Alan Johnson complains that “one AWL joins protests against multinationals ‘touting for business’ in Iraq... protests that... demand that capitalists stay out... of Iraq”. To that he counterposes the alleged view of “the other AWL” that the coalition project is “relatively progressive” and foreign capital should be welcomed as bringing “industry and jobs”.
Both alleged “AWLs” are constructed by way of shamelessly misquotation. The allegedly pro-occupation “AWL” is constructed by Alan clipping a couple of words from an editorial in Solidarity 3/50, which again he misrepresents as a personally-signed article by Sean Matgamna.
“A war of liberation may indeed develop, if the occupation should turn into a long-term war of repression by the USA and its allies. But that has not happened yet...
“No socialist or consistent democrat... will trust Bush or Blair, or rely on them to do anything positive, in Iraq or anywhere else. That is why we opposed their war. But right now, the proclaimed programme of the US-UK in Iraq... — the setting up of a viable democratic Iraqi government, and ultimate US withdrawal — is relatively progressive, and that of their armed opponents is reactionary by any measure...
“Slogans like ‘troops out now’ signify support for forces like al-Sadr’s in a long and very bloody war. At the very best they are grossly premature... Our basic slogans now are: solidarity with the Iraqi workers; help build the ‘Third Camp’ against both the US and Sadr”.
Solidarity commented on the proclaimed programme of the USA, while explaining that things could turn out very different (“a long-term war of repression”) and recalling why we opposed the USA’s war. Alan Johnson misquotes that as a flat, unqualified declaration that “the coalition project is relatively progressive”.
Alan Johnson extrapolates his economic-isolationist AWL from a protest which AWL was involved in organising on Tuesday 27 April, against a business conference where officials from the occupation authorities came to London to discuss contracts with bosses from some 300 multinational corporations.
Contrary to what Alan Johnson claims, the protesters demanded “that Iraqis be allowed to determine their own economic future; for a reconstruction process directed by the Iraqi people for the benefit of the Iraqi people, not by big business for its own profit; and for justice for Iraq’s workers”.
Much of the tone of it was set by a loud contingent from the Worker-communist Party of Iraq, yelling “No to America, no to political Islam”.
At the time Alan deduced — from phrases in emails from individual (non-AWL) participants in the protest — that this was a demonstration of “anti-trade crazies”. That assertion tells us much more about Alan Johnson’s Mexican jumping bean politics than about the real demonstration.
Most of our collaborators in organising the 26 April protest came from the “new anti-capitalist” milieu. Only a year before Alan had been lecturing readers of Solidarity that we were insufficiently enthusiastic about that milieu (Solidarity 3/28, 17 April 2003). Now he condemns it blanket-fashion as “anti-trade crazies”.
What is his objection to the actual demands of the protest? Is it that the “coalition project”, and the inflow of capitalist investment which he assumes will come with it, is so wonderfully progressive that we should disavow any working-class self-assertion which might disturb it or put the capitalists off?
Or is it, as he suggests earlier in his article, that to raise ideas of workers’ control now is to ‘confuse the democratic with the socialist programme’ — i.e. not to understand that (in Alan’s view) this is the “democratic stage” of the “process” in Iraq, and distinctively working-class demands must be left until later?
The idea that the working class must be subordinated to the needs of capitalist development puts Alan to the right of the most right-wing ensheviks, and on the ground of such ex-Marxist liberals as Struve! Is that what he wants to say?
The occupation has brought continuing mass unemployment, still over 50 per cent. The April protest pointed out that the Bush administration had been “treating [reconstruction] contracts as prizes to be handed to their friends’ and that had been ‘delaying Iraq's recovery, with potentially catastrophic consequences”.
We were right. Unemployment is still over 50%. The clerical fascists are better able to recruit not only because of the poverty and despair caused by mass unemployment, but because the $200 a month that a young man can get as a mujahid compares well with his non-existent chance of getting a regular job. There has been no foreign direct investment in Iraq. American contractors are employing only 120,000 Iraqi workers on reconstruction contracts. There would be much less unemployment, much more reconstruction, and probably more foreign direct investment, if it were not for the US neo-conservatives’ ideologically-fixated “project”.
The strongest case that could be made for a position like Alan’s is that socialists should support the political dimension of the USA’s plan in Iraq — the move to elections and the promulgation of a more-or-less bourgeois-democratic constitution — while opposing its rapacious economic dimension, the forced privatisations, the subjection of Iraq to IMF plans, the keeping on the books of Saddam’s labour laws, and so on.
In fact such a separation of the two dimensions would be false and artificial: they are part of the same policy, and the economic dimension compromises and taints the political dimension. But Alan Johnson does not even get that far. He recommends working “in the process” and credulously hoping for the best just as much for the economic dimension as for the political.
The ghost of Peter Struve hovers beside Alan Johnson’s wordprocessor!
By Martin Thomas