Russia and Afghanistan: rewriting history

Submitted by AWL on 7 September, 2021 - 5:37 Author: Jim Denham
Russian tank in Afghanistan

The Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was as brutal as the USA’s, in fact more so, involving indiscriminate bombing, the napalming of villages and the deliberate destruction of crops. It cost an estimated million lives.

It was more a war of colonial occupation than the USA’s, in that the Russian government wanted to permanently conquer Afghanistan, whereas the USA’s plan was to punish the Taliban for 9/11, clear out al-Qaeda, install a stable government it could do business with, and then get out. (It didn’t work out like that, of course).

In one respect, however the Russian occupation was more successful that the USA’s: the Stalinist PDPA government that the USSR invaded to sustain proved capable of surviving in Kabul for three years after the Russians withdrew, whereas Ashraf Ghani’s government collapsed like a house of cards once the US withdrawal began. This difference is clearly of great importance to some people at the Morning Star: Nick Wright, (19 August) draws upon his own happy memories of being in Afghanistan alongside the Soviet army, whose main role (according to Wright’s description) was to defend education centres from Mujahideen attack. And even after the USSR withdrew, the Afghan national army “proved it could operate effectively even without Soviet help and in fact Najibullah’s [PDPA] government survived the departure of the Red Army and the dismantling of socialism in the USSR by three clear years.”

Wright concludes his article: “As the domestic dynamics of Afghan society are reasserted against imperial power, the contrast with the collapse of this puppet government in a bare fortnight could not be greater”. The only political conclusion that can be drawn from Wright’s account is that the Russian occupation was fundamentally progressive and should not (and need not) have been ended.

Greg Godels, a US Stalinist blogger who writes under the name “Zoltan Zigedy” was more explicit in a piece in the Morning Star on 30 August, claiming that even after the Russian withdrawal “the secular, progressive [PDPA] government retained support for its land reforms, secular schools, rights of women, etc.” before “the reactionary government of Boris Yeltsin refusing even basic assistance, disunity within the progressive Afghan government and the sheer weight of the foreign-backed assault forced the fall of the government.”

“Zigedy”/Godels claims that the true story of the Russian invasion and occupation was “a saga of foreign intervention” — by the USA, or “the west”.

This bizarre re-writing of history, according to “Zigedy”/Godels, “seldom if ever finds its way into western media accounts. The consequent bloody war between the Mujahideen factions never gets laid at the [western] interventionists’ doorstep, a war that in one way or another continues to this day.”

The PDPA did have a small base in the cities, and above all in the Afghan armed forces, before, and autonomous from, the Russian invasion. And of course, the US did fund Mujahideen factions, directly or indirectly, in the 1980s and early 90s. But current events in Afghanistan confirm, if confirmation is needed, that US funding is no guarantee of an effective, let alone, victorious movement. The drivers for the Mujahideen victory were the hold of traditional authorities in the countryside (where the vast majority of the population lived), the PDPA’s lack of support there, and the brutality of the Russian occupation.

“Zigedy”/Godels ends his piece with the following stricture: “The very idea of forcing a country to do something deemed by another country to be in its better interests is an absurdity, an absurdity that insults the basic concept of self-determination”. Except, it would seem, when “another country” is the USSR...

This is all the stranger when you consider that in 1979-80, the British Communist Party condemned the invasion. It looks as though today’s Communist Party of Britain and Morning Star are not only re-writing the history of the Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, but also the history of their own response to it at the time.

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