Debating main and secondary enemies
Mary Godwin reports from the latest aggregate of party members on July 24, which saw debates on Iraq, our fundraising drive 'Summer Offensive' and the forthcoming Communist UniversityThe main business of the July aggregate of CPGB members was developing our common attitude on Iraq and the resistance to the occupation. Two sets of theses on Iraq, written by Mike Macnair and Ian Donovan respectively, along with a motion from Marcus Ström, were discussed. After a long debate the aggregate voted to accept both the motion and comrade Macnair’s theses, by large majorities. Comrade Donovan was unable to attend through illness and his theses were not put to the vote. Comrade Ström’s motion was passed unamended, while comrade Macnair’s theses were accepted after minor amendments.
Comrade Macnair spoke first. He said that, as we are formulating our line on Iraq in a situation of relative ignorance of what is happening on the ground, we have to clearly distinguish between our proposals for the tasks of the British left, about which we can be fairly definite, and our suggestions to the communists in Iraq, which can only be tentative and based on long-term strategy.
Comrade Macnair said the occupation of Iraq can have no progressive role. He disagreed with those on the left, particularly the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, who are, to say the least, ambiguous and uncertain about this. Communists are for the defeat of our own state. However, we are proletarian internationalists, who believe the creation of socialism is the role of the working class movement worldwide. Therefore, we should be in solidarity with the Iraqi workers’ movement, but not with the islamist or Ba’athist militias who are fighting the occupation, as these are not working class forces. When the imperialists leave, either on their own accord or because they are forced out, only a national movement led by the working class can provide security and stability for the Iraqi masses and prevent an Afghanistan-like catastrophe.
Section one of his theses, said comrade Macnair, is revolutionary defeatist regarding British troops and calls for their withdrawal from Iraq. Section two calls for solidarity with the Iraqi workers’ movement - in the interests of common humanity, as well as proletarian internationalism. Sections three and four relate to the tasks of communists in Iraq and the underlying dynamic of Iraqi society. Our advice to the Iraqi communists, he said, is to have a united front strategy based on clear objectives. It is not a global programme, but an immediate programme on how to prevent the threatened catastrophe.
Comrade Ström, while stating that comrade Macnair’s document was not in contradiction to his own motion, criticised it as too long and detailed. We do not need to write a programme for communists in Iraq. Other speakers agreed with this comment - comrade Bridge said the more you write, and the more detailed you are, the more likely you are to include errors. Comrade Ström wanted to identify more emphatically the main enemy of the working class in Iraq and the world. He did not think it should be implied that the islamists/Ba’athists and the imperialists are equal enemies. We are for the victory of the democratic, secular and working class forces, but, if we had to choose between imperialism and pre-capitalist or reactionary anti-capitalist forces, we would go for the latter.
Comrade Ström agreed that it is profoundly wrong to think that imperialism is somehow more
democratic than political islam. Where democratic advances have been won under capitalism, they have resulted either from working class pressure, the need to shore up support at home or a combination of both. He also agreed with comrade Macnair that the imperialists are running out of options in Iraq and will be forced to do deals with the islamists.
Much of the discussion following the two openings concerned the question of what it means to say imperialism is the main enemy of the Iraqi working class. Comrade Peter Manson criticised Mike Macnair’s theses for failing to make it clear that, even though trade union activists in Iraq are under attack by the islamists, it would still be objectively progressive if the imperialists were defeated by the forces of islamic reaction. He said that there was a difference between recognising that fact and actually taking direct steps to bring it about - something we most emphatically do not do.
Comrade Anne Mc Shane said our political propaganda should emphasise support for progressive and secular forces in their struggle against islamic reaction for leadership of the resistance to imperialism. She voted against comrade Ström’s theses, because in her view he did not sufficiently emphasise the importance of progressive forces coming to the fore in the leadership of the resistance. Comrade Patrick Presland approved of the emphasis on secularism in comrade Macnair’s document. He said that in advocating revolutionary defeatism, we should ask: by whom and with what consequences for the working class? It would not be a good thing for Iraqi workers if imperialism was expelled by the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr. There are secular and progressive forces in Iraq to whom we can give principled support, but, said comrade Presland, he did not agree that it does not matter who defeats imperialism.
Comrade John Bridge said leftwing forces in Iraq should take the lead in opposing imperialism, so as to gain support among the people and thus be strong enough to resist the murderous attacks of the islamists. Phil Kent pointed out that having a main enemy does not mean you stop fighting your other enemies. However, Ian Mahoney made the point that, if you have two enemies who are also fighting each other, it is not usually a good idea to take on both at once. He said, if communists in Britain were in a position to do so, they should sabotage the war effort of our ‘own’ imperialists, even if that meant objectively helping reactionary forces. But we fight for a progressive outcome: unlike the Socialist Workers Party, we do not seek to whitewash political islam.
Responding to these points, comrade Macnair claimed that there is no chance of the islamist forces securing a military victory over imperialism. Furthermore, when the US-backed regime in Iran was overthrown by Ayatollah Khomeini, it led in the long run to a change in the balance of world forces in favour of imperialism at the expense of the working class - within a few years the new regime was doing deals with the imperialists, while Iranian working class forces had been decimated. In Iraq, while no doubt the rank and file of the islamic resistance want to fight imperialism to the death, their leaders are willing to cooperate in their own interests with the occupiers, as we have seen already. The coming to power of the likes of al-Sadr would be just another exit strategy for the imperialist, even if not their preferred one - they could rule Iraq through him. For Iraqi communists, said comrade Macnair, it is nonsense to say that if two enemies want to assassinate you, you should prefer death at the hands of the smaller one. There has to be a third option - that of building up our own, working class forces.
We must start from the point of view of the world revolution, comrade Bridge replied. US imperialism is the main enemy. In working out our strategy it is essential to locate first the main enemy, then the secondary enemy, in order to determine tactics. Locating the main enemy does not mean suspending the fight against the secondary enemy. But it is conceivable to enter into a situation where there is episodic cooperating with the secondary enemy against the main enemy. He pointed to the deal Soviet Russia made with Weimar Germany in the early 1920s as an example of the breadth of tactics available to communists. We are forced to resort to such alliances because of weakness, not strength - a situation that undoubtedly applies in Iraq right now.
Comrade Manson did not agree with comrade Macnair that the imperialists cannot be defeated. A combination of opposition on the ground in Iraq and the internal contradictions of imperialism could see them forced out. Comrade Kent said that, while he agreed that an Iraqi theocracy would not necessarily be a defeat for imperialism, that is not the exit strategy the imperialists would prefer - they would like to back up their claims that the war was fought to set the Iraqis free with at least some pretence of democratic structures. The most desirable outcome, and our primary task, is the defeat of imperialism, said comrade Tina Becker, and the theses should make this clear. However, it would be wrong to say we do not care who defeats imperialism.
In his summing up at the end of the debate, comrade Macnair said he hoped that, having seen what happened to their Iranian comrades in a similar situation, communists in Iraq would not fall into the trap of entering into an ‘iron front’ with al-Sadr. He was against the defeat of imperialism by islamic forces. For internal consumption in Britain to say, ‘Rather al-Sadr than the US-UK’ might be a useful slogan, but from the point of view of the situation in Iraq that would be meaningless, since it could not be achieved. And if the British left were to advocate such an outcome to the communists in Iraq it would be dangerously incorrect, moving us closer to the position of the SWP.
Members discussed the slow progress of this year’s Summer Offensive, our annual fundraising drive. In contrast to previous years, opportunities for raising money are much reduced, both for individuals and for the collective. In 2001 and 2002 the Socialist Alliance provided a relatively favourable environment for CPGB work, and last year comrades were able to bring in large amounts through the sale of badges and other material during the anti-war upsurge. This year the Party has to rely much more on its own members and supporters.
Ian Mahoney reported that Weekly Worker readers and CPGB sympathisers are responding well to the call for funds, including our readers on the internet. But, because of the difficult political environment, as well as some technical hitches, the Provisional Central Committee has decided to extend the SO until August 14 - allowing us to make one last concerted effort to reach our £30,000 target. Even so, it may be that we will fall short. Speakers in the discussion agreed that we should not hide such problems - we should be honest about any failure to meet the target.
Comrades gave examples of fundraising activity, such as a sponsored exercise rowing session, book sales and socials. Comrade Sarah McDonald announced a pub quiz organised jointly by CPGB and Scottish Socialist Party members in Dundee. Questions in the quiz will focus on socialism and working class history and will thus play a part in educating the working class and aiding recruitment. Other comrades stressed the importance of contacts and Weekly Worker articles on the Offensive.
Comrade John Bridge gave a short account of preparations for Communist University 2004. Because of the changed political climate - specifically the collapse of the Socialist Alliance and the re-intensification of sectarian antagonisms on the left, fewer comrades from other left groups are expected than at previous Communist Universities. Comrade Bridge described CU 2004 as an opportunity for the CPGB to collectively engage with tricky political and theoretical problems, and to educate ourselves. If we educate others in the process that will be a bonus.
He outlined two themes which will run through CU 2004. First, Lenin. Eighty years after his death his books continue to have great relevance. Several key works will be discussed - among others What is to be done?, introduced by Hillel Ticktin, and Leftwing communism, an infantile disorder, introduced by Mark Fischer. The second theme is religion and what should be our attitude to it. This is especially relevant in the current period - the SWP, as part of its electoralist drive to get votes for the sake of votes, is busily discarding ‘shibboleths’ which might be deemed unacceptable by orthodox muslim thought. Hence SWPers now appear to be denying that the Bolsheviks had a commitment to atheism within their programme. Comrades agreed that religion is a crucial subject to discuss now.
Other subjects and speakers were suggested. Comrade Presland proposed developments in the Labour Party and our relationship with it as a theme, and other comrades suggested having a forum on the first weekend of CU in which as many forces as possible could be brought together from among those who want to build a new workers’ party. Respect was another topic comrades were keen to deal with at CU. Comrade Becker said Respect has caused some demoralisation and fragmentation on the left, but we need to put forward the need for a party within the coalition. The draft programme contains a session on ‘Were we right to support Respect?’, but several comrades felt it would also be useful to discuss where Respect is going and how we should relate to it in the future. A similar preference when it came to other themes and subjects.
On behalf of the PCC, comrade Bridge welcomed these and other ideas and promised that the draft programme for CU 2004 would be quickly revised.