The deteriorating situation in Iraq, and the decree of the Baghdad government confiscating the funds of the trade unions, requires of international socialists that we review our politics and our slogans on Iraq. Should the demand be raised for the immediate withdrawal of US and British troops?
We opposed the 2003 US/UK war. We champion self-determination for Iraq. We are for troops out of Iraq. But we have refused to join in the calls of the “anti-war” movement for troops out of Iraq now. We reject the idea of supporting the so-called “resistance” against the forces of occupation, which is — given the balance of forces — what Troops Out Now! inevitably means. Instead we have emphasised support for Iraqi workers against both the “resistance” and the US/UK.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently said, in a speech in the Middle East, that for decades the USA had internationally pursued security rather than democracy, and as a result got neither. Whether she meant it or not, it was true.
But even if it now sincerely wants to “export democracy”, the US regime remains itself — an imperialist regime which intertwines possibly desirable goals with those of global-market capitalist exploitation, and with its own often reactionary or maladroit methods.
The power against internal opposition of a totalitarian regime such as Saddam Hussein's should not be underestimated, but even so there were other ways besides a murderous and destructive war that the Saddam regime could have been squeezed and undermined and, most importantly, the peoples of Iraq encouraged and helped to make their own revolution against Saddam.
The Americans, flanked by the British, descended on Iraq as arrogant plunderers. They behaved and behave as nervous conquerors, deploying massive firepower on the streets against the people. They created economic chaos and had no idea how to go beyond it. They installed, as the new “Iraqi government”, exiles who had told the CIA how “democratic” they were, but who had no popular support in the country and, many of them, turned out to be vulgar embezzlers.
In short, they set about “democratising” Iraq, as the first step in a drive for bourgeois democracy in the Middle East, in ways that expressed their own nature, their own priorities, their own interests, and, above all, their own limitations. As Solidarity — rejecting the politics of the tiddletown-neo-con “socialists” who support Bush and Blair — warned they would (if it served their interests), they have accommodated to reactionary clerical forces in Iraq, agreeing to an Islamist constitution. Only a secular constitution, treating everybody of whatever religion, or none, as equal citizens, can ever hope to provide a framework for the peaceful co-existence of the peoples of a divided country like Iraq
Imperialism remains imperialism — American imperialism and its “close comrade in arms”, Tony Blair's Britain. There is no reason to doubt that Bush and Blair sincerely want to establish some species of bourgeois democracy in Iraq. There is every reason — and, day by day, more and more reason — to doubt that they can succeed in that objective.
During its half-century of competition with the Russian Stalinist empire, the USA backed reactionary anti-Stalinist regimes everywhere — even, for three decades, the last surviving regime from the Hitler-Mussolini era, that of Franco in Spain.
Proclaiming a campaign for the “democratic way of life” against Stalinism, the USA sided with reaction everywhere, with regimes the opposite of the malfunctioning but nonetheless real bourgeois democracy in the USA itself. It backed the Arab feudalists in Saudi Arabia. It backed Saddam Hussein in the savage war which he launched against Iran in 1980.
For all its obsessive “anti-communism”, the consequence of the US approach, backing every foul and reactionary regime that opposed “communism”, that is, Stalinism, was that in country after country the USA helped the Stalinists to win over opponents of the regimes and systems which the US backed.
Throughout the world there was thus set up a symbiotic relationship between Stalinism and reactionary American anti-Stalinism. They fed off each other.
The USA is no longer locked in that symbiotic competition with Russia. The possibility might have opened up that the Americans would really champion the sort of bourgeois-democratic transformation it says it wants in Iraq — that they might do in other areas what they did in West Germany and Japan after 1945. But possibilities are one thing, actualities another.
Not now the old US-Stalinist symbiosis of the last half of the 20th century, but a similar symbiosis between the USA and Sunni-supremacist reaction in Iraq (and Islamists in many other countries) is in operation. There is a disturbing parallel in that the Islamic fundamentalists can appeal successfully to the poor with a programme as deceptive as that of the Stalinists, who promised freedom and brought semi-slavery to the people over whon they came to rule.
The instinctive brutality and sole-superpower arrogance of the USA feeds the reaction in Iraq. The possibility that the outcome of the smashing of the Saddam regime can be progress, if only to bourgeois democracy for the peoples of Iraq, is greatly diminishing.
Should socialists therefore adopt the call for immediate US-British withdrawal, on the grounds that catastrophe is almost certain and delaying withdrawal will only worsen it?
The case for that gets stronger by the day. The occupying forces were always an element in the chaos, as well as a “promise” that they might set a framework in which a bourgeois-democratic government with enough support to survive could emerge as an alternative to the chaos. More and more now, they are only a component of the chaos.
But saying troops out now almost certainly implies giving up on all hopes that the Iraqi labour movement can use the openings it still has to help avert all-out civil war and gain conditions where it can survive. It means abandoning hope that even a badly flawed bourgeois-democratic or semi-democratic regime, not speak of anything better, can emerge in Iraq. It means to despair of any outcome but sectarian-communal civil war, the probable break-up of Iraq, and the destruction of the Iraqi labour movement (a labour movement which is an island of anti-sectarian working class unity in Iraq).
That is a conclusion which socialists should refuse to accept until there is no hope left at all. Better by far to err, if err we must, on the side of caution and “wait and see” than on the other side, despair — still less, despair dressed up in the mad triumphalism of the “reactionary anti-imperialists”.
Look at the dishonest, demagogic, and fantasy-mongering way that the “troops out now” people, mainly the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), have argued for their position.
They are calling the demonstration they have planned for 24 September “the Peace and Liberty march”. Yet the “resistance” they support is a movement of Sunni supremacists, Islamists, and quasi-fascist Ba'thists opposed to any democracy in Iraq because it would mean an end to the long domination of the country by the Sunni minority.
Troops out now would bring neither liberty nor peace to Iraq. It would bring greatly intensified civil war between Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish communal forces. As sure as anything calculable is sure, it would mean the snuffing out for the foreseeable future of all hope of civil liberty in Iraq and the snuffing out of the Iraqi labour movement that has revived in the two and a half years since the invaders destroyed the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein.
It would probably mean the three-way break-up of Iraq into distinct Sunni-majority, Shia-majority, and Kurdish-majority areas. That would be a very bloody process.
Therefore, for these reasons, to call for troops out now is to abandon all hope that the workers and peoples of Iraq can use the destruction of the Saddam regime to get to something better — at least, a regime embodying and guaranteeing some basic democratic rights, including the right of a labour movement to exist.
The blatantly false, dishonest, misrepresentational way that the SWP feels obliged to argue for troops out now is itself evidence of what troops out now actually means “on the ground” in Iraq. To call for it is to be utterly indifferent to the fate of the peoples of Iraq and, pointedly, to the fate of the new Iraqi labour movement.
Despite everything, much of that new Iraqi labour movement does not call for immediate withdrawal of the occupying troops. Those sections who do call for “immediate” withdrawal do so while coupling it with one for the “immediate” downfall of the Islamist “resistance” and insisting that it matters a great deal how the occupying forces are forced out (which means the word “immediate” cannot be taken anything like literally), or calling for different troops (under the United Nations) to replace the present ones.
Socialists outside Iraq are of course duty-bound to make their own independent political assessment of the situation in Iraq. We are not obliged to accept the politics of any of the currents of the new Iraqi trade union movement, or of the Iraqi ex-Stalinists who lead the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.
But their opinion is an important part of the assessment which socialists make. And the probable fate of the Iraqi labour movement if the occupation troops were to withdraw before some sort of possibly viable bourgeois-democratic state exists is properly a central element in the calculations of non-Iraqi socialists.
The idea that because the various Iraqi union movements do not back the Sunni-supremacist and quasi-fascist Ba'thist "resistance", they therefore are to be condemned politically and forfeit the right to exist - which is the dominant idea among the militants of the anti-war coalition - is the idea of people who have abandoned a working-class and international socialist standpoint, and substituted for it a vague depoliticised, above-the-class-struggle, populist "anti-imperialism".
The dominant element in this "anti-imperialism" is entirely negative - saying no where the US and British say yes, no matter what the alternative may be. But what the alternative is - how, and under whose pressure, US/UK troops withdraw from Iraq - does matter to serious socialists, that is, to socialists who are not socialists in name only, socialists for whom the working class is central, socialists who guide themselves by the logic of the class struggle.
JUST as in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels rightly defined certain “socialist” critics of capitalist industrialism, who counterposed to it a return to a half-imaginary pre-industrial golden age, as “reactionary socialists”, so today, these purely negative “anti-imperialists” who support Sunni supremacists and neo-Ba’thists are reactionary anti-imperialists. Not working-class anti-imperialists, not socialist anti-imperialists, not progressive anti-imperialists, but reactionary anti-imperialists.
They educate those whom they organise in an inside-out chauvinist indifference to the fate of Iraq and of the Iraqi labour movement, and friendliness towards the worst reactionaries.
Two historical parallels shed light on the question in dispute between ourselves and people like the SWP.
Socialists opposed the Second World War, and after the defeat of the foul Hitler regime called for German self-determination. Did our co-thinkers of that time support the “resistance” which the tottering Nazi regime had prepared against the occupying forces? Some such resistance existed in 1945 and ’46, and it was widely believed that it would be far more powerful and obdurate than in fact it proved to be. (See for example the column which Isaac Deutscher contributed to the Observer at the time).
Did the Marxists support the Nazi resistance? No, they did not! Should they have supported it? Who among our raucous “anti-imperialists” would say they should?
Did they have any sympathy with or tolerance for the “anti-imperialism” of the “master-race” would-be organisers of German “resistance” to the occupation? Teach young people to be indifferent - if not sympathetic - to the politics of that German Nazi resistance? Pretend that German Nazi resistance was as worthy of sympathy or support as the wartime resistance to the Nazis in, say, occupied France, had been? No, no, and no.
Or take India in 1947, when the subcontinent gained its independence from Britain. For decades socialists had fought for Indian independence. When it came in 1947, it came by way of Britain simply scuttling amidst a chaos of communal Muslim-Hindu conflict in which millions of people lost their lives.
If there had been any prospect that by withdrawing a few months or even a few years later Britain could have taken measures to avert the catastrophe - whose consequences persist today in Indian-Pakistani relations and the conflict over Kashmir - would socialists in 1947 have nevertheless argued from anti-imperialist “principle” around the slogan, “Britain out now” - scuttle, but get out now? Even if the socialists could see no such prospects, would they have positively endorsed the decision to scuttle by emphasising “troops out now”?
Socialists in touch with the realities of India would not have done that. They would have had no political confidence in Britain to “do things right” - but they would not have tried positively to insist that Britain act in a way that would bring catastrophe.
They wanted Britain out and Indian self-determination, but in the best possible forms and conditions.
THE problem in general with precise advice or demands to established governments by people who do not possess state power or influence - of the “out now” sort - is that in every situation it inescapably implies a view about the alternative. It implies either pointed, precise, positive support for the given alternative - and of course sometimes we do support that alternative, for example when it means an occupying army ceding to a genuine national liberation movement - or indifference to it.
Socialists and “anti-imperialists” who are indifferent to what follows the occupation of Iraq, including the fate of the reborn Iraqi labour movement; who concern themselves with nothing other than that the occupying forces should get out “now”; who let their entire picture of reality and their political outlook be determined by something negative, even to the extent of siding with the “resistance” of the Sunni-supremacists and Ba’thist quasi-fascists - such socialists are not functional socialists, but second-string, auxiliary, Ba’thists, Sunni-supremacists, Islamic fundamentalists, Al-Qaedists, or whatever. They are not socialists at all, in any meaningful sense. To describe what the SWP has been doing in the “anti-war movement” as “socialiist” is an abuse of language.
When American imperialism confronted the totalitarian imperialism at the heart of which was the USSR, an American Marxist wrote this: “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. It is not Stalinism we want to see take power... we are working for the power of the working class”.
The fact that the man who wrote these words in 1952, Max Shachtman, eventually lost faith in the possibility of building an independent socialist working-class party, does not detract from the truth they express or the centrality of that truth for the work of revolutionary socialists now.
Today, just as during the Cold War, socialists cannot be indifferent to what we counterpose to Britain and the USA, whether explicitly or implicitly, by the logic of our slogans in the real world.
The sober truth needs to be clearly recognised that the trend of events is away from any benign scenario for Iraq’s future. The prime work of socialists remains that of supporting and helping the Iraqi labour movement - and, right now, of protesting vigorously against the Baghdad government’s proposal to confiscate union funds.