Land reform under the Afghan communists

Louis R Godena louisgodena at
Sun Oct 6 09:40:23 MDT 1996

Hugh suggests,  obliquely,  that the actions of the PDPA may have fallen
short of the complete emancipation of the peasantry.

He is somewhat correct.    Under the circumstances,  however,  I think they
did positively well.

Through the National Fatherland Front,  created shortly after the 1978
revolution,  and comprised of various peasant, worker,  youth,  women,
ethnic and tribal organizations,   a series of land reforms were enacted
under the general rubric of Land and Water Reform.     Agriculture at that
time was the occupation of approximately four fifths of the population.
Under the initial reforms (1979-81)  more than 350,000 peasant families were
provided with land.    The new government also canceled all peasant debts to
"usurers" (the $700 million figure is provided by the ILO).    It also
raised by varying degrees the purchase price of cotton,  sugar beet and
wheat and artificially reduced the prices of mineral fertilizer and farming
implements.    It created and heavily subsidized (through easy-term credits)
an emergent peasant cooperative system.

A second period of land reform (1983-85) proved even more ambitious.    An
additional 450, 000 families were granted farming land--though many of the
affected areas had only recently been won from "bandit" control and were
considered too politically unstable to effect reforms.    New subsidies were
granted to those in the areas of new crop development at exponentially
higher rates than in the earlier reforms.    Nitrogenous fertilizer plants
were constructed in Naglu,  Mazar-i-Sharif,  and farm machinery factories
were built or re-tooled in Puli-Khumri,  Herat and Kabul.    The peasant
cooperative system was also enlarged; by 1987,  fully 70% of Afghanistan's
peasant farmers were connected in one way or another with the cooperative

It is to be noted that the agricultural reforms of the first eight years of
PDPA rule (1978-86) were carried out against a background of not only
frightful civil war and internal sabotage,  but also during a period of
intense industrial devleopment.    Prior to 1978,  the mining and processing
industries (the bulk of Afghanistan's industrial output) accounted for less
than 4% of the GNP;  at the end of 1985,  this figure had increased to
nearly 20%.    In 1984 alone,   investments in the public and mixed--sector
industries increased by 50% and more than 100 new factories were put into
operation (at least partially),  and more than 200 had successfully
completed renovation and re-tooling.    In additon,  the Jarkuduq gas fields
were fully develped ,  a concrete beam factory in Puli-Khumri, a textile
mill complex in Kandahar,  and a heavy duty lorry factory in Kubal were
opened and began full production.   And of course the government during
precisely this period began to offer free health care,  education and
subsidized housing on a grand scale.

The continuing ravages of counter-revoluton and the gradual withdrawal of
support from the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc together vitiated many of
the reforms put in place during the first decade of communist rule.    More
in more after 1987,  compromises were reached with centrist and conservative
fundamentalist forces in an attempt to broaden support for the new
Najibullah government.     This involved the corresponding reduction of the
role of the state in rural affairs as more and more of the old fiefdom
system was revived.    The PDPA itself changed its name to the Peoples'
Party of Aghanistan and dropped Marxism-Leninism as its official ideology in

It did not save them.    While the full story of the effects of
Afghanistan's brief and tumultuous experiment with socialism remains to be
written,   the record of the PDPA in the countryside remains,  in my
opinion,   an impressive one.

Louis Godena

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