Consistent democracy after Saddam Hussein

The United States-British invasion of Iraq is now reaching its climax. Basra is occupied and conventional military resistance in Baghdad has all but collapsed. The fall of Tikrit can only be a matter of time. Doubtless in the Sunni heartlands small units of the Republican Guard and guerrilla bands will continue to fight hit-and-run battles in the months to come. Whether Saddam Hussein and his close associates manage to do a bin Laden and vanish remains to be seen. Either way the struggle for democracy is now squarely focused on the neo-colonial regime being cooked-up by the US-UK coalition. Though the odds were hopeless, there have been moments of stiff resistance to the invasion - both from troops loyal to the Iraqi regime and from sections of the Iraqi masses. US forces have responded with a firestorm of virtually indiscriminate bombs, shells and heavy machine guns. Many thousands of Iraqis have been killed or maimed. Hence we should expect that popular celebrations which have greeted the effective demise of the Saddam Hussein regime will soon give way to a struggle against US-sponsored neo-colonialism. The US is already trying to install the Free Iraqi Army led by Ahmad Chalabi. Amongst the Shia majority these CIA stooges are deeply unpopular. In Basra the British are turning to tribal leaders and have appointed an unnamed sheikh as an interim governor over the whole of the southern region. They fear Shia fundamentalism and free elections. Hawks in Washington are determined to ban the Ba'ath Party. But necessity will see the US army administration recruit wide swathes from Saddam's bureaucratic machine, including the secret police and army. Meanwhile Kurdish forces are itching to capture Mosul and Kirkuk and declare full nationhood. In other words, the old question of democracy and the national rights of the various peoples of Iraq is posed in a new way. In this context it is vital that the anti-war party takes up the banner of anti-imperialism and equips itself for what is to come. The Bush administration promises that, after Iraq, next will come Iran, Syria, North Korea and any other country that dares stand against the US Behemoth. But it is equally vital that the anti-war party does not constitute itself as apologist for the regimes of Iran, Syria, North Korea, etc. Gulf War II has been, at least to a degree, about oil, as well as about American strategic plans to re-draw the map of the Middle East to suit its own imperial agenda. This time, unlike Gulf War I, it has not been about two dogs fighting over the Kuwaiti bone. Rather, the imperialists are in the process of occupying Iraq outright, of placing an American viceroy, retired general Jay Gardner, to head up an American 'transitional' administration. Transitional, that is, to a new puppet regime that will ensure American control of the second biggest oil reserve on the planet. Whereas Iraq under the now expiring Hussein regime brutally suppressed the national aspirations of the Iraqi Kurds, and was supported by the imperialists in doing so, now we find a situation in the making where the Arabic people of Iraq, who were the dominant oppressor nationality, are themselves being subjected to occupation and national oppression. This war, and in particular the failure of the Arab population to split along sectarian lines as the American strategists hoped, appears to have demonstrated that the secular ethos of Iraq has deeper roots than might have been thought. Given this situation, with conquest and subjugation underway, the national rights of the Arabic-speaking part of Iraq are now being trampled on. The British victory in Basra and the collapse of the local arm of the regime there has evidently led to fraternisation, but hardly on the level that the propagandists of imperialism were trumpeting before the war began. Rather, there seems to be large scale looting and expropriation of property from those who grew rich under Saddam "“ an attack on property and 'order' that the imperialists will not tolerate for long. In any case, the imperialists are there not to allow the masses to expropriate the ill-gotten gains of the bureaucracy and the rich, but to ensure that the US gains control of the oil and can establish a Pax Americana over the whole region. Resistance to imperialist conquest by Iraqis is entirely justifiable, and will continue, under existing banners - and no doubt new ones still to emerge. In any case, the socialist movement internationally, and indeed the global anti-war movement, will have to take account of what flows out of this barbaric conflict, and try to elaborate a correct road forward. National rights In our view, genuine democracy, which involves as a matter of course the defence of the national rights of all peoples, is essential in clarifying the path ahead for those who seek to fight imperialism. Not, of course, the democracy of the imperialists "“ whatever facade of 'democracy' the imperialists try to cobble together for Iraq, in reality it will be the disguised dictatorship of an oil satrapy, dominated by US monopolies in a similar manner to Batista's pre-revolutionary Cuba sugar satrapy. There are issues of principle in the events of Gulf War II which, even as its draws to a close, must be clarified for the future of the new progressive movement. There have been some important debates on the left, including in our own ranks, about what attitude to take to resistance by Iraqis to the imperialist invasion. Last week's letters page in this paper was also a reflection of some of these questions, with a number of comrades coming from different angles drawing the conclusion that we have somehow fundamentally changed our political views, since we undeniably shifted the emphasis of our slogans once the US-British invasion got underway. Comrade Jim Cullen, for instance, wrote last week that our 'Party notes' column had altered our position and was now advocating "military, not political support" to the Saddam regime since the invasion, and had therefore adopted the position of "isolated Trotskyist sects" that we had "up till now argued against". Comrade Cullen triumphantly exclaims that he "couldn't agree more" with our supposedly completely new approach. From an opposite angle, comrade Mervyn Davies expressed "great dismay" on seeing our slogan 'victory to the Iraqi people', as well as our advocacy of the defeat of British and American imperialism in this war. He laments that "This is sounding more and more like the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Socialist Workers Party". Meanwhile, on our own internal discussion list, it has been suggested by some comrades with a similar perception that Mark Hoskisson, editor of Workers Power (a Trotskyist group that advocates a very upfront 'Victory to Iraq' line on this war, as indeed it did in 1991), is filling in as the editor of the Weekly Worker. All these comrades are, unfortunately, being taken in by superficial appearances - and failing, for their own varied reasons, to look at this question in its totality. They are looking at superficial similarities without putting them in context. With regard to those tendencies on the left who are guided by rigid and timeless dogmas rather than detailed and concrete analyses of reality, it has been observed that, by analogy, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Consistent democrats seek to abolish wars between nations. But we also recognise that not all wars are equally reactionary on all sides. We are for the equality and right to self-determination of all nations. We are determined opponents of any wars of conquest and oppression of one nation by another, whereas we support wars whose real content is to advance the national rights of oppressed peoples. Take comrade Cullen's assertion that we are now advocating "military, but not political, support" to the Saddam regime. It is useful, in evaluating whether or not this is true, to ask what comrade Cullen and people like him mean when they use this rather odd phrase, and for that we must go into some historical examples of what people with his kind of views have said about wars in the past. Orthodox Trotskyists, like comrade Cullen, believe that one can separate completely military and political questions, and therefore it is possible to give 'military' support to a particular force in a war while in no way sympathising with anything that force stands for in terms of politics. In our view, military questions flow from politics "“ in the tradition of Marxism, we are in agreement with the great German military theorist Clausewitz that "war is the continuation of politics by other means". The belief of comrade Cullen and others of his ilk, that military support can be totally separated from political support, has ruinous consequences for their politics, in terms of democracy. It is an unnecessary theoretical contortion. In contrast to the best traditions of communism, they tend to focus their defencism, in wars involving imperialism against underdeveloped countries, on the defence of the rights of states, not the defence of the rights of peoples. This is a crucial distinction between our consistently democratic politics, and those of the Trotskyists. This element of their politics grows out of the dogma that the Soviet Union under Stalin and his successors was a 'workers' state', albeit degenerated politically. For them, if the interests of the defence of a 'degenerated' or 'deformed' 'workers' state' was in contradiction to the defence of the people of that state, then the state, and not the democratic rights of the people oppressed by it, came first. This is a position that is so hard to uphold for anyone of a democratic turn of thought that the Trotskyists often, in a haphazard way, flinched from applying it. Many Trotskyists were compelled to deny the pro-capitalist nature of the opposition movements to Stalinism in Eastern Europe and Russia before the collapse of the USSR "“ if they had admitted that, their dogma would have compelled them to call for these movements to be suppressed in the name of 'socialism'. But this viewpoint of the Trotskyists does not stop at the USSR. It also, in a modified form, applies to wars between backward capitalist countries like Iraq, ex-Stalinist Serbia, etc, and the advanced powers. There are several examples "“ Kosova in 1999 was a good one. When the imperialists went to war against Serbia to prise Kosova away from Milosevic, some orthodox Trotskyists decided that the indigenous Kosovan guerrilla war was endangering the defence of the Serbian state against imperialism, even though the overwhelming bulk, around 90%, of Kosova's population was not Serbian and had no desire to be ruled by Serbia. Such undermining of Serbia was not on; the Kosovars had no right to appeal to the west to save them from Milosevic's tyranny, and therefore they had to be forcibly retained within Serbia in the interests of 'anti-imperialism' until such time as they saw the error of their ways and ceased to crave western 'help' for their national liberation struggle. For us, the struggle of the Kosovars remained supportable, though we could not support their imperialist allies at war. But for the 'hard' Trotskyists, the formula of 'military, not political, support' was a means to soothe their consciences. Bound by dogma to support such suppression of an oppressed people, they console themselves that their support for oppressive actions is purely a military necessity dictated by high principle and the wider interests of socialism; they are in their own minds in no way politically implicated in the crimes of those carrying out the suppression they support 'militarily'. Kosova is a fairly extreme example "“ only the most hardcore fringe elements of the left were able to stomach applying the dogma to that situation, given that the ethnic oppression of Kosovar Albanians at the hand of Serb nationalist occupiers resembled that of blacks under apartheid South Africa. A more mainstream example is that of Gulf War I, when a wider section of the left stood for 'Victory to Iraq' in the war over Kuwait, despite the fact that the Iraqi forces were basically trying to simply grab Kuwait for its oil wealth. There was no particular desire of anyone in Kuwait to become part of Iraq, and hence no remotely democratic reason to support Iraq in this squalid invasion of a small, wealthy parasitic oil state, whose people had no say in the matter one way or another. Iraqi self-determination was not at stake in that war. The still ongoing Gulf War II, however, is qualitatively different from this "“ the imperialists are occupying the Arabic core of Iraq, with overwhelming force. This is irrespective of the wishes of the population, who, when they get in the way, are being systematically blown to hell along with the Iraqi armed forces. This is about extending US hegemony, seizing control of oil reserves and turning Iraq into an oil producing 'banana state' for Uncle Sam. The criminals conquering Iraq care nothing about the crimes of Saddam Hussein; they are his former armourers and bankrollers when his butchery was useful to them. They will put another tyrant in his place "“ their puppet. If the people of Kosova had every right to fight Serbian occupation in 1999, or the Kurds have every right to resist Saddam's terror in their homeland, then the inhabitants of the Arabic core areas of Iraq have every right to resist American conquest in Iraq proper "“ despite the ghostly existence of Saddam's regime. We do not place conditions on the right to self-determination of peoples that a democratic regime must be in place before self-determination is granted. Democracy and imperialist occupation are utterly incompatible with each other "“ it is up to the Iraqi people, with the fraternal assistance of the world working class movement, to deal with Saddam Hussein, not Exxon-Mobil and their military wing. Crumbling defences In this regard, the mirror image of the orthodox Trotskyists is the Alliance for Workers' Liberty. In 1999, not content with correctly supporting the fight of the KLA for elementary Kosovar national rights against the Serbian occupiers, they also capitulated to the democratic pretensions of the imperialists themselves, refusing to demand an end to the bombing of Serbia on the grounds of that being a pro-Milosevic demand. Meanwhile, they continued to somewhat unconvincingly protest that they did not actually support the war. Now they denounce the CPGB - according to the same wilful misunderstanding and misleading logic as Jim Cullen - as having 'switch[ed] to the Workers Power line" (Solidarity March 27) and proudly proclaim their complete neutrality between the conquering US-UK imperialists and the quickly crumbling defences of Iraq. This, again, amounts to the same kind of backhanded support for imperialism as they displayed over Kosova. For the AWL, the Arab people of Iraq only have the right to resist the conquest of their homeland when they first establish a democratic regime. Otherwise, they had better learn to like the coalition jackboot. It is quite obvious that the AWL doesn't really like Arabs very much, and does not regard them as having much in the way of national rights. After all, in Gulf War I, when Saddam fired a few antiquated and ineffective Scud missiles at Israel in an attempt to draw the Israelis into the war and thus gain wider Arab support, the then Socialist Organiser (predecessor of the AWL's Solidarity) headlined "Israel has the right to defend itself". Sean Matgamna in the current Solidarity (March 27) denounces George Galloway for showing a "passionate Iraqi, Arabic and even Islamic patriotism", yet AWL leaders such as Martin Thomas have characterised themselves publicly as being "a little bit Zionist". Such hypocrisy - so much for principled internationalism and strict programmatic separation from nationalism! The AWL is militant in its solidarity with its favourite regional superpower, which is currently engaged in slow-motion Milosevic-style ethnic cleansing of the Arab lands of Gaza and the West Bank it has seized and stolen. But when an Arab people, with a strong if not completely settled national ethos, is invaded by imperialism outright, they have no right to resist because 'their' regime is not 'democratic' enough for them to deserve any national rights. If this double standard is not motivated by a chauvinist disdain for Arabs, then I do not know what is. But consistent democracy it ain't. And consistent democracy is what the left needs above all as its guide in fighting for a better world. Ian Donovan