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The Internationalist
August 2021

All U.S. Troops, Military/Security Forces, Agencies and Mercenaries Out of the Middle East, Now!

Kabul, August 15: Chinook helicopter evacuating personnel from U.S. embassy in the Afghanistan capital as Taliban take over the city and country. (Photo: Rahmat Gul / AP)

Puppet Government Collapses, U.S. Personnel Flee, the Taliban Take Over

On July 8, U.S. president Joe Biden declared, “There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States in Afghanistan.”
(Photo: Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times)

26 AUGUST 2021 – On August 15, the two-decade long occupation of Afghanistan by Western imperialists led by the United States came to an inglorious, and predictable, end. In the face of the rapid advance by the forces of the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist Taliban, the deeply corrupt puppet government collapsed and its president Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Police stripped off their uniforms. A stampede of thousands of collaborators – but also many middle-class professionals – headed to the airport seeking to flee. Helicopters lifted off from the grounds of the U.S. embassy, ferrying personnel to a staging area near the airport. The next day, crowds clambered atop passenger planes and clung to military aircraft as they taxied on the runway, falling to their death after take-off. The chaos was an ignominious end to the failed imperialist terror war.

In Washington, the blame game of “Who lost Afghanistan” immediately began. Republicans, of course, blame Democratic president Joe Biden, who had declared that U.S. troops would be pulled out by September. Of course, they didn’t mention that Republican president Donald Trump signed a deal with the Taliban for them to leave by May 1. “Moderate” Democrats were upset with Biden for making them vulnerable to attacks from Republicans. “Progressive” Democrats were upset with Biden because they were made to look bad with antiwar liberals and youth. Biden is indeed guilty, of course, as they all are, of imposing two decades of brutal occupation on the Afghan peoples. Meanwhile, all his pretense of being a competent manager of U.S. imperialism’s affairs of state went down the drain with the scenes of mayhem in Kabul.

The media asked, “how can it be that an army that the U.S. trained, with all that money and equipment and everything, could collapse so quickly.” The imperialists did drop a ton of cash on their failed venture: not just the $83 billion the U.S. spent on training and equipping the Afghan army, the overall cost of the U.S. invasion and occupation was over $2.26 trillion.1 The Afghan military and police supposedly numbered over 300,000, although the actual number of troops was far less, as corrupt commanders ripped off the wages of “ghost soldiers.” Troops were fighting for the pay – which was low and often did not arrive – facing fighters prepared to die for Islam. A mercenary army is at a strategic disadvantage against a motivated force fighting for a cause – a disadvantage that could only be overcome by vastly superior fire power. With the U.S. withdrawal, that was now gone. And, of course, the Taliban were sponsored by Pakistan, about which little is being said these days.

Taliban fighters enter Kabul on August 15 on Humvee captured from government forces.  The collapse of the puppet army before the Taliban offensive caught U.S. by surprise.  (Photo: Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times)

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was billed as a war against terrorism, and reprisal for the 11 September 2001 (9/11) attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon. In reality, it and the subsequent invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 were part of a war for U.S. imperialist global domination. They were an attempt to lock in the “New World Order” that George Bush I had proclaimed at the time of the 1991-92 counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union. Even before the first U.S. bombs began falling as George Bush II invaded Afghanistan, amid the intense hyper-patriotic frenzy whipped up in the media, we called immediately to defeat U.S. imperialism and to defend Afghanistan and Iraq. In an article published three days after the 9/11 attack, we declared:

The Internationalist Group, section of the League for the Fourth International, calls on the working class throughout the world to fight to defeat the imperialist drive for war and repression. As the U.S. gears up to invade Afghanistan, revolutionaries defend it, Iraq and any other countries assaulted by the would-be global cops of the New World Order led by Bush & Co., who are far and away the biggest mass murderers of all….
The Afghan hell was made in U.S.A. We demand: U.S. get out.”  [emphasis in original]
–“U.S. Whips Up Imperialist War Frenzy, Drives Toward Police State” (14 September 2001), reprinted in The Internationalist No. 12, Fall 2001.

Afghans Slaughtered for U.S. Imperialist Hegemony

Men carry coffin of one of 30 farmers killed by U.S. drone strike in Khogyani district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan in September 2019. Another 40 were wounded. They were resting around  a bonfire after work.   (Photo: Parwiz / Reuters)

The imperialist occupiers unleashed a slaughter that between 2001 and 2021 took a quarter million lives in Afghanistan and over the border in Pakistan. This includes an estimated 47,000 civilians in Afghanistan and 24,000 in Pakistan, as well as 66,000 members of the Afghan army and police and 51,000 “opposition fighters.” In addition, 3,600 U.S. and allied troops died, as well as some 3,800-plus contractors (mercenaries). If the signature methods of U.S. mass murder in Vietnam were napalming villages and B-52 carpet bombing, in Afghanistan it was the “pinpoint” drone strikes, which regularly hit wedding parties, funerals, farmers in the fields, passengers on buses, shopkeepers and children in bazaars. And from 2009 to 2017 all strikes were personally approved by Barack Obama.

Over the years, U.S. rulers’ purported objectives in the occupation of Afghanistan shifted repeatedly. At the outset, it was supposedly all about Osama bin Laden, the Saudi Arabian founder of Al Qaeda who was declared to be the mastermind behind the 9/11 attack. Bin Laden was assassinated by a kill squad dispatched by Democratic president Barack Obama in May 2011,2 so the emphasis shifted to “humanitarian” imperialism, democratic “nation-building” with an emphasis on “empowering women.” When the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” proclaimed a caliphate in 2014, the U.S. extended the imperialist terror war to Syria, and stepped up bombing against the Taliban in Afghanistan. But as the Afghan puppet army was unable to defeat the Islamists, the U.S., first under Obama and then under Trump, began talks with the Taliban seeking a negotiated settlement.  

What kept the U.S. in Afghanistan for 20 years was not “mission creep,” unclear objectives or outright lies, although there was plenty of all of that, laid out in detail in The Afghanistan Papers project of the Washington Post.3 There were endless facile projections, from Bush II’s assertion that “The days of the Taliban are over” (August 2006) to Biden’s “the Afghan government and leadership . . . clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place” and “the likelihood that there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely” (8 July 2021).4 But the underlying reason for the occupation of Afghanistan was U.S. imperialism’s pursuit of global military domination, to make up for its declining economic clout. The Middle East was and is a key link in that geopolitical strategy.

Rogues’ gallery of mass murderers: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Joe Biden. Republican and Democratic U.S. presidents commanded bipartisan imperialist wars killing 240,000 in Afghanistan, 600,000 in Iraq. (Photo: CNN)

Even though under Obama, Trump and Biden, the White House and Pentagon have sought to “pivot to Asia” – i.e., target China – the strategic importance of the Middle East has not changed. There are currently 45,000 U.S. troops stationed in bases and on aircraft carriers around the Middle East. In addition, the U.S. employed large numbers of mercenaries in Afghanistan, some 22,500 last year (compared to 4,000 U.S. troops), two-thirds of them non-U.S. citizens. In the nine years from 2011 to 2019, almost $97 billion were paid to “contractors” in Afghanistan,5 even more than to the Afghan National Army. We demand: all U.S. troops, military/security forces, agencies (CIA, DEA, USAID, etc.) and mercenaries out of the Middle East, now!

The flight of the Afghan puppet government and the exit of U.S. and NATO forces is a major defeat for the imperialist overlords who imagine themselves masters of the world. This should be greeted by opponents of imperialism everywhere. The fact that this defeat has been spectacularly chaotic is all to the good. Republican spokesmen in the U.S. Congress have lamented that this will embolden China, the bureaucratically deformed workers state that is the main target of the bipartisan imperialist war drive. Even better. The Washington Post (16 August) opined that the collapse of Afghan military forces “will go down as perhaps the worst debacle in the history of proxy warfare.” And the fact that this disaster for imperialism was brought about by Democrat Biden and not the Republican pyromaniac Trump is another plus. The cultivated image of imperialist invincibility has taken a huge hit.

Taliban in Power: Reactionary Threat to the Oppressed

Evacuees being lifted from U.S. embassies in Saigon (1975) and Kabul (2021). Both were defeats for imperialism, but overthrow of capitalism in Vietnam was a victory for the oppressed, Taliban takeover spells more repression.  (Photos: Getty Images; AP)

But the victory of the reactionary Islamist Taliban is no win for the oppressed. Images of helicopters lifting off from U.S. embassy grounds during the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the fall of Kabul in 2021 have made a superficial parallel between these two defeats for imperialism. However, on Vietnam revolutionary Trotskyists hailed the victory of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front. As we wrote then:

“It means the overthrow of capitalist rule in South Vietnam. a historic conquest for the working people of the entire world and one which must be unconditionally defended by class-conscious workers against imperialist attack.”6

The Trotskyists’ call was: All Indochina Must Go Communist! At the same time, we warned that “while a victorious social revolution has occurred, the struggle to establish revolutionary and internationalist workers states in the region is far from over,” as the new Stalinist rulers were “committed to the treacherous policy of ‘peaceful coexistence’ with imperialism.

In Afghanistan, in contrast, working people and oppressed populations now face a new reactionary regime under which even the most basic democratic rights are denied. The Taliban are a Frankenstein’s monster created by the U.S. They grew out of the mujahedin financed and armed by the CIA to battle the Soviet-backed government that advanced women’s rights in the 1980s, and when the Taliban took power in 1996 it was with the tacit approval of Washington. In the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan prior to the 2001 U.S. invasion, Taliban spokesmen declared that democracy and political parties were contrary to Islamic law (sharia). Communists were executed, officials from the northern Tajik people were replaced by Pashtuns (the Taliban’s tribal/ethnic base) from the south while the Shia Muslim Hazaras in central and western Afghanistan were massacred. Women and girls were prohibited from attending schools and universities and banned from working. They were largely confined to the home under conditions of purdah (female seclusion) unless accompanied by a male relative and shrouded in a burqa, the suffocating head-to-toe veil.

Taliban official using whip against women in burqas, 2001   (Photo: AP)

In recent months, media-savvy representatives have projected an image of a “Taliban 2.0.” The day after taking Kabul, a Taliban official was interviewed by a female news anchor on TV. The chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid declared at a press conference that “there will be no violence against women,” and that women would be allowed to work “within the bounds of Islamic law.” But they said the same thing last time. The professions of “moderation” are belied by the May 8 bombing of a high school in Kabul where 90 people were killed, many of them teenage girls who were leaving class, in an area with a large Hazara population. Now Taliban guards at university gates in Herat have already sent women home, and demonstrators in Jalalabad and in Kabul who raised the flag of the republic were attacked by Taliban with gunfire.

The question of women’s oppression will be at the forefront of events in Afghanistan as the Taliban consolidate their rule. But while the U.S. occupation has fostered the growth of a layer of middle-class professional women promoting the feminist goal of “diversity,” this was a long way from achieving any semblance of equality. Under the imperialist puppet government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as under the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate, women face a deeply patriarchal society in which they are denied the most basic rights.7 While the degree may vary, this is true of any Islamist regime where sharia law prevails.8 In bourgeois-democratic countries, too, women’s oppression is inherent under capitalism. All the more in societies where equal rights are outright denied, a socialist revolution is needed to liberate women.

Imperialists Sponsored Women-Hating Mujahedin

The Western media are full of references to the 20-year invasion and occupation of Afghanistan as “America’s longest war.” But the Afghan peoples have faced more than 40 years of uninterrupted war instigated by U.S. imperialism. The wars were begun with the launching of “Operation Cyclone” in 1979, the CIA covert campaign that financed, armed, trained and advised Islamist mujahedin (soldiers of god) to combat the leftist government of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). Although hardly “communist,” as they were labeled in the Western press, the petty-bourgeois modernizers of the PDPA were allied with the Soviet Union. Their program of a modest land reform and secular education infuriated the khans (tribal leaders), mullahs and zamindari (landowners), particularly in the Pushtun areas of the South.

Soon after the PDPA-led Democratic Republic of Afghanistan began these reforms, in mid-1979 U.S. president Jimmy Carter issued a covert “finding” to finance the reactionary religious gangs. After a brief period of “détente” after the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, this was the start of Cold War II. Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski later said this “knowingly increased the probability” that the Soviet leaders would be forced to intervene to prop up the endangered Afghan government. During the ensuing war that lasted from 1980 until Soviet forces withdrew in 1989, U.S.-backed Islamic fundamentalists repeatedly shot “communist teachers” in the countryside for the “crime” of educating young girls. It was the largest, longest and most expensive ($6 billion) CIA covert op in history, during which it hooked up (via the Pakistani intelligence agency) with Osama bin Laden, to build camps for the anti-communist mujahedin.

Soviet woman instructor with Afghan students in Kabul Polytechnical Institute, 1981. (Photo: AFP)

Under the PDPA, there was a considerable expansion of women’s rights. A cap was placed on bride price,9 forced marriage and marriage of girls under age 16 were banned. Faced with 99% female illiteracy, a mass literacy campaign was launched and education was declared compulsory for boys and girls. The 1987 constitution of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan declared “men and women have equal rights and duties before the law.” Unveiled women worked in factories, attended universities and technical institutes, became teachers, led Revolutionary Defense Group militias. By 1989, according to the Afghan Women’s Council, there were over 7,000 women in higher education, 233,000 girls in school and 22,000 female teachers.10 When the PDPA regime was overthrown in 1992 by the U.S.-backed Islamic fundamentalists, all this was wiped out. Of course, there wasn’t a peep of protest about this in the Western media, nor from the opportunist left.

The Fall of Kabul, 2021: “Left” Tails of the Imperialist Occupation

Taliban occupy the presidential palace in Kabul, August 15.   (Photo: Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times)

Fast forward to 2021 and what do we hear from the left on the fall of Kabul to the Taliban? It is universally recognized that the outcome represents a stinging defeat for the U.S. and its allies. The imperialists themselves admit this. But much of the left blamed the debacle on U.S. policies, not the imperialist occupation itself. The International Socialist Alternative (ISA) declared in an 18 August statement: “If instead imperialism had assisted in developing a proper economy, many of those engaged in the drugs trade or smuggling (Afghanistan’s main sources of foreign trade) or who support the Taliban for economic reasons could now be engaged in socially useful work, and fundamentalism could have been deprived of a base.” Plus, as in everything the ISA writes these days, it adds whole paragraphs denouncing Chinese “imperialism” – again in line with Washington.

The International Marxist Tendency (IMT) headlines, “Afghanistan: the cynical betrayal of US imperialism” (In Defence of Marxism, 16 August). Betrayal? U.S. imperialism is the enemy – who did they betray? The IMT is appealing to the many tens of thousands who bought into the imperialist claim that, as the IMT put it, the purpose of the occupation was “to root out Islamic fundamentalism, and build a modern, democratic nation.” It also slams the puppet politicians’ “treacherous failure to put up any resistance” to the Taliban. Of the 6,000 U.S. troops dispatched to the Afghan capital, it laments: “But the sole intention of sending troops to Kabul is not to fight the Taliban, but to facilitate the evacuation of up to 20,000 US citizens and personnel trapped in Kabul.” So U.S. troops should be fighting the Taliban?! What social-imperialist claptrap!

Like the ISA, the IMT is in reality not opposing imperialism, much less fighting to defeat it, but tailing after and stoking the illusions of the Afghan urban petty-bourgeoisie in the imperialist occupiers and their flunkies. No surprise there: both groups come out of the British Labourite Militant tendency. Today they express concern about the fate of “the workers, the poor, women, and all others who stand to suffer at the hands of the Taliban.” But in the 1980s, when the Soviet Union intervened to stop the CIA-sponsored Islamist gangs on the warpath against the PDPA’s land reform and women’s rights laws, Militant denounced the Soviets. It argued that “Any gains achieved through defending measures to abolish landlordism and capitalism in Afghanistan … would be completely outweighed by the adverse effects on the consciousness of the working class internationally.”11 Meaning that supporting Soviet intervention would clash with their social-democratic Labour left milieu.

“Open borders.” Asylum for “anyone”? Every adult on this flight was a collaborator with the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. No asylum for operatives of imperialist war/occupation! (Screenshot from Facebook)

Now with tens of thousands of Afghans seeking to escape from Taliban rule, the question of Afghan refugees is front and center. Refugee agencies estimate “at least 300,000 Afghans are in imminent danger of being targeted by the Taliban for associating with Americans and U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan” (New York Times, 25 August). The internet media outlet Left Voice in a Facebook posting (18 August) called to “open the borders and give a dignified welcome to anyone who wishes to take refuge.” Anyone? The photo with the posting is a now-famous shot of the inside of a C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft with some “640 Afghans” on board, plus children. But all of those “Afghan civilians” were pre-approved by the U.S., meaning they were collaborators who worked with the U.S. occupiers. And one can see from the photo that they are overwhelmingly men.

There are, to be sure, tens of thousands of Afghans who had some connection with the puppet government, U.S. or other international agencies. Just about every woman who worked with an NGO (non-governmental organization) was at least indirectly on the U.S. payroll, whether she was aware of it or not. Clearly most were not oppressors of the Afghan peoples. On the other hand, there are the thousands of “translators.” Who did they translate for? For the search teams that smashed into Afghan homes at night and interrogated the terrified occupants about the whereabouts of suspected Taliban, who if caught would be murdered? How about translators at the infamous Bagram prison where inmates were tortured? Or the 20,000+ mercenaries working for the Pentagon in Afghanistan? They are imperialist collaborators with blood on their hands.

The slogan of “open borders” is utopian liberal nonsense: there will be borders even after a socialist revolution, under a workers state. The class question is key. After the fall of the South Vietnamese regime in 1975, when Washington brought 125,000 of its flunkies to the U.S., far from calling to let in all refugees, we declared: “No Asylum for Indochinese Reactionaries!” Instead, we called for asylum for Chilean refugees from the bloody Pinochet dictatorship.12 Revolutionary Marxists do not propose a general immigration policy for imperialist countries, which will always be racist and exclusionary. In particular crises, we have called for refuge to those fleeing the depredations of imperialism, as in the case of Syrian, Haitian and Central American refugees. Here, where one oppressor regime is replaced by another, Marxists do not call for refuge to operatives of the imperialist occupation which we called to defeat.

Afghanistan and the Struggle for International Socialist Revolution

CIA map of ethnic groups in Afghanistan, 2005. Click on photo to enlarge. (Photo: Central Intelligence Agency)

Afghanistan has been rent by conflict almost since the country was founded in the 1700s. This is partly because it lies astride the border between Central and South Asia, and has been fought over by the dominant powers in each region. It is also because it is an artificial state: there is no historically consolidated Afghan nation, or even a single Afghan people. A Pushtun majority in the south (about 50% of the total population) has historically viewed itself as the rightful rulers of the country, a view not shared by the Central Asian Tajik and Uzbek peoples to the north or by Shiite Hazaras in the center and west. The Pushtuns (earlier called Pathans) are the largest tribally organized people in the world, numbering 63 million, with three-quarters living in Pakistan. The Taliban are almost exclusively Pushtun, and their staying power reflects this regional base.

What will happen next in Afghanistan is unknowable at this point. Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (2001), has noted that the evident contradiction between the talk of moderation and inclusion from historic Taliban leaders and the actions of the fighters reflects an internal social division. The elders have been living in Pakistan, have become more educated, have families and businesses there, while the younger commanders in the field who Rashid describes as “much more fiercely Islamic and radical. Many of these commanders have been in Guantanamo or they’ve spent years in American jails.”13 However, unlike in the late1990s when there was barely a Taliban government, they will now rule over a country with a greatly expanded urban population with education and modern communications.  

Having lost the war, U.S. imperialism will almost certainly try to reach an accommodation with the new Afghan rulers, if only to limit the influence of Russia and China. The generals who run Pakistan will continue to back the Taliban, to capitalize on their influence with their clients, and to ward off any impulse to form a “Pushtunistan” that could split their country. There could be local rebellions, but they will have a hard time finding powerful sponsors or secure supply lines. Protests could break out in urban areas, as has already sporadically occurred in Kabul and Jalalabad. But Afghanistan is still an overwhelmingly rural country, with three-quarters or more of the population living in abject poverty. Now with the cutoff of the billions of dollars a year the U.S. pumped into Afghanistan, a huge economic crisis is virtually inevitable.

As we wrote at the time of the U.S. invasion in 2001:

“The Taliban regime that has controlled most of Afghanistan since 1996 has made the country a chamber of horrors, particularly for women. But so did the feuding warlords who preceded it, the leaders of the Islamic jihad (holy war) who were financed, trained and armed by the United States to wage a proxy war in the 1980s against the Soviet Union and the Soviet-allied reform government in Kabul….
“Afghanistan is an impoverished backwater, with feudal and even pre-feudal conditions in much of the country…. Because of its extreme economic backwardness, the social forces within Afghanistan are too weak for a workers revolution to be carried out from within. That is a key reason why Soviet intervention to stave off the victory of Islamic reaction was necessary in the 1980s and why Trotskyists strongly supported it. But Afghanistan cannot be viewed in isolation from the surrounding region.”
–“Defeat U.S. Imperialism! Defend Afghanistan and Iraq!” The Internationalist No. 12, Fall 2001.

Little has changed in this overall situation since then. The future of women’s rights, and of democratic rights generally in Afghanistan, will depend greatly on what happens elsewhere in the region. The imperialist partition of the subcontinent after World War II produced four hostile bourgeois states, all dominated by right-wing, military and religious/communalist parties. In Pakistan, the populist government barely masks domination by the army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which are closely allied with Islamist groups and the Wahabi Islamic madrasas (religious schools sponsored by Saudi Arabia) that were the seedbed of the Taliban (whose name means “students”) and which have been the real power in the state since independence in 1947.

India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka all have sizeable working classes and a history of leftist political agitation. Yet the organized workers movement is on the defensive and each of these countries is riven by communal conflict (Sinhalese vs. Tamils in Sri Lanka, Hindus vs. Muslims in India) and/or with ethnic groups divided by the artificial borders (Bengalis divided between India and Bangladesh, Kashmir partitioned between India and Pakistan). In India, Pakistan’s nemesis, the Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Nahendra Modi allied with the fascistic RSS has increasingly escalated anti-Muslim provocations and outright pogroms. Trotskyists have called ever since partition in 1947 for a voluntary socialist federation of workers republics of South Asia.

Globally the stunning collapse of the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan marks the end of a unipolar “new world order” under U.S. hegemony. The “war without end” proclaimed by former vice president Dick Cheney just ended in a spectacular defeat for the U.S. Contrary to President Biden’s claim that “America is back,” Washington no longer has the wherewithal to act alone as the world gendarme. But the U.S. remains the preeminent imperialist power, with the most powerful military in history. Smarting from this blow it may now be looking to show some muscle, perhaps by means of some new provocation against China. While most of the left has joined in the China-bashing, the League for the Fourth International calls for defense of China, and the other deformed workers states – Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam – against imperialism and counterrevolution.

The U.S. defeat in Afghanistan will also have repercussions inside the United States. There are more than 750,000 veterans of the Afghan war and occupation, and many of those ex-soldiers are asking if they went through hell for nothing. Some are saying that “The Afghanistan I Fought in for the U.S. Was a Lie,” “I Was a Marine in Afghanistan. We Sacrificed Lives for a Lie,”14 and the like. Military suicides have reached a record high, with over 1,500 active-duty soldiers taking their lives from 2016 to 2018.15 One study showed that the number of active-duty military personnel and veterans of post-9/11 wars who died by suicide (30,177) dwarfs the number of those who died in combat (7,057).16 Overall, a whopping 86,100 military veterans committed suicide from 2005 to 2018, at a rate 50% higher than civilians.17

Many in the fascist groups and fascistic militias that spearheaded the January 6 assault on the U.S. Congress were Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans.  (Photo: Jim Bourg / Reuters)

But some other Afghanistan and Iraq war vets have gone in a different direction, joining fascist groups and fascistic militias, such as those that spearheaded the January 6 attack on Congress. Soon we will be hearing that the troops were “stabbed in the back” by politicians in Washington, particularly Democrats. This evokes the Dolchstoss-Legende, that Jews and Communists were supposedly responsible for German defeat in World War I, that fueled the rise of Hitler’s Nazis. Meanwhile, veterans are a huge component of U.S. police forces, comprising almost 20% of the total,18 while studies have shown that cops who are former soldiers were three times as likely to use their firearms.19 Some vets who have “brought the war home” are a major factor in the plague of killings by trigger-happy police – more than 29,000 civilians killed by cops since 9/11.20

As we stressed from the outset, imperialist war abroad means racist repression “at home.” The toll of U.S. rulers’ “Global War on Terror” has been staggering, from Afghanistan, to Iraq and Syria, and also on the “home front.” It is a continuation of the imperialist slaughter of the Korean War (2 million dead) and the Vietnam War (3 million dead), on top of the carnage of the imperialist World War I (over 21 million dead) and World War II (more than 73 million). Today the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and the chaos it has caused throughout the capitalist world throw a sharp light on the inability of this putrefying imperialist system preserve lives and meet the most basic needs of the population.

The choice in this imperialist epoch, as the German-Polish communist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg wrote of the carnage of World War I, is socialism or barbarism. From the killing fields of the U.S.’ “forever wars” in the Middle East and Central Asia to the trailers filled with bodies outside U.S. hospitals and the mass graves in Brazil, we can see the ugly face of barbarism before our eyes. The answer must be to build revolutionary workers parties fighting to reforge a genuinely Trotskyist Fourth International. Located at the crossroads of Asia, Afghanistan has for the last 40 years been a key test for revolutionary Marxism vs. social-democratic pro-imperialist politics. At every juncture, we have fought to uphold the Bolshevik program of Lenin and Trotsky in building a world party of socialist revolution that is the hope of humankind. ■

Trotskyists Said Hail Red Army in Afghanistan in 1980 –
Defend Afghanistan, Defeat U.S. Imperialism in 2001

Afghanistan and the Left

At the time of the Soviet intervention in 1980, the then-Trotskyist Spartacist tendency called to “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” While “in no way plac[ing] political confidence in the Kremlin or the left-nationalists in Kabul,” we called to “Extend social gains of the October Revolution to Afghan peoples!”21 In contrast, the vast majority of the left joined the imperialist denunciation of a supposed “Soviet invasion.” Pseudo-Trotskyist Tariq Ali called for “Soviet Troops Out of Afghanistan!” Meanwhile, Afghan Islamists and Turkish Maoists launched a near-fatal knife attack on a forum of our German comrades. While we stood for the Trotskyist program of military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state, the chorus of “left” anti-Sovietism howled with the imperialist wolves.

When Soviet troops pulled out in 1989, anti-Soviet “socialists” like Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party in Britain cheered that “The Mojahedin victory will encourage the opponents of Russian rule everywhere in the USSR and Eastern Europe” (Socialist Worker, 4 February 1989). That it did, fueling counterrevolution throughout the Soviet bloc that led to the rollback of women’s rights and the ravages of restored capitalist rule. Others took equivocal positions. The response of genuine Trotskyists was counterposed: we denounced the Kremlin’s withdrawal as a “cold-blooded betrayal of the Afghan and Soviet peoples,” warned that the “right of women to read, freedom from the veil, freedom from the tyranny of the mullahs and the landlords” was in danger and made an “urgent offer” to the Afghan government that we were prepared to “organize an international brigade to fight to the death in defense of these rights in Afghanistan.”22

There followed the 1992 overthrow of the PDPA regime by the U.S.-sponsored mujahedin; the imposition of sharia law and rollback of women’s rights, land reform and other democratic gains amid a bloody civil war between the different Islamist factions; the 1996 victory of the Taliban promising to put an end to the chaos and corruption; and in 2001 the U.S.-led imperialist invasion in reprisal for the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International declared, that while “Proletarian revolutionaries categorically oppose the indiscriminate terror used by the hijackers … in grotesquely taking the lives of several thousand ordinary working people,” we immediately called, in a 14 September 2001 statement, to “Defeat Imperialism!” and “Defend Afghanistan and Iraq!”

Followers of pseudo-Trotskyist Ernest Mandel (above) and renegade from Trotskyism Tony Cliff agreed with the imperialists in 1980: “Soviet Troops Out!”

The response of the opportunist left was instead overwhelmingly to join the outcry against terrorism, and to avoid a forthright denunciation of the imperialist war. The Committee for a Workers International (CWI) wrote in a 14 September 2001 statement that “the US ‘security’ agencies were facing the wrong way, still fighting a version of the ‘cold war’”; it complained of “inept leadership” by the Bush II administration and harped not on imperialist terror but on “the futility of terrorism.” Socialist Alternative (SAlt), the CWI’s U.S. affiliate, headlined its statement (18 September 2001) “End the Cycle of Terrorism,” and declared: “Americans are rightfully and understandably angry and are demanding some sort of justice. But what will military retaliation and an invasion of another country actually accomplish?”

These and other opportunist left tendencies were calling on the imperialists to adopt different policies, rather than opposing imperialism outright. For its part, the by-now ex-Trotskyist Spartacist League and its International Communist League (SL/ICL) in its 14 September 2001 statement on the 9/11 attacks, likewise highlighted its opposition to “terrorism” while pointedly not calling for defense of Iraq or the defeat of imperialism. When it did get around to calling to defend Afghanistan a month later, the centrist (and today seemingly moribund and increasingly deranged) SL/ICL rabidly attacked the Internationalist Group, which was founded by long-time leading Spartacist cadres, for upholding the Leninist call to defeat imperialism.

In a monstrous lie, the SL’s Workers Vanguard (26 October 2001) accused the IG of “Playing the Counterfeit Card of Anti-Americanism,” and appealing to “‘Third World’ nationalists for whom the ‘only good American is a dead American’” (see our article, “ICL Refuses to Call for Defeat of U.S. Imperialism, ‘Anti-American’ Baits the Internationalist Group,” in The Internationalist No. 12, Fall 2001). Particularly amid the war hysteria at the time, this grotesque smear amounted to a set-up for violent attacks and/or government repression against us. It was also a foretaste of the SL/ICL’s betrayal when it supported the U.S. invasion of Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, claiming the occupying troops were just providing disaster relief. After months of lambasting the IG/LFI, it admitted that its line was social-patriotic.

As we wrote in September 2001 at the outset of the U.S. war on Afghanistan, “Amid the hysteria, the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International call to stand on the side of the victims of imperialism” (The Internationalist No. 12). And as we underlined when Democrat Barack Obama extended the U.S. terror war from Afghanistan and Iraq to Syria, after it had spawned the Islamic State:

“As Leninists and Trotskyists, we stand with the oppressed fighting to free their lands from colonial and imperial domination. This includes siding with the struggles even of reactionary-led forces fighting against imperialism such as Marx and Engels did in the 1857 Sepoy Revolt against British rule in India (see our article “Marx on the Sepoy Revolt,” The Internationalist No. 21, Summer 2005); as Marx’s follower William Morris did with the 1880s Mahdi revolt against the British in Sudan; and Lenin did with the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China (see “Lenin on the ‘Boxer Rebellion’,” The Internationalist No. 21).”
–“For Workers Action to Defeat Barack Obama’s Iraq/Syria War,” The Internationalist No. 38, October 2014

We also noted Leon Trotsky’s call in 1936 to defend feudal Ethiopia, even under the slave-owning emperor Haile Selassie, against Italian imperialism.

At the same time, we emphasized that our struggle against imperialism must be waged with proletarian means, calling for “working-class action against the war drive and its consequences for labor,” as we wrote in 2001. The next year we called on U.S. West Coast dock workers in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to “hot cargo” (refuse to handle) war material being shipped to the Middle East. With the invasion of Iraq, we called for workers strikes against the war. As the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, we called for this, year after year, until in 2008 the ILWU called a May Day strike to “Stop the War in Iraq and Afghanistan” that shut down every port on the Pacific Coast, which the IG played an important role in building.23 ■

  1. 1. According to the Brown University Costs of War project. See https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/figures/2021/human-and-budgetary-costs-date-us-war-afghanistan-2001-2021.
  2. 2. “U.S./NATO Murder, Inc.,” The Internationalist No. 33, Summer 2011.
  3. 3. “The Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war,” Washington Post, 9 December 2019.
  4. 4. Glenn Greenwald, “The U.S. Government Lied for Two Decades About Afghanistan” (16 August).
  5. 5. Congressional Research Service, “Department of Defense Contractor and Troop Levels in Afghanistan and Iraq: 2007-2020 (updated 22 February 2021).
  6. 6. Workers Vanguard (9 May 1975), newspaper of the Spartcist League, then the voice of authentic Trotskyism, which is continued today by the League for the Fourth International (LFI).
  7. 7. In 2012, Afghan puppet president Hamid Karzai endorsed a “Code of Conduct” of the Ulema Council, the top clerical body in Afghanistan, which explicitly rejected the equality of women and men, declaring women “secondary,” while decreeing that Muslim women had to wear burqas, couldn’t leave the home without a male escort or mingle with men in schools, markets or offices. See: “Hamid Karzai backs clerics' move to limit Afghan women's rights,” Guardian, 6 March 2012.
  8. 8. Contrary to Muslim-hating bigots like Donald Trump, the Islamic religion is not incompatible with bourgeois-democratic rights for society as a whole. Islamism, or political Islam, however, is a doctrine holding that Islamic law (sharia) should govern society. Thus for Islamists there is no separation of mosque and state. While there are different Islamist currents, and sharp differences between Islamists of the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, all call for a theocratic regime in which religious doctrine and authority are supreme, and thus are inherently anti-democratic.
  9. 9. The Islamic mahr, which is the amount paid to the bride by the groom at the time of marriage.
  10. 10. Valentine Moghadam, “Fundamentalism and the Woman Question in Afghanistan,” in Lawrence Kaplan, ed., Fundamentalism in Comparative Perspective (University of Massachusetts Press, 1992).
  11. 11. “Afghanistan and the Russians,” Militant, 10 February 1989.
  12. 12. Workers Vanguard, 9 May 1975.
  13. 13. National Public Radio, 15 August.
  14. 14. Daily Beast, 17 August; New York Times, 16 August.
  15. 15. U.S. Department of Defense Annual Suicide Report, Calendar Year 2018.
  16. 16. Brown University Cost of War Project, 21 June 2021.
  17. 17. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report 2020.
  18. 18. “When Warriors Put on the Badge,” The Marshall Project (30 March 2017).
  19. 19. “Police With Military Experience More Likely to Shoot,” The Marshall Project (15 October 2018).
  20. 20. See fatalencounters.org. From 11 September 2001 to 4 August 2021, 29,262 publicly reported police-involved killings.
  21. 21. “Hail Red Army!” Workers Vanguard No. 247, 11 January 1980.
  22. 22. See “Battle for Afghanistan” and “PDC: For Internationalist Military Support to Afghan Government!” Workers Vanguard No. 471, 17 February 1989. The Afghan government, fearful of angering Washington, refused our offer.
  23. 23. See “May Day Strike Against the War Shuts Down All U.S. West Coast Ports,” The Internationalist No. 27, May-June 2008.