For Permanent Revolution in Iraq

As the US-led occupation faces increasing problems the international left is debating how to help free Iraq from imperialism. The position of the CWG and its allies overseas is that the international labour movement should give aid to workers’ organisations resisting the US, because it is the Iraqi working class which alone has the ability to defeat the occupation. Many on the left disagree, and are developing political illusions in the Islamist and ex-Baathist forces which represent the Iraqi capitalist classes. The argument for aid to working class Iraqi organisations is complicated by the fact that the most important Iraqi revolutionary group, the Worker Communist Party of Iraq, is pursuing some very bad policies. In this exchange from an international e-list, a CWG member answers an attack on the WCPI, and puts the argument for critical support for this group, and for permanent revolution in Iraq.
Dear Comrade S,

This is the part of the debate where I bow out, mainly owing to my utter contempt for the Worker Communist Party of Iraq. I remember well, a few years ago, when I was introduced to them. I was newer (obviously) at the practice and theory of Marxism and revolution and
extremely eager to get my hands on, as you say, genuine non first world socialist thinking. I discovered that Mansoor Hekmat (the recently deceased icon of the WCPI) was actually a Londoner; the WCPI (which "I" must always be qualified; Iran been used by these folks as
well), despite what your friend says, have no real base in these countries. This is not entirely their fault, under both Saddam and the Mullahs respectively there has been no opening to function. (PS the CPI have been refused membership in the ruling council, so they aren't part of it, though they applied and were rejected).

Nonetheless, they operate in a fantasy world. They also are among the worst sort of sectarians and exemplify why we must discard the notion of a central command somewhere in an 'international' party or amalgam of parties. In Canada, just before the bombing of Iraq, they took to the streets with slogans calling for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. On International Women’s Day, they took to the streets with calls for the overthrow of the Islamic republic. The Canadian and North American states do not need such encouragement—who the Hell is that demand targeting? It only means that yet more 'revolutionaries' in this county are doing the bidding of the imperialists, sorry to say.

After the 9-11 attacks, both WCPI's demanded that they wanted to join the anti-war coalitions. Their price was that we elevate denunciations of Islam and call for secular socialist state formations to the top of our demands, along with our calls for peaceful solutions based on international law, and this was in a coalition that included religious groups, moderate Muslim forces and the like.

Considering many of them as individuals have been tortured at the hands of the Mullahs or at the hands of Saddam, I accept their human disposition to have a visceral contempt for anything that smacks of going easy on Saddam Hussein. However, they also are currently more
concerned with making certain Baathists are 'removed from their influence' over all spheres of Iraqi life, schools, police, etc.

Fighting the imperialist occupation to them is secondary, or at least not clearly primary. However, as Trotsky said (since you like him) if 'democratic Britain attacked 'fascist' Brazil, we would side with Brazil'. Ironically, though I'm no Trot, I'm upholding that basic principle
and the Hekmatian bunch are simply opportunistically doing whatever the flavour of the month is. I'm not interested in anything they have to say, their political experience has been one that makes the Islamists in Iraq currently look far more principled-- not an easy task at all… They are not the genuine voice of anything but themselves.

Dear Comrade M,

I think your comments on the Worker Communist Party and the situation in Iraq contain some serious factual errors. I'm not for a moment suggesting that these inaccuracies are deliberate, but I think they are worth challenging, partly because they reflect what I think are problems with your general political perspective.

You say that I was wrong to claim that the Iraqi Communist Party went into the Governing Council, but the party itself has confirmed joining the Council. Here is an excerpt from an interview an Iraqi Communist Party central committee member gave in July, and which the party has posted on its official website:
"After properly and carefully evaluating the grave situation in the aftermath of war, which is truly a national catastrophe, the Party leadership decided to accept the invitation to join the Governing Council....It must be emphasised that the party's aim has not changed: to ensure that the Iraqi people exercise their right to determine their political future with their own free will, and to bring about a speedy end to occupation, restoring Iraq's national sovereignty and independence, and building a free and democratic federal Iraq. This will be the main criterion for evaluating and judging the Governing Council." 
[full text at

I think your claim that the Worker Communist Party does not have a 'real base' in Iraq is also untrue. A Communist Workers Group of New Zealand member recently traveled to the Middle East to meet some members of the WCPI. Unfortunately he couldn't get into Iraq, but he did have a chance to talk to Iraqi communists (most of them pro-Governing Council and thus hostile to the WCPI) who had recently spent time in the country. He got the strong impression that the WCPI was a force to be reckoned with on the ground in Iraq.

When I put this comrade's information together with the wealth of information on the WCPI's website and the reports that have made it to left news sites like indymedia and in some cases even into the bourgeois media, then I find it hard not to believe that the WCPI as well as the Organisation for Women's Freedom in Iraq and the Unemployed Workers' Union are not organisations of some size playing a significant role in the Iraqi left and workers' movement.

Consider some of these reports: "A Forum Organized by the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq at General Railway Company in Baghdad. On September 9, 2003, the OWFI organized a forum at the General Railway Company in Baghdad, which has over 11,000 employees all over Iraq. Two hundred employees attended the forum, which was chaired by Yanar Muhammad, the head of the OWFI, and Layla Muhammad, the activist who returned from Australia to join the struggle of women in Iraq..."

"Hundreds of toilers from al-Huda suburb in Baghdad join the Worker-communist Party of Iraq. Al-Huda is a residential suburb in the center of Baghdad where hundreds of homeless families live. The inhabitants of this area are deprived of the basic requirements of making a living. On top of that they are pressured by the USA administration and local police to evict the area. Two weeks ago, the police forces attacked people in this area and arrested 8 of them.

They went to all parties and institutions seeking their release, with no yield. When the Organisation of Baghdad of the Worker- communist Party of Iraq learned about their situation, it decided to involve and solve their problem. The CWP Iraq was able to release the

"The Worker-communist Party of Iraq’s Forces Clash with a Crime Gang in Baghdad. On September 19, 2003, while patrolling the neighborhood where the office of the Worker Communist Party of Iraq is located on Al-Rashid Street in Baghdad, the Party’s forces clashed with an armed gang. While shooting at the security guards protecting the governmental buildings in the area and injuring one man, the gang intended to loot shops and governmental buildings. Under heavy fire, the gang was forced to escape the area..."

"The Workers’ Council of the North Oil Company Leads a Protest against Police misconduct. On September 21, 2003, the workers of the North Oil Company in Kirkuk organised a protest demonstration against the abusive conduct of the Police toward the company’s employees.

.Muhammad Raadi Oraybi, an activist from the Northern Oil Company’s workers council, was detained for 6 hours for standing against the despotic practices of the police. Raadi’s arrest sparked off a protest action in which more 400 workers took part..." From the English-language section of the WCPI's site (

More recently the WCPI has been involved in an important strike by armed workers at the Brickworks at Nahrawhan near Baghdad.

You try to use Trotsky's hypothetical war between Brazil and Britain to criticise the WCPI's call for the overthrow of the Iranian theocracy and (in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq) the regime of Saddam, but nothing Trotsky said can be used to justify political support for either regime.

Using a hypothetical extreme example to challenge his audience, Trotsky said that in the event of a war between near-fascist Brazil and bourgeois democratic Britain workers around the world should prefer the military victory of Brazil, because Brazil was a semi-colonial country whose government was ultimately a product of imperialism, Britain was the world's number one imperialist power, and a victory for Brazil would weaken imperialism.

But Trotsky never for a moment suggested that workers anywhere should give a modicum of political support to the government of Brazil, or to any other national bourgeois government or party anywhere in the semi-colonial world. Trotsky said that workers should aim their guns
in the same direction as the Brazilian bourgeoisie so that they could defeat this bourgeoisie in the process of defeating imperialism. Defeating the imperialists and defeating the local capitalists were not two distinct 'stages' - they were telescoped into a single task.

Trotsky's whole politics was built on his theory of combined and uneven development, which had as one of its corollaries the argument that capitalist classes in the colonial and semi-colonial world were too weak to stand up to imperialism. Colonies and semi-colonies could only be broken out of the circuit of global capitalism by socialist revolution. Brazil vs Britain was a hypothetical case, but Trotsky and his followers put his argument into practice during both the Russian and Spanish revolutions.

In 1917, for instance, Trotsky refused to give any political support to the national bourgeois Kerensky government established after the February revolution (before the war Russia was regarded by the Bolsheviks as an imperialist country, but by 1917 it was surely effectively a semi-colony of the West).

When White Russians in the service of imperialism attempted a coup to get rid of Kerensky's government the Bolsheviks gave Kerensky military support -pointed their guns in the same direction as the Kerensky government's - without abandoning their call for the overthrow of this government by the workers. Only months after crushing the White coup they crushed Kerensky's government and put the soviets into power.

I'm sorry to go on at such length about Trotsky and 1917, but I think it's important that Trotsky's strategy of permanent revolution is distinguished from the strategy which you appear to support and which he rejected, which is that of political support for and a political alliance with national bourgeois parties and governments.

The WCPI is right to call for the overthrow of the Islamic regime in Iran by the workers of Iran. The WCPI is talking, after all, about a brutal dictatorship that condemns half its population to a medieval existence as third-class citizens, and has locked up or simply executed tens of thousands of leftists and trade unionists. Who would want to support the continued existence of such a regime? Even the Stalinist left, which was deeply implicated in the coming to power of the Islamists, now calls for the overthrow of the regime.

Third Worldist politics have led you to adopt a position which no leftist organisation inside the real Third World country of Iran would today touch with a barge pole. The situation is no different when we turn to Iraq. In my experience, the Iraqis living in Auckland simultaneously wanted to overthrow Saddam and opposed the US invasion. There was no contradiction here – it was well-understood that US imperialism had put Saddam into power in the first place, and had kept him in power by collaborating with him to defeat the workers' uprisings that believe it or not saw soviets established in parts of Iraq after the First Gulf War. It was also understood that Saddam's rotting regime was completely incapable of stopping the US - only the mobilisation of the people who despised Saddam could defeat the US.

Where the WCPI goes wrong is in refusing to give any support at all to Third World capitalists resisting imperialism militarily. I quote from a recent CWG leaflet:
"The Worker-Communist Party condemns Islamist and Baathist fighters against the US as no better than the US itself. But by taking this attitude, the Party turns its back on tens of thousands of young workers who fight under the leadership of local capitalists. If US troops are shooting into a crowd, the people in the crowd have the right to shoot back, even if they happen to be Muslims. If a US chopper is shooting up an Iraqi village, an Iraqi has the right to
shoot it down, even if he belongs to the Baath Party. The rank and file of the resistance has to be won from its rotten leadership, not condemned for the policies of that leadership.

The bankruptcy of the Worker Communist Party’s position was shown after the US invasion in March – the Party refused to support the resistance to invasion and, desperate for some sort of ‘solution’, ended up calling on the UN to intervene to save Iraq."

I agree with you that the WCPI has a too-extreme attitude to Muslim groups in the anti-war movement, but I think you are quite wrong when you argue that the flaws in the WCPI's position 'exemplify why we must discard the notion of a central command somewhere in an 'international' party or amalgam of parties'. On the contrary, the WCPI is a screaming example of the need for an international party which can bring comrades from different regions
together to analyse and criticise each other's positions.

The WCPI is a prisoner of Iraqi history: it was formed as a reaction to the stagist politics of the Stalinist Iraqi Communist Party, but its founders never got a handle on the reasons for the political degeneracy of the ICP. In the 1970s they saw the ICP (encouraged by Moscow, Castro etc) go into government with Saddam, and were rightly disgusted. But they wrongly concluded that the ICP's Stalinist politics of political alliances with the national bourgeoisie was the
logical consequence of Leninism and 1917, and so they threw Bolshevism out with the bathwater and went for ultra-leftism instead.

Because of the isolation of Iraq and the immense power of the ICP-Moscow propaganda machine, the WCPI's founders never had access to the original rejection of stagism which Lenin and Trotsky made in 1917. They equated Stalinism and Bolshevism. The WCPI went into exile in Western countries where the self-described Trotskyist groups had mostly long since abandoned the theory of permanent revolution (it's no coincidence the WCPI is polemicising against a Cliffite group). It's not surprising the exiles didn't see much to alter their impression of Bolshevism.

But the WCPI's mistakes could potentially have been avoided by the criticism of groups that were still loyal to the politics of 1917. Now the WCPI's membership in the global anti-war movement provides the ideal opportunity for us to simultaneously work with them and criticise them in an effort to improve their politics. That's the idea behind our attempt to get international solidarity with the WCPI and the organisations it has founded going.

At the end of the day, the WCPI and the work it is doing in Iraq are surely important enough to deserve solidarity and assistance, even if the arguments get nowhere. It is surely perverse for a socialist of your obvious sincerity to have friendly words for Mugabe and Mahathir but 'utter contempt' for a socialist organisation on the frontline of the resistance to US imperialism.

From Class Struggle 53 November 03/January 04

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