By Sacha Ismail
“For almost forty years we have stressed the class struggle as the immediate driving force of history, and in particular the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as the great lever of the modern social upheaval; it is therefore impossible for us to ally with people who wish to expunge this class struggle from the movement...We cannot ally with people who say that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must first be freed from above by philanthropic bourgeois and petty bourgeois.”
Marx and Engels to August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknicht and others, September 1879
The anti-war manifesto issued by the Worker-communist Party of Iran in May (see Solidarity 3/94) contains much that is unobjectionable and even praise-worthy. Its call for a “third camp” against both US imperialism and the Islamic Republic regime; its clear, sharp opposition to both military action and economic sanctions; its support for universal nuclear disarmament; its opposition to attacks on civil liberties in the West in the name of the “war on terror”; and its support for democratic struggles inside Iran — all these should be positively welcomed.
These features are particularly refreshing in contrast to the refusal of most of the British left to raise even the most tentative criticisms of the Iranian dictatorship, hiding softness on the Iranian ruling class' reactionary “anti-imperialism” under the cover of banal anti-war sloganeering.
Nonetheless, I do not believe that socialists should sign the manifesto — or not, at least, unless it is amended beyond recognition. This is because it looks for an anti-war, “third camp” agency — a force opposed to both US imperialism and the Iranian regime — not in the working class, workers’ movements and working-class struggle, but in a vague, classless “civilised humanity”.
In its manifesto, the WCPI indicts “American militarism and Islamic terrorism”, arguing that “neither of them has a solution to the present crisis and its resulting problems. Rather, they are themselves the cause of this crisis and its aggravation.” Its solution is for “civilised humanity [to] rise up against both these poles”, in order to find a “human and genuine solution” to the problems of nuclear proliferation, Islamist terrorism and US militarism.
In this battle, “the struggle of the people of Iran for freedom holds a prominent and critical place” as “for years there has been a mass social movement in Iran against the Islamic regime and for liberty and equality”. “For 27 years the people of Iran have been fighting against repression, violation of women’s rights, sexual apartheid, stoning, torture, execution of political prisoners and poverty and economic deprivation”.
This is about as specific or class-based as the manifesto gets. Imperialism and Islamism are rightly presented as villains, but the motives of the regimes involved are left undefined. There is no discussion of how the clashing ambitions of the US and Iranian ruling classes underlie the drive to war, nor of how the working class in struggle has been at the heart of challenges both regimes. No mention of either the Tehran bus workers’ battle for free trade unions, nor the magnificent May Day walk-outs and protests by immigrant workers across the US.
How, we should ask the WCPI, are the tasks set out in the manifesto to be achieved? By “freedom-loving people”, by “the struggle of the people of the world”? Since Marx, Marxists have criticised the idea that the workers’ movement should merge itself into a nominally classless, but in fact bourgeois coalitions for benevolent, “human” goals — whether it be the defeat of fascism, the prevention of war, the preservation of democratic rights or whatever.
We have done so because such “popular fronts” not only place workers' revolution and socialism firmly off the agenda, but typically make even the achievement of immediate goals impossible. The defeat of the Spanish Republic by fascism after the Stalinists and their bourgeois allies had gutted the republican cause of its potentially revolutionary social content is a tragic example; the failure, or rather disinclination of the Stop the War Coalition to galvanise the kind of working-class action that might have prevented the invasion of Iraq a mixture of tragedy and farce. But in both cases the point is that political struggle cannot be abstracted from class struggle, not even for a day.
In fact, it seems as if the WCPI is well aware that its civilised, freedom-loving humanity will be ineffective in the struggle against political Islam — for in the sixth and last point of its manifesto, it calls for the Islamic Republic to “be expelled from the international community”, “the expulsion of the regime from international institutions”. “International institutions” can only mean the UN etc — organisations governed by jostling between bourgeois governments and dominated by the same United States which is making war-threats against Iran.
To call for the expulsion of Iran (why just Iran?) it to blunt the cutting edge of our anti-war agitation by placing confidence in the same ruling-class institutions that have generated the threat of war.
When it invites “all humanitarian, secular, anti-war and freedom-loving organisations, forces, parties and individuals in the world to... join the Third Camp to confront both poles of terrorism”, the WCPI is pursuing essentially the same approach as its former collaborators in the Worker-communist Party of Iraq, who are building the Iraq Freedom Congress as a classless coalition of “freedom-loving” Iraqis in the belief that working-class political independence in Iraq is premature. Such a strategy will lead to frustration at best, and at worst disaster. Socialists who see the working class as the only force that can build a real Third Camp against the threat of war should not be afraid of criticising our Iranian and Iraqi friends.