Iraqi working class must lead resistance

George Bush and Tony Blair are in a deepening quagmire in Iraq. That much has been clear for several months now, but things are escalating. Ian Donovan reports

The shooting down by surface-to-air missiles of a Chinook helicopter near Fallujah (around 40 kilometres from Baghdad) last Sunday was the biggest American military loss since Bush declared that ‘major combat’ was allegedly over around the end of April. Fifteen dead is what the Bush administration have admitted to so far; the condition of the remaining injured from the chopper is not likely to be very good at all.

In the past week or so, another significant milestone has been reached. The coalition forces, mainly those of the US, have now lost more troops since the declared end of hostilities than in the period of the invasion prior to the fall and apparent flight into hiding of Saddam Hussein. Then there have been the attacks on targets other than the coalition military, the fusillade of attacks on the revived Iraqi police, the suicide bombings of aid agencies such as the Red Cross and of course earlier on the UN HQ itself, leading to the death of the UN’s envoy. Not to mention the rocket attacks on the Baghdad hotel that served as the headquarters of the American occupation forces. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy US defence secretary and a key neo-conservative partisan of the ‘Project for the new American century’, narrowly escaped a long-earned appointment with his maker as a reward for his sterling efforts as one of the key initiators of Operation Iraqi Freedom (which some in the Bush administration might have liked to have dubbed ‘Operation Cakewalk’).

All in all, this appears to be a coherent, still low-level, but slowly escalating guerrilla war, aimed at tying down the US, sending sufficient troops home in body bags to give Bush political difficulties at home, and making it impossible for agencies and the likes of the UN to ‘stabilise’ Iraq with ‘humanitarian aid’ and thereby supposedly pull Bush’s chestnuts out of the fire. US propaganda, which tries to make out that despite the attacks the US is making steady progress, looks increasingly like desperate attempts at self-delusion, aimed above all at an American home audience. Almost every soundbite Bush comes out with to ‘reassure’ the folks back home is answered by some new calamity for the occupying forces.

In a rather perceptive article (‘Resistance is the first step towards Iraqi independence’) in The Guardian, Tariq Ali notes that, “According to Iraqi opposition sources, there are more than 40 different resistance organisations. They consist of Ba’athists, dissident communists, disgusted by the treachery of the ‘official’ Iraqi Communist Party in backing the occupation, nationalists, groups of Iraqi soldiers and officers disbanded by the occupation, and sunni and shia religious groups” (November 3). A disparate constellation of forces, representing a considerable spread of different class interests: the only thing that unites them is the entirely justified hatred of the rapacious imperialist occupiers.

This sense of national grievance and outrage is a potent factor. Despite the ludicrous, American-sponsored opinion surveys taken in Baghdad and elsewhere that purport to show popular approval of the invasion and removal of the old regime, in reality Iraq is just as much a dictatorship as it was in the darkest days of Saddam’s rule. The difference is that it is a dictatorship whose centre is in Washington - with London in the role of second fiddle and the so-called Iraqi ‘governing council’ puppets already so hated by sections of the population that its members routinely fear summary assassination whenever they venture out on the streets of Iraqi cities.

The forces that make up the resistance are ultimately incompatible with each other, of course. The interests of those working class fighters who come from the often heroic tradition of Iraqi communism (regularly betrayed by the politics of Stalinism) are completely different from those of the out-of-power nationalist Ba’athists (who cannot be simplistically branded as followers of Saddam Hussein either, though undoubtedly many are). Nor are the interests of worker militants compatible with those of the sunni or shia islamists - though many confused individuals from these currents could be won to support a genuine working class struggle for power, given correct political leadership and tactics. But such differentiation is rendered much more difficult under conditions of foreign neo-colonial occupation and perceived national oppression, which only acts to obscure class questions within Iraq that are in reality matters of life and death.

This is why the struggle against the occupation must be prioritised above all by communists in Iraq, and why we in the imperialist countries - most notably in Britain, given its direct, if junior, role in the invasion itself - must continue to work for the defeat of our own governments in this reactionary war against the people of Iraq. Communists welcome whatever military setbacks the variegated popular resistance forces in Iraq are able to inflict on the armed forces of our ‘own’ government - indeed the expulsion of the coalition - American, British and others - from Iraq by means of a defeat at the hands of indigenous Iraqi resistance would be a tremendous defeat for imperialism.

At the same time, however, the working class and socialist forces in Iraq must act as an independent class force as far as is possible. Tariq Ali, for instance, in his Guardian article quoted earlier, appears to extol the virtues of guerrilla war as a strategy for national liberation in Iraq. He writes: “The key fact of the resistance is that it is decentralised - the classic first stage of guerrilla warfare against an occupying army. Yesterday’s downing of a US Chinook helicopter follows that same pattern. Whether these groups will move to the second stage and establish an Iraqi National Liberation Front remains to be seen” (ibid).

In the back of his mind, Tariq Ali is thinking about what he imagines was the experience of the Vietnamese war/revolution and projecting this kind of experience onto present-day Iraq. It may be, of course, that things will pan out in this way - indeed it is highly likely that such a development will come to pass at some point.

However, as a strategy, this is extremely short-sighted. For cross-class ‘national liberation fronts’ are inevitably dominated by the propertied classes, or those who would, whatever their subjective intentions, simply replace the current satraps of the colonial/neo-colonial power with new forms of exploitation. Means determine ends and ends determine means. Guerrilla armies are necessarily undemocratic, often highly secretive and therefore outside the control of the masses. What comes to power using such means can only deliver a parody of mass democracy. Armed struggle, including guerrilla units, should not be viewed as a strategy: rather as a tactic subordinate to the mobilisation of the working class and urban and rural poor.

For that, what is needed is a new Communist Party - combining legal and illegal work - which is solidly based on the working class and which can reach out to the poor in the cities and the countryside and forge a revolutionary people’s alliance. The raw material for such a party evidently exists in the form of the dissident communists, as well as the militants of the leftist Worker-communist Party of Iraq, who have led open working class struggles around particularly questions of mass unemployment under the occupation (but have also unfortunately shown a certain softness on some imperialist machinations, expressed particularly in their earlier calls for UN troops to replace the coalition occupiers and somehow preserve civil order).

Such a working class party, based on a common programme of consistent democracy, secularism and working class power, would strike all manner of tactical agreements, perhaps including military ones, with other forces (principally nationalists, whether of secular or even islamist stripe) to oppose the occupation and national oppression. But it would not dissolve itself politically into any ‘national front’ and thereby slur over the enormous class contradictions that exist within Iraq. Rather, it would seek to use such agreements as a means to achieve communist hegemony over the struggle for national liberation, to incorporate the democratic aspirations of the masses into the struggle for working class rule.

Such a party needs to be politically linked to the socialist and anti-war movements in the imperialist countries by bonds of fraternity and practical action; likewise it would need to generate connections with like-minded formations across the Middle East. In the interdependent, globalised capitalist world in which we live today, internationalism is not an optional extra, but an indispensable necessity.

Stop Bush visit

Stop the War Coalition: 020 7053 2153; wwwstopwar.org.uk

Rally Tuesday November 18, 7.30pm: Friends Meeting House, Euston Road (nearest tube: Euston/Euston Square). Speakers include Ron Kovic, Harold Pinter, George Galloway, Tony Benn, John Rees.

Alternative state procession Wednesday November 19, 11am: Assemble Jubilee Gardens, South Bank, London SE1.

Scotland demonstration Wednesday November 19, 6pm: Assemble Charlotte Square, Edinburgh. March to US consulate.

National demonstration Thursday November 20, 2pm: Assemble Malet Street, central London (nearest tubes: Goodge Street, Russell Square, Euston/Euston Square). March to Trafalgar Square.

Film and discussion Sunday November 16, 5pm: Born on the 4th of July. Introduced by Vietnam war veteran Ron Kovic.

Wednesday November 19, 5pm: Walker - Alex Cox introduces his film about Nicaragua.

Wednesday November 19, 8pm: The Deal - Steven Frears’s TV film about events surrounding Tony Blair’s rise to power. Followed by Ken Loach’s 9/11 about the ‘other September 11’ - the coup against the democratically elected government of Chile in 1973.

All at Prince Charles cinema, 7 Leicester Place, London WC2 (nearest tube: Leicester Square). Tickets : £7 each from box office - 020 7494 3654 (1.30pm to 9pm).

Poetry and music Wednesday November 19, 8.30pm: with Adrian Mitchell, Mike Rose, Saadi Yousef, Tino Gonzalez. Camden Centre, Bidborough Street (opposite Kings Cross station). Tickets: £7 (concessions: £5).