Barry Finger replies to Sean Matgamna (Solidarity 3/84)
Barry's initial article in (Solidarity 3/82)can be seen from this link
True to his third camp core, Sean rightly places the Iraqi labor movement at the centre of his concerns.
If I understand the analogy he draws with the Bolshevik invasion of Poland during its civil war — strained though it strikes me — the AWL differs, and differs both notably and honorably, from the “resistance's” amen corner within the anti-war movement by its dogged insistence that the health of the Iraqi working class is central to the implementation of all other democratic rights and thereby the standard by which all political interventions — including sloganeering —against this imperialist conflict must be measured. It is the key to the future exercise of meaningful self-determination based on democratic accountability and participation, not to say its inferior incarnation to which it is often confused — the right to national sovereignty free simply from the restraints of external political domination.
In this the AWL reaffirms in its own way that the principles of any future Iraqi democracy — universal and equal suffrage, personal liberties, minority national rights and political freedom etc. — critically depend on the organisational growth and maturation of the Iraqi working class and cannot be secured in their absence.
These things are undeniable and nothing in my semi-co-thinker contribution could have or should have suggested otherwise.
That the Respect coalition or the SWP (or the American ISO) care not one whit for these considerations, that their cause is that of anti-imperialism, sheered completely from its broader democratic context and promiscuously attached to whatever entities champion that struggle, however reactionary, is not — Sean’s admonitions notwithstanding — my cause or my concern (“notionally” or otherwise). And I hardly suggested that they should be the AWL’s. Drawing far fetched amalgams as political abuse should be off limit set-asides for the less principled of our comrades on the left. It would be uncharitable to deprive them of their limited sources for wit, when nature has already deprived them of any realistic prospect for wisdom.
And yes, let’s by all means take into account what Iraqi working people have to say. An August 2005 poll conducted by the British defense ministry indicated that 80% of Iraqis want the US out, which was consistent with the January Zogby poll. A US military poll in February found only 23% of urban residents supported the presence of coalition troops compared to 71% opposed. These findings are consistent moreover with the statement of 126 members of the Iraqi National Assembly who constitute a majority of the United Iraqi Alliance, with the National Sovereignty Committee of the Iraq National Assembly which has twice called for a withdrawal timetable for the “occupation troops” and with the views expressed by prominent members of the Central Council of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the leading component of the UIA, to whom the Iraqi union of oil workers are aligned.
Even without these polls, it was absolutely obvious that the great majority of Arab voters — and therefore the dominant mood of the Iraqi population, taking into account the attitude of those who did not vote — was and is opposed to the occupation.
Even America's handpicked representative, Allawi, was forced to include an anti-occupation plank in his platform.
And it is certainly indicative of the Iraqi political atmosphere that despite millions of State Department dollars flowing into his campaign and documented CIA engineered voter fraud on his behalf, Allawi was roundly and thoroughly repudiated at the polls for his intimate association with the occupation. All this points to the volatile and incendiary pool of instability that the occupation forces are wading through with a lit match.
But the precipitous withdrawal of the occupation forces might lead to a disaster. Even the benighted comrade Finger concedes this. Not just “might.” We have it on no less than Sean’s authority that any immediate withdrawal will “lead to a three-way sectarian and national civil war” which will “maximize the chances for destruction for the labor movement.” It “would bring on a catastrophe that will abort all the possibilities that the rising labour movement is opening for the working class of Iraq.”
It is tantamount from any decent socialist standpoint to advising the US/UK ruling classes “to bring on the worst outcome”. “Troops Out Now would calculably in fact destroy democratic possibilities.” Why, you may as well shout “get more Iraqis killed” “get more trade unionists shot” as to call for “Troops Out Now”!
Since we in the AWL are against calling for bloodbaths, since we are against smothering labour movements, we naturally refuse to drawup slogans that encourage such crimes. To do otherwise would be to fetishise the Troops Out Now slogan as applicable to all times and to any circumstance, the consequences be damned.
And by the way, don’t remind us of our own recent writings on Vietnam. Don’t try to relate to political distinctions that we ourselves introduced into the discussion in Solidarity, in our website and in our pamphlets. Don’t insist that, were we to have consistently applied the same analysis during the 1960s, we should have also been against the call for Troops Out Now.
We prefer to maintain the fiction that there were no third camp elements in Vietnam, no trade union movement, no independent peasant organizations, no Buddhist resistors. It;s important to maintain that fiction to demonstrate that we truly are slogan-flexible. It is you, comrade Finger, who is mired in your own Shachtmanite nightmare; don’t make us wallow in it with you.
Fair and fair enough. But is it sufficient, having opposed the war, having exposed and condemned the senseless slaughter of civilians, the sheer mendacity and ineptitude of the undertaking, having warned Iraqi socialists and the people you reach that the US and UK cannot be relied upon to bring democracy, to then suddenly retreat into a revolutionary passivist pose? “All this that we have done, will have to do for now. If the troops leave, we won’t demand that they stay; while they’re there we refuse to insist they leave.”
Social patriots once invoked Marx’s writings on wars and imperialism in the epoch of the bourgeois revolution to justify their defencism in the first world war. The AWL invokes these writings to ward off despair by reminding us instead of all the marvelous possibilities such wars open up, if we only have the forbearance to take advantage of them.
Let me raise my concerns in other terms. How given this framework can we lend an active content to our solidarity with the Iraqi working class? We can acquaint the public to the presence of Iraqi socialists, feminists and trade unionists; we can warn of the dire political consequences awaiting these comrades should a clerical-Baathist insurgency prevail. It is true, too, that the AWL has called on Iraqi workers organissations to arm themselves and form self defense units. But no one is or could realistically be calling for the formation of international brigades, for running arms to Iraqi democrats and socialists, nor for obvious linguistic reasons, can we turn over our printing presses to them.
Yes, we can introduce motions in our trade union work declaring our solidarity with the workers of Iraq. But unless this is backed up by actual intervention in the political process, unless we can find a means to throw a spanner into the machinery of war, professions of solidarity alone are as meaningful as the attempt some 35 years ago, during a war I promised not to again name, of Yippies surrounding the Pentagon chanting incantations in an “effort” to levitate it and thereby end that unmentionable conflict.
So the real question is — and the one I find no satisfactory answer to in Sean’s response — how do socialists engage the largely spontaneous anti-war movement, a movement whose natural slogan is Troops Out Now? Or should we bother?
Sean is undoubtedly correct that supporters of the insurgency, and of the isolationist, chauvinist right in this country, are for leaving Iraq to twist in the wind. So long as US imperial credibility is shaken and its ability for military intervention weakened, they have accomplished their mission. We, of course seek that too, but not only that. They have hijacked that slogan, recasting it with a particular spin, one that combines a malicious glee at the prospect of an American debacle interlaced with an equally enthusiastic and callous indifference to the fortunes of Iraqi democracy. Their focus is the Vietnam Syndrome and their means is to encourage the greatest amount of Iraqi chaos and bloodshed needed to effect that goal.
But that is their spin, their angle and their politics. We are working for the power of the working class. And as such, we have every right and responsibility to expose the dire ramifications of those politics for the anti-war movement, for the Iraqi labour movement and for the cause of peace. We have every right and responsibility to declare that we do not oppose American imperialism so that it may be defeated by Islamic fascism. We have every right to expose those politics as antithetical to a peace movement. We are obliged from this to demand that the peace movement repudiate their politics and to demand that these pro-insurgency factions and forces be isolated and, where possible, cast off. These elements are the Achilles heel of every anti-war movement, a shape shifting plague — pro-Stalinist, during the cold war; semi-jihadist now — that perpetually attach themselves to every challenge from below to the existing order.
We also have every right to reassert instead the essential core content that this demand had in this and every other previous conflict, namely the insistence on an immediate political decision for the withdrawal of troops. Once this decision has been made we must further insist that it be implemented not to satisfy American imperial ambitions but under conditions in which the legitimate Iraqi government can determine the timetable and modalities of withdrawal commensurate with the pace and progress of national reconciliation. That is to say, it should be unconditional.
We should give no quarter to stealth schemes launched by the American ruling class to replace its direct authority with surrogate UN or Arab League forces. We call for a peace movement which actually adjusts itself to the fundamentally proper and democratic right of Iraq to self-determination free from American imperial dictates, in full recognition that such circumstances would also provide the most favorable prospects for the Iraqi labour movement and its allies.
The call for an immediate commitment to troop withdrawal is a recognition that the war against Islamism is only winnable, if at all, on a political basis. That anti-war movement, should it come into being, is an outstretched hand over the head of the American ruling class and its Arab vassals directly to the Iraqi people; a proclamation of solidarity with the beleaguered forces of democracy in the Arab East and a defeat imposed on the American ruling class that at the same time enhances the cause of the Iraqi labour movement.
What is the political alternative for Iraq? Clearly the war is going badly for the occupation. Every Fallujah and Tel Afar is followed by an escalation of violence, suicide bombing and assassinations. Exactions against Shia in Sunni dominated communities is beginning now to be answered by similar revenge killings against Sunni minorities. Foreign jihadists are being drawn into the conflict and the war is fast being internationalised. This is the entirely predictable consequence of the American involvement, which is the immediate irritant, chief recruiting agency and catalyst for the insurgency and a similarly polarising force throughout the Middle East.
That insurgency has two layers. The one that is the most intractable is rooted in a political and social program to impose a reactionary totalitarian caliphate on the people of Iraq and relies on its fascist secular allies longing for a return to power. The other wing is attracted to that leadership less by the insurgency’s political program than by its combativeness. It is motivated by the fear and hatred of foreign domination, a fear that is by every measure well grounded. It is the fear of a Washington that does not want to contemplate any pre-set schedule for withdrawal, let alone the prospect of complete withdrawal. It is a reaction to the Bush Administration’s oft proclaimed intention to build the military infrastructure for the platforming of American troops in the strategic area of the oil fields and to do so for an indefinite period. It is not insignificant that the 60 year experiences of Japan and Germany as forward American military bases are cited as examples or that the war against Islamic terrorism, of taking the fight to the enemy — that is on Arab soil — is said by pro-administration pundits to be the task of generations. The mood in Iraq cannot be gauged absent these considerations.
This second layer may not be hard core jihadists or Baathists. But it is increasingly evident that the US presence makes any reconciliation between contending Iraqi forces more difficult. An Iraqi government armed with the assurance that the political commitment has been made for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal may be able appease these concerns, peel off those layers of the insurgency and isolate and defeat the Islamic fascists and their political allies.
That is the wager the anti-war movement must be prepared to make and it is in the interests of the Iraqi people and therefore of the Iraqi labour movement that the current government be allowed to take that gamble.
The alternative is the very full fledged civil war that Sean so rightly fears. But this is where Sean and I differ. The aim and tactics of the insurgency is precisely to provoke that civil war, to make the country ungovernable, the war unwinnable, and to force a decision on the part of the American military and political elites that an immediate and precipitous withdrawal is preferable to a humiliating political, if not military, rout.
Left entirely to its own imperial devices and without the assistance of even the most pernicious elements in the anti-war movement, the precipitous withdrawal Sean warns against is precisely where American foreign policy is careening. The recent redeployment resolution by long time hawk and military booster, John Murtha, in the US Congress indicates that rumblings of this are even penetrating our ruling elites. Which brings me back to my point. A precipitous withdrawal will not in all likelihood be the cause of civil war, but the result.
The Islamist wing of the “anti-war” movement has no interest in national reconciliation, no interest in avoiding civil war and have no sincere interest in a political decision to withdraw troops under conditions which would minimise the chance of a political/military debacle maintain the national integrity of Iraq.
All that could and can stand athwart this is a militant and clear headed, democratic and labour-centric anti-war movement; a movement confident of its purpose and capable of giving shape and content to the burgeoning anti-war sentiment in the US and UK to bring the war to an early end. The Troops Out Now slogan employed properly is an essential tool in averting the fate from which Sean, I and the AWL all wish to see Iraq spared.