An Exchange on the Iraq “Resistance"
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 847, 29 April 2005.
6 November 2004
Dear editors of Workers Vanguard,
I am writing to take issue with WV's position of military support for the “resistance" against the U.S.-led “coalition" in Iraq. I do not think that the workers have any interest in the present Iraqi “resistance." I think that the position of military support for any “resistance," despite the political nature of such military opposition, against imperialist power, a position taken by Trotsky in the 1920s-'30s (Ethiopia), is not applicable to the present situation in Iraq, and is a historically specific and bounded politics that was based on geopolitical as well as class-struggle estimations that no longer apply today, after the destruction of the Soviet Union. For better or worse (for worse), we have been thrown back into a situation of potential anti-capitalist social-politics that resembles the pre-1917 world. More so than in the Soviet era, each particular configuration seems to demand a case-by-case social-political analysis and evaluation. Whereas one could broadly understand “anti-imperialism" of various forms in the Soviet era as objectively favoring revolutionary anti-capitalist political possibilities, I think that this is no longer the case after the destruction of the Soviet state, and given other social-political realities locally and globally.
Similarly, whereas it might have made sense to call for the defense of Iraq and for an objective military bloc with the Saddam Hussein/Baathist state in Iraq against the U.S., the destruction of that state fundamentally changes the character of the social politics of military positions on the ground in Iraq. For example, it is my understanding that the (remnant) Iraqi Communist Party, while officially “opposing" the U.S. military occupation, supports the “interim government" and politically (and militarily) opposes the “resistance." In perspective, the first Iraq war was fundamentally related to and facilitated by the destruction of the Soviet state, and raised the specter of inter-imperialist war: the object of the 1st Iraq war was as much the USSR and the U.S.'s imperialist competitors as it was Iraq. Now, the French-German opposition to the U.S. has become the most salient social-historical feature of the 2nd Iraq war.
The situation vis-a-vis Iran raises another, related matter. The Mujahideen Al-Khalq [MEK] has been instrumental in making public and providing intelligence to the U.S. and European powers on the mullahs' nuclear weapons program. As part of their “negotiations" with the mullahs, the EU powers have agreed to maintain the MEK's official status as “terrorists." If Mordechai Vanunu is to be commended for revealing Israel's nuclear weapons program, shouldn't an ostensibly Leftist organization such as the MEK be commended—and defended—as well? The duplicity of the European powers as well as the U.S. as regards groups such as the MEK, as well as the Kurdish nationalist organizations (despite their support for the U.S.-led Iraq war), seems clear. The mullah's nuclear weapons program seems likely to make actual what WV has in the past called the Zionist state's “death trap for Jews."
Unlike North Korea, which seeks to acquire nuclear weapons for purely defensive purposes, Iran would be likely to use nuclear weapons on a “first-strike" basis; their attempts to acquire them present the very real possibilities of Israel or the U.S. striking first. The Iranian nuclear weapons program is deliberately provocative, and must be seen in light of the social-political character of the Iranian state, which is at least quasi-fascist, in nature, history and present reality. While not wanting to make a fetish of nuclear weapons, nor qualitatively to distinguish between nuclear and non-nuclear (euphemistically termed “conventional") military violence, I think that the mullahs getting hold of them does nothing to further anti-capitalist social political possibilities, not locally nor globally. This must be distinguished from acquisition of nuclear weapons by (however deformed) workers' states such as North Korea (or, historically, by the Soviet Union and China).
While indeed our “main enemy is at home," that does not mean that we should defend or call for the defense of the mullah's clerical-fascist state, nor of the present Iraqi “resistance." Al-Sadr's followers, for instance, have already laid down their weapons. One must distinguish between the social politics of military opposition that seeks bargaining power and that of fascist reaction. We in the “belly of the beast" should take positions that are at least acceptable to those on the ground in Iraq. To hold U.S. and (also E.U.) imperialism ultimately responsible for the social-politics of Islamist fascism should not mean defending it. Rather, the Iranian mullahs and the U.S. imperialists deserve each other, and both are to blame for the suffering of the people who are their subjects. Any anti-capitalist social-political possibilities are not qualitatively reduced by U.S. occupation of Iraq (or of Iran...), and are only very dubiously furthered by military “resistance" that is not interested in defending anyone's lives and whose political aims are only furthered by the slaughter. Would Trotskyists have supported fascist-supported military resistance to U.S. occupation in post-WWII Germany or Italy or France? I think not. In that instance, the U.S. was more interested in disarming their erstwhile Communist-aligned anti-fascist resistance fighters. And, since then, political possibilities have only changed for the worse.
Comradely, Chris C., Chicago
Chris C. raises many issues in his letter, and there is no way in this reply to respond to all of them. The main issue we aim to take up is the question of the Iraq “resistance" and what attitude revolutionaries should have toward it.
In Iraq today, we have a side against the U.S., its allies and Iraqi lackeys. Our starting point is to demand the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops and allies. We defend the peoples of Iraq against any U.S.-led attack and repression. Insofar as the forces on the ground in Iraq aim their fire against the imperialist occupiers and their lackeys, we call for their military defense against U.S. imperialism. Every blow struck against the imperialist occupiers is a blow struck against the enemy of workers and the oppressed all over the world. At the same time, we are intransigent opponents of the murderous communal violence against other ethnic, religious and national populations oftentimes carried out by the very same forces waging attacks against the occupation armies.
The bottom line of Chris C.'s letter is that one should only stand for military defense of forces that are politically “progressive." But this is a very wrong way to approach the question. Take the case of the Italo-Ethiopian war of the 1930s, referenced by Chris C. Trotsky advocated military defense of Ethiopia under Haile Selassie against Italian imperialism, even though Ethiopia was a slave-owning country.
To take another example: Genuine Trotskyists stood for military victory of the petty-bourgeois nationalist FLN in the Algerian War of independence against French imperialism (1954-62), not because we considered the FLN “progressive" per se, but because colonial and neocolonial oppression obscures the class lines within any given society. The workers in an oppressor state cannot overthrow their bourgeoisie without opposing their rulers' subjugation of another nation. At the same time, the workers in an oppressed nation can be broken from nationalism and fundamentalism and won to communist internationalism only by a communist party that champions class unity with the working masses in the imperialist countries.
In his letter, Chris C. points out that since the destruction of the Soviet Union, “we have been thrown back into a situation of potential anti-capitalist social-politics that resembles the pre-1917 world." There is an important element of truth to that statement. The collapse of the Soviet degenerated workers state was a world-historic defeat for the working class that has set back political consciousness, albeit in an uneven and contradictory way. In Iraq, those who are leading insurgencies against the occupation are largely Islamic reactionaries or former Ba'athists. Unlike the FLN or other anti-colonial movements of that period, there is no socialist rhetoric, no group claiming the mantle of secular nationalism, much less communism. The insurgency reveals a propensity to sharpen ethnic/religious divisions in Iraq—between Arabs and Kurds as well as Sunnis and Shi'ites—through, for example, communal terror attacks.
In fact, the insurgencies in Iraq are a throwback to many anti-colonial struggles during the early part of the 20th century, when many colonial countries lacked even a working class, and religious forces dominated most anti-colonial movements, particularly in the Near East. Nonetheless, genuine revolutionaries defended these struggles against their colonial and imperialist oppressors. As Lenin put it in Socialism and War, written in 1915 before the Russian Revolution: “If tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia, and so on, these would be ‘just,' and ‘defensive' wars, irrespective of who would be the first to attack; any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal states victory against the oppressor, slave-holding and predatory ‘Great' Powers."
Today, it is in the interest of the international working class, particularly the American proletariat, to militarily defend those who take up arms against the occupation. To not do so would only serve the interests of the U.S. imperialists, whose ambitions mean more death and misery to the world's peoples. At the same time, the international proletariat must be politically hostile to the insurgency forces that have revealed themselves thus far. As we wrote in “The Left and the ‘Iraqi Resistance'—U.S. Out of Iraq Now!" (WV No. 830, 6 August 2004):
“We do not imbue the forces presently organizing guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces with ‘anti-imperialist' credentials and warn that in the absence of working-class struggle in Iraq and internationally against the occupation, the victory of one or another of the reactionary clerical forces is more likely to come about through an alliance with U.S. imperialism....
“The so-called ‘national resistance' in Iraq is a myth promoted by U.S. and Western imperialism and cynical leftists.... There isn't a unitary ‘resistance' force in Iraq but rather disparate groupings organizing guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces—and often against rival groupings and random civilians."
In his letter, Chris C. writes: “Any anti-capitalist social-political possibilities are not qualitatively reduced by U.S. occupation of Iraq (or of Iran...)." This is dead wrong. The U.S. occupation provides a military force ready to pounce on any struggle in the region that could challenge the capitalist framework or U.S. interests. More fundamentally, imperialist occupation strengthens all local forces of reaction, allowing them to pose as the real “anti-imperialists" for the embittered masses of the region.
At the same time, it should be noted that the insurgencies in Iraq have hampered—at least temporarily—the Bush administration's efforts to extend its war and occupation to countries such as Iran or Syria. Thus a military draft has been raised as a possibility, particularly by Democrats. Recruitment to the imperialist armed forces has been made more difficult, and the recruiters have lately not been able to meet their quotas. The Bush administration has had to institute a “backdoor draft," forcing soldiers to serve beyond their service contracts. There is significant discontent among the military and their families, who are of a predominately working-class background, and disproportionately black and Latino. In the U.S., the working class and poor mainly pay the cost of the war and occupation, while social services are slashed.
Regarding Iran, Chris C. writes that in the event of a war between Iran and the U.S. we should not “defend or call for the defense of the mullah's clerical-fascist state." In the event of war between the U.S. and Iran, we would call for military defense of Iran, as we did with Iraq. Chris C.'s reference to “Islamic fascism" reveals both ignorance and a capitulation to U.S. imperialism. To speak of “Islamic fascism" in Iran serves a political purpose: painting “democratic" U.S. imperialism as somehow more “civilized." Iran is a theocratic state, not a fascist state. Fascism represents the ultimate and most virulent expression of nationalism in the epoch of imperialist decay. Islamic fundamentalism, which is certainly colored by the national terrain of each country, is a fundamentally transnational movement, a reaction to imperialist subjugation that harks back to 7th-century obscurantism. And, as Chris C. acknowledges, imperialism is “ultimately responsible" for Islamic reaction. U.S. imperialism directly promoted such forces, especially as allies against the Soviet Union, and imperialism as a system enforces the conditions of economic and social oppression that breed religious fanaticism.
As for nukes, Chris C.'s strange assertion that “Iran would be likely to use nuclear weapons on a ‘first-strike' basis" seems based more on an acceptance of imperialist and Zionist propaganda than reality. It is the U.S. that has proclaimed its right to “pre-emptive" war, including the use of nuclear weapons. And in the Near East, the only state with a nuclear arsenal is Israel, and the Zionist rulers have had no compunction about threatening to unleash nuclear holocaust on the region. We reject any comparison between Mordechai Vanunu—the heroic Israeli nuclear technician who revealed the extent of Israel's existing nuclear arsenal, which was aimed as much at the USSR as at the Arab states—and the Mujahideen al-Khalq. Any group that actively provides “intelligence to the U.S. and European powers on the mullahs' nuclear weapons program" as the U.S. threatens war with Iran is highly dubious.
Ultimately, the solution to the suffering of U.S. imperialism's victims depends on the struggle of the American proletariat at home. We fight to instill in the working class the consciousness that the same profit-lusting rulers who smash their unions, drive down wages, destroy health care and education, massacre Iraqis in the interests of capital. To win the proletariat to that understanding requires a tenacious struggle against its misleaders in the labor movement, the trade-union tops who keep the working class chained to the capitalist system through an alliance with its political representatives, particularly the Democrats. As we wrote in “Marxism, War and the Fight for Socialist Revolution" (WV No. 795, 17 January 2003):
“Capitalism, by its very exploitative nature, creates its own gravediggers in the proletariat, which alone has the social power to bring about the downfall of capitalism—by virtue of the fact that it has its hands directly on the means of production—and the objective class interests to do so. Military defeats abroad certainly help to bring about an extreme sharpening in the class contradictions of a particular country—war is the mother of revolutions. But it is fundamentally the working class that has the power to accomplish this historic task. We do not raise the call for class struggle at home with the pollyannaish belief that this particular war is going to meet its end in immediate social revolution in the U.S. We raise it in order to cut through the ‘national unity' mongering of the ruling class, to bring the working class to the understanding that it alone has the power to defeat the American imperialist system through workers revolution. Out of working-class and social struggle and through the intervention of revolutionary Marxists, the workers party essential for workers to take power will emerge."