The Current Political Crisis in Iraq
Down with the Government of Haider al-Abadi in Iraq! For a Revolutionary Constitutional Assembly!
By Yossi Schwarz and Gerard Stephens, Internationalist Socialist League (RCIT Section in Israel / Occupied Palestine), 5.5.2016, http://www.the-isleague.com/
The Regime of Sadam Hussien and US Imperialism
Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979 and established a cruel dictatorship similar to that of the Assads in Syria. As Saîd Aburish, has described in his book A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite (1997), Saddam took power with the aid of the CIA which not only closely controlled the planning stages of his coup but also played a central role in the subsequent purge of suspected leftists which followed in its wake, approximately 5,000 of whom were murdered. The massacre was carried out based on death lists compiled in CIA stations throughout the Middle East, which were then handed over to Saddam and his executioners. The American agent who produced the longest list was William McHale who was operating under the cover of a news correspondent for the Beirut bureau of Time Magazine. (1)
Saddam Hussein waged a long and costly war against Iran (1980–88), using arms provided by the US and UK, as well as by France, Russia, Germany and others. During the 8 year war, in which more than half a million people were killed on both sides, no one in Washington complained about Saddam’s nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons programs as he was viewed by the West as a useful ally against the Iranian “threat.” During the 1980s, Washington provided him with military advisors, satellite intelligence, and even targeting for his chemical weapons attacks against Iranian forces.
The Great Fissure between US Imperialism and Iraq
When the war with Iran was over, Saddam decided to reimburse himself for the tremendous costs incurred in that despicable war by invading Kuwait on 2 August 1990 and occupying that country’s oil fields. As a result, he was suddenly declared an arch criminal by the US and a violator of Human Rights. Sanctions against the Iraqi people were approved by the UN and it subsequently approved the First Gulf War launched by a US-led coalition (January 1991) and stood by as the US and Britain launched the Second Gulf War (March 2003).
The Iraqi people were the victims of these three wars which, along with a dozen years of economic sanctions, left the Iraqi economy in shambles. As a result of the wars and sanctions, Iraq was saddled with a huge debt that vastly exceeded its annual gross domestic product. It was not the American imperialists who were forced to pay for the criminal wars instigated by them, but the Iraqi workers and peasants and the lower middle class.
Following the 2003 US/British invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam’s regime, the US installed a series of corrupt puppet governments. Consequently, due to the American military occupation “Iraq will be unable to pay some of its civil servants, or honour pledges to build roads and power stations in the next financial year. The gravity of the crisis has created uncomfortable reckonings for Iraq’s political class, military leaders and some senior religious figures, who have led a staggering 13-year pillage that has left Iraq consistently rated as one of the top five least transparent and most corrupt countries in the world.” (2)
The Revolutionary Defense of Iraq
During the imperialist wars against Iraq, revolutionary Marxists adopted the position of revolutionary defeatism of the imperialists and a revolutionary defense of Iraq.
Revolutionaries must make a distinction between wars fought between rival imperialist powers and wars between one or more imperialist powers and a semi-colonialist country. As Trotsky wrote, when it comes to war between imperialists:
“Imperialism camouflages its own peculiar aims – seizure of colonies, markets, sources of raw material, spheres of influence – with such ideas as ‘safeguarding peace against the aggressors,’ ‘defense of the fatherland,’ ‘defense of democracy,’ etc. These ideas are false through and through. It is the duty of every socialist not to support them but, on the contrary, to unmask them before the people. ‘The question of which group delivered the first military blow or first declared war,’ wrote Lenin in March 1915, ‘has no importance whatever in determining the tactics of socialists. Phrases about the defense of the fatherland, repelling invasion by the enemy, conducting a defensive war, etc. are on both sides a complete deception of the people’…. ‘Most of the labor parties in the advanced capitalist countries turned out on the side of their respective bourgeoisies during the war. Lenin named this tendency as social chauvinism: socialism in words, chauvinism in deeds. The betrayal of internationalism did not fall from the skies but came as an inevitable continuation and development of the policies of reformist adaptation. ‘The ideological-political content of opportunism and of social chauvinism is one and the same: class collaboration instead of class struggle, support of ones own government when it is in difficulties instead of utilizing these difficulties for the revolution.’” (3)
In contrast to a war between imperialists, in a war between oppressed nations and imperialists, it is the duty of revolutionary Marxists to aid the oppressed nations regardless of the regime. 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!” (4)
The above reasoning absolutely applies to the case of Iraq.
The Masses Are on the Move
In Iraq, in September 2014, the corrupt and sectarian puppet government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s was replaced by the bonapartist government of Haider al-Abadi. Since coming to power, the major effort of al-Abadi’s government has been to maintain a balance between political factions of different parties, and at the same time to deliver reforms that have not materialized, while maneuvering between the US and Iran on the one hand and on the other hand between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil and his own government which includes Kurdish bourgeois members of parliament.
For months, a growing number of Iraqis have decided that they have had enough with the corruption and the broken promises and have taken to the streets. This last weekend protesters angry about government corruption stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone and occupied the parliament. On Sunday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for the arrest of the protesters who had torn down blast walls and infiltrated the Green Zone. At present the masses are led by al-Sadr, the popular cleric who launched an uprising in 2004 against the occupation of Iraq by US troops. The protesters are demanding government reforms to put an end to corruption and, among other things, are demanding politically appointed ministers to be replaced by non-partisan technocrats.
Kenneth Pollack, senior fellow with the Brookings Institute, says that the protests are likely to expand and might even spread to Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia: “These are scenarios that the United States does not want to see happen.” (5) The real fear of American imperialism now is the renewal of the revolutionary movement that erupted in 2010, known as the “Arab Spring.”
In contrast to reformists and centrist who maintain that the Arab revolution is dead, our position has consistently been that the revolution, in spite of all its difficulties, is continuing and will erupt on a massive scale. Therefore, the most important things is to learn the lessons of the temporary retreats of the revolutionary struggle, in particular the lessons from what happened in Egypt.
The Arab Spring in Egypt
The Arab Spring in Egypt began with struggles of workers which took the form of mass strikes, long before January 2011 when the masses took to the streets. Major waves of strikes occurred during the years 2006-2009, when some 2 million workers took part in work stoppages in response to the erosion of their standard of living under Mubarak’s neoliberal economic policies. The main instigator of the January 25  protests in Tahrir Square was the April 6 Youth Movement, an organization that was formed in solidarity with the strike of workers from the Misr Spinning and Weaving factory in Mahalla that began on April 6, 2008. The Mahalla workers were the leading force in the January-February 2011 movement which toppled the Mubarak regime. The renewed wave of strikes of September 2011 paralyzed the Egyptian government and the supreme military council. Independent unions and committees which appeared at this time led these strikes and were their leading force. (6)
However, what was still missing at that time was a revolutionary leadership in the form of a revolutionary workers’ party that would fight for the expropriation of big capital and its control by a government of workers and falahin. The so-called Egyptian left, the Communist Party and Revolutionary Socialists (the Egyptian sister organization of the British SWP), instead of fighting for the leadership of the working class, did everything they possibly could to paralyze the struggle for working class leadership of the revolution.
During the Arab Spring, the role of the Egyptian Communist Party, which was wedded to the notion of a “two-stage revolution,” was its attempt to restrict the demands of the working class to economic demands alone. The Communist Party and the Revolutionary Socialists formed a reformist labor party under the name of the Workers’ Democratic Party. The Revolutionary Socialists, while claiming to be Trotskyists, turned their back on Trotsky’s position on the Labor Party. In 1932, Trotsky opposed the demand for a reformist labor party saying:
“One can declare that even the general term “Party of the working class”, does not exclude a “Labor Party”, in the English sense. Be that as it may. However, such an eventuality has nothing to do with a precise tactical question. We can admit hypothetically that the American trade union bureaucracy will be forced in certain historical conditions, to imitate the British trade union bureaucracy in creating a kind of party based upon the trade unions. But that eventuality, which appears to me to be very problematical, does not constitute an aim for which the Communists must strive and on which one must concentrate the attention of the proletarian vanguard… A long period of confusion in the Comintern led many people to forget a very simple but absolutely irrevocable principle that a Marxist, a proletarian revolutionist, cannot present himself before the working class with two banners. He cannot say at a workers meeting: I have tickets for a first class party and other tickets cheaper for the stupid ones. If I am a Communist I must fight for the Communist Party.” (7)
At that time Trotsky thought that the American Trotskyists, later to be named the SWP, would eventually be able to become a mass revolutionary party. However by 1938 Trotsky was for the demand of a workers’ party, not a reformist party, but a party based on the transitional program. In his debate with James P. Cannon, the American Trotskyist, there was the following exchange:
Cannon: You see that phenomenon in strikes – they sweep the country and take the revolutionary party by surprise. Do we put forward this transitional program in the trade unions?
Trotsky: Yes, we propagandize this program in the trade unions, propose it as the basic program for the labor party. For us, it is a transitional program; but for them, it is the program. Now it’s a question of workers’ control of production, but you can realize this program only through a workers’ and farmers’ government. We must make this slogan popular.
The first step is clear: all the trade unions should unite and form their own labor party. Not the party of Roosevelt or La Guardia, not a “labor” party in name only, but a truly independent political organization of the working class. Only such a party is capable of gathering around itself the ruined farmers, the small artisans, the shopkeepers. But for this it would have to wage an uncompromising struggle against the banks, trusts, monopolies, and their political agents, that is, the Republican and Democratic parties. The task of the labor party should consist in taking power into its own hands, all the power, and then putting the economy in order. This means organizing the entire national economy according to a single national plan whose aim is not the profit of a small bunch of exploiters but the material and spiritual interests of a population of 130 million. To be unequivocal, Trotsky said: Are we for the creation of a reformist Labor Party? No! Are we for a policy which would give to the trade unions the possibility of throwing their weight into the balance? Yes! It could become a reformist party, that depends on the development. Here the question of program is posed. ... We must have a program of transitional demands, the most advanced of which is the demand for the workers and farmers’ government..." (8)
The Failure of the Egyptian Workers’ Democratic Party
In the events of 2011, the Workers’ Democratic Party in Egypt never presented itself as a revolutionary workers’ party. The argument was that a socialist revolution was not feasible under the political conditions, because the workers lacked political experience. While advocating renationalization of the industry, as during Nasser's Egypt, this party never raised the demand for a government of workers and peasants. Instead of expropriating Egyptian industries and the banks under workers’ control, they demanded the elections of the managers by the workers.
During the Presidential elections of 2012 the Revolutionary Socialists called upon its supporters to vote for Morsi, the candidate of the Moslem Brotherhood, a bourgeois party. After the elections they wrote: “The victory of Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, is a great achievement in pushing back this counterrevolution and pushing back this coup d’etat. For now, this is a real victory for the Egyptian masses and a real victory for the Egyptian revolution.” (9)
Even worse, the Revolutionary Socialists lied and hid the fact that they had called to vote for Morsi. Ultimately Revolutionary Socialists betrayed the working class by entering into a Popular Front – the National Salvation Front – led by the liberals.
They attempted to justify this betrayal by saying:
“There is also the Popular Current which Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi founded on the basis of his presidential campaign, the Constitution Party of former UN figure Mohamed al-Baradei and many others that have not yet decided which of the alliances they will join…..Our entry into any front or alliance is governed by the strategy of the united front.” (10)
While it is indeed necessary to take part in joint actions with those forces – even bourgeois forces – leading sectors of the rebellious masses against the Morsi regime, it is a betrayal to the principles of working class independence to enter into a political alliance with them.
Cliffite Revisionism at Play
At the heart of the betrayal of the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt – in the field of theory – was the attempt by Tony Cliff to revise Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution and replace it by the so-called theory of the deflected Permanent Revolution. This theory, which is advocated by the British SWP and its affiliates, like the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt, maintains that, in semi-colonies, bourgeois forces are capable of leading and completing the democratic revolution. As a result these centrists justify the creation of a popular front throughout the Middle East and other semi-colonies with such bourgeois forces. Or, in other words, based on this revisionist notion, the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt acted as the POUM had in Spain during the Spanish Revolution of the 1930s. Yet, we note that Trotsky broke his relations with the POUM precisely because they entered into the Popular Front government. (11)
Stalinist Falling into Line
The Communist Party in Egypt also signed on as a partner to the National Salvation Front joined by the Revolutionary Socialists, but in the case of the former they went so far to the right that they even supported the 3 July 2013 military coup by al-Sisi which toppled the Morsi regime! (12) Here, for example, is part of an interview with Salah Adli, General Secretary of the Communist Party in Egypt, which appeared under the bizarre title “Egyptian Communist Party: What happened in Egypt was not a military coup”:
“What has happened is not a military coup in any way, but a revolutionary coup by the Egyptian people to get rid of this fascist rule. What the army did is carrying out the will of the people and protecting them from the plots of the Muslim Brotherhood and their armed terrorist allies who want to ignite sectarian strife and civil wars, divide the Egyptian army and destroy the institutions of the Egyptian state to serve the interests of imperialism and Zionism in the region. ” (13)
Fighting on Two Fronts
One of the main dangers the masses in Iraq now face is the brutal terrorist activity of ISIL. This ultra-reactionary band of murderers decided, while the Iraqi masses were confronting last weekend’s police brutality, to explode dual car bombs on Sunday in southern Iraq, in which 31 persons were killed. Thus, as we have always said, we see again that while the main enemies are the imperialists and their servants in Bagdad, ISIL is mortal enemy which must be removed by the revolutionary masses. What will ultimately finish off ISIL is the revolutionary struggle for socialism.
(1) Richard Sanders: Regime Change: How the CIA put Saddam's Party in Power, 24 October 2002, http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/51/217.html
(2) Martin Chulov: Post-war Iraq: 'Everybody is corrupt, from top to bottom. Including me', 19/2/2016, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/19/post-war-iraq-corruption-oil-prices-revenues
(3) Leon Trotsky: Lenin on Imperialism (February 1939), https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1939/02/lenin.htm
(4) 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
(5) Rick Jervis: Protesters in Iraq, bombings raise questions about country's stability, USA Today, May 1 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/05/01/protesters-iraq-bombings-raise-questions-countrys-stability/83797676
(6) The RCIT has published numerous documents and articles, including a German-language booklet, about the Arab Revolution. The English-language documents can be found here: http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/. The RCIT’s preliminary balance-sheet of the Arab Revolution is contained in the following resolution: Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Arab World: An Acid Test for Revolutionaries, 31 May 2015, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/theses-arab-revolution/
(7) Leon Trotsky: On the Labor Party Question in America (1932), https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1932/xx/lp.htm
(8) Leon Trotsky: On the Labor Party Question in the United States. Three Discussions in Mexico City with James P. Cannon, Vincent R. Dunne & Max Shachtman (April–June 1938), https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/04/lp.htm
(9) Revolutionary Socialists founding member Sameh Naguib, quoted in Socialist Worker (US), July 9, 2012, http://socialistworker.org/2012/07/09/from-the-eye-of-the-storm-in-egypt
(10) Sameh Naguib (Revolutionary Socialists, Egypt): Getting Egypt's second revolution, 20 Nov 2012, https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/29530/Getting+Egypts+second+revolution
(11) For an extensive theoretical critique of the Cliffite conception of the “deflected permanent revolution” see the following article of our predecessor organization – the League for a Revolutionary Communist International: “Neither Washington nor Moscow” The view from the third camp, in: Workers Power: The politics of the SWP - a Trotskyist critique, 1993
(12) The RCIT has published numerous documents and articles on the military coup in Egypt and the shameful role of the reformist and centrist left. They can be found here: http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/. For an extensive theoretical critique we refer readers to Michael Pröbsting: The Coup d'État in Egypt and the Bankruptcy of the Left’s “Army Socialism”. A Balance Sheet of the coup and another Reply to our Critics (LCC, WIVP, SF/LCFI), 8.8.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/egypt-and-left-army-socialism/
(13) Egyptian Communist Party: What happened in Egypt was not a military coup. Interview with Salah Adli, general secretary of the Egyptian Communist Party by “Nameh Mardom”, the Central Organ of the Central Committee of the Tudeh (Communist) Party of Iran, 6 July 2013, http://21centurymanifesto.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/egypt-crisis-analysis-from-the-egyptian-communist-party/