“The attempt of the bourgeoisie during its internecine conflicts to oblige all humanity to divide up into only two camps is motivated by a desire to prohibit the proletariat from having its own independent ideas.
This method is as old as bourgeois society, or more exactly, as class society in general. No one is obligated to become a Marxist; no one is obligated to swear by Lenin's name. But the whole of the politics of these two titans of revolutionary thought was directed toward this, that the fetish-ism of two camps would give way to a third, independent, sovereign camp of the proletariat, that camp upon which, in point of fact, the future of humanity depends.”
Leon Trotsky, Writings Supplement 1939-40.
“The brutal rulers of the USA and Britain are perfectly capable of bungling and blundering into the destruction of all the progressive possibilities that now exist — or may still exist — in Iraq, and thus into making their stated aim of a bourgeois-democratic Iraq impossible. They may already have dealt irresponsible blows to those prospects. That is one reason why the pixillated right-wing inverse of the pixillated ‘anti-imperialists’, those who let commitment to the Iraqi working class lead them into backing Britain and the USA, that is, into political suicide as socialists, are in their own way no less foolish and even more ridiculous than their mirror-images.
“The toy-town anti-imperialists at least maintain a pseudo-revolutionary opposition to their own ruling class. That is something. It is not enough, but it is better than self-prostration before the British and US ruling classes. Many of the young people misled by the toy-town “anti-imperialists” can and will be helped to know better.”
Editorial, Solidarity 3/60.
Alan Johnson devotes much of his attempt at political self-justification on Iraq — and that is what concerns him — to incidentals and mere details, to “tone” and not to political substance (Solidarity 3/62). His own “tone” is that of someone who now feels part of one of the big “camps”.
His basic case — stripped of all the silly stuff — is this. The USA is bringing bourgeois democracy to Iraq, or at least it may well do so. No other force is strong enough to do that. The Islamist militias fighting the USA are reactionary. Therefore we should support the USA.
Do the US “intend” to “create a democratic society in Iraq”? I think they do. But, in the first place, with their methods, it is not unlikely that they will not. In the second place, we must keep in mind that their “bourgeois democracy” includes not only political liberties and space for a labour movement to develop, but mass privatisation and free-marketeering.
In the third place, even if they do finally engineer a “bourgeois-democratic”, US-friendly regime, it may be a large distance from anything we, the Iraqi labour movement, or even the “best intentions” of the Americans would want.
Why did the Americans not “go on to Baghdad” in the first Gulf war of 1991, and destroy the Saddam regime? Because they feared chaos and the break-up of Iraq, which is an artificial conglomerate state. They hoped that, after defeat, a military coup would soon remove Saddam Hussein while preserving the state. They feared a power vacuum. The USSR still existed, on the edge of collapse, but no-one could be sure what would happen.
This time they had no such constraints. The US is the sole hyperpower. Its rulers are imbued with arrogance gained from their victory in the Cold War and their easy military victories in 1991, 1999, and 2001. They threw caution to the winds, and disbanded even the Iraqi army and police.
Chaos followed. They are now laboriously trying to reconstruct an Iraqi state. It is impossible to say now what compromises with sectarian forces they will feel obliged to make in this. We know already that, for now, they rely on forces like the Shia Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Dawa party, the Sunni Iraq Islamic Party (the Muslim Brotherhood), and the warlordist Kurdish parties to make up their Interim Government.
Who in their political senses can feel sure that they will not impose constrictions on democracy, including on the rights most essential to the growth of a mass legal labour movement? Or that they will not promote, or allow to develop, a situation like that of Colombia, where death squads wage a relentless war of murder against trade union organisers?
Who can think that even bourgeois democracy can be secured in Iraq without the independent struggle of the working class?
Yet Alan wants to insist flatly, as if it is an accomplished fact, that the US is promoting a “democratic process” in Iraq. He claims that we must — politically following after the IFTU — endorse the Americans, or the British, as the way to avoid the dangers.
Or “critically support” them? Marxists “critically support” working-class organisations, national liberation movements, and so on. It makes no sense in relation to the USA. Working-class socialists cannot possibly “intervene” in the US military machine to push its bourgeois-democratic intentions further and vie for leadership. In any “critical support”, the “criticism” will be without grip and the political self-disarming “support” everything.
Mostly Alan Johnson addresses himself to silly speculations about individuals in AWL and Solidarity, and not to the substantial political issue that divides AWL from him.
For example, Alan Johnson thinks I made a coded call for support to the US occupation in Iraq in Solidarity 3/53, by suggesting that the ILP in World War Two was better than the Trotskyists because it supported the war while criticising the government. Only, he says, I haven't yet summoned up the courage to expound this openly.
One simple fact demolishes this conspiracy theory. The ILP did not support World War Two. In fact I clumsily misrepresented their stance. Like the Trotskyists of the WIL and the RCP, the ILP opposed the war, though within their stated opposition they like the WIL and RCP made it clear they wanted the Nazis defeated.
The difference between the ILP and the WIL/RCP was that there was a soft underbelly of pacifism in the ILP. I do not think (and my article did not suggest) that the ILP was better than the Trotskyists!
I’m as hungry for the spotlight as the next man, but “Reactionary Anti-Imperialism” (Solidarity 3/60) was not “Sean Matgamna's article”. It was an editorial expressing the positions of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and, immediately, of all of us who produce Solidarity. (So, incidentally, was the headline “Stop the blitz on Fallujah”).
What is the issue that divides Alan Johnson and Jane Ashworth from AWL?
Jane Ashworth’s political evolution to the right is as old as it is organic. I would be astounded to be told that she now considers herself to belong to the revolutionary left. Or, bar an odd lingering sentimental tie or two, has so thought of herself for many years. This late in the day I cannot think of anything useful to say about Jane’s politics. RIP (which, as every punning schoolkid knows, also means “Rise If Possible”. That would surprise me!)
By contrast, until recently Alan Johnson seemed to have broad political agreement with AWL. In any case, Alan deliberately identifies himself as the author of the jointly-signed article, when he claims that “everything important [Matgamna] says in October 2004 I or Jane Ashworth... have been saying... since March 2004”.
Alan has changed. Now he gives positive support to, and thereby takes political responsibility for the USA, Britain, and their allies and stooges, and even, it seems, responsibility for their military and economic policies.
He takes the hope that — as in Germany and Japan after 1945 — out of the US-British victory against Saddam Hussein will come some sort of bourgeois-democratic system in which a labour movement can develop, and transmutes it into identification with and support for Bush and Blair. Though we too hope for an outcome in which the Iraqi labour movement can develop, we refuse to give that positive support to Bush and Blair.
Alan Johnson has abandoned — certainly in this case, and logically (why not?) in all future cases — commitment to building what Trotsky called the Third Camp and others the Third Front. He has gone over to the “camp” of the dominant bourgeois-imperialist forces.
We continue to stand for the Third Camp which Trotsky described in the words at the head of this article — that is, for independent working-class politics..
Since ceasing to be a member of AWL Alan has, politically speaking, bounced back and forth, zig-zagging between AWL and the SWP, as stable as a Mexican jumping bean genetically modified with amphetamines!
He asked for bundles of Solidarity to sell at the height of the war, 19 months ago. Neither Alan Johnson nor Jane Ashworth supported the war.
Indeed, not too long ago, Alan Johnson would have been more likely to criticise AWL from the point of view of the “anti-imperialist” kitsch left.
If there ever was a case for revolutionary socialists positively to support NATO, the USA, and Britain, it was during the 1999 Kosova war. NATO bombed Serbia to force the Serbian army to leave Kosova, where it had started an attempt at full-scale “ethnic cleansing” of the entire Albanian population, over 90% of Kosova’s people. We did not back NATO, but after an initial bit of fumbling we said nothing to line us up with Milosevic, and we argued against the “reactionary anti-imperialist” left.
The SWP lined up with the genocidal Serbian imperialists against “NATO imperialism”. Alan was so impressed by this malignant pro-Milosevic work of the SWP — something unprecedented on the left since the Stalinist parties made pro-Hitler propaganda during the 22 months of the Stalin-Hitler alliance, August 1939 to June 1941 — that he rushed off, like a naive volunteer rallying to the colours in 1914, to sign up with the SWP.
He didn't stay long. Now, once more, it is “all change” with Alan Johnson. He has migrated politically from the camp of the reactionary anti-imperialists to that of the Bush-Blair imperialists!
Everyone has heard of the man who climbed a hill and came down a mountain. Alan Johnson spent years climbing up one side of the ex-Workers' Party/ Independent Socialist League tradition, that of Hal Draper, whose biographer he aspired to be — and somehow he now winds up on the other side of it, that of the (politically speaking) brain-dead Max Shachtman at the end of his life, when he supported the USA in Indochina.
Let us first answer, objectively, without polemic, the key question: What should the revolutionary socialists do in Iraq? They should propagandise for and build workshop organisations, trade unions, and so on. They should preach socialism. They should adopt a political programme whose immediate demands are for a secular democratic republic, civil rights, the separation of religion and state, an independent sovereign Iraq, self-determination for the Kurds, rights for minorities like the Assyrians.
They will naturally oppose all the clerical-fascists (those collaborating with the USA as well as those in conflict with it); the Ba’th quasi-fascists; the occupying troops; and every force antagonistic to what they want to see develop.
They will not of course ignore concrete realities and just mouth propagandist abstractions. While maintaining its intransigent class opposition to the US occupying forces, it would be right for such a Third Camp force not to call for immediate US-British withdrawal. It is right for the IFTU not to do so now.
In principle, the revolutionaries should aim to take state power, to make a socialist revolution. In principle I know of no revolutionary socialist or Marxist argument against that. The Iraqi working class has been massively augmented in the last several decades. There was once a powerful working-class tradition, deformed by Stalinism it is true, among Iraqi workers.
What makes the goal of a working-class socialist revolution unrealistic as a short-term prospect? The weakness, as yet, of working-class politics in Iraq. Most of the working class is not emancipated from religion. Few workers have any experience of organising as a class even on the trade union level. The working class needs to be socially and politically enlightened by experience in action and by agitation, propaganda, and education.
For that it needs democratic freedom and time. For that it needs Marxist organisations that have not abandoned the goal of socialist working-class power and which are not too confused or too afraid to advocate — in the spirit of Lenin, Trotsky, and the Bolsheviks in 1917 — the perspective of working-class power.
What timescale are we talking about? I don't know. I don't think anyone can know. In conditions of social breakdown, in the aftermath of the prolonged fascistic dictatorship, tremendous bounds forward in social and political understanding might be possible, given certain political prerequisites. In fact, these are not ‘given’.
Must the labour movement first go through a stage of bourgeois ‘real political time’ before it can fight for socialism? Must things go through a rigidly pre-determined series of stages, beginning with the bourgeois-US/UK regime to which Alan Johnson wants to subordinate everything?
It depends largely on the strength, the activity, and the political line of the Marxists. Tremendous things would be possible in a short time given a revolutionary Marxist organisation in the Lenin-Trotsky tradition. The domination which the clericalists have over the poorest people, in part because of their social welfare networks, would not have become over the last 19 months what it is now. Even a bourgeois-democratic Iraqi republic could prove to be a “Kerensky regime”, an unstable interval, a transitional form never completed or consolidated, between the old dictatorship and working-class power.
The ex-Stalinist organisation which controls the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions is, if I understand it correctly, reformist rather than revolutionary. There are more revolutionary currents in the Iraqi working class, such as the Worker-communist Party of Iraq, but, even aside from the differences of policy we may have with them, they are at present weak. Most likely in the short term things will not develop in the Bolshevik direction or on the 1917 pattern.
Whatever our calculations about how things are likely to develop, we would still favour the same immediate fight for a democratic secular republic. Such a fight, even if it is defeated, is essential. There is no other way in which Marxists can educate the Iraqi working class and prepare workers to make a socialist revolution.
In Russia, when all Marxists, as distinct from the populist agrarian-socialists, believed that the only possible revolution was a bourgeois-democratic revolution that at best would lead to a bourgeois-democratic republic, they debated the question of how they should relate to the bourgeois democrats, the liberal bourgeoisie, the right-populists, etc. The different answers to that question defined and shaped the political formations in Russian Marxism in the 20 years before 1917.
To simplify it a great deal, the Mensheviks said that since it was to be a bourgeois revolution, the bourgeoisie would have to lead it, and therefore the working class should avoid doing anything that would frighten the bourgeoisie. They accommodated to the bourgeois political formations, whose political goal came to be a constitutional monarchy. They educated the workers they influenced in such a spirit.
The Bolsheviks took a radically different approach, even though until 1917 they too believed that only a revolution that would end in bourgeois power was possible.
The Bolsheviks taught the workers they educated to aim for a radical “Jacobin” revolution in the style of the French revolution of 1789-93, led by peasants and workers, that would level all the institutions of the old regime and clear away all the debris of the past. In making such a revolution, in alliance with the peasants, the working class would educate itself in the best way possible and to the highest possible degree to fight the bourgeoisie in power for its own working-class interests.
Even though it was, they believed, certain that a bourgeois-democratic regime, under the bourgeoisie, would be the end result, and for a considerable time ahead, of the anti-Tsarist revolution, by such tactics the working class would best be educated, and the historical epoch of bourgeois rule possibly foreshortened, especially in the event that the radical bourgeois revolution in Russia helped trigger working-class revolutions in European countries which were “ripe” for socialism.
It did not work out like that. The Tsar defeated the revolution of 1905, and when the Tsar was overthrown in 1917 the Bolsheviks steered towards a working-class seizure of power, believing that the World War would trigger working-class revolutions in the West, to which worker-ruled Russia would then become an economically underdeveloped appendage.
The Bolsheviks adopted the old slogan coined by Marx in mid 19th century Europe to define the tactics of working-class organisations fighting side-by-side with bourgeois revolutionaries against royal and feudal reaction: “march separately, strike together”.
The Communist International incorporated those ideas in its basic political platform at the Second Congress in 1920. The Comintern asserted that with such an approach, no period of stable bourgeois rule was now rigidly predetermined for backward countries.
In its early political manifestations, Stalinism broke with that approach. Among the consequences of that was the very bloody defeat of the Chinese working class in 1927 (which has a great deal to say both to the ‘“reactionary anti-imperialists” — and to the democratic pro-imperialists like Alan Johnson!)
The Bolshevik approach provides us with the outline of a proper revolutionary socialist policy in Iraq. It provides us with a framework within which we judge the behaviour of political organisations.
Such judgement, however critical and unfavourable, has no bearing on our defence of all working-class and bona-fide socialist organisations against reaction — whether the militant clerical-fascists or the army of the US neo-conservatives. Just as in the 1980s our defence of the Polish labour movement Solidarnosc against Russian and Polish Stalinism was unconditional — that is, irrespective of its politics — so also our defence of the right of the Iraqi labour movement to exist is unconditional.
The Russian experience and the politics of the Lenin-Trotsky Comintern also provide us with a framework for judging people like the new Alan Johnson.
The central political difficulty in arguing with Alan is that his text shows him to have gone over to the camp of the bourgeoisie. It is from that camp that he addresses all his criticisms about our inconsistency and so on. He rejects all the norms and ‘precedents’ of the revolutionary socialist movement on things like war and peace and how communists behave during a “bourgeois” revolution — everything on which our approach is erected.
Yet he half-pretends that he is arguing still from within the Marxist framework he once had in common with AWL — only that it will become operational in the future — not today, not in “real time”. It is manana Third Campism. For today, he understands the notion that the kitsch-left are “reactionary anti-imperialists” on Iraq — and much else — to imply endorsement of the US and Britain as entirely progressive, and as the progressive protagonist of this era of “real time”.
It is not our “inconsistency”, but our consistency and continuity with the revolutionary Marxist tradition of the Bolsheviks, the early Communist International, and Trotsky's Fourth International, that makes us reject Alan Johnson’s conclusions!
He adopts the “stages” approach of Menshevism and Stalinism. He denounces our “mere propaganda” for the “Third Camp”, while approaching everything, from the question of the British Army in Iraq to the Labour Party conference, in the spirit of a simple-minded and politically stupid propagandist for the progressive mission of democratic imperialism and the bourgeoisie in Iraq.
He takes issue with an editorial preface in Solidarity (3/52, 27 May 2004) to some texts from Lenin and Luxemburg. The preface said: “Solidarity thinks it good that the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq has been smashed. Does that mean that we should have supported Bush or Blair’s war? Does the political judgement that the smashing of Saddam’s regime was a good thing necessarily imply support for those who smashed it? Again, we say, no.
“These sorts of issues and dilemmas have always existed for Marxist socialists. The Marxists in the German Reichstag [parliament] before the First World War operated under the general policy summed up by the slogan ‘Not a man, not a penny, for this system’.”
Alan Johnson garbles this as saying that “socialists must treat the Iraq war like earlier socialists treated World War One and say ‘not a penny for the system’.” In the jargon— Alan prefers the trite and stale sociologese jargon about “the political process”, “real time”, etc. — this is a “revolutionary defeatist position”.
In fact, it isn’t. The simple-minded assertion that it is shows how far Alan has moved from revolutionary socialist politics. The standard Marxist illustration of this is Trotsky’s discussion with Max Shachtman in 1937 about the Spanish Civil War. Trotsky reprised this discussion in January 1940 (From a Scratch to a Danger of Gangrene):
“On September 18, 1937, Shachtman wrote me:
“You say, ‘If we would have a member in the Cortes [parliament] he would vote against the military budget of Negrin [the Republican prime minister].’ Unless this is a typographical error it seems to us to be a non-sequitur. If, as we all contend, the element of an imperialist war is not dominant at the present time in the Spanish struggle, and if instead the decisive element is still the struggle between the decaying bourgeois democracy, with all that it involves, on the one side, and fascism on the other, and further if we are obliged to give military assistance to the struggle against fascism, we don’t see how it would be possible to vote in the Cortes against the military budget... If a Bolshevik-Leninist on the Huesca front were asked by a Socialist comrade why his representative in the Cortes voted against the proposal by Negrin to devote a million pesetas to the purchase of rifles for the front, what would this Bolshevik-Leninist reply? It doesn’t seem to us that he would have an effective answer’.
“This letter astounded me. Shachtman was willing to express confidence in the perfidious Negrin government on the purely negative basis that the ‘element of an imperialist war’ was not dominant in Spain.
“On September 20, 1937, I replied to Shachtman:
‘To vote the military budget of the Negrin government signifies to vote him political confidence... To do it would be a crime. How we explain our vote to the anarchist workers? Very simply: We have not the slightest confidence in the capacity of this government to conduct the war and assure victory. We accuse this government of protecting the rich and starving the poor. This government must be smashed. So long as we are not strong enough to replace it, we are fighting under its command. But on every occasion we express openly our non-confidence in it: it is the only one possibility to mobilise the masses politically against this government and to prepare its overthrow. Any other politics would be a betrayal of the revolution’.’”
In the Spanish Civil War we were revolutionary defencists on the Republican side. 100% and 150% defencists. Trotsky’s text sums up our position in all situations in which we want victory for one side, but pursue the politics of moral class and political enmity towards those in power on that side.
A Trotskyist deputy in the Cortes would indeed have wanted the Republican militias to have guns and the best possible military equipment. (More than once I have encountered otherwise intelligent people who think that Trotsky’s point was that we didn’t want the Stalinists to have guns. But it wasn’t). The voting in the Cortes was — to adapt Alan Johnson’s jargon — part of a political, not a military, process. In voting against the budget we would express not opposition to arming the anti-fascist fighters at the front, but our opposition to those in political control.
To a simple-witted political yokel, and even initially to Max Shachtman, who was neither simple-minded nor an ignoramus, such a thing seems hopelessly self-contradictory. It is only so if such incidents as voting are detached from the connecting chain of which they are part — and detached from socialist perspectives — and treated in isolation. If Trotskyist votes in the Cortes against the military budget would in practice lead to no money for weapons, then we would be in a situation not of voting to express no confidence in the government, but of challenging it for power.
But we would never get to that situation of challenging for power if we were not prepared to start by using our votes and voices to express intransigent hostility to the rulers.
The Labour Party conference is not a bourgeois parliament, like the Cortes, but essentially the same issue is involved there. Trotsky wrote that he was “astounded” that “Shachtman was willing to express confidence in the perfidious Negrin government on the purely negative basis that the ‘element of an imperialist war’ was not dominant in Spain”. I find the idea astounding that at the Labour Party conference — the ‘parliament’ of the political labour movement, or what is left of it — people calling themselves socialists should line up to help win a vote for Blair and his neo-Tory New Labour government, on the purely negative basis of opposition to the kitsch left.
Alan Johnson complains that I “won’t draw a clear political programme for Iraq from [my] critique of ‘reactionary anti-imperialism’.”
For sure I don’t — and, unless I catch Alan’s ailment and lose the socialist will to live, I won’t — deduce from my objections to the “reactionary anti-imperialists” and to the clerical fascists in Iraq a politically suicidal identification of the course of historical progress with the neo-conservative USA. Nor will I identify Bush and Blair as the historical protagonists of progress, deputising for the working class “in real time”, until the working class is ready to create a “Third Camp”.
Hiding behind the pretentious goobledygook about “real time” is the very opposite of any “Third Camp” project. As Lenin wrote about Karl Kautsky:
“We have any number of promises to be a Marxist sometime in another epoch, not under present conditions, not at this moment. For tomorrow we have Marxism on credit, Marxism as a promise, Marxism deferred. For today we have a petty bourgeois opportunist theory — and not only a theory — of softening contradictions... In practice he who denies the sharp tasks of today in the name of dreams about soft tasks in the future becomes an opportunist. Theoretically it means to fail to base oneself on the developments now going on in real life, to detach oneself from them in the name of dreams...”
Think about it. Though labour movements exist in many countries, what does not exist is a strong international “Third Camp” in Trotsky’s sense: a politically independent labour movement, in which the working class acts as a “class for itself” in politics, counterposing itself to all the other camps and in the first place to the bourgeoisie of its own state.
From where we are to that, it is precisely time that is needed. We have a long political way to go, and though great transformations may happen in a relatively short time, the “Third Camp” does not yet exist in “real time” — now. Alan Johnson proposes to abandon it, for now of course. How will it come into existence? Alan is adamant that not propaganda for it will midwife it, but... out and out loyal support (through propaganda, for Alan and his friends are just as much limited to propaganda as we are) for one of the other ‘two’ camps!
Our basic approach is the one Max Shachtman expounded when explaining his opposition to the Korean war.
“We have no intention or desire, no right and no need, to abandon the fight for socialism in this way or in any other. The Third Camp does exist. It is nothing but the camp of the workers and oppressed peoples everywhere who are sick to death of insecurity, exploitation, subjection and increasingly abominable wars, who aspire to freedom, peace and equality.
“We never promised that we would be able to organise them into an independent movement, packed, wrapped, sealed and delivered by a specified date. We did say that unless they are organised into a movement independent of capitalism and Stalinism, the decay and disintegration of the world would continue, as it has. We did say that the forces of the Third Camp of socialism and liberty, are here, and it is our sworn duty to help organise them into an independent movement.
“The only way we know how to do this is: tell the truth about capitalism and Stalinism; help make those we can reach conscious of the problem of society today and how to solve it, and increase the clarity of those who are already partly conscious of it...
“Our opposition to the war does not mean support of Stalinism, in Russia or elsewhere.
“Only ignorant or mendacious people say that. The best that can be said for such people is that they are so completely sceptical about the ability of the masses to attain socialist independence freedom and peace, that in their obtuseness they conclude that the only way American imperialism can be opposed is by helping Stalinist imperialism. We will try to teach the ignorant better; and we will answer the mendacious as they deserve to be answered.
“Our opposition to Stalinist imperialism is not one whit less uncompromising than our opposition to American imperialism. We do not need any instruction on how to fight the latter so that the former is not the gainer thereby. We do not oppose American imperialism so that it may be defeated by Stalinism...
“The Social-Democrats, to whom the Third Camp is a joke because they long ago ceased to regard socialism as a real fighting goal, have naturally proclaimed their adherence to the cause of American imperialism in Korea. The Fourth Internationalists to whom the Third Camp is an incomprehensible and uncomprehended blasphemy because they regard Stalinist totalitarianism as part of the working-class camp, have just as naturally proclaimed their adherence to the side of the Stalinists in Korea.
“The voice of socialist independence and internationalism is stilled in those movements or reduced to a whisper.
“In our movement, it will remain clear and firm. It will be heard, and it will be echoed”.
Alan Johnson takes his stand on “the UN”, on “the UN-backed political transition process”, on “UN resolution 1546”, and on “the validity of the process”. I find this very odd. It is as if one half of his mind is satirising the other — the one that is now governing what he says and does.
In terms of the UN, the US-British invasion of Iraq was notable for the unilateralism of the USA, which Blair meekly followed. Having tried and failed to win UN “legality”, the USA then acted in pointed defiance of the UN. But now Bush has got the UN on board, and Alan is satisfied!
Most anti-war Labour MPs took their stand on the lack of UN approval for the invasion. If Bush had had UN licence for what the US administration had decided to do, everything would have been to their satisfaction. That — as Solidarity repeatedly said — came down to saying that if the US and Britain had managed to bribe, bully, and blackmail enough UN member states to win that licence, then everything would have been fine.
Alan Johnson is even less demanding than the anti-war Labour MPs. He settles for a retrospective UN “legality” and chooses to describe what has happened, and what he hopes will happen, as the “valid UN political process”.
So even if the bungling Bush and the doctrinaire neo-conservatives decided on war as the way to topple Saddam, and for 19 months, since the first phase of the war ended, have done little different from what they would have done if they had wanted to foment a reactionary backlash — even if that happened, the UN is now in charge of “the political process”. That’s all right, then!
Isn’t this a piece of feeble-witted and shameless “spinning”? Isn’t it pitiable ideologising? Who are they trying to kid? Us, or themselves?
Samuel Johnson’s well-known saying, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” is here transmuted. UN-mongering is the last recourse of people who have run out of serious arguments!
It is plain nonsense in terms of who is in charge of the occupying forces in Iraq. The appeal to the UN is also plain nonsense on any level. However much one may yearn for an “international government”, for example to stop the slaughter in Sudan right now, or in Kosova in 1999, the UN is not it. Most of its member states are foul regimes, and they do not collectively cease to be what they are individually.
And the UN does not do anything without the desire of the big powers. It may be that, in difficulties and feeling the need to draw in other powers, the US government will modify its plans. But let us not overstate it. And let us not assume that France and Russia are reliable influences against any defaults in the USA's commitment to democracy!
If there is a case for your policy of positively supporting and taking political responsibility for the occupying forces in Iraq, Alan, then it cannot rest on the UN involvement! If the UN's approval is your real reason for supporting the occupation, then the best course of treatment for what ails you politically is a short, sharp exposure to the facts.
Which AWL is it that “counterpose[s] the need for independent working-class organisations to the UN process as if recognising the validity of the political process necessarily denied such independence?”
It is not the organisational independence of a workers’ movement that is in question here, but, first and foremost and all-conditioning, its political independence. What does “recognising the validity of the political process” mean? (And why does Alan Johnson need to hide behind this sociological jargon?)
If it means that the working-class organisations should use whatever opportunities for political activity are created by way of the “political process” — whether “valid” or otherwise — then AWL is in favour of that. If using those opportunities implies, to adopt Alan Johnson’s favoured jargon, “recognising the validity of the political process’”then so be it. That is of small account. We have agreement, then?
No, we don’t! Alan Johnson means something else entirely. He means that the working-class movement in Iraq should take responsibility for the “process” and those who control it — that they should endorse it on spec, and approve in advance what “the process” between the USA and the various bourgeois and sectarian political forces in Iraq will produce.
But shouldn’t the Iraqi labour movement — to use Alan Johnson’s inimitable way of putting it — want to perform “the (difficult) task of the Iraqi democrats... to bring democratic pro-worker politics into the UN-backed political process and timetable?” What ‘“democrat” — what nameless, classless democrat — would be against that?
The question is how it is to be done. Alan Johnson thinks it can be done by constructive collaboration in which the labour movement accepts in advance that this is the “non-socialist” stage, and for now it must support those in charge of that “stage”, because they are the only “real forces” who can push it through.
The keynote of Alan Johnson’s newly-discovered political axis is that the task of “Iraqi democrats” (he sinks the Iraqi labour movement into the general category of “democrats”) is “to bring democratic pro-worker politics into the UN-backed political process”. That task may be “difficult”. But “the job of the western left” is simple: it is “to support them”. Just in case you think Alan is stupid enough to back something he thinks is wrong, he emphasises why: “because they are right to take this approach”. As the TV feel-good ad puts it: “because I’m worth it”.
Yours, non-Iraqi socialist, is not to reason why. Yours is not to question the question the ideas of “the Iraqi democrats” or the politics of the leaders of the Iraqi labour movement. They’re all democrats, aren’t they?
Alan Johnson’s long list of alleged quotations from unidentified AWL people has the same character — the shoddy polemic typical of Stalinists and hysterical would-be Trotskyists. What do they amount to? A negative portrait of Alan Johnson.
The most significant thing about his quotes is his assumption that all he need do is cite them, point his finger, and jeer. Who is the audience which he can assume will throw back their ears and bray derisively at the criticisms of the IFTU and the condemnations of Allawi? Is it the Blairites?
At most there are nuances among different AWL people, within a common political attitude of opposing the clerical fascists; defending the right of the Iraqi labour movement to exist; favouring the establishment of a bourgeois-democratic regime in Iraq; and refusing to give political credence, any political blank cheque, to the good will, the competence, or the capacity of the British and Americans.
With one exception, nothing in Alan’s citations is at variance with either the political reality in Iraq or with AWL politics — that is, AWL politics conceived in any but a narrow Stalinist concept of politics and of “agreement” as everyone mechanically parroting “the line”.
The one exception is the last part of Alan’s last quotation: “I don't think that the US/UK occupation can or intends to create a democratic society in Iraq”. Alan Johnson has falsified that quotation from an AWLer. He has constructed a single sentence by bolting together two sentences distant from each other in the original, and omitted the very next sentences: “They [the US/UK] would probably be happy with a bourgeois-democratic government which acted strictly within US-government definitions of what is acceptable. But that is well short of what I would call ‘democratic’...” (Comment by Janine Booth on the AWL website, www.workersliberty.org/node/view/3237, 23/10/04). If Alan Johnson were still remotely serious, he would not cheat like that.
AWL thinks that the setting-up of a bourgeois-democratic system is the best immediate possibility from the destruction of the Saddam Hussein regime and the US-British invasion. The Iraqi labour movement will have to struggle for even bourgeois democracy against the US and the UK and their Iraqi allies, as well as against the militantly anti-US clerical-fascists.
We want bourgeois democracy only because the Iraqi working class and its organisations are clearly not yet in a condition of either consciousness or organisation to struggle for their own political power. We want it because bourgeois-democratic rights will be conducive to the development of working-class consciousness and organisation. We believe that the “anti-imperialist” clerical-fascists represent renewed slavery for the Iraqi working class and destruction for its organisations.
The idea — Alan Johnson’s idea — that therefore the following statements which he cites from AWLers are either not true, or should not be said does not follow at all.
1. The IFTU leaders are “right-wing Stalinist bureaucrats”. They are prepared to, and do “collaborate” with the US and British, and subordinate politically to them. And it is an “imperialist occupation” with which they collaborate.
Which of those ideas is wrong, Alan? The 2003 war was an inter-imperialist war (we classified Iraq as a weak regional imperialist power), and it is an imperialist occupation that has followed it.
The fuckwit left pretends that because of the vast disparity of power between Iraq and the US/UK, and because Iraq is an ex-colony, Iraq cannot be defined as “imperialist” or “sub-imperialist”. Alan Johnson, because he hopes for good results from the occupation, thinks that the US-British troops in Iraq cannot be defined as an imperialist occupation — or that they shouldn’t be, for tact.
As it turned out, good came from the post-World-War-Two US occupation of Germany and Japan — after they had buried the dead, reconstructed the economy, and begun to rebuild the cities levelled in terror bombings, including the fire-bombing of Tokyo and the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Japan the USA carried through a thoroughgoing bourgeois-democratic revolution.
And therefore? We have to conclude that World War Two did not come from imperialist rivalries, and that the victors were not (bourgeois-democratic) imperialists?
That the result, bourgeois democracy in Japan and Germany, wipes out the fact of imperialist rivalries, and imperialist methods like the bombing of Dresden or Tokyo? Or that because we hope for a qualifiedly good outcome in Iraq, we must deny that it is an imperialist occupation? That we must support even the economic policies of the US neo-conservatives (as Alan Johnson seems to)?
2. ‘It would be stupid... to use the existence of a potentially more brutal force around al Sadr to excuse the brutality of the occupation’.
It isn't brutal? Its brutality is not an expression of its class character, and even of its ultimate goals?
The idea that we should not say what is what, that we should not name and define for what they are the characteristic brutality of the US military, and the USA’s crude, bungling, rapacious imperialist methods in Iraq, and that we should denounce those who do name them — isn't that the typical psychology and method of the old Stalinists, only inverted here to serve the ruling bourgeoisie?
Alan’s method here is hysterical because it projects its own emotional tensions, conflicts, and uncertainties into a denunciation of those who dare say what is and thus threaten to upset his own unstable inner equilibrium.
Alan, it is sometimes necessary to hold two, or maybe three or four, conflicting aspects of something in your mind at the same time in order to get an accurate picture of reality. A clear opinion in politics often involves sidelining or subordinating certain aspects of the reality, making a decision that they are secondary.
If doing that leads to hysteria, to outright denial of reality, then you can take that as evidence that the job has not been done well, or with sufficient lucidity and rationality.
3. “We disagree with the IFTU’s rallying to Allawi and the Interim Government as a ‘lesser evil’ than Sadr”. Yes, we do. This does not mean that we do not think that the Interim Government is a lesser evil than Sadr. That is not what the dispute is about.
In fact, this more than any other of the items discussed here defines the difference between Alan Johnson and the AWL. The concrete meaning of “rallying to Allawi and the Interim Government” is given here by what the IFTU is doing, having its leading political party, the Communist Party of Iraq, sitting in that government. That is what we reject. We want the Iraqi labour movement to adopt independent working-class politics. (Don’t you, Alan? Some other time, perhaps?)
We don’t want the Iraqi labour movement to pick and choose lesser evils among the anti-working-class “powers” and identify itself with the lesser evil. We want it to hammer out its own politics, independent of all factions of the Iraqi bourgeoisie and of the US and British bourgeoisies. That is what the aspiration to create a “third camp”, outlined in the words of Trotsky at the top of this article, comes down to in Iraqi politics now.
Alan Johnson seems to think that if we don’t take the same approach that he does, then we are saying that it is a matter of indifference to the Iraqi labour movement, and to us, whether an as yet putative bourgeois-democratic government or Sadr’s clerical fascists rule the new Iraq.
Think of those poor, benighted political “idiots”, the Bolsheviks, who in 1917 would not listen to the Mensheviks and SRs, or their own Bolshevik right wing, arguing that they needed to rally politically to the Provisional Government in order to prevent the victory of reaction.
4. We oppose any labour movement, “anywhere”, “working along with ruling classes”.
This follows from the ABC of our class-struggle socialist politics. (Remember? The politics you used to share.) The ruling classes are our enemy — everywhere. If we find ourselves having parallel interests with bourgeois-democratic elements of a ruling class against, say, fascism, secular or clerical, we maintain our fundamental class position and our political independence.
When the Bolsheviks fought against Kornilov’s attempted coup in Russia in September 1917, Lenin wrote:
“Even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. This is unprincipled. We may be asked: aren’t we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing line here, which is being stepped over by some Bolsheviks who fall into compromise and allow themselves to be carried away by the course of events.
“We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness. There is the difference”. (To the Central Committee of the RSDLP, 12 September 1917).
It is easy for a new-fledged realpolitiker philistine concerned with “real time” to dismiss this as just Lenin playing with words. After all, the Bolsheviks fought Kornilov, and thereby in fact “supported” the Kerensky government against those who tried to overthrow it.
Lenin was concerned that there should be no blurring of distinctions, no hint or talk of “supporting” Kerensky in any positive or political sense, no suggestion of the Bolsheviks “softening” their hostility to the government besides whose forces they were fighting to defeat a common enemy that threatened both the Kerensky government and the labour movement.
The Bolshevik refusal to “support” Kerensky was a pledge for the future, which they redeemed when they chased Kerensky out of St Petersburg on 7 November 1917.
Suppose we led or influenced working-class anti-fascist partisan forces in France or Italy at the end of World War Two, who found themselves on the same side as the invading armies of US and British imperialism, what would Alan Johnson suggest our approach should be? If we “worked along with” the invading armies against a common enemy, it would be only to an extent limited by the exigencies of maintaining our political and military independence, and informed by the certainty that we would come into conflict with those armies and with their French and Italian supporters.
It speaks volumes about his politics now that Alan Johnson feels obliged to denounce this idea — and that he feels he can do so by just quoting words which dissent from the idea of “working along with ruling classes” and by pointing the jeering finger.
5. “The Allawi administration is... additionally, the puppet of an occupying foreign power”. It was certainly put in power by the invaders; it is to a decisive extent still very much their creature. A “puppet”? It is heavily dependent on the USA and its army. It is more a puppet than an independent regime.
I don’t think this makes the strategy of the IFTU “worse” than it would be with any other bourgeois or non-working-class government. But Alan’s thought here is what? Because we hope that this interim government installed by the invaders will be transitional to something more like an independent and popularly supported bourgeois-democratic government, we must refrain from being “nasty” about it now. We should avoid saying true but unpleasant, debunking things. We should avoid brutally characterising it as what it certainly is.
Apart from its blatant political faults, Alan Johnson’s approach here is also simply childish!
6. “The IFTU representatives’ actions at Labour Party conference are a ‘level of collaboration’ with the government party of an occupying power that goes well beyond what is necessary to secure the space for unions to develop in Iraq...”
What part of the text he quotes does Alan think is wrong? That Labour Party is not the governing party of an occupying power? The maintenance and securing of the space for unions to develop in Iraq did require that the IFTU — and, of course, Alan and his friends — help Blair out at Labour Party conference?
We do not want the clerical fascists to win in Iraq, and right now if the US and (very much secondarily) the British troops are withdrawn, they probably will win, or in any case Iraq will be torn apart in a civil war in which the labour movement will most likely be destroyed. Does it therefore follow that we must do our bit to help Blair defeat his critics in the labour movement, and to the extent of becoming political sheepdogs for Blair at the Labour Party conference? Nothing of the sort!
Support for the IFTU against the various reactionaries does not imply for us endorsing, defending, and propagating, still less practising in the British labour movement, the IFTU leaders’ politics for Iraq. From the point of view of our politics, the point of view he used to have, it is one of the most damning aspects of Alan Johnson’s two-campism that for him now it does.
The issue between here between revolutionary socialists and Alan Johnson is not disposed of by badmouthing the fuckwit anti-imperialists who back even the clerical fascists against Britain and America. We are political militants. The whole of politics is not defined for us by Iraq, or, negatively, by the SWP. Trotsky expressed our approach here in an article of 1939:
“The policy that attempts to place upon the proletariat the insoluble task of warding off all dangers engendered by the bourgeoisie and its policy of war is vain, false, mortally dan-gerous. ‘But fascism might be victorious!’ ‘But the USSR ismenaced!’ ‘But Hitler’s invasion would signify the slaughter of workers!’ And so on, without end.
“Of course, the dangers are many, very many. It is impossible not only to ward them-- all off, but even to foresee all of them. Should the proletariat attempt at the expense of the clarity and irreconcilability of its fundamental policy to chase after each episodic danger separately, it will unfailingly prove itself bankrupt... The workers will be able to profit to the full from this monstrous chaos only if they occupy themselves not by acting as supervisors of the historical process but by engaging in the class struggle...”
(A Step Towards Social Patriotism, 7 March 1939).
7. “I don’t think that the US/UK occupation can or intends to create a democratic society in Iraq”. As we have seen, Alan Johnson falsifies this quotation by lopping off the next sentences, where the AWL author said that the US/UK might engineer a bourgeois-democratic regime, but one far from our idea of full democracy.
Even without the falsification, it is astonishing that Alan Johnson thinks he can dispose of this quotation by finger-pointing and jeering. The proposition that the US/UK cannot create any sort of democratic system may, tragically, prove to be true. It goes right to the heart of the differences in our attitude to the USA and Britain.
The political arrogance, the military brutality, the reckless use of power and fire-power, and the naked rapacity of the USA — their plan to sell off Iraqi state assets, and their insistence that reconstruction contracts go to foreign, mostly US, corporations — cut against the possibility of a democratic system developing. All that is summed up for us in the use of words like “bourgeois” and “imperialist” to describe them. It is not just a matter of abstract labels and name-tags: things like that are what the names break down into, “on the ground” and in practice.
By Sean Matgamna
- Click here for the concluding part of this article in Solidarity 3/64.