"Troops out": defeated amendment on Iraq (4.1)

To replace all of the part of the existing document between the words "A victory for the Sunni-sectarian resistance..." and "...Iraq can be a democratic and secular country"

In the face of the carnage brought on by the invasion, occupation and ensuing sectarian conflict, the Iraqi workers' movement must seek to build itself as an active element of social change. Its slogans must be oriented towards cohering the working class as an united, independent force fighting for democracy and liberation.

In an Iraq in which the population overwhelmingly opposes the presence of troops and favours their withdrawal, it is a fantasy to believe that this workers' movement - that is, the only conceivable agent of democratic change in Iraq - can become strong enough to defeat either the occupation or the Islamists without posing itself sharply against the occupation. An Iraqi labour movement that followed the logic that we have until now advocated would resign itself to simply hanging on to what remains of its organisations as violence and chaos gradually extend their reign over the country. It is not possible to 'sit in the middle' of the coalition and the Islamists - there is extensive involvement of far-right militias in the US-UK-backed political structures, the Basra police are under control of Moqtada-al-Sadr and coalition forces have their very own allies among the Islamist death-squads.

Moreover, the question of the presence of US/UK troops, and when they should leave, is not just a matter for "various ruling-class and reactionary factions". For IWF members whose offices are raided, for UUI members whose demonstrations are fired upon, for oil workers struggling against privatisation orchestrated by Washington, and indeed for the entire working class, for whom the troops and various other "security forces" pose an immediate physical threat, the question of the presence of troops is a daily concern of paramount importance.

Our programme is for a democratic, secular Iraq (with the right of the Kurds to self-determination, rights for other minorities, etc.) and for working-class power throughout the Middle East. The demand for troop withdrawal is essential for the workers' movement - self-determination is not just one of many democratic rights, but a prerequisite upon which any hope of democracy rests. It is quite clear that foreign troops have no chance of imposing a democratic settlement from above, increasingly willing to sell out their initial democratic pretensions in the hope that some sort of authoritarian-soft Islamist government might bring stability and an excuse to pull out. The troops staying for a few more months or years before withdrawal is not going to change that dynamic.

Continuing social collapse and the victory of US/UK imperialism or the far-right sectarian militias in Iraq would obviously be disastrous for the working class. But holding our hands up in despair at the situation and righteously promising ourselves that we will reassess our stance once the labour movement is stronger is a recipe for giving US/UK imperialism a free hand in the Middle East. This is no good, since the whole question is - how can the workers' movement become stronger? If it promulgates de facto reliance on the occupation, it will never be able to. What it needs is a politics - and slogans - defining its democratic alternative.

For us, the key focus is not abstract anti-imperialist sloganeering but practical solidarity. We are working-class anti-imperialists and our primary task is therefore to develop working-class forces wherever we can. Our work through campaigns such as IUS should continue to determine the spirit of our activity on Iraq. If we do not express our opposition to the presence of troops and our desire for their withdrawal (in both our propaganda and slogans), we risk reducing painting a picture of the Iraqi labour movement as a passive actor capable of nothing more than battening down the hatches while the conflict over the occupation takes places above its heads between various imperialist and sub-imperialist forces.

There is no easy sloganistic way to answer the question "should the troops withdraw immediately or stay until whenever?", and we should not pretend otherwise. But as the only tendency on the British left serious about solidarity with Iraqi workers, our slogans still have an important job to do even if they cannot, in and of themselves, sum up our entire attitude to the situation. We should intervene in the anti-war movement and the labour movement on this issue to convince activists that the Iraqi workers' movement can and must become the hegemonic anti-occupation force. To do this, we need to pose ourselves more sharply against the occupation. We must patiently explain in our propaganda that we do not believe the troops have any progressive role and their continued presence daily worsens life for working-class Iraqis. This perspective - one of focusing on practical solidarity while emphasising the role of the labour movement as the active democratic, anti-imperialist and anti-sectarian agency in Iraq - is best summed up in the slogans "Solidarity with Iraqi workers against the occupation and against the sectarian militias. Troops out of Iraq."

The final section of the document, as amended, would read:

In short, the US neo-cons' experiment in Iraq in their variety of imperialism, following on decades of economic and political pulverisation in the country (totalitarian regime since the late 1970s, war 1980-88, war again 1991, sanctions 1991-2003) has taken Iraq into the abyss.

***

In the face of the carnage brought on by the invasion, occupation and ensuing sectarian conflict, the Iraqi workers' movement must seek to build itself as an active element of social change. Its slogans must be oriented towards cohering the working class as an united, independent force fighting for democracy and liberation.

In an Iraq in which the population overwhelmingly opposes the presence of troops and favours their withdrawal, it is a fantasy to believe that this workers' movement - that is, the only conceivable agent of democratic change in Iraq - can become strong enough to defeat either the occupation or the Islamists without posing itself sharply against the occupation. An Iraqi labour movement that followed the logic that we have until now advocated would resign itself to simply hanging on to what remains of its organisations as violence and chaos gradually extend their reign over the country. It is not possible to 'sit in the middle' of the coalition and the Islamists - there is extensive involvement of far-right militias in the US-UK-backed political structures, the Basra police are under control of Moqtada-al-Sadr and coalition forces have their very own allies among the Islamist death-squads.

Moreover, the question of the presence of US/UK troops, and when they should leave, is not just a matter for "various ruling-class and reactionary factions". For IWF members whose offices are raided, for UUI members whose demonstrations are fired upon, for oil workers struggling against privatisation orchestrated by Washington, and indeed for the entire working class, for whom the troops and various other "security forces" pose an immediate physical threat, the question of the presence of troops is a daily concern of paramount importance.

Our programme is for a democratic, secular Iraq (with the right of the Kurds to self-determination, rights for other minorities, etc.) and for working-class power throughout the Middle East. The demand for troop withdrawal is essential for the workers' movement - self-determination is not just one of many democratic rights, but a prerequisite upon which any hope of democracy rests. It is quite clear that foreign troops have no chance of imposing a democratic settlement from above, increasingly willing to sell out their initial democratic pretensions in the hope that some sort of authoritarian-soft Islamist government might bring stability and an excuse to pull out. The troops staying for a few more months or years before withdrawal is not going to change that dynamic.

Continuing social collapse and the victory of US/UK imperialism or the far-right sectarian militias in Iraq would obviously be disastrous for the working class. But holding our hands up in despair at the situation and righteously promising ourselves that we will reassess our stance once the labour movement is stronger is a recipe for giving US/UK imperialism a free hand in the Middle East. This is no good, since the whole question is - how can the workers' movement become stronger? If it promulgates de facto reliance on the occupation, it will never be able to. What it needs is a politics - and slogans - defining its democratic alternative.

For us, the key focus is not abstract anti-imperialist sloganeering but practical solidarity. We are working-class anti-imperialists and our primary task is therefore to develop working-class forces wherever we can. Our work through campaigns such as IUS should continue to determine the spirit of our activity on Iraq. If we do not express our opposition to the presence of troops and our desire for their withdrawal (in both our propaganda and slogans), we risk reducing painting a picture of the Iraqi labour movement as a passive actor capable of nothing more than battening down the hatches while the conflict over the occupation takes places above its heads between various imperialist and sub-imperialist forces.

There is no easy sloganistic way to answer the question "should the troops withdraw immediately or stay until whenever?", and we should not pretend otherwise. But as the only tendency on the British left serious about solidarity with Iraqi workers, our slogans still have an important job to do even if they cannot, in and of themselves, sum up our entire attitude to the situation. We should intervene in the anti-war movement and the labour movement on this issue to convince activists that the Iraqi workers' movement can and must become the hegemonic anti-occupation force. To do this, we need to pose ourselves more sharply against the occupation. We must patiently explain in our propaganda that we do not believe the troops have any progressive role and their continued presence daily worsens life for working-class Iraqis. This perspective - one of focusing on practical solidarity while emphasising the role of the labour movement as the active democratic, anti-imperialist and anti-sectarian agency in Iraq - is best summed up in the slogans "Solidarity with Iraqi workers against the occupation and against the sectarian militias. Troops out of Iraq."

***

George W Bush's new "surge" policy in Iraq is a recipe for more bloodshed on the lines of the assault on Fallujah in November 2004 - but also, so it seems more and more, a botched compromise which makes no sense from any angle at all.

It is a compromise between those in the US ruling class who argued for a big increase in US forces, and those who argued for winding down the US military presence. Between those who argued for "betting on the Shia", focusing fire on the Sunni resistance, and those who wanted a simultaneous or fiercer push against the more militant Shia Islamists. Between those who want to boost the Maliki government, and those who want to push it aside. Between those who still want to seek a deal with elements of the Sunni "resistance", and those who see no alternative but to try to beat down that "resistance" by crude force.

Between those who want to try to do a deal with Iran and Syria, and those who want a "hard line" and exclusive alignment with Iran's enemies, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc.

None of the "pure" alternatives can be judged to have any great probability of producing good results. The botched compromise has even less.

***

The only hope for democratic self-determination for the peoples of Iraq lies with non-sectarian forces like the harassed Iraqi labour movement. Our duty is solidarity with the Iraqi workers against both the US/UK forces and the sectarian militias.

The text deleted is:

A victory for the Sunni-sectarian "resistance" - i.e. scuttling by the US - would predictably mean:
a) Full-scale civil war, with great bloodshed;
b) Probably, invasion by neighbouring countries such as Iran, maybe Turkey, maybe others;
c) The carving-up of Iraq into a number of statelets, and, probably, the extinction of any possibility of democratic self-determination for the peoples of Iraq for a long time to come;
d) The destruction of the new Iraqi labour movement and the limited press freedom and civil liberties which now exist.

***

We are against the status quo in Iraq. But at this moment in time all we can do is try to build the forces which can change the situation for the better. We have no immediate answer.

In these conditions, the question, when should the US/UK troops get out, is in reality a question between the various ruling-class and reactionary factions.

To respond the US talk of future withdrawal by saying “no, no, now!” is simply to try to dictate one or other option to the ruling class. It is fantasy to think we can do that. In any case, their withdrawal as a result of failure and defeat at the hands of the sectarian militias is not our programme for Iraq.

Our programme is for a democratic, secular Iraq (with the right of the Kurds to self-determination, rights for other minorities, etc.) and for working- class power throughout the Middle East.

The victory of the sectarian militias would push anynear-term feasibility of this programme even further away, and bring the rapid destruction of the force that might (as it becomes stronger) lead a successful struggle for the programme, i.e. The Iraqi workers’ movement.

The only way to answer the question “should the troops withdraw immediately, or stay until whatever?” is to say: in fact it is beyond our collective power to determine when they withdraw.It is a fantasy of “anti-imperialist” politics that somehow the Western anti-war movement, in abstraction from the sectarian militias in Iraq, is going to drive out the troops. In any case, it is the wrong focus.If we care about the peoples of Iraq, we should build solidarity with those forces who can ensure that when the troops withdraw, Iraq can be a democratic and secular country.