Ireland and Afghanistan: the test of experience
We have already dealt with what J-J says about the 1916 Dublin Rising. There are additional points to make and some points to expand. Remember J-J:
"Lenin's discussion of the 1916 Irish rebellion - under the military command of James Connolly but politically dominated by petty bourgeois romantic nationalists - is instructive here.
"The Sean Matgamnas and Martin Thomases of his day, the leftist pedants and doctrinaires, dismissed the rising as the swan song of Irish nationalism and nothing more than a 'putsch' - i.e., the German word for a coup [in fact, Emine Engin's word for a coup she wants to present as a revolution] which 'had not much social backing'."
But if he wants to use this analogy, shouldn't he try to establish in what way 1916 is comparable to Saur? He implies some sort of national liberation parallel. Does he want to do that? Is he so unwise? He is equating national liberation and such as Pearse and Connolly not with the real analogue in Afghanistan, the people fighting imperialist invaders, but with the Afghan Stalinists and later Quislings! Why? In order to equate those Lenin attacked as "left" doctrinaires and pedants opposed to national liberation struggles, for their own reasons, with those who opposed the Stalinist coup in Afghanistan both because it was Stalinist and because it was a coup, and who opposed the Russian invasion!
Vis-à-vis Afghanistan he can only talk of leftists, etc., from his old point of view, that a workers' revolution was not only possible but had happened. Without that he inescapably winds up conflating a rising for national liberation in Ireland with what he used to see as an attempt to make a "working class" revolution in one of the most backward places on earth, by coup-makers who had very little real support.
In fact, as I have explained already, the 1916 Rising had very little social backing, even in Dublin - not even from the workers Connolly had led in his capacity of trade unionist. At the end of April 1916, as the British restored their 'order' in Dublin, the Rising looked very like a hopeless 'putsch'. What ultimately vindicated Lenin's assessment of 1916, was what happened afterwards. And that is what most clearly shows the difference between Ireland and Afghanistan. J-J is comparing incomparable things.
Lenin elsewhere said of 1916 that the "tragedy of the Irish" was "that they rose too soon", before conditions had ripened in the rest of Europe, and in isolation from similar things in other countries, and from the working class revolt against the war.
By the 1916 test, what happened afterwards, the analogy falls down entirely. The Afghan Stalinists were not the too-precipitate vanguard of a long-existing mass movement like pre-1916 Irish nationalism and which would subsequently erupt. As I argued in "Afghanistan ", they were the disoriented heirs of the long tradition of elite would-be social engineering in Afghanistan.
J-J again: "Enraged, Lenin warned them against 'treating the national movements of small nations with disdain' (V I Lenin Collected Works Vol 22, Moscow 1977, p355).
"It was not only Karl Radek and Leon Trotsky who looked down their noses at the Dublin uprising, but representatives of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Lenin urged these comrades to open their eyes to the shocking 'accidental coincidence of opinion'."
Lenin's instinct was vindicated, as was the theoretical framework in which he saw the rising - that in the age of imperialism, there would be many nationalist risings against the colonial powers.
However, in terms of the facts of the rising and its immediate aftermath, there was good reason for Radek to take the view he did. As we have already seen, on the surface, the rising had much of the putsch and the fiasco about it.
What did those Lenin criticised have in common with the Imperialists? A certain judgment and a common dismissal. What do we have in common with them? Hostility to Stalinism; an assessment of facts about what actually happened in April 1978 and after.
The idea that because the bourgeoisie, for whom the Stalinists were a rival empire and an aspirant to take their place as ruling class, have such an opinion automatically makes it wrong, or lines you up with them, is one you would expect J-J to have grown out of. Until he does he will remain a one-campist, at present a negative one-campist, hanging on the coat-tails of the SWP. But no: Lenin made such a point; ergo, a bit of magic-Lenin mantra can be culled and brandished.
In the case of those Lenin criticises, he was pointing out that their politics on questions of national liberation aligned them with the imperialists in relation to people and movements whom both Lenin and those he criticises agreed they should, in broad terms, support against their oppressors. Nothing like that exists for the AWL vis-à-vis Stalinism in Afghanistan, or in Russia (though plainly it does still, emotionally for J-J).
Jack Conrad's old view rendered his attitude coherent. Now it is just anachronistic, unpurged emotional and political dross!
Everything in relation to 1916 depends on the fact that Lenin was right because he had both a better political instinct, "feel" for things, and also had the right theoretical framework, while the disciples, of Rosa Luxemburg on the national question such as Karl Radek, and the newer, World War 1-linked, variant of her old politics held to by those Bolsheviks like Bukharin and Pyatakov and Bosch whom Lenin called "Imperialist Economists", had a wrong theoretical framework through which to view the Rising. Moreover, they lacked Lenin's "feel" and instinct.
Nothing analogous to post-Rising Ireland can be found in post-coup Afghanistan. It is a case of Karaoke Jack using his magic Lenin kit to substitute inappropriate bits of old texts for factual analysis of Afghanistan.
The reference to Trotsky is the same - a mix of culpable ignorance and repetition of an old Stalinist lie. On the theoretical issues in dispute between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg (and, later, Bukharin, Bosch and Pyatakov), Trotsky, before and after the 1903 Conference where this was an issue, and in 1916, had the same position as Lenin. Far from turning up his nose, he passionately defended the insurgents in Nashe Slovo. He did that far more directly than Lenin did. His difference with Lenin was a difference of specific assessment.
Putsches and coups again
There are additional points to make on the Afghan coup.
J-J was in the grip of Stalinist fantasies and duff substitutionist theories that led him to see the workers in power where co-thinkers and would-be understudies of the Russian ruling class had seized power, and the armies and airforce of that bureaucratic ruling class were trying to establish a savage and unbridled tyranny over the peoples of Afghanistan.
Now he has no coherent overview, not even the fantasy-addled Stalinist outlook he used to have.
J-J: "What of the term 'putsch' - or 'coup' to use French-English? For Lenin the term 'may be employed only when the attempt at insurrection has revealed nothing but a circle of conspirators or stupid maniacs, and has aroused no sympathy among the masses'.
"The Irish national liberation movement did not come out of thin air. It had manifested itself in street fighting conducted by the petty bourgeoisie and a section of the working class after 'a long period' of mass agitation, demonstrations, suppression of newspapers, etc.
"Hence for Lenin anyone who calls the Dublin uprising a 'putsch' is either a 'hardened reactionary' or a 'doctrinaire hopelessly incapable of envisaging a social revolution as a living phenomenon'(ibid)."
In fact, as we have seen, the Rising had much of the putsch and of the comic opera revolution about it. Though it looked a great failure, Lenin saw it in the right perspective, and he was in that superior to those he criticised. But in 1916 it was still a matter of a view of the future. We see Lenin now as correct because of the verdict of subsequent events, whereas, the same test, the judgment of events, tells an opposite conclusion about Khalq.
Those who said what the AWL said on Afghanistan have been proved right! Jack Conrad is in retrospect in the opposite position to Lenin and others after 1916! But never mind: a little bit of Lenin text about something else entirely will work wonders!
"Lenin famously rounded upon his leftist doctrinaires as follows: 'To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outburst by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletariat and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by landowners, the church and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc. - to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution . Whoever expects a 'pure' social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip service to revolution without understanding what revolution is' (ibid pp355-56)."
If he used "Lenin" like a Marxist and not like a Stalinist, he would examine the situation Lenin was dealing with, ask himself why and in what way Lenin had been proved right. He would then have asked himself what light all this shed on the facts of Afghanistan - having first established them, stripped of ideologising glosses - and what there was really in common, what there was that was different, and so on.
A Marxist would feel obliged to tell the reader concretely and exactly what light he thinks this sheds on the situation he is supposed to be dealing with, Afghanistan's Saur 'revolution' and its aftermath. J-J does not even try. The analogy, the bit of magic Lenin text is substituted for a concrete analysis of Afghanistan - and of Ireland. This is the pure stuff of Stalinist pseudo-Leninist dogmatics!
And he doesn't notice that he has blundered into an area where Lenin is actually dealing with the national rights of a small nation, the right of that nation or, in principle, of even a small segment of it, to take arms against the imperialism oppressing it, the duty of Marxists to look with sympathy on even petit-bourgeois "revolutionary nationalists". In Afghanistan, Jack Conrad, not least in his glosses on the CI's Second World Congress teaching, is entirely on the other side.
J-J is too busy caroling karaoke "Leninism" to notice that what Lenin is saying, applied to the real situation in Afghanistan, indicts his own support for Russian Imperial conquest of Afghanistan! That it justifies us and indicts himself!
"There will be localised general strikes and risings, army mutinies, premature and isolated revolutionary movements etc."
Pointedly here, what J-J thinks Lenin had in mind, and what Lenin assuredly did have in mind, are things that are radically different from anything that happened in Afghanistan.
Not "strikes" or popular uprisings or rank and file mutinies in the armed forces, but a military coup by segments of an army and airforce divided not horizontally but vertically, segments of hierarchically organised conventional military force against similar segments on the other side.
"Premature and isolated revolutionary movements"? A premature and rather isolated attempt by a tiny Stalinist party to make a Stalinist revolution by way of an army coup, yes. Entirely "premature" in terms of the level of Afghan society, yes. But he is attempting to suggest that people of our politics should have the same attitude to the PDPA coup as to a working class or plebeian movement for goals we endorse or in response to provocations concerning which we are entirely on the side of those acting "prematurely".
It has no parallel in the April 1978 coup by people who thereafter confronted most of the people of Afghanistan with state-organised, airborne terror that aimed to impose on them the rule of an aspirant new bureaucratic ruling class, modelled on that of Russia.
One may as a human being, if not as a politician, sympathise with the people of the Afghan PDPA caught up in terrible contradictions, and with some of their aspirations. One may see many of the rank and file Stalinists as not villains who clearly understood what they were doing, but people caught up in a tragedy. People who in different circumstances would have found their way to our banner.
But that is not at all the same thing as our attitude to a "premature" working class uprising, or a peasant uprising, even in Afghanistan. We are not here discussing some Kabul Commune, or some Afghan equivalent of the 16th-century German communist Anabaptists, who rose in Münster led by Thomas Münzer, or even an equivalent of the Canton Commune of December 1927.
In Canton, the CPC staged a rising that was seriously misconceived. They acted at the command of Stalinist bureaucrats trying to save face on the bloody fiasco to which they had led the Chinese working class earlier that year. They had the rising staged so that they could pretend that the tide had not turned against the workers, that Chang Kai Shek's counter-revolution had not occurred. Even so, we were unequivocally on their side.
Trotsky, who did not ignore the bureaucratic commandism that had triggered the rising, pointed out that what actually happened was a real proletarian uprising, which, in its own tragic way, showed what could have been done by the CCP with better policies.
Saur was a military coup. It differed from other coups in the political leadership exercised in it by the PDPA, but, in its modus operandi, its relationship with the working class, with the peasants, and in its relationship to society as a whole, it differed not at all from other military coups in which officers are the decisive protagonists.
Karaoke Jack continues to parody Lenin:
Prejudices and reactionary fantasies
"Of course, the petty bourgeoisie and non-socialist masses inevitably bring with them all 'their prejudices, their reactionary fantasises, their weaknesses and errors'. But the task of the advanced section of the working class, the Marxists, the communists, is not to belittle their efforts, rather to critically defend them, to side with them and to increase efforts to lead them."
This is a marked departure from the viewpoint he had until the mid or late 1990s, when Khalq was the Afghan Bolshevik party operating a "dictatorship of the proletariat". If he would speak in his own words perhaps J-J would now tell us in which aspect, of deeds or of policies, the Afghan Stalinists corresponded to Lenin's words about 'prejudices and reactionary fantasies, weaknesses and errors'.
In fact, in the Stalinist Afghan coup one cannot point as there might be in a popular upsurge to this or that element of rawness or backwardness in a popular rising. The Afghan Stalinists were in their fashion politically sophisticated, schooled in what Jack Conrad curiously still calls "the World Communist movement", and acting to some degree in conjunction with the ruling class in Russia.
In coyly quoting Lenin and, seemingly, admitting that these were "reactionary fantasies" - not a bad way of describing the Stalinism which some subjective revolutionaries believed in! - "weaknesses and errors", he is, whether he knows it or not, implicitly engaging in radical political self-criticism for his years as a "tankies' tankie".
In fact, most of what The Leninist advocated - their hostility to Solidarnosc in Poland and to other attempts to recreate a working-class movement on the poisoned ground of the Stalinist states, where they thought "the working class" ruled, and their invariable partisanship for the ruling class in the Stalinist states against the workers there - these were thoroughly reactionary.
Until J-J understands that he will not grow up politically!
Fantasies instead of concrete analysis
J-J: "The conditions which produced the 1978 revolution in Afghanistan date back to at least the mid-1960s and the failures of the Zahir Shah monarchy to carry through the modernisation of the country. The UN credited Afghanistan with being one of the poorest 20 countries in the world. Neither healthcare nor education existed for the mass of the population. Over 90% were illiterate."
But what has this to do with what in fact happened? Sociologically this was not a working class party. He is incapable of moving from the stereotypes and the archetypes and the copybook exercises, and how things might have been and should have been, to analysis of the concrete realities of Afghanistan.
What follows is a sketchy, selective account that gives no real picture of the real Afghanistan. He substitutes quasi-fictions. The actual dynamic - the grouping of a section of the elite around the PDPA and the Russians, etc. - is absent; vague talk of "discontent" is put in its place.
Denying the all-shaping fact that it was fundamentally an elite movement that created Saur, that its actual antecedents, the long gestation process, are to be sought in the history of the elite and its interaction with the Stalinist ruling class; like Emine Engin, and following in her tracks, he is led to give an account not of Afghanistan and not of the real "revolution" but of an imaginary county and a revolution that never was.
J-J: "Between 1953 and 1963 Afghanistan suffered under the heavy heel of oppression." In fact the Stalinists supported Daud as other Stalinists at the time supported Nasser and the Iraqi 'Nasser', Quassim, 1958-63. It was a major reason why they did not openly found a party until 1965.
"Yet discontent could not be contained indefinitely using these methods, and in the mid-1960s the monarchy was forced to grant one concession after another. In 1964 some limited democratic rights were officially recognised and an electoral system was introduced.
"In the countryside the traditional rulers could often fix the ballot and pressurise opposition candidates into standing down. That was even true for the smaller towns and some of the cities. The exception was Kabul, the capital. Here alone there was something approaching political liberty."
This is, in fact, J-J accidentally pointing to an important truth. "The PDPA was very much a Kabul party."
" While the PDPA could build support in village schools, the khans and landlords would frighten the poor peasants, the sharecroppers, who might be tempted to join the communists. They were godless and anti-muslim. Failing that, anyone who dared promote the politics of the PDPA in the countryside 'could easily die for speaking out of turn' (ibid)."
This is a subtextual vindication of the Khalqis: they were unfortunately blocked off from another course than the one that led them to reap the harvest of Russia's influence, and recruit key officers and then to make a military coup. The account he gives here, to explain - and justify - what Khalq did, undermines his insistence that April 1978 was a revolution and not a coup. He doesn't notice the effect of his Khalqi apologetics.
The conclusion from the true picture he paints has to be that the situation was one in which a popular revolution was impossible, as I think it was. It does not follow that the "peculiar solution" of the PDPA, a Stalinist military coup, was right. And history shows us, in a message written in giant letters of blood, that this did not work either
There was no rank and file ferment in the armed forces
J-J: "The PDPA was deeply divided factionally between the right wing (He remains a Khalqi ) around Karmal and the left wing around Taraki and Amin.
" Between 1964 and 1973 the growing mood of anger gave birth to organised movements amongst the workers, students and peasants. In 1965 there were student boycotts of classes and strikes in the mining and electrical industries. Even comrade Matgamna concedes that in 1971-72 'the PDPA led a wave of strikes' (Workers' Liberty Vol 2, No2, nd, p42). ["Concedes " The point here is that the idea that one presents an objective account is as foreign to J-J as to a courtroom lawyer ] In Paghman a peasant movement began to demand land redistribution. All in all, many thousands were arrested and scores killed, but that only added to popular clamour for change. As a consequence unrest began to manifest itself in the army."
This, taken from Engin, is plain nonsense. That the army responded to social impasse and crisis, including the sort of things that he lists, is fact. It responded as it did and in the way it did because of the history of the elite reformers which I have sketched out (see "Afghanistan " for a detailed account).
It responded also in the way it did because of the influence of the USSR, and derivatively, of the PDPA, which reaped what the armed forces' 25-year connection with the USSR ruling class had sown.
The idea that unrest manifested itself in the army as a result of the events he lists, as a reflection of them, presupposes for credibility Emine Engin's covering up of just which people in the armed forces we are talking about.
The logical outcome of what J-J presents, and what he tries to suggest, would be ferment in the armed forces, rank and file eruptions, etc. But that is not what happened. And in fact Parcham, the most closely tied to the USSR, participated in Daud's coup and in the government that resulted from it.
"Things came to a head in 1973. There were, admits [!] comrade Matgamna, 'conditions for revolution' in 'urban Afghanistan' (Workers' Liberty Vol 2, No2, p42). He is correct. The rulers could not rule in the old way and the ruled in the cities, especially Kabul, refused to be ruled in the old way. The only way out for the ruling class was a pre-emptive army coup led by Daud - former prime minister and a member of the royal family. Daud came to power against the regime in order to save the regime with the active help of the Parcham wing of the PDPA. Reward duly came with a range of ministerial portfolios. Nevertheless, though Daud offered a trickle of worthy promises, they did not resolve the underlying discontent and social malaise affecting Afghan society."
This is a variant of Emine Engin's falsification of who the actors were and why - here used to obscure what happened in 1973, and to misrepresent Daud. What did he act to preempt? The third part of the bit of Lenin Karaoke Jack Conrad is here paraphrasing (from Left Wing Communism ) has it that an alternative to the existing rulers must be available for a revolutionary situation to exist. He implies with the talk of "preemption" by Daud that such a thing was available, or conceivable. It wasn't.
The bourgeoisie certainly had no hope of it. The PDPA - either faction - did not yet dream of their own regime. Parcham, and the USSR, saw no better way forward than Daud, whose coup the Parchami officers helped organise. Far from then even imagining what would happen in April 1978, Khalq tried to join the Daud government in 1973.
This is a prize exhibit of Karaoke Leninism. Lenin's well known account of the three conditions for a revolution (the rulers cannot rule in the old way, the ruled refuse to be so ruled, and there is available a viable alternative to the existing system) is not used here as a model with which to analyse Afghanistan.
The text is paraphrased and used as a clumsy substitute for concrete analysis.
In fact, this outline of the conditions of revolution, just like Lenin's letter to the CC, Marxism and Insurrection, if it is used with your mind switched on as distinct from being karaoked, sheds a flood of light on Afghanistan.
"Khalq significantly outgrew Parcham in terms of membership Hard membership figures are impossible to come by. True to form, comrade Matgamna writes of an 8,000 total for both factions as the 'highest PDPA claim', but guesses that 'the real figure before the [April 1978] revolution may have been half of that' (Workers' Liberty Vol 2, No2, p49).
"This is not right. I make no pretence to know what exactly the membership of the semi-legal PDPA was." But he knows inexactly: how? From the organ of international Stalinism, used exactly as Emine Engin used it 20 years ago! "Nonetheless, in World Marxist Review - a thoroughly turgid journal of what was then the 'official' world communist movement [claimed to be 50,000 members.]"
What figure you plump for is decided not by the test of likelihood, plausibility, comparison of the best available assessments - which acquaints the reader with the possibilities and difficulties, which is what I did in WL - but by one's emotional attitude! It is not rational history, let alone Marxist approach to history.
"In terms of Kabul's political life the [resulting] demonstration was huge. Some sources write of 50,000, others of 15,000. Comrade Matgamna a much more modest 10,000. The size and militancy of Kyber's funeral alarmed the - royal-republican - Daud government and triggered the high-risk decision to arrest leading members of the PDPA."
But what has this political life to do with the coup, or the regime it installed? It was the army and airforce that made the coup, not the PDPA.
Whatever the size of the demonstration, this had nothing to do with what happened in the changeover effected by the PDPA-army and airforce officers!
What would a real revolution have looked like?
Whatever the size of the demonstration, this had nothing to do with what happened in the changeover effected by the PDPA army and airforce officers!
In a real revolution what would follow from the things he describes would be attempts to set up some sort of representative mass bodies, perhaps soviets, the subversion of the armed forces at the rank and file level, perhaps outbreaks, risings ("premature" or otherwise).
Even if his picture is true, though as far as I could make out it is very far from the truth [see "Afghanistan "], nothing of this sort emerged, even if only to play a subordinate role in the making of the coup. Nothing at all!
The most he dares - after Emine Engin - assert is that there was a big demonstration in Kabul during or after the coup. It is not at all central; and though he does his best to vaguely suggest that it is, he does not dare to say it plainly.
Again, the question arises, given the basic facts, which are not seriously disputed, why does he need this? He used to be braver, boldly asserting that the PDPA and its officers were the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
"At midnight on April 25 1978 Taraki and Karmal were lifted by the police. However, before he was seized, Amin - who was responsible for the party's illegal work in the army - managed to issue instructions for an uprising. 'As crowds gathered' in the Kabul's central park 'in protest against the imprisonment of PDPA leaders', Mig 21s struck the presidential palace and tanks moved into the city (ibid)."
As an account of what and why, this is nonsense. Curiously, he assigns to the PDPA a reactive, initially passive role. Why does he need it? In any case, that is not how things were.
He elides the revealing fact that Amin was only under house arrest and freely able to communicate, and other details which I gave in WL. Why? He thinks that weighs against the picture he wants to draw or suggest.
"After some fierce fighting especially in Jelalabad, the Daud regime was swept away [he refuses a clear definition of who, exclusively, did the fighting] amid widespread rejoicing. Comrade Matgamna writes improbably of mayhem and 10,000 deaths. Film footage shown on the BBC tells of a less bloody scenario - the common people of Kabul, on foot and horse [?], taking to the streets and a sea of red flags.
And what did they do in the streets - and afterwards?
In fact here he repeats an idea in Engin, who is not only more rigorous and more serious but, all in all, more honest about what actually happened in Afghanistan. What J-J adds is imaginative elaboration. Where she talks of photographs of the demonstrators he adds his own "BBC" film. Here he elaborates Engin all the way into straight lies.
J-J: "PDPA officers were given orders by PDPA cadres and then themselves gave orders to the conscripts under them. The revolution was therefore an uprising organised by a mainly civilian "official communist" party which had aligned to itself a section of the officer corps and [afterthought!] enjoyed the sympathy of the politically advanced masses in the cities, above all Kabul."
As far as I could find out this is only true at all in that the PDPA leaders told the party officers what they wanted and relied on them to activate the traditional army structures.
Here, J-J is using bits of formal truth to construct large lies. He is trying to suggest that in its modus operandi, relationship to the working class and to the people generally, this was not a coup.
For what is true in this statement to amount to what he is trying to make it amount to, then the armed forces under the political control of the PDPA would have had to be only part of those acting in the "revolution" - a subordinate part, or in any case so limited a part as to give the seizure of power a character other than the one it really had, that of an army/airforce coup in which the PDPA officers and the segments of the old state under their control were the only active force in the taking and consolidation of power.
The facts are unambiguous. J-J here engages in pure obfuscation. Nobody denies that there was some support for the PDPA, and for the coup. The argument involved in saying it was or was not a coup is one about who the protagonist was. It was the armed forces officers under the political leadership of the PDPA!