My enemy's enemy is rarely my friend

Slogan wars

Jack Conrad discusses the problems of the left when it comes to opposition to an attack on Iraq

War accelerates international developments. September 11 2001 murderously ushered in and excused George Bush's 'war on terrorism'. Now, with Afghanistan and Iraq safely under its belt, United States superimperialism stands militarily gigantic, arrogant, bellicose and ready. Which rogue state will be next ... Syria, Iran, Cuba, North Korea?

As for the UN, it is contemptuously ignored. Nato too is treated as another useless appendage inherited from the cold war. Meanwhile the European Union bifurcates. Britain, Spain, Italy and new Europe bank on Atlanticism and a vain hope of playing Greece to the new Rome. In opposition, the old Europe of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg are pressing ahead with their own rapid reaction force - overlapping with Nato but free to act without US permission. War also brings to the fore all that is wanting, equivocal and rotten on the left.

What has quietly festered for years under various seemingly innocuous guises suddenly manifests itself - demeaning, debilitating and dangerous. Gulf War II proved to be no exception. There were the establishment's liberal imperialists and soft leftists. Clare Short, David Aaronovitch and Christopher Hitchens supported the war - on balance. Robin Cook, the Daily Mirror and Charles Kennedy crept into the patriotic - pro-war - camp once the fighting started on March 20. Michael Hardt and Naomi Klein - professional anti-establishment figures both - deviously suggested that mobilising against the war acted to divert attention from anti-capitalism. With friends like these ...

What of the solid anti-war left? Did it present a viable alternative which could harness, train and when necessary redirect the protesters who angrily took to the streets in their millions? In a word - no. The anti-war left remained hopelessly fragmented. The Socialist Alliance recoiled from the challenge. A dozen rival factions competed - a dire situation which can only be rectified through a centralised and democratic revolutionary party. At root our debilitating divisions are political.

True, what distinguishes the various groups and 'parties' are what might be called differences of shade. Not black and white. To well meaning philistines this might appear to be cause for celebration. After all more or less everyone agreed that the US-UK 'coalition of the willing' conducted a brutal imperialist war and that claims of weapons of mass destruction and links with bin Laden were entirely spurious. However, there is no room for smug complacency. Within the spectrum of the anti-war left there were all manner of opportunist errors, bureaucratic practices and reactionary pathogens that blunt or endanger our movement.

There is nothing disloyal or petty-minded about openly highlighting such pressing problems. Indeed without a rigorous and unremitting fight for correct politics nothing can be gained that is substantial or enduring. No surprises came from the Socialist Workers Party, International Socialist Group and Workers Power.

Religiously basing themselves on Trotsky's flawed writings in the 1930s, these comrades regard themselves as duty-bound to side with what they absurdly insisted on describing as a 'semi-colony'. When push comes to shove, that translated into 'Victory for Saddam Hussein'. Workers Power had the virtue of unambiguously saying so. Here though was the true meaning of the SWP's slogan - 'Victory to the resistance'. Our 'Victory for the Iraqi people' slogan had, it should be stressed, a completely different content. Specifically ruled out as unprincipled were any united fronts with Ba'athism.

It is one thing to recognise that imperialism, concretely US imperialism, is the main enemy globally ... and now rules in Iraq. But that did not excuse siding with the reactionary Ba'athist regime or forming what is euphemistically called a 'military bloc'. The same goes for Socialist Worker's uncritical tailing of the "resistance" mounted by shia clerics and their leadership of Friday demonstrations against US-UK occupation forces (April 26). The tragic lessons of Iran were either never learnt or now lie completely forgotten.

Of course, whereas the SWP, ISG, etc were perfectly sincere in their opportunism, there still lingers on a prostituted left. Worthless papers are artificially kept afloat through subsidies garnered from totally compromising sources. Once there was the cornucopia of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Albania " - and Iraq. However, the state elites in Libya, China, Iran, Cuba and North Korea are still willing to purchase docile extensions of their news services.

In that context the Morning Star and its Communist Party of Britain cannot but spring to mind. Till the 1989-91 fall this turgid publication received massive annual handouts. Nearly half the sales were accounted for by Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, etc. 'No to the US-UK war' was the main slogan of Robert Griffiths, Andrew Murray, John Haylett and co. Yet, since the CPB is committed body and soul to a utopian programme which envisages a British socialism emerging unarmed out of a peaceful capitalism, this was presented in syrupy social-pacifistic terms. Moreover the CPB was easily swayed by fellow-thinkers in the Iraqi diaspora not to offer the Saddam dictatorship any support.

The Alliance for Workers' Liberty came out with a broadly similar position, summed up by two unexceptional slogans: 'No to the war' and 'No to Saddam'. There was though more to the AWL's even-handedness than meets the eye. Faced by our negative but provocative and calculated slogan - 'Rather defeat for US-UK forces than their victory' - the AWL duly reacted as expected. Instinctively the comrades blurt out what they really believe.

Of course, that is exactly the significance of our formulation - as it was for Lenin's 'revolutionary defeatist' slogans of 1914. They were designed not to capture mass sentiment - the Russian people had no wish for German occupation.

But Lenin's slogans served admirably as razor-edged propaganda weapons which educated cadre and checked tendencies to slip and slide. Clear lines of demarcation are drawn. Centrists who moot rapprochement with social-patriots are polemically lacerated. Traitors are cut away and ostracised. In 1917 Lenin continued to ruthlessly attack top Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary 'defencists', though he energetically sought to win over those whom he called "honest defencists" amongst the rank and file. Therefore 'Peace, bread and land' and 'All power to the soviets' occupied prime place in the Bolshevik press.

Between March and November 1917 these positive slogans helped secure the overwhelming mass of the working class. The AWL's version of 'revolutionary defeatism' is Lenin turned on his head. Defeat is reserved for a distant 'third world' dictator. Put another way, 'Rather defeat for Saddam Hussein than his victory'. Unfair polemics? Hyperbole? Unfortunately no.

In the AWL's fortnightly paper Solidarity one mercifully discovers that the comrades desire the eventual defeat of the Project for the New American Century. Yet paradoxically for them it is "clear that defeat for the coalition forces would have made that larger defeat look less likely in the long term - particularly from the standpoint of the working people of Iraq" (April 17). Marxism takes the "standpoint" of the world's working class and humanity as its first principal. The AWL operates according to an inverted lesser evilism. This brings the AWL to the outskirts of the liberal imperialist camp inhabited by Short, Aaronovitch, Hitchens, etc.

Thankfully the AWL has not yet summoned up the courage to follow through the disastrous internal logic of its method. It has though already half-fallen for US lies that its invasion was directed at overthrowing tyranny and had the benign intention of introducing some paradigmatic version of western democracy for the downtrodden Iraqi masses. Mass demonstrations, the freedom to speak out against the occupation, the re-establishment of leftwing political parties - to all intents and purposes such examples of basic democracy are ominously credited to the US-UK coalition and general Jay Garner. Not critically assessed as the unintended by-product of the chaotic removal of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship which should be exploited and extended from below.

The US wants a democratic facade - corrupt, manipulable and safely pliant. Behind the scenes, though, an American sponsored oilocracy will control. The 'third campist' AWL is following in the footsteps of Max Shachtman - posthumously elevated to the status of intellectual progenitor. Criminally in April 1961 Shachtman backed the US-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion in the name of bringing democracy to the Cuban people. While the SWP, ISG, etc toy with the reactionary anti-imperialist second camp, for the AWL it is the first camp which beckons. Turn back comrades, while you still can.