Iraq: some questions and one amendment

Submitted by martin on 25 April, 2003 - 12:53

By Bruce R

I don't particularly want to reopen this discussion in the terms in which it was previously posed. However, though I could vote for it, I find the formulation on this in the conference document somewhat unclear and possibly contradictory and also believe that there at the least nuances in the group that may (or may not) reflect differences on this issue.
So I think it is worth going through the relevant part of the document in detail.

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 in 23-25 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.

This paragraph seems to be concerned with the issue as one of which slogans best convey what we want to say and avoid confusing it with what others using the same slogan from a quite different view point are saying. I don't have a particular problem with that - though I cannot see that instead saying 'End the occupation' in itself avoids the possible implications in the last sentence.

In a similar vein, Martin wrote in DB 239: "We did not use "troops out" as a slogan or summary demand. Why not? Because we did not support the actual forces actually fighting to drive the troops out, namely, Saddam's forces. And, as Trotsky put it, we should "never play with slogans that are not revolutionary by their own content but can play a quite different role according to the political conjuncture, the relationship of forces, etc..." Analogously, e.g. our comrades objected to sloganising "down with the Treaty of Versailles" in inter-war Germany, not because they didn't oppose the Treaty of Versailles, but because they had to distinguish themselves from German-imperialist opposition to Versailles. Or, closer to the case, before the war we deliberately refrained from slogans such as "Hands off Iraq" and "Defend Iraq". Of course we will support a popular movement for self determination as and when it develops against a US occupying government. But the actual war could not be conflated with that…"

These passages seem to be saying just that we only use TO as part of a detailed argument in which we make clear the reactionary nature of the 'resistance' (paras 23-5 of the document), the danger of civil war etc. This is essentially an argument about slogans / journalism (how we present our positions) and as such of secondary importance.

However I think the arguments put forward in support of it may have different implications, particularly when taken in conjunction with what we have said about Ireland where we have argued against the use of 'troops out' on the grounds that the most likely consequence would be sectarian civil war. Does our 'concern about the likelihood of civil war' (which I share) override what we say about the occupation?

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.

At the risk of being accused of semantic pedantry (surely not! ;)), I think these paragraphs can be taken to mean something different from the question of slogans / presentation. What does it mean to say 'the democratic, secular, and working class forces which must replace the occupation'? Clearly, not that these forces must *of necessity* be the ones that replace the occupation. There are other more powerful forces that are more likely to be the ones that immediately replace the occupation. Rather it implies that our opposition to the occupation is conditional on those being the forces that replace the occupation, in which case the question of troops out is relegated to the distant future. The need to 'reassess this' (it is unclear what 'this' refers to) could thus be taken to mean either the point at which these forces become strong enough to fufill the condition that we could call for troops out without the danger of 'victory to the resistance' / communal war or that at that point we would use the slogan more prominently.

Shouldn't we take the same position on the occupation overall as on the question of elections (para 36)? That is that we are in favour of it full stop while recognising that the forces we favour will be in a minority (and should prepare themselves for that situation by taking steps for self-defence etc). Certainly they cannot depend on the occupation forces to defend them - rather the opposite.

I would emphasise that I am not accusing the author of bad faith here or of trying to smuggle in a hidden position by the back door but to work out what is meant here. It may be just badly written. However I think probably many of us are juggling with a genuine dilemma between the role of the occupation and the possible effects of a withdrawal - and that there are probably also different understandings of why we don't use the TO slogan - so it is important that we think it through and bring those positions out into the open.

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.

I don't think anyone would disagree with this or our focus on solidarity.


The document rightly says that we should not exclude the possibility that the US will bring some form of bourgeois democracy to Iraq. Like the document I think it is unlikely that they will succeed - at least in a form that will be stable - but we should neither exclude nor assume this possibility.

Either way bourgeois democracy is not a fixed quantity but something that takes a particular form as a result of struggle. The document does not say much about the role of democratic demands outside of the national question but I think they are central to day-to-day struggles in which the left make real gains and can grow and also win the space in which to be able to function in the future. In this context, we should add something to the document on this together with a clear statement about it being right to place demands on the occupation authorities.


Add para 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'."