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Afghanistan: the story so far.

by Dave Riley

Andy Newman has a considered and thoughtful post (Afghanistan -- what happened) on the recent history of Afghanistan which takes to task some of the left's preferred telling of the narrative.

He also integrates that history with a polemic against all this hue and cry about secularism as a political principle today.

While I'm little rusty on all the historical details -- nonetheless I concur with Andy's major arguments and note that at the time of the Soviet involvement/'invasion', how hard it was to stand firmly in defence of it while the US continued is savage backing of the landlord led resistance to the Kabul government of the PDPA.

Andy reminds us of a few salient facts:
had there not been a coup in 1978, the PDPA would have been wiped out, and in those circumstances surely socialists in the West have to back the judgement of socialists on the ground faced with that threat? Also, what Neale describes as a “revolution from above” was actually an urban led series of reforms against landlordism and oppression of women, why should western socialists oppose that? Neale opposes the reformist government because the changes were “top down”, how could it be otherwise? The population were 1.5 million, of which only 30000 to 50000 industrial workers. The rural population were poor and dispersed, with a per capita income of $116, and only one telephone per 10000 inhabitants, and one car per 500 inhabitants. To say there should be no reform from above in such circumstances is to say there should be no change for the better at all.
And this was indeed the contradiction of the stance embraced unashamedly by a section of the far left who could only see the Soviet presence devoid of its naked and US imperialist context.

While today the Soviet Union is out of the picture -- there still exists another ready compromise being embraced in regard to Islamism that has clouded the positioning of some sections on the far left.

I had contributed* to a debate on Polizeros on the topic of:The Left quiet about Ahmadinejad? which is part of this ongoing exchange I think.

This may seem contradictory as on the one hand you have this advocacy of supporting the PDPA because it was progressive, and on the other you have the argument that we should support Iran against imperialism despite the fact that the mullahs are definitely not progressive.

It is not our job to shore up imperialistic propaganda for the sake of beating the war drum, promoting Islamophobia and maybe invading Iran. And the core question in regard to the Soviet 'invasion' of Afghanistan and Iran vis a vis the US killing machine is taking sides. I know it's not neat nor comfortable nor a simple exercise. Nor does it presume that you remain blind (or lie) to what's happening on the ground in Iran.

As Tariq Ali pointed out to me in 2003 the clerics are so hated in Iran that you'll probably have more people welcoming any US troops than you got in Iraq if an invasion occurred. But it will still be a mess and not a pushover. And Iranian nationalism will be incited.

And that's the key point: no matter what element of Iran any one thinks may warrant changing -- it has to be the work of the Iranian masses themselves in making that change come about -- without interference.

Thats' the same issue for Iraq even today isn't it? Regardless of what you lor I may think of any element in the resistance?

The whole modern history of Afghanistan is a brutal lesson in that precept. Where in the instance of being blinded by one or two elements of the mix -- the Soviet 'invasion' / the PDPA 'coup'-- a section of the left found themselves in the contradictory position of political alignment with US imperialism. Just as today, a laudable penchant for trumpeting secularism and supporting gay rights is embraced devoid of that overbearing imperialist context.

If you think that warps and contains our discourse somewhat -- of course it does.

All I can say is: stiff chedder. Politics & history ain't neat.

*Are you serious, Bob? Correct me if you think I’m in any way incorrect in my assessment., but hasn’t the US administration of George Bush been aggressively talking up an invasion of Iran for some time? Is this something that Polizeros wants to fall in behind in any way? In any way?

No one can “totally support” the resistance in Iraq or “totally support” the resistance in Afghanistan or “totally support” the resistance in Palestine…but that doesn’t mean that you are duty bound to fuel Bush’s warmongering machine by softening up the anti war opposition. Afterall, this “left” you refer to is not , I hope, a bunch of liberals.

That’s the difference. I always thought that between what makes up the left and what makes up the liberals: the left takes side. Liberals procrastinate. And in the situation of Iran versus the might of the US killing machine the side taking is, I’d hope, self evident.

Last time I looked Iran hadn’t invaded anyone. Last time I looked the US was dead set keen to invade Iran. And to do that this same US was whipping up as much Islamophobia it could muster to facilitate that and its other concurrent invasions.

The same problem occurred during the Iran/Iraq war of the eighties. When the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein dutifully did the US’s bidding in trying to destroy the Iranian revolution. This was a massive slaughter towards which some side taking was warranted I’d think. There was even a dedicated section of the Iranian left — the Mujahedeen — who sought to invade with Saddam’s troops.

That was indeed ’side taking’…but how smart was it,despite that lefts’ justified abhorrence of the Tehran regime. But hey! weren’t the Mujahedeen being as you’d prefer them to be in way of a thoughtful left?

Then on we go to the 1982 British incursion against the Argentinian occupation of the Falklands. No one in a purple fit could have offered “total support” to the Argentinian dictatorship — but who's side should we “of the left” have been on?

History is like that big time.It’s never neat. And you never have the easy option of selecting the degree to which you’d prefer to offer ’support’.

Let’s go way way back to the French Revolution and angst over the Thermidor and maybe replay the same sort of thing you’re writing here in regard to Ahmadinejad and instead allude to Napoleon Bonaparte. We could then ask the question: why is the Left quiet about Napoleon? Or Robespierre?

Or go back to the American Revolution and denigrate George Washington for being a slave owner. To paraphrase: “Just because someone opposes the British Empire does not automatically make them a friend - or even an ally. The foe of my foe is not necessarily a friend. Lefties who oppose slavery should oppose slavery in the American Colonies too. Solidarity need not and should not be unquestioning.”

FYI –Here is some background to Ahmadinejad’s visit from a left POV:
Lost in Translation: Ahmadinejad and the Media
Iranian University Chancellors Ask Bollinger 10 Questions
Transcript of Ahmadinejad’s U.N. Speech NPR.org, September 19, 2006
Behind the media frenzy over Ahmadinejad

6 Com:

Brad. | October 07, 2007

Another aspect you could have noted, Dave, was that there is no such thing as an iron rule -- only context.

If you take the Australian 'intervention' in East Timor as a case in point. that was "interference" was it not?

But what were the consequences of that "interference"? And didn't the Timorese resistance request it?

Al McCall | October 07, 2007

Another relevant instance is the 1979 Vietnamese 'invasion' of Cambodia which the cabal of Australia plus allies sought to cynically undermine thereafter.

Foreign interference on Vietnam's part? It was in alliance with a section of the Cambodian liberation movement after Pol Pot forces kept attacking Vietnam.

It also was a expedition designed to save the Cambodian people from furthers slaughter. The Vietnamese crossed the border. Rolled back the Khmer Rouge forces. Liberated region after region in partnership with Cambodian allies -- then began the process of retreat without trying to press a military advantage to the detriment of Cambodian territory.

That's the case, isn't it?

polizeros | October 08, 2007

I guess my point is that one can say No War on Iran and also venture the opinion that Ahmadinejad is a nutcase. And maybe even get *more* supporters for No War that way, as for many you would merely be stating the obvious. Get the issue out of the way, then hammer on why supporting No War on Iran is vital.

Would it that those eloquent Iranian University Chancellors were running the government and those 10 questions were asked during the Columbia speech instead.

Did US media want to shred Ahmadinejad? Yes. Did he hand them ample ammunition with which to do so? Yes.

Alex Miller | October 08, 2007

The booklet by Dave Holmes and Norm Dixon, BEHIND THE US WAR ON AFGHANISTAN, published by Resistance Books in 2001 is an excellent resource on the background to this discussion.

Dave Riley | October 08, 2007

I guess there are two issues here that warrant consideration.

The first is tactics --what you say or do relative to what you want to see happen.

The second is trying to understand the real concrete situation and not be distracted by schematism masquerading as principle. As folk here have pointed out, politics is full of traps liker this -- Cambodia, East Timor,Iraq, Afghanistan,the Falklands... and there is no one right way to address them that can be engineered formulaically and recycled easily again and again as an iron rule or good coin*.

The imperialist rule of thumb, none the less, is often a good marker...

In the case of Ahmadinejad my argument was that the "left" was right to be reticent. That's why I was keen to rush to their --"our" -- defence. It's a debatable point about how much or what you actually say about Ahmadinejad -- but to be wary and to accept the restraints imposed by the imperialistic war mongering moment is good business practice.

But I grant you that this is a very challenging topic. There was some debate over what should be our --"left" -- attitude to the massive wave of crackdowns in Zimbabwe in the context of international & vocal outrage by a run of 'wester democracies', for instance --as though Mugabe warranted protection from his own people.And, indeed, if there wasn't the war wagon being piloted toward Iran, Ahmadinejad could and should be treated differently.

You don't watch your Ps and Qs for the sake of Third World 'correctness'. You consider your approach in the context of present relationships with imperialism.

Going back to Afghanistan the very real option in the early eighties was to combat the attempt to engineer a boycott of the Moscow Olympics and withdraw (in this country) the Australian team from competition.

* Another instructive example is the US invasion of Panama in 1989.[Background] In fact the US went to great lengths to demonize and caricature Noriega in similar mode to the way the media has focused on Ahmadinejad --just so that US forces could easily get the international nod to invade Panama City.

ResBooks | October 11, 2007

Behind the US War on Afghanistan
Dave Holmes & Norm Dixon
Published by Resistance Books
2001, 64pp, ISBN 1876646225, Pamphlet
Washington’s war on Afghanistan did not begin in 2001, following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

It started in early 1978, when a radical leftist government came to power in Kabul. The new regime proclaimed land reform, women’s rights and other popular democratic measures.

The US rulers set about to overthrow it and to suck the Soviet Union into a debilitating and costly conflict. The bloody struggle begun by Washington has lasted for over 25 years and has devastated this already poor and backward country. The US created the brutal mujaheddin “freedom fighters”; the anti-communist fanatic Osama bin Laden was on their payroll; it helped Pakistan create the vicious Taliban.

When the terrorists they had created bit their master’s hand, Washington once more intervened in Afghanistan, not to liberate the suffering people, but to create a more amenable regime and assert its role as the world’s only superpower.

This pamphlet presents the views of the Democratic Socialist Party. It explains the truth about Washington’s “war on terrorism” — in reality, a war on the people of the world to defend the global empire of the US corporate rich.

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