Does criticising the Iranian government make you like the Tea Party?

Submitted by AWL on 30 January, 2012 - 8:01

At the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts conference in Liverpool on Sunday 29 January, student members of the Socialist Workers Party, Counterfire and Socialist Action voted against their own motion opposing US sanctions or military action against Iran!

Why would the SWP and Counterfire, two groups that dominate the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition, vote against an anti-war resolution - and not only that, but a resolution they had proposed to the conference? Answer: because the conference had passed a short amendment, proposed by Liverpool Guild of Students Vice President and AWL member Bob Sutton, which said:

“[Notes] The war waged by the tyrannical, misogynist, homophobic, anti-working class regime against Iranian student activists and trade unionists, women and LGBT people”
“[Resolves] To make links with left-wing Iranian student organisations and Iranian trade unionist and socialist groups, and reaffirm our solidarity with them against both war and the regime led by Ahmadinejad”

(The full motion can be read here.)

During the discussion the SWP members and others who spoke did not debate the issues calmly and rationally, but instead denounced Bob and others arguing for the amendment as supporters of US imperialism. Mark Bergfeld, the SWP member on NUS national executive, said that Bob’s arguments “sounded like Glenn Beck”. Beck is an ultra-conservative US talk show host, linked to the radical right-wing Tea Party movement! Astonishingly, Bergfeld also claimed that the AWL was proposing the amendment in order to hide our “real” position of supporting war and sanctions.

Bob’s speech was crystal clear in opposing sanctions and the threat of war (as was the amendment itself - which in any case did not remove anything from the motion, but only added), and argued on the basis of solidarity with Iranian workers’ and students’ class struggle against the country's theocratic/capitalist regime. You could not imagine a more different argument from the sort used by right-wingers like Beck.

Moreover, when AWL members pointed out to SWPers that the back page of the paper we were selling at the conference included a headline about Iran “No to war and sanctions”, they repeated Bergfeld’s claim – that we are publishing anti-war propaganda in order to hide our actual, pro-war position! This is more than a little surreal.

But the main point is: the SWP and their friends were so militantly opposed to any statement of solidarity with Iranian students and workers that they voted against the NCAFC adopting an anti-war position.


Submitted by AWL on Tue, 31/01/2012 - 08:32

Hi Mark - article corrected. Did you vote *for* the second amendment? And why do you think the first part was unnecessary?

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 03/02/2012 - 11:25

The "more reasonable" end of the argument is the idea that stressing the repressive character of the Iranian regime and our solidarity with its victims can only contribute to right-wing, pro-war propaganda and thus boost the drive to war. More reasonable than the SWP's hysterical denunciations, that is, but still totally wrong.

The idea that the US, British or Israeli ruling class will be more likely to go to war because socialists make solidarity with the left opposition in Iran is clearly ludicrous. But could our denunciations of the Iranian government "soften up" the working class and other sections of the population in, for instance, Britain for the ruling class' war drive?

Obviously we need to tie our solidarity with the Iranian workers etc to our anti-war stance - and do so clearly. But the underlying methodology, which thinks you can/should stop war by failing to highlight the character of the Iranian regime - or more generally oppose our ruling class by covering up the truth about the world - is wrong, and anti-Marxist.

It's an approach which comes from Stalinism. The Stalinists accused Trotsky, when he criticised and exposed the crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy in the USSR and internationally, as aiding the threat of Western military intervention in Russia. He replied scornfully - pointing out that the way to fight imperialism is for the widest possible layers of the working class and the people to be conscious, alert and in full possession of the facts.

The same is true today. An anti-war position which relies on lying about, or covering up for, the Iranian regime, and thus refusing to make solidarity with movements in Iran, is not just "morally" wrong, but weaker not stronger than an anti-war stance based on telling the truth. It fails to prepare the working class in Britain, the US etc for the tasks which face it, and bases opposition to war on the incredibly shaky foundation of whitewashing the Iranian regime. Much better the solid foundation of international working-class solidarity.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 03/02/2012 - 15:12

Hilariously, the report of the NCAFC conference on the website of Student Broad Left (a front for Socialist Action) reports ecstatically on the NCAFC passing anti-war policy. But it doesn't mention the amendment - let alone the fact that the two "Student Broad Left delegates" as they styled themselves on Twitter (ie the two Socialist Action members at the conference) voted against the motion once it had been amended!

Submitted by Clive on Fri, 03/02/2012 - 22:14

It's particularly weird to take this attitude - everything is supported to opposing 'imperialism' - about Iran. If there's one place where the dangers of this approach came to a head, it was Iran in 1979. The regime which consolidated after the Iranian revolution -that of Ayatollah Khomeini - used 'anti-imperialism' as the rhetoric under which it attacked and destroyed the left and the workers' movement.

It's incredible, and pretty depressing, that many on the left seem unable to learn this important lesson.

Submitted by guenter on Sun, 05/02/2012 - 02:43

I agree with the statement of sacha, and, rather exceptionally, also with the posting of clive.
i remember it very well, how the mullah-regime used "anti-imperialist"-rhetoric, to smash the real anti-imperialist groups and murder them all.
there is no anti-imperialism without anti-capitalism!
anyway, a possible war against the iran should be opposed strongly; a bigger war could come out of that.
if one day a 3rd worldwar may come, it will probably spring off from the conflicts in the middle-east region.

Submitted by martin on Mon, 13/02/2012 - 10:26

A number of people in these groups have since tried to claim that they did not vote at all on the final motion. That would be bad enough. But as a comrade pointed out to me last night, they demanded (and got) a count because it looked at first as if they might have won (though in fact the final majority was clear). So, in other words, yes, they did vote against.

Sacha Ismail

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