Sacha Ismail on the Socialist Workers Party pamphlet Iraq: why the troops must get out now by Chris Bambery
(From Solidarity 3/62, November 2004)
SWP-watchers will be aware that leading cadre Chris Bambery has recently taken time out from his busy schedule of leather trouser-shopping and goatee-trimming to assume the editorship of Socialist Worker. Here he maintains the high standards he has established at that publication by producing fifty pages of populist, non-socialist, anti-American (“anti-imperialist”) babble. Despite providing clear evidence of the SWP’s deepening political degeneration, however, this is a difficult one to get your teeth into.
This is partly because it has no clear structure: Bambery has opted for a shambling, stream-of-consciousness-style rant, dipping in and out of his argument at apparently random points. After several reads, it is still not clear that the pamphlet has a logical argument to make. But this is also because — in keeping with the SWP’s general approach — Bambery is clearly reluctant to state his case in positive terms. His method is as follows: make a negative statement that no socialist, consistent democratic or even basic humanitarian could disagree with; then, without further argumentation, proceed to a conclusion which the original statement in no way justifies.
In his first section, for instance, Bambery uses a string of arguments that are part of the common stock of the revolutionary left: that Bush and Blair lied about WMDs; that the US government is unconcerned about the huge civilian casualties resulting from its brutal war-drive; that the torture of captives by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib was an outrage; and that the Democrats are basically no different from the Republicans (though in this garbled populist version, Bambery hints that they might be supportable if only they opposed the occupation of Iraq!) It is good for political newcomers to be educated about these things; what is not good is Bambery’s use of the facts to justify support for Iraq’s so-called “resistance”.
His approach is totally apolitical. Rather than making any attempt to analyse the overall political character of the Islamist/neo-Ba’thist militias, Bambery fills his pages with anecdotal evidence about individual “resistance” leaders (apparently one mujahid was well disposed to the US government before the war — and so?) and “corroborating” quotations from bourgeois opinion pieces. This is followed by a passage reminding us of what “occupation” has achieved elsewhere, as if the occupations Bambery cites – Iraq, Bosnia, Kosova, Afghanistan – were all identical examples of pre-1945-style high colonialism. Here, too, the SWP’s selective humanitarianism rears its ugly head; we are told that 200,000 Serbs and Roma have been driven out of Kosova since NATO’s occupation began, as if the murder and displacement of millions of Kosovar Albanians under Serbian occupation would have been preferable.
The pamphlet continues in this vein for many pages. Bambery points out the Allawi regime has little popular support and that elections are unlikely to be really democratic; that over the last two decades the US has shown sub-zero concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people; that Britain has a history of imperialist intervention in the region and so on. But once again these important observations are used to defend the indefensible, with no attempt at political analysis.
The last pages of the pamphlet contain two starting examples of the SWP’s incoherence and hypocrisy.
Rightly attacking Bush’s claim to be carrying through a democratic revolution that will guarantee human rights in Iraq, Bambery cites the Iraqi Governing Council’s Law 137, which partially repeals Iraq’s secular 1958 personal status law and replaces it with a system of sharia courts, as evidence of how far the occupiers are from creating a “free, democratic and secular Iraq”. This from a man who has just spent thirty pages arguing that socialists should support the theocratic gangsters of the “resistance”!
In his sole attempt to reference his “argument” to the Marxist tradition in any way, Bambery cites Lenin and Trotsky’s support for colonial liberation movements even under undemocratic leadership, and more recently socialist support for the Vietnamese national struggle despite its domination by Stalinism — again without any attempt to actually prove that Iraq 2004 equals India 1919 or Vietnam 1968. Not content with this “analogy”, however, he goes on to compare those leading the Iraqi “resistance” to Oliver Cromwell and, better yet, to John Brown, the radical-democratic Christian leader who was executed by the Southern slaveholders after attempting to organise an armed slave rebellion on the eve of the US civil war in 1860.
Now, perhaps Bambery seriously believes that Moqtada al-Sadr and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are the modern equivalents of those who fought feudalism and slavery in the 17th and 19th centuries, leaders of giant steps in human progress. Or perhaps he just isn’t that interested in ideas any more. In either case, we are a very long way from anything resembling Marxism. The worst thing about this very bad pamphlet is that it doesn’t once mention the Iraqi working class, let alone stress the importance of Iraqi workers’ struggle to re-establish a labour movement after forty years of totalitarian repression. For Bambery and his like, “anti-imperialism” is everything; the working class simply doesn’t exist any more.