Revolution and counterrevolution in Afghanistan
In 1978 the Saur Revolution swept across the central Asian country of Afghanistan uprooting backwards social and property relations and liberating women from domestic slavery, abuse and extreme oppression.
Afghanistan is a country with a long and complicated history. Throughout the years, it came under the influence of many different groups, from the Kushans to the Iranians to the Greeks to the Mongols.
The Durrani empire was established in 1747, with a man of Pashtun ethnicity named Ahmed Shah Durrani at its head. Besides a very short period in 1929 when a Khan named Bacha-i-Saqa briefly overthrew the government and named himself emir, every Afghan leader belonged to Ahmed Shah Durrani’s tribal confederation.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the people of Afghanistan fought against the British imperialists several times resulting in various parts of the country falling under British control.
The borders of modern Afghanistan resulted from a combination of of those battles and competition between the British and Russian Empires.
In 1921, after army leader Amanullah Khan led a successful uprising, Afghanistan formally won its independence from the British.
In 1933, Mohammed Zahir Shah became king after his father was assassinated. He instituted a few reforms, such as limited education for women, but also showed great indifference towards the country’s toilers, as could be expected.
While infrastructure crumbled and famine lead to thousands of starvation deaths, Zahir Shah used the country’s
resources to have castles built for himself in Kabul and Italy.
Zahir Shah ruled until 1973, when he was overthrown in a bloodless coup led by his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan.
Instead of naming himself king, Daoud broke tradition and proclaimed Afghanistan a republic, with himself as president. He was originally backed by Parcham, a reformist faction of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan
(PDPA), because he promised to introduce a number of progressive, democratic reforms.
Instead, Daoud’s rule was marked by increasing repression, including the arrests and executions of numerous revolutionaries and the closure of the newspapers of both the Parcham and the more revolutionary Khalq factions of the PDPA.
The factions of the PDPA, which formed in 1965 and split from each other two years later, finally reunified in 1977, with the encouragement of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
The Saur Revolution
In late 1977, students and workers in the capital city of Kabul rose up against the oppressive Daoud government, but were put down by the police. After the rebellion, Daoud had several members of the PDPA jailed.
In January, 1978, another uprising broke out as thousands of Afghans demanded the release of the jailed PDPA members. The police were unable to put down the rebellion and so the army was called in to smash it.
A few months later, in March, Mir Akbar Khyber (also known as “Kaibar”), a leading member of Parcham, was murdered by government forces. Tens of thousands of Afghans gathered soon after to listen to speeches delivered by leaders of the PDPA. Daoud was frightened by this display of popular support for the PDPA,and ordered its leaders imprisoned.
By the time the Daoud’s forces had got around to jailing one PDPA leader, and putting another under house arrest,
the Saur Revolution had already broken out.
PDPA members in the military, with the support of tens of thousands of others, began an uprising against the Daoud
government on April 28, 1978.
The uprising started at the Kabul International Airport and spread to the capital of Kabal within twenty-four hours. It
was there, on April 28, that revolutionary forces stormed the presidential palace and overthrew Mohammed Daoud
Upon taking power, the revolutionaries took to the radio to declare, “For the first time, power has come to the people.
The last remnants of the imperialist tyranny, despotism and the royal dynasty have been ended.”
Two days later, hundreds of thousands of Afghans marched through the streets waving red flags and celebrating
the victory of the Saur Revolution.
The revolutionaries moved quickly to establish the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, with a Revolutionary Council at its head, and a provisional democratic program that guaranteed the legalization of trade unions, equal rights for women and the separation of church and state.
In the years leading up to the Saur Revolution Afghanistan was a reactionary nightmare for the large majority of its residents – especially women, who were fundamentally the property of their fathers or husbands to be bought and sold.
Prior to the Saur Revolution, there were only 35,000 workers employed in manufacturing in Afghanistan, while
there were some 250,000 mullahs who existed as parasites living off the poor masses.
There were no railroad tracks or highways to speak of and malnutrition and starvation was the norm.
Only 10 percent of men and 2 percent of women could read.
The average person lived just 40 years, and half of all children died before reaching the age of five.
In contrast, in the neighboring Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan nearly 100 percent of the population was
literate and life expectancy was 70.
The revolutionary Afghan government began carrying out revolutionary measures to combat the problems facing the toilers of Afghanistan almost immediately.
The first step was to construct schools and hospitals across the country, and to train doctors and teachers.
As Saira Noorani, a female Afghan doctor, recalled in the Observer in 2001, “Life was good … Every girl could go to high school and university. We could go wherever we wanted and wear what we liked.”
The revolutionary leadership also canceled the massive debts that the poor peasants owed to the loan sharks and
They also began a sweeping land reform policy, to take arable land out of the hands of the exploiting mullahs – who
controlled 42 percent of it, and necessary irrigation systems, and put them into the hands of the peasantry that actually did the farming.
In doing this they met huge resistance from the mullahs who saw their easy ride on the backs on the poor coming to an end.
The mullahs raised reactionary counterrevolutionary gangs that carried out vicious acts of terrorism and economic
Despite this, the revolutionary government was still able to redistribute land to 200,000 landless peasants (in a country of 20 million).
But it was the revolution’s establishment of equal rights for women – which included the establishment of compulsory schooling for young girls, and free literacy classes for adult women – that truly raised opposition from the mullahs,
khans and strong Islamic clergy.
The reactionary ‘mujahedin’ (or holy warriors – the name that the bands of the khans, mullahs and Islamic clergy
gave themselves) that lead the counterrevolution sought to preserve their positions in society. These position rested upon a backwards system in which women were the private property of men, where local laws only allowed married men access to land and water – with more wives meaning more of those resources, and where a price was literally put on each bride.
In these reactionaries the U.S. capitalist ruling elite saw an ally against the spread of revolution and the overthrow of capitalism internationally and Soviet Union itself, which bordered Afghanistan to the north.
It didn’t take the U.S. imperialists long to began aiding the mujahedin secretly through the CIA, sending them money, guns, bombs, advisors, special agents and the like.
On top of this, the reactionary capitalist governments in Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with the fraudulent bureaucrats that controlled China, were also aiding the counterrevolutionaries.
As the armed counterrevolution grew, with literally tons of aid pouring in from the CIA, China, Pakistan, Egypt and
Saudi Arabia, Revolutionary Defense Groups were formed in Afghanistan, with the participation of large numbers of
women who sought to defend the rights they had gained.
At the same time, the revolutionary government requested military assistance from the USSR.
The bureaucratic leadership of the USSR first sent only military advisors before finally being pressured by the reality of imperialist-backed counterrevolution at the gates of the Central Asian Soviet Republics to send in some 100,000 troops.
While revolutionary Afghanistan’s army and popular militias, with the assistance of soldiers from the USSR, were more or less able to beat back the counterrevolutionaries for ten years, horrendous atrocities were still carried out.
Whenever the reactionaries of the mujahedin were able to get a hold of a soldier from the USSR or a teacher (who committed the “crime” of teaching a women to read), they would frequently cut up, skin or behead them, or some combination thereof. Other times they would drug them and imprison them, so that they could be brutally tortured later.
These savage reactionaries – which included amongst their ranks Osama bin Laden – were the people Democratic U.S.
President Jimmy Carter gave billions of dollars to, and the same scum Republican U.S. President Ronald Reagan hailed as “freedom fighters.”
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union.
Under the guise of “democratic reform” and “openness,” Gorbachev and his cohorts sought to settle with the imperialists – who were openly driving for the destruction of the USSR – and allow an increase in capitalist penetration.
On July 20, 1987, the USSR, then beginning to crumble under the weight of internal contradiction and the suicidal policies of its bureaucratic leadership, treacherously announced that it planned to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan.
By 1989 the task was complete, leaving the revolutionary Afghan government to stand on its own against a counterrevolutionary band receiving major backing from several governments.
At the time, there were over a quarter of a million women working, and another 15,000 women serving in the army and militias in Afghanistan. Women made up half of the doctors and university teachers in the country, and more than 500,000 were enrolled in schools and literacy programs. For the first time in the history of Afghanistan, women could walk around in the cities without having to wear a veil.
All of these women were prime targets for the reactionary mujahedin which, emboldened by the withdraw of the Soviets, were now stepping up their attacks.
In response to this serious threat, the PDPA set out to arm and train all of its female members.
More civil war
Despite the withdraw of the USSR, the revolutionary forces of Afghanistan were able to hold their own against the mujahedin reactionaries for some time.
In fact, the Afghan Army, which had been trained by the USSR’s military and by participating in several battles,
actually began to perform better after the USSR’s withdraw.
The militias too did well against the counterrevolutionaries. They were able to successfully defend, for instance, the Afghan city of Jalalabad from the onslaught of mujahedin bands operating out of nearby CIA bases in Pakistan.
But the revolutionary forces, demoralized by the counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR and under a de facto oil blockade from Russia’s new capitalist government, were increasingly fractured and divided. By 1992 they could no longer hold out.
The counterrevolution succeeds
By April, 1992, the mujahedin entered the capital city of Kabu, and President Mohammad Najibullah was
A “coalition” government was then set up, made up of elements of the mujahedin – which was beginning to split into different factions – some PDPA members, and some army officers.
Over the next four years control of the government would shift back and forth between different factions of the mujahedin, but one thing remained the same throughout: all the progressive measures introduced by the revolution
were steadily being overturned.
In 1996, one particularly reactionary Islamic fundamentalist militia, the Taliban, was able to take control of Kabul, which was devastated by years of war.
One of the first acts the Taliban carried out was the forceful removal of Mohammad Najibullahfrom the UN compound he had been staying in. They then proceeded to publically castrate him before hanging him and his brother from a lamp post in downtown Kabul where they were left for three days.
The rule of the Taliban, which enjoyed the support of the U.S. imperialists that funded it as a part of the mujahedin early on, was notoriously oppressive.
Upon taking power, these reactionary religious extremists threw acid in the faces of women whose faces were uncovered, closed down schools and created groups of young thugs that went around brutally beating any woman who so much as bared her wrist.
Under their rule, women were forcefully secluded in their homes (where all windows had to be painted black). Women were forced to wear a burqa which covered them from head to toe, and were forbidden to be educated after the age of 8 (and prior to that, they could only learn about the Muslim holy book, the Qu’ran).
In 2001, the U.S. imperialists used the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon as justification to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban, which had refused to bow to their demands.
Today, Afghanistan remains a horribly oppressive country, occupied by imperialist forces and headed by a U.S. puppet leader.