AWL May 2004 conference document on Iraq

IRAQ AND US WORLD POLICY

Additional motion to update to 17/04/04

1. We condemn the US military action at Fallujah and elsewhere, which has resulted in many deaths - in Fallujah 600-700, many of them non-combatants.
2. But we reject the idea that what we are seeing is an ‘uprising of the Iraqi people’. It is an ‘uprising’ by specfic, reactionary political movements.
3. We oppose both the guerrilla resistance in Fallujah and the Jaish al-Mahdi of Muqtada as-Sadr. These are reactionary, fascistic forces.
4. We are for building solidarity with all democratic, working class movements against both the occupation and the fascistic resistance. We support workers’ organisations taking steps to defend themselves, including the formation of defence councils or workers’ militias.

Agreed unanimously

Main text (National Committee)

1. The AWL opposed the US-led war against Iraq in March-April 2003. We did so, fundamentally, because of the record and nature of American and British imperialism. Specifically:
i) we could not trust these forces to destroy Ba’thist despotism without enormous loss of civilian life;
ii) nor could we trust them to bring democracy to Iraq, or not to drag the country, over time, into a quagmire of spiralling reaction;
iii) the war aims of the US were primarily to do with its economic and geopolitical (imperialist) interests, rather than the freedom and wellbeing of the peoples of Iraq.

2. The world framework for the war is one of the imperialism of free trade, or, in Ellen Wood’s phrase, the empire of capital. This is a form of domination of the weak by the strong distinct from the colonial imperialism which reached its height between the 1880s and World War 2. It operates through market mechanisms. The working of those market mechanisms is shaped and regulated by a network of state and interstate institutions dominated by cartels of the most powerful states and keystoned by the hyperpower of the USA.

The Iraq war was undertaken by a US administration, backed by Blair, which was committed to unilateral action and openly contemptuous of the multilateral structures (the UN, etc) created since World War Two. The dominant sections of the US ruling class see the assertion of unilateral American military power as the essential effective means to shape and police the worldwide “empire of capital” (and in the process to grab many of the juicier fruits for US interests). Other big capitalist states, notably those of the EU, share the strategic framework of the “empire of capital”, but would prefer to see it shaped with more negotiation, consultation, diplomatic and economic pressure, etc., allowing them greater input, rather than US military force. Several EU powers (Britain, Spain, Italy, Netherlands) decided nevertheless that the lesser evil, from their point of view, was to ally with the USA. France and Germany opposed the USA’s Iraq war (in a limited way: the German government never proposed any restrictions on the USA’s ability to use its bases in Germany for the war). That opposition reflected fundamental tensions between US hyperpower and the EU. The tensions will continue. Nevertheless, the US administration is being forced back towards a more multilateralist stance by its difficulties in Iraq; and US hegemony is unchallengeable for the near future. The war was not a proxy conflict between euro and dollar, but an exercise in US hyperpower.

3. The claimed reasons for war were Iraq’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and links between Iraq and al Qaeda. Neither links to bin Laden nor WMD have been discovered. As a result there is widespread scepticism, internationally, but including in Britain and the USA, about the motives for war. Probably Bush et al, and Blair (‘sexing up’ notwithstanding) did believe some of their public case about WMD: certainly, if they knew it to be entirely false, and that no WMD at all would be discovered, they were extremely and inexplicably stupid. Nevertheless, WMD and al Qaeda were only ever an ‘excuse’, not a real reason (a ‘bureaucratic reason’ as Rumsfeld was to put it) for war.

4. The right wing in the US administration, in particular the group known as ‘neo-conservatives’ had long been agitating for ‘regime change’ in Iraq. Ever since the origins of the world oil industry, the world’s big powers have kept the Gulf under supervision, first by Britain, then by the USA. In 1980 the USA proclaimed the “Carter Doctrine”, stating that the USA would intervene to prevent any other power dominating the Gulf. After Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the USA feared he could establish Iraq as the dominant regional imperialism. Over the 1990s their policy was, by sanctions, to weaken and contain Iraq, and to prepare the conditions for a palace coup by which a pliant general would replace Saddam. Bolder or more reckless types in the US ruling class argued for sending in US troops. The terrorist atrocities on 9/11 created a public consensus in the US which made war possible; the speedy and successful war in Afghanistan boosted this process. US strategists were concerned that the strategy of ‘containing’ Saddam had failed, and that in time Iraq would re-emerge as a local power in a strategically vital region. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, after Saudi Arabia - the latter a staunch American ally, but facing internal instability and crisis.

5. Moreover, the more far-sighted (and/or ideological) US strategists believed that the parlous state of the Middle East was a major cause of the Islamist terrorism which had attacked the US. They had resolved to ‘sort out’ the Middle East, meaning in the first place Iraq, Iran (both placed by George W Bush on the ‘axis of evil’ along with N Korea), and Syria; but also the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These US strategists - which includes those centred around the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century - see spreading ‘American values’ globally as the central mission of US foreign policy.

5a. As part of a project to reshape and restabilise the Middle East, the USA proposed a road map for the Israel/Palestine problem. They want to promote political change elsewhere, notably in Syria. Given their difficulties in Iraq, they are likely for the present to avoid risky moves and confine themselves to limited diplomatic and economic pressure elsewhere, of the sort for which they have recently claimed a triumph in Libya. They have left the Israel-Palestine road map to languish, at least for the moment. New US wars against Syria and Iran, predicted by many anti-war activists as following soon after Iraq, are unlikely any time soon. The 2003 Iraq war, if we include its immediate aftermath, as we must, has not gone anywhere near as smoothly for the USA as the previous three (1991 Kuwait, 1999 Kosova, 2001 Afghanistan), which were wars of a type unprecedented in world history, giving it definitive victories with almost no casualties on its own side. The US ruling class will not quickly want another Iraq. It does not follow that they will not return to bombs and missiles at the next stage but one; nor does it follow that they will, or safely can, give up on the whole project of reshaping the Middle East on neo-liberal lines.

6. We were opposed to the Ba’thist dictatorship in Iraq, and for its overthrow - by the working class and peoples of Iraq. The resolution we passed at the AWL AGM 2003 read: “Whatever about Bush’s hypocrisy, Saddam’s regime is “really” as evil and as terrorist as any on earth. This position would not change in the event of a US invasion or conquest. Saddam’s resistance to the US would not be motivated by a defence of the Iraqi peoples’ rights to self-determination, but by the rationale of the self-preservation of his regime, including its repression of the Kurds and other minorities. We oppose the US war plans, not in the name of support for the Iraqi regime, but in the name of international democracy and working-class solidarity.” We stand by this a year on, after the fall of the regime.

7. In the event, the war cost fewer lives than we feared, or than many aid agencies and others were predicting. (Certainly, the regime was responsible for a great many more deaths). But we were right not to trust the US and the UK in advance. Nor is it our place as British socialists to calculate acceptable numbers of casualties in such a war. The deaths in the full-scale war were relatively small only because of very quick collapse of the elite troops of the Ba’thist regime, and it is now clear that many of those retreated so fast only to conserve their forces for subsequent guerrilla resistance. The USA’s war against that guerrilla resistance has killed and will kill further thousands of Iraqi civilians. Many supporters of the war point to Iraqi opposition groups who also advocated war; this was the argument of Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who is a long-standing supporter of the Kurds. But other opposition groups and individuals did not support war. There was no blanket view from the Iraqi opposition; and many of those advocating war were politically bankrupt bourgeois forces.

8. The Ba’th regime was overthrown by the US/UK invading forces in April 2003. We welcome the fall of that regime, notwithstanding the means of its fall.

9. We oppose the US/UK occupation of Iraq; but there is no simple equivalence between the occupation and the dictatorship. On the level of democratic freedoms, there is no question that things are better now. There are numerous newspapers, political parties, public demonstrations (which are not gunned down) etc. That situation is fragile, and we do not endorse the war or the occupation politically. But crudely, if we had to make a choice for the lesser evil, the lesser evil won the war. Still, it was an evil.

10. Advisers had suggested to the American administration that especially in the mainly Shia south, the population would rise up in support of the invading armies. This did not occur. The mass of the population remained passive during the period of ‘official’ war, and has largely remained passive since then - although the turn to mass demonstrations launched by Ayatollah Sistani in January 2004 represents a significant shift on the part of the Shia majority. The military resistance was by the armed forces of the Ba’thist state and its paramilitary supplements (‘Fedayeen Saddam’, etc). These military forces were quickly defeated, and ‘dissolved’ into the population without formal surrender.

11. The major exception to this pattern was the Kurds, whose peshmergas fought with the US forces.

12. The immediate effect of the fall of the Ba’th dictatorship was rapid social disintegration - looting, mass unemployment, etc. The basic infrastructure of the country - health services, water, electricity, fuel, etc - had been ravaged by years of war and sanctions and emerged from the war close to collapse. A year on, many of these infrastructural elements are still barely working again.

12a. There has been a breakdown in law and order - a huge number of murders, abductions, rapes, etc, so that ordinary Iraqis repeatedly report that their major concern in the new Iraq is the lack of personal security. Added to this is insecurity caused by the insurgency, bombs which kill civilians, suicide bombs, etc.

13. In the opinion of many of its own advisers and of academic experts close to the Pentagon, the US administration planned well for the war but badly for the ‘peace’. Its first ‘civilian administrator’, a retired general close to the ‘neo-conservatives’ was sacked; it has gone through several plans for moving towards Iraqi self-rule and democracy which have been abandoned or modified.

14. For most of the previous decade, US policy was to secure ‘regime change’ via the bourgeois opposition, in one way or another; this policy failed disastrously. Much of the US administration, by 2003, had grown hostile, in fact, to the main opposition forces. Various oppositionists, moreover, provided the US with entirely faulty intelligence - most importantly on levels of likely popular support for invasion and occupation, and on the existence and whereabouts of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

15. For the US occupying forces, creating a credible Iraqi government became an urgent and difficult task. The Interim Governing Council, which was assembled in June by Bremer, in fact managed to unite most of the main opposition groups. Specifically, it included: the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmed Chalabi, the group which had been most favoured by the Pentagon and the neo-cons in the ‘90s; the Iraq National Accord of Ayad Alawi, a former Ba’thist; the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an Iranian-backed group with a large militia; the Communist Party; Hizbullah, an Islamist movement based on the ‘marsh Arabs’ who had been heavily persecuted by Saddam; and the two Kurdish nationalist parties, the KDP and PUK. Its 25 members included a number of other important individuals.

16. The IGC - an unelected body - was set up by the American occupying forces (the CPA) to reflect the ethnic and religious divisions in Iraq, its members intended to represent these different constituents (Shia, Kurd, Turkoman, Assyrian, Sunni) rather than political ones (eg, the CP’s representative is officially there as a Shia). It thereby enshrined those divisions.

17. Many of its components had no real base in Iraq at all; most of its members were former exiles. The IGC has proved largely ineffective. Its meetings have been poorly attended, and its members criticised for lining their own pockets. Many of its members oppose free elections because they know few people will vote for them.

18. The two main Kurdish parties (KDP and PUK), which are both represented in the IGC, are notably distinct. They are genuine mass parties - although with strong tribal elements, and with records of forming alliances with reactionary forces (the Iranian government - the Shah, and the Islamic Republic; and indeed Saddam). They supported the war partly out of a desire to get rid of Saddam, who was responsible for vast numbers of Kurdish deaths, and partly to be included in the inevitable pax Americana. They have been involved in the IGC for the same reason. While we give the Kurdish nationalist parties no general political support, we do not denounce them for this participation.

19. Many of the elements in the IGC - especially SCIRI and the INA - are plainly and flatly reactionary. More recently, under Islamist pressure, the IGC has abolished some secular laws and introduced the Shari’a.

20. Important political forces remained outside the IGC. Aside from the Ba’thists and other elements in the armed ‘resistance’ (see below), these were: the movement associated with Muqtada al-Sadr, a militant cleric with a base especially among the Shia poor of Baghdad and other cities; and the highest Shia authority in Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani. Al-Sadr remained opposed to the US, though was not calling for armed resistance (he later even toned down the calls for non-violent resistance for fear of arrest). But his movement is a militant Islamist group which has carried out violent assaults and murders on religious rivals. Sistani is a more liberal Islamist who favours elections. He wants a constitution based on the Shari’a, but on a traditionalist, rather than jihadi basis. Sistani comes from a quietist Shia tradition; but his recent decision to enter politics, through mass mobilisations demanding elections is very significant: it demonstrates the power of the religious leadership of the Shia, anxious to exert what they see as their entitlement given that the Shia are a majority (at least 60% of the population).

21. While the Kurds have remained allies of the US, and the Shias - even the most radical - have either joined the IGC or opposed the occupation on a ‘political’ basis, the armed ‘resistance’ is based in the ‘Sunni triangle’ in central Iraq. As the occupation has become more unpopular - and as efforts to defeat the insurgency have led the occupying armies to be more repressive - broader forces have probably joined up with the ‘resistance’. But there seems little doubt that its core, its best organised components, are those who are loyal to the old regime (much of the resistance must be those Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard, Fedayeen Saddam and Ba’th Party militia who ‘dissolved’ and disappeared in April 2003), or who are fighting to preserve the historical privileges of Sunnis in the face of a Shia majority taking power (which it would be likely to do in an election, or as the result of armed sectarian conflict).

22. In addition there seem to be some foreign Islamists aiming to turn Iraq into the new ‘jihad’ on the model of Afghan resistance to the USSR. These forces, most likely, are responsible for the suicide bombings. It is hard to judge their size and influence (some experts argue it is very little).

23. The ‘resistance’, consequently, does not constitute a national liberation movement. Our 2003 AGM resolution stated: “Out of this US/Iraq war could develop a political quagmire which would open up a whole new chapter in the history of imperialism. After an initial success against Saddam Hussein, the USA could get drawn into trying to impose effective (if not formal) colonial rule on Iraq, by way of heavy involvement by the US military to suppress mass popular resistance to a replacement regime which lacks a domestic political base and becomes in effect just a puppet government. In that possible future situation, we would give support to genuine popular resistance in the name of self-determination.” While we do not rule out the possibility that events might yet evolve according to that picture, so far they have not.

24. The ‘resistance’ to US/UK occupation - meaning the armed insurgency, as opposed to mass demonstrations, etc - is reactionary. As things stand, the occupation cannot accurately be called ‘colonial’. The conflict is more one between the globocop of the empire of capital and local mafias and gangs. That might change (see below).)

25. Post-Saddam Iraq, as a result, is in danger of being consumed by reactionary forces - various kinds of Islamist on the one hand, sectarian Sunni nationalists and Ba’thists on the other, and the US and British armies becoming increasingly repressive as the security situation spirals out of their control. There is also a large element of organised crime. The growth of democratic, secular, and working class forces is therefore an urgent need for Iraqi society.

26. If one ‘American value’ is democracy (of a limited and bourgeois sort), another is ‘free trade’ and the ‘free market’. Globalisation has meant the twin penetration of most of the world of these ‘values’. The Middle East as a whole remains, by the standards of this process of globalisation, backward: there are few bourgeois democracies. Regimes across the region have been in power for decades. The reshaping of Iraq, and the establishment of some sort of limited democracy there, is seen as the first stage of a process which will sweep the region. This is the neo-con project. Bush has more and more openly identified with it.

27. The USA’s objective in Iraq is to reshape it on neo-liberal lines, with a stable regime well integrated into the global market, open to the multinationals, and having the elasticity given to it by at least some limited form of parliamentary democracy. In fact, freedom in the market established since the fall of Saddam is the freedom for the best-placed big US corporations to grab profits. Contracts for the reconstruction of the country have been awarded to major US corporations (often without competitive bidding); some of those corporations, notably the giant oil servicing firm Halliburton, have close links with the personnel of the Bush administration. Laws were passed by the occupying authorities in September 2003 to allow the privatisation of Iraqi industry (though not oil), and the repatriation of profits by foreign companies.

28. The prospect then at best, under occupation, is of economic reconstruction along the pattern of globalisation everywhere - a widening gap between rich and poor (in the worst case scenario, this merges with the Sunni/Shia divide, exacerbating sectarian conflict) with multinational corporations making superprofits if they can stabilise the country sufficiently.

29. The US (Coalition Provisional Authority) has kept in place Ba’thist legislation outlawing independent unions precisely to keep weapons against resistance to this privatisation/’free’ market/globalisation drive.

30. The US has not, in any case, brought democracy to Iraq. Aside from the undemocratic nature of the Interim Governing Council, the US’ ‘exit’ plans - by which sovereignty would be handed over to Iraqis - have run into serious difficulties. The most recent version of such plans involved establishing a ‘parliament’ via local assemblies of tribal leaders, etc, which would then draft a constitution. Ayatollah Sistani has declared this unacceptable, and insisted there must be direct elections. In January 2004, there were the largest demonstrations to date, in Basra, in support of Sistani’s demands.

31. The US would certainly like to find some way to hand over authority to Iraqis, and (gradually) withdraw its military forces. This looks harder in practice. The possibility remains that the US and its UK allies could get bogged down in Iraq for a long time; or they might look to some other, non-democratic way to hand over ‘authority’ (e.g. covertly sponsoring a coup of some kind through which a general takes power who is able to appear as not simply US-imposed but can be guaranteed to work within rules acceptable to the USA).

32. Or perhaps they will manage the transition successfully. There are historical precedents for American-dominated military occupation leading to the creation of functioning, prosperous bourgeois democracies - Europe and Japan after the Second World War. In Taiwan and South Korea, US occupation led first to military-dominated authoritarian regimes - standing on the social base provided by extremely radical land reforms - and then, after decades, to an evolution towards bourgeois democracy. The parallels are limited: there was nothing comparable to the Iraqi ‘resistance’ in the post-war period; the scale of the devastation - and of the economies which had suffered it - was far greater. But Marxists in the late forties believed that the victors in 1945 were incapable of anything except further dictatorship, and they were wrong. We should not make the same mistake. The US Congress has agreed a vast amount of money already to reconstruct Iraq ($87b), which will certainly prove inadequate. There are attendant political problems with attempting an Iraqi version of the post-1945 Marshall Plan; but it is in US interests to stabilise - from their point of view - the Middle East.

32A. Whichever option is chosen by the US, struggles for democratic demands (e.g. Constituent Assembly, rights to assembly, free press, political and trade union organisation, women’s rights) will play an important role in creating a space for left, democratic and workers’ organisations to exist and in building support for them. In the factories, immediate issues of workers’ control have also already risen in the aftermath of the war. Left and democratic organisations are therefore right to place demands on the occupation authorities, rather than just calling for them to ‘get out’.

33. Even if US imperialism successfully brings bourgeois democracy to Iraq, or elsewhere, we do not give it our political support. Even if they fulfil their promise (as, e.g., in Bush’s speech on his British visit) to oppose tyrannies, including those tyrannies they have previously supported, we do not - and advocate that the working class does not - give them any political support. In any case, without an available and tractable alternative, the US will not simply turn on such allies as the Saudi ruling family or the Egyptian government. But we do not mindlessly insist that no democratic change, no progress of this sort, is possible at all under US hegemony. Rather we look to rally and politically arm the working class of the region, and the world, in whatever changing circumstances arise.

34. As noted above, in the past few months there has been a major turn towards active political engagement by the Shia religious leadership around Sistani, demanding elections. Sistani does not favour clerical rule on the Iranian model; nor is he a militant Islamist like Muqtada al-Sadr. Still, he is a religious leader, and a government of Sistani’s followers would not constitute a democratic alternative to occupation.

35. We support the call for free elections; socialists and working class organisations will need rigorously to contest the territory currently being claimed by the Shia leadership as champions of direct democracy on a national level.

36. We support free elections, and warn the working class to prepare to resist a government in which Sistani or his followers constituted a majority element. We do not oppose elections on the grounds that such a government might result.

37. The working class in Iraq was a major force in the 1950s, politically dominated by the Communist Party. The CP was crushed in the 1963 coup that overthrew Qassem and briefly brought the Ba’th, effectively, to power. The Ba’th seized power once more, and this time by itself, in 1968. Independent working class activity was crushed in 1963, and never revived. The CP survived, and - to its shame - joined a ‘coalition’ government with the Ba’th in the early seventies. Then the Ba’th turned on them and drove them into exile. (Until the fall of Saddam it was widely believed that the CP was terminally discredited; this seems not to have been true). The Ba’th dictatorship savagely repressed the working class, arresting, torturing and murdering trade union and political activists.

38. The fall of the dictatorship in 2003 posed immediate questions for the Iraqi working class, on political and economic levels: mass unemployment, non-payment of wages, health care, etc, along with questions of democracy, women’s rights, and so on. After 40 years of repression, it is not surprising that working class activity in the form of trade unions, etc, took a while to revive.

39. There has been some (underreported) working class action in the form of strikes, sit-ins, etc - in Basra, in some of the oil fields, in Baghdad, etc. There have been a number of trade union initiatives.

i) the most significant seems to be the Iraq Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), with its offices in Baghdad - which were raided and closed by the military authorities in December 2003. This seems to be an initiative of the CP - which has a representative in the IGC, and which therefore is pushing for the IFTU to have official recognition in some form.

ii) But there are a number of independent unions, most significantly those connected to the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq. The Union of Unemployed in Iraq (UUI) claims some tens of thousands of members. The Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq is a federation of unions some of which appear to be independent of the WCPI.

40. This workers’ movement is only just emerging from decades of dictatorship - and faces many difficulties, not least that a lot of Iraqi workers identify ‘trade unions’ with the regime, which foisted ‘yellow unions’ on them. (It must also be a problem that the regime, and its ruling party, called itself socialist).

41. Our main task is to build solidarity with this workers’ movement. We have launched some activity in this regard, but we need to do more of it and coordinate it on a national level.

42. The Worker-Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI) has emerged as the major - indeed, the only - force recognisably of the ‘far left’ in Iraq. Linked to a ‘sister party’ in Iran, the WCPI is a group at a tangent from most of the revolutionary left internationally, neither emerging from Stalinism in some form, nor really from Trotskyism. (Mansour Hekmat, the late ‘leader’ of the WCP Iran, and the WCP Iraq, was involved in the Yaffeite RCG in the 1970s. But ‘Worker-communism’ sees Trotskyism as in effect only a variant of Stalinism). Their initiatives such as the UUI are positive, and for sure they must be drawing some of the best militants in Iraq around them. Yet they seem to have quite rigid and sectarian conceptions; and the Iranian group is regarded with deep suspicion by other Iranian socialists (at one point it shared a TV station with a pro-Shah group). We should continue discussions with them. But we should certainly not allow our solidarity to work to be tied to them or their initiatives exclusively.

43. Our 2003 AGM resolution stated: “We would express our opposition to a colonial policy or puppet government by making slogans such as ‘self-determination’, ‘no imposed regime in Iraq’ and ‘democratic rights for the Iraqi peoples’ prominent in our agitation, in addition to our previous slogans such as ‘no to war’, ‘stop the war’. Given that this war certainly involves, one way or another, a US conquest of Iraq, we are for troops out of Iraq in pretty much any likely immediate situation; “troops out” would become a prominent slogan in the event of mass popular resistance.” In fact, because of the more complex situation described in23-25 above, this framework was inadequate. We are for the troops getting out, but ‘Troops out’, as a sloganistic summary of policy, carries a clear implication of ‘victory to the resistance’, which is reactionary, or a lack of concern about the likelihood of civil war.

44. We do not call for the troops to stay, or in any sense politically endorse the occupation. We say: end the occupation. But we focus on building solidarity with the democratic, secular, and working class forces which must replace the occupation.

45. We will continue to reassess this in light of developments in Iraq.

46. We argue against those on the Left who want to build a movement exclusively around the slogans ‘end the occupation’, ‘troops out now’ - or (worse) on the explicit basis of supporting the reactionary ‘resistance’ as if it were an anti-imperialist struggle.

47. We argue for solidarity campaigns with the emerging workers’ movement to be open to those who broadly supported the war and support the occupation. We argue against ‘end the occupation’ being a precondition for a solidarity campaign. The workers’ movement needs practical help, in the first place, from working class activists abroad. In fact both the IFTU and the UUI/WCUI opposed the war (in line with the positions of the ICP and the WCPI; the IFTU’s position on the occupation is more ambivalent).

48. The AWL is for self-determination for the peoples of Iraq - that is for the independence of Iraq, for the rule of Iraq by the Iraqi people themselves. We are for free elections to a constituent assembly, and for a democratic, secular constitution.

49. The Kurdish people have the right to self-determination; we are for the democratic rights of other national minorities (Turkomans, Assyrians); and for religious freedom - but for the complete separation of religion from the law and from education. We are for the complete equality and freedom of women; and for other democratic demands

50. We are against the dismemberment of Iraq into Sunni or Shia cantons, and against any and all political institutionalisations of Sunni or Shia (or other religious) identities.

51. We are against plans such as those being floated in the US and in Iraq, to divide the country into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish cantons. Our commitment to Kurdish self-determination (including autonomy if that is what they want), is distinct from any such plan.

52. The drive to war produced a powerful anti-war movement internationally, with mass demonstrations in New York, Rome, Barcelona, London and elsewhere in February 2003. This was a disparate and incoherent movement, which included bourgeois liberals, Islamists, pacifists, etc. A significant component of it, however, was linked to the global justice movement which has emerged in recent years. (For example, the European Social Forum in Florence in 2002 culminated in a mass anti-war demonstration within which Rifondazione was prominent; the World Social Forum expressed its opposition to war and occupation). Many radical trade unionists, from US Labour Against the War to independent unions in Indonesia, were opposed to the war. However, in Britain and the USA, leftist groups of Yankophobe politics which reproduce some of traits of Stalinism by supporting anti-American tyrants (Saddam, Taliban, Milosevic) where the old Stalinists used to support Moscow were able to dominate the central organisation of the anti-war movement and shape its choice of allies, platform speakers. etc. (SWP in Britain, Workers World Party/ANSWER in the USA). In Britain, the Stop the War Coalition constructed an alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain, a front for the Muslim Brotherhood.

53. Despite these forces, the fundamental thrust of the anti-war movement - a desire of people, including many young people radicalising for the first time, to protest at the way the world is run and the right-wing leaders of the world’s most powerful states - was positive. The anti-war movement must be understood in the context of previous defeats, the isolation of socialists, the downturn in the class struggle. The mass demonstrations represented one aspect of a certain revival of grass-roots militancy and radical protest. It was confused. But it would have been grossly sectarian to have stood apart from it and criticised it from the sidelines. The AWL rightly participated in and built the anti-war movement. We were excluded from the committee of the Stop the War Coalition, but it was right to participate in local anti-war groups; in fact, we were sometimes and in some areas at fault by standoffishness towards such groups, allowing distaste for the SWP to deter us from engaging with rawer activists maybe influenced by the SWP.

54. There is widespread cynicism and hostility towards the Blair government over the question of Weapons of Mass Destruction, which seem almost certainly not to have existed since the late 1990s at least. There is a simple question of democracy at the heart of this: the government took the country to war mainly over claims that WMD existed and posed a real threat; at the very least, the intelligence behind these claims was clearly false. It is also widely understood that Blair is only allowing an inquiry into this false intelligence because Bush has been forced to do the same. On grounds of democracy, we demand that our elected leaders be held accountable.

55. We intervened in this movement around the slogan ‘no to war, no to Saddam’, and the perspective of a ‘third camp’, attempting to organise forces internationally opposed both to war and to dictatorship. Our leaflets and banners were well received on the demonstrations. The speaking tour we organised round the war drew large or reasonably-sized meetings. The number of contacts and recruits we drew from the movement was tiny when measured against the size the big demonstrations. That was partly for the same structural reasons as meant that other left groups, including the SWP with their advantages as central organisers of “Stop The War”, also recruited meagrely. In circumstances where industrial action on a scale sufficient to hint at the power of the working class to change society has been absent for almost 20 years, and where it is difficult to disinter the vocabulary of socialism from under the ruins of the Stalinist states which abused it, not many of the new activists on the anti-war demonstrations were immediately ready to join socialist groups of any sort. We also had avoidable faults: a degree of peevishness ingrained from many conflicts with the dominant pseudo-left culture, and a slowness in coming to terms with the fact that developing contacts and periphery in these times requires different methods from those appropriate when a pool to find such contacts and periphery was neatly and compactly provided by LPYS, student Labour Clubs, and similar groups.

56. This anti-war movement declined sharply after US/UK victory in the war, with much less flow-over into continuing activity than might have been hoped. Partly this will have been because of the defensive character of the movement: many people will have demonstrated simply because they felt they must make some gesture of opposition to the steamroller of US hyperpower and global-market neo-liberalism, and without any confidence in any sort of continuing political activity to change the world for the better, whereas in the movements against the Vietnam war the sentiment was widespread of being part of a burgeoning mass revolt which had already won some victories (the colonial revolutions) and would win more. Thinking participants must have been disoriented, to some degree or another, when despite the claims of the Stop the War Coalition that everything vindicated it, many the assumptions and subtexts in its argument were refuted by events. Baghdad was not Stalingrad; the war was over quickly; Iraqis plainly welcomed the fall of Saddam, etc. The demonstrations against Bush in November did, however, show the continuing existence of a large if diffuse milieu of people, many of them young, standing in left-wing opposition to neo-liberalism, war, and the destruction of the environment for the sake of capitalist profit.

57. We have a difficult task in relation to this broad milieu. On the one hand, in so far as it reflects a genuine radicalisation, especially of youth, it is extremely positive, and something within which we want and need to win influence. On the other hand, some of our ‘sensibilities’ are radically at odds with the majority of the organising cadres of the anti-war movement, not just the SWPers but also wider circles educated by such literature as the books of Michael Moore, John Pilger, and Tariq Ali. We reject the incoherent anti-imperialism - meaning anti-Americanism and anti-Israelism of much of this milieu. But our task is to win activists to consistent working class activity. One vehicle for achieving that is No Sweat. Another is patient and sustained argument about the basic issues: the centrality of class politics, the nature of imperialism, the nature of Islamism, etc.

58. Much of what we have to say is much less at odds with broader layers of activists than it is with the claustrophobic circles of the left groups. In building solidarity with the emerging workers’ movement in Iraq, we need to reach out to the widest possible layers of labour movement, global justice movement, etc, activists. Building such solidarity is also a way of explaining a working class and class-struggle approach to socialist politics, in contrast to the empty Yankophobia, populism, and opportunism of the SWP, etc.