From Class Struggle 50, May-June 2003
War concentrates politics even as politics concentrates economics. The US/UK attack on Iraq has brought to the surface all the contradictions and deep antagonisms of capitalism today. Who saw the war as the outcome of imperialism in crisis forced to recolonise Iraq to get its oil? Who on the left understood this and took the next step to defend Iraq against imperialism? Those who did are the core of a new revolutionary international. Those who didn’t must be condemned as betrayers of the socialist revolution.

We can dispense with the reformist left who looked to the UN to deal with Iraq. These forces already conceded that the UN had the authority to impose sanctions on Iraq.They wanted a UN backed invasion. In other words they rejected the fundamental revolutionary position that Iraq is an oppressed country and must be unconditionally defended against imperialism. The UN is a ‘den of thieves kitchen’ and represents the deals that the imperialists make to advance their interests.

But the thieves fell out when the US/UK invaded Iraq unilaterally instead of backing the French and German imperialists plan of using the UN to disarm Iraq. So the reformist left championed the ‘peaceful’ imperialists against the US and UK. Thus the reformist left sides with one set of imperialist powers, with just as bad a history of colonial oppression, against another. In the event that the rivalry between these powers turns to open war, these reformist leaders would send their workers to war on the side of their imperialist bosses just as they did in 1914.

There was another more leftwing tendency however, which did not look to the ‘peaceful’ imperialists to deal with Iraq. This is the pacifist left who rejected the UN sanctions on Iraq as much as they rejected a UN backed invasion. They saw that the so-called ‘peaceful’ imperialists opposed the US and UK invasion because that would mean risking their own oil concessions in Iraq. This tendency therefore did not back the UN solution, but instead put their hopes in building a mass movement that would “stop the war”. They even attempted to mobilise workers in unions to take industrial action to prevent the ‘coalition’ military forces from being deployed in Iraq.

They saw that this was a war by the US and UK for oil. It was an attack by a rich and powerful country against a weak and largely defenceless country. Under the pressure of the war on Iraq, when millions marched against the war, and when thousands of Iraqis fought against the invasion, there was a move of some on the left, such as the CPGB, towards a ‘defence of Iraq’ position. But in practice the defence of Iraq was translated into ‘stopping the war’ at home. They said the best way to defend Iraq was to stop the invasion by a combination of sit-ins, marches and strikes. This fell far short of the necessary ‘defence of Iraq’ position of revolutionary Marxists. Why?

To turn the ‘defence of Iraq’ into ‘stopping the war’ at home fails to take the class logic of imperialist war to its necessary conclusion.The defence of Iraq means the ‘defeat’ of the imperialist oppressor not only at home, but also in Iraq. It means a ‘Victory’ to Iraq as an oppressed country.The responsibility of revolutionaries in the imperialist countries is to put their class before their country. They have to mobilise to smash the enemy at home, but they also have to try to smash the enemy wherever it goes to war against an oppressed country. Their duty does not stop at national borders. Class internationalism means that workers have no country.

The crucial test for revolutionaries in this war was to go beyond fighting the ‘enemy at home’ and to join with the oppressed in the trenches of Iraq. This meant entering a military bloc with the national leadership of Iraq, the Ba’athists, for the defence of Iraq. This meant worker volunteers siding with Iraq and being prepared to kill workers in uniform from the same oppressor country as themselves. And it meant doing so with a program that called for the workers to form an independent, armed force that would fight to take the lead in the defence of Iraq away from the Ba’athists and the Clerics.

Almost all the revolutionary left failed this test.Its ‘defensist’ position remained one that did not commit Western workers to class internationalism. The IST (SWO in NZ) took the opportunist position that Iraq should be defended by…its own people, which practically means under its existing leaderships. But should, or could, its ‘people’ defend it under such leadership? While the masses overwhelmingly wanted to defend Iraq, they did not have the means to do so.They were subordinated to a national reactionary leadership who disarmed them for fear that they would rise up against the oppressive regime.

That’s why revolutionaries do not sow illusions in clerical or bourgeois leaders being reliable anti-imperialist fighters. Their class interests are to compromise with imperialism not defeat it. Therefore, to call for the ‘people’ of Iraq to defend their country without putting forward any means of freeing the masses from their treacherous leaders, is not to defend Iraq at all.

Others, like Workers Action, took a defensist line that refused a military block with Saddam. They said that there was no “mass progressive nationalist movement” to support against Saddam. This made a united front to defend Iraq impossible. In other words revolutionaries should abstain from the struggle inside Iraq until Saddam was removed and some progressive nationalist movement came into being. How do these ‘revolutionaries’ think this was going to happen?

This is an ultra-left position similar to the Iraqi Workers’ Communist Party that was for the simultaneous defeat of Saddam and the US/UK forces. In effect this meant sitting out the war away from the fighting and waiting until history was ready for them to intervene.This ultraleft position is in reality no different from the opportunist one, imperio-centric, because ‘history’ by default is the victory of ‘democratic’ imperialism, overthrowing the Ba’athist regime and creating the conditions for the bourgeois democratic revolution.

What stopped these ‘revolutionaries’ from making a military bloc with the Ba’athists?The fact is that they are embedded in the racist, chauvinist,labour aristocracy or petty bourgeois layers of the labour movement.They will not side with the oppressed if this means that workers at home see them as unpatriotic or traitors. This means that their ‘internationalism’ is merely a mask for their ‘nationalism’.

In the case of the opportunists, their ‘internationalist’ tasks are defined to mean that they, the imperio-centric working classes alone, can defeat imperialism. Workers Action for example got completely carried away by the anti-war movement. “…we have seen the creation of a phenomenal political power across the globe that can start to challenge US imperialism. The anti-war demonstrations on February 15 have had an enormous impact throughout the world, and have opened up a new era in politics”.(Workers Action, 21, 2003 page 2). Shame this ‘new era’ in politics did not stop the war.

‘Talking up’ the anti-war mobilisation as a ‘serious challenge’ to US imperialism means ‘talking down’ workers going to other countries to kill workers in uniform from their own country and challenging colonial oppression as the material basis of the racism and chauvinism in the labour movement at home. If you cannot even confront racism and chauvinism in the imperialist working classes, how can you defeat imperialism?

The reverse side of this imperialist chauvinism is that it then becomes the national task of workers and peasants in the oppressed countries to resist imperialism. Why? Because that is their right to self-determination.

How, say the opportunists, can these peoples determine their own future if workers from other countries who are regarded as oppressors assert their duty to fight alongside them? Well, it doesn’t occur to these ‘internationalists’ that this is the surest way for workers from imperialist countries to prove that they are not oppressors but genuine internationalists.

In the case of the ultralefts, this is the flip side of the opportunist coin.Refusing to enter a military bloc with Saddam Hussein because he is a dictator is also a capitulation to the same imperialist racism and chauvinism at home that leaves the defence of Iraq to its own people. The fact that many in the IWCP are exiles in the ‘West’ and embedded in the same labour aristocracy as the Western left, underlines their ultraleft position. And it also explains why they then flipped to an opportunist line after the war calling for the UN to create a security force to allow Iraq to make the transition to democracy.For these pseudo communists, democratic imperialism is superior to an Iraqi dictatorship.

This is why in practice these ultra-lefts were prepared to leave the defence of Iraq to the Ba’athists and the clerical leaderships who would capitulate as soon as their class interests were threatened. This is exactly why these leaderships made the compromises they have made with the occupiers in the hope of doing deals with the US/UK to become the new rulers. This shows that, like the opportunists, the ultra-lefts are not serious about workers defending Iraq. They are prepared to leave the self-determination of Iraq to dirty deals between the Iraqi bourgeoisie, the Clerics and the imperialists.

The revolutionary way to fight the imperialist invaders was to mobilise the workers and peasants who were oppressed by the Ba’athists and Clerics to prove that only workers and poor peasants militias could defend Iraq. This meant calling on the Ba’athist and Clerical leaderships to arm the workers and peasants. When it became clear that the leaderships would not do this and instead would look after their own skins, workers could then decide how best to defend Iraq. But these questions of strategy and tactics could not even arise when the ultra-lefts did not offer any leadership to the masses under the oppressive control of the Ba’athists or Clerics.

Even those few groups that formally came out in ‘defence of Iraq’ such as Workers Power, and the International Bolshevik Tendency, did so in an abstract way.Workers Power quoted Trotsky on the “ duty of the international proletariat to aid the oppressed countries and their war against oppressors” but did not specify how that aid should be given.

(“The Left that Fails to Back Iraq” (http://www.workerspower.com/wpglobal/antiwarLeftfails.html)Not even a mention of arms to Iraq, and certainly no call for a military bloc with the Ba’athists.

The IBT, who condemn the Spartacists for ‘flinching’ in the face of charges of ‘treason’ at home, also took a defensist position. But nowhere in their statements on the war is there a call for a military bloc with Saddam, let alone a program for revolutionaries to take the leadership of the anti-imperialist struggle in Iraq (www.bolshevik.org).

We come to the conclusion that to our knowledge no Trotskyist groups other than the Group of 5 who signed the statement on Iraq lived up to their historic and revolutionary responsibility to fight for the defence of Iraq. (http://geocities.com/communistworker/iraq.html)

Who else called for the formation of a military bloc with the Ba’athists, with a program for workers to lead the defence of Iraq and for the formation of a Workers’ and Peasants’ state of Iraq in a Socialist Federation of the Middle East?If they exist and have put forward this position clearly, we want to contact them because they are principled communists.

Those who failed this test must be condemned as imperio-centric misleaders and betrayers of socialism. They are the rotten Stalinist and Trotskyist tendencies with opportunist/ultra-left positions that are a programmatic reflection of their integration into the racist, chauvinist labour aristocracy and petty bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries.

The healthy forces that blocked militarily with Iraq in its defence against imperialism with a program for permanent revolution have shown that they have the method and program to form the core of a new antiwar and anti-imperialist movement and open the way to the formation of a new revolutionary international.

MayDay Leaflet

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