Workers Vanguard No. 918
1 August 2008
Hands Off Iran!
U.S. Imperialists Out of Afghanistan, Iraq!
Obama Vows to Send 10,000 More Troops to Afghanistan
Break with the Democrats! For a Workers Party!
As he prepared for his recent trip abroad, Barack Obama fleshed out his plan to remodel the U.S. imperialist presence in the Near East region. In a July 14 New York Times op-ed piece, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate called for “redeploying” troops from Iraq while maintaining “a residual force” in that country that could total as many as 50,000 troops. He also called for dispatching two U.S. combat brigades—as many as 10,000 soldiers—to Afghanistan, in addition to the 32,000 U.S. troops already there. In his July 24 speech before an enormous crowd in Berlin, Obama appealed to the European powers to send more troops to Afghanistan, declaring: “America cannot do this alone.” By all indications, Obama’s trip achieved its purpose: demonstrating that, as president, he would be quite effective in furthering the interests of U.S. imperialism.
If in racist, capitalist America a black man were elected president it would still do nothing to change the fundamental conditions of working people, blacks, women and the oppressed. Working people need a party that fights for their class interests, a workers party committed to sweeping away the murderous imperialist order through socialist revolution. As Trotskyists (i.e., genuine Marxists), we fight for the political independence of the working class from the capitalist class enemy. We take a principled stand of never voting for, or otherwise extending any political support to, any capitalist politician—Democrat, Republican, Green or “Independent.” Nor would we run for executive office—president, governor or mayor—ourselves. In the U.S., the president is the top cop responsible for the most massive military power in history and for the domestic machinery of repression that maintains social oppression and exploitation. As we wrote:
“Obama simply seeks to become the overseer for the whole plantation. The class he serves is a reactionary gendarme internationally and the enemy of the multiracial proletariat and oppressed masses ‘at home,’ not least since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, which left Washington less restrained in its machinations.”
—“Obama’s Speech: ‘National Unity’ in Service of U.S. Imperialism—Break with Democratic Party of War and Racism!” (WV No. 911, 28 March)
Down With U.S. Imperialism!
Obama’s trip took place at a time when the situation facing U.S./NATO forces in Afghanistan had become, as he put it, “precarious and urgent.” June was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war began in late 2001, a result of what U.S. commanders say is a 40 percent increase over last year in insurgent attacks. Republican and Democratic politicians nowadays like to rail against Islamic fundamentalism. But not so long ago, the U.S. bourgeoisie, including the liberals who were tailed by most of the left, heralded Islamic reactionaries as “freedom fighters,” as the CIA doled out billions to the mujahedin fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. This was the largest covert operation in CIA history, and included aid to Osama bin Laden, who would later turn on his former masters.
In mid-July, U.S. troops abandoned a military outpost in eastern Afghanistan after some 200 insurgents almost overran it, killing nine U.S. soldiers. It was the deadliest one-day loss for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the past three years. U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have sought to counter the push by insurgents with stepped up airstrikes, causing a skyrocketing number of civilian deaths. According to Afghan officials, more than 70 civilians have been “mistakenly” targeted by U.S. bombs and missiles in July alone. Among them were at least 47 people in eastern Afghanistan, mostly women and children, who were killed as they traveled to a wedding party.
Meanwhile, in recent months, U.S. forces have carried out a number of airstrikes, often with the approval of the Pakistani military-backed regime, within Pakistan itself. This is similar to the policy of U.S. military incursions into Pakistan’s western tribal regions that is advocated by Obama. On May 14, a Predator drone hit the village of Damadola near the Afghan border, killing more than a dozen people. On June 10, U.S. planes hit a Pakistani border post, killing eleven soldiers. Many enraged Pakistani military commanders saw that U.S. attack as a deliberate act intended to “punish” Pakistan for not preventing insurgents from crossing into Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan war, which was embraced by liberals as a “just” response to the September 11 terror attacks, has meant continued brutal oppression of women as well as warfare among the various tribal warlords. Afghanistan’s imperialist overseers brokered a constitution that effectively enshrined Islamic fundamentalist sharia law, while in Iraq Islamic clerics are granted authority to strike down “un-Islamic” laws.
The Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), stood for the military defense of Afghanistan and Iraq against imperialist attack without giving any political support to the reactionary, woman-hating Taliban cutthroats or the capitalist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. We underlined that every victory for the imperialists in their military adventures encourages more predatory wars; every setback serves to assist the struggles of working people and the oppressed the world over. Today, we call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops and bases from Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia!
As proletarian-internationalist opponents of U.S. imperialism, we recognize that when the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan aim their blows against the U.S. occupiers and their lackeys, such acts coincide with the interests of the international proletariat. But we do not imbue the forces presently organizing guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces with “anti-imperialist” credentials.
We 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 likely to come about through an alliance with U.S. imperialism. We are intransigent opponents of the murderous communal violence against other ethnic, religious and national populations oftentimes carried out by the very same forces fighting the occupation armies. And we condemn the kidnappings and executions of foreign civilian workers in Iraq. As we wrote in “The Left and the ‘Iraqi Resistance’—U.S. Out of Iraq Now!” (WV No. 830, 6 August 2004):
“Equitable resolution of the democratic rights of all the peoples of Iraq, and the Near East more broadly, cannot be achieved under capitalism but only with the overthrow of bourgeois rule in the region and the establishment of a socialist federation of the Near East. This is the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution. This means combining the struggle against the occupation with a struggle against all manner of bourgeois nationalism and religious fundamentalism, and poses the urgent need to forge Marxist parties to lead the struggles for the working people to come to power throughout the region. International extension of the revolution to the rich centers of imperialism—the United States, Germany, Japan—is vital, or, as Marx noted, ‘all the old crap’ will return.”
We have stressed from the beginning that the chief means of defending neocolonial Afghanistan and Iraq against the overwhelming military might of American imperialism and its allies is through international working-class struggle, especially by the multiracial U.S. proletariat. The bombings in Afghanistan and the devastation of Iraq have gone hand in hand with the capitalist rulers’ onslaught against working people, minorities and most everyone else domestically. The “war on terror” that served as the pretext for the occupations has led to the shredding of democratic rights and a massive increase in the repressive powers of the capitalist state.
The perspective of class struggle against the capitalist rulers at home requires a political struggle against the trade-union bureaucracy, which supports the capitalist system and its political parties. A clear example of the role of the labor bureaucracy was the political basis on which the West Coast port shutdown by the ILWU longshore union on May Day against the U.S. occupation of Iraq (but not of Afghanistan) was carried out. Coming amid ongoing contract negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association, this action was a powerful display of union muscle to the shipping bosses. But it was wrapped in red-white-and-blue American chauvinism by the ILWU International bureaucracy and subordinated to the union tops’ endorsement of Obama for president. At the San Francisco May Day rally, which was politically dominated by speakers from the Democratic and Green parties, an ILWU Local 10 official read out a statement from International president Bob McEllrath declaring, “We’re standing up for America, we’re supporting the troops . We’re loyal to America.” Such vile “America first” chauvinism was a pledge of allegiance to the bloody U.S. occupiers against the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan.
For their part, the various antiwar coalitions—United for Peace and Justice, ANSWER, Troops Out Now and Not In Our Name—were built by the reformist left on a class-collaborationist and social-patriotic basis, preaching the lie that imperialist war can be ended under capitalism. The purpose of these coalitions has been to forge a political alliance with “peace loving” sections of the bourgeoisie, i.e., liberal Democrats. Thus, such actions as were organized by these coalitions never called for military defense of Iraq and Afghanistan against American imperialism, limiting their slogans to pacifist “No to War” appeals to the imperialist rulers.
In June, a range of fake leftists such as Socialist Action, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and Workers World joined with an array of liberals at a gathering in Cleveland dubbed the “National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation.” Endorsers included the Progressive Democrats of America and Cynthia McKinney, presidential candidate of the bourgeois Green Party. This confab was modeled on the 1970s National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC) campaign that sought to limit the protests against the Vietnam War to the pacifist demand to bring the troops home. In building the Cleveland conference, the organizers disappeared the occupation of Afghanistan in order to appeal to liberal Democrats. This is not new. During the Vietnam War, when, unlike Iraq today, there was a struggle not only against imperialist occupation but for social revolution to overthrow the capitalist order in Vietnam, NPAC opposed the call for the military defeat of U.S. imperialism. In contrast, the Spartacist League stood for military victory to Vietnam’s workers and peasants and declared, “All Indochina Must Go Communist!”
Typically, the various “peace” coalitions call for a reordering of the bourgeoisie’s priorities: money for education, not war, etc. However, the capitalist system cannot be pressured or reformed to work in the interest of human needs. The relentless drive for profits and spheres of influence by the rulers of the U.S. and other big capitalist powers necessarily results in wars and neocolonial pillage. Imperialist aggression and war are not “policies” that can be ended within the framework of capitalism—the entire system must be overturned. Only by wresting the means of production from the hands of the capitalist imperialist rulers and creating an international planned economy can the needs of the billions of toilers now consigned to hideous poverty begin to be met and the threat of war ended once and for all.
Republicans, Democrats Ratchet Up Threats Against Iran
Two months before Obama’s visit to Baghdad, the Christian Science Monitor (14 May) revealed details of a meeting in early April of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani and other top Iraqi officials with Iran’s Brig. Gen. Qassen Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, a paramilitary group that American officials say is backing Shi’ite militias in Iraq. The article quoted an American official who said that Suleimani “promised to stop arming groups in Iraq and to ensure that groups halt activities against US forces” and was “willing to ‘send a small team’ to ‘discuss any issue’ with the Americans.” Indeed, Iran is credited, including by Washington’s quisling Iraqi regime, with having used its influence to have al-Mahdi Army leader Moqtada al-Sadr order his forces to stand down after fierce fighting between his Shi’ite militia and government troops earlier this year.
With their kept bourgeois media in tow, the Democrats as well as the Republicans continue to foment hysteria over Iran’s nuclear energy program. Iran is subject to three sets of UN sanctions as well as a growing number of U.S. sanctions, the first imposed 25 years ago. Obama incurred criticism by presumptive Republican candidate John McCain for saying he would negotiate with Iranian leaders, but Obama has repeatedly emphasized that he would keep “all options,” including the threat of military attack against Iran, “on the table.”
In a provocative move in early June, Israel staged a major military exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean that was widely described as a “dress rehearsal” for an attack against Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran responded in early July by test-firing long-range missiles in the Persian Gulf, including one that Tehran said had the range to reach Israel.
The signals from Washington concerning a possible attack on Iran have lately been mixed. In late June, responding to the Israeli military exercise, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with his counterpart in Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post (4 July), Mullen was trying “to throw cold water on any possible Israeli intentions.” At the same time, the London Sunday Telegraph (6 July) reported:
“Those familiar with the Israeli-American military talks believe that Israel is still determined to act before Iran has enough highly enriched uranium to build a bomb, and before Tehran has acquired the Russian SA-20 air defence system to protect its nuclear facilities....
“Former defence and intelligence officers who advise the Pentagon have disclosed that the US military is looking into possible outcomes for military attacks featuring varying levels of American involvement.”
Meanwhile, on July 19 a high-ranking State Department official joined negotiations between the European Union and Iran, despite the Bush administration’s insistence for years that it would not engage in direct talks unless Tehran first suspended its enrichment of uranium. U.S. officials also leaked the fact that Washington was seeking to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time since relations were severed nearly three decades ago.
We are in no position to judge the likelihood of an impending U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran. As revolutionary opponents of U.S. imperialism, we oppose any economic sanctions against Iran, which are an act of war. The Iranian government says that it does not plan to develop the bomb. In fact, given the threats by the imperialists, it would be perfectly reasonable and necessary for Iran to pursue getting nuclear weapons and adequate delivery systems to deter attack. In today’s world, possession of nukes has become a necessary means of maintaining national sovereignty. In the event of military attack against Iran by the U.S. or by Israel—the only nuclear-armed country in the Near East—operating on behalf of the U.S., it is in the interest of the international proletariat to stand for the military defense of Iran without giving an iota of political support to the reactionary Tehran regime.
A protest endorsed by a host of reformist groups, including the RCP’s World Can’t Wait (WCW) coalition, has been called for August 2 in New York City to “Stop War on Iran.” In fact, the “opposition” to war against Iran by the reformist left was exposed in 2006 when the RCP’s WCW and the ISO’s Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) signed on to a petition to “Dear President Bush and Vice President Cheney” advising:
“The most effective way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons would be to closely monitor its nuclear energy program, and to improve diplomatic relations—two tasks made much more difficult by threatening to bomb Iranian territory. We urge you to lead the way to peace, not war, and to begin by making clear that you will not commit the highest international crime by aggressively attacking Iran.”
As we wrote in “ISO, RCP to Bush: Disarm Iran, ‘Lead the Way to Peace’” (WV No. 870, 12 May 2006): “This petition is like appealing to Jack the Ripper to take up social work—while simultaneously demanding that his potential victims walk the streets defenseless.”
We Said: Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!
The insurgents the U.S. faces in Afghanistan today are Frankenstein’s monsters turned on their former masters. U.S. aid to the Afghan mujahedin began in the late 1970s under the Carter administration, which had launched an anti-Soviet “human rights” crusade. The Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin were in rebellion against the pro-Moscow People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which took power in April 1978. The PDPA sought to implement some minimal reforms to bring Afghanistan closer to the 20th century: land distribution, freeing women from the burka (the head-to-toe “veil”), reducing the bride price to a nominal sum and providing education for girls. These basic reforms sparked a ferocious rebellion by landlords, tribal chiefs and mullahs who launched a jihad (holy war), burning down schools and flaying teachers alive for the “crime” of teaching young girls to read. When the PDPA requested assistance from Moscow in quelling this bloody rebellion, the Soviet Army intervened, acting to defend the USSR’s southern border against the CIA-backed insurgency. This was the first war fought in modern history where the status of women played the central role.
The threat of a CIA-supported Islamic takeover on the USSR’s southern flank posed pointblank the unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state. As we wrote at the time:
“A victory for the Islamic-feudalist insurgency in Afghanistan will not only mean a hostile, imperialist-allied state on the USSR’s southern border. It will mean the extermination of the Afghan left and the reimposition of feudal barbarism—the veil, the bride price. Moreover, the Soviet military occupation raises the possibility of a social revolution in this wretchedly backward country, a possibility which did not exist before.”
—Spartacist (English-language edition) No. 29, Summer 1980
The Soviet intervention was unambiguously progressive, underlining the Trotskyist understanding that despite its degeneration under a Stalinist bureaucratic caste, the Soviet Union remained a workers state embodying the historic gains of the October Revolution of 1917, centrally the planned economy and collectivized property. These were enormous gains, not least for women and the historically Muslim peoples of Soviet Central Asia, where conditions before the Bolshevik Revolution had been as backward and benighted as in Afghanistan.
A Red Army victory posed the extension of the social gains of the October Revolution to Afghanistan through a prolonged occupation and the country’s integration into the Soviet system. Though undertaken purely for defensive geopolitical reasons, the Soviet military intervention cut against the grain of the nationalist Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country.” The Red Army troops, many of them recruits from Soviet Central Asia, who fought against the CIA-backed mujahedin believed they were fulfilling their internationalist duty. And so they were! This military intervention also offered the prospect of reanimating the Bolshevik program of proletarian revolutionary internationalism in the Soviet Union. Pointing to the Stalinist bureaucracy’s capacity to betray, we stressed at the time that a genuinely internationalist perspective toward Afghanistan required a workers political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and return the Soviet Union to the road of Lenin and Trotsky.
Joining the imperialists’ anti-Soviet war drive, the bulk of the left internationally condemned the Soviet “invasion” of Afghanistan. The anti-Communist ISO and its then-parent group in Britain, Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP), criminally stood with the imperialists. The 12 January 1980 issue of the SWP’s Socialist Worker blared, “Troops Out of Afghanistan!” For its part, the Maoist RCP declared in Revolutionary Worker (11 January 1980): “Superpowers Square Off Over Afghanistan,” and condemned “Soviet social imperialism.” In order to cover for its treachery, the RCP invented Afghan Maoist groupings opposed to both the mullahs and the Soviets. But the real enemy of this “opposition” was the liberating Soviet troops, as the RCP made clear in a retrospective article in Revolutionary Worker (10 March 2002): “Revolutionary and progressive forces, including the country’s Maoist organizations, threw themselves into the fight against the Soviet invaders.”
When then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in a vain attempt to appease the imperialists, withdrew forces from Afghanistan in 1989, we denounced this as a crime against both the Afghan and Soviet peoples. That betrayal by the Kremlin bureaucracy opened the road to mujahedin rule in Afghanistan and prepared the ground for the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state itself in 1991-92, a historic defeat for the proletariat and the oppressed around the world. In contrast, the ISO declared: “Just as socialists welcomed the defeat of the U.S. in Vietnam, we welcome the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan. It will give heart to all those inside the USSR and in East Europe who want to break the rule of Stalin’s heirs” (Socialist Worker [U.S.], May 1988).
When the Soviet Army intervened into Afghanistan, we wrote in Spartacist (English-language edition) No. 27-28, Winter 1979-80: “Although uncalled for militarily, a natural response on the part of the world’s young leftists would be an enthusiastic desire to join an international brigade to fight the reactionary CIA-connected rebels.” In the face of the Stalinists’ criminal withdrawal, the Partisan Defense Committee, a non-sectarian, class-struggle legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League, wrote to the PDPA government offering “to organize an international brigade to fight to the death” against the forces of Islamic reaction.
The PDC’s offer was declined, but at the request of the government, the PDC and its fraternal defense organizations internationally organized a fund drive to aid the civilian victims of the all-out mujahedin offensive against the city of Jalalabad. In three months, over $44,000 was raised, overwhelmingly from small donations from thousands of people, many of them immigrant workers and women in Muslim communities throughout West Europe and North America. The siege of Jalalabad was defeated. The PDPA hung on for another three hard-fought years until 1992, when the mujahedin finally took Kabul. Four years later, the Taliban took over the country.
While the bulk of the left internationally stood on the side of counterrevolution, we of the International Communist League fought to the end in defense of the USSR and the deformed workers states of East and Central Europe, just as today we stand for the unconditional military defense of the remaining deformed workers states of China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba. In East Germany (DDR) in 1989-90, while the disintegrating Stalinist regime of the SED-PDS whined that capitalist restoration should be implemented in a humane manner, we uniquely opposed the capitalist reunification. We called for a red Germany of workers councils (soviets) through political revolution in the DDR and socialist revolution in West Germany. We initiated a massive mobilization, which was then supported by the SED-PDS, in Berlin’s Treptow Park on 3 January 1990 against the fascist desecration of a Soviet war memorial and in defense of the USSR and DDR. In the USSR, we distributed some 100,000 copies of our 1991 statement calling on Soviet workers to “Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution” and urging the proletariat to form soviets under the program of Bolshevik internationalism.
The horrors being played out today in Afghanistan are among the starkest expressions of the choice that has been posed since the advent of the imperialist epoch in the latter part of the 19th century: socialism or barbarism. As proletarian internationalists in the U.S., we seek to win workers and youth to the understanding that the most reactionary force standing in the way of human progress is U.S. imperialism, represented by the Republicans and Democrats and their small-time offshoots, like the Greens. We fight to build a revolutionary workers party dedicated to the overthrow of this barbaric system and to the establishment of workers rule.