Socialism in an age of waiting II: Iraq
"Defence of man. Respect for man. Man must be given his rights, his security, his value. Without these, there is no Socialism. Without these all is false, bankrupt and spoiled... It must never be forgotten that a human being is a human being." - Victor Serge
This is part two of a three part series, on the mid-noughties blog Socialism in An Age of Waiting (SIAW). Part I is here.
|Iraqi women voting in the first democratic elections, 2005|
SIAW took a (heavily qualified) "pro-war" line on Iraq:
"intervention from outside is a much lesser evil than allowing the dictatorships to carry on regardless; and giving (we stress the adjectives) independent and critical support to such intervention is a much lesser evil than opposing it, and thus effectively helping to sustain dictators in power".And, as 2004 ended:
"The basic point really is very simple - nothing that has happened since April 2003 alters it; it’s worth repeating as many times as it takes to go on pissing these idiots off; and peace and goodwill to all just doesn’t apply: those who opposed the liberation of Iraq effectively supported the continuation of the Ba’ath dictatorship indefinitely, into a future in which even 100,000 deaths would have been a mere fraction of the total killed - off camera, off screen, and therefore below the radars of people whose chief concern throughout has been, not the fate of Iraqis, but their own continuing membership of their shitty little mutual admiration societies, in which nobody ever admits mistakes, nobody ever shuts up and tries listening for once, and nobody notices how utterly out of touch they all are. Fuck the lot of them."Their "fuck the lot of them" position meant that SIAW was regularly accused of being stooges for imperialism and other Stalinist epithets, or as Blairites and Bush apologists, by the Stop the War types, then led by the SWP. Their position was too subtle for the boneheads of the trad left to get:
"we supported the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq *despite* Bush (and Blair), not because of them. But such a position is clearly too subtle for the simple-minded to grasp."As I noted here, like many on the British left who took that line, they were extremely hostile to Serbian nationalism, and (therefore) sympathetic to Kosovan nationalism, as position that put them on a collision course with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which was more or less cheer-leading for both Saddam and Milosovic at that time.
"Considering how the Kosovar Albanians were routinely treated when they were a minority within Serbia, it is no surprise at all - though it is certainly regrettable, and inexcusable - that some of them are behaving intolerantly and violently now that they feel that they belong to a majority."
|Hadi Saleh, Iraqi trade union leader, |
imprisoned by Saddam, murdered by "the resistance"
As Mahdy Ali Lafta, leader of the Iraqi Teachers’ union argued recently in a Morning Star interview, “We are the Resistance”. You can see why he said that. Iraqi Communists and trade unionists built the Iraqi labour movement between 1925 and 1948 around the dual demands of economic and social justice and national independence, they were savagely oppressed by the British-backed monarchy and butchered, Pinochet-style, by the Ba’ath coups of 1963 and 1968, they fought Saddam Hussein’s genocidal generals as guerrillas in the mountains of Kurdistan in the 1980s, and today they are targeted by terrorists and elements of the former regime. They have earned the right to call themselves the resistance and to be spoken of along with Italian anti-Fascist Partisans.
However, the SWP doesn’t call Iraqi trade unionists “the resistance”. The SWP supports Respect, a political party led by a man who calls Iraqi trade unionists “quislings” and “collaborators”. The SWP thinks that armed supporters of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, revanchist Ba’athists and Sunni mediaeval theocratic terrorists constitute “the Iraqi resistance”.Their qualified pro-war position also put them at odds with mainstream liberal opinion in the mid-noughties. These anti-American metropolitans saw Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Putin as "progressive" because they were against the war.
This isn’t history from below, it’s history in the gutter.
"Let us put the choice as bluntly as possible. Which, really, is worse - allying with France and Russia (both of them, funnily enough, still capitalist states the last time we looked) in seeking to prevent the overthrow of a regime that directed torture and murder, on a mass scale, in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, for 35 years, aside from all its other crimes; or allying with the US, Britain, Australia and several other undeniably capitalist states in supporting its overthrow, even though, disgracefully, it had the side effect of permitting torture and murder to continue in those places for a few more months, until the democratic institutions of the US, for all their well-advertised inadequacies, put a stop to the abuse?"And the metropolitan elites who saw themselves as knowing so much better than the mass of people who had voted for Tony Blair, as this extract quoted at A Cloud in Trousers (another key blog of the anti-totalitarian left of the period) puts it:
"On the issue of Iraq, journalists who, as in this instance, rake up very old news indeed, grossly misrepresent it, and then pretend that they’re doing a service to the public - even though the vast majority of the public have long since become bored by the bleats and screeches of those who would have left Saddam and his henchmen in power - simply reinforce the increasingly widespread view that far too many people in the media, arrogantly imagining themselves to be the official opposition, will do the Tories’ and Lib Dems’ dirty work better than those parties themselves can, and are even less deserving of trust, or respect, than politicians are. Yes, we’re well aware that Tony Blair is a sanctimonious creep who loves the camera rather more than is healthy (we supported the liberation of Iraq despite Blair, not because of him), but look again at Jon Snow, Jeremy Paxman or Kirsty Wark, or glance at the smug mugshots of most newspaper reporters and columnists, and ask yourself: are they any less irritating? Then recall that, while Blair has the support of millions of voters, and is very likely to lead the Labour Party to a third election victory in a row, nobody ever voted for the journalists who claim, nonetheless, to represent the public (how? telepathically? magically?), even as the public increasingly cease to read or watch their self-regarding performances."And their position put them at odds with honorable Marxists, such as those in the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), who rejected any endorsement of American-led imperial action:
Can we be bothered to try to teach these hankerers after ideological purity the simple moral lessons that even a child could grasp, in the childish language that might reach them - that it’s better for a Good Thing to be done by Bad People than not done at all; that you can tell something about what a person (or a sect) is like by the people they choose to hang out with; and that standing back while the other kids are fighting, then claiming to be the best mate some of those kids could hope to have, will not and should not make you popular in the playground?AWL and others took up a "Third Camp" position, echoing the Neither Washington Nor Moscow position of anti-Stalinists during the Cold War. In this contribution to The Last Superpower in April 2004, SIAW clarified views on Iraq and the viability of a Third Camp position on it, very effectively:
Hak Mao says:
...let`s put it together - not a formal organisation or party, or another blog, but some public means of directing support for Iraqi democrats, and equally as important, attempt to exert pressure on the US administration to lift their game."Harry at Harry`s Place agrees:
"... the hundreds of people reading, posting and commenting on blogs, e-mailing etc. could produce something more substantial in terms of concrete solidarity ... let`s see if we can`t turn all our noise into action."Best of luck to them both (and especially to Hak ...). However, we really can’t see it happening.
At risk of being denounced, yet again, as “sectarian”, “neoconservative”, “social imperialist”, “Kautskyite”, or whatever other epithet saves certain people the trouble of thinking carefully about the real world, we’ll try to explain why.
The problem is that “support for Iraqi democrats” can mean one of two very different and not very compatible approaches, and the form that acts of solidarity or support may take will differ accordingly. We’ll call them, for convenience, the narrow view and the broad view. There are, of course, exceptions to all the generalisations in what follows - and, crucially, nobody, in Iraq or elsewhere, can be entirely sure about who the “Iraqi democrats” are until national elections have been held - but they serve their purpose as an outline of what’s at stake.
The narrow view is the one taken by some of those who opposed the liberation of Iraq last year, but now can’t bring themselves to accept the logic of their own position. Unlike Tariq Ali, John Pilger, Michael Moore, George Galloway, the SWP and other fellow-travellers of dictators and terrorists - whom, tellingly, they still find it hard to dissociate themselves from - they can’t quite grasp the fairly obvious point that opposition to the Coalition in Iraq logically requires support for the Islamofascist/Ba’athist “resistance” in Iraq.
When it comes to building democracy and preventing the restoration of a dictatorship - or the installation of a potentially even worse one -there can be no “third camp”, except in the fevered imaginations of the totally marginalised.
But moral and intellectual incoherence is hardly a new departure for these people. If their wishes had prevailed last year, the Ba’ath would still be in power, Iraqi democrats would be dead, in jail, in hiding or in exile, and there would be no point in talking about democracy in Iraq at all. What standing can they possibly have as sources of reliable support for anything?
Nevertheless, here they still are, one year on, now proclaiming their version of “support for Iraqi democrats”: arguing that the Coalition is morally equivalent to the “resistance”; denouncing any Iraqi - democrat or not - who works with the Coalition as a “collaborator” or a “quisling”; and giving apparently unconditional support only to those groups in Iraq that share their view of the world. Yet those groups - namely, the Iraqi Communist Party, the Worker Communist Party of Iraq, and their various “fronts” - originated, not very long ago, as Stalinist sects, and have yet to prove that they have entirely abandoned Stalinist views, methods and goals. They may well be “Iraqi democrats” - we’d be glad if they turn out to be, but only time will tell - yet they are hardly the only ones.
Take a look at some of the comments on Hak Mao’s post: these are people whose animus against Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi Prospect Organisation and other Iraqi democrats whose views differ from theirs is far stronger than their animus against Saddam or Al-Qaeda. Just when Iraqi democrats need to unite against all the anti-democratic forces that are intervening in their country - not just those elements of the US administration that the “anti-war” crowd make so much of, but also the dictatorships of Iraq [no, no, no - Iran] and Syria, and their well-paid and well-armed agents - these people advocate further division. Their “support for Iraqi democrats” is narrow, sectarian, dishonest and unreliable, and any genuine Iraqi democrat would be well-advised to treat everything they say and do with grave suspicion.
In contrast, the broad view is - or should be - the one taken by those who supported the liberation of Iraq (and no, we’re not going to go over all the details and nuances of last year’s arguments yet again). “Support for Iraqi democrats” should mean exactly that: support for the efforts of all groups of Iraqis seeking to work together to establish democracy in their country, regardless of whether they call themselves socialists, liberals, Islamists, nationalists or anything else, and regardless of what theoretical position they adopt towards the Coalition in general or the United States in particular.
In practice, the transition process, which necessarily involves negotiation, compromise and, yes, collaboration between Iraqi democrats and the Coalition authorities, requires the support of all who genuinely care about the establishment of a stable democratic polity in Iraq - as opposed to those who seek mainly to exploit Iraq for the purposes of political point-scoring in their own countries.
Of course, the Coalition authorities have made some stupendous mistakes, and must be constantly monitored and criticised. Of course, there are elements within the Coalition governments (all of them, not just the US administration) that have no interest in building democracy in Iraq, and they must be exposed. Of course, the motives of these governments are not pure or altruistic, any more than anyone else’s motives are. Yet it’s a simple matter of fact - however regrettable - that no other route to democracy in Iraq is available, and that the alternatives to holding our noses and supporting the transition process, faute de mieux, are all far, far worse.
In this situation the analogies with Vietnam or Algeria that the “anti-war” crowd are so stupidly eager to propagate are entirely misleading. Support for Iraqi democrats now is much more like support for German, Austrian and Japanese democrats after the Second World War. True, the end-result - partly, of course, because the right were better-organised and better-financed than the left - was the election of right-wing governments in West Germany, Austria and Japan alike. But that’s what support for democracy necessarily entails: respecting the wishes and judgements of the majority of the people, even if you disagree with their wishes, and even if you suspect that their judgements have been corrupted. In the absence of majority support for socialist revolution - and in the presence of clowns who are doing their best to ensure that socialist revolution never does receive majority support - liberal democracy is the least appalling option available. For all its grave faults and dangers, now is not the time to be fantasising about going beyond it. On the contrary, given the obstacles, building it in Iraq would be an achievement in itself.
Can the gulf between these two views be bridged? Should it be? Above all, would a show of “unity” among individuals and groups who are not, in fact, united be of any practical benefit to anyone in Iraq? We think not.