December 2009  

Drive Out All the Imperialists!
Afghan Massacre Blows Apart
German Occupiers’ Lies

Villagers near Kunduz, Afghanistan bury their dead after NATO air strike that killed at least 140.
(Photo: AP)

On November 27, former German war minister Franz Jung was forced to resign from his current post as employment minister. The day before, Bundeswehr (German armed forces) General Inspector Wolfgang Schneiderhan and State Secretary Peter Wichert had similarly been sacrificed as scapegoats for the government’s creeping cover-up of a massacre in Afghanistan that has been described as Germany’s “deadliest military operation since the end of the Second World War” (Guardian [London], 9 September).

In the early morning hours of September 4, the German commander in Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, Colonel Georg Klein, insisted that U.S. fighter jets carry out air strikes on two hijacked jet fuel tankers. The tankers had bogged down in the sand of a river bed – giving the lie to later claims that they could have been used for a Taliban assault on the NATO-led ISAF (“International Security Assistance Force”) base. Instead, local villagers had gathered to siphon off precious fuel. At least half of some 140 victims who were burned alive in the fireball created by blowing up the tankers were civilians – including 8-, 10- and 12-year-old children.

Who really knows how many were “insurgents” at all? The quisling governor of Kunduz initially claimed the charred corpses could not be identified at all, but then was able distinguish between armed and unarmed “insurgents” and even Chechen members of Al Qaeda. Colonel Klein had told the fighter pilots, falsely, that his “troops [were] in contact” with the Taliban and that the German base was under “imminent threat” of attack (also false). He later told investigators that he was in telephone contact with an informant who was on the scene (he wasn’t). But a December 8 report by the German news radio station DLF however, suggests that Tajik informants denounced the largely Pashtun villagers (their ethnic enemies) to the Germans.

Of course, U.S. killing in Afghanistan and Pakistan with bombs and missiles launched from drones is so routine that unless more than 30 civilians are killed at any one time, it doesn’t even rate a news article. (Strangely, an astonishing number of U.S. strikes over the years have allegedly claimed exactly 30 victims.) For years, U.S. commanders complained that German forces in Afghanistan were loath to enter in combat. Klein evidently decided to change all that. He had his lead flight officer (codename “Red Baron”) issue the order: “weapons release.” But then it all blew up in his face, and that of the German government.

While Colonel Jung pretended the dead were all Taliban down to the last charred corpse, the overwhelming majority of the Bundestag, the German parliament, rallied to the cover-up in a special session four days later. Christian Democrat (CDU) Chancellor Angela Merkel snarled in response to international press coverage about civilian casualties that she would “not tolerate” criticism “from anyone, either at home or abroad.” Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democratic (SPD) vice-chancellor and foreign minister, warned against “premature judgments,” while speculating about how a German withdrawal could begin. When this war crime was perpetrated, the SPD was still in a coalition government with the CDU and thus co-responsible. The main thing, all agreed, was to keep the lid on until after the elections on September 27.

Despite massive discontent among the population with the German role in the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan, this was practically a non-issue in the elections. Neither of the bourgeois “opposition” parties, the Free Democrat (FDP) free marketeers and the Greens, made any trouble. As part of the coalition government with the SPD from 1998 to 2005 under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, erstwhile New Leftist Joschka Fischer, the former New Left street fighter turned Green foreign minister, was the most fervent advocate of German participation in the assault on Serbia and occupation of Kosovo as well as for the dispatch of troops to Afghanistan. Die Linke (Left Party), Germany’s second-line social-democratic party, called in its election platform for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. But as the vote drew near party leaders began qualifying this: “immediate doesn’t mean the day after tomorrow,” etc.

In the election, the SPD took a drubbing, falling from 34 percent to 23 percent of the vote, while Die Linke’s total rose from 9 to 12 percent. The Christian Democrats were also down slightly, but continued in office, this time together with the FDP. The press turned its attention to the economic policies of the new right-wing (“black-yellow”) coalition, as new attacks on the working class are expected. As Chancellor Merkel stonewalled about the Kunduz massacre, it took almost two months for the truth to come out.

This set off a firestorm in Berlin: heads had to roll. Within hours, minister Jung was gone. His replacement as war minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, from the arch-conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union, initially defended the Kunduz strike as “militarily appropriate”, but later backpedaled. Merkel and Steinmeier’s claims to have been “out of the loop” are laughable. But after the parliamentary brouhaha was over, the German government settled back to war business as usual. Despite popular opposition, Berlin has not said no to Washington’s request for more Bundeswehr troops to Afghanistan, putting off the decision until late January.

Behind the German Occupation

For years, the German media has been filled with fulsome coverage of Afghanistan, in which occupation troops of the so-called “stabilization operation” were portrayed as social workers, digging wells and building schoolhouses. This was contrasted with the chaotic and bloody U.S.-led occupation of Iraq (from which Germany stood aside, having been denied a share of the spoils). When Afghanistan was partitioned by the imperialists in 2001, German forces were sent to the north, whose population had always been largely hostile to the Taliban. Neither Social Democrat Schröder nor Christian Democrat Merkel showed any desire to commit German troops to the more dangerous south. It was thus surely gratifying for the U.S. military to watch the Germans get their hands bloody at Kunduz.

In 1979, when the Soviet army intervened on the side of social progress in defense of the petty-bourgeois regime in Kabul in its war against U.S.-backed Islamic reactionaries, there was a hue and cry about the violation “sovereignty” of the “Afghan nation.” Not a peep about that today. The imperialist spy agencies which financed, trained and armed the Islamic reactionaries in their massive proxy war against the Soviets and their allies, knew that Afghanistan was a patchwork of tribes and ethnic groups. After the disintegrating Kremlin bureaucracy under Mikhail Gorbachev betrayed Afghanistan by withdrawing Soviet troops, setting the stage for the disintegration of the USSR, their formerly Soviet allied government in Kabul were swept aside by the Islamic reactionaries three years later. But soon rivalries between Pashtuns and Uzbeks, Tajiks and others laid waste to Kabul.

Bundeswehr KSK commandos. Digging wells? Building school houses?
(Photo: militaryimages.net)

In the face of the slaughter and corruption unleashed by the feuding warlords, many in Afghanistan actually welcomed the arrival in 1996 of the Pashtun-based Taliban, created by the Pakistani secret services and bankrolled by the Saudis, hoping for a semblance of order. When U.S. imperialism decided to unseat the Taliban in 2001, it relied heavily on the Tajiks and Uzbeks of the “Northern Alliance,” who took the occasion to slaughter Taliban prisoners and Pashtun minority communities in the north. French imperialism had particularly close relations to the Northern Alliance warlords. An article on “Afghanistan: The Secret War of the French,” in the newsweekly L’Express (20 December 2001) bragged of the “longstanding ties between the French secret services and Commander [Ahmed Shah] Massud” of the Panjshiri Tajiks, who was assassinated by the Taliban on the eve of the 9/11 attack.

German imperialism initially had fewer preferences. The Karzai regime was cobbled together at a conference held near Bonn in December 2001. From 1954 on, the West German spy agency (Bundesnachrichtendienst – BND) had been in charge of training the Afghan royal police; this relationship continued even after the monarchy was overthrown in 1973. During the proxy war against the Soviets, the BND reportedly had stations in Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi (Pakistan). Mujahedin received training from the GSG-9, the special operations unit of the German Federal Police. By the 1990s, the BND could allegedly count a number of Afghani politicians as its “friends.” including Abdullah Abdullah (ex-foreign minister under Karzai and his opponent in the 2009 presidential elections), one-time defense minister Mohammed Fahim and current foreign minister Dadfar Spanta (Spiegel online, 12 January 2006).

The case of Spanta is particularly interesting. A Maoist in 1979, he was one of the many Afghan refugees taken in by West Germany (in contrast to so many Turks, Kurds and other victims of right-wing repression who have been refused asylum). Whether or not he is actually on the BND payroll, at the time he was taken on by Karzai he was most definitely an actual member of the German Greens (Financial Times Deutschland, April 23, 2006) and still has ties to them. One can see here is how the virulent anti-Sovietism of the Maoists and other “leftists” (former Maoists were prominent among the founders of the German Greens) was a decisive element in their transformation into imperialist flunkies.

But the German occupation forces are now in a symbiotic relationship with the warlords of the ex-Northern Alliance, principally the Tajik general Mohammed Atta Nur. As the December 8 DLF report concludes, the Germans have thus turned a blind eye to massacres of local Pashtuns by his forces. The result is, of course, that areas under German occupation are just as corrupt and impoverished as the rest of Afghanistan, despite all the hot air about Bundeswehr “well-diggers”. Even the Heinrich-Böll Foundation (the Greens’ think tank), now has to admit that “with the warlords of the Northern Alliance, a corrupt and undemocratic new leadership has been installed in the country.” Installed by whom it neglects to say.

“Exit Strategies”­ and the Role of Die Linke

With German imperialist troops increasingly besieged, the Kunduz air strike was hardly the first time they had killed innocent civilians. But the Bundeswehr high command was well aware that the situation has been deteriorating. Some CDU and SPD politicians are now talking about withdrawal, and even the new war minister zu Guttenberg has hinted at this. But such  talk is only tactical, to appease public war-weariness and regroup for a new intervention. In addition to the 4,500 troops in Afghanistan, Germany has another 2,400 in Kosovo. And while Die Linke, formed in 2007 by a fusion of the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism, the social-democratic successor to the former East German Stalinist SED) with the WASG (Electoral Alternative Labor and Social Justice, a split-off from the SPD), is against “a course to war,” it just wants a more peace-loving, people-friendly German imperialism ... and a Bundeswehr that is “like the defensive army of old Federal Republic” (Die Linke, Schwarzbuch zur Sicherheits- und Militärpolitik [2007]).

In this context, Die Linke is channeling public discontent into the dead-end of a hoped-for future coalition with the SPD (which most of the SPD continues to stubbornly resist, despite heavy electoral losses). It is so fixated on parliamentary maneuvering, that it can’t even be bothered to mobilize any serious protests in the streets. Its antiwar demonstration at the Brandenburg Gate four days after the Kunduz massacre drew only 500 persons. Of course, even should Die Linke actually turn out any significant number of protestors, it would be solely as a means of pressuring the imperialists to “see reason.” As former SPD minister and Left Party co-chairman Oskar Lafontaine, put it in a Spiegel (14 May 2009) interview: “the SPD and the Greens will probably only come to their senses once U.S. President Barack Obama realizes that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won and withdraws his military.” So much for that fantasy.

Lafontaine speciously declared in the September 8 Bundestag debate “Why don’t we at least have the courage to decide as the Canadians have?” The “left” social democrat Lafontaine was praising Canada’s Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper for allegedly ordering the  withdrawal of Canadian troops in 2011. What weasel-worded Harper actually said was that the Canadian mission, “as we’ve known it,” would end then (BBC, 11 September). This has as much reality as Obama’s bogus timetable for “transfer” of security to the Afghan puppet regime. Since the call for withdrawal from Afghanistan will be the first item sacrificed should it ever come to serious negotiations with the SPD, the Die Linke leadership was already scrambling to open a back door even before the September 27 elections.

Afterwards, as a coalition with the SPD was directly posed in the federal state of Thuringia, the Left Party leader there Bodo Ramelow even told Welt am Sonntag (3 October): “Our concern is not immediate withdrawal. That would be flight, as it was in Vietnam.” Dagmar Enkelmann, the head of Die Linke’s parliamentary fraction, told the newspaper Junge Welt on September 8, “we need a debate about an exit strategy.”  Die Linke Bundestag deputy and federal party manager Dietmar Batsch explained to Tagespiegel that “immediate withdrawal” didn’t mean “getting out of Afghanistan the day after tomorrow.” And Die Linke’s “defense” spokesman said, “That naturally doesn’t mean pell-mell. A withdrawal could be carried out over a year’s time” (Spiegel OnLine, 17 September). Lafontaine himself told the Sächsische Zeitung (16 September), “Immediate [withdrawal] naturally doesn’t mean unthinking.”

What this could concretely mean was explained by Bartsch in a press conference in party headquarters on September 7 when he called for concentrating more on the training of the Afghan police. So for these “left” social democrats, it’s back to German imperialism’s longstanding focus on training Afghan police, one which it took up again in 2002. In fact, this was already a major element in the Left Party’s 82-page position paper on Afghanistan, which complains at length that the military occupation had usurped police functions, starved it of funds, etc. It even casts a dim eye on the introduction of U.S.-style policing methods in Afghanistan – as if the German police don’t routinely attack leftists and immigrants! The reformists’ position paper doesn’t mention that much of this training is in the hands of the super-secret KSK and GSG-9 units, the former in particular being a hotbed of nostalgia for the Third Reich. So for Die Linke, “troops out” (eventually) means “more cops.”

Just as Die Linke wants to go back to the “good old days” of the welfare state, it also wants to turn the clock back to the time when German imperialism was less openly militarized. It has openly declared its support for “national defense” – the basis for the SPD’s historic betrayal of the working class by supporting the imperialist slaughter in World War I. Lafontaine wants the SPD and the Greens to “come to their senses.” But these parties are not deranged: they understand that the interests of German imperialism are served by showing its willingness to militarily intervene, whether in Kosovo or even in the Hindu Kush. And when push comes to shove, Die Linke will fall in line as well. Although it pretends to be against German soldiers in Afghanistan, even wearing United Nations blue helmets, the party’s parliamentary fraction was ready to support sending German warships to the Red Sea with the right U.N. mandate.

The “Far Left” Tags Along Behind Die Linke

One might think that the greatest single massacre by the German military since the end of World War II would have occasioned more of an outcry. But as in other imperialist countries, Germany is in the grip of a racist anti-Muslim “anti-terrorist” drive which was recently expressed in an openly racist outburst by SPD central banker Thilo Sarrazin and was the impetus behind the murder of an Egyptian woman in a courtroom in Dresden this past July, as well as providing a definite niche for the fascists of the NPD (National Democratic Party). So Christian Democrats, Free Democrats, Social Democrats and National Democrats and Greens could all get together and make the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall into an orgy of anti-Communism, presaging the subsequent Anschluss (annexation) of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) by triumphant German imperialism.

The mass peace movement of the 1980s was saturated with German nationalism and ultimately produced the future warmongers of the eco-imperialist Greens. Likewise, at the time of the 1989-90 collapse of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the (DDR), almost the entire West German “extra-parliamentary” left joined in the push for (capitalist) reunification of the German “fatherland.” (At most some of them would have preferred the SPD to lead the Anschluss-Express.) The Trotskyists, in contrast, fought to defend the DDR against counterrevolution and for a political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy that was selling it out. Again at the time of the imperialist attack on Iraq in 2003, the large antiwar demonstrations in Germany essentially amounted to cheering the decision by the Schröder government to sit this war out. “Without us,” was the leitmotiv, which is a far cry from a communist program of class struggle to defeat imperialism. While Die Linke calls for withdrawing from NATO, Trotskyists fight to smash the imperialist alliance and for a united socialist states of Europe.

The bulk of the German supposed “far left” is quite content with Die Linke’s paper position on the war. Indeed, this is one of the main selling points for most of them to join Die Linke outright. For the former Linksruck, the German affiliate of the British Socialist Workers Party, the liquidation is quite brazen. It closed up shop in the spring of 2007 and set up a loose “Marxist network” around the review Marx21. Not even pretending to be any kind of left opposition, they have been easily absorbed into the party apparatus. All they are asking, as former Linksruck leader Christine Buchholz now on Die Linke’s national committee put it, is to  “step up the pressure on the federal government with all our strength and bring the majority demand for withdrawal of the Bundeswehr from Afghanistan onto the streets” (Marx21 No. 6, June 2008). A little “extra-parliamentary” action in support of Die Linke’s parliamentary maneuvering.

The opportunists of Sozialistische Alternative Voran (SAV), the German branch of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) are a wee bit wilier. The CWI’s English-language publications have focused on the fact that some prominent SAV members have not been allowed into Die Linke. But this is merely the result of an opportunist miscalculation. When the WASG was founded in 2005 by dropouts from the SPD and various homeless “lefts” in western Germany, the SAV latched on to this, particularly in Berlin, where the PDS, the East German social democrats and main future component of Die Linke, was in the ruling coalition together with the SPD. Given that this coalition was slashing social services and attacking municipal workers, the SAV tried to build up a part of the WASG as a slightly more left-wing social-democratic alternative to the PDS.

But when in June 2007 the bulk of the WASG merged with the PDS to form Die Linke, the SAV was left out in the cold. For more than a year the SAV assumed convoluted postures as its members were told to join the Die Linke in the West, but not in the East, and tried to maintain the rump WASG in Berlin. But it was the same national party, with the same program! In September 2008 the SAV gave up on this charade, although nothing in the character of Die Linke had changed. So they’re half-in Die Linke, and half-out. And while SAV now offers some polite criticisms of Die Linke’s coalitionist yearnings (its main complaint on Afghanistan are the overtures to the SPD), it’s only on the basis that it could thereby improve its electoral scores.

The bulk of the opportunist “far left” is now cranking out economist propaganda about fighting back against the austerity measures planned by the new CDU-FDP. In this propaganda, the FDP (which appealed to a yuppie electorate dissatisfied with the CDU as well as SPD) is singled out as the bogeyman. This sets up Die Linke (or even the SPD) as the lesser evil, when it was in fact the capitalist SPD-Green government which launched the most effective hammer blows against the working class and oppressed in the Harz IV package of massive cutbacks in unemployment insurance and forced employment (requiring recipients to take “jobs” at €1 an hour in order to receive benefits).

In the worldview of the opportunist “far left,” struggles against layoffs, against cuts in social services, “anti-racism,” “anti-fascism,” “anti-war”, etc., are carefully compartmentalized in order to mount reformist pressure campaigns around this or that demand rather than the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, which is the integral link between them. In differing degrees these groups lay claim to the heritage of Lenin and Trotsky, or used to, yet none of them are prepared to call for defeat of their own imperialism in a colonial war. (Both the CWI and SWP explicitly reject this call as inappropriate for the masses.) Tellingly, virtually the entire “left” ignored the example given by the May 2008 strike against the war by the dockers of the U.S. West Coast.

When it momentarily escapes the stranglehold of the trade union bureaucracy, the German working class has shown that it is ready to fight. Even the recent building cleaners’ strike, conducted for the extremely elementary demand for maintenance of a minimum wage, shows that a whiff of class struggle can cut across national and ethnic divisions. But what this working class needs is a leadership true to the spirit of Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht in the class struggle against imperialist war – a revolutionary workers party armed with the program of authentic Trotskyism.

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com