Spartacist South Africa No. 17
Democrats, Republicans: Parties of Imperialist War
US Hands Off Iran, Out of Near East!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1168 (17 January), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
JANUARY 13—Donald Trump’s drone-strike assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s second most important official, at Baghdad International Airport on January 3 was nothing short of an act of war. Several leaders of Iraqi militias backed by Tehran were also killed in the attack. The White House ordered some 3,500 additional troops to the Near East and imposed still more sanctions on Iran.
The Trump administration cynically declared that Soleimani needed to be taken out because he represented an “imminent threat” of attack against U.S. citizens. The biggest threat to life and limb in the Near East, and beyond, is U.S. imperialism, self-declared cops of the world. It was widely reported that one reason Soleimani had traveled to Baghdad to meet Iraq’s prime minister was to discuss easing the confrontation between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. The same day that Soleimani was murdered, U.S. forces tried unsuccessfully to kill another key IRGC commander in Yemen, where the U.S. has heavily backed Saudi Arabia’s reactionary war against Houthi-led forces. And as Washington stoked fears at home of Iranian retaliation, Iranian Americans trying to cross back into the U.S. from British Columbia were detained for hours by border cops.
The Iraqi parliament reacted to the killings by calling for the expulsion of the 5,000-plus U.S. troops stationed in the country, with Sunni and Kurdish members boycotting the session. Trump countered by threatening Iraq with “sanctions like they’ve never seen before”, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo contemptuously dismissed the Iraqi prime minister’s request to simply discuss the issue. Trump also threatened Iran with “disproportionate” attacks—including against cultural sites in one of the world’s oldest civilizations—if Tehran retaliated against “any U.S. person or target”. He dialed back the war threats after an Iranian missile attack on two bases in Iraq on January 8 did not cause U.S. casualties. But the region remains a powder keg.
Mass demonstrations in Iran after the assassination revealed the white-hot anger in the population over U.S. belligerence. But much of that anger turned against the Tehran regime in the days after a missile took down a Ukrainian passenger jet with mainly Iranian and Canadian passengers, just hours after Iran’s attack on the Iraq bases. After three days of lying denials, Tehran had to admit that it was an IRGC missile that had struck the plane, with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani declaring that the country “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake”.
Iranians, who in the weeks prior to Soleimani’s killing had staged mass protests against austerity, and had been met with bloody repression, reacted with furious demonstrations condemning the IRGC and the country’s clerical leaders. Some are now demanding that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, resign and that the U.S. get out of the region. However culpable the Revolutionary Guards are for the tragedy, central responsibility for the air disaster lies with the American imperialists who had made the skies a war zone. Among Iranians, there is still bitter memory of the USS Vincennes firing two missiles in July 1988 that brought down an Iranian commercial aircraft in the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 people on board. Washington later awarded to the ship’s captain the Legion of Merit for his “outstanding service”.
Trump’s Democratic Party opponents, joined by some Republicans, have objected to his decision to kill Soleimani, worried that his impulsiveness and refusal to go through the normal decision-making processes harm U.S. imperialist interests. Virtually all Democrats who said anything about Soleimani’s assassination join in branding him a “terrorist” or a murderer who richly deserved to die. But they criticize the White House for alienating European allies and underlings like the Iraqi government (which also answers to Tehran) and threatening to provoke retribution by Iran and/or its proxies. Whatever such policy differences within the capitalist establishment, the latest attacks on Iran are in line with decades of U.S. provocations and starvation sanctions carried out by Democratic and Republican administrations.
It is in the class interests of the proletariat in the U.S. and internationally to stand for the military defense of Iran against any imperialist attack. This position does not entail the slightest political support to Iran’s theocratic capitalist regime. What must be understood is that it is the world’s capitalist-imperialist powers, led by the U.S., that are the greatest danger to the working people and downtrodden of the planet. We demand the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops and bases from Iraq, Afghanistan and all of the Near East and Central Asia!
Imperialism: Blood and Profit
The U.S. has been the main force for mayhem, death and destruction in the Near East since the end of World War II, when it supplanted the decrepit British Empire as the top imperialist dog in this oil-rich region. American intervention in Iran goes back to the 1953 CIA-organized coup that overthrew the bourgeois-nationalist regime of Mohammad Mossadeq and returned to power the hated monarch, the Shah. In Iraq, when the Ba’ath party came to power in 1963, its goons (including Saddam Hussein) carried out a bloodbath of thousands of Communists and leftist workers using lists supplied by the CIA. During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Washington armed both sides but tilted toward Iraq, providing Hussein with targeting information used in chemical-weapons attacks. Today, after imperialist sanctions, two invasions and U.S. occupation, Iraq, once one of the more advanced countries in the Near East, remains a ruined society.
On top of being threatened with apocalyptic war, Iran has been crushed by decades of U.S.-imposed sanctions that have devastated the economy. Sanctions were eased in 2015 when Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear development program under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) hatched by the Obama administration. After pulling out of that deal, Trump once again imposed increasingly severe sanctions, causing the Iranian economy to go into recession. As oil production crashed, unemployment ran over 15 percent. By late last year, oil exports, which are crucial to the economy, were around one-tenth of what they were two years before.
We demand an end to all such sanctions, a form of siege warfare. For all their bluster against Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, it is the Democrats who have led in imposing crippling sanctions on the Iranian people, starting under Jimmy Carter in 1979. Sanctions were expanded under Bill Clinton in the 1990s and further ratcheted up by Barack Obama before the 2015 deal. Obama’s starvation sanctions had the full support of Bernie Sanders. The Vermont “progressive” also supported United Nations sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, which led to the deaths of some 1.5 million people and hollowed out the country in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion. The self-styled “antiwar” candidate supported such U.S. wars as in 1999 against Serbia and in 2001 against Afghanistan, but later joined with a number of Democrats in voting against the Iraq war because it looked like a loser for U.S. imperialism.
The 2015 Iran nuclear deal was imperialist diktat by another means. We pointed out in “Down With U.S. War Moves Against Iran!” (Workers Vanguard No. 1156, 31 May 2019):
“The purpose of Obama’s JCPOA was to ensure Iran’s disarmament in the face of unrelenting threats from the U.S. and its regional junior partners, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Tehran regime has always denied any intent to develop nuclear weapons. However, Iran needs such weapons to deter imperialist attack. The possession of nukes is no guarantee of security from a U.S. assault, but it does provide a measure of sovereignty against the marauders in Washington.”
Following the killing of Soleimani, Tehran announced that it would no longer limit its uranium enrichment. However, it did not expel the inspectors who had been stationed in Iran as part of the JCPOA.
As for the bipartisan demonizing of Soleimani, it is now an unwritten law applied by the U.S. rulers throughout the world that to call someone a “terrorist” is to justify blowing that person away in a drone strike. That barbarous practice was perfected by Obama, who oversaw the assassination by drone of thousands of people, including U.S. citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son.
To drive home the supposedly exceptional nature of Soleimani’s assassination, the New York Times (4 January) reported that U.S. forces have not killed a top foreign military leader since the downing of the plane carrying a Japanese admiral during World War II. Really? What about Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, military heads of state who were killed by U.S. proxies following imperialist assault on their countries? The list goes on. The only reason that the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro is not on it is that the CIA’s multiple attempts to assassinate him were unsuccessful. Nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s first prime minister after it won independence from Belgium, was not so fortunate, falling to CIA-sponsored assassins in 1961.
Wars, occupations, CIA-engineered “regime change”, financial blackmail (sanctions): These are not aberrant actions carried out by one particularly belligerent administration or another. They are the daily workings of a global system rooted in the drive for profit, with a handful of financially dominant advanced capitalist powers lording over the colonial and neocolonial world and competing with each other for control over markets, raw materials and sources of labor. At home, the same capitalist ruling class reaps its profits by exploiting workers to the max and squeezing the life out of the poor, buttressing this decrepit system through systematic police/judicial terror against black people and other minorities. Nothing short of the overthrow of capitalist rule through workers revolution will rid the world of imperialism, exploitation and oppression.
For Class Struggle at Home!
The Democrats and Republicans may have differences over particular policy choices, such as the decision to assassinate Soleimani. But from the right wing to the left of the bourgeois political spectrum, their differences are always over how best to achieve the common aim of defending the interests of U.S. imperialism.
On the Democratic Party left, California’s Ro Khanna and New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made a bit of a stink in Congress last month when they moved an amendment to a military appropriations bill calling for new restrictions on presidential war powers, stronger arms control, etc. The amendment went nowhere. But even if it had passed, it would only have signified that Khanna & Co. were prepared to approve big bucks for the Pentagon if only it shifted its targets. Indeed, five months earlier, Ocasio-Cortez voted for a bill that raised the cap on appropriations for the military. Acting on behalf of its class, the capitalists, Congress always approves these appropriations, no matter which is the majority party and who happens to be president. In the class interests of the proletariat, we stand on the historic Marxist principle: Not a person or a penny for the imperialist military!
There was no more substance to the Democrats pushing through the January 9 Congressional resolution ostensibly curtailing the president’s ability to launch war without the approval of Congress, a measure intended as a rebuke to Trump following the Soleimani killing. In the Los Angeles Times (3 January), Andrew Bacevich, a conservative critic of Trump, nailed “the Democratic members of the Senate and House who whine about not having been consulted or at least notified in advance of the drone attack” as deserving “not a respectful hearing but contempt”. He continued: “Their behavior over the past decade and more in giving presidents a free hand to wage war however they see fit cannot be described as anything but cowardly. It was, after all, President Obama who pioneered the role of assassin-in-chief to which Trump has now laid claim.” Knowing that their resolution was just for show, the Democrats have quickly ended this interlude and gotten back to their main bit of political theater, the Trump impeachment.
The last time Congress took advantage of the powers vested in it by the Constitution to declare war was World War II. As the U.S. emerged in the war’s aftermath as the world’s top imperialist power, Democratic and Republican parties have ceded such constitutional strictures to the need for the president as Commander-in-Chief to throw American military might around as he sees fit.
From Sanders and the Democratic Socialists of America’s Ocasio-Cortez to the Bidens and others on their right, the Democrats’ big beef is that the wrong person is Commander-in-Chief. Their aim is to put the controls of the U.S. imperialist machine back in their hands, as it was when it wreaked mass destruction and death through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the carpet bombing of Vietnam and countless other horrors.
As Marxists, we link our defense of semicolonial countries like Iran against imperialism with a perspective of class struggle at home against the capitalist rulers. Our aim is to build a workers party that fights for a workers government, where those who labor rule. Key to this perspective is breaking the chains binding labor and black people to the Democratic Party, historically the main party of imperialist war.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards: Butchers for Clerical Reaction
Unsurprisingly, Soleimani’s killing provoked immediate massive opposition in Iran and Iraq to the U.S. military presence in the region. In Iran, where anti-government protests in November were brutally quashed by the regime, leaving hundreds dead, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in an outpouring of nationalist solidarity and mourning before more recently turning against the Iranian regime. In Iraq, which has also seen months of mass anti-government demonstrations and fierce repression, many of those who had been demanding an end to Iranian influence in the country also called for the U.S. to get out.
While Soleimani is seen by many in Iran as a martyr in the fight against U.S. domination, he was no friend of the working masses, women and national minorities in that country or anywhere else in the region. For two decades until his death, he was the public face of the IRGC, Iran’s military and intelligence arm that answers directly to the country’s supreme leader, bypassing its president. He helped consolidate local, primarily Shia, militias that projected Iranian influence in the Near East, compensating for its relatively weak conventional military. Key to this strategy was majority-Shia Iraq, where Tehran has sought to maximize its influence ever since the dismantling of the Hussein regime after the 2003 U.S. invasion. Soleimani’s efforts included savage war against Iraq’s Sunnis. His aims were those of the Iranian regime: At times, his forces fought the U.S. occupiers; at other times, they fired at the same enemy, e.g., Al Qaeda and later ISIS.
While the bloody hand of the Revolutionary Guards extends to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, it was at home in Iran that they massacred untold numbers of Communists, Kurds, women and others as clerical reactionaries led by the Ayatollah Khomeini took and consolidated power beginning in 1979. What was at the time a sizable left criminally subordinated the working class to Khomeini’s forces. As pseudo-socialists around the world cheered on the Islamist movement, we warned that a victory for these reactionary forces would be a disaster for workers and the oppressed. Uniquely, our international tendency raised the call: “Down with the Shah! Don’t bow to Khomeini! Workers to power in Iran!”
The 1979 defeat, which wiped out a generation of leftists and worker militants, still hangs heavy on the Iranian proletariat. Yet the desperate conditions faced by the workers and the oppressed acutely pose the need for a revolutionary leadership to stand at the head of their struggles. It is by drawing the lessons of the history of the workers movement that a new generation of militants can be won to the fight to build a Leninist vanguard workers party, a national section of a revolutionary international. Such a party must be built in opposition to all wings of the ruling class, clericalist and secular alike, and to the imperialists, who will seek to manipulate the masses’ grievances to serve their own interests.
Overcoming backwardness and casting off the imperialist yoke requires that the working class, leading the oppressed masses, overturn the capitalist order through workers revolution. This perspective must necessarily include the fight for workers power in the imperialist centers, laying the basis for a world planned socialist economy. This is the understanding that guides the International Communist League as we fight to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution.