More unpleasant abuse and untenable positions on Iraq
I deeply and viscerally object to being labelled a scab because of a difference of opinion with the excited Jose P. I object even more to Gary McLennan labelling me a scab, by mealy mouthed inference, when he refers in a fulsome way to what a wonderful post Perez’s was. At least the vituperative Perez said it up front. He didn’t shelter behind someone else, like McLennan.
It’s important to try and understand why a relatively seasoned political animal like Jose P should fling around rhetoric about scabs in one post, and then break it down slightly in his next post. It’s obviously a linguistic device to intimidate anyone who dares to disagree with his construct: anyone who doesn’t accept his wisdom is a scab. That’s a poisonous form of debate, right out of the repertoire of Stalinism. It also tells you something about the underlying political attitudes of the bloke using the abuse.
I note that, given the gravity of the issues under discussoin, Louis is not enforcing his rules too rigidly, so I hope he will give my response the same indulgence as he has given Jose P.
Jose P and his co-thinker, M. Junaid Alam, are not too concerned with pedestrian matters of geography or individual identity. Jose P treats yesterday morning’s post by my mate Ed Lewis, in which Ed clearly indicates disagreement with me on some questions, as if we are the same person. Alam seems to think that the Workers Communist Party of Iraq I’m quoting is somewhere in New Zealand. He says: “For all his talk of “social reality”, Ozleft has only a couple of barbers and a tiny communist sect out in the island of New Zealand to console him.”
All the participants in this argument, on both sides, including me, present evidence drawn from whatever sources are available to attempt an appraisal of the forces at work in Iraq. Alam selects sources to strengthen his argument, but objects to some of my sources, particularly Shiite barbers. This morning, Louis presents as major evidence one journalist’s account of an interview with one anonymous student, and we are presumably meant to be impressed by that.
I insist that an accurate picture can only be formed by going to all the sources available, and my examples were presented in that spirit to correct the one-sided picture presented by the ostensible evidence posted on Marxmail and other places, which in fact consists mainly of journalists’ reports that suit the poster’s arguments. This kind of procedure by the Jose P camp is the mirror image of the posture adopted by the Stalinist pro-imperialist group in Australia, which only places on its website material praising the imperialist occupation of Iraq. An accurate picture requires an overview of all the sources available. In my view, the recent International Crisis Group report on Iraq is the best overview of the actual situation, drawn from all sources, that we are likely to get at this point, and my judgements on the situation are largely formed by this report, rather than solely by the excited journalism so attractive to Jose P and others.
I reject Jose P’s proposition that what is taking place in Iraq mainly represents the activities of some comprehensive movement that he calls the Iraqi resistance. In fact, the evidence suggests that Perez and others are mentally taking a number of contradictory elements and forces and cobbling them together. Several of the actions that he characterises as actions of the Iraqi resistance are actions of individual terrorism that as, Lueko Williams put it quite well yesterday, are counterproductive to the construction of a broad-based Iraqi resistance, and counter-productive to the mobilisation and consciousness of the Iraqi working class.
I go further than Williams, however, and assert that the nature of these actions suggests they may well involve counter-revolutionary forces such as the remnants of Baathist intelligence or Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups. I put in this category the bombing of the water supply and electricity pylons to Baghdad, and the indiscriminate bombing of the UN compound, which killed mainly civilians, including Iraqi civilians. I also put in this category yesterday’s bombing of the Shiite holy places in Najaf. The bombing into the hereafter of a major leader of Shiism, an imam who had been collaborating with the imperialist occupation forces, along with 100 or so of his congregation, the pleasant street leading to the holy place, and the main Shiite holy place itself, is a counter-revolutionary act, which, while it might contribute to making Iraq ungovernable by the imperialist occupying authority, also cements the hold of conservative forces on the Shiite community. This vicious act is providing the clearest and most palpable impulse towards the outbreak of blind communal conflict between the Shiite majority community and other communities in Iraq.
I ask Jose P and his supporters if he considers this a legitimate act of the “Iraqi resistance” and that I am a scab for expressing opposition to it.
I further assert that it’s a dishonest debater’s trick to lump together my opposition to those acts, with my clearly stated point of view, that other acts of direct, clearly military conflict with the US occupiers were in a different category. I expressed the point of view that, while such actions were understandable, and not morally objectionable, I shared the view of what I believe is the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, that such actions are, at this stage, probably strategically unwise, although I was deliberately not dogmatic about that.
A materialist consideration of the demographics of Iraq clearly underlines my point. Iraq has a population of 26 million. Between 15 million and 15.5 million of them are Shiites. Between 4.5 million and 5 million of them are Kurds. Between 4.5 and 5 million of them are Sunnis. About 0.5 million of them are Turcomans, and about 1 million are Assyrian Christians (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant), Mandeans, Yazidis and other non-Muslims.
All observers agree that the Kurds are, broadly speaking, in a military alliance of convenience with the imperialist occupying force, the non-Muslim million are by and large collaborating with the imperialist occupiers, as are the Turcomans, who look to Turkey for support. The Shiite 60 per cent majority of 15 million, were, until yesterday, by and large adopting a wait-and-see position towards the occupying authority while trying to assert their own community interests vis a vis the occupiers in a non-military way. The military conflicts with the occupiers, including the terrorist acts, which are unsupportable from the point of view of Marxism, are largely taking place either in Sunni areas, or, like the terrorist act at Najaf, are directed provocatively at the Shiite majority, certainly not by Shiites, who would be reluctant to violate the holiest Shiite places.
My potted political demographic is further illuminated by political developments in the past couple of days. Jose P’s artificial western Orientalist construct of a unified Iraqi resistance, including Baathist remnants and their terrorist acts, is a dangerous mystification, and it is not scabbing, as Jose P calls it, to point out these obvious facts.
The DSP, Stuart Munckton and Trotsky’s Their Morals and Ours
A youngish member of the DSP, Stuart Munckton, has attacked me for bourgeois moralism in asserting that the bombing of civilians in the UN compound was uncivilised. He waves around Trotsky’s excellent book Their Morals and Ours, as some kind of justification for supporting Jose P’s view that the UN compound is a legitimate military target and the killing of civilians an irrelevance.
Well, as the god-botherers often say, the Devil can quote scripture for his own purpose. Munckton’s use of Trotsky’s profound little book, to which he only really refers in passing, is a piece of the utmost demagogy, and his further comments that he doesn’t yet know whether or not the UN bombing was justified as there’s not enough information, indicates that the reason for this demagogy is to divert attention from the more or less obvious fact that the DSP leadership is paralysed by an internal argument over the question and hasn’t made a decision.
My impression that the DSP leadership is still arguing internally over these matters is confirmed by the fact that Peter Boyle, who earlier posted the International Crisis Group report on the Green Left discussion list and Marxmail, obviously for a political purpose, made a post on Green Left last night, after what must have been a very gruelling all-day regular Monday meeting of the rather top-heavy 10 or 15 full-timers (out of the DSP membership of 80 in Sydney and 300 nationally). Boyle’s post attempted to direct the discussion to other matters than whether the Najaf bombing should be condemned, which would have been one of the dominating political questions at yesterday’s meeting.
Munckton’s use of Their Morals and Ours is a complete distortion of the thrust of Trotsky’s approach to questions of morality. When I mentioned Trotsky initially in one of my posts it wasn’t specifically concerning Their Morals and Ours but to another statement, For Grynszpan, and Munckton seems to confuse the two documents. Nevertheless, Their Morals and Ours is very relevant to this discussion.
Surely the most relevant aspect of Trotsky’s powerful pamphlet is its general conclusion, the heading of which is, “Dialectic Interdependence of End and Means”. As Stuart Munckton talks about everything except Trotsky’s conclusion, which may even suggest that he didn’t make it as far as the conclusion, it is worth reading Trotsky’s conclusion into the record from the excellent and useful Marxist Internet Archive. For reasons of continuity, I’ll put this extract at the end of this article.
Munckton attacks me because I did not “support the right of the Iraqi people to resist by any means necessary the occupation”. Earlier in his piece, he ridicules my proposition that: “It’s almost a rule of thumb in evaluating whether an upheaval is a genuine people’s war that one of the primary tests is the behaviour of the rebel force towards civilians.”
Well, this is, indeed, a central question. I base my rejection of the Najaf bombing, the UN bombing, and the destruction of the water and electricity supplies on the proposition that those acts have a profoundly negative affect on the struggle, and in that sense they are immoral by the yardstick of proletarian morality, in which means and ends are inter-related. Munckton, like Perez, reduces the question crudely to a proposition that in the war situation that they claim exists, pretty well means are acceptable. That is not Trotsky’s position at all, with his concluding stress on the “dialectic interdependence of end and means”.
My approach is true to the spirit of Trotsky’s analysis, particularly to his extended conclusion. The conclusion to Their Morals and Ours includes a condemnation in general of individual terrorism as unacceptable from the point of view of proletarian morality. Munckton’s philistine reduction of the question to the intentions of the bombers alone, about which only speculation is possible, is a stupid affront to the spirit of Trotsky’s analysis and in particular to his broad conclusions. An objective reading of Their Morals and Ours, written in 1938 as a guide questions of proletarian morality, inevitably indicates a general condemnation, in most circumstances, of individual terror directed at civilians.
It’s instructive to note Trotsky’s speculative example of the possible bombing of Franco and his staff into kingdom come, as morally defensible. Trotsky quite deliberately does not complicate the argument by mentioning an actual event that all Communists and socialists concluded was an enormous political mistake. In 1923, during a vicious repression against the Communists in Bulgaria by the Bulgarian state, the Bulgarian Communists organised a very effective bombing from the basement of the national cathedral in Sophia, which blew to bits the Tsar of Bulgaria, his staff and generals, the higher clergy and several hundred civilians. This bombing was a very successful act militarily, as were the bombings of the UN compound and the Shiite holy places in Najaf, but it was an absolute disaster politically. It led to the most brutal wholesale repression of both the Communist movement and the radical peasant movement in Bulgaria, including the summary execution of many Communists and radical peasants. The bombing of the Sofia cathedral was subsequently condemned by the Comintern and the Bulgarian Communist Party as a very considerable political error and crime. The example of the Sofia cathedral bombing was clearly in the back of Trotsky’s mind when he confined his example of a morally defensible act, in time of war, very narrowly to the bombing of a fascist general and his staff.
If Munckton or Perez were to front up to a Colombian revolutionary or a current leader of the IRA, perhaps, and ask the IRA leader why they didn’t blow up the British House of Commons or maybe Westminster Abbey with the Queen and the heads of the British state in it, or blow up the water supply or electricity to Belfast, they probably wouldn’t give you a careful analysis drawn from Comrade Trotsky about proletarian morality. (Although some might. Serious revolutionaries are often these days pretty educated in Marxist theory.) They would very probably make simple propositions about how such actions would be politically counter-productive because they would enrage the British and Irish masses against the revolutionary movement. They would thereby be expressing, in simple, practical form, one aspect of the underlying spirit of Their Morals and Ours. (They would also probably immediately get the hell out of your company because they would not unreasonably be pretty suspicious of anybody even raising such propositions.)
It’s very useful that Munckton has raised Their Morals and Ours. It’s easily accessible on the web, and any Marxist who is interested in these questions, ought to study it carefully before they lightly go off at the mouth in defence of individual terror tactics that are completely indefensible from a Marxist point of view.
Jose P’s latest major piece attacking me on Marxmail is eccentric in the extreme. He includes a few stanzas from Harlan County as a deliberate insult. His final section, his approving quote from Malcolm X about the Kennedy assassination, is really bizarre:
The whole history of white, European colonialism and modern imperialism is filled with monstrous, genocidal atrocities. For someone to show up now, in 2003, going tsk, tsk the Iraqi resistance isn’t fighting by gentlemen’s rules, is scabbing. As Malcolm X said after the Kennedy assassination: “President Kennedy never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon . Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they always made me glad.”
Putting aside, for the moment, the accusation of scabbing directed at me because of a different estimate of the objective situation in Iraq, it’s worth examining the egregious lunacy involved in quoting Malcolm X in this context. Malcolm X was a courageous revolutionary leader and was later murdered for his courage. Nevertheless, that statement, which is so appealing to crazed ultralefts, was extremely unwise, politically. It’s worth noting that the Soviet Union, Castro and the Cuban leadership and the American SWP all condemned the Kennedy assassination. In hindsight, it seems pretty clear now that Kennedy was assassinated by someone or some group from the extreme right wing of US society. It is quite mad and extremely dangerous, politically, to quote approvingly Malxolm X’s unwise remarks and then say anyone who doesn’t agree that it justifies individual acts of terror against civilians in Iraq, is a scab.
Jose P changes his tune
Yesterday Jose P posted, three times for emphasis, a piece on the Green Left list in Australia in which, after repeatedly accusing me of scabbery in previous posts, he swings over to a calmer, more comradely tone. Gee whiz! I am, in fact, a bit relieved that Jose has decided on a bit more civility (after he has done the dirty work with all the abuse). If he keeps to his newer, calmer tone, after this post, I too will return to a more moderate tone.
It seems to me that the immediate cause of Jose P’s more moderate tone is the fact that, despite all his intimidating bullshit about scabbery, significant other voices such as Lueko Williams and Fred Feldman, who are rather more integrated members of the Marxmail club than a bit of an outsider like me, are quietly typing away, raising similar points. Jose P can hardly accuse them also of scabbery, so he changes his tune a bit. Fair enough. (In this context, I feel a bit like Albania and Yugoslavia must have felt in the early stages of the Sino-Soviet dispute, as China and Russia attacked each other by way of indirect abuse, ostensibly directed at Albania and Yugoslavia.)
However, Perez concludes his last, more moderate post, with another piece of confusing humbug:
“That’s the point of the Harlan County song. The question ACTUALLY posed for us is NOT the best tactics in the underground struggle against the occupation within Iraq, whether it should be primarily a military struggle or some other kind of struggle, etc. The question actually posed for us is: which side are you on?”
This little paragraph is a piece of hypocrisy. Under the guise of the proposition that tactics in Iraq are not our business, and that we should only register solidarity with what Perez dubs the Iraqi resistance, which he insists includes the bombing of the UN compound as an act of revolutionary war, Perez is inevitably implying that those Iraqis who don’t join his imaginary Iraqi national resistance, which includes the terror bombers of civilians, are in some way guilty of collaboration with the imperialist occupier.
It is obviously not our business, from the distance of Atlanta or Sydney, to issue prescriptions to the political activists and the masses in Iraq about what they should do in their immediate struggles. What got me going in the first place on this question was the implication by Jose P and others that those Iraqi activists who do not immediately take up a military option against the imperialist occupiers, are in some sense collaborators with imperialism.
What angered me is that I know some Iraqi militants like that (particularly activists of the Workers Communist Party of Iraq), in Australia, some of whom have now gone back to Iraq. Incidentally, the Workers Communist Party of Iraq in Australia is one of the components, along with the DSP, of the Socialist Alliance. That group of Iraqi comrades opposed the imperialist assault on Iraq but also bitterly opposed the Saddam Hussein regime on the basis of their political and social experiences.
In Iraq they seem to have some illusions in the UN, but strongly oppose joining the Bremer puppet administration. Their practical activity in Iraq is directed at reorganising Iraqi trade unions and at mobilising the dismissed Iraqi army men in demands on the imperialist occupation administration for proper payment. For these activities, some of them have now been arrested.
I found, and find, it gratuitously offensive of Perez to implicitly label these comrades as collaborators with imperialism because they don’t automatically join his mentally constructed, partly imaginary national Iraqi resistance,in military activities against the imperialist occupiers, along with Baathists etc, at this stage.
I won’t labour these points any further because, to some extent, as Jose P sensibly says, further developments will illuminate the situation. From this point, if Jose adopts a calmer, less insulting tone, I’ll respond similarly.
Dialectic interdependence of ends and means
A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified, From the Marxist point of view, which expresses the historical interests of the proletariat, the end is justified if it leads to increasing the power of man over nature and to the abolition of the power of man over man.
“We are to understand then that in achieving this end anything is permissible?” sarcastically demands the Philistine, demonstrating that he understood nothing. That is permissible, we answer, which really leads to the liberation of mankind. Since this end can be achieved only through revolution, the liberating morality of the proletariat of necessity is endowed with a revolutionary character. It irreconcilably counteracts not only religious dogma but every kind of idealistic fetish, these philosophic gendarmes of the ruling class. It deduces a rule for conduct from the laws of the development of society, thus primarily from the class struggle, this law of all laws.
“Just the same,” the moralist continues to insist, “does it mean that in the class struggle against capitalists all means are permissible: lying, frame-up, betrayal, murder, and so on?” Permissible and obligatory are those and only those means, we answer, which unite the revolutionary proletariat, fill their hearts with irreconcilable hostility to oppression, teach them contempt for official morality and its democratic echoers, imbue them with consciousness of their own historic mission, raise their courage and spirit of self-sacrifice in the struggle. Precisely from this it flows that not all means are permissible. When we say that the end justifies the means, then for us the conclusion follows that the great revolutionary end spurns those base means and ways which set one part of the working class against other parts, or attempt to make the masses happy without their participation; or lower the faith of the masses in themselves and their organisation, replacing it by worship for the “leaders”. Primarily and irreconcilably, revolutionary morality rejects servility in relation to the bourgeoisie and haughtiness in relation to the toilers, that is, those characteristics in which petty bourgeois pedants and moralists are thoroughly steeped.
These criteria do not, of course, give a ready answer to the question as to what is permissible and what is not permissible in each separate case. There can be no such automatic answers. Problems of revolutionary morality are fused with the problems of revolutionary strategy and tactics. The living experience of the movement under the clarification of theory provides the correct answer to these problems.
Dialectic materialism does not know dualism between means and end. The end flows naturally from the historical movement. Organically the means are subordinated to the end. The immediate end becomes the means for a further end. In his play, Franz von Sickingen, Ferdinand Lassalle puts the following words into the mouth of one of the heroes:
Show not the goal
But show also the path.
So closely interwoven
Are path and goal that each with other
Ever changes, and other paths forthwith
Another goal set up.
Lassalle’s lines are not at all perfect. Still worse is the fact that in practical politics Lassalle himself diverged from the above expressed precept — it is sufficient to recall that he went as far as secret agreements with Bismarck! But the dialectic interdependence between means and end is expressed entirely correctly in the above-quoted sentences. Seeds of wheat must be sown in order to yield an ear of wheat.
Is individual terror, for example, permissible or impermissible from the point of view of “pure morals”? In this abstract form the question does not exist at all for us. Conservative Swiss bourgeois even now render official praise to the terrorist William Tell. Our sympathies are fully on the side of Irish, Russian, Polish or Hindu terrorists in their struggle against national and political oppression. The assassinated Kirov, a rude satrap, does not call forth any sympathy. Our relation to the assassin remains neutral only because we know not what motives guided him. If it became known that Nikolayev acted as a conscious avenger for workers’ rights trampled upon by Kirov, our sympathies would be fully on the side of the assassin. However, not the question of subjective motives but that of objective expediency has for us the decisive significance. Are the given means really capable of leading to the goal? In relation to individual terror, both theory and experience bear witness that such is not the case. To the terrorist we say: it is impossible to replace the masses; only in the mass movement can you find expedient expression for your heroism. However, under conditions of civil war, the assassination of individual oppressors ceases to be an act of individual terror. If, we shall say, a revolutionist bombed General Franco and his staff into the air, it would hardly evoke moral indignation even from the democratic eunuchs. Under the conditions of civil war a similar act would be politically completely expedient. Thus, even in the sharpest question — murder of man by man — moral absolutes prove futile. Moral evaluations, together with those political, flow from the inner needs of struggle.
The liberation of the workers can come only through the workers themselves. There is, therefore, no greater crime than deceiving the masses, palming off defeats as victories, friends as enemies, bribing workers’ leaders, fabricating legends, staging false trials, in a word, doing what the Stalinists do. These means can serve only one end: lengthening the domination of a clique already condemned by history. But they cannot serve to liberate the masses. That is why the Fourth International leads against Stalinism a life and death struggle.
The masses, of course, are not at all impeccable. Idealisation of the masses is foreign to us. We have seen them under different conditions, at different stages and in addition in the biggest political shocks. We have observed their strong and weak sides. Their strong side — resoluteness, self-sacrifice, heroism — has always found its clearest expression in times of revolutionary upsurge. During this period the Bolsheviks headed the masses. Afterward a different historical chapter loomed when the weak side of the oppressed came to the forefront: heterogeneity, insufficiency of culture, narrowness of world outlook. The masses tired of the tension, became disillusioned, lost faith in themselves — and cleared the road for the new aristocracy. In this epoch the Bolsheviks (“Trotskyists”) found themselves isolated from the masses. Practically we went through two such big historic cycles: 1897-1905, years of flood tide; 1907-1913 years of the ebb; 1917-1923, a period of upsurge unprecedented in history; finally, a new period of reaction which has not ended even today. In these immense events the “Trotskyists” learned the rhythm of history, that is, the dialectics of the class struggle. They also learned, it seems, and to a certain degree successfully, how to subordinate their subjective plans and programs to this objective rhythm. They learned not to fall into despair over the fact that the laws of history do not depend upon their individual tastes and are not subordinated to their own moral criteria. They learned to subordinate their indivdual desires to the laws of history. They learnd not to become frightened by the most powerful enemies if their power is in contradiction to the needs of historical development. They know how to swim against the stream in the deep conviction that the new historic flood will carry them to the other shore. Not all will reach that shore, many will drown, but to particiape in this movement with open eyes and with an intense will — only this can give the highest moral satisfaction to a thinking being!
A response to all the little thunderers (September 8-10)