The defeat of the U.S. in its 20-year war in Afghanistan is a decisive blow against imperialism. The direct involvement of its military was longer than in the Vietnam war, and this end is a definitive statement of the defeat of the imperialist outlook developed as the Soviet Union ended – that there is no alternative to its world supremacy.
By Peter Windeler – International Socialist League
Where the U.S. goes, the U.K. goes – with U.S. permission. The war cost the U.S. $1 trillion, and the U.K. £37 billion. As always, there is money for their wars but not for the poor in the USA or the U.K., but they always make workers pay for their wars.
All the world’s institutions were in Afghanistan, including NATO, the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation, to impose the will of the U.S. and this collective effort is now dust.
The world witnessed the rapid take over by the Taliban despite 20 years and $1 trillion, the U.S. merely created a mirage of an Afghan army. The U.S. ruling class was pushing for military withdrawal due to mounting hostility to the adventure back home. Trump, and now Joe Biden, were forced to draw a line under Afghanistan – much to the dismay of the British state whose impotence, surrounding the U.S. unilateral withdrawal, was revealed to all.
The resistance in many areas in Afghanistan went quickly over to the Taliban because it had fought to kick out foreign occupiers. The Taliban was a “party-army” or, more correctly, a “bourgeois party-army”. The USA media, such as the NYTimes, say they are only terrorist militants, which cannot explain why they received support from the millions of poverty-stricken Afghan people.
It is estimated by Brown University, in the US, that 71,000 civilians have died in the Afghan war. These deaths include Pakistani and Afghan civilians but were a direct result of the war. Since 2017 when the US relaxed its rules of “engagement” civilian deaths due to airstrikes increased by 330%. It is estimated that there were 241,000 deaths in total due to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the West launched its Afghan war in 2001.i
The Taliban will form a capitalist government and continue to exploit the working class and women and increase unemployment and poverty. The Taliban defend property rights, which is another way of claiming the rights of the landlord or business owner. This means many poor peasants will remain in poverty – all be it “peaceful” poverty. The masses will have to fight for a better life under the Taliban.
Although the U.S. wished to subject Afghanistan to the capitalism that sucks wealth out of the country, the Taliban will try to impose the interests of the wealthier Afghans over the poorer population. As journalists are able to report from the now, relatively peaceful countryside, it is plain that the vicious, brutal campaign by the U.S. drove Afghanis to fight with and support the Taliban, especially outside the cities.ii Now the Taliban forces contain other ethnic groups, in addition to Pashtuns. In the recent fighting for the Panshir Valley, many of the Taliban troop columns and commanders were Tajiks.
The defeat in Afghanistan reflects the relative decline of the USA since the end of World War Two (see insert) and its need, therefore, to take increasingly hazardous adventures to maintain its dominance.
Source: Penn World Tables 10.0, calculations by Michael Roberts
The role of the Labour Party
Many people who support the Labour Party forget that all Labour governments supported imperialist invasion and occupation. The Labour record is appalling and highly hypocritical.
They maintained control of Yemen in the 1950s, organized military support for the Nigerian government war against Biafra in the 1960s, supported the U.S. bloody war in Vietnam and Blair and Brown took Britain into the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. establishment is the biggest terrorist in the world, supported by British governments of all hues.
Why was Britain in Afghanistan? It is determined to continue as a junior partner of the U.S. It wanted a part of the profits from oil and other trade deals, and it needed to maintain its financial world centre in London. It also wanted the arms trade. “Britain is the second biggest arms dealer on earth, selling arms and fighter planes, machine guns and “riot control” vehicles, to 22 of the 30 countries on the British Government’s list of human rights violators.”iii
The Labour Party that assisted British (and U.S.) imperialism many times since WWII does not talk about the reasons for the Afghan and Iraqi invasions and all the deaths and destruction by the U.S. Now Keir Starmer says we must praise Blair and no doubt would try to help British oil multinationals, rather than the masses they exploit. Blair lied to parliament about the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction; his leadership created the subversion of bourgeois democracy when it became law that evidence produced under torture would be permissible in a British court of law. The declarations of Bush and Blair (or Biden, Johnson and Starmer) that they are defending the world from terrorism are fraudulent. The United States has by far the greatest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction of any country in the world.
There is an increasing discussion in the U.K. amongst workers and activists of the need for a new Workers Party to oppose capitalism and Starmer’s Labour Party. And in those discussions, we cannot get caught up with reformist ideas that remain silent about the strategy of warmongering. Any attempt to build a Labour Party Mark II would end in rubble.
In the past, the Bin Ladens and the most reactionary obscurantist ‘fundamentalist’ clerics were used to further imperialist aims, just as Saddam Hussein was encouraged by the U.S. and Britain for many years.
Bush and Blair exploited the genuine sympathy and feeling of masses of people for the victims of the New York bombing and deceived them. All those socialists with a grain of internationalism, indefatigably, exposed the truth:
The war was against the poor, oppressed, and suffering masses in the world. It was the continuation of the politics of imperialism in the former colonial world where they were forced to give political independence. Still, it continued to extract its tribute because the democratic revolutions were halted, distorted and destroyed.iv
U.S. rule by terror
At the end of the first Gulf War, George Bush senior proclaimed a New World Order. It was a proclamation that expressed the sentiment of the U.S. ruling class that they had swept away, or frightened off, the obstacles to expanding their world interests.
The rulers of the capitalist world order have committed countless terrorist acts to build and preserve their rule. WWII ended with the greatest terrorist act that the world has ever seen, and it was committed by U.S. imperialism: the nuclear holocausts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki! These cities had a total population of 600,000. Before that atrocity was committed, the U.S. launched massive bombing raids to create firestorms in Japanese cities.
Before the atom bombing, Japan was already suing for peace. That atrocious act was committed as a warning to Russia and as an experiment to test the effects of nuclear weapons on real live human beings.
The bombing of Afghanistan by the wealthiest country in the world was meant to strike terror into the population of one of the poorest nations and enable the U.S. to establish a puppet government. That failed. The bombing of Afghanistan continued as the West withdrew with the massacre of an aid worker and seven members of his family, including 7 children. This was in response to a suicide bombing at Kabul airport. But even in the immediate aftermath of the bomb the brother of a British citizen killed told the BBC he died due to US soldiers firing randomly into the crowd. Now the UK armed forces have confirmed they will continue to fly their aircraft over Afghanistan and kill as they see fit.
In the Middle East and Asia, oil is central to U.S. politics. It was the reason why it supported Arab rulers in the past and was opposed to France, Britain and Israel when they invaded Egypt in 1956 in the Suez war. The U.S. has for many years a treaty to defend the rulers of Saudi Arabia in exchange for their oil. Now it is Israel that is vital to it in the Middle East. It pours financial, military and diplomatic support to Israel, exposing the hypocrisy of George W Bush about a ruthless war against states who seek to extend weapons of mass destruction and break U.N. resolutions.
Israel has been a central component of U.S. imperialist foreign policy in the Middle East. For that reason, the U.S. has protected and assisted it in the United Nations as it extended its territory and its terrorism against the Palestinians. It used the policy of ‘War Against Terrorism’ to advance its terror against the Palestinian people and continues to do so. It has vast financial support from the U.S. so that it can remain a thorn in the side of the Arab masses.
The American leaders camouflaged the pursuit of territory and resources by falsely declaring a “war against terrorism” in response to the attack on the Twin Towers and began that war with the aerial bombardment of Afghanistan using one of their weapons of terror – cluster bombs. By that time twelve years of sanctions and attacks on Iraq had already taken the lives of over 1.5 million Iraqi civilians.
While that war began, Washington made plans to unleash the same horror and devastation upon many countries of the world. The Washington Post reported that 61 countries were on the U.S. list to be dealt with as harbourers of ‘evil’.
On Friday, March 8, 2002, The Guardian front page appeared with a headline, From Suez to the Pacific: the U.S. expands its presence across the Globe. The article said that U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen “are now established in places where they never before had a presence. The aim is to provide platforms from which to launch attacks on any group perceived by George Bush to be a danger to the U.S.”
The occupations by the USA and Britain, and other countries allied to imperialism had nothing to do with liberating people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, or any other country. Invasion is about seizing oil, resources, or geographically important locations, always with the aim of ensuring profits accrue to Stock Exchanges around the globe.
As it waged war in Afghanistan, the U.S. (with the support of Tony Blair) built a network of detention and torture centres, the most well-known is Guantanamo Bay.
The U.S. war was part of a coalition of more than 100 countries and organizations that said it would “provide both security and civilian assistance to Afghanistan”. Therefore, the defeat of U.S. imperialism is a defeat of imperialism in general and especially U.S. and U.K.
When the Twin Towers were hit in New York, the U.S. had to retaliate. After all, it is its image of invulnerability that allows it to pillage the world’s resources for the profit lust of capitalism. Had it not been for that and the Taliban’s apparent tolerance of the former US-supported Osama bin Laden, Afghan regime’s highly visible, extremely repressive, attitude to women and other social issues, the U.S. would most likely have continued its support for the Taliban and the construction of the pipelines would have got underway.
John Pilger wrote in one of his articles – The Real Story behind America’s War:
“By spreading ‘fear and respect’, as a Washington Post reporter put it, America intends to see off challenges to its uncertain ability to control and manage the ‘global economy,’ the euphemism for the progressive seizure of markets and resources by the G8 rich nations.
“This, not the hunt for a man in a cave in Afghanistan, is the aim behind U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney’s threats to “40 to 50 countries”. It has little to do with terrorism and much to do with maintaining the divisions that underpin ‘globalization’.”v
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the powerful conglomerates of capital have increased their power in every corner of the Globe. The international institutions dominated by U.S. Imperialism – such as the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO – are their tools in exploiting the poorer countries and masses of the world.
The “War on Terror” was an expression of what globalization meant – to seek out all means of profit using the latest technology and weaponry. Globalisation was not a qualitative change in capitalism but an intensification of its exploitation of the whole Globe.
Oil was at the centre
The central question for the USA before and during the war and through all the U.S. presidencies was how to exploit the reserves of oil and control in nearby oil-producing states using Afghanistan for oil pipelines sufficient to ensure many billions of dollars of profit for U.S. oil companies. That the British and world capitalist media have collective amnesia over that is no surprise even though the domination of oil has been analysed and explained many times – even in their journals.
After the West’s invasion in 2001, the Afghan economy grew for about 10 years. This reflected the funds coming into the country due to the war but also various drives to increase education and health in Kabul and some cities. At the same time, those in the countryside of Afghanistan experienced the savage barbarity of the occupation and air campaign.
From the 1990s, there have been talks of a pipeline project so that oil from the Caspian Basin could be pumped to a convenient location for the West. It is openly admitted in many documents that the central reason for the full-scale invasion of Afghanistan was to control Central Asia’s vast landlocked oil and gas reserves and establish control over these areas.
U.S. and others talked about human rights when the U.S. spent ten years, before they invaded, trying to establish relations with the central Asian countries of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – no matter what dictatorial form their governments took.
The central Asian area contains 200 billion barrels of oil. To grab this oil meant the U.S. led business groups planning for oil pipelines from Turkmenistan to the Arabian sea via Afghanistan and a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to Pakistan. Such pipelines would serve vital U.S. interests in several ways.
They aimed to draw the Central Asian oil states away from the Russian sphere of influence and establish a strong U.S. position. The U.S. also wanted to limit the Turkmenistan-Iranian gas links and thwart a plan for a Turkmenistan-Iran oil pipeline to the Arabian Sea.
But to get that they also made deals with Pakistan, from where the Taliban came from and was funded. In 1995 the Taliban emerged after being formed in a religious school. The literal translation of Taliban is ‘students’. The Taliban gain support within the Pashtun ethnic group, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, making 40% of the population, about 15m out of 38m, to challenge the government.
The Bush White House, before the Twin Towers attack, stepped up negotiations with the Taliban. When those talks stalled in July 2001, a Bush administration representative threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not comply with American demands.
Poverty is endemic
According to the BBC, an Afghan government survey of living conditions for 2016-17 found that more than 54% lived below the national poverty line. It said that nearly six out of every 10 Afghans told them they had struggled to afford food at times in the previous year. Increases in poverty took place most years after the world financial and economic crisis in 2008.
About 90 per cent of Afghans struggle to live on their current income. Over the past decade, poverty in Afghanistan has risen to record-breaking heights. From 2008 to 2018, the number of Afghans reporting that their income was insufficient to support their family grew from 60 per cent to 90 per cent. A 2018 U.N. report noted that more than 2 million children aged 6-14 worked to support their families. With an average of 58 per cent of Afghan families unable to afford food, full-time work becomes a higher priority than education. Afghanistan, with an unemployment rate of 8 per cent and underemployment (employed but unable to cover living costs) of 41 per cent.
Despite 20 years of outside support, billions of dollars of funding, an extensive programme of training and U.S. air support, the Afghan security forces collapsed. Why would a population that was told the U.S. invasion was for their benefit but resulted in such catastrophic decline of living standards support the occupying army and the corrupt regime it had created?
Only mass movements can overturn capitalism
Capitalist society came into the world by force and it continues with its assistance. The launching of terror is constantly part of that force. We must acknowledge, just like the military genius Clausewitz, and later Trotsky, that war is politics by other methods. The expansion of war to the whole of society instead of its conduct by small groups was a characteristic of the twentieth century and contributed significantly to the definition of the twentieth century as the most brutal century so far.
The defeat of the USA in Afghanistan is a major blow to the U.S. strategy of domination. It shows the most powerful imperialist country in the world can be defeated.
An interesting article by Michael Roberts discusses the relative economic decline of the USA over many years. The
“…official end of the war in Vietnam [and] the economic consequences of this 30-year ‘intervention’ exposed an important turning point – the end of Pax Americana and the outright hegemonic position of American imperialism in the world economy. From then on, we can talk about the relative decline (relative to other imperialist powers) of the U.S., with the rise of the European countries, Japan, East Asia and more recently, China. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the end of the ‘cold war’ did not reverse or even curb that relative decline. The U.S. no longer can rule the world on its own and, even with the help of a ‘coalition of the willing,’ it cannot dictate a ‘world order’.”vi
But relative decline and defeats in Afghanistan do not lessen the threat of armed conflict to further U.S. aims. The USA maintains the most powerful military globally with expenditure more than the sum of the next ten highest military budgets in the world. This military might is to ensure it can exert its influence if its diplomacy fails.
The masses in Afghanistan will have to fight the new bourgeois Taliban rulers. With huge natural resources including copper, iron ore, lithium and rare earth minerals, imperialism will be vying for what they can take. Exploiting Afghanistan’s minerals is worth many billions, if not trillions. And the Taliban will make deals and betray the masses. The Afghanis supported the Taliban to get rid of one type of enslavement not to be replaced by another. Afghanis will have to ensure the Taliban’s policies of women merely having the role of giving birth and raising children to the “dustbin” of history.
The very roots of Marxism are in the conclusion that the change of outmoded and oppressive societies can only be brought about by the movement of masses, whose material conditions push them to struggle. The people of Afghanistan will have to fight the new government against their reactionary policies and any further attempts to rob them of their resources.
We call on workers and their organizations to mobilize to defeat any further attempts by British imperialism to support the U.S. or NATO to advance their interests for profit.
But like the climate crisis, viruses out of control, mass unemployment and regular world economic crisis only the masses can end these catastrophes by putting an end to capitalism by workers control, workers government based on workers democracy and a concrete internationalism.
A step in that direction is helping to build the International Socialist League, which is part of the International Workers League-Fourth International.
No more support for U.S. wars by the U.K.
Remove all U.K. forces from across the world.
ii The Guardian, London, 11 September 2021.
iii John Pilger 6 October 2017.
iv See ISL pamphlet, The Permanent Revolution. Battle Cry of the Twenty-First Century. Bill Hunter