, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I have not so far encountered a Marxist or a neo-Marxist interpretation of the Taliban’s recent victory that has satisfactorily plumbed the discomfort that I feel about this spectacular geopolitical mess. Perhaps the philosopher Slavoj Žižek, writing two weeks ago in RT, offers an exception, but his imaginative engagement with this question ends up drifting towards suicide bombers and away from the practicalities of the Taliban’s takeover. Nobody else, it seems, wants to climb into the pain. But if you continue to remain interested in reality during these comfortless times then please follow me.

If the Taliban were democrats rather than warriors, and if they had somehow agreed to take part in a parliamentary election rather than using violence to achieve their political ends, then they would have surely “won” Kabul through a landslide victory. After all, the Afghan state that knowledgeable Western interventionists have spent twenty years expertly manufacturing has melted in a matter of days, revealing it to enjoy little to no popular support and to be based on no reliable social institutions. For the Marxist, who views history as being purely a boxing ring for class struggle and whose own chosen perspective is a ringside seat, the problem is this: how can a K.O. for the Western neo-imperialists and the corrupt administrative class that had served them fail to be progressive?

The UK Left has fallen out of the habit of viewing history as a class struggle, not least because the latest political upset in the UK, Brexit, has been the most nakedly class-based issue in modern politics and most of the Left have found themselves haplessly stranded on the wrong side of it. In the consequent never-never land, a political party that literally calls itself “the Conservatives” was cast as representing the democratic empowerment of working people, whilst self-proclaimed liberals, progressives and socialists were all roundly calling for the cancellation or devaluing of democracy and its replacement with permanent paternalistic bourgeois management.

Ever since, many Remainers have been mentally at a place somewhere like Kabul Airport, panicking, furious, hysterical and so on. This analogy is what I had meant by pain and it is obviously very tasteless but I think that most people in the UK can distantly recognise what is happening in Afghanistan as being a wild caricature of our own historical experience. The same privileged, “globalised” social class has, in each context, run out of road.

Yet Kabul might have fallen (insofar as it is possible to tell what is happening in that country when the people who have been governing it for the last twenty years do not have the first clue) for reasons that confound any attempt to identify the Taliban as an expression of proletarian might. This is where comparisons with the Fall of Saigon go especially awry. For during the Cold War, the USA was supposedly fighting for freedom and free-market capitalism. In Afghanistan, however, it is the USA that is on the side of devastating corruption and the economic mediocracy that was once associated with the Soviet Union. By contrast, the Taliban are less tolerant of corruption and I suspect that many Afghans quietly support them as a shock means of unlocking the economy. The Taliban are likely to secure increased Chinese investment as well.

(I have a friend, incidentally, who hypothesises that most of the people in the Taliban, who are illiterate and from the mountains, believe themselves to be still at war with the Soviet Union. I distrust this theory simply because it is so entertaining, although in an era of drone warfare the combatants on either side are certainly less likely than ever to meet in person. But I will nonetheless bolt on to my argument this helpful idea that today the USA and the Soviet Union might be empirically, on the ground, indistinguishable).

Marxism is, of course, as dry as a biscuit and one should always supplement it with important human vitamins. Those who had died, for example, during the harrowing incidents that followed the panic at Kabul Airport had come from widely different social classes. Yet to avoid a utilitarian approach completely, as most of the Western media are currently doing, also risks a creeping inhumanity.

The media is eager to tell the stories of those women whose education and careers are being suppressed by the Taliban’s misogyny (when the Taliban appear to be compromising on some of their other core beliefs, as is evident in their readiness to sell the Uyghurs down the river in exchange for Chinese funding). Presumably, though, many more untold lives are being blighted in Afghanistan by the corruption that was the West’s ultimate powerbase, hence the Taliban’s massive victory.

Feminists in Afghanistan had made the mistake of aligning their stars with NATO’s. It was obviously impossible for them to work with the Taliban, but this is more an overall failure of imported “identity politics,” of taking genders and ethnicities on a case-by-case basis rather than succeeding through the broader, more imaginative coalition of interests that is proletarian aspiration and class struggle.

Finally, one should acknowledge that the USA has not actually lost. In a phenomenal act of imperial banditry, the USA has frozen $9.5 billion in assets and looted the whole of Afghanistan in one fell swoop. This is likely to soon entail the old cathartic tactic of starving a country’s population as a wistful substitute for being able to get at its leadership (see the USA’s previous measures against Iraq and Iran). Afghanistan will become so demoralised through the ensuing depression that no coherent resistance can ever emerge against the Taliban, just as Saddam Hussein’s rule had been entrenched during a sanctions regime in which over half a million Iraqi children had died from malnutrition. Thus both the US government and the Taliban can be said to have won, each in their own way, whilst most of the people in Afghanistan will be losing for many years to come.