[Marxism] Afghanistan

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 26 09:18:37 MDT 2016

An interesting comment that grew out of a tangential thread on my 
article "Taking Out the Baathist Garbage" that faulted Alexander 
Cockburn and the Sparts for backing the Soviet army in Afghanistan. I 
really wasn't that interested in debating that but Pete Glosser has made 
some very valuable contributions along these lines:

It's a fact that the substantial Russian presence in Afghanistan before 
the invasion had a very limited number of "good" qualities--some women 
were able to enter the professions for example. I was in Kabul in 1971 
or '72 and had to have a tooth drilled. Denied access to the USAID 
compound, I was directed to a Dr. Siffeti by a Kabuli I happened to 
meet. Dr. Siffeti was a woman doing business without the chadori (Afghan 
version of the hijab) who, with only a foot-powered drill and a pot of 
rather questionable amalgam very skillfully and painlessly gave me a 
filling that lasted for thirty years. She charged next to nothing for 
it. Dr. Siffeti had been trained in Russia. I liked her very much, and 
have often wondered what became of her in the convulsions that followed.

Oddly enough, many of the the few automobiles one saw on the streets of 
Kabul (apart from the very occasional upperclass Benz) were Russian 
vehicles that looked like hallucinated Loewy Studebakers. Even more 
common was an SUV-sized 4x4 with huge differential cases that used up a 
significant part of the vehicle's ground clearance. [But the trucks and 
jitney buses that abounded all had local bodywork ingeniously 
constructed on American truck chassis. (The things old men remember!)]

That said, however, there remains no conceivable justification for the 
conduct of the Soviet army during the invasion, and the notion that it 
represented a progressive force is just nonsense. No legitimately 
progressive movement could have governed in the top-down way that the 
Russian-backed People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan's succession of 
regimes (Taraki and Karmal) did. They simply did not have the support of 
the population. many of whom one suspects had never heard of them until 
they tried to govern. When you add to that the pure murder of the Soviet 
military tactics, you have only the grotesque parody of a progressive 
force. Whatever inroads a progressive outlook may once have made into 
the hearts and minds of the peoples of Afghanistan was entirely killed 
off by this--no surprise: consider how Stalin killed off communism in 
Russia and in the wider world, so much so that only the followers of Bob 
Avakian and the good old CPUSA--whatever is left of it--plus Slavoj 
Zizek even use the word any more.

It should be added that the existence of political parties in 
Afghanistan (including the PDPA) was specifically allowed by the 
country's 1964 constitution--an innovation that should receive far more 
credit for such advances as there were in that disastrously impoverished 
place than the the PDPA and the Russians. There was (in Kabul among the 
educated elite) a decidedly liberal tendency that manifested itself in a 
number of ways that a Westerner would have considered enlightened. There 
was even a nightclub in Kabul (called the bist-du-panj or Twenty-Five 
Hour Club)--quite popular with visiting Western archaeologists and 
construction engineers--where drinks were served in defiance of the 
strict ban on alcohol observed by the great majority of the country's 
Muslims. The abortive liberalism that in one of its manifestations 
allowed this probably deserves far more credit for the "advanced" 
tendencies in prewar Afghanistan (such as they were in the face of the 
world's worst social inequality) than the PDPA.

The fact is that the PDPA, which existed legally because of the '64 
constitution, seized power by first backing the King's cousin Daoud in 
his 1973 coup and then turning on him in a coup of its own, which led 
(by way of an internecine power struggle) directly to the Russian invasion.

This was not in any sense of the word revolution, and the hostile 
reaction that resulted during the Russian invasion is undoubtedly the 
primary cause for the eventual growth of the Islamist mujaheddin 
tendency. The U.S. merely took advantage of the situation, in which it 
eventually ensnared itself and the people of Afghanistan, which is 
another god-awful story altogether, although of course related.

Here is link to a picture of the toylike "butterfly" antipersonnel mines 
that the Russians actually did use extensively (as opposed to the 
mythical exploding dolls). It is said that the toy-like appearance was 
deliberate--we really have no way of knowing, but it is obvious that 
this smooth and brightly colored thing would have appealed to a child in 
a country where the toy supply was limited:


Kaboom! If this Satanic contraption is "advanced" or in any way adds to 
the glory of The People Yes, I'm a monkey's uncle. But hey, let's all 
lie about this too!

Sorry, Louis--this is a bit tangential to the thread, but I hope related 
enough to be worthwhile.

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