trade the Afghan revolution. It is a living revolution [in his indignation, he has forgotten the picture of the unviability of this "living revolution" which he has just painted], not a piece of real estate. The Afghan Revolution was not facilitated by the presence of the Soviet Army. The revolution was the work of Afghan revolutionaries organised in the Khalqi wing of the PDPA. A proletarian dictatorship was established through local daring and initiative. The Khalqi won power, they were not given it.

"The Afghan Revolution was a great victory for the world's working class. It lit a flame which pointed the way forward for the working people of all backward capitalist countries. In its own long term interests the Soviet Union should continue its defence of this gain of the world revolution. And given its enemies it certainly needs the most determined and selfless defence…"

As if to restore his own confidence, he pauses once more to admire himself in the mirror of his own polemic, by contrasting what he is saying with what lesser breeds say.

"Groups in Britain such as the SWP, Socialist Organiser, the WRP and the RCP have refused to unconditionally defend the Afghan Revolution against the forces of reaction. This shows they are trapped in a reactionary Little England rut. Such sects pay lip service to world revolution but turn their backs on its living reality.

"Afghanistan stands in the front line of the world revolution. Because of this it is beholden on all internationalists to stand four square with it in its life and death struggle with imperialism and black reaction…"

He is so indignant that he pauses in his Lenin-posturing to paraphrase Trotsky's words in the Manifesto of the 1920 Congress of the Communist International.

"Those who refuse to do so should be branded with infamy, if not a bullet".

He now reaches for the support of Emine Engin's text, and decides to brandish their common shibboleth in the face of the unbelievers. It was a revolution, not a coup! His panic at the thought of the Russians calling off the war in which they have already killed one and a half million Afghans might have suggested to a lesser man, or an honest and politically serious one, that he has got things wrong somewhere along the way.

"A convenient fig leaf for abstentionism has been found through dismissing the Afghan revolution as little more than a 'Third World coup'. This arrogant chauvinistic nonsense is, of course, a cynical self serving lie.

"A military or palace coup reflects a struggle within the existing state, not a struggle against it. The term 'coup' in the scientific sense. should only be used when dealing with an insurrection launched by a narrow circle of conspirators or a bunch of stupid romantics. Such attempts can only leave the masses left in passivity.

"A genuine revolution can, it is true, take the outward form of a coup. Obviously revolutionary ideas can gain considerable influence in, say, the armed forces, from which certain elements can seize the leadership of a living revolution.

"This is what happened when in 1952 the Free Officer movement and Nasser led the overthrow of the British backed king in Egypt, and in Ethiopia where the army struck the final blow against the wobbling Haile Selassie regime and installed the Derg in power".

A couple of sentences are garbled in The Leninist's text at this point.

"The revolution in Afghanistan was not, though, led by petty bourgeois forces".

So that's the difference! Saur was a military coup like the others - but with "working-class", not "petty-bourgeois", military coup-makers!

What made the difference? Here Jack Conrad admits, pretty plainly, that the PDPA coup-makers were based in the officer corps. How did they manage nonetheless to be a working-class party?

The ideas in their collective head determined what they were. By way of all-transmuting ideas, a magic is worked that is more astounding than the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ while to the naked eye it retains the appearance of ordinary bread and ordinary wine. Substitutionism makes everything right.

"There was a genuine working class vanguard party, the PDPA. This separates the Afghan Revolution from revolutions like those in Egypt and Ethiopia… It must be put into the same category as the October Revolution (which was itself dismissed as a coup by a whole gabble of petty-bourgeois dilettantes)".

In one article of his recent seven-part series in Weekly Worker Jack Conrad is very scathing against Martin Thomas's comment that the CPGB seems to see Afghanistan as the only "real" revolution of the 20th century, after 1917 - that they are not far off being an "Afghan" equivalent of the "Albanian" neo-Stalinist sects of the 1980s - but here Conrad says plainly that Saur was of the same type as October 1917. He does not say in so many words that Saur and 1917 belong together in a class above all other overturns of the 20th century, but no other overturn has ever been lauded by the CPGB in the same terms as those two. To sustain this wilful idiocy about Afghanistan J-J, following Engin, will not hesitate to diminish October.

For J-J, Taraki and Amin did in Afghanistan what Lenin and the Bolsheviks did in Russia.

"The proof of the pudding was in the make up of the revolutionary government - it was headed by Taraki, the Party's general secretary, and besides him the overwhelming majority of the first Revolutionary Council consisted of Party members. [When is a coup not a coup? When it puts a "vanguard Party" in power. The test of experience leads to the conclusion that it is not a coup, but a vanguard party making a popular revolution. The "vanguard party" can bestow this status, retrospectively, on a coup.] To call the Afghan Revolution a coup is to call the October Revolution a coup.

"The Khalqi forces in the PDPA, like the Bolsheviks, organised sympathetic sections of the army as the… cutting edge of the revolution. On April 27 1979 an insurrection was launched on the instructions of Hafizullah Amin, one of the main leaders of the Party, according to a plan he had previously worked out within the Khalqi wing of the PDPA.

"The plan worked. The revolution smashed the old state and ushered in a new order, a dictatorship of the proletariat.

"Lenin said that after a revolution the forces of reaction, intensify their efforts 'tenfold', he also said that 'not a single great revolution in history has taken place without civil war' (CW Vol 26 pp l18-19)."

Therefore a coup that generates a civil war ceases on that account to be coup and becomes a great revolution?

"This is a profound truth. Because the Afghan revolution was a genuine revolution the forces of reaction, the aristocratic tribal leaders, the bourgeoisie and the clergy flung themselves into launching a bloody civil war".

Again, J-J deduces his "proof" of what Saur was, and that it wasn't a coup, from the reaction to it and to what the PDPA tried inappropriately to do with the power they had seized!

"They had nothing to lose, everything to regain.

"For communists there can be no question of surrender in the face of counterrevolution. What must be done is to win the civil war using all the possibilities that state power offers the proletariat.

"During the bitter civil war in Russia following the October Revolution, Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not entertain any notion whatsoever of handing back power to either the Tsarists or the bourgeoisie. They expropriated the expropriators, gave the land to the tillers and organised the commanding heights of the economy to supply the heroic Red Army with the wherewithal to crush White Terror with Red Terror".

In fact the Red Terror was the work of the Cheka, not the Red Army.

"This was the programme of Amin - the true leader of the revolution. After the removal of Taraki and with Amin at the helm, true there were some centrist waverings and unprincipled compromises but no talk of surrender. [This hides the fact, though he may not know it, that Amin "retreated".] Like the October Revolution, the Afghan Revolution introduced sweeping socio-economic changes; all important industry was nationalised [in fact, most of it was already state controlled], land reform was organised, and the social standing [legal standing] of women was given a tremendous boost with literacy classes and a ban on the selling of brides.

"Those who say that these changes went too far, too fast, only betray their own opportunist cowardice".

The objective problems are solved with a bit of attitudinising from afar - and after the prolonged slaughter and drivings out…

"If anything it was the other way round. The pace of change was too slow. The revolution had to move fast if it was to win the loyalty of the peasantry which made up the majority of the population.

"As to the charge that the revolution was too violent, this is pious moralising. Revolution is not a game. The PDPA had to reply to counterrevolutionary war with revolutionary war. This was correct and necessary, as was the call for international proletarian solidarity".

The foolishness of thinking he knew what passed between the PDPA and the Russians! J-J may or may not know that the bourgeois military experts calculated that to conquer Afghanistan the Russians would have to commit two or even three times the forces in Afghanistan, proportionately step up the slaughter, and round up most of the population to surround them with fences. Why, in the name of what, should socialists want this to happen?

"In the name of "revolution"? If so it is a revolution from above against the people, a revolution whose modus operandi is the conquest by foreign forces of the people who, if they survive, are to benefit from the revolution. It is an oxymoronic revolution - it has nothing in common with either workers' or bourgeois-democratic revolution. Nothing at all. It is substitutionism far gone towards outright lunacy. But Jack Conrad is wallowing in it, relishing himself for not - at the safe distance of Britain - flinching from the lunatic logic of it. The thinking here belongs to the same political waveband as the Posadists calling on the USSR to start the Third World War in the interests of progressing the world revolution.

"It is an indictment of the leadership of the CPSU that it only supported the Afghan Revolution in a half-hearted way. Tragically the Khalqi leadership had to ask thirteen times [how could he possibly know?] for large scale Soviet military assistance… Amin was thought of as nothing but a wayward satrap. Because of this when Soviet troops entered Afghanistan they were used to overthrow his leadership".

That is a delicate way of describing the Russian seizure of Kabul, kicking aside the government and installing its own puppets!

"He [Amin] and 97 leaders of the PDPA were butchered in cold blood and a pliant Parcham regime fronted by Babrak Karmal was installed. This was a real coup, an opportunist, coup".

Ah!

"Karmal branded [Amin] a 'satanic operative and tyrant', who was a 'CIA agent' under whose orders Aqsa - the Afghan Cheka - 'massacred true Muslims'…

"The subsequent removal of Karmal (on 'health grounds'), the offer by Dr Najibullah to replace the 'non-Marxist' PDPA government with one of 'national reconciliation' is the logical outcome of opportunism and the Soviet leadership's putting the pursuit of a non-revolutionary 'peace' above the interests of the revolution (the only way to guarantee a lasting peace). Such a combination can only lead to rotten compromises with the forces of counterrevolution.

"In The Leninist No.2 I wrote that 'we consider the killing of Amin and 97 other PDPA leaders as representing the extinguishing of the flame of the revolution'. I also said that unless this was recognised and rectified 'the revolution will either have to suffer major amputations or face death.' It brings me no pleasure to have been proved right.

Part 4

Part 1
Part 2

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