Kabul is not Saigon

Image: Suliman Sallehi


Two similar photos don't explain much

The identification of the fall of Kabul in 2021 with the fall of Saigon in 1975 is a hasty comparison, historically and politically. Two similar photos don't explain much. The common element is the defeat of US imperialism. What is the difference?

The difference refers to a socio-political assessment of the organizations they lead, and their projects. Saigon's ruin was an extraordinary revolutionary, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist victory that moved the world's left. In Afghanistan we did not see the popular passion of crowds in the streets, but the horror of apocalyptic scenes of socio-political despair, even though a bloodbath was avoided in the final phase of the civil war.

There are two symmetrical dangers of imbalance in valuation. Downplaying the significance of imperialist defeat, or downplaying the danger posed by a Taliban government. What should our compass be? We can gauge this process using the five criteria we inherited from the Marxist tradition for making political judgments of wars and revolutions. What is program? What are the social forces mobilized? Who is the director? Who was the enemy? What are the consequences?

The Taleban's program is not just the independence of Afghanistan, but the imposition of an Islamic Emirate, even if we consider promises of moderation. Social forces are not only the popular peasant masses in a still agrarian and very poor country, but also proto-bourgeois factions that control poppy plantations and the opium trade. The leadership is a monolithic army-church-party allied with warlords, even admitting that the new leadership is not exclusively Pashtun, because it incorporates Uzbek and Tadjik leaders and, perhaps, less extremist. The enemy was the Protectorate government and the US occupation forces. The two main consequences are that the tribal-Islamic resistance won the civil war and defeated the imperialist invasion, but the result is the imposition of a theocratic regime.

The five criteria are worth considering. Not just the weakening of Washington in the international state system. It is not necessary to be a Marxist, or even a leftist, to understand that there is no similarity between the Communist Party of Vietnam and the Taleban. Anyone can be more or less critical of the Stalinist regime that emerged from the unification of Vietnam. But who only considers that the conquest of power by the Taliban would be “progressive”, because the “distorted” form of a defeat of US imperialism is drunk with “objectivism”, and diminishes the reactionary nature of the fundamentalist leadership.

Of course, we must not give in to pressure from the Taliban's simplified and demonized views. The image spread by the media of bearded, “brutal and primitive” armed youths, atavistically misogynistic, should not impress us. The Taleban, the Pashtun-speaking students, are a militia formed in madrassas, Islamic schools run by mullahs from villages in refugee camps in Pakistan. They are a “product” of a nation at war for over thirty-five years. Its roots lie in a tribal agrarian society. But the Taleban is not a party of poor peasants, although that is the social composition. It maintains close relations with bourgeois factions in Pakistan and the Persian Gulf.

The military victory of the Taliban in the civil war, supported by Pakistan, brought to power an army-party that would impose a theocratic dictatorship, only comparable, at worst, to the barbarism of the totalitarian regime of the Islamic State in Iraq, or, at best, to the government that emerged from the military coup in Myamar, a tyranny that was equally despotic and reactionary.

Nor is anything similar to the triumph of an anti-imperialist mass popular insurrection as in Iran in 1979 taking place.

It was not just a process of resistance to foreign invasion, it was also a civil war. Will the fall of the Yankee protectorate lead to an independent state? The fate of Afghanistan will be in dispute, but it will hardly escape the influence of Pakistan, and the sub-imperialist pressures of China and Russia.

It is true that both withdrawals portray defeats of Yankee imperialism, but nothing else. In fact, there are not even two similar defeats. The US was militarily defeated and expelled in Vietnam. The United States was politically defeated after twenty years of military occupation of Afghanistan. But US military forces were not expelled from Kabul after a military defeat. The US decided years ago to withdraw and transfer the responsibility to the Afghan army.

The Trump administration negotiated the exit and Biden decided to leave. Why? The conditions of the negotiation in Qatar with the Taleban that explain the withdrawal remain unclear. Did they withdraw, voluntarily, as a result of a strategic calculation and guarantees offered by the Taleban? Did they accept the transfer of responsibility for stability in Central Asia to China and Russia?

The fall of Kabul leaves us with the anachronistic danger of an ideologically dangerous “mentality”. A majority of the world left, in the XNUMXth century, considered that the fate of the socialist cause was indissolubly associated with the future of the government of the USSR and its allies. This “USSR nationalism” was called socialist campism.

Socialist campism seemed to have collapsed in the early nineties with capitalist restoration being led in the USSR by one of the fractions of the Communist Party of the former USSR. It has resurfaced in recent years in the form of pro-China camping. It has manifested itself in recent days in the form of an effusive or even grotesque “celebration” of the Taliban's victory in Afghanistan.

Campism was, for most of the XNUMXth century, one of the most influential theories on the world left. He influenced generations, stating that the world was divided into two camps: the capitalist and the socialist, irreconcilable and in struggle, despite the oscillations of peaceful coexistence.

Campism asserted that the analysis of the world situation should have as its organizing axis the conflicts in the international system of States between the Soviet Union and the imperialist States. The perception of variations in the situation of class struggles within nations was subordinated to the appreciation of the power relations between states. Widely defended in left-wing circles, and with echoes in the most expressive university centers in the world, the pro-Moscow or pro-Beijing campist vision stated that the world would be divided into two political-military blocs, the capitalist camp and the socialist camp – the latter being the latter the “strategic rearguard” of class struggles against imperialism.

A few Marxist voices warned of the dangerous consequences of campist criteria, and the tradition associated with Leon Trotsky's elaboration stood out in claiming the centrality of class internationalism.

Maoism constructed, in the XNUMXs, in the conditions of what went down in history as the period of the “cultural revolution”, a campist variant that gained influence: the theory of the three worlds. In the first, capitalist imperialism and Russian social imperialism; in the second, the socialist countries and the third world, that is, the countries on the periphery of the world market subordinated, to a greater or lesser extent, in the international system of States. He considered for some years, after Beijing's negotiations with Nixon, that Russian social-imperialism would be the most dangerous. A portion of the Communist Parties with preferential sympathies with Beijing defended, then, that the pro-Moscow parties would be social-fascist parties. Elevating the “nationalism of socialist states” to the fundamental reference level in international relations, campism ended up destroying internationalism.

The criterion common to all campismos was the choice of a predominant contradiction: the diplomatic interests of a State in the international system. All other contradictions – such as the antagonism between capital and labor in each society – would be permanently subsumed. The contradiction between the blocs in the interstate system imposed itself, for the campistas, as the fundamental contradiction. Class struggles in each region of the world would be subordinated to reasons of State.

Campism rested on “a grain of truth”. The international situation is always the complex result of a process of struggles between classes, but also of struggles between States. Analyzes inspired by Marxism have therefore always had to face a key methodological issue. The challenge has never been simple.

Understanding world political dynamics requires articulating two dimensions: on the one hand, the study of power relations in the class struggle at the national level cannot, of course, ignore the fact that classes position themselves to fight for their interests – and, when in revolutionary crises, for power – within borders.

It would be impossible to explain the triumph of the October Revolution in 1917 without considering the aftermath of World War I and the weakening of the state system in Europe: after all, Germany yearned for a separate peace, and it achieved it. It would be very difficult to explain the decision of Mao and the leadership of the CP of China to bring the war against Chiang Kai Chek in 1949 to the end without considering the framework of the balance of forces in the international system of states after the entry of the Russian army into Berlin . It would also be impossible to understand Fidel Castro's decision – until then, a nationalist leader – not to accept the North American ultimatums in 1961, without considering that the perspective of alignment with the USSR offered a bloc of alliances in the international system of States. .

But camper lenses are not good for understanding the fall of Kabul.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).


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