Documents in: Bahasa Indonesia Deutsch Español Français Italiano Japanese Polski Português Russian Chinese Tagalog
International Communist League
Home Spartacist, theoretical and documentary repository of the ICL, incorporating Women & Revolution Workers Vanguard, biweekly organ of the Spartacist League/U.S. Periodicals and directory of the sections of the ICL ICL Declaration of Principles in multiple languages Other literature of the ICL ICL events

Subscribe to Workers Vanguard

View archives

Printable version of this article


Workers Vanguard No. 921

26 September 2008

We Said “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!”

Charlie Wilson’s War Was the ISO’s War

After spending decades in bed with the most vile anti-Communist and woman-hating forces around the world—from Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and Iran to clerical reactionary Polish Solidarność and Tibetan monks—the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has suddenly decided it was time for a morning-after pill. A September 9 Web posting by the ISO is promoting a petition by faculty at the University of Texas objecting “to the establishment of a chair in Pakistan studies named for former Texas congressman and misguided cold warrior Charlie Wilson.” Democratic Congressman Wilson played a key role in winning billions in CIA funding and high-tech weaponry for the Afghan mujahedin fighting the Soviet Red Army in the 1980s. For its part, the ISO would have preferred a less “misguided” Cold Warrior.

Earlier this year, in a column by Joe Allen (Socialist Worker, 25 January), the ISO disparaged the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, which, the ISO complains, paid “a fawning homage to America’s ‘clandestine services’,” who were “recruiting largely reactionary Islamic forces to the mujahedeen.” Allen’s article, “Charlie Wilson’s Not-So-Good War,” declares that “Hollywood’s liberals portray the Afghanistan war as a great triumph in the struggle for freedom, when it should be seen as another savage war for empire in which the people of Afghanistan continue to be the prime targets.” Reading these articles, one wouldn’t know that the ISO was for the Afghan mujahedin long before they were against them.

Well before the Soviet intervention into Afghanistan in December 1979, Washington started funneling arms to the mujahedin from the moment the Soviet-allied People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) came to power in April 1978 in what was essentially a left-wing military coup with popular support among intellectuals and government workers. The PDPA embarked on a program of reforms that included canceling peasant debts, carrying out land redistribution, prohibiting forced marriages and lowering the bride price to a nominal sum. They made schooling compulsory for girls and launched literacy programs for women, building 600 schools in just over a year. These measures threatened the mullahs’ stranglehold on social and economic life and immediately provoked a murderous backlash. The earliest bloody confrontations were over women’s literacy, as PDPA cadres and women literacy workers were driven from villages and killed.

The PDPA could not quell the mujahedin insurgency, which was heavily backed by the U.S., Pakistan and Iran (where the Islamic theocracy under Ayatollah Khomeini had come to power in early 1979). After ignoring repeated requests for military aid, including troops, the Soviet Union, fearing the PDPA regime was about to collapse, finally sent in 100,000 soldiers to combat the Islamic reactionaries. The imperialists seized on the Red Army intervention to launch a renewed Cold War drive. As the CIA undertook its biggest covert operation ever, Afghanistan became the front line of the imperialists’ relentless drive to destroy the Soviet Union. The threat of a CIA-backed Islamic takeover on the USSR’s southern flank posed pointblank unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state. As we wrote at the time:

“A victory for the Islamic-feudalist insurgency in Afghanistan will not only mean a hostile, imperialist-allied state on the USSR’s southern border. It will mean the extermination of the Afghan left and the reimposition of feudal barbarism—the veil, the bride price. Moreover, the Soviet military occupation raises the possibility of a social revolution in this wretchedly backward country, a possibility which did not exist before.”

Spartacist (English-language edition) No. 29, Summer 1980

We unambiguously declared, “Hail Red Army! Extend the gains of the October Revolution to Afghan peoples!” For their part, the ISO howled with the imperialist wolves when the Soviets entered Afghanistan, and popped champagne corks when the Red Army was withdrawn nine years later. Since Charlie Wilson’s war was the ISO’s war, we are left wondering, “What’s their beef?” The exposures of CIA waterboarding, extraordinary rendition and secret prison black sites may make being on the same side as the CIA torturers a bit awkward. Or perhaps lauding the virtues of the veterans of the war against the Red Army isn’t the kick it was before the September 11 attacks. Or it just could be that the ISO—historically allied with the international tendency led by the late Tony Cliff—is irritated that no credit is being given to their role in drumming up support for the CIA-backed cutthroats at the height of Cold War II. Maybe a “Tony Cliff chair” is what they are after.

Screaming “Troops Out of Afghanistan” was not enough for the ISO’s then-parent group, the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP). SWP leader Paul Foot succeeded in provoking an anti-Soviet frenzy on the floor of Parliament, by right-wing Tories and Labour Party “lefts” alike, through incendiary “exposés” in his Daily Mirror column of the possibility that British meat—“our beef”—exported to the Soviet Union might be sent to Soviet soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

Today, the ISO calls Charlie Wilson’s War “thoroughly reactionary.” There is, for example, the scene where wealthy right-wing socialite Joanne Herring, played by Julia Roberts, tells Wilson, played by Tom Hanks, “I want you to deliver such a crushing defeat to the Soviets that Communism crumbles.” But such was exactly the position of the ISO. When Soviet forces pulled out of Afghanistan in 1988-89, in a futile attempt by the Kremlin Stalinist bureaucracy to appease the imperialists, the ISO gloated: “We welcome the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan. It will give heart to all those inside the USSR and in Eastern Europe who want to break the rule of Stalin’s heirs” (Socialist Worker, May 1988). Three years later, the British SWP exulted: “Communism has collapsed…. It is a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 31 August 1991). The ISO could have scripted the lines for crazed anti-Communist Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under Democrat Jimmy Carter and today a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, when he ranted: “What was more important in the world view of history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

Charlie Wilson’s War is a thoroughly reactionary movie. The film peddles anti-Soviet lies discredited long ago, such as that Red Army troops planted toys containing bombs on roadsides in order to maim Afghan children. Nowhere does the film even hint that long before the Red Army intervention, the U.S. was funneling aid to the mullahs who rose up against the Afghan government’s modest reforms for the brutally enslaved women. Ronald Reagan’s “freedom fighters,” with whom the ISO sided, were exemplified by one Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the largest recipient of American aid, who had a penchant for throwing acid at the faces of unveiled women. Though the mujahedin fought to maintain women in purdah (seclusion), forced them to wear the suffocating head-to-toe burka and deprived them of education and medical care, the film ludicrously shows unveiled women mixing freely with men in refugee camps.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Neale of the ISO’s erstwhile comrades of the British SWP (they split in 2001) has suddenly discovered, doubtless after much research, that “feminism is now very weak in Afghanistan”! The cause? “In the 1980s Afghan feminist women supported the Russians and their violent occupation” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 19 January). The “lesson for today,” Neale lectures, is “if the left allies with the invader, the eventual resistance will hate the left.” In blaming the present condition of Afghan women on the Soviet Union and those women who fought alongside the Red Army, the SWP sounds much like the Southern “redeemers” after the U.S. Civil War who condemned former slaves for joining with the Union Army as it marched through the South.

The Soviet military intervention into Afghanistan was one of the few genuinely progressive acts carried out by the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy, opening the vista of social liberation to the downtrodden Afghan peoples. It underlined the Trotskyist understanding that despite its degeneration under a Stalinist bureaucratic caste, the Soviet Union remained a workers state embodying the historic gains of the October Revolution of 1917, centrally a planned economy and collectivized property. A Red Army victory posed the extension of the social gains of the October Revolution to Afghanistan through a prolonged occupation and the country’s integration into the Soviet system. The Red Army troops, many of them recruits from Soviet Central Asia, who fought against the CIA-backed mujahedin genuinely believed they were fulfilling their internationalist duty. And so they were!

This military intervention in defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state not only opened up the possibility of tremendous gains for the hideously oppressed Afghan peoples but offered the prospect of reanimating the Bolshevik program of proletarian revolutionary internationalism in the Soviet Union. As we stressed at the time, a genuinely internationalist perspective toward Afghanistan required a proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and return the Soviet Union to the road of Lenin and Trotsky.

By the mid 1980s the Red Army had the mujahedin on the run. But as we warned from the outset, the Kremlin bureaucracy cut a deal with the imperialists and pulled out. When in 1988-89 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew Soviet forces from Afghanistan, we denounced this as a crime against both the Afghan and Soviet peoples. We stressed to Soviet workers and soldiers that it was far better to defeat counterrevolution in Afghanistan than to confront it in Leningrad. Events have bitterly and amply verified our warning that the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan would mean a bloodbath for women and leftists. And the Stalinist bureaucracy’s treachery in Afghanistan was the direct precursor to the 1991-92 capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, destroying the homeland of the October Revolution.

As the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan, we extended an offer to the beleaguered PDPA regime to organize international brigades to “fight to the death” against the mujahedin cutthroats. This offer was refused, but the Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—took up the PDPA’s appeal to organize an international aid campaign for the besieged city of Jalalabad, raising some $44,000. For the next three years, the Kabul government forces, especially the women’s militias, fought valiantly, but were finally overrun by the U.S.-backed fundamentalists. A few years later, the Taliban, born and bred under the patronage of Pakistan’s ISI secret police and supported by the U.S., emerged as the strongest of the mujahedin factions in the internecine feuding that broke out after the fall of the PDPA regime, coming to power in Afghanistan in 1996.

The ISO greeted the Taliban’s rise to power by grotesquely declaring, “Tragically, the Taliban has no answer to the terrible crisis of the country”! The Cliffites have always displayed a certain penchant for Islamic fundamentalism. As the Shi’ite mullahs fought for power in Iran in 1979, we put forward a program for proletarian revolution, declaring: “Down With the Shah! Down With the Mullahs! Workers Must Lead Iranian Revolution!” In contrast, the ISO ran laudatory articles on the mullahs’ “mass movement” with headlines like, “The Form—Religious, the Spirit—Revolution!” In 1994, the Cliffites published a pamphlet by SWP “theoretician” Chris Harman titled, The Prophet and the Proletariat, complete with a green cover and Arabic-looking lettering, while the British SWP declared, “Islamists have now replaced socialists and the left in terms of being in the frontline against the state in many countries” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 20 August 1994).

The Cliffites’ genuflection before religious reaction is not a bizarre aberration. They have historically sided with any and all counterrevolutionary forces against the Soviet Union, no matter how reactionary. In this, they stand completely in line with U.S. imperialism, which, notwithstanding its current reactionary crusade against Islamic fundamentalism, fostered the growth of Islamic reaction for decades as a bulwark against “godless” Communism and even secular nationalism. In 1950, John Foster Dulles, who was later Secretary of State during the Eisenhower presidency, wrote: “The religions of the East are deeply rooted and have many precious values. Their spiritual beliefs cannot be reconciled with Communist atheism and materialism. That creates a common bond between us, and our task is to find it and develop it.”

Just as it was obligatory to fight for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union and East European deformed workers states, so it is the elementary duty of workers around the world to defend the remaining deformed workers states of China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea. Today, the ISO continues to fight Charlie Wilson’s war. In “Tyrannies That Ruled in the Name of Socialism” (Socialist Worker, 28 August), Paul D’Amato reasserts the ISO’s “Where We Stand” call for capitalist counterrevolution: “China and Cuba, like the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, have nothing to do with socialism. They are state capitalist regimes.” The ISO sides with the forces of “democratic” imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution, reprinting in Socialist Worker online (27 August) a piece by Dave Zirin, a regular contributor to that paper, that chides the bourgeois media for insufficient China-bashing during the Olympics and condemning them for supposedly not asking “why the State Department last April took China off its list of nations that commit human rights violations.”

As Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky taught, you can’t win new gains without defending those already won. The capitalist counterrevolution welcomed by the imperialists and their social-democratic lackeys like the ISO was a world-historic defeat for the international proletariat, creating a “one superpower” world where the U.S. imperialists feel they can run roughshod over the world. It paved the way for the brutal wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, where women continue to be enslaved. U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan! Defeat U.S. imperialism through workers revolution! For new October Revolutions!


Workers Vanguard No. 921

WV 921

26 September 2008


Wall Street Nightmare Stalks Working People

Break with the Democrats, Republicans—For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

For a Socialist Planned Economy!


Three Years After Katrina Racist Atrocity

New Orleans Still in Ruins


Why Trotskyists Said “Stop Solidarność Counterrevolution!”



Proletarian Road to Black Freedom

(Quote of the Week)


We Said “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!”

Charlie Wilson’s War Was the ISO’s War


Boston: 1970s Fight for School Integration

As Racist Mobs Rampaged, Liberals and Reformists Knifed Busing

(Young Spartacus pages)


Victory to the Moncure Plywood Workers Strike!

North Carolina


Workers Vanguard Subscription Drive