Spartacist Canada No. 151
U.S./Canada Out of Afghanistan!
"GRAIN": Counterfeit Anti-Imperialists on Campus
(Young Spartacus pages)
The Grass-Roots Anti-Imperialist Network (GRAIN) sometimes postures as an alternative to the mainstream, Canadian-nationalist antiwar coalition in Toronto. But anyone who bought GRAINs anti-imperialist rhetoric was in for a shock at their September 21 University of Toronto debut feting Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls, authors of a new book, Bleeding Afghanistan. In the meeting Kolhatkar argued that the U.S. should stay in Afghanistan to ensure stability before they just cut and run (shades of George Bush!). In their book Kolhatkar and Ingalls declare: The occupation of all foreign troops should end, but only after disarmament is complete and Afghans feel safe in their own country [emphasis in original]. And they openly call for an international military occupation of Afghanistan consisting of NATO and the UN. One has to ask: what kind of leftists would promote such unabashed pro-imperialist lackeys?
GRAINs banner at the meeting read Canada Out of Kandahar. But in promoting this duo, GRAIN failed in the most basic duty of anyone claiming to be anti-imperialist. In contrast, we revolutionaries of the Spartacus Youth Clubs say: U.S./Canada out of Afghanistan now! No UN intervention! We welcome military blows suffered by the occupation forces while giving no political support to the reactionary Islamic resistance forces. Above all, we fight to mobilize the workers of this country in class struggle against their capitalist exploiters at home.
Kolhatkar and Ingalls are supporters of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) and codirectors of the Afghan Womens Mission (AWM), an American political front and financial conduit for RAWA. This pedigree is utterly consistent with their non-opposition to the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan. AWMs website reads like an ad for a bourgeois charity. Donations, it explains, are not tax-deductible in Canada; no, AWM doesnt accept American Express; and heres how to sponsor an Afghan orphan. They actually write that The US could have bombed fewer villages [!] and killed fewer civilians [!!].
As for the RAWA feminists, they are neither revolutionary, leftist nor even genuine champions of womens rights. In 2001, as the U.S. was raining bombs on Afghanistan, RAWA openly lobbied for UN imperialist peacekeeping forces to intervene and they supported the reinstatement of the former king, Zahir Shah, who was ousted in 1973. Backing imperialism and its agents has defined RAWA since its formation in 1977. In December 1979, the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan at the request of the secular and modernizing government of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which came to power in 1978. The PDPA was besieged by a bloody, imperialist-backed Islamic insurgency, the mujahedin. RAWA stood not with the Soviet intervention, which brought the only hope of emancipation to the hideously oppressed women of Afghanistan, but with the CIA-bankrolled Afghan resistance. To this day, virulent anti-Communism is their calling card, opening doors in the corridors of bourgeois power and the wallets of Western feminists and liberals.
Trotskyists Hailed the Red Army in Afghanistan
The PDPAs reforms—land distribution, freeing women from the burqa (the head-to-toe veil), reducing the bride price and providing education for women and girls—sparked a ferocious rebellion by landlords, tribal chiefs and mullahs. Indeed, the rights of women were central to this war, making it unique in modern history. When the Soviet army rolled in, we declared: Hail Red Army! Extend social gains of the October Revolution to Afghan peoples! Sending troops into Afghanistan was an unambiguously progressive act, cutting against the grain of the Soviet Stalinists search for peaceful coexistence with imperialism. It underlined our Trotskyist understanding that the USSR was a workers state, despite Stalinist bureaucratic degeneration.
Outside GRAINs meeting, our comrades distributed a 2002 polemic written as RAWA was being fawned over by the left and U.S. congressional committees. As we wrote:
Socialist-minded youth in the West might try to imagine that they are at the University of Kabul in 1979 as the Soviet Army rolls in to beat back the CIAs Islamic rebels. Look across the border to Soviet Central Asia: there are schools, factories and hospitals. Women, regarded as human beings instead of property, are not bought and sold in marriage. They are doctors, engineers and political leaders. No matter what indices you check—life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy—the differences between the two societies are measured in centuries, not decades. Do you don a burqa and follow [RAWA leader] Meena Keshwar Kamal into Pakistan to join the Islamic insurgents based there, or do you join a militia to drive out and destroy the mujahedin enslavers of women? Do you defend the Soviet Union, or support imperialist counterrevolution? Are you for or against the liberation of women from feudal barbarism?
—RAWA Afghan Feminists Back Imperialist Reaction, Workers Vanguard No. 776, 8 March 2002
We sought to pose these issues during the discussion period at GRAINs meeting. But the oh-so inclusive GRAIN organizers, who listened politely to their pro-imperialist guests, disrupted and tried to cut off our speaker. Ingalls did respond, however, declaring that no one he ever met in Afghanistan supported the Russian intervention. Given the bloodbath that ensued when the PDPA government fell in 1992 following the Soviet withdrawal three years earlier, this is hardly surprising. As our comrade called out, Yeah, theyve all been murdered! Ingalls to the contrary, for liberated women, modernizing intellectuals and leftists the Soviet intervention opened up vistas of liberation.
In 1989, the treacherous Soviet bureaucracy of Mikhail Gorbachev pulled out the Red Army in a futile attempt to appease U.S. imperialism. Facing a continued insurgency, more than 15,000 women joined PDPA militias, taking up arms to defend not only the rights they had won but their very lives. We offered to organize an international brigade to fight alongside them. The PDPA asked us instead to raise funds for the civilian victims of the siege of Jalalabad. Our international campaign raised over $44,000 (U.S.). Events have bitterly verified our warning that the Soviet pullout would mean a bloodbath for Afghan women and leftists, and the Stalinist bureaucracys betrayal in Afghanistan was the direct precursor to capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union itself in 1991-92.
Liberal Eclecticism vs. Revolutionary Marxism
GRAINs meeting plunged into controversy almost from the start. The first speaker on the panel was a self-described representative of a Maoist party in Afghanistan who went after RAWAs support to Western imperialism—only to solidarize with their anti-Communist denunciation of the Soviet intervention as imperialist. Such is the political bankruptcy of Maoism. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Chinese Stalinists, beginning under Mao, openly allied with the U.S. imperialists against the Soviet Union. In Afghanistan, this obscene policy saw Maoists enthusiastically backing the mujahedin cutthroats.
As the meeting unravelled, speakers including GRAIN members pointed to Ingalls and Kolhatkars failure to call for imperialist troops out of Afghanistan. GRAIN leaders Lisa Schofield and Dan Freeman-Maloy squirmed in politically impotent silence. GRAIN members may be discomfited by the RAWA debacle, but this is no aberration for this group. Last winter these activists helped co-ordinate a tour for Patrick Elie, former Secretary of State for National Defence of Haiti. Elie supported the new Haitian governments call to keep UN imperialist forces in Haiti. In March 2005 at protests against the occupation of Iraq, these activists (at the time the June 30 Organizing Committee) distributed a leaflet which advised: learn whether your mutual funds invest in [Canadian-based arms manufacturer] SNC Lavalin, and urge divestment. Their call, No to profiteering, war and occupation! boiled down to the most abject liberalism.
How is it that a group claiming to be anti-imperialist ends up giving a left cover to openly pro-imperialist forces? This is a class-divided society in which a tiny minority of exploiters, the capitalist class, lives off of the toil of the working class. Yet the working class, concentrated in production, has the power to overthrow the capitalist system; this requires the leadership of a revolutionary workers party. Rejecting these central Marxist premises, GRAIN ends up tailing forces that are alien to the interests of working people and the oppressed. Amorphous and politically eclectic, they make noises against the effects of the present system, but who could believe them capable of fundamentally challenging it?
To GRAIN, imperialism is a buzzword that can mean almost anything. This is contrary to the Marxist understanding that imperialism is a system—the highest stage of capitalism—in which monopolies and finance capital dominate every aspect of economic life and the most powerful capitalist states vie to control and re-divide the world. For those looking for a way to struggle effectively against imperialism, there can be no better starting point than studying the history and lessons of the 1917 October Revolution. One sixth of the globe was ripped from the hands of the imperialist exploiters, the capitalist class was expropriated and the foundations laid for a rational planned economy that was not based on private property or profit. For eight decades the Soviet Union stood as a massive obstacle to the imperialists.
Even after Stalins nationalist, conservative bureaucracy usurped political power from the Soviet working class, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie remained an accomplished fact. We Trotskyists unconditionally defended the Soviet Union against capitalist counterrevolution, and we fought for a proletarian political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy—the same program we uphold today in regard to the remaining states where the class rule of the bourgeoisie has been smashed: China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.
The Spartacus Youth Club intervenes in the social struggles of today with a perspective for the future. We seek to build an organization capable of bringing revolutionary consciousness to the working class, and of leading it to seize power from the most powerful, violent and well-organized ruling class in history: the imperialist bourgeoisie. For revolutionaries in Canada, this means in the first instance fighting to mobilize workers in struggle against the rulers on Parliament Hill and Bay Street. Anti-imperialism abroad means class struggle at home!