From Class Struggle 51 July-August 2003

We opposed the war, but we failed to stop it.
What can we learn from this experience?

We opposed the war against Iraq.We tried to stop it. We built a movement that spanned the globe. From Madrid to Auckland, from California to Seoul, we organized in our millions to demonstrate our opposition, our fears, our rage and our disgust.
Yet in our millions, we were unable to win. In our millions, we were unable to stop the wheels of the American war machine. We were reduced to watching the onslaught if not in silence, then in impotent rage, in melancholy.

Has the Antiwar movement suffered a colossal defeat?

Practically, yes. Morally? Morally we have been proven correct. On the question of the validity of the case for war we have been proven correct. But the war is now a historical fact. That Bush and Blair lied and continue to lie is clear, but that they are successful liars is just as clear. The question is not whether the war was just; we always knew it was not. But knowing or proving that it was unjust will never be enough to stop a war.

Why did we fail?Isn’t opposition to war a natural and noble human instinct?

The world does not run in the interests of humanity. The world is run by imperialist superpowers in their own interests. Yankee imperialism has a number of strategic objectives that called for the war on Iraq. The only force capable of countering the imperialist machine is the working class. And yet it was precisely the working class that was not mobilized to oppose the war.

While workers certainly joined the movement, they did so primarily as individuals, atomized cells of a shattered and fragmented labor movement. In the absence of workers internationalism, it was natural they did not see themselves as part of the international working class, but as mums and dads. While mums and dads have every reason to oppose wars that their children are sent to kill and die in, they do not have the means to stop them.

Even at the height of the movement, apart from the odd euphoric moment in Hyde Park or in Rome, we knew that we were not going to win. We knew that the war would happen.

Why couldn’t the international working class stop this war with a general strike?

There were many good instances of this kind of action. The firefighters in Britain spring to mind as a union that was staunch in its opposition. In Greece(and elsewhere) transport workers refused to move military goods and supplies. These moves needed to be emulated and widened to the point of paralyzing the bosses’ economies. There are of course very good reasons why such a strike did not occur. The workers of the world are reeling from decades of counter-revolutionary advance. From New Zealand to Moscow the workers organizations have been repressed and beaten back. In this international situation the warmongers knew that they would not be defeated.

OK we opposed the war, but we failed to stop it. Who can resist the occupation as a historical fact?

In Iraq, the forces of the labor movement had suffered heavy defeats. Since 1968 the Baathist government has been very active in smashing all resistance. The catastrophic Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 was followed by even more catastrophic military adventures in Kuwait. 13 years of sanctions added their toll. By 2003, the Iraqi working class was disorganized, leaderless and exhausted.

The organizations of the Iraqi working class existed only outside Iraq, ironically in the very imperialist countries that had demanded their obliteration. Traditionally Holland, the UK, and the USA have been the main centers for the exiled Iraqi left. Since 1991 they have been operating in Northern Iraq. From exile the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), the Worker Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI) and numerous other independent Iraqi leftists opposed the war.

If the communists are weak can the Baathists muster support?

When war was declared, the Iraqi people took some measure of revenge on the Baath Party by leaving it to its fate, refusing to defend it. The Baath nationalist dictatorship was unable to stand up to the assault. Aware that it was not able to win any head-on military confrontations with the American forces, the Baath Party preferred to melt away. The dictatorship had given orders to its followers, to its Republican Guard and other elements close to the regime, to embark on a campaign of looting and murder. The world watched as the museums and the banks were stripped.

But the Baathists are still resisting the occupation

In the weeks since the fall of Baghdad, Baathist forces have been engaged in a campaign of provocation and sabotage that has reinforced their anti-worker credentials. They have routinely sent armed men into unarmed demonstrations and shot US soldiers, inviting return fire. They have attacked Iraqi electricity workers trying to restore power to parts of the city of Baghdad. They have given the occupying forces a ready excuse to do what they will. Under their leadership, Baghdad fell and was occupied by the Yankee invader. This fact alone is enough to condemn the dictatorship to ignominy.

If neither the communists nor Baathists can defeat the occupation, how do we take our fate into our own hands?

The occupation is a historical fact. We must learn from it that we must never trust a nationalist dictatorship to defend the workers anywhere, at any time.

We are unable to undo history. We must not tire no matter how bitter the pill it forces down our throat. The occupation of Iraq by the Yankee invaders is a painful state of affairs.

Rather than desperation, what is required now of the Iraqi revolution is firmness. We must strive to turn this reversal into its opposite, into a defeat for imperialism. A number of important steps have been taken already. Generally, we must turn the Imperialist occupation into a workers’ revolution.

How do we go from occupation to revolution?

It is clear that occupation will not end without a victorious armed struggle. Having said that, for the Iraqi left to start armed struggle against the Yankee occupier at this stage is suicidal. It would in fact not be very different from the tactics of the Islamic groups in Palestine. Small forces of armed men taking pot shots at passing US convoys may meet the mechanical demands of anti-imperialists in the West, but it offers no solution to the Iraqi working class.

What is your perspective?

Iraqi left forces must form a united front of labor and begin organizing a liberation movement. The people of Iraq already march through the streets protesting the occupation. Their anger and their energy must be harnessed. We need boycott the puppet Governing Council, which is made up of handpicked US stooges and demand and urgently build a constituent assembly. That way we can build the mass workers movement as the only possible way we can liberate Iraq.

How can we do this practically?

There are signs of this process beginning. The Worker-Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI) is playing a lead role in organizing the movement. It has already initiated “The Preparatory Committee for Forming Workers’ Councils and Trade Unions in Iraq”. This is an excellent development. The councils in particular have the potential to become the basic organizations for workers’ democracy.
The WCPI have formed a union for the unemployed. As of June 17th, they had signed up around 20,000 members to the Union of Unemployed in Iraq (UUI). The basic demands of the union can be summarized as “either jobs, or Unemployment insurance”. They have already scored astonishing successes, such as the occupation of the old Iraqi trade union building. The soldiers of Iraq’s Army have been successful in their demand for payment of their wages.
The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) was founded on the 22nd of June. Already they have established the first women’s shelter in the Middle East. They are organizing against the Islamist elements that are trying to impose the reactionary veil and other aspects of their reactionary politics on the secular women of Iraq, and they are organizing against the occupation.

How does this kind of organizing help in the struggle for freedom from occupation?

Firstly it takes the initiative back from the Islamists. After the collapse of the dictatorship, the Islamic currents gained a brief advantage. They were the only organization in Iraq that had a ready audience and an existing infrastructure. They sent their armed men into hospitals and food banks and set themselves up as repositories of medicine and general help.

It did not take long for the true nature of this movement to show itself. Liquor stores were bombed, women were forced to adopt Islamic customs.

Secondly, this kind of movement is a mass movement that is oriented directly to the blue-collar workers and the unemployed who number in the millions. It is imperative that the movement must encompass oil and transport and other workers, decommissioned soldiers, students etc. This movement must evolve to include all the working classes and other exploited classes in Iraq.

Is there really no alternative but a workers’ revolution?

There will be no Marshal plan for Iraq. While George Bush may be able to pledge 15 billion dollars to help fight AIDS in Africa (Bush’s re-election is coming up) he is unable to find the money to rebuild Iraq. The US economy is not the powerhouse it was in post World War II period.

Let there be no mistake, it is the imperialists of the world, and the USA in the first instance, that are responsible for all the tragedies of modern Iraq, including Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Far from being liberators, the Yankees are seen correctly as the cause of Iraq’s suffering. As Saddam himself said, the Baathists were brought to power “aboard an American train”. Far from greeting them as liberators, we should present them with a bill for the last 35 years of Iraq’s suffering.

The demands for jobs and for unemployment insurance will not be met. The capitalists of Iraq are not able to offer anything to the workers. Neither are the capitalists of the USA.

But there are factories in Iraq. There are fields in Iraq. There are minerals in Iraq. And there are millions of workers, scientists, technicians, peasants and students, soldiers and mothers in Iraq.

It is time to take these resources, from the fields of Babylon to the oilfields of Kirkuk, and to put them to work for the good of the toilers of Iraq.

How do workers and peasants take control?

It is necessary for the movement that has already started fighting to begin occupying the factories and the oil fields.

We have shown that we can organize the defense of our streets and neighborhoods; now let us run and organize the defense of our workplaces.

If we do not start taking what is ours, the American occupier will. Their plans to privatize public industry into the hands of their own capitalists are well known.

This ancient civilization that gave the world the first alphabet, can once again lead the world by showing the way to a truly human, socialist society. We can do this by convincing Iraqi workers that they can win a new society in which workers and producers are able to transcend the tyranny of imperialism and capitalism.

Workers Aid to Free Iraq!
The red-hot question facing workers internationally is this: can Bush get away with his invasion and occupation of Iraq?The US stepped up its role of world policeman by unilaterally invading Iraq to make ‘regime change’. The ‘blank cheque’ that the US issued after S11 was filled out. The invasion of Iraq marked a decisive shift from the previous Gulf War which stopped short of invasion, and the wars in Serbia, Kosovo and Afghanistan that were waged jointly by all the imperialist powers.By going it alone, the US was signaling a breakdown of the UN and the ‘collective security’ of the imperialist bloc.The open rivalry of the US, EU, and less visibly, Japan, the major imperialist powers, was now ‘all go’ again. The US invaded and occupied Iraq.
This defeat had serious international repercussions most notably the stepping up of attacks against Palestine, against the revolutionary workers in Latin America, further repression of migrants and trade union rights in the US, and the warnings to Iran and North Korea that the US would not tolerate the development of nuclear weapons. The cost of this invasion to the US is that the Emperor now has no clothes.All the flimsy pretexts for war have been exposed as lies. The end of Saddam has brought a US military dictatorship up against the Iraqi people and their desire for democracy. So now US imperialism faces the prospect of escalating resistance in Iraq. If this opposition becomes organised and spreads internationally this can reverse some of the setbacks flowing from Iraq’s defeat.
Already opposition in the imperialist countries is spreading among those who supported the war as the reasons for the invasion are being seriously challenged even inside the ruling class. However, while we call on workers in these countries (and in their lackey client states like NZ) to mobilise and defeat their own ruling classes to prevent them from going to war and to get the US/UK out of Iraq, it is the ongoing armed confrontation between US military and the Iraqi people that is the critical point for the world revolution.
Faced with this reality, we urgently need a specific plan of action to support this resistance.If it was correct to defend Iraq during its war with the imperialist invaders it is still correct to call for military aid to go to the resistance to defeat the imperialist occupiers including those of the armed forces of our‘own countries’.If it was correct to bloc militarily with the Baathists and Islamics against the imperialists, it is still correct today to bloc with all those fighting the imperialists.However, these two political currents have their class base in the national state bureaucracy and the petty bourgeoisie. Their real interests are in doing a deal with imperialism to get the franchise to run Iraq. Therefore we defend them only if they are fighting the imperialists and not the workers.
That is why we say that the working class and the poor peasants alone have an interest in liberating Iraq from imperialism.Working class organisations have to be rebuilt. We support all the efforts of revolutionaries to organise and arm workers. We support the organisation of the unemployed for jobs, workers’ occupations of factories, and the formation of workers’ self-defence committees and militias.

That is why we call for the anti-war workers in the labour movement to take action to Free Iraq.We say that workers’ material aid should go only to those workers and peasants who organise independently of the capitalist, petty capitalist and reformist parties whose class interests are to collaborate with imperialism. We also make clear that, to organise and mobilise successfully against imperialism and its national collaborators, a revolutionary party capable of leading the insurgent workers and poor peasants must be built as part of a new international revolutionary working class party.

You can get involved by taking the campaign for NZ workers’ aid to Iraqi workers into your unions and get resolutions in support of the following organisations:

“Union of the Unemployed in Iraq”

Read their official letter to all labor unions and organisations around the world
“Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq”
announcement of formation on June 22 in Baghdad

Also read about the formation of a “Preparatory Committee for Forming Workers’ Councils and Trade Unions in Iraq” at:

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