Afghan pamphlet: Emine Engin the ‘revolution’ that never was

Reviewed by the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, n.d. [ca. 1980]

Part I: Introduction

In political and ideological terms, what is now the Weekly Worker group was always a satellite, a child-group, of the Workers' Voice (WV) faction of the Turkish Communist Party (KPT). All its ideas came from Workers' Voice.

In 1982 the KPT published a small book by Emine Engin on the Stalinist revolution in Afghanistan. Jack Conrad/John Bridge, who usually is a karaoke-Leninist—not a translator of Lenin into our conditions, but a frequently unintelligent transcriber of Lenin—is on Afghanistan a transcriber of the work of the Turkish Stalinist, Emine Engin. In the language of the music industry, John-Jack's work on Afghanistan is a cover version of Emine Engin—Karaoke Jack Sings Engin, so to speak!

Engin's is not an objective scientific work, still less Marxist work. It is a Party-lawyer's polemic written to sustain the position on Afghanistan taken up by the WV organisation.

WV championed the Khalq segment of the PDP. They saw a parallel between their own Leninist, revolutionary section of the KPT and Khalq on one side, and on the other an identity between the reformist Menshevik Parchamis and their own opponents in the KPD.

They argued that, though the Russian invaders had secured the Afghan revolution, they had simultaneously acted in a reactionary way in killing Khalq leader Hafizullah Amin and 97 Khalq leaders, and in breaking up the Khalq as soon as they got control of Kabul.

This sort of self-contradictory, oxymoronic, pseudo-dialectical sophistic politics is one of the characteristics which The Leninist and the Weekly Worker group learned from Workers' Voice.

It makes sense first to discuss Engin's work, which is also the more comprehensive, and, after its fashion, more serious, and then to come back to discuss her understudy, J-J.

What is most notably absent in Engin (as in J-J) is a materialist-Marxist class analysis of the April 1978 Stalinist-army coup. She insists that it was not a coup but a real albeit disguised popular revolution. Moreover, it was a working class revolution which established the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Afghanistan.

As far as I know, the KPT and its British offshoot were the only people in the whole world to argue that what happened in Afghanistan in April 1978 was not a coup d'état. On the facts, it was absurd, but it became their factional badge of honour.

In Emine Engin, historical analogies and word-juggling with contrived and specious definitions take the place of a Marxist class analysis.

In Engin's account, the place that should be occupied by an analysis of the classes in Afghan society is filled by the substitutionist assertion that the Stalinist party, the Khalq faction of the PDPA, embodied working class, communist, politics and was therefore the Afghan working class in action.

In Engin, as in J-J, The Party is for purposes of analysis, the working class. The composition of the PDPA may not have been working class, but to dwell on such sociological detail would be economistic.

The Party can act for the working class, and when it acts, even if it is the army officers and the soldiers under their command who in fact act, it is nonetheless the working class—not only the Afghan working class, but the international working class—that acts.

This is an extreme form, indeed a mystical form, of substitutionism—of substituting some other social group or party for the working class. In fact, it is a double dose of substitutionism. For not only does she have the PDPA, which sociologically is not working class, substitute for the working class, but in making the revolution sections of the officer corps, using the apolitical soldiers under their orders, substitutes for the party, whose political guidance the officers accept.*

Without keeping this in mind, it will be impossible to make sense of Engin on her own terms, or of J-J.

No less remarkable than the absence of class analysis in her work—as in John-Jack's—is the absence of an account of the impact on Afghan society of the 25 years symbiosis of sections of the Afghan urban elite with the USSR's Stalinist ruling class.

Nothing in this story makes sense without that. But Engin presents the remarkable success of the PDPA in recruiting army and airforce officers as if it were just an especially successful variant of normal communist subversion work in the armed forces, and had nothing to do with the USSR's impact on sections of Afghanistan's urban elite. Engin—and in her tracks J-J—deliberately falsifies the facts. She suppresses the fact that it was amongst the officers that the PDPA recruited.

Her starting point may well have been the idea that since the PDPA succeeded in making a revolution, its methods had passed the test of practice and experience and deserved to be studied by revolutionaries like herself. She wrote:

By succeeding in carrying out a revolution, the PDPA succeeded in passing a test.

But for that to produce anything useful, she would have to honestly analyse the Saur revolution. That is not at all what she does!

It suits Engin's purpose to conflate and confuse the unique army work of the PDPA with the normal sort of work to undermine and subvert the armed forces which the Communist International once set out as an essential defining characteristic of a communist party, and to pretend that others—the KPT—might take the Khalqis as a model and emulate their work in the armed forces.

But no one could at will fix it for the Turkish, or any other army and airforce, to have the relations with the USSR which the Afghan military had had for 25 years before April 1978. The PDPA experience was therefore no use at all as a model for what the KPT could hope to do. Engin, ignoring the central aspects of that experience, produced work on Afghanistan that was only the spinning of a revolutionary fairy tale, not a guide to action for the KPT and others.

When the Lenin-Trotsky Comintern laid it down that work in the armed forces should be done and made that a condition for affiliation to the International, they had in mind work with rank and file soldiers. To sustain her thesis, Engin must suppress and deny the fact. The PDPA recruited mainly officers. So she is mendaciously vague and unclear about what segment—the officers—of the Afghan forces the PDPA recruited from.

Her account of the history of the PDPA before the Saur coup is entirely the Khalq faction's account of it. And as she tells her story, she excuses Khalq for that for which she, following the post-coup Khalq line on PDP history, castigates the Parchamis. For example, she excuses and explains away Khalq's offer to do what Parcham did after Mohammed Daud's coup in 1973, and join the government.

She uses vague terms to avoid saying that that is what Khalq did: In the face of the left-sounding promises of the government, the Khalq came forward initially with the proposal for a united front. No, Khalq offered to join Daud's government. That it did not do that was determined not by Khalq but by Daud's and Parcham's refusal to have them. John-Jack will do exactly the same thing as Engin.

She does her best to damn Parcham in every way possible, calling them reformists, quoting the Khalq leader Amin that they were just aristocratic kids, etc. And yet she plays down the fact that Parcham in government after 1973 helped persecute—jail, torture and kill—its factional opponents in Khalq, though it did, and the history of that must be a major part of the explanation of why the two groups began to tear each other apart immediately after the Saur coup, when Khalq persecuted Parcham. Why does she do that?

The Khalq-Parcham unification in preparation for the coup was most likely a shotgun wedding at the behest of the Russians (it is, given the history and what followed after the coup, scarcely to be explained unless you assume this) and she wants to present a picture of an entirely autonomous seizure of power by the PDPA, or rather by Khalq. By suppressing the full extent of what she could not but see as Parcham's crimes against Khalq, she avoided having to face awkward questions about how these two bitterly hostile groups managed to unite in July 1977. She avoids the probable Russian dimension in the preparations for the April 1978 coup, of which Khalq-Parcham's unification was one…

She presents Parcham as the Afghan Mensheviks and the Khalq as the Bolsheviks—and then proceeds to substitute considerations about the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, and about Russian conditions, for analysis of her subject, Afghanistan.

She conflates Russia's October Revolution with Afghanistan's Saur coup, Afghanistan with Russia and Russia with Afghanistan so that she sees October as essentially no different from Saur, thus grossly diminishing the greatest event in working class history!

She makes foolish ultra-left sectarian judgements, mechanically reading the line of the KPT onto Afghanistan. Castigating Parcham's reformism, she writes: Parcham defended some of the reforms which had been put into effect by the monarchy in 1964 (reforms which are implemented by reactionary establishments or forces, and which provide progress via the evolutionary path of reaction, can absolutely not be supported).

Certainly you do not express confidence in such forces or disarm politically before them or fail to criticise the shortcomings of their reforms. But you should oppose such things as the creation of an elected parliament by the King, after 1963? (In fact the PDPA, both segments, took part in the ensuing elections, winning four seats…)

In this way, suppressing information and discussion of the real classes involved, eliding from her story the pivotal symbiosis of sections of the Afghan elite with the USSR's bureaucratic ruling class, and, when she comes to it, suppressing the relevant information about exactly which military men the PDPA recruited, Engin discusses a largely imaginary Afghanistan ; not the April 1978 coup but an ideal model revolution.

We will now go on to examine in some detail Emine Engin's account of the Afghanistan Revolution, and her attempt to conflate the Saur coup and the October proletarian revolution.

Substitutionism warps Emine Engin's analysis

Her substitutionist idea of the revolutionary party and its relationship to the working class is very clearly expressed: she reports that on the foundation of the PDPA, it was announced that the party was ‘the party of the working class armed with the ideology of the working class.’

She does not discuss the PDPA's class composition; she takes for granted that the ideas which this Stalinist formation embodied—most of them hers too—were working class ideas, and that ideas were sufficient.

She is not a historical materialist but a flagrant historical idealist!

In fact, their ideas were the dominant ideas of the ruling class in the USSR and its Afghan understudies, who aspired to the same position in Afghanistan.

She goes on: However, any party founded as the (sic) party of the working class in a country like Afghanistan could not be expected to be a fully working class party. Here she is about to discuss the actual Afghan working class and this party's relations with the Afghan workers? The class composition of the PDPA? No, she is talking entirely about the political line of the party! The PDPA could not be a fully working class party, without a struggle and splits among various tendencies showing themselves immediately.

Both Parcham and Khalq were closely linked with the USSR and with its secret police, though Parcham was the closer, tending to be more in line with what Russia wanted done in Afghanistan and more compliant with Russia's policies. There is a dimension of Afghan state assertiveness, and of Pashtun nationalism, against the Russians in the Khalqis' greater independence from Russia after the April '78 coup. During the 10-year split, neither group was ever repudiated by the USSR.

Explaining the formation of the political mind of the Khalq leadership, Engin cites as a major factor their determination not to forget the lessons of experiences such as those in the Sudan, in Egypt and India, in the period when Stalinist formations were docile, sometimes suicidally docile, towards USSR-approved third world governments. She ignores entirely the fact that this was part of a generally aggressive left turn by the Kremlin in the aftermath of the mid-70s defeat of the USA in Indochina.

Instead, she uses Stalinist doubletalk: Khalq learned that in general, the national bourgeoisie is terribly frightened of the complete democratisation of the social and political system and of radical revolutionary change in the system.

She uses words that for her have a special meaning the opposite of their common meaning. Democratisation here means? Democratisation in the same sense that the PDPA was a working class party. It has nothing to do with democratisation as socialists aspire to it. It is the extreme opposite of what we understand by democracy. In Engin's usage, the savage terroristic dictatorship of Khalq was exemplary democracy! Democratic here is another name for the Stalinist assumption of power, rule by the PDPA.

Work with the officers or with the rank and file soldiers?

She valiantly tries to square what happened in Afghanistan with her Marxism-Leninism: Khalq did not reject the general principles of Marxism in regard to the army. These [?] general principles were stated… but it was emphasised that in Afghanistan these general principles would be put into practice in a somewhat different order.

The principles of Marxist revolution in regard to the state is that the working class breaks it up and replaces it by working class rule. Nothing like that was attempted in Afghanistan, unless you think the purging of the armed forces that Khalq undertook to make itself sole master of the state (purging Parchamis too), amounted to the same thing. Engin, of course, does think that.

She continues: In general, as the class struggle develops, the army is used as a means of suppressing the revolutionary forces; but as the class struggle develops further, it inevitably splits the army. Party work within the army is always necessary. Taking the social structure of Afghanistan into consideration, these general principles were put into practice, with emphasis right from the beginning on the party's work within the army. But the task of smashing the state apparatus was not rejected…. [Khalq leader] Taraki 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…

Because this is plainly the line according to Khalq, nothing can be taken at face value. She uses abstract formulations, like splits in the army, to hide actualities.

The class struggle in Afghanistan, the class struggle in any conventional sense, did not split the army and the airforce. They split on commitment to or rejection of a model of economic development patterned on the USSR.

There was class struggle at the heart of it, but it was a class struggle within the Afghan ruling elite—those aspiring to be a ruling class on the model of the ruling bureaucracy in the USSR against the others.

Engin deliberately hides the fact that the intensive ideological education work of Amin in the army was directed at the officers, and that in consequence the PDPA recruited officers and not rank and file soldiers; and that, in contrast to the approach advocated by the Lenin-Trotsky Communist International, basing themselves on the experience of the Russian revolution, it aimed to take over and use the existing hierarchical armed forces and not to break them up.

Their methods were compatible only with such a goal. If there were any rank and file PDPA soldiers, they played no part in the coup except as members of the Afghan state's military formations, commanded by PDPA officers.

The army did split, but not horizontally, with the lower ranks separating from the officers, as in Russia in 1917. The army and airforce split vertically: sections of the army and airforce under its own hierarchical command split, according to the politics of the top officers, from sections similarly organised and mobilised on the other side.

Engin writes so as to avoid recording these facts and having to discuss them. She writes mendaciously, deliberately (it cannot be other than deliberate) giving a false impression that the Khalq's work in the army was other than what it was.

Yet the Afghan reality finds its way into her picture when she asserts that the Khalq wing carried out practices of its own during official military manoeuvres…

I have no idea whether that is true or not. But for it to be true, then key sections of the officers in charge of the official military exercises, all the way up to the top, would have had to be PDPA. That is the fact; and that is the point Emine tries to hide.

A maturing revolutionary situation?

Emine goes to great pains to present events before the April coup as constituting a maturing revolutionary situation, and to pretend that the coup proceeded in accordance with its development:

The situation in the country was becoming tense. As activity among the masses increased, and as the PDPA stretched out to townships, villages and nomads' tents, the repressive nature of Daud's regime was becoming clearer. The revolutionary situation was maturing. In accordance with this, Amin began to turn education in the army into practical planning.

This too is falsification of facts and of relationships. She is, here as all through this work, careful to avoid specifying where exactly in the army Amin was doing his education work. (Curiously, the airforce, where Parcham was strong, is scarcely mentioned. Certainly the airforce seems to have suffered most from the PDPA's post-coup faction fighting and purging.)

Did the PDPA ever (except by way of death-dealing planes and helicopter gunships) stretch out to townships, villages and nomad tents? For sure, not to many of them!

It is perfectly true that there was a crisis in Afghan society, and that dictator Daud's failures helped create a willingness in formerly Daudist officers to throw in with the PDPA. That is a very important part of the picture. But she bases her case that Saur was a revolution and not a coup on the idea that the PDPA coup was prepared by mass struggle.

For evidence of conditions in Afghanistan, she goes to a retrospective account of pre-coup Afghanistan in the magazine used by the Russian Stalinist ruling class for communicating the line to its loyal parties across the world, Problems of Peace and Socialism (PPS). The version in English—one of no less than 35 languages in which it was published—was called World Marxist Review (WMR).

From the issue of January 1979, she quotes comrade Zeray of the PDPA describing the situation before April, 1978, and claiming that the PDPA had 50,000 members then. This flatly contradicts all other sources. On the eve of Saur the PDPA itself claimed 8,000, and the real figure may have been not much more than a quarter of that.

(J-J repeats this figure from WMR in Weekly Worker. That Engin, or John-Jack, 20 years ago, should quote WMR is not surprising; but it is astonishing that J-J is still doing it long after he has had a chance to realise that most of what he learned from those people was shameless lies.)

The April coup was really a revolution?

We now come to Emine Engin's account of why the coup was a revolution.

The PDPA was ready, she proudly reports. Taraki and Amin decided that in the event of their arrest party members and sympathisers within the army [she consistently leaves out the airforce] should immediately launch an insurrection. Amin saw to it that various plans devised for this purpose were rehearsed ten times. These drills were skilfully concealed under the cover of general military manoeuvres. Among soldiers and officers [the order here, soldiers and officers, is deliberately mendacious] 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… (J-J weaves his own fantasy of imaginary detail around this. See below.)

But is there reason to think that when the PDPA-led sections of the army and airforce moved into action on April 27th, 1978, there was any chain of command in operation other than the normal chain in military organisations structured and drilled to move under their officer leadership? Not that I know of.

The PDPA segments of the army and airforce acted as typically hierarchical military forces. One of the shaping characteristics of this revolution was the fact that though the military played the decisive role in taking and then fighting to hold and consolidate power, these state forces did not have any of the characteristics of a revolutionary army, with a politically conscious rank and file (see Afghanistan and the Shape of the 20th Century (Afghanistan…) in Workers' Liberty 2/2).

And, once again, Engin's own account of what the PDPA officers could do under cover of official military manoeuvres, shows just how things stood. A sizeable, and as it proved, decisive segment of the Afghan state forces had fallen under the control of the PDPA by way of the political allegiance of their officers, not of the rank and file soldiers, and—if this is forgotten then the story is incomprehensible—of the Russians.

We have seen why Emine Engin is concerned to establish that 1978 was a revolution and not a coup—it serves them, they believe, to fight their factional war in the KPT.

That it was no ordinary coup, that the relationship between the Stalinist PDP and the military and airforce officers who, using the troops under their command, made the revolution, makes it a coup unique in history (the only remotely comparable phenomena I know of are the Ba'th party's relationship with military coups in Iraq and Syria in the 1960s, and between these and Afghanistan there are important differences). That it had some support in the urban population—that is fact. But that it was a coup, a seizure of the state by part of the military, a revolution from above whose active protagonist was a section of the military—that also is fact. A coup sui generis, but a coup nonetheless. Most certainly, it was no sort of popular revolution.

But Afghanistan has become entangled with Turkish politics and WV's struggle against those it sees as Turkey's equivalent of Parcham.

* Footnote: Without the fiction that the ruling CPSU was the working class in politics, the WV analysis of the USSR would have led them inescapably to a State Capitalist position.

Part II

In Turkey, Revolutionary Path, Liberation and Accumulation… all say that it was a coup. Those who call it a coup put forward such views as that the revolution was effected through an uprising in the army, that a section of the counterrevolutionary Muslim guerillas had found a base among the peasantry, and that the revolution was announced to the country over the radio. Let us too touch briefly upon the question of coup or revolution.

But it is a foolish, self-defeating activity, to argue about Turkish politics and perspectives by way of a convoluted dispute about another country—whose conditions are radically different and which therefore can not be a paradigm or a stand-in for Turkey. A corrupting activity too, for facts are facts.

It is plain fact that the revolution was effected by sections of the army (and the airforce); that Muslim forces had not only a base, but overwhelming support amongst the peasantry and a large section of the urban population; that PDPA rule was maintained by police-state terror in the towns, in parallel to the airborne terror used in the countryside; that the revolution was presented to most Afghans as a fait accompli, something, indeed, announced over the radio. If the dispute rests on whether the things she lists are true, then there is no basis for dispute. And she knows this perfectly well.

She knows that she has to take another tack if she is to prove that it was not a coup but a, so to speak, disguised popular revolution. She has, to make her case, to become a corrupter of words, juggling scholastically with definitions and analogies.

Lenin on the witness stand

She immediately calls Lenin to the witness stand:

While explaining the term ‘putsch’, which is the exact equivalent in German of the word coup [?], Lenin said the following:

The term putsch, in its scientific sense, may be employed only when the attempt at insurrection has revealed nothing but a circle of conspirators or stupid maniacs, and has aroused no sympathy among the masses.

This explanation generalises efforts to seize power through a plot isolated from the masses under the concept of putsch.

The concept of coup d'état or ‘blow against the state’ is also included in Lenin's generalisation.

Here she conflates coup and revolution so that she can eliminate the fundamental distinction between revolution from above and from below. She wants to banish the concept of coup, as distinct from revolution, and reduce all that goes with revolution from below to tertiary detail. So she works backwards, so to speak, conflating putsch and coup, and then conflating coup and popular revolution, eliminating distinctions, till she, and her readers, including her mimic, J-J, are unable to see the difference between the party-army coup in Kabul and the October Revolution!

She uses Lenin's comment on what a putsch is to prove that Afghanistan was not a coup! The quintessentially Stalinist dimension here is the reduction of real revolution to optional detail and the assertion that some other forces can substitute for the working class.

A coup d'état also involves a plot isolated from the masses, but here it originates from within the state itself, e.g., military coup, palace coup, etc.

While talking about the coup d'etats of Bonaparte and Bismarck, Engels said:

In politics there are only two determining forces, the organised force of the state, the army, and the disorganised natural force of the popular masses.

In connection with the coups of Bonaparte and Bismarck, we see that Engels' explanation reflects the understanding that a coup rests on a certain support within the state, not on the masses, and that it has the character of a plot isolated from the masses.

The distinction between, coup, putsch, etc., will be discussed further below, when we come to J-J's cover version of the same ideas.

In fact history knows nothing of a Bismarck coup! Bismarck was all his life a loyal servant of the Prussian kings. Engels did not write about such a thing, either in The Role of Force in History or anywhere else. J-J repeats this strange but revealing error of fact. I will come back to this.

When we look at history we see that in general this type of coup reflects a struggle for power within the ruling class which controls the state. The decisive factor in such a struggle is the balance of forces within the state mechanism.

That was precisely the situation in Afghanistan—a split within the urban ruling class elite. The determining forces in April 1978 were those segments of the old state, under PDPA leadership, it is true, who won the battle in Kabul, in the week following 27 April.

Having inadvertently but neatly described the realities of the Saur Revolution, Engin has implicitly admitted that Great Saur was a coup d'état. She must now either give up or argue that everything is not always what it appears to be.

Revolutions disguised as coups

Again, when we look at history, we also see revolutions which have the appearance of coups. However, the only way in which revolutionary views which take the side of the oppressed classes, and defend radical changes that can be implemented through broad mass participation, can gain strength within the old state apparatus is as a reflection within the state of the mood and revolutionary potential of the masses. Revolutionary views cannot gain strength within the old state apparatus in isolation from the masses and then, resting on this strength, carry out a coup ‘in isolation from the masses’. For this reason, revolutionary coups are either the unsuccessful and easily crushed attempt of a small group, or a revolution which, even if in form it resembles a military coup, for example, has in reality created a genuinely organised vanguard from the petty-bourgeois revolutionary military cadres in the army. In history, such examples have led the potential which they themselves objectively represent to explode the day after the coup by bringing the masses out onto the streets. Just as in Iran the revolution found its subjective factor in the mullahs, it may also find it among revolutionary officers in the army. In such cases, the seizure of power appears in form as a coup, but in essence it is a revolution under the leadership of petty-bourgeois military cadres. (The future of a revolution led by petty-bourgeois revolutionaries is another question.)

The essential argument here is that Saur was not a coup, because, given the ideas and aspirations of the PDPA—and the definitions she has created about coups, etc.—it simply could not be! It is an aspect of the mystical substitutionism that pervades this entire work. It rests on convoluted ideological reasoning and, as we have seen, on the suppression of such key factors in the situation as the Afghan elite's interaction with the Russian Stalinist ruling class.

The reason why revolutionary views—in fact the aspiration to create in Afghanistan a replica of the USSR—did gain strength within the old state apparatus in Afghanistan was not that they reflected the mood and revolutionary potential of the masses but because of the example of the USSR and the effects of its direct role in educating the military technicians and intelligentsia.

The idea that when they acted, they reflected the mood of the masses is plainly not true, even if by masses we mean only city-dwelling Afghans.

The idea that the coup makers reflected the revolutionary potential of the masses is in no way a description of Afghan reality in 1977/8, or afterwards. It is how in Engin's schema things should have been. It is mystical substitutionism.

Even so, it also implies the truth which Engin is trying to hide: that the coup makers acted in isolation from any mass action, even in the cities.

If there was massive support, then it was passive support. Nothing happened that affected the transfer of power except the civil war between rival segments of the regular armed forces. If this massive support existed before the coup, it disappeared immediately afterwards…

I don't know that it is a general rule, or anything other than rationalising substitutionist mendacity, genuflecting to populist piety, to say that: The only way in which revolutionary views which take the side of the oppressed classes, and defend radical changes that can be implemented through broad mass participation, can gain strength within the old state apparatus is as a reflection within the state of the mood and revolutionary potential of the masses.

History knows many examples of enlightened elites that try to pioneer transformations for which their own society is not ready. Afghanistan itself, whether with King Amanullah in the 1920s, or Daud for most of his rule, not to mention aspects of PDPA rule, provides us with examples of it.

What happened after April 1978 becomes incomprehensible if the picture she presents of the coup as a disguised revolution with mass revolutionary outbreaks waiting to be detonated by it, is even half true. The point is, it isn't.

Her formulation that what is in play here is radical reforms that can be implemented only through broad mass participation is a pointedly precise drawing of attention to what was lacking in Afghanistan: the PDP did not have the support to carry by main force an accelerated version of the changes that Daud had been slowly implementing (on women, for example: see Afghanistan…).

In Afghanistan, there was no eruption of popular action triggered by the coup which objectively represented it.

She sums up the historical possibilities: For this reason, revolutionary coups are either the unsuccessful and easily crushed attempt of a small group, or a revolution which, even if in form it resembles a military coup, for example, has in reality created a genuinely organised vanguard from the petty-bourgeois revolutionary military cadres in the army.

She defines away the distinction between coup and revolution so that a successful coup is not a putsch and some—perhaps all—successful coups are not coups either. As the old couplet has it: Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? For if it prosper none dare call it treason.

In history, such examples have led the potential which they themselves objectively represent to explode the day after the coup by bringing the masses out onto the streets.

But in Afghanistan, there was no eruption of popular action triggered by the coup which objectively represented, and, so to speak, prefigured it.

Just as in Iran the revolution found its subjective factor in the mullahs, it may also find it among revolutionary officers in the army. In such cases, the seizure of power appears in form as a coup, but in essence it is a revolution under the leadership of petty-bourgeois military cadres.

A disembodied, classless workers' revolution

Here revolution is a disembodied classless entity advancing over the world, finding its agents, its subjective factor, as best it can, but in the end always true to itself and never equal to less than itself—and, in the quaint phraseology of both Workers' Voice and The Leninist, linking up with the world revolutionary centre, the USSR.

In the kitsch-Trotskyist left, such views were promulgated by the Grant group (Militant; now Socialist Appeal and the Socialist Party).

Essentially it was the root outlook of the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy in the days (circa 1960) when Nikita Khrushchev was confident enough to tell the capitalist powers at the UN, We will bury you, by way of peaceful competition.

Revolution was not an event but a process.

The Workers' Voice faction of the KPT argued that it was necessary to supplement this USSR and official Communist Party fostered perspective of ever-advancing socialism with revolutionary activity by such as themselves in their own countries. The need to vindicate that viewpoint, it seems, lay behind their championing of the revolution-making Khalq.

Here Engin invokes the advancing world revolution thesis to bestow a proletarian revolutionary character on the coup-making army officers of the PDPA. It's as if she doesn't notice that in Afghanistan there was no eruption of popular action triggered by the coup which objectively represented it

Engin insists: If we look at the events in Afghanistan from this point of view, again it is a revolution. Nevertheless, she insists, the Afghanistan revolution was not this type of revolution. (What type was it?) What she wants to emphasise here is that if, without looking at the essence of the matter, we call every revolution which appears to be a military one a coup, and if we then label it to be ‘isolated from the masses’ because counter-revolutionary attempts have intensified as they would naturally be expected to…This logic would lead to calling the October Revolution a coup.

By way of constructing abstract patterns from different revolutions and comparing them, she now performs an astonishing piece of mendacious apologetics, downgrading the Russian proletarian revolution in order to glorify the Afghan Stalinist coup:

In Russia as well, soldiers made up an important section of the striking force. Clashes were brief and power was seized with relatively few losses. What did last for a long time were the sharp and bloody clashes throughout the civil war. And in the civil war certain backward sections of the people took the side of counter-revolution. Was the October Revolution a ‘coup’?

The effectiveness of this, even as rhetoric, depends on the suppression of the basic facts of what she is supposed to be discussing—for both Afghanistan and Russia. Recall that all the way through her exposition, she has built towards this point, talking about Khalq's work in the army without specifying that it was work not amongst the ordinary soldiers but work amongst the officers, designed to win over segments of the army and airforce from the top, leaving the old hierarchical command structures intact.

We now come to the most important thing in this discussion.

Was the October Revolution a coup?

In the October Revolution, the soldiers who did indeed play a big part were rank and file soldiers, and occasionally an officer, who had broken the command structures of the army (and the navy).

The Russian armed forces split horizontally, the soldiers against the hierarchy of officers, and not vertically. In Afghanistan, they split vertically, intact segment against intact segment, under their officers.

The revolutionary soldiers in Russia acted with and alongside of the armed working class militia, the Red Guards. Revolutionary rank and file soldiers of peasant origin, acted, among other things, as one of the links between town workers and the people of the countryside.

The command structures were not in any way a continuation of the old army hierarchies. The maker of the revolution was not the army, or an intact segment of it acting as the army. The working class led by the Bolshevik Party, acting as the most conscious political force, was the protagonist, augmented by collectives of politically conscious soldiers who had broken out of the old command structures and who acted not under the command of their officers, but against them.

The Russian civil war bears not even a superficial resemblance to Afghanistan after April 1978.

As in Afghanistan, the towns were islands in an agrarian sea. But it was the workers who seized power in the towns, not a military elite, not an aspirant new exploitative ruling class seeking to displace the old one, and embodying in itself segments of the old ruling class that were seeking to become a different sort of ruling class.

In the Russian countryside there was already a mass revolutionary ferment. One of the first things the Bolsheviks did after 25 October (7 November according to the modern calendar) 1917 was to legalise what the peasants had done in seizing land. The peasant party, the Left SRs (who split off from the old SR party and who—despite being a minority in the Constituent Assembly—were in the countryside the leaders of most of the peasants. See The Fate of the Russian Revolution) allied with the Bolsheviks and for some months after October, formed a coalition government with them.

Even when conflicts erupted with the peasantry during the civil war, when anti-Bolshevik peasant armed forces, the so-named Greens, and groups like Nestor Machno's anarchist-led forces in the Ukraine, appeared in many places, there was until the end of the Civil War a common foe. The peasants saw the Bolshevik regime as their, often bitterly resented, protector against the White guards and a landlord restoration.

I have no desire to idealise or falsify the situation in post-October Russia. The Bolsheviks did resort to coercion where necessary, and sometimes more of it than we, from our safe distance, may think necessary. But there is no valid comparison with what the Afghanistan armed forces led by Stalinists did.

Agrarian support for the PDPA regime, even grudging support, was negligible. Even their decrees giving land to peasants and abolishing usury (see Afghanistan…) did not call forth substantial peasant support.

The relationship of the regime to the people, and the PDPA's savagely Stalinist attitude was made plain when, within a few weeks of the coup, they started to napalm bomb villages.

This was more than random brutality by peculiarly brutal people. Politically it was a reflection of the character of the isolated regime in Kabul. Its methods reflected a deadly combination of militarist and Stalinist elitism. It reflected the Khalq's belief—the quintessential Stalinist belief—that state force, in this case military force, was enough. I have narrated and analysed all this in detail in Afghanistan… and I will not repeat more of it here.

Engin continues: Before the October Revolution, Lenin said that if, in a peasant country, matters have come to a peasant uprising, it is sufficient even if there are no other symptoms of a nation wide crisis. (Sufficient for what exactly?)

Once again, it is as if Engin's theoretical conscience is in revolt against the apologist-lawyer's task she is performing, subconsciously inducing her to bring in things that pointedly puncture her own case!

There was no hint of a peasant rising in conjunction with the PDPA-army military coup in the cities. That is why the coup did not, as, indeed, certain coups have—for instance, Iraq in 1958 and after, until the first Army-Ba'thist coup in 1963—trigger a mass revolutionary mobilisation of the people. That it didn't is, precisely, the point here!

She goes on: Then [Lenin] enumerates the other symptoms as well, referring to a heating up of the national question, the situation in the army and ‘the mood of the whole nation’.

Lenin enumerated the following as the guarantee of the Bolsheviks' success in an uprising: 1. We can launch a surprise attack from three points; 2. We have slogans that guarantee us support among the peasants; 3. We have a majority in the country; 4. The disorganisation among the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries is complete; 5. We are technically in a position to take power in Moscow; 6. We have thousands of armed workers and soldiers in Petrograd who could at once seize the Winter Palace, the General Staff building, the telephone exchange and the large printing presses.

After enumerating these conditions for an uprising, Lenin said that, given these conditions, it would be treachery not to treat insurrection as an art. Let us now return to Afghanistan in the light of these comments of Lenin.

But no: before we return to Afghanistan, let us look more seriously at Lenin's Marxism and Insurrection (A Letter to the Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party) which Engin has rather too abstractly, and inaccurately, but also very revealingly, summarised here.

What Lenin really said on Marxism and insurrection

The easiest way to show the difference between a revolution, the October Revolution of 1917, in which insurrection is the means of toppling the old power and installing the revolutionary power at the culmination of a popular revolution, and what happened in Afghanistan in the week beginning 27 April 1978, is to examine what Lenin, dealing with Russia on the eve of October, really says.

Lenin's letter to the Central Committee is a profound Marxist work, from which we can learn a great deal. What follows is about half of Lenin's text.

Lenin:—…To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon the revolutionary spirit of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon the crucial moment in the history of the growing revolution, when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemies and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three factors in the attitude towards insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism…

The present moment is one in which the Party is obliged to admit that insurrection has been placed upon the order of the day by the whole course of objective events, and that it must treat insurrection as an art…

In the days of July 16-17 (3-4 [according to the old calendar]) it was possible to argue without trespassing against the truth that the right thing to do was to take power, for our enemies would in any case accuse us of rebellion and treat us like rebels. However, to have concluded that we could have seized power at that time would have been wrong because the objective conditions for a successful insurrection did not exist.

1) We still lacked the support of the class which is the vanguard of the revolution.

We still did not have a majority among the workers and soldiers of the capitals. Now, we have a majority in both Soviets. [In Moscow and Petrograd.]…

2) There was no rising revolutionary spirit at that time among the people. There is that spirit now, after the Kornilov affair, as is proved by the situation in the provinces and by the seizure of power by the Soviets in many localities.

3) At that time there was no vacillation on any serious political scale among our enemies and among the irresolute petty bourgeoisie. Now their vacillation is enormous… Our petty-bourgeois democrats, having clearly lost their majority among the people, have begun to vacillate enormously…

4) An insurrection on July 16-17 (3-4) would have been a mistake because we could not have retained power either physically or politically. We could not have retained it physically in spite of the fact that at certain moments Petrograd was in our hands, because at that time our workers and soldiers would not have fought and died for the possession of Petrograd…

We would not have retained power politically on July 16-17 (3-4), because before the Kornilov affair the army and provinces might, and would, have marched against Petrograd.

The picture is now entirely different.

We have the following of the majority of a class, the vanguard of the revolution, the vanguard of the people, which is capable of carrying the masses with it.

We have the following of the majority of the people; for Chernov's resignation, while by no means the only symptom, is the most striking and obvious symptom that the peasantry will not receive land from a bloc with the Socialist-Revolutionaries (or from the Socialist-Revolutionaries themselves). And that is the central reason for the popular character of the revolution.

We have the advantage of a party that firmly knows the path it must follow…

Our victory is assured, for the people are bordering on desperation, and we can show the people a sure way out; for during the Kornilov days we demonstrated to the people the value of our leadership…

The Democratic Conference is a Conference and nothing more. One thing must not be forgotten, namely, that at the Conference the majority of the revolutionary people, the poor and embittered peasantry, are not represented. It is a Conference of a minority of the people—that obvious truth must not be forgotten. It would be a profound error, it would be sheer parliamentary cretinism on our part, were we to regard the Democratic Conference as a parliament; for even if it were to proclaim itself a parliament, the sovereign parliament of the revolution, it would not be able to decide anything. The power of decision lies outside of the Conference; it lies in the working class quarters of Petrograd and Moscow.

All the objective conditions for a successful insurrection exist…

Having recognised that an insurrection on the part of the workers of Petrograd and Moscow is absolutely necessary in order to save the revolution and in order to save Russia from being separately divided up among the imperialists of both coalitions… we must show that our acceptance of the idea of Marx that insurrection must be regarded as an art is not merely a verbal acceptance.

Part 3

At the [Democratic] Conference…we must prepare a brief declaration in the name of the Bolsheviks, sharply emphasising the irrelevance of long speeches and of speeches in general, the necessity for immediate action in order to save the revolution, the absolute necessity for a complete break with the bourgeoisie, for the removal of the whole of the present government, for a complete severance of relations with the Anglo-French imperialists, who are preparing a separate partition of Russia, and for the immediate transfer of the whole power to the revolutionary democracy headed by the revolutionary proletariat.

Our declaration must consist of the briefest and bluntest formulation of this conclusion accompanied by a programme of proposals: peace for the peoples, land for the peasants, the confiscation of outrageous profits, and a check on the outrageous sabotage of production by the capitalists.

The briefer and blunter the declaration the better…

Having announced this declaration, and having appealed for decisions and not talk, for action and not resolution-writing, our whole fraction must proceed to the factories and the barracks. Their place is there; the pulse of life is there; the force that will save the revolution is there; the motive force of the Democratic Conference is there.

There, in impassioned speeches, we must explain our programme and put the alternative: either the Conference adopts it in its entirety, or else insurrection. There is no middle course. Delay is impossible. The revolution is perishing.

By putting the question thus, by concentrating our entire fraction in the factories and barracks, we shall be able to decide the best moment to launch the insurrection…

September 26-27 (13-14), 1917

(see also the Appendix: Marxism and insurrection, Trotsky's speech to the Tzar's court, 1906)

The difference between a coup and a popular revolution

Look at Afghanistan in the light of Lenin's picture of conditions in Russia on the eve of the October Revolution and you see exactly why and in what ways what happened in Afghanistan was a revolutionary military coup and not a popular revolution.

In Russia the Bolshevik seizure of power was the culmination of profound social convulsions. Russia is covered by a great network of Soviets. Lenin says at the very start of his letter urging the Central Committee to prepare an insurrection, that a Marxist insurrection can rely neither on a conspiracy nor on a mere party, but on the advanced class, the working class, which is capable of carrying the masses with it—that is, capable of leading the whole plebeian population, or most of it, and in the first place the peasants.

He notes that the soviets have already seized power in some localities. When he talks of loyal regiments, he means regiments of soldiers who have sloughed off military discipline, who are not under the control of their officers, who look to the soviets for leadership in supporting and defending the revolution.

There already is a mass nation-wide revolt by peasants, whose demands for land, which has been thwarted by the various Provisional Governments, can only be satisfied by the workers in power. He implies that if this were not so then there could be no talk of the workers seizing power: that is the central reason for the popular character of the revolution, that is, for the continuing nation-wide discontent that gives the working class and the Bolsheviks their opportunity.

His discussion of the ‘July Days’ and of why it would have been wrong for the Bolsheviks to seize power then is equally instructive. The July Days were a spontaneous revolt by sections of the working class in Petrograd (St Petersburg). The Bolsheviks put themselves at the head of that movement, which they thought premature, in order to assure an orderly retreat with the least losses. Afterwards Lenin had to go into hiding and Trotsky was locked in a jail.

Why, according to Lenin, would it have been wrong for the Bolsheviks to have seized power in July? Because they still had not won the majority of the working class; they had not won the leadership in the soviets; there was no rising revolutionary spirit amongst the people, who still had confidence in their parties and leaders; because, in July the army and the provinces would have marched on Petrograd, and the Bolsheviks could not have retained power. There is, he insists, such a rising revolutionary spirit now, after General Kornilov's attempt to suppress the revolution by a military coup in August.

The Bolsheviks had taken the lead in organising resistance to Kornilov's attempted coup against the Kerensky regime. Lenin would later put it like this: that they supported Prime Minister Kerensky, who was widely believed to be complicit in Kornilov's plot, as the rope supports the hanged man. Thus they consolidated their leadership of the working class.

Could the differences with the situation in Afghanistan in April 1978 be more clear? The central aspect of the Saur revolution was that the Stalinists of the PDPA believed that taking power as they did would be enough: state force and coercion would do the rest. As I have already said, their idea here is the root idea of Stalinism in history (see Afghanistan…).

Engin's summary of Lenin abstracts from everything in Lenin that describes the real revolutionary situation about which he was writing.

She culls from Lenin abstract recipes designed to make what Lenin wrote in 1917 fit the Afghan reality in 1978. To do that she has to fade out everything that is concrete about Russia and retreat up the ladder of abstraction so that her generalities will admit both the Afghan experience and the vastly different experience of the Bolsheviks. She fades out everything specific and instructive, assimilating the profoundly democratic Bolshevik revolution to the military-bureaucratic coup in Afghanistan.

Marxists proceed in precisely the opposite way. We translate generalisations by a Lenin or Marx or a Trotsky back into their concrete components; we then test and compare the summaries against the facts, details and dynamics of the current situation we are trying to analyse.

Her glosses on Lenin even introduce elements not in Lenin. Look at it again:

Lenin enumerated the following as the guarantee of the Bolsheviks' success in an uprising: 1. We can launch a surprise attack from three points; 2. We have slogans that guarantee us support among the peasants; 3. We have a majority in the country; 4. The disorganisation among the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries is complete; 5. We are technically in a position to take power in Moscow; 6. We have thousands of armed workers and soldiers in Petrograd who could at once seize the Winter Palace, the General Staff building, the telephone exchange and the large printing presses.

After enumerating these conditions for an uprising, Lenin said that, given these conditions, it would be treachery not to treat insurrection as an art. Lenin does not write of a surprise attack. The very opposite, in fact: he wants them to go to the Democratic Conference and publicly announce the Bolsheviks' intention to rise.

That they intended to rise, though not of course the details, was public knowledge long before Zinoviev and Kamenev told the press about it on the eve of the insurrection.

We have slogans that guarantee us support among the peasants. That is probably what the leaders of the PDPA thought in April 1978. It is not at all what Lenin says.

There is nothing speculative or for-the-future in what Lenin writes. He describes an already seething mass of peasant revolutionary feeling, focused on the demand for the land; he notes that the peasants' traditional party, the SRs, will not win it for them (Victor Chernov was a SR leader).

This makes it possible for the working class to act as leader of the peasants.

By taking power the workers can clear away the bourgeois obstruction to the peasants getting what they are already in revolt to claim and in many places have already seized and fear will be taken from them, the land. Therefore, the workers can—in Trotsky's summary formula of his theory of Permanent Revolution—take the lead in reconstructing Russia on a new basis.

Lenin does not quite say that they have a majority in the country: he says they have won the majority in the working class, which is capable of leading all the working people.

Can technique be self-sufficient?

Comrade Taraki had appraised the Afghan society on a scientific basis and had intimated [to] the party since the 1973 [Daud] coup that it was possible in Afghanistan to wrest… political power through a shortcut, [inasmuch] as the classical way in which the productive forces undergo different stages to build a society based on scientific socialism would take a long time. This shortcut could be utilised by working extensively in the armed forces. Previously the army was considered as the tool of dictatorship and despotism of the ruling class and it was not imaginable to use it before toppling its employer. However, Comrade Taraki suggested this too should be wrested in order to topple the ruling class.

[From the official biography of Noor Mohammed Taraki, a leader of the People's Democratic party of Afghanistan, published in August 1978]

We are technically in a position to take power in Moscow? The focus on technique is characteristic of the PDPA and its apologists.*

It describes Taraki, as quoted, above, not Lenin. In terms of technique, Lenin is urging the Bolshevik Central Committee to match the objective revolutionary possibilities, whose elements he itemises and analyses, above, by applying themselves to the technicalities of an insurrection: treat insurrection as an art.

Lenin is not talking primarily about Moscow, but about Petrograd, the heart of the revolutionary working class. Etc., etc., etc. The distorting shadow of the PDPA military coup is heavy over Engin's account of Lenin on the eve of the October Revolution…

Emine Engin continues:

We have mentioned the existence of a revolutionary situation in the country. The situation prior to the April Revolution was developing in the direction of a nation wide 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’.

Here, as throughout the whole exposition, what she cites and quotes does not prove, or even strongly suggest, what Emine Engin wants it to prove. In her translation, the Times reporter's account of discontent and dissatisfaction becomes The stirrings of a peasant uprising were felt.

Uprising? In fact, apart from the many peasant risings against the Stalinist government in Kabul, there was no peasant rising—not even when the PDPA in power tried to rouse the rural poor against landlords and usurers.

It may be—I don't know—that the PDPA-army coup and the rallying of forces against it under the banner of Islam, helped smother what might have become a peasant movement, or even a peasant rising. But to translate the Times report into the ‘stirrings of a peasant uprising’ is like translating the news that someone who has been in a stupor is showing signs of being alive into a tale that he is already up and doing vigorous things. And Engin is writing four years later, when the full story is known…

She continues: then the murder of Akhbar Khayber, one of the leaders of the PDPA, on 17th April l978 sparked off broad reaction, including a 50,000-strong funeral march as well as other demonstrations.

Impatience with the Daud regime had been mounting within the army for a long time…The conditions for an uprising were maturing. It was not for nothing that the order for the uprising was connected with the arrest of the PDPA leaders. It is very obvious that this was to serve as the ‘turning point’ mentioned by Lenin. And so it was.

* Footnote: Some anarchists said differently, that it was the intelligentsia taking power, but we will leave them alone, except to note that one possible consequence of arguments such as Engin and John-Jack employ, equating Afghanistan and Russia in 1917, is that when the penny drops about Afghanistan, etc., they will turn against the October Revolution…

Part IV

Engin now focuses tightly on Afghanistan, and applies the things she has culled from Lenin:

The PDPA had slogans which guaranteed the support of the discontented peasants.

Did they? They thought they did, but in fact, they did not. Nothing like it. Or, if the emphasis is on discontented peasants, then self-evidently, not enough peasants were discontented.

And there is a qualitative, fundamental, difference between being discontented and being revolutionary. The most striking and revealing features of post-Saur Afghanistan was that they could not, even from the heights of state power, organise the putative beneficiaries to support the land redistribution decrees promulgated in Kabul.

It was the measure of their isolation, of their utter failure and of the abortive character of their revolution.

It is simply preposterous to write in 1982, when the whole sorry story is already history, that the PDPA had slogans which guaranteed the support of the peasants!

The point is that whereas the Bolsheviks acted when mass peasant revolutionary activity was already a fact, and when the peasants had had a chance to learn that only the working class in power would give them the land they wanted, in Afghanistan it was all speculation and gambling on the future, and on slogans that should have guaranteed peasant support, but didn't.

But then, though Khalq had more contact with the countryside than Parcham, their relationship to the rural people was a gruesome series of tragicomic episodes. It almost beggars belief that they outlawed usury in the villages when they had no alternative credit system in place, but they did, with the result that in 1979 agricultural production fell catastrophically.

It was episodes like this that made me write in Afghanistan… of the Afghan Stalinists in power, that their rule was a caricature and epitome of the whole grim and tragic history of Stalinism.

To say that from the social-psychological point of view, or from any point of view at all, the PDPA had the support of a majority in the country, is delirious nonsense. In terms of the known facts, it is the plain opposite of the truth. Engin works herself into it by way of intricately convoluted reasoning and the redefinition of terms, but the result is not at all different from flat, outright, deliberate lying. (The difference may be that she is in the first place lying to herself.)

Foolish lying, from her own point of view as champion and apologist for Khalq, because if the picture she paints is true, or even partly true, then it becomes impossible to account for what happened after April 1978. Implicitly it condemns the Khalqis: for if in April 1978 they had the support of the majority in the country, how did they come to lose it so soon and so spectacularly? How did they come to make such a blood-drenched catastrophe of things?

But, in fact, it is utterly untrue to say they had the support of the country at any point.

Blaming Parcham

The best Engin can do in her book to answer these questions implied in her account is to blame on Parcham the fact that it was only at the end of the year 1978 that the PDPA government got down to land reform. Previously, she says, they had either been restrained by the cautious, reformist, Parcham or, after they broke with Parcham, were too busy repressing them. This delay gave the counter-revolutionaries the advantage.

In fact the explanation won't hold water. Within a couple of months they had thrown out Parcham and jailed or exiled its leaders.

One of the things that happens in real revolutions is that the prospect of land reform is a powerful weapon—worth many armies, able to dissolve hostile peasant armies—against the counter-revolution. It melts away mass support for the counter revolution.

In this case, it plainly did not. Why not? Because the ground had not at all been prepared. Because, lacking rural support, the regime had only brute, naked force, and used it savagely from the beginning. Because the government did not inspire confidence in those it tried to rouse against their traditional rulers and exploiters.

Such things as abolishing usury when the peasants could not do without credit and the government could provide no replacement for what it abolished, will have made the infidel government seem like wrecking busybodies to the peasants, not liberators bearing a viable alternative way of life.

Just as now, working to convert people to socialism, we meet our single greatest difficulty in getting people to make the mental leap that will let them imagine as feasible what we urge them to fight to win, so, but very much more so, with the Afghan peasants.

Peasants were reported refusing to take confiscated land, because that was contrary to Islam. But if they could have been inspired with faith in a different way of life, with confidence that the Kabul government knew what it was doing and could protect them from the vengeance of their traditional rulers, then most of them would, as people do, have found ways of squaring their religious conscience with doing what was most to their own advantage.

Technical ability and thousands of armed soldiers which would enable the seizure of various centres. That is the only thing that mattered to the PDPA. They thought it was the only thing that mattered in making their revolution.

It did prove sufficient for the taking of power in Kabul. The difference between Saur and October, however, is shown clearly when we ask: who acted in Russia and who acted in Afghanistan?

In Russia, the workers' militia, backed by soldiers who had thrown off military discipline, seized power; in Afghanistan, power was seized by sections of the army and airforce, in which the soldiers acted under the hierarchical military discipline of their appointed officers… There is no comparison.

To the repeated question Engin puts, Was October a coup? the answer plainly is, no, but Afghanistan's Saur Revolution most certainly was. The difference can be seen plainly in Lenin's text, which Engin invoked, only to travesty it.

Emine Engin:

Once the conditions for an uprising have appeared, the rest is a matter of art. This is one point on which the question of coup or revolution has been confused. In regard to the art aspect of the uprising, the Khalq organisation and its sympathisers within the army were chosen as the striking force…

[Khalq] drew up a definite policy taking into account the mood of the masses, the position of its enemies and lukewarm friends, etc. The revolutionary army which it formed within the army was loyal to this policy. In this respect, the revolution in Afghanistan was not a revolutionary explosion of a type which created its subjective factor in revolutionary soldiers within the army.

The revolutionaries in the army did not fill a vacuum in the political sphere; rather they formed a revolutionary army under the political leadership of the PDPA, they performed a military function.

Yes, but in terms of making, consolidating and implementing the revolution, that was everything—all there was.

What the special relationship of the PDPA and the coup-makers added to the military seizure of power was a social programme which required the consent and active support of millions of people but which the PDPA Stalinists thought could be enforced from above by military brute force—and by an army that was a traditional, hierarchical formation and apart from key officers was in no sense a subjectively revolutionary army.

The type of army it was, was the measure of the revolution, and of the revolutionaries!

When the revolution was announced over the radio hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets all over Afghanistan. The Trotskyists have seized on this notwithstanding the fact that, although the Bolsheviks too were in the majority before the October Revolution, the overwhelming majority of the population of Russia learned of the revolution via the telegraph or over the radio where there was one!


Typically, she uses a general truth to obscure the concrete reality.

To understand revolution as something in which the absolute majority of the people, organised in regular armies, strikes as one, would be nothing but the other side of a parliamentarian understanding replacing the number of votes by a head count.

The October Revolution, which was the culmination of revolutionary ferment, and the Bolshevik seizures of power, backed by the soviets, are here assimilated to a military coup with no support outside the bigger cities!

Here concern for democracy and for what Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto called winning the battle for democracy is equated with narrow bourgeois parliamentarianism.

Revolutionary—and minority—direct action is counterposed not only to parliamentarianism but to democracy in general, and specifically to the workers' democracy and workers' councils of the October Revolution. It is not clear why this should not apply everywhere, or that she does not intend it to. Engin is a Stalinist.

The Leninist thought as she did. Their commitment to the Workers' Voice account of Afghanistan's revolution implied a programme for every country, including Britain. And for Stalinist Russia and Eastern Europe too. Thus, throughout the 1980s, The Leninist worried obsessively about the danger of democratic counter-revolution there, meaning—they said it plainly—that the people would overthrow Stalinist rule.

To equate the participation of the mass of the people in a revolution with passive electoralism, as Engin does, is to show that even your opposition to parliament-worship is misconceived.

We, following Lenin, counterpose mass action to parliamentarianism, not action by an elite minority, still less by segments of the regular army!

Engin now tries to square the circle. Khalq had mass support before April and then somehow lost it? That's the nature of revolution she explains: revolution generates counter-revolution.

Coming to the operations of counter-revolutionary forces after the revolution, to expect anything else would again reflect a bourgeois parliamentarist understanding or the same understanding turned inside out.

Revolution is a most intense, furious, desperate class struggle and civil war. Not a single great revolution in history has taken place without civil war.

A civil war in which a segment of the old state machine, under the command (not political leadership) of revolutionaries, slugs it out with most of the population, is nothing to worry about? No, because in Engin's conception of revolution, the mass of the people have no irreplaceable role. At best they are a stage army. They are an optional extra. The Party can substitute for them. And in Afghanistan a segment of the state forces can, in seizing power, substitute for the Party.

* Footnote: And indeed of all those who try to identify and distil the magic ingredient that made particular Stalinist revolutions possible, most notably that of the Castroites, whose would-be emulators saw minority guerilla warfare as the magic-working thing.