Imperialist Hypocrisy Over Afghan Women’s Rights

RAWA Afghan Feminists Back Imperialist Reaction

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 776, 8 March 2002.

Manipulating outrage over the destruction of the World Trade Center to mobilize domestic support for the terror bombing of Afghanistan, America’s imperialist rulers also cynically seized on the plight of Afghan women under the former Taliban regime. Laura Bush denounced the Taliban’s “brutality against women,” Secretary of State Colin Powell intoned that “the rights of the women of Afghanistan will not be negotiable” and, in the days immediately following the Taliban’s ouster, the Western press was filled with accounts of the handful of women in Kabul who courageously ventured out without the obligatory head-to-toe burqa. But now that Washington has installed a puppet regime in Kabul, buttressed by thousands of United Nations troops, nary a word is heard about the supposedly “non-negotiable” rights of Afghan women.

Little wonder! The Pashtun saying that “a woman is best either in the house or in the grave” still captures daily reality in “liberated” Kabul. The new Afghan government, centered on the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance, is made up of the same gang of mujahedin warlords who turned the country into a nightmarish hellhole when they last took power in 1992, paving the way for the Taliban with inter-tribal mass slaughters (and are already at each other’s throats again today). All the barbaric sharia (Islamic religious) laws remain, only slightly modified. A leading Afghan judge declared that those convicted of “adultery” will still be stoned to death...but with smaller stones. Women’s rights marches are prohibited. Women remain subject to purdah, forcible seclusion in the home.

That the Bush administration, which would like to see every abortion clinic in the U.S. destroyed, could posture as “liberators” of Afghan women is certainly grotesque. Yet this cynical charade was aided by an array of leftists and feminists in the U.S. and Europe who beat the drums for imperialist intervention. Exemplifying such efforts was a “women’s rights” demonstration in Paris on September 29, barely a week before the bombing began, which prominently featured portraits of assassinated Northern Alliance warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud and demands for the U.S. to put an end to the Taliban.

Especially prominent amid this hypocritical crusade about Afghan women was the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). RAWA has been hailed by pseudo-Marxist and anarchist groups around the world and its spokesmen were invited to address leftist antiwar protests. At the same time, it has been embraced by Democratic Party politicians and the Voice of America in the U.S. and showered with imperialist “human rights awards” from France to Asia.

During the Taliban’s reign, RAWA activists courageously taught in underground schools for girls and went into Afghanistan with cameras hidden under their burqas in order to capture video footage of Taliban atrocities against women. They even organized a demonstration in the mujahedin stronghold of Peshawar, Pakistan in defiance of mobs of armed Islamic fundamentalist cutthroats. But these self-styled Afghan feminists are neither revolutionary, leftist nor even genuine champions of women’s rights. RAWA openly lobbied for UN imperialist “peacekeeping” forces in Afghanistan, and supports the reinstatement of the former king, Zahir Shah, who was ousted in 1973. In fact, a RAWA representative was invited to be part of Zahir Shah’s delegation to the Bonn talks which set up the current imperialist-sponsored puppet government.

RAWA’s Web site declares, “If you are freedom-loving and anti-fundamentalist you are with RAWA.” The truth is that RAWA stood with the Islamic fundamentalists and fought against the Soviet military intervention that brought the only hope of emancipation to the hideously oppressed women of Afghanistan in the 1980s. And it is that record of allying with imperialist-backed reaction against the Soviet Union—and emancipated Afghan women—that RAWA trumpets to this day. This virulent anti-Communism is RAWA’s calling card, opening doors in the corridors of bourgeois political influence and the wallets of Western feminists and liberals.

Those Afghans who are against religious fundamentalism and for women’s liberation passionately wanted the Red Army to mop up the imperialist-backed mullahs and khans who stood for the enslavement of women and murdered those who dared teach young girls to read. When Soviet forces moved into Afghanistan in December 1979, after repeated requests for military assistance from the Kabul government, the “leftists” who today embrace RAWA as fighters for women’s rights joined with the imperialists in denouncing the Soviet “invasion.” Not least because the struggle for women’s emancipation is so central to the liberating goals of Marxism, we Trotskyists forthrightly declared: Hail Red Army! Extend social gains of October Revolution to Afghan peoples!

The Soviet military intervention was one of the few genuinely progressive acts carried out by the Stalinist bureaucracy, opening the vista of social liberation to the downtrodden Afghan peoples. In 1988-89, when then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in a vain attempt to appease the imperialists, withdrew Soviet forces from Afghanistan, we denounced this as a crime against both the Afghan and Soviet peoples. Events have bitterly and amply verified our warning that this would mean a bloodbath for Afghan women and leftists. And the Stalinist bureaucracy’s treachery in Afghanistan was the direct precursor to capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union itself.

Women’s Emancipation and the Battle for Afghanistan

Afghanistan had been a Soviet client state for decades before the Red Army moved in, but the Stalinists had not disturbed the social order in this deeply backward country. At the same time, most of the tiny stratum that made up the Afghan intelligentsia were educated and trained in the Soviet Union, which they rightly regarded as a source of social progress. In 1973, officers loyal to the left-nationalist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) played a major role in overthrowing the monarchy and participated in the newly installed Daud government. When Daud moved right and tried to crush the PDPA in 1978, mass demonstrations of students and government workers erupted in Kabul. The PDPA military faction outgunned Daud’s forces and he was killed. This was the so-called “April Revolution,” essentially a left-wing military coup with popular support among intellectuals and government workers.

In power, the PDPA embarked on a program of reforms: canceling peasant debts, carrying out land redistribution, prohibiting forced marriages and lowering the bride price to a nominal sum. The PDPA’s measures, particularly those aimed at freeing women from feudal tyranny, threatened the mullahs’ stranglehold on social and economic life and immediately provoked a murderous backlash. Even the New York Times (9 February 1980) acknowledged, “It was the Kabul revolutionary government’s granting of new rights to women that pushed Orthodox Moslem men in the Pashtoon villages of eastern Afghanistan into picking up their guns.”

A decree allowing women to divorce was not officially announced because of the Islamic revolt. Most explosively, the PDPA made schooling compulsory for girls and launched literacy programs for women, building 600 schools in just over a year. The tribal insurgents denounced schooling for women as the first step in a “life of shame” and the earliest bloody confrontations were over women’s literacy, as PDPA cadres and women literacy workers were driven from villages and killed.

With social development somewhere between tribalism and feudalism, there was no internal social base for the reforms pursued by the PDPA, much less for proletarian revolution. In 1978, out of a population of some 17 million, only 35,000 worked in manufacturing while the parasitic mullah caste numbered 250,000! The landlords and tribal khans controlled 42 percent of arable land as well as access to water, giving them life and death power over the landless peasants. There was almost no industry, no railroads, few highways, primitive sanitation and wretched health care. Life expectancy was 40 years and infant mortality about 25 percent; half of all children died before age five. Illiteracy was a staggering 90 percent for men and 98 percent for women.

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). Repeatedly and urgently, the PDPA asked the Soviet government for military aid, including troops. Concerned above all to pursue the chimera of détente with imperialism, the Kremlin temporized. But toward the end of 1979, the Soviet high command watched anxiously as U.S. warships were positioned in the Persian Gulf and reports emerged that Washington might invade Iran. The U.S. was already bankrolling the Afghan mujahedin and trying to foment Islamic counterrevolution in Soviet Central Asia.

In December 1979, fearing the PDPA regime was about to collapse and with Afghan president Hafizullah Amin reportedly making approaches to the U.S., the Soviet Union 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. In 1998, Zbigniew Brzezinski—national security adviser to the Democratic Carter administration that launched the CIA’s campaign—boasted: “That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap.”

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

The Soviet intervention was unambiguously progressive, underlining 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 the planned economy and collectivized property. These were enormous gains, not least for women and the historically Muslim peoples of Soviet Central Asia (today Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan), where conditions before the Bolshevik Revolution had been as backward and benighted as in Afghanistan.

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. Though undertaken purely for defensive geopolitical reasons, the Soviet military intervention cut against the grain of the nationalist Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country.” 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 opened up the possibility not only 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 political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and return the Soviet Union to the road of Lenin and Trotsky.

What They Fought for: RAWA Embraces Mujahedin

Formed in 1977, RAWA opposed the PDPA government from the start, denouncing the PDPA in crude anti-Communist terms as Soviet “stooges.” When the Red Army moved in, RAWA joined the imperialist-sponsored insurgency. RAWA founder Meena Keshwar Kamal declared at that time, “To fight against the Russian aggressors is inseparable from struggle against the fundamentalists. Nevertheless for the time being we should give priority to the former” (Arizona Persian Bulletin [Web site], 10 October 1997). In October 1981, Keshwar Kamal was invited to attend the congress of French imperialist president François Mitterrand’s viciously anti-Soviet Socialist Party as a representative of the “Afghan resistance,” and from there toured other European countries on behalf of the mujahedin.

RAWA said it was fighting for “the independence of our homeland” while the imperialists screamed about the Soviet Union’s violation of Afghanistan’s “national sovereignty.” This sanctimonious concern by the blood-drenched imperialists for “national rights” was bogus to the core. Afghanistan is not (and was not then) a cohered nation, but an artificial state whose borders include and cut across a mosaic of ethnic and tribal groupings. It was under the Soviet presence that the murderous ethnic and tribal differences started to break down, while among the mujahedin they intensified. But Marxists would have supported the Soviet intervention even if Afghanistan had been a homogeneous nation. For proletarian internationalists, the cause of social revolution (and, at the time, defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism) stands higher than the bourgeois-democratic right of national self- determination.

What did it mean to back the mujahedin? The tribal khans and mullahs that the RAWA feminists signed on with got billions of dollars from the U.S. government. Favorite mujahedin targets were schools and teachers. By 1985 they had destroyed over 1,800 schools and by 1987 they had slaughtered 2,000 schoolteachers. The mujahedin committed blood-curdling atrocities against captured Soviet soldiers, hacking off limbs and genitals before murdering them. In the first four years of the war, only eight living Soviet soldiers were turned over to the Red Cross. In Pakistan, the “holy warriors” threw women and children into their jails and torture cells.

Despite massive financial and military support from the imperialists, the mujahedin did not militarily defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, as the imperialists and their fake-left apologists assert. By 1984, the Red Army and PDPA forces had practically won the war and the CIA’s “holy warriors” were shattered and demoralized. The government’s modest reforms, though scaled back from even the moderate program the PDPA first put forward, were winning support in the countryside.

But in November 1986, in a vain attempt to placate U.S. imperialism and strike a “peace” deal with Ronald Reagan, the Kremlin Stalinists under Gorbachev declared they would pull all Red Army troops out of Afghanistan in two years. By 1989, in a move that imperiled and betrayed both the Afghan and Soviet peoples, the troops were completely withdrawn, thus handing over hundreds of thousands of Afghan women, leftists and workers to be tortured, dismembered and beheaded as “infidels.” In solidarity with the Afghan masses who were waging a bitter struggle for survival in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal, on 7 February 1989 the Partisan Defense Committee (the class-struggle legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League/U.S.) formally proposed to the Afghan government “to organize an international brigade to fight to the death” to defend “the right of women to read, freedom from the veil, freedom from the tyranny of the mullahs and the landlords, the introduction of medical care and the right of all to an education.”

This offer was declined, but at the request of the government, the PDC and its fraternal organizations internationally organized a fund drive to aid the civilian victims of the all-out mujahedin offensive against the city of Jalalabad. In two months, over $44,000 was raised, overwhelmingly from small donations from tens of thousands of people, many of them immigrant workers throughout West Europe, Asia and North America and women in Muslim communities. The siege of Jalalabad was defeated. The PDPA hung on for another three hard-fought years until 1992, when the mujahedin finally took Kabul.

For four years, the various tribally based mujahedin forces carried out a vengeful war of mass murder, torture and rape of rival ethnic populations which left at least 50,000 people dead in Kabul alone. Sharia law was reimposed, books deemed anti-religious were burned in the streets, women were driven back into the total seclusion of purdah and in Kabul the price of burqas soared as terrified women found themselves again at the mercy of the fanatical mujahedin.

RAWA’s Falsification of History

While prating of their new-found concern for the rights of Afghan women, the New York Times and other imperialist mouthpieces bury the genuine advances achieved during the Soviet presence under a mountain of lies, grotesquely blaming the Red Army intervention for the current status of Afghan women. Promoting this Big Lie campaign, Tahmeena Faryal, recently on a RAWA speaking tour of the U.S., has outrageously claimed that “the tragedy began in Afghanistan with the Soviet invasion” (Z Magazine, January 2002). Given to extravagant falsifications, RAWA claims that “the situation of women in Afghanistan was beginning to improve in the early 20th century. During the reign of the former king or during the first president...women had the very basic right of education and the right to work. We had women in government.”

In the early part of the 20th century, a modernizing king, Amir Amanullah Khan, did attempt to carry out measures aimed specifically at liberating women. Friendly to the Soviet Union, and the first king to visit Moscow, Amanullah was deposed and driven out by the social equivalent of the contemporary mujahedin with whom RAWA solidarized. The last decade of Zahir Shah’s reign, from 1963 to 1973, was a period of some political ferment. But the slender rights achieved then were won through struggle, not the “good offices” of this reactionary monarch. In 1968 when Zahir Shah’s parliament threatened to prevent women from studying abroad, hundreds of young women protested. In 1970, when Gulbuddin Hekmatyar—later one of the most barbaric mujahedin leaders and the recipient of the largest amount of CIA funding—sprayed acid at unveiled women and shot at their legs, 5,000 young women took to the streets in protest. The PDPA and the Democratic Organization of Women of Afghanistan (DOWA) campaigned for the right to vote, to study abroad and to work outside the home, and four women from the DOWA were elected to government in the 1970s.

To secular-minded Afghan women who had finally gained a degree of emancipation following the Red Army intervention, RAWA would have had little appeal. RAWA’s secular pretensions are really a tissue-thin cover for flagrant conciliation of religious reaction. Sehar Saba, a particularly foam-flecked RAWA spokesman, ranted that the Soviet Union “tried to force change on us. They told men they should shave their beards, and that women shouldn’t wear scarves, when for centuries they have followed those customs. They forced women and men not to pray” (She Said It, August 2000 [Web site]). In a like vein, Tahmeena Faryal raved that the Soviet forces “were trying to give some rights to Afghan women that are obviously okay in Western societies, but are not acceptable in our societies.... For example, they wanted to give so-called liberties of having a boyfriend or dancing in a nightclub, which are not acceptable in our society” (Z Magazine, January 2002).

How contemptible! What do RAWA leaders think of Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, who had a death sentence on her head because she wrote frankly and openly about sexual matters and women’s oppression and opposed bloody anti-Hindu communalism? In Iran, the mullahs’ military guards use razor blades to remove cosmetics from the faces of women who have taken this “so-called liberty.” In Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan, young women are murdered by fathers and brothers for taking the “so-called liberty of having a boyfriend.”

RAWA’s homage to Islamic strictures stands in contrast to the experiences of young women who came to adulthood and received an education during the Soviet period. “Life was good under the Soviets,” recalled Saira Noorani, a young woman doctor. “Every girl could go to high school and university. We could go wherever we wanted and wear what we liked” (Observer, 30 September 2001). Another account, in the 1988 book War in Afghanistan by journalist Mark Urban, who was far from friendly to the Soviet forces, powerfully testified to the stakes for Afghan women:

“There is no doubt that thousands of women are committed to the regime, as their prominent participation in Revolutionary Defence Group militias shows. Eyewitnesses stated that militant militiawomen played a key role in defending the besieged town of Urgun in 1983. Four of the seven militia commanders appointed to the Revolutionary Council in January 1986 were women.”

By 1989, confronting the treacherous Soviet withdrawal, all PDPA women members were receiving military training and arms and some 15,000 women had joined the militias, taking up arms to defend not only the rights they had won but their very lives.

Fake Leftists Sided with Islamic Reaction Against Red Army

Socialist-minded youth in the West might try to imagine that they are at the University of Kabul in 1979 as the Soviet Army rolls in to beat back the CIA’s Islamic rebels. Look across the border to Soviet Central Asia: there are schools, factories and hospitals. Women, regarded as human beings instead of property, are not bought and sold in marriage. They are doctors, engineers and political leaders. No matter what indices you check—life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy—the differences between the two societies are measured in centuries, not decades. Do you don a burqa and follow Meena Keshwar Kamal into Pakistan to join the Islamic insurgents based there, or do you join a militia to drive out and destroy the mujahedin enslavers of women? Do you defend the Soviet Union, or support imperialist counterrevolution? Are you for or against the liberation of women from feudal barbarism?

The gut-level response of radical leftists should have been the fullest solidarity with the Red Army. Instead, most left groups—including those that had supported the PDPA before the Soviet intervention—and most feminists joined the anti-Communist, anti-woman outcry against the USSR. Today they weep over Afghan women, but when there was actually a chance to throw off the veil, achieve literacy and break the power of the mullahs, the despicable fake leftists were on the side of their own capitalist governments’ support for the mujahedin cutthroats.

Among the most vociferous of those tailing the imperialist anti-Soviet crusade was the International Socialist Organization (ISO), at that time affiliated with Tony Cliff’s British Socialist Workers Party. When the Red Army came to the assistance of Afghan women and leftists, the British Socialist Worker (12 January 1980) screamed, “Troops Out of Afghanistan!” In Australia, the Cliffites joined a vile anti-Communist action in Melbourne, baldly declaring in a leaflet, “We call for the victory of the Afghan rebels in their war against Russian occupation.” The Cliffites went on to champion reactionary, anti-Semitic Solidarność in Poland, the only “union” Reagan ever loved, funded by the CIA and the Vatican for the sole purpose of spearheading capitalist counterrevolution.

When the Soviets began withdrawing troops in order to appease the imperialists, the ISO’s Socialist Worker (May 1988) cheered: “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.” It did “give heart” to the forces of capitalist counterrevolution that in the next few years succeeded in destroying the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states of East Europe, turning these countries into devastated hellholes racked by mass unemployment, homelessness, hunger and bloody ethnic slaughters, not to mention a brutal rollback of women’s rights.

The openly anti-Soviet Cliffites were far from the only self-styled socialists who lined up behind the imperialists’ anti-Soviet war drive. The late Ernest Mandel’s United Secretariat (USec), though formally claiming to defend the Soviet Union, joined in screaming for Soviet troops out of Afghanistan and in hailing counterrevolutionary Polish Solidarność. Last September, the French Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, the Usec’s star section, was the central organized presence behind the pro-imperialist rally “for Afghan women” in Paris. The USec’s capitulation to Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan is continued in Algeria, where the struggle for women’s liberation is a strategic and explosive question. The ICL’s fight for women’s right to abortion in Algeria was denounced in 1992 as an “ultraleftist imbecility” by Damien Elliott, then a spokesman for the USec left wing. Last year, the Algerian USec section, the Parti Socialiste des Travailleurs, even withdrew its formal opposition to the anti-woman Family Code in order to maintain an alliance with village committees in the Kabylia region that exclude women and trample on women’s rights.

Anti-Communism is the common bond bringing together the various fake leftists—from the ISO and the social-democratic Z Magazine in the U.S. to the Scottish Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Japanese USec group, the Revolutionary Communist League—that today lionize RAWA. A case in point is the Northeastern Anarchist (Fall/Winter 2001) in Boston, which published an article, “Supporting the Revolutionary Women of Afghanistan,” explaining why “anarchists should critically support” RAWA. Central to their tribute to RAWA is that “they have fought against the Soviet occupation in 1979” and “against the rise of the US-supported fundamentalist reaction which followed.” Driven by hatred for communism, these anarchists support pro-imperialist “feminists” who support the Afghan monarchy! For its part, Northeastern Anarchist refused to defend Afghanistan against U.S. imperialism’s terror bombing.

Our aim is the proletarian conquest of state power internationally. Despairing of this outcome, the fake lefts were and are walking sponges for imperialist anti-Communism. Thus these supposed fighters for women’s rights allied with the bitterest and most barbaric foes of women’s emancipation and social progress against the Soviet intervention.

Feminism: Obstacle to Women’s Liberation

Bourgeois feminists like the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority, who today pose as allies and benefactors of Afghan women, likewise lined up behind U.S. imperialism’s “holy war” in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Their recent concern for the plight of Afghan women dovetailed with a policy shift by the Clinton administration in the late 1990s, as Washington began denouncing its erstwhile Afghan “freedom fighters” as “Islamic terrorists.” That these feminists are animated by the interests and concerns of the U.S. imperialist rulers is hardly surprising. Their central purpose is to secure equal opportunity for petty-bourgeois and bourgeois women within the framework of capitalist class society.

Women’s oppression is rooted in class society, centrally through the institution of the family. Even in the most advanced bourgeois societies only the overthrow of capitalist class rule can lay the material basis for the full emancipation of women in an egalitarian, international socialist society. But in those countries where bourgeois revolutions never occurred, the question of women’s liberation is literally one of life and death—a fight for such basic needs as literacy, education, an end to forced marriages, freedom from the veil and the enforced seclusion and subjugation it represents.

As the Red Army swept through Central Asia in the early years after the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks undertook the enormous task of trying to liberate women in that historically Muslim region. When they spoke of “martyrs fallen on the women’s liberation front,” they were talking about the dedicated and heroic activists from the Department for Work Among Women (Zhenotdel), who put on the veil to bring to the women of the Muslim East news of the new Soviet laws and programs that would change their lives. Many of these women lost their lives at the hands of enraged husbands, fathers and brothers in these regions. In fact, it was the dismembered corpses of these Bolshevik women fighters that persuaded the Soviet government to reinstate the death penalty specifically for murders of this type, although the death penalty had already been abolished in general.

A political counterrevolution leading to the consolidation of the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy separates the liberating ideals that animated Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks and the courageous Zhenotdel women from the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the Soviet Union remained a workers state and the Red Army troops offered the prospect of liberating Afghan women from feudal barbarism and enslavement. RAWA stood on the other side. Today it continues to look to the imperialist powers as the agency for bringing some modicum of freedom to Afghanistan.

Imperialism cannot and will not bring Western-style democracy to Afghanistan or any of the colonial and semicolonial countries. The development of advanced industrial economies and parliamentary democracy in the West was accompanied by, and to a large extent based on, the exploitation of the colonial countries. The imperialists’ continuing subjugation of the “Third World” requires that they maintain and reinforce the indigenous forces of social and cultural backwardness.

Twenty-two years ago, the promise of liberation for the Afghan peoples lay in a prolonged Soviet occupation. Today, after capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, the key to the social liberation of the peoples of Afghanistan and the region is in the proletariat of countries like Pakistan, Iran, India and the former Soviet Central Asian republics. Concentrated in manufacturing, transport and other industries, Pakistan’s proletariat numbers nearly ten million, with millions more agricultural workers. Iran has a sizable working class that was, until the 1979 victory of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s “Islamic Revolution,” historically pro-Communist. The despotic bourgeoisies that rule these countries are beholden to the imperialist exploiters, whose dictates they enforce.

To achieve social and national justice requires the seizure of power by the proletariat, standing at the head of all the oppressed and led by internationalist revolutionary vanguard parties. As Leon Trotsky stressed in advancing the perspective of permanent revolution, only proletarian revolution can break the imperialist yoke over such countries and, with the workers’ seizure of power in the advanced capitalist countries, end imperialism forever. And as Trotsky noted in a 1924 speech to the Communist University for Toilers of the East, as the extension of Bolshevik power brought the prospect of liberation to the women of Central Asia, “There will be no better communist in the East, no better fighter for the ideas of the revolution and for the ideas of communism than the awakened woman worker.”

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