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Revolution in Afghanistan, in More Detail

1. Socio-economic structure of Afghanistan prior to the revolution

Emine Engin, a member of the Communist Party of Turkey, in a book "The revolution in Afghanistan" London, 1982, writes: “Out of a population of 17 million, three million were living as nomads raising their own livestock. Nearly half the land was held by feudal landowners who made up five percent of the population. Thirty-six percent of the entire rural population was made up of landless peasants who were subject to compulsory labour, rent-in-kind, etc. Seventy-five per cent of the working population was engaged in agriculture. Agriculture was the country's main sector of production, but it was very backward. The backwardness of the technical level of agriculture is reflected in the determining role played by weather conditions. For example, the drought of 1970-1972 created a great food shortage and famine. The production of wheat and cotton declined. There was also a drop of millions in the number of livestock”.

M.A. Gareev, a head of the Soviet operational group under President Najibullah, in a book "My last war", writes: 

"According to the UN statistics, Afghanistan occupied 108th place among 129 developing nations, according to the income per person. Peasants, who composed 80 percent of the population, mostly did not have their own land and were in debt to the landlords and village moneylenders. Harvest yields were some of the lowest in the world. The country was constantly in need of food.

The industry was very weakly developed (a total of 300 industrial enterprises, having all in all 44 thousand factory workers), mostly engaged in primary processing of agricultural goods. In addition, there were 67 thousand building workers. But even with this limited amount of workers there was a chronic unemployment. National production supplied only 20 percent of the needs of the country. In cities and villages there was a terrible poverty.

As some of the researches notice, an 'average' Afghani was always a bit of a peasant, a bit of a trader, a bit of an artisan. Differences between the town and the county were always relative. Low productivity of labor in industry and the building trades, low salary had the effect that most of the workers were not able to support a family and left it behind in the villages, constantly maintaining a contact with the rural areas, which slowed development of a proletarian ideology among the workers".

S.M. Akimbekov, a writer representing the interests of bureaucratic elite of former Soviet Asian republics, such as Tajikistan, in a book "The Afghani knot and the problems of security in Central Asia", writes:

"Development of industry, infrastructure, system of education, building a modern army has led to development of the cities and an increase in city population. A gradual shift of people from the villages into the towns started, which led to changes in the system of traditional organization of Islamic society. The role of village commune, as basis of social organization of traditional Islamic society, declined.

At the same time the partisans of accelerated "secular" modernization were in those institutions which were created thanks to the modernization. This is first of all the apparatus of state administration at the middle and lower levels, the army and the system of education. It is exactly the army officers, the administrators at the middle level, the university professors and the students who were the social force which was not satisfied with the existing processes of modernization.

Daud attempted to speed up the process of modernization in Afghanistan. Material means were supposed to be spent on development of industry, modern infrastructure, energy sector, the system of education. Special attention was paid to plans for building railroads. Absence of railroad communications in Afghanistan was accounted to be one of the important signs of backwardness of the country. If in the neighboring Pakistan and Soviet Central Asia the building of major elements of infrastructure, including the railroads, has started from the times of colonial administration by the Russian and British empires, in the independent state of Afghanistan, which served the role of a buffer in the region between the two empires, objects of modern infrastructure were completely missing.

On the one hand, representatives of social layers which develop as a result of modernization of society, together with a part of traditional elite, expressed discontent with the tempo of modernization not being fast enough. This was first of all true for the middle and lower army officers, the city intelligentsia and the middle administrative personnel. It was exactly these three groups which made up the social basis of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which was formed in 1965. On the other hand, a traditional opposition appeared in Afghanistan, which spoke against the threat which, according to them, "secular" modernization carried against the Islamic values of Afghani society. Among "traditionalists" Gul'beddin Hekmatiar stood out, who organized an armed rebellion against the monarchy and the regime of president Daud.

2. PDPA: "Khalq" (People) vs. "Parcham" (Flag)

The history of PDPA is most curious because here we see again a formation of two factions, in essence, two separate and even antagonistic parties, similar, for example, to the division of the Russian social democratic party into "Bolsheviks" and "Mensheviks". Hence, it appears to be a social law that when a communist party is formed, it immediately splits up into two factions: one being revolutionary, "extreme", and the other reformist, legal, "peaceful opposition".

Some notes about the leaders of the two factions.

Taraki, the founder of the PDPA, and later a leader of the Khalq faction, was born in a common family. Soviet general A. A. Lyakhovsky (served in Afghanistan under general V.I. Varennikov, who was the military advisor of Najibullah) writes in a book "Tragedy and valor of Afghanistan":

"Noor Muhammed Taraki was born in 1917, in the province of Ghazni in a family of an animal farmer. His nationality was Pushtun. From young age he showed interest to studying problems of revolutionary struggle and ideology of the working class. In 1953-65, while occupying himself with social-political activities, wrote a number of literary works ("The wanderings of Banga", "The white", "The lonely"). Took part in the political group "Awakening youth", which stood for democratization of the social life in Afghanistan. After formation of PDPA, under the leadership of Taraki, the party was involved for many years in active political work among different layers of Afghani society and army. (He is) characterized as a soft, idealistic man."

The other leader of the Khalq wing was Amin:

"Khavisulla Amin is from a small Pushtun tribe, born in 1927 in a town not far from Kabul in a family of a civil servant. Having lost his father early, he was brought up by his older brother, who was at one time a teacher in a school, and then a secretary of a president of a big cotton company. Finished a teacher's college and Department of Science of the Kabul university. Worked as a teacher, and director of a Kabul lyceum, "Ibn Sipa". In 1957, to continue his education, left for the USA where he obtained the M.A. degree. Headed the Afghani compatriot organization in the States. After returning, taught a Kabul university, where he had a reputation of a Pushtun nationalist. From 1962 became actively involved in political activities."

Amin studied at Columbia University's Teacher's college, but didn't manage to complete his degree, perhaps because of difficulties caused by his social activities. When he was a leader of PDPA, he was accused by some in the Parcham wing of being a CIA agent, but at a public meeting he was able to repudiate the charges*. (The author of this essay has heard similar arguments thrown at him by members of the "Communist Party of Ukraine". I believe that all those who throw such charges should be held responsible for their words.)

As opposed to Taraki and Amin, the two leaders of the Parcham wing were from upper classes of the Afghani society. Father of Karmal used to be a governor of one of the provinces. Najibullah was born in a well-to-do family and finished a prestigious lyceum.

PDPA was mostly a party of city intelligentsia, although (as is still common) it claimed to be "the party of the working class armed with the ideology of the working class". However, as we know from history, actors on that great stage claim to be one thing while being very different.

However, intelligentsia is not a uniform social strata, but is divided according to vastly different levels of material well-being and privileges. On the one end of the spectrum, for example, there is a head of a clinic, a prestigious professor, who drives to work in a black "Volkswagen" and lives in the center of the city in a spacious apartment. On the other hand, there is a nurse, who takes public transportation to work and lives in an overcrowded apartment on the outskirts of the city. The professor curses the revolution, but the nurse may be reading "Les Miserables" by Hugo.

Soviet researcher M.F. Slinkin, representing the "Parcham" faction on the international arena, writes:

"among the Khalqis there were people who originated among the working class or semi-proletarian layers - from the lower strata of the intelligentsia and civil servants, petty traders, artisans, peasants living in the capital and in the provinces. At the same time, the ranks of Parchamis were formed from well-to-do city layers and classes - the middle and partially upper layers of the intelligentsia and state employees, traders, well-to-do peasants and artisans, partially the landlords, the military officers, which originated from privileged layers of the society."

Class differences may be obscured by different ethnic origins of the people. The Western media loves to portray civil, class wars as "interethnic" conflicts, or strife between different religions (e.g. "Muslims" vs. "Christians", "Sunnis" vs. "Shiites", etc.). But let's look at PDPA:

"The situation in the PDPA was complicated by the ethnic and national make up of the party. Khalqis were mostly pushtuns from southern and eastern provinces of the country, while the parchamis were mostly from tajiks, and representatives of other national minorities, who lived mostly in the capital and in the northern provinces of the country...

The basis of the Khalqis in the capital was pushtun teacher's intellligentsia, and also students of public schools, in which people born in the provinces studied. As for the parchamis, the center of their attention were central, prestigious lyceums, in which studied representatives of well-to-do layers among the tajiks, city pushtuns and other ethnic groups of Afghanistan. Both wings have had rather strong positions among the students, the teachers and associates of the Kabul and Nangarhar universities and Politechnic institute."

Thus, what the Western media portrays as a struggle between the "tajiks" and the "pushtuns" is a class struggle between the "haves" and "have nots".

Khalq and Parcham have had different evaluations of the situation in the country, and hence of their goalsSlinkin writes:

"Open factional struggle in the PDPA, as the supporters of Taraki think, has started after the newspaper "Khalq" was outlawed by the government in May 1966, when the question of tactics in the new situation was raised. Speaking at one of the meetings of the CC (Central Committee), Karmal said that "PDPA is accused of left-wing extremism  because of publication of the newspaper "Khalq", and he proposed: "We should weaken the hue of our red color and convince the king that we're not communists". This proposal, however, did not obtain the support of a number of members of CC PDPA. They spoke for "continuing the decisive revolutionary line".

Their differences, at the early stage, touched upon understanding the social and class situation in the country, the moving forces of the revolution, the character of the party and problems of hegemony in the movement. The Khalq wing, exaggerating the feudal character of the Afghani society, and including into the moving forces of the revolution mostly the working layers of the population ("the exploited"), not only did not want to recognize a positive role for national bourgeoisie in the national-democratic movement and eliminated any possibility of a union with it, but tended to see it as a counterrevolutionary force. At the same time, the Khalqis exaggerated the degree of proletarization of society and ability of the working class of the country to take on the "leading force in the national-democratic revolution". On the basis of this, they spoke about a communist character of their party, calling it "the vanguard of the working class of the country", whose task was to ensure the overthrow of the feudal regime and conquest of power, and transformation of the "national-democratic revolution into a socialist"...

The parchamis, as opposed to the khalqis, included in the forces of anti-feudal and anti-imperialist revolution a wider spectrum of classes in the afghani society - the working masses, the intelligentsia and bureaucracy, various elements of the national bourgeoisie and even patriotic petty and middle landlords. They considered that a victory in a national-democratic revolution can only be ensured under the guidance of revolutionary democracy, and not communist party, for appearance of which in Afghanistan, at the time, there were no proper conditions.

Khalq stood for a socialist revolution and Parcham for a "National-democratic" one. If we're to use historical analogies, the Khalqis were the Bolsheviks, and the Parchamis were the Mensheviks.

If we're to draw lessons from the Khalq and Parcham experience, we can say that no two people who have different interpretations of the past historical experience, and hence of the present situation, can possibly be in the same party. Different views on the past imply different evaluations of the present, and hence, different goals for the future. This is especially important as communists, on international scale, have different understanding of modern socialist history, and in particular different evaluations of the present situation in the former "socialist" countries.

Khalq and Parcham also differed on the methods of struggle:

"The Khalq wing, emphasizing the class struggle and forceful preparation for a "people's (khalq) revolution" (in other words, coup d'etat), placed priority on illegal and violent methods of struggle, while the parchamis, having in mind the long period necessary for maturation of the elements of revolutionary situation, oriented itself at a wider use of legal possibilities and various political means."

Khalq and Parcham had different foreign policy:

"Khalqis, from the concept of "people's democracy", developed relations with various left forces, e.g. the movement of Pushtun-renters headed by A. Bangash, Workers-peasants' party, various communist groups, while the parchamis closely allied themselves with national-democratic and progressive circles of Pakistan (National people's party headed by Abdul Vali-khan and others)."

After the 1973 coup, "The Khalq argued that the republic declared by Daoud was 'royal property', that this government represented the bourgeois-aristocratic partnership and would be incapable of giving anything at all to the masses, that the county's problems could be solved only by a radical revolution, and that this was what the government feared most. As the true face of the government began to appear before the masses, the Khalq became stronger... Another lesson drawn by the Khalq wing of the PDPA from the coup was the special importance, in a backward country like Afghanistan, of working in the army… After the 1973 coup, Tarakki gave Amin the task of work in the army. Under the command of Amin, intensive ideological education was started within the main body of the army. At the same time, the Khalq wing carried out practices of its own during official military manoeuvres. Amin used to see Tarakki once a week and gave reports twice a year. In 1976, Amin reported that a reliable, Khalq section in the army was ready." (Emine Engin)

In 1977 we have a unification of Khalq and Parcham, under the pressure from the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union). A union of revolutionaries and reformists usually has the effect of neutralizing the revolutionaries. Emine Engin writes: “the Khalq and Parcham were united and given equal rights in the leadership irrespective of the difference in strength”, even though Khalq was really the stronger part.

But in the army there was no such unification: “If the party units within the army had united, revolution would have been dropped from the agenda. Soldiers belonging to the Parcham wing were being educated in how to defend Daoud, while those belonging to the Khalq wing were being educated in how to overthrow him. Unification would have meant obscuring the aim of revolution”.

3. The overthrow of Daud in 1978: a coup or a revolution?

Emine Engin writes: "The situation prior to the April Revolution was developing in the direction of a nationwide crisis. Firstly, the stirrings of a peasant uprising were felt in the rural areas just as in 1970-72. In 1978 The Times wrote as follows: 'The acute food shortage led to wide-scale discontent and dissatisfaction in the first months of this year' (The Times May 2 1978). Then the murder of Akhbar Hayber, one of the leaders of the PDPA, on April 17 1978 sparked off broad reaction, including a 50,000-strong funeral march as well as other demonstrations".

In the January 1979 issue of “Problems of peace and socialism” comrade Zeray from the PDPA described the situation prior to 1978 revolution as follows: “The masses were ready to revolt. Living conditions were rapidly deteriorating. More than one million Afghans emigrated to Iran alone. The legitimacy of the official authorities had been greatly shaken in the eyes of the people; orders were not being followed. A most significant fact is that we have worked actively among the people for 13-14 years, we have led the popular movement. Before the revolution our party was a significant force with 50,000 members and close sympathisers and this frightened the regime.”

Emine Engin describes the mechanism of insurrection: "(After a popular demonstration at the funeral of A. Hayber) It was obvious that the leadership of the PDPA would soon be arrested. Tarakki and Amin decided that, in the event of such an arrest, party members and sympathisers within the army should immediately launch an insurrection. Amin saw to it that various plans devised for this purpose were rehearsed 10 times. These drills were skilfully concealed under the cover of general military manoeuvres. Among soldiers and officers belonging to the party, a list was prepared of those who would be commanders during the insurrection. The party's military chain of command was determined. At midnight on April 25 1978, Tarakki and Karmal were arrested by police. Amin was also taken under house arrest the same night and, having learned about the arrest of Tarakki, issued the order for the insurrection through his child. The insurrection began on the morning of April 27, exactly one day after the morning Amin had been taken to prison. By 7 o'clock the insurrection was successful. Tarakki, Amin, and one of the 'equal rights' leaders of the PDPA, Babrak Karmal, were at the State Radio House".

From a 1980 interview with Feroz Ahmed, editor of "Pakistan Forum": "Daud, feeling threatened (by the demonstrations at the funeral of Hayber), arrested most of the PDPA leadership. The cabinet was to decide the fate of these people. Obviously, there would be executions. The choice was either to let themselves be slaughtered, or to act to seize power". That's precisely the situation when people decide to rebel. That's like a dilemma of a person in a burning World Trade Center: either jump out of the window or be killed in fire.   

Soviet general A. A. Lyakhovsky describes the overthrow of Daud from a military point of view:

M.A. Hayber was a liberal-minded chief of police academy; he became a member of the party (PDPA) during the reign of the king, on recommendation of B. Karmal, which irritated the Khalqis. As there was a conviction that an order for murder of M.A. Hayber was given by the minister of internal affairs A. K. Nuristani, tens of thousands of Afghanis turned his funeral into an antigovernment demo, which was broken up by the police.

After the funeral of M.A. Hayber, repressions against the democratic forces started. According to Soviet security forces, on 24th April in Kabul there was a secret meeting of M. Daud with the ambassador of the USA D. Eliot (who was soon to finish his activity in Afghanistan). At the meeting Eliot convinced Daud of necessity of resolute actions against the left forces and insisted on order for arrests of a number of leaders of PDPA, including N. M. Taraki, B. Karmal, Kh. Amin, G.D. Pandsheri, A. V. Safi and others, accusing them of violating the constitution. On the night of 26th April on the order of Daud they were arrested. For some reason Kh.Amin first managed to evade an arrest, even though the police was in his house on the night of 25 to 26 and did a search. Kh. Amin was put under a house arrest and his house was taken under surveillance.

For understanding the situation, Kh. Amin sent his son Abdula Rahman to N.M. Taraki, but the latter was already arrested. This served as a signal for Kh. Amin to give an order for an armed uprising. Through F.M. Fakir (a Kabul civil servant) and S.M. Gulyabzoi (at the time, a junior officer of Afghani Air Force), he sent his plan of action to his supporters (khalqis) in the army (Kh. Amin was transferred from his house into jail only in the evening of 26 April 1978)

On 26 April there were celebrations in all military units because of suppression of communists. The minister of defense of Afghanistan M.Kh. Rasuli ordered to make a special dinner for the military officers and festivities. The khalqis used this to start a necessary preparatory work.

On 27 April at 6 a.m. in the neighborhood of the zoo there was a meeting of coordinating group to lead the military coup; the participants were S.M. Gulyabzoi (responsible for the Air Force and Air Defense), Asadullah Payam (responsible for the 4-th tank brigade), Alisha Payam (responsible for the surface-to-air missile brigade), Muhammed Dust (responsible for the 32-d regiment of "commandos") (do not confuse with Abdul Rashid Dostum).

Officers of the brigade managed to realize the plan. First, they managed, by means of military cunning, to obtain an order from the commander of the brigade to give out ammunition for the tanks, and then moved them towards the presidential palace ("Arga")...

Around 11 a.m. the tanks moved towards Kabul (the brigade was quartered in the eastern outskirts of the city in Puli-Charhi).

The tank crews had the following tasks: Fateh - to place himself on the square of Pushtunistan in order, on the one hand, to shoot at the guard of Daud in Kalai-Jangi, on the other - to control the bank and the post-office. A. Vatanjar had to come out on the square in front of the Ministry of Defense. Sh. Mazduyar had to observe the personal apartments of M. Daud, his brother M. Naim, the embassies of France and Turkey.

The first column of the 4-th tank brigade under the command of colonel Umar appeared before the main entrance to the presidential palace around the midday 27 April. At the time, in the palace, there was a meeting of ministers chaired by M. Daud. The latter was immediately informed about the appearance of tanks. Daud ordered the minister of defense Rasuli and the head of presidential guard major Zia to find out what's happening. To the question of Zia "why the tanks arrived", Umar answered that they were sent by the commander of brigade to strengthen the defenses of the presidential palace. Umar was told to go back to the brigade barracks. However, after leaving the position in front of the palace, he drove the tanks into one of the back streets and started to wait. Soon other divisions of the 4-th tank brigade came up. The presidential palace was surrounded by tanks. Officers M.A. Vanajar, S.D. Tarun, Nazar Muhammad, Sh. Mazduyar and Ahmed Jan were in command.

Precisely at 12 noon Vatanjar ordered the first shot against the presidential palace. Then other tanks started to fire. Fateh from the south, i.e. from the square of Pushtunistan, and Mazduyar from the west started to fire at the guard, at the house of M. Daud and Muhammed Naim and then charged. M.A. Vatanjar opened fire at the ministry of defense. In the Air Force and the Air Defense, according to the plan developed previously, the flight crews at the Kabul and Bargam air bases waited for orders to fly.

M. Daud stopped the meeting of the cabinet of ministers and said: "Those who want to save their lives by leaving the palace are free to do so".

When the shooting began, the minister of defense Rasuli and the minister of interior Nuristani, walking through the back gates of the palace, hurried to their ministries and attempted to organize a defense against the insurgents. The rest of the ministers hid themselves in the mosque on the territory of the palace. It should be said that the palace of M. Daud (the former residence of Zahir Shah) was built like a fortress, equipped with modern anti-tank defenses and was guarded by 2 thousand soldiers, armed with T-54 tanks. Hence, it was not easy for the insurgents to storm inside the palace.

At 17.30 lieutenant Mustafa freed the arrested leaders of PDPA, who were in a municipal building. The radio played national tune "Raga Mal'har", which is traditionally played when the power changes. Then there were announcements about the victory of revolution. Immediately after the planes of the Afghani Air Force made a strike against the presidential palace, where M. Daud with his relatives and faithful soldiers continued to resist the insurgents. Numerous offers to stop the fire and capitulate were left without answer and the defenders of the palace continued resistance.

In the evening a group of commandos forced their way inside the apartments of M. Daud and demanded from him to give up his weapon. To the question of the president "who made the revolution?", lieutenant Imammuddin, in command of the group, answered: "PDPA is heading the revolution". Daud shot at Imammudin from his gun and wounded him. In the ensuing shot-out M. Daud and all members of his family were killed.

In the morning of 28 April, due to joint efforts of the tank crews, the pilots and "commandos", the resistance of the guard which defended the presidential palace was suppressed and the power was transferred to PDPA.

The military lost 43 men. There were civilian victims as well.

The Afghani army accepted the news about the armed uprising on 27 April in Kabul, in the main, with approval. The military organizations of "Khalq" and "Parcham" in the divisions in the provinces were able to isolate the senior officers, the supporters of M. Daud, and didn't allow for regiments loyal to him to be transferred to the capital. In the barracks there were meetings in support of the revolution, the military men helped to purge the state machine of supporters of the previous regime, took part in the municipal groups which controlled the prices on the markets.

The moral of the story: when a revolutionary party expects repressions against itself, it should ask itself if it is ready to launch an insurrection. If the answer is positive, then a military plan should be prepared. If not, then the party should go underground. Not to be detected means security, and, in the long run, security leads to victory.

A controversy exists whether the 1978 "Saur revolution" was "a coup" or "a revolution".

Emine Engin thinks it was a revolution.

1) "coup reflects a struggle for power within the ruling class which controls the state", as for example the 1973 coup, which transferred the power from the Zahir Shah to Daud Khan. But the 1978 rising was not carried by a faction of the ruling class. 

2) A coup is carried as "a palace brawl", i.e. in isolation from the masses. E.g. some emperors of Russia were removed in this way. But an insurrection is spearheaded by an organized, armed minority acting in the interests of the masses. Hence, their enthusiasm. For example, we hear: "This (popular) enthusiasm is reflected in photographs taken after the revolution. Thousands of working people on horses and on foot, with red banners in their hands, poured into the streets".

3) A coup usually aims against the interests of the people, e.g. the coup which brought Yushchenko to power in Ukraine in 2004 (the so-called "Orange revolution"). Not so in Afghanistan: "When the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took power, it quickly moved to remove both land ownership inequalities and usury".

4) I think this was a revolution judging from the character of counter-revolution, i.e. the civil war, which was needed to bring down the regime. Otherwise, a counter-coup would suffice. As a law, we can say that a revolution can only be defeated through a process of a protracted civil war. A revolution can not be brought down by a coup, as many have declared the defeat of the October revolution by the 1991 coup of Yeltsin (in Russia).

Continued here




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