by Habibullah Athaee
This piece discusses the initiations behind the establishment of the Shola-e Jawid, its emergence as Afghanistan’s most influential leftist party at a particular time and the reasons behind the movement’s success and finally it is downfall.
Taking a glance at the events that happened in 1960s around the globe, we can recall the ideological resurrection amongst the nations of the world that was initially rooted in the start ups of the cold war. In the 1960s, the majority of the world was divided into two ideological camps. While almost half of the nations of the world had already raised a red flag—signalizing their communist-based ideology led by the USSR and China, the other half were advocates of liberalism led by the United State and its ideological allies in Western Europe.
As a result of the existence of differing and contradictory ideologies, sentiments favoring revolutionary uprisings were ignited. Thus, China found itself politically struggling and witnessed social unrest from those groups who felt disfranchised. This was manifested in the cultural revolution of China led by Mao Tse-tung. The United States of America was also affected by daily demonstrations of African-Americans led my Martin Luther King demanding elimination of prejudice and discrimination against Blacks, equality and justice.
However, starting from early 1960s, Afghanistan too, though for the first time in its political history, found itself in an unintentional revolution of political thoughts and ideas which were imported through a complicated process. As mentioned above, while almost half of the nations of the world had already raised a Red Flag and gone communist, Afghanistan was just about to enter into a new phase of internal negotiations and dialogues between the advocates and opponents of the school of communism which has been also termed as the “leftist movement” in Afghanistan. These negotiations however, was not limited to dialogues, as there were daily demonstrations and street fighting between demonstrators who were representing university/high school students, workers and political activists with police and armed forces of King Zaher Shah. Having briefly discussed the events of the 1960s, it is quite essential to study the history and formation Afghanistan’s leftist parties who were the organizers of the mass movements against the King. Although hidden, but such initiations by the communists were highly supported by Daoud Khan as he was aiming to seize power.
The history of leftist movements can be traced back to years ago. Some historians claim that the main reason for the formation of a group called “Afghan Youth” during Amanullah Khan was the leftist ideologies and that characters like Abdul Rahman Loudin, Ghulam Mohayy-ul Din Erty and Mir Ghulam Muhammad Ghubar who were advocates of Amanullah Khan were members of the Group, but for the first time, leftist ideologies became vivid in 1340s/1960s by Noor Muhammad Taraki, Babrak Karmal and Afghanistan’s famous historian, Mir Ghulam Muhammad Ghubar. According to Basir Ahmad Hussain-Zadah, an Afghan researcher, one of the reasons behind execution of Abdul Rahman Loudin, Ghulam Mohayy-ul Din Erty and Taaj Mohammad Paghmani, Faiz Mohammad Baroot-Saaz during Nadir Shah’s throne was their relation with Moscow. He also claims that Nadir Shah was informed of such relations by his brother Mohammad Hashim who was Afghanistan’s ambassador to Moscow during the Amanullah’s throne.
Noor Muhammad Taraki, Babrk Karmal, and Mir Ghulam Muhammad Ghubar founded Afghanistan’s first communist party called “Hezb-e Democratic-e Khalq” (Peoples’ Democratic Party) which is known as Afghanistan’s most successful and organized communist party. In 1344–1965, after the events of Sevom-e Aqrab—Oct. 25, another leftist party that is known as Afghanistan’s greatest leftist movement was established under the name of “Jameiat-e Democrati-e Nawin” (New Democratic Society) known as Shola-e Jawid. Unlike its major rival Khalq, Shola-e Jawid was comprised of different ethnic groups and its ideas were embraced by the urban and rural communities throughout the country. Akram and his brother, Sadiq Yari, Hadi and Rahim Mahmoodi, Shapoor, Engineer Osman, Moztareb Bakhtary, were the prominent figures of the movement. Apart from the other leftist parties, this paper will discuss the initiations behind the establishment of the Shola-e Jawid, its emergence as Afghanistan’s most influential leftist party at a particular time and the reasons behind the movement’s success and finally it is downfall. Although there have not been much academic resources available, this paper is written based on personal interviews with different political scholars some of whom are believed to be prominent figures of Shola-e Jawid but their membership with the mentioned party/movement has not been confirmed.
1. Initiations behind the Establishment
Stalin’s death in early 1950s marked a critical turning point in the way Soviet Union used to approach school of communism. Unlike his predecessor, Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, was an advocate of approaching power through parliament and a parliament based power. The newly established strategies and revised ideologies in the Kremlin resulted in divergence/discrepancies amongst the global advocates of the school of communism. Consequently, China under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung became resistant to the branch of Moscow-based communism. Narrowing it down to Afghanistan, the Kremlin eventually resorted to establishing Afghanistan’s first communist party which was called Peoples’ Democratic Party—locally famous as Khalq. According to Dad Noorani, an experienced journalist in Afghanistan, Shola-e Jawid—behind which was another political organization called Progressive Youth Organization (P.Y.O) under the leadership of Akram Yari—came into existence in the margins of the event of Sevvom-e Aqrab in 1344 (1965) and was in reaction to the establishment of Hezb-e Democratic-e Khalq (Peoples’ Democratic Party of Afghanistan) that was established in 1342 (1963). While Khalq was an advocate of Moscow-based communism, Shola-e Jawid adhered to Maoism. Prominent figures involved in the establishment of Shola-e Jawid were, Akram Yari, Sadiq Yari, Dr. Rahim Mahmudi, Dr. Hadi Mahmudi, and Wasef Bakhtary.
Shola-e Jawid followed Mao’s approach to communism and looked to China’s ideological/cultural revolution as its model. Unlike the other Soviet-backed communist party PDPA, Shola-e Jawid believed that the only way to approach power is through military rebellion and through surrounding the cities by rural rebellious people: this approach to achieving power, according to Mr. Qaseem Akhgar, was also taken from China’s Communistic Revolution, Cuba’s Che Guevara, and Vietnam’s Communist movement. As its first official reaction as a political movement in the country, Shola-e Jawid boycotted the 12th parliamentary elections and issued an article written by Akram Yari calling for people to boycott the fake election, “Let us boycott the mock election.” Shola-e Jawid’s leadership believed that having a parliamentary election is nothing but another deception by the King to legitimize his base of power. On the other side, unlike Shola-e Jawid, Khalq actively participated in the elections and succeeded to introduce four of its well-known members to the parliament.
As mentioned earlier, Maoist ideology, just the same as any other ideologies that have existed in Afghanistan so far, has been imported. Both of the Communist Parties, Khalq and Shola-e Jawid, were receiving the latest handouts that were based on the teachings of communism from their like-minded parties in Iran and to some extent Pakistan. Khalq was highly influenced by the translated works of Hezb-e Toude (The Mass Party), Iran’s communist party, while Shola-e Jawid was receiving Maoist ideas from Sazman-e Enqlabi-e Iran (The Iran’s Revolutionary Organization) through a publication called “Setar-e Sorkh” (Red Star). The handouts, however, were distributed by Akram Yari who, according to Noorani, was the most influential member of the board of leadership of Shola. In 1348(1969) the movement officially announced its existence after four years of underground activities. Along with its official activities, Shola also started a weekly publication called “Shola-e Jawid”(Eternal Flame).
Shola-e Jawid was managed by Dr. Rahim Mahmoodi and his brother, Dr. Hadi Mahmoodi assisted him. Most of the articles were written by Akram Yari, a prominent figure of the movement who is known to be the most active and influential member of the movement. Shola-e Jawid was harshly and directly attacking both the Soviet Union and the U.S., and believed that the Soviet Union’s approach to communism is a “revisionist” approach. At the same time, while attacking the U.S., Shola-e Jawid in its publications called it an “imperialist power.” Not only the outsiders, but Khalq and Parcham—the two factions of communist Party—were also harshly attacked by Shola-e Jawid. The weekly publications of Shola-e Jawid were full of articles mostly provoking emotions and informing the masses of their basic political rights. In regards to dissemination of information for the masses about their basic rights, Akram Yari, has an interesting quote that says, “The best way to serve a nation in an unbiased manner is to provide them with the political education so that they are aware of their basic rights.”
Articles were written by the movements’ leaders to promote and recruit Maoist-Marxist-Leninist ideology and were addressing the youth community, workers and farmers using sympathetic language. The Shola-e Jawid’s Weekly was randomly distributed around the country, and pretty soon had lots of readers. As Louis Dupree in his book “Afghanistan” puts it, “probably the most influential of these newspapers [were] Afghan Mellat [(Afghan Nation)]… and—before it was closed on July 20, 1968—Shu’la-yi Jawid (The Eternal Flame).” (2007). Although Shola-e Jawid’s Weekly was published for 11 weeks, it proved to be as one of the best and effective tools through which Shola communicated it is message to the readers around the country. To add more, Shola’s publication significantly facilitated in clearing the path for it to become the country’s greatest leftist movement.
2. Emergence as Afghanistan’s Greatest Leftist Movement.
As indicated above, both Khalq and Shola held differing ideologies while both were termed as communist parties. Compared to Khalq, Shola-e Jawid, although, younger than its rival succeeded in recruiting supporters amongst different stratums of society such as intellectuals, students, the labor class, the farmers, and other oppressed segments of the society that were comprised of different ethnicities and groups. While there might be some other reasons behind their success, three reasons can be mentioned behind Shola-e Jawid’s immediate success in gaining support from the people.
First, Shola-e Jawid’s slogans and beliefs that were communicated through their publishing were embraced by the oppressed minorities Tajiks, Uzbeks and specially Hazaras that were being oppressed and ignored of their basic political rights for decades. Being fully aware of this condition, the articles that were written by Akram Yari and his colleagues at the party were tailored to raise emotions and feelings against the monarchy of Zaher Shah and to some extent the Islamists as well. The language, being used to address the mass, was so sympathetic. It is also believed that Shola-e Jawid Movement served Hazaras as a path to enter the political process of Afghanistan in the new era. Akram Yari, who is termed as an “apostle of the school of Maoism in Afghanistan” by Dr. Sayyed Askar Mosawi, was a Hazara National. He was born in Jaghory district of Ghazni, and ultimately became the leader of the Progressive Youth Organization. Regardless of his ethnicity, he was the most influential and think-tank of the movement. Akram Yari was a teacher and propagator of Marxism who introduced Marxism-Leninist-Maoist ideologies to a large number of intellectuals and political activists in Afghanistan. In reference to the widely held support and influence of Shola-e Jawid in different levels of the society, Mr. Dad Noorani, puts that “in an election in 1347 (1969) at Kabul university for the Student Union, Shola-e Jawid held 22 chairs against 21 chair for all other parties such as Khalq, Islamists and the Rights. This shows that the method of campaigning being used by Shola was so effective in nature that mobilized and radicalized the students at Kabul University around one axis of power.”
Another factor that further facilitated in the rampant development of political parties, especially communist parties, according to Amin Saikal, was the presence of thousands of university graduates who were jobless and were seeking to come out of their idle status. (Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival, 2006)
Secondly, Shola-e Jawid acted very successfully in recruiting elites and intellectuals from different groups/ethnicities. Diversified members and intellectuals brought a lot of success in the first stage but proved to be troublesome at the end as it will be discussed later. The success that diversification brought is that intellectuals and elites brought diversity, numerous and fruitful ideas to the party which provided the movement with the ability to address specific needs of the society in different regions. Dad Noorani believes that after conducting such a successful process of recruitment of supporters, other rival parties including Islamist tried to imitate Shola-e Jawid.
Finally, the movements’ quest for social justice and national equality, regardless of their ethnicity, manifested a non-biased visage of the party. On the other side, Shola’s main rival, Khalq was recruiting mostly Pashtun with chauvinistic/nationalistic ideas; whereas the other rival, Parcham [ the Flag] was recruiting Pashtuns as well as Tajiks. This process in Khalq and later in Parcham, can be correlated to Sardar Daud’s hidden relation and support to Parcham despite of the fact that Parcham was mostly comprised of Tajiks and urbanized Pashtuns; though on the Shola’s side, most of the members and eaders came from non-Pashtun ethnicities such as non-Kabuli Tajiks, as Shola had considerable number of supporters in Western provinces of Afghanistan specially in Herat, and the Hazarajat.
3. Movements’ downfall
There have been different positions on the reasons behind the collapse of the movement. Prior to all, it is the lack of a future oriented plan, or to put in business terms, the party had lacked a contingency plan. Noorani believes that the leadership of the party assumed that the Political Parties’ law, which was passed by the parliament, was going to be signed by the King and eventually applied; which was never realized. Also, there was another assumption amongst the movement’s leaders that the “decade of Democracy” will not come to an end soon and that they could continue their “legal, vivid and urbanized” political quest for a longer period. But this was just an assumption, along with Mosa Shafiq’s tenure to the office of Prime Minister in 1347, all democratic movements such as presence of opposing political parties, newspaper and publications were banned. Thus, the leaders of the movement had no plan on the table to face the new conditions.
In addition to the above-mentioned fact, diversity that used to bring the movement a rampant success, proved to be critical in the new condition that the movement was facing. In 1349, another movement called “Jerian-e Pas Manzar” (The Background Movement) was separated from Shola-e Jawid. While in imprisoned by Musa Shafiq for an unknown reason, he wrote an article and titled it Pas Manzar in which he criticized Akram Yari and argued that only reason that his and other groups could not join the Progressive Youth Organization after the events of 1349–1970 was that they “lacked a Shiites stamp”. However, according to Dad Noorani, the major division amongst the movement’s members happened in 1352–1973. As a result, the movement was divided into two major fractions called “criticizers and defendants”. The criticizers were highly criticizing the leadership team of the movement for their weakness, whereas the defendants were supporting the movement for its legal, wise and revolutionary actions. Eventually, the criticizers were separated and established a party/movement called “Grooh-e Inqelabi-e KhalqHay-e Afghanistan” (Revolutionary Group of the People of Afghanistan.)
Regardless of the attempts that were made in 1354–1975 to recover and revive the movement and its board of leadership that had been idle since 1348, the conference in which there were two representatives from each province, could not reach an agreement due to contradicting viewpoint regarding the previous actions of the movement’s leaders. Therefore, Shola-e Jawid’s life cycle become to an end in year 1354–1975, while it still existed and this existence was limited to ideas only.
Another factor that was crucial in the movement’s lack of stabilized success was the movement’s catchphrases. In the very beginning, the slogans were really emotional. Thus it proved to be the best way the leaders could choose to bring publicity for the movement. But Human’s Nature perfectly did its job: emotions are subtle and elusive. People, did not care about what was revealed to them by Shola-e Jawid. But emotionality and elusiveness of the catchphrases are not to blame only. The movement had no longer access to any means of communication like newspapers, magazines etc. Shola-e Jawid was able to publish 11 issues of its weekly that was banned in 1346–1967.
Overall, the PDPA’s successful military coup in 1357–1978, also known as a “watershed event”, marked a significant change in the political order of the country. This initial change could be discussed from two points. First, it ended Muhammad-Zais rule over Afghanistan that had lasted for almost three centuries. Second, after a short period of multi-party system, the new communist government introduced a one-party system in which only the ruling party—PDPA and its sub-continent, Parcham—was the only recognized political party in the country. Having talked about the one-Party system, during Daud Presidency, although he banned all the opposing parties, but he did not resort to physical elimination of opposing leaders as PDPA did starting from Shola-e Jawid’s leaders.
Almost all the leaders, intellectuals, academics and influential characters including the movement’s leading figure, Akram Yari and his brother, Sadiq Yari were arrested and executed in 1978. Such arrestments and mass killings of the cadres of Shola, created a power vacuum within the movement that already was cracked down. Consequently, the Shola-ees (the followers) were in a miasmatic situation. They either joined other opponent groups, or, became members of the newly created but underground leftist parties like RAWA, SAMA. Specifically in Herat, the Shola-ees agreed to join Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi’s Islamist group. According to Mousawi, around thirty (30) regional leaders of the movement in the Province of Herat were shot by Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi’s order in one day which was later justified as mass killing of infidels.
To have a deep look at the histories of the parties, governments, and different groups in Afghanistan who were radically approaching their goals, they were subject to failure and of-course, Shola-e Jawid is not an exception. Having discussed Shola-e Jawid’s rise, development and collapse, it is essential to mention that Shola-e Jawid is the only political movement in the history of Afghanistan that had not committed crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, the propagandas that were and still is being publicized by the opponents of the party from different sources such as the Islamists, Liberalists and last but not least the communists, proved to be influential in the way people think about the movement. According to Noorani, there is still a sense of fear amongst the opponents of the movement that the only “rightful” movement/party that could question them for their unforgivable actions is Shola-e Jawid. However, due to “unfair and false propaganda against the movement, Shola-e Jawid still remains as an underground political movement.” Regardless of the presence of a democratic government on power in Afghanistan, and in a period of time when the “butcher” of Kabul and those who committed numerous crimes against humanity by mass killing are addressed as “brothers” and are begged to join the political process no matter what it takes, and even Shola’s main rival’s members—Khalq and Parcham—are having the opportunity to become member of parliament, Shola Jawid prefers to carry on its mission in a hidden way. Even previous Shola-ees refuse to accept their membership in the movement. What has gone wrong is the question that still remains un-answered.
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Habibullah Athaee is a senior student in Business Administration at American University of Afghanistan.