On the new Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran


By Yossi Schwartz and Max Bonham, Internationalist Socialist League (RCIT Section in Israel / Occupied Palestine), 26.12.2017, http://the-isleague.com/ and www.thecommunists.net




1. History of conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia




The history of the rivalry between Iran and Saudia starts at 1980’s after the Islamic Revoltion in Iran, Saudia shored up Iraq as a buffer zone. That split may seem to be a religious one, but it is really a split between two rival powers. Before the Islamic revolution, Iran was ruled by the Shah, and despite its competing oil fields, it was not much of a threat to Saudi Arabia. In the 1980’s, Iran started exporting its revolution to Lebanon and fought Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, and foremost the revolution itself struck fear to the Saudi kings.


Currently, it also manifests itself in Syria and Yemen. Also, Saudi puts pressure on Qatar to join its alliance.


There are of course, differences between Iran and Saudi, mainly that Iran is backed by Russia and Saudia by US, and that the Iranian regime came via a revolution so it has more of support from its people and is therefore in a stronger position.




2. The Saudi drive




The Saudi led drive to unite against Iran, with Donald Trump’s blessing, also has implication for the Palestininas, as pressure is mounting on the PA to sign a “peace” agreement with Israel and join the anti-Iran bandwagon. Trump’s plan is to create a military alliance, spearheaded by Saudis, against Iran.


President Donald Trump’s White House has extended an olive branch towards Riyadh as the new State Department lays out its foreign policy agenda. But this new diplomatic program runs contrary to the KSA’s economic goals. American oil exports, reinstated back in December 2015, counter the effects of OPEC’s landmark agreement to lower bloc-wide output by 1.2 million barrels per day in an effort to alleviate an international supply glut. As a major oil exporter, Russia was invited to participate in the agreement when it was being discussed back in 2016. American exports were still limited to specific destinations back then, and U.S.-based companies had only just begun to secure supply contracts in Asian and European markets. Any threat to the success of the deal from the other side of the Atlantic seemed far-fetched just a year ago. But the tables have turned. Washington doesn’t rely on oil profits to run its nation. Moscow and Riyadh do—and heavily so.” (1)




3. Israel's response




Israel has been making threats against the presence of Iranian military bases in Syria. “We face even greater challenges inside and outside the country, first and foremost to thwart Iran’s attempts to establish itself in Syria .... At the same time, we are determined to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” [Bibi] he told the Knesset.


As well as against Lebanon: “Outlining potential threats in Lebanon, where Israel last fought a war against Hezbollah in 2006, Lieberman said in a speech: “We are no longer talking about Hezbollah alone”.We are talking about Hezbollah and the Lebanese army, and to my regret this is the reality. The Lebanese army has turned into an integral part of Hezbollah’s command structure. The Lebanese army has lost its independence and become an inseparable part of the Hezbollah apparatus,” Lieberman said. He also said: “Israel would not allow an entrenchment of Shi’ite and Iranian forces in Syria. Anyone who doesn’t understand what I mean would do well to try and understand.” Israel must prevent Iran from building bases in Syria at any cost, a former national security adviser who retains influence in the Prime Minister’s Office said this week.


Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror was speaking at a briefing for foreign correspondents organized by the nonprofit group the Israel Project.


The implications of the Iranians building bases in Syria,” Amidror said, is that it creates “launching-pad bases in Syria to Hezbollah and the Iranians. And Israel should prevent it whatever will be the price.”


If that will not be taken into account by the those who are making those arrangements — the Americans, the Russians and others — that might lead the IDF to intervene and destroy every attempt to build infrastructure in Syria,” he continued, referring to the Israel Defense Forces. “We will not let the Iranians and Hezbollah be the forces which will win from the long and very brutal war in Syria and move the focus into Israel.” (2)




4. Theory




Revolutionary Marxists do not relate to all wars in the same way. There are different kinds of wars. There are wars between imperialist states like in the first world war and the second world war, except the Soviet union that was a degenerated workers' state, and not an imperialist state.


There are wars between imperialist states and colonies or semi-colonies, for example the US war in Iraq, or Afghanistan, France in Mali.


There are revolutionary wars. For example the war of France after the French revolution in 1789. The war between Soviet Russia and Poland in 1920.


There are civil wars where one side is a revolutionary like the American civil war in 1861-65 where victory for the North would lead to the emancipation of the slaves. Another clear example is the civil war in Soviet Russia after the revolution in 1917, when on one side were the workers and the poor peasants led by the Bolsheviks; and on the other side were the reactionary whites and the invading imperialists.


As Marxists we do not simply describe the different kinds of wars, but take an active role on the progressive and revolutionary side against the reactionary side. For example, during the American civil war, Marx and Engels supported the North. At that time capitalism was still progressive and the bourgeois mode of production advanced the forces of production and therefore victory for the North meant the end of slavery.


Today, the bourgeois relationships of production are an obstacle to the advance of the forces of production. The so called "advanced states " are imperialist states characterized by monopolies, export of capital in particular financial capital, the super exploitation of the workers and peasants in the colonies and semi-colonies and they compete for the control of the world economy. This leads to imperialist wars either between the Great Powers or between the imperialists and the oppressed people in the colonies and semi-colonies. The imperialists also use the profit they make in the semi-colonies to bribe a layer of the working class – the labor aristocracy – that the bureaucracy of the trade unions and the reformist parties rely on.


In an imperialist war between two imperialists sides like in the WWI, the position of the revolutionary Marxists in each imperialist state is: "our capitalist class and its government is the worse enemy of the workers and oppressed". As Lenin wrote in a polemic against Trotsky at the time Trotsky was still a centrist: "A revolutionary struggle against the war is merely an empty and meaningless exclamation, something at which the heroes of the Second International excel, unless it means revolutionary action against one’s own government even in wartime. One has only to do some thinking in order to understand this. Wartime revolutionary action against one’s own government indubitably means, not only desiring its defeat, but really facilitating such a defeat. ("Discerning reader”: note that this does not mean “blowing up bridges”, organizing unsuccessful strikes in the war industries, and ·in general helping the government defeat the revolutionaries.)” (3)


Or as Rosa Luxemburg wrote If they expect us to murder our French or other foreign brothers, then let us tell them, ‘No, under no circumstances!'” (4)


She also wrote: " 2. The activity of the proletariat of all countries as a class, in peace time ,as in war time, must be geared to the fight against imperialism and war as its supreme goal. Parliamentary and trade union action, like every activity of the workers’ movement, must be subordinated to this aim, so that the proletariat in each country is opposed in the sharpest fashion to its national bourgeoisie, so that the political and spiritual opposition between the two becomes at each moment the main issue, and international solidarity between the workers of all countries is underlined and practiced. 3. The centre of gravity of the organization of the proletariat as a class is the International. The International decides in time of peace the tactics to be adopted by the national Sections on the questions of militarism, colonial policy, commercial policy, the celebration of May Day and, finally, the collective tactic to be followed in the event of war." (5)


Reformists and centrists tend to point out to the political nature of the regime in the other imperialist side in order to justify their support for their "own" capitalist-imperialist class. They turn revolutionary Marxism into an empty shell. Thus, during WWI the German Social Democrats claimed that the British or French imperialists are worse than their own capitalist class' and the British and the French social democrats claimed that the German capitalists are worse than their "own" capitalist class.


Kautsky the official leader of the Second International opposed the revolutionary struggle aginst the German capitalist class and its government, As Lenin wrote :"Kautsky, the leading authority in the Second International, is a most typical and striking example of how a verbal recognition of Marxism has led in practice to its conversion into ‘Struvism’, or into ‘Brentanoism’ [i.e., into a bourgeois-liberal theory recognising the non-revolutionary “class” struggle of the proletariat, which was expressed most clearly by Struve, the Russian writer, and Brentano, the German economist]. Another example is Plekhanov. By means of patent sophistry, Marxism is stripped of its revolutionary living spirit; everything is recognised in Marxism except the revolutionary methods of struggle, the propaganda and preparation of those methods, and the education of the masses in this direction. Kautsky reconciles in an unprincipled way the fundamental idea of social-chauvinism, recognition of defence of the fatherland in the present war, with a diplomatic sham concession to the Lefts—his abstention from voting for war credits, his verbal claim to be in the opposition, etc. Kautsky, who in 1909 wrote a book on the approaching epoch of revolutions and on the connection between war and revolution, Kautsky, who in 1912 signed the Basle Manifesto on taking revolutionary advantage of the impending war, is outdoing himself in justifying and embellishing social-chauvinism and, like Plekhanov, joins the bourgeoisie in ridiculing any thought of revolution and all steps towards the immediate revolutionary struggle." (6)


During WWII that was the continuation of WWI,the reformists - the Social Democrats and the Stalinists, took the side of its own ruling class (to be precise until Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union the Stalinists supported Nazi Germany claiming it was not an imperialist state).


Even the Trotskists after Trotsky death, were confused on this issue. The American SWP during the trial of its leadership pointed out to Germany as the worse enemy of the working class, and the French Trotskyists had some tendecies to either avoided the struggle against the German occupation or to tail the call to restore France independence, while it was an imperialist state, instead of connecting the struggle against the German occupation with the struggle for a socialist revolution.


The revolutionary position during the second world imperialist war was revolutionary defeatism to all imperialist sides, but revolutionary defense of the Soviet Union and acting to organize a working class political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy.


In a war between an imperialist state and the masses of a semi-colony, Marxists stands on the side of the oppressed, even when they are led by bourgeois or petit-bourgeois leaderships, whether this leadership is secular or religious, without giving the leadership any political support, because sooner or later it will betray the mass struggle because of its fear of losing control over the masses. Only the working class led by a revolutionary leadership can defeat the imperialist system.


On the question why to be on the side of a reactionary leadership of a "Third world " state against an imperialist state Trotsky wrote:


"I will take the most simple and obvious example. In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!" (7)


Those who claimed to be Marxists and at the same time manifest Islmophubia clearly do not follow the revolutionary road of the working class. Trotsaky in a letter to the Mecixan Painter Diago Rivera wrote:


"We do not and never have put all wars on the same plane. Marx and Engels supported the revolutionary struggle of the Irish against Great Britain, of the Poles against the tsar, even though in these two nationalist wars the leaders were, for the most part, members of the bourgeoisie and even at times of the feudal aristocracy ... at all events, Catholic reactionaries. When Abdel-Krim rose up against France, the democrats and Social Democrats spoke with hate of the struggle of a “savage tyrant” against the “democracy.” The party of Leon Blum supported this point of view. But we, Marxists and Bolsheviks, considered the struggle of the Riffians against imperialist domination as a progressive war. Lenin wrote hundreds of pages demonstrating the primary necessity of distinguishing between imperialist nations and the colonial and semicolonial nations which comprise the great majority of humanity. To speak of “revolutionary defeatism” in general, without distinguishing between exploiter and exploited countries, is to make a miserable caricature of Bolshevism and to put that caricature at the service of the imperialists.” (8)


The Islamphobia was behind the refusal of the left to support the Syrian revolution against Assad the butcher, its local allies like Iran and Hezbullah and the imperialist intervention of Russia and the US. They all claim that the revolution died when the Islamists took the leadership of the struggle. The RCIT has taken the position that the revolution has not died in spite of the blows to the revolution. (9)


In the battle between ISIL and the imperialists, we took the side of IISL as the imperialists are the worst enemy. However, when ISIL attacked the Kurds when the Kurds defended their enclaves, we took the side of the Kurds. When the Kurds and others served the American imperialists, in the battle of Raqqa; we stood with ISIL without giving them any political support. Yes, ISIL is a very reactionary organization, but the main enemy are the imperialist butchers and their servants. ISIL killed thousands, but Assad and his supporters killed more than a quarter of a million civilians! (10)




5. Our position




We cannot be certain that a war between Saudi Arabia, Israel , Sisi's Egypt,Jordan and the PA backed by the US against Iran will take place in spite of the sounds of the war drums. We do no know whether in such a war, Iran will be controlled by imperialist Russia. We do not know yet whether this will be a war between Iran and Sadi Arabia without Israel. We do no know whether such a war will be a proxy war between imperialist Russia and imperialist USA.


However, if such a war will break out and Iran will not be controlled by Russia and if Israel will be part of it, we will stand on the side of Iran without giving it any political support, as Israel is an imperialist state. If Iran will be controlled by Russian imperialists, we will take the position of revolutionary defeat to all sides.


The question, of course is, what does it mean to be controlled by an imperialist state? Getting weapons by itself is not a proof of being controlled. On this question Trotsky wrote:


Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the Italian workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism. Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the Italian workers and the rebellious Algerians, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in fascist Italy at the same time, even in this case the strikers should make an exception in favor of those ships carrying aid to the colonial slaves in revolt; otherwise they would be no more than wretched trade unionists – not proletarian revolutionists.” (11)


The issue is who is giving the political and military orders. For example the Jordanian Legion during the Israel war in Palestine in 1948 was controlled by the British imperialists. The British Brigadier Norman Lash was in command acting by the orders of London. Despite that, it was necessary to defend the Legion against the Zionists because it fought under the pressure of the Arab masses who wanted to defend the Palestinians against Zionist ethnic cleansing settler-colonialism.


Another example is the war in Korea in the 1950s. In the conflict between the North and South Korea, by July 1950, American troops had entered the war on South Korea’s behalf. As far as American officials were concerned, it was a war against the forces of “international communism”. Thus the South Korean army was subordinated to American imperialists, In this war the British SWP that claim to be Trotskyist refused to defend North Korea because of their middle class views, seeing Stalinist Russia as a state capitalism and they equated both sides. Thus, they wrote : "The Korean War was not a revolution, not a national liberation struggle, not even a fight between the relatively more and less ‘progressive’. It was a squalid trial of strength between two symmetrical power blocs, carefully limited to the territory of an Asian people far from their own heartlands. The only response that revolutionary socialists could make was to denounce the fraud and to start looking elsewhere for the real potential for revolutionary change."


The correct position was to defend North Korea as a non-imperialist state, backed by the reactionary yet non-imperialist Stalinist Soviet Union. Revolutionary defense does not end with defense alone, but goes hand-in-hand with preparing the working class to take power away from the Stalinist bureaucracy through a political revolution as the only way to truly defeat imperialism and advance the world socialist revolution.


It is hard to tell in advance how exactly would an armed conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia be conducted in reality and how strong would be the control of each imperialist camp on both belligerents. Revolutionary positions should be both concrete and principled, formulated according to the best interests of the working and oppressed masses in their struggle for a socialist world.







(1) http://uk.businessinsider.com/trump-could-drive-wedge-between-saudi-arabia-and-russias-oil-alliance-2017-10


(2) See https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.818904; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-israel-lebanon/israel-says-hezbollah-runs-lebanese-army-signaling-both-are-foes-idUSKBN1CF25R; https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.826114


(3) V.I.Lenin: The Defeat of One’s Own Government in the Imperialist War, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/jul/26.htm


(4) Rosa Luxemburg, Speech at Fechenheim (25 September 1913)


(5) Rosa Luxemburg Theses on the Tasks of International Social-Democracy (Late 1915) https://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/luxemburg/1915/xx/theses.htm


(6) Vladimir Lenin The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, Preface, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/prrk/preface.htm


(7) Leon Trotsky: Anti-Imperialist Struggle Is Key to Liberation. An Interview with Mateo Fossa (September 1938), https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/09/liberation.htm


(8) Leon Trotsky: On the Sino-Japanese War (September 1937), https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1937/10/sino.htm


(9) On the RCIT’s analysis of the Syrian Revolution, see the collection of articles at our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/collection-of-articles-on-the-syrian-revolution/. In particular we refer readers to the essay of Michael Pröbsting: Is the Syrian Revolution at its End? Is Third Camp Abstentionism Justified? An essay on the organs of popular power in the liberated area of Syria, on the character of the different sectors of the Syrian rebels, and on the failure of those leftists who deserted the Syrian Revolution, 5 April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/syrian-revolution-not-dead/


(10) See on this RCIT: The Revolutionary Struggle against Daesh and the Imperialist Aggression in the Middle East, 28.02.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/resolution-daesh/; Yossi Schwartz: Raqqa: Defeat the US Imperialist Offensive! An assessment of the US/SDF/YPG war against Daesh, April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/us-offensive-in-raqqa/


(11) Leon Trotsky: Learn To Think - A Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra-Leftists (May 1938), https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/05/think.htm


(12) Ian Birchall: The Korean War When the cold war heated up (June 1980) From Socialist Review, 16 September-16 October 1980: 8, pp.9-11