Which side are you on?

Robin Cook, resigned from the government, citing opposition to the war on Iraq. At the same time he carefully pledged his undying loyalty to Tony Blair. A mere tactical ploy. Bourgeois politics rest on deception and double-talk. Cook harbours vaulting ambitions. He fancies himself as prime minister of a post-war government or at the very least the prime minister-maker. The more Donald Rumsfeld's strategy runs into the sand of popular Iraqi resistance, the more that emboldens Cook and fellow conspirators. After all, Blair has risked everything on his alliance with George Bush. Unless the armed might of the US-UK coalition swiftly succeeds in overcoming the impoverished, half-wrecked Iraqi rogue state, he is finished. The opening gambit came in the Sunday Mirror. Cook warns of the war leaving a "long-term legacy of hatred of the west" if the Iraqi population continue to suffer from the "effects of the war we started". He is fearful of a humanitarian disaster. A prolonged siege of Baghdad would be "brutal". People go hungry. Water and power supplies stop. Children die of diseases. Cook then insists that Britain should cut its losses and get out of America's "bloody and unnecessary" war. "I want our troops home," he boldly declares, "and I want them home before more of them are killed" (March 30). Reactions proved mixed. Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition, announced that the anti-war movement "would agree with Mr Cook". The Morning Star tentatively praised him for being the "architect of an ethical foreign policy". The Independent's Andreas Whittam Smith proclaimed Cook a hero: "Britain has a new leader of the opposition." Paul Routledge in the Daily Mirror was almost as effusive: "He is the authentic voice of the Labour Party." However, the pro-war press unleashed a wave of patriotic vitriol. Cook is now a hate figure. "Obscene," hissed the Daily Mail. "Grotesque and misconceived," added the Daily Express. The Times attacked Cook for "pointless point-scoring". The Daily Telegraph accused him of placing his "own ambition above the interests of our troops in the field". As for The Sun, it dismissed any idea of bringing "back our forces" as "ludicrous". "It would mean that their sacrifices and effort had been in vain." Government ministers eagerly concurred: "We have to back those who are in the conflict in bringing down Saddam Hussein", not "capitulate", said David Blunkett. Showing his political backbone and commitment to principle, Cook collapsed within hours. Doing an almost instant U-turn, he pathetically complained of misrepresentation: "I am not in favour of abandoning the battlefield. There can be no question of letting Saddam Hussein off the hook. Having started the war, it is important we win it." 'Our boys' fighting in Iraq constitutes the razor-sharp line of demarcation that must separate the anti-war party from the vacillating middle ground. A middle ground that blows hot or cold according to the fickle winds of popularity, but always bows before patriotism at the end of the day. It is no good denouncing as illegal and unjust the US-UK plans to conquer Iraq and then wishing well the forces actually carrying out such plans. Those who do are hypocrites and, equally to the point, poisonous. Patriotism ('nationalism', if you prefer the word) is the only argument the Bush-Blair coalition has left. It is a strong and very persuasive argument though. Not because what lies behind it carries any inherent intellectual weight. Quite the contrary: patriotism relies on myths, the darkly irrational, the false consciousness that all classes belong to a common community bound together by history and fate. Patriotism is imbibed with mother's milk and is carefully sustained and promoted by schools, the mass media and sports events. Patriotism provides a sense of belonging and meaning in a bleak and lonely world of powerlessness and alienation, but simultaneously acts like a social acid, eating away the forward-looking solidarities of internationalism, humanism and socialism. Patriotism therefore serves the capitalist state admirably. Especially a patriotism that justifies the oppression of others. People can be won in their millions to hate and kill fellow human beings by putting them under the spell of some purpose-giving national destiny or mission. To stop this war - more importantly, to stop the system that generates wars - one must break completely and irrevocably from the patriotism of imperialist Britain. The anti-war party must take not Britain and the British state as its starting point, but global humanity. Our practical line of march then becomes crystal clear. Of course, demand the immediate withdrawal of British and American troops from Iraqi soil. There can be no question of them finishing Saddam Hussein. That task must be left to the Iraqi people. However, what if the anti-war party does not secure a pull-out? What attitude should we then adopt? Communists have no desire to see American or British troops return home in body bags. Yet we cannot support an unjust imperialist war. Let us pose the question in the baldest, starkest terms. It is far better that the US-UK coalition is soundly defeated by Saddam Hussein's forces. Communists - in Britain and Iraq - loathe Saddam Hussein and his bureaucratic dictatorship. But, given the choice, we prefer victory for the existing Iraq state to victory by the US-UK coalition. The main enemy of the Iraqi people is no longer Saddam Hussein's regime. It is the drive by US imperialism to re-impose neo-colonialism upon Iraq. And after Iraq it will be North Korea, Iran, Libya, Cuba and a new American century of global domination. Preferring the defeat of imperialism does not imply that communists, revolutionary socialists and democrats in Iraq should suspend their struggle against Saddam Hussein or join some rotten military bloc. On the contrary, leadership of the struggle for Iraqi self-determination must pass to the masses. It must interweave with the struggle for democracy, the struggle for rule by the workers and the urban and rural poor. Jack Conrad