Iraq: Support the resistance?

November 17, 1993

Riki Lane

Most of the left argues that our prime task is to "support the Iraqi national resistance". Socialist Alliance (SA) and its two largest affiliates, the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) and the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), characterise the armed resistance as a national liberation movement.

Workers Liberty and the Worker Communist Party of Iraq, also affiliates of the alliance, disagree with that assessment, seeing the main Baathist and Islamist forces as playing no progressive role. This article does not examine that argument, but looks at what sort of support for the resistance should flow from SA's analysis.

In the non-Stalinist left traditions, there are different sorts of support for forces fighting imperialist occupation — often referred to as "military" versus "political" support, or "unconditional" versus "uncritical" support. What sort of support is given depends on the assessment of the nature of those forces. Where they are leading a progressive struggle for national self-determination, but only to establish the rule of the local capitalists or a bureaucratic elite, the support is military and unconditional, but in no way political or uncritical.

The guiding light is the interests of the international working class and the development of the forces that can make socialist revolution. For example, in the Vietnam war, the predecessors of the DSP and the ISO were energetically in favour of the victory of the Vietnamese communists over the US invaders, but were extremely critical of their goal to establish what was seen respectively as a post-capitalist state run by an anti-working class bureaucracy or a state capitalist regime. The Vietnamese CP's slaughter of the Vietnamese Trotskyists is often mentioned in this context.

The IS current defended the Cuban revolution against the US, but criticised the leadership for establishing a state-capitalist regime — unconditional, but not political support. The DSP current characterised the Castro leadership as revolutionary and thus gave it political support.

In Iraq today, the attitude seems strangely different. Neither the ISO nor the DSP support the politics of the Iraqi resistance, yet it is hard to find a word of criticism in public from either. This is essentially uncritical support, which by default implies political support. Three articles in GLW #591 are instructive.

Doug Lorimer, who is a member of the DSP, reported that Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army now controls Sadr City in Baghdad. This is presented as a victory for the movement against the US occupation. Lorimer has previously (GLW #589) quoted Al Sadr with approval, pledging to "continue resisting 'oppression and occupation'". Al Sadr is on the record as advocating extreme restrictions on women and the murder of leftists and unionists. Lorimer does not make a single criticism of these politics — by default, he gives the Mahdi Army political support as a progressive force.

The US occupiers have changed tactics, aiming to incorporate militias into the state apparatus. Every indication is that most of the militia will drop their call for the US to leave if they get a piece of the action.

Adam Bonner, in a letter to the editor (GLW #591), takes uncritical support to its logical conclusion. He argues that "foreign fighters can bring much needed expertise and firepower" and despite their "ideological religious cause" they should be supported because "an enemy's enemy is a friend in such desperate times". Channels need to be established to get financial aid to the fighters.

This is quite bizarre. There exists the germ of a labour movement in Iraq that cuts across the national, ethnic, tribal and religious divisions that weaken the working-class and progressive movement. While the Islamists have plenty of money from their rich mates in Saudi Arabia and Iran and the ex-Baathists have their loot stolen from the Iraqi treasury, labour movement activists work on a shoestring in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions. The left needs to raise funds for the labour movement, not the armed resistance.

A welcome break from this approach is the interview with Azad Arman (GLW #591), an Iraqi Kurdish ISO member who recently visited Northern Iraq. Arman argues the same general position as the ISO and DSP, believing it is "necessary to support those fighting", but "is critical of some of their tactics, such as bombings in public places". This is the first time I have seen such explicit criticism in GLW (other than in one article by a WCPI member).

It is no surprise to read this from a recent visitor to Iraq, as these sort of tactics can hardly be popular with working-class people, even amongst those who support armed resistance. The bombings outside recruiting centres for the Iraqi police etc have routinely killed and wounded dozens of bystanders. They create a climate of fear and intimidation where just going shopping is to risk one's life. These conditions have made it even more difficult for the labour movement to organise.

Arman is critical of the WCPI for its propaganda against Islam, noting that while the Islamists are anti-woman, and they have murdered some leftists, the US is the main enemy, not the Islamists. Leftists should not provoke unnecessary clashes with Islamists, but oppose their attacks in a context of organising against capitalism. While I would not agree with all his criticism of the WCPI, this position is much more nuanced than the simple "support the resistance" line usually seen.

His conclusion is that the anti-war movement needs to build solidarity with the Iraqi workers', women's and other progressive movements, as well as campaigning against the US occupation. Neither the ISO nor the DSP have taken this approach, despite some lip service at the 2004 SA national conference. A motion to raise funds for the Unemployed Union of Iraq was carried by the SA National Executive in 2003, but not acted upon because of worries about the UUI's politics. Attempts to set up labour movement committees in solidarity with the Iraqi workers' movement have met with little or no support from the ISO or DSP, although DSP members did participate in an initial meeting in Melbourne.

Arman outlines the central analysis and political tasks that we should all agree on — organise to end the US occupation, while giving no political credence to the reactionary Islamists and Baathists who are the mainstay of the armed resistance; and organise support for the workers' and women's movements.

An Iraq-Australia trade union solidarity group has been established in Sydney, which aims to do publicity and fundraising work for the two main union groups in Iraq. Its aims are similar to the US Labour Against War group. It meets at 7.30pm on the first Tuesday of each month, upstairs at the Gaelic Club in Surry Hills. Email <> for more information. Socialist Alliance needs to support this committee and help initiate similar groups elsewhere.

[Riki Lane is a member of the Socialist Alliance National Executive and a member of Workers Liberty.]

From Green Left Weekly, August 11, 2004.
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