Moving on

Submitted by AWL on 12 March, 2004 - 4:26

Alan Johnson argues that the left needs to build a solidarity campaign with the Iraqi people not an 'anti-war' movement
"My suggestion is as follows. People who opposed the war but with a proper sense of the other considerations, the ones that moved us left-liberal supporters of the war, should be willing to move on. All said and done, they didn't agree with what was done, but what was done removed a scourge and they will recognize that and look to what is now the best possible course forward for the people of Iraq." (Norman Geras at normblog March 5 2004)
I agree. I opposed the war, helping to organise a Stop the War campaign group in South Lakeland and, as an editor of the US socialist journal New Politics (I have since resigned), writing against the war ('Iraq and the Third Camp' can be read at ( But I will not be marching on March 20 in London.
The political position some of us held in opposing the war was expressed on the placards we carried aloft as we blocked roads and railway lines, held vigils and organised teach-ins: 'No to War, No to Saddam'. This put us sharply at odds with the national Stop The War Coalition, which refused to make any reference to the plight of the Iraqi people under Saddam. Only one or two speakers at the London demo in February 2003 even mentioned Saddam or the Iraqi people. Worse, Tony Benn denounced the Iraqi opposition as 'CIA stooges' on national television. One could only imagine Saddam's smile at that. The 'No to War! No to Saddam' position meant we were politically obliged to speak and act very differently to the national campaign leadership. I made this speech (reproduced here word for word from my contemporaneous notes) to a school student walkout we organised in South Lakeland). I cite it not to blow my own trumpet but as an example of a run of the mill 'third camp' speech, typical of the kind of thing we were saying at the time:
"The Stop the War Coalition stands with the Iraqi people against the murderous tyrant Saddam Hussein and wants to support in every way their efforts to overthrow Saddam. And you know what: unlike the US and UK governments we always did. We stood with the Iraqi people in the 1960s when the CIA and the US govt helped him to power. We stood with the Iraqi people in the 1970s when the UK and US armed him and traded with him. We stood with the Iraqi people in the 1980s when Saddam invaded Iran and fought a war with mustard gas. At that time the US and UK governments backed and encouraged Iraq in that war as it wanted rid of the Islamic Fundamentalist regime in Tehran. Britain even built a mustard gas plant for Saddam. The same mustard gas plant that Colin Powell said was a reason for us going to war today!
We stood by the Kurdish people when Saddam gassed and murdered 5000 Kurds at Halabja. The US and UK governments issued only feeble protests before Donald Rumsfeld travelled to Baghdad, shook Hussein's hand and asked if he could set up a US trade mission there. Saddam was a tyrant then and there was no protest from London or Washington. Why? Because he was their tyrant. He did what they told him to do. Just as the tyrants of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan are their tyrants today and so are protected and armed by the US and UK. Only when Saddam got too big for his boots did he become a tyrant to overthrow rather than tyrant to back up. So we can say don't lecture us about supporting the Iraqi people you hypocrites!
We are for regime change in Iraq. Now. But regime change from below, by the people. Not regime change from above by cruise missiles and cluster bombs. This is not pie in the sky. How did regime change happen in the old Latin American military dictatorships in Argentina, Chile and Brazil? Regime Change from Below by popular rebellion! How did regime change happen in the old Stalinist dictatorships? Regime Change from Below by popular rebellion!
So we say make solidarity, give practical support, increase the inspectors, send in human rights monitors, tighten the military sanctions but lift the economic sanctions which have caused according to the UN 500,000 deaths in Iraq since 1990. Lifting the economic sanctions and the people will be able to breathe again, the people will not be reliant upon the Saddam regime for food and so will begin to organise to overthrow Saddam. Join the local Stop the war Coalition and organise for this: 'No to War! No to Saddam! Freedom for the Kurds! Democracy for Iraq!".
Now, the specific arguments I made to the school students that day may be judged right or wrong. The point is that the same politics that motivated the third camp left to oppose the war then mean we should not march with the Stop the War Coalition now. The reasons are three-fold: (a) what the 'anti-war' left has become (b) the new situation on the ground in Iraq, and (c) the political obligations of a third camp socialist.

(a) What the 'anti-war' left has become
The stress we gave to 'regime change from below' never much interested the vast bulk of the anti-war movement. But it was reasonable to say 'well, we need to make this argument as part of the anti-war movement'. I no longer think it is reasonable for us to say that. The 'anti-war' movement by campaigning for an 'immediate end of the occupation' whatever the consequences and, in some cases, declaring itself for 'victory to the resistance' has made itself a Pro-Tyrant force. The size of the demonstration cannot determine our decision to support it. To build the solidarity movement we always wanted we now need a realignment of forces and a rupture with the 'anti-war' left.
There was not one single moment for me when I realised that enough was enough with the 'anti-war' left. Maybe I knew something had snapped on 9/11 itself. After contacting my New York friends to check they were alive, I discovered the SWP (the main organisers of the Stop The War coalition) refused to condemn the attacks. Then the SWP allied with the slick fundamentalists of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), an organisation tied to the fundamentalist Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and began politically apologising for, even promoting, that reactionary religious organisation. Then came Tony Benn and his shameful meeting with Saddam, asking in deferential tones for advice from this Hitlerian figure about how to preserve peace against the 'imperialists'. The furious reaction of David Aaronovitch to Benn's behaviour mirrored my own.
When the war against Saddam's regime began (it was never a 'war on Iraq') I recall those anti-war activists who supported Saddam's Fedayeen thugs, his praetorian guard and the people's tormentors. Some expressed unrestrained glee for a few hours when it looked possible they might inflict real setbacks on the coalition forces.
The near universal indifference of the left to George Galloway's record of close personal and political support for the genocidal dictators, Saddam and Tariq Aziz, should have forced every socialist into a profound rethink about the nature of the 'anti-war' left as a whole. Anyway, it did me. It was to get much worse. Led by the SWP, the left decided to hoist this walking disgrace to the very leadership of it's movement and then create an entire political organisation dedicated to his promotion and election as an MEP. Surely that would be the nadir?
It wasn't. John Pilger and Tariq Ali, both major figures and leaders of the 'anti-war' party, then came out openly with positive declarations of support for the fascistic fundamentalist terrorists and Baathist totalitarians of 'the Resistance' who were massacring their way across Iraq. 'You can't be choosy' said Pilger. 'Anti-Imperialism' said Ali. No criticism of Pilger or Ali was forthcoming from inside the 'anti-war' left when they likened the moloch of the Iraqi 'resistance' to the French resistance fighters who opposed the Nazis.
And then there was the staged pulling down of the statute of Bush in Trafalgar Square as if to say 'Aha! Now we will show you whose statute should REALLY have been pulled down!' Turns out the anti-war movement was not infected with the idea that there was a moral equivalence between Bush and Bin Laden. It was worse. A large chunk really does think Bush is worse. That he, not Osama Bin Laden is, as that nudnik poster has it, 'The Worlds Number 1 Terrorist'. A legitimate and necessary opposition to US foreign policy is being mis-used to minimise or deny or even to indulge the terrorist threat posed by al-Queda and it is a bloody disgrace. I agree with Jean Bethke Elshtain's view that 'Organised killers with global reach now threaten all of us. In the name of universal human morality, and fully conscious of the restrictions and requirements of a just war, we support our government's and our society's, decision to use force of arms against them'.
A precondition for agreement to that statement is an acceptance that al-Queda is real. And the 'anti-war' left is not sure about that. Banners for the 9/11 conspiracy websites were prominently displayed at the Trafalgar Square 'anti-war' protest. These sites push the idea that the US government, and maybe Mossad, planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks. When Michael Meacher, the sacked Labour minister, fronted up for this rubbish to try and recover his left-wing credentials (after sitting meekly in the government for five years without a peep) I roared with laughter. I assumed everyone one else would spot him for the opportunist he was and join in. I even went round making what I thought was a good riposte ('well, at least you have to grant that Rumsfeld has balls of steel to have ordered the attack and then sat waiting for the plane to hit his Pentagon office'). When no one laughed I put it down to my chronic inability to deliver a joke and the left's notorious lack of a sense of humour. But by this point I should have known better. Playing to the mass idiot anti-Americanism of its base more or less the entire left press either supported Meacher or kept a respectful silence! Sadly, he even got front page billing in the Scottish Socialist Party newspaper, Socialist Voice whose columnist, Colin Bell, compared the Iraqi 'resistance' to the World War Two French resistance movement.
But the moment I knew I would not be marching again with the 'anti-war' left came with the capture of Saddam. I was exultant that day. As I enjoyed watching him being humiliated before the world I recalled picketing the Iraqi consulate in the 1980s in Manchester and how the consulate thugs, after taking photographs of us all, emerged to beat up the Iraqi dissidents. And I remembered a photograph of a father and son, Kurds murdered by Saddam's WMD in Halabja, frozen in their tender embrace. Now the bastard would get his! I then discovered the only people who shared my reaction were comrades in Solidarity and the pro-war liberal left (and of course ordinary working class people). No one who honestly studied the reaction of the 'anti-war' left to Saddam's capture could have missed its disappointment and anger (for the reaction of the SWP's John Rees and George Galloway at the Cairo conference see my article in Solidarity 3/44).
As this anger could not be openly admitted it was routinely displaced (John Lister writing in Resistance was typical of this) onto risible outrage atÂ…Saddam's dental inspection.
As the terrorism of al-Queda and the Saddam loyalists grows more desperate the left's apologetics just gets worse and worse. The Australian Green Left refused to condemn the bombing of the UN headquarters and Al Queda's massacre of UN staff seeking to rebuild Iraq. The bombing you see was 'anti-imperialist', the UN being a tool of 'imperialism'. The SWP refused to condemn the bombing of the synagogue in Turkey, a nakedly anti-Semitic attack on Jews as Jews.
With the mass slaughter of the Shiite religious pilgrims by the 'resistance' and the 'funny' and 'anti-war' response of Mark Steel in the Independent maybe we should just stop (see the sharp critique of Steel by his fellow Independent writer Johann Hari at his blogsite 'harrysplace').
We now have a Pro-Tyrant left and democratic socialists should draw a line and oppose it and build something else rather than march with it. It is indeed time to move on. But where to?

(b) the new situation in Iraq
The third camp left has to relate the 'No to War, No to Saddam' position we adopted before the war to a radically changed situation. The Saddam regime has been removed from above. A transition to some kind of popular sovereignty and democracy, however flawed, is underway. The labour movement, the women's movement and the organisations of a civil society are blinking into the light. A free press struggles to establish itself but exists. An interim constitution has been signed and national elections are scheduled for early 2005. But the left cannot admit the awkward fact that the central obstacle to a democratic transition is not the coalition but the so-called 'resistance' that is murdering anyone that seeks a stable democratic Iraq beyond the control of the Baath and the terrorists. It murders coalition troops and Iraqi Civil Defence force volunteers (brave women who pull their helmets over their Islamic scarfs and patrol the streets of Baghdad), United Nations workers and NGO staff, police officers and even the mother who runs the electricity sub-station (did you have this woman in mind, John Pilger, or the orphans the killers left behind, when you said 'you cant be choosy'?).
In this new situation the task facing those who stood before the war for a third camp position is not to support the 'resistance'. Nor is it to act as the direct action wing of the Today programme, mimicking John Hurumph-reys banging on and on about the Hutton Report and the JIC and the 45 minutes and the 'dodgy dossier'. The political task is to make urgent solidarity with the progressive forces in Iraq who are working inside the transition process - trade unions, civil society groups, women's groups, democratic political parties and associations -using the breathing space provided by the removal of Saddam to organise their forces and to push a secular egalitarian and democratic agenda of demands. The task is nation-building from below today in such a way that socialism from below becomes a possibility tomorrow. The democratic left should not act in any way to further the return of the Baath, or a decent into civil war. So we should not promote the immediate withdrawal of coalition forces without a political settlement. And the 'anti-war' march on March 20 is palpably about forcing that withdrawal.
Yes, of course the raids on the union offices, the role of giant US corporations, and the nature of the Bush administration show that we should not give our political trust to the Coalition. This is a capitalist transition being driven largely from above by capitalist governments, with all that that implies. But it is progressive compared to a return to Saddam or civil war. In short, we have to understand what the progressive forces inside Iraq have understood, that while a progressive Iraqi political force might emerge by intelligent political struggle under and against the umbrella of a managed transition to sovereignty and democracy, such a force would be, literally, executed under conditions of civil war or Baathist dictatorship.
And something else. We need a movement that does not feel it has to put scare quotes around the word terrorism. The terrorism in Iraq is not that of a national liberation movement. The situation is more like Berlin in late 1945 (a country on its knees, a war over, a tyranny overthrown from outside, a fight for democracy necessarily conducted inside the umbrella provided by the 'occupying' force) than Paris in 1943. About the wider Islamic fundamentalist terrorism of al-Queda the left remains in denial. In January I wrote in Solidarity:
For many left intellectuals and writers the dirty bomb that Al Qaeda was getting closer to creating in its Afghan camps will never be finished and explode in the middle of London or Madrid. The single warhead that if filled with just 140 litres of VX could kill I million people will never be delivered. From the massacre of 'westerners' at Luxor, to the massacre of Jews in Turkey, parts of the left are in denial (see Solidarity 3/44)).
It is to be hoped that the bombs, devastating but not 'dirty', that exploded in Madrid less than two months later, killing 200, will make some think again.

( c) The obligations of a third camp socialist
Who are our responsibilities to and what are they? One of the architects of third camp socialism, Max Shachtman, wrote this in 1951:
We are opposed to such defeats of the bourgeoisie whose consequences are, and cannot but be, a disaster and an inferno of exploitation for the working class. We do not exist to see that revenge is taken upon the bourgeoisie for its social crimes, but to see that the working class emancipates itself from all class rule (...) We do not for a moment suspend the class struggle, even in wartime. But, not being Stalinists and not being cretins, we do not prosecute it in such a way as to produce a defeat of the government by Stalinism. We are for the working class defeating the bourgeoisie in the class war and that is all we work for. We do not work for it in such a way as assures the defeat of the bourgeoisie by a reaction that would crush the proletariat itself".
We should contest the course of the transition. We should aim for a democratic socialist force to dominate the new Iraq. Of course. But if that is what we want we should not be building an 'anti-war' movement for the immediate withdrawal of the coalition. We should be building a solidarity campaign to assist the progressive forces in Iraq in their demands for free and secure elections, full civil and human rights, a secular constitution, justice for the victims of the Baath, and a massive programme of economic aid and support in reconstruction. We can do this in an alliance with left wing and liberal forces who supported the war as well as with those who opposed it. Such a solidarity campaign could contribute to the political realignment of the democratic left that we so desperately need. It could be a means to challenge the miseducation of an entire generation of young people by the inchoate 'anti-imperialists'.
Such a rational and democratic left can only be built in through practical solidarity with the progressive forces in Iraq. Much of the existing left - incoherent anti-imperialists rather then democratic socialists, unable to condemn the most foul terrorist outrages without excusing them in the same breathe - is finished for that kind of progressive politics. It is time to move on.


Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Fri, 12/03/2004 - 23:32

Alan's articles in New Politics last year were great. They were extremely useful to me as a third-campist in debates with second-campists and first-campists alike. I'm sorry he's resigned from the editorial board - (why is that, Alan?) and I'm even more sorry that he's now moved to the position outlined in this article - that is, ascribing a progressive role to an imperialist occupation. (Alan's comments about terrorism in general and the left's response to it are interesting but I will not respond to them here. I will reply specifically to his comments about the occupation of Iraq.)

Alan qualifies his ascription of a progressive role to the occupation by saying it's not really progressive, but when you hold it up against the likely alternatives - return to Ba'athism, or sectarian civil war - it's the best option on the table and the one which will most likely allow democratic working-class forces to develop. Aren't these the arguments Shachtman initially used to justify his political suicide? Besides - we are revolutionary socialists, not lesser evilists. We advocate a strategy for the working-class to assert itself as an independent political force against all its enemies - we not advocate that is should - however grudgingly - accept the imperialist, occupying rule of its class enemies because they * might * bring democracy and they * might * keep the Islamists and the Ba'athists quiet. If we cannot formulate such a strategy or if no such strategy exist then socialism is impossible.

I agree; it is time to "move on." The focus for 'the anti-war movement' must now be radical, class-based solidarity with the Iraqi workers' movement. Maybe Alan doesn't like the word, but the Iraqi workers' and women's movements are a 'resistance' and it's a 'resistance' that third-campists MUST support. If our support of the working-class resistance is not intended to help develop it, galvanise it and sharpen its political ideas to such a stage where it is ready to challenge for power, what is it for?

We may choose to reject the slogan 'troops out now' because of the ideas and methods associated with those who shout it loudest - namely the 'second campist' left. But if we reject any notion of calling for the troops' withdrawal on this basis, we define ourselves politically only as against the SWP et al and not by clearly advocating what we positively believe in. The AWL has raised the slogan "no to US/UK occupation," but several leading comrades - including Alan here - have rejected *any* formulation of 'troops out.' To my mind there is no point in saying "no" to an occupation if you're not prepared to oppose the presence of the physical manifestation - the troops - of the occupation you're saying "no" to.

When Saddam Hussein was captured, elation should have been the first instinct reaction of any socialist, just as it should have been when his regime fell. But despite this, while I felt not an ounce of sympathy for him, I personally did not feel the sheer elation Alan describes, because while I advocate and agitate for the removal of fascistic governments and the capture of their leaders, when these actions are carried out by the American and British bourgeoisie, socialists cannot divorce them from the broader project or the class interests in which they were carried out. If we could, we would have supported the war. In other words, we cannot consider them in abstraction from the broader imperialist project of which they were a part. If you read the comments of the WCPI after the fall of Saddam you will find that they largely echo my sentiment.

Alan's asserts that the occupation of Iraq will be conducive to some sort of democratic state (he concedes that it may be 'flawed'). I also get the impression that he thinks the Coalition troops are providing some sort 'bulwark' against the reactionary 'resistance.'

To answer these two points, the sort of 'democracy' the occupation looks like overseeing isn't any kind of democracy socialists would deem worthy of the name, and it is entirely possible that the occupiers may postpone and postpone and postpone their deadline for handing over 'control' if they don't like the look of what's on the horizon.

Secondly, there is this argument that the occupiers play some sort of 'bulwark' role against Ba'athists and Islamists. I am not convinced of the efficaciousness of this role - it didn't stop the recent horrific attacks - and also, as socialists, how can we leave the task of fighting terroristic reactionaries to an imperialist occupying power? Shouldn't we be advocating a strategy for working-class self-defence against such forces to cut the roots of the Ba'athist and Islamist terrorists that exist inside Iraq? The WCPI's analysis that the rise of Islamist forces in Iraq has been massively aided by the prominence of Islamist forces on the IGC is, I think, informative. They analyse the imperialist occupation and the reactionary 'resistance' as 'two poles of the same terrorism.' I think this analysis is somewhat crude but its logic is closer, I feel, to revolutionary third-camp socialist politics on this matter than Alan's, which appears to amount to very, very, very critical support for the Occupation as it exists, even though he undoubtedly opposes the principle of imperialist invasion and occupation.

The AWL has always - rightly - prided itself on its consistent democracy and its passionate advocacy of the right of nations to self-determination. This advocacy is incompatible with any species of support for an imperialist occupation. I am not prepared to give up one of the AWL's best political tenets in the hope that the imperialists *might* deliver a stable, functioning democracy at some time in the future and that they *might* keep down the Ba'athists and Islamists for us while the workers' movement grows.

Our job as revolutionary third-campists with regards to the anti-war milieu that holds illusions in the reactionary 'resistance' is not to denounce the idea of resistance but to clearly show that two 'resistances' exist in Iraq; one reactionary - that of the Ba'athists and Islamists - with reactionary aims - the establishment of a dictatorship, and one progressive - that of the workers' and women's movements - with progressive aims - secular democracy, workers' control and an end to the occupation.

The last issue of Solidarity featured the headline 'Laws, repression, unemployment; Help Iraqi workers beat these blows.' I think a better encapsulation of a third-camp socialist position on this question would be 'Help Iraqi workers beat the Occupation.' If this is not what third-camp politics amount to on this question then no doubt a more knowledgeable and experienced comrade than I will put me right.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by Clive on Sun, 14/03/2004 - 13:46

In reply to by Daniel_Randall

Alan raises many useful and interesting issues, and this comment is not intended to be a 'reply'. Just a couple of quick points. Prior to the war, the AWL's policy was that in the event, for example, of revolutionary upheavals in Iraq following the invasion - ie, directed against the Ba'thists, a la 1991 - we would argue for the 'anti-war movement' to see itself as a movement in solidarity with this. We have all along argued for solidarity with the emerging workers' (and other democratic) movement as the focus of activity - and, indeed, that 'troops out' without such solidarity is empty and wrong.

The question of marching or not marching seems to me to be about how to relate to large numbers of people who we might be able to win to this perspective.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/03/2004 - 15:32

In reply to by Daniel_Randall

'Real Political Time' and 'Third Camp Time': a reply to Daniel Randall

Alan Johnson

Daniel, thanks for your kind comments. Let me try and set out more of my thinking, specifically about this notion of the 'third camp'.

If we ask the question 'How can the third camp be developed?' we find there are two ways of answering that question, the propagandistic and the political, giving us two kinds of 'third camp' position between which we have to make a choice.

The propagandistic third camper imagines the 'third camp' as a platonic point of eqi-distance between two equally reactionary forces and wants to make abstract propaganda for a 'third camp', opposing both reactionary camps on principle, absolutely, and in every circumstance. This kind of third camper lives in 'third camp time', a time of perpetual futurity when present day actualities are denied, bracketed, or obscured in favour of the future vision. No tough political choices ever have to be made. This kind of third camper condemns each side and calls for democracy and socialism. At its best this kind of third campism holds open a space for a future socialist alternative. But the price is high: an abstract propagandism, an inability to relate our programme to present-day realities, the loss of our capacity to act as a fructifying political lever. At its very worst this sort of third camper will say that even if one could know in advance that 800,000 would be murdered in Rwanda one would nonetheless oppose the dispatch of 2000 US Marines to stop it because that would be 'imperialism' and we stand for 'the third camp'. As one third camper put it to me - this a Damascene moment in my own rethinking - the 800,000 deaths would be a 'price worth paying' for the sake of preserving the independence of the third camp socialists who work for the future goal. I now think of this kind of thing as living in 'third camp time' and I don't want anything to do with it anymore.

The political third camper accept that being for the 'third camp' means doing the difficult and messy work of building an alliance of democratic and progressive political forces out of a situation of extreme weakness. This dictates we attend urgently to what we might call 'real political time' and develop our political programme in its light. This kind of third camper wants to be a political lever not an abstract propagandist.

I think the AWL is trying hard to hold to both positions and I think that is, ultimately, incoherent. I think the two views co-exist uneasily in your own argument, Daniel. You say you are for (a) the development of the working class resistance. In the very next line you say you are for (b) troops out now. But ask yourself what - in real political time not the permanent futurity of 'third camp time' - would be the result of the troops pulling out now? It would be the destruction of the very working class resistance you seek.

The abstract propagandist third camper - whether conscious of it or not - is playing a little game here. It could be called the 'My Responsibility / Not My Responsibility' game. Looking over here, at the presence of the coalition forces, the propagandistic third camper says 'our responsibility is to oppose imperialism! Troops out now! For the Third Camp!' But looking over there, at the consequences of a troop withdrawal they say 'well, that's not my responsibility, I wanted a third camp of democracy and socialism not an inferno of exploitation for the working class'. I think Shachtman in 1951 knew there was something wrong with that game. I think he was right, though he undoubtedly lost his way later.

Political third campers want to build a third camp in real political time and thus, in the concrete circumstances we find in Iraq. That means using the breathing space offered by the coalition occupation, for now, to build up the progressive political forces that would constitute a 'third camp'. In fact that is what the AWL actually does, making links with trade unionists, socialist organisations, women's groups in Iraq and forging a network of solidarity around them. The 'troops out now' position is just a hangover from the old position. Marching with the Stop the War Coalition is more to do with reaching its mass constituency with a different message than agreeing with the message of the march.

Once you make yourself see things in real political time, Daniel, your arguments lose their force. For instance, you doubt that the coalition forces are any kind of bulwark against the reactionary 'resistance'. But you know they are. So the interest in your expressed doubt lies more what it says about the propagandistic third camp view. It says it can only hold itself together by denying reality. You are living in the futurity of 'third camp time' where a 'workers self-defence squad' will drive the Saddamists and al-Queda out of Tikrit. Well, speed the day, but to reach that future time I have to act strategically, as a political third camper, in real political time, where the 4th Infantry Division is doing the job. I don't feel the need to celebrate it, or invest the 4th Infantry Division with virtues it does not possess, or imagine that it is doing the job because it wants to achieve socialism in Iraq. I am not an idiot. But to just swish that awkward fact away with talk of 'troops out now' and 'workers defence squads'...well, I'm sorry, I just can't do it anymore. Daniel, imagine yourself to be a socialist living in Tikrit and answer me a question. How would 'troops out now' help build the third camp? If your answer is 'it would not, but we have to say that because we are third camp socialists' then stop and think long and hard about that answer. If your programme is an obstacle to acting responsibly in the struggle, from connecting up where we are with where we want to get to, an obstacle to working for socialism (as opposed to negative anti-imperialism) then so much the worse for your programme. Change it. Refine it. Move on.

But you don't really believe the coalition is not a bulwark, do you? You know that millions of people in Iraq are saying the opposite, daily, so you shift tack to 'how can we leave the task of fighting terroristic reactionaries to an imperialist occupying power?' Notice that this move of yours shifts the goalposts and allows you to bracket the actual question faced on the ground by people in Tikrit, which is 'who WILL fight those terroristic reactionaries?' You have allowed your 'workers defense squads' of the future to substitute for a serious answer for the present. By living in 'third camp time' you find you can't think in real political time. Living in the permanent futurity of 'third camp time' allows for all sorts of evasions of that kind. I don't think the political third camper living in Tikrit (and our programme is for them not for our souls or to make life easier inside the big 'anti-war' movement demos) has a choice but to 'leave the task' to the 4th Infantry Division for now, even as she works for a future in which the task can be taken on other, 'third camp', forces. We are working for the construction and eventual victory of the third camp not the coalition. But if we decide to live in 'real political time' not 'third camp time' we have do that work in a particular way, connecting up the brute facts about the present role of the coalition, the present strength of our forces, and our own future goals. That present is the only terrain on which we fight to carve a better future, as opposed to merely making abstract propaganda for one.

The propagandist third camp position pushed you to other arguments I don't think you actually support. You say the coalition forces and the 'resistance' are just 'two poles of the same terrorism'? So you are neutral between the two. You could not care whether the coalition defeats the resistance or the resistance defeats the coalition. Really? The 300,000 dead, the mass graves, the totalitarian character of the regime, and you just could not care whether it all returns via the defeat of those forces that - whatever their wider 'project' which you are still free to oppose, you know - have provided a political space in which you have been building a progressive, secular, democratic solidarity network with the people of Iraq? Well, here is what I think. I just don't think that you believe a word of that. I think you feel obliged by the logic of a propagandistic third camp position to say such things. I think you know they are silly. I don't think you need to say such things. I think there is another - political - way to be for the 'third camp'.

Do I trust the coalition? No, of course not. The task of the third camp is to fight in and against the coalition umbrella for a secular democratic Iraq. Note: 'fight'! Note: 'and against'! Shachtman in 1951 was for fighting. You seem to think I am for sitting back and trusting the coalition will deliver democracy. No! But I am for fighting for democracy in the breathing space provided by the coalition - and immediately that means recognising that political space exists and that 'troops out now' would close it - by building the size, independence, power, finances, and networks of the progressive democratic opposition. I want a future (yes, the political third camper living in 'real political time' can also talk in the future tense) when that opposition can cast off not only the Baath and al-Queda but also the control exerted by the coalition. But politics is always a strategic activity, always conducted in real political time. First this, so we can move on to, that.

If 'third camp socialism' is to move on it must decide to live in 'real political time' and not the perpetual futurity of what I have here called 'third camp time'. That does not mean giving up on our goals. But it might mean we move towards our goals and not someone else's. And that would be a start.

Submitted by Janine on Tue, 16/03/2004 - 11:24

In reply to by Daniel_Randall

An opinion poll has shown that "Although 51 percent oppose the presence of coalition forces, only 15 percent want them to leave now". Which I guess show that it is possible to oppose the occupation without feeling the need to demand that the troops leave immediately, unconditionally. I should think that the 36% gap between the one statistic and the other represents people who are thinking about the *consequences* of immediate withdrawal rather than its propaganda value.

Or will the 'anti-imperialist' left denounce 36% of Iraqis with the same venom it reserves for the AWL?
e-mail: janine.booth at

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