Seminar Talk: “From Pashtunwali to Communism?”, June 7, History Faculty, 1-2 PM

Another act of self-promotion here: I’ll be presenting on an aspect of my dissertation work at the Oxford Faculty of History this Tuesday, from 1-2 PM, giving a paper entitled “From Pashtunwali to Communism? Soviet Mushavery, from a Globalized Second World to Eastern Afghanistan.” It’s a paper topic that I think is both interesting to the historiography as well as relevant to present day concerns. One of the major institutions in the Soviet Union was the Komsomol (Kommunisticheskii Soyuz Molodëzhi, or Communist League of Youth), an organization that was the youth wing of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union but had reach across many Soviet institutions and much of the “Second World” (socialist/communist countries).

Soul-Crushing Bureaucratic Architecture ... and Interesting Historical Documents, all at RGASPI

While in Moscow this autumn, I came across some very interesting Komsomol files on their work in occupied Afghanistan. Following the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979, Komsomol mobilized some of its youngest, most energetic workers — young men between the ages of 25 and 35, mostly — gave them a crash course in local Afghan morés, and sent them out in the field to work with local Afghan Communist Party members to build Communist institutions across the newly-christened Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Given the immense breadth of the files held at RGASPI (the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History, the archive pictured above that holds most of the files), I was only able to look at a small section of the reports that the so-called mushavery (Persian for “advisors,” called sovetniki in Russian) sent back to Moscow, namely those from Eastern Afghanistan — Jalalabad, Nangarhar, Kunar, and around the Khyber Pass. On the whole, I think they provide us with a really interesting picture of what building Communism meant in the Afghan context. They also provide some perspective, I think, for the challenges that NATO forces, and, over the longer term, any Afghan government (with or without outside help, Islamist or not) faces in building State (in the mushavery’s case, state-Party institutions) faces when establishing its influence in the country.

"War-Internationalists! It's forbidden to enter into any unsanctioned ties or relationships."

I’ll be discussing some of the source material in the talk, which will be followed by another talk given by a fellow Rhodes Scholar / historian of the USSR and Germany, Luke Fenwick, who is giving a talk on church-state relations in Soviet-occupied Germany in the late 1940s. All at the History Faculty, on New Inn Hall Street, this Tuesday, June 7, from 1-2. Hope to see you there …


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