Saddam Hussein's reactionary regime

An examination of the present dictatorial elite in Iraq ought to make it very clear why our mobilisation against the imperialist war drive does not prevent us expressing opposition to Saddam Hussein's regime. Whilst we unreservedly condemn the Bush-Blair preparations for war, we do support the notion of 'regime change' in Iraq - at the hands of the Iraqi people, with the working class leading the way. We do not support the replacement of the Baghdad butchers with an imperialist client regime. We are for democracy and the liberation of the Iraqi people. This is not what the US administration is proposing. To gain a clear idea of the nature of the Iraqi regime it is worth examining its origins. Founded in 1951, the Ba'athist Party was always single-mindedly devoted to smashing the influence of the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Iraq. Originally in the forefront of the opposition to western imperialism in the Middle East, like so many 'official communist' parties the CPI ended up tailing the worst aspects of the 'third worldist' national liberation movements. However, unlike the Ba'athists, the CPI had a real social base in the working class, and its Ba'athist opponents had to rely on extensive material and financial support from pan-Arab nationalists elsewhere in order to engineer an assault on it. The programme of pan-Arabism entailed not only the political union of the Arab states and peoples, but also the destroying of independent working class organisation. The radical rhetoric of Nasserism was a smokescreen to hide its onslaught against the left. In Iraq the Free Officers movement, led by Abd al-Salam Arif, had by the end of 1958 begun attacking the CPI which would culminate in the Ba'athist Party's intimidation and murder of communists following the military coup of 1963. An organisation of white terror and counterrevolution, the Ba'athist Party could be understood in the same way as the Nazi movement of the 1930s. It set itself the precise aim of crushing the left, whose physical elimination in the 60s was carried through amidst unparalleled savagery. A series of mock trials and massacres effectively terminated the political influence of the CPI. Ironically the surviving remnants, still tailing the nationalists, formed a 'progressive coalition' with the Ba'athists during the 1970s, which only served to aid their further decline, when 21 communist 'agitators' were executed for allegedly forming secret cells within the Iraqi armed forces. Back in Britain Gerry Healey and his Workers Revolutionary Party alibied these killings. The Iraqi regime is best understood as a force which emerged from that gang of cut-throats - the post-colonial indigenous ruling classes of the Middle-East. A second successful coup in 1968 had ensured the further consolidation of the Ba'athist Party, which like all nationalist groups of the period 'borrowed' the programme of the left - while depriving it of any emancipatory content. The Iraqi regime strove for and achieved a degree of economic and political independence from both western and Soviet imperialism by playing one off against the other. What resulted was an oil- based reworking of the old themes of oriental despotism - a nationalised economy with a strong state and a robber bureaucracy to boot. Whilst an indigenous petty bourgeois class continued to operate, it was at first largely controlled and then dispossessed by the centralised state machine. Large-scale capitalist investment and exploitation was replaced in the early 70s by the bureaucratic state. The economic underpinning was, of course, provided by the country's huge reserves of oil and revenues derived from oil, which dwarfed all other forms of industrial and agricultural production. Because of this, and because of the islamist threat to the nationalists from the Iranian revolution, the early 1980s saw the emergence of a working relationship between the US and Iraq. The expansionist ambitions of Saddam's regime were aided and abetted by the US - not only as a bulwark against the islamists but also against the left. The oppression of the Shia population in the south and the Kurds to the north was passed over in silence. Over the last period the despotic nature of military rule in Iraq has been obvious. The artificial sustaining of the political dictatorship has its key in oil production and, until the invasion of Kuwait, the support of the United States. What is clear is that support for this brutal regime cannot be defended from the point of view of anti-imperialism. The murderous nature of the regime is displayed in its hostility to any form of democracy or working class self-emancipation. There are some lessons here from the last Gulf War. The uprisings which took place in Iraq after Saddam's defeat in Kuwait were contradictory. On the one hand they were an expression of new forms of national consciousness, asserting themselves in the face of the regime - such as that of the Kurdish people of northern Iraq. On the other, islamic fundamentalism was evident in the uprisings of the south. Nevertheless, students and industrial workers supported the uprisings, including in the city of Basra, around their own demands. For a short time power slipped from Saddam Hussein's regime into the hands of the people. These revolutionary events were unique in Iraqi history, in that they were revolts from below rather than the Ba'athist state-building nationalism from above. The revolts were spontaneous and exceeded the expectations of the Iraqi left in exile and other oppositional forces. In Basra and Kurdistan people rose against Saddam - the product not only of military defeat, but also of the regime's social, economic and political contradictions and its unwillingness to tolerate any form of democratic dissent. Saddam's repressive apparatus was very fragile. The Ba'athist party and the security services collapsed or were overthrown. The uprisings revealed several features of the current Iraqi order. It is necessary to understand these in order to assess the kinds of movements which may emerge in the aftermath of any military defeat or regime-change inflicted by US-UK imperialism on the dictatorship. Firstly, the uprisings exposed the extremely narrow social base of Saddam's regime - largely military and state-bureaucratic. There are obviously no democratic mechanisms in place which could allow broader forces to be drawn in. Secondly, they demonstrated the hatred felt by the working masses for the dictatorship. Saddam rules as a military despot with all the techniques of barbarism at his disposal - we are not talking about a form of populist authoritarianism. Thirdly, they displayed the contradictory nature of the opposition to the regime. In the wake of a military defeat of Saddam the US will want to impose a client regime of some sort on the Iraqi people. There will be many vying for the US franchise. There are all kinds of contending ideas amongst the forces which could lead a struggle against the regime - ethnic, religious, nationalist and socialist. The fundamental question, however, is a democratic one. Whatever happens, if the regime is defeated, the victory should lie with the people of Iraq. A truly democratic settlement can only be achieved by the masses themselves - in opposition to an imperialist settlement. The forces ranged against the dictatorship in March 1991 were fractured by two things. On the one hand, the regime itself divided the opposition using the weapons of chauvinism and political 'negotiation'. Opponents were neutralised and eventually eliminated. On the other hand, these forces were compromised by offers of help from the US which served Saddam's goal of presenting the opposition as dupes of imperialism and outside intervention. In any case, the US betrayed the opposition and stood aside as the Iraqi republican guard crushed the uprising. In Iraq, as in Britain and the US, the key is independent working class action. For workers in London, Washington or Baghdad, the main enemy is at home. Martyn Hudson Apology Last week we published an article entitled 'Defending Iraq', which in the printed version of the Weekly Worker appeared under the name, Martyn Hudson (September 26). As the reader can see from the above piece, comrade Hudson adopts a very different approach to the Iraqi regime from that expressed in 'Defending Iraq', whose author was in fact comrade Liz Hoskings. We quickly corrected the error on the web edition. We apologise for any misunderstanding this might have caused.