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New Left Review I/119, January-February 1980


Fred Halliday

War and Revolution in Afghanistan

The dramatic events in Afghanistan at the end of 1979, with the intervention of Russian forces and the fall of President Hafizullah Amin, come within two years of the uprising of April 1978, through which the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan gained state power. Whilst no-one can predict the outcome of these developments, it is evident that the Afghan revolution is in a gravely weakened condition: it is able to rely on Soviet military support for ultimate survival, but it is, by the same token, all the more vulnerable because of the identification of the new Babrak Karmal government with the army of a foreign power, and because of the dire factionalism within the pdpa that precipitated the new scale of Russian involvement. The key to this crisis lies in the intractable problems which the pdpa has encountered in implementing its revolutionary programme and in the mistakes which it has made in so doing. As in Russia after 1917 a relatively quick seizure of power in the towns has been followed by a much more protracted civil war, waged by counter-revolutionary forces, aided from abroad. Moreover, before the new regime could win the support of the peasantry with effective, and, to them, meaningful reforms, the counter-revolution has been able to mobilize large numbers of the rural poor, and indeed to attribute the chaos and violence of the civil war to the advent of the new regime to power. We know at what cost, and with what consequences, the Bolsheviks were able to defend their initial gains. The baneful effects of such a civil war are likely to be all the greater in Afghanistan, given some of the policies which the pdpa, allied to the ussr, has chosen to pursue. For although the Bolsheviks, including Lenin, engaged in indefensible forms of repression during the Russian civil war, the pdpa leadership has resorted to systematic violence much more extensively in its struggle to hold off Afghan counter-revolution. Moreover, political differences within the Bolshevik party were settled by votes not, as in Kabul, bullets.

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Fred Halliday, ‘The War and Revolution in Afghanistan’, NLR I/119: £3
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