Class Basis of Taliban
by Taimur Rahman
It is my contention that the Taliban represent a reactionary and a restorationist movement. A simple definition of the term “reactionary” is as follow:
Reactionary (also reactionist) refers to any movement or ideology that opposes change or progress in society, and which seeks a return to a previous state (the status quo ante). The term originated in the French Revolution, to denote the counter-revolutionaries who wanted to restore the real or imagined conditions of the monarchical Ancien Régime. In the nineteenth century, the term reactionism denoted those who wished to preserve feudalism and aristocratic privilege against industrialism, republicanism, liberalism and socialism.
It is also a restorationist movement. An easy definition of “restorationist” is as follows:
Restorationism, sometimes called Christian primitivism, refers to the belief held by various religious movements that pristine or original Christianity should be restored, which usually claiming to be the source of that restoration. Such groups teach that this is necessary because Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians introduced defects into Christian faith and practice, or have lost a vital element of genuine Christianity. Specifically, restorationism applies to the Restoration Movement and numerous other movements that originated in the eastern United States and Canada and grew rapidly in the early and mid 19th century in the wake of the Second Great Awakening. The term restoration is also employed by the Latter Day Saint movement. The term is also used by more recent groups, describing their goal to re-establish Christianity in its original form, such as some anti-denominational Charismatic Restorationists, which arose in the 1970s in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
Marxism does not preach a unilinear evolutionism (one sided historical development towards progress). It is premised upon the dialectics of class struggle that includes both forces of progress and forces of reaction.
Naturally, the Taliban do not want to restore “original Christian” they want to restore “original Islam”. Hence, in ideological terms there can be little if any doubt that the Taliban are both reactionary (opposed to progress) as well as restorationist (want to restore original Islam). What is the class basis of reactionary and restorationist movements?
It is only logical that pre-capitalist ruling classes destroyed by the spread of capitalism will from time and time attempt to restore the way of life in which they dominated. What we see in the shape of the Taliban is similarly an attempt to take society back to medieval times through blood and violence. Let us take a few examples:
- The burning of modern educational institutions are undertaken to substitute the medieval system of madrassah education.
- The veiling of women is a throw back to the medieval period when the 20th century women’s movement had not managed to win basic democratic rights.
- The discriminatory attitude towards religious minorities is characteristic of the medieval period.
- The public punishments including gruesome torture and amputations are a throw back to medieval practices (when such punishments were fairly common).
I could go on but I think these four examples suffice for now.
These examples should not be misconstrued to mean that capitalist modernity has achieved women’s emancipation, secular education, non-discrimination, or done away with human rights abuses. That is certainly not the case. However, in the modern world ethical sensibilities have so changed that such things are considered “ideals” that we should strive towards. Conversely, the inability under capitalism to achieve these “ideals” is considered “a failure”.
But it is wholly different with the medieval mind. Any foray into the dominating discourse and literature of the medieval period (whether in Europe or Asia) reveals instantly that such things as women’s equality, secularism, non-discrimination, non-barbaric punishments were never “ideals”. What made these values “ideals” was the rise of the bourgeoisie (even though the bourgeoisie never lived up to its own professed ideals).
But the medieval classes, far from considering these ideas of the enlightenment as ideals, considered them as “vices”. For the medieval mind, the view that the modern classes are corrupt and full of vices springs precisely from the fact that what modern classes (i.e. principally bourgeois and proletariat) consider to be “virtues” and “ideals” (regardless of whether they live up to them), were considered by medieval classes to be “vices”.
I’m sure that my detractors will attempt to find many holes in my argument but I hope that they will also recognize that it is not difficult to prove that world view of the Taliban is derived from a pre-capitalist and medieval period. I would like to add that the word medieval is not being used as a pejorative but as an actual period of history.
While there is more than enough evidence to suggest that the Taliban possess a reactionary and restorationist ideology (i.e. an ideology opposed to change and in favour of restoration of original Islam), there is little if any academic study on the economic relations that characterize the Taliban. Let us look at this aspect of the question.
It is no secret that the Taliban (and the Mujahideen) were created from those elements that ran from Afghanistan after the Saur Revolution. But which classes were scared of the Saur revolution. What was it about the Saur revolution that made them run to Pakistan. Let us look at the economic content of the Saur revolution especially in relation to agrarian relations.
Decree number 6 in 1978 dealt with the issue of peasant debt. The PDPA ended the Gerow system and declared that peasants need not make any further interest payments on all lands mortgaged before 1974.
A literacy campaign was set up to create universal literacy in ten years. Education was made universal, compulsory, and free for all women and men. The syllabus was modernised and student brigades were sent in thousand to villages to educate people. The National Agency for the Campaign Against Illiteracy educated 6,000 army men in the first six months.”
Furthermore, landless peasants and labourers (All those owning less than 5 acres of land) were totally exempted from repayment of any debt. This act benefited an estimated 81% of the peasantry. The PDPA created Woleswali Committee and Provincial Committee to ensure that decree 6 would be implemented and not remain an empty promise.
On the 17th of October 1978 the PDPA declared Decree number 7 pertained to marriage laws. A minimum age of 16 for girld and 18 for boys was declared and consent of both partners in a marriage was made mandatory. Furthermore, a restriction of 300 Afghanis was placed on maehr (bride price). These laws curtailed the practice of treating women as commodities.
In January 1979 the PDPA declared and began to enforce a land ceiling of 15 acres. This dispossessed no more than 400 families but redistributed half the arable land of the country. One can see the enormous monopoly of power of the feudal lords that was shattered by the revolution.
Decree number 8 abolished the system of mirab (water manager who was a feudal lord) and water management was placed under the control of peasant committees. (Taimur Rahman, The Great Game for the Central Asian Oil, 2003)
We see then that the Saur Revolution challenged the class interests of the old ruling classes especially tribal leaders and landlords. It was primarily these elements that were undermined by the Saur Revolution that were eager to fight the US financed Jihad. Of course many other oppressed people also accompanied these tribal leaders to refugee camps in Pakistan. Some had come because they were still under the ideological hegemony of their tribal leaders. Others had come because they merely wanted to escape conditions of strife. The ideological component of the mujahideen, however, were all arch reactionaries opposed to the democratic changes brought by the Saur Revolution. These democratic changes had undermined the class privileges of the former ruling classes. These former ruling classes were ready to commit the most barbaric crimes imaginable in order to regain their lost class privileges. Islamic fundamentalism was nothing other than the ideology with which they would dupe the oppressed masses into supporting a counter-revolution.
Inevitably, the hold of such tribal leaders and landlords was strongest in areas in which capitalist interests had not yet penetrated. They were stronger in rural areas but weaker in the urban areas of Afghanistan. Today they are strongest in the most backward and pre-capitalist rural areas of Pakistan. This is because their ideological influence is strongest in those regions of Pakistan where pre-capitalist relations predominate. Where the differentiation of the peasantry owing to spread of capitalism has not taken shape, there even the oppressed masses are liable to follow the ruling class forces. This is especially true in the context of the Asiatic mode of production that rests on an undifferentiated peasant commune as the basis for exploitation.
Objections to the pre-capitalist economic relations of the Taliban are raised by certain comrades. They argue that the Taliban are capitalists (or near capitalists) because they have modern arms, they have pajeros, they have opium, they have money, they trade and so on. But had these comrades do not realize that none of these factors has any bearing on the economic relations that characterize the mode of production. Firstly, articles of consumption do not determine the mode of production (modern arms, pajeros, opium have no bearing on determining the class basis of a movement). Second, trade and userer capital are all forms that are found in pre-capitalist modes of production and in fact impede the development of capitalism (Marx says they stand in inverse relation to the development of capitalism, see Capital Vol. 3).
What determines the mode of production is the economic relations to their subordinates. For instance:
- Wage-labour = capitalism;
- Serf labour = feudalism;
- Slave labour = slavery
- Patriarchal labour = Asiatic mode of production (AMP)
The labour of the peasant commune (tribes, etc.) extracted by extra-economic coercion through armed retainers organized as the state is the Asiatic mode of production. Hence, the thesis that the Taliban represent a pre-capitalist mode of production (more specifically the AMP) is borne out by the simple fact that the entire economic mode of production on which the Taliban base their restorationist and reactionary policies are through dominance of patriarchal peasant labour in tribal areas.
In conclusion, the Taliban are a reactionary and restorationist force that desires rolling back the wheel of history to a pre-capitalist civilization (more specifically the AMP).
What is the attitude of the workers party to pre-capitalist classes?
This extremely important question has been answered superbly in Engels article “The Prussian Military Question”. I will only submit one small paragraph from it but I would ask comrades to read the entire article as it contains an enormous amount of information that is extremely pertinent to the situation in Pakistan:
We have seen that the bourgeoisie and the proletariat-are both progeny of a new era and that in their social function both are striving to eliminate the remnants of the bric-a-brac left over from earlier times. It is true that there is a most serious conflict to be settled between them, but this conflict can only be fought out when they are facing each other alone. Only by jettisoning the old lumber can the “decks be cleared for battle” — except that this time the battle will be fought not between two ships but on board the one ship, between officers and crew. (Also present at the CMKP Discussion Forum)
In other words, the workers party, while maintaining its political independence, must ally with the bourgeoisie against pre-capitalist classes. The defeat of the pre-capitalist classes is a prerequisite for the struggle for socialism.
I hope that the above information is sufficient to conclude that the Taliban are reactionary and restorationist and that the workers party (while maintaining its independence) must align with the bourgeoisie to defeat pre-capitalist classes as a pre-requisite to socialism. If these issues are clear then our strategic orientation is correct.
Taimur Rahman is a member of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party of Pakistan and a musician in the musical band Laal.