By Colin Foster
Since 27 March the Socialist Workers Party has had a new slogan on its placards for anti-war demonstrations: "Victory to the resistance". Victory for the Republican Guard and the Iraqi armed forces? Questioned, SWP members say no. It means victory for people fighting back and demonstrating everywhere.
In fact, however, the slogan can not be other than a deliberately bland, mealy-mouthed, "soft" way of saying "victory to Iraq". Socialist Worker's editorial of 29 March quoted Nasr Al Hussein, a former Iraqi special forces parachutist, who has returned from Jordan to rejoin Iraq's forces, saying: "I'm not fighting for Saddam, I'm fighting for Iraq", and hailed "rising resistance from the people of Iraq and the Middle East".
And why not? Because victory for the Iraqi state in this war would be as horrible as US victory. It would mean the Ba'athist regime reimposing a rule of terror over Iraq's Kurds, reinforcing its hold over Iraq's Shi'ite south, probably reinvading Kuwait and Iran, in short, becoming a victorious regional imperialism in the Gulf.
The hugeness of US military hyperpower means that the Iraqi state will not win. But that a cause is hopeless as well as reactionary is no good reason for supporting it.
Self-determination for the peoples of Iraq is a just cause, and one threatened by the USA's drift towards outright colonial conquest of the country. But at the very best victory for the Iraqi state would mean only "self-determination" for the Sunni Arab population of the central region, as a subordinate part of an outcome which also means subjugation for other peoples.
Saddam's Iraq is totalitarian. Whatever Nasr Al Hussein's wishes, there is no space to fight with the Iraqi armed forces in this war without also fighting for Saddam.
And the choice is not either Bush or Saddam. There is a third alternative: international solidarity and the democratic self-organisation of the peoples of Iraq for their rights against both the US/UK and Saddam.
Abstract? Idealist? Too remote for real politics? No. It will not happen next week. But it is far more feasible than military victory for Saddam, let alone freedom-through-Saddam.
Revolution has often been born from the horrors of war. If the war cracks Saddam's totalitarian state, and a powerful, principled international anti-war movement cracks the US/UK's ability to sustain garrison imperialism in Iraq, then the peoples of Iraq, organising autonomously, may well find a way through to a genuine democratic revolution. The Kurds already have their own autonomous armed forces. To the extent that we can judge from available news reports, the sentiment summed up in Solidarity's slogan "no to war, no to Saddam" is widespread among the people of Iraq's south.
To bounce emotionally from the horror, hypocrisy and arrogance of the US/UK bombardment of Iraq into positive support for the Iraqi regime is only the mirror-image of those, like Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, and Christopher Hitchens, who argued that the vileness of Saddam's regime meant we had to back Bush's war.
Others on the left, such as Workers' Power, have argued clearly and flatly from the start for "victory to Iraq", while claiming that this can be pursued "without giving the slightest political support to the regime of Saddam Hussein". Their straightforwardness assists debate.
The mealy-mouthed Socialist Worker route has however been copied by the Weekly Worker. Only two weeks ago Weekly Worker was describing Iraq as a "proto-imperialist power". On 20 March it switched to the curious headline: "Rather defeat for US-UK forces than their victory".
The nearest thing to an explanation was a few sentences inside, which offered no reasoned case for rejecting the previous week's view of Iraq as "proto-imperialist", but instead deduced their conclusion entirely from the generic slogan, "our main enemy is at home". "Hence [it claimed] we prefer the defeat of the British military to their victory. Demand Britain and the US out of Iraq! Does that mean backing Saddam Hussein? Certainly not".
But how has the slogan "the main enemy is at home" been used in the socialist movement? What does it mean? The phrase was coined by German revolutionary Marxists during World War One, to argue for German workers to continue uncompromising class struggle against their "own" immediate exploiters and oppressors rather than siding with them against a supposed external "main enemy", Russian Tsarism. It did not mean positively siding with some other enemy against the "main" one. Rosa Luxemburg explained: "The question of victory or defeat becomes... a choice between two beatings... Victory or defeat of either of the two war groups would be equally disastrous".
In Weekly Worker of 27 March, the switch to the Workers' Power line was complete. "Victory to the people of Iraq/Defeat US-UK imperialism", said the headline. Inside: "Saddam remains the enemy of the peoples of Iraq - but now... not their main enemy... The US-UK forces must now be sent packing... Bring to the fore the fight against the US-UK invasion force. Political independence should never be sacrificed, but the main blows should be directed at the main enemy..."
Yes, the Weekly Worker is produced by the same CPGB which simultaneously argues that Islamists are so dangerous that their political domination cancelled out the rights of the peoples of Afghanistan to fight Russian military occupation (1979-89) and so harmless that the Stop The War Coalition's accrediting of the Muslim Brotherhood (MAB) as equal co-sponsor of the big anti-war marches is right and good. Its claim to be the lineal continuation of the CPGB that endorsed Hitler as a peace-maker in 1939-41, then swung to support Churchill after 22 June 1941, is dubious, but some of the same method evidently survives (any argument, so long as it serves "the party").
Web: Socialist Worker; Workers' Power; Weekly Worker. For more background argument, http://www.workersliberty.org/war, and the articles by Hal Draper on Marxism, war and "defeatism" in Workers' Liberty vol. 2 nos. 1, 2 and 3.