A response to all the little thunderers


And a summary of issues in the Iraq debate

Bob Gould

I’m finding it tedious to have to start every post on the Iraq question by responding to the most recent pieces of gratuitous abuse directed at me, and now even at Lueko Willms (and by implication, any other dissenters). Gould is obviously the Albania-Yugoslavia of this argument, and the thunderclaps directed at my skull are obviously intended as un example pour les autres, or whatever the correct French phrase is.

Nevertheless, the character of the unwarranted abuse tells you a lot about the political outlook of the junior thunderers, so I’ll examine it a bit. Lou Paulsen wades into me on Marxmail about a week ago, equating me with Kautsky, and himself and Jose P, by implication, with Lenin. I’m kind of flattered by the world historic importance he gives to the argument, but the attempt to intimidate those who disagree with him by the use of this out-of-proportion thundering is off the planet.

Paulsen is quite dishonest when he equates me with some bloke in Chicago who supports leaving the imperialist troops in Iraq. Unless he’s like Rip Van Winkle, and just woken up from a very long sleep, he can hardly be unaware of the fact, if he has read recent posts on Marxmail and the Australian Green Left site, that I have been involved, here in Australia, along with others, in a strenuous battle in the Sydney antiwar movement, defending the immediate withdrawal of all imperialist troops from Iraq.

If he hasn’t read those posts he should do so, and then he might not be so quick to make unwarranted accusations or implications when facts refute him. I don’t at all like being slandered in this way, when I’ve spent quite a lot of time in recent weeks, campaigning for a political position in which the side I’ve been part of has deliberately chosen to adopt the useful Answer formulations as our standpoint in the antiwar movement here.

This is by no means the first time I have been attacked in a long and active political life. As a matter of policy I never let slanders go unanswered. The hand wringing, parson-like way Lou cautions me that I’m going the way of Hitchens is another abusive device to save him the problem of engaging with my arguments.

It is particularly irritating, because I’ve spent quite a lot of time, as a minor public intellectual in Australia, polemicising against our local Hitchens, Keith Windschuttle, and Paulsen can read my lengthy polemic against Windschuttle if such topics don’t bore him, and the reference to Hitchens isn’t just a form of abuse.

Nestor Gorojovsky arrogates to himself, as does Jose P on occasion, the role of self-appointed commissar, expressing “Third World” opinion, from which standpoint he pontificates, at considerable length. Nestor has his own exotic and idiosyncratic version of left Peronism, into which intellectual framework he incorporates everything that happens in the world, and proceeds to lecture the rest of us about the critical importance of this outlook to everything in the universe, and how backward we all are if we don ‘t immediately recognise the importance of his ideological construct.

Nestor’s gratuitous abuse directed at Willms, telling him to keep his mouth shut and only open it to oppose German imperialism in Iraq, is breathtaking. The implication that Willms, who I don’t really know from the proverbial bar of soap, is not involved in anti-imperialist activities in his country of residence is gratuitously offensive in the extreme. I’ll bet London to the proverbial brick that Comrade Lueko, who I deduce from previous posts of his may well be a supporter of the Usec, is active in his own country, as many of us are.

Nestor’s offensive demeanour is just an intimidating Third-Worldist device to attempt to silence opposition to his very problematic political positions. Really vintage Nestor is the his denunciation of Willms for insensitive commentary from the imperialist metropolis, because of Willms’ hostile attitude to the bloodstained General Galtieri.

Nestor then goes on to denounce just about the whole of the Argentine left for having the same outlook on Galtieri as Willms. This piece of hypocrisy by Nestor underlines Fred Feldman’s point that this posturing by Nestor, Jose P and others in claiming that activists in imperialist countries should only exercise solidarity with movements in the Third World, without expressing their own views, is actually a sly device to disguise the fact that Jose and company, themselves, impose their own political program on developments in the Third World, in this case, Iraq.

In the thundering Jose P intellectual universe, you are only allowed to comment on developments in Iraq if you make a prior commitment to acceptance of his undifferentiated Third Worldist construction about developments in Iraq.

This way of proceeding intellectually bears a striking resemblance to evangelical Protestant Christians’ view of theological matters, and the role of the Bible in Christian revelation. Evangelicals insist that the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the inspired word of God, not to be questioned. They treat this “revealed truth” as internally self-referential, and then slyly introduce themselves as the proper interpreters of this revelation. From that point on, they slip easily between the ostensible revealed truth and their own role as the sole legitimate interpreters of this truth. They evade the point made by sceptics, agnostics, atheists and alternative religionists, who point to the circular, self-referential aspect of the behaviour of the evangelicals towards their “revelation”.

Jose and his school use a very similar methodology in their approach to revolutionary processes in the Third World. They pay general obeisance to an undefined revelation called the revolutionary process, or anti-imperialism, in this case the “Iraqi resistance”, and firmly plonk themselves in the role of the only orthodox and licenced interpreters of this process, proceeding from that point exactly like my evangelical Christian neighbours across the road. (My bookshop is located opposite Moore Theological College, the intellectual powerhouse of Protestant evangelical Christianity in the southern hemisphere. I have many congenial arguments in the shop with these Bible Christians, without either of us having much success in undermining the others’ beliefs.)

I describe Jose and his school’s methodology sharply because it is clearly a kind of intellectual trick to strengthen his hand in arguments with Marxists who don’t automatically accept his views. Where it becomes seriously irritating is the point at which Jose and others go over the edge from this intellectual trickery to the inevitable next stage, which they seem to have in common with my Evangelical god-bothering neighbours, abusing, cursing and thundering down imprecations on the heads of unrepentant non-believers like myself. This abusive phase is part of an attempt to intellectually intimidate waverers.

Enough of self-defence. It’s getting boring. At this point I think it useful to summarise my political position on Iraq. The first thing I must say is that there are elements of contradiction in my position, which Perez and Paulsen immediately jump on to condemn me and justify their own political monomanias.

To me it seems entirely normal, from a Marxist point of view, to sometimes have some elements of necessary contradiction in one’s political position. Contradiction is one of the main features of the material world for Marxists. Political positions Marxists hold often have necessary contradictory elements that flow from different elements and necessities in the material world.

I’m deeply suspicious, after a long life of socialist political activity, of allegedly Marxist monomanias that don’t incorporate or even acknowledge elements of contradiction that flow from different circumstances and situations in the material world.

A primary political necessity for socialists and Marxists is to strenuously oppose the US imperialist invasion of Iraq. This is despite the obvious and longstanding and vicious features of the reactionary regime of Saddam Hussein. Along with millions of others, who equally loathed the regime in Iraq, I opposed and still oppose the imperialist invasion.

It is now necessary to campaign vigorously in all countries for the immediate withdrawal of all imperialist troops from Iraq. This is particularly the task in imperialist countries like Australia, which have troops in Iraq.

Nevertheless, despite the reactionary means of its removal, the fall of the hated Hussein regime was a good thing from the point of view of the majority of the Iraqi masses. The presence in Iraq, however, of the imperialist occupying forces is a very bad thing, which now is clearly recognised by the majority Shiite community, and their leaders, who were the group initially most enthusiastic about the fall of the Saddam regime.

As socialists and anti-imperialists in imperialist countries, we have an obligation of solidarity with all the masses in Iraq struggling for their independence from imperialism, for the withdrawal of the imperialist troops, and for a better future. We also have a powerful obligation of proletarian solidarity with the majority of Iraqis who are struggling for the removal of the remnants of the oppressive Baathist regime, and against its restoration. We also have an obligation of solidarity with socialist and secular forces in Iraq who are battling, on the ground, in fairly difficult circumstances, against ultra-Islamicist Wahabi jihadist forces who want to impose their reactionary political and religious notions on the Iraqi masses.

There are obviously elements of contradiction in all these requirements of solidarity, all of which have some validity. These elements of contradiction flow from the situation itself.

In making solidarity concrete, we need first of all to have an accurate picture of the forces and circumstances actually at work in Iraq and amongst the Iraqi masses.

Any halfway serious Marxist ought to make a serious attempt to comprehend the present situation in Iraq in a materialist way.

I submit that Iraq ought to be comprehended in the following way.

  • By and large the Kurds, currently led by bourgeois nationalist organisations, have effective control of Kirkuk and some influence in Mosul. They are in an uneasy tactical alliance with the US occupiers, and are busily putting out of business any Baathist remnants in their areas of control. There are nearly five million Kurds, with some Arabs and other minorities in the Kurdish areas.
  • The Shiites, about 15 million people, are the overwhelming majority in the south of the country and in part of Baghdad. They look in large part to certain religious leaders, some of whom are in conflict with each other. Initially, both the Shiite masses and their leaders more or less acquiesced in the imperialist invasion, as it was associated with the removal of the hated Baathist regime. Their main preoccupation was their loathing of the Baathist regime, as it had killed very many Shiites. Nevertheless, even from the start of the invasion they took a generally strong stand for swift removal of the occupying power.Some sections of the Shiite leadership lean towards a Shiite theocratic Muslim state, although not one as extreme as that desired by Wahabi jihadist Sunni Islamic fundamentalists. In the Shiite areas the masses have been busy settling accounts with the remnants of the Baathist state, and many of the worst Baathist torturers and Baathist leaders have been killed, immobilised, particularly in the period since the terrorist attack on the Shiite holy place in Najaf.

    By and large the 15 million Shiite majority hasn’t been engaged in military conflict with the occupation troops, although many of the Shiites are now armed. At the mass funeral for the recently murdered Shiite imam, which took on a political character, the speakers made three general political demands: for the punishment of the Baathist remnants, for the right to police their own areas, and for the withdrawal of the occupation troops from Iraq. An enormous banner was displayed at the entrance to the final funeral rally, which read Punishing the Baathists is a religious duty.

    The Economist of September 6-12, 2003, reports beneath a photo of the enormous procession:

    “Before they joined the funeral procession of their leader, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim, the Shia cleric who was killed, along with more than 100 others, on August 29th, militiamen from his Badr Brigade went hunting Baathists in the back streets of Najaf. A dozen suspects were captured in a shooting match outside the home of the alleged leader of Najaf’s Baathist underground, Karim Ghaith. Three men were killed. Mr Graith himself was captured, and his four-storey villa torched. The militiamen then launched a dozen more raids, before they went off to police the funeral with banners declaring that the life of their leader would be avenged in Baathist blood.”

    In the Shiite areas there is also an energetic, secular socialist minority spearheaded by the militants of the Workers Communist Party, who have managed, by vigorous self-defence, to open some offices in Shiite areas and hold those offices against assaults by fundamentalists. These secular socialist Shiites are engaged in energetic working-class organising of the class struggle sort.

  • In the Sunni majority area, part of Baghdad and north, inhabited by about five million Sunni Muslims and the majority of the million non-Muslims in Iraq, there is a situation of considerable conflict. The majority of the million non-Muslims are discretely collaborating with the imperialist occupation forces.There is a concentrated organising effort in Baghdad and in some other cities by the Workers Communist Party to organise trade unions and workers committees, and to defeat the Baathist remnants in the trade unions and overthrow them, with, on the face of it, some success

    Obviously there is an implicit contradiction between campaigning to remove Baathist remnants in the trade unions and forming a military alliance with Baathist remnants, in an immediate military assault on the imperialist occupation troops.

It seems to me there is a tactical difference about the timing of a military conflict with the imperialist occupiers and a conflict of objectives, because the Baathist remnants are clearly struggling for a restoration of the Baathist regime.

Parallel with these circumstances, there is some legitimate military resistance to the occupation by ordinary people in the Sunni areas, particularly some Sunni tribal areas.

There are also some vicious terrorist activities, pretty obviously by Baathist remnants, and/or Wahabi jihadist Sunni Islamic fundamentalists (or even bourgeois provocateurs), such as the destruction of electricity and water infrastructure to Baghdad, the assassination of the civilians in the UN compound, and the assassination of the Shiite Imam and part of his flock.

What Jose P describes, and insists that we all describe, as the “Iraqi Resistance”, is actually the combination of the legitimate military resistance of some of the Sunni population to the occupiers, and the indiscriminate terrorism of the Baathist remnants and some reactionary Islamicists, which is not supportable by any reasonable proletarian socialist yardstick. The terrorism of the Baathists and Wahibists is hated and rejected by the overwhelming majority of the population of Iraq.

There are therefore sharp elements of contradiction arising from the objective conditions in Iraq, and socialists in imperialist countries must take these into account in working out a position. The linguistic trick of Jose P and others in lumping together all elements of violent conflict with the imperialist occupiers and with anyone else, including some of the Iraqi masses, as acts of the “Iraqi Resistance”, has thoroughly reactionary consequences.

The necessary contradiction in taking a stand in relation to these developments, which in fact Jose P and company insist we do by the way they define the ground rules, is a difficult one. The secular socialist forces, with whom as socialists we have a primary and basic obligation of solidarity, are in practical day-to-day conflict with the Islamicists and Baathists, for the practical space to develop the workers’ movement in the country, and even for their own physical survival. The Shiite majority, the Kurds, the non-Muslim million, and the secular socialist Sunnis are in the sharpest possible conflict with the Baathist remnants and the Wahibi jihadist Islamicists.

I resolve this conflict in a political way by taking a position that may appear contradictory to the monomaniac anti-imperialist Jose P. I solidarise with the demand raised by most of the forces in Iraq for the immediate withdrawal of the imperialist troops. I also solidarise with the demand of the Shiites, the Kurds, the non-Muslims and the secular socialist minority of the Sunnis for the liquidation of the remnants of the Baathist state.

For instance, I support the battle of the Workers Communist Party and the significant section of the masses they currently lead, to overthrow the bureaucratic Baathist remnants in the trade unions. It flows from this that I agree with the more or less explicit attitude of the secular socialists in the Sunni areas, the Shiite majority and the Kurds, that at this stage it’s not appropriate to have a mainly military conflict with the occupiers.

However, insofar as, despite the views of a large part of the Sunni masses led by the secular socialists, some Sunni militants take up a military option against the occupiers at this stage, I don’t condemn that. I do, however, condemn the terrorism of the Baathist remnants and the Wahabi jihadist Islamicists and in that condemnation I take my cue from the overwhelming majority of the Shiites, the Kurds and a large section of the Sunni population. If Jose P and company say that I’m a scab for that point of view, they are implicitly indicting for scabbery, the Shiite majority, the Kurds and the secular socialists of the Workers Communist Party in the Sunni areas.

Such an indictment seems to me the height of left-talking Orientalist arrogance, by people like Jose P and company, who live, like I do, in imperialist countries. It’s impossible to practice the generalised solidarity with what he calls the “Iraqi Resistance” demanded by Perez without violating the rights of the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi population and the quite intense moral obligation on Marxists in the West for solidarity with their secular socialist brothers and sisters in Iraq in their struggle to establish an effective workers’ movement in Iraq.

The seemingly contradictory elements in my slogans on these questions flow directly from the material contradictions in the real political circumstances on the ground in Iraq. Both Jose P and Lou Paulsen then extend their petty linguistic device from what I actually say to their imputation as to where they say my slogans will lead me, which is even more politically dishonest.

In their stand on the Iraq developments, in which they mentally manufacture a presently existing generalised military uprising against imperialism (which does not exist), Paulsen, Jose P and company fail to recognise the contradictions in their position, which precludes any serious proletarian or socialist internationalism with the forces struggling to re-establish a workers’ movement in Iraq. In practice, they advocate indiscriminate support for all elements of an “Iraqi Resistance”, some parts of which are busily trying to exterminate my Iraqi socialist brothers and sisters, and the Baathist part of which did exterminate some of my socialist brothers and sisters in the past.

I witnessed a very significant revolutionary leader, Gerry Healy and his organisation go down that path with the Iraqi Baathists once, and this led me, among other issues, to separate myself very definitely from Healy’s organisation. I’m determined to make a very loud noise against anyone in the socialist movement, like Jose P, who seems hell-bent on repeating Healy’s mistakes concering the Baathists. History the second time around can be very dangerous farce.

One argument advanced by Perez and his supporters, as they are pushed into a corner, will inevitably be: maybe the Iraqi resistance is a small minority now, but it will get bigger. I submit that in the form that he and his mates envisage it, of a united front between Baathist remnants, socialist forces, Sunni Islamicists, Shiite Islamicists, and even Kurds, that kind of generalised Iraqi united front resistance is inherently unlikely. The Kurds, the non-Muslims, the Shiites, the Turcomans and the secular Sunnis won’t have a bar of the Baathists, who are really quite isolated. The Shiites, the Kurds, the Turcomans, the non-Muslims and the secular Sunnis won’t have a bar of the Wahabi jihadist Sunii Islamicists either.

One real current danger in Iraq is the possibility of a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis, and between Kurds and Arab Sunnis. The criminal assassination of the Shiite Imam and many of his congregation was obviously intended to precipitate such a civil war, but happily it hasn’t developed. What did develop was a substantial problem for imperialism, in that the Shiites rapidly produced their own armed militias, which the imperialist occupiers are now busily trying to disarm. In general, socialists should support the right of the Shiite community to have its own militias, but we should also support the struggle of secular Shiites against the imposition of a more moderate Shiite fundamentalist set-up on the Iraqi masses.

Despite all the problems obviously inherent in the situation, the imperative of anti-imperialism dictate the necessity for fighting for the immediate withdrawal of imperialist troops from Iraq despite some dangers inherent in the situation. In conditions of that withdrawal, if it’s achieved, we should exert ourselves for the maximum solidarity with the secular socialist labour movement forces in the country, hoping that they can stake out substantial political territory by mobilising the masses on a class basis.

The alternative schema proposed by Pose P and company, is solidarity with evey aspect of what they say is the Iraqi resistance, including its Baathist and Wahabi jihadist Islamicist aspects, which are actually directed against the masses in Iraq. This nasty left Orientalist schema is really only possible for leftists and liberals in imperialist countries and of no use at all to secular socialist forces in Islamic countries, who view the world differently based on real material conflicts in the world in which they inevitably have to live, work and campaign for socialist outcomes.

Jose P insults anti-imperialist Cuba

Jose P and company are forced to note the condemnation by the Cuban authorities of the terror bombing of the UN compound, but they try to reduce it to some kind of petty diplomacy. As the bloke on Marxmail, who has just paid tribute to the combination of principle and diplomatic skill displayed over many years by the Cuban regime in relation to imperialist pressure, points out, with the Cubans, what you see is what you get. There’s no evidence at all that the stated position of the Cubans on these questions is petty diplomacy. Over many years, they have condemned actions such as the bombing of the UN compound.

In the Cubans’ long battle for survival in an imperialist world they have usually made the kind of distinctions made by Trotsky in Their Morals and Ours, although of course they don’t quote Trotsky. They just use a similar method. The reason they generally condemn indiscriminate terrorism, while it may have a diplomatic aspect, is primarily political. They clearly want to indicate to the masses of the world that there are other ways of defeating imperialism, and they are correct in this.

In my view, it is impermissible for serious Marxists in imperialist countries not to try to make the kind of distinctions that the Cubans make. It is necessary to place one’s main emphasis on opposing imperialism and all its works in imperialist countries, from which flows the need for absolute intransigence in support of the immediate withdrawal of imperialist troops from Iraq. Nevertheless, it is also necessary for socialists to take a strong stand in support of secular workers and socialist forces in Iraq and other similar countries. The advanced workers and intellectuals, and anti-imperialists in many countries, of whom there are now millions, are by and large very serious people. They are also, by and large, not idiots. They expect serious discussion of serious questions.

One of the things that drives me in expressing my views on this general topic is that it is second nature to me, in such situations, to consult as widely as I can among people and socialist activists, if they exist, from the countries affected. One of the things that drove me to my views on the Timor question was the fact that I know dozens of Timorese, and I never found any who opposed the UN intervention in Timor. (Obviously, such considerations are not the whole story, but one at least ought to take note of them in formulating one’s principled position on the question.)

A similar thing prevails in relation to the Middle East and Iraq. I know many, many people from the Middle East and many, many people from Iraq. None of the several dozen people I know from Iraq, particularly the socialist or working class activists, share the leftist Orientalist indulgence of Jose P and his school towards either the Baathist regime or the Wahabi jihadist Sunni fundamentalists.

All the above notwithstanding, it is obviously necessary for socialists in imperialist countries to make the maximum use of the quagmire into which imperialism has got itself through its vicious invasion of Iraq to build the movement for the immediate withdrawal of imperialist troops from Iraq.

The necessity is both to take the maximum propaganda advantage against imperialism, from Iraqi developments, but also to defend the rights and interests of the Iraqi masses, including the rights and interests of the Iraqi working class and the secular socialist forces in Iraq.

Responses on Iraq

September 10, 2003

First of all, I’m in solidarity with Louis against the dingbat who moralises, in a stupid way, about some alleged “conflict of interest” in the way Louis runs Marxmail. Louis’s approach to his list is generally courteous and sensible, and his gritted-teeth, but careful toleration of the presence on the list of my viewpoint, with which he clearly disagrees in part, is a kind of demonstration of his approach, which impresses me as realistic but not naïve. I don’t want to overstate this point because I obviously test Louis’s tolerance from time to time. His critic’s attempt to invent some kind of “conflict of interest” is just petty bourgeois shit-stirring, in my opinion.

Louis Proyect. Having said this, I wish to take up Louis Proyect’s suggestion that I’m acting like Trosky in Coyoacan, making pronouncements on different matters. Surely the mote is in your own eye, Louis, so to speak. By the very act of sharp political discussion on disputed questions, we all, in a sense, make pronouncements.

Drawing attention to this fact was the point of my attempt at humour about evangelical Christians and their approach to the Bible. Surely Louis, when you attack me for making pronouncements, and the implicit assumption is your own generalised theoretical construction, you are actually engaged in the You, Me, His or Her, kind of word game we are all familiar with. Or are you really implying that prior agreement with your particular construction about imperialism is a pre-condition for discussion on your list.

Louis attacks me because I don’t speak Arabic or Kurdish but I dare to make pronouncements about Iraq. Unless I’m mistaken, neither does he have those language skills, unless he is being very modest. His aggressive “such pronunciamentos on a country whose language you don’t speak and about which you know very little outside the bourgeois press” is insulting. In fact, insofar as it has any truth in it, it applies much more to Louis, Jose and Nestor, for reasons I will set out below.

We both select from the many sources of information available to us, including bourgeois right-wing, bourgeois liberal and socialist media. Louis reacts very snakily to my drawing attention to the website of the Workers Communist Party of Iraq, and singles out from its site a short passage which, in your view, indicates their lack of understanding of the importance of nationalism.

I don’t have entire political agreement with every dot and comma of their political approach, either, but I’m powerfully struck by the fact that, unless all the material on their website is invented (for which there is no evidence), they appear to have had a great deal of success on the ground in the difficult conditions of Iraq in organising a working class, secular socialist agitation among the masses.

As a Marxist, the success or otherwise of that sort of enterprise seems to me of the utmost importance, and as socialists we should at least study the success or otherwise of such an attempt, with a certain objectivity.

In other spheres, Louis, you quite correctly point out that we should not regard doctrinal differences as the whole story, but you suddenly elevate a doctrinal difference with the Workers Communist Party of Iraq over any investigation of what they actually do in their mass agitation inside Iraq to the point that you say you are not going to give them any publicity. That seems to me a bit unfortunate, although I won’t turn it into an absurdity by accusing you of thinking you are Trotsky in Coyoacan making pronouncements.

While it’s quite true that I’m a pretty monolingual English speaker, I have one very distinct advantage here in Australia in formulating a view about what is really happening in Iraq. There are some thousands of relatively recent refugees from Iraq living in Australia and I have come into contact with a number of them through the campaign in this country in defence of refugees. In addition to this, I’m on good terms with a number of former and present ISO members who have been particularly active in the refugee agitation.

Several of these comrades, who know literally hundreds of Iraqi refugees, spent last weekend with more than 300 of them in Canberra (half a day’s travel from Sydney), in a demonstration cum lobby for the right of permanent residence in Australia, to replace the rotten bridging visas.

I questioned my refugee activist ISO and ex-ISO friends, who share Louis’s attitude to the political questions in Iraq, about the attitude to the Baathists among the Iraqi refugees. They laughed and said that enthusiasm and relief at the fall of the Hussein regime was almost universal among those Iraqi refugees, who are overwhelmingly Shiites.

This is a realistic recognition by these comrades of the political reality among the Iraqi refugees they work with, and they have the good sense and honesty to make such assessments independently of their own political positions. The substantial view that I have formed from the quite large number of Iraqis I know personally, is similar. Most Iraqi refugees in Australia are in constant contact with their families at home, so these circumstances provide a reasonable insight into the attitude of the Iraqi masses. Hostility to the Saddam regime and to the Baathists is universal in Iraq outside the Sunni areas, and it’s fairly widespread also in the Sunni areas.

(At this point, I want to ask a question of Louis. You keep referring, with great venom, to someone called Doug Henwood, and you keep equating me with him. In some respects, I’m just a hick stuck in a far-flung place, and I only seriously started surfing the web less than a year ago. I’m genuinely not entirely clear about the history of your conflicts with this Henwood bloke, and I noticed this morning some reference to you having been removed from the Socialist Register site, and then somebody else on the Socialist Register site disputing that. Both on your site and the Socialist Register site, everybody seems to get worked up about someone called Leo Casey. I would genuinely like it if you would make some kind of clipped summary of these past conflicts and disputes so that I can get some idea of how the intense hysteria that my Marxist views seem to generate, fit into the history of these past issues, about which I know very little.

This is a genuine question, although it might appear a little naïve from an old political hand like myself. It would be useful to me to have some detailed understanding of the context of the buttons I seem to press. It is true that I quite deliberately throw into the ring questions like the significance of democratic demands in different countries and situations, but I do that in the expectation of starting a more or less political discussion on those fairly important questions. I’m a bit bemused, sometimes, when those questions are not taken up very directly, but I get these lunatic arguments ad hominem implying that I’m a sinner because my views appear similar to some other bete noir of yourself and Jose etc. Please enlighten me!)

Anthony: Someone called Anthony makes the usual philistine assertion that he doesn’t bother reading what I write, but he has obviously gone through it with a fine-tooth comb to single out a few phrases he can attack. He says: “the military defeat of Iraqi Baathism by US imperialism was not a victory of any sort for the people of Iraq, even if every single one of them hated Hussein”.

He then accuses me of pseudo-dialectics. There’s no dialectics at all in his approach. He is forced to implicitly recognise the reality that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis loathe the Baathists, but in his schema it would not matter if they all did. (He actually puts that into words.) To any Marxist, however, the attitude of the masses is surely one of the major factors in the situation, and it is real dialectics, not pseudo-dialectics, to factor in the point of view of the masses to the formulation of one’s political position. After all, Lenin didn’t say: “We need complete, truthful information. And the truth should not depend on whom it is to serve.”

It’s worth reminding Louis, as well, that he quantifies the number of civilian casualties from the imperialist invasion at 7000, which is probably a reasonable approximation, to which you must of course add some thousands of Iraqi military casualties. It’s a fact, however, that several hundred thousand Iraqis have been killed over the last 20 years by the Baathist regime. It’s reasonable to assume that the relatives of people actually killed by the Baathist regime, in events like the repression of the Kurds and the Shiites after the rebellions in 1991, vastly outnumber the relatives of people killed in the recent imperialist assault and invasion.

It is, of course, also true that very many Iraqis are bitter and angry about children who have died because of the imperialist blockade. Nevertheless, all investigations that I’ve made among Iraqis, which are reasonably extensive, suggest that many more Iraqis directly ascribe the death of a relative to the Baathist regime than to any other cause or event. This is a material circumstance that underpins the current attitude of great hostility by the overwhelming majority of Iraqis to the Baathists. This is a tangible, material circumstance, and can’t be washed away be rhetoric.

All my critics seize on my assertion that the fall of the Saddam regime, despite the reactionary means of its removal, was and is a good thing from the point of view of the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi population. I reassert that proposition here.

Despite the vicious and reactionary character of the Saddam regime, like hundreds of thousands of others I campaigned energetically, against the US imperialist invasion, without prejudice to my right to oppose the reactionary regime of Saddam Hussein. Because of my knowledge of its reactionary character, I wasn’t surprised that the regime collapsed relatively quickly. The means of the overthrow of the reactionary Baathist state were totally reactionary, so in my view its disappearance had a contradictory character.

The military victory of US imperialism was a bad thing because it strengthened the global hegemony of US imperialism. On the other hand, the dismantling of the reactionary Baathist state and regime was an event viewed by the overwhelming majority of Iraqis with relief. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis have strong nationalist sentiments, which make them desire the prompt withdrawal of US imperialist troops, but they have profound material reasons for bitterly opposing any restoration of the reactionary Baathist state, which oppressed them in such concrete and brutal ways. Both these factors have powerful material force, which any serious Marxist analysis must incorporate.

This analysis leads me to fairly concrete slogans:

  • Re-establish a labour movement in Iraq.
  • Political freedom in Iraq.
  • The right to organise in Iraq.
  • The abolition of censorship in Iraq.
  • Religious freedom in Iraq.
  • An immediate elected constituent assembly in Iraq.
  • Recognise the popular militias thrown up by the different communities in Iraq.
  • Seize back the oil industry from US imperialism and renationalise it.
  • Support the referendum in the Kurdish region for autonomy and independence.
  • Immediate withdrawal of all imperialist troops from Iraq.

My notion of he immediate necessities in Iraq leads me particularly to feel strong solidarity with secular socialist groups as the Workers Communist Party, which is battling on the ground for a significant part of those slogans.

(I am currently involved, in Australia, and in my own bourgeois global city, Sydney, in campaigning in the antiwar movement and the labour movement for the immediate withdrawal of imperialist troops from Iraq. Currently I’m engaged, along with others, in preparing demonstrations against the visit of the imperialist chieftain, George Bush, to Australia, which is imminent.

This slightly overweight, reasonably healthy 66-year-old will be up to his ears, as usual, in all the demonstrations against the visit of Bush, and I’m involved in the tedious but necessary committee work, agreeing on slogans and organisational arrangements. You all know the routine.)

For serious Marxists, it is necessary to describe the world as it really is. “Facts are stubborn things” (whoever may have said that first). The destruction of the counter-revolutionary, tyrannical and murderous bourgeois state of Saddam Hussein was a good thing from the point of view of the Iraqi masses, and from a Marxist point of view it is insane to imply that its restoration would be a good thing. A struggle for the restoration of the Baathist regime is clearly implied in the model put forward by Jose P and the other Thunderers, in which they treat the vicious terrorist remnants of the Baathist secret police and state apparatus as the central part of some putative “National Resistance”.

An additional problem with this approach is that it collides headlong with the actual demands and desires of the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi population. The Shiite majority is busily liquidating the Baathist remnants and creating its own militias etc. You can’t realistically demand that the imperialist occupier cede power to the Shiite militias in the Shiite areas (a mass demand raised by the Shiites, which I support) and try to build a “National Resistance” around the remnants of the Baathist state.

Such a combination is obviously impossible. A similar situation applies in Kurdistan. The well-organised militias of the two Kurdish bourgeois nationalist parties are also busily liquidating the Baathist remnants. They are also busily strengthening their hand militarily to prepare for a likely military conflict with their old enemy, the Turkish state.

This conflict is a big problem for US imperialism too. It’s very difficult for the US imperialists to satisfy their strategic necessity of being on good terms both with the Kurdish nationalists and the Turkish state. Those difficulties faced by US imperialism in Kurdistan, are also, in my cosmology, a good thing, even if this simple terminology offends some on this list.

In the area inhabited by the Sunni Arab five million minority in Iraq, and some others, a complex and contradictory situation is developing. There are secular socialist and working class forces like the Workers Communist Party and others, struggling to re-establish a labour movement in Iraq. From a Marxist point of view I regard this struggle, directed at the working class, as of the utmost importance.

There is also a certain amount of military conflict between some sections of the Sunni masses and the military forces of the imperialist occupier. I have strong emotional sympathy with ordinary Iraqis who are in any straightforward military conflict with imperialist occupying troops. Nevertheless, I’m inclined towards the view obviously held by the Workers Communist Party, the mass of Shiites, and the mass of Kurds, for instance, that an extended, primarily military clash, with the imperialist occupiers is tactically unwise at this point. (Marxists with any historical sense ought to carefully consider the attitude of Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks during the July days, in the run-up to the October Revolution.)

There is also some indiscriminate terrorist activity clearly perpetrated by remnants of the Baathist state or by Wahabi fundamentalist elements. This category includes the bombing of the water supply and the electricity for Baghdad, the assassination of the Shiite imam and some of his congregation and the attack on the civilians in the UN compound. All my research among the varied Iraqis I know of in Sydney, who talk to their relatives back home, suggests that this terrorist activity is extremely unpopular, even among the Sunni minority, and is deeply hated by the Shiite and Kurdish majority.

Anyone who disputes this description of the circumstances currently prevailing in Iraq should provide a detailed description of their own, if they are to be taken at all seriously. General abusive rhetoric about the importance of the “Iraqi resistance” is not an adequate substitute for a proper description and analysis, from a Marxist point of view. The most extreme response to my views is the recent response from Junaid Alam, who leaps from being an extremely junior Thunderer to a very loud, abusive and politically revealing one. He gets very worked up about cocks, rape and pregnancy etc. Some of his paragraphs are very revealing. He says:

“Certainly not all the lines are drawn clearly. They rarely ever are. But if Bob is looking for helmeted workers carrying shovels and hoes to be spearheading the resistance, or maybe some more “civilized” suit-and-tie hipster with three or four girlfriends, to be the main force against occupation, he has his sense of history and geography all mixed up.”

Then, further on:

“Therefore, the goal of all revolutionary forces is to make maximum use of the backlash and all-sided consequences of this venture as a weapon to beat back reaction. Gould acts like those pipelines or water plants are divine wellsprings of wealth bequeathed by polite civil society; I think Arabs can build their own water plants without the attendant 150,000 Anglo-American troop presence and foreign corporations profiteering from them.”

Comrade Alam’s contribution is a very crude and confused expression of anti-working-class and even anti-modern “anti-imperialist” hysteria directed at the masses in Iraq from someone currently living in an imperialist country.

The problem with this view is that the Iraqi masses clearly contain within them a number of contradictory elements, social forces, desires and interests. It’s all very well for Alam to make a weird voluntarist assertion about the capacity of Arabs to build new water plants, but the Iraqi masses are very hostile indeed — to the point of killing them if they catch them — against people who blow up water plants that serve millions of people in the middle of an oppressive Iraqi summer.

Alam’s hostility to the existing Iraqi working-class, who are exploiting the situation after the fall of the Baathist regime to re-establish a workers’ movement, is pretty clear. Gould did not invent the oil workers in Kirkuk and the workers in Baghdad and other places who are responding to the initiatives of the Workers Communist Party, but obviously Alam doesn’t think much of such workers.

It’s pretty clear, also, that the majority of the Iraqi masses want the imperialist troops out of Iraq forthwith, but a large majority of the Iraqi masses seem to be hesitant about immediately commencing an unequal military struggle against those occupiers.

Most of the Iraqi masses seem initially to want to explore removing the imperialist occupiers by agitation and political pressure before necessarily taking up a military struggle. The rhetoric of Junaid Alam and Jose P, is based on a fevered left Orientalist schema, directed, ostensibly at Gould’s grizzled head, but in reality at the Iraqi masses, because they don’t measure up to the needs of this nutty, un-Marxist schema.

Jose Perez, a master craftsman of the this-is-where-your-views-will-lead-you school of polemic, asserts that the contradictions in my position will, as he puts it, “explode”. They haven’t yet, and in my view, the contradictions and the evasions of reality in his viewpoint, are what will explode, and quite soon.

As a general point about polemical procedure, I would suggest the following. My point has something in common with Robin Maisel’s point about the difference between internal discussion in the US SWP, and public documents, which are meant as the comprehensive statements, the demands and the propositions that reflect the whole of the discussion. It is, in general, a much better polemical procedure to base your arguments on what the other person, in this case, Gould, actually says, rather than your own rather biased notions of where, in your view, his stated political positions may lead him.

Fred Feldman and Robin Maisel, (who apparently have some personal differences, to the point that, in a jocular way, Fred Feldman talks about possible libel writs) make criticisms of my point of view, which are of an altogether different character to those of Louis, Jose, etc.

They raise political arguments about the possible implications of some of my views, and they contest some of my facts and conclusions in a sensible and relatively fraternal way. I regard the way both those comrades take me up, as entirely reasonable, and they raise some serious questions. A response to their serious questions requires careful thought and preparation on my part, and I will return to the issues that they raise in another post.

See also: Jose the Thunderer, Thundering Jose



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