The Opportunist ISA and the Iraq War

On the Ted Grant school of neo-imperialist economism and its failure to defend countries of the Global South against Great Power aggression

By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 22 March 2023,


A few days ago, the ISA did republish several articles on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. [1] At that time, it was still united with Peter Taaffe’s CWI as the split between the two groups occurred only in 2019. However, as the affirmative republication of these old articles demonstrate once more, the ISA has fully retained the joint methodological fundament of opportunist adaption to social-imperialism. In 2003, as well as during the following years of resistance struggle by the Iraqi people against the US-UK occupation, the CWI/ISA failed to take an anti-imperialist stance.

The three articles republished by the ISA show this beyond doubt. Of course, they stated many times that they oppose imperialism in general and Bush’s and Blair’s policy of warmongering in particular. Yet, this was no big achievement since, at that time, most people in the world – including the French and German governments – rejected Washington’s war. But usually, their statements were limited to calls for anti-war mass actions in Western countries. There was (and is) nothing wrong with such calls but it is hardly enough.

What distinguishes authentic Marxists from pacifists and liberals is not if one is against the imperialist wars of Washington and its allies. It is rather how to fight against such imperialist war; it is about who’s side are you on. [2]

The RCIT respectively our predecessor organisation took a clear and unambiguous anti-imperialist stance as we did show in a recently published documentary at the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War. We did not limit ourselves to opposition to the war, but we advocated the defeat of the US-UK forces and called for the victory of the Iraqi resistance. While we did not lend any political support to the (petty-)bourgeois nationalist and Islamist forces in Iraq, we sided with their struggle to expel the imperialist invaders. We combined such an approach with a perspective for a socialist Middle East. [3]

Our internationalist and anti-imperialist stance has been in complete contrast to the CWI/ISA. As their anniversary documentation shows they never uttered a single word about taking the side of Iraq in this war. Speaking about the duty of U.S. and British socialists to stand for the defeat of “their” imperialist government and for the military victory of the opponent side of “their” government (i.e. the Iraqi forces)? No way, as far as the ISA is concerned! There has always been radio silence in the CWI/ISA publications about such an anti-imperialist stance. [4]

In one article, where they talk about the tasks of socialists in Iraq, they mention some words about the perspective of a “socialist Iraq”, about the need to form “democratically organised defence committees” … against “the sectarian divide”. Again, all this is fine. But there is nothing about the most pressing task at that time: the struggle to expel the American and British occupiers by any means necessary (including armed resistance). Not a single word! [5]


A long-standing method of adaption to social-imperialism


All this confirms our assessment of the deep-rooted method of the Ted Grant school which is fully shared by the ISA, the CWI as well as the IMT. This method – which we call neo-imperialist economism -is characterised by opportunist adaption to one or the other imperialist Great Power. It is characterised by ignorance of the national question and of the revolutionary duty to side with the struggle of the oppressed people (even if they have no socialist leadership yet).

Hence, it is no accident that the ISA/CWI/IMT has repeatedly failed to defend oppressed people against imperialist aggression and national subjugation. As we demonstrated in a recently published pamphlet, this has been the case in a number of important national wars and rebellions. Among these are the Malvinas War between Argentina and Britain in 1982, the armed resistance in Northern Ireland against the British occupation, the two Iraq Wars in 1991 and 2003 (plus the resistance against the following occupation), the Afghanistan War in 2001 (plus the resistance against the following occupation), or the Palestinian resistance against the Zionist state. [6]


Failure to defend the Ukraine against Russian imperialism


It is therefore no surprise that the ISA (as well as the CWI and the IMT) has also failed to defend the Ukraine against Putin’s invasion. Instead, it characterises this conflict as a “proxy war” and calls for sabotage of any military aid for the Ukraine. [7]

In contrast, the RCIT has always pointed to the dual character of this conflict. It is, on one side, a legitimate war of national defence by the Ukraine against Putin’s invasion. At the same time, the conflict contains also the element of inter-imperialist rivalry between the U.S. and Western Europe versus Russia.

Hence, we take a consistent internationalist and anti-imperialist position which requires a dual tactic in such a situation. We side with the Ukraine – a semi-colonial capitalist country – against Russian imperialism but warn against the bourgeois and pro-NATO policy of the Zelensky government. We defend the Ukraine’s right to get weapons from wherever possible.

At the same time, we lend no support whatsoever to the chauvinist and militarist policy of any Great Power against its rivals (like e.g. armament programs or economic sanctions). The RCIT has summarised such an approach in the slogans: Defend the Ukraine against Putin’s invasion! Beware of NATO and Zelensky – transform the resistance against the Russian occupation into a Popular War! Against Russian and against NATO imperialism! [8]

The ISA’s refusal to support the Ukraine against Russian imperialism is a continuation of the neo-imperialist economist method of the late Ted Grant – the founder of this revisionist school in the 1960s. Such a method is in complete contrast to the teachings of Lenin and Trotsky. The latter once said – in a polemic against the German right-wing centrist Georg Ledebour:

Nevertheless, Ledebour’s position even on this question does not leave the precincts of centrism. Ledebour demands that a battle be waged against colonial oppression; he is ready to vote in parliament against colonial credits; he is ready to take upon himself a fearless defense of the victims of a crushed colonial insurrection. But Ledebour will not participate in preparing a colonial insurrection. Such work he considers putschism, adventurism, Bolshevism. And therein is the whole gist of the matter. What characterizes Bolshevism on the national question is that in its attitude toward oppressed nations, even the most backward, it considers them not only the object but also the subject of politics. Bolshevism does not confine itself to recognizing their “right” to self-determination and to parliamentary protests against the trampling upon of this right. Bolshevism penetrates into the midst of the oppressed nations; it raises them up against their oppressors; it ties up their struggle with the struggle of the proletariat in capitalist countries; it instructs the oppressed Chinese, Hindus, or Arabs in the art of insurrection and it assumes full responsibility for this work in the face of civilized executioners. Here only does Bolshevism begin, that is, revolutionary Marxism in action. Everything that does not step over this boundary remains centrism.[9]

These words fully apply to the historic method of the ISA and their former comrades in the CWI and the IMT!

Authentic Marxists must break with neo-imperialist economism – politically as well as organisationally! A revolutionary policy requires consistent internationalism and anti-imperialism; and it requires the unification of those who share an understanding of the essential revolutionary tasks of the current period!

[1] ISA: 20 Years Since US Invasion of Iraq, 18 March 2023

[2] For an overview of our approach to various imperialist wars, we refer readers to Michael Pröbsting: Struggle of Revolutionaries in Imperialist Heartlands against Wars of their “Own” Ruling Class. Examples from the history of the RCIT and its predecessor organisation in the last four decades, 2 September 2022,

[3] 20 Years Ago: The US-UK Invasion of Iraq. Our struggle for the defeat of the imperialist aggressors and for the victory of Iraq, 20 March 2023,

[4] See on this also: Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism: The “Right to Resist” … and the Duty of Marxists. The centrist sophistry of CWI, IMT and ISA, 26 November 2022,

[5] Here is the full quote from the relevant chapter of a CWI article from the year 2008 which has been republished in the above-mentioned ISA anniversary documentation.

These issues are already linked in the minds of the Iraqi people with the Occupation. Any struggle to take democratic control of the resources of the country would be inextricably linked with the struggle to force the occupying troops out. This is not just a military question, but one also of ideas and programme. A socialist programme that offered a real answer to the day-to-day problems faced by Iraqis could unify the resistance and leave no safe haven for the Occupation. It would also allow the resistance to appeal to the US troops in a class language they would understand. Given the discontent already there among the troops, this could lead to levels of discontent not seen in the US military since Vietnam.

Similarly an emerging socialist movement would immediately come face to face with the problem of sectarian attacks and with the forces who carry these out. The emergence of the Awakening militia and the Madhi army ceasefire have shown, albeit in a distorted form, that there is opposition among ordinary Iraqis to the atrocities carried out by the religious based militias.

The question that is now to the forefront is the need to organise defence of all working class communities, not just against the occupation but also against attack by sectarian forces. Northern Ireland has shown that mass mobilisations by the working class can have an impact on even quite powerful paramilitary organisations.

Democratically organised defence committees in every community could organise this defence and — again as Northern Ireland has shown — these bodies are most effective when they establish links across the sectarian divide. It goes without saying that under present conditions in Iraq where virtually every home has a weapon, such a defence would be an armed defence.”

[6] See our pamphlet by Michael Pröbsting: The Poverty of Neo-Imperialist Economism. Imperialism and the national question - a critique of Ted Grant and his school (CWI, ISA, IMT), January 2023,

[7] For our latest critique of the ISA’s position on the Ukraine War see e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Ukraine War: Beating the Dummy. A commentary on a hidden polemic of the ISA against its internal critics, 27 February 2023,

[8] We refer readers to a special page on our website where more than 170 RCIT documents on the Ukraine War and the current NATO-Russia conflict are compiled: In particular we refer to the RCIT Manifesto: Ukraine War: A Turning Point of World Historic Significance. Socialists must combine the revolutionary defense of the Ukraine against Putin’s invasion with the internationalist struggle against Russian as well as NATO and EU imperialism, 1 March 2022,; see also: Manifesto on the First Anniversary of the Ukraine War. Victory to the heroic Ukrainian people! Defeat Russian imperialism! No support whatsoever for NATO imperialism! 10 February 2023,

[9] Leon Trotsky: What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat (1932), in: Leon Trotsky: The Struggle against Fascism in Germany, Pathfinder Press, New York 1971, pp. 202-203,