Iraq: analysis must be our starting point (A reply to Dan Randall)

Submitted by martin on 20 July, 2007 - 2:46 Author: Paul Hampton

The main problem with Dan Randall's article (Questions and answers on Iraq) (Solidarity 3/144) is methodological. Dan says: our starting point is not, therefore, “who is currently the strongest force in Iraq?” or even “what would happen (or probably happen, or certainly happen) if the troops left?” Our starting point is “what will build the third camp?”

This is not our starting point. To develop a programme and a strategy to build the third camp, you have to start with an assessment of reality. Marx wrote that human beings make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing. Lenin and Trotsky emphasised stating what is — starting from the realities of the situation today in order to develop a coherent working class politics. This is the materialist method, and is necessary if the working class is to make its own history.

Starting from reality is the basis for the AWL’s politics on all questions. Yet the minority comrades have not produced a single, concrete assessment of the reality of the situation in Iraq. Such an analysis should be dynamic — it cannot confine itself simply to the current conjuncture or the existing balance of forces. But before becoming is being. Dan’s document simply fails to engage with the majority position because he offers no alternative assessment, from which his slogans might flow.

The second methodological problem is with arguments from analogy. Dan says our slogan of “Israel out of the occupied territories” is in contradiction with our politics in Iraq. His argument seems to be: “Israeli troops out of the occupied territories” means a probable Islamist state, at least in Gaza — so why don’t we argue against Israel scuttling. This is odd, since Israel has been nominally “out” of Gaza since 2005 – whereas the occupation troops are most certainly “in” Iraq.

In the West Bank, where Israeli troops are most definitely “in”, demanding their withdrawal would result in an independent Palestinian state, run essentially by Fatah. This would be self-determination, a democratic solution, giving space for Palestinian workers to organise. That’s why it is a central agitational demand.
However in Iraq, the consequences of the troops scuttling would be the break up of Iraq, the opposite of self-determination and the crushing of the workers’ movement in most areas. In other words, the analogy between Israel and Iraq simply doesn’t hold.

The minority position is characterised by a lightmindedness towards political analysis coupled with the telescoping of future possibilities and current conditions. The comrades are impatient with the lack of progress made the Iraqi labour movement. The latter is understandable, but unfortunately it is combined with the invention of scenarios for quick-fixing the weakness of the Iraqi labour movement.

The minority seem to believe that for the working class to become the hegemonic force in Iraq, it needs to raise shrill slogans against the occupation. Dan writes:
“We do not believe that Iraqi labour can become a decisive force in the struggle against the occupation without raising sharp demands that express its intransigent hostility to the presence of the troops.”

There are two problems with this approach. Firstly, it is a matter of fact that all sections of the Iraqi labour movement already use slogans against the occupation. For example the FWCUI organised a demonstration on the fourth anniversary of the invasion, with banners calling for troops out now (the pictures are on their website). It’s difficult to know what more they could say or do on the issue. They appear to be following the minority’s advice, and yet they have not rallied bigger forces around themselves.

Secondly, the more substantial problem is with the situation. The Iraqi labour movement is not on the offensive, going forward with its own demands and attracting unorganised workers and other strata to its cause. It is organisationally weak, fragmented and fighting for its life – for its survival, against the occupation forces, the Iraqi state and the sectarian militias. Putting forward slogans as if it were about to become the hegemonic force or take power is to imagine a scenario far from current conditions. It is to fantasise about different, more favourable circumstances — as a substitute for thinking about what to say and do today. It is the logic of scenario politics, not rational, Marxist politics.

Dan is right to pose the question of how the working class third camp forces might develop. However he doesn’t answer the question concretely. There are at least some common pointers as to how the Iraqi labour movement can grow.

The most important is probably the fight against oil privatisation. A victory on this front through militant strike action would help establish the labour movement as a significant force in Iraqi politics.

The fight for women’s rights, for sexual freedom and against sectarian, religious-based politics are essential if the workers’ movement is to become a unifying force. Workers’ self-defence militias need to be developed.

Political representation, even in the dire, sectarian political system, would be a step forward. Workers don’t have a voice — a paper, a mass political organisation that articulates their interests — even for basic services, health, education and security. A broad workers’ party — even a reformist one or an amalgam of existing leftist groups — would be a step forward.

To adequately map out such a strategy requires a more concrete analysis of the Iraqi labour movement. It’s a great shame that the minority comrades have not provided any ideas on this front either.

Paul Hampton, SW London


Submitted by losttango on Fri, 20/07/2007 - 19:17 that this article too is mostly conjecture. You say "..the consequences of the troops scuttling would be the break up of Iraq, the opposite of self determination and the crushing of the workers movement in most areas". While this seems one plausible outcome, no evidence is produced to support it. The simple fact is that none of us know what would happen if the coalition troops withdrew.

Even if it did lead to the breakup of Iraq, is that necessarily something the left should concern itself with? As far as I'm aware the AWL has supported the proposal for Kurdish self-determination for many years. Why now the concern for a united Iraq? Sometimes partition IS self-determination.

Finally, if the Iraqi workers movement is actually calling for Troops Out Now as you say, shouldn't the AWL be supporting that rather than equivocating? It seems a bit odd to support the workers' movement but ignore its opinion on the occupation.

Submitted by Clive on Fri, 20/07/2007 - 22:18

The issue, surely, isn't the break-up of Iraq in the abstract (about which, on one level, who cares?) but a bloody, sectarian civil war resulting in break up - with 'ethnic' (and religious) cleansing, and so on. Sure, if it's just a matter of the peaceable separation of the Kurdish north, that would be fine. But that's not what's at issue.

Of course it's conjecture, in the sense that nobody has a crystal ball. But I think it is by far the most likely immediate scenario - already underway, and likely to be exacerbated by sudden withdrawal, ie, the collapse of the existing (bad, and unsustainable) state. I don't think it's beholden on the AWL to give chapter and verse for this scenario: it's the one generally accepted by most commentators, and that general assessment can, at least to some extent, be taken for granted.

I think it *is* beholden, though, on those who dispute it to give some convincing account of why they do so. And by convincing I mean: you can say up to a certain degree of certainty that there will *not* be sectarian civil war.

I don't think the opinion of the Iraqi workers' movement is as unanimous and unambiguous as you suggest - not enough to just say 'this is their view, and all we can do is support it.'

Submitted by Tim on Sun, 22/07/2007 - 15:44

In reply to by Clive

The only two on this thread and others opposing the inclusion of "troops out" as a slogan are Paul and Clive and now even those seem at odds.
Clive says to the pro-troops out inclusionists "I don't think the opinion of the Iraqi workers' movement is as unanimous and unambiguous as you suggest" and yet it is Paul who says "it is a matter of fact that all sections of the Iraqi labour movement already use slogans against the occupation"-who is right?
Paul's argument consists of opposing claims that the inclusionists do not make-such as that the inclusion of the slogan will miracously transform the workers' movement into the dominant force in Iraq. What IS suggested is that it makes the argument clearer-the tool will become sharper not an all dancing cure all!
So we are left with the central argument that the pro troops out position must prove there wil not be a sectarian civil war. That people working,campaigning,agitating and struggling in Iraq who have to face the lethal consequences of a sectarian civil war have not given this great consideration is frankly ridiculous. We are not talking about people who have no access to information here-we are talking about people who can access the same newspapers,exile groups and internet that Paul and Clive use and also have their experience of the reality on the ground and that they and their families will face consequences rather more severe than an internet discussion. When I have spoken to activists who have returned from Iraq and ask them why they don't take more part in discusions about slogans etc here they say that in Iraq there is lively debate and people can be persuaded to change because the persuasion of an argument that could improve things ,or even save their lives, is compelling whereas in the UK leftists take positions and won't change because it is too often an academic exercise.I fear watching this debate unfold that that will be the case-but it would be nice to be proved wrong.For an example of union leaders arguing why they argue for solidarity with workers' movement AND troops out see Iraqi Union Leaders Call for an End to the Occupation
By David Bacon…
TAP talks to Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, and Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, president of the Electrical Workers Union of Iraq.
The American Prospect online, July 6, 2007
Tim Cooper

Submitted by USRed on Sat, 21/07/2007 - 15:39

Submitted by USRed on Sun, 22/07/2007 - 15:54

If this isn't enough to demand "troops out now"...

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.