Bush, Blair - hands off Iraq!

A campaign of solidarity with the democratic, progressive and secular forces fighting against the occupation is long overdue, argues Ian Mahoney

Over 100 people attended the December 4 Iraq solidarity meeting jointly sponsored by the CPGB, the Socialist Party in England and Wales, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Workers Power, as well as the worker-communist parties of Iraq and Iran. The audience listened to comrade Muyat Ahmed give an eye-witness account of life on the ground in Iraq today and heard him appeal for a dramatic increase in the scale of solidarity from the United Kingdom with the democratic, secular and socialist forces of opposition emerging in the country.

As well as being a prominent member of the W-CP of Iraq, the comrade is also a founding member of Union of Unemployed and the preparatory committee for the workers’ councils and unions in Iraq. He gave the audience a vivid report of the class struggle front line in his country, as progressive and working class forces re-emerge and fight for space against the imperialist occupation forces on one side and the islamists and Ba’athist remnants on the other. Inspiring stuff.

Predictably, given the nature of the audience, the discussion following the comrade’s introductory remarks was dominated by two key questions.

First, the W-CPI’s continuing reticence over the call for the immediate withdrawal of coalition troops and the end of all external interference in the country sparked discussion - not for the first time. This stance was energetically defended by the AWL, since it chimes in so well with the comrades’ economistic method. ‘Proper’ working class politics need time to germinate and grow in Iraq, primarily in the form of trade unions, of course. Raising the demand for the withdrawal of troops is “insane”, the AWL’s Clive Bradley declared, because the current balance of forces dictates that the sudden withdrawal of troops would only benefit the islamists and Ba’athists. As the comrade wrote in Solidarity, “An immediate - that is, tomorrow - withdrawal would lead either to the return of the Ba’ath, the coming to power of some islamist factions, or more probably simply descent into civil war and far worse chaos and violence than currently exists” (October 23).

This misses the point entirely. CPGB and Workers Power speakers underlined that, unless the working class fights for hegemony over this key question, then the space is left open for those same reactionary forces to step in, for them to lead the fight against the occupiers and to potentially rally the whole country behind them. Additionally, a CPGB speaker intervened against the false notion that you could build a truly independent workers’ movement on the basis of ignoring - or, in effect, tacitly accepting - the occupation of the country by imperialism. Drawing what he dubbed an “implacable line” on this question was politically indispensable in building a working class movement that could effectively fight for even ‘bread and butter’ demands around wages, unemployment, working conditions and so on.

The second feature of the meeting was a tension over the precise purpose of any solidarity campaign. There appears to be an assumption amongst some leading comrades in the W-CPI that solidarity must be sought expressly for those organisations that have been created by their party. There are two problems with this.

Firstly, such an approach is unlikely to be successful in the broader British movement. Secondly, while the organisations the comrades have set up are certainly doing brave work and rallying wider forces (the Unemployed Union of Iraq alone is reported to have up to 130,000 members), a solidarity movement in this country should not rule out in advance supporting other progressive trends and organisations.

The meeting was lively, but a little inconclusive over what to do next. Practically, it has been decided that the UUI will draft a statement asking for support, which the various British organisations will start to use in a coordinated way. Still some way short of what is needed, but a start of some sort.

The CPGB will press for an ongoing campaign with three main elements to its platform:

Lastly, a perhaps more controversial point. If a solidarity organisation roughly along these lines could be established, the CPGB would argue for it to affiliate to and take an active role in the Stop the War Coalition. The democratic deficit in the STWC and its lack of consistent, ongoing campaigning work against the occupation are clear. However, to turn your back on the STWC, to abstain from the fight for it to take up principled politics, would be sectarian folly.