Afghanistan’s Only Hope
Published in Socialist Worker 5 January 1980. It was Socialist Worker’s first comment on the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. I got the job because the better-informed comrades were away for Christmas. I had to consult my son’s globe to find out exactly where Afghanistan was, but I think I got the line right.
The Russian invasion of Afghanistan has called forth a flood of hypocrisy. The United States, which sent half a million troops into Vietnam, denounces Russia for sending 30,000 into Afghanistan.
Britain, which in the nineteenth century twice invaded Afghanistan, massacring thousands, joins in the chorus.
Afghanistan is a bitterly poor country. The average income is £75 a year. One child in four dies soon after birth; the average expectation of life is just 35; in some areas three quarters of the population suffer eye disease. 40,000 families own three quarters of the farming land while a million and a half peasants have no land at all.
In April 1978 the dictatorship of Mohammed Daud was overthrown and a new government set up by the PDPA (the Afghan Communist Party).
The new prime minister, Nur Mohammed Taraki, asked the United States for aid. Not only was it refused, but what little aid the US already gave was cut off.
The April 1978 coup was not a workers’ revolution; the tiny working class played no part in it. But the new government, consisting of middle class intellectuals, tried to introduce some real reforms.
Schools were opened, arranged marriages were abolished, the power of the money lenders was attacked. There was land reform which limited the size of farms to 15 acres.
But all was not simple for the new regime. A widespread rebellion grew up in the countryside.
This is generally reported as being a Muslim revolt. But religion was not the only factor. The rebels were encouraged by the old landlords and moneylenders and were helped by the military dictatorship in Pakistan.
Last September Taraki was removed – and probably murdered – by Hasizullah Amin.
Amin tried to crush the rebels, but despite his brutality was unable to do so.
It was then that the Russians stepped in. They had little interest in social reform for Afghanistan. For many years before 1978 they backed right wing governments and helped to train the army.
But Amin’s incompetent brutality did not suit their book so he was disposed of and yet another old time Communist, Babrak Karmal, was installed in power.
The people of Afghanistan have little to hope for from the Russians – their fate will be no better than that of Muslim peoples already in the Russian empire.
Nor will the crocodile tears of the West do them any good. The Afghanistan working class is tiny – but it has a tradition of struggle – for example a wave of strikes in 1968. The only future lies with the workers and poor peasants.