Troops, militias and slogans

Comrades from all sides of the AWL’s debate on Iran/Iraq summarise what they they thought of the debate, what they think were the important arguments in the discussion and where they think the discussion can now go. Solidarity will continue this debate. Please send in (short) contributions.

All members of the AWL agree on three basic points: 1. opposition to the occupation, 2. the clerical-fascist nature of the various sectarian movements and 3. that we give exclusive political support to the Iraqi labour movement, women’s and LGBT organisations. We wish to see these particular movements take political power. Revolutionaries cannot give such support to the occupation forces or to clerical-fascists.

Our slogans must square the issue of political support with “military support”. Imagine a situation where a unified, bourgeois nationalist movement took up arms against the occupation forces. This movement would be no great champion of the working-class. Nevertheless, we could give “military support” to this movement because we would prefer national self-determination for Iraq as opposed to continued occupation.

But in Iraq, we are not dealing with such a movement. The “resistance” is indisputably hostile to the labour movement, is the murderous enemy of women’s liberation and LGBT people. “Military support” is governed by political considerations — it is not a matter of picking a lesser-evil.

Clerical-fascists are as anxious to kill our comrades in Iraq as they are the occupation forces — often more so. The political consequences of a “victory” for clerical-fascism over the occupation (i.e. the withdrawal of occupation troops/the scuttling of Iraq) would envelop the country in full-scale civil war between rival Sunni and Shia factions, would probably involve military interventions from Turkey and Iran, would cancel out any and all prospects for national liberation for the foreseeable future. Neither the labour movement or the “Iraqi government” are strong enough to resist these consequences.

Yet the slogans “Troops out” and “Troops out now” concretely mean military support for clerical-fascist movements. The slogans positively “will” a victory for these movements. Therefore, we cannot and should not adopt them.
Tom Unterrainer

I support the slogan “solidarity with Iraqi workers, troops out now” because it is the correct and most sharpest formulation of a “third camp” position in Iraq, while maintaining our opposition to the various shades of Shia/Sunni fundamentalisms operating in Iraq. We must also make a clearer stand against a imperialist occupation that has made Iraq a hell on earth.

The demand for the troops to leave Iraq Now is being made by nearly all of the major Iraqi trade unions, we have a duty to support them.

Supporting Iraqi trade unionists strike against the privatisation of the oil industry (as we rightly do) but not supporting them in their call to rid their country of the imperialist force that is carrying out the privatisation is an inconsistent position.

If the labour movement were to flex its muscles and certain sections threatened industrial action again occupation, then what would our position be? We supported strikes against the war etc., but we don't believe in troops out now. It is not a consistent position.

It is said that the occupation troops are in some way holding back the fundamentalists from attacking and destroying trade unionists, LGBT, secular people, women who refuse to wear the veil etc. This is flawed and not the reality of Iraq now.

The Badr Corps are taking over the police apparatus in some Iraqi cities — an example of how the state and the fundamentalist forces and militias have meshed and merged — all with tacit approval of the US. Abduction, murder and torture by the Badr Corps and other fundamentalist militias — under the noses of the US army — is not a prediction of an apocalyptic future, it is happening now. Things cannot get any worse for many sections of Iraqi society.
Faryal Velmi

Over the last few years the debate on Iraq has become something of a ritual with both sides merely repeating previous arguments about the “Troops Out” slogan. The issues are, I think, more than just a question of slogans. Those arguing for the majority position claim that they just oppose “troops out” but otherwise oppose the occupation. The problem is that their need to oppose that slogan has led to a serious imbalance in what we say in our press.

Long descriptive/analytical articles end with a call for solidarity with the Iraqi workers’ movement (which all agree on) and the vague assurance that we are against the occupation too. While the majority is willing to cheer on workers taking action in the UK or US against the war — and this in itself is in contradiction with the view that withdrawal would be harmful — there is little agitational or propaganda material in Solidarity that would encourage them to take such action.

We need more material and arguments on opposing the occupation and support for Iraqi self-determination if we are to present a rounded position on what is politically necessary in Iraq and Britain.

I am therefore sympathetic to many of the arguments of the alternative position, though I think they are also mistaken in making the troops out slogan the focus of the argument. I could not vote for this position as there were many things in the text I did not agree with, ranging from windy rhetoric about “acquiescing in imperialism”, and the deletion of any opposition to the Iranian regime acquiring nuclear weapons to a confused argument in support of the troops out slogan.

We have started a discussion about the programme we advocate for the Iraqi labour movement if it is to become a strong force in the current situation. Hopefully that will take the discussion forward.
Bruce Robinson

There is a level of unease in our organisation at the perceived inadequacy of our position on Iraq. It’s a perception that I obviously feel is entirely legitimate. But where should the discussion within the AWL usefully go from here.

One of the most encouraging elements of the debate at our conference was the acknowledgement by several supporters of the majority position that the debate was indeed about more than a journalistic tinkering with slogans. Those of us with the minority position (I use the terms “majority” and “minority” loosely, as neither are ideologically homogenous blocs) have stressed all along that our position is about re-orientating AWL’s coverage and propaganda on Iraq away from mere geo-political commentary and towards an attempt to thrash out the means by which organised labour — in Iraq and internationally — can catalyse a working-class, anti-occupation, pro-democracy and pro-secularism movement that can force the withdrawal of troops on progressive terms.

We believe that clear, sharp slogans addressing the presence of those troops (such as “troops out”) are an important aspect of the political basis for building such a movement, but the formulation of words is for me very much secondary to the overall political perspective of which the slogans are a part.

Comrades have indicated a willingness to open up a discussion about what kind of politics and programme is necessary for such a movement to be built, and I think this is now the most fruitful and productive terrain upon which to continue the debate. We need to make sure that such a programme is not developed on the basis of the kind of abstentionist politics that we feel have characterised the majority’s position until now.
Daniel Randall

The Iraq debate was not a precise and honest debate, but instead marred by ambiguity and ill-defined protest.

The counter-motion on Iraq accused the organisation of two key political errors. One, ignoring or under-stating opposition to US-led intervention and occupation of Iraq. Two, abstaining from slogans about the presence of troops that, in turn, reflects a support for imperialism and a disregard for building the third camp.

Further still, two caricatures have been implicitly posed in this debate. One, that of an organisation dominated by geeky, armchair, geopolitical analysts who want to play chess with Iraq and (in the process) crudely and anti-dialectically reading off facts on the ground a set of sloganistic demands that are incapable of effecting any meaningful change. Two, that of an organisation sinking under the weight of doom-mongerers who have an abject lack of faith in the potential of independent working class agency.

Proponents of the counter-motion are our political saviours? The problem is that they are seriously wrong in their political assessment of the organisation. How and why have they come to be so wrong? I think the answer is rooted in two things.

Firstly, an embodied, experiential unease, and therefore political misinterpretation, of honest anti-imperialism. Honest anti-imperialism means that within our overall and given opposition to imperialism, we systematically assess and state all of the side-effects of imperialism through particular moments and localities. That can lead to seemingly (and I mean seemingly) contradictory statements on imperialism. This has led to a simultaneous uncomfortableness and confusion.

Secondly, an idea that it’s okay and enough to simply posture with slogans, i.e., to reap the agitational power of sharp words alone. In this case, those supposedly ever-so sharp words “troops out/troops out now”. The tradition of the AWL is that, in deciding our slogans we assess both the most likely alternatives if those demands were to be fulfilled and the consequences of these alternatives for the third camp.

It is alarming that while the proponents of the counter-motion admit that a likely outcome of “troops out/troops out now” being fulfilled under present conditions would be a bloody annihiliation of the labour movement in Iraq, they shrug off the political responsibility of such a slogan.

The comrades circumvent this whole methodological mess by making “troops out/troops out now” some sort of all-powerful, ultra-sharp agitational tool (not a demand as such, or, more accurately, a transitional demand in one's head). “Troops out/troops out now” is thus seen as a tool that can deliver a strong and buoyant labour movement, which will first drive the troops out and then deal with the (secondary) problem of the Islamist, sectarian militias.

In brief, the counter-motion demonstrates a stagist, fantasy politics.
Camila Bassi

Whoever forces the troops out of Iraq would likely take power. The strongest anti-occupation forces at the moment are the contending Islamist militias, each of which are trying to lay their hands on a chunk of territory. But that is hardly evidence that if the workers one day forced the troops out (imagine the damage which could be caused to the occupation by prolonged oil strikes or indeed strikes “back home”) then Islamist power would surge. When dockers in Umm Qasr and Khor Alzubair staged a brief strike on May Day for the immediate withdrawal of troops in solidarity with American port workers doing the same, they were not “objectively” fuelling sectarian war or “objectively” accelerating their own demise. They were strengthening the camp of the working class as an independent political force. We should support them and their demands.
David Broder

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