[Chris Harman]


Afghanistan and the Russian invasion of 1979–80

Only a Pawn in Their Game

(February 1980)

First published in Socialist Review, 1980 : 2, 17 February–15 March 1980, p. .
Copied with thanks from Chris Harman’s Back Pages.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This appeared as an editorial piece in Socialist Review in February 1980, under the title, Only a pawn in their game.

Our last issue carried a short editorial piece headlined. A New Cold War as a question. The question mark hardly seems appropriate now after the further raising of US arms spending, the attempts to sabotage the Moscow Olympics, Carrington’s tour of the various dictators and slave owners who run the West Asian chunk of the “free world”, Carter’s insistence that the US must be ‘the most powerful nation on Earth’.

For this reason we make no apology for devoting a sizeable chunk of this issue to the new cold war. In factories and workplaces arguments over it have confronted socialists – arguments that have not always been easy to deal with. And so we also make no apology for summarising our main conclusions here.

It is a general rule that the more backward (or devastated) a country, and the later the attempt to travel along the road of state capitalist ‘modernisation’ and economic independence the greater the barriers to success. For those who try it appears that only the crudest and bloodiest repressive measures can break through these. For the mass of people the resulting oppression can be as great as anything they suffered under the old order. Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia provides testimony to what this can mean in extreme instances.

In the modern world ‘progressive’ national development can bounce back from the barriers to its advance and even force society backwards.

That is why in Afghanistan the Taraki regime fell to the Amin regime, and why the Amin regime lost control of much of the country to the rebels. The efforts of the urban middle class to uproot the past had reached an impasse. The ‘progressive’ middle class could break eggs with increased repression, but it could not produce the omelettes which would, in its own terms, justify the viciousness of its measures.

If comparisons have to be made, they should not be with liberation movements like those fighting against western imperialism in Africa or Latin America, or under attack from a Russian backed regime in Eritrea, but with the reactionary movements based among sections of the peasantry, that opposed the bourgeois revolutions of the West: the peasants of Western France who rose in the Vendée Royalist revolt against the French revolution; or the Carlists peasants of Northern Spain who fought under religious banners against the most minimal attempts to introduce liberal reforms into Spain in the civil wars of the 1830s. the 1870s and 1936. The fact that such movements gained genuine local support, even from the poorer peasants, does not make them into movements for national liberation

In the east of Afghanistan, the Western powers are seeking to utilise the rebels, not to liberate the country, but to replace Russian by Western domination. The character of the rebel movements will most likely make them easy meat for such manoeuvres.

If we were in Russia, that would mean vigorously arguing against the takeover of Afghanistan and welcoming every defeat of the army of occupation. But we are in Britain, where the slogan ‘Russians out of Afghanistan’ is being used to justify in¬creased arms spending, the movement of the US Fleet to the Gulf, the British base in Diego Garcia, the British officers in Oman, the supply of guns to the hangman in Pakistan. We have to oppose these move-and the ideology behind them.

We have to insist: All imperialist hands off Asia; No arms for the hangman who rules Pakistan or the slave owners who rule the Gulf states; End the American threat to Iran: the US Fleet out of the Gulf: British mercenary officers out of Oman and the Russians out of Afghanistan.

Last updated on 21 September 2019