Defending Iraq

Liz Hoskings takes issue with the CPGB and calls for 'military support' for Iraq against Bush and Blair

George W Bush's 'war on terror' has led to the plans for a new military onslaught against Iraq, with Tony Blair predictably giving his support. Despite the hesitance of the United Nations, it appears that the Bush administration is determined to press on regardless of the views of its 'allies'. As was the case with the Rambouillet agreement on Serbia, the US will no doubt manoeuvre to word the UN resolution in a way that will pave the way for a military assault. An imperialist war in the Middle East will lead to further instability in the region and greater support for islamic fundamentalism. If anything, it will strengthen al Qa'eda and its ilk, and we will be sure to see support for Saddam increasing among the Palestinians, along with a rise in suicide bombings. This in turn will lead to greater repression of the Palestinians by the Israeli state. Saddam may take action against Israel, as he did in the previous Gulf War. The slogan of the CPGB is 'The main enemy is at home'. While this is an indisputable fact, it fails to take into account the need to defend Iraq from US/UK imperialism. The Party majority are typically taking up a 'third camp' position on the war - or 'revolutionary defeatist', as they may prefer to call it. However, revolutionary defeatism is not a dogma, but a slogan applicable in particular situations: namely inter-imperialist wars. It does not apply to wars between imperialist powers and semi-colonies, such as Afghanistan or Iraq. Were a proletarian revolution to take place in Iraq before the war or in its aftermath, no doubt all sections of the left would welcome it. However, we must look at the world not from a view of how we would like it to be, but from how it actually is. To do otherwise is merely utopian. Therefore we must ask ourselves, what are the current prospects for such a revolution in Iraq? We can be certain that socialist consciousness in Iraq is not at its peak. While the Iraqi proletariat may not be fond of the regime in Baghdad, its hatred of US imperialism is far greater. One cannot exactly blame them - what with 10 years of sanctions and bombing. Opposition to the Ba'athist government has been ruthlessly suppressed since its US-backed military coup. When Saddam Hussein was the comprador of imperialism, the UN stood by and watched him use biological warfare on his own people and ruthlessly repress ethnic minorities. The imperialists even went as far as to give him names of opponents (mainly communists) so he could shoot them, and then armed him for his war against Iran. It was only when he stepped out of line in 1991 by nationalising the oil industry and invaded neighbouring Kuwait (an artificial state set up earlier by British imperialism) that he became the bogeyman he is portrayed as today by the west. Thus begun the first military assault by George Bush senior, and the economic sanctions that have lasted up to the present day. During the last 10 years any opposition to the regime has been further stifled by the sanctions and continuous bombing by Britain and the US. They have enabled Saddam Hussein to pose as a genuine opponent of western imperialism, and thereby gain support from sectors of the population. Rather than weakening the regime, as the imperialists had hoped for, they have in fact strengthened it. Socialism in Iraq is clearly not the agenda, and the collapse of the former Soviet bloc certainly has not helped to build revolutionary consciousness among the Iraqi working class. Therefore one can say that the chances of finding any grassroots opposition to the Saddam dictatorship with an independent programme for the working class in Iraq is virtually nil. Unfortunate as this may be, we cannot afford to shy away from the facts. On the other hand, a victory for imperialism in the upcoming war will be a great setback not only for the Iraqi working class but for the world proletariat. A US victory will not bring democracy to Iraq, but will only bring into being a more pliable dictatorship that will more readily bow to the whims of its imperialist masters. It will also strengthen the Bush administration's confidence to expand its war on terror. By that stage we will be asking who will be next - Iran and North Korea maybe, the other two members of the 'axis of evil'? Or possibly Cuba? The list, in fact, could be almost endless. The message of such a victory would be: 'Dare to step out of line - you'll be next. Look at Afghanistan and Iraq!' Not exactly an inspiring message for the world working class. It is also a fact that victory for an imperialist state in an imperialist war tends to increase its support at home. One cannot possibly deny that the defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam was a great setback for it on the world stage, one that it took years to recover from. While one cannot equate the Iraqi regime with the national liberation movement of the Vietcong, a military defeat for imperialism in Iraq will no doubt have a similar effect. Not only will the Bush administration lose support among the American people (as will the Blair government among the British), but US imperialism will also lose credibility worldwide. An imperialist defeat will give confidence to the semi-colonial masses struggling against imperialism, and this in turn will inspire the proletariat in the imperialist heartlands to rise against their masters. It will also be a blow for the Sharon regime in Israel, that has given its full support to the imperialist war drive. It is therefore the task of socialists to lead the anti-war movement in a revolutionary direction - not only to oppose the war but also question the very system that leads to such conflicts in the first place. Does our support for a military victory for Iraq mean that we give political support to the Saddam dictatorship? Out of the question! While this is an argument that has been voiced many times, I feel it is necessary to use it again to clarify the issue. Shortly before the time of the previous world war, Trotsky stated that, were there a conflict between 'fascist' Brazil and 'democratic' England, he would advocate a victory for Brazil. The reason being that England would not bring bourgeois democracy to Brazil, but simply install a pliable, pro-British dictatorship. Although imperialism no longer rules by direct and formal colonialism, it has other means at its disposal. The method of the US in Iraq will be, in essence, the same that Britain would have used had it won a hypothetical war against Brazil. Another example would be Trotsky's military support given to Ethiopia against the invasion of fascist Italy. Yet to suggest that these examples mean that Trotsky gave political credibility to either Latin American dictatorships or semi-feudal regimes in Africa would be absurd. Another example of military support would be the 1917 Kornilov coup in Russia. Lenin and the Bolsheviks spent almost all of their time campaigning for the overthrow of the Kerensky government. Yet when general Kornilov attempted his rightwing coup d'etat, the Bolsheviks did not hesitate to fight against Kornilov, and therefore fired in the same direction as Kerensky's troops. However, as Lenin put it, this did not mean he was fighting with Kerensky or giving his government any legitimacy. He could simply see that at that particular point in time the greatest threat to the working class came from Kornilov, as he intended to completely destroy the revolution. While Saddam Hussein cannot by any stretch be described as a revolutionary (despite his anti-imperialist rhetoric), in the event of an imperialist invasion the greatest threat to the Iraqi proletariat would be the US and British troops. A military victory for imperialism in Iraq would mean the destruction of Iraq's right to self-determination, and would give the same message to other semi-colonies - comply or else! The people of Iraq must have the right to choose what kind of government they have - they and only they must deal with the Saddam dictatorship. However, to make abstract propaganda calling for the Iraqi masses to 'take advantage of the war to overthrow Saddam' is at best left liberal social chauvinism, and at worst a capitulation to imperialism. One must look at the practicalities of the situation. Revolutionary defeatism is clearly not applicable here. The people of Iraq are unarmed not only against their own bourgeoisie, but also against the most powerful army in the world, that of the US. The only hope for a defeat for both sides would be a mutiny among the American and British forces - a prospect that is extremely unlikely, to say the least. Besides which, to make a call to 'bring our boys home' is one of the worst forms of social chauvinism. Therefore we should advocate giving military support to the Iraqi forces in defeating imperialism, while making clear that we do not give any form of political support to the regime in Baghdad. While the imperialists are invading, it would be suicidal for the Iraqi masses to turn their guns against the indigenous troops, as they are being faced with the onslaught of forces far more powerful than their own. They should therefore be firing in the same direction as the Iraqi army, while at the same time making propaganda against the Ba'athist regime to prepare for its revolutionary overthrow - an overthrow that can only realistically come about after the defeat of imperialism.