Pro-imperialists snubbed

Hopi's steering committee unanimously rejected holding a joint meeting with the AWL's Education Not for Sale at the NUS conference on Iran and the imprisoned students, proposing instead an ENS v Hopi debate. Ben Lewis looks at the issues

Hopi is adamant that it will not blur the sharp political message it sends out to the anti-war movement. Whilst making clear that the Tehran regime is in no way an ally of the international working class, it will not make concessions to groups that have a lot to say about oppression in Iran but downplay or remain indifferent to the basic fact that it is the forces of imperialism that represent the main threat in the world. It is therefore to be welcomed that the Hopi steering committee took a principled and clear stand on the question of organising a meeting with the AWL-dominated Education Not for Sale.

ENS has called for the election of Anoosheh Azaadbar, a student imprisoned in Iran for her political activities, as NUS honorary vice-president. Hopi is supporting this call as one way of raising the profile of our comrades’ struggles in Iran and of strengthening the anti-war message by arguing that only the democratic and working class forces can be anti-imperialist in any meaningful sense.

However, we most definitely reject the social-imperialism of the AWL. We all know its record when it comes to the Middle East and it is definitely something that should not be allowed to taint Hopi. The AWL’s patriarch, Sean Matgmana, defines himself as a “Zionist”, whereas his number two Martin Thomas is merely “a little bit Zionist”.

It should be of little surprise then, that AWL student organiser Sacha Ismail objects to Hopi’s insistence in its founding statement on “opposition to Israeli expansionism and aggression” which, apparently, is irrelevant to Iran. Where has Sacha been all these years? Does he not think it possible that Israel could nuke Iran? Comrade Thomas has recently mused on the desirability of a “surgical” operation to remove Ahmadinejad from power and stop Iran getting a nuclear bomb and it is quite possible that Israeli aggression would have a role to play in that eventuality too (Solidarity October 29 2007).

Comrade Ismail actually attempts to draw an equals sign between the US-backed Israeli nuclear state and Iranian expanisionism, saying that “to be involved [with Hopi] you have to have the right position on Israel, but nothing is said about the national minorities oppressed by Iran or its role in Iraq and Afghanistan!”

Although I do agree that the Hopi statement is weak on the oppression of national minorities in Iran (something that needs to be rectified), who on the left (apart from the AWL, obviously) could suggest that opposition to a state that is armed to the teeth and openly talks about a ‘pre-emptive’ strike against Iran might not be the “right position on Israel”?

The AWL also complains that the name, Hands Off the People of Iran, is biased towards and focused on “getting external ‘hands’ off the ‘people’ of Iran, at a time when Tehran’s power in the region is on the rise, workers’ struggles are on the rise in Iran, and US or Israeli military attack is only a possibility”.1 What utter nonsense. The word ‘people’ was included in the name precisely to distinguish Hopi from those who would defend the regime. We side with the “people” of Iran against both the islamic republic and the imperialists (while a nuclear strike is “only” a possibility, sanctions that always hit ordinary workers first and foremost are in operation right now).

Not only did the AWL refuse to call for the defeat of the imperialist project in Iraq (purportedly because this would necessarily imply solidarity with the Ba’athists); it now, despite all that has happened and continues to happen in Iraq, dogmatically clings to the idea that to call for an immediate end to the occupation is to support the programmes of al-Sadr and other reactionary forces.

Comrades in the solidarity movement should welcome AWL member David Broder’s latest post on internationalism in the Middle East,2 which lampoons the political conclusions that the majority of the AWL draw. He is completely correct when he asserts that “the AWL acquiesces to imperialist involvement in the region in the here and now in the belief that it will be able to hold islamism at bay and so create breathing space for the workers’ movement to grow. Of course, we are always living in the ‘here and now’, while the question of how and why the Iraqi left and trade unions are meant to grow in the ‘meantime’ before the troops leave is barely considered.” Unlike some supposed ‘oppositionists’ within the AWL, he does at least seem willing to challenge the majority line on the Middle East.

The response

After the Hopi steering committee rejected the ENS call for a joint meeting, comrade Ismail posted our response on the ENS discussion list with the comment that “a meeting on Iran organised and pitched as a debate between different sections of the pro-solidarity left doesn’t make sense in this context”. He explained his wish to “have an Iranian student speaking”, given that the NUS left is heavily influenced by the Socialist Workers Party and its take on Iran. So what would be good about a pro-intervention student attacking the STWC? We would not want to be associated with such a dupe, though we would be prepared to engage in an honest debate.

We could also, for example, debate comrade Ismael’s statement that in the event of a US attack on Iran, “we should oppose the war on both sides, not talk about ‘imperialism’ as if it was a matter of predator and victim. There are two predators of different sizes here.”

While there would be no question of Hopi calling for defence of the Iran regime, the fact that Washington and Tehran are “of different sizes” is of considerable relevance. Clearly the US is capable of mounting a devastating air assault on Iran - and is actually threatening to do so - whereas the opposite scenario is inconceivable. In fact Iran would have very little defence against such an assault. So there is something peculiar about the call to “oppose the war on both sides” when it would clearly be a very one-sided affair.

Yes, Iran is fully integrated into the world capitalist system and is looking to gain a higher status in the pecking order, but the point is that it is the vastly more powerful US that poses the main threat to the entire region. Yet the AWL’s social-imperialist majority wants its troops to remain in Iraq, since it ludicrously claims this will help ‘protect the Iraqi labour movement’. It is true that Iran too is playing a negative role in Iraq, but the reason for its increased influence can be traced back to - wait for it - the US invasion and occupation, which was, of course, supported by Tehran.

Comrade Ismail asks: “What does [defeatism] mean? That we should favour the defeat of the US? But that means supporting the victory of Iran. I’m not a liberal; as I say, in some circumstances, I would favour the defeat of the US and the victory of its opponent (while opposing the regime, etc, etc). But if … Iran is an aspirant regional imperialist power, how does favouring its victory make sense?”

It betrays a certain formal logic to argue that calling for the defeat of one’s ‘own’ imperialist state means automatically supporting the forces it happens to be in conflict with. We call for the defeat of the US and UK because they are imperialist states and their actions are therefore against the international interests of the working class. But we do not support the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad any more than we supported that of Saddam Hussein. We wish to see their defeat too - at the hands of the working class! But there is no question as to which is the greater enemy - imperialism, not Saddam, Ahmadinejad or political islam.

During my exchanges with comrade Ismail on the ENS list I made the concrete proposal that a possible debate could revolve around the theme, ‘Iran and the Middle East: can US-led imperialism play a progressive role?’ To which he responded by asking why the question should be posed in this way when “nobody involved” is of this opinion. In fact the AWL majority does actually hold the view - as David Broder has shown - that imperialism, or in the very least certain aspects of imperialism, can play a progressive role in the Middle East. It may be shamefaced in this view and loath to admit it, but there is no other way to explain the AWL’s refusal to call for an immediate imperialist withdrawal.

Let us hope that opponents of this line within the AWL can gain in influence and help break it from its crass social-imperialist economism.


1. www.workersliberty.org/node/9731
2. trotskyist.blogspot.com/2008/02/working-class-internationalism-and.html

Reply to ENS

Dear Sacha

Thank you for getting in touch to propose a joint meeting between Hopi and ENS at the coming NUS conference in April.

Given the political differences between our organisations, we would like to run any meeting with you as a debate and make this clear in the material to build it.

Hopi is supporting the ENS-initiated campaign to elect our imprisoned comrade, Anoosheh Azaadbar, as honorary vice-president of the union and, of course, a debate such as the one we propose would touch on the issue of the imprisoned students and the brutal repression of their and other movements for democracy in Iran.

However, our Iranian comrades also face the threat of war and are subject to harsh economic sanctions. In other words, they are threatened by the main enemy of the Iranian and world’s people - imperialism.

We feel it is necessary to draw sharp political lines between ourselves and political trends within the movement that downplay or ignore this basic fact. We argue for an approach to solidarity premised on the fact that moribund capitalism - imperialism - holds no answers either for the people of Iran or anywhere else on the globe. We want direct links of support between the working people of Iran and internationally that are ideologically, politically and materially independent of either imperialism or the theocratic regime. In today’s world, democracy and progressive social change comes from struggles only from below - whether in the Middle East, in Europe or in the United States itself. The genuine solidarity movement argues against imperialist ‘surgical strikes’ and calls for the end to imperialist occupations.

The appproach of the ENS/AWL is clearly at odds with this and it is for this reason that any meeting involving our two organisations must take the form of a debate to explore the important differences between us. Hopefully, such a debate will also achieve greater political clarity between us and, crucially, the wider student movement on these key questions.

Yours against imperialist war and in solidarity with the Iranian people,

Hopi steering committee