Afghanistan Analysis History Imperialism South Asia

Afghan Saur Revolution!

By Hassan Jan

Forty years ago, on 17th April 1978, when Mir Akber Khyber, a leader of Parcham (Flag) faction of People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was killed in broad daylight in Kabul, no one knew that this single incident would open the floodgate of such events which would transform the history of this entire region for the decades to come. On 19th April, thousands of people poured onto the streets of Kabul in the funeral procession of Mir Akber Khyber. They denounced the government of president Daud Khan and held it responsible for this murder. PDPA leaders delivered rebellious speeches and as a result, all the top leadership of PDPA was arrested. The revolutionary army officers sympathetic to PDPA overthrew the government of Daod Khan in a revolutionary insurrection on 27th April, 1978 and a PDPA-led revolutionary government was established. This insurrection commonly known as Afghan Saur Revolution, was such an event whose reverberations can still be felt in the whole region of South Asian Subcontinent because this revolution startled the American imperialism and its stooges. For the first time in centuries, a socioeconomic plan was envisaged to pull Afghanistan out of backwardness, illiteracy, poverty, diseases and unemployment.

The landlordism and capitalism in Afghanistan were utterly incapable for the development of the society. In Europe’s bourgeois revolutions, the bourgeois class led the transformation of society and built a modern nation-state but here in Afghanistan, no such class existed at all. Consequently, there was no possibility of development in Afghanistan on the capitalist basis. A landlocked country with mountainous terrain where only 12 percent of the land was arable (The situation is no different today). According to some estimates, 60 percent of this land remained uncultivated due to the extreme shortage of water. According to the new government of 1978, 45 percent of total arable land was owned by 5 percent landlords.

On the other hand, the industrial sector was very weak and embryonic. It formed a minute part of the overall economy. According to the Russian historian Akhramovich, “The few light industry plants, all the country had could meet but 10 to 15 percent of the home demand for textiles, sugar, footwear, and so on.” Beverley Male in her book Revolutionary Afghanistan said, “In 1977-78 industry accounted for only 17 percent of the gross national product and only employed an estimated workforce of approximately forty thousand.” She further said, “Of the six industrial regions (based on six major cities), Kabul accounted for approximately 70 percent of the industrial labour force, followed by 22 percent in the second industrial centre Kunduz in the north. The other four, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Jalalabad accounted for the remaining 8 percent of them, with factories in Herat and Jalalabad together employing less than one percent of the workforce. Some 39 percent of workers were employed in textile or cotton ginning works, 11 percent in mineral products (including cement works) with food processing, mining, construction and electricity accounting between 7 and 9 percent each. And 66 percent of the workforce was employed in the 14 factories, employing five hundred or more workers, (with 50 percent in the 7 factories with over one thousand employees)”. All these industrial development was undertaken by the government as the Afghan merchants were making huge profits from trade so they had little interest in this field.

In the decayed conditions of world capitalism and the socioeconomic position of the country, Afghanistan had entered a dead end and the only way out was to crush all the tribal, feudal and capitalist relations. Neither the country possessed such a bourgeois class that could lead the capitalist revolution and establish a modern nation-state nor did it have a sufficient number of the industrial proletariat which could play a decisive role. According to the great Marxist teacher Ted Grant, in such societies, the army acquires an exceptional role. The complete absence of such a class gave the military an elevated position in relation to the ruling classes.

At that time the centralized planned economy, albeit in its distorted form, was doing marvels in China and the Soviet Union. By abolishing capitalism and landlordism it paved the way for a speedy development of society. Poverty and backwardness were abolished and a prosperous society was established in a matter of few years. On the other hand, capitalism in the so-called developing and former colonial countries was playing havoc with the lives of millions of people. The dazzling marvels of the planned economy in China and the Soviet Union inspired the intelligentsia and many lower-ranking army officers in countries like Afghanistan. As a result, we witnessed a series of military coups in many former colonial countries by left-wing military officers who overthrew the monarchs and dictators. After assuming power they abolished landlordism and capitalism and established a centralized planned economy. By abolishing these shatter it immensely paved the way for the development of productive forces and eradication of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy.

Ted Grant described this phenomenon as Proletarian Bonapartism. By definition, a proletarian Bonapartist state is a state where capitalism has been abolished and planned economy established but the economy is not in the democratic control of workers rather it is managed by a clique of bureaucrats. Due to the nature of bureaucratic wastage and mismanagement, at a certain point of time, this bureaucratic control becomes a definite obstacle to the planned economy and the overall development of society. At that crucial moment, the workers need a political revolution to overthrow the bureaucratic coercion and mismanagement and put the economy in the democratic control of the workers. Despite all of its deformations and limitations, the Proletarian Bonapartism was a progressive phenomenon because by abolishing capitalism and remnant of feudalism it developed those backward societies and productive forces. That’s why Marxist supported these leftwing coups and revolutions conditionally.

Noor Muhammad Taraki

In Afghanistan, most high ranked military officers were normally sent to the Soviet Union for training purposes. Keeping in view that these officers belonged to one of the poorest and most backward countries of the time, the development of society and marvels of planned economy in Soviet Russia would overwhelm them. The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan had won over many military officers in the party and had a good base of support in the army. After the funeral procession of Mir Akber Khyber, almost all of the party leadership was behind the bars. One of the main leaders of the party and the organizer of the work of military, Hafizullah Amin, before his arrest, had already ordered the left wing officers of the army to take action. On that fateful day 27th April 1978, the leftwing officers overthrew the regime of Sardar Muhammad Daud. The military immediately handed over the power to the Revolutionary Council led by Noor Muhammad Taraki.

The new government started to perform its revolutionary tasks. One of the broadest land reforms in the modern history of Afghanistan was introduced. Free education and healthcare services were launched. With a decree, the gender inequality, the oppression of women, child and forced marriages were banned. The different ethnic groups were given equal status, who were formerly subjugated ethnically and religiously. All the loans, debts, mortgages and revenues due from peasants to the big landlords and usurers were cancelled. These and other such steps put Afghanistan on the road to a basic socioeconomic transformation and its reverberations were felt all across the region especially among the Pashtuns and Balochis in Pakistan.

The common misperception about the Saur Revolution is that the revolution was ignited by Soviet intervention. Saur Revolution is commonly attributed to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The reality is bit different, the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, one and a half year after the revolution! In fact, the Soviet Union never wanted a revolution in Afghanistan because ‘peaceful co-existence’, as per the terms of Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam conferences among USA, Britain and USSR in 1945, was more important to Stalinist USSR than a socialist revolution in the backward countries like Afghanistan. The Saur revolution caught them by surprise. The Moscow bureaucracy recognized the new PDPA government four days after the revolution, which says volumes about their real intentions. Initially, Soviet Union tried to influence the new PDPA government and control its decisions. The “Parcham” faction of PDPA proved helpful to the Soviet Union for this purpose as they were more compliant than the “Khalq” faction of the party. The internal rifts in the party and the Soviet meddling exacerbated the crisis.

Ted Grant wrote at the time in 1979,

“Under these circumstances, if the new regime leans on the support of the peasants and transforms society, then the way will be cleared for the development of a regime in Afghanistan, like that of Cuba, Syria or Russia. This, for the first time for centuries, will bring Afghanistan society forward to the modern world. If the socialist transformation is completed, it could comprise a new blow at capitalism and landlordism in the rest of capitalist-landlord Asia, especially in the area of South Asia. It will have incalculable effects on the Pashtuns and Baluchis of Pakistan and will have a similar effect on the people on the borders of Iran. The rotting regime of Pakistan in coming years will face complete disintegration. A revamping of social relations in Afghanistan can further contribute to the decay of this regime.

The tribesmen will be influenced by the process taking place among their brothers across the borders. On the North West frontiers of Pakistan and among the Baluchis there is already endemic and simmering revolt, with these people looking towards a unity with their brothers in Afghanistan. The effect would be in widening circles, the repercussions of which could be felt in Iran and further afield, also in India.

This is the road which the ‘Communist Party’, which holds power together with the radical officers, will take. The opposition of the old forces in Afghanistan, as in Ethiopia, will in all probability impel them in this direction.

If they temporize, possibly under the influence of the Russian ambassador and the Russian regime, they will prepare the way for a ferocious counter-revolution based on the threatened nobility and the mullahs. If successful, counter-revolution would restore the old regime on the bones of hundreds of thousands of peasants, the massacres of the radical officers and the near extermination of the educated elite.”

(The colonial revolution and the deformed workers’ state, 1979)

Unfortunately, these prophetic lines became a hard reality. Noor Muhammad Taraki was killed in the midst of internal crisis and Hafizullah Amin became the new president of Afghanistan. Consequently, Soviet forces intervened and overthrew Hafizullah Amin. Babrak Karmal from the “Parcham” faction was installed as the puppet president of the country.

The revolution in Afghanistan and the transformations it brought sent shock waves in Washington and its regional stooges like Pakistan because the revolution in Afghanistan could ignite a revolutionary upheaval in Pakistan. The vicious theocratic regime of Zia Ul Haq was already hanging by a thread. American imperialists along with its allies and Saudi funding launched Dollar-Jihad notoriously known as ‘Operation Cyclone’ to crush the nascent PDPA regime in Kabul long before the Soviet intervention. The Soviet invasion gave a powerful impetus to the counter-revolutionary Jihad. It further galvanized the counter-revolution and gave the imperialists a further reason to intervene more fervently. Islamic fundamentalists and religious obscurants were promoted. These religious goons commonly known as Mujahideen, along with their masters in Washington, Islamabad, Tehran and Riyadh turned the country into ruins. These Mujahideen were in fact hired thugs who were financed through the drug trade, extortion and kidnappings.

Babrak Karmal could not meet the expectations of the bureaucrats in Moscow and he was deposed and replaced by Dr Najeebullah but the stability of the regime had gone for good. The bureaucratic control of the planned economy in USSR had reached its limits and the economic stagnation forced them to introduce some cosmetic reforms commonly known as Perestroika or glasnost. These ‘reforms’ could do nothing to stop the decadence of the bureaucratic regime as it had turned into an ultimate obstacle to the planned economy. The Moscow bureaucracy tried to apply the same policy of ‘openness’ in Afghanistan as they foolishly thought the initial policies of Noor Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah, this was ‘extreme’ and did not conform to the ‘religious traditions’ of backward Afghanistan.

Babrak Karmal and Dr Najeebullah both tried to appease the counter-revolutionary Jihadis and offered them important positions in the government. These ‘reconciliation’ efforts could not stop the counter-revolutionary tide because they were not after the civil positions rather they wanted to overthrow the very regime which was based on a revolution. The imperialists and their Jihadi stooges wanted to teach the revolutionaries a lesson for their ‘crime’ of challenging and abolishing capitalism. The internal crisis of Soviet Union compelled it to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in 1988. Dr Najeebullah was overthrown in 1992.

The counter-revolutionary and reactionary Jihadi forces, which were nurtured by imperialists to crush the Saur revolution, became a Frankenstein monster because they were hired thugs and based on the criminal economy. When they acquire alternative sources of income they switch allegiances. During the civil war in Afghanistan, these monster Jihadi groups fought viciously amongst themselves, each representing different regional powers. They turned the country into rubble. The same Jihadis later on, with the full support of Pakistan and CIA, became Taliban which captured almost all of Afghanistan.

After the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, a new chapter of miseries, devastation and conflicts started. In this longest war in American history, the US has spent about 1$ Trillion. Despite all their technological supremacy and military might, the American imperialists have failed to win this so-called war in Afghanistan. Pakistan with its “Strategic depth” policy is playing havoc in the country while Iran, China, India and Russia have increased their meddling by supporting different warring factions of Taliban. This unfortunate land is being devastated in the proxy wars of imperialist powers. Peace and prosperity will only return to Afghanistan when the imperialist meddling of the world and regional powers will be stopped. These meddling will only be stopped when these capitalist states are overthrown through a successful socialist revolution. This will change the very character of these states and create such conditions which would revive the traditions of Saur revolution on a much higher plane. This is the only way forward for Afghanistan.