Debate: Anti-imperialism, Iraq and the IFTU

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on 10 November, 2004 - 8:28

We have received a number of comments to our recent material on Iraq, including our Reply to the Stop the War Coalition (see and The “reactionary anti-imperialists” (Solidarity 3/60). The Reply to the Stop the War Coalition was a response to a statement put out by STW denouncing the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions and printed in the Morning Star of 11 October 2004. Here are three of the comments. They were all posted anonymously.


By the time I got half way down “Reactionary anti-imperialists” (Solidarity 3/60) I was actually seriously considering joining the AWL — and then you had to spoil it all with the inept comment about those of us “who let commitment to the Iraqi working class lead them into backing Britain and the USA”.

This utterly undermines your whole argument. If the best workers can reasonably hope for in Iraq is a bourgeois democracy (and only the most infantile ultra-leftists imagine otherwise), then we have to support the forces internally and externally that are fighting to bring this about.

It is the same situation as 1939-45: supporting the bourgeois democracies (and from 1941 the Stalinist dictatorship) in their war against fascist totalitarianism wasn’t an act of political suicide then, and it is not now.

For leftists in Iraq true political suicide there would be to support the Islamo-fascist and Ba’thist “resistance”.

Here and in the US it is precisely the great mass of the anti-war left who have already committed political suicide by placing themselves on the side of reaction and terror. It will take us yet another generation to rebuild the credit that the idiots of the SWP and the other Trotskyist groupuscules have thrown away.

Still at least you’re 50% right....


Who appointed you the mouthpiece for Iraqi workers? The Federation you are trying to protect is not representative, and many Iraqis are against all acts [of terrorism]. It is not a fight for socialism against Islam or bomber against the Americans.

Are you truly saying that women working for American occupiers are fine? You need to look at the bigger picture. They are collaborating with the occupation. And if a Federation is presiding over the theft of Iraq and the illegal practices of the Americans in Iraq, then it is they who are the traitors

Why they do not fight against 100% foreign owned companies? Shame on them for taking money from the Americans, and double shame on you for supporting them.


The one glaring error that the pro-war left make is the assertion that the war is about, or was ever about, bringing democracy to Iraq. It is true that the level of opposition to the war has meant that the US (and it is dishonest to pretend that anyone other than the US government and bourgeoisie are calling the shots in the re-building of Iraq) has had to tread carefully in order for the new Iraqi government not be perceived as being a puppet government. But whichever way you look at it, a puppet government is what it is.

The choice of candidates on offer in the elections will be determined by the USA and the elected Iraqi governments policy will be subject to approval by the USA. Anti-Americanism? No. Just simple facts.

So, how can anyone who supports the idea of working class liberation and self organisation support the war and give credibility to the puppet Iraqi government? From reading various pro-war arguments, it seems that all this is justifiable on the basis that it is better for Iraqi workers than Saddam’s quasi fascist regime. We can agree on that point, but no more than we can agree with the anti-war left that the interests of the Iraqi working class are not best served by US imperialism.

The AWL is correct to distance itself from the arguments and political philosophy of the pro-war left. Personally I would be inclined to take the pro-war left’s arguments more seriously if it wasn’t littered with childish and sectarian (and often very malicious) denounciations of “Trots” and “sects”. This kind of polemic has little to do with politics. One can only guess at the motives of people that have a pathological hatred of those who choose to join active socialist organisations and attempt to put their ideas to practical use.

More discussion at


The editorial in Solidarity 3/60 draws a clear line between the supporters of the Ba’thist and Islamist “resistance” in Iraq and those of us who see their goals as directly counterposed to those of any development of a labour or socialist movement.

However I think it is unfortunate that the editorial concedes that there are any circumstances in which we would support the political forces of the “resistance” against the US and UK when it states:

“In such a situation [of popular support for fighting a ‘butcherous imperialist war of conquest’], socialists might have to decide that even the victory of outright reaction in an Iraq freed from the horrors of war would be better than the continuation of that terrible war…

“Have things reached the stage at which … the best thing left is a war against imperialist conquest, dominated by the religious, social, and political ultra-reactionaries — clerical-fascists, to give them their generic name — who will, having defeated their enemies, including the Iraqi trade unions, then fall heir to the state power in Iraq?”

Is it just a question of how far things have developed? Is there any serious argument for ever supporting “clerical- fascists” coming to power? Isn’t this just a borrowing from the logic of the “reactionary anti-imperialists”? Does their victory become a “lesser evil” and any less disastrous for any social progress because they are fighting an all out war against imperialism? If so, why then didn’t we agree with those like Workers’

Power who argued for supporting the Taliban against the US in Afghanistan? Is “outright reaction” any less reactionary when it has a popular base? The Khomeini movement in Iraq suggests otherwise.

This whole line of reasoning is inconsistent with our main argument that our opposition to the “ultra-reactionaries” is based upon their ideology and its results were they ever to come to power. The histories of Afghanistan and Cambodia show graphically where such victories for ‘outright reaction’ lead - even if they give a bloody nose to the occupiers.

Yet the editorial mentions Cambodia as a positive example of where such a policy was appropriate. Does the author seriously suggest that if were transported back to 1970 — when Cambodia was invaded by the US — knowing what we know now, we would be able to give any sort of support to the Khmer Rouge, who murdered three million of their own people and made a serious attempt to eradicate any form of civilisation in Cambodia? That would also be inconsistent with the support the AWL’s predecessor gave to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979 on the grounds that even the Vietnamese Stalinists taking power was better for the people of Cambodia than the rule of those who tried to level society and take it back to a “Year Zero”.

One other argument might be Hal Draper’s distinction (in Workers’ Liberty 3/3) between military support and political support for the reactionary leadership of a national liberation struggle. This does not make sense given that a military victory would mean such a movement taking power and implementing its programme.

What should our attitude then be in the event of a mass national liberation struggle led by “outright reactionaries” taking place in Iraq? To fight for Iraqi self-determination and troops out without giving any form of support to the forces leading it; to seek to support any democratic, secular and left forces that remain. This is not exactly a novel position – we were able to argue for Soviet troops to leave Afghanistan without giving positive support to the reactionary forces fighting them.

A “Third Camp” position is incomplete and inconsistent if we maintain, on the one hand, that we cannot support the “resistance” now because of their politics and the necessary consequences of their winning, while, on the other hand, maintaining that there might be circumstances in which we would regardless of the likely outcome. To do so is a throwback to one aspect of Trotskyist “orthodoxy” which we should not seek to maintain.

Bruce Robinson, Manchester

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