Lenin, Iraq and "troops out now"

Submitted by martin on 28 October, 2007 - 7:01

By Sacha Ismail

In "The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed up", written in July 1916, Lenin wrote as follows:

The several demands of democracy, including [national] self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general-democratic (now: general-socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected. It is possible that the republican movement in one country may be merely an instrument of the clerical or financial-monarchist intrigues of other countries; if so, we must not support this particular, concrete movement, but it would be ridiculous to delete the demand for a republic from the programme of international Social-Democracy on these grounds.


"But we cannot be in favour of a war between great nations, in favour of the slaughter of twenty million people for the sake of the problematical liberation of a small nation with a population of perhaps ten or twenty millions!" Of course not! And it does not mean that we throw complete national equality out of our Programme... Let us assume that between two great monarchies there is a little monarchy whose kinglet is "bound" by blood and other ties to the monarchs of both neighbouring countries. Let us further assume that the declaration of a republic in the little country and the expulsion of its monarch would in practice lead to a war between the two neighbouring big countries for the restoration of that or another monarch in the little country. There is no doubt that all international Social-Democracy, as well as the really internationalist section of Social-Democracy in the little country, would be against substituting a republic for the monarchy in this case. The substitution of a republic for a monarchy is not an absolute, but one of the democratic demands, subordinate to the interests of democracy (and still more, of course, to those of the socialist proletariat) as a whole. A case like this would in all probability not give rise to the slightest disagreement among Social-Democrats in any country. But if any Social-Democrat were to propose on these grounds that the demand for a republic be deleted altogether from the programme of international Social-Democracy, he would certainly be regarded as quite mad. He would be told that after all one must not forget the elementary logical difference between the general and the particular.

Whether or not you think Lenin was right about his hypothetical case, the methodology is clear. So are its implications for the debate about "troops out now" with regards to Iraq.

It is one thing to deny the AWL majority’s assessment – that victory for the Islamist-sectarian "resistance" militias following immediate withdrawal by the occupying forces would mean the break up of Iraq, societal collapse and the destruction of the Iraqi labour movement. It is quite another thing to say, as some on the left do, that refusing to call for "troops out now" means that the AWL has abandoned the principles of opposition to imperialism and support for Iraqi self-determination. (And yet another to actually abandon these principles because of the character of the "resistance", as the pro-war "left" has.)

Lenin was a monarchist to exactly the same extent that the AWL is pro-imperialist: not at all.


Submitted by sacha on Mon, 29/10/2007 - 12:30

Arthur, I find it difficult to know how to reply to this because I don't think I fully understand your line of argument. At best, it seems to me that elements of your argument would have grip *if* you were dealing with socialists who said that - because of the character of the Iraqi "resistance", the possibility of the break up of Iraq and the collapse of Iraqi society, and the consequent threat to the Iraqi labour movement - we should (however critically) support US/British imperialism. But you're not, because we don't.

Of course, you would presumably reply that, whether we like it or not, refusing to demand "Troops out now", *does* mean critical support. But this is simply nonsensical - a point which the Lenin analogy makes clear. The accusation that the AWL gives critical support to US/UK imperialism in Iraq only makes sense if you assume that the only way to oppose an imperialist occupation is by saying "Out now".

But, eg, did Marx ever say this about India? Marx wrote reams about British rule in India, highly sympathetic to the Indian national cause and supportive of Indian independence - but did he ever say "British troops out now" (or the equivalent)? Was he therefore a critical supporter of British rule in India? That argument has been made, but I think it's clearly wrong. What do you think?

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.